Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 20. Jane and Anna Maria Porter: Thaddeus of Warsaw; The Scottish Chiefs

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIII. The Growth of the Later Novel

§ 20. Jane and Anna Maria Porter: Thaddeus of Warsaw; The Scottish Chiefs

The allowance which ought to be made for Maturin can hardly be extended to two sisters Jane and Anna Maria Porter, who, in their day, enjoyed something like fame, and who seem to have thought themselves unjustly supplanted in still greater fame by their early friend Scott. Anna Maria Porter began at a preposterous age (she was barely thirteen) to write fiction, and continued to do so till her death in 1832, producing in all, some two or threescore volumes. But, even well informed students of literature would be puzzled to name one of them, unless they had chanced to be brought in contact with it, and neither such chance contact nor deliberate research will discover much in any of her books but amiable incompetence. On the other hand, the elder sister Jane, who postponed her début till she had reached an age double that at which her sister had begun to write, produced, in Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) and The Scottish Chiefs (1810), two books of which every one has heard, and which perhaps, even now, not a very few have read. They are, however, almost utter, though virtuous and well-intentioned, rubbish; and their popularity indeed, their existence, can only be accounted for by the irresistible nisus towards, and appetite for, romantic matter which characterised the time. A more complete absence of local colour and historical sense than in Mrs. Radcliffe or the three sisters Lee; the tears of the sentimental dashed, to some extent, with the terrors of the other, school; diction and conversation incredibly stilted and bombastic; adventure only exciting to the rawest palate; and a general diffusion of silliness, characterised these almost famous books. Only to a taste so crude as their own can they give any direct pleasure now; but, to the student, they may still be of some interest as an example of the days of ignorance of the historical novel, and one can excuse them something for having produced some of the most delightful exercises of Thackeray’s schoolboy pencil.