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The Lady’s Own Paper

Saturday January 26, 1850


 The subject of this paper was born in Bordeaux 1820. Her maiden name was Ogden. She was the tenth of seventeen children; her father was an American merchant, who had established himself for a while in France to advance the interests of his business. Her mother was a descendant of Frances Lewis, a man of high repute, and a signer of the "Declaration of Independence." Both Mr. and Mrs. Ogden were persons of great taste who educated their children in habits of the utmost refinement. Possessed of large wealth, their desire was to transmit it to their children, associated with those virtues and accomplishments, without which riches lead only to the paths of vulgarity and vice. Among other accomplishments, correct reading and recitation were insisted on. To this end a private theatre was established in the house, which at once became a favourite place both of amusement and instruction. Near all the children displayed more or less talent for the stage, but Anna seemed to have a genius for it. The study of dramatic literature, with a desire to embody and even to create it, were passions with her ere she had passed the precincts of the nursery.

 When she was six years of age, the family returned to America, and settled in New York. There, as in Bordeaux, Mr. Ogden surrounded himself with the luxury and splendor of wealth. The taste for art, especially dramatic art—imbibed and encouraged in France —was cultivated with equal assiduity in America. It was made secondary and subservient to higher studies, indeed; but it was always a distinctive and favorite pursuit, especially with Anna. The little home-theatre was her element; and she shone in it,

 "Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky.

She was equally brilliant at school, where she was always sure to carry off the highest prizes for reading and declamation.  When twelve years of age she becameThe Lady's Own Newspaper Masthead acquainted with Mr. James Mowatt, of New York who at that time, was an eminent barrister. This gentleman was so delighted with the beautiful girl—for she was " beautiful exceedingly” – that he at once formed the singular, though not unprecedented plan of training and developing her mind (in conjunction with her parents), with the view of ultimately asking her hand in marriage. To this plan he religiously devoted himself; and being a gentleman of high moral as well as intellectual worth, he succeeded even beyond his expectations; for the child of his choice advanced so rapidly both in learning and in love, that at the early age of sixteen she had ripened into "the accomplished and beautiful Mrs. Mowatt." There were interruptions in this "course of true love " ; but, since we have it on the best authority that such a course " never did run smooth," let us pass then by, and join the happy couple at their stately home on the banks of the Hudson. Here Mrs. Mowatt was placed in new sphere of elegance; for her husband, being in affluent circumstances, thought no bestowal of his wealth too lavish to make a home suitable for his young bride. His mansion became immediately the centre towards which converged all the talent and beauty and taste of the neighbourhood. Their hearth was always alive with the altar-fires of genius. During the first year of her marriage, Mrs. Mowatt published two volumes of poems, not of a high order as works of art , but exhibiting a fine fancy and suggesting much latent power. Shortly after this she lost her mother, who died, according to an early presentiment, just as she had completed a half century of almost uninterrupted affection and happiness. She died in the arms of her daughter Anna.

We must new pass over many interesting events, and come to the time, about 1838, when Mrs. Mowatt, on account of declining health, made her first voyage to Europe. In company with her husband, she spent about eighteen months abroad, mostly in France and Germany, very much improving in health, and finding time to prosecute her studies, and even to write one or two dramatic works for the Havre Theatre. While in Germany, Mr. Mowatt was troubled the an affection of the eye, which resulted, as we Illustration of Anna Cora Mowatt from The Lady's Own Newspapershall presently see, in completely changing his mode of life, and; after a while, in translating his accomplished wife from the charmed circle of home to the terrible toils, trials, and —as we can truly add—triumphs of the stage. The story is one to move the best sympathies of the heart. his return to New York, finding his eyes so affected that it was impossible for him to renew his profession of the law, Mr. Mowatt was led to embark his whole fortune in enterprises of commerce.  He did so, with all the enthusiasm and hope of a sanguine nature, and failed. This was the great emergency of his life. From affluence he was reduced to poverty -- from the utmost enjoyment to the very extreme of distress. While she was yet on the threshold of the world, his wife was made to taste its bitter waters. With blighted hopes, and ruined health, and broken spirits, what could be done to sustain even a bare existence? This question was answered by Mrs. Mowatt. Summoning the whole energy and principle of her life to the decision, she resolved to come before the public with a series of readings and recitations. She had been accustomed to such efforts for the entertainment of the most select private circles, and they had always listened to her with surprise and admiration. Why could she not, with a little extra courage, stand the more trying but not less critical ordeal of the platform and the press? Would they not consider her youth—her education —her sphere of life—her trials—her devotedness? The idea was hardly conceived before it became a life. There were objections of husband, parent, sisters, friends, " society," to be overcome; but before a resolute will, sustained by the highest virtue, they one by one save way, and the self-sacrificing, devoted, heroic woman brought her gifts to the altar of public life, and consecrated her first appearance in New York, in the presence of the brilliant circles of which she had so long been the brightest ornament and pride, choosing rather to brave the fastidious public of Boston, the "Athens of America." The choice was an intrepid one, such few men would have been stout-hearted enough to make; but she had no occasion to repent of it. Her debut was successful beyond parallel. The room selected for the purpose was one of the largest the city, and was crowded with a more select and cultivated audience than could be gathered in any other city in the country—an audience whose taste had been educated by Everett, Emerson, and Longfellow, and Bancroft, Channing and Webster. The spectacle was one, as the writer knows from observation, which no one who witnessed it can ever forget—a .spectacle of beauty and devotion, and genius and triumph. Mrs. Mowatt was as pale as marble when she entered the room; But as soon as the first word had escaped her lips, and the first tear from her eye, her  brilliant complexion became suffused with life, and noble thoughts seemed to radiate from it like fire. The audience was surprised as by an electric shock, which ran from heart to heart, and made every pulse beat as one. The evening passed away like a vision, and became a part of the soul's history of every one present. The papers of the next morning were all more than friendly, and the entertainment was repeated again and again each evening with new achievements and new triumphs. Her intention then was to visit all the principal cities of the country. But, alas! her health gave way amidst the excitements incident to so violent a change in her life; and her illness aggravated and prolonged by the treatment of some of her late friends, whom who m adversity had changed into foes . For many months, she was confined to her bed, and she remained an invalid for two years. During this illness her beautiful home on the Hudson passed into strange hands; and her husband commenced life anew by connecting himself with a publishing house. Here, in his other emergencies he found a most efficient helpmate in his gifted wife. She  wrote and compiled several works for him of a practical nature, from which he derived a large profit. Among others, one on “The Management of the Sick," one on " Cookery and General Housekeeping " another on " Etiquette for Gentlemen," yet " Etiquette for Ladies," and, finally, on " The Etiquette of Matrimony," and " The Mysteries of Netting and Crochet." She had written before this many popular stories, and a one-volume novel, called" The Fortune Hunter." These latter works were all characterized by a vein of sarcasm, which ran through the otherwise silken web like a thread of steel. '

While in the midst of these labors, Mr. and Mrs. Mowatt became acquainted with a distressed family of British emigrants, by the name of Grey. The father was blind, the mother an invalid, and the children were helpless. Within a month of each other, the parents died, and the Mowatts,with a charity which blossomed out of their own misfortunes, adopted the orphan children, three in number, whom they have supported and In as their own from that day to this. This was in 1844.

In 1845 Mrs. Mowatt wrote the comedy of “Fashion,” which has lately been produced with such éclat at the Olympic. This play was a brave and successful satire upon the parvenus of American society.  It went home to its mark like a nail driven in a sure place. It was first brought out at the Park Theatre, New York. There was never a moment's doubt of its success. Whatever may be said it from an artistic point of view, it was true to nature. It came from the writer's pen like an inspiration. lts colours were not compounded in the closet, but were copied from life. The picture was already painted for her, and it passed through her clear mind with the swiftness and effect of light. The people knew and recognized the thing at sight. It was not a triumph of skill, but of truth. The mere literature of the piece was of no import; the authoress thought as little of that as anybody: she wished to reproduce a certain fact, and she did so. She aimed at fashion, and hit it.

 The enthusiastic reception of this comedy, the reputation of the authoress as a poet, a scholar, a wit, her personal graces and beauty, brought invitation after invitation for her to go on to the stage. "To this complexion" it was sure to “come at last.” She hesitated, her husband opposed, her family protested, pride said "No”; but good sense finally triumphed and the invitation was accepted. In the incredibly short space of three weeks she made her debut, at the Park Theatre, in "The Lady of Lyons." It was one of those debuts which mark the history of a theatre like a new era. The audience—even the ladies—rose at the conclusion of the play, and paid tribute to her with the last degree of enthusiasm. In less than twelve months from that time she played more than two hundred nights. She made a circuit of the States, to be traced like a circuit of light, meeting everywhere with uninterrupted success, and seeming to gather strength from the very magnitude of her task.

 In 1846 Mrs. Mowatt met Mr. E. L. Davenport, one of the most popular actors in America, and a gentleman of the highest moral worth. The result of this acquaintance, which soon grew into a friendship, was an engagement for Mr. Davenport to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Movvatt on their tour of the next year, and subsequently on their tour to this country; the understanding being that he should play the leading characters with Mrs. Mowatt. That arrangement has continued to this day, and no better could have been made.

 In 1847 Mr. Mowatt visited England with a view to making engagements for his wife in London and the provinces. During his absence Mrs. Mowatt wrote a five-act play called " Armand, or the Peer and the Peasant ," which was put upon the stage immediately after his return, and which, like " Fashion," had a "great run." This play has since been acted, with marked success, at the Marylebone Theatre, under the management of Mr. Watts. We have no room to give any sketch of it. It will, doubtless, be reproduced this season at the Olympic, where Mrs. Mowatt is fulfilling a very flattering engagement for this current year. We have left ourselves no room to speak, as we would, of Mrs. Mowatt's career in this country, nor is it necessary: she has the approval of a discriminating public, and is reaping a reward for her labours almost commensurate with her sacrifices. She has secured to herself the favourable criticism of our best authorities, the esteem of all who know her, and a reputation which, added to that which she has already achieved in her own land, will be sure to secure for her both fortune and fame.                               L.

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For more in-depth information and analysis
Mowatt's life and career, read
The Lady Actress:
Recovering the Lost Legacy of a Victorian American Superstar

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