Mary Botham Howitt

(1799-1888 / England)

Biography of Mary Botham Howitt

Mary Howitt (12 March 1799 – 30 January 1888) was an English poet, and author of the famous poem The Spider and the Fly. She was born Mary Botham at Coleford, in Gloucestershire, the temporary residence of her parents, while her father, Samuel Botham, a prosperous Quaker of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, was looking after some mining property. Samuel had married his wife Ann in South Wales in 1796 when he was 38 and she was 32. They had four children Anna, Mary, Emma and Charles. Their Queen Anne house is now known as Howitt Place.

Mary Botham was educated at home, and read widely; she commenced writing verses at a very early age. Together with her husband she wrote over 180 books.

On 16 April 1821 she was married in Uttoxeter to William Howitt, and began a career of joint authorship with her husband. They lived initially in Heanor in Derbyshire where William was a pharmacist. It was not until 1823, when they were living in Nottingham, that William decided to give up his business with his brother Richard and concentrate with Mary on writing. Their literary productions at first consisted chiefly of poetical and other contributions to annuals and periodicals, of which a selection was published in 1827 under the title of The Desolation of Eyam and other Poems. William and Mary mixed with many of the important literary figures of the day including Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In 1837 they went on a tour of the north and stayed with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Their work was well regarded, as can be seen from the minister George Byng's present in 1839 from Queen Victoria. She gave him a copy of Mary's book Hymns and Fireside Verses. In the same year, her brother-in-law Godfrey Howitt set out with his wife and her family to emigrate to Australia, arriving at Port Philip in April 1840. The life of Mary Howitt was completely bound up with that of her husband; she was separated only from him during the period of his Australian journey (1851-4). On removing to Esher in 1837 she commenced writing her well-known tales for children, a long series of books which met with signal success. They moved to London in 1843, and following a second move in 1844 they counted Tennyson amongst their neighbors.

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The Wood-Mouse

D' ye know the little Wood-Mouse,
That pretty little thing,
That sits among the forest leaves,
Beside the forest spring?

Its fur is red as the red chestnut,
And it is small and slim;
It leads a life most innocent
Within the forest dim.

[Hata Bildir]