Jean Ingelow was an English poet and novelist.
Early Life and Education
Born at Boston, Lincolnshire, she was the daughter of William Ingelow, a banker. As a girl she contributed verses and tales to magazines under the pseudonym of Orris, but her first (anonymous) volume, A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings, did not appear until her thirtieth year. This was called charming by Tennyson
, who declared he should like to know the author; they later became friends.
Jean Ingelow followed this book of verse in 1851 with a story, Allerton and Dreux, but it was the publication of her Poems in 1863 which suddenly made her a popular writer. They ran rapidly through numerous editions and were set to music, proving very popular for English domestic entertainment. In the United States, her poems obtained great public acclaim. In 1867 she published The Story of Doom and other Poems, and then gave up verse for a while and became industrious as a novelist. Off the Skelligs appeared in 1872, Fated to be Free in 1873, Sarah de Berenger in 1880, and John Jerome in 1886. She also wrote Studies for Stories (1864), Stories told to a Child (1865), Mopsa the Fairy (1869), and other stories for children. Mopsa the Fairy, about a boy who discovers a nest of fairies and discovers a fairyland while riding on the back of a pelican) was one of her most popular works (it was reprinted in 1927 with illustrations by Dorothy Lathrop). Anne Thaxter Eaton, writing in A Critical History of Children's Literature, calls the book "a well-constructed tale", with "charm and a kind of logical make-believe." Her third series of Poems was published in 1885. The last years of her life were spent in Kensington, and she outlived her popularity as a poet.
Her poems, collected in one volume in 1898, have often the genuine ballad note, and her songs were exceedingly successful.
Sailing beyond Seas and When Sparrows build in Supper at the Mill were among the most popular songs of the day; but they share, with the rest of her work, the faults of affectation and stilted phraseology.
Her best-known poem was High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire. The blemishes of her style were cleverly indicated in a well-known parody (Lovers, and a Reflexion) by Charles Stuart Calverley; a false archaism and a deliberate assumption of unfamiliar and unnecessary synonyms for simple objects were among the worst of her mannerisms. Postmodern novelist Gilbert Sorrentino, in his satirical novel Blue Pastoral (1983), lampooned her Supper at the Mill, a poem cast in the form of a dramatic vignette, as "Supper at the Kind Brown Mill."
She wrote, however, with a sweetness of sentiment, and in prose she displayed feeling for character and the gift of narrative; a delicate underlying tenderness is never wanting in either medium. She was a woman of frank and hospitable manners, with a look of the Lady Bountiful of a country parish. She had nothing of the professional authoress or the literary lady about her, and, as with characteristic simplicity she was accustomed to say, was no great reader. Her temperament was rather that of the improvisatore than of the professional author or artist.
Ingelow died in 1897 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.