Mary Howitt
Mary Howitt was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

English poetry
The history of English poetry stretches from the middle of the 7th century to the present day. Over this period, English poets have written some of the most enduring poems in Western culture, and the language and its poetry have spread around the globe. Consequently, the term English poetry is...

, and author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 of the famous poem The Spider and the Fly
The Spider and the Fly (poem)
The Spider and the Fly is a poem by Mary Howitt , published in 1829. The first line of the poem is "'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the Spider to the Fly." When Lewis Carroll was readying Alice's Adventures Under Ground for publication he replaced a parody he had made of a negro minstrel song...

. She was born Mary Botham at Coleford
Coleford, Gloucestershire
Coleford is a small market town in Gloucestershire, England in the west of the Forest of Dean with a population of 8,351 . It is situated some four miles east of the Welsh border, and is close to the Wye Valley, a popular walking and canoeing area...

, in Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

, the temporary residence of her parents, while her father, Samuel Botham, a prosperous Quaker of Uttoxeter
Uttoxeter is a historic market town in Staffordshire, in the West Midlands region of England. The current population is approximately 13,711, though new developments in the town will increase this figure. Uttoxeter lies close to the River Dove and is near the cities of Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and...

, Staffordshire
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. Part of the National Forest lies within its borders...

, was looking after some mining property. Samuel had married his wife Ann in South Wales
South Wales
South Wales is an area of Wales bordered by England and the Bristol Channel to the east and south, and Mid Wales and West Wales to the north and west. The most densely populated region in the south-west of the United Kingdom, it is home to around 2.1 million people and includes the capital city of...

 in 1796 when he was 38 and she was 32. They had four children Anna, Mary, Emma and Charles. Their Queen Anne
Queen Anne Style architecture
The Queen Anne Style in Britain means either the English Baroque architectural style roughly of the reign of Queen Anne , or a revived form that was popular in the last quarter of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century...

 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
Uttoxeter is a historic market town in Staffordshire, in the West Midlands region of England. The current population is approximately 13,711, though new developments in the town will increase this figure. Uttoxeter lies close to the River Dove and is near the cities of Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and...

 to William Howitt
William Howitt
William Howitt , was an English author.He was born at Heanor, Derbyshire. His parents were Quakers, and he was educated at the Friends public school at Ackworth, Yorkshire. His younger brothers were Richard and Godrey whom he helped tutor. In 1814 he published a poem on the Influence of Nature and...

, and began a career of joint authorship with her husband. They lived initially in Heanor
Heanor is a town in the Amber Valley district of Derbyshire in the East Midlands of England. It is northeast of Derby. According to the census of 2001 the town's population was 22,620.-History:...

 in Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

 where William was a pharmacist. It was not until 1823, when they were living in Nottingham
Nottingham is a city and unitary authority in the East Midlands of England. It is located in the ceremonial county of Nottinghamshire and represents one of eight members of the English Core Cities Group...

, that William decided to give up his business with his brother Richard
Richard Howitt (poet)
Richard Howitt , poet, born at Heanor in Derbyshire in 1799, was the son of Thomas Howitt and Phoebe Tantum. William Howitt, the writer, was his elder brother and Mary Howitt was William's wife. His younger brother was Godfrey Howitt...

 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
Eyam is a small village in Derbyshire, England. The village is best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in August 1665, rather than let the infection spread...

 and other Poems
William and Mary mixed with many of the important literary figures of the day including Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

, Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, née Stevenson , often referred to simply as Mrs Gaskell, was a British novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era...

 and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

. In 1837 they went on a tour of the north and stayed with William and Dorothy Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

. Their work was well regarded, as can be seen from the minister George Byng
George Byng
George Byng may refer to:*George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington *George Byng, 3rd Viscount Torrington *George Byng , British Member of Parliament*George Byng , British Member of Parliament, son of the above...

's present in 1839 from Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

. She gave him a copy of Mary's book Hymns and Fireside Verses. In the same year, her brother-in-law Godfrey Howitt
Godfrey Howitt
Godfrey Howitt , entomologist, was born in Heanor in Derbyshire to Thomas Howitt. Thomas had farmed a few acres of land at Heanor and joined the Society of Friends on his marriage with Phoebe Tantum, a member of the same society, with whom he acquired a considerable fortune.Godfrey was educated at...

 set out with his wife and her family to emigrate to Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, 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
Esher is a town in the Surrey borough of Elmbridge in South East England near the River Mole. It is a very prosperous part of the Greater London Urban Area, largely suburban in character, and is situated 14.1 miles south west of Charing Cross....

 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
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 in 1843, and following a second move in 1844 they counted Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language....

 amongst their neighbors.


While residing at Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

 in 1840 her attention was directed to Scandinavian literature
Scandinavian literature
Scandinavia literature or Nordic literature is the literature in the languages of the Nordic countries of Northern Europe. The Nordic countries include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway , Sweden and associated autonomous territories .The majority of these nations and regions use North Germanic...

, and in company with her friend Madame Schoultz she set herself to learn Swedish
Swedish language
Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along its coast and on the Åland islands. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish...

 and Danish
Danish language
Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...

. She afterward translated and introduced Fredrika Bremer
Fredrika Bremer
Fredrika Bremer was a Swedish writer and a feminist activist. She had a large influence on the social development in Sweden, especially in feminist issues.-Background:...

's novels (1842-1863, 18 vols.) to English readers. Moreover, Howitt also translated many of Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author, fairy tale writer, and poet noted for his children's stories. These include "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Snow Queen," "The Little Mermaid," "Thumbelina," "The Little Match Girl," and "The Ugly Duckling."...

's tales, such as
  • Only a Fiddler (1845)
  • The Improvisators (1845, 1847)
  • Wonderful Stories for Children (1846)
  • The True Story of every Life (1847).

Among her original works were The Heir of West Way Ian (1847). She for three years she edited the Drawing-room Scrap Book, writing (among other articles that would be included therein) "Biographical Sketches of the Queens of England". She edited the Pictorial Calendar of the Seasons, translated Ennemoser's History of Magic, and took the chief share in The Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (1852). She also produced a Popular History of the United States (2 vols. 1859), and a three-volume novel called The Cost of Caergwyn (1864).

In June 1852, the three male members of the family, accompanied by Edward La Trobe Bateman
Edward La Trobe Bateman
Edward La Trobe Bateman was a pre-raphaelite watercolour painter, book illuminator, draughtsman, garden designer and architect....

, sailed for Australia in the hope of finding a fortune. William would be reunited with his brother Godfrey Howitt
Godfrey Howitt
Godfrey Howitt , entomologist, was born in Heanor in Derbyshire to Thomas Howitt. Thomas had farmed a few acres of land at Heanor and joined the Society of Friends on his marriage with Phoebe Tantum, a member of the same society, with whom he acquired a considerable fortune.Godfrey was educated at...

, while Mary and her two daughters, the elder, Margaret, who had just returned from a year in Munich with Kaulbach (this adventure was later published as a book) moved into the Hermitage, Mr Bateman's cottage in Highgate. This had previously been occupied by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement,...


In 1851, her husband and her two sons traveled to Australia in the hope of finding their fortune, but they returned a number of years later; William wrote a number of books describing the flora
Flora of Australia
The flora of Australia comprises a vast assemblage of plant species estimated to over 20,000 vascular and 14,000 non-vascular plants, 250,000 species of fungi and over 3,000 lichens...

 and fauna of Australia
Fauna of Australia
The fauna of Australia consists of a huge variety of animals; some 83% of mammals, 89% of reptiles, 90% of fish and insects and 93% of amphibians that inhabit the continent are endemic to Australia...

. Her son, Alfred William Howitt
Alfred William Howitt
Alfred William Howitt was an Australian anthropologist and naturalist.-Background:Howitt was born in Nottingham, England, the son of authors William Howitt and Mary Botham. He came to the Victorian gold fields in 1852 with his father and brother to visit his uncle, Godfrey Howitt...

, was to be renowned as an Australian explorer, anthropologist and naturalist
Naturalist may refer to:* Practitioner of natural history* Conservationist* Advocate of naturalism * Naturalist , autobiography-See also:* The American Naturalist, periodical* Naturalism...

 and the discoverer of the remains of the explorers Burke and Wills, which he brought to Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

 for burial.

Other children included: Herbert Charlton Howitt, who was drowned while engineering a road in New Zealand; Anna Mary Howitt
Anna Mary Howitt
Anna Mary Howitt was an English painter, writer and feminist.-Artist and feminist:...

, wife of Alfred Alaric Watts, the biographer of her father, and author of An Art-Student in Munich, who died on a visit to her mother in Tirol
German Tyrol
German Tyrol is a historical region in the Alps now divided between Austria and Italy. It includes largely ethnic German areas of historical County of Tyrol: the Austrian state of Tyrol and the province of South Tyrol but not the largely Italian-speaking province of Trentino .-History:German...

 in 1884; and Margaret Howitt, the writer of the Life of Fredrika Bremer
Fredrika Bremer
Fredrika Bremer was a Swedish writer and a feminist activist. She had a large influence on the social development in Sweden, especially in feminist issues.-Background:...

and of the memoir of her own mother.

Her name was attached as author, translator, or editor to upwards of 110 works. She received a silver medal from the Literary Academy of Stockholm, and on 21 April 1879 was awarded a civil list pension of £
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

100. a year. In the decline of her life she joined the church of Rome
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, and was one of the English deputation who were received by Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII , born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci to an Italian comital family, was the 256th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, reigning from 1878 to 1903...

 on 10 January 1888. Her interesting Reminiscences of my Later Life were printed in Good Words in 1886. The death of her husband in 1879, and of her eldest child, Mrs. A. A. Watts, in 1884, caused her intense grief. The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

says, speaking of the Howitts:

Their friends used jokingly to call them William and Mary, and to maintain that they had been crowned together like their royal prototypes. Nothing that either of them wrote will live, but they were so industrious, so disinterested, so amiable, so devoted to the work of spreading good and innocent literature, that their names ought not to disappear unmourned.

Mary Howitt was away from her residence in Meran in Tyrol spending the winter in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 when she died of bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the large bronchi in the lungs that is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and may last several days or weeks. Characteristic symptoms include cough, sputum production, and shortness of breath and wheezing related to the obstruction of the inflamed airways...

 on 30 January 1888.

Her works

Among the works written, like those already mentioned, independently of her husband, were:
  1. ' Sketches of Natural History (1834)
  2. ' Wood Leighton, or a Year in the Country (1836)
  3. ' Birds and Flowers and other Country Things (1838)
  4. ' Hymns and Fireside Verses (1839)
  5. ' Hope on, Hope ever, a Tale (1840)
  6. ' Strive and Thrive (1840)
  7. ' Sowing and Reaping, or What will come of it (1841)
  8. ' Work and Wages, or Life in Service (1842)
  9. ' Which is the Wiser? or People Abroad (1842)
  10. ' Little Coin, Much Care (1842)
  11. ' No Sense like Common Sense (1843)
  12. ' Love and Money (1843)
  13. ' My Uncle the Clockmaker (1844)
  14. ' The Two Apprentices (1844)
  15. ' My own Story, or the Autobiography of a Child (1845)
  16. ' Fireside Verses (1845)
  17. ' Ballads and other Poems (1847)
  18. ' The Children's Year (1847)
  19. ' The Childhood of Mary Leeson (1848)
  20. ' Our Cousins in Ohio (1849)
  21. ' The Heir of Wast-Waylan (1851)
  22. ' The Dial of Love (1853)
  23. ' Birds and Flowers and other Country Things (1855)
  24. ' The Picture Book for the Young (1855)
  25. ' M. Howitt's Illustrated Library for the Young (1856; two series)
  26. ' Lillieslea, or Lost and Found (1861)
  27. ' Little Arthur's Letters to his Sister Mary (1861)
  28. ' The Poet's Children (1863)
  29. ' The Story of Little Cristal (1863)
  30. ' Mr. Rudd's Grandchildren (1864)
  31. ' Tales in Prose for Young People (1864)
  32. ' M. Howitt's Sketches of Natural History (1864)
  33. ' Tales in Verse for Young People (1865)
  34. ' Our Four-footed Friends (1867)
  35. ' John Oriel's Start in Life (1868)
  36. ' Pictures from Nature (1869)
  37. ' Vignettes of American History (1869)
  38. ' A Pleasant Life (1871)
  39. ' Birds and their Nests (1872)
  40. ' Natural History Stories (1875)
  41. ' Tales for all Seasons (1881)
  42. ' Tales of English Life, including Middleton and the Middletons (1881)

The Spider and the Fly

Mary Howitt's poem the "Spider and the Fly" was originally published in 1829
1829 in literature
The year 1829 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-New books:*Edward George Bulwer-Lytton - Devereux*Honoré de Balzac - Les Chouans*Catherine Gore - Romances of Real Life...

. When Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll , was an English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. His most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the...

 was readying Alice's Adventures Under Ground for publication, he replaced a parody he had made of a negro minstrel song with a parody of Mary's poem. The Lobster Quadrille, which is an important part of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures...

, is a parody of Mary's poem concerning a spider and a fly.

The poem was a Caldecott Honor Book
Caldecott Medal
The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children , a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published that year. The award was named in honor of nineteenth-century English...

 in October 2007.

External links

Further reading

  • Mary Howitt: an Autobiography, edited by her daughter, Margaret Howitt (1889)
  • C. R. Woodring, Victorian Samplers - William & Mary Howitt (1952)
  • A. Lee, Laurels and Rosemary - The Life of William & Mary Howitt (1955)
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