Nature and Art

Author: Mrs. Inchbald


Elizabeth Simpson was born on the 15th of October, 1753, one of the eight children of a poor farmer, at Standingfield, near Bury St. Edmunds. Five of the children were girls, who were all gifted with personal beauty. The family was Roman Catholic. The mother had a delight in visits to the Bury Theatre, and took, when she could, her children to the play. One of her sons became an actor, and her daughter Elizabeth offered herself at eighteen—her father then being dead—for engagement as an actress at the Norwich Theatre. She had an impediment of speech, and she was not engaged; but in the following year, leaving behind an affectionate letter to her mother, she stole away from Standingfield, and made a bold plunge into the unknown world of London, where she had friends, upon whose help she relied. Her friends happened to be in Wales, and she had some troubles to go through before she found a home in the house of a sister, who had married a poor tailor. About two months after she had left Standingfield she married, in London, Mr. Inchbald, an actor, who had paid his addresses to her when she was at home, and who was also a Roman Catholic. On the evening of the wedding day the bride, who had not yet succeeded in obtaining an engagement, went to the play, and saw the bridegroom play the part of Mr. Oakley in the "Jealous Wife." Mr. Inchbald was thirty-seven years old, and had sons by a former marriage. In September, 1772, Mrs. Inchbald tried her fortune on the stage by playing Cordelia to her husband’s Lear. Beauty alone could not assure success. The impediment in speech made it impossible for Mrs. Inchbald to succeed greatly as an actress. She was unable to realise her own conceptions. At times she and her husband prospered so little that on one day their dinner was of turnips, pulled and eaten in a field, and sometimes there was no dinner at all. But better days presently followed; first acquaintance of Mrs. Inchbald with Mrs. Siddons grew to a strong friendship, and this extended to the other members of the Kemble family.

After seven years of happy but childless marriage, Mrs. Inchbald was left a widow at the age of twenty-six. In after years, when devoting herself to the baby of one of her landladies, she wrote to a friend,—"I shall never again have patience with a mother who complains of anything but the loss of her children; so no complaints when you see me again. Remember, you have had two children, and I never had one." After her husband’s death, Mrs. Inchbald’s beauty surrounded her with admirers, some of them rich, but she did not marry again. To one of those who offered marriage, she replied that her temper was so uncertain that nothing but blind affection in a husband could bear with it. Yet she was patiently living and fighting the world on a weekly salary of about thirty shillings, out of which she helped her poorer sisters. When acting at Edinburgh she spent on herself only eight shillings a week in board and lodging. It was after her husband’s death that Mrs. Inchbald finished a little novel, called "A Simple Story," but it was not until twelve years afterwards that she could get it published. She came to London again, and wrote farces, which she could not get accepted; but she obtained an increase of salary to three pounds a week by unwillingly consenting not only to act in plays, but also to walk in pantomime. At last, in July, 1784, her first farce, "The Mogul Tale," was acted. It brought her a hundred guineas. Three years later her success as a writer had risen so far that she obtained nine hundred pounds by a little piece called "Such Things Are." She still lived sparingly, invested savings, and was liberal only to the poor, and chiefly to her sisters and the poor members of her family. She finished a sketch of her life in 1786, for which a publisher, without seeing it, offered a thousand pounds. But there was more satirical comment in it than she liked, and she resolved to do at once what she would wish done at the point of death. She destroyed the record.

In 1791 Mrs. Inchbald published her "Simple Story." Her other tale, "Nature and Art," followed in 1794, when Mrs. Inchbald’s age was forty-one. She had retired from the stage five years before, with an income of fifty-eight pounds a year, all she called her own out of the independence secured by her savings. She lived in cheap lodgings, and had sometimes to wait altogether on herself; at one lodging "fetching up her own water three pair of stairs, and dropping a few tears into the heedless stream, as any other wounded deer might do." Later in life, she wrote to a friend from a room in which she cooked, and ate, and also her saucepans were cleaned:- "Thank God, I can say No. I say No to all the vanities of the world, and perhaps soon shall have to say that I allow my poor infirm sister a hundred a year. I have raised my allowance to eighty; but in the rapid stride of her wants, and my obligation as a Christian to make no selfish refusal to the poor, a few months, I foresee, must make the sum a hundred." In 1816, when that sister died, and Mrs. Inchbald buried the last of her immediate home relations—though she had still nephews to find money for—she said it had been a consolation to her when sometimes she cried with cold to think that her sister, who was less able to bear privation, had her fire lighted for her before she rose, and her food brought to her ready cooked.

Even at fifty Mrs. Inchbald’s beauty of face inspired admiration. The beauty of the inner life increased with years. Lively and quick of temper, impulsive, sensitive, she took into her heart all that was best in the sentiments associated with the teaching of Rousseau and the dreams of the French Revolution. Mrs. Inchbald spoke her mind most fully in this little story, which is told with a dramatic sense of construction that swiftly carries on the action to its close. She was no weak sentimentalist, who hung out her feelings to view as an idle form of self-indulgence. Most unselfishly she wrought her own life to the pattern in her mind; even the little faults she could not conquer, she well knew.

Mrs. Inchbald died at the age of sixty-eight, on the 1st of August, 1821, a devout Roman Catholic, her thoughts in her last years looking habitually through all disguises of convention up to Nature’s God.

H. M.



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Chicago: Inchbald, "Introduction," Nature and Art, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Nature and Art Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: Inchbald. "Introduction." Nature and Art, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Nature and Art, Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Inchbald, 'Introduction' in Nature and Art, ed. and trans. . cited in , Nature and Art. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from