Anne Plumptre was a writer of fiction and non-fiction, both with considerable political content, and a translator of drama, correspondence, travel writing and more. She was born in Norwich in 1760 and died there in 1818 but spent much time in London and three years in Napoleonic France. Her A Narrative of a three years’ residence in France … 1802–5 (1810) is a political enquiry into the views of Napoleon held by the French people, particularly those outside Paris. Plumptre came to the conclusion that he was not a monster but generally popular within France and was being misrepresented in Britain. She refuted with detailed descriptions many of the claims made by contemporary writers and advocated making peace with Napoleon, a view which was not popular at home.
Her Narrative of a residence in Ireland during the summer of 1814, and that of 1815 (shelfmark PP.ii.29), published seven years later, was less political than much of Plumptre’s other work. She sought “a knowledge of the face of [the] country, to understand its natural advantages and disadvantages, its customs and manners, its civil and political state, that we may be enabled to compare them with our own, and judge between them and ourselves” according to her preface. She goes on to say “In collecting the materials for this work, my constant aim has been to examine every object with accuracy, to pursue every inquiry with impartiality. In narrating the result of my investigations, I have looked to fidelity as my pole star, – that has never been sacrificed at the shrine of embellishment and amusement; though, I must own, I have been at the same time very ambitious that truth should be dressed in an amusing garb.”
During 1814, Plumptre spent almost a month – and ten chapters of the book – exploring Dublin and the surrounding area before going north to Counties Antrim and Down then, on her return to Dublin, “confining [my] researches to such parts of the county of Wicklow as I could comprehend within four days”. Part II describes her second visit, in the summer of 1815, and comprises “a second visit to Dublin, a tour round other parts of the county of Wicklow, and a tour to Kilkenny, Cork, the Lakes of Killarney, Limerick, Cashel, etc. etc.”. She discusses places, subjects and people in great detail, quoting both other writers and people she meets. Plumptre was shown round Trinity College by a Fellow and gives six pages to her discussion of the buildings, collections, setting and organisation of the College.
John Wilson Croker (1780–1857), a Galway-born graduate of TCD, writer and statesman, was unimpressed (although this was not unusual for him!). In vol.xvi no.xxxii (Jan. 1817) of The Quarterly Review (shelfmark DD.r.16), he described Plumptre as, amongst other adjectives, “pedantic and dull … gross and vulgar”. In the course of his 8-page review, Croker refers to “Miss Plumptre’s general state of ignorance with regard to Ireland” and her making “so gross a blunder” and is generally condescending and sarcastic. (Sir John Carr (1772-1832), referred to in the first paragraph, was an English barrister who travelled for the good of his health and wrote light-hearted accounts of his trips.)
The eccentric Dr John ‘Jacky’ Barrett*, who held the office of Librarian at Trinity from 1791 until 1808 and was then Vice Provost, didn’t think much of the book either (quite possibly because of the page Plumptre devotes to him!). In the Library Minutes of September 9, 1817 (TCD Mun.Lib 2/2), he wrote “Put up in the library and entered in both catalogues the 46 vols sent in by Mullen last Saturday with the exception of Miss Anne Plumptre’s Narrative which I hope the Board will order to be locked up as too silly & too ill mannered for a public library.” A subsequent (probably 19th-century) member of library staff has copied the full remarks and tipped them in at the beginning of the volume.
*More about Dr Barrett in a future post.
(With thanks to the Irish rock group Bagatelle for the title of the post.)