Opposing the Medical World: The Poetry of Anne Home Hunter

By Slagle, Judith Bailey | Wordsworth Circle, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Opposing the Medical World: The Poetry of Anne Home Hunter


Slagle, Judith Bailey, Wordsworth Circle


Anne Home Hunter (1742-1821) was the oldest daughter of Marine surgeon Robert Boyne Home and the sister of surgeon Sir Everard Home (1756-1832). (1) One sister married Robert Mylne (1734-1811), the architect of Blackfriars Bridge, another died unmarried, and her brother, Robert, was an artist. In 1771. Anne married Joanna Baillie's uncle, surgeon John Hunter, thirteen years her senior. Only two of their four children survived her: John (Jack) and Agnes, who married Sir James Campbell and, after his death, Col. Benjamin Charlewood (Moore 258). (2) Anne Home Hunter is remembered as surgeon John Hunter's wife, for her connection with the Baillie family, and with bluestockings such as Elizabeth Carter and Elizabeth Montague. She and Baillie moved in the same literary circles and knew such writers as Horace Walpole and Hester Thrale.

Anne Hunter published Poems in 1802, Sports of the Genii in 1804, and poems and songs throughout her life, many of which appeared in George Thomson's collection of Irish, Welsh and Scottish ballads and songs and in Joanna Baillie's 1823 edition, A Collection of Poems, Chiefly Manuscript, and From Living Authors. Hunter's subjects ranged from "A Death Song of the Cherokee Indians" to an alternative libretto for Haydn's Creation (Grigson 75). (3) She and Joanna Baillie read and edited each other's poetry over decades of friendship. Although Baillie gave credit for her creativity to Ann, her biography, Grigson, believes that Baillie's success "spurred Anne to 'come out' and take credit for her own work" (72).

Allegedly, Hunter's friend the Venerable Robert Nares, once Chaplain to the Duke of York, wrote her obituary of January 7, 1821, acknowledging Hunter's medical family connection but recording nothing of her success as a poet and songwriter:

... Native genius was never more pleasingly united with female
delicacy than in Mrs. John Hunter. ... With every grace that could
make her interesting in society, she had every personal and social
virtue that could command respect and attachment. As a daughter, a
sister, a wife, a mother, and a friend, she was anxious always to
exceed, rather than in the smallest degree to fail in any of her
duties. The natural warmth and energy of her heart prevented, indeed,
the possibility of such defect. ... By those who best knew her, she
will be lamented, in proportion to the admiration and attachment
which she could not fail to inspire. ... (qtd. in Oppenheimer 434)

In 1855, when seven of Hunter's poems appeared posthumously in The Modern Scottish Minstrel, the editor noted, "In July 1771, Miss Home became the wife of John Hunter, the distinguished anatomist. ... She afforded evidence of her early poetical talent, by composing, before she had completed her twenty-third year, the song beginning, 'Adieu! Ye streams that smoothly glide'. This appeared in the Lark, an Edinburgh periodical, in the year 1765. In 1802, she published a collection of her poems, in an octavo volume, which she inscribed to her son, John Banks Hunter":

During the lifetime of her distinguished husband, Mrs Hunter was in
the habit of receiving at her table, and sharing in the conversation
of, the chief literary persons of her time. ... On the death of her
husband, which took place in 1793, she sought greater privacy, though
she still continued to reside in London. By those who were admitted
to her intimacy, she was not more respected for her superior talents
and intelligence, and held in esteem for her unaffected simplicity of
manners. She was the life of her social parties, sustaining the
happiness of the hour by her elegant conversation, and encouraging
the diffident by her approbation. Amiable in disposition, she was
possessed of a beautiful countenance and a handsome person. She wrote
verses with facility, but she sought no distinction as a poet,
preferring to be regarded as a good housewife and agreeable member of
society (our emphasis). … 

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