Mary Robinson, actress, poet, sucker for bad boys

Mary Robinson is know known as one of the great actresses and poets of the 18th century, but she also had bad luck – or sense – in choosing her men, especially the wild boy Banastree Tarleton, from a Liverpool family of slavers, who famously taunted Warburton in Parliament. This is how The Annals of Bristol described her life, with an entry for 1758:

“Mary Darby, styled by some admirers the English Sappho, was born in the Minster House, adjoining the Cathedral, on the 27th November. Her father was a local merchant, who ruined himself a few years later by a whale fishery scheme, when is daughter was removed from the Misses More’s school in Park Street and the family let Bristol for London. While in her sixteenth year Mary Darby was married to a worthless attorney named Robinson, who soon abandoned her, and the girl-wife, who was possessed of remarkable personal charms, adopted the stage as a profession, and at once became celebrated as an actress. In 1780, whilst playing the character of Perdita, she captivated the fickle heart of George, Prince of Wales, then in his 18th year, and, having listened to his proposals, she was forthwith provided with a splendid establishment. The connection however, was a short one. In August 1781 George III having learnt that the actress was in possession of many compromising love-letter,s employed an agent to secure them for the sum of £5,000, which was insufficient to discharge the lady’s debts. The king was not aware that his son had also given her, on her consenting to quit the stage for his gratification, a bond of £20,000; but this she surrendered to Mr Fox on being promised an annuity of £500. She subsequently formed a connection with one Colonel Tarleton whose rapacity aided by her own extravagance, reduced her to penury she also lost the use of her limbs through travelling during a wintry night to rescue Tarleton from a debtor’s prison. In 1788 she betook herself to literature, and eventually published about 20 novels and books of poems, several of the latter being characterised by taste and feeling. In despite of her exertions, Mrs Robinson sank in her later days into destitution, her appeals to her princely seducer being treated with characteristic callousness. She had, however, some devoted admirers, amongst whom were Coleridge, Dr Walcott, and Sir R. K. Porter. The unhappy woman died at Englefield Green on 26 December 1800.”

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