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Palmer, Alicia Tindallocked

  • Isobel Grundy

Palmer, Alicia Tindal (1763–1822), writer of historical fiction and biography, was born in Bath, the daughter of the actor John Palmer (1728–1768), called Gentleman John to distinguish him from another of the several actor John Palmers, who was known as Plausible Jack, and of Hannah Mary Pritchard (1739–1781), who had been an actress since the age of six. The more famous tragedienne Hannah Pritchard was grandmother to Alicia and her brother, William Vaughan Palmer, army officer (1762–1822). Alicia probably spent her early years in Bath and in London, where her father died on 23 May 1768. Her mother then retired from the stage, inherited property in London and Twickenham from Hannah Pritchard in the same year, and in the next year married Maurice or Morris Lloyd, wealthy businessman and close friend of Lord North. Hannah Mary died in August 1781 at Dillington House, Whitelackington, near Ilminster, Somerset, a house rented for her by her husband.

Palmer was thus comfortably off in her early years. It was 1809 before she published her first book, The Husband and Lover, which she subtitled 'An Historical Moral Romance'. It was well reviewed. Next year came The Daughters of Isenberg: a Bavarian Romance, designed to inculcate in young female readers a proper filial obedience and respect for the proprieties. Her heroine shows 'bewitching timidity' and 'sweet deprecation'. The plot has Gothic and stereotypical elements—wicked barons, idyllic landscape gardens, a coquette being punished, and a learned lady being mocked—but also shows evidence of some shrewd observation of human behaviour. It hardly deserves the attack it received in the Quarterly Review, from John Gifford, who ridiculed Palmer's ideas on history and geography, indulged in sideswipes at other women writers, and ended with a circumstantial tale of how Palmer had offered him £3 (disguised as a charitable contribution) for a favourable review. His final insult was to say he would pass on the money to either the Lying-In or the Foundling Hospital, thus equating Palmer with the mother of an illegitimate child.

Undeterred, Palmer issued her next book, The Sons of Altringham (1811), as a venture to raise money for a boy who was deaf and mute. Altringham is not a novel but a collection of three tales. Her last publication was a historical biography, Authentic Memoirs of the Life of John Sobieski, King of Poland (1815), published with a distinguished subscribers' list. The nobility and clergy are well represented, as well as the literary world (Byron and others), the theatrical world (Edmund Kean), women, and book clubs. Sobieski, who lived in the seventeenth century, was a national military hero as well as a ruler; his name had recently been mentioned in parliament in connection with the current fate of Poland. Palmer emphasizes the value of liberty, and the responsibility of those countries, such as Britain, which enjoy liberty, to work to make it more widespread in the world. Palmer died in 1822.

P. H. Highfill, K. A. Burnim, & E. A. Langhans, , 16 vols. (1973–93)