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Three Not So Great Known 19th Century American and British Authors

Updated on May 7, 2021
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I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.

Diary and Scrapbook of George Burgess
Diary and Scrapbook of George Burgess

Three Great Writers and Authors of the 19th Century

An introduction and quick overview of three great but no so well-known 19th century authors who have inspired me in my own writings; each with their own distinctive writing style and niche in 19th century society, in Britain and America:-

  • Mary Sewell (1797-1884) an English author who wrote ‘Mothers Last Words’ and whose daughter went on to become a famous writer and author of Black Beauty,
  • Fanny Fern (1811-1872) a popular 19th century female American newspaper columnist, and
  • George Burgess (1829-1906) a Phrenologist, and prolific Bristolian diarist.

Source Material

All documentation and works in this short bio article and other related articles all stem from work and material I’ve unearthed as part of delving into my family history, thanks to my great-great grandfather for his informative writings and scrapbook and thanks to his descendants who have passed them down the generations to the present day. In this short article I introduce you to each of these three great but not so famous writers, giving you a brief bio and life history on each.

Further Reading

Visit my website (Nathanville Genealogy) for further reading of their works, and learn more about them and their fascinating lives during the Victorian era.

Why I Think These Authors Are Special

A Connection Through Time

These authors are special to me firstly because George Burgess is my great-great grandfather and his diary, scrapbook other writings and collection of his favourite literature has been a great inspiration to me.

George Burgess had a great fondness for 'Mother's Last Words' by Mary Sewell, the article he bought was well read and in one of his manuscripts was a word for word copy of Mother's Last Words in his own handwriting, so he obviously enjoyed the story so much as to enjoy copying it from the original leaflet in his possession.

I too, having read 'Mother's Last Words' myself, many times, find it a touching story and for that reason I have great admiration for Mary Sewell, the author.

In the collection of newspaper articles saved by George Burgess in his scrapbook are several articles by Fanny Fern, so he was obviously captivated by her reporting in the American newspapers. And I too having read these American newspaper articles by Fanny Fern have great admiration for this Victorian American pioneering woman newspaper reporter who broke new ground in her reporting style and tackling head on what was then controversial subjects to write about, challenging the status quo in all walks of life.

So I'm sure, on reading these articles for yourself you will be equally impressed by their writings and views.

19th Century American Writers on Writing (The Writer's World)
19th Century American Writers on Writing (The Writer's World)
A unique insight into how 57 leading 19th century American authors viewed themselves and their works in the context of an unsettled and challenging period of history that saw a rapid rise in the industrial revolution and new technological advancements, the Civil War and the emergence of a Global political world.

Mary Sewell (1797-1884)

Mother of Anna Sewell (1820-1878)

Mary Sewell, the mother of Anna Sewell, the author of the famous 'Black Beauty' novel, was in her own right an author. Although not of such fame as her daughter, she published and sold over one million copies of 'Mother's Last Words'.

Mother's Last Words is a very touching story that gives an insight into Victorian life from the perspective of two young orphan sons trying to eke out a living on the streets after the death of their mother.

Mother's Last Words by Mary Sewell

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Fanny Fern (1811-1872)

Real Name Sarah Willis

Fanny Fern, real name Sarah Willis, became a well-established American newspaper columnist making her name for in-depth and sometimes critical view of American Society. She later went on to become a successful author of children story books.

An Introduction to Fanny Fern the Person

Ruth Hall

Written by Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall is a famous fictional story that portrays the life story of Fanny Fern herself.

The Story of Ruth Hall

Ruth Hall and Other Writings by Fanny Fern (American Women Writers)
Ruth Hall and Other Writings by Fanny Fern (American Women Writers)
Ruth Hall, written by Fanny Fern, real name Sara Willis, was published in 1854. Fanny Fern became the first regular woman newspaper columnist in America in 1852 and by 1855 was one of the most highly paid newspaper writers in the country. Few remember her now but back in the 1850s Fanny Fern was a household celebrity for her controversial and truth biting newspaper columns.

Fact and Fiction by Fanny Fern

Sample of Fanny Fern's 19th century American newspaper articles.
Sample of Fanny Fern's 19th century American newspaper articles.

George Burgess (1829-1905)


George Burgess, born in Bristol, lived in America for many years as an apprentice for a stonemasonry, but while there learnt the art of Phrenology. When he returned to England as a Phrenologist; and ran his profession in the Bristol Arcades for forty years from 1861 until his retirement in 1901.

Although in his diary he said he left school a poor scholar, he went on to:-

  • Publish at least two books on phrenology.
  • Saved a scrapbook of over 500 British and American newspaper articles.
  • Wrote his life history in his diary and gave a Victorian prospective on life in volumes of other person writings, and
  • Loved writing poetry, especially humorous poetry about the evils of drink.

Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature
Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature
Understanding and fully appreciating Victorian Literature in the context of the writers, who lived the time during a period of rapid social and cultural change including the revolution in class structure, rise of utilitarianism and evangelical movements, Darwinism, and the effects of rapid industrialisation. This book very cleverly puts all that and more into context in a clear and concise way and makes sense of it all such that it makes an invaluable companion to reading Victorian Literature.

Scrapbook of Victorian Newspaper by George Burgess

Sample Article From His Scrapbook:-


How easy it is to be neat, to clean. How easy it is to arrange rooms with the most graceful propriety. How easy it is to invest our houses with the truest elegance. Elegance resides not with the upholsterer or draper; it is not put up with the hangings and curtains; it is not in the mosaics, the carpeting's, the rosewood, the mahogany, the candelabra, or the marble ornaments; it exists in the spirit presiding over the chamber of the dwelling. Contentment must always be most graceful; it grows serenely over the scene of its abode; it transforms a waste into a garden. The homes lighted by these intimations of a nobler and brighter life may be wanting in much which the discontented desire; but to its inhabitants it will be a palace far out vying* the oriental in brilliancy and glory.

A Victorian Scrapbook compiled by George Burgess.

Poetry by George Burgess

As well as being a prolific writer and author, George Burgess also liked writing poetry; often humorous and often about the woes of drink; two of my favourites being 'Wanted a Barmaid' and 'Pastor Brandywine':-

  • Wanted a Barmaid is a humorous advert for a barmaid in a stereotype Victorian pub.
  • Pastor Brandywine is the plight of a pastor who while preaching the merits of teetotalism over indulges in brandy, wine and beers. The Pastor, although an alcoholic trying to rid himself of his addiction can't win when his doctor orders him to take gin for his indigestion.

George Burgess was a life long teetotaller, having been influenced by the Temperance movement while he was living in America.

Wanted a Barmaid by George Burgess

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Pasor Brandywine by Geroge Burgess

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Geore Burgess 1829-1905, aged 60
Geore Burgess 1829-1905, aged 60
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Back of photos of George Burgess aged 60Back of photos of George Burgess aged 70
Back of photos of George Burgess aged 60
Back of photos of George Burgess aged 60
Back of photos of George Burgess aged 70
Back of photos of George Burgess aged 70

Did you know about any of these Victorian Era writers before

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Arthur Russ


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