: Dante vivo || White Silence



Joseph Garrow, Joseph Garrow, Eleanora Garrow

In Florence in April 1848, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, the son of Fanny Trollope and the older brother of Anthony Trollope, married Theodosia, the daughter of Joseph and Theodosia Garrow. His bride, called Theo by her family to differentiate her from her mother, had been travelling on the Continent since Autumn 1843 with her parents and half-sister, Harriett Fisher. The family came from Torquay, where Joseph Garrow was a magistrate and an active member of the community.

Trollope's mother-in-law, Theodosia Garrow, has received very curious treatment from biographers of the Trollope family. Victoria Glendinning, in her 1992 biography of Anthony Trollope, tells her readers: 'If the records are correct, Mrs Garrow, 'a woman of coarse feeling and violent temper', was fifty-nine when she gave birth to Theodosia'. In her 1997 biography of Fanny Trollope, Pamela Neville-Sington states that Joseph Garrow 'at twenty-five, married a Jewish widow twenty-three years his senior, with two children. Mrs Garrow gave birth to Theodosia when she was in her fifties - some say fifty-nine'. At this point, she directs her readers to The Trollopes: The Chronicle of a Writing Family (1947), by L.P. and R.P. Stebbins. There we find 'It is less difficult to account for the expensive Mr Garrow's marriage to an elderly, bad-tempered Jewess with a very comfortable income than it was to undestand how he made her - at fifty-nine - the mother of Theodosia'. The Stebbinses then conjecture that Theo was the illegitimate daughter of Harriet Fisher and imply that Joseph Garrow was the father.

All this falls to pieces as soon as one discovers the true facts, particularly the real ages of the half-sisters. Harriett Theodosia Fisher was baptised at Plympton, Devon on 4 November 1809 and Theodosia Garrow was born on 28 November 1816 and baptised at St Saviour, Tormohan, the parish church of Torquay, on 1 January 1817. Harriett Fisher was seven when Theo was born. Both Harriett and Theo were to die in Florence; they were buried in the English Cemetery there and the burial records confirm the seven-year gap between them. Harriett's age was given as 37 at her death on 12 November 1848 and, 16 years later, in April 1865, Theo was said to be 46. Their ages at death were actually 39 and 48, so it seems that they had both removed two years from their ages at some stage. The change had the happy effect of making Theo appear to be 29 rather than 31 when she married Tom Trollope. That this is the age she admitted is confirmed by a letter written at the time of the marriage by Harriet Garnett, a friend of the Trollopes: 'I wonder that so distinguished a girl as Theodosia Garrow, who is just 29, should have taken a fancy to him [Tom]'.

The fantasy of Theo as Harriett Fisher's illegitimate child, created by the Stebbinses, is embroidered in two later biographies, Johanna Johnston's The Life, Manners and Travels of Fanny Trollope (1979) and Teresa Ransom's Fanny Trollope: A Remarkable Life (1995). Johnston states: 'The birth of a daughter to Mr and Mrs Joseph Garrow in 1825, when Mrs Garrow was fifty-nine years old, startled everyone who knew them. In Toquay, where the Garrows had an estate called The Braddons, people looked at each other in amazement and surmise and then frequently glanced towards the self-effacing Harriet Fisher. Fortunately, Mrs Garrow had enough money to frighten speculation to a muted whisper'. Ransom states that there was gossip about the true parentage of Theo, who was adored by Harriett but disliked by Theodosia Garrow. Even N.J. Hall, in his scholarly two-volume edition of the letters of Anthony Trollope (1983), states that Mrs Garrow was 'said to be' the mother of Tom Trollope's first wife, and repeats the conjecture that she was in fact the daughter of Harriett Fisher.

The Stebbinses' conjecture of Harriett's affair with her step-father, resulting in the birth of Theo, arises from Mrs Garrow's supposed age at the birth and Theo's inheritance of both Jewish features from her mother's family and Indian ones from her father's. For Theo Garrow's parents were indeed un unsual and interesting couple. Her father was born at Fort St George, Madras, where his father, Joseph Garrow, was working for the East India Company as secretary to the Commander-in-Chief. He was also successful in business affairs and was living with an Indian woman referred to in his will as Sultana. He died before their only child was three, having made careful provisions for Sultana in his will, leaving her his house, a sum of money and a monthly income. 5000 was left to 'my natural Son born on the 29th October 1789 whom I call Joseph' to be invested by trustees in the public funds until he was 21, with the interest used for his education, 'as good as he is capable of receiving in Europe'. Tom Trollope, in his 1887 autobiography, What I Remember, wrote that Joseph Garrow was married to 'a high caste Brahmin woman,' and that his mother as well as father died young. Joseph was brought up by his father's unmarried sister, Eleanora Garrow.

She lived with her father, the Rev. David Garrow, rector of Hadley, Middlesex, where he ran a successful school for 50 years. He had taught Joseph's uncle, William Garrow, a distinguished lawyer and MP, who became a Baron of the Exchequer in 1817. Joseph's grandfather and aunt both died when he was 15. In her will, Eleanora left the 'dear son of my late worthy Brother Joseph' her miniature of his father and 1000, which he would receive when he was 21. Joseph was educated at St John's College, Cambridge, and entered Lincoln's Inn in 1810. He was an intelligent and cultured man, a talented amateur artist and a writer of light verse and was later to produce a well-thought-of translation of Dante's La Vita Nuova. He was also very musical, composing and playing the violin. On 17 March 1812, at the age of 22, he was married at St Margaret, Westminster, to Theodosia Fisher, the widow of Thomas Fisher. Thomas Fisher's son Charles was five and Harriett was two. Harriett - she and her family spelled her name with a double T - was named after her mother's older sister, the singer and composer, Harriett Abrams.

Tom Trollope believed that his mother-in-law's father (or possibly both parents) had come to England 'in the suite of some Hanoverian minister'. The family was Jewish and exceedingly musical: six of Theodosia's brothers and sisters worked as professional musicians. Harriett, Miss G (Georgiana?), Jane, Theodosia and Eliza all sang and Eliza was also a pianist, while Charles and William were string players in London orchestres. Only the oldest sister, Charlotte, and their brother Thomas seem never to have performed in public. Harriett was the dominant figure musically. She made her debut on 28 October 1775 at Drury Lane, in a musical afterpiece specially written for her by David Garrick with music commissioned from Thomas Arne. Arne is sometimes said to have been her teacher, but this appears not to be the case, for a letter exists from Arne to Garrick, complaining that Garrick had engaged 'a Jewess' that season, instead of being satisfied with Arne's pupils. Miss G. joined Harriett at Drury Lane, taking small singing roles in the 1778-80 seasons. Harriett's success on stage was limited by her petite figure and lack of dramatic projection, and she left Drury Lane in 1780 to become a very successful singer in London consert series and the major provincial festivals. She appeared as a solo soprano and in duets, which were advertised as sung by 'The two Miss Abrams' or 'Miss Abrams and Miss Abrams, jun.' At first the younger singer was probably Miss G. and then Jane Abrams, who was advertised as making her first appearance in April 1782. (Jane's career did not develop and Miss G. seems to have married or died.) On 28 April 1783, the programme book for one of the very select Concerts of Antient Music named as singers Miss Abrams, Miss Abrams jun. and Miss T. Abrams, who sang the contralto part in the quintet from Handel's Jephtha. Theodosia is the only one of the Abrams sisters for whom there appears to be no advertisement giving the date of her first appearance as a singer. The Concerts of Antient Music were annual subscription series, without separate newspaper advertisements, so a debut there would go unmarked and would preclude a subsequent 'first appearance' announcement. Both Miss Abrams [Harriett] and Miss T. Abrams sang in the 1784 Handel Commemoratio concerts. Theodosia is listed last among principla female singers in Charles Burney's An Account of the Musical Performances in Commemoration of Handel (1785). Burney does not mention her in his description of the concerts, though he praises Harriett's taste and expression and comments that although her voice was not regarded as theatrical she was audible in every part of Westminster Abbey. The combination of Harriett's soprano voice and Theodosia's fine contralto was soon in demand. Eliza Abrams, who was several years younger than Theodosia, was a solo pianist from 1788 and first sang in a trio with Harriett and Theodosia on 16 March 1790.

On 2 June 1791 five Abrams sisters were baptised at St George, Hanover Square. Charlotte, who was to marry John Lucas at St Pancras five days later, gave her age as 33, Harriett as 29, Jane 24, Theodosia 21 and Eliza 14. It is of course possible that the older sisters, as the next generation of the family was to do, took a couple of years off their ages. However, the sequence of ages must be correct and Theodosia's stated age would make her born in 1769-70, and so 13 at her debut. This might seem young, but it is by no means unusual at this time, particularly since she seems to have sung only in ensembles in the first year or so of her public appearances. (In 1776, the ten-year-old Nancy Storace had the role of Cupid specially composed for her by her teacher Venanzio Rauzzini in his opera L'ali d'amore, performed at the King's Theatre, London.) The remarkable singing ability from a young age of Bice (Beatrice), Tom and Theo Trollope's only child, was frequently remarked upon. George Eliot described her as 'a musical genius' when she heard her in 1861: 'She is a delicate little fairy about ten years old, but sings with a grace and expression that make it a thrilling delight to hear her.' The youthful vocal abilities of the Abrams family seem to have continued into the third generation.

So it is clear that Mrs Garrow was about 47 when she gave birth to Theo, and not 59. Theodosia Garrow died on 4 November 1849 and her age on her death certificate is given as 75. This would indicate that she was born in 1774, so it seems that Joseph Garrow, as well as Tom Trollope, thought his wife was a few years younger than she actually was. She, too, avoided a dreaded extra decade by giving the impression that she was under 40, rather than a year or so over 40 when she married Garrow. The Stebbinses believed that she was born in 1766 and used as their source British Musical Bio
graphy (1897) by J.D. Brown and S.S. Stratton. This work indeed states the date of birth to be 1766, presumably because they thought she must have been 18 when she sang in the 1784 Handel Commemoration concerts.

The impression given by the Trollope biographies that Joseph Garrow, with no money of his own, married a rich widow for her money is not backed up by their marriage settlement. There, Theodosia Fisher is described as possessing 1,300 in 5% bank annuities. Garrow was to transfer 2,700 of his stock in the same fund to make up 5,000, to go to any children of the marriage after the death of both parents. Her marriage settlement from her first husband was already secured for the separate use and benefit of herself and her two children. Harriett Abrams and William Garrow, who was to be knighted later that year, were two of the trustees.

The Abrams family sisters did not come from a wealthy background, for such a family would not have put two young daughters on the public stage and trained two sons to become professional instrumentalists. When she was a young performer in the theatre, Harriett's fees were paid to her father, who appears to have died in about 1782. It is likely that she was taught by a member of her family, since if she had been apprenticed to a singing teacher, these early earnings would have gone to the teacher. Theodosia and her sisters appear to have become comfortably off by a combination of talent, cooperation, hard work and financial common sense. Doane's Musical Directory (1794) lists Miss Abrams and Theodosia as singers, Charles as a cellist and William as a violinist, all living at 73 Charlotte Street, Rathbone Place. Each year from 1781 to 1796, Harriett organised a concert for her benefit, first at the Tottenham street home, where the Antient Music concerts were held, later at the Hanover Square rooms and for the last two years in the new Concert Room at the Opera House in the Haymarket. These concerts show-cased the family talents and employed the leading singers and instrumentalists of the day. Joseph Hayden, during his London visits, 'presided at the pianoforte' for Harriett's benefits in 1792, 1794 and 1795. the Rev. Daniel Lysons, in his History of the Origins and Proceedings of the Meeting of the Three Choirs, published in 1812, gives a clear account of the careers of the Abrams sisters.

Miss Abrams (who possessed a voice which, though not so powerful as some of her contemporaries, was sweet and of good quality, and sung with great taste and expression,) maintained a very respetable station at the London concerts for a considerable time, and, with her two younger sisters, Theodosia and Eliza, for several years delighted the audience at the Ladies' Catch and Glee Concerts, and at numerous private parties in the first circles of fashion, with the sweet harmony which proceeded from three voices constantly in the habit of singing together, and uncommonly well blended. Theodosia, the second sister, now the widow of Capt. Fisher, of the Devonshire Militia, had a peculiarly deep contra alto voice, which had an admirable effect in the under parts. Mis Abrams was the composer of several beautiful glees, &c. and very popular ballads, some of which, particularly those of the Orphan's Prayer, and Crazy Jane, were sung with most impressive effect by her sister Theodosia. These ladies, having invariably possessed the admiration and esteem of the public, have been some years retired, to enjoy the well earned emoluments of their profession.

It is evident from the wills of Harriett and Eliza Abrams that the 'well earned emoluments' had been invested in property or in public funds.

Harriett Abrams was a successful composer of songs, duets and trios, published individually and in four collections, the last of which was dedicated to Queen Charlotte, 'with Her Majesty's most Gracious Permission', in 1803. The dedication page gives Harriett's address as Park Lane. There is no contemporary scandalous gossip about the sisters and little information about their private lives. We know that they were friends of the leading actor, John Philip Kemble, for his memorandum book records that in April 1799 he, his actor brother Charles and Mr Siddons, husband of their sister Sarah, the great actress, spent the evening and supped with the Miss Abramses. Harriett, Jane, Theodosia, Eliza, Charles and another Abrams brother were all present. On Sunday 16 June the Earl and Countess of Mount- Edgecumbe, Mr and Mrs Siddons, Charles Kemble and the Miss Abramses were among Kemble's supper guests. He was in Margate that August to play leading roles at the theatre for a couple of weeks and the day before his first night there he travelled over to Broadstairs to dine with the Miss Abramses, who were presumably taking a seaside holiday.

By 1894 the sisters were spending at least part of the year in Devon, and on 6 August Theodosia married the 21-year-ol Thomas Fisher at St Maurice, Plympton. He came from Little Torrington, in North Devon, where his father had been rector for 30 years until his death in 1803. The Abrams sisters remained on friendly terms with Thomas Fisher's widowed mother and six unmarried sisters, who were left small bequests in the wills of both Harriett and Eliza Abrams. Fisher's death at Teignmouth was reported in the Gentleman's Magazine of June 1810, where he was described as 'late captain and adjutant in the North Devon militia'. After less than 6 years of marriage, Theodosia became a widow with a 3-year-old son, Charles, and a 6-month-old daughter, Harriett.

The Abrams sisters continued to live mainly in Devon, since Theodosia's home was in Torquay when she married Joseph Garrow. But they had not abandoned London completely, for Jane Adams was 'of Park Lane . . . but also of Teignmouth' when she died in 1814. Garrow could have encountered them socially, or he could have been taking violin lessons from one of their brothers. Harriett and Eliza Abrams were to live with the Garrows until their deaths. Harriett's will, made in 1819, two years before she died, praises her 'dearly dearly beloved Brother in Law Joseph Garrow', whose 'parental attention [and] affection towards his Son and Daughter in Law Charles & Harriett Fisher were sufficient to ensure him my utmost gratitude and love. Added to his his affection for his wife myself and every part of my Family has indeared him to me as a Brother and Friend'. The family became closely involved in the music of St. John's Chapel, a few minutes walk from their home. In the late 1830s Joseph Garrow's Sacred Music, selected from that usually sung in St John's Chapel, Torquay, arranged in an easy manner for four voices was printed in London and published by subscription. It was dedicated to John Sheepshanks, Arcdeacon of Cornwall, 'as a mark of friendship & esteem, and of gratitude for his kind assistance while curate of St John's Chapel, Torquay, in originally forming the choir. By his attached friend, The Author'. As well as music by Beethoven, Mozart, Weber and others, the volume includes an anthem for Christams Day and eight hymn tunes by J. Garrow and tunes or chants by Miss E. Abrams, Mrs Garrow, Miss Garrow and Miss Fisher. (Harriett Abrams had died before the choir was formed.)

By 1820, inflation was adversely affecting the household at Torquay and the three sisters sent a petition to George I, asking for an official position for Joseph Garrow. The king's response was very positive, but we do not know exactly what resulted; however; they all continued to live at The Braddons in middle-class comfort. Joseph Garrow was certainly not idle, for in addition to his duties as a magistrate, he became a member of the Select Vestry for the parish, Vice-President of the Torquay Mechanics' Institute and chairman of the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians. When gas lighting was introduced into Torquay shops in 1834 he wrote an amusing verse celebration, full of ludicrous puns on the names of the shop owners. Walter Savage Landor visited Torquay in 1837 and became a friend of the family and a correspondent of 'genial, hospitable Garrow'. The following year, the 32-year-old Elizabeth Barrett was advised by her doctor to leave London and she moved to Torquay for three years. The Garrows sent her fruit and vegetables from their garden and Harriett and the 22-year-old Theo visited the invalid. In a letter to Mary Russell Mitford, Barrett gossiped about Joseph Garrow's illegitimacy and his Indian mother, 'the "dark ladie" - To the darkness his own complexion is said to signify - but he is a sensible intelligent man & an active magistrate & useful citizen, sufficiently so to put his pedigree out of people's heads!' Of his wife she reports nothing except: 'You are aware perhaps that Mrs Garrow was a public singer'. Elizabeth's sister, Henrietta, who mixed in Torquay society, had clearly not picked up any scandal about Theodosia or Joseph Garrow, but found some disapproval of Theo, whom she thought affected and with 'a leaning to light flirty manners'. Barrett became irritated by Landor's excessive praise of Theo's poetry, which was being published in the Countess of Blessington's annuals, but admired the young woman's linguistic ability in German and Italian. She defended Theo from the charge of affectation and acknowledged her musical skill: 'She composes & performs fl & there  is genius in each'. They shared the same doctor in Torquay, a man who, according to Barrett, thought writing poetry was bad for the health, particularly for ladies, and  attributed Barrett's invalidism and Theo's bouts of ill-health to the practice. He forecast Theo's death in two years, but as Barrett wrote in 1845: 'she was dancing quadrilles then . . . (& has lived to do the same by the Polka)'. It was Fanny Trollope, not Mrs Garrow, whom Robert Browning described to his wife as 'that coarse, vulgar Mrs Trollope' and 'that vulgar, pushing, woman who is not fit to speak to you', when he encountered both families in Italy in 1847, soon after his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett.

Initially, Theo's parents were strongly opposed to her marriage and, according to Tom's diary, there were 'harsh letters' and then 'terrible scenes' with Garrow. However, as Theo had only 1,000 at that time and Tom had lived with his mother for many years with no steady income of his own, most 19th century parents would have reacted in the same way. Although Tom, in his autobiography What I Remember, described the opposition to the marriage as a matter of 'ordinary prudence', he never really forgave his in-laws. He became somwhat reconciled to Joseph, who lived with the Trollopes for several years after Theodosia's death, but still described him as 'a jealously affectionate, but very exacting father'. He never came to terms with Theodosia, who died within two years of his marriage, and his portrait of her lies behind all the later descriptions. He wrote: 'Mrs Garrow, my wife's mother, was not, I think, an amiable woman. She must have been between 70 and 80 when I first knew her; but she was still vigorous, and had still a pair of what must once have been magnificent, and were still brilliant and fierce black eyes. She was in no wise a clever woman . . . I am afraid that Mrs Garrow did not love her second daughter at all . . . She was a very fierce old lady, and did not, I fear, contribute to the happiness of any member of her family'.

Frances Eleanor Trollope, whom Tom married after Theo's death in 1865, wrote a hagiographic biography of Fanny Trollope, Frances Trollope, Her Life and Literary Work, published in 1895. Both Fanny Trollope and Joseph Garrow had died before her marriage to Tom, who died in 1892. Repeatedly, and perhaps unconsciously, she highlights the sympathetic behaviour of Fanny by making the Garrows as unpleasant as possible. So, Joseph's reaction to the marriage is 'simple selfishness', while Fanny's desire that Tom and Theo should live with her is admirable. Joseph Garrow becomes a man of 'very quick, though shallow, intelligence', who was 'intensely and unmitigatingly selfish', while Theodosia turns into 'a woman of coarse feeling and violent temper'.

Tom and Frances Eleanor's comments are repeated or magnified by later writers. Theodosia is described as 'not very bright', yet Tom Trollope wrote in What I Remember that the composer and pianist John Baptist Cramer (who had appeared as a soloist at Harriett's benefit concerts from 1782, when he was 11) had told him admiringly that Theodosia could pick out a wrong note on any instrument in a full orchestre. Theodosia's 'coarse feeling and violent temper', found only in F.E. Trollope, is accepted as a fact. It seems strange that a household found hospitable by Landor should have included such a harridan, and it is worth noting that she had an admirable ability to keep her servants. John Tope was with the family from at least 1819 until they left for Italy. Mary Ann Coombs was left legacies in the wills of Harriett Abrams (1819), Eliza Abrams (1831) and Harriett Fisher, who called her 'my old nurse', and she registered Theodosia Garrow's death at Torquay in November 1849.
Theodosia Garrow's life after her daughter's marriage was not a happy one. Her elder daughter died suddenly from smallpox in Florence only seven months later and she herself was in her late 70s and becoming ill. The Garrows returned to England and the local paper reported that they were back in The Braddons by 4 July 1849. Charles Fisher had joined them by the 18th and stayed until after his mother's death. Tom and Theodosia, summoned from the Continent, were in Torquay before the end of August. On 3 October, Fanny Trollope wrote to Tom asking that he and his wife should visit her 'for a few weeks' and this has led to the assumption that Theodosia died in September, since it has been assumed that Fanny would only have written in this way after Theodosia's death. In fact, Theodosia Garrow died of 'Deranged Digestion, Abscess and Exhaustion' on 4 November. Her desire for Theo's constant presence, deplored by Tom's mother, would seem to contradict the belief that she had no love for her younger daughter. After her mother's death, Theo was advised by her doctor to move to a warmer climate and it was quickly agreed that Joseph Garrow should share a house in Italy with Theo, Tom and Fanny Trollope. By 5 December The Braddons was empty.

Tom Trollope and his mother were, perhaps understandably, biased against Theodosia Garrow. However, her musical friends saw her in a different light. The Earl of Mount-Edgcumbe was an enthusiastic and discriminating lover of opera and concerts through his life. His Musical Reminiscence of an Old Amateur, first published in 1834, has a final chapter on English music and the leading English singers, which ends:

There is by one name more that I shall mention, and that very slightly, but but when excellence in music is the subject, it cannot be omitted. It is that of the Misses Abrams, who were unrivaled in their more direct line, and whose united voices formed the very perfection of harmony. But of them I shall not permit myself to speak, private friendship might make my praise appear too partial. I restrain myself with the less regret from saying what I feel, because their talents (still fresh in the remembrance of many) and their merits of every kind are too widely known to need my panegyrics, and too universally acknowledged to admit of the possibility of contradiction.

In a note added to the final edition, in 1834, he wrote:

Of the three sisters one only survives, Miss Theodosia, now Mrs Garrow, whose voice was the most beautiful contralto I ever heard.

Dante vivo || White Silence

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