Felicia Dorothea Hemans née Browne (1793-1835) was a prolific and renowned Romantic poet. In 1826 the Literary Chronicle called her the first poetess of the day and with the exception of Lord Byron, the sales of her publications during her lifetime outstripped those of all of the other Romantic poets. Wordsworth himself lamented Hemans's death in the 1837 text of his Extempore Effusion on the Death of James Hogg:
- Mourn rather for that holy spirit,
- Sweet as the spring, as ocean deep;
- For her who, ere her summer faded,
- Has sunk into a breathless sleep.
Felicia Dorothea Browne was born in Liverpool in 1793, one of six children born to George Browne and his wife, Felicity Dorothea, (née Wagner). Her father George Browne was an Irish merchant and her mother was the daughter of the Tuscan Consul in Liverpool. Due to troubles with the family business, the Browne family moved to Wales in 1800 when Felicia was seven years old. At this time, her favourite pastime was to sit in the apple tree and read Shakespeare. Felicia began writing poetry at a very young age, and her first volume of poetry titled Poems by Felicia Dorothea Browne was published in 1808 when she was just 15 years old. Over her lifetime she would publish a further 19 volumes and a total of 400 poems, plus a play, and numerous articles for magazines including Blackwoods.
Felicia Dorothea Browne married Captain Alfred Hemans in 1812 and together they had 5 children - all boys - between 1813 and 1817. In 1818 the Hemans separated and Captain Hemans settled in Rome, leaving Felicia and their young family in Wales. This was to become a permanent separation and the two never met again before Hemans's death in 1835. Hemans's Records of Woman: With Other Poems (1828) concentrates on the various hardships faced by women and many of these trials were reflected in her own life - she had been responsible for the financial maintenance of her family for 10 years when it was published, this included not only her 5 sons, but also her Mother and Sister too. In 1827 Hemans's Mother died and the family fragmented with Hemans moving to Liverpool with three of her sons, while the eldest two were sent to Rome to live with their Father. Hemans's stay in Liverpool was plagued with ill health, although collaborations and acquaintances were formed with Geraldine Jewsbury, William Roscoe, and the Nortons. In 1829 and 1830, Hemans travelled to Edinburgh and the Lake District and visited Sir Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey, and Wordworth.
Hemans was advised that another winter in Liverpool would be bad for her health and in 1831 she decided to move to Dublin as her brother George lived in Kilkenny. She continued to write in Dublin, submitting several translations and commentaries on foreign literature to various publications. Unfortunately her health was in decline and towards the end of 1834, she contracted scarlet fever, an illness from which Hemans never completely recovered. In February 1835 her predicament prompted Sir Robert Peel to offer her son Henry a clerkship and grant Hemans herself £100, unfortunately she died some months later in May 1835 at only forty-three years old.
Hemans is remembered in various memorials including a plaque and a stained-glass window featuring women of the scriptures, above her resting place in the vault of St Ann's Church, Dublin. The window was funded by donations in 1865. Another memorial is the annual Felicia Hemans poetry prize awarded by the University of Liverpool, open to past and present members and students.