Jane Webb Loudon (1807-1858)
PLEASE FIND LINKS TO LOUDON PRINTS AT THE END OF HER BIOGRAPHY.
Jane Webb was born at Ritwell House near Birmingham, England, in 1807 and was orphaned at the age of seventeen when her father, Thomas Webb, Esq., died in 1824. She later wrote that after her fathers death " and, finding on the winding up of his affairs that it would be necessary to do something for my support, I had written a strange, wild novel, called the Mummy, in which I had laid the scene in the twenty-second century, and attempted to predict the state of improvement to which this country might possibly arrive." Published under a man's pen name, the book and its futuristic innovations caught the attention of John Loudon, a well respected landscape gardener and writer.
Claudius Loudon was forty-seven years old, twenty-four years older than his
bride, and his health was never very good, but still they had a remarkable
marriage. Their wedding tour was idyllic, with trips to the Lake District and
Scotland. Jane was a dutiful wife to her husband, who was quite famous at the
time for his books and journals on gardening. She knew little about the subject,
but she learned quickly. The couple spent many hours together in the garden,
growing roses and peonies in great abundance. John experimented with plants for
his writing. Jane learned how to plant and weed with a meticulous hand, for John
was a perfectionist and a workaholic who insisted that every plant be labeled
with its botanical name. Acting as his secretary, copyist, researcher and note
taker, Jane assisted John with his monumental work, Encyclopedia of Gardening,
published in 1834.
Jane Loudon readily acknowledged that she knew little about gardening before she met her husband. She claimed that reading books on the subject was useless because they were too technical. Ever resourceful, Jane decided that a gardening book that could be easily understood by the general public was needed, and so she wrote Instructions in Gardening for Ladies in simple, clear language. She presented sensible and original ideas on how to garden, demonstrating why gardening was a fitting avocation for ladies and not all that difficult to master. Her book included personal sketches of and stories about gardeners - a casual approach that appealed to the public. An excellent botanical book, Instructions in Gardening for Ladies, went through nine editions, selling upwards of 20,000 copies.
the ladies of her day, Jane Loudon continued working through her pregnancy in
1832. Until the day her daughter was born, Jane worked in the garden and helped
her husband with his Arboretum Britannicum. This was an expensive production for
the Loudons. The book was an enormous undertaking
for the already frail John Loudon, and in the end, it cost him both his health
and his wealth. By 1838, his health was declining and he was in severe financial
About this time, Jane began working on The Ladies Flower Garden, which would eventually be published in four volumes. Although it was not as financially successful as Gardening for Ladies the book won her great acclaim. A review in Gardeners Magazine, volume 15 of 1839, declared that "as a drawing-room book for young ladies to copy from, the work is unrivaled". Today a copy of the work is extremely valuable.
when she traveled, Jane continued writing. She tried her hand at periodicals,
issuing The Ladies Magazine of Gardening and The Ladies Companion in 1850 and
1851. Neither venture was successful, but she continued writing books. Extremely
prolific, Jane wrote Botany for Ladies and was working on a second volume of The
Ladies Ornamental Flower Garden when her husband became gravely ill with lung
disease. Almost penniless, John Loudon
died at the age of sixty. Jane described his death in great detail in an article
she later wrote about his life. " Soon after this he became very restless,
and walked several times from the drawing-room to his bed-room and back again. I
feel that I cannot continue these melancholy
details; it is sufficient to say, that though his body became weaker every
moment, his mind retained all its vigour to the last, and that he died standing
on his feet. Fortunately I perceived a change taking place in his countenance,
and I had just time to clasp my arms around him, to save him falling, when his
head sank upon my shoulder and he was no more.
do not attempt to give any description of the talents or character of my late
husband as an author; his works are before this world, and by them he will be
judged; but I trust I may be excused for adding, that in his private capacity he
was equally estimable as a husband and a father, and as a master and a friend."
Loudon's Self Instructions for Young Gardeners was published posthumously and
included a memoir by Jane about their life together. After his death Jane
received a small annuity of one hundred pounds from the Civil List "
granted to her in recognition of the literary services rendered herself and her
husband. Still, she was in debt and left with a young daughter, Agnes, to
support. Though Jane was only thirty-six years old and still a very attractive
woman, she never re-married.
an author, Jane Loudon was successful in part because she took every opportunity
to turn her own life into books that held a personal appeal for her readers.
Ladies Country Companion, for example, is an innovative book composed of a
letter to a young married woman who moves from the city to the country. In it,
Jane chronicles aspects of her own life and how she felt when she made the same
transition as a newlywed. When Jane and her daughter Agnes visited friends in
France and fell in love with the host's clever pets, she wrote a book called
Tales for Young People, which recounted these
1848, Agnes was a beautiful young woman of sixteen who enjoyed parties and
dances. Her extravagances depleted her mother's finances, and Jane was forced to
take a position as editor of a periodical called The Ladies Companion at Home
and Abroad. She spent two years working at the company
before being asked to resign. By then, Jane Loudon's brilliant career had burned
out and she struggled through her final years. She died in 1858 and was buried
next to her beloved husband.
Her talents were passed along to her daughter. Agnes Loudon went on to write several children's books and various stories for publication.
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