Eleanor Porden

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Eleanor Anne Porden (1785-1825) was a British Romantic poet and the first wife of the explorer John Franklin. She was born in London, the younger surviving daughter of the architect William Porden and his wife Mary Plowman. Her mother was an invalid, and after her older sister's marriage, she nursed her from 1809 until her death in 1819.

An intelligent young woman, educated privately at home, and interested in the arts and sciences, Porden showed considerable talent for poetry from an early age. Her first major work, the allegorical The Veils; or the Triumph of Constancy, was published in 1815, when she was only twenty (she had written it at the age of sixteen). She prefaced it with an introduction which gives a clear indication of her interests and education:

The author, who considers herself a pupil of the Royal Institution, being at that time attending the Lectures given in Albemarle-Street, on Chemistry, Geology, Natural History, and Botany, by Sir Humphry Davy, Mr. Brand, Dr. Roger (sic, for Roget), Sir James Edward Smith, and other eminent men, she was induced to combine these subjects with her story; and though her knowledge of them was in a great measure orally acquired, and therefore cannot pretend to be extensive or profound, yet, as it was derived from the best teachers, she hopes it will seldom be found incorrect.

In 1818, she met her future husband, John Franklin, on board his ship, HMS Trent, before his departure on David Buchan's British Naval North Polar Expedition. This inspired a short poem, The Arctic Expeditions.

During Franklin's absence, she researched and wrote a historical epic poem, Cœur de Lion, or The Third Crusade. A poem, in sixteen books. This was published in two volumes in 1822, with a dedication to the king, George IV. Based on historical research, and also on mediæval romances, it recounts the adventures of Richard I of England on the Third Crusade.

In 1822, the year her father died, Franklin returned from the Arctic, acclaimed -- despite the death of many men under his command, and the near-starvation of the rest -- as "the man who ate his boots." There followed some awkward correspondence on both sides -- Franklin's religious convictions and strict views on the Sabbath gave Eleanor pause -- but they eventually married on August 19, 1823. She made her acceptance of his proposal conditional on his acceptance of her continuing her career as a poet after their marriage. She wrote to him six months before the wedding:

it was the pleasure of Heaven to bestow those talents on me, and it was my father's pride to cultivate them to the utmost of his power. I should therefore be guilty of a double dereliction of duty in abandoning their exercise.

She gave birth to their daughter, Eleanor Isabella, in June of 1824. Childbirth accelerated the advance of the tuberculosis from which she had long suffered, and she died on February 22, 1825, aged only twenty-nine. She had encouraged her husband not let his concerns for her health impede his career, and he had set off on his second Arctic Land expedition shortly before her death. The news did not reach Franklin until he arrived at his first outpost; he placed the flag she had sent with him at the furthest point of his expedition. On his return, Franklin renewed an acquaintance with Eleanor's friend Jane Griffin, and they were married soon after.

Works Available Online

Sources and Further Reading

  • Gell, Edith Mary, John Franklin's Bride (1930) (Gell was Eleanor Porden and John Franklin's great-granddaughter).
  • Sutherland, Kathryn, "Eleanor Anne Porden", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.