On this day in 1841, prolific children’s author Juliana Horatia Ewing (books by this author) was born in the village of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire, England. She was the eldest daughter of the Reverend Alfred Gatty and his wife, Margaret Gatty, a scientist, science writer, and children’s author.
In a memoir of the writer, Juliana Horatia and Her Books, Juliana’s sister writes that Julie was “at once the projector and manager of all our nursery doings,” originating each fresh game and idea, keeping her siblings entertained with stories she would invent as she told them, taking inspiration from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, and even from the woodcuts in a German ABC in the children’s library. Juliana set her siblings to planting garden plots, wrote plays for them, made bowers under the lilac bushes, and gave fantastical names, like “The Mermaid’s Ford,” to the places they played.
In 1859, Juliana founded a lending library in Ecclesfield, and in 1861 began her publishing career with the short stories “A Bit of Green” and “The Blackbirds Nest.” In 1866, Juliana’s mother began Aunt Judy’s Magazine for Children, giving it the nickname her seven younger children had for Juliana in her role as their favorite storyteller, and eventually printing most of her daughter’s stories for children. Juliana’s stories were wildly popular and would also, during her lifetime, be published as many stand-alone volumes and collections.
In 1867, Juliana married Major Alexander Ewing of the British army and 1869 published her first book, Mrs. Overtheway’s Remembrances, a collection of stories from Aunt Judy’s Magazine, followed by the book The Brownies and Other Tales. Her stories were meant to entertain as well as promote Christian values. And as her sister remembers, they showed her universal sympathy for the interests and troubles of even those who appeared to the Victorian eye as “unworthy,” for, to Juliana, “the value of each soul [was] equal in God’s sight.”
There were new stories and poems every year. 1871 saw the first volume of her Verses for Children, and in 1879 she published one of her best-known books, Jackanapes, a wistful tale of heroic sacrifice. That same year, Major Ewing was ordered to Malta, but Juliana was forced to stay behind owing to ill health. When he returned in 1883, the couple moved to Devonshire, then to lodgings at Bath early in 1885, perhaps to take advantage of its spas and thermal springs. Juliana failed to improve and died in Bath the following month. Her poem “Gifts” is gentle reflection on separation:
You ask me what since we must part
You shall bring back to me.
Bring back a pure and faithful heart
As true as mine to thee.
You talk of gems from foreign lands,
Of treasure, spoil, and prize.
Ah love! I shall not search your hands
But look into your eyes.
Although practically unknown today, Juliana Horatia Ewing was immensely popular in her time and still has a dedicated following of readers today. She was also enormously influential on others: Edith Nesbit, author of The Five Children and It series, was an admirer; Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, is said to have known her novel Jan of the Windmill by heart; and the founders of the Girl Guide movement named their junior-level scouts in honor of her Brownies.