HERBERT, MARY ELIZA, author and magazine editor; b. at Halifax, N.S., c. 1832, second daughter of Catherine and of Nicholas Michael Herbert, shoemaker and blacking manufacturer, who had emigrated from Ireland; d. in Halifax at her father’s home, Belle Aire, 15 July 1872, after a long illness, of “chronic gastroses.”
Mary Herbert’s early poems were published in 1857 with those of her elder sister, Sarah Herbert* in The Aeolian harp: or, miscellaneous poems, a collection on religious, moral, and temperance themes. Both women belonged to the Wesleyan Methodist evangelical group and were active in the temperance movement; these interests provided the main themes for their poetry. Mary Herbert later published a volume containing her own poetry, Flowers by the wayside . . . , written on more romantic themes. In the preface “she trusts that the unassuming flowers thus gathered, may be instrumental in instructing, cheering and comforting some weary traveller in life’s rugged way.”
Mary Herbert was the first woman in Nova Scotia to edit and publish a magazine: the Mayflower, or Ladies’ Acadian Newspaper, a small 32-page volume. It included works partly selected and partly original, and was devoted to literature for those who wished “to roam a while in the flowery fields of romance, – to hold communion with the Muses.” The magazine began publication in May 1851, in the year the Literary Garland of Montreal ceased, and was a Maritime example of the North American and English fashion for genteel periodicals with many lady contributors and a literary content which displayed sentiment, piety, and propriety. Printed at the Athenaeum, the official press of the Sons of Temperance, the Mayflower continued for at least nine monthly numbers, but failed to obtain enough support even from those eager to encourage native literature. The outcome is not surprising as the intense competition among Nova Scotia periodicals during this period led to many financial failures.
Mary Herbert also wrote tales and essays for Nova Scotia newspapers and several of her tales were published separately, at her own expense, because the province had no book publishing firms. The tales have little merit, and the poems show a morbid concern with death, but a few have vivid descriptions of nature or poetic mood.
M. E. Herbert, Belinda Dalton; or scenes in the life of a Halifax belle (Halifax, 1859); Flowers by the wayside, a miscellany of prose and verse . . . (Halifax, 1865); Woman as she should be; or Agnes Wiltshire (Halifax, 1861); The young men’s choice (Halifax, 1869). Sarah and M. E. Herbert, The Aeolian harp; or, miscellaneous poems (Halifax, 1857). Mayflower, or Ladies’ Acadian Newspaper (Halifax), May 1851–February 1852.
Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 16 Oct. 1830, 16 July 1872. Novascotian (Halifax), 28 May 1835. Presbyterian Witness (Halifax), 20 July 1872. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 183. Watters, Check list, 162, 223.