Jean Ingelow was born in 1820 in Boston, Lincolnshire, the daughter of a banker and the eldest of ten children. Following the failure of her father’s business the family moved to Ipswich, then London. Educated at home by her mother and an aunt, Jean started writing poetry at an early age under the pseudonym Orris, but did not publish her first volume of poems, A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings until 1850. This won praise from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, also from Lincolnshire, with whom she built a lasting friendship.
The following year she published a novel, Allerton and Dreux, but it was the publication of her poems in 1863 which led to her popular acclaim. In 1866 she published The Song of Seven and three years later she edited with Dora Greenwell, a fellow poet, a collection of poetry for children, The Story of Dorm and Other Poems. She gave up verse in favour of writing novels, the best of which were Off The Skelligs (1872), Sarah de Berenger (1880), and Morgan The Fairy (1869), a children’s tale.
She lived in London for most of her adult life and died unmarried in 1897, although her name at one time was linked with that of Robert Browning. As a person she was reserved and conservative in her tastes and this is reflected in the simple spontaneity of her poetry, as is her sensitive nature and her quiet joyfulness in the beauties of nature. She was a devout Christian and frequently used the proceeds of her books to provide meals for the poor and needy. From 1852 she contributed to the evangelical Youth Magazine and was for a short time its editor.
Although her popularity waned towards the end of the 19th Century, her works gave sincere pleasure to many and sold in enormous numbers both in the UK and the United States in the 1860s and 1870s. A number of her poems were set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.