Harriet Lewin was born at The Ridgeway, near Southampton, on 1 July 1792. Her father, Thomas Lewin, had spent some years in the Madras civil service, before returning in the same ship with the divorced Madame Grand (from Pondicherry), who afterwards married Talleyrand. Lewin remained with her for a time at Paris in the years preceding the French Revolution. Settling then in England, he married a Miss Hale, daughter of General Hale and Miss Chaloner, who was descended from Thomas Chaloner the regicide. The couple had a large family, he lived in style, and kept a house in town as well as in the country.
Harriet Lewin grew up a high-spirited, brilliant girl. The family were residing at The Hollies, near Bexley in Kent, when at the age of twenty-two, she attracted the devotion of George Grote, her junior by two years, who lived with his parents not far off. They were married in 1820. She began to cultivate foreigners, especially French public men. During Grote's parliamentary period, she supported him by holding together the party of radical reformers socially. She later gave support also to his scholarly work.
On the move
The Grotes' circumstances became easier in 1830. From 1832 to 1837, they lived mainly at Dulwich Wood, then, for greater convenience of parliamentary attendance, at 3 Eccleston Street, which they left in 1848 for the well-known 12 Savile Row, the house associated with the literary fame and administrative activity of Grote's later years. From 1838 until 1850, they also kept a country house at East Burnham (near Burnham Beeches) in Buckinghamshire. This was replaced by a small house, which they built in the neighbourhood and occupied under the name of "History Hut", from the beginning of 1853 until the end of 1857. Then for reasons detailed by Mrs Grote in an Account of the Hamlet of East Burnham (privately circulated at the time), they decided to leave the area.
From 1859, they took the spacious Barrow Green House in Surrey, which had once been occupied by Jeremy Bentham, but it was inconvenient for visits to London, and they left in 1863. In 1864 they settled finally at Shere, Surrey, at The Ridgeway, as it was called by Mrs Grote, after the place of her birth. Herself an accomplished musician, she cultivated friendly relations with Mendelssohn and other composers and performers, including Jenny Lind.
Though Grote's health suffered from a fever following on premature delivery in 1821 of an only child (a boy), who lived just a week, she otherwise had an excellent constitution. Her nephew was the actor William Terriss, the father of Ellaline Terriss.
"...Mrs Grote sat with one leg over the other, both high in the air, and talked for two hours, turning with equal facility to Saffi on Italian Literature, Max Müller on Epic Poetry, and Arthur on Ecclesiastical History, and then plunged into a discourse on the best manure for turnips, and the best way of forcing Cotswold mutton, with an interlude first upon the 'harmony of shadow' in water-colour drawing, and then upon rat-hunts at Jemmy Shawe's – a low public-house in Westminster. Upon all these subject she was equally vigorous, and gave all her decisions with the manner and tone of one laying down the laws of Athens... She was, to the last, one of the most original women in England, shrewd, generous, and excessively vain."
Grote remained active to the last. She died at Shere on 29 December 1878, in her 87th year, and was buried there.
Grote's first acknowledged work was Memoir of the Life of Ary Scheffer, a painter. This graphic sketch reached a second edition in 1860, the year of its publication. Two years later she issued a volume of Collected Papers (some hitherto unpublished). A keeper of diaries and notebooks and a sprightly letter-writer, she began to write a biographical account of her husband while he was still alive. The work was rapidly pushed forward after his death in 1871, although she had already reached her 80th year, and it was published in 1873 as The Personal Life of George Grote.
She had previously, in 1866, printed for private circulation a sketch entitled The Philosophical Radicals of 1832, including a Life of Sir William Molesworth. She also wrote a pamphlet (1878), A brief Retrospect of the Political Events of 1831–1832, as illustrated by the Greville and Althorp Memoirs.
- Lady Eastlake (1880). Mrs. Grote, a sketch. London: John Murray.
- "The Terriss Tragedy", in New York Dramatic Mirror, December 21, 1897
- Augustus Hare, The Story of My Life, Volume I (Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1896), p. 431.
- Grote, Harriet (1860). Memoir of the Life of Ary Scheffer by Mrs. Grote. London: John Murray.
- Grote, Harriet (1862). Collected Papers (original and reprinted) in Prose and Verse by Mrs. Grote. London: John Murray.
- Grote, Harriet (1873), The Personal Life of George Grote, London: John Murray, 2nd edition.
- Grote, Harriet (1866). The Philososphical Radicals of 1832, comprising the life of Sir William Molesworth and some incidents connected with the reform movement from 1832 to 1842. London: Savill and Edwards, Printers.