Donnellan, Anne (c.1700–62), literary critic, and promoter of literature, learning, and the arts, was the daughter of Nehemiah Donnellan (qv), MP and chief baron of the Irish exchequer (c.1702–05), by his estranged second wife, Martha Donnellan (née Ussher) (1677–1751). Although no record exists of Anne's birth or baptism, the birth records of her siblings indicate that in 1729 she was in her late twenties. In 1712/13 Anne's mother married a younger man, Philip Perceval, her second cousin once removed, a civil lawyer and brother of John Perceval (qv), 1st earl of Egmont. From 1727 Anne lived with her mother and stepfather, mainly in Middlesex, returning on occasion to Ireland, sometimes for lengthy periods (e.g., September 1731–April 1733 and 1735–9). The marriage in 1728 of her only surviving sister, Catherine, to Robert Clayton (qv), a Dublin clergyman (two years before his elevation to the bishopric of Killala), had significant financial implications for her; a man of considerable private wealth, he made over his fiancé's dowry to Anne, thereby affording her a degree of financial independence. In addition, her brother Christopher, though a man of modest means, supported her throughout his life.
Donnellan is noteworthy for her many friendships with prominent figures in the fields of art, literature, and music. She features in the volume of verse by Mary Barber (qv), Poems on several occasions (1734). In a letter (10 May 1735) to Jonathan Swift (qv), who nicknamed her ‘the siren’, she described herself as ‘an asserter of the rights and privileges of women’ (Ball, iv, 332). A broadly gifted woman endowed with considerable musical talents, she was particularly renowned for her singing, as denoted by her pet name ‘Phill’, or ‘Philomel’. She developed a rapport with composer George Frederick Handel (qv), whom she probably met at one of the social gatherings hosted by her close companion, Mrs Mary Delany (qv). She and Delany were among a select audience who heard the first rehearsals of Handel's operas Alcina (1735) and Imeneo (1740); in a letter to her sister, Delany relates Donnellan's confession that she lost half the pleasure of Handel's music if the composer were not present to commentate over the passages. Handel's bequest of fifty pounds to her in his will is indicative of their mutual esteem. Through her close friendship with Elizabeth Montagu, whose intellectual interests she fostered, and her intimacy with others in the group, she was associated with the ‘bluestockings’ – though by the time Montagu and her companion Elizabeth Vesey (qv) adopted that name, Donnellan was in the last years of her life.
While there is nothing to suggest that Donnellan aspired to become a published writer, she often engaged in criticism of the unpublished works of others. She met Samuel Richardson in 1750, and they quickly became frequent correspondents and ultimately close friends, as evidenced by the mutual bequests of mourning rings in their respective wills (a gesture that he did not extend to his wife or sister). Although renowned for disregarding the advice that he solicited, Richardson consulted her (among others in his circle of female admirers) for her views on characterisation, and appealed to her for suggestions on capturing authentically the essence of high society. On her arrival in Dublin in 1751 he sought her advice on his History of Sir Charles Grandison (1754). Donnellan never married, although Montagu claimed in a letter (January 1753) to her friend Gilbert West that she had refused a proposal of marriage from Bishop George Berkeley (qv); this was perhaps more a reflection on the latter's eccentricities than an indication that Donnellan harboured any aversion to marriage. She was taken ill in 1733–4 with an unspecified condition causing her pains in her limbs. After the deaths of her brother and mother in close succession (1751–2), compounded by the subsequent trauma of a dispute over their wills, her health declined until her death in Hanover Sq., Middlesex, on 21 May 1762.
Donnellan's bequest of £1,243, nearly a quarter of her assets, to TCD, was her final investment in intellectual life. Intended to promote ‘religious learning and good manners’, the money was used to found an annual divinity lecture series. Commencing in 1794, the Donnellan lectures were Trinity's first public lecture series. Initially lectures were delivered by a college fellow in the chapel after Sunday service, but in later years speakers were invited from other universities to talk on a variety of subjects. A list of Donnellan lectures from 1795 to 1945 is published in K. C. Bailey (ed.), Trinity College record (1951), 396–9. Donnellan was painted by Hogarth in 1731 in a family group of the Wesleys; the picture remains with the duke of Wellington at Stratfield Saye. A miniature, painted in 1751 by Rupert Barber (qv) (son of Mary Barber), hangs in the Ulster Museum.