Lover, Samuel (1797–1868), artist, writer, and composer, was born 24 February 1797 in Dublin, eldest son of William Frederick Lover (d. 1833), a stockbroker who ran the British Exchange Office in Dublin and had various other commercial interests, and Abigail Lover (née Maher; d. 1810), a catholic from Co. Wicklow. She was an accomplished singer who encouraged her son's artistic and musical interests. He had one brother, William (1807–64), who later became a distinguished medical doctor and scientist. His father remarried and had two children, Henry and Maria, by his second wife. The Lover family were part of the Dublin protestant commercial class and lived near Marlborough Green, Dublin.
Throughout his life Lover suffered from bronchitis, and at the age of 12 he was sent to a farm in Co. Wicklow to recover from a bout of illness. There he was introduced to the customs and traditions of rural Ireland, which would later have a profound influence on his literary career. Lover was educated privately and studied for the Dublin University matriculation examinations, but was not sent to university. He went to work in his father's office, and in 1814 he was working in London. Lover thrived on the artistic life there, and on his return to Dublin he left home to pursue a career as an artist. It was probably at this time that he attended the Dublin Society's drawing school. His presence there is recorded by the artist and actor James Dowling Herbert (qv) in his memoirs, Irish varieties for the last fifty years (1836), 54–7. Lover supported himself by painting, copying music, and teaching drawing. He became a pupil of the miniaturist John Comerford (qv), and as a result of his influence Lover turned to miniature painting. Lover specialised in painting portraits in watercolour on ivory. His technique is detailed and his miniatures are relatively large. He was particularly adept at painting children and theatrical portraits. The NGI has a collection of over forty portraits and landscapes by Lover as well as albums of memorabilia and letters (Bartlett bequest).
It was as a songwriter that Lover first came to public attention. In 1818 he composed a musical tribute to Thomas Moore (qv). Many of Lover's early commissions were from people in the musical, literary, and theatrical worlds. His artistic and social accomplishments obtained for him an entrée into Dublin society. His friend and patron Lady Morgan (qv), the biographer of Salvator Rosa and novelist, encouraged him to paint and write musical comedy. During this time Lover painted several portraits of her, such as those in the NGI and the RIA.
He began publishing and illustrating stories in literary journals such as the Dublin Penny Journal, the Dublin Literary Gazette, the Irish Penny Magazine, and the Dublin University Magazine, of which he was a founder along with Charles Lever (qv), George Petrie (qv), and William Carleton (qv). Lover was a member of two convivial clubs in Dublin: the Burschenschaft Club (founded by Lever) and the Dublin Glee Club.
In 1817, 1819, and 1823 Lover exhibited drawings at the Artists of Ireland exhibitions at the Dublin Society's House in Hawkins St. He began to exhibit at the RHA at its first exhibition (1826). He was elected an associate in 1828 and full academician in 1829, and was appointed trustee and secretary in 1831. Between that first exhibition and 1863 he exhibited 115 pictures at the RHA.
In 1826 Lover wrote his ballad ‘Rory O'More’, and in 1827 he composed his first musical drama, ‘Grana Uile’. In that year he married Lucy Berrel (d. 1847), a Roman Catholic, daughter of a Dublin architect, John Berrel. They had two daughters, Meta (d. 1848) and Fanny. Fanny Lover's collection of memorabilia, letters, and miniatures painted by her father are now in the collection of the NGI (Bartlett bequest).
Lover was commissioned to paint a portrait of the violinist Paganini when he came to Dublin in 1831. The portrait was exhibited at the RA in 1832 and at the RHA in 1833. During the period 1829–32 Lover developed a talent for drawing humorous political caricatures. In 1830 the Parson's horn book was published. This satirised religion in Ireland, and Lover contributed the illustrations and much of its literary content. The book gained notoriety as a result of a crown prosecution. In 1832 he published Legends and stories of Ireland, which he also illustrated. This book drew on his knowledge of rural Ireland, its customs and characters. Through his writings and the success of his portrait-painting such as the Paganini portrait, he became better known in London. In 1835 he went to live there permanently, and quickly established himself as a miniaturist. He became a member of the Garrick Club and was part of the London-Irish literary, musical, and artistic worlds and named among his friends Fr F. S. Mahony (qv), who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Father Prout’, Michael Banim (qv), John Banim (qv), and Anna Jameson (qv) the art historian. Through Lady Blessington (qv) Lover became a friend of Charles Dickens, with whom he was associated in founding Bentley's Miscellany.
In 1837 Lover published his first novel, Rory O'Moore: a national romance. This he successfully dramatised and followed with two plays, ‘The white horse of the Peppards’ (1838) and ‘The happy man’ (1839); his ‘The beau ideal’ had already been produced in 1835. He composed a musical drama, ‘The Greek boy’ (1840), and a burlesque opera about an Irishman on the grand tour called ‘Il Paddy Whack in Italia’ (1841) which was produced by Michael William Balfe (qv) in the Lyceum Theatre. In 1842 his novel Handy Andy was published, and in 1844 he added Treasure trove.
In 1844 Lover abandoned miniature painting as a result of failing eyesight but continued to paint and exhibit landscapes. He invented a new form of entertainment which he called ‘Irish evenings’, a monologue of songs, recitations, and stories, all of his own composition. He spent 1846–8 in North America, touring with a theatrical company, performing his ‘Irish evenings’ with great success, and painting landscapes. In London he continued to perform his ‘Irish evenings’ (which he renamed ‘Paddy's portfolio’) and wrote the drama ‘The sentinel of Alva’ (1854); he also composed two librettos for Balfe. He was granted a civil list pension of £300 a year in 1856 in recognition of his services to art and literature. In 1858 he published The lyrics of Ireland with biographical and musical notes. In 1860 the London Irish Rifle Volunteers was formed and Lover took an active part writing songs, which were published in Original songs for the rifle volunteers. He fell ill in February 1864, and in 1865 he went to live in the Isle of Wight and then to St Helier, Jersey, where he died on 6 July 1868 from a haemorrhage of the lungs. He is buried in Kensal Green cemetery, London.
Lover married (1852) Mary Wandby of Cobham Hall, Cambridgeshire. He is commemorated on a tablet by Goffin in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, with an inscription composed by his friend the Rev. E. H. Nelson. There is a marble bust of Lover by E. A. Foley (qv) in the National Portrait Gallery, London; and an oil portrait by James Harwood and two self-portraits in the NGI.