Aphara Behn, or Aphra, an English dramatist and novelist, born in Canterbury about 1640, died in London, April 16, 1689. She was very young when she sailed with her father, whose name was Johnson, for Surinam, of which he was appointed lieutenant general. Her father died on the passage, but she resided for some time in Surinam, and became intimately acquainted with the native prince Oroonoko, whose adventures and fate were the theme of one of her own novels, and of a tragedy by her friend Southern. Soon after her return to England she married Mr. Behn, a London merchant of Dutch extraction, and was introduced to Charles II., whom she delighted by her vivacity. This monarch selected her as a political spy on the continent during the Dutch war. She took up her residence at Antwerp, and attracted numerous lovers and admirers, whom she managed so well that in 1666 she detected the project formed by Admirals" De Witt and De liuyter of burning the English ships in the Thames. She at once transmitted the intelligence to England, but the court refused to believe her, though her report was speedily proved true by the event. Mortified at this, she renounced politics. Embarking soon after for England, she narrowly escaped death, being saved in a boat after the vessel had foundered.
From this time she devoted herself to authorship and to the gayest society of the capital. Among her acquaintances were Rochester, Etheridge, Southern, Crisp, and Dryden. Her works comprise 17 plays, "Oroonoko, the American Prince," and other novels, a variety of short poems, and numerous letters, of which those between a "Nobleman and his Sister-in-Law' (Lady Henrietta Berkeley and Lord Grey) were the most famous. These productions are remarkable for their grace and spright-liness, their lack of moral principle, and their entirely unbounded license. She wrote under the signature of "Astrsea," and Pope alludes to her by that name. She was buried in Westminster abbey. A fac-simile reprint of the edition of "The Plays, Histories, and Novels of the ingenious Mrs. Aphra Behn" of 1724-'35 (6 vols. 12mo) appeared in London in 1871.