Victorian social reformer, women's rights activist,
journalist, poetess and novelist.
". . . . Here is a human being sunk to the lips in sin and
suffering, unable to extricate herself, haunted by thoughts of
self-destruction. Let her alone: cold, hunger, and disease
will soon put an end to her sufferings; or in the kindly
December darkness, she may drop into the murky Thames.
This, perhaps, is the 'cold-blooded economical' way of disposing
of the case. . . ."
a Preventive Agency
A paper by Isa Craig, 1858.
". . . . To be told that you are not wanted, that in the
great busy world there is no need for you, that you and yours
might perish unregarded, and never be missed out of the
multitude, must be a bitter experience, and yet it is a common
one; alas! so very common. "
A novel by Isa Craig.
" . . . . Under the wing of a national school in Dublin
there is a ragged school of a kind which appears to meet the necessities
of the case . . . . . to secure regular attendance it is found necessary
to furnish the first meal of the day, a simple piece of bread, as the
children are often kept at home till it can be earned or begged, so
entire is the destitution of their homes."
From . . . .
Education in Ireland
A paper by Isa Craig, 1861.
"I have simply expressed the thoughts and feelings
suggested by nature and the scenes of life in the tone and language that
came at their command. Recognising in poetry an art to be
cultivated with enthusiasm for its own sake, as well as the sake of the
refined enjoyment which its exercise bestows, I have aspired as far as
possible to render these poems artistic efforts."
"Girls must marry," she said, "especially girls who have
nothing. What else can they do? They are a burden on
their friends, that's all, and discontented with their lot; and
they can't pick and choose like a man. They must wait for
an offer, and it's not every girl who has more chances than one.
They can't afford to throw away a good one."
A Victorian woman's view on marriage, from . . .
. Heroine of Home
A novel by Isa Craig.
ISABELLA CRAIG, the only child of John Craig, a Scottish hosier and glover, was born in
Edinburgh on October 17, 1831. Following the death of her parents
while she was still a child, Isa lived with her grandmother, attending
school until 1840―there is a suggestion
in some contemporary publications that she may have contributed to the family income
by needle-work. In 1853, Isa secured a
position on the staff of The Scotsman, writing
literary reviews and articles on social questions; she had already from
an early age contributed poems (signed
or "C.") to The Scotsman and to various periodicals, and in 1856
her first volume of poems ("Poems by Isa")
was published by Blackwood of Edinburgh.
THE violet in thy shade all meekly lies,
And spends its hidden life in sweet perfume,
Till, meekly shutting up its dying eyes,
It yields to fresher buds a space to bloom.
The apple stands not on the wind-swept hill,
Where storms may toss its branches to and fro,
And nip its blossoms with untimely chill,
In their first crimson flush, ere pale they grow,
To their white death; but in the vale it dwells,
Spreading its cloud of bloom, delicious show!
And golden green and ruddy fruitage swells,
Till heavy hangs the richly-laden bough:
And thus within the heart that lieth low,
The fruits of love to all their fulness grow.
In 1856 Isa met Elizabeth ("Bessie")
Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)―a campaigner for women's
rights, journalist, poetess and author―the pair contributing to a Glasgow women's
periodical, the Waverley Journal. Bessie, who became its Editor
in April 1857, advertised the paper as "a working woman's journal" and
later established an office in Princes Street, London, where Isa
WAVERLEY. A Working-Woman's Journal; devoted to the legal and
industrial interests of women. Edited by Bessie Rayner Parkes.
Published fortnightly. Price 4p. To be had from the
office, 14A, Princes Street, Cavendish
Square; and from Tweedie, 337, Strand. Also at 147, Fleet
An advertisement appearing in G. J. Holyoake's
'The Reasoner', 28 October, 1857.
In 1857 Isa moved to London where she took up an
appointment as Assistant Secretary of the "National Association for the
Promotion of Social Science" (NAPSS); the Secretary was
barrister G. W. Hastings, son of Dr. Sir Charles Hastings, founder of
what was to become the British Medical Association.
English Woman's Journal
strongly supported both NAPSS and the new
"Ladies' Sanitary Association", founded by NAPSS to carry 'a social and
sanitary crusade' into the homes of the poor. Between 1857 and its
final conference in 1884, NAPSS served as a forum for discussion on
Victorian social questions (approximately five thousand papers were
delivered to the Association, published in nearly fifty volumes) and
acted as an influential adviser to governments. It attracted many
powerful contributors, including politicians, civil servants, the first
British feminists, intellectuals (such as John Stuart
Mill, John Ruskin, F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley) and
reformers, and influenced policy and legislation on matters as diverse
as public health and women’s legal and social emancipation.
Mary Carpenter, famous for her work with ragged and
criminal children, reputedly became the first woman to speak in public
in Britain when she addressed the Association’s
inaugural congress in
Birmingham in October 1857.
1st February 1859
Advertisement.—Isa Craig and "The English Woman's
Journal."—The new number of "The English Woman's Journal" for
February 1 contains a new poem by Isa Craig, "The
Ballad of the Brides of Quair." Miss Craig has been a
regular contributor to "The English Woman's Journal" since its
commencement in March, 1858. Readers will find her full
signature in the numbers of June and January to a poem and a prose
article. Published by "The English Woman's Journal" Company,
limited, at their office, 14a, Princes-street, Cavendish-square,
W., and by Piper and Co., Paternoster-row. Price, 1s.
The Waverley Journal had
ceased publication by 1858, but it was soon followed by the English Woman's Journal,
supported by other committed independent women among whom were Matilda
Mary Hays (1820?–1897: novelist,
translator of George Sand and the Journal's co-editor);
Adelaide Anne Procter
(1826-64: poetess and women's activist);
Faithfull (1835-95: publisher, lecturer and
women's activist; a Surrey rector's daughter, Emily later founded the Victoria Press where she trained
young working-class women as compositors); and Maria
Susan Rye (1829–1903) social reformer,
promoter of emigration and briefly Secretary of the committee to
reform the law on married women's property, who was especially
interested in finding work for educated middle-class women. Maria
established an office to copy legal documents in Lincolns Inn Fields,
and was a founder of the "Female Middle-Class Emigration Society"
(in her "Recollections",
Isabella Fyvie Mayo describes
Maria as "a tall lady, severe of aspect and speech.") Sarah Lewin was employed as secretary and bookkeeper. In December
1859, the Journal moved to more spacious premises at 19, Langham
Place, where a reading room and coffee shop were provided, and
associated societies could meet to develop initiatives.
18th November 1859
EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
you have called public attention to the subject of the
employment of women, I beg to inform you that at a meeting of
the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science
yesterday it was moved by Mr. G. W. Hastings, and seconded by
the Hon. Arthur Kinnaird, M.P., and carried,—
"That the following be
appointed a committee to consider and report to the council on
the best means which the association can adopt to assist and
present movement for increasing the industrial employment of
women—the Right Hon. the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Hon. A.
Kinnaird, M.P., Mr. E. Ackroyd, Mr. Hastings, Miss Adelaide
Proctor, Miss Boucherette, Miss Faithfull, Miss Craig."
If you will kindly
insert this letter in your columns it will greatly facilitate
the object of the committee, which is to obtain information as
to the channels already open to female industry, and as to the
opening of others into which it would be desirable to direct
it. As secretary to the committee, I shall be happy to
receive any communications on the subject, and am, Sir, yours
3, Waterloo-place, Pall-mall, S.W., Nov.
In 1860, Maria Rye established the Telegraph
School for Women at 6 Great Coram Street, London, one of
several organisations she established to further female employment.
Rye had previously published ‘The Rise and Progress of the
Telegraphs’ in 1859. Isa Craig served as the school's
The major theme of the English Woman's Journal was employment, and associated with it
were the needs to improve the education of women of all classes and the
social responsibilities of middle-class women for working-class women.
These concerns raised the issue of the appropriate division of labour
between men and women and the extent to which these feminists supported
the employment of married women. Questions about class and status
were also significant. Women who sought employment seemed too
often constrained by notions of gentility and the appropriateness of
employment for a 'lady' . . . .
'EMPLOYMENT FOR WOMEN,—Miss Isa Craig addresses the following as a
letter to the Times :—
"The cause of
working-women has found an able and generous advocate in 'S.G.O.' [Ed.―letter
below]. He touches the heart of the question when he
maintains that in securing her independence the dignity of woman is
deeply concerned. The power of independent industry, which
saves her from a mercenary marriage, renders her equally free to
serve the needs of the world, or to become the fit and noble
helpmate of a working man—and in these days, what Englishman is not
a worker by hand or brain? Brave champion that we have found
in 'S.G.O.,' we have—I do not mean to be strictly statistical—five
million good as he. We have the great body of the respectable
working-classes, as our manual workers are distinctly called, whose
sisters and daughters are independent labourers in many branches of
non-domestic industry; we hope the time is coming when they will see
their true interests, and withdraw their wives from the labour
market. But among them, closer to the heart of nature, coming
in contact with the great human needs of soul and body in their
simplest forms, the 'communion of labour' may often be found in its
highest possible perfection. Then we have the large
lower-middle class, whose husbands and fathers know the value of
their womankind as clerks and shopkeepers, limited as their
education has been. Higher in the social scale, cultivated men
seek eagerly the help and companionship of cultivated women.
It seems therefore, that the views of your correspondent must be
mistaken, or must be held by only a very limited class of society,
whose opinions cannot deserve notice. These 'lords of
creation,' these despisers of women, are not many among 'those who
hold their heads high' in honourable manhood.
Faithful, Miss Rye, Miss Bessie Parkes, will tell of the respectful
kindness, the generous aid of the men with whom they have come in
contact. And why? They have asked help, not declared
war. They have owned that women can co-operate, but never can
and never ought to compete with man. If the woman's cause is
the man's, so are the woman's difficulties. The problem of one
is the problem of both. And this of the social and industrial
position of women can only be solved by both working hopefully and
helpfully together, holding one another in mutual honour and
esteem. The National Association for
the Promotion of Social Science originated much of the
discussion on this subject, which has been carried on so ably in
your columns. Many of the schemes of female employment now
attracting public attention had their origins in its committee;
among them that of printing pursued by Miss Faithful, and that of
law copying, which Miss Rye, in addition to her labours in the cause
of emigration, carries out in her office in Portugal Street,
Lincoln's Inn. The meeting of the Association in London in
June will afford a further and fitting opportunity for the
discussion of the question, which will be introduced by papers from
several of the ladies engaged in the practical working of the plans
which former discussions originated.
I am, Sir,
ISA CRAIG, Assistant-Secretary to the
Association for the Promotion of Social
3, Waterloo-place, Pall-mall, S.W., April 29
Matilda Hays comments on Isa's letter ―
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.
(5th MAY, 1862.)
SIR,―The following letter was addressed
by me to the Times on May 1. As it has not appeared I shall be much
obliged if you will give it the benefit of your circulation.
"TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
"Sir,―Your correspondent, Miss Isa
Craig, says most truly that 'woman's cause is man's;' but not I think
equally truly, that to 'man's advocacy' it should be left, unless,
indeed, that advocacy has always shown itself so manly as that of 'S.G.O.'
"Again, Miss Craig says, 'that woman never can, or ought to compete with
man;' and here again I cordially join issue. Nature, in making man
and woman so unlike in their very likeness, has herself affixed the
power and limit of both, and so entirely do I hold this, that I believe
that when women shall become an acknowledged power in the world, as well
as in the home, taking their share in the world's work and progress,
man, in place of competitors, will find their labours of head and heart
supplemented and perfected to a degree yet undreamt of. Society
will become purified, and many of the worst evils under which we (men
and women) now labour and groan, will disappear in the recognition of a
power hitherto denied or held in abeyance, and which I, for one, cannot
believe the Almighty to have bestowed in vain.
"As a fellow-labourer with the ladies who Miss Craig mentions, I too can
and do testify to 'the respectful kindness, the generous aid of the men
with whom we have come in contact,' while personally I can and do
gratefully testify to the friendship of many good and noble men.
"But these are not the men who talk and write of 'our women' with covert
sneer and ribaldry, from which 'generous' men, as well as women, turn
"May the 'five million good as S.G.O.' rally round us, and with hand and
voice help the good work which, neither in my thought nor Miss Craig's,
is to further separate the sexes, (a separation to whatever extent it
exists, be it remembered, brought about by men and not by women), but
may render man and women the helpmates God intended then to be.―I
London, May 3.
Bessie Raynor Parkes
A commentator writing in the
Scotsman had this to say about the English Woman's Journal...."It has all along been distinguished, and
continues to be so, by a lady-like good taste and sense, which
preserve if from offensive manifestations of 'strong-mindedness' on
the one hand, and an earnestness and definiteness of purpose raising
it above the frivolity of crotchet and fashions on the
other." Alas, lack of frivolity was to contribute to the
Journal's downfall. Writing to
Barbara Bodichon in December 1862, the Journal's Editor, Emily Davies, believed
that the Journal would never have a
'very large circulation', but that the inclusion of 'a good tale'
would help attract the public, while the 'solid matter' would help
keep it 'special.' But the Journal
failed to win a viable circulation, and by 1862 its financial future
had become uncertain. It struggled on, but with internal
disagreements among its members adding to its problems it closed
eventually in 1864. Bessie Parkes went on to start the Alexandra Magazine, but it too failed and,
following her marriage to Louis Belloc, she gradually withdrew from
feminist activities. Bessie died in 1925; her son was the
writer Hilaire Belloc [Ed. see also Bessie's
poem The Mersey and the
Irwell]. The Journal,
however, did live on. In 1866 it was revived by Jessie
Boucherett, who renamed it the Englishwoman's Review, and in this form it
continued in publication until 1910.
In her role as Assistant
Secretary to NAPSS, Isa epitomised the independent single
woman of her age. Nevertheless, and perhaps unsurprisingly
considering her background, she does appear to have been daunted by the
magnitude of her task, in its early years at least. In a letter
dated September 1860 with regard to a forthcoming conference at Glasgow,
she writes thus: "I hope I shall not break down at Glasgow. I like
the work, but I tremble at the meetings. I begin to feel that I
must be doomed to go through them, for some evil done in a previous
state of existence" [and from the same letter: "I like to see our
Social Science men advanced for they are bound to advance Social
Science"]. But this was an age in which women
played essential but supporting roles, and regardless of what her
feelings might have been about her work for NAPSS, when Isa married her cousin John
Knox in 1866 she retired from paid employment. Her marriage
announcement in the Pall Mall Gazette (19 May, 1866) stated
St. John's, Lewisham, Mr. J. Knox to Miss Isa Craig, 17th inst.
"Just let any one work out the problem of
keeping eleven souls in London on twenty-one shillings a week.
Take four shillings for rent, and one shilling and sixpence for
fire, light, and such indispensable articles as soap, &c., and
fifteen and sixpence remains—that is, one shilling and fivepence
to feed and clothe each. Give each a pound of bread a day,
and the father two—bread being their staple food—and the sum
that remains is five shillings. A shilling's worth of
potatoes be used weekly; another shilling will go for tea,
sugar, and coffee for the father and mother, and very poor stuff
it will be; sixpence for milk for the infants, sixpence for the
dripping for the bread and potatoes of the elder children; two
shillings for bacon and cheese for the father, and a little
meat, now and then, for the nursing mother. There is not
one shilling left, and all have to be clad, and one or two kept
at school; and there is nothing but dripping for the children's
bread, and they cannot live in health without something more and
something else. The addition of a pennyworth of sprats for
dinner makes the little ones jump for joy. Of course the
infants do not use a pound of bread, but the growing boys and
girls make up for this."
Isa Craig on working-class economics: from . . .
Round the Court.
The witnesses included Hastings, Bessie Raynor Parkes, Emily Davis
and Jane Crow. It was reported widely in the press that―
Miss Isa Craig, having yielded her position of
Assistant-Secretary of the Social Science Association, to
practise social science in a new capacity―to
study practically, in fact, the law of marriage―a
number of the members subscribed and have presented to her a
silver tea service and salver, as a wedding present. The
inscription on the salver is: "To Isa Craig, from her
grateful and attached friends of the National Social Science
Association, 17th May, 1866."
23rd July 1860
TO THE EDITOR OF
Sir,—The assistance the movement "for
promoting the employment of women" has received from you
induces me to ask you to insert this letter in The Times, as I think many will be
glad to hear, so great is the success of this office, that I
have more work at this moment than my 12 women compositors can
undertake, and I shall therefore be glad to receive six or
eight girls immediately. They must be under 16 years of age,
and apply personally at my office next week.
The Victoria Press, 9, Great
Corum-street, July 21.
Notice appearing in the Alexandria Magazine,
May 1st, 1864.
Largely self-educated in literature, Isa was an admired poet in
her day, first attracting fame as the winner of the
Centenary Competition at The Crystal Palace in 1858 in the face
of over 600 entrants, including some strong competition (among the
finalists were Frederick Myers, Arthur J. Munby, and J. Stanyan
Bigg; Gerald Massey's entry, "A Centenary Song", was placed fourth,
while among those unplaced was a respectable poem ― "Robert
Burns: A Centenary Ode" ― by the Scots
"Pedlar Poet", James Macfarlan).
The Scotsman for 27th January 1859
carried the following report of the Burns Centenary event — and the non-appearance of Miss Craig to receive
her 50 guineas prize! .....
Crystal Palace, the Burns Centenary was celebrated on Tuesday
with much enthusiasm. Upwards of 14,000 persons were
present during the day. There was a grand concert and
great interest was imputed to the proceedings by the unveiling
of Calder Marshall's bust of Burns, and the exhibition of a
number of relics of the poet. The recitation of the prize
poem, however, was the chief attraction, and at three o'clock
the scene from nave to transept, and orchestra to orchestra,
and gallery to gallery, presented an imposing amphitheatre of
listeners riveted to the spot, until Mr Phelps appeared upon
the platform and enjoined silence. He opened the
envelope with the mottos of the author of the successful poem,
and announced it to be "Isa Craig, Ranelagh Street,
Pimlico." He then recited the poem with much taste and
elocutionary power. The Morning
Herald, in noticing this stage of the proceedings,
says:—"At the close of the recitation of the poem by Mr
Phelps, a proclamatory placard was hoisted over the orchestra,
the name of the successful competitor not having been caught
by multitudes around, with the inscription in large black
rubrics on a white ground of 'The author of the poem is Ian
Craig.' Calls then arose for Isa Craig to come before
the scenes, and multitudinous and mysterious were the
conjectures indulged in by the bystanders as to who Isa Craig
could really be. Some suggested that it was a mistake
for 'Ailsa Craig;' others read it Esau Craig; while many
pronounced the whole affair to be a mystery and a myth, seeing
that the fortunate prizeholder did not make her appearance to
be complimented. The crowd indulged in these dreamy
disquisitions and conjectures until the scene and the subject
were altogether changed by the striking up of the band for the
supplemental concert. From all that we could ascertain,
however, from the most reliable sources, we find that Isa
Craig is a young Scots lady, and that the mysterious
monosyllable 'Isa' is a breviate or nomme de plume for Isabella; that
she belongs to the single sisterhood, and has been a
contributor to Chambers' Journal,
the Scotsman, and the Englishwomen's Magazine, and is said
to have published a small volume of poems. From feelings
either of timidity or poetical delicacy and pride, Miss Craig
neither came before the curtain, nor did she pay a visit to
the Company's treasury to receive the fifty guineas, although
the check had been waiting for her acceptance all day.
Speaking of the prize poem and its author, the Morning Star says:— "speculation has
been rife as to who was the author of the above very beautiful
composition, and the name of more than one distinguished
person has been confidently mentioned. There is even now
a shrewd suspicion that 'Isa Craig' hides a name much less
27th January 1859
THE BURNS PRIZE ODE.
Craig, the successful competitor for prize and poetical
distinction, is a young Scotchwoman,—a native of Edinburgh,
and for two years past resident in London. Early left an
orphan, she was reared and educated under the care of a
grandmother not in affluent circumstances. With
praiseworthy industry and, and self cultivation of her
intellectual powers, she early resolved to work out her own
pecuniary independence. By occasional poetical
contributions to the Edinburgh Scotsman she gained the notice and
kindness of Mr. John Ritchie, the oldest and principal
proprietor of that journal, and for some years she was
employed by this early patron and friend in its literary
department. In 1856 Messrs. Blackwood published in a small
volume a collection of Miss Craig's fugitive metrical
compositions, under the title Poems by
Isa. The author has also been a contributor under
the signature "O." to the poetry of the National Magazine. In August,
1857, on Miss Craig's first visit to a London friend, Mr.
Hastings, the hon. secretary of the national Association of
Social Science, engaged her services in the organization of
the society, and to this association Miss Craig is still
attached as a literary assistant. The published
transactions of the association owe much to her talent and
good judgement. At the Liverpool meeting in October
last, Miss Craig attracted general notice and commendation by
her unobtrusive conduct and tack in the management of some
departments of the business. Miss Craig was absent at
the Crystal Palace meeting, really ignorant of the success of
her literary competition, and of the award of the
judges. It had happened that she had not seen the
mottoes on the successful poem made available some days
since. The chances of a young Scotchwoman against 621
male and female competitors did not tempt her to attend the
adjudication, and she was not informed of her success till
late after the termination of the meeting at Sydenham
FAIR valley, clothed with richest,
While parched are all
the world's wide ways beside,
the shady spot, the verdant screen,
The gentle banks where quiet waters
'Tis sweet to wander in thy
Too narrow for the
chariot-wheels of pride;
'Tis sweet to
shelter from the noontide rays,
all unsunned thy cool-eyed flowerets hide:
To feed thy stream flows many a tinkling
Hastening with tribute it may
With gushing crystal thus
its founts to fill,
heights are drained of all their dews;
And thus into the heart that
The purest streams of
highest wisdom flow.
In 1863, during the height of the
American Civil War, cotton exports to the cotton-processing towns of
Lancashire were disrupted, resulting in factory closures and great
hardship among the working populace of the area. To help raise
money to alleviate their hardship, Isa undertook to compile and edit
a volume of verse containing contributions from notable poets of the
day, among whom was Christina Rossetti . . . .
Upper Albany St. N.W.
Mme. Bodichon, asking me to contribute a
little piece to the volume to be sold at the Lancashire
Distress exhibition, told me that you had kindly undertaken to
see the edition through the press. I therefore, though
unknown to you, take the liberty of directing my Royal Princess to your hands,
trusting that so I am in accord with your wishes. If R.P. is too long, I have by me plenty
of shorter pieces, though none I fear on so appropriate a
theme. May I ask you to favour me by forwarding to me
the proof of my piece as I am desirous to correct it myself,
thinking that so fewer errors are likely to creep in.
As I know not what
poets are on your list, nor how many may be wished for,
perhaps I had better say that if you would like a piece from
the pen of C.B. Cayley the translator of Dante, I think it
possible I might be able to procure one for the volume as Mr
Cayley is our old friend. But of course I cannot promise
that he would do us such a favour. I only think it is
With hearty wishes for a blessing on our common cause, permit
me, Madam, to remain
Christina G. Rossetti.
The result was a charming volume, Poems: an offering to
Lancashire . . . .
An Offering to Lancashire. By CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, GEORGE
MACDONALD, "V.", W. B. SCOTT, R. MONKTON MILNES, MARY HOWITT,
"G.E.M.", W. ALLINGHAM, ISA CRAIG, and others. Price 3s.
6d. Printed and published for the Art Exhibition for the
Relief of Distress in the Cotton Districts. Emily
Faithfull, printer and publisher in ordinary to Her Majesty,
Victoria Press offices, 83A Farrington-street, E.C. and 9,
Great Coram-street, W.C.
From The Times, December 24, 1862.
HARD is the lot of the worker:
His heart had need be brave,
With death in life to wrestle
From the cradle to the grave.
Sternly the sorrows meet him
In the thick of the mortal fray—
But the night must serve for weeping—
Work must be done by
There the dying soldier lay,
Pillowed on the bloody clay;
As the battle thunder pealed,
Earth seemed sinking 'neath his head,
And the skies above him reeled,
As his bosom bled.
They died at Alma
in the fight—
From....They Died at Alma
Following her marriage in 1866, what little can
be gleaned about the remainder of Isa's literary career comes from
several short newspaper articles, from Cassell's newspaper
advertising (their reluctance to credit authors in their advertising
makes attribution difficult) and from a search through the
periodicals of the period.
Between 1865 and 1867 Isa is reported to have edited
The Argosy, a monthly
magazine "of tales, travels, essays and poems."
Because the record of Isa's later life is
sparsely populated with fact, one is tempted to speculate; here,
perusal of the Index to the 1866 collected edition of The
Argosy suggests who her literary acquaintances might have been. Besides
her friend of the Langham Place Group, Bessie Rayner Parkes, it is unsurprising to find listed many well-known
literary women of the period ―
Jean Ingelow, Christina Rossetti, Margaret Oliphant,
Matilda Betham-Edwards, Menella
and Marguerite Agnes Power. Among the male
contributors are William Allingham, Anthony Trollop, and fellow
Scots Alexander Smith (see Isa's
memorial essay), George MacDonald and Robert Buchanan.
But Isa's tenure at The Argosy was short-lived. During 1866 the
magazine's reputation was damaged by the serialisation of Charles
Reade’s sexually frank tale of bigamy, "Griffith
Gaunt". Its strait-laced publisher, Alexander Strahan,
horrified by the backlash, sold the magazine to Mrs
Henry Ellen Wood in October
1867, and she conducted it successfully until her death in 1887 when
her son took over. The Argosy ceased publication in
Following her brief
tenure as The Argosy's editor, Isa continued to write for the
periodicals of the age, including Good Words, The Sunday Magazine and, in
particular, The Quiver, a pious monthly periodical from the Cassell
stable intended "For Sunday and General Reading".
However, Isa's work is difficult to identify due to magazine (and
sometimes book) publishers of
the period often attributing only 'indirect' reference to authorship by
citing others of the author's published titles ― for example,
the hardback edition of Deepdale Vicarage, a story originally
serialized in The Quiver (1866-7), is attributed "by the author
of Mark Warren" rather than to its author, Mary Kirby ―
and on occasions the publisher gives no attribution whatever.
"The court stood at the back of a leading thoroughfare—a long, ugly
street, with rather high houses, and shops on the ground floors.
Every third shop sold something eatable, and nearly every sixth
appeared to be a drinking-shop. Behind the thoroughfare there were
acres of crowded dwellings, studded thickly with workshops and small
factories. In front of it, shutting it in, was a pawnbroker's on the
one side and a tobacconist's on the other. The houses within had no
outlook except into the court itself. They were built back to back,
a perfect contrivance for the exclusion of air and the manufacture
of fever. At the foot rose a high dead wall, and in one corner was
the general dustbin, redolent in summer of fearful odours."
A description of the Court . . . . from
In Isa's case, two of her serialized stories from
The Quiver ―
Peggy Ogilvie's Inheritance (serialized in The Quiver, 1867-8) and
Esther West (serialized
Quiver, 1868-9, and attributed to "THE AUTHOR
OF PEGGY OGLIVIE'S
found their way into hardback editions, both
being attributed by the publisher to Isa Craig-Knox (by 1891,
Esther West had reached its ninth edition and is again in print). There is
a reference on the title page of the former to the author also having written
Round the Court, a
series of scenes of Victorian domestic working-class life
(serialized in The
Quiver, 1867), which Cassells attribute thus: "BY
In similar vein Cassells attribute A Heroine of the Home
(serialized in The Quiver, 1880) to "THE
AUTHOR OF 'ESTHER
WEST', 'PEGGY OGLIVIE'S
which, by reference to the hardback editions of these stories,
translates to Isa Craig (this, incidentally, appears to be Isa's
last published story). In contrast, Cassells do attribute
Fanny's Fortune, (The Quiver,
1874) to Isa Craig-Knox, additionally referring in this story's title
line to the author having written "Two Years" (The
Quiver, 1870—attributed to "the author of Esther West,
etc. etc"). Thus, one proceeds in ferreting
out Isa's literary contributions to the periodicals of her day.
". . . . they are not criminals, and
they are not paupers. They have a wholesome
horror of the workhouse and the prison, and of the former even more
than the latter. They may not, at first sight, appear so interesting
as convicts and casuals; but then people know all about convicts and
casuals — and they know little or nothing about honest working
people. They would not make so many mistakes about them if
they did know them . . . . not that I uphold their
thriftless ways and drinking customs, they are the ruin in
of them; but it is only fair to show how hard their battle
is to keep sober, and before the world. They have to
struggle, not with poverty only, but with sickness, and
weakness, and weariness, and 'bad times,' and 'knocking
about;' and, at the root of all, with ignorance and want of
guidance. . . . In the true sense of the word "respectable,"
many of the poorest of the poor are respectable in the
highest degree . . . ."
The Court—a description of its tenants . . .
Round the Court.
I doubt that other titles attributed to Isa Craig in the "COPAC
National, Academic, and Specialist Library Catalogue" are
correct; these are Mark Warren,
Vicarage, In Duty Bound and Hold Fast By Your Sunday. In her
autobiography "Leaflets from My Life: A Narrative Autobiography"
(1888), Mary Kirkby claims authorship of these titles (some written
jointly with her sister Elizabeth) describing
briefly the circumstances in which they were written for The
Quiver magazine. In the case of Hold Fast By Your Sundays,
other evidence which links this title to the Kirby sisters is (a) a reference on the
title page to the author having written "Margaret's Choice",
another title claimed in Mary Kirby's autobiography; and (b)
reference in the book's Introduction, written in 1889, to the
author's death ― Isa Craig died in 1903―which leads me to suspect that the author
of this title is most likely Elizabeth Kirby.
Outside of her writing for the periodicals, Isa published
three volumes of poetry: Poems by
Isa (1856); Duchess
Agnes, a Drama, and Other Poems (1864, which includes a
drama ― see
Gerald Massey in the Athenæum);
and Songs of Consolation (1874).
I have collected others of Isa's poems that do not appear within her
published collections under Poems: a
miscellany. Her educational books, Little Folk's History of England
(1871); Tales on The Parables (1872:
the second series here reproduced);
and Easy History for Upper Standards (1885) were popular
during her life.
Why Isa's literary life should have come to a
close at a comparatively early age is a mystery. Apart from Easy History for Upper Standards
(an adaption of her earlier Little Folk's History of England)
referred to, after 1880 I can find no further newspaper advertising
of her poetry and serialized stories in the Quiver or in
other periodicals, and nothing further is listed in the British
Isa's private life is also a mystery. I have been
unable to trace her entry in the 1871 Census,
but that for 1881 records her living with her husband, John Knox
(age 42, "Iron Merchant/Monger") and daughter Margaret (age 11,
"Scholar") at 13,
South Hill Park, Hampstead; resident with her are her brother-in-law,
William C. Knox (age 43, "Book Keeper/Clerk, iron-trade") and
Angelina E. Smith (age 18, "General Servant").
Census records the same household, but having removed to 88 Breakspears Road, Brockley, Deptford.
And in 1901, the Knox family were living at
the same address, now with their daughter (aged 31), Mary E.
Parkinson (aged 32, described as a "visitor" ), and two servants;
and it was here that Isa Craig-Knox died on 23rd December,
According to Google Streetview, 88 Breakspears Road.
The Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography describes her thus: "A sparkling, happy-go-lucky
person, Isa was loved by all who knew her." A contemporary edition
of the Morning Post had this to say . . . .
"The world of
letters has just lost an interesting figure in the person of Mrs Isa
Craig-Knox, who passed away at her residence at Brockley on
Wednesday, in her seventy-third year. In competition with six
hundred and twenty rivals she won the prize which was offered in
connection with the Burns centenary for the best ode to the
poet. Mrs Knox published several volumes of poems and many
popular novels. She also wrote some children's books
and, in addition to the literary work which she did for the Scotsman for many years, contributed to
most of the principal magazines. In 1857 she left Scotland for
London in order to assist Mr Hastings in organising the National
Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and she acted as
his secretary and literary assistant until her marriage with her
cousin, Mr John Knox, a descendant of the great reformer."
Following her death, Isa's husband remained at
their home in Breakspears Road where he died on 19th August, 1921, aged
82 years. I have been unable to trace what became of Isa's daughter,
In 1892, Isa's former overlord at NAPSS, G. W.
Hastings, by then the Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for
Worcestershire East ― and perceived to be a vastly respectable figure
― experienced the rare and dubious distinction of expulsion from the
House of Commons following his conviction for fraud. As a Trustee for property under the will of
Brown, Hastings had appropriated to himself over £20,000 from the
estate. He was jailed for five years. Following his release he published "A Vindication of
Warren Hastings", his famous ancestor who was impeached in 1787 for
corruption, although in his case he was later acquitted.
"BLOW BREEZE OF
Words by Isa Craig set to music by
Words by Isa Craig set to music by John
KEAT'S SONNET "TO AILSA CRAIG"
SUIT A RECENT OCCASION.
Hearken, thou lady-poet Candidate!
Give answer with thy pen,
the land-fowl's wing,
When were they musings prompted first to sing?
Where, from the sun, was thy gift hid till
How long is't since the mighty power,
Bade thee to print
thy fancy's pondering?
Slept it in scraps asunder, wandering,
where the desk its papers congregate?
Thou answer'st not, for thou art modest,
They life consists
of two contrasted ways,—
The last in light,
the former in shade;
First with thy hopes, last with the people's
Veil'd wast till occasion thee
And crown'd thee evermore with
Nice, February 9, 1859.
I LOVE the spring, although her changeful
Weep oftener than smile—a child in
With a smile lurking in her glad blue
And on her brow a coronal appears
Of fair and dewy flowers—the primrose pale,
And crocus bud of purple, white, and gold,—
While woodland voices all her coming hail,
And at her touch the cradled leaves unfold.
I love the spring-time for the lengthening
And coming beauty. 'Tis
like childhood's hours,
When life is all
before us stretching bright,
And full with
promise of its summer flowers,—
are soonest shed and soonest dried,
hath no disguise, and beauty hath no pride.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
[3rd April, 1862]
Sir,—Will you kindly allow me space to draw
public attention to a quiet, unostentatious work which has now for
some little time been carried or by certain ladies, some of whom are
well known to be deep thinkers in all which concerns their sex, able
writers, and very hard workers?
It in well known that a
persevering attempt has now for some time been made to find
employment for a class of women whose condition in life is a very
pitiable one, women just educated enough to be above the work of
domestic service, but not sufficiently so to be equal to the duties
of governesses. Miss Faithfull, with her printing
establishment, has opened out one, but I fear as yet very limited
field of labour. Miss M. Rye has an office for copying law
papers, engrossing deeds, writing circulars, even copying sermons
and petitions. I hope the Revised Code Agitation has at least done
this good, that it has found her penwomen some bread. I believe a
lady named Craig procures employment at telegram work for other
women of this class. Miss Bessie Parkes and Miss Jane Lewin are two
more of these active ladies, in some circles well known for their
energy in this movement.
I speak from the best
authority when I say that these ladies all find that all they can
achieve in the way of finding employment for these unfortunate
members their sex is but very little indeed, compared with the
demand made upon them. It is not that they weary of their
labour of love, or are daunted in it, but they have arrived at the
conviction that an outlet must be found for some portion of the
stream of deserving applicants beyond the shores of Great Britain;
the battle of life here for educated women is, and has been for many
a year, so severe, that they and their kind champions at last feel
some—many—-must retreat, or be altogether beaten down.
field is now open to them, they are ready to seek its
occupation. It was found that this very class of women are
much wanted in Australia and Natal; that the colonists are often
seriously inconvenienced for want of the very same educated workers,
for whom the mother county can find no employment.
mere servant class this country has found in great numbers, and most
wisely aided the colonists to immigrate, to the great benefit of
both parties. But what is wanted is that class of woman
capable of filling the highest branches of domestic services,
capable of active as a governess; if unaccomplished, yet with
education and ability sufficient to give a
plain good education to the children of the middle classes. Again, I
speak advisedly, there is room for schoolmistresses, who, though yet
below the standard now sought for in England, are yet well equal to
the task of teaching all that we are now going to demand as the
absolutely necessary education of our own poor people's
These ladies of whom I have
spoken, with others whose names I do not make prominent, are
prepared to satisfy the public that this is true as regards the
demand in the colonies, as they are ready also to prove they have
the material to meet the demand. They argue that it is a
course good as to its policy to send out large numbers of these
women, as it is, to their knowledge, a noble field of charity.
They have communicated with persons of influence in the colonies.
They have done more;—they have already commenced, and with success,
their work, sending out some of their poor clients to these
colonies, and the result has been most satisfactory; they were at
once employed in positions of respectability, and at salaries which
it would have hopeless for them to have expected here.
Now, Sir, I do not wish to open any subscription list in your
columns, to start a "society" with all its live and dead stock of
expensive machinery. I don't desire a "meeting," a "bazaar," or even
a "festival," with a Duke in the chair, and a tavern bill in
If you permit this letter to
appear, I hope it may induce a few of the wealthy ladies of the land
to communicate personally with any of
ladies whose names I have given. A letter to Miss H. Rye, 12,
Portugal-street, Lincoln's-inn, would, I am sure, procure an
interview with herself or any of her colleagues. It would be
shown by plain unmistakeable facts that there is a great merciful
work in hand, which will be cheered by sympathy, and can be most
materially aided by a very small ******* little money ******
ambitious to seek help by glorifying their work, as one in which at
great cost a great display is made; they are hard thinkers—a little
blue, if you will, just enough so to
make them wise as well as good. It is women's work,—I wish to
enlist such in it. I think I will undertake to say that for
every farthing given or lent them they will give an amount which
will satisfy even your obedient servant,
Ed. Text marked '***' was illegible in the
And to end, a fantasy . . . .
ISA IN THE
the garden stands,
And the winds, with
Lift the midnight of her
From her brow so white and fair.
Isa plucks with
One sweet rose; her crimson
Match the colour and the tone,
But the dew is all their own.
And I think, as Isa
With the rose within her hands,
Other sounds are in her ear
Than the river's gliding near.
Whispers soft as
When love lends its voice, and
Hears its thrilling music stream
Through the wonder-gate of dream.
And then gentle
"Isa, Isa, come away,
We have in our fairy bower
One sweet spray of orange flower;
"This we keep to clasp
When your heart has breathed its
And you move away beside
One who claims you as his bride."
Isa smiles as still
With the rose within her
So I turn away and leave
Isa yet a maiden Eve.