1812 - 1870
LEGENDS AND LYRICS
ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER.
IN the spring of the year 1853, I observed, as
conductor of the weekly journal Household Words, a short poem among
the proffered contributions, very different, as I thought, from the shoal
of verses perpetually setting through the office of such a periodical, and
possessing much more merit. Its authoress was quite unknown to me.
She was one Miss Mary Berwick, whom I had never heard of; and she was to
be addressed by letter, if addressed at all, at a circulating library in
the western district of London. Through this channel, Miss Berwick
was informed that her poem was accepted, and was invited to send another.
She complied, and became a regular and frequent contributor. Many
letters passed between the journal and Miss Berwick, but Miss Berwick
herself was never seen.
How we came gradually to establish, at the office of Household Words,
that we knew all about Miss Berwick, I have never discovered. But we
settled somehow, to our complete satisfaction, that she was governess in a
family; that she went to Italy in that capacity, and returned; and that
she had long been in the same family. We really knew nothing
whatever of her, except that she was remarkably business-like, punctual,
self-reliant, and reliable: so I suppose we insensibly invented the rest.
For myself, my mother was not a more real personage to me, than Miss
Berwick the governess became.
This went on until December, 1854, when the Christmas number,
entitled The Seven Poor Travellers, was sent to press. Happening to
be going to dine that day with an old and dear friend, distinguished in
literature as Barry Cornwall, I took with me an early proof of that
number, and remarked, as I laid it on the drawing-room table, that it
contained a very pretty poem, written by a certain Miss Berwick.
Next day brought me the disclosure that I had so spoken of the poem to the
mother of its writer, in its writer's presence; that I had no such
correspondent in existence as Miss Berwick; and that the name had been
assumed by Barry Cornwall's eldest daughter, Miss Adelaide Anne Procter.
The anecdote I have here noted down, besides serving to
explain why the parents of the late Miss Procter have looked to me for
these poor words of remembrance of their lamented child, strikingly
illustrates the honesty, independence, and quiet dignity, of the lady's
character. I had known her when she was very young; I had been
honoured with her father's friendship when I was myself a young aspirant;
and she had said at home, "If I send him, in my own name, verses that he
does not honestly like, either it will be very painful to him to return
them, or he will print them for papa's sake, and not for their own.
So I have made up my mind to take my chance fairly with the unknown
Perhaps it requires an editor's experience of the profoundly
unreasonable grounds on which he is often urged to accept unsuitable
articles—such as having been to school with the writer's husband's
brother-in-law, or having lent an alpenstock in Switzerland to the
writer's wife's nephew, when that interesting stranger had broken his
own—fully to appreciate the delicacy and the self-respect of this
Some verses by Miss Procter had been published in the Book
of Beauty, ten years before she became Miss Berwick. With the
exception of two poems in the Cornhill Magazine, two in Good
Words, and others in a little book called A Chaplet of Verses
(issued in 1862 for the benefit of a Night Refuge), her published writings
first appeared in Household Words, or All the Year Round.
The present edition contains the whole of her Legends and Lyrics,
and originates in the great favour with which they have been received by
Miss Procter was born in Bedford Square, London, on the 30th
of October, 1825. Her love of poetry was conspicuous at so early an
age, that I have before me a tiny album made of small note-paper, into
which her favourite passages were copied for her by her mother's hand
before she herself could write. It looks as if she had carried it
about, as another little girl might have carried a doll. She soon
displayed a remarkable memory, and great quickness of apprehension.
When she was quite a young child, she learned with facility several of the
problems of Euclid. As she grew older, she acquired the French,
Italian, and German languages; became a clever pianoforte player; and
showed a true taste and sentiment in drawing. But, as soon as she
had completely vanquished the difficulties of any one branch of study, it
was her way to lose interest in it, and pass to another. While her
mental resources were being trained, it was not at all suspected in her
family that she had any gift of authorship, or any ambition to become a
writer. Her father had no idea of her having ever attempted to turn
a rhyme, until her first little poem saw the light in print.
When she attained to womanhood, she had read an extraordinary
number of books, and throughout her life she was always largely adding to
the number. In 1853 she went to Turin and its neighbourhood, on a
visit to her aunt, a Roman Catholic lady. As Miss Procter had
herself professed the Roman Catholic Faith two years before, she entered
with the greater ardour on the study of the Piedmontese dialect, and the
observation of the habits and manners of the peasantry. In the
former, she soon became a proficient. On the latter head, I extract
from her familiar letters written home to England at the time, two
pleasant pieces of description.
"We have been to a ball, of which I must
give you a description. Last Tuesday we had just done dinner at
about seven, and stepped out into the balcony to look at the remains of
the sunset behind the mountains, when we heard very distinctly a band of
music, which rather excited my astonishment, as a solitary organ is the
utmost that toils up here. I went out of the room for a few minutes,
and, on my returning, Emily said, 'Oh! That band is playing at the
farmer's near here. The daughter is fiancée
to-day, and they have a ball.' I said, 'I wish I was going!'
'Well,' replied she, 'the farmer's wife did call to invite us.'
'Then I shall certainly go,' I exclaimed. I applied to Madame B.,
who said she would like it very much, and we had better go, children and
all. Some of the servants were already gone. We rushed away to
put on some shawls, and put off any shred of black we might have about us
(as the people would have been quite annoyed if we had appeared on such an
occasion with any black), and we started. When we reached the
farmer's, which is a stone's throw above our house, we were received with
great enthusiasm; the only drawback being, that no one spoke French, and
we did not yet speak Piedmontese. We were placed on a bench against
the wall, and the people went on dancing. The room was a large
whitewashed kitchen (I suppose), with several large pictures in black
frames, and very smoky. I distinguished the Martyrdom of Saint
Sebastian, and the others appeared equally lively and appropriate
subjects. Whether they were Old Masters or not, and if so, by whom,
I could not ascertain. The band were seated opposite us. Five
men, with wind instruments, part of the band of the National Guard, to
which the farmer's sons belong. They played really admirably, and I
began to be afraid that some idea of our dignity would prevent me getting
a partner; so, by Madame B.'s advice, I went up to the bride, and offered
to dance with her. Such a handsome young woman! Like one of
Uwins's pictures. Very dark, with a quantity of black hair, and on
an immense scale. The children were already dancing, as well as the
maids. After we came to an end of our dance, which was what they
called a Polka-Mazourka, I saw the bride trying to screw up the courage of
her fiancée to ask me to dance,
which after a little hesitation he did. And admirably he danced, as
indeed they all did—in excellent time, and with a little more spirit than
one sees in a ball-room. In fact, they were very like one's ordinary
partners, except that they wore earrings and were in their shirt- sleeves,
and truth compels me to state that they decidedly smelt of garlic.
Some of them had been smoking, but threw away their cigars when we came
in. The only thing that did not look cheerful was, that the room was
only lighted by two or three oil-lamps, and that there seemed to be no
preparation for refreshments. Madame B., seeing this, whispered to
her maid, who disengaged herself from her partner, and ran off to the
house; she and the kitchenmaid presently returning with a large tray
covered with all kinds of cakes (of which we are great consumers and
always have a stock), and a large hamper full of bottles of wine, with
coffee and sugar. This seemed all very acceptable. The
fiancée was requested to distribute
the eatables, and a bucket of water being produced to wash the glasses in,
the wine disappeared very quickly—as fast as they could open the bottles.
But, elated, I suppose, by this, the floor was sprinkled with water, and
the musicians played a Monferrino, which is a Piedmontese dance.
Madame B. danced with the farmer's son, and Emily with another
distinguished member of the company. It was very
fatiguing—something like a Scotch reel. My partner was a little
man, like Perrot, and very proud of his dancing. He cut in the air
and twisted about, until I was out of breath, though my attempts to
imitate him were feeble in the extreme. At last, after seven or
eight dances, I was obliged to sit down. We stayed till nine, and I
was so dead beat with the heat that I could hardly crawl about the house,
and in an agony with the cramp, it is so long since I have danced."
"The wedding of the farmer's daughter has taken place.
We had hoped it would have been in the little chapel of our house, but it
seems some special permission was necessary, and they applied for it too
late. They all said, "This is the Constitution. There would
have been no difficulty before!" the lower classes making the poor
Constitution the scapegoat for everything they don't like. So as it
was impossible for us to climb up to the church where the wedding was to
be, we contented ourselves with seeing the procession pass. It was
not a very large one, for, it requiring some activity to go up, all the
old people remained at home. It is not etiquette for the bride's
mother to go, and no unmarried woman can go to a wedding—I suppose for
fear of its making her discontented with her own position. The
procession stopped at our door, for the bride to receive our
congratulations. She was dressed in a shot silk, with a yellow
handkerchief, and rows of a large gold chain. In the afternoon they
sent to request us to go there. On our arrival we found them dancing
out of doors, and a most melancholy affair it was. All the bride's
sisters were not to be recognised, they had cried so. The mother sat
in the house, and could not appear. And the bride was sobbing so,
she could hardly stand! The most melancholy spectacle of all to my
mind was, that the bridegroom was decidedly tipsy. He seemed rather
affronted at all the distress. We danced a Monferrino; I with the
bridegroom; and the bride crying the whole time. The company did
their utmost to enliven her by firing pistols, but without success, and at
last they began a series of yells, which reminded me of a set of savages.
But even this delicate method of consolation failed, and the wishing
good-bye began. It was altogether so melancholy an affair that
Madame B. dropped a few tears, and I was very near it, particularly when
the poor mother came out to see the last of her daughter, who was finally
dragged off between her brother and uncle, with a last explosion of
pistols. As she lives quite near, makes an excellent match, and is
one of nine children, it really was a most desirable marriage, in spite of
all the show of distress. Albert was so discomfited by it, that he
forgot to kiss the bride as he had intended to do, and therefore went to
call upon her yesterday, and found her very smiling in her new house, and
supplied the omission. The cook came home from the wedding,
declaring she was cured of any wish to marry—but I would not recommend
any man to act upon that threat and make her an offer. In a couple
of days we had some rolls of the bride's first baking, which they call Madonnas. The musicians, it seems, were in the same state as the
bridegroom, for, in escorting her home, they all fell down in the mud.
My wrath against the bridegroom is somewhat calmed by finding that it is
considered bad luck if he does not get tipsy at his wedding."
Those readers of Miss Procter's poems who should suppose from
their tone that her mind was of a gloomy or despondent cast, would be
curiously mistaken. She was exceedingly humorous, and had a great
delight in humour. Cheerfulness was habitual with her, she was very
ready at a sally or a reply, and in her laugh (as I remember well) there
was an unusual vivacity, enjoyment, and sense of drollery. She was
perfectly unconstrained and unaffected: as modestly silent about her
productions, as she was generous with their pecuniary results. She
was a friend who inspired the strongest attachments; she was a finely
sympathetic woman, with a great accordant heart and a sterling noble
nature. No claim can be set up for her, thank God, to the possession
of any of the conventional poetical qualities. She never by any
means held the opinion that she was among the greatest of human beings;
she never suspected the existence of a conspiracy on the part of mankind
against her; she never recognised in her best friends, her worst enemies;
she never cultivated the luxury of being misunderstood and unappreciated;
she would far rather have died without seeing a line of her composition in
print, than that I should have maundered about her, here, as "the Poet",
or "the Poetess".
With the recollection of Miss Procter as a mere child and as
a woman, fresh upon me, it is natural that I should linger on my way to
the close of this brief record, avoiding its end. But, even as the
close came upon her, so must it come here.
Always impelled by an intense conviction that her life must
not be dreamed away, and that her indulgence in her favourite pursuits
must be balanced by action in the real world around her, she was
indefatigable in her endeavours to do some good. Naturally
enthusiastic, and conscientiously impressed with a deep sense of her
Christian duty to her neighbour, she devoted herself to a variety of
benevolent objects. Now, it was the visitation of the sick, that had
possession of her; now, it was the sheltering of the houseless; now, it
was the elementary teaching of the densely ignorant; now, it was the
raising up of those who had wandered and got trodden under foot; now, it
was the wider employment of her own sex in the general business of life;
now, it was all these things at once. Perfectly unselfish, swift to
sympathise and eager to relieve, she wrought at such designs with a
flushed earnestness that disregarded season, weather, time of day or
night, food, rest. Under such a hurry of the spirits, and such
incessant occupation, the strongest constitution will commonly go down.
Hers, neither of the strongest nor the weakest, yielded to the burden, and
began to sink.
To have saved her life, then, by taking action on the warning
that shone in her eyes and sounded in her voice, would have been
impossible, without changing her nature. As long as the power of
moving about in the old way was left to her, she must exercise it, or be
killed by the restraint. And so the time came when she could move
about no longer, and took to her bed.
All the restlessness gone then, and all the sweet patience of
her natural disposition purified by the resignation of her soul, she lay
upon her bed through the whole round of changes of the seasons. She
lay upon her bed through fifteen months. In all that time, her old
cheerfulness never quitted her. In all that time, not an impatient
or a querulous minute can be remembered.
At length, at midnight on the second of February, 1864, she
turned down a leaf of a little book she was reading, and shut it up.
The ministering hand that had copied the verses into the tiny
album was soon around her neck, and she quietly asked, as the clock was on
the stroke of one:
"Do you think I am dying, mamma?"
"I think you are very, very ill to-night, my dear!"
"Send for my sister. My feet are so cold. Lift me
Her sister entering as they raised her, she said: "It
has come at last!" And with a bright and happy smile, looked upward,
Well had she written:
Why shouldst thou fear the beautiful angel, Death,
Who waits thee at the portals of the skies,
Ready to kiss away thy struggling breath,
Ready with gentle hand to close thine eyes?
Oh what were life, if life were all? Thine eyes
Are blinded by their tears, or thou wouldst see
Thy treasures wait thee in the far-off skies,
And Death, thy friend, will give them all to thee.
Bessie Rayner Belloc
THE PARENTS OF ADELAIDE PROCTER.
"In a Walled Garden"
BESSIE RAYNER BELLOC
The father and
mother of Adelaide Procter were both highly gifted, and their household
was known to so many surviving friends, that it is only fitting their
names should precede her own, although she achieved a greater fame; yet
there were years when "Barry Cornwall " was known to all, and when his
songs were sung all over England. Two of them, "The sea, the sea,
the open sea," and the "Return of the Admiral," have their permanent
place, though many of his charming and poetic pages have sunk into
comparative oblivion. In his own person he was a refined and
somewhat silent man, with a head said to resemble Sir Walter Scott's in
miniature, and he was extremely beloved by the literary world. But
he lived an interior life, into which, I think, none but his wife ever
penetrated. He was profoundly attached to her, and she was for ever
shielding him from the wind that blew too roughly. He had many
sorrows, and death twice visited his household under most pathetic
circumstances. To ward off blows from "Brian" and to sustain him
with her own abundant strength, was Mrs. Procter's constant care, and in
this she showed a side of her character wholly unsuspected by the outer
Mr. Procter was born so long ago as 1787, and was not far
from forty when he married the lovely girl, Anne Skepper, who had been
brought up in the home of her stepfather, Basil Montagu. Bryan
Walter Procter came from the North of England. He was educated at
Harrow, and spent his holidays at the house of a great-uncle who lived
about a dozen miles from London; and his first real instructress in
literature was a female servant, born in a better station of life, who had
read Richardson and Fielding and worshipped Shakespeare. She used to
recite whole scenes to the boy, and encouraged him to buy a Shakespeare of
his own. "But," says he, "I had not leisure to study and worship my
Shakespeare long, for at the end of a month or six weeks my destiny drove
me back to school." There he had two schoolfellows, boys named
Robert Peel and George Gordon Byron. Of Byron, Mr. Procter says that
he then showed no signs of poetic grace. "He was loud, even coarse,
and very capable of a boy's vulgar enjoyments. He played at hockey
and racquets, and was occasionally engaged in pugilistic encounters."
Of himself he says he was neither very short nor very tall, neither
handsome nor hideous. He survived Byron for fifty years, seeing the
dawn, the zenith, and the partial oblivion of his fame.
Among Mr. Procter's poems should be especially noticed the
fine ring of Belshazzar, and some of deep and tender domestic interest.
The lovely lines to his wife, beginning—
"How many years, my Dove,
Hast thou been mine!
How many years, my Love,
Have I been thine!"
exquisite tribute to his dead boy, called "The Little Voice," are among
the most poignant utterances of the human heart. But nothing in his
gentle, reserved face betrayed in later life the interior fire.
He led a hard-working life in London as a barrister, and
later in a Government office. In looking through the memoir published in
his widow's lifetime, I was chiefly struck by a letter in which he
describes his study, and says, regretfully, that he has never been abroad,
never seen Italy or France, he, the poet and the lover of Italian art; and
by another letter about the Indian Mutiny, in which "Our son (the only son
I have, indeed) escaped from Delhi." He tells how this young man,
left to him after the death of his eldest boy Edward, had been in Delhi,
and how he and four or five other officers, four women, and a child,
escaped. The men were "obliged to drop the women a fearful height
from the walls of the fort amidst showers of bullets. They were
seven days and seven nights in the jungle without money or meat, scarcely
any clothes, no shoes. They forded rivers, lay on the wet ground at
night, lapped water from the puddles, and finally reached Meerut."
Montagu Procter married some years later the youngest of the
ladies here spoken of. At the time of the Mutiny she was a girl of
fifteen. He became eventually a general, and, returning to England,
survived his father, but predeceased his mother, who, indeed, lost
successively all her children save two.
Of Mrs. Procter much will inevitably be written in future
years. She was a very remarkable person, and lived in possession of
almost unbroken health and faculties until nearly ninety. As a girl
("my dearest girl," writes the poet during his betrothal) she had been
extremely pretty. She was an early playmate of my mother's, but my
memory of her dates from her middle age, and extends over nearly fifty
years. She was the daughter by a first marriage of Mrs. Basil
Montagu, and always spoke of her mother with the greatest reverence.
But of the race of poets to which she was inextricably bound, she spoke
with a half-laughing satire. One was evidently her life-long lover,
and one was her child, and several others clustered about her like bees.
She did not exactly hold a salon; there was no great fortune in the
household, nor any sort of pretension whatever, and Mrs. Procter gave one
the impression of having her hands very full; but everybody of any
literary pretension whatever seemed to flow in and out of the house.
The Kembles, the Macreadys, the Rossettis, the Dickens, the Thackerays,
never seemed to be exactly visitors, but to belong to the place.
Three of the daughters became Catholic, and Mrs. Procter, who, I imagine,
did not dwell much on the next world, stood between them and the sensitive
father, to whom the loss of close union was a great misery. I used
to think it infinitely touching to see Mrs. Procter trying to harmonize
the household. If "Brian" could be kept cheerful, and if nobody was
ill (and, alas! somebody was very often ill), then the quick vivid mother
of the family seemed content. She had a habit of going into the
world, a habit of dressing fashionably, a habit of writing the neatest and
most concise notes possible; but her consistent, steady kindness had
assuredly some deep spiritual root, of which she never spoke. Like
her mother; she never abdicated for a moment her great tenue, never
kept her room, never lowered the scale of her dress, never lost her
composure; I should doubt if in sixty years a meal had ever been placed
upon the table which she had not herself ordered. It was my fate to
be very closely associated with her under circumstances in which
ninety-nine people out of a hundred would have broken down, and yet when
she lost her daughters, it was their friend whom she tried to spare.
I particularly remember her taking me with her to the Catholic cemetery in
Kensal Green to plant a quantity of ivy on Adelaide's grave. I can
see her kneeling at the headstone, twisting the sprays, with a face of
anxious, steady determination. That grave is now a place of
pilgrimage to American and Colonial travellers. It is thickly
overgrown with ivy, but nobody guesses that the mother planted it herself.
Many years afterwards, Edythe Procter died very
suddenly—indeed, in a manner truly tragical—failure of the heart's
action. Mrs. Procter was then more than eighty; and before the
announcement could traverse the Continent in the newspapers, came a
careful letter, addressed to a delicate friend at Mentone, and on the
corner of the envelope two tiny, neatly-written words, "Bad News:"
Such were the environments of Adelaide Procter's life—a
short life, for she died at the age of thirty-eight. Of outward incidents,
apart from the sudden blossoming of her literary fame, there were scarcely
any. The year spent in Italy, where her aunt, Madame de Viry, was
attached to the Court circle at Turin, was certainly a determining
influence on her life. Emily de Viry had become a devout Catholic,
and at that time the saintly wife of Victor Emmanuel was living. The
example impressed Adelaide's mind, and doubtless contributed to her
religious change. At Aix-les-Bains is a large portrait en pied of
the young Queen of Sardinia in her bridal dress. It looks, at first
sight, to be a purely conventional picture, but the eyes are of a haunting
depth. They recall a word-picture of the Queen returning from Holy
Communion, which Adelaide Procter gave. The wife of Victor Emmanuel
was passing along one of the galleries of the Palace, her face "shining as
with an interior lamp," when she was met by the young English girl, who
never forgot the sight. Of this association Adelaide Procter always
bore the trace. In her religious attitude she resembled a foreign rather
than an English Catholic. She looked like a Frenchwoman mounting the
steps of the Madeleine, or a veiled Italian in St. Peter's. The one
thing she never mentioned was her own conversion.
One of Miss Procter's sisters, named Agnes, joined the order
of the Irish Sisters of Mercy; and in looking back to our childhood I best
remember her, as the nearer to my own age.
In 1840 the Procters lived in St. John's Wood, and used to
visit their grandparents in Storey's Gate; and in this house it must have
been that two children were sitting by the fireside one evening.
There was no other light in the room, and Agnes Procter (Sister Mary
Francis) suddenly made a confidence; saying, in a tone of intense childish
conviction, "I do love mama." These words made an ineffaceable
impression on the hearer, for the little speaker was never supposed to be
at all imaginative, and certainly Mrs. Procter did not pose before the
world as a tender woman—rather the reverse—though her intimates knew her
for a very good and kind one. And the last time that I saw Sister
Mary Francis she was kneeling by that mother's open grave at Kensal Green,
her sincere, gentle face, under its veil, looking but little changed since
the day of her profession some thirty years before. It may not be
irrelevant to add that shortly after her somewhat unexpected death after a
few days' illness, the Reverend Mother spoke of Sister Mary Francis' great
and unusual affection for her mother as of a profound sentiment rarely
noticed either in or out of the religious life. It was the sweet
soul's one earthly romance. I do not know in what light Mrs.
Procter's memory will go down to posterity when the letters and memoirs of
the generation in which she played so large a social part come to be
written and published; but this image of her as enshrined in her
daughter's heart should be recorded, for it is true.
Adelaide, from a painting by
Emma Gaggiotti Richards
Of the gifted eldest daughter the mother was intensely proud, and well may
she have been, for a more vital spirit never inhabited a finely wrought
frame. Adelaide Anne Procter was so curiously unlike her poems, and
yet so distinct in individuality, that it is a pity she was not painted by
any artist capable of rendering her singular and interesting face.
There was something of Dante in the contour of its thin lines, and the
colouring was a pale, delicate brown, which harmonized with the darker
hair, while the eyes were blue, less intense in hue than those of Shelley;
and like his also was the exquisitely fine, fluffy hair, which when
ruffled stood out in a halo round the brow. A large oil painting of
her exists, done, I believe, by Emma Galiotti, and it is like her as she
appeared in a conventional dress and a most lugubrious mood, but the real
woman was quite different. She had a forecast of the angel in her
face and figure, but it was of the Archangel Michael that she made one
think. There was something spirited and almost militant in her
aspect, if such a word can be applied to one so exquisitely delicate and
frail. She was somewhat older than myself, and therefore, while I
remember Agnes as a little girl, my first distinct memory of Adelaide
dates from a period when she was already grown up, and had returned from
In her manner and dress she bore all the marks of a very
exquisite breeding. She was conversant with foreign languages, knew French
and Italian well, and wrote a peculiarly clear and delicate hand.
One of her minor accomplishments was that of illumination. Monsignor
Gilbert possessed two excellent examples of her skill in this unusual art.
In her youth she danced lightly and well. All these little details
go to make up the portrait of a very charming personality.
She was already thirty before her name had been heard, except
as that of Barry Cornwall's "sweet, beloved First Born." Her poems
circulated among friends, just as Rossetti's used to do, being copied from
hand to hand. Then one was sent by her anonymously to Charles
Dickens, and inserted by him in a Christmas number of Household Words.
Dickens thus tells the story: "Happening one day to dine with an old and
dear friend, distinguished in literature as 'Barry Cornwall,' I took with
me an early proof of the Christmas number of Household Words, entitled
'The Seven Poor Travellers,' and remarked, as I laid it on the
drawing-room table, that it contained a very pretty poem, written by a
certain Miss Berwick. Next day brought me a disclosure that I had so
spoken of the poem to the mother of the writer in the writer's presence;
that I had no such correspondent in existence as Miss Berwick, and that
the name had been assumed by Barry Cornwall's daughter, Miss Adelaide Anne
From this time forward, I forget the year, she continued to
write in Household Words, and the poems attracted so much attention
that people used to pretend they had written them. When they were at
length collected into a volume, with the writer's name attached, they
rushed into fame, and circulated all over the kingdom; and Miss Procter
received a pathetic appeal from a young lady, who asked her could it be
true that these lovely verses were all hers, for her lover had been in the
habit of assuring her, as each poem successively appeared, that it was his
own! Twelve editions followed one another, and five years after, the
demand for her poems was still "far in excess of that for the writings of
any living poet except Mr. Tennyson:" I think it caused her a feeling of
shyness amounting to pain to have so far outstripped her poet-father in
popular estimation. "Papa is a poet. I only write verses."
A very few years after this wide recognition of her genius
the end came. Her health began to fail in 1862, and by the end of
that year she was confined to her bed. So great was the fragility of
her frame, that when once the lungs were attacked there seemed to be no
chance of saving her. Then began a battle which the two or three
surviving people who witnessed it can assuredly never forget—a battle
royal with the power of Death. I do not mean that she consciously
tried to live a longer life, but that she did not give way an inch to the
Destroyer. The only time I ever saw her quail was one day when I got
a little pencil note, "They say the second lung is attacked." I
hurried off to the house, and found her sitting up in bed, her pretty fair
hair standing out in a halo, her blue eyes fastening on mine with an
anxious, wistful look. But the momentary panic passed away, and she
recovered her cheerfulness, repeated her prayers, talked of
poems (and particularly of the "High Tide in Lincolnshire"), made her
gentle jests—she was naturally extremely witty—and faced the Destroyer
with the most pathetic mixture of resignation and pluck imaginable.
At last, one day—it was the 1st of February, 1864 (Thackeray
had died on Christmas Eve)—I went to her in the evening, and found her
greatly oppressed. But she was very eager about a poem of mine, "Avignon,"
and would sit up in bed holding it in her slender, trembling hands, and
trying to correct the proof. The last line ran—
"Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie."
The evening wore on—nine—ten—eleven o'clock. It was not possible for me
to remain later without greatly alarming my parents, and I had to leave.
After an anxious consultation with Edythe, I returned to the sick-room and
kissed her forehead, saying, "Good-night, dear." She looked up at me
quickly and gravely, and said, "Good-night." After I had left, they
sat beside her—the mother, the sister, and the maid who had been with
them very many years. About two in the morning of the Feast of the
Purification her breathing became oppressed. She looked up in her
mother's face, and said, "Mamma, has it come?" And Mrs.
Procter said, "Yes, my dear," and took her in her arms. And
so, while Edythe knelt by her side, reciting the prayers for the dying, my
dear Adelaide passed away in peace.
It remains to say a few words about her poems. Since
for years they had a larger sale than those of any other poet save
Tennyson, they must have penetrated into every reading household in Great
Britain. Of late, however, their popular fame seems chiefly to
repose on the "Lost Chord," nobly set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.
It is wonderful to see the enthusiasm infused by this song. The vast
audience of St. James's Hall thrills as one man when it is given.
But in the beauty of the narrative poems, and in the profound depth of
feeling of those which have an autobiographical source, the student of
Victorian literature will, I am convinced, find permanent delight; and
that many verses and many lines will survive may be inferred from that
perfection of form which is essential to lasting fame. Miss Procter
always used the plainest words to convey her thought, the simplest,
choicest words to express her feeling. Some of those which deal with
the human heart are wonderfully sweet and subtle.
One of the most striking of the personal poems is "A Woman's
"Before I trust my fate to thee."
And another, named "Beyond," of which the two last stanzas run thus:
|If in my heart I now could fear that, risen
should not know
What was our Life of Life when here—the hearts we
loved so much below;
I would arise this very day, and cast so poor a thing
But love is no such soulless clod ; living, perfected it shall
Transfigured in the light of God, and giving glory to the
And that which makes this life so sweet shall render
Heaven's joy complete."
Another delicately subtle poem is entitled "Returned—Missing," and how
strong and noble, is "A Parting." And lastly, the charming "Comforter."
|"If you break your plaything yourself, dear,
Don't you cry for it all the same?
I don't think it is such a comfort,
One has only oneself to blame.
"People say things cannot be helped, dear,
But then that is the reason why ;
For if things could be helped or altered,
One would never sit down to cry."
The more specially religious poems are to be found in a small volume
entitled "A Chaplet of Verses," published for the benefit of the Night
Refuge originally established close to the church in Moorfields. It
opens with the trumpet call of the "Army of the Lord," a splendid piece of
verse. But "Give me thy heart " is to be found in the first volume
of "Legends and Lyrics." Both of them are surely equal to any of
Father Faber's. What nobler prayer, more perfectly expressed, than
that contained in the eight lines:
|"Send down, O Lord, Thy sacred fire!
Consume and cleanse the sin
That lingers still within its depths;
Let heavenly love begin.
That sacred flame Thy Saints have known,
Kindle, O Lord, in me!
Thou above all the rest for ever,
And all the rest in Thee."
The "Chaplet" has been stereotyped, and has had a wide circulation. One
poem, entitled "Homeless,"* was written at Monsignor Gilbert's special
request, and was for years inserted in the annual report and appeal for
funds. Of the seven stanzas, I quote two. The concluding lines
of each exemplify the vigour with which Miss Procter rounded a thought
where weaker poets fail:—
|"Why, our criminals all are sheltered,
They are pitied, and taught, and fed;
That is only a sister—woman,
Who has got neither food nor bed—
And the Night cries, 'Sin to be living,'
And the River cries, 'Sin to be dead.'"
"Nay; goods in our thrifty England
Are not left to lie and grow rotten;
For each man knows the market value
Of silk, or woollen, or cotton . . .
But in counting the riches of England,
I think our Poor are forgotten!"
of this little book, of which the sale still continues, were so
considerable that Monsignor Gilbert founded a bed in the Refuge called the
"Adelaide Procter Bed," a permanent memento and reminder of prayer for her
And lastly, I have been told upon the highest authority that
her personal habits of piety were of the most fervent and consistent kind.
The intensity of her susceptible nature found expression and support in
her faith. She was strengthened in much suffering, and consoled in
much grief, by ardent love of God. She never failed in courage when
to publicly confess obedience to the Catholic Church demanded strength of
no usual sort, for her lot was cast among those who did not acknowledge
the claim; and she, who was eminently delicate in fibre and subject to
many fears, went down by slow degrees into the "valley of the shadow of
Death," with a cheerful heroism rarely seen.
It was on the 2nd of February, 1864, that Adelaide Procter's
wasted frame was laid within the coffin. The snow lay on the ground in
patches outside the old church in Spanish Place, full of the lighted
candles held by a dense congregation.
|"And we know when the Purification,
Her first feast, comes round,
The early spring flowers to greet it
Just opening are found;
And pure, white, and spotless, the snowdrop
Will pierce the dark ground."
So we laid
masses of snowdrops all about her, and for years the recurring sight of
them brought back the vision of that calm spiritual face amidst the
flowers. But of her, more than of others, it truly appeared that
only the frail worn envelope lay there. While on earth she had
habitually dwelt in the spiritual world; and into its inner depths, behind
the veil, the Lord, whom she so well loved, had led her, by a long and
painful path, so that it seemed to those who knew her as if by an almost
imperceptible vanishing she had been withdrawn from their eyes.
Edythe now lies in the same grave in the catholic Cemetery at Kensal
Green, and the names of their two sisters are folded in the ivy which
their mother planted there.
* Now that Monsignor Gilbert
has been withdrawn from our midst, there is no reason for refraining to
say that he, who was her confessor, and whom she certainly trusted above
all, read through this paper and ratified it with his approval.