A Celebration of Women Writers

"Prefatory Notice" by W. M. Rossetti,
From: The Poetical Works of Mrs. Hemans New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 18__.

Editorial Credits

Sentiment without passion, and suffering without abjection--these, along with a deep religious sense, and with the gifts of a brilliant mind taking the poetical direction through eager sympathy and some genuine vocation, constitute the life of Mrs. Hemans. 1 Whatever may be the deservings of the poems in other respects, they do not fail to convey to the reader a certain impression of beauty, felt to be inherent as much in the personality of the authoress as in her writings: they show as being the outcome of a beautiful life, and in fact they are so. The impression which the reader will thus have received from perusing the poems is not only confirmed but intensified when he knows the events of the writer's life.

Felicia Dorothea Browne, born in Duke Street, Liverpool, on the 25th of September, 1793, was daughter of a merchant of considerable eminence, a native of Ireland, belonging to a branch of the Sligo family. Her mother, whose maiden name was Wagner, was partly Italian and partly German by extraction, her father having held the post of Consul at Liverpool for the Austrian and Tuscan Governments. The surname Wagner was in reality a corruption from the illustrious Venetian name Veniero, borne by three Doges, and by the Commander of the fleet of the Republic at the great battle of Lepanto. Felicia was the fifth child in a family of seven, of whom one died in infancy; she was distinguished, almost from her cradle, by extreme beauty and precocious talents. "The full glow of that radiant beauty which was destined to fade so early" is one of the expressions used by the poetess's sister in describing the former at the age of fifteen. This reference to "early fading" appears to be intended to apply rather to the death of Mrs. Hemans when only in her forty-second year, and to the ravages of disease in the few years preceding, than to any loss of comeliness in mature womanhood. An engraved portrait of her by the American artist William E. West, one of three which he painted in 1827, shows us that Mrs. Hemans, at the age of thirty-four, was eminently pleasing and good-looking, with an air of amiability and sprightly gentleness, and of confiding candour which, while none the less perfectly womanly, might almost be termed childlike in its limpid depth. The features are correct and harmonious; the eyes full; and the contour amply and elegantly rounded. In height she was neither tall nor short. A sufficient wealth of naturally clustering hair, golden in early youth, but by this time of a rich auburn, shades the capacious but not over-developed forehead, and the lightly-pencilled eyebrows. The bust and form have the fulness of a mature period of life; and it would appear that Mrs Hemans was somewhat short-necked and high-shouldered, partly detracting from delicacy of proportion, and of general aspect or impression on the eye. We would rather judge of her by this portrait (which her sister pronounces a good likeness) than by another engraved in Mr. Chorley's Memorials. This latter was executed in Dublin in 1831 by a young artist named Edward Robinson. It makes Mrs. Hemans look younger than in the earlier portrait by West, and may on that ground alone be surmised unfaithful; and, though younger, it also makes her heavier and less refined.

The childhood of Felicia Browne was probably rendered all the happier by a commercial reverse which befell her father before she was seven years of age. The family hereupon removed to Wales, and for nine years they lived at Gwrych 2 near Abergele in Denbighshire, close to the sea and amid mountains. This was the very scene for the poetically-minded child to enjoy, and to have her powers nurtured by: a great love of nature, and in particular an affectionate delight in Wales, its people and associations, constantly traceable in her writings, followed as an almost necessary consquence. Her mother, a most amiable and excellent woman, fully qualified to carry on her daughter's education, devoted the most careful attention to this object, and was repaid by an unswerving depth and constancy of love. A large library was kept in the house, and Felicia drew heavily upon its stores: a pretty picture is presented to the mind's eye, and would not be unworthy of realization by art, in the anecdote that it was her habit, at the age of six, to read Shakespeare while seated in the branches of an apple-tree. Along with great rapidity of comprehension, she had a memory of surprising retentiveness, and would repeat whole pages of poetry after a single reading. At the age of about eleven she passed a winter in London, and was there again in the following year--never afterwards.

In 1808--age fourteen--Felicia first appears as an authoress. She published a volume of poems which got abused in some review: this was the only time that really harsh criticism befell her. The mishap so far affected the impressionable damsel as to keep her in bed some days: but she surmounted it pretty soon and resumed writing. In the same year she wrote a poem named England and Spain; being then under the influence of military enthusiasm arising from the events of the Peninsular War, in which one of her brothers was serving: another of them was also in the army and in the same regiment, the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The next year was a momentous one in the life of Felicia Browne. She met Captain Hemans, of the 4th (or King's Own) Regiment, an officer not rich in purse, but having advantages, as we are informed, both of person and education: he professed admiration of the bewitching girl, and she gave him her love. He shortly had to return to Spain; and nearly three years elapsed before they again met. Meanwhile, in 1809, the Browne family removed to Bronwylfa, near St. Asaph in Flintshire; and in 1812, for the second and last time, appeared a volume of poetry bearing the name of Felicia Dorothea Browne, The Domestic Affections, and Other Poems. In the summer of 1812 she married the man of her choice.

Biographers have not permitted us to know distinctly whether or not the conjugal life of Mrs. Hemans was happy, or what Captain Hemans might possibly have found to say on the subject: at any rate, it was a short one, practically speaking. The wedded couple resided at first at Daventry in Northamptonshire, where the Captain was Adjutant to the County Militia: here they remained about a year, and here was born their son Arthur, the first of a family of five, all of whom were boys. They then went to live with Mrs. Hemans's own family at Bronwylfa; her mother was now at the head of the house, as her father, having resumed the mercantile career, had gone out to Quebec, where finally he died. In 1818, Captain Hemans resolved to go to the south of Europe "for the sake of his health"-- a very inconvenient motive, or a highly convenient one, according to circumstances: he had suffered much from the vicissitudes of a military life, especially during the retreat to Corunna, and afterwards through fever caught in the Walcheren expedition. He departed just before the birth of his fifth son; went to Rome; and there settled down. The parting proved to be a final one. It might have been fancied that even the shattered frame of a young officer who had survived Corunna and Walcheren would suffice for the effort of coming to Wales, England, or Ireland, at some time between 1818 and 1835, so as to rebehold a wife whom he had left in the bloom of youth and loveliness, and whose literary fame, for many years succeeding his departure, lent an ever-brightening lustre to the name of Hemans, and so as to get a glimpse of his five promising boys. But this was not to be: for some reason or other, not defined to one; even the charms of Bronwylfa, with a wife, five sons, and a resident mother-in-law, did not relax the tenacious grasp which Italy and Rome obtained on Captain Hemans. Or again it might have seemed conceivable that not only Captain Hemans but also his wife, the author of Lays of Many Lands, sensitive to the historic and romantic associations of such a country as Italy, would find it compatible with her liking as well as her duties to pay a visit to Rome, or possibly to make it her permanent dwelling-place. As to this, it may perhaps be inferred, in a general way, that the family affections of daughter and mother were more dominant and vivid in Mrs. Hemans than conjugal love: her intense feeling of the sacredness of home, which it would be both idle and perverse to contest, may have set before her, as more binding and imperative, the duties of service to her own mother, and of guidance to her own children, than the more equal, passionate, and in some sense self-indulgent relation between wife and husband. However, abandoning conjecture, it may be best here to transcribe the reticent hints on the subject which are given by the poetess's sister, Mrs. Hughes, in her Memoir, and which show that the de facto separation between Captain and Mrs. Hemans depended partly upon general considerations of family obligation, and partly upon special circumstances not clearly indicated, but apparently reflecting more or less on the marital deportment of the Captain.

"It has been alleged, and with perfect truth, that the literary pursuits of Mrs. Hemans, and the education of her children, made it more eligible for her to remain under the maternal roof than to accompany her husband to Italy. It is, however, unfortunately but too well known that such were not the only reasons which lead to this divided course. To dwell on this subject would be unnecessarily painful; yet it must be stated that nothing like a permanent separation was contemplated at the time, nor did it ever amount to more than a tacit conventional arrangement which offered no obstacle to the frequent interchange of correspondence, nor to a contant reference to their father in all things relating to the disposal of her boys. But years rolled on--seventeen years of absence, and consequently alienation; and from this time to the hour of her death, Mrs. Hemans and her husband never met again. "

With this incident of the lifelong separation between her husband and herself, anything of a romantic character in the occurrences of Mrs. Hemans's career comes to a close; although the coloring of high-toned romance in her mind and writings never died out, but to the last continued to permeate, enliven, and beautify, that other element and staple of her life, its sweet and earnest domesticity. Now we have only to contemplate the loving daughter, glad, as long as fate permitted, to escape being the head of a household, although invested with matronly dignity proper to the motherhood of five boys. We see in her the not less deeply affectionate, tender, and vigilant mother; the admired and popular poetess, distinguished and soon burdened by applause; shortly afterwards the cureless invalid, marked out for an early death, towards which she progresses with a lingering but undeviating rapidity-- calm in conscience, bright and cheerful in mind, full of faith and hope for eternity, and of the gentlest charities of life for her brief residue of time.

In 1818, before the departure of her husband, Mrs. Hemans had published a volume of poetical Translations; and about the same time she wrote The Restoration of the Works of Art to Italy, and Modern Greece, and other poems which were afterwards included in the series named Tales and Heroic Scenes. In 1820 she brought out The Sceptic: a mild performance which some still milder-minded disbeliever found of convincing efficacy, assuring Mrs. Hemans, in a personal interview not long before her death, that it had wrought his conversion to the Christian religion. In the same year she made the acquaintance of the Rev. Reginald (afterwards Bishop) Heber, then Rector of Hodnet--the first eminent literary personage whom she knew well. He encouraged her in the composition of another poem destined to exterpate religious error, entitled Superstition and Revelation: it had been begun some while before this, and was never distinctly abandoned, but remained uncompleted. Towards this time also Mrs. Hemans wrote a set of papers in the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine on Foreign Literature; almost the only prose that she ever published, and serving chiefly as a vehicle for poetic translations. She obtained two literary prizes for poems, and her ambition was equal to the composition of a five-act tragedy intended for stage representation--The Vespers of Palermo. This was a work that occupied some time. At last, after she had received £210 for the copyright of the tragedy, it was produced at Covent Garden Theatre on the 12th of December, 1823. No doubt the authoress's own hopes were not altogether low as to the success of the piece, and her friends were in high expectancy. Young and Charles Kemble took the principal male characters: Miss Kelly appeared as Constance. The acting of this lady is said, fairly or unfairly, to have been disastrous to the piece: it proved "all but a failure," and was withdrawn after the opening night, and never reproduced in London. Not long afterwards, however, the tragedy was enacted in Edinburgh, and with a considerable measure of success. A dispassionate reader of the present day--if indeed there exists a reader of The Vespers of Palermo--will probably opine that the London audience showed at least as much discrimination (apart from any question as to demerit in Miss Kelly) as that in Edinburgh. Mrs. Hemans talent was not of the dramatic kind. Perhaps there never yet was a good five-act stage tragedy written by a woman; and certainly the peculiar tone and tint of Mrs. Hemans's faculty were not such as to supply the deficiency which she, merely as a woman, was almost certain to evince. Even as a narrative poet, not to speak of the drama, she shows to no sort of advantage: her personages not having anything of a full-bodied character, but wavering between the romantically criminal and the longwindedly virtuous--poor superstitious creatures, inflated and diluted. Something better may nevertheless be said for the second of her tragedies, The Siege of Valencia, published in 1823 along with Belshazzar's Feast and some other poems. This play appears to have been written without any view to the stage: a condition of writing which acts detrimentally upon a drama composed by a born dramatist, but which may have rather the opposite effect upon one coming from a different sort of author. In The Siege of Valencia the situation is in a high degree tragical--even terrible or harrowing: and there is this advantage,--that, while the framework is historical, and the crisis and passions of a genuinely historic type, the immediate interest is personal or domestic. Mrs. Hemans may be credited with a good and unhacknied choice of subject in this drama, and with a well-concerted adaptation of it to her own more special powers: the writing is fairly sustained throughout, and there are passages both vigorous and moving. As the reader approaches the denouement, and finds the authoress dealing death with an unsparing hand to the heroically patriotic Gonzalez and all his offspring, he may perhaps at first feel a little ruffled at noting that the only member of the family who has been found wanting in the fiery trial--wanting through an excess of maternal love--is also the only one saved alive: but in this also the authoress may be pronounced in the right. Reunion with her beloved ones in death would in fact have been mercy to Elmina, and would have left her undistinguished from the others, and untouched by any retribution: survival, mourning, and self-discipline, are the only chastisement in which a poetic justice, in its higher conception, could be expressed.--Besides the two dramas of The Vespers of Palermo and The Siege of Valencia, Mrs. Hemans began likewise two others--De Chatillon, or the Crusaders, and Sebastian of Portugal: neither of these was finished.

Soon before the production of The Vespers of Palermo on the stage, she had taken up with great zest the study of the German language; and her Lays of Many Lands, published in 1826, were to a considerable extent suggested by Herder's work, Stimmen der Volker in Lieder. The same volume contained her poem of The Forest Sanctuary, which had occupied her in the latter part of 1824 and commencement of 1825: this she was disposed to regard as her finest work. It is the most important of her narrative or semi-narrative poems, and, as compared with the others of that class, may reasonably claim a preference, without our committing ourselves to any very high eulogium upon it. The Records Of Woman followed in 1828, being the first of the authoress's works that Messrs. Blackwood published: into this series she put more of her personal feeling than into any of the others. In the summer of 1830 appeared the Songs of the Affections, being the last of her publications prior to her departure for Ireland.

Meanwhile the course of her private life had been marked only by such variations as removal of residence, and by one deep and irreparable affliction in the death of her beloved mother on the 11th of January, 1827, followed soon afterwards by the failure of her own health. The first removal, in the spring of 1825, had been from Bronwylfa to Rhyllon, a house distant from the former only about a quarter of a mile: here she settled along with her mother, sister, and four boys--the eldest son being then at a school at Bangor. For a time also her second brother, Major Browne, afterwards Commissioner of Police in Dublin, and his wife, resided in the same house, on their return from Canada. Rhyllon, though with attractive surroundings, was a much less picturesque house than Bronwylfa; but this brief period of Mrs. Hemans's life proved to be probably the happiest that she had passed since childhood. Besides many sources of tranquil domestic satisfaction, and for a while a somewhat firmer condition of her own health, she was in the enjoyment of a considerable reputation not now confined to her native country, for the fame of her poems had spread to America, and flourished there with extraordinary vigor. She was at one time invited to emigrate to Boston, and there conduct a periodical under an arrangement which would have secured her an income. Her literary correspondence became very large; and gradually the urgencies of editors of annuals, owners of albums, and other such predacious assailants of leisure and patience, beseiged and waylaid her to a burdensome and harassing extent. In the summer of 1828 she paid a visit to some friends at Wavertree Lodge, near Liverpool. Her health was now exceedingly frail, with palpitations of the heart, and inflammatory and other distressing symptoms, frequently aggravated by her exceeding carelessness in all matters affecting herself. Her friends induced her to take medical advice, and she was directed to assume a reclining posture as often as practicable. Another consequence of this visit was her resolution to move to the village of Wavertree, chiefly with a view to the better education of her three younger boys: the two others, at the same time that their mother quitted Wales in the autumn, went away to Rome, to the care of their father. Mrs. Hemans's sister had married, her brother was appointed to a post in Ireland, and the cherished Welsh home was thus irremediably broken up. The residence at Wavertree, however, turned out unsatisfactorally. Mrs. Hemans did not find it healthy for herself, nor its educational advantages equal to her expectations. She had some friends in Liverpool whom she liked, more especially the Chorley family: but for the most part was oppressed by the importunities of undiscerning and uncongenial neighbors, upon whom, moreover, she often failed even to produce a favorable impression. She was regarded as odd--"wore a veil on her head, like no one else" (as is indeed shown in Mr. West's portrait of her): and she, for her part, could hardly be induced to go into any genteel society, and would fain have got a friend "to procure her a dragon to be kept in her court-yard," as a protection against intruders. Her house was itself very small, and on her arrival comfortless: but she managed to make it comparatively elegant. She now conceived a great passion for music, and, in the winter of 1830 and ensuing spring, applied herself to the study of the art under Zeugheer Herrmann, receiving also some assistance from a well-known amateur, Mr. Lodge. She so far cultivated her faculty in music as to be able to invent airs for some of her own lyrics. Playing on the harp and the pianoforte had been among her earlier accomplishments: and her voice was naturally good, but failed in youth owing to the weakness of her chest.

The residence at Wavertree was varied by excursions to Scotland and to the Lake country. In July, 1829, she paid a visit to Mr. Hamilton, the author of Cyril Thornton, at Chiefswood near Abbotsford, and saw a good deal of Sir Walter Scott. Two of his kindly compliments to Mrs. Hemans have been preserved in her sister's record. "I should say you had too many gifts, Mrs. Hemans; were they not all made to give pleasure to those around you:" and afterwards at leave-taking, "There are some whom we meet, and should like ever after to claim as kith and kin; and you are one of those." The Scotch trip included visits to Yarrow, Abbotsford, and Edinburgh, and sitting for a bust to Mr. Angus Fletcher. The excursion to the Lakes of Westmoreland took place in the following year, 1830: the poetess went to Wordsworth's house, Rydal Mount, with her son Charles; and afterwards moving to a neighboring cottage named Dove's Nest, overlooking Winandermere, was joined by her two other boys from Wavertree. Mrs. Hemans's letters show how much she liked Wordsworth, both poetically and personally: she found him more impulsive than she had expected, and greatly enjoyed his fine reading, and the frequent touches of poetry in his talk. Nor was her admiration unresponded to, as proved by the lines which Wordsworth devoted to her memory but a few years afterwards--

"Mourn rather for that holy spirit
Sweet as the spring, as ocean deep;
For her who ere her summer faded
Has sunk into a breathless sleep.
She left Dove's Nest towards the middle of August, and revisited Scotland, and then re-entered Wales by way of Dublin and Holyhead.

As the experiment of Wavertree had proved disappointing, and as her brother Major Browne was now settled in Ireland, Mrs. Hemans determined to take up her residence in Dublin from the following spring. In the late autumn of 1830 therefore she saw her last of Bronwylfa, and towards the close of April, 1831, she quitted Wavertree and England, never (as it was fated) to return. She passed a few weeks in Dublin; then stayed at her brother's house, the Hermitage, near Kilkenny; and in the early autumn was finally domiciled in the Irish capital. At first she dwelt in Upper Pembroke Street; afterwards in No. 36 Stephen's Green; and thirdly at a house which proved more comfortable, and in which her life came to a close, 20 Dawson Street. In Dublin, as before at Wavertree, Mrs. Hemans lived retired from society, but in familiar intercourse with a few sterling friends, among whom were Sir William Rowan Hamilton, Archbishop and Mrs. Whately, and the Rev. Blanco White. Her health was in a very shattered state, the palpitation of the heart continuing, and being attended by frequent fainting-fits. Every now and then, however, she rallied, and it was still possible for her friends to flatter their hearts with hope; and the gentle sweetness and even playfulness of her temper, mingled with tender sentiment and ever-deepening religious impressions never failed her. She now had to pass a great part of her time lying on a sofa.

After her settlement in Ireland, Mrs. Hemans published the following volumes of poetry--her prevailing tendency being at this period towards themes of a religious character. Early in 1834, the Hymns for Childhood were first issued from the home press, in Dublin,--having previously, however, as far back as 1824, appeared in an American edition. The National Lyrics were collected, and produced by the same Dublin publishers almost simultaneously with the Hymns for Childhood; and were succeeded, at no long interval, by the Scenes and Hymns of Life, which volume obtained much applause. This was the last publication during her lifetime. She afterwards wrote Despondency and Aspiration, and dictated the series of sonnets named Thoughts during Sickness: the last composition of all was the Sabbath Sonnet, produced on the 26th of April, only twenty days prior to her death.

The other events of the last two years of Mrs. Hemans's life may be very briefly summarized: fatal illness, and the attentions of relatives and friends, are nearly all that the record includes. Not only her brother and his wife, but also her sister Mrs. Hughes, with the husband of the latter, were with her with more or less continuity. In May, 1833, her son Claude went to America, to engage in commercial life; another son, Willoughby, was employed on the Ordnance Survey in the north of Ireland: Charles, and during his holidays Henry, tended her affectionately. The latter, shortly before his mother's death, was unexpectedly appointed to a clerkship in the Admiralty by Sir Robert Peel, who added "a most munificent donation." In July, 1834, Mrs. Hemans caught a fever: she went to the county of Wicklow for the sake of her health, but here another illness, scarlet fever, assailed her. Returning to Dublin, and being ordered to pass as much time as possible in the open air, she caught a cold, through having sat out too long reading in the gardens of the Dublin Society, where an autumnal fog overtook her: the cold was followed by ague, and this, with a hectic fever which supervened, may be regarded as the final stage in her disease, now mainly of a dropsical character. At the beginning of March, 1835, after spending some time at Redesdale, the seat of her attached friends, the Whatelys, she returned to Dublin, having almost lost the use of her limbs; and on the 16th of May, without a sigh or movement, she ceased to live. She lies buried in St. Anne's Church, Dublin.

Mrs. Hemans, while sprightly, versatile, and conversible, was not the less of a very retiring disposition, shrinking from self-display, and the commonplaces of a public reputation. Her character was extremely guileless. Notwithstanding her exceeding sensitiveness--which extended not only to the affections and interests of life, but to such outer matters as the sound of the wind at night, the melancholy of the sea-shore, and in especial (though there was no reason for this in any personal occurrences) to the sadness of burials at sea--she was yet very free from mere ordinary nervous alarms.

"My spirits," she once wrote, "are as variable as the lights and shadows now flitting with the winds over the high grass, and sometimes the tears gush into my eyes when I can scarcely define the cause. I put myself in mind of an Irish melody sometimes, with its quick and wild transitions from sadness to gayety."

Her conversation was various and brilliant, with a total freedom from literary pretence. She had a strong perception of the ludicrous, but abstained from sarcasm or ill-nature, more especially as weapons against any who had injured or neglected her; and personal or invidious literary gossip was her aversion. She would not permit herself to be vexed at small things: but was wont to quote the saying of Madame l'Espinasse (applying it no doubt chiefly to the severance of her matrimonial ties) "Un grand chagrin tue tout le reste." She had a keen dislike to any sort of coarseness in conversation or in books, and would often tear out peccant pages from volumes in her possession. Her accomplishments were considerable, and not merely superficial. She knew French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and in mature life German, and was not unacquainted with Latin. She had some taste and facility not only in music (as already referred to) but likewise in drawing; and some of her sketches of localities have served for vignettes in the copyright edition of her complete works. 3 Her poetry was often written with a readiness approaching improvisiation: this she felt as in some degree a blemish, and towards the close of her life she regretted having often had to write in a haphazard way, so as to supply means for the education of her sons. Byron, Shelley, and Madame de Stael were among the writers she was in the habit of quoting. Jealousy of contemporary female writers, prominent in the public eye, was unknown to her gentle and true-hearted nature: Miss Jewsbury (afterwards Mrs. Fletcher) was among her intimates, and she indulged herself in friendly correspondence with Miss Baillie, Miss Mitford, Mrs. Howitt, and others. The first-named of these ladies, Mrs. Fletcher (whose death preceded that of her friend by about a year), has, in her book named The Three Histories, described Mrs. Hemans under the name of Egeria; and as the faithfulness of the portrait, allowing for some degree of idealization, is attested by Mrs. Hughes, I am induced to repeat it here:--

"Egeria was totally different from any other woman I had ever seen, either in Italy or in England. She did not dazzle, she subdued me. Other women might be more commanding, more versatile, more acute: but I never saw one so exquisitely feminine. Her birth, her education, but above all the genius with which she was gifted, combined to inspire a passion for the ethereal, the tender, the imaginative, the heroic--in one word the beautiful. It was in her a faculty divine, and yet of daily life; it touched all things, but, like a sunbeam, touched them with 'a golden finger'. Anything abstract or scientific was unintelligible and distasteful to her. Her knowledge was extensive and various; but true to the first principle of her nature, it was poetry that she sought in history, scenery, character, and religious belief--poetry that guided all her studies, governed all her thoughts, colored all her conversation. Her nature was at once simple and profound: there was no room in her mind for philosophy, nor in her heart for ambition; the one was filled by imagination, the other engrossed by tenderness. She had a passive temper, but decided tastes; any one might influence, but very few impressed her. Her strength and her weakness alike lay in her affections. These would sometimes make her weep at a word,--at others, imbue her with courage; so that she was alternately a 'falcon-hearted dove' and 'a reed shaken with the wind.' Her voice was a sad sweet melody, and her spirits reminded me of an old poet's description of the orange tree, with its
'Golden lamps hid in a night of green,'
or of those Spanish gardens where the pomegranate grows beside the cypress. Her gladness was like a burst of sunlight; and, if in her depression she resembled night, it was night bearing her stars. I might describe and describe forever, but I should never succeed in portraying Egeria. She was a Muse, a Grace, a variable child, a dependent woman, the Italy of human beings. "

In Mrs. Hemans's poetry there is (as already observed) a large measure of beauty, and, along with this, very considerable skill. Aptitude and delicacy in versification, and a harmonious balance in the treatment of the subject, are very generally apparent: if we accept the key-note as right, we may with little misgiving acquiesce in what follows on to the close. Her skill, however, hardly rises into the loftier region of art: there is a gift, and culture added to the gift, but not a great native faculty working in splendid independence, or yet more splendid self-discipline. Her sources of inspiration being genuine, and the tone of her mind feminine in an intense degree, the product has no lack of sincerity; and yet it leaves a certain artificial impression rather perhaps through a cloying flow of "right-minded" perceptions of moral and material beauty than through any other defect. "Balmy" it may be: but the atmosphere of her verse is by no means bracing. One might sum up the weak points in Mrs. Hemans's poetry by saying that it is not only "feminine" poetry (which under the circumstances can be no imputation, rather an ecomium) but also "female" poetry: besides exhibiting the fineness and charm of womanhood, it has the monotone of mere sex. Mrs. Hemans has that love of good and horror of evil which characterize a scrupulous female mind; and which we may most rightly praise without concluding that they favor poetical robustness, or even perfection in literary form. She is a leader in that very modern phalanx of poets who persistently co-ordinate the impulse of sentiment with the guiding power of morals or religion. Everything must convey its "lesson," and is indeed set forth for the sake of its lesson: but must at the same time have the emotional gush of a spontaneous sentiment. The poet must not write because he has something of his own to say, but because he has something right to feel and say. Lamartine was a prophet in this line. After allowing all proper deductions, however, it may be gratefully acknowledged that Mrs. Hemans takes a very honourable rank among poetesses; and that there is in her writings much which both appeals, and deserves to appeal, to many gentle, sweet, pious, and refined souls, in virtue of its thorough possession of the same excellent gifts. According to the spiritual or emotional condition of her readers, it would be found that a poem by this authoress which to one reader would be graceful and tender would to another be touching, and to a third poignantly pathetic. The first we can suppose to be a man, and the third a woman; or the first a critic, the second a "poetical reader," and the third a sensitive nature, attuned to sympathy by suffering.

W. M. ROSSETTI.

Footnotes:

1: The Memoir of Mrs. Hemans, written by her sister Mrs. Hughes, and prefixed to the edition of the Poems in 7 vols. published by Messrs. Blackwood, is the best authority for the facts of the poet's life. There are also the Memorials by Mr. Chorley in 2 vols., containing a good deal of Mrs. Hemans's correspondence (reproduced to a large extent by Mrs. Hughes), and mostly bearing on her literary career rather than the circumstances of her private life. The former of these accounts is pleasantly written, in a tone of deep affection, and admiration as well, at which the reader will not be disposed to cavil.

2: So spelled by Mrs. Hughes: "Grwych" by Mr. Chorley.

3: In the present edition some few poems have had to be omitted, as still copyright; and others, for the purpose of bringing the material into one moderate-sized volume. These are chiefly early poems, or else dramatic works.

Editorial Credits