Mary Louisa Bruce.

Anna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. online

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1813 1899







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EARLY LIFE . . . . .1

MIDDLE LIFE (184O-1870) . . 36





1873 TO 1889 . . . I56

1879 ...... 183






anna swan wick . . Frontispiece

(From a Crayon drawing by Lo-zves Dickinson)

MRS. swan wick . . To face p. I

(From a miniature)


(Early photograph)

F. W. NEWMAN . . • » 53

(From a daguerrotype of 1851^


ANNA SWANWICK . . . ,,156

(Enlarged from a Kodak Photograph taken by a friend, iSyj)


Many friends have asked for a memoir of
Anna Swanwick, not only from admiration
of her literary work and the part she took in
the advancement of women's education, but
still more from the love and esteem felt by
all who knew her.

Such a life should have found a biographer
worthy of the task, one who knew her during
the strenuous years of active life, and whose
literary skill could have done justice to her
memory ; but those contemporaries who
shared in her enthusiasms and labours, and
whose intercourse with her was of that
intimate nature that heart met heart in
sympathy and love, have passed away, and it
has fallen to one who feels herself quite
unequal to the task, to gather together the


scattered materials into a short history, one
whose chief claim to undertake it has been
an intimate relationship and heartfelt,
reverent love.

To compile this brief memoir, however
imperfectly, has been a work of much
difficulty, as no diary was kept, and no
written record of the events of Anna
Swanwick's long and active life has been
found amongst her papers, also an expressed
wish that her private correspondence should
not be published, has prevented the insertion of
much that would have been interesting. It
can therefore only claim to be a simple
sketch intended to recall her in some measure
to those who knew her, and to picture her to
those who wish they had known her whilst
here amongst us.


May, 1903.


"But often in the world's most crowded streets,
But often in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire,
After the meaning of our buried life." x

This cry of the poet's must find an echo in
many hearts, and therefore, beside all other
reasons why the life of Anna Swanwick
should be recorded, appears to me this strong
one, that here is a life which never lost itself
in the unrealities of life. A light which
never burned dim through the mists of a
lower atmosphere, a soul which never for one
moment was untrue to the highest which was
revealed to it, but which habitually lived on
a higher plane than the one we are mostly

1 " The Buried Life," Poem. Matthew Arnold.



accustomed to. A plane which seemed to all
who came under the charm of her presence
to be not only, so much nearer the " Light
that lighteth every man," but to be for the
moment a plane that they too could rise to,
under the uplifting power of her absolute
truth, sincerity, and loving sympathy. I
cannot call the spirit that pervaded her
charity, unless we accept with the word the
fullest meaning of the apostle, a spirit which
hoped all things and believed all things good
of every one who craved speech with her.
But how impossible is it to convey in words
the winning personality, the gracious charm
which pervaded this loved presence. When
we have drawn only an outline but have left
out the colour, how poor is the sketch ! So
it seems with all penned words of description.
How feeble they seem to convey the image !
For, after all is said, there remains the
constant soul behind, which was ever
renewing itself in communion with the
unseen Father, in gracious self-renunciation,
in strenuous effort for every good cause, and


for the perfecting of her work, and later in
life, in noble bearing of pain and weakness,
so that none ever saw the struggle, but only
the unclouded brightness of the face day by
day, the mind never relaxing its stimulating
work, never doing anything other than
perfectly, yet ever ready to unbend when the
hours set apart for work were over. No one
was ever more ready to enter into the joys of
others and to throw herself into every living
interest. A power this which even grew
with growing years. How few are there
who, devoted to literature, to social problems,
to interesting correspondence with some of
the finest minds of the day, to the engrossing
claims of society, could yet enter into the
pursuits and interests of all, young or old, of
the religious enthusiast and of the man or
woman into whose soul doubt had entered
with all its train of bewildering troubles ; yet
so it was, and each came for sympathy and
found it, came for counsel and help, and went
away refreshed and seeing the way clearer,
came from the noise and turmoil of the


world, from its littleness and its strife, to
find what life could be at its best, how
beautiful was goodness and love, and how
Duty, without being forbidding or showing
a stern front, could be the watchword of

Clara Swanwick.

From a Miniature painted about 1826.

To /«(•'■ paje 1.




Anna Swan wick was born in Liverpool
in the year 1 8 1 3 . She was the youngest of
the three singularly interesting and gifted
daughters of John Swanwick, merchant of that
city. They were proud of claiming descent
on their father's side from Philip Henry, the
celebrated divine whose courageous opposi-
tion to the Act of Uniformity, resulted in
his ejection from the Church, together with
two thousand ministers of religion, in the
year 1662. The memory of this ancestor
was held in great esteem by the family, their


severance from the Established Church dating
from that memorable time.

Both parents were ardent Liberals ; it is
recorded that a bust of Fox stood in the
dining-room at St. James's Place, where they
resided in Liverpool, and that the children
were taught to look up to him as the
representative of genuine Liberalism and
wise statesmanship, in spite of his many
failures. His advocacy of the repeal of the
Test and Corporation Act, his unceasing
efforts for the abolition of the slave trade, 1
and his desire to obtain liberty of conscience
for Dissenters, endeared the memory of Fox
to all Liberals at that time.

Those were exciting times — the echoes of
the French Revolution still reverberated in
the air ; the news of the battle of Waterloo
in 1 8 1 5 stirred the heart of the nation as

1 This subject was perhaps debated more in Liver-
pool than in any other town, as in 1807 the number of
ships engaged in the Slave Trade was 185, carrying it
is stated 43,755 slaves from Africa to the West Indies
and America !


it had never been stirred before. Great
principles were at stake, and the people were
awakening to a knowledge of their rights
unjustly withheld by the favoured few.
Party spirit in politics ran high ; the very
children, when they went to school, wore
sashes of different colours to denote their
parents' sympathy with Whig or Tory
faction, and worked their samplers in red
or green according to the colours worn by
the different parties at election time.

It may easily be imagined that the im-
portant events that were agitating men's
minds found free discussion when friends
met together in Mrs. Swanwick's drawing-
room, and that her daughters imbibed a
taste for politics from their earliest youth,
as they listened to their mother's arguments,
which always carried weight from her clear-
sightedness and good judgment.

It is a mistake to suppose that women, in
the early part of the last century took less
interest in public events than they do now.
It is true they did not, in Liverpool at any


rate, take an active part in the election of
members of Parliament, for at the time of
which we are speaking, before the Reform
Bill was passed, the elections often lasted
six or eight days, and were frequently the
cause of unseemly brawls and rioting ; but
that the excitement that was in the air
aroused the keenest interest in the minds
of Mrs. Swanwick and her daughters was
often alluded to by Anna Swanwick when
she spoke in public in after life. She used
to recall with interest how in the year 1832,
when the fate of the Reform Bill hung in
the balance, the day the news was expected
in Liverpool was spent by the family in a
state of anxious expectation. Messengers
came and went from the news office, but no
tidings having arrived before nightfall, they
retired to rest disappointed. In the middle
of the night they were roused by pebbles
being thrown up against the window, and
on opening it to learn the cause, voices from
the street called out, " The Reform Bill has
passed." The joy of all their friends was


so great that they could not keep the news
till the morning, but came to announce it
to the sleeping household as soon as it
arrived in Liverpool.

Mrs. Swanwick's maiden name was Hil-
ditch. Her father died when she was a
child, and as she was the youngest of five
children and her mother's pet, she was ap-
parently allowed more liberty than was usual
in those days. The country round the
family home, Trefflich Hall, in Shropshire,
was wild and open, and as the energetic
nature of the young girl led her to prefer
a gallop over the moors to sitting at her
lessons, the latter naturally took a very
secondary place, and her education in con-
sequence was somewhat scanty.

Hannah Hilditch married early, and
realising for the first time, when she came
to settle in Liverpool, how little she knew,
she determined to make up for lost time by
diligently studying all the standard works
she could find, more particularly devoting her
attention to history and literature in order


to be able to interest her young daughters
in these subjects.

One can picture from description, the
delightful winter evenings spent round the
substantial drawing-room table (very unlike
the inhospitable tables of the present day),
the girls occupied with their pencils, for they
all drew with skill and loved the work,
whilst their mother read aloud scenes from
Greek and Roman history, Pope's " Homer,"
Milton's " Comus," Cowper's " Task,"
Shakespeare's plays, &c. They gratefully
acknowledged in after life that they owed
their strongly marked love of poetry and
interest in the classics to their mother's early
training and enthusiasm for these subjects.

Mrs. Swanwick has been described by one
who knew her well, as a very clever and
interesting woman — she was practical as well
as having literary tastes — everything that she
undertook was well done, including house-
keeping, of which she made a special study.
Housekeeping in those days was a more
serious business than it is now. It was not


the custom for tradespeople to call daily for
orders, but the mistress of the house used
to go in person to the large covered market
and select what was needful, sometimes
ordering a supply sufficient to last the family
for three weeks in the winter-time. Then
baking and brewing, and numerous other
occupations, including fine needlework, were
carried on at home, giving the household
plenty of employment, in which the children
loved to take a part.

From their mother the daughters inherited
force of intellect, and from their father a
lovable, genial, generous temperament ;
equally incapable of saying an unkind word,
as of doing an unkind act ; courteous in
manner, and upright in all his dealings, Mr.
Swanwick was the centre of a circle of warm-
hearted friends in Liverpool.

• • • • •

In order to picture the early life and sur-
roundings of the three sisters, it is necessary
to transport oneself in imagination back into
a very different world from ours, to realise the


age before railways, steamboats, and electri-
city, when Liverpool was lighted by oil lamps,
when it took three or four days for letters to
travel from London, when science was in its
infancy, and there were no circulating libraries
nor daily newspapers.

We can give here only a few details of
Anna Swanwick's early life, but sufficient to
form a charming picture of a bright, happy
child, full of vivacity, and overflowing with
love and sympathy for every joy or sorrow
she met with in real life or fiction.

One little incident remained stamped upon
her memory all her life. She used to relate
how, when a child of three, she and her sister
were standing at the door of a shop whilst
the nurse was making purchases within, when
a gipsy woman passing by, caught her up
and ran with her down the street. The
children screamed, and a gentleman learning
what had happened, pursued the woman and
made her deliver up the frightened child.
There were no police regulations in Liver-
pool at that time, and the kidnapping of
children was no uncommon crime.


She often recalled her delight, as a child,
in watching the merchant vessels waiting in
the Mersey for a favourable wind, and she
was fond of describing how, when the wind
shifted to the east, they hoisted their sails
and like a flock of gigantic white-winged
birds sailed majestically out to sea. It was
a sight never to be forgotten.

In those days the only means of crossing
the Mersey was by small rowing or sailing
boats, and the tide was often so strong and
the waves so high, that the passage from
Liverpool to the little villages of Tranmere
and Birkenhead was a perilous undertaking.
The family removal in the summer to a
cottage on the Cheshire side, was quite an
exciting event to the children, and caused
their mother so much anxiety that she each
year said, " My dears, this must be the last
time ! " In spite of which, the cottage was
taken as usual, and as it contained few
necessaries, the household goods had to be
conveyed in the small boats, and landed
with considerable difficulty on the southern


shore ; there was then no pier, the only
landing stage being a jetty of rough stones
over which the waves often washed with
great force, to the consternation of the
mother, and the excited amusement of the

The following extract is taken from re-
collections written down by the eldest of the
three sisters : —

" When we were settled in the cottage at
Tranmere, one of our greatest pleasures was
to go with papa in the morning to the river,
and watch the boat in which he went back
to town, and again to watch for his return in
the afternoon. Liverpool is so near the
mouth of the Mersey that the passage across
the river is very wide. It was sometimes so
rough, and the waves were so high, that the
little boat was quite lost to sight, and we
children were in the greatest excitement till
he landed — fortunately no accident happened
to the boats in which he crossed."

At that time, before steamboats were in
use, to cross the Irish Channel was a formid-


able undertaking. On one occasion when
Mrs. Swanwick had planned to take the
children to visit some relations in the North
of Ireland, they had to wait day after day
for a favourable wind before going on board ;
at length the vessel started, but when out of
sight of land, the wind dropped, and they
were becalmed for so many days that they
were a week in crossing from Liverpool to
Belfast !

As a child Anna Swanwick had a remark-
able memory ; she often recalled with amuse-
ment how on being taken by the nurse to
bring her sisters back from school, the girls
used to come round her and say, " Now,
little Anna, say * L' Allegro.' " Then one
of them would take her upon her knee, and
she would repeat long passages from that
unchildlike poem beginning : —

" Hence loathed melancholy
Of Cerberus and blackest midnight born,
In Stygean cave forlorn," . . .

to the great amusement of those standing


round. She could not have been more than
four years old at this time, and she must
have remembered the poem from hearing it
read aloud.

At the age of six the little girl, unusually
small of stature, and on that account looking
even younger than her age, was considered
old enough to go to school with her sisters.
She was exceedingly quick, and made rapid
progress in such learning as was then sup-
plied in girl's schools. Her young com-
panions had but a poor chance of getting
to the top of the class in which she was
placed, but one day, when owing to absence
from illness she had not prepared her
lesson, she found herself ignominiously at
the bottom instead of at the top of the
class. This distressed her so much that
she burst into tears. Her mistress, whose
power of sympathy was not great, reproved
the little girl for being so selfish as not
to like others to succeed sometimes. A
reproof which the child felt to be unjust,
seeing she had always worked hard to learn


her lessons, not with any wish to outshine
her young companions, but from an innate
desire to excel in all she had to do.

The three sisters had a vivid recollection
of their delightful walks to school over the
" Mount," taking hold of their father's hands
in turn, and dancing with glee in the fresh
morning air as he recited the verse from an
old poet : —

" This sunny morning, Roger, cheers my blood,
And makes all nature in a jovial mood."

They had a very happy childhood, and
formed a remarkable group. Mary, the
eldest, tall and very lovely, full of vivacity
and spirit, took the initiative in all their
games ; Catherine, the second, was of a
more dreamy disposition, living in a roman-
tic world of her own ; and Anna, the little
one, full of eager earnestness and bright
joyousness, looked up to her eldest sister
with an admiration that amounted almost
to worship, following her lead in every-
thing. Endowed with vivid imaginations


they needed no toys such as children have
now, and having few books they invented
their own stories. Sometimes they acted
scenes from ancient history, or with their
minds full of their lessons in mythology
learnt at school, from the old book called
" Magnall's Questions/' they each chose the
name of a goddess, and would personate
Angenoria, Goddess of Industry, Minerva,
and Flora in their youthful games. There
existed at that time (about the year 1 8 1 9)
a piece of common land near their home,
called Parliament Fields (probably now
forming part of Prince's Park), where
honeysuckles grew and wild roses were to
be found, and through which ran a stream
of clear water. Here they loved to spend
their playtime in summer with their young
friends, inventing all manner of diversions,
and so engrossed were they in their sport
that they sometimes forgot the dinner hour.
Hence the stream received the name of
" Lethe," and they begged to be excused
when they came home late, saying " they
had drunk of the waters of Lethe."


It is interesting to note that the mind
of the future translator of iEschylus was
steeped thus early in classic lore, and that
mythological scenes and characters were as
vividly realised by her as were the scenes
and characters she read of in history.

An old friend wrote late in life : —

" It is now seventy years since we trotted
to school together and enjoyed many a game
of play at our house and your mother's. I
think we were very simple children ; how we
used to make our own amusements without
all the appliances and aids which now seem
so necessary when young folk meet together."

And an old relative when nearly ninety
years of age wrote thus, recalling early
days : —

cc I remember you a dear little girl of
seven, intent upon doing kindnesses to all
around you — years afterwards I found you
blessed with the same spirit. It has been
the joy of your life, and has caused more
happiness to others than you can have any
idea of. . . ."


In quite early days an elderly friend of
their mother's instituted what she called
a " Bun and Budget Club," which met at
her house once a month. All the members,
including the three little sisters and several
of their friends, were to bring either an
original story or verses, or a drawing done
without help. The stories and verses were
read aloud by the hostess, and the drawings
shown to the members and commented
upon ; then followed light refreshments
and some fun before separating. Unfor-
tunately none of these early writings have
been kept.

The children were brought up in an at-
mosphere of simple devoutness. The parents
belonged to the Unitarian congregation wor-
shipping in the Renshaw Street Chapel, and
they were accustomed on Sunday mornings
from early childhood to attend the services
there, and to listen to Mr. Harris's eloquent
preaching, which drew large congregations.
On Sunday evening their father, seated be-
fore the family Bible, the servants having


assembled, and the text having been found,
would read one of Blair's or Enfield's ser-
mons, which did not err on the side of
brevity, and somewhat, it is true, taxed the
patience of the younger members of the

A letter from a dear old grandmother,
dated 1821, shows the religious feeling that
pervaded the family circle. She wrote : " I
assure you, my dear little girls, now I am
arrived at my eightieth year there is no one
thing I am more thankful for than that I
was early instructed in the principles of
Rational Religion. It has been my grand
support and comfort through life, and will
be yours, my beloved grandchildren, if you
will continue in the right path."

Throughout their lives Anna Swanwick and
her sisters remained attached to the religious
communion into which they were born, and
thus carried on the traditions of the family.

These few recollections can be filled in by

the imagination to form a very charming

picture of happy childhood.

< . • • t



That the education of girls in the early
part of last century was very inferior to that
of the present day is too well known to need
comment here, but in spite of the imper-
fections of the system of teaching and the
scarcity of books, one thing is certain, that
the memory was trained by constantly learn-
ing by rote, and dates and other historical
facts were impressed upon the mind so
clearly that at the age of eighty they were
remembered as though they had been learnt

It is interesting to reflect that in spite of
all the deficiencies in school training at that
time, and the lack of opportunities for cul-
ture such as we have now, the century
produced some of our greatest thinkers,
statesmen, philanthropists, and poets, who
were children at the same time as the subject
of this memoir, and some of whom after-
wards became her attached friends.

One result of the education given to girls
in those days was the creation of an intense
thirst for knowledge and a longing for


opportunity to fill in the blanks left by
imperfect teaching. Thus, although at the
age ot thirteen Anna Swanwick was con-
sidered to have learnt as much as it was
necessary for a girl to know, and was taken
away from school, she did not on that
account consider her education finished.
She frequently described her yearning after
more instruction in mathematics and other
branches of knowledge beyond her reach as
so great that she shed tears in secret over
her inability to procure it, and in later life
the memory of her early strivings made her
anxious to help those who could not help
themselves by raising the general standard
of girls' education.

The following extract is taken from an
address delivered by her late in life at
Bedford College : —

" In my young days, though I attended
what was considered the best girls' school in
Liverpool, the education there given was so

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 1 of 12)