Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

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gathered that he had written a line himself,


and who was the most indulgent and appre-
ciative critic of the work of other poets. Miss
Swanwick had a similar power of appreciation
and an equally lenient judgment. Her taste
was singularly delicate and discriminating,
her standard of excellence a high one. But
she would never disparage any one's work if
she could help it. She seemed unwilling to
believe anything but good of others. This
leniency belonged to the sweetness of her
character, and was reflected in the gentleness
of her manner. One always came away
feeling the better for having been in the
company of one so kindly and so gracious
and also so perfectly reverent and unworldly,
for her thoughts were always bent upon high
things. I do not at this moment recollect
whether she was a special devotee of Words-
worth, but she always used to appear to me
to be penetrated by a sort of Wordsworthian

" Her intellect was extremely alert, her
memory for what she had seen or read quick
and accurate. Her love of letters did not


prevent her from taking a constant and lively
interest in what was passing in the world. I
recollect that she used to follow Mr. Glad-
stone's action with keen sympathy, having a
warm admiration for him, though she did not
agree with his Home Rule policy, and he felt
a like admiration for her.

" Next to the charm of her sweetness, that
which one found most delightful was the
joyous freshness of her mind. Neither the
weakness of age nor the sadness she felt at
seeing so many friends pass away before her,
seemed to reduce either her eagerness for
knowledge or her affection for those around
her, or her hopefulness for the future of man-
kind. A brighter spirit conjoined to a more
lovable nature we shall not see again.

" Sincerely yours,

"James Bryce."

From the Rt. Hon. W. E. Lecky : — -
" You ask me to write down a few remini-
scences of Miss Swan wick. I am a little
perplexed at your request, for though I had


the privilege of her friendship during many
years, I never saw as much of her as many of
her friends, and I never made any notes of her
conversation. It is needless to speak of her
admirable knowledge of German and Greek,
and of the rare beauty of her translations
both of T^schylus and Goethe. They have
held their place in spite of numerous competi-
tors, and their wide popularity as well as the
admiration of many excellent scholars suffi-
ciently attest their value. Her translation of
Goethe's ' Iphigenia in Tauris ' has always
seemed to me especially masterly, and I know
few translations which preserve so unimpaired
the poetic spirit of the originals. Though a
very learned lady, Miss Swanwick was as
far as possible removed from the preten-
tiousness which is sometimes associated with
that name, and I think few persons can
have come in contact with her without
feeling her charm. What always struck me
the most in her was her cheery optimism,
the enthusiasm for all great unselfish
causes which she retained to the very last,


her singularly hopeful and indulgent view of
human nature. Poetry, which to so many of
us soon becomes little more than the relaxa-
tion of an idle hour, seemed to have entered
into the very depths of her being, and it is
not too much to say that Wordsworth was
one of the great stays and comforts of her
life. To this may, no doubt, be largely
ascribed the youthfulness and freshness of
character she never lost. She used herself
to express a wonder at her old age and her
complete inability to realise it. She was an
excellent critic, at least of poetry, but also a
most kindly one, naturally bringing into
relief the beauties of a work rather than
its defects, and always retaining before great
men a modesty of mental attitude not com-
mon in our days. Genuine modesty and
complete unselfishness of nature were, I
think, her dominant characteristics. I have
never heard her say an unkindly word of any
one, and it was curious to watch how invari-
ably she would brush aside sombre thoughts
and pessimistic predictions ; how courageously



she could always look upon the future, how
fully she remained in touch not only with the
philanthropic but also with nearly all the
progressive movements of her time. Dr.
Martineau, with whom she had a long and
intimate friendship, represented, I think, most
faithfully her opinions on many serious sub-
jects. She had a lifelong veneration for
Tennyson, who, as she once said, had been
' a kind of musical accompaniment to her
whole life/ She had great conversational
powers, and her language — choice, vivid, and
copious — had a quaint, old-world flavour.
She talked very literally like a book, and her
phrases — more formal and elaborate than is
now the custom — often reminded me of a
character in an eighteenth-century or early
nineteenth-century novel. Her conversation,
however, was never overpowering, and it
almost always turned on subjects of enduring
interest, and scarcely ever on the passing
gossip of the hour. With her small, bent
form, her bright eyes, her eager, enthusiastic
expression, and her swift flow of brave and
inspiring words, she was a most attractive and


original figure, and in the wide circle of her
friends she was rarely spoken of except as
' Anna Swanwick,' ' dear Anna Swanwick.'
" Yours very truly,

"W. E. Lecky."
. . . • •

From Miss Drewry : —

" The pleasure and privilege of such
acquaintance as I had with Miss Anna
Swanwick, which, though not intimate, was
sufficient to enable me to realise what she
was, came to me through my dear master,
Professor Newman. I remember well how
warmly she received me, on his introduction,
as a fellow worker, however far behind her,
in the field of progress and higher culture
for women. We had, in earlier days, several
talks on the education of girls, classical studies
for women, and many other subjects. I am
pretty sure that we did not always agree, and
I bear in mind the respect and ready sympathy
with which she listened to my often, doubt-
less, impetuously uttered convictions rather
than arguments — a respect and sympathy which


I have always looked back upon with some
surprise and great gratitude ; for, younger in
mind even than in years, I had very much to
learn at that time, and was more easily moved
by kindly suggestion than by opposition or
evident disapproval.

" Some years later the interest we both
took in Mr. Browning's poetry drew us to-
gether, and I had reason to admire her large
power of sympathy with very different kinds
of minds, and her keen critical insight.

" The delightful Sunday evening meals to
which she made me, and my sister also, wel-
come from time to time — opportunities so
simple and free of enjoying intercourse of the
highest order — are yet fresh in my mind.
Some of her visitors on these occasions were
men and women of mark, whom it was a
privilege to hear talk, and her large range of
information and interest, her beautiful sim-
plicity and forgetfulness of self, and her sweet
and perfect womanliness, seemed to draw us
together as into a happy family party.

" The last occasion on which I saw her was
after a visit I paid to Weston-super-Mare in


1897, at the request of my dear old master,
Professor Newman, only a short time before
his death. She was then evidently failing in
strength, but her spirit was as bright as ever.
Of course our talk was chiefly of that dear
friend whom we should neither of us see
again in this world, and whose love and help
had formed to both of us so large a power in
our lives. Yet there was little of sadness in
her tone. She, too, was nearing the end of
her earthly journey, but looked forward with
unclouded faith and serene hope to another
life which should open out to all new oppor-
tunities of increased intellectual and spiritual
activity and usefulness. I have always felt
the richer for knowing her, and this last
interview was a privilege for which I was
most grateful.

" Of Miss Swanwick's high attainments,
linguistic, classical, and literary, others can
and will speak with more weight than I
could, but I, at all times, felt the charm of
so much learning, so gently and uncon-
sciously borne.

" Louisa Drewry."


From Mr. Justin McCarthy : —
" It can have been given to few mortals to
live a life of greater fulness, consistency, and
quiet fruitful endeavour than that of Miss
Anna Swanwick. She lived only to do good,
to spread the light of education, to bring
literature and art and science as far as she
could within the reach of the poor and lowly,
and above all things else to help in the
training of women for the higher purposes
of their lives. She concerned herself more
with women's duties than with ' Women's
Rights/ and while she was far too enlightened
not to strive for a removal of all needless
difficulties that may have been placed in the
way of their usefulness, her great ambition
was to bring out their intellectual and moral
nature to its full development. To this
task she was faithful to the very end of her
calm and noble life.

" She would have made a name for herself
in literature if she had been content to devote
herself to literature alone. No one did more
than she to make English readers familiar


with the works of Goethe and Schiller ; she
followed, in that way, the path which had
been opened by Coleridge and by Carlyle,
and she followed it out with success. Then
she tried a bolder effort, and she rendered
into thrilling English some of the noblest of
the Greek tragedies — those tragedies which
rank among the grandest accomplishments
of human genius.

"Miss Swanwick did not write for a living.
She had means enough to live on, and was
not compelled to shred out her mind into
pages of ' copy ' in order to obtain so many
weekly coins in return. Now, there can be
no doubt that there are and always have been
men and women of intellect, and even of
genius, who work all the better because
they are driven to work by imperious
necessity. But every one who has studied
literary life must have seen again and again
examples of great natural gifts marred and
wasted by continuous and unavoidable sub-
mission to the needs of making a living, or
the temptations to make a living more easily


and more readily. The great poet whom
Anna Swanwick did so much to introduce to
the English public, Goethe himself, has told
us in one of his writings that if he had been
a poor young man depending on literature
for his living during the Sturm und Drang
period of German literature, he must, in all
probability, have been compelled to go in
with the fashion of the hour and try to make
money by pleasing the popular taste. If
Anna Swanwick had had to write for a
living, she would probably not have found
the time to translate Greek tragedies, for it
may be taken, I think, as a matter of
certainty that the translation of Greek
tragedies does not pay. She was happily
enabled to follow the paths which her own
intellectual tastes, and her devoted interest in
the welfare of the human race, marked out
for her as the course of her life, and a
temperament like hers must have been happy
while engaged in such work ; she must have
lived, as Carlyle says of her admired Schiller,
c Among heroes and kings, and visions of


immortal beauty.' But she had much
happiness, too, in her frequent associations
with men and women of the highest intellect,
belonging to her own country and to many
other countries, who appreciated her and
made her feel that she was of kin with them.
Anna Swanwick lived in the most quiet and
modest way, but her means were enough for
her unostentatious mode of existence, and
the allurements of what is called society had
no charm for her.

" Her luxuries consisted first in lending a
helping hand to all beneficent purposes that
came within her reach, and next in meeting
people of culture and intellect. At her quiet
home in Regent's Park she often gathered
around her dinner-table men and women
whose names were in the foremost rank of
literature, of art, and of politics.

" I am glad, however, to be able to say that
she made friendships, too, with some who had
no claim to any such distinction, and, indeed,
took a pleasure in bringing any friend into
acquaintanceship with the leaders of intel-


lectual movement. At her dinner-table I
have thus been privileged to meet Gladstone,
Dean Stanley, James Russell Lowell, Lord
Acton, Sir Theodore Martin and his wife,
who won fame on the stage as Helen Faucit,
and many others whom indeed it was a
privilege to meet under such conditions of
friendly and informal intercourse.

" Miss Swan wick was a most charming
hostess, all the more charming because she
never seemed to be making any effort to play
the hostess's part. She did not lead the
conversation or force it, or even try to direct
it, but she kept it going ; she knew how to
intervene at the right time when some one
subject seemed to be flagging, and the
opportunity had come for another. In this
way she reminded me sometimes of George
Eliot, and of the quiet manner with which
that great authoress used to keep the talk
going at one of her afternoon gatherings, not
far from that part of the Regent's Park in
which Miss Swanwick's home was made.
Miss Swanwick, too, had the happy art, or


the happy temperament I should rather say,
which would put all the company at their
ease, and for the moment on a level of
intellectual companionship. I have seen
more than one hostess who, when entertain-
ing some great personage, always seemed
unresting in her anxiety to make the others
of the company understand what a great
personage he was, and how he and nobody
else was the hero of the hour, to whom
homage should be done. Miss Swanwick
had nothing of this in her quiet manner ;
it was her object to make the company
companionable, and in this she always
succeeded. Another charming peculiarity
about her was that, with all her devotion to
certain great purposes, she never appeared to
have a hobby — that is to say, she never
trotted out any particular scheme of her own,
and compelled her guests to look at that, and
think of that and nothing else, for the time.

"Justin McCarthy.
' ' Weekly Register ', 1899."


Mr. Mackenzie Bell writes : —

" What one felt most about our much
loved Miss Anna Swanwick's conversation
was its extraordinary, almost unique com-
bination of tender perfect womanliness with
great intellectual force. Perhaps the reason
for this might be found in her absolute
youthfulness of soul and her complete adapt-
ability and even eagerness to accept new
modes of thought if they appealed to her
judgment. And this was because in the fine
phrase of Miss Beatrice Harraden she had
always cultivated her ' garden.' Of old age
she herself had no apprehension, and to
witness hers was an inspiration indeed.
Once, when I told to her the fear I had then
of old age, she answered, * You need not
fear it, dear, for one finds that one cares
more year by year for the flowers and the
sunshine, and one sees their beauty so much
more than ever, that what one gains is much
more than what one loses.'

" When one was with her sheltered in
her ' Little Madeira ' (for such she called


the spacious drawing-room with its lovely
outlook on the Regent's Park, in which,
owing to chest weakness, she spent most
of the winter months during her later
life) one forgot her feebleness of body in
one's keen enjoyment of her constant
buoyancy of temperament. This buoyancy,
this elasticity was caused in part no doubt by
her many interests ; but it was caused also
to a large extent by the self-discipline, half
conscious, half unconscious, that was a facet
of her character. To her, conscience and
duty were supreme, the former she almost

" It must not be supposed that in all
respects, save in mind, she seemed of
advanced age. Her sight was wonderful.
When eighty-six she read aloud to me
without spectacles a letter written in a
crabbed, illegible handwriting. Naturally I
expressed surprise at her being able to do so.
She replied : ' I have never used spectacles
except when painting in water-colours ; and
in early youth, standing at Seacombe, I used


to be able, when the light was favourable, to
make out the time on St. Nicholas' Church
in Liverpool.' To any one aware of the
distance between Seacombe on the Cheshire —
the southern — shore of the Mersey, and
St. Nicholas' Church, Liverpool, on the
northern shore, this will seem an amazing

" She was one of the last inheritors of the
old courtliness of manner which was apparent
even to strangers ; but to know her well was
to realise with increasing clearness that her
loftiness of soul was enmeshed with deep
affectionateness. It seemed peculiarly appro-
priate that the translator of the great Greek
dramas and the author of ' Poets the Inter-
preters of Their Age ' should be surrounded
by busts and relics of the antique, the busts
of iEschylus and Dante being prominent
always. Her love for and knowledge of the
classical temper enabled her to appreciate
adequately the ' Erectheus ' of our sur-
viving singer of the great poetic past, Mr.


" Her humour, though very quiet, was
absent rarely. Indeed, intercourse with her
made one realise with ever - increasing
intensity how important is humour among
the great qualities of a great mind. With
inimitable point she told an anecdote
respecting Fredrika Bremer, related to Miss
Swanwick by the Swedish authoress herself.
Long before she had visited America she
looked forward to meeting Nathaniel Haw-
thorne in his home. When the appointment
was made she said to the friends with whom
she was staying how deeply she regretted
defective railway arrangements would only
enable her to spend three-quarters of an hour
with the illustrious romancist. Long before
the three-quarters of an hour had elapsed,
however, she wished herself away because of
Hawthorne's ' great silence/ For, after
greeting her, he had sat saying absolutely
nothing !

" Miss Swanwick's anecdotes of eminent
persons were never obtruded in her con-
versation, but, in the most charming and


guileless manner, she used to allude to those
living and dead whom she had loved. Of
Gladstone she mentioned as an instance of
strength of will and individual detachment,
that, on the eve of his final retirement from
office, he had completed his translation of
Horace. To know Miss Swanwick was a
joy and a solace ; to remember her is to
remember all that is noblest in human life
and in human character."

Sir Joshua Fitch writes : —

" Much weightier testimony than mine will
have been given by other of her friends who
had known and honoured Miss Swanwick for
many years. Her learning, her sympathy with
the best social and educational movements of
our time, and especially the delight with which
she witnessed the steady increase during the
whole of the late Queen's reign of the in-
fluence of women in art, in literature, in the
public service, and in the intellectual life of
the nation generally, were very marked


features of her character even to the last. It
was in regard to the last of these — the open-
ing of new scholastic privileges to girls at
public schools and universities — that I had
most frequently the opportunities of hearing
her views. I may mention one incident in
her life with which I had occasion to feel a
special interest, as my name was associated
with hers in connection with the distribution
of a considerable sum of money under the
Pfeiffer bequest. Mr. Jiirgen Pfeiffer, a
wealthy City merchant, and his wife, Mrs.
Emily Pfeiffer, the authoress of some grace-
ful and pleasing poems, were great admirers
of Miss Swanwick's character and genius, and
shared to the full her enthusiasm for the
improvement in women's education, and for
their professional and intellectual advance-
ment. The will of Mr. Pfeiffer, drawn in
1884, with the full concurrence of his wife,
contains some remarkable provisions : —

" ' I have always had, and am adhering to,
the idea of leaving the bulk of my property
for charitable and educational purposes in


favour of women. Theirs is, to my mind,
the great influence of the future. Education
and culture and responsibility in more than
one direction, including that of politics, will
gradually fit them for the exercise of every
power that could possibly work towards the
regeneration of mankind. It is women who
have hitherto had the worst of life, and I
therefore have determined to help them to
the best of my ability and means. More-
over, boys should work out their own career,
and not be brought up with a silver spoon in
their mouth. The world would be by far
the better were every boy made to work and
no money be left, except in peculiar cases,
for him to lean and depend on. I have
therefore arranged my bequests in accordance
with these never-forsaken views. . . . The
remaining part of my property I desire to be
divided as endowments among charities or
educational establishments on behalf of
women ; I repeat, of women solely, . . .
and I desire that my friends, the Right
Honourable A. J. Mundella, Vice-President
of the Council of Education, Mr. J. G.
Fitch, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of
Training Colleges, and Miss Anna Swanwick,
should be consulted on this important sub-
ject. In my own mind I would leave most


towards educational wants and culture,
whereby we secure most good for the future.
I desire also that my wife's name should be
chiefly associated with all bequests ; at all
events it should never be separated from

" Mr. Pfeiffer died in 1889, and his wife
survived him for one year only. After all
legal matters connected with the estate had
been settled, the Judge in Chancery instructed
the Attorney-General to consult the three
persons named in the will, and with them to
prepare a scheme for the distribution of the
residuary estate, amounting to about ^60,000.
Miss Swanwick took the keenest and most
helpful interest in the fulfilment of this task.
We had to examine and to estimate the rela-
tive claims of very numerous applicants, but
we laid down for ourselves a rule that it
would be expedient to confine such grants as
should be made to institutions fulfilling cer-
tain conditions : ( 1 ) They should be of an
assured and permanent character, under the
management of responsible governing bodies,
and not small, private, or experimental chari-


ties. (2) They should be for the benefit —
educational or professional — of women and
girls only. (3) They should be wholly
unsectarian in character. (4) The grants
should, if employed as capital, be spent for
the erection of needful buildings, libraries or
halls ; or else, if the capital sum was invested,
the interest should be devoted to the founda-
tion of some lectureship, studentship, prizes
or exhibitions bearing the founder's name.

With the full approval of the Attorney-
General of the day — Sir Richard Webster,
now Lord Chief Justice Alverstone — the
scheme thus prepared received the sanction
of the Court, and took final effect in 1894.
Girton and Newnham Colleges received
£5,000 each, and other institutions, in-
cluding Bedford and Queen's Colleges, the
School of Medicine for Women, the Maria
Grey Training College in London, Somer-
ville Hall, Oxford, the women's Training
College in Cambridge, the women's Col-
leges and Halls attached to Trinity College,
Dublin, to the Universities of Edinburgh


and St. Andrews, and to the Welsh Colleges
at Cardiff and Aberystwyth, besides the
Society for the Employment of Women, the
Hall of Residence attached to University Col-
lege, and the College for Working women.
All of these received substantial grants, in
no case less than ^2,000. Every one of
these institutions is still flourishing, and owes
part of its prosperity and usefulness to the

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 11 of 12)