Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

. (page 2 of 12)
Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 2 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

meagre that I felt like the Peri excluded
from Paradise, and I often longed to assume


the costume of a boy in order to learn Latin,
Greek, and mathematics, which were then
regarded as essential to a liberal education
for boys, but were not thought of for girls.

" To give some idea of the educational
meagreness alluded to above I may mention
the fact that during my schooldays I never
remember to have seen a map, while all my
knowledge of geography was derived from
passages learnt by rote. The teaching of
grammar and of other subjects was on a
par with that of geography ; I will not,
however, dwell at greater length upon these
educational deficiencies, enough having been
said to account for my dissatisfaction with
the education which at that time fell to the
lot of girls."

Her eldest sister wrote : " She had an
insatiable thirst for knowledge as a girl, and
an intense love of poetry, which led her to
learn by heart the principal poems of Milton,
Cowper, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, and
Shelley." She generally carried a volume of
one or other of these poets about with her,


and their thoughts became so completely a
part of herself that all through life, to an
advanced age, she could quote long passages
to illustrate some subject under discussion, or
to impress some truth upon her hearers.
Not only did her intimacy with the poets fill
her mind with beautiful images, but it gave
her a fluency of expression and a grasp of
the true meaning of words, which materially
assisted her in the work of translation in
after life.

She said of herself —

" I was brought up in a poetical atmo-
sphere, and at a very early age I took a
great delight in committing to memory the
choicest utterances of our best poets. I shall
never forget the delight with which I first
read Milton's ' Comus,' an exquisite poem,
many pages of which I learnt by heart, and
which now enrich my mental treasury."

She was never idle after leaving school.
Music and drawing occupied a fair share of
time, but languages, for which she early
showed a talent, chiefly engrossed her


With the aid of her sister Mary she learnt
German ; how they studied with grammar
and dictionary, so as to be able to read
Schiller's works with pleasure, was often re-
called in after life. They also had lessons in
Italian from Panizzi, the Italian refugee,
who was described as a most delightful

• • • • •

In the year 1829 a shadow was cast over
the family by the death of their much-loved
father in the prime of life. This was an
irreparable loss. They all missed his ready
sympathy, his loving unselfish thought for
others, and his bright genial spirit which
gave a glow to life.

« • • • •

At the age of eighteen Anna Swanwick
had the happiness of meeting with an in-
structor in Mathematics and Philosophy who
realised all her most ardent desires.

In the year 1 83 1 the Rev. James Martineau
came to be minister at the Unitarian Chapel
in Paradise Street, Liverpool.

•• < ■ ' . . .

From a Photograph by Elliott & Fry, 55, Baker Street.

To face page 23.


Not only were his sermons a delight to all
who could follow them, but his lectures on
Mental and Moral Philosophy, opened a
wide field of interest to his pupils, of whom
Anna Swanwick was one. The teaching of
James Martineau at that time appears to have
acted as a wonderful stimulus to her mental
development, revealing vistas undreamt of in
her narrow course of reading, and widely
extending her horizon. She felt grateful all
her life for his assistance and guidance in her
youth, and the friendship thus begun, con-
tinued with only occasional interruptions
during a period of sixty-five years !

The following extract from a letter written
some years later by a friend who had been
a fellow - student under the Rev. James
Martineau, is interesting as showing his in-
fluence on the young people who attended
his classes :

" When Mr. Martineau first came to
Liverpool," she wrote, " my mind seemed to
be suddenly opened. I saw things I had
never before even imagined. I took an


interest in things I could not appreciate
before he came, in fact, every day I felt
myself to be acquiring new powers and
interests. I look back upon that time as the
happiest part of my life, and most thoroughly
did I enjoy it. . . ."

Thus with her desire for knowledge in
some degree satisfied, surrounded by a
number of warm-hearted friends, and in the
enjoyment of delightful summer excursions
with her family to Wales and the Lakes,
where she had the pleasure of seeing Words-
worth and Coleridge, her youth passed
happily till another break in the family circle
made a great change in her life.

Never were two sisters more devotedly
attached than were Anna Swanwick and her
eldest sister Mary, whose exquisite beauty,
charm, and grace, utter unconsciousness of
self and nobility of character, fascinated all
who came in contact with her. A cousin
once wrote, " When Mary is in the room I
have eyes for no one else ! " The two
sisters were inseparable companions in their


youth, sharers in one another's joys and
sorrows, occupations, and enthusiasms, till
the year 1835, when their companionship
was interrupted by the marriage of the eldest
sister to Henry Bruce, youngest son of the
Rev. Dr. Bruce, of Belfast.

The marriage took place in Dublin from
the house of Rev. Dr. Hutton, a near

Anna Swanwick felt the parting from her
beloved companion so keenly that life seemed
to have lost its interest for her, and to occupy
her thoughts she took to the study or
Goethe's " Iphigenia." She used to describe
herself as sitting under the shade of the trees
in the Botanical Gardens at Glasneven, near
Dublin, with her Goethe and dictionary
pondering over the translation of difficult
passages, and she worked so hard, that in
three weeks she had completed the translation
of the play, as well as her imperfect know-
ledge of the language permitted. She then
attempted the " Torquato Tasso," and
Schiller's " Jungfrau von Orleans." No


thought of publication ever crossed her mind

at this time — she worked purely as a mental

distraction — but it so happened that this first

attempt at translation proved the index which

pointed the way to her life-work as translator

some years later.

• • • • •

In the year 1838 Mrs. Swanwick and her
two unmarried daughters decided to remove
to London, and the home in Liverpool was
broken up.

They had scarcely had time to settle into
their new home, in Tavistock Place, when
a long-wished-for opportunity occurred for
Anna Swanwick to visit Germany. One of
the daughters of Dr. Zumpt, to whom she
had been introduced, was returning to Berlin
accompanied by an English friend (Miss C.
Lupton), and they pressed her to go back
with them.

So great was her desire, not only to perfect
herself in the German language, but also to
study Greek in order (these were her own
words) " to be able to read the New Testa-


merit in the original," that she eagerly acceded
to the proposal.

In this age of universal travelling it may
cause a smile to learn that in the year 1838
a journey to the Continent was considered an
adventurous undertaking, more particularly
for young ladies travelling alone. We have
to remember, however, that after the crossing
to Hamburg, which took forty-eight hours
or longer, there still remained four days'
posting in a diligence before reaching Berlin,
and it is not surprising if it required some
courage for the inexperienced traveller to
make up her mind to go so far. At that
time it took five or six days for letters to
reach Berlin from London, the postage being
is. 8d. a letter ! Family counsel was against
her going, but the desire to learn was
stronger even than home ties, and she was
impelled to seek her goal at all risks.

It so happened that Miss Zumpt and her
friend were obliged to leave before she was
ready, and she had thus to cross to Hamburg
by herself, or to abandon the plan, which she


was unwilling to do. She often looked back
to that time, and described how her heart
sank when she saw the shores of England
receding from her sight, as she stood on the
deck of the vessel alone, leaving all those she
cared for behind, for the first time in her
life. Fortunately in Hamburg she was
joined by Miss Zumpt and her English
friend ; and after a tedious journey of four
days' posting they arrived at Berlin, where
Professor and Mrs. Zumpt gave them a
most cordial welcome.

Professor Zumpt was at that time director
of the Kriegschule in Berlin. He was a very
clever man, an authority on grammar and
the science of language generally, and it was
very gratifying to the young student from
England to find that he took a great interest
in helping her to improve her knowledge of
German, encouraging her in the kindest way
to join in the conversation. He always
called her " Die Kleine Annchen," adding
the diminutive to her name as she looked
so small beside his four tall daughters.


In order to satisfy Miss Lupton's desire
to learn Hebrew, with a view to translating
Ewald's " History of Israel," a search was
almost immediately made for a professor
willing to undertake the unusual task of
instructing two ladies in an Oriental language.
In a surprisingly short time they were able
to read Hebrew — this, however, was not
Anna Swan wick's object in going to Berlin
— she was determined to master Greek, and
when she concentrated her mind upon any-
thing, she always succeeded in attaining the
object she had in view. The professor of
Greek who came to give her lessons must
have found her an apt pupil, for he soon
gave her Plato's dialogues to translate into
German, and she wrote home that she was
reading " The Phaedo " in the original, and
had " found in it a mine of wealth."

We have unfortunately few details of her
life in Berlin, nor have we any account of
the friends she made during her stay there,
but when one learns that Professor Zumpt
advised a course of reading of the best


authors to improve her knowledge of the
German language and literature, that she
became absorbed in the study of Kant,
Schliermacher, and Fichte — Lessing, Herder,
and Heine — besides studying the Greek
philosophers, it is not difficult to realise
how her mind was filled with philosophical
speculations to the exclusion of more mundane

At the age of seventy she wrote to a
friend : "In bygone years Fichte was one of
my inspirers — at that time his utterances
were to me like the sound of a clarion."
And one can trace in all she spoke and wrote
in after life the influence of his teaching that
" to attain to the knowledge and love of God
is the chief aim of life." She appears also
to have been fascinated by " Titan " and
other works by Jean Paul Richter, whose
weird imagery seized hold of her imagination,
and one can easily realise that she gained
a fresh insight into Goethe's works as her
grasp of the language grew firmer. It is
surprising to learn that she also found time


for lessons in mathematics from Dr. Zumpt,
this being a subject in which she was as
deeply interested as in philosophy and
literature. She never lost an opportunity
of gaining fresh insight into the deeper
problems of the science, and always spoke
of the intense pleasure the study gave her.

At that time, for one of the "gentler sex"
to leave the beaten track, and venture on
paths hitherto only trodden by men, was
considered eccentric to say the least ! But
Anna Swanwick seems to have been impelled
by an inward force to brave the criticism of
her friends, and following the bent of her
mind, to gather material for future work.

She was a rare instance of great intellectual
ability, and power of deep thinking, com-
bined with an almost childlike simplicity
of character.

Thus, although her thoughts were
occupied with subjects of such deep and
serious import, she was able to enter into
the pleasures and occupations of her young
friends. She often described with lively


interest the Christmas she spent in Berlin —
the mystery attending the preparation of
presents for different members of the family
for weeks beforehand — how each of the four
daughters wanted to make her the confidante
of secrets that were not to be divulged — the
dressing of the tree on Christmas Eve —
the setting out of numerous little tables
covered with carefully-hidden presents — the
lighting up — the bursts of youthful delight
as one after another received their gifts —
all made a picture of simple enjoyment that
never faded from her memory. Then
cloaked and hooded the whole family
started out, carrying lanterns through the
snow-covered streets to some friends' house
where the same scenes were enacted.

Having been brought up, as we have seen,
with somewhat strict views as to Sunday
observances, she frequently described the
shock it gave her to hear the Zumpt family
arranging to go to concerts and even to the
opera on Sunday evenings. They vainly
tried to persuade her to accompany them,


but thinking it was wrong to go, she never
once yielded to the temptation, and thus
missed hearing some of the best music.

In after life when she took a wider view
of the subject of religious observances, she
entered heartily into the work of the Sunday
Society, whose object was to secure the
opening of Museums and Picture Galleries
on that day. She gave several addresses on
the subject, as will be seen later on, but she
always drew the line at the Opera, the
Theatre, and Music Hails, remembering her
Continental experiences.

After eight months' hard study she returned
home May, 1839. Never, surely, was a thirst
for knowledge more abundantly satisfied.
The thoughts implanted in her mind at that
time, germinated and bore fruit in after life,
strengthening her character, and widening
her mental outlook.

In after years, when regretting the want
of opportunities in her youth, and whilst
assisting to promote the higher education of
girls, she gratefully acknowledged that under



Dr. Zumpt's guidance she had gained more
thorough knowledge of Greek, German, and
mathematics in a few months than she would
have done at school or college with a far
longer period of class teaching.

That she was no fanatic on the subject of
the study of Greek may be seen by the
following answer, given some years after this
date, to a mother's inquiry as to whether
she considered it advisable to include Greek
in a boy's or girl's education.

" Deeply interested as I was in the study
of Greek, and intense as was the pleasure of
its acquisition, I yet hesitate to recommend
it as a part of the curriculum of boys or girls,
unless it can be taken later, and with more
concentrated determination to master the
extremely difficult grammar than is usually
given to school lessons. An attempt to
master Greek, when a few hours only a week
can be given to the lessons, and not with
the undivided attention of the whole mind,
would be in my opinion a waste of time.

" It is to be remembered, moreover, that in


the literature of Greece and Rome, there are
no works adapted expressly for the young.
The ancient classics, written by adults for
adults, are beyond the intelligence of im-
mature minds, whilst in regard to the moral
lessons to be drawn from them, the
superiority in my opinion is vastly in favour
of more modern writers."


I 84O-I 87O

On her return to London Anna Swan wick

turned her attention to the translation of

Goethe's "Iphigenia," parts of " Torquato

Tasso," and the " Jungfrau von Orleans"

which she had made before leaving for

Berlin, and having carefully revised them, she

submitted the MSS. to Mr. Murray, who

undertook to publish them, under the title

of " Selections from the Dramas of Goethe

and Schiller," with a preface from the

translator at the beginning of each. This

volume appeared in 1843.

It is interesting here to record that towards



the close of his life, when Anna Swanwick
was in her eightieth year, Sir Rutherford
Alcock asked to be introduced to her, say-
ing, that it was her introduction to the
" Iphigenia," together with her translation,
which had first led him in his youth to study
Goethe, and he wanted to thank her for thus
introducing him to the great poet's works.

The volume of "Selections" did not receive
much notice from the general public, but it
at once attracted the attention of Mr. Bohn
the publisher, who was bringing out his
series of classical works, under the title of the
" Standard Library."

The writings of Thomas Carlyle were at
that time awakening an interest in German
literature that amounted almost to a passion.
German novels and poetry, and translations
of the dramas of Goethe and Schiller, were
eagerly sought after, and Bohn, taking advan-
tage of the popular enthusiasm, engaged the
best translators he could find, to render these
works into English for his library.

He was so much struck with the vigour


displayed in the volume of " Selections," that
he wrote to the then unknown authoress,
asking her to complete the translation of the
" Maid of Orleans " for him, by filling in
the omitted parts. This she undertook to
do, and Bohn was so well pleased with the
result that he brought it out in a volume
that also contained " Don Carlos " and
" Marie Stuart " by other translators. Then
followed a verse translation of " Egmont,"
which was published in 1850 in another
volume of the Standard Library. Thus
without premeditation on her part, and
somewhat suddenly, she found herself
launched on her life-work as a translator.
Soon after the publication of the " Iphi-
genia," " Maid of Orleans," &c, she
received, greatly to her surprise, a letter
from Bohn, asking her to undertake the
translation of " Faust." That one of the
leading publishers of the day should have
thus applied to her, and entrusted her, at
the outset of her literary career, with such an
important work, proves in a remarkable


manner the estimation of her early trans-
lations formed by those best able to judge of
their merit.

With unbounded mental energy and
indomitable spirit, she did not shrink from
the difficulties of the task placed in this
startling manner before her, and after taking
time for consideration she agreed to under-
take the work. Bohn then offered to send
her all the translations of " Faust" that had
already appeared ; but she declined the offer,
saying she wished hers to be original.

One secret of her success was her power of
concentrating her mind upon the subject that
occupied her for the time being, so that the
whole force of her brilliant intellect was
brought to bear upon the task she had set
herself to accomplish. She worked con
amore^ no thought of recompense or fame
ever crossed her mind. To reproduce
Goethe's masterwork in a way that Goethe
himself would have approved, was her sole

She has described her method of trans-


lation as follows : First she made the
original so thoroughly her own that she
could repeat it passage by passage, and thus
carry it in her mind wherever she went, all
the time endeavouring to find English words
to express the meaning of each German word
as accurately as possible — having done this
she wrote it down, and put the passage into
metre as nearly resembling the original as
the difference of language would permit.
This appears to have been a different plan
from that adopted by some eminent trans-
lators, who described their method as that
of writing and rewriting their English
version until the style was made as perfect
as possible, without regard to the actual
rendering of each individual word or phrase
into its equivalent in English.

In 1 85 1 the first part of the "Faust"
was published together with " Iphigenia,"
" Tasso," and " Egmont " in one volume,
and the merits of this translation are too
well known to need comment here. Mrs.
Jameson remarked, " Few women have


accomplished a more difficult task," and she
expressed surprise that such a work of genius
as Anna Swanwick's translation of " Faust "
should have received so little recognition
from the general public at the time of its
first appearance. She could not foresee that
thirty years after this date a fifth edition
would be published, showing that the transla-
tion has held its own amongst all the others
that have appeared.

To go back for a few years, on the
appearance of her first volume of translations,
she received the following characteristic
letter from the Rev. James Martineau, who
was at that time still in Liverpool, and who
was one of the editors of the Prospective
Review : —

" Among the many revolutions in human
affairs since you and I used to hold con-
sultations together in a certain obscure study
in Mount Street, Liverpool, we have been
refreshed by reading your poetry, and you
possibly have been wearied by our prose ;
and now, on behalf of the Prospective


Review, I venture to make an appeal to
your ready skill and readier generosity.
We can manage to mesmerise our readers
and get them to sleep fast enough, but we
cannot de-mesmerise them ; and we want
a few light waves from the enchantment of
your hand, for fear they should absolutely
go off into a comatose state. Now there is
a young poet, Ferdinand Freiligrath, whose
writings, though I believe fresh and vigorous,
are little known in this country, and which
could by no one be more worthily introduced
to greater notice than by you. He is now
living in London exiled by the Prussian
Government for the freedom of his political
strictures. . . ."

In reply to this appeal she translated some
of Freiligrath's poems, and wrote an article
for the Review with an account of the poet's

On receipt of the MSS., the Rev. J.
Marti neau wrote the following letter : —

" Accept our hearty thanks for your able
and willing compliance with our petition. I


have read your critique and translations with
great interest and admiration. Many of the
poems appear to me to be rendered with
delightful truth and spirit, and all to be
presented in a way to do both author and
translator — to say nothing of editors — great
honour. As for the last poem (The Picture
Bible), I have read nothing more charming
for many a year. . . ."

It was during these years of devotion to
literary work of an absorbingly interesting
nature, that she occupied her spare time in a
labour of love, which she looked back upon
at the end of a long life with pleasure and
satisfaction. When she came to settle in
London she interested herself in seeking out
cases of sickness and suffering, in garret and
cellar, and she used to relate how, when visit-
ing the poor streets round Tottenham Court
Road on her errands of mercy, she frequently
met little girls carrying babies, and looking
as if they had nothing to interest them. She
accosted some of these, and asked if they
went to school, to which they invariably


replied, " Oh, no, the boys go to school —
mother wants me to mind the baby ! " This
was long before the Education Act was even
under discussion — there were few schools in
the neighbourhood, and the fees were so
high that the parents could not afford to
send both boys and girls, so the latter were
kept at home.

When she thought of their contracted
lives, her sympathy for these poor girls was
aroused. She and a friend called on their
mothers and persuaded them to allow the
children to come for lessons two evenings a
week to her house in Woburn Square, where
she then lived with Mrs. Swanwick and her
sister. She found them ignorant of the
simplest rudiments of education, but quick,
and ready to learn, and she interested them
so much in what she taught them, that the
report of her delightful classes spread, and
many others were eager to come. She then
induced some friends to join her in renting

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 2 of 12)