Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

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interests, she was overwhelmed for a time
by sorrow and sickness. The death of a
favourite niece, a beautiful girl, talented,
and of great promise, who was carried off
at the age of eighteen by scarlet fever,
grieved her inexpressibly, and the year
following, she lost her much loved mother,
after long and anxious nursing. She herself
was then struck down by a serious illness,
and was nursed back to life by her beloved
eldest sister, without whose care she would
in all probability have succumbed to the
weakness which followed pleurisy and pneu-

A few extracts from letters written at
different times show her firm faith in a
future life, which sorrow and suffering had
only served to strengthen :

" I feel all the difficulties attending the
belief in the immortality of the soul, and
at the same time my conviction of this great
truth, is so strong, that I do not question
it for a moment. It rests upon our belief


in the justice and Jove of God, and if we
were once to lose our faith in Him, and
the sense of our relation to Him as His
children, the moral world would become a
chaos, and man, with his high aspirations
and yearnings after the infinite, would of all
creatures be the most miserable. How could
we bear to part with our beloved ones, if
we had no hope of re-union ! Human love,
too, the most precious revelation and mani-
festation of God's infinite love, would, if this
world were the end of all, become a source
of pain rather than joy ! We hardly realise
I think how completely the idea of Im-
mortality permeates, so to speak, all our
affections, and how their whole character
and nature would be lowered if they were
limited to this earthly sphere."

Another extract : —

" How desolate would this life of ours
be were its horizon bounded by the grave !
How would our human interests, duties and
affections, be dwarfed, if once severed from
the infinite aspirations which ennoble them


and make them live. I cannot but think
that those who style themselves Agnostics,
nevertheless cherish in their inmost hearts
an unacknowledged belief in immortality.
They cannot really imagine that man, with
his infinite longings and aspirations, is in
truth, nothing more than a curious com-
bination of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon,
and other elements ! . . . ."

At another time the same theme finds
expression thus : —

" Surely there is a heaven where we shall
have ampler powers, and be able to quench
our thirst for knowledge, and realise the
higher instincts and aspirations implanted
in the soul, of whose germ we are conscious,
but which obtain here such feeble develop-
ment. This strong feeling of unused
capacities constitutes, to my mind, one of
the strongest intimations of our immortality.
If this life is the be-all and the end-all,
our aspirations seem out of all proportion
with the realities of our existence. . . ."

The following beautiful extract from a


letter written to her by Dr. Martineau bears
on the same subject. After speaking of the
numerous friends who had lately departed,
he says : —

" Yet the sadness with which one looks
at the vacant places, softens into a sacred
calm, when one remembers that the missing
lights are not extinguished but only removed
to be refound hereafter. The joy of life
need never pass away even from the longest
lingerer, who can thus bid his beloved a short
adieu. The clouds that gather round the
sunset of life have their darkness turned to
glory because their further side looks towards
the light that only seems to set. . . ."

• • • • •

After their mother's death the two sisters
removed to Cumberland Terrace, Regent's

Having settled in their new home, they
started on a delightful tour through Switzer-
land and North Italy, accompanied by their
niece, Emily Bruce, whose enthusiasm for
sketching was shared by her aunt. During


this tour, after spending some weeks in the
Bernese- Oberland they crossed over the St.
Gothard Pass, and remained for some time
in Italy, visiting the Italian lakes, Venice,
Milan, Turin, &c. How intensely the
grand scenes among the Swiss mountains
impressed Anna Swanwick's imagination may
be seen by the following extract from a
letter written after her return from abroad : —

" Never shall I forget the emotion which
overpowered me, when from the summit
of the Gorner Grat, I gazed upon the
Matterhorn and his brother Titans, robed
in their vesture of eternal snow. I felt that
I must veil my face, and bend the knee as
in the presence of the Infinite. . . ."

Her energy at that time was surprising.
On one occasion the bearers of her sister's
" chaise-a porteur," told her she had walked
twenty miles, which astonished her greatly, as
she had no feeling of over fatigue. The excite-
ment of the scenery and the fine air seemed
to brace her to any amount of exertion. It
is to be regretted that we have no further


account of this and subsequent tours in
Switzerland, but a few pages written down,
some years later, show how poetical descrip-
tions of nature were always in her mind,
even when surrounded by " the artillery
of heaven ! ' She wrote as follows : —

"In the following pages I have noticed
a few exceptional phenomena, as described
by the poets, to whose fidelity to nature
I can testify from observation.

" One of the poetical reminiscences to
which I shall refer is associated with the
Faulhorn, a mountain commanding a
magnificent view of the Bernese-Oberland
range, and which I ascended many years
ago. Soon after reaching the summit, I
witnessed a magnificent sunset, unaccom-
panied by any indication of an impending
storm ; subsequently, however, there was a
heavy snow-fall, together with thunder and
lightning ; and on looking forth from my
bedroom window, a spectacle presented itself,
which for grandeur and sublimity, could
hardly be surpassed. The night was dark, but


with every lightning flash the giants of the
Bernese-Oberland stood out in bold relief : —
the Engle-horn, the Wetter-horn, the Eiger,
Monch and Jungfrau — crowned by the
Finster-arr-Horn, which, though viewless
from the valley, was seen from the summit
of the Faulhorn, towering majestically in the
background, above his brother Colossi. This
vision was repeated with every flash of
lightning, and after each flash I could
have exclaimed with Byron : —

" ' Most glorious night !
Thou wert not made for slumber ; let me be
A sharer in thy fierce and far delight,
A portion of the tempest and of thee !

And now again 'tis black : and now the glee
Of the loud hills shakes with its mountain mirth,
As if they did rejoice o'er a young earthquake's birth.'

Ckilde Harold, canto iii., st. xciii.

It was a scene never to be forgotten, and
one which aptly preluded that which met
my gaze on the following morning.

" What first arrested the eye was the vast
expanse of snow, mantling the giant forms


of that mighty range and stretching in
every direction, as far as the eye could
reach, the recognised type of purity, alike
in the material and spiritual world. Thus
Byron, when speaking of i the high, the
mountain majesty of worth ' compares it to

" ' Yonder Alpine snow,
Imperishably pure, beyond all else below.'

C tilde Harold^ canto iii., st. lxvii.

"My next thought, on gazing around me
was, what a vast amount of snow must have
fallen during the night, to have filled the
entire valley : the impression was, however,
only momentary, as I perceived immediately
that we were surrounded, not by snow,
but by snow-white mist.

" The scene might have suggested the
following lines of Shelley in his * Prometheus
Unbound ' (act ii. scene iii.) : —

" ' Beneath is a wide plain of billowy mist,
Behold it rolling on
Under the curdling winds, and islanding
The peak whereon we stand —


'And far on high the keen sky-cleaving mountains
From icy spires of sunlike radiance fling
The dawn.'

These words bear witness, not only to the
poet's fidelity to Nature, but also to his ex-
quisite fidelity of expression. I refer especially
to the word ' islanding ' ; no other word could
have so accurately described our insular
position, standing on the summit of the
Faulhorn, encircled, as we were, by a sea
of rolling mist. Most grateful do I feel
for such visions as met my gaze from the
summit of the Faulhorn : appealing as they
do to feelings implanted within us by the
Author of our being, they appear to me
to be infinitely precious, as manifestations
of His infinite love.

c< There are some lines in * Manfred '
which, to those unacquainted with the
phenomenon to which they refer, must,
I imagine, appear inexplicable. They occur
in the second scene of the first act. The
scene is the Jungfrau ; the time daybreak ;
Manfred appears alone, standing on the


extreme edge of some lofty cliffs, looking
down into the valley. While he soliloquises,
a chamois hunter enters from below.

Chamois Hunter.
" ' The mists begin to rise from up the valley ;
I'll warn him to descend, or he may chance
To lose at once his way and life together.'

" Manfred, without perceiving him, con-
tinues his soliloquy as follows : —

" ' The mists boil up around the glaciers ; clouds
Rise curling fast beneath me, white and sulphury,
Like foam from the roused ocean of deep Hell.'

" No one unacquainted with Alpine scenery
could imagine that, on a quiet morning
at daybreak, the mists could be depicted
truthfully as boiling up among the glaciers,
and would probably interpret the words
as intended by the poet to indicate the
diseased state of Manfred's imagination ;
having, however, witnessed a similar
phenomenon, I can bear witness to the
truthfulness of the poet's words.

"On one occasion we were driving up


a gorge in Switzerland ; the road, on the
right-hand side, lay round the side of the
mountain, while on the left lay a deep
valley, filled with mist. The weather was
fine, nevertheless the mist was apparently
boiling, as though there was a cauldron
beneath it ; I gazed upon it with astonish-
ment, and have no idea as to the cause of
the phenomenon. I feel sure, however,
that Bryon had gazed upon a similar scene,
and that in attributing these words to
Manfred he was simply reproducing his
own experience.

" There are two passages in Milton's
Morning Hymn, in the fifth book of
1 Paradise Lost/ the charm of which has
to my mind been immeasurably heightened
since witnessing the phenomena which the
poet has therein portrayed with perfect
fidelity to Nature, and in language of
exquisite beauty.

" During one of our sojourns in Venice,
we occupied a room with a large balcony,
extending over the porch of the hotel, and


commanding an extensive view over the
Grand Canal, both in front and on either
side. The prospects from this balcony were
so fascinating that, when not out of doors,
I found myself constantly standing there,
observing Venetian life and Venetian scenery
under all their varied aspects. One morning }
happening to be awake before daybreak, I
arose, and repairing to my acccustomed
place of observation, I saw the Morning Star,
hanging like a solitary lamp in the

" ' Deep in the orange light of widening morn,'

and casting a long line of silver light
down the whole length of the canal. Since
gazing on that glorious vision, I have
appreciated, as I had never done before, the
wonderful beauty of Milton's invocation : —

" ' Fairest of stars, last in the train of night,
If better thou belong not to the Dawn,
Sure pledge of day, that crown'st the smiling morn
With thy bright circlet, praise him in thy sphere,
While day arises, that sweet hour of prime.'


" The circumstances which led me to
appreciate the second passage in the same
hymn were as follows.

" On one occasion, I was travelling by night
from Paris to Strasburg. I fell asleep, and
did not awake till sunrise. On looking forth
from the window, I perceived that we
were travelling through a country watered
by a winding river, with poplars on either
side. From the river mists were rising,
which on attaining to a certain height, met
the rays of the rising sun ; a phenomenon
described by Milton with perfect truth to
Nature, in the following beautiful lines : —

"'Ye mists and exhalations that now rise
From hill or steaming lake, dusky or grey,
Till the sun paints your fleecy skirts with gold,
In honour to the world's great Author rise.' "

In the year 1858 Anna Swanwick was
elected one of the first lady members of the
Royal Institution, and from that time became
a regular attendant at the Friday evening
lectures. Before this time no lady had been



privileged to sit in the members' seats, and
there were some misgivings in the minds of
the learned few as to the desirability of
electing lady members. She there made the
acquaintance of Faraday, Tyndal, Huxley,
and other leading scientific men of the day,
and took a keen interest in all the new dis-
coveries, more particularly in the develop-
ment of the Darwinian theory and the
controversies to which it gave rise.

Unlike many explorers into the realms of
science, these studies did not lead her towards
agnosticism and materialism, but on the con-
trary only served to strengthen her firm faith
in an ever-present, over-ruling Spirit, which
faith became stronger and clearer as she
advanced in life. The following passage found
in MSS., though not intended for publication,
is given here as showing the intensity of her
convictions : —

" The fundamental belief in a personal
God, and the consequent stability of the
moral law as the expression of the Divine
Will, embodied as it has been in every variety


of external form and associated with the
greatest variety of intellectual view, has so
completely permeated the thought of the
civilised world, that those who now pro-
claim the Gospel of the ' Unknown and
Unknowable,' cannot themselves escape its
subtle all-pervading influence. Not only
has this belief been most probably one of
the prime agents in moulding their individual
character, but it is inwrought into the very
texture of the human life by which they are
surrounded, and thus forms an element in
their social environment from which they
cannot possibly escape. It would, I believe,
require a supreme effort of mind to realise
the effect on the condition of humanity, were
the belief in a personal God to pass away as
one of the superstitions of a bygone age !
Perhaps the nearest approach to such a con-
ception is the inexpressibly sad and solemn
dream recorded by Jean Paul Richter, where
a dread voice sounding through the Universe
proclaimed, 'There is no God!' — with
regard to myself, should I feel compelled


by the force of argument to reject the belief
which has hitherto been the very light of my
life, I should exclaim with the poet, ' Oh !
dark, dark, dark, irrevocably dark, total
eclipse, without all hope of day ! ' . . ."

Such a trial did not come to her, as no
amount of argument on the negative side
ever shook her faith in the positive assurance
she had received in her inmost soul that
there is a God who hears and answers
prayer. This conviction grew stronger and
stronger till it became an absolute reality to
her, and she endeavoured with pathetic
earnestness to impress upon her fellow-men
the truth that had been borne in upon her,
that herein lay the essence of religion.
Religion, she maintained, consists not in
the belief in creeds and dogmas, or in forms
of worship, but in the communion of the
human soul with the Divine. That there
should be any antagonism between Science
and Religion seemed to her inconceivable,
the one proved the other to her mind —
the more the wonders of the physical uni-


verse were unrolled by scientific investigation
the more certain she became of the existence
of a great Law-giver controlling the Uni-
verse, and yet in touch with every human
soul that reaches upwards. Such was her
experience, and as perchance it may be of use
to others, it is here set down, as the outcome
of years of thought and earnest speculation.

In a letter to her friend, Rev. W. H.
Channing, after speaking of this subject and
man's place in nature, she writes : —

" I regard the material Universe as under
the reign of law, with which it is man's
business to acquaint himself, and into har-
mony with which he must bring his life, or
be crushed beneath its inexorable sway. It
appears to me that if the energies of the
material world were allowed to be controlled
by beings subject to intellectual errors and
moral frailities, there could be no established
order, and consequently no Science. Yet the
astronomer predicts the return of the comet,
and the eclipse of the sun and moon, and as
far back as we can go in history his pre-


dictions have been verified by fact. Upon
our belief in the Uniformity of Natural Law,
indeed, all the complicated operations of
civilised life are based, and we are thus
taught to trust in the love of Him who
causes His sun to shine alike on the evil
and the good, and with whom there is no

• • • • •

To return to her literary career ; she used
to recall with interest how the publication of
her first translations had led to the great
work which now followed. If Murray had
not published the " Selections," Bohn would
not have entrusted her with the translation
of " Faust," and it was this work which
caused Baron Bunsen, then Prussian Am-
bassador in London, to seek her acquaint-
ance with a view to proposing a more
ambitious flight still. In the preface to
the first edition of her ^schylus, pub-
lished 1865, she writes: —

" On the publication of my translation of
* Faust ' and other master works by Goethe,


I was strongly urged by the late Baron
Bunsen to undertake the translation of the
dramas of iEschylus. I felt honoured by
the proposal, and though I was not imme-
diately impelled to act upon the suggestion,
his words have dwelt in my mind, and have
encouraged me to complete an arduous and
very difficult undertaking."

This suggestion coming from such a
quarter was in itself a very high com-
pliment, and it was made all the more
gratifying by the fact that Professor Blackie's
translation of iEschylus had been highly
thought of by Bunsen, to whom Blackie
dedicated his work.

On consulting her friend Professor New-
man, he wrote : —

" Every line of iEschylus is liable to
give you the heartache, a conscientious trans-
lator so feels the shortcomings, that it is
impossible to be elated by success. I heartily
wish you through your arduous task."

With many misgivings she decided to
attempt the translation of the Trilogy, and


for the next four years this great work
occupied her time and thoughts. Only
those who lived in daily intercourse with
her knew how strenuous the labour was.

In 1865 the Trilogy, with an elaborately
thought out preface, was published, and with
one accord the press gave it the highest

" The forms adopted were blank verse for
the iambics, and rhyme for the lyric metres.
This treatment was very deliberately adopted,
and was defended both in the preface and
elsewhere, but while enlisting the unreserved
approval of some critics, it failed to justify
itself to others. It was perhaps the one
point in which the chorus of appreciation
that greeted her work was not unanimous.
With the exception of some demur on this
matter the reviews had nothing but praise.
The Saturday Reviler, as it was then called,
was astonished to find itself vying in enthu-
siasm with the rest, and admitting that
' here is fit cause for the advocates of the
rights of women to gather together and


chant a paean in commemoration of their
advanced prospects and position.' ' 1

Letters of congratulation poured in from
all sides.

Extract from a letter from Rev. W. H.
Channing : —

<c How blest indeed you are to have lived
to finish such a consummate work ! To
have been the daily friend of the most
majestic poet-prophet of the ancient world,
through year after year, until his very spirit,
thought, and power of expression, have filled
you with their inspiring influence, has been
an ennobling privilege, in contrast with
which literary fame is trifling ! ' . . .

Letter from Rev. F. D. Maurice : —

"I read aloud the opening scenes of the
' Agamemnon,' and the very trying first
chorus which would have seemed to me an
almost desperate undertaking for any trans-
lator. I greatly admired the energy you
throw into it, and was thankful for your
help in tracing the links between its different

1 Rev. P. H. Wicksteed.


Amongst others she was gratified by a
letter from Mr. Gladstone, who, on receiv-
ing a copy of the work, and seeing on the
title-page, " Translation of the Agamemnon,
Chcephori, and Eumenides, By A. Swan-
wick," naturally thought it was the work of
a man, and consequently addressed his letter
of thanks to *A. Swanwick, Esq., through
her publishers.

On receipt of this letter she wrote answer-
ing some questions he had asked, and ex-
plaining who she was.

"Thus commenced," she writes, "a friend-
ship which has been to me a source of heart-
felt gratification and which I regard as one of
my greatest privileges."

When the authorship of the translation
became known, she received invitations from
many distinguished men of letters, but she
was forced to admit that she had overworked
and must have complete rest.

The strain of London life, the calls made
upon her energies by philanthropy, family
ties, friendship, and public interests, together


with her severe brain work, proved too much
for her delicate nervous system. She wearily
laid down her pen, feeling that she had done
her utmost, and must give up all work for a
time. In the spring of the year following
the publication of the Trilogy, acting on the
advice of her physicians, she retired to a
cottage at High Wickham, near Hastings,
where she remained nearly four months quite
alone, according to her wish, communing with
nature, and in the society of her favourite

On hearing that she found herself obliged
to abstain from all work, Dr. Martineau
wrote in 1866 : "I commend your wisdom,
dear friend, in imposing on yourself a law
of absolute quiet. Only, besides the external
conditions of rest, I do hope you will resolve
to secure also the indispensable inward apathy
and suspension of thought and interest.
Think of the idlest young lady you know,
of the true lazy type, and prove that your
conscience is competent to the task of imi-
tating her, and reproducing, on the highest


moral principles, her total want of conscience ;
and I shall admire you more than ever, and
you shall come back recovered to claim the
homage of your friends for a new perfection."

The sleeplessness from which she suffered
to the end of her life became a confirmed
habit from this time. When unable to sleep
she occupied herself by knitting for her
friends, and recalling to mind the poems she
had learnt by heart. Amongst others she sent
one of her mufflers to Dr. Martineau, from
whom she received the following letter : —

" Though it is forbidden to a man to pro-
nounce on the mysteries of the knitting-
needle, and he may criticise everything about
Penelope except her handiwork, I cannot help
saying that your beautiful present is a genuine
' Kunst-work ' to my eye, and as the product
of your industry during a time of patient
waiting for health it will be a precious
memorial to my wife and myself of your ever
kind and faithful thought of friends."

In the autumn of this year she paid a visit


to the high mountain health resorts in Switzer-
land, accompanied by her sister and nieces.
She returned home stronger in health, but it
became clear that if she remained in London
and took up her former interests she would
be unable to complete the translation of the
remaining dramas of iEschylus, which was the
desire of her heart. She therefore determined

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 4 of 12)