Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

. (page 6 of 12)
Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 6 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a story, or relating some experience, to
emphasise by gesture the points which she
wished to make her hearers realise. She had
a wonderfully accurate memory, and although
the incidents she narrated might have
happened years before, the facts were never
altered in the telling nor exaggerated to
produce effect.

It is impossible in these pages to enume-
rate the long list of her acquaintance, but a
few names will serve to show how wide were
her interests and how varied her culture.
She was always keen to learn from Professor
Adams, of Cambridge, the latest news of the
distant planets, to discuss with Professor
Max Miiller the science of religion, with
Dr. Martineau the newest lights on Biblical


criticism, with F. W. Newman the progress
of the nations, with James Russell Lowell
the literature of America. He wrote, after
speaking of his departure from England, " I
assure you that I shall treasure the memory
of my intercourse with you as one of my
enduring possessions which I wish should

Glimpses of the interesting conversations
carried on at Mr. Gladstone's breakfasts, and
on other occasions, are obtained from letters
to friends, and the following recollections
written down by herself in later life.

On her return from abroad she received
a cordial assurance from Mr. Gladstone that
" her presence at his Thursday breakfasts,
whenever she found it convenient, would be
very agreeable to him." She therefore not
infrequently availed herself of his hospitality.
Although she did not sympathise with Mr.
Gladstone's views on some important points,
she never wavered in her profound belief in
his uprightness of character, and noble,
unselfish aims, and any adverse remark made


in her presence received her sternest repri-

She wrote thus : —

" On one occasion I breakfasted with Mr.
Gladstone, soon after the publication of John
Morley's ' Life of Richard Cobden,' of which
Mr. Gladstone spoke appreciatively, while at
the same time giving expression to the
opinion that, in delineating the character of
his hero, the biographer had not done justice
to the religious element, with which he had
evidently no sympathy.

" Judging from his own experience, the
amazing energy displayed by Mr. Cobden
during the memorable anti-corn-law struggle,
would appear to Mr. Gladstone to be im-
possible, unless based upon the belief in
an unseen and righteous Power, of whom
he felt himself to be the Heaven-appointed
instrument. Mr. Morley, however, is evi-
dently anxious to refute such a notion, and
writes as follows : ' He ' (Mr. Cobden)
' was neither oppressed nor elevated by the
mysteries, the aspirations, the remorse, the


hope, that constitute religion. So far as we
have the means of knowing, he was not one
of those who live much in the Unseen. But
for moral goodness, in whatever association
he came .upon it, he has a reverence that
comes from his heart of hearts.'

" Mr. Morley's rejection of religion leaves
unexplained the fact that the existence of a
Power beyond humanity has been recognised
in every age and every clime. That Mr.
Cobden recognised that Power, and experi-
enced the religious emotions consequent upon
that recognition, appears from passages in
his Life, which tend to refute Mr. Morley's
judgment as to his negative attitude towards
religion, and to confirm Mr. Gladstone's
opinion as expressed above."

In a letter dated 1884 she wrote : —

" I had yesterday the honour, for so I
esteem it, of welcoming Mr. Gladstone to
dinner at my house. He looked well, and
was in remarkably good spirits, and his con-
versation, I need not say, was delightful."

Extract from a letter dated 1886 —


"At the breakfast in Downing Street I
was the only lady present with the exception
of Mrs. Gladstone, and had the place of
honour at Mr. Gladstone's right hand. I
feel it a privilege to have seen and heard him
at this interesting crisis. The conversation
turned almost entirely upon Irish affairs, and
in illustration of the abominations which
had accompanied the establishment of the
' Union/ Mr. Gladstone alluded to a volume
of Goldwin Smith, entitled ' Three English,
Statesmen — Pym, Cromwell, and Pitt/ which
had lately appeared. After agreeing with
the author's high estimate of Pym, he spoke
of Cromwell as the most wonderful man
of action whom England has produced — he
could not, however, approve of his methods
of carrying on the government of the
country ; he then came to Pitt, who was, he
affirmed, two different men before and after
1 793. Up to that date he had been the
disciple of Turgot, and other advocates of
constitutional government, after that date
he became the apostle of a narrow and


tyrannical policy ; he must, he said, read a
few passages in illustration of the atrocities
committed in Ireland with the sanction of the
English Government. As he read his voice
faltered, and it was only by a strong effort
that he controlled his feelings so as to con-
clude the perusal of the narrative. It would,
in my judgment, have been impossible for
any one to have listened to him without
recognising the intensity of his abhorrence of
political wrong-doing, and his deep sympathy
with the oppressed."

On another occasion she wrote : —
" Seating himself beside me, Mr. Glad-
stone proceeded, after a few preliminary
remarks, to inquire whom, in the wide range
of literature, I regarded as the greatest poets.
I replied that, in my judgment, there were
four poets of transcendent genius, Homer,
iEschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare. Then,
turning the conversation to Dante, he in-
quired which of the three parts of the
' Divina Commedia,' the ' Inferno,' the c Pur-
gatorio,' or the ' Paradiso,' I regarded as the


highest effort of genius ? I replied without
hesitation, ' The Paradiso ' ; upon which he
remarked that he always judged by the
answer to that question whether he was
speaking to a true appreciator of Dante or
not. He said that he regarded the reading
of Dante not merely as a pleasure, but as a
vigorous discipline of the heart, the intellect,
the whole man. ' He who labours for
Dante,' he added, ' labours to serve Italy,
Christianity, and the world.' "

We are indebted to the Rev. P. H. Wick-
steed for the following interesting recollec-
tions : —

" Miss Anna Swanwick often spoke of
Dante's ' Paradiso ' as the book that had
changed her conception of life more than
any other, and she could probably rejoice in
equal familiarity with all of the supreme
master-minds ' who give us nobler joys and
nobler cares.' She once reported a conversa-
tion she had had with Mr. Gladstone, in
which they both agreed that all persons who
had risen to a certain mental level must be


at one as to the poems which occupy the
absolutely first rank. Characteristic diffe-
rences come in when we compare the poems
which we rank just short of the highest. If
this be so, there should certainly be some
significance in Miss Swanwick's intense and
enduring delight in Milton's ' Comus.'
I once had the privilege of listening to a
conversation between her and Professor
Newman, which ranged over many topics,
till that of ' Comus ' was struck. Pro-
fessor Newman pointed out what he thought
was a drawback to the moral efficacy of
the poem. Miss Swanwick's eyes flashed,
and she assumed the air of one defending the
impeached honour of a dear friend. Passage
after passage from ' Comus ' rushed to her
lips, and a defiant challenge was thrown in
from time to time, till her hearers were
fairly carried away in the sweep and torrent
of her vindication."

We quote the following letter from Mrs.
Rundle Charles as showing Mr. Gladstone's
affectionate regard for her : —


"Combe Edge, Hampstead Heath.

"Dear Miss Swan wick, — I hope I may-
be able to have the pleasure of coming to
join your May 27th gathering ; all gather-
ings are really ' friendly ' in your home and
presence, I always feel. And I have been
wishing much to see you again, especially to
give you an especial message from Mr.

" I met him at his son's last Saturday
week, and had the great interest of hearing
him speak with such enthusiasm and grasp
of Homer and iEschylus, Homer's Olym-
pians and Prometheus, and he said to me
how well a friend of his had translated
^Eschylus. I said, ' Miss Swanwick ? ' and
then we came from the old Greeks to you,
and he spoke with such cordiality and
interest of you, and added so simply he
was so ' busy ' (I should think he is !) he
could not see his friends as he would, and
begged me when I saw you again to re-
member him most kindly to you, which I
promised joyfully to do.

" Yours affectionately,

" E. Rundle Charles."


She was frequently a guest at Lord and
Lady Tennyson's.

" One evening, on arriving at Eaton Square,
on the occasion of an evening party given by
Mr. and Mrs. (subsequently Lord and Lady)
Tennyson, I was met at the top of the stairs
by Mr. Hallam Tennyson, who informed me
that Mr. Gladstone was present, and that he
was obliged to leave early, but that, before his
departure, he would like to see me. I was
accordingly led into the back drawing-room
by Mr. Hallam Tennyson, and seated there
beside Mr. Gladstone. After some pre-
liminary conversation, he continued, * Since
I last saw you, I have read a book which
has lifted me up.' While speaking, he
raised his hands, thus imparting additional
emphasis to his words. The book to which
he referred was ' The Life of Sister Dora/

"Having read the 'Life of Sister Dora,' I
was able to sympathise with Mr. Gladstone's
high appreciation of her character and of her
wonderful career. Well do I remember the
words with which, before bidding me fare-


well, he brought our conversation to a close.
* I rejoice,' he said, alluding to Sister Dora,
' that England can produce so fine a breed of
women.' "

On this occasion, having expressed a desire
to hear Tennyson read one of his poems,
particularly " Maud," which offered, in her
opinion, more scope for dramatic reading
than any other, he gratified her wish by
sending her an invitation to be present at a
reading of " Maud " on a certain evening at
his house.

She thus describes her visit : —

" I accordingly went to Eaton Square, and
found a small party, including Lady F.
Cavendish and Professor Tyndal, already
assembled. Ere long we were joined by the
poet, who, after the customary greetings,
established himself on the sofa, with the light
falling on his book, and began the reading
of l Maud,' which has been truly described as
a drama of the soul, set in a landscape
glorified by love. I consider it a privilege
to have heard it read by the author, whose


poetic passion manifested itself, by the in-
tensity with which he realised the various
scenes, making his listeners feel as if they
themselves had been present. Occasionally
he made remarks upon the poem, comment-
ing upon the lines which he particularly
admired, as if thinking aloud."

Again she wrote : — -

" Subsequently, my sister having taken a
country house for the autumn in the neigh-
bourhood of Haslemere, my acquaintance
with the Tennysons was resumed. On the
occasion of my first visit to Aldworth, he
took me into his study, which commanded a
magnificent prospect. While admiring the
varied landscape, the poet's thoughts seemed
naturally to assume a religious attitude. I
was deeply interested, on reading his bio-
graphy, to find how, almost habitually, the
great spiritual realities of the unseen world
were present to his mind. Thus, in speaking
of ' The Holy Grail,' he says, * I have ex-
pressed there my strong conviction of the
reality of the Unseen.' These three lines in


Arthur's speech are spiritually the central
lines of the Idylls —

" ' In moments when he feels he cannot die,
And knows himself no vision to himself,
Nor the High God a vision, . . . '

" On another occasion he thus expresses
himself : ' Yes, it is true that there are
moments when the flesh is nothing to me ;
. . . when God and the spiritual are the
only real and true ; . . . you never, never
can convince me that the " I " is not an
eternal reality, and that the spiritual is not
the true and real part of me.'

" I feel truly thankful that on my first
visit to his study he should, in accordance
with his ordinary mood, have given expres-
sion to his belief in the Unseen, thus drawing
from me my conviction that by the marvellous
beauty of the Universe, as seen in the infinitely
great and the infinitely little, our Heavenly
Father is ever drawing us nearer to Himself :
with this sentiment he cordially agreed, and I
felt thenceforth that in religious matters we



had the fullest sympathy, without reference to
dogmas or to creeds."

One of Anna Swanwick's most noteworthy
and marked characteristics was the power she
possessed of drawing out from those with
whom she was brought in contact their deeper
and more private feelings.

This is incidentally shown in the following
reminiscence of Robert Browning, who was
often a guest at her well-known dinner-

Of Mr. Browning she wrote thus : —

" The remark was once made in my hear-
ing, by a profound student and ardent
admirer of Browning's poems, that, frequently
as he had been in Mr. Browning's company,
he had never met the poet. ' Tennyson,' he
said, 'hides himself behind his laurels, Brown-
ing behind the man of the world.' My
experience, I am happy to say, has been more
fortunate ; I also have had the privilege not
unfrequently of enjoying Mr. Browning's
society, and I can truly say that, while
conversing with him, I have seldom heard


him speak without feeling that I was listening
to the poet. On more than one occasion he
has spoken to me of his wife. One evening,
while sitting beside me at a dinner-party,
after delighting the guests with his inimitable
stories, he turned to me quietly and said, ' I
wish you had known her — it was something
to have lived with such a woman for sixteen
years, and I can truly say that I appreciated
the privilege.' "

She had the warmest admiration for some
of Browning's poems, and writes thus of
" Luria " : —

" One of the highest functions of genius is
the creation of ideals, that is, of characters,
not transcending human nature, but revealing
the height to which humanity may attain.
Such an ideal Browning has created in the
character of ' Luria.' On one occasion I
asked the poet whether he had any historical
basis for the creation of his hero. * None
whatever,' he replied ; ' it is a pure inven-
tion.' I then ventured to remark that among
his dramatic works it was my favourite. ' I


am glad to hear it,' he said, ' for it is mine
also.' "

Further recollections : —

" Mr. Browning was intimately acquainted
with Salvini, whose genius as an actor he
appreciated most highly ; Salvini, he informed
me, would never attempt the impersonations
of the characters of Shakespeare till after
severe and long-protracted study, as, in his
judgment, every word required thoughtful
consideration in order to give it its proper
intonation. All who, like myself, have wit-
nessed Salvini's performance of Hamlet,
Othello, and King Lear, will attest the
marvellous success resulting from this con-
scientious study. There was, however, one
piece performed by Salvini, not Shakesperian,
which, in Mr. Browning's opinion, trans-
cended everything he had witnessed on the
stage ; this, he said, having seen every actor
and actress who, within his memory, had
achieved notoriety. The drama in which it
occurred was a French or Italian adaptation
of the story of GEdipus, in one scene of which


the aged king, being led by Antigone, his
daughter and guide, appears upon the stage,
together with his two sons, Eteocles and
Polynices, each of whom desires to obtain
possession of his father's person, it having
been emphatically declared that a blessing
would rest upon the region in which
GEdipus expired. Suddenly QEdipus feels
a hand laid upon his shoulder, and, being
blind, he imagines it to be the hand of one
of his sons ; nothing, Mr. Browning stated,
could exceed the look of fiery hate depicted
upon his countenance ; in a moment, how-
ever, he perceives it to be the hand of
Antigone, and the sudden transition from
hate to ineffable tenderness was truly marvel-
lous, transcending what he had believed to be
possible in regard to complete mastery over

" Mr. Browning was informed by Salvini
that he intended to give up the stage as
soon as he felt the slightest diminution of
power. He was accordingly studying sculp-
ture, that he might have an interesting


employment to which to devote his energies
when he felt it necessary to abandon his
career as an actor."

In 1 8 8 1 Anna Swanwick was elected Vice-
president of the Browning Society, which had
been recently inaugurated. She then arranged
for a series of Browning readings in her
drawing-room, thinking it would be useful,
and a great pleasure to many, to hear the
poems read by Miss Drewry and elucidated
by a discussion afterwards. On being asked
to contribute a paper, the Rev. W. H.
Charming gave one on " Paracelsus," after
an excellent rendering by Miss Drewry.
When thanking Mr. Channing for his paper
on " Paracelsus " she wrote : —

" I was particularly pleased that you called
attention to what appears to me to be the
most important truth embodied in ' Para-
celsus/ namely, the inevitable deterioration
of the mind which surrenders itself to what
the poet admirably characterises as the
' wolfish ' pursuit of knowledge, leaving
the nobler faculties of the will to famish


for want of exercise. The tendency of such
a career to awaken the lower impulses of
our nature, and to plunge its virtue into
sensuality, is wonderfully brought out in the
poem, and is a lesson particularly needed at
the present time."

She thus speaks of Lord Shaftesbury : —
" On one occasion I was introduced to
Lord Shaftesbury, of whom it has been truly
said that his life of eighty-four years was
consecrated from boyhood till death to the
service of humanity. In the course of con-
versation he informed me that, as one means
of doing good, he lent money to flower-girls,
to enable them to purchase their stock-in-
trade, and to procure the necessaries of life
till they were able to maintain themselves.
The money thus lent, he assured me, was
always repaid. He spoke of the joy with
which one girl brought back the last shilling
of the money he had lent her, and of the
pride she felt at being free from debt. It
is, however, with the reform of the Factory
Laws and the Ten Hours' Bill that his name


is inseparably associated, and in connection
with this subject I may mention the follow-
ing incident : At the conclusion of a meeting
in the East End of London presided over by
Lord Shaftesbury many years later, at which
I was present, a gentleman rose and expressed
a strong desire to speak. On permission
being granted, he stated that when the Ten
Hours' Bill passed he was a factory boy, and
that he was so overtired with long hours of
work that he had no time for improving
himself. The passing of the Bill had enabled
him to attend a night-school, and subse-
quently to continue his studies, by which
means he had obtained an honourable posi-
tion, and he added that he had long wished
to thank his Lordship for the part he had
taken in passing the Bill. This was one of
the numberless instances that might be men-
tioned of the benefits conferred on humanity
by Lord Shaftesbury."

Once, while on a visit to the Dean of
Wells and Mrs. Plumptre, she was wandering
with the Dean under the stately trees which


surrounded Glastonbury Abbey, and she
relates : —

" It occurred to me to ask him the follow-
ing question : c Suppose that, by the wave of
an enchanter's wand, you could either restore
to their pristine beauty and glory not only
the ruined abbeys but also the temples of
past ages, including Karnack and the Par-
thenon, or recover all the lost books, which
would you choose ? '

" Without a moment's hesitation he replied,
' Certainly the lost books ! ' He then went
on to speak of the valuable additions to our
knowledge in various directions which would
follow the recovery of the literary treasures,
the loss of which we so deeply deplore.

" With regard to myself, among the lost
books there are none the recovery of which
I long for more than the sixty-eight lost
dramas of iEschylus, especially the first
and concluding numbers of the Promethean

" On another occasion, at an evening party,
I met the late Lord Carnarvon, to whom, at


his request, I was introduced ; while leading
me to the sofa he said, c We have a common
friend.' I was greatly puzzled to know who
this common friend could be ; he did not,
however, speak again till he had seated me
beside him on the sofa, when he pronounced
the name .ZEschylus ; the mystery was thus
solved ; our common friend was the old
Athenian bard, whose ' Agamemnon ' Lord
Carnarvon had translated. He then spoke of
Sophocles and Euripides, whom he character-
ised as great poets, though, in his opinion,
inferior to ^Eschylus. With this judgment
I cordially agreed, having recognised in
iEschylus a grandeur of conception combined
with a depth of spiritual insight which
reminded me of the old Hebrew prophets.
" The superiority of iEschylus was also
maintained by the late Mark Pattison,
Master of Lincoln, who, however, regarded
him not only as greater than Sophocles and
Euripides, but as the greatest poet whom the
world has produced. The occasion which
led to the expression of this opinion appears


to me to be sufficiently remarkable to be
worthy of remembrance.

" Once, during a call, he addressed to me
the following question : ' Throughout the
wide range of poetical literature, which do
you consider the greatest work ? ' In reply
to this query, I said that I should hesitate
between the Iliad of Homer and the * Divina
Commedia ' of Dante ; not that I should
place either Homer or Dante before Shake-
speare ; nevertheless, the above-named poems
are undoubtedly greater than any single drama
of the great English poet. After some con-
versation, I thought myself entitled to inquire
of Mr. Pattison which, among the poetical
productions of the world, he considered the
greatest. To my surprise, without a moment's
hesitation, he replied, ' The Agamemnon
of iEschylus, without question/ adding,
i and with every perusal my opinion is
confirmed.' Had he named the iEschylian
Trilogy, including the Agamemnon, the
Chcepheri, and the Eumenides, I should
have been less surprised, as, taken together,


they form a magnificent whole. Had the
Eumenides been lost, no poetic genius could,
in my opinion, have divined the iEschylean
denouement to the Orestean tragedy as there
embodied, namely, the transformation of the
Furies into the Eumenides or beneficent
deities — in other words, the transmutation
of the instinctive feeling of revenge into the
principle of eternal justice.

"I have been sometimes tempted to imagine
that, in reply to my query, Mr. Mark Pattison
must have had in his mind the i^schylean
Trilogy. Certain it is, however, that he only
spoke of the Agamemnon, and that most

" One evening, in the course of conversa-
tion with Lord Farrer, I mentioned Mr.
Gladstone's views as to what he considered
the shortcomings of Goethe's ethical teaching.
' Being primarily an artist, the German poet/
said Mr. Gladstone, * has written admirably
about beauty, but throughout the wide range
of his writings I do not remember a single
mention of Duty.'


" To this Lord Farrer replied that he con-
sidered Mr. Gladstone had done Goethe a
profound injustice, and this confirms my
own impression that, from Goethe's point of
view, excellence consisted in the harmonious
development of the various capacities and
powers inherent in human nature ; hence, in

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 6 of 12)