Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

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his delineation of life under all its manifold
aspects, the aesthetic and moral elements are
never disjoined ; the latter, as in real life,
being interwoven into the texture of his
work whether narrative or dramatic ; accord-
ingly it is not surprising that in his writings
there should be no direct allusion to Duty."

She instanced the scene in the dungeon,
where Faust, stung to the quick by horror
and remorse on witnessing the misery wrought
by his sin, exclaims, " Would I had ne'er been
born ! " and Margaret's appeal from the
judgment of men to a higher tribunal, feeling
herself purified by suffering, " Judgment of
God, to thee my soul I give ! " as moral
teaching of a high order.

Further recollections : —


" I was introduced to Bishop Colenso at
an evening party at Mrs. Baden Powell's
house, when I had a most interesting con-
versation with him. The acquaintance thus
begun was continued at intervals during his
sojourn in London. Many will remember
the obloquy with which Bishop Colenso's
book on the Pentateuch was received in
London society on account of the doubt
thrown on certain statements in the Old
Testament. For the publication of views
which are now very generally entertained,
and which made an epoch in English criticism,
he was universally shunned. I can bear wit-
ness to the serene magnanimity and calm
dignity with which he met the contempt and
abuse which were showered upon him."

" Few things are more remarkable than
the change in Theological opinion which has
taken place within the last thirty or forty
years. Well do I remember the uneasiness
produced in many minds by the statement in
Dean Milman's ' History of the Jews ' that
the safe passage of the Hebrews across the


Red Sea might have been caused by the
direction of the wind ! ' The children of
Israel,' we are told in Exodus, ' went into the
midst of the sea on dry ground, and the
waters were a wall unto them on their right
hand and on their left.' To throw a doubt
upon this miracle was thought almost as
unwarrantable as it would be now to impugn
the statements of Darwin and Huxley ! "
Of Dean Stanley we have the following : —
" I had the privilege also of Dean Stanley's
acquaintance. As may well be imagined, far
from joining in the persecution of Bishop
Colenso, Dean Stanley sympathised most
warmly with the dauntless courage and ardent
love of truth which were his distinguishing
characteristics. This favourable attitude on
the part of the Dean towards a ' reputed
heretic ' found forcible expression at the
meeting of Convocation. . . . On one occa-
sion he bravely informed the assembled
clergy that when they were all forgotten
Bishop Colenso's name would be held in


" I was so deeply impressed by the
solitary grandeur of the position occupied
by Dean Stanley on that occasion that I
have compared him to Horatius standing
alone upon the bridge.

" I saw him for the last time at the flower-
show party at the Deanery on July 7, 1881.
Having taken cold on that occasion, his
death followed soon after. With that sad
event all who had come under his influence
must have felt that the world was poorer by
the withdrawal of one, the charm of whose
nature was unique and whom it was im-
possible to know and not to love."

Amongst the frequent visitors to Cumber-
land Terrace were Sir Theodore and Lady
Martin, whom she numbered amongst her
intimate friends. In the year 1882 Lady
Martin brought out her beautiful volume of
" The Female Characters of Shakespeare,"
and addressed the letter introducing
" Imogen " to her friend, Anna Swanwick.
A few years later, when Queen Victoria hon-
oured Bryntysilio with a visit, Lady Martin


invited her to be present on the occasion, but
feeling her health too uncertain she was
obliged to decline, much to her regret.

She was always anxious to make acquain-
tance with those who were working for the
cause of women's advancement, and she was
interested on one occasion on receiving a
visit from the Marchese di Montezemolo,
an Italian lady of note, to learn that she
was much interested in the woman's
movement in America, and that she was
translating Miss Cobbe's " Duties of
Women " into Italian for her country-

The following extract is from a letter after
paying a visit to Dr. Martineau at the
Polchar, Aviemore, 1883 : —

" I have felt it to be a rare privilege to
have tarried so many days under the roof of
our ' Prophet-Poet ' as Dr. Martineau has
been aptly styled, — to have shared his
admiration for the glorious scenery, which
surrounds his Highland home, and to have
enjoyed many a quiet colloquy on topics ot



the deepest interest. To feel that the
reverence with which I regarded him in my
girlhood should have been transfigured into
the beautiful and reverential friendship of
later years, is indeed a happiness ! '

Dr. Martineau wrote asking her to repeat
her visit the next year, and gave the follow-
ing interesting account of a thunderstorm,
showing not only his power of vividly
describing natural effects but his amazing
physical energy in his eightieth year !

He writes : —

" On Thursday last we had the peril and
the glory of being on the top of Braeriach
(4,250 feet), when a tremendous storm, first
visible from afar, drifted up from the passes
of the south and west, and, planting us
beneath a low roof of clouds, burst overhead
so close that we were at the thunder as it
cracked, and saw the streak of lightning dash
into the near rocks like a ball of fire. It was
a sublime sight ; the more so, as beyond the
edges of the black canopy, and through the
driving rain and hail, appeared mountains,


now far off, basking in sunshine, and out-
spread below a landscape chequered with
green fields and glistening lochs and shelter-
ing forests. We reached home all safe at
nightfall, with no further harm than a
bruise which I got through a trip-up and fall

upon some rough rocks."

• • • » •

After paying a visit to Oxford in 1884,
she wrote : —

" I particularly enjoyed my visit to
Oxford, where I was the guest of Professor
and Mrs. Max Miiller. You will agree
with me in considering it a privilege to come
into direct communion with those whom we
have long looked upon as our enlighteners
and educators ; such has been my feeling as
the guest of Professor Max Miiller, who, like
all great men, is distinguished by simplicity
of character, ready to give forth his stores of
knowledge when called upon, or to discourse
pleasantly on familiar topics. I was not
prepared to find him an accomplished
musician ; he was the intimate friend of


Mendelssohn, and hesitated in his boyhood
whether he should make music his

During one of his visits to London, she
formed a friendship with Oliver Wendell
Holmes, whom she described as a singularly
lovable and simple-hearted man. On one
occasion allusion was made to Cowper's
poems, when he said he considered " The
Address to his Mother's Picture " was the
most pathetic poem in the English language,
adding that so great was his love for
Cowper, that had he time, he would fain
make a pilgrimage to every locality
associated with his memory.

" In connection with Cowper's theological
aberrations," she writes, " I was informed by
Dr. Holmes that, in his medical capacity, he
was required at stated times to visit all the
lunatic asylums in New England.

" ' You would be surprised,' he said, ' by
the number of religious maniacs there
immured : men and women who had been
driven mad by the fear of everlasting


torments.' He thus found his own theory
realised by fact, and he continued as
follows : —

" * Any decent person ought to go mad if
he really holds these opinions. . . . Any-
thing that is brutal, cruel, heathenish, that
makes life hopeless for the most of mankind,
and perhaps for entire races, no matter by
what name you call it, if received, ought
to produce insanity in any well-regulated
mind ! '

" He continued : —

" ' It was the doctrine of eternal torment
that brought me out from the religion in
which I had been brought up ; I could not
reconcile the thought of God's infinite love,
with a belief in never-ending punishment.'

" He told me that it was on account of his
opposition to the damnation creed, taught by
the Puritans, that he first fell under the ban
of the religious world.

" His errand in theology was, as he him-
self said, ' to oppose his colonial forefathers,
who had made it their business to " diabolize


the Deity." Accordingly, for views now
generally entertained, he was, at the
commencement of his career, denounced by
the orthodox clergy as an atheist and an
infidel !

" He informed me, on another occasion,
that he was constantly receiving from authors
presentation copies of their works, which he
was unable to acknowledge from stress of
work, the only exception he had made being
in favour of Canon Farrar's ' Eternal Hope/
' More than once/ writes E. Stuart Phelps,
* I heard him speak of Canon Farrar's book
" Eternal Hope," with an emotion touching
to witness, and ennobling to remember. His
voice broke, and the tears stirred at the mere
mention of the title. " I cannot get beyond
it," he said reverently ; " ' Eternal Hope '
— I cannot talk about the title of that
book, it moves me too much, it goes too

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes made another
exception to his rule of not personally
acknowledging books sent to him by authors,


as he wrote a kind and gratifying letter to
his friend Anna Swanwick, on receiving a
copy of her " Poets the Interpreters of their

In the year 1895 she had the great
pleasure of making the acquaintance of Sir
George Grey, with whom she had many
deeply interesting conversations, and for
whom she had the greatest admiration. He
was a very old man when she was first intro-
duced, and their friendship was cut short by
his death in 1898.

After his death she wrote down a few
recollections of what Sir George Grey had
told her of his experiences in New Zealand
and elsewhere, from which the following are
extracted : —

" When the time arrived for Sir George
Grey to leave New Zealand, many deputa-
tions of chiefs waited upon him. One chief
having been chosen to speak for the rest, the
others broke out in full chorus, before the
commencement of his address, chanting with
great pathos the following song : —


" Go, while the sun is shining,
Great shelter of our land ;
Go, while the hearts are pining
Of this once savage land.

Go, while the winds are playing
In gusts above our head,
The while our hearts are saying,
' He now to us is dead.'

Go, and before the morrow
Gaze on the deep, dark sea,
And then these hearts in sorrow
Shall whisper, ' Where is he ? '

" In 1890 he was delegated by the New
Zealand Parliament to attend the meeting of
the Federal Convention of Australia, in
Sydney. Though in favour of Federation,
he was intensely opposed to the conservative
principles embodied in the Federal Bill,
which, however, notwithstanding his opposi-
tion, was carried by a large majority.

"His subsequent tour through Australia was
a triumphal progress, which culminated in the
immense gathering in the Centenial Hall of
Melbourne, which, though capable of holding
eight thousand people, was crowded in every


part, while thousands assembled outside the

"On leaving Australia in 1890 he returned
to his island home, where he continued to
reside till 1895. ^ e tnen came t0 England,
where he remained till his death.

" It was at this period that I made his
acquaintance, through the kindness of my
friend, Mrs. Lyell, who brought him to call
upon me. On one occasion, in the course of
conversation, allusion was made to the first
Maori War, at the termination of which,
according to the published Life of Sir George,
the maintenance of peace depended upon the
construction of roads through the territories
of the Maori chiefs. One chief, however,
notwithstanding the express wish of the
Governor, declared that no roads should be
made through his territory. Having read
the Life I alluded to this incident, and ex-
pressed my admiration of his wise diplomacy
in dealing with the recalcitrant chief, to
whom, instead of threats of compulsion, he
had presented a carriage with a beautiful pair


of horses, informing him at the same time
that it would do his young girl bride good if
he would take her a drive every day. I
was here interrupted by Sir George, who in-
formed me that unfortunately the Life, with
reference to this incident, was incorrect ; for
the moment I was disappointed, fearing that
there was no foundation for this story of the
Governor's present of the carriage and horses
to the recalcitrant chief. My fears were,
however, allayed when he added, ' It was not
a young bride but an old sister, for whom I
recommended the use of the carriage.'

" I may mention, in conclusion, that not
long before his departure he most kindly sent
me a copy of the address presented to him by
the Cook Islanders, beginning, ' One word to
you, O Grey/ and which embodied the
following prayer : ' May God's blessing rest
upon you, and give peace and happiness to
you, who have done so much for the peace
and happiness of others.'

"He also presented me with a copy of an
early and beautiful edition of iEschylus,


which I prize most highly, not only for its
own sake, but as the gift of one whom I
honour and admire, and to have known
whom I esteem one of the privileges of my

Late in life she had the pleasure of making
acquaintance with Sir Mountstuart Grant
Duff and the Marquis of Bute, who used to
spend many an hour on Sunday afternoons at
Cumberland Terrace, Regent's Park, exchang-
ing thoughts with her on subjects of general
interest. It shows her open-mindedness that
she was able to sympathise with all shades of
belief, whilst firmly holding to her own strong
convictions, and she frequently remarked that
with the Marquis of Bute she discussed Uni-
tarianism, Catholicism, Judaism, and other
forms of religious worship, quite freely and
without reserve, each holding their own views
to the end !


Public Work— Extracts from
Speeches, etc., 1873 to 1889

It would be giving but a poor impression of
the life of Anna Swanwick were we to confine
our attention to her literary work and inte-
resting social intercourse. During the years
between 1873 anc ^ 1889 she threw herself
with great earnestness into the consideration
of public questions which she felt to be of
paramount importance, and which had for
their object the uplifting of her fellow men
and women, and the amelioration of the posi-
tion of women before the law. She was not
an agitator in the ordinary sense of the word,
but by her sympathy with those who were

working for great causes, by her example, by


Enlarged from a Kodak Photograph taken by a friend, 1S!:»7.

To face page 156.


her life of simple devotion to what she con-
sidered the highest good, she did much more
than many others to raise the position of
women. She had been amongst the first
supporters of the movement to promote the
political enfranchisement of women, and gave
an interesting account of the now historical
event which first led her to take up the cause.
Soon after her return from Germany a feeling
of widespread indignation was aroused by
the treatment of a noble band of women-
workers, headed by Lucretia Mott, who came
from Massachusetts in answer to an invita-
tion sent to " the friends of the slave " in all
parts of the world, to join a great Anti-
Slavery Convention in London in June, 1840.
When the meeting opened these ladies were
refused admittance on account of their sex !
In vain did Wendell Phillips, who also came
from Massachusetts, represent that they had
come 4,000 miles, leaving their families and
occupations in order to utter their protest
against slavery — that if any persons there
present could be called " the friends of the


slave," Mrs. Mott and her fellow-workers
deserved that name, &c, &c. ... A heated
discussion followed, and when the question
was put to the vote, it went against the
women ! One speaker argued that it would
be " subversive of the principles and traditions
of the country and contrary to the Word of
God " if women were allowed to sit in con-
clave with men. They might sit in the
gallery and listen, but for women to speak in
public was shocking bad taste and could never
be allowed !

This flagrant act of injustice planted the
seed of discontent in many a woman's mind,
and Anna Swanwick, feeling within her the
same spirit that animated Lucretia Mott, re-
sented the indignity done to her and her
fellow-workers, and determined to help her
sex to take their proper place in the body

For many years nothing much could be
done, so strong was the feeling against
women mixing in public affairs, but in 1865
J. S. Mill was asked to present a petition to


Parliament in favour of the suffrage, which
he promised to do if 100 signatures could be
obtained. To every one's surprise no fewer
than 1,500 names appeared when the petition
was presented, amongst the number being that
of Anna Swanwick, as was to be expected.

It was at a meeting in 1873 in support of
this movement (Sir Robert Anstruther, M.P.,
presiding) that she first discovered that she
had the gift of public speaking. Her friend
Frances Power Cobbe, who was present on
the occasion, gives the following interesting
reminiscence : —

" I have a clear recollection of hearing
Anna Swanwick make her first speech in
public. She was at the time sixty years of
age, and had never (as I was assured) taken
part in the proceedings at any meeting to
which admittance was open ; and it may be
noted that in her private circle, and even at
her own table, she rarely assumed the reins
of general conversation, but talked with ani-
mation, or listened with eager sympathy, to
her nearest neighbours.


" On this occasion, however, it was planned
by some of the leaders of the ' Woman's
Suffrage ' Movement to utilise and give all
possible publicity to Miss Swanwick's known
approval of the agitation. At a large public
meeting (I think in Hanover Square Rooms)
the seconding of a resolution was allotted to
her. We all expected that she would simply
rise from her seat on the platform and say
something equivalent to ' I am very happy to
support this resolution,' and afterwards we
thought we would do our best to draw atten-
tion to the fact that so learned a woman, and
one so universally respected, had given us her
unqualified approbation. But we were agree-
ably disappointed. I was sitting very near
her on the platform, and watched with keen
interest what actually occurred. Miss Swan-
wick rose when called upon, and stood facing
the sea of heads extending to the end of the
large hall. She spoke at once a sentence or
two in clear utterance and without hesitation,
but, as she immediately recognised, in too
low a key. Then she raised her voice pre-


cisely to the pitch required to reach the end
of the hall, perfectly audible, but without
falsetto or failure of fulness of tone, and in
that sweet, strong voice, which none of us had
guessed she possessed, she continued to speak,
without hesitation or failure of words, for
something like twenty minutes. Her speech
was crammed with ideas, and of course had
been prepared beforehand, but she had no
manuscript or notes, and it was absolutely

" I questioned whether any other speaker,
man or woman, who had attained to his or
her sixtieth year, without the smallest experi-
ence of public oratory, ever achieved such a
success. At all events, any one who has had
some practical familiarity with that difficult
art will admit that to begin to employ it at
that age, and then do it thoroughly well on
first trial, was little short of marvellous.

"After that interesting occasion I believe
that Miss Swanwick spoke not infrequently
in public on the subjects that specially
interested her."



Miss Cobbe's vivid account of the meeting
errs in the statement that the speech was
" prepared beforehand." It was, on the con-
trary, an inspiration of the moment, as she
had not known that she would be called
upon to speak, and the following passage
from a contemporary journal shows how it
impressed her audience : —

" The speech of the evening was delivered
by Miss A. Swanwick, who had never spoken
on a platform before and never made a public
speech in her life. It was most eloquent and
admirably reasoned, delivered with a tender,
touching, womanly grace which kept the
audience silent whilst she spoke and brought
down thunders of applause when she sat down.
She concluded the speech with these words : —

" * On the battlefield of life, where the
powers of evil and of good are arrayed for
mortal combat, the forces which are needed
are not physical but spiritual forces ; not
powerful limbs, but hearts and brains ; and
in these women are not deficient. Give
them a sound, practical education, remove


their social and political disabilities, and in
their energy and sympathy, conscientiousness
and tenderness we shall, I believe, have a
reservoir of power which will lift this great
nation to a higher level of social and political
life ! ' " (Birmingham Daily Post).

The following extract is taken from a
letter by F. W. Newman, dated 1867 : —

" I have quite come to the conviction that
while men alone wield political power women
will never have justice. That celebrated
personage, * the judicious despot,' if only he
could be really omnipotent, might do justice
to every class, race, and sex ; but while any-
thing of constitutional freedom exists it is
the business, duty, and tendency of each class
to study its own interests, but as it has no
definite duty, so neither has it knowledge or
power to survey a whole empire or protect
every other class ; and in fact an unrepre-
sented class is often worse off under what is
called freedom than under the despotism of
one man. Its rights are protected only
indirectly and by accident ; hence it is sure
to suffer great wrongs."


After this she spoke in public on the same
subject on several occasions. The inequality
of the laws for men and women roused her
to help to get these amended or repealed.
At that time married women had no legal
power over their own property. She lived
to see the Married Woman's Property Act
passed. The mother's claim to her own
child was not then admitted by law ; the
father could, if he pleased, leave it in his
will that his butler was to have charge of
the children, and the mother had no redress !
This law was altered in 1886. 1 The crusade

1 Miss Cobbe thus expresses her feelings on this
subject : —

"Whilst I and other happily circumstanced women
have had no immediate wrongs of our own to gall us,
we should still have been very poor creatures had we
not felt bitterly those of our less fortunate sisters, the
robbed and trampled wives, the mothers whose children
were torn from them at the bidding of a dead or living
father, the daughters kept in ignorance and poverty
while their brothers were educated in costly schools
and fitted for honourable professions. Such wrongs as
these have inspired me with the persistent resolution
to do everything in my power to protect the property,
the persons, and the parental rights of women." — From
the " Life of Frances Power Cobbe," by herself.


carried on by Mrs. Josephine Butler had also
her warmest approval and support.

In a letter to her friend, Madame Retzius,
of Stockholm, Anna Swanwick wrote : —

" Mr. Gladstone has recently delivered a
most interesting address on the progress of
women's education, in which he says, ' It is
painful to look back upon the state of women
as regards the way in which they were
formerly treated by the law, the scanty pro-

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 7 of 12)