Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

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vision that was then made for their welfare,
and the gross injustice, flagrant, crying,
shameful injustice, hardly credible to modern
ears, to which, in certain particulars, they
were subject.' He then spoke of the great
improvement which has taken place in their
position, which he traces not only to the
alteration of the law, but also to the new
opportunities and enormously increased hopes
and prospects for usefulness which have been
opened to them by the various colleges and
by admission to degrees at the London
University, by the right to sit on Boards of
Guardians, on the School Boards, and other
public bodies."


The subject of education occupied much
of her time and thought. On her return
from abroad, 1870, Mr. Forster's Education
Bill had just passed and the first School Board
election was about to take place. She was
pressed to stand, but felt the strain would be
too great with other work, and was reluctantly
obliged to decline. She took a wide view of
Education, which she understood to mean,
not merely cramming into children's minds
a number of facts which pass out of their
remembrance when they leave school, but
to teach them to think for themselves, to
prepare them for the battle of life, to teach
them the duties of citizenship, to create in
their hearts a love of truth, honour, justice,
and temperance. Thousands of children
leave school every year, and the thought
that their whole lives, after leaving school,
may be influenced by the few years of school
life, impressed her as a weighty and important

The office of teacher she held to be almost
as sacred a one as that of preacher, requiring


many noble qualities in its exercise, such as
patience, self-restraint, forbearance, and a
knowledge of human nature. Speaking to
women she says, " Most important is it that
the teacher should enter upon her duties not
as a mere teaching machine, trained to impart
a certain modicum of knowledge, but as a
living soul, whose function it is to develop
the mental capacities of her pupils, to inspire
them with a thirst for knowledge, a warm
admiration of the beautiful, and a genuine
delight in goodness ! "

In an address delivered at Bedford College,
speaking of some of the dangerous tendencies
incident to a student's career, she says : " Tt
is in no Cassandra-like spirit that I dwell
upon the rocks ahead, but rather like the
watcher at the prow, by whose timely warn-
ing the dangers may be averted. Thus the
intense application requisite to master some
branches of intellectual culture, together with
the absorbing interest felt in their acquisition,
have a tendency to blind the student to the
true object of education, which is not the


mere acquisition of knowledge, however
valuable, but the harmonious development
of our many-sided and wonderfully complex

" Students are to be found — and I am
drawing no imaginary picture, though the
originals, I hope, are rare — distinguished for
their classical and mathematical attainments,
who at the same time are unconscious of the
wide realms of intellectual culture which lie
beyond their own comparatively narrow sphere.
Such one-sided culture is not only prejudicial
to the individual ; it tends also to bring the
so-called higher education of women into

" Far be it from me to discourage the
thorough mastery of any branch of know-
ledge to which the student may devote him-
self or herself. I should indeed earnestly
recommend each student to select some
special subject or subjects which she feels
most in harmony with her tastes and capa-
bilities, and having made her selection, to
throw into those studies her whole strength


and endeavour thoroughly to master them.
Faithful, earnest work in any department
strengthens the character and gives a certain
repose and dignity to the mind ; the student
must, however, remember that the tree of
knowledge has its roots in our common
humanity, and that no single branch can be
satisfactorily studied if completely isolated
from the rest. Above all, let her remember
that her happiness and success in life will
depend, not upon the mere acquisition of
knowledge, but upon the cultivation of what
has been justly styled "mental hospitality,"
together with a large and warm-hearted
sympathy with her fellow-creatures. She
must bear in mind that though she be con-
versant with the language of the Greeks or
Romans, and though she understand the
mysteries of the higher mathematics, and have
not charity, in the broadest sense of the
word, it will profit her comparatively little."
In a letter written to her friend, Madame
Retzius, of Stockholm, after expressing her
warm interest in the various schemes for


the improvement of the condition of women
in Sweden to which her friend is devoting
her energies, she says : —

" The movement to widen the horizon of
women by raising the standard of female
education and to qualify them for higher
spheres to which they are aspiring, which in
England has been so successful, will, I doubt
not, in time spread to every country in
Europe. People are, however, apt to forget
that time in itself is powerless, that it is only
through the strenuous efforts of individuals,
such as those you are making in Stockholm,
that the good cause can eventually prosper."

In the year 1878 she felt gratified on being
called upon to present the first lady graduates
from Bedford College, who went up to re-
ceive their degrees from the Chancellor of
the London University ; and in the year 1 884
she was elected to the office of Visitor to the
College in succession to Erasmus A. Darwin
and the Rev. Mark Pattison, which post she
held for a period of five years. She was the
first woman to be elected as Visitor.


She took a deep interest in all movements
for the diffusion of culture amongst the
people, feeling that education should not end
with school life, but be carried on by various
agencies through youth to manhood and

She had a strong conviction, to which her
whole life bore witness, that in order to
regenerate mankind, and to make our boasted
civilisation bear good fruit, we must, as
Wordsworth put it, " Inspect the basis of
the social pile," we must educate the masses
of our great towns, as well as the population
of the villages, to care for something higher
than mere wage-earning and eating and
drinking. She quoted these words : —

" Wouldst thou," says Carlyle, " plant for
Eternity ? — then plant into the deep infinite
faculties of man, his phantasy, and heart ;
wouldst thou plant for year and day ? — then
plant into his shallow superficial faculties, his
self-love and arithmetical understanding."

Her one desire was to help to elevate her
fellow men and women intellectually and


morally, and she was never tired of giving
expression to her earnest longing that the
imagination, " that great faculty by which
the soul ascends to the contemplation of the
Divine," may be more, not less, cultivated in
the future, and the grand and inspiring utter-
ances of the poets instilled into the hearts of
the people, young and old, rich and poor.

With this object in view, she spoke on
various occasions in aid of the Bethnal Green
Free Library, the People's Concert Society,
the South London Fine Art Gallery, in which
Lord Leighton also took a warm interest ;
and on being elected Vice-President of the
Sunday Society, she read a paper at the Social
Science Congress in 1875, the subject being
" The Sunday Question considered." Show-
ing the inconsistency of closing all places of
intellectual interest and allowing the public-
houses to be open, she continues : " It seems
to me like an act of national suicide to
awaken in the masses of our population, at
great cost of time and treasure, some taste
for intellectual pursuits, and at the same time


to withhold one of the principal means by
which it may be gratified. Would that every
gin palace could be transformed into a library
or palace of art ; that the wonderful world of
books and pictures could be thrown open to
every man and woman in the community ;
that the spirits by which they are now
possessed should be superseded by the spirits
of the wise and good of every age and clime !
The recognition of the absolute superiority of
our spiritual over our physical nature, may be
regarded as the goal towards which humanity
is slowly but steadily progressing. There can
be no progress without human effort, and
when we consider the appalling amount of
drunkenness, brutality, and destitution which
prevail in this great city, we shall recognise
that the crusade against them is a holy war-
fare, and that the effort to drive these demons
of darkness from this beautiful world is the
noblest employment in which man or woman
can be engaged/'

On sending her address on the Sunday
question to Dr. Martineau, with a request


that he would become a member of the
Society, she received the following letter in
answer : —

" I heartily agree with every sentence of
your excellent paper, and shall gladly enrol
myself as an ordinary member of the Society.
While allowing, however, large expansion to
the old idea of Sunday, I would keep clear
and distinct the public feeling that it is a day
dedicated to the higher culture, and rescued
from trading interests and selfish indulgence.
And the tendency to turn it into a mere
holiday, in which all competing amusements
shall have free play, is so much on the
increase, and is so easily confounded with the
nobler conception, that great care will be
required in winning the necessary freedom to
guard it from degenerating. By all means
make public museums, gardens, and libraries
accessible, but if once you open the private
trade in amusements, theatres, dancing halls,
circuses, &c, I do not see what is to prevent
the day from becoming worse than a working
day, and then being added to the working


days ; because the liberty given to the enter-
taining trades cannot permanently be refused
to the useful trades. . . ." (1875).

In 1888 she delivered an address in aid of
Victoria Hall and Morley College. An
amplification of this address appeared as a
booklet, entitled, " An Utopian Dream, and
how it may be realised." It was published
by Kegan Paul, and excited a wide interest in
the cause, and from it the following quota-
tions are taken : —

Extracts from "An Utopian Dream."

More than three hundred years have
elapsed since Sir Thomas More published
his " Kingdom of Utopia," a name usually
associated in our minds, not with higher
possibilities, but rather with the unrealisable
schemes of the visionary and the idealist.

The aspect of life in Utopia to which I
refer is embodied in the following passage,
which illustrates the extreme importance there
attached to the intellectual culture of the
citizens : —


" In the institution of the public weal, this
end is chiefly minded, that what time may
possibly be spared from the necessary occupa-
tions and affairs of the Commonwealth, all
that the citizens could withdraw from bodily
service should be devoted to the free liberty
of the mind and garnishing ot the same.
For herein they conceive the felicity of this
life to consist."

It is lamentable to think that in London,
in the nineteenth century, the practice in this
regard should be diametrically opposed to
that described three hundred years ago in the
" Kingdom of Utopia."

If we consider the vast population of
London, which exceeds that of Paris, Berlin,
Vienna, and St. Petersburg combined, and
which is annually increased by the addition
of seventy thousand souls ; and if we remem-
ber that of these vast multitudes every indi-
vidual is endowed with the rudiments, at
least, of u those high capacious powers which
lie folded up in man," and for the develop-
ment of which an adequate supply of appro-


priate nutriment is absolutely essential, we
shall realise how large a number of libraries
and of institutions like the Royal Victoria
Hall would be required did the inhabitants of
London, like those of Utopia, recognise that
in the cultivation of their higher nature the
true felicity of life consists. What, however,
is the actual state of things ? In London at
the present time the number of public
libraries and kindred institutions is compara-
tively small, while the drink shops are num-
bered at twenty thousand. The contrast is
appalling, and disgraceful to the boasted
civilisation of the nineteenth century. . . .
Surely no nobler object for the employ-
ment of wealth could be suggested than the
redemption of our toiling millions from the
dull monotony of their daily lives, from
which they too often seek relief in the gin-
palace and other objectionable localities.
Money so bestowed would furnish one of the
best possible means for counteracting that
unequal distribution of wealth which obtains
at the present time, and which is regarded by



many as pregnant with danger to the com-
monwealth ; it would, moreover, have no
tendency to pauperise or to demoralise its
recipients, a result the apprehension of which
has hitherto tended to check the flow of
wealth from the higher to the lower levels of

Were the tidings suddenly spread that the
plague, or some other deadly disease, had
broken out in South London, and that thou-
sands were dying of the pestilence, the cry
for help would meet with an instant and
generous response ; no effort would be con-
sidered too great, no appliances too costly,
for relieving the sufferers and for arresting the
spread of contagion. And shall we be more
supine when the plague of sin is in our
streets, when thousands of human souls are
languishing under its ghastly influence, and
when moral corruption is spreading its terrible
infection far and wide ?

" The Huns and Vandals who will ship-
wreck our modern civilisation are being bred,"
we are told, " not in the steppes of Asia, but


in the slums and alleys of our great cities."
Fortunately these modern hordes are not
beyond our reach, nor are they unamenable
to the various civilising agencies which can
be brought to bear upon them.

Let it be the honour and glory of this
generation to raise the depressed classes of
the community to a higher level of moral
and intellectual life ; to open to them sources
of wholesome and elevating enjoyment, and
thus to deliver them from the thraldom of
lower gratification ; to bring them under the
civilising influences of science, literature, and
art, and to make them feel that the culti-
vation of their higher nature is not incom-
patible with manual toil.

The task is gigantic, but not impossible.
Slavery and other terrible evils, as soon as the
national conscience was awakened to a sense
of their enormity, vanished before the force
of popular enthusiasm.

Let the English people be once awakened
to a sense of the noble service to which they
are called in liberating their brethren at home


from the bondage of ignorance and sin, and
drunkenness and other ghastly horrors will
disappear, and "the moral desert will blossom
as the rose." Then will be realised the
Utopian dream of the good Lord Chancellor,
and men will recognise that their true felicity
consists, not in sensual gratification, but in
" the free liberty of the mind, and garnishing
of the same."

Extracted from an Address delivered at
Grosvenor House, under the presidency of the
Duke of Westminster (1888).

The following passage is taken from her
address in aid of the People's Concert
Society : —

" The wonders attributed to Orpheus are
the symbolical expression of the wonder-
working power of music. With his golden
lyre he tamed the savage denizens of the
forest ; allured the Argonauts from the plea-
sures of Lemnos ; lulled to sleep the dragon
which guarded the golden Fleece ; suspended
the torments of Hades ; and with this potent
instrument he civilised the wild inhabitants of


Thrace. The golden lyre has not lost its
wonder-working power. The great purpose
of music, like that of poetry, with which it
is so intimately associated, is, as set forth by
Dr. Channing, ' to carry the mind above
and beyond the beaten, dusty, weary walks
of ordinary life ; to lift it into a purer
element ; to give it a respite from depressing
cares, and to breathe into it more profound
and generous emotions.' This is the high
vocation of music, and blessed indeed is the
ministry of those who, like Orpheus of old,
can touch the strings of the wonder-working

At this time there was no County Council
to consider the wants of the people, no bands
in the parks, and only by individual effort
was anything accomplished. She had a high
ideal of the function of the stage as a popular
educator, having seen in her youth the
wonderful acting of Mrs. Siddons, Macready,
the Kembles, Rachel, Helen Faucit, and
others, and on being asked to open a debate
on the subject, she gave an eloquent address


showing how moral teaching should be the
aim and object of the stage.

In 1875 an influential committee was
formed by the leading scientific men of the
day and others, including Darwin, Huxley,
Herbert Spencer, Carpenter, Frankland, Sir
John Lubbock, and many more, for the
purpose of instituting a course of lectures
or addresses on Sunday evenings for the
people. Anna Swanwick was asked to under-
take one of these evenings, and she accepted
the invitation to address the people at South
Place, Finsbury. She said she felt inspired
to touch the hearts of her audience, and she
spoke for an hour so eloquently that one who
was there said he would gladly have listened
for another hour, and there was not a sound
or a movement in the place. She took for
her text, " My Father worketh hitherto and
I work." Fortunately the main part of this
discourse has been preserved.



It is easy to conceive of the highest and to
inculcate the beauty of self-sacrifice and the
holiness of family ties, but not so easy to
act up to the ideal ! It may be truly said
that she who so often lovingly addressed
girl students, earnestly counselling them to
guard against the subtle unconscious selfish-
ness of study, to be careful to cherish with
the enthusiasm for learning, the sacred duties
of family life and of the affections, was not
preaching a " counsel of perfection."

Those only who knew her intimately, knew
the daily sacrifice, how, when the work her
soul loved was before her, the importunate

morning post brought its manifold claims



from the poor and the suffering, with appeals
for advice and help which were never set
aside, and never answered except in fullest
measure, however unworthy they might seem
in the sight of others. " First do the duty
that lies before you, then only may one turn
to the work that one loves." Thus she
schooled herself, whilst the precious hours
passed, and the still more precious physical
strength waned. Yet who of those who knew
her could have wished it otherwise !

As a friend has well said, " she not only felt
for the sufferings of the poor and unhappy,
but she felt that respect for them which is
possible only to one in whom a sense of
common humanity quite overrides the con-
sciousness of differences of position or cir-
cumstances. The ordinary forms of courtesy
were not forms to her. They expressed at
once the reserve which shields our own inti-
mate personality and the reverence with
which we approach another's, and so she
would address a petitioner, whose voice
reached her from the workhouse, with the


same ' Dear Sir,' and conclude with the
same ' yours sincerely,' that she would have
employed to a scholar who had asked her for
information as to some piece of literary work.
This sincere and beautiful courtesy was a
part of her humanity that characterised every
human relation, and had little to do with
social conventions."

When two members of a family live
together in the closest bonds of sympathy
and affection, it is impossible for one to suffer
without influencing the life of the other. In
the year 1879 it was pronounced necessary
for her sister Catherine, who had been her
life-long companion, to undergo an operation
on her eyes, and when this resulted in a
complete loss of sight for reading, writing,
or working, Anna Swanwick gave up, in a
great measure, her social and public engage-
ments, and the time for her own work, and
with beautiful unselfishness devoted herself
for the next four years to the care and
amusement of her sister,


Catherine Swanwick had a poetic gift of
no mean order ; her industry in writing, and
her inventiveness, had been marked charac-
teristics throughout her life. Three small
volumes of short poems, published under the
title of " Poems by L.," received very grati-
fying notices from the press, and gave plea-
sure to many, besides which she published
several poetical dramas and longer poems.
She was also gifted with a love of music, of
mathematics, and of languages. It may be
easily imagined how great was the trial of
enforced idleness to a mind so full of energy,
and ideas that sought expression through her
pen, but she was never heard to complain.
" What can't be cured must be endured,"
was her motto, and the sweetness of her
disposition made the task of ministering to
her a real pleasure. Many a delightful hour
was spent in listening to the " Divina Corn-
media," which Anna Swanwick read aloud in
the original, translating passages as she went
on, or Dr. Martineau's works would be care-
fully studied and commented upon, whilst


lighter literature, such as French and German
novels, interesting articles in the reviews, or
noteworthy speeches in Parliament, varied by
music, would help to pass the time pleasantly
during the winter evenings.

During these years the quiet home of the
two sisters in the Regent's Park became the
rendezvous of kindred spirits, drawn together
by the rare charm and graciousness of the
hostesses and the magnetic influence of the
one whose life we have been sketching. All
shades of opinion were represented at the
informal social gatherings which so many will

She never spoke about her work ; many ot
her friends wished she had more often done so.

The Right Hon. Leonard Courtney,
recording his intercourse with her, writes
thus : —

" The spectacle of her quick, eager,
and sympathetic nature was always delight-
ful, and the charm of its presentment re-
mained till the last, her vivacity overcoming
all the drawbacks of advancing years.


" Nothing could be pleasanter than her
receptions at her house in Regent's Park,
where the youngest seemed to be as keenly
welcomed as the companions of earlier life,
while her interest in the work and move-
ments of the new generation never slackened.

" I have most agreeable recollections of
these reunions, yet I think the scene which
I like most to recall, was an out-door one at
Hampstead. I was standing many years ago
under the fir-trees at the end of the heath
looking across the Brent valley to Harrow
under the afternoon light, when Miss Anna
Swanwick approached with her sister, whom
she had brought up in an invalid condition, to
get the benefit of the healthy surroundings.
Her fond attention to her sister, her quiet
talk of the place and the view, and her
friendly interest in our meeting, abide in
my memory as a most pleasant recollection.
This is the merest trifle, but the impression it
left is an illustration of the rest and peace we
all gained in her society."

After four years of failing health and


decreasing powers, Catherine Swanwick fell
asleep, nursed and tended to the end by her
devoted sister Anna.

In the midst of her grief and loneliness
came letters from friends which touched
her deeply.

F. H. Newman wrote : —

''Dear Friend, — It is a terrible wrench,
an irrevocable loss ; but if anything can
assure to you a serene power of bearing it,
I believe it will rest on the fact that you

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 8 of 12)