Mary Louisa Bruce.

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

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have sacrificed your wishes, your time, your
active service, to your sister. You will have
no self-reproach in the thought that you
only learnt her worth too late ! "

From George MacDonald : —

"Dear Friend, — The shadows are draw-
ing down upon us, are they not, hiding one
after another of those we loved and honoured.
But they are the shadows of the summer
evening, whose colours are the prophecies


of the dawn. If there is any truth in
Christianity, and I am more and more con-
vinced, and would be, I almost think, if it
were only for the increasing demands it
makes upon me — that there is in it All
truth — then there is no evil in death. We
may call the precedent suffering an evil, but
it is an evil with profoundest good at the
heart of it. In death itself, I do not believe
there is any essential evil. But you know
these things better than I do, though I think
I am going on to learn them better and
better ! You are not of those who are alone,
or can be alone, for the Father is with you.
Many a strengthening little talk have I had
with you, though so seldom of late, and we
shall have more and more in the new life
at hand for both of us.

" Yours affectionately,

"George MacDonald."

After speaking of an illness borne with
sweet submissive spirit, Dr. Martineau
writes : —


" One is tempted to think she might well
have been spared a discipline so austere.
Yet what are we, that we should expect to
follow the great tide of things into every
creek and inlet of private life into which it
winds? At all events, the sufferer knows
better than the observer the whole inner
nature of the experience, and may lift us
into sympathy with that absolute trust,
which is at once the expression of love, the
perfection of wisdom, and the source of
repose !"....

After her sister Catherine's death she lived
alone for part of the year, but joined her
beloved sister, Mrs. Bruce, and her nieces,
at some beautiful country place for three or
four months in the summer, where she en-
joyed complete repose amidst the beauties
of Nature, in the companionship of her who
had been the idol of her youth, the sym-
pathiser in all her joys and sorrows, and who
now shared with her " a beautiful old age. 1 '

She used to say she never felt lonely — her
society was sought almost more than in


former years by a large circle of friends,
and the following reminiscence kindly sent
by Lady Huggins gives an interesting ac-
count of the friendly gatherings in the bright
home in the Regent's Park, where the small
figure, bent with age, but sparkling with
vivacity, her soul looking out through her
eyes, kept every one interested and amused
by her conversation.

A Recollection of Anna Swanwick

" Although I had long been familiar with
the writings and with the work of Miss
Swanwick, it was not until the last years
of her life that I had the happiness of
becoming personally acquainted with her.
This I shall always regret ; but one com-
pensation I have, in the opportunity afforded
me of observing how even in advanced age
there may be retained a full capacity for
welcoming a new acquaintance, and for
taking pains to develop and cultivate friend-
ship from acquaintanceship.

" I shall leave it to others who knew Miss


Swanwick better and longer, to speak of her
fine powers and qualities in detail ; and to
consider and estimate her contributions to
the life and literature of her time. I pro-
pose simply to try and give some idea of
the impression she made upon me.

" My first feeling on being introduced to
Miss Swanwick was that she possessed rare
personal attractiveness. Her way of wel-
coming one, exquisitely quiet though it was,
drew one to her as by a spell. And a spell
there was, which by degrees revealed itself
to the observer.

"As to the last Miss Swanwick held some-
thing of a salon, it is worth while to consider
her spell.

" Madame Recamier and Madame Mohl
have left us interesting notes of what they
thought useful means for making salons
successful ; and their means there can be
little doubt are consciously or unconsciously
used by all salon holders.

" But no one surely, admittedly successful in
forming and maintaining a salon, ever used




such simple means as Miss Swanwick. One
word expresses all her means, and her spell.
It was — Love.

" In recalling her in a corner of her pleasant
drawing-room, placed so that she could see
and hear all her guests with ease, with a copy
of Thorwaldsen's beautiful Christ corbelled
out above her, I picture a scene which must
live for ever in many hearts. The statuette,
and the frail figure beneath it, seemed mys-
teriously linked together, and a feeling of
a common discipleship and of a common
brotherhood seemed to me to flow from that
linking, and subtly to diffuse its influence.

" It is not always that the same person is
fitted to shine in intimate and in general
intercourse. Indeed, as a rule, those who
are satisfying in intimate converse do not
shine in general converse ; and vice versa.

" It appeared to me that Miss Swanwick
succeeded in both kinds of converse, and that
this success was due to moral factors even
more than to intellectual ones. To consider
it a little leads me back to what I have
spoken of as Miss Swanwick's spell.


" In various intimate talks she put before
me very clearly her views as to old age.
She had pondered deeply the sequential
nature of the phases of human life, and
held that age when healthful and normal
had its mission and its usefulness as truly
as have youth and maturity. There was
no tendency in her to murmur or com-
plain about the limitations of age. On the
contrary she accepted them — reduced physical
capability, reduced intellectual creative power,
as positively helpful in the discharge of the
supreme mission of age. This mission she
again and again pressed upon me, is — to
love. Listening to her I could not but
think of the conclusion reached by one of
England's too little remembered thinkers :

" ' What crafte is best to lerne ? ' asks
Langland ; and

" ' Lerne to love,' is his emphatic answer.

" The full work of a long life was necessary,
Miss Swanwick seemed to think, for cultiva-
ting sympathetic, interpretive love. Leisure
too, she seemed to think, was needed to


develop the power of sympathetic loving.
Suggestive this, in view of the rush allowed
more and more to pervade the life of to-day !
"But if Miss Swanwick thought that the
mission of old age was — to love, it is neces-
sary to try and give some idea of what she
understood by love. To love, in her sense,
meant a wide sympathy which presupposed a
wide adaptiveness ; and this, in turn, pre-
supposed great knowledge and experience.
Such sympathy could only be the outcome
of a life diligently spent in youth and
maturity, using all its powers vigorously
and wisely. The old age which was so rich
in its powers, and so happy and beautiful
in Anna Swanwick, was the logical outcome
of a wisely lived life. She had worked
diligently and devotedly, but wisely. She
had not exhausted herself or rendered her-
self incapable of completing her mission
through constant oi^rwork or impatience.
Very sure am I that the usefulness and
beauty of the closing years of her life were
fully equal to those of her maturity.


" I have dwelt on this topic because it has
an universal interest. In the course of
nature old age must come to all, and there
can be no doubt that the failure to provide
morally and intellectually for old age and
to consider its duties important is so com-
mon a mistake, and one which leads to so
much waste of precious possibilities and to
so much unhappiness, that it is well worth
while to study an example of happy and
useful old age and learn its secret. The
truth is that the progressive stages of life
have each a peculiar mission. The stages
are meant to succeed and perfect each other.
The saying, ' Whom the gods love die
young,' is the outcome of a narrow and
cowardly view of life. More perfect surely
the picture presented by a life which in
youth, in maturity, and in age has been
spent worthily, and is at last laid down in
a rich and ripe perfection of all that should
accompany old age.

" Miss Swanwick gave me the impression,
too, of having felt profoundly the deep sug-


gestiveness of the surprises which succeeding

states of life hold. She had found in age

beautiful things which she had not known in

her maturity. And if age had brought new

joys, as had youth and maturity before, why

not the next state ? Apart from belief, she

gave me the impression of feeling keen

interest in what would follow age, after

* crossing the bar.*

■ • • • •

" Good talkers are rare, but good conver-
sationalists are rarer. The reason is not far
to seek. To be a good conversationalist
there is needful much power of self-repres-
sion and of self-adaptation. So to speak,
strategy alone may serve a talker, but with-
out skill in tactics no one can hope to shine
as a conversationalist. Indeed, although one
good conversationalist may lead and do
much, really good conversation is only
possible when all present have the moral
qualities above referred to, in addition to
individual ability and information.

" It seemed to me that Miss Swan wick sue-


ceeded both as a conversationalist and as a
talker, but I had most opportunity of judging
of her as a talker. It was striking how uni-
versal were her interests, and her eager
desire to know of the newer developments
in subjects which had special interest for her
was remarkable. And even where she had
no special knowledge her readiness of appre-
hension and her intellectual sympathy were
both refreshing and inspiring. Also she
could listen as well as talk. She gave the
impression that she knew you had much to
say of interest and was anxious to hear it.
She at once established a sympathetic atmo-

"She enjoyed keenly a discussion, and it was
remarkable how strictly she kept to the point
and how logical she was in stating her views.
She fought well, but could admit being
beaten with perfect sweetness ; still there
was no mistaking the gleam of satisfaction in
the dear clear blue eyes if one owned that she
was victor ! What seemed to me, however,
to give her peculiar pleasure was to find that


by quite different lines of reasoning her own
mind and another had reached similar con-
clusions on some subject. ' Then we must
be in the way of Truth,' she would say.

• • • • •

" Miss Swan wick had known many notable
people, both in England and abroad, and her
remarks about them and impressions of them
were always worth hearing. She was a shrewd
observer and spoke her opinions plainly, but
she never made an unkind remark. Indeed
I believe she was incapable of such a thing.

" Her views about translation were in-
teresting. The first condition for success-
ful translation she believed to be strong
mental sympathy with the author, induced
by constant study of his works and by
meditation on them, so that his thoughts
and even way of thinking become in a
measure one's own. In this state happy
translation into one's own language was, she

held, likely to come naturally.

• • . • •

" Her memory was good and stored


with good things. I have heard her re-
peat beautifully, long passages from Words-
worth. This reminds me of a point of im-
portance, the beautiful way in which Miss
Swanwick spoke. Her voice was agreeable
and clear, but it was also well used. She
spoke distinctly and at an easy rate, neither
slowly nor quickly, and her English was
always excellent. No unfinished sentences,
no poverty of diction. The adjectives
especially were always well chosen. The
English language as spoken habitually by
this woman of over eighty was really worth
listening to.

" It is often lamented that those who have
been good talkers and good conversationalists
pass away and that nothing remains but a
memory. There is truth in the lament.
Nevertheless, Papias was not wrong when
he dwelt upon the importance of the
' living voice/ nor was he mistaken when
he called it ' abiding.' Far more than we
of Western civilisation realise, the spoken
word abides. And it always seemed to me


that Miss Swanwick's own talk, and the talk
she inspired about her, maintained the high
level it did because she deeply, though
unconsciously, felt this, and her feeling
communicated itself to others.

" These few notes give, I feel, a feeble idea
of the kind of impression made upon me in
her old age by one of the rare and beautiful
personalities of the Victorian time. But
perfect biographies cannot be written, and
perfect impressions cannot be given."

Margaret Lindsay Huggins.
. . • . .

In 1892 Anna Swanwick published a work
entitled " Poets the Interpreters of Their
Age," with the following interesting dedica-
tion to Dr. Martineau : —

The Rev. James Martineau, LL.D., D.D., D.C.L.,

I dedicate the following Work,

In grateful recognition of the encouragement which he

has given me during its preparation for the Press,

and in remembrance of the unbroken

friendship with which he

has honoured me for a period of

full sixty years.


This volume was the expansion of a paper
which she read to a meeting of a Literary
Society, and it shows how wide was the range
of her studies in literature and her appre-
ciation of all forms of poetic thought and
expression. She wrote to Dr. Martineau
whilst preparing the book for publication
as follows : —

" I feel doubtful whether my work will
ever see the light, but it would be a satis-
faction to me to leave behind me something
which might induce young people to give
more time to the systematic study of poetry,
which, now that the range of their studies
is so widely extended, is, I fear, in danger of
being crowded out. It is this hope which
has encouraged me to persevere in my task,
which has at the same time afforded me such
a delightful occupation, that should my work
never be published I shall not regret the time
bestowed upon it."

She was gratified to hear from Professor
Max Miiller, " I have read a considerable
portion of your work with great delight.


How you must have read and treasured
up ! ...

And from Oliver Wendell Holmes : " I
wish you to know that your work (' Poets
the Interpreters ') delighted me ! "

And after the death of Lord Tennyson
she received a letter from his son : " We
found your book open on his table at
page 103 ('Poets the Interpreters of Their
Age'). He liked what you said in the
little volume, and was reading it shortly
before he passed away."

The following year a small volume on
" Evolution and the Religion of the Future "
was published. This was originally an ad-
dress delivered at a meeting of the Liberal
Social Union and afterwards published in
the Contemporary Review. It was ex-
panded and revised, and reissued in its
present form in 1894.

On her eightieth birthday she was much
gratified by receiving a deputation of ladies
who came to present her with a beautiful
token of their regard. This was a copy of


the black-letter printing of " The History
of Troye " and other works, reproduced by
Morris in six volumes, and containing on the
illuminated flyleaf the following inscription
signed by thirty-five ladies : —


" In asking your acceptance of the accompanying
Works we desire to express our respect for one whose
life has shown that it is possible to combine eager
hopes for the future with loyal reverence for the Past,
and whose sympathy has continually helped and en-
couraged all earnest efforts to promote the development
of the useful work of women.

"Dated June and, 1893."

Although she felt the burden of advancing
years and was often incapacitated by illness,
she kept up her interest in everything that
was going on in the world as keenly as she
had done in the prime of life. That her
intellect was as clear as in youth is shown
by the following extract from letters.
Writing to a friend she says : —

" In Greek I have been re-reading with
fresh delight the * Apologia ' and * The
Phaedo,' and feel as I always do in reading


Plato that he lifts one up into a higher
sphere. I have also read for the first time
Plato's KpLTtov, which represents Socrates
under a very noble aspect — one is reminded
of what Alcibiades says in the ' Symposium '
respecting the utterances of Socrates, ' that
they are so supremely beautiful, so golden,
so divine and wonderful, that everything he
commands surely ought to be obeyed, even
like the voice of a God ! ' "

Again she writes : —

" I am reading with great interest and
admiration Dr. Martineau's ' Types of
Ethical Theory.' It is an admirable work,
but cannot be read hastily, every page
requires consideration. . . ."

In letters to Dr. Martineau she writes
thus on a subject which occupied her
thoughts more and more as life went on,
namely, the growing agnosticism of the
age : —

" It is my conviction that, if the coming
generations are not to drift into agnosticism
and other dreary forms of unbelief, their


affections must be kindled and their rever-
ence awakened by the surpassing beauty of
the character of the grand central figure
of Christendom." . . . Again, " The ten-
dency of the age is to underrate the amazing
spiritual force put forth by the founder of
Christianity, which, combined with his
unique historical position, renders him a
centre round whom has gathered, and I
believe will continue to gather, the grati-
tude, the appreciation, and the reverence of
humanity. These sentiments towards Jesus
Christ appear to me to be quite compatible
with the Theistic principle that God is the
sole object of adoration ; at the same time
they satisfy a deep want in human nature,
and in my judgment supply the bond which
will eventually unite the members of the
human race into one brotherhood, bowing
down with him in adoration to his God and
our God, to his Father and our Father. . . .
" It seems to me that the great want of the
age is a faith at once spiritual and reasonable,
and the orthodox doctrines (as popularly


understood) do not even profess to satisfy
the reason."

After speaking of her doubts about
becoming a member of the Ethical Society,
she continues : —

" It appears to me to be supremely im-
portant that the Moral Law should be
recognised as resting upon a divine basis, and
be thus invested with authority capable of
controlling the passions of men, and enabling
them to resist temptation. Now the teaching
of the Ethical Society, one fundamental
principle of which is, that the moral law
rests upon no outward authority, not only
ignores the divine ground of that law, but is
directly opposed to it. Nevertheless, a good
life and good conduct are so supremely
important, and so little regard is paid to the
teaching of morals, either in our schools or
from the pulpit, that there is, I think, a wide
sphere of influence open to the Ethical
Society. . . ."

Extract from a letter from Dr. Martineau
in answer to one about the Ethical Society: —


" I do not wonder that you find it a
knotty problem to decide between the claims
and the defects of the Ethical Societies.
It is impossible not to welcome moral culture
and coherent moral convictions on any
terms where they can be induced or increased
in minds previously ill-furnished with them.
And for the many who in these days have
become alienated from ail theological belief,
there is great need of some provision for
holding fast the reverence for right, and
clearing the order of moral obligations. For
them, ethics are at the summit of life, the
crown of its meaning ; and to sweep the
clouds away from them can only increase the
blessing of light But then you must be pre-
pared to accept whatever may be shown you
as the cloud is driven away — whatever is hid
beneath the mystery of Duty ; even though
that should be the very Presence Divine, the
pre-supposition of which you had renounced
at the beginning.

" Now against this the Ethical Society
makes express provision. It insists on holding


Ethics to a neutral position towards Theism —
none the worse for being without it, none
the better for being with it ; having no
dependence upon it for either root or

" This assumed isolation of Ethics and
elimination of the Theological idea from its
meaning and contents, is to me the falsest of
all the propositions that have been advanced
on the subject, It simply assassinates the
living object of study at the outset, and then
proceeds to dismember and dissect its
corpse. . . .

" The Ethical Societies by their attempt to
be rid of Theoiogy, cripple their theories of
anticipation, and leave no scope for more
than the morality of expediency or of
ungrounded sentiment. For this reason I
have never been able to join them, or to
expect more from them than the personal
satisfaction of the members who find a plea-
sant fellowship in them."

In another letter to Dr. Martineau she
wrote : —


" I fully recognise the importance of dis-
covering and tracing to their source the
mythological elements in the life of Jesus,
and not less important is the task of winnow-
ing his reputed utterances and of separating
the chaff and other foreign accretions with
which they have become associated, from the
golden grain which remains after the process
of elimination has been completed. These
golden words, embodying the fundamental
truths of religion, appear to me to be
infinitely precious, and no work to be more
important than to unfold their meaning, and
to form an adequate conception of the
sublime soul of which they are the expression.
Wonderful indeed must have been the mind
which, in spite of the false halo by which it
has been surrounded, has continued to win
the love and reverence of mankind. In the
present day when, owing to the breaking up
of traditional Christianity, so many are drift-
ing into agnosticism, supreme importance
attaches to the example of unswerving faith
in spiritual realities (supplied) by Jesus


Christ. Moreover, occupying, as he does, a
unique position in history, and commanding
the sympathies of Christendom, he forms a
bond of union between the various sections of
the Christian Church, and acts as the friend
and elder Brother of us all. It is my earnest
hope that, when shorn of all meretricious
adjuncts, by the simple grandeur of his soul,
and from his unique historical position, he
will continue to be the common centre of our
reverence and love."

Extract from another letter : —

" I have been reading with great interest
* Natural Law in the Spiritual World/
The chapters on ' Biogenesis,' ' Eternal
Life/ and others, though very interesting
and suggestive, do not satisfy me. In draw-
ing, as the author does, an absolute line of
demarcation between the so-called carnal and
spiritual mind, making the latter depend for
its existence and subsequent development
upon an external influence, of which Christ
is the Medium, he seems to me to ignore the
divine character of man's higher nature as


exhibited by Socrates and other noble charac-
ters before the advent of Christianity. I
cannot regard the moral qualities displayed
by them, and their noble aspirations after
truth and goodness, as mere lifeless crystals !
It is my firm belief that those who have
hungered and thirsted after righteousness,
though without any knowledge of Christ, will
be filled, even though it be unconsciously,
with the Spirit of God ! Fidelity to our
highest ideal, if that ideal be in harmony with
the law of our being, appears to me the con-
dition appointed by God Himself for contact
between the divine and human mind ; of
course, where this contact rises into direct
communion, the highest form of spiritual
life is developed."

As the years went on, and the century
drew to a close, one after another of the

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 9 of 12)