If the lives of our poets had been written with the same attention to the placing of their abodes as clearly before you as that of Mrs. Hemans has been, both by Mr. Chorley and by her own sister, it might have saved me some thousand of miles of travel to visit and see them for myself.
Felicia Dorothea Browne, the future poetess, bearing the familiar name of Mrs. Hemans, was horn in Duke-street, Liverpool, on the 25th of September, 1793. The house is still pointed out to strangers, but has nothing besides this event to give it a distinction from other town houses. Her father was a considerable merchant, a native of Ireland. There seems to have been a particular connexion with the state of Venice, for her mother was descended from an old Italian family. Her father was the Imperial and Tuscan Consul at Liverpool. The old name of Mrs. Hemans's maternal ancestry is said to have been Veniero, but had got corrupted to the German name of Wagner. Mrs. Hemans was the fifth of seven children, one of whom died in infancy. Before she was seven years old, her father, having suffered losses in trade, retired from business, and settled at Gwrych, near Abergele, in Denbighshire, close to the sea, in a large, old, solitary mansion, shut in by a range of rocky mountains. Here the family resided nine years, so that the greater and more sensitive part of her girlhood was passed here. She was sixteen when they removed. Here, then, the intense love of nature and of poetry, which distinguished her, grew and took its full possession of her. How strong this attachment to the beauty and fresh liberty of nature had become by her eleventh year, was shown by the restraint which she felt in passing a winter in London, at that age, with her father and mother; and her intense longing to be back. Her rambles on the shore, and amongst the hills; her wide range through that old house, with a good library, and the companionship of her brothers and sisters, were all deeply calculated to call forth the spirit of poetry in any heart in which it lay. Her elder sister died; and she turned for companionship to her younger sister, since her biographer, and her younger brother, Claude Scott Browne, who also died young. Her two elder brothers, who with her younger sister only remain, became officers in the army; and this added a strong martial tendency to the spirit of her genius. Her mother, who was a very noble-minded and accomplished woman, bestowed great care on her education, and her access to books filled her mind with all the food that the young and poetical heart craves for. The Bible and Shakspeare were her two great books; and the traces of their influence are conspicuous enough in the genuine piety and the lofty imagery of her writing. She used to read Shakspeare amongst the branches of an old apple-tree. in this secret retreat, and in the nut wood, the old arbour and its swing, the post-office tree — a hollow tree, where the family put letters for each other, the pool where they launched their little ships, used to be referred to by her as belonging to a perfect elysium of childhood. She was fond of dwelling on "the strange creeping awe with which the solitude and stillness of Gwrych inspired her." It had the reputation of being haunted — another spur to the imaginative faculty. There was a tradition of a fairy greyhound, which kept watch at the end of the avenue, and she used to sally forth by moonlight to get a sight of it. The sea-shore was, however, her favourite resort; and one of her biographers states that it was a favourite freak of hers, when quite a child, to get up of a summer night, when the servants fancied her safe in bed, and making her way to the water side, indulge in a stolen bathe. The sound of the ocean, and the melancholy sights of wreck and ruin which follow a storm, are said to have made an indelible impression upon her mind, and gave their colouring and imagery — "A sound and a gleam of the moaning sea," to many of her lyrics. In short, a situation cannot be imagined, more certain to call forth and foster all the elements of poetry than this of the girlhood of Mrs. Hemans. To the forms of nature, wild, lonely, and awful, the people, with their traditions, their music, and their interesting characteristics, added a crowning spell. The young poetess was rapidly springing in this delightful wilderness into the woman. She is described by her sister, at fifteen, as "in the full glow of that radiant beauty which was destined to fade so early. The mantling bloom of her cheeks was shaded by a profusion of natural ringlets, of a rich, golden brown; and the ever-varying expression of her brilliant eyes gave a changeful play to her countenance, which would have made it impossible for any painter to do justice to it."
According to all accounts, at this period she was one of the most lovely and fascinating creatures imaginable; she was at once beautiful, warm-hearted, and enthusiastic. Her days had been spent in wandering through mountain and glen, and along the sea-shore, with her brothers and sister, or in brooding over the pages of Froissart and Shakspeare. Her mind was full of visions of romance, her heart of thrilling sensibilities; and at this moment the feeling of martial glory came to add a new enthusiasm to her character. Her two elder brothers were in the army, and one was fighting in Spain. There were many poetic and chivalrous associations with this country, which now were felt by her with double force, and which turned all her heart and imagination in this direction. In this critical hour, a young officer who was visiting in the neighbourhood was introduced to the family, and her fate was decided. It was Captain Hemans. The hero of the hour, he became completely so, when he also set sail for Spain. It was natural for so and poetic a damsel to contemplate him as a warrior doing battle for the deliverance of that land of Gothic and of Moorish romance, in the most delusive colouring. When he returned, it was to become her husband in an ill-fated marriage.
In the mean time, in 1809, and when she was about seventeen, her family quilted Gwrych, so long her happy home. Since then the greater part of the house has been pulled down, and a baronial-looking castle has arisen in its stead, the seat of Mr. Lloyd Bamford Hesketh. Bronwylfa, near St. Asaph, in Flintshire, became the residence of her family. Here she lived for about three years, or till 1812, when Captain Hemans returned, and they were married. For a short time she lived with her husband at Daventry, when they returned to Bronwylfa, where they lived till 1818, or about six years, the whole period of their married life that they lived together. From that time till the death of Mrs. Hemans, seventeen years more, they lived apart — she in Wales, England, and Ireland, he in Italy.
At the time of Captain Hemans's first acquaintance with her, or in 1808, she was already an avowed poetess, having not only written much verse, but having already published a volume. While they lived together, though called upon to care for a rapidly increasing family, — for at the time of Captain Hemans's departure for Italy he was the father of five boys, — she still pursued her studies, and wrote and published her poems. In 1812 appeared, Domestic Affections and other Poems; and soon after, Tales and Historic Scenes. After her husband's departure she continued her writing with undaunted fortitude. In 1819 she contended for the prize for a poem on Sir William Wallace, and bore it away from a host of competitors. In 1820 she published, The Sceptic; and the following year she won another prize from the Royal Society of Literature, for the best poem on Dartmoor. From this time Mrs. Hemans may be said to be fairly before the public; and her fame, from year to year, continued steadily to advance. There is something admirable in the manner in which Mrs. Hemans, as a deserted wife, her father also now being dead, and at such a distance from literary world, marched on her way, and at every step won some fresh ground of honour. During this period she made a firm and fatherly friend of Dr. Luxmore, the bishop of St. Asaph, and, at his house, became acquainted with Reginald Heber. Her sister returning from a visit to Germany, where one of her brothers then was, brought with her a store of German books, and a great enthusiasm about German literature. This opened up to her a new field of intellectual life, and produced a decided effect on her poetic tone and style. From the hour of Mrs. Hemans's acquaintance with the German literature, you perceive that she had discovered her own forte, and a new life of tenderness and feeling was manifest in all she wrote. She became an almost constant writer in Blackwoods and Colburn's Magazines. Schiller, Goethe, Korner, and Tieck, — how sensibly is the influence of their spirit felt in The Forest Sanctuary; how different was the tone of this to all which had gone before! The cold classical model was abandoned, the heart and the fancy spoke out in every line, warm, free, solemn, and tenderly thoughtful. She dared the stage, in The Vespers of Palermo; and though the tragedy was cruelly used in London, she bore up bravely against the unkindness, and was afterwards rewarded by a reception of it in Edinburgh, as cordially rapturous, and which brought her the friendship of Sir Walter Scott.
In 1825, Mrs. Hemans made another remove, though but a short one. The house in which she lived at Bronwylfa had been purchased by her elder brother, who came to live in it; and she, with her mother, sister, and her children, removed about a quarter of a mile, to Rhyllon, yet in full view of the old house. This house at Rhyllon is described as being a tall, staring, brick building, almost destitute of trees, of creepers on the walls, or of shrubbery; while Bronwylfa, on the contrary, was a perfect bower of roses, peeping, says her sister, like a bird's nest out of the foliage in which it was embosomed. "In spite, however," continues the same sisterly biographer, "of the unromantic exterior of her new abode, the earlier part of Mrs. Hemans's residence at Rhyllon may, perhaps, be considered its the happiest of her life; as far, at least, as the term happiness could ever be fitly applied to any period of it later than childhood. The house, with all its ugliness, was large and convenient; the view from the windows beautiful and extensive; and its situation, on a fine green slope, terminating in a pretty woodland dingle, peculiarly healthy and cheerful. Never, perhaps, had she more thorough enjoyment of her boys than in witnessing and often joining in their sports, in those pleasant, breezy fields, where the kites soared so triumphantly, and the hoops trundled so merrily, and where the cowslips grew as cowslips never grew before. An atmosphere of home soon gathered round the dwelling; roses were planted, and honeysuckles trained; and the rustling of the solitary poplar near the window was taken to her heart, like the voice of a friend. The dingle became a favourite haunt, where she would pass many dream-like hours of enjoyment with her books, and her own sweet fancies, and her children playing around her. Every tree, and flower, and tuft of moss that sprung amidst its green recesses, was invested with some individual charm by that rich imagination, so skilled in
Clothing the palpable and the familiar
With golden exhalations of the dawn.
Here, on what the boys would call "mamma's sofa," — a little grassy mound under her favourite beech-tree — she first read The Talisman, and has described the scene with a loving minuteness, in her Hour of Romance.
There were thick leaves above me and around,
And low sweet sighs, like those of childhood's sleep,
Amid their dimness, and a fitful sound,
As of soft showers on water. Dark and deep
Lay the oak shadows o'er the turf, so still,
They seemed but pictured glooms; a hidden rill
Made music — such as haunts us in a dream—
Under the fern-tufts and a tender gleam
Of soft green light, as by the glow-worm shed,
Came pouring through the woven beech-boughs down.
Many years after, in the sonnet, To a distant Scene, she addresses, with a fond yearning, this well-remembered haunt—
Still are the cowslips from thy bosom springing,
O far off grassy dell!
How many precious memories has she hung round the thought of the cowslip, that flower, with its "gold coat," and "fairy favours," which is, of all others, so associated with the "voice of happy childhood," and was, to her, ever redolent of the hours when her "Heart so leapt to that sweet laughter's tune!"
Another favourite resort was the picturesque old bridge over the Clwyd; and when her health admitted of more aspiring achievements, she delighted in roaming to the hills; and the announcement of a walk to Cwm, a remote little hamlet, nestled in a mountain hollow amidst very lovely sylvan scenery, about two miles from Rhyllon, would be joyously echoed by her elated companions, to whom the recollection of those happy rambles must always be unspeakably dear. Very often, at the outset of these expeditions, the party would be reinforced by the addition of a certain little Kitty Jones, a child from a neighbouring cottage, who had taken an especial fancy to Mrs. Hemans, and was continually watching her movements. This little creature never saw her without at once attaching itself to her side, and confidingly placing its tiny hand in hers. So great was her love for children, and her repugnance to hurt the feelings of any living creature, that she never would shake off this singular appendage, but let little Kitty rejoice in her "pride of place," till the walk became too long for her capacity, and she would quietly fall back of her own accord.
Those who only know the neighbourhood of St. Asaph from travelling along its highways, can be little aware how much delightful scenery is attainable within walks of two or three miles' distance from Mrs. Hemans's residence. The placid beauty of the CIwyd, and the wilder graces of its sister stream, the Elwy, particularly in the vicinity of "Our Lady's Well" and the interesting rocks and caves at Cefu, are little known to general tourists; though, by the lovers of her poetry, it will be remembered how sweetly she has apostrophized the "Fount of the chapel, with ages grey" and how tenderly, amidst far different scenes, her thoughts reverted to the
Cambrian river, with slow music gilding
By pastoral hills, old woods, and ruined towers.
This is a peep into the daily life of the poetess, which is worth whole volume of ordinary biography. We see her here amid the lonely magnificence of nature; yet, at the same time, surrounded by those affectionate ties that make the only real society on earth. The affectionate mother, the beloved brother and sister, the buoyant hearts and voices of her own children. We see that there and then she was and must be happy. We see how wise was that instinctive love that drew the poetic heart from the flattering and worshipping things of the city, to dwell apart with God, with nature, and with family affection. What has all the society of ordinary city and literary life to equal that? The throng of drawing-rooms, where people stand and look at each other, and remain strangers as much as if they, were sundered by half the globe! Nay, it is not half a globe, it is a whole world of fast succeeding engagements; dissipations that beget indifference; flittings of the eye from face to face, and of the ear from gossip to gossip, where neither eye nor ear ever finds any power or wish for rest, but the heart yawns in insufferable weariness, if decorum keep the mouth shut. It is this dreary world which is thrust between man and man, and kills at once time and enjoyment. What has such a life, with all its petty scandals, and bitterness, and foul criticisms, and rankling jealousies, to compare with the breezy mountain, and the blue sky soaring high above; with the grey ruin, and the rushing river; with the dell and its whispering leaves, soothing down the mind to a peaceful consciousness, in which thoughts of eternity steal into it, and come forth again to the eternal page?
It is a deep consolation to know that the teachers and refiners of men do sometimes enjoy a life thus heavenly, and repose at once on the gracious bosom of nature, and on those of long-tried and beloved friends. Such was, for a time, the life of Mrs. Hemans here. For a time the elements of happiness seemed daily to augment themselves. Her younger brother, a man of a most genial nature, and his amiable wife, came from service in Canada, and settled down among them. The circle of affinity and social pleasure seemed complete; but time rapidly causes a change upon the completest combinations of earth. In rapid succession death and sorrow fell on the house of her elder brother; her mother sickened and died; her younger brother was called to an appointment in Ireland, and her sister was married, and was withdrawn to a distance. The fatal inroad was made into the circle of happiness; and from that time Mrs. Hemans began to contemplate quitting the scene of so many years' sojourn. She made a visit to Liverpool, which ended in her concluding to quit Wales, and settle there, for more congenial society and the education of her children. One of her last pleasures in Wales was the enjoyment of the society of Miss Jewsbury, who passed part of the summer and autumn of 1828 in the neighbourhood of St. Asaph.
For about thirty years she had resided in Wales; the bulk of her life; for she was but about six years of age when her family went to reside there; and she survived her departure from it only the same number of years. The whole of her existence, therefore, excepting that twelve years, was spent in her favourite Wales. For the short remainder of her life she seemed rather a wanderer in the earth than a settled resident. She was at Liverpool, at the Lakes, in Scotland, in Ireland; and there, finally, seldom long in one place.
Her choice of Liverpool seemed to be determined by the consideration of education already mentioned, and by the desire to be near two families to which she was much attached, — those of Mrs. Lawrence, of Wavertree-hall, and the Chorleys, of Liverpool. She took a house in the village of Wavertree, a little apart from the road. It must have been a dreary change from the fine, wild, congenial scenery of North Wales, to the flat, countryless neighbourhood of Liverpool. Nothing, surely, but the sense of maternal duty could have made such a change endurable to a mind like Mrs. Hemans's. This resilience has been described by the author of Pen and Ink Sketches, who, though some of his relations have been much called in question, seems, in this instance, to have stated the simple facts. "The house," he says, "was one of a row, or terrace, as it was called, situated on the high-road, from which it was separated only by the foot-way, and a little flower-garden, surrounded by a whitethorn hedge. I noticed that all the other houses on either side of it were unadorned with flowers; they had either grass lawns or a plain gravel surface; some of them even grew cabbages and French beans, — hers alone had flowers.
"I was shown into a very small apartment, but everything about it indicated that it was the home of genius and taste. Over the mantel-piece hung a fine engraving of William Roscoe, author of the Lives of the De Medici, with a presentation line or two in his own handwriting. The walls were decorated with prints and pictures, and on the mantel-shelf were some models in terra cotta, of Italian groups. On the table lay casts, and medallions, and a portfolio of choice prints and water-colour drawings."
The writer was first received by Miss Jewsbury, who happened to be there, and whom he truly describes as one of the most frank and open-hearted creatures possible. He then adds:—
"It was not long before the poetess entered the room. She held out her hand and welcomed me in the kindest manner, and then sat down opposite to me, first introducing Miss Jewsbury. I cannot well conceive a more exquisitely beautiful creature than Mrs. Hemans was; none of the portraits or busts I have ever seen do her justice, nor is it possible for words to convey to the reader any idea of the matchless, yet serene beauty of her expression. Her glossy waving hair was parted on her forehead, and terminated on the sides in rich and luxuriant auburn curls. There was a dove-like look in her eyes, and yet a chastened sadness in their expression. Her complexion was remarkably clear, and her high forehead looked as pure and spotless as Parian marble. A calm repose, not unmingled with melancholy, was the characteristic expression of the face; but when she smiled, all traces of sorrow were lost, and she seemed to be but 'a little lower than the angels,' — fitting shrine for so pure a mind!"
The writer says that he, some time after, paid a second visit to Wavertree. "Some time I stood before the well-remembered house. The little flower-garden was no more — but rank grass and weeds sprung up luxuriously; the windows were, many of them, broken; the entrance gate was off its hinges; the vine in front of the house trailed along the ground, and a board, with 'This house to Let' upon it, was nailed on the door. I entered the deserted garden, and looked into the little parlour — once so full of taste and elegance; it was gloomy and cheerless. The paper was spotted with damp, and spiders had built their webs in the corners. Involuntarily I turned away; and during my homeward walk mused upon the probable home and enjoyments of the two gifted creatures I had formerly seen there. Both were now beyond the stars; and as I mused on the uncertainty of human life, I exclaimed, with the eloquent Burke, — 'What shadows we are, and what shadows, alas, do we pursue!'"
Spite of the warm and congenial friends Mrs. Hemans had at Liverpool, she soon found that it was not the location for her. She had lost all that her mind and heart had been accustomed to sustain themselves upon in a beautiful country; her hopes of educational advantages were not realized, and she was subjected to all the annoying interruptions which celebrity has to endure from idle curiosity, without any of its attendant advantages. To fly the evils and regain some of her old pleasures, she in 1829 made a journey into Scotland, to visit her friends Mr. Hamilton and his lady, at Chiefswood, near Abbotsford. This, of course, brought her into immediate contact with Sir Walter Scott. She was invited to Abbotsford, and the great minstrel showed her over his estate, and through the classic beauty of all that border-land fame which must from her early years have been regions of deepest romance to a mind like hers. The particulars of this visit, so cheering and delightful to her whole nature, are to be found in the biography written by her sister. She was, of course, received in Edinburgh with the cordial hospitality characteristic of that capital, and which was sure to be shown with double extent, in consequence of her great fame, and the pleasure which every one had derived from her productions. During this visit she was introduced, amongst other distinguished people, to Mrs. Grant, of Laggan; Lord Jeffery; Captain Basil Hall; Mr. Alison; Kirkpatrick Sharpe; Baron Hume; Sir Robert Liston, and the old literary veteran, Henry Mackenzie.
The advantage and the happiness of this visit to the north, determined her the next summer to pay a visit to the Lakes. Here she took up her abode for a fortnight with Wordsworth, at Rydal Mount, and there so charmed was she with the country, and so much did her health need the quiet refreshment of rural retirement, that she took for the remainder of the summer a small cottage overlooking Windermere, called Dove's Nest. But quiet as the spot appeared, secluded as it is, it was a great mistake to suppose that a woman of any reputation could escape the inroads of the Tourist Vandals so near Ambleside, and Lowood. If any one wants to set up for a lion or lioness, let him or her go and take a cottage in the Lake country, there they will be lionized to their heart's content. There, in the height of summer, the whole region is alive with tourists and idlers, who are all on the look out for any novelty; and a literary creature is a fascinating monster, more piquant to the tribe than badger or fox to the old race of Nimrods. If I heard of a literary person settling at the Lakes, I should at once say, that person is anxious to be lionized. But this was not the case with Mrs. Hemans. To avoid all such notoriety, she never, after her reputation was spread, would visit London; she sought for peace, but here she could not find it. "The soothing and healthful repose which had been so thoroughly and thankfully appreciated," says her sister, "was, alas not destined to be of long continuance." Subsequent letters speak of the irruption of parties hunting for lions in Dove's Nest; of a renewal of 'the Album persecution;' of an absolute mail storm of letters and papers, threatening "to boil over the drawer to which they were consigned;" till at last the despairing conclusion is come to that "one might as well hope for peace in the character of a shadowless man as of a literary woman."
The inundation was irresistible and overwhelming; in August she fled in desperation, and again made a journey into Scotland.
Mrs. Hemans had three of her boys with her at Dove's Nest, and they enjoyed the place to perfection. It was just the place for boys to be turned loose in; and with fishing, sketching, and climbing the hill above the Nest, they were in elysium. Her own health, however, was so far undermined now, that she complains in her letter she cannot follow them as she would, but that she is more a child in heart than any of them. Her own description of the Dove's Nest is this: — "The house was originally meant for a small villa, though it has long passed into the hands of farmers; and there is in consequence an air of neglect about the little demesne, which does not at all approach desolation, and yet gives it something of attractive interest. You see everywhere traces of love and care beginning to be effaced; rose trees spread into wildness; laurels darkening the windows with too luxuriant branches; and I cannot help saying to myself, 'Perhaps some heart like my own in its feelings and suffering, has here sought refuge and repose.' The ground is laid out in rather an antiquated style, which, now that nature is beginning to reclaim it from art, I do not at all dislike. There is a little grassy terrace immediately under the window, descending to a small court with a circular grass plat, on which grows one tall white rose tree. You cannot imagine how I delight in that fair, solitary, neglected-looking tree. I am writing to you from an old-fashioned alcove in the little garden, round which the sweetbriar and moss-rose trees have completely run wild; and I look down from it upon lovely Windermere, which seems at this moment even like another sky, so truly is our summer cloud and tint of azure pictured in its transparent mirror."
This cottage is, in fact, a very simple affair. It is regularly let by the people, farmers, who live in one end of it, and who have now built another house near it with farm buildings. It stands perhaps at half the elevation of Professor Wilson's house at Elleray, and not at such a distance from Windermere, and nearer to Lowood inn than to Ambleside. A considerable wild wood ascends above it to the top of the rocky hills, and it seems indeed to have had its place cut out of the front of the wood for it. You can ascend from Lowood by a steep, straight carriage road, all bordered with laurels luxuriantly grown, and overshadowed by forest trees; or you may, if coming from Ambleside, ascend a foot-path, which is by far the most charming way. Yes, a very charming way it is — a regular wild wood walk, reminding you of many of those in Germany. It is narrow, and overhung with hazels, at the time of my visit full of nuts in abundant and large clusters. Here water is running by the way side, clear, and in fleet abundance. The wood opens its still solitudes, ever and anon; and far above you the rocks are seen lifting themselves into the heavens in a grey silence. This wood walk goes on and on, bordered with wild flowers, and odorous with the scent of meadowsweet, till you arrive in about half a mile at the cottage.
This consists of but four rooms in front; two little sitting-rooms, and two bed-rooms over them. It is a little white battlemented affair, with a glass door. The woman of the house pointed out to me the chamber, that on the right hand as you face the house, at which Mrs. Hemans, she said, used to write; and which commands a fine view of the lake and its encircling hills.
The woman is a regular character. She was very violent against steam, railroads, and all sorts of new-fangled things. She wondered what parliament was about that they did not stop the steam. "What are your Sir Robert Peels, your Grahams, and your Stanleys good for, if they cannot stop the steam?" She would make them sit, if she could have her way, till they did some good, for they had done none yet. She almost preferred O'Connell to them, for he did get master of the queen!
"You seem to be a great radical," I said.
"Nay, nay!" she replied; "I'm naw radical. I stick fast to the Church, but I am a great Politic! And what will all those navvies do when the railways are all made? What is to become of the poor boatmen when there are nothing but steamers?" "Well, but has not Mr. Wordsworth written against the railroads?"
"Ay, he may write; but there's more nor Mister Wordsworth now-a-days. People are got too clever now; and if he writes there's twenty ready to write against him."
All the time that the woman was getting on in this style, she had a sort of smile on her face as if she was merely talking for talking's sake; and, as she proceeded, she led the way to show me the garden, which is a very pleasant little retirement, looking down the hill, and towards Lowood upon the lake, and far across to its distant shores and mountains. We then passed into a second garden, at the top of which is the alcove mentioned by Mrs. Hemans. It is in the wall, arched above, and whitewashed within, and with seats set round, and a most luxuriant Ayrshire rose climbing and mantling it about, high and thick. Here, said the woman, Mrs. Hemans sate in the fine weather generally to write. At the lower end of the garden stood the tall white rose tree which Mrs. Hemans so much admired. From this the landlady plucked a flower, and begged me to send it to my wife; as well as a number of moss-roses growing about, which she said Mrs. Hemans admired, but not so much as this white rose. The strange woman, unpolished, but evidently full of strong independent feeling, and keen spirit of observation, was also as evidently possessed of tender feelings too. She declared it often made her melancholy to see that rose tree and that alcove.
"Ah, poor thing!" said she, "it was a pity she did not open her situation sooner; but she did not open her heart enough to her rich relations, who were very fond of her. It was anxiety, sir; it was anxiety, you may depend on it. To maintain five boys, and edicate 'em with one pen, it was too much, you are sure. Ay, I have thought a deal more of her since, than I did at the time; and so many ladies come here, and wish she had but opened her situation sooner, for when government did something for her, it was too late!"
"Did she seem quite well here?"
"Oh, yes; she seemed pretty well, and she had three of her children with her, and well-behaved, nice children they were. Charles, they tell me, is turned Catholic, and Henry is gone abroad, and Claude is dead. Who could have believed it, when they were all so merry here! Poor thing if she had but made known her situation — it was wearing her away. Mr. Graves, who was the tutor to the boys, and is now rector of Bowness, came here with the boys when she went to Dublin, and she was to come back; and be with me by the year; and then the boys could have been still with Mr. Graves, for he got the living just then. He always comes to tell me when he hears anything about them — and her husband is dead too, I hear."
Such was the woman's information, and there may he more truth in it than we would like to believe. There can be no doubt that Mrs. Hemans taxed all her strength and power to maintain her family. It is not to be believed but that her brothers and sister, who were well off, did all she would allow them to do; but we know the honourable pride of a truly noble mind, — not to be burdensome when it can itself do its own work. How sensitive and shrinking it is! That Mrs. Hemans, in her praiseworthy endeavour to furnish the means of her boys' education, did overtax herself, and was obliged to write more than either her inclination or her true fame prompted, we have the evidence of herself in one of her very last letters to her friend Mrs. Lawrence. "You know into how rugged a channel the poor little stream of my life has been forced, and through what rocks it has wrought its way and it is now longing for repose in some still valley. It has ever been one of my regrets that the constant necessity of providing sums of money to meet the exigencies of the boys' education has obliged me to waste my mind in what I consider mere desultory effusions:
Pouring myself away,
As a wild bird, amidst the foliage, tunes
That which within him thrill, and beats, and burns,
Into a fleeting lay.
"My wish ever was to concentrate all my mental energy in the production of some more noble and complete work, something of pure and holy excellence which might permanently take its place is the work of a British poetess. I have always hitherto written as if in the breaking times of storms and billows. Perhaps is it may not even yet be too late to accomplish what I wish, though I sometimes feel my health so deeply penetrated that I cannot imagine how I am ever to be raised up again. But a greater freedom from these cares, of which I have been obliged to bear up under the whole responsibility, may do much to restore me; and through my spirits are greatly subdued by long sickness, I feel the powers of my mind in full maturity."
This is a plain enough confession; — and it is the old melancholy story, of genius fighting for the world, and borne down by the world which should he its friend. Once more, and for the ten thousandth time under such circumstances we must exclaim with Shakspeare — "O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!" We have here the bright, warm-hearted, fascinating girl of Bronwylfa, full of all the romance of life and the glorious visions of poetry, now sinking the martyr of the heart betrayed in its tenderest trust, doomed to labour like Pegasus in the peasant's cart and harness, perishing of exhaustion, and feeling that the unequal contest of life had yet left undeveloped the full affluence of the spirit. I could not avoid gazing again on the empty alcove, — the beautiful prospect, and the wildly-growing white rose, and feeling the full contagion of their and the good woman's melancholy.
But at once, out broke the strange creature with a different look and tone — "And we have now got another writer-lady down at Ambleside."
"Nay, nothing of the sort; another guess sort of person, I can tell you."
"Why, who is that?"
"Who is that? Why Miss Martineau they call her. They tell me she wrote up the Reform Bill for Lord Brougham; and that she's come from the Lambtons here and that she's writing now about the taxes. Can she stop the steam, eh? can she, think you? Nay, nay, I warrant, big and strong as she is. Ha! ha! good lauk! as I met her the other day walking along the muddy road below here — 'Is it a woman, or a man, or what sort of an a animal is it?' said I to myself. There she came stride, stride, — great heavy shoes, — stout leather leggins on, — and a knapsack on her back! Ha! ha! that's a political comicalist, they say. Whats that? Do they mean that she can stop steam? But I said to my husband — goodness! but that would have been a wife for you. Why she'd ha' ploughed! and they say she mows her own grass, and digs her own cabbage and potatoes! Ha! ha! well, we see some queer 'uns here. Wordsworth should write a poem on her. What was Peter Bell to a comicalist?"
The good woman laughed outrageously at the images she had raised in her own mind, and infected by her mirth, as I had been by her melancholy, I bade her good bye. Her husband, a quiet man, sate all this time, and spite of all our talk, never for one moment looked up from his newspaper, nor uttered a syllable. Possibly he might be deaf; otherwise he was as impassive as an old Indian.
The warnings of failing health which often operate insensibly on the mind, seemed now to draw Mrs. Hemans towards the society of her younger brother and his amiable wife, who were then settled in Ireland, and were living at the hermitage near Kilkenny, where Colonel Browne was acting as a stipendiary magistrate. Here she joined them, and from this point visited Woodstock near Thomas-town, the residence of Mrs. Tighe, and where she is buried. At these places we must not linger. Her brother removed to Dublin, as Commissioner of Police, and she went there also. It was in 1831 that she took up her abode in Dublin. She first resided in Upper Pembroke-street; then removed to 36, Stephen's-green, and finally to 20, Dawson-street, still within a hundred yards of Stephen's-green or so.
It is needless to say that, in Dublin, Mrs. Hemans received all the respect that was due to her genius and virtues; but her health was so delicate, as to oblige her to live as quietly as possible. Her boys were now a good deal off her hands, or, rather, did not require her immediate attention. And she was enabled, the first autumn of her abode in Dublin, to make an excursion to the mountains of Wicklow. Dawson-street was well situated for quietness and airiness. Stephen's-green is one of the largest squares in the world, far larger than any London one. While she resided in it, she had a set of back rooms, the noise of Upper Pembroke-street having been too much for her. The College grounds, of great extent, are at the bottom of Dawson-street, this spacious green at it top. And near, are Merrion-square, and the gardens of what was once the palace of the Duke of Leinster; so that no part of Dublin could offer more openness. Her lodgings in Dawson-street consisted of the apartments over the shop of the proprietor, Mr. Jolliffe, a very respectable tailor. These could, London fashion, be thrown into one drawing-room, but were generally used as two rooms; and in the back room she nearly always sate and wrote.
In 1833, her sister and brother-in-law arrived in Dublin, and Mrs. Hemans and they met after a five years' separation. "The ravages of sickness," says her sister, "on her worn and faded form, were painfully apparent to those who had not seen her for so long; yet her spirits rallied to all their wonted cheerfulness, and the powers of her mind seemed more vivid and vigorous than ever. With all her own cordial kindliness, she busied herself in forming various plans for the interest and amusement of her visitors; and many happy hours of delightful converse, and old home communion, were passed by her and her sister in her two favourite resorts, the lawn of the once stately mansion of the Duke of Leinster, now occupied by the Dublin Society, and the spacious gardens of Stephen's-green.
In the gardens of the Dublin Society, Mrs. Hemans took that cold which, seizing on an already enfeebled frame, terminated fatally. She had one day taken a book with her, and was so much absorbed by it, that she was thoroughly chilled by the autumnal fog; and feeling a shudder pass through her frame, she hastened home, already filled with a strong presentiment that her hours were numbered.
In her illness, by which she was gradually wasted to a skeleton, she enjoyed all the consolations which affection can bestow. Her sister attended her assiduously till she was called away by the serious illness of her husband. Her place was then tenderly supplied by her sister-in-law, the lady of Colonel Browne; and her son Charles was with her the whole time; George, now a prosperous engineer, for some days; and Henry, then a schoolboy at Shrewsbury, likewise, during the Christmas holidays. For a time, she was removed to Redesdale, a seat of the Archbishop of Dublin, about seven miles from the city; but she returned, and died in Dawson-street, on the 16th of May, 1835. During her last illness, she wrote some of the finest poetry that she ever produced, especially that most soul-full effusion, Despondency and Aspiration; and the Sabbath Sonnet; which she dedicated to her brother, less than three weeks before her death, the last of her lays.
Her remains were interred in a vault beneath St. Ann's church, but a short distance from her house, on the same side of the street; where, on the wall, under the gallery, on the right hand, as you enter, you observe a tablet, bearing this inscription—
"In the vault beneath are deposited the Mortal Remains of Felicia Hemans, who died, May 16, 1835.
Calm on the bosom of thy God,
Fair spirit, rest thee now;
Even while with us thy footsteps trod,
His seal was on thy brow.
Dust to its narrow house beneath,
Soul to its place on high!
They that have seen thy look in death
No more will fear to die."
The same vault, as nearly as possible three years afterwards, received the remains of her faithful and very superior servant, Anna Creer, a native of the Isle of Man, who had lived with her seven years, and, after her death, married Mr. Jolliffe, the master of the house. The worthy man was much affected in speaking of the circumstance, and bore also the highest testimony to the character of Mrs. Hemans, saying, "it was impossible for any one to know her without loving her." To such a tribute, what can be added? The perfection of human character is to excite at once admiration and lasting affection.