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"Isa Craig"


Victorian social reformer, women's rights activist,
journalist, poetess and novelist.


". . . . Here is a human being sunk to the lips in sin and suffering, unable to extricate herself, haunted by thoughts of self-destruction.  Let her alone: cold, hunger, and disease will soon put an end to her sufferings; or in the kindly December darkness, she may drop into the murky Thames.  This, perhaps, is the 'cold-blooded economical' way of disposing of the case. . . ."

From....Emigration as a Preventive Agency
A paper by Isa Craig, 1858.

". . . . To be told that you are not wanted, that in the great busy world there is no need for you, that you and yours might perish unregarded, and never be missed out of the multitude, must be a bitter experience, and yet it is a common one; alas! so very common. "

From....Peggy Oglivie's Inheritance
A novel by Isa Craig.

" . . . . Under the wing of a national school in Dublin there is a ragged school of a kind which appears to meet the necessities of the case . . . . . to secure regular attendance it is found necessary to furnish the first meal of the day, a simple piece of bread, as the children are often kept at home till it can be earned or begged, so entire is the destitution of their homes."

From . . . . Education in Ireland
A paper by Isa Craig, 1861.

"I have simply expressed the thoughts and feelings suggested by nature and the scenes of life in the tone and language that came at their command.  Recognising in poetry an art to be cultivated with enthusiasm for its own sake, as well as the sake of the refined enjoyment which its exercise bestows, I have aspired as far as possible to render these poems artistic efforts."

Isa Craig.

"Girls must marry," she said, "especially girls who have nothing.  What else can they do?  They are a burden on their friends, that's all, and discontented with their lot; and they can't pick and choose like a man.  They must wait for an offer, and it's not every girl who has more chances than one.  They can't afford to throw away a good one."

A Victorian woman's view on marriage, from . . . . Heroine of Home
A novel by Isa Craig.


ISABELLA CRAIG, the only child of John Craig, a Scottish hosier and glover, was born in Edinburgh on October 17, 1831.  Following the death of her parents while she was still a child, Isa lived with her grandmother, attending school until 1840―there is a suggestion in some contemporary publications that she may have contributed to the family income by needle-work.  In 1853, Isa secured a position on the staff of The Scotsman, writing literary reviews and articles on social questions; she had already from an early age contributed poems (signed either "Isa" or "C.") to The Scotsman and to various periodicals, and in 1856 her first volume of poems ("Poems by Isa") was published by Blackwood of Edinburgh.


THE violet in thy shade all meekly lies,
And spends its hidden life in sweet perfume,
Till, meekly shutting up its dying eyes,
It yields to fresher buds a space to bloom.
The apple stands not on the wind-swept hill,
Where storms may toss its branches to and fro,
And nip its blossoms with untimely chill,
In their first crimson flush, ere pale they grow,
To their white death; but in the vale it dwells,
Spreading its cloud of bloom, delicious show!
And golden green and ruddy fruitage swells,
Till heavy hangs the richly-laden bough:

And thus within the heart that lieth low,
The fruits of love to all their fulness grow.


     In 1856 Isa met Elizabeth ("Bessie") Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)a campaigner for women's rights, journalist, poetess and authorthe pair contributing to a Glasgow women's periodical, the Waverley Journal.  Bessie, who became its Editor in April 1857, advertised the paper as "a working woman's journal" and later established an office in Princes Street, London, where Isa  assisted her.


HE WAVERLEY. A Working-Woman's Journal; devoted to the legal and industrial interests of women.  Edited by Bessie Rayner Parkes.  Published fortnightly.  Price 4p.  To be had from the office, 14A,  Princes Street, Cavendish Square; and from Tweedie, 337, Strand.  Also at 147, Fleet Street.


An advertisement appearing in G. J. Holyoake's 'The Reasoner', 28 October, 1857.

    In 1857 Isa moved to London where she took up an appointment as Assistant Secretary of the "National Association for the Promotion of Social Science" (NAPSS); the Secretary was barrister G. W. Hastings, son of Dr. Sir Charles Hastings, founder of what was to become the British Medical Association.  The English Woman's Journal strongly supported both NAPSS and the new "Ladies' Sanitary Association", founded by NAPSS to carry 'a social and sanitary crusade' into the homes of the poor.  Between 1857 and its final conference in 1884, NAPSS served as a forum for discussion on Victorian social questions (approximately five thousand papers were delivered to the Association, published in nearly fifty volumes) and acted as an influential adviser to governments.  It attracted many powerful contributors, including politicians, civil servants, the first British feminists, intellectuals (such as John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley) and reformers, and influenced policy and legislation on matters as diverse as public health and women’s legal and social emancipation.  Mary Carpenter, famous for her work with ragged and criminal children, reputedly became the first woman to speak in public in Britain when she addressed the Association’s inaugural congress in Birmingham in October 1857.

Emigration as a Preventive Agency: a paper by Isa Craig.


The Times
1st February 1859

Advertisement.—Isa Craig and "The English Woman's Journal."—The new number of "The English Woman's Journal" for February 1 contains a new poem by Isa Craig, "The Ballad of the Brides of Quair."  Miss Craig has been a regular contributor to "The English Woman's Journal" since its commencement in March, 1858.  Readers will find her full signature in the numbers of June and January to a poem and a prose article.  Published by "The English Woman's Journal" Company, limited, at their office, 14a, Princes-street, Cavendish-square, W., and by Piper and Co., Paternoster-row.  Price, 1s.

   The Waverley Journal had ceased publication by 1858, but it was soon followed by the English Woman's Journal, which was supported by other committed independent women among whom were Matilda Mary Hays (1820?–1897: novelist, translator of George Sand and the Journal's co-editor); Adelaide Anne Procter (1826-64: poetess and women's activist); Emily Faithfull (1835-95: publisher, lecturer and women's activist; a Surrey rector's daughter, Emily later founded the Victoria Press where she trained young working-class women as compositors); and Maria Susan Rye (1829–1903) social reformer, promoter of emigration and briefly Secretary of the committee to reform the law on married women's property, who was especially interested in finding work for educated middle-class women.  Maria established an office to copy legal documents in Lincolns Inn Fields,  and was a founder of the "Female Middle-Class Emigration Society" (in her "Recollections", Isabella Fyvie Mayo describes Maria as "a tall lady, severe of aspect and speech.")  Sarah Lewin was employed as secretary and bookkeeper.  In December 1859, the Journal moved to more spacious premises at 19, Langham Place, where a reading room and coffee shop were provided, and associated societies could meet to develop initiatives.

The Times
18th November 1859

Sir,—As you have called public attention to the subject of the employment of women, I beg to inform you that at a meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science yesterday it was moved by Mr. G. W. Hastings, and seconded by the Hon. Arthur Kinnaird, M.P., and carried,—
    "That the following be appointed a committee to consider and report to the council on the best means which the association can adopt to assist and present movement for increasing the industrial employment of women—the Right Hon. the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Hon. A. Kinnaird, M.P., Mr. E. Ackroyd, Mr. Hastings, Miss Adelaide Proctor, Miss Boucherette, Miss Faithfull, Miss Craig."
    If you will kindly insert this letter in your columns it will greatly facilitate the object of the committee, which is to obtain information as to the channels already open to female industry, and as to the opening of others into which it would be desirable to direct it.  As secretary to the committee, I shall be happy to receive any communications on the subject, and am, Sir, yours obediently,


3, Waterloo-place, Pall-mall, S.W., Nov. 17.



In 1860, Maria Rye established the Telegraph School for Women at 6 Great Coram Street, London, one of several organisations she established to further female employment.  Rye had previously published ‘The Rise and Progress of the Telegraphs’ in 1859.  Isa Craig served as the school's Secretary.

 The major theme of the English Woman's Journal was employment, and associated with it were the needs to improve the education of women of all classes and the social responsibilities of middle-class women for working-class women.  These concerns raised the issue of the appropriate division of labour between men and women and the extent to which these feminists supported the employment of married women.  Questions about class and status were also significant.  Women who sought employment seemed too often constrained by notions of gentility and the appropriateness of employment for a 'lady' . . . .

'EMPLOYMENT FOR WOMEN,—Miss Isa Craig addresses the following as a letter to the Times :—

"The cause of working-women has found an able and generous advocate in 'S.G.O.' [Ed.―letter below].  He touches the heart of the question when he maintains that in securing her independence the dignity of woman is deeply concerned.  The power of independent industry, which saves her from a mercenary marriage, renders her equally free to serve the needs of the world, or to become the fit and noble helpmate of a working man—and in these days, what Englishman is not a worker by hand or brain?  Brave champion that we have found in 'S.G.O.,' we have—I do not mean to be strictly statistical—five million good as he.  We have the great body of the respectable working-classes, as our manual workers are distinctly called, whose sisters and daughters are independent labourers in many branches of non-domestic industry; we hope the time is coming when they will see their true interests, and withdraw their wives from the labour market.  But among them, closer to the heart of nature, coming in contact with the great human needs of soul and body in their simplest forms, the 'communion of labour' may often be found in its highest possible perfection.  Then we have the large lower-middle class, whose husbands and fathers know the value of their womankind as clerks and shopkeepers, limited as their education has been.  Higher in the social scale, cultivated men seek eagerly the help and companionship of cultivated women.  It seems therefore, that the views of your correspondent must be mistaken, or must be held by only a very limited class of society, whose opinions cannot deserve notice.  These 'lords of creation,' these despisers of women, are not many among 'those who hold their heads high' in honourable manhood.

    Miss Faithful, Miss Rye, Miss Bessie Parkes, will tell of the respectful kindness, the generous aid of the men with whom they have come in contact.  And why?  They have asked help, not declared war.  They have owned that women can co-operate, but never can and never ought to compete with man.  If the woman's cause is the man's, so are the woman's difficulties.  The problem of one is the problem of both.  And this of the social and industrial position of women can only be solved by both working hopefully and helpfully together, holding one another in mutual honour and esteem.  The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science originated much of the discussion on this subject, which has been carried on so ably in your columns. Many of the schemes of female employment now attracting public attention had their origins in its committee; among them that of printing pursued by Miss Faithful, and that of law copying, which Miss Rye, in addition to her labours in the cause of emigration, carries out in her office in Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn.  The meeting of the Association in London in June will afford a further and fitting opportunity for the discussion of the question, which will be introduced by papers from several of the ladies engaged in the practical working of the plans which former discussions originated.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
ISA CRAIG, Assistant-Secretary to the National
Association for the Promotion of Social Science.
3, Waterloo-place, Pall-mall, S.W., April 29 [1862]" '

Matilda Hays comments on Isa's letter

(5th M
AY, 1862.)

SIR,The following letter was addressed by me to the Times on May 1.  As it has not appeared I shall be much obliged if you will give it the benefit of your circulation.


"Sir,Your correspondent, Miss Isa Craig, says most truly that 'woman's cause is man's;' but not I think equally truly, that to 'man's advocacy' it should be left, unless, indeed, that advocacy has always shown itself so manly as that of 'S.G.O.'

"Again, Miss Craig says, 'that woman never can, or ought to compete with man;' and here again I cordially join issue.  Nature, in making man and woman so unlike in their very likeness, has herself affixed the power and limit of both, and so entirely do I hold this, that I believe that when women shall become an acknowledged power in the world, as well as in the home, taking their share in the world's work and progress, man, in place of competitors, will find their labours of head and heart supplemented and perfected to a degree yet undreamt of.  Society will become purified, and many of the worst evils under which we (men and women) now labour and groan, will disappear in the recognition of a power hitherto denied or held in abeyance, and which I, for one, cannot believe the Almighty to have bestowed in vain.

"As a fellow-labourer with the ladies who Miss Craig mentions, I too can and do testify to 'the respectful kindness, the generous aid of the men with whom we have come in contact,' while personally I can and do gratefully testify to the friendship of many good and noble men.

"But these are not the men who talk and write of 'our women' with covert sneer and ribaldry, from which 'generous' men, as well as women, turn with disgust.

"May the 'five million good as S.G.O.' rally round us, and with hand and voice help the good work which, neither in my thought nor Miss Craig's, is to further separate the sexes, (a separation to whatever extent it exists, be it remembered, brought about by men and not by women), but may render man and women the helpmates God intended then to be.I am, &c.

London, May 3.

Bessie Raynor Parkes

    A commentator writing in the Scotsman had this to say about the English Woman's Journal...."It has all along been distinguished, and continues to be so, by a lady-like good taste and sense, which preserve if from offensive manifestations of 'strong-mindedness' on the one hand, and an earnestness and definiteness of purpose raising it above the frivolity of crotchet and fashions on the other."  Alas, lack of frivolity was to contribute to the Journal's downfall.  Writing to Barbara Bodichon in December 1862, the Journal's Editor, Emily Davies, believed that the Journal would never have a 'very large circulation', but that the inclusion of 'a good tale' would help attract the public, while the 'solid matter' would help keep it 'special.'  But the Journal failed to win a viable circulation, and by 1862 its financial future had become uncertain.  It struggled on, but with internal disagreements among its members adding to its problems it closed eventually in 1864.  Bessie Parkes went on to start the Alexandra Magazine, but it too failed and, following her marriage to Louis Belloc, she gradually withdrew from feminist activities.  Bessie died in 1925; her son was the writer Hilaire Belloc [Ed. see also Bessie's poem The Mersey and the Irwell].  The Journal, however, did live on.  In 1866 it was revived by Jessie Boucherett, who renamed it the Englishwoman's Review, and in this form it continued in publication until 1910.

    In her role as Assistant Secretary to NAPSS, Isa epitomised the independent single woman of her age.  Nevertheless, and perhaps unsurprisingly considering her background, she does appear to have been daunted by the magnitude of her task, in its early years at least.  In a letter dated September 1860 with regard to a forthcoming conference at Glasgow, she writes thus: "I hope I shall not break down at Glasgow.  I like the work, but I tremble at the meetings.  I begin to feel that I must be doomed to go through them, for some evil done in a previous state of existence" [and from the same letter: "I like to see our Social Science men advanced for they are bound to advance Social Science"].  But this was an age in which women played essential but supporting roles, and regardless of what her feelings might have been about her work for NAPSS, when Isa married her cousin John Knox in 1866 she retired from paid employment.  Her marriage announcement in the Pall Mall Gazette (19 May, 1866) stated simply―

KnoxCraigAt St. John's, Lewisham,  Mr. J. Knox to Miss Isa Craig, 17th inst.

"Just let any one work out the problem of keeping eleven souls in London on twenty-one shillings a week.  Take four shillings for rent, and one shilling and sixpence for fire, light, and such indispensable articles as soap, &c., and fifteen and sixpence remains—that is, one shilling and fivepence to feed and clothe each.  Give each a pound of bread a day, and the father two—bread being their staple food—and the sum that remains is five shillings.  A shilling's worth of potatoes be used weekly; another shilling will go for tea, sugar, and coffee for the father and mother, and very poor stuff it will be; sixpence for milk for the infants, sixpence for the dripping for the bread and potatoes of the elder children; two shillings for bacon and cheese for the father, and a little meat, now and then, for the nursing mother.  There is not one shilling left, and all have to be clad, and one or two kept at school; and there is nothing but dripping for the children's bread, and they cannot live in health without something more and something else.  The addition of a pennyworth of sprats for dinner makes the little ones jump for joy.  Of course the infants do not use a pound of bread, but the growing boys and girls make up for this."

Isa Craig on working-class economics: from . . . . Round the Court.

The witnesses included Hastings, Bessie Raynor Parkes, Emily Davis and Jane Crow.  It was reported widely in the press that

Miss Isa Craig, having yielded her position of Assistant-Secretary of the Social Science Association, to practise social science in a new capacityto study practically, in fact, the law of marriagea number of the members subscribed and have presented to her a silver tea service and salver, as a wedding present.  The inscription on the salver is: "To Isa Craig, from her grateful and attached friends of the National Social Science Association, 17th May, 1866."


The Times
23rd July 1860

Sir,—The assistance the movement "for promoting the employment of women" has received from you induces me to ask you to insert this letter in The Times, as I think many will be glad to hear, so great is the success of this office, that I have more work at this moment than my 12 women compositors can undertake, and I shall therefore be glad to receive six or eight girls immediately. They must be under 16 years of age, and apply personally at my office next week.

Your very truly,


The Victoria Press, 9, Great Corum-street, July 21.

The Victoria Press


Notice appearing in the Alexandria Magazine, May 1st, 1864.



    Largely self-educated in literature, Isa was an admired poet in her day, first attracting fame as the winner of the Robert Burns Centenary Competition at The Crystal Palace in 1858 in the face of over 600 entrants, including some strong competition (among the finalists were Frederick Myers, Arthur J. Munby, and J. Stanyan Bigg; Gerald Massey's entry, "A Centenary Song", was placed fourth, while among those unplaced was a respectable poem ― "Robert Burns: A Centenary Ode"  ― by the Scots "Pedlar Poet", James Macfarlan).  The Scotsman for 27th January 1859 carried the following report of the Burns Centenary event — and the non-appearance of Miss Craig to receive her 50 guineas prize! .....


At the Crystal Palace, the Burns Centenary was celebrated on Tuesday with much enthusiasm.  Upwards of 14,000 persons were present during the day.  There was a grand concert and great interest was imputed to the proceedings by the unveiling of Calder Marshall's bust of Burns, and the exhibition of a number of relics of the poet. The recitation of the prize poem, however, was the chief attraction, and at three o'clock the scene from nave to transept, and orchestra to orchestra, and gallery to gallery, presented an imposing amphitheatre of listeners riveted to the spot, until Mr Phelps appeared upon the platform and enjoined silence.  He opened the envelope with the mottos of the author of the successful poem, and announced it to be "Isa Craig, Ranelagh Street, Pimlico."  He then recited the poem with much taste and elocutionary power.  The Morning Herald, in noticing this stage of the proceedings, says:—"At the close of the recitation of the poem by Mr Phelps, a proclamatory placard was hoisted over the orchestra, the name of the successful competitor not having been caught by multitudes around, with the inscription in large black rubrics on a white ground of 'The author of the poem is Ian Craig.'  Calls then arose for Isa Craig to come before the scenes, and multitudinous and mysterious were the conjectures indulged in by the bystanders as to who Isa Craig could really be.  Some suggested that it was a mistake for 'Ailsa Craig;' others read it Esau Craig; while many pronounced the whole affair to be a mystery and a myth, seeing that the fortunate prizeholder did not make her appearance to be complimented.  The crowd indulged in these dreamy disquisitions and conjectures until the scene and the subject were altogether changed by the striking up of the band for the supplemental concert.  From all that we could ascertain, however, from the most reliable sources, we find that Isa Craig is a young Scots lady, and that the mysterious monosyllable 'Isa' is a breviate or nomme de plume for Isabella; that she belongs to the single sisterhood, and has been a contributor to Chambers' Journal, the Scotsman, and the Englishwomen's Magazine, and is said to have published a small volume of poems.  From feelings either of timidity or poetical delicacy and pride, Miss Craig neither came before the curtain, nor did she pay a visit to the Company's treasury to receive the fifty guineas, although the check had been waiting for her acceptance all day.  Speaking of the prize poem and its author, the Morning Star says:— "speculation has been rife as to who was the author of the above very beautiful composition, and the name of more than one distinguished person has been confidently mentioned.  There is even now a shrewd suspicion that 'Isa Craig' hides a name much less obscure."


27th January 1859

Miss Craig, the successful competitor for prize and poetical distinction, is a young Scotchwoman,—a native of Edinburgh, and for two years past resident in London. Early left an orphan, she was reared and educated under the care of a grandmother not in affluent circumstances.  With praiseworthy industry and, and self cultivation of her intellectual powers, she early resolved to work out her own pecuniary independence.  By occasional poetical contributions to the Edinburgh Scotsman she gained the notice and kindness of Mr. John Ritchie, the oldest and principal proprietor of that journal, and for some years she was employed by this early patron and friend in its literary department. In 1856 Messrs. Blackwood published in a small volume a collection of Miss Craig's fugitive metrical compositions, under the title Poems by Isa.  The author has also been a contributor under the signature "O." to the poetry of the National Magazine.  In August, 1857, on Miss Craig's first visit to a London friend, Mr. Hastings, the hon. secretary of the national Association of Social Science, engaged her services in the organization of the society, and to this association Miss Craig is still attached as a literary assistant.  The published transactions of the association owe much to her talent and good judgement.  At the Liverpool meeting in October last, Miss Craig attracted general notice and commendation by her unobtrusive conduct and tack in the management of some departments of the business.  Miss Craig was absent at the Crystal Palace meeting, really ignorant of the success of her literary competition, and of the award of the judges.  It had happened that she had not seen the mottoes on the successful poem made available some days since.  The chances of a young Scotchwoman against 621 male and female competitors did not tempt her to attend the adjudication, and she was not informed of her success till late after the termination of the meeting at Sydenham Palace.




FAIR valley, clothed with richest, freshest green,
While parched are all the world's wide ways beside,
Thine is the shady spot, the verdant screen,
The gentle banks where quiet waters glide.
'Tis sweet to wander in thy narrow ways,
Too narrow for the chariot-wheels of pride;
'Tis sweet to shelter from the noontide rays,
Where all unsunned thy cool-eyed flowerets hide:
To feed thy stream flows many a tinkling rill,
Hastening with tribute it may not refuse.
With gushing crystal thus its founts to fill,
The thirsty heights are drained of all their dews;

And thus into the heart that lieth low,
The purest streams of highest wisdom flow.


    In 1863, during the height of the American Civil War, cotton exports to the cotton-processing towns of Lancashire were disrupted, resulting in factory closures and great hardship among the working populace of the area.  To help raise money to alleviate their hardship, Isa undertook to compile and edit a volume of verse containing contributions from notable poets of the day, among whom was Christina Rossetti . . . .

45 Upper Albany St. N.W.
Thursday, 13th November. [1862]

me. Bodichon, asking me to contribute a little piece to the volume to be sold at the Lancashire Distress exhibition, told me that you had kindly undertaken to see the edition through the press.  I therefore, though unknown to you, take the liberty of directing my Royal Princess to your hands, trusting that so I am in accord with your wishes.  If R.P. is too long, I have by me plenty of shorter pieces, though none I fear on so appropriate a theme.  May I ask you to favour me by forwarding to me the proof of my piece as I am desirous to correct it myself, thinking that so fewer errors are likely to creep in.
    As I know not what poets are on your list, nor how many may be wished for, perhaps I had better say that if you would like a piece from the pen of C.B. Cayley the translator of Dante, I think it possible I might be able to procure one for the volume as Mr Cayley is our old friend.  But of course I cannot promise that he would do us such a favour.  I only think it is not impossible.
    With hearty wishes for a blessing on our common cause, permit me, Madam, to remain

Yours faithfully          
Christina G. Rossetti.

The result was a charming volume, Poems: an offering to Lancashire . . . .

Just ready.


OEMS: An Offering to Lancashire.  By CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, GEORGE MACDONALD, "V.", W. B. SCOTT, R. MONKTON MILNES, MARY HOWITT, "G.E.M.", W. ALLINGHAM, ISA CRAIG, and others.  Price 3s. 6d.  Printed and published for the Art Exhibition for the Relief of Distress in the Cotton Districts.  Emily Faithfull, printer and publisher in ordinary to Her Majesty, Victoria Press offices, 83A Farrington-street, E.C. and 9, Great Coram-street, W.C.

From The Times, December 24, 1862.


HARD is the lot of the worker:
His heart had need be brave,
With death in life to wrestle
From the cradle to the grave.
Sternly the sorrows meet him
In the thick of the mortal fray—
But the night must serve for weeping—
Work must be done by day.


There the dying soldier lay,
Pillowed on the bloody clay;
As the battle thunder pealed,
Earth seemed sinking 'neath his head,
And the skies above him reeled,
                As his bosom bled.
They died at Alma in the fight—
                Mournful Alma!

From....They Died at Alma

    Following her marriage in 1866, what little can be gleaned about the remainder of Isa's literary career comes from several short newspaper articles, from Cassell's newspaper advertising (their reluctance to credit authors in their advertising makes attribution difficult) and from a search through the periodicals of the period.

    Between 1865 and 1867 Isa is reported to have edited The Argosy, a monthly magazine "of tales, travels, essays and poems."  Because the record of Isa's later life is sparsely populated with fact, one is tempted to speculate; here, perusal of the Index to the 1866 collected edition of The Argosy suggests who her literary acquaintances might have been.  Besides her friend of the Langham Place Group, Bessie Rayner Parkes, it is unsurprising to find listed many well-known literary women of the period Jean Ingelow, Christina Rossetti, Margaret Oliphant, Matilda Betham-Edwards, Menella Smedley and Marguerite Agnes Power.  Among the male contributors are William Allingham, Anthony Trollop, and fellow Scots Alexander Smith (see Isa's memorial essay),  George MacDonald and Robert Buchanan.

    But Isa's tenure at The Argosy was short-lived.  During 1866 the magazine's reputation was damaged by the serialisation of Charles Reade’s sexually frank tale of bigamy, "Griffith Gaunt".  Its strait-laced publisher, Alexander Strahan, horrified by the backlash, sold the magazine to Mrs Henry Ellen Wood in October 1867, and she conducted it successfully until her death in 1887 when her son took over.  The Argosy ceased publication in 1901.
    Following her brief tenure as The Argosy's editor, Isa continued to write for the periodicals of the age, including Good Words, The Sunday Magazine and, in particular, The Quiver, a pious monthly periodical from the Cassell stable intended "For Sunday and General Reading".  However, Isa's work is difficult to identify due to magazine (and sometimes book) publishers of the period often attributing only 'indirect' reference to authorship by citing others of the author's  published titles ― for example, the hardback edition of Deepdale Vicarage, a story originally serialized in The Quiver (1866-7), is attributed "by the author of Mark Warren" rather than to its author, Mary Kirby ― and on occasions the publisher gives no attribution whatever.

"The court stood at the back of a leading thoroughfare—a long, ugly street, with rather high houses, and shops on the ground floors.  Every third shop sold something eatable, and nearly every sixth appeared to be a drinking-shop.  Behind the thoroughfare there were acres of crowded dwellings, studded thickly with workshops and small factories.  In front of it, shutting it in, was a pawnbroker's on the one side and a tobacconist's on the other.  The houses within had no outlook except into the court itself.  They were built back to back, a perfect contrivance for the exclusion of air and the manufacture of fever.  At the foot rose a high dead wall, and in one corner was the general dustbin, redolent in summer of fearful odours."

A description of the Court . . . . from Round the Court.

    In Isa's case, two of her serialized stories from The Quiver Peggy Ogilvie's Inheritance (serialized in The Quiver, 1867-8) and Esther West (serialized in The Quiver, 1868-9, and attributed to "THE AUTHOR OF PEGGY OGLIVIE'S INHERITANCE")― subsequently found their way into hardback editions, both being attributed by the publisher to Isa Craig-Knox (by 1891, Esther West had reached its ninth edition and is again in print).  There is a reference on the title page of the former to the author also having written Round the Court,  a series of scenes of Victorian domestic working-class life (serialized in The Quiver, 1867), which Cassells attribute thus: "BY A RENT-COLLECTOR".  In similar vein Cassells attribute A Heroine of the Home (serialized in The Quiver, 1880) to "THE AUTHOR OF 'ESTHER WEST', 'PEGGY OGLIVIE'S INHERITANCE,' ETC." which, by reference to the hardback editions of these stories, translates to Isa Craig (this, incidentally, appears to be Isa's last published story).  In contrast, Cassells do attribute Fanny's Fortune, (The Quiver, 1874) to Isa Craig-Knox, additionally referring in this story's title line to the author having written "Two Years" (The Quiver, 1870—attributed to "the author of Esther West, etc. etc").  Thus, one proceeds in ferreting out Isa's literary contributions to the periodicals of her day.

". . . . they are not criminals, and they are not paupers.  They have a wholesome horror of the workhouse and the prison, and of the former even more than the latter.  They may not, at first sight, appear so interesting as convicts and casuals; but then people know all about convicts and casuals — and they know little or nothing about honest working people.  They would not make so many mistakes about them if they did know them . . . . not that I uphold their thriftless ways and drinking customs, they are the ruin in of them; but it is only fair to show how hard their battle is to keep sober, and before the world.  They have to struggle, not with poverty only, but with sickness, and weakness, and weariness, and 'bad times,' and 'knocking about;' and, at the root of all, with ignorance and want of guidance. . . . In the true sense of the word "respectable," many of the poorest of the poor are respectable in the highest degree . . . ."

The Court—a description of its tenants . . . from Round the Court.

    I doubt that other titles attributed to Isa Craig in the "COPAC National, Academic, and Specialist Library Catalogue" are correct; these are Mark Warren, Deepdale Vicarage, In Duty Bound and Hold Fast By Your Sunday.  In her autobiography "Leaflets from My Life: A Narrative Autobiography" (1888), Mary Kirkby claims authorship of these titles (some written jointly with her sister Elizabeth) describing briefly the circumstances in which they were written for The Quiver magazine.  In the case of Hold Fast  By Your Sundays, other evidence which links this title to the Kirby sisters is (a) a reference on the title page to the author having written "Margaret's Choice", another title claimed in Mary Kirby's autobiography; and (b) reference in the book's Introduction, written in 1889, to the author's death ― Isa Craig died in 1903―which leads me to suspect that the author of this title is most likely Elizabeth Kirby.

    Outside of her writing for the periodicals, Isa published three volumes of poetry:   Poems by Isa (1856); Duchess Agnes, a Drama, and Other Poems (1864, which includes a drama ― see Gerald Massey in the Athenæum); and Songs of Consolation (1874).  I have collected others of Isa's poems that do not appear within her published collections under Poems: a miscellany.  Her educational books, Little Folk's History of England (1871); Tales on The Parables (1872: the second series here reproduced); and Easy History for Upper Standards (1885) were popular during her life.

    Why Isa's literary life should have come to a close at a comparatively early age is a mystery.  Apart from Easy History for Upper Standards (an adaption of her earlier Little Folk's History of England) referred to, after 1880 I can find no further newspaper advertising of her poetry and serialized stories in the Quiver or in other periodicals, and nothing further is listed in the British Library catalogue.

    Isa's private life is also a mystery.  I have been unable to trace her entry in the 1871 Census, but that for 1881 records her living with her husband, John Knox (age 42, "Iron Merchant/Monger") and daughter Margaret (age 11, "Scholar") at 13, South Hill Park, Hampstead; resident with her are her brother-in-law, William C. Knox (age 43, "Book Keeper/Clerk, iron-trade") and Angelina E. Smith (age 18, "General Servant").  The 1891 Census records the same household, but having removed to 88 Breakspears Road, Brockley, Deptford.  And in 1901, the Knox family were living at the same address, now with their daughter (aged 31),  Mary E. Parkinson (aged 32, described as a "visitor" ), and two servants; and it was here that Isa Craig-Knox died on 23rd December, 1903.


According to Google Streetview, 88 Breakspears Road.

    The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes her thus: "A sparkling, happy-go-lucky person, Isa was loved by all who knew her." A contemporary edition of the Morning Post had this to say . . . .

"The world of letters has just lost an interesting figure in the person of Mrs Isa Craig-Knox, who passed away at her residence at Brockley on Wednesday, in her seventy-third year.  In competition with six hundred and twenty rivals she won the prize which was offered in connection with the Burns centenary for the best ode to the poet.  Mrs Knox published several volumes of poems and many popular novels.  She also wrote some children's  books and, in addition to the literary work which she did for the Scotsman for many years, contributed to most of the principal magazines.  In 1857 she left Scotland for London in order to assist Mr Hastings in organising the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and she acted as his secretary and literary assistant until her marriage with her cousin, Mr John Knox, a descendant of the great reformer."

    Following her death, Isa's husband remained at their home in Breakspears Road where he died on 19th August, 1921, aged 82 years.  I have been unable to trace what became of Isa's daughter, Margaret.

    In 1892, Isa's former overlord at NAPSS, G. W. Hastings, by then the Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for Worcestershire East ― and perceived to be a vastly respectable figure ― experienced the rare and dubious distinction of expulsion from the House of Commons following his conviction for fraud.  As a Trustee for property under the will of one John Brown, Hastings had appropriated to himself over £20,000 from the estate.  He was jailed for five years.  Following his release he published "A Vindication of Warren Hastings", his famous ancestor who was impeached in 1787 for corruption, although in his case he was later acquitted.


A song.
Words by Isa Craig set to music by Florence Gilbert.

Sheet music
(.pdf, 164KB)

(.mid, 10KB)

A song.
Words by Isa Craig set to music by John Blockley.

Sheet music
(.pdf, 3MB)




To Isa Craig.

Hearken, thou lady-poet Candidate!
    Give answer with thy pen, the land-fowl's wing,
    When were they musings prompted first to sing?
Where, from the sun, was thy gift hid till late?
How long is't since the mighty power, Fate,
    Bade thee to print thy fancy's pondering?
    Slept it in scraps asunder, wandering,
Or where the desk its papers congregate?

Thou answer'st not, for thou art modest, maid!
    They life consists of two contrasted ways,—
The last in light, the former in shade;
    First with thy hopes, last with the people's
Veil'd wast till occasion thee display'd,
And crown'd thee evermore with laurel bays.


Nice, February 9, 1859.



I LOVE the spring, although her changeful skies
Weep oftener than smile—a child in tears,
With a smile lurking in her glad blue eyes;
And on her brow a coronal appears
Of fair and dewy flowers—the primrose pale,
And crocus bud of purple, white, and gold,—
While woodland voices all her coming hail,
And at her touch the cradled leaves unfold.
I love the spring-time for the lengthening light
And coming beauty.   'Tis like childhood's hours,
When life is all before us stretching bright,
And full with promise of its summer flowers,—
When tears are soonest shed and soonest dried,
And love hath no disguise, and beauty hath no pride.




[3rd April, 1862]

Sir,—Will you kindly allow me space to draw public attention to a quiet, unostentatious work which has now for some little time been carried or by certain ladies, some of whom are well known to be deep thinkers in all which concerns their sex, able writers, and very hard workers?

    It in well known that a persevering attempt has now for some time been made to find employment for a class of women whose condition in life is a very pitiable one, women just educated enough to be above the work of domestic service, but not sufficiently so to be equal to the duties of governesses.  Miss Faithfull, with her printing establishment, has opened out one, but I fear as yet very limited field of labour.  Miss M. Rye has an office for copying law papers, engrossing deeds, writing circulars, even copying sermons and petitions. I hope the Revised Code Agitation has at least done this good, that it has found her penwomen some bread. I believe a lady named Craig procures employment at telegram work for other women of this class. Miss Bessie Parkes and Miss Jane Lewin are two more of these active ladies, in some circles well known for their energy in this movement.

    I speak from the best authority when I say that these ladies all find that all they can achieve in the way of finding employment for these unfortunate members their sex is but very little indeed, compared with the demand made upon them.  It is not that they weary of their labour of love, or are daunted in it, but they have arrived at the conviction that an outlet must be found for some portion of the stream of deserving applicants beyond the shores of Great Britain; the battle of life here for educated women is, and has been for many a year, so severe, that they and their kind champions at last feel some—many—-must retreat, or be altogether beaten down.

    A field is now open to them, they are ready to seek its occupation.  It was found that this very class of women are much wanted in Australia and Natal; that the colonists are often seriously inconvenienced for want of the very same educated workers, for whom the mother county can find no employment.

    The mere servant class this country has found in great numbers, and most wisely aided the colonists to immigrate, to the great benefit of both parties.  But what is wanted is that class of woman capable of filling the highest branches of domestic services, capable of active as a governess; if unaccomplished, yet with

education and ability sufficient to give a plain good education to the children of the middle classes. Again, I speak advisedly, there is room for schoolmistresses, who, though yet below the standard now sought for in England, are yet well equal to the task of teaching all that we are now going to demand as the absolutely necessary education of  our own poor people's children.

    These ladies of whom I have spoken, with others whose names I do not make prominent, are prepared to satisfy the public that this is true as regards the demand in the colonies, as they are ready also to prove they have the material to meet the demand.  They argue that it is a course good as to its policy to send out large numbers of these women, as it is, to their knowledge, a noble field of charity.

    They have communicated with persons of influence in the colonies. They have done more;—they have already commenced, and with success, their work, sending out some of their poor clients to these colonies, and the result has been most satisfactory; they were at once employed in positions of respectability, and at salaries which it would have hopeless for them to have expected here.

    Now, Sir, I do not wish to open any subscription list in your columns, to start a "society" with all its live and dead stock of expensive machinery. I don't desire a "meeting," a "bazaar," or even a "festival," with a Duke in the chair, and a tavern bill in incubation.

    If you permit this letter to appear, I hope it may induce a few of the wealthy ladies of the land to communicate personally with any of
these ladies whose names I have given.  A letter to Miss H. Rye, 12, Portugal-street, Lincoln's-inn, would, I am sure, procure an interview with herself or any of her colleagues.  It would be shown by plain unmistakeable facts that there is a great merciful work in hand, which will be cheered by sympathy, and can be most materially aided by a very small ******* little money ****** ambitious to seek help by glorifying their work, as one in which at great cost a great display is made; they are hard thinkers—a little blue, if you will, just enough so to make them wise as well as good.  It is women's work,—I wish to enlist such in it.  I think I will undertake to say that for every farthing given or lent them they will give an amount which will satisfy even your obedient servant,



Ed. Text marked '***' was illegible in the original.


And to end, a fantasy . . . .


ISA in the garden stands,
And the winds, with unseen hands,
Lift the midnight of her hair
From her brow so white and fair.

Isa plucks with finger-tips
One sweet rose; her crimson lips
Match the colour and the tone,
But the dew is all their own.

And I think, as Isa stands
With the rose within her hands,
Other sounds are in her ear
Than the river's gliding near.

Whispers soft as whispers be
When love lends its voice, and she
Hears its thrilling music stream
Through the wonder-gate of dream.

And then gentle whispers say—
"Isa, Isa, come away,
We have in our fairy bower
One sweet spray of orange flower;

"This we keep to clasp your brow
When your heart has breathed its vow,
And you move away beside
One who claims you as his bride."

Isa smiles as still she stands
With the rose within her hands,
So I turn away and leave
Isa yet a maiden Eve.


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