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". . . . I—this girl who, between sixteen and seventeen, had not been allowed to go out alone in the evening, between eighteen and nineteen found herself forced to seek for bread in any honest way that she could find it.  Looking back, I sometimes pity her, as if she were not myself—pity her, not for her hardships and adventures, but for the unnecessary limitations she had so painfully to break through. . . ."

". . . . when the clergy lead the prayer, 'Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth,' do they ask themselves first what they regard as the will of God?  If they have seated a demon on the throne of the universe, inevitably the working out of his will does not make earth paradise, and, reasoning backwards, whatever worship does not tend to make earth paradise must be demon-worship. . . ."



Poetess, author and speaker on liberal causes.

ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO is little remembered today, but during the later decades of the 19th century this determined, independent-minded and hard-working woman became a widely published poetess and author, much of her prose output being published ― both in the U.K. and in North America ― under the nom de plume, "EDWARD GARRETT".  She also  became a speaker on liberal causes, particularly on the themes of religion, pacifism and animal welfare.

   The following biographic sketch draws mainly on Isabella's splendid autobiography, "Recollections of Fifty Years" (see the sections in italics that follow), which provides a vivid account of the difficulties and hardships faced by Victorian middle-class women who attempted to earn their own living . . . .

". . . . women who earn money by doing whatever work they are best able to do, are not much honoured yet.  It is thought that they lose their womanliness.  Girls who choose to live on relations who are neither very able nor very willing to maintain them, are commonly thought more lady-like.  Many men would not care to marry a woman who had worked for her bread.  People don't say these things quite plainly . . . . they only act them.  They would tell us that they respected us, but they would not ask us to a dinner party.  They might say they wished their daughters were like us, but they would not be pleased if their sons wanted to marry us."

Perception of the Victorian working woman, from "Doing and Dreaming"


    Isabella Fyvie was born in London on 10th December, 1843, to Scottish parents, Margaret Thomson and George Fyvie.  She was the youngest  of the couple's eight children, five of whom died in childhood including their four sons.  Isabella was educated privately, mainly at a girls' school near Covent Garden. 

    In 1851 her father died.  George Fyvie had owned a successful bakery, but following his death the business went into decline: "for this startling reverse there were several causes.  The environment had changed; residents had gone off to suburbs.  My mother had little business acumen or enterprise, and could not adapt herself to new conditions."   The executor of her father's estate "proved a broken reed.  He took no interest, gave no advice.  He knew how to prosper financially himself, but he never helped anybody else to prosperity."  The outcome was that the family fell heavily into debt and while still a girl who had enjoyed a comfortable, Victorian, middle-class upbringing ― Isabella was obliged to seek a living as best she could.  "My life-and-death fight for bread and independence" was to last from 1860 to 1869, but the family debts were repaid eventually and in the process Isabella acquired "a mass of knowledge, both of facts and different ways of looking at them, and of human nature generally" life's greatest lessons are taught outside the classroom.

"Did anybody ever resolve to do anything without instantly finding an opening by which to carry out his resolution?  Possibly the opening was always there, only waiting the opened vision and outstretched hand to recognize and seize it."

'Actions speaking louder then words', from "Doing and Dreaming"

    Her first business venture during these hardship years was to sell embroidered strips, made by her sister and herself, to a stall-holder in a London street bazaar, who "bought them for 9d. each (2s. 3d. in all) and the strips had cost at least 3d., and the embroidery cotton about 1½d. . . . It was a cruel task."  But on her seventeenth birthday (1861) Isabella was invited to meet Mrs. S. C. Hall (Anne Maria Fielding), then editor of the St. James's Magazine, whose attention had been drawn to Isabella's promising verse.  It  "proved a memorable date . . . . little could I dream it then, but on that birthday I was born into a friendship that never fainted or failed (though it was often tried)."  Mrs Hall advised her to give up writing for several years, and found her work in a telegraph office.  But "the noise of the machines was incessant, and, without being loud, was most irritating to the nerves" . . . .


"O, how Mary loathed the daily surrounding of her life.  Years afterwards it would return to her as a nightmare—the big bare chamber at the top of the huge house in Telegraph Court, the sun flaring down through the dusty skylights, the long rows of soiled wooden desks dotted with machines whose horrid metallic clack went on relentlessly.  There were at least a hundred girls in that room; some stolidly absorbed in their functions, some only too ready to turn aside to furtive novel or snatch of chatter."

Life in a telegraph office, from "Rab Bethune's Double"

. . . . After two weeks, and feeling that she could no longer continue, she again sought Mrs Hall's help.  "'You must leave at once,' she said.  'We must find you something else.'  'When one door shuts, another opens' was a favourite proverb of hers."  Armed with an introduction to Bessie Rayner Parkes ― a redoubtable campaigner for women's education and legal rights ― Isabella was found casual secretarial work through the 'Office for the Employment of Women', an enterprise created by the 'Langham Place Group.'

    Isabella's first assignment was to address envelopes at the sum of three shillings per 1500.  Her employer was a 'gentleman' running for public office who permitted her, unwittingly, to learn "a little of the ways of wire-pulling and of corruption".  Later, during a a period in which she provided holiday cover at the Office for the Employment of Women [NOTE 1.], Isabella received at first hand an insight into the plight of 'distressed gentlewomen,' often much older and less capable than herself . . . .

". . . . The work at the society's offices was rather depressing.  It meant confronting, advising, and making notes concerning an ever-flowing stream of feminine misfortune, misery, and incapacity.  Most of the women who came to the office belonged to the middle classes, and nearly all were middle-aged.  There was a deadly gentility about them, and though they represented themselves as in dire distress, or as dependent on relations not able or willing to maintain them, they were frequently very well dressed—quite grand, indeed, as compared with my own shabby little self.  They were "ready to do anything."  They could do nothing.  They seemed to hope for work on the plea that they were "so well connected."

    Those who really moved my sympathy were old governesses, who could no longer get pupils, and who, though they had earned considerable salaries, had saved nothing, often because they had supported agèd parents, or had educated young brothers, now sometimes dead, but more often married and ungrateful.  I remember one of these ladies, with a face still bright and winning, who took a sovereign from her purse, and holding it up, said, "This is my last."   I remember, too, an attractive young woman, with an earnest, anxious face, who gave her name with the prefix of "Mrs.," and was eager for work, because her husband was incapacitated by illness.  What became of those poor people?  Of course, when my little term of office ended, I heard no more about them.  It was rather a heart-breaking experience, the more so because I felt, even then, that most of these poor people needed to be helped out of themselves before anybody could give them any other help worth having. . . ."

ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO, from . . .  "Recollections of Fifty Years"

    Other assignments followed including work as a copyist, and as an amanuensis to a "literary woman."  She  identified only as Miss Y ― was "decidedly a 'character'" who, being a Scot, "invariably decried all things English . . . . an aggravating woman, and I can understand that she could make herself most objectionable to many people."  Aggravating or not, Miss Y ― who it later transpired had a serious drink problem ― was a welcome source of income at six pence per hour.  Another interesting employer was the dilapidated Countess of B; "We drove from her house in an ordinary cab, and I wondered why our cab attracted so much attention, till I realized that her liveried servant was on the box."  But the countess, a Roman catholic, failed to attract the approval of the vigilant Mrs. Hall, who "regarded it as a Popish plot to entrap a promising young woman."  Years later, such experiences were to provide Isabella with dashes of colour for her story-lines . . .

"As for her other employers, they numbered people with hobbies and crazes,—one, a dear old lady, sweet and gracious as spring lilac, who had strong convictions that the Isle of Man had been peopled by the lost Ten Tribes; another, of high rank, who accepted Mary's help in arranging valuable papers, to which her own position gave her access, and in whose mansion Mary went happily up and down—now taking tea with the marchioness in her boudoir, and then with the housekeeper and the ladies' maids in their little room downstairs."

From "Rab Bethune's Double"

    Isabella's next venture was as a legal copyist, work that required a combination of technique, precision and swiftness.  Of such sweatshop labour she had this to say "Once work came in—as it often did—in the evening, and the time marked for its return compelled me to work through that night, all the next day, the following night, and the day after till about seven in the evening.  During that time I paused only to snatch some food . . . . and for about two hours' sleep." And, when an assignment was complete, "we could not be released for home at once, lest more work should come in.  I was so tired and sleepy that I laid my chair down on the [office's] rag rug, used one of its rungs as a pillow, and there I straightway enjoyed an incredibly sweet snatch of slumber."

"Even the dry law papers which she copied had lessons for Charlotte—hints of the subtlety and magnitude of hereditary influences, of strange secret compensating laws of nature, to say nothing of occasional terrible revelations of social depths and complications beneath the smooth surface of society, each working itself into some great problem that the race must solve some day."

Isabella recycling life-experiences, from "Doing and Dreaming".

    Isabella excelled as a law-writer, eventually becoming self-employed.  But, when she in turn offered employment to 'gentlewomen' in sore need of income, the memory of her time as secretary in the Office for the Employment of Women was to revisit her ― this, of one "lady" that she sent to work as a copyist ― "when she found that she would have to sit in the gentleman's library, himself at work at another table, she refused to stay.  She said it was not proper, and she was so well-connected!"  Some 30 years later Isabella was to recall such experience: in her novel "Rab Bethune's Double," young Mary Olrig, having gained a position as trainee telegraph operator (unpaid during training!) meets an unsuccessful applicant as she leaves the telegraph office . . . .

"Well, I'm glad I've seen the place," remarked the elder woman, with an acid smile.  "Now my mind can be at rest about it.  For I see it is not the place for a lady by birth, so very well connected as I am in the Church and the Army—of course, it is a very good opportunity for plain, strong, young girls, fit for roughing it; my dear, I suppose you are to be congratulated."

The unhealthy influence of social connections, from "Rab Bethune's Double"

. . . . Such were the social constraints faced by Victorian middle-class women, even in the face of penury.  This type of experience was to teach Isabella an important commercial truth in her law-writing business, that her "first duty was not the philanthropic teaching and training of incompetent women, but rather of getting and keeping as much work as I could . . . . I fell into the habit of seeking assistance only from the men law-writers."

    From an early age, Isabella had shown interest in writing both verse and stories . . . .

15A, HOLLAND STREET,          

        "I have just received your note and the little tale called 'Janet Campbell.'  You asked to have it noticed on the cover of the magazine, but as I could only mention it there, I prefer to write to you privately.

    "At your early age, my dear, it is better that you should be cultivating your own mind than that you should attempt to interest and amuse others.  You are not able at present to write from your own observation, but must draw your characters and scenes from books.  This is not good for you, and if you ever wish to write really well, you must wait till you have made your own observations on human nature.  I think your tale very much better than most girls of your age would have written, but I do not consider it worthy of a place in the magazine (which I only began this month to edit), but I feel interested in your account of yourself.  If you like to write to me, and tell me what is your condition in life, whether you are at school, and what you are doing to improve yourself, I should be happy to answer your letter, and if I can give you any advice, shall be glad to do so.

    "I would not advise you to write any more till you are sixteen, and in the meantime I would take particular notice how books and papers which interest you are written.  Say to yourself when you read of children: 'Do the children that I know talk in this way, or act in this way?'  If they do, then consider the book well written.  If they do not, then notice in what the difference consists.  You should do the same in reference to grown-up people, though the most useful studies for you are girls of your own age, because you can understand their motives best.

    "You are at present not mistress of your own language.  In your nice little note to me you say: 'It is
MORE the wish of learning your opinion concerning it rather than the hope of its being inserted,' etc.  You must not use more than one of these words; the other is superfluous.  Again, in the tale you say: 'I do not dare do what is wrong,'  'You must be made reveal your secret.'  'I do not dare to do what is wrong,' 'You must be made to reveal your secret,' would be more correct; or, better still, 'I dare not do what is wrong.'

    "And now I have not time to write more.  I give you my address and name, and if you like you can write to me.
                                                                                      "I am,
                                                                                            Yours sincerely,

3 January, 1857


From . . . .  Recollections of Fifty Years

 . . . . Throughout these sweatshop years Isabella maintained her assault on that near impregnable bastion into the literary world, the Editor's desk, which provided yet another memory she was later to recall . . . .

"Mary had had a sad day.  The morning post had brought back a poem which she had sent weeks before to a certain magazine.  And it looked so crisp and fresh that she doubted if the editor had done more than transfer it, unread, from the envelope in which she sent it to that which she had enclosed . . . . when she came home in the evening, tired out, with damp garments, she found another post packet waiting for her.  This was a story returned from another quarter.  The manuscript was rather voluminous, but in this instance it had been so fingered and dog-eared, that it could never be sent on another adventure, with such ill-omened marks of foregone failure palpable upon it."

Yet another rejection slip, from "Rab Bethune's Double"

. . . . Gradually, her early essays in verse began to attract attention ― "My earnings in the first year of these efforts were £30.  In the second they were £60; in the third and fourth, about £80; in the fifth, my tiny literary earnings having somewhat increased, nearly £100" [See POEMS, which contains examples of Miss Fyvie's early verse, as published in Good Words and other Victorian periodicals].  Then, in 1867, came the breakthrough"having earned yet another £100, that "miracle" happened to me—of a publisher's asking an unknown girl to write a serial for an important magazine, paying her £300 for it, and inviting her to write another on the same terms."  The publisher was Alexander Strachan.  It later transpired that she had been invited to contribute to the Sunday Magazine to fill a gap left by a defaulting contributor, Strahan acting on the advice of Alexander Japp, another of Isabella's future friends.  "Mr. Strahan himself was, it seems, very nervous about the matter, which is not surprising."


WE both walked slowly o'er the yellow grass,
    Beneath the sunset sky:
And then he climbed the stile I did not pass,
    And there we said Good-bye.

He paused one moment, I leaned on the stile,
    And faced the hazy lane:
But neither of us spoke until we both
    Just said Good-bye again.

And I went homeward to our quaint old farm,
    And he went on his way:
And he has never crossed that field again,
    From that time to this day.

I wonder if he ever gives a thought
    To what he left behind:—
As I start sometimes, dreaming that I hear
    A footstep in the wind.

If he had said but one regretful word,
    Or I had shed a tear,
He would not go alone about the world,
    Nor I sit lonely here.

Alas! our hearts were full of angry pride,
    And love was choked in strife:
And so the stile, beyond the yellow grass,
    Stands straight across our life.


From Good Words, 1867.


    Strachan had already decided on the plot and advertised the story, which was to come from the pen of "Edward Garrett" (a nom de plume) ― "He had jotted down, in his quaint handwriting, on a tiny scrap of paper (which I still possess), a few of the subjects with which he wished me to deal—the sick, the lonely, the outcast, and so forth.  I was to take the standpoint of an old City merchant.  'Apart from that, I leave you to do your best with the matter,' said he."  Isabella decided on a serialised novel, the outcome being "The Occupations of a Retired Life," the first of her many successful compositions in the genre.  "On Christmas Eve, while I was out, Mr. Strahan called at our house, and left for me a cheque as "one-third payment" for 'The Occupations of a Retired Life,' which raised his payment for it to £300 [the initial offer had been for £100].  Within a day or two afterwards he told me that his firm would be prepared to take as much work of any kind as I was likely to do.  From that time till Mr. Strahan left the firm (I think in 1873) I worked only for his magazines."

Aberdeen Weekly Journal
18th September, 1893.

Mrs Isabella Fyvie Mayo, who writes fiction both in her own name and under the nom de plume of "Edward Garrett," is the widow of a London solicitor.  Her father came of a race of Aberdeenshire farmers of the old-fashioned kind, who worked with their own hands and in whose kitchen the birr of the spinning-wheel was seldom silent.  Her mother was the descendant of a similar family among the "Borderers" on Tweedside.

    In later years, Isabella Fyvie Mayo and "Edward Garrett" between them became a prolific and successful poetess and author, being published widely in both the U.K. and the U.S.A.  Her stories usually appeared in serialized form in one of the popular periodicals of the day including The Sunday Magazine, Good Words, The Quiver, The Argosy, The Girl's Own Paper, and Onwards and Upwards, often being followed by hard-back editions.  Their sentimental plots are sometimes heavily embroidered with Christian morality"a catholicity of religious sentiment" as one reviewer described itthat no doubt answered the pious requirements of the journals for which they were intended, but which rather limit their appeal today.  Time and again her sermonizing gives the impression that, had it been possible at the time for a woman to take holy orders, Isabella would have been well equipped to have done so.

"For there is a life which will bear us company and keep us safe on either—that Life which is the Light from above and the Way from below, the revelation of the love and character of God, his Father and ours; the life of Him who was born in a manger and tempted in the wilderness, who wept and was indignant, who loved and was lonely, who was applauded and outlawed, who gave himself up to God's Will in Gethsemane, that He might be given away on Calvary!  'God forgive me, if I am daring,' thought Sarah Russell ; 'but I almost think that those who tread the longer way home may gain some secrets of sweet and sacred companionship which they would not give up for the swifter journey.  The two disciples did not know Jesus till the walk to Emmaus was over; but when He was revealed did they wish the way had been shorter?  And yet for those who miss the gems that lurk in the dark waters of deep experience, and who miss the glimpses gained from Pisgah heights of mental triumph, there remain the unreckoned mysteries of that especial beatitude: "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."  But after all, that blessing remains for every one of us, and for one as much as another, for, in the vastness of the truth and love of God, the little differences in our developments of faith and grasps of law dwindle as do the differing mountains of the earth as it hangs in boundless ether!  He who knows most and believes most is he who, climbing height after height in the spiritual life, is clear-eyed enough to see height after height rising above him, and pausing to look up on the unknown hills beyond, as well as to survey the conquered land that lies behind, is honest-hearted enough to own that he knows nothing, except that it is his duty to go forward in the name of God!'"

From . . .  "By Still Waters (a story for quiet hours)"

    Other than devoting time to writing, Isabella travelled widely (Chapter VIII., "Recollections"), became a prison visitor (Chapter X., "Recollections"), a lecturer/campaigner, and the first woman member of the Schools Board for Aberdeen.  Reports in the Aberdeen press during the 1890s portray an ardent socialist who, at the time of the Second Boer War, was a vociferous supporter of the ant-war movement, her publically expressed views attracting much hostility!  She was also a translator of Tolstoy [NOTE 2.].  But in somewhat surprising contrast to what one might expect of a progressive Christian, is her  uncompromising attitude to 'fallen women' wishing to enter domestic service: "But there are some very sinister aspects of the domestic employment of women who have lost character.  Why should a fellow-servant, possibly some decent working-man's innocent young daughter, be exposed to household association with some Magdalen who quite possibly "loved not much" anything or anybody but her own sensuality and idleness?" so much for the compassion of the age.


"Of medium height, with large, sparkling eyes and a broad, intellectual forehead,
but a face of great sweetness and gentleness."

    In July, 1870, Isabella married John Ryall Mayo, a solicitor, and in the autumn of that year they visited Canada. John Mayo died in 1877, leaving her with a son, George (born 1871).  Although her short married life appears to have been happy, her "Recollections" tell us little about it or her husband (to whom the book is dedicated), and nothing about her son.  She might have had more to say about both it and about other aspects of her work ― including her interest in Tolstoyan philosophy ― in a later volume of memoires that she planned, but did not live to write.

"The first duty of the British workers is to refrain from entering the Army or Navy, these being the tools whereby their landowning class defend their own possessions at home, and exploit and seize on the land of others abroad.  The British working man has been too often misled into rejoicing in the evil of war on the pleas that it "increases employment" and "gives new fields for labour," while he has remained blind to the fact that within the last twenty years millions of acres in his own country have passed out of cultivation and become mere playgrounds for the exploiters of industry."

From Isabella's 'Note' to a "A Great Iniquity"
by L

    Isabella died at her home, "Bishop's Gate", in Old Aberdeen on 13th May, 1914.

Bishop's Gate, Old Aberdeen.


14th May, 1914.


The death occurred at Aberdeen yesterday of Mrs. Fyvie Mayo (Edward Garrett) the novelist and contributor to modern literature.

Her first work, "Occupations of a Retired Life," appeared as far back as 1867, and she had written many novels, and revised and annotated the translations of much of Tolstoy's recent work.  In her "Recollections of Fifty Years," published in 1910, she gathered together a good many reminiscences of interest to those who like to read about mid-Victorian schools, life, and events.


14th May, 1914



The death occurred in Aberdeen yesterday, after an illness of several months, of Mrs Isabella Fyvie Mayo, who, under the pen name of "Edward Garrett," produced a largo amount of literary work.  She was born over an old-fashioned baker's shop, now pulled down, in Bedford Street, Strand, London.  Though born in London, she was of Scottish blood, her father, a London baker, being descended from a family who had been agriculturalists in in Buchan for more than 200 years.  His youngest brother was the late Dean of Moray and Ross.  Her maternal grandmother belonged to a good Aberdeen family, and her paternal grandfather belonged to Tweedside.  She left school at 14,. but put herself through a severe course of reading, and at 17 began to send scraps to the magazines, with little success.  Her experience in the Strand baker's shop are minutely described in her autobiography.  A contribution to the St James's Magazine, though rejected bv the editor, Mrs S. C. Hall, secured the friendship of that lady.  Other editors who were friendly and helpful were Jean Ingelow and Tom Hood.  Another friend, Dr Japp, then sub-editor of the Sunday Magazine, suggested to Alexander Strachan, its publisher, that as they had been disappointed in a contributor, Isabella Fyvie should be given a chance to write the series, half-essay and half-story, which was required.  She had only three- days in which to write her first monthly part for October 1867.  The publisher gave her three times the sum bargained for, and engaged her for another serial.  "Occupations of a Retired Life," by "Edward Garrett," made her reputation.  Her pen was steadily kept employed for many years.  A savage notice of "The Crust and the Cake" in the Pall Mall Gazette caused John Ruskin to ask for the author, whom he invited to his home in London, and said many kind things to her.  She married Mr John Mayo, a lawyer, in London in 1870, and after her widowhood seven years later her pen was busier than ever.  She drew inspiration from quiet streets and squares of London, which she knew so well; Surrey villages, where much of her married life was spent; from Canada, which she visited more than once; and some travel in the Mediterranean; and a visit to Greece and Turkey inspired "A Daughter of the Klephts."  The local colour of Aberdeen and the wilds of Buchan and Shetland also found a place in later stories.  Mrs Mayo was much interested in the colour question and anti-vivisection, and held strong views on many social subjects.  In 1894 she was elected a member of the Aberdeen School Board.  She was one of the candidates of the Labour party, and was the first woman elected to any public board in Aberdeen.

Mrs Mayo, who had reached her 71st year, is, in accordance, with her own desire, to be buried in Coldharbour Churchyard, Surrey, by the side of her husband, who died in 1877.



(Information 'so far as is known', particularly pubn. dates.
Most titles were attributed to "EDWARD GARRETT").






















POEMS, by Isabella Fyvie Mayo


DOING AND DREAMING; published with 'A Real Lady'.


THE DEAD SIN (short stories)





















































1.     "Miss Lewin is away for a holiday. We expect her back at the end of next week. A little Miss (Isabella) Fyvie is taking her place, & does very nicely." . . . .  Emily Davis writing to Barbara Bodichon, 12th March, 1863.  Emily Davis, Collected Letters 1861-75 (ISBN:0813922321).
2.    "The writings and values of Tolstoy captivated Ms. Mayo, an English writer in Scotland.  She began to direct her energies to Tolstoyan causes: anti-militarism, anti-racism, anti-imperilaism, anti-vivisection, anti-violence, anti-industrialization, vegetarianism, and human brotherhood.  Ms. Mayo corresponded with Ghandi through Kallenbach saying, 'Tolstoy has given me my true self.'". . . . An American Looks at Ghandi, by James D. Hunt. (ISBN 81-85002-35-5).

      "This energetic, gracious, and high-minded lady was a soul-mate of Ghandi.  In the three years of their correspondence, they shared many concerns, both political and personal, and she did much to reinforce Gandhi's already well-developed Tolstoyan interests.  He wrote that she was a 'truly noble soul. . . .She was one of the few true interpreters of Tolstoy's teachings.'" [Ghandi, 'The Late Mrs Mayo,' Indian Opinion, 20 May 1914]. . . . The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective,  edited by Harvey L. Dyck (ISBN:0802007775).

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