ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER
Queen Victoria's favourite poet.
Born October 30, 1825, died February 2, 1864.
Born in London, the first child of Bryan Waller Procter (the poet "Barry Cornwall") and Anne Skepper, Adelaide
Anne was a highly gifted child, attaining considerably proficiency in
geometry, piano, drawing, French, German and Italian. She was also a
Adelaide's early poetry was presented to her parents'
circle in manuscript form. At eighteen, she contributed to the "Book of
Beauty" and in 1853 to Household
Words under the pseudonym "Mary Berwick" in order that the editor, Charles
Dickens, should not be prejudiced by his friendship with the Procter
Dickens was so attracted to Adelaide's first poem that he asked 'Mary
Berwick' to send in further
contributions, only discovering much later — and rather by accident — the
poet's true identity. In the following six years the magazine published much
of Adelaide's poetry, her poems also appearing in All the Year Round,
Cornwall and Good Words. The first series of
Adelaide's principal work, Legends and Lyrics, appeared in 1858 and
ran through nine editions in seven years; a second series published in
1860 met with similar success. In 1866, a further edition appeared
with an introduction by Charles Dickens, and there have been
numerous reprints of Legends and Lyrics to the present day.
Believed to have been Queen Victoria's
favourite poet, Adelaide is reputed to have sold more volumes of poetry
during the Victorian era than any other poet except Tennyson.
In her mid-twenties, Adelaide became a Roman Catholic,
an act that appears to have influenced her poetry for much of her
Legends and Lyrics is infused with a strong Catholic sensibility
suggestive of the 'convert's fervour.' It is unsurprising that her
devotional lyrics were
used in both Catholic and Protestant hymnals, examples being I
do not ask, O Lord, that Life may be, and My God, I thank Thee who
Adelaide visited the sick, befriended the destitute
and homeless, taught, and endeavoured to help the less fortunate of her
own sex. Her devotional lyrics,
A Chaplet of Verses, was published in 1862 as a benefit for Providence Row, a night refuge
for homeless women and children opened in 1860 under the care of
the Sisters of Mercy. Adelaide was generous yet practical with the income derived from
her poetry, perhaps feeling guilty that her growing success was
over-shadowing her father's reputation as a poet; "Papa
is a poet. I only write verses."
A shelter through the bleak winter
nights, leave to rest in some poor shed instead of wandering through
the pitiless streets, is a boon we could hardly deny to a starving
dog. And yet we have all known that in this country, in this town,
many of our miserable fellow-creatures were pacing the streets
through the long weary nights, without a roof to shelter them,
without food to eat, with their poor rags soaked in rain, and only
the bitter winds of Heaven for companions; women and children
utterly forlorn and helpless, either wandering about all night, or
crouching under a miserable archway, or, worst of all, seeking in
death or sin the refuge denied them elsewhere. It is a marvel that
we could sleep in peace in our warm comfortable homes with this
horror at our very door.
Adelaide: from the Preface to her
Chaplet of Verses.
In 1858, Adelaide and some feminist friends founded The
English Woman's Journal (once referred to by Adelaide, perhaps
contemptuously, as a "moral engine"), its main aim being to urge women to enter the
workforce as professionals. Many of the Journal's articles
gave accounts of mothers' meetings, temperance campaigns, industrial and
ragged schools, cottage hospitals and local refuges, and of the
involvement of women's in their operation and management. Although
probably more influential than its low circulation - below 500 per edition
- would suggest, the Journal's middle-class intellectual content held
limited appeal. Financial loss together with religious and other
differences among its proprietors eventually brought it to a close in
1864. Adelaide's best-known lyric, 'A Lost Chord',
first appeared in the Journal, later becoming highly successful as a song
set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan (see Sheet
In 1859, Adelaide was appointed by the 'National Association
for the Promotion of Social Science' to a committee that sought to
discover ways for more women to enter the workforce. Together with
Bessie Rayner Parkes, Jessie Boucherett, Isa Craig and Matilda Hays, she also helped to establish
the 'Society for Promoting the Employment of Women'..... "for girls and young
women, where they may be specifically trained to work in shops by being
thoroughly well instructed in accounts, book-keeping etc." An
employment register was set up, and soon various enterprises were under way
including a printing house, The Victoria Press, for whom, in 1861,
Adelaide edited a miscellany entitled "Victoria Regia" to which members of
the literati contributed. The book was set up in type by women
compositors under the direction of Emily Faithfull—copies
in good condition now command high prices on the antiquarian book market
.....Next deserves to be noticed the
Victoria Regia (Emily Faithfull and Co.), a joint-stock
volume, in which Tennyson, Thackery, Tom Taylor, Mrs. Grote,
Lord Carlisle, Monkton Milnes, John Forster, Coventry Patmore,
Matthew Arnold, Anthony Trollope, and others have taken
shares. The editor is Miss Procter, and the volume is "printed
and published by Emily Faithfull and Co., Victoria Press (for
the employment of women.)" More than a year ago Miss Faithfull
opened her office in order to prove that the sphere of women
in our country is much too restricted. She thought that they
would at least make admirable compositors, and she desired,
after a few months experience, to produce a volume which
should be a choice specimen of the skill attained at her
establishment. A number of our best authors have been
interested in the experiment, and have given their
contributions, while the Queen has accepted the dedication of
the work. Thus, from the social, as well as from the literary
point of view, the book is very attractive......
An extract from 'Christmas Books,'
The Times, 28 December, 1861.
HE VICTORIA MAGAZINE. Price 1s. Contents of the
March number :—1. Adelaide Anne Procter. By Edwin Arnold—2.
From Berlin—3. Lindisfarn Chase. By T. A. Trollope. Chap.
XXXI. The Jawbone Tells Tales. Chap. XXXII. Settlements. Chap.
XXXIII. Paternal Advice—4. Poland in 1864. By Isa Craig—5. The
Woodcutter and the Blind Owl : a Syrian Story. By Mary Eliza
Rogers—6. The Education of Women. By J. G. Fitch M.A., H. M.
Inspector of Schools—7. A Journal Kept in Egypt. By
Nassan W. Senior—8. Social Science—9. Literature of the Month.
London, Emily Faithfull, printer and publisher in ordinary to
her Majesty, Princes-street, Hanover-square. Sold by Simpkin,
Marshall and Co., and by all booksellers.
From The Times, Friday, March 4, 1864.
A LOST CHORD.
one day at the Organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.
I do not know what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.
It flooded the crimson twilight
Like the close of an Angel's Psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit
With a touch of infinite calm.
It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.
It linked all perplexed meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence
As if it were loth to cease.
I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the
And entered into mine.
It may be that Death's bright angel
Will speak in that chord again,—
It may be that only in Heaven
I shall hear that grand Amen.
Adelaide A. Procter
Although better known as a poet than a social reformer in her
lifetime, Adelaide worked tirelessly for better conditions for women in
society. Sadly, she contracted tuberculosis. The cure at
Malvern was tried in vain and, after an illness of fifteen months, she
died calmly at the age of 38. She was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. Her
friends believed that overwork probably shortened her life.
In almost every committee there is a
leading person, an animating spirit, some one, in fact, who does
more than a fair share of work and does it well, and thus gains
influence over the rest; this was the part taken by Miss
Procter.....she was continually in the office, sometimes helping in
the regular work, sometimes devising new plans and studying how to
put them in execution.
From an obituary by Jessie Boucherett
Adelaide is one of the more important 19th Century women
poets to be reassessed in recent years. Her unambitious verses deal
with simple emotional themes in a simple manner, and "have a charm which
is scarcely explicable on the ground of high literary merit, but which is
due rather to the fact that they are the cultured expression of an earnest
and beneficent life" (Britannica, 1911). Among the best known of her
poems are "The Angels Story", "The Legend of Bregenz" and "The Legend of Provence"; in her poem
"Philip and Mildred", she urges women not to live
their lives in the shadows of men. Many of her poems became songs and hymns
(e.g. "Per Pacem ad Lucem" and "Thankfulness") also
became very popular.
Not only was Adelaide a significant figure in
the Victorian literary landscape, but as a key member of the Langham Place
Circle of campaigning women (together with Barbara Bodichon, Bessie Rayner
Parkes, Isa Craig and Jessie Boucherett) she worked tirelessly to promote
female employment. Many of her poems are concerned with anonymous
and displaced women who struggle to realise and consolidate an identity
and a place in a harsh, male-dominated world. Loved and admired by
her father, her editor, Charles Dickens, and her friend W. M. Thackeray,
Adelaide Anne Procter wrote from the heart of London literary circles and,
from this position, mounted a subtle and creative critique of the ideas
and often gendered positions adopted by male predecessors and
contemporaries such as John Keble, Robert Browning...... and Charles Dickens himself.
Memoirs of Adelaide were left by Charles Dickens and
Bessie Rayner Belloc.
ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER.
Sweet Poetess! though all too brief thy stay
With us on earth, "True Honours" grace thy lyre
"The Angel's Story" lives to raise us higher;
"The Peace of God" consoles us day by day.
We read thy "Legends" with rapt hearts, and say,
"O Heaven itself did this pure verse inspire,
That it might be to us a beacon fire
In life's dark night to show the 'narrow way.' "
The true love of "the Faithful Soul" was thine,
Thou didst not "fear the beautiful Angel Death":
"Give me thy heart," said Christ the Lord; and thou
Meekly and gladly yielding up thy breath,
Didst pass from earthly pain to peace divine,
With Song's immortal crown upon thy brow.