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In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
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page: 135

MONTAGUS AND PROCTERS.

BASIL MONTAGU.

IN the year 1845 Basil Montagu was the handsomest old English gentleman imaginable, although he must have been three score years and ten at the lowest computation, for he was one of many children, and the tragic death of his beautiful mother took place in 1779. He had snowy hair, blue eyes, and an aquiline nose of the most pronounced and aristocratic type; and his stately wife, the Mrs. Montagu so vividly described by Carlyle, was as dark as he was fair. They then lived at Storey’s Gate, in the little house once occupied by Mrs. Norton. It is still standing,¹ and can be known by its porch and balcony, and by the mirrors which even yet reflect the park. Famous people have visited that small house, and I believe it was there that


¹ It has been destroyed this year.

page: 136 Meredith placed the London home of Diana of the Cross‐ways.

Basil Montagu was the son of the historic Lord Sandwich, the patron of Captain Cook and name‐father of the Sandwich Islands. His birth was irregular, and his life from beginning to end a strange romance. He was one of the three finally surviving children of Miss Ray, who was barbarously murdered as she was leaving Convent Garden Theatre by a young clergyman of the name of Hackman. It was a most piteous and dreadful crime, for there is no authentic record¹ of any worse flaw in the poor woman’s character than that involved in her relations to Lord Sandwich, and her murderer was actuated by a mad jealousy which, according to reasonable testimony, she had done nothing to provoke. The event is reported in the serious‐minded Gentleman’s Magazine, under date of April 7th, 1779. Here are the exact words in their quaint sobriety:—

“Wednesday. A most unprecedented murder was committed on the person of Miss Ray by the


¹ The spurious nature of the letters lately republished is surely demonstrated by Lord Sandwich’s public recognition of his children.

page: 137 Rev. W. Hackman, who, being desperately in love with her, watched her from the play, and as she was stepping into her coach amidst a crowd of people, clapped a pistol to her ear and shot her through the head. She dropped and expired without a groan. His intent was instantly to destroy himself, but in that he failed, and endeavouring to make his escape, he was secured and committed to prison. He appeared to be perfectly in his senses, and endeavoured to justify the act by a sudden impulse that for a moment convulsed his mind. The deceased for more than sixteen years had been connected with Lord Sandwich, and had been the mother of nine children, five of whom are now alive. At the time when Lord Sandwich was attracted by her person she was in her sixteenth year, and an apprentice to a mantua‐maker in Clerkenwell. This murder affords a melancholy proof that there is no act contrary to reason that reasonable men will not commit when under the dominion of their passions. It is impossible to convey an idea of the impression made on all ranks of people when it was first reported; the manner of it struck every feeling heart with horror.” page: 138 Such was the very human utterance of Sylvanus Urban, avoiding all reproach of the unfortunate mother of so many young children, who expiated her fault by so dreadful a fate. The street ballad, of the epoch which then usually commemorated events striking to the popular imagination, touches the same key, and Grub Street furnished a long poem on the death of Miss Ray; one verse of it, quoted by Thackeray, ends with a rough but touching piety:— “A clergyman, O wicked one! In Convent Garden shot her, No time to cry upon her God, It’s hoped He’s not forgot her.”

It must be added that it would be unfair for the cloth to suffer in reputation for Hackman’s atrocious deed. He had held His Majesty’s Commission, and it was as a soldier that he first met Miss Ray, at Hinchinbrooke, and he sold out in pursuance of the object of his admiration. Why he took orders, how he obtained ordination, and why he should have imagined that by such extraordinary and disreputable plotting he could succeed in winning Miss Ray away from her children and their father, is one of those mysteries which surround the sphere of madness. At the page: 139 inquest, which was very fully reported on the next page of the magazine, Hackman seems to have made no effort at self‐defence, simply saying that jealousy had driven him mad. A Mr. Macnamara appeared as principal witness, and described how he had taken Miss Ray upon his arm in order to lead her to the carriage sent by Lord Sandwich, how he had suddenly felt the shock and the noise of the explosion, and the movement of the lady dropping on the pavement, dead! The pistol had been fired close to the back of her head.

Hackman was of course condemned, and suffered at Tyburn Tree on the 19th of April, whither he was taken in a mourning coach accompanied by the chaplain of Newgate, a sheriff’s officer, and James Boswell of Auchinlick. Lord Carlisle also attended the execution, and gave an account of it to George Selwyn which is to be found in Selwyn’s correspondence. Hackman stated that he had taken the pistol with the intent of committing suicide, but had been maddened by jealousy at the sight of Mr. Macnamara. Such was the poor crazy criminal whose deed filled all London with horror, and page: 140 orphaned a house full of children, causing the people of that day to overlook the irregularities of Miss Ray’s life in their pity for her tragical fate.

It is wonderful and instructive to note that in the official life of Lord Sandwich, written by his domestic chaplain, the great minister is lauded as a model of all the virtues, in language which only the pompous diction of the last century could supply. He was sixty when this awful tragedy befell him, and survived to the age of seventy‐three, dying younger than did his son Basil. He was succeeded by his only legitimate son, born to him by his third wife, Dorothy Fane, which son became a man of no particular importance; but Basil rose to great eminence, and Basil’s brother became Admiral Montagu, while the only surviving sister married the Sardinian Ambassador, Comte de Viry.

It was probably one result of the mother’s melancholy death that Lord Sandwich thenceforth brought up the children of his dead mistress as kings have brought up their offspring, giving them his name, and, so far as he could, the advantages of his own rank. Basil’s name is deeply writ on the Statute Book of England, page: 141 while from the Sardinian marriage sprang a train of curious circumstances, of which “The Lost Chord” survives as an echo of the Catholic marriage of Madame de Viry.

It should be also recorded by the truthful historian that pious proper George the Third was much attached to Lord Sandwich, and twice visited the fleet while that nobleman was at the head of the Admiralty. In this connection an anecdote is told (but not by the chaplain) of the inquisitive monarch. He asked to taste the pork and pease soup on which the equipage of a certain man‐of‐war was about to dine. Lord Sandwich sent a message to the purser, who sent word back that he could not “victual any man in a King’s ship without a warrant from the captain.” This was obtained in due form, and accompanied with the request that a nice piece of pork should be selected for his Majesty. The crusty purser declared that this was against all rule. Either the King or the First Lord of the Admiralty must “prick in the tub and take pot luck.”

Returning to Basil Montagu (still a familiar figure when our Queen was young), he was in page: 142 due time sent by his father to Oxford, and thence to the Bar. While at college and under twenty‐one, he made a runaway marriage with a baronet’s daughter. I forget her name, but he used to talk about her to me with much frankness. The young wife died in child‐birth, leaving a son, also named Basil, who grew up to manhood. The boyish father was heartbroken at her loss, and told, in his old age, how he spent the days thinking about her, and the nights in lying upon her grave. “But,” said he, with old‐fashioned precision, “I reflected, my dear, that such indulgence in grief would never do; so I made a resolution to think of my wife for a quarter of an hour less every day, and I did so (impressively); and so at last I was cured of my sorrow.” It is half a century since this narrative of a grief‐cure was given, but the quotation of the strange recipe is exact.

At the Bar Mr. Montagu built up a great reputation. He was intimately associated with Sir Samuel Romilly in successful efforts to abolish the punishment of death for those numerous offences, far short of murder, for which it was then pitilessly exacted. Together page: 143 they waged a long and successful crusade. Of the state of the law and the astounding callousness of the British judge at the beginning of this century, the following letter bears evidence, and is worth many statistics. In 1810 Sir Samuel received a letter signed Stephen R. Amwell, informing him that in passing through Maidstone, the writer had learned that three men, all convicted for slight offences, had been left for execution by the judge. One of them, Lawes by name, who had stolen property worth forty shillings, might be thought to have some claim to mercy because a bill to repeal in such cases the punishment of death was actually pending in Parliament. The man was to be hanged on the day following the receipt of the letter. Sir Samuel hastened to the Secretary of State, and he without delay sent on Amwell’s letter to Judge Heath. Here is the judge’s answer:—

“Sir,—I have received and read the letter with the signature of Amwell, and by some passages I am confident that he wrote me a letter, signed Amicus Curiæ, respecting Lawes. As for Lawes, he was guilty of house‐breaking, and page: 144 most probably burglary, in the dwelling house of Mary Wilkins, a widow woman, who carries on the business of baker at Minster, and stole plate to the value of £20 and upwards, to the best of my recollection. As housebreaking has been frequent in Kent and no person appeared to give him a character, I left him for execution. Stephen Nichols was convicted of stealing two heifers, which the prisoner and his brother, who has absconded, pretended to have bought for £34. They were driven from the close of a poor widow woman whose property they were, and slaughtered by the prisoner.

“The third is Peter Presnel, who was convicted for breaking into the cottage of John Orpin, no persons being therein, and stealing therein property to the value of five shillings; in fact, the things were of the value of forty shillings. It was found that the cottage was broken into while the prosecutor was absent at his labour, and all the valuable things were stolen by the prisoner. I consider this offence the worst of all, because, if not checked, it would destroy all parsimony and frugality among cottagers. In truth, I tried ninety‐nine prisoners at page: 145 Maidstone; and excepting one executed for murder, I only left the above three for execution, and not one of those could adduce a single witness to his character.

“I have the honour to be, etc.,

“D. HEATH.

“Bedford Square,

“April 8th, 1810.”

No respite was sent, and consequently the three men were hanged. Nichols was reported in the newspapers to be a boy of nineteen.

The abolition of these ghastly laws and practices was the main triumph of Basil Montagu’s middle age; but his house was for years the centre of bright, refined activity; 25, Bedford Square, was blessed by all the younger spirits of literature and the law.

In his old age, when all his sons and daughters were married or otherwise scattered (for of the boys I have no accurate count), he was a devotee of Lord Bacon, whose works he edited, and of whom he ever spoke with fanatic admiration.

In 1845 my parents lived in his near neigh‐ page: 146 bourhood neighbourhood , and I thought it an immense honour to help him prepare gigantic rolls of paper, which were pasted together till they were of the size of a small sheet. On these Mr. Montagu would print in huge capitals the names of the Cardinal Virtues. I understood at the time that these had some connection with Lord Bacon! It is not my impression that Mr. Montagu was particularly gifted with devotion to the Counsels of Perfection, but to this day I cannot see Truth and Temperance printed on a handbill in Roman letters without thinking of my dear old friend. I do not know what purpose he had in view, but I can hardly think that so important a personage intended to deliver a lecture to any audience lower in status than the assembled Bar!

Quite towards his closing years Mr. Montagu suffered some reverse of fortune which must have been caused by younger members of his family. The little establishment at Storey’s Gate was broken up, and he and his wife retired to France. I last saw him waving a good‐bye to my parents on the pier of Boulogne, He was buried in the cemetery on the St. Omer page: 147 Road, with one short line of noble epitaph, well deserved, for he had certainly used his life of labour for the cause of Justice and Liberty and the happiness of Mankind.

BASIL MONTAGU’S WIFE.

It is difficult to attempt the portrait of any one who has already been described by Carlyle. He threw all his impressions on paper with a touch of unconscious virulence, so that even his best‐loved heroes, even Oliver himself, disclosed under his revelations a cruel or a distressful side. I knew that beautiful lady of Carlyle’s description very well, as the young know the old; and I knew her for the course of many years, for Mrs. Montagu long survived her husband, and, returning to England, lived to a great age in the house of her daughter, Mrs. Procter. Whatever sorrows she had to bear, and they were neither few nor slight, she bore them in silence with a splendid courage, and did her best for all around her. No woman of our time could have had more reason to feel outraged by any allusion to her private griefs, and when I look up at the windows of the little house in page: 148 Storey’s Gate, where I once spent long hours, listening with enthusiasm to her wise and kindly wisdom, I feel amazement after a lapse of a long half‐century that the image of such a wife and mother should remain associated with the unredressed insults of Carlyle’s ungrateful pen. But to this subject I must needs return when I come to speak of her daughter, Mrs. Procter.

Mrs. Montagu’s maiden name was Benson, and she came from the same family stock as the present Archbishop of Canterbury. She was born in York. I do not know what was the occupation of her father, but I have reason to believe that her uncle was incumbent of the living of Bolton on the Wharfe, and that by him, and in his parish church, she was early married to a young lawyer named Skepper, a lineal descendant of the second partner of the famous firm of Fust and Scheffer, the earliest printers. This marriage must have occurred shortly before the year 1800. Mr. Skepper died early, and when Basil Montagu met the young widow, which I have always supposed to have happened while he was on the Northern Circuit, page: 149 her little Anne was a very young child. I have no record of the place or date of Mrs. Skepper’s marriage to Mr. Montagu. My father’s first memory of her referred to her as installed in the large house, No. 25, Bedford Square, where the children of his two previous marriages were gathered, nor do I know anything about Mr. Montagu’s second wife, who died prematurely, leaving, I think, two sons. Little Anne Skepper was thus brought up in the house of her stepfather, and could recall no other parent; she ever regarded him with profound respect and warm affection, and was a true sister in all her dealings with the other children of that complicated family. Mrs. Montagu was at all ages a most beautiful person; the only figure which in any way recalls her to me is the well‐known portrait of Mrs. Siddons as Queen Catherine. Speaking of Anne Skepper’s marriage to the poet Mr. Procter, then better known as Barry Cornwall, Mr. Coventry Patmore, who knew them all, says, “That a poet could hardly have aspired to a greater temporal reward than the friendship of the Basil Montagus and the hand of their daughter will not be questioned by any of the page: 150 many living persons who have had the happiness of knowing the family. No young man who understood what honour meant, and none understood it better than the high‐minded and sensitive young poet, could think that fame had in store for him any favour which could surpass or equal those which she was now conferring on him. Hence, perhaps, the sudden and final extinction of his literary ambition, which seemed to occur about this time, notwithstanding an amount of popular encouragement that, under ordinary circumstances, was calculated to fire him to redoubled exertions. The manners, at once stately and genial, of Mr. Basil Montagu and his wife have few or no counterpart in modern society. The stateliness was not that of reserve but of truth in action, and the geniality arose, not from easy good‐humour, but from earnest goodwill. Of Mrs. Basil Montagu it may indeed be said that for a young man to know her was an education. Even at a time when her great personal beauty was slightly (it was never more than slightly) obscured by age, there was that about her that no well‐disposed and imaginative young man could long behold without feeling page: 151 that he was committed thereby to leading a worthy life. If the reader is inclined to smile at this praise as somewhat obsolete in its mode, let him be assured by one who knew Mrs. Montagu that it seems so only because that style of woman is obsolete.”

I have quoted at length this page from Mr. Coventry Patmore’s biography of Mr. Procter because there are now left so few people who can recall the Montagu household. It was in the little drawing‐room at Storey’s Gate that I first met Mr. Patmore. He had just published his first book.

Mrs. Montagu’s great personal beauty and distinction were heightened by the pains which she took with her peculiar dress; it was almost that of a “Plain Friend,” and recalled the aspect of Elizabeth Fry. She never indulged in more than three dresses, and the material was black satin, which in the years when I first remember her (in the Forties) was very much in vogue. I imagine that she must have allowed herself one new dress every year, and she wore the three in strict and careful rotation. The costume was cut low and square in front, as in so many of the page: 152 portraits of Reynolds and Gainsborough; ample folds of white muslin met the dress, and, mounting to the chin, encircled her fine old face and head in beautiful pleats; the effect was that of a cap, but I do not know how it was managed, and it was a standing jest among her intimate friends that no one could ever divine the modus operandi of Mrs. Montagu’s toilet. I believe that the robe was cunningly fastened upon the shoulder, and the point of junction concealed under a fold of black satin. I have often seen her clear starching and ironing out the voluminous folds of white muslin with her own stately hands. The effect of the whole costume was charming to behold.

She wrote a remarkably beautiful Italian hand, or rather what we now know as the Elizabethan writing, the stems of the letters serried together, and the letters themselves wide apart. Every word was plainly separate. In her old age she was fond of teaching writing to her young friends. She would not tolerate a blot upon the page, and she abhorred a word of slang in conversation. It was just the time when Boz and Pickwick had started fresh forms of speech page: 153 among the new generation of young men and maidens, and I regret to say that they occasionally fell with her into deep disgrace! No one ever gave me so much the impression of a moral soldier under arms as Mrs. Basil Montagu. About a month before her death her son‐in‐law went upstairs to pay her a visit in her private sitting‐room. He came down and said to Mrs. Procter “My dear Anne, your mother must be ill; she has allowed herself to cough in my presence.” During that last thirty days, Mrs. Montagu sat up quietly reading as usual; she was a religious woman, and when she could no longer go out to church, she read her books of devotion steadily at home, but her daughter one day, standing softly behind her, saw that the book was upside down in her mother’s hand. When at length one Friday morning the brave old lady could no longer rise and sit in her accustomed arm‐chair, it was the first time that her granddaughter, Adelaide Procter, had ever seen her head recumbent upon its pillow. In three days she had quietly passed away, and for all those, now few in number, who can still familiarly remember her, the name of Anne Benson Montagu recalls page: 154 an image of majestic beauty and dauntless moral courage of which Englishwomen may well be proud.

A few words must be added about the only daughter of the famous advocate. Carlyle refers to her as having made “a considerable foreign marriage;” about which he evidently knew nothing, for it was not in any way a legitimate subject for his covert sneer.

Emily Montagu was born in Bedford Square, and was, I think, about fifteen years younger than her half‐sister Anne, who felt for her an affection which was one of the softest points in Mrs. Procter’s character. I only saw her at one epoch, when, in middle age and a second time widowed, she came back to England to see her mother, then living in Mr. Procter’s household. This was her story.

It will be remembered that the daughter of Lord Sandwich, educated and dowered by him, eventually married the Sardinian Ambassador, Comte de Viry. She disappeared from England, and over Sardinia and Savoy swept the great storm of the French Revolution, during which the House of Savoy took refuge page: 155 in the island, conveyed thither under the escort of the British Fleet. Forty years passed; the last king of the old line of Savoy, Charles Felix, was restored to his kingdom after Waterloo; and after a ten years’ reign, he died a holy death, and his coffin was conveyed in a “Water Funeral” across the Lake of Bourget (close to Aix‐les‐Bains) and laid in the abbey church of Hautecombe, where his forefathers had also been buried. Hautecombe is still considered an isolated point of Italian soil. To Charles Felix succeeded his distant cousin, the Prince de Carignan, whom we know as Carlo Alberto, and it was during the reign of that liberal king that two young Sardinian gentlemen came over to the Embassy in London, whose names were Comte William de Viry and Comte Adrien de Revel. The first‐named was, of course, nephew to Basil Montagu, and both of them were attracted to the refined, gentle daughter of the household. Emily Montagu preferred her cousin, but there were difficulties, probably arising from unwillingness on the part of the parents to part with their only girl. Comte de Revel at this juncture conquered his own feelings, and did page: 156 his best to promote his friend’s happiness. Presently the family opposition was surmounted, and Miss Montagu became Comtesse William de Viry, and went away with her husband to Turin. This was about the year 1840. But the marriage was of short duration; Comte William died early, leaving two very young children, a boy and a girl. The boy was the king’s godson, and destined to be a royal page; he was named Alberto, and was his mother’s darling. Then began a long renewed courtship on the part of Comte Adrien de Revel, a courtship of romantic tenderness and very little hope, for de Revel was sent on foreign missions, St. Petersburg always looming in the distance, and Alberto could not legally leave Italy, and Comtesse William de Viry refused to listen to her faithful lover until both were middle‐aged. At last, when Alberto was fifteen, and some change was made in the boy’s position and education, his mother gave way. Adrien de Revel obtained his lifelong desire, and they were married at Turin, where the Court to which they were attached habitually resided. After the ceremony they went to Genoa for their honeymoon, intending to return page: 157 shortly to the capital and their usual duties, for both of them were of an ideal strain, and fidelity to all their engagements was with both the habit of their lives. The long‐deferred wedding had taken place on a Wednesday, and on the next Monday morning Comte de Revel awoke at early dawn in the grip of the Cholera Fiend, then hovering over Europe. Nothing availed to save him. There were only twenty lives lost in Genoa, but his, alas! was one.

There is no need to say more. They are all gone now: the faithful lover, the faithful mother, and also the two children whom they had reared from their early orphanhood. Alberto became a soldier, and his sister eventually entered a convent. Madame de Revel did not survive many years, but I have only a vague memory of the news of her death coming to London, and of the grief caused by it to the English relatives who had always loved her well.

THE PARENTS OF ADELAIDE PROCTER.

The father and mother of Adelaide Procter were both so highly gifted, and their household was page: 158 known to so many surviving friends, that it is only fitting their names should precede her own, although she achieved a greater fame; yet there were years when “Barry Cornwall” was known to all, and when his songs were sung all over England. Two of them, “The sea, the sea, the open sea,” and the “Return of the Admiral,” have their permanent place, though many of his charming and poetic pages have sunk into comparative oblivion. In his own person he was a refined and somewhat silent man, with a head said to resemble Sir Walter Scott’s in miniature, and he was extremely beloved by the literary world. But he lived an interior life, into which, I think, none but his wife ever penetrated. He was profoundly attached to her, and she was for ever shielding him from the wind that blew too roughly. He had many sorrows, and death twice visited his household under most pathetic circumstances. To ward off blows from “Brian” and to sustain him with her own abundant strength, was Mrs. Procter’s constant care, and in this she showed a side of her character wholly unsuspected by the outer world.

page: 159

Mr. Procter was born so long ago as 1787, and was not far from forty when he married the lovely girl, Anne Skepper, who had been brought up in the home of her stepfather, Basil Montagu. Bryan Walter Procter came from the North of England. He was educated at Harrow, and spent his holidays at the house of a great‐uncle who lived about a dozen miles from London; and his first real instructress in literature was a female servant, born in a better station of life, who had read Richardson and Fielding and worshipped Shakespeare. She used to recite whole scenes to the boy, and encouraged him to buy a Shakespeare of his own. “But,” says he, “I had not leisure to study and worship my Shakespeare long, for at the end of a month or six weeks my destiny drove me back to school.” There he had two schoolfellows, boys named Robert Peel and George Gordon Byron. Of Byron, Mr. Procter says that he then showed no signs of poetic grace. “He was loud, even coarse, and very capable of a boy’s vulgar enjoyments. He played at hockey and racquets, and was occasionally engaged in pugilistic encounters.” Of himself he says he was neither page: 160 very short nor very tall, neither handsome nor hideous. He survived Byron for fifty years, seeing the dawn, the zenith, and the partial oblivion of his fame.

Among Mr. Procter’s poems should be especially noticed the fine ring of Belshazzar, and some of deep and tender domestic interest. The lovely lines to his wife, beginning— “How many years, my Dove, Hast thou been mine! How many years, my Love, Have I been thine!” and the exquisite tribute to his dead boy, called “The Little Voice,” are among the most poignant utterances of the human heart. But nothing in his gentle, reserved face betrayed in later life the interior fire.

He led a hard‐working life in London as a barrister, and later in a Government office.

In looking through the memoir published in his widow’s lifetime, I was chiefly struck by a letter in which he describes his study, and says, regretfully, that he has never been abroad, never seen Italy or France, he, the poet and the lover of Italian art; and by another letter about the page: 161 Indian Mutiny, in which “Our son (the only son I have, indeed) escaped from Delhi.” He tells how this young man, left to him after the death of his eldest boy Edward, had been in Delhi, and how he and four or five other officers, four women, and a child, escaped. The men were “obliged to drop the women a fearful height from the walls of the fort amidst showers of bullets. They were seven days and seven nights in the jungle without money or meat, scarcely any clothes, no shoes. They forded rivers, lay on the wet ground at night, lapped water from the puddles, and finally reached Meerut.”

Montagu Procter married some years later the youngest of the ladies here spoken of. At the time of the Mutiny she was a girl of fifteen. He became eventually a general, and, returning to England, survived his father, but predeceased his mother, who, indeed, lost successively all her children save two.

Of Mrs. Procter much will inevitably be written in future years. She was a very remarkable person, and lived in possession of almost unbroken health and faculties until nearly ninety. As a girl (“my dearest girl,” writes the page: 162 poet during his betrothal) she had been extremely pretty. She was an early playmate of my mother’s, but my memory of her dates from her middle age, and extends over nearly fifty years. She was the daughter by a first marriage of Mrs. Basil Montagu, and always spoke of her mother with the greatest reverence. But of the race of poets to which she was inextricably bound, she spoke with a half‐laughing satire. One was evidently her life‐long lover, and one was her child, and several others clustered about her like bees. She did not exactly hold a salon; there was no great fortune in the household, nor any sort of pretension whatever, and Mrs. Procter gave one the impression of having her hands very full; but everybody of any literary pretension whatever seemed to flow in and out of the house. The Kembles, the Macreadys, the Rossettis, the Dickens, the Thackerays, never seemed to be exactly visitors, but to belong to the place. Three of the daughters became Catholic, and Mrs. Procter, who, I imagine, did not dwell much on the next world, stood between them and the sensitive father, to whom the loss of close union was a great misery. I used to think it infinitely page: 163 touching to see Mrs. Procter trying to harmonize the household. If “Brian” could be kept cheerful and if nobody was ill (and, alas! somebody was very often ill), then the quick vivid mother of the family seemed content. She had a habit of going into the world, a habit of dressing fashionably, a habit of writing the nearest and most concise notes possible; but her consistent, steady kindness had assuredly some deep spiritual root, of which she never spoke. Like her mother, she never abdicated for a moment her great tenue, never kept her room, never lowered the scale of her dress, never lost her composure; I should doubt if in sixty years a meal had ever been placed upon the table which she had not herself ordered. It was my fate to be very closely associated with her under circumstances in which ninety‐nine people out of a hundred would have broken down, and yet when she lost her daughters, it was their friend whom she tried to spare. I particularly remember her taking me with her to the Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green to plant a quantity of ivy on Adelaide’s grave. I can see her kneeling at the headstone, twisting the sprays, with a face of anxious, page: 164 steady determination. That grave is now a place of pilgrimage to American and Colonial travellers. It is thickly overgrown with ivy, but nobody guesses that the mother planted it herself.

Many years afterwards, Edythe Procter died very suddenly—indeed, in a manner truly tragical—failure of the heart’s action. Mrs. Procter was then more than eighty; and before the announcement could traverse the Continent in the newspapers, came a careful letter, addressed to a delicate friend at Mentone, and on the corner of the envelope two tiny, neatly‐written words, “Bad News.”

Such were the environments of Adelaide Procter’s life—a short life, for she died at the age of thirty‐eight. Of outward incidents, apart from the sudden blossoming of her literary fame, there were scarcely any. The year spent in Italy, where her aunt, Madame de Viry, was attached to the Court circle at Turin, was certainly a determining influence on her life. Emily de Viry had become a devout Catholic, and at that time the saintly wife of Victor Emmanuel was living. The example impressed page: 165 Adelaide’s mind, and doubtless contributed to her religious change. At Aix‐les‐Bains is a large portrait en pied of the young Queen of Sardinia in her bridal dress. It looks, at first sight, to be a purely conventional picture, but the eyes are of a haunting depth. They recall a word‐picture of the Queen returning from Holy Communion, which Adelaide Procter gave. The wife of Victor Emmanuel was passing along one of the galleries of the Palace, her face “shining as with an interior lamp,” when she was met by the young English girl, who never forgot the sight. Of this association Adelaide Procter always bore the trace. In her religious attitude she resembled a foreign rather than an English Catholic. She looked like a Frenchwoman mounting the steps of the Madeleine, or a veiled Italian in St. Peter’s. The one thing she never mentioned was her own conversion.

One of Miss Procter’s sisters, named Agnes, joined the order of the Irish Sisters of Mercy; and in looking back to our childhood I best remember her, as the nearer to my own age.

In 1840 the Procters lived in St. John’s Wood, page: 166 and used to visit their grandparents in Storey’s Gate; and in this house it must have been that two children were sitting by the fireside one evening. There was no other light in the room, and Agnes Procter (Sister Mary Francis) suddenly made a confidence; saying, in a tone of intense childish conviction, “I do love mama.” These words made an ineffaceable impression on the hearer, for the little speaker was never supposed to be at all imaginative, and certainly Mrs. Procter did not pose before the world as a tender woman—rather the reverse—though her intimates knew her for a very good and kind one. And the last time that I saw Sister Mary Francis she was kneeling by that mother’s open grave at Kensal Green, her sincere, gentle face, under its veil, looking but little changed since the day of her profession some thirty years before. It may not be irrelevant to add that shortly after her somewhat unexpected death after a few days’ illness, the Reverend Mother spoke of Sister Mary Francis’ great and unusual affection for her mother as of a profound sentiment rarely noticed either in or out of the religious life. It was the sweet soul’s one page: 167 earthly romance. I do not know in what light Mrs. Procter’s memory will go down to posterity when the letters and memoirs of the generation in which she played so large a social part come to be written and published; but this image of her as enshrined in her daughter’s heart should be recorded, for it is true.

Of the gifted eldest daughter the mother was intensely proud, and well may she have been, for a more vital spirit never inhabited a finely‐wrought frame. Adelaide Anne Procter was so curiously unlike her poems, and yet so distinct in individuality, that it is a pity she was not painted by any artist capable of rendering her singular and interesting face. There was something of Dante in the contour of its thin lines, and the colouring was a pale, delicate brown, which harmonized with the darker hair, while the eyes were blue, less intense in hue than those of Shelley; and like his also was the exquisitely fine, fluffy hair, which when ruffled stood out in a halo round the brow. A large oil painting of her exists, done, I believe, by Emma Galiotti, and it is like her as she appeared in a conventional dress and a most lugubrious mood, but the real page: 168 woman was quite different. She had a forecast of the angel in her face and figure, but it was of the Archangel Michael that she made one think. There was something spirited and almost militant in her aspect, if such a word can be applied to one so exquisitely delicate and frail. She was somewhat older than myself, and therefore, while I remember Agnes as a little girl, my first distinct memory of Adelaide dates from a period when she was already grown up, and had returned from Turin.

In her manner and dress she bore all the marks of a very exquisite breeding. She was conversant with foreign languages, knew French and Italian well, and wrote a peculiarly clear and delicate hand. One of her minor accomplishments was that of illumination. Monsignor Gilbert possessed two excellent examples of her skill in this unusual art. In her youth she danced lightly and well. All these little details go to make up the portrait of a very charming personality.

She was already thirty before her name had been heard, except as that of Barry Cornwall’s “sweet, beloved First Born.” Her poems circu‐ page: 169 lated circulated among friends, just as Rossetti’s used to do, being copied from hand to hand. Then one was sent by her anonymously to Charles Dickens, and inserted by him in a Christmas number of Household Words. Dickens thus tells the story:—“Happening one day to dine with an old and dear friend, distinguished in literature as ‘Barry Cornwall,’ I took with me an early proof of the Christmas number of Household Words, entitled ‘The Seven Poor Travellers,’ and remarked, as I laid it on the drawing‐room table, that it contained a very pretty poem, written by a certain Miss Berwick. Next day brought me a disclosure that I had so spoken of the poem to the mother of the writer in the writer’s presence; that I had no such correspondent in existence as Miss Berwick, and that the name had been assumed by Barry Cornwall’s daughter, Miss Adelaide Anne Procter.”

From this time forward, I forget the year, she continued to write in Household Words, and the poems attracted so much attention that people used to pretend they had written them. When they were at length collected into volume, with the writer’s name attached, they page: 170 rushed into fame, and circulated all over the kingdom; and Miss Procter received a pathetic appeal from a young lady, who asked her could it be true that these lovely verses were all hers, for her lover had been in the habit of assuring her, as each poem successively appeared, that it was his own! Twelve editions followed one another, and five years after, the demand for her poems was still “far in excess of that for the writings of any living poet except Mr. Tennyson.” I think it caused her a feeling of shyness amounting to pain to have so far outstripped her poet‐father in popular estimation. “Papa is a poet. I only write verses.”

A very few years after this wide recognition of her genius the end came. Her health began to fail in 1862, and by the end of that year she was confined to her bed. So great was the fragility of her frame, that when once the lungs were attacked there seemed to be no chance of saving her. Then began a battle which the two or three surviving people who witnessed it can assuredly never forget—a battle royal with the power of Death. I do not mean that she consciously tried to live a longer life, but that she did page: 171 not give way an inch to the Destroyer. The only time I ever saw her quail was one day when I got a little pencil note, “They say the second lung is attacked.” I hurried off to the house, and found her sitting up in bed, her pretty fair hair standing out in a halo, her blue eyes fastening on mine with an anxious, wistful look. But the momentary panic passed away, and she recovered her cheerfulness, repeated her prayers, talked of Jean Ingelow’s poems (and particularly of the “High Tide in Lincolnshire”), made her gentle jests—she was naturally extremely witty—and faced the Destroyer with the most pathetic mixture of resignation and pluck imaginable.
At last, one day—it was the 1st of February, 1864 (Thackeray had died on Christmas Eve)—I went to her in the evening, and found her greatly oppressed. But she was very eager about a poem of mine, “Avignon,” and would sit up in bed holding it in her slender, trembling hands, and trying to correct the proof. The last line ran— “Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie.”
The evening wore on—nine—ten—eleven page: 172 o’clock. It was not possible for me to remain later without greatly alarming my parents, and I had to leave. After an anxious consultation with Edythe, I returned to the sick‐room and kissed her forehead, saying, “Good‐night, dear.” She looked up at me quickly and gravely, and said, “Good‐night.” After I had left, they sat beside her—the mother, the sister, and the maid who had been with them very many years. About two in the morning of the Feast of the Purification her breathing became oppressed. She looked up in her mother’s face, and said, “Mamma, has it come?” And Mrs. Procter said, “Yes, my dear,” and took her in her arms. And so, while Edythe knelt by her side, reciting the prayers for the dying, my dear Adelaide passed away in peace.

It remains to say a few words about her poems. Since for years they had a larger sale than those of any other poet save Tennyson, they must have penetrated into every reading household in Great Britain. Of late, however, their popular fame seems chiefly to repose on the “Lost Chord,” nobly set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. It is wonderful to see the enthusiasm infused by this page: 173 song. The vast audience of St. James’s Hall thrills as one man when it is given. But in the beauty of the narrative poems, and in the profound depth of feeling of those which have an autobiographical source, the student of Victorian literature will, I am convinced, find permanent delight; and that many verses and many lines will survive may be inferred from that perfection of form which is essential to lasting fame. Miss Procter always used the plainest words to convey her thought, the simplest, choicest words to express her feeling. Some of those which deal with the human heart are wonderfully sweet and subtle.

One of the most striking of the personal poems is “A Woman’s Question,” beginning— “Before I trust my fate to thee.”
And another, named “Beyond,” of which the two last stanzas run thus:— “If in my heart I now could fear that, risen again, we should not know What was our Life of Life when here—the hearts we loved so much below; I would arise this very day, and cast so poor a thing away. page: 174 But love is no such soulless clod; living, perfected it shall rise Transfigured in the light of God, and giving glory to the skies. And that which makes this life so sweet shall render Heaven’s joy complete.”
Another delicately subtle poem is entitled “Returned—Missing,” and how strong and noble is “A Parting.” And lastly, the charming “Comforter.”
  • “If you break your plaything yourself, dear,
  • Don’t you cry for it all the same?
  • I don’t think it is such a comfort,
  • One has only oneself to blame.
  • “People say things cannot be helped, dear,
  • But then that is the reason why;
  • For if things could be helped or altered,
  • One would never sit down to cry.”
The more specially religious poems are to be found in a small volume entitled “A Chaplet of Verses,” published for the benefit of the Night Refuge originally established close to the church in Moorfields. It opens with the trumpet call of the “Army of the Lord,” a splendid piece of verse. But “Give me thy heart” is to be found in the first volume of “Legends and Lyrics.” Both of them are surely equal to any of Father Faber’s. What nobler prayer, more perfectly page: 175 expressed, than that contained in the eight lines:— “Send down, O Lord, Thy sacred fire! Consume and cleanse the sin That lingers still within its depths; Let heavenly love begin. That sacred flame Thy Saints have known. Kindle, O Lord, in me! Thou above all the rest for ever, And all the rest in Thee.”
The “Chaplet” has been stereotyped, and has had a wide circulation. One poem, entitled “Homeless,”¹ was written at Monsignor Gilbert’s special request, and was for years inserted in the annual report and appeal for funds. Of the seven stanzas, I quote two. The concluding lines of each exemplify the rigour with which Miss Procter rounded a thought where weaker poets fail:—
  • “Why, our criminals all are sheltered,
  • They are pitied, and taught, and fed;
  • That is only a sister—woman,
  • Who has got neither food nor bed—
  • And the Night cries, ‘Sin to be living,’
  • And the River cries, ‘Sin to be dead.’”


¹ Now that Monsignor Gilbert has been withdrawn from our midst, there is no reason for refraining to say that he, who was her confessor, and whom she certainly trusted above all, read through this paper and ratified it with his approval.

page: 176
  • “Nay; goods in our thrifty England
  • Are not left to lie and grow rotten;
  • For each man knows the market value
  • Of silk, or woollen, or cotton...
  • But in counting the riches of England,
  • I think our Poor are forgotten!
The profits of this little book, of which the sale still continues, were so considerable that Monsignor Gilbert founded a bed in the Refuge called the “Adelaide Procter Bed,” a permanent memento and reminder of prayer for her soul.

And lastly, I have been told upon the highest authority that her personal habits of piety were of the most fervent and consistent kind. The intensity of her susceptible nature found expression and support in her faith. She was strengthened in much suffering, and consoled in much grief, by ardent love of God. She never failed in courage when to publicly confess obedience to the Catholic Church demanded strength of no usual sort, for her lot was cast among those who did not acknowledge the claim; and she, who was eminently delicate in fibre and subject to many fears, went down by slow degrees into the page: 177 “valley of the shadow of Death,” with a cheerful heroism rarely seen.

It was on the 2nd of February, 1864, that Adelaide Procter’s wasted frame was laid within the coffin. The snow lay on the ground in patches outside the old church in Spanish Place, full of the lighted candles held by a dense congregation. “And we know when the Purification, Her first feast, comes round, The early spring flowers to greet it Just opening are found; And pure, white, and spotless, the snowdrop Will pierce the dark ground.”

So we laid masses of snowdrops all about her, and for years the recurring sight of them brought back the vision of that calm spiritual face amidst the flowers. But of her, more than of others, it truly appeared that only the frail worn envelope lay there. While on earth she had habitually dwelt in the spiritual world; and into its inner depths, behind the veil, the Lord, whom she so well loved, had led her, by a long and painful path, so that it seemed to those who knew her as if by an almost imperceptible vanishing she had been withdrawn from their eyes. page: 178 Edythe now lies in the same grave in the Catholic Cemetery at Kensal Green, and the names of the two sisters are folded in the ivy which their mother planted there.

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