« AnteriorContinuar »
expression of her brilliant eyes gave a changeful play to her countenance, which would have made it impossible for any painter to do justice to it.”
According to all accounts, at this period she was one of the most lovely and fascinating creatures imaginable ; she was at once beautiful, warm-hearted, and enthusiastic. Her days had been spent in wandering through mountain and glen, and along the sea-shore, with her brothers and sister, or in brooding over the pages of Froissart and Shakspeare. Her mind was full of visions of romance, her heart of thrilling sensibilities; and at this moment the feeling of martial glory came to add a new enthusiasm to her character. Her two elder brothers were in the army, and one was fighting in Spain. There were many poetic and chivalrous associations with this country, which now were felt by her with double force, and which turned all her heart and imagination in this direction. In this critical hour, a young officer who was visiting in the neighbourhood was introduced to the family, and her fate was decided. It was Captain Hemans. The hero of the hour, he became completely so, when he also set sail for Spain. It was natural for so enthusiastic and poetic a damsel to contemplate him as a warrior doing battle for the deliverance of that land of Gothic and of Moorish romance, in the most delusive colouring. When he returned, it was to become her husband in an ill-fated marriage.
In the mean time, in 1809, and when she was about seventeen, her family quitted Gwrych, so long her happy home. Since then the greater part of the house has been pulled down, and a baroniallooking castle has arisen in its stead, the seat of Mr. Lloyd Bamford Hesketh. Bronwylfa, near St. Asaph, in Flintshire, became the residence of her family. Here she lived for about three years, or till 1812, when Captain Hemans returned, and they were married. For a short time she lived with her husband at Daventry, when they returned to Bronwylfa, where they lived till 1818, or about six years, the whole period of their married life that they lived together. From that time till the death of Mrs. Hemans, seventeen years more, they lived apart-she in Wales, England, and Ireland, he in Italy.
At the time of Captain Hemans's first acquaintance with her, or in 1808, she was already an avowed poetess, having not only written much verse, but having already published a volume. While they lived together, though called upon to care for a rapidly-increasing family-for at the time of Captain Hemans's departure for Italy he was the father of five boys,she still pursued her studies, and wrote and published her poems. In 1812 appeared Domestic Affections and other Poems; and soon after, Tales and Historic Scenes. After her husband's departure she continued her writing with undaunted fortitude. In 1819 she contended for the prize for a poem on Sir William Wallace, and bore it away from a host of competitors. In 1820 she published The Sceptic; and the following year she won another prize from the Royal Society of Literature, for the best poem on Dartmoor. From this time Mrs. Hemans may be said to be fairly before the public; and her fame, from year to year, continued steadily to advance. There is something admirable in the manner in which Mrs. Hemans, as a deserted wife, her father also now being dead, and at such a distance from the literary world, marched on her way, and at every step won some fresh ground o. honour. During this period she made a firm and fatherly friend of Dr. Luxmore, the bishop of St. Asaph, and, at his house, became acquainted with Reginald Heber. Her sister returning from a visit to Germany, where one of her brothers then was, brought with ber a store of German books, and a great enthusiasm about Gerinau literature. This opened up to her a new field of intellectual life, and produced a decided effect on her poetic tone and style. From the hour of Mrs. Hemans's acquaintance with the German literature, you perceive that she had discovered her own forte, and a new life of tenderness and feeling was manifest in all she wrote. She became an almost constant writer in Blackwood's and Colburn's Magazines. Schiller, Goethe, Körner, and Tieck-how sensibly is the influence of their spirit felt in The Forest Sanctuary ; how different was the tone of this to all which had gone before! The cold classical model was abandoned, the heart and the fancy spoke out in every line, warm, free, solemn, and tenderly thoughtful. She dared the stage, in The Vespers of Palermo; and though the tragedy was cruelly used in London, she bore up bravely against the unkindness, and was afterwards rewarded by a reception of it in Edinburgh, as cordially rapturous, and which brought her the friendship of Sir Walter Scott.
In 1825 Mrs. Hemans made another remove, though but a short one. The house in which she lived at Bronwylfa had been purchased by her elder brother, who came to live in it; and she, with her mother, sister, and her children, removed about a quarter of a mile, to Rhyllon, yet in full view of the old house. This house at Rhyllon is described as being a tall, staring, brick building, almost destitute of trees, of creepers on the walls, or of shrubbery ; while Bronwylfa, on the contrary, was a perfect bower of roses, peeping, says her sister, like a bird's nest out of the foliage in which it was embosomed. “In spite, however," continues the same sisterly biographer, “ of the unromantic exterior of her new abode, the earlier part of Mrs. Hemans's residence at Rhyllon may, perhaps, be considered as the happiest of her life ; as far, at least, as the term bap piness could ever be fitly applied to any period of it later than childhood. The house, with all its ugliness, was large and couvenient; the view from the windows beautiful and extensive ; and its situation, on a fine green slope, terminating in a pretty woodland dingle, peculiarly healthy and cheerful. Never, perhaps, had she more thorough enjoyment of her boys than in witnessing and often joining in their sports, in those pleasant, breezy fields, where the kites soared so triumphantly, and the hoops trundled so merrily, and where the cowslips grew as cowslips never grew before. An atmoxphere of home soon gathered round the dwelling; roses were planted, and honeysuckles trained ; and the rustling of the solitary poplar near the window was taken to her heart, like the voice of & friend. The dingle became a favourite haunt, where she would pass many dream-like hours of enjoyment with her books, and her own sweet fancies, and her children playing around her. Every tree, and flower, and tuft of moss that sprung amidst its green recesses, was invested with some individual charm by that rich imagination, 80 skilled in
"Clothing the palpable and the familiar
With golden exhalations of the dawn.” Here, on what the boys would call “mamma's sofa," - a little grassy mound under her favourite beech-tree, she first read The Talisman, and has described the scene with a loving minuteness, in her Hour of Romance :
“ There were thick leaves above me and around,
And low sweet sighs, like those of childhood's sleep,
As of soft showers on water. Dark and deep
Came pouring through the woven beech-boughs down." Many years after, in the sonnet, To a distant Scene, she addresses, with a fond yearning, this well-remembered haunt:
“Still are the cowslips from thy bosom springing,
O far off grassy dell!” How many precious memories has she hung round the thought of the cowslip, that flower with its “ gold coat” and “fairy favours," which is, of all others, so associated with the “ voice of happy child. hood," and was, to her, ever redolent of the hours when her
"Heart so leapt to that sweet laughter's tune!” Another favourite resort was the picturesque old bridge over the Clwyd ; and when her health admitted of more aspiring achievements, she delighted in roaming to the hills ; and the announcement of a walk to Cwm, a remote little hamlet, nestled in a mountain hollow amidst very lovely sylvan scenery, about two miles from Rhyllon, would be joyously echoed by her elated companions, to whom the recollection of those happy rambles must always be unspeakably dear. Very often, at the outset of these expeditions, the party would be reinforced by the addition of a certain little Kitty Jones, a child from a neighbouring cottage, who had taken an especial fancy to Mrs. Hemans, and was continually watching her movements. This little creature never saw her without at once attaching itself to her side, and confidingly placing its tiny hand in hers. So great was her love for children, and her repugnance to hurt the feelings of any living creature, that she never would shake off this singular appendage, but let little Kitty rejoice in her “pride of place," till the walk became too long for her capacity, and she would quietly fall back of her own accord.
Those who only know the neighbourhood of St. Asaph from
travelling along its highways, can be little aware how much delightful scenery is attainable within walks of two or three miles' distance from Mrs. Hemans's residence. The placid beauty of the Clwyd, and the wilder graces of its sister stream, the Elwy, particularly in the vicinity of “Our Lady's Well," and the interesting rocks and caves at Cefu, are little known to general tourists; though, by the lovers of her poetry, it will be remembered how sweetly she has apostrophized the
"Fount of the chapel, with ages grey;" and how tenderly, amidst far different scenes, her thoughts reverted to the
"Cambrian river, with slow music gliding
By pastoral hills, old woods, and ruined towers." This is a peep into the daily life of the poetess, which is worth a whole volume of ordinary biography. We see her here amid the lonely magnificence of nature; yet, at the same time, surrounded by those affectionate ties that make the only real society on earth. The affectionate mother, the beloved brother and sister, the buoyant hearts and voices of her own children. We see that there and theo she was and must be happy. We see how wise was that instinctive love that drew the poetic heart from the flattering and worshipping things of the city, to dwell apart with God, with nature, and with family affection. What has all the society of ordinary city and literary life to equal that? The throng of drawing-rooms, where people stand and look at each other, and remain strangers as much as if they were sundered by half the globe! Nay, it is not half : globe, it is a whole world of fast-succeeding engagements; dixsinations that beget indifference ; fittings of the eye from face to face, and of the ear from gossip to gossip, where neither eye nor ear ever finds any power or wish for rest, but the heart yawns in insufferable weariness, if decorum keep the mouth shut. It is this dreary world which is thrust between man and man, and kills at once time and enjoyment. What has such a life, with all its petty scandals, and bitterness, and foul criticisms, and rankling jealousies, to compare with the breezy mountain, and the blue sky soaring high above ; with the grey ruin, and the rushing river ; with the dell and its whispering leaves, soothing down the mind to a peaceful consciousness, in which thoughts of eternity steal into it, and come forth again to the eternal page ?
It is a deep consolation to know that the teachers and refiners of men do sometimes enjoy a life thus heavenly, and repose at once on the gracious bosom of nature, and on those of long-tried and beloved friends. Such was, for a time, the life of Mrs. Hemans here. For a time the elements of happiness seemed daily to augment themselves. Her younger brother, a man of a most genial nature, and his amiable wife, came from service in Canada, and settled down among them. The circle of affinity and social pleasure seemed complete ; but time rapidly causes a change upon the completest combinations of earth. In rapid succession death and sorrow fe!! on the house of her elder brother; her mother sickened and died ; her younger brother was called to an appointment in Ireland, and her sister was married, and was withdrawn to a distance. The fatal inroad was made into the circle of bappiness ; and from that time Mrs. Hemans began to contemplate quitting the scene of so many years' sojourn. She made a visit to Liverpool, which ended in her concluding to quit Wales, and settle there, for more congenial society and the education of her children. One of her last pleasures in Wales was the enjoyment of the society of Miss Jewsbury, afterwards Mrs. Fletcher, who passed part of the summer and autumn of 1828 in the neighbourhood of St. Asaph.
For about thirty years she had resided in Wales—the bulk of her life ; for she was but about six years of age when her family went to reside there; and she survived her departure from it only the same number of years. The whole of her existence, therefore, excepting that twelve years, was spent in her favourite Wales. For the short remainder of her life she seemed rather a wanderer in the earth than a settled resident. She was at Liverpool, at the Lakes, in Scotland, in Ireland ; and there, finally, seldom long in one place.
Her choice of Liverpool seemed to be determined by the consideration of education already mentioned, and by the desire to be near two families to which she was much attached-those of Mrs. Lawrence, of Wavertree-hall, and the Chorleys, of Liverpool. She took a house in the village of Wavertree, a little apart from the road. It must have been a dreary change from the fine, wild, congenial scenery of North Wales, to the flat, countryless neighbourhood of Liverpool. Nothing, surely, but the sense of maternal duty could have made such a change endurable to a mind like Mrs. Hemans's. This residence has been described by the author of Pen and Ink Sketches, who, though some of his relations have been much called in question, seems, in this instance, to have stated the simple facts. “The house,” he says, “was one of a row, or terrace, as it was called, situated on the high-road, from which it was separated only by the footway, and a little flower-garden, surrounded by a white-thorn hedge. I noticed that all the other houses on either side of it were unadorned with flowers; they had either grass lawns or a plain gravel surface; some of them even grew cabbages and French beans -hers alone had flowers.
“I was shown into a very small apartment, but everything about it indicated that it was the home of genius and taste. Over the mantelpiece hung a fine engraving of William Roscoe, author of the Lives of the De Medici, with a presentation line or two in his own handwriting. The walls were decorated with prints and pictures, and on the mantel-shelf were some models in terra cotta, of Italian groups. On the table lay casts, and medallions, and a portfolio of choice prints and water-colour drawings.”
The writer was first received by Miss Jewsbury, who happened to be there, and whom he truly describes as one of the most frank and open-hearted creatures possible. He then adds :
" It was not long before the poetess entered the room. She held