1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ward, Mary Augusta
|←Ward, Lester Frank||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28
Ward, Mary Augusta
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WARD, MARY AUGUSTA [Mrs Humphry Ward] (1851- ), British novelist, was born on the 11th of June 1851 at Hobart, Tasmania, where her father, Thomas Arnold (1824-1900), was then an inspector of schools. Thomas Arnold was a son of Arnold of Rugby, and a brother of the poet Matthew Arnold. As a scholar of University College, Oxford, at the crisis of the Oxford Movement, he had begun life as a Liberal of the school of Jowett, Stanley and Clough. In 1856 he became a Roman Catholic, relinquished his inspectorship of schools in Tasmania, and was appointed professor of English literature at Dublin, thence following Newman to Birmingham, where he published his Manual of English Literature. After a brief period of unrest he reverted to the English Church, and went to Oxford, where he lived twenty years, editing The Select Works of Wyclif and Beowulf for the Clarendon Press, Henry of Huntingdon and Symeon of Durham for the “Rolls” series, and, with W. E. Addis, the Catholic Dictionary. In 1877 he reverted once more to the Roman Catholic Church, and was appointed fellow of the new Royal University of Ireland, dying in Dublin on the 12th of November 1900. His daughter was brought up mainly at Oxford, and her early associations with a life of scholarship and religious conflict are deeply marked in her own later literary career. She was brought into close connexion during this period with Edward Hartopp Cradock, who was principal of Brasenose College from 1853 till his death in 1886, and some of whose characteristics went to the portrait of the “Squire” in Robert Elsmere. In 1872 she married Thomas Humphry Ward (b. 1845), then fellow and tutor of Brasenose, and one of the authors of the Oxford Spectator. Mr Humphry Ward, a son of the Rev. Henry Ward, Vicar of St Barnabas, King's Square, London, E.C., remained at Oxford till 1880, and then went to London to take up literary work; with the help of the chief critics of the day he brought out the important selections of English verse called The English Poets (4 vols., 1880-1881). He joined the staff of The Times and wrote much for that paper, becoming its principal art critic. He also published Humphry Sandwith, a Memoir (1884); and he edited Men of the Reign (1885), English Art in the Public Galleries of London (1886), Men of the Time (1887), and, with the help of Matthew Arnold, Huxley, Lord Wolseley, H. S. Maine and others, The Reign of Queen Victoria: a Survey of Fifty Years of Progress (1887).
Mrs Humphry Ward at first devoted herself to Spanish literature, and contributed articles on Spanish subjects to the Dictionary of Christian Biography, edited by Dr William Smith and Dr Henry Wace. She wrote also for Macmillan's Magazine. In 1881 she published her first book, Milly and Olly, a child's story illustrated by Lady (then Mrs) Alma-Tadema. This was followed in 1884 by a more ambitious, though slight, study of modern life, Miss Bretherton, the story of an actress. In 1885 Mrs Ward published an admirable translation of the Journal of the Swiss philosopher Amiel, with a critical introduction, which showed her delicate appreciation of the subtleties of speculative thought. It was no bad preparation for her next book, which was to make her famous. In February 1888 appeared Robert Elsmere, a powerful novel, tracing the mental evolution of an English clergyman, of high character and conscience and of intellectual leanings, constrained to surrender his own orthodoxy to the influence of the “higher criticism.” The character of Elsmere owed much to reminiscences both of T. H. Green, the philosopher, and of J. R. Green, the historian. Largely in consequence of a review by W. E. Gladstone in the Nineteenth Century (May 1888, “Robert Elsmere and the Battle of Belief”), the book became the talk of the civilized world. It ran in five months through seven editions in three-volume form, and the cheap American editions had an enormous sale. It was translated into several European languages, and was the subject of articles in learned foreign reviews. Robert Elsmere is in itself a fine story, notably in its picture of the emotional conflict between Elsmere and his wife, whose over-narrow orthodoxy brings her religious faith and their mutual love to a terrible impasse; but it was the detailed discussion of the “higher criticism” of the day, and its influence on Christian belief, rather than its power as a piece of dramatic fiction, that gave the book its exceptional vogue. It started, as no academic work could have done, a popular discussion on historic and essential Christianity. In 1890 Mrs Ward took a prominent part in founding University Hall, an “Elsmerian” settlement for working and teaching among the poor. Her next novel, David Grieve, was published in 1892. In Marcella (1894), and its sequel Sir George Tressady (1896), she broke new ground in the novel of modern politics and socialism, the fruit of observation and reflection at University Hall. In 1895 had appeared the short tragedy, the Story of Bessie Costrell. Mrs Ward's next long novel, Helbeck of Bannisdale (1898), treated of the clash between the ascetic ideal of Roman Catholicism and modern life. The element of Catholic and humanistic ideals entered also into Eleanor (1900), in which, however, the author relied less on the interest of a thesis and more on the ordinary arts of the novelist. Eleanor was dramatized and played at the Court Theatre in 1902. In Lady Rose's Daughter (1903) — dramatized as Agatha in 1905 — and The Marriage of William Ashe (1905), modern tales founded on the stories respectively of Mile de Lespinasse and Lady Caroline Lamb, she relied entirely and with success upon social portraiture. Later novels were Fenwick's Career (1906), Diana Mallory (1908), Daphne (1909) and Canadian Born (1910).
Mrs Ward's eminence among latter-day women-novelists arises from her high conception of the art of fiction and her strong grasp of intellectual and social problems, her descriptive power (finely shown in the first part of Robert Elsmere) and her command of a broad and vigorous prose style. But her activities were not confined to literature. She was the originator in England of the Vacation Schools, which have done much to educate the poorest children of the community upon rational lines. She also took a leading part in the movement for opposing the grant of the parliamentary suffrage to women, whilst encouraging their active participation in the work of local government. She was one of the founders of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League in 1908, and both spoke and wrote repeatedly in support of its tenets.
See for bibliography up to June 1904, English Illustrated Magazine, vol. xxxi. (N.S.) pp. 294 and 299. (H. Ch.)