Blind, Mathilde (DNB01)

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BLIND, MATHILDE (1841–1896), poetess, was born at Mannheim on 21 March 1841, and was the daughter of a banker named Cohen. She subsequently adopted the name which her mother had acquired by her second marriage with Mr. Karl Blind, conspicuous in the Baden insurrection of 1848-9. After the suppression of the revolutionary movement Mr. Blind and his family, exiled from Germany and expelled from France and Belgium, took refuge in London, where Mathilde received an English education and became practically an English-woman. She was nevertheless greatly influenced by the foreign refugees who frequented her step-father's house, especially Mazzini, for whom she entertained a passionate admiration, and of whom she afterwards published interesting reminiscences. At the age of eighteen she travelled by herself in Switzerland, and the intimate relations she maintained with the continent throughout her life gave her literary work an especially cosmopolitan character. Her first known production was a German ode recited at Bradford on occasion of the Schiller centenary (1859). It was followed by an English tragedy on Robespierre, praised by Louis Blanc, but never printed, and by a little volume of immature 'Poems' published in 1867 under the pseudonym of 'Claude Lake.' Visits to Scotland inspired her with two poems of considerable compass and pretension—'The Prophecy of St. Oran (published in 1881, but written some years previously), narrating the remarkable legend of that saint, and 'The Heather on Fire' (1886), a denunciation of indiscriminate Highland evictions. Both are full of impassioned eloquence and energy, and 'The Prophecy of St. Oran' in particular has an ample share of the quality which Matthew Arnold denominates 'Celtic magic' 'Tarantella,' a prose romance, was published in 1885 (2nd edit. 1886; also Boston, 1885). It is a stirring story, but too imaginative and dependent on incident to harmonise with the taste of its day. At a later period it might have obtained considerable success. In 1888 Mathilde Blind produced the most ambitious of her works, 'The Ascent of Man,' designed as the epic of evolution according to Darwin. Mathilde Blind's poem is fine only in parts, but the finest parts are very fine. Her ambition to deal with the highest things was further evinced by her undertaking at different times the translation of the two contemporary continental books most famous at the moment—Strauss's 'The Old Faith and the New' (1873 and 1874) and 'The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseft' (1890); also by writing for the 'Eminent Women Series' the lives of two of the most distinguished among women—George Eliot (1883; new edit. 1888) and Madame Roland (1886). The translations were good, and the biographies workmanlike. While writing the latter she was principally residing at Manchester, whither she had been drawn by regard for the painter. Ford Madox Brown [q. v. Suppl.], then engaged in decorating the town hall with frescoes, and his wife. At a later period she travelled much in Italy and Egypt, partly drawn by the love of nature and antiquity, partly by the failure of her health. These travels had their influence in 'Dramas in Miniature' (1891) and 'Songs and Sonnets' (1893), and formed the staple of 'Birds of Passage' (1895). Her last poetical work was performed at Stratford-on-Avon, where the quiet loveliness of the Warwickshire scenery and the associations with Shakespeare inspired her with some very beautiful sonnets. She died in London on 26 Nov. 1896, bequeathing the greater part of her property, which had mostly come to her late in life by the legacy of a step-brother, to Newnham College, Cambridge. She was interred in Finchley cemetery, under a handsome monument erected by her firm friend, Dr. Louis Mond, to whose generosity is also to be ascribed the reissue since her death of 'The Ascent of Man,' with an introduction by Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace (1899) and the publication of 'The Poetical Works of Mathilde Blind' (a selection edited by Arthur Symons, with a memoir by Dr. Garnett, 1900, 8vo).

There was more character in Mathilde Blind than she could quite bring out in her poetry, though no effort was wanting. The consciousness of effort, indeed, is a draw-back to the enjoyment of her verse. Sometimes, however, especially in songs, sonnets, and the lyrics with which she was inspired by sympathy with the destitute and outcast classes, she achieves a perfect result; and the local colouring of her Scottish and many of her oriental poems is fine and true. Some of her sonnets are exceedingly impressive; she nevertheless did her powers most real justice when her singing robes were laid aside, and her reputation would be enhanced by a judicious selection from her correspondence.

[Memoir prefixed to Mathilde Blind's collected poems, 1900; Miles's Poets and Poetry of the Century; personal knowledge.]

R. G.