Cook, Eliza (DNB01)

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COOK, ELIZA (1818–1889), poet, born on 24 Dec. 1818, was the youngest of the eleven children of a brasier living in London Road, Southwark. When she was about nine years old her father retired from business, and the family went to live at a small farm in St. Leonard's Forest, near Horsham. Her mother encouraged Eliza's fondness for imaginative literature, but the child was almost entirely self-educated. She began to write verses before she was fifteen; indeed, some of her most popular poems, such as 'I'm afloat' and the 'Star of Glengarry,' were composed in her girlhood. Her first volume, 'Lays of a Wild Harp,' appeared as early as 1835, when she was but seventeen. Encouraged by its favourable reception, she began to send verses without revealing her name to the 'Weekly Dispatch,' the 'Metropolitan Magazine,' and the 'New Monthly Magazine;' and Jerdan sang her praises in the 'Literary Gazette.' After a time she confined herself to the 'Weekly Dispatch,' where her first contribution had appeared under the signature 'C.' on 27 Nov. 1836.

In May of the following year that paper printed the 'Old Arm Chair' with her initials. This, by far the most popular of Eliza Cook's poems, was inspired by affection for her dead mother. Its success and that of other verses from the same pen induced the proprietor of the 'Dispatch' (Alderman Harmer of Ingress Abbey in Kent) to have a notice inserted in his paper requesting that the writer would reveal her name. Eliza Cook, who was now living in the neighbourhood of St. George's Road, Waiworth, complied with the request. The result was a handsome pecuniary acknowledgment, and a regular engagement to contribute to the paper. Her second volume, entitled 'Melaia and other Poems,' was published in London in 1838 (reissued in 1840 and 1845), and met with great success both in England and America, where an edition was issued at New York in 1844. The poem which gave its title to the volume is an eastern tale, the theme being the attachment of a dog to his master.

In May 1849 Eliza Cook brought out a publication upon somewhat similar lines to 'Chambers's Journal,' which she called 'Eliza Cook's Journal.' It had great popularity among the same class of readers to which her poetry appealed, and was for a time highly successful. But she had no great journalistic ability, and, her health breaking down, the publication was discontinued after November 1854. Great part of its contents reappeared in 'Jottings from my Journal,' 1860. They consisted of essays and sketches written in a simple, clear, and unpretending style, and generally conveyed some moral lesson. Some of them are mild satires on the social failings of her contemporaries, and exhibit good sense and some humour. With the exception of this volume, and a collection of aphorisms entitled 'Diamond Dust,' published in 1865, she never essayed prose.

Meanwhile, bad health compelled her to take a long rest, and it was not until 1864 that she produced fresh verse in the volume called ' New Echoes and other Poems.' It showed failing power, and was not so successful as her previous efforts. On 18 June 1863 Eliza Cook received a civil list pension of 100l. a year. Henceforth she published nothing but a few poems in the 'Weekly Dispatch,' and she soon became something like a confirmed invalid. Her popularity waned, though she was in receipt of royalties from her publishers almost to the close of her life. She died on 23 Sept. 1889 at Thornton Hill, Wimbledon, in her seventy-first year. Eliza Cook's poetry appealed very strongly to the middle classes. Its strength lay in the sincerity of its domestic sentiment, which is absolutely devoid of affectation, and, on the other hand, never degenerates into the mawkish. Her sympathetic lines, 'Poor Hood,' led to the erection of a monument in Kensal Green cemetery to that somewhat neglected man of genius. Collective editions (exclusive of 'New Echoes') appeared in 1851-3, 4 vols.,and 1860, 1 vol. 4to, with illustrations by Dalziel Brothers after J. Gilbert, J. Wolf, and others. Complete inclusive editions followed in 1870 ('Chandos Classics') and 1882 (New York). Selected poems, including the 'Old Arm Chair,' the 'Englishman,' 'God speed the Plough,' and the 'Raising of the Maypole,' with preface by John H. Ingram, are in A. H. Miles's 'Poets of the Century;' and in 1864 H. Simon edited a quarto volume of pieces done into German.

[Notable Women of our own Times, pp. 138-150, with portrait; Miles's Poets of the Century; Times, 26 Sept. 1889; Daily News, 26 and 27 Sept.; Illustr. London News, 5 Oct., with portrait; Academy and Athenæum, 28 Sept.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit. vol. i. and Suppl.]

G. Le G. N.