Naden, Constance Caroline Woodhill (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
Naden, Constance Caroline Woodhill

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NADEN, CONSTANE CAROLINE WOODHILL (1858–1889), poetess, born on 24 Jan. 1858 at 15 Francis Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, was the only child of Thomas Naden, afterwards president of the Birmingham Architectural Association, by his wife Caroline Anne, daughter of J. C. Woodhill of Pakenham House, Edgbaston. Her mother died within a fortnight of the child's birth, and Constance was brought up by her grandparents. Mr. Woodhill was a retired jeweller of high character, an elder of a baptist church, and a man of some literary taste. From the age of eight till the age of sixteen or seventeen Miss Naden attended a day-school in Edgbaston kept by two unitarian ladies, the Misses Martin. She learnt flower-painting, and told fairy stories to her schoolfellows. After leaving school she remained with her grandparents. The rejection of some of her pictures by the Birmingham Society of Artists, after the acceptance of a first attempt, turned her thoughts to other studies. She learnt French, German, Latin, and some Greek, and was much attracted by the writings of James Hinton [q. v.], and by R. A. Vaughan's ‘Hours with the Mystics.’ She wrote at odd moments her ‘Songs and Son- nets of Springtime,’ which was published in 1881. In 1879–80 and 1880–1 she attended botany classes at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and acquired an interest in science. In the autumn of 1881 she became a student at Mason College. She there went through courses of ‘physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, physiology, and geology.’ She took a very lively part in debating societies, and she was especially interested in a sociological section of the Birmingham Natural History Society, which was started in 1883 in order to study the system of Mr. Herbert Spencer. She became a very eager and sympathetic student of Mr. Spencer's philosophy. In 1885 she won the ‘Paxton prize’ for an essay upon the geology of the district; and in 1887 won the ‘Heslop’ gold medal by an essay upon ‘Induction and Deduction.’ She also wrote in the ‘Journal of Science,’ ‘Knowledge,’ and other periodicals (list in Memoir, pp. 29–31). In 1887 she published her second volume of poems, ‘A modern Apostle, the Elixir of Life, the Story of Clarice, and other Poems.’ Mr. Woodhill died 27 Dec. 1881, and his widow on 21 June 1887. Miss Naden inherited a fortune upon the death of her grandmother, and in the autumn of 1887 made a tour with a friend through Constantinople, Palestine, Egypt, and India, where she was hospitably received by Lord Dufferin, the governor-general. She returned to England in June 1888, and soon afterwards bought a house in Park Street, Grosvenor Square. She joined the Aristotelian Society, endeavoured to form a Spencer society, and belonged to various societies of benevolent aims. On 22 Oct. 1889 she delivered an address upon Mr. Herbert Spencer's ‘Principles of Sociology’ to the sociological section at Mason College. Symptoms of a dangerous disease showed themselves shortly afterwards, and she underwent a severe operation on 5 Dec. She sank from the effects, and died on 23 Dec. 1889. She was buried beside her mother in the old cemetery, Warstone Lane, Birmingham.

Miss Naden was slight and tall, with a delicate face and ‘clear blue-grey eyes.’ She was regular and active in her habits. She had a penetrating voice, and was thoroughly self-possessed in public speaking. She appears to have been rather aggressive and sarcastic in discussion, but had very warm friendships, and was always fond of fun and harmless frolics.

Miss Naden's poems had attracted little notice until Mr. Gladstone called attention to them in an article upon British poetesses in an early number of the ‘Speaker.’ Mr. Gladstone named her as one of eight who had shown splendid powers. The poems undoubtedly show freshness and command of language. Miss Naden had in 1876 met Dr. Lewins, and became his disciple. The doctrine taught by both is called ‘Hylo-Idealism,’ and has been described as ‘monistic positivism.’ It is an attempt to give a metaphysical system in accordance with modern scientific thought. Miss Naden's writings upon this topic, as an opponent of her theory (Dr. Dale) remarks, show great acuteness, gracefulness of style, and felicity of illustration. Her chief attempt in philosophy, however, the essay upon ‘Induction and Deduction,’ though of great promise as the work of a student, is based upon inadequate knowledge; and she died before her powers, obviously remarkable, had fully ripened. Miss Naden's works, besides the two volumes of poetry above mentioned, are collected in (1) ‘Induction and Deduction … and other Essays. … Edited by R. Lewins, M.D., Medical Department,’ 1890; and (2) ‘Further Reliques of Constance Naden,’ edited by George M. McCrie, 1891. Two pamphlets, ‘Miss Naden's World Scheme,’ by George M. McCrie, and ‘Constance Naden and Hylo-Idealism,’ by E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D., both annotated by Dr. Lewins, give accounts of her philosophy. A selection from her writings, edited by the Misses Hughes of Birmingham, appeared in 1893.

[Constance Naden: a Memoir, by W. R. Hughes, with an Introduction by Professor Lapworth, and Additions by Professor Tilden and Robert Lewins, M.D., 1890; article by the Rev. Dr. R. W. Dale (with personal recollections) in the Contemporary Review for April 1891 (also reprinted in ‘Further Reliques.’]