Pfeiffer, Emily Jane (DNB00)

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PFEIFFER, EMILY JANE (1827–1890), poetess, born on 26 Nov. 1827, was the daughter of R. Davis, who was in early years an officer in the army, and was through life devoted to art. At one time possessed of considerable property in Oxfordshire, he became before his death innocently involved in the failure of his father-in-law's bank, the chief banking institution in Montgomeryshire. The straitened circumstances of the family prevented Emily from receiving any regular education, but her father encouraged her to study and practise painting and poetry. Pecuniary troubles at home, however, darkened her youth with melancholy. She found relief in a visit to the continent, and in 1853 she married J. E. Pfeiffer, a German merchant resident in London, a man of warm heart and sterling worth. At a very youthful age she produced a volume of verse, ‘The Holly Branch.’ In 1857 appeared her first literary attempt of genuine promise, ‘Valisneria,’ an imaginative tale which, though much less powerful, may be compared to Sara Coleridge's ‘Phantasmion.’ Conscious of the imperfection of her education, she worked hard at self-culture, and published no more until 1873, when her poem of ‘Gerard's Monument’ (2nd edit. 1878) made its appearance. From that time forth her industry was conspicuous. A volume of miscellaneous poems appeared in 1876, ‘Glan Alarch’ in 1877, ‘Quarterman's Grace’ in 1879, ‘Sonnets and Songs’ in 1880, ‘Under the Aspens’ in 1882, and ‘The Rhyme of the Lady of the Rock’ in 1884. A long journey undertaken in the last year through Eastern Europe, Asia, and America was gracefully described in ‘Flying Leaves from East and West’ in 1885. At the same time Mrs. Pfeiffer interested herself in the social position of women, and issued in 1888 ‘Woman and Work,’ reprints of articles from periodicals on the subject. She also desired to reform modern female costume, and wrote in the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ in advocacy of a modified return to classical precedents. Her husband died in January 1889, and she never recovered from the blow. She wrote and published ‘Flowers of the Night,’ later in the same year, but she survived Pfeiffer only a year and a day, dying at their house in Putney in January 1890. In accordance with her husband's wish, she had devoted a portion of their property to the establishment of an orphanage, and had designed the endowment of a school of dramatic art. By her will she left money to trustees to be applied to the promotion of women's higher education; 2,000l. from this fund was allotted towards erecting at Cardiff the Aberdare Hall for women-students of the university of South Wales, which was opened in 1895.

As a poetess, Mrs. Pfeiffer resembled Mrs. Browning. With incomparably less power, she was uplifted by the same moral ardour and guided by the same delicate sensitiveness. Her sentiment is always charming. Her defects are those of her predecessor—diffuseness and insufficient finish; nor had she sufficient strength for a long poem. She succeeds best in the sonnet, where the metrical form enforces compression. She was also accomplished in embroidery, and she left to a niece a fine collection of her paintings of flowers, which are executed with great taste and skill.

[A. H. Japp in Miles's Poets and Poetry of the Century; Athenæum and Academy, 1 Feb. 1890; Western Mail, 8 Oct. 1895; private information.]

R. G.