Poetical works of Mathilde Blind/Memoir by Dr. Garnett
Mathilde Blind, whose patronymic was Cohen, was born at Mannheim on March 21, 1841. Her father, a retired banker of independent means, elderly and widowed, was positive and practical: her mother, young and lively, combined sweetness and depth with great cheerfulness and liveliness of character, and possessed the beauty which, equally with many of her mental characteristics, became her daughter's heritage. The dissimilarity between her parents both in age and temperament undoubtedly left deep traces on her mental constitution. After the death of her father, her mother married Dr. Karl Blind, and, some years later, Mathilde, as well as a younger brother, Ferdinand, assumed the name of their step-father.
Mathilde's birth had taken place at a period of profound external peace, but amid a society pervaded by deep and just political discontent, the more dangerous from the arbitrary suppression of every external manifestation. She wanted just a month of seven years when the long-smothered mass of slowly accumulating anger and disgust caught fire from the explosion of the French Revolution of February, 1848. All Germany was speedily in a blaze, and nowhere did a fiercer agitation prevail than in the Grand Duchy of Baden, to which Mathilde Blind belonged by birth. Here the movement assumed a republican complexion, unhke the more general feeling of Germans that new life might yet be infused into the old forms, Mr. Karl Blind, who, although a young man, was already well known as an ardent republican, and the subject of prosecutions for offences of the press, ending in acquittals, threw himself with ardour into the revolutionary movement. After a year of revolutionary events, during which Karl Blind was arrested on the failure of a popular rising of which he was a leader, and confined as a prisoner of war for eight months, but rescued by the people, a republican government was established in 1849, and Mr. Blind was despatched to represent it in Paris. By this time, however, the reaction had triumphed in Vienna and Berlin, and the Prince of Prussia, afterwards the Emperor William the First, entering the Grand Duchy at the head of a Prussian army, put down the revolution after a gallant resistance. Karl Blind took refuge in Belgium, which, after three years, he was compelled to quit in consequence of pressure applied to the Belgian Government by the Government of France. He sought an asylum in England, accompanied by his wife, his step-children, and two infant children by her second marriage.
The exiles established themselves in St. John's Wood. It would probably have been impossible to have devised a situation better adapted to evoke the characteristics which Nature had implanted in Mathilde. Those who knew her only in later life can, nevertheless, easily realise the charm and at the same time the singularity which must have attached to her childhood. Lovely with a rare loveliness she must have been, but there is a difficulty in conceiving her with the tastes and pursuits of ordinary girlhood. The independence which distinguished her for good and ill must have been exceedingly conspicuous. All circumstances conspired to nurture it—the estrangement from her native land, the devotion with which her mother, attentive to her intellectual development, kept ordinary cares and incidents aloof from her, the general atmosphere of revolt which must inevitably pervade a society of political refugees. In such a society admiration must necessarily be reserved for audacity in enterprise, fortitude in adversity, the enthusiasm of self-sacrificing patriotism, or what was so esteemed, anything breathing unconquerable defiance of the powers that were. The conversation of the exiles of many nationalities who frequented the house, some men of high capacity and distinguished achievement, and none without their fragment of romance and tale of sufferings deserved or undeserved, must have powerfully stimulated her imagination, and endowed her with a premature knowledge of the world, and ideas and ideals unknown to most maidens of such tender years.
Late in life, Mathilde Blind began an autobiography, of which, unfortunately, little remains. It would seem to have been intended to commence with her earliest recollections; but, if these were ever committed to paper, the manuscript is lost or has perished. It is not easy to determine its contemplated extent or its precise purpose. To judge by what remains, it was not intended as a complete history of her life. Family circumstances are never alluded to, and the object would rather seem to have been to touch upon such incidents only as she felt to be significant for her moral and intellectual development. It is not, like some famous autobiographies, a blending of Dichtung imd Wahrheit; every circumstance related appears to be strictly matter-of-fact. The persons introduced are undoubtedly real, but their names are, with few exceptions, fictitious. Mathilde herself figures as "Alma." The portions preserved, relating solely to her early life as a schoolgirl in England and as a traveller in Switzerland, contribute little to the knowledge of her history, while they are characteristic examples of her stjde of thought and composition.
Mathilde Blind's first schooling was in Belgium. She mentions in a letter having subsequently attended two or three very unsatisfactory schools in England, but her most reliable training was due to her mother, even though she states in her autobiography that from twelve to fourteen she "acted as her own teacher." At the latter age she was sent to another school, the best then to be had in St. John's Wood, but unfortunate in so far as concerned the Head Mistress, who is described as a clergyman's widow bringing up a family in narrow circumstances, with curled sandy hair, a washed-out complexion, and pale grey eyes which gazed on the world through very dim spectacles. Much of the lady's time was spent in meditating upon the Millennium, and composing an interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel. Left to themselves, the girls, at least the cleverest among them, "passed much of their time in writing novels and verses, in editing a journal, and in acting Dickens." As is so common with sensitive and imaginative young people, Mathilde fell violently in love with one of her schoolfellows. "The whole school was agreed that Amy was a beautiful girl, but to me she appeared a divinity." The charm would seem to have chiefly consisted in Amy's total unlikeness to her adorer, whose homage she accepted without comprehending it. Nor could her unsentimental and abrupt mother understand how so clever a girl as Matliilde should take a fancy to "a big lackadaisical useless kind of a creature, not good for much in the house or out of it." But there must have been true, if illusive, poetry in the attachment, for long after it had passed away Mathilde could write;—
"Whenever I think of that house I am again conscious of the atmosphere that pervaded it. A scent of sandalwood and lavender is faintly perceptible. The partially drawn blinds diffuse a mellow half light. The air stealing through an open window puffs out the white muslin curtains; lilac bushes and clematis cling to the wall outside. A girl sits at the piano with smooth, light-brown hair slightly fluffed on either side of her face like a dove's wing. She is playing Mendelssohn's 'Songs without Words.' The whole place breathes purity and peace. Girls in fresh, spotless gowns move about the rooms. In the evening quick steps and fresh young voices break on the stillness when the men return from the City; brothers and cousins—mostly tall and handsome, bringing with them a sense of life and movement."
Amy's younger sister Veronica made up in a measure for what was wanting in Amy, and a year passed in delightful intimacy among the three, which was destined to be interrupted in an unforeseen manner. Veronica's confirmation brought on talk of theology, to which Mathilde had hitherto been a stranger. Another school friend, Lizzie Letchford (it will be understood that all these names are pseudonyms), lent her a Bible, and encouraged her to study it with more attention than heretofore. Mathilde found herself in a new world, on which she thus reflects in after years:—
"I had hitherto lived in a castle of dreams. I had watched the shadows of the outer world in that magic mirror we call poetry, and the reflection was more enchanting than the thing reflected. And in this vision of life the riddle of it had never yet touched or humbled me. I lived in a region where pleasure lost its fever and pain its sting. Sensation came through a softening medium in which discords were resolved into harmony. In other words, if I did not exactly pass my youth in the Garden of Eden it was passed in that Earthly Paradise which the poets have planted with immortelles. This way of entering the world has perils of its own. When you have once tasted life so finely, when fact has come to you sifted from all its baser constituents, when the flowers of passion have been presented to you tied in a nosegay by the supersensitive hands of a Shelley or a Heine, reality is apt to strike you as crude and commonplace, if not actually to inspire you with a sense of repulsion. In the daily round of life you will sicken with a nostalgia for that ideal country to which it is difficult to return when childhood is over. You will always compare ordinary folk with those ideal types which are the final results of the finest selection by the finest minds which is the secret of art.
"Yet art, with the exception of the noble Greek drama, is not a good preparation for life. Its ethical meaning is too subtly interwoven with the very texture of the character in conflict with life. You need experience to unravel it. Religion deals with the home-truths of morality in a much simpler way, besides giving them a sanction which puts them beyond the reach of appeal. In making the love of God the basis of man's relation to man it brings home to the humblest the immutability of law.
"In a certain sense I had turned Christian for a time. I did not trouble my head about the evidences of Christianity. I put aside all troublesome inquiries about the possibility of reconciling its tenets with the known order of the universe. I wanted a belief: so I ignored everything that it was impossible to reconcile with the natural order, and went straight to the heart of this profoundly personal religion."
There is no saying what might for a time have befallen the impulsive girl, thus introduced to an order of ideas possessing so much attraction for tender and sensitive minds, but for a counter influence developed at the same time. Mathilde had another school friend: —
"Blanche often broached the subject of the plenary inspiration of the Bible, and as we had some books on geology in concert she again and again came back to the strange discrepancies between the account of Creation in Genesis and the history of our globe as revealed to us by the rocks and stones. She prompted me to look up evidences on the subject in works to which I had access and she had none. I went to work with a headlong eagerness which kept me up night after night for many months till the small hours, reading, comparing, annotating; nothing came amiss to me, from Butler's 'Analogy' and Paley's 'Evidences' to Max Müller's 'Comparative Mythology.' The veil of Christian sentiments in which I had tried to envelop myself dispersed like a vapour. The results of these nocturnal researches were communicated to Blanche every day during our hour of recreation and thirstily received by her. "When we read Cain together one evening the magnificent speech of Lucifer put us in such a transport that we fell into each other's arms with a sob of delight. It was the last time we were destined to see each other."
Apart from its personal interest, this chapter of our heroine's experience illustrates questions which will soon become acute in the management of public education. No wise or right-thinkmg person would wish religious instruction omitted from the school course, but how is religious instruction to be defined? The great majority of ministers of religion would understand by it such a course of instruction as that which in Mathilde Blind's case, and that of thousands besides, was dissipated by the first contact with free unbiassed inquiry. It is easy to say that this would not have happened if the Bible had been taught her rationally; and such may indeed be the case. But the problem of reconciling the mature and the earnest teacher's desire to impart the truth with the tenderness due to the innate trust and reverence of a young mind, is a most difficult one, and it is to be wished that some of the thought bestowed on less important matters were given to its solution.
Mathilde quickly found inquiry synonymous with martyrdom, and, hard as the saying seems, it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise. The inquiries, which, though no doubt they might with advantage have been deferred to a later period of her career, were merely representatives of a phase through which every thinking young person had passed, was passing, or would pass, produced results comparable in a small way with Shelley's expulsion from the University of Oxford. Her researches and her conclusions having come to light, the question was plainly put to her, would she give up her heretical opinions? Upon conviction, yes; upon compulsion, no. Her school training and her school friendships consequently came to an end, and she had, m a sense, to begin the world again. An expressive gap in her autobiography eloquently speaks the intensity of her anguish. When the curtain is raised again, we find her at Zurich, in the house of her maternal uncle, Mr. Ries, at the end of 1859. She undertook a walking tour through the lonely parts of Switzerland by herself, a very unusual feat at that time; but her great and keen enjoyment of the wildest aspects of nature fully compensated her for the unavoidable difficulties so young and inexperienced a traveller was almost certain to encounter. On one occasion she found it necessary to instil respect for her sex into an impertinent Frenchman by boxing his ears. The inconvenience incidental to tourists of the empty purse she parried in a measure by subsisting upon chocolate, but happily, just at the moment when this régime was beginning to be deleterious, she was delivered by a lucky encounter with English friends, the family of one of her old schoolfellows, who not only put financial matters to rights, but "saw me to the station and took my ticket to Zurich, for they declared I could not be trusted out of their sight until settled in the train, otherwise I might perhaps turn up at the Caucasus. For I had great hankerings after that region, having heard from a traveller I met at Grindelwald that its mountain scenery far surpassed anything in the Alps." The Alpine scenery nevertheless delighted her intensely and its beauties are eloquently celebrated: —
"For once I felt truly free. My body, pliant to my soul, moved rhythmically to the sound of the rushing stream. The sky, of a deep sapphire, was alive with clouds, high white clouds changing chameleon-like as the sun and wind touched their ethereal substance. Sometimes they stood on tiptoe on the top of a mountain peak like columbines balancing themselves on the shoulders of a giant. Innumerable waterfalls came rushing from invisible glaciers—sometimes in a broad torrent that dashed foaming down to the stream; sometimes in a soft froth like the millv with which the Alps, those Mothers of Europe, were feeding the land.
"A very few things in this life have exceeded my expectations. The Alps, aglow like mountains of roses round a heavenly Jerusalem, receding range beyond range into airier infinitudes of light, a vision like the last part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony turned into visible form and beckoning something deep down usually ignored or apparently non-existent in some depth of being below an habitual consciousness—something latent within leaping up, irresistibly yearning to that glorified region as if they two belonged to each other from everlasting to everlasting. What a sensation, momentary and yet to be kept through life as one of its treasures! "
"It was a great leap," she says, "from the schoolroom to the group of brilliant revolutionists with whom, a week or two after my arrival, I was on the most intimate terms. So many witty, original fascinating, dare-devil spirits as formed Madame Helder's [i.e., Herwegh's] circle it is rare to meet together." Unfortunately the account she must have intended to give of this circle was either never committed to writing, or has been lost. The only persons mentioned by their real names in her Swiss recollections are the eminent critic Kuno Fischer and his wife. The latter had enjoyed what many ladies would consider the singular advantage of being brought up as a boy. In consequence she knew Latin and Greek, and bathed in the Lake of Zurich in the depth of winter: if it was frozen, well, then the ice was broken. We presume not to determine whether these circumstances stood in any sort of connection with her lack of personal attractions, "one of the plainest of women, thin-lipped and coarse-skinned, with the profile of a crow and its sharp, vigilant eye." She taught Mathilde Latin; instruction in Old and Middle German was imparted by Professor Fischer himself, "one of the mildest of men, with the abstract gaze of the scholar for whom the external world hardly exists." He took an interest in his pupil, and not merely construed the Minnesingers with her, but expounded the principles of philology, "taking the words as if they were living beings. It was a life full of rich and diversified impressions."
After her return from Switzerland Mathilde spent several years with her family in England—an existence varied by frequent visits to the Continent, upon one occasion extending as far as Italy, and by a happy summer, of which she long afterwards spoke with rapture, spent in Wales with her friend, the present Mrs. Wolfsohn. Otherwise, her time seems to have been chiefly given to self-culture; at one time she studied Kant with enthusiasm; and she became well versed in the Bible, Shakespeare, and Goethe. Of her early poetical productions the most remarkable were a spirited German ode composed for the celebration of the Schiller Centenary at Bradford, and a tragedy on Robespierre, commended by Louis Blanc. One powerful stimulus to her development was afforded by acquaintance with the numerous distinguished foreign exiles, who, about this time, were frequently to be fomid at her stepfather's house. Mazzini, always potent with the young, exerted a prodigious influence upon her; she was also intimately acquainted with the Polish patriot Langiewicz, Louis Blanc, and many eminent Germans. One of these—Mrs. Freiligrath-Kroeker, daughter of Ferdinand Freiligrath — has favoured us with some charming though general reminiscences:—
"Mathilde Blind takes a prominent place in my girl-life, although she was several years older than I was. But our tastes and inclinations drew us together, and we had great talks on literature—that is to say, she talked and I listened—and I well remember how I looked up with admiration as she quoted Goethe and Schiller, or commented on the wit and beauty of Heine. She was—at the time I am speaking of, about the end of the fifties—well grounded in German literature, from which afterwards she rather drifted away. She had already commenced writing poetry, and I remember one evening when we were dining at Dr. and Mrs. Julius Althaus's, that she was requested to read a poem of her own. I also recollect the interest with which my father listened to the fair young poetess, as she read or recited a poem redolent of moorland and heather. We often met at the house of mutual friends, and I was always impressed by the range of talk which Mathilde Blind easily covered. But there was one side to her nature, as I knew her then, which perhaps subsequent friends will not so easily recognise in the Mathilde Blind of later years. I mean her passion for dancing! Youth is the time for dancing, and I was fond of it myself, but I think I never saw any one so absorbed by it for the time and hour as was Mathilde Blind. I had plenty of opportunities for noting this, for we sometimes had small carpet dances to which Mathilde was asked as a bright and particular star; or she would give a similar entertainment, or we would meet at some German public ball which the German Liederkranz was wont to give amiually. It is to me a pleasure to remember Mathilde Blind as she was then, nor do I recollect ever having seen more dazzling and vivid beauty than was hers. When she came into a room, were it ever so large, she would draw all eyes to her, and when, years later, I read 'Esmond' and came to the passage where Beatrix is described as entering the theatre and compelling all glances by her triumphant beauty, I was always reminded of Mathilde Blind. From the time of her coming into a ball-room to the time of her leaving it, she would be besieged by numberless applicants, but I firmly believe that the homage and admiration of those days were almost a matter of indifference to the beautiful young girl, who simply danced for the enjoyment of dancing. This passionate throwing of herself into one thing with all her soul was eminently characteristic of her. She used to dress well, too, and gave thought to her raiment, which at that time always set off and enhanced her burnished hair, that had a thread of gold hidden somewhere in its dusky masses, and her glorious eyes that were so eloquent of speech. Soon afterwards, however, Mathilde went to Germany and Switzerland, and I lost sight of her for some years; and then came her long stay in Manchester with Madox Brown's family. In her later life I often met her again, but she was then known and admired by so large a circle of friends that our subsequent meetings as women can tell nothing new. It is in her early girlhood and young womanhood that she stands out, a vivid memory to me for all time."
Some years had yet to pass ere Mathilde Blind could attempt anything of note in literature, and the fullest expression of her inner being through the pen is to be found in her correspondence with her friend already mentioned, Lily Wolfsohn, extracts from which we have been permitted to consult. Many of their revelations of thought and feeling are of the profoundest interest, but anything like an adequate selection would exceed the limits of this brief memoir. Some notice, however, may be taken of the acquaintance mth remarkable men already referred to as one of the chief agents in moulding her character. The arrival of Garibaldi in England, in 1864, naturally stimulated her enthusiasm in the highest degree, and the account of his triumphal reception is most spirited and interesting. Introduced to the hero, she found hhxi dignified, calm, unassuming, but somewhat deficient in the personal magnetism with which her imagination had endowed him. On rare occasions, however, the fire flashed out. Once when Garibaldi was visiting Mr. Blind "he praised the Rhine wine we offered, and said, 'Ah, l'Allemagne a du bon vin, l'Italie aussi pouvait l'avoir et en grande quantité; c'est la faute de son gouvernement qu'elle ne l'a pas; mais ce serait une trop longue histoire à vous conter maintenant; ça prendrait des heures, mais I'ltalie est très mal gouvernée, énormément mal gouvernée.' He said, too, 'Les Italiens sont trop mous, c'est la faute de leurs prâtres.' He said all this with great emphasis. When he says something of that kind, his harmonious voice acquires a really grand and penetrating tone. He also said that he wished to speak of Poland—that one ought not to let Poland die—for she gave an example that all peoples ought to imitate; everything ought to be done to succour Poland; she alone threw herself against tyrants, she did not cry for help like other peoples, not for money nor for arms; if she had no sword she took an axe; she would die, but not submit. Ennobling, touching, and unforgettable was the fire with which he said all this."
Mathilde Blind also had the advantage of listening to a conversation between Garibaldi and Ledru-Rollin, from which it evidently appeared that these champions of liberty did not object to a despotism so long as they were the despots, Ledru-Eollin asserting, and Garibaldi agreeing, that the French Republic of 1848 perished for want of a temporary dictator. Ledru-Eollin no doubt thought that the dictator could be no other man than himself, but it is by no means certain that a corresponding idea occurred to the modest Garibaldi. Congratulated on the extraordinary enthusiasm of his reception by the London crowds, he replied, "C'est ma bonne fortune, ce n'est pas mon mérite. J'espère bien que ce n'est pas du feu de paille!"
Mazzini, nevertheless, was Mathilde's especial hero, and no one who talked with her respecting him could doubt the genuineness of the "boundless veneration" with which in these letters she represents this modern Dante as having inspired her. She frequently, however, ventured to contradict his views, and on some points her more youthful and flexible intellect seems to have had the advantage over the austere, indescribably pure and elevated, but for that very reason somewhat narrow mind that already in some measure represented a past generation. Their differences about Byron are almost amusing, evident as it is that chronology was at the bottom of them. Mathilde in 1830 would have felt exactly as Mazzini still felt in 1860. Though not placing Byron on the pedestal accorded to him by his English contemporaries and Continental imitators, Mathilde did not lack enthusiasm for the poet whose letters she was afterwards to edit; she had read "Childe Harold" eight times, and almost knew it by heart. On matters more immediately affecting her own personality Mazzini was the same helpful and inspiring teacher to Mathilde as he was to all within the range of his influence. Once at the moment of leave-taking, he reproached her with bemg an aristocrat, "because I had more feeling for the sufferings of celebrated people than for those of unknown persons." "I ran like lightning to put on my bonnet, rushed downstairs again, and soon overtook him outside the house. As we turned the corner I was so pleased at the success of my trick that I jumped and clapped my hands. Mazzini looked at me as one often looks at a child. He quite understood my action, and did not object to my walking with him. I accompanied him as far as the middle of Hyde Park; our conversation turned on the most serious questions of life. It is so deeply engraved on my mmd that I can never forget it. He said I was too impatient, and demanded that the aims of my life should grow up in one night like mushrooms. I ought to make myself clear about life and the world, learn to understand their plan and results in general and particular. To this end he recommended, on the one hand, that I should carry on a serious study which should commence with astronomy, proceed to geology, and then to history from its first beginnings, in connection with philosophy, down to the present time. Naturally I have already begun, and was fairly dazzled with the infinite distances that opened out before me as if by magic. On the other hand, he said that I ought to examine my own character, which task is too often neglected in the crowd of daily events, and should strive in every way to advance spiritually. I spoke with extreme frankness; it is wonderful how one feels exactly how far a person, even if he speak no word, is really sympathetic to one. I parted from him at last with infinite peace in my soul, repeating to myself every word that I had heard. How this man, with his fire, his glowing eloquence, his holy zeal, carries one away! I hang with my whole soul upon his every word, I drink them all in with the same greediness with which a flower drinks in the rain, and I should like to remember every single word for ever."
Mazzini's tastes in scent and song deserve record, as characteristic of the ascetic nature of the man. "I do not," he said, "like the smell of a rose; it is eastern, it is sensuous; there is nothing rousing or stirring in the odour. I love the smell of the lily of the valley, it is so pure and fresh; and of the jasmine, because in it the two qualities of odour are represented; there is the eastern languishing, but also the rousing, pricking essence which is needed to neutralise the first; all things that are perfect must embrace the two. I hold it quite a prejudice, this admiration of the rose and the nightingale. I love the lark far more, it is the most spiritual of birds, singing far up in the sky, and full of unutterable joy and song."
Mazzini said on one occasion: "All that I have achieved in my life has only succeeded through perseverance." His influence on Mathilde Blind was shown by his inducing her to undertake a task of all others most repugnant to her nature, that of sturdy begging for patriotic objects. No one who knew her will doubt that it would have been easier for her to have herself contributed a pound than to have asked another person for a penny; nevertheless, she heroically approached the postman, who actually did give a penny, and by and by another postman came voluntarily with another penny, saying he understood that there was a collection for Garibaldi. It is a proof of the superior efficacy of persons in comparison with principles that few would give anything unless Garibaldi's name was somehow introduced. Altogether a sovereign was raised, and Mathilde accepted an honourable discharge from the duties of collector from that time forth. On one occasion, however, she endeavoured to convert an Irish girl who declared herself on the side of the Pope by telling her that if Garibaldi got the upper hand he would send all the little girls in Rome to school. It does not appear whether the little girl from Ireland thought this a captivating prospect, and in fact Mathilde Blind was always rather magnetic than persuasive.
The Polish general Langiewicz was deservedly considered a hero in his brief day, but, having found no opportunity for a repetition of his exploits, has almost passed out of remembrance, which Mathilde 's description of him may help to revive:—
"He is merry and very amiable, but seems to me to have at bottom a very granite character. If I do not mistake, he is of a positive, practical, iron nature, inwhich reason preponderates, and possesses a kind of frozen enthusiasm, which is the most dangerous of all. There is something masterful in his full dark eyes, and in many small particulars they are like those of a man accustomed to quell wild animals with his glance—totally different from the mild dignity which lies in Garibaldi's eyes."
From the age of about five-and-twenty onwards the question of raising the status of women occupied a large share in Mathilde's thoughts. She could do little else than meditate upon it, and discuss it by speech and writing with sympathetic friends like Mr. Moncure Conway; not possessing enough business habits and organising talent to be of any service upon a committee, while her public addresses transcended the ordinary range of thought. Though she could not avoid being professedly an advocate of female franchise, she in reality only cared for it inasmuch as the concession would have removed what she regarded as a stigma, the apparent consecration by law of the principle of woman's inferiority to man. She was in favour of women following all callings, except the military and naval, and when invited by the present writer to consider the consequence of throwing a mass of cheap labour into occupations much overstocked, she rejoined, with decision, that the men might emigrate, as they probably may whenever the women shall have preceded them. She seized, nevertheless, with real discernment, upon the root of women's inferiority, the inferiority of women's education. Among the numerous companions of her girlhood, she was the only one who could be considered well educated, and she had educated herself. It was not from want of talent, or of desire to excel; within the range of her own acquaintances she had seen numbers of lives intellectually wrecked by parents' obstinate adherence to conventional schemes of education and of life. She felt and wrote admirably upon the subject; and it is probable that the design by which Newnham College was eventually to benefit was formed at this time, when there seemed slight prospect of her ever being in a position to realise it.
It was natural that with these feelings she should be especially attracted by those female writers who have shown that in certain fields woman can rival man. George Eliot she admired enthusiastically, George Sand more temperately, but few books of the age impressed her so powerfully as Mrs. Browning's "Aurora Leigh." She there found the confirmation of her own thoughts on "soulless, unspiritual education, where everything is nipped in the bud and crushed to nothingness," and "the first revelation of the world through poetry." This remarkable poem, overestimated in its own day, has been so unduly disparaged since, that it is a pleasure to find how capable it has been—and why should it not continue to be?—of inspiring young and ardent minds with thoughts remote from the convent and the catacomb:—
"At the same time," adds Mathilde, "it is not merely a series of beautiful passages, but it is really a whole, springing from the depths of thought, and the reflections, descriptions of nature, the wonderful atmosphere are, tome, like the delicate blossoms of a tree, not there for themselves alone."
Not even George Eliot or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, however, produced so much effect upon Mathilde Blind as Carlyle; the greater, perhaps, because Carlyle was in a manner antagonistic to her. "My spirit rebels," she says, but she had to go on reading. "The French Revolution "was an especial favourite with her, and came to excellent account when she afterwards wrote the life of Madame Roland. She protested with reason agamst Carlyle's contempt for the innocent enjoyments of life. "I keep to the motto of Mirza Schaffy, 'As the fruits of the field flourish under sunshine and rain, so the deeds of men under joy and sorrow.'" The influence of another illustrious writer of the period was personal as well as merely literary. She frequently met Mr. Swinburne, and heard him read his poems, which she herself was much in the habit of reading aloud in private circles: —
"Swinburne read to us in the evening the first part of 'Tristram and Iseult.' I was very much struck with it; it is certainly one of the finest things he has ever written, and whenever I happen to meet Swinburne I am struck afresh by the wonderful vitality and verve of the man's mind. His conversation has the same bracing effect upon me in one way as sea-winds have in another, and I am conscious of a vibration after it for days and weeks together."
Mr. Swinburne imbued her to a certain extent with his own enthusiasm for Victor Hugo, whose works she perused very conscientiously, but—
"Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines."
And she had to admit that
"It was no laughing matter
The magnificence of "La Légende des Siècles "greatly impressed her, as did Mr. Swinburne's own "Songs before Sunrise" and "Both well" at a later date. Browning she greatly admired. Tennyson was comparatively unappreciated until her latter days, when she was wont to speak of him with enthusiasm.
Perhaps, however, no author of the day impressed Mathilde so powerfully for a time, or rendered her such permanent service, as one then famous, but now, though unforgotten, comparatively little read—Henry Thomas Buckle. The effect he produced, as she herself implies, arose less from the power of his message than from its seasonableness. A year before it might have been too soon for efficacy; a year afterwards it might have been too late. It is indeed a momentous discovery when one learns that Law, not Chance or Caprice, regulates the universe, and great is the part performed by him who brings the message, be he himself a great man or a small. Buckle, an intermediate man, came at the right moment, and impressed upon her a lesson essential for her peace.
"What helped me? What took this soul of mine on the verge of a blank atheism, of utter denial and despair; what took it and led it out of itself to the calm and awful centre of things? It was Buckle. I verily think I owe to him what I owe to no other human being—an eternal debt of gratitude for the work he has left. I somehow feel as if the great thanks with which I thanked him must have reached him wherever and whatsoever he is in this great mysterious universe. It was the right book at the right time, the serene proclamation of law as he unrolled the history of humanity before me from its earliest germs—not the perplexed history of facts which vexes the soul with the confused din and uproar of purposeless flux and reflux—but the eternal underlying history which holds on its calm and even course, a history whose serenity and solemnity are like the light of stars! For wherever we do not understand there is darkness, sorrow, wrong; but wherever we do understand there is light, triumph, and unity. I did not read easily, it was a hard battle. I would begin with the same chapter day after clay, with a dogged patience, till I found my mind capable of grasping an idea. The large, strong truths gradually saturated my mind, and I literally drank in that chapter on the 'comparison between moral and intellectual laws.' Gradually my mind seemed to recover as from a long sickness, and to rebound with a vigour and energy difficult to describe. Had I ever loved poetry before? or the earth and the sea? or the sun and the sky? for now all these came back to me like lovers long parted. Song continually vibrated in me, and floated round me on shimmering wing. And yet, all the while, there was a great sorrow at my heart, patient and still, which never moved away. I think I know now what Goethe meant by 'the divine depths of pain.'"
Except for the German ode already mentioned as composed for Schiller's centenary in 1859, Mathilde made her first appearance as an authoress in 1867, in a little volume of poems published under the pseudonym of Claude Lake. Exceedingly slight as these were, they yet contained sufficient proof that the author was a poet. A certain element of school-girlishness may be accounted for, either by the pieces being partly of considerably earlier date, or by the youthful freshness of feeling which, in spite of thought and study and disappointment, and struggles with herself and her surroundings, she yet retained in a surprising degree. The frequent exuberance of her spirits had in the previous year been sobered by a grievous catastrophe, the death by his own hand of her brother Ferdinand, a noble-spirited but too impetuous youth, who, in a transport of patriotic indignation against Prince Bismarck, attempted the minister's life. Bismarck was at the time accused—although, as future events showed, erroneously—of being on the verge of ruining Germany by a causeless war. The great minister did justice to the misguided patriotism of the youth by saying in later years in the Reichstag: "His (Ferdinand's) dead body became the object of a cult; that ladies of considerable name, whose husbands enjoyed a certain reputation in the scientific world, crowned it with laurels and flowers, and that this was tolerated by the police—the mass of the ordinary officials, perhaps even some of the higher ones, being rather on his side." The present writer saw Mathilde for the first time draped in the deepest mourning for this event, and the impression of combined beauty, dignity, and sorrow will never be effaced from his recollection.
After the publication of her first verses Mathilde continued to write poetry, and also produced "Blue Ogwen," a successful tale for children. Her attention, however, was partly diverted from literary composition by the idea she then entertained that she might succeed as a lecturer. No species of success could have been more thoroughly enjoyed by her, had it been within her reach, but with many qualifications for an orator, she had serious disadvantages. Her beauty and her earnestness were entirely in her favour, her diction was pure, but her accent was not. She had quitted Baden too late to escape the harsh South German intonation, which told heavily against her. And, in truth, her eloquence, though striking, was not the kind of eloquence that lends itself to a set speech. She shone principally in conversation, her brilliant things were sparks struck out from the collision of mind with mind. Always fluent and animated, never disposed to engross conversation unduly, she was admirable whether in a téte—téte or as the centre of a group of congenial spirits. Could she but have discoursed as she conversed, all would have been well, but the life and spirit which friendly argument would have evoked was absent from a speech laboriously committed to paper, and she could not trust herself to speak extempore. Public discussion would have suited her well; as the hostess of a brilliant salon, could she but have escaped the danger of being monopolised by the most distinguished among her guests, she might have been a second Roland or Rahel. As it was, the auditors of her lectures certainly took away an impression of remarkable ability, but it was ability to make the best of an uncongenial element. The auditors of her colloquies departed with other feelings: "I do not remember," says Mr. Watts-Dunton, "that she ever talked with me upon any subject that was not connected with poetry or art or science or those great issues of the human story about which she thought so deeply and felt so keenly."
She continued to deliver public addresses, though at considerable intervals, for several years. The most important were one on the Volsunga Saga, as translated by William Morris, delivered in May, 1870, to a highly intellectual audience in St. John's Wood; and one on Shelley delivered in St. George's Hall in December, 1869, the only one which attained the honour of print. This gained her the acquaintance of Dr. John Chapman, editor of the Westminster Review, who in the following July inserted an article on Shelley from her pen. This essay, mainly an ethical and æsthetical criticism, embodied a number of important corrections of Shelley's text, communicated to her by the present writer, who had derived them from an examination of the original manuscripts of Shelley's poems then preserved at Boscombe, and now in the Bodleian. They have been turned to account in all subsequent editions. The most remarkable passage in the essay proper was an eloquent appreciation of Shelley's Cythna, as the ideal of emancipated and regenerated womanhood, which should rebuke the comparative neglect of "The Revolt of Islam," a poem inferior in the essentials of poetry to none of its author's writings. A few years later Mathilde wrote an abridged biography of Shelley for the Tauchnitz edition. About the same time she visited Sir Percy and Lady Shelley at Boscombe, and saw the Shelley relics deposited there at that time. "You can imagine," she writes to Mrs. Wolfsohn, "how interesting all this was to me, as was also my talk with Lady Shelley, who is an ardent spiritualist. I shall not easily forget a walk through the grounds on one of those tender misty February days when there is a stir and quiver of song in every tree, and she described to me the strangest experience, which yet scarcely seemed so strange when heard amid that mystical murmur of pine trees and faint lapping of the tide below."
In 1871, Mathilde, while maintaining affectionate relations with her family, took a home for herself, and from this time it is less easy to trace the continuous story of her life. She rarely remained long in one place, for even if she conceived no distaste to her quarters impulse was contmually calling her away to rural beauty in England, or romantic" scenery in Scotland, or Switzerland, or Italy. The state of her health, moreover, after a while came to require frequent change, to ward off the bronchitis which became almost habitual in cold or otherwise unfavourable weather. When able to remain in London, however, she continued to be as much prized as ever by a wide circle of friends, among whom after her brother, her sister, and Mr. Charles Hancock, her brother-in-law, may especially be named Mr. Eirikr Magnusson, now assistant librarian of the Cambridge University Library; Mrs. W. K. Clifford, whose husband, so early lost to science, had been an intimate friend; Mr. Moncure Conway; Mr. and Mrs. William Rossetti; above all, Mr. and Mrs. Ford Madox Brown, and, at a later date, Mr. and Mrs. William Sharp. When in health her enjoyment of her friends' society was perfect, and her hospitality most genial. And if her life suffered from the frequent mutation of domicile, it gained greatly in consistency and unity of purpose. From this time forth she had but one object, to express herself adequately in literature, more especially in poetry. In spite of fluctuating health, uncertain circumstances, and the long spells of depression, during which she was incapable of literary work, it is astonishing how much she accomplished. The history of her life is henceforth mainly in her writings.
Mathilde's first important literary labour, however, was not original work but a translation, being a rendering of Strauss's book, "The Old Faith and the New" (1873). Nothing was more characteristic of her than the instinct which led her to the highest things. She would always, if she could, address her conversation to the most distinguished person present in a company, read the greatest author, and consult the highest authority; in the main a most commendable course, but "which may occasionally in society have overborne superior and mortified inferior people, and which in literature left her ignorant of many things which greater condescension to humble utility would have revealed. In the present instance her spiritual experiences and the worldwide sensation produced by Strauss's work awakened within her the desire to translate the book, and when the business arrangements to this effect were concluded, she found herself confronted with difficulties which she had not foreseen. German and English were equally familiar to her; but a mere literal rendering could not satisfy her artistic conscience; and at first she found it most difficult to obtain "a right view of the subject matter." She persevered gallantly, and at length produced a translation satisfactory to Strauss himself, and which passed through three editions. It was not her fault if her aspiration to present England with an epoch-making book was disappointed. Strauss remains the author of the Leben Jesu.
The autumn of 1873 took Mathilde on a tour of the highest importance to her, as it resulted in the production of her finest poetical work. Scotland does not appear to have previously possessed any special attraction for her, but she now found herself much at home there, and the ultimate result was her "Prophecy of St. Oran," and "Heather on Fire." "St. Oran," and, was conceived and begun in the Highlands, but not finished till some years afterwards under the vivifying influence of her residence at Manchester. Of all her longer poems it is the most powerful, the most original, and the most artistically wrought, without a line too much or too little. The striking theme is derived from an ecclesiastical legend holding a place in hagiological literature akin to that which, in the opinion of some, the Book of Job occupies in the Hebrew Canon—the resurrection of a saint to intimate that the faith in which he died is not true. Mathilde's conception of early Christianity on its strongest side displays deep insight as well as a truly catholic spirit, and gained her an approving letter from a Bishop. The "Heather on Fire," although very different, and not as highly finished as "St. Oran," yet an equally powerful and eloquent poem, was conceived about this period, but not executed until after a second visit to Scotland in 1883. It gives voice to the general indignation against the reckless clearance of Highland estates, and a highly finished execution would have been out of place. It is not too much to affirm that no other English poetess since Mrs. Browning could have given utterance with equal energy to the compassion and indignation called forth by such circumstances. The poem achieved considerable popularity, especially in the Highlands.
Extracts from letters to the writer may show how Highland scenery impressed the poetess:—
"Cuidrach, Portree, Skye.
"A bare-looking stone farmhouse, endless reaches of short, spare grass, and the waters of Loch Snizort winding in and out between two sterile rocks—this is the whole scene. You may add to it to-day a grey sky, a faint mist, the plaintive cry of the curlew heard now and then, or the low of a cow breaking a silence so deep that it seems almost to become audible.
"About two miles from here you get a very fine view, and that too of a unique character. Looking down black precipitous rocks you come in sight of the pretty little bay' of Uig with a few houses (great rarities here), and a little kirk, sprinkled along the shore. Beyond that is a glassy sea, in which the island of Harris, with its clear-cut aerial hills, rests like an exhalation a breath of wind might dissolve. The sea-girt Hebrides have an oceanic softness of colour, a delicate purity of outline, an evanescent bloom which partakes more of the appearance of some still Avilion than of our common and substantial earth."
"Oban, September 25th.
"I was storm-stayed for nearly three days at a lonely hotel at Talladale, Loch Maree. And such a storm! Walking along the banks of the loch I saw what looked like some dark nebulous host rushing from the further end of the lake and advancing with a weird, booming sound which made the trees shiver through their branches, and their pale leaves fall to the earth. And then the tempest of rain, sleet, and hail burst right over my head. So heavily did it beat on the loch that the water splashed up as if stones were falling into it, and the surface where it hailed looked like one white seething mass several feet in height, not stationary, however, but travelling onwards with incredible rapidity. Now and then the lightning flashed through the gloom of cloud and forest, and the thunder was reverberated from a hundred peaks. Rainbows followed in the wake of the hurricane, and it was astonishing to see the hurrying storm now descending in the wake of the hurricane, while the barren mountain-side which had been invisible an instant before, was now clothed in most delicate hues, which, like gossamer wafted by an imperceptible breeze, hovered on from hill to hill. These strange appalling gusts were renewed many times during that and the following day, although with each fresh fit the storm seemed to lose somewhat of its first strength. At last, on the morning of the third day the sun shone forth, the vapours lolled languidly about Ben Slioch, whose peaks rose untrammelled above them, and I found it possible to be rowed to some of the small islands with which the centre of the loch is studded. One of them, called Eilean Raree, is thickly wooded, and covered with ferns and bushes of every description. Half hidden amid all this greenery are strange half-effaced crosses still dimly discernible here and there. Not far from this spot full of an indescribable pathos is a deep dark well where folk of yore used to go in order to be healed of every kind of disease. An old fir-tree stands above it, and its bark is pierced with various coins which the people used to offer up to the spirit of the place (or rather to St. Maree, who dwelt there as an anchorite)."
Staffa and lona were the crowning-points of the authoress's pilgrimage, illustrations of the grandeur of nature and the pathos of humanity. She wrote a fine description of the sublimity of Staffa, but the spell of lona was more potent. "What a contrast are its low, grass-green shores and little coves of silver sand to the desolate grandeur of Staffa! After passing so many swart rocks and sullen shores, it is quite a relief to see the few homely fields smiling amid the ocean, these humble huts nestling by the seashore. And the cathedral that rears its grey towers on the island touches the heart with a deeper pathos than the grandest structures. Here every stone, every mouldering cross speaks of St. Columba and his devoted little band, and whatever of truth and beauty was contained in Christianity forces itself on the imagination in this lonely spot, with whose soil is mingled the dust of these ardent and heroic men. I should be inclined to call lona an Island of the Dead, for every inch of ground you tread upon almost is marked by a grave. Tombs of Scottish kings and chieftains lie in rows, with the green grass growing between them. Now and then you come upon a tall cross beautifully carved. The thick grey lichen with which they are covered enhances the solemnity of their appearance." The impressions received in this visit originated "St. Oran," a poem whose chief fascination, after all, is its suffusion with the "Celtic magic" that clings in Ireland and Scotland to lone glens and solitary isles dark with weeping skies, green with tender grass, and grey with ancient sepulchres.
"St. Oran" was published in 1881. Some of the intervening period had been occupied in the composition of Mathilde Blind's one romance, "Tarantella," which was not published until some years afterwards. The fate of this remarkable book is one of the injustices of literature. It met with but little success, and although republished, has never obtained any popularity. Yet it has an exciting story, interesting characters, ease and naturalness of dialogue, charming descriptions, and is the receptacle of much of the writer's most serious thought and intense personal feeling. The unfamiliar foreign medium possibly told against it; it also must be confessed that here and there the authoress's vigour and anuuation degenerate into verbosity, as will happen to people speaking under excitement. The principal reason, however, may well have been the preference which then obtained for minute analysis of character in fiction and the growing taste for realism. Both these requisites of success were disregarded by "Tarantella," which is very romantic, very idealistic, very eloquent, and not in the least concerned with minutiae, whether of description or of mental anatomy. Now that the taste for romance has revived, "Tarantella" ought to have another chance of taking its rightful place: for there does not appear, as there undoubtedly does in the case of some other works of genius, any conclusive reason why it should remain the property of the few.
"The Heather on Fire" followed in 1886. The interval, so far as devoted to literature, was mainly occupied by two prose works, undertaken con amore, but which cost the authoress an amount of labour disproportionate to their extent. It was a passion with her to celebrate illustrious women, which the publication of the "Eminent Women Series," edited by her friend, Mr. J. H. Ingram, enabled her to gratify. For this she wrote the lives of George Eliot and Madame Roland, with abundant enthusiasm, but not without effort. The quest of biographical particulars was uncongenial to her, and she had no particular talent for their luminous arrangement when obtained. Aware, however, of the requisites of her self- sought task, she contended heroically against these disadvantages—a striking figure as she sat like a Sibyl amid the disarray of her scattered scrolls, snowed down at random upon carpet and furniture, all astray from their right places, and all interlined with correction and scored with obliteration. The victory was eventually hers: the biographies, compiled so sorely against her natural bent, came out the clearest and most workmanlike productions of any in the series. But the strain had been exhausting. She writes to Mrs. Wolfsohn on the completion of the George Eliot volume (1883): —
"I never knew before what it was to do work under pressure in an enfeebled physical condition with such daily, almost hourly, efforts of will, but neither did I before understand Wordsworth's sublime lines in his 'Ode to Duty ':—
"'Nor know we anything so sweet
and I shall never forget the feeling when I had finished the last line of the work, and laid down my pen and felt that I might go out and actually stay out as long as ever I liked. It was a lovely afternoon. I was too tired to walk, and sat down on a bench in a little garden in front of the house, drinking in the air, the hum of the insects, the colour of flowers and leaves, the glory of the sky, and it all seemed 'very good.'"
Mathilde Blind's enthusiasm for her heroines had much to do with her success in depicting them: she could not have achieved the biography of a person indifferent to her, though she might have compassed that of an object of particular aversion. Madame Roland was more congenial to her than even George Eliot, and mainly for this reason her biography (1886) is the more important and the better executed of the two, although this is partly to be ascribed to the greater abundance of material and the more inspiring character of the story. Mathilde's zeal for Madame Roland and her times did indeed so superabound that the book when completed was adjudged a third too long, and was only reduced to the needful proportion under pressure of a threat from the editor that he would otherwise perform the task of abridgment himself. So Madame Roland was decapitated for the second time.
At this period Mathilde was residing at Manchester with Mr. and Mrs. Madox Brown, whose house was for several years almost a home to her. The friendship between her and the painter was in many respects singularly beautiful. Madox Brown had many remarkable characteristics, but chief among these, perhaps, was an unusual singleness of nature. His belief in everything that he admired, and animosity to everything that he disliked, were wholly without reserve; whatever his proficiency in artistic chiaroscuro, as a man he was little skilled in the distribution of light and shade. Having once recognised Mathilde as a woman of genius, his faith in her was undoubting; though ready and able to amend minutiæ, he would have been incapable of assuming a negative attitude, and Mathilde was sure of finding in him the encouragement needed to combat her frequent accesses of self- distrust. His was, moreover, a nature of great depth as well as simplicity. No man was more given to enunciate, in a quiet, homely way, maxims of wisdom so profound and true that they sometimes seemed to have been fetched up from the depths below "the brief fathom-line of thought or sense." His wisdom was a stimulus to Mathilde, his simplicity a refreshment. She repaid him and his wife with a true affection, evinced in later years, after his death, by her purchase of a picture by him that she might present it to the Luxembourg. Her acquaintance with them was of long date, but she first resided under their roof when Madox Brown lived at Manchester, painting the frescoes which adorn the Town Hall: —
"I used," she tells Mrs. Wolfsohn, "to go daily to the Town Hall, where Madox Brown has a tent erected in the chief room, so as to protect him from the prying of all the passing people. At the other end of the room is a huge organ, on which Mr. Pyne, the organist, practises daily. It is a wonderful instrument, seeming to combine all other instruments in one. I am sure this splendid music helps to mould the picture. It seemed quite an existence apart, belonging to some higher region, to sit there and listen at twilight to the melodies of Bach and Spohr and Berlioz swelling and rolling through the great lofty hall, while two gas-jets in the corner threw the colours of the fresco on which Mr. Brown is at work into stronger relief. Every now and then the latter seemed to be so enchanted by some particularly^ fine passage that he would jump up and listen, then pop his head over the partition and shout across the room, 'This is quite maddening, Pyne!' to the vast delight of the organist, who is heart and soul in his music, and seems scarcely able to pass a day without popping in upon Madox Brown."
Mathilde's residence at Manchester gamed her many other attached friends, among whom are particularly to be mentioned Mr. J. R. Wilkinson and Mr. Charles Rowley, the moving spirit of the Ancoats Brotherhood.
Notwithstanding sinking health and spirits, the last decade of Mathilde Blind's life was more prolific of actual publication than the preceding. In 1886 she ably prefaced selections from Byron's letters and poems for the Camelot Series. A translation of choice aphorisms from Goethe had appeared a few years before in Fraser's Magazine. She occasionally wrote for the Athenæum, and minor poems appeared in print now and then. The relief from the arduous task of Madame Roland's biography, and the generally desultory character of her occupations for some time, left her open to new impressions, and she suddenly felt herself nerved to grapple with a theme which had at various periods dimly floated before her, the celebration in verse of the theory of Evolution. A grand subject indeed! and truly worthy of an inspired pen, rebuking the little faith of Coleridge when he deemed all subjects for epic exhausted saving the Fall of Jerusalem. The fittest pen could write but tentatively upon the subject at present, and such pens must be rare in an age whose most notable defect in the domain of poetry is an almost universal incapacity for the sublime. Mathilde Blind, who frequently approached the sublime and sometimes reached it, was more fit than many a contemporary whom posterity will on the whole rank above her. Passionately interested in her theme, as deeply versed in its scientific lore as was necessary for a poet, struggling heroically against its gigantic difficulties, she produced in her "Ascent of Man" (1888), not indeed the desiderated epic, but a dithyramb, noble in many parts, here and there marred by grandiloquence and want of artistic form. If it must be said, magnis excidit ausis, the descent was less abrupt than would have befallen a less animated poet, and was broken by excursions into the domains of history and allegory, more manageable than the domain of science.
"The Ascent of Man" was hardly completed when the authoress embarked upon another enterprise of quite a different nature, but equally indicative of her determination to aim high. No European book, perhaps, was just then so much talked of as the Memoirs of Marie Bashkirtseff, the ambitious young Russian whose path to fame proved to lie through autobiography. It seems unlikely that she would have attained to distinguished excellence in art or literature, unless possibly as a critic. Fine as is her description of Gambetta's funeral, the faculty of picturesque word-painting is not rare. But her passionate eagerness for fame, and other remarkable mental traits, made her a psychological, and, it must be added, a pathological, study of extreme interest. Mathilde resolved that the most distinguished Continental voice of the hour should be heard in England. Though well aware of the morbid aspects of Marie Bashkirtseffs character, she yet honoured her as an instance of intellectual energy in woman, and resolved to make her most interesting autobiography available to English readers, giving thereby much pleasure and gratification to the mother of Marie Bashkirtseff, who lived only for her daughter's fame. Growing ill-health made the translation laborious, the necessity for completing it by the stipulated period weighed heavily- upon her, and eventually a portion had to be entrusted to an accomplished lady-translator. Nevertheless, by far the larger part of the translation, which proved excellent, and which was warmly commended by Mr. Gladstone, was Mathilde's work. She further adorned it by a thoughtful and sympathetic introduction, and the book was published in 1890.
Madame Bashkirtseff's acquaintance had been made at Nice, whither, and to other parts of the Riviera, Mathilde's health now necessitated frequent visits. She there contracted a friendship with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy; it was about this period, too, that she found the most faithful friends she possessed in these latter years in a man of genius in a sphere totally dissimilar to her own. Dr. Ludwig Mond and his rarely gifted wife, and her highly intellectual friend, Miss Heine Herz. Captivated at first, as a man of science well might be, by the apotheosis of science in "The Ascent of Man," Dr. Mond, with his family, became a stay for her failing strength and spirits, and seemed raised to fill the place of a friend no less true. Ford Madox Brown, who died in 1893. Much of her time, when in England, had latterly been spent at Mr. and Mrs. Madox Brown's last residence in St. Edmund's Terrace, Regent's Park. The continued decline of her health, however, drove her more and more abroad. Travel was now facilitated, and the harassing struggle with narrow means, which had counted for much in her adversities, was terminated by her becoming, in 1892, sole heir to the fortune of her step-brother, Max Cohen. She now spent a considerable time at Rome, visited Egypt twice, penetrating as far as Assouan, and taking great interest in the movement for the preservation of the temples at Philae. Some of the most beautiful of her more recent descriptive lyrics date from that time. The impressions of these later years were recorded in "Dramas m Miniature" (1891), "Songs and Sonnets" (1893), including the majestic sonnet to the Dead, and the almost equally impressive "Cleave thou the Waves." Of these and other sonnets it has been said on another occasion: "She has been more fortunate than most in finding thoughts great enough to fill fourteen lines." "Birds of Passage" (1895), bore special reference to Egypt, and contained noble poetry on the tombs of the ancient Egyptian kings. The reception of these poems was in general more favourable than that of their predecessors: owing m a measure to the appreciative criticism of Mr. William Sharp, who ever approved himself the most loyal, disinterested, and self-sacrificing of friends; and of Mr. Arthur Symons, who rendered her a valuable service after death by the admirable selection he made from her poetical writings.
Mathilde Blind's later poetry evinces more tendency than of old to a topographical inspiration, such an influence as that under which Platen wrote his sonnets to Venice, or Wordsworth's when inditing his to the river Duddon. Natural scenery had always been an inspiration to her, but had rather pervaded than shaped such poems as "St. Oran." In these latter volumes particular scenes became the express subjects of the poems, especially if Italian, Egyptian, or appertaining to the pastoral scenery of England, and the exquisite delight she received from natural beauty was not stored up for literary purposes, but overflowed into her correspondence. Writing from Egypt in 1894 to Mrs. Wolfsohn, she says:—
"It is a comfort to feel that, in spite of much loneliness, I still have you and others left whose love is with me. Perhaps the sunshine and brightness of Egypt were the best antidote to the grief caused me by Madox Brown's death. But, perhaps owing to mental as well as physical causes, Egypt has not quite realised my expectations. The long rides in the desert did me more good than anything else. The silence and solitude of the arid wilderness, which looks like a phantom of Chaos which God forgot at the beginning of things, suited my mmd to perfection. I have been sick for it ever since I came to Luxor. I think with longing of its infinite vastness, of the air that blows over its leagues and leagues of lion-coloured sand, of the luminous blue sky that turns the horror of it into something divine. Never shall I forget returning one evening in the afterglow, when I understood Isaiah's 'The wilderness shall blossom like the rose,' for the waste turned a tender shell-pink, the wild ridge of syenite blushed crimson, and the arc of light spreading outwards from the horizon turned into the hues of an immense prism above the desolation it deified. Then, as the glow faded into lemon-colour, the little stars, faint and far between, looked down on the pitch-black sand. A few lights, shining here and there in the Bishereen camp, showed I was nearing Assouan. A tall woman with a pitcher on her head could be seen coming from the Nile. It was the hour when jackals and hyaenas come out of their holes to drink of the river."
Neither Italy nor Egypt, however, afforded Mathilde more pleasure than the tranquil, rural beauty of the English midland counties. Her work on George Eliot had taken her to Warwickshire some years before; and Shakespeare associations now drew her to Stratford-on-Avon, which proved a perfect source of inspiration to her, many of the most beautiful poems of her later years dating from her visit. Another attraction appears to have been the neighbourhood of Dr. and Mrs. Philpot, who had a temporary residence at Stratford, and were among the best and kindest friends of her closing years. She says in a letter to the writer, dated September 14, 1894:—
"We had some delightful boating on the Avon, but the river seems so very much left to its own sweet will that the locks have fallen to pieces from disuse. In consequence of this there are rapids and shallows which produce quite an excitement, as we had to clamber up the banks and over stiles while the men of the party, divested of some of their garments, had to pull the boats over the weirs and shallow places. But it was well worth the trouble to get to the beautiful Clive woods, mirrored in the still, green water, and the sedgy pools and fairy eyots sky-blue with forget-me-nots. Now and then a kingfisher shot across the stream in a flash of blue lightning, or a coot skimmed its surface from bank to bank. The willows bending over the banks, with their silver lining turned to the breeze, whispered dreamily at evening as if they were remembering old, sad things of long ago."
"The charm of Stratford grows upon me the longer I remain. I drove to Wilmcote this afternoon, and saw Mary Arden's house, a sweet old cottage said to be four or five hundred years old. The timbered walls and mighty oaken beams of roof and ceiling show that it must have been a place of some importance in Shakespeare's day. It strikes one everywhere hereabouts how plentiful wood must have been at that time, when all these villages and hamlets were still embosomed in the green recesses of the Forest of Arden. One seems to come upon Shakespeare's tracks here, and to get into closer touch with him and such plays as 'As You Like It' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'
" Memories and echoes of merry old England seem to have survived in Warwickshire longer than anywhere else. They tell us that on the 12th of October there will be held in Rother Market a Stratford Mop or Bull roast, where six oxen will be roasted whole on the occasion of servants being hired by the farmers of the neighbourhood. The inhabitants seem to be more cheerful than is generally the case in little provincial towns. They love the theatre, and every Thursday evening have dances on the green by the river-side, when the gardens are festively lit up with Chinese lanterns. Fancy! the curfew is still rung here from September to March! It is chiming at this moment from the grey old chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross, and makes me feel like a mediæval nun."
Mathilde Blind saw, indeed, more of rural England in her latter years than ever before. She stayed near Tring with Mrs. Mona Caird, an attached friend, whose society she found especially exhilarating; joined, in 1895, a large house-party at Mrs. Hills of Corby Castle; and in 1896 spent a considerable time at Cambridge, where she especially enjoyed the acquaintance of the Regius Professor of Medicine, Dr. Clifford Allbutt. The object of her visit was a serious one; she was conscious of the. decay of her strength, and wished to provide as prudently and effectively as might be for the disposition of her property in aid of female education. After visiting several institutions she fixed upon Newnham College, Cambridge, as the one most in conformity with her ideal, and the greater part of her estate was bequeathed to it. Soon after the execution of her testamentary dispositions increasing weakness obliged her to take refuge in an invalids' home in the south of London. Conscious of the inevitable termination of her illness, she did not deem it so near at hand as was in fact the case, and bore up against disease most courageously, going out in a bath-chair and receiving afternoon visitors until within five days of her death. She even expressed a hope that she might yet once again see the Riviera. She passed the day of her departure, November 26, 1896, quietly and peacefully, gradually and gently sinking into the sleep of death. On December 2nd a funeral discourse, afterwards published, was pronounced over her remains in Stamford Street Unitarian Chapel by her old and true friend, Mr. Moncure Conway, to a large audience of men and women, many of much distinction, who had esteemed and loved and admired her in life. The remains w^ere then conveyed to "Woking for cremation, and were subsequently interred in Finchley Cemetery, near the grave of Madox Brown and his wife. Her resting-place is indicated by a beautiful monument, the work of M. Lanteri, and a memorial of the attachment of Dr. and Mrs. Ludwig Mond, who have raised yet another monument by the publication of her poetical writings.
Perhaps the re-publication of Mathilde Blind's poems is less fitly described as a monument to the authoress than as a reviviscence of the authoress herself. They are, indeed, far from expressing the entire force and depth of her nature; but they are its faithful reflection. Nothing was more characteristic of her than her absolute truthfulness; she might take refuge in reserve, but she could not speak without manifesting her real mind. In her poetical works she has bequeathed an image of the strong and weak points of her temperament and intellect. The former—energy, enthusiasm, constant aspiration towards the highest things—require no further comment; the latter may be briefly summed up as an inattention to external polish and finish, which in life sometimes wore the aspect of indifference to the interests and feelings of others, a defect, however, which, under the mellowing influences of time and experience, almost disappeared in latter life; and which in poetry sometimes induced negligence of the laws of Art, not less imperative than the laws of Nature. The cause was the same m both cases, so complete a realisation of truth as the one thing needful, that it was difficult to convince her that social conventions or artistic refinements could count for anything in comparison.
This failing was aggravated by an intellectual defect, the absence of a lively sense of humour. How much vexation and friction Mathilde Blind would have spared herself had she sometimes been able to look at things on the amusing side! But no; she must always be enraptured or disgusted, always defiantly in earnest. Excess of truthfulness and excess of earnestness, however, are not failings to which humanity is so prone as to necessitate the discouragement of them with any great severity. Mathilde Blind would have been more popular if she had been less ardent and more conciliating; she would have been a more accomplished writer if the passion for essential truth had not made her unduly indifferent to artistic finish; but after every allowance has been made her poetry remains noble in execution as in aspiration, and her character was even more noble than her poetry. Both, it may be hoped, will be preserved from oblivion by the monument of "living stones" raised to her memory in the following pages, to which these imperfect lines are but the vestibule.