1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Procter, Bryan Waller

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PROCTER, BRYAN WALLER (1787-1874), English poet, was born at Leeds on the 21st of November 1787. He was educated at Harrow, where he had for contemporaries Lord Byron and Sir Robert Peel. On leaving school he was placed in the office of a solicitor at Calne, Wiltshire, remaining there until about 1807, when he returned to London to study law. By the death of his father in 1816 he became possessed of a small property, and soon after entered into partnership with a solicitor; but in 1820 the partnership was dissolved, and he began to write under the pseudonym of "Barry Cornwall." After his marriage in 1824 to Miss Skepper, a daughter of Mrs Basil Montague, he returned to his professional work as conveyancer, and was called to the bar in 1831. In the following year he was appointed, metropolitan commissioner of lunacy — an appointement annually renewed until his election to the permanent commission constituted by the act of 1842. He resigned office in 1861. He died on the 5th of October 1874. Most of his verse was composed between 1815, when he began to contribute to the Literary Gazette, and 1823, or at latest 1832.

His principal poetical works were: Dramatic Scenes and other Poems (1819), A Sicilian Story (1820), Mirandola a tragedy performed at Convent Garden with Macready, Charles Kemble and Miss Foote in the leading parts (1821), The Flood of Thessaly (1823), and English Songs (1832). He was also the author of Effigies poetica (1824), Life of Edmund Kean (1835), Essays and Tales in Prose (1851), Charles Lamb; a Memoir (1866), and of memoirs of Ben Jonson and Shakespeare for editions of their works. A posthumous autobiographical fragment with notes of his literary friends, of whom he had a wide range from Bowles to Browning, was published in 1877, with some additions by Coventry Patmore. Charles Lamb gave the highest possible praise to his friend's Dramatic Sketches when he said that had he found them as anonymous manuscript in the Garrick collection he would have had no hesitation about including them in his Dramatic Specimens. He was perhaps not an impartial critic. "Barry Cornwall's" genius cannot be said to have been entirely mimetic, but his works are full of subdued echoes. His songs have caught some notes from the Elizabethan and Cavalier lyrics, and blended them with others from the leading poets of his own time; and his dramatic fragments show a similar infusion of the early Victorian spirit into pre-Restoration forms and cadences. The results are somewhat heterogeneous, and lack the impress of a pervading and dominant personality to give them unit, but they abount in pleasant touches, with here and there the flash of a higher, though casual, inspiration.

His daughter, ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER (1825-1864), also a poet, was born on the 30th of October 1825. She began to contribute to Household Words in 1853. She adopted the name of "Mary Berwick," so that the editor, Charles Dickens, should not be prejudiced by his friendship for the Procters. Her principal work is Legends and Lyrics, of which a first series, published in 1858, ran through nine editions in seven years, while a second series issued in 1860 met with a similar success. Her unambitious verses dealing with simple emotional themes in a simple manner have a charm which is scarcely explicable on the ground of high literary merit, but which is due rather to the fact that they are the cultured expression of an earnest and beneficent life. Among the best known of her poems are The Angel's Story, The Legend of Bregenz and The Legend of Provence. Many of her songs and hymns are very popular. Latterly she became a convert to Roman Catholicism, and her philanthropic zeal appears to have hastened her death, which took place on the 2nd of February 1864.