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Adelaide Anne Procter
Poetess and philanthropist, b. in London, England, 30 October, 1825; d. in London, 2 February, 1864. She was the eldest daughter of the poet Bryan Waller Procter ("Barry Cornwall") and Anne Benson Skepper. As a child Adelaide showed precocious intelligence. She attained considerable proficiency in French, German, and Italian, as well as in music and drawing, and she was a great reader. Brought up in surroundings favourable to the development of literary leanings, she began to write verses at an early age, and at eighteen eontributed to the "Book of Beauty". In 1851 she and two of her sisters became Catholics without, apparently, any disturbance of the harmonious relations of the domestic circle. In 1853, under the pseudonym of "Mary Berwick", she sent to "Household Words" a short poem, which so pleased the editor, Charles Dick-ens, that he not only accepted it but also invited further contributions. It was not till late in the following year that Dickens learned that his unknown correspondent was the daughter of his old friend, Barry Cornwall. To "Household Words" and "All the Year Round" nearly all her poetry was in the first instance contributed. In 1858-60 her poems were collected and published in two series under the title of "Legends and Lyrics". They had a great success, reaching the tenth edition in 1866. In that year a new issue, with introduction by Dickens, was printed, and there have been several reprints since.
Miss Procter was of a charitable disposition: she visited the sick, befriended the destitute and home- less, taught the ignorant, and endeavoured to raise up the fallen ones of her own sex. She was generous yet practical with the income derived from her works. In 1859 she served on a committee to consider fresh ways and means of providing employment for women; in 1861 she edited a miscellany, entitled "Victoria Regia", which had some of the leading litterateurs of the time as contributors and which was set up in type by women compositors; and in 1862 she published a slender volume of her own poems, "A Chaplet of Verses", mostly of a religious turn, for the benefit of the Providence Row night refuge for homeless women and children, which, as the first Catholic Refuge in the United Kingdom, had been opened on 7 October, 1860, and placed under the care of the Sisters of Mercy. In her charitable zeal she appears to have unduly taxed her strength, and her health, never robust, gave way under the strain. The cure at Malvern was tried in vain; and, after an illness of fifteen months, she died calmly, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
Dickens has given a characteristic testimony to her worth. "She was", he says, "a friend who inspired the strongest attachments; she was a finely sympathetic woman with a great accordant heart and a sterling noble nature." Modest and cheerful, unconstrained and unaffected, and quick in repartee, she had the gift of humour herself and of appreciating humour in others. Her works were very popular; they were published in America and also translated into German. In 1877 her poems were in greater demand in England than those of any living writer except Tennyson. If her verses are unambitious, dealing with simple emotional themes, they have the merit of originality and give evidence of much culture. She appears perhaps to greatest advantage in her narrative poems, several of which, such as "The Angel's Story", "A Legend of Bregenz", "The Story of the Faithful Soul", and "A Legend of Provence", are well known in anthologies; but some of her lyrics, like "Cleansing Fires" and "A Lost Chord", have made a very wide appeal. Some of her poems, for example, "Per Pacem ad Lucem" and "Thankfulness" are sodevotional that they are in use as hymns.
DICKENS, Introduction prefixed to 1866 edition of Legends and Lyrics; The Month (Jan., 1866); BARRY CORNWALL (BRYAN WALLER PROCTER), An Autobiographical Fragment, ed. PATMORE (London, 1877); BRUCE, The Book of Noble Englishwomen (London, 1878); KEMBLE, Records of a Girlhood (London, 1859); IDEM, Records of Later Life (London, 1882); FAITHFULL, Victoria Regia, pref.; REID, Life of Lord Houghton; BELLOC (LOWNDES), In a Walled Garden (London, 1902); HOWITT, Autobiography (London, 1889); JULIAN, Dictionary of Hymnology (New York, 1892); CHAMBERS, Cyclopaedia of English Literature, III (London, 1904); LEE in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v.
P. J. Lennox.
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