Alfred H. Miles, ed. Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by Alexander Hay Japp
Isa (Craig) Knox (18311903)
MRS. KNOX, whose maiden name was Isa Craig, under which she became well known, was born in Edinburgh on October 17th, 1831. She began at an early age to contribute to newspapers and magazines, and her poetical contributions to the Scotsman, signed Isa, attracted attention, and led to her being employed in writing for that journal literary reviews and articles on social questions, in which already she took the greatest interest. In 1856 her first volume of poems was issued by the Messrs. Blackwood of Edinburgh, and was received with much favour. In 1857 she came to London to assist Mr. Hastings in organising the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. She acted as Secretary and literary assistant until her marriage with her cousin, Mr. John Knox, who was engaged in business in the City. Prior to this, however, she had won the first place in the competition (against 620 rivals) for her ode on Burns, on the occasion of the Burns Centenary. So little did she expect to win the prize that she was spending the day at a distance, and was not present when her ode was read by Mr. Phelps with fine effect to listening thousands in the Crystal Palace.
Shortly before her marriage she began to contribute to the magazines founded by Mr. Alexander Strahan,Good Words and the Sunday Magazine,and, for a time, in the earlier days of the Argosy, she acted as its editor. In 1865 Duchess Agnes and Other Poems was published by Mr. Strahan, and added to her reputation.
Isa Craig Knoxs poems are characterised not only by true and natural feeling, but by remarkably picturesque touches. She excels in pictures, and can command atmosphere. Duchess Agnes admirably illustrates this in many passages, and we may refer also to the Brides of Quair and to The Thames. We recall, too, a very remarkable poem which appeared in the Argosy entitled The Vision of Sheikh Hamil, in which, without affectation of knowledge or display of pedantic learning, we have the whole spirit not only of Eastern life, but of Arab love and devotion, set in a frame of the most picturesque touches. The Mohammedan religion and worship affords her the finest medium for enforcing on Christian readers the true law of charity; for the unspeakable grief of the Sheikh at the loss of his much-loved wife touches, and cannot but touch, the sensitive reader to the quick. Seldom have we read a poem in which local colour and atmosphere were better preserved, and yet in which the law of common sympathy was more effectively vindicated.
As being in respect of extent her most important poem, we may, perhaps, be allowed to make a short quotation from Duchess Agnes, in proof of what we have said above. Agnes, the wife of the son of the Grand Duke of Bavaria, suffers death under an accusation of witchcraft, from which her husband is unable to save her. This is a part of one of her monologues while in the prison, waiting for judgment and sentence:
Mrs. Knox wrote some lyrics which for freshness of feeling and felicity of movement hold a place of their own; and in her Songs of Consolation, published in 1874, showed her ability to write true lyrics of the spiritual life. Many attempt this class of composition but few succeed in it.
Like so many other authors whose original and natural gift is for verse, and who have turned to prose-writing, Mrs. Knox in more recent years did little in poetry, but made a reputation for herself in prose-fiction. Several of her novels appeared in the Messrs. Cassells magazines and elsewhere, and enjoyed a wide popularity there. She had fair constructive powers, a firm hold on character within certain limits, and invariably wrote in a simple and attractive style. Besides, she never forgot to insinuate a good moral influence into her story, if she did not always plainly enforce a moral lesson. Esther West is, perhaps, the most effective and popular of her prose stories. Mrs. Knox wrote a good deal for children, displaying the gift of a light and pleasant manner of communicating knowledge. Her Little Folks History of England met with wide acceptance, and the same may be said of her Tales on the Parables. Mrs. Knox died on the 23rd of December, 1903.