Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles
Louisa S. Guggenberger (1845–1895)
MRS. GUGGENBERGER, better known to the public by her maiden name, Louisa Sarah Bevington, was born in the year 1845. Her father, Alexander Bevington, was of Quaker family, an ancestor of his, when but a boy of fourteen, suffering confinement in Nottingham Gaol with George Fox. Mrs. Guggenberger is the eldest of a family of eight, seven of whom were girls. Her father encouraged her in the observation and love of nature, and at a very early age she wrote childish verses about natural objects. It was not, however, until childhood had been left behind that she made use of verse for the expression of her own thought, though she is said to have had a love for science, poetry, music, and metaphysical thinking even in pinafore days. Her first published verses were three sonnets which appeared in the Friends’ Quarterly Examiner in 1871, about which time she began writing prose essays on speculative subjects, ethical and metaphysical. The evolutionist view of the universe grew upon her, appealing to her intellect, and firing her imagination, as well as securing the enthusiastic assent of her æsthetic sense and moral being. This found expression in her verse. Encouraged by trusted literary advisers, Miss Bevington made up her mind to follow a literary career, wrote some philosophical essays, and in 1876 printed some of her poems for private circulation. Mr. Herbert Spencer caused four of these poems—“Morning,” “Afternoon,” “Twilight,” and “Midnight”—to be reprinted in the Popular Science Monthly in America under the title “Teachings of a Day.” In 1879 all the poems privately printed were reprinted, together with others, in a volume called “Keynotes,” which found fame chiefly in scientific circles. Professor Ray Lankester brought it under the notice of Darwin, who read it after not having opened a volume of verse for fifteen years. Two articles written for the Nineteenth Century this same year (1879), refuting from a scientific standpoint the cynical pessimism of Mallock’s “Is Life Worth Living?” procured the writer some literary recognition and many literary friends both in England and America. Two essays followed respectively on “Determinism and Duty” and “The Personal Aspects of Responsibility” which appeared in Mind (the Psychological Quarterly); and in 1881, at the suggestion of Mr. Herbert Spencer, an article in the Fortnightly in defence of evolutionist morality. In 1882 Miss Bevington’s second volume of verse appeared under the title “Poems, Lyrics, and Sonnets,” a volume which found less favour in scientific, and more favour in literary, circles. Shortly after the publication of this volume she visited Germany, and in 1883 married Ignatz Guggenberger, a Munich artist. After her marriage Mrs. Guggenberger contributed occasional articles on different subjects to various magazines, and in 1891 the evolution chapter to the Ethical Society’s enlarged edition of the “Religious Systems of the World.” Mrs. Guggenberger resided for some time at Meran, afterwards removing to London. She has for years been an enthusiastic “anarchist,” and has shown high hope and deep devotion in the cause.  1
  It is not surprising that Mrs. Guggenberger should have broken the spell which for fifteen years had confined Darwin to the world of prose, for her part is emphatically that of the poetess of evolutionary science. She has discerned more accurately than many contemporaries, the immense poetical development which the acceptance of the evolutionary view has made possible for science, and her best poems are attempts, by no means feeble or unskilful, to bring out the poetic significance of scientific principles. She has also abundance of human feeling and passion, which find expression in poems having other than a scientific basis, and though the structure of her verse is artless, her diction is clear and vigorous. The following “Summer Song” may serve to illustrate her free lyrical movement:—

        “Sing! sing me a song that is fit for to-day,
Sing me a song of the sunshine, a warm sweet lay,
Blue larkspur, and bold white daisies, and odour of hay.
Breathe: breathe into music a summer-day tune,
Learnt of the bloom-heavy breezes and honey of noon,
Full of the scent, and the glow, and the passion of June.
You shall sit in the shadow to learn it, just under the trees;
You shall let the wind fan you and kiss you, and hark to the bees,
You shall live in the love-laden present, and dream at your ease.
And skylarks shall trill all in concert up, up in the blue,
And the bee and the lazy-winged butterfly dance to it too,
While you sing me a song of the summer that’s ancient and new.”

Mrs. Guggenberger has also attempted the stricter forms of verse, the villanelle and the sonnet, of which latter form we may quote the following, which is entitled “Love’s Depth”:—

        “Love’s height is easy scaling; skies allure;
Who feels the day-warmth needs must find it fair;
      Strong eagles ride the lofty sunlit air,
Risking no rivals while their wings endure.
Yet is thy noblest still thy least secure,
      And failing thee—shall then thy love despair?
      Shall not thy heart more holily prepare
Some depth unfathomable,—perfect-pure?
Say that to thee there come love’s dreadful call
      The downward swiftness of thy Best to see;
      Say that he sin or sicken, what of thee?
Are thine arms deeper yet to stay his fall?
      Scarcely love’s utmost may in heaven be;
To hell it reacheth so ’tis love at all.”
  Her chief defects are the over-facility common to so many poetesses, and a deficient perception of the humorous. Of the qualities of her best work the examples here bear witness.  3

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