Alfred H. Miles, ed. Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles
Katharine Tynan Hinkson (18611931)
KATHARINE TYNAN was born in Dublin in the early sixties. Her home from early youth was a delightful one, a low thatched farmhouse under the Dublin mountains, with wide lonely fields about it, and so completely cut off from city life. The farmhouse was a delightful place, irregular, wandering, with a tangled orchard at the back, a garden with a sun-dial, a summer-house, a labyrinth of little flower-beds with box borders, a privet hedge, and a great walnut tree, which came down in the big wind of February, 1903.
She was a child slow to learn at school, but engrossed in learning after her own fashion. A few years at the Dominican Convent of St. Catharine of Sienna at Drogheda brought her little fruits of solid learning, although some fruits of the imagination. In fact, she would learn her own way or not at all.
Her own way was to gather honey from the most unlikely sources. She confesses to wayward childishness and admits that she could have been no more than eight years old when she carried her forbidden readingvery light literature of the penny paper orderto a safe place, stuffed up under the bodice of her small frock, till she went stiffly as in a corselet. Her place of refuge was in a loft over a stable, the criss-cross window of which looked into a sycamore tree. There doubtless she carried Aurora Floyd, of which her pious mother bereft her one day of Lent when she may have seen seven years.
She read, among other things, The Mysteries of Paris, by Eugene Sue, some lurid romances of G. W. Reynolds, a set of Maria Edgeworth, The Poets of the Nationa queerly assorted lot indeed! Her father let her read everything, from The Wide Wide World to Tristram Shandy, from Fabers Tales of the Angels to The Near and the Heavenly Horizons of Madame de Gasparin. She had Longfellow, a Burns of the most complete and unexpurgated, a Milton, a Moore, of course, and the first two volumes of the Corn-hill, where she revelled in Owen Meredith, and The Great God Pan of Mrs. Browning.
However nothing pointed to a literary career for her, till one day of her seventeenth year, feeling herself slighted, she constructed some verses, and got them printed in a Dublin paper. Very soon afterwards she got a sonnet into the Spectator. The Graphic published several of her little poems and paid her half-a-guinea for them. The first half-guinea cheque her father wished to have framed; but she cashed it and bought stuff for a frock, and very shoddy stuff it was, she says, as may well be believed. She was almost twenty before she made any literary friends. The first was Father Russell of The Irish Monthly, the brother of him who was afterwards Lord Russell of Killowen, Lord Chief Justice of England. Through him she made various literary friendships and acquaintanceships. Lady Russells sister, Miss Rosa Mulholland, now Lady Gilbert, was the object of her young girls worship. In 1884 she went to London for the first time, and made an abiding friendship when she met Mrs. Meynell. The following year Wilfred Meynell arranged for her the publication of her first volume of poems, Louise de la Vallière (1885). The book brought her new friends: William Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Cardinal Newman, and Cardinal Manning; Shamrock (1887), followed. Coming back to Ireland, she found herself welcomed into a little literary circle, of which W. B. Yeats, A. E. Russell, and Douglas Hyde were members. They met at the houses of Dr. Sigerson, John and Ellen OLeary (the old Fenian chief and his sister), and Johnson of Ballykilbeg. In 1889 she was in London with the Meynells. Chief among her events then she remembers that historic evening at Lord Russells house in Harley Street, when Gladstone, Lord Randolph Churchill and Mr. Parnell were met togetherthe rehabilitation of Mr. Parnell, after the suicide of Pigott, a rehabilitation accepted with a certain scornful tolerance. She could tell how Mr. Gladstone buried himself in a corner with an elderly lady, an old crony of his, and Lord Randolph disappeared early, and Mr. Parnell turned from the adulation of the crowd to flash pleased surprise at sight of one young Irishwoman who worshipped him and always will. That summer, too, she visited Mr. Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt at Crabbet Park. About that time she had begun to write prose for the Speaker and for the Scots and National Observer. Henleys praise gave her great pleasure. He gave her The Song of the Sword, inscribed Katharine Tynan, Sorori in Arte, and others of his books down to Hawthorn and Lavender. Her next friend was Jane Barlow, a friendship that survives. In 1892 she married happily. In 1894 her first volume was published by Messrs. Lawrence & Bullen. She has to her credit now more than a score of novels, seven books of verse, besides short stories, a volume of biography, and a good deal of editing. She edited the four volume Cabinet of Irish Literature, a new edition of which she prepared for Blackies, of Glasgow. She has been a reviewer, and has contributed to many magazines.
Mrs. Hinksons later volumes of verse are well represented here. It is verse of the natural and spontaneous order characteristic of the Irish muse. In reviewing A Cluster of Nuts, a writer in the Athenæum wrote: Mrs. Hinkson is a lyric poet, and her prose, like her verse, is near to the heart of nature, sweet with the smell of fresh grass and flowering thorn, and warm with a tender sympathy that embraces all things that live and die; but that goes out more fully to trees and fields and summer skies than to men and women. This was doubtless true at the time, and as far as it went, but Mrs. Hinkson has written much since then; her human relationships have increased, and no one can read her child poetry without feeling that her human sympathy is keen, tender, warm, and constant. Many mother-hearts will find expression in The Meeting, The Mother, and The Desire. Devotional feeling makes much of her verse religious in the best sense, and spirituality of thought often imparts the lustre which transfigures.