Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Critical and Biographical Essay by Richard Garnett
Sarah Flower Adams (1805–1848)
 
THE AUTHORESS of “Vivia Perpetua,” was the daughter of Benjamin Flower, a well-known politician and martyr for the liberty of the press in Pitt’s day; and the sister of Eliza Flower, one of the most gifted of English female composers. She was born Feb. 22nd, 1805; married William Bridges Adams, engineer, in 1834; and died of decline in August 1848. Her life, so far as known to the world, is summed up in the authorship of her drama “Vivia Perpetua” (1841) and her connection with the congregation of Finsbury Unitarian Chapel, under the pastorate of William Johnson Fox. The musical service was organised, and a large proportion of the hymns set to music, by Mrs. Adams’s sister; while she herself enriched the collection with many original and translated pieces. Among them was “Nearer, my God, to thee,” which divides with Cardinal Newman’s “Lead, kindly Light,” the distinction of being at once the most popular and the most poetical modern hymn. One is reminded of Dryden’s famous lines; but the feats of the male and the female minstrel were in this instance reversed; for it is Mrs. Adams who “raises the mortal to the skies,” and Cardinal Newman who “draws the angel down.”

        
“Nearer, my God, to Thee”
  
“Nearer, my God, to thee,
    Nearer to thee,
Even though it be a cross
    That raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to thee,
    Nearer to thee!
  
Though like the wanderer,
    The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
    My rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be
Nearer, my God, to thee,
    Nearer to thee!
  
Then let the way appear
    Steps unto heaven;
All that thou send’st to me
    In mercy given;
Angels to beckon me
Nearer, my God, to thee,
    Nearer to thee!
  
Then, with my waking thoughts
    Bright with thy praise,
Out of those stony griefs
    Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be
Nearer, my God, to thee,
    Nearer to thee!
  
Or, if on joyful wing,
    Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot,
    Upward I fly,
Still all my song shall be
Nearer, my God, to thee,
    Nearer to thee!
  1
 
  An unsigned translation from Luis de Leon, almost equally beautiful, may be safely attributed to Mrs. Adams; nor less exquisite is the following little known piece, the quintessence of pure devotional feeling:—

        “He sendeth sun, he sendeth shower,
Alike they’re needful to the flower,
And joys and tears alike are sent
To give the soul fit nourishment:
As comes to me or cloud or sun,
Father, thy will, not mine, be done.
  
Can loving children e’er reprove
With murmurs, whom they trust and love
Creator, I would ever be
A trusting, loving child to thee:
As comes to me or cloud or sun,
Father, thy will, not mine, be done.
  
O ne’er will I at life repine,
Enough that thou hast made it mine.
When falls the shadow cold of death
I yet will sing with parting breath:
As comes to me or cloud or sun,
Father, thy will, not mine, be done.”
  2
 
  The above will suffice for Mrs. Adams’s character and eulogy as a writer of devotional poetry; and her dramatic attempt also is essentially lyrical. “Vivia Perpetua” is unsatisfactory as a play, but has deep human interest as an idealised representation of the authoress’s mind and heart. In the character of Vivia she has shadowed forth her own moral affections and intellectual convictions, and the intensity of her feelings frequently exalts her diction, else artless and slightly conventional, into genuine eloquence. The moral charm, however, takes precedence of the artistic, as is to be expected in the work of a true woman. Lyrical enthusiasm atones in no small measure for the lack of the constructive faculty, and “Vivia Perpetua” fulfils better than many more ambitious works Milton’s demand that poetry should be “simple, sensuous, and passionate.” The authoress would probably have left a higher reputation if she had given freer scope to her natural instinct for lyrical poetry, instead of devoting her most strenuous endeavour to the difficult undertaking of reviving the poetical drama. But her love of the theatre, which at one time led her to contemplate adopting it as a profession, was fostered by the friendship of Browning and Macready, as well as by her affection and reverence for W. J. Fox, the best critic of acting in his day. Her occasional lyrics on political and social subjects have not been collected; one, a very spirited poem on the opening of the Royal Exchange, is preserved in Fox’s “Lectures to the Working Classes.”  3
 
 
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