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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
OF Mrs. Hemans, the critical Gilfillan said that she was “no Sibyl, but the most feminine writer of the age,” and that “she sat before her lyre, not touching it with awful reverence as though each string were a star, nor using it as the mere conductor to her overflowing thoughts, but regarding it as the soother and sustainer of her own high-wrought emotions—a graceful alias of herself.”  1
  It was because of this peace, sweetness, and high serenity, that for two generations her poetry found so full a response in the minds of all English-speaking women of taste and refinement, who recognized in it the harmonious expression of their own emotions and sentiments. Thus she became a household poet not only in England but in the United States, where she was so popular that she was invited to conduct a magazine in Boston, while most American visitors to England made pilgrimages to see her. Many of her poems, like ‘Casabianca,’ ‘The Graves of a Household,’ ‘Child amid the Flowers at Play,’ ‘Bernardo del Carpio,’ ‘The Better Land,’ and ‘The Burial of William the Conqueror,’ long ago attained the immortality of school-books, and are known by heart among innumerable readers to whom the name of Mrs. Hemans is a name only.  2
  Felicia Dorothea Browne was born in Liverpool, September 25th, 1793, and brought up in Wales, whither her father shortly removed. The little girl was early noted for her “extreme beauty and precocious talents.” She was particularly fond of Shakespeare, and read his plays “in a secret haunt of her own—a seat among the branches of an old apple-tree, where she reveled in the treasures of the cherished volume.” At the age of fourteen she published her first poems. At eighteen she was married to Captain Hemans, of the British army. Six years afterwards, the marriage proving an unhappy one, they separated, the husband going abroad and the wife devoting her life to her five sons. Yet the busy mother and teacher found much time for writing, won several prizes for her poems, and attained a wide literary fame. Her drama ‘The Vespers of Palermo’ was represented, unsuccessfully, at Covent Garden in 1823. Her own keen criticism of her ‘Storm-Painter’—“it seemed all done in pale water-colors”—is equally true of this tragedy.  3
  In 1825 she settled in Rhyllon, Wales, the country of her deepest affection. There “an atmosphere of home gathered round the dwelling,” writes her sister; “roses were planted and honeysuckles trained, and the rustling of the solitary poplar near her window was taken into her heart like the voice of a friend. The dingle became a favorite haunt, where she would pass many hours of dream-like enjoyment with her books and her own sweet fancies, her children playing round her.” Here she wrote ‘Records of Women’ (1828), which she said contained most of her “heart and individual feelings”; though all her work, of which she published eighteen separate volumes, is marked by absolute sincerity, careful and melodious versification, and lofty feeling. In 1829 Mrs. Hemans visited Walter Scott, a visit vividly described in her letters. He admired her greatly, but not her verses, for he told Joanna Baillie that she had “too many flowers and too little fruit.” The severe Jeffrey, on the other hand, declared that she was “beyond all comparison the most touching and accomplished writer of occasional verses that our literature has yet to boast of”; while Alison pronounced her the equal of Coleridge, “if not in depth of thought, at least in tenderness of feeling and beauty of expression.” He added that she “required only to have written a little less to have been one of the greatest lyric poets that England ever produced.” Wordsworth was very fond of her, saying that “in quickness of mind she had, within the range of his acquaintance, no equal.” At Rydal Mount he thought her talk delightful, as they strolled through his favorite vales or clambered along the mountain paths above Grasmere Lake. In his ‘Epitaphs’ he wrote—
  “Mourn rather for that holy spirit
  Sweet as the spring, as ocean deep;
For her who, ere her summer faded,
  Has sunk into a breathless sleep.”
  4
  Many of her shorter poems appeared in the ephemeral style of her day, for “editors of little books in silken trimmings were always on their knees before her.” Beautiful and winning to the end, she spent her last years at the house of her brother in Dublin, where she charmed a brilliant literary coterie. There at the early age of forty-one she died.  5
  A collective edition of Mrs. Hemans’s ‘Poems’ in seven volumes was published in 1839 by her sister, Mrs. Hughes, who also wrote a ‘Memoir.’ Several American editions were issued from 1825 to 1850, and a modern edition was published by W. M. Rossetti (London, 1873).  6
 
 
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