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Adelaide Anne Procter


In the spring of the year 1853, I observed, as conductor of the
weekly journal Household Words, a short poem among the proffered
contributions, very different, as I thought, from the shoal of
verses perpetually setting through the office of such a periodical,
and possessing much more merit. Its authoress was quite unknown to
me. She was one Miss Mary Berwick, whom I had never heard of; and
she was to be addressed by letter, if addressed at all, at a
circulating library in the western district of London. Through this
channel, Miss Berwick was informed that her poem was accepted, and
was invited to send another. She complied, and became a regular and
frequent contributor. Many letters passed between the journal and
Miss Berwick, but Miss Berwick herself was never seen.

How we came gradually to establish, at the office of Household
Words, that we knew all about Miss Berwick, I have never discovered.
But we settled somehow, to our complete satisfaction, that she was
governess in a family; that she went to Italy in that capacity, and
returned; and that she had long been in the same family. We really
knew nothing whatever of her, except that she was remarkably
business-like, punctual, self-reliant, and reliable: so I suppose
we insensibly invented the rest. For myself, my mother was not a
more real personage to me, than Miss Berwick the governess became.

This went on until December, 1854, when the Christmas number,
entitled The Seven Poor Travellers, was sent to press. Happening to
be going to dine that day with an old and dear friend, distinguished
in literature as Barry Cornwall, I took with me an early proof of
that number, and remarked, as I laid it on the drawing-room table,
that it contained a very pretty poem, written by a certain Miss
Berwick. Next day brought me the disclosure that I had so spoken of
the poem to the mother of its writer, in its writer's presence; that
I had no such correspondent in existence as Miss Berwick; and that
the name had been assumed by Barry Cornwall's eldest daughter, Miss
Adelaide Anne Procter.

The anecdote I have here noted down, besides serving to explain why
the parents of the late Miss Procter have looked to me for these
poor words of remembrance of their lamented child, strikingly
illustrates the honesty, independence, and quiet dignity, of the
lady's character. I had known her when she was very young; I had
been honoured with her father's friendship when I was myself a young
aspirant; and she had said at home, "If I send him, in my own name,
verses that he does not honestly like, either it will be very
painful to him to return them, or he will print them for papa's
sake, and not for their own. So I have made up my mind to take my
chance fairly with the unknown volunteers."

Perhaps it requires an editor's experience of the profoundly
unreasonable grounds on which he is often urged to accept unsuitable
articles--such as having been to school with the writer's husband's
brother-in-law, or having lent an alpenstock in Switzerland to the
writer's wife's nephew, when that interesting stranger had broken
his own--fully to appreciate the delicacy and the self-respect of
this resolution.

Some verses by Miss Procter had been published in the Book of
Beauty, ten years before she became Miss Berwick. With the
exception of two poems in the Cornhill Magazine, two in Good Words,
and others in a little book called A Chaplet of Verses (issued in
1862 for the benefit of a Night Refuge), her published writings
first appeared in Household Words, or All the Year Round. The
present edition contains the whole of her Legends and Lyrics, and
originates in the great favour with which they have been received by
the public.

Miss Procter was born in Bedford Square, London, on the 30th of
October, 1825. Her love of poetry was conspicuous at so early an
age, that I have before me a tiny album made of small note-paper,
into which her favourite passages were copied for her by her
mother's hand before she herself could write. It looks as if she
had carried it about, as another little girl might have carried a
doll. She soon displayed a remarkable memory, and great quickness
of apprehension. When she was quite a young child, she learned with
facility several of the problems of Euclid. As she grew older, she
acquired the French, Italian, and German languages; became a clever
pianoforte player; and showed a true taste and sentiment in drawing.
But, as soon as she had completely vanquished the difficulties of
any one branch of study, it was her way to lose interest in it, and
pass to another. While her mental resources were being trained, it
was not at all suspected in her family that she had any gift of
authorship, or any ambition to become a writer. Her father had no
idea of her having ever attempted to turn a rhyme, until her first
little poem saw the light in print.

When she attained to womanhood, she had read an extraordinary number
of books, and throughout her life she was always largely adding to
the number. In 1853 she went to Turin and its neighbourhood, on a
visit to her aunt, a Roman Catholic lady. As Miss Procter had
herself professed the Roman Catholic Faith two years before, she
entered with the greater ardour on the study of the Piedmontese
dialect, and the observation of the habits and manners of the
peasantry. In the former, she soon became a proficient. On the
latter head, I extract from her familiar letters written home to
England at the time, two pleasant pieces of description.

Charles Dickens

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