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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alexander B. Grosart

Caroline Clive (1801–1873)

CAROLINE CLIVE, known to a small circle of admirers as V., and chiefly as the author of “IX Poems” that on appearance took their place in the forefront of contemporary feminine verse, was the daughter and co-heiress of Edmund Meysey-Wigley, Esq., of Shakenhurst, Worcestershire—M.P. for Worcester—and his wife, Anna Maria, only surviving daughter of Charles Watkins Meysey. She was born at Brompton Grove, London, on the 24th of June, 1801. In her third year she had a severe illness, one issue of which was life-long lameness and consequent hindrance in many ways. We have reclaimed from “Paul Ferroll” a hitherto inedited poem that bears pathetic evidence of the unlifted shadow her lameness cast over her entire after life. All the more, however, her natively powerful intellect was strengthened by her being thrown upon her inward resources. By surely an unhappy misjudgment and reticence the family has given no memoir of her beyond the meagre Note prefixed to her collected poems by her daughter (Mrs. Alice Greathed) of 1890 (Longmans). This is the more to be regretted, because she wrote all her life, was a brilliant conversationalist, was held in highest regard within an exceptionally notable intellectual circle, and carried on a large correspondence. In 1840 her “IX Poems” appeared in a humble little duodecimo, which fortunately fell into the hands of Hartley Coleridge, and was thus greeted in the Quarterly Review (September 1840): “We suppose V stands for Victoria, and really she queens it among our fair friends. Perhaps V will think it a questionable compliment, if we say, like the late Baron Graham to Lady ———, in the Assize Court at Exeter, ‘We beg your ladyship’s pardon, but we took you for a man.’ Indeed, these few pages are distinguished by a sad Lucretian tone, such as very seldom comes from a woman’s lyre. But V is a woman, and no ordinary woman certainly; though, whether spinster, wife, or widow, we have not been informed.” More weighty—“Of ‘IX Poems’ by V we emphatically say, in old Greek, [Greek]. It is an Ennead to which every Muse may have contributed her Ninth. The stanzas printed by us in italics, are, in our judgment, worthy of any one of our greatest poets in his happiest moments.” The stanzas designated are 4, 9, 11, 14 of “The Grave”—one of our selected examples. Later came Dr. John Brown, in his Horæ Subsecivæ, echoing Hartley Coleridge’s Greek of the roses, and adding: “They contain rare excellency; the concentration, the finish, the gravity of a man’s thought, with the tenderness, the insight, the constitutional sorrowfulness of a woman’s—her purity, her passionateness, her delicate and keen sense and experience.”

In the same year (November 10th, 1840) she was married to the Rev. Archer Clive, then rector of Solihull, Warwickshire, and son of Edmund Bolton Clive, Esq., M.P. for Hereford. By him she had one son and one daughter.

A second edition of “IX Poems” was published in 1841, with nine other poems. There followed at intervals—“I watched the Heavens” (1842); “The Queen’s Ball” (1847); “Valley of the Rea” (1851); “The Morlas” (1853). The whole of these are included, with short additions, in the volume of 1890 already named; but a considerable number bearing the same mint-mark of genius remain to be collected some day.

“Paul Ferroll” (1853)—a sensational novel, and others, kept her before the public, still as V. But neither the longer poems (ut supra) nor the lesser additions, approached the high level of the inspired “IX,” albeit there are “brave translunary things” in all, touches that betoken the cunning hand and the visionary eyes—those “larger other eyes” that see into the mystery and sadness of nature and human nature.

In after-editions Mrs. Clive capriciously withdrew the last of the nine poems and went on adding. Even the slightest additions show inestimable technique if in common with her longer poems of “The Queen’s Ball,” “Valley of the Rea,” and “The Morlas,” they are somewhat thin of substance. None the less there is none that will not reward study or fail to yield “immortal phrases five words long.” Certain recall Shakespeare’s splendid metaphor of the dolphin showing its shining back above the element it moves in; for the most commonplace flash out in unforgettable things.

Our poetess died by a lamentable fire accident while seated in her boudoir and among her papers on the 13th of July, 1873.

We have selected, as fairly representative, four out of the “IX Poems”—viz., “At Llyncwmstraethy,” “The Grave,” “Former Home,” and “Heart’s-Ease,” and the autobiographic poem mentioned. It needs no italics to accentuate the weight of thought, the iridescence of fancy, the felicity of metaphor, or the choiceness of epithet of these poems.