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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

VI. Lesser Poets of the Middle and Later Nineteenth Century

§ 28. Harriet Eleanor Hamilton-King; Augusta Webster

The period of the forties was somewhat stronger in the number, if not in the quality, of the poetesses it produced. Harriet Eleanor Hamilton-King is best known by her respectable, but tedious, The Disciples—a sort Italomaniac epic influenced in spirit, perhaps, by both the Brownings and written in a blank verse not unsuggestive of Aurora Leigh. Her shorter poems are rather better; but, like most of the lesser poetesses of this particular time, she not only, in a famous phrase, “could be very serious,” but thought it her duty to be this rather too exclusively. One of her companions, indeed, Emily Pfeiffer, rather unnecessarily excused herself for want of proficiency in the for some time popular pastime of rondeaux, ballades and so forth, on the ground that “the burden of meaning lay too heavily on a woman singer’s heart” for her to excel in these trivialities. The same lady is also reported to have explained that she considered it her duty to go on writing poetry after her husband’s death because he had a high opinion of what she wrote before it. There have, no doubt, been great poets capable of such innocent egotism and want of humour; but Emily Pfeiffer could scarcely claim their excuses. The compassionate sonnet, which will tolerate and, to some extent, ennoble all faults except triviality and carelessness, enabled her to do her most tolerable work; the rest was mostly negligible. Another very serious poetess was Augusta Webster, who, again, represents a strong Browning influence both from husband and wife, and who, owing, perhaps, to this, sometimes made fair experiments in lyrical metres. Her blank verse, however, of which she was very prolific in forms non-dramatic, semi-dramatic and dramatic, sometimes employed Robert Browning’s licences without his justifications, and, at others, became unspeakably monotonous. To the forties, also, belongs Sarah or “Sadie” Williams—a short-lived singer in both divine and human fashions, of which a remark made already, and to be repeated in reference to other writers, is again true—that they show a certain diffused poetic power which is hardly concentrated in any single piece; Isabella Harwood, who wrote not a few closet dramas under the pseudonym “Ross Neil,” in blank verse, better than that of most of her companions mentioned here; and the various and sometimes almost brilliant talent of “Violet Fane”—Mary Montgomerie Lamb, Mrs. Singleton by her first marriage and Lady Currie by her second.