Poems

decorative initial 'P'oetry was what Craik called the "under voice" of her career as a writer. She began as a poet, with verses printed in Chambers's during the year before she had to begin earning her living. She continued to publish poems regularly in annuals and family magazines. There were collected editions in 1859, 1880, and 1888 and a separate collection of children's poetry in 1881. Alfred H. Miles gives her six pages in the "Women Poets" volume of his anthology of nineteenth-century verse published in 1906. Most of Craik's poetry is uninspired sentimentality of the kind written by Eliza Cook, Felicia Hemans, and other popular versifiers. It was beloved enough that single poems were sometimes illuminated and sold for Christmas and New Years remembrances, but is interesting today chiefly as an indication of Craik's ability to please the mass reader and satisfy the needs of editors.

Illustrated magazines liked to print engravings of good art; Craik could be depended upon to produce a poem suitable for the opposite page. She wrote most often in the repetitive and regular forms that are easy to recite and memorize: ballads, hymn meters, songs to traditional Irish and German airs. She used many personae — soldiers, cynical lovers, old men, peasant women who speak in Scots dialect — but never with the compression and irony of Tennyson or Browning; she always did enough explaining so that the reader has no doubts about how to feel. Her technical facility was only moderate; sometimes the scansion is awkward, the rhyme forced, the language archaic.

Margaret Oliphant's summary volume The Victorian Age of English Literature [1892] puts Craik on the list of women poets who illustrate "in many a subdued yet musical measure the story of human life, and, more wise than some of their greater brethren, [content] themselves [94/95] with that." Her most frequently reprinted poem, "Philip My King," was addressed to her infant godson, Philip Bourke Marston:

Look at me with thy large brown eyes,
Philip my king,
Round whom the enshadowing purple lies
Of babyhood's royal dignities:
Lay on my neck thy tiny hand
With love's invisible sceptre laden;
I am thine Esther to command
Till thou shalt find a queen-handmaiden,
Philip my king.

Craik's poetic subjects, for the most part, are familiar events and ordinary people. Her nature poems are about things that could be seen in the garden or on short country walks — the commonplace, not the sublime. The verse is immediately accessible because it works by expansion or embroidery rather than compression, and tends to adjectives instead of imagery.

There are a great many poems on love and death: a middle-aged man dying on his young bride's breast, a young woman dying in her lover's arms; poems about shipwrecks, stillborn infants; about the tombs in Ely Cathedral, the autumn, the sunset, the moment of peace after life's passing; about winter walks, the harvest, the end of war, the twilight; about churchyards, covered pictures, mothers dead in childbirth, mothers mourning their infants. We should not let Mark Twain's devastating parody of funeral verse in Huckleberry Finn obscure our recognition that the parody was possible because this kind of verse was popular, and that it was popular because it filled a need. Death was domestic and familiar to the Victorians, and sentimental emotion provided a way to lessen its terror and express its sorrow.

Tears legitimized by sadness could also be an outlet for other emotional pressures. Some of the poems have an implied ethical content. While not in print version Tennyson was celebrating adventures, explorers, and the Light Brigade, Craik was writing about "The Arctic Exploration, from the Woman's Side," about "A Hare-Hunt" from the hare's viewpoint, about wars and sailors, fishermen and India merchants through the eyes of women and children who waited and suffered at home. [95/96]

A few poems explore the strong sentimental attachment and sense of emotional sisterhood that existed between women. "Mary's Wedding," written in 1856, is a farewell from a working woman to the first love now leaving her to become a bride. Some of the poems on women or infants dead in childbirth were memorials for Craik's friends. There is a sense of the way women nourish each other in two birthday poems for Henriette Guizot de Witt ("Her Birthday," and "August the Sixth") and in "To Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Her Later Sonnets":

Year after year have I, in passion strong,
Clung to thy garments when my soul was faint, —

Touching thee, all unseen amid the throng;
But now, thou risest to joy's heaven — my saint!
And 1 look upˇand cannot hear thy song.

So, go thou in, saint -ˇ sister — comforter!
Of this, thy house of joy, heaven keep the doors!
And sometimes through the music and the stir
Set thy lamp shining from the upper floors,
That we without may say — "Bless God — and her!"

In her poetry, then, as in a great deal of her fiction, Craik is a conduit for thoughts widely shared, but her verse, unlike her novels, seldom has memorable features. The novels have power when they create situations that arouse emotions in the reader and when they touch on the conflicting and intertwined feelings that pull at mind and body. The poems generally describe the emotions, instead of arousing them, and are correspondingly weaker and more commonplace.

Travel Narratives

As technology improved so that it was feasible to print more and better illustrations, accounts of sightseeing and travel became a staple feature in popular middle-class magazines. The travel books that Craik published all began as magazine pieces.

Fair France (1871) incorporates accounts of two separate trips, "La Belle France: A Glimpse," first published in Good Words in 1867 and "We Four In Normandy" from Saint Pauls, 1870-71. [96/97] An Unsentimental Journey through Cornwall (1884), with illustrations by C. Napier Henry, tells about a trip taken in 1881 and was worked up in 1884 to be published in the first volume of the English Illustrated Magazine. An Unknown Country (1887), recording a trip to Northern Ireland and illustrated by F. Noel Paton, appeared as "Rambles in Ireland" in the English Illustrated Magazine in 1887.

Three shorter magazine pieces, not reprinted independently, are similar in character. "In King Arthur's Land: A Week's Study of Cornish Life" was in Good Words in January 1867 with five illustrations from photographs. "A Holiday Afloat" (Good Words, 1884) tells of a week on a houseboat with a group of young women and is illustrated with sketches made by one of them, Margery May, who is described in the text as "a girl little older than many of you, but already a notable English artist." "Kiss and be Friends: A Whitsuntide Wander," printed in the English Illustrated Magazine in December 1885, is about a trip to Dublin and Killarney and is illustrated, like the other Irish piece, with drawings by F. Noel Paton.

The travel narratives are in many ways the most personal things Craik wrote, friendly accounts of pleasant holidays that must have interested contemporary readers primarily because of the personality of "The Author of John Halifax, Gentleman." Craik avoided unbecoming egotism by assigning pseudonyms to herself and the others in her party, but she does often remind the reader — particularly when she finds herself in a slightly absurd situation — that the person she has just described will be surprised to find himself in a book and to learn that the elderly woman he lectured to was actually a well-known author.

Craik generally traveled with a group of girls and young women. The age of the youngest member of the party always corresponded to the age of Dorothy, Craik's daughter. The rest were university students or young professionals. Sometimes they would be joined for a few days by "the Barbarous Scot" — undoubtedly Craik's husband — but for the most part the women adventured on their own.

The narratives dwell chiefly on the personal impressions of an ordinary traveler. They are marked by a sympathetic interest in people and a cheerful tolerance of hazards like unavailable rooms, rain, and noisy parties elsewhere in the inn; Craik liked to tell a good story and make it all amusing in retrospect. She was primarily interested in people; she does not spend much time describing [97/98] scenery or tourist attractions. When her group spends a day at Chartres, she writes not about the cathedral but about the adventure of trying to get a drink of plain water on a thirsty day.

Because the trip to France in 1867 was Craik's first experience outside of Britain, she was struck by the customs that seemed most significantly "foreign." She devoted a good deal of space to Roman Catholicism; as a staunch Protestant, she was startled by the feeling of reverence that flooded over her in a Catholic church. Although she was uneasy about a celibate clergy and horrified by the idea that young women would confess their sins to any mortal man, she emphasized the essential unity of Christian worship and avoided pro- or anti-Catholic controversy. The other thing that struck Craik in France was the women's common sense and willingness to work. She was surprised to find female railway officials and to see many women copyists in the Louvre. She made comparisons that criticize the genteel prejudices of middle-class England; she approved of bourgeois wives who competently tended shop or followed their own trades and remarked that she felt free when she realized that in France respectable women could stroll through the streets in the evening.

The acccounts of trips closer to home said less about cultural differences and offered more practical advice. The secret of comfortable adventuring, Craik suggested, was to take two changes of clothes, stout boots, and nothing fancy, and also never to set out for the day without a piece of bread, a bunch of raisins, and a flask of cold tea or coffee. The articles about Ireland were partly designed to aid the Irish economy by promoting tourism. English travelers generally turned to the Continent; they were afraid that in Ireland they would encounter primitive lodgings and possible violence. Craik hoped to alleviate these fears by emphasizing that she was a woman past middle age traveling with her adolescent daughter and another young woman, and by naming the hotels they stayed in.

The travel narratives are primarily books about people. Wherever she went, Craik chatted with them, told stories about them, and found in them a great deal to like. The emotional pain and sense of isolation that came out in her novels are nowhere evident in these accounts of her personal adventures; the author on holiday with young people that she liked is remarkable for her cheerful personality, her energetic directness, and her ability to poke gentle fun at herself. The interesting character in these narratives is Craik [98/99] herself, a mature and generous woman, confident of her own place in the world and interested in everything she sees.

Essays

The nonfiction that Craik contributed to periodicals took a variety of forms. She wrote reviews, essays on literature and theater, and vignettes from life that differ little from some of her short stories. She produced the sort of reporting and comment that we now get from columnists and feature writers: on a new American steamship, the 1862 Exhibition, Lord Raglan's funeral, Irish cottage industries, recreation in Paris, the debate in Commons as observed from the Ladies' Gallery, and so forth. Some were written with moral intent. Craik's essays on charities often designated a specific cause: they encouraged comfortable matrons to give work to the blind or money to establish slum playgrounds, to contribute their family's cast-off clothes to the Edinburgh Children's Hospital or their own spare time to the supervision of day nurseries. "The Author of John Halifax" was a public figure with a stature equaled by few women of her generation, who could speak her thoughts with the assurance that they would be read and regarded because she had written them. Her semiphilosophical essays on the conduct of life were dignified with the title "Sermons out of Church." Other articles served the function now taken by magazine advice columns; Craik wrote entertainingly, sensibly, and, when need be, forcefully on money management for women, relations between the classes, education, ventilation, managing depression, what parents owe — and, more important, do not owe — to their children, and how to cope with a bad marriage.

These pieces were published over the years in more than a dozen magazines, ranging from the inexpensive weeklies like Chambers's to the distinguished monthlies like Nineteenth Century. Victorian periodicals catered to a variety of religious and political opinions. Craik's essays did not appear in the magazines that espoused not in print version Tory politics and not in print version High Church religious views; most of the magazines that published her work were marked by liberal political opinion and a not in print version Broad Church outlook on religion. The periodicals to which she contributed most frequently were Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (in the 1840s and 1850s), Good Words (in the 1860s and 1870s), and Macmillan's Magazine. [99/100]

Craik's essay style is direct and personal. She usually writes in the first person and begins by placing herself on the scene or in some personal relationship to the subject: going to visit the Jewish school described in "Children of Israel," taking two elderly relatives to Bristol on the day Lord Raglan's body is brought home ("A Soldier's Coming Home"), watching her thirty-year-old goddaughter take vows in an not in print version Anglican order as introduction to an essay "About Sisterhoods."

She wraps her personal opinions in a film of politeness that keeps the surface smooth. The pieces written about the not in print version Crimea manage to abhor war, respect individual soldiers, and sentimentalize over the prospect of young men dying — without ever arriving at any conclusive generalization. She never mentioned living contemporaries by name except in reviews or in articles on charities that required publicity for the director, although she could be quite harsh without naming names; it is perfectly obvious that not in print version Thomas Carlyle is the subject of "Genius: Its Aberrations and Its Responsibilities" and that the condemnation in "Literary Ghouls" of biographers who expose secrets that women should keep buried is directed at not in print version Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte.

In the essays on causes and moral subjects Craik espoused the values that society assigned to women: care, nurture, empathy, service, duty to elevate the moral tone of practical life. The charities that she promoted supplied the means of self-help for women, children, and the handicapped: public laundries, day nurseries, playgrounds, children's hospitals, schools, and sheltered workshops for blind children and adults. She promoted nursing as a profession for women in "Save the Children" and suggested in "Decayed Gentlewomen" that the practice of midwifery ought to be returned to those to whom it belongs by nature.

In her essays, even more strongly than in her novels, Craik promoted the ideal of self-sufficiency for women. In the "Sermon out of Church" entitled "What is Self-Sacrifice?" she argued that fear leads women, often, to deny their own legitimate interests: it is easier to submit to a wrong than to fight against it, she says, but, in fact, women's pliancy manufactures men's tyranny. Therefore, self-sacrifice is a sin, not a virtue, since it encourages the other party — the beneficiary of the self-sacrifice — to fall into the sins of selfishness and despotism. The idea dramatized in Young Mrs. Jardine — that women's maternal duty requires them to leave husbands [100/101] who are brutal or vicious — was developed in one of the last articles she published before her death, "For Better for Worse."

Miscellaneous

The assortment of titles not yet discussed can be disposed of briefly. The editions, translations, and occasional pieces that Craik produced were generally undertaken not for profit but out of her sense of public duty and professional obligation; she used her name to promote ideas she believed in and to serve people who looked to her for advice and support.

A New Year's Gift to Sick Children is a 48-page pamphlet with two poems for children and an essay for adults; it was printed in 1865 in order to raise funds for the children's hospital at Meadowside House, Edinburgh. Some of Craik's magazine articles were also reprinted in separate covers to generate income for causes. "The History of a Hospital" (Macmillan's Magazine, 1862) was published by the London Hospital for Sick Children in 1866 and "Work for Idle Hands" (Cornhill, July 1866) was reprinted for the benefit of the Donegal Industrial Fund. Fifty Golden Years, on the other hand, was a Jubilee souvenir printed in 1887 by a firm that specialized in greeting cards and Sunday School pictures; Craik supplied a few historical reminiscences and a dedicatory poem ("Womanliest Woman! queenliest Queen / Thy country's Mother. . .") to go with the illustrations.

Craik did not write Will Denbigh, Nobleman, a novel published anonymously in 1877 in the No Name Series put out by Roberts Brothers of Boston, although it is attributed to her in many sources, including Halkett and Liang's Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature and the Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. The publishers' advertisements describe the books as "a series of Original American Novels and Tales," and, although Craik's letters indicate that she did write some stories for American magazines that she did not want to appear under her name in England, Will Denbigh, Nobleman is not on the authorized lists of novels furnished for Craik's obituaries by her husband and by Frances Martin, her lifelong friend. The book's plot (about a working woman who is able to love her rich suitor only after he needs her because he is ruined and ill) could conceivably be Craik's, but the language — breathless, crowded with adjectives, and plagued by sentence fragments [101/102] — is entirely unlike hers. Aubrey Starke's bibliographical study of the No Name Series assigns the book tentatively to an American author, Mrs. Emily Fox.

The books that Craik translated from French were by Francois Guizot (1787-1874), a leading exponent of moderate constitutional monarchy, and by his daughter Henriette Guizot de Witt. (Guizot's first wife, Pauline de Meulan, wrote children's stories, some of which appeared in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal during the years when Craik was doing work for the "Column for Young People.") When Craik met Henriette de Witt in middle life, they discovered in one another a sympathy of values and tastes that made them feel immediately like old friends. Craik translated or wrote prefaces for de Witt's A French Country Family (1867), Motherless; or a Parisian Family (1871), An Only Sister (1873), and A Christian Woman (1882). All were essentially memoirs, celebrating family, home-love, and moral responsibility and showing, as Craik wrote in the preface to A Christian Woman, that "in France as in England" there are women "who, while nobly fulfilling all home duties, have the courage and capacity to stretch out beyond home, and carry out in the external world worthy schemes of usefulness and benevolence."

As an editor, Craik used her name and her supervision to help young women become published authors. She edited a journal kept by a girl in her teens, Twenty Years Ago (1871). Is it True? (1872) is a collection of traditional tales from various countries, which Craik parceled out to be retold in English by several young writers, including her husband's cousin Georgiana Craik. She was listed as "editor" of a series of books for girls published by Harper's, but the title apparently meant only that she agreed for the books to appear with her recommendation.

The other book that Craik edited was a product of her kindness and a promise given to comfort a dying man. Most successful authors are inundated with manuscripts and requests for advice, and John Halifax, Gentleman, in particular, inspired many who struggled for self-help. A Legacy: Being the Life and Remains of John Martin, Schoolmaster and Poet(1878) was a posthumous selection from the writing of a young man born in the depths of poverty and misery in the East End of London. When Craik was first asked to give a few minutes' advice to Martin, she realized at once that the only merit of his verse was, considering the background from which he came, "the excellent handwriting and the quite correct grammar and spelling." [102/103] She gently advised him to keep reading, provided him with books, and commented on the letters and manuscripts that he sent from time to time. When he died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-nine, she put his mind at rest by promising to take charge of his papers.

What value there was in Martin's work lay not in the poems and the verse drama, but in the notebook and journal entries that recorded the impressions and hardships of an intelligent young man whose struggle to express himself through literature was frustrated by poor health, hard work, and slum living. Passages from the journal make up most of A Legacy. They are mostly attempts to develop thought and are marred by overwriting; John Martin found his neighborhood "uninteresting and vulgar" (1:72) and ached for refinement and high culture. The rare passages in which Martin does write about East End scenes and discusses the effect of frustration and insecurity on slum dwellers' personalities are the only parts of the book that have any real interest. Craik's connecting narrative makes it clear that she does not expect readers to admire John Martin as a model of success against odds but rather as an example of the noble character it takes to persist even when the odds make success impossible.


Victorian Website Overview Dinah Mulock Craik Next

Last modified 16 August 2007