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Adelaide Anne Procter

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Published : 82 Articles
Pen Names : MaryBerwick
Date of Birth : N/A
Death : N/A
Views : 3441

Procter, Adelaide Anne I Miss Berwick, Miss Adelaide Procter (Mary Berwick), Miss Procter (Mary Berwick), Miss Procter, Procter (Miss) I, 1825–1864. poet; daughter of Bryan Waller Procter (see separate entry). Grew up in literary atmosphere at home where eminent writers were frequent guests. Early began writing verses, some of which circulated in MS among her friends. Contributed verse to Book of Beauty, to both of Dickens's periodicals, Cornhill, Good Words; both verse and prose to English Woman's Journal. Published two collections of Legends and Lyrics, 1858, 1861; and, on behalf of a charity, A Chaplet of Verses, 1862. Edited the Victoria Regia, 1861, in which she.included one of her poems.

      Miss Procter's poems had great popular appeaL Patmore, writing in 1877 (B. W. Procter, An Autobiographical Fragment, ed. Patmore), stated that they then outsold those of any living writer except Tennyson. It was to these two poets that Queen Victoria turned in writing a letter of consolation to a friend in 1872.. She quoted a phrase from "In Memoriam" and a line from "The Angel of Death" ("The Angel" in H.W.) – "a most beautiful poem by Ad. Procter" (Letters of Queen Victoria, ed. Bolitho, p. 189). Miss Procter was very modest about her poetic talent and, according to Mrs. BeIloc (In a Walled Garden, p. 170), was somewhat pained that her popularity exceeded that of her father. "Papa is a poet," she said. "I only write verses."
      Miss Procter became a H.W. contributor under a pseudonym, preferring, as she told her parents, to take her chance "fairly with the unknown volunteers" rather than as the daughter of Dickens's friend; if her verses did not please Dickens, he would thus be spared the pain of returning them, as likewise the unhappy alternative of printing them "for papa's sake, and not for their own" ("Introduction," Legends and Lyrics, 1866). Dickens published her verses for almost two years before discovering that "Miss Berwick" was the Adelaide Procter whom he had known from her girlhood. The discovery is commemorated in the Office Book by the record for the 1854 Christmas number, where Miss Procter's name appears for the first time, followed by the pseudonym in parentheses. One of Dickens's most delightful letters is that to Miss Procter, Dec. 17, 1854, in which he pictures himself and Wills sagely speculating on the life and personality of the imaginary Miss Berwick. "... you have given me so much pleasure, and have made me shed so many tears," he concluded, "that I can only think of you now in association with the sentiment and grace of your verses."
      An occasional contribution of Miss Procter's Dickens did not like, and one he singled out in particular as the epitome of bad verse: Her "Knight-Errant" ("A True Knight" in H.W. [IX, 320–21. May 20, 1854]) he admitted to the periodical only half-heartedly (to Wills, April 12, 1854); her "Beyond" [XVIII, 372. Oct. 2, 1858] occasioned his plea to Wills (Oct. 2,
1858): "Pray, pray, pray, don't have Poems unless they are good. We are immeasurably better without them: Beyond, is really Beyond anything I ever saw, in utter badness."
       Miss Procter's contributions account for about a sixth of the total number of poems published in H.W. They were undoubtedly the most popular. When they appeared in book form, wrote Mrs. Belloc (In a Walled Garden, p. 170), Miss Procter received "a pathetic appeal from a young lady, who asked her could it be true that these lovely verses were all hers, for her lover had been in the habit of assuring her, as each poem successively appeared, that it was his own!"
       In 1866 Bell & Daldy published a collected edition of Legends and Lyrics, originating, wrote Dickens, "in the great favour" with which the poems had been received by the public. For this edition, at the request of Miss Procter's parents, he wrote a brief introduction, relating the few incidents of Miss Procter's life and writing of her dedication to works of charity. He made no critical comment on her poems, stating merely that one among her first H.W. contributions showed "much more merit" than the "shoal of verses" constantly pouring in to the editorial offce, and that one of her contributions to "The Seven Poor Travellers" []Christmas 1854] was "a very pretty poem." Miss Procter, he wrote, "would far rather have died without seeing a line of her composition in print, than that I should have maundered about her, here, as 'the Poet,' or 'the Poetess.'"
      Of the items reprinted, two are incorrectly assigned in the Office Book: "The Two Interpreters" [XII, 469. Dec. 15, 1855]  to Prince, "Patient and Faithful" [XIV, 493. Dec. 6, 1858] to Yates. For "Home and Rest" [XVII, 445. April 24, 1858] D. G. Fitzgerald is recorded as author; his name is marked out and substituted by that of Miss Procter. Of the items not reprinted, some may be incorrectly assigned. For "Hidden Chords," see B. W. Procter (separate entry).
      In the Office Book, "The Leaf" (Jan. 29, 1853) and "And He Took a Child" are recorded as by "Miss Berwick"; "The Shadow of the Hand," as by Miss Procter. In each entry the "Berwick" or "Procter" is marked out; it is substituted, for the first item, by "Mr. Keene"; for the second, by "Miss ErIe"; for the third, by "Miss Macready."

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Adelaide Anne Procter website

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