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Alice I849-I922 Meynell

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MEYNELL, ALICE (I849--I922), British poet. By her marriage in 1877 Alice Thompson became Alice Meynell. She had the fortune to find herself in that mid-Victorian era which still held freshly to its heritage from Keats and Shelley, from Wordsworth and Coleridge. It felt its heart torn by the griefs of the Brontes, stirred by their glories, and almost clung to the hand of Elizabeth Browning. Eagerly awaiting every recurring sign of Tennyson's fertility, it yet respected the long pause of Patmore; and took for its own the volumes of Dante and Christina Rossetti, warm from the press. With these two women of song, Elizabeth and Christina, Alice Meynell's name is associated.

Mistress Anne Killigrew had been told by Dryden, "thy father was transfused into thy blood." That girls alike with boys, inherit from fathers as from mothers, was the theme of a verse where Alice Meynell, after the desolations of the World War, gave the comforting signal : The crippled world ! Come, then,Fathers of women with your honour in trust.

Approve, accept, know them daughters of men, Now that your sons are dust.

Her own father, having left Cambridge and unsuccessfully con tested two costly elections for parliament as a free trader, be came very much a citizen of the world. After his marriage with Christiana Jane Weller, a beautiful and accomplished girl to whom her adoring friend Charles Dickens fitly introduced him, he made his home much in Italy, devoting himself to the liberal learning of the two daughters: Elizabeth, the elder, afterwards Lady Butler, famous as a war painter; and Alice, who early be gan to put her rhymed thoughts shyly upon paper.

The volume of Preludes was issued (for the girl what an association) by Tennyson's then publisher, Henry S. King, on the word of his "reader"—later his successor—C. Kegan Paul, who, not trusting his own judgment all the way, read some of them aloud to George Eliot, receiving her deciding approbation. The critics were mostly silent; and even those who praised hesitated. But the volume made its own quiet way, Ruskin in all ways first in his soaring praises : "The last verse of that per fectly heavenly 'Letter of a Girl to her own Old Age,' the whole of 'San Lorenzo's Mother' and the end of the 'Sonnet to a Daisy,' are the finest things I have yet seen or felt in modern verse."

Rossetti, too, spread the news of the young poet's advent, recit ing "Renouncement" by heart to his friends, and saying that it was "one of the three finest sonnets ever written by women." Browning, having read a brief quotation buried in a halting press appreciation, "conceived the desire to read the rest for myself," and found its beauty "even beyond what the indifference of the reviewer should have prepared me for." The volume brought her many a friend—and more. For the reviewer in The Pall Mall paper to which she was later to be a conspicuous contributor—quoted the sonnet "My Heart shall be thy Garden," and found for it a reader whom it reached revealingly. A con sequent introduction to the sonneteer by a common friend was followed by a marriage that fulfilled for him Crashaw's "heaven on-earth" for 45 years.

On Mrs. Wilfred Meynell, as she then (1877) became, fell a long silence as a poet. The muse does not ordinarily leave cards on the happily and busily married ; the domesticities and the "sweet sense of providing" are not the fashioners of those "sweetest songs" that breed from "saddest thoughts." Eight children were born, one of whom died in infancy: a grief that put into poetry the dread reminder that the giver of life is also the giver of death : "and she who slays is she who bears, who bears." A like sensitiveness to life's cruelties put her, for all her reticence, on political platforms, and marched her in multitudinous processions, in favour of the granting of votes to women and the opening of long closed professional doors. Compassion was the companion of all her walks abroad, for the over-burdened man and animal; for the beggar-woman to whom she cried with her gift, in Portuguese fashion, "Have patience, little saint"; for the underfed in London slums which she at one time sedulously visited ; and for the beast in the shambles, in shame for whose martyrdom she refused to eat meat until, after persuasion, she sought by more impersonal methods to further laggard reforms.

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