Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Rd, London NW10 5NU, Regno Unito
Adelaide Anne Procter (30 October 1825 – 2 February 1864) was an English poet and philanthropist. She worked prominently on behalf of unemployed women and the homeless, and was actively involved with feminist groups and journals. Procter never married. She became unhealthy, possibly due to her charity work, and died of tuberculosis at the age of 38.
Procter's literary career began when she was a teenager; her poems were primarily published in Charles Dickens's periodicals Household Words and All the Year Round and later published in book form. Her charity work and her conversion to Roman Catholicism appear to have strongly influenced her poetry, which deals most commonly with such subjects as homelessness, poverty, and fallen women.
Procter was the favourite poet of Queen Victoria. Her poetry went through numerous editions in the 19th century; Coventry Patmore called her the most popular poet of the day, after Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Her poems were set to music and made into hymns, and were published in the United States and Germany as well as in England. Nonetheless, by the early 20th century her reputation had diminished, and few modern critics have given her work attention. Those who have, however, argue that Procter's work is significant, in part for what it reveals about how Victorian women expressed otherwise repressed feelings.
Adelaide Anne Procter was born at 25 Bedford Square in the Bloomsbury district of London, on 30 October 1825 to the poet Bryan Waller Procter and his wife Anne (née Skepper). The family had strong literary ties: novelist Elizabeth Gaskell enjoyed her visits to the Procter household, and Procter's father was friends with poet Leigh Hunt, essayist Charles Lamb, and novelist Charles Dickens, as well as being acquainted with poet William Wordsworth and critic William Hazlitt. Family friend Bessie Rayner Belloc wrote in 1895 that "everybody of any literary pretension whatever seemed to flow in and out of the house. The Kembles, the Macreadys, the Rossettis, the Dickens [sic], the Thackerays, never seemed to be exactly visitors, but to belong to the place." Author and actress Fanny Kemble wrote that young Procter "looks like a poet's child, and a poet ... [with] a preter-naturally [sic] thoughtful, mournful expression for such a little child".
Dickens spoke highly of Procter's quick intelligence. By his account, the young Procter mastered without difficulty the subjects to which she turned her attention:
When she was quite a young child, she learnt with facility several of the problems of Euclid. As she grew older, she acquired the French, Italian, and German languages ... piano-forte ... [and] drawing. But, as soon as she had completely vanquished the difficulties of any one branch of study, it was her way to lose interest in it, and pass to another.
A voracious reader, Procter was largely self-taught, though she studied at Queen's College in Harley Street in 1850. The college had been founded in 1848 by Frederick Maurice, a Christian Socialist; the faculty included novelist Charles Kingsley, composer John Hullah, and writer Henry Morley.
Procter showed a love of poetry from an early age, carrying with her while still a young child a "tiny album ... into which her favourite passages were copied for her by her mother's hand before she herself could write ... as another little girl might have carried a doll". Procter published her first poem while still a teenager; the poem, "Ministering Angels", appeared in Heath's Book of Beauty in 1843. In 1853 she submitted work to Dickens's Household Words under the name "Mary Berwick", wishing that her work be judged on its own merits rather than in relation to Dickens's friendship with her father; Dickens did not learn "Berwick's" identity till the following year. The poem's publication began Procter's long association with Dickens's periodicals; in all, Procter published 73 poems in Household Words and 7 poems in All the Year Round, most of which were collected into her first two volumes of poetry, both entitled Legends and Lyrics. She was also published in Good Words and Cornhill. As well as writing poetry, Procter was the editor of the journal Victoria Regia, which became the showpiece of the Victoria Press, "an explicitly feminist publishing venture".
In 1851, Procter converted to Roman Catholicism. Following her conversion, Procter became extremely active in several charitable and feminist causes. She became a member of the Langham Place Group, which set out to improve conditions for women, and was friends with feminists Bessie Rayner Parkes (later Bessie Rayner Belloc) and Barbara Leigh Smith, later Barbara Bodichon. Procter helped found the English Woman's Journal in 1858 and, in 1859, the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women, both of which focused on expanding women's economic and employment opportunities. Though on paper Procter was merely one member among many, fellow-member Jessie Boucherett considered her to be the "animating spirit" of the Society. Her third volume of poetry, A Chaplet of Verses (1861), was published for the benefit of a Catholic Night Refuge for Women and Children that had been founded in 1860 at Providence Row in East London.
Procter became engaged in 1858, according to a letter that her friend William Makepeace Thackeray wrote to his daughters that year. The identity of Procter's fiancé remains unknown, and the proposed marriage never took place. According to her German biographer Ferdinand Janku, the engagement seems to have lasted several years before being broken off by Procter's fiancé. Critic Gill Gregory suggests that Procter may have been a lesbian and in love with Matilda Hays, a fellow member of the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women; other critics have called Procter's relationship with Hays "emotionally intense." Procter's first volume of poetry, Legends and Lyrics (1858) was dedicated to Hays and that same year Procter wrote a poem titled "To M.M.H." in which Procter "expresses love for Hays ... [Hays was a] novelist and translator of George Sand and a controversial figure ... [who] dressed in men's clothes and had lived with the sculptor Harriet Hosmer in Rome earlier in the 1850s." While several men showed interest in her, Procter never married.
Procter fell ill in 1862; Dickens and others have suggested that her illness was due to her extensive charity work, which "appears to have unduly taxed her strength". An attempt to improve her health by taking a cure at Malvern failed. On 3 February 1864, Procter died of tuberculosis, having been bed-ridden for almost a year. Her death was described in the press as a "national calamity". Procter was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
BACK TO HOME PAGE