He was evidently a young man of considerable taste in reading, though principally in poetry; and besides the persuasion of having given him at least an evening's indulgence in the discussion of subjects, which his usual companions had probably no concern in, she had the hope of being of real use to him in some suggestions as to the duty and benefit of struggling against affliction, which had naturally grown out of their conversation.
For, though shy, he did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he showed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.
She was born Felicia Dorothea Browne in Liverpool, a granddaughter of the Venetian consul in that city. Her father's business soon brought the family to Denbighshire in North Wales, where she spent her youth. They made their home near Abergele and St. Asaph (Flintshire), and it is clear that she came to regard herself as Welsh by adoption, later referring to Wales as "Land of my childhood, my home and my dead". Her first poems, dedicated to the Prince of Wales, were published in Liverpool in 1808, when she was only fifteen, arousing the interest of no less a person than Percy Bysshe Shelley, who briefly corresponded with her. She quickly followed them up with England and Spain
(1808) and The domestic affections
, published in 1812, the year of her marriage to Captain Alfred Hemans, an Irish army officer some years older than herself. The marriage took her away from Wales, to Daventry in Northamptonshire until 1814.
During their first six years of marriage Felicia gave birth to five sons, including Charles Isidore Hemans, and then the couple separated. Marriage had not, however, prevented her from continuing her literary career, with several volumes of poetry being published by the respected firm of John Murray in the period after 1816, beginning with The Restoration of the works of art to Italy
(1816) and Modern Greece
(1817). Tales and historic scenes
was the collection which came out in 1819, the year of their separation.
From 1831 onwards, she lived in Dublin, where her younger brother had settled, and her poetic output continued. Her major collections, including The Forest Sanctuary (1825), Records of Woman and Songs of the Affections (1830) were immensely popular, especially with female readers. Her last books, sacred and profane, are the substantive Scenes and Hymns of Life and National Lyrics, and Songs for Music. She was by now a well-known literary figure, highly regarded by contemporaries such as Wordsworth, and with a popular following in the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. When she died of dropsy, Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor composed memorial verses in her honour.
Felicia Hemans' works appeared in nineteen individual books during her lifetime. After her death in 1835 they were republished widely, usually as collections of individual lyrics and not the longer, annotated works and integrated series that made up her books. For surviving poetesses, like Britons Caroline Norton and Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Americans Lydia Sigourney and Frances Harper, the French Anable Tastu and German Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, and others, she was a valued model, or (for Elizabeth Barrett Browning) a troubling predecessor; and for male poets including Tennyson and Longfellow, an influence less acknowledged. To many readers she offered a woman's voice confiding a woman's trials; to others a lyricism apparently consonant with Victorian chauvinism and sentimentality. Among the works she valued most were the unfinished Superstition and Revelation
and the pamphlet The Sceptic,
which sought an Anglicanism more attuned to world religions and women's experiences. In her most successful book, Records of Woman
(1828), she chronicles the lives of women, both famous and anonymous.
Despite her illustrious admirers, if in keeping with her success on the popular marketplace, her stature as a serious poet gradually declined. A jocular reference by Saki in The Toys of Peace
suggests simultaneously that she was a household word and that Saki did not take her seriously. Schoolchildren in the U. S. were still being taught The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England
("The breaking waves dashed high/On a stern and rock-bound coast...") in the middle of the 20th century. But by the 21st century, The Stately Homes of England
refers to Noel Coward's parody, not to the once-famous poem it parodied, and Felicia Hemans is now remembered popularly for her poem, "Casabianca"
, and in fact for one line only:
"The boy stood on the burning deck"
However, Hemans has resumed a role in standard anthologies and in classrooms and seminars and literary studies, especially in the U. S. It is likely that further poems will be familiar to new readers, such as The Image in Lava, Evening Prayer at a Girls' School, I Dream of All Things Free, Night-Blowing Flowers, Properzia Rossi, A Spirit's Return, The Bride of the Greek Isle, The Wife of Asdrubal, The Widow of Crescentius, The Last Song of Sappho,
and Corinne at the Capitol.
From Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.