Mrs. Crosland

Twisted paths

My research this evening was just too fun to leave unaccounted for. I was just flipping through some online editions of nineteenth century periodicals when I stumbled on two sonnets on “Photography and Art” by Mrs. Newton Crosland.


He who has made the Sun his serf can show
Man’s life-leased House, each window pane and bar,
With all the lines that beautify or mar
The human soul’s palatial prison now;
And at the wonder still doth reverence grow;
For, sometimes lured by happy guiding star,
Which even shines to prison homes from far,
The Royal Captive looks through casement low.
But only thus we see—or we mis-see—
The Soul’s fine traceries, which seem so mean,
Through the dull glass, we turn with childish glee
To dote upon the wall the panes between,
And marvel how its shapely forms agree,
And own the Prison has a lovely sheen.


The Artist labors in a nobler way;
He hath a mighty wand, that subtly breaks
The hard, straight bar, which every casement streaks;
And as he quickly opens to the day
The thick, dim panes, he bids the Prisoner stay
Full-statured at the window: then there wakes
A fresh creation, which an Art-life takes
Diviner than the fairest thing Sun’s ray
Can father! And, forgiving, we forget
If casement panes and bars less fact-like glow
Than those the Sun’s sharp-pointed ray hath set,
More glad to have the Prisoner fairly show
With all the jewels of his coronet
Than the perfect outline of his prison know!

Appleton’s Journal Volume 7, issue 151, Feb 17, 1872 p. 189

Having never heard of Mrs. Newton Crosland, I really wanted to know more.

Mrs. Crosland was born Camilla Dufor Toulmin in Aldermanbury (UK) on June 9, 1812. She married Newton Crosland (born in Philadelphia, USA on March 5, 1819), a wine merchant, on June 22, 1848. She was employed as a teacher (1835) and as a governess (1836 on) and her first published work appeared in 1832. She has a memoir of her involvement with spiritualism published in 1856, and a full memoir published in 1895 (she died February 16, 1895).

She received a grant from Royal Literary Fund (before 1848), and wrote under the names Emma Gray, Mrs Macarthy, and Helena Herbert. One description of her remarked: “At one time her sight was so keen that in clear weather she could see the satellites of Jupiter with the naked eye, and read the time on a church clock a mile off.” However, for all her acuity of sight she seemed to hate the currents of realism in the nineteenth century, as evidenced by this dedication to Queen Victoria: Her Girlhood and Womanhood by Grace Greenwood (1883).



Permit me, my dear friend, to inscribe to you this very imperfect Life of
your beloved Queen, in remembrance of that dear old time when the world
was brighter and more beautiful than it is now (or so it seemeth to me)
and things in general were pleasanter;–when better books were written,
especially biographies, and there were fewer of them;–when the “gentle
reader” and the “indulgent critic” were extant;–when Realism had not
shouldered his way into Art;–when there were great actors and actresses
of the fine old school, like Macready and the elder Booth–Helen Faucit
and Charlotte Cushman; and real orators, like Daniel O’Connell and Daniel
Webster;–when there was more poetry and more romance in life than now;–
when it took less silk to make a gown, but when a bonnet was a bonnet;–
when there was less east-wind and fog, more moonlight to the month, and
more sunlight to the acre;–when the scent of the blossoming hawthorn was
sweeter in the morning, and the song of the nightingale more melodious in
the twilight;–when, in short, you and I, and the glorious Victorian era, were young.

Apparently, Nathaniel Hawthorne was quite taken by her according to this bit from his notebook published in 1871:

After the cloth was removed, came in Mr. Newton Crosland, a young man who once
called on me in Liverpool,- the husband of a literary lady, formerly Camilla Toulmin. The lady herself was coming to spend the evening. The husband (and I presume the wife) is a decided believer in spiritual manifestations. We talked of politics and spiritualism
and literature; and before we rose from table, Mr.
Bennoch drank the health of the ladies, and especially
of Mrs. H, in terms very kind towards her and me.
I responded in her behalf as well as I could, and left it
to Mr. Bowman, as a bachelor, to respond for the ladies
generally,- which he did briefly, toasting Mrs. B.
We had heard the sound of the piano in the drawing oom for some time, and now adjourning thither, I had
the pleasure to be introduced to Mrs. Newton Crosland,
– a rather tall, thin, pale, and ladylike person, looking, I
thought, of a sensitive character. She expressed in a
low tone and quiet way great delight at seeing my dish tinguished self! for she is a vast admirer of The Scarlet
Letter, and especially of the character of Hester; indeed, I’ remember seeing a most favorable criticism of
the book from her pen, in one of the London magazines.
At eleven o’clock Mrs. Crosland entered the tiniest
pony carriage, and set forth for her own residence, with
a lad walking at the pony’s head, and carrying a lantern. (389-70)

What all this has to do with anything I’m working on, I’m not really sure. But it was fun to ferret out.