Constance Naden (January 24, 1858 to December 23, 1889) was a Victorian writer. Although she is unknown today, her work reveals a certain sensibility which is still extant. Our example is an excerpt from her poem "The Elixir of Life" which we found in The complete poetical works of Constance Naden (1894). Both these stanzas are from the same poem.
'Sweet Life '—I cried—' for whom I long have served,
Whose glorious beauty I from far have seen,
Not such reward thy votary deserved,
Not this thy warrior's guerdon should have been—
At last, at last, thy full fruition give,
Let me not die, ere I have learned to live!
"Often at night I heard the lion's roaring
From the wild jungles of some pathless wood;
I saw the zoned Himalayas soaring
To Arctic heights; and sought a brotherhood
Not found in age-long roving and exploring,
Among the saints of Brahma and of Buddh:
But no fit sharer of a lofty fate
Rose from that primal race degenerate.
"Two human lifetimes, alien from the West
I roved; then turning, found all Europe lit
With war—with strange convulsions sore distressed;
And that fair feminine city of keen wit
Which made of Earth and Heaven a graceful jest
Read her own doom in ruddy lightnings writ—
...., that the crushed might reign.
"It was the hey-day of that cursed spawn
Of rebels, bred and schooled by Tyranny,
That dyed them through and through, and now withdrawn
Left them indeed unsovereigned, but not free:
And yet it was the drear and blood-red dawn
Of a new hope for sad Humanity:
I watched a fresh enthusiasm's birth,
Not for high Heaven, but for the suffering Earth.
Perhaps this selection is over long, but there are some lovely phrases above. Portions almost seem prophetic of World War I, but I would need to study her references further to make that case. Her life, though short, was interesting, and we quote from an article about her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Naden, Constance Caroline Woodhill ...was the only child of Thomas Naden, afterwards president of the Birmingham Architectural Association, and his wife, Caroline Anne, daughter of J. C. Woodhill of Pakenham House, Charlotte Road, Edgbaston. Her mother died within a fortnight of the child's birth, and Constance was brought up by her maternal grandparents. Her maternal grandfather was a retired jeweller, an elder of a Baptist church, and a man of some literary taste.
From the age of eight until sixteen or seventeen Constance Naden attended a private day school in Frederick Road, Edgbaston, run by two Unitarian women, the Misses Martin. There she learned French, German, Latin, and some Greek, and was much attracted to the writings of James Hinton, and to R. A. Vaughan's Hours with the Mystics. After leaving school she remained with her grandparents; she travelled widely in Europe, and worked at odd moments on Songs and Sonnets of Springtime, published in 1881. In 1879-80 and 1880-81 she attended botany classes at the Birmingham and Midland Institute and acquired an interest in science. In the autumn of 1881 she became a student at Mason College, studying physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, physiology, and geology. She took a very lively part in debating societies, and she presented several papers on evolution and sociology to the sociological section of the Birmingham Natural History Society, begun in 1883 in order to study the principles put forth by Herbert Spencer. She became a very eager and sympathetic student of Spencer's philosophy. In 1885 she won the Paxton prize for an essay on the geology of the district; and in 1887 she won the Heslop gold medal with an essay, 'Induction and deduction'. She also contributed pieces to the Journal of Science, Knowledge, the Agnostic Annual, and other periodicals, some of them under the name Constance Arden.
In 1887 Constance Naden published her second volume of poems, 'A Modern Apostle'; 'The Elixir of Life'; 'The Story of Clarice'; and other Poems. Her grandfather died on 27 December 1881, and she inherited a fortune on the death of her grandmother on 21 June 1887. In that year she became good friends with Madelene Daniell (1832-1906), a philanthropist and promoter of women's education. In the autumn she and Daniell made a tour to Constantinople and through Palestine, Egypt, and India, where Naden met Lord Dufferin, the governor-general, and, equipped with an introduction from the German orientalist and language scholar Max Muller, several Indian reformers who, she was pleased to observe, were well acquainted with Spencer's writings. On her return to England in June 1888, she and Daniell lived together in Naden's home near Grosvenor Square, and she became much involved in philosophical and philanthropic circles in London. She was affiliated with the Indian National Association, where she was able to further her crusade against the marriage of infants and child widows in India. She also campaigned in support of Dr Garrett Anderson's work to supply medical aid to Indian women. Naden was active in the Working Ladies' Guild, and before her death was at the point of taking charge of the Campden Houses, accommodation for indigent women; she was also planning the New Hospital for Women. A public advocate for women's suffrage, and a vigorous Liberal and home-ruler, Naden was slight and tall, with a delicate face and 'clear blue-grey eyes' ....She was a spirited and amusing conversationalist and was thoroughly self-possessed in public speaking. She joined the Aristotelian Society in 1888, where she 'at once attracted attention by her clear and striking contributions to [the] discussions' .... She died a month before she was to present to the society a paper on rational and empiricist ethics; neither were her plans to establish an association to study social evolution realized.
Constance Naden's poems had attracted little notice until W. E. Gladstone called attention to them in an 1890 article in The Speaker on British poetry, in which he named her, along with Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as one of the eight best women poets. Gladstone was especially impressed by the poem 'Solomon redivivus', which caricatured the reunion of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon after their evolutionary descent from the first amoeba. Many of her poems incorporated her interest in the biological sciences; they also reflected her growing scepticism in the nonconformist faith of her childhood. Her verse was imaginative and often witty, as in the poem 'Natural Selection' (appearing in A Modern Apostle), which imagines an earnest young scholar losing his suit to a more brawny admirer: 'And I watch, scientific though sad, the Law of Selection at work' (C. C. W. Naden'A Modern Apostle', 143). 'A Modern Apostle' was favourably reviewed in the London press, including the assessment in the Oscar Wilde-edited Woman's World that it displayed 'both culture and courage-culture in its use of language, courage in its choice of subject matter' (Woman's World, 81-2). Nevertheless, Naden came to regard poetry as mere amusement and stopped writing in 1887. This decision was influenced by a retired army doctor, Robert Lewins, whom she had met in 1876 and with whom she had corresponded. He advanced an idiosyncratic medley of idealism and materialism which he termed 'hylo-idealism'. Thomas Carlyle dismissed Lewins's speculations as 'the shallower side of English spiritualism' and complained that they occasioned sentiments of 'pain, of ghastly disgust and loathing pity' (cited in Hughes, 86). Naden's friends were only marginally more sympathetic; they regretted Lewins's influence, particularly over her decision to abandon poetry. Naden's first philosophical essays reproduced aspects of Lewins's system. Induction and Deduction was published posthumously in 1890, edited by Lewins, and had a fond 'Memoir' by Daniell. In this work Naden maintained that all knowledge is relative and therefore purely subjective, and concluded from this that anything beyond sensation is unknowable. This marriage of a Protagorean subjectivism with a dogmatic materialism made the individual the only measure of all things; her argument that our senses are necessary to distinguish phenomena led to some confusion about whether an external universe or an objective world beyond subjective experience did exist. Yet Naden rejected absolute idealism because she maintained that it was insufficiently interested in the material world. Her writings exhibit the influence of Herbert Spencer, for, like Spencer, she married a belief in an Unknowable with a positivist form of naturalism and she appealed to an evolutionary utilitarianism in which the evolutionary process engendered a character which spontaneously pursues the common good. She also found persuasive Leslie Stephen's treatment of sympathy in The Science of Ethics (1882). While her interest in evolutionary ethics coincided with a widespread engagement with similar issues among such diverse theorists as T. H. Huxley, Stephen, and D. G. Ritchie, her work followed too closely that of Spencer and she failed to establish a distinctive position before her death. Spencer admired her intelligence and cited her early death as evidence that 'the mental powers so highly developed in a woman are in some measure abnormal, and involve a physiological cost which the feminine organisation will not bear without injury more or less profound' .... Symptoms of a fatal disease began to appear in the summer of 1889; on 5 December Naden underwent surgery from which she never recovered. She died on 23 December of that year at her home, 114 Park Street, near Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London, and was buried beside her mother in the old cemetery in Warstone Lane, Birmingham.