Alfred H. Miles, ed. Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by Richard Garnett
Sarah Flower Adams (18051848)
THE AUTHORESS of Vivia Perpetua, was the daughter of Benjamin Flower, a well-known politician and martyr for the liberty of the press in Pitts day; and the sister of Eliza Flower, one of the most gifted of English female composers. She was born Feb. 22nd, 1805; married William Bridges Adams, engineer, in 1834; and died of decline in August 1848. Her life, so far as known to the world, is summed up in the authorship of her drama Vivia Perpetua (1841) and her connection with the congregation of Finsbury Unitarian Chapel, under the pastorate of William Johnson Fox. The musical service was organised, and a large proportion of the hymns set to music, by Mrs. Adamss sister; while she herself enriched the collection with many original and translated pieces. Among them was Nearer, my God, to thee, which divides with Cardinal Newmans Lead, kindly Light, the distinction of being at once the most popular and the most poetical modern hymn. One is reminded of Drydens famous lines; but the feats of the male and the female minstrel were in this instance reversed; for it is Mrs. Adams who raises the mortal to the skies, and Cardinal Newman who draws the angel down.
An unsigned translation from Luis de Leon, almost equally beautiful, may be safely attributed to Mrs. Adams; nor less exquisite is the following little known piece, the quintessence of pure devotional feeling:
The above will suffice for Mrs. Adamss character and eulogy as a writer of devotional poetry; and her dramatic attempt also is essentially lyrical. Vivia Perpetua is unsatisfactory as a play, but has deep human interest as an idealised representation of the authoresss mind and heart. In the character of Vivia she has shadowed forth her own moral affections and intellectual convictions, and the intensity of her feelings frequently exalts her diction, else artless and slightly conventional, into genuine eloquence. The moral charm, however, takes precedence of the artistic, as is to be expected in the work of a true woman. Lyrical enthusiasm atones in no small measure for the lack of the constructive faculty, and Vivia Perpetua fulfils better than many more ambitious works Miltons demand that poetry should be simple, sensuous, and passionate. The authoress would probably have left a higher reputation if she had given freer scope to her natural instinct for lyrical poetry, instead of devoting her most strenuous endeavour to the difficult undertaking of reviving the poetical drama. But her love of the theatre, which at one time led her to contemplate adopting it as a profession, was fostered by the friendship of Browning and Macready, as well as by her affection and reverence for W. J. Fox, the best critic of acting in his day. Her occasional lyrics on political and social subjects have not been collected; one, a very spirited poem on the opening of the Royal Exchange, is preserved in Foxs Lectures to the Working Classes.