A Victorian poet in the family

Interview Whisper En Attendant
Perhaps Nocturne Recent anthology
Mrs Frances Wynne Frances Wynne, sister to May Wynne of Glendalough, and so Graham Wynne's grandaunt, merits a mention in an internet survey of Irish authors, and was the subject of an interview in a publication called 'The Lady of the House,' in the year of her early death.

Frances Alice Wynne was born in 1863, eldest of five children, in Collon House. This was built about 1740, on the crossroads of the little village of Collon near Drogheda, by Anthony Foster. It was the home of the founder's son John, the celebrated speaker of the Irish house of Commons until its closure under the act of Union in 1801.

Frances' father was Alfred Henry Wynne, J.P., Captain in the Scots Greys, and her mother was Maria Devereux, daughter of a clergyman and Doctor of Divinity.

Frances describes in the following interview her education with a governess until she was twelve, a spell as a boarder in a single teacher school at 'Netting Hill', some time in Dublin at Alexandra College, which had been "founded in 1866 to give a new sense of purpose to the education of young middle-class ladies in Ireland." She returned home to an over-indulgent governess, and apparently lived quietly writing poetry in her small village until she was in her late twenties.

She did, however, meet Katherine Tynan, the author of "All in an April Evening", and through her was introduced to a well-connected Jesuit priest, Father Matthew Russell, publisher of the Irish Monthly, a literary magazine which featured all the best Irish writers, including Oscar Wilde, and her poems were published. She went on to contribute to a column called 'The Sign of the Ship' in Longman’s Magazine, and to publish in Providence Journal and The Spectator.

What the social life of the five Wynne young people was we do not know, but for Protestants of their social class in nineteenth century Ireland it may have been very limited. As far as I can tell, the three middle children remained unmarried, and the other two married cousins, May her first cousin Jack Wynne, and Frances her second cousin Henry Wynne. They left marriage late for those days, May being 29 and Frances 28.

Henry and Frances moved to London, where Henry had a curacy, and it was there that the interview took place. Frances must have been pregnant at the time, for on 29th August she bore her son Henry Francis, and died.

Katharine Tynan wrote that she was ‘greatly loved by children, and the poor, and animals, and by her social inferiors.’ Tynan also wrote two poems for her.


15TH June, 1893. interview No. 26 - Mrs. Wynne

"Do you mean to tell me that this is the East End?"

"I do, indeed," said Mrs. Wynne, the charming young Irish poetess. "The very heart of the East End, though I admit it is hard to believe it. This very neighbourhood is described in Walter Besant's 'All Sorts and Conditions of Men.'"

We were sitting in the window of Mr. Wynne's study, looking down at a long strip of garden where trees and shrubs were clothed in all the vivid hues of spring. In the flower beds a few pansies showed their velvety petals. There were trees, too, in the neighbouring gardens. All was sunshine and verdure—hence my question. Nor was the front of the house duller than the back. It faces Stepney Green, an oasis abutting on the Mile End Road, and with its handsome wrought-iron gateway, its pathway set with squares of black and white marble, and airy rooms, is as quaint and pretty a home as one could desire. The Rev. Mr. Wynne has lately been appointed to a curacy in Stepney, and he and his wife are still congratulating themselves on the little old-world house to which fate directed them. Three hundred years it has existed—a house with a history if one could but discover it; a house with panellings and carvings of old oak, unhappily painted over in the course of generations by successive barbarians, who knew not Oscar Wilde and the gospel of aestheticism; a house with nooks and corners brightened and adorned by the excellent taste of its present tenants. Next door lives Mr. Charrington, of temperance and county council fame ; a little farther up, the words "Jewish Home" inscribed above its portals, stands behind elaborately-wrought iron gates, a quaint old mansion, enshrined in romance as the boarding-house where the American claimant and his wife, dear to Besant's readers, found a home in London. What a delightful old couple they were. Do you remember how they finished a loaf between them at afternoon tea, and then went to bed to be roused in a terrible fright by the dinner-bell at eight ? Of course the garden tempted me, so Mrs. Wynne and I went down to examine it, going through her little domain in detail on the way, and pausing at every turn to regret the painting of those carvings. In the pretty dining-room, with its subdued terra cotta colourings, hangs a water-colour sketch of Mrs. Wynne's Irish home in County Louth. When we resumed our places in the drawing-room, with its yellow walls and matting to match, richly carved doorway, and abundance of pretty nick-nacks, mostly wedding presents, I began inquisitorially to examine my friend and hostess, who, with her pleasant, warm-hearted and unaffected manner, is a charming type of a simple and well-bred young Irishwoman. Still a girl, with a pleasing mobile face that changes with every passing emotion, brown hair, taken back from her forehead, and brightening in the sunshine to gold, eyes set in dark lashes under thick brows, she possesses an attractive personality, and the " winning ways " - no pun intended - that Erin's daughters claim as their special property.

"My native place," she said, " is Collon, a little village not far from Drogheda, and near the Cross of Monasterboice, which is the lion of the neighbourhood. When we have visitors we bring them the first day to Monasterboice, the second to the scene of the battle of the Boyne, the third to Mellifont Abbey. After that they have exhausted the neighbourhood, and I fear there is nothing left for them but to go home. A certain interest attaches to our house in that it was inhabited by Mr. Speaker Foster, of the Irish House of Commons, who was related to the Massarene family. His son, Thomas Henry Foster, Viscount Ferrard, married Harriet, Vicountess Massarene, in 1810, and their place, Oriel Temple, originally a tea house in the grounds, was added to from time time until it became a mansion."

"You are the eldest daughter, are you not?"

"Yes. As children we were never whipped, though we were strictly brought up. It was quite enough of my mother to say 'you have disappointed me,' to reduce us to submission. I was an insatiable reader, and the severest punishment that could be inflicted on me was to deprive me of my books. When I had exhausted my few children's books I fell back on Smith's 'Wealth of Nations.'"

" Not very attractive for a child, was it ?"

Mrs.. Wynne agreed. " Still it was better than nothing."

" Were you ever reduced to reading the Dictionary, as I have been?" was my next question.

" Yes," said Mrs. Wynne, laughing, " when I stayed with my grandmother, who was devoted to me. There the only books I could get at were the Bible and Johnson's Dictionary, in two old folio volumes. These I took to bed with me to beguile the time."

" Now as to your education."

" A very good governess taught me until I was twelve, and as just noted, I was strictly brought up - church twice on Sundays and all that. At twelve I was sent to school at Netting Hill to a Miss Pugh, who is still one of my best friends. Returning home I had another governess, who was almost too good to me. Then I attended the Alexandra College to study special subjects."

"What about your early poems?"

" My first was a hymn presented to my grandmother, who kept it in a Bible bound in blue velvet, where I came across it not long since, written in a round, childish hand, and evidently based on Watt's hymns or others familiar to me at the time. I know it ended thus—

' And my eternity shall be
Thy presence and Thy love.'

The next thing I remember was written while at school, and very proud was I of the praise my companions gave it. Its subject was the Academy painting, 'Her Father's House' — a little waif looking into a church. My idea then was that poetry should be written in a furore of inspiration."

" How did your first book, 'Whisper,' come to be published?"

" Well, primarily through making, almost by accident, the acquaintance of Miss Katherine Tynan — I was intensely struck by the beauty of her poetry. She gave me many valuable hints — for example, as to making each verse rhyme and not alternate verses. By her I was introduced to Father Russell, S.J., the kindly editor of the Irish Monthly, and he took my first printed poem,'The First Cuckoo,' after she had brushed it over. This was in 1886 or 1887. I became a regular contributor to the Irish Monthly; and meantime sent a 'Ballade' to Longman's Magazine. Mr. Andrew Lang took it, and asked me to write more for him in The Sign of the Ship, which of course I did, as also for Merry England, and The Providence Journal. When a certain number of my poems had appeared, Father Russell suggested that I had done enough to make a little book, and offered to pay for its publication by Messrs. Kegan Paul. This offer I accepted. It was very kindly reviewed. An edition of 750 was printed, out of which 500 sold. The other day Mr. John Lane, of Elkin Matthews, wrote to me offering to take over from Kegan Paul all that were left, and to publish for me, at his own expense, any book I might think of bringing out."

"When was 'Whisper' published ?"

"In 1891."

"What are you doing now ?"

"Not much just at present. Last year I wrote three poems for The Spectator, and one at Easter."

"Now as to your marriage."

''Oh, that is a long story!" said Mrs. Wynne, laughing. "My husband and I were second cousins; his sister is my greatest friend. We were engaged for a year and a half, and married in '91. Won't that do on the subject ?"

Mrs. Wynne has uncommon poetical gifts, as all who have read her little book must acknowledge. Only the other day her poem, "Whisper," was quoted by T. P. O'Connor in the Weekly Sun, under the heading "At the Sign of the Lyre," a column wherein his excellent literary taste allows nothing to appear of merely average merit. The only drawback was that the printer attributed it to one "Francis" not Frances Wynne. For the benefit of those to whom it may be unknown, I venture to transcribe it here:—

''You saucy south wind, setting all the budded beech boughs swinging
Above the wood anemones that flutter, flushed and white,
When far across the wide, salt waves your quick way you were winging
Oh! tell me, tell me, did you pass my sweetheart's ship last night ?
  "Ah ! let the daisies be,
  South wind, and answer me :
  Did you my sailor see?
  Wind, whisper very low,
  For none but you must know
  I love my lover so.

"You've come by many a gorsy hill ; your breath has sweetness in it ; '
You've ruffled up the high, white clouds that fleck the shining blue ;
You've rushed and danced and whirled, so now, perhaps, you'll spare a minute
To tell me whether you have seen my lover brave and true ?
  "Wind, answer me, I pray,
  I'm lonelier every day,
  My love is far away;
  And sweet wind, whisper low,
  For none but you must know
  I love my lover so."

Unlike many other people, Mrs. Wynne resembles her poetry. She has the same freshness of feeling, breeziness, and charm. No one who meets her after perusing her writings is disappointed. My acquaintance with her, as well as many other pleasant things, I owe to my kind and venerated friend, the Rev. Matthew Russell, who wrote to me about her when she came to settle in London. Father Russell, in his quiet, unostentatious way, has done as much for Irish literature as any man living. In the pages of the Irish Monthly many well-known writers - from Oscar Wilde to Miss Tynan, and from Rosa Mulholland to Miss Emily Hickey — have made their bow to the reading public. Its editor's sympathies are wide; he knows no distinction of class or creed, and his advice and interest have been of inestimable value to more than one with whom chance has brought him in contact.


Three other poems by Frances Wynne

En Attendant

This morning there were dazzling drifts of daises in the meadow,
On sunny slopes the celandines were glittering like gold,
Across the bright and breezy world ran shifting shine and shadow,
The wind blew warmly from the west.   Now all is changed and cold.
He’s half an hour late,
While here I wait and wait.
Well, it is just my fate-
Too plainly I can see,
He never cared for me,
How cruel men can be!

I wish those daffodils out there would cease their foolish flutter,
And keep their bobbing yellow heads for just a second still.
My eyes ache so! Would some one please to partly close the shutter,
And move those hateful hyacinths from off the window sill?
He’s half an hour late,
No longer shall I wait.
Hark, there’s the garden gate!
Love is this you at last?
Ah, do not be downcast-
I knew the clocks were fast.


A whisper of spring’s in the air -
A soft west wind setting the elm boughs a-sway -
There are more flowers I’m sure on the gorse than there were
When last I came this way.
I think, perhaps it is true -
That as long as the flower’s on the gorse,
Love is in season too,
But it must be true, of course:
And if not, why should I care?

The sky is shining blue;
The sparrows twitter anew
Of beginning to pair,
And we’ve passed the shortest day.
How the gorse will blaze
'Neath the flitting, rushing brightness of April days!
In a glowing mass ‘t will sweep down the bare hill-side
The golden overflow round the bank will glide
Where the dear blue violets hide,
And the careless sunshine strays.
Shall I be all alone?
Or will some one come to love me
When the white clouds race above me,
And the buttercups have grown?
Perhaps - ah! Who can tell? -
When the meadows flush with clover,
Perhaps I will have a lover,
Perhaps he will love me well.
All too surely the year will wane,
And the fair gorse gold will tarnish and dim,
But lonely eyes shall ne’er seek in vain
A furtive flower ‘twixt the thorns so grim
While love and hope remain.
Perhaps if I had - him,
And he was kind,
And called me gently by my name,
Perhaps I should not mind
Even when winter came,
And the dreary, dreary rain.


The long day was bright,
It slowly passed from the purple slopes of the hill;
And then the night
Came floating quietly down, and the world grew still.

Now I lay awake,
The south wind stirs the white curtains to and fro.
Cries the corncrake
In fields that stretch by the stream-side, misty and low.

At the meadow's edge
I know the faint pink clover is heavy with dew.
Under the hedge
The speedwell closes its sweet eyes, dreamily blue.

With pursed rosy lips
The baby buds are asleep on the apple tree.
The river slips
Beneath the scarcely swayed willows, on to the sea.

The dark grows, and grows,
But I'm too happy to sleep, and the reason why
No creature knows,
Save certain little brown birds, and my love, and I.

-- Frances Wynne

Frances Wynne recently anthologised

The poem 'Nocturne' has recently been republished in a collection of Irish love poetry:

Ireland's Love Poems : Wonder and a Wild Desire
-US-ISBN:0393043169 (Hard cover book)