Landmarks of a Literary Life – Mrs. Newton Crosland

Title: Landmarks of a Literary Life, 1820-1892
Author: Mrs Newton Crosland (Camilla Dufour Toulmin)
Publisher: Sampson Low, Marston & Company Limited
Year: 1893

Camilla Dufour Toulmin (Mrs Newton Crosland)

Landmarks of a Literary Life recorded Mrs Crosland’s meetings with leading figures in the world of art and literature during her long career as a writer. Crosland’s memoir recalls her acquaintance with writers such as the poet Robert Browning, the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and the journalist Douglas Jerrold. She also describes meetings with several artists, including the sculptor Hiram Powers and the French animal painter Rosa Bonheur.

Writing during the midst of oppressive Victorian social codes for women, Camilla Toulmin Crosland challenges the accepted codes of work, marriage, and education for women in her short fiction. Her address is mainly to the middle class on the behalf of the working class, but she specifically appeals to middle-class women, who she thinks have the opportunity and responsibility to better the condition of their sisters.

Camilla Dufour Toulmin (1812-1895), later Mrs Newton Crosland
Camilla Dufour Toulmin was born on 9th June 1812 at Aldermanbury, London. Camilla was the daughter of  William Wilton Toulmin (1767-1820), a London solicitor, and his second wife Sarah Wright (1783-1863). Camilla’s father died when she was eight years of age and although “she evinced exceptional precocity, being able to read at the age of three years”, she received little formal education and was essentially self taught. In her mid-twenties she embarked on a literary career, contributing poems, stories, essays, historical sketches and short biographies to a range of periodicals including ‘The People’s Journal,’ ‘The Illustrated London News’, ‘Ainsworth’s Magazine,’ and ‘Chambers’ Journal’. Many of Miss Toulmin’s early stories were concerned with ” the sufferings of the poor”.

In 1848, Miss Toulmin married an American-born wine merchant named Newton Crosland (1819-1899). Under the name of Mrs Newton Crosland, she published a collection of poems and two novels, ‘Mrs Blake’ (1865) and ‘Hubert Freeth’s Prosperity’ (1873). In her early eighties, towards the end of her life, Mrs Crosland produced her memoir ‘Landmarks of a Literary Life’. Mrs Camilla Crosland died at her home in East Dulwich on 16th February 1895.

This book is twinned with Venus as a Boy by Marcus Wratton and Dimitra Petsa (pub.2017) read more about it here.

The Oubliettes
A poem by Camilla Dufour Crosland based on Victor Hugo, describing an offence against the modesty of a sleeping woman.

If sulphurous light had shone from this vile well
One might have said it was a mouth of hell,
So large the trap that by some sudden blow
A man might backward fall and sink below.
Who looked could see a harrow’s threatening teeth,
But lost in night was everything beneath.
Partitions blood-stained have a reddened smear,
And Terror unrelieved is master here.
One feels the place has secret histories
Replete with dreadful murderous mysteries,
And that this sepulchre, forgot to-day,
Is home of trailing ghosts that grope their way
Along the walls where spectre reptiles crawl.
“Our fathers fashioned for us after all
Some useful things,” said Joss; then Zeno spoke:
“I know what Corbus hides beneath its cloak,
I and the osprey know its ancient walls
And how was justice done within its halls.”
“And are you sure that Mahaud will not wake?”
“Her eyes are closed as now my fist I make;
She is in mystic and unearthly sleep;
The potion still its power o’er her must keep.”
“But she will surely wake at break of day?”
“In darkness.”
“What will all the courtiers say
When in the place of her they find two men?”
“To them we will declare ourselves—and then
They at our feet will fall.”
“Where leads this hole?”
“To where the crow makes feast and torrents roll,
To desolation. Let us end it now.”

These young and handsome men had seemed to grow
Deformed and hideous—so doth foul black heart
Disfigure man, till beauty all depart.
So to the hell within the human face
Transparent is. They nearer move apace;
And Mahaud soundly sleeps as in a bed.
“To work.”
Joss seizes her and holds her head
Supporting her beneath her arms, in his;
And then he dared to plant a monstrous kiss
Upon her rosy lips,—while Zeno bent
Before the massive chair, and with intent
Her robe disordered as he raised her feet;
Her dainty ankles thus their gaze to meet.
And while the mystic sleep was all profound,
The pit gaped wide like grave in burial ground.

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