|Mrs Edward Liddell (Christina Catherine Fraser Tytler) (1877) Mary Seton Fraser Tytler|
While doing the research for this post I was reminded of the life of another lovely young woman, May Prinsep, to whom Christina and her family had links. Christina was born 13 February 1848 in Bombay, India, the second daughter of Charles and Etheldred Fraser Tytler. Charles worked in the East India Company's Madras Civil Service and was an associate of Thoby Prinsep. When Etheldred died after giving birth to Mary Seton Fraser Tytler in 1849, Charles sent Christina, her older sister Etheldred and baby Mary back to live with their grandparents William and Margaret Fraser Tytler in Aldourie Castle on the shores of Lock Ness...
|Well played, Aldourie Castle publicity chaps, well played...|
|Sanquhar House (also known as Burdsyard)|
|Fraser Tytler family and friends outside Sanquhar, 1865|
|Christiana Fraser-Tytler (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron|
|The Rosebud Garden of Girls (June 1868) Julia Margaret Cameron|
(Nelly, Mary, Christina, and Ethel - unknown girl in foreground)
|The Rosebud Garden of Girls (June 1868)|
(Nelly, Christina, Mary and Ethel)
|The Three Sisters / Peace, Love and Faith (1868) Julia Margaret Cameron|
(Christina, Nelly and Ethel)
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near;'
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late;'
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear;'
And the lily whispers, 'I wait...'
The sisters are bowed together like flowers, their similar faces emphasising their sisterhood. I love The Three Sisters as it most clearly highlights the age difference between Ethel and Nelly, a decade between them, but also the deep love between them all, Mary not in the edited shot, but her sleeve seen on the far right. The poet and diarist William Allingham visited Dimbola on the day of the photograph and remembered the Fraser Tytler sisters - 'Meet girls going up the stairs in fancy dresses, Mrs C. has been photographing a group, and appears carrying glass negative in her collodionised hands. 'Magnificent! To focus them all in one picture, such an effort!'' When the poet Henry Longfellow met the Fraser Tytler girls in July 1868 he declared 'It was worthwhile coming to England to see such young ladies.'
|Sweet Violet and Other Stories (1868-9) illustration by Mary Fraser Tytler|
In December of 1868, Christina published her first book, Sweet Violet and Other Stories, which contained 6 illustrations by her sister Mary (who remained anonymous using her initials, M. F-T). It was published as part of the 'Christmas books' section, intended as gift-books for girls and young ladies. The Edinburgh Evening Courant reviewed it well, commenting that Christina 'has no inconsiderable power of portrait painting and for drawing suitable distinctions of character. We feel most readers will feel compelled to fall in love with "Sweet Violet".' In one of the adverts for the book Christina is listed as 'Christiana' which I would have thought was a spelling mistake, but in the photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron she is also often listed as Christiana. I can only guess that it was either an affectionate variation or an effort to make her name more poetic at the beginning of her career.
It was around this time that Christina met and fell in love with Edward Liddell, a vicar (to become Canon of Durham Cathedral) to whom she became engaged.
|Christina Fraser Tytler (1870) Mary Fraser Tytler|
Edward fell gravely ill in April 1870 and almost died. It would be almost 18 months until he was well enough to marry Christina, on 26 September 1871 at St John's Church, Forres. They were married by the Bishop of Moray and Ross and the church was filled by local people and gentry. Edward was related to the Liddells of Oxford but also to the Duke of Wellington's family (his mother was a Wellesley) and so the guests included lords, ladies, a countess and a member of parliament.
|Christina Liddell (nee Fraser Tytler) (September 1871) Mary Fraser Tytler|
As a respectable married woman, Christina continued with her career, publishing novels Jasmine Leigh (1871), Mistress Judith (1875), Jonathan (1876) and poetry collections Songs in Minor Keys (1884) and Songs of the Twilight Hours (1909), as well as appearing in different publications such as Good Words for the Young, the Good Words Annual and the Sunday Magazine. She is sometimes listed as 'C. C. Fraser-Tytler' and sometimes as 'Mrs Edward Liddell', as well as simply 'Fraser Tytler'
|Note that she also played with the name 'Fraser Tytler' avoiding the woman-novelist stigma|
Marriage suited her - a family friend Francis Jenkinson wrote in a letter home that he had seen Christina in March 1879 looking 'so plump and well, you would hardly have known her.' Christina wrote on religious subjects, much of her poetry using Christian themes and tone which may explain why her work is not better known today. It is obvious that she found a great deal of comfort in her faith, channelling such traditional Victorian subjects as art through a Christian eye. For example, in 'Love and Art', a male narrator tries to understand the woman he loves by beseeching a poet, a painter and a composer to replicate her in their art form but nothing could match the wonder of God's creation, the woman herself. In a very Tennysonian poem, 'Crossing the River', published in Songs in Minor Keys, Christina considers how it would be to cross the river that separated the living from the dead:
Ah, could we follow where they go
And pierce the holy shade they find,
One grief were ours - to stay behind!
One hope - to join the Blest Unseen -
To plant our steps where theirs have been,
And find no river flows between!
|George and Mary Watts at Limnerslease, Compton|
Of all her siblings, Christina seems to have been especially close to Mary, and to her husband George Frederick Watts, whom she had met prior to Mary's meeting with him. Watts admired Christina's poetry, writing that he envied her gift of words - 'Words won't come to me! If I try to come at them they seem to fly over the waste and I only see a whisking tail!'. In Emilie Barrington's G F Watts Reminiscences (1905) she quoted a letter he wrote in 1886 that he felt Christina's poems had 'a waft of sweet air in them'. It might have been this closeness that brought Christina and Edward to move to Puttenham, a neighbouring village to Compton, after his retirement. They lived out the remainder of their lives in Birdshanger, which miraculously still stands today (you know my track record with people's houses) and I got to linger outside their massive gates and hedge on a recent visit up to the Watts Gallery...
|I lowered property values just by my presence...|
|Edward Liddell - Priest (and his dates)|
and his wife Christina Catherine (and her dates)
Christina's work is not well known now and not many copies of the original books seem available to buy, at least not at an acceptable price. You can download a lot of her work for free however - Jonathan is available here, Songs in Minor Keys is here, plus others can be found through the Hathi Trust Digital Library. I hope to return to the subject of Christina and her sisters later in the autumn...