I find it very interesting how certain people are lost in time. A poet for example can just be forgotten, whereas another flourishes, despite being celebrated in their own time. It is particularly curious when the poet is related to someone else who remains in the cultural consciousness. Today's post is about just such a person. This is the life of Christina Catherine Fraser Tytler...
|Mrs Edward Liddell (Christina Catherine Fraser Tytler) (1877) Mary Seton Fraser Tytler|
Now, before we start, let me just mention her name and its variations. She is alternately known as 'Christina' and 'Christiana' and sometimes there is a hyphen in her surname. For the sake of consistency I am sticking with Christina, but I'll explain Christiana later. I'll leave the hyphen out, although it seems to be something the family used or dropped as they felt like it. Right, on with the story...
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...|
The girls spent a decade growing up in the Highlands before their father retired and returned to his native Scotland with his second wife Harriet, in 1861. They brought their sons Charles (1854-77), Edward (1856-1918) and William (1861-1935) as well as sister Eleanor (or Nelly) (1855-1909). Another half sister Eva (1857-1859) had died in infancy in India. Charles moved his wife and all of the children to a new home, Sanquhar, in Forres.
|Sanquhar House (also known as Burdsyard)|
|Fraser Tytler family and friends outside Sanquhar, 1865|
Although the family had land and decent connections, they were not wealthy and so it fell to the sisters to make good marriages. Etheldred never married, dying a spinster barely a year after her half-brother Edward, in 1919, both at their grandparents' castle by Loch Ness. Christina and Mary had other things but love on their mind. Christina wanted to be a writer and her sister, an artist, but the usual round for girls of their class continued. On Wednesday 23 Mary 1866, Christina was brought to St James' Palace in London and there presented to the Princess of Wales in the Queen's Drawing Room as one of many debutantes coming out into society. Making their way in society seemed inevitably to lead the Fraser Tytler girls to Freshwater...
|Christiana Fraser-Tytler (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron|
Christina and Etheldred (known as Ethel) went to stay in Freshwater and obviously fell into the hands of Julia Margaret Cameron. The photograph of Christina (or 'Christiana' as Julia called her) shows a beautiful young woman in a meditative pose. When the sisters visited London in 1867 they visited Little Holland House and met G F Watts. Christina and Ethel returned to Freshwater in 1868 and brought Mary and Nelly with them, again calling at Dimbola Lodge...
|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)
On 20 June 1868, the sisters visited Dimbola in Freshwater and Cameron photographed them in images inspired by Tennyson's Maud
. Each sister is representing a flower:
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 died in 1914 and Christina in 1927, Christina leaving almost £6,000 to her sister Mary (equivalent to £300,000 in today's money). Both of them are buried in a grave just outside the memorial to George and Mary at the Compton Cemetery...
|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
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...