Greenwell, Dora (DNB00)

GREENWELL, DORA (1821–1882), poet and essayist, was born on 6 Dec. 1821 at Greenwell Ford in the county of Durham. Her father, an active country gentleman, became embarrassed, and when Dora was six-and-twenty their home was sold. Poverty, want of a settled home for many years, and very poor health served to deepen her religious views. For eighteen years she lived with her mother in Durham, and, after her mother's death, chiefly in London. An accident in 1881 seemed seriously to impair her delicate constitution, and she died on 29 March 1882.

Miss Greenwell began her career as an authoress by the publication of a volume of poems in 1848, the year that she left Greenwell Ford. It was well received, and was followed by another volume in 1850, ‘Stories that might be True, with other poems.’ A third volume appeared in 1861, and of this an enlarged edition was published in 1867. Her next volume of poems was called ‘Carmina Crucis’ 1869). These were her deepest and most characteristic effusions, ‘road-side songs, with both joy and sorrow in them.’ She afterwards published ‘Songs of Salvation’ (1873), ‘The Soul's Legend’ (1873), and ‘Camera Obscura’ (1876), all in verse. Her principal prose works, ‘The Patience of Hope’ (1860), ‘A Present Heaven’ (1855, reissued in 1867 as ‘The Covenant of Life and Peace’), and ‘Two Friends’ (2nd edit. 1867,with a sequel, ‘Colloquia Crucis,’ 1871), are full of deep and beautiful religious thought. A volume of ‘Essays’ appeared in 1866, consisting chiefly of pieces that had appeared in periodicals, and included ‘Our Single Women,’ originally an article in the ‘North British Review,’ February 1862, in which she earnestly pleaded for the extension of educated women's work, with a due regard to their appropriate sphere. Another of her books was a ‘Life of Lacordaire’ (1867), with whose character and views she was in many respects in close sympathy. She also wrote a memoir of the quaker John Woolman (1871), and ‘Liber Humanitatis: Essays on Spiritual and Social Life’ (1875).

To the American edition (1862) of the ‘Patience of Hope’ a preface was prefixed by Whittier, who classed the writer with Thomas à Kempis, Augustine, Fénelon, John Woolman, and Tauler. Whittier says of Miss Greenwell's work: ‘It assumes the life and power of the gospel as a matter of actual experience; it bears unmistakable evidence of a realisation on the part of the author of the truth that Christianity is not simply historical and traditional, but present and permanent, with its roots in the infinite past and its branches in the infinite future, the eternal spring and growth of divine love.’

[Memoirs of Dora Greenwell, by William Dorling, London, 1885; selections from her Poetical Works, by the same editor, in the Canterbury Poets, 1889; personal knowledge.]

W. G. B.