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Anna Jane Vardill Niven

The Authoress of “Christobell,”
The Sequel to Coleridge’s “Christabel.”
With a Bibliography.

William E. A. Axon, LL.D., F.R.S.L.

With an Additional Note on “Christabel.”

The publication, under the auspices of the Royal Society of Literature, of a facsimile of the MS of Coleridge’s “Christabel,” with critical apparatus by Mr. Ernest Hartley Coleridge, gives a new interest to a literary problem which, if not of first-rate importance, has certainly excited some curiosity for many years—that is the authorship of “Christobell,” that sequel to “Christabel” which appeared in print in the year before Coleridge’s poem was published.

In 1815 there appeared in the ‘European Magazine’ for April a poem entitled “Christobell, a Gothic Tale,” which the author states was “written as a sequel to a beautiful legend of a fair lady and her father, deceived by a witch in the guise of a noble knight’s daughter.”

This is an accurate description of Coleridge’s “Christabel,” which was not published until 1816 although written at the close of the eighteenth century. Strange to say the spelling adopted in the title of the sequel is one that Coleridge occasionally employed. Although not printed there were manuscript copies of “Christabel” in circulation among a limited circle, and one of these must have been seen by the contributor to the ‘European Magazine,’ who uses “V.” as a signature.

On examining this new edition of “Christabel,” for which Mr. E. H. Coleridge and the Royal Society of Literature deserve the high praise due to an excellent idea worthily executed, it occurred to me that it would be worth while to make an effort to identify the writer of “Christobell” in the ‘European Magazine.’ The thought came all the more readily that in former years I had been somewhat familiar with that periodical, and had carefully examined many of the volumes for quite other purposes of research. The results of my inquiry were given briefly in the ‘Bookman,’ August, 1907, and are now more fully stated.

I found that V. was a constant writer of verse and prose for the ‘European Magazine.’ The first contributor under that signature appeared in May, 1814 (p. 432); the last in April, 1822 (p. 325). The discontinuance of V.’s aid may, perhaps, be connected with the fact that under the new proprietors there had been a somewhat ungenerous reference to the Asperne family, to whom the magazine had previously belonged. (See the article “The Editor’s Converzatione[sic],” behind the title of the number for April, 1822, and also p. 374.) That V. was a woman may be concluded from the verses which appear in April, 1821 (p. 533), “The Editor’s Compliments of the Season to his Well-beloved Public, Readers, Contributors, and Correspondents,” in which he says:

Yes,—we’ll uncloak them all!—V., R., and D.,
Delta, and T., and S. W. X. Izzard.
For when their goodly articles ye see,
And hang delighted o’er them, it is hard
The writers should, like money lenders, be
Concealed behind so strange and thick a vizard,
That e’en to guess them you are quite unable—
’Tis sitting at the play without a play-bill.

After some reference to himself the editor proceeds:

What, Variella, can we wish to thee?
For thou possessest all that’s dear unto man;
Wit, talents, erudition, though they be
Not always so delightful in a woman;
Yet those who read thy tales and poems, see
A soaring mind, and genius most uncommon.
Still, still soar on! In prose and verse still charm us,
For whilst thou leadst the van, there’s nought can harm us.

The signature “Variella” does not appear in the ‘European Magazine,’ but the description given of her work applies to the articles signed V., though a modern reader might, perhaps, be less enthusiastic in his praise.

Amongst the contributions to which V.’s signature is attached is one that appears in December, 1817, which is headed “Anacreontic, by the late Rev. Dr. Vardill” (p. 550). This suggests a relationship between V. and the author of the “Anacreontic.”

The Rev. John Vardill, D.D., was a graduate of King’s College, New York, now Columbia University, and was a tutor in that institution. In 1771 he embarked for England for the purpose of taking Holy Orders; was created M.A. of Oxford June 28th of that year, in which he was also elected assistant rector of Trinity Church, New York. He declined the office and did not return to America. He was a Loyalist, and for a time was employed by the British Government. In 1785 he was in Ireland. He was the author of some poetical satires on the Whigs, and Trumbull, in his ‘McFingul,’ says:

In Vardill that poetic zealot,
I view a Lawn bedizen’d prelate:
While mitres fall, as is their duty,
On heads of Chandler and Auchmuty.

He died in England in 1811, at the age of fifty-nine, Rector of Skirbeck and Fishtoft, Lincolnshire.[1]

Another poem of his, “The Spirit of Toussaint; a Fragment,” appeared in the ‘European Magazine,’ for July, 1814 (p. 46). An inscription for a memorial tablet appears in February, 1811 (p. 134), from the pen of his daughter, and the editor, in eulogising her beauty and literary attainments, mentions that “several instances” of her talents have appeared in the magazine.

Anna Jane Vardill was the authoress of two volumes of verse, one anonymous and the other bearing her name on the title-page. The first in point of time was: ‘Poems and Translations from the Minor Greek Poets and Others: Written chiefly between the ages of ten and sixteen, by a Lady. Dedicated by Permission of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Charlotte of Wales.’ (London: Asperne, 1809.) This is reviewed in the ‘European’ for February (p. 142). Another eulogium appeared in the ‘Poetical Register’ for 1808-9 (p. 612) which was edited by R. A. Davenport. The copper-plate of the engraved title-page designed by the authoress is still in existence, and has been lent for the illustration of this paper by Mr. J. Arthur Slingsby.

The authoress states that, “a most indulgent father, in the retirement permitted by his station in the church, found amusement in familiarising his only child with the poets of antiquity.” She passed the early part of her life in the village of Gatehouse of Fleet, Galloway, Scotland, “noted for the extensive cotton works of a near relation.” The poets from whom she translates are Anacreon, who occupies the greater part of her attention, Sappho, Alcaeus, Theocritus, and Horace. An “Address to the Patrons of the Refuge for the Destitute,” written by her for the Anniversary Dinner, January 26th, 1809, is given in the January ‘Magazine’ (p. 78; cf. p. 141). An enlarged edition of the ‘Poems’ appeared in the same year, and is noticed in the August number (p. 126). A third edition appeared in 1816. The little volume includes an “Address to the Ancient and Honourable Society of Freemasons, at the Anniversary Meeting for the Benefit of their Charity School, April 14th, 1809”; and three hymns, namely, “Occasional Hymn for a Benevolent Society” (“Almighty Love call’d into birth”), p. 178; second occasional hymn, sung by the Freemasons’ orphans (“When faint and comfortless we strayed”), p. 179; third occasional hymn (“Sublimer than the choral song”), p. 18.

As a fair specimen of these earlier verses we may quote:



From Presburg’s plain, from Buda’s tow’rs,
 From old Carpathian mountains drear,
To bounteous halls and fruitful bow’rs
 We chartered libertines repair.[1]
Here by the Danube’s silent wave,
Or ’mid the shades of Szelitz cave,
 Our ample feast we share:
And round the bowl with fearless glee,
 Rejoice in love and liberty.


And oft the Vaivod’s fur-clad dame
 Soft-smiling thro’ her azure veil,
In whispers tells some cherished name,
 And fondly hears our mystic tale:
While where the honied chesnut dwells,
Or where the melting melon swells
 In Temeswara’s dale,
We fill the bowl with fearless glee,
 And sing of love and liberty.


And when o’er Torna’s[2] saffron fields
 Our chiefs the flying elks pursue,
The prize a richer banquet yields
 Than Ban or Pandour[3] ever knew;
Then where the herb of wisdom[4] glows,
Or where to Kazan nectar flows,
 We bid our cares adieu;
While round the bowl with fearless glee
 We sing of love and liberty.


Now though in Alpine wood no more
 Our lawless revelry we hide;
Tho’ chas’d from Elba’s envied shore
 By Saxon wealth and Saxon pride,
Still o’er this gem-fraught mountain’s head,
Or to yon river’s golden bed[5]
 Our weary feet we guide;
Then round the bowl with fearless glee,
 We sing of love and liberty!


  1. Gipsies, so numerous in Europe for about 400 years, are now scarcely seen except in Hungary. From Saxony and the Alpine regions they have been expelled by special edicts. (‘Grellman’s Dissertation on the Gipsies.’) 
  2. A fertile district in Upper or Northern Hungary at the feet of the Carpathian hills, and not far from the celebrated cave of Szelitz, and the vineyards of Tokay. 
  3. Titles of German nobility. 
  4. Tobacco which abounds there. 
  5. Gold mines and precious stones are frequent among the Carpathian mountains. 

Her second work was: “The Pleasures of Human Life” (London, 1812). At p. 86 is a reference to her father, and in a note (p. 99) she says: “These and the subsequent lines are a feeble tribute to the memory of a most revered and lamented father, whose death is still recent. His keen wit and fluent eloquence were enriched by the mildest urbanity, and his profound scholastic knowledge by the most endearing social virtues. His presence was the light of his domestic circle, and gave joy to every society he entered. Ever devoting his rare talents to the purest philanthropy, he beautified religion by his example.” Miss Vardill does not refer to her father’s interest in the drama, but a play entitled “The Unknown ” was performed at the Surrey Theatre in 1819, and was written by Dr. Vardill.[2]

There is a long and eulogistic notice of the “Pleasures of Human Life” in the ‘European’ for April, 1812, and in the course of it her authorship of ‘Poems and Translations’ is revealed (p. 275).

The ‘European Magazine’ for November, 1813, contains an “Epitaph designed for William Franklin, Esq., late Governer of New Jersey, Ob. Nov. 16, aged 82.” This is signed A. J. V. So are the “Elegiac Versos on the Death of Miss Charlotte Demys” who died at the age of 15, in the number for October, 1815 (p. 857). The third edition of ‘Poems and Translations,’ does not include any of V.’s contributions, but neither does it include the pieces signed A. J. V. The probable reason is the desire to preserve the character of the first volume as a collection of juvenilia. The identity of V. and Anna Jane Vardill is pretty clearly indicated in a poem in the ‘European’ for September, 1819[sic] (vol. lxxiv, p. 261).


Addressed and inscribed to Miss V******

“No envy mingles with my praise,
 Though could my heart repine;
At any Poet’s happier lays,
 It would,—it must at Thine!”


Round the cloud-kissing margin of Helicon’s spring,
To the lute of Apollo the Graces were dancing;
But the Muses had quarrell’d, and now to their King,
To beg his decision, their steps were advancing,
Yet deem not, that their’s was that contest of hate,
Which sours with its passions all mortal debate;—
No!—Harmony e’en from their discord arose,
And when friends thus dispute, they can never be foes!
—But now for the cause,—To a daughter of earth,
Whom Science, and Poetry, blest at her birth,
The Sisters had given so much of their art,
And so much with their protegée’s skill were delighted;
That, while each wish’d to rule unrestrain’d in her heart,
They all were averse to sway o’er it united.

Cried Thalia, “She’s mine!—every trace of her pen
Has shewn it already, will prove it again,—
Lampidosa’s wild Legends, all genius, are glowing
With wit, like our Helicon’s rill, ever flowing;
Not dismal, and sad, like a Melo-drame, darkling!
But lively and bright, with my gaiety sparkling,—
While Humanity’s pleasures proclaim in each line,
That their Authoress must be a pupil of mine!”

With an air somewhat proud,—like a Goddess when vext,
Stern Melpomené spoke, and her claim advanced next;
To her Sister she said, “Flirting trifler! away,—
Shall the mind which I’ve form’d for all hearts to admire;
Yield its powers to the fancies of thy fickle sway,
And be ruled by the whims of the laughing Thalia?
Forbid it, those feelings inspired by her lay,
When the Rosebud of Britain had faded away!
When the Bride’s Dirge of death round the Green Island floated,
And its voice o’er the Silver Sea,—woe had denoted!—
Like my Byron she thrills every nerve of the soul,
Terror, pity, and love, own her magic controul,
And spell-bound by me, with dark Tragedy’s zone,
The strains of fair Anna, are strains of my own!”

’Twould be useless to tell, all the con’s, and the pro’s,
And the pleadings, which long before Phœbus arose,
How Clio,—Euterpé—Calliopé, join’d
To establish their claims to the realm of her mind,
Till at length, said Apollo,—“Let jarring no more,
Be heard from those lips, which all Music should be;
But soften your glances, and peace to restore,
Attend my decision, and mark my decree.
To none but to me can your Anna belong,
Who dare claim without rival, this votary of song?

When, e'en by yourselves it is own’d, that Earth’s daughter
Excells all alike, in the arts ye have taught her;—
No more then, betwixt ye, her talents shall lay,
She must be your equal,—the Muse of her day!
And, trust me, her genius your own will advance,
For all gifts shall unite, in—The Muse of Romance!”

Thursday, Sept. 24th, 1818


In this, whilst several of V.’s contributions are identified, her Christian name, Anna, is also revealed.

Apart from “ Christobell,” there is one of Miss Vardill’s contributions to the ‘European Magazine’ that demands special notice. An anonymous poem, sometimes called “Lines to a Skeleton,” sometimes “Lines to a Skull,” has had a wide popularity and has been included in various anthologies. Finding it in “Weeds and Wild Flowers, gathered by William Wrightson” (York: J. Hodgson, 1868), I attributed the verses to him in an article which appeared in ‘Notes and Queries’ (seventh series, xii, 481).

I find it, however, with the signature of V. in the ‘European’ for November, 1816. It will be worth while to give this impressive poem as it came from the author’s pen, for the text is sometimes found modified, and not always for the better.


Behold this ruin! ’twas a skull,
Once of etherial[sic] spirit full:
This narrow cell was Life’s retreat;
This space was Thought’s mysterious seat.
What beauteous pictures fill’d that spot!
What dreams of pleasure long forgot!
Nor Love, nor Joy, nor Hope, nor Fear,
Has left one trace, one record here!

Beneath this mould’ring canopy
Once shone the bright and busy eye;
But start not at the dismal void!—
If Social Love that eye employed:
If with no lawless fire it gleam’d,
But through the dew of kindness beam’d:—
That eye shall be for ever bright,
When stars and suns have lost their light.

Here in this silent cavern hung
The ready, swift, and tuneful tongue:
If Falsehood’s honey it disdain’d,
And when it could not praise was chain’d;—
If bold in Virtue’s cause it spoke,
Yet gentle Concord never broke:
That tuneful tongue shall plead for Thee
When Death unveils Eternity.

Say, did these fingers delve the mine?
Or with its envied rubies shine?
To hew the rock, or wear the gem,
Can nothing now avail to them:
And if the page of truth they sought,
And comfort to the mourner brought,
These hands a richer meed shall claim
Than all that waits on wealth or fame.

Avails it whether bare or shod,
These feet the path of duty trod
If from the bower of joy they fled
To soothe Affliction’s humble bed:
If Grandeur’s guilty bribe they spurn’d,
And home to Virtue’s lap return’d;—
Those feet with angel’s wings shall vie,
And tread the palace of the sky!

Mr. E. H. Coleridge had been inclined to attribute “Christobell” to James Hogg, but on these notes being submitted to him he has adopted the theory they are intended to support and at once supplied an important piece of additional evidence. How came V. to be familiar with Coleridge’s work? The answer is to he found in the “Diary” of Henry Crabb Robinson, who records:

December 19th, 1814. Took tea with the Flaxman’s and read to them and Miss Vardel [so he spells the name here, though elsewhere more correctly, Vardill] Coleridge’s ‘Christobell’ with which they were all delighted, Flaxman more than I expected. (‘Diary’ i, 465.)

I have been obliged to give these facts in some detail in order to show the process of identification. To me they appeared conclusive, and it was a great gratification to find that they convinced Mr. E. H. Coleridge, to whom one naturally looks for light and leading in Coleridgean problems.

Some biographical details have incidentally been given in this statement of the data which convinced me that Miss Vardill was the writer of “Christobell.” It is more than half a century since she died, but I have been able to communicate with representatives and friends of the family and in this way to add some additional facts.[3] That she wrote “Christobell” was known to her relations.

The authoress of “Christobell” was born November 19th, 1781, at 81, Norton Street, Portland Road, London. She began to write at a very early age. Her first volume contained poems written between ten and sixteen. Two letters from Lord Moira have been preserved which relate to the negotiations about the dedication of the book to that hapless princess whose untimely death was so greatly mourned.

December 10th, 1808.

MY DEAR SIR,—I am happy to tell you that Princess Charlotte accepts with great pleasure the dedication of Miss Vardill’s Poems, and there is no necessity for Miss Vardill’s name appearing on the title-page or subjoined to the dedication if her delicacy would wish it otherwise. Your very obedient servant,


W. Forsteen, Esq.

* * *

St. James’ Place,

February 11th, 1809.

MADAM,—My own acknowledgments for the book with which you honoured me appeared a poor return for your flattering compliments, and they seemed still more inadequate when measured with the gratification which I had in the perusal of your Poems. I therefore wished to render them less inacceptable by transmitting at the same time those thanks which I knew the Prince of Wales would commission me to offer as soon as he should have been able to read the work. It is with peculiar satisfaction that I now obey his commands in expressing to you, madam, the Prince’s sense of your polite attention as well as his assurance of the pleasure he found in what he has been studying. Insignificant as my professions of obligation must be after those of His Royal Highness, allow me still to add them, and believe, madam, that I have the honour to remain

Your very obedient and humble servant,


Miss Vardill.

She was a most constant contributor to the ‘European Magazine’ whilst it was the property of the Asperne family. The editor appreciated her work: “The Contributions [sic: Communications] of V.,” he says, “are always acceptable” (vol. lxvii, 377), and again: “We can assure our correspondent Henricus—N.O.P.—M.A.L—T.P.A.—L. of Bath and several other inquirers that the beautiful Poetical Tales signed V. are original and not extracted from the works of either Scott, Southey or Lord Byron” (vol. xvii [sic: lxvii], 473). She ceased to write for it soon after it changed hands. It must be observed, however, that the Aspernes relinquished the proprietorship at a period when another and absorbing interest was entering into her life. After her marriage to Mr. James Niven, of Glenarm, on May 17th, 1822, at the New Church, Marylebone, she ceased, if not to write, at all events to publish. We catch glimpses of her before and after marriage in Crabb Robinson’s ‘Diary.’ We read:

March 1st, 1820. Took tea at Flaxman’s. I had not seen him since his loss. There was an unusual tenderness in his manner. He insisted on making me a present of several books, Dante’s ‘Penitential Psalms’ and [a blank in the Diary], both in Italian, and ‘Erasmus’s Dialogues’ as if he thought he might be suddenly taken away and wihed me to have some memorial of him.

The visit, on the whole, was a comfortable one. I then sat an hour with Miss Vardill, who related an interesting anecdote of Madame de Staël. A country girl, the daughter of a clergyman, had accidentally met with an English translation of ‘Delphine’ and ‘Corinne,’ which powerfully affected her in her secluded life as quite to turn her brain. And hearing that Madame de Staël was in London she wrote to her, offering to become her attendant or amanuensis. Madame de Staël’s secretary, in a formal answer, declined the proposal. But her admirer was so intent on being in her service in some way that she came up to London and stayed a few days with a friend, who took her to the great novelist, and speaking in French, gave a hint of the young girl’s mind. Madame de Staël, with great promptitude and kindness, administered the only remedy that was likely to be effectual. The girl almost threw herself at her feet, and earnestly begged to be received by her. The Baroness very kindly, but decidedly, remonstrated with her on the folly of her desire. ‘You may think,’ she said, ‘it is an enviable lot to travel over Europe and see all that is most beautiful and distinguished in the world, but the joys of home are more solid, domestic life affords more permanent happiness than any that fame can give. You have a father—I have none; you have a home—I was led to travel because I was driven from mine. Be content with your lot: if you knew mine you would not desire it.’ With such admonitions she dismissed the petitioner. The cure was complete. The young woman returned to her father, became more steadily industrious, and without even speaking of her adventure with Madame de Staël, silently profited by it. She is now living a life of great respectability, and her friends consider that her cure was wrought by the only hand by which it could have been effected.”

In 1820 he writes:

During this year I was made executor to a Mrs. Vardill, a character. She was the widow of a clergyman, an American loyalist, a friend of old General Franklyn. The will had this singular devise in it, that Mrs. Vardill left the residue of her estate, real and personal, to accumulate till her daughter, Mrs. Niven, was fifty-two years of age. I mention this will, however, to refer to one of the most remarkable and interesting law cases which our courts of law have witnessed since the union of England and Scotland. The litigation arose not out of the will, but out of a pending suit, to take from her property in her possession. The question was whether a child legitimated in Scotland by the marriage (after his birth) of his father and mother can inherit lands in England. But, happily for my friend, the English lawyers were almost unanimously of the opposite opinion. Connected with this decision is an act of Lord Brougham’s, so curious that it deserves a place in the future biography of his lordship. I will therefore relate it here. The trial, at York, took place while Mrs. Vardill lived. The special verdict was argued in B. R., and judgment given unanimously in favour of the defendant.[4] There was then an appeal to the House of Lords, and it was argued before Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst.[5] The judges attended, and a certificate was put in giving an opinion also in our favour, but Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst went out of office without giving judgment. Brougham came in office. Nothing was done. As we were in possession with a judgment in our favour, it was not our business to stir. And so matters remained till we were startled, not to say alarmed, by Lord Brougham’s rising in the House[6] and making a speech to this effect: ‘I have to move that a case which has long been waiting for your lordships’ judgment—Birtwhistle v. Vardill—should be argued again by a single counsel, that judgment may be given.’ He then stated the point, and proceeded: ‘I argued the case for the English heir, and my argument was successful, for the learned judges were wrong. In fact, my lords, the learned counsel who argued the case for the Scotch heir never understood the case, and the right argument was not used. I knew that it was, and I knew that I had no answer to it. I therefore move that it be heard again.’[7] On this Lord Lyndhurst rose and said, that the case had been argued by the noble and learned lord on one side, and by very eminent and distinguished persons on the other: and he agreed that it ought to be argued again. The argument was, of course, ordered. Now, what makes this so curious is that the argument which was delivered, as Lord Brougham said, by one who did not understand the case, was the argument of Lord Brougham himself. This blunder is easily accounted for.

On the trial at York, Mrs. Vardill’s counsel were Scarlett, Brougham, and Courtenay. After the verdict, when I had become interested as devisee in trust, I spoke with Brougham on the subject, and he said, ‘Don’t flatter yourself that we shall succeed, for the law is against us. We have not a leg to stand on.’ Knowing this I objected to Brougham’s being chosen to argue the case before the Lords (before B. R. Courtenay as the junior argued it, and he had a brief to take notes). It being found that we had left Brougham out before the Lords (we had Scarlett and Conrtenay), the plaintiff put in Brougham and Tindal. Brougham felt very strongly in this case. His whole heart and soul were in it. When it was argued for the last time by Attorney-General Campbell for the plaintiff in error, and by Dumpier for the defendant, Brougham was very busy running from one judge to another. Our attorney, Mr. Law, heard him say to Campbell after leaving some of the judges, ‘Damn ‘em, I can’t shake them.’

On October 1st of that year Crabb Robinson visited the Nivens at their house at Kirkcudbright and made this entry in his ‘Diary.’

Mr. Niven, no slanderer of his countrymen, related to me in a few words a tale, which in every incident makes one think how Walter Scott would have worked it up. Sir — Gordon wilfully shot his neighbour. The man might have been cured, but he preferred dying, that his murderer might be hanged. The Gordon fled, and lived many years in exile, till he was visited by a friend, Sir — Maxwell, who persuaded him that the affair was forgotten, and that be might return. The friends travelled together in Edinburgh, and there they attended together the public worship of God in the Kirk. In the middle of the service the Maxwell cried aloud, ‘Shut all the doors, here is a murderer!’ The Gordon was seized, tried, and hanged, and the Maxwell obtained from the Crown a grant of a Castle, and the noble demesnes belonging to it. The account was given to me while I was visiting the picturesque ruins of the castle.

Mr. Niven died February 11th, 1830, at the age of sixty-one. There was one child of the marriage, Agnes Vardill Niven, who was born January 24th, 1825. After her husband’s death Mrs. Niven returned to England and lived mainly at Woolwich Common and Skipton in Craven, where she died June 4th, 1852. Some letters written by her to her cousin Mrs. Kissock are in the possession of that lady’s daughter, Mrs. Candlish, but they are almost exclusively of domestic interest. The only child of Anna Vardill and James Niven died unmarried at Skipton October 7th, 1872, as I learn from her godson Mr. Arthur Helder Kaberry. Mrs. Niven left behind her in MS a diary extending from November, 1837, to September, 1848. It consists almost exclusively of accounts and of memoranda as to her property. The entries show, however, that during her widowhood she made some tours at home and abroad. Hastings, the Lake District, Buxton, Bristol, Oxford, Stratford-on-Avon, Bath are mentioned, and in 1843 she visited France and Italy. Milan, Parma, Modena, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Turin are amongst the places mentioned in this journey, which extended over ten months. She was again in France in 1845 and in 1847, when she also visited Scotland. The diary also records letters sent to Miss Mitford, and has many references to H. Crabb Robinson and the legal matters in which he represented her interests. Mr. Slingsby also possesses a MS written in 1830 for her daughter. It has prefixed to it a letter of great interest, which reads:

December 31, 1830.

MY DEAR LITTLE DAUGHTER,—The trifles you will find in my portfolio were chiefly written for a young friend not more than twice your age. She had a very infirm mother, for whose amusement she placed a little box of Athenian cedar, the gift of Professor Flaxman, in the corner of her drawing-room: and all who were acquainted with the aperture in its side slid in such pieces of prose or verse they thought acceptable. On the first and second Wednesdays of the winter months the Attic Chest was unlocked by its owner after tea, and the contents read to the small party of her select friends. On the last of these evenings each acknowledged his or her share, and a dance concluded the social pastime. My dear friend’s marriage with Sir John Franklin, whose adventures at the North Pole you have already heard, and her early death closed the Attic Chest; and its principal contributors, Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s only son, Dr. Hutton [or Hatton] and his grandson, Flaxman and his gifted wife and sisters, William Mayley and two or three friends of Walter Scott and Lord Byron Coleridge and Wordsworth, are gone from us. Many of the tales composed in prose or verse have appeared in annuals or other miscellanies, some you will find in manuscript, and three were added lately, to preserve in remembrance facts which seemed to prove that many evils in a woman’s life might be prevented by an early knowledge of the laws which regulate her place and property. This year deprived you of the Father who would have guarded both, therefore I can offer you no better gift for the next.[8]

The “Imitations of Minor Greek Poets” and the “Pleasures of Human Life” were intended only for the perusal of a fond parent and partial friend—your Grandfather and Lindley Murray. The fragments of the Attic Chest are more calculated for your amusement, having been collected from the conversation of the antiquaries, travellers and civilians who attended its owner’s happy evenings. The pleasures of remembering such conversations is one of the many advantages gained by a habit of attention to every source of knowledge. If these relics enliven or improve yours, the Attic Chest will be still delightful to your fond mother, A. J. N. Probably the portfolio named in the letter contained printed copies of such contributions to the Attic Chest as had been published. The list includes many that appeared in the ‘European Magazine.’

The first wife of Sir John Franklin was Eleanor Jane Porden, a lady of literary tastes, some of whose poems were printed and had a certain amount of success in the social circles in which she moved. She died in 1825.

The unsolved problem of “Christabel” is the character of Geraldine. Who and what is she? On the answer to this question depends the nature of any possible sequel to Coleridge’s magnificent fragment. The poet, whilst declaring that he had the story all complete in his mind, appears to have kept the secret locked in his own breast. There is no hint extant as to his intentions. Anna Vardill’s continuation of the legend is as wild as Coleridge’s poem, and although it is not so beautiful, it is not without a weird charm. For her Geraldine is the Witch of the lake, who has for a time escaped from Merlin’s spell. The Magician raises the spirit of Sir Leoline’s dead wife and from her learns that Geraldine’s power will pass away at the moment of the espousal of Christobell and her own true knight. And with the discomfiture of Geraldine the story ends. How well the Coleridgean manner is echoed may be shown by two quotations:

Lord Leoline sat in chair of pride,
The white-armed stranger by his side—
O bright was the glance she gave to view,
When back her amaranth locks she threw!
It was like the moon’s on the fouutain brim
When the amber clouds around her skim:
The rubies that on her bosom flamed
Seemed of her richer lips ashamed:
There never was lovely lady seen
Like the stranger-guest, fair Geraldine.

A messenger brings a goblet of crysolite with a message from Sir Roland. The goblet is filled by Sir Leoline, who places it in the lady’s hand:

But the crysolite changed as she touched its brim
And the gem on its sapphire edge grew dim—
The lamps are quenched in their sockets of gold,
The hour is past and the bell has toll’d.

Then comes the transformation scene, for as the spells of Geraldine are exhausted she falls again under the more potent influence of Merlin:

There sits a dame of royal mien,
But her lips are pearly, her locks are green;
The eyder-down hides her speckled breast,
The fangs of the sea-wolf clasp her vest;
And those orbs, once bluer than western skies,
Are shrunk to the rings of a serpent’s eyes!

 ‘Witch of the lake, I know thee now!
 Thrice three hundred years are gone
 Since beneath my cave,
 In the western wave,
I doom’d thee to rue and weep alone,
And writ thy shame on thy breast and brow.

‘But thou and thy envious fiends in vain
Have risen to mock my power again:—

The spell which in thy bosom worketh,
 No holy virgin’s lip can stain:
The spell that in thy false eye lurketh,
 But for an hour can truth enchain:

‘Not ev’n thy serpent eye could keep
Its ire near guiltless beauty’s sleep;
The Spirit of Evil could not dare
To look on heav’n,—for heav’n is there.
 Thy hour is past—thy spells I sever,—

 Witch of the lake descend for ever!’

So ends “Christobell.”

It is not claimed that Anna Vardill can be placed in any conspicuous position among the women writers of Britain. But high culture, artistic taste and a poetical temperament were certainly hers. She shared in the enthusiasm of the age that, breaking conventional trammels, felt the magic of the legends and the folklore to be found on the Scottish hills and in the Yorkshire dales. Her talent, though not strikingly original, was sympathetic to the same influences that moved Scott and Byron. In the one effort by which she will now be remembered Anna Vardill caught the echo of Coleridge’s wild and spiritual music. In her “Christobell” we have something of the glamour of the great poet who had fed on honey-dew,

“And drunk the milk of Paradise.”


  1. ‘Biographical Sketches of the American Revolution,’ by Lorenzo Sabine (Boston, 1864), vol. ii, p. 381: Foster’s ‘Alumnae[sic] Oxoniensis’ for 1864. 
  2. R. Inglis, in ‘Notes and Queries,’ second series, ii, 437. 
  3. I have to express my warm thanks to Mr. John. P. Allan, writer, Glasgow, Mr. Charles Birtwhistle, J.P., Stroud, Mr. Adam Brown, writer, Kircudbright, Mrs. Anna Jane Niven Candlish, Leicester, Mr. Arthur H. Kaberry, Scarborough, and Mr. J. Arthur Slingsby, J.P., Skipton, to whom I am specially indebted for important and precise data. 
  4. See 5 Barnwall and Creswell’s ‘Reports,’ p. 438. 
  5. In 1830. 
  6. September 2nd. 1835. 
  7. This is a paraphrase only of Lord Brougham’s speech, which will be found fully reported in 2 Clark and Finelly’s ‘Reports of Cases in the House of Lords,’ p. 582. But the official report shows that his Lordship stated himself to have argued the case in support of the English heir’s claim, and to have succeeded on grounds which he had maintained professionally at the Bar, but which were unsatisfactory to himself sitting in the House as a judge, whereas it would appear he had really held a brief and argued for the Scotch heir. 
  8. This refers to three articles which Mrs. Niven has dated 1830, described in the table of contents as: “A Little Girl’s Law-Book”, Part I: “A Young Lady’s Law-Book,” Part II: “An Old Lawyer’s Legends,” Part III. 


Poems and Translations from the Minor Greek Poets and Others: Written chiefly between the ages of ten and sixteen, by a Lady. Dedicated by permission to Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte of Wales. London: Asperne, 1809, pp. 165. The original verses are as follows:

The Battle of Trafalgar (an irregular ode); The Rights of Woman (a burlesque essay); Inscription design’d for the Statue of William Pitt; Address to the Patrons of the Refuge for the Destitute; On the Statue of Sir John Moore at Glasgow; Address to the Hon. Society of Freemasons, written for their Anniversary Meeting.

Six Sonnets Descriptive of Scenes in the West of Scotland: (1) On a View of Castrainmon; (2) On the River Dee, near Kirkcudbright; (3) On the Fleet, near Gatehouse; (4) On Raeberie Hill; (5) On Ross-Isle, near Balmae; (6) On Balmae House.

Six Sonnets to the Memory of a Young Friend.

Occasional Trifles: To the Hon. Miss C. on Her First Introduction at Court; To Two Sisters; The Favourites, a Tale; On a Silver Tea Chest, Presented to the Right Hon. Lady C.; The Power of Fancy; To a Young Lady on her return to Copenhagen; The Birth-day; On the Portrait of an Infant God-daughter; Enigma Found in a Lady’s Instrument; On Lindley Murray’s Works; On an Ice Plant.

Imitations of Various Styles of Poetry: A Persian Dirge; An Hungarian Gipsy’s Song; A Wandering Savoyard’s Tale; A Spanish Serenade and Reply; A Portuguese Rondeau from Camoens; A Sonnet from Petrarch; An Italian Madrigal; A Portrait from the French; A French Madrigal; A Scotch Ballad; An Ancient Minstrel’s Lay. Songs: A Canzonet for Three Friends, written at thirteen years of age; War Song sent to the Craven Legion; A Song for the 19th Century; A Welsh Student’s Wish; Burlesque Translation into Macaroni Verse; The Married Traveller’s Return; A Parody on the Preceding; The Philosopher’s Return; Goeleb’s Apology, Written for an Harmonic Society; On Earl Moira’s Marriage to the Countess of Loudoun; Three Hymns for Benevolent Societies; Lord P…’s Epistle to the Hon. Colonel C...n; Addenda.

There was a second edition in 1812. The third edition has also “An Essay on Music.” To this is the following foot-note: “This essay was begun at ten years of age. The writer’s accidental loss of sight detained it from the press till the third edition had been published.” The copy of the third edition in the British Museum is dated 1809. The explanation is that an engraved as well as a printed title-page was issued in 1809, and this was inserted in each subsequent edition with the number of the edition printed on it, but retaining the printers’ imprint of 1809.

The British Museum copy of the third edition has lost the printed title-page and retains only the engraved one of 1809. No doubt it was issued after 1816. Another bibliographical curiosity about the third edition is that the page on which the “Essay on Music” begins is numbered 199, the leaf immediately preceding it, and which formed the last leaf of the second edition, being ignored altogether, although it contains two small poems, the pagination following on from the leaf preceding that which was numbered 198.

The Pleasures of Human Life, a Poem; by Anna Jane Vardill. London: Printed for Longmans, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, by James Ballantyne & Co., Edinburgh, 1812, 4to, pp. [3] 100.


[In this list the pieces are in verse and signed “V.” unless otherwise noted.]

Vol. lix, p. 136, Inscription for Tablet to Memory of the Rev. Dr. John Vardill, by his Daughter.

lxiv, 430, Epitaph Designed for William Franklin. (A.J.V.)

lxvi, 435, The Outcast: an Indian Tale.

lxvii, 55, Lomond’s Isle; 241, Count Bertram; 543, Christobell: a Gothic Tale; 442, The Warden of Carlisle; 539, The Bridal Eve: a Hermit’s Legend.

lxviii, 53, St. Hubert’s Vigil; 157, Don Sebastian; 253, Eric and Amabel; 355, Hohenhelm; 357, Elegiac Verses on the Death of Miss Caroline Demys (A. J. V.); 441, De Courcy; 534, Love’s Visit (this is not signed but is the last of the “Legends of the Hermitage” which form the six preceding).

lxix, 58, The Invisible Cap: a Tradition of Tabby Hall; 151, The Rivals (second tradition); 247, The Wreath (third tradition); 341, Ridicule versus Pocket (fourth tradition); 446, Sir Jerome’s Heiress (fifth tradition); 544, Roderic’s Dream (sixth tradition).

lxx, 8, 116, 204, 296, 397, 496, Memoirs of a Recluse (in prose); 68, Fifty Years Ago (seventh tradition); 166, Bibo de Montefiesco (eighth tradition); 261, Cupid at School (the last tradition of Tabby Hall); 362, Happiness: a Fragment; 457, Brown Bread Found in an Attic Poet’s Cupboard: A Fragment Found in a Skeleton Case; 54-3, The Festival of Nauruz.

lxxi, 20, 97, 191, Memoirs of a Recluse (continued); 65, The Legend of Dunbar;152, A Yorkshire Legend; 289, 385, 481, Legends of Lampidosa: Collected by a Recluse (in prose); 442, The Lost Dove.

lxxii, 6, 102, 201, 297, 411, Legends of Lampidosa (continued ); 69, A Relic from Waterloo; 70, Another Relic; 158, The New Coinage: written for a Literary Society opened by a Ball July 14th; 263, The Hall of Flowers: an Irish Legend;358, The Pearl Island: a Fragment; 449, The Bride’s Dirge [on the Death of Princess Charlotte]; 49-3, Extracts from a Lawyer’s Portfolio (in prose); 550, Anacreontic, by the late Rev. Dr. Vardill; 551, English versus French.

lxiiii, 9, 97, 193, 289, 385, 473, Extracts from a Lawyer’s Portfolio (continued) (in prose); 63, Time to Beauty; 153, The Chapel of the Isle: a Fragment; 257, The Elfin Arrow: Found on the Coast of Malta; 343, The Progress of Music; 435, A Highland Husband’s Gift: From a MS in the McGregor Family; 526, On a Lady’s Kaleidoscope.

lxxiv, 9, 97, Extracts from a Lawyer’s Portfolio (continued) (in prose); 61, The Arctic Navigator’s Prayer; 62, The Canal and the Brook; 162, Prologue to a Play Acted in a Nobleman’s Barn; 162, Epilogue; 193 Extracts from an Arctic Navigator’s Journal (in prose); 259, Winter in the Country to Winter in the Town; 289, An Arctic Islander in London (in prose); 356, The Arctic Moon; 385, Origin of an Arctic Colony (in prose); 439, Sir Locrine; 481, Relics of Popular Superstitions [Observed near Park Gate, West of Scotland] (in prose); 536, The Banquet Song of the Tonga Islanders: verified from a literal translation.

lxxv, 9, 105, [St. Mark’s Eve in Yorkshire] 208, 297, 393, 487, Relics of Popular Superstitions (continued) (in prose); 54, The Queen’s Bower; 148, The Lykewake Dirge; 262, The Carnival of Corfu; 355, A Bridal Serenade: By a modern Welsh Harper; 454, The Glow-worm to the Moon; 544, The Minute Bell; 9, Tales of To-day (in prose), (first not signed); 105, (signed V.), 201, 297. 393, 489.

lxxvi, 66, Another Edition of Edwin and Angelina: from a Collector’s Portfolio; 165, On a New Made Grave near Bolton Priory; 265, Winter in Town to Winter in the Country; 356, The Blind Traveller; 455, The Marine Society’s Appeal to the Ladies of Great Britain; 456, The Prodigal to His Wife; 543, Le Pas Trois: an epigram from M. de Lewis.

lxxvii, 9, Tales of To-day (continued); 53, The Pilfering Poet’s Apology to his Judges; 153, Annals of Public Justice: The High Court of Justiciary and a Gipsy Chief (in prose); 166, The Eldest King of Britain: Llewellyn’s Dream [on the Deaths of George III and the Duke of Kent]; 201, Annals, etc.: an Austrian Assassin (in prose); 260, A Walk to Ilkley; 297, Annals, etc.: The Western Assize Court in 1689 (in prose); 357, On Seeing the Flower called Honesty in a Lady’s Cap; 393, Annals, etc.: The Bronze Statue (in prose); 430, The White Horse of Wharfdale; 489, Annals, etc.: The Brothers of Dijon (in prose); 536, St. Valentine’s Eve, or the Fireside Fairies.

lxxxviii, 13, Annals, etc.: The Czar and the Czarawitz (in prose); 105, Annals, etc.: The Traveller’s Dream (in prose); 153, A Freemason’s Epitaph near Bagdad; 201, Annals, etc.: Il due Gobbi (in prose); 263, An Englishman’s Farewell to a Converzazione; 297, Annals, etc.: The Black Gondola (in prose); 352, An Exile’s Dream; 389, Annals, etc.: Count Orloff’s Divorce (in prose); 454, The Yew in Skipton Castle; 489, Annals, etc.: Queen Mary’s Cross (in prose); 548, The Farewell Cup to the Dead at a Highland Funeral.

lxxix, 9, 105, 202, 303, 400, The Secrets of Cabalism (in prose); 73, A Christmas Carol; 167, The Pelican and the Swan; 229, An Unexpected Heir’s Legacy; 259, The Stroll of the Last Sylph; 360, A Fragment from a Lawyer’s Portfolio; 457, The Keep of Windsor Castle: a fragment from tradition; 492, The Last Secret of Cabalism (in prose); 553, La Morte d’Arthur: or the Legend of Sir Launcelot. Collected from the MS in the Harleian Library.

lxxx, 65, The Coronation Eve [on the Coronation of George IV]; 127, Denon’s Hundred Days in England (in prose); 144, Wit and Reason; 261, A Whisper at a Conversazione; 310, 412, 511, The Last Leaf of the Parish Register (in prose);320, A Traveller’s Story; 508, The Hermit of Loch Lomond.

lxxxi, 9, 120, 218, 310, 411, 506, My Godmother’s Legacy: or the Art of Consoling (in prose); 26, The Prisoners of Mount St. Michael; 112, The Boat of the Stars; 214, Malham Tarn; 325, The Fairies’ Nursery: an April Dream.

* * *

Mr. ERNEST HARTLEY COLERIDGE, who was in the Chair, then spoke as follows:

I think that we shall all agree that Dr. Axon has brought to a very triumphant finis a difficult piece of literary investigation, and that he has solved once for all a minor literary problem which has teased, and vexed, and baffled many patient but les successful inquirers. His success is the reward both of exhaustive and thoughtful research, and of the literary acumen which can alone make good use of the materials so acquired. His connection, or rather identification of V., first with feminine authorship, then with the editor’s tribute to Variella (six years, remember, after the “Gothic Tale” appeared), then with the Reverend John Vardill’s “Anacreontic,” and finally with Anna Jane Vardill, had proved his point before it occurred to me that the name Vardill might be mentioned in Henry Crabb Robinson’s ‘Diary,’ and I chanced to light upon a singular confirmation of Dr. Axon’s independent surmise. I had, as Dr. Axon points out, hazarded a kind—perhaps I ought rather to say a shadow—of a guess, that James Hogg might have had a hand in the composition of “Christobell.” For I had diligently read V.’s numerous other contributions to the ‘European Magazine,’ and I could not persuade myself that the gleams and flashes of something like poetry, nay, some dozen or more lines which Coleridge might have written himself, could have proceeded from the pen of the author of the colourless diluted effusions which appeared in each number before and after 1815 under the same signature. And, moreover, I was familiar with that finest and tenderest and most beautiful of all parodies, Hogg’s “Cherub,” modelled upon and all but reaching up to Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” which was published in 1817, in the anonymous collection of parodies, entitled the ‘Poetic Mirror.’

So rare and so delicate is the melody that Robert Browning, who had unearthed it from some forgotten magazine, sent it as a genuine Coleridgean lyric to James Dykes Campbell, who sent it on to me. Alas! I was obliged to tell Mr. Campbell that the “Cherub” was a manufactured freak, a kind of Barnum’s Lusus Naturae, and thenceforth I heard no more of the subject either from Mr. Campbell or from Browning. But I do not wonder that its dulcet tones had deceived these elect persons, or that “Christobell, a Gothic Tale” suggested to me the poetical mimicries of the Ettrick Shepherd. For, as Dr. Axon finely puts it: “Here and there Anna Vardill caught something of Coleridge’s wild and spiritual music.” And, indeed, an element of mystery remains, of mystery which in no way affects Dr. Axon’s identification of V. with Anna Vardill, but which prompts other inquiries and other guesses. For it is not conceivable that Crabb Robinson’s one reading of the MS of “Christabel” would enable anyone to write a continuation in the same style and metre and with so much of the gusto of the original. One reading or recitation might inspire another poet with the lilt and something of the romantic glamour of tho original, as Dr. Stoddart’s one reading of the MS of “Christabel” at Lasswade, in 1802, inspired Walter Scott with the air and metre of the “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” but one reading could not have resulted in “Christobell, a Gothic Tale.” No! the good Crabb must have left the MS in Miss Vardill’s hands, and as he was a good friend to Coleridge, and a man of honour, and as she appears to have been a high-minded and honourable woman, I cannot but think that the appearance of the “Gothic Tale” in the May number of ‘European Magazine’ was not altogether a surprise to the real Simon Pure, i.e. to S. T. C. himself. If it had been a base trick—a cruel anticipation of his unpublished poem—I think that he must have known about it and would have complained of so unwarrantable a transaction to some of his friends. We know that long years after when he was questioned on the subject he said: “It is a singular affair,” and that he proceeded instead to explain or to begin to explain some other story altogether. There is, of course, no proof, but it is a pardonable guess that Miss Vardill must have submitted proof or copy to Robinson, and that he must have obtained some kind of assent or permission from Coleridge himself.

Be that as it may, one short year went by, and thanks to Lord Byron’s intervention the Lovely Lady herself and not another, was at length presented to the public, and the anticipation or continuation only remained as a problem and a puzzle to the curious.

Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, Second Series, Vol. 28, 1908, pp. 57-88.