Eliza Anne Ogilvy

Eliza Anne Ogilvy (1822–1912)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 15, 311–313.

Eliza Ogilvy was born on 6 January 1822 in India, daughter of Scottish parents Abercromby Dick (1794–1879), Bengal civil servant, and Louisa Jane (née Wintle, 1796–1870). Her paternal grandfather, William Dick, was the chief surgeon to the Hon. East India Corporation in Calcutta. On 6 July 1843 at Leamington Priors, Warwick, Eliza married David Ogilvy (1813–79), a barrister of aristocratic Scottish parentage, who was born in Calcutta on 9 February 1813. His father Alexander Ogilvy (1770–1846) was the son of John Ogilvy, 5th Bart. of Inverquharity; his mother Marcia Anne (née Napier, 1783–1861) was the granddaughter of Francis Scott, 6th Baron Napier. The first of the Ogilvys’ seven children, Rose Theresa Charlotte, was born on 19 March 1844. Her death in infancy fifteen months later led to Mrs. Ogilvy’s first volume of poetry, Rose Leaves, an expression of grief which was privately printed in 1845. This was soon followed by A Highland Minstrelsy (1846), a collection of poems that was favourably reviewed. The Ogilvys had six more children: Louisa Mary (1846–70), Alexander William (1848–87), Marcia Napier (1850–1940), Walter Tulliedeph (1852–1927), Angus Edward (1855–1928), and Violet Isabel (1856–1954). Sometime in the late 1840’s, the young family travelled to the continent and settled in Florence where Mrs. Ogilvy’s Italian experiences resulted in Traditions of Tuscany, in Verse (1851). In June 1852 the Ogilvys moved back to Great Britain residing variously at Peckham Rye, Lower Sydenham, Perth, Edinburgh, and Forfarshire (now Angus). Mrs. Ogilvy’s last book of verse, Poems of Ten Years, 1846–1855, appeared in 1856, and although she continued to write poetry, her literary activities in later life consisted mainly of articles and stories for periodicals. A book entitled Sunday Acrostics, Selected from names or words in the Bible was issued in 1867. Her memoir of EBB appeared in an edition of EBB’s poems published by Frederick Warne and Company in 1893. After the death of her husband on 15 October 1879, Mrs. Ogilvy relocated to Bridge of Allan near Stirling in Scotland. The 1881 British Census, however, shows her staying in Windsor Street, Putney, Surrey, in the home of a bachelor cousin, Frederick Graham, aged 32. In 1900 she went to live with her daughter Marcia and her husband, Horace Bell. Mrs. Ogilvy died in their home at 12 St. Leonard’s Road, Ealing, on 3 January 1912.

The Ogilvys were introduced to the Brownings in the summer of 1848 through EBB’s cousin Clara Sophia Lindsay. In a letter to Miss Mitford, EBB described the Ogilvys as “cultivated and refined people”; and Mrs. Ogilvy specifically, as “a pretty woman … of quick perceptions and active intelligence and sensibility” (30 April [1850]). However, EBB was more candid with her sister Arabella, explaining that “there is just a want of softness in the character .. a want of tenderness, somehow” (letter dated 12 [March 1850]). EBB found Mrs. Ogilvy’s experience concerning children, childbirth and nurses useful in the birth and raising of her own child Pen. But the two women were by no means always in agreement. As EBB explained to Henrietta, Mrs. Ogilvy felt that EBB should walk more during her pregnancy (letter 2773), which EBB did not do. Neither did she follow her friend’s advice on Pen’s wearing a cap (letter 2793), nor on giving him cold baths (letter 2809). In late 1848, Mrs. Ogilvy recommended an English nurse/midwife, but eventually the Brownings engaged an Italian nurse instead. When the Brownings decided to go to Bagni di Lucca in the summer of 1849, the Ogilvys, who were already settled there, offered to negotiate for an apartment near their own, which the Brownings considered, but in the end they opted for different lodgings. Neveretheless, the couples saw much of each other at Bagni di Lucca, and their friendship grew closer during this time, as well as afterwards when the Ogilvys took an apartment on the floor above the Brownings in the Palazzo Guidi. Further evidence of their friendship can be seen in the many exchanges of presentation copies. EBB inscribed a copy of Poems (1850) “To Eliza A H Ogilvy from her affectionate friend EBB”; see Reconstruction, C94. And RB presented a copy of Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day to “Mrs David Ogilvy—with RB’s kindest regards. Florence, Oct. 28. ’50” (Reconstruction, C252). In 1851, Mrs. Ogilvy gave EBB a copy of Traditions of Tuscany (Reconstruction, A1764). A review of this volume in The Athenæum of 5 April 1851 accused the author of studying the Brownings’ poetry too closely, an observation that must have amused both parties. In her “Recollections,” Mrs. Ogilvy remarked: “we were four eager enthusiasts, and quite in accord about painting and sculpture. But in poetry we had different canons, and the Brownings were too original-minded to wish for servile assent in our opinions” (EBB-EAHO, p. xxx). Later presentation copies included RB’s Men and Women in 1855 (Reconstruction, C403) and EBB’s Poems Before Congress in 1860 (Reconstruction, C122). In 1851, the Brownings and Ogilvys travelled together to Venice, and while EBB described their companions as “agreeable fellow-travellers” she added “and yet, and yet, .. Robert & I agree sometimes that being alone is a good thing. … She is both good & charming .. only a little wanting in repose & concentration of character .. too sensitive to all manner of impressions .. omni-sensitive, rather than intense” (letter to Arabella, 16 May [1851]). The friends met the following year in Paris, and Mrs. Ogilvy recalled: “We saw the Brownings again in London once or twice, and they came to London in 1855 for a short time, when we were living in the suburbs; but after 1852 our intercourse was chiefly by letter” (EBB-EAHO, pp. xxxii–xxxiii). When Mrs. Ogilvy’s Poems of Ten Years was published in 1856, a copy was sent to EBB in Paris by way of her sister Arabella and Isa Blagden. As mementoes of their friendship, the Brownings sent copies of photographs taken in Rome in 1860; see Reconstruction, F43, G21, and H188. After EBB’s death, RB wrote to the Ogilvys on 29 July 1861, describing his wife’s final illness. Characteristic of the bond that had existed between the two women, he concluded with references to their children: “Pen is her very child, with something of her spirit in him … . God bless you both, and keep you for each other: how your children must be grown! I shall see them one day.” There is no evidence that he ever did. He later sent a copy of EBB’s Last Poems containing his inscription dated 11 May 1862 (see Reconstruction, C54) the last extant communication between the two families. In her memoir of EBB, Mrs. Ogilvy wrote admiringly of her friend: “Her perfect sincerity and purity of motive, her freedom from jealousy or pettiness of feeling, her warm heart and sweet temper, would have made a stupid woman lovable, and made her, with her intellectual power, adorable then when she lived in the flesh, and now when she lives in the memory.”


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