Adams, Bertha Leith 1837(?)-1912
ADAMS, Bertha Leith 1837(?)-1912
PERSONAL: Born c. 1837, in Mottram, Longdale, Cheshire, England; died September 5, 1912; daughter of Frederick Grundy (a solicitor); married Andrew Leith Adams (an army surgeon and educator), 1859 (died 1882); married Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan (an educator), 1883; children: (first marriage) Francis, Harry Beardoe Adams.
CAREER: Poet, essayist, novelist, and short story writer. Edited Kensington Magazine, 1879-80.
Nancy's Work: A Church Story, Mowbray (London and Oxford, England), 1876.
Winstowe: A Novel, three volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1877, published in one volume, Harper (New York, NY), 1877.
Georgie's Wooer: A Novelette, Harper (New York, NY), 1878.
Madelon Lemoine, three volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1879, published in one volume as Madelon Lemoine: A Novel, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1879.
Aunt Hepsy's Foundling: A Novel, Munro (New York, NY), 1880, published in three volumes, Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1881.
Cosmo Gordon: A Novel, three volumes, Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1882.
Geoffrey Stirling: A Novel, three volumes, Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1883, published in one volume, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1887.
My Brother Sol Etc., three volumes, Tinsley (London, England), 1883.
Louis Draycott: The Story of His Life: A Novel, two volumes, Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1890.
Bonnie Kate: A Story from a Woman's Point of View, three volumes, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner (London, England), 1892.
(Assisted by "Stroke" and "Bow") The Cruise of the "Tomahawk": The Story of a Summer's Holiday in Prose and Rhyme, Eden, Remington (London, England), 1892.
A Garrison Romance, Eden, Remington (London, England), 1892.
The Peyton Romance, three volumes, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner (London, England), 1892.
Colour Sergeant No. 1 Company, two volumes, Jarrold (London, England), 1894.
The Old Pastures: A Story of the Woods and Fields, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner (London, England), 1895.
Accessory after the Fact, Digby, Long (London, England), 1899.
The Prince's Feathers: A Story of Leafy Warwickshire in the Olden Times: A Novel, Digby, Long (London, England), 1899.
The Vicar of Dale End: A Study, Digby, Long (London, England), 1906.
The Story of the Brotherhood of Hero Dogs, Madgwick, Houlston (London, England), 1910.
My Land of Beulah, and Other Stories (comprises "My Land of Beulah," "Georgie's Wooer," and "Mabel Meredith's Love Story"), three volumes, Tinsley (London, England), 1880, published in one volume as My Land of Beulah, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1891.
Expiated, and Other Stories, Groombridge (London, England), 1881.
Lady Deane, and Other Stories, 3 volumes, Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1882.
Cruel Calumny, and Other Stories, Digby, Long (London, England), 1901.
What Hector Had to Say, and Other Stories, Digby, Long (London, England), 1902.
The Dream of Her Life, and Other Stories, Digby, Long (London, England), 1902.
A Song of Jubilee, and Other Poems, Kegan Paul, Trench (London, England), 1887.
Poems, Foulis (London, England), 1907.
(Editor) David Grant, Metrical Tales, and Other Poems, W. C. Leng (Sheffield, England), 1880.
Dreams Made Verity: Stories, Essays, and Memories, Elkin Mathews (London, England), 1910.
A Book of Short Plays and a Memory, Stanley Paul (London, England), 1912.
SIDELIGHTS: English poet, essayist, novelist, and short-story writer Bertha Leith Adams wrote and published prolifically during her thirty-six-year writing career. Although relatively unknown to modern readers, Adams was a familiar voice within the literary circles of Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Adams's writings, particularly her poems, display patriotic themes mixed with religious sentiments; she often described England as God's chosen country to lead the world. Commenting on Adams's work, critic Amanda Jo Pettit noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that "Her poems are by no means innovative in style, but they suggest great feeling and reveal a sensitivity to her surroundings and an active interest in the issues and people of her day."
Adams published nearly thirty books during her career, many of which were multivolume novels. Her first published story, "Keane Malcombe's Pupil," appeared in 1876 in Charles Dickens' All the Year Round, a publication in which a number of Adams's novels were first published, many of them anonymously. A year later she published her first novel, a three-volume tale titled Winstowe. Adams took her name from her first marriage in 1859 to Andrew Leith Adams, an army surgeon with the First Battalion Cheshire, a member of the Royal Society, and the author of several natural histories, including Field and Forest Rambles, with Notes and Observations on the Natural History of Eastern Canada (1873). Andrew Leith Leith Adams retired from the army in 1873 and accepted an appointment as a professor of zoology at the College of Science in Dublin. Through her husband's associations, Adams was able to meet many of England's most important intellectuals, including Dickens and the famous biologist Thomas Henry Huxley. Adams once told Helen C. Black in Notable Women Authors of the Day, that she "used to delight in meeting all the talent of this and many another country" at the Royal Society gatherings; there she gained what she called her "liberal education," which would later influence her writing.
Adams traveled extensively with her first husband and his battalion, going first to Ireland, then to Malta, where the couple's first son was born in 1862, and New Brunswick, Canada, before finally returning to England in 1871. Many of Adams's writings are based on her experiences during these travels. After publishing Winstowe in 1877, Adams wrote another three-volume novel, Madelon Lemoine, which a critic in Pall Mall found to have "lifelike" characters. That same year, 1879, Adams became the editor of Kensington Magazine, a position she held for about a year. In 1880 Adams published her third novel, Aunt Hepsy's Foundling, which a contributor for the Saturday Review called "an almost perfect novel of its kind." The book was successful, and it did not take long for it to go into a second edition.
Adams published just two more books before her first husband died. His untimely death from tuberculosis would not be the last tragedy Adams would have to endure. In 1892 her second son, Harry, died. His death was followed a year later by that of Adams's first son, Francis, who committed suicide after suffering a hemorrhage brought on by tuberculosis and throat cancer. Ironically, it was during this time of personal loss that Adams wrote two of her most successful novels, A Garrison Romance and Colour Sergeant No. 1 Company.
In 1883 Adams married the Reverend Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan, who would become the headmaster of the King Edward VI Grammar School and a well-known chaplain. After her marriage to Laffan, Adams published her first volume of poetry, A Song of Jubilee, and Other Poems. The book was issued the same year Great Britain celebrated its fiftieth year with Queen Victoria on the throne, and the book's title is a reference to that event. "Bringing greetings to our Lady—England's Queen for fifty years," Adams wrote in the title poem. "Fifty years of strong endeavor, fifty years of purpose high / Wrought out slowly to fulfillment, years whose record cannot die." While A Song of Jubilee also contains a number of love poems, the title poem's nationalistic tone is emblematic of much of Adams's work.
When she was not writing, Adams was active at the King Edward VI Grammar School. In addition to organizing school concerts, in which she would provide piano accompaniment, Adams designed costumes for school plays and once even composed the accompanying music to a play. These activities led her to begin a lecture series in 1889; in her talks she touted the importance of a good education. Her work at the school also influenced her 1889 novel Louis Draycott: The Story of His Life, which a critic for the Athenaeum felt contains a "tender spell and purity of purpose." Adams continued to be productive through the 1890s and into the early 1900s, publishing several more novels and collections of short stories, as well as the one-act play Their Experiment, which was produced.
Adams published a major volume of poetry in 1907; her Poems includes many previously published works as well as thirty-five new poems. As in A Song of Jubilee, the verses in Poems are filled with patriotic fervor, as in the poem "The Nation's Prayer," about England's participation in the ongoing Boer War. Adams divided the book into four sections. In the final section, "In Memoriam," she includes a number of poems in which she paid homage to several of her dead contemporaries, including statesmen and military officers whom she refers to as "knights," "beacons," and "gallant sons."
After Poems, Adams published only three more books: Dreams Made Verity: Stories, Essays, and Memories and The Story of the Brotherhood of Hero Dogs, both in 1910, and A Book of Short Plays and a Memory in 1912. She died after a long illness, on September 5, 1912.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black, Helen C., Notable Women Authors of the Day, Bryce (Glasgow, Scotland), 1893, pp. 286-298.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 240: Late-Nineteenth-and Early-Twentieth-Century British Women Poets, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 3-8.*