|Mrs Brightwen's Last Will and Testament|| Mrs.Brightwen
of The Grove, Stanmore, passed away on Saturday morning at the advanced
age of 76. This distinguished lover of Nature was known and admired not
only in English speaking countries but in other lands, where her books
had a wide circulation. Eliza Elder, the maiden name of Mrs Brightwen,
was born at Banff, Scotland, in 1830, and her parents having died in early
infancy, she was adopted by her uncle, the late Alexander
Elder, who founded with Mr. George Smith the publishing house of Messrs.
Smith and Elder. Her childhood was spent in his country home, Sparrow-hill,
Streatham, where she formed her earliest impressions of the delights of
animated Nature. Without any guiding hand she took up from the very first
that keen study of the habits of living creatures which was ultimately
to distinguish her writings. It was not, however, until late in life that
her observations began to be given to the public. In 1855 she married Mr.
George Brightwen, and about 35 years ago they came to live at The Grove,
on Stanmore Common, that glorious estate peculiarly situated in two counties
and three parishes.
In 1883 Mr. George Brightwen died, leaving her with no children, and she then began to devote herself unremittingly to the study of natural history. During many years of variable health the companionship of the animal world was her solace and delight. She kept her own memory fresh with copious notes of whatever seemed worthy of record in the life of her pets, and the results were afterwards amplified and issued to the world in the charming books which came from her pen. In contrast to Mr. Richard Kearton, who has made the wilder animal life his own field of inquiry, Mrs Brightwen cultivated the domestic side, and the pleasant friendships she made with animals, birds, and insects which haunted The Grove have filled many pages and delighted thousands of readers in all parts of the world. The word friendships is used advisedly, because, as she so frequently pointed out, to know and enjoy the society of a pet creature you must make it feel that you are its friend, one to whom it can look for shelter, food and solace; it must be at ease and at home before its instincts and curious ways would be shown. Mrs Brightwen always set herself with infinite patience to gain the confidence of her little charges, and the little wild heart was always won by quiet and unvarying kindness, and also in the imitation of the natural surroundings of its own life before its capture. She frequently confessed that it required a large fund of patience to tame any wild creature, ant it was rarely possible to succeed unless one's efforts began in its early days, before it had known the sweets of liberty.
All her life she strongly maintained that the love of animated Nature should be fostered far more than it usually is, and especially in the minds of the young, and that, in fact, an immense amount of enjoyment is lost by passing through life - as many do - without a spark of interest in the marvellous world of Nature, without peeping into that great natural book which lies freely and openly before everyone. Her writings were intended to stimulate this interest, and she painted the beauties of country life with surprising charm. She cultivated "the little undergrowths of quiet pleasures" which spring out of a settled home in the country, with its well tended garden and farmyard, greenhouses, stables and fields, and at The Grove the healthy happy tone of such a life was apparent. Almost all children have a natural love for living creatures, and like Kingsley's little daughter - who had been wisely led to care for all living things, and came running to show her father a "dear delightful worm" she had found - Mrs Brightwen had been led all her life - and strove to lead others - to regard every created thing, great or small, attractive or otherwise, as an object well worth the most reverent study. Her books mostly deal with the methods of taming, feeding and housing her pets, done with a minuteness that her experience might be passed on to others, with the object of leading others to the more careful study of the common every-day things around them that more kindness might be shown to living creatures and tender consideration for them. It was not until 1890 that, at the mature age of 60, she became an author, when she was at length persuaded without any anticipation of popularity to publish some of her personal records under the title of "Wild Nature Won by Kindness," and the book has a peculiar value. It is a record of observations made at first hand, and exhibits that extreme patience which shows no tedium. It has led many to see how this beautiful world is full of wonders of every kind, full of evidence of a great Creator's wisdom and skill in adopting each created thing to its special purpose. In 1895 Mrs.Brightwen published a similar and scarcely less charming volume, "Inmates of my House and Garden"; in 1899, "Rambles With Nature Students"; and in 1904, "Quiet Hours With Nature." These books were illustrated by herself and under her direction, by Mr.Theo Carreras; they covered a wide field, but it was as a zoological observer that Mrs.Brightwen chiefly excelled. Her anecdotes of the "home life" of beasts, birds, reptiles, and even insects are inimitable, and their rare virtue is that she never repeated a stock story or told an incident that had not happened within her own experience. A strong, but not fanatical, thread of religious feeling runs through all Mrs.Brightwen's writings; she was a member of the evangelical section of the Church of England.
The Grove was peculiarly suitable for Mrs.Brightwen's work. Here she reared and studied her pets, which included starlings, bullfinches, wild ducks, jays, cuckoos, nightingales, nuthatches, robins, ortolans, titmice, voles, pigeons, gerbils, owls, water shrews, rooks, squirrels, jerboas, moles, harvest mice, wasps, butterflies (which twice a day came to her hand to receive their sweet food), bees, and almost "every creeping thing innumerable" to be found in English country gardens. Beetles and earwigs, toads and snails, were not to her the "horrid things" which one so frequently hears, and although Mrs.Brightwen could not boast, as an American lady was said to have done, that "her tame oysters followed her up and down stairs," it is certainly true that her snails would, when placed upon the Grove lawn, very frequently crawl towards her, and did so over and over again when removed to a distance. Precluded as she was by the measure of her health and strength from travelling widely and from visiting fresh scenes, she never regretted her limitations, and always found ceaseless enjoyment from her surroundings in those sources of interest in animal, bird and insect life which an English county is ready to supply in an inexhaustible degree to the patient and willing observer.
Floriculture and horticulture were her necessary branches of study, and trees were to her almost as well-beloved as moving creatures. So much was she impressed with the mystery of "those green-robed senators of mighty woods," that she had in contemplation a volume on their forms and development, and the tulip tree, elm, Scotch fir, the well-grown Wellingtonia, the two ancient cedars, larch, and birch, which adorn The Grove, she regarded as "monograph-portraits of certain individuals." "The humblest weed," she was wont to say, could supply food and thought, and "eccentric flowers" were ever a subject of deep interest, and the curious foreign plants to be found in her conservatory, no less than the humbler garden variety, had their especial charm. Gourds, too, claimed her attention, and a feature of the garden at The Grove was the pergola or trellised enclosure garlanded with gourds. Stanmore she loved exceedingly, and she tells us in one of her books, it was one of her special pleasures 25 years ago to watch the golden sheen of the furze blossoms on Stanmore Common spreading over more than 200 acres of undulating ground. Here and there, through stretches of moorland, the rich colour melted away into blue distances with exquisite effect. Then was the time to enjoy what Coleridge describes as "the fruitlike perfume of the golden furze." Fires, however, destroyed the Common, and birch trees sprung up in countless numbers, and replaced the richly coloured flower of the Common. The people of Stanmore will miss her, and the poorer members of the community more than others, for she gave away her money freely to the needy, and there was no more generous patron of charitable institutions. She entered with seal into a variety of works of philanthropy, and loved to entertain the poor in large numbers at the time when The Grove was at its best. The collections of London's darkest alleys were imported to the delights of The Grove, and many of these brick-bound prisoners lived to bless the name of Mrs.Brightwen year after year. This naturally was a source of self-denial and sacrifice with her because of the disturbance which such visitors caused among the furred and feathered denizens of her woods. She was a surprising instance of what a highly-srung temperament, actively employed in science and in benevolence, and enlightened by humour, can do to mitigate the pains of life, since she was an invalid for the greater part of half a century. Consequently she was not of later years seen much in social life, and probably her last public engagement was about eight years ago, when she was a guest at the Authors' Club dinner. With Miss Verini she took the greatest interest in the work at the Common Room and the Temperance Society, and other organisations will miss her generous support and advice. She was a vice-president of the Selborne Society, a Fellow of the Zoological and Entomological Societies, and an active member of various other associations connected with the encouragement of natural history. Distinguished visitors were often at The Grove, and among whom have been Sir James Paget (the eminent physiologist), Sir Joseph Hooker, the Rev. Webb Peploe, and Mr. Edmund Gosse, the latter being her distinguished and beloved nephew, son of the late Mr. P.H. Gosse, the eminent zoologist. Mr.J.W.H.Welsford, a Master at Harrow School, is a nephew of Mrs.Brightwen. Frequent visitors from Harrow were the late "Luke Ellis" and Mr. J.O'Brien.
In another direction Mrs.Brightwen's abilities were most marked, and her water-colour drawings promise to achieve greater popularity in the future, for she never courted publicity, and it was a surprise to many of her admirers when a year or so since she exhibited at the London University, in connection with the Selborne Society, a very fine collection of water-colour paintings, to find the great talent which was there displayed. The subjects ranged over a very wide field of natural history, and were the results of Mrs.Brightwen's own observations in The Grove. In the possession of friends are many examples of her work. From an artistic point of view the paintings are distinguished by that exact treatment that faithfully portrays the subject without exaggeration of form or colour. Mrs.Brightwen was catholic in her studies, and a botanist, the entomologist, and the bird-lover were all favoured, and in her paintings each found the gems of their particular fancy beautifully executed.
In her work at Stanmore she has had the assistance of Mr.J.W.Odell, of The Grove Farm, Land Steward to the Trustees of the Grove Estate, and that she valued this highly is apparent in her introduction to "Glimpses into Plant Life," that charming book which "turns a country walk from a useless lounge to a lively and delightful object lesson." Here she says she has to "acknowledge great indebtedness to Mr.J.W.Odell, F.R.H.S., whose wide knowledge of botanical science has been of essential service in ensuring, as far as possible, the accuracy of my statements."
If it is true with Mark Akenside that "The men whom Nature's works can charm, with God himself holds converse," Mrs. Brightwen lived an ideal life, and when the painful disease laid its last grip upon her, the utmost anxiety was expressed in the village. Despite the best medical assistance she gradually grew worse, but up to the last her feathered friends did not forsake her, nor forgot the friend at The Grove, and almost one of the last to bid her farewell was a robin, which perched itself on a vase near the bedside of the dying philanthropist, and was contented to be fed with a weakened arm. Her wonderful charm and influence lay in the fact that The Grove was a sanctuary for bird, beast, and insect; pheasants crowded the lawn in the early morning; squirrels frisked in the sunshine; an owl blinked from the ivy, and innumerable birds made noisy music the Summer through. She passed away on Saturday morning, loved by the whole world at large.
Stanmore's tribute to a noble life was a remarkable testimony of affection, and Wednesday afternoon saw what was perhaps the most impressive rite ever witnessed in the beautiful "God's acre" of Stanmore, and the occasion will live in the memory of every participant in the Burial Service. At an early hour, though the funeral was fixed for a quarter to four, residents began to fill the sacred building, and on every hand symbols of sorrow were seen, and as the congregation were waiting Chopin's "March Funebre" was impressively played by Mr. A.E. Denman, the organist.
The funeral cortege was met at the yard gate by the officiating clergy and the choir, and forming into procession the first words of Resurrection promise were pronounced. "Thine for ever, God of love," was softly sung as the coffin was bourne to the chancel. At the conclusion of the hymn, the Rev.J.F. Andrewes read the 90th Psalm, and the other portions of the service were taken by the Rev. S.F.L. Bernays and the Rev. C. Mortimer. The first part of the rite concluded with the singing of "Now the labourer's task is o'er," and as the coffin was carried into the open the organist played Mendelssohn's "O rest in the Lord."
The mourners present in the Church were Dr. Fredrick Welsford, Mr. Joseph Welsford, Dr. Arthur Welsford, and Mr. J. W. Welford, nephews; Mrs. Proctor, Mrs. Barker, nieces; Mr. Percy Shelley, Mr. Edmund Gosse, nephew; Miss Shelley, Mr. J. Shelley, Mrs. Binyon, Mr. Bigland, Mr. Phillip Gosse, Mr. Fisher Unwin, Mr. Gurney Aggs, Mrs. Percy Myles, representing the Selborne Society; the staff of Messrs. Brightwen, Finch-Lane; the staff from The Grove; and Mr. J. W. Odell. Among the large number present in the Church, or at the graveside, were Lady Harrison, Dr. Rhind, Dr. B. Campbell Gowan, Mrs. Hartridge, Mr. S.J. Blackwell, Mr. A. Kingsmill, the Misses Jolly, the Misses Boulton, Mrs. J. B. Cook, Mr. H. Kingsmill, Miss Cottam, Mrs. W. G. Kirby, Mrs. Henderson, Miss A.John, Miss Moore, Messrs. J. Bransgrove, W.Felton, C. Adams, W. Taylor, G. Woodman, G. Dracott, C. Tolman, R. Leversuch, Burdett, Boxall, R. F. Snare, and many others. In memory of a generous heart the local police, whom she remembered with seasonable gifts every Christmas, were also present, with a large assemblage of Stanmore residents of all classes.
The scene round the graveside was one not to be easily forgotten. The deeply reverent attitude of the great concourse was a striking feature as the last act in a long and useful life was being played. Death seemed supreme, but Nature - with which she was so closely identified - gave denial, for on every hand were Resurrection symbols, new life stirred among the trees, the flowers and verdure sprang afresh, and from the green arbours of the trees the full-thoated song of birds so beloved by her filled the air with joyous promise.
In accordance with the wishes of Mrs. Brightwen, Two wreaths only were laid upon her coffin. One was sent from her lovely home, and made of the flowers she loved best, and the other a circle of laurel, fitting insignia to a noble career. After the committal words had been said the hymn, "O God, our help in ages past," was sung, and fittingly closed a memorable service.
The coffin, which was laid in a brick vault, bore the following inscription:- "Eliza Brightwen, entered into rest 5th May, 1906, aged 75 years."