Menella Bute Smedley was a 19th century English poet, playwright and novelist who also translated German verse into English. She published at least three volumes of poetry and also collaborated with a sister on poetry for children. A famous relative of hers was Lewis Carroll.
Smedley was born sometime during November 1820 in the Buckinghamshire town of Great Marlow, the daughter of a clergyman who was also a writer. She was the second of her family to be given the name Menella. One year before her birth Menella Eliza Smedley was born but she died as a baby. She was tutored in the classics at home but was sent to the coastal town of Tenby, South Wales for a time in an attempt to improve her health, staying there with relatives. She grew up with ambitions to become a writer and had sufficient languages skills to be able to translate The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains from its German ballad original into English. This work was done in 1846.
As was the custom at the time for female writers she had her first work, a novel called The Maiden Aunt, published using a pseudonym. Early viewings of this story were found in the periodical Sharpe’s London Magazine where she wrote under the pseudonym “S.M.” The book version came out in 1848 and was sold in the United States as well as in England. Her first known collection of poems was
and was also written anonymously. Literary critics soon saw in her work traces of beauty and she was said to use “sweet rhythmic effects” in her verse. A fine example of this is the story of
who stands on the shore as the waves crash all around. She fears her husband is lost as she has seen his boat wrecked. But later that night, while she sits at home weeping, comes a wonderful surprise. Here are the opening and closing verses of this poem:
Her major collection of poetry,
was published in 1863. Her literary output was substantial and may have been even greater had she not spent so long “exiled” in Tenby while suffering poor health. Most agree though that she was a natural poet who evolved from producing work with mystical themes in her early days, examples being
Later work had a much more “human” touch. It seems that most of Miss Smedley’s family were literary to some degree. For example, a cousin wrote books and a sister was a popular children’s poet and story teller.
In addition to her poetry Smedley was also a writer of dramatic works such as Lady Grace which was described as
Her best known short stories include
Her interest in writing poetry and stories for children extended to philanthropic acts involving bettering the lives of poor children.
Menella Bute Smedley died on the 25th May 1877 at home in London. She was 56 years old.