Mathilde Blind

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Mathilde Blind
Mathilde Blind.jpg
Born Mathilde Cohen
(1841-03-21)21 March 1841
Mannheim, Germany
Died 26 November 1896(1896-11-26) (aged 55)
Occupation poet

Mathilde Blind (born Mathilde Cohen, pseudonym Claude Lake, 21 March 1841 in Mannheim, Germany – 26 November 1896 in London),[1] was a German-born English poet. Her work was praised by Matthew Arnold and French politician and historian Louis Blanc. Her epic poem The Ascent of Man gave an account of the Darwinian theory of evolution.

Early life[edit]

Blind was born in Mannheim, Germany, the older child of a banker named Cohen and his second wife, born Friederike Ettlinger. She had a brother, Ferdinand. Cohen died in Mathilde's infancy and her mother remarried to Karl Blind, who was involved in the Baden insurrection of 1848. They fled in 1849 to London, where Mathilde took Karl's surname.[2] There she attended the Ladies' Institute, St John's Wood, where she was a friend of future novelist Rosa Nouchette Carey.[3]

She was greatly influenced by foreign refugees who frequented her stepfather's house, including Giuseppe Mazzini, for whom she entertained a passionate admiration and about whom she would publish reminiscences in the Fortnightly Review in 1891.[4] At the age of 18, she travelled alone to Switzerland and maintained a fondness for the country throughout her life. Some critics believe that the trip reflected in an "especially cosmopolitan character" in her literary work.[5] While in Switzerland she was barred as a woman from entry to lectures at Zurich University, but she spent much time in company with revolutionaries. In 1866 her brother Ferdinand failed in an attempt to assassinate Otto von Bismarck, then chancellor of the North German Confederation, and committed suicide in prison.[6]


Her first known production was a German ode recited at Bradford for the Schiller centenary in 1859.[citation needed] It was followed by an English tragedy about Robespierre, which was never printed but earned praise from Louis Blanc, and by a short volume of immature poems published in 1867 under the pseudonym Claude Lake. Visits to Scotland inspired two poems of considerable compass and ambition: the narrative poem "The Prophecy of St. Oran" (published in 1881, but written some years earlier) and "The Heather on Fire" (1886), a denunciation of the Highland clearances. Both are full of impassioned eloquence and energy, and "The Prophecy" in particular has an ample share of the quality Matthew Arnold called "Celtic magic". "Tarantella", a prose romance, was published in 1885 (a 2nd edition in 1886; there was also an 1885 Boston edition), but was less attuned to the tastes of her day.[5]

In 1888, she produced The Ascent of Man, an ambitious attempt at an epic poem based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Her goal of dealing with the highest subjects[clarification needed] was further shown in her translations of two contemporary European books: David Strauss's The Old Faith and the New (1873 and 1874) and The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff (1890). It also appeared in her lives of two of the most distinguished among women of the period – George Eliot (1883; new e. 1888) and Madame Roland (1886) – for the Eminent Women Series. While writing the latter she lived mainly in Manchester, to be near the painter Ford Madox Brown (who was involved in decorating the town hall with frescoes) and his wife.[5] Brown painted her during this period.[7]

Later, Blind travelled widely in Italy and Egypt, partly drawn by the love of nature and antiquity and partly due to her failing health. These travels had their influence in Dramas in Miniature (1891) and Songs and Sonnets (1893), and formed the staple of Birds of Passage (1895). Her last poetical work was performed at Stratford-on-Avon, where the quiet beauty of Warwickshire scenery and the associations with Shakespeare inspired her to write some of her most beloved sonnets.[5]

Blind died in London on 26 November 1896, bequeathing the greater part of her property, which had mostly come to her late in life as a legacy from a stepbrother, to Newnham College, Cambridge. She was buried in Finchley Cemetery, under a monument erected by a friend and sponsor, Louis Mond.[5]


More recently Blind has attracted the attention of women's literature scholars. As one website puts it, "Her burning sense of political and social injustice runs like a unifying thread through her work. Her poetry combines great beauty of sound and image with vigorous narrative, delineation of character, emotional expressiveness, and engagement with intellectual ideas." The site mentions George Eliot, George Sands and Elizabeth Barrett Browning as her influences .[8] Isobel Armstrong, re-evaluating the longer works, notably "The Heather on Fire" and "The Ascent of Man", saw in them "a gendered tradition in women's poetry of the nineteenth century." She noted that Blind, by re-configuring "a new myth of creativity and gender", demonstrated the best that this tradition could achieve in social and political analysis.[9]


  1. ^
  2. ^ ODNB entry by Patricia Srebrnik. Retrieved 2 May 2013. Pay-walled.
  3. ^ Charlotte Mitchell (2004). "Carey, Rosa Nouchette (1840–1909)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  4. ^ ODNB entry.
  5. ^ a b c d e Garnett 1901.
  6. ^ ODNB entry.
  7. ^ "Matilde Brown". the Victorian Web. Retrieved 3 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Orlando site introduction to Blind. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  9. ^ Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (1993), pp. 374–76.

External links[edit]