Born: October 30, 1825, Bedford Square, London, England.
Died: February 2, 1864, London, England.
Buried: Catholic cemetery, Kensal Green, England.
Pseudonym: Mary Berwick.
Adelaide was the daughter of poet Bryan Procter.
She began writing hymns after joining the Roman Catholic church in 1851. She became a friend of writer Charles Dickens through her contributions to Household Words:
Dickens speaks of the enthusiasm for doing good that filled his young friend’s heart: ‘Now it was the visitation of the sick that had possession of her; now it was the sheltering of the homeless; now it was the elementary teaching of the densely ignorant; now it was the raising up of those who had wandered and got trodden underfoot; now it was the wider employment of her own sex in the general business of life; now it was all these things at once.
Perfectly unselfish, swift to sympathize, and eager to relieve, she wrought at such designs with a flushed earnestness that disregarded season, weather, time of day or night, food, rest.’ Under such a strain her health gave way, and after fifteen months of suffering she found her rest.
Telford, pp. 247–48
She was said to have been Queen Victoria’s favorite poet.
Through the blue and frosty heavens,
Christmas stars were shining bright;
Glistening lamps throughout the City
Almost matched their gleaming light;
While the winter snow was lying,
And the winter winds were sighing,
Long ago, one Christmas night.
While, from every tower and steeple,
Pealing bells were sounding clear,
(Never with such tones of gladness,
Save when Christmas time is near,)
Many a one that night was merry
Who had toiled through all the year.
That night saw old wrongs forgiven,
Friends, long parted, reconciled;
Voices all unused to laughter,
Mournful eyes that rarely smiled,
Trembling hearts that feared the morrow
From their anxious thoughts beguiled.
Rich and poor felt love and blessing
From the gracious season fall;
Joy and plenty in the cottage,
Peace and feasting in the hall;
And the voices of the children
Ringing clear above it all!
Yet one house was dim and darkened,
Gloom, and sickness, and despair,
Dwelling in the gilded chambers,
Creeping up the marble stair,
Even stilled the voice of mourning—
For a child lay dying there.
Silken curtains fell around him,
Velvet carpets hushed the tread,
Many costly toys were lying,
All unheeded, by his bed;
And his tangled golden ringlets
Were on downy pillows spread.
The skill of all that mighty City
To save one little life was vain,
One little thread from being broken,
One fatal word from being spoken;
Nay, his very mother’s pain,
And the mighty love within her,
Could not give him health again.
So she knelt there still beside him,
She alone with strength to smile,
Promising that he should suffer
No more in a little while,
Murmuring tender song and story
Weary hours to beguile.
Suddenly an unseen Presence
Checked those constant moaning cries,
Stilled the little heart’s quick fluttering,
Raised those blue and wondering eyes,
Fixed on some mysterious vision,
With a startled sweet surprise.
For a radiant angel hovered,
Smiling, o’er the little bed;
White his raiment, from his shoulders
Snowy dove-like pinions spread,
And a starlike light was shining
In a Glory round his head.
While, with tender love, the angel,
Leaning o’er the little nest,
In his arms the sick child folding,
Laid him gently on his breast,
Sobs and wailings told the mother
That her darling was at rest.
So the angel, slowly rising,
Spread his wings; and, through the air,
Bore the child, and while he held him
To his heart with loving care,
Placed a branch of crimson roses
Tenderly beside him there.
While the child, thus clinging, floated
Towards the mansions of the Blest,
Gazing from his shining guardian
To the flowers upon his breast,
Thus the angel spake, still smiling
On the little heavenly guest:
“Know, dear little one, that Heaven
Does no earthly thing disdain,
Man’s poor joys find there an echo
Just as surely as his pain;
Love, on earth so feebly striving,
Lives divine in Heaven again!
“Once in that great town below us,
In a poor and narrow street,
Dwelt a little sickly orphan,
Gentle aid, or pity sweet,
Never in life’s rugged pathway
Guided his poor tottering feet.
“All the striving anxious forethought
That should only come with age,
Weighed upon his baby spirit,
Showed him soon life’s sternest page;
Grim Want was his nurse, and Sorrow
Was his only heritage.
“All too weak for childish pastimes,
Drearily the hours sped;
On his hands so small and trembling,
Leaning his poor aching head,
Or, through dark and painful hours,
Lying sleepless on his bed.
“Dreaming strange and longing fancies
Of cool forests far away;
And of rosy, happy children,
Laughing merrily at play,
Coming home through green lanes, bearing
Trailing boughs of blooming May.
“Scarce a glimpse of azure heaven
Gleamed above that narrow street,
And the sultry air of Summer
(That you call so warm and sweet)
Fevered the poor Orphan, dwelling
In the crowded alley’s heat.
“One bright day, with feeble footsteps
Slowly forth he tried to crawl,
Through the crowded city’s pathways,
Till he reached a garden wall;
Where ’mid princely halls and mansions
Stood the lordliest of all.
“There were trees with giant branches,
Velvet glades where shadows hide;
There were sparkling fountains glancing,
Flowers, which in luxuriant pride
Even wafted breaths of perfume
To the child who stood outside.
“He against the gate of iron
Pressed his wan and wistful face,
Gazing with an awe-struck pleasure
At the glories of the place;
Never had his brightest day-dream
Shone with half such wondrous grace.
“You were playing in that garden,
Throwing blossoms in the air,
Laughing when the petals floated
Downwards on your golden hair;
And the fond eyes watching o’er you,
And the splendor spread before you,
Told a House’s Hope was there.
“When your servants, tired of seeing
Such a face of want and woe,
Turning to the ragged Orphan,
Gave him coin, and bade him go,
Down his cheeks so thin and wasted,
Bitter tears began to flow.
“But that look of childish sorrow
On your tender child-heart fell,
And you plucked the reddest roses
From the tree you loved so well,
Passed them through the stern cold grating,
Gently bidding him, ‘Farewell!’
“Dazzled by the fragrant treasure
And the gentle voice he heard,
In the poor forlorn boy’s spirit,
Joy, the sleeping Seraph, stirred;
In his hand he took the flowers,
In his heart the loving word.
“So he crept to his poor garret:
Poor no more, but rich and bright,
For the holy dreams of childhood—
Love, and Rest, and Hope, and Light—
Floated round the Orphan’s pillow
Through the starry summer night.
“Day dawned, yet the visions lasted;
All too weak to rise he lay;
Did he dream that none spake harshly—
All were strangely kind that day?
Surely then his treasured roses
Must have charmed all ills away.
“And he smiled, though they were fading;
One by one their leaves were shed;
‘Such bright things could never perish,
They would bloom again,’ he said.
When the next day’s sun had risen
Child and flowers both were dead.
Know, dear little one! our Father
Will no gentle deed disdain;
Love on the cold earth beginning
Lives divine in Heaven again,
While the angel hearts that beat there
Still all tender thoughts retain.
So the angel ceased, and gently
O’er his little burden leant;
While the child gazed from the shining,
Loving eyes that o’er him bent,
To the blooming roses by him,
Wondering what that mystery meant.
Thus the radiant angel answered,
And with tender meaning smiled:
Ere your childlike, loving spirit,
Sin and the hard world defiled,
God has giv’n me leave to seek you—
I was once that little child!
In the churchyard of that city
Rose a tomb of marble rare,
Decked, as soon as Spring awakened,
With her buds and blossoms fair—
And a humble grave beside it—
No one knew who rested there.
Adelaide Anne Procter, Legends
Lyrics, and Other Poems, 1858