Cycling Suffragettes!


Victorian Biker Girls (Sophie Bryant not shown)

In the long and arduous fight for womens rights the simple act of owning a bicycle was considred radical in Victorian times.  One of the first women in the United Kingdom to own a bicycle was the Dublin born Sophie Bryant.  Born Sophie Willock, a native of Sandymount, February 15th 1850.

At the age of 19, living in London, she married Dr William Hicks Bryant, a man 10 years her senior, who died within a year of the marriage.  Thus liberated as a respectable widow with the ability to make her own decisions she went completely off the rails.  Stark staring feminist mad.

Apart from buying a bicycle she also became a teacher. When the University of London opened its doors to women she became one of the first women to be awarded a first class degree.  As a mathematician she earned her doctorate of science and became only the third woman to be elected to the London Mathematical Society.

When Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to women they marked the occasion by awarding Bryant the first honorary degree given to a woman.

She wanted votes for women, but said that first women should be educated.  She devoted much of her life to that cause and the institutions founded and managed by her made an enormous contribution to that end.

She died doing what she loved, in Chamonix in the French Alps, climbing mountains at the age of 72.

Zermatt To The Matterhorn; by Thomas Hardy

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
and four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
and when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
to that day’s tragic feat of manly might,
as though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower;
thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon,
and brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power
approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon
when darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

Happy Birthday Robert Browning


Born May 7th 1812 Robert Browning, after a stumbling start went on to become probably the most celebrated of the Victorian poets within his own lifetime.  Husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Robert was the master of the monologue in an age that favoured monologues.  His poetry is lurid with obscure references from ancient Greece and Rome and from medieval amour courtois.  It was his very obscurity that almost beached his early career.

Today most children encounter Browning without ever realising.  If you know the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” you probably read his poem.

Over the sea our galleys went; by Robert Browning

Over the sea our galleys went,
with cleaving prows in order brave,
to a speeding wind and a bounding wave,
a gallant armament:
each bark built out of a forest-tree,

left leafy and rough as first it grew,
and nailed all over the gaping sides,
within and without, with black bull-hides,
seethed in fat and suppled in flame,
to bear the playful billows’ game:
so, each good ship was rude to see,
rude and bare to the outward view,

but each upbore a stately tent
where cedar-pales in scented row
kept out the flakes of the dancing brine,
and an awning drooped the mast below,
in fold on fold of the purple fine,
that neither noontide nor star-shine
nor moonlight cold which maketh mad,

might pierce the regal tenement.

When the sun dawned, oh, gay and glad
we set the sail and plied the oar;
but when the night-wind blew like breath,
for joy of one day’s voyage more,
we sang together on the wide sea,
like men at peace on a peaceful shore;
each sail was loosed to the wind so free,
each helm made sure by the twilight star,
and in a sleep as calm as death,
we, the voyagers from afar,

lay stretched along, each weary crew
in a circle round its wondrous tent
whence gleamed soft light and curled rich scent,
and with light and perfume, music too:
so the stars wheeled round, and the darkness past,
and at morn we started beside the mast,
and still each ship was sailing fast!

Now, one morn, land appeared! – a speck
dim trembling betwixt sea and sky:
‘Avoid it,’ cried our pilot, ‘checkt
the shout, restrain the eager eye! ‘
But the heaving sea was black behind
for many a night and many a day,
and land, though but a rock, drew nigh;
so, we broke the cedar pales away,
let the purple awning flap in the wind,

and a statue bright was on every deck!
We shouted, every man of us,
and steered right into the harbour thus,
with pomp and paean glorious.
A hundred shapes of lucid stone!
All day we built its shrine for each,
a shrine of rock for every one,
nor paused we till in the westering sun

we sat together on the beach
to sing because our task was done.
When lo! what shouts and merry songs!
What laughter all the distance stirs!
A loaded raft with happy throngs
of gentle islanders!
‘Our isles are just at hand,’ they cried,
‘Like cloudlets faint in even sleeping;
our temple-gates are opened wide,

our olive-groves thick shade are keeping
for these majestic forms’- they cried.
Oh, then we awoke with sudden start
from our deep dream, and knew, too late,
how bare the rock, how desolate,
which had received our precious freight:

Yet we called out- ‘Depart!
Our gifts, once given, must here abide.
Our work is done; we have no heart
to mar our work,’- we cried.

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Elizabeth Barrett was a slave to misfortune.  A prolific poet as a child she developed head and spinal pain that she carried with her most of her life.  She took laudanum for the pain and effectively became an opium addict.  Later in life she also developed lung problems which were possibly TB.

When she fell in love and married Robert Browning, six years her junior, she was disinherited by her father.  But the father disinherited all his children who married.

The family fortune came from West Indian Sugar Plantations, which relied on slavery.  EBB was fiercely anti-slavery and wrote anti-slavery poetry.

Her output of work is enormous and she was highly popular in her own lifetime.  He popularity was transatlantic as she was also a hit in the USA.  She was one of the rockstar poets of the Victorian era.   When Robert Browning met her she was the famous poet, not he.  At one point she was mooted as Poet Laureate, a post that fell to Tennyson.

Born this day in 1806.

Sonnet 38: by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
the fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
slow to world-greetings, quick with its ‘Oh, list,’
when the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
than that first kiss. The second passed in height
the first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
with sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
in perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, ‘My love, my own.’