Felicia Dorothea Hemans was born on 25th September 1793, in Liverpool. George Browne, her father, was a merchant and her mother, Felicity Wagner, was the descendant of the Austrian and Tuscan consul to Liverpool. She was the fifth child of her parents’ seven children.
Barely a girl of eight, first she had to move with her family to a stunning sun-kissed seaside house in Gwrych after a financial turmoil struck them and then to the green vale of St. Asaph, Wales, in 1809.
An early bird, Felicia started reading at a very early age. The abounding family library quickly became her den. Felicia was a very shrewd learner and had an insatiable hunger for poetry and music. Under her mother’s guidance, she learned quite a lot of languages like Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German.
Much to her penchant, she quickly fell in love with the local arts when she stayed in London for a couple of years. As a swift literary prodigy, she published her first collection, Poems, in 1808, when she was a meagre fourteen years old kid.
Felicia married Captain Alfred Hemans, a contemporary of her brothers’ in the army, in 1812, at the age of nineteen. The tale of young love commenced when Felicia chanced upon Hemans in her neighbourhood.
She quickly became lovesick for the man and it got even serious after his return from army duty in 1811. Following this, their relationship grew and culminated with their marriage.
Felicia and her husband separated on amicable terms after he left for Rome in 1818 and never returned. Eventually, she returned to Wales to her mother with her five children.
Themes of poetry
The English poetess had a flair for romance from an early age. The poems by Felicia Hemans seem to have the rustic rowdiness of the eternal romance infused with the sensible softness of domestic love.
A pivotal writer of romance, her poems encircled a wide variety of themes – feminism, the eternal love, nature, beauty, sorrow, anger, infantile innocence – with smooth fluidity. Much influenced by William Wordsworth and Lord Byron, Felicia quickly developed her forte of romantic poems.
Felicia’s poems were a commercial hit amongst the common public. After her failed marriage, it was through poetry that she supported her family. Her poems often covered social realms that needed to be highlighted like in The Better Land, she talked about high mortality rates of infants and mothers.
Her strong familial background is a factor at play for her poems about domestic love. Printed in 19 volumes, some of her undying and ageless poems and collections include Casabianca, The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, The Homes of England, To the Eye, Dirge, and Address to Music.
A writer for women
Felicia was often called a writer, who wrote for the women of the society, from a common woman’s perspective. She was notorious for her ability to romanticize unsettling settings of everyday domestic and household events like the managing of a house, the daily chores, and the everyday toil that a contemporary woman would face.
Her poems were beaded with a very strong feminist undertone that was instrumental in highlighting domestic love and female suicide. Some of her poems and collections that marked her as a writer for the women are Records of Women, The Better Land, and To the New Born.
Felicia’s magnum opus, Casabianca, was first published in the August (1826) issue of The Monthly Magazine, Vol. 2. A short poetic genius about the true story of a boy, by the name of Casabianca, who waited for his dead father on a ship’s deck, honouring his orders.
The true story is set during the Battle of the Nile when a ship named Orient went down into the ocean after its ammunition chamber exploded. The poem was widely taught at educational institutions as a lesson for its bold tribute to the nobility and valour of Casabianca and its zealous tone.
Lone post of death
As Felicia quotes in her poem, Casabianca –
“And looked from that lone post of death
In still, yet brave despair”
Here, ‘lone post of death’ signifies the courage, discipline, and heroism of Casabianca, a son, who defied all odds, even death, and defended his father’s orders and stayed at his post until his last breath.
After her mother died in 1827, Felicia restricted herself within the walls of her house in Wales. During this time she hardly travelled and sought out solace in the poems of other poets and writers of her generation.
Her worldly visions had been marred by her poetic inefficiencies due to the constrained movement. During this time her poems were not received well by the critics and the public at large because of their low ingenuity. Her ingenious acumen about the romantic was at its brink.
After two of her sons left for Italy to live with their father, Felicia returned to Liverpool to her relatives. She finally moved to Dublin in 1831 to stay close to her brother. On May 16th, 1835, at the young age of forty-one, Felicia Dorothea Hemans died due to a weak heart caused by a rare skin disease called dropsy.