Letters to Lucy Clifford

Biographical and Historical Notes

The English children's writer, novelist, and dramatist Lucy Lane Clifford (Mrs. W. K. Clifford) was born in 1846. On April 7, 1875, Lucy Lane married mathematics professor and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford, whom she met while studying art in London. The Cliffords' home became a gathering place for distinguished literary and scientific persons of the day, including Charles Darwin, Herbret Spencer, John Tynall, Thomas Huxley, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Leslie Stephen, Violet Hunt, and George Eliot.

After the death of William Clifford in 1879, the friendships that she developed with George Eliot, Henry James and others not only continued but flourished. George Eliot, who was one of several persons who contributed to a small Civil List pensin arranged to support Lucy Clifford and her two daughters, encouraged Clifford to find comfort in activities such as her writing.

As a means of supplementing her income, Lucy Clifford began writing reviews for the Standard. Her first book, a collection of children's stories titled Children Busy, Children Glad, Children Naughty, Children Sad, was published by Wells, Gardner in 1881. In 1882 Anyhow Stories, Moral and Otherwise was published by Macmillan.

In addition to children's fiction, Mrs. Clifford wrote novels, collections of adult stories, and later in life a number of plays. In her adult fiction, Clifford presented a variety of female characters that displayed some of the strength and independence which she exhibited in her own life. Such women appear in her novels, Aunt Anne and Mrs. Keith's Crime; her collections of stories, The Last Touches and Other Stories (1892) and Mere Stories (1896); and her play, A Woman Alone (1898).

Lucy Clifford died on April 21, 1929.


Demoor, Marysa. "Self-Fashioning at the Turn of the Century: the discursive life of Lucy Clifford (1846-1929)." Journal of Victorian Culture. Autumn 1999. pp. 276-291.

Thesing, William B. (ed) British Short-fiction Writers, 1880-1914: The Realist Tradition. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 135. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1994. pp. 53-59.

Zaidman, Laura M. (ed.) British Children's Writers, 1880-1914. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 141. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1994. pp. 79-86.

Scope and Contents

The eight letters written by several prominent English literary figures to Lucy Lane Clifford in this collection comprise twenty-one pages of text and span the dates 1886 to 1890. Authors of the letters were W. F. Pollock, C. T. Newton, James Russell Lowell, James Joseph Sylvester, Joseph Cotter Morison, J. Herbert Stack, E. Ray Lankester, and one unidentified sender. The contents of the letters range from Newton's polite offer of play tickets or Lankester's acceptance of Clifford's invitation to tea, to more substantial letters by Sylvester, Morison, and Stack in which they discuss their writing and inquire about Clifford and her family.

Of particular note is the unsigned letter from James Russell Lowell, in which he apologizes for not having seen Clifford before she left for Switzerland, considers aspects of his own personality, and inquires about Clifford's activities in the Alps. He states that he will not sign this, explaining "You will know from whom it comes by the yawn that is overcoming you at this moment." The handwriting in this letter, attributed to Lowell, may be compared to several of Lowell's signed letters found in MSS 0099, F0140.