Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904)


Life
[fam. “Fà”;] b. Co. Kildare; dg. of Charles Cobbe; read at Marsh’s Library; travelled in Italy and Asia after her father’s death in 1857; became a leader-writer addressing public issues for the London newspaper The Echo in 1868; met the reformer Mary Carpenter, and settled in Bristol; est. Industrial Schools; worked for women’s suffrage; her campaign against vivisection resulting in the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act (1876), a watered-down version of the legislation she sought; gave a paper on ‘The Limits of Obedience in Daughters’ to the Kensington Discussion Soc., 1865;
 
held theistic views combining a belief in God with with Kant’s conception of freedom of the will locating the moral imperative for an individual’s actions in a higher authority outside the self; issued anon. An Essay on Intuitive Morals, 2 vols. (1855-57); ed. The Zoophilist; Friendless Girls (1861); The Red Flag in John Bull’s Eyes (1863); Travels in Italy and the East in Italics (1864); Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors (1869); Broken Lights (1864); Our Policy: An Address to Women Concerning Suffrage (?1870); Darwinism and Morals (1872); Why Women Desire the Franchise (1877);
 
also The ’ies of Women (1881) - incl. “Celibcay v. Marriage”; Cities of the Past (1864), and The Flying ’chman and Other Poems (1881); remained unmarried; accompanied by a faithful friend Mary Lloyd (d.1898); an autobiography appeared in 1894 (rev. 1904); Frances Cobbe believed in a rational and righteous God and in the purpose of life as the ‘perfecting of human souls’ (Essay on the Pursuits of Women, 1865);purportedly she had written as many as 320 anti-vivisection books and pamphlets by 1892; Emma Donoghue's story “The Fox on the Line” is about Cobbe - see The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002). PI JMC DIW OCEL OCIL

[ top ]

Works
Selected
  • An Essay on Intuitive Morals Being an Attempt to Popularize Ethical Science, 2 vols. (1855-57); and do. [rep. edn.] (Cambridge UP 2010), 255pp. [details].
  • Friendless Girls and How To Help Them: being an account of the preventative mission at Bristol [Paper read at the Social Science Congress in Dublin] (1861);
  • Female Education, and How It Would be Affected by University Examinations [paper read at the Social Science Congress, London] (1862);
  • The Studies [in] New and Old of Ethical and Social Subjects (1865);
  • The Hopes of the Human Race, Hereafter and Here (1874);
  • Science in Excelsis: A Satire on the Defenders of Vivisection (1875);
  • The Moral Aspects of Vivisection (1875);
  • Why Women Desire the Franchise (1877);
  • The Peak in Darien: with Some Other Inquiries Touching Concerns of the Soul and the Body (1882);
  • The ’ies of Women (1894);
  • The Modern Rack Papers on Vivisection (1889);
  • Vivisection in America [4th Edn.] (London: Swan Sonnenschein 1890), 54pp.
 

See also ‘The Final Cause of Women’, in Women’s Work, Women’s Culture, ed. Josephine Butler (1869).

Miscellaneous
  • ed., The Collected Works of Theodore Parker, containing his theological, polemical, and critical writings, sermons, speeches, and addresses, and literary miscellanies (1863);
  • intro. to Theodore Stanton, ed., The Woman Question in Europe: A Series of Original Essays (1884);
  • Preface to Benjamin Bryan, ed., The Vivisectors’ Directory; being a list of the licensed vivisectors in the United Kingdom, together with the leading physiologists in foreign laboratories: compiled from authentic sources (1884).
Collected edns.
  • Sandra J. Peacock, ed., The Theological and Ethical Writings of Frances Power Cobbe (2002).

See extract from visit to Newgate prison in The Literature of the Irish in Britain: Autobiography and Memoir, 1725-2001, ed., Liam Harte (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2009) [reviewed by Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times, 25 April 2009, Weekend].

 

 
Victorian Women Writers Project (Indiana Univ.)
 
 
Vict. Women Writers Project [online]
[ top ]

Bibliographical details
An Essay on Intuitive Morals Being an Attempt to Popularize Ethical Science, 2 vols. (Cambridge UP 2010), 255pp. CONTENTS. Volume 1: Preface; 1. What is the moral law?; 2. Where the moral law is found; 3. That the moral law can be obeyed; 4. Why the moral law should be obeyed. Volume 2: Preface; Introduction; 1. The canon of religious duty; 2. Religious offences; 3. Religious faults; 4. Religious obligations. (See Publisher's notice [online; accessed 24.06.2010] or copy [as infra.])

[ top ]
Criticism
  • Walter [Lavin], ‘A Life of Frances Power Cobbe’, in Academy, 46 (1824), p.321.
  • Life of Frances Power Cobbe by Herself, 2 vols. (London: R. Bentley, 1894; Boston: Mifflin 1895), and Do., […] As Told by Herself, with additions by the author and introduction by Blanche Atkinson (London: Swan Sonnenschein 1904), 722p: 6 ills.;
  • Jennie Chappell, Women of Worth: Sketches of the Lives of “Carmen Sylva”, Isabella Bird Bishop, Frances Power Cobbe, and Mrs. Bramwell Booth (1908), ports. & ills.;
  • Helen C. Caskie, Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist (Bristol Univ. 1981), 54 lvs. [BA Thesis];
  • Barbara Caine,‘Francis Power Cobbe’, in Victorian Feminists (OUP 1992) [Chap.], pp.103-48 [with port.];
  • Mary Cullen & Maria Luddy, eds., Women, Power and Consciousness in 19th-century Ireland (Dublin: Attic Press 1995), 304pp. [incls. life of Cobb with 7 others];
  • Lori Williamson, Power and Protest: Frances Power Cobbe and Victorian Society (Rivers Oram Press 2003), q.pp.;
  • Sally Mitchell, Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist Reformer (Virginia UP [2004]), xiii, 463pp.;
  • Susan Hamilton, ed., Animal Welfare & Anti-vivisection 1870-1910: Nineteenth-century Woman’s Mission [History of feminism], 3 vols. (NY: Routledge 2004).
  • Maureen O’Connor, ‘Frances Power Cobbe and the patriarchs’, in Evangelicals and Catholics in Nineteenth-century Ireland, ed. James H. Murphy (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2005), Chap. 15 [p.187ff.]
 
Related documents
  • Annie Besant, A World Without God: A Reply to Miss Frances Power Cobbe (1885);
  • Hon. Stephen William Buchanan Coleridge, Step by Step … Being a reply to a pamphlet by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, entitled “Why we have founded the British Union for Abolition of Vivisection”(1898)

[ top ]

Commentary
Desmond Guinness & William Ryan, Irish Houses and Castles (London: Thames & Hudson 1971), gives an account of Frances Power Cobbe, grand-daughter of the MP [Charles Cobbe], son of Archbishop Thomas Cobbe, MP for Swords at the time of the Union who was ‘almost the only one among the Members of Irish Parliament who voted for the Union and yet refused either a peerage or money compensation for his seat.’ Grew up at Newbridge House [Richard Castle, arch]. in the 1830 and 1840s. Although prominent in English suffragette movement in old age, and kindly disposed to those in want (in advance of her time too concerning cruelty to animals) it does not seem to have occurred to her that Ireland deserved the right to self-government. She describes a ‘wicked speech’ of Daniel O’Connell’s, and her friend Miss Evans, the aunt of Charles Stewart Parnell, tells her, ‘There is mischief brewing! I am troubled at what is going on at Avondale.’ According to Miss Cobbe, the ‘society’ which existed in Ireland at the end of the eighteenth century ‘combined a considerable amount of aesthetic taste with traits of genuine barbarism; and high religious pretension with a disregard of everyday ’ies and a penchant for gambling and drinking which would now place the most worldly persons under a cloud of opproprium,’ She adds, ‘A fuddled condition after dinner was accepted as the normal one of a gentleman, and entailed no sort of disgrace.’ Her recollections of the day the famine blight struck is well known, I happen to be able to recall precisely the day, almost the hour, when the blight fell on the potatoes and caused the great calamity. A party of us were driving to a seven o’clock dinner at the house of a neighbour, Mrs Evans, of Portrane. As we passed a remarkably fine field of potatoes in blossom, the scent came through the open windows of the carriage and we remarked to each other how splendid was the crop. Three or four hours later, as we returned home in the dark, a dreadful smell came from the same field, and we exclaimed, ‘Something has happened to those potatoes; they do not smell at all as they did when we passed them on our way out.’ Next morning there was a wail from one end of Ireland to the other. Her Anglo-Irish heart was warmed by the generosity of the English public. In her view, ‘the agitators were afraid it would promote too much good feeling between the nations, which would not have suited their game.’ A speech she heard by Daniel O’Connell in which he endeavoured to ‘belittle English liberality’ she could ‘as wicked … as man ever made’ She regarded the ‘whole odious system of battues’ [as] ‘unmanly as well as cruel.

[ top ]

Quotations
Poor creatures: ‘Happily circumstanced women would have been poor creatures had we not felt bitterly the [wrong] of our less fortunate sisters, the robbed and trampled wives, the mothers whose children were torn from them at the bidding of a dad or living father, the daughters kep in poverty and ignorance while their brothers were educated in costly schools and fitted for honourable professions.’ (Quoted in Helen Blackburne, Women's Suffrage, London 1902; rep. NY 1971, p.4; cited in Barbara Caine, Victorian Feminists, OUP 1992, p.107.)

[ top ]

References
Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); gives ‘The Contagion of Love’, from Essay on ‘The Emotions’; The Flying ’chman and Other Poems (London 1881).

Richard D. French, Antivivisectionism and Medical Science in Victorian England (Princeton 1975), calls her ‘the personification of anti-vivisectionism' (p.62; quoted in Barbara Caine, op. cit. supra, 1992).

[ top ]

Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (1984): only dg. of Charles Cobbe of Dublin; interested in ragged schools, anti-vivisection, women’s employment; edited the Zoophilist. ‘[A] high-powered feminist reformer who never married, insisted that mother should not try to work outside the domestic sphere until their families were grown, “So immense are the claims of a mother, physical claims on her bodily and brainly vigour, and moral claims on her heart and thoughts, that she cannot, I believe, meet them all and find any large margin beyond for other cares and work.”’ (The Duties of Woman, London 1881, p.68.)

[ top ]

Cambridge Univ. Press, book notice - An Essay on Intuitive Morals Being an Attempt to Popularize Ethical Science, 2 vols. (Cambridge UP 2010), 255pp. ‘Frances Power Cobbe (18221904) was an Irish writer, social reformer and activist best known for her contributions to Victorian feminism and women’s suffrage. After the death of her father in 1857, Cobbe travelled extensively across Europe before becoming a leader-writer addressing public issues for the London newspaper The Echo in 1868. She continued to publish on the topics of feminism, social problems and theology for the rest of her life. These volumes, first published anonymously in 1855, introduced Cobbe’s theistic religious beliefs, which blend a belief in Divinity with Immanuel Kant's idea of freedom of will, in which a person’s moral imperative is independent of outside authority and provides proof of the existence of God. Cobbe discusses Kant’s moral philosophy, explaining the religious beliefs which formed the basis for her later discussions of Christianity.’

[ top ]

Notes
Emma Donoghue
, The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits (London: Virago, 2002), contains “The Fox on the Line”, a story about Frances Power Cobbe pursuing animal rights legislation England, attended by her loyal friend Mary Lloyd (d.1898). Lloyd specifically chose ‘not to be commemorated by any written record in her will’ but is briefly mentioned in Rev. T. Mardy Rees, Welsh Painters, Engravers, Sculptors (1912). See note, Donoghue, op. cit., p.40.

[ top ]