Richard Monckton-Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809-1885), was the original creator of the Crewe book collection (now split between West Horsley Place and Trinity College Library, Cambridge). A great Victorian man of letters, he was- unusually- an advocate for women writers. He admired the literacy brilliance in female writers and was a firm friend of the Elizabeth Gaskell's family.

Subsequently our library is full of works by many- now overlooked- 19th century women writers. Our lead library volunteer Hilary Ely shares the story of one such: Caroline Clive. 

Inserted in a copy of Caroline's novel Paul Ferroll, our volunteers found a hand-written letter to Lord Houghton (Mr. Milnes):

Whitfield Aug 8th  

Dear Mr Milnes 


I have got no copies of the Additional chapter except what are published with the last edition - I will therefore beg you fraternally to accept the work complete, & always speak well of it, as Members of a fraternity shd do of one another. I hope your American friend has many more agreeable objects in view than my acquaintance, for the best of me is my book, do you not think so? – nevertheless, if he likes Paul Ferroll, I shall like him, & be very happy to attend [yr?] recommendation. 

Best regards & compts. to [Mrs.] Milnes in wh: Mr Clive joins me as well as [myself?]. 

Yrs. very truly 

Caroline Clive 


Caroline Clive née Meysey Wigley was born in 1801, the daughter of Edward Meysey Wigley, a barrister, and his wife, Anna Maria Meysey, one of five children. Her father gained both his second surname and a country estate in Worcestershire through his wife.  When she was two, Caroline fell seriously ill, likely from poliomyelitis, and though she recovered her legs were partially paralysed, affecting her mobility for the rest of her life.  The death of her father in 1821 left her with her mother and sisters comfortably off. Other inheritances followed, and the family became very prosperous. She lived with her older brother on his inherited estate near Solihull and kept house for him while he was away on army service.  He, and their brother Meysey, both died young and in sad circumstances, leaving Caroline with a considerable fortune but no distinct family role or property. 

CarolineIn her ample leisure time she started to write, initially theological essays that she published under a pseudonym, which made very little impact.  Later, she turned to poetry, and had her first success in 1840, publishing IX.Poems by V. to critical acclaim with the encouragement of a close friend, the Revd. Archer Clive, the Rector of Solihull.  At the age of 39, Caroline married Archer Clive, who gave up his living when he also inherited his family’s estate on the death of his older brother, Whitfield in Herefordshire, from where this letter is written.  

Caroline and Archer Clive had a son and a daughter, and they were a close, united and loving family. With the children they spent time in Rome and in France in the 1840s. On their return, Caroline continued to write poems, and in 1854 published the first of four novels.  

Paul Ferroll attracted much attention as with its sensation and drama it departed from the prevailing genre of domestic and social realism, and prefigured the 1860s novels of Wilkie Collins, Mary E Braddon and the later Charles Dickens by incorporating transgression and crime as driving forces for the plot.  The novel opens with the violent murder of Paul Ferroll’s wife. A servant is tried and acquitted,  Ferroll enables him and his family to emigrate, and he himself leaves his home.  Later, Ferroll returns with his second wife and daughter. The servant’s wife returns to England and, in fear of what she has to tell, Ferroll is forced to confess that he was the murderer. He is tried, found guilty and imprisoned, but with the help of his daughter he escapes and leaves the country.  He also leaves the Victorian reader wondering if he is meant to be a hero (his life is full of good and heroic actions, and he is deeply loved by his wife and daughter) or a villain (he is after all a murderer and rids himself of a wife he does not love for one that he does).   

The novel has an original voice, full of irony, detachment and independence of thought.  It excited much interest, but also puzzlement, and Caroline Clive prepared an additional chapter for the fourth edition, taking the story on to the death in exile of Paul Ferroll as a more fitting end.  This is the extra material that Richard Monckton Milnes is curious to read, and it dates the letter to 1856.  Caroline Clive felt the need to continue to explain herself, and her third novel, published in 1860, Why Paul Ferroll Killed his Wife, is a ’prequel’ in which she explores the unhappiness of Ferroll’s first marriage and the triangular relationship between Ferroll and his two wives.   

frontispiece of Paul FerrollCaroline Clive’s health broke down in the 1860s, with a series of strokes and accidents leaving her progressively more paralysed. Marking the end of her writing career she wrote one more novel, John Greswold (1864) – which we have found in the Mulberry Bedroom – and supervised the collection of her poems for publication. Her prosperous circumstances meant that she was always able to write for herself, with no need to accommodate her writing to prevailing taste or commercial demand. 

Her paralysis led to her tragic death in 1873. Sitting in her library, surrounded by papers, she was unable to help herself when a spark from the fire set light to her dress.  By the time help arrived, she was so badly injured that she died the next day. 

Here is one more woman writer who excited the interest and support of Richard Monckton Milnes, and provides evidence of the impact of women’s lives and writing in the 19th century.