And love is a cord woven out of life,
And dyed in the red of the living heart;
And time is the hunter's rusty knife,
That cannot cut the red strands apart:
And I sail from the spirit shore to scan
Where the weaving of that strong cord began.
(The Camp of Souls, 55-60)
Isabella Valancy Crawford was born in Dublin in 1850 (according to conjecture, on Dec. 25), the sixth child of Dr. Stephen Dennis Crawford and Sidney Scott Crawford. The family emigrated to Canada and settled in Paisley, Ontario, in 1857, where her father became the settlement's family doctor. An alcoholic who embezzled town funds, Crawford uprooted his family again in 1861 and moved to Lakefield in the Kawarthas, northeast of Toronto, and finally to Peterborough in 1869. This ne'er-do-well died in 1875, leaving Isabella to be the principal earner of her family's income. She had been encouraged in this by Catherine Parr Traill during the Lakefield years and started publishing in Toronto newspapers, The Evening Telegram and The Globe, and in American journals. She and her mother moved to Toronto and lived in boarding houses on Shuter Street, St. Andrew's Ward, and Adelaide West until in the winter of 1885 they moved into a third-floor flat at 57 John St. at the corner of King. The year before Isabella had James Bain and Son publish her only book, Old Spookses' Pass, which was reviewed well in both British and Canadian papers but got her little fame or money. She died suddenly at her flat on Feb. 12, 1886. Dorothy Farmiloe's Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Life and the Legends (Ottawa: Tecumseh Press, 1983) is a good biography of the poet.
Although Isabella said, in an autobiographical sketch, that Old Spookses' Pass was "decorated with press errors as a Zulu chief is laden with beads" (Farmiloe, frontispiece), that text remains closest to her authorial intentions for the poems found only in it. J. W. Garvin's edition of The Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905) shows editorial revision to both the title poem and "Malcolm's Katie" without recourse to any authorial manuscripts. Margo Dunn's "A Preliminary Checklist of the Writings of Isabella Valancy Crawford" (The Crawford Symposium, ed. Frank M. Tierney [Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1979]: 141-55) even questions whether poems found only in Garvin's edition--not previously published and not among the poet's manuscripts at Queen's University in Kingston--can be regarded as hers.
Isabella's portrait is from one previously belonging to one of her nieces, living in Sault Ste. Marie (Farmiloe, frontespiece).
Given name: Isabella Valancy
Family name: Crawford
Birth date: 1850
Death date: 1887