Grace Warrack and the first modern English translation of Revelations of Divine Love

Father Luke Penkett writes...

We should give thanks for the foresight of people such as Serenus Cressy, George Tyrrell, and Grace Warrack who have ensured that these showings and revelations are handed down through the centuries and we should give thanks generously and wholeheartedly.  

Grace Warrack. I would like to share a few minutes thinking about this extraordinary Scottish woman and the first modern English translation of Revelations of Divine Love which she had published by Methuen in 1901.

As we have seen, the nineteenth century witnessed George H. Parker’s  XVI Revelations of Divine Love, Shewed to a Devout Servant of our Lord, Called Mother Juliana, an Anchorete of Norwich: Who Lived in the Dayes of King Edward the Third (an updated version of Cressy’s 1670 publication which appeared in 1843), followed by I.T. Hecker’s Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love made to a Devout Servant of our Lord Mother Juliana an Anchorete of Norwich who lived in the days of King Edward the Third
(Boston: Ticknor and Fields, published in 1864), and then Henry Collins’ Revelations of Divine Love Shewed to a Devout Anchoress, By Name, Mother Julian of Norwich with a Preface by Henry Collins (London: Thomas Richardson and Sons, 1877) appeared, thirty-four years after Parker’s edition.

This last, timely publication was an edition of a different but equally important manuscript of the Revelations, Sloane 2499, the manuscript Grace Warrack was to work on. This marked the beginning of a number of publications in which the Middle English text was modernised and thus brought to the attention of more general readers.

George Tyrrell’s XVI Revelations of Divine Love Shewed to Mother Juliana of Norwich 1373, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.) reverted to the Paris manuscript and followed hot on the heels of Grace Warrack’s book a year later, in 1902.

Grace Warrack was born in Edinburgh in 1855, the third daughter of John Warrack of Aberdeen and Grace Stratton of Dunkeld. Her other sisters were named Frances and Robina Charlotte. She grew up worshipping in the new Free Church of Scotland. She is described in Hugh Watt’s book on New College Edinburgh: A Centenary History, as ‘a lady of artistic tastes, sister of the founder of the Warrack Lectureship on Preaching.’ In addition to translating Sloane 2499 in the British Library (which took her about a month) and introducing early twentieth-century readers, and posthumously many more readers and audiences, to Julian's writings, she was a noted translator of Italian and French. She was also an accomplished artist. Her translation of the Revelations was, amazingly, her first publication. For it, Grace wrote a lengthy Introduction, annotated the text, added foot-notes, made a profusion of cross references, and prepared an excellent Glossary. To find such maturity of approach in an inaugural book is rare. Thanks to a far-sighted publisher, Grace’s modern English translation was accepted for publication and has been reprinted innumerable times throughout the whole of the last century and into our own. Grace herself saw the ninth edition of her book before she died in 1932. Throughout this time, as her knowledge and understanding of the text deepened, she revised her edition on a number of occasions.

Why Julian? I think one of the possible answers would be on account of the general aesthetic return to the Middle Ages during the nineteenth century, and the other answer would be Dean Inge’s Bampton Lectures of 1899 in which Inge gave one of his papers on Julian. This was such an extraordinary subject that churchgoers such as Grace Warrack, would have heard if it, via a friend, if not directly herself. But, of course, one might well argue, through the Holy Spirit middle aged Grace Warrack went to London, found the manuscript – under the extraordinary heading of ‘Witchcraft’ – translated it and took it to a leading London publisher, Methuen’s.

The title-page was illustrated by Phœbe Anna Traquair, an Irish born member of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland, noted for her embroidery, enamel jewellery, and large-scale murals, who in 1920 became the first woman elected to the Royal Scottish Academy.  

Warrack went on to edit and translate collections of Italian folk songs, Florilegio di canti toscani: Folk Songs of the Tuscan Hills (‘With English Renderings’ by Grace Warrack, Editor <sic> of Revelations of Divine Love (recorded by Julian of Norwich, 1373)) in 1914. Then we had From Isles of the West to Bethlehem (pictures, poetry, tales, ‘runes of pilgrimage and reception’) in 1921. Next, a translation of French poetry Une Guirlande de poésies diverses (poetry ‘early and recent’ chosen and translated by Warrack) published in Oxford by no less a publisher than Basil Blackwell in 1923. Finally, we had Dal cor gentil d'Italia (a collection of folk songs, lyrics, lullabies, and sacred stories, from Venetia to Sardinia, chosen and translated by Warrack) in 1925. The publications of translations from Italian and French were illustrated by artists as renowned as inter alia Traquair and Strachan, and Warrack herself. Grace Warrack was awarded the Palmes Académiques , the French equivalent to our Order of Merit, by the French Minister of Public Instruction for her interest in French literature in Scotland.

But before these later literary works, she wrote in 1906 a most heart-rending and beautiful book, Little Flowers of a Childhood: The Record of a Child, in memory of her little nephew, J.D.W., who died too young at the age of four and a half (27 October, 1894, - 11 March, 1899).

Grace Warrack also worked with the stained glass artist Douglas Strachan to design the windows at the High Kirk of the Free Church of Scotland, which became the New College Library, on the Mound, in the University of Edinburgh, in 1936, as Warrack had foreseen. Strachan is arguably the most significant Scottish designer of stained glass windows in the twentieth century. He is probably best known for his windows at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, completed just before the outbreak of war in 1914, at Edinburgh's Scottish National War Memorial, and in cathedrals and churches throughout the United Kingdom, including All Saints College and Westminster College, Cambridge. He is also known for his paintings, murals, and illustrations. Warrack had been deeply impressed by Strachan's work in Aberdeen and commissioned work for him in Edinburgh. Her intention was to provide a series of windows in memory of her family, missionary leaders, heroes, and her literary idols. The project took Strachan twenty years to complete, with Warrack spending months at a time considering the design of each window. Black and white plates of these windows illustrated Warrack’s book From Isles of the West to Bethlehem.

Grace Warrack passed away on 3 January 1932. Her sister, Frances Warrack, organised a memorial window in Martyrs’ Kirk, North Street, St Andrews, now the Richardson Research Library, in the University of St Andrews.  Designed and created by Herbert Hendrie, the window, completed in 1936, depicts a large angel blessing two smaller angels,  bearing the text “Bless the Lord ye his angels”.

I’d like us to return to Warrack’s Little Flowers of a Childhood written in memory of her little nephew John.  There are several points of interest here. First, the title page of the book is the same as the title page for her translation of Julian. It was painted for Grace by Phœbe Anna Traquair. Each of the chapter headings has at least one quotation either from the Bible, or a writer such as Richard Crashaw, Laurence Binyon (whose ‘For the Fallen’ is traditionally read at Remembrance Day services), Henry Vaughan, John Bunyan, Tymon Hinkson (a prolific Irish writer), and Christina Rosetti, with whose family Grace communicated. Aunt Grace, you might say, was well-connected. She also knew her mystics, quoting from Plotinus and Dante, in addition to Julian.

Grace Warrack’s book, Little Flowers of a Childhood, is, like Julian’s A Revelation of Divine Love, wonderfully positive. The silence caused by the little boy’s death is far from being a negative silence. It is imbued with the certainty that the little boy is in heaven. The stillness is far from being a negative stillness. It is imbued with positivity that the little boy left on earth so very many happy memories.

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