Clara Lucas Balfour (1808-1878) was a writer, social activist, public speaker, and periodical editor whose work appeared in the British Workman. Balfour became a writer and lecturer later in life, around the time she and her husband joined the Temperance movement.
Balfour was born in the New Forest, Hampshire. Her parents lived separately. Balfour stayed with her father until his death in 1818, at which time she moved to London with her mother. The two women earned a living doing needlework. When there was sufficient money, Balfour went to a boarding school.
In 1824 Clara Lucas married James Balfour (1796-1884), who was more than thirteen years her senior. He was an alcoholic. They had seven children, although three died in childhood. In October 1837, James attended a Temperance meeting and subsequently joined the movement. Clara signed the Temperance pledge a few days later, and the couple became devoted to the Temperance cause. Balfour began her writing career by producing pamphlets and tracts.
In 1840 Balfour met John Dunlop, a temperance campaigner who published the Temperance Journal. He made her the magazine’s co-editor in May 1841. With the security of a regular income, Balfour was able to branch out into public speaking and other social-reform activities. Her first collection of fiction and poetry, The Garland of Water Flowers, came out that same year. She went on to publish a number of books, including Morning Dew Drops (1853), which was published by S.W. Partridge, the same publisher as the British Workman.
Morning Dew Drops featured an introduction specially written by the American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Urging the formation of a community of children who abstained from alcohol, Stowe wrote, “There seems now but one obstacle to the complete emancipation of the classes of society, hitherto sunk in wretchedness–and that obstacle is Intemperance.”1Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Introduction,” in Clara Lucas Balfour, Morning Dew Drops. London: Partridge & Oakey, 1853. iii. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=t7IBAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR2#v=onepage&q&f=false
During her career, Balfour contributed to a variety of periodicals and newspapers, including: the Band of Hope Review, the British Workman, the Church Standard, Meliora, and the Westminster Review. She also edited two short-lived publications in addition to the Temperance Journal.
Balfour was an accomplished public lecturer, a visible form of advocacy that she pursued for more than thirty years. John Dunlop was one of the people who encouraged Balfour to become a public speaker. While she talked about Temperance, she spoke on other subjects as well, including the roles of Victorian women. In one of her talks in 1847, “On the Obligations of English Literature to Female Writers,”
Balfour “urged that females should aim and endeavour to participate in the education and culture after which the other sex were aiming. For the moral and intellectual condition of the women of a country is the truest index of its virtue and dignity.”2”Lectures at the Mechanics’ Institute on English Female Writers by Mrs. Clara Lucas Balfour.” Bradford & Wakefield Observer 15.695 (28 Oct 1847): 6. Gale News Vault. Web. 20 July 2016.
Kristen Doren suggests that Balfour’s position on Victorian women’s roles has been oversimplified, in part because of the tendency to focus on her Temperance work:
“[Balfour] manipulated Victorian ‘domestic ideology,’ which situated women exclusively in the private sphere. Arguing for a drastic improvement in women’s education in order that they would be better prepared to carry out their duty as society’s moral and spiritual guardians, she has been interpreted as merely reinforcing patriarchal notions of the ideal Victorian woman. However, Clara Lucas Balfour also consistently argued that women who strove to live up to this notion of ‘ideal womanhood’ were not in any way feeble-minded or inadequate in relation to men. … Whereas she has previously been regarded almost exclusively in the light of her temperance work, a century later feminist historians can view her ‘separate spheres feminism’ as a necessary precursor to the late nineteenth-century women’s movement.”3Kristin G. Doern, “Balfour, Clara Lucas (1880-1878).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1183 (accessed 20 Jul 2016).
Balfour was a driving force behind the formation of the British Women’s Temperance Association in 1876. She became the group’s president in 1877.
Clara Lucas Balfour died of cancer on 3 July 1878.
Balfour’s contributions to the British Workman include:
- “Perseverance; Or, Sketches from Real Life” (1856)
- “The Two Partings” (1857)
- “Alfred the Great” (1857)
- “Punctuality and Temperance: A Lesson from the Life of the Late J. Brotherton, Esq., M.P.
- “A Light for Home Comfort: From Flamborough Lighthouse.” (1857)
A poem by John Harris in memory of Balfour appeared in the September 1878 issue of the British Workman (no. 285):
To the Memory of Mrs. Clara Lucas Balfour.
No single being o’er God’s great creation,
Where human speech has flown,
No matter what his kindred, clan, or nation,
Lives to himself alone.
And blest is he who giveth God the glory,
In glens by torrents riven,
Or where the city church tower riseth hoary,
The graces He hath given.
His influence liveth and survives the ages,
Outboards the poet’s hymn,
And overflows the sophistry of sages,
Till the last stars are dim.
We mourn for her whom Death has too soon taken–
The gentlest of her kind–
On shores of radiance with her Lord to waken,
Leaving a light behind:
No light begrimed by falsehood’s flashy fingers,
Which scorners joy to see;
But rays of hope, where heavenly virtue lingers,
Which lead to truth and Thee.
The child shall sorrow for the loved departed
When dewdrops gem the rose,
And manhood bright, and old age tender-hearted,
Where twilight’s portals close.
Once she came down where Cornish hearts were beating,
And sat beside our fire,
And murmured words of sympathetic greeting,
And thanked me for my lyre.
How strove she ever, in and out of season,
To bid the tippler think,
Before he lost his household and his reason
In the accursed drink.
Her pen has ceased–her voice is heard no longer
Where breathless crowds are pent,
And the last period ever seemed the stronger,
Her life has been well spent.
And yet she speaketh where the nations quarrel,
And war-clouds stretch their gloom,–
And so we bind the site rose with the laurel
O’er Clara Balfour’s tomb.
Clara Lucas Balfour. TheGarland of Water Flowers: A Collection of Poems and Tales. London: Temperance Depot, 1841. Google Books. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6U1gAAAAcAAJ&dq=balfour%20a%20garland%20of%20water%20flowers&pg=PA34#v=onepage&q=balfour%20a%20garland%20of%20water%20flowers&f=false
Susan Brown, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds., “Clara Balfour” entry within Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. <http://orlando.cambridge.org/>. 20 July 2016.
Kristin G. Doern. “Balfour, Clara Lucas (1808-1878).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1183 (accessed July 20, 2016).
Cheryl Law. “Balfour, Clara Lucas (1808-1878).” Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism. Ed. Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor. Gent and London: Academia Press and British Library, 2009. 36.
|↑1||Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Introduction,” in Clara Lucas Balfour, Morning Dew Drops. London: Partridge & Oakey, 1853. iii. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=t7IBAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR2#v=onepage&q&f=false|
|↑2||”Lectures at the Mechanics’ Institute on English Female Writers by Mrs. Clara Lucas Balfour.” Bradford & Wakefield Observer 15.695 (28 Oct 1847): 6. Gale News Vault. Web. 20 July 2016.|
|↑3||Kristin G. Doern, “Balfour, Clara Lucas (1880-1878).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1183 (accessed 20 Jul 2016).|