‘Wisdom goeth about seeking them that are worthy of her, and in their paths she appeareth graciously, and in every purpose she meeteth them.
‘For her true beginning is desire of discipline; and the care for discipline is love of her; and love of her is observance of laws.’
Wisdom of Solomon, vi. 16, 17, 18.
Dorothea Beale was born on March 21, 1831. The story of her childhood and youth forms a good illustration of the best education that girls of the early Victorian time could obtain. It gives also a glimpse of the fears and hopes, the silent struggles, the disappointments of many a girl who strove to wrest, as from a grudging Fate, the opportunity to inform and use her mind. As far as possible this story is told autobiographically.
Miss Beale belonged to a Gloucestershire family. One ancestor, in the early days of the manufacturing settlement in the Stroud Valley, married a Miss Hyde, a relation of the Chancellor. She brought to her husband Hyde Court, Chalford, where Miss Beale’s brother, Mr. Henry Beale, now resides. Miss Beale’s own father, however, never lived there. His parents, who married young, settled at Brownshill in Gloucestershire, and here his father (Dorothea’s grandfather) died, leaving a widow aged only twenty-four with three children, John, Miles, and Mary, to be brought up on very slender means. Mrs. John Beale removed to Bath, where she remained till the boys left school for Guy’s Hospital. Then she came to live with them in Essex, where for a time they practised in partnership. In 1824 Miles married Dorothea Margaret Complin, a lady of Huguenot extraction; her grandfather had practised as a physician in Spital Square, one of the original settlements of the French immigrants.
In 1830 the young couple with three children came to live in St. Helen’s parish, Bishopsgate, where a year later Dorothea, their fourth child and third daughter, was born. She was baptized in the ancient church of St. Helen’s on June 10, 1831. ‘Awoke early. Baptism Day. Read the service,’ she wrote in her diary in 1891.
The Complins were a family of wide connections. Mrs. Beale’s aunt, Mrs. Cornwallis, wife of the Rev. William Cornwallis, rector of Wittersham, Kent, was an active, benevolent woman with literary tastes and occupations. She took a great interest in her two young nieces, Elizabeth and Dorothea Margaret Complin, who at an early age lost their own mother, her sister. The two little girls were sent to school at Ealing, where the elder, Elizabeth, gained many prizes or ‘Rewards of Merit,’ as school prizes were then called. After her sister’s marriage to Mr. Miles Beale, Elizabeth Complin lived for some time with her clever aunt and cousin, Mrs. Cornwallis and her daughter Caroline, sharing their interests and studies. On the death of her brother’s wife she came to live in London. There she was brought into immediate touch with her nieces, Dorothea Beale and her sisters, whom she delighted to help and advise in their reading, and who by her means became familiar with the aims and ideals of the Cornwallises. These more distant relations, whose intellectual aims and work Miss Beale always reckoned among the influences of her early life, were themselves authors of no mean merit. ‘Mrs. Cornwallis wrote several devotional books, and is said to have learned Hebrew in the first instance to teach her grandson, James Trimmer. She wrote also for him a series of papers on the canonical Scriptures, in four volumes. This was published by subscription, as was the custom with expensive works in those days. The Queen and a number of great people entered their names, and with the profits Mrs. Cornwallis was able to build schools in her husband’s parish.’