Ada's Biography

The biography below was written in 1912.

ADA ELLEN BAYLY (1857 - 1903), novelist under the pseudonym of Edna Lyall, born at 5 Montpelier Villas, Brighton, on 25 March 1857, was youngest of the three daughters and son of Robert Bayly, barrister of the Inner Temple, by his wife, Mary Winter. Her father died when she was eleven and her mother three years later. A delicate child, she was first educated at home, then in the house of her uncle and guardian, T. B. Winter of Caterham, and finally at private schools at Brighton (cf. The Surges Letters, 1902, a record of her youthful days). After leaving school she lived successively with her two married sisters. Until 1880 she resided at Lincoln with her elder sister, who had married John Henchman Crowfoot, canon of the cathedral. From 1880 till death her home was with her younger sister, wife of the Rev. Humphrey Gurney Jameson—in London until 1881, in Lincoln 1881-4, and after 1884 at Eastbourne, where she devoted much time and money to charitable and religious causes. With strong religious feeling she combined through life an earnest faith in political and social liberalism. She was a secretary of the Eastbourne branch of the Women's Liberal Association, and a warm supporter of women's suffrage.

Under the appellation of Edna Lyall, which she formed by transposing nine letters of her three names and made her permanent pseudonym, Miss Bayly published in 1879 bee first book, ' Won by Waiting,' a juvenile story of a girl's life, which attracted at the time no attention, but was reissued, to her annoyance, in 1886, after she beame known, and by 1894 was in a 13th edition. There followed in 1882 her second novel, 'Donovan' (3 vols.), which dealt with her religious beliefs and spiritual experiences. Although only 320 copies were sold, the book won the admiration of Gladstone, who wrote to Miss Bayly in 1883 of its first volume as ' a very delicate and refined work of art.' An intelligent review in the ' National Reformer ' led to a correspondence with Charles Bradlaugh [q. v.], many of whose political convictions she shared. In spite of her dissent from his religious views, her liberal sentiments resented his exclusion on religious grounds from the House of Commons (1880-5). She thrice subscribed to the fund for defraying his electoral expenses. After his death on 30 Jan. 1891, she wrote for the press (in June) the appeal for a memorial fund, and subscribed to it her royalties for the half-year, amounting to 200l. With Bradlaugh's daughter, Mrs. Bradlaugh Bonner, she formed a lasting friendship. Meanwhile, on some notes supplied by Bradlaugh Miss Bayly based her novel 'We Two' (1884, 3 vols.), a sequel to 'Donovan.' The career of the secularist hero, Luke Raeburn, vaguely be that of Bradlaugh, although the main theme is the conversion of Erica Raeburn, the secularist's daughter, to Christianity. 'We Two' established the author's reputation, and drew 'Donovan' from its threatened oblivion. For the copyright of these two books she received no more than 50. But with the publication in 1885 of 'In the Golden Days,' an able historical novel of the seventeenth century, her profits grew substantial. 'In the Golden Days' was the last book read to Ruskin on his deathbed (Collingwod, Life of John Ruskin, 1900, p. 403). It was dramatised later by Edwin Gilbert, but had no success on the stage. 'Donovan,' 'We Two,' and 'In the Golden Days' are Miss Bayly's best books.

Miss Bayly's popularity was thenceforth secure. In 1886 a stranger falsely claimed in public to be 'Edna Lyall,' and a report also circulated that the authoress was in a lunatic asylum. Miss Bayly met the falsehood by announcing her identity, and the experience suggested her 'Autobiography of a Slander' (1887), a brief study of the evil wrought by false gossip, which enjoyed an immense vogue and was translated into French, German, and Norwegian.

Two of her succeeding works expounded anew her political convictions. An ardent home ruler, she in 'Doreen,' an Irish novel (1894) which was first published in the 'Christian World,' presented the Irish revolutionary leader, Michael Davitt [q. v. Suppl. II], in the guise of her hero, Donal Moore. Gladstone, writing to her 25 Nov. 1894, commended 'the singular courage with which you stake your wide public reputation upon the Irish cause.' In 1896 she championed the Armenians against their Turkish oppressors in her comparatively unimpressive 'The Autobiography of a Truth' (1896), the profits of which she gave to the Armenian Relief Fund. Strongly opposed to the South African war, she spoke out with customary frankness in her last novel, 'The Hinderers' (1902).

An attack of pericarditis in 1889 had left permanent ill effects. Miss Bayly died on 8 Feb. 1903 at 6 College Road, Eastbourne. The body was cremated and the ashes buried at the foot of the old cross in Bosbury churchyard, near Bosbury Hill, Herefordshire, a place which figures in her novel 'In Spite of All' (1901), and of which her brother, the Rev. R. Burges Bayly, was vicar.

Slight in build and of medium height, with dark brown hair and dark grey-blue eyes, Miss Bayly was fond of music and of travelling, and described her tours in vivacious letters. Her style is always clear and pleasant. She developed a genuine faculty of constructing a plot, and she was especially happy in the characterisation of young girls. But her earnest political purpose, which came of her native horror of oppression and injustice, militated against her mastery of the whole art of fiction.

In 1906 a memorial window by Kempe was placed in St. Peter's Church, Eastbourne (built 1896), where Miss Bayly had worshipped and to which she had presented the seats. She had given in 1887 a peal of throe bells to St. Saviour's Church, named Donovan, Erica, and Hugo, after leading characters in her three chief books. Other works by Miss Bayly are: 1. 'Their Happiest Christmas,' 1886. 2. ' Knight Errant,' 1887 (a story of the life of a public singer, suggested by her acquaintance with Miss Mary Davies, formed while travelling in Norway). 3. ' Derrick Vaughan, Novelist,' 1889, dedicated to Miss Mary Davies, an embodiment of Miss Bayly's literary experiences, first published periodically in ' Murray's Magazine.' 4. ' A Hardy Norseman,' 1889. 5. ' Max Hereford's Dream,' 1891 (new edit. 1900). 6. ' To Right the Wrong,' 1892, an historical seventeenth-century novel, first published in ' Good Words.' 7. ' How the Children raised the Wind,' 1895. 8. 'Wayfaring Men,' 1897, a story of the stage. 9. ' Hope the Hermit,' 1898, a Cumberland tale of the days of William and Mary, which had run through the 'Christian World,' of which 9000 copies were sold on the day of separate publication. 10. 'In Spite of All,' 1901, an historical tale of the seventeenth century, originally written as a drama and produced without success at Eastbourne by the Ben Greet company, 4 Jan. 1900, then at Cambridge, and finally at the Comedy Theatre, London, 5 Feb. 1900. She also wrote a preface to 'The Story of an African Chief by Mr, Wyndham Knight - Bruce, 1893, and on Mrs. Gaskell in 'Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign,' 1897.

Yours very sincerely. Ada Ellen Bayly. Edna Lyall

Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. Ada Ellen Bayly, by Elizabeth Lee.

[J. M. Escreet, Life of Edna Lyall, 1904; The Times, 10 Feb. 1903; Athenaeum, 14 Feb. 1903; G. A. Payne, Edna Lyall, 1903; H. C. Black, Notable Women Authors of the Day, 1893, with portrait; private information.]