This narrative life of Anne and Heneage Finch was written for a British ensemble called Musica Dolce. They commissioned me to write it to be adapted for
performance. The first booking was at Brunel University during a festival in February 2001.
by Ellen Moody
The remains of Pope's Grotto, 1965 Photograph
Kind bird, thy praises I design,
Thy praises, like thy plumes should shine,
Thy praises, should thy life outlive,
Could I, the fame I wish thee, give.
Thou, my domestic music art,
And dearest trifle of my heart.
Soft in thy notes, and in thy dress,
Softer, than numbers can express.
Softer than love, softer than light
When just escaping from the night;
When first she rises, unarrayed,
And steals a passage though the shade.
Softer than air, or flying clouds,
Which Phoebus' glory thinly shrouds.
Gay as the spring, gay as the flowers,
When lightly strewed with pearly showers.
Never to the woods shalt thou return,
Nor thy wild freedom, shalt thou mourn.
Thou, to my bosom shalt repair,
And find a safer shelter there.
There shalt thou watch, and should I sleep,
My heart, thy charge, securely keep.
Love, who a stranger is to me,
Must by his wings, be kin to thee.
So painted over, so seeming fair,
So soft, his first addresses are;
Thy guard, he never can pass unseen,
Thou -- surely thou -- hast often been
Whilst yet a wanderer in the grove,
A false accomplice, with this Love.
In the same shade, hast thou not sat,
And seen him work some wretches' fate?
Hast thou not soothed him when in the wrong,
And graced the mischief, with a song?
Tuning thy loud, conspiring voice,
Over falling lovers to rejoice?
If so, thy wicked faults redeem,
In league with me, no truce with him,
Do thou admit, but warn my heart,
And all his sly design impart,
Lest to that breast, by craft he get,
Which has defied, and braved him yet
(MS F-H 283, pp. 50-53).
Anne Kingsmill wrote this poem in 1683 when she was twenty-two and living at the court of James II as an unmarried maid of honour to his queen. A graceful, bashful gentlewoman with long dark curling hair, she had come to court from the rural countryside of Northamptonshire, and was now the target of some alluring wooing on the part of Heneage Finch, a twenty-six year old Groom of the Bedchamber, also as yet unmarried. In a song written just before or just after their marriage on May 15, 1684, she tells him -- and now us -- she understood her love for him was not without its dangers:
'Tis strange, this heart within my breast,
Reason opposing, and her pow'rs,
Cannot one gentle moment rest,
Unlesse it knows what's done in yours.
In vain I ask it, of your Eyes,
Which subt'ly would my fears controul,
For art has taught them, to disguise,
Which Nature made, t'explain the soul.
In vain, that sound your voice affoards,
Flatters sometimes, my easy mind,
But of too vast extent, are words,
In them, the Jewel truth to find.
Then, lett thy fond enquiry's cease,
And so my soul, thy troubles end,
For sure that heart, shall ne'r know peace,
That on another does depend
(MS F-H 283, pp. 87-88).
Anne was the third child of Sir William Kingsmill and Anne Haslewood. Her father had been the heir to a large estate in Hampshire, and the Kingsmills could trace their lineage back to the thirteenth century. Anne's mother had been one of nine children of a less wealthy family, though the Haslewoods were also proud of an old name, house, and lands in their county, Northamptonshire, and intermarried with the nearby much more powerful Hatton family. Kingsmills, Haslewoods and Hattons had been on the side of the king in the recent civil war, and saw themselves as having suffered greatly for it.
Heneage was the oldest surviving son of another Heneage Finch, the second Earl of Winchilsea, by his second wife, Mary Seymour. The Finch estates in Kent had served as a rendez-vous for pro-Stuart conspiratorial activities and an active revolt during Cromwell's time. While Mary Seymour had been one of those women who leave no history behind them beyond a silent record of ceaseless pregnancies, in her case at least eleven in eleven years, hers had been a heady genealogy: her mother had been a Devereux, and her father, a descendent of Henry VIII's sister, Mary Tudor. In those days men married to get the right father-in-law: when the second Earl of Winchilsea married Mary Seymour, the powerful William Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset, became his father-in-law. Hertford had been one of the four pallbearers of the coffin of Charles I.
Both Heneage and Anne Finch remained unalterably loyal to the Stuart, or, as it came to be called, the Jacobite cause. In 1690 Heneage attempted to flee to France to join the deposed James; he afterwards refused to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, and to the end of his life he remained an active non-juror. When, somewhat unexpectedly, he became the fourth Earl of Winchilsea, he provided refuge to minor clergymen he saw as persecuted and harassed, and witnessed consecration ceremonies for non-juring bishops. He understood very well that such behaviour would prevent his ever taking a seat in the House of Lords, and accepted the consequences of his choices.
Anne wrote politically Jacobite poetry. In 1718, she wrote a witty verse letter to the Reverend Hilkiah Belford, a non-juring divine who was wrongly accused of writing and publishing a treatise on behalf of the right of James II's son to inherit the throne, and had endured three years of imprisonment. She tells Belford she shall do what she can to help him but explains why it will be of no avail:
To the Reverend Mr. Bedford
On me then Sir as on a friend
You say your interests now depend
And may you be no longer mine
When your least service I decline
But though my will is all on fire
To compass that which you desire
Success from others must proceed
Towards which observe my restless speed
Your note received down stairs I fly
My gown unpinned my hood awry
With Mrs Mary at my heels
Who as she this disorder feels
Here gives a twitch there aims a pin
But cannot reach to fix it in
Yet does with lengthened strides approach
And throws my ruffles in the coach
I finishing the best I can
Now drop my gloves and then my fan
As Jehu scours along the streets
And swears at everything he meets
Till to his Lordships' door he comes
Who spies me through a suite of rooms
And forward moves with courtly pace
Till noting my requesting face
He puts on a refusing air
And bids his footman call a chair
Then draws his watch -- 'tis two and past
You find me in a prodigious haste
He cries as he on tiptoe stands
Yet Madam what are your commands
I'll serve you to my utmost power
The Houses have been met this hour
Shall I conduct you to my wife
I have no interest on my life …
I barely hint as he goes on
Who Madam cries it can't be done
Your humble servant you forgive
You see in what a round we live…
(MS Wellesley, pp. 78-79).
In her two tragic plays written in the decade after the collapse of the Stuart regime, The Queen of Cyprus and Aristomenes, she retells the story of James and Mary of Modena's dethronement sympathetically from a psychological standpoint. She recreates the trauma experienced by those whose fundamental sense of personal security and identity such a débâcle destroys. She mixes dramatic pictures of a queen's flight 'through the crowded streets' when 'so near, the horrid tumult came' and she fled to 'a poor frail bark, that danced upon the waves/And yett me thought, was steadier than my island', with the exulting speeches of those who revel in the vibrant energies released by chaos:
'Tis a rare world, a brave world,
A ranting, flaunting, shining world;
Not a tavern in the town but's in a blaze,
Not a pretended sister, cousin, or other civil relation,
That is not publicly owned
For an errant tory rory strumpet
(MS Folger,The Queen of Cyprus, pp. 80, 111)
Her male courtiers reproduce the sophisticated salacious innuendo she remembered as characteristic of court life.
Captain Capriccio: Sing us a song, good Captain, says one;
[imitating their voices]
No, no says another, tell us a story of the Turks;
Oh! but was you never in love, says a third,
Yes, yes, says I, most inhumanly,
And then, I looked leeringly thus, upon my Lady Clarilla,
That she might think it was with her.
But was you never drunk, says another,
A notable pert wench that,
And came home to me, i'faith;
But, says I, what in my face betrays it?
Nay, nothing, says she.
For a red nose, may be caught with standing
Too long in the sun, and at that
They all set up a laugh, tee, hee, ha, ha, a…
(MS Folger, The Queen of Cyprus, pp. 87-88)
Anne makes the suffering of her king and queen take place amid biting imitations of courtly insouciance. The courtiers who are puzzled and made uncomfortable by the king's disorder and confusion of mind are matched by those who are indifferent to or exploit it (MS Folger, Aristomenes, pp. 146-47, 153-54, 181-82).
For Heneage Jacobitism was an inherited political creed and a matter of personal integrity. Anne's loyalty to the deposed king and queen was rooted in the fragility of her grasp upon her own sanity. She had to adhere to this couple she had seen acting with quiet dignity, self-respect and kindness; it comforted her to imagine the royal pair would reciprocate her and Heneage's steadfast loyalty.
We cannot appreciate the beauty, intelligence and occasional fiery passion of Anne Finch's poetry unless we understand that her writing records a lifelong battle with depression or, as she called this state of mind, melancholy, her 'old inveterate foe' (Areta to Melancholy,
MS F-H 283, p. 70). She perceived her melancholy as a large knot of persistent grief at the core of her emotional life (On Grief, MS F-H 283, p. 8). In poetry addressed to her maternal half-sister, Dorothy Ogle, she says her melancholy began with their mother's death when she was three. No one took her mother's place as a loving individual she could securely depend upon (Some Reflections in a Dialogue between Teresa and Ardelia, MS F-H 283, p. 255, and The Retirement, 1701 Gilden, pp. 288-292). Anne connects her melancholy to the insecurity, loneliness and lack of respect she and Heneage had to endure as Jacobite outcasts. She makes it clear too, the dismissal, indifference and ridicule she confronted when she gave herself over to fulfilling her gift for poetry frustrated and hurt her. She is ever withdrawing into the shade rather than be made to feel the powers she felt within her are worthless or no power at all, and she often grows angry when she considers how women are 'Education's, more than Nature's fools', and that they are 'debarred from all improvements of the mind/And to be dull, expected and designed' (The Introduction, MS F-H 283, p. 4). It didn't help that she never had a child.
Anne Finch's The Spleen was once her most famous poem. It examines the phases of real depression in a way that leave no doubt that the poet is speaking from personal experience. It is still valuable today as a movingly poetic, perceptive and honest account of the experience of depression which neither sentimentalises nor trivialises it (MS Folger, pp. 52-56). The intimate living feel of Anne's most poignant verse also derives from the candour and courage with which she describes her inner life. She appeals to aspects of her own mind just out of reach whom she treats ruefully as the only friends she can rely upon in her battles against depression:
How shall I woo thee, gentle rest,
To a sad mind, with cares oppressed?
By what soft means, shall I invite
Thy powers into my soul tonight?
Yet gentle sleep, if thou wilt come,
Such darkness shall prepare the room,
As thy own palace overspreads,
(Thy palace stored, with peaceful beds)
And silence too, shall on thee waite,
Great, as in the Turkish state.
Whilst still as death I will be found,
My arms by one another bound,
And my dull lids, so closed shall be,
As if already sealed by thee.
Thus I'll dispose the outward part,
Would I could quiet too my heart …
283, p. 124)
The intensity of others derives from the alert restlessness of a mind darting into and around its own recesses as if it were a landscape:
An Enquiry after Peace
Peace, where art thou to be found,
Where in all the spacious round,
May thy footsteps be pursued?
Where may thy calm seats be viewed?
On some Mountain dost thou lie
Securely, near the ambient sky,
Smiling at the clouds below,
Where rough storms and tempests grow;
Or in some retired plain,
Undisturbed doest thou remain.
Where no angry whirlwinds pass,
Where no streams oppress the grass;
High above, or deep below,
Fain I thy retreat would know…
Pleasure's a tumultous thing,
Busy still, and still on wing,
Fed by luxury and vice
Midnight revels, balls, and dice;
Flying swift from place to place
Darting from each beautous face;
From each strongly mingled bowl,
Through th'inflamed and restless soul…
Thirst of wealth no quiet knows,
But near the deathbed fiercer grows;
Wounding men with secret stings,
For evils it on others brings,
War, who not discreetly shuns,
Through life the gauntlet runs;
Swords, and pikes, and waves, and flames
Each, their stroke, against him aims.
Love (if such a thing there be)
Is all despair, or ecstacy
Poetry's the raving fit
And ferment of unruly wit ---
(MS Folger, pp. 65-66,
Verses, incerted in a letter to [Catherine
Cavendish Tufton,] my Lady Thanet…
At the close of this poem Anne's remedy is to laugh at herself.
William Wordsworth admired Anne Finch's poetry because he recognised in her a kindred soul. Her best known poems occur when, like him, she has been 'surprised by joy', has fought her way clear to calm and cheerfulness and with the intense strength the battle has given her, and she responds to the beauty of musical sounds she listens intently for:
To the Echo in a clear night upon Astrop walks
Say lovely Nymph, where dost thou dwell?
Where is that secret sylvan seat,
That melancholy, sweet retreat,
From whence thou dost these notes repel?
And moving syllables repeat?…
Where Cynthia lends her gentle light,
Whilst the appeas'd, expanded air
A passage for thee does prepare,
And Strephon's tuneful voice, invite,
Thine, a soft part with him to bear.
Oh! pleasure, when thou'dst take a flight
Beyond thy common mortal height,
When to thy sphere above thou'dst press,
And men like angels, thou would'st bless
Thy season be, like this fair night,
And harmony thy dress.
(MS F-H 283, pp. 68-69)
The experience of life that Anne and Heneage knew together that makes us care about them exists apart from the kind of events recorded in the chronological charts of biographers. It is the moments when time expanded and became something fully alive and shared that matter, moments Anne turned into poetry that Heneage copied out. Still we cannot do without story altogether.
Between 1689, the year Heneage lost his position at court, and 1704, when it was realised that his nephew, Charles, the third Earl of Winchilsea, might not produce an heir, and that eventually Heneage would be fourth
Earl of Winchilsea (which event happened in 1712)
Heneage and Anne moved about.
These fourteen years were unsettled and troubled ones. Heneage and Anne visited Eastwell and Hothfield House in Kent; Longleat, which is just inside Wiltshire, near Somerset; and Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. They seem, though, to have lived mostly in two houses owned or controlled by the Finch family, not far from Eastwell: from 1692 to 1699 they lived at Godmersham, a decayed Elizabethan priory; and from 1699 to 1704 at Wye College, a minimally renovated monastery.
About three-quarters of the poetry Anne wrote and Heneage copied out into two of the three extant large manuscript books of verse by Anne that we have were written during this period. This poetry may be read as a record of two people struggling to adjust to difficult circumstances. Heneage and Anne's closest relatives were not in sympathy with their Jacobitism; there is evidence that their shared enjoyment of abstruse learning, her melancholy poeticising in solitude, and her illness 'tried' their relatives and friend's 'patience', 'wearied', and worse, irritated them (Epilogue to Aristomenes, MS Folger, p. 194). Heneage was at first and while at court, and in their first visits to Eastwell, embarrassed by Anne's poetry; numbers of her early songs testify to real tensions between the couple. About fifteen months after they were married, in August 1685, Anne went so far as to attempt a trial separation (A Letter to Mr Finch from Tunbridge Wells, August 17th, 1675, MS F-H 283, pp. 85-86). Anne's most famous poem apparently celebrating their connubial bliss, 'This to the Crown, and blessing of my Life'/The much loved husband, of a happy wife', was written to lure Heneage to return home to her after a quarrel. She 'undertakes' to apologise though she usually 'censures' women for this, and concludes 'I your censure, could with pleasure bear/Would you but soon return, and speak it here' (A Letter to Daphnis, MS F-H 283, pp. 35-36).
Anne's poetry about her and Heneage's relationship shows dissensions, ambivalences, and disquiet. At court she complained he drank and flirted too much, stayed away from home for too long, and behaved jealously when she flirted with others. In one of her songs she writes that alcohol had made such 'an Island' of his heart, one 'So inaccessible, and cold/That to be his, is to be old' (The nymph in vain, bestows her pains, MS F-H 283, p. 60). At Godmersham and Wye, he found the continual tension in her face and her crying depressing, puzzling and alienating. In a pastoral dialogue Anne dramatises a scene in which a shepherdess apologises to a shepherd who complains her weeping only makes things worse, but if she can explain why she cries, he will 'ease her grief by bearing part'. The shepherdess excuses herself on the grounds that she cries because she fears her continual state of anxiety will drive him to one of the nymphs at court. When the shepherd then says that they can only find peace away from others, the shepherdess produces another invitation which we may hope her shepherd took up:
She. Then from the hurry let's retire
And quit Ambition for the grove,
Honour's at best a painted fire,
There is no solid joy but love.
Pan will approve of our retreat,
On the soft grass supinely laid,
We'll pity those that dare be great
And make a palace of the shade
1701 Gilden, pp. 332- 34).
In another harder poem written in 1712 Anne showed Heneage would also sometimes respond to her sadness with strained cold silence that could not be broken through (On a Short Visit, Inscribed to my Lady Worseley, MS Portland, Vol 19, pp. 304-7).
The seven years at Godmersham were their toughest ones. It was then that Anne wrote her two tragic plays; then that she wrote her still unsettling prayer To Death:
O King of terrours, whose unbounded sway
All that have life, must certainly obey.
The King, the Priest, the Prophet, all are thine,
Nor wou'd ev'n God, (in Flesh) thy stroke decline.
My name is on thy Role and sure I must,
Increase thy gloomy kingdoms, in the dust,
My soul at this, no apprehension feels,
But trembles at thy swords, thy racks, thy wheels,
Thy scorching fevers, which distract the sense,
And snatch us raving, unprepar'd from hence;
At thy contagious darts, that wound the heads
Of weeping friends, that wait at dying beds.
Spare these, and let thy time be when it will,
My business is to die, and thine to kill.
Gently, thy fatal sceptre on me lay,
And take to thy cold arms, insensibly thy prey
(MS F-H 283, pp. 5-6)
In 1697 that Heneage wrote from Godmersham a bleak and lonely letter to his older sister's husband and good friend, Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth in which he reveals he has just had a painful attack of gout, the first of the many episodes which would follow (McGovern, Anne Finch, p. 74). One of Anne's earliest and gayer free adapations of the fables of the seventeenth-century French poet, La Fontaine was written just then. Many of the poems from these fourteen years were written to tease Heneage, gain some perspective herself, and inspirit them both:
The Gout and Spider. A Fable
[Imitated from Monsr de la Fontaine
And Inscribed to Mr Finch, After his
first Fitt of that Distemper]
When from th'infernal pit two Furies rose
One foe to flies, and one to man's repose,
Seeking above to find a place secure
Since Hell the gout nor spider could endure.
On a rich palace at the first they light
Where pleased Arachne dazzled with the sight
In a conspicuous corner of a room
The hanging fretwork makes her active loom.
From leaf to leaf with every line does trace,
Admires the strange convenience of the place,
Nor can believe those ceilings ever were made
To other end than to promote her trade.
Where proved and prospered in her finished work,
The hungry fiend does in close ambush lurk,
Until some silly insect shall repay
What from her bowels she has spun that day.
The wiser gout (for that's a thinking ill)
Observing how the splendid chambers fill
With visitors such as abound below
Who from Hippocrates and Galen grow
To some unwealthy shed resolves to fly
And there obscure and unmolested lie.
But see how either project quickly fails:
The clown his new tormentor with him trails
Through miry ways, rough woods and furrowed lands,
Never cuts the shoe nor propped in crutches stands,
With Phoebus rising, stays with Cynthia out,
Allows no respite to the harassed gout.
Whilst with extended broom th'unpittying maid
Does the transparent labyrinth invade
Back stroke and fore the battering engine went
Broke every cord and quite unhinged the tent.
No truce the tall virago ever admits
Contracted and abashed Arachne sits.
Then in convenient time the work renews
The battering ram again the work pursues.
What's to be done? The gout and spider meet,
Exchange, the cottage this; that takes the feet
Of the rich abbot who that palace kept,
And 'till that time in velvet curtains slept.
Now colwort leaves and cataplasms (though vain)
Are hourly ordered by that gripping train,
Who blush not to prescribe t'exhaust our gold
For aches which incurable they hold.
Whilst stroked and fixed the pampered gout remains
And in an easy chair ever the priest detains.
In a thatched roof secure the spider thrives
Both mending by due place their hated lives…
For you, my dear, whom late that pain did seize
Not rich enough to sooth the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay
Nor yet so poor to fright the gout away:
May you but some unfrequent visits find
To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind,
Who by a tender and officious care
Will ease that grief or her proportion bear,
Since Heaven does in the nuptial state admit
Such cares but new endeaments ot beget,
And to allay the hard fatigues of life
Gave the first maid a husband, him a wife.
(MS Folger, pp. 276-77, from
La Goutte et l"Araignée,
III:9, pp. 92-93)
Out of adversity Anne plucks poems of Keatsian splendour. The beauty of one of Anne's most powerful poems from Wye derives from her ability to see rich strangeness in the ordinary things of life. She seems to be answering the accusation that her and Heneage's 'retirement' to Wye was mere 'moroseness… Abandoned pleasures in monastic walls'. In this poem she combines her love of tapestry (which covered the walls), her identification with birds, and love of wandering deep into the woods with a fascination with glass, mirrors and the colours of liquor floating in a dark bowl:
By Near Resemblance See that Bird Betrayed
By near resemblance see that bird betrayed
Who takes the well-wrought arras for a shade.
There hopes to perch and with a cheerful tune
Over-pass the scorchings of the sultry noon.
But soon repulsed by the obdurate scene,
How swift she turns, but turns, alas, in vain,
That piece a Grove, this shows an ambient sky
Where imitated fowl their pinions ply,
Seeming to mount in flight and aiming still more high.
All she outstrips and with a moment's pride
Their understation silent does deride.
'Till the dashed ceiling strikes her to the ground
No intercepting shrub to break the fall is found.
Recovering breath the window next she gains
Nor fears a stop from the transparent panes.
Oh! man what inspiration was thy guide
Who taught thee light and air thus to divide:
To let in all the usefull beames of Day,
Yet force, as subtle winds, without thy sash to stay;
T'extract from embers by a strange device,
Then polish fair these flakes of solid ice;
Which, silvered over, redouble all in place,
And give thee back thy well or ill-complexioned face.
To glasses blown exceed the gloomy bowl
Which did the wines full excellence control
These show the body, whilst you taste the soul.
Its colour sparkles motion, lets thee see
Though yet th'excess the preacher warns to flee
Lest men at length as clearly spy through thee.
But we digress and leave th'imprisoned wretch
Now sinking low now on a loftier stretch
Fluttering in endless circles of dismay
'Till some kind hand directs the certain way
Which through the casement an escape affords
And leads to ample space the only Heaven of birds
(MS Folger, pp. 292-93).
Death has became a gateway to freedom and a visionary awakening.
The poems from this period are not all impassioned. Anne also wrote funny burlesques which touch the heart. In the dawn hours of March 25th, 1702, she was suddenly startled out of sleep and found her chimney ablaze, and sometime later wrote:
An Apology for my Fearful Temper in a Letter in
Burlesque upon the Firing of my Chimney
'Twas at an hour when most were sleeping
Some chimneys clean, some wanted sweeping;
Mine through good fires maintained this winter
(Of which no Finch was e'er a stinter)
Poured down such flakes not Aetna bigger
Throws up as did my fancy figure
Nor does a cannon rammed with powder
To others seem to bellow louder.
All that I thought or spoke or acted
Can't in a letter be compacted,
Nor how I threatened those with burning
Who thoughtless on their beds were turning.
As Shakespeare says they served old Priam
When that the Greeks were got too nigh'em;
And such th'effect in spite of weather
Our Hecubas all rose together.
I at their head half-clothed and shaking
Was instantly the house forsaking,
And told them 'twas no time for talking
But who'd be safe had best be walking.
This hasty counsel and conclusion
Seemed harsh to those who had no shoes on
And saw no flames and heard no clatter,
But as I had rehearsed the matter,
And wildly talked of fire and water;
For sooner than it took to tell it
Right applications did repell it.
And now my fear our mirth creating
Affords still subject for repeating,
Whilst some deplore th'unusual folly,
Some (kinder) call it melancholy…
(MS Wellesley, pp. 98-100).
In the summer of 1689, during one of Heneage and her first visits to Eastwell, she wrote some delightfully fanciful and self-deprecating poetry. To escape family tensions in the house, she had walked on and on and lost herself in poetic reveries:
By the alluring Muse betrayed
By fancies light of nymphs and faeries,
Romantic notions and vagaries,
Of fawns and sylvan dark abodes,
Of heroes rushing from the Woods
'Till length of way no strength had left her
And both of feet and breath bereft her,
Who now must take for bed and lover
Cold earth and boughs which dangled over,
Nor could return in sheets to slumber.
Nor more then she the stars could number
Yet loath this wretched course to follow,
For once resolved to move Apollo,
Misled by him and his vain rabble
To try his courtesy and stable.
She then implored that for this time,
And, to be sure, she sued in rhyme,
That he his chariot would but spare her
Which in a moment home might bear her
Scarce missed by him or his nine Lasses.
But he replied she'd break the glasses
That late he saw such fate attend her
And vowed that his he ne'er would lend her
That fitter 'twere she took the air
Like country doll to neighb'ring fair
Like harvest Gill or strolling player…
Pegasus is not for modern poets who write satiric lampoons and whose situation resembles that of Don Quixote. Anne must take an ordinary wooden water cart home (Upon Ardelia's return home [after too long a walk in Eastwell Park] in a water cart driven by one of the under-keepers in his green coat, with a hazel-bough for a whip, MS Folger, pp. 251-53).
In an oddly modern verse-letter written to Heneage when he was away, Anne asserts that he and she can carve out and share together a meaningful private space through the marvelous invention of letter-writing:
In Praise of the Invention of writing Letters
Blessed be the man (his memory at least)
Who found this art, thus to unfold his breast,
And taught succeeding times, an easy way
Their secret thoughts, by letters to convey.
To baffle absence, and secure delight,
Which 'till that time, was limited to sight.
The parting farewell spoke, the last adieu,
The lessening distance, past, then loss of view…
Oh! might I live, to see an art arise
As this to thoughts, indulgent to the eyes,
That the dark powers of distance could subdue,
And make me see, as well as talk to you,
That tedious miles, nor tracts of air might prove,
Bars to my sight and shadows to my love.
Yet were it granted, such unbounded things
Are wandering wishes, born on fancy's wings,
They'd stetch themselves, beyond this happy case,
And ask an art, to help us to embrace
(To a Friend [Flavio]… ,
MS F-H 283, pp. 110-13)
It was during his years at Godmersham and Wye that Heneage first became a serious student of antiquities. Henage's father, the second Earl, had first stirred his son's imagination. When the Earl was in Turkey, he gathered curious objects of historical interest, and brought them to his young family at Eastwell. He then did what he could to stimulate his children's interest in European and natural history, in pre-classical times and the world beyond Europe. In 1700 Heneage writes to Lord Weymouth, of medals and coins Weymouth has sent him; in 1702, he writes of his intention to examine a neolithic long barrow near Chilham; by 1703 he has gained enough respect among antiquarians to be asked to examine a small urn of reddish earth and child's skeleton, which had been discovered along a wagon-road near Wye. Two decades later, he has become such an genuine student and enthusiast he is asked to join the Society of Antiquarians by the early and nowadays respected archaeologist, William Stukeley, and as Stukeley's patron and assistant measured graves, took notes and climbed Silbury hill near Avebury. This was in 1723 when Heneage weighed sixteen stone twelve pounds, and suffered badly from gout.
When they were living at Eastwell Anne celebrated Heneage's many varied interests in one of her finest poems. To us it recalls Wordsworth's poetry, but it is an imitation of Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion, a poem Spenser wrote for his bride as a wedding present:
An Invitation to Daphnis
(To leave his Study and usual Employments
-- Mathematicks, Painting, &c and to
take the pleasures of the field with Ardelia)
When such a day, blessed the Arcadian plain,
Warm without sun, and shady without rain,
Fanned by an air, that scarcely bent the flowers,
Or waved the woodbines on the summer bowers,
The nymphs, disordered beauty could not fear,
Nor ruffling winds uncurled the shepherd's hair,
On the fresh grass they trod their measures light,
And a long evening made from noon, to night.
Come then, my Daphnis, from those cares descend
Which better may the winter season spend.
Come then, my Daphnis, and the fields survey.
And through the groves with your Ardelia stray.
Reading the softest poetry, refuse,
To view the subjects of each rural muse;
Nor let the busy compasses go round,
When faery circules better mark the ground.
Rich colours on the vellum cease to lay,
When every lawn, much nobler can display,
When on the dazzling poppy may be seen
A glowing red, exceeding your carmine;
And for the blue, that over the sea is borne,
A brighter rises in our standing corn.
Come then, my Daphnis, and the fields survey.
And through the groves with your Ardelia stray.
Come, and let Sanson's World no more engage,
Although he gives a kingdom in a page;
O'er all the universe his lines may go,
And not a clime like temperate Britain show.
Come then, my Daphnis, and the fields survey.
And through the groves with your Ardelia stray.
Nor plead that you're immured and cannot yield,
That mighty bastions keep you from the field;
Think not, though lodged in Mons, or in Namur,
You're from my dangerous attacks secure.
No, Louis shall his falling conquests fear,
When by succeeding couriers he shall hear
Apollo and the Muses are drawn down
To storm each fort and take in every town.
Vauban the Orphean lyre to mind shall call,
That drew the stones to old Theban wall,
And make no doubt, if it against him play,
They, from his works, will fly as fast away,
Which to prevent, he shall to peace persuade,
Of strong confederate syllables afraid.
Come then, my Daphnis, and the fields survey.
And through the groves with your Ardelia stray.
Come, and attend, how we walk along,
Each cheerful bird shall treat us with a song,
Not such as fops compose, where wit, nor art,
Nor plainer nature, ever bear a part;
The crystal springs shall murmur as we pass,
But not like courtiers, sinking to disgrace;
Nor shall the louder rivers, in their fall,
Like unpaid sailors, or hoarse pleaders, brawl;
But all shall form a concert to delight,
And all to peace, and all to love, invite.
Come then, my Daphnis, and the fields survey.
And through the groves with your Ardelia stray.
As Baucis and Philemon spent their lives,
Of husbands he, the happiest she of wives,
When through the painted meads, their way they sought,
Harmless in act and unperplexed in thought,
Let us, my Daphnis, rural joys pursue,
And courts and camps not even in fancy view,
So, let us through the groves, my Daphnis, stray,
And so, the pleasures of the field, survey
(MS Folger, pp. 41-43).
An Invitation to Daphnis was written in 1706. Anne wrote that Eastwell Park inspired her to write imaginative landscape poetry, and that the security of living in the house and the kindness of its owner, Charles Finch, gave her the courage to stop resisting her impulse to write poetry which had been trying to do up to that time. She allowed herself to hope that the book that came from all this would be published, and called the park her Parnassus (MS Folger, unpaginated The Preface). In one poem Anne depicts herself sitting by a window overlooking the park. The natural smell of the boughs of a nearby 'woodbine' refresh her; its 'fragrant odours' pour into her soul 'a secret sweet content' and she revels in the park's soft breezes:
. . . Eastwell park does each soft gale invite,
There let them meet and revel in delight,
Amidst the silver beeches spread their wings,
Where ev'ry bird as in Arcadia sings.
Where the tall stag in the descending boughs,
May brush the beamy product of his brows.
where lesser deer overrun th'extended lawns,
And does are followed by unnumbered fawns.
The even plains invite the racer's feet,
As valour steady and as fancy fleet.
whlist fragrant turf the rider's heart revives,
And paradise surrounds him while he strives.
Where two fair heads the true Parnassus grace,
And Poetry's a native of the place.
(An Invocation to the southern Winds inscribed
to the right honourable Charles, Earl of
Winchelsea at his Arrival in London, after
having been long detained on the coast of
Holland, 1717 Pope's Own Miscellany, pp. 118- 23)
In the poetry of this period Anne shows an almost preternatural awareness of sounds.
Gentlest air thou breath of lovers
Vapour from a secret fire
Which by thee itself discovers
E're yet daring to aspire.
Softest note of whisper'd anguish
Harmony's refindest part
Striking whilst thou seem's to languish
Full upon the listeners' heart.
Safest messenger of passion
Stealing through a crowd of spies
Which constain the outward fashion
Close the lips and guard the eyes.
Shapeless sigh we ne're can show thee
Formed but to assault the ear
Yet e're to their cost they know thee
Ev'ry nymph may read thee here
(MS Folger, 'The Sigh', p. 254).
Anne thought of her poetry as passionate syllables along staves of verse. To write poetry was to make music out of words, and she writes poems which imitate the artificial music of men and women or the natural music of the earth and all its creatures. Many have said her finest poem is To the Nightingale:
Exert thy voice, sweet harbinger of spring,
This moment is thy time to sing:
This moment, I attend to praise,
And set my numbers to thy lays;
Free, as thine, shall be my song,
As thy tune, concise or long;
If, thou repetition try,
Verse redoubled shall reply;
Poets, wild as thee were born,
Pleasing best, when unconfined,
When to please is least designed,
Soothing but their cares to rest,
(Cares do still their thoughts molest)
And still the anxious poet's breast
Like thine, when best he sings, is placed against
She begins, let all be still.
Muse, thy promise, now, fulfill.
Sweet, oh! sweet, still sweeter yet,
Can thy words such accents hit?
Can't thou syllables refine,
Melt a sense, which shall retain
Still some spirit of the brain,
'Till with sounds like these it join?
'Twill not be; then change thy note,
Let division shake thy throat,
Hark! division now she tries,
Yet, as far the Muse outflies,
Prythee, cease, then cease thy tune,
Trifler, wilt thou sing 'till June,
'Till thy business all lies waste,
And the time of buildings past:
Hiding thus, in night, thy head,
Sure, thou'rt to some faction wed,
Or to false opinions bred.
Thus, we poets, that have speech,
(Far from what they forests teach)
If a fluent vein be shown,
But transcendent to our own, --
Criticise, reform, or preach,
Or censure, what we cannot reach
(MS Folger, pp. 294-95)
She wrote that this kind of poetry came from the irresistible impulses which with Eastwell Park filled her heart.
Although Anne depicted her poetry as inspired by Apollo, a god of reason, sunlight, healing and harmonious music, she perceives the experience of life through stories about and shaped by women. Goddesses, nymphs and shepherdesses, and female classical and Biblical characters dominate her poetry; she identifies with Arachne, Pallas Athene and the Bacchantes surrounding Orpheus; Iphigenia, Dido, and Alcyone; Deborah ahd Hannah, and, in her last poems, Saint Cecilia and Mary Magdalene (A Description of One of the pieces of Tapestry at Longleat, 1713 Miscellany, pp. 66-71; A Letter to Mr Finch, MS F-H 283, pp. 106-8; The Introduction, MS F-H 283, pp. 4-6; A Supplication and Mary Magdalen at our Saviour's Tomb, MS Wellesley, pp. 104, 108-9). She always writes as a woman: she speaks as a daughter to a mother, a sister to a sister, and as one sexually-awakened woman speaking to another. She placed her poetry in a female tradition of poetry:
The Circuit of Apollo
Apollo, as lately a circuit he made,
Through the lands of the Muses, when Kent he surveyed,
And saw there that poets were not very common,
But most that pretended to verse, were the women,
Resolved, to encourage the few that he found,
And she that writ best, with a wreath should be crowned.
A summons sent out, was obeyed but by four,
When Phoebus, afflicted, to meet with no more,
And standing, where sadly, he now might descry,
From the banks of the Stour, the desolate Wye,
He lamented for Behn, o'er that place of her birth,
And said amongst women, was not on the earth,
Her superiour in fancy, in language, or wit,
Yet owned that a little too loosely she writ…
But now to proceed, and their metrits to know,
Before he on any, the bays would bestow,
He ordered them each, in their several way,
To show him their papers, to sing, or to say…
MS Folger, pp. 43-45).
Anne celebrated women warmly at a time when in verse women conventionally displayed an interest only in men who were their lovers (never, of course, a husband). She imitated Katherine Philips who celebrated friendship between women, and she took the name of Ardelia from one of Philips's poems (The Enquiry, 1696 Tate, pp. 102-5, Friendship between Ephelia and Ardelia, MS Folger, p. 22, and A Retir'd Friendship. To Ardelia, 1678 Poems by Orinda, 3:524; Thomas, Collected Works, p. 97). She demonstrated how important to women is friendship with other women in poems where because she is writing to a woman she can reveal herself fully:
The Petition for an Absolute Retreat
[Inscribed to the Right Honourable
Catherine [Cavendish Tufton], Countess
of Thanet; mentioned in the Poem under
the name of Arminda]
Give me, oh! indulgent fate,
Give me yet, before I die,
A sweet, but absolute retreat,
'Mongst paths so lost, and trees so high,
That the world may never invade
Through such windings, and such shade,
My unshaken liberty.
No intruders, thither come
Who visit, but to be from home…
Courteous Fate, then give me there,
Only plain, and wholesome fare,
Fruits indeed, would Heaven bestow,
All that did in Eden grow,
All, but the forbidden tree,
Would be coveted by me.
Grapes, with juice so crowded up
As breaking through the native cup:
Figs (yet growing) candy'd over
By the sun's attracting power;
Cherries, with the downy peach,
All within my easy reach,
Whilst creeping near the humble ground
Should the strawberry too, be found,
Springing wheresoe'er I strayed,
Through those windings, and that shade…
(MS Folger, pp. 220-27)
Anne's poems on women also pack some hard punches. She came across a few fragmentary verses in French by the learned late seventeenth-century French poet, Anne Le Fèvre Dacier, who attributed them to Sappho. In a lyrical expansion and adaptation of
Dacier's lines, Anne scorns women who are so foolish as to pride themselves on their physical beauty and laugh at women who study and write:
Melinda on an Insipid Beauty
In Imitation of a Fragment of Sappho
You, when your body, life shall leave
Must drop entire, into the grave;
Unheeded, unregarded lie,
And all of you together, die;
Must hide that fleeting charm, that face in dust,
Or to some painted cloth, the slighted Image trust.
Whilst my famed works, shall through all times surprise,
My polished thoughts, my bright ideas rise,
And to new men be known, still talking to your eyes.
(MS Folger, p. 27)
She turned a caricature of a male fop in a poem by John Donne into an epigram recording her detestation of females who worship at the altar of the chameleon goddess fashion:
Could our first father at his toilsome plough,
Thorns in his path and labour in his brow,
Clothed only in a rude unpolished skin,
Could he a vain fantastic nymph have seen
In all her airs, in all her antic graces,
Her various fashions and still more various faces,
How had it posed that skill which late assigned
Just appellations to each several kind,
A right idea of the sight to frame,
T'have guessed from what new element she came,
T'have hit the wav'ring form or given this thing a name
(MS Folger, p. 250).
Anne imitates John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester's A Letter from Artemisia in the Town to ChloŽ in the Country in her Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia, who had invited Her to come to her in Town, reflecting on the coquetry and detracting humour of the age, in order to take a liberating revenge on one Almeria whose company Anne had been forced to endure the last time she was in town:
When, my last visit, I to London made,
Me, to Almeria, wretched chance, betrayed;
The fair Almeria, in this art so known,
That she discerns all failings but her own.
With a loud welcome, and a strict embrace,
Kisses on kisses, in a public place,
Sh'extorts a promise, that next day I dine
With her, who for my sight, did hourly pine…
My word I keep, we dine, then rising late,
Take coach, which long had waited at the gate.
About the streets, a tedious ramble do,
To see this monster, or that waxwork show,
When by a church we pass, I ask to stay,
Go in, and my devotions, humbly pay…
While the gay thing, light as her feather'd dress,
Flies round the coach, and does each cushion press,
Through ev'ry glass, her several graces shows,
This, does her face, and that, her shape expose,
To envying beauties, and admiring beaux.
One stops, and as expected, all extolls,
Clings to the door, and on his elbow lolls,
Thrusts in his head, at once to view the fair,
And keep his curls, from discomposing air,
Then thus proceeds --
My wonder it is grown
To find Almeria here, and here alone.
Where are the nymphs, that round you used to crowd,
Of your long courted approbation proud,
Learning from you, how to erect their hair,
And in perfection, all their habit wear,
To place a patch, in some peculiar way,
That may an unmarked smile, to sight betray.
And the vast genius of the sex, display?
Pity me then (she cries) and learn the fate
That makes me porter to a temple gate;
Ardelia came to town, some weeks ago,
Who does on books, her rural hours bestow…
(MS Folger, pp. 6-10)
Anne's ideals for women are bound up with her longing for friendship, for unreserved conversation which assumes a kindly heart -- and for laughter free from ridicule. In a verse-letter written late in her life to a beloved friend, Catherine Fleming, she paints a social scene in which true wit reigned:
Strong forcible and clear true wit is found
Prevailing by the weight, not by the wound;
Still ushering with civilized address
New turns of thought which easy words express,
Inciting wit as steel the flint provokes
Till flashes answer to the brightening strokes.
Thus one distinguished wit engages more
Till pensive wits who silent sat before
Confess the quickning flame and utter all their store.
Then round the room enlivened humour flies
Like scattered lightening over th'embellished skies,
Glows through the languid cheek and the informing eyes,
For there of wit e'er spoke the warnings given
As fire proceeds the sound from opening Heaven.
True wit is raillery which never flings
The ridicule but on fantastic things,
The compliment insinuated right
Which sets some talent in its proper light,
And whilst on the possessor it distills
With conscious pleasure, not confusion fills;
A story well applied and short comprised
The incidents or true or well devised,
A readiness with others to combine
In gay discourse which breeding does refine,
Such wit I love for such my friend is thine.
(MS Wellesley, An Epistle to Mrs Catherine Fleming at Colesill in Warwickshire… ,
London October the 18th 1718, pp. 79-81)
As their circumstances improved, so did Anne and Heneage's health. When they went to live in Eastwell, they didn't simply settle down into the place for the rest of their lives. They had left Wye in the summer of 1704, and taken rejuvenating holiday trip to Longleat, the beautiful Weymouth estate, where Anne renewed her friendship with Heneage's oldest sister, Francis Finch Thynne (the Ephelia of some of the poems), Lady Weymouth's daughter, Francis Thynne, Lady Worseley (Utresia), her son, Henry Thynne (Theanor) and his wife, Grace Strode Thynne (Cleone). Anne wrote about this trip in a letter to Lady Worseley where she talked of 'the pleasure I enjoyed in those few happy days which I passed at Long-Leat' and how the renewing of such old congenialities is 'the best ingredient' of 'felicity': on the day she left she found herself suddenly awake and in the state of mind that fleeting exists between sleep and full wakefulness wrote some verses which she inserted into another letter to Lady Weymouth: 'The parting speech the last embrace/For ever fixed remains' (from MS Wellesley, A Letter to the Hon:ble Lady Worseley at Long-Leat Lewston Agust the 10th 1704 and Verses inserted in a letter to the Right Hon:ble the Layd Viscountess Weymouth, pp. 87-88, 100).
In later years they travelled across southern England, and visited the great houses of their friends in Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset once again. From a visit made in 1716 to Lewston, comes an ironical verse-letter from Anne to Grace Strode Thynne about 'the drawing a Twelfth-Night cake after Christmas:
How plain, dear Madam, was the want of sight,
On fortune charged seen at our house last night
Where all our lots were govern'd by mistake,
And nothing well proportioned but the cake.
Mrs Higgons drew the King.
First for the Crown on which the rest depend
On Higgons should that glorious wreath descend
Were she to govern in a kingly sort
'Twould quite reverse the nature of a court:
Her generous heart the Treasury would drain
And none by her should live or die in pain.
Good humour, wit, and pleasure she'd promote
And leave the merry land not worth a groat.
I drew the Queen.
Were I Queen as fortune has designed
'Twould suite as ill with my retiring mind,
Who after all aspiring ifs and ands
Should leave the clifts and sink into the sands.
Lord Winchilsea drew the knave.
If Winchilsea's a knave where's his estate,
His ample house, his equipage, his plate,
His mastery in the law and over delay
Which sweeps his patience and his pence away?
A knave without all these is poorly made,
And would disgrace the beneficial trade.
Mrs Thynne drew the fool.
But farther fortune erred beyond all rule
In giving Thynne what I'll not name the F[ool].
In all her list of patent and degrees
Where some grow vain on names and some on fees,
She could have found no title so unfit
Or such a foil to her established wit.
Mrs Mary Thynne drew the slut.
To fair Maria in her blundered scene
She gave the slut though ermins not so clean.
Over all her charms a youthful lustre spreads
Which on her dres reflected brightness sheds,
As Phoebus gilds whatever in his sight,
And makes (like her) all cheerful in his light.
This simile I hope you'll think is fine,
For verse where neither sun nor stars do sine,
Is blind as fortune that has wronged us all,
Whose gifts on real fools and knaves will fall
(MS Additional 4457, p. 60).
Anne and Heneage also became part-time Londoners within seven years of moving into Eastwell. By 1709 they were visiting London regularly, and in 1711 they acquired a town house in Cleveland Row, a small street close to St James's Palace. They lived there frequently enough for Anne to become friends with Jonathan Swift, beat him at piquet, and write a poem after he retired to Ireland in 1714 which imitates his vein and refers to his famous book, A Tale of a Tub:
Life at best
Is but a jest
A face, a glass, a fiddle,
A show, a noise,
Makes all its joys,
Till worn beyond the middle.
Age is worse,
The dotards' curse,
Consumed in endless story,
In tales of tubs,
Intrigues and drubs,
Retold by grandsires' hoary,
Who wou'd then
Converse with men
More than his needs enforce him,
Since tedious fools
Or boys from schools
Are most that do discourse him.
These to flye
Retired I lie
Unknown and all unknowing,
And think't enough
Not nonsense proof,
My own I am not showing
(Ms Wellesley, p. 96)
She also had a sort of friendship with Alexander Pope. Pope recognised in her a rival, and in Three Hours after Marriage (1717), presented a caricature which damns her for self-importance, ignorance, and a lack of critical distance which leads to overheated stilted lines. While Pope ridicules other female poets through Phoebe Clinket, its anti-heroine, he also uses the character to level some mockery at Anne. He had little taste and less patience for both the unguarded melancholy and natural imagery of her Pindaric Odes (e.g., 'a Pindarick Poem upon the late Hurrycane', MS F-H, pp. 147-54). In a hilarious scene in which all the characters in the room know that Phoebe is reading her own poetry whlie pretending to read the poetry of a male author, a player objects to too much rain: 'the shower is absurd'. Phoebe then defends herself thus:
Why should not this gentleman rain, as well as
other authors snow and thunder? [Reads.] Enter Deucalion in a sort of waterman's habit, leading his wife
Pyrrha to a boat. -- His first distress is about her going
back to fetch a casket of jewels. Mind, how he imitates your
great authors. The first speech has all the fire of Lee:
Though heaven wrings down all the sponges of the sky,
And pours down clouds, at once each cloud a sea.
Not the spring tides…
Sir Tremendous [the critic, John Dennis]: [But]
there were no spring tides in the Mediterranean, and consequently Deucalion could not make that simile… (Act II, p. 110)
In 1712 Anne took a quiet revenge in a stanza in a poem to Pope in which she imagined the Bacchantes tearing him to pieces:
To Mr Pope
You of one Orpheus, sure have read,
Who would like you have writ,
Had he in London town been bred,
And Polish'd to his wit
But he (poor soul) thought all was well,
And great shou'd be his Fame,
When he had left his Wife in Hell,
And Birds and Beasts cou'd tame.
Yet vent'ring then with scoffing rhimes
The Women to incense,
Resenting Heroines of those Times,
Soon punish'd the offence;
And as thro' Hebrus, rowl'd his Scull,
And Harp besmear'd with Blood,
They clashing, as the Waves grew full,
Still harmonized the Flood …
(MS Wellesley, pp. 96-98).
Pope printed the poem in a miscellany, but omitted the violent stanza (1717 Pope's Own Miscellany, pp. 79-80).
Heneage ran for Parliament three times and lost three times. He litigated with his niece and her husband for his right to the Winchilsea estate. The tangle of debts on the estates was so bad that the receivers are ordered onto the property in 1715 and are not discharged until mid-1718. Heneage also took care of Anne's brother's nephew's Kingsmill properties in Hampshire, Malshanger Farm, from which Anne wrote a ballad:
From me who whileom sung the town,
This second ballad comes:
To let you know we are got down,
From hurry, smoke, and drums:
And every visitor that rolls
In restless coach from Mall to Paul's
With a fa-la-la-la-la-la.
And now were I to paint the seat,
(As well-bred poets use;)
I should embellish our retreat,
By favour of the muse:
Though to no villa we pretend,
But a plain farm at the best end.
With a fa-la-la &c
Where innocence and quiet reigns,
And no distrust is known;
His nightly safety none maintains,
By way they do in town:
Who rising loosen bolt and bar,
We draw the latch and out we are
With a fa-la &c
For jarring sounds in London streets,
Which still are passing by;
Where cucumbers with 'Stand-ho!' meets,
And for loud mastery vie,
The driver whistling to his team,
Here wakes us from some rural dream
With a fa-la &c…
We silver trouts and cray-fish eat,
Just taken from the stream;
And never think our meal complete,
Without fresh curds and cream:
And as we pass by the barn floor,
We choose our supper from the door
With a fa-la &c
Beneath our feet the partride springs,
As to the woods we go…
(A Ballad to Mrs Catherine Fleming in
from Malshanger Farm in Hampshire,
In these years Anne wrote much more impersonal poetry, partly because she wanted to publish her work and was most comfortable publishing impersonal pastoral, social and satiric verse. More than half the poems of the poetry which appeared in a miscellany of her verse in 1713 were written during this time and are animal fables. This genre was very popular in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century. Under the guise of translating and imitating many of La Fontaine's fables, Anne dramatised uncomfortable truths about human relationships in stark unapologetic verse:
The House of Socrates
For Socrates a house was built,
Of but inferiour size;
Not highly arched, nor carved, nor gilt;
The man, 'tis said, was wise.
But Mob despised the little cell,
That struck them with no fear;
Whilst others thought, there should not dwell
So great a person there.
How should a due recourse be made,
To one so much admired?
Where should the spacious cloth be laid,
Or where the guests retired?
Believe me, quote the listening Sage,
'Twas not to save the charge;
That in this overbuilding age,
My house was not more large.
But this for faithful friends, and kind,
Was only meant by me;
Who fear that what too straight you find,
Must yet contracted be
(1713 Miscellany, pp. 124-24;
from La Fontaine, La Parole de Socrate,
IV, 17, 123)
In these fables, Anne writes Swiftian grotesque doggerel. Apollo is replaced by the god Mercury or Hermes, a defiant god with a harsh message, someone who has come to tell us of mischief, thievery and tricks (Mercury and the Elephant. A Prefatory Fable, 1713 Miscellany, pp. 1-4). Anne's fables feature hypocrites, false friends, and mercenary ruthless liars, and the stories she tells end in abrupt, startling and commonplace violence:
The Brass-Pot and Stone-Jug
A brazen Pot, by scouring vexed,
With beef and pudding still perplexed,
Resolved t'attempt a nobler life,
Urging the Jug to share the strife:
Brother, quote he (love to endear),
Why should we two continue here,
To serve and cook such homely cheer?
Who though we move with awkward pace,
Your stony bowels, and my face,
Abroad can't miss of wealth and place.
Then let us instantly be going,
And see what in the world is doing.
The bloated Jug, supine and lazy,
Who made no wish, but to be easy,
Nor, like its owner, ever did think
Of ought, but to be filled with drink;
Yet something moved by this fine story,
And frothing higher with vain-glory,
Replied, he never wanted metal,
But had not sides, like sturdy Kettle,
That in a crowd could shove and bustle,
And to preferment bear the justle;
When the first knock would break His measures.
Sure (quoth the Pot) thy skull is thicker,
Than ever was thy muddiest liquor:
Go I not with thee, for thy guard,
To take off blows, and dangers ward?
And hast thou never heard, that cully
Is borne through all by daring bully?
Your self (replied the drink-conveyor)
May be my ruin and betrayer:
A superiority you boast,
And dress the Meat, I but the Toast:
Than mine your constitution's stronger
And in fatigues can hold out longer;
And should one bang from you be taken,
I into nothing should be shaken.
A d'autre cried the Pot in scorn,
Dost think, there's such a villain born,
That, when he proffers aid and shelter,
Will rudely fall to helter-skelter?
No more, but follow to the road,
Where each now drags his ponderous load,
And up the hill were almost clambered,
When (may it ever be remembered!)
Down rolls the Jug, and after rattles
The most perfidious of all Kettles:
At every molehill gives a jump,
Nor rests, till by obdurate thump,
The Pot of Stone, to shivers broken,
Sends each misguided fool a token…
(1713 Miscellany, from La Fontaine,
Le Pot de Terre et le Pot de Fer,
V, 2, pp. 135-36)
She wrote a number of dog fables; one of her best is not a translation. More is meant by it than the moral that no friend or an open thief is preferable to the uses made of hypocritical pretensions to friendship:
The Dog and His Master
No better dog ever kept his master's door
Than honest Snarl, who spared nor rich nor poor;
But gave alarm, when anyone drew nigh,
Nor let pretended friends pass fearless by:
For which reproved, as better fed than taught,
He rightly thus expostulates the fault.
To keep the house from rascals was my charge;
The task was great, and the commission large.
Nor did your Worship ever declare your mind,
That to the begging crew it was confined;
Who shrink an arm, or prop an able knee,
Or turn up eyes, till they're not seen, nor see.
To thieves, who know the penalty of stealth,
And fairly stake their necks against your wealth.
These are the known deliquents of the times,
And whips and Tyburn testify their crimes.
But since to me there was by nature lent
An exquisite discerning by the scent;
I trace a flatterer, when he fawns and leers,
A rallying wit, when he commends and jeers:
The greedy parasite I grudging note,
Who praises the good bits, that oil his throat;
I mark the lady, you so fondly toast,
That plays your gold, when all her own is lost:
The knave, who fences your estate by law,
Yet still reserves an undermining flaw…
(1713 Miscellany, pp. 265-66)
Anne's years at Eastwell were not wholly given over to satire and fable, but much that she wrote after 1709 was shaped by a wry and pragmatic point of view. It is also outlet for critical attitudes towards economic and social institutions. Her pastorals are ironic; Arcadia is a place rife with distrust and envy (A Pastoral Dialogue and The Cautious Lovers, MS Folger, pp. 246-48, 258-60). Her songs end in sudden harsh deflation (The Unequal Fetters, MS Folger, p. 257); poetry which was melancholy in a French original in Anne's imitation turns angry (The Equipage. Written originally in French by L'Abbé Reigner, MS Folger, p. 256). She writes comically murderous accounts of her memories of the fierce contentions between factions in court life (The Owl Describing Her Young Ones, 1713 Miscellany, pp. 104-109) and mocking burlesques of herself and her contemporaries as poets in the commercial atmosphere of the newly expanded literary marketplace:
A Tale of the Miser and the Poet
A Wit, transported with Inditing,
Unpay'd, unprais'd, yet ever Writing;
Who for all Fights and Fav'rite Friends,
Had Poems at his Finger Ends;
For new Events was still providing;
Yet now desirous to be riding,
He pack'd ev'ry Ode and Ditty
And in Vacation left the City;
So rapt with Figures, and Allusions,
With secret Passions, sweet Confusions;
With sentences from Plays well-known,
And thousand Couplets of his own;
That ev'n the chalky Road look'd gay,
And seem'd to him the Milky Way.
But Fortune, who the Ball is tossing,
And Poets ever will be crossing,
Misled the Streed, which ill he guided,
Where several gloomy Paths divided.
The steepest in Descent he followed,
Enclos'd by Rocks, which Time had hollow'd;
Till, he believed, alive and booted,
He'd reach'd the Shades by Homer quoted.
But all, that he cou'd there discover,
Was, in a Pit with Thorns grown over,
Old Mammondigging, straining, sweating,
As Bags of Gold he thence was getting;
Who, when reproved for such Dejections
By him, who lived on high Reflections,
Reply'd; Brave Sir, your Time is ended,
And Poetry no more befriended.
I hid this Coin, when Charles was swaying;
When all was Riot, Masking, Playing;
When witty Beggars were in fashion,
And Learning had o'er-run the Nation,
But, since Mankind is so much wiser,
That none is valued like the Miser,
I draw it hence, and now these Sums
In proper Soil grow up to Plumbs;
Which gather'd once, from that rich Minute
We rule the World, and all that's in it…
Anne seethes as furiously on behalf of her friends and the popular preference for dullness over merit as Pope in his Dunciad:
But, quoth the Poet, can you raise,
As well as Plumb-trees, Groves of Bays?
Where you, which I wou'd chuse much rather,
May Fruits of Reputation gather?
Will Men of Quality and Spirit,
Regard you for intrinsick Merit?
And seek you out, before your Betters,
For Conversation, Wit, and Letters?
Fool, quoth the Churl, who knew no Breeding;
Have these been Times for such Proceeding?
Instead of Honour'd and Reward'd,
Are you not Slighted, or Discarded?
What have yo met with, but Disgraces?
Your PRIOR cou'd not keep in PLaces;
And your VAN-BRUG had found no quarter,
But for his dabbling in the Morter.
ROWE no Advantages cou'd hit on,
Till Verse he left, to write North-Briton.
PHILIPS, who's by the Shilling known,
Ne'er saw a Shilling of his own.
Meets PHILOMELA, in the Town
Her due Proportion of Renown?
What Pref'rence has ARDELIA seen,
T'expel tho' she cou'd write the Spleen?
Of Coach, or Tables, can you brag,
Or better Cloaths than Poet RAG?
Do wealthy Kindred, when they meet you,
With Kindness, or Distinction, greet you?
This is a world where there's 'no Worth in any thing/But so much Money as 'twill bring. The release gained through this kind of rant has its satisfactions for even for today's readers who have grown used to seeing good literature dismissed or used as a commodity (1713 Miscellany, pp. 145-149).
To late twentieth-century people, her Tunbridge Wells verse about the fallacies and desperation of medical treatments, her down-to-earth stories of husbands and wives striving to see who will dominate and who will submit, and her ironic epilogue to Nicholas Rowe's Tragedy of Jane Shore is equally relevant. This last poem was written for Anne Oldfield to speak after she finished acting Jane Shore and the distaste Anne meant Oldfield to express for such a pathetic heroine may remind us of attitudes voiced by some modern feminists: 'I hate such parts as we have played today'. Anne had wanted to see Jane Shore 'lavish, careless, gay, and fine', not brought on stage to 'mortify and whine' and planned for Oldfield to address Rowe's audience thus:
For were I to transgress, for all the Poet
I'll swear no friend of mine should ever know it.
but you perhaps are pleas'd to see her mended,
And so should I; had all her charms been ended.
But whilst another lover might be had,
The woman or the Poet must be mad.
There is a season, which too fast approaches,
And every list'ning beauty nearly touches;
When handsome Ladies, falling to decay
Pass through new epithets to smooth the way:
From fair and young transportedly confessed,
Dwindle to fine, well-fashioned, and well- dressed.
Thence as their fortitudes extremest proof,
To well as yet; very well to well enough;
Till having in such weak foundations stood,
Deplorably at last, they sink to good.
Abandon'd then, 'tis time to be retir'd,
And seen no more, when not alas! admired.
By men indeed, a better fate is known,
The pretty fellow, that has youth out-grown,
Who nothing knew, but how his cloaths did fit,
Transforms to a Free-Thinker and a Wit.
At Operas becomes a skilled Musician;
Ends in a partyman and politician…
(An Epilogue to the Tragedy of Jane Shore,
1741 Birch, 10, p. 179)
Anne's stanzas on the South Sea Bubble of 1720 may remind us of stockbrokers and their clients who much prefer working on their portfolios to going to parties:
Ombre and basset laid aside
New games employ the fair,
And brokers all those hours divide
Which lovers used to share.
The Court, the park, the foreign song,
And Harlequin's grimace
Forlorn amidst the city throng
Behind each blooming face…
Bright jewels polished once to deck
The fair ones rising breast
Or sparkle round her ivory neck
Lie pawned in iron chest.
The gayer passions of the mind,
How avarice controls,
Even Love does now no longer find
A place in female souls
(Untitled stanzas in MS Harleian 7316, p. 70)
During her last six years, Anne was seriously ill, but there is no description of her symptoms which could enable us to guess what was the nature of her illness. We have only some moving poetry written during the moments of sudden relief:
At First Waking
How is it that my lifted eyes
Again behold the morning light
How have I to my great surprise
Escaped the terrours of the night
When I lay down my leafe I took
So dreadful did the shade appear
Of all nor to arise did look
Such numerous dangers waiting were
(MS Wellesley, p. 134).
Many of the poems from these last years are devoted to prayer and religious meditation. Some are Miltonic in versification and mood:
To the superior world to solemn peace
To regions where delights shall never cease
To living springs and to celestial shade
For change of pleasure not protection made
To blissful harmonies overflowing source
Which strongs or stops can neither bind or force
But wafting air forever bears along
Perpetual motion with perpetual song…
(A Supplication for the Joys of Heaven,
MS Wellesley, pp. 108-9).
The beauty of music was more necessary to her than ever:
Music whether of the spheres,
Or what's contrived for mortal ears
I relish as a moving thing.
From tuneful breath or from the string
When sprightly hands the spinet plays
Or the more serious viol dies,
When trumpets with loud notes revive
Or lutes enchant though scarce alive,
When rosin'd bows the violin
Fare as some spirit were within,
And notes on notes so thick are hurried
That on the rapid sound were carried
Beyond the reach of sober thought
And to ecstatic wonder wrought…
(Advertisement for the Gazette,
Flying Post, Weekly Journal, &c
, MS Wellesley, pp. 84-87).
She remembered things past. She returned to her girlhood and tried to understand why in her earier life she had felt and had been so alone (On these Words: Thou hast hedg'd in my way with thorns, MS Wellesley, 127-33). She recalled when she was Maid of Honour to Mary of Modena, and how charmed she had been by the sound of Mary's Tuscan Italian (On the Death of the Queen, pp. 68-71). She wrote about how Heneage had been 'for Conscience here oppressed' (A Contemplation, MS Wellesley, pp. 143-46). And acid satire remained her defense against social hypocrisy:
A wealthy and a generous Lord
Who kept an hospitable board
Invited me one day to feast.
With every rarity my taste
The cook so well his sauces raised
He never could enough be praised.
The Venison as we did remark
Took sweetness from his lordship's park
The fish in his own ponds were caught
And better than all others thought
To woodcocks taken in his glade.
Some proper compliments were made
And not a bird that cut the air
But met with due applauses there.
The wine thought 'twas not of his growth,
Was praised and his good palate both
At last came in the nice dessert
Extolled for nature and for art.
That done we by example rise
And looking for a while precise
Low bowes on every side were made
With handsome courtsies to them paid…
(No Grace, MS Wellesley,
To the end of her life Anne also continued to write poetry very like what she wrote when she first put pen to paper. Among her last poems is one addressed to Frances Thynne Seymour, Lady Hertford, one of Henry and Grace Strode Thynne's two daughters and Heneage's great-niece. Although thirty-eight years younger than the Countess of Winchilsea, Lady Hertford became Anne's dearly beloved friend and confidante. Heneage recognised this when he wrote to Lady Hertford that
Of all my relations, you alone knew how to distinguish
her, by a friendship which she had the most grateful sense
of as long as she lived, and your and your Lord showed it
at all other times so more particularly at the time when the comfort of friends are most wanted. She had many in her
health, but in her decline and sicknesse, none but Lord
and Lady Hertford, exerted them selves, in being more kind
then (if possible) at other times, and this she was very
sensible of… (Hughes, The Gentle Hertford,, p. 102)
Anne's poem boasts the overlong title of To the Right Honourable Frances Countess of Hertford who engaged Mr Eusden to write upon a wood enjoining him to mention no tree but the aspin and no flower but the king-cup. Lawrence Eusden was then poet laureate, and Anne revels in listing and describing trees and flowers she imagines Eusden could have written had Lady Hertford not forbidden it. The poem is most magical after the scene is set, a miscellany of colours, odors and sounds, over which the moon rose
Till all became delightful in excess
Like beauty softened by an evening dress.
Till a cool breeze th'overheated air receives
And scattered splendor dances on the leaves,
Darts through the trees where empty space gives way,
And golden boughts does here and there display,
Gildes over the brightened grass that springs below
And makes the neighbouring gloom more darksome show.
By halves discovers paths paths in daylight seen
Whilst night to solemn black transforms the green,
Doubtful the moon each varying object brings
Whence Goblin stories rise and fairy rings,
Mishapen bushes look like midnight elves,
And scarce we know our shadows from ourselves.
Should then the ghost of Eusden's injured pen,
Murdered by you to you appear again
The feather staring and the ghastly quill
Pale in itself yet seeming paler still
Fleet in your way its liberty regained
Haunting the trees from whence it was restrained…
(MS Wellesley, pp. 72-76)
Her finest poetry remained the kind of poem she wrote at the beginning of her career, gentle and tender verse in which she humanises the natural world and offers it and the reader a healing and consolation rooted in her own affectionate heart:
Fair, tree, for thy delightful shade,
'Tis just that some return be made,
Sure, some return, is due from me,
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds, dost shelter give,
Thou music dost from them receive;
If travellers, beneath thee stay
'Till storms, have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee, they spend,
And thy protecting power, commend.
The shepherd here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to they dancing dleaves, his reed.
Whilst his loved nymph, in thanks bestows
Her flowery chapets, on thy boughs.
Shall I then, only silent be,
And no return, be made by me?
No, let this wish, upon thee wait
And still to flourish by thy fate.
To future ages, may'st thou stand,
Untouched, by the rash workman's hand,
'Til that large stock of sap is spent,
That gives thy summers ornament;
'Till the fierce winds, that vainly strive,
To shock thy greatness, whilst alive,
Shall on they lifeless hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end.
Their scattered strength, together call,
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall,
And then, their Evening dews, may spare,
When thou no longer art their care;
But shalt like ancient hers burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy urn
(MS F-H 283, pp. 98-100).
Anne died on a Friday, 5 August 1720, in the house in Cleveland Row, and it has been customary to end accounts of her life and poetry by quoting Heneage's exact words as found in an obituary he wrote down in his private journal in which he tells us that she was buried at Eastwell Church in Kent on the following Tuesday 'privately according to her own desire', that 'to draw her ladyship's just character requires a masterly pen like her own', so that he 'shall only presume to say she was the most faithful servant to her Royal Mistress', by which Heneage means Mary of Modena, 'the best wife to her noble lord' and 'in every other relation public and private' unqualifiedly virtuous: 'in one word a Person' of 'extraordinary endowments both of body and mind'. Far more touching, though, are the brief commemorative annotations we find in Heneage's diary of 1723. Next to May 10th, the day he and Anne married 39 years before, we find the words 'blessed day' (MS F-H 282, unpaginated sheet 33). Fitted in sideways on a sheet of paper stuck into the diary is a poem by Anne on Pity, one she never finished, which his vigilance had previously overlooked. Next to this he writes: 'found in a little paper written with in her own hand' (MS F-H 282, unpaginated sheet 122).
It seems more fitting to close with Heneage himself since it is due to his efforts that we have Anne's poems, and since he lived for another six years. He attended concerts; he collected rare books and manuscripts. He reads highly varied erudite works; he illuminates manuscripts; he is active on behalf of friends, family and the business of his estate. He makes sure he gives people presents on time; he doesn't forget to give and to record fees for servants, from the more important to a kitchen boy.
Heneage also kept up his antiquarian activities. Along with Lady Hertford's husband, Algernon Seymour, Earl and later 7th Duke of Somerset; Heneage's chaplain, Dr. Creyk, and other friends, Heneage joined William Stukeley, in a Society of Roman Knights, all of whom had Druidical names. Hertford was Segonax, Stukeley Chyndonax, and Heneage Cyngetorix. In a moment of high enthusiasm Heneage said that he would have 'O brave Cyngetorix' engraved on his tombstone. These Roman Knights not only walked and climbed and dug and took notes, but they ate, and drank, and read and talked together. A number of letters from Heneage as Cyngetorix, to Stukeley as Chyndonax, survive. One reveals something of the nature of the man with whom Anne Finch shared her life and who shared his life with her:
My dear Druid,
You cannot imagine with what pleasure I received your
letter. I longed for your return to London, where you are
within reach of correspondence, though I shall be impatient
till I can have a personal conversation with you, and
therefore shall leave the country as soon as possible for
me, but not quite so soon as I would do, for I must pick
up a few rents to maintain me in my winter quarters in
town. Your letter is full of obliging expressions, but
believe me, Sir, if I was any way agreeable to you,
I am sure I reaped a great deal of pleasure, and profit
too, by your conversation and instructions.
I am extremely obliged to you and my very valuable
friend Dr Hale for remembering me at your college, as I am
to Mr Gale, whose health, with yours, is drank very day by
me and Mr.Creyke, a very worthy clergyman who is with me.
I wish I could have gone with you though all your progress
from Carvilium [the Druidical name for Wilton House];
but I shall soon see some of the fruits of your travels,
and shall be very thankful for your design of the
Dorchester amphitheatre (Surtees Society, p. 229).
When Heneage died, Stukeley wrote a letter to Lord Hertford in which he said he really missed their friend, and to this, Hertford replied:
The concern you express for the loss of Lord Winchilsea cannot but be pleasing to me; for I should be very sorry that you, for whom he had a just value, should not have
grieved with the rest of his friends; and I think I may
call the whole world so for sure he had no enemy nor
was he one to anybody (Reynolds, The Poems, p. l).
What better epitaph could there be for the man who preserved Anne's
poetry for us? Simple and sincere words. The words of Apollo.
Burnett Memorial Fountain (1926-36), placed in Central Park Conservatory Garden 1936:
Bessie Potter Vonough (1872-1955)
Page Last Updated 9 January 2003