I On Myself Can Live

At the Court of St. James and the Débâcle (Continued)

Tunbridge Wells, 1719, engraving from Harris's History of Kent

On the other hand, Heneage was genuinely active in Kent and, through his Hythe seat, in the House of Commons. We should not dismiss Hythe as a place Heneage frequented. When in 1690 he tried to flee England for France, he was captured at Hythe with four or five other companions. It was a town under a group of hills, right by the water, one of four east coastal Kent towns (the others Romney, Rye and Folkstone) Defoe characterized as "eminent chiefly for a multitude of Fishing-Boats," as well as smugglers and those hired to catch smugglers--of which Defoe thinks more are needed. James II seems originally to have headed for the Kent seacoast because for a fee someone would take you across the channel (Defoe I, 123). But Heneage's flight was also a preconcerted group scheme, and what happened shows he knew the place well; his mistake had been to depend upon earlier associates he thought he could still trust. Hythe may also be connected to Ann's trip to Tunbridge and temporary separatio of herself from Heneage. It was written in the very month that he was appointed to a Hythe seat. She left him not in Westminster but separated from him as he was on his way to Hythe or went back herself from Hythe to Tunbridge where he joined her before they returned together to London.

Further, Heneage remained in the militia in Kent, and although the elder Heneage was replaced by the Roman Catholic Lord Teynham (and became himself active in the 1689 revolution), the younger Heneage was a Justice of the Peace in his local area Kent between the years 1683 and 1689. This meant periodically he could be found at the Star Inn in High Street, Maidstone, Kent, in the "great county room" in the seventeenth century used as a kind of "parliament chamber." He also went around assessing and seeing to the collection of Kentish taxes between 1689-90 (Everitt, Landscape and Community 175; Henning: II:324). Heneage's positions are local, part of a network of local allegiances, bringing him into contact with sheriffs, coroners, bailiffs, suitors, criminals, and juries, requiring of him legal knowledge, and ethical and political judgements of all kinds. (Pollock and Maitland II: 645).

This other earnest and certainly sober Heneage (he could be no whimsical Captain in the court room) also turned up on seven minor committees in Parliament; Brian Henning says they were none of them of "any political importance," however Heneage busied himself over a bill to bring fresh water to two important Kentish cities: Chatham, long a naval center whose shipyards and armories spilled industry, prosperity people on the other side of the Medway into Rochester, a cathedral town with a ruined castle (Henning II: 324; Defoe I 107-10). Certainly he made no big splash. But the reader who recalls Phineas Finn's earnest exertions in an attempt to find out whether "potted peas" from Germany might nourish the British army and navy better than native English food, what the men as opposed to the officers actually ate, and his efforts to have a good railway built across thousands of miles in Canada (Trollope 224, 229-30, 291, 532, 600) will see that Heneage was probably doing more good in the tedium of his mostly recorded days than many better known statesmen intent on who shall be king next, and what will be his religion?

Ann had no overt public role. It's as simple as that. There are numbers and highly vocal women today who would regard this as a grievous deprivation; I do not think Ann so regarded it. From everything she ever said she was glad to retire from public functions; from everything she ever did which we can trace--many poems--it's clear she used the time to study, to read, and to write. This is not to say she did not regret her lack of academic education; she did. Nor is it to say that she did not participate in the world. There seems to be a notion floating about that if you don't personally have power, if your name does not turn up in some public record as having done this or that, you must have been cut off from the world. Italo Calvino's The Non- Existent Knight was partly written to show how ludicrous this idea is. The narrator is a nun who keeps complaining about how she is cut off from the world, and knows nothing of it, all the while she is sexually harrassed, wars go on around her, the cloister is rife with intrigue, and nature's many demands are met. Ann was such a nun as this. In later years we shall find her enjoying piquet with Swift, in taverns with friends, eager for social gatherings, music, company, letters, travel, even London. But always she kept a distance, and she seems always to have taken a decidedly critical view of worldly society and the powerful, and especially to have seen wherever she looked the favored darlings of the world as eternal hypocrites, and as inflicting much pain on those less favored. Her comments on her experience of the world during these years seem strongly disillusioned. Her venom and melancholy can be seen as signs of a deep depression to come; they also provide her poetry with a bite and personal truth which makes them memorable.

To see Ann in the public world as she presents it in the poetry which records this period of her life, we look at the world she wandered in, much of it since the nineteenth-century changed beyond recognition. In 1834 the Palace of Westminster burned down and where it had been is today's striking Gothic pile. Ann and Heneage's "palace" was an ancient rabbit-warren of wooden buildings whose functions had evolved as need arose. Ann walked among a higgledy-piggledy of courts, variously elected or appointed officials in session, apartments, large halls, small chapels, and a palace-yard of gardens; squeezed among crocodiles of petitioners, she looked at faded tapestries and medieval carvings. Defoe is ashamed of it; he says of St. Stephen's Chapel, for example, it is "a very indifferent Place, old and decay'd;" of the House of Lords: "a venerable old Place, indeed; but how mean, how incoherent, and how straitned are the several Avenues to it, and Rooms about it? the Matted Gallery, the Lobby, the back Ways the King goes to it, how short they all" of the dignity such a place should have (Colley 324-5; Defoe I, 358-67). Stowe, of course, gives the place dignity by telling the history of each building, reminding us of Christmas feasts, of festivals, of the royal monuments dotted everywhere, of antiquities going back to early medieval times, of people in splendid costume, stars gilt chambers and bejewelled images, of a tower of stone on which a clock struck the hour on a great bell which could be heard "into the city of London," and of an arched gate one walked through to get to the Thames, with a nearby "fair bridge, and landing-place for all men that have occasion" (Stowe 411-20). Ann's emotional and political stance was closer to that of Stowe than Defoe, and we can say at least that her first flat with her husband beat today's impoverished modern equivalent. Her imagination had much to feed upon, even if, highly improbable after she went to church or the playhouse, she never went to the Ring in Hyde Park or the Mall at St James's (Braybrooke 57-63) or rambled about the streets, to Temple Gate and back.

But we know she did; she tells us so in the "Preface" and "Ardelia's Answer" as well as various other poems copied out into the early pages of the Folger-Eastwell book. The latter, Ann tells us in the voice of an impersonal narrator, "appears to have been long written, by the mention made of my Lord Roscommon, under the name of Piso, given to him first, in a Panegyrick, of Mr. Wallers, before his Art of Poetry" (MS Folger unpaginated v); this places at least the first version of the poem between 1682 and 1685, the time of Roscommon's pieces under this name and Waller's encomium on them (Mahoney 18-22).

As anyone who has read "Ardelia's Answer" remembers Ann takes a view of "the town" which may be less ribald but is just as sour as that of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester in his "Timon" (an imitation of Boileu's Satire III and "A Letter from Artemisia in the Town to Chloe in the Country"--which has a closely identical coach scene; thus Ann describes a date in London with "the fair Almeria:"

My word I keep, we dine, then rising late,
Take coach, which long had waited at the gate.
About the streets, a tedious ramble goe,
To see this Monster, or that wax work show,
Or anything, that may the time bestow.
When by a Chrch we passe, I ask to stay,
Go in, and my devotions, humbly pay
To that grat Pow'r, whom all the wise obey.
Whilst the gay thing, light as her feather'd dresse,
Flys round the Coach, and does each cusheon presse,
Through ev'ry glasse, her sev'ral graces shows,
This does her face, and that, her shape expose,
To envying beautys, and admiring beauxs.
One stops, and as expected, all extolls,
Clings to the door, and on his elbow lolls,
Thrust in his head, at once, to veiw the fair,
And keep his curls, from discomposing air

(MS Folger 6-7)

In his enthusiastic vein just such scenes delighted Pepys when he joined the coaches north of the Serpentine at Hyde Park (Braybrooke 60).

"Ardelia's Answer" and "The Preface" are also important autobiographical documents for Ann's early years in London because it is in these she tells us she frequently went to see plays, which in these years when audiences grew thin, and the two leading companies combined meant basically the second Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane (a modest "Plain- built House" says Dryden), though the Dorset Garden Theatre in Salisbury-Court, near Hay-Market was occasionally used ("a very magnificent Building" says Defoe, great for opera and balls), and records show many performances at "the Hall Theatre" at Whitehall variously called "the Cockpit"--it was built as a "pit" for cockfighting in the time of Henry VIII (Nagler 203-8; Boswell, Restoration Court Stage 9-66, 288-92; Doran I, 113). As has been so often said the theatre was an exciting vivid noisy spectacle of fights, sexual intrigue, selling and buying, gossip, not to mention the occasionally riveting because daring politically-subversive or pro-James play. A new mood and kind of tragedy had entered the repertoire with the introduction of Thomas Southerne and John Banks (he of the she- tragedies). But what really pleased was the raucous comedy, at once coarse and witty (Sutherland 65-88, 125-36; Nicoll I:331-6, e.g., Woodcock 165).

Ann is again wry about it all. She tells us she went often in order to say to defend her plays in a kind of back-handed fashion: she has seen many many and these "as indifferent as these two of mine" (MS Folger 61/9). Her modern readers have preferred to say, with real justice, her two plays are as good (Cotton 153-5). In "Ardelia's Answer" she says she was unusal in preferring tragedy to comedy and revivals of old to new plays. Almeria is one of those who openly scorned her for her "dull" taste, for, she says, mocking, Ardelia (Ann)

... she likes no witt, thats now in use,
Dispises Courtly Vice, and plainly sais,
That sence and Nature shou'd be found in Plays,
And therfore, n'one will 'ere be brought to see
But those of Dryden, Etheridge, or Lee,
And some few Authors, old, and dull to me ...

(MS Folger 7)

Dryden, Etheridge, and Lee and some few old dull authors: that's what Ann went to see.

In another poem from the Folger-Eastwell book, Ann's "A Poem, Occasion'd by the Sight of the 4th Epistle Lisb. Epist: 1 of Horace," which she inscribed and sent to a Kent neighbour who belonged to a circle of poets and dramatists which included another friend, Nicholas Rowe, we learn she also went to see plays by Thomas Otway, "he who cou'd so well our souls command/And toutch each string with a prevailing hand." Her comment about "Belvedera's or Monimia's Fate" that "'tis from our own bosome cares that flow/The moving scenes we on the World bestow (MS Folger 262)," suggests that when she watched (and later read) Otway's plays she interpreted them as projection of an author's personal experience or attitudes.

But if she denied liking comedies, they nonetheless struck chords in her. Almeria's "Courtly Vice" is, of course, a sarcastic allusion to John Crowne's popular Sir Courtly Nice first produced in 1685. Ann also shows more than tolerance for broad sexual comedy in her later epilogue for Rowe's own Jane Shore and an apt if slightly envious praise of Aphra Behn in "The Circuit of Apollo" (also in the Folger- Eastwell book) when Apollo quips fondly:

He lamented for Behn, o're that place of her birth [Wye],
And said amongst Women, was not on the earth
Her superiour in fancy, in language, or witt,
Yett own'd that a little too loosly she writt;
Since the art of the Muse, is to stirr up soft thoughts ...

(MS Folger 43).

The art of the muse is erotic says Ann. Otway and Behn, tragic and witty eroticism.

Confronted with some of the the few old and dull authors Ann could be lured out to see, the modern reader would probably be as bored as Almeria was. In part Almeria is sneering at Caroline-Cavalier plays, the long exquisitely sentimental type, like Thomas Killigrew's Claricilla (actually performed at least once at the court of Charles II), as well as even older Jacobean plays; most of these were in print, eagerly read, and still influential (Harbage, Cavalier Drama, 28-71, 255-85). Thus, for example, few people in the 1670's had trouble in quickly recognizing how Aphra Behn had "made" her Rover out of Killigrew's Thomaso, the Wanderer (Woodcock, 127-9).

If Ann found old dull authors irresistible, she's telling the truth when she says she went frequently, for Almeria's sneer clearly includes the most frequently done "old" playwrights on of the seventeeenth-century stage, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher whose plots and characters Ann modelled both her plays upon, and whose plays continued to be played and read throughout the period. They were available in the endlessly-reprinted 1679 folio which amassed the fifty- one plays at that time attributed to Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (Waith, X, 1-2). The "Preface" to the Folger book opens with a quotation from a personal poem from Beaumont to Fletcher; Ann here likens her own writing of poetry to to Beaumont's analogy of his own and Fletcher's need to write with the behavior of a man

That travells throo' the burning Deserts, can
When he is beaten, witht he raging Sun,
Half smother'd in the dust, have power to run
From a cool River,which himself doth find,
E're he be slack'd; no more can he, whose mind
Joys in the Muses hold from that delight,
When Nature, and his full thoughts bid him write

(MS Folger unpaginated i)

And we know that Ann not only delighted in Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, but also in Shakespeare's Othello and Twelfth Night

and John Webster's Duchess of Malfi. The first two also lie behind her plays; Webster's tragedy, performed at the Hall Theatre at Whitehall on January 13, 1686 (Boswell, Restoration Court Stage 289) remained with Ann for a long time after; one of her most brilliant fables, "Love, Death, and Reputation," another poem from the Folger-Eastwell book (MS Folger 278-9) follows a dark fable the Duchess's brother, Ferdinard menaces her with, if she ever so much as thinks of remarrying:

Dost thou know what reputation is?
I'll tell thee, to small purpose, sine th'instruction
Comes now too late:
Upon a time Reputation, Love and Death
Would travel o'er the world: and it was concluded
That they should part, and take three several ways.
Death told them they should find him in great battles:
Or cities plagu'd with plagues. Love gives them counsel
To inquire for him 'mongst unambitious shepherds,
Where dowries were not talk'd of: and sometimes
'Mongst quiet kindred, that had nothing left
By their dead parents. 'Stay,' quoth Reputation,
'Do not forsake me: for it is my nature
If once I part from any man I meet
I am never found again

(III, ii, 120-35).

Ann, in fact, began Tasso's Aminta with the hope it would see the lights of the stage. In her "Preface" she tell us she had in mind Katherine Philips or "Orinda," who not only had printed but saw produced in 1664 a translation of Corneille, Pompey. A Tragedy (Souers, 148- 210); there was also Sir Richard Fanshawe's 1647 translation of Battista Guarini's Il Pastor Fido; another poet, whom she admires and more than once alludes to and quotes, "Piso," Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon, left part of a translation of Guarini's play (Chalmers VIII 268). Her edition was the 1681 French translation with facing Italian text of Abbe de Torches [n6]. But she found she had been too erotic.

But we must get Ann away from her writing desk in her rooms at Westminster Palace, and from the streets and playhouses of London into Tunbridge Wells, Kent--and Somersetshire, for Ann and Heneage took a trip together to Somsetshire in 1688. In April 1685 Tunbridge had developed into something far different from its origin in a chalybeate spring well happily located on a remote boundary among the southeastern English chalky downlands between two counties and three parishes and since subject to none of them (Everitt, Landscape and Community 119).

In the 1680's Tunbridge was a crowded town where the lack of governmental control had led to a heady life of alcohol, sexual scandal, gambling, and bullying horseplay, a place where unscrupulous doctors prescribed worse than useless regimes for people in search of health (Church 94-5), as Ann had begun to be. We can come in contact with the feel and hopelessness of the place as a medicinal haven in the ominous words of Dr. Madan against the bottled water people liked to bring away:

Waters once removed lose their vivisick spirits in which a virtue doth reside, which afterwards no diligence can retore. Chalybeate waters in long deportation will not tinge the gall ... The Tunbridge waters are impregnated with a chalcanthous or vitriolic juice, which, with its sulphureous particles, irritates and moves the belly to a blackish excretion and by frequent drinking thereof, blackeneth the tongue; because this member, being of a spongey substance imbibes some sooty sulphureous minims into its porosity, occasioning this tincture

(Church 95).

He is, of course, clearly of the opinion he will lose fees if people think they need only buy the stuff in bottles.

The center of daily life was the "Pantiles," a wide tiled (thus the name) tree-lined promenade which led uphill from the spring and downhill to a marketplace. John Evelyn is enthusiastic: "a very sweet place, private and refreshing" he calls Tunbridge; the Pantiles today are pleasant and private, quiet, abandoned, a place for meditation (Church 92); then it was become another place where in-people could glitter at one another; and it had a private town-life that fostered a peculiarly bitter kind of salacious lampoon (Poems on Affairs of State V:346-85).

Ann did publish a scanty censured fragment from one of her stays (she went again in 1706) which focuses on the hectic mindless quality of life in Tunbridge. In what remains she ironically urges the people to ignore the popular lampoons for the good reason they are more useless than the local physicians:

The Heart's unruly Palpitation
Will not be laid by a Quotation;
Nor will the spirits move the lighter
For the most celebrated Writer.
Sweat, Swoonings, and Convulsive Motions
Will not be cur'd by Words, and notions.
Then live, old Brown! with thy Chalbybeats,
Which keep us from becoming Idiots.
At Tunbridge let us still be Drinking
Though 'tis th'Antipodes to Thinking

(1713 Misc. 229-3)

Ann names a (still elusive) doctor who also sold the iron-flavored mineral water which did not (at least according to our above Dr. Madan) travel well; she inveighs against drinking; she captures the beating of her own distraught heart which did not need yet more mindless hypocrisy and excitement, but peace and quiet.

Ann did find this a few years later at a lesser-known spa again happily located in a border area between counties (this time Northamptonshire and Leicestershire), another relatively free and marginalized spot, which Thomas Ischam and his father visited on the 25th of July, 1672, about which the boy wrote:

Today Father and I went to the Spring at Sutton with Aunt Bromley, where we saw a booth built and walks beautifully laid out. The Spring has a great reputation, and they say that many dire diseases are cured by drinking it. Father saw there Sir Nicholas Steward, a very great friend of his, who said that he had been taking the waters for several days and intended to stay three weeks

(Ischam 133-4)

It was Dr Richard Lower, Ann's doctor (whom we will meet in a later chapter) who discovered the medicinal springs here in 1664; Anthony Wood visited in 1694, and John Aubrey did not neglect it; by 1749 it became a fashionable resort, but when Ann went sometime in the 1690's, also on the advice of relatives and old friends, her spirits were strengthened, and I quote from her poem which registers this, "To the Eccho," written as she tells us "In a clear night upon Astrop walks," lest the reader begin to imagine she never liked any place, and to show what she was seeking and perhaps found now and again when she went to Tunbridge. It was copied out at Wye with some of her earlier poems in the Finch-Hatton book. It opens with an question to the nymph, Echo:

Say Lovely Nymph, where dost thou dwell?
Where, is that Secrett Silvan Seat,
That Melancholy, Sweet retreat,
From whence, thou dost these notes repell?
And moving Syllables repeat?

Ann suggests she is not alone; a male voice has caused the echo, Strephon's; I think it important to notice that a yearning for absolute stillness, silence, and the sounds of silence, which are defined as real pleasure, for repose; and the fulfillment of this yearning is what has given rise to this exquisite series of verses:

Oh! pleasure, when thou'dst take a flight
Beyond thy common, mortall height,
When to thy Spehere above thou'dst presse,
And men like angels, thou woud'st bless
Thy Season be, like this faire night,
And Harmony thy dresse

(MS F-H 68-9).

We will not be able to nail Ann and Heneage down to any specific town in middle and southeastern Kent, for his position kept him moving about. Rochester, Chatham, Canterbury, Maidstone, Hythe, Wye have all been lightly sketched; given Ann's later landscape and social poetry and Heneage's antiquarian years after her death, perhaps it would be better simply to suggest something of the real Kentish landscape and society generally.

Back Next Next Chapter

Page Last Updated: 4 January 2003