Hartford 'tis wrong if Poets may complain


To the Right Honourable Frances Countess of Hartford who engaged Mr Eusden to write upon a wood enjoining him to mention no tree but the Aspen & no flower but the King-cup.

Primary Text:

MS Wellesley, 72-6*.

Some excerpts:

[lines 1-4:]

Hartford 'tis wrong if Poets may complain
To bid them write yet dictate to their Brain
Or set such tasks as were on Eusden thrown
Andnon coul'd have fufill'd but he alone
Who labour'd under Pharaoh's hard decrees
To raise a Wood tho' you denied him tree…

[lines 19- 40:]

Had Eusden been at liberty to rove
Wild and promiscuous he had form'd your grove
Of all the sons of Earth that ever grew
From lightsome Beach down to the sable Yew
To which a walk of lines shou'd have convey'd
From the throng'd Palace to the lonely shade
Stretch'd thro' a meadown bordring either side
Which from the next a River shou'd divide
The Swans in view the Birds amidst the spray
Shou'd chear the sight and hearing in the way
Nor King-cups only in the grass shou'd rise
(Tho' all but King-cups your command denies
But Flora's gifts shou'd amply there be seen
And every beauteous die emblaze the green
Cowslips and Dazies over all shou'd run
And the broad-eye stare against the sun
Some near adjoining field shou'd Corn sustain
And nodding poppies dip't in Scarlet grain
With Soverign herbs which men for health persue
And the gay bottle flower of sky like blue
the hedge rows shou'd abounding nature shew
And round the stragling trees the woodbine grow . .

[lines 44-46:]

A Silvan Scene to all the muses known
With Brakes and clustred Hazell under gornw
to which no gate the entrance shou'd deny
NOr spacous tract derect the wandring eye
But slender paths and winding still shou'd lead
The eager steps to new discvoer'd shade
With expectation every heart is fired
And with what's ever seen for ever tired
Thro' rustling twigs fresh in their yhouthfull dress
Thro' unset mint and marjoram as we press
To penetrate the woods obscure recess
A seat found out where some yet unmark'd tree
As for our ease thrusts out a bending knee
Or hangs an arm so negligently low
Teat rest is proferr'd by the yeilding bough…

[lines 101-106:]

A miscellany every grove affords
Where trees confused disdain the form of words
LIke them produc't by a rich soil and heat
The muse shou'd be who of the wood must treat
Unartfull sweet irregularly great
Such be the shades whch Hartford's steps shall trace…

[lines 109-147:]

The Beamless moon for now be mine the theme
Shou'd thro' the Grove send out a gentler gleam
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 restrain'd
To these of generous growth tho' dead aspire
But from the hated aspin swift retire
And qivering in the agony of flight
Shrink to a picktooth e'er it left your sight
Or on the air such characters impress
As motes we call whose meaning none can guess
Whc yet may be the ghosts for ought we know
Of syllabusles which sunk too soon below
Who wanting cordial praise in time applied
When merit claim'd it discontented died
But restless into life wou'd fain return
tho' now to vapours changed must ever mourn
Like Arabick or Indian letters spread
Their scraged forms still hopeless to be read
Or range abroad but in the mean disguise
Of specks and cobwebs teazing to the eyes
Which on his page a wearied writer meets
Striving to reasume [sic] their paper sheets
In troops the gay by sunshine do appear
The sad persue the moon when full and clear
Were thi sconjecture ture some verse of mine
Dwindled to motes may hovering now repine
'Gaint Criticks who from Pedantry refuse
The soothing sweetness of the natural muse
Whilst free she sings as birds from warbling throats
As large her compass and as wild her notes…

[lines 166-175:]

Nor misus'd influence and Poetick force
Wou'd conscious think this scene reproach'd your guilt
For stinted verse and ink unduely spilt
And home retireing in a thousand frights
Wou'd pass the night in thoughts and dreams of sprights
No more then let the pen and rigour bind
For we're wronged if Eusden is confind'd
Whose fertil vein each trifle can improve
Plant in your watch-case an imagin'd grove
And make the beasts in paper forest move . .

[lines 180-end:]

Yet if these numbers meet with a kind regard
The happier muse that kindness shall reward
Hartford in her retirement shall divert
And find a time to play about her heart
Tho' verse the judgment or the fancy seize
'Tis there it must be felt or never please

Secondary Ed:

1988 Ellis d'Alessandro prints Wellesley text, 101-6; McGovern & Hinnant, 31-36.


1910 Dowden prints from Wellesley text, 246, lines 19-34, 123-6.


Extraordinarily fine, exquisite fanciful natural and mental landscape poetry. She has piled into much natural and recently learned lore (from Heneage's interests). Finch writes in Thomson's manner before Thomson, but also remembers the fairy poetry of the early to mid-17th century. This is a teasing playful yet sad defense of poetic freedom in which Finch shows she can rise to Hertford's challenge. It should be noted that while Finch shows herself superior to Eusden who may just have been given the poet laureateship; she also, now 57 (after 40 years of writing poetry), asks a girl of 19 to encourage her and speaks of her poetry as of something which died. Finch is here developing her own definition of the poetic imagination in relationship to natural landscape.


Dowden suggested that it was Laurence Eusden's appointment to Poet Laureate on Christmas Eve 1718 that provoked Lady Hertford's challenge. However, Lady Betty is described as a smiling young baby who is soothed into smiles "with bells" and Lady Hertford's smiles in return. Lady Betty was born in November 24, 1716, the description would fit a baby who has not yet begun to walk or talk, perhaps a year and a half old in summer 1718.

Page Last Updated 8 January 2003