A somewhat abbreviated version of this review was published in The Scriblerian 33/2 (2001), pp 203-4. I have printed this longer one in order to place into circulation more information on the individuals mentioned in, and immediate circumstances surrounding, the poems in question. See also Yvonne Noble, an essay-review of The Anne Finch Wellesley Manuscript Poems: A Critical Edition, ed. Barbara McGovern and Charles H. Hinnant," in Eighteenth-Century Women: Studies in Their Lives, Work and Culture, ed. Linda V. Troost. Volume 2. New York: AMS Press, 2002, pp. 313-20.
Until 1903 the only poems known to be by Anne Finch were those 86 poems and one play published by her in 1713. In 1903 Myra Reynolds reprinted this poetry with over 100 further poems, another play, and prose preface (based on Reynolds's collation of the 1713 with two manuscript books), and eight more poems (gleaned from four other printed books). Reynolds's preface included a short biography based on primary documents, description of her sources, and critical analysis of the poetry from an early 20th century perspective. She arranged the poems in a coherent thematic ordering, one consistent with generic assumptions central to how a given poem would at first have been seen by Finch's readers. While she collated the poems, she consistently preferred to reprint printed or later texts over manuscript or earlier ones.
Alas, Reynolds did not know of the existence of a third major manuscript volume which contains 53 poems. In 1910 Dowden revealed its existence, and Wellesley College has since then acquired it. Ms. McGovern and Mr. Hinnant have now edited this manuscript, leaving the poems in the disarray in which they are found there. Whoever transcribed the poems into this manuscript did so without any attention to when they were written, their theme or genre. This sort of edition had been done before: in 1988 Ms. Jean Ellis d'Alessandro produced one, but her texts and notes are unreliable and her interpretations extravagantly untenable. (One wonders if Wellesley requires any reproduction of just these poems to reproduce the poems in the order they appear in the volume.) In their preface, Ms. McGovern and Mr. Hinnant argue that Finch chose not to print most of her poems because she and her husband were Jacobites, and analyse the poems in this volume as Jacobite, occasional, religiously meditative, and friendship poems addressed to intimates. They suggest the poems are not ordered because the poems were brought together after Finch's death, not to publish but to preserve them. A careful check of their edition against a microfilm of the Wellesley manuscript demonstrates that their transcription is faithful.
Unfortunately, the usefulness of this edition is limited. Only when read with Reynolds's edition, can the reader for the first time gain some sense of the scope, variety and full nature of Finch's achievement. Further, since in their introduction Ms. McGovern and Mr. Hinnant make no attempt to relate these poems to the poems in Reynolds's edition and print them in disarray, the reader who is not thoroughly versed in the obscurer aspects of Finch's life or era will have a difficult time understanding some of them on a basic level, as many refer to a specific moment in time or people only known to Finch and her circle. The detail needed is in the basically sound notes, which are however in the same disorder as the poems. In addition, their scholarship is based only on the Wellesley manuscript; they do always not tell the reader when these poems appear in other manuscripts, nor do they provide variant readings.
The texts and the notes which accompany them are therefore not definitive. "A letter to Mrs Arrabella Marow," "After drawing a twelf cake… ", and "To Mr Pope" all also appear in BL MS Additional 4457: in this manuscript, the first poem opens differently, is dated "Oct 18, 1715", and a different, very personal stanza appears for lines 13-15 in lieu of the Wellesley stanza; and the second poem has a variant harder penultimate line ("Is blind as Fortune that has wrong'd us all"). "To Mr Pope" also occurs in BL MS Additional 4807 with a letter from Richard Basingfeld dated May 26, 1712. "Upon Lady Selena Shirley's picture…" and "A Ballad to Mrs Catherine Fleming… " also occur in BL MS Harleian 7316. We are told only that the latter is the second of a pair, the first of which appears in MS Harleian 7316 and has never been printed.
The notes are consistent, and to the point, but do not always identify Finch's relationship to obscure people. Information found in other manuscripts is omitted. A few examples: for "An Ode Written upon Christmas Eve… " to Lady Catherine Jones, the reader should know that this woman may be a friend from Finch's court days, and that Finch's husband kept up the friendship after Finch's death as he records her telling an amusing tall tale in his manuscript diary. So too does the Captain Lloyd who appears in "Occasion'd by the Death of Collonel Baggot…" appear in Finch's husband's diary. In "Advertisement for the Gazette… ", the reader should know that Finch also refers to Ann Fleming who is described in another poem in MS Harleian 7316 where she and Catherine Fleming are pictured singing and playing the lyre together. In "The puggs" when the old dutch dog talks abut how his "race but traded/Till we our neighbours rights invaded/With saple paws thus to embrace you…", there may be an allusion to the replacement in 1697 of Willian Bentinck, Duke of Portland by Arnold Joose van Keppel (later Earl of of Albemarle) in William III's affections. For "Under the picture of Marshall Turenne" the reader should know that James II fought with Turenne in the 1650s.
Finally, Ms. McGovern and Mr. Hinnant say Anne Finch's handwriting does not appear inside the Wellesley manuscript book, and say there are only four extant texts (letters) in her hand. But at the top of the page in the Wellesley manuscript where "The Lawrell" appears, there is handwritten "Lady Winchilsea's hand?" Finch certainly wrote out the only text we have of "On a Short Visit inscrib'd to My Lady Worsley", which is found in the Longleat MS Portland Papers, Volume 19. The handwriting of the first seven lines of "The Lawrell" in the Wellesley mansucript closely resembles the handwriting of "On a Short Visit".
In sum, this book is a critical edition of the Wellesley manuscript; it is not a critical edition of the poems contained in it. We still lack a definitive edition of the poems of Anne Finch which goes beyond Reynolds.
George Mason University
Page Last Updated 8 January 2003