While Anne Finch's poem on a ritual associated with the Christmas season is in print in Barbara McGovern and Charles Hinnant's edition of the Wellesley Manuscript (The Anne Finch Wellesley Manuscript Poems (pp. 60-61), since the text of the Wellesley appears to be taken from a revised version of the poem copied out by Heneage in MS Additional 4457, and is a rare instance of a poem for the season from the pre-Dickens era, I have decided to reprint the text from MS Additional 4457 and provide the variants. See also Chronology No. 231.
On January 12, 1715/16 at Lewston, Dorsetshire (the home of Mrs Grace Stode Thynne, widow to Henry Thynne, Heneage's nephew), Heneage and Anne Finch, Earl and Countess of Winchilsea; [Mrs] Thynne (mother to "the Gentle Hertford," Francis Thynne Seymour), [Mrs] Higgons (Mrs Thynne's elderly companion-servant); and Maria [Mary] Thynne (Mrs Thynne's daughter, married later that year to William Greville, 7th Lord Brooke) drew charms from a twelfth night's cake which would have been large and festive cake, and was usually frosted or heavily ornamented. This cake would have "charms" in it -- silver ones. Then slices from the cake were handed about. If in your slice of cake, you found a silver bean, you were king; if you found a silver pea, you were queen; if you found a silver clove, you were the knave; a silver twig made you the fool and a silver rag, the slut. (Slut does not mean tramp; it means kitchen maid.) The person who got the King was then King for the rest of the festive evening, the person who got the Queen, became Queen.
This merry ritual was recorded in an apparently spontaneous not-so-merry or slightly saturnine poem by Anne Finch. Except for putting the heading in larger print, I have printed this first copy exactly as it appears in MS Additional 4457:
"How plain dear Madam was the Want of Sight
On Fortune Charged seen at your House last Night
Where all our Lots were govern'd by Mistake
And nothing well proportioned but the Cake
First for the Crown on which the rest depend
On Higgins shou'd 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 wou'd drain
And none by her shou'd live or die in pain
Good Humour, Wit and pleasure she'd promote
And leave the merry Land not worth a Groat
Were I a Queen as Fortune has design'd
'Twould suite as ill with my retiring mind
Who after all aspiring Iffs & Ands
Shou'd leave the Cliffs and sink into the Sands
If Winchillsea's a Knave where's his Estate?
His larger House? his Equipage? his plate?
His Mastery in Law & over Delay
Which sweeps his patience & his pence away?
A Knave without all these is poorly made
And wou'd Disgrace the beneficial Trade
But farther She has err'd beyond all Rule
In Giving Thynne what I'll not name the ---
In all her List of patents and Decrees
Where some grow vain on Names and some on fees
She cou'd have found no Title so unfit
Or such a Foil to her establish'd wit
To fair Maria in her blunder'd scene
She gave the Slut tho' Ermin's not so clean
O'er all her Charms a youthfull Lustre spreads
Which on her Dress reflected Brightness Sheds
As phoebus gilds whatever's in his sight
And makes (like her) all cheerful by his Light.
This Simile I hope you'll think is fine
For verse where neither Sun or Stars do Shine
Is blind as Fortune that has wrong'd us all
Whose Gifts on real Fools and Knaves will fall."
The Wellesley manuscript title is "After drawing a twelf cake at the Hon:ble Mrs Thynne's; the penultimate line reads: "Is blind as fortune that misplac't us all".
The Wellesley has a pointed refrain at the end of each stanza: at the end of line 4 in the Wellesley we have "Mrs Higgons drew the King"; at the end of what is line 13 ("And leafe the merry land not worth a groat") in the Wellesley we have "I drew the Queen"; at the end of line 18 in the Wellesley ("Shou'd leave the clifts and sink into the sands") in the Wellesley we have "Lord Winchilsea drew the knave."; at the end of line 25 ("And wou'd disgrace the beneficial trade") in the Wellesley we have "Mrs Thynne drew the fool."; at the end of line 32 ("Or such a toil to her establish't wit") in the Wellesley we have "Mrs Mary Thyynne drew the slut."
Line 27 in the Wellesley reads "But farther fortune err'd beyond all Rule".
There is a capital "F" in line 27 ("In giving Thynne what I'll not name the F---").
On the whole in the second copy in the Wellesley (and now printed in McGovern and Hinnant's edition), Heneage attempted to make the poem easier to understand. In the earlier version in MS Additional 4457 the reader had to guess the rhyme for "Rule" is fool. Either he or before her death Anne had softened the wry hit in the final couplet. "misplac't" is a more ambiguous word than "wrong'd". The first copy in MS Additional 4457 reads like it is gotten down effort. Anne would write poems very suddenly.
Page Last Updated 8 January 2003