This essay was first written between 1991 and 1992. I have revised it several times since.
It was in 1829 that Alexander Dyce sent William Wordsworth a selection of poetry by English women intended to become part of an anthology to be called Specimens of British Poetesses. After reading Dyce's pages, Wordsworth thought about writing a dual portrait which he thought would throw light upon two of the included women. In 1830 he queried Dyce thus:
Could you tell me anything of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu more than is to be learned from Pope's letters and her own? She seems to have been destined for something much higher and better than she became. A parallel between her character and genius and that of Lady Winchilsea her contemporary (though somewhat prior to her) would be well worth drawing.
No one has ever taken up Wordsworth's idea because the collocation seems perverse. Throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720) was known as a melancholy poet with a gift for depicting the natural world. Recently she has been studied as an early feminist, her poetry mined for its protests, analyses of her depressions, and her plays and songs set in the world of the later 17th century court. One of her recent biographers sees her as a self-obscured Jacobite; students of poetic tradition look at the techniques of her fables. While almost ostentatiously reluctant, she was courageous enough to publish a book of her poems during her life -- and even place her name on the title page when the book seemed to be destined for something of a success.
Peace was what she said she craved. As in her verses in her privately composed books she wrote that she had always wished, she died out of the public arena, companioned by a few cherished sympathetic friends, the protected wife of Heneage Finch, unexpectedly the fourth Earl of Winchilsea who had acted as her amanuensis. Myra Reynolds and Helen Sard Hughes both remarked that Anne Finch's handwriting suggests a woman who was often under severe distress, and perhaps that was why we have so few letters by her. It is fair to say that until recently she was almost forgotten, except for one or two "proto-Romantic poems" and a (to many modern readers) stilted Pindaric Ode, "The Spleen" The bibliography of articles and books on her alone is still small.
Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) was known as an eccentric, a risqué earl's daughter separated from her miser of a husband, both of whom were scourged by Pope. What respect she had was for helping to spread the practice of inoculation for smallpox after she had been its victim -- and for her sparklingly witty though lonely letters. These latter were frequently compared to the letters of Madame de Sévigné, another mother whose daughter seemed (at least to those who read the letters) not sufficiently grateful for such an outpouring of love and genius. In 1838 her status as a letter-writer was further reinforced by the publication of a series of letters she wrote when he accompanied her husband as wife of the ambassador to Constantinople: these were eventually published as Letters from the Levant During the Embassy to Constantinople, 1716- 1718. She told of walking through the streets of the city swathed in veils, of insinuating herself into harems where she praised the women's life there. The Germaine Greer of her day, by the mid-20th century Montagu's image had changed only insofar as her letters were respected and her reflective passionate intelligence was caught in her poetry.
Far from craving peace, Montagu was a restless spirit, daring, unconventional in public, never retreating from the difficulties or divertissements of life. Montagu dared to leave her husband, threw over place, position, and access to a secure large income to meet in Italy an Italian philosophe, Francesco Algarotti, whom she wanted to live with her as her lover. Unlike Finch, though mostly potted and often condescending, biographies and critical remarks and small essays on Montagu have abounded from the time of her death -- as well as paeans to her voluminous letters which have been reprinted many times.
When Montagu's verse is discussed (and until recently it has not been), it is in terms of its narrow topic content and social context. It has been hard to see these as at all feminist. Although like Finch, Montagu was learned and spoke eloquently of the disadvantages English women suffered, she always said that women were naturally vulnerable to folly (particularly when without fathers or husbands), and advised learning for women as a cheap way to fill up idle hours. In contrast to Finch, Montagu helped to destroy her writing. We do not know what her family burnt before the 1803 edition of her works, but we do know that upon her elopement with Edward Wortley Montagu, her sister, Lady Frances Pierrepont (later Mar), hurriedly burnt all the diaries and papers she could find, knowing Montagu would approve. In contrast to Heneage Finch, Montagu's closest relative, her daughter, Mary Wortley Stuart, Lady Butte burnt all her mother's private papers. And Montagu herself burnt all her letters to Maria Skerrett, Robert Walpole's mistress, and all those to John Hervey, the latter act mourned thus by Robert Halsbands "they must have been brilliant and revealing of the interests they had in common: politics, literature and love." Upon that pyre she also placed her history of her own time. She died in a comedy of cross-purposes over those of her letters that she did want to survive. In Halsband's ironic words, "She expressed great anxiety that the two volumes of [the Turkish Embassy] letters she had given to the clergyman in Holland should be published. Her family were in terror lest they should be."
Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu seem a study in contrast. What could Wordsworth be referring to?
The problem is that we have not placed their poetry together. Their characteristic personal stances and techniques and their attitudes towards the function of poetry in society are all closely similar. Montagu's ferocity and raw depiction of sexual encounter in her verses is matched by Ardelia's depictions of sexual encounter; Finch is by turns sardonic, savage and bitter in many of her fables and songs. Anne Finch's Restoration songs are memorable because they depict coolly the vulnerability of any dependent in a sexual liaison -- of which Finch had been, and after her marriage continued to be, one. We forget Mary Wortley Montagu's songs: they are deeply melancholy, as desperate and obsessed as anything Finch wrote.
I will examine their closeness in time; their iconoclastic scorn for the sentimental view of Mary Queen of Scots and other weeping (imagined) powerful erotic queens; and their alienation from other women. A similar closeness of view then emerges from a comparison of the influence on them of male poets and two respected females, Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn; of their erotic poetry. Both write in the Augustan literary mode, translate and imitate. Their satire is by turns intensely personal, self-release, and, somewhat ironically, when apparently most objective, a form of assault, a place where seething anger can be vented. Finally both write bitter and yearning retirement poetry where the formality of the modes allows for candour.
We begin with their near-contemporaneity. Anne Finch's years are 1660 to 1720; Mary Wortley Montagu's 1689 to 1762. They write some of their finest verse in the same decade with the same male rival (Pope) in mind. One example will have to do to present their simultaneity within the popular genres of their period. Within the same ten-year period both wrote mocking epilogues for Anne Oldfield to speak as an ironic coda to one of the then popular she-tragedies. In 1713 Anne Finch as Ardelia laughed witheringly at Nicholas Rowe's pathetic virtuous heroine, brought before us to "mortify" and "whine":
I hate such parts as we have plaid to-day,
Before I promis'd, had I read the play,
I wou'd have staid at home, and drank my Tea.
Then why the husband shou'd at last be brought
To hear her own and aggravate her fault,
Puzzled as much my discontented thought.
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 . . .
Nine years later for the same actress who had just enacted a similar role in an "Epilogue to a new Play of M[ary] Queen of Scots design'd to be spoke by Mrs Oldfield" (but never finished), in corrosive tones Montagu imagined herself warning female spectators against the male "Wolves" who cornered Mary Queen of Scots. Both writers decry as hypocritical the then reigning double standard and assumption that women will win some reward for their beauty or goodness. Both these women saw through the mélange of sentimentality and anti-feminism that made up the cult of worship on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots and the scathing dismissal of the effective, openly powerful (and therefore unacceptable "masculine") Queen Elizabeth. I find exhilarating about Montagu's frank celebration of sexual and material enjoyment for women, her denial that Queen Elizabeth was in any way a frustrated failure:
What could Luxurious Woman wish for more
To fix her Joys, or to extend her Power?
Their every Wish was in this Mary seen,
Gay, Witty, Youthful, Beauteous and a Queen!
Vain useless Blessing with ill Conduct joyn'd!
Light as the Air, and Fleeting as the Wind.
What ever Poets write, or Lovers vow;
Beauty, what poor Omnipotence hast thou!
Queen Bess had Wisdom, Councel, Power
How few espous'd a Wretched Beauty's Cause!
Learn hence, ye Fair, more solid charms to prize ...
If you will Love, love like Eliza then,
Love for Amusement like those Traitors, Men.
Think that the Pastimes of a Leisure Hour
She favour'd oft -- but never shar'd her Power.
The Traveller by Desart Wolves persu'd,
If by his Art the savage Foe's subdu'd,
The World will still the noble Act applaud,
Tho' Victory was gain'd by needfull Fraud.
Such is (my tender Sex) our helpless Case
And such the barbarous Heart, hid by the begging Face.
By Passion fir'd, and not with held by Shame,
They cruel Hunters are, we trembling Game.
Trust me Dear Ladys (for I know 'em well),
They burn to Triumph, and they sigh -- to tell.
Cruel to them that Yeild, Cullys to them that sell.
Beleive me tis by far the wiser Course,
Superior Art should meet superior force.
Hear: but be faithfull to your Interest still,
Secure your Hearts, then Fool with who you will.
The unexpected difference is the note of plangency Montagu hits; it is Ardelia who seems to lack any fellow pity. Alas, neither epilogue was ever spoken on a stage and only published either years after the poet's death or in a fugitive collection long obscured.
The frustrated poetry of Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu is homogeneous. They write in the same genres, yet they also mirror society from the perspective of other women from whom they, interestingly, feel alienated. In neither poet is there any sense of an adequate female tradition of poetry to which theirs belongs. Perhaps this sense of isolation accounts for some of their shared rage and mourning. Nowadays Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia (see Part Six of Apollo's Muse) is well known. But not Montagu's "Elegy on Mrs, Thompson" where the subject with whom the poet identifies endures the same fate as Finch's mocked poetess:
Nor shall thy woes long glad th'illnatured crowd,
Silent in praise and in detraction loud,
For Scandal that thro life each worth destroys
And malice that Imbitters all our joys,
Shall in some ill-starr'd wretch find later staines,
And let thine rest forgot, as thy remaines.
Both Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu were heavily influenced by the male poetry of the Restoration. In their youth both imitated and praised John Sheffield (Mulgrave), and in their maturity both still quote his maxims and poetry in their maturity. In his "Essay on Poetry" and "Essay on Satire" Sheffield describes all the genres they used and takes the stance towards these genres that they did. Here are rules for easy songs and mournful elegies; pointed epigrams and Pindaric odes; comic and heroic plays and poems; satires in the form of monologues, and fables and lampoons, rules which describe Ardelia and Lady Mary's corpus, rules which they never really depart from. Both said they admired -- and we can trace lines and poems of theirs back to -- Denham, Cowley, Waller, Rochester, Roscommon, and Dryden. Finch's plays are pathetic in the mode of Otway (out of Beaumont and Fletcher); she praises Etherege and Lee. Montagu wrote a critique of Addison's Cato that shows she accepted Restoration rules for and attitudes towards tragedy and comedy. Her adaptation of Marivaux's Le Jeu de L'Amour et du Hasard, Simplicity, turns Marivaux's witty comedy into an English very late Restoration play.
Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu both knew the poetry of Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn well. Finch justified her vocation by Orinda's example and began her career by imitating her. She wrote of Astrea that "Amongst females was not on earth/Her Superior in fancy, in language or wit". Montagu quoted from memory little known verses of Orinda, and she wrote a romance in verse in imitation of Astrea's free verse translation A Voyage to the Isle of Love. The library Montagu had shipped to Italy included Ardelia's poems. For those interested in the later tradition of female poetry (which I think developed in England as a conscious movement for the first time in the middle 18th century century) it is of interest that the 1755 anthology Poems of Eminent Ladies, so often reprinted includes the whole of Astraea's translation in its first edition.
Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu also learned from Jacobean and Cavalier poets. Reuben Brower found metaphysical wit in Ardelia's poetry; so too Barbara McGovern. Finch was clearly familiar with the enigmatic lyrical poetry of Marvell and Herrick's idyllic erotic lyrics. She quotes little known verses Beaumont sent to Fletcher in her preface to her poetry. Isobel Grundy traces Montagu's satiric monologues back to the heroic epistle's of Drayton, but she does not go on to show that that Montagu wrote lyrics which also use the pictorial techniques of emblematic poetry:
Thou silver deity of secret night,
Direct my footsteps through the woodland shade,
Thou conscious witness of unknown delight,
The Lovers guardian, and the muse's aid.
By thy pale beams I solitary rove,
To thee my tender grief confide,
Serenely sweet you gild the silent Grove,
My friend, my goddess and my guide.
Even thee fair queen from thy amazing height
The charms of young Endimion drew,
Veil'd with the mantle of concealing night,
With all thy greatness and thy coldness too
Description and extensive quotation of Montagu's lyric poetry is justified because it is good and rarely quoted.
In the 1730's under the pressure of her distaste for court society and her longing for a genuinely physical love affair and deep comittment from Algarotti, Montagu wrote lyrics whose stanzas and metrics recall the line of wit. One of these consists of two stanzas which begin and end with the phrase "Between your sheets." Its sibillants and full vowels evoke a mood appropriate to sensual dreams and love-making in a still night. A different version of this lyric consists of two octosyllabic couplets in-which through variation of spondees and iambs Lady Mary mades us feel her pulsating breathing:
Ah would some God my song inspire
With warmth to show the strong desire
Does on my heart and vitals prey
And waste my very soul away.
Through the trochaic meter of another lyric, Montagu creates a verbal analogue for her revulsion from society. The last three lines of one stanza rhythmically imitate the gestures of a scene she wanted to push out of her mind, and left England to get away from:
Finish, these Languors make me sick,
Of dying airs I know the Trick,
Long since I've learnt to well explain
Th'unmeaning Cant of Fire and pain,
And see tho all the senseless Lyes
Of cunning darts from killing Eyes,
I'm tired with this continual Rout
Of bowing low and leading out
That last single word hits hard at what she is detemined to drive from her.
In a third lyric her caesura projects an elusive catching of breath when suddenly surprised by a lover's appearance:
Prepar'd to rail, and quite resolv'd to part,
What magick is it awes my trembling Heart?
At that fair vision all resentments fly,
And on my tongue halfe-form'd reproaches dye,
My melting Soul one tender Glance disarms,
I faint -- and find all Heaven within his arms
Anne Finch's plays hark back to the sensational dramaturgy and eroticism of the Jacobeans. Reynold notices how very sensual Finch's lines are, how emotionally intense and yielding. A characteristic couplet from Finch's little-read Aristomenes dramatizes love-making just as the male and female lie dying: "Then let me hug and press thee into life./And lend thee motion from my beating hearts."
Mary Wortley Montagu also writes dramatic poetry which harks back to the Jacobeans, and in her lines we find the same desperation and open sensuality. In one she produces a theatrical soliloquy in which she ricochets between urging herself to calm; excited arousal; and sudden thoughtfulness. Thus she addresses a "Taper by whose silent Light/I lonely pass the melancholy night:"
Come calm oblivion chase away my Cares,
Quiet this throbbing Pulse, repel my tears,
Blot out this Imagery of Joy and pain,
These mixed emotions that confuse my Brain,
He comes! -- 'twas nothing but the rustling Wind
He has forgot, is faithless, is unkind . . .
Can all the pleasure that he brings me pay
For the long sighing of this tedious day?
I note that such poetry often embarrasses readers, especially in those schools of feminism whose terrain seeks to transform or, more truthfully, inhibit, female sexuality. Worth remarking against this is Freud's comment that one reason women had not achieved powerful intellectual works by his time was that they were inhibited against and taught to repress their sexuality. In George Eliot's essay, "Women in France: Madame de Sable", on the first school of modern women writers, seventeenth century French women, she attributes the achievement of French women writers to their truthfulness about and (for their period) relatively liberated sex lives.
Nonetheless, Finch and Montagu share a stance towards sexuality which shows their allegiance to Diana -- their strength, they say, can only come from a will to will resist.
Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu were also influenced by and wrote the kind of poetry we call early Augustan. We find this vein strongest in them in their imitations and parodies; indeed the 1710s and 1720s is a self-consciously bookish decade in poetry. The woman's note and the similarity of their "genius and character" (to return to Wordsworth's formulation) is found in their similar responses to their court-centered world and their turning the couplet into a variable, intense personal idiom.
Anne Finch imitated Italian and French poets. She imitated Petrarch and Tasso, Racine and Madame Antoinette de Ligier de la Garde Deshouliers (1637-94). The mood of these imitations is mostly melancholy, erotic and dream-like; however, if we read these for the specifics of content in the context of Finch's particular social situation, we find that she is as autobiographical and angry as Montagu.
In one of Finch's inward-turning highly-coloured "Pieces out of the First Act of the Aminta" by Tasso, she anathematizes court life. We find Popian couplets, balanced units of antithetical and condensed language. But Ardelia does not present ratonal discourse; the antithesis and angularity of her units are used to intensify a colorful, sensual, and echoing fantasia about the social treacheries she saw, heard, and (apparently) loathed when she was maid of honour to Mary of Modena:
That new World of painted Mischiefs shun,
Whose gay Inhabitants thou shalt behold
Plum'd like our Birds and sparkling all in Gold;
Courtiers at that will thy rustick Garb despise,
And mock thy Plainness with disdainful Eyes
The very Walls by Magick Art are wrought
Repetition to all Speakers taught . . .
Speech for Speech entirely there they give,
And often add, beyond what they receive.
There downy Couches to false Rest invite,
The Lawn is charm'd, that faintly bars the Light . . .
While, farther to abuse thy wondering Eyes,
Strange antick Shapes before them shall arise;
Fantastick Fiends, that will about thee flock
Pope read and remembered "that faintly bars the Light".
Mary Wortley Montagu studied Latin, and she imitates Ovid, Virgil, and Horace. As with Finch's imitations, the still living passages of Montagu's imitations are those in which her own voice is heard denouncing high society for its falsity, transience, and unthinking glitter. To Horace's fifth ode of the first book, she adds a forceful paragraph in which she makes the poem into a personal statement by insisting fiercely upon her refusal to undergo the trouble, pains, and terrors of society on the basis the cost is too high:
For whom are now your Airs put on?
And what new Beauty doom'd to be undone?
That careless Elegance of Dress,
This Essence that perfumes the Wind,
Your every motion does confess
Some secret Conquest is design'd.
Alas the poor unhappy Maid,
To what a train of ills betraid!
What fears! what pangs shall rend her Breast!
How will her eyes dissolve in Tears!
That now with glowing Joy is blest,
Charm'd with the faithless vows she hears.
So the young Sailor on the Summer Sea
Gaily persues his destin'd way,
Fearless and careless on the deck he stands
Till sudden storms arise, and Thunders rowl,
In vain he casts his Eye to distant Lands,
Distracting Terror tears his timerous Soul.
For me, secure I view the raging Main,
Past are my Dangers, and forgot my Pain,
My Votive Tablet in the temple shews
The Monument of Folly past,
I paid the bounteous God my gratefull vows,
Who snatch'd from Ruin sav'd me at the Last
In attitude and theme this ode recalls sequences in Ardelia's little known (because as yet unprinted in an uncensored form), Some occasional Reflections Digested (tho' not with great regularity) into a Poeme--, especially,
Ambition then alur'd her tow'ring Eye
For Paradice she heard was plac'd on high
Then thought the Court was all its glorious show
Was sure above the rest and Paradice below
There plac'd too soon the flaming sword appear'd
Remov'd those Powers, whom justly she rever'd
Adher'd too in their Wreck, and in their Ruin shar'd.
Now by the Wheels inevitable round
With them thrown prostrate to the humble ground
No more she take's (instructed by that fall)
For fixt or worth her thought this rowling Ball
Nor feed a hope that boasts but mortal birth,
Or springs from man though fram'd of Royal earth
Tow'rds a more certain station she aspires
Unshaken by Revolts; and owns no lesse desires
But all in vain are Pray'rs extatick thoughts
Recover'd moments and retracted faults
Retirement which the World morossenesse calls
Abandon'd pleasures in Montastick walls
These but att distance towards that purpose tend
The lowly means to an exalted end
Which He must perfect who alotts her stay
And that accomplish'd will direct the way.
Pitty her restlesse cares and weary strife
And point some Issue to escaping Life
Which so dismiss'd no Pen or human speech
Th'ineffable Recesse can ever teach
Th'Expanse the Light the Harmony the Throng
In a pithy letter to her sister, Montagu puts the idea in ironic wry terms:
I could never endure with tolerable patience the austerities of a court life. I was saying every day from my heart (while I was condemned to it) "the things that I would do those do I not and the things I would not do those do I daily"; and I had rather be a Sister of Saint Clara than Lady of the Bedchamber to any Queen in Europe (To Lady Frances Stuart, 4 September 1758)
Mary Wortley Montagu and Anne Finch both move into the realm of the sublime and beyond death: this aspect of their poetry looks forward to the later romantics and the poetry of Victorian women (see Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology, edd. Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds [Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
At the same time, when Finch and Montagu wrote Augustan pastoral which by its nature and history is usually a critique of politicized, sexually corrupt, sycophantic courts, they both turned to partly feminist burlesque -- which are most unVictorian. In 1713 Finch printed Fanscomb Barn. In imitation of MILTON; she had in mind John Philips's The Splendid Shilling. An Imitation of Milton and John Gay's Wine: A Poem. Montagu wrote her Eclogues one year later and in the company of Pope and Gay: while Gay was writing his burlesque pastoral, "The Shephord's Weeke" and Pope was publishing serious pastorals, Montagu mocked Ambrose Philips's. One of Gay's Court Poems ("The Toilette") is a version of Montagu's "Friday"; Montagu uses lines from Pope's Pastorals (which Finch's poetry influenced) and there are several memories of Milton.
While Finch's comic pastoral is whimsical, it has a strong feminist undertow. She mocks Milton's assumption that men always lead women. Her drunken, befuddled male gives himself ludicrously Adam-like airs and pontificates to his kept woman. It has been noted that Finch uses archaic diction to describe the lovely Kentish downs; it has not been emphasized how she identifies with the impecunious male scholar in the fields too -- who, as she says in her epilogue to Aristomenes, also puts others to sleep:
Thus sung the Bard, whom potent Liquor rais'd,
Nor so contented, wish'd sublimer Aid.
Ye Wits! (he cry'd) ye Poets! (Loiterers vain,
Who like to us, in Idleness and Want
Consume fantastick Hours) hither repair,
And tell to list'ning Mendicants the Cause
Of Wonders, here observ'd but not discuss'd:
Where, the White Sparrow never soil'd her Plumes,
Nor the dull Russet cloaths the Snowy Mouse.
To Helicon you might the Spring compare,
That flows near Pickersdane renowned Stream,
Which, for Disport and Play, the Youths frequent,
Who, train'd in Learned School of ancient Wye,
First at this Fount suck in the Muses Lore,
When mixt with Product of the Indian Cane,
They drink delicious Draughts, and part inspir'd,
Fit for the Banks of Isis, or of Cham,
(For Cham, and Isis to the Bard were known,
A Servitor, when young in College-Hall,
Tho' vagrant Liberty he early chose,
Who yet, when Drunk, retain'd Poetick Phrase.)
Nor shou'd (quoth he) that Well, o'erhung with shade,
Amidst those neighb'ring Trees of dateless growth,
Be left unfathom'd by your nicer Skill
Who thence cou'd extricate a thousand Charms,
Or to oblivious Lethe might convert
The stagnant Waters of the sleepy Pool.
But most unhappy was that Morphean Sound
For lull'd Budgeta, who had long desir'd
Dismission fair from Tales, not throughly scann'd,
Thinking her Love a Sympathy confest,
When the Word Sleepy parted from his Lips,
Sunk affable and easy to that Rest,
Which Straw affords to Minds, unvex'd with Cares.
Montagu does not display the same ability to laugh at herself. As a poet, Finch is the lighter spirit. The mood of Montagu's burlesque pastorals is disillusioned, and at times they call to mind coarse lampoons. She chooses to depict, and refuses to soften the humiliations men and women she know endured in their drawing-rooms -- without the benefit of alcoholic exhilaration.. She invites us to sympathize with her characters, but only from a later appraisal of what we have read. Her people are as unthinking as Finch's, but she is also determined harshly to debunk. There is much bawdy language and comically hideous description. "Monday" was perhaps a dangerous poem to write -- for someone whose husband was involved in court politics. Montagu's technique is to exhibit Caroline's lady's mindlessness by repetitive exclamations. She uses contrasting vowel sounds in stressed monosyllabic rhyme words to ape the grotesque size of Roxana as Roxana remembers the sacrifices she made for the Queen who rewarded Cockatilla after all:
Oft had your drawing room been sadly thin
And Merchants' Wives close by the Chair had been
Had not I amply fillld the empty Space
And sav'd your Highness from the dire Disgrace.
This lacks overt emotional atmosphere. Montagu's antitheses are icons of fatuousness. In "Tuesday" she has the banal Patch cant about Tintoretta with an allusion to "Lycidas": "In her the Glory of the Heavens we view/Her Eyes are star-like and her mantua blue". In "Thursday" she contrasts Cardelia's avarice with Smilinda's lechery. "Friday" consists of the moans of a neglected mistress remembering the delights of shopping. Gay's nymph laments that Damon gives Chloe his heart -- until someone turns up with a present from him to her. Montagu's nymph wails that now Damon is cold, she "must be forc'd to pay,/Or bring no Pen'norths, nor a Fan away.
As with Finch, Montagu's personal voice comes out towards the end. The autobiography here is not light-hearted. It has long been recognized that "Saturday" dramatizes Montagu's anguish at the loss of her beauty from smallpox. However, there is another revealing personal strain in her feminism in "Wednesday". Lady Mary again attacks the double standard which encourages men to prey on women and makes women guilty when they experience sexual pleasure with tones so strong that this reader feels the stress of personal memory. The way in which Wednesday's shepherdess talks (for it is a form of talking) suggests why Byron so admired her poetry:
You see my artless Joy at your Approach,
I sigh, I faint, I tremble at your touch,
And in your Absence, all the World I shun ...
Ten thousand Swains I sacrifice to you:
I shew you all my Heart, without Disguise:
But these are tender proofes that you despise ...
Oh Love! A God indeed to Womankind!
(Whose Arrows burn me, and whose fetters bind
Avenge thy Altars, vindicate thy fame,
And blast these Traitors who prophane thy Name...
Unpractis'd Youth is easily deceiv'd,
Sooth'd by such sounds, I listen'd, and believ'd:
Now quite forgot that soft submissive Fear,
You dare to ask, what I must blush to hear ...
Montagu suggests the reason a man despises a woman for this kind of behavior is not that the action is a sin, but that she reveals herself to be vulnerable,to be in a weaker position. The poem looks forward to Austen's Lady Susan's scorn for her daughter whom men will despise:
The wretched she who yeilds to guilty Joys,
A Man may pity, but he must despise.
Your Ardor ceas'd, I then should see you shun
The wretched victim by your Arts undone,
Yet if I could that cold Indifference bear,
What more would strike me with the last Despair,
With this Reflection would my Soul be torn,
To know I merited your cruel Scorn.
Has Love no pleasures free from Guilt or Fear?
Pleasures less feirce, more lasting, more sincere?
Thus let us gently kiss, and fondly Gaze,
Love is a Child, and like a Child he plays.
Oh Strephon! if you would continue Just,
If Love be something more than Brutal Lust;
Forbear to ask, what I must still deny,
This bitter Pleasure, this Destructive Joy!
So closely followed by the Dismal Train
Of cutting Shame and Guilt's heart peircing Pain.
In the ending which Montagu did not print, the psychological allegory is given intense drama when her heroine yields to Strephon. She moved away from this in another harsh pair of couplets:
The Lover starts from his unfinish'd Loves,
To snatch his Hat, and seek his scatter'd Gloves,
The sighing Dame to meet her Dear prepares;
While Strephon cursing slips down the back Stairs.
The early poetry of Anne Finch which she pasted over or crossed out (without destroying) tells a similar story of a young girl who was besieged and yielded.
Here will I wait . . . I may grant
Ah! grateful shades I may not want
That . . . content when Joyes I see
In all that do inhabit thee
Ah! let me be your guest, and I
In . . . ease shall live and in . . . dye
For sure the Paths of this fair grove
Are kinder, . . . y[...] h[...] to Love
Bl[...]ing, . . . day . . . do appeare
Which she . . . h[...] tempests ne'er . . . here
He with Large Promiss of Joyes
And Armes [Arrows?] getts, . . . thou . . . destroyes
Thy Love did . . .
And gagg'd . . . a heart . . .
The being in pain which I found
. . . thy my Love and . . . wound
Honour'd i[...] pleasure . . . ne'er read
By . . . knowledge . . . he'd often said
D[...b...]d [a name], I . . . his temples grac'd
Then all the trophies, in them plac'd.
Promis'd, the chosen heart . . . speed
Shou'd pay my Sighs, [...f...] 'em bleed.
These are his Soft Deluding wayes,
With hopes and flat'ry he betrayes
To claime it now and make it [word heavily blotted]
To see't with Joy, and hast [word heavily blotted]
Was all I look'd for, when behold
So false is all by . . . untold
He all his . . . hee did pay
And . . ., . . . honour he did obey
Who Shortly had on pain of all
The Players, that of . . . [...h...] p[...'...]d fall
Charg'd him, he . . .
So hearts are us'd, when thoughts . . .
Thus . . . the Tyrant [...]'d not sway
Betray'd though y[...]d, . . . S[...] . . . ,
And . . . , . . . , shun . . .
Publick Assemblies, and the Court,
Within . . . we'll . . . the Darts
Such to the Temper'd, . . . from hearts
And knows that in his hand, ther' [...]ne
That I am . . . , but that alone.
Therefore S[...]d shou'd, his . . . Stay
And pass . . ., my Life away.
Since what the World does leasure call
[word heavily blotted], taste finds . . . all
Since here, that only . . . k[...h...]t
In all is plac'd or all . . . ript;
Sir . . . , h[o...] . . .
Then H[...]ing these, that own his Pow'r,
To you still C[...]ts, I repair
T...] . . . all thoughts of Love or care.
In the manuscript in which this poem occurs, every attempt has been made to obliterate it -- without though destroying it: heavy crossed hatchwork, crosscrossing over this, covers each line. Finch could have ripped the sheet out but didn't. Instead she went over these lines because in some places a particular word has been blotted out with a great deal of ink, suggesting some strong emotional response on the part of the blotter. This is to and about someone probably male who badly hurt her and who himself was somehow punished and perhaps mocked by the players. My guess is that Finch crossed this poem out because it records a liaison before Heneage Finch. The poem is also about her choice to stay away from court: she prefers the grove, but the world is so organized she has no choice, must bend to its taste and power.
We find remnants of the same tale told of the Beaumont-and-Fletcher heroines in Anne's two tragicomic plays. In The Triumphs of Love and Innocence, Carino tells Blanfort of how "he" "possesst all I've describ'd"; the state of mind of the heroine of Aristomenes, Amalintha, is even more striking:
Amal. Aristor, no; my Flight shall not preserve me:
The Life, I've kept but to indulge your Love,
Now to this loud, mistaken Rage I offer.
Take it, Oh! take it; Means cannot be wanting,
Altho' no Instrument of Death be near you:
This Hair, these flatter'd Locks, these once-lov'd Tresses
Round my sad Neck thus knit will soon perform it;
Or, on these trembling Lips your Hand but prest
Will send the rising Breath down to my Heart,
And break it, telling who deny'd it Passage.
Both women bring us near the roots of sexual oppression, for there is no way in which they --
or any woman today -- can escape her patriarchial function as bearer, whether it be bearer of a
child, of patient waiting, of the animal who must lie still first: so they both articulate the
problem closely in their attempts to fight and their yielding. This is poetry written under the sign
of Psyche in a satiric and bookish period before the repressions of the post-French revolutionary era.
Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu have their more objective and, so to speak, super-ego driven poems too: their general satires on society which are not tied to any particular period style. Here they both concentrate on how people actually interact with one another, on what basis this interaction occurs. Fables, epigrams, gay ballads, satiric epistles and lampoons,and thoughtful panegyrics constitute a major part of both their oeuvres -- but at the same time both transcend these genres. Wordsworth also remarked that Finch's poetry was misunderstood; he also wrote that she had not used her gifts with understanding because a generic idea of poetry had controlled her work. This is true for both women. It's not that they are proto- romantic poets; rather they escape genre classification by the intensely original nature of their gifts and their pouring their autobiographies into them. Those who have written of these poems in terms of genre tradition or era alone have not brought out what is alive in them.
I center the discussion of Anne Finch on her fables. She wrote thirty-six and one poem in which she defends them by satirizing more respectable genres of her period. Most of them come from La Fontaine, but she also turned to Sir Roger L'Estrange and other French and English sources. She chose fable because she saw in the animal world truths about people and society which they would prefer to veil. Her fables include etiological narrative depictions of the English civil war and the later Stuart court and debates on the nature of life and the different roles men and women take in society, debates which are not meant to be resolved. In several of her fables her attitudes parallel closely Montagu's attitudes in her verse satires.
Ardelia's two fables from L'Estrange's Aesop have the same harsh tone. In There's no To-morrow, Finch depicts the vulnerability of naive women in their sexual relationships with men. For the Better is about the greed and ignorance of physicians. Like Montagu, Finch thinks that physicians know very little and prey on people for money. This fable is cast in the dramatic monologue form favoured by Montagu. There are so many such parallels in these pragmatic levels of their poetry, one cannot catalogue them.
Finch does display attitudes in her fables for which there is no parallel in Montagu's work. There in her playful "The Gouts and the Spider," written partly to cheer her ailing husband, Finch uses her descriptive powers to contrast the relative worldviews of her characters:
[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.
But in another fable The Brass-Pot and Stone-Jugge Finch writes a doggerel burlesque in the manner of Samuel Butler's Hudibras and looks forward to Montagu's impromptu tirades. She laughs at the shattering of this crockery to deflate the *nobler Life" of adventures "Then let us instantly be going,/And see what in the world is Doing". The style and outlook is that of Swift in his most characteristic verses. In a comparable mock-heroic fable on war, "The Battle between the Rats and the Weasles, we have a serious caricature of the battles of the English civil war. She laughs sardonically at the frivolity and vanity of these packs of warrior men; it is no wonder her elegiac verses against war in All Is Vanity ("Trail all your Pikes, dispirit every Drum" etcetera) have been much more frequently reprinted and are much better known.
The characteristic mood of Finch's fables is subversive of social interaction. She prefers an inward world of sleep and dreams:
Where is that World, to which the Fancy flies,
When Sleep excludes the Present from our Eyes;
Whose Map no Voyager cou'd e'er design,
Nor to Description its wild Parts confine?
Yet such a Land of Dreams We must allow,
Who nightly trace it, tho' we know not how:
Unfetter'd by the Days obtruded Rules,
We All enjoy that Paradise of Fools;
And find a Sorrow, in resuming Sense,
Which breaks some free Delight, and snatches us from thence.
This is from Mussulman's Dream OF THE VIZIER and DERVIS and what the reader must do is ignore the plot which is a distracting cover-up; that is, the rest of the poem.
Not read rightly is her The Shepherd and the Calm. Its true meaning, its value lies in passages in which she triumphs when her ambitious shepherd loses everything:
Soothing his Passions with a warb'ling Sound,
A Shepherd-Swain lay stretch'd upon the Ground;
Whilst all were mov'd, who their Attention lent,
Or with the Harmony in Chorus went,
To something less than Joy, yet more than dull Content.
(Between which two Extreams true Pleasure lies,
O'er-run by Fools, unreach'd-at by the Wise )
But yet, a fatal Prospect to the Sea
Wou'd often draw his greedy Sight away.
He saw the Barques unlading on the Shore,
And guess'd their Wealth, then scorn'd his little Store.
Then wou'd that Little lose, or else wou'd make it more.
To Merchandize converted is the Fold,
The Bag, the Bottle, and the Hurdles sold;
The Dog was chang'd away, the pretty Skell
Whom he had fed, and taught, and lov'd so well.
In vain the [sic] Phillis wept, which heretofore
Receiv'd his Presents, and his Garlands wore.
False and upbraided, he forsakes the Downs,
Nor courts her Smiles, nor fears the Ocean's Frowns.
For smooth it lay, as if one single Wave
Made all the Sea, nor Winds that Sea cou'd heave;
Which blew no more than might his Sails supply:
Clear was the Air below, and Phoebus laugh'd on high.
With this Advent'rer ev'ry thing combines,
And Gold to Gold his happy Voyage joins;
But not so prosp'rous was the next Essay,
For rugged Blasts encounter'd on the way,
Scarce cou'd the Men escape, the Deep had all their Prey.
Our broken Merchant in the Wreck was thrown
Upon those Lands, which once had been his own;
Where other Flocks now pastur'd on the Grass,
And other Corydons had woo'd his Lass.
A Servant, for small Profits, there he turns,
Yet thrives again, and less and less he mourns;
Re-purchases in time th'abandon'd Sheep,
Which sad Experience taught him now to keep.
When from that very Bank, one Halcyon Day,
On which he lean'd, when tempted to the Sea,
He notes a Calm; the Winds and Waves were still,
And promis'd what the Winds nor Waves fulfill,
A settl'd Quiet, and Conveyance sure,
To him that Wealth, by Traffick, wou'd procure.
But the rough part the Shepherd now performs,
Reviles the Cheat, and at the Flatt'ry storms.
Ev'n thus (quoth he) you seem'd all Rest and Ease,
You sleeping Tempests, you untroubl'd Seas,
That ne'er to be forgot, that luckless Hour,
In which I put my Fortunes in your Pow'r;
Quitting my slender, but secure Estate,
My undisturb'd Repose, my sweet Retreat,
For Treasures which you ravish'd in a Day,
But swept my Folly, with my Goods, away.
Then smile no more, nor these false Shews employ,
Thou momentary Calm, thou fleeting Joy;
No more on me shall these fair Signs prevail,
Some other Novice may be won to Sail,
Give me a certain Fate in the obscurest Vale.
These peaceful landscapes attract her because, however unstable, they are a refuge from upheaval. Finch lacked La Fontaine's delicacy, but the attraction of his verse lies in far more than their surface story- content.
Finch wrote nightmarish fables. Two tersely written ones, The Owl Describing her Young Ones and The Eagle, the Sow and the Cat, are allegories of the precarious and dangerous life at Whitehall for the courtiers as remembered by Anne. The opening of the latter reveals the deflating cosy texture of both:
THE Queen of Birds, t'encrease the Regal Stock,
Had hatch'd her young Ones in a stately Oak,
Whose Middle-part was by a Cat possest,
And near the Root with Litter warmly drest,
A teeming Sow had made her peaceful Nest.
(Thus Palaces are cramm'd from Roof to Ground,
And Animals, as various, in them found.)
Finch projects into these allegories her recollection and loathing of the sycophancy and betrayals she had witnessed. The fable of the eagle, sow and cat is a deadly story of the ease with which "Cursed Sycophants" plunder "those, who know you not, till 'tis too late!" The cat skillfully combines bad-mouthing of those who are not present with "fawning compliments" for those who are; a steathly progress in taking over, slidling in, and destruction through insinuating slander leads to her devouring the children of everyone else so she is left with the oak to herself:
When to the Sow, who no Misfortune fear'd,
Puss with her fawning Compliments appear'd,
Rejoicing much at her Deliv'ry past,
And that she 'scap'd so well, who bred so fast.
Then every little Piglin she commends,
And likens them to all their swinish Friends;
Bestows good Wishes, but with Sighs implies,
That some dark Fears do in her Bosom rise.
Such Tempting Flesh, she cries, will Eagles spare?
Methinks, good Neighbour, you should live in Care:
Since I, who bring not forth such dainty Bits,
Tremble for my unpalatable Chits;
And had I but foreseen, the Eagle's Bed
Was in this fatal Tree to have been spread;
I sooner wou'd have kitten'd in the Road,
Than made this Place of Danger my abode.
I heard her young Ones lately cry for Pig,
And pity'd you, that were so near, and big.
In Friendship this I secretly reveal,
Lest Pettitoes shou'd make th' ensuing Meal;
Or else, perhaps, Yourself may be their aim,
For a Sow's Paps has been a Dish of Fame.
No more the sad, affrighted Mother hears,
But overturning all with boist'rous Fears,
She from her helpless Young in haste departs,
Whilst Puss ascends, to practice farther Arts.
The Anti-chamber pass'd, she scratch'd the Door;
The Eagle, ne'er alarum'd so before,
Bids her come in, and look the Cause be great,
That makes her thus disturb the Royal Seat;
Nor think, of Mice and Rats some pest'ring Tale
Shall, in excuse of Insolence, prevail.
Alas! my Gracious Lady, quoth the Cat,
I think not of such Vermin; Mouse, or Rat
To me are tasteless grown; nor dare I stir
To use my Phangs, or to expose my Fur.
A Foe intestine threatens all around,
And ev'n this lofty Structure will confound;
A Pestilential Sow, a meazel'd Pork
On the Foundation has been long at work,
Help'd by a Rabble, issu'd from her Womb,
Which she has foster'd in that lower Room;
Who now for Acorns are so madly bent,
That soon this Tree must fall, for their Content.
I wou'd have fetch'd some for th' unruly Elves;
But 'tis the Mob's delight to help Themselves:
Whilst your high Brood must with the meanest drop,
And steeper be their Fall, as next the Top;
Unless you soon to Jupiter repair,
And let him know, the Case demands his Care.
Oh! May the Trunk but stand, 'till you come back!
But hark! already sure, I hear it crack.
Away, away --- The Eagle, all agast,
Soars to the Sky, nor falters in her haste:
Whilst crafty Puss, now o'er the Eyry reigns,
Replenishing her Maw with treach'rous Gains.
The Sow she plunders next, and lives alone;
The Pigs, the Eaglets, and the House her own.
The crisis in The Owl Describing her Young Ones occurs when the eagle similarly devours the owl's touching progeny. Again we move through a progression of flattery, treachery and then ruthless destruction. That these are a woman's nightmares may be seen in the archetypal image of destruction used: the eating of babies. The (again) cozy feel, this time combined with a daintiness in consumerism, also marks the poem as feminine. The mood of this bad dream in verse is intensified by Ardelia's naming the tangible goods of court life--as palantines, muffs, Italian silks, Doyley stuff, and more. Its versification and rhyme scheme (triplets) show Anne's high skilfulness. The dream-like colours -- "a dusky Green" and words of fear -- "horrible" make the whole concoction highly original:
Why was that baleful Creature made,
Which seeks our Quiet to invade,
And screams ill Omens through the Shade?
Twas, sure, for every Mortals good,
When, by wrong painting of her Brood,
She doom'd them for the Eagle's Food:
Who proffer'd Safety to her Tribe,
Wou'd she but shew them or describe,
And serving him, his Favour bribe.
When thus she did his Highness tell;
In Looks my Young do all excel,
Nor Nightingales can sing so well.
You'd joy to see the pretty Souls,
With wadling Steps and frowzy Poles,
Come creeping from their secret Holes.
But I ne'er let them take the Air,
The Fortune-hunters do so stare;
And Heiresses indeed they are.
This ancient Yew three hundred Years,
Has been possess'd by Lineal Heirs:
The Males extinct, now All is Theirs.
I hope I've done their Beauties right,
Whose Eyes outshine the Stars by Night;
Their Muffs and Tippets too are White.
The King of Cedars wav'd his Power,
And swore he'd fast ev'n from that Hour,
Ere he'd such Lady Birds devour.
Th' Agreement seal'd, on either part,
The Owl now promis'd, from her Heart,
All his Night-Dangers to divert;
As Centinel to stand and whoop,
If single Fowl, or Shoal, or Troop
Should at his Palace aim or stoop.
But home, one Evening without Meat,
The Eagle comes, and takes his Seat,
Where they did these Conditions treat.
The Mother-Owl was prol'd away,
To seek abroad for needful Prey,
And forth the Misses came to play.
What's here ! the hungry Monarch cry'd,
When near him living Flesh he spy'd,
With which he hop'd to be supply'd.
But recollecting, 'twas the Place,
Where he'd so lately promis'd Grace
To an enchanting, beauteous Race;
He paus'd a while, and kept his Maw,
With sober Temperance, in awe,
Till all their Lineaments he saw.
What are these Things, and of what Sex,
At length he cry'd, with Vultur's Becks
And Shoulders higher than their Necks?
These wear no Palatines, nor Muffs,
Italian Silks, or Doyley Stuffs,
But motley Callicoes, and Ruffs.
Nor Brightness in their Eyes is seen,
But through the Film a dusky Green,
And like old Margery is their Mien.
Then for my Supper they're design'd,
Nor can be of that lovely Kind,
To whom my Pity was inclin'd.
No more Delays; as soon as spoke,
The Plumes are stripped, the Grisles broke,
And near the Feeder was to choak.
When now return'd the grizly Dame,
(Whose Family was out of Frame)
Against League-Breakers does exclaim.
How! quoth the Lord of soaring Fowls,
(Whilst horribly she wails and howls)
Were then your Progeny but Owls?
I thought some Phoenix was their Sire,
Who did those charming Looks inspire,
That you'd prepar'd me to admire.
Upon your self the Blame be laid;
My Talons you've to Blood betray'd,
And ly'd in every Word you said.
This sophisticated landscape of private paranoic terror has been built out of the simplicities of ancient fable.
The only Aesopic fable Montagu availed herself of she turned into French prose: it is stark, written in Swift's most misanthropic vein ("The Turkey and the Ant" in Essays and Poems, p 156). To find her mining nightmare material, we must turn to Montagu's verse satires where she blends her own story with social criticism to produce a bitter poetry of repulsion. Her Written ex tempore on the Death of Mrs Bowes is was, of course, "vehemently attacked":
Hail happy Bride for thou art truly blest!
There Months of Rapture crown'd with endless Rest!
You had not yet the fatal Change deplor'd,
The tender Lover, for th'imperious Lord,
Nor felt the Pangs that jealous Fondness brings,
Nor wept the Coldness from Posession [sic] springs;
Above your Sex, distinguish'd in your Fate,
You trusted, yet experienced no Deceit.
Soft were your Hours, and wing'd with Pleasure flew;
No vain Repentance gave a sigh to you.
And if Superior Bliss Heaven can bestow
With fellow Angels you enjoy it now
Montagu had a gift for ruthless invective driven by a demoniacal repudiation of the cant which kept and keeps women adhering to archetypes which deprive them of liberty. There is little change between the voice of one monologue and another; it is all Montagu talking through, speaking out of her own hot pain again and again. The ostensible occasion for The ANSWER to the foregoing ELEGY was James Hammond's elegy to the unmarried Catherine Dashwood. The argument of Montagu's poem is that it is imprudent for Miss Dashwood to accept Hammond's proposal; they will have no money, no connection; the world will disown them, and they will then turn on one another. This is Montagu's story of her marriage to Wortley who is now at best "negatively kind", who silently reproaches her for all their original love cost him. In the equation of marriage with prostitution, she describes how her family would have preferred to sell her and its results. The verse is skilfull: Montagu uses the falling rhythms of anapests and sentimental words to urge us to decry the use of women by people of her class to aggrandize family networks (the equivalent I suppose of university and job networks today):
Too well these Lines that fatal Truth declare,
Which long I've known, yet now I blush to hear --
But say, What hopes thy fond, ill-fated Love?
What can it hope, tho' mutual it should prove?
This little Form is fair in vain for you;
In vain for me, thy honest Heart is true,
For would'st thou fix Dishonour on my Name,
And give me up to Penitence and Shame!
Or gild my Ruin with the Name of Wife,
And make me a poor Virtuous Wretch for Life?
Could'st thou submit to wear the Marriage-Chain,
(Too sure a Cure for all the present Pain)
No Safron Robe for us the Godhead wears,
His Torch inverted, and his Face in Tears;
Tho' ev'ry softer Wish were amply crown'd,
Love soon would cease to smile, when Fortune frown'd.
Then would thy Soul my fond Consent deplore,
And blame what it sollicited before:
Thy own exhausted, would reproach my Truth,
And say, I had undone thy blinded Youth;
That I had damp'd Ambition's nobler Flame,
Eclips'd thy Talents, and obscur'd thy Name:
To Madrigales and Odes that Wit confin'd,
That might in Senates or in Courts have shin'd;
Gloriously active in thy Country's Cause,
Asserting Freedom, and enacting Lawes.
Or say at best, that negatively kind,
You inly mourn'd and silently repin'd:
The jealous Demons in my own fond Breast,
Would all these Thoughts incessantly suggest,
And tell what Sense must feel, tho' Pity had supprest.
Yet added -- Grief my Apprehension fills,
(If there can be Addition to those Ills:)
When they shall cry, whose harsh Reporof I dread,
'Twas thy own Deed; thy Folly on thy Head.
Thinking about this sort of common reproach -- the "I told you so" and "you have no one to blame but yourself" -- Montagu's mind switches sides, and she begins to argue against rather than for prudence, and against the point of view such voices would immediately speak on behalf of.
Age knows not to allow for thoughtless Youth,
Nor pities Tenderness, nor honours Truth:
Holds it romantick to confess a Heart:
And says, those virigins act the wiser Part
Who Hospitals and Bedlams would explore,
To find the Rich, and only dread the Poor;
Who legal Prostitutes for Interest's sake,
Clodios and Timons to their bosom take;
And (if avenging Heav'n permit Increase)
People the World with Folly and Disease.
Those, Titles, Deeds, and Rent-Rolls only wed,
Whilst the best Bidder mounts their Venal Bed;
And the grave Aunt and formal Sire approve
This Nupital Sale, this Auction of their Love.
But if Regard to Worth or Sense is shewn,
That poor degenerate Child her Friends disown,
Who dares to deviate, by a virtuous Choice,
From her great Name's hereditary Vice.
Nancy Armstrong's argument that the 18th century novel transformed experience for the female reader so that she would fool herself that power lay in subjectivity and lineage and money is about a period before that of Finch and Montagu. Montagu insists that few cared about female subjectivity, including most women. Prudence is simply abstension and there is no poison left over:
These Scenes my Prudence ushers to my Mind,
Of all the Storms and Quicksands I must find,
If I imbark upon this Summer-Sea,
Where Flatt'ry smooths, and Pleasure gilds the Way.
Had our ill Fate ne'er blown thy dang'rous Flame
Beyond the Limits of a Friend's cold Name,
I might, upon that score, thy Heart receive,
And with that guiltless Name my own deceive.
That Commerce now in vain you recommend,
I dread the latent Lover in the Friend:
Of Ignorance I want the poor Excuse,
And know I both must take, or both refuse.
Hear then the safe, the firm Resolve I make,
Ne'er to encourage one I must forsake.
Whilst other Maids a shameless Path pursue,
Neither to Honour, nor to Int'rest true;
And proud to swell the Triumphs of their Eyes,
Exult in Love from Lovers they despise;
Their Maxims all revers'd, I mean to prove,
And tho' I like the Lover quit the Love
This is a strange sort of satire: its irony is what has been defined as romantic; that is, Montagu looks forward to Byron because of her deeply personal content; she too eschews balance as a cover-up for banal shamelessness masquerading as virtue. However, as we have seen this same world-as-nightmare stance is seen in Finch's satire too. I would call these women's poems Ovidian, descendents of the Ovidian heroic epistle long connected to women.
In another Ovidian monologue Miss Cooper to -- , Montagu's mask is that of a fellow woman diarist, letter-writer and poet, Judith Cowper Madan (1702-81). Madan also destroyed much of her work and was Pope's muse (for a time). In some courtship letters a jealous Judith Cowper wrote that her suitor and later husband, Captain Martin Madan, neglected her. In Montagu's poem Miss Cooper is a more traditional Ovidian heroine in that she is clearly in love with the absent male who is apparently indifferent to her -- and openly unfaithful. In addition, Montagu makes him unusually ambitious, avaricious, and hypocritically jealous because for advancement he would connive at his own cuckoldry. These additions recall Rumours insinuations, thick on the ground everywhere (albeit after 1729 Pope had all this game of nasty insinuation in his hands) that Wortley would have been willing to follow the same pattern to power. Montagu's poem resembles Pope's Eloisa to Abelard in a continual repetition of a central antithesis, here the unfeeling nature of the husband ("Who cannot pity, what you cannot feel") as opposed to the passionate one of the wife. The result though is not so much desperation as fierce anger.
The strong Disorders on my Vitals prey,
I weep all night, yet Hate the Dawning Day,
The Day restores me to the Cursed Care
To hide a Torment which I cannot bear.
The poet describes the cool ruthless conduct of the husband and then recoils from this in a display of intense unanswered emotion which demands sincerity and emotion and can find none anywhere, which looks for seriousness in others and finds only cant:
Take back, ye Gods, this useless pow'r to please,
It gains no Glory, and it gives no Ease!
While at my Feet neglected Lovers lie
'Tis I that languish and 'tis I that dye.
With silent sorrow they reproach my Scorn,
With more than equal pangs this Heart is torn,
And when I see you ('tis not to be told)
I see you Careless, Insolent, or Cold,
What ere you say, you say with too much ease,
No fear to lose me, nor no Care to please.
Dull common Courtship comes not from the Heart,
No rapture when we meet, no pain to part.
The art of the poem is in its simultaneous analysis and narration, forming a seamless web which is at once a concrete story and an emotional tidal wave. I find peculiarly powerful Montagu's emotional development from the couplet whose first line is a cool maxim from La Rochefoucauld:
Go Faithless Man, this wretched Victim leave,
I cannot be more lost, or you deceive.
Persue the dirty Paths that lead to Gold
And like a Common Prostitute be sold.
Are these the Steps by which to Power you move?
Is this the picture of the Man I love?
By Heaven, I will this mean Desire controul,
I'll tear this hated Passion from my Soul,
I will not thus be toss'd -- Desire -- Despise,
Contemn your Folly, yet adore your Eyes
The strength of this is so nervous with energy, the references so everyday ("dirty paths that lead to Gold"), I wonder to which real man is Montagu saying this? She is humiliated before the mirror of her own concept of virtue as she watches a man rise to power through such low means. What seems public flagellation is public reproach, the story behind the breakup of her marriage.
Montagu has her comic moments. She undercuts her alienated tirades with comic incongruities, unexpected thoughts, sardonic ironies. In On a Lady mistaking a Dy[e]ing Trader for a Dying Lover," Montagu has an unmarried, old, and unattractive heroine discourse on the follies of "old maids" who hurt themselves the most. Rumour said the story behind this poem really happened to Mrs Jane Lowther. Lowther's anger is understandable: even if Lowther could have overlooked the derisive description of herself, she would have had to have superhuman self-confidence not to be humiliated by the ludicrous as well as poignant presentation of her story. In alluding to the Clarissa and Belinda of Pope's Rape of the Locke, Montagu contrasts her Chloris with sylph-like beings; her prosody imitates the lurching forward of a lumbering woman who is relieved because she thinks she is wanted. When Chloris hears a ''soft tap" at her doors
She listened, and again; no one appear'd.
Who's there? the sprightly Nymph with courage cries.
Ma'am, 'tis one who for your La'ship dies.
Sure, 'Tis delusion! What a dying Lover?
Yet speak once more, what is't you say however.
A second time, these Accents pierc'd the air;
Sweet was the sound, transported was the Fair,
At length mankind are just, her La'ship said
Threw on her Gown, and steping out of Bed
Look'd in her Glass, confess'd him in the right.
Who thinks me not a Beauty, 'tis meer spight.
"Assemble you Coquets! with envy burn
To see the wonder that my eyes have done ...
The figure "Chloris" spies is someone who "dyes by Trade and not by Love". Like Finch, Montagu denied that she wrote lampoons, but there is a fine line between using an incident to make an ethical-satiric point and skewering people. Montagu once wrote a friend that all her life she was "haunted ... by the Daemon of Poesie" she could not control: her anger and her desire to depict "undressed minds" "must come out in one shape or another" (To Sir James Steuart, 18 October 1758).
Montagu often indulged herself in lampoons -- and so occasionally did Finch. They both have an essentially magical aim: words are a spell they will cast whose destructiveness will be therapeutic for them. In the best known cases they are retaliating -- against those who have impugned their learning or their verse or who stand for stereotypes they find most imprisoning and derisive. They do both see themselves as witches -- and in this look forward to Sylvia Plath. Here are Montagu's Verses to the Imitator of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace where she casts him out of the human race. She does everything she can to shame him:
And whilst you bruise their heel, beware your head.
Nor think thy weakness shall be thy defence,
The female scold's protection in offence.
Sure 'tis as fair to beat who cannot fight,
As 'tis to libel those who cannot write.
And if thou draw'st thy pen to aid the law,
Others a cudgel, or a rod, may draw.
If none with vengeance yet thy crimes pursue,
Or give thy manifold affronts their due;
If limbs unbroken, skin without a stain,
Unwhipt, unblanketed, unkick'd, unslain,
That wretched little carcase you retain,
The reason is, not that the world wants eyes,
But thou'rt so mean, they see, and they despise:
When fretful porcupine, with ranc'rous will,
From mounted back shoots forth a harmless quill,
Cool the spectators stand; and all the while
Upon the angry little monster smile.
Thus 'tis with thee:--while impotently safe,
You strike unwounding, we unhurt can laugh.
Who but must laugh, this bully when he sees,
A puny insect shiv'ring at a breeze?
One over-match'd by every blast of wind,
Insulting and provoking all mankind.
Is this the thing to keep mankind in awe,
To make those tremble who escape the law?
Is this the ridicule to live so long,
The deathless satire and immortal song?
No: like the self-blown praise, thy scandal flies;
And, as we're told of wasps, it stings and dies.
If none do yet return th'intended blow,
You all your safety to your dulness owe:
But whilst that armour thy poor corse defends,
'Twill make thy readers few, as are thy friends:
Those, who thy nature loath'd, yet lov'd thy art,
Who lik'd thy head, and yet abhorr'd thy heart:
Chose thee to read, but never to converse,
And scorn'd in prose him whom they priz'd in verse.
Ev'n they shall now their partial error see,
Shall shun thy writings like thy company;
And to thy books shall ope their eyes no more
Than to thy person they would do their door.
Nor thou the justice of the world disown,
That leaves thee thus an outcast and alone;
For though in law to murder be to kill,
In equity the murder's in the will:
Then whilst with coward-hand you stab a name,
And try at least t'assassinate our fame,
Like the first bold assassin's be thy lot,
Ne'er be thy guilt forgiven, or forgot;
But, as thou hat'st be hated by mankind,
And with the emblem of thy crooked mind
Mark'd on thy back, like Cain by God's own hand,
Wander, like him, accursed through the land.
Finch's similar use of poetry as magical destruction is unfortunately not well known as the very stanza in which she imagines the Bacchantes tearing him to pieces has been -- following Pope himself who in the first publication of the poem omitted it -- left unprinted:
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 . . .
Montagu's lampoon on Allen, Lord Bathurst entitled simply Epistle makes its scapegoat into a Zimri. By a dense accumulation of the details of Bathurst's volatile doings -- his buildings, landscaping, politicking, and womanizing -- Montagu attempts to stamp out the mindless, meaningless life of men (and women) which seems to have hurt her so. Hers are more inward than most lampoons: she dramatizes Bathurst exchanging one cant for another. She then then contrasts Bathurst with a mythic portrait of herself. She is defining herself as what he is not:
Thus on the sands of Afric's burning plains,
However deeply made, no long impress remains;
The slightest leaf can leave its figure there;
The strongest form is scatter'd by the air.
So yielding the warm temper of your mind,
So touch'd by every eye, so toss'd by wind;
Oh! how unlike the Heav'n my soul design'd!
Unseen, unheard, the throng around me move;
Not wishing praise, insensible of love;
No whispers soften, nor no beauties fire;
Careless I see the dance, and coldly hear the lyre.
So num'rous herds are driv'n o'er the rock;
No print is left of all the passing flock:
So sings the wind around the solid stone;
So vainly beat the waves with fruitless moan.
Tedious the toil, and great the workman's care,
Who dare attempt to fix impressions there:
But should some swain, more skilful than the rest,
Engrave his name upon this marble breast,
Not rolling ages could deface that name;
Through all the storms of life 'tis still the same:
Though length of years with moss may shade the ground,
Deep, though unseen, remains the secret wound.
It is not too much to see this as Shelleyan in his Ozymandias mood. Montagu makes the Bathursts of this world yield to a moral death in life which she defies by sheer energy.
Finch has a poem which recalls this one in a curious way: it too names someone who has done something Finch loathed; it too attempts to expunge the presence and the crime and replace what happened with her own presence through her poetry. In Upon My Lord Winchilsea's Converting the Mount in His Garden to a Terrace, she expresses her conviction that her husbands nephew had done a great wrong when at Eastwell he swept a forest away to provide wood and a vista for a terraces. He has irremediably damaged the landscape she thought her Parnassus. This third Earl was her landlord and (apparently) though not in reality a patron of her poetry (see her Epilogue to Aristomenes). She had had every motive for silence, and the poem was not printed in the 1713 Miscellany. Yet in the matter of the trees she had argued with him and in print. In a footnote, she had retold part of a family story which nastily impugned one of his father's wives (see my I on Myself Can Live, Chapter Two); she accused him of abusing his powers:
Some Plead, some Pray, some Councel, some Dispute
Alas in vain, where Pow'r is Absolute.
Those whom Paternal Awe, forbid to speak,
Their sorrows, in their secret whispers break,
Sigh as they passe beneath the sentenc'd Trees,
Which seem to answer in a mournfull Breeze.
What is most curious is how she seems to identify with the still "Desart, and forsaken Field" all has become. She then turns to write poetry to replace what was taken away:
And though our Ancestors did gravely Plott,
As if one Element they vallu'd nott,
Nor yet the pleasure of the noblest sence,
Gainst Light and Air to raise a strong defense;
Their wiser Offspring does those fits renew,
And new we Breath and now the eager View
Through the enlarged Windows takes her way,
Does beauteous Fields, and scatter'd Woods survey,
Flyes or'e the extended Land ...
Ardelia's poem is the weaker because she has deflected her aim, but the imagery and attitude of mind, the beat of the sheer drive into a dance of natural eescape is analogous.
It is not sufficiently emphasized how satire is a form driven by a need to attack someone or a group of people -- projection would be the unsymathetic term today. The notion that eighteenth-century poetry is written by people who are "in" and "of" society has been a comforting attempt to normalize and to justify the satiric poets of the period. The female poetry of Finch and Montagu (as well as that of Pope, Swift, even Gay) cannot begin to be understood by such naive establishment formulae. They all denied writing lampoons, but the scapegoating and shaming intent of the poem is all too plain to see. So too a burning resentment and anger. And these are among their more powerful if less attractive poems. The Dunciad is arguably a heroic lampoon.
Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu's friendship-in-retirement poems are the last group of their poems I will deal with. These too reveal a coterminous terrain of "genius" and "character" between them. Some of those by Montagu are also satiric verse epistles, but unlike her other satiric verse are attractively bathed in a mood of rueful affectionate irony. Eight of these epistles are to John Hervey. In these Montagu argues that retirement is more satisfying to sensible people than the life in London which he and she endure together. Even in these it must be admitted she pulls no punches -- or is remarkably candid. Hervey spelled out his objections to her idealism in a letter which is worth quoting at length because it makes plain the attitude of mind of people of Montagu's generation and milieu to such dreams:
But for God's sake how can you talk so like a Canting Seneca of the Purity of Air and the Quiet of Retirement raising one's Imagination? You might an well talk of Water-Gruel raising one's Spirits, or my Lady Key's raising any thing else. My imagination is never so much raised as in the midst of ridiculous Objects; and if you would own fair, I'll be hanged if your Imagination ever work'd half so well or so fast. In the Solitude of Twickenham or the Purity of Country Air as it has in a Drawing-room and the Impurity of the Smoak of London. As for the Beautyfull Scenes and the pleasing Verdure of Country Prospects, when People talk of the Pleasure these things exhibit to them I always either think they lye egregiously or have a most execrable taste, and look upon them with just the same degree of Admiration that I should on any body in London who told as they had been extreamly happy the whole Day and prodigiously well entertain'd because they had pass'd it in a Room hung with Green Damask (dated 18 June 1737 from Ickworth Park)
To this reader this letter hails a point of view like Jane Austen imagines for Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. The charge of cant can go the other way; and I find Montagu's retirement poems among her best. There are the short epigrams: "Sure Pope like Orpheus was alike inspir'd,/The blocks and Beasts flock'd round them and admir'd". This parallels an epigram never attributed to Anne Finch in print, but which I think is probably hers: How ill the Motion with the Musick suits!/So Orpheus fidled, and so danced the Brutes". Lady Mary's To the Memory of Mr Congreve has rarely been reprinted:
Farewell the best and loveliest of Mankind
Where Nature with a happy hand had joyn'd
The softest temper with the strongest mind,
In pain could counsel and could charm when blind.
In this Lewd Age when Honor is a Jest
He found a refuge in his Congreve's breast,
Superior there, unsully'd, and entire;
And only could with the last breath expire.
His wit was never by his Malice strain'd,
No rival writer of his Verse complain'd,
For neither party drew a venal pen
To praise bad measures or to blast good men.
A Queen indeed he mourn'd, but such a Queen
Where Vitue mix'd with royal Blood was seen,
With equal merit grac'd each Scene of Life
An Humble Regent and Obedient Wife.
If in a Distant State blest Spirits know
The Scenes of Sorrow of a World below,
This little Tribute to thy Fame approve,
A trifling Instance of a boundless Love.
This poem recalls Dryden's tribute to Oldham in versification, but Montagu is here identifying with his Mourning Bride and in context -- a tribute to a man who retired and as reflecting herself, the companion piece to this poem by Anne Finch would be the even better known The Petition for an Absolute Retreat, "Give me, oh! Indulgent Fate". So too Montagu's vision of public posing and stifling behavior in her epistle to Molly Skerritt defining what is a lover, what a real experience of love. It struck Byron as one of the truest statement of the experience of companionship and warmth in English:
At length, by so much importunity press'd,
Take (Molly) at once the inside of my breast.
This stupid indiff'rence so oft you blame,
Is not owing to nature, to fear, or to shame:
I am not as cold as a virgin in lead,
Nor are Sunday's sermons so strong in my head:
I know but too well how time flies along,
That we live but few years, and yet fewer are young.
But I hate to be cheated, and never will buy
Long years of repentance for moments of joy.
Oh! was there a man (but where shall I find
Good sense and good-nature so equally join'd?)
Would value his pleasure, contribute to mine;
Not meanly would boast, nor lewdly design;
Not over severe, yet not stupidly vain,
For I would have the power, though not give the pain.
No pedant, yet learned; no rake-helly gay,
Or laughing, because he has nothing to say;
To all my whole sex obliging and free,
Yet never be fond of any but me;
In public preserve the decorum that's just,
And show in his eyes he is true to his trust!
Then rarely approach, and respectfully bow,
But not fulsomely pert, nor yet foppishly low.
But when the long hours of public are past,
And we meet with champagne and a chicken at last,
May every fond pleasure that moment endear;
Be banish'd afar both discretion and fear!
Forgetting or scorning the airs of the crowd,
He may cease to be formal, and I to be proud,
Till lost in the joy, we confess that we live,
And he may be rude, and yet I may forgive.
And that my delight may be solidly fix'd,
Let the friend and the lover be handsomely mix'd;
In whose tender bosom my soul may confide,
Whose kindness can soothe me, whose counsel can guide.
From such a dear lover as I here describe,
No danger should fright me, no millions should bribe;
But till this astonishing creature I know,
As I long have liv'd chaste, I will keep myself so.
I never will share with the wanton coquette,
Or be caught by a vain affectation of wit.
The toasters and songsters may try all their art,
But never shall enter the pass of my heart.
I loathe the lewd rake, the dress'd fopling despise:
Before such pursuers the nice virgin flies;
And as Ovid has sweetly in parable told,
We harden like trees, and like rivers grow cold
The comparison here is to Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia. Ardelia's poems in this vein are so well known to readers of eighteenth century verse that there is no need to quote any at length. They openly deal openly with Finch's troubles with depression and the landscape of the imagery is that of the natural world. But they are also angry and defiant. Since Finch's anger is not much paid attentoin to I quote the least known of her poems, written in retirement, for it shows recoil from society as strong as Montagu's, one which brought upon Finch an emotional rejection from someone from whom she was demanding too much. On a Short Visit inscrib'd to My Lady Worseley gives us one of our rare glimpses of the Finches in strained moments:
The long the long expected Hour is come
Is come to right our Souls at last
The now reviving Joys we tast
And fool the influence of her sacred Power
Thy Sacred Pow'r bright maid we prove
Nor will disolve the Extasy of love
Soo see the fair Enchantress come
To change to Paradice this mournfull Gloom
Where Silence and eternal Winter reign
Where we our heavy days consume
And lazy fogs obscure the dismal Plain
Soo tho' gay gentle spring
The absence of the sun I now no longer mourn
Soo flow'rs late dead her presence greet
And budding Roses spring beneath her feet
With blushing Beautyes deck the ground
Scatter all their virgins sweet round
Ev'n we our native dullness now forget
Charm'd with her beauty & her witt
With what a mighty Pleasure we
Her bright majestick form behold
While rashly gazing on her
Struck with the lightning of her Eyes
We bear no longer the surprize
But softly sighing fall & dye
We dye we dye till her inchanted voice
Inspir'd now Life & sprightly joies.
That voice that hardest Rocke could move
Can soon expel our racking cares
All our sorrows all our tears
Relieve all Pains but those of Love
And make the Stupid Soul unusual vigour grow
Tho' listning Angels round her throng
And catch the tuneful numbers from her tongue
For well celestiall harmony they know
And thus thy pass short blissfull hours above
There they sing & show thy love
And wonder now to find a heaven below.
Ah youth Charmer must not now resign
Now all those mighty Joys to soon be gone
On others now must all those beautys shine
And others hear that voice divine
While we, in vain our wretched Fate bemoan
Thou lady the govrness of the circling Sun
Art bless'd by thee but long enjoy'd by none
The Sun each morn dispels the night
And brings his genial wamth & chearing light
But ah no more we view the Fair
In endless Pains & sullen greif
Condemn'd to Darkness & Despair
Sighing we languish out our hated Life
Some poor Florimel in his homely cell
Where endless night and endlesse silence dwell
Once in his Life the Angels Laws flies
Descended from there Makers skies
With wonder he beholds the Heavenly light
By kind degrees increasing to his sight
And drive from out the cave the ancient night
Then heavenly Harmony he hears
And all the musick of the sphears
That please & charm Immortal ears
Then beauteous forms my Celia bright
Before his eyes with dazling splendour shine
Majestick as thy great commanding Air
With all the sweetness of thy sparkling Eyes
Faces lids shine so heavenly fair
Become the lovely strangeness of the kiss
Eager he gazes in the wondrous Light
Wishes with them to take his flight
All mortall boundes now he can despise
And more than ever longs to mount the skies
But while he hopes serene as glas
The smiling Vision caled away
Flies to the regions of Eternal day
And leaves him to the melancholy shade
Retirement poems are often thought of as just about always sweet pastorals of celebration; Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu's are actually rarely simply celebratory. The parallel poem to Finch's to the lady who curtailed her visit is Montagu's 1736 Epistleto a man who also would not come to stay:
With toilsome steps I pass thro' life's dull road
(No pack-horse half so tired of his load);
And when this dirty journey will conclude,
To what new realms is then my way pursued?
Say, then does the unbodied spirit fly
To happier climes and to a better sky?
Or, sinking, mixes with its kindred clay,
And sleeps a whole eternity away?
Or shall this form be once again renew'd,
With all its frailties, all its hopes, endu'd;
Acting once more on this detested stage
Passions of youth, infirmities of age?
I see in Tully what the ancients thought,
And read unprejudic'd what moderns taught;
But no conviction from my reading springs--
Most dubious on the most important things.
Yet one short moment would at once explain
What all philosophy has sought in vain;
Would clear all doubt, and terminate all pain.
Why then not hasten that decisive hour;
Still in my view, and ever in my pow'r?
Why should I drag along this life I hate,
Without one thought to mitigate the weight?
Whence this mysterious bearing to exist,
When ev'ry joy is lost, and ev'ry hope dismiss'd?
In chains and darkness wherefore should I stay,
And mourn in prison whilst I keep the key?
There was a serious backdrop to Montagu's epistles to Hervey no matter that he was concerned to deny it: the "meanly mercenary Inn" she speaks of in some of them is the world:
The bills are high, and very coarse the Fare
I curse the wretched Entertainment there
And jogging on, resolve to stop no more
When Gaudy Signs invite me to the Door
The context for Montagu's retirement-in-friendship epistles is the sombre one Camus suggested all serious people must answer for themselves before going on to decide what to do with life which we find traces of in her letters and commonplace book: "Self-Murder, throwing up the Cards of a Game that must be lost".
Ardelia left no letters of a similar import. It is only in her poems that we find the backdrop to her friendship-in-retirement poetry. One of her most frequently reprinted because striking poems shows her dramatizing Death as a lover to whom Finch prays for oblivion:
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,
Encrease thy gloomy Kingdoms, in the Dust.
My soul at this, no apprehension feels,
But trembles at thy swords, thy Racks, thy wheels,
And Scortching Feavours, which distract the sence,
And Snatch us raving, unprepar'd from hence.
At thy contagious darts, that wound the heads
Of weeping friends, that wait at dyeing beds.
Spare these, and lett thy time be when it will.
My buisnesse is to dye, and thine to kill
Gently, thy fatal Sceptre on me Lay,
And take to thy cold arms, insensibly thy Prey
(from MS F-H 283, pp 5-6)
The phases of Finch's battle seem continually to lead to her yielding to depression. Thus Ardelia to Melancholy:
At last, my old inveterate foe,
No opposition shalt thou know.
Since I by struggling, can obtain
Nothing, but encrease of pain,
I will att last, no more do soe,
Tho' I confesse, I have apply'd
Sweet mirth, and musick, and have try'd
A thousand other arts beside,
To drive thee from my darken'd breast,
Thou, who hast banish'd all my rest.
But, though sometimes, a short repreive they gave,
Unable they, and far too weak, to save;
All arts to quell, did but augment thy force,
As rivers check'd, break with a wilder course.
Freindship, I to my heart have laid,
Freindship, th' applauded sov'rain aid,
And thought that charm so strong wou'd prove,
As to compell thee, to remove;
And to myself, I boasting said,
Now I a conqu'rer sure shall be,
The end of all my conflicts, see,
And noble tryumph, wait on me;
My dusky, sullen foe, will sure
N'er this united charge endure.
But leaning on this reed, ev'n whilst I spoke
It peirc'd my hand, and into peices broke.
Still, some new object, or new int'rest came
And loos'd the bonds, and quite disolv'd the claim.
These failing, I invok'd a Muse,
And Poetry wou'd often use,
To guard me from thy Tyrant pow'r;
And to oppose thee ev'ry hour
New troops of fancy's, did I chuse.
Alas! in vain, for all agree
To yeild me Captive up to thee,
And heav'n, alone, can sett me free.
Thou, through my life, wilt with me goe,
And make ye passage, sad, and slow.
All, that cou'd ere thy ill gott rule, invade,
Their uselesse arms, before thy feet have laid;
The Fort is thine, now ruin'd, all within,
Whilst by decays without, thy Conquest too, is seen
A recent anthology of eighteenth-century women's poetry by Roger Lonsdale would have us believe Ardelia's antisocial and romantic stance in poetry highly uncommon for eighteenth-century women (1). If so, nonetheless, Finch's greatest power lies in these unusual, un18th century poems -- a dark counterpart to her admired retirement landscape poetry:
Peace, where art thou to be found,
Where, in all the spacious round,
May thy footsteps be pursued?
Where, may thy calm seats be view'd?
On some mountain doest thou lie
Securely, near the ambient sky,
Smiling at the clouds below,
Where rough storms, and tempest grow;
Or in some retired plain,
Undisturbed does thou remain.
Whre no angry whirl-winds pass,
Where no streams oppress the grass,
High above, or deep below,
Fain I thy retreat wou'd know;
Fain, I thee alone wou'd find
Balm, to my ore'wearied mind;
Since what here to world enjoys
Or our passions most employs,
Shakes thy empire, or destroys.
Pleasure's a tumultuous 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 beauteous face;
From each strongly mingl'd bowl
Through th'inflam'd and restlesse soul.
Sovereign pow'r, who fondly craves
For one King, makes thousands slaves;
Stands the envy of mankind,
Peace in vain, attempts to find
Thirst of wealth no quiet knows,
But near the death-bed 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--
Like Finch when young in a poem as yet unknown in its original text, Clarinda's Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty, "Now age came on and all the dismall traine", Montagu when old called herself Clarinda. Finch's unguarded frenzied desperate mood finds no counterpart in Montagu's as Clarinda. Montagu's stance reminds me not of the figure of Ariadne, but of the myth of Prometheus bound to his rock:
Exil'd, grown old, in Poverty and Pain;
Philosophy could calm the Poet's breast:
But oh! what cure for those who wish in Vain!
What Lesson is it must restore my Rest?
Let others court the mightly Idol Fame;
Let all the World forget Clarinda's Name,
I could lose all that Avarice requires
OF all that Beauty that the World admires,
This only greife I cannot bear or cure,
The firmness of my Soul gives way,
Some pitying Power behold what I endure
The poet she aligns herself with is Saint-Évremond who spent the last thirty years of his life in exile in England.
For both women growing old and losing their beauty had been traumatic.
The reason the closeness of Anne Finch and Mary Wortley Montagu's poetry and characteristic stances towards life have not been studied is that the angle I have looked at them from is unpopular. This is not just a matter of the so-called "new" natural imagery in the Nocturnal Reverie
In such a Night, when every louder Wind
Is to its distant Cavern safe confin'd;
And only gentle Zephyr fans his Wings
And lonely Philomel, still waking, sings;
Or from some Tree, fam'd for the Owl's delight,
She, hollowing clear, directs the Wand'rer right:
In such a Night, when passing Clouds give place,
Or thinly vail the Heav'ns mysterious Face;
When in some River, overhung with Green,
The waving Moon and trembling Leaves are seen (2);
We find the same artificial imagery in Montagu's Verses Written in the Chiosk of the British Palace, at Pera, Overlooking the City of Constantinople, Dec. 26, 1717:
Our frozen Isle now chilling winter binds,
Deform'd by rains, and rough with blasting winds;
The wither'd woods grow white with hoary frost,
By driving storms their verdant beauty lost;
The trembling birds their leafless covert shun,
And seek in distant climes a warmer sun:
The water-nymphs their silent urns deplore,
Ev'n Thames, benumb'd, is a river now no more:
The barren meads no longer yield delight,
By glist'ning snows made painful to the sight.
It's still not popular to look at what's not normalized, at anger unalloyed, defeat, pain, retreat, and when this comes from aging women, it is feared those to whose attention this is brought will laugh, sneer or wax indifferent.
Although long and thorough-going, my diptych can only be suggestive. In any comparison of two writers,
however alike, there will be works by one which have no equivalent in the works of the other,
here most notably, Anne Finch's pindaric odes, devotional poetry and Jacobite
political poems, and Mary Wortley Montagu's scatalogical poems. Finch and Montagu were both highly
intelligent women, and they both retired from public life after a wounding bout at a disillusioning court.
Their likeness has not been studied because the angle and territory that emerges is one that runs
counter to worldly definitions of success and defines society at large as inadequate, inflexible,
repressive and imaginatively impoverished and because in order to see the parallel we must
drop the idea that there was some female tradition of poetry in which all women could find a community. There
was not; it had only begun, and only just in the work of the literary
courtly learned women of late seventeenth century France, and texts like La
Princesse de Clèves. The way to see Finch and Montagu clearly is to look at them as they saw themselves, as individuals in rebellion.
When we do, as Wordsworth suggested, we see sister poets.
1. The problem of how anthologists can falsely distort our understanding, indeed our basic knowledge of a given period has only recently begun to be treated adequately. On anthologies of women's poetry and a history of anthologies of eighteenth-century poetry in general, see Margaret J. M. Ezell, Writing Women's Literary History (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) and Barbara M. Benedict, Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). In Moira Fergusson's First Feminists: British Women Writers, 1578-1799 (Old Westbury, New York: Feminist Press, 1985) the interested reader will find poems chosen and abridged to create an impression of an era of lesbian poetry or a lesbian tradition within early wmodern women'stexts.
2. No one has bothered to elaborate on the many echoes of Finch's poetry that we find in Pope's. Among these one of the most striking of his imitations of her is the couplet in Windsor Forest: his
In the clear azure Gleam the Flocks are seen,is a packed (highly polished and repolished) reworking of Anne's quieter simpler (nowhere near as packed):
And floating Forest paint the Waves with Green
When in some River, overhung with Green,
The waving Moon and trembling Leaves are seen
For Anne Finch click here.
For Mary Wortley Montagu click here.
For Montagu's texts I relied upon:
I used many general books and essays on the literature ofthe first half of the eighteenth- century in England and for the last quarter of the seventeenth in France and England; for Montagu herself the most useful and illuminating studies and anthologies in 1991 were:
The reader today would want also to avail him or herself of: