I On Myself Can Live

Longleat, Godmersham, and Wye

19th century illustration, F. Sandys (1836)

What causes one mind to feel shattered by life's blows, and another not? We do not know. Two individuals encounter a series of traumatic events; they find themselves faced with choices that are extremely distasteful to them. One resolves to escape; failing that, he finds strength within to cope, to plan, and he acts in ways that ensure a semblance of a comfortable useful existence which the his society can understand--had it not been understood it would not have been permitted to be comfortable. So Heneage. The other finds herself in the grip of alternating moods, on the one hand, of a defeated and pessimistic melancholy which could move into at times wild, at times laughing despair or into a bedridden illness; and, on the other, if left alone, of simple and productive quiet. For a long time, only in "retirement" can she gather strength and clarity of mind sufficient to meet life's demands, and then to write poetry. Gradually she comes to understand that her refuge is within, that "I on my Selfe can live." So Ann.

That Ann understood early what was happening to her and what she had to do is revealed in a series of verses she headed "On my selfe" and wrote just after her first major breakdown (1689-90) by which I mean a state of mind which prevented her from functioning in her world as her husband and peers expected her to. The original version was first copied into a manuscript miscellany today housed at Longleat. Ann never published it, and Reynolds found only a later version, one of those few Ann did not copy out from the Finch-Hatton into the Folger book. Reynolds used this earlier text (MS F-H 283, 34-5; Reynolds Poems 14-5 [n1]) reluctantly, as she consistently preferred the last extant copy she could attribute to Ann that she could find, and felt there were other texts, perhaps later. If there are later versions of this poem, I have not found them; but there was another text, an earlier and better one.

I say the Longleat text is the earlier and better because the Finch-Hatton has been censored; it is muted, less graphic, more upbeat. This is a kind of revising we shall, unhappily, observe Ann at again and again. Here is the brief fragment as Ann first wrote it:

Good Heav'en I thank thee, Since it was design'd
I shou'd be fram'd but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu'd from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow'd they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they're deny'd, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display'd
And in retirement I can have the shade.

(MS Portland XIX, 212)

In the Finch-Hatton text Ann replaced her absolute rejection of "Company" in line 5 with the more socially acceptable idea that she is above "plenty" (and the "p's" alliterate, making the mind move smoothly over the verse). In 10 line she replaced "the aids a cheating World can give" with "those aids, unequal chance does give," blaming fortune (always a good target) rather than society, also good. But perhaps Ann worried she could be blamed here anyway, so she changed her final line too: in the final line of the earlier Longleat text she only "has" the shade, where in the later Finch-Hatton, she "blesses" it, showing her gratitude for solitude, and since society encourages this feeling as honorable (and binding), she just might be allowed to go her way.

But she was not so allowed. Heneage was busy with his own troubles, overwhelmed by them by April 1690, and she found herself first with the disquieted Haslewood-Hattons at Kirby-Hall and then the quarrelling and disdainful Finches at Eastwell. And another poem also copied at the same time onto the same page of the same Longleat miscellany reveals powerfully what was the result for her. I do not doubt that this poem is a graphic description "recollected in tranquillity" (if tranquillity it was, something more like desperate calm) of Ann in a suicidal mood.

Again I will quote the whole poem because again we have a poem which is only known through a later cleaned-up text; that is, Reynolds reprinted the 1713 Miscellany text. Worse, she was fooled by the positioning of this poem when it was copied out into the Folger-Eastwell book. In both the Longleat and Finch-Hatton texts, it is placed with personal poetry of wrenching despair. In the Folger a decision was made to render it innocuous, to disguise or obscure its origin placing it in a group of devotional poems. As a religious exercise, it would be seen to be acceptable, and Ann herself, and certainly her contemporaries would have been glad to have it so "placed." And Reynolds too meant to "place" it among her group of general and religious Biblical paraphrases; but alas she forgot to, as in the 1713 Miscellany it is not so placed but simply mixed in among a variety of fables and pastorals, and that is Reynolds usually followed the 1713 Miscellany, she apparently lost track of the positioning of the poem in the Folger volume, and was felt constrained to write a footnote to tell the reader it was a "moral and religious" poem. And then we get the spectacle of yet other editors "correcting" Reynolds's mistake (1979 Rogers, Selected Poems, 144); thus has Ann's censorship of her own socially unacceptable deeper self half-worked. Not wholly since the poem has nonetheless attracted many readers who have remained silent about its attraction [n2].

The poem is, in fact, the record of a longing to die so deep that Ann makes death into a lover in her bed whom she pleads to take her:

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.

(MS F-H 283 5-6)

The act of death becomes the sexual orgasm which offers blessed oblivion. The poem's erotic imagery combines with Ann's visceral equation of death as a cold clammy corpse whose bed Ann wishes to lay in; in the ensuing shudder lies the poem's clinching power. The poem also suggests an illness Ann has had, fevers, and scenes of people around her bed whom she pities and whom her death would spare.

Of course, the poem that most graphically describes Ann's experience of the trauma of repeated serious depression is "The Spleen," after Ann's "A Nocturnal Reverie," until the nineteenth century her most frequently reprinted poem and most famous--she was to contemporaries "the Author of the Spleen" [n3]. Written sometime between 1691 and 1701, Ann analyses the kind of depression she experienced and with startling clarity and courage--for it was clear to those who knew her that she was one of those who knew the "implacable power" of this scourage--describes states she recognized in others as similar to her own. To appreciate the courage this took, we should recall the kind of response such a public admission can inflict on an individual even today; Katherine Rogers remarks that in Ann's time her poem was unique in its "honest sensitive examination of her feelings," and "illustrates her belief, atypical for her period, that poets' verses 'must reveal' 'what within themselves they feel' ('Advertisement for the Gazette, Flying Post, Weekly journal, &c.'; Wellesley MS 86; Rogers, "Candid Account," 20-1, 24)."

From Nicholas Rowe's poem about this and another ode by Ann (printed 1701 Gilden 53-9), we know "The Spleen" was first sent as a private set of verses to "Flavia" (Catherine Fleming). The poem was meant as an apology or explanation of herself to a friend; it is structured as an argument which builds up to a final statement that all arts, all attempts against this state of mind are useless when once it has gripped the sufferer; it is deeply pessimistic.

It opens with a description of what the onset of the attacks felt like. The freedom of the pindaric mode allows Ann to mimick the rhythms of the state of semi-madness as a kind of riding a series of waves:

What are thou Spleen, which ev'ry thing doest ape?
Thou Proteus, to abus'd Mankind,
Who never yett, thy real cause cou'd find,
Or fix thee, to remain in one continu'd shape,
Still varying thy perplexing form,
Now a dead Sea thou'lt represent,
A calm, of stupid discontent;
Then dashing on the Rocks, wilt rage into a Storm.
Trembling, sometimes, thou doest appear
Dissolv'd into a Panick fear;
On sleep intruding, doest thy shaddows spread,
Thy gloomy terrours, round the silent bed,
And croud with boading dreams, the melancholy head.
Or, when the midnight hour is told,
And drooping Lidds, thou still doest waking hold,
Thy fond delusions cheat the Eyes,
Before them antick Spectors dance,
Unusual fires, their pointed heads advance,
And airy Phantomes rise.
Such, was the monstrous Vision ...
There follows a description of Brutus's "too ready capitulation on the battlefield" which is explained (in Katherine Rogers's words) "by the terrifying apparitions and loss of confidence produced by depression" (Hinnant 219; Rogers' "Candid Account" 22).

The second stanza moves out from Ann's personal articulation of what such a state felt like (including, as Katherine Rogers says, her own memories of probably painful use of smelling salts to allay fever, fits, and what was already a heightened appreciation of odor) to argue that the emphasis on the body as to blame ("the mortal part") is starting at the wrong end. Most medical treatises at the time seemed to regard such states of something purely physical: what you needed to do was get those bodily fluids and vapors (&c) balanced. Ann says, no; the problem lies in the particular and psychological constitution of an individual soul.

In its third stanza the poem falls off somewhat and becomes less original when Ann looks outside herself to describe the behavior of people affected by spleen. To see an analogy is to teach, but to conflate a serious illness with much less serious states of emotion (here eenvy, bad humor, aggression) is to confuse. Ann also blames those who use symptoms which recall serious depression as manipulative, and seems at times to think they are in control of their emotions, while she and those who suffer like her are not. As a satire on social affectation, the verse is effective, but what is remembered from this stanza is Ann's persuasive personal statement that such a state of mind only feeds further upon any weapon you try to fight it with:

In vain, to chase thee, ev'ry art we try;
In vain all Remidies apply;
In vain the Indian Plant infuse,
Or the Parcht Eastern Berry bruise;
Some passe in vain those bounds, and noblest Liquors use
Now, Harmony, in vain we bring,
Inspire the Flute, and toutch the string,
From Harmony,no help is had;
Musick but Sooths thee, if too sweetly sad,
And if too light, but turns thee gayly mad.

So too what is remembered and quoted repeated from the next stanza is Ann's fear of this enemy. Here is no complacent celebration of melancholy as would become so popular later in the century (Rogers, "Candid Account," 25; Sena, 115-9). Ann says that while she was subject to these attacks they destroyed her ability to write or made her think all she wrote worthless and dwell on the conventional sneers and bored responses which all writers know of:

O're me alas! thou doest too much prevaile;--
I feel thy force, whilst I against thee rail,
I feel my Verse decay, and my crampt nubmers fail;
Through thy black Jandice, I all objects see
As dark, and terrible as thee;
My Lines decry'd, and my employment thought
A useless folly, or presumptuous fault,
Whilst in the Muses paths, I stray,
Whilst in their Groves, and by their secret springs
My hand delights to trace unusual things,
And deviates from the known, and common way ...

The poem ends with a kind of black joke; Ann tells the story of a doctor--and fellow Jacobite (an important point), Richard Lower, who, she says, succumbed to the very illness that like other physicians he had grown rich treating but had not cured anybody of. She does not accuse him of hypocrisy; says he performed brilliantly, but the spleen, who is addressed as if it were an archetypal figure, a malign trickster, continued to "baffle all his studious pains:"

Not skillfull Lower, thy Source cou'd find,
Or, through the well dissected body, trace
The secret, the misterious ways,
By which thou doest surprize, and prey upon the mind;
Thou in the Search (too deep for human thought)
With unsuccesfull toil, he wrought,
'Till thinking thee t'have catch'd, himself by thee was caught,
Retain'd they Pris'ner, thy acknowledg'd Slave,
And sunk beneath thy chain, to a lamented Grave

(MS Folger 52-6).

It did him in, not him it. Richard Lower was a well-known and respected student of the cranial nerves whose book on the subject remained standard throughout the 19th century; he did withdraw from society after his Jacobitism destroyed his career and died in January 1691. Perhaps he treated Ann, and it was a family joke that treating her killed him (Cameron 95; DNB, "Lower, Richard," 34:203-4).

In 1690 Ann and Heneage did not settle down to anything. least of all bliss and ease. It was not only that Ann's state of mind was often as bad as she says; during the whole decade they were at times so desperate for funds that Heneage wrote that he owed to his sister's husband, Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth, those material "comforts I enjoy" (McGovern 74). But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

In November 1690 when our Heneage returned to Ann, the legal battle over Eastwell was in full swing, and by the nature of the case could not be completely settled. Two letters suggest that in 1690 the atmosphere in the house was ugly. Leopold Finch, our Heneage's younger brother, now Warden at All Soul's, was driven to write a summary of the dispute on behalf of the Finch family to his sister's husband, Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth who, born in 1640, was old enough to act as a sort of father to all the elder Heneage's children. On November 18, 1689, Charles Finch, the heir and Lady Wyndham's son also made the thing public by turning to someone slightly outside the conflict; he wrote to Daniel Finch, second Earl of Nottingham, asking for advice and help (McGovern 235n1).

We have met Daniel Finch before in his great house in Rutlandshire when he acted as a worried father-in-law to Ann's cousin, Elizabeth Haslewood's husband; we have also encountered his father, Heneage's father's Cousin Heneage, that first Earl of Nottingham in whom our elder Heneage confided his hopes for his own sons. Well, Daniel Finch was appointed guardian to the heir, Charles Finch, arbitror of the quarrel. This because he had no interest in the immediate squabble, yet was concerned in the family property, for when in 1729 the fourth Countess's son, John Finch, died--and our Heneage and Ann Finch had produced no issue--Daniel Finch inherited the Winchilsea estates to add to his title of second Earl of Nottingham, the sixth Earl of Winchilsea. People saw ahead. It took some time and much doing but before the middle of the 1690's in the Court of King's Bench, Elizabeth Aylesford, as the second Earl's wife, was declared the winner; Elizabeth Wyndham, Lady Maidstone, was not permitted to remove (or sell in order to get her jointure) the contents of Eastwell (McGovern 235n1; Cameron 64). The dowager Countess and her three small children settled in at Eastwell, and Lady Maidstone stayed on as the mother of the heir who was about 19.

Still harmony did not exactly break out; Eastwell was not a high-income (meaning ready money) estate, and the settlement did not end the jealousy between generations, wives, children, and grandchildren--in 1713 these erupted again in a new and more virulent form in the persons of Charles Finch's sister and her husband, Philip and Mariamne (Finch) Herbert who claimed that as the eldest daughter of the second Earl's oldest son, she was the rightful heiress after her brother's death; and in a large sum Heneage had to pay out of the estate since in 1700 Charles Finch borrowed money on the Finch estates to pay his debts and induced the second Earl's fourth wife, Elizabeth Aylesford, to mortgage her jointure for collateral (McGovern 99; Cameron 158-9, 268-9). For the moment though the battle went underground, waged on the margins of daily life at Eastwell.

As to Heneage and Ann, they had no right to live at Eastwell, even if they then had wanted to. Heneage had displeased his family with his non-juring stance for the very good reason that he could now get no appointment whatsoever. Appointments brought salaries, living quarters, and, for those with less conscience than Heneage was displaying, many other useful appurtenances. They could not live as they thought they ought on the small income of Ann's dowry. Where did they go? Well, as Ann said, for a period of time Lord and Lady Thanet welcomed them to Hothfield House, which located about two miles from Ashford, a Winchilsea property, not far from a decent road one could take to Maidstone (Ireland 404-6). They seem to have gone to Longleat in 1692; at which time they returned to take up a semi-permanent residence of their own first at Godmersham, a decayed Elizabethan priory house a couple of miles north of Eastwell on the east side of the River Stour. There for a period Ann lived alone. Sometime between 1696 and 1697 perhaps separately Ann visited Northampton, and Heneage, London and various non-juring Jacobite friends, which years at times together and at times apart culminated in their moving in 1699 into a new semi- permanent residence together at Wye College, a minimally renovated monastery, just across, but definitely on the other side of, the river from Eastwell. There they lived for at least four years. There was then another visit to Longleat and its environs in 1704, after which Heneage and Ann did not return to Wye, but began a slow re-entry into society and perhaps it was as late as 1706 that they began to call Eastwell home.

These years, 1692 to 1706, have been much misunderstood or simply swept under the rug, but they are of central importance to Ann's development as a poet. In these years out of her battle with the emotional shock of attacks of serious depression Ann wrote some of her most penetrating and beautiful poetry. In the long quiet years at Godmersham and Wye Ann and Heneage also conceived their first project together for Ann's poetry: she and he began to make good copies of her poems in an tabulated book without which we would not understand her life and poetry nearly so well. This, the Finch-Hatton book put aside after they left Wye, then became the basis for the later Folger-Eastwell book, the first contemplated attempt at publication.

We know Ann lived at Godmersham since in an apology for the play she says in no uncertain terms that the whole of Aristomenes "was compos'd in the shade" of Godmersham:

.. since the Play so many ways does fail,
For her own sake the Author thought itt fitt
to lett the audience know when this was writte,
Twas not for praise, or with pretence to witt:
But lonely Godmersham th'attempt excuses
Not sure to be endur'd without the Muses

(MS Folger 194)

How long does it take to write a play? Since Aristomenes is a sort of continuation of The Triumphs of Love and Innocence--first the Queen runs away, then the King--Ann could have written both plays to occupy a time she says she was "Not ... to be endur'd without the Muses." I place Ann here for at least four years; here she wrote some very fine poetry; here too Heneage lived with her and began to help her copy out her earlier poems into the first manuscript book of her poems that we have, the Finch-Hatton volume.

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