'Tis true of courage I'm no mistress


An Apology for my fearfull temper in a letter in Burlesque upon the firing of my chimney At Wye College March 25th 1702

Primary Text:

MS Wellesley, 98-100.*
'Tis true of courage I'm no mistress
No Boadicia nor Thalestriss
Nor shall I e'er be famed hereafter
For such a Soul as Cato's Daughtter
Nor active valour nor enduring
Nor leading troops nor forts securing
Like Teckley's wife or Pucell valiant
Will e'er be reckonded for my talent
Who all things fear whilst day is shining
And my own shadow light declining
And from the Spleen's prolifick fountain
Can of a mole hill make a mountain
And if a Coach that was invented
Since Bess on Palfrey rode contented
Threatens to tumble topsy turvy
With screeches loud and faces scurvey
I break discourse whilst some are laughing
Some fall to chear me some to chaffing
As secretly the driver curses
And whips my fault upon the horses
These and ten thousand are the errours
Arising from tumultuous terrours
Yet can't I understand the merit
In Females of a daring spirit
Since to them never was imparted
In manly strength tho' manly hearted
Nor need that sex be self defending
Who charm the most when most depending
And by sweet plaints and soft distresses
First gain assistance then adresses
As our fourth Edward (beauty suing)
From from releiving fell to wooing
Who by Heroick speech or ranting
Had ne'er been melted to galanting
Nor had th'Egyptian Queen defying
Drawn off that fleet she led by flying
Whilst Cesar and his ships crew hollow'd
To see how Tony row'd and follow'd
Oh Action triumph of the Ladies
And plea for her who most afraid is
Then let my action work no wonder
When fame who cleaves the air asunder
And every thing in time discovers
Nor council keeps for Kings or Lovers
Yet stoops when tired with States and battles
To Gossips chats and idler tattles
When she I say has given no knowledge
Of what happen'd at Wye College
Think it not strange to save my Person
I gave the family diversion
'Twas at an hour when most were sleeping
Some chimneys clean, some wanted sweeping;
Mine through good fires maintained this winter
(Of which no FINCH was e'er a stinter)
Poured down such flakes not Aetna bigger
Throws up as did my fancy figure
Nor does a Cannon ram'd with Powder
To others seem to Bellow louder.
All that I thought or spoke or acted
Can't in a letter be compacted,
Nor how I threatn'd those with burning
Who thoughtless on their beds were turning
As Shakespear says they served old Prium
When that the Greeks were got too nigh'em;
And such th'effect in spite of weather
Our Hecubas all rose together
I at their head half-clothed and shaking
Was instantly the house forsaking
And told them 'twas no time for talking
But who'd be safe had best be walking
This hasty counsel and conclusion
Seemed harsh to those who had no shoes on
And saw no flames and heard no clatter
But as I had rehearsed the matter
And wildly talk't of fire and water;
For sooner then 'thas took to tell it
Right applications did repell it.
And now my fear our mirth creating
Affords still subject for repeating,
Whilst some deplore th'unusual folly,
Some (kinder) call it melancholy
Tho' certainly the spirits sinking
Comes not from want of wit or thinking
Since Rochester all dangers hated
And left to those were harder pated.

(MS Wellesley, pp. 98-100).

Secondary Ed:

1988 Ellis d'Alessandro prints Wellesley text, 128- 30; McGovern & Hinnant, 71-3.


1992 McGovern, 210-2.


In her best octosyllabic style, light, subtle hudibrastics. Filled with laughing mock-heroic references to plays of period, including Shakespeare's Henry VI cycle, apologizing to her "family" the kinder of whom called her overreaction to her chimney fire the result of melancholy, the poem suggests why Finch deplored her depressions. She felt she could only write after the depression lost its grip. But see "The long the long expected Hour is come"

It's also of interest to see which women Finch alludes to: a long line of archetypal heroine types for her time. She shows something of the same attitude we see in her epilogue to Rowe's Jane Shore, except that now that she is involved she is more forgiving. She is also well-read; she knows her classics, her English history, her French.


Like "The Lawrell," this poem was written at Wye College, where Ann may have stayed with a younger branch of the Finches, George and Jane Twisden [related to Sir William?] Finch who like other Finches, though poorer, do not "stint" their fires; this may explain they both appear in the MS Wellesley rather than the Folger whose copying out I suggest did not begin until sometime later in 1703.
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