What art thou Spleen, which ev'ry thing doest ape?


The Spleen (Folger); The Spleen, a Pindarick ODE (1701 Gilden); The Spleen. A Pindarick Poem (1713 Misc)

Primary Texts:

MS Folger, 52-6.

Some excerpts and analysis:

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 Finch'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 Finch 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. Finch 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 Finch'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 Finch'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; Finch 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 may have committed suicide in January 1691. Perhaps he treated Anne, and it was a family joke that treating her killed him (Cameron 95; DNB, "Lower, Richard," 34:203-4).

Secondary Eds:

1713 Misc, 88-96 (not from Gilden); rpts of 1713: 1903 Reynolds, 248-52 ; rpts of 1903 Reynolds: 1928 Murray 57-61; 1930 Fausset, 101-5; 1979 Rogers AF, 145-9; 1987 Thompson, 40-4.


1701 Gilden, 60-70; 1709 "The spleen, a pindarique ode by a lady" (with a prospect of death by John Pomfret); 1723 Stukeley ; 1741 Birch X, 178-9; 1757 Colman, 243-8.


Rpt of 1713: 1825 Dyce, 140-5 (without divisions, lines have only 2 indents so appears more "regular"); 1853 Rowton, Stanza 4, lines 90-99, 116-22. 1880 Ward, Stanza 1, lines 25-43, 33.


Rpt of 1713/1903: 1905 Tutin, 19-23; 1905 Wordsworth (compiled 1819), 2, lines 81-9; 1985 Ferguson, 252-6; 1985 Gilbert/Gubar, 106-10; 1990 Lonsdale, 6-7, lines 74-137; 1991 Fowler, 785-9.


From Nicholas Rowe's "Epistle to Flavia [Catherine Fleming], on the sight of two Pindaric Odes on Spleen and Vanity, Written by a Lady to her Friend, N. Rowe, Esqu.," which precedes the four poems by "the author of the Spleen" in 1701 Gilden, it would appear "The Spleen" was originally written for (inscribed to, as Finch would say) Catherine Fleming; its frank revelation of Ann's inner life may be a result of their close friendship. Although repeatedly analyzed in a variety of contexts, it has not been reprinted as often as the other "favorite" poem by Anne: The Nocturnal Reverie.


I date this 1700-1 because it does not appear in the MS F-H 283 the latest poems of which date from 1703/4; also I suggest it is a description written by someone writes at a distance from a long period of deep depression.
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