The American Lady improved as went on — but still the same faults in part recurred, 11 Jan 1809 … I made my mother an excuse & came away; leaving just as many for their round table, as there were at Mrs Grants, 19 Jan 1813 … I have disposed of Mrs Grant for the 2nd fortnight to Mrs Digweed; — it can make no difference to her, which of the 26 fortnights in the Year, the 3 volume lay in her House, 9 February 1813 (Jane Austen)
The cover and one of the sketches of the 18th century Scots woman artist, Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825)
Dear friends and readers,
A couple of months ago now I reported that I had submitted a panel proposal for papers on Forging Connections Among Women for the November 2016 EC/ASECS conference at West Chester. The due date for paper proposals is fast approaching and last night I wrote a proposal for a paper:
I propose to discuss the writing of Grant, Hunter and Grant, from a different yet related perspectives than is usually done. Anne McVicar Grant is discussed from the point of view of how her poetry and prose fits in with idealized or sentimental images of early America, and helped create the national identity and nation creating of Scotland and seen in the context of Walter Scott’s slightly later achievement. Anne Home Hunter’s poetry is discussed as it relates to her lyrical writing for Joseph Haydn’s canzonettas; she is also brought up as the beloved partner of her famous surgeon husband, John Hunter, and a London saloniere; occasionally her moving poem to her daughter upon her daughter’s marriage is brought up (mostly because it’s a poem favored by anthologizers of women’s poetry). Elizabeth Grant Smith is still known as the Highland Lady, discussed as a kind of Jane Austen from traditional private non-fictional writing selves, a mirror of her era. Using Paula Backscheider’s categories in her study of women’s poetry, and various studies of Scottish women’s writing (especially those edited by Dorothy McMillan), I will try to see their work in terms of their lives and women’s traditions of writing: Grant and Hunter as writing poetry and prose of friendship, Hunter passionate elegies, and Grant as creating a counter candid universe.
To a Friend on New Year’s Day
Dear friend, for thee, through ev’ry changing year,
Unchang’d affection draws the tie more near;
Treasure most precious, dearest to the heart,
Increas’d in value as the rest depart.
Tho’ kindred bonds may break, and love must fade,
Friendship still brightens in the deep’ning shade.
Time, silent and unseen, pursues his course,
And wearied nature sickens at her source.
Methinks I see the season onward roll,
When age, like winter, comes to chill the soul:
I tremble at that pow’r’s resistless sway
Who bears the flowers and fruit of life away …
Let me not linger on the verge of fate,
Nor weary duty to its utmost date;
Losing, in pain’s impatient gloom confin’d,
Freedom of thought, and dignity of mind;
Till pity views untouch’d the parting breath,
And cold indiff’rence adds a pang to death …
Let me still from self my feelings bear,
To sympathize with sorrow’s starting tear …
Let me remember, in the gloom of age,
To smile at follies happier youth engage;
See them fallacious, but indulgent spare
The fairy dreams experience cannot share.
Nor view the rising morn with jaundice eye,
Because for me no more the sparkling moments fly.
— Anne Hunter (1802)
I’ve written about Elizabeth Grant only as part of what I had hoped to learn from an ASECS session on women’s public and private writing in the form of weekly notes taken from a group read we had on Eighteenth Century Worlds @ Yahoo in draft stage, and thought tonight I might add concise succinct summary to these, and a couple of references to recent work on Anne Grant and Anne Home Hunter that I overlooked or have come across since writing of them as foremother poets.
In A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, edd Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan, two essays tell the story of the final publication and value of the voluminous life-writing of Elizabeth Grant, McMillan’s “Selves and Others: Non-fiction writing in the 18th and 19th century” [of women writers in English], and Peter Butter’s “Elizabeth Grant.” Over the course of a long life, Elizabeth kept up a vividly written, perceptive, unsentimental and candid record of her varied life, beginning with her grandparents (before she was born), her parents’ relationship, her own early thwarted love affair, semi-coercive marriage, and later years, only part of which were published in compilations from 1846-54, to make money. She includes trips to Cheltenham, descriptions of university life in England, and projects some surprisingly radical views of what she lived in Scotland (with real respect for local attachments in the Highlands at any rate). She is known for her ability to delight the reader with her scenes, but she can do far more than that, like enter into a tragedy of a woman whose husband dies on moors:
It was not till late autumn when our gamekeeper was on the Braeriach shooting grouse, that he saw seated on a shelf of rock midway down a precipice a plaided figure. It was all that was left of the missing shepherd … and his Colly dead beside him … His widow was past all knowledge of his fate; her anxiety had brought on premature childbirth, fever ensued, and though she recovered her strength in a degree, her mind was quite gone. She lived in the belief of the speedy return of her husband, went cheerfully about her usual work, preparing all things for him … Sometime towards evening she would look wearily round and sigh heavily, and wander a little in her talk, but in the morning she was early up and busy as ever. She was never in want, for every one helped her; but though she was so much pitied, she was in their sober way much blamed. The highlanders are fatalists … We must ‘dree our weird’, all of us, and ’tis a ‘flying in the face of providence’ to break the heart for God’s inflictions. They feel keenly too; all their affections are very warm and deep; still, they are not to be paraded. A tranquil manner is a part of their good breeding, composure under all circumstances essential to the dignity of character common to all of the race. (quoted by Butter, 231)
These were bowlderized and censored as well as abridged. Above are the first full texts unexpurgated and annotated to be published. Grant’s great-great-great-granddaughter allowed Canongate press to go forward presenting these texts as mirrors of the Highlands, as part of reconstituting a national Scottish identity. It is common for women’s autobiographies from before the 20th century to be published even centuries later by an editor whose purpose and agenda is different from the woman author’s.
Elizabeth wrote not only of her Highland life, but of her time in Ireland and France; she spent considerable time in London, England growing up, during her adolescent years, and in her later married life, Bombay, India too (alas never written up coherently, something may be learned from Bombay to Bloomsbury: A Biography of the Strachey Family by Barbara Caine).
The new full Memoirs of a Highland Lady is a masterwork of life-writing, and the other two of great interest too, yes partly as offering an incomparable depiction of all sorts of aspects of gentry to impoverished life wherever she was, but just as much of her own inner life through her telling of her struggles and all the many people she interacted with on many levels. The dry saturnine tone she can affect, the conservative framing and the real plangencies and cruelties (as when she was a child, the treatment she and her siblings were subjected to by governesses and parents) may tempt people to see her as a Jane Austen who gives us the authentic underbelly of existence, and daily life’s subversions and larger politics; there is a similarity in the authentic subterranean currents of women speaking to women where (as in what is left of Austen’s letters) a lack of publication means more liberty to speak. Like a Jane Austen or Frances Burney heroine, Elizabeth seems rarely to have been able to find a congenial female companion in her local place and time with whom to confide so she turns to forge connections with an imagined community.
For Anne Grant I omitted Catherine Kerrigan’s An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets and Paula Feldman’s British Women Poets of the Romantic Era; for her and Anne Home Hunter, Jennifer Breen’s Women Romantic Poes, 1785-1832. For Anne Home Hunter, the extraordinary revealing The Life and Poems of Anne Hunter (given the inevitable subtitle based on only a few lyrics), Haydn’s Tuneful Voice, ed, introd. Caroline Grigson (with an essay by Isobel Armstrong), essays in Mary Hunter and Richard Will’s collection, Engaging Haydn and sections in Wendy Moore’s The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery and John Kobler’s The Reluctant Surgeon, both basically biographies of her husband John Hunter.
I conclude with a link to a thread we’ve had on Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo over the past few days on the erasure of women’s impressionist artists from impressionist exhibits (yes there were a number), on how much of the women’s canon of poetry has been lost, destroyed, abridged, censored, how women artists as a group not understood at all. This paper I meant to write, this panel and the two I chaired on The Anomaly (women living alone from the later 17th through the mid-19th century in the UK and US) are part of my small effort (among many others on the world wide web) to do bring forward some of these women in their own right.
Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837), known as The Cat’s Lunch.
The above painting shows companionship between the woman depicted and her pets; she was Jean-Honore Fragonard’s sister-in-law, and he enabled her 40 year artistic career. Click on the image to enlarge and see full beauty of it. You will see that the cat is not as anatomically correct as the dog or later 18th century depictions of cats will become (say by Stubbs who is as good at cats as horses), suggesting the cat was not as commonly domesticated as yet as an at home pet as the dog was fast becoming.