Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘18th century poetry’ Category


A page from the Folger Manuscript book of Finch’s poems (written up or in 1704-1709)

On my selfe

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.
— Finch-Hatton 283, pp 34-35 (printed first in 1903 Reynolds, pp 14-15), but taken from MS Portland, Vol 19, p 212 (located in Longleate)

Dear friends and readers,

Though now and again I’ve posted a poem by Anne Finch, or included her in a discussion here of women’s poetry, especially in the long 18th century, I’ve never attempted a foremother poet blog. I feel I know too much, and cannot see how I can contain what I know into a small enough compass that a blog-essay demands. I understand this suggests I am too much involved even now, some nearly 30 years after I first started to read and seek out and study her oeuvre seriously. See my website region for her. I am nonetheless going to write about her here because I’ve been asked to review the new standard edition of her poetry for Cambridge University Press by Jennifer Keith with the help of Claudia Thomas Kairoff and several other women scholars for an eighteeth-century newsletter.

On my desk is Volume I of II (the second volume to come out this coming January), hereinafter called Keith. I’ve found over the last month (I am going slowly partly because I am doing other things) that to do this in a genuinely evaluative critical manner I must go back to all my work and re-familiarize myself: this includes returning to all the manuscripts and early printed books her poetry appears in, and at least going over the history of the criticism and anthology tradition. And I’ve discovered that in this returning to the whole of this material for the first time in 16 years, I have reached a new phase in my responsiveness to this woman, her life, her work; if not detached, I am looking at it afresh.


A photograph of the ancient battered copy of Myra Reynolds’s 1903 edition of Finch’s poems, which I have worked with since I first bought it in the 1980s

Alas, I am become so alive to Finch’s many faults: among them, the unfinished crude nature of work she was not sure would ever reach public eyes, the unevenness of this material and other work she did prepare for publication. The reality that her lack of any confidence in her ability not to write good poems but to be judged fairly, to be read in an unbiased manner, without hostility to her as a woman, her fear of any exposure of her private life (which included bad depressions, anxiety-attacks, her husband and her Jacobitism, her uncertain status as unexpectedly she became a titled aristocrat) made her revise her work in ways that made it worse. She broke apart beautifully personal poems, rewrote some of her best strong lines (as possibly transgressive). I was long aware that in writing she obeyed the way poetry was written at the time: she may have feminized but she held to popular social verse genres. I think these stifled her poetic gifts. Finch needed not only to feminize them (which like other women in this era, she did), but to more daringly than she did, make them autobiographical and develop the simpler lyric forms. She could be effective in pindaric odes, in epistolary satires, but often she is not. Far from concentrating on her masks, we must go beneath and against the grain of these to drive down to where her soul is at. I agree with Keith she is a separate presence not equivalent to her “muse” and all the allegorical apparatus of psychology and landscape she divided her mind into in her poems, but find it is that presence insofar as it emerges and sometimes dominates that makes for her living poetry today.

I know this is not a popular or even accepted attitude among the women and the few men (mostly seeing themselves as feminists) studying Finch and her contemporaries today. They go at the poetry to prove Finch was admired then, built up an authority for herself (so wrote strategically) by the use of tropes and genres of the era — this fame or authority is what they value too.  Doing this made her poetry socially acceptable but not necessarily read or in reality  even then understood or sincerely valued. Who can today respond to the delusions of cautious 1790s Jacobitism? or a mausoleum of Beaumont and Fletcher techniques combined with naive ideas about monarchs and some memories of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night transvestite heroine to make a play? As with so many women of this and other eras, her religious poetry is often so dull, turgid (especially the paraphrases), so compromising, and there is so much of it.


Among the first pages of the Northamptonshire book (renamed by Keith) and what I called MS Finch-Hatton 283 (it was so called & numbered by the Northampton office) or Godmersham-Wye (because that’s where it was probably written out) you see the lovely scribal hand and somewhat older fashioned lettering of the first group of poems in this first ms. The earliest poem is from 1682, the latest 1704.

I also disagree with many things done by these new editors, above all that they chose the last copy text.  I chose either the first or the one I believe (and I maintain there are no protocols that enable the editor to escape subjectivity) is the best — though they prefer the Folger for their copy text to the 1713 edition of a poem. I prefer the book I called the Finch-Hatten manuscript (from the family names) or Godmersham-Wye (from where Anne and Heneage were living during the time it was written), which they have named the Northamptonshire manuscript (because the copy resides in the Northamptonshire documentary records office — I bought it as a microfilm, turned that into xeroxes). They refuse to rearrange the poems in any order other than the one found in the sources, though these orders are often happenstance, poems put in not chronologically (when they were written) but as they came to hand or by genre (if one could be found). The result, let me say here, is a standard edition that makes Finch into a writer of poetry no one will want to read for enjoyment or self-sustaining communing or even historically. She comes across as fragments disordered, repetitious; poems set out clearly in immediate contexts because of the notes in the apparatus but these contexts not themselves evaluated.

But I can’t make any start in thinking about my case and how to represent it until I put together and write out what I had in my mind when I made that website but never wrote up individually in one place: I never in one place described the sources of these poems. As a literal book historian, that is the first primary, literal context. And not just descriptions of these sources, but how many poems in them, which are authorized, or clearly hers, or probably hers, or worth perusing for possible (though not probable) attribution.

Why I did not write it out in one place at the time I put up the website (2002-4) I know not.  Maybe because it seemed so basic and fundamental in my mind.  Now I have had to rebuild a document from different places on the website because I forgot a good deal.  It will be a comparative document to work with or from. But I cannot put such a document onto the website since Jim died as I cannot cope with the technology without him. It is no longer publishable, if it ever were — by me, at any rate.

Whence this first of several working blogs. One may be me imagining Austen reading what of Anne Finch’s poetry was probably available to her.

***************************************************

Wye College Kent (today), where Anne wrote some of her earliest and most beautiful (and melancholy) poems

In this blog I describe the four major authorized books: 3 manuscripts and 1 printed book.

MS Finch-Hatton 283 (so titled by the Northamptonshire office, now N). Although earliest poem in ms is 1682 (the nearly obliterated The Grove), I dated this elegant octavo book as begun in 1694, and no longer in use by 1704 (copied out much later than the previous and in a hasty hand, the poem upon the hurricane). The first poem copied out is “The Introduction.”. It has an index, is 143 pages and is described in Keith, pp cxxvii-cxxxii (who had the advantage of people in the office sending descriptions). I counted 59 items, 2 obliterated, so 57 items, minus 1 for which I preferred MS Portland 19 (“On my selfe”) so 56 items for an edition. I salvaged what I could of 2 of the 4 almost destroyed copies, producing pieces for two more texts, so from MS F-H 283 I have 57 poems. All but 7 re-appear in some version in MS Folger; so 52 items shared by both MS Finch-Hatton and MS Folger.

MS Folger (now F, so titled as owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library). I conjecture 1704-1709 for the years these were copied out. By no means were all of them written during that time. Anne and Heneage come to live at Eastwell & settle in permanently by 1704. A second manuscript book (MS Folger) begun, into which the following poems were all copied before Anne wrote the preface. It begins with dedicatory poems, and then a prose “The Preface” (a footnote at the bottom of the preface points to the insertion of Anne’s three pieces from the Italian of the Aminta, which has been decided on since she wrote the preface) and then we again have “The Introduction”. It consists of a series of poems, then two plays and then another series of poems. The handwriting differs in the different sections. No index. It’s not as elegant a book. This one has 68 new items because a 69th is always misprinted as three separated poems (“The Bird and the Arras”), beginning with the 1713 Miscellany where two parts appear, followed by Reynolds in 1903 where all three appear (as separate poems). There are 121 individual works (not counting the introductory poems by other people to her and not counting the two pieces of poems never copied out), 52 of which appear in MS F-H 283; 69 appear only in MS Folger. Of the 69 one is pasted over and not recoverable. There is also a 12 page break in the numbers (p 261, then p 273); one could conjecture there was a poem here which was pulled out. I have not counted these in the items as there is nothing to indicate that there was a poem there for certain. It’s described in Keith, pp cxxxii-cxl. 1706 could be a terminus ad quem for the time of the writing of these poems because the book does not include two Tunbridge satires (found elsewhere); the reference to Mons in “An Invitation to Dafnis is dated 1706.

Anne was slowly moving from the personally referential meditations (long and short) of her court years, and the striking songs (some so knowing and bitter about what it was like to be a woman in this misogynistic aggressive court) from the 1690s through early 1700s, the MS F-H 283 and the early MS Folger — to a much more apparently impersonal and ironic poetry. So she is moving from a later 17th century woman poet to writing these hudibrastic fables (out of translation work), impersonal Pope-like pastorals, and anacreontics in Prior’s gay amoral vein. She had works within the genres of mid-, to later 17th century poets; now she was working within the newer sub-genres of the early Augustan era. Why 1709? it is in 1709 we find Tonson publishing some of the later MS Folger poems, and 1709 is the last date in the MS Folger: “A Tale of the Miser and the Poet,” written in a kind of naturalistic doggerel which dominates some of her fables in the 1713 Miscellany and many of the comic poems in MS Wellesley.

Volume I of Keith’s edition is based on only the above two major source texts. And it seems they are determined to eliminate as many texts outside the major four sources as possible (as safest).

1713 Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, Written by a Lady (in 1714, her name and title appear). Written and or copied out and prepared for publication 1710-1713. Anne plans a book which she goes through with: it is basically comprized of translations and imitations, impersonal poetry and a very few personal poems whose real meaning or full or autobiographical significance has been obscured or cut away. It contains many poems from “the French” (La Fontaine, Madame Deshouliers, Racine, La Calprenede, Regnier), from Tasso’s Aminta, from Milton in the manner of Philips’ The Splendid Shilling), from the Bible. Out of 83 poems, 39 of which are new and not to be found in any manuscript form, 35 are fables and another 9 either imitations, translations, or paraphrases of other works; her earlier songs, pastorals, and meditations are censured and/or otherwise presented impersonally, the epistles mostly attached to occasions. Now the first poem is “MERCURY and the ELEPHANT. A Prefatory FABLE,” first line: “As Merc’ry travell’d thro’ a Wood … “ (see my commentary in the form of a posting to C18-l: “An elephant fretting to no purpose“). Anne used the concept of genre and the technique of translation and imitation as a sort of changing mask under or through which she attempts to express herself sincerely.   The impersonality of the poetry and Heneage’s elevation to the peerage gave her the courage to go through with it. This is a book which obscures her finest gifts and their source. It was the favored copy text of Reynolds; so many of the texts in Reynold’s well-meant, earnest, fine scholarly edition (for her era) represent the form a poem took in this 1713-14 volume.

MS Wellesley. 1714-1720. It was during this period that Anne and Heneage decided to gather together those poems by Anne which she did not wish to publish but which he and she wished to save. I think these were copied out mostly before Anne’s death as many of them may be dated before her very last illness (1718-19). This manuscript has been published and fully described as a manuscript annotated now twice: by Jean Ellis-d’Alessandro (introd., ed), The Wellesley Manuscript Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea. Florence, 1988 (Ellis-d’Alessandro Poems); and by Barbara McGovern and Charles H. Hinnan (as editors), The Anne Finch Wellesley Manuscript Poems: A Critical Edition. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1998 (McGovern/Hinnant). I was able to buy the MS from Wellesley as a paper xerox. There are 54 (counting the one which exists in two distinct versions as two) texts. There is a significant return to religious poetry precisely of the type that she wrote in MS F-H and printed in 1696 Tate, with the addition of a new “kind,” the impersonal dramatic narrative, altogether 16 (or if you do not count her epistle to Catherine Fleming which prefaces her paraphrase of Eccles) or 15 out of 53, only they are superior because chastened polished lyrics instead of cumbersome paraphrases of psalms. She also returns to ideas in MS Finch-Hatton and Tate and 1701 Gilden (“The Retirement”), to autobiographical poems, where she utters ideas like it was strange and wholly unexpected that she should end up living a life of solitude, cut off from society. Her childhood in Northampton with her maternal Haslewood relatives is presumably referred to here.

In the Wellesley MS Jacobitism, is not censured — though it no longer comes across as strongly as it did in Anne Finch’s earlier post-Stuart court years. Numbers of the poems are private, familial and enigmatic. Others are uncorrected or performed in the plain doggerel careless way. These plain unadorned poems may please the modern reader (some of them are very good), but the decorum and practice of the time show that they were (like the poetry of Lady Hertford and other educated women) intended for ephemeral consumption by friends. There is no introduction or preface; there is no attempt to group kinds of poetry. Indeed, the manuscript begins with page 49 (thus ruling out as a certainty that Anne and Heneage began in 1716 with “On Lady Cartret”). What were on pp 1-49 is anyone’s guess (perhaps more of Anne’s poetry but I doubt this). There is finally a wholesale variety of types (by no means is this an overwhelming devotional volume) — all of which, I think, argues that Anne and Heneage were treating this last book as a private depository for Anne’s poetry, not as a working source for a book to be published.

Anne and Heneage also placed in (perhaps as they got hold of them) earlier poems which had been left out of the MS F-H 283 and Folger because they were not at East-well: two from Wye College between 1702 and 1703, two written at Lewston to Long-leat, 1704, one from Tunbridge Wells, 1706, another to Ann Tufton, 1707-9, perhaps at Hothfield or Thanet House, four from 1712, two sent to the Hatton family, one to Pope, one on the death of Heneage’s old friend and companion at the court of James II. These appear interwoven with Anne’s latest poems which all appear to have written after the 1713 Miscellany and its 1714 reprint and up to the time of Anne’s death; they can be variously dated from 1714, 1715 (five poems are so dated), 1716, 1718, 1719, and 1720.

I assume the above will be the basis for Volume II.

***********************************************


Amazon has reprinted one of the more interesting volumes in which we find both attributed and unattributed poems by Finch: the 1701 volume put together by Charles Gilden or Nicholas Rowe

I shall stop here and (I hope) inside several days produce a second blog for the poems scattered in printed and manuscript miscellanies, where some texts are attributed to Anne Finch and are clearly by her, others not as clearly attributed (“by the same hand”) but which the circumstances of the text itself, its content, and other contexts indicate to me they are clearly by Finch. I am going to include poems where the attribution is probable but not beyond doubt, and where the attribution is perhaps unlikely but still not to be altogether dismissed.

In the case of my review, I have the disadvantage that I do not have Volume II of Keith’s standard edition, but since she and her co-editors have made clear what are their attitudes I will by contrast include all the ms’s & printed books, for before and after those texts that seem to come from the second part of her career (as defined by Keith, beginning just around the time of the 1713 Miscellany).

More generally, since I often choose a different copy text, and reprint many of these (when they differ from Myra Reynolds, whose copy text was the 1713 while Keith’s is first the Folger), I hope my work will still be useful to anyone who wants to know what there is extant to know about Anne Finch. Their site is also surprisingly small; they are not generous in what they share. I have included all I could arguably say added to Reynolds.

For a glimpse at this material see Finch’s unpublished (I should have said mostly unattributed) poetry, taken from manuscripts and printed books of her era, and just beyond, e.g., the 1724 Hive Collection of Songs, an astonishingly good volume: its quality reminds me of the sixteenth-century collection England’s Helicon; it represents the best and most beautiful songs of the preceding generation. It includes no less than 16 poems which are clearly by Finch.

I end on a little known poem, never to my knowledge printed until it appeared on my website, from MS Harleian, probably by Finch on  traveling towards a visit:

Untitled Lines, from MS Harleian 7316, p. 69v.

We did attempt to travell all Last night,
The Moon was perish [sic] but the Stars gave Light
And Steer’d us to your Cottage fair & Bright.
We have brought you foreign Wine, Your friends to Grace
Wine that will Bask & Sparkle in their face
As also purest Nance,* the Flower of France
Will make a Parson & a Butcher Dance
We have likewise brought a Flash of Rumm
I dare to Say the best in Christendom
But best of all because it’s Safe come home.
I have Viewed your Cotage, could I call it my own
I’d Scorn a Spanish, nay a Brittish Throne,
And Sway my Scepter, & here reign alone.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Mary Wollstonecraft (1758-97)

“I don’t believe you realise how much the war has stung our generation. We have had the bottom of things knocked out completely, we have been sent reeling into the chaos and it seems to us that none of your standards are either fixed or necessarily good because in the end they resulted in the smash-up. We have to try to make a world for ourselves, based it as far as possible on love and awareness, mentally and bodily, because it seems to us that all the repressions and formulae, all the cutting off of part of our experience, which perhaps looked sensible and even right, in those calm years have not worked. Much has been taken from us,and we will stick like fury to what is left, and lay hold on life as it comes to us” — Naomi Mitchison’s War Diaries (1940-45, quoted in Elaine Showalter’s Inventing Herself, but I am reading this book late at night)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been blogging under this sign for nearly 20 years now, and have completed (or broken off from) several series of blogs, viz., most strikingly actresses, foremother poets, women artists. Not all of these series were about women in the imaginative arts, though; I’ve done several serial dramas from over a single season (Wolf Hall) (however defined) to several, some based on series of books (Poldark, Outlander), original dramas. I’ve shared papers and sessions from academic conferences I’ve been to. I’ve look at types of genres (historical fiction, biography). Individual authors and individual books. Individual movies. All Austen’s letters as organized and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, biographies of her close relatives, The Austen papers, and French contexts for reading Austen. One problem is I do forget to tag, and I do these on my other blog too (Ellen and Jim have a blog, two) so the sets are scattered. My longest ones (except for Austen’s letters) are over there, viz., The Pallisers. Tom Jones.


Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse (Joshua Reynolds)

Some of these were given up because I’d finished the thing I set out to do (all Austen’s letters), I was beyond my area of expertise (recent poetry) Some what with teaching, serious projects I’ve not been able to or make time to write a three part blog-essay more than once every two weeks, if that. I keep inventing things that take me into social groups, out of the house. I proposed to teach a two-part course at the Politics and Prose bookstore: 4 French women writers & eras, beginning with the poetic masterpiece by Stael, Corinne, ou l’Italie, for 3 sessions, then a break and consecutively 1 session each of George Sand’s Indiana, Marguerite Duras’s war memoir, La Guerre (occupied France from her vantage point), and then recent lesbian feeling novel about Marie Antoinette and her ladies, Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas (exquisitely sensitive beautifully meditative book). I’d love to add Winter in Majorca (time spent by Sand with Chopin), but there was no go (no offer of position or classes to teach) for this non-famous person with no connections that counted. But I will still attend a few sessions on specific fine books (like Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy the first novel, Sarah Water’s Night Watch) there scattered across the spring.


Joanna Mary Boyce (died so young), The Heath Gatherer

That I’ve no idea how to sell myself or anything else much to the general public may be seen in my not having more than 176 subscribers and about half the number of followers. For individual blogs that land in some moment of popular notice, the numbers will go way up, but not from anything I’ve done. I trust, gentle reader, you and I and the other 175 enjoy or find some kind of profit from what I put here.

I’m contemplative and surveying this evening to push myself on to return to these series, especially the poets, actresses (I’ve written about singer-actresses, including Judy Garland), and painters (one scientific farmer, Beatrice Potter too).


Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds


Beatrice Potter squirrel from her children’s books

I felt some stirrings recently, today over a blog on an exhibition going on right now of women Pre-Raphaelite painters, Nick Holland’s blog on an unfinished deeply imaginatively, fantastical fragment by Charlotte Bronte (how could such a spirit be localized into the demands of the realistic novel?). This week I read (for the first time) Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, watched the poignant movie, and returned to these working class English women’s writing of the 1950s (Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman, A Story of Two lives anyone?)


Vera Brittain (1893-1970)

As evidence of good continuing interest in women and the arts (of all kinds) I finally finished reading Elaine Showalter’s Inventing Herself: it’s a book made up of a series of portraits (some long and some sort in a group style) women who achieved as feminists in their writing and active lives. Beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft, taking us through Margaret Fuller, Olive Schreiner, Eleanor Marx, Charlotte Gilmore Perkins (daughter hated her), Elsie Clews Parsons (?! — yes an important later 19th century writer), early 20th century Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Nora Zeale Thurston, Rebecca West and Vera Brittain, moving into the middle years, Mary MacCarthy and Hannah Arendt (more alike than you think), Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Sontag (ditto), and then very recent, names I read as contemporaries, Nancy Miller, Adrienne Rich, Ann Douglas, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, taking us to Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton (a rousing defense) and Diana Spencer (died young spectacularly, Showalter unexpectedly sympathized). All of them had to live unconventional highly self-centered lives in order to be the writer or woman she became; demoralizing to see that before the early 20th century a woman had to be chaste to have any social capital; from the mid-20th a woman had to make herself sexually available, or seeming so to radical men to get anywhere. I was surprised at how many had become enthralled by or to a man, and this become a crucial determinant in the existence they led. There is no false idealization: Sontag was able to travel and write the books she did because she perpetually partnered with very rich people. Beauvoir’s claim she did not become a feminist until after 1947 (her trip to the US) disingenuous.

73 years old the end of this week, tiring, failing better than I used to, I shall go down with all flags flying.   I do everything together with others, except meet …

I cheer myself up by keeping watching the recent Durrells of Corfu, the dose, an episode every three nights (I love the music, scripts, cartoons, actors), backed up by midnight dream reading of Laurence Durrell’s island books. Perhaps my first new actress will be Barbara Flynn, aka Aunt Hermione — pitch perfect in this series. How I find her characteristic characters so appealing. To my eyes she is beautiful still.


From the Durrells of Corfu, you see Keeley Hawes as Louisa from the back

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), The Stolen Kiss (1788)

Dear friends and readers,

A second blog on a few of the papers or talks I heard at the recent EC/ASECS conference at Gettysburg. These summaries represent the papers I was especially interested in, and was able to take down in shorthand; I also did the best I could to present the two addresses (keynote, presidential) to the society.

From the All Things French panel (Friday morning, Oct 25th), Faith Barringer’s “The Coquette, the Libertine, and Fragonard: An Intertextual Look at The Stolen Kiss connected to my own readings in 18th century French and English novels. Faith said there has been a tradition of denying that Fragonard’s painting was influenced by such novels, a preference for seeing the painting as relying on archetypes rather than specific previous paintings and texts. There is little information about this picture, and many of Fragonard’s pictures do not have specific sources, but you can (and she did) demonstrate that this particular was heavily influenced by contemporary literature; what’s more if you look at these sources, you can notice at the same time departures showing that Fragonard made made the images of coquettry and libertinism his own, and in the process made a more life-like scene, which shows affection beyond sheer erotic attraction in the couple. The novels gone over included La Vie de Marianne, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise, La Religieuse, and the pictures included depictions of aristocratic games. She went over details in the scene showing that sentimentality and gaiety qualify what could have been a stereotypical cliched seduction scene.

The second Gettysburg faculty talk in the later afternoon was by Timothy Shannon was first in general on Pennsylvania Captivity Narratives from the Seven Years War. I’ve been interested in early modern American captivity narratives since I read Mary Rowlandson’s last winter. Prof Shannon divided these up into three eras, said there was a difference between female and male narratives, between spiritual and secularized, and briefly told of two teenagers taken captive who lived for the rest of their lives with the Seneca Indians, of a woodcutter who lived for five years with his captors, of Elizabeth Fleming. He then elaborated (from his book) on a remarkable narrative written by Peter Williamson in the context of what we know about his life. Peter Williamson was a Scotsman who claimed he was kidnapped from Aberdeen at 13 years old, sold into servitude in Pennsylvania, gained his freedom, and (among other things in a picaresque tale) lived with a planter’s daughter, was enslaved by Indians (where he was tortured), became a soldier, put in prison in Canada, and returned to Aberdeen. There seems to be an almost complete lack of documentary evidence for any of this American story; but he did marry three times in Scotland, his second wife divorced him, and he published about the divorce trial. His captivity narrative includes ersatz ethnography, and was anthologized, became part of abolitionist literature. Today in Scotland Williamson’s story is part of folklore but only turns up in more respectable enlightenment texts because Boswell was drawn to listen to “Indian Peter” one day in a coffee house.

On Saturday morning (the first session at 9 am), standing in for Anthony Lee, I chaired an excellent panel of papers on Samuel Johnson. Lance Wilcox’s on Johnson’s poem in imitation of Juvenal, London, was on how scholars and readers have read biography into Johnson’s poem, specifically since in the following year Savage left London for Wales they have aligned Thales departing London for Cambria (Wales) with Savage. It used to be that people read Johnson’s biography of Savage to learn about Savage, the then famous figure; now we read the biography because it’s by Johnson, yet this poem is still examined in terms of Savage’s life: did he fantasize in front of Johnson (or to others thus creating a rumor) at least a year before about how he was determined to leave; was Johnson prophetic, or (most likely) is the identification baseless. Still respectable people who knew or studied Johnson thoroughly have taken the hypothesis seriously: Arthur Murphy and James Clifford among them. Perhaps after the poem was written Savage consciously modeled himself on Johnson’s Thales. The point of Lance Wilcox’s witty examination of what is precisely in the poem, and how it’s been used shows the problematical nature of biographical insights. In this case where do we ascribe agency, to whom? Johnson who wrote the poem, Savage who read it? Lance suggested we need to focus on all the agents here: and ask, what did Savage get out of his friendship with this obscure young hack (Johnson), and of course what did Johnson in his biography get out of writing the life of this young man with whom Johnson had bonded so intensely.

The best modern biography of Savage is still Clarence Tracy’s The Artifical Bastard: A biography of Richard Savage. I talked with Lance afterwards and we discussed the probability that Savage’s assertion that he was the illegitimate son of Lady Macclesfield and Earl Rivers was a lie; Savage (in other words) was a complete fraud. The question is if by the end of his life he had lost all perspective and believed his own concoction. Also that Richard Holmes’s analysis and conclusion about the murder trial where Savage was declared guilty is the best most thorough one available (Richard Holmes, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage).


Sir Robert Chambers (1737-1803) by Joshua Reynolds

Thomas Curley’s paper wowed the session. In 1988 Prof Curley published two-volume edition from Clarendon Press in 1986, entitled, A Course of Lectures on the English Law Delivered at the University of Oxford, 1767-1773, by Sir Robert Chambers, Second Vinerian Professor of English Law, and Composed in Association with Samuel Johnson, and then years later Sir Robert Chambers: Law, Literature, and Empire in the Age of Johnson. What he did was (in effect) to add to Johnson’s considerable oeuvre a considerable part of the writing of Chambers’s lectures; he demonstrated that Johnson gave the young man courage and direction to write, inspired him, debated and helped him to clarify his ideas, and wrote some of the work with him, revising it too. Chambers was a 17 year old who met Johnson in 1754; they were congenial; Johnson recognized a gentle well-meaning nature. Chambers had succeeded Blackstone at Oxford and was expected to prepare lectures, and felt intense indecision, hesitation, was a self-deprecating man. So Johnson rescued him by helping him to compose, research, and providing companionship. One letter shows Johnson saying “I will try to help you.”

The collaboration was kept secret for the sake of Chambers’ career, but has alas since then been hidden from view, at least rarely paid attention to. Chambers (and Johnson’s) book is an encyclopedic survey of English law. Half the work is on the historical origins of the English gov’t. Prof Curley felt the writing on criminal and property law is mostly Chambers. One can see in the writings as they proceed a development of more opposition to Parliament, more anti-Wilkes ideas, much attention to the necessity of having order, a strong centralized power worth defending against dissident causes. These volumes are a major intellectual crossroads for studying the trajectory of Johnson’s thought; in these books (Prof Curley showed by extracts) we find parallel passages of strongly conservative thinking to some of Johnson’s polemics (The False Alarm, Taxation No Tyranny, on Ireland and America) on colonialism and taxation: the colonializing power has the right to tax the people of the colony for it provides protection; this is not tyranny. Prof Curley felt Johnson’s Thoughts on the Falkland Islands has no echoes of the early collaboration. He ended by telling us something of Chambers’ long life in India, and his young wife who outlived him by 30 years.

I have separately described & linked in my paper on “Culloden and its aftermath in Scotland (and Scottish literature) in the panel on crossroads in Jacobitism, and I will also be brief on Tita Chico’s keynote address, “Microscopes and Couplets: Scrutiny in the Long Eighteenth Century,” and Sylvia Marks’s presidential (of and for the society) “A Gettysburg Address” upon the 50th anniversary of Eastern Region — this group had been meeting for 50 years.

False Eloquence, like the Prismatic Glass,
Its gawdy Colours spreads on ev’ry place;
The Face of Nature was no more Survey,
All glares alike, without Distinction gay:
But true Expression, like th’ unchanging Sun,
Clears, and improves whate’er it shines upon,
It gilds all Objects, but it alters none.”
— Pope, quoted & analysed by Prof Chico

Professor Chico linked the inventions (Hooke’s microscope) and literature of scientific scrutiny in the era with the use of the heroic couplet, as two linked ways of analyzing the natural and human worlds; methodologically linked as a way of delving what we see, giving observation a framework by which we can bring together disparate experience. Newton’s prism enables us to see what we would not otherwise, and 18th century modes of poetry are constructs that bring together what is central and marginal, strong and vulnerable in our societies. We must dis-identify, unsettle ourselves to recognize full truths about ourselves.

Sylvia’s talk was a pleasure to listen to: she used Lincoln’s address, its occasion and what Lincoln was reading as well as the hard history to come after the killing in Gettysburg (and elsewhere) was over to move to American history during the 50 years of the existence of ASECS and this regional group. She then retold briefly the history of our group, how it was founded, where it first met, the development of the Leland and Molin awards, and then the cultural upheavals that have been going on in our profession as reflected in some bleak pictures described in previous addresses. She then turned for a parallel trajectory to the long friendship of Francis Burney and Samuel Johnson as recorded in Burney’s journals, what Johnson said to Burney on the day they first met, how she described him, what their relationship was like over the years, his troubles and hers, taking us to their last meeting when he was very ill, what she said and how he looked.

(Austen would have enjoyed hearing the 50th anniversary address as much of it was on Johnson and Burney, using her diary and journals, which, because published only after Burney’s death, Austen would never have gotten to read.)

I never did mention how on our first night, our oral/aural experience — an hour’s worth of poetry reading and sometimes putting on 18th century plays or parts of play, we acted out (as best we could, with no practice and just scripts before us) the famous China scene from Wycherley’s Country Wife. I read Lady Fidget’s part.

Ellen

Read Full Post »