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Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Fleming’


Sisters, 1891, Elin Danielson-Gambogi (Finnish), 1861-1919. Quiet female friendship is such a rare topic (except the woman painter be painting discipleship) for fine painting, one must go to novel illustrations and I can’t think of any of sufficient beauty for my purpose

From the Circuit of Appollo, a poem by Anne where she names (unfortunately using pseudonyms) other women poets she knew in Kent:

Appollo, as lately a Circuit he made,
Throo’ the lands of the Muses, when Kent he survey’d,
And saw there that Poets were not very common,
But most that pretended to Verse, were the Women
Resolv’d, to encourage, the few that he found,
And she that writ best, with a wreath should be crown’d …

But now to proceed, and their merritts to know,
Before he on any, the Bay’s wou’d bestow,
He order’d them each, in their several way,
To show him their papers, to sing, or to say …

When Alinda began, with a Song upon Love.
So easy the Verse, yett compos’d with such art,
That not on expression, fell short of the heart …

If Laura, not quickly a paper had read,
Wherein she Orinda, had praised so high,
He own’d it had reach’dhim, while yett in the sky …

‘Till Valeria, withdrew him a little from thence,
And told him, as soon as she’d got him aside,
Her works, by no other, but him shou’d be try’d;
Which so often he read and with still new delight,
That Judgment ’twas thought wou’d not passe ’til ’twas night …

Dear friends and readers,

This is not the first blog I’ve written in the spirit of trying to understand something which I’m having trouble making clear to myself because various sources for the topic are confusing. It is also not the first blog I’ve written about women’s friendships, especially women poets for one another, as seen in letters or novels — or just life, using other documents left from the relationship. Anne Finch’s crucial relationships as a woman and poet or woman poet may be divided into 1) real living women she knew we know were themselves poets, and to whom Finch wrote poems, and whom the poems interchanged show a deep relationship’; 2) poetry by women Finch read whom she interacted deeply with as her predecessors, and I take these to be Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips; 3) real living women, to whom Finch was very close, often related to, to whom she wrote poetry or whom she put as figures in her poems, but who themselves did not write poetry and who may not have been intellectual at all. This blog presents the first two groups.

I gather together first what we know of her and Catherine Fleming (Flavia) then move on to women Anne got to know as or through relatives, who loved who understood and wrote poetry too, e.g, Frances Thynne Seymour, Lady Hertford (Hartford).

There are altogether five poems from Anne Finch to or for her apparently close and much valued friend, Catherine Fleming. We can date the friendship from the 1701 Gilden’s Miscellany when Nicholas Rowe’s epistolary poem to Flavia in priase of Ardelia is printed; he was probably not the first and certainly not the last to urg Finch to overcome her reluctance to publish. Anne’s friendship with Catherine Fleming lasted to the end of Finch’s life, as their last poems are exchanges in 1718.  One of these poems is another of these dreadful paraphrases of the Bible; it is clear that Finch is reluctant; her reluctance to do this kind of thing any more (it’s seen in the Northampton and Folger ms’s), shows she knows how bad they are. In the Wellesley MS generally speaking her religious poetry has become brief concise lyrics using some of the techniques she practiced in her nature poetry and may be seen in her free adaptations of fables and translations (found in her published poetry after 1709).

There is also one poem by Nicholas Rowe to Catherine Fleming where he addresses her as Finch’s friend who understands the value of Finch’s poetry.

Finally, there is one poem by Fleming to Finch thanking her for attempting the paraphrase of the last chapter of Ecclesiastes.

So altogether seven poems.

No letters. I adhere to Sarah Sard Hughes’ explanation: after her exhausting bouts with melancholia, Finch was left with a trembling hand; to which I add no one wanted to leave clear evidence of her struggle against depression while she was under its power, only what she wrote of her experiences afterwards.

I place them in the order I surmise they were more or less written.

Not a single one by Finch was published (nor was Fleming’s one poem) — yet Finch’s epistolary poems (or ballads as they are called in some ms’s) are so appealing, indeed fun and wonderful in so many ways: Nos. 4, and 5 represent her at her best, esp. “From me who whileom sung the town.”

1) Ms Wellesley, pp 57-58.  “Oh! friendship, how prevailing is thy force?“, from “To Flavia. By whose perswasion I undertook the following Paraphrase” (“The last chapter of Eclesiastes . . . In the full strength, of thy created frame” Described in my first blog upon beginning this review project; but the poem also appears in Ms Harleian described here. So I think this series of three earlier than Ms Wellesley.

2) Ms Harleian, 71-81, “The Preacher thus, to Man, his speech adrest,” “The last chapter of Eclesiastes Paraphras’d Inscribed to Mrs Catherine Fleming.” This also occurs in Ms Wellesley, pp 59-65, which since it was created by Heneage and Anne should be the chosen copytext over Ms Harleian because I believe Ms Harleian to have been collected before MS Wellesley, though not much before.

3) Ms Harleian, 44-46, “To Coleshill, Seat of Noble Pen,” “For Mrs Catherine Flemming at ye Lord Digby’s at Coleshill in Warwickshire,” also called “A Ballad” in other manuscripts. Poem also occurs in MS Portland, XX, 10-11 (highly unclear, squeezed in, looks like Heneage’s hand in old age), which is described here; and MS Additional 28101, 163v-164r (clear attribution: “By the Countess of Winchelsea”). So I suggest this poem is also somewhat earlier than those copied into the Ms Wellesley.

4) Ms Wellesley, “‘Tis now my dearest friend become your turn,”, “An Epistle to Mrs Catherine Fleming at Coleshill in Warwickshire but hastily perform’d & not corrected. London October ye 8th: 1718.” Not printed until 1988 Ellis d’Alessandro prints Wellesley text, 109-11; McGovern & Hinnant, 42-44.

5) Ms Harleian, 47r-48v, “From me who whileom sung the Town”, “A Ballad to Mrs Catherine Fleming in London from Malshanger farm in Hampshire.” Also occurs in MS Wellesley, 89-91, which then takes precedent as a copy text; however it is notable that this poem and “To Coleshill, Seat of Noble Pen,” occur in tandem in the MS Harleian, which seems to me the right way they should be published, and unless someone does another selection where taste and consideration of who Anne Finch was as an individual and what her best, finest, genius poetry is about, this will be the only place the reader can find them together.

Catherine Fleming’s one poem to Finch:

1) Ms Harleian, pp 77r-77v. “My heart ov’rlow’s with Gratitude and Joy,” “By Flavia: To the Rt Hon ble Ann Countess of Winchelsea on her Obliging Compliance with my request to Paraphrase the last Chapter in Ecclesiastes.” Also occurs in MS Wellesey, p 59. Fleming’s inner life of “baffled cares” revealed.

What appeared in print:

1) 1701, “An Epistle to Flavia,” on the Sight of two Pindarick Odes on Spleen and Vanity. Written by a Lady to her Friend. by Nicholas Rowe. Flavia, to you with safety I commend. p. 53, introduces long section of poems by Finch. 1701 New Miscellany, described here. This one with 5 poems by Finch, one of which remains explicitly denied her in the Collected Poems. Note too the only published poem is by a man.

Here are three of Finch’s typical light social poems, the last of which is arguably a masterpiece, and none of them saw the light of day or came under readers’ eyes until 250 years later and all are now presented in forms where the reader is prevented from being able to respond properly to them because they are out of context.

What do we know about Catherine Fleming?

So Keith in her 2nd volume of the Cambridge Works, at the back, as part of the notes to “Oh! friendship, how prevailing is thy force?” tells us Catherine Fleming died in 1736 (so 16 years after Finch), was daughter of Robert Jefferson and wife of Archdeacon Sir George Fleming (1667-1747), who eventually became Bishop of Carlisle (c 1708?).  Then as part of the notes to the paraphrase, that Catherine had three daughters who lived to adulthood and one son, a William Gibson (why the change of last name is not explained). To give them their due, the chronology of Anne’s life in both volumes in front does single out these women as events in Anne’s life. Catherine Fleming is also mentioned in “Advertisement for the Gazette …” “whereas ’tis spread about the town,” as well as her sister (?), Ann Fleming. McGovern and Hinnant tell us that Fleming was also a friend of Lady Scudamore, cousin to Robert Digby, friend to Alexander Pope; it’s she that Catherine Fleming went to visit; the Flemings are part of the Digby clan. Fleming was Pope’s friend too. In her life of Finch, McGovern cites her name as a friend, and tells us nothing at all beyond citing these poems.

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A still from a film, Dyke Pussy (2008) where Allyson Mitchell’s sculptures are seen: or, more plainly, two cats as friends who mirror one another

After Catherine Fleming, the second most in number and seriousness of feeling are to Francis Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford (1699-1754), about whom I’ve written a blog. The three include a masterpiece (“Hartford ’tis wrong …”), and one very touching, oh so poignant (“Of sleeplesse nights, and days with care o’ercast”) showing Anne assumed real understanding and sympathy from her great-niece (the line: first her grandmother, Francis Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth (Ephelia), and then Lady Weymouth’s daughter-in-law, Lady Hertford’s mother, Grace Strode Thynne (Cleone), see my next blog on poems to women who were not themselves poets). Lady Hertford is once referred  to as Aspasia.

1) No MS; 1741 Birch, X, 179, “Of sleepless nights, and days with care o’ercast,” “To the Right Honorable the Countess of Hartford, with her volume of poems

2) MS Additional 4457, p59r, “Joy from a zealous pen Ardelia [therefore ascribed] sends,” “To the Countess of Hartford on her Lord’s Birthday.

3) MS Wellesley, 72-6, “Hartford ’tis wrong if Poets may complain,” “To the Right Honourable Frances Countess of Hartford who engaged Mr Eusden to write upon a wood enjoining him to mention no tree but the Aspen & no flower but the King-cup.”

There is one to a Mrs [Grace] Randolph who is Laura in “The Circuit of Apollo,”. These two poems sound like women who know each other distantly, let’s say through their work, but are not yet friends. We may hope they had become closer friends by “The Circuit of Apollo.”  Grace Blome (1674-1750), came from an established Kent family; married to Herbert Randolph on June 27, 1700; married, Randolph had 12 children (!), but is known to have written three creditable poems besides the one to Finch (Keith, Vol 1, pp 534-35). There is real warmth in both poems; they felt an affinity and mutual respect and understanding. The first by Anne is one of her fine poems.

1) MS Folger, 48-49, “Madam, ’till pow’rfully convinc’d by you,” “An Epistle, from Ardelia, to Mrs Randolph, in answer to her poem upon her verses,”

and one from her:

2) MS Folger, np (2nd poem in tribute in the opening section), “Madam, As when the Macedonian Conqu’rour dy’d,” “An Epistle, from Mrs Randolph to Mrs Finch; upon her presenting her with some of her poems”

A second poet from “The Circuit of Apollo” identified by Anne Finch as Valeria, could very well be Sarah Dixon, about whom both Ann Messenger (Pastoral Tradition and the Female Talent) and Deborah Kennedy (see below) have written. Kennedy identifies Dixon with Finch’s Valeria in the poem where the poet’s lack of physical beauty is compensated for by her inner beauty. The selection chosen by Roger Lonsdale in his Eighteenth-Century Women Poets does far more credit to Dixon than those discussed so anodynely by Kennedy.

Sarah Dixon’s years were 1761-1765; her published poetry is all in the 18th century mode (Poems on Several Occasions, 1740, with a large list of impressive subscribers). It’s not certain she never married; there is evidence to suggest she was a widow. She came from an important Royalist family in Rochester in Kent; her grandfather, Sir Robert Dixon (1614-88), was a published writer himself who served Charles I during the civil; he was rewarded by Charles II with the Prebendary of Rochester Cathedral.  “The agreeable” suggests a genuine understanding between two women (for otherwise would Finch have dared to go on about Dixon’s lack of attractiveness?). While “Clarinda’s Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty” suggests a dialogue with the self (that is, Finch is Clorinda), nonetheless, the theme so insisted upon is found repeatedly in Dixon’s poetry and I suggest is understood better when seen in the context of women’s bitter discussions on the importance of fleeting physical beauty, and while probably not by Finch, the existence of “Cosmelia’s Charms” in a later ms with a row of Finch’s poems brings alive how these women related to one another empathetically.

1) Ms Wellesley, p 95. “She is not fair you criticks of the Town,” The Agreeable [second poem so titled in Wellesley MS].

2) MSs F-H 283, Folger 13, “Now age came on and all the dismall traine,” Clarinda’s Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty [Folger, a later copying over of a another censured title]. A deeply felt and angry poem (even if it’s embarrassing)

A third poet from “The Circuit of Apollo” had been identified: Alinda or Olinda is Elizabeth Wythens (nee Taylor), later Colepepper. She is also alluded to in “Ardelia’s Answer to Ephelia,” in a deliberately obscured but sympathetic way.

Alinda/Olinda was daughter to Sir Thomas Taylor, a baronet at Park House, Maidstone, Kent (and thus a Kentish poetess), forcibly married to a man very much older than she (Sir Francis Wythens) in 1685 to stop a love affair with Sir Thomas Colepepper. After the marriage, she seems to have quickly left Wythens to live with Colepepper, eventually living with him in his villa (and bringing with her children by Wythens whom Colepepper eventually successfully sued for support); Wythens died in 1704 (note the many years Elizabeth endured a marriage, for the husband would visit her), upon which Elizabeth and Colepepper married. She died in 1708. The story is told by Germaine Greer, in her notes to Elizabeth Taylor’s poetry, all well chosen, with an understandable animus against male behavior that reveals the milieu of Anne Finch’s early songs (Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of 17th Century Women’s Verse, pp 294-98). Taylor is alluded to by Keith, but only insofar as is absolutely necessary to identify her as Alinda (Vol 1, pp 461-62, and 529).

1) MS Folger, 6-11, “Me, dear Ephelia, me, in vain you court,” Ardelia’s answer to Ephelia, who had invited Her to come to her in Town–reflecting on the Coquetterie & detracting humour of the Age,” as brilliant as that of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, both of which find an ultimate source in Boileau’s Satire III (itself an imitation of Horace’s Satire I, ix). The poem is to Francis Finch Thynne, Lady Weymouth, but these lines are a sort of defense of Elizabeth Taylor Wythens Colepepper:

Can I dislike I cry, what all admire,
Discreet, and witty, civill and refin’d,
Nor, in her person fairer, then her mind,
Is yong, Alinda, if report be just,
For half the Caracter, my eyes I trust.
What chang’d Almeria, on a suddain cold,
As if I of your freind, some tale had told?

No, she replyes, but when I hear her praise,
A secret failing, does my pitty raise,
Damon she loves, and ’tis my dayly care,
To keep the passion from the publick ear.

I ask, amaz’d, if this she has reveal’d,
No, but ’tis true she crys, though much conceal’d,
I have observ’d itt long, but wou’d betray
But to your self, what now with greif I say,
Who this, to no’ne, but Confidents must break,
Nor they to others, but in whispers speak;
I am her friend, and must consult her fame ….

More was she saying, when fresh objects came,
Now what’s that thing, she crys, Ardelia guesse?

Finch is identifying strongly with Alinda as someone who has behaved in ways their societies use to ostracize them (Finch’s transgression would be her depression — this reality despite her “Spleen” proclaiming it is still avoided, and especially in this new edition).

It’s arguable that Elizabeth Rowe, Philomena, meant a great deal to Finch: she was so much better known, and respected than most women poets; perhaps they saw one another more often, having connections with people each of them were close to. Finch singles Rowe out twice in her poetry as part of a “celebrity” so-to-speak poetic world; there is evidence they moved in the same circles in Kent and southern England.

Still, I can find no real closeness, no intimacy recorded between Anne Finch and Elizabeth Rowe. There is but one letter by Rowe and that to Grace Strode, telling Strode to thank Finch for sending a copy of a poem, apparently in response to some sign of recognition by Finch to Grace Strode (Sarah Sard Hughes, and McGovern, AF and her poetry, pp 118-19). The lack of direct communication, and tone of the letter does not signal a close relationship; only if the following is by Finch, can we posit a certain amount of intimate camaraderie and friendship.

1) Ms Additional 28101, “Prithee Friend that Hedge behold,” “To a fellow Scribbler. By Lady Winchilsea,” may be to Elizabeth Rowe, as Cameron surmised, so the felt personal connection makes sense — it’s through shared anger at the way women poets are treated. The evidence that this poem is to Rowe includes that it occurs in an manuscript with two poems to Lady Hertford, one by Finch to Grace Strode, and one by Rowe, grieving intensely a year after her husband died, and two to Lady Arabella Marrow — all part of a narrow circle of friends.

Prithee Friend that Hedge behold
When all we rhiming Fools grow old
Who in vain Florish Life have spent
Amidst it stands a rivall’d Tree,
Now representing sixty three
And like it you and I shall be.
The bare vine round about it clings
With mischievous, intangling Strings
The night Shade with a dismal Flow’r
Culrs o’er it, like a Lady’s Tower
Or Honesty with feather’d Down
Like grizled Hair deforms its Crown
Luxuriant plants that o’er it spread
Not medicinal for Heart or Head
Whch serve but to amuse the Sight
Are like the nothings that we write
Yet still ’tis thought that Tree’s well plac’d
With beauteous Eglantine imbrac’d
But see how false Appearance proves
If he that Honeysuckle Loves
Which climbs by him to reach the Thorns
The rival Thorn his Age derides
And gnaws like jealousy his Sides.
Then let us cease, my Friend, to sing
When ever youth is on the Wing
Unless we solidly indite
Some good Infusing while we write
Lest with our Follies hung around
We like that Tree & Hedge be found
Grotesque & trivial, shun’d by all
And soon forgotten when we fall.

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The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain by Richard Samuel, 1779. The sitters are (standing, left to right): Elizabeth Carter, Anna Barbauld, Elizabeth Sheridan, Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox; (seated, left to right): Angelica Kauffmann, Catherine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Griffith …

Moving into women poets before her time, poets Finch didn’t know well or not at all but were famous in her time:

With the best will in the world towards their books, which I have loved parts of and honor: Deborah Kennedy has written an admirable book, Poetic Sisters: Early 18th Century Women Poets, where she has chapters on Anne Finch, Elizabeth Rowe, Francis Thynne Seymour, Sarah Dixon and Mary Jones (see my foremother poet blog, 1707-78, Chantress), but while she unearths information and poems, she does not use poems by these women that discuss or are about these women’s relationships, or vocations, or real life problems, and when she discusses the women or their lives, it’s done in such a vein of optimistic naivete I just cannot take what she asserts about people’s relationships seriously.

Carol Barash, English Women’s Poetry, 1649-1714: Politics, Community and Linguistic Authority, wants us to believe that the poetry of Anne Killigrew, of Mary Chudleigh, and Sarah Edgerton, and prose of Mary Astell influenced and were important to Finch, but there is no evidence for this in their different bodies of poetry. I look for some allusion, some reference, and find none. Germaine Greer’s anthology of 17th century women’s poetry (I would very much like to link Anne Wharton’s poetry to Finch but find nothing) and her Slipshod Muses if read astutely can yield much but it would be all speculation. Finch’s predecessors in English who meant a lot to her for sure, were Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips, both their highly sexualized poems (by which I mean the erotic and lesbian poetry too, their translations) and their witty ones.  We have many lines of poetry by Anne which attest to this: praise of them, imitations, using them as models.

Anne Finch was much moved by the plays and actresses of her era, and left a poem for Anne Oldfield to speaks as an epilogue which expressed her response to the tragic-queen plays of the era: see my “I hate such parts as we have plaid today. I see little influence on her by the female playwrights of her era, I am sorry to say, and we cannot know what she read in manuscript of earlier and contemporary women’s plays (except those she might have mentioned and we have no mentions). And her translation studies led her to Sappho as presented by Anne Dacier. There are a least three blogs here, but I have outlined what I would have said. The poem that I want here to allude to that is important (when we think about the possibility she wrote the libretto for John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and the intense sexuality of her Italian via the French translations) is Behn’s “The Golden Age,” and her adaptation of “A Voyage to the Isle of Love.”

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So I’ve here identified Catherine Fleming, Francis Thynne Seymour, Grace Randolph, Sarah Dixon, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elizabeth Rowe as her contemporary peers and friends; Aphra Behn and Katherine Philips as her predecessors in English. We’ve seen she was part of circles where there were other women poets. Elizabeth Tollet (1694-1754) wrote one of the earliest tributes to Anne Finch; Tollet was following Finch she felt, but the poem does not suggest any friendship. Here is poem by her from my foremother poet blog about her. You will find there a ballad by Tollet very much in the vein of Finch to Fleming, where Tollet also pays tribute to the importance of friendship for her

Adieu my Friend

Adieu my Friend! and may thy Woes
Be all in long Oblivion lost:
If Innocence can give Repose;
Or gentle Verse can please thy Ghost.
No pious Rite, no solemn Knell
Attended thy belov’d Remains:
Nor shall the letter’d Marble tell
What silent Earth the Charge contains.

Obscure, beneath the nameless Stone,
With thee shall Truth and Virtue sleep:
While, with her Lamp, the Muse alone,
Shall watch thy sacred Dust and weep.

Blue Violets, and Snow-Drops pale,
In pearly Dew for thee shall mourn:
And humble Lillies of the Vale
Shall cover thy neglected Urn.


Angela Kauffman (1741-1807), A girl reading a letter

Ellen

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