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Posts Tagged ‘Frances Thynne Seymour’


Frances Thynne Seymour, Countess of Hertford by Allan Ramsay

Come calm Retirement! Sylvan Power!
That on St Leonard’s lov’st to Walk,
To lend along the thoughtful Hour
And with the gentle Hertford talk …
— James Thomson

Gentle readers,

I don’t know how many years ago it was, probably nearly forty when, having fallen (so I thought) in love with the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and come across a poem by her, to her niece, Lady Hertford (shorthand for the above longer form), so grateful for encouragement, companionship, and Lady Hertford’s love of poetry and poets, that I bought from a catalogue an old-fashioned biography by Helen Sard Hughes, The Gentle Hertford: Her Life and Letters. When the old then sturdy blue book with its yellowing pages, and (to me then) delightful content arrived, I couldn’t put it down. It is made up of hundreds of documents, mostly letters and journals written by, shall we call her Frances or Seymour (that would be the modern style) to her mother, sister, friends, poets she supported, and many of theirs to her, which altogether transmit to the reader one of the kindest of women, gentle Hertford indeed, beloved (it seemed) by mother, husband, Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford, beloved son, George (who alas, died at age 19), and her long-lived daughter, Elizabeth (who eventually became a Duchess of Northumberland).


An early 19th century print, picturesque framing of St Leonard’s Hill, Windsor

Although a more moral set of people (as presented in these letters) you would have a hard time finding, the letters are not sentimental, foolish, or ignorant, but filled with wit, and the lively activities of an intelligent group of people living out the privileged lives of aristocrats in early to mid-18th century England. What I especially enjoyed were Lady Hertford’s letters to and from her friends, Henrietta St John Knight, Lady Luxborough (a quietly sceptical, proto-feminist picturesque poetry writing amusing women (who dared to leave her husband (who accused her of having an affair) and live for a while in a house without glass windows or closed doors, a poet in her own right, sister to Bolingbroke, and member of the Shenstone circle; and Henrietta Louisa Fermor, Countess of Pomfret, much duller, a seemingly boring woman, but for reasons I didn’t quite understand (I wasn’t there when they were face-to-face) very well liked by Frances and eliciting from her all sorts of trusted confidences. These women also exchanged verse epistles.

I did promise myself one day I would write about Lady Luxborough, and if I never wrote the essay she deserves (she has to her credit five sparkling poems, & one longish accomplished Georgic), I wrote a foremother poet blog where I reprinted of her three poems (she was called Asteria) you won’t find in print elsewhere, two of which are beautiful and filled with a rare depth of emotional intelligence. And I wrote about Lady Hertford and Lady Pomfret’s creation of a counter-universe, places for them to resist gender and other pressures, not an alternative life but a life inside a shared community of private identities.

Tonight I want to re-create the foremother poet blog for Frances (or Seymour, or Lady Hertford) I can no longer reach (until such time as I remove my ad-blocker). I began with her two best poems, first her rightly best known and savagely (or tragically ironic) story of startlingly cruel betrayal. It is even relevant for it is based on primal racial injustice: Inkle is European, rescued by Yarico, who is African as the tale begins:

Story of Inkle and Yarico: A Most Moving Tale from the Spectator (No 11).

A YOUTH there was possessed of every charm,
Which might the coldest heart with passion warm;
His blooming cheeks with ruddy beauty glowed,
His hair in waving ringlets graceful flowed;
Through all his person an attractive mien,
Just symmetry, and elegance were seen:
But niggard Fortune had her aid withheld,
And poverty th’ unhappy boy compelled
To distant climes to sail in search of gain,
Which might in ease his latter days maintain.
By chance, or rather the decree of Heaven,
The vessel on a barbarous coast was driven;
He, with a few unhappy striplings more,
Ventured too far upon the fatal shore:
The cruel natives thirsted for their blood,
And issued furious from a neighbouring wood.
His friends all fell by brutal rage o’erpowered,
Their flesh the horrid cannibals devoured;
Whilst he alone escaped by speedy flight,
And in a thicket lay concealed from sight!

Now he reflects on his companions’ fate,
His threatening danger, and abandoned state.
Whilst thus in fruitless grief he spent the day,
A negro virgin chanced to pass that way;
He viewed her naked beauties with surprise,
Her well-proportioned limbs and sprightly eyes!
With his complexion and gay dress amazed,
The artless nymph upon the stranger gazed;
Charmed with his features and alluring grace,
His flowing locks and his enlivened face.
His safety now became her tend’rest care,
A vaulted rock she knew and hid him there;
The choicest fruits the isle produced she sought,
And kindly to allay his hunger brought;
And when his thirst required, in search of drink,
She led him to a chrystal fountain’s brink.

Mutually charmed, by various arts they strove
To inform each other of their mutual love;
A language soon they formed, which might express
Their pleasing care and growing tenderness.
With tigers’ speckled skins she decked his bed,
O’er which the gayest plumes of birds were spread;
And every morning, with the nicest care,
Adorned her well-turned neck and shining hair,
With all the glittering shells and painted flowers
That serve to deck the Indian virgins’ bowers.
And when the sun descended in the sky,
And lengthening shades foretold the evening nigh,
Beneath some spreading palm’s delightful shade,
Together sat the youth and lovely maid;
Or where some bubbling river gently crept,
She in her arms secured him while he slept.
When the bright moon in midnight pomp was seen,
And starlight glittered o’er the dewy green,
In some close arbour, or some fragrant grove,
He whispered vows of everlasting love.
Then, as upon the verdant turf he lay,
He oft would to th’ attentive virgin say:
‘Oh, could I but, my Yarico, with thee
Once more my dear, my native country see!
In softest silks thy limbs should be arrayed,
Like that of which the clothes I wear are made;
What different ways my grateful soul would find
To indulge thy person and divert thy mind!’;
While she on the enticing accents hung
That smoothly fell from his persuasive tongue.

One evening, from a rock’s impending side,
An European vessel she descried,
And made them signs to touch upon the shore,
Then to her lover the glad tidings bore;
Who with his mistress to the ship descends,
And found the crew were countrymen and friends.
Reflecting now upon the time he passed,
Deep melancholy all his thoughts o’ercast:
‘Was it for this,’ said he, ‘I crossed the main,
Only a doting virgin’s heart to gain?
I needed not for such a prize to roam,
There are a thousand doting maids at home.’
While thus his disappointed mind was tossed,
The ship arrived on the Barbadian coast;
Immediately the planters from the town,
Who trade for goods and negro slaves, came down;
And now his mind, by sordid interest swayed,
Resolved to sell his faithful Indian maid.
Soon at his feet for mercy she implored,
And thus in moving strains her fate deplored:

‘0 whither can I turn to seek redress,
When thou’rt the cruel cause of my distress?
If the remembrance of our former love,
And all thy plighted vows, want force to move;
Yet, for the helpless infant’s sake I bear,
Listen with pity to my just despair.
Oh let me not in slavery remain,
Doomed all my life to drag a servile chain!
It cannot surely be! thy generous breast
An act so vile, so sordid must detest:
But, if thou hate me, rather let me meet
A gentler fate, and stab me at thy feet;
Then will I bless thee with my dying breath,
And sink contented in the shades of death.’

Not all she said could his compassion move,
Forgetful of his vows and promised love;
The weeping damsel from his knees he spurned,
And with her price pleased to the ship returned.
(1726)

The second I take from another perhaps too long (to modern tastes) epistle, this to the Countess of Pomfret, describing Frances’s life with her husband at their country estate called Richkings, in Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire (acquired 1739)

We sometimes ride, and sometimes walk,
We play at chess, or laugh, or talk;
Sometimes besides the crystal stream,
We meditate some serious theme;
Or in the grot, beside the spring,
We hear the feathered warblers sing.
Shakespeare perhaps an hour diverts,
Or Scott directs to mend our hearts.
With Clarke’s God’s attributes we explore;
And, taught by him, admire them more.
Gay’s Pastorals sometimes delight us,
Or Tasso’s grisly spectres fright us:
Sometimes we trace Armida’s bowers,
And view Rinaldo chained with flowers.
Often from thoughts sublime as these,
I sink at once and make a cheese;
Or see my various poultry fed,
And treat my swans with scraps of bread.
Sometimes upon the smooth canal
We row the boat or spread the sail;
Till the bright evening-star is seen,
And dewy spangles deck the green.
Then tolls the bell, and all unite
In prayer that God would bless the night.
From this (though I confess the change
From prayer to cards is somewhat strange)
To cards we go, till ten has struck:
And then, however bad our luck,
Our stomachs ne’er refuse to eat
Eggs, cream, fresh butter, or calves’-feet;
And cooling fruits, or savoury greens
‘Sparagus, peas, or kidney-beans.
Our supper past, an hour we sit,
And tlk of history, Spain or wit.
But Scandal far is banished hence,
Nor dares intrude with false pretence
Of pitying looks, or holy rage
Against the vices of the age:
We know we were all born to sin,
And find enough to blame within.
(written 1740)


From an old print of a Canaletto like painting (18th century) — called Green Park — as an example of the kind of picturesque painting Lady Hertford’s circle would enjoy

This is probably as much of her longer verse epistles as anyone today cares to read in one sitting. You see how she writes in the 18th century idiom for social verse and grave narrative. She imitates Pope, the popular verse styles of her time, at the edges belongs to the age of sensibility.¬† She was well-read in the poetry of her period; she will quote popular poems in her circle, refer to known characters in plays (Ariosto, Otway). Also the Bible.¬†Further below, there are some examples of her “nature poetry.”

As to her life,

She was born and brought up at Longleat, child of the children of Thomas Thynne, first Viscount Weymouth (1640-1714), very close friends to (and sometimes monetary support of) Heneage Finch, later 4th Earl of Winchilsea, and husband to Anne Finch. Their son, Henry Thynne married Grace Strode, and Frances was one of their two daughters (the other was named Mary). Henry Thynne died young (1708), and his wife, Grace, went to live near Leweston, where among others, she was friendly with Elizabeth Singer Rowe (another poet of the era). All I have read about Algernon Seymour leads me to see him as a gentle sensitive man (he was later friends with Anne Finch’s husband, very patiently enduring Druidical names as he followed Heneage about in archeaological digs with William Stukeley, a respected 18th century “natural philosopher” also interested in depressive and hysterical states of mind) and I can quite see Algernon falling in love with Frances. While the high rank and political connections of the family in general would attract, their was not much money, and Hughes and others agree that Algernon’s parents loathed their daughter-in-law. They were probably intensely into ambition, prestige, and wanted much more money that she brought. They also resented very much that she would not send her son to a public school, brought him up tenderly lovingly at home – she refused to make a macho male of him.


Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford, later 7th Duke of Somerset by John Vanderbank

She was only 16 when she married him, but proved to be up to the demands of saloniere (a political as well as poetical one). Her husband had served in Flanders in the army, become the a Lord of the Bedchamber for the Prince of Wales, and she was an apparent success (well-liked as usual) as Lady of the Bedchamber to the princess, late Queen Caroline. Although she could manage life in London, she preferred what was called “rural retirement.” The poets she was patron to included James Thomson (The Seasons), and Richard Savage: she intervened to help save his life when he was (rightly) charged with murder. Isaac Watts dedicated one of his pious volumes to her. There exists a playful poem by Anne Finch protesting against Lady Hertford’s orders to the minor poet Laurence Eusden (“Hartford, ’tis wrong … “) commanding him to write a poem about a wood which includes only Aspin trees and King-cup flowers. After Caroline died, Lady Hertford spent more time in the Seymour’s country residences (they had it seems three), and she became more religious after her son died (I mentioned this above), from small pox in during his Grand Tour in Bologna. Her letters to her son are all a woman could be to a son, and knowing he died, they read to me so poignantly. She appears to have disliked violence, and war. There are several extensive correspondences: she loved imaginary friendship through letters. She was loyal to her friends and great-aunt.


“Italian light on English walls” (a line by Wm Cowper): this is a Canaletto reprint of the type this milieu of people might not have chosen — there are no upper class well-dressed groups of people socializing — I reprint it for the light

Are there any shorter poems? Here are some of her verses on the natural world. She uses the artificial poetic diction of her time but I think real feeling and seasonal change, the passage of diurnal time, comes through.  One Hughes quotes written in tetrameter for autumn contains these stanzas:

The changing leaves fall fast away
And all its pride is in decay.
Where blossoms deckt the point thorn
Now hangs the wintry drop forlorn …

Along the last enamel’d mead
No golden cowslip lifts its head;
Scarce can the grass its spires sustain,
Chill’d by the frost, or drench’s with rain.

She wrote Lady Pomfret during a period of illness (1741), some verses entitled To the East Wind, which include the lambs

But shiv’ring now and dull are seen
Bleating beside the racks for hay:
The blossoms from my pear-trees fall,
And naked leave the western wall.

That wall, which us’d to charm my sight
With varied blossoms adorn’d and gay
Can now afford me no delight,
Whilst you its glories sweep away:
If in my borders v’lets blow,
You bury them in flakes of snow

And as a last pair of couplets: Verses Occasion’d by Seeing the River Kennet Frozen Over:

Poor stream! held captive by the Frost
They current numb’d, thy Brightness lost;
Compell’d thy journey to delay,
And on these desart shores to stay …

Gentle reader, you owe this foremother poet blog-essay to a maddening incident that happened to me the other day. Studying Anne Finch’s poetry as I now am, and coming across her poems to Lady Hertford, I tried to reach the foremother poet column (I’ll call it) about her that I had put on a festival of poets sponsored long ago by a listserv called Wom-po, and found that I am cut off from my own work. Yes, the site these postings now appear on goes dark, puts a rectangle in front of me, which demands I remove my ad-blocker before I go any further.

I know that Frances Seymour, Lady Hertford is not a remarkable or wonderful poet — she was a warm, eloquent and supportive letter writer and friend. She was very much a woman of her era, from the Whig liberal super-rich circles. Hughes’s book about her is a labor of love as is this blog — for who she was, and for the values she lived by as seen in her letters and journals. I wish I had a friend such as she was to hers.

Letter to the Honorable Mrs Knight,
September 7th, 1731

Say, can you seriously intend
To deal unkindly by your friend,
And hasting from the peaceful Down
Return to sea-coal and the town
Without a transient visit paid,
To Marlborough’s neglected shade?
You know how welcome you would be
To all the house, but most of all to me.

Without you come you can’t conceive
How solitary here we live;
Yet cheerfulness we still maintain
Nor of the tedious hours complain.
When breakfast’s over out we rove
Around the terraces and grove,
Where flaunting woodbines spread around;
We lift their branches from the ground,
And tie them to some neighboring lime
Round which they may securely climb;
Or end the rose-trees, and divide
The suckers from their parent side.
Sometimes, where slow the river creeps,
And Babylon’s sad willow weeps,
To see if the new turf will grow
With anxious eyes along we go;
But when we find a sod is dead
Against the bank, or where we tread,
We grieve as much to see it fade
As toasts who find their charms decayed.
Thus we divide our morning cares
Till nine; then come in to Prayers.

Next to my closest we retreat
Where, after each has chose a seat,
I’m busies at my tent, the rest
Still sit or work, as the like best,
While Clavering reads the Gardener’s Toil;
When he should plant, when mix the soil;
The various kinds of flowers and fruits,
Which rise from seeds, and which from shoots,
Sometimes an author more sublime
Amuses and improves our time …

When Clavering till he’s tired has read,
We part, and next I comb my head
Then Beachy comes with careful look
To sing a Psalm and learn his book.

Again at two to dine we meet,
Our fare is plain, our dinner neat;
No seasoned dish allures our taste
To surfeit on the rich repast.
When we have dined we sit and talk,
Our walk concluded in we come
And each go to our sep’rate room.
We seldom work by candlelight,
But read, perhaps, and sometimes write;
Till called again to join in prayer
That God would make our souls his care,
Keep us from sin and all distress,
And our approaching slumbers bless.

Then sup, and with a cheerful heart
Converse an hour and so we part.

Now if our pleasures are not great,
You’ll own at least our life sweet ….
— Frances Seymour, Lady Hertford (1740)


Paul Sandby, Englefield Green, near Egham — this is typical picturesque plus shows us how this group of people liked to see themselves …

Ellen

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