Posts Tagged ‘Vittoria Colonna’

Thus even in sleep conscience’s anxiety/pounds the heart awake — Christa Wolf, translating Aeschylus, Cassandra (p 216)

Dear friends and readers,

Today I returned for a third time to my project to read carefully, review and evaluate and then write a comprehensive accurate review of the new Cambridge edition of Anne Finch’s poetry. What strikes me most is “what lengths of time” I have been about this project: beginning sometime in April and then writing on June 30, 2020 on a first phase — that’s a year and six months ago — ; having had to put it down because of press of other work, and starting again, probably in August, and writing up my findings on September 20, 2020 — that’s three months later –; and now here I find, astonishingly, another whole year and six months have passed again, as I once again begin.

You will say this must be procrastination, and yes it is partly that. I am intimidated; I am referred to in the volumes in a sublimely impersonal condescending way, and I’ve been snubbed by this editor, perhaps unconsciously.  I cannot say she recognized me, though it was in a zoom where I spoke and I cannot believe she does not remember my name as she mentioned my work quite a number of times throughout the first volume, at one point taking out paragraphs to argue with my view, and I’m cited as a key source in both volumes. So I am working to be utterly accurate and when I disagree (which I will) want to make my case in a way that she will not be able to dismiss me (or others who agree with me), especially on some of the unattributed poetry.

But it also has been that it was not until this June (2021) that I actually got my hands on Volume 2. That is when I began work again, and produced two lists of Finch’s poem, each representing work done individually and comparatively. I went over manuscript cultural studies, caught up on all the new studies of Finch that had been written about since I reviewed the Hinnant-McGovern edition of the Wellesley ms, and wrote a couple of papers for 18th century conferences.

Gentle reader, I began with Anne Finch so long ago: really it was 1980, shortly after I finished my dissertation. I took up two women when I moved to Virginia: Charlotte Smith and Anne Finch, two 18th century English poets whose poetry I loved. Then after I spent some years translating Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara, I studied Finch as a translator in 1993-94, then I tried writing a Life but put it on the Net unfinished in 2004 as I On Myself Can Live because I learned of McGovern’s biography, and understood I didn’t have the connections, money, social wherewithal to do it right. Then I got involved with a musical quartet, Apollo’s Muse, 2001 I wrote again a shorter Later Life. What lengths of time.

Well now I will not give over. I have promised myself not to volunteer for any more papers, or any more reviews until I’ve finished writing this and sending it to the editor of the 18th century Intelligencer. I will not take too many courses; I’ve done a lot of the basic work towards the courses I will be teaching for the coming winter, spring and summer — I can read more of course and will. But I will weave Anne Finch in. I’ll work on Austen slowly and continuously but as for a blog (I’m reading Sheila Johnson Kindred’s Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: the Life and Letter of Fanny Palmer Austen as a central text to review here)

What I want to do tonight beyond marking this date for myself is add another poem by Anne Finch and sum up my findings thus far concisely.


A photograph of a singing nightingale

Yes a new poem definitely by Anne Finch has been found, which is not on my website; I’m sorry I cannot add it there, but I can describe it here and tell where it may be found — beyond the New Complete Poems. Vol 2, pp 215-16, with annotations pp 458-64. It is another bird poem, a fable, and about song: titled “The Nightingale & the Cuckoo,” it was found by Gillian Wright in another of the Northamptonshire Record Office’s manuscripts, MS 258, deposited there as part of the Finch archive in 1930, by the Earl of Nottinghamshire and Winchilea. Like the other unattributed poems I found in other ms’s, it is part of a row or list of poems, all known to be by Anne Finch. The 8 page manuscript is described, its history told, the other four poems in the ms, all by Anne Finch for sure, cited; the text of “The Nightingale and the Cuckoo quoted as it appears in the manuscript and then interpreted by Wright, all in her “The Bird and the Poet: Self-Representation and the Early Editing of Anne Finch’s poetry,” in The Review of English Studies, New Series, 64:264 (2013):246-66

“The Nightingale & the Cuckoo” is not a neglected masterpiece.  It’s a wry tale or fable, a little awkward towards the end, and Finch uses imagery and ideas found in her poetry elsewhere.  “The Musicians of the Wood” had long provided music for young men to “mollify their loves” without payment. It was “nois’d in every tree” that “Men resolv’d at last” to “pension” “the sweetest Voice.” Now this winner, the Nightingale (so she or he thinks) would no longer be hungry, “When Barns lock’d up the Grain.” The Nightingale, though, was assuming “merit Awards can raise,” but “not a Cuckoo left untry’d/Her Title to the Bays,” and in the end the “few” who understood the beauty of the Nightingale’s song “their Thoughts conceal’d,/Nor wou’d oppose the Crow’d.” The moral is “real Wits” who “contend with an ill-judging Age/Thus do You all your Labours spend” uselessly:

In vain, You wou’d sublimely write
An Epigram, a Punn;
A foul Burlesque gives more Delight,
King Charles’s days are done.

I agree with Keith that Wright’s idea in her essay that this unprinted poem was meant as a gift to Heneage, to thank him for being her amanuensis, is not convincing, and find Wright’s elaborate reading of the poem in the context of print publication over-reading though she does show how reluctant Anne Finch was to print anything that could be construed into mockery. But equally Keith’s invented narrative, concluding, based on speculation (as she often does) about the relationship between Anne and her nephew, the heir, and between “The Nightingale & Cuckoo,” and the four other poems, that it was meant for Charles Finch, as a way of complimenting him as “real wit,” seems to me slightly off.

Keith has decided that Charles Finch wrote “The First Edilium of Bion English’d by the Right Honourable the Earl of Winchilsea,” partly on the basis of her idea he was a fine serious learned poet, and seriously encouraged Anne Finch to write poetry, to publish her work, for which she was earnestly grateful. We had three poems by her where she directly and indirectly addresses Charles. It seems we now have a fourth. On the translation of Bion James Woolley and John Irwin Fischer have decided (as have I) it is by Anne Finch.

The first poem we know of that was written to Charles Finch, who became fourth Earl of Winchilsea, was in response to his return to the UK from Holland in spring 1703 to take up his position as apparent heir to the Winchilsea estates. It seems to me she doesn’t know him very well as yet but is of course taking a hopeful view, and lavishing praise on him. It is an intendedly beautiful ode, and reads like a poem intended for circulation, impersonal (unlike the third, below), “NOW blow, ye Southern winds, with full release,” An Invocation to the southern Winds inscrib’d to the right honourable CHARLES Earl of WINCHELSEA, at his Arrival in LONDON, after having been long detained on the coast of HOLLAND. By the honourable Mrs. FINCH. There is no ms, and it first appears many years after in Pope’s Own Miscellany, 1717, long after Charles himself had died.

The second is an apology for “trying his patience” with reading aloud some of her tragedy, Aristomenes, here called “a tedious Play.” She pleads her loneliness at “Godmersham … Not sure to be endur’d, without the Muses.” She begs his pardon rather abjectly, and promises this play or poem read aloud will be the last time she does this. On Charles’s behalf it is apparent that she also tried to read aloud one of her plays to Pope over a dinner and it went down very badly (see below).

The third poem about Charles Finch is an exquisitely beautiful landscape poem which includes a reference to a curious story (not fully printed until 1903 by Myra Reynolds) where Finch refers to a superstitious story that attributed the death of Heneage’s father’s second wife and his eldest son to the Earl’s decision to take down a grove of oak. It was the death of this eldest son (Heneage’s older brother) which led to Charles Finch inheriting the property. Finch might have thought he would take this reference as a comical reference as the rest of her poem is an ambiguous compliment to him for replacing the old mullioned windows at Eastwell with clear glass and planting a new garden that mends all the faults (in taste) that “in the Old was found” (presumably one of the reasons the old Earl pulled it down). In her notes to this poem Myra Reynolds registers discomfort over the tactlessness of retelling the family history. At the time in the house was the old Earl’s young widow, with her four children, and the old earl’s oldest son’s widow, with her son, Charles Finch, destined to be heir. In one note I came across it seems the two women sometimes fought over who owned what furniture. (Shades of Spoils of Poynton, only much worse because more than one widow of very different ages, and a new wife to the new heir, Charles Finch.)

I do not disagree it is possible this fable was intended for Charles Finch; if so, and if we pay attention to what Anne’s epilogue to Aristomenes suggests, and the queasy feel of her ambiguous compliments to Finch (which Myra Reynolds were responsible for leaving lines out in the printed version), and the tradition of fables to which “The Nightingale & the Cuckoo” belong, we have our explanation for why it was never printed or re-copied out. There is a description of Charles Finch which suggests he was a rather ordinary but generous young man who enjoyed crude jokes. This is quoted in John Irwin Fisher’s essay “In pitying to the emptying town:”  “He loves jests and puns, and that low sort of wit” (p 294). Charles Finch wrote no serious verse that we know of.  Fischer says except for Anne Finch (so beholden to this young man), no one ever “accused Charles Finch of versifying” and no manuscript of verse in his handwriting or anyone else’s attributing a poem to him survives (p 295). Keith prints none of his letters nor does she quote from any and I have not myself been able to read any.

But I have read several of the fables in the tradition of the Nightingale in competition with birds who sing poorly, or plainly, or not at all (the hawk, the owl, the cuckoo) and those who present a contest where the moral is either against the prideful assumption you will be admired (often the nightingale in this role) or more than half mocks the judge.  The version that is the closest source for this new poem is, as Keith suggests in her notes, L’Estrange’s 414, “An Ass Made a Judge of Music,” 1692 text, reprinted 1704, pp 386-387. I agree the bird fable might have been written with Charles in mind, but not as a way of making him into a serious wit. Rather he was the kind of person who likes epigrams, puns, and burlesques. The solution to why it was never printed is that again someone decided Finch had been tactless and worried lest the poem be misinterpreted as implying Swift’s Charles Finch would have liked burlesque and therefore seen as an insult. I suggest she never forgot that he was bored at her play (as apparently was Pope whose comment about being given a headache by being asked to listen to a play read aloud, where he includes Lady Winchilsea at the table is probably to her Aristomenes). But I doubt she meant an outright insult; it was more in the vein of uncomfortable teasing.

I find that Keith idealizes a number of the people connected to Anne Finch or simplifies them psychologically — she never so much as brings out the considerable tensions between Anne and her husband we find here and there in Anne’s more personal poems. So I suggest that Anne Finch had been made uncomfortable by the nephew’s lack of real appreciation of her poetry — by the time of her reading her play aloud (or parts of it), each of them knew the other was far from sincere in the veneer of politeness and mutual admiration kept up. Yes he urged her to print, but apparently this was a trope among several of her friends and associates. The poem to Charles urging his return home was not published until way after his death.  We should remember she brought no dowry, had had no children. I assume the marriage was tolerated because of her aristocratic heritage and because at the time it would have been thought highly unlikely Heneage would inherit (he was the fourth son). When it became apparent that Charles would have no children, that is when Heneage and Anne moved back into Eastwell because it was seen that Heneage might, now not so unexpectedly by that time, become the heir.


Visit to the Composing Room (or typesetting) of the printing house/establishment of Clément Pomteux

I sum up my findings thus far this way: This new edition is an edition of the manuscripts and first printed book, so an addition to book history and those interested in the world of manuscript circulation before print took full hold in the 18th century. The team are apparently attempting to give the scholarly reader as close an experience of the four primary sources as is humanly possible in a book format. They also reprint or print for the first time those few poems where the attribution to Anne Finch is undeniable in a format which also imitates the way the text appears in the source as closely as one can do in a book meant to be read.

From the same series as above: attributed to Léonard Defrance (1784)

There is also a conscious attempt to avoid giving a poem a personal or autobiographical motive if this will bring out clearly Finch’s lifelong battle with depression, social anxiety, and troubled existence with Heneage as a non-juror. If you know her poetry from elsewhere and have read some of the considerable secondary material (criticism) that has come out on this poetry, you will recognize the attempt to erase a major complex emotional terrain across her oeuvre that, together with any observation of the traumas she endured with difficulty (as an orphaned child, an intellectual learned woman without a considerable dowry, and, as it turned out, childless woman), would go a long way towards explaining persuasively how all the poems relate to one another. See, for just one example, Vol 1, pp l-li (50-51) where these aspects of her personality are omitted all together, and the silence over the distressing personal content in the two poems Finch partly obliterated but could not get herself to destroy (Vol 1, pp 3-6, 408-13). (Another memo to self: I must find in Keith’s own book and/or essays where she explicitly vows not to present Finch as a weak woman or victim because, as a feminist, she dislikes such treatments of women. Such women are not good role models.)

A Song [for my Br. Les Finch: added]. Upon a Punch Bowl.

From the Park, and the Play,
And Whitehall come away,
To the Punch-bowl, by far more inviting;
To the Fopps, and the Beauxs [sic],
Leave those dull empty shows,
And see here, what is truly delighting.

The half Globe ’tis in figure,
And wou’d itt were bigger;
Yett here’s the whole Universe floating,
Here’s Titles, and Places,
Rich lands, and fair faces,
And all that is worthy our doating.

‘Twas a World, like to this,
The hott Gracian did misse.
Of whom History’s keep such a pother,
To the bottom he sunk,
And when one he had drunk
Grew maudlin, and wept for another.

— Anne Finch, it is telling how she does not forget the importance of money & rank in her poetry; she & Heneage had some lean years; she also did not like the heavy drinking the male Finches indulged in at night, which, of course, she was helpless to stop …

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This hangs in the Colonna palace and is the only authentic portrait of Vittoria Colonna

Friends and readers,

For my third book of a 10 book list on what book influenced me most strongly or had some large impact on me: Suzanne Therault’s Un cenacle humanist de la Renaissance autour Vittoria Colonna, chatelaine d’Ischia. I read this in the Library of Congress over many nights the summer I was 37. Yes it’s in French: it is filled with Colonna’s poetry translated into French and situates her on the beautiful island of Ischia surrounded by other wonderful poets of her era, often more southern Italy like Jacopo Sannazaro, also all translated into French

Suzanne Therault, Un cenacle humanist de la Renaissance autour de Vittoria Colonna, chatelaine d’Iscia (click on the image to enlarge it)

I began by taking notes and then just xeroxed the whole book because I could not get it any other way: Therault had died before it was published so it is actually unfinished, parts of it in semi-draft. I enjoy this sort of thing when the book is great; you can see so much more of the person’s thinking and feeling often. I just fell in love with the picture of Ischia she created and her translations of Colonna’s poetry. She led me to learn Italian and I ended up translating all of Vittoria Colonna’s poetry and then went on and translate all of Veronica Gambara’s, write a chapter of biography of Colonna and a short complete biography of Gambara, and write essays on them. I published a few translated poems conventionally (in anthologies) and my work on Colonna was used by graduate students for their theses. My Colonna poems were read in a festival of Renaissance poetry.

I experienced some 15 years on and off of real happiness doing this and then Jim put it all on a website for me. I then extended the project into reading translation studies, wrote an essay on Austen in French and on translation itself and have loved to read translations especially in French and Italian ever after. I am friends with Antonio Chimenti, who wrote and published a short biography of Gambara in Italian and stay in touch with her. I am acquainted with Maria Musiol, who sent me a copy of her biography of Colonna, which I have read but did not write a review as I found myself in too much disagreement over the portraits; her retelling of the life is the only thoroughly researched one available. In my teaching I would assign a book of poetry translated from Gaspara Stampa, whom I also studied too.

Izzy on the roof of the Milan cathedral

Jim, I, Izzy and Laura went to Rome in August 1994, stayed 4 weeks and with Jim I managed to visit Marino, where her family lair (so to speak) was located; I saw the palace from the outside. He took me and Izzy and Laura to Ischia to stay at the beach for three days. This April when I went to Milan with Izzy and Laura I tried to get to Correggio (close by) where Gambara lived and my friend, Antonia, now resides but was not able to pull it off. You need to have a car. There are schools named after Veronica Gambara and a club (online too).

A photo of Marino

Over the years I’ve gotten lots of thank yous and comments, and since getting on the Net (1990s) have written a few reviews in a peer-edited Renaissance periodical of Renissance poetry, books about and by Renaissance women especially poetry and life-writing (scroll down to “Renaissance literature”). I reviewed the translation by Abigail Brundin of Colonna (which I find very poor, translationese, cribs in effect). My discovery and love of Iris Origo’s life-writing, biographies and autobiography came out of this interest. I try to keep up my reading skills in Italian — I read one of Elena Ferrante’s novels in Italian this past year, La figlia oscura, The Lost Daughter.

Brescia, where Gambara lived


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