Friday, 31 July 2015

‘At Shotwig I chose to be married my dear
(A small country church, and to Saughall quite near);
For myself I had flattered in that rural scene
No other spectators around me would reign,
Excepting fair Flora, and the feathered train.
But trust me, when we to the village drew near,
The nymphs and the swains all in ranks did appear,
To see us fine folks; for sure, fine we must be,
When powdered, and dressed, à la mode de Paris!’

from Letter to a Sister, Giving an Account of the Author’s Wedding-Day
Priscilla Pointon
Written c. 1788; published 1794

It might seem affected or overblown to construct a ‘letter’ as a poem, but in fact there is a long and rather eminent tradition of letter-poems in the eighteenth century (a format that is technically known as ‘epistolary verse’).  Bill Overton has noted that ‘The verse epistle was a key form in eighteenth-century Britain’, but also marks the distinction between literary verses that were written as letters, and letters that happened to be written in verse.  For me, Pointon’s poem would seem to fall into the latter category.   In an earlier blogpost we looked at Alexander Pope’s Letter to Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, a good example of an epistolary verse that was always intended for publication.  The gap of six years between the composition of Pointon’s poem and its ultimate publication would seem to imply a rather less formal motivation behind this poem’s composition.  Pointon’s husband sadly died by 1794, and Roger Lonsdale has suggested that Pointon’s ‘desolate situation’ following this may have prompted the publication of the new anthology of her poems in which this epistolary verse appeared.

In many ways, it is simply a narrative account of a rather delightful wedding day, involving lots of driving around through the countryside and eating.  Such a fun way to spend a day!  Like much eighteenth-century poetry, there is also ample use of classical characters, such as the reference to ‘Flora’ which (before margarine was invented) referred to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring.  When Pointon writes that she was getting married in the country in the expectation that ‘No other spectators around me would reign, / Excepting fair Flora and the feathered train’ what she is really saying is that she thought the only company would be the flowers and the birds.  Rather a nice way of putting it, eh? 
View of Parkgate today: the wall you can see at the bottom of
the picture would have originally been the quayside.  You can
also see Wales in the distance, visible as a blue line of hills.

For me, this poem is even more enjoyable because I am actually familiar with many of the locations which it refers to.  The historical city of Chester is hopefully already known to many.  It’s a glorious old place that, once upon a time, was an important Roman port; walking around the Roman walls that still encircle the city was a much enjoyed activity in my childhood, as was playing around the equally splendid ruins of a Roman amphitheatre.  I don’t want to start sounding like a travelogue here, but seriously it is definitely a place worth visiting!  Parkgate – one of the places to which the wedding party drive in the poem – is also of significant eighteenth-century interest: Lady Emma Hamilton, the mistress of the sea commander Lord Nelson, was born in nearby Ness and used to often visit Parkgate for the waters.  There is still a seawall at Parkgate today, and a lovely view across to Wales, but the River Dee has long since silted into a lush green marshland.  Now it is a major wildlife site, with an award-winning ice-cream shop across the road (highly recommended!).  It’s absolutely mindblowing to think how much, yet also how little, the place will have changed from when Pointon travelled there on her wedding-day, about 230 years ago.  

Happy reading!  As always, feel free to ask questions and/or leave comments!

You can find this poem:
Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)
(available from numerous book shops online and on the high street: an excellent volume!  Last time I mentioned this book I said it looked like an interesting read: see, I was right!  The non-italicised ‘from’ reveals that this is an extract from a longer poem)
Trying to find sources of Priscilla Pointon’s poetry has actually been surprisingly difficult, so I have attached a reading of this poem from Lonsdale’s book:



(a link to a googlebooks preview from which some more of Pointon’s poetry can be accessed!)

About Priscilla Pointon:
Finding information about Pointon has proved rather more challenging than anticipated!  Pointon would seem to have been born in about 1740, and died in 1801.  From a fascinating seminar talk given by Kathleen Keown at Oxford earlier in the year, I learnt that Pointon was a woman who basically made her living from her poetry.  Having lost her eyesight at the age of 12, her poetry was composed inside her head and then written down by an assistant.  As such, Pointon became very good at extempore poetry, that is poetry made up on the spur of the moment (an enormously popular genre in the eighteenth-century).  Keown’s talk gave a fascinating insight into the life of a professional woman, whose disability did not prevent her from travelling widely around the country in search of subscribers willing to commit funds for the publication of her poetry.  Kathleen Keown is on Twitter @kathleenkeown and regularly tweets about matters relating to 18th century women’s poetry.

Information for this blogpost was derived from the following books:
Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)

Bill Overton, The Eighteenth-Century British Verse Epistle (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
(A useful source of more information about epistolary verse!!)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

'The True-Born Englishman. A Satire' - Daniel Defoe

‘A horrid Medly of Thieves and Drones,
Who ransack’d Kingdoms, and dispeopl’d Towns.
The Pict and Painted Britain, Treach’rous Scot,
By Hunger, Theft, and Rapine, hither brought.
Norwegian Pirates, Buccaneering Danes,
Whose red-hair’d Offspring ev’ry where remains.
Who join’d with Norman-French, compound the Breed
From whence your True-Born Englishmen proceed.’

‘The True-Born Englishman.  A Satire’
Daniel Defoe
1701

At first glance, it is difficult to know what to make of this poem.  In its earliest stages the poem positively fumes acid from the earnest bigotry with which Defoe constructs stereotypes for just about every kind of nationality that existed at the time.  Readers be reassured, however: this text was in fact intended as a critique of the racist elements of English society who thought the ‘True-Born Englishman’ was a being altogether superior to the rest of humanity.  He does this by first listing all the faults that such racist detractors might identify with these supposedly inferior nationalities, and then by pointing out that the ‘True-Born Englishman’ of the title is in fact descended from all these various nations through Britain’s mottled history of invasions, raids, violence, and intermarriage (or similar).  Thus he asserts the fundamental absurdity of claiming that any Englishman is ‘True-Born’, as they are all basically descended from what the racists would term ‘foreigners’.  To avoid the risk of misinterpretation, Defoe provides the helpful pointer in his Preface that he is ‘one that would be glad to see Englishmen behave themselves better to Strangers’ (with 'strangers' in this context meaning foreigners). 


Daniel Defoe, engraving by M. Van der Gucht,
after a portrait by J. Taverner, first half of the
18th century.  This copy was, er, 'borrowed' from
the Encyclopædia Britannica.  The earliest image
of Defoe was recently discovered by Joseph Hone,
and is an illustration on a pack of playing cards
(in which Defoe is depicted being pilloried as
punishment for penning some political pamphlets).
Indeed, the importance of this Preface as a means of interpreting the poem would seem to be very great. At the Defoe Society’s biennial conference this week, Andreas Mueller gave a very interesting talk on later reprints of the text, in particular American reprints; somewhat amusingly, an abridged version was published in Philadelphia around the time of the British occupation of that same city during the American Revolutionary War.  The removal of the Preface was one of various alterations which, Muller showed, had reconstructed the text as a depiction of the ‘True-Born Englishman’ as a somewhat vain and inglorious individual.  Defoe would probably have been horrified.


For the aim of his original poem would seem to have been to promote racial integration rather than to just annoy everyone.  Defoe claims in his poem’s Preface that ‘The End of Satire is Reformation’, referring here to the reform of absurd or offensive ideologies; in particular, he is keen to whip up support for the Dutch King William of Orange (the Protestant William III who, together with his wife Mary, had just usurped the English throne from Mary’s father James II).  Yet the sense that this is primarily a piece of political propaganda is perhaps dispelled by considering the broader attitude towards foreigners that is featured across Defoe’s writings.  As Angela Gehling demonstrated in her conference talk, Defoe was somewhat unique in his depiction (across various works) of Spaniards as paragons of honesty and courteousness.  At the time, Spaniards were often regarded as being the complete opposite of this (a stereotype which Gehling demonstrated still features in popular culture today). 

These are complex issues and this is a complicated poem, but don’t let this put you off: it is also an enormously engaging and thought provoking text, and the issues it deals with surrounding racism and politics remain vividly relevant in today’s political arena.  Frankly, this is a poem that everyone should read, whether or not they regard themselves as ‘True-Born’ English. 

Happy reading!  As always, feel free to ask questions and leave comments!

You can find this poem:

(a digital edition of the original, first edition of Defoe’s poem, compiled by Luke Dawson; a very concise, useful, and free way to enjoy this text)

(a new printed version of the book… a word to the wise, though, don’t bother reading the Amazon reviews.  One of them claims that this is ‘Austen from a man’s point of view’, and I have to admit it has been a very long time since I read a sentence that was such complete tosh!)

(This is a short extract from the poem on Poetry Foundation, which omits the most vitriolic aspects of the poem.  It is nonetheless interesting if you just want a quick snapshot of the style of the piece)

About the Defoe Society Conference:
The Defoe Society ( http://www.defoesociety.org/ ) was established in 2006 to promote research upon, and interest in, the works of Daniel Defoe, and to basically just spread the word about what a masterful and engaging writer he is.  This week’s conference was an opportunity for Defoe scholars from all over the world to come together and exchange ideas; the people I’ve referenced in my discussion above are only a very small sample of what was a vibrant and absorbing array of academic knowledge.  To gain access to a broader range of the thoughts and ideas that were being mooted, search for the hashtag #Defoe15 on Twitter to look back over the excellent live-tweeting of Stephen Gregg ( @gregg_sh ) during the conference.  Because literary research is for everyone, not just academics!

You can find out more about Defoe:

(The Defoe Society website pages have lots of fascinating info)

(Wikipedia!!)

Encyclopædia Britannica (a more sophisticated, and perhaps more reliable, form of Wikipedia)

Friday, 17 July 2015

'The Eagle, the Sow, and the Cat' - Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea

‘The Queen of Birds, t'encrease the Regal Stock,
Had hatch'd her young Ones in a stately Oak,
Whose Middle-part was by a Cat possest,
And near the Root with Litter warmly drest,
A teeming Sow had made her peaceful Nest.
(Thus Palaces are cramm'd from Roof to Ground,
And Animals, as various, in them found.)’
(lines 1-7)

The Eagle, the Sow, and the Cat
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea
(published 1713)

It sounds like the start of a joke, but the only humour here is of the darkest kind.  Three animals are
all living in the same tree, but one of them sees a chance of monopolising the situation and takes it.  By playing upon the fears of his neighbours, the cat finds a cunning way of coming out on top; there is no hero in this story, only a stark warning about being careful when taking advice that the advisor doesn't have their own best interests at heart.

Illustration from 1668 edition of Jean de La Fontaine's
Fables, Book III.  Woodcut by François Chauveau.
This image courtesy of:
http://www.la-fontaine-ch-thierry.net/aiglaichat.htm
The basic storyline comes from a French poem by Jean de La Fontaine, entitled ‘L’Aigle, la Laie, et la Chatte’, published in 1668 with the accompanying illustration by François Chauveau.  Yet Anne Finch’s poem is far more than a simple translation.  In analysing Finch’s work, both Charles H. Himnant and Paula R. Backsheider have noted how in Finch’s hands this little fable becomes a subtle political comment.  In 1688 William and Mary of Orange deposed Mary’s father, James II of England; differences of religion were the focus of the coup.  Yet while this incident is frequently referred to as the ‘Glorious Revolution’ because of the comparative peacefulness with which it took place, there were those who opposed the change.  Anne Finch and her husband, Heneage Finch, were amongst those who refused to support the new monarchs.  Fleeing London for the safety of the country, they remained active in support of James (with Heneage even ending up imprisoned for a time for having attempted to join James's exiled court in France).  For Anne, this activity was in the form of writing; through the cat’s smooth assumption of power in ‘The Eagle, the Sow, and the Cat’ it is easy to see, as Paula Backsheider points out, the character of ‘the wily courtier, a figure risen from the middle ranks, who rejoices in sowing dissent’ (p. 47).  Though this is not strictly allegorical, and the politics surrounding the ‘Glorious Revolution’ is much more complex and intricate than there is space to discuss here, this is certainly a poem that assumes a highly critical tone of those who use deceit and betrayal to usurp power.

I don’t want to get too heavy though: I originally chose this poem for inclusion here because, at least on first reading, it does seem rather funny.  A bit like an Aesop fable, it conveys a serious moral message through the means of entertainment.  It’s the kind of poem designed to make you first laugh at the gullibility of the eagle and the sow - then stop and realise that, actually, the author has quite a serious point.  Not least, it's aim is to provoke reflection upon gullibility more generally, and on the importance of not letting the selfish concern for personal safety create destructive panic.  The eagle and the sow both abandon their young because of the cat’s machinations, yet this is as much a result of their own preoccupation with self-preservation as of the cat’s deceit.    

One or two points to note before you read this: the first two lines look like a clumsy attempt at rhyme, but it’s useful to remember that pronunciation of words has changed a lot over time.  Linguistic historians would probably be able to explain it better, but basically don’t write her off as a poet just because her first couplet doesn’t seem to work; when she was writing, it probably did rhyme.  Also, when the poem refers to ‘Sow’s paps’ as a great delicacy, it is referring to mammary glands (I know, sounds disgusting: but then the cat is the villain of the piece, remember). The 'sycophant' referred to in the moral describes a person who is ingratiating towards another simply for their own gain (in this poem, the cat). 

Happy reading! And apologies to all the internet cat lovers out there!
As always, feel free to leave comments and ask questions!

You can find this poem:

(editions of Anne Finch’s poetry are not always easy to come by, so I would recommend readers use this free version of the poem available online, and from which I have taken the reading that follows.)



Other poems by Anne Finch can be found here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/anne-finch#about
(Poetry Foundation online: great free resource!!)

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, Selected Poems, ed. by Denys Thompson (Carcanet Press Ltd,
2003)
(this is pretty much what it says on the tin: selected poems by Anne Finch.  Available from numerous places; I just put the link to Waterstones for variety.  And because they have a points card system…)

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)
(available from numerous book shops online and on the high street: an excellent volume!  Last time this came up in a blog post I entered up ordering a copy, which arrived in the post the other day… Look out for future blogs referring to poems in this exciting little anthology! There are plenty of economical priced second-hand copies of this available online too!)

The information for this blogpost was taken from the following sources:

Paula R. Backscheider, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre (JHU Press, 2005), p. 47
(This looks to be a fascinating and clear book; like many works of literary criticism, this might be a little expensive for small budgets (like mine), so I’ve attached a link to the pages relating to this poem, available via a preview on googlebooks)  

Charles H. Himnant, The Poetry of Anne Finch: An Essay in Interpretation (University of Delaware, 1994) pp. 194-6
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NPJuMBADoYAC&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=anne+finch+the+eagle+the+sow+and+the+cat&source=bl&ots=mK9qsHosPB&sig=S2QdnbXZfpMgRFrqWTPUBnx3P8g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAWoVChMIo6ec793hxgIVQZ8UCh0zVgB5#v=onepage&q=anne%20finch%20the%20eagle%20the%20sow%20and%20the%20cat&f=false
(The link should lead to a googlebooks preview of the book that gives most of the relevant information about this poem)

Barbara McGovern, ‘Finch, Anne, countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9426 [accessed 16 July 2015]
(sadly, this resource is accessible by subscription only)

Leslie Clifford Sykes, “Jean de La Fontaine”, Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2015
http://www.britannica.com/biography/Jean-de-La-Fontaine [accessed 17 July 2015]
(an excellent, and free, resource!)

(a website all about Jean de La Fontaine, written in French but accessible to to English-only speakers via google translate)

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com
(a useful free dictionary online!  Always worth looking up unfamiliar words!)

You can also find out more about Anne Finch on her Wikipedia page:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Finch,_Countess_of_Winchilsea

Friday, 10 July 2015

'Evelina' - Frances (Fanny) Burney

‘This moment arrived.  Just going to Drury-Lane theatre.   The celebrated Mr. Garrick performs Ranger.  I am quite in extacy.  So is Miss Mirvan.  How fortunate, that he should happen to play!  We would not let Mrs. Mirvan rest till she consented to go; her chief objection was to our dress, for we have had no time to Londonize ourselves; but we teized her into compliance, and so we are to sit in some obscure place, that she may not be seen.  As to me, I should be alike unknown in the most conspicuous or most private part of the house.
   I can write no more now.  I have hardly time to breathe – only just this, the houses and streets are not quite so superb as I expected.  However, I have seen nothing yet, so I ought not to judge.’
(from Letter X)

Evelina or The History a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World

Frances (Fanny) Burney
1778

A mother abandoned by her husband; a paternity dispute; a child brought up by a foster carer; a quest for identity as the child becomes a young woman; her struggle to assert her own worth amidst a crowd of embarrassing relatives.  All sounds like it could be from a modern-day TV drama, doesn’t it?  In fact, all these elements combine within Frances Burney’s first (and in my opinion best) novel Evelina, or The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World.   

One of Hugh Thomson's superb illustrations
from a 1903 publication of the novel.
Written in the form of an exchange of letters (technically known as an epistolary novel), there is an immediacy to the story that simply leaps off the page.  The quotation I have included for today’s header is a good example of this: the events of the story are not simply narrated to the reader.  Rather, we get to live the events with the heroine, the Evelina of the title (the technical term for this is the eponymous heroine; a useful word with which to dazzle people at parties and pub quizzes).  It’s a bit like having an eighteenth-century pen-pal.  Evelina is an extremely easy person with whom to empathise: keen for adventure, longing to sample life in the big city, yet inexperienced and thus often getting things a little bit wrong.  Kind, intelligent, sensitive, and always trying to do the right thing, she is continually caught up in the ludicrous, pretentious, and sometimes downright dangerous behaviour of relatives whom it is socially impossible for her to avoid; it is perhaps this more than anything else that sweeps you up into the story, making you cheer for her every success, and wince with her at every unintentional faux pas.

Characters’ reactions may occasionally seem a little overblown (there is one point later on in the book where there is a lot of bursting into tears and dropping onto knees in a context that, perhaps surprisingly, has absolutely nothing to do with marriage proposals).  The only thing I can say about this is just to remember that the book was written at a time when sentimentality was a highly prized attribute.  If Evelina seems a little susceptible to what might today seem rather theatrical displays of emotion in one or two places, it is only eighteenth-century code for her general worth as a character. 

One of the most vibrant and engaging of eighteenth-century novels, this is a book that deserves to be savoured and enjoyed.  It is the story of a young woman’s entrance into the world, into life, into love, and it is the story of her quest for a sense of identity and of belonging. 

Happy reading!! And, as always, feel free to ask questions  in comments!  

You can find this book:

(this is a free edition of the text, and thus a quick, economical way of reading it!  A word of caution though: readers unfamiliar with some eighteenth-century words and phrases might enjoy enhanced reading pleasure by obtaining an edition of the text that has helpful annotations to explain unusual or archaic terms)

 Free editions may be available for Kindle, also a great way of accessing a text or taking it with you on the bus; just be aware that such editions might not have had the benefit of proper editorial production and thus may contain errors and spelling mistakes. 

(Oxford World Classics edition! I am slightly biased in recommending this, as it is the edition that I first read the novel from in my early teens.  It is full of really useful explanatory notes and so is a great way to read this story.  As this book frequently occurs on students’ reading lists, there is a plentiful supply of economically priced second-hand copies continually available from reputable second-hand dealers.)

(Penguin Classics edition!  This does have a snazzy cover, but I can’t see anything online about whether it has any explanatory notes.  Worth checking before purchase: I cannot overstate the importance of a healthy scattering of notes when first approaching a text like this!)

About the Author:
France Burney, painted by her cousin Edward
Francesco Burney.  This is the most popular,
and frequently reproduced, portrait of Burney.
This image was, er, 'borrowed' from Wikipedia.
 
Frances (Fanny) Burney had a long and enormously fascinating life; indeed, to try and condense this into one neat paragraph has been one of the greatest challenges of this blogpost.  The daughter of the musician Charles Burney, Frances was a personal friend of countless major eighteenth-century figures, including the actor David Garrick and Dr Samuel Johnson (the author of the subject of a previous blogpost, ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’).  Later, in 1786, she became the second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte, a post which she greatly disliked and which she was very glad to leave in 1791.  In 1793 (aged 41) Frances married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay, a French émigré who had escaped to Britain in the wake of the French Revolution; they had one son, who died in 1837.  When Frances Burney died in 1840, she left behind a copious wealth of literary material, including an extensive collection of letters exchanged with some of the most prominent figures of the eighteenth-century, and also four major published novels, of which Evelina is the first. 

You can find out more about Frances Burney:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Burney
(Wikipedia!!)

(Encyclopædia Britannica: kind of like a more sophisticated version of Wikipedia.  Do try and follow up the little blue links to other eighteenth-century figures, such as the wonderful David Garrick: it can lead you round an absorbing who’s who of eighteenth-century society)

(this is an engaging radio programme aired this year; I don’t want to sound like I’m namedropping or anything, but I have actually been fortunate enough to make acquaintance with two of the guests on the programme, Dr Nicole Pohl and Prof. Judith Hawley, and was impressed by their friendliness, enthusiasm and kind encouragement!  If you have a spare forty minutes, this programme is definitely worth a listen!) 

(Claire Harman’s Fanny Burney: A biography.  Apologies for only giving a link to this on Amazon: it is available at numerous other retailers, including independent bookstores!)

Information for this blogpost was taken from the following resource:
Pat Rogers, ‘Burney, Frances (1752-1840)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2015 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/603 [accessed 9 July 2015]
(unfortunately, access to this resource is by subscription only)  

Monday, 6 July 2015

'Soliloquy on an Empty Purse' - Mary Jones

‘Like wax thy silver melted down,
Touch but the brass, and lo! ‘twas gone:
And gold would never with thee stay,
For gold had wings, and flew away.’

Soliloquy on an Empty Purse

Mary Jones
published 1750 in Miscellanies in Prose and Verse

I read this poem a few weeks ago and I have to admit I fell in love with it at once.  It might have been written over two hundred and fifty years ago, but the subject is one that remains poignantly relevant: money, and the lack of it.  By addressing the ‘Empty Purse’ of the title as if it was an actual character (a technique known as personification), Jones is able to diminish the sense of a lonely poverty.  This then contributes to the ultimately positive tone of the whole poem, in which she optimistically looks for the good in her situation.  Now, she realises, she is safe ‘Amidst temptations thick and strong’, and from those who would want to abstract her money, namely the imagined ‘pick-purse’ and ingratiating ‘flatterer’ to which she refers.

There are a couple of unusual words in the poem which it might be helpful to have clarified before reading.  The word ‘disembogue’ means to ‘emerge or be discharged in quantity’; in the poem this refers to the constant emergence of money from the purse (eventually leaving it empty).   ‘Prorogue’ means to discontinue or interrupt something.  Thus Jones writes to the purse that:

‘Yet used so oft to disembogue,
No prudence could thy fate prorogue.’


In other words, the purse is so used to pouring out its wealth that no prudence on her part could have prevented its ultimate, sad fate of emptiness.

 The final image with which she consoles herself is simply masterful with its employment of the traditional image of the poet/artist figure starving in a garret:

Two eighteenth century purses; I found this image on Pinterest,
but I believe it originally derives from a listing on Christies website.
The Pinterest page is here:

'For who a poet’s purse will rob?
And softly sweet in garret high
Will I thy [the purse’s] virtues magnify;
Outsoaring flatterers’ stinking breath,
And gently rhyming rats to death.’

Samuel Johnson (author of the subject of a previous blogpost, The Vanity of Human Wishes, and a tremendously important figure in the eighteenth-century literary scene) approvingly described Mary Jones as ‘The Chantress’. Whether he meant this in terms of poetic ‘chanting’ or as an ‘enchantress’, or both, is perhaps open to debate; what is certain, however, is that this poem is pure eighteenth-century magic.


About today’s author:
Mary Jones would seem to have had a fairly ordinary background.  Born in Oxford in 1707, she lived there all her life, mostly with her brother Revd Oliver Jones (who became senior chaplain of Christ Church College).  The entry for her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is frustratingly short, and notes that ‘Information on Jones’s life is mostly drawn from her Miscellanies in Prose and Verse’.  Roger Lonsdale (one of the true greats of eighteenth-century literary scholarship) describes Jones as ‘one of the most intelligent and amusing women writers of her period’, a claim more than justified by today’s poem.

You can find this poem:

(a free copy available from the Poetry Foundation)

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, new edn. 1990)
(This looks to be an enormously absorbing read: I went looking for its publishing details for the reference here and ended up buying a (delightfully economical second-hand) copy)

Some more of Mary Jones’s poetry has been published in this volume:
http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-111882475X.html
(a brand new copy of this book might be a little on the pricey side for modest budgets, but fortunately its incorporation on university reading lists means that there is usually a ready supply of substantially cheaper second-hand copies available from reputable dealers)

You can find out more about Mary Jones:

(this looks to be an enormously absorbing book, and when my own purse is a little less empty I might have to go shopping… In the meantime, this free preview on googlebooks gives access to much of the chapter on Mary Jones)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Jones_(poet)
(not forgetting the ever useful Wikipedia)

https://uk.pinterest.com/hcowans/18th-century-purses/
(This has nothing to do with Mary Jones, but if you are on Pinterst these eighteenth century purses are well worth looking at.  It should always be kept in mind, though, that it is typically more elaborate/expensive objects that survive through history; the poet’s purse about which Mary Jones writes would probably have been somewhat less glamorous)

Information for this blogpost was derived from these sources:

Richard Greene, & Revd William R. Jones, ‘Jones, Mary (1707-1778)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004-15.  [accessed 3/7/2015]

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-century women poets: an Oxford anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, new edn. 1990)
 
Oxford Dictionaries Online http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/
(a smaller, but free, version of the Oxford English Dictionary; a very useful resource!)

Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer, & Elaine Showalter, The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) p. 356 (the reference to the publication date of her poem)