The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 17. Lady Winchilsea

Anne, daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sidmonton, was born in April, 1661, became maid of honour to queen Mary of Modena and was a friend of Anne Killigrew, who had kindred tastes; but, in 1684, she abandoned her court position and married colonel Heneage Finch, afterwards earl of Winchilsea. In 1690, Ardelia (her name as authoress) settled at beautiful Eastwell and began to write verses for circulation among her friends, the Thynnes, Tuftons, Twysdens and other Kentish people of distinction. She died in Cleveland row and was buried at Eastwell in August, 1720. She had adopted the practice of writing,

  • Betray’d by solitude to try
  • Amusements which the prosperous fly,
  • and soon showed that she had an eye for observing country scenes and that she loved them for their own sake. She began by translations from French and Italian, and went on with blank verse dramas after the model of the virtuous and matchless Orinda; she wrote songs after Prior, pindarics after Cowley and fables after La Fontaine. In 1713, she was persuaded to publish a selection of her poems. She left a large number of further poems in two manuscript volumes, one folio, the other octavo; these were edited by Myra Reynolds in 1903 and cannot fairly be said to have enhanced Lady Winchilsea’s reputation. It had hitherto mainly depended on the discovery by Wordsworth that there were affinities with his own predominant mood in a few of her poems of 1713, especially the sentimental and meditative soliloquy entitled A Nocturnal Reverie, an enunciation of rural charms in which almost every other line begins with the word “when,” while the last fifty verses conclude with the following two couplets:
  • In such a Night let Me abroad remain,
  • Till Morning breaks, and All’s confus’d again;
  • Our Cares, our Toils, our Clamours are renew’d,
  • Or Pleasures, seldom reach’d, again pursu’d.
  • A few other poems, such as an ode To the Nightingale, sustain the same kind of impression, which gained indefinitely from the twilight of Eastwell as well as from the rarity of Ardelia’s slim volume. Wordsworth’s discovery was taken up with enthusiasm by Matthew Arnold, Edmund Gosse and others, and Lady Winchilsea was cited as a rara avis, a woodlark among those town sparrows, the best accredited poets of the days of queen Anne. To Pope, Gray and Prior, she had just seemed a female wit, with a stray predilection, and some genuine taste, for riming. The appearance of her poems in bulk certainly strengthens the idea that her forte was in gay and complimentary verse of the occasional order, and that she ought to rank not as a rival of Dyer and Collins, but as an imitator of Prior and a precursor of Gay, Cowper and Northcote. Her light verse, upon which she bestowed much pains, was based upon the miscellany poems of Dorset, Sedley and their queen Anne successors. Her verses To Mr. F. now Earl of W., written in 1689, in an 886886 stanza, are among the best of their kind at that date. Her Fanscombe Barn, with its jolly beggars, is a tolerable parody of the Miltonic (written a few years after The Splendid Shilling); but her “Pindaricks,” including The Spleen, issued separately in a miscellany of 1701, as well as in the volume of 1713, are unbearable. The Spleen contains the lines
  • Now the jonquille o’ercomes the feeble brain,
  • We faint beneath the Aromatick Pain.
  • The adjective was borrowed from Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis; the phrase was appropriated by Pope in his Essay on Man, and the association of the odour of the jonquil with delicious pain by Shelley (Epipsychidion). Two of Lady Winchilsea’s poems, The Sigh and To Mr. Jervas (the famous portrait painter and translator of Don Quixote), were printed in Steele’s Miscellany (1714), her Lines to Prior in Prior’s Miscellaneous Works: To Mr. Pope in the early collected editions of Pope.