The First Edition of Anne Finch’s Poems

Winchilsea, Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of (1661-1720)

Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions. Written by a Lady. [with: “Aristomenes: or, the royal shepherd. A tragedy”]

London: Printed for J.B. and sold by Benj. Tooke at the Middle-Temple-Gate, William Taylor in Pater-Noster-Row, and James Round in Exchange-Alley, Cornhill, 1713

$8,500.00

Large octavo: 19 x 12 cm. [8], 390 pp. A4, B-Z8, Aa-Bb8, Cc4 (lacking the final blank) Leaves E8, G1 and G3 are cancels.

FIRST AND SOLE EDITION of the poems of Lady Winchilsea, together with the tragedy “Aristomenes: or, the royal shepherd.” This is Williams

A tall, crisp, fine copy, with a thin worm-trail on the final six leaves, slightly affecting the text. Bound in contemporary eighteenth-century English calf, minor wear. The title page is framed by a printed rule and bears a woodcut printer’s device. “Aristomenes: or, the royal shepherd. A tragedy” is introduced by a half-title at leaf U4.

Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, was one of the few women of her period to pursue a career as a poet, one of the earliest published women poets, and “one of the best English women poets before the nineteenth-century” (McGovern). This collection of Finch’s work, consisting of eighty-six poems and her second tragedy, is the only collection of her poetry to be printed prior to the 20th century.

In 1682 Anne Kingsmill became a maid of honour to Princess Mary of Modena, and, in the environment of the famed Restoration court wits, began secretly to write poetry, fearing, as she was later to acknowledge in the preface to the privately circulated manuscript of her poems, that she might be ridiculed as a ‘Versifying Maid of Honour’ (Finch, Poems, ed. Reynolds, 7–8). On 15 May 1684 she married Heneage Finch (1657–1726), second son of Heneage Finch, third earl of Winchilsea. Her husband, gentleman of the bedchamber to the future James II, then duke of York, was a courtier and soldier with a promising public career. She resigned her court position, but the couple resided in Westminster Palace and, through her husband, she maintained her close ties with the court.

“After her marriage Anne Finch took up writing more seriously. In addition to a number of love lyrics to her husband, she wrote songs and religious verses, as well as a tragicomedy entitled ‘The Triumphs of Love and Innocence’. Her preoccupation with comedy and songwriting was cut short, however, by the revolution of 1688. With the flight of James II to France and the crowning of William and Mary early the following year, the couple's hopes for public life were ended. Remaining loyal to the Stuart cause, Heneage Finch and his wife fled London, and resided with various family members in the countryside. On 29 April 1690 Heneage was arrested while attempting to join James in France, and charged with Jacobitism. For the remainder of that year Anne Finch stayed in Kent at Godmersham, while her husband remained in London until the case was finally dismissed from the court of King’s Bench. During this period she wrote several poems of a political nature (for example, ‘The Change’, ‘Caesar and Brutus’, and her elegy ‘On the Lord Dundee’) or expressive of personal anguish (for example, ‘The Losse’, ‘On Affliction’, and ‘A Song on Greife’). She also wrote a tragic play, ‘Aristomenes, or, The Royal Shepherd’; this, she explains in the prose preface, was undertaken as a distraction, for otherwise ‘such dejection of mind, cou'd not have been supported’ (p. 12).

“Once reunited the couple settled in Kent at the Eastwell estate of Heneage's nephew Charles, who had succeeded Heneage's father as the fourth earl of Winchilsea, and for several years at nearby Wye College. Finch's marriage, which was childless, proved advantageous to her poetry; her husband, who served as a lifelong editor and transcriber of her poems, strongly encouraged her in her writing. ‘To Mr. F. now Earl of W’, for example, is addressed to Heneage, who, ‘going abroad, had desired Ardelia [Finch's poetic name for herself] to write some Verses upon whatever Subject she thought fit, against his Return in the Evening’. Her first publications (all appearing anonymously) were love lyrics, including two set to music: ‘Tis strange this heart’, set by R. Courteville and published in Vinculum societatis in 1691, and ‘Love, thou art best of human joys’, set by Henry Purcell and included in a popular collection of songs in 1694 (Comes amoris, or, The Companion of Love). Six of her religious poems were published in the Miscellanea sacra (1696).

“Finch's poems cover a wide variety of genres and subject matter. In addition to religious verse and love lyrics, she wrote fables, nature poems, verse plays, odes, songs, pastorals, and occasional poems to friends and relatives. Women play a prominent role in her poetry, from satirical poems (such as ‘The Unequal Fetters’ and ‘An Epilogue to the Tragedy of Jane Shore’) that deal with gender issues and the inequality of women in contemporary society, to numerous poems that celebrate women's intelligence and resourcefulness.

“Finch's best-known poem during her lifetime was ‘The Spleen’, published anonymously in 1701 in Charles Gildon's New Miscellany of Original Poems. This Pindaric ode examines the social and personal implications of spleen, or melancholy, a malady with which she was afflicted throughout her life and to which her poetry contains numerous references (from her early ‘Ardelia to Melancholy’ to ‘A Supplication for the Joys of Heaven’, written in her late fifties, just a couple of years before her death).

“In 1708, after two decades of rural retirement, the Finches returned to London. As active nonjurors and Jacobites they continued to be political outcasts and under the threat of government reprisals, but the return to London brought with it some beneficial literary relationships, as well as significant publications. In 1709 Delariviere Manley included two of Finch's poems in The New Atlantis and Jacob Tonson's prestigious Poetical Miscellanies published three of her pastoral poems (‘A Pastoral Dialogue between Two Shepherdesses’, ‘Adam Pos'd’, and ‘Alcidor’) bracketed between two poems by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope's first publication, his ‘Pastorals’. Richard Steele hailed the miscellany as ‘a collection of the best pastorals that have hitherto appeared in England’ (Tatler, no. 10).

“With the death of his nephew Charles in 1712, Heneage Finch became fifth earl of Winchilsea and Anne became a countess. However, for the next eight years, until just a few months before her death, the Eastwell estate was involved in complex litigation and financial difficulties inherited from the former earl. Moreover, because Heneage Finch continued to refuse to take the oaths of allegiance, he was denied his seat in the House of Lords. Thus, despite the return to a more public life and the evident advantages of involvement with some of the most prominent writers of the day, Finch and her husband continued to remain political and, to an extent, social outcasts.

“The year following her husband's accession to the peerage, Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, an anonymous collection containing eighty-six of Finch's poems and her play Aristomenes, was brought out by John Barber, also a Jacobite, and a friend of Swift. Subsequent title-pages that year identified the author as Lady Winchilsea. Various theories have been put forth to account for Finch's overcoming her earlier reluctance to publish: her new-found status as a countess (Messenger); the more favourable political climate that the brief tory return to power (1710–14) would have offered a known Jacobite sympathizer (Hinnant, ‘Anne Finch and Jacobitism’); and the encouragement and support of her new literary friends, especially Swift and Pope (McGovern, ‘Finch, Pope, and Swift’).

“Both Swift and Pope wrote poems praising Finch as a poet. Swift's ‘Apollo Outwitted’ humorously portrays her as inflicted with modesty by the lustful Apollo, whose advances she has rebuffed, and encourages her to overcome his curse and publish. And Pope, who counted the Finches among his friends and for whom Finch wrote three poems, addressed to her his ‘Impromptu, to Lady Winchilsea’ in which he heaps praises upon Ardelia as the greatest of all women poets. The sincerity of his high regard for her poetry is also evident in his having included eight of her poems in the miscellany Poems on Several Occasions that he edited in 1717.

“Finch continued writing poetry until the time of her death at the age of fifty-nine. After months of deteriorating health she died on 5 August 1720, at her Cleveland Row home in London. She was buried, at her request, in the small church on the Eastwell estate, on 9 August. Lord Winchilsea survived her by six years.” (Barbara McGovern, DNB)

Foxon, F-140; Hayward 151; Rothschild 2585; Williams, Points, p. 72; Lowndes IV, 2949; Graesse VI, 460-61