Anne Finch 1661–1720
(Full name: Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea) English poet and playwright.
A poet of the early eighteenth century, Anne Finch composed in a variety of contemporary forms, including the verse epistle, the Pindaric ode, the fable, and occasional poetry, exploring issues of authorship, love, friendship, and nature. Her nature poetry celebrates the beauty of the country, especially in contrast to the superficial frivol ity of London society, while her love poetry praises mar ried life rather than the attentions of a lover. Finch defended the appropriateness of women writing and often adapted the conventions of male Augustan writers to female experiences and themes. Though rarely adopting the satirical tone of Alexander Pope or Jonathan Swift, Finch was nonetheless encouraged in her craft by these literary figures.
Born the youngest of three children to upper-class parents in Hampshire, Anne Kingsmill had lost her father, mother, and stepfather by the age of seven. While little is known about her childhood, it is believed that her upbringing was entrusted to her mother's brother. Well-educated and carefully nurtured to be suitably married, she was appointed a Maid of Honor in 1683 to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York and later queen consort of James II. At court she met an attendant to the Duke of York, Heneage Finch, whom she married in 1684. They evinced a contented mutual love uncharacteristic of their sophisticated age, and he became a source of inspiration and support for Finch's creative endeavors. Using the pen name "Ardelia," Finch wrote a number of love poems to her husband, whom she styled "Dafnis" in her poetry. In 1688, the Finches were forced to retire from public life after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to William III. For a time the Finches relied on the generosity of various members of their families until they made their permanent home at Eastwell in Kent, where Heneage Finch succeeded his nephew in title after the latter's death in 1712. At Eastwell, an estate removed from the activities of London, the couple devoted themselves to intellectual interests and enjoyed the pleasures of rural life, an unconventional attitude to hold during a time when life divorced from the bustle and excitement of court and town was considered "a living entombment." Eastwell's seclusion and idyllic surroundings afforded Finch intense delight and provided the inspiration for much of her nature poetry. Her early
poetry appeared anonymously in songbooks and miscellanies, or circulated in manuscript form among her friends and acquaintances. After the success of her poetic description of the effects of depression in "The Spleen" and with the continued encouragement by her husband, Finch anonymously published Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions in 1713. Though she never published another collection, she continued to write and share her manuscripts with her family and friends until her death in 1720.
Finch's Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions and her unpublished manuscript poems record the insights of a creative aristocratic woman. The majority of her poems are characterized by such themes as gender and politics. Marginalized through politics and her desire to write, Finch recognized the difficulties of an eighteenth-century woman assuming the public voice of a poet, while insisting that intellectual pursuits were not the prerogative of men. She commemorated the beauty of nature in "Nocturnal Reverie," "The Tree," "The Bird," and "Petition for an Absolute Retreat," the latter poem also suggesting her escape from political turmoil. In a similar vein, "Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia" lauds the value of rural retirement while criticizing the pretentiousness of London society and female vanity. In "The Introduction," "Circuit of Apollo," "Ardelia's Answer to Ephelia," and "To the Nightingale," she asserted the validity of women writing. In taking up the pen to write love poetry, she countered the tradition of arranged marriages and male infidelity by celebrating conjugal love in poems to her husband, though she criticized mercenary marriages in other poems. Her greatest eighteenth-century success, "The Spleen," examines both a generalized public understanding of the condition and treatment of melancholy and her private suffering.
Although Finch's Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions was published anonymously, it was widely known as the work of the Countess of Winchilsea by those in literary circles. Pope, Swift, and Nicholas Rowe praised her poetry, though Pope also satirized her as one of the "female wits" of the age. Finch's popularity declined in the late eighteenth century until 1820 when William Wordsworth inserted seventeen of her poems in a private anthology that he had compiled, proposing Finch as one of the few poets since John Milton to incorporate fresh images of nature. Following Wordsworth's assessment, many critics of Finch tended to see her as a precursor to Romantic poets rather than as a participant in Augustan culture. With the discovery and publication of some of Finch's manuscript poems in the twentieth century, other critics have emphasized Finch's connection to the seventeenth century metaphysical poetry of John Donne. In addition, many critics have pointed out Finch's position among the circle of female authors including Katherine Philips and Aphra Behn. Most often, Finch is seen not as a minor Augustan poet overshad-owed by Pope and John Dryden, but as a major voice in women's literature of the eighteenth-century.
Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, Written by a Lady, 1713 1713
The Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea 1903
Poems by Anne, Countess of Winchilsea 1928
Selected Poems of Anne Finch: Countess of Winchilsea 1979
Poems by Anne Finch 1980; published in journal Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, Selected Poems 1987
(The entire section is 50 words.)
SOURCE: "The Countess of Winchilsea," in Countries of the Mind: Essays in Literary Criticism, Oxford University Press, 1931, pp. 166-80.
[In the following excerpt, Murry describes Finch as a poet of emotions rather than one of ideas, pointing specifically to her love of nature and of her husband.]
In 1664, when Anne Finch was three, her mother died; and seven years later her stepfather, Sir Thomas Ogle, died also. No doubt she lived with some of her many connexions, who naturally brought her up to be married, and little besides. There is a perceptible tinge of resentment against such an education in her poetry; and seeing that her dreamland was one
Where no dowry e'er was paid,
Where no jointure e'er was made …
and that none of her childhood connexions, save one, have any place in her poetry, we may imagine that she was none too happy as a girl. There seem to have been no childish recollections on which she loved to dwell, although she was precisely the kind of woman who might have been expected to do so: and the very fervour of her devotion to Mary of Modena, to whom she became a Maid of Honour in 1683, suggests that the fatherless and motherless girl found in her royal mistress an object of which her affection had previously been starved. And this perhaps will explain the persistence with which her loyal lover, Colonel...
(The entire section is 3738 words.)
SOURCE: "Lady Winchilsea and the Poetic Tradition of the Seventeenth Century," in Studies in Philology, Vol. XLII, No. 1, January, 1945, pp. 61-80.
[In the following excerpt, Brower situates Finch's poems within the metaphysical traditions of John Milton and John Donne.]
There is little likelihood that present-day readers will regard Anne as a member of the Romantic family unhappily born before 1798. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the preface to the standard edition of the poems should so exaggerate Lady Anne's "romantic" qualities. Dr. Reynolds, like most writers on the pre-Romantics, is only too eager to find intimations of Wordsworth in the poetry of the eighteenth century. Yet she shows quite clearly in her preface that Lady Anne was no voice crying in the wilderness of Augustan England. On the contrary, it appears that Lady Winchilsea was acquainted with the leading writers of her day, with Prior, Swift, Pope, Gay, and Rowe. The affinities between much of her poetry and that of Prior and Gay is obvious; while the majority of her poems exhibit one or more typically Augustan qualities: the characteristic neatness and plainness of verse structure, the social and aristocratic tone, the religious solemnity and high morality, and the inevitable fondness for the satirical attitude.
If Lady Winchilsea is "prophetic," in poems such as "Fanscombe Barn," "The Petition for an Absolute...
(The entire section is 3569 words.)
SOURCE: "The Countess of Winchilsea," in A Tradition of Poetry, Macmillan, 1967, pp. 162-70.
[In the following excerpt, Buxton discusses the importance of nature in Finch's poetry and sees her as a precursor to the Romantics.]
[Finch] herself, with no masculine tradition of the active life to make discontent, with no household to manage, and no children to care for, might yet have found time hang heavy on her, had she not taken endless pleasure in the life of the countryside. Once, on a visit to Eastwell in July 1689, she took too long a walk in the park, drawn (she said) by 'romantic notions', and got a lift home again 'in a water-cart driven by one of the underkeepers in his green coat, with a hazelbough for a whip'. She turned the incident into a burlesque, merrily laughing at herself for so unromantic a homecoming. She loved the park, which she thought the finest in England, so much that she felt her gift of poetry unequal to the task of its description: if only it had been otherwise, she would surely have exalted its fame above Denham's Cooper's Hill. In any event, as she told Pope, she always found it difficult to praise well what she admired. But when in 1702 Lord Winchilsea (her nephew) undertook various improvements at Eastwell she celebrated the occasion in verse. Among these works was the conversion of a mount, that typically Elizabethan feature of a large garden, into a terrace:...
(The entire section is 2137 words.)
SOURCE: "Melancholy in Anne Finch and Elizabeth Carter: the Ambivalence of an Idea," in The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. I, 1971, pp. 108-19.
[In the following excerpt, Sena compares Finch's description of melancholy in "The Spleen" with contemporary medical accounts.]
The physical disability and psychological perturbations of melancholy were well known to one of the foremost women poets of the eighteenth century, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. As a victim of the malady, her description of its effects were first-hand and specific, with none of the generalities born of vague knowledge. In an early poem on the subject, "Ardelia to Melancholy", Lady Winchilsea compares herself to a fortress and melancholy to an 'inveterate foe', a tyrant trying to scale her. She employs the 'useless arms' of diversion—music, mirth, friendship, and poetry—but her many 'troops of fancy' have failed her, yielding her 'Captive to her adversary'. She concludes despairingly: 'The Fort is thine, now ruin'd, all within, Whilst by decays without, thy Conquest too, is seen' (1. 41). In "A Song on Griefe", she again uses martial imagery to describe her futile struggle against the debilitating effects of melancholy. Grief, like melancholy, is a military enemy who, with his 'close Allie', fear, leaves no 'state' untouched. She finally capitulates to the 'great Monark', who will establish his seat in her soul and write his...
(The entire section is 2427 words.)
SOURCE: "Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea: An Augustan Woman Poet," in Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets, edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Indiana University Press, 1979, pp. 32-46.
[In the following excerpt, Rogers discusses Finch's depiction of women and her use of eighteenth-century poetic forms.]
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), is important not only as a gifted poet but as a unique example—a poet who was both a woman and an Augustan. In many ways a typical Augustan, she wrote in all the traditional genres, from flippant songs to ponderous Pindaric odes. Yet because she was a woman, her poems are subtly different from those of her male contemporaries. She shows a distinctive sincerity in her love poetry, a distinctive standard in her satire, a distinctive simplicity in her response to nature, and a distinctive freedom from the Augustan writer's obligation to make public statements.
Generally speaking, this difference is not a matter of conscious outlook and aims. Winchilsea shared many characteristic Augustan attitudes, such as distrust for the mob and a sophisticated acceptance of human weaknesses coupled with suspicion of human grandiosity. She consistently upheld reason—not only her satire on irrational deviations, but her devotion to her husband is rational, as well as her religion and her appreciation of nature. There is a...
(The entire section is 5631 words.)
SOURCE: "Selected Nightingales" in His and Hers: Essays in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature, The University Press of Kentucky, 1986, pp. 71-83.
[In the following excerpt, Messenger discusses the literary tradition of poet as nightingale and the dualisms—such as art and nature or humans and animals—that underscore Finch's "To the Nightingale."]
"To the Nightingale" begins with a command to the bird to sing so that the poet can write the lyrics for its music. The poet makes some comparisons between the bird and poets in general. When the bird begins to sing, the poet or the Muse attempts twice to match it with words but fails in the attempt. With a quick sour-grapes reversal, the poet attacks the frivolity of the nightingale, who is neglecting the serious business of nest-building, and concludes with a rueful analysis of the motivation for that attack.
One can readily see how this would appeal to the Romantic Wordsworth or Coleridge: the admiration for the beauty of the bird's song; the humbling, even the humiliation, of the mere human being before the wondrous powers of nature; and, above all, what one could call the "expressive" theory of poetic creativity: "Cares do still their Thoughts molest, / And still th'unhappy Poet's Breast, / Like thine, when best he sings, is plac'd against a Thorn." (I will return to that rather curious masculine pronoun.) Alluding to the...
(The entire section is 2993 words.)
SOURCE: "Orinda and Her Daughters," in Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650-1750, Wayne State University Press, 1990, pp. 64-133.
[In the following excerpt, Williamson surveys the role of the woman writer as presented in Finch's poetry.]
[Finch] was resolutely ladylike and therefore a natural daughter of Orinda [Katherine Philips], and so she is consistently defensive about her writing. In "Mercury and the Elephant," which began her Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, Written by a Lady, she uses a fable to represent the predicament of the woman writer. Just as the god Mercury cannot be bothered with the quarrels of an elephant and a wild boar, so men can hardly be troubled with what women write:
What Men are not concem'd to know:
For still untouch'd how we succeed,
'Tis for themselves, not us they Read;
Whilst that proceeding to requite,
We own (who in the Muse delight)
'Tis for our Selves, not them, we Write.
The tone is light and self-deprecating but also ironic about godlike males; the defense of writing for each other leaves women relatively invulnerable to male criticism, but also incapable of affecting the male audience.
More touching are two suppressed works: "The Introduction" and the preface to the manuscript folio....
(The entire section is 4457 words.)
SOURCE: "Anne Finch: A Woman Poet and the Tradition," in Gender at Work, edited and introduced by Ann Messenger, Wayne State University Press, 1990, pp. 34-76.
[In the following excerpt, Mallinson discusses how Finch's position on the margins of eighteenth-century society influenced her poetry.]
The relation of literary theory to practice in the Restoration and early eighteenth century is problematical and variously interpreted. The fact that Anne Finch was a woman writer attempting to adapt her talents to a literary tradition from which women's voices were almost absent made her position as a writer in her time idiosyncratic. If Earl Miner is correct in seeing in the Restoration a shift from the private and coterie to the public mode, and if critics of the period are right in their consensus that satire sets the dominant tone in the literature of the time, then Anne Finch's work is marginal to the literature of her age. She was not a satirist; in a prose statement she dissociated herself from satire's underhandedness and lack of charity. There is a satirical edge to her fables, epistles, and occasional poems; her life in retirement from the beau monde provided a distance across which she could view it with an ironic eye. But the themes of power, pretentiousness, and corruption in the public spheres of politics, established institutions, and high society, which provide the substance of much...
(The entire section is 1838 words.)
SOURCE: "The Political Origins of Anne Finch's Poetry," in Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. LIV, No. 4, Fall, 1991, pp. 327-51.
[In the following excerpt, Barash discusses the relationship between gender and politics in Finch's poetry.]
Like so many of the poems written to and about English monarchs between the public execution of Charles I in 1649 and the death of his granddaughter, Queen Anne, in 1714, Finch's "Elegy on the Death of King James" suggests the awkward relationship between the embattled monarch's material body and the authority of poetry which attempts to uphold the idea of monarchy even as it attacks one or more of the living claimants to the throne. By the late seventeenth century, and particularly in light of the inability of the last of the Protestant Stuarts—James II's daughters, Mary II and Anne—to produce living heirs, political writing emphasized questions of reproduction and the body, which overlapped with problems of gender and sexuality as well. Since praising James II after his death could easily be read as opposition to William III and therefore treasonable, elegies on James's death were often dedicated to his daughter Anne who was, after her cousin William, next in line for the crown.
Surprisingly there are no such gestures of self-protection in Finch's poem to James; nor did she, like so many women writers of the period (Whig and Tory alike)...
(The entire section is 3155 words.)
SOURCE: '"Nature Unconcern'd': Nature Poems and Humanistic Sensibilities," in Anne Finch and Her Poetry: A Critical Biography, The University of Georgia Press, 1992, pp. 78-88.
[In the following excerpt, McGovern argues that Finch's nature poetry emphasizes the role of human agents in nature.]
Of the more than 230 poems [Anne Finch] wrote … only about half a dozen are devoted primarily to descriptions of external nature, and these, with the exception of the two just named, are not among her better poems. Yet invariably these have been the poems included in standard anthologies. A few recent anthologies of women's literature have offered a more representative selection of her work, as have the small collections of her poetry that Denys Thompson and Katharine Rogers have edited. The popular image of Finch that still exists today, however, is that of a nature poet.
The reason for this continued misrepresentation of her work is that until recently her reputation has rested almost entirely upon Wordsworth's celebrated remark in his 1815 supplementary essay to the preface of the Lyrical Ballads that
excepting the 'Nocturnal Reverie' of Lady Winchilsea, and a passage or two in the 'Windsor Forest' of Pope, the poetry intervening between the publication of the 'Paradise Lost' and 'The Seasons' does not contain a single new image of external nature,...
(The entire section is 3097 words.)
SOURCE: "'My Old Inveterate Foe': Poems of Melancholy and Grief," in The Poetry of Anne Finch: An Essay in Interpretation, University of Delaware Press, 1994, pp. 197-226.
[In the following excerpt, Hinnant describes how melancholy is associated with patriarchal power structures in Finch's poems.]
One of the striking features of the poems that Finch devoted to melancholy is their absorption in suffering—as if depression itself was being embraced as a substitute for a lost existence. While it is true that she does not refer explicitly to political issues in these poems, it is difficult not to link her obsessive preoccupation with melancholy, loss, mourning, care, and the spleen with the abdication of James II and the subsequent arrest of her husband. Indeed, court politics and political disappointment provide a source for the insights and imagery of these poems. Moreover, in the "Preface" that she originally intended to publish before her miscellany volume, Finch writes of the "melancholy thoughts which possess me, not only for my own, but much more for the misfortunes of those to whom I owe all immaginable duty and gratitude"; and she goes on to confess that "an absolute solitude (which was often my lott) under such dejection of mind, cou'd not have been supported, had I indulg'd myself (as was natural to me) only in the contemplation of present and real afflictions." Such a dejection may only become...
(The entire section is 4486 words.)
McGovern, Barbara. Anne Finch and Her Poetry: A Critical Biography. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1992, 278 p.
A detailed study of Finch's life and literary career with close readings of her major groups of poems.
Hinnant, Charles H. The Poetry of Anne Finch: An Essay in Interpretation. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994, 289 p.
Identifies the major genres of Finch's poetry and analyzes representative pieces.
Mermin, Dorothy. "Women Becoming Poets: Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, Anne Finch." ELH, A Journal of English Literary History LVII, No. 2 (Summer 1990): 335-55.
Describes the conditions under which these eighteenth-century women developed subjects for poetry and achieved literary success.
Messenger, Ann. "Publishing Without Perishing: Lady Winchilsea's Miscellany Poems of 1713," Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture V, No. 1 (Spring 1981): 27-37.
Traces Finch's literary life from her earliest poems to her decision to become a "she-author" and publish Miscellany Poems.
Rogers, Katharine M. "Finch's 'Candid...
(The entire section is 200 words.)