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
John Middleton Murry (essay date 1931)
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 Heneage Finch, Captain of Halberdiers and Gentleman of the Bedchamber in the same Royal Household, had to woo her—in days when eligible suitors were not lightly put aside—before
I like to fancy—and fancy here may legitimately be in dulged—that two at least of Mary of Modena's Maids of Honour, Anne Finch and that Mistress Anne Killigrew whom Dryden immortalized, formed with their royal mistress something of a feminine cabal. They were, I think, a little down on men, and perhaps the notorious liaison between the Duke of York and yet a third Maid of Honour, Catherine Sedley—what simple and lovely names!—made them adopt, as it were in defence of their mistress, a distinctly chilly attitude to wooers. Anyhow Anne Finch was no heiress; and we cannot suppose that she aimed higher than the son and uncle of an Earl. Besides which, it is clean contrary to what we know of her character to suppose that she put him off in hope of something better. And what we know of Colonel Heneage Finch makes it certain that she could not have hoped for a goodlier man or a more loving husband. The probabilities are that she was, though not quite 'stubborn and ungrateful', as she afterwards made out in the self-abasement of love, discouraging and superior towards his advances. Beautiful I am positive she was, but alas! a little of the blue-stocking and a little of the man-hater, and she did not believe in making herself too agreeable. However, the Colonel persisted, and she at last relented. The flag once lowered, came down with a run, for in the register of marriage dated May 14, 1684, in which the Colonel truthfully described himself as a 'bachelor aged about 27 years', Anne Kingsmill declared that she was a 'spinster aged about 18 years', which was five years too little. Corruptio optimi pessima, will say the feminists at this shocking defection: but I, like Richard Burton in like circumstances, declare roundly that I admire her for it. There should be no half-measures in love, and if Anne Kingsmill went to extremes at the moment she first indulged in feminine arts, it was due not to misplaced enthusiasm, but lack of practice.
There can have been, in the whole history of love, few happier marriages than this one, even though it was childless. Thirty-nine years later, when Anne Finch had been dead three years, the Earl of Winchilsea (as Colonel Finch unexpectedly became) wrote against the date of his marriage in a little private diary, meant for no eyes but his own and God's, 'Most blessed day'. There is no gainsaying such evidence, even by the professional cynic; but it really does no more than confirm the witness of the poems themselves. If it is not real happy married love that speaks in the most intimate of them then one man's ear for the voice of true emotion is hopelessly at fault. The situation was, of course, a little unusual for an aristocratic couple in those days; though probably the fashionable literature of the time leads us to think it rather more unusual than it actually was. Certainly, Ardelia (for that was her poetical name for herself, given with an obvious, and probably just, allusion to 'ardent') was whimsically aware of a certain abnormality about the whole proceeding—a husband who
and a wife who positively shocks Parnassus by demanding inspiration for a love-poem to her legal lord and master. Indeed, it seems to be true that Colonel Finch found separation even harder to bear than she did. For when she was at Tunbridge Wells for the waters in the summer of 1685, in pursuit of assuagement for her melancholy or spleen, he felt so lonely that he urged her to return. It was she who had to be firm, as appears by the only decipherable stanza of her reply:
Daphnis, your wish no more repeat
For my return, nor mourn my stay,
Lest my wise purpose you defeat,
And urged by love I come away.
My own desires I can resist,
But blindly yield if you persist.
This was in 1685, the year after the marriage. Anne Finch had left the service of Mary of Modena; but the Colonel retained his posts in the Duke of York's Household. So they lived at Westminster, honourably situated, though not affluent, through the brief and troubled reign of their master. It was, we may guess, in Westminster, while James was still Duke of York, that she heard 'unpaid sailors, and hoarse pleaders brawl'. When James became King and in control of the Treasury, the sailors had no need to clamour for their pay. He was, she declares in her elegy on his death,
Open to all; but when the seaman came,
Known by his face and greeted by his name,
Peculiar smiles and praises did impart,
To all his prowess and desert:
All had his willing hand, the seaman had his heart.
He, born an Islander, by nature knew
Her wooden walls her strength, her guard the naval crew.
Yet another contrast she noted, as a member of a Royal Household well might do, between the reigns of the Merry Monarch and his more conscientious brother, and she gives us a glimpse of her own past anxieties, when she writes:
Weep ye attendants who composed his train
And no observance spent in vain
Nor ever with uneasy fears
Contracted needful debts and doubted your arrears.
But the halcyon days of paid sailors and paid salaries were soon over. Three brief years and all was lost. James and his queen went into exile, and the Finches, their faithful servants, into disgrace and poverty. They became 'gentlefolk in reduced circumstances'. In some verses commiserating with Colonel Finch upon his gout, Ardelia explains that he was
Not rich enough to soothe the bad disease
By large expenses to engage his stay,
Nor yet so poor to fright the gout away.
For many years he refused to take the oath of allegiance to William of Orange, and thus debarred himself for his honour's sake from all places of profit and emolument under the Crown. Instead of a soldier he became perforce a student of warfare, and in "The Invitation to Daphnis" we are given a glimpse of him poring over the maps of Mons and Namur. Retirement was forced upon them, but they were fit for retirement. They were dependent upon the kindness of their family and friends; but their family and friends were kind. And though one may easily gather from Ardelia's poems that at first the position of poor relation was trying, one gathers with no less certainty that the young Earl of Winchilsea behaved towards them as a sympathetic kinsman should behave. At last the unexpected happened; the young Earl died leaving no direct heir, and Colonel Finch succeeded to the title. He put on flesh—the notebook records his being weighed at sixteen stone—became one of the studious antiquaries of the time, and in 1717 was elected President of their learned Society. Three years later, on August 5, 1720, the Countess of Winchilsea died. In her latter years she had published anonymously her Miscellany Poems, and consorted with the great wits of the age, Swift, Pope, Gay, and Arbuthnot. It was said that either Pope or Gay satirized her in Three Hours after Marriage as a blue-stocking with the itch for scribbling, and she was also said to have given offence to Gay in particular by saying that his Trivia showed that 'he was more proper to walk before a chair than to ride in one'. All this dubious gossip is uninteresting. What she was her poems...
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Reuben A. Brower (essay date 1945)
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...
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John Buxton (essay date 1967)
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...
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John F. Sena (essay date 1971)
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...
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Katharine Rogers (essay date 1979)
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...
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Ann Messenger (essay date 1986)
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...
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Marilyn L. Williamson (essay date 1990)
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,...
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Jean Mallinson (essay date 1990)
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...
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Carol Barash (essay date 1991)
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...
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Barbara McGovern (essay date 1992)
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...
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Charles H. Hinnant (essay date 1994)
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...
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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...
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