Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661–1720)
Anne Kingsmill was born in April, 1661, the third child of Sir William Kingsmill and Anne Haslewood. Little is known of her early childhood. Her father died when she was five months old and her mother remarried a year later.
At the age of twenty-three, she went to the court of Charles II as a maid of honor to the duchess of York. In May of 1684 she married Colonel Heneage Finch, one of the duke’s Gentlemen of the Bedchamber.
Anne's interest in poetry began at the palace, and she started writing her own verse. Her friends included Sarah Churchill and Anne Killigrew, two other maids of honor who also shared poetic interests. However, she witnessed the derision within the court that greeted Killigrew's poetic efforts (poetry was not a pursuit considered suitable for women), she decided to keep her own writing attempts to herself and her close friends. She remained secretive about her poetry until much later in her life, when she was encouraged to publish under her own name.
Her marriage proved to be enduring and happy. Part of the development of her poetic skills was brought about by expressing her joy in her love for her husband. In celebrating their relationship, she significantly departed from the usual attitudes and conventions of the time. In other early works she aimed a satiric disapproval at prevailing misogynistic attitudes. Fortunately, her husband strongly supported her writing activities.
In her works Finch drew upon her own observations and experiences, demonstrating an insightful awareness of the social mores and political climate of her era. But she also artfully recorded her private thoughts, which could be joyful or despairing, playful or despondent. The poems also revealed her highly developed spiritual side.
Finch was reluctant to publish under her own name, as she felt the current social and political climate was oppressive as far as women were concerned. When she published Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions in 1713, the cover page of the first printing indicated that the collected works (which included 86 poems as well as a play) were "Written by a Lady." However, on subsequent printings, Finch (as Anne, Countess of Winchilsea) received credit as the author.
Her poems were almost forgotten when Wordsworth in the "Essay, supplementary to the Preface" of his Poems (1815), drew attention to her nature-poetry. Wordsworth sent a manuscript of extracts from Lady Winchilsea and other writers to Lady Mary Lowther, and his correspondence with Alexander Dyce contains some minute criticism and appreciation of her poetry.
A major collection titled The Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea, edited by Myra Reynolds, was published in 1903. For many years it was considered the definitive collection of her writings. It remains the only scholarly collection of Finch's poetry, and includes all of the poems from Miscellany Poems and poems retrieved from other manuscripts. Further, Reynolds's impressive introduction did as much to re-establish Finch's reputation as Wordsworth's previous praise.
Later, The Wellesley Manuscript, which contained 53 unpublished poems, was released. Literary scholars have noted Finch's distinctive voice and her poems' intimacy, sincerity, and spirituality. They also expressed appreciation for her experimentation as well as her assured usage of Augustan diction and forms.
'Tis true I write and tell me by what Rule
I am alone forbid to play the fool
To follow through the Groves a wand'ring Muse
And fain'd Idea's for my pleasures chuse
Why shou'd it in my Pen be held a fault
Whilst Mira paints her face, to paint a thought
Whilst Lamia to the manly Bumper flys
And borrow'd Spiritts sparkle in her Eyes,
Why shou'd itt be in me a thing so vain
To heat with Poetry my colder Brain
But I write ill and there-fore shou'd forbear
Does Flavia cease now at her fortieth year
In ev'ry Place to lett that face be seen
Which all the Town rejected at fifteen
Each Woman has her weaknesse; mind [sic] indeed
Is still to write tho' hopelesse to succeed
Nor to the Men is this so easy found
Ev'n in most Works with which the Witts abound
(So weak are all since our first breach with Heav'n)
Ther's lesse to be Applauded then forgiven.
A Female Friend advis'd a Swain
(Whose Heart she wish'd at ease)
Make Love thy Pleasure, not thy Pain,
Nor let it deeply seize.
Beauty, where Vanities abound,
No serious Passion claims;
Then, 'till a Phoenix can be found,
Do not admit the Flames.
But griev'd She finds, that his Replies
(Since prepossess'd when Young)
Take all their Hints from Silvia's Eyes,
None from ARDELIA's Tongue.
Thus, Cupid, of our Aim we miss,
Who wou'd unbend thy Bow;
And each slight Nymph a Phoenix is,
When Love will have it so.
The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov'd;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav'n remov'd:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav'n, or Paradise cou'd want.
Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin'd,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t'expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med'cine, which thy God prepares.
VAIN Love, why do'st thou boast of Wings,
That cannot help thee to retire!
When such quick Flames Suspicion brings,
As do the Heart about thee fire.
Still Swift to come, but when to go
Thou shou'd'st be more–Alas! how Slow.
Lord of the World must surely be
But thy bare Title at the most;
Since Jealousy is Lord of Thee,
And makes such Havock on thy Coast,
As do's thy pleasant Land deface,
Yet binds thee faster to the Place.