1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Katherine Philips

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 403-06.



A Lady of that admirable Merit, and Reputation, that her Memory will be honour'd of all Men, that are Favourers of Poetry. One, who not only has equall'd all that is reported of the Poetesses of Antiquity, the Lesbian Sapho, and the Roman Sulpitia, but whose Merit has justly found her Admirers amongst the greatest Poets of our Age: and though I will not presume to compare our Poets with Martial, who writ in praise of Sulpitia, or Horace, Ausonius, and Sydonius, who commended Sapho, least I offend their Modesty who are still living: yet I will be so far bold as to assert, that the Earls of Orrery and Roscommon, the Incomparable Cowley, and the Ingenious Flatman, with others (amongst whom I must not forget my much respected Countryman James Tyrrel Esq;) would not have employ'd their Pens in praise of the Excellent Orinda, had she not justly deserv'd their Elogies, and possibly more than those Ladies of Antiquity: for as Mr. Cowley observes, in his third Stanza on her Death,

Of Female Poets, who had Names of old,
Nothing is shewn but only told,
And all we hear of them, perhaps may be
Male Flattery only, and Male Poetry;
Few Minutes did their Beauties Lightning waste,
The Thunder of their Voice did longer last,
But that too soon was past.
The certain proofs of our Orinda's Wit,
In her own lasting Characters are writ,
And they will long my Praise of them survive,
Tho' long perhaps that too may live.
The Trade of Glory manag'd by the Pen
Tho' great it be, and every where is found,
Does bring in but small profit to us Men,
'Tis by the numbers of the Sharers drown'd;
Orinda, in the Female Courts of Fame
Engrosses all the Goods of a Poetick Name,
She doth no Partner with her see;
Does all the business there alone, Which we
Are forc'd to carry on by a whole Company.

The Occasion of our mention of this Excellent Person in this place, is on the Account of two Dramatick Pieces, which she has translated from the French of Monsieur Corneille; and that with such exquisite Art and Judgement, that the Copies of each seem to transcend the Original.

Horace, a Tragedy; which I suppose was left imperfect by the untimely Death of the Authress; and the fifth Act was afterwards supply'd by Sir John Denham. This Play acted at Court, by Persons of Quality; the Duke of Monmouth speaking the Prologue: Part of which being in Commendation of the Play, I shall transcribe.

This Martial Story, which thro' France did come,
And there was wrought in Great Corneille's Loom;
Orinda's Matchless Muse to Brittain brought,
And Forreign Verse, our English Accents taught;
So soft that to our shame, we understand
They could not fall but from a Lady's Hand.
Thus while a Woman Horace did translate,
Horace did rise above a Roman Fate.

For the Plot of this Play, consult Livy's History, Lib. 1. Florus Lib. 1. C. 3. Dionysius Hallicarnassaeus, &c.

Pompey, a Tragedy, which I have seen acted with great applause, at the Duke's Theatre; and at the End was acted that Farce printed in the fifth Act of The Play-house to be Let. This Play was translated at the Request of the Earl of Orrery, and published in Obedience to the Commands of the Right Honourable the Countess of Corse; to whom it is dedicated. How great an Opinion My Lord Orrery had of this Play, may appear from the following Verses, being part of a Copy addrest to the Authress.

You English Corneille's Pompey with such Flame,
That you both raise our wonder and his Fame;
If he could read it, he like us would call
The Copy greater than the Original:
You cannot mend what is already done,
Unless you'l finish what you have begun:
Who your Translation sees, cannot but say,
That 'tis Orinda's Work, and but his Play.
The French to learn our Language now will seek,
To hear their Greatest Wit more nobly speak;
Rome too would grant, were our Tongue to her known,
Caesar speaks better in't, than in his own.
And all those Wreaths once circled Pompey's Brow,
Exalt his Fame, less than your Verses now.

Both these Plays with the rest of her Poems, are printed in one Volume in Fol. Lond. 1678. This Lady to the Regret of all the Beau Monde in general, died of the Small-pox, on the 22d. of June 1664, being but One and Thirty Years of Age, having not left any of her Sex, her Equal in Poetry.