1749 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Leapor

Bridget Freemantle, Memoir in Leapor, Poems (1751) xvi-xxxii.



Feb. 21. 1749.

Sir,

You have my sincerest Thanks for the kind Information you sent me of the generous Scheme that is form'd for the Printing Mrs. LEAPOR'S remaining Papers, for the Benefit of her Father; and that the ingenious Gentlemen you mention, intend to give some Account of the Author: For nothing can give me more Pleasure than to hear of a Design that may do Honour to her Memory, and be of Service to Him for whom she always expressed a most affectionate and dutiful Regard, particularly in her last Moments.

I shall readily contribute any thing in my Power, tho' I fear that is very little: But, upon making a thorough Search among my Papers, I have found Two or Three of hers, that were mislaid when the other were sent to Mrs. J—; which I here send you, with two or three Copies wrote in her Childhood, that have since been alter'd as they now stand in the printed Book.

Several of those sent to Mrs. J— were likewise wrote when she was very young; and were condemn'd to the Flames by herself, but spared at my Intercession; so that I am very dubious, whether they will be thought worth printing or not; though I must own myself fond of every thing that was hers.

I remember I saw, two or three Years before my Acquaintance with her commenced, a Book about the Size of a common Copy-Book (but something thicker) fill'd with Poems of her writing, that much pleas'd me. I thought them extraordinary Performances for a Girl of her Age, and one that had so little Advantage (or rather none at all ) either from Books or Conversation: But my bad State of Health prevented me from making any further Enquiry concerning this young Genius, till about fourteen Months before her Death, when I was inform'd she had wrote a Tragedy.

I could not help smiling at this; thinking it at least a very bold Attempt from a Person in her Situation. But however, it raised my Curiosity very much: And happening to meet with her a Day or two afterwards, I begg'd the Favour of seeing it; which was readily granted. You may easily guess how far it exceeded my Expectation.

Soon after I made her a Visit; and expressing how much I lik'd the Play, desir'd she would give me Leave to see any thing else she might have wrote; upon which she brought a little Box, where her Papers lay in a careless confus'd manner, and allow'd me to look them all over; which I did with a great deal of Pleasure, and no small Astonishment.

I then enquired for the little Book I had seen before; but she told me she had burnt it long ago, with several other Papers, which she did not think worth preserving.

This I could not help blaming her for, as there were a great many pretty Things in it; particularly a Poem, relating the History of Isaac's Courtship and Marriage of Rebecca; which has since been much enquir'd for by some that had seen it.

My mentioning a Subscription, I believe, occasioned her Poem, call'd Mopsus, or, The Castle-Builder; and I indulg'd my Curiosity in calling upon her often, to see how she carried it on. It was really amazing to see how fast she advanc'd in it; her Thoughts seeming to flow as fast as she could put them upon Paper; and I am persuaded that many beautiful ones have been lost for want of Leisure to write them. My expressing some Fear of being troublesome in coming so frequently, occasioned a great Variety of Invitations, both in Verse and Prose; which I could seldom resist: And indeed her whole Behaviour to me was so extremely good-natur'd and obliging, that I must have been the most ungrateful Person in the World, if I had not endeavour'd to make some Return.

From this Time to that of her Death, few Days pass'd in which I did not either see or hear from her; for she gave me the Pleasure of seeing all her Poems as soon as they were finish'd. And though I never was extremely fond of Poetry, and don't pretend to be a judge of it, there was something so peculiarly pleasing to my Taste in almost every thing she wrote, that I could not but be infinitely pleas'd with such a Correspondent.

Nor did I admire her in her Poetical Capacity only; but the more I was acquainted with her, the more I saw Reason to esteem her for those virtuous Principles, and that Goodness of Heart and Temper, which so visibly appeared in her; and I was so far from thinking it a Condescension to cultivate an Acquaintance with a Person in her Station, that I rather esteem'd it an Honour to be call'd a Friend to one in whom there appear'd such a true Greatness of Soul as with me far outweigh'd all the Advantages of Birth and Fortune. Nor do I think it possible for any body that was as well acquainted with her as myself, to consider her as a mean Person.

I have sent a List of the Poems that were wrote since I was acquainted with her; which I think will shew the Quickness of her Genius, especially when it is consider'd how much she was engaged in her Father's Affairs, and the Business of his House, in which she had nobody to assist her.

This, you may imagine, was some Mortification to a Person of her Turn; yet she was always chearful: And as she wanted none of the Necessaries of Life, expressed herself thankful for that. Her chief Ambition seem'd to be to have such a Competency as might leave her at Liberty to enjoy the Company of a Friend, and indulge her scribbling Humour (as she call'd it) when she had a mind, without Inconvenience or Interruption.

I could not see how much she was straiten'd in point of Time for her Writing, without endeavouring to remove the Difficulty; and therefore propos'd a Subscription to some of my Acquaintance; which I hoped might be a Means of doing it. And here, Sir, I must gratefully acknowledge your kind Assistance, without which I am sensible all my Endeavours had been ineffectual; but through your Good-nature I had the Pleasure to see it brought into a promising Way before the Death of the Author; who unfortunately did not live to receive that Benefit by it, which has since accrued to her Father.

Since the Publication of her Poems, I hear she has been accused of stealing from other Authors; but I believe very unjustly, and imagine the Censure proceeds rather from a random Conjecture that it must be so, than any just Foundation. I don't find that the Particulars are pointed out; and if there are really any Lines in her Book that bear so near a Resemblance to what has been wrote by other Authors, as to give room for such a Conjecture, I, that was so well acquainted with her Way of Thinking, dare venture to answer for her, that it proceeded from the Impression the Reading those Passages some time before happen'd to make upon her Mind, without her remembering from whence they came; and therefore she can no more be reckon'd a Plagiary on that Account, than a Person could justly be accused of being a Thief, for making use of a Shilling or two of another's Money that happen'd to be mix'd with his own, without his knowing it.

Besides, I don't believe it impossible for two People to think exactly alike upon a Subject, and even to express themselves almost in the very same Words for a Line or two, without ever having been acquainted with one another's Thoughts; tho' I don't know that this was the Case of Myra.

I must beg Leave to give you an instance of her Probity in this respect.

I one Day shew'd her an old manuscript Pastoral of Mr. Newton's, in Blank Verse; with which she seem'd much pleased, and desired Leave to take it home with her, and amuse herself with putting some Parts of it, that she most liked, into Rhyme. She did so; and in my Opinion so greatly alter'd and improv'd them, that when the Papers were first sent to you, in order to be printed, I said I thought there was no Occasion for mentioning Mr. Newton's Name: But she would not consent to have them put in her Book without that Distinction; and indeed had no occasion to adopt other Peoples Productions.

Deceit and Insincerity of all Kinds she abhorred; and (if I may be allowed to give my Opinion) I really believe what she wrote upon Serious and Divine Subjects, proceeded from the inmost Sentiments of her Heart; which I take to be one great Reason of their appearing so extremely natural and beautiful.

As an Instance of her uncommon Manner of Thinking, give me Leave to acquaint you with a Discourse that pass'd between us, when the Proposal for a Subscription was on foot. I very gravely told her, I thought we must endeavour to find out some great Lady to be her Patroness, and desir'd her to prepare a handsome Dedication.

"But pray, what am I to say in this same Dedication?

"Oh, a great many fine Things, certainly.

"But, Madam, I am not acquainted with any great Lady, nor like to be.

"No matter for that; 'tis but your supposing your Patroness to have as many Virtues as other Peoples always have: You need not fear saying too much; and I must insist upon it."

She really seemed shock'd, and said, "But, Dear Madam, could you in good Earnest approve of my sitting down to write an Encomium upon a Person I know nothing of, only because I might hope to get something by it?" — "No, Myra!"

She always call'd it being idle, and indulging her whimsical Humour, when she was employed in writing the humorous Parts of her Poems; and nothing could pique her more than Peoples imagining she took a great deal of Pains, or spent a great deal of Time in such Composures; or that she set much Value upon them.

She told me, that most of them were wrote when cross Accidents happen'd to disturb her, purely to divert her Thoughts from dwelling upon what was disagreeable; and that it generally had the intended Effect, by putting her in a good Humour.

I must now come to the melancholy Scene of her Death; which, to my inexpressible Concern, happen'd on the 12th of November 1746. and was occasioned by the Measles.

A Day or two before her Departure, while her Senses remained perfect, she desir'd to speak to me alone; and after the warmest Expressions of Gratitude for my Goodness to her, as she call'd it, continued, as near as I can remember, in this manner.

"But I have still one Favour to beg of you. — I find I am going. — I always lov'd my Father; but I feel it now more than ever. — He is growing into Years. — My Heart bleeds to see the Concern he is in; and it would be the utmost Satisfaction to me, if I could hope any thing of mine could contribute to his comfortable Subsistence in his old Age: I therefore beg of you to take the Key of my Buroe; and if any thing is to be made of my poor Papers, that you will, for my sake, endeavour to promote a Subscription for his Benefit, which you so kindly have propos'd for mine."

They must have had harder Hearts than mine, that could have refus'd to comply with such a Request. I promis'd to do the best I could (with which she seem'd satisfied); and have endeavour'd to perform it to the utmost of my Power.

Since I received your Letter, I have applied to Mr. Leapor for what Information he could give me relating to his Daughter.

He tells me, She was born at Marston St. Laurence in this County, on the 26th of February 1722. at which Time he was Gardener to the late judge Blencowe, and continued five Years in the Family; and then removed with his Wife and this only Daughter to Brackley, where she spent the remaining Part of her Life.

She was bred up under the Care of a pious and sensible Mother, who died about four Years before her.

He informs me she was always fond of reading every thing that came in her way, as soon as she was capable of it; and that when she had learnt to write tolerably, which, as he remembers, was at about ten or eleven Years old, she would often be scribbling, and sometimes in Rhyme; which her Mother was at first pleas'd with: But finding this Humour increase upon her as she grew up, when she thought her capable of more profitable Employment, she endeavour'd to break her of it; and that he likewise, having no Taste for Poetry, and not imagining it could ever be any Advantage to her, join'd in the same Design: But finding it impossible to alter her natural Inclination, he had of late desisted, and left her more at Liberty.

He says, she never had any intimate Companion except one agreeable young Woman in this Town, whom she mentions in her Poem upon Friendship, by the Name of FIDELIA; and that she always chose to spend her leisure Hours in Writing and Reading, rather than in those Diversions which young People generally chuse; insomuch that some of the Neighbours that observ'd it, expressed their Concern, lest the Girl should overstudy herself, and be mopish. But to me she always appeared rather gay, than melancholy.

I think it is now high time to apologize for this long Letter: But as I was resolved to send the best Account I could, I hope, Sir, you will excuse me. It is not for me to pretend to do Justice to the Memory of Mrs. LEAPOR; but if you think any of the little Incidents I have mention'd will be useful to the Gentlemen who have so kindly form'd that Design, and give them a true Idea of her, I shall be much pleased; and am, with true Respect,

Your ever affectionate and

obliged humble Servant

*** ***.

I must beg Leave to enter a Caveat against printing the Poem call'd Myra's Picture; because tho' she may be suppos'd to have made very free with herself, I think it may give the Reader a worse Idea of her Person than it deserv'd, which was very far from being shocking; tho' there was nothing extraordinary in it. The Poem was occasioned by her happening to hear that a Gentleman who had seen some of her Poems, wanted to know what her Person was.

Mr. Leapor has put down a Grave-Stone in Memory of his Daughter; and I should be glad if any of the ingenious Gentlemen you mention would he so write a few Lines to be put upon it.

Mrs. LEAPOR'S whole Library consisted of about sixteen or seventeen single Volumes, among which were Part of Mr. Pope's Works, Dryden's Fables, some Volumes of Plays, &c.