1838 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Tighe

S. C. Hall, in The Book of Gems. The Modern Poets and Artists of Great Britain (1838) 234.



MARY TIGHE was born in Ireland, in the year 1773. Her father was the Rev. William Blachford, who died a few months after his daughter's birth. She was married early to Mr. Tighe, a gentleman of distinguished family in the county of Wexford. A considerable portion of her life was spent at Woodstock, the seat of her brother-in-law, — one of the most beautiful and romantic places in Ireland. Her life was one of more than ordinary trial: her marriage was not a happy one; and she was for many years afflicted with ill health. She died at Woodstock, on the 24th of March, 1810.

Prom the year 1804 to her death, Mrs. Tighe had been deprived of the use of her limbs; and the poems she composed were dictated to an amanuensis. She was still lovely; and is described as having been, in early life, eminently beautiful. The affection of her brother-in-law — a gentleman of considerable literary taste — and the attentions of his accomplished lady, in some degree atoned for the neglect she experienced from her husband.

Psyche, the poem upon which mainly depends the reputation of Mrs. Tighe, was printed only for private circulation during the lifetime of the writer; it was published after her death, and became exceedingly popular, passing rapidly through several editions. It is written in the Spenserian stanza; and is founded on the allegory of Love and the Soul. The author was aware of the difficulties with which she had to contend, in following the plan of the ancient poets — "the fountains and first fruits of wisdom" — who their choicest fables, "Wrapt in perplexed allegories;" and perhaps would have been amazed at the extent of popularity achieved by her poem. She wrote with but a very remote idea of finding fame beyond her own limited circle. It is but reasonable to suppose that much of her posthumous reputation was obtained by the sad, yet interesting, history of her life; for her genius can scarcely be considered as of a sufficiently high and original character to overcome the obstacles she herself perceived. The narrative is tedious; and the style, although highly refined, is tame and encumbered with imagery. The Editor of the volume, in a brief preface to her works, describes her as displaying an "intimate acquaintance with classical literature, and as guided by a taste for real excellence," "as one who has delivered in polished language such sentiments as can tend only to encourage and improve the best sensations of the human heart." Such merit is undoubtedly hers; she affords abundant proof of an amiable and highly cultivated mind; but she can scarcely be classed high among the Poets of her age and country. Among her minor compositions, there are several of exceeding delicacy and beauty; that "On Receiving a Branch of Mezereon," was written only a few days prior to her death.

Her poems were produced at a period when proofs of female intellect were rare. The world has since been more fortunate. The Muses are no longer jealous of the Graces. Their alliance has added greater softness and sweetness to previous strength; the female character has shed its influence on the tone of our literature, as well as on that of the domestic circle. The preceding volumes of this Work contained no examples of female genius; — they were sought for earnestly, but were not found. The present contains many. It is both the peculiarity and the glory of our age, that it has kept pace with the advances of masculine intellect, without encroaching on its province. Such an accession to the Muses' train was in every respect desirable and necessary, to fill up a blank in letters, a void in the history of the human mind, — or to give the last finishing to the symmetry and beauty of that ancient and much-vaunted edifice, the Temple of Fame.

Firm Doric pillar's found its solid base;
The fair Corinthian crown the higher space:
Thus all below is strength, but all above is grace.

We may avail ourselves of this opportunity to express our regret that the rules to which we are necessarily limited, must preclude from introduction into this volume, the names of several other women, who have obtained and merited a large share of popularity. They will readily occur to our readers.