This lady, deservedly celebrated for her poetic genius, was daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sidmonton, in the county of Southampton. She was Maid of Honour to the Duchess of York, second wife to King James II. and was afterwards married to Heneage earl of Winchelsea, who was in his father's life-time Gentleman of the Bed-chamber to the Duke of York.
One of the most considerable of this lady's poems, is that upon the Spleen, published by Mr. Charles Gildon, 1701, in 8vo. This poem occasioned another of Mr. Nicholas Rowe's, entitled an Epistle to Flavia, on the sight of two Pindaric Odes on the Spleen and Vanity, written by a Lady to her Friend. This poem of the Spleen is written in stanzas, after the manner of Cowley, and contains many thoughts naturally expressed, and poetically conceived; there is seldom to be found any thing more excellently picturesque than this poem, and it justly entitled the amiable countess to hold a very high station amongst the inspired tribe. Nothing can be more happily imagined than the following description of the pretended influence of Spleen upon surly Husbands, and gay Coquetes.
Patron thou art of every gross abuse;
The sullen husband's feign'd excuse,
When the ill humours with his wife he spends,
And bears recruited wit, and spirits to his friends
The son of Bacchus pleads thy pow'r
As to the glass he still repairs
Pretends but to remove thy cares,
Snatch from thy shades, one gay, and smiling hour,
And drown thy kingdom in a purple show'r.
When the coquette (whom ev'ry fool admires)
Would in variety be fair;
And changing hastily the scene,
Assumes a soft, a melancholy air
And of her eyes rebates the wand'ring fires.
The careless posture, and the head reclin'd
(Proclaiming the withdrawn, the absent mind)
Allows the fop more liberty to gaze;
Who gently for the tender cause enquires;
The cause indeed is a defect of sense,
Yet is the Spleen alledged, and still the dull pretence.
The influence which Spleen has over religious minds, is admirably painted in the next stanza.
By spleen, religion, all we know
That should enlighten here below,
Is veiled in darkness, and perplext
With anxious doubts, with endless scruples vext
And some restraint imply'd, from each perverted text;
Whilst touch not, taste not what is freely given,
Is but thy niggard voice disgracing bounteous Heaven.
From speech restrain'd, by the deceits abus'd,
To desarts banish'd, or in cells reclus'd,
Mistaken vot'ries, to the powers divine,
Whilst they a purer sacrifice design,
Do but the spleen obey, and worship at thy shrine.
A collection of this lady's poems was published at London 1713 in 8vo. containing likewise a Tragedy never acted, entitled Aristomenes, or the Royal Shepherd. The general scenes are in Aristomenes's camp, near the walls of Phaerea, sometimes the plains among the Shepherds. A great number of our authoress's poems still continue unpublished, in the hands of the rev. Mr. Creake, and some were in possession of the right hon. the countess of Hertford.
The countess of Winchelsea died August 9, 1720, without issue. She was happy in the friendship of Mr. Pope, who addresses a copy of verses to her, occasion'd by eight lines in the Rape of the Lock: they contain a very elegant compliment.
In vain you boast poetic names of yore,
And cite those Saphoes we admire no more:
Fate doom'd the fall of ev'ry female wit,
But doom'd it then, when first Ardelia writ.
Of all examples by the world confest,
I knew Ardelia could not quote the best,
Who like her mistress on Britannia's throne
Fights and subdues in quarrels not her own.
To write their praise, you but in vain essay;
E'en while you write, you take that praise away:
Light to the stars, the sun does thus restore,
And shines himself 'till thy are seen no more.
The answer which the countess makes to the above, is rather more exquisite than the lines of Mr. Pope; he is foil'd at his own weapons, and outdone in the elegance of compliment.
Disarm'd with so genteel an air,
The contest I give o'er;
Yet, Alexander have a care,
And shock the sex no more.
We rule the world our life's whole race,
Men but assume that right;
First slaves to ev'ry tempting face,
Then martyrs to our spite.
You of one Orpheus sure have read,
Who would like you have writ
Had he in London town been bred,
And polish'd to his wit;
But he poor soul thought all was well,
And great should be his fame,
When he had left his wife in hell,
And birds and beasts could tame.
Yet venturing then with scoffing rhimes
The women to incense,
Resenting Heroines of those times
Soon punished his offence.
And as the Hebrus roll'd his scull,
And Harp besmear'd with blood,
They clashing as the waves grew full
Still harmoniz'd the flood.
But you our follies gently treat,
And spin so fine the thread,
You need not fear his awkward fate,
The lock won't cost the head.
Our admiration you command
For all that's gone before;
What next we look for at your hand
Can only raise it more.
Yet sooth the ladies, I advise
(As me too pride has wrought)
We're born to wit, but to be wise
By admonitions taught.
The other pieces of this lady are,
An Epilogue to Jane Shore, to be spoken by Mrs. Oldfield the night before the Poet's day.
To the Countess of Hertford with her Volume of Poems.
The Prodigy, a Poem, written at Tunbridge-Wells 1706, on the Admiration that many expressed on a Gentleman's being in love, and their Endeavours to dissuade him from it, with some Advice to the young Ladies how to maintain their natural Prerogative. If all her other poetical compositions are executed with as much spirit and elegance as these, the lovers of poetry have some reason to be sorry that her station was such, as to exempt her from the necessity of more frequently exercising a genius so furnished by nature, to have made a great figure in that divine art.