1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Thomas

Anonymous, "The Celebrated Corinna" Port Folio [Philadelphia] S3 1 (May 1809) 529-31.



There has been no biography of any authentic stamp of this celebrated woman; and our readers will perhaps feel a pleasure from the brief narrative which we now lay before them, collected with difficulty, and from no common source.

Corinna (whose real name was Mrs. Thomas), the pride of the gay world, and no less celebrated for her charms, than for her genius, was born in 1675. She seems to have inherited from her father, who was far advanced in life, and whose health had been long infirm, an unhappy constitution, rendered yet more delicate by the injudicious tenderness, with which she was nurtured. From her infancy she was afflicted with fevers and defluxions; but, with these physical disadvantages, she possessed a gay and lively temper, and gave early promise of a vigorous intellect. Before she had completed her second year, the death of her father, of whose circumstances his family, from his expensive manner of living, had formed an erroneous calculation, involved them in embarrassment and distress.

The Duke of Montague made flattering professions of service; and when Mrs. Thomas solicited him, as Captain of the band of pensioners, to bestow a post on a Mr. Gwynnet, a young gentleman, who had long addressed her daughter, actually assented to her request, on condition that the bride-elect should apply to him in person. The guileless mother overwhelmed her generous benefactor with grateful acknowledgments, and instantly hastened to inform her daughter of their flattering prospects, when, to her extreme surprise, she received from Corinna, who had been accustomed to yield to her commands an implicit obedience, a peremptory refusal to avail herself of the bounty of the noble Duke. Compelled at length to explain the motives for a conduct so unreasonable and extraordinary, the young lady confessed that his Grace had attempted to allure her from the paths of chastity. To this she added, that in the condition he had annexed to his services to her lover, she had but too just cause to fear a renewal of his dishonourable purposes. The feelings of a mother upon such an occasion required no description.

The mind of Corinna had been highly cultivated by a perusal of the best authors, while, as her taste refined, her sentiments became delicate and elevated, and her character strongly tinctured with those virtues which "The sons of interest deem romance."

Their circumstances becoming daily more perplexed and involved, she remonstrated with her lover on the inequality of their fortunes and prospects, and the imprudence of the connexion which he solicited. The attachment of Mr. Gwynnet, who was already in a great degree independent of his family, was increased by the delicacy and disinterestedness of his mistress; nor was it long before he gained the consent of his father to a union in which his happiness was so deeply involved. With this sanction he came to London, to claim the reward of his affection and fidelity.

Mrs. Thomas being at this time in an infirm state of health, her amiable daughter refused, in her own better prospects, to abandon her mother to the care of strangers. She replied to the solicitations of her lover, that as she had not thought sixteen years too long a period to wait for him, she hoped he would not consider six months as tedious, in expectation of receiving, at the end of that time, the recompense of his generous constancy. "Six months at present, my Corinna," he replied, with a sigh, "are more than the sixteen years that are passed; you now defer our union, and God will put it off forever." His words were prophetic. The next day he returned into the country, and made his will, by which he bequeathed to Corinna six hundred pounds; he sickened shortly after, and expired April 16th, 1711. To express the feelings of his mistress on this event language is inadequate: — "Sorrow," said she, "has been my portion ever since."

The deed of conveyance, by which the father of Mr. Gwynnet had empowered his son to dispose of his effects, with the will which he had in consequence made, were suppressed by his brother. She had, in the course of this suit, been obliged to sign an instrument to empower the lawyers to receive the money, and pay, themselves the costs.

The consequences may be foreseen: thirteen pounds sixteen shillings was the residue which these conscientious gentleman, who sell justice very dear, paid into her hands. Reduced by this event to the necessity of retiring from her creditors to obscurity and want, she was betrayed by a pretended friend, and thrown into prison.

After her liberation from confinement, Mrs. Thomas resided in a small and humble lodging in Fleet-street, where she died, February, 1730, in the fifty-sixth year of her age. She was interred in the church of St. Bride's.