1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Tighe

Sarah Josepha Hale, Woman's Record; or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women (1852; 1855) 531-32.



MARY TIGHE was the daughter of the Rev. William Blachford, county of Wicklow, Ireland. Mary Blachford was born in Dublin, in 1774; and in 1793, when but nineteen years old, she married her cousin, Henry Tighe, of Woodetock, M.P. for Kilkenny, in the Irish parliament, and author of a "County History of Kilkenny." The family of Mrs. Tighe were consumptive, and she inherited the delicacy of organization which betokens a predisposition to this fatal disease. From early womanhood she suffered from depression of mind and languor of frame, which probably gave that "tone of melancholy music" to her celebrated poem, "which seemed the regretful expression of the consciousness of a not far-off death." Well she might feel sad when this thought was pressing on her heart; for she was most happily married, beloved and cherished by her husband, and surrounded with all the luxuries of life; dwelling

The glorious bowers of earth among.

Yet she felt that all these loved and lovely blessings of earth were passing swiftly away. She died in 1810, aged thirty-five, after six years of protracted suffering. Her husband, though he survived her some years, never married again. She left no children; but the scenes of her bridal happiness, and of her lamented death, will bear the memory of her beauty, genius, and virtues, while her "Psyche" is read, and the names of those who have celebrated her merits in their songs are remembered. And she has left an enduring monument of her goodness, which gives lustre to her genius. From the profits of her poem, "Psyche," which ran through four editions during her life-time, she built an addition to the orphan asylum in Wicklow, thence called the "Psyche Ward."

An English critic [author's note: see Cyclopaedia of English Literature] thus testifies to the merits of her great work: — "Her poem of 'Psyche,' founded on the classic fable related by Apuleius, of the loves of 'Cupid and Psyche,' or the allegory of 'Love and the Soul,' is characterised by a graceful voluptuousness and brilliancy of colouring rarely excelled. It is in six cantos, and wants only a little more concentration of style and description to be one of the best poems of the period."

"None but Spenser himself," says William Howitt, in his popular work, "Homes and Haunts of the most Eminent British Poets," "has excelled Mrs. Tighe in the field of allegory." But the most full and free acknowledgment of her merits has been given by an eminent American scholar and divine, Rev. Dr. Bethune, who has recorded his opinion in his "British Female Poets." He says, "Perhaps Mrs. Tighe has been too diffuse; but, taking her altogether, she is not equalled in classical elegance by any English female, and not excelled (in that particular) by any male English poet. She has the rare quality for a poetess of not sparing the pumice-stone, her verses being sedulously polished to the highest degree. She shows also her great taste in omitting obsolete words, the affectation of which so frequently disfigures imitations of the great master of English allegory. Her minor pieces are far inferior to her main work, though graceful, but pervaded by a painful, often religionless, despondency. It is of Mrs. Tighe that Moore writes in his touching song: "I saw thy form in youthful prime."

We give a few selections from "Psyche."