1751 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Leapor

Anonymous, "To the Inspector" in London Advertiser (4 April 1751).



SIR,

As every Work of Genius naturally passes under your Inspection, give me leave to recommend to your Notice some Poems, which have lately met with the deserved Encouragement of the Fair, the Humane, and the Learned. It may readily be imagined, that I mean the Poetical Works of Mrs. Leapor, the second volume of which is just now published. The Author was the Daughter of a Gardener, at Brachley in Northamptonshire, had no Education but in common with those of her own Rank, subsisted intirely on her own and her Father's Industry, and was acquainted but with a few favourite Authors in her native Tongue; yet, by the Strength of her own Genius, and the Fruitfulness of her Invention, she aspired to imitate them, and it will be thought has equalled some of them, though the Length of her Life bore no Proportion to the Extent of her Abilities; for she died in her twenty-fourth Year, desiring in her last Moments, with a truly filial Piety, that her Papers might be revised by a judicious Friend, and, if thought worthy of it, published, for the Benefit of her old and disconsolate Father. This Friend (who it is supposed is distinguished in her Works by the Name of Artemisias) has prefixed an ingenious Letter to the Second Volume, to which, for further Particulars, I refer you. — In regard to Mrs. Leapor's Poetry, her Verse is pure, and her Sentiment strong and nervous. For a Proof of this, I need only quote from some Lines from her first Poem, on Patience:

—which follows still to Reason true;
The Saint's best Virtue, and his Comfort too;
Who smoothes the Ills from which she can't defend,
The Sick-Man's Cordial, and the Poor-Man's Friend.
This, Stella, this will chear the aching Breast,
And slope our Passage to the Realms of Rest:
This helps the Good to look Affliction through,
Though Friends forsake, and Enemies pursue.
'Tis this that makes the gentle Bosom glow,
And rise superior through its Weight of Woe, &c.

In this Volume is inserted a Tragedy, called the Unhappy Father, which, all things considered, may be deemed a surprizing Work. The Language is natural and easy, yet sufficiently raised, in some Places perhaps too flowery, and the finest Moral Lessons are inculcated throughout. I will only quote one Speech from the first Scene:

In this strange World, made up of Sun and Show'rs,
Who was e'er plac'd beyond the Reach of Woe?
The Cheek that late was dimpled o'er with Smiles,
Pleas'd with the Farce of transitory Joy,
Grows pale and languid, if the Curtain falls,
Till the next Scene exhibits something gay:
Then childish Fancy, glad to catch the Laugh,
Is happy till the next returning Storm.

The Catastrophe is certainly too shocking; but I make no doubt that if the concluding Act was altered by some judicious Hand, it would succeed much better on the Stage (notwithstanding its hasty Rejection by the Managers) than most of our modern Performances.

Though every Reader of Taste must be pleased with her Writings; yet this Pleasure is in some Measure allayed by the melancholy Reflection that so much Merit should be all her Life-time buried in Oblivion: And the only Method we can now take of shewing our Gratitude and Regard to her is beautifully pointed out in Mr. Lyttelton's Prologue on Mr. Thomson:

She, superior now to Praise or Blame,
Hears not the feeble Voice of human Fame.
Yet if to him, whom most on Earth she lov'd,
From whom her pious Care is now remov'd,
If to her Parent our Regard shall give,
What he no longer can from her's receive;
That, that ev'n now above yon starry Pole,
May touch with Pleasure her immortal Soul.

I should now be glad if you would add to the former Quotations these concluding Lines of a Poem to Artemisia. After speaking of several Artifices and Improprieties in Dress, she proceeds:

Yet I am told, can prove it too,
There's a Cosmetic us'd by you,
Whose sov'reign Virtue can infuse
More Sweetness than Arabian Dews;
It smooths the Brow that's mark'd by Care,
And gives the Lips a smiling Air:
The soften'd Cheek it gently warms,
And gives the Eyes resistless Charms.
From Heav'n it came; yet none declares
What Name the wond'rous Med'cine bears
Above the Stars. We only know
'Tis call'd Good-nature here below.