1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ann Yearsley

C., "Mrs. Yearsley" Ladies' Monthly Museum NS 16 (March 1814) 121-22.



Mrs. Ann Yearsley, well known in the poetical world as a self-instructed votary of the Muses, and as the Milk-Woman of Bristol, possessed an extraordinary degree of genius, abilities, and information, very rarely found in the obscure path of life in which she moved: her talent for poetry was discovered by Mrs. Hannah More, who solicited for her the protection of Mrs. Montague, in a prefatory letter, prefixed to her Poems; in which Mrs. Yearsley is described as never having received the least education, except that her brother had taught her to write. Her mother, who was also a milk-woman, appears to have had sense and piety, and to have given an early tincture of religion to her mind. She married badly to a man whose turn of mind was very different from her own. Repeated losses and a numerous family of six children, in concurrence with a severe winter, reduced them to very low circumstances.

Her poems were published in 1785, in one volume quarto. They appear to be the offspring of a vigorous mind, and abound in imagery and personification; the structure of her verse is occasionally very harmonious; sometimes redundant; but more frequently obscure from compression and brevity; rarely blemished by false thoughts, distorted images, or incongruous metaphors. In 1787, she published a second collection of Poems on various Subjects. In 1788, she wrote a short poem On the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade. In 1790, Stanzas of Woe, addressed to Levy Eames, Esq. Mayor of Bristol. In 1795, she published a Novel, in four volumes, called The Royal Captives, founded on the History of the Iron Mask, which she adapted to the idea of his being the twin brother of Louis XV. She deviates, however, very greatly from the most prevalent conception of this mysterious personage; and makes him a husband and a father; which affords her an opportunity of introducing the adventures of his wife and son. In 1789, she produced an Historical Tragedy, which was performed at the Bath Theatre, called Earl Goodwin; it was printed in quarto in 1791.

There was at one time a serious misunderstanding between Mrs. Yearsley and Mrs. Hannah More. Report accused Mrs. Yearsley of ingratitude to her benefactor; and of conduct not free from that assuming which many possess who have been raised from obscure situations. It, however, often happens, that those who confer favours are intolerant in their behaviour, and expect too much; they are too apt to be dissatisfied without they experience from their proteges the most humiliating and degrading condescension, which is repulsive and offensive in the extreme to persons who are conscious of being gifted by nature with superior intellect, and know of no other difference but that which results from mere chance — the obscurity of their birth. — Some time after she had given up her lowly occupation, she kept a Circulating Library at the Colonade, near the Hot Wells, Bristol, and died at Melksham, Wilts, May 8th, 1806.