1660 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Content, to my Dearest Lucasia.

Poems by the incomparable Mrs. K. P.

Katherine Philips


Twelve undated stanzas by the Cavalier poetess on the theme of retirement, the first of which alludes to the Cave of Error. This is but the second printed reference to Spenser by a (known) woman writer — the first was from Anne Bradstreet. Lucasia is Mrs. Anne Owens (1633-92), whose subsequent marriage aroused much jealousy when it interfered with Katherine Philips's platonic relationship with her Welsh friend.

John Duncombe: "Mrs. Catherine Phillips, the celebrated Orinda, was distinguish'd by most of the wits of King Charles's reign, and died young; lamented by many of them in commendatory verses prefix'd to her poems. Her pieces on Friendship are particularly admir'd" The Feminiad (1754) 13n.

Edmond Malone: "Mrs. Catherine Philips, a poetess of the last age, who received from her contemporaries the most extravagant praises, and is now nearly forgotten. She died in her thirty-fourth year, June 22, 1664. Her husband was probably a relation of Sir Richard Philipps, Baronet, who married our author's aunt" Note in Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden (1800) 1:2:97n.

Leigh Hunt: "Some of the verses of Katherine Philips ... have an easy and antithetical style, like the lighter ones of Cowley, or the verses of Sheffield and his French contemporaries" Men Women and Books; quoted in Allibone, Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:1578.

W. Davenport Adams: "A poetess (b. 1631, d. 1664), better known as 'The Matchless Orinda.' Her works were published in 1667, with the following title: — Poems by Mrs. Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda; to which is added Monsieur Corneille's Pompey, with several other Translations out of French" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 471.

Edmund Gosse: "the subject that chiefly inspired her was the excellence of her female friends, and in treating this theme she really invented a new species of literature. She is the first sentimental writer in the English language, and she possesses to the full those qualities which came into fashion a century and a half later in the person of such authors as Letitia Landon. Orinda communes with the stars and the mountains, and is deeply exercised about her own soul. She is all smiles, tears, and sensibility. She asks herself if her affection has been slighted, she swears eternal troth, she yearns for confidences, she fancies that she is 'dying for a little love.' With Antenor, her husband, she keeps up all the time a prosaic, humdrum happiness, looking after his affairs, anxious about his health, rather patronisingly affectionate and wifely; but her poetical heart is elsewhere, and her leisure moments are given up to romantic vows with Rosania and Lucasia, and correspondence about the human heart with the noble Silvander. The whole society, one cannot help feeling, was entirely created and kept alive by the sensibility of Orinda, and nothing but her unremitting efforts could have sustained its component parts at the proper heights of sympathy. Mrs. Philips, in fact, had come to the conclusion that, as she put it, 'Men exclude women from friendship's vast capacity,' and she was determined, in spite of the difficulties in her path, to produce some shining specimens of female friendship" "The Matchless Orinda" in Seventeenth Century Studies (1914) 232-33.

George Saintsbury: "'The matchless Orinda' lived but a very few years after the Restoration itself, but she died young; she was born in the very same year with Dryden, and she was not much the elder of Sedley and Dorset, both of whom survived into the eighteenth century. She is also, in temper, rather older than her date: serious, metaphysical, and if prosaic at all, prosaic because she cannot help it rather than otherwise. Yet the prose encroaches upon her, will she nill she, in this metre of soar and throb. Her admirers put down her submission to the encroachments as a result of 'artistic restraint' — a very convenient thing, but perhaps just a little too convenient for the mediocris poeta. Sometimes (examples may be given below) she can soar; but she cannot always" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:394-95.

Herbert E. Cory: "Katherine Philips, whom we have described as mainly neo-classical, draws from Spenser to adorn a polite and languid Sapphic effusion, Content, To my dearest Lucasia. 'Content, the false World's best disguise, | The search and faction of the wise, | Is so abstruse and hid in night | That, like that Fairy Red-Cross Knight, | Who treacherous Falsehood for clear Truth had got, | Men think they have it when they have it not.' But it was Dryden who sanctified Spenser for the Augustans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 112.

There is another brief allusion in "To the noble Palemon": "Sure the Litigious as amaz'd would stand, | As Fairy Knights touch'd with Cambina's wand" Collected Works, ed. Thomas (1990)1:84.



Content, the false World's best disguise,
The search and faction of the Wise,
Is so abstruse and hid in night,
That, like that Fairy Red-cross Knight,
Who treacherous Falshood for clear Truth had got,
Men think they have it when they have it not.

For Courts Content would gladly own,
But she ne'er dwelt about a Throne:
And to be flatter'd, rich, and great,
Are things which do Mens senses cheat.
But grave Experience long since this did see,
Ambition and Content would ne'er agree.

Some vainer would Content expect
From what their bright Out-sides reflect:
But sure Content is more Divine
Than to be digg'd from Rock or Mine:
And they that know her beauties will confess,
She needs no lustre from a glittering dress.

In Mirth some place her, but she scorns
Th' assistance of such crackling thorns,
Nor owes her self to such thin sport,
That is so sharp and yet so short:
And Painters tell us they the same strokes place
To make a laughing and a weeping face.

Others there are that place Content
In Liberty from Government:
But whomsoe're Passions deprave,
Though free from shackles, he's a slave.
Content and Bondage differ only then,
When we are chain'd by Vices, not by Men.

Some think the Camp Content does know,
And that she sits o' th' Victor's brow:
But in his Laurel there is seen
Often a Cypress-bow between.
Nor will Content her self in that place give,
Where Noise and Tumult and Destruction live.

But yet the most Discreet believe,
The Schools this Jewel do receive,
And thus far's true without dispute,
Knowledge is still the sweetest fruit.
But whilst men seek for Truth they lose their Peace;
And who heaps Knowledge, Sorrow doth increase.

But now some sullen Hermite smiles,
And thinks he all the World beguiles,
And that his Cell and Dish contain
What all mankind wish for in vain.
But yet his pleasure's follow'd with a Groan,
For man was never born to be alone.

Content her self best comprehends
Betwixt two souls, and they two friends,
Whose either joyes in both are fixed,
And multiply'd by being mixed:
Whose minds and interests are so the same;
Their Griefs, when once imparted, lose that name.

These far remov'd from all bold noise,
And (what is worse) all hollow joyes,
Who never had a mean design,
Whose flame is serious and divine,
And calm, and even, must contented be,
For they've both Union and Society.

Then, my Lucasia, we who have
Whatever Love can give or crave;
Who can with pitying scorn survey
The Trifles which the most betray;
With innocence and perfect friendship fir'd
By Vertue joyn'd, and by our Choice retir'd.

Whose Mirrours are the crystal Brooks,
Or else each others Hearts and Looks;
Who cannot wish for other things
Then Privacy and Friendship brings:
Whose thoughts and persons chang'd and mixt are one,
Enjoy Content, or else the World hath none.

[pp. 45-50]