The melancholy character of Colinetta may owe something to December in the Shepheardes Calender, where Spenser is "Colinet." Mary Leapor does not imitate Spenser, or Pope either for that matter — though she may remember John Gay's Friday, or the Dirge, in The Shepherd's Week (1714). Since Leapor died of the measles in November 1746, Colinetta, "like the Swan expiring" would seem to be the poet herself. She was only twenty-four years old, and her poems were published posthumously by subscription in two substantial volumes in 1748 and 1751. Colinetta was several times reprinted (sometimes anonymously or with a false signature) into the nineteenth century. Mary Leapor was certainly among the best of the eighteenth-century "untutored geniuses"; and like many others, was not afraid to display her literature.
Headnote in The Midwife: "The following Pastoral Piece, written by Mrs. Leapor, exceeds every Thing of that kind, which has yet been exhibited by the Male Authors, and I think does a supreme Honour to our Sex. Where will you find an any of them so much Nature, Sweetness, Simplicity, and Ease, and such a judicious Choice of new and enlivening Epithets?" 1 (1751) 81.
Politian: "She indeed seems to me a remarkable exception to Mr. West's position [in Education, a Poem], being the daughter of a gardener at Brackley in Northamptonshire, and unassisted by art or culture, was indebted for most of her sentiments and poetry to the strength of her own genius, and the flights of her own imagination. Her chief, and indeed her only friend, whom she calls Artimesia, assures us in an ingenious letter prefixt to this volume, that Mrs. Leapor's whole library consisted of about sixteen or seventeen single volumes, among which were part of Mr. Pope's works, Dryden's fables, some volumes of plays, &c." Magazine of Magazines 2 (April 1751) 369.
Samuel Austin Allibone: "Mary Leapor, 1722-1746, the daughter of a gardener.... Her poems have been commended" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:1072.
Did a weary Herbert Cory have this poem in mind when he wrote his odd description of Leapor's The Month of August?: "A shepherdess instead of a shepherd laments an unrequited love and expires elegantly of a broken heart" "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 74n.
'Twas when the Fields had shed their golden Grain.
And burning Suns had sear'd the russet Plain;
No more the Rose nor Hyacinth were seen,
Nor yellow Cowslip on the tufted Green:
But the rude Thistle rear'd its hoary Crown,
And the ripe Nettle shew'd an irksome Brown.
In mournful Plight the tarnish'd Groves appear,
And Nature weeps for the declining Year.
The Sun too quickly reach'd the western Sky,
And rising Vapours hid his ev'ning Eye:
Autumnal Threads around the Branches flew,
While the dry Stubble drank the falling Dew.
In this sick Season, at the close of Day,
On Lydia's Lap pale Colinetta lay;
Whose sallow Cheeks had lost their rosy Dye,
The Sparkles languished in her closing Eye.
Parch'd were those Lips whence Musick us'd to flow,
No more the Flute her weary Fingers know,
Yet thrice to raise her feeble Voice she try'd,
Thrice on her Tongue the fainting Numbers dy'd;
At last reviv'd, on Lydia's Neck she hung,
And like the Swan expiring thus she sung.
Farewel, ye Forests and delightful Hills,
Ye flow'ry Meadows and ye crystal Rills,
Ye friendly Groves to whom we us'd to run,
And beg a Shelter from the burning Sun.
Those blasted Shades all mournful now I see,
Who droop their Heads as tho' they wept for me.
The pensive Linnet has forgot to sing,
The Lark is silent till, returning Spring.
The Spring shall all those wonted Charms restore,
Which Colinetta must behold no more.
Farewel, ye Fields; my native Fields, adieu;
Whose fertile Lays my early Labours knew;
Where, when an Infant, I was wont to stray,
And gather King-cups at the closing Day.
How oft has Lydia told a mournful Tale,
By the clear Lake that shines in yonder Vale;
When she had done I sung a chearful Lay,
While the glad Goldfinch listen'd on the Spray:
Lur'd by my Song each jolly Swain drew near,
And rosy Virgins throng'd around to hear:
Farewel, ye Swains; ye rosy Nymphs, adieu:
Tho' I (unwilling) leave the Streams and you,
Still may soft Musick bless your happy Shore,
But, Colinetta, you must hear no more.
O Lydia, thou, (if wayward Tongues shou'd blame
My Life, and blot a harmless Maiden's Name)
Tell them if e'er I found a straggling Ewe,
Although the Owner's Name I hardly knew;
I fed it kindly with my Father's Hay,
And gave it shelter at the closing Day:
I never stole young Pigeons from their Dams,
Nor from their Pasture drove my Neighbours Lambs:
Nor set my Dog to hunt their Flocks away,
That mine might graze upon the vacant Lay.
When Phillida by dancing won the Prize,
Or Colin prais'd young Mariana's Eyes:
When Damon wedded Urs'la of the Grange,
My Cheek with Envy ne'er was seen to change:
When-e'er I saw Aminda cross the Plain,
Or walk the Forest with her darling Swain,
I never whisper'd to a Stander-by,
But hated Scandal and abhorr'd a Lye.
On Sundays I (as Sister Sue can tell)
Was always ready for the Sermon-bell:
I honour'd both the Teacher and the Day;
Nor us'd to giggle when he bid me pray:
Then sure for me there's something good in Store,
When Colinetta shall be seen no more.
When I am gone, I leave to Sister Sue
My Gown of Jersey, and my Aprons blue.
My studded Sheep-hook Phillida may take,
Likewise my Hay-fork and my Hazel Rake:
My hoarded Apples and my winter Pears
Be thine, O Lydia, to reward thy Cares.
These Nuts that late were pluck'd from yonder Tree,
And this Straw-basket, I bequeath to thee:
That Basket did these dying Fingers weave:
My boxen Flute to Corydon I leave,
So shall it charm the list'ning Nymphs around,
For none like him can make it sweetly sound.
In our Churchyard there grows a spreading Yew,
Whose dark green Leaves distil a baneful Dew:
Be those sad Branches o'er my Grave reclin'd,
And let these Words be graven on the Rind:
"Mark, gentle Reader, — Underneath this Tree,
There sleeps a Maid, old Simon's Daughter she;
Thou too, perhaps, ere many Weeks be o'er,
Like Colinetta, shalt be seen no more."
Here ends the Maid — for now the Seal of Death
Clos'd her pale Lips, and stop'd her rosy Breath.
Her sinking Eye-balls took their long Adieu,
And with a Sigh her harmless Spirit flew.