1813
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Introduction to Narrative Poems on the Female Character.

Narrative Poems on the Female Character, in the various Relations of Life. By Mary Russell Mitford.

Mary Russell Mitford


Three Spenserians. Mary Russell Mitford alludes to Walter Scott's Don Roderick (1811) a poem celebrating the Peninsular Campaign, also in Spenserians.

Preface: "In attempting a series of Narrative Poems on the Female Character, the Author's attention has been first directed to the less tender relations and less imperious duties of Woman. Friendship, endeared by the ties and habits of kindred, forms therefore the groundwork of her first, and sisterly love, of her second tale; whilst both are intended to exemplify, though in very different degrees and situations, the nearly similar virtues of sweetness. gentleness, and forbearance, and of that patience, passive for itself, but active for others, which is, perhaps, only the feminine of fortitude.... Should the success of these specimens encourage the author to complete the series, it will be comprised in three volumes. The next will contain a tale on Filial Affection, in the heroic couplet of Pope and Dryden, and a shorter and lighter poem on the subject of Love" (New York edition, 1813) ix-x.

No further volumes appeared. The idea of a cycle recalls Hannah More's Plays on the Passions.

Richard Alfred Davenport to Mary Russell Mitford: "How does your second volume go on? I hope that the genius of indolence does not still hold you in his fetters. We are all ready enough to put on those fetters — at least, I can answer for myself. But Spenser says — speaking, however, on quite a different subject — 'Folly it were in any being free, | To covet fetters, golden though they be.' Positively, I must insist that you do find or make a story — not to excuse yourself, but to fill a second volume" 29 January 1815; in L'Estrange, Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford (1882) 79.

Mary Russell Mitford: "In my very early girlhood, I had followed my destiny as a pupil of Miss Rowden, by committing the sin of rhyming. No less than three octavo volumes had I perpetrated in two years. They had all the faults incident to a young lady's verses, and one of them had been deservedly castigated by the "Quarterly." Nevertheless, they had had their praisers — as what young ladies' verses have not! — Large impressions had gone rapidly off; one had run into a second edition; they had been republished in America — always so kind to me! — two or three of the shorter pieces had been thought good enough to be stolen; and Mr. Coleridge had prophesied of the larger ones, that he authoress of "Blanche" would write a tragedy. So I took heart of grace, and resolved to try a play" introduction to Mitford, Dramatic Works (1854) 1:xviii-xix.



Ye Cliffs, that echo to Gaul's iron tread,
Ye Hills, whose soft turf bears the English train,
Ye Gales, whose spirit-stirring breath can spread
The bannerets of Liberty and Spain;
Say, can ye now resound the peaceful strain,
Such as ye wont, wild and irregular,
When the sweet pipe came soften'd o'er the plain,
Or lightly mingled with the gay guitar!
Can you such notes resound — or are they drown'd in War?

I sing, not I, of battles bravely won;
Not mine the "verse of tumult and of flame"
That tells the deeds of gallant Wellington,
Or consecrates the glories of the Graeme.
I sing them not — nor though one honor'd name
Woke not of Albyn's bard the peerless string,
Moore, be thy life, thy death, a better fame
Than the low dirge that, faintly carolling,
My feeble lyre could breathe, my weaker voice could sing!

Not for such lofty strain I seek thy strand,
Romantic Spain! 'Tis but to while away
The lingering hours in Fancy's fairy land,
And frame wild fictions of thy elder day:
Now the sad vision chace, now own its sway,
Tho' variable, as the fitful dream
Of brain-sick fever, the capricious lay:
Change to the subject suited well, I deem,
For Woman's is the song, and Woman is the theme.

[New York (1813) vii-viii]