To Della Crusca. The Pen.

The World, Fashionable Advertiser (10 July 1787).

Hannah Cowley

Writing as "Anna Matilda," the dramatist Hannah Cowley answers Robert Merry's "The Adieu and Recall to Love" published a few days earlier, thus beginning the correspondence that enthralled London for the year it continued in the newspaper, and indeed for several years beyond. Mary Robinson later entered the conversation, writing under the name "Laura Maria." Neither party knew the other's identity, though "Della Crusca" eventually gave in to temptation and insisted upon becoming acquainted with the matronly Anna Matilda. While particulars are not recorded, the correspondence terminated shortly afterwards. Cowley's identity was not generally known, and Merry's 1799 obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine identifies "Anna Matilda" as Mrs. Robinson. While the Della Cruscans did not invent the newspaper conversation in verse, they exerted a potent influence over contributors to British and American periodicals that extended for decades.

Christopher Lake Moody: "Who are the real authors of the several pieces bearing the signatures of Della Crusca, Anna Matilda, Arley, Benedict, the Bard, and Edwin, THE WORLD has not seen fit to inform us; and as we have not the omniscient Jackson, nor any other omniscient gentleman in our corps, it cannot be expected that we should discover them. Thus much, however, we have been fortunate enough to have traced out, that Della Crusca is supposed to be Mr. Merry, that Arley is certainly Mr. M. P. Andrews, and that the Bard is thought to be a Mr. Berkley. Time, who is celebrated for blabbing the profoundest secrets, will probably, if we exercise a little patience, acquaint us with the real name of Anna Matilda, which is now, we find, carefully concealed; and of all the rest, at present, we must content ourselves with reading their verses. By these it appears that none of them are vulgar writers. Della Crusca, who, we must confess, has pleased us most, appears to be a gentleman, a scholar, and a poet; and several of his pieces claim a distinguished place in the class of modern poetry.... The concealed Lady is not equal to her unseen admirer, either as a philosopher or as a poet, yet we lament that 'her book is clos'd — her lyre is broke'" review of Poetry of the World 79 (November 1788) Monthly Review 449, 452.

W. Davenport Adams: "Mrs. Hannah Cowley (b. 1749, d. 1809), dramatist and poetess, wrote The Runaway, a comedy, produced in 1776; The Belle's Strategem (1780); A Bold Stroke for a Husband; and numerous other dramatic pieces; also poems entitled The Maid of Arragon, The Scottish Village, and The Siege of Acre" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 158.

O! seize again thy golden quill,
And with its point my bosom thrill;
With magic touch explore my heart,
And bid the tear of passion start.
Thy golden quill APOLLO gave—
Drench'd first in bright Aonia's wave:
He snatch'd it flutt'ring thro' the sky,
Borne on the vapour of a sigh;
It fell from Cupid's burnish'd wing
As forcefully he drew the string;
Which sent his keenest, surest dart
Thro' a rebellious frozen heart,
That had till then defy'd his pow'r,
And vacant beat thro' each dull hour.

Be worthy then the sacred loan!
Seated on Fancy's air-built throne;
Immerse it in her rainbow hues,
Nor, what the Godheads bid, refuse.
APOLLO, CUPID, shall inspire,
And aid thee with their blended fire.
The one, poetic language give,
The other bid thy passion live;
With soft ideas fill thy lays,
And crown with LOVE thy wintry days!