Writing as "Della Crusca," Robert Merry answers Hannah Cowley's verses, "To Della Crusca. The Pen" (signed "Anna Matilda") thus beginning one of the more famous — or notorious — correspondences in literary history. Merry writes in the Miltonic octosyllabic couplet, taking phrasing and imagery from William Collins ("Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear! | I see, I see Thee near. | I know thy hurried step..."). In calling Anna Matilda his Muse, he casts the Cowley in the role of the allegorical figure of Fancy so common in the Della Cruscan poetry of the day. She had been, if anything, more erotic in her addresses then he is: "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" The World (10 July 1787).
Anna Seward to Hester Thrale Piozzi: "Mr. Merry has hitherto appeared to me a writer of considerable genius; but whom self-confidence, and total want of taste, perpetually betrays into bombast, obscurity, and inelegance. Then the Anna Matilda verses are evidently his composition; and is it not very sickening to see an author creeping beneath a veil of gauze, and proclaiming under it, that he is the first poet the world has ever produced?" 13 February 1789; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 2:244.
European Magazine: "Were I (I, or we, Sir, we) were we inclined to find fault with the poetry of Della Crusca and Anna Matilda, we could do it but in a slight degree: — we could only say, that by straining too much at novelty of expression, they have sometimes thereby debased the thought; witness 'the slow river's crumpled wave — the cobweb robe — the rude yell of the tumbling tide — Petrarch's tuneful throat,' &c. These however, to make use of a common-place, though on that account not less beautiful, comparison, are spots in the sun" 15 (April 1789) 283-84.
I know thee well, enchanting Maid!
I've marked thee in the silent shade,
I've seen thee on the mountain's height,
I've met thee in the storms of night;
I've view'd thee, on the wild beach run
To gaze upon the setting sun;
Then stop aghast, his ray no more,
To hear th' impetuous surge's roar.
Hast thou not stood with rapt'rous eye
To trace the starry worlds on high,
T' observe the moon's weak crescent throw
O'er hills, and weeds, a glimm'ring glow:
Or, all beside some wizard stream,
To watch its undulating beam?
O well thy form divine I know—
When youthful errors brought me woe;
When all was dreary to behold,
And many a bosom-friend grew cold;
Thou, thou unlike the summer crew
That from my adverse fortune flew,
Cam'st, with melodious voice, to cheer
My throbbing heart, and check the tear.
From thee I learnt, 'twas vain to scan
The low ingratitude of Man;
Thou bad'st me Fancy's wilds to rove,
And seek th' extatic bow'r of Love.
When on his couch I threw me down,
I saw thee weave a myrtle crown,
And blend it with the shining hair
Of her, the Fairest of the Fair.
For this, may ev'ry wand'ring gale
The essence of the rose exhale,
And pour the fragrance on thy breast,
And gently fan thy charms to rest.
Soon as the purple slumbers fly
The op'ning radiance of thine eye,
Strike, strike again, the magic lyre,
With all thy pathos, all thy fire;
With all that sweetly-warbled grace,
Which proves thee of celestial race.
O then, in varying colours drest,
And living glory stand confest,
Shake from thy locks ambrosial dew,
And thrill each pulse of joy a-new;
With glowing ardors rouse my soul,
And bid the tides of Passion roll.
But think no longer in disguise,
To screen thy beauty from mine eyes;
Nor deign a borrow'd name to use,
For well I know — thou art the MUSE!