Poems and Extracts/Preface


In one of the most interesting chapters of his Gossip in a Library Mr. Gosse tells of the good luck by which he became possessor of a manuscript volume of the poems of Lady Winchelsea of about the year 1696. With what light-hearted pride he writes: 'If there is any person in the two hemispheres who has so fair a claim upon the ghost of Ardelia, let that man stand forth. Ardelia was uncultivated and unsung when I constituted myself, years ago, her champion!'

So far back, however, as 1815 Wordsworth, in his 'Essay Supplementary to the Preface' of his two-volume edition of Poems, referred to 'some delightful pictures in the Poems of Lady Winchelsea' as containing new images of external nature in an age sadly destitute of poetic recognition of 'the changes produced in the appearances of nature by the revolution of the year.' The year 1820 saw the publication of Wordsworth's sonnet: 'To the Lady Mary Lowther: With a selection from the Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchelsea; and extracts of similar character from other Writers; transcribed by a female friend.' This poem is a favourite with many of Wordsworth's admirers who know nothing of the anthology to which it refers and for which it was written as introduction. It will doubtless interest many such admirers to have a faithful reproduction of the manuscript, that rests here in my library with other Wordsworth treasures.

It is a small quarto in whole citron morocco, heavily gilded on sides and edges, with blue watered silk linings, and has the letters M. F. B. stamped on both sides of the cover. Such, I think, would be a dealer's description of the volume. The inside of it is, however, what interests the Wordsworthian. A slip affixed to one of the blank pages carries the following particulars in the handwriting of Lady Mary Lowther after her marriage[1]: 'These Poems and Extracts were selected by Wm. Wordsworth Esqre. for me (as may be seen by the dedication). The handwriting is that of his sister in law Mrs Hutchinson[2] who wrote as he dictated in the winter evgs. of 1829[3]—M. F. Bentinck.' The dedication referred to is that of the sonnet 'To the Lady Mary Lowther', which in the manuscript is dated from Rydal Mount, Dec. 21, 1819, and bears Wordsworth's autograph signature.

The connexion between the Wordsworths and Lowthers is well known, and need not be described: particulars of the loan by John Wordsworth the elder and the ultimate repayment of the amount to his children form part of every biography of the poet.

Prefixed to this unpublished volume is an original pen-and-ink portrait of Wordsworth which is here reproduced. It is an admirable likeness in profile of the poet, who is pictured crowned with a laurel wreath. It is dated 1839; but the artist's initials are so cunningly woven into monogram as to be undecipherable. Loosely inserted and facing this is a copy of the Richardson engraving of Milton's portrait which gave De Quincey a subject for one of the pleasantest bits of writing in his Lake Poets volume. This engraving of Milton, he says, is 'not only by far the best likeness of Wordsworth, but of Wordsworth in the prime of his powers.' The members of the poet's family were equally impressed with the resemblance. 'In two points only there was a deviation from the rigorous truth of Wordsworth's features—the face was a little too short and too broad, and the eyes were too large. There was also a wreath of laurel about the head, which (as Wordsworth remarked) disturbed the natural expression of the whole picture.'

Probably the artist of the pen-and-ink original before us had this dictum of Wordsworth in his mind, and was accordingly tempted to an endeavour to catch his 'natural expression' as it really would have been under a laurel crown. Or was it rather a friendly prophecy of the Laureateship which was to come to him in 1843?

The volume consists of ninety-two pages, thirty-two of which, it will be seen, are devoted to the Winchelsea extracts; those following being occupied by poems by various other writers. The contents are of interest as indicating Wordsworth's preferences among poems having direct dealing with natural objects and the charms of solitude.

Readers desiring further acquaintance with Lady Winchelsea will find something to their taste in the volume by Mr. Edmund Gosse to which we have referred. Wordsworth, some dozen years after compiling this Anthology, wrote to his friend Alexander Dyce, the editor of Shakespeare, a letter of Winchelsea criticism, in which he says: 'Her style in rhyme is often admirable, chaste, tender, and vigorous; and entirely free from sparkle, antithesis, and that over-culture which reminds one by its broad glare, its stiffness and heaviness, of the double daisies of the garden, compared with their modest and sensitive kindred of the fields.'



  1. Wordsworth wrote to her father, the Earl of Lonsdale, from Paris, Oct. 7, 1820: 'I have purposely deferred congratulating your Lordship on the marriage of Lady Mary with Lord Frederick Bentinck, which I hear has been celebrated. My wishes for her happiness are most earnest.'
  2. Qy. Miss H. (Sarah: died Jan. 1, 1836).
  3. Should be 1819: evidently a slip of the pen.