A Celebration of Women Writers

" The Spleen " by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661 - 1720)
From Winchilsea, Anne (Kingsmill) Finch, Countess of. Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, London: printed for J[ohn] B[arber] and sold by Benj. Tooke at the Middle-Temple-Gate, William Taylor in Pater-Noster-Row, and James Round, in Exchange-Alley, Cornhil, 1713. pp. 88-96.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 88]


A Pindarick Poem.

What art thou, SPLEEN, which ev'ry thing dost ape? {1}
  Thou Proteus to abus'd Mankind, {2}
  Who never yet thy real Cause cou'd find,
Or fix thee to remain in one continued Shape.
  Still varying thy perplexing Form,
  Now a Dead Sea thou'lt represent,
  A Calm of stupid Discontent,
Then, dashing on the Rocks wilt rage into a Storm.
  Trembling sometimes thou dost appear,
  Dissolv'd into a Panick Fear;
  On Sleep intruding dost thy Shadows spread,
  Thy gloomy Terrours round the silent Bed,
And croud with boading Dreams the Melancholy Head:
  Or, when the Midnight Hour is told,
And drooping Lids thou still dost waking hold,

[Page 89]

  Thy fond Delusions cheat the Eyes,
  Before them antick Spectres dance,
Unusual Fires their pointed Heads advance,
  And airy Phantoms rise.
  Such was the monstrous Vision seen,
When Brutus (now beneath his Cares opprest,
And all Rome's Fortunes rolling in his Breast,
  Before Philippi's latest Field,
Before his Fate did to Octavius lead)
  Was vanquish'd by the Spleen. {3}

  Falsly, the Mortal Part we blame
  Of our deprest, and pond'rous Frame,
  Which, till the First degrading Sin {4}
  Let Thee, its dull Attendant, in,
  Still with the Other did comply,
Nor clogg'd the Active Soul, dispos'd to fly,
And range the Mansions of it's native Sky.

[Page 90]

  Nor, whilst in his own Heaven he dwelt,
  Whilst Man his Paradice possest,
His fertile Garden in the fragrant East, {5}
  And all united Odours smelt,
  No armed Sweets, until thy Reign,
  Cou'd shock the Sense, or in the Face
  A flusht, unhandsom Colour place.
Now the Jonquille o'ercomes the feeble Brain;
We faint beneath the Aromatick Pain, {6}
Till some offensive Scent thy Pow'rs appease,
And Pleasure we resign for short, and nauseous Ease.

  In ev'ry One thou dost possess,
  New are thy Motions, and thy Dress:
  Now in some Grove a list'ning Friend
  Thy false Suggestions must attend,
Thy whisper'd Griefs, thy fancy'd Sorrows hear,
Breath'd in a Sigh, and witness'd by a Tear;

[Page 91]

  Whilst in the light, and vulgar Croud,
  Thy Slaves, more clamorous and loud,
By Laughters unprovok'd, thy Influence too confess.
In the Imperious Wife thou Vapours art,
  Which from o'erheated Passions rise
  In Clouds to the attractive Brain,
  Until descending thence again,
  Thro' the o'er-cast, and show'ring Eyes,
  Upon her Husband's soften'd Heart,
  He the disputed Point must yield,
Something resign of the contested Field;
Til Lordly Man, born to Imperial Sway,
Compounds for Peace, to make that Right away,
And Woman, arm'd with Spleen, do's servilely Obey.

  The Fool, to imitate the Wits,
  Complains of thy pretended Fits,
  And Dulness, born with him, wou'd lay
  Upon thy accidental Sway;

[Page 92]

  Because, sometimes, thou dost presume
  Into the ablest Heads to come:
  That, often, Men of Thoughts refin'd,
  Impatient of unequal Sence,
Such slow Returns, where they so much dispense,
Retiring from the Croud, are to thy Shades inclin'd.
  O'er me, alas! thou dost too much prevail:
  I feel thy Force, whilst I against thee rail;
I feel my Verse decay, and my crampt Numbers fail.
Thro' thy black Jaundice I all Objects see,
  As Dark, and Terrible as Thee,
My Lines decry'd, and my Employment thought
An useless Folly, or presumptuous Fault:
  Whilst in the Muses Paths I stray, {7}
Whilst in their Groves, and by their secret Springs
My Hand delights to trace unusual Things,
And deviates from the known, and common way;
  Nor will in fading Silks compose
  Faintly th' inimitable Rose,

[Page 93]

Fill up an ill-drawn Bird, or paint on Glass {8}
The Sov'reign's blurr'd and undistinguish'd Face, {9}
The threatning Angel, and the speaking Ass. {10}

  Patron thou art to ev'ry gross Abuse,
    The sullen Husband's feign'd Excuse,
When the ill Humour with his Wife he spends,
And bears recruited Wit, and Spirits to his Friends.
    The Son of Bacchus pleads thy Pow'r, {11}
    As to the Glass he still repairs,
    Pretends but to remove thy Cares,
Snatch from thy Shades one gay, and smiling Hour,
And drown thy Kingdom in a purple Show'r.
When the Coquette, whom ev'ry Fool admires,
    Wou'd in Variety be Fair,
    And, changing hastily the Scene
    From Light, Impertinent, and Vain,
  Assumes a soft, a melancholy Air,

[Page 94]

  And of her Eyes rebates the wand'ring Fires,
  The careless Posture, and the Head reclin'd,
    The thoughtful, and composed Face,
  Proclaiming the withdrawn, the absent Mind,
  Allows the Fop more liberty to gaze,
  Who gently for the tender Cause inquires;
  The Cause, indeed, is a Defect in Sense,
Yet is the Spleen alleg'd, and still the dull Pretence.
    But these are thy fantastic Harms,
    The Tricks of thy pernicious Stage,
    Which do the weaker Sort engage;
  Worse are the dire Effects of thy more pow'rful Charms.
    By Thee Religion, all we know,
    That shou'd enlighten here below,
    Is veil'd in Darkness, and perplext
  With anxious Doubts, with endless Scruples vext,
And some Restraint imply'd from each perverted Text.

[Page 95]

  Whilst Touch not, Taste not, what is freely giv'n,
Is but thy niggard Voice, disgracing bounteous Heav'n.
  From Speech restrain'd, by thy Deceits abus'd,
  To Desarts banish'd, or in Cells reclus'd,
  Mistaken Vot'ries to the Pow'rs Divine, {12}
  Whilst they a purer Sacrifice design,
Do but the Spleen obey, and worship at thy Shrine.
  In vain to chase thee ev'ry Art we try,
    In vain all Remedies apply,
    In vain the Indian Leaf infuse,
    Or the parch'd Eastern Berry bruise;
Some pass, in vain, those Bounds, and nobler Liquors use.
    Now Harmony, in vain, we bring,
    Inspire the Flute, and touch the String.
    From Harmony no help is had;
Musick but soothes thee, if too sweetly sad,
And if too light, but turns thee gayly Mad.

[Page 96]

    Tho' the Physicians greatest Gains,
    Altho' his growing Wealth he sees
    Daily increas'd by Ladies Fees,
  Yet dost thou baffle all his studious Pains.
    Not skilful Lower thy Source cou'd find,
  Or thro' the well-dissected Body trace
    The secret, the mysterious ways,
By which thou dost surprize, and prey upon the Mind.
  Tho' in the Search, too deep for Humane Thought,
    With unsuccessful Toil he wrought,
  'Til thinking Thee to've catch'd, Himself by thee was caught,
    Retain'd thy Pris'ner, thy acknowleg'd Slave,
And sunk beneath thy Chain to a lamented Grave.

[Page 97]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


Notes originally by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1713) are preceded by the notation [AF]. Notes by Myra Reynolds (1903) are credited with the notation [MR]. Uncredited notes are the addition of the page maintainer.

  1. Anne Finch suffered from recurrent bouts of depression, also known as 'spleen', 'melancholy', or the 'vapours'. The description given in this poem was admired by contemporary physicians for its clinical accuracy. The poem was her best known and most widely acclaimed work during her lifetime.
  2. Proteus was a Greek sea-god, capable of assuming a myriad of forms.
  3. In Shakespeare's portrayal, Brutus sees visions the night before he is defeated at Philippi by Octavius.
  4. It was a standard belief in orthodox theology that illness and physical decay were the result of Original Sin.
  5. The garden of Eden.
  6. [MR] Mr. Saintsbury (Short History of Eng. Lit., p. 563) suggests that Lady Winchilsea borrowed her phrase "aromatic pain" from Dryden. The reference is probably to Dryden, Annus Mirabilis, st. 29., reads:
    Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball,
      And now their odours armed against them fly;
    Some preciously by shattered porcelain fall
      And some by aromatic splinters die.
    Mr. Gosse, in Ward's English Poets, called attention to the fact that Pope borrowed from Lady Winchilsea his phrase "aromatic pain." The line in Pope is (Essay on Man, 1:200):
    Die of a rose in aromatic pain.
    Mr. Gosse now further calls my attention to the following lines in Shelley's Epipsychidion:
    And from the mass violets and jonquils peep,
    And dart their arrowy odour through the brain,
    Till you might faint with that delicious pain.
    This is almost certainly a conscious recollection of Ardelia's lines.
  7. The Muses are nine sister goddesses of Greek mythology who preside over song, poetry, and other arts and sciences.
  8. Embroidery, tapestry, and painting were acceptable pastimes for women, while poetry was not.
  9. William of Orange had displaced King James II in 1688.
  10. The Old Testament prophet Balaam was reproached by the ass he rode and rebuked by God's angel, while on the way to meet with an enemy of Israel.
  11. Bacchus was the Greek god of wine.
  12. This passage is a criticism of the Puritan's obsession with sin and repression.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom