Monday’s Verse 9/21/2015

Dear readers,

In summer 1791, one Mercy Warren sent to Alexander Hamilton a book of dramatic verse titled Ladies of Castille. It included other miscellaneous lyrics like the one below. In a flirtatious written response, Hamilton wrote, "Not being a poet myself, I am in the less danger of feeling mortification at the idea that, in the career of dramatic composition at least, female genius in the United States has outstripped the male."

With the publication, Warren joined Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley as the only American women to have published poems in book form. She was also an essayist and historian, deeply involved in the cultural and political upheavals of the revolution (as this poem attests–it takes from Shakespeare a political lesson about American independence). Mercy Otis Warren ("Ne’er warm is to cry") lived from 1728-1814. A cache of unpublished poems was published in 1981, leading to renewed interest in her literary output. One can find academic articles on her political and literary writings, including at least one by a leading scholar, from the 1990s and 2000s.

The poem below takes on a lot: literary criticism, independence, feminist history, and–like Shakespeare–just a little self-referential horn-tooting. -ed.

TO MRS. MONTAGUE, AUTHOR OF "OBSERVATIONS ON THE GENIUS AND WRITINGS OF SHAKESPEARE"

WILL Montague, whose critic pen adds praise,
Ev’n to a Shakespeare’s bold exalted lays;
Who points the faults in sweet Corneille’s page,
Sees all the errors of the Gallic stage —
Corrects Voltaire with a superior hand,
Or traces genius in each distant land?
Will she across the Atlantic stretch her eye,
Look o’er the main, and view the western sky;
And there Columbia’s infant drama see —
Reflect that Britain taught us to be free;
Survey with candour what she can’t approve;
Let local fondness yield to gen’rous love;
And, if fair truth forbids her to commend,
Then let the critic soften to the friend.

The bard of Avon justly bears the meed
Of fond applause, from Tyber to the Tweed;
Each humbler muse at distance may admire,
But none to Shakespeare’s fame ere dare aspire.
And if your isle, where he so long has charm’d,
If Britain’s sons, when by his mantle warm’d,
Have soar’d in vain to reach his lofty quill,
Nature to paint with true Shakespearean skill —
A sister’s hand may wrest a female pen,
From the bold outrage of imperious men.

If gentle Montague my chaplet raise,
Critics may frown, or mild good nature praise;
Secure I’ll walk, and placid move along,
And heed alike their censure or their song;
I’ll take my stand by fam’d Parnassus’ side,
And for a moment feel a poet’s pride.

-Plymouth, July 10, 1790

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