Susanna Blamire

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Susanna Blamire
Susanna Blamire Cambruzzi.jpg
Born 12 January 1747
Died 1794 (aged 46–47)
Occupation Poet
Nationality English
Literary movement Romanticism
Notable works Stoklewath, or The Cumbrian Village; And ye shall walk in silk attire

Susanna Blamire (1747–1794) was an English Romantic poet, known as The Muse of Cumberland because many of her poems depict rural life in the county and, therefore, provide a valuable contradistinction to those amongst the poems of William Wordsworth that regard the same subject, in addition to those of the other Lake Poets, especially those of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and in addition to those of Lord Byron, whose The Prisoner of Chillon she may have influenced. Blamire composed much of her poetry outside, sat beside a stream in her garden at Thackwood. She also played the guitar and the flageolet, both of which she used in the process of the composition of her poetry.

Blamire has been described as 'unquestionably the greatest female poet of [the Romantic] age' and, by Jonathan Wordsworth, a great-nephew of William Wordsworth, 'as important as the other Romantic poets writing during the eighteenth century'.

Blamire's song And Ye shall walk in silk attire, referenced by Charles Dickens in The Old Curiosity Shop is well known.[1] Her magnum opus is Stoklewath, or The Cumbrian Village.

Life[edit]

Blamire was born at Cardew Hall, near Cardew, Cumberland, on 12 January 1747. Her parents were William Blamire, a farmer who died in 1758, and Isabella Simpson of Stockdalewath who died in 1753. Left an orphan, she went to live with her mother's sister Mary who farmed at Thackwood, Stockdalewath. She was educated at the Dame school at Raughton Head, before being privately tutored, at home, by masters from the Sebergham Grammar School, where the poet Joseph Relph had been Headmaster.[2]

Social milieu[edit]

Her brother William, who married to a sister of John Christian Curwen was the father of William Blamire, who served as High Sheriff of Cumberland and MP for Cumberland. Another brother, Richard, was a bookseller in London who published many of William Gilpin's work regarding the picturesque. Via these brothers, Susanna was introduced to the London literary milieu.[2][3] Her sister married Colonel Graham of Gartmore, an officer in the Highland regiment,  giving a social connection to Scotland. Susannah went as her sister's companion on trips to The Scottish HighlandsLondon and Ireland[4] In Carlisle she encountered Catharine Gilpin of Scaleby Castle, who became a friend and possibly, according to Mandell Creighton, a co-author in verse.[5] Through another aunt, Mrs Fell a curates wife from Chilingham, she befriended the aristocratic Tankerville family: there was talk of a possible marriage between her and the family's eldest son, Lord Ossulton, but the rigid social mores of the times prevented it and he was sent abroad.[2] She remained unmarried.[6] Blamire was also a friend of the philosopher William Paley.[2]

Illness and Death[edit]

Blamire suffered from a recurrent and severe form of rheumatic heart disease, which killed her at the age of 47.[2]

She died on 5 April 1794 in Carlisle and is buried by her own request at Raughton Head chapel.[7]

Works[edit]

Blamire often composed her poetry beside a stream in the garden at her residence at Thackwood. She also played the guitar and the flageolet, which she sometimes played whilst composing.[2] She circulated her work privately, and pinned it to trees, and little of it was published during her lifetime. However, some of her poetry was published in single sheets, anthologies, and magazines, during her lifetime.[8] Anonymously, to the Scots Musical Museum, Blamire contributed songs in Lallans: What ails this Heart o' Mine?, and The Siller Croun (alias And ye shall walk in Silk Attire).[9] With The Waefu' Heart, these three of her works were set to music by Joseph Haydn.[10][11]

Her complete works were first compiled and published, by Patrick Maxwell of Edinburgh and Henry Lonsdale of Carlisle, in 1842, as The Poetical Works of Miss Susanna Blamire, The Muse of Cumberland.[8] These two publishers had collected her manuscripts since 1836.[7] Her corpus contains Gothic allegories in Standard English; songs in the Scots dialect, such as What ails this Heart o' Mine; songs in the Cumberland dialect, such as 'Wey, Ned! Man!', which are comparable to poems in the same dialect by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in their Lyrical Ballads; colloquial epistles addressed to friends; and the use of heroic couplets, in Stoklewath or the Cumbrian Village, an intricate depiction of rural life that is her most accomplished poem.[8] Patrick Maxwell, aforementioned, claimed that Blamire was "unquestionably the best female writer of her age".[12]

She has been credited with anticipating the Romantic conception of the world immortalized by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Furthermore, her poem The Nun's Return to the World [...] may have been an influence on Lord Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon: Blamire's nephew, William Brown, was the tutor of Annabella Milbanke, and Byron could have read a transcript of Blamire's poems whilst at Seaham Manor, directly after his marriage to Milbanke in 1815.[2]

Reception of Poetry[edit]

Charles Dickens in his The Old Curiosity Shop (1841, end of chapter 66) had quoted its first two lines:

" 'Sir' said Dick [Swiveller], ... 'we'll make a scholar of the poor Marchioness yet! And she shall walk in silk attire, and siller have to spare, or may I never rise from this bed again!' ".

Hugh MacDiarmid praised her in a radio broadcast in 1947, as "this sweet Cumbrian singer". He insisted that her Scottish songs are "the high-water mark of her achievement … so good that they can be set beside the best that have ever been produced by Scotsmen writing in their own tongue".[13] Jonathan Wordsworth, a great-nephew of William Wordsworth, dubbed her, in 1994, "The Poet of Friendship", predicting on BBC Radio Cumbria in 1998 that "Susanna will eventually be seen as important as the other Romantic poets writing during the eighteenth century, and should be more widely read". In The New Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry he likened Blamire's social position to that of Jane Austen:

‘the well-to-do maiden aunt’s life of good works and humorous observation'.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ George Sampson (1970). The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 497. ISBN 978-0-521-09581-5. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Maycock, Christopher Hugh. "Blamire, Susanna". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2600. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Evans, Eric J. "Blamire, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2601. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ R. Lonsdale p278
  5. ^  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1886). "Blamire, Susanna". Dictionary of National Biography. 5. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. ^ Lonsdale, Roger (Ed) (1989). Eighteenth Century Women Poets. Oxford. p. 278. ISBN 0192827758.
  7. ^ a b R. Lonsdale p279
  8. ^ a b c Birch, Dinah (2009). The Oxford Companion to English Literature; Seventh Edition. OUP. p. 134.
  9. ^ Adolphus William Ward; Alfred Rayney Waller (1932). The Cambridge History of English Literature. CUP Archive. pp. 232–. GGKEY:9TWG25E2E2T. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  10. ^ Vocal settings of texts by Susanna Blamire
  11. ^ The LiederNet Archive: The siller crown.
  12. ^ Susanna Blamire; Henry Lonsdale; Patrick Maxwell (of Edinburgh.) (1842). The Poetical Works of Miss Susanna Blamire ... J. Menzies. pp. xxxix–xl. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  13. ^ Christopher Maycock (2003). A Passionate Poet: Susanna Blamire, 1747-94 : a Biography. Hypatia Publications. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-872229-42-3. Retrieved 11 June 2013.

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