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Friday, 21 September 2012

Mary Leapor: Mira's Will


In a Park: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, c. 1862, oil on canvas, 47 x 48 cm (National Museum, Belgrade)

Imprimis -- My departed Shade I trust
To Heav’n -- My Body to the silent Dust;
My Name to publick Censure I submit,
To be dispos’d of as the World thinks fit;
My Vice and Folly let Oblivion close,
The World already is o’erstock’d with those;
My Wit I give, as Misers give their Store,
To those who think they had enough before.
Bestow my Patience to compose the Lives
Of slighted Virgins and neglected Wives;
To modish Lovers I resign my Truth,
My cool Reflexion to unthinking Youth;
And some Good-nature give (‘tis my Desire)
To surly Husbands, as their Needs require;
And first discharge my Funeral -- and then
To the Small poets I bequeath my Pen.
       Let a small Sprig (true Emblem of my Rhyme)
Of blasted Laurel on my Hearse recline;
Let some grave Wight, that struggles for Renown,
By chanting Dirges through a Market-Town,
With gentle Step precede the solemn Train;
A broken Flute upon his Arm shall lean.
Six comick Poets may the Corse surround,
And All Free-holders; if they can be found:
Then follow next the melancholy Throng,
As shrewd instructors, who themselves are wrong.
The Virtuoso, rich in Sun-dry’d Weeds,
The Politician, whom no Mortal heeds,
The silent Lawyer, chamber’d all the Day,
And the stern Soldier that receives no Pay.
But stay -- the Mourners shou’d be first our Care,
Let the freed Prentice lead the Miser’s Heir;
Let the young relict wipe her mournful Eye,
And widow’d Husbands o’er their Garlick cry.
      All this let my Executors fulfil,
And rest assur’d that this is Mira’s Will;
Who was, when she these Legacies design’d,
In Body healthy, and compos’d in Mind.

File:Young Girl Reading by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot c1868.jpg

Young Girl Reading: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, c. 1868, oil on panel, 32.5 x 41.3 cm (National Gallery of Art)

Poetry: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, n.d., oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne)

Mary Leapor (1722-1746): Mira's Will, from Poems Upon Several Occasions, 1748

Mrs. Mary Leapor was born at Marston St. Lawrence, in Northamptonshire, in the year 1722; whence she removed with her father, a gardener, to Brackley in the same county, where she resided the remainder of her life. Mrs. Leapor from her childhood delighted in reading, and particularly Poetry, but had few opportunities of procuring any books of that kind: her whole library consisted of sixteen or seventeen odd volumes, among which were part of the works of Mr. Pope, her greatest favourite, Dryden's fables, some volumes of plays, & c. Her person was indeed plain, but the reader must not form an idea of it from the poem call'd Mira's Picture, for though she has there made very free with herself, yet her appearance was by no means disagreeable. The poem was occasioned by her hearing that a gentleman, who had seen some of her verses, desired to know what her person was. The reader will be still more surprised at the excellence of her writings, when he is informed that her death, which was occasioned by the measles, happened so early as her 24th year.

-- George Coleman, in George Coleman and Bonnell Thornton: Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755)

Mary Leapor is one of the instances which may be produced of the powers of natural genius, little assisted by education. She was the daughter of a person who, at the time of her birth, the 26th of February 1722, was gardener to Judge Blencowe, at Marston St. Laurence, in Northamptonshire. She was brought up under the care of a pious and sensible mother, who died a few years before her. The little education which she received, consisted wholly in being taught to read and write. She began at a very early age to compose verses, at first with the approbation of her parents, who afterwards, imagining an attention to poetry would be prejudicial to her, endeavoured by every possible means to discountenance her in such pursuits. These, however, were ineffectual, and she was at last left to follow the bent of her genius and inclination. She died of the measles, the 12th of November 1746, at Brackley; and after her death two volumes of poems were printed in 8vo. in 1748 and 1751.

-- Isaac Reed, in Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse (1782)


Susan Kay Anderson said...

Mira's Will
so crowded
more than little hats
no room for the coffin
the urn

I guess that could be
the reason
to avoid dying
spell check
regrets about
the cormorant

TC said...

At some point in her adolescence, Mary Leapor became a kitchen maid. Her first employer, Susanna Jennens, had an interest in literature and encouraged Mary's's verse writing. After leaving Jennen's service, Leapor may have worked for several other households. Dismissed by her last employer in 1745, possibly because of her practice of writing poetry when she was supposed to be doing housework, Mary returned to Brackley to keep house for her father. Her plays and poems were circulated in manuscript around Brackley. She died soon after contracting the measles, two months before her first published poem, “The Rural Maid's Reflexions,” appeared in the London Magazine under the byline “a gardener's daughter.”

Hazen said...

Leapor shows herself to be a giver, a wry and joyful and generous one at that. Too soon gone. Corot, who esteemed and painted ordinary folk, is perfect here.

TC said...


Your reaction is shared here.

There is the saying: for Corot, Women Are Art.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Oh, another rotten poem
the trees won't talk
to me today
the stars wait

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Common Preoccupation

This sleep eat
these surprising mix-
ups at work. I want
them to be surprising
but now
another burnt out
Po outside of it.

The woods outside
brush strokes
to see the paint
color serious
common dilemmas.

Wooden Boy said...

"My Wit I give, as Misers give their Store/ To those who think they had enough before"

She's a wry one! A great bequest for some lucky bore.

ACravan said...

This is a wonderful, welcome surprise for me and comprise an amazingly full plate of thought and sensation. The Corots are so beautiful in themselves and act as a remarkable evocation of Mary Leapor. For what it's worth, these materials kind of give me hope that I can see my way through what must be a very confusing time for everyone. Curtis

TC said...

Can't help feeling the Corots lend to Mary Leapor's art the dignity her low class status and demeaning occupation denied her. One supposes she simply could not NOT write -- there can be no other explanation for her perseverance. It is a pleasure to know her intelligent voice is now at last being heard, at least here, by a few discerning readers.

The top Corot is wonderful to behold -- the tranquil patch of lit floor-of-the-woods space in which he locates the musing figure, in her solitude, and the energetic turbulence of blown foliage way up at the ceiling of the piece, a finger-smudge-suggested whirl of leaves in a sunny blue celestial sky.

ACravan said...

The top Corot is astonishing. "Could not Not write" seems to say it all. I think that's where I derive the sense of hope -- seeing a gifted and industrious person unwilling not to do what they were clearly meant to do. Curtis

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

It is not only a pleasure for me to hear her youthful, intelligent voice, it is also humbling.

TC said...

Mary's literary obsession at times makes for ironic moments, as in the prelude to the longish country-house-as-seen-from-downstairs genre-subverting piece "Crumble-Hall":

When Friends or Fortune frown on Mira's Lay,
Or gloomy Vapours hide the Lamp of Day;
With low'ring Forehead, and with aching Limbs,
Oppress'd with Head-ach, and eternal Whims,
Sad Mira vows to quit the darling Crime:
Yet takes her Farewel, and Repents, in Rhyme.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Oh my, poetry won't be the answer, either.
Why did I put all my hope
into the poetry basket
with the other eggs?
The milk, the honey
from the market
my tears at this juncture
land in my hands
ruin the clean sheet
of paper
it is not the last
in the world but seems so.
"part of this world"
the poet says of the field,
the raspberry scratches
so beautiful, so fine.