Cowper: Fanny Price

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him and said in a low voice– O Brother, where Art thou

“Cut down an avenue? What a pity! Does that not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’ ”

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Fanny Price, like Austen, was very fond of William Cowper, a poet of the eighteenth century. He was not a Romantic poet, but his brooding, melancholy, emotional writing had great influence over poets of the Regency, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. Cowper suffered bouts of insanity and deep depression–he wrote various hymns preserved today in the Sacred Harp (think O Brother, Where Art Thou?) but it was his poetry, encouraged by various women in his life, that gave him a much-needed outlet for his despair.

In Nature he sought solace:

Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.
Unconscious of a less propitious clime,
There blooms exotic beauty, warm and snug,
While the winds whistle and the snows descend.Crazy Kate from Cowper's "The Task" by Fussli - the depths of despair
The spiry myrtle with unwithering leaf
Shines there, and flourishes.

The Task, Book III, The Garden

But humanity, like nature, eventually dies:

I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since: with many an arrow deep infix’d
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew,
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.

What does it mean to have a Regency-era character who adores Cowper? He might be depressed and perhaps thinking of his own death. She might look upon the trees in the park,  and find comfort from the stress of every day living, as Fanny does in Mansfield Park:

“Here’s harmony! Here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe. Here’s what may tranquilize every care, and lift the heart to rapture!”

The Regency Poet of Wine and Love

Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852) was an Irish poet popular not only in Regency England but in America as well.

They called him Anacreon Moore, and not just for his translation of that poet’s Odes.

The Greek poet Anacreon 582-485 BC)

Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet whose bacchanalia earned him the reputation of a lecherous drunkard:

Ah tell me why you turn and fly,My little Thracian filly shy?

I can tell you why.  Just look at the man.

Apart from wine and love, a poet must needs be passionate, and Tom Moore was definitely that. It helped to be Irish–he being the son of a Dublin grocer.  Upon his arrival in London, Lord Lansdowne was among the first to recognize his considerable talent.  The marquess introduced him to the first circles of the ton and soon he was writing to his mama about how he was

“dining with bishops, supping with princes, going to concerts with Lady Harrington, escorting Lady Charlotte Moira to balls and attending Blue-Stocking parties.” — The Chautauquan:  Organ of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Volume 18

His diary at the time was filled with evidence of his immense popularity and the significance of Lansdowne House to his rising star:

“Dined at Lord Lansdowne’s..Introduced to Lady Cochrane, who told me she would at any time have walked ten miles barefooted to see me.”

All of this was bound to go to a young man’s head.

A triumphant tour of the United States ended rather badly.  Moore was an outspoken critic of the Democratic-Republican (dear me!) party and of Thomas Jefferson in particular.

By the time he returned to England, his passionate nature had not yet been tempered.  This made him particularly vulnerable to his critics and led him to fighting a duel with one of them, Francis Jeffrey, an editor (!)  Byron relished the events surrounding his potent rival and most particularly the rumor Moore had supplied his opponent with an empty pistol, gleefully observing:

 “…on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated.”

The duel was broken up and the combatants imprisoned.  Moore was eventually released but his love for extravagance and marriage to a penniless actress soon landed him in dun territory.  It was Lord Lansdowne who fished him out of River Tick but Moore found himself compelled to leave England.  In his travels abroad, he was to encounter Byron again.  That old Romantic begged his former rival to publish his memoirs.  However, Byron’s family persuaded Moore to destroy them which he did, to much criticism.

Thomas Moore - national bard of Ireland

Like many thwarted in other ambitions, Moore did two things.  He returned to his homeland to sing a duet with the Queen Mother before HM Queen Victoria.  And settle down to write novels.

Tragically, he witnessed the death of all his children.  Yet song and poetry remained to comfort him.

He is to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland.  A true protegee of Lansdowne House.