This article analyzes the conflation of authorship and friendship in the poetry and prose of Katherine Philips, a Restorationera contemporary of John Milton and Margaret Cavendish. Philips scholarship has long concentrated on gender and sexual politics, but this essay argues that Philips's intense interest in her female friends (which has been read by feminist critics as a sign of early "lesbianism") is motivated not merely by sexual or platonic desire, but also by a desire to fashion the friend into a medium of her own poetic legacy. Drawing on recent scholarship on print and manuscript culture, seventeenth-century politics, and bibliography, I argue that Philips's imaginative conflation of authorship and friendship allows her to express a powerful vision of poetic authority and authorial prerogative.
"It is unfortunately feminist criticism," one scholar writes of the Restoration poet Katherine Philips, "that has served her least well." This provocative statement responds in part to a critical history, influenced by feminism, which has focused overwhelmingly on gender and sexuality in Philips, and which has led to antithetical readings of Philips's poetry as either erotic or platonic.2 While recent and forthcoming criticism has inaugurated new lines of inquiry, our discussions of friendship in Philips remain plagued by such dualistic interpretations.3 This myopia, in turn, has obscured the nuanced, multivalent significations and roles that the figure of the friend assumes in Philips's poetry, including the entanglement of the friend with Philips's conceptualization of her poetic authorship. Focusing on Philips's repeated conflation of the discourses of friendship and authorship and combining bibliographic analysis with literary-critical interpretation, I will argue that Philips manipulated the figure of the friend to conceptualize and theorize her own feelings of authorship and ambition. Philips's interest in the friend is not driven by either sexual or platonic desire (as many would have it), but rather by the desire to fashion the friend into a medium of Philips's poetic publicity and reputation. At crucial moments in her poetry and letters Philips imagines the friend as her simultaneous conduit to and shield from the wider world, an agent of mediation not unlike print or manuscript. What lies behind Philips's interest in the general preservation of a friend's reputation and memory, I will suggest, is the persistent concern with the status of her own literary art.
In making this claim, this essay does not seek to discount the crucial role played by feminist critics in the recovery of previously neglected women writers; nor does it seek to reduce Philips's sophisticated representations of friendship to a mere code for her authorship. It does, however, hope to widen the critical scope of Philips scholarship, a movement that is already reflected in the work of Catharine Gray, Hero Chalmers, and Penelope Anderson (among others). In this essay, this perspectival widening relies on the integration of bibliographic and literary-critical methodologies; these methodological approaches to Philips flourish separately, but need to be integrated in order to reflect the fact that the content of Philips's poetry is often deeply connected to and inseparable from her concern with the material text of her verse.` The critical relevance of textual history to thematic literary content is epitomized, moreover, by the fact that a seventeenth-century editor was compelled to elide a crucial poetic line in which Philips represents herself as a poet and artist whose androgynous anonymity grants her the creative power to shape her future legacy. This 1667 editorial alteration alerts us not only to the vital importance that this spectral representation of literary autonomy assumes for Philips, but also to the wide-ranging effects that bibliographic changes can have on literary meaning.
The integration of these methodologies illuminates the entanglement between friendship and authorship in Philips's poetic imagination: the mediation of Philips's literary reputation by the friend, the paradoxical way in which literary publicity is predicated on private, secret, interpersonal bonds, and the implicit equivalence between the betrayal of a friend and the betrayal of the 1664 unauthorized printing of Philips's poems. These interconnections suggest that the friend is the object of much more contradictory energies than scholars have hitherto acknowledged: an object not only of Philips's affection, but also of her resentment, manipulation, and authorial self-interestedness. The friend becomes a site of so many competing impulses, I think, because Philips's authorial identity and aspirations are inextricably entangled with her philosophy of friendship. "Poets and friends are born to what they are," Philips declares stridently in "A Friend," and this conjunction gestures toward the much deeper affinity between poetic authorship and friendship that saturates Philips's writing and thinking.5 For Philips, poets and friends may be born to what they are, but this is only one of the many things they have in common.
I. TWIN BETRAYALS
Writing in the 1650s and early 1660s, Philips was, as Carol Barash and Margaret Ezell have pointed out, uneasily "situated between old and new means of publication," manuscript and print.6 In her lifetime, Philips published in both manuscript and print, though the controversy over the supposedly unauthorized print publication of her Poems in 1664 has to a large extent shaped "the way Philips has been read ever since." (7) As scholars have shown, however, focusing on this 1664 print publication (and Philips's vehement condemnation of it) can obscure her investment in the publication of her poems in manuscript through her coterie, "Society of Friendship." In the 1650s and early 1660s, Philips actively exchanged poems and letters with male and female coterie members, including Sir Edward Dering, Francis Finch, Henry Lawes, Mary Aubrey, and Jeremy Taylor. Philips's manuscript circulation both made use of and helped constitute this community of like-minded Royalists, an exclusive, elitist circle knit together across geographical distance by political affiliation and manuscript exchange. At the center of this coterie, Philips, known by the pastoral epithet "Orinda," helped connect this community both discursively and in practice, writing commendatory poems in praise of friendship which she then circulated among her coterie of friends. (8)
In the seventeenth century, such manuscript circulation, while usually limited to a select group of individuals, was never-theless a type of publication not necessarily antithetical to print. Harold Love, Peter Beal, Ezell, and Arthur Marotti have troubled the formerly strict distinction between manuscript and print--all responding, in a sense, to Elizabeth Eisenstein's groundbreaking work on print as an agent of change. In their work, these scholars have argued for the coexistence and interdependence of such means of publication and the vitality of what Love terms "scribal publication" long after its supposed eclipse by print technology.9 Philips's publishing activities exemplify this confluence of manuscript and print: she did, as Beal notes, allow manuscript copies of her works to be circulated and disseminated "almost as if, in a sense, they were print." (10) Similarly, she also allowed certain poems to be printed in a limited number of anthologies and collections that were "safe," "protected," and "sanctioned"--almost as if, in a sense, they were manuscript." In these printed collections, including a volume honoring the Oxford Royalist William Cartwright (1651), Philips's poems appeared alongside verses by other members of her coterie, including Dering. Her printed poems were usually anonymous or signed only with her initials, effectively limiting the knowledge of her authorship to the privileged "knowing few" who made up her coterie and thus guarding against indiscriminate exposure.12 Even in these limited forays into print, then, the protective networks of Philips's manuscript coterie were maintained.
For Philips, authorial publication seemingly relied less on the distinction between manuscript and print than on a distinction of audience: Philips's intended audience was her coterie society of genteel, supportive, Royalist friends, not an indiscriminate, anonymous seventeenth-century readership. Furthermore, Philips's publication of her poems within this intimate, exclusive circle sheds light not only on the material life of her poetry, but also on her thematics of secrecy, privacy, retreat, and retirement. In her verse, Philips repeatedly celebrates the secret insularity of friend-ship and even explicitly declares the relationship between friends to be disconnected from public, political life. In "A Retir'd Friend-ship, to Ardelia," for instance, Philips commends the insularity of friendship and beseeches her friend to retreat to a pastoral bower:
Here let us sit, and blesse our Starres, Who did such happy quiet give, As that remov'd from noise of warres In one another's hearts we live. (22, lines 13-6)
This voluntary removal shelters the friends from the noisy, warring world, which is dismissed in favor of the blessings of intimate enclosure.13 In this space, there is "no disguise, nor treachery" and no deceptive "plots" that would threaten their …