Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Lucy Hutchinson and the Authorship of Two Seventeenth-Century Poems: A Computational Approach

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Lucy Hutchinson and the Authorship of Two Seventeenth-Century Poems: A Computational Approach

Article excerpt

Context of inquiry

David Norbrook has recently offered strong evidence for attributing two seventeenth-century poems to Lucy Hutchinson.1 He has also invited the present authors to employ the methods of computational stylistics as an independent test of these attributions. The objects of this article, therefore, are to test the authorship of the two poems and to consider the significance of the outcome. Much the larger of the two is Order and Disorder, a versification of the Book of Genesis in twenty cantos of rhymed pentameters. Its first five cantos were published anonymously in 1679 and, following Anthony Wood, have always been attributed to Sir Allen Apsley, Lucy Hutchinson's brother (DNB). The whole poem survives in manuscript in the Osborn Collection in the Beinecke Library at Yale University.2 The second poem, an anonymous piece running to 188 lines, is a polemical rejoinder to Waller's fulsome 'Panegyrick to My Lord Protector'. It survives among the Additional Manuscripts in the British Library.3

To set our inquiry in context, we shall begin by identifying Norbrook's candidate and sketching some of the literary-historical interest of the case. Lucy Apsley was born in 1620 and married John Hutchinson in 1638. During the Civil War he served as governor of Nottingham on the parliamentary side; later he was one of the regicides. Until Norbrook's researches, and the work of Hugh de Quehen, who has edited her manuscript translation of the De rerum natura,4 Lucy Hutchinson was known almost entirely for a remarkable memoir of her husband, which is one of the chief eyewitness sources for the Civil War. Indeed, the facts of Hutchinson's canon as they were formerly understood seemed to tell a story in themselves. Her achievement was a significant, but narrow one. In the same manuscript as the life of her husband there is a fragmentary autobiography, which breaks off unfinished. Sandra Findley and Elaine Hobby suggested that after the 'failure' to write her own life Hutchinson found her voice in writing the biography of her husband, and then fell silent. They expressed frustration that her canon is such that (as so often in seventeenth-century women's autobiography) discussing Lucy Hutchinson's writing one inevitably ends up discussing the deeds of her husband.5

Within the Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson Lucy Hutchinson writes of herself as an actor in the story in the third person ('Mistress Hutchinson', 'she', etc.) but has an 'I' for the author of the memoirs. This Mistress Hutchinson is a submissive wife. She declares her existence to be negated by the Colonel's death: 'Soe, as his shadow, she waited on him every where, till he was taken into that region of light which admitts of none, and then she vanisht into nothing'.6 There are some ironies in this situation. As N. H. Keeble points out, Hutchinson celebrates wifely silence and submissiveness, but wrote forcefully and at length. The Memoirs, Keeble says, argue fiercely both for rebellion and for patriarchy, championing at the same time the Revolution and submission to male authority; meanwhile every page she writes casts an ironic gloss by its own existence on the arguments for female silence which it puts forward.7

Acceptance of Norbrook's attributions would give Hutchinson an altered place in literary history and in the historiography of the Early Modern woman writer. For she would need to be recognised, in the first place, as an independent voice in the resistance to Cromwell's growing power in the 1650s. Nor could she be seen any longer as falling silent after composing elegies on and a memoir to her husband. This Hutchinson, on the contrary, was capable of writing as herself rather than as her husband's wife. She was writing, and indeed publishing, into the late 1670s - the dedication to the Lucretius translation is dated 1675 and the first part of Order and Disorder was published in 1679. (She died in 1681 or early 1682.)

The possibility that Lucy Hutchinson wrote these two poems is therefore of real literary and historical interest. …

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