Mary Robinson's sonnet sequence, Sappho and Phaon, composed of forty-
four strictly Petrarchan sonnets, details the passionate but destructive love of
a woman poet for a man who abandons her. Combined with its prose pref-
ace, the sequence makes a bold claim for the mental preeminence of literary
women and identifies Robinson with a woman's poetic tradition represented
by Sappho. As an actress, under the tutelage of David Garrick, Robinson
attracted the attention of the young Prince of Wales, later George IV; their
affair brought her notoriety and made her the subject of national gossip.
After the Prince abandoned her, she pursued a career as a professional au-
thor, publishing poetry, novels, plays, and essays, including the best-selling
novel Walsingham (1797), the important volume Lyrical Tales (1800), and an
Flendus amor meus est; elegeïa flebile carmen;
Non facit ad lacrymas barbitos ulla meas.
Love taught my tears in sadder notes to flow,
And tuned my heart to elegies of woe.
Favored by Heaven are those, ordained to taste
The bliss supreme that kindles fancy's fire;
Whose magic fingers sweep the muses' lyre,
In varying cadence, eloquently chaste!
Well may the mind, with tuneful numbers graced,
To Fame's immortal attributes aspire,
Above the treacherous spells of low desire,
That wound the sense, by vulgar joys debased.
For thou, blest Poesy! with godlike powers
To calm the miseries of man wert given;
When passion rends, and hopeless love devours,
By memory goaded, and by frenzy driven,
'Tis thine to guide him 'midst Elysian bowers,
And show his fainting soul, —a glimpse of Heaven.
High on a rock, coeval with the skies,
A Temple stands, reared by immortal powers
To Chastity divine! ambrosial flowers