In Praise of Scribes: Manuscripts and Their Makers in Seventeenth-Century England

By Peter Beal | Go to book overview

5
'The virtuous Mrs Philips' and 'that whore Castlemaine': Orinda and her apotheosis, 1664-1668

IN Delarivière Manle comedy The lost lover, of 1696, there is a character named Orinda, who is described as 'an Affected Poetess'. Orinda appears in the play as a conceited, snobbish, socially obsequious 'poetess', who pretends to suffer from a glut of 'Addresses' made to her. In a characteristic speech, she says:

Lard, Marina, I finish't a Copy of Verses last night, which I have sent to half a score of my Friends for their approbation, I bestow'd the last upon admirable Sir Amorous Courtal, but I'le send you one of them.1

Does this stage caricature bear any relation to the real Orinda, who had died eight years before Mrs Manley was born?2

I mean Katherine Philips, the 'Matchless Orinda', who, in the 1650s and 1660s, occupied the centre of a genteel literary coterie of both women and men, her so-called 'Society of Friendship', and who engaged in the writing, copying, and disseminating of manuscripts of her own works, in England, Wales, and Ireland, during the greater part of her short life. A 'scribe' in the narrow sense she may not have been, but a 'maker of manuscripts' she certainly was. Indeed, even if Katherine Philips had no other claim to attention, she would have a special place in literary history as the foremost woman writer of the seventeenth century to flourish in the context of a manuscript culture.3

Whereas Katherine Philips is supposed to have written only for a highly select coterie, however, the stage Orinda is seen busily turning out multiple manuscript copies of her poems to send to 'Friends' (and a sense of indiscriminate circulation is implied by the reference to 'half a score' and more); furthermore she does all this primarily to secure 'approbation'. So what of this?

____________________
1
Mrs [Delarivière] Manley, The lost lover; or, The jealous husband ( London, 1696), 23.
2
For an entertaining account of the life of Delarivière Manley ( 1671?-1724), see Fidelis Morgan, A woman of no character. An autobiography of Mrs Manley ( London, 1986). Manley's adventurous life included, as it happens, a six-month period in 1694 living as protégé, and in lodgings, of Lady Castlemaine (pp. 49-59).
3
For an account of the extant MSS of her work, see my Index, ii/2. 125-81. Further MS texts are still coming to light.

-147-

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