Featured Miscellany: The Poetical Calendar

Posted by Abigail Williams on Thursday, July 05, 2012 with No comments
By Kathleen Lawton Trask, University of Oxford

The Poetical Calendar. Containing a Collection of Scarce and Valuable Pieces of Poetry by the Most Eminent Hands. Edited by Francis Fawkes, M.A. and William Woty. In Twelve Volumes. 1763.

Just as miscellanies introduced their eighteenth-century readers to new poems, today they are a rich source for researchers to find not just poems that were not published elsewhere, but also poets who had been overlooked. The Poetical Calendar, a miscellany published in monthly installments in 1763, was the source for several poems in Roger Lonsdale’s important work Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, which introduced scholars to female poets whose work had long been neglected.

Intended as a “supplement” to Robert Dodsley’s Collection of Poems by Several Hands (1758), The Poetical Calendar was published in monthly installments between January and December 1763. Poets William Woty (institutional readers may see his ODNB entry for more information) and Francis Fawkes (ODNB entry) edited the collection, and contributed many poems themselves. The collection went into a second edition the same year it first appeared, suggesting that this miscellany enjoyed some popularity.

Woty and Fawkes used the month of each installment’s publication as a theme for the installment, including poems that relate to that month in the poems collected. Not only does Volume IV (April) contain pastorals and spring-themed poems such as “April. An Ode,” and “Stanzas on the Spring,” but also poems like “Some Lines Occasioned by a Series of Theological Enquiries” and William Pattison’s “Abelard to Eloisa” that may be thematically linked to the Lenten and Easter seasons.

Among Lonsdale’s discoveries in the June volume was Mehetabel Wright ODNB). Wright was the sister of John Wesley (ODNB) and Charles Wesley (ODNB), the founders of Methodism. Wright rebelled against her strict upbringing and ran away from home twice as a young woman. Ultimately, she returned home pregnant and was forced to marry a man her family chose for her (Lonsdale, p. 110).

Wright endured a deeply unhappy marriage and developed a distinctive, strident poetic voice in her writing, particularly about marriage. One of her best-known poems, ‘Wedlock: A Satire’ begins, ‘Thou tyrant, whom I will not name / whom heaven and hell alike disclaim,’ (Lonsdale, p. 114).

The Poetical Calendar shows Wright in a different mode; it contains three poems about the deaths of loved ones, including the tender, tragic ‘A Mother’s Soliloquy Over Her Dying Infant.’ Two other poems in the Poetical Calendar for June prefigure Wright’s own death: ‘A Farewell to the World’ and ‘An Epitaph on Herself.’ The poems in this installment of the Calendar offer us a glimpse into the details of Wright’s life and how she reacted to the tragedies of her adult life.

You can listen to a reading of Wright’s ‘Wedlock:A Satire’ on YouTube:

Kathleen Lawton Trask, University of Oxford