Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Katherine Philips, ‘The Matchless Orinda'.

The library owns this 1669 copy of ‘Poems by the most deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips, the matchless Orinda’. It was printed by J.M. for H Herringman, a prominent London bookseller and presented to the library by Professor Mayor, Fellow of St John’s College and University Librarian, in March 1893.
Poems, Katherine Philips
Such a title may seem a little elaborate to our modern eyes, but ‘most deservedly admired’ Katherine Philips (1632-1664) certainly was, as one of the earliest female British poets to reach acclaim.  A keen linguist with a great interest in French literature, Philips’ first taste of success came through her work ‘Pompey: a Tragedy’, a translation of Corneille’s play La Mort de Pompée, which was staged in Dublin in 1663. The translation features in Newnham’s copy of her work.

Philips’ poetry was published for the first time in 1664. Significantly, however, this was done without her knowledge. The bookseller Richard Marriott had in fact obtained a copy of her manuscript and decided to publish her work unauthorised. A fully authorised posthumous version of her poems was eventually published in 1667.  

Although raised as a Presbyterian, Philips loyalties ‘increasingly inclined towards orthodox Anglicanism and the royalist cause,’[1]particularly coming to the forefront at the return of Charles Stuart to the throne in 1660. This may have also been to aid her husband’s perhaps dubious political position, having been a loyal supporter of Cromwell. Poems 1-10, dedicated to the newly restored royals, particularly reflect this:

 'Hath Charles so broke God’s laws, he must not have
A quiet crowne, nor yet a quiet grave?’[2]
A page from 'Upon the Double Murther of K. Charles'

Philips equally addressed more personal and domestic issues however, tragically mourning the death of her baby, Hector, ‘in less than six weeks dead’[3] in poems 88 and 101.

Increasingly, Philips has become a subject of interest amongst feminist critics.  Newnham alumna Professor Germaine Greer has published and co-edited an edition of Philips’ collected works, which may be found at classmark 634.9.PHI in Newnham College library. Many of Philips' poems focus upon, and advocate, close female friendship: ‘Friends are each other’s Mirrours’[4] (p.167, line 62).

While at boarding school, Philips had established a ‘society of friendship’ including Anne Owen and Mary Aubrey whom she named Lucasia and Rosania, whilst she herself was Orinda. Numerous poems are addressed to her ‘dearest friends’, both Lucasia and Rosania. ‘To my Lucasia, in Defence of Declared Friendship’ and ‘Friendship’s Mystery ‘are, in all respects, love poems, unusual primarily in being addressed by a woman to a woman…  both traditional and innovative, appropriating…imagery of seventeenth-century love poetry.’

‘                       …but he,
                        That nature’s harmony entire would see,
                        Must search agreeing soules, sit down and view
                        How sweet the mixture is! how full! how true!’ [5]

Philips' success as a female poet at the time of writing was highly unusual. Both ‘Matchless’ and ‘deservedly admired,’ Newnham College Library feels proud to own this rare edition of her works. 

This work is housed in our Rare Books Library and is therefore not available on the open shelves. Please ask library staff or email if you would like to see this or any of the works within our special collections. 

Polly Harper, Graduate Library Trainee

[1]Thomas, P, 1990, Introduction to The Collected Works of Katherine Philips: The Matchless Orinda, Volume I: The Poems, Essex : Stump Cross Books, p.5.
[2] ‘Upon the double murther of K. Charles, in answer to a libellious rime made by V.P’, lines 11-12
[3]‘Epitaph on Hector Phillips,’ line 10.
[4] ‘A Friend’, line 62

[5]‘To my Lucasia’, lines 8-10.
Warren Chernaik, 2004, ‘Philips , Katherine (1632–1664)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, [, accessed 20 April 2012]

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