Thursday, November 01, 2007

English Portrait Miniature of Anna Davies c. 1813

English watercolor on ivory portrait of Anna Davies (1771/2-1815) who was the servant and mistress of William Gifford (1756-1826), the English poet, literary critic, satirist, editor, and outspoken Tory. Atop the interwoven hair of Anna and William, the gold and enamel urn reads, “S:M/ ANNA DAVIES/ OBT. VI FEBY/ MDCCCXV/ AN ÆTAT SUÆ/ XLIII O.” or in expanded form, “Sacred to the Memory of Anna Davies who died 6 February 1815 at the age of 43 years old.”

William Gifford, who was born to working class parents at Ashburton, Devonshire, initially received an apprenticeship as a cobbler, though he had greater interests in poetry. His early efforts at verse received the attention of William Cookesley, an Ashburton surgeon who raised a subscription to buy out the apprenticeship and returned the youth to school. Gifford continued to write poetry and began translating Latin, especially the works of Juvenile, and he received a B.A. from Exeter College, Oxford in 1782. He was author of two famous satirical poems “The Baviad” (1791), which savagely lambasted the Della Cruscan circle of sentimental poets, and “The Maeviad” (1795) aimed against some minor dramatists of the day. His jagged criticisms won him a number of bitter enemies, and in "The Spirit of the Age," William Hazlitt (1825) described him as, "possessed of that sort of learning which is likely to result from an over-anxious desire to supply the want of the first rudiments of education: that sort of wit which is the offspring of ill-humour or bodily pain: that sort of sense which arises from a spirit of contradiction and a disposition to cavil at and dispute the opinions of others: and that sort of reputation which is the consequence of bowing to established authority and ministerial influence." Gifford's (1800) "Epistle to Peter Pindar," a harsh criticism of Dr. John Wolcot, prompted Wolcot's reply, "A Cut at a Cobbler" and a public letter in which he threatened to horse-whip Gifford. The two met in Wright’s bookshop in Piccadilly on 18 August 1800, and when Wolcot attempted to make good on his threat, Gifford removed Wolcot's cane from him and beat him with it until Wolcot finally fled down Piccadilly. From 1809 to 1824, Gifford served as the first editor for the Tory propagandist periodical, “Quarterly Review.”

William Gifford by John Hoppner, c. 1800

Though Gifford never married, he had a love affair with Anna Davies, to whom he wrote romantic love poems. In "Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Last Half Century" (1856), David MacBeth Moir wrote, "[Gifford] was alike able and erudite, severe, cynical, and uncompromising; but he possessed, strange to say, a vein of pathos; and his 'Verses to Anna,' and 'On a Tuft of Early Violets,' are remarkable, not only for their graceful delicacy of sentiment, but for something at least akin to genuine tenderness."

To a Tuft of Early Violets

Sweet flowers! that from your humble beds
Thus prematurely dare to rise,
And trust your unprotected heads
To cold Aquarius' watery skies.

Retire, retire! These tepid airs
Are not the genial brood of May;
That sun with light malignant glares,
And flatters only to betray.

Stern Winter's reign is not yet past --
Lo! while your buds prepare to blow,
On icy pinions comes the blast,
And nips your root, and lays you low.

Alas, for such ungentle doom!
But I will shield you; and supply
A kindlier soil on which to bloom,
A nobler bed on which to die.

Come then-ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
0 come and grace my Anna's breast.

Ye droop, fond flowers! But did ye know
What worth, what goodness there reside,
Your cups with liveliest tints would glow;
And spread their leaves with conscious pride.

For there has liberal Nature joined
Her riches to the stores of Art,
And added to the vigorous mind
The soft, the sympathising heart.

Come then-ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
O come and grace my Anna's breast.

O! I should think -- that fragrant bed
Might I but hope with you to share --
Years of anxiety repaid
By one short hour of transport there.

More blest than me, thus shall ye live
Your little day; and when ye die,
Sweet flowers; the grateful Muse shall give
A verse, the sorrowing maid a sigh.

While I, alas! no distant date,
Mix with the dust from whence I came,
Without a friend to weep my fate,
Without a stone to tell my name.

This love poem was written in 1813, probably the same year the miniature was painted. Except for the addition of her rather conservative kerchief, the cut of Anna's dress and bonnet are quite fashionable for 1813. When his beloved Anna died in 1815, Gifford added the urn to the hairwork memorial of her miniature. He erected a monument in her memory at Grosvenor chapel inscribed:

Here lies the body of Ann Davies, (for more than twenty years) servant to William Gifford. She died February 6th, 1815 in the forty-third year of her age, of a tedious and painful malady, which she bore with exemplary patience and resignation. Her deeply afflicted master erected this stone to her memory, as a painful testimony of her uncommon worth, and of his perpetual gratitude, respect, and affection for her long and meritorious service.

Though here unknown, dear Ann, thy ashes rest, still lives thy memory in one grateful breast, that traced thy course through many a painful year, and marked thy humble hope, thy pious fear. O! When this frame, which yet, while life remained, thy duteous love with trembling hand sustained dissolves (as soon it must) may that blessed Power who beamed on thine, illume my parting hour! So shall I greet thee where no ills annoy, and what was sown in grief reaped in joy: where worth, obscured below, bursts into day, and those are paid whom earth could never pay.

The Grave of Anna

I wish I was where Anna lies;
For I am sick of lingering here,
And every hour Affection cries,
Go, and partake her humble bier.

I wish I could! for when she died
I lost my all; and life has prov'd
Since that sad hour a dreary void,
A waste unlovely and unlov'd.

But who, when I am turn'd to clay,
Shall duly to her grave repair,
And pluck the ragged moss away,
And weeds that have "no business there"?

And who, with pious hand, shall bring
The flowers she cherish'd, snow-drops cold,
And violets that unheeded spring,
To scatter o'er her hallow'd mould?

And who, while Memory loves to dwell
Upon her name for ever dear,
Shall feel his heart with passions swell,
And pour the bitter, bitter tear?

I DID IT; and would fate allow,
Should visit still, should still deplore --
But health and strength have left me now,
But I, alas! can weep no more.

Take then, sweet maid! this simple strain,
The last I offer at thy shrine;
Thy grave must then undeck'd remain,
And all thy memory fade with mine.

And can thy soft persuasive look,
That voice that might with music vie,
Thy air that every gazer took,
Thy matchless eloquence of eye --

Thy spirits, frolicsome as good,
Thy courage, by no ills dismay'd,
Thy patience by no wrongs subdued,
Thy gay good-humour-can they "fade"?

Perhaps -- but sorrow dims my eye:
Cold turf, which I no more must view,
Dear name, which I no more must sigh,
A long, a last, a sad adieu!


Blogger Rose Harbour said...

Thank you for this interesting post. Where is the miniature preserved, in a private collection or in a museum perhaps?

12:24 PM  
Blogger said...

The miniature is in my collection. It was one of my best finds. Further research has shown that it was most likely painted by Henry Hoppner Meyer, but I haven't updated the post yet. Best, K

6:48 PM  

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