The Literary Manuscripts of Katherine Philips (1632-1664)
"She was the best known female poet not only of her generation but of succeeding generations, who often held up her refined and sensitive persona as the corrective to Aphra Behn's undeniable coarseness. She was born in the same year as Dryden, who was proud to have met her and even boasted of a distant connection to her."
From ‘Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth Century Women's Verse’
ed Germaine Greer et al (London, 1988)
"… a woman of excelling worth & vertues & of prodigious wit, fruitfull in many incomparable poems ..."
Sir Edward Dering
(British Library, Add Ms 70887, f10v, 22 June 1664)
Katherine Philips (1632-64), known to her contemporaries as "The Matchless Orinda", ranks as one of the most important early women writers.
She is remembered as a poet whose verse still speaks directly to readers on subjects such as marriage, relationships, happiness and loss; as a friend of the Cavalier poets; as a poet who had her verse set to music by Lawes and Purcell; and as a writer who is much revered by modern feminists for her praise of Platonic friendship between women.
Philips is also known for being the hub of one of the more celebrated circles of friendship that existed in this period.
But above all, she is noteworthy for being one of the few 17th Century writers to leave behind a substantial body of manuscript evidence, enabling scholars to study both of these apects. These are gathered together in this microfilm edition.
She was born Katherine Fowler in London on 1 January 1632, the daughter of John Fowler (described by John Aubrey in his Brief Lives as "an eminent merchant in Bucklersbury") and his second wife, Katherine Oxenbridge (the daughter of Dr Oxenbridge, President of the Royal College of Physicians). Her maternal grandmother wrote poetry and was a friend of Francis Quarles (1592-1644).
Her father died when she was only seven and when she was eight she attended Mrs Salmon's school in Hackney. She became close friends with Mary Aubrey (1631-1700) and Mary Harvey who later married Sir Edward Dering (fl 1650's). It was here that her Society was formed, Katherine taking the name Orinda and Mary Aubrey taking the name Rosania.
John Aubrey says that she "loved poetry at school and made verses there" but only a few poems survive under her maiden name including the following on marriage:
A marryd state affords but little Ease
The best of husbands are so hard to please
This in wifes Carefull faces you may spell
Tho they desemble their misfortunes well
A virgin state is crown'd with much content
Its allways happy as its innocent
No Blustering husbands to create yr fears
No pangs of child birth to extort yr tears
No childrens crys for to offend your ears
Few worldly crosses to distract yr prayers
Thus are you freed from all the cares that do
Attend on matrymony & a husband too
Therefore Madm be advised by me
Turn turn apostate to loves Levity
Supress wild nature if she dare rebell
Theres no such thing as leading Apes in Hell
(pre-1648, See NLW, Orielton Estate Mss parcel 24)
The Civil War had already been raging for two years (and Katherine was fourteen) when her mother married Hector Philips, of Porth Eynon, a leading Puritan. They all moved to Pembrokeshire, Wales, where he owned a castle. In August 1648, when she was seventeen, Katherine married James Philips, the son of her step-father's first marriage. Despite being thirty-eight years older than her and a widower it is clear that they developed a great bond of affection.
James Philips (Antenor) was active in local and national politics. He served as MP for Cardiganshire during the period in which Charles I was tried and executed (1649) and benefitted from the sequestration of former royal lands in Wales. Katherine Philips settled down with him in Cardigan for the next twelve years, supporting his activities, keeping their house and writing poetry.
Henry Vaughan (1621-95), the Royalist poet who lived in nearby Breconshire, was the first to publicly acknowledge her verse in his Olor Iscanus (published in 1651 even though it had been written earlier). Her first publication was in 1651 when she contributed a commendatory poem to Comedies, Tragi-comedies, with other poems by William Cartwright (1611-43), another Royalist poet and a disciple of Jonson. At about this time Katherine Philips also formed a close frienship with Anne Owen (1633-92) (Lucasia).
The circle of friendship now flourished and her verses circulated amongst the members in manuscript form. The group included Sir Edward Dering (Silvander), Francis Finch (Palaemon - who wrote a treatise entitled Friendship in 1654), Jeremy Taylor (who dedicated his Discourse on Friendship to her in 1657), Frances Courtenay (née Boyle), Lady Roscommon (Amestris), Lady Anne Boyle (Valeria) and Sir Charles Cotterell (Poliarchus). At the fringes of the group were Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery (1621-79), Abraham Cowley (1618-67), John Dryden (1631-1700), Henry Lawes (1596-1662), William Lawes (1602-45), and Edmund Waller (1606-87).
In 1652 Mary Aubrey, Katherine Philip's closest friend, married Sir William Montagu, a prominent lawyer, and went to live in London. The friendship between the two came to an end and is memorably recorded in On Rosania's Apostasy, and Lucasia's Friendship. As the title and the last three verses bear out, Rosania's cherished position was taken over by Lucasia (Anne Owen).
James and Katherine Philips had two children. The first, Hector, was born 23 April 1655, but died after less than a month (see her poem "On the death of my first and dearest childe ..."). The second, Katherine, was born in 1656 and went on to marry Lewis Wogan.
The Civil War ended in 1660 and James Philips suffered greatly, losing both his parliamentary seat and many of his estates. However, Orinda's friendship with leading royalists, especially Sir Charles Cotterell, the new Master of Ceremonies at the Court of Charles II, helped them to weather the storm. This debt was acknowledged when the Philips' helped Cotterell secure the seat for Cardiganshire. Cotterell (Poliarchus) had also been wooing Anne Owen, but while this ended in disappointment, his friendship with Orinda endured as shown by the Letters from Orinda to Poliarchus (published 1705, containing 48 letters from Philips to Cotterell, from 6 December 1661 to 17 May 1664).
In 1662 Anne Owen married Col Marcus Trevor, the first Viscount Dungannon (1618-70) (Memnon) and once again marriage proved to be incompatible with friendship. Although Orinda accompanied Lucasia on her visit to her husband's estates in Ireland, she found herself excluded and neglected. To while away the time she translated Corneille's La Mort du Pompée. Robert Boyle was so taken with it that he arranged for it to be performed in Dublin in February 1663. It was a great success and an initial print run of 500 copies of the printed text sold out rapidly. Orinda circulated copies of the play to her friends in manuscript.
Orinda returned to Wales in July 1663 to find herself a celebrity. However, she became aware of a pirated edition of her poems which appeared in January 1664 as Poems: By the Incomparable Mrs K P. This was clearly based on one of the many manuscript texts of her poetry in circulation and was perhaps intended as a compliment. But as it was not authorised by the author it was suppressed.
Katherine Philips, now 32, had now established an independent career as a writer and it was probably difficult for her to live with her depressed, 70-year old husband in rural Wales, while at the same time being aware of the increased interest in her. Thus in March 1664 she travelled to London. She was well received but caught the smallpox and died shortly afterwards in Fleet Street. She was buried at St Benet Shearhog at the end of Syth's Lane in London. Cotterell was probably responsible for the authorised edition of her poems which appeared in 1667. James Philips lived on until 1674.
Later admirers of her verse include Aphra Behn and John Keats.
This project brings together 27 manuscript and 3 printed volumes from nine libraries in Britain and America. It includes the 10 key sources for her poetry (?1-?10); the 3 key sources for her drama (D1-D3); and both of her posthumous printed works. Of the 136 distinct texts identified by Peter Beal (see Bibliography) we offer coverage of all 136, reproducing 520 out of the total of 584 extant versions. We also include 2 additional versions not listed by Beal.
As such, we offer an unparalleled source for the study of Katherine Philips, her poetry and her Society. Given that 9 of the manuscript volumes featured are verse miscellanies it is also possible to set her poetry in context. Given the existence of multiple versions of individual texts (with few paleographic problems) scholars and students will be able to use this as a source to study the transmission of texts through manuscript circulation, and as an ideal test case for editing texts.