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The word Godmersham is today the name of a magnificent rambling structure associated with Jane Austen whose brother inherited it after his family allowed him to be adopted by a childless couple by the name of Knight. The word may conjure up in the mind of today's reader Jane Austen's Pemberley and its vast park; a pretty story much favored is that she composed parts of Pride and Prejudice in an immaculate white Grecian temple set oneirically by a lake in the deep woods which still stand across a hill at the back of the present Godmersham mansion; alas, like Eastwell, the Elizabethan priory house Ann refers to is gone. Stemming from a thirteenth-century family's ownership of nearby manorlands called Ford and Yallande, today's mansion was built anew by Thomas May who first changed his name to Brodnax and then to Knight (Honan 128-9; Ireland II: 545); all that today remains from Ann and Heneage's time is the vast undulating green landscape, the woods on the hill, and a twelfth-century Norman church (Nicholson 61, 66, 70).
But while the landscape was Jane Austen's, Heneage and Ann would not have seen it through neoclassic or tourist's eyes; to Ann and Heneage Godmersham parish was a central and ancient Kentish and, as Heneage might have said, Roman and Druidic habitation--the name Ford Place crops up as an ancient alternative to Godmersham, itself an Anglo- Saxon formation. "Ford" indicates the place was seen as an important crossing; its height made it a healthy spot among the marshes; archaeologists still go to dig in that area today (Margary "Roman Roads in West Kent;" Ireland II: 545). It would be Heneage or his family (as in the case of Wye College) who could command the use of such a place; Heneage was eager for archaeological treasures; conveniently located near, but not too near, to Eastwell, it offered quiet and hope for renewed health for Ann.
The house was ancient. The records suggest several metamorphoses: in 822 it's "a house" Beornuph, King of Mercia, gives to Christ Church in Canterbury for monks to eat and keep their clothes in; in the reign of Edward I it's a "manor" when a prior obtains a charter of "free warren" for Godmersham, around which, in the time of Edward II, fairs are held on the festival day of St. Laurence; but in the 14th through 16th centuries it has become a "large manor house, suitable to the dignity" of a group of priors of Canterbury who live there (Ireland II: 544). It was much like the nearby Lee Priory which no-one ever tried to demolish but rather continually expanded and "partly modernized and adapted" to secular uses (Summerson 404; see Ills 330, 378).
The priory was, of course, no longer of Rome. In that redistribution of church lands from which both the Kingsmill and Finches had profited, Henry VIII took and exchanged Godmersham with the dean and chapter of Canterbury Cathedral for other lands. The Cathedral then leased it out, but although McGovern discovered that in Heneage's time the Vicar of Godmersham was Rev. James Christmas, she could find no record of a lease or who, if anyone, lived with the Finches. She suggests "a sympathetic clergyman or a member of [Ann's] husband's family from nearby Eastwell" secured the house (McGovern 61, 235n12); equally Heneage could have made an informal arrangement through other connections he had made at Canterbury in 1680.
Heneage and Ann's time at Wye College is documented by four poems by Ann which describe Wye College as her home. There is the undated and still unknown "Some occasional Reflections Digested ('tho not with great Regularity) into a Poeme," in which Ann identifies her place of "retirement" as "wye college in Kent formerly a Priory:"
But all in vain are Pray'rs extatick thoughtsThe mood and position of this poem in the Folger volume suggests it was written sometime in the later 1690's.
There is "The Lawrell," a touching burlesque in which Ann identifies poor "Dick Halks of Wye" as a man with whom she is "well aquainted" because he worked and lived at Wye where she was living, as someone who foolishly lost his life in war looking for a laurel he could have easily plucked at Wye (MS Wellesley 123-4, n2). Ann refers to one of Prince Eugene's two campaigns in the Tyrol, probably the first in spring 1701 in which Eugene was outnumbered (Queen Anne's Letters 75). The third poem is another burlesque, whose heading tells its purpose, place, date, and story, "An Apology for my fearfull temper in a letter in Burlesque upon the firing of my chimney At Wye College March 25th 1702 (MS Wellesley 98-100).
The fourth poem is not well known because it is one of those printed anonymously by Pope in 1717. Written around Christmas, probably year or so before it was printed, "On a double Stock July-flower, full blown in January, presented to me by the Countess of FERRERS," recalls an earlier time when this Countess, one Selena Finch Shirley, visited Ann in a green house or garden near Wye, or lived with her there. Ann asks how is it that in winter a flower "in its prime," which the Countess has sent her, makes her dream it is summer. Perhaps it is its resemblance to Selena long ago, and Ann then remembers a time when Selena was a young woman in her prime and brought spring to Ann in another wintry time:
Her cheering smile, her modest air,Pope helpfully annotated "retired" for us as "Wye" (1717 Pope's Own 127).
The time remembered would be just before or after 1699, the year Selena married Robert 1st Count Ferrers. She was a daughter of George Finch, and Cameron found that a George Finch of Wye who (possibly) married Jane, daughter of Thomas Twysden, of Wye, was living at Wye College in 1702; by 1717 Selena had had ten children by Count Ferrers (LM's Letters II: 490; III: 3; Cameron, 257n1, 272n29). Ann also use the word "prime" to describe Frances Thynne, a daughter of Henry and Grade Strode Thynne: aged 5 she is "two lustres" short of prime (1717 Pope's Own, 123-5); prime is then 15-16, the age when both Thynne daughters were married (Cameron 201; Hughes, Gentle Hertford, 25- 6). It was kind of Ann to liken this woman with 10 children to the girl she had been 20 years ago.
Two letters by Heneage from Wye College, and a description of him at Wye provide further documentation that Ann and Heneage lived at Wye College from 1699 or so to 1704. In the first letter Heneage also reveals he at least, and perhaps Ann too, visited London during these years: on October 12, 1700, from Wye, he writes Archbishop Batteley, another antiquarian enthusiast, and tells him of medals brought him by Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth, the winter before when Weymouth was in town (Cameron 139, 259n5). In the second, May 14, 1702, Heneage writes the owner of Chilham (a nearby park) asking if he might "try ... to measure Julaber's Grave, a neolithic long barrow near Chilham." Cameron thinks that Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth was the driving force behind this desire, but offers no documentation (Cameron 140, 260n8).
The description was written by John Harris in his 1791 History of Kent (which includes a reprint of Ann's "Fanscomb Barn"), where he records the accidental discovery, 1703, of a small urn of reddish earth and of the skeleton of a child, in a cutting along the wagon-way near Wye." Harris wrote:
The Report of this Discovery brought the Right Honourable Colonel Heneage Finch (now Earl of Winchilsea) whose inquisitive genius inclines him to a curious search after Antiquities, and of which he hath a nice Relish and is an excellent Judge, to come out and examine this place more narrowly which was done the same year.
Ample records of Heneage and Ann's stay are, according to McGovern, also to be found repeatedly among many of the Thynne papers at Longleat which, she says, show Ann and Heneage living at Wye College "for several years, from 1700 until 1704, possibly longer." McGovern also says Wye College "was in the possession of the Finch family for decades" and has found that besides George and Jane in 1702, and perhaps Selena Finch in 1699, in 1688 a "W. Finch" lived there; McGovern supposed this to be Heneage's younger brother, Leopold William, but since he was by this time Warden of All Souls' at Oxford, it is probably another Finch from a lesser branch of the family whose first name began with a "W" (McGovern 75, 237n18).
At Wye College too Ann wrote much poetry and she and Heneage carried on copying. In Heneage's guarded description of his sedentary life, sent William Charleton on February 8, 1702, we may see where he filled up a vacancy by helping Ann:
But indeed, Sir my confinement to a country life, and having given over the usual exercises proper to it, has made me take delight in the study of Antiquity, which I ever loved, but, which I never had the leasure whilst I lived in the Town, to apply my self to. And now my Books, and a small collection of Medals, help to fill up those vacancys of my Time, which wou'd lye upon my hand (McGovern 284-7).
As Ann's sense of its oppressive "Monastick walls" indicates, Wye was a more Gothic place than Godmersham; Horace Walpole and his generation would have found it romantic. In 1447, the year in which John Kempe, the York Archbishop, made provision for the school at Wye, he had the College of St. Gregory and St Martin built just to the east of Wye parish church; the idea of such a place is that at the easy price of saying masses for the founder's soul, a group of scholars in a religious order (chaplains and priests) are endowed with a residence and chapel for serious study. Again Henry VIII intervenes, and in 1545 Edward Bowden, the Provost and his Fellows have to surrender the place to the king who grants it to Walter Bucler with the proviso Bucler shall provide for a school, which proviso he ignored. It was, however, not ignored by the Stuart petitioner, Robert Maxwell, who after much trouble takes over the building and revenues. Heneage came here; and in 1708 a Joanna Thornhill of Ollantigh re-endowed the school and left the most complete records we have of it (McGovern 74; Ireland II: 408-15; Halsted III: 172-5).
Joanna and her school can tell us something about the nature of Ann's "retirement" at Wye. It was nowhere as solitary, and her condition nowhere as bad, as at Godmersham. We have heard of other Finches; now children are around, and Ollantigh, a house just to its north, was the home of Richard Thornhill to whom Ann inscribed a poem when, as she says, "Twice in her Solitude" (MS Folger 260) Nicholas Rowe sent her an imitation of Horace (printed in 1701 Gilden 7-20). From this poem it appears that Ann was also reasonably friendly with Richard Thornhill's wife, Francis Coell Thornhill ("Orania"), and she longs for nothing so much as to join the men poets in their London taverns (MS Folger 161-2).
Of the College of Wye as Ann and Heneage knew it, Edward Halsted, an 18th century Kent historian, offers a detailed description:
[It was] a four-square building, the over part timber, the nether part stone, adjoining to the east side of the church yard of Wye, saving the hall of which is all stone, covered with slate in length 40 feet and in breadth 23. At the upper end of the hall is a parlour, ceiled with old wainscot, 20 feet square, with a chamber over it of like size; the rest of the lodgings are on that side [that is], the little chambers, both above and beneath. By the parlour is a fair cellar, to lay in wine, and at the end of the hall, a kitchen, with a fair well in it; the buttery, larder, and other offices of that side, over them are two large chambers, the one ceiled. At the entry of the gate, on the right hand, a fair chapel, with seats and altar of wainscot; on the left a porter's lodge. Behind the parlour is a garden and plot, all one rood, well walled in stone. At the back of the hall are the bakehouse, brewhouse, stables, barnes, and other houses, all well-covered with tileHere are Ann's "monastick walls" (of stone); here the walled garden where she and Selena played; from here Heneage rushed out to discover the urn and child's skeleton; here Dick Halks labored. At the upper end of the hall were the bedrooms, and private library or study.
Money was scarce. On February 8, 1697, Heneage writes to his brother-in-law at Longleat, Thomas Thynne, Lord Weymouth, to thank him for his generosity:
I can never enough expresse my sence of my obligations ot your Lordship. So great a share of the comforts I enjoy, in these times of hardship, proceeding from your Lordships generosity.McGovern says Heneage writes in a "subdued tone" of a "bleak" existence:
This is a lonely Winter to us, having no Neighbours within reach of a visite (this hard weather) now the best of them my good Ld: Thanet, and his Family, are out of the country.
A year later another similarly depressed letter passsed from Heneage to his brother-in-law. Although there is "seldom anything worth informing" Weymouth about, he writes to tell him how he and Ann strongly desire to see the Thynnes, and how they are both suffering from "ill health" (McGovern 72-5). Weymouth's response, as we have seen, was to bring Heneage medals from London that winter. Weymouth, who had originally been opposed to James II, appears to have been all kindness to Heneage--he had become a patron of nonjurors out of personal pique at William's cool reception of him when they first met (DNB, "Thynne, Sir Thomas, first Viscount Weymouth," 56: 368-9); Ann always speaks of him in tones of fervent gratitude, this partly because Longleat was one of the three places she and Heneage visited together many times and were happy in.
That Longleat was a blessed interval in Ann's time at Godmersham is revealed by her poem to "the Lady Worlsey at Long-Leate Who had most obligingly desired my corresponding with her by Letters." Frances Thynne, Lady Worseley ("Utresia") was the oldest daughter of Weymouth and Heneage's sister, Francis Thynne, Lady Weymouth (perhaps "Ephelia"); in 1691 the daughter Francis Thynne had married Sir Robert Worseley, a wealthy Hampshire landowner, but was living with with her parents at Longleat when Ann came to stay (Cameron 81, 86; Reynolds xxxviii). To take Ann's words from a later poem which honors all the members of the Thynne circle at Longleat and mourns the early death of a son born late in life to Weymouth and Heneage's sister (1713 Misc. 158), Ann says that together with his daughter, Lord Weymouth always "strove to suit the Mansion to the Guest." The flat wretchedness and utter desolation in the earlier poem's opening, and Ann's descriptions of herself as someone who dwells in "secrett Cells," writes "from a clouded Brain," and suffers from a "sinking heart," suggests it was written from the Godmersham she described in her epilogue to Aristomenes:
If from some lonely and obscure recesse
The last two-thirds of the poem reveal that Ann has just come from Longleat, and that Lady Worseley's request that Ann write her was meant to support Ann in her return to solitude. It worked for at least as long as it took Ann to make this poem. As Ann writes on, her spirit takes fire and Longleat is translated into a poetical fairyland of figures and allusions surrounding its genius loci, Weymouth himself, for whose improvements of the grounds Ann says her "hand" will "snatch from the Muses store/Transporting Figures ne're expos'd before," and beat Denham and Cowley to "shew"
The real Splendours of our fam'd Long-leateAnn has becomes Apollo as she works her way through her imitation of Shakepseare's Titania's bower.
Too much attention has been paid to Ann's landscapes in and of themselves, and not enough to the people they are often a frame for, a celebration of. Her "A Nocturnal Reverie" was probably written to Ann Tufton Cecil, Lady Salisbury, whose presence in the poem Wordsworth, and numbers of editors after him, excised (1905 Wordsworth 9-11 [n4]). In Ann's poem to Weymouth's daughter, she is careful to keep the father at the center of the piece. We are told he is responsible for the world of Longleat, and the above landscape is followed by a prayer for him:
Protect him Heaven and long may He appearIt is his "presence" which she sees in his daughter's face, and the bejewelled picture of paradise at the end is a mirror of this accomplished pair. It is not the outer gloriousness of wealth (which Ann though is careful to paint), but the inner spirit of a man and girl she celebrates here:
So Pardice did wond'rous Things disclose
Heneage and Ann had stayed at Longleat long enough to begin a close friendship with Lady Worsley's brother, Henry Thynne ("Theanor") and his wife, Grace Strode Thynne ("Cleone"), which was confirmed in Ann and Heneage's second visit of 1704, and it is in the early to middle 1690's that Henry Thynne is said to have tutored Elizabeth Rowe in Italian at Longleat (Steckner 69). Ann mentioned Elizabeth Rowe twice as a friend and fellow-poet, once to identify with her as "Philomela" who is not given "Her due Proportion of Renown," and in 1718 as one of a number of old and cherished friends whose departure from town has left Ann cold and lonely (1713 Misc. " A Tale of the Miser, and the Poet," 148; MS Wellesley, "A Letter to Mrs Arrabella Marow," 84).