Monday, March 1, 2021

Women's History Month: 'My Wish' by Mary Chandler (1687-1745)

Women's History Month: A month celebrating women of history! I will be posting media and book recommendations, highlighting women from (mostly) the 18th century, and otherwise sharing content with an emphasis on women in history.

Detail from The Trough by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1763-1765.

Mary Chandler, born in 1687, was the daughter of a dissenting minister named Henry Chandler and his wife, Mary Bridgeman. Mary Chandler had at least one brother, Samuel Chandler, who would become known for his own nonconformist views; Samuel Chandler would later write a biography of his sister, which was included in the book The Lives of the Poets, published several years after her death. 

From childhood, Mary Chandler enjoyed reading and creating poetry. She would often come up with riddles and verses to share with her friends. However, due to her family's station, Mary Chandler was required to start a trade and had to cut short her education. While she still a teenager, she opened a milliner's shop in Bath. In his biography of her, her brother wrote that she "was very early employed ... and incapable of receiving that polite and learned education which she often regretted the loss of, and which she afterwards endeavored to repair by diligently reading [and studying]."

She was not unknown in Bath's higher society circles, as she became acquainted with known society women such as Frances Seymour, the Duchess of Somerset. She was sometimes invited to her society friend's stately homes and allowed to 'retire,' as her brother would write, for a time, during which period she would often write. However, she needed to make a living, and she worked tirelessly at her milliners' shop for 35 years before retiring. She lived for 5 more years before dying at the age of 58 from an illness.

It is apt to end with the final words of her brother's biography, where he wrote:

"She was a good woman, a kind relation, and a faithful friend. She had a real genius for poetry, was a most agreeable correspondent, had a large fund of good sense, was unblemished in her character, lived highly esteemed, and died greatly lamented."

In her poem 'My WISH,' Chandler describes her ideal existence: a life where she is free to enjoy leisure, has the company of good neighbors, and otherwise is able to enjoy a carefree life.

It is easy to contrast her wish for such a worry-free, financially secure existence where she has no cares beyond enjoying the pleasures of life, nature, and friendship with her reality: a young teenager forced to abandon her education in order to begin a career, which she worked at for several decades before retiring relatively shortly before her death.

An interesting note: according to data from the CPI Inflation Calculator, the £100 per year that Chandler wished for would be equivalent to around £22,318.00 today. [This is using information from 1750, the earliest date that the CPI Inflation Calculator uses.]


Mary Chandler (1687-1745)

text via The 18th Century Poetry Archive

Wou'd Heav'n indulgent grant my Wish
 For future Life, it shou'd be this;
 Health, Peace, and Friendship I wou'd share
 A Mind from Bus'ness free, and Care;
 A Soil that's dry in temp'rate Air;
 A Fortune from Incumbrance clear,
 About a Hundred Pounds a Year;
 A House not small, built warm and neat,
 Above a Hut, below a Seat;
 With Groops of Trees beset around,
 In Prospect of the lower Ground,
 Beneath the Summit of a Hill,
 From whence the gushing Waters trill,
 In various Streams and Windings flow
 To aid a River just below;
 At a small Distance from a Wood,
 And near some Neighbours wise and good;
 There would I spend my remnant Days,
 Review my Life, and mend my Ways.
I'd be some honest Farmer's Guest,
 That with a cleanly Wife is blest;
 A friendly Cleric shou'd be near,
 Whose Flock and Office were his Care;
 My Thoughts my own, my Time I'd spend
 In writing to some faithful Friend:
 Or on a Bank, by purling Brook,
 Delight me with some useful Book;
 Some Sage, or Bard, as Fancy led;
 Then ruminate on what I'd read.
Some moral Thoughts shou'd be my Theme,
 Or verdant Field, or gliding Stream;
 Or Flocks, or Herds, that Shepherds love;
 The Shepherds wou'd my Song approve.
No Flatt'ry base, nor baser Spite,
 Nor one loose Thought my Muse shou'd write;
 Nor vainly try unequal Flight.
Great George's Name let Poets sing,
 That rise on a sublimer Wing:
 I'd keep my Passions quite serene;
 My Person and Apartment clean;
 My Dress not slovenly, but mean.
Some Money still I'd keep in Store,
 That I might have to give the Poor;
 To help a Neighbour in Distress,
 I'd save from Pleasure, Food, and Dress.
I'd feed on Herbs, the limpid Spring
 Shou'd be my Helicon. — I'd sing;
 And be much happier than a King.
Thus calmly see my Sun decline;
 My Life and Manners thus refine.
And acting in my narrow Sphere,
 In chearful Hope, without one Care,
 I'd quit the World, nor wish a Tear.

No comments:

Post a Comment