Chudleigh Lady Mary

sad in the following line as a verb proves somehow just the right grammatical form, with a stronger effect than that of the too-formal saddens. He employs wordplay in the phrase rays disarray, which makes his rhyme, but also displays Fletcher's love of language.

The admirable description continues, as the speaker notes Justice "was a Virgin of austere regard," explaining she was "Not as the world esteems her, deaf and blind; / But as the eagle" in vision. Her ears "The silence of the thought loud speaking hears," and her breast holds "No riot of affection." Fletcher again selects an image to which readers can relate, that of Lady Justice. Justice is, of course, supposed to be both blind and deaf, allowing nothing to influence her decisions. Art depicts her as a female statue holding a balanced scale and wearing a blindfold.

Fletcher employs repetition and alliteration as he continues,

But a still apathy

Possessed all her soule, which softly slept

Securely, without tempest; no sad cry

Awakes her pity, but wrong'd poverty,

Sending her eyes to heav'n swimming in tears.

He demonstrates Justice has a compassionate side, but only when an innocent is involved; she does not consider man an innocent.

So strong is the effect of Justice that when she frowns, "The flints do melt, and rocks to water roll, / And airy mountains shake, and frighted shadows howl." Justice can vanquish Ignorance, Death, and Strife, causing Shame to veil "his guilty eyes," a nice contrast to Justice's intentional blindfold. Fletcher's description of Justice's preparation to address her audience is imbued with his judgment of her strength and importance, as "she, the Living Law" proceeds to bow "herself with a majestic awe, and "All heavn' to hear her speech, did into silence draw." The description of Justice as a "Living Law" remains a powerful reminder of its presence, although that presence may often exist as only an ideal. The law, or written arbitrary creed, is not enough to produce justice, which requires moral application of that law.

Although Fletcher is noted specifically as a poet who did not write drama, he had a bent for constructing highly dramatic scenes. With well-delineated characters and a tone of respectful enthusiasm, he employs a heightened language that suits his subject.


Born the daughter of Richard Lee and Mary Sydenham in Winslade, Devon, Mary Lee married George Chudle-igh in 1674 at age 17. She moved from one well-established family into another, as the Chudleighs had been members of the aristocracy since 1320. The son of Sir George Chudleigh of Ashton in Devon, a staunch Royalist, George was 13 years older than Mary. He eventually claimed his father's baronetcy and had the wealth to support his growing family.

The Chudleighs lost their first child, Mary, then had three sons, Richard, George, and Thomas; Richard died at age three. They also lost their youngest child, a daughter named Eliza Maria, an experience that provided the subject for a later poem. Church records indicated the loss of a fourth child as well. Isolated from other women, Chudleigh kept her contacts through correspondence with Mary Astell, whom she greatly admired; John Norris; and Elizabeth Thomas, and she also wrote verse. In 1697 John Dryden wrote to his publisher that "I felt in my pocket, & found my Lady Chudleighs verses; which this Afternoon I gave Mr. [William] Walsh to read in the Coffee house." Referring to the commendatory verses in his own translation of Virgil, Dryden wrote that Mr. Walsh agreed with him regarding Lady Chudleigh's poetry, "that they are better than any which are printed before the Book." He added that the famed playwright William Wycherley agreed with his assessment.

Chudleigh responded so positively to Astell that she decided to write a poem dedicated "to Almystrea," a name that is an anagram of Mary Astell's name. The two women were part of a literary group in which they all adopted names; Chudleigh was called "Marissa" and used that name when she wrote to Thomas, who replied as "Corinna." other women, who remain unidentified, include "Cleanthe," "Clorissa," "Luanda," and "Eugenia." She may have followed the lead of Katherine Philips, who enjoyed a much wider and


more prominent circle of friends, most of whom also had classical nicknames.

Astell's feminist writing, especially her Some Reflections on Marriage (1700), inspired Chudleigh to write one of her best-known poems, a book-length work titled The Ladies Defence (1701). She wrote in reaction to a sermon titled "The Bride-woman's Counselor" (1700) by a Nonconformist minister heard at a wedding that supported complete subordination of wives to husbands. She prefaced her poem explaining that the three male voices in the work, Sir John Brute, Sir William Loveall, and a Parson, represented males she observed rudely enjoying Sprint's debasing of the females in the gathering. The poem implies that Chudleigh's marriage proved unhappy, but her stylized approach also suggests she may have simply been following a traditional form. She wrote of The Ladies Defence in a preface to a collection of essays, "The whole was designed as a Satyr on Vice, and, not, as some have maliciously reported, for an Invective on Marriage." She divulged little about her own marriage and never wrote about George specifically, so readers could only infer her feelings regarding matrimony and her own situation. Later critics believed Chudleigh's exploration of life through the pen allowed her to find a harmony lacking in her own existence.

Elizabeth Thomas addressed a poem to Chudleigh, having expressed her admiration of The Ladies Defence, and they continued writing letters for years. Chudleigh once explained to Thomas that she "was troubl'd" when women became "the Jest of every vain Pretender to Wit" who proved "invidious Detracters" that believed women could not "be obedient Wives, without being Slaves, nor pay their Husbands that Respect they owe them, without sacrificing their Reason to their Humor." She wrote in her preface to Poems on Several Occasions (1703), which included the cautionary poem "To the Ladies," that the poetry resulted from her solitary lifestyle. "To the Ladies" proved so popular it can be found handwritten onto flyleafs of contemporary books, including the Shakespeare First Folio owned by one Elizabeth Brockett.

Chudleigh later confided in Thomas that her books and thoughts proved pleasant companions, although she added that life had little appeal, and the grave held no fear. A second edition of her poetry appeared in 1709 with The Ladies Defence included, although she had not granted permission for the printer to do so; that collection appeared in further editions in 1713, 1722, and 1750. She complained in Essays upon Several Subjects in Verse and Prose (1710), a collection of moralizations, about the affront of the printer's unauthorized action. Confined as a result of painful rheumatism, she left some unpublished writings including plays and translations upon her death in Ashton, Devon.

Thomas and Martha Sansom published some dedicatory verses to Chudleigh, and short biographies appeared in Ballard's Memoirs (1752), Shiells's Lives of the Poets (1753), and Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755). Renewed interest in Chudleigh arose among feminist critics in the mid-20th century, leading to the anthologizing of her poems and their abundant inclusion on electronic sites. Original manuscripts exist in Harvard University's Houghton Library and in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

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