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sisting only of books written by women, comprised thirtytwo thousand volumes. This was a cosmopolitan assemblage. It would be well in our own day if every nation made its own, for near relationship and local associations enhance sympathetic interest, and united retrospection gives a powerful impulse to advancement.
Meanwhile, deeply conscious of omissions, which I have failed in procuring materials to supply; of shortcomings, which I do not possess the means of eking out; and of that liability to error which peculiarly attaches to a collocation of many facts, dates, and opinions, I can only declare my willingness to profit by any suggestions which may be offered for the rectification and improvement of the Synoptical Essay which I now lay before the public, trusting that an employment which has soothed and cheered many hours of solitary suffering, may not prove wholly useless.
JANE WILLIAMS, Ysgafell.
38, Sydney Street, Chelsea.
June 20, 1861.
The Ancient Britons — The Ancient Germans - The Anglo-Saxons, including the Abbess Hilda, the Abbess Eadburga, Queen Osburga. Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, and Queen Editha — The Saxon Abbess Hroswitha of Gandersheim — The Anglo-Normans, including Queen Matilda and Queen Adeliza - Ceridwen, a Welsh myth - Mary of France - Translated works of Christina of Pisa - English and French languages — Lady Pelham - The Daughters of John of Gaunt --- Lady Husee - The Pastons — Missive letters - Queen Elizabeth Woodville - Juliana, Prioress of Sopewell — Devorguilla Balliol Queen Philippa - The Countess of Ulster - Mary St. Paul, Countess of Pembroke - Queen Margaret of Anjou.
“ Your worthiness
WARTON has aptly remarked that the ancient Greeks proved their high appreciation of feminine intellect by representing the nine Muses as women, and that, perhaps, their loftiest conceptions of wisdom, purity, and virtue were embodied in the Athenian Minerva.
Among many ancient nations, women regularly officiated as priestesses: the oracles of Delphi and Dodona were uttered by women, and
“Often as the maids of Greece surround
Loxo, from giant Corineus sprung;
From the 33rd, 34th, and 35th chapters of the 4th book of Herodotus,t it is clear that other British priestesses, Argis and Opis, Hyperoche and Laodice, had also at two different periods carried sacred offerings to Delos.
The devotional tendency of the feminine mind appears to have been acknowledged and honoured among all the civilized nations of antiquity. It cannot be doubted that the Druidical priestesses were poets, although their poetry has passed away from the earth, like most of their choral music, with the faith which it expressed. Religious sentiment cherished by traditionary precepts and by solitary contemplation, amid the sublime and beautiful scenery of their courts, their temples, and their groves, could not fail to evoke the poetic faculty wherever it existed. Hesiod † alludes to the poetry of the Celts, when mentioning in his • Theogony' the
"Gorgons, dwelling on the brink of night, Beyond the sounding main, where, silver-voiced, The Hesperian maidens in their watches sing."
Diodorus Siculus § testifies from Hecateus that the inhabitants of Britain “ demean themselves as if they were Apollo's priests ;” and repeats the tradition of Britain being Latona's birthplace. We are not expressly informed that Claudia Rufina was a poet, but we are told that she endeavoured to cultivate the taste of her fellowcountrymen, by making them acquainted with the verses
* Cowper's Translation of Milton's Epistle to Manso.
Elto. 's Translation, lines 330, &c.
of a Roman author; and this fact may be considered to imply the existence in her of that strong poetic tendency which all history and experience attest to be an inseparable attribute of the Celtic mind. The great number of female names perpetuated in those of ancient churches and their respective parishes in Wales indicate the noble and wealthy women who first founded those churches to have been both zealous and literate Christians.*
Tacitus, describing the · Manners of the Germans,' says, “ There is, in their opinion, something sacred in the female sex, and even the power of foreseeing future events. Their advice is therefore always heard ; they are frequently consulted, and their responses are deemed oracular. We have seen, in the reign of Vespasian, the famous Veleda revered as a divinity by her countrymen. Before her time Aurinia and others were held in equal veneration, but a veneration founded on sentiment and superstition, free from that servile adulation which pretends to people heaven with human deities.” |
Among the Anglo-Saxons women were much honoured, and many of them were famous for literary acquirements.
The grandniece of Edwin King of Northumbria, Hilda the Abbess, was in many respects a very remarkable woman. She was one of the converts of St. Paulinus, and took the veil at the age of thirty-three. Having distinguished herself by her admirable management of the monastery of Hartlepool, she proceeded to build the monastery of Whitby, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and to regulate its discipline upon the same plan. Bede relates that “Her prudence was so great, that not only in
different persons, but even kings and princes, as occasions offered, asked and received her advice. She obliged those who were under her to attend so much to reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to exercise themselves so much in works of justice, that many might there be found fit for ecclesiastical duties, and to serve at the altar.” * The venerable monk proceeds to enumerate five bishops of singular merit trained at Whitby. Hilda was also the patroness of Cædmon, the greatest poet of the AngloSaxons, who, at her instance, set about transferring into verse the whole course of sacred history. After seven years' illness, borne with exemplary fortitude, she died in the year 680, at the age of sixty-six.
Mr. Wright, in his · Biographia Britannica Literaria, of the Anglo-Saxon period, and in the 3rd section of his Introduction, treating of “the Anglo-Latin writers," says, “ The cultivation of letters was in that age by no means confined to the robuster sex; the Anglo-Saxon ladies applied themselves to study with equal zeal, and almost equal success. It was for their reading chiefly that Adhelm wrote his book `De Laude Virginitatis.' The female correspondents of Boniface wrote in Latin with as much ease as the ladies of the present day write in French, and their letters often show much elegant and courtly feeling. They sometimes also sent him specimens of their skill in writing Latin verse. The Abbess Eadburga was one of Boniface's most constant friends ; she seems to have frequently sent him books written by herself, or by her scholars, for the instruction of his German converts; and on one occasion he accompanies his letter to her with a present of a silver pen (unum graphium argentum).
* Bohn's edition of Giles's Translation of the “Ecclesiastical History,'