- Maria Jane Jewsbury to Henry Jephson, M.D.:An Undiscovered Poetic Fragment
Readers of the early Victorian poet Maria Jane Jewsbury (1800-1833) will have been acquainted with her literary criticism, most notably her work on Jane Austen, and her poem Oceanides, a chronicle of her voyage to India with new husband William Kew Fletcher.1 Her poetry, published chiefly in miscellanies and annuals, has also been explored by critics like Leslie Marchand, Ellen Peel, and Nanora Sweet.2 One such poem, entitled "Winter Welcomed," is indexed by Katherine D. Harris as appearing on page 112 of the 1828 Forget-Me-Not, a popular nineteenth-century gift book:3
'Tis Winter—winter wild and drear,The heavens are dark, the earth is sere.Autumn's last leaf hath left the spray,And Summer's birds are far away;Nature, in all her works subdued,Is now a frozen solitude!Yet Spring with gentle gales + showers,Spring robed in sunlight, wreathed with flowers,Ne'er blessed me with such visions bright,Ne'er rose so lovely on my sight,As those grim Winter—friend austere,Blessing, but with a brow severe,Bearer to me of sumless wealth,Vigour renewed, returning Health!
What marvel? Can the languid eye,Catch brightness from a glowing sky?Is the dull ear of sickness freeFor song of bird, or humming bee?Will the bright lake where swallows swimThe dewy haunt of violets dim,Aught of Earth's beauty break the chain, [End Page 511] Or heal the bitter pang of Pain?No—welcome in the wintry snow,Hailed, as I hail thee, friendly foe!
Yet this same poem, including these additional twelve lines, appeared earlier, in a presentation copy of her 1825 Phantasmagoria, inscribed to Dr. Henry Jephson. This presentation copy, housed at the University of North Carolina's Wilson Library Rare Book Collection, is a relatively ornate text, still retaining some of its gold-colored decorative flourishes. Before the title page are two pages, handwritten by Jewsbury, preceeded by a dedication to "Henry Jephsom Esquire, With the Author's grateful regards. Leamington. February 16th, 1827." The poem itself as follows:
And now my human friend, to theeLet warmer thanks and greeting be;Frown not, as though the season's claim,Obscured thy praise, or marred thy fame;Nor chide, if glancing higher still,To the one source of strength and skill,Thine, though it be a wonderous dowerI deem a delegated power;And consecrate the votive shrine,First, unto Him, supreme-divine!For deeming thus, I yet can beGlowing, and grateful —unto thee!Leamington, February 16th, 1827 —M.J.J.
The discovery of this additional dedication helps to place Jewsbury in a tradition of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century patient poems to doctors. As medicine assumed a professional veneer, patients saw fit to insert poems, both critical and admiring, in newspapers, annuals, or giftbooks. For instance, Jane Cave Winscom (1754-1813) published her 1793 "Ode to Health," a series of poems lamenting her doctors' failure to effectively treat her ten-year-long bout with migraines, in a Bristol newspaper.4 Although the trope of criticizing doctors permeated contemporary poetry, plays, and novels, an often overlooked trend is an increase in patient poems of praise for physicians' work. In this vein, Dr. Haydon Winstone, a physician himself, published "Lines addressed to Dr. Fraser at Bath . . . on his Recovery from a Dangerous Illness" in Gentleman's Magazine:5
Next to the Almighty's gracious will,Which guides each sick-bed hour,I owe my life to human skill, [End Page 512] And Fraser's matchless power.
Henry Jones (1721-1770), an Irish-born bricklayer brought to England by his poetic patron Lord Chesterfield, lavishly praises Bath and his medical care in "BATH, a Poem; inscrib'd to Dr. Nugent, Physician at Bath."6 Although not a poem, another vastly influential work, written only a year before Jewsbury's note, was Anna Jameson's Diary of an Ennuyée (1826). In between bouts on the sofa and virtual death from a broken heart, Jameson's heroine still takes the time to travel and explore the Vatican.7...