Mary Tighe (1772-1810)


Life
b. Co Wicklow, dg. Rev William Blachford, a keeper of [Narcissus] Marsh’s Library, and his wife, a founding-member of Irish Methodism, both being anti-Union liberals of the period; she was unhappily married to her cousin Henry Tighe, MP, of Woodstock, S. Co. Kilkenny - where Lady Caroline Lamb had previously lived and from which Sarah Ponsonby eloped with Eleanor Butler; moved to London with her husband; moved in literary circles and met Lady Blessington, Thomas Moore, Lady Morgan, William Parnell, Arthur Wellesley, Lady Charlemont and Lady Argyll;
 
issued Psyche, or the Legend of Love Psyche (priv. 1805; 3rd edn. 1811), a long narrative poem based on Apuleius and written in Spenserian stanzas, which was much admired by Keats and is held to have influenced his Endymion - though afterward he came to think of it as too emotionally transparent; enjoyed wide success shortly before her death from tuberculosis, at Woodstock, spurring further reprints; an effigy of Tighhe on a white marble sofa by Henry Flaxman is enclosed in the mausoleum at Inistioge;
 
a portrait by George Romney (1805) is commonly bound with editions of Psyche; T. Crofton Croker gave a romantic account of Rosanna, the seat of the Tighe family in Wicklow "where the fair minstel of Psyche sang" (Researches in the South of Ireland, 1824, p.23); and the Felicia Hemans wrote “Grave of a Poetess” on visiting Tighe’s resting-place in the 1830s; Woodstock was vacated by the family during WWI, when Capt. Tighe met his death in an accident in London ‘never properly explained’ - acc. Hubert Butler; the house was occupied by the Black & Tans in 1920 and burnt by the IRA on 2 July 1922, after they had left. RR CAB DIW MKA RAF OCIL

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Works
  • Psyche; or, the Legend of Love (London [privately pub.] 1805) [ltd. edn. of 50 copies];
  • Psyche, with Other Poems by the late Mrs. Henry Tighe (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Browne 1811, 1812; 5th edn. 1816), xv, 311 [1]pp., front. port.;
  • Psyche: With Other Poems (Philadelphia: J. & A. Y. Humphreys 1812), x, 230pp., and Do. [Early American Imprints, 2nd series] (Microform 1977);
  • Psyche, or the Legend of Love and Miscellaneous Poems (q pub. 1852); Do. [facs. rep.] with new intro. by Jonathan Wordsworth [3rd edn. 1811] (Oxford: Woodstock Books 1992), xv, 314pp., port., 21cm.;
  • The Works of Apuleius Comprising the Metamorphoses, or Golden Ass, The God of Socrates, The Florida, and His Defence, or A Discourse on Magic; A New Translation, to Which Are Added, a Metrical Version of Cupid and Psyche, and Mrs. Tighe’s Psyche, a Poem in Six Cantos [Bohn’s Classical Library series] (London: G. Bell [1853], 1878, 1888, 1889), ix, 533pp., [1]p., pl. ill.
 
See also William Tighe, ed., Mary: A Series of Reflections During Twenty Years ([Dublin] 1811); Earle Varle Weller, Keats and Mary Tighe, The Poems of Mrs Tighe; with Parallel Passages from the Works of John Keats (NY: Century Co. [for PMLA] 1928), xxiv, xv, 333pp.

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Criticism
  • Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.593;
  • Elizabeth Casey Blackburne, Illustrious Irishwomen (1877);
  • Catherine Jane Hamilton, in Notable Irishwomen (Dublin 1904);
  • Ernest R. McClintock Dix (Irish Book Lover, 1912), refuting the theory of the first printing of Psyche at Rosanna;
  • Seamus Ó Casaidhe, notice in Irish Book Lover (1916), citing bibliog. notice in Bolster’s Quarterly Magazine (Aug. 1828);
  • Patrick Henchy, The Works of Mary Tighe: Published and Unpublished’, in Journal of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland, VI, 6(Dublin: Three Candles Press 1957);
  • Victoria Glendinning, ‘Mary, Mary Quite Contrary’, in Irish Times (7 March 1974), [q.p.];
  • Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, Vol 1 (1980), p.211;
  • W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), p.92, remarks on long and pallid [sic] poem Psyche (1805), and Flaxman’s memorial;
  • Kevin O’Neill, ‘Mary Shackleton Leadbeater: Peaceful Rebel’, in The Women of 1798, ed. Daire Keogh & Nicholas Furlong (Dublin: Four Courts Press 1998), pp.137-62.
 
See also Hubert Butler, ‘Beside the Nore’, in The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1990), pp.29-34; pp.32ff [note that Butler's essay is used by P. J. Kavanagh in Voices in Ireland (London: Murray 1994), p.156-57, as the basis for an account of the Tighe family and their house]; Thomas J. Whyte, The Story of Woodstock in Inistioge (Cappagh Press 2008).

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Commentary
Thomas Moore, “To Mrs. Henry Tighe, on reading her - Psyche”: ‘TELL me the, witching tale again, / For never has my heart or ear / Hung on so sweet, so pure a strain, / So pure to feel, so sweet to hear. // Say, Love, in all thy prime of fame, / When the high heaven itself was thine; / When piety confess’d the flame, / And even thy errors were divine; // Did ever Muse’s hand, so fair, / A glory round thy temples spread? / Did ever lip’s ambrosial air / Such fragrance o'er thy altars shed? // One maid there was, who round her lyre / The mystic myrtle wildly wreath’d - ; / But all her sighs were sighs of fire, / The myrtle wither’d as she breath’d. // Oh! you, that love’s celestial dream, / In all its purity, would know, / Let not the senses’ ardent beam / Too strongly through the vision glow. // Love safest lies, conceal'd in night, / The night were heaven has bid him lie; / Oh! shed not there unhallow’d light, / Or, Psyche knows, the boy will fly. // Sweet Psyche, many a charmed hour, / Through many a wild and magic waste, / To the fair fount and blissful bower / Have I, in dream , thy light foot trac’d! // Where'er thy joys are number'd now, / Beneath whatever shades of rest, / The Genius of the starry brow / Hath bound thee to thy Cupid’s breast; // Whether above the horizon dim, / Along whose verge our spirits stray, / Half sunk beneath the shadowy rim, / Half brighten’d by the upper ray, - // Thou dwellest in a world, all light, / Or, lingering here, dost love to be, / To other souls, the guardian bright / That Love was, through this gloom, to thee; // Still be the song to Psyche hear, / The song, whose gentle voice was given / To be, on earth, to mortal ear, / an echo of her own, in heaven.’ (Poetical Works, 1848 Edn., p.79.) [Cont.]

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Thomas Moore (“To Mrs. Henry Tighe, on reading her Psyche”]: Moore’s adds in a note: ‘See the story in Apuleius. With respect to this beautiful allegory of Love and Psyche, there is an ingenious idea suggested by the senator Buonarotti, in his Osservazioni sopra alcuni frammenti di vasi antichi. He thinks the fable is token from some very occult mysteries, which had long been celebrated in honour of Love; and accounts, upon this supposition, for the silence of the more ancient authors upon the subject, as it was not till towards the decline of pagan superstition, that writers could venture to reveal or discuss such ceremonies. Accordingly, observes this author, we find Lucian and Plutarch treating, without reserve, of the Dea Syria, as well as of Isis and Osiris; and Apuleius, to whom we are indebted for the beautiful story of Cupid and Psyche, has also detailed some of the mysteries of Isis. See the Giornale di Litterati d’Italia, Tom. xxvii. Articol. 1. See also the observations upon the ancient gems in the Museum Florentinum, Vol. i. p.156. I cannot avoid remarking here an error into which to French Encyclopédistes have been led by M. Spon, in their article Psyche. They say “Pétrone fait un récit de la pompe nuptiale de ces deux amans (Amour et Psyche). Déjà, dit-il, &c., &c.” The Psyche of Petronius, however, is a servant-maid, and the marriage which he describes is that of the young Pannychis. See Spon’s Recherches curieuses, & Dissertat. 5. 2.’ [Incls. futher notes on allusions in Tighe, e.g., explaining that ‘the Platonists expressed the middle state of the soul between sensible and intellectual existence’ by the image of the sun along the horizon, ‘half sunk’ / ‘half brighten’d’.] (Moore, op. cit., idem.)

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Anne Stewart, National Portrait Collection (NGI Diary 1986), writes: ‘Thomas Moore, who admired Mary Tighe’s Psyche, thought success had turned her into an intellectual: “One used hardly to get a peep at her blue stockings, but now I am afraid she shows them up to her knee.” Tighe described her portrait by George Romney (1805) as “pretty, but perfectly pallid among the high-coloured Lady Hamilton’s and Mrs Tickells [...]. I wonder how it came to be so pale [...] as if a pretty woman had wept herself pale and sick.”’ (q.p.)

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (1984 edn.), mentions the ‘long and pallid [sic] poem Psyche’, and passes further comments on Flaxman’s memorial in the same vein (p.92.)

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Benedict Kiely, Drink to the Bird ( London: Methuen 1991): ‘There was that delicate poetess, Mary Tighe, who died, from a decline and an unhappy marriage, in 1810 at the age thirty-eight. Keats may have read her with pleasure. Thomas Moore wrote a poem to her: “Though many a gifted mind we meet, / Though fairest forms we see, / To live with them is far less sweet / Than to remember thee, Mary ...”. She came to be known as “Psyche Tighe” because she wrote in the Spenserian stanza a long poem about love and the marriage of Cupid and Psyche [quoted, as infra]. (Kiely, op. cit., p.39.)

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Claire Connolly, ‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. I [Chap. 10], “Poetry”: ‘Tighe appears to share none of [J. J.] Callanan’s interest in the culture, peoples or languages of the Ireland she evokes [and] is largely omitted from surveys of nineteenth-century Irish poetry. [...] Like the heroine of her manuscript novel Serena, Tighe married a cousin to cement family connections. Her miserable life was in part a consequence of the Act of Union: her husband (Henry Tighe) was one of those Irish men for whom the Act had immediate professional consequences. [...] In Mary Tighe’s poetry of inner turmoil we may read an oblique commentary on the psychic as well as professional and political consequences of Union. [...; 440] Tighe’s Methodist mother worried about her son-in-law’s fondness for “amusement” and “water-drinking places”, but was no more approving of her daughter’s literary ambitions. That Tighe’s own religious convictions troubled her literary ones is borne out by a hint from her brother-in-law and literary executor, William Tighe and helps explain the distrust of her own medium that permeates the poetry: “Vain dreams, and fictions of distress and love, / I idly feigned, but, while I fondly strove / To paint with every grace the tale of woe, / Ah fool! my tears unbid began to flow.” Worrying over the status of the ‘real sorrow’ produced by fictitious arts, Tighe prays to be allowed repose “in the arms of truth.”’ (pp.440-41.) [Cont.]

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Claire Connolly (‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, Cambridge History of Irish Literature, 2006) - cont.: ‘A long narrative poem in Spenserian stanzas, it tells the story of Cupid’s forbidden love for Psyche, stolen from her parents’ home and confined in the Palace of Love. Tighe adopts what Marlon B. Ross calls a “muted, arch-conventional style” that nonetheless draws attention to its considerable formal achievements. These include skilled versification and a frank eroticism unusual in women’s writing of the period. Keats came to think of Tighe’s verse as all too agonisingly transparent or understandable. Her refusal of the mists of allegory and her decision to “let my meaning be perfectly obvious” is better understood in relation to the thrust towards public meaning found in her male Irish contemporaries; instead Tighe privileges the “raw nerves and emotional excess” associated with the Romantic revival of the sonnet from the 1790s. The titles of her poems characteristically offer details of time and place but privatise and interiorise the moment of reflection. The majority of her sonnets join subjective experience to natural landscape but fail to achieve a restoration of completeness. “Lines Written at Scarborough, August, 1799” closes with a characteristic note of unrelieved bleakness: “I, like the worn sand, exposed remain / To each new storm which frets the angry main”. / Tighe died in 1810, and a year later her brother-in-law William Tighe republished Psyche with Longmans. The profits went to a charity residence for ‘unprotected Female Servants’ founded by her Methodist mother.’ (p.441; For longer extracts from this chapter - including notes omitted here - see RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, via index, or direct.)

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Quotations
Psyche: “Now through the hall melodious music stole, / And self-prepared the splendid banquet stands, / Self-poured the nectar sparkles in the bowl, / The lute and viol touched by unseen hands / Aid the soft voices of the choral bands; / O’er the full board a brighter lustre beams / Than Persia’s monarch at his feast commands: / For sweet refreshment all inviting seems / To taste celestial food, and the pure ambrosial streams.’ (Quoted in Benedict Kiely, Drink to the Bird ( London: Methuen 1991, supra.)

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References
Anthologies: Andrew Ashfield, ed., Romantic Women Poets 1770-1838 (Manchester UP 1995), includes “The Charm of Poetry”, an extract from Psyche (here 327pp.) Andrew Carpenter, ed., Verse in English from Eighteen-Century Ireland (Cork UP 1998) reprints “The Lake of Killarney”. See also Jerome McGann, The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (1993).

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Notes
William Parnell - see William Smyth’s English Lyricks (Dublin: Hugh Fitzpatrick 1806), prefaced with a dedicatory poem by Parnell addressing Mrs. Tighe in which he speaks of ‘the destruction of the business of printing’ in Ireland by the Act of Union and addresses calls ‘the present work [...]a small effort towards restoring the Irish press to some degree of consequence’ (Liverpool 1797). Viz.: William Smyth (1765-1849), English Lyricks (Dublin: printed by Hugh Fitzpatrick 1806), [2], iv, [2], 79pp., [1]p., 1 plate, 8vo. [17.8cm.].

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Henry Tighe: In History of the Rebellion of 1798: A Personal Narrative (1828 Edn.), Charles Teeling quotes words addressed to the House of Parliament by Henry Tighe regarding the laws and their execution in Ireland in the period of the United Irishmen’s Rebellion: ‘The laws which had been enacted in this country two or three years back, had been of so severe and arbitrary a cast, as to have rendered the constitution almost a name. But the manner in which those laws had been executed was still more severe than the laws themselves [...]. In severity of legislation, they had exceeded any nation in Europe; but in severity of execution they had exceeded even the severity of that legislation.’ (Ftn., p.187.)

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William Tighe: The brother-in-law of Mary Tighe who edited her poems and issued Mary: A Series of Reflections During Twenty Years (priv. Dublin [1811]), left a manuscript analysis of the dreams recorded therein. He also issued on his own account The Plants: A Poem / Cantos the First and Second, with Notes; and Occasional Poems (London 1808). (See Claire Connolly, ‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, Cambridge UP 2006, p.447 [n.8].)

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Woodstock House, Inistioge: built in 1737 by the tidal river Nore, it was burnt in 1922 and later turned into public gardens by the County Council with the agreement of the Tighe family, reconstruction being undertaken with help of the Lawrence Collection of photos. (See Thomas J. Whyte, The Story of Woodstock in Inistioge, Cappagh Press 2007, noticed in Books Ireland, Dec. 2007).

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