This impressive folio volume of Katherine Philips’s poems and translations was published in 1667, three years after her death. Philips’s work was exceptionally popular throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries, and she is regarded as one of the first and most influential female poets of the period. The pastoral pen name she used in life, ‘Orinda’, features in the title of this volume as a tribute to her poetic genius.
During her lifetime, Philips (1632–1664) rarely appeared in print. This was due, in part, to the social stigma attached to women publishing their work. Contemporary opinion held that publishing was an act of personal exposure, and any woman daring to do so was immodest and indecent. The stigma was further compounded by the commercial nature of printing: women who published their works exposing themselves to the anonymous public – they were also seeking financial gain.
The themes Philips engaged with – notably intense (verging on erotic) female friendship and Royalist politics – also prohibited mass-market reproduction, especially during the Interregnum (‘between reigns’) of 1649–60. Instead, Philips circulated her poems in manuscript form to a select group of friends and patrons, bonded together in her ‘Society of Friendship’.
Katherine Philips in print
In 1664, the bookseller Richard Marriott published a pirated edition of Philips’s poems. Philips was outraged. She sent a letter (reproduced in this posthumous edition) to Sir Charles Cotterell, King Charles II’s Master of the Ceremonies, in which she strongly denied any involvement with Marriott’s book and vehemently protested against the unwanted exposure:
but tis only I who am that unfortunate person that cannot so much as think in private, that must have my imaginations rifled and exposed to play the Mountebanks, and dance upon the ropes to entertain the rabble
Philips’s protests presented her as a demure, virtuous woman, and promoted her reputation as a ‘good’ author. Over the following centuries her work and authorial persona were frequently contrasted against her more explicit and unapologetic contemporaries, particularly Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn.
Which poems are digitised here?
- ‘Upon the double murther of King Charles I’ (pp. 1–2)
- ‘On the numerous accesses of the English to wait upon the King in Flanders’ (p. 2)
- ‘Arion on a dolphin, to his Majesty at his passage into England’ (pp. 3–5)
- ‘On the fair Weather at the Coronation’ (p. 5)
- ‘Wiston Vault’ (p. 36)
- ‘Friendship in Emblem’ (pp. 36–39)
- ‘To My Excellent Lucasia on our Friendship’ (pp. 51–52)
- ‘Epitaph: On her son H. P. at St. Syth’s Church where her body also lies interred’ (p. 134)
- ‘Against Love’ (p. 143)
- ‘A Dialogue of Friendship Multiplied’ (pp. 143–44)
- ‘Orinda to Lucasia’ (pp. 153–54)
- ‘To Celimena’ (p. 154)
- Full title:
- Poems ..., to which is added ... Corneille's Pompey and Horace, tragedies. With several other translations out of French.
- Folio / Book / Illustration / Engraving / Image
- Katherine Philips
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Politics and religion
The 17th century was a time of great political and social turmoil in England, marked by civil war and regicide. Matthew White introduces the key events of this period, from the coronation of Charles I to the Glorious Revolution more than 60 years later.
- Article by:
- Diane Maybank
- Satire and humour, Politics and religion, Theatre and entertainment
Diane Maybank introduces the characters, conventions and historical context of Restoration comedy, and explores what the genre has to say about gender, courtship and class.
- Article by:
- Tamara Tubb
- Gender and sexuality
Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips both wrote across a range of genres and achieved considerable success in their day. Tamara Tubb explores their different approaches to the difficulties of being a 17th-century female writer: Philips created a reserved and modest literary persona, presenting herself as the ideal woman of the time, while Cavendish openly challenged literary and feminine conventions.