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‘Low & plain stile’: poetry and piety in English Benedictine convents, 1600–1800

  • Jaime Goodrich (a1)

Abstract

This article examines the functional nature of English Benedictine poetry in order to understand the bespoke literary systems that flourished within convent settings. Even as form has emerged as a primary concern within scholarship on early modern women writers, so too are literary critics starting to show interest in the early modern convent as a site of literary production. Uniting these two scholarly strands, this article explores the formal implications of texts written by and for the six English Benedictine convents founded on the Continent during the early modern period. This analysis of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Benedictine poetics reveals that English cloisters on the Continent actively cultivated alternative approaches to textual production, developing monastic modes at odds with the secular literary system of the time. Poetry provides an ideal case study for this discussion of convent style due to its relatively high status among literary forms. By considering Benedictine theories of speech as well as the formal qualities of the verse that nuns read and wrote, this essay will outline how the English Benedictine convents on the Continent developed a distinctive literary system that rejected secular modes in favour of a poetics aligned with monastic humility.

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Copyright

Footnotes

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I would like to acknowledge the support of a US-UK Fulbright Scholar Award in funding the research for this article.

Footnotes

References

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1 ‘Registers of the English Benedictine Nuns of Pontoise’, in Miscellanea X, Catholic Record Society 17 (London: 1915), 282.

2 Ibid., 279.

3 Roberts, Sasha, ‘Women’s Literary Capital in Early Modern England: Formal Composition and Rhetorical Display in Manuscript and Print’, Women’s Writing 14.2 (2007): 246–69; Scott-Baumann, Elizabeth, Forms of Engagement: Women, Poetry, and Culture 1640–1680 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Clarke, Danielle and Coolahan, Marie-Louise, ‘Gender, Reception, and Form: Early Modern Women and the Making of Verse’, in Burton, Ben and Scott-Baumann, Elizabeth eds., The Work of Form: Poetics and Materiality in Early Modern Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 144–61.

4 Lay, Jenna, Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); Van Hyning, Victoria, Convent Autobiography: Early Modern English Nuns in Exile (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

5 Latz, Dorothy L., ‘Glow-Worm Light’: Writings of 17th Century English Recusant Women from Original Manuscripts (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1989), 89, 26, 36.

6 Marotti, Arthur F., ‘Introductory Note’, in Gertrude More, ed. Marotti, Arthur F., Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works, Series II, Printed Writings, 1641–1700: Part 4, Vol. 3 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), xvi. For an edition and discussion of More’s poetry, see Latz, ‘Glow-Worm Light’, 23–57.

7 On silence in monastic contexts, see MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Silence: A Christian History (New York: Penguin, 2013), 53102 and Hallett, Nicky, The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600–1800: Early Modern ‘Convents of Pleasure’ (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013), 140–59.

8 The Rule of the Most Blissed Father Saint Benedict (Ghent, 1632), 38; ‘linguam ad loquendum prohibeat monachus’: S. Benedicti Regula, 7.56, http://www.intratext.com/IXT/LAT0011/_P8.HTM, Accessed 1 July 2019.

9 Rule, 38–39; ‘cum loquitur monachus, leniter et sine risu, humiliter cum gravitate vel pauca verba et rationabilia loquatur, et non sit clamosus in voce, sicut scriptum est: Sapiens verbis innotescit paucis’: Regula, 7.60.

10 Anselm Mannock, A Spiritual Retreat for One Day in Every Month (1752), 354–355, Box T V 5, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

11 Mannock, Spiritual Retreat, 355, his emphasis, Box T V 5, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

12 For copies of this treatise, see MS 20 H 42, Archives Départementales du Nord, Lille and Box T V 5, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

13 Mary Bede Culcheth, Miscellany, n.p., Box T V 6, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

14 Prayers and Meditations, 119, MS G 63, Oulton Abbey, Staffordshire.

15 Mary Gertrude Darrell, Miscellany, n.p., Box T V 6, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

16 Anne Neville, Guidance for Superiors, 33, Box T IV 1, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

17 Retreats, n.p., MS G 73, Oulton Abbey, Staffordshire.

18 Baker, Augustine, Directions for Contemplation: Book D, ed. Clark, John (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1999), 17 .

19 Baker, Augustine, Directions for Contemplation: Book F, ed. Clark, John (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1999), 61 . For his views on silence, see Baker, Augustine, Directions for Contemplation: Book H, ed. Clark, John (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 2000), 3031 .

20 Statutes Compyled for the Better Observation of the Holy Rule of … S. Benedict (Ghent, 1632), §1.9.3.

21 Statutes, §1.9.4.

22 Constitutions Compiled for the Better Observation of the Holie Rule of … S. Bennet, 30–31, MS 20 H 1, Archives Départementales du Nord, Lille.

23 Margaret Truran notes several passages throughout the Constitutions that similarly parallel Baker’s other writings, arguing that he had a hand in the composition of the Cambrai constitutions: ‘Did Father Baker Compile the First Constitutions of the English Benedictine Nuns at Cambrai?’, in Geoffrey Scott ed., Dom Augustine Baker 15751641 (Leominster, UK: Gracewing, 2012), 31–42. Baker similarly warned the Cambrai nuns about the dangers of letterwriting: ‘The soul is to give over all vain correspondence with the world by letters or conversation. Let her not write letters without meer necessity, or as discretion shall force her unto it’: Augustine Baker, A Spirituall Alphabet for the Use of Beginners in Alphabet and Order, ed. John Clark (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 2001), 36.

24 Constitutions for the Better Observation of the Holy Rule of … St Bennet, §5.6, MS P2, Colwich Abbey, Staffordshire.

25 ‘The English Benedictines of the Convent of Our Blessed Lady of Good Hope in Paris’, in Miscellanea VII, Catholic Record Society 9 (London: 1911), 334.

26 ‘Obituary Notices of the Nuns of the English Benedictine Abbey of Ghent in Flanders, 1627–1811’, in Miscellanea XI, Catholic Record Society 19 (London: 1917), 49.

27 On the Brussels clashes, see Goodrich, Jaime, ‘Authority, Gender, and Monastic Piety: Controversies at the English Benedictine Convent in Brussels, 1620–1623’, British Catholic History 33.1 (2016): 91114 .

28 For useful overviews of Baker’s spirituality, see Temple, Liam Peter, Mysticism in Early Modern England (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2019 ) and Walker, Claire, Gender and Politics in Early Modern Europe: English Convents in France and the Low Countries (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 143–47.

29 Hayle Jesus Miscellany, n.p., Box T V 5, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

30 Barbara Constable, Gemitus peccatorum, 258, Stanbrook Abbey, North Yorkshire.

31 Rhodes, J. T., Catalogue des livres provenant des religieuses anglaises de Cambray (Salzburg: Universität Salzburg, 2013), 49, 122, 138, 140, 162, 214.

32 Ibid. , 39, 55, 68, 71, 77, 97, 105.

33 Ibid. , 132, 135.

34 Goodrich, Jaime, ‘Monastic Authorship, Protestant Poetry, and the Psalms Attributed to Dame Clementia Cary’, in Denbo, Michael ed., New Ways of Looking at Old Texts V: Papers of the Renaissance English Society, (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2014), 193207 .

35 Woodford, Samuel, A Paraphrase upon the Psalms of David (London, 1667), Psalm 131, 1.3–5.

36 MS 20 H 39, n.p., Archives Départementales du Nord, Lille.

37 MS 20 H 51, Archives Départmentales du Nord, Lille.

38 The copyist drew on one of the many editions based on William Thynne’s work: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newly Printed, ed. William Thynne (London, 1532), sig. B2r. She also used an early modern English translation of Tasso: Godfrey of Bulloigne, or The Recoverie of Jerusalem, trans. Edward Fairfax (London, 1600), 118.

39 ‘Tetrastika or The Quadrains of Guy de Faur, Lord of Pibrac’, in Bartas: His Devine Weekes and Workes, trans. Josuah Sylvester (London, 1605).

40 Baker, Augustine, A Spirituall Treatise…Called ABC, ed. Clark, John (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 2001), 18 .

41 Baker, Augustine, The Life and Death of Dame Gertrude More, ed. Wekking, Ben (Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 2002), 26 .

42 Gertrude More, The Spiritual Exercises of the Most Vertuous … D. Gertrude More (Paris, 1658), 237, emphasis in the text.

43 MS 20 H 10, 476, emphasis in the text, Archives Départementales du Nord, Lille.

44 Constitutions, f. 4v, Colwich Abbey.

45 ‘English Benedictines … in Paris’, 90, emphasis in the text.

46 Ibid. , 403, emphasis in the text.

47 Cited in Rowell, Benedict, ‘Baker’s Continuing Influence on Benedictine Nuns’, in Woodward, Michael ed. That Mysterious Man: Essays on Augustine Baker OSB 1575–1641 (Abergavenny, UK: Three Peaks Press, 2001), 8291, at 90.

48 MS 22, 206, Colwich Abbey.

49 Confessiones Amantis: The Spiritual Exercises of the Most Vertuous and Religious Dame Gertrude More, ed. John Clark (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 2007), 125.

50 Mary Clare Joseph of Jesus Bond, Meditations, MS 66, 100, Colwich Abbey, Staffordshire.

51 Ibid. , 103.

52 Gertrude of Helfta, Les exercices de l’amour divin (Paris, 1672), Box T V 4, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

53 The Confessions of the Incomparable Doctour S. Augustine, trans. Tobie Matthew (St Omer, 1620), 523.

54 See Baker, ABC, 23–24.

55 Mary Bede Culcheth, Miscellany, n.p., Box T V 6, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

56 Exercises of Devotion, n.p., Box T V 6, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

57 Mary Agnes Jerningham, Miscellany, n.p., Box T V 5, Douai Abbey, Berkshire.

58 Mary Stanislaus Culcheth (d. 1704) and Mary Francesca Culcheth (d. 1717) both professed at Pontoise in 1677; Scholastica Culcheth (d. 1732) professed at Dunkirk in 1671.

59 ‘Poems in the Hand of Anne Throckmorton’, in English Convents in Exile, 16001800, ed. Caroline Bowden, vol. 2, Spirituality, ed. Laurence Lux-Sterritt (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012), 449–60.

60 Wilcox, Helen, ‘“Curious Frame”: The Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric as Genre’ in Roberts, John R. ed., New Perspectives on the Seventeenth-Century English Religious Lyric (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994), 927, at 14–15.

61 Lewalski, Barbara Kiefer, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 713 .

62 Lewis, C. S., English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), 64 .

63 The Whole Book of Psalms Collected into English Metre by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and Others: A Critical Edition of the Texts and Tunes, eds Beth Quitslund and Nicholas Temperley, vol. 2 (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, 2018), 505.

64 Herbert, George, ‘Jordan (I)’, in The English Poems of George Herbert, ed. Wilcox, Helen (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2007), 200 .

65 Richard Mather, preface to The Whole Booke of Psalmes (Cambridge, 1640), sig. **3v.

* I would like to acknowledge the support of a US-UK Fulbright Scholar Award in funding the research for this article.

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‘Low & plain stile’: poetry and piety in English Benedictine convents, 1600–1800

  • Jaime Goodrich (a1)

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