Early Modern Futures

Katherine Philips, Poems

Katherine Philips (1632-1664), aka the “Matchless Orinda,” was the center of a circle of writers and intellectuals during the Interregnum and early Restoration period. Members of this “society of friendship” were given classicized names, and as such appeared in poems like “A Dialogue of Friendship Multiplied,” "To my Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship,” and “Friendship’s Mystery, To my Dearest Lucasia.” Dedicated to her friend Anne Owen, the latter poem is typical of Philips’ evocation of Donnean conceits to laud friendship as love perfected:

Divided joyes are tedious found,

And griefs united easier grow:

We are our selves but by rebound,

And all our Titles shuffled so,

Both Princes, and both Subjects too.


Our Hearts are mutual Victims laid,

While they (such power in Friendship lies)

Are Altars, Priests, and Off’rings made:

And each Heart which thus kindly dies,

Grows deathless by the Sacrifice. (ll. 21-30)

So famous was Philips for friendship that Francis Finch (1654) and Jeremy Taylor (1657) addressed prose treatises to her on the subject. Taylor’s Discourse on the Nature, Offices, and Measures of Friendship even premises her as the foundation of his text, an exploration of Christianity’s authorization of friendship in response to a question posed by “you who are so eminent in friendships” (2). Following her death, Sir Edward Dering (“Silvander”) wrote, “Orinda had conceived the most generous designe, that in my opinion ever entred into any breast, which was to unite all those of her acquaintance, which she found worthy, or desired to make so … into one societie, and by the bands of friendship to make an alliance more firme than what nature, our countrey or equall education can produce” (Poems, ed. Thomas, 11).

The posthumous publication of Philips’ poems in 1669 is testament to the action of her friends on her behalf.  As opposed to Jonson’s active self-authorization, or Sidney’s invocation of the reader’s action, the future of Philips’ literary legacy was in the hands of her friends. This can be seen not only in the titular attribution to “Orinda,” her coterie name, but also in the preface, which recounts the effort of a friend (“Poliarchus,” or Sir Charles Cotterell) to suppress a “false Edition” of her poems (Ar). The preface includes a thankful reply from the print-averse Philips; nevertheless “her Friends did much sollicite her to redeem her self by a correct impression,” to no avail (A3r). After her death, her friends published her poems as a “Monument which she erected for her self” (A3r), prefaced by commendatory poems by friends such as Abraham Cowley, the Earl of Orrery, and others.

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