earlyamericanwomenpoets



Catharine Forrester Ashmead Windle, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Charleston, South Carolina, began publishing her literary work in periodicals and magazines at an early age, during her education in the North. Her volume of poetry appeared in 1849, the year of her marriage to George W. Windle of Wilmington, Delaware. After their wedding, the couple moved to New Orleans, where Ashmead Windle continued to write for magazines such as the Delta and the True Delta. In 1865, she gave a lecture in New York and elsewhere theorizing "that woman is deputed by Nature to accomplish the perfection of the human race" (as cited in Tardy); in 1881 and 1882, she became a proponent of the theory the Shakespeare's plays were written by Sir Francis Bacon. Her literary influences included Herbert Spencer, Matthew Arnold, Professor Huxley, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Education and Sense in Woman


True cultivated sense, in female hands,
No false, ill-judged supremacy demands:
It merely guides a woman's native tact,
And serves to beautify her every act;
Gives point and power to her lightest tone —
The magic cestus to the Venus known!


Fragment of a Poem to Shelley


Gifted Shelley! than whom a brighter star
Ne'er shone amid the radiant Realms of Mind,
Or glittered in the Firmament afar
Where Genius' sparkling sons arrayed we find:
Though light perverted ....

But shall we thence refuse the tribute due
To verse as metrical and thought profound;
Or should oblivion's Lethe steep from view
Because of errors, beauties which abound
Struck not thy harp with Reformation's sound
The fatal reign of Error, Vice and Woe,
While gladdening Hope's triumphal strings rebound
Which speak a bright Millennium following too,
Albeit denied the Nazarene's destined sway below?


The Moon's Progress


She passed across America,
And rested over the States,
The blessed land republican,
Where freedom's flag elates;
Where Whig and Loco-Foco
Ne'er vie with one another,
But join the hand of fellowship
Like brother greeting brother: —
Where wealth's the only stepping-stone
To rear a name on high,
Where Talent must degenerate
And worth neglected lie;
Where the few gifted, heaven-born hearts,
Which 'mong the throng one finds,
Must stifle all their better parts,
To suit ignoble minds!
Where plodding feet and grasping hands
Have murdered old Romance,
And cast upon soft Sentiment
A death-like mortal trance,
So that they bloom unseen, unknown,
And die before their time,
Like flowers on a desert blown
And blasted in their prime!

She blinked upon old Scotland,
So richly famed for song,
O'er Highland and o'er Lowland
She staid her progress long;
Hoping, perchance, she there might find
Another Walter Scott,
Or in some stricken yeoman hind
A nobler minstrel yet:
In vain she turns to meet a Burns
Amid the bardie thrang;
The truth she learns, and her bosom years
Wi' a regretfu' pang!

She made a stop o'er vine-clad France,
And shone upon her olive groves,
Whence many a song and many a dance
From her joyous sons arose;
And lighting up her capital,
The seat so oft of guilt,
She found, consigned to revelry,
The spot where gore was spilt.
The horrors of that bloody day
Her sons so soon forget,
Unmindful that the brightened ray
In darkness yet may set!

She lingered over Italy,
The clime she loves to grace,
And compared her ancient heroes
With her now degenerate race;
And she heaved a sigh for those days of renown,
And wept a tear for the Caesars,
Then doffing regret, like a Bishop his gown,
She went on her way for new pleasures.

She stood where endless summer reigns,
Above the enfranchised Isles of Greece,
And wafted o'er the battle-plains
Her thanks for their release.
Such thanks a world late echoed back
Where she witnessed freed from slavery
The land whose patriot-fathers died
With almost god-like bravery!
The land of Sage, and Portico, and Grove,
Of Science, Arts and Arms,
Where Plato taught, and Sappho sung,
And where the noble Spartan bled
The Persian host among!
But Greece has lost the heavenly fire
Which did of old her sons inspire,
Which kindled o'er the poet's lay,
And shone on Marathon's victorious day;
And the world may liken her sunken state
To the common changes wrought by Fate,
But the Moon compared her falling away
To the angels' losing the realms of day!

Oh! may her future sons yet emulate her ancient fame,
Till bards and heroes still shall rise to give the world their name,
Till some unborn Miltiades her coming wars inspire,
And Homer's second self awake the silent Grecian lyre.

And not alone to countries vast
The Moon deigned notice as she passed;
She witnessed, too, each lesser scene,
Whether in town or valleys green —
The cities' haunts or nature's shades
Alike her piercing glance invades,
And many an individual man
Her watchful eye this night doth scan.

And first, she saw on a public road
A mortal salute his fellow,
Then leave in his heart a pistol's lead
For the sake of his purse's yellow;
And the villain he gave her a hearty curse,
As he took to his rapid steed,
And pocketing tight the dear-earned purse,
He banished the bloody deed.

She looked in a tavern's open door
Where all the shapes of evil meet,
And a sight that angels might deplore
Was presented at her feet: —
Forms where the Lord had set his stamp,
Whose brows his impress shaded,
Minds lit from Heaven's eternal lamp,
Beauty and Genius all degraded!

From scenes like these, the Orb of Night
O'erpowered, turned away,
To mourn, within a world so bright,
Fair Virtue's sad decay;
To wonder that Earth's sons themselves,
Who know that, at the best,
Life's cup with every evil swells,
Should aid the dire behest!

She smiled on the poet in his garret,
Consuming "the midnight oil,"
And rearing a tablet of deathless fame
Which ere long should reward his toil:
And with that smile t' approve his task,
She opened to his burning soul
A web of thought, unthought before,
A crowning acme to the whole.
For fame she knew of earthly lures
The most substantial hope unfurls,
A wreath from Eden that endures
More than aught else, the fate of worlds.
Oh! who Fame's archives has explored,
Where Record's scrolls inurned,
And felt nor kindred fire, nor spark
Within his bosom burned;
Or who has viewed the illustrious names
O'er History's pages strown,
Nor wished, ere life's short span be sped,
T' immortalize his own?

She saw on the banks of a murmuring stream,
A youth enjoying the hour of night,
And weaving with many a fanciful dream
Hope's promising wreath of delight;
And she longed to tell the sanguine boy
That time contains no cup of joy;
That earth for none has any sweet
To disarm the bitter life must meet;
She longed to prepare him for the worst,
To warn him of the spell,
Which makes this garden Heaven has curse,
Itself a deeper hell!

She looked within the leafy boughs
Which arched a shady grove,
And listened to the plighted vows
Of truthful, holy love.
Nature around had sunk to rest,
The breeze had ceased to sigh,
The bird had sought its quiet nest
'Mid slumber's wing to lie.
Joys such as moonlight beauty brings,
Love only can partake;
Love only, of created things,
In such an hour should wake —
An hour for love with sweets so rife
It holds the all of bliss,
Which sparkles 'mid the ills of life,
In such a world as this.
And oh! as the ardent lover aware,
High Heaven re-echoed to his prayer,
And seraphs poised upon the wing
To catch the notes themselves might sing!

She saw, in the solemn chamber of death,
The time-worn wanderer yield up his breath,
And the spirit, freed from mortality's fears,
Depart on its course for the heavenly spheres,
To seek its rest in upper air,
And find a blissful heaven there.
And Cynthia sank behind a cloud
To watch its heavenward flight,
And earth no more her radiance graced
On that eventful night.



Sources

Ashmead [Windle], Catharine Forrester. Fallings from a Lady’s Pen. Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1849.

— — —. Address to the New Shakespere Society of London: Discovery of Lord Verulam’s Undoubted Authorship of the “Shakespere” Works. San Francisco, 1881.

— — —. Discovery and Opening of The Cipher of Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam. San Francisco, 1882.

Tardy, Mary T. The Living Female Writers of the South.