A Sapphick Epistle


In the following satire, puns on "Dame" and "D--- R" make it clear that the subject is Anne Conway Damer (1749—1828) the sculptor (a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy) and amateur actress. She separated from her husband and never remarried after he killed himself when she was only 27. Her lovers included the actress Eliabeth Farren. Hester Lynch Thrale denounced her as a "Sapphist" in her diary (17 June 1790):
Mrs. Damer a Lady much suspected for liking her own Sex in a criminal Way, had Miss Farren the fine comic Actress often about her last Year; and Mrs. Siddon's Husband made the following Verses on them.

Her little Stock of private Fame
Will fall a Wreck to public Clamour,
If Farren leagues with one whose Name
Comes near — Aye very near — to Damn her.

Anne Damer's closest lover was Mary Berry, who became Horace Walpole's literary executor. After Walpole's death Anne Damer inherited his Gothic folly Strawberry Hill. She and Miss Berry travelled together on the Continent and in England, and Miss Berry performed in the amateur theatricals that Mrs Damer organized at Strawberry Hill. The lesbian nature of her passion is said to be revealed in her manuscript journals in the W. S. Lewis collection. Joseph Farrington in his diary in 1798 described Mrs Damer:
The singularities of Mrs Damer are remarkable — She wears a Mans Hat, and Shoes, — and a Jacket also like a mans — thus she walks ab[ou]t. the fields with a hooking stick . . . The extasi[e]s on meeting, and tender leave on separating, between Mrs Damer and Miss Berrys, is whimsical. On Miss [Mary] Berry going lately to Cheltenham, the servants described the separation between Her and Mrs Damer as if it had been parting before death.
The following poem also alludes to Kitty Clive the actress, a frequent visitor to Walpole and a friend of Mrs Damer and Miss Berry. Several of the topical allusions have not yet been deciphered. The author of the satire is not known; he (I assume the author is male) may have chosen the name "Jack Cavendish" in order to point a finger to Mrs Elizabeth Cavendish, another lesbian member of the Twickenham set, to judge from an obscene pun in Walpole's correspondence: "Lady Dysart is dead too, and Mrs Cavendish in-cun-sole- able." The lesbian circle around Anne Damer is discussed in my book Mother Clap's Molly House, and fully described by Emma Donoghue in Passions Between Women: British lesbian culture 1668—1801 (London: Scarlet Press, 1993).

Rictor Norton

A Sapphick Epistle,

Jack Cavendish
to the
Honourable and most beautiful Mrs D****

Printed for M. Smith, and sold by the Booksellers near Temple- Bar, and in Paternoster-Row. [1778]

Was there a Maid of Lesbos* Isle,
That ever did refuse to smile,
When Sappho deign'd to woo?
And yet she left their rosy cheeks,
And all their little modest freaks,
For Phaon - most untrue.

(*Lesbos, an Isle of the AEgean Sea, famous for the birth of Miss Sappho, who was the first young classic maid that bestowed her affections on her own sex: She wrote better poesy than either Mrs. Montague, Mrs. Greville, Miss Carter, or Miss Aikin, but yet her verses failed when she came to address the cold Phaon. So when an old maid, and unfit for man's love, she pursued the young girls of Mytelene, and seduced many. She was the first Tommy [lesbian] the world has upon record; but to do her justice, though there hath been many Tommies since, yet we never had but one Sappho.

No more the Lesbian dames my passion move,
Once the dear objects of my guilty love.

Mr. Pope, and Mr. Publius Nasso Ovid, the first a waspish English Poet, the latter the most accomplished Roman Gentleman in the reign of Augustus, have given evidence to this heterogeneous passion of Sappho.)

Ah! hapless woman, to confide
In man, and sigh to be the bride;
A vessel full of care:
Would you the wiser Sappho learn,
You might your happiness discern,
And shun a sharp despair.

When Sappho, the fair Lesbian belle,
Had gain'd the knack to read and spell;
She woo'd the Graces all:
No wench of Mytelene's Town,
Or black, or fair, or olive brown,
Refus'd her amorous call.

By Penny-post she sent her odes,
To matrons, widows, whores and bawds,
And won them to her will:
For who, Ah tell me cou'd refuse,
The pow'r of such a pleading muse,
The language of her quill?

Thus happy Sappho past her time,
In making love, and making rhime,
To all the Lesbian maids:
Who were more constant and more kind,
More pure in soul, more firm of mind,
Than all the Lesbian blades.

Thrice sensible, discerning dame,
That first pursued the hallow'd flame,
Of chastity and joy:
That left the brutal clasp of man,
Jove's trite, dull, delegated plan,
And e'en his Gany-boy.

When this pure scheme the dame pursued,
There was no sin in being lewd,
It brought no mean disgrace:
'Twas chaste platonick love and law,
As taught in France by *Jacques Rousseau,
That wonder of his race.

(*Jean Jacques Rousseau, a singular wit and philosopher, the author of the new Eloisa, wherein, to prove the excellence and elegance of his pen, he attempts to unite all contrarities, to make drunkenness amiable, and vice, virtue. He came to England to see the celebrated Scots Hume, (a great philosopher in another way) he lodged at a little Chandlers Shop in Chiswick, under the pretence of learning the manners of the people, and the English Language; he always appeared in the Armenian dress, and his fellow traveller and companion, was, a Pomeranian cur dog. He quarreled with the sensible Hume, and returned to Paris, w[h]ere he now copies music, prefering that stile of poverty and independance to elegant retreat.)

His *Eloisa was a wife,
A pattern of domestic life,
Most pious sage and true:
And Mr. Wolmar was a man,
Made on the old, tame, stale, cold plan,
And cuckolded by St. †Preue.

(*Dans ce Roman on apprendra à suborner philosophiquement une jeaune fille, et elle lui donnera la prémiére un baiser sur la couche, & elle l'invitere à coucher avec elle, & il y couchera, & elle deviendra grosse de metaphysique, & ses Billets-doux seront des Homilies philosophiques.)

(†Puis il ira faire le tour du monde pur donner le tems aux enfans de sa maitresse de croitre, & de venir en Suisse, pour être leur préceptuer, & leur apprendre a vertu comon à leur mere.)

But now my muse hath ta'en a dance,
And led me off, full frisk to France,
Which was not my intention;
To Lesbos Isle I meant to stick,
To praise, and visit every nick,
By help of some invention.

Ah tell me Lady (for you can)
What little joy there is in Man,
The rough, unweildy bear:
Ah Sappho! I adore thy name,
That did the vulgar *Wretch disclaim,
For the more lovely Fair.

(*But ah beware Sicilian nymphs! nor boast
That wand'ring heart which I so lately lost.

O! think how Phaon us'd the dame,
Curse on his impious heart and name,
Curse on his cold disdain:
A cruelty, like his, would prove
To me a perfect cure for love,
Of ev'ry vig'rous swain.

But thank my stars, I have no cause
To rail at man, or human laws,
To me they're kind and true:
But I detest the jealous race,
I'd rather see *Almeria's face.
Or gaze on pretty C[rew].

(*Nature never produced so amiable a female, nor endowed her with greater beauties.)

Oh wou'd the sex pursue my plan,
And turn upon the monster man,
What would they not escape:
A thousand woes, a thousand pains,
Swellings, distortions, cramps and strains,
The ruin of each shape.

Tell me, for you are vers'd in love,
Did you from man sweet transports prove,
To counterpoise the pain?
Can one so slender and so mild,
Support the torments of a child,
Nor reprobate the chain.

The marriage chain, Oh hell on earth!
The iron shackle of all mirth,
Life's purgatory here:
For woman had been gay, if free,
Nor curs'd to raise up pedigree,
To peasant and to peer.

Dear Lady, such is woman's state,
With Charlotte, or with Russia's Kate,
Or Moll, or Peg, or Nan:
All sigh, as soon as fledg'd, to have
Some mere, male creature for a slave,
To prime their little pan.

Small's then the touch-hole, not being old,
The colour lead, or carrot gold,
Or brown, or white or black:
But think, what a fair maid must bear,
When some rough marksman to a hair,
Shoots at the little crack.

Behold that noble Jockey Fool,
He's either made by line or rule,
But form'd to wound and lame:
Miss F--k--, as *Propontis wide,
Where vessels beat from side to side,
Squals at the †Ass's name.

(*It is thus wittily described by the Ovidian author of the Meretriciad.

'Tis like the Hellespont, on whose high strand,
The love-sung Sestos, and Abydos stand:
The deepest stream pent in the closest lea,
For all within's Propontis and the sea:
Nay could you cross this sea, you'd find again,
Another Bosphorus and another Main.

In fact, it is as much without an end as the Globe, tho' more variable in its motions.)

(†Vers son amant elle avance la main
Sas y songer, puis titre soudain.
Elle rougit, s'eraie & se condamne,
Puis se rassure, & puis lui dit: "belle âe!"
Mais ce bel âne est un amant céleste;
Il n'est héros si brillant & si leste:
Nul n'est plus tedre & nul n'a plus d'esprit,
Il eut l'honneur de porter J--- C---.

Ah! Kitty, Kitty, buxom wench,
To let this creature make a trench,
Where Heav'n but made a slit:
'Tis martyrdom small wits declare,
To torture such a beauteous fair,
On such a monstrous spit.

To decency they've no pretence,
The want of that, is want of sense;
For say, what woman shou'd,
In such a case devote her life,
'Tis worse than stabbing with a knife,
To rip up flesh and blood.

They'll any thing now take in hand,
If they can shut their eyes:
Tho' it might make the dumb to speak,
It cannot even make them squeak,
So well they manage size.

Ah! were the gentle sex like you,
You wou'd be rational and true,
And women might have fame:
You are a pattern of a wife,
That could resign a husband's life,
To raise a Sapphick name.

Ah! Mytelene's beauteous maid,
Could I possess thee in the shade,
And sober D----- by:
You ne'er should wish for puerile joy,
Nor whimper for the scornful boy,
Like Mrs. Chicken †***.

(†A certain military swain, who used to prefer the pleasures of his wife to his own honour, and therefore procured her a stage Romeo to play the garden scene; and in such a manner as satisfied the expecttions of one, and the desires of the other.)

Curse on my stars, that I was born,
In such an age of lust and scorn.
Oh, Sappho, had'st thou been
Alive in these rude, filthy days,
Thy verses had been all in praise
Of me and beauty's queen.

Oh! had it been my wretched fate,
That Phaon had made me his hate,
What then had been my case?
Like D[amer] I had scorn'd the youth,
Kiss'd every female's lovely mouth,
And follow'd ev'ry face.

Look on that mountain of delight,
Where grace and beauty doth unite,
Where wreathed smiles must thrive;
While Strawberry-hill at once doth prove,
Taste, elegance, and Sapphick love,
In gentle Kitty *****[i.e. Clive].

Have I not seen (the tale how just)
Upon his knees, Imperial dust,
With all the Royal look:
The fond embrace, the heaving sigh,
The hand's soft squeeze, the melting eye
Of gentle B[olin]b[ro]ke?

Let envious talkers babble forth,
He woo'd to gain my arms for worth;
The thought — was far from Harry.
Too oft' my ears have heard the song,
That he hath rid too hard and long,
To be the man — to marry.

He woo'd me for my parts and merit,
With true Equestrian — British spirit,
Not like the wanton punk.
He wants the jovial, buxom wife,
One that can chear his ebbing life,
And every night get drunk.

Far, far from me be such a spouse,
With such a rake I'll never noose,
Nor ever once get hockey:
Good Heavens! how all the world would stare,
To see me turn the old broom-mare
Of such a broken jockey!

Ye Sapphick Saints, how ye must scorn
The dames with vulgar notions born,
Who prostitute to man:
Who toil and sweat the tedious night,
And call the male embrace delight,
The filthy marriage plan.

Ah worse, far worse, are they who prowl,
And sacrifice th' ethereal soul,
And murder constitution:
See Lady G-------r run a muck,
And all the Vernon virtue truck,
For lust and prostitution.

View M---, Bird of Paradise,
Rais'd on the painted wings of Vice,
In every folly mad:
There *T--r--r's gold unties the noose,
And while Miss R----l takes her spouse,
She flies to Sir John L---d.†

(*This Spark of the Park paid the Piper for his adultery, though Pioneers and all had worked in the Covert-way before him. But the sensible spouse bought a bargain, and was determined to sell one; so, like Sir G--- C---, he lay perdue for an Hesperian Dragon, and took the golden fruit of his dishonours.)

(†A thing of a lad about Town, more absurd than any boy since Icarus.)

Such Birds of Paradise as these,
Are the fell Syrens of the seas,
With faces not their own:
They may awhile allure the beau,
For in the morn they come and go,
Then wither on the Town.

So have I seen in winter hour,
A very beauteous, hot-house flow'r,
Display'd to court the eye:
But e'er that it had shown it's bloom,
The fatal blight declar'd it's doom.
To wither, fade, and die.

In all, how hard is Woman's fate,
For ev'ry thing's too small, or great,
And scarcely fit to hint-on:
For pretty *S--p--y still is chaste,
Virtue can never be disgrac'd,
By L--n-- or C--t--n.

(*This beautiful female hath been deserted by an unfeeling husband, and she has only stooped to the addresses of a certain Lord, who hath not in the least dispoiled her conjugal reputation, by any exertion of fornication.)

The little they can do in life,
Will not or spoil a maid or wife,
Or soil a reputation:
Exert themselves, do all they can!
There's not in them, enough of man,
To rise to fornication.

May I not hope — dear, lovely Fair,
Of you to have some little share?
For if report is right,
The maids of warm Italia's Land,
Have felt the pressure of your hand,
The pressure of delight.

Nor, D---, let me plead in vain,
Thee fairest of the sister-train,
With purest, sweetest charms:
No more, dear Dame, my suit resist,
Jack Cavendish cannot exist,
A moment from your arms.

"*Say lovely Dame, that do'st command,
"Jack Cavendish's heart and hand,
"And elegies of woe;
"Ask not the cause why she doth chuse,
"The sounding lute and lyric muse,
"Love taught her tears to flow.

(*Something of this sort was Miss Sapphos address to the scornful Phaon, who very properly judged, that she was not a proper object of love to him, who had seduced most of the pretty girls of Mytelene.)

"I burn, I burn," like Portsmouth Dock,
"I have no heart as hard as rock,
"I now consume with flame:
"Not Ætna's fires, or pitch or tar,
"Or hostile ships engag'd in war,
"Blaze like thy burning dame.

"Thou'rt all my care, and my delight,
"My sign by day, my dream by night,
"Round thee in wreaths I twine:
"A thousand tender words I speak,
"A thousand melting kisses take,
"And feel thee all divine.

"Pride of the age, and of thy race,
"Come, come and melt in this embrace,
"And all my vows receive:
"But if obdurate you will prove,
"Deaf to the laguage of my love,
"Take that you cannot give."


CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "A Sapphick Epistle, 1778", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 1 December 1999, updated 23 February 2003 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/sapphick.htm>.

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