Mary Mark Ockerbloom (merrigold) wrote,
Mary Mark Ockerbloom

"A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia"

Happy Women's History Month!  In celebration of which, for your reading pleasure, I release:

"A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia: Wherein is handled The Loves of Amphialus and Helena Queen of Corinth, Prince Plangus and Erona. With the Historie of the Loves of Old Claius and Young Strephon to Urania."
By Anna Weamys, ca. 1630-.
London: Printed by William Bentley, and are to be sold by Thomas Heath, 1651.

Little is known about the life of English author Anna Weamys (fl. 1651).  The original (and only extant) printing of 1651 of  "A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia" identifies the author as "a Young Gentle-woman, Mistress A. W."  An entry in Edward Arber's  "The Term Catalogues"  (1690)  advertises a proposed second edition as being "Written by a Young Gentlewoman, Mrs. A[nna] W[eamys]."

Historian Patrick Colborn Cullen suggests that the source of this attribution may be a letter from poet and essayist James Howell, who wrote one of the dedicatory poems to the volume, as "JAM. HOWEL."  Howell's "Epistolae Ho-elianae" (IV.xx) includes a letter which accompanied a commendatory poem for the continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's "Arcadia".  The letter congratulates "Dr. Weames" for being "father to a daughter that Europe hath not many of her equals."  Both in the letter and in the introductory poems in praise of her book, Mistress Weamys is mentioned repeatedly as being a very young woman, "so young a spirit", who should be cherished. It is also clear from the commendatory poems that she is unmarried.

Patrick Cullen situates Weamys as part of a network of royalist sympathizers,  including aristocratic patron Henry Pierrepont and his daughters Anne and Grace,  writer James Howell, printer William Bentley, bookseller Thomas Heath, and possibly poet Frances Vaughan (nee Altham), the wife of James Howell's friends, Richard Vaughan, second earl of Carberry. Her father, presumably, was a doctor of divinity in the Church of England, making her a member of an educated family.  That she is identified as a "Gentlewoman" suggests that it was not not a titled one.

The book itself is predominantly a romance, a form followed generally by royalists.  In writing "A Continuation of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia" (1651), Anna Weamys is following an accepted form, that of continuing and responding to another writers' work.  The source upon which Weamys builds is an unfinished fragment, the "New Arcadia" section of Sydney's 1593 edition, "Arcadia".   By continuing and reworking Sydney's story, Weamys is "placing herself on the same stage"  as the "learned Sydney". Her work, like his, is a mix of literary genres, the most dominant part of her conversation with him being romance, the second pastoral.

The ending of Sydney's "Arcadia" leaves open the fates of many of his characters, and indeed invites their continuation:  "The strange stories of Artaxia and Plexirtus, Erona and Plangus, Helen and Amphialus, with the wonderful chances that befell them; … the poor hopes of the poor Philisides in the pursuit of his affections; the strange continuance of Claius' and Strephon's desire; … may awake some other spirit to exercise his pen in that wherewith mine is already dulled."

That Anna Weamys has taken up this challenge, to further the romance, is hailed by her auditors as a most suitable transformation of Sydney's work, indeed his "gallant generous spirit" is described as defying death "with a timely Metempsychosis" to breath "through female Organs".  F. Vaughan goes even further, charging other women to "Lay by your Needles Ladies, take the Pen, The onely difference 'twixt you and Men."  Weamys not only furthers the romances hinted at in Sydney's account, but takes them in new directions, reshaping them with wit, energy and humour.

Weamys herself was writing during a time of upheaval, during or soon after the English civil wars.   Perhaps because of this, she avoids political complications in her account.  However, a desire for not just personal, but also political, stability, is explicitly included in the happy ending she describes at the end of her book:

"Then after all Ceremonies accomplished, they retired severally to their flourishing Kingdoms of Thessalia and Macedon, and Armenia, with Corinth, where they increased in riches, and were fruitfull in their renowned Families.  And when they had sufficiently participated of the pleasures of this world, they resigned their Crowns to their lawfull Successours, and ended their days in Peace and Quietness."

Whether Anna Weamys herself found a happy ending, with either political or personal stability, we do not know.
Tags: anna weamys; philip sydney; arcadia
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