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Reliquiae Gethinianae
by [?]

In the south aisle of Westminster Abbey stands a monument erected to the memory of Lady Grace Gethin.[1] A statue of her ladyship represents her kneeling, holding a book in her hand. This accomplished lady was considered as a prodigy in her day, and appears to have created a feeling of enthusiasm for her character. She died early, having scarcely attained to womanhood, although a wife; for “all this goodness and all this excellence was bounded within the compass of twenty years.”

But it is her book commemorated in marble, and not her character, which may have merited the marble that chronicles it, which has excited my curiosity and my suspicion. After her death a number of loose papers were found in her handwriting, which could not fail to attract, and, perhaps, astonish their readers, with the maturity of thought and the vast capacity which had composed them. These reliques of genius were collected together, methodised under heads, and appeared with the title of “Reliquiae Gethinianae; or some remains of Grace Lady Gethin, lately deceased: being a collection of choice discourses, pleasant apothegms, and witty sentences; written by her for the most part by way of essay, and at spare hours; published by her nearest relations, to preserve her memory. Second edition, 1700.”

Of this book, considering that comparatively it is modern, and the copy before me is called a second edition, it is somewhat extraordinary that it seems always to have been a very scarce one. Even Ballard, in his Memoirs of Learned Ladies (1750), mentions that these remains “are very difficult to be procured;” and Sir William Musgrave in a manuscript note observed, that “this book was very scarce.” It bears now a high price. A hint is given in the preface that the work was chiefly printed for the use of her friends; yet, by a second edition, we must infer that the public at large were so. There is a poem prefixed with the signature W.C. which no one will hesitate to pronounce is by Congreve; he wrote indeed another poem to celebrate this astonishing book, for, considered as the production of a young lady, it is a miraculous, rather than a human, production. The last lines in this poem we might expect from Congreve in his happier vein, who contrives to preserve his panegyric amidst that caustic wit, with which he keenly touched the age.


I that hate books, such as come daily out
By public license to the reading rout,
A due religion yet observe to this;
And here assert, if any thing’s amiss,
It can be only the compiler’s fault,
Who has ill-drest the charming author’s thought,–
That was all right: her beauteous looks were join’d
To a no less admired excelling mind.

But, oh! this glory of frail Nature’s dead,
As I shall be that write, and you that read.[2]
Once, to be out of fashion, I’ll conclude
With something that may tend to public good;
I wish that piety, for which in heaven
The fair is placed–to the lawn sleeves were given:
Her justice–to the knot of men, whose care
From the raised millions is to take their share.


The book claimed all the praise the finest genius could bestow on it. But let us hear the editor.–He tells us, that “It is a vast disadvantage to authors to publish their private undigested thoughts, and first notions hastily set down, and designed only as materials for a future structure.” And he adds, “That the work may not come short of that great and just expectation which the world had of her whilst she was alive, and still has of everything that is the genuine product of her pen, they must be told that this was written for the most part in haste, were her first conceptions and overflowings of her luxuriant fancy, noted with her pencil at spare hours, or as she was dressing, as her [Greek: Parergon] only; and set down just as they came into her mind.”