Anne Steele, Broughton, to Mary Wakeford, Andover, undated.
In my return home not expecting much entertainment in the conversation of my fellow Traveller nor the variety of the scene my tho’ts were employd in reflecting on occurrences at Andover & happening to fix on the chatt about y.e expected visitors I fell into a sort of poetic reverie when some invisible benevolent Companion, whether one of M.r Popes good naturd Sylphs had taken it into her head to furnish out an entertaining scene or one of the Pierian sisters having left the laurel shaded summit of Parnassus to taste the humble pleasures of a ramble in the sunny vale and meeting with her lowly votary vouchsaf’d the favour I am about to relate I will not determine but as either of those woud make me appear a person of consequence I’ll e’en suppose it to be a frolick of Madamoiselle Fancy who lighting from her aerial tour open’d her box of raree shows and display’d all the varyd colours of the blooming spring – tis true no other eye beheld the charming piece for Poets you know like the Bird of
freedom [Pallas?] can see beauties veil’d from vulgar eyes
Had I Reymones pencil to represent the almost breathing figures you woud think it worthy a place even in Birmingham Hall – but alas I can only send you faint description Be pleas’d then to imagine before you a Tablet about the size of your parlour Chimny piece See at the right hand verge near the lower corner begins a charming walk shaded with trees in all the bloom of vernal beauty & the ground enamell’d with daisies an easy smooth ascent this time there are a few thorns scatterd here & there but htese at first view are not seen in the upper part of the piece on the left hand the walk terminates in a majestic Temple The Front Grand & Elegant tho’ not in the modern polite taste The folding Doors wide open present you with a view of the inside decorated with all the ornaments proper to a scene of state & solemnity at the upper end an Altar spread with little pieces of parchment on each of which is inscribd in golden letters the word Liberty These I suppose are gifts presented by the votaries at the admission to the sacred Fane at the right hand of the Altar stands the Genius of the place a Grave Personage of noble mien commanding veneration yet not forbidding access, he is cloathd in a purple garment down to the feet his awful brow encircled with a coronet of Gold on which is engravd alterate the words of Joy and Care at his feet are two Cupids one with looks of smiling careless innocence sits playing with a bow and arrows, the other with features expressive of great anxiety counting on the floor a heap of golden coin In the middle approaching near the Altar Behold a Youth of composd aspect (yet on his Face you may observe
discover some little remains of a newly dissipated gloom) dress’d in a white robe which looks as lately cleansd and hardly yet boasting its native lustre, He leads a Nymph of cheerful air arrayd in spotless white her sparkling eyes bespeak a mind endued with Fortitude more than unusual in her tender Sex. This gentle pair are conducted by a female Form of more than mortal beauty her robe the brightest azure spangled with glittering Stars and on her head a wreath of ever blooming Amaranth her mien in open artless & serene a modest unaffected sweetness smiles in her lovely features, her charms still heighten on a nearer view & fix with attractive pow’r the gazing eye her left hand holds a branch of palm, her right extended presents to the genius (who seems to bend incline towards her with an indulgent smile) a scroll on which is this inscription—
Propitious Hymen at thy awful shrine
Behold this youthful proselite of mine
Reclaimd by Love & this engaging Fair
Presents his vows beneath my guardian care
And give the gen’rous Maid a constant friend
Confirm my dictates, then will raise their joys
To Bliss which time nor accident destroys
So conquer’d vice shall mourn her broken Chain
And Virtue fix her uncontested reign.
Now take your eyes from this scene a moment and direct them to the bottom of the piece at the left hand corner, there behold a woman frightful as the Gorgon on Minerva’s Shield leaning on a craggy Rock her right hand grasps a scourge with a treble [Cash?] of Scorpions & her left a painted Mask with which she sometimes covers her natural deformity and appears to her deluded wretched votaries a blooming beauty her horrid eyes flaming with disappointed rage are fixd on the scatter’d fragments of a net of artful texture meditating in vain to rejoin her
You will easily see the design of this shocking contrast to the rest of the piece as you know every thing appears in the strongest light when placd near its opposite and now I think you have the whole scene of my yesterdays amusement, if this whimsical effort or Fancy divert you I have my aim but don’t let any body see it except your Portius – and when you are able write to your affectionate
Text: STE 3/10/iii, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford. For an annotated version of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, gen. ed., Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 2, ed. Julia B. Griffin, pp. 329-31.