Mary Steele learned much about female friendship from Anne Steele, who posed a question in one of her unpublished poems (Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 2, p. 168) that apparently did not go unnoticed by her niece, who had access to all her aunt’s poems at Broughton, both published and in manuscript. “Are Love and Friendship both an empty name?” her aunt ponders in the opening of one of her more secular poems:
A gay romance, a fabling Poet’s dream?
Love may be so—its pleasure mingled pain,
Or felt or fancy’d only, in the brain:
For who would fondly cherish in his heart
The deadly anguish of a poison’d dart?
But Friendship, charming Friendship must be true,
Warm as the sunbeams, kind as ev’ning dew.
Its sweeter joys unmix’d with touching smart
Can reach without a wound the inmost heart. (1-10)
Anne Steele’s words are suggestive of the plot of Mary Steele’s Danebury (Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 3, pp. 33-41), which hinges on one character’s ability to remove from her friend’s breast the poison from a deadly arrow, only to have her life in turn miraculously spared by divine intervention, a heavenly recognition of the “power of friendship” between two selfless young women.
The poems below are a selection of Mary Steele's friendship poems to Mary Scott, Jane Attwater, Elizabeth Coltman, Anne Steele, and Mary Reid. Other poems to these same individuals and other men and women who were friends of Mary Steele can be found in Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 4., where all the poems are accompanied by editorial and textual notes. For more on the friendship between Mary Steele and Mary Scott and other members of the Steele Circle, see Timothy Whelan, “Mary Scott, Sarah Froud, and the Steele Literary Circle: A Revealing Annotation to The Female Advocate,” Huntington Library Quarterly 77.4 (2015), pp. 435-52; idem, “When Kindred Souls Unite”: The Literary Friendship of Mary Steele and Mary Scott, 1766-1793,” Journal of Women’s Studies 43 (2014), pp. 619-40.