Introduction to the Poetry of

Hannah Towgood Wakeford

About twenty years after her death, a portion of Hannah Wakeford’s literary remains appeared in The Christian’s Magazine, or A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, published between September 1764 and March 1765. The editor prefaced his publication of Towgood’s writings with the following note:

We have the pleasure to present our readers with the first of a series of letters, meditations, and poems, which were composed by an amiable and excellent lady, who died in her twenty-first year; and of whom a brief account will be given at the close of these pieces, which we are assured will give great satisfaction to the reader; and for which we are much obliged to the gentleman who communicated them. The lady chose to write to her friend, whom she calls Aurelia, under the fictitious name of Amynta; and we have therefore thought it best to retain these names’.

The ‘gentleman’ was most likely Joseph Wakeford, with probable assistance in preparing the manuscripts from Mary Steele Wakeford, his second wife. Unfortunately, no biographical notice appeared of Hannah Wakeford, and neither the writer nor her friend Aurelia were identified in the Magazine.

Thirteen of her twenty religious poems also appeared in The Christian’s Magazine (manuscript copies of eight of her poems exist within the Steele Collection). Wakeford’s poems express many of the same themes that dominate nonconformist poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Her ‘New Year’s Midnight Reflection’ explores the necessity of maintaining in her pilgrim life a recognition of the temporality of the material world and human existence and the necessity for her to turn her soul ‘from earth and all its wiles’ and keep her ‘eye fixt on [her] celestial home’, whose ‘Seas of Bliss’ ‘last for ever’. She begins her letter to Aurelia with an apostrophe to Friendship, a quality that, as practiced between her and her friend, is not far removed from an empowering of the Holy Spirit:

Friendship! thou Powerful Sovereign of the Mind,

The greatest Joy and Grief to humankind,

I feel thy Power, I owe thy Sacred name

And oh my Soul is Subject to the charming flame.

Wakeford’s soliloquies are meditations on the greatness of God and her inability to fully worship him, a common theme in Anne Steele’s hymns as well. If her words are “too low” to adequately “Praise or Celebrate” the glory and power of God, Wakeford attempts it nevertheless, recognizing that, even if her ‘artless Song’ should fall short, her effort is commanded of all Christians, or else ‘the mute Creation’ will ‘soon upbraid [her] Silence’. Her frail attempt becomes acceptable, however, when the ‘Eternal King inspires the Song’. ‘A General Hymn of Praise for Creation’ and ‘Soliloquy III’ demonstrate the strength of her attraction to nature as a source of spiritual illumination and encouragement. Keeping the physical world, however, ‘in its proper place’ was a necessary, but never an easy task, which is why hymns became such an essential aid to devotion and the maintaining of one’s Christian faith and practice.