A Celebration of Women Writers

"Anne Killigrew."

From: Cibber, Theophilus. The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. II. London: Printed for R. Griffiths, at the Dunciad in St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1753. pp. 224-226.


THIS amiable young lady, who has been happy in the praises of Dryden, was daughter of Dr. Henry Killegrew, master of the Savoy, and one of the prebendaries of Westminster. She was born in St. Martin's-Lane in London, a little before the restoration of King Charles II. and was christened in a private chamber, the offices of the Common prayer not being then publickly allowed. She gave the earliest discoveries of a great genius, which being improved by the advantage of a polite education, she became eminent in the arts of poetry and painting, and had her life been prolonged, she might probably have excelled most of the profession in both *. Mr Dryden is quite lavish in her praise; and we are assured by other cotemporary writers of good probity, that he has done no violence to truth in the most heightened strains of his panegyric: let him be voucher for her skill in poetry.

Art she had none, yet wanted none,
For nature did that art supply,
So rich in treasures of her own,
She might our boasted stores defy;
Such noble vigour did her verse adorn,
That it seem'd borrow'd, where 'twas only born.

That great poet is pleased to attribute to her every poetical excellence. Speaking of the purity and chastity of her compositions, he bestows on them this commendation,

Her Arethusian stream remains unsoil'd,
Unmix'd with foreign filth and undefil'd;
Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child.

She was a great proficient in the art of painting, and drew King James II, and his Queen; which pieces are also highly applauded by Mr. Dryden. She drew several history pieces, also some portraits for her diversion, exceeding well, and likewise some pieces of still life.

Those engaging and polite accomplishments were the least of her perfections; for she crowned all with an exemplary piety, and unblemished virtue. She was one of the maids of honour to the Duchess of York, and died of the small-pox in the very flower of her age, to the unspeakable grief of her relations and acquaintance, on the 16th day of June 1685, in her 25th year.

On this occasion, Mr. Dryden's muse put on a mournful habit, and in one of the most melting elegiac odes that was ever written, has consigned her to immortality.

In the eighth stanza he does honour to another female character, whom he joins with this sweet poetess.

Now all those charmes, that blooming grace,
The well-proportion'd shape, and beauteous face,
Shall never more be seen by mortal eyes;
In earth, the much lamented virgin lies!
  Not wit, nor piety could fate prevent;
  Nor was the cruel destiny content
  To finish all the murder at a blow,
  To sweep at once her life, and beauty too;
  But like a hardened felon took a pride
  To work more mischievously slow,
  And plundered first, and then destroy'd.
O! double sacrilege, on things divine,
To rob the relique, and deface the shrine!
     But thus Orinda died;
Heav'n by the same disease did both translate,
As equal was their souls, so equal was their fate.

Miss Killegrew was buried in the chancel of St. Baptist's chapel in the Savoy hospital, on the North side of which is a very neat monument of marble and free-stone fixed in the wall, with a Latin inscription, a translation of which into English is printed before her poems.

The following verses of Miss Killegrew's were addressed to Mrs. Phillips.

Orinda (Albion, and her sex's grace)
Ow'd not her glory to a beauteous face.
It was her radiant soul that shone within,
Which struk a lustre through her outward skin;
That did her lips and cheeks with roses dye,
Advanc'd her heighth, and sparkled in her eye.
Nor did her sex at all obstruct her fame.
But high'r 'mongst the stars it fixt her name;
What she did write, not only all allow'd,
But ev'ry laurel, to her laurel, bow'd !

Soon after her death, her Poems were published in a large thin quarto, to which Dryden's ode in praise of the author is prefixed.

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* Ballard's Memoirs of Learned Ladies.