HEMANS, Felicia. ~ The Vespers of Palermo; a Tragedy. Records of Woman. Miscellaneous Poems … William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh; and Thomas Cadell, London. 1840.
8vo (170 x 102 mm), pp. , iii, , 326; prelims and endleaves slightly foxed, untrimmed in dark blue blind-patterned publisher’s cloth, a little worn; contemporary ownership inscription to front free endpaper.
First edition thus, of this compendium of the poetry of Felicia Hemans (1793–1835).
Called ‘the most considerable woman poet of the Romantic period’ (ODNB), Hemans published some twenty volumes and nearly four hundred poems during her lifetime. The present work, a posthumous anthology, includes her verse cycles Songs of the Cid and Records of Woman, as well as miscellaneous poems including ‘The Homes of England’, in which Hemans is thought to have coined the phrase ‘stately home’. Many literary peers paid tribute to Hemans following her death in 1835 of Scarlet Fever. In particular, Letitia Elizabeth Landon (see item 14) penned ‘Stanzas on the Death of Mrs Hemans’ (1835) and ‘Felicia Hemans’ (1838). This was answered by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who remained ambivalent about Hemans’ talent. In his ‘Extempore Effusion’ of 1835, Wordsworth portrayed Hemans as an ‘insubstantial spirit’.
The anthology’s titular verse play, The Vespers of Palermo, was first published by John Murray in 1823. Based on a mixture of ancient and contemporary discourse, it applies Staël’s and Sismondi’s interpretations of Italian destiny to post-war developments, including the Mediterranean Revolts of 1820-21. Other sources include Byron, Coleridge, Gibbon, Petrarch, Plutarch and Schiller. Vespers’ production at Covent Garden in December 1823 failed, in part because an ingénue was miscast as its heroine. An Edinburgh performance on 5 April 1824, promoted by Joanna Baillie and Sir Walter Scott and starring Harriet Siddons, fared better. Not in Jackson, nor Jackson, Women.