The text and attribution of "Thou who dost all my earthly thoughts employ": a new Moulsworth poem?
Matthew Steggle
Sheffield Hallam University

Steggle, Matthew. "The text and attribution of "Thou who dost all my earthly thoughts employ": a new Moulsworth poem?" Early Modern Literary Studies 6.3 (January, 2001): 3.1-8 <URL:

"Thou who dost all my earthly thoughts employ" is a 22-line lyric poem best known from its appearance in the anthology Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755), and attributed there to Mary Molesworth Monck (c.1682-1716). [1] It has made and continues to make frequent appearances in later anthologies, including at least five in the 1990s. Directly or indirectly, most of these base their text and their attribution on the 1755 printing. [2] However, the 1755 text is not the only version of the poem: and comparison with other contemporary versions will show that it contains important non-authorial changes - corruptions - to the text.

This article offers a critical edition, with textual apparatus and commentary, using evidence from nine eighteenth-century manuscripts and from six appearances of the poem in print. The new text that results prompts a new approach to the question of the poem's authorship, and in particular, raises the possiblity that the poem should be attributed not to Mary Molesworth Monck, but to a recently rediscovered namesake from the previous century: Martha Moulsworth. [3]


"Thou who dost" flourished not merely in printed anthologies, but in eighteenth-century manuscript miscellanies. This edition collates nine MSS and six print versions of the poem.[4]


Printed texts:

What can the lost Marinda (doom'd to mourn
In silence her unhappy fate) return
To her lov'd Brother? Whose harmonious Muse
Suspends her sorrows and her joy renews?

The source for this, claims C.D., is a manuscript found pasted inside a copy of Marinda. As an afterthought, he adds: "On her death-bed, while at Bath, she wrote the following lines to her husband, which having been published very defectively in Cibber's Lives of the Poets and Poems of Eminent Ladies, I send you transcribed from a more correct copy." (423)


      Thou who dost all my worldly thoughts employ
      Thou pleasing source of all my earthly joy,
      Thou tenderest husband and thou best of friends,
      To thee this fond this last adieu I send
 5   At length the conqueror Death asserts his right
      And will forever veil me from thy sight
      He woos me to him with a cheerful grace
      And not one terror clouds his awful face
      He promises a lasting rest from pain
10  And shows that all life's fleeting joys are vain
      The eternal joys of Heaven he sets in view
      And tells me that no other joys are true
      But Love, fond Love would yet resist his power
      Would fain a while defer the parting hour
15  He brings thy mourning image to my eyes
      And would obstruct my journey to the skies.
      But say thou dearest thou unwearied friend,
      Say shouldst thou grieve to see my sorrows end
      Thou knowst a painful pilgrimage I've past
20  And wouldst thou mourn that rest is come at last
      Rather rejoice to see me shake off life,
      And die as I have liv'd thy faithful wife.

Title] M:rs Molesworth to her Husband, Capt. Molesworth Pw1: A Poeticall Epistle from a lady Dying of a Consumption at the Bath, to her Husband at London Pw2: Mrs. Mouldsworth's last verses To her Husband After ye Drs gave her Over A95: Verses written to Colonel Moles-th by his Lady in her Sickness A01: A Letter from a Lady to her Husband when given over by her Physicians EP39: A Lady being at the Bath for her health, and not likely to Recover, sent her Husband an account thereof under which she wrote the following Lines EP40: From a Lady, who was dying at Bath, to her absent Husband T9: A Letter from Mrs. Moldsworth to her Husband, when given over by her Physicians Ltq20: From a Lady extreamly ill at Bath to her husband in London Lt9: Written by a LADY at Bath, in her last Sickness, to her Husband 29: Verses from a Lady † [† Daughter to Dr. Wellwood, and wife to Capt. Molesworth] at Bath, dying with a consumption, to her Husband 50: wrote by her (as I am inform'd) on her death-bed at Bath, to her husband in London 52: The following verses, which breathe a true spirit of tenderness, were written by her on her death-bed at Bath, when her husband was in London 53: Verses wrote on her death-bed at Bath, to her husband, in London 55: On her death-bed, while at Bath, she wrote the following lines to her husband 00.
1 Thou who dost] O you who EP39, Ltq20
1 worldly] earthy A95
2 pleasing] only Lt9
2 all my] every EP39, Ltq20
2 earthly] wordly A95: worldly 50
3 tenderest] kindest 29: (best of husbands) A95
3 best of friends] Pw1, Pw2, 52: tenderest friend A95: truest friend A01, T9, 29, 50, 53, 55: dearest friend EP39, EP40, Ltq20, 00: kindest friend Lt9 (over illegible erasure)
4 fond] first 52, 53, 55: (this last, this fond) A95
4 Adieu] advice EP40, 00
5 at length] after Death A95: at last A01: (Since that all-conqu'ring) 50
6 veil] tear EP39, Ltq20
6 me from thy] thee from my 53
7 cheerful] gentle A95
7 grace] face Lt9
8 terror] sorrow 00
8 awful] meagre A95, Lt9, 50, 52, 53, 55
10 shows that all] shews me that 50
10 fleeting joys are] pleasing dream is EP40 (uncorrected): pleasing dreams are EP40 (corrected), 00: fleeting bliss is T9, 29: flitting joys are 50
11 eternal joys] endless joys A01, 29: eternal scenes Pw1, Lt9, 52, 53, 55: Scenes of Heav'n A95: (At length the joys) 50
11 he sets in] are set in Pw1: he opens to my A95
12 tells] shews 50
13 Love, fond Love] fond, fond Love A01
13 yet] fain EP40, 00
14 Would] And EP40, 00
14 fain] Pw2, A95, Lt9, 52, 53, 55: for Pw1: yet A01, EP39, EP40, T9, Ltq20, 29, 50, 00
15 He] It A01, T9, EP40, 00: Loves Ltq20 (uncorrected): Love EP39, Ltq20 (corrected)
15 thy] the 50
15 mourning] mournful EP40, 50, 00
16 journey] passage Pw1, A01, 29
17 dearest] truest 29: dearest, say EP40
18 Say] Why Lt9
18 shouldst] canst A01: shalt EP39, Ltq20: wouldst EP40, 29, 00
18 grieve] mourn EP40, 00
19 Thou knowst] after Pilgrimage A95
19 a] the 00
20 wouldst] shouldst Pw1, 50, 52, 53, 55: (Oh weep not then) EP39, Ltq20
20 mourn] grieve A95, EP40, 52, 53, 55, 00
20 rest] ease Pw1: death EP39, Ltq20, 50: peace Lt9
22 thy] a Pw1, Lt9: your EP40, 00, Ltq20: thy ever 50
22 faithful] modest Lt9


     Of the fifteen texts at issue, seven can be sorted into sets easily.
     52, 53 and 55 are identical apart from 52's reading in l.3, and a trivial and correctable error in 53 (l.6); indeed, even their introductions to the poem show a strong family resemblance. Therefore, 52, 53, 55 can effectively be treated as one text, and as such this text has a unique directional variant in l.4. A similar pairing can be made of EP40 and 00, which share several unique directional variants (for instance, l. 4). 00 only differs from EP40 three times: in ll. 8, 19 where it offers a worse reading than EP40, and in l.17 where it corrects (perhaps by contamination) an obvious error. Clearly a manuscript very like EP40 lies behind 00, and for many purposes, EP40, 00 can be paired off. Furthermore, EP39 and Ltq20 share a number of unique readings (ll.1, 2, 6, 20). They differ only once, in l.22, and can therefore be paired together.
      Of the remainder, unique directional variants can be clearly established for six: Pw1 (l.20), A95 (ll.1, 7, 19), A01 (ll.5, 13), 29 (l. 17), 50 (ll. 11, 12, 15), Lt9 (ll. 2, 7). T9 has nearly unique errors in ll.10 and 15 that together would rule it out from being a direct parent of any of the others. Only Pw2 has no such errors and needs to be considered as a possible ancestor of other texts.
      The next step in approaching the problem of the relation of these texts is to build a non-directional stemma. The variant reading "awful"/"meagre" in l.8 divides the text into two families, Pw1, Pw2, A01, (EP39, Ltq20), (EP40, 00), T9, 29: A95, Lt9, 50, (52, 53, 55). Other readings, such as "yet"/"fain" in l.14 and "joys"/"scenes" in l.11, create divisions along similar, but not quite identical lines. It is clear that the tradition is heavily contaminated, so that it isn't possible to create a more detailed genealogical tree. [12]
      From the foregoing, it follows that in cases where there is little to choose between the readings of different texts, Pw2 is the text whose readings should be given the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, Pw2 turns out to be in agreement throughout with the reconstructed text of the poem, and were it not for the title, could not be ruled out as the ancestor of all the others. In the above transcript, Pw2's almost non-existent punctuation is used in the text - a potentially contentious question discussed below.


     Title] Harold Love notes that paratexts suffer far more variation than texts, and this is especially true of the examples collected here. [13] The titles can conveniently be sorted into five groups:

     3 best of friends] It is more likely for this phrase to be regularized into, for instance, "truest friend," than vice versa. (Especially revealing in this respect is the reading of A95). The survival of this reading in Pw1, Pw2, 52 suggests that it is the original one.
     4 fond] 52, 53, 55 offers a neat antithesis, and another regularization, but the reading is not supported by any other text.
     8 awful] "Meagre", favoured by A95, Lt9, 50, 52, 53, 55, is an attractively unproblematic reading (cf. Paradise Lost 10.264), and "awful" might seem a weak substitution for it, at once redundant and yet self-contradictory -- of course Death's face is awful, and how can you have a face which is awful but not terrible? However, that very clash of ideas activates a pun on awe -- awe in its religious sense as an almost joyful reverence, rather than merely stunned fear - which does relate to the central theme of the poem, the "joy" of l.11. Therefore, I suggest, "meagre" is the substitution - replacing an ambitious, paradoxical effect with an easy and conventional pictorial one. [14]
     10-12 joys] Pw2, A01, EP39, Lt9, 50 have the word "joys" in three successive lines here. EP40, T9, 29, 00 offfer alternatives of various sorts in l.10, Pw1, A95, Ltq20, 52, 53, 55 offer variants of a plausible alternative reading in l.11. But the fact that there are these two alternative ways of avoiding a perceived problem strongly suggests that they're both emendations (with EP40 seemingly caught in the act), and that the reading from which they all spring is that of Pw2 and its allies.
     This is important because l.11 is the middle line of the poem: therefore, the appearance of three "joy"s in the three central lines of the poem suggests a significant degree of ordering. Even more so since "joy" also appears in l.2 and (inside the word "rejoice") in the penultimate line, l.21. From this five conclusions can be drawn:

  1. "Joy" is an important thematic word in this poem, which pivots on the difference between "worldly joy" (l.2, 10, 12, 21) and heavenly "endless joys" at the centre (l.11).
  2. Indeed, the patterning is more elaborate than that: 2 and 21 talk about joy as a specific emotion connected with the speaker's husband, 10 and 12 deal with the transitoriness of earthly "joys" in the abstract, and 11 deals with heavenly "joys." Note also the symmetry of ll. 1 and 22, both declarations of fidelity to her husband.
  3. Therefore, this poem is interested in formal patterning effects constructed around a mid-point. Numerologically, such mid-point symmetry is an effect particularly associated with epithalamia, of which, in a sense, this poem is a specimen, partly since Death is a wooer offering an alternative marriage, partly since the poem ends as an assertion of the earthly marriage-bond. [15]
  4. In this case, the five repetitions of "joy" even have a possible numerological significance, since five is a "nuptial number" frequently used in epithalamia (Fowler, 74).
  5. Those involved in the transmission of surviving copies of this poem did not, by and large, share its interest in such "spatial constructivism", valuing more the euphony of the individual lines. [16] This would be consistent with a change in poetic fashion in the time between the writing of the poem and most of its copying.

     14 fain] "Yet" can be explained as persistence from the previous line, but there is otherwise little to choose.
     20 wouldst] "Shouldst" and "grieve" are variants seemingly due to persistence from l.18.
     21 rejoice] This poem is eleven couplets long. The eleventh couplet marks the end of the time for mourning, and the start of rejoicing. In this way the poem seems to use the number eleven in a way best known from the eleven verse paragraphs of "Lycidas", in accordance with the Renaissance number symbolism of eleven as "a number symbolizing mourning and the termination of mourning" (Fowler, 189).
     Punctuation] 55, the text on which most anthology versions of this poem are based, punctuates it very heavily. Each couplet is broken at the end of the first line by a comma (6) or semicolon (5): each couplet ends with either a colon (2), a questionmark (2), or a full stop (7). The resulting text is more a series of distichs than a connected poem. However, this punctuation seems to misrepresent the run-ons in sense between e.g. 2-3, 10-11. In particular, it destroys the syntactic flexibility in l.20, which functions both as a rhetorical question and a conditional clause. Furthermore, it masks the poem's formal symmetry. The much lighter punctuation of the MSS., specifically Pw2, is preferable, and adopted here.


     External evidence imposes a latest possible date of 1729 for this poem, which resolves one difficult problem. But is there any way to limit its earliest possible date? In common with much lyric, its simplicity offers remarkably few clues. There are no topical references to work with. Nothing in the vocabulary would seem out of place in Shakespeare, but the absence of demonstrably later vocabulary in no way rules out a later date. Similarly, the poem's numerological symbolism would be most at home in a seventeenth-century poem; Alistair Fowler (22) notes that "by the early eighteenth century numerological composition had ceased to be a dominant form". On the other hand, there is no law against deliberate archaism. It is perhaps best to say that there is no internal evidence to compel a seventeenth-century date, but nor is there any to rule it out.


     This section considers Monck, Elizabeth Wellwood Molesworth, Martha Moulsworth, and other candidates in turn, but first it is necessary to consider further details of the attributions.
      The assumption of most of the ascriptions (but not Pw1 or A01) is that the poem was written shortly before death, but one might start by disregarding this: MS. attributions of poems are eager to assume "occasional" circumstances behind their writing, and one might think that this poem seems too controlled to have been written genuinely in extremis.
      Many texts associate this poem with Bath. None of the three candidates can be linked strongly with Bath, although Martha Moulsworth has a slight edge here. But one should bear in mind the possibility that this is another "occasionalist" deduction: the speaker talks about having suffered ill-health for a while (5), about having taken a "pilgrimage" (18) and about being seemingly geographically separate from her husband (4). If a copyist/editor were looking for a more literal meaning of "pilgrimage", they might well assume the spa at Bath to be the obvious setting for this poem.

Mary Molesworth Monck
Mary Molesworth Monck (c.1682-1716) was the second daughter of Viscount Robert Molesworth of Dublin, a politician, diplomat and author. [17] At some point around 1700 she married George Monck, a gentleman of St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, and one of her father's protégés who served as MP for Phillipstown from 1703-13. However, what limited evidence survives suggests that their marriage was not a success. In October 1709 a reference in the family correspondence suggests that the couple were having money difficulties, and by July 1712 it is clear that her husband was suffering mental problems, and was behaving in a deranged and violent manner. On 5 October 1714, her sister, writing from the family home near Doncaster, notes that Mary has given up housekeeping altogether, and is in lodgings with her children and servants. [18] Clearly, then, the couple were separated. She died on February 17, 1716, and while previous biographers have stated that she died at Bath - a suggestion first made by Ballard, almost certainly by inference from this poem - research by Betsey Taylor-Fitzsimon indicates that she probably died at Chelsea. Her two daughters and two sons survived her. [19]
      In 1716, her father Robert Molesworth published a volume of her poetry, under the title Marinda. Poems and Translations upon Several Occasions. He prefaced it with a long and fulsome forty-seven page dedication to Princess Caroline, given over mainly to a denunciation of the evils of female education. The dedication can be connected to the fact that Mary Molesworth Monck's sister, Charlotta, was chief bedchamber woman to the Princess. Robert Molesworth states that the poems are "the Product of the leisure hours of a Young Gentlewoman lately Dead," written "in a Remote Country Retirement, without any Assistance but that of a good Library, and without omitting the daily Care due to a large Family." The poems were found "in her Scrittoire after her Death." [20]
      In 1720, Giles Jacob published his An Historical Account of... English Poets, in which for the first time "Mrs Molesworth" was named as the author of Marinda. [21] No mention was made of "Thou who dost," or indeed of her husband, whose name and even existence were relegated to the corrigenda. Thirty-two years later, Ballard's article on Monck follows Jacob's very closely, except for adding in the mention and attribution, "as I am informed", of "Thou who dost." By the time it was made, Monck had been dead for almost forty years.
      There are four main obstacles to accepting Ballard's attribution: they relate to the poet's name, her biography, her other poetry, and the authorized text of that poetry.
      Firstly, then, the four MS. attributions give what is, strictly speaking, the wrong name. It is quite possible to refer to Mary Molesworth Monck as "Mrs. Molesworth" -- as Giles Jacob does, seemingly unaware of the existence of her husband. But in a poem to her husband, about how her death will fix her identity as his wife, use of the maiden name is clearly incongruous. Furthermore, Pw1, A01 do specify that Molesworth is her married name. Indeed, 50 goes further, and attributes the text to another Mrs Molesworth altogether. So these texts do not show that the poem was attributed to Monck before 1752, and indeed, they positively deny such a connection.
      Secondly, as the foregoing summary of her life makes clear, it is biographically implausible. [22] Lonsdale (519) notes that the poem signally fails to make any allowances for her husband's own mental problems or their separate habitation, and it makes no mention of the children she was looking after single-handedly at the time of her death. Also awkward is the fact that Monck probably did not die at Bath. If Ballard got that fact wrong, then his accompanying assertion that Monck wrote the poem becomes much more difficult to sustain. Both of these points can be mitigated by supposing the poem to date from earlier in Monck's life, and clearly, biographical evidence is not an infallible guide to authorship questions, but it presents a stiff obstacle to accepting the claim that Monck wrote the poem.
      Thirdly, this poem sits uneasily alongside the contents of Marinda. All the poems in Marinda are conducted in the conventions of pastoral, of translation, or of light verse: nothing else is comparable in method to this poem. Furthermore, no poem in Marinda makes obvious use of the numerological effects we see in "Thou who dost." As for the tone, selective quotation is inevitably open to charges of bias, but one useful, and reasonably impartial, yardstick is to use the openings of the two poems in Marinda that touch upon the subject of death. "A Dialogue between Lucinda and Strephon, on a Butter-Fly that reviv'd before the Fire, and afterwards flew in to it and was burnt," begins as follows:

See Strephon, see, with what an eager Strife
The little Atoms kindle into Life,
How the poor Insect spreads its downy Wings,
With what a grateful Ardour up it springs,
Tow'ring aloft to meet that lovely Flame
From whose kind Warmth its Life and Vigour came.
Ah hapless Insect! new inspir'd with Breath,
Where Thou had'st found thy Life to meet with Death;
Relentless Fire! alas! how could'st Thou prove
Cruel to so much Gratitude and Love?

     "An Elegie on a Favourite Dog" takes a similarly light-hearted view of the subject of death.

Who can forbid the Muses Tears to flow?
On such a Subject to indulge her Woe?
Where-e'er Fidelity and Love are join'd,
They claim the Tribute of a grateful Mind.
Birds have had Funeral Rites, and with swol'n Eyes
Fair Lesbia grac'd her Sparrow's Obsequies;
His warlike Steed Young Ammon did lament,
And rais'd a City for his Monument.
That bright celestial Dog that decks the Skies,
Did by his Merit to that Honour rise:
And all the Virtues by which Men renown'd
To Heavenly Seats have climb'd, in Dogs are found. [23]

     Monck's polished impersonality is the reason that in general she has been so little anthologised, and "Thou who dost" - far more frequently anthologized than any other poem associated with her - is startlingly different in this respect.
      Fourthly, it is not in Marinda. Apart from the poem to her brother printed in 00, it is the only known text attributed to Monck not to be found in that collection. It is possible to hypothesise situations in which Robert Molesworth might have chosen not to include it in his collection - for instance, because it was written to her husband - but those reasons make its continued survival, in the name of Molesworth or Mouldsworth, all the more improbable.
      Indeed, the first explicit attribution of the poem was to someone else entirely: and it is to her that we must now turn.

Elizabeth Wellwood Molesworth
     50's attribution of the poem deserves more detailed consideration. "Dr Wellwood" can be identified as James Wellwood, whose medical career included a period as personal physician to William and Mary, and who was a close associate of Robert Molesworth. [24] Baptismal and marriage records attest to the existence of a daughter, Elizabeth (b.1693), who married Walter Molesworth, fifth son of Robert Molesworth, on 3 March 1717/18, at the parish church of St-Dunstan-in-the-East, London. [25] Thus Mary and Elizabeth were in a sense sisters-in-law, even though Mary died before Elizabeth married into the family. Walter's military career explains the military title in 50 (and perhaps in Pw1 and A01 as well), and details about the marriage of "Watty" and "Betty" can be pieced together from the Molesworth family correspondence. In September 1719 she gave birth to a son, but by 1722 her health was deteriorating. She travelled to Chelsea and Twickenham in search of better air, but to no avail: her health continued to decay; and by March 22 1724-5, she was in a "calamitous condition." [26] She died on 25 August, 1725. [27]
      Clearly, she is the individual referred to by 50. Also, it could be claimed, Pw1, A95, A01, and Ltq20 could well be implicit references to her. Her husband was indeed in the military. (Not that this is quite as strong evidence as it seems, since several of the socially prominent Molesworth clan were serving in the army: for someone presented with a poem by a "Mrs Molesworth," it would be a fairly natural deduction that her husband was in uniform). Clearly, too, this 1750 attribution, two years before Ballard, further damages Monck's claim to have written the poem. But then the Monck attribution, in turn, badly weakens this one, which there are in any case further reasons to doubt. 50 is hardly an authoritative text of the poem itself (cf. its corrupt readings in ll. 2, 5, 12, 15, 20); the attribution it offered was not even considered worth a mention by any subsequent edition; and furthermore, there is no other evidence that Elizabeth ever wrote poetry, which makes it impossible to measure the piece against other work.
      On the other hand, there is a third woman bearing the surname "Molesworth", a distant relative by marriage of Mary and Elizabeth, whose claim to have written the poem must be evaluated. [28]

Martha Moulsworth
     Martha Dorsett Moulsworth (1577-1646) was the daughter of Robert Dorsett, an Oxford academic and cleric who had been tutor to Sir Philip Sidney's brother. In the course of her life she married, and buried, three husbands, the last of them a goldsmith named Bevil Molesworth, and from her last widowhood dates the one surviving poem that can certainly be ascribed to her, the "Memorandum." This 110-line autobiographical meditation survives in a single manuscript copy. It was first published in 1993, and has attracted much scholarly and pedagogical interest since. [29]
      If all that survived of the poem were A95, Ltq20, or even one of the other manuscripts naming the author as "Mrs Molesworth," one would have little hesitation in ascribing it to Martha Moulsworth, and in swallowing the biographical awkwardness that Martha survived Bevil rather than predeceasing him. The reason for this is that the poem is close to the "Memorandum" in many ways, indeed far closer to it than to anything in the contents of Marinda. In terms of subject-matter, the parallels are extensive.
      Both poems deal with bereavement, in particular, loss of a loved spouse. Both describe life specifically as a wearying "pilgrimage" towards a death which is itself a journey ("to the Sts"/"to the skies") towards a welcome "rest" from life. [30] In both cases, within life, the most important thing is marriage, which produces "joy." [31] Both poems take consolation in an orthodox Christian view of Heaven, while notably holding back from any promise that the marriage will be resumed there. Both use an antithesis based on "live, and die" to explore the paradox that death can be an assertion of faith: "In [upholding Christian "ffayth"] all those thatt liue, & die, may well/ hope wth the Sts eternally to dwell"; "And die as I have lived thy faithful wife." ("Memorandum," 84, 87-8; "Thou who dost," 22). And the way the last line of "Thou who dost" uses marital status as an ultimate declaration of identity also occurs in the conclusion of the "Memorandum", which uses widowhood as a similar form of self-affirmation. [32]
      As for formal parallels, "Thou who dost" shares its form - pentameter couplets - with the "Memorandum" (but then so do large parts of Marinda). One particular quirk of syntax occurs remarkably often in both poems: duplication of a monosyllablic word with asyndeton, within a line. This is by no means an exotic technique, but it is one for which Moulsworth has a particular fondness: the 110 lines of the "Memorandum" yield examples including "on thatt day vppon that daie" (4), "How ffew, how many" (9), "so soone had I, so soone become" (14), "some more, some lesse" (47), "such day, such waie" (74), "in vayne itt were, prophane itt were" (98). [33] Similarly, this poem offers in just 22 lines three examples: "this fond, this last" (l.4), "But love, fond love," (l.13), and "thou dearest, thou unwearied" (l.17). [34]
      Most interesting of all, because partially obscured in most of the surviving MSS., is the careful formal patterning surrounding the use of the word "joy." The "Memorandum" shows a neat example of Moulsworth using the very effect -- the same word in the midst of three successive lines -- that so displeased the copyists of "Thou who dost":

I might haue stood a virgin to this houre
Butt though the virgin Muses I loue well
I haue longe since bid virgin life ffarewell [35]

     In the case of "Thou who dost," the repetition is given particular force by its organization around the middle line of the poem. But the "Memorandum" too had played games with symmetry and mid-points, since Moulsworth explains that its fifty-five couplets reflect the fifty-five years of her life. As Isobel Grundy notes, "Her second marriage (the one in the middle), very conveniently took place in the year she passed the age of twenty-seven-and-a-half, exactly half her present total. Just as that year of her age was broken at its mid-point by the mid-point of her life-so-far, she breaks her poem at its mid-point (the 55th line, mid-way in a couplet) with her marginal note about her middle husband." [36] Likewise, this poem uses the mid-point for effect, even though again it falls in the middle of a couplet: the repetition of the word "joy" in lines 2, 10, 11, 12, and 21 creates an elaborate and symmetrical pattern. In short, in theme, style, and technique, the poem resembles the "Memorandum."
      However, any argument that this poem is by Moulsworth requires two seemingly implausible things to have happened. Firstly, since no incontrovertible evidence has yet come to light to confirm the existence of this poem in the seventeenth century, it is necessary to believe that it survived in relative obscurity for fifty to eighty years before the first surviving text of it was copied. This is perhaps not so hard to swallow -- after all, "The Memorandum" survived in total obscurity in a single manuscript for all of three hundred and fifty years before it acheived widespread dissemination. (A fact which in some ways makes things simpler here - no-one in the eighteenth century had even heard of it, as far as can be told, so there is no need to worry about the possibility of deliberate imitation). Secondly, it requires that the Gentleman's Magazine contributor in 1750, and Ballard (or rather his anonymous informant) in 1752, both made the mistake of not realising that the poem they were reproducing was not thirty or forty years old, but over a hundred years old. While this is on the face of it unlikely, short lyrics, with their simple rhythms and restrained diction, remain the hardest of all forms to date on internal evidence, especially when recopying has changed some of the most diagnostic features of the poem (see Commentary, especially the discussion of "Date").

Other candidates
     In the study of posthumous attributions, absolute proof is hard to come by. The possibility remains of an otherwise entirely unknown poet called Mrs Molesworth, or of the whole association between the poem and the name "Molesworth" being an error. Also, the possibility remains of further evidence coming to light, most obviously, of a firmer dating for Pw2. The claim of Wellwood Molesworth (b.1693) and even of Monck (b.c.1682) could be invalidated if a sufficiently early date could be established for Pw2 or for any new manuscript. On the other hand, references to the poem as Monck's following immediately on her death in 1716 would strengthen the conclusion that it was hers, and if another poem of hers came to light that uses mid-point symmetry and numerological effects, that too would bolster her claim. Similarly, further attributions to Elizabeth Wellwood Molesworth, or any evidence that she was regarded as a poet, would strengthen her case.


      Regardless of the authorship question, it is now clear that the received text of "Thou who dost," deriving from 55, is a modified version of the original poem, which has been changed to promote euphony and clarity over sophistication and formal symmetry. The text offered here has different and better - that is, more authorial - readings in ll. 3, 4, 8, 11, and 20. Of these the most important is l.11, since 55's version obscures the formal symmetry and removes the word which is, in an important sense, the keystone of the poem. Therefore, this text should be adopted in subsequent editions.

      On one level, of course, it is fair to say that the authorship question doesn't matter. But since division according to named author remains the main structuring device of literary publications and pedagogy, it remains important to establish, as far as possible, the evidence surrounding attribution.  The evidence can be summarized briefly: in all texts not demonstrably later than 1750, the poem is either anonymous, or ascribed simply to a "Mrs Molesworth". In 1750, "Mrs Molesworth" is identified as Elizabeth Wellwood Molesworth, and two years later she is identified as Mary Molesworth Monk -- both women having died over a quarter of a century earlier, and both versions of the accompanying poem being corrupt in important respects. However, the poem has some features that link it to seventeenth-century poetry in general and in particular to the "Memorandum" of Martha Moulsworth. Moulsworth has a strong claim to the authorship of this poem.
      If one accepts for the moment the assumption that this is a poem by Martha Moulsworth, what follows from it? For Monck, the loss of her best-known poem may be a blessing in disguise. Nineteenth-century commentators, in particular, seized on "Thou who dost" as guaranteeing her credentials as a virtuous orthodox wife: "There is an odour, as of violets, while we press the pages to our lips," claimed one reviewer. [37] Without "Thou who dost," there is less need to read Marinda in terms of the marriage it notably fails to mention.
      As for Moulsworth, both "Thou who dost" and the "Memorandum" fit well with the other poem tentatively ascribed to her, the inscription on Bevil Molesworth's tomb, also written in pentameter couplets, also examining the collision between human love and eternity. [38] One could perhaps associate "Thou who dost" with the years between 1619 and 1630 -- the years of her marriage to Bevil -- although in fact it was her first husband, Nicholas Prynne, who is known to have had links with Bath. [39] The hypothesis that follows is that the poem enjoyed at first a very select manuscript circulation, as the "Memorandum" did, and that in the eighteenth century, copies flourished and it became a miscellany success. Of course, this scenario raises the possibility that still more Moulsworth poems did make their way into wider circulation, and may still be recoverable, if adequate evidence remains of their ascription.
      According to Anthony Low, "If a body of poems as good as 'The Memorandum' were to turn up, then Moulsworth would have some claim to be a major poet. Certainly 'The Memorandum' is more than a historical curiosity; it belongs in the major anthologies on the basis of its poetic quality." [40] Low was writing not long after the "Memorandum"'s rediscovery, and his remarks have been vindicated by its subsequent adoption into the latest edition of the Norton Anthology. While 'poetic quality' is always impossible to define absolutely, in the case of "Thou who dost..." there is no need to -- it can be defined empirically. This poem has outshone all the other works of the poet to whom it was misattributed. In spite of important corruptions to its text, it has gained and held a place in major anthologies for over 200 years. If, as seems likely, "Thou who dost" can be considered as a second Moulsworth poem to set alongside the "Memorandum," then her claim to be a major poet advances a little further.


     The following editions of the poem have not been listed in the collation, as they derive from earlier editions:

Derived from 29

Derived from 50

Derived from 52

Derived from 55

Derived from 00


1. Poems by Eminent Ladies, 2 vols (London: R. Baldwin, 1755), 2.195-6.

2. See Section 8, "Editions not collated."

3. See "The Muses Females Are": Martha Moulsworth and Other Women Writers of the English Renaissance, ed. Robert C. Evans & Anne C. Little (West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 1995), henceforth abbreviated to MFA. I follow Evans' practice of spelling Martha's surname "Moulsworth" to distinguish her from others of that surname (MFA Introduction xxvii-xxx), and I refer throughout to Mary Molesworth Mon(c)k as "Monck."

4. This edition follows the conventions and procedures suggested by Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 313-356.

5. W.A. Churchill, Watermarks in Paper in Holland, England, France etc. in the XVII and XVIII centuries and their Interconnection (Amsterdam: Menno Heitzberger, 1935), 28, 127.

6. Edward Heawood, Watermarks, Monumenta Chartae Papyraceae Historium Illustrantia 1 (Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society, 1950).

7. There is no lot number on this MS., but f.15v of the volume bears the lot number "1033/40," so it seems safe to assume that ff.18-19 were among the forty unitemized pieces that made up Lot 1033, and that therefore nothing further can be said about their provenance: Catalogue of An Important Collection of Autograph Letters (London: J.Daly, 1869), item 1033.

8. See Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, "Written extempore on the Death of Mrs Bowes," Essays and Poems and Simplicity, a Comedy ed. Robert Halsband & Isobel Grundy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 233.

9. SC numbers refer to Mary Clapinson & T.D. Rogers, Summary Catalogue of Post-Mediaeval Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford Acquisitions 1916-1975, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).

10. Alan D. McKillop, "James Ralph in Berkshire", Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 1.3 (1961): 43-53. See also Robert W. Kenny, "James Ralph: An Eighteenth-Century Philadelphian in Grub Street," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 64.2 (April 1940): 218-242.

11. Although the title-page claims Cibber as the author, this work is sometimes referred to under the name of Robert Shiells, who seems to have done most of the actual work: see DNB s.v. "Theophilus Cibber."

12. Indeed, as Love notes, since miscellany transmission introduces great possiblities for contamination, one would not expect to be able to build a genealogical tree.

13. Love, Scribal Publication 333.

14. Cf. OED s.v. awe n. 1 and n. 2, 3.

15. Alistair Fowler, Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970), 69.

16. Fowler, Triumphal Forms, 21.

17. Lonsdale, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, 519. Other biographical details are taken from Andrew Carpenter ed., Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Cork: Cork UP, 1998), 75n; Janet Todd, A Dictionary of British Women Writers (London: Routledge, 1989) s.v. Monk; Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy, The Feminist Companion to Literature (London: Batsford, 1990) s.v. Monk: Margaret J.M. Ezell, The Patriarch's Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina P, 1987), 69-70; The Hon. William Molesworth, "Children of the First Viscount" (unpublished paper) corrects the erroneous birth date of c.1678 given in earlier accounts.

18. Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections VIII (London: HMSO, 1913), 243, 258, 259, 264, 268. Henceforth this series is cited in abbreviated form.

19. Previous accounts date her death as "c.1715": but Molesworth, "Children of the First Viscount", gives details of her memorial inscription. George Monck outlived his wife and died at Dublin in 1726, having eventually risen to be Surveyor General of the Customs of Ireland: see The Chronological Diary for the Year 1726 p.31, published within The Historical Register, Containing an Impartial Relation of All Transactions... Foreign and Domestic 11 (1726). For the evidence concerning where Mary Molesworth Monck died, see Betsey Taylor-Fitzsimon, "New light on Mary Monck" (forthcoming).

20. [Mary Molesworth Monck], Marinda. Poems and Translations upon Several Occasions ed. Robert Molesworth (London: J. Tonson, 1716), b7v, b8v.

21. G[iles] J[acob], An Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most Considerable English Poets (London: E. Curll, 1720), 106-8, 327.

22. Ballard's account of Monck's life makes no allusion to marital difficulties, and given that most of his facts are simply derived from Jacob, there is no reason to think he would have been aware of them before making his attribution. Ballard is also the first writer to state that Monck died at Bath.

23. Monck, Marinda, 113, 68-9. Cf. also her translation "Upon Orpheus and Eurydice," 135, where marriage is treated comically as a foretaste of Hell.

24. DNB s.v. James Wellwood (1652-1727); HMC, Var. Coll. VIII 244, 281, 304, 345, 378, 386 trace an association with Robert Molesworth from c.1706 to at least 1724. See also HMC 9th Report II, House of Lords VIII, Finch II, Stuart II.

25. The Registers of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, London, Register Three ed. R.H.D'Elboux & Winifride Wood (London: Harleian Society, 1958) 92. Elizabeth Wellwood was baptised at St. Martin-in-the-fields on 3 Nov 1693. See International Genealogical Index; http://www.familysearch.org.

26. HMC Var. Coll. VIII, 280, 281, 345, 353, 388.

27. The Chronological Diary for the Year 1725 p.39, published within The Historical Register, Containing an Impartial Relation of All Transactions... Foreign and Domestic 10 (1725). As with Monck, nothing confirms that she died at Bath. Walter Molesworth (b. c.1695) died in 1773, and was thus alive to see the attribution and re-attribution of the poem: P. Townend ed., Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage Baronetage and Knightage, 105th edn (London: Burke's Peerage Ltd., 1970), p.1842.

28. Both Mary's father and Martha's husband have ancestry that goes back to the Molesworths of Helpeston, Northamptonshire. See Townend, Burke's Peerage, p.1838; Robert C. Evans, "The Life and Times of Martha Moulsworth" in MFA, 17-76, esp. 45.

29. See MFA, and Ann Depas-Orange and Robert C. Evans, eds., "The Birthday of My Self": Martha Moulsworth, Renaissance Poet, a guest-edited special issue of Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender, and Culture 10 (1996). The "Memorandum" is cited from the old-spelling version printed in MFA 204-208. For an etext of the Memorandum, and other pertinent information, see http://members.aol.com/litpage/martha.html.

30. "Memorandum", 90, 74, 76; "Thou who dost," 16, 19, 20.

31. "Thou who dost," l.2, "Memorandum," l. 45: "three husbands me, & I haue them enioyde."

32. Matthew Steggle, "'The Memorandum,' Sacraments, and Ewelme Church," MFA 101-6, esp. 106.

33. Other, more marginal examples include "And yett, & yett" (70): "in house, in purse in Store" (67).

34. Marinda yields very occasional examples of this, but much less frequent than in "Thou who dost" and the "Memorandum."

35. "Memorandum", 40-42. Search of all of Marinda produces no parallel so close -- only anaphora at the start of three successive clauses, and one less satisfactory example split across two reported speeches, "A Dialogue between Phillis and Strephon," 7-9.

36. Isobel Grundy, "Identity and Numbers in Moulsworth's 'Memorandum,'" MFA 9-16, quotation from 12; Joseph Csicsila, "Numerological structures in Moulsworth's 'Memorandum,'" Depas-Orange and Evans eds., The Birthday of My Self, 32-35. Germaine Greer also notes the "rigorous numerical ordering" of the poem; see Greer, "Backward Springs: The Self-Invention of Martha Moulsworth," MFA 3-8: quotation from 4.

37. Anonymous review of "The Birth-Day, a Poem. By Catherine Bowles," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 41 (1837): 404-28, quotation from 406.

38. Robert C. Evans, "More poems by Martha Moulsworth?" in MFA 263-266. Evans also notes that British Library Additional MS 18044 contains scores of unattributed religious poems, and raises the possibility that some of them are by Moulsworth. Regrettably, it contains no trace of "Thou who dost all my earthly thoughts employ."

39. Evans, "Life and Times" 26: Prynne's will included bequests to William Sherston, Mayor of Bath, and to his son. However, it is an awkward fact that Thomas Hassall claimed that Martha's health had always been good - Ann Depas-Orange ed., "Thomas Hassall's funeral sermon on Martha Moulsworth" in MFA 243-263, esp. 252.

40. Anthony Low, "Martha Moulsworth and the Uses of Rhetoric: Love, Mourning, and Reciprocity" in MFA 77-84; quotation from 79.

I would like to thank the Hon. William Molesworth, Dr Betsey Taylor-Fitzsimon, and the staff of all the libraries involved, for making the writing of this paper possible.


This list omits manuscript sources and also those works listed in Section 8, "Editions not collated".


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).