Susanna Blamire Biography

Susanna Blamire (1747–1794), poetess, was of good Cumberland family, and received the sobriquet of The Muse of Cumberland. Her poems, which were not collected until 1842, depict Cumbrian life and manners with truth and vivacity. She also anonymously wrote some fine songs in the Scottish dialect, including What ails this Heart o' Mine?, The Siller Croun (alias And ye shall walk in Silk Attire,) and the Waefu' Heart: all three delightfully set to music c1800-1803 by the Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn, in his Scottish Songs ( Schottische Lieder - Hoboken XXXIa: 244, 260, 9/bis). This has recently become available on CD by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt with Lorna Anderson (soprano) and Jamie MacDougal (tenor). Lorna Anderson sensitively interprets the profound emotions in the poet's text with her passionate rendering of Haydn's soaring musical score.

Susanna Blamire was an exceptional poet living in an isolated rural area of Cumberland during the eighteenth century. Susanna was young. She was beautiful. Her dark eyes sparkled with animation, and during the winter months of the Carlisle social season she was a huge asset. At the very heart of Susanna’s poetry there was a joyful hedonism. But despite this delight in pleasure, her writing was pierced by a compassionate realism that spoke of the pain and transience of human life. She lost both parents in childhood, endured the emotional calamity of thwarted romance with an aristocrat, and suffered from a recurrent and severe form of Rheumatic Heart Disease which killed her at the age of 47.

Apart from poetry Blamire wrote songs, accompanied on a guitar or flageolet. She was renowned for her high spirits and skills as a dancer. If she met travelling musicians on the road she would dismount and dance to a jig or hornpipe. Her enthusiasm for her poetic art was such that she pinned scraps of verse to oak trees outside Thackwood, where passers-by could read this strange but elegant flowering.

A year before Blamire's authorship of her best known Scottish Song 'The Siller Croun' had been acknowledged in her 1842 'Poetical Works', she was paid a compliment unknowingly by Charles Dickens in his 'The Old Curiosity Shop' (end of chapter 66) where he quoted The Siller Croun's first two lines : " 'Sir' said Dick [Swiveller], ... 'we'll make a scholar of the poor Marchioness yet! And she shall walk in silk attire, and siller have to spare, or may I never rise from this bed again!' ".

Considered in 1842 as ‘unquestionably the best female writer of her age’, the British columnist Paul Johnson in 2007 described Blamire in 'The Spectator' as 'that fine and underrated poetess'. Hugh MacDiarmid, the radical 20th century Scottish poet praised her in a BBC Scottish Home Service broadcast in 1947 as ‘this sweet Cumbrian singer’. He insisted that her Scottish songs are ‘the high-water mark of her achievement … so good that they can be set beside the best that have ever been produced by Scotsmen writing in their own tongue’ - a complimentary comparison with the great Robert Burns who came after her. The late Professor Jonathan Wordsworth in 1994 dubbed her 'The Poet of Friendship', predicting on BBC Radio Cumbria in 1998 that ‘Susanna will eventually be seen as important as the other Romantic poets writing during the eighteenth century, and should be more widely read’. In 'The New Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry' he likened Blamire's social position to that of Jane Austen: ‘the well-to-do maiden aunt’s life of good works and humorous observation'. Indeed, her words are perfectly chosen, easy to understand, and deceptively simple.

Blamire's works encapsulate perfectly the transition from the formal poetry of the ‘Augustan Age’ to the ‘Major Romantics’. She used Gothic allegories in Standard English and songs in Lowland Scots to express passionate emotions - her song 'What ails this Heart o'Mine' being one of the most heart-rending ever written. And like Wordsworth and Coleridge in their Lyrical Ballads of 1798, she wrote amusing vignettes about local people and scenes, though in Cumberland dialect.

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