Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blamire, Susanna

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BLAMIRE, SUSANNA (1747–1794), the 'Muse of Cumberland,' was the daughter of a Cumberland yeoman, and was born in 1747 at Cardew Hall, about six miles from Carlisle. At the age of seven she lost her mother, and on her father's second marriage was committed to the charge of her widowed aunt, Mrs. Simpson of Thackwood. Mrs. Simpson seems to have been an excellent example of the qualities engendered by the life of a yeoman farmer. With an independent character, strongly marked individuality, and great practical sense, she led a busy life in the management of her farm and household. Susanna Blamire's education was conducted according to these principles. She went to the village school at Haughton Head, where the fee was a shilling a quarter. There she learned the rudiments of knowledge, and her own taste for reading enabled her to grow up with a cultivated mind. She was fond of poetry, and began to write in imitation of her favourite authors. Her earliest poem, written at the age of nineteen, was suggested by Gray's 'Elegy,' as is shown by its title: 'Written in a Churchyard, on seeing a number of cattle grazing in it.'

Susanna Blamire's life was uneventful, and there are scarcely any records of it left. She lived in an obscure part of England amongst her own relatives, and her correspondence has not been preserved. Her poems were fugitive pieces, some of which appeared in magazines, but were never signed by her name, They were not collected till long after her death, when her memory had almost faded away, and personal details were vague. She is described as of 'graceful form, somewhat above the middle size, and a countenance, though slightly marked with the smallpox, beaming with good nature; her dark eyes sparkled with animation.' Her country neighbours called her a 'bonnie and varra lish young lass.' She lived among the rustics, entered into their enjoyments, and sympathised with their troubles. She was fond of society, and was in great request at the 'merrie-neets,' or social gatherings, where she mixed with every class. A good farmer said sadly after her death: 'The merrie-neets won't be worth going to since she is no more.' The genuine gaiety and sprightliness of her disposition may be judged by the fact that if she met a wandering musician on the road she was known to dismount from her pony, ask for the music of a jig, and dance, till she was weary, on the grass.

Susanna's eldest sister married Colonel Graham of Gartmore, in 1767. A Graham of Gartmore was the author of the song, 'Oh, tell me how to woo thee,' and the traditions of culture were common to the family of Graham. Through her sister's marriage Susanna was introduced into a circle which sympathised with her poetical tastes. She often paid visits to Scotland. Once she went to see a relation who lived at Chillingham, and while there she attracted the attention of Lord Tankerville and his family. At his request she wrote one of her mast characteristic sketches of rustic life, a dialogue beginning, 'Why, Ned, man, thou luiks sae down-hearted.' Her poems were mostly written in this way, on the spur of the moment, and very few were revised with a view to publication. Her poetical gift was, in fact, regarded by her as an accomplishment which she sometimes used to please her friends. It was the custom for the wealthier families in Cumberland to take lodgings in Carlisle for the winter months. There Susanna Blamire made the acquaintance of one like-minded with herself, Catharine Gilpin of Scaleby Castle, a member of the family which produced Bernard Gilpin, the apostle of the north. Catharine Gilpin was also a poet. The two ladies lodged together in Carlisle, and wrote poems in common, so that it is difficult in all cases to distinguish the authorship. What little else is known about Susanna Blamire is gathered from her poems. 'Stoklewath, or the Cumbrian Village,' a poem which recalls Goldsmith's 'Deserted Village,' gives a faithful picture of the surroundings of her ordinary life. A poetical 'Epistle to Friends at Gartmore 'describes the homely occupations of her days at Thackwood. In it she speaks of keen suffering from rheumatism, and her poems bear increasing signs that they were written in the intervals of bodily pain. Her ailments gained upon her, and she died in Carlisle on 5 April 1794 in her forty-seventh year.

Susanna Blamire was a true poet, and deserves more recognition than she has yet received. Her sphere is somewhat narrow, but everything that she has written is genuine and truthful. She has caught the peculiar humour of the Cumbrian folk with admirable truth, and depicts it faithfully so far as was consistent with her own refinement. As a song-writer she deserves to rank very high. She preferred to write songs in the Scottish dialect, and three at least of her songs are exquisite, 'What ails this heart o' mine?' 'And ye shall walk in silk attire,' and 'The Travelers Return.' Another beautiful song, 'The Waefu' Heart,' is, with great probability, attributed to her. Susanna Blamire did not write for fame, and fame was slow in coming to her. Her song, 'The Traveller s Return,' or 'The Nabob,' as it was sometimes called, was printed with her name in various collections of Scottish songs. It fell into the hands of a gentleman in India, Mr. Patrick Maxwell, and fascinated him by its appropriateness to his own thoughts. When he returned to England he devoted himself to the discovery of Miss Blamire's writings. In 1829 he found that Robert Anderson, the author of 'Cumberland Ballads,' possessed a few her poems in manuscript and a few materials for a memoir. He continued his search among the members of Susanna Blamire's family and the families of her friends. He filled with like enthusiasm a medical student whom he met in Edinburgh, Dr. Lonsdale, a native of Carlisle. By their combined energy what remained of Susanna Blamire's manuscripts were gathered together, and such records of her life as still survived were collected. The fruit of their labours was at length published: 'The Poetical Works of Miss Susanna Blamire, "The Muse of Cumberland," now for the first time collected by Henry Lonsdale, M.D., with a preface, memoir, and notes by Patrick Maxwell,' Edinburgh, 1842. To this collection a few additions have been made in 'The Songs and Ballads of Cumberland,' edited by Sidney Gilpin, London, 1866.

[Authorities cited above.]

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