Mysteries of a transit poem

Mrs Morgan’s Florilegium, transit of Venus, Natalie Waddell,

This is a poem taken from a 1773 collection called Original Poems and Imitations, purportedly penned by someone called A. Williams.

It pokes fun as the astronomers who traversed the globe in the hope of observing the pair of Venus transits that took place in 1761 and 1769.

“The poem depends on a triple conjunction of imagery; astronomically Venus is a planet, mythologically she is the goddess of love; and typologically she is a gendered figure of power, an object of desire wielding the upper hand,” writes one commentator.

“The astronomers desire to gain Venus’s ‘favour’ by ‘viewing’ the planet and ‘tracing’ what they observe … The astronomers are also men … and while they may make bold to look on the object of their desires, their ‘bold presumption’ may only result in making them ‘sick’, for ‘Venus’s favour’ is not open to all.”

This is interesting stuff, as is the suggestion that A. Williams, who is sometimes referred to as the ‘post mistress of Gravesend’, may have been the long-term partner of Dr Samuel Johnson or, indeed, might not have been a woman at all.

In discussing the nature of satire, the critic writes, “an economy of lines will do as well as a surfeit.” Sadly, with the exception of the extracts above, he fails to observe this in his own presumptuous writing.


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