The Nun: and Elegy

The Nun: and Elegy


The Nun: and Elegy 1764 First Edition

By Edward Jerningham

Printed In London For R. and J. Dodsley

The Volume is in Very Good Condition Disbound, with clean, amply argined leaves, with faint foxing and toning, pronounces at the insciptions, and little else in the way of stains or tears.
The Volume is Complete in All Respects

The Nun: and Elegy

“Jerningham is a literary magpie whose poetry is overwrought with allusive echoes of other poets,” comments a modern critic, only echoing the opinion of Jerningham’s contemporaries. Fanny Burney, for example, mentioned to one of her correspondents in 1780 that “I have been reading his poems, if his they may be called”; and even his friend Horace Walpole admitted “in truth he has no genius: there is no novelty, no plan and no suite in his poetry; though many of the lines are pretty”. He was a good imitator, however, and even something of a literary barometer, straddling the transition from Augustan literature to early Romanticism, which explains his interest to students of his period today.

At the outset of his literary career, Jerningham mixed with the circle about Thomas Gray, although he never met the poet himself. However, like many at the time, he began by writing a close imitation of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard in “The Nunnery” (1762). Jerningham then followed it up in successive years with other poems on similar themes in which the connection with Gray’s work, though less close, was maintained in theme, form and emotional tone: “The Magdalens: an elegy” (1763); “The Nun: an elegy” (1764); and “An Elegy Written Among the Ruins of an Abbey” (1765), which is derivative of similar use of the ruin theme in elegiac works such as Edward Moore’s “An elegy, written among the ruins of a nobleman’s seat in Cornwall”. Monastic themes were an obvious choice for a Catholic raised in Europe, but they are singular for being penetrated by notes of erotic passion. What is left unfulfilled in “The Nunnery”, wasting its sweetness on the desert air, is any chance of married life or sexual dalliance. And where the latter had been irregularly fulfilled, then it found a retreat in the recently opened refuge for reformed prostitutes, the setting of “The Magdalens”. There the religious connotations are intensified by Jerningham’s description of its inmates “kneeling at yon rail” in “Nun-clad Penance” in the church where men of fashion such as himself went to hear them sing.

Pagination & Dimensions

The volume is paginated as follows: [2]-11, [1]. The volume collates as follows: A4, B2. Each leaf measures about 230 mm. By 185 mm. See below for pagination & dimensions.


This copy has been inscribed:

The ingenious Author’s Present to (?).Marsham

and further corrections have been made to the text in the same hand, correcting the spelling of ‘cloister’ on pages 5 and 10, as well as adding the word ‘Long’ on the second to last line of page 10.

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