Catharine Philips

Earliest English Sentimental Writer


Catharine Philips, “the matchless Orinda,” was born the daughter of a respectable Presbyterian London Merchant, on January 1, 1631. A precocious child, she early became strongly royalish in feeling, and in her seventeenth year she married a worthy Welsh gentleman, James Philips of Cardigan Priory.

Her earliest poem was an address to Henry Vaughan, the Silurist, on the apearance of his Olor Isanus. About the time she seems to have assumed her melodious non de plume of Orinda, having formed among her neighbors of either sex a society of Friendship, the members of which must needs be re-baptized – the ladies as Lucasia, Rosania, Regina, Valeria, Polycrite; the gentlemen as Palaemon, Sylvander, Antenor (her own husband), and Polirchus (Sir Charles Cotterel, her greatest friend to whom her forty-eight Letters were published in 1705).

Orindais the earliest English sentimental writer, and she has tears at will even for the marriages of the lady members, which she resents as outrages of the sufficiency of friendship. Yet she was a worthy woman and a good wife, despite her overstrained sentimentality, to whom Jeremy Taylor dedicated his Measures and Offices of Friendship. She went to Dublin in 1662, and her Roger, Earl of Onery, and the rest gave her a flattering reception. On a visit to London she caught smallpox, and died June 22, 1964.

At Dublin she translated Corneille’s Pompey, and, in her last year, the greater part of his Horace. Her poems were surreptitiously printed at London in 1663, but an authoritative edition was issued on 1667. The matchless Orinda’s poetry has long since faded into forgetfulness, despite the chorus of contemporary praise from Cowley and every poet of note. Keats found her poems in 1817 while writing Endymion, and in a letter to Reynolds speaks of them as showing “a most delicate fancy of the Flether kind.” Her daughter, Joan, was also a talented writer of verse, according to Mr. Gosse.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World published by the King-Richardson Co. in 1903.