A highly significant manuscript giving voice to a mother's "hart terrifieing sorrow" at the death of her infant children and her reconciliation of loss with religious faith. The death of young children was a central fact of family life in the seventeenth century (and, of course, beyond) but there are few other literary witnesses that express maternal grief with the poignancy and grace of Mary Carey.
Mary Carey (1614-1690) was the daughter of Sir Robert Jackson of Berwick upon Tweed. Her first husband, Sir Pelham Carey, younger son of the Earl of Dover, died in September 1642 but she kept his name even after her second marriage to George Payler, officer of the Ordnance in London and paymaster to the Parliamentary garrison in Berwick, in 1643. During the Civil War she led an itinerant life accompanying her husband from garrison to garrison and her surviving works were written in the late 1640s and 1650s, during which time her husband held a number of positions of authority under the Commonwealth. Mary and Payler had seven children, of whom five died in infancy, and Mary suffered at least one miscarriage, about which she wrote in her most important poem, "Upon the sight of my abortive birth".
The current manuscript contains all of Carey's known literary works except a letter to Sir Thomas Pelham from July 1644 (BL MS Add. 33,084) and an elegy for the wife of her neighbour Sir Thomas Fairfax (Bodleian MS Fairfax 40, f. 596). Her spiritual dialogues are fine examples of the highly self-reflective prose encouraged by the Puritan theology of the Commonwealth period and contain much autobiographical detail, from the spiritual self-awakening that drew her away from a youth of "carding; dice; dancing masking; dressing; vaine-companie; going to plays; following the fashion; and the like" (p.19), to her gratitude at having been "brought up in a tyme when the Gospell hath lyberty" (p.164), having had "tenderly loving Parents [and] good husbands" (p.165), and the many other good fortunes that she records as having blessed her life. Mary Carey's poems have been published, most notably in the influential anthology Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse (1988), ed. Greer et al., but the prose works have never been printed in full, although extensive extracts were published by Francis Meynell in a limited edition as Meditations from the Note Book of Mary Carey, 1649-1657 (London: Romney Street Press, 1918).
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