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Mary Tighe

Mary Tighe was born in Dublin on October 9, 1772, the second child after John (1771-1817) of the Rev. William Blachford (1730-1773), a wealthy landowner who attained distinction as the keeper of Marsh’s Library (1766-1773) and Theodosia Tighe (1744-1817), a Methodist leader who was the author of multiple tracts, the translator of a The Life of the Baroness de Chantal (1787), and a co-founder of the Dublin House of Refuge (1802). Theodosia Blachford encouraged Mary to read broadly in English, French, and Italian literature (as well as history, science, religion, and philosophy); to record passages from the works she admired; to keep reflective journals; to translate French and Italian poetry into English; and, most importantly, to compose her own poetry. During the 1780s Mary was tutored at Este’s academy in London as a day scholar while her brother attended Eton; both children received a strict religious upbringing and Theodosia planned to have her much-admired daughter marry a man of religion. Instead Mary Blachford married her first cousin Henry Tighe (1771-1836) of Rossana, co. Wicklow, on October 5, 1793. He had fallen passionately in love with her when he returned to Ireland from school in England, and though Tighe’s surviving journals and family letters indicate that she did not love him, the family connection made refusal difficult.

The Tighes spent the first eight years of their marriage in London, where Henry planned to increase their income of a thousand pounds a year by practicing law; though he was called to the bar in 1796 he abandoned legal practice for a life of society, where he displayed his beautiful and gifted wife before fashionable friends. Family histories report that he never let her visit any friends alone, and was enraged when she privately commissioned George Romney to paint her portrait in 1794. Neither seemed to find happiness in their childless and financially troubled marriage, but both took pleasure in the admiration she received for her beauty and talent, and both took pleasure in the quieter literary activities they shared, including the Latin lessons she had him give her in the 1790s. Tighe drew on those lessons a few years later to compose her epic romance, Psyche; or, the Legend of Love (1805), which began as a verse translation of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass.

Although the Tighes spent the greater part of the 1790s in England, they made frequent trips to Ireland to visit family in Wicklow and Dublin, and for Henry to represent Inistioge in the Irish Parliament till the 1801 Act of Union. In 1801 Mary and Henry Tighe resettled in Ireland, and she immersed herself in her writing, completing the 372 Spenserian stanzas of Psyche between 1801 and 1802, and the five volumes of her novel Selena by the end of 1803. In January 1804 Tighe exhibited signs of the tuberculosis that debilitated her health over the next six years; she went to England for medical attention in June, accompanied by her husband and mother, and was invited to publish a volume of poetry during her treatments. Though encouraged to do so by her extended literary circle (especially Thomas Moore, Joseph Cooper Walker, and the Ladies of Llangollen) she decided against public authorship, and instead had fifty copies of a private edition of Psyche; or, the Legend of Love prepared in 1805 for family and friends. That same spring she prepared her manuscript copy of Verses Transcribed for H.T. She returned to Ireland in September 1805, and though her struggle with tuberculosis began to impede her physical activities, she maintained an active intellectual life during her final years, writing poetry, keeping commentaries on her prolific reading, writing correspondence, and hosting a small literary salon in Dublin. She died on March 24, 1810 during an extended stay at the Woodstock estate of her brother-in-law William Tighe (1766-1816), and was buried in Inistioge, where a statue by John Flaxman marks her grave.

In 1811 the Tighe family published the posthumous edition of Psyche, with Other Poems with the Longman group that made Tighe famous throughout the nineteenth century, and had so significant an impact on the work of John Keats and Felicia Hemans and others. The family also printed a second posthumous collection in 1811, Mary, a Series of Reflections During Twenty Years, which was printed privately at a Dublin press in a limited edition of twenty copies (only two survive). Although Henry Tighe sought to publish Tighe’s novel Selena in 1818, Moore advised Longman against publication. Like Selena (Ashgate, 2012), most of Tighe’s lyric poetry remained in manuscript until the twenty-first century (Kentucky, 2005).

- Harriet Kramer Linkin

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