“In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.”
The first time I heard the name, Mary Robinson, was when I was looking into the life of Emma Hamilton, the great love of Lord Nelson. Mary, born in Bristol, England around the year 1757, had a head start on Emma, who was born in 1765. Mary appears to have come from a higher social level, given that her father was a naval captain and Emma’s was a blacksmith who died when she was two months old. One thing they had in common – they were destined to lead remarkable lives.
They met at the Drury Lane Theatre in Covent Garden when Emma became Mary’s maid. Mary had already become famous for her role of Perdita in Shakespeare’s play “A Winter’s Tale.” But that was only the beginning of her achievements. Indeed, during her short lifetime, Mary took on the role of actress, poet, dramatist, and novelist. Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire sponsored the publication of the first volume of her poems, Captivity. Her celebrity status attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV. In later years, she became known as the “English Sappho,”
Mary Robinson was a strident voice for women’s rights in a time of transition and exponential growth. Her poem, “January, 1795,” reflects her keen awareness and understanding of the polarized class structure in which she lived. As you read the poem, the disparity between rich and poor, the social injustice, the lack of honour given to the noble pursuits of artistic expression, honest labour and patriotism, becomes obvious. Mary Robinson lived a vibrant, sometimes contradictory, lifestyle. Yet, her words continue to hold relevance in our age.
by Mary Robinson