Sir George Etherege

In his notes to two texts associated with the "Ephelia" poet, Advice To His Grace (ca. 1681) and "Ephelia's Lamentation (ca. 1675)" Ebsworth names Sir George Etherege and his fellow Court Wits as the writers behind the "Ephelia" pseudonym (Roxburghe Ballads, IV 1883). The attribution of Ephelia's work to Etherege originates in a single piece of circumstantial evidence on a manuscript copy of a poem now attributed to George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, which I take up at length in the closing section of this essay.

As James Thorpe observed in his edition of Etherege (1963), it is has been the absence of incontrovertible evidence of Ephelia's authorship, rather than proof positive of Etherege's, which has permitted "Ephelia's Lamentation" (the poet's famous lyric to "Bajazet" [John Sheffield, Lord Mulgrave]) to remain in Etherege's canon since the eighteenth century. Yet, the tradition of Ephelia's authorship in Etherege and his circle has persisted, in editions of Etherege by James Verity and by Thorpe; in a recent collation of this poem by Peter Beal (Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 1625-1700 [II,i, (1987): 449-50]); and in recent work on Rochester by Edward Burns and Michael Stapleton.

The probable source of Ephelia's putative corporate authorship may originate (innocently enough) in a footnote in an eighteenth-century edition of Rochester's work: "Having before inserted his Lord's Answer to the following letter [i.e., Rochester's reply to "Ephelia's Lamentation," 1679], several Gentlemen desir'd us to add the Letter itself [i.e., the poem, "Ephelia's Lamentation"] (Works 1707; emphasis added). These "several Gentlemen" would soon become "Ephelia" herself.