“No full-grown citizen is under compulsion to read; if he do so at all, let him do it individually, by instinct and favor, for wantonness, for private adventure’s sake.”
Louise Imogen Guiney worked as a publisher, biographer, librarian, and postmistress. She wrote numerous essays and letters, some of which are considered among her best work. Nevertheless, she is best remembered today as a poet, largely of 17th-century style lyric poetry, and the author of several dozen books.
Guiney was born in Roxbury. Her father had served in the Civil War and suffered under injuries until his death, when Guiney was just sixteen. His heroism and chivalry were said to have shaped Guiney’s poetic sensibilities and her interest in more traditional forms. Following her father’s death, however, Guiney was removed from school due to family financial trouble and lived with her mother and aunt. During this period, she worked odd jobs but continued to write, and in 1884, at the age of twenty-three, she published her first collection of poems, Songs from the Start.
Magazines such as Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly quickly picked up her work, and Guiney was introduced to writers such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and, on trips abroad, WB Yeats. Despite continued financial trouble, Guiney made repeated trips to England, where she enjoyed the history of the land.
While in Boston, Guiney lived on the prestigious Pinckney Street, which was, at the time, a bohemian hub; writers Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne, publishers James Osgood and William Ticknor, critic Francis Otto Matthiessen, and the Thoreau family all lived there at various times, and Elizabeth Peabody, publisher and education reformer, had her kindergarten there. This brought Guiney into a circle including Annie Fields, Isabella Stewart Gardener, Sarah Orne Jewett, Sarah W. Whitman, and Alice Brown, with whom Guiney was rumored to have had a lesbian relationship.
Around the turn of the century, Guiney moved permanently to England, where she worked on and off on her most extensive academic project, Recusant Poets. She died in 1920 before it was completed.