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ABORTIVE THOUGHTS THAT RIGHT AND WRONG CONFOUND. 
William Gifford's intemperate responses to English Della Cruscanism, The Baviad and Maeviad, have influenced readers of this poetry ever since—or rather, non-readers, since Gifford's jeremiad has taken the place of the original for most. As Jerome McGann points out, however, Gifford's condemnation rests on a more thorough understanding of the dynamics of the poetry than its deeply negative, scurrilous, and potentially libellous tone makes enlightened modern readers comfortable acknowledging.  Amid Gifford's indignant reactionism, in his descriptions of poetic cuckolding, 'obscene' imagery and 'crude conception[s]', his completely accurate statement stands out: 'the two "great luminaries of the age" [Della Crusca and Anna Matilda],  as Mr. Bell calls them, fell desperately in love with each other' (Baviad and Maeviad, p. xii). Della Cruscan poetry, in its English incarnation, charts a romance in terminology that offends the sensibilities of sensibility: it is too physical, too open, too desiring, too expressive. Most dangerously, it allows for, even encourages, the poeticising of erotic attraction. Readers of The World in 1787-8 watched breathlessly as Della Crusca and Anna Matilda fell in, and then out of, love; the serialisation of their romance was then packed up and produced in book form in The British Album, first in 1788 but going through several editions until 1794.  Gifford's horror arises as much from the lasting spectacle of men and women openly declaring love and physical desire as it does from aesthetic concerns: poetry itself was being violated, its classical purity put in the service of a pornographic emphasis on the passions. Gifford's chivalric attitude towards a helpless genre functions as an instance of critical chivalry; the Baviad and Maeviad resounds with outrage at the 'false glare, [and] incongruous images' (p. 43) that deface Della Cruscan poetry. When poetry is put to the service of conveying physical desire, we infer, it is inevitably tainted, while romance loses any claim to protection once it descends to the level of sex.
Readers of The World and The British Album, however, were transfixed by the romance between Della Crusca and Anna Matilda; it offered the promise of a 'real-life' exploration of the heights and depths of fantasy—of romance. The last few decades of the eighteenth century found the romance ceaselessly interesting; repeatedly, writers attempted to define and dismiss the genre, the resilience of which showed in their periodic critical returns. Consensus was found in the decision that the romance was unreal: its purity, its unworldliness, the prominence that it gave to a love which conquered all, lent it a lustre not found in 'real life'. Although the romance owed more to the world than many commentators gave it credit for, nonetheless its immediate appeal was seen to be its blissful sojourning in the vales of true love. Sensibility, familiar to novel-readers in the 1780s, was romance intensified, a celebration of emotional attachment between lovers, of female endurance, and of the triumph of love over lust. For Gifford, a signal crime of Della Cruscanism was its contradictory devotion to sensibility; even as its sensual language fell foul of sensibility's celebration of virtue, its plotline depended heavily on a scenario of love deferred, a plotline eventually exploded, as I will discuss later in this essay. Gifford's view is endorsed by McGann, who situates Della Cruscanism as exemplifying 'the poetics of sensibility'. But Gifford's visceral hatred indicates what McGann, despite his description of the erotics of the poetry, successfully elides: the romance between Della Crusca and Anna Matilda offends sensibility exactly because it is sexual, rather than sensual. The ordered and balanced purity of romance is conquered by the fiery passions and bodily desires voiced in their amatory verse.
Understanding the impact of Della Cruscan poetry, then, means confronting its physicality, its willingness to undermine the conventions of purity in the romance and to focus on the sexuality of love. Della Cruscan poetry uses the available vocabulary of romance; as this essay demonstrates, the exchange collected in The British Album follows with little deviation the plot conventions familiar to its readers, with the signal difference that it is entirely epistolary. Della Crusca and Anna Matilda correspond through poetry, but their exchanges convert the absence of bodies into a paradoxical presence: the corpus of their love is composed of print. And yet physicality and bodily responses are crucial to their romance, and it is this aspect that undoes the balanced nature of the ideology of romance, and that provokes Gifford's charges of obscenity.
However, outright rebellion against the strictures of decorum does not occur. As McGann notes, 'what is absolutely crucial to understand about this kind of writing is its extreme formality. Its world is figured, consciously artificial …. pleasure is fraught with its reciprocal pain ... a complex pattern of nested tensions gradually unfolds itself' (pp. 86-7). Della Cruscan poetry both formalises the romantic relationship and submerges violent impulses in ecstatic expressions of desire. The relationship between the control imposed by 'formality' and the potential loss of control figured by Gifford's description of the poetry as an 'epidemic malady. . .spreading from fool to fool' ('Introduction', Baviad and Maeviad, p. xii) results in Della Cruscan poetry's continual struggle against its own emotive violence, its constant appeal to general stability, and its as-constant rejection of order and control. Della Cruscan poetry projects an erotics of form, a teasing opening to the world of sexual pursuit: the barrier separating romance and pornography. When Della Crusca conjures up Anna Matilda's body and poeticises his desires concerning that body, he imports into the romance the disorder of emotional violence, of potential loss of control, and the erotic privileging of a frankly male gaze—but he wraps it in the calming package of romance. Romantic love and sexual desire are entwined, and the erotic worlds created by the poetry violently disrupt the expectations of purity and virtue associated with love poetry.
Della Crusca and Anna Matilda conduct the most sustained and thoroughly plotted romance in The British Album, much of it in poems entitled 'To Anna Matilda' or 'To Della Crusca'. With precision, their correspondence maps out the romance plot, and exposes its inherent limitations. Della Crusca and Anna Matilda rely on expressions of extremes: they invoke frantic passions and kindling emotions. As their affair progresses, they become increasingly overwrought: Della Crusca, especially, clings to physical imagery, importing his idealised—romanticised—female body into his effusions to Anna Matilda, even rewriting her own self-description to accord with his romantic needs. Anna Matilda, too, after some decorously modest attempts to deflect Della Crusca's attention with paeans to the feeling mind, turns to the body—her own, participating in the specularisation of the female form familiar to romance. Della Crusca's and Anna Matilda's is a modern romance, replete with sexuality: readers are privy to exclamations of desire, displays of sexual jealousy, the intrusion of sexual rivals. Poetry and lovemaking are identical: bodily passion resides in, is communicated by, and requires poetry. The body of work takes over for the body of the beloved, and is correspondingly increasingly eroticised. Since, however, Della Crusca and Anna Matilda conduct a Romantic romance, they are deprived of the most essential of romantic ingredients: the happy ending.  The Della Cruscan romance evades romantic closure; indeed, up to the last poem the pair conduct their love affair entirely epistolarily. Poetry literalises love, and it also maintains it: the violence of expression for which the Della Cruscan style is notorious, and which Gifford labelled obscene, is neutralised by a poetic style that regularly fits desire and longing into rhyming couplets. Thus violence exists at the levels of imagery, expression, structure, and style. The love between Anna Matilda and Della Crusca perfectly captures Romantic romance: it is violent, poetical, critical of the genre it invokes, and without hope. In its anthologised form, it compresses two years of newspaper-bound experience into two volumes, each poem dated; combined with The British Album's dedication to R.B. Sheridan, it encodes its own dramatic appeal.
Della Crusca and Anna Matilda, 'ethereal pseudonyms suggesting the timeless, slightly out-of-focus nature of romance characters' (Pascoe p. 72), exist in a textual world, bound by generic convention, and yet experimental in their own fashion. What Pascoe calls the 'feminine underpinnings of the romantic endeavor' (p. 72) are made overt, as Della Crusca and Anna Matilda indulge in a highly public, and widely publicised, epistolary affair. The 'Preface' to The British Album takes care to preserve the literary nature of their passion, and with it, the proprieties: 'It ought, however, to be recorded, of the celebrated Correspondence between DELLA CRUSCA and ANNA MATILDA, that its genuine enthusiasm arose entirely from poetical sympathy; for till immediately before the publication of The Interview, they were totally unacquainted with each other, and reciprocally unknown'. This protestation is echoed in Volume II, where the 'Advertisement' notes that
Since the printing of the first Edition of these Works, the Correspondence between DELLA CRUSCA and ANNA MATILDA has been renewed;—THE EDITOR, therefore, thinks it proper to continue their respective Writings up to the present time; as also to insert the beautiful Poems by LAURA, and the one she called forth from LEONARDO, etc. These later additions are necessary, on account of the subsequent allusions to them, and because the lines signed LEONARDO appear to have been produced by the pen of DELLA CRUSCA.p. 123 
Besides announcing the appearance of Laura, identified in the text as Mary Robinson, this passage furthers the notion of an irresistible love conducted entirely in print, spontaneously reignited, and then reprinted for the benefit of a curious readership. Considering that 'The Interview', referred to in the 'Preface' to Volume I, actually appears in Volume II (part of the 'renewed' correspondence the 'Advertisement' publicised as commencing after 'the printing of the first Edition'), the Della Crusca/Anna Matilda romance begins to take on the confusing aura of having pre-existed its own composition. Given the knowing, romanticised plotline it follows, this is not entirely impossible: instead, the 'Preface' and the 'Advertisement' build into this love affair the paradox of being simultaneously spontaneous and scripted. On the one hand, each poem builds on its predecessor, requiring a pre-existing condition—despair, admiration, desire—against which to react; on the other, the stereotyped nature of the responses themselves militate against spontaneity. Indeed, Della Crusca and Anna Matilda seem more intent on satisfying readers' expectations than on successfully resolving their love, and yet, as I will discuss, their poems also dissect the nature of romance itself. Their intercourse, compressed into anthology, highlights the artificiality of romantic ideals, the likelihood of romantic disappointment, and the unreliability of lasting love.
In the epistles of Della Crusca and Anna Matilda, 'words are not so much reified as personified';  that is, the words 'Della Crusca' and 'Anna Matilda' are personified as the lovers Della Crusca and Anna Matilda, mutually embodied. Della Crusca opens their dialogue with 'The Adieu and Recall to Love', in which he constructs for himself a romantic past, starring himself as the abandoned lover. This poem sets up the paradigm of Della Cruscan romance: love hurts, but its very pain is valuable, because it asserts one's power to feel—that is, to experience and exhibit Sensibility. Della Crusca first renounces Love (and Louisa), only to 'recall' the emotion: 'Go, idle Boy! I quit thy pow'r;/ Thy couch of many a thorn and flow'r/ …. / O hasten back, then, heavenly Boy,/ And with thine anguish bring thy joy!' (ll. 1-2, 39-40). This kind of love is all about feeling: Della Crusca craves sensation, which is dwelt on, created, lamented, and finally rejected in the course of the Della Crusca/Anna Matilda affair. The importance given to sensation centres the cycle of poems on the feeling body, but even as this is apparent, both Della Crusca and Anna Matilda insist on the primacy of the feeling mind. When Anna Matilda implores Della Crusca, in her response, to 'SEIZE again thy golden quill,/ And with its point my bosom thrill' (ll. 1-2), she invigorates the poetry/body/sensation/romance matrix; she offers her bosom, erotically, to Della Crusca's view, and invites her own penetration. At the same time, the stylised language and rhyming couplet enclose the subversive force of such lines within structure: the language of sensibility encourages erotic responses and guards against impropriety. In this first flurried exchange, Anna Matilda takes the unprecedented step of intruding herself to Della Crusca's notice, of initiating a romantic exchange based on poetically physical responses. Della Crusca picks up on the implicitly erotic tone, characterising Anna Matilda as his Muse, bringing him pleasure and pain: she is an 'enchanting Maid' whose abstract attractions are steadily embodied. 'O well thy form divine I know', he says; he has 'mark'd', 'seen', 'met', and 'view'd' her before ('To Anna Matilda', ll. 1,15, 2, 3, 4, 5), But this initial flirtation is checked when Anna Matilda refuses the place of seductive Muse: even as she directs his poetic gaze to her body, she recasts herself as older (than who is left unspecified):
'To Della Crusca', ll. 31-40
O Time! Since these [artistic skills] are left me still,
Of lesser thefts e'en take thy fill:
Yes, steal the lustre from my eye,
And bid the soft carnation fly;
My tresses sprinkle with thy snow,
Which boasted once the auburn glow;
Warp the slim form that was ador'd
By him, so lov'd, my bosom's Lord—-
But leave me, when all these you steal,
The mind to taste, the nerve to feel!
At first it seems as if Anna Matilda wants to redirect her budding romance with Della Crusca to a reality in which she—older, faded, attached to her 'bosom's Lord'—destroys her claims to romantic availability, and attempts to forestall Della Crusca's passion. And yet she also offers her mind to Della Crusca's ardent notice.  Anna Matilda transfers sensation to the Mind in an effort to intellectualise her poetic response, but she does so by insisting on the physical nature of that response. In this way she accomplishes the merging of Mind and Body, and with it the full physicalisation of 'Anna Matilda' into the lover Anna Matilda. Love has been relocated to the Mind, which has been redesignated the receptor of sensation—sex is now firmly in the head. 
This means that when Della Crusca responds 'And art thou then, alas! like me,/ OFFSPRING of frail mortality?' ('To Anna Matilda', ll. 1-2), he is accepting the mind/body merge and directing his love into the channel prescribed by Anna Matilda. Or at least, he seems to: although he closes his poem by declaring he loves her mind rather than her body ('Unknown, again thou art ador'd,/ As once by him, thy bosom's "Lord"' [ll. 67-8]), he opens it with exclamations of passion and, again, sensation. 'Methinks, as Passion drives along,/ As frantic grown, I feel thy Song' (ll. 13-4, emphasis added): frenzy and sensation combine, suggesting that while, for Anna Matilda, 'mind' is uppermost, for Della Crusca 'body' holds his attention. This impression is strengthened when, in the body of the poem, Della Crusca replaces Anna Matilda's narrative of age and experience with one of romantically sheltered feminine beauty and virtue. The epistolary nature of this love affair allows Della Crusca to write his version, while Anna Matilda writes hers: although each is inflected by passion, each also displays 'appropriate' passion, Anna Matilda's demure, Della Crusca's forceful. At this point, the affair is interrupted by Della Crusca's 'Elegy, Written on the Plain of Fontenoy', the pathos of which affects Anna Matilda, who finds herself transported there: 'Ha! what a tone was that, which floating near,/ Seem'd Harmony's full soul—whose is the lyre?/ Which seizing thus on my enraptur'd ear,/ Chills with its force yet melts me with its fire' ('Stanzas to Della Crusca', ll. 5-8). Even as she 'sees' Fontenoy, however, she poeticises a romantic story of sisterly devotion and sibling death: chaste Love, intertwined with death. As she pleaded age, now she pleads poetry: she concludes her poem by advocating poetic transcendence for 'FIRM' minds over sickly sentiment; again, Mind is uppermost, as is Poetry, while the body and sexual passion are deflected to the patently non-sexual story of sisterly love. And again, Della Crusca responds erotically, describing Anna Matilda as his lady-love who inspires him to greatness, whose love saves him from despair, whose wish is his command. The very familiarity of the developing plot obscures its irregularities (Anna Matilda's independence, Della Crusca's sensibility), while Della Crusca's continual re-presentations of Anna Matilda work to transform her from poetic correspondent to lover, a player in a by-the-book romance, and adjunct to Della Crusca's hero-self.  Anna Matilda abruptly changes the tone and direction of their romance in her response: 'I hate the tardy Elegiac lay—/ Choose me a measure jocund as the day!' ('To Della Crusca', ll. 1-2). As much as this poem chastises Della Crusca for excessive mooning, it also rebukes him for desiring insensibility, since to love and feel are what make a Poet. Anna Matilda returns to her original ground: poetry = love = sensibility = poetry.  Della Crusca is stymied; The British Album inserts odes to Prudence and Death and an elegy by Della Crusca, and an 'Invocation to Horror' by Anna Matilda, before the romance is resumed.
Anna Matilda has made her point: love is expressed through poetry, poetry embodies sensibility, sensibility proves one is a Poet. As if pondering her message, Della Crusca remains off-stage, while Anna Matilda receives the poetic attentions of Reuben. The privacy of love has already been compromised; with the entrance of Reuben, a 'Stranger … prompted by LOVE' ('To Anna Matilda', ll. 1, 4), Anna Matilda's status as chaste heroine is in jeopardy. She is now publicly addressed by two suitors, each of whom visualises her embodied form both as, and through, her poetry; Reuben sees her as a 'speaking painting' viewed 'as we read' (ll. 7, 8), his admiration binding her up in Poetry. Reuben wants her to be a slave to feeling; he constructs her as representative of Love, a position that teeters dangerously between private romance heroine and public woman. Anna Matilda's textual romance, based on the advertised gimmick that she and her admirers have never met, threatens to transform her from chaste poetess to open poetic target. In her response to Reuben, Anna Matilda redirects the thrust of his desire, asserting love's pain over its allure, and thereby recreating herself as Love's victim—a damsel in distress rather then a femme fatale. She also returns to feeling, this time investing it with violence: love is 'a tyger!—a tyrant', 'a serpent in disguise,/ And as the lynx, his piercing eyes!/ A raging fire, a deadly pain/ … / A fever, tempest, madness he—/ Of all life's ills—a DREAD EPITOME!' ('To Reuben', ll. 31-3, 35-6). Love becomes a monster threatening Anna Matilda's self-control, and 'to speak more of love' entails actual pain and torment; plainly, that Reuben can so casually invoke love proves he does not truly feel the emotion. For Anna Matilda, love hurts; romantic love translates as physical pain: the mind may rule the body but its sensations are identical. In romance-plot terms, as well, Anna Matilda responds implicitly to Della Crusca's neglect: after her chivvying of his despairing tone, he has not written back, and indeed after she publicises her lovesickness, he still does not—at this point he offers his readers his admiration of the actress Siddons, Wells, and Farren, plus 'The Slaves, an Elegy', and 'Monody, Addressed to Mr. T.'. Despite Reuben's love, Anna Matilda the romance heroine feels abandoned, forced to read Della Crusca's eulogies on the perfections of other women. The Della Crusca/Anna Matilda romance continues along the expected path: declaration, tiff, neglect.
As if jealous of Della Crusca's divided attentions, Anna Matilda's next poem craves 'Indifference'; she continues the theme of love's pain, and turns on Sensibility itself, a 'cruel imp,' an 'insidious fiend', a 'SAVAGE UNTAM'D' ('Ode to Indifference', ll. 51, 65, 79). Indifference, she implies, will be her protector, now that Della Crusca has vanished, and will defend her from suffering: 'thou shield'st the heart from rankling pain,/ And Misery strikes, when blest with thee, in vain;/ Wan Jealousy's empoisoning tooth,/ And Love, which feeds upon our youth' (ll. 31-4). Where earlier Della Crusca wallowed in suffering—proof of the depth of his emotion—now Anna Matilda exposes her grief and jealousy, claiming the spectacular, and compromising, position of abandoned heroine. Again, romance both proceeds and unravels: Anna Matilda's is a familiar generic position, but once written by herself it takes on a subjective tinge not usually available to the heroine, who is more often the object of the romance. As earlier when she 'initiated a love affair in verse' (Pascoe p. 68), then declared the primacy of Mind, then championed open displays of feeling, Anna Matilda complicates her romantic role. She clearly makes demands on Della Crusca, and is not content passively to await his coming: she both occupies the heroine's space and enlarges its parameters, suggesting a distrust of the usual romance plot-line. She advocates sensation but also expects a return on her investment in love, preferring to withdraw when that is not forthcoming. Anna Matilda's advertisement of her woes works: Della Crusca finally responds, to tell her that Indifference allows only 'free[dom] from pain' ('Ode to Anna Matilda', l. 4), which by extension means freedom from love and, unsurprisingly at this point, poetry. Emotion produces poetry, which in turn inspires emotion; Anna Matilda, however, rejects Della Crusca's overtures, and enjoins poetry to combat both Della Crusca and feeling. Retreating once again to Mind, she attempts to disentangle poetry and feeling: 'Thy light'ning Pen 'tis thus I greet,/ Fearless its subtle point I meet; / Ne'er shall its spells my sad heart move,/ From the calm state it vows to love' ('Ode to Della Crusca', ll. 27-30).  Anna Matilda and Della Crusca engage in a series of feints: she desires indifference, he points out what she will lose, she implies she has lost it anyway. He in turn seeks indifference—in the hopes of finding Anna Matilda there—but fails utterly to quell passion and its concomitant physical manifestations: 'Could I repress quick Rapture's start,/ Or hide the bursting of my heart' ('To Anna Matilda', ll. 31-2).  Anna Matilda, textbook-romantic upper hand clearly visible, chastises Della Crusca for succumbing to passion, which 'tears with fangs unkind' ('To Della Crusca', l. 22) and compromises Taste, the only path to bliss.  Triumphantly, she sends Della Crusca on a quest for indifference, away from her sphere of influence, provoking Della Crusca to declare his intentions openly:
'To Anna Matilda', ll. 1-6
And have I strove in vain to move
Thy Heart, fair Phantom of my Love?
And cou'dst thou think 'twas my design
Calmly to list thy Notes Divine
That I responsive Lays might send,
To gain a cold Platonic Friend?
Anna Matilda uses feeling strategically: she lures Della Crusca back with displays of pain, and provokes him to plain speech with protestations of indifference. Feeling and poetry, inextricably linked, combine to forward plot: the worldly romance Anna Matilda and Della Crusca pursue rejects innocence and patience for manipulation and need. Della Crusca, having shown his hand, goes further, concentrating on his vision of Anna Matilda's physical beauty (complete with the heroine's requisite golden curls)  and his obstructed desire to 'lure [her] to the chaste caress', although one wonders at the sincerity of 'chaste'. Calling Anna Matilda's bluff, he advertises his imminent departure, and his lament that now he and Anna Matilda will never meet: 'each to each remai[n]—a Shadow and a Shade' (l. 100). Faced with his loss, Anna Matilda rushes into print: 'Oh stay, oh stay! thy rash speed check' ('To Della Crusca', l. 1), but it is too late; Della Crusca has gone, her sensations—still felt—are now useless, and her Muse, deprived of sustenance—feeling—deserts her: 'Expiring, still her note's the same,/ She murmurs DELLA CRUSCA's name!—/ The SACRED WORLD—ye heard it spoke;—/ Her book is clos'd—her Lyre is broke!' (ll. 99-102). By parting the lovers, Volume I closes the book of their correspondence: once the epistles cease, so too does the 'reality' of their relationship. Anna Matilda indicates the influence of publicity when she refers to the 'SACRED WORLD'—the poems, of course, originally appeared in The World newspaper.  From 10 July 1787 to 17 May 1788, Della Crusca and Anna Matilda fall in love, a public affair based on the reciprocity of feeling and poetry and the attractions of the romance plot. Lurking behind Della Crusca and Anna Matilda, Robert Merry and Hannah Cowley manipulate conventions of genre freely: even as a recognisable romance plot progresses, neither Della Crusca nor Anna Matilda seems fully invested in its development, continually deferring a meeting; rather, they pursue an alternative romance, that between poetry and feeling. When Anna Matilda seeks indifference, only to be thwarted by her emotions; when Della Crusca builds up his dream girl—each do so poetically, reifying the romantic attractions of form. Once their romance is extracted from The World and re-presented in The British Album, structure and style jostle for primacy: love invaded by pain, pain constricted by poetry.
Readers, on tenterhooks—are Anna Matilda and Della Crusca truly parted?—must plough through half a volume of poems by Arley, Benedict, Emma and Henry before they re-engage with the lovers, whose story picks up where it left off, albeit five months later (28 October 1788). By now, the Della Crusca/Anna Matilda romance is taken for granted, a settled fact: outsiders have noticed it: 'For e'en cold Criticks have conceiv'd,/So much alike our measures run,/ That ANNA AND THAT I WERE ONE—/ Would it were so!—we then might prove/ The sacred settled unity of Love' ('To Anna Matilda', ll. 49-52). Verified by critical response, the romance must be followed through; hence, Della Crusca finds it is 'vain [to] fly' Anna Matilda (l. 1), and that, moreover, Anna Matilda needs watching. Only now, apparently, has Della Crusca learned of Reuben. Calling Anna Matilda 'faithless Anna' (l. 39), he asks for permission to return to her: 'bi[d] me still RETURN TO POETRY—and THEE' (l. 72). As McGann has noted, the Della Cruscan world is 'immediate, material, self-conscious, limited to language' (p. 86). Even as Anna Matilda's exchange with Reuben counts as faithlessness to Della Crusca, so too his poem announcing his desire to return effects his return—once written, the deed is done. Della Crusca's awareness that textual intercourse with one outside the Della Crusca/Anna Matilda coupling represents infidelity leads him to disguise his own indiscretion, an exchange with Laura, whose 'desert[ion] by a FAITHLESS MATE' ('To Him who will understand it', l. 34) leaves her alone and vulnerable. 'Leonardo' replies, offering condolences and friendship, only to be unmasked as Della Crusca in a note to the poem. Further, Anna Matilda sees through the pseudonym; like Emma, who upbraided Henry for failing to understand that poetry is Self, Anna Matilda knows that, in the Della Cruscan world, poetic style embodies one's identity and cannot be hidden. Hence, Della Crusca's flirtation with another woman is plainly discerned: 'Hah! Didst thou hope I should not trace/ The mental features of thy face?/ …. / Thou stand'st confest!—thy form is seen' ('To Della Crusca', ll. 35-6, 42). Della Crusca's faithlessness, crassly indulged in even as he professes his desire to return to Anna Matilda, prompts her simultaneously to reveal and deny her feelings for him. 'Poetic Passions vainly burn!/ …. / Yes, write to LAURA! speed thy sighs,/ Tell her, DELLA CRUSCA dies/ …. / FALSE Lover! TRUEST Poet! now farewell!' (ll. 40, 43-4, 55). The concatenation of exclamation marks and capital letters convey Anna Matilda's emotion, while her admission that she feels 'poetic passions', her declaration that she will not encourage them ('vainly burn'), and her conflation of false and true, show once more the primacy of poetry: Della Crusca's verse is true, revealing his infidelity. Poetic faithlessness means the end of sensation, since, as Anna Matilda predicts, his 'Golden Quill' will never again 'with magic passion ev'ry bosom thrill./ He may write, but ANNA 'twas alone/ Lured down his guardian Goddess from her throne' (ll. 87, 88-90). Since Anna Matilda both is, and inspires, Della Crusca's Muse, the withdrawal of her favour means the loss of Della Crusca's poetic force—the blunting of his golden quill, and the end of 'Della Crusca' himself. Who he is, and what he writes, are as intermingled as Love and Poetry.
At this point Laura intervenes to reassure Anna Matilda that there was nothing between herself and Della Crusca—all pretence of 'Leonardo' dropped—but friendship,  and to reinforce Anna Matilda's status as Della Crusca's embodied Muse, his source of passionate poetry:
'Laura to Anna Matilda', ll. 1-7
O Anna, since thy graceful song
Can wind the cadence soft among
The heart's fine nerves, and ravish thence
The wond'ring Poet's captive sense;
'Till warm'd by thy electric fire,
His yielding soul, with fond desire,
Glows but for Thee—dispel thy fears.
The ethereal—soul and sense—are infused with physical sensation, as required by Della Cruscan passion; poetry functions as a kind of emission, dependent as ever on the stoking of sensation. Echoing Laura, Della Crusca avers that his poetry proves his fidelity merely by being written: 'And think'st thou, ANNA! that my love,/ Like thine, could ever faithless prove,/ That in some female Reuben's praise,/ I the impassion'd verse could raise;/ That I so quickly led astray,/ Could wake the warm inconstant lay?' (ll. 53-8). Della Crusca's pointed reminder of Anna Matilda's own dalliance blends with his images of poetic arousal ('raise', 'lay') in a clear appeal to the Della Cruscan body/poetry link; it signals to Anna Matilda that passion and poetry can only be inspired by Anna Matilda, and that until she 'bidst the measure pour,/ Till then, THY DELLA CRUSCA WRITES NO MORE' ('To Anna Matilda', ll. 109-110). Poetry pours; it has a shape, a physicality, and an origin in passion, in emotion. As the images build up, poetry is increasingly eroticised, presented as a response to emotional—that is, physical—excitation. Della Crusca's verse will pour forth if Anna Matilda responds poetically; what has already appeared justifies Della Crusca's faith and Anna Matilda's judgement that poetry is the man. And Della Crusca is not averse to emotional blackmail: his explicit accusation concerning Reuben causes Anna Matilda to crumble. Declaring herself unable to compete with 'favour'd Man['s]' 'sagacious ART' ('To Della Crusca', l. 6),  she portrays herself as deserted by poetry—'Poetic ardors fly me now!'—and overcome by Laura—'Whilst LAURA still may dress the lay/ In all the lustre of the day' (ll. 64, 93-4). Again, conventions of romance are followed: the appearance of another woman provokes jealousy and the breakdown of trust; the man protests his love; the woman requires proof. And again, convention is conveyed in an unorthodox manner: the concentration on sexualised responses and the cultivation of a physical style of poetry inevitably bring passion and desire into conflict with romance. When Anna Matilda calls on Della Crusca to rescue her from her suspicions, she invokes a body entrapped by poetry and passion: 'But shall not DELLA CRUSCA sue/ For her who to HIS MUSE is true?/ For ONE, who round her heart hath wreath'd/ All the rich strains he ever breath'd' (ll. 101-4). All that is left, now, is the actual encounter of bodies.
All along, the romance between Anna Matilda and Della Crusca has sustained itself on absence: each lover has created a relationship based on desire rather than knowledge, and each has followed a personalised romance plot—Anna Matilda's feeling mind, Della Crusca's desiring body—spliced together with the image of embodied, passionate poetry. It has depended entirely on a textual reality; conducted in print, it is, finally, both consummated and concluded in print. McGann says that 'the desire to establish a real equation between textual and personal erotic means in this text, disaster' (p. 92); Pascoe notes that the romance's 'fires were cooled by a disappointing meeting between the matronly Cowley and the younger Merry' (p. 69). Neither recognises that the only possible solution to the Della Crusca/Anna Matilda romance is a parting—it is generically required, structurally to be expected from the trajectory their relationship has followed. Further, however, neither McGann nor Pascoe acknowledges the intensely textual nature of the poem that signals the romance's conclusion, for 'The Interview' not only describes the one meeting between Anna Matilda and Della Crusca (not, significantly, between Cowley and Merry), it also dresses it up in thoroughly romantic robes, and offers closure based on the poetic mingling that, for each, represents physical contact. That is, consummation is complexly merged with a romanticised, stylised lovers' parting.
'The Interview' plots the end of romance, its subsumation into purely physical response. It literally intertwines the poets' voices; although signed by Della Crusca, it contains passages described as from the pen of Anna Matilda. Lines and stanzas are begun by Della Crusca and finished by Anna Matilda, a technique that embodies both the artistry and the artifice of their affair. Readers are offered a purely text-bound but completely intertexted intercourse—sex on the page, which both consummates and ends the affair. Della Crusca begins: 'O WE HAVE MET' (l. 1), and his immediate invocation of the elements' fury images the failure of their interview. In romance terms, Anna Matilda has dismissed Della Crusca; 'haughty Duty' requires her to declare that 'ANOTHER claims my heart/ …. / ANNA MATILDA NEVER CAN BE THINE!' (ll. 88, 91). Readers are reminded that in her second verse-epistle Anna Matilda had referred to her 'bosom's Lord'; indeed, readers of The British Album can flip back to Volume I and reread Anna Matilda's words with a new comprehension. Calling herself a 'cold Ingrate', Anna Matilda asserts that, nonetheless, 'th'impassioned verse is o'er' (ll. 96, 71).  Having lost his lover, Della Crusca refuses to give up his love: constancy, portrayed as a feeling superior even to the possession of Anna Matilda, takes the place of companionship; the 'loftier bliss' is 'to rave,/ Without a pow'r to aid, a chance to save' (ll. 120-1). Renunciation is figured as the marker of truest love—Della Crusca romanticises his loss into a gain, as his enduring love will furnish him with an endless subject for poetry. Even as he gives up Anna Matilda, however, Della Crusca makes one last bid for her body:
… my adoring heart is ANNA'S OWN;
YES, ALL HER OWN, and tho' ANOTHER claim
Her mind's rich treasure, still I love the same; 
And tho' ANOTHER, O how blest! Has felt
Her soften'd soul in dear delirium melt,
While from her gaze the welcome meaning sprung,
As on her neck in frantic joy he hung,
Yet I will bear it, and tho' Hell deride,
My pangs shall sooth, my curse shall be my pride.
Poetry creates the body, the giving of which signifies success in love. Significantly, this fantasy of embodiment occurs after the pair have intermingled their verse, a placement that suggests that even as Della Crusca romanticises renunciation, he publicises consummation: poetry, the text, having contained and sustained their affair all along, it is the only site at which they can complete it.
As I have mentioned, then, the pair become lovers literally, sharing textual space, cohabiting poetry. After Della Crusca signals his despair by calling on the elements, he transports his readers to the scene, 'a garden in Paris'. Della Crusca, the 'I', pauses 'to view the mazy dash' of a waterfall, and muse on his love for Anna Matilda. The next stanza begins 'Sudden I turn': the speaker hears 'sweet sounds' and 'rush[es]' to find the source (ll. 12, 23, 25, 37). The print, however, is now italicised, and, directed by a note to the text, the reader understands that the speaker of all the poem's italicised lines is Anna Matilda. Even, then, as Della Crusca opens the poem and sets the scene, Anna Matilda intrudes, inserting her subjective 'I' and placing herself as an equal partner in this poem of loss. It is Anna Matilda who hears Della Crusca's song and turns to find him. The moment of encounter, however, is doubly italicised, typographically ambiguous, so that the speaker could be Anna Matilda, Della Crusca, or both simultaneously: 'AND THERE THE SOFT MUSICIAN CONSCIOUS STOOD' (l. 38). The poets merge identities in mutual spectatorship—years of writing visionary poetry culminate in the meeting of eyes/'I's and the mingling of verse. Della Crusca now speaks, textualising Anna Matilda as a 'living Angel … ANNA's self' (ll. 43, 46) whom he leads to 'the woven bower', a traditionally romantic lovers' space. Poeticised romance requires poeticised closure: Anna Matilda begins to speak, at first in Della Crusca's voice (her words are not italicised), only to intervene, mid-line, with her own: '"Lean not to me, th'impassioned verse is o'er,/ Which chain'd thy heart, and forc'd thee to adore:/ For O! observe where haughty Duty stands,/ …. / Dread Goddess, I obey!"' (ll. 71-3, 77). This remarkable poem accomplishes typographically exactly what duty and propriety—catchwords for convention—oppose: the lovers, only ever textual, come together in the final poem of their affair, bound together even as they give each other up. The dual vocality of 'The Interview' illustrates most fully the physical nature of Della Cruscan romance, and finalises the intrusion of the erotic into the romantic. Although the sharp-eyed Gifford would denounce the 'weekly cuckold[ing of] her poor spouse in rhyme' figured by the exchanges in The World, even he apparently missed the significance of the very public exchange of poetic fervour contained in this most commingled of Della Cruscan verse.
The romance between Anna Matilda and Della Crusca requires poetry; it is constructed by poets in disguise, each of whom masquerades as a suitably romantic figure, both of whom participate in the conventions of romance while introducing the erotics of the body into the romance paradigm. Their relationship, distilled from the pages of The World into the package of The British Album, depends on a chronological reading of their exchange, and is specifically crafted to follow a familiar plot trajectory: the compiler of The British Album leaves out Laura's suspicious and arch response to 'Leonardo's' overture, for instance, and changes some titles to dovetail more artistically with future developments. To this end, Anna Matilda's post-'Interview poem', dated 19 June 1789 ('The Interview' is dated 16 June 1789) and entitled 'To Della Crusca—who said, "When I am dead, write my Elegy"', becomes in the 1792 edition of The British Album, 'To Philander', while still footnoted as 'formerly' to Della Crusca.  This change can be seen to reflect Anna Matilda's subsequent knowledge of Della Crusca's final poem, dated 30 June 1791 and entitled 'To A—E B—N'. Despite 'Interview''s protestations of undying love, 'To A—E B—N' shows a Della Crusca who has not only moved on, but also changed his mind about true love's expression: 'For HE who dares assert his grief,/ Who boasts the anguish he may prove,/ Obtains, perhaps, the wish'd relief,/ BUT O! THE TRAITOR DOES NOT LOVE' (ll. 9-12). By affirming that real love does not reveal itself, but rather serves and suffers in silence, Della Crusca dismisses the entirety of his affair with Anna Matilda, which grew from and relied on open assertion.  In a poem that neatly redirects emotion and functions as his last word, Della Crusca does more violence to Romance than in any of his impassioned exchanges with Anna Matilda, and shows that the most powerful threat to Love is also the most inescapable, and mundane: the passage of time.
William Gifford, The Baviad, The Baviad and Maeviad (London: 1800) p. 41.
As Jerome McGann says, 'If we want to reacquire an understanding of Della Cruscan poetry, Gifford's fustian points us in the right direction' (The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996] p. 75; subsequent references to McGann will be made in the text).
Otherwise known as Robert Merry and Hannah Cowley. When discussing Della Cruscan poetry, I will use their Della Cruscan names; much of the romance of Della Cruscanism depends on the personae created by these two poets. Their readers saw them as Della Crusca and Anna Matilda; their true identities were unimportant to the emotive relationship they built up. Similarly, Mary Robinson becomes Laura; and, later, Charlotte Dacre (itself a pseudonym, according to Adrianna Craciun and Kim Ian Michasiw) 'is' Rosa Matilda. For an engaging discussion of the theatricality of Della Cruscan names, see Judith Pascoe, Romantic Theatricality: Gender, Poetry, and Spectatorship (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997) Chapter 3: '"That fluttering, tinselled crew": Women Poets and Della Cruscanism'. Pascoe also supplies a useful brief history of the trend; subsequent references to Pascoe will be made in the text.
Each poem in The British Album is signed with the poet's Della Cruscan name and the original date of newspaper publication. This enhances the 'reality' of the Della Crusca/Anna Matilda love affair: readers feel they are privy to a private—hence true—romance, conducted by 'real' people, following familiar rules of romance.
For an extended discussion of the Romantic romance, see my book, The Romantic Paradox: Love, Violence, and the Uses of Romance, 1760-1830 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000).
This phrasing—'produced by the pen of Della Crusca'—allows Della Crusca to occupy a passive position, as if his pen has more volition than he does, and is liable to go off on romantic tangents. It also enhances the artifice of Della Crusca himself, who is, as I have noted, no more than a name.
William Keach, '"Words Are Things": Romantic Ideology and the Matter of Poetic Language', in Aesthetics and Ideology, ed. George Levine (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994) p. 228.
Indeed, in her clever combining of youth and age in her poem (we see auburn hair and the slim form as clearly as the 'snow' and 'warped' body), Anna Matilda maintains her physical attractiveness as well.
Pascoe asserts that 'the ongoing and primary preoccupation of each pseudonymous poet [in The British Album] is not the other's physical body but rather the other's body of verse' (76). While certainly the corpus comes into it, I argue instead that the physical body and the body of verse are identical in Della Cruscan poetry, and are made so by the poets' firm conflation of sensation and style.
At this point, the Della Cruscan romance reifies 'the discursively constructed values of male authority and female contingency'. However, the plot will thicken: neither player willingly occupies their standard romance role for long. The quotation is from Laura Runge, Gender and Language in British Literary Criticism, 1660-1790 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) p. 211.
In addition, Anna Matilda embeds in this poem a critique of Della Crusca's stuffy poetic style:
And be thy lines irregular and free,
Poetic chains should fall before such Bards as thee.
Scorn the dull laws that pinch thee round,
Raising about thy verse a mound,
O'er which thy muse, so lofty! dares not bound.
Bid her in verse meand'ring sport;
Her footsteps quick, or long, or short
Just as her various impulse wills -
Scorning the frigid square, which her fine fervour chills.
Anna Matilda schools Della Crusca in a more lively style, allowing her poetic structure to exemplify her advice.
This contrasts with Anna Matilda's first response to Della Crusca's power. It is part of Anna Matilda's—or rather, Hannah Cowley's—subtlety as a poet that Della Crusca's poetic power is rendered as a form of penetration, thus underpinning the eroticism of the Della Cruscan romance.
Della Crusca counters Anna Matilda's frequent penetration imagery with images of swelling and bursting—clearly, both poets understood and exploited the sexuality of their romance.
Even as she sends him away, Anna Matilda reveals her feelings for Della Crusca, calling him 'my Della Crusca' and worrying that Florence, his putative destination, might tempt him away from her memory.
One remembers Anna Matilda's initial description of her auburn locks sprinkled with snow.
One can also speculate that hiding behind Anna Matilda's sorrow is a mischievous Cowley.
It is significant that Mary Robinson's posthumously-published Poetical Works contain a poem entitled 'To Leonardo', which, as its repetition of key words and direct responses to key sentences from 'To Laura' show, originally directly followed Leonardo/Della Crusca's offering. This poem's opening lines show Laura's suspicion of Leonardo's motives: 'And dost thou hope to fan my flame/ With the soft breath of FRIENDSHIP's name?' (1-2). The romance in The British Album, however, depends upon a constant Della Crusca, and omits a poem that calls into question his disinterested offer of 'friendship'. Even Laura—that is, Robinson (or perhaps Robinson's editor)—colludes in the cover-up, as 'To Leonardo' is hidden without comment or context deep in Volume III of the collected poems. See Robinson, The Poetical Works of the Late Mrs. Mary Robinson: including Many Pieces Never Before Published, 3 vols. (London: Richard Phillips, 1806).
Anna Matilda is subtle, but the implication remains: Man's sagacious Art could just as easily be the ability to tell plausible lies as it is poetic skill.
These lines further the artifice of the poem: although spoken in Della Crusca's voice, the lines are italicised, and hence, in the typography of the poem, actually written by Anna Matilda. She, then, ventriloquises Della Crusca at the moment of her own dissolution: 'MATILDA fled! the closing Night pursued,/ And the cold INGRATE scarce I longer view'd;/ Her form grew indistinct - each step more dim,/ And now a distant vapour seems to swim,/ Her white robe glistens on my eye no more,/ Its strainings all are vain - the fond delusion's o'er' (96-101). He, conversely, takes over at the moment she disappears: 'MY SONG subsides' begins the next (unitalicised) line (102).
Considering that all along Anna Matilda has allowed her mind to stand in for her body, that 'another' will now claim her mind is simply a way of saying that her body has been claimed: contact is inevitably sexualised.
This poem contains lines that may have worked upon a reader whose own early poetry was susceptible to the Della Cruscan influence, Coleridge:
How would I write of dear PHILANDER dead!
O! I would weave such verse, that round my head
The Demons of the Night,
Arrested in their wheeling flight,
Should learn to pity and to mourn,
And curse their bounded pow'r,
Which would not let them say RETURN! RETURN!
The rhythmic resonances of 'Kubla Khan' are suggestive.
This poem appends a note that both admits Della Crusca's philandering and implicitly confesses to Della Cruscan playacting: 'A FURIOUS modern SATIRIST [Gifford?], who cannot in any manner moderate his rage at the success which Mr. MERRY's Poetry has met with, under the signature of DELLA CRUSCA, falls foul on him in DESPERATION, and ACTUALLY charges him with the HEINOUS OFFENCE of POETICAL INCONSTANCY, for having addressed LOVE-VERSES to a VARIETY of WOMEN. The justice of the accusation cannot SERIOUSLY be denied!! All that we can say is, that we hope Mr. MERRY's MUSE will behave with more fidelity in future!'.