I loved fair Celia
was printed in Comes Amoris
(1694), in Book 2 of Orpheus Britannicus
(1702) and its three subsequent reprints. Motteux re-used the melody for We now, my Thyrsis never find
which appeared in a setting by Courteville in The Gentleman’s Journal
of June 1693. From this we can assume that Purcell wrote the melody in 1693 or before. The associations with Celia are English, rather than classical, and in particular recall Ben Jonson’s three songs To Celia
, which were much imitated and include the famous ‘Drink to me only with thine eyes’. Elsewhere, Jonson points out that Celia is an anagram of Alice. Purcell’s setting is delightfully engaging in its charm, and we find that our poet had his eye on Celia for many years ‘Before she showed her art’ (a double entendre which leaves very little open to question, as well as sporting a delicious melisma). He had seen her mature: ‘Her beauty first, her humour next’ and liked each improving stage more than the last. When she finally reciprocated by showing ‘friendship’ to him, her ‘charms’ – set with another lovely melisma – ‘were so entire’ that ‘I could none else admire’.
from notes by Robert King © 2003