Part 3 out of 8
Would men but follow what the sex advise,
All things would prosper, all the world grow wise.
Twas by Rebecca's aid that Jacob won
His father's blessing from an elder son: 70
Abusive Nabal owed his forfeit life
To the wise conduct of a prudent wife:
Heroic Judith, as old Hebrews show,
Preserved the Jews, and slew th' Assyrian foe:
At Hester's suit, the persecuting sword
Was sheath'd, and Israel lived to bless the Lord.
These weighty motives January the sage
Maturely ponder'd in his riper age;
And, charm'd with virtuous joys, and sober life,
Would try that Christian comfort, call'd a wife. 80
His friends were summon'd on a point so nice
To pass their judgment, and to give advice;
But fix'd before, and well resolved was he;
(As men that ask advice are wont to be).
'My friends,' he cried (and cast a mournful look
Around the room, and sigh'd before he spoke),
'Beneath the weight of threescore years I bend,
And, worn with cares, am hastening to my end:
How I have lived, alas! you know too well,
In worldly follies which I blush to tell, 90
But gracious Heaven has oped my eyes at last,
With due regret I view my vices past,
And, as the precept of the church decrees,
Will take a wife, and live in holy ease:
But since by counsel all things should be done,
And many heads are wiser still than one;
Choose you for me, who best shall be content
When my desire's approved by your consent.
'One caution yet is needful to be told,
To guide your choice: this wife must not be old: 100
There goes a saying, and 'twas shrewdly said,
Old fish at table, but young flesh in bed.
My soul abhors the tasteless dry embrace
Of a stale virgin with a winter face:
In that cold season Love but treats his guest
With beanstraw, and tough forage at the best.
No crafty widows shall approach my bed;
Those are too wise for bachelors to wed.
As subtle clerks by many schools are made,
Twice-married dames are mistresses o' th' trade: 110
But young and tender virgins, ruled with ease,
We form like wax, and mould them as we please.
'Conceive me, sirs, nor take my sense amiss;
'Tis what concerns my soul's eternal bliss;
Since, if I found no pleasure in my spouse,
As flesh is frail, and who (God help me) knows?
Then should I live in lewd adultery,
And sink downright to Satan when I die:
Or were I cursed with an unfruitful bed,
The righteous end were lost for which I wed; 120
To raise up seed to bless the powers above,
And not for pleasure only, or for love.
Think not I dote; 'tis time to take a wife,
When vigorous blood forbids a chaster life:
Those that are bless'd with store of grace divine,
May live like saints, by Heaven's consent and mine!
'And since I speak of wedlock, let me say
(As, thank my stars, in modest truth I may),
My limbs are active, still I'm sound at heart,
And a new vigour springs in every part. 130
Think not my virtue lost, though time has shed
These reverend honours on my hoary head:
Thus trees are crown'd with blossoms white as snow,
The vital sap then rising from below.
Old as I am, my lusty limbs appear
Like winter greens, that flourish all the year.
Now, sirs, you know to what I stand inclined,
Let every friend with freedom speak his mind.'
He said; the rest in different parts divide;
The knotty point was urged on either side: 140
Marriage, the theme on which they all declaim'd,
Some praised with wit, and some with reason blamed.
Till, what with proofs, objections, and replies,
Each wondrous positive and wondrous wise,
There fell between his brothers a debate:
Placebo this was call'd, and Justin that.
First to the knight Placebo thus begun,
(Mild were his looks, and pleasing was his tone):
'Such prudence, sir, in all your words appears,
As plainly proves experience dwells with years! 150
Yet you pursue sage Solomon's advice,
To work by counsel when affairs are nice:
But, with the wise man's leave, I must protest,
So may my soul arrive at ease and rest,
As still I hold your own advice the best.
'Sir, I have lived a courtier all my days,
And studied men, their manners, and their ways;
And have observed this useful maxim still.
To let my betters always have their will.
Nay, if my lord affirm'd that black was white, 160
My word was this, "Your honour's in the right."
Th' assuming wit, who deems himself so wise
As his mistaken patron to advise,
Let him not dare to vent his dangerous thought;
A noble fool was never in a fault.
This, sir, affects not you, whose every word
Is weigh'd with judgment, and befits a lord:
Your will is mine: and is (I will maintain)
Pleasing to God, and should be so to man;
At least your courage all the world must praise, 170
Who dare to wed in your declining days.
Indulge the vigour of your mounting blood,
And let gray fools be indolently good,
Who, past all pleasure, damn the joys of sense,
With reverend dulness and grave impotence.'
Justin, who silent sate, and heard the man,
Thus with a philosophic frown began:
'A heathen author, of the first degree,
(Who, though not faith, had sense as well as we),
Bids us be certain our concerns to trust 180
To those of generous principles and just.
The venture's greater, I'll presume to say,
To give your person, than your goods away:
And therefore, sir, as you regard your rest,
First learn your lady's qualities at least:
Whether she's chaste or rampant, proud or civil,
Meek as a saint, or haughty as the devil;
Whether an easy, fond, familiar fool,
Or such a wit as no man e'er can rule.
'Tis true, perfection none must hope to find 190
In all this world, much less in womankind:
But if her virtues prove the larger share,
Bless the kind fates, and think your fortune rare.
Ah, gentle sir, take warning of a friend,
Who knows too well the state you thus commend;
And, spite of all his praises, must declare,
All he can find is bondage, cost, and care.
Heaven knows I shed full many a private tear,
And sigh in silence, lest the world should hear;
While all my friends applaud my blissful life, 200
And swear no mortal's happier in a wife;
Demure and chaste as any vestal nun,
The meekest creature that beholds the sun!
But, by th' immortal powers, I feel the pain,
And he that smarts has reason to complain.
Do what you list, for me; you must be sage,
And cautious sure; for wisdom is in age:
But at these years to venture on the fair!
By Him who made the ocean, earth, and air,
To please a wife, when her occasions call, 210
Would busy the most vigorous of us all.
And trust me, sir, the chastest you can choose,
Will ask observance, and exact her dues.
If what I speak my noble lord offend,
My tedious sermon here is at an end.'
''Tis well, 'tis wondrous well,' the knight replies,
'Most worthy kinsman, faith, you're mighty wise!
We, sirs, are fools; and must resign the cause
To heathenish authors, proverbs, and old saws.'
He spoke with scorn, and turn'd another way: 220
'What does my friend, my dear Placebo, say?'
'I say,' quoth he, 'by Heaven, the man's to blame,
To slander wives, and wedlock's holy name.'
At this the council rose without delay;
Each, in his own opinion, went his way;
With full consent, that, all disputes appeased,
The knight should marry when and where he pleased.
Who now but January exults with joy?
The charms of wedlock all his soul employ:
Each nymph by turns his wavering mind possess'd, 230
And reign'd the short-lived tyrant of his breast;
Whilst fancy pictured every lively part,
And each bright image wander'd o'er his heart.
Thus, in some public forum fix'd on high,
A mirror shows the figures moving by;
Still one by one, in swift succession, pass
The gliding shadows o'er the polish'd glass.
This lady's charms the nicest could not blame,
But vile suspicions had aspersed her fame;
That was with sense, but not with virtue bless'd; 240
And one had grace that wanted all the rest.
Thus doubting long what nymph he should obey
He fix'd at last upon the youthful May.
Her faults he knew not, love is always blind,
But every charm revolved within his mind:
Her tender age, her form divinely fair,
Her easy motion, her attractive air,
Her sweet behaviour, her enchanting face,
Her moving softness, and majestic grace.
Much in his prudence did our knight rejoice, 250
And thought no mortal could dispute his choice:
Once more in haste he summon'd every friend,
And told them all their pains were at an end.
'Heaven, that (said he) inspired me first to wed,
Provides a consort worthy of my bed:
Let none oppose th' election, since on this
Depends my quiet and my future bliss.
'A dame there is, the darling of my eyes,
Young, beauteous, artless, innocent, and wise;
Chaste, though not rich; and, though not nobly born, 260
Of honest parents, and may serve my turn.
Her will I wed, if gracious Heaven so please,
To pass my age in sanctity and ease;
And, thank the powers, I may possess alone
The lovely prize, and share my bliss with none!
If you, my friends, this virgin can procure,
My joys are full, my happiness is sure.
'One only doubt remains: full oft, I've heard
By casuists grave, and deep divines averr'd,
That 'tis too much for human race to know 270
The bliss of heaven above and earth below;
Now, should the nuptial pleasures prove so great,
To match the blessings of the future state,
Those endless joys were ill exchanged for these;
Then clear this doubt, and set my mind at ease.'
This Justin heard, nor could his spleen control,
Touch'd to the quick, and tickled at the soul.
'Sir knight,' he cried, 'if this be all you dread,
Heaven put it past your doubt whene'er you wed:
And to my fervent prayers so far consent, 280
That, ere the rites are o'er, you may repent!
Good Heaven, no doubt, the nuptial state approves,
Since it chastises still what best it loves.
Then be not, sir, abandoned to despair:
Seek, and perhaps you'll find among the fair
One that may do your business to a hair;
Not e'en in wish your happiness delay,
But prove the scourge to lash you on your way:
Then to the skies your mounting soul shall go,
Swift as an arrow soaring from the bow! 290
Provided still, you moderate your joy,
Nor in your pleasures all your might employ;
Let reason's rule your strong desires abate,
Nor please too lavishly your gentle mate
Old wives there are, of judgment most acute,
Who solve these questions beyond all dispute;
Consult with those, and be of better cheer;
Marry, do penance, and dismiss your fear.'
So said, they rose, nor more the work delay'd
The match was offer'd, the proposals made. 300
The parents, you may think, would soon comply
The old have interest ever in their eye.
Nor was it hard to move the lady's mind;
When fortune favours, still the fair are kind.
I pass each previous settlement and deed,
Too long for me to write, or you to read;
Nor will with quaint impertinence display
The pomp, the pageantry, the proud array.
The time approach'd; to church the parties went,
At once with carnal and devout intent: 310
Forth came the priest, and bade the obedient wife
Like Sarah or Rebecca lead her life;
Then pray'd the powers the fruitful bed to bless,
And made all sure enough with holiness.
And now the palace gates are open'd wide,
The guests appear in order, side by side,
And, placed in state, the bridegroom and the bride.
The breathing flute's soft notes are heard around,
And the shrill trumpets mix their silver sound;
The vaulted roofs with echoing music ring, 320
These touch the vocal stops, and those the trembling string.
Not thus Amphion tuned the warbling lyre,
Nor Joab the sounding clarion could inspire,
Nor fierce Theodamas, whose sprightly strain
Could swell the soul to rage, and fire the martial train.
Bacchus himself, the nuptial feast to grace,
(So poets sing) was present on the place:
And lovely Venus, goddess of delight,
Shook high her flaming torch in open sight,
And danced around, and smiled on every knight: 330
Pleased her best servant would his courage try,
No less in wedlock than in liberty.
Full many an age old Hymen had not spied
So kind a bridegroom, or so bright a bride.
Ye bards! renown'd among the tuneful throng
For gentle lays, and joyous nuptial song,
Think not your softest numbers can display
The matchless glories of this blissful day;
The joys are such as far transcend your rage,
When tender youth has wedded stooping age. 340
The beauteous dame sat smiling at the board,
And darted amorous glances at her lord.
Not Hester's self, whose charms the Hebrews sing,
E'er look'd so lovely on her Persian king:
Bright as the rising sun in summer's day,
And fresh and blooming as the month of May!
The joyful knight survey'd her by his side,
Nor envied Paris with his Spartan bride:
Still as his mind revolved with vast delight
Th' entrancing raptures of th' approaching night, 350
Restless he sat, invoking every power
To speed his bliss, and haste the happy hour.
Meantime the vigorous dancers beat the ground,
And songs were sung, and flowing bowls went round.
With odorous spices they perfumed the place,
And mirth and pleasure shone in every face.
Damian alone, of all the menial train,
Sad in the midst of triumphs, sigh'd for pain;
Damian alone, the knight's obsequious squire,
Consumed at heart, and fed a secret fire. 360
His lovely mistress all his soul possess'd,
He look'd, he languish'd, and could take no rest:
His task perform'd, he sadly went his way,
Fell on his bed, and loath'd the light of day:
There let him lie; till his relenting dame
Weep in her turn, and waste in equal flame.
The weary sun, as learnèd poets write,
Forsook th' horizon, and roll'd down the light;
While glittering stars his absent beams supply.
And night's dark mantle overspread the sky. 370
Then rose the guests, and, as the time required,
Each paid his thanks, and decently retired.
The foe once gone, our knight prepared t' undress,
So keen he was, and eager to possess;
But first thought fit th' assistance to receive,
Which grave physicians scruple not to give:
Satyrion near, with hot eringoes stood,
Cantharides, to fire the lazy blood,
Whose use old bards describe in luscious rhymes,
And critics learn'd explain to modern times. 380
By this the sheets were spread, the bride undress'd,
The room was sprinkled, and the bed was bless'd.
What next ensued beseems not me to say;
'Tis sung, he labour'd till the dawning day,
Then briskly sprung from bed, with heart so light,
As all were nothing he had done by night,
And sipp'd his cordial as he sat upright.
He kiss'd his balmy spouse with wanton play,
And feebly sung a lusty roundelay:
Then on the couch his weary limbs he cast; 390
For every labour must have rest at last.
But anxious cares the pensive squire oppress'd,
Sleep fled his eyes, and peace forsook his breast;
The raging flames that in his bosom dwell,
He wanted art to hide, and means to tell:
Yet hoping time th' occasion might betray,
Composed a sonnet to the lovely May;
Which, writ and folded with the nicest art,
He wrapp'd in silk, and laid upon his heart.
When now the fourth revolving day was run, 400
('Twas June, and Cancer had received the sun),
Forth from her chamber came the beauteous bride;
The good old knight moved slowly by her side.
High mass was sung; they feasted in the hall;
The servants round stood ready at their call
The squire alone was absent from the board,
And much his sickness grieved his worthy lord,
Who pray'd his spouse, attended with her train,
To visit Damian, and divert his pain.
Th' obliging dames obey'd with one consent: 410
They left the hall, and to his lodging went.
The female tribe surround him as he lay,
And close beside him sat the gentle May:
Where, as she tried his pulse, he softly drew
A heaving sigh, and cast a mournful view!
Then gave his bill, and bribed the Powers divine
With secret vows, to favour his design.
Who studies now but discontented May?
On her soft couch uneasily she lay: 420
The lumpish husband snored away the night,
Till coughs awaked him near the morning light.
What then he did, I'll not presume to tell,
Nor if she thought herself in heaven or hell:
Honest and dull in nuptial bed they lay,
Till the bell toll'd, and all arose to pray.
Were it by forceful destiny decreed,
Or did from chance, or nature's power proceed;
Or that some star, with aspect kind to love,
Shed its selectest influence from above;
Whatever was the cause, the tender dame 430
Felt the first motions of an infant flame;
Received th' impressions of the love-sick squire,
And wasted in the soft infectious fire.
Ye fair, draw near, let May's example move
Your gentle minds to pity those who love!
Had some fierce tyrant in her stead been found,
The poor adorer sure had hang'd or drown'd;
But she, your sex's mirror, free from pride,
Was much too meek to prove a homicide.
But to my tale:--Some sages have defined 440
Pleasure the sovereign bliss of humankind:
Our knight (who studied much, we may suppose)
Derived his high philosophy from those;
For, like a prince, he bore the vast expense
Of lavish pomp, and proud magnificence:
His house was stately, his retinue gay,
Large was his train, and gorgeous his array.
His spacious garden, made to yield to none,
Was compass'd round with walls of solid stone;
Priapus could not half describe the grace 450
(Though god of gardens) of this charming place:
A place to tire the rambling wits of France
In long descriptions, and exceed romance:
Enough to shame the gentlest bard that sings
Of painted meadows, and of purling springs.
Full in the centre of the flowery ground
A crystal fountain spread its streams around,
The fruitful banks with verdant laurels crown'd.
About this spring (if ancient fame say true)
The dapper elves their moonlight sports pursue: 460
Their pigmy king, and little fairy queen,
In circling dances gamboll'd on the green,
While tuneful sprites a merry concert made,
And airy music warbled through the shade.
Hither the noble knight would oft repair,
(His scene of pleasure, and peculiar care):
For this he held it dear, and always bore
The silver key that lock'd the garden door.
To this sweet place, in summer's sultry heat,
He used from noise and business to retreat: 470
And here in dalliance spend the livelong day,
_Solus cum sola_, with his sprightly May:
For whate'er work was undischarged abed,
The duteous knight in this fair garden sped.
But ah! what mortal lives of bliss secure?
How short a space our worldly joys endure!
O Fortune! fair, like all thy treacherous kind,
But faithless still, and wavering as the wind!
O painted monster, form'd mankind to cheat
With pleasing poison, and with soft deceit! 480
This rich, this amorous, venerable knight,
Amidst his ease, his solace, and delight,
Struck blind by thee, resigns his days to grief,
And calls on death, the wretch's last relief.
The rage of jealousy then seized his mind,
For much he fear'd the faith of womankind.
His wife, not suffer'd from his side to stray,
Was captive kept; he watch'd her night and day,
Abridged her pleasures, and confined her sway.
Full oft in tears did hapless May complain, 490
And sigh'd full oft; but sigh'd and wept in vain:
She look'd on Damian with a lover's eye;
For oh, 'twas fix'd; she must possess or die!
Nor less impatience vex'd her amorous squire,
Wild with delay, and burning with desire.
Watch'd as she was, yet could he not refrain
By secret writing to disclose his pain;
The dame by signs reveal'd her kind intent,
Till both were conscious what each other meant.
Ah! gentle knight, what would thy eyes avail, 500
Though they could see as far as ships can sail?
'Tis better, sure, when blind, deceived to be,
Than be deluded when a man can see!
Argus himself, so cautious and so wise,
Was overwatch'd, for all his hundred eyes:
So many an honest husband may, 'tis known,
Who, wisely, never thinks the case his own.
The dame at last, by diligence and care,
Procured the key her knight was wont to bear;
She took the wards in wax before the fire, 510
And gave th' impression to the trusty squire.
By means of this some wonder shall appear,
Which, in due place and season, you may hear.
Well sung sweet Ovid, in the days of yore,
What slight is that which love will not explore?
And Pyramus and Thisbe plainly show
The feats true lovers, when they list, can do:
Though watch'd and captive, yet in spite of all,
They found the art of kissing through a wall.
But now no longer from our tale to stray; 520
It happ'd, that once, upon a summer's day,
Our reverend knight was urged to amorous play;
He raised his spouse ere matin-bell was rung,
And thus his morning canticle he sung:
'Awake, my love, disclose thy radiant eyes!
Arise, my wife, my beauteous lady, rise!
Hear how the doves with pensive notes complain,
And in soft murmurs tell the trees their pain:
The winter's past; the clouds and tempests fly;
The sun adorns the fields, and brightens all the sky. 530
Fair without spot, whose every charming part
My bosom wounds, and captivates my heart!
Come, and in mutual pleasures let's engage,
Joy of my life, and comfort of my age!'
This heard, to Damian straight a sign she made
To haste before; the gentle squire obey'd:
Secret and undescried he took his way,
And, ambush'd close, behind an arbour lay.
It was not long ere January came,
And hand in hand with him his lovely dame; 540
Blind as he was, not doubting all was sure,
He turn'd the key, and made the gate secure.
'Here let us walk,' he said, 'observed by none,
Conscious of pleasures to the world unknown:
So may my soul have joy, as thou, my wife,
Art far the dearest solace of my life;
And rather would I choose, by heaven above!
To die this instant, than to lose thy love.
Reflect what truth was in my passion shown,
When, unendow'd, I took thee for my own, 550
And sought no treasure but thy heart alone.
Old as I am, and now deprived of sight,
Whilst thou art faithful to thy own true knight,
Nor age, nor blindness rob me of delight.
Each other loss with patience I can bear,
The loss of thee is what I only fear.
'Consider then, my lady, and my wife,
The solid comforts of a virtuous life.
As, first, the love of Christ himself you gain;
Next, your own honour undefiled maintain; 560
And, lastly, that which sure your mind must move,
My whole estate shall gratify your love:
Make your own terms, and ere to-morrow's sun
Displays his light, by heaven, it shall be done!
I seal the contract with a holy kiss,
And will perform, by this--my dear, and this--
Have comfort, spouse, nor think thy lord unkind;
'Tis love, not jealousy, that fires my mind!
For when thy charms my sober thoughts engage,
And join'd to them my own unequal age, 570
From thy dear side I have no power to part,
Such secret transports warm my melting heart.
For who that once possess'd those heavenly charms,
Could live one moment absent from thy arms?'
He ceased, and May with modest grace replied,
(Weak was her voice, as while she spoke she cried):
'Heaven knows (with that a tender sigh she drew)
I have a soul to save as well as you;
And, what no less you to my charge commend,
My dearest honour will to death defend. 580
To you in holy church I gave my hand,
And join'd my heart in wedlock's sacred band:
Yet after this, if you distrust my care,
Then hear, my lord, and witness what I swear:
'First may the yawning earth her bosom rend,
And let me hence to hell alive descend;
Or die the death I dread no less than hell,
Sew'd in a sack, and plunged into a well,
Ere I my fame by one lewd act disgrace,
Or once renounce the honour of my race. 590
For know, sir knight, of gentle blood I came;
I loathe a whore, and startle at the name.
But jealous men on their own crimes reflect,
And learn from thence their ladies to suspect:
Else why these heedless cautions, sir, to me
These doubts and fears of female constancy
This chime still rings in every lady's ear,
The only strain a wife must hope to hear.'
Thus while she spoke a sidelong glance she cast,
Where Damian, kneeling, worshipp'd as she pass'd. 600
She saw him watch the motions of her eye,
And singled out a pear-tree planted nigh:
'Twas charged with fruit that made a goodly show,
And hung with dangling pears was every bough.
Thither th' obsequious squire address'd his pace,
And, climbing, in the summit took his place;
The knight and lady walk'd beneath in view,
Where let us leave them and our tale pursue.
'Twas now the season when the glorious sun
His heavenly progress through the Twins had run; 610
And Jove, exalted, his mild influence yields,
To glad the glebe, and paint the flowery fields:
Clear was the day, and Phoebus, rising bright,
Had streak'd the azure firmament with light;
He pierced the glittering clouds with golden streams,
And warm'd the womb of earth with genial beams.
It so befell, in that fair morning tide,
The fairies sported on the garden side,
And in the midst their monarch and his bride.
So featly tripp'd the light-foot ladies round, 620
The knights so nimbly o'er the greensward bound,
That scarce they bent the flowers or touch'd the ground.
The dances ended, all the fairy train
For pinks and daisies search'd the flowery plain;
While on a bank reclined of rising green,
Thus, with a frown, the king bespoke his queen:
''Tis too apparent, argue what you can,
The treachery you women use to man:
A thousand authors have this truth made out,
And sad experience leaves no room for doubt. 630
'Heaven rest thy spirit, noble Solomon!
A wiser monarch never saw the sun:
All wealth, all honours, the supreme degree
Of earthly bliss, was well bestow'd on thee!
For sagely hast thou said, Of all mankind,
One only just, and righteous, hope to find:
But shouldst thou search the spacious world around,
Yet one good woman is not to be found.
'Thus says the king, who knew your wickedness;
The son of Sirach testifies no less. 640
So may some wild-fire on your bodies fall,
Or some devouring plague consume you all;
As well you view the lecher in the tree,
And well this honourable knight you see:
But, since he's blind and old (a helpless case),
His squire shall cuckold him before your face.
'Now by my own dread majesty I swear,
And by this awful sceptre which I bear,
No impious wretch shall 'scape unpunish'd long,
That in my presence offers such a wrong. 650
I will this instant undeceive the knight,
And in the very act restore his sight:
And set the strumpet here in open view,
A warning to these ladies, and to you,
And all the faithless sex, for ever to be true.'
'And will you so,' replied the queen, 'indeed?
Now, by my mother's soul, it is decreed,
She shall not want an answer at her need.
For her, and for her daughters, I'll engage,
And all the sex in each succeeding age; 660
Art shall be theirs to varnish an offence,
And fortify their crimes with confidence.
Nay, were they taken in a strict embrace,
Seen with both eyes, and pinion'd on the place;
All they shall need is to protest and swear,
Breathe a soft sigh, and drop a tender tear;
Till their wise husbands, gull'd by arts like these,
Grow gentle, tractable, and tame as geese.
'What though this slanderous Jew, this Solomon,
Call'd women fools, and knew full many a one; 670
The wiser wits of later times declare
How constant, chaste, and virtuous women are:
Witness the martyrs who resign'd their breath,
Serene in torments, unconcern'd in death;
And witness next what Roman authors tell,
How Arria, Portia, and Lucretia fell.
'But since the sacred leaves to all are free,
And men interpret texts, why should not we?
By this no more was meant than to have shown
That sovereign goodness dwells in Him alone, 680
Who only Is, and is but only One.
But grant the worst; shall women then be weigh'd
By every word that Solomon hath said
What though this king (as ancient story boasts)
Built a fair temple to the Lord of Hosts;
He ceased at last his Maker to adore,
And did as much for idol gods, or more.
Beware what lavish praises you confer
On a rank lecher and idolater;
Whose reign indulgent God, says Holy Writ, 690
Did but for David's righteous sake permit;
David the monarch after Heaven's own mind,
Who loved our sex, and honour'd all our kind.
'Well, I'm a woman, and as such must speak;
Silence would swell me, and my heart would break.
Know, then, I scorn your dull authorities,
Your idle wits, and all their learned lies:
By heaven, those authors are our sex's foes,
Whom, in our right, I must and will oppose!'
'Nay,' quoth the king, 'dear madam, be not wroth; 700
I yield it up; but since I gave my oath,
That this much-injured knight again should see;
It must be done--I am a king,' said he,
'And one whose faith has ever sacred been--'
'And so has mine' (she said)--'I am a queen:
Her answer she shall have, I undertake;
And thus an end of all dispute I make.
Try when you list; and you shall find, my lord,
It is not in our sex to break our word.'
We leave them here in this heroic strain, 710
And to the knight our story turns again;
Who in the garden, with his lovely May,
Sung merrier than the cuckoo or the jay:
This was his song, 'Oh kind and constant be;
Constant and kind I'll ever prove to thee.'
Thus singing as he went, at last he drew
By easy steps to where the pear-tree grew:
The longing dame look'd up, and spied her love
Full fairly perch'd among the boughs above.
She stopp'd, and sighing, 'O good gods!' she cried, 720
'What pangs, what sudden shoots distend my side
Oh for that tempting fruit, so fresh, so green;
Help, for the love of heaven's immortal queen!
Help, dearest lord, and save at once the life
Of thy poor infant, and thy longing wife!'
Sore sigh'd the knight to hear his lady's cry,
But could not climb, and had no servant nigh:
Old as he was, and void of eyesight too,
What could, alas! a helpless husband do?
'And must I languish, then, (she said), and die, 730
Yet view the lovely fruit before my eye?
At least, kind sir, for charity's sweet sake,
Vouchsafe the trunk between your arms to take;
Then from your back I might ascend the tree;
Do you but stoop, and leave the rest to me.'
'With all my soul,' he thus replied again,
'I'd spend my dearest blood to ease thy pain.'
With that his back against the trunk he bent;
She seized a twig, and up the tree she went.
Now prove your patience, gentle ladies all! 740
Nor let on me your heavy anger fall:
'Tis truth I tell, though not in phrase refined;
Though blunt my tale, yet honest is my mind.
What feats the lady in the tree might do,
I pass, as gambols never known to you;
But sure it was a merrier fit, she swore,
Than in her life she ever felt before.
In that nice moment, lo! the wondering knight
Look'd out, and stood restored to sudden sight.
Straight on the tree his eager eyes he bent, 750
As one whose thoughts were on his spouse intent;
But when he saw his bosom-wife so dress'd,
His rage was such as cannot be express'd:
Not frantic mothers, when their infants die,
With louder clamours rend the vaulted sky:
He cried, he roar'd, he storm'd, he tore his hair:
'Death! hell! and furies! what dost thou do there?'
'What ails my lord?' the trembling dame replied,
'I thought your patience had been better tried:
Is this your love, ungrateful and unkind, 760
This my reward for having cured the blind?
Why was I taught to make my husband see,
By struggling with a man upon a tree
Did I for this the power of magic prove?
Unhappy wife, whose crime was too much love!'
'If this be struggling, by this holy light,
'Tis struggling with a vengeance (quoth the knight):
So Heaven preserve the sight it has restored,
As with these eyes I plainly saw thee whored;
Whored by my slave--perfidious wretch! may hell 770
As surely seize thee, as I saw too well.'
'Guard me, good angels!' cried the gentle May,
'Pray heaven this magic work the proper way!
Alas, my love! 'tis certain, could you see,
You ne'er had used these killing words to me:
So help me, Fates! as 'tis no perfect sight,
But some faint glimmering of a doubtful light.'
'What I have said (quoth he) I must maintain,
For by th' immortal powers it seem'd too plain--'
'By all those powers, some frenzy seized your mind 780
(Replied the dame), are these the thanks I find?
Wretch that I am, that e'er I was so kind!'
She said; a rising sigh express'd her woe,
The ready tears apace began to flow,
And, as they fell, she wiped from either eye
The drops (for women, when they list, can cry).
The knight was touch'd; and in his looks appear'd
Signs of remorse, while thus his spouse he cheer'd:
'Madam, 'tis past, and my short anger o'er!
Come down, and vex your tender heart no more: 790
Excuse me, dear, if aught amiss was said,
For, on my soul, amends shall soon be made:
Let my repentance your forgiveness draw;
By heaven, I swore but what I _thought_ I saw.'
'Ah, my loved lord! 'twas much unkind (she cried)
On bare suspicion thus to treat your bride.
But, till your sight's establish'd, for a while,
Imperfect objects may your sense beguile.
Thus, when from sleep we first our eyes display,
The balls are wounded with the piercing ray, 800
And dusky vapours rise and intercept the day;
So, just recovering from the shades of night,
Your swimming eyes are drunk with sudden light,
Strange phantoms dance around, and skim before your sight.
Then, sir, be cautious, nor too rashly deem;
Heaven knows how seldom things are what they seem!
Consult your reason, and you soon shall find
'Twas you were jealous, not your wife unkind:
Jove ne'er spoke oracle more true than this,
None judge so wrong as those who think amiss.' 810
With that she leap'd into her lord's embrace,
With well-dissembled virtue in her face.
He hugg'd her close, and kiss'd her o'er and o'er,
Disturb'd with doubts and jealousies no more:
Both, pleased and bless'd, renew'd their mutual vows:
A fruitful wife, and a believing spouse.
Thus ends our tale, whose moral next to make,
Let all wise husbands hence example take;
And pray, to crown the pleasure of their lives,
To be so well deluded by their wives. 820
THE WIFE OF BATH, HER PROLOGUE.
Behold the woes of matrimonial life,
And hear with reverence an experienced wife!
To dear-bought wisdom give the credit due,
And think, for once, a woman tells you true.
In all these trials I have borne a part:
I was myself the scourge that caused the smart;
For, since fifteen, in triumph have I led
Five captive husbands from the church to bed.
Christ saw a wedding once, the Scripture says,
And saw but one, 'tis thought, in all his days; 10
Whence some infer, whose conscience is too nice,
No pious Christian ought to marry twice.
But let them read, and solve me if they can,
The words address'd to the Samaritan;
Five times in lawful wedlock she was join'd,
And sure the certain stint was ne'er defined.
'Increase and multiply' was Heaven's command,
And that's a text I clearly understand:
This, too, 'Let men their sires and mothers leave,
And to their dearer wives for ever cleave.' 20
More wives than one by Solomon were tried,
Or else the wisest of mankind's belied.
I've had myself full many a merry fit,
And trust in heaven I may have many yet;
For when my transitory spouse, unkind,
Shall die and leave his woful wife behind,
I'll take the next good Christian I can find.
Paul, knowing one could never serve our turn,
Declared 'twas better far to wed than burn.
There's danger in assembling fire and tow; 30
I grant 'em that; and what it means you know.
The same apostle, too, has elsewhere own'd
No precept for virginity he found:
'Tis but a counsel--and we women still
Take which we like, the counsel or our will.
I envy not their bliss, if he or she
Think fit to live in perfect chastity:
Pure let them be, and free from taint or vice;
I for a few slight spots am not so nice.
Heaven calls us different ways; on these bestows 40
One proper gift, another grants to those;
Not every man's obliged to sell his store,
And give up all his substance to the poor:
Such as are perfect may, I can't deny;
But, by your leaves, divines! so am not I.
Full many a saint, since first the world began,
Lived an unspotted maid in spite of man:
Let such (a God's name) with fine wheat be fed,
And let us honest wives eat barley bread.
For me, I'll keep the post assign'd by heaven, 50
And use the copious talent it has given:
Let my good spouse pay tribute, do me right,
And keep an equal reckoning every night;
His proper body is not his, but mine;
For so said Paul, and Paul's a sound divine.
Know then, of those five husbands I have had,
Three were just tolerable, two were bad.
The three were old, but rich and fond beside,
And toil'd most piteously to please their bride;
But since their wealth (the best they had) was mine, 60
The rest, without much loss, I could resign:
Sure to be loved, I took no pains to please,
Yet had more pleasure far than they had ease.
Presents flow'd in apace: with showers of gold
They made their court, like Jupiter of old:
If I but smiled, a sudden youth they found,
And a new palsy seized them when I frown'd.
Ye sovereign wives! give ear, and understand:
Thus shall ye speak, and exercise command;
For never was it given to mortal man 70
To lie so boldly as we women can:
Forswear the fact, though seen with both his eyes,
And call your maids to witness how he lies.
Hark, old Sir Paul! ('twas thus I used to say)
Whence is our neighbour's wife so rich and gay
Treated, caress'd, where'er she's pleased to roam--
I sit in tatters, and immured at home.
Why to her house dost thou so oft repair?
Art thou so amorous? and is she so fair?
If I but see a cousin or a friend, 80
Lord! how you swell and rage, like any fiend!
But you reel home, a drunken beastly bear,
Then preach till midnight in your easy chair;
Cry, Wives are false, and every woman evil,
And give up all that's female to the devil.
If poor (you say), she drains her husband's purse;
If rich, she keeps her priest, or something worse;
If highly born, intolerably vain,
Vapours and pride by turns possess her brain;
Now gaily mad, now sourly splenetic, 90
Freakish when well, and fretful when she's sick:
If fair, then chaste she cannot long abide,
By pressing youth attack'd on every side;
If foul, her wealth the lusty lover lures,
Or else her wit some fool-gallant procures,
Or else she dances with becoming grace,
Or shape excuses the defects of face.
There swims no goose so gray, but soon or late
She finds some honest gander for her mate.
Horses (thou say'st) and asses men may try, 100
And ring suspected vessels ere they buy;
But wives, a random choice, untried they take,
They dream in courtship, but in wedlock wake;
Then, nor till then, the veil's removed away,
And all the woman glares in open day.
You tell me, to preserve your wife's good grace,
Your eyes must always languish on my face,
Your tongue with constant flatteries feed my ear,
And tag each sentence with 'My life! My dear!'
If, by strange chance, a modest blush be raised, 110
Be sure my fine complexion must be praised.
My garments always must be new and gay,
And feasts still kept upon my wedding day.
Then must my nurse be pleased, and favourite maid:
And endless treats and endless visits paid
To a long train of kindred, friends, allies:
All this thou say'st, and all thou say'st are lies.
On Jenkin, too, you cast a squinting eye:
What! can your 'prentice raise your jealousy?
Fresh are his ruddy cheeks, his forehead fair, 120
And like the burnish'd gold his curling hair.
But clear thy wrinkled brow, and quit thy sorrow,
I'd scorn your 'prentice should you die to-morrow.
Why are thy chests all lock'd? on what design?
Are not thy worldly goods and treasures mine?
Sir, I'm no fool; nor shall you, by St John,
Have goods and body to yourself alone.
One you shall quit, in spite of both your eyes--
I heed not, I, the bolts, the locks, the spies.
If you had wit, you'd say, 'Go where you will, 130
Dear spouse! I credit not the tales they tell:
Take all the freedoms of a married life;
I know thee for a virtuous, faithful wife.'
Lord! when you have enough, what need you care
How merrily soever others fare?
Though all the day I give and take delight,
Doubt not, sufficient will be left at night.
'Tis but a just and rational desire
To light a taper at a neighbour's fire.
There's danger too, you think, in rich array, 140
And none can long be modest that are gay.
The cat, if you but singe her tabby skin,
The chimney keeps, and sits content within:
But once grown sleek, will from her corner run,
Sport with her tail, and wanton in the sun:
She licks her fair round face, and frisks abroad
To show her fur, and to be catterwaw'd.
Lo! thus, my friends, I wrought to my desires
These three right ancient venerable sires.
I told 'em, Thus you say, and thus you do; 150
And told 'em false, but Jenkin swore 'twas true.
I, like a dog, could bite as well as whine,
And first complain'd whene'er the guilt was mine.
I tax'd them oft with wenching and amours,
When their weak legs scarce dragg'd them out of doors
And swore, the rambles that I took by night
Were all to spy what damsels they bedight:
That colour brought me many hours of mirth;
For all this wit is given us from our birth.
Heaven gave to woman the peculiar grace 160
To spin, to weep, and cully human race.
By this nice conduct and this prudent course,
By murmuring, wheedling, stratagem, and force,
I still prevail'd, and would be in the right,
Or curtain lectures made a restless night.
If once my husband's arm was o'er my side,
'What! so familiar with your spouse?' I cried:
I levied first a tax upon his need;
Then let him--'twas a nicety indeed!
Let all mankind this certain maxim hold; 170
Marry who will, our sex is to be sold.
With empty hands no tassels you can lure,
But fulsome love for gain we can endure;
For gold we love the impotent and old,
And heave, and pant, and kiss, and cling, for gold.
Yet with embraces curses oft I mix'd,
Then kiss'd again, and chid, and rail'd betwixt.
Well, I may make my will in peace, and die,
For not one word in man's arrears am I.
To drop a dear dispute I was unable, 180
E'en though the Pope himself had sat at table:
But when my point was gain'd, then thus I spoke:
'Billy, my dear, how sheepishly you look!
Approach, my spouse, and let me kiss thy cheek;
Thou shouldst be always thus, resign'd and meek!
Of Job's great patience since so oft you preach,
Well should you practise who so well can teach.
'Tis difficult to do, I must allow,
But I, my dearest! will instruct you how.
Great is the blessing of a prudent wife, 190
Who puts a period to domestic strife.
One of us two must rule, and one obey;
And since in man right reason bears the sway,
Let that frail thing, weak woman, have her way.
The wives of all my family have ruled
Their tender husbands, and their passions cool'd.
Fye! 'tis unmanly thus to sigh and groan:
What! would you have me to yourself alone?
Why, take me, love! take all and every part!
Here's your revenge! you love it at your heart. 200
Would I vouchsafe to sell what nature gave,
You little think what custom I could have.
But see! I'm all your own--nay, hold--for shame!
What means my dear?--indeed, you are to blame.'
Thus with my first three lords I pass'd my life,
A very woman, and a very wife.
What sums from these old spouses I could raise,
Procured young husbands in my riper days.
Though past my bloom, not yet decay'd was I,
Wanton and wild, and chatter'd like a pie. 210
In country-dances still I bore the bell,
And sung as sweet as evening Philomel.
To clear my quail-pipe, and refresh my soul,
Full oft I drain'd the spicy nut-brown bowl;
Rich luscious wines, that youthful blood improve,
And warm the swelling veins to feats of love:
For 'tis as sure as cold engenders hail,
A liquorish mouth must have a lecherous tail:
Wine lets no lover unrewarded go,
As all true gamesters by experience know. 220
But oh, good gods! whene'er a thought I cast
On all the joys of youth and beauty past,
To find in pleasures I have had my part,
Still warms me to the bottom of my heart.
This wicked world was once my dear delight;
Now, all my conquests, all my charms, good night!
The flour consumed, the best that now I can
Is e'en to make my market of the bran.
My fourth dear spouse was not exceeding true;
He kept, 'twas thought, a private miss or two: 230
But all that score I paid--As how? you'll say,
Not with my body, in a filthy way;
But I so dress'd, and danced, and drank, and dined,
And view'd a friend with eyes so very kind,
As stung his heart, and made his marrow fry,
With burning rage and frantic jealousy
His soul, I hope, enjoys eternal glory,
For here on earth I was his purgatory.
Oft, when his shoe the most severely wrung,
He put on careless airs, and sat and sung. 240
How sore I gall'd him only heaven could know,
And he that felt, and I that caused the woe:
He died, when last from pilgrimage I came,
With other gossips from Jerusalem,
And now lies buried underneath a rood,
Fair to be seen, and rear'd of honest wood:
A tomb, indeed, with fewer sculptures graced
Than that Mausolus' pious widow placed,
Or where enshrined the great Darius lay;
But cost on graves is merely thrown away. 250
The pit fill'd up, with turf we cover'd o'er;
So bless the good man's soul! I say no more.
Now for my fifth loved lord, the last and best;
(Kind heaven afford him everlasting rest!)
Full hearty was his love, and I can show
The tokens on my ribs in black and blue;
Yet with a knack my heart he could have won,
While yet the smart was shooting in the bone.
How quaint an appetite in woman reigns!
Free gifts we scorn, and love what costs us pains: 260
Let men avoid us, and on them we leap;
A glutted market makes provisions cheap.
In pure goodwill I took this jovial spark,
Of Oxford he, a most egregious clerk.
He boarded with a widow in the town,
A trusty gossip, one dame Alison;
Full well the secrets of my soul she knew,
Better than e'er our parish priest could do.
To her I told whatever could befall:
Had but my husband piss'd against a wall, 270
Or done a thing that might have cost his life,
She--and my niece--and one more worthy wife,
Had known it all: what most he would conceal,
To these I made no scruple to reveal.
Oft has he blush'd from ear to ear for shame
That e'er he told a secret to his dame.
It so befell, in holy time of Lent,
That oft a day I to this gossip went;
(My husband, thank my stars, was out of town)
From house to house we rambled up and down, 280
This clerk, myself, and my good neighbour, Alse,
To see, be seen, to tell, and gather tales.
Visits to every church we daily paid,
And march'd in every holy masquerade;
The stations duly, and the vigils kept;
Not much we fasted, but scarce ever slept.
At sermons, too, I shone in scarlet gay:
The wasting moth ne'er spoil'd my best array;
The cause was this, I wore it every day.
'Twas when fresh May her early blossoms yields, 290
This clerk and I were walking in the fields.
We grew so intimate, I can't tell how,
I pawn'd my honour, and engaged my vow,
If e'er I laid my husband in his urn,
That he, and only he, should serve my turn.
We straight struck hands, the bargain was agreed;
I still have shifts against a time of need:
The mouse that always trusts to one poor hole
Can never be a mouse of any soul.
I vow'd I scarce could sleep since first I knew him, 300
And durst be sworn he had bewitch'd me to him
If e'er I slept, I dream'd of him alone,
And dreams foretell, as learned men have shown:
All this I said; but dreams, sirs, I had none:
I follow'd but my crafty crony's lore,
Who bid me tell this lie--and twenty more.
Thus day by day, and month by mouth we pass'd;
It pleased the Lord to take my spouse at last.
I tore my gown, I soil'd my locks with dust,
And beat my breasts, as wretched widows must. 310
Before my face my handkerchief I spread,
To hide the flood of tears I did not shed.
The good man's coffin to the church was borne;
Around, the neighbours, and my clerk, too, mourn:
But as he march'd, good gods! he show'd a pair
Of legs and feet so clean, so strong, so fair!
Of twenty winters' age he seem'd to be;
I (to say truth) was twenty more than he;
But vigorous still, a lively buxom dame,
And had a wondrous gift to quench a flame. 320
A conjuror once, that deeply could divine,
Assured me Mars in Taurus was my sign.
As the stars order'd, such my life has been:
Alas, alas! that ever love was sin!
Fair Venus gave me fire and sprightly grace,
And Mars assurance and a dauntless face.
By virtue of this powerful constellation,
I follow'd always my own inclination.
But to my tale: A month scarce pass'd away,
With dance and song we kept the nuptial day. 330
All I possess'd I gave to his command,
My goods and chattels, money, house, and land;
But oft repented, and repent it still;
He proved a rebel to my sovereign will;
Nay, once, by heaven! he struck me on the face;
Hear but the fact, and judge yourselves the case.
Stubborn as any lioness was I,
And knew full well to raise my voice on high;
As true a rambler as I was before,
And would be so in spite of all he swore. 340
He against this right sagely would advise,
And old examples set before my eyes;
Tell how the Roman matrons led their life,
Of Gracchus' mother, and Duilius' wife;
And close the sermon, as beseem'd his wit,
With some grave sentence out of Holy Writ.
Oft would he say, 'Who builds his house on sands,
Pricks his blind horse across the fallow lands;
Or lets his wife abroad with pilgrims roam,
Deserves a fool's cap and long ears at home.' 350
All this avail'd not, for whoe'er he be
That tells my faults, I hate him mortally!
And so do numbers more, I'll boldly say,
Men, women, clergy, regular, and lay.
My spouse (who was, you know, to learning bred)
A certain treatise oft at evening read,
Where divers authors (whom the devil confound
For all their lies) were in one volume bound:
Valerius whole, and of St Jerome part;
Chrysippus and Tertullian, Ovid's Art, 360
Solomon's Proverbs, Eloisa's Loves,
And many more than, sure, the Church approves.
More legends were there here of wicked wives
Than good in all the Bible and saints' lives.
Who drew the lion vanquish'd? 'Twas a man:
But could we women write as scholars can,
Men should stand mark'd with far more wickedness
Than all the sons of Adam could redress.
Love seldom haunts the breast where learning lies,
And Venus sets ere Mercury can rise. 370
Those play the scholars who can't play the men,
And use that weapon which they have, their pen:
When old, and past the relish of delight,
Then down they sit, and in their dotage write,
That not one woman keeps her marriage-vow.
(This by the way, but to my purpose now:)
It chanced my husband, on a winter's night,
Read in this book aloud with strange delight,
How the first female (as the Scriptures show)
Brought her own spouse and all his race to woe; 380
How Samson fell; and he whom Dejanire
Wrapp'd in th' envenom'd shirt, and set on fire;
How cursed Eriphyle her lord betray'd,
And the dire ambush Clytemnestra laid;
But what most pleased him was the Cretan dame
And husband-bull--Oh, monstrous! fye, for shame!
He had by heart the whole detail of woe
Xantippe made her good man undergo;
How oft she scolded in a day he knew,
How many pisspots on the sage she threw; 390
Who took it patiently, and wiped his head:
'Rain follows thunder,' that was all he said.
He read how Arius to his friend complain'd
A fatal tree was growing in his land,
On which three wives successively had twined
A sliding noose, and waver'd in the wind.
'Where grows this plant,' replied the friend, 'oh! where?
For better fruit did never orchard bear:
Give me some slip of this most blissful tree,
And in my garden planted it shall be!' 400
Then how two wives their lords' destruction prove,
Through hatred one, and one through too much love;
That for her husband mix'd a poisonous draught,
And this for lust an amorous philtre bought:
The nimble juice soon seized his giddy head,
Frantic at night, and in the morning dead.
How some with swords their sleeping lords have slain,
And some have hammer'd nails into their brain,
And some have drench'd them with a deadly potion:
All this he read, and read with great devotion. 410
Long time I heard, and swell'd, and blush'd, and frown'd;
But when no end of these vile tales I found,
When still he read, and laugh'd, and read again,
And half the night was thus consumed in vain,
Provoked to vengeance, three large leaves I tore,
And with one buffet fell'd him on the floor.
With that my husband in a fury rose,
And down he settled me with hearty blows.
I groan'd, and lay extended on my side;
'Oh! thou hast slain me for my wealth!' I cried, 420
'Yet I forgive thee--take my last embrace--'
He wept, kind soul! and stoop'd to kiss my face:
I took him such a box as turn'd him blue,
Then sigh'd, and cried, 'Adieu, my dear, adieu!'
But after many a hearty struggle past,
I condescended to be pleased at last.
Soon as he said, 'My mistress and my wife!
Do what you list the term of all your life,'
I took to heart the merits of the cause,
And stood content to rule by wholesome laws; 430
Received the reins of absolute command,
With all the government of house and land,
And empire o'er his tongue and o'er his hand.
As for the volume that reviled the dames,
'Twas torn to fragments, and condemn'd to flames.
Now, Heaven, on all my husbands gone bestow
Pleasures above for tortures felt below:
That rest they wish'd for, grant them in the grave,
And bless those souls my conduct help'd to save!
PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUES
TO A PLAY FOR MR DENNIS'S BENEFIT, IN 1733, WHEN HE WAS OLD, BLIND, AND
IN GREAT DISTRESS, A LITTLE BEFORE HIS DEATH.
As when that hero, who, in each campaign,
Had braved the Goth, and many a Vandal slain,
Lay fortune-struck, a spectacle of woe!
Wept by each friend, forgiven by every foe:
Was there a generous, a reflecting mind,
But pitied Belisarius, old and blind?
Was there a chief but melted at the sight?
A common soldier, but who clubb'd his mite?
Such, such emotions should in Britons rise,
When press'd by want and weakness Dennis lies; 10
Dennis, who long had warr'd with modern Huns,
Their quibbles routed, and defied their puns;
A desperate bulwark, sturdy, firm, and fierce,
Against the Gothic sons of frozen verse:
How changed from him who made the boxes groan,
And shook the stage with thunders all his own!
Stood up to dash each vain pretender's hope,
Maul the French tyrant, or pull down the Pope!
If there's a Briton then, true bred and born,
Who holds dragoons and wooden shoes in scorn; 20
If there's a critic of distinguished rage;
If there's a senior who contemns this age:
Let him to night his just assistance lend,
And be the critic's, Briton's, old man's friend.
PROLOGUE TO MR ADDISON'S 'CATO.'
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;
To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold,
Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold:
For this the tragic Muse first trod the stage,
Commanding tears to stream through every age;
Tyrants no more their savage nature kept,
And foes to virtue wonder'd how they wept.
Our author shuns by vulgar springs to move
The hero's glory, or the virgin's love; 10
In pitying love, we but our weakness show,
And wild ambition well deserves its woe.
Here tears shall flow from a more generous cause,
Such tears as patriots shed for dying laws:
He bids your breasts with ancient ardour rise,
And calls forth Roman drops from British eyes.
Virtue confess'd in human shape he draws,
What Plato thought, and godlike Cato was:
No common object to your sight displays,
But what with pleasure Heaven itself surveys, 20
A brave man struggling in the storms of fate,
And greatly falling with a falling state.
While Cato gives his little senate laws,
What bosom beats not in his country's cause?
Who sees him act, but envies every deed?
Who hears him groan, and does not wish to bleed?
E'en when proud Caesar, 'midst triumphal cars,
The spoils of nations, and the pomp of wars,
Ignobly vain, and impotently great,
Show'd Rome her Cato's figure drawn in state; 30
As her dead father's reverend image pass'd,
The pomp was darkened, and the day o'ercast;
The triumph ceased, tears gush'd from every eye;
The world's great victor pass'd unheeded by;
Her last good man dejected Rome adored,
And honour'd Caesar's less than Cato's sword.
Britons, attend: be worth like this approved,
And show you have the virtue to be moved.
With honest scorn the first famed Cato view'd
Rome learning arts from Greece, whom she subdued: 40
Your scene precariously subsists too long
On French translation and Italian song.
Dare to have sense yourselves; assert the stage,
Be justly warm'd with your own native rage:
Such plays alone should win a British ear,
As Cato's self had not disdain'd to hear.
PROLOGUE TO THOMSON'S 'SOPHONISBA.'
When Learning, after the long Gothic night,
Fair, o'er the western world, renew'd its light,
With arts arising, Sophonisba rose;
The tragic Muse, returning, wept her woes.
With her th' Italian scene first learn'd to glow,
And the first tears for her were taught to flow:
Her charms the Gallic Muses next inspired;
Corneille himself saw, wonder'd, and was fired.
What foreign theatres with pride have shown,
Britain, by juster title, makes her own. 10
When freedom is the cause, 'tis hers to fight,
And hers, when freedom is the theme, to write.
For this a British author bids again
The heroine rise, to grace the British scene:
Here, as in life, she breathes her genuine flame,
She asks, What bosom has not felt the same?
Asks of the British youth--is silence there?
She dares to ask it of the British fair.
To-night our homespun author would be true,
At once to nature, history, and you. 20
Well pleased to give our neighbours due applause,
He owns their learning, but disdains their laws;
Not to his patient touch, or happy flame,
'Tis to his British heart he trusts for fame.
If France excel him in one freeborn thought,
The man, as well as poet, is in fault.
Nature! informer of the poet's art,
Whose force alone can raise or melt the heart,
Thou art his guide; each passion, every line,
Whate'er he draws to please, must all be thine. 30
Be thou his judge: in every candid breast
Thy silent whisper is the sacred test.
PROLOGUE, DESIGNED FOR MR D'URFEY'S LAST PLAY.
Grown old in rhyme, 'twere barbarous to discard
Your persevering, unexhausted bard;
Damnation follows death in other men,
But your damn'd poet lives and writes again.
The adventurous lover is successful still,
Who strives to please the fair against her will:
Be kind, and make him in his wishes easy,
Who in your own despite has strove to please ye.
He scorn'd to borrow from the wits of yore,
But ever writ, as none e'er writ before. 10
You modern wits, should each man bring his claim,
Have desperate debentures on your fame;
And little would be left you, I'm afraid,
If all your debts to Greece and Rome were paid.
From this deep fund our author largely draws,
Nor sinks his credit lower than it was.
Though plays for honour in old time he made,
'Tis now for better reasons--to be paid.
Believe him, he has known the world too long,
And seen the death of much immortal song. 20
He says, poor poets lost, while players won,
As pimps grow rich, while gallants are undone.
Though Tom the poet writ with ease and pleasure,
The comic Tom abounds in other treasure.
Fame is at best an unperforming cheat;
But 'tis substantial happiness to eat.
Let ease, his last request, be of your giving,
Nor force him to be damn'd to get his living.
PROLOGUE TO 'THE THREE HOURS AFTER MARRIAGE'
Authors are judged by strange capricious rules;
The great ones are thought mad, the small ones fools:
Yet sure the best are most severely fated;
For fools are only laugh'd at, wits are hated.
Blockheads with reason men of sense abhor;
But fool 'gainst fool, is barbarous civil war.
Why on all authors, then, should critics fall?
Since some have writ, and shown no wit at all.
Condemn a play of theirs, and they evade it;
Cry, 'Damn not us, but damn the French, who made it.' 10
By running goods these graceless owlers gain;
Theirs are the rules of France, the plots of Spain;
But wit, like wine, from happier climates brought,
Dash'd by these rogues, turns English common draught.
They pall Molière's and Lopez' sprightly strain,
And teach dull harlequins to grin in vain.
How shall our author hope a gentler fate,
Who dares most impudently not translate?
It had been civil, in these ticklish times,
To fetch his fools and knaves from foreign climes; 20
Spaniards and French abuse to the world's end,
But spare old England, lest you hurt a friend.
If any fool is by our satire bit,
Let him hiss loud, to show you all he's hit.
Poets make characters, as salesmen clothes;
We take no measure of your fops and beaux;
But here all sizes and all shapes you meet,
And fit yourselves, like chaps in Monmouth Street.
Gallants, look here! this fool's cap has an air, 30
Goodly and smart, with ears of Issachar.
Let no one fool engross it, or confine
A common blessing: now 'tis yours, now mine.
But poets in all ages had the care
To keep this cap for such as will, to wear.
Our author has it now (for every wit
Of course resign'd it to the next that writ)
And thus upon the stage 'tis fairly thrown;
Let him that takes it wear it as his own.
EPILOGUE TO MR ROWE'S 'JANE SHORE.'
DESIGNED FOR MRS OLDFIELD.
Prodigious this! the frail one of our play
From her own sex should mercy find to-day!
You might have held the pretty head aside,
Peep'd in your fans, been serious thus, and cried--
'The play may pass--but that strange creature, Shore,
I can't--indeed now--I so hate a whore--'
Just as a blockhead rubs his thoughtless skull,
And thanks his stars he was not born a fool;
So from a sister sinner you shall hear,
'How strangely you expose yourself, my dear!' 10
But let me die, all raillery apart,
Our sex are still forgiving at their heart;
And, did not wicked custom so contrive,
We'd be the best good-natured things alive.
There are, 'tis true, who tell another tale,
That virtuous ladies envy while they rail;
Such rage without, betrays the fire within;
In some close corner of the soul they sin;
Still hoarding up, most scandalously nice,
Amidst their virtues a reserve of vice. 20
The godly dame, who fleshly failings damns,
Scolds with her maid, or with her chaplain crams.
Would you enjoy soft nights and solid dinners?
Faith, gallants, board with saints, and bed with sinners,
Well, if our author in the wife offends,
He has a husband that will make amends;
He draws him gentle, tender, and forgiving;
And sure such kind good creatures may be living.
In days of old, they pardon'd breach of vows,
Stern Cato's self was no relentless spouse: 30
Plu--Plutarch, what's his name that writes his life?
Tells us, that Cato dearly loved his wife:
Yet if a friend, a night or so, should need her,
He'd recommend her as a special breeder.
To lend a wife, few here would scruple make;
But, pray, which of you all would take her back?
Though with the Stoic chief our stage may ring,
The Stoic husband was the glorious thing.
The man had courage, was a sage, 'tis true,
And loved his country--but what's that to you? 40
Those strange examples ne'er were made to fit ye,
But the kind cuckold might instruct the city:
There, many an honest man may copy Cato,
Who ne'er saw naked sword, or look'd in Plato.
If, after all, you think it a disgrace,
That Edward's miss thus perks it in your face;
To see a piece of failing flesh and blood,
In all the rest so impudently good;
Faith, let the modest matrons of the town
Come here in crowds, and stare the strumpet down. 50
The basset-table spread, the tallier come;
Why stays Smilinda in the dressing-room?
Rise, pensive nymph, the tallier waits for you!
Ah, madam, since my Sharper is untrue,
I joyless make my once adored Alpeu.
I saw him stand behind Ombrelia's chair,
And whisper with that soft, deluding air,
And those feign'd sighs which cheat the listening fair.
Is this the cause of your romantic strains?
A mightier grief my heavy heart sustains. 10
As you by love, so I by fortune cross'd,
One, one bad deal, three Septlevas have lost.
Is that the grief, which you compare with mine?
With ease, the smiles of Fortune I resign:
Would all my gold in one bad deal were gone!
Were lovely Sharper mine, and mine alone.
A lover lost, is but a common care;
And prudent nymphs against that change prepare:
The Knave of Clubs thrice lost! Oh! who could guess
This fatal stroke, this unforeseen distress? 20
See Betty Lovet! very _àpropos_
She all the cares of love and play does know:
Dear Betty shall th' important point decide;
Betty, who oft the pain of each has tried;
Impartial, she shall say who suffers most,
By cards' ill usage, or by lovers lost.
Tell, tell your griefs; attentive will I stay,
Though time is precious, and I want some tea.
Behold this equipage, by Mathers wrought,
With fifty guineas (a great pen'orth) bought. 30
See, on the tooth-pick, Mars and Cupid strive;
And both the struggling figures seem alive.
Upon the bottom shines the queen's bright face;
A myrtle foliage round the thimble-case.
Jove, Jove himself, does on the scissors shine;
The metal, and the workmanship, divine!
This snuff-box,--once the pledge of Sharper's love,
When rival beauties for the present strove;
At Corticelli's he the raffle won;
Then first his passion was in public shown: 40
Hazardia blush'd, and turn'd her head aside,
A rival's envy (all in vain) to hide.
This snuff-box,--on the hinge see brilliants shine:
This snuff-box will I stake; the prize is mine.
Alas! far lesser losses than I bear,
Have made a soldier sigh, a lover swear.
And oh! what makes the disappointment hard,
'Twas my own lord that drew the fatal card.
In complaisance, I took the Queen he gave;
Though my own secret wish was for the Knave. 50
The Knave won Sonica, which I had chose;
And the next pull, my Septleva I lose.
But ah! what aggravates the killing smart,
The cruel thought, that stabs me to the heart;
This cursed Ombrelia, this undoing fair,
By whose vile arts this heavy grief I bear;
She, at whose name I shed these spiteful tears,
She owes to me the very charms she wears.
An awkward thing, when first she came to town;
Her shape unfashion'd, and her face unknown: 60
She was my friend; I taught her first to spread
Upon her sallow cheeks enlivening red:
I introduced her to the park and plays;
And, by my interest, Cozens made her stays.
Ungrateful wretch! with mimic airs grown pert,
She dares to steal my favourite lover's heart.
Wretch that I was, how often have I swore,
When Winnall tallied, I would punt no more?
I know the bite, yet to my ruin run;
And see the folly, which I cannot shun. 70
How many maids have Sharper's vows deceived?
How many cursed the moment they believed?
Yet his known falsehood could no warning prove:
Ah! what is warning to a maid in love?
But of what marble must that breast be form'd,
To gaze on basset, and remain unwarm'd?
When Kings, Queens, Knaves, are set in decent rank;
Exposed in glorious heaps the tempting bank,
Guineas, half-guineas, all the shining train;
The winner's pleasure, and the loser's pain: 80
In bright confusion open rouleaus lie,
They strike the soul, and glitter in the eye.
Fired by the sight, all reason I disdain;
My passions rise, and will not bear the rein.
Look upon basset, you who reason boast,
And see if reason must not there be lost.
What more than marble must that heart compose,
Can hearken coldly to my Sharper's vows?
Then, when he trembles, when his blushes rise,
When awful love seems melting in his eyes! 90
With eager beats his Mechlin cravat moves:
He loves!--I whisper to myself--he loves!
Such unfeign'd passion in his looks appears,
I lose all memory of my former fears;
My panting heart confesses all his charms,
I yield at once, and sink into his arms:
Think of that moment, you who prudence boast;
For such a moment, prudence well were lost.
At the groom-porter's, batter'd bullies play,
Some dukes at Mary-bone bowl time away. 100
But who the bowl or rattling dice compares
To basset's heavenly joys, and pleasing cares?
Soft Simplicetta dotes upon a beau;
Prudina likes a man, and laughs at show.
Their several graces in my Sharper meet;
Strong as the footman, as the master sweet.
Cease your contention, which has been too long;
I grow impatient, and the tea's too strong.
Attend, and yield to what I now decide;
The equipage shall grace Smilinda's side: 110
The snuff-box to Cardelia I decree.
Now leave complaining, and begin your tea.
ON RECEIVING FROM THE EIGHT HON. THE LADY FRANCES SHIRLEY A STANDISH
AND TWO PENS.
1 Yes, I beheld the Athenian queen
Descend in all her sober charms;
'And take,' she said, and smiled serene,
'Take at this hand celestial arms:
2 'Secure the radiant weapons wield;
This golden lance shall guard desert;
And if a vice dares keep the field,
This steel shall stab it to the heart.'
3 Awed, on my bended knees I fell,
Received the weapons of the sky;
And dipp'd them in the sable well,
The fount of fame or infamy.
4 'What well? what weapon?' Flavia cries--
'A standish, steel, and golden pen!
It came from Bertrand's, not the skies;
I gave it you to write again.
5 'But, friend, take heed whom you attack;
You'll bring a house (I mean of peers)
Red, blue, and green, nay, white and black,
L---- and all about your ears.
6 'You'd write as smooth again on glass,
And run, on ivory, so glib,
As not to stick at fool or ass,
Nor stop at flattery or fib.
7 'Athenian queen! and sober charms!
I tell ye, fool, there's nothing in't:
'Tis Venus, Venus gives these arms;
In Dryden's Virgil see the print.
8 'Come, if you'll be a quiet soul,
That dares tell neither truth nor lies,
I'll list you in the harmless roll
Of those that sing of these poor eyes.'
VERBATIM FROM BOILEAU.
UN JOUR DIT UN AUTEUR, ETC.
Once (says an author--where I need not say)
Two travellers found an oyster in their way;
Both fierce, both hungry; the dispute grew strong,
While, scale in hand, Dame Justice pass'd along.
Before her each with clamour pleads the laws,
Explain'd the matter and would win the cause.
Dame Justice, weighing long the doubtful right,
Takes, opens, swallows it, before their sight.
The cause of strife removed so rarely well,
'There,--take' (says Justice) 'take ye each a shell.
We thrive at Westminster on fools like you:
'Twas a fat oyster--live in peace--adieu.'
ANSWER TO THE FOLLOWING QUESTION OF MRS HOWE.
What is prudery?
'Tis a bledam,
Seen with wit and beauty seldom.
'Tis a fear that starts at shadows.
Tis, (no, 'tisn't) like Miss Meadows.
'Tis a virgin hard of feature,
Old, and void of all good-nature;
Lean and fretful; would seem wise;
Yet plays the fool before she dies.
'Tis an ugly, envious shrew,
That rails at dear Lepell and you.
OCCASIONED BY SOME VERSES OF HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM.
Muse, 'tis enough: at length thy labour ends,
And thou shalt live, for Buckingham commends,
Let crowds of critics now my verse assail,
Let Dennis write, and nameless numbers rail:
This more than pays whole years of thankless pain;
Time, health, and fortune are not lost in vain,
Sheffield approves, consenting Phoebus bends,
And I and Malice from this hour are friends.
MACER: A CHARACTER.
When simple Macer, now of high renown,
First sought a poet's fortune in the town,
'Twas all the ambition his high soul could feel,
To wear red stockings, and to dine with Steele.
Some ends of verse his betters might afford,
And gave the harmless fellow a good word.
Set up with these, he ventured on the town,
And with a borrow'd play, out-did poor Crowne.
There he stopp'd short, nor since has writ a tittle,
But has the wit to make the most of little: 10
Like stunted, hide-bound trees that just have got
Sufficient sap at once to bear and rot.
Now he begs verse, and what he gets commends,
Not of the wits, his foes, but fools, his friends.
So some coarse country wench, almost decay'd,
Trudges to town, and first turns chambermaid;
Awkward and supple, each devoir to pay,
She flatters her good lady twice a-day;
Thought wondrous honest, though of mean degree,
And strangely liked for her simplicity:
In a translated suit, then tries the town,
With borrow'd pins, and patches not her own:
But just endured the winter she began,
And in four months a batter'd harridan.
Now nothing left, but wither'd, pale, and shrunk,
To bawd for others, and go shares with punk.
BY A PERSON OF QUALITY, WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1733.
1 Fluttering, spread thy purple pinions,
Gentle Cupid, o'er my heart,
I a slave in thy dominions;
Nature must give way to art.
2 Mild Arcadians, ever blooming,
Nightly nodding o'er your flocks,
See my weary days consuming,
All beneath yon flowery rocks.
3 Thus the Cyprian goddess, weeping,
Mourn'd Adonis, darling youth:
Him the boar, in silence creeping,
Gored with unrelenting tooth.
4 Cynthia, tune harmonious numbers;
Fair Discretion, string the lyre;
Soothe my ever-waking slumbers:
Bright Apollo, lend thy choir.
5 Gloomy Pluto, king of terrors,
Arm'd in adamantine chains,
Lead me to the crystal mirrors,
Watering soft Elysian plains.
6 Mournful cypress, verdant willow,
Gilding my Aurelia's brows,
Morpheus hovering o'er my pillow,
Hear me pay my dying vows.
7 Melancholy smooth Maeander,
Swiftly purling in a round,
On thy margin lovers wander,
With thy flowery chaplets crown'd.
8 Thus when Philomela, drooping,
Softly seeks her silent mate,
See the bird of Juno stooping;
Melody resigns to fate.
ON A CERTAIN LADY AT COURT.
1 I know the thing that's most uncommon;
(Envy be silent, and attend!)
I know a reasonable woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a friend.
2 Not warp'd by passion, awed by rumour,
Not grave through pride, or gay through folly,
An equal mixture of good humour,
And sensible soft melancholy.
3 'Has she no faults, then (Envy says), sir?'
Yes, she has one, I must aver:
When all the world conspires to praise her,
The woman's deaf, and does not hear.
ON HIS GROTTO AT TWICKENHAM,
COMPOSED OF MARBLES, SPARS, GEMS, ORES, AND MINERALS.
Thou who shalt stop, where Thames' translucent wave
Shines a broad mirror through the shadowy cave;
Where lingering drops from mineral roofs distil,
And pointed crystals break the sparkling rill,
Unpolish'd gems no ray on pride bestow,
And latent metals innocently glow:
Approach! Great Nature studiously behold!
And eye the mine without a wish for gold.
Approach: but awful! lo! the Aegerian grot,
Where, nobly-pensive, St John sate and thought;
Where British sighs from dying Wyndham stole,
And the bright flame was shot through Marchmont's soul.
Let such, such only, tread this sacred floor,
Who dare to love their country, and be poor!
After VER. 6, in the MS.--
Yon see that island's wealth, where, only free,
Earth to her entrails feels not tyranny.
--i.e. Britain is the only place on the globe which feels not tyranny
even to its very entrails. Alluding to the condemnation of criminals to
the mines, one of the inflictions of civil justice in most countries--W.
VER. 11, in MS. it was thus--
To Wyndham's breast the patriot passions stole.
ROXANA, OR THE DRAWING-ROOM.
Roxana, from the Court returning late,
Sigh'd her soft sorrow at St James's gate:
Such heavy thoughts lay brooding in her breast,
Not her own chairmen with more weight oppress'd:
They curse the cruel weight they're doom'd to bear;
She in more gentle sounds express'd her care.
'Was it for this, that I these roses wear?
For this, new-set the jewels for my hair?
Ah, Princess! with what zeal have I pursued!
Almost forgot the duty of a prude. 10