Verse > Anthologies > J. C. Squire, ed. > A Book of Women’s Verse
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J. C. Squire, ed.  A Book of Women’s Verse.  1921.
 
An Epistle to Lady Bowyer
By Mary Jones (?–1778)
 
HOW much of paper ’s spoil’d! what floods of ink!
And yet how few, how very few can think!
The knack of writing is an easy trade;
But to think well requires—at least a head.
Once in an age, one genius may arise,        5
With wit well cultur’d, and with learning wise:
Like some tall oak, behold his branches shoot!
No tender scions springing at the root.
Whilst lofty Pope erects his laurell’d head,
No lays, like mine, can live beneath his shade:        10
Nothing but weeds and moss, and shrubs are found:
Cut, cut them down, why cumber they the ground?
And yet you’d have me write? For what? for whom?
To curl a favourite in a dressing room?
To mend a candle when the snuff’s too short?        15
Or save rappee for chamber-maids at court?
Glorious ambition! noble thirst of fame!
No, but you’d have me write—to get a name.
Alas! I’d live unknown, unenvy’d too;
’Tis more than Pope with all his wit can do;        20
’Tis more than you, with wit and beauty join’d,
A pleasing form and a discerning mind.
The world and I are no such cordial friends;
I have my purpose, they their various ends.
I say my prayers, and lead a sober life,        25
Nor laugh at Cornus, or at Cornus’ wife.
What ’s fame to me, who pray, and pay my rent?
If my friends know me honest, I’m content.
  Well, but the joy to see my works in print!
Myself too pictur’d in a mezzo-tint!        30
The preface done, the dedication fram’d,
With lies enough to make a lord asham’d!
Thus I step forth; an authoress in some sort:
My patron’s name? ‘O choose some lord at court.
‘One that has money which he does not use,        35
‘One you may flatter much, that is, abuse.
‘For if you’re nice, and cannot change your note,
‘Regardless of the trimm’d or untrimm’d coat,
‘Believe me, friend, you’ll ne’er be worth a groat.’
  Well then, to cut this mighty matter short,        40
I’ve neither friend, nor interest, at court.
Quite from St. James’s to thy stairs, Whitehall,
I hardly know a creature, great or small,
Except one maid of honour, worth them all.
I have no business there—Let those attend        45
The courtly levee, or the courtly friend,
Who more than fate allows them dare to spend.
Or those whose avarice, with much, craves more,
The pension’d beggar, or the titled poor.
These are the thriving breed, the tiny great!        50
Slaves! wretched slaves! the journeymen of state!
Philosophers! who calmly bear disgrace,
Patriots who sell their country for a place!
Shall I for these disturb my brains with rhyme?
For these, like Bavius, creep, or Glencus, climb?        55
Shall I go late to rest, and early rise,
To be the very creature I despise?
With face unmov’d, my poem in my hand,
Cringe to the porter, with the footman stand?
Perhaps my lady’s maid, if not too proud,        60
Will stoop, you’ll say, to wink me from the crowd;
Will entertain me till his lordship ’s drest,
With what my lady eats, and how she rests:
How much she gave for such a birth-day gown,
And how she trampt to every shop in town.        65
Sick at the news, impatient for my lord,
I’m forced to hear, nay smile, at every word.
Tom raps at last,—‘his lordship begs to know
‘Your name? your business?’—Sir, I’m not a foe;
I come to charm his lordship’s listening ears        70
With verses, soft as music of the spheres.
‘Verses!—alas! his lordship seldom reads:
‘Pedants indeed with learning stuff their heads;
‘But my good lord, as all the world can tell,
‘Reads not even tradesmen’s bills, and scorns to spell.        75
‘But trust your lays with me—some things I’ve read,
‘Was born a poet, tho’ no poet bred:
‘And if I find they’ll bear my nicer view,
‘I’ll recommend your poetry—and you.’
Shock’d at his civil impudence, I start,        80
Pocket my poem, and in haste depart;
Resolv’d no more to offer up my wit,
Where footmen in the seat of critics sit.
  Is there a Lord whose great unspotted soul,
Not places, pensions, ribbons can controul;        85
Unlac’d, unpowder’d, almost unobserv’d,
Eats not on silver while his train are starv’d;
Who, tho’ to nobles or to kings ally’d,
Dares walk on foot, while slaves in coaches ride;
With merit humble, and with greatness free,        90
Has bow’d to Freeman, and has din’d with me;
Who, bred in foreign courts, and early known,
Has yet to learn the cunning of his own;
To titles born, yet heir to no estate,
And harder still, too honest to be great?        95
If such an one there be, well-bred, polite,
To him I’ll dedicate, for him I’ll write.
  Peace to the rest—I can be no man’s slave;
I ask for nothing, tho’ I nothing have.
By fortune humbled, yet not sunk so low        100
To shame a friend, or fear to meet a foe.
Meanness, in ribbons or in rags, I hate;
And have not learnt to flatter, even the great.
Few friends I ask, and those who love me well;
What more remains, these artless lines shall tell.        105
  Of honest parents, not of great, I came;
Not known to fortune, quite unknown to fame,
Frugal and plain, at no man’s cost they eat,
Nor knew a baker’s or a butcher’s debt.
O be their precepts ever in my eye!        110
For one has learnt to live, and one to die.
Long may her widow’d age by Heaven be lent
Among my blessings! and I’m well content.
I ask no more, but in some calm retreat,
To sleep in quiet, and in quiet eat.        115
No noisy slaves attending round my room;
My viands wholesome, and my waiters dumb.
No orphans cheated, and no widow’s curse,
No household lord, for better or for worse.
No monstrous sums to tempt my soul to sin,        120
But just enough to keep me plain and clean.
And if sometimes, to smooth the rugged way,
Charlotte should smile, or you approve my lay,
Enough for me—I cannot put my trust
In lords; smile lies, eat toads, or lick the dust.        125
Fortune her favours much too dear may hold:
An honest heart is worth its weight in gold.
 
 
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