A Letter from Artemesia in the Town to Chloe in the Country by John Wilmot
In verse by your command I write. Shortly you'll bid me ride astride, and fight: These talents better with our sex agree Than lofty flights of dangerous poetry. Amongst the men, I mean the men of wit (At least they passed for such before they writ), How many bold adventureers for the bays, Proudly designing large returns of praise, Who durst that stormy, pathless world explore, Were soon dashed back, and wrecked on the dull shore, Broke of that little stock they had before! How would a woman's tottering bark be tossed Where stoutest ships, the men of wit, are lost? When I reflect on this, I straight grow wise, And my own self thus gravely I advise: --Dear Artemesia, poetry's a snare; Bedlam has many mansions; have a care. Your muse diverts you, makes the reader sad: Consider, too, 'twill be discreetly done To make yourself the fiddle of the town, To find th' ill-humored pleasure at their need, Cursed if you fail, and scorned though you succeed! Thus, like an errant woman as I am, No sooner well convinced writing's a shame, That whore is scarce a more reproachful name Than poetess- Like men that marry, or like maids that woo, 'Cause 'tis the very worst thing they can do, Pleased with the contradiction and the sin, Methinks I stand n thorns till I begin. --Y' expect at least to hear what loves have passed In this lewd town, since you and I met last; What change has happened of intrigues, and whether The old ones last, and who and who's together. But how, my dearest Chloe, shall I set My pet to write what I would fain forget? Or name that lost thing, love, without a tear, Since so debauched by ill-bred customs here? Love, the most generous passion of the mind, The softest refuge innocence can find, The safe director of unguided youth, Fraught with kind wishes, and secured by truth; That cordial drop heaven in our cup has thrown To make the nauseous draught of life go down; On which one only blessing; God might raise In lands of atheists, subsidies of praise, For none did e'er so dull and stupid prove But felt a god, and blessed his power in love - This only joy for which poor we were made Is grown, like play, to be an arrant trade. The rooks creep in, and it has got of late As many little cheats and tricks as that. --But what yet more a woman's heart would vex, 'Tis chiefly carried on by our own sex; Our silly sex! who, born like monarchs free, turn gypsies for a meaner liberty, And hate restraint, though but from infamy. They call whatever is not common, nice, And deaf to nature's rule, or love's advice, Forsake the pleasure to pursue the vice. To an exact perfection they have wrought The action, love; the passion is forgot. 'Tis below wit, they tell you, to admire, And ev'n without approving, they desire. Their private wish obeys the public vice; 'Twixt good and bad, whimsey decides, not choice. Fashions grow up for taste; at forms they strike; They know what they would have, not what they like. Bovey's a beauty, of some few agree To call him so; the rest to that degree Affected are, that with their ears they see. --Where I was visiting the other night Comes a fine lady, with her humble knight, Who had prevailed on her, through her own skill, At his request, thought much against his will, To come to London. As the coach stopped, we heard her voice, more loud Than a great-bellied woman's in a crowd, Telling the knight that her affairs require He, for some hours, obsequiously retire. I think she was ashamed to have him seen: Hard fate of husbands! The gallant had been, Though a diseased, ill-favored fool, brought in. "Dispatch," says she, "that business you pretend, Your beastly visit to your drunken friend! A bottle ever makes you look so fine; Methinks I long to smell you stink of wine! Your country drinking breath's enough to kill: Sour ale corrected with a lemon peel. Prithee, farewell! We'll meet again anon." The necessary thing bows, and is gone. --She flies upstairs, and all the haste does show That fifty antic postures will allow, And then bursts out: "Dear madam, am not I The altered'st creature breathing? Let me die, I find myself ridiculously grown, Embarassee with being out of town, Rude and untaught like any Indian queen: My country nakedness is strangely seen. --"How is love governed, love that rules the state, And pray, who are the men most worn of late? When I was married, fools were a la mode. The men of wit were then held incommode, Slow of belief, and fickle in desire, Who, ere they'll be persuaded, must inquire As if they came to spy, not to admire. With searching wisdom, fatal to their ease, They still find out why what may, should not please; Nay, take themselves for injured when we dare Make 'em think better of us than we are, And if we hide our frailties from their sights, Call us deceitful jilts and hypocrites. They little guess, who at our arts are grieved, The perfect joy of being well deceived; Inquisitive as jealous cuckolds grow: Rather than not be knowing, they will know What, being known, creates their certain woe. Women should these, of all mankind avoid, For wonder by clear knowledge is destroyed. Woman, who is an arrant bird of knight, Bold in the dusk before a fool's dull sight, Should fly when reason brings the glaring light. --"But the kind, easy fool, apt to admire Himself, trusts us; his follies all conspire To flatter his, and favor our desire. Vain of his proper merit, he with ease Believes we love him best who best can please. On him our gross, dull, common flatteries pass, Ever most joyful when most made an ass. Heavy to apprehend, though all mankind Perceive us false, the fop concerned is blind, Who, doting on himself, Thinks everyone that sees him of his mind. These are true women's men."
-------------------------- Here forced to cease Through want of breath, not will to hold her peace, She to the window runs, where she had spied Her much esteemed dear friend, the monkey, tied. With forty smiles, as many antic bows, As if 't had been the lady of the house, The dirty, chattering monster she embraced, And made it this fine, tender speech at last: "Kiss me, thou curious miniature of man! How odd thou art! how pretty! how japan! Oh, I could live and die with thee!" Then on For half an hour in compliment she run. --I took this time to think what nature meant When this mixed thing into the world she sent, So very wise, yet so impertinent: One who knew everything; who, God thought fit, Should be an ass through choice, not want of wit; Whose foppery, without the help of sense, Could ne'er have rose to such an excellence. Nature's as lame in making a true fop As a philosopher; the very top And dignity of folly we attain By studious search, and labor of the brain, By observation, counsel, and deep thought: God never made a coxcomb worth a groat. We owe that name to industry and arts: An eminent fool must be a fool of parts. And such a one was she, who had turned o'er As many books as men; loved much, read more; Had a discerning wit; to her was known Everyone's fault and merit, but her own. All the good qualities that ever blessed A woman so distinguished from the rest, Except discretion only, she possessed. --But now, "Mon cher dear Pug," she cries, "adieu!" And the discourse broke off does thus renew: --"You smile to see me, whom the world perchance Mistakes to have some wit, so far advance The interest of fools, that I approve Their merit, more than men's of wit, in love. But, in our sex, too many proofs there are Of such whom wits undo, and fools repair. This, in my time, was so observed a rule Hardly a wench in town but had her fool. The meanest common slut, who long was grown The jest and scorn of every pit buffoon, Had yet left charms enough to have subdued Some fop or other, fond to be thought lewd. Foster could make an Irish lord a Nokes, And Betty Morris had her City cokes. A woman's ne'er so ruined but she can Be still revenged on her undoer, man; How lost so'er, she'll find some lover, more A lewd, abandoned fool than she a whore. --"That wretched thing Corinna, who had run Through all the several ways of being undone, Cozened at first by love, and living then By turning the too dear-bought trick on men - Gay were the hours, and winged with joys they flew, When first the town her early beauties knew; Courted, admired, and loved, with presents fed; Youth in her looks, and pleasure in her bed; Till fate, or her ill angel, thought it fit To make her dote upon a man of wit, Who found 'twas dull to love above a day; Made his ill-natured jest, and went away. Now scorned by all, forsaken, and oppressed, She's a momento mori to the rest; Diseased, decayed, to take up half a crown Must mortgage her long scarf and manteau gown. Poor creature! who, unheard of as a fly, In some dark hole must all the winter lie, And want and dirt endure a while half year That for one month she tawdry may appear. --"In Easter Term she gets her a new gown, When my young master's worship comes to town, From pedagogue and mother just set free, The heir and hopes of a great family; Which, with strong ale and beef, the country rules, And ever since the Conquest have been fools. And now, with careful prospect to maintain The character, lest crossing of the strain Should mend the booby breed, his friends provide A cousin of his own to be his bride. And thus set out With an estate, no wit, and a young wife (The solid comforts of a coxcomb's life), Dunghill and pease forsook, he comes to town, Turns spark, learns to be lewd, and is undone. Nothing suits worse with vice than want of sense: Fools are still wicked at their own expense. --"This o'ergrown schoolboy lost Corinna wins, And at first dash to make an ass begins: Pretends to like a man who has not known The vanities nor vices of the town; Fresh in his youth, and faithful in his love; Eager of joys which he does seldom prove; Healthful and strong, he does no pains endure But what the fair one he adores can cure; Grateful for favors, does the sex esteem, And libels none for being kind to him; Then of the lewdness of the times complains: Rails at the wits and atheists, and maintains 'Tis better than good sense, than power or wealth, To have a love untainted, youth, and health. --"The unbred puppy, who had never seen A creature look so gay, or talk so fine, Believes, then falls in love, and then in debt; Mortgages all, ev'n to the ancient seat, To buy this mistress a new house for life; To give her plate and jewels, robs his wife. And when t' th' height of fondness he is grown, 'Tis time to poison him, and all's her own. Thus meeting in her common arms his fate, He leaves her bastard heir to his estate, And, as the race of such an owl deserves, His own dull lawful progeny he starves. --"Nature, who never made a thing in vain, But does each insect to some end ordain, Wisely contrived kind keeping fools, no doubt, To patch up vices men of wit wear out." Thus she ran on two hours, some grains of sense Still mixed with volleys of impertinence. --But now 'tis time I should some pity show To Chloe, since I cannot choose but know Readers must reap the dullness writers sow. But the next post such stories I will tell As, joined with these, shall to a volumn swell, As true as heaven, more infamous than hell. But you are tired, and so am I. Farewell.