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Poems and Translations

The Rights of Woman

To the Hon. Mrs. M.

Most histories by men were taught,
And therefore may be partial thought,
As said the lion when he view’d,
A picture of himself subdu’d,
“Had this been drawn by us, good sir,
The lion had been conqueror;”
So women would have equal glory,
Had they recorded ancient story.
But let it as it is remain,
Our rights and dignity are plain;
Woman was taken from man’s side,
To be his equal and his bride:
While he was made of common earth,
She from his rib deriv’d her birth;
(Tho’ some effect from hence to trace
Our sex a crooked, stubborn race)
Yet if we argue from the part,
She should be nearest to his heart
Their dignity and int’rest one,
Not slave-like to be trod upon.
Satan, the origin of ill,
Says Milton shew’d consummate skill;
He first assail’d our mother Eve,
Knowing that fort could he achieve,
Adam would follow without strife,
As being govern’d by his wife;
Thus older than the rights of kings,
Men follow’d women’s leading strings:
And thus we have prescription full,
To found our early right to rule.
Nor let yon bearded Rabbi tell us,
Heav’n of his character was jealous,
And send down luckless woman later,
Lest man should tax it with ill-nature[1];
Did not the Jew, whose prowess damps one,
The strongest man—I mean brave Sampson,
Tho’ unsubdued by gold or arms,
Yield to Dalilah’s wit and charms?
David a chosen monarch deem’d,
By Heav’n itself the most esteem’d,
From youth to age discreetly shew’d,
He thought our sex the choicest good;
And Solomon, his son, we find,
Pronounc’d the wisest of mankind,
Rejecting fame as worthless stuff,
Thought he had never wives enough;
Till growing gouty, cross and old,
He sought for bliss in courts and gold:
Then gravely told us with a sigh,
That all was grief and vanity!
We could count over, if you please, sirs,
Your Alexanders, Pompeys, Cæsars,
Who with submission most discreet,
Laid their proud laurels at our feet;
And Antony, who died to prove,
He valued empires less than love.
Tho’ Homer in a mood uncivil,
Pronounc’d our sex “the greatest evil,”
Some reason for his spleen we find—
The bard was old, and poor, and blind.
Euripides desir’d to know
What business he had here below?
Nay swore—and some have thought him right,
The gods created us thro’ spite:
But both Euripides and Homer,
Recanted humbly the misnomer;
And own’d, in many an oft-told story,
That “virtuous wives are crowns of glory!”
What says the fam’d Milesian sage[2]?
“Let woman rule the middle age;”
Because experience tells us plain,
The middle age is wisdom’s reign.
Great Solon published this decree—
“Let lords and ladies equal be;”
Bias, the wisest of the sev’n,
Thought women smooth’d the way to heav’n;
And Zeno kindly deign’d to prove,
‘A wise man’s duty is to love.’
Our foes pretend the bean-despiser[3],
Than all philosophers was wiser,
Because he bids us on a foe
A wife, the surest scourge, bestow:
By which a certain proof is carried,
That grave Pythagoras was married.
The oracle of Athens[4] thought
A wife the best of virtues taught;
For patience as he often found,
Is balsam to the deepest wound.
Pert Plato, tho’ he bless’d his fate,
He was not born to share our state;
Forsook philosophy’s dry mazes,
To buy a smile from Agathäis.
Diogenes, whose surly highness
Took lodgings in an empty wine press,
Once from his neighbour’s fig-tree pendant,
Spied Eve’s unfortunate descendant:
And wish’d his cynic taste to suit,
All fig-trees bore such comely fruit;
By which ’tis plainly understood,
He thought the fruit was wond’rous good.
But if our comment is not right,
This doctor had a doubtful sight;
For honest men he miss’d his way to,
Without a lanthorn’s aid by day too.
Then he—the Stagyrite sublime,
Who fix’d the bounds of space and time,
Cynics! your satires to retort all,
Wish’d that his wife might be immortal;
But not because, as you have hinted,
Nor place nor time her prattle stinted[5].
Cato, the all-dismaying censor,
To chide a wife would never venture;
He deem’d a quiet spouse as great
As any minister of state[6];
And many a striking proof could bring,
“That woman is a sacred thing.”
Wise Cicero—O how I prize him[7]!
Vow’d none but woman should advise him;
And form’d, no doubt, this resolution,
Because she shines in elocution.
Ev’n Horace, lord of wit benign,
High priest of liberty and wine;
Renounc’d the laurel for the myrtle,
And coo’d to Lydia like a turtle.
Just Plutarch[8] bids us keep the keys,
That husbands may be ruled with ease;
For, says th’ historian, “’Tis confest,
Wives always manage these things best:
Of ways to govern we know four,
But women teach a thousand more.”
Demosthenes, the learned Grecian,
Great orator and politician,
Evinc’d beyond all logic’s strife,
The world was govern’d by his wife.
“Greece can all nations overthrow,
And Athens rules all Greece, you know;
Govern’d by me the state with ease is,
And my wife rules me as she pleases.”
Thus argued he—and authors tell,
No politician schem’d so well.
Brahma[9], a godlike legislator,
Thus speaks the law of truth and nature,
“Husbands! ye owe your future lives,
Wealth, peace, and honour, to your wives,”
By which he institutes as nurses,
Each of their characters and purses.
Great Mahomet, whom half mankind
A sage and prophet have enshrin’d,
Declar’d for mortals could be made,
No paradise without our aid.
And gravely said, if Beauty gave
One kiss to the tempestuous wave,
Its rage and bitterness would cease,
And ocean be the realm of peace[10]:
Tho’ some report he could not find
Five peaceful souls in woman kind[11].
Fam’d Montesquieu, the prince of sages,
Delight and pride of later ages,
Romans! your ancient pow’r derives,
From due obedience to your wives[12]
And tho’, when infidels addressing,
He calls a speechless wife a blessing;
He tells us in decisive tone
The right of empire is our own!
Philosophers! your votes collected,
Let kings and poets be respected;
Historic Muse, descend and tell,
How oft we rul’d them, and how well!
Shrewed reasoners suspect, you say, sirs,
That some were made and some were traitors;
What means this hypercritic fuss?
They manag’d all the world but us.
But spare the endless list of dead bards,
And count our Henrys and our Edwards;
Tell us how Europe was persuaded,
We ruled their realms as well as they did:
How many Margarets and Marys
Made wisdom’s sons their secretaries;
Taught us the perfect art of swaying,
And man the duty of obeying.
Czar Peter’s theory exact is,
But ’twas a woman shew’d the practice;
Has not immortal Fred’ric told us,
He always trembled to behold us?
Great Henry, ’midst triumphant laurels
Found woman umpire of his quarrels;
And Charles, who fill’d the world with pale fears,
Thought any jargon fit for male ears:
But never hoping to subdue us,
Dar’d only lisp Italian to us[13].
Then, tho’ Macön’s intrepid council,
Our sex a soul-less race pronounc’d still,
(Nay, publish’d the decree nem con,
Or only negativ’d by one).
St. Peter’s deputies acknowledge,
One woman worth the sacred college[14].
The land of poets to our race owes,
Her Petrarchs and her Metastatios;
And Raphael his sublimest science,
With beauty found in strict alliance.
What British bards have said and writ,
To prove our gentle empire fit,
Might in a thousand rhymes be vaunted,
And fill octavos—if ’twere wanted.
A Pope supreme in wit declar’d
That “woman could not well be spar’d;
If to her share some errors fall
Behold her and they vanish all!”
Our roughest enemy grew mellow,
Warm’d by the beaming eye of Stella,
And vow’d the virtues which become man,
Are quite as excellent in woman!
But let us with their votes dispense,
We ask no farther evidence.
Creation’s lords! your charter bring,
Be every one at home a king;
But none will claim except a brute,
To be a monarch absolute.
’Tis the wife’s province, we aver,
To be her chief’s prime minister;
Accountable for each home measure,
To fill each office at her pleasure:
Keep of the treasury the keys,
Give good advice, tho’ it may teaze.
Each has their sphere, as is the fact,
’Tis hers to counsel, his to act:
His be the sceptre, hers the string[15],

  1. See the Talmud.
  2. Thales of Miletus. B.C. 548.
  3. Pythagoras.
  4. Socrates.
  5. Aristotle idolized his learned wife Aspasia.
  6. See Plutarch’s Life of Cato the Elder.
  7. See his Letters to Terentia.
  8. In his Lives of Agis and Anthony.
  9. See Hindoo Institutes.
  10. From the Koran.
  11. See Abubekr’s Life of the Prophet.
  12. L'Espion Ture.
  13. Charles V. used to say he would speak Dutch, German, or Spanish upon other occasions, but only Italian to his mistress.
  14. The Pope’s dominions in Italy were chiefly derived from a grant made by Maria, Countess of Tuscany.
  15. Either the leading-string or the purse-string.