« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
JANUARY AND MAY.
THERE lived in Lombardy, as authors write,
In days of old, a wise and worthy knight;
Of gentle manners, as of generous race,
Bless'd with much sense, more riches, and some
Yet led astray by Venus' soft delights, [grace:
He scarce could rule some idle appetites:
For long ago, let priests say what they could,
Weak sinful laymen were but flesh and blood.
But in due time, when sixty years were o'er,
He vow'd to lead this vicious life no more;
Whether pure holiness inspired his mind,
Or dotage turn'd his brain, is hard to find;
But his high courage prick'd him forth to wed,
And try the pleasures of a lawful bed.
This was his nightly dream, his daily care,
And to the heavenly powers his constant prayer,
Once, ere he died, to taste the blissful life
Of a kind husband and a loving wife.
These thoughts he fortified with reasons still (For none want reasons to confirm their will.) Grave authors say, and witty poets sing, That honest wedlock is a glorious thing: But depth of judgment most in him appears, Who wisely weds in his maturer years. Then let him choose a damsel young and fair, To bless his age, and bring a worthy heir; To sooth his cares, and, free from noise and strife, Conduct him gently to the verge of life.
Let sinful bachelors their woes deplore,
Full well they merit all they feel, and more:
Unawed by precepts, human or divine,
Like birds and beasts, promiscuously they join ;
Nor know to make the present blessing last,
To hope the future, or esteem the past:
But vainly boast the joys they never tried,
And find divulged the secrets they would hide.
The married man may bear his yoke with ease,
Secure at once himself and Heaven to please;
And his inoffensive hours away,
In bliss all night, and innocence all day: [mains, Though Fortune change, his constant spouse reAugments his joys, or mitigates his pains.
But what so pure which envious tongues will
Some wicked wits have libell'd all the fair.
With matchless impudence they style a wife
The dear-bought curse, and lawful plague of life;
A bosom serpent, a domestic evil,
A night-invasion, and a mid-day devil.
Let not the wise these slanderous words regard,
But curse the bones of every lying bard.
All other goods by Fortune's hand are given,
A wife is the peculiar gift of Heaven.
Vain Fortune's favours, never at a stay,
Like empty shadows, pass, and glide away;
One solid comfort, our eternal wife,
Abundantly supplies us all our life :
This blessing lasts (if those who try say true)
As long as heart can wish—and longer too.
Our grandsire Adam, ere of Eve possess'd,
Alone, and e'en in Paradise unbless'd,
With mournful looks the blissful scenes survey'd,
And wander'd in the solitary shade.
The Maker saw, took pity, and bestow'd
Woman, the last, the best reserved of God.
A wife! ah, gentle deities! can he
That has a wife e'er feel adversity?
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:
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 the' 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.
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; But gracious Heaven has oped my eyes at last, With due regret 1 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:
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 bean-straw, and tough forage at the best.
No crafty widows shall approach my bed;
These are too wise for bachelors to wed.
As subtle clerks by many schools are made,
Twice married dames are mistresses o' the' trade:
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;
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.
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
The vital sap then rising from below. [snow,
Old as I am, my lusty limbs appear
Like winter greens, that flourish all the year.
Now, sirs, ye 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:
Marriage, the theme on which they all declaim'd,
Some praised with wit, and some with reason
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!
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 own 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, My word was this, "Your honour's in the right." The' assuming wit, who deems himself so wise As his mistaken patron to advise,