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"When you my ravish'd predecessor saw,
You were not then become this man of straw;
Had you been such, you might have 'scap'd the law
Is this the custom of king Arthur's court?
Are all round-table knights of such a sort?
Remember I am she who sav'd your life,
Your loving, lawful, and complying wife :
Not thus you swore in your unhappy hour,
Nor I for this return employ'd my power.
In time of need, I was your faithful friend;
Nor did I since, nor ever will offend.
Believe me, my lov'd lord, 'tis much unkind;
What Fury has possess'd your alter'd mind?
Thus on my wedding-night without pretence
Come turn this way, or tell me my offence.
If not your wife, let reason's rule persuade;
Name but my fault, amends shall soon be made.'
"Amends! nay that's impossible," said he ;
"What change of age or ugliness can be?
Or, could Medea's magic mend thy face,
Thou art descended from so mean a race,
That never knight was match'd with such disgrace.
What wonder, madam, if I move my side,
When, if I turn, I turn to such a bride ?"
"And is this all that troubles you so sore?"
"And what the devil could'st thou wish me more?"
"Ah, Benedicite," reply'd the crone :
"Then cause of just complaining have you none,
The remedy to this were soon apply'd,
Would you be like the bridegroom to the bride
But, for you say a long descended race,
And wealth, and dignity, and power, and place,
Make gentlemen, and that your high degree
Is much disparag'd to be match'd with me;
Know this, my lord, nobility of blood
Is but a glittering and fallacious good:
The nobleman is he whose noble mind
Is fill'd with inborn worth, unborrow'd from his kind.
The King of Heaven was in a manger laid;
And took his earth but from an humble maid;
Then what can birth, or mortal men, bestow?
Since floods no higher than their fountains flow
We, who for name and empty honour strive,
Our true nobility from him derive.
Your ancestors, who puff your mind with pride,
And vast estates to mighty titles ty'd,
Did not your honour, but their own, advance;
For virtue comes not by inheritance.
If you tralineate from your father's mind,
What are you else but of a bastard-kind?
Do, as your great progenitors have done,
And by their virtues prove yourself their son.
No father can infuse or wit or grace;
A mother comes across, and mars the race.
A grandsire or a grandame taints the blood;
And seldom three descents continue good.
Were virtue by descent, a noble name
Could never villanize his father's fame:
But, as the first, the last of all the line
Would like the Sun even in descending shine;
Take fire, and bear it to the darkest house,
Betwixt king Arthur's court and Caucasus;
If you depart, the flame shall still remain,
And the bright blaze enlighten all the plain,
Nor, till the fuel perish, can decay,
By Nature form'd on things combustible to prey.
Such is not man, who, mixing better seed
With worse, begets a base degenerate breed:
The bad corrupts the good, and leaves behind
No trace of all the great begetter's mind.
The father sinks within his son, we see,
And often rises in the third degree;
If better luck a better mother give,
Chance gave us being, and by chance we live.
Such as our atoms were, even such are we,
Or call it chance, or strong necessity :
Thus loaded with dead weight, the will is free.
And thus it needs must be: for seed conjoin'd
Lets into nature's work th' imperfect kind;
But fire, th' enlivener of the general frame,
one, its operation still the same.
Its principle is in itself: while ours
Works, as confederates war, with mingled powers;
Or man or woman, whichsoever fails:
And, oft, the vigour of the worse prevails.
Ether with sulphur blended alters hue,
And casts a dusky gleam of Sodom blue.
Thus, in a brute, their ancient honour ends,
And the fair mermaid in a fish descends:
The line is gone; no longer duke or earl;
But, by himself degraded, turns a churl.
Nobility of blood is but renown
Of thy great fathers by their virtue known,
And a long trail of light, to thee descending down.
If in thy smoke it ends, their glories shine;
But infamy and villanage are thine.
Then what I said before is plainly show'd,
The true nobility proceeds from God:
Nor left us by inheritance, but given
By bounty of our stars, and grace of Heaven.
Thus from a captive Servius Tullius rose,
Whom for his virtues the first Romans chose :
Fabricius from their walls repell'd the foe,
Whose noble hands had exercis'd the plough.
From hence, my lord and love, I thus conclude,
That though my homely ancestors were rude,
Mean as I am, yet I may have the grace
To make you father of a generous race:
And noble then am I, when I begin,
In Virtue cloath'd, to cast the rags of Sin.
If poverty be my upbraided crime,
And you believe in Heaven, there was a time
When He, the great controller of our fate,
Deign'd to be man, and liv'd in low estate :
Which he, who had the world at his dispose,
If poverty were vice, would never choose.
Philosophers have said, and poets sing,
That a glad poverty's an honest thing.
Content is wealth, the riches of the mind;
And happy he who can that treasure find.
But the base miser starves amidst his store,
Broods on his gold, and, griping still at more.
Sits sadly pining, and believes he's poor.
The ragged beggar, though he want relief,
Has not to lose, and sings before the thief.
Want is a bitter and a hateful good,
Because its virtues are not understood:
Yet many things, impossible to thought,
Have been by need to full perfection brought :
The daring of the soul proceeds from thence,
Sharpness of wit, and active diligence;
Prudence at once, and fortitude, it gives,
And, if in patience taken, mends our lives;
For ev'n that indigence, that brings me low,
Makes me myself, and Him above, to know
A good which none would challenge, few would
A fair possession, which mankind refuse.
If we from wealth to poverty descend,
Want gives to know the flatterer from the friend.
If I am old and ugly, well for you,
No lewd adulterer will my love pursue;
Nor jealousy, the bane of marry'd life,
Shall haunt you for a wither'd homely wife;
For age and ugliness, as all agree,
Are the best guards of female chastity.
"Yet since I see your mind is worldly bent, I'll do my best to further your content. And therefore of two gifts in my dispose, Think ere you speak, I grant you leave to choose; Would you I should be still deform'd and old, Nauseous to touch, and loathsome to behold; On this condition to remain for life
A careful, tender, and obedient wife,
In all I can, contribute to your ease,
And not in deed, or word, or thought, displease?
Or would you rather have me young and fair,
And take the chance that happens to your share?
Temptations are in beauty, and in youth,
And how can you depend upon my truth?