What ancient times (those times we fancy wise)
by Thomas Parnell
Have left on long record of woman's rise,
What morals teach it, and what fables hide,
What author wrote it, how that author dy'd
All these I sing. In Greece they fram'd the tale
(In Greece 'twas thought a woman might be frail);
Ye modern beauties! where the Poet drew
His softest pencil, thin he dreamt of you;
And, warn'd by him, ye wanton pens beware
How Heaven's concern'd to vindicate the fair.
The case was Hesiod's; he the fable writ;
Some think with meaning, some with idle wit:
Perhaps 'tis either, as the ladies please;
I wave the contest, and commence the lays.
In days of yore (no matter what or when,
'Twas ere the low creation swarm'd with men)
That one Prometheus, sprung of heavenly birth,
(Our Author's song can witness) liv'd on earth:
He carv'd the turf to mould a manly frame,
And stole from Jove his animating flame.
The sly contrivance o'er Olympus ran,
When thus the Monarch of the Stars began.
O vers'd in arts! whose daring thoughts aspire,
To kindle clay with never-dying fire!
Enjoy thy glory past, that gift was thine;
The next thy creature meets, be fairly mine:
And such a gift, a vengence so design'd,
As suits the counsel of a God to find;
A pleasing bosom-cheat, a specious ill,
Which felt the curse, yet covets still to feel.
He said, and Vulcan straight the Sire commands,
To temper mortar with Etherial hands;
In such a shape to mould a rising fair;
As virgin goddesses are proud to wear;
To make her eyes with diamond-water shine,
And form her organs for a voice divine
'Twas thus the Sire ordain'd; the Power obey'd;
And work'd, and wonder'd at the work he made;
The fairest, softest, sweetest frame beneath,
Now made to seem, now more than seem to breathe.
As Vulcan ends, the cheerful Queen of Charms
Clasp'd the new-panting creature in her arms:
From that embrace a fine complexion spread,
Where mingled whiteness glow'd with softer red.
Then in a kiss she breath'd her various arts,
Of triffling prettily with wounded hearts;
A mind for love, but still a changing mind;
The lisp affected, and the glance design'd
The sweet confusing blush, the secret wink,
The gentle swimming walk, the courteous sink;
The stare for strangeness fit, for scorn the frown;
For decent yielding, looks declining down;
The practis'd languish, where well-feign'd desire
Would its own melting in a mutual fire;
Gay smiles to comfort; April showers to move;
And all the nature, all the art of love.
Gold scepter'd Juno next exalts the fair;
Her touch endows her with imperious air,
Self-valuing fancy, highly-crested pride,
Strong soverign will, and some desire to chide;
For which an eloquence, that aims to vex,
With native tropes of anger, arms the sex.
Minerva, skillful goddess, train'd the maid
To twirle the spindle by the twisting thread;
To fix the loom, instruct the reeds to part,
Cross the long weft, and close the web with art,
A useful gift; but what profuse expense,
What world of fashions, took its rise from hence!
Young Hermes next, a close contriving god,
Her brows encircled with his serpent rod;
Then plots and fair excuses fill'd her brain,
The views of breaking amorous vows for gain;
The price of favours; the designing arts
That aim at riches in contempt of hearts;
And, for a comfort in the marriage life,
The little pilfering temper of a wife.
Full on the fair his beams Apollo flung,
And fond persuasion tipp'd her easy tongue;
He gave her words, where oily flattery lays
The pleasing colours of the art of praise;,
And wit, to scandal equisitely prone
Which frets another's spleen to cure its own.
Those sacred Virgins1 whom the bards revere
Tun'd all her voice, and shed a sweetness there,
To make her sense with double charms abound,
Or make her lively nonsense please by sound.
To dress the maid, the decent Graces brought
A robe in all the dies of beauty wrought,
And plac'd their boxes o'er a rich brocade,
Where pictured Loves on every cover play'd;
Then spread those implements that Vulcan's art
Had frame'd to merit Cytherea's heart;
The wire to curl, the close indented comb
To call the locks, that lightly wander, home;
And chief, the mirror,where the ravish'd maid
Beholds and loves her own reflected shade.
Fair Flora lent her stores; the purpled Hours
Confin'd her tresses with a wreath of flowers;
Within the wreath arose a radiant crown;
A veil pellucid hung depending down;
Back roll'd her azure veil with surpent fold,
The pursled border deck'd the floor with gold.
Her robe (which closely by the girdle brac'd
Reveal'd the beauties of a slender waist)
Flow'd to the feet, to copy Venus' air,
When Venus' statues have a robe to wear.
The new-sprung creature, finish'd thus for harms,
Adjusts her habit, practices her charms,
With blushes glows, or shines with lively smiles,
Confirms her will, or recollects her wiles:
Then, conscious of her worth, with easy pace
Glides by the glass, and turning views her face.
A finer flax than what they wrought before,
Through Time's deep cave, the Sister Fates explore,
Then fix the loom, their fingers nimbly weave,
And thus their toil prophetic songs deceive.
Flow from the rock, my flax! and swiftly flow,
Pursue thy thread; the spindle runs below.
A creature fond and changing, fair and vain,
The creature woman, rises now to reign.
New beauty blooms, a beauty form'd to fly;
New love begins, a love produc'd to die;
New parts distress the troubled scenes of life,
The fondling mistress, and the ruling wife.
"Men born to labour, all with pains provide;
Women have time to sacrifice to pride:
They want the care of man, their want they know,
And dress to please with heart-alluring show;
The show prevailing, for the sway contend,
And make a servant where they meet a friend.
Thus in a thousand wax-erected forts
A loitering race the painful bee supports;
From sun to sun, from bank to bank he flies,
With honey loads his bag, with wax his thighs;
Fly where he will, at home the race remain,
Prune the silk dress, and murmuring eat the gain.
Yet here and there we grant a gentle bride,
Whose temper betters by the father's side;
Unlike the rest that double human care,
Fond to relieve, or resolute to share:
Happy the man whom thus his stars advance!
The curse is general, but the blessing chance.
Thus sung the Sisters, while the Gods admire
Their beauteous creature, made for man in ire;
The young Pandora she, whom all contend
To make too perfect not to gain her end:
Then bid the winds, that fly to breathe the spring
Return to bear her on a gentle wing;
With wafting airs the winds obsequious blow,
And land the shining vengeance safe below.
A golden coffer in her hand she bore,
The present treacherous, but the bearer more;
'Twas fraught with pangs; for Jove ordain'd above
That gold should aid, and pangs attend on love.
Her gay descent the man perceiv'd afar,
Wondering he ran to catch the falling star:
But so surpris'd, as none but he can tell,
Who lov'd so quickly, and who lov'd so well.
O'er all his veins the wandering passion burns,
He calls her Nymph, and every Nymph by turns.
Her form to lovely Venus he prefers;
Or swears that Venus' must be such as hers.
She, proud to rule, yet strangely fram'd to teaze,
Neglects his offers while her airs she plays,
Shoots scornful glances from the bended frown,
In brisk disorder trips it up and down;
Then hums a careless tune to lay the storm,
And sits, and blushes, smiles, and yields in form.
"Now take what Jove design'd," she softly cry'd,
"This box they portion, and myself the bride."
Fir'd with the prospect of the double charms,
He snatch'd the box, and bride, with eager arms.
Unhappy man! to whom so bright she shone,
The fatal gift, her tempting self, unknown!
The winds were silent, all the waves asleep,
And heaven was trac'd upon the flattering deep:
But, whilst he looks unmindful of a storm,
And thinks the water wears a stable form,
What dreadful din around his ears shall rise!
What frowns confuse his picture of the skies!
At first the creature man was fram'd alone,
Lord of himself, and all the world his own.
For him the Nymphs in green forsook the woods,
For him the Nymphs in blue forsook the floods;
In vain the Satyrs rage, the Tritons rave,
They bore him heroes in the secret cave.
No care destroy'd, no sick disorder prey'd,
No bending age his sprightly form decay'd,
No wars were known, no females heard to rage,
And, Poets tell us, 'twas a golden age.
When woman came, those ills the box confin'd
Burst furious out, and poison'd all the wind,
From point to point, from pole to pole they flew,
Spread as they went, and in the progress grew:
the Nymphs regretting left the mortal race,
And altering nature wore a sickly face:
New terms of folly rose, new states of care;
New plagues to suffer, and to please, the Fair!
The days of whining, and of wild intrigues,
Commenc'd, or finish'd with the breach of leagues;
The mean designs of well-dissembled love;
The sordid matches never join'd above:
Abroad the labour, and at home the noise,
(Man's double sufferings for domestic joys)
The curse of jealousy; expense and strife;
Divorce, the public brand of shameful life;
The rival's sword; the qualm that takes the fair;
Disdain for passion, passion in despair --
These, and a thousand yet unnam'd, we find;
Ah fear the thousand yet unnam'd behind!
Thus on Parnassus tuneful Hesiod sung,
The mountains echoed, and the valley rung,
The sacred goves a fix'd attention show,
The crystal Helicon forebore to flow,
The sky grew bright, and (if his verse be true)
The Muses came to give the laurel too.
But what avail'd the verdant prize of wit,
If Love swore vengeance for the tales he writ?
Ye Fair offended, hear your friend relate
What heavy judgment prov'd the writer's fate,
Though when it happen'd no relation clears,
'Tis thought in five, or five and twenty years.
Where, dark and silent, with a twisted shade
the neighbouring woods a native arbour made,
There oft a tender pair, for amorous play
Returing, toy'd the ravish'd hours away;
A Locrian youth, the gentle Troilus he,
A fair Milesian, kind Evanthe she:
But swelling nature in a fatal hour
Betray'd the secrets of the conscious bower;
240 The dire disgrace her brothers count their own,
And track her steps to make its author known.
It chanc'd one evening, 'twas the lover's day,
Conceal'd in brakes the jealous kindred lay;
When Hesiod, wandering, mus'd along the plain,
245 And fix'd his seat where love had fix'd the scene;
A strong suspicion straight possess their mind,
(For Poets ever were a gentle kind)
But when Evanthe near the passage stood,
Flung back a doubtful look, and shot the wood,
"Now take (at once they cry) thy due reward,"
And, urg'd with erring rage, assault the Bard.
His corpse the sea receiv'd. The dolphins bore
('Twas all the gods would do) the corpse to shore.
Methinks I view the dead with pitying eyes
And see the dreams of ancient wisdom rise;
I see the Muses round the body cry,
But hear a Cupid loudly laughing by;
He wheels his arrow with insulting hand,
And thus inscribes the moral on the sand.
"Here Hesiod lies: ye future Bards, beware
How far your moral tales incense the Fair.
Unlov'd, unloving, 'twas his fate to bleed;
Without his quiver, Cupid caus'd the deed:
He judg'd this turn of malice justly due,
And Hesiod dy'd for joys he never knew."