Mary Leapor, “An Essay on Woman”


An Essay on Woman”


Woman—a pleasing, but a short-liv’d Flow’r,
Too soft for Business, and too weak for Pow’r:
A Wife in Bondage, or neglected Maid;
Despis’d, if ugly; if she’s fair—betray’d.
‘Tis Wealth alone inspires ev’ry Grace,                                                   5
And calls the Raptures to her plenteous Face.
What Numbers for those charming Features pine,
If blooming Acres round her Temples twine?
Her Lip the Strawberry; and her Eyes more bright
Than sparkling Venus in a frosty Night.                                                  10
Pale Lilies fade; and when the Fair appears,
Snow turns a Negro, and dissolves in Tears.
And where the Charmer treads her magic Toe,
On English Ground Arabian Odours grow;
Till mighty Hymen lists his sceptred Rod,                                               15
And sinks her Glories with a fatal Nod;
Dissolves her Triumphs; sweeps her Charms away,
And turns the Goddess to her native Clay.

But, Artemisia, let your Servant sing
What small Advantage Wealth and Beauties bring.                              20
Who would be wise, that knew Pamphilia’s Fate?
Or who be fair, and join’d to Sylvia’s Mate?
Sylvia, whose Cheeks are fresh as early Day;
As Ev’ning mild, and sweet as spicy May:
And yet That Face her partial Husband tires,                                         25
And those bright Eyes, that all the World admires.
Pamphilia’s Wit who does not strive to shun,
Like Death’s Infection, or a Dog-Day’s Sun?
The Damsels view her with malignant Eyes:
The Men are vex’d to find a Nymph so wise:                                          30
And Wisdom only serves to make her know
The keen Sensation of superior Woe.
The secret Whisper, and the list’ning Ear,
The scornful Eyebrow, and the hated Sneer;
The giddy Censures of her babbling Kind,                                              35
With thousand Ills that grate a gentle Mind,
By her are tasted in the first Degree,
Tho’ overlook’d by Simplicus, and me.
Does Thirst of Gold a Virgin’s Heart inspire,
Instill’d by Nature, or a careful Sire?                                                         40
Then let her quit Extravagance and Play;
The brisk Companion; and expensive Tea;
To feast with Cordia in her filthy Sty
On stew’d Potatoes, or on mouldy Pye;
Whose eager Eyes stare ghastly at the Poor,                                          45
And fright the Beggars from her hated Door:
In greasy Clouts she wraps her smoky Chin,
And holds, that Pride’s a never-pardon’d Sin.

If this be Wealth, no matter where it falls;
But save, ye Muses, save your Mira’s Walls:                                             50
Still give me pleasing Indolence, and Ease;
A Fire to warm me, and a Friend to please.

Since, whether sunk in Avarice, or Pride;
A wanton Virgin, or a starving Bride;
Or, wond’ring Crouds attend her charming Tongue;                             55
Or deem’d an Idiot, ever speaks the Wrong:
Tho’ Nature arm’d us for the growing Ill,
With fraudful Cunning, and a headstrong Will;
Yet, with ten thousand Follies to her Charge,
Unhappy Woman’s but a Slave at large.                                                   60


6 Raptures “A state, condition, or fit of intense delight or enthusiasm” (OED).

10 Venus Here a reference to the evening star.

12 Negro “A member of a dark-skinned group of peoples originally native to sub-Saharan Africa; a person of black African origin or descent. Early use also applied to other dark-skinned peoples” (OED).

15 Hymen The God of marriage in Greek myth.

18 Clay That is, her original human form.

19 Artemisia A pseudonym for Leapor’s friend and patron, Bridget Freemantle.

28 Dog-Day’s “The hottest part of the summer” (OED).

32 Woe “A state or condition of misery, suffering, or emotional distress; misfortune, trouble” (OED).

35 Censures “Expression of disapproval or condemnation” (OED).

36 grate “To affect painfully,…irritate” (OED).

38 Simplicus Conventional name for a rustic or simple man.

43 Sty “A human habitation…no better than a pigsty” (OED).

50 Mira Leapor’s poetic name for herself; Walls Defenses (OED).

53 Avarice “Inordinate desire of acquiring and hoarding wealth” (OED).

54 wanton “Lustful; not chaste, sexually promiscuous” (OED).

59 Follies Foolish actions, ideas, practices (OED).

SOURCE: Poems Upon Several Occasions (London, 1751), pp. 64-67. [Internet Archive]

Edited by Alexis Kleinberg