“The Prodigy. A Letter to a Friend in the Country”
THO’ Rhyme serves the Thoughts of great Poets to fetter,
It sets off the Sense of small Poets the better.
When I’ve written in Prose, I often have found,
That my Sense, in a Jumble of Words, was quite drown’d.
In Verse, as in Armies, that march o’er the Plain, 5
The least Man among them is seen without Pain.
This they owe to good Order, it must be allow’d;
Else Men that are little, are lost in a Croud.
So much for Simile: Now, to be brief,
The following Lines come to tell you my Grief. 10
’Tis well I can write; for I scarcely can speak,
I’m so plagu’d with my Teeth, which eternally ake.
When the Wind’s in the Point which opposes the South,
For Fear of the Cold, I can’t open my Mouth:
And you know, to the Sex it must be a Heart-breaking, 15
To have any Distemper, that keeps them from speaking.
When first I was silent a Day and a Night,
The Women were all in a terrible Fright.
Supplications to JOVE, in an Instant, they make—
“Avert the Portent—a Woman not speak! 20
Since Poets are Prophets, and often have sung,
The last Thing that dies in a Woman’s her Tongue;
O JOVE, for what Crime is Sapphira thus curst?
’Tis plain by her Breathing, her Tongue has dy’d first.
Ye Powers celestial, tell Mortals, what Cause 25
Occasions Dame Nature to break her own Laws?
Did the Preacher live now, from his text he must run;
And own there was something new under the Sun.
O JOVE, for the future this Punishment spare;
And all other Evils we’ll willingly bear.” 30
Then they throng to my House, and my Maid they beseech,
To say, if her Mistress had quite lost her Speech.
Nell readily own’d, what they heard was too true;
That To-day I was dumb, give the Devil his Due:
And frankly confess’d, were it always the Case, 35
No Servant could e’er have a happier Place.
When they found it was Fact, they began all to fear me;
And, dreading Infection, would scarcely come near me:
Till a Neighbour of mine, who was famous for Speeching,
Bid them be of good Cheer, the Disease was not catching; 40
And offer’d to prove, from Authors good Store,
That the like Case with this never happen’d before;
And if Ages to come should resemble the past,
As ’twas the first Instance, it would be the last.
Yet against this Disorder we all ought to strive: 45
Were I in her Case, I’d been bury’d alive.
Were I one Moment silent, except in my Bed,
My good natur’d Husband would swear I was dead.
The next said, her Tongue was so much in her Pow’r,
She was sullenly silent almost—half an Hour: 50
That, to vex her good Man, she took this Way to teaze him;
But soon left it off, when she found it would please him:
And vow’d, for the future, she’d make the House ring;
For when she was dumb, he did nothing but sing.
Quite tir’d with their Talking, I held down my Head: 55
So she who sat next me, cry’d out, I was dead.
They call’d for cold Water to throw in my Face:
Give her Air, give her Air—and cut open her Lace.
Says good Neighbour Nevil, You’re out of your Wits;
She oft, to my Knowledge, has these sullen Fits: 60
Let her Husband come in, and make one Step that’s wrong,
My Life for’t, the Woman will soon find her Tongue.
You’ll soon be convinc’d—O’ my Conscience, he’s here—
Why what’s all this Rout?—Are you sullen, my Dear?
This struck them all silent; which gave me some Ease, 65
And made them imagine they’d got my Disease.
So they hasted away in a terrible Fright;
And left me, in Silence, to pass the long Night.
Not the Women alone were fear’d at my Fate;
’Twas reckon’d of dreadful Portent to the State. 70
When the Governors heard it, they greatly were troubled;
And, whilst I was silent, the Guards were all doubled:
The Militia Drums beat a perpetual Alarm,
To rouze up the Sons of the City to arm.
A Story was rumour’d about from Lambey, 75
Of a powerful Fleet, that was seen off at Sea.
With Horror all list to the terrible Tale;
The Barristers tremble, the Judges grow pale;
To the Castle the frighted Nobility fly;
And the Council were summon’d, they could not tell why; 80
The Clergy in Crouds to the Churches repair;
And Armies, embattled, were seen in the Air.
Why they were in this Fright, I have lately been told,
It seems, it was sung by a Druid of old,
That the HANOVER Race to Great-Britain should come; 85
And sit on the Throne, till a Woman grew dumb.
As soon as this Prophecy reach’d the Pretender,
He cry’d out, My Claim to the Crown I surrender.
1 fetter “A restraint or check on someone’s freedom to act” (OED).
12 plagu’d Plagued; “tormented” (OED); ake Ache.
16 Distemper Ailment.
19 JOVE Another name for Jupiter, Zeus’s counterpart in Roman mythology (New World Encyclopedia).
20 Avert “Prevent or ward off” (OED); Portent “A sign or warning that a momentous or calamitous event is likely to happen” (OED).
23 Sapphira Biblical reference to the wife of Ananias, “(Acts 5: 1–11); both died from shock when confronted by Peter about a case of fraud” (Oxford Reference).
26 Dame “An elderly or mature woman” (OED).
27 Preacher Jesus.
28 there was something new under the Sun An inversion of the biblical passage, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
31 beseech “Ask (someone) urgently and fervently to do something” (OED).
34 give the Devil his Due An idiom; “If someone or something generally considered bad or undeserving has any redeeming features these should be acknowledged” (OED).
36 Place Position or place of work.
54 dumb “Temporarily unable or unwilling to speak” (OED).
58 Lace The cord or ribbon that laces up a woman’s corset.
64 Rout “A disorderly or tumultuous crowd of people” (OED); Sullen “Bad-tempered and sulky” (OED).
75 Lambey Lambay Island in the Irish Sea near Dublin.
77 list Listen.
78 Barristers Lawyers.
81 repair “Go to (a place)” (OED).
84 Druid “A priest, magician, or soothsayer in the ancient Celtic religion” (OED).
85 HANOVER Race The British Royal house of Hanover (1714-1901) (Britannica).
87 the Pretender “The Old Pretender,” James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales (1688-1766), son of King James II of England who reigned from 1685 to 1688 (Brittanica).
88 My Claim to the Crown I surrender The Glorious Revolution (1688-89) saw James II deposed, replaced by William III and Mary II, and exiled to France. His son James, “The Old Pretender,” made several attempts to reclaim the British throne, but never succeeded (Brittanica).
Source: Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1735), pp. 22–27. [Google Books]
Edited by Laura Hannibal