11 November - Elizabeth Thomas (1675-1731) Jul 14, 2008 21:57:07 GMT 2
Post by moira on Jul 14, 2008 21:57:07 GMT 2
Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of 17th-Century Women's Verse
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (April 1, 1989)
includes Elizabeth Thomas
Elizabeth Thomas (1675-1731)
Epistle to Clemena. Occasioned by an Argument
she had maintained against the Author
Though you my resolution still accuse,
And for misanthropy condemn the Muse,
Still finding fault with what I most commend,
And lose good humour in the name of friend:
Yet if these pettish heats you lay aside,
And by calm reason let the cause be tried,
I make no question but it would appear
You had no cause to boast, nor I to fear.
For when two bind themselves in marriage bands,
Fidelity in each, the Church commands:
Equal's the contract, equal are the vows,
Yet Custom different licences allows:
The man may range from his unhappy wife,
But woman's made a property for life.
To no dear friend the grief may be revealed,
No, she, poor soul, must keep her shame concealed:
And, to the height of doting folly grown,
Believe her husband's character her own.
So have I seen a lovely beauteous maid,
By duty forced, by interest betrayed,
Resign herself into Nefario's arms,
And make the sordid wretch sole master of her charms.
With seeming transport he the bliss receives,
With seeming gratitude rich presents gives:
The finest brillants through the town are sought,
The costliest liveries for her servants bought;
The richest tissues for herself to wear,
And nothing that she liked could purchased be too dear.
But ere the sun his annual course had run,
Or thrice three moons with borrowed lustre shone,
The libertine resumed his brutal life:
Oh! then how nauseous grew the name of wife.
Her conversation and her charms were stale,
Nor wit and beauty longer could prevail:
The night he turned to day, the day to night,
Yet still uneasy in Aminta's sight.
At two, perhaps, he condescends to rise,
Fetches a yawn or two, and rubs his eyes:
'Run, run,' cries he, 'to Captain Hackum's straight,
And tell the rakes I for their coming wait;
Be sure you bring the dogs, and hark, d'ye hear,
Bid Tom the butler in my sight appear.'
The hungry bravoes to their patron run,
And wonder that his levee is so soon:
'Bless me,' says one, 'how well you look today!'
T' other replies, 'Ay, he may well look gay,
When wine and women pass his time away.
While business other mortals' peace destroys,
He gives his soul a nobler loose to joys.'
'Enough,' Nefario cries, 'sit down, my friends,
See where the sparkling burgundy attends.
This wine was sent from France but t' other day,
And never yet in vintner's cellar lay.'
Set in for drinking thus, they each recite
The wonderful achievements of the night.
One tells how he did Phillis serenade,
Fought with the watch, and made them run afraid;
While t' other shrugging cries, 'I changed my bed,
And was in triumph to the counter led.
But if the town does canes enough afford, I
'll drub that rascal where I bought my sword.'
Sated at last with fulsome lies and wine,
Nefario swears aloud,' 'Tis dinner-time.'
Aminta's called, and calmly down they sit,
But she not one poor word or look can get.
'This meat's too salt, t' other's too fresh,' he cries,
And from the table in a passion flies:
Not that his cook is faulty in the least,
But 'tis the wife that palls his squeamish taste.
Well, after having ransacked park and play,
He with some hackney vizor sneaks away
To famed Pontack's, or noted Monsieur Locket's,
Where Mrs. Jilt as fairly picks his pockets.
Thus bubbled, in revenge he walks his round,
From loft three stories high to cellar underground;
Scours all the streets, some brother rake doth fight,
And with a broken pate concludes the night.
Or in some tavern with the gaming crew,
He drinks, and swears, and plays, till day doth night pursue.
Meanwhile Aminta for his stay doth mourn,
And sends up pious vows for his return;
Fears some mishap, looks out at every noise,
And thinks each breath of wind her dear Nefario's voice.
At last the clock strikes five, and home he comes,
And kicks the spaniel servants through the rooms,
Till he the lovely pensive fair doth spy,
Nor can she 'scape the sordid tyranny:
A thousand brutish names to her he gives,
Which she poor lady patiently receives;
A thousand imprecations doth bestow,
And scarcely can refrain to give th' impending blow.
Till tired with rage, and overcome with wine,
Dead drunk he falls, and snoring lies supine.
Wretched Nefario no repentance shows,
But mocks those ills Aminta undergoes:
Ruined by him, with pain she draws her breath,
And still survives an evil worse than death.
Ah, friend! in these depraved, unhappy times,
When vice walks barefaced, virtues pass for crimes:
Many Nefarios must we think to find,
Though not so bad as this, yet villains in their kind.
Hard is that venture where our all we lose;
But harder yet an honest man to choose.
(Written c. 1700? pub. 1722)
Contemporary with Sarah Egerton, Elizabeth Thomas had a hard but not atypical life for a woman of her class in the later 17th century. Her mother at age 18 was married to a lawyer, then aged 60; he died when Elizabeth was 2. She and her mother lived in Surrey in much distress for some time, but managed finally to go to London and there Elizabeth educated herself (read and bought books, learned mathematics, pharmacy and chemistry -- the latter two not all that unusual for a reading woman of the era) and in her mid-20s she showed some of her poems to known literary men. How she knew them I know not. Her work was then publicly praised by (among others) Dryden, and she became acquainted with the famous feminist of the era, Mary Astell. She corresponded with Mary Chudleigh.
In 1700 in a bookshop she met and fell in love with Richard Gwinnet, lawyer and amateur poet. They corresponded for 16 years without marrying as he said he couldn't support her; during these years she wrote poetry but didn't publish any. In 1716 he got his estate, but she was nursing a dying mother, a dependent and demanding woman, and before the mother died, Gwinnet did. He left her 600 pounds but litigation with his family pulled that down to 213. When he mother died in 1719, she was destitute and hounded by creditors so she retired into the "country" for 10 years; in 1722 she finally published some poems, only to be mocked and derided by Pope in some very cruel lines (for publishing with someone Pope particularly hated, an unscrupulous publisher of scurrilous imprints, Edmund Curll). She was "accused" of being the mistress of Henry Cromwell (they were certainly friends) who gave her some of Pope's letters and she sold them to Curll for money in a weak moment. By 1727 she was confined for debt in the Fleet Prsion; from there she appealed for charity, and was finally released in 1729 (under an Act of Insolvency); destitute again, she published again, and then died in her lodgings in Fleet Street in 1731. We know more about her than is usual for women because she was attacked by male poets and in these attacks they described (however unsympathetically and as a caricature) aspects of her life; also that she sued people and was put in prison left records.
Germaine Greer has written in passionate sympathy about Elizabeth Thomas in her Kissing the Rod. She reprints a touching poem by Thomas, "A Midnight thought (on the death of Mrs E. H.and Her little daughter, cast away under London-Bridge, Aug 5, 1699) (it opens "Oh sacred Time. how soon thou'rt gone/How swift thy circling minutes run ... how few thy value know ...), and another to Dryden, "The Dream," about her delights in reading when a young girl ("When yet a child, I red great Virgil o'er -- Dryden had translated Virgil and so she was reading Dryden). Thomas's poetry resembles Egerton, Chudleigh, and Astell's in being in this plain reasoning mode, indignant sometimes vehement satire and sermon. They tend to be long verse towers or pindarics (the latter not much liked today).
I'd just like to add that Elizabeth Thomas wrote one of my favorite[/blockquote][/font]
Love and the Gout invade the idle Brain,
Bus'ness prevents the Passion, and the Pain:
Ceres and Bacchus, envious of our Ease,
Blow up the Flame, and heighten the Disease.
Withdraw the Fewel, and the Fire goes out;
Hard Beds and Fasting cure both Love and Gout.
I love the "Foremothers" feature - thanks for all your work!