To Poets

There is no spirit frights me so much as poet’s satyrs1 and their fairy wits, which are so subtle, airy, and nimble, that2 they pass through very small crevices and crannies3 of errors and mistakes, and dance upon every line, and round every fancy, which when they find to be dull and sleepy, they pinch them black and blue, with Robin Hood’s jests. But I hope you will spare me, for the hearth is swept clean, and a basin of water with a clean towel set by, and the ashes raked up—wherefore let my book sleep quietly, and the watch-light burn4 clearly, and not blue and blinkingly, nor the pots and pans be disturbed. But let it be still from your noise, that the effeminate cat may not mew, nor the masculine curs bark and5 howl forth railings to disturb my harmless book’s rest.

But if you will judge my book severely, I doubt I shall be cast to the bar of folly, and there be6 forced to hold up my hand of indiscretion, and confess ignorance to my enemies’ dislike. For I have no eloquent orator to plead for me, as to7 persuade a severe judge, nor flattery to bribe a corrupt one, which makes me afraid I shall lose my suit of praise. Yet I have Truth to speak in my behalf for some favor, which says,8 first, that women writing seldom makes it seem strange, and unusual. You will say, what9 is unusual seems fantastical, and what is fantastical seems odd, and what is odd seems10 ridiculous. But as Truth tells you, all is not gold that glisters, so she tells you all is not poor that hath not golden clothes on, nor mad, which is out of fashion. And if I11 be out of the fashion12 because women do not generally write, yet before you laugh at me, let your reason view strictly whether the fashion be not useful, graceful, easy, comely, and modest. And if it be any of these, spare your smiles of scorn for those that are wanton, careless, rude, and13 unbecoming. For though these14 garments are15 plain, and unusual, yet they are clean and decent.

Next, Truth tells you that women have seldom or never (or at least in these latter16 ages) written books17 of poetry, unless it were in their dressings, which can be no longer read than beauty lasts. Wherefore it hath18 seemed, hitherto, as if Nature had compounded men’s brains with more of the sharp atoms, which make19 the hot and dry element, and women’s with more of the round atoms, which figure makes the cold and moist element. And though water is a useful element, yet fire is the nobler, being of an aspiring quality. But it is rather a dishonor than20 a fault in Nature, that21 her inferior works move22 towards perfection; though the best of her works can never be so perfect as herself, yet she is pleased when they imitate her—and to imitate her, I hope you will be pleased, I imitate you. ’Tis true, my verses came not out of Jupiter’s head, wherefore23 they cannot prove a Pallas; yet they are like chaste Penelope’s work,24 for I wrote them in my husband’s absence, to delude melancholy thoughts and avoid idle time.

The last thing Truth tells you is that my25 verses were gathered too soon, wherefore they cannot be of a mature growth, for the sun of time was only at that height as to draw them forth, but gave not26 heat enough to ripen them, which makes me fear they will taste harsh and unpleasant. But if they were strewed with some sugar of praise,27 and baked in the oven of applause, they might28 pass at a general feast, for though29 they do not relish with nice and delicate palates, yet the vulgar may digest them, for they care not what the meat is if the crust be good, or indeed thick—for they judge according to the quantity, not the quality or rarity—but they are oft persuaded by the senses of others more than their own. Wherefore, if it be not worthy of commendations, pray be silent, and cast not out severe censures, and I shall give thanks for what is eaten.

  1. The word “satyrs” could also have been modernized, perhaps, as “satires.”
  2. that] as 1653, 1664
  3. very small crevices and crannies] every small Crevise, and Cranie 1653
  4. burn] burning 1653
  5. and] nor 1653
  6. and there be] there 1653
  7. as to] to 1668
  8. says,] saith 1653
  9. unusual. You will say, what] what 1653
  10. is odd seems] seemes odd, 1653
  11. I] it 1664; it 1668
  12. the fashion] Fashion, 1664; Fashion, 1668
  13. and] or 1653
  14. these] her 1653, 1664
  15. are] be 1668
  16. or at least in these latter] especially in these later 1664; especially in these later 1668
  17. books] a Book 1653
  18. hath] has 1664; has 1668
  19. make] makes 1668
  20. than] not 1653, 1664
  21. that] for 1653, 1664
  22. move] to move 1653, 1664
  23. wherefore] therefore 1653
  24. work,] Works, 1664; Works; 1668
  25. that my] my 1653
  26. gave not] not 1653
  27. praise,] Praises, 1653
  28. might] may 1653
  29. for though] though 1653, 1664