To all Writing Ladies


It is to be observed that there is a secret working by Nature, as to cast an influence upon the minds of men: like as in contagions, when as the air is corrupted it produces several diseases, so several distempers of the mind by the inflammations of the spirits. And as in healthful ages, bodies are purified, so wits are refined; yet it seems to me as if there were several invisible spirits, that have several but visible powers, to work in several ages upon the minds of men. For in many ages men will be affected and disaffected alike: as in some ages so strongly and superstitiously devout that they make many gods, and in another age so atheistical as they believe in no god at all, and live to those principles. Some ages again have such strong faiths that they will not only die in their several opinions, but they will massacre, and cut one another’s throats, because their opinions are different. In some ages all men seek absolute power, and every man would be emperor of the world, which makes civil wars; for their ambition makes them restless, and their restlessness makes them seek change. Then in another age all live peaceable, and so obedient that the very governors rule with obedient power. In some ages again, all run after imitation, like a company of apes, as to imitate such a poet, to be of such a philosopher’s opinion. Some ages mixed, as moralists, poets, philosophers, and the like; and in some ages again, all affect singularity, and they are thought the wisest that can have the most extravagant opinions. In some ages learning flourisheth in arts and sciences; other ages so dull, as they lose what former ages had taught. And in some ages it seems as if there were a commonwealth of those governing spirits, where most rule at one time. Some ages, as in aristocracy, when some part did rule, and other ages a pure monarchy, when but one rules, and in some ages, it seems as if all those spirits were at defiance who should have most power, which makes them in confusion, and war; so confused are some ages, and it seems as if there were spirits of the feminine gender, as also the masculine. There will be many heroic women in some ages, in others very prophetical, in some ages very pious and devout—for our sex is wonderfully addicted to the spirits. But this age hath produced many effeminate writers, as well as preachers, and many effeminate rulers, as well as actors. And if it be an age when the effeminate spirits rule, as most visible they do in every kingdom, let us take the advantage, and make the best of our time, for fear their reign should not last long, whether it be in the Amazonian government, or in the politic commonwealth, or in flourishing monarchy, or in schools of divinity, or in lectures of philosophy, or in witty poetry, or anything that may bring honor to our sex, for they are poor, dejected spirits that are not ambitious of fame. And though we be inferior to men, let us show ourselves a degree above beasts, and not eat, and drink, and sleep away our time as they do, and live only to the sense, not to the reason, and so turn into forgotten dust. But let us strive to build us tombs while we live, of noble, honorable, and good actions, as2 least harmless,

That though our bodies die,
Our names may live to after memory.

  1. This prefatory note only appears in the 1653 edition, not in those from 1664 or 1668.
  2. as] at 1653