An Epistle to Mistress Toppe

Some1 may think an imperfection of wit may be a blemish to the family from whence I sprung, but Solomon says, “A wise man may get a fool.” Yet there are as few mere fools as wise men. For understanding runs in a level course, that is, to know in general the2 effects; but to know3 the cause of any one thing of Nature’s works, Nature never gave us4 a capacity thereto. She hath given us thoughts which run wildly about, and if by chance they light on truth, they do not know it for a truth. But amongst many errors there are huge mountains of follies, and though I add to the bulk of one of them, yet I make not a mountain alone, and am the more excusable because I have an opinion—which troubles me like a conscience5—that it is6 a part of honor to aspire towards a fame. For it cannot be an effeminacy to seek or run after glory, to love perfection, to desire praise, and though I want merit to make me worthy of it, yet I have7 some satisfaction in desiring it. But had I broken the chains of modesty, or behaved myself in dishonorable and loose carriage, or had run the ways of vice—as to perjure myself, or betray my friends, or denied a truth, or had loved deceit—then I might have proved a grief to the family I came from, and a dishonor to the family I am linked to, raised blushes in their cheeks being mentioned, or make them turn8 pale when I were published. But I hope I shall neither grieve nor shame them, or give them cause to wish I were not a branch thereof. For though my ambition’s great, my designs are harmless, and my ways are9 plain honesty, and if I stumble at folly, yet will I never fall on vice. ’Tis true, the world may wonder at my confidence, how I dare put out a book, especially in these censorious times. But why should I be ashamed or afraid where no evil is, and not please myself in the satisfaction of innocent desires? For a smile of neglect cannot dishearten me, no more can a frown of dislike affright me—not but I should be well pleased, and delight10 to have my book commended. But the world’s dispraises cannot make me a mourning garment: my mind’s too big, and I had rather venture an11 indiscretion than lose12 the hopes of a fame.13 Neither am I ashamed of my simplicity, for Nature tempers not every brain alike. But ’tis a shame to deny the principles of their religion, to break the laws of a well-governed kingdom, to disturb peace, to be unnatural to break the union and amity of honest friends, for a man to be a coward, for a woman to be a whore—and by these actions, they are not only to be cast out of all civil society, but to be blotted out of the roll of mankind. And the reason why I summon up these vices is to let my friends know, or rather to remember them, that my book is none of them. Yet in this action of setting out a14 book I am not clear without fault because I have not asked leave of any friend thereto, for the fear of being denied made me silent. And there is an old saying that it is easier to ask pardon than leave (for a fault will sooner be forgiven than a suit granted), and as I have taken the one, so I am very confident they will give me the other. For their affection is such that15 it doth as easily obscure all infirmity and blemishes, as it is fearful and quick-sighted in spying the vices of those they love, and they do with as much kindness pardon the one, as with grief reprove16 the other. But I thought it an honor to aim at excellencies, and though I cannot attain thereto; yet an endeavor shows a good will, and a good will ought not to be turned out of noble minds nor be whipped with dispraises, but to be cherished with commendations. Besides, I print this book to give an account to my friends how I spend the idle time of my life, and how I busy my thoughts when I think upon the objects of the world. For the truth is, our sex hath so much waste time, having but little employments, which makes our thoughts run wildly about, having nothing to fix them upon, which wild thoughts do not only produce unprofitable, but indiscreet actions, winding up the thread of our lives in snarls on unsound bottoms. And since all times must be spent either ill, or well, or indifferent,17 I thought this was the most harmless18 pastime. For sure this work is better than to sit still and censure my neighbors’ actions, which nothing concerns19 me, or to condemn their humours because they do not sympathize with mine, or their lawful recreations because they are not agreeable to my delight, or ridiculously to laugh at my neighbors’ clothes if they are not of the mode, color, or cut, or the ribbon20 tied with a mode knot—or to busy myself out of the sphere of our sex, as in21 politics of state, or to preach false doctrine in a tub, or to entertain myself in hearkening to vain flatteries, or to the incitements of evil persuasions, whereas22 all these follies and many more may be cut off by such innocent work as this. I write not this only to satisfy you, which my love makes me desire so to23 do, but to defend my book from spiteful invaders, knowing truth and innocence are two good champions against malice and falsehood. And which is my defense, I am very confident is a great satisfaction to you. For being bred with me, your love is twisted to my good, which shall never be undone by any unkind action of mine, but will always remain,

Your Loving Friend,

  1. In 1668, this letter is entitled, “An Epistle to the Lady Toppe”
  2. the] as of the 1653, 1664
  3. to know] not 1668
  4. of Nature’s works, Nature never gave us] Nature never giving to Mankind 1668
  5. like a conscience] (as Conscience doth in other Cases) 1668
  6. it is] tis 1653
  7. have] make 1653
  8. make them turn] to turne 1653; made them turn 1664, 1668
  9. are] is 1664, 1668
  10. delight] delighted, 1668
  11. an] to commit an 1668
  12. lose] loose 1653
  13. a fame.] Fame. 1668
  14. out a] out of a 1653
  15. that] as 1653, 1664
  16. reprove] reproof 1668
  17. indifferent,] Indifferently; 1668
  18. most harmless] harmlessest 1653, 1664
  19. concerns] concern 1664, 1668
  20. ribbon] Ribbons 1664, 1668
  21. as in] in 1668
  22. whereas] where 1653, 1664
  23. so to] to 1668