To the Lady Newcastle, on Her Book of Poems


I saw your poems, and then wished them mine,
Reading the richer dressings of each line;
Your newborn,2 sublime fancies—and such store—
May make our poets blush, and write no more.
Nay, Spenser’s ghost will haunt you in the night,                   5
And Jonson rise, full fraught with venom’s spite;
Fletcher and Beaumont, troubled in their graves,
Look out some deeper and forgotten caves;
And gentle Shakespeare weeping, since he must,
At best, be buried, now, in Chaucer’s dust.3                          10
Thus dark oblivion covers their each name,
Since you have robbed them of their glorious fame.
Such metaphors, such allegories fit,
Your judgment weighing out your fresher wit,
By similizing to the life so like.                                                 15
Your fancy’s pencil’s far beyond van Dyck,4
Drawing all things to all things, at your pleasure,
Which shows, your storehouse is the Muses’ treasure,
Your head the limbeck,5 where the Muses sit,
Distilling there the quintessence of wit,                                 20
Spirits of fancy, essences so sweet,
In your just numbers walk on velvet feet.6
I thought to praise you, but, alas! My way
To yours, is night unto a glorious day.


The Epistle Dedicatory

To Sir Charles Cavendish, my Noble Brother-in-Law


I do here dedicate this my work unto you, not that I think my book is1 worthy such a patron, but that such a patron as you2 may gain my book a respect and esteem in the world by the favor of your protection. True it is, spinning with the fingers is more proper to our sex than studying or writing poetry, which is the spinning with the brain. But I,3 having no skill in the art of the first (and if I had, I had no hopes of gaining so much as to make me a garment to keep me from the cold4), I made my5 delight in the latter, since all brains work naturally, and incessantly, in some kind or other, which made me endeavor to spin a garment of memory to lap up my name, that it might grow to after ages. I cannot say the web is strong, fine, or evenly spun, for it is a coarse piece. Yet I had rather my name should go meanly clad, than die with cold. But if the suit be trimmed with your favor, she6 may make such a show, and appear so lovely, as to wed to a vulgar fame. But certainly, your bounty hath been the distaff from whence Fate hath spun the thread of this part of my life, which life I wish may be drawn forth in your service. For your noble mind is above petty interest, and of such7 a courage that8 you dare not only look Misfortune9 in the face, but grapple with it10 in the defense of your friend, and your kindness hath been such, that11 you have neglected yourself, even in ordinary accouterments, to maintain the distressed, which shows you to have12 such an affection, as St. Paul expresses for his brethren in Christ, who would13 be accursed for their sakes. And since your charity is of that length, and generosity of that height, that no times nor fortunes can cut shorter or pull down lower, I am very confident the sweetness of your disposition, which I have always found in the delightful conversation of your company, will never change, but be so humble as to accept of this book, which is the work of

Your most faithful servant,

To All Noble and Worthy Ladies

Noble and1 Worthy Ladies,

Condemn me not as if I should dishonor2 your sex in3 setting forth this work, for it is4 harmless and free from all dishonesty—I will not say from vanity, for that is so natural to our sex that5 it were unnatural not to be so. Besides, poetry, which is built upon fancy, women may claim as a work belonging most properly to themselves, for I have observed that their brains work usually in a fantastical motion, as in their several and various dresses, in their many and singular choices of clothes and ribbons and the like, in their curious shadowing and mixing of colors, in their wrought works and divers sorts of stitches they employ their needle in,6 and many other7 curious things they make, as flowers, boxes, baskets with beads, shells, silk, straw, or anything else—besides8 all manner of meats to eat. And thus their thoughts are employed perpetually with fancies. For fancy goeth not so much by rule and method, as by choice. And if I have chosen my silk with fresh colors, and matched them in good shadows, although the stitches be not very true, yet it will please the eye; so9 if my writing please the readers, though not the learned, it will satisfy me, for I had rather be praised in this by the most, although not the best. For all I desire is fame, and fame is nothing but a great noise, and noise lives most in a multitude, wherefore I wish my book may set a-work every tongue. But I imagine I shall be censured by my own sex, and men will cast a smile of scorn upon my book, because they think thereby women encroach too much upon men’s10 prerogatives. For they hold books as their crown and the sword as their scepter by which they rule and govern. And very like they will say to me, as to the lady that wrote the romance:11

Work lady, work, let writing books alone,
For surely wiser women ne’er wrote one.

But those that say so shall give me leave to wish that those of nearest relation, as wives, sisters, and daughters, may employ their time no worse than in honest, innocent, and harmless fancies, which if they do, men shall have no cause to fear that when they go abroad in their absence, they shall12 receive an injury by their loose carriages. Neither will women be desirous to gossip abroad when their thoughts are well employed at home. But if they do throw scorn, I shall entreat you to do as13 the woman did in the play, called The Woman’s Prize; or, the Tamer Tam’d,14 which caused many of the female15 sex to help her to keep their right and privileges, making it their own case.16 Therefore pray strengthen my side in defending my book,17 for I know women’s tongues are as sharp as two-edged swords, and wound as much when they are angered. And in this battle may your wit be quick and your speech ready, and your arguments so strong as to beat them out of the field of dispute. So shall I get honor and reputation by your favors, otherwise I may chance to be cast into the fire. But if I burn, I desire to die your martyr. If I live, to be

Your humble servant,
M. N.

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,

To Her Excellence The Lady Marchioness of Newcastle


You are not only the first English poet of your sex, but the first that ever wrote this way: therefore, whosoever2 writes afterwards must own you for their pattern, from whence they take their sample, and a line by which they measure their conceits and fancies. For whatsoever is written afterwards will3 be but a copy of your original, which can be no more honor to them than to laboring men that draw water from another man’s spring for their own use; neither can there be anything writ that your Honor4 hath5 not employed your pen in, as there are6 poetical fictions, moral instructions, philosophical opinions, dialogues, discourses, poetical romances.7 But truly, Madam, this book is not the only occasion I have to admire you,8 for having been brought up from my childhood in your honorable family, and always in your Ladyship’s9 company, seeing the course of your life, and honoring your Ladyship’s10 disposition, I have admired nature more in your Ladyship11 than in any other works besides. First, in the course of your life you were always circumspect by nature, not by art; for naturally your Honor12 did hate to do anything that was mean and unworthy, or anything that your Honor13 might not own to all the world with confidence. And yet your Ladyship14 is naturally bashful, and apt to be out of countenance that your Ladyship15 could not oblige all the world. But truly, Madam, Fortune hath not so much in her power to give as your Honor16 hath to bestow, which apparently shineth in all places, especially where your Ladyship17 hath been, as France,18 Flanders, Holland, etc., to your everlasting honor and fame, which will manifest this relation to be the truth, as well as I, who am,

Your Honor’s19 most humble and obedient servant,
E. Toppe

To Natural Philosophers

If any philosophers have written of these subjects—as I make no question or doubt but they have—of all that Nature hath discovered, either in mere thought and speculation, or other ways in observation, yet it is more than I know of. For I never read nor heard of any English book to instruct me, and truly I understand no other language—not French, although I was in France five years, neither do I understand my own native language very well, for there are many words I know not what they signify, so as1 I have only the vulgar part: I mean, that which is most usually spoke. I do not mean that which is used to be spoke by clowns in every shire, where in some parts their language is known to none but those that are bred there. And not only every shire hath a several language, but every family, giving marks for things according to their fancy. But my2 ignorance of the mother tongues, in which learning is propagated,3 makes me ignorant of the opinions and discourses in former times, wherefore I may be absurd and err grossly. I cannot say I have not heard of atoms, and figures, and motion, and matter—but not throughly reasoned on. But if I do err, it is no great matter, for my discourse of them is not to be accounted authentic. So, if there be anything worthy of noting,4 it is a good chance; if not, there is no harm done, nor time lost. For I had nothing to do when I wrote it, and I suppose those have nothing or little else to do that read it. And the reason why I write it in verse is because I thought errors might better pass there than in prose—since poets write most fiction, and fiction is not given for truth, but pastime—and I fear my atoms will be as small pastime as themselves, for nothing can be less than an atom. But my desire that they should please the readers is as big as the world they make, and my fears are of the same bulk. Yet my hopes fall to a single atom again, and so shall I remain an unsettled atom, or a confused heap, till I hear my censure. If I be praised it fixes them, but if I am condemned I shall be annihilated to nothing. But my ambition is such, that5 I would either be a world, or nothing.

I desire all that are not quick in apprehending, or will not trouble themselves with such small things as atoms, to skip this part of my book and view the other, for fear these6 may seem tedious; yet7 the subject is8 light and the chapters short. Perchance the other may please better; if not the second, the third; if not the third, the fourth; if not the fourth, the fifth. And if they cannot please for lack of wit, they may please in9 variety, for most palates are greedy after change. And though they are not of the choicest meats, yet there is none dangerous; neither is there so much of particular meat, that10 any can fear a surfeit; but the better pleased you are, the better welcome. I wish heartily my brain had been richer, to make you a fine entertainment: truly I should have spared no cost, neither have I spared any pains. For my thoughts have been very busily employed these eight or nine months when they have not been taken away by worldly cares and trouble, which I confess hath been a great hinderance to this work. Yet have they sat up late, and risen early, running about until they have been in a fiery heat, so as their service hath not been wanton,11 nor their industry slack. What is amiss, excuse it as a fault of too much care, for there may be faults committed with being over-busy, as soon as for want of diligence. But those that are poor, have nothing but their labor to bestow, and though I cannot serve you on agate tables and Persian carpets with golden dishes and crystal glasses, nor feast you with ambrosia and nectar, yet perchance my rye loaf and new butter may taste more savory than those that are sweet and delicious.

If you dislike, and rise to go away,
Pray do not scoff, and tell what I did say.
But if you do, the matter is not great,
For ’tis but foolish words you can repeat.

Pray do not censure all you do not know,
But let my atoms to the learnèd go.
If y’judge12 and understand not, you may take
For nonsense that which learning sense will make.
But I may say, as some have said before,                     5
I’m not to13 fetch you wit from Nature’s store.

To the Reader


If any do read this book of mine, pray be not too severe in your censures. For first, I have no children to employ my care and attendance on, and1 my lord’s estate being taken away in those times when I writ this book, I2 had nothing for housewifery or thrifty industry to employ myself in, having no stock to work on. For housewifery is a discreet management, and ordering all in private and household affairs, seeing that nothing be3 spoiled or profusely spent, that every thing may have4 its proper place, and every servant his proper work, and every work may5 be done in its proper time, to be neat and cleanly, to have their house quiet from all disturbing noise. But thriftiness is something stricter; for good housewifery may be used in great expenses, but6 thriftiness signifies a saving or a getting, as to7 increase their stock or estate. For thrift weighs and measures out all expense. It is just as in poetry: for good husbandry in poetry is when there is great store of fancy well ordered, not only in fine language, but proper phrases and significant words. And thrift in poetry is when there is but little fancy, which is not only spun to the last thread, but the thread is drawn so small that8 it is scarce perceived. But I had9 nothing to spin or order, so that10 I became11 idle—I cannot say “in mine own house,” because I had12 none but what my mind was13 lodged in. Thirdly, you are to14 spare your severe censures, because I had15 not so many years of experience when I wrote this book as could16 make me a garland to crown my head; only I had17 so much time as to gather a little posy to stick upon my breast. Lastly, the time I have been writing them hath not been very long, but since I came into England, being eight years out and nine months in, and of these nine months, only some hours in the day, or rather in the night. For my rest being broke with discontented thoughts because I was from my lord and husband, knowing him to be in great wants, and myself in the same condition, to divert them, I strove to turn the stream, and18 shunning the muddy and foul ways of vice, I went to the well of Helicon, and by the wells side I did sit19 and wrote this work. It is not excellent, nor rare, but plain; yet it is harmless, modest, and honest. True, you20 may tax my indiscretion, being so fond of my book as to make it as if it were my child, and striving to show her21 to the world in hopes some may like her,22 and though they cannot admire her beauty,23 yet may praise her24 behavior, which is neither25 wanton nor rude. Wherefore I hope you will not put her26 out of countenance, which she is very apt to,27 being of bashful nature, and as ready to shed repentant tears if she28 think she hath29 committed a fault: wherefore pity her30 youth and tender growth, and rather tax the parent’s indiscretion than the child’s innocency. But my book coming out in this iron age, I fear I shall find hard hearts; yet I had rather she31 should find cruelty than scorn, and that my book32 should be torn rather than laughed at, for there is no such regret in nature as contempt. But I am resolved to set it at all hazards. If Fortune plays ambs-ace,33 I am gone; if sice cinque, I shall win a reputation of fancy; and if I lose, I lose34 but the opinion of wit. And where the gain will be more than the loss, who would not venture, when there are many in the world (which are accounted wise) that will venture life and honor for a petty interest, or out of envy, or for revenge’s35 sake. And why should not I venture, when nothing lies at stake but wit? Let it go—I shall not,36 nor cannot be much poorer. If fortune be my friend, then fame will be my gain, which may build me a pyramid of37 praise to my memory. I shall have no cause to fear it will be so high as Babel’s tower, to fall in the mid-way. Yet I am sorry it doth not touch the38 heaven, but my incapacity, fear, awe, and reverence kept me from that work. For it were too great a presumption to venture to discourse of that39 in my fancy which is not describable.40 For God and his heavenly mansions are to be admired and wondered at with astonishment,41 and not disputed on.

But at all other things let fancy fly,
And like a towering eagle mount the sky.
Or like the sun swiftly the world to round,
Or like pure gold, which in the earth is found.
But if a drossy wit, let’t buried be
Under the ruins of all memory.

The Poetress’s Hasty Resolution

Reading my verses, I liked them so well
Self-love did make my judgment to rebel.
And thinking them so good, thought more to make,1
Considering not how others would them take.2
I writ so fast, I thought if I lived long3                                   5
A pyramid of fame to build thereon.4
Reason, observing which way I was bent,
Did stay my hand, and asked me what I meant:
“Will you,” said she,5 “thus waste your time in vain,
On that which in the world small praise shall gaine?      10
For shame leave off,” said she,6 “the printer spare,
He’ll lose by your ill poetry, I fear.
Besides, the world already hath great store7
Of useless books; wherefore, do write no more,8
But9 pity take, do the world a good turn,                            15
And all you write cast in10 th’fire11 and burn.”
Angry I was, and Reason struck12 away,
When I did hear, what she13 to me did say.
Then all in haste I to the press it sent,
Fearing persuasion might my book prevent.                     20
But now ’tis done, repent with grief do I,14
Hang down my head with shame, blush, sigh, and cry.
Take pity, and my drooping spirits raise,
Wipe off my tears with handkerchiefs of praise.

The Poetress’s Petition

Like to a fever’s pulse my heart doth beat,
For fear my book some great repulse should meet.
If it be naught, let her1 in silence lie;
Disturb her2 not; let her3 in quiet die.
Let not the bells of your dispraise ring loud,                 5
But wrap her4 up in silence as a shroud.
Cause black oblivion on her5 hearse to lie;6
Instead of tapers, let dark night stand by.7
Instead of flowers on her8 grave to9 strow
Before her10 hearse, sleepy, dull poppy throw.              10
Instead of scutcheons, let my tears be hung,
Which grief and sorrow from my eyes out wrung.
Let those that bear her11 corpse no jesters be,
But sober, sad, and grave mortality;12
No satyr poets to her funeral come,13                              15
No altars raised to write inscriptions on.14
Let dust of all forgetfulness be cast
Upon her15 corpse; there let it16 lie and waste.
Nor let her17 rise again, unless some know
At judgments some good merits she18 can show;          20
Then she shall19 live in heavens of high praise,
And for her20 glory, garlands of fresh21 bays.

An Excuse for Writing So Much upon my Verses

Condemn1 me not for making such a coil2
About my3 book: alas, it is my child.4
Just like a bird when her young are in nest
Goes in and out, and hops, and takes no rest,
But when their young are fledged, their heads out peep,  5
Lord what a chirping does the old one keep!
So I—for fear my strengthless child should fall
Against a door or stool—aloud I call,
“Bid have a care of such a dangerous place!”
Thus write I much to hinder all disgrace.                              10