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In days of old, when Arthur fill'd the throne,
Whose acts and fame to foreign lands were blown,
The king of elves, and little fairy queen,
Gambolld on heaths, and danced on every green;
And where the jolly troop had led the round,
The grass unbidden rose, and mark'd the ground.
Nor darkling did they dance ;* the silver light
Of Phoebe served to guide their steps aright,
And, with their tripping pleased, prolong'd the
Her beams they follow'd, where at full she play'd,
Nor longer than she shed her horns they staid,
From thence with airy flight to foreign lands
convey'd. Above the rest our Britain held they dear; More solemnly they kept their Sabbaths here, And made more spacious rings, and revell’d half
I speak of ancient times; for now the swain,
Returning late, may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the knightly train ;
In vain the dairy now with mints is dress’d,
The dairy-maid expects no fairy guest
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast. .
She sighs, and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No silver penny to reward her pain ;
For priests, with prayers, and other godly gear,
Have made the merry goblins disappear ;
And where they play'd their merry pranks before,
Have sprinkled holy water on the floor;
And friars, that through the wealthy regions run,
Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun,
Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls,
And exercise the beds, and cross the walls :
This makes the fairy quires forsake the place,
When once 'tis hallow'd with the rites of grace.
But in the walks, where wicked elves have been,
The learning of the parish now is seen;
The midnight parson, posting o'er the green,
With gown tuck'd up to wakes; for Sunday next,
With humming ale encouraging his text;
Nor wants the holy leer to country-girl betwixt.
From fiends and imps he sets the village free,
There haunts not any incubus but he.
The maids and women need no danger fear
To walk by night, and sanctity so near;
For by some haycock, or some shady thorn,
He bids his beads both even-song and morn.*
It so befel in this King Arthur's reign,
A lusty knight was pricking o'er the plain ;
A bachelor he was, and of the courtly train.
It happen'd as he rode, a damsel
In russet robes, to market took her way ;
Soon on the girl he cast an amorous eye;
So straight she walk'd, and on her pasterns high :
If seeing her behind he liked her pace,
Now turning short, he better liked her face.
He lights in haste, and, full of youthful fire,
By force accomplish'd his obscene desire.
This done, away he rode, not unespied,
For, swarming at his back, the country cried ;
And, once in view, they never lost the sight,
But seized, and, pinion'd, brought to court the
knight. Then courts of kings were held in high renown, Ere made the common brothels of the town ; There virgins honourable vows received, But chaste as maids in monasteries lived ; The king himself, to nuptial ties a slave, No bad example to his poets gave; And they, not bad but in a vicious age, Had not, to please the prince, debauch'd the stage.*
Now,what should Arthur do? Heloved the knight,
But sovereign monarchs are the source of right;
Moved by the damsel's tears and common cry,
He doom'd the brutal ravisher to die.
But fair Geneura * rose in his defence,
And pray'd so hard for mercy from the prince,
That to his queen the king the offender gave,
And left it in her power to kill or save.
This gracious act the ladies all approve,
Who thought it much a man should die for love;
And, with their mistress, join'd in close debate,
(Cover'd their kindness with dissembled hate,
If not to free him, to prolong his fate.
At last agreed, they callid him by consent
Before the queen and female parliament;
And the fair speaker, rising from her chair,
Did thus the judgment of the house declare :-
Sir knight, though I have ask'd thy life, yet
Thy destiny depends upon my will.;
Nor hast thou other surety, than the grace,
Not due to thee, from our offended race.
But as our kind is of a softer mould,
And cannot blood, without a sigh, behold,
I grant thee life ; reserving still the power
To take the forfeit when I see my hour;
Unless thy answer to my next demand
Shall set thee free from our avenging hand.
The question, whose solution I require,
Is, what the sex of women most desire ?
In this dispute thy judges are at strife ;
Beware, for on thy wit depends thy life.
Yet (lest surprised, unknowing what to say,
Thou damn thyself) we give thee farther day ;
A year is thine to wander at thy will,
And learn from others, if thou want'st the skill;
But, not to hold our proffer'd turn in scorn,
Good sureties will we have for thy return,
That at the time prefix'd thou shalt obey,
And at thy pledge's peril keep thy day.-
Woe was the knight at this severe command,
But well he knew 'twas bootless to withstand.
The terms accepted, as the fair ordain,
He put in bail for his return again ;
And promised answer at the day assign'd,
The best, with heaven's assistance, he could find.
His leave thus taken, on his way he went,
With heavy heart, and full of discontent,
Misdoubting much, and fearful of the event.
'Twas hard the truth of such a point to find,
As was not yet agreed among the kind.
Thus on he went; still anxious more and more,
Ask'd all he met, and knock'd at every door;
Enquired of men ; but made his chief request
To learn from women what they loved the best.
They answer'd each, according to her mind,
To please herself, not all the female kind.
One was for wealth, another was for place ;
Crones, old and ugly, wish'd a better face.
The widow's wish was oftentimes to wed;
The wanton maids were all for sport a-bed.
Some said the sex were pleased with handsome lies,
And some gross flattery loved without disguise.
Truth is, says one, he seldom fails to win
Who flatters well; for that's our darling sin;
But long attendance, and a duteous mind,
Will work even with the wisest of the kind.
One thought the sex's prime felicity
Was from the bonds of wedlock to be free;