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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 gay,
In russet robes, to market took her
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.*
But now alas ! they all are dead,
Or gone beyond the seas ;
Or farther for religion fled,
Or else they take their ease.
See “ The Faries Farewell," a lively little song, by the witty
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 call’d 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 profferd 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 ;
Their pleasures, hours, and actions, all their own,
And, uncontrould, to give account to none.
Some wish a husband-fool; but such are curst,
For fools perverse of husbands are the worst.
All women would be counted chaste and wise,
Nor should our spouses see but with our eyes;
For fools will prate; and though they want the wit
To find close faults, yet open bolts will hit;
Though better for their ease to hold their tongue,
For womankind was never in the wrong.
So noise ensues, and quarrels last for life;
The wife abhors the fool, the fool the wife.
And some men say, that great delight have we
To be for truth extoll'd, and secrecy;
And constant in one purpose still to dwell,
And not our husbands' counsel to reveal.
But that's a fable ; for our sex is frail,
Inventing rather than not tell a tale.
Like leaky sieves no secrets we can hold ;
Witness the famous tale that Ovid told.*
Midas the king, as in his book appears,
By Phoebus was endow'd with ass's ears,
Which under his long locks he well conceald,
(As monarchs' vices must not be reveal’d,)
For fear the people have them in the wind,
Who, long ago, were neither dumb nor blind ;
Nor apt to think from heaven their title springs,
Since Jove and Mars left off begetting kings.
This Midas knew; and durst communicate
To none but to his wife his ears of state ;
One must be trusted, and he thought her fit,
As passing prudent, and a parlous wit.
To this sagacious confessor he went,
And told her what a gift the gods had sent ;
But told it under matrimonial seal,
With strict injunction never to reveal.
The secret heard, she plighted him her troth,
(And sacred sure is every woman's oath,)
The royal malady should rest unknown,
Both for her husband's honour and her own :
But ne'ertheless she pined with discontent,
The counsel rumbled till it found a vent.
The thing she knew she was obliged to hide ;
By interest and by oath the wife was tied,
But, if she told it not, the woman died.
Loth to betray a husband and a prince,
But she must burst or blab, and no pretence
Of honour tied her tongue from self-defence.
A marshy ground commodiously was near,
Thither she ran, and held her breath for fear,
Lest if a word she spoke of any thing,
That word might be the secret of the king.
Thus full of counsel to the fen she went,
Griped all the way, and longing for a vent;
Arrived, by pure necessity compellid,
On her majestic marrow-bones she kneeld.
Then to the water's brink she laid her head,
And as a bittour bumps* within a reed,
To thee alone, O lake! she said, I tell,
(And, as thy queen, command thee to conceal :)
Beneath his locks, the king my husband wears
A goodly royal pair of ass's ears :
Now I have eased my bosom of the pain,
Till the next longing fit return again.-