Daniel Defoe

Print

Good Advice to the Ladies: Shewing, that as the World goes, and is like to go, the best way for them is to keep unmarried.

Published as “by the Author of the True-born Englishman”, and attributed to Defoe in the British Library catalogue, but possibly not by Defoe himself, this poem offers a vigorous critique of the patriarchal subjection of women and resorts to a traditional suggestion that the only way for a woman to avoid a miserable fate is to remain unmarried. Whilst the poem is occasionally jolting, and the voices are often unstable, it is of interest for its vigorous and telling vignettes of the abuse of women by husbands who had total control over them and their fortunes, vignettes which are supported by much social history of the period. (Robert Clark)

The Preface

And now for the Beaus, the Poets, the Bullies, and the Blockheads, to be about a Man's Ears; every Man in his way crying down this poor Poem; some heartily cursing it and the Author; others pretending to be mighty Criticks in Wit, call it a slight sorry Piece, that it wants Strength, Beauty, Regularity: But pray Gentlemen, let your Thoughts be what they will, do not be hasty in openly crying it down …. If you are a Married Man, they will say you are a bad Husband, and therefore are a Party concerned; and if you are Unmarried, they will suspect you intend not to make a good one; therefore if you are wise, you had better be silent: And to quite you a little, I shall be so obliging as to give some account of the Publishing of this Poem, or Satyr, of what you please to call it. — There were several imperfect Copies of it spread abroad; I got the fullest I could find, and put it into the Bookseller's Hand for Publick Good, and to contribute a little to reform a loose Age: For he that views the Lives and Manners of Men, will quickly observer that they need Reforming, and some are of the Opinion, that the Distemper is too far gone to submit to any Remedies but a dreadful one: But, indeed, this is Published to preserve the Ladies from the infection and Mischief they design them, who openly cry down everything that is good. One celebrated Author tells you, that the Notions of God, Good, and Evil, were things taken up by chance, meer Custom and Education, and this is plain to Humane Understanding. —Another hath just now obliged the World with a Book, that upon second Thoughts, he thinks there is not such a thing as an Immortal Soul, but that a Man dies like a Dog and so may live like one. The famous Tol. must not be forgot, that loudly proclaims the Scriptures are a Forgery, and Jesus Christ a meer Man. These are the applauded Notions of the Wits, who proclaim they have too much Wit to have either Morality, or Religion, and by consequence either Honour, or Conscience: For all their Morality must be of their own making, and what they think to be so; and we know well enough they will be for Liberty of Conscience in this Point, and not tied up to the dull Rules of others. And when a Man shall see his King, or the General of a Nation, in a Foreign Land, Fighting for the Religion and Liberties of his People, and view a company of sauntring Creatures made up of nothing but Wigg and Impertinence, stroling about to pursue their debaucheries, and censuring all the World; that the Chocolat-House, the Tavern, his Snuff-Box, and Play-House are his Ammunition, Stratagems and Field of Honour: I say, when we shall consider what Useless, or Mischievous wretched Creatures they are, what they do, and how they live, it raiseth an Indignation in every honest and brave Man's Mind that is not easily managed.

….And then for the Poets and the Stage, they have been the nurseries of all Debauchery: Scarce a Woman brought in tho' of the greatest Character, but she is represented as a Wh---- The Double-Dealer hath three Ladies, and all Debauched.; and we are plainly told, That this is the Way of the World.

Marvel not then, that I should fortifie some of my Acquaintance against so spreading an irrepairable Mischief as springs from too frequent a Conversation with Mankind, or having too good an Opinion of them; and I thought I could take no more effectual way than by addressing this Poem to them, which, by chance, came into my Hands; tho' I must declare I know nothing of the Author, nor who he is, nor where he lives, any more than is in the Title Page.

But you will say, 'tis a great fault to persuade People against Marriage: I answer, That to the utmost of my Power I will ever expose those Impious, Impertinent, Cowardly, Censorious, Sauntring, Idle Wretches called Wits and Beaus, the Plague of the Nation, and the Scandal of Mankind. But if Lesbia is sure she hath found a Man of Honour, Religion and Vertue, I will never forbid the Bans; let her love him as much as she pleases, and value him as an Angle [sic], and Married tomorrow if she will.

Good Advice to the Ladies

    I hear, my Lesbia, you must be a Wife,
    And taste the comforts of a Married Life:
    If you resolve on this, pray be content
    To do as others do, and then repent.
5   Believe me, Lesbia, the teeming Earth,
  Amongst the various Creatures she brings forth,
    Yet never one produc'd that equal can
    The falsehood and the Cruelties of Man.
   
    But you are Fair, and your attracting Powers
10   Will tie him to you fast and make him yours:
  Some Kitchen Wench, or filthy thing that's grown
    The common Talk and Scandal of the Town—
    This loathsome Creature shall out-do thy Charms
    And tear thy wretched Husband from thy Arms.
15   Under thy Nose, he'll keep the Baggage fine,
  And whatso'er is Dear, and should be thine,
    She shall possess; and if you speak a word
    O! then his Wife is not to be indur'd —
    A Jealous peevish thing, Diseas'd or Mad,
20   Not fit for Commerce, nor the Marriage-Bed.
  The treacherous Ocean gently smiles from far
  To temp on Board th' unwary Passenger,
    Suspecting nothing in a specious shew,
    And fondly trusting to so smooth a Brow.
25   When past retreat, fierce Boreas Clouds the Skie,
  And throws the frothy Billlows up on high;
  Then the sad Accents fill the troubled Air
    Of Men, surpriz'd with Ruin and Despaire.
    At last they're cast upon some dismal Coast;
30   Their Lives, perhaps, are sav'd, but all their Comforts lost.
   
  Alas the Marriage-Shew is quickly gone!
  You'll see the stormy Days a coming on,
    Then the black Clouds and hideous Sights appear
    Which you, poor patient Angel, cannot bear.
   
35   Oft have I seen a Bully reeling home,
  Drench't in the Rogueries of all the Town;
  Altho' 'tis by his Wife that he's grown Rich,
    Yet now he comes enquiring for his Bitch:
    The new-come Servant with a Scrape and Bow,
40   Says, Sir, I tied her in the Kennel now.
  Curse on thee, for a Fool; I mean my Wife,
  That Plague, that Devil, that disturbs my Life;
    That Basilisk so hateful to my Eye,
    Whose sight disturbs and poisons all my Joys.
45   'Tis Her; go, Sirrah, call your Mistress here!
  The Trembling Creature, almost dead with fear,
  Comes down; the Villain, in a scornful way,
    Says, Where have you been Jilting all the Day?
    How pleasant with your Rogues! But when I come,
50   You then are Melancholly, Sick and Dumb.
  Your Gallantries you keep others to please,
  I bear the weight of your Debaucheries;
    My Purse pays off your Revels; every Street
    Rings with the Assignations where you meet —
55   Whilst the poor Soul hath scarce a Petty-Coat,
  Nor Shoes, unless his Whore persuade him to't.
   
  Just like a statue stands the patient wife,
    And dare not speak one word to save her Life;
    Insulted and abus'd, she now too late
60   Laments the Burden of a married State.
   
  Corinna, not long since, I'm sure you'll own,
  Had Charms, and was admir'd by all the Town.
    You know Corinna now, and can there be
    A more forlorn and wretched thing than she?
65   And yet her Lover swore he'd prove as true
  As he that now pretends a Zeal for you.
   
  Another sheds his Venom like a Toad,
    Which must his fairest Consort's Flesh corrode;
    Struck like some Lilly by a Northern Blast,
70   She shrinks under the Weight, and Dies as fast.
   
  Sly Charus bangs his Wife, and doth profess,
  'Tis on mere Principles of Godliness,
    Cites Scripture for to prove that Blows are good
    To cure the vicious Sallies of the Blood,
75   As necessary for his Wife as Food.
  Sometimes by rougher means he must controul
  And Plague her Body, for to save her Soul;
    Thus Soberly, and with affected grin,
    The Devil pleads the Scripture for his Sin.
   
80   Late in the night comes home a moody Sot,
  And he's grown sullen from the Lord knows what;
  The officious Wife invites the Hog to Bed,
    Who only grunts, and squints, and hangs his Head:
    Come, says the patient Kitling, Husband come;
85   The surly Cur sits biting of his Thumb,
  And looks as if he were Possess'd or Dumb;
  Stretch'd out, the Block-head rests, stirrs ne're a Limb,
    But lies all Night like Michels Teraphim.
   
    But double Curses light on Rimmon's Head,
90   Who had the Heart, the beat his Wife in Bed,
  To Pinch her, and to bid her, if she please,
  Make her Complaints, and shew her Grievances.
   
    At publick Feasts Bathillus calls his Wife
    His Phillis and his Goddess and his Life,
95   Yet this same Phillis but the Night before
  The Villain Kick'd, and turn'd her out of Door.
  The fatal Tokens of his cursed Love!
    And what is ten times worse, this vicious Toad
    Shall pass for a good Natur'd Man Abroad.
   
100   But all their Crimes would to a Volume swell
  As black as Sin itself, as deep as Hell,
  As good to count the Sands, or drops of Dew,
    As tell the ways they'll take to ruin you.
    O Eve! black was the Guilt thou wast in!
105   Or else the Curse is greater than the Sin.
   
  But ne're was such a Husband, I dare swear,
  As lately happen'd to Clarinda's share:
    His Head went tapering like a Sugar Loaf,
    And every word he spoke was like an Oph;
110   Short was his Wit, but long enough his Chin,
  His Beard was Bristles, and his Jaws were thin;
  And yet this senseless Thing none durst controul,
    Industrious for to shew he was a Fool.
    Yet here's a Nymph to this old Satyr Sold,
115   Because her Father knew the Fool had Gold:
  I'm sure you don't admire Clarinda's bliss
  That's tied to such a brainless head as this.
   
    Good Husbands, Lesbia, like hid Treasures are,
    Not to be found by Industry and Care;
120   No Constellation, or inchanted Rod,
  Can e're direct you to their blest abode:
  'Tis Chance that finds them out, not Wit nor Rules,
    And therefore commonly possess'd by Fools.
    Wisdom's no guide to the Matrimonial State,
125   The wiser Woman, and the worser Fate.
  Reports and Converse, probabilities
  That hold in other Things, are here meer lyes;
    Had these been true; Ammon a Saint had been,
    Sweet in his Deportment, and his Looks Serene,
130   As if no Frown had e'er disturb'd his Brow,
  So apt his Words, so easily they flow,
  Soft as Orlinda's Hand, or new-fall'n Snow
    Nothing Affected, Stiff, Severe, or Odd,
    And Courted beauteous Cloris like a God.
135   Ne'er Grecian Bard in an Immortal Strain
  E're sung a brighter, or more constant Flame:
  Not many Weeks the Marriage-Knot was ti'd
    But beauteous Cloris look'd too like a Bride;
    The fond Caresses that the Goddess gives
140   He with a yawning carelessness receives;
  Whilst she doth their her kinder Arts pursue,
  But cannot the expiring Flame renew.
    Thus, almost in the Circuit of a Moon,
    She knows her Fate, and finds her self undone.
   
145   I' th' Temple, where Men take up their abode,
  And Mammon, or a Mistress, is their God,
  Lives Ursine, for his Practice not much known,
    But as the Drum and Bully of the Town.
    To make his Soul, kind Nature did dispense
150   Vast stores of Noise, and very little Sense,
  Which Failure supplied with Impudence.
  His Body was proportioned to his Soul:
    In Lungs a Bear, in Head and Face an Owle;
    Part Goat, part Cormorant, and part an Ape,
155   Yet all these moulded to a human Shape,
  Not so exact, but still the Beast was seen
  In Features, Inclination, or his Mien;
    Witness his Horse's Nose, that doth dispence
    Loud Neighings of salacious Impudence.
160   And yet this rumbling Tempest had the Art
  To Court successfully and gain a Heart;
  Which shews, when such a wretched thing can please,
    Women are wise in every thing but this.
    But blush you Readers all, when Trinkelo,
165   That little Foot-man, sets up for a Beau;
    Sayes, he's belov'd. and makes the harmless grin,
  Just like a Ladies Monkey new made clean.
   
    Fly then, Dear Lesbia, shun the Crocodile,
    Fierce to Devour, and subtile to beguile;
170   Keep, dearest Saint, your Freedom whilst you may,
  Nor, for a trifle, sell your Joys away:
  Just like fall'n Spirits, to whom they're near a kin,
    They'll tempt, and they'll plague you for the Sin.
    This Legion shall contrive to run you down,
175   And make you guilty, tho' the crime's their own.
   
  Perhaps you'll say this is preposterous;
  In blaming others, I my self expose.
   
    I hate Mankind, and were it not for shame,
    I'll swear I'd Publickly disown the Name:
180   To be call'd Man with me doth sound no more
  Than if you call'd an honest Woman Whore.
  The Clown, the Fool, the Tyrant and the Hogg,
    The sly Deceiver, and the publick Rogue,
    The Sot that's Drunk and slabbers all the Town,
185   The needy Poet, and the learned Drone,
  The wrigling Creature, one that God thought fit
  To make a Fool, yet thinks himself a Wit:
    Gold Watch and Snuff-box set up such a Tool,
    And twenty Bawbles more to please the Fool,
190   Shaves every day, and sets himself to shew,
  I mean, that empty Nauseous thing a Beau;
  The only thing that recommend him can
    Is that he's more a Monkey than a Man.
    The Courtier that will fawn and cut your Throat,
195   And sell his God and Country for a Groat,
  Who meditates Revenge, and when most crost
  Looks fly, and hides his Sting and Venom most;
    These are, (and worse than these, if worse there can)
    The usual compounds of the thing call'd Man.
   
200   Stand up you sons of Brass, deny the charge,
  I know your Crimes and Consciences are large:
  You'll say 'tis false, a damned Calumny;
    But your own Actions give your Tongues the Lye
    What e'er the Picture wants of being true,
205   Is that it looks not so deform'd as you.
  With decent Vails you cover o'er your Shame,
  Your basest Lusts you call a generous Flame,
    A Mistress is a thing too foul to Name.
    Hardene'd in Vice and Impudence, from hence
210   You take the Character of Men of Sense:
  So if you judge according to these Rules,
  The Modest and the Virtuous are all Fools.
    False Lights and Paint makes your appearance fair,
    My Colours represent you as you are:
215   I shew the true Complection of your Skin,
  And part of that Deformity within:
  For he that all your monstrous Parts can shew,
    Must have a better hand than Angelo.
    If Credit to some Stories we can grant,
220   Angels have tri'd their skill to draw a Saint:
  The Devil himself must come before we can
  Have the exact resemblance of a Man;
    For if the World had skill, the Earth wants Stuff
    To make the Colours look deform'd enough.
225   You'll say Aurelia's Choice doth happy prove,
  Old Age hath snow'd upon them yet the Love
  Amintas dotes upon her wrinkled Brow.
    I know, my Lesbia, what you say is true;
    You say a Man that's truly Good and Wise,
230   Scorns thus to be Unjust and Tyrannise.
   
  A true Wise Man's like a Prodigious Birth,
  A Rarity, and scarcely found on Earth.
    The Infant World might boast of such a Race;
    And tell us Men had Honesty and Grace,
235   But in this Iron Age, Time downward rouls,
  And gives us harden'd Brutes and rusty Souls.
  Your powerful Arts will all be at a loss
    To meet them, or to scour them from their Dross:
    The Chymistry is scarce yet understood
240   To keep a Husband tolerably good.
    My sum amounts hardly to half a score,
  And I should sooner make them less than more.
    I bring Amintas in the Number too,
    And, in such odds, is one reserv'd for you?
245   Then, Lesbia, be as wise as you are Fair,
    Despise Mankind, and keep you as you are.

First published 1702.

Contributed by Robert Clark.