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Would men but follow what the sex advise,
All things would prosper, all the world grow wise.
'Twas by Rebecca's aid that Jacob won
His father's blessing from an elder son:
Abusive Nabal ow'd his forfeit life
To the wise conduct of a prudent wife:
Heroic Judith, as old Hebrews show,
Preserv'd the Jews, and slew th' Assyrian foe:
At Hester's suit, the persecuting sword
Was sheath'd, and Israel liv'd to bless the Lord.
These weighty motives, January the sage
Maturely ponder'd in his riper age;
And, charm'd with virtuous joys and sober life,
Would try that Christian comfort, call'd a wife.
His friends were summon'd on a point so nice,
To pass their judgement, and to give advice;
But fix'd before, and well resolv'd was he;
(As men that ask advice are wont to be).
'My friends,' he cried (and cast a mournful look
Around the room, and sigh'd before he spoke),
• Beneath the weight of threescore years I bend,
And worn with cares, and hastening to my end;
How I have liv'd, alas! you know too well,
In worldly follies, which I blush to tell;
But gracious Heaven has ope'd my eyes at last,
With due regret I view my vices past,
And, as the precept of the church decrees,
Will take a wife, and live in holy ease.
But, since by counsel all things should be done,
And many heads are wiser still than one;
Choose you for me, who best shall be content
When my desire's approv'd by your consent.
'One caution yet is needful to be told,
To guide your choice; this wife must not be old:
There goes a saying, and 'twas shrewdly said,
Old fish at table, but young flesh in bed.
My soul abhors the tasteless, dry embrace
Of a stale virgin with a winter face:
In that cold season love but treats his guest
With bean-straw, and tough forage at the best.
No crafty widows shall approach my bed;
Those are too wise for bachelors to wed;
As subtle clerks by many schools are made,
Twice-marry'd dames are mistresses o' the trade:
But young and tender virgins, rul'd with ease,
We form like wax, and mould them as we please.
⚫ Conceive me, sirs, nor take my sense amiss
'Tis what concerns my soul's eternal bliss:
Since if I found no pleasure in my spouse,
As flesh is frail, and who (God help me) knows?
Then should I live in lewd adultery,
And sink downright to Satan when I die.
Or were I curs'd with an unfruitful bed,
The righteous end were lost for which I wed;
To raise up seed to bless the powers above,
And not for pleasure only, or for love.
Think not I doat; 'tis time to take a wife,
When vigorous blood forbids a chaster life:
Those that are blest with store of grace divine,
May live like saints, by Heaven's consent and mine.
'And since I speak of wedlock, let me say
(As, thank my stars, in modest truth I may),
My limbs are active, still I'm sound at heart,
And a new vigour springs in every part.
Think not my virtue lost, though time has shed
These reverend honours on my hoary head;
Thus trees are crown'd with blossoms white as snow,
The vital sap then rising from below:
Old as I am, my lusty limbs appear
Like winter greens, that flourish all the year.
Now, sirs, you know to what I stand inclin'd,
Let every friend with freedom speak his mind.'
He said; the rest in different parts divide;
The knotty point was urg'd on either side:
Marriage, the theme on which they all declaim'd,
Some prais'd with wit, and some with reason blam'd;
Till what with proofs, objections, and replies,
Each wondrous positive, and wondrous wise,
There fell between his brothers a debate,
Placebo this was call'd, and Justin that,
First to the knight Placebo thus begun (Mild were his looks, and pleasing was his tone): Such prudence, sir, in all your words appears, As plainly proves experience dwells with years Yet you pursue sage Solomon's advice, To work by counsel when affairs are nice: But with the wise man's leave, I must protest, So may my soul arrive at ease and rest, As still I hold your own advice the best.
· Sir, I have liv'd a courtier all my days, And studied men, their manners, and their ways; And have observ'd this useful maxim still, To let my betters always have their will. Nay, if my lord affirm that black was white, My word was this: Your honour's in the right.' Th' assuming wit, who deems himself so wise, As his mistaken patron to advise,
Let him not dare to vent his dangerous thought,
A noble fool was never in a fault.
This, sir, affects not you, whose every word
Is weigh'd with judgement, and befits a lord:
Your will is mine; and is (I will maintain)
Pleasing to God, and should be so to man!
At least your courage all the world must praise,
Who dare to wed in your declining days.
Indulge the vigour of your mounting blood,
And let grey fools be indolently good,
Who, past all pleasure, damn the joys of sense,
With reverend dulness, and grave impotence.'
Justin, who silent sat, and heard the man,
Thus, with a philosophic frown, began:
'A heathen author of the first degree
(Who, though not faith, had sense as well as we),
Bids us be certain our concerns to trust
To those of generous principles, and just.
The venture's greater, I'll presume to say,
To give your person, than your goods away:
And, therefore, sir, as you regard your rest,
First learn your lady's qualities at least:
Whether she's chaste or rampant, proud or civil,
Meek as a saint, or haughty the devil;
Whether an easy, fond, familiar fool,
Or such a wit as no man e'er can rule.
'Tis true, perfection none must hope to find
In all this world, much less in womankind;
But, if her virtues prove the larger share,
Bless the kind Fates, and think your fortune rare.
Ah, gentle sir, take warning of a friend,
Who knows too well the state you thus commend;
And, spite of all his praises, must declare,
All he can find is bondage, cost, and care.
Heaven knows, I shed full many a private tear,
And sigh in silence, lest the world should hear!
While all my friends applaud my blissful life,
And swear no mortal's happier in a wife;
Demure and chaste as any vestal nun,
The meekest creature that beholds the sun!
But, by th' immortal powers, I feel the pain
And he that smarts has reason to complain.
Do what you list, for me; you must be sage,
And cautious sure; for wisdom is in age:
But at these years, to venture on the fair;
By him who made the ocean, earth, and air,
To please a wife, when her occasions call,
Would busy the most vigorous of us all.
And trust me, sir, the chastest you can chuse
Will ask observance, and exact her dues.
If what I speak my noble lord offend,
My tedious sermon here is at an end.'
'Tis well, 'tis wondrous well,' the knight replies, • Most worthy kinsman, faith you're mighty wise! We, sirs, are fools, and must resign the cause To heathenish authors, proverbs, and old saws.' He spoke with scorn, and turn'd another way:... What does my friend, my dear Placebo, say?'
I say,' quoth he, by Heaven the man's to blame,
To slander wives, and wedlock's holy name.'
At this the counsel rose, without delay; Each, in his own opinion, went his way; With full consent, that, all disputes appeas'd, The knight should marry, when and where he pleas'd.
Who now but January exults with joy?
The charms of wedlock all his soul employ; Each nymph by turns his wavering mind possest, And reign'd the short-liv'd tyrant of his breast; While fancy pictur'd every lively part,
And each bright image wander'd o'er his heart. Thus, in some public forum fix'd on high, A mirror shows the figures moving by ; Still one by one, in swift succession, pass The gliding shadows o'er the polish'd glass. This lady's charms the nicest could not blame, But vile suspicions had aspers'd her fame; That was with sense, but not with virtue blest; And one had grace, that wanted all the rest. "Thus doubting long what nymph he should obey, He fix'd at last upon the youthful May. Her faults he knew not, Love is always blind, But every charm revolv'd within his mind: Her tender age, her form divinely fair, Her easy motion, her attractive air, Her sweet behaviour, her enchanting face, Her moving softness, and majestic grace.
Much in his prudence did our knight rejoice, And thought no mortal could dispute his choice; Once more in haste he summon'd every friend, And told them all, their pains were at an end. 'Heaven that,' said he, inspir'd me first to wed, Provides a consort worthy of my bed: Let none oppose th' election, since on this Depends my quiet, and my future bliss.
A dame there is, the darling of my eyes,
Young, beauteous, artless, innocent, and wise; Chaste, though not rich; and, though not nobly born,
Of honest parents, and may serve my turn.