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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/The Progress of Beauty

THE PROGRESS OF BEAUTY. 1720.


WHEN first Diana leaves her bed,
Vapours and steams her look disgrace,
A frowzy dirty-colour'd red
Sits on her cloudy wrinkled face:

But, by degrees, when mounted high,
Her artificial face appears
Down from her window in the sky,
Her spots are gone, her visage clears.

'Twixt earthly females, and the moon,
All parallels exactly run:
If Celia should appear too soon,
Alas, the nymph would be undone!

To see her from her pillow rise,
All reeking in a cloudy steam,
Crack'd lips, foul teeth, and gummy eyes,
Poor Strephon! how would he blaspheme!

Three colours, black, and red, and white,
So graceful in their proper place,
Remove them to a different site,
They form a frightful hideous face:

For instance, when the lily skips
Into the precincts of the rose,
And takes possession of the lips,
Leaving the purple to the nose:

So Celia went entire to bed,
All her complexion safe and sound;
But, when she rose, white, black, and red,
Though still in sight, had chang'd their ground.

The black, which would not be confin'd,
A more inferiour station seeks,
Leaving the fiery red behind,
And mingles in her muddy cheeks.

But Celia can with ease reduce,
By help of pencil, paint, and brush,
Each colour to its place and use,
And teach her cheeks again to blush.

She knows her early self no more,
But fill'd with admiration stands;
As other painters oft adore
The workmanship of their own hands.

Thus, after four important hours,
Celia's the wonder of her sex:
Say, which among the heavenly powers
Could cause such marvellous effects?

Venus, indulgent to her kind,
Gave women all their hearts could wish,
When first she taught them where to find
White lead and Lusitanian[1] dish.

Love with white lead cements his wings;
White lead was sent us to repair
Two brightest, brittlest, earthly things,
A lady's face, and China-ware.

She ventures now to lift the sash;
The window is her proper sphere:
Ah, lovely nymph! be not too rash,
Nor let the beaux approach too near.

Take pattern by your sister star:
Delude at once and bless our sight;
When you are seen, be seen from far,
And chiefly choose to shine by night.

But art no longer can prevail,
When the materials all are gone;
The best mechanick hand mast fail,
Where nothing's left to work upon.

Matter, as wise logicians say,
Cannot without a form subsist;
And form, say I as well as they,
Must fail, if matter brings no grist.

And this is fair Diana's case;
For all astrologers maintain,
Each night a bit drops off her face,
When mortals say she's in her wane:

While Partridge[2] wisely shows the cause
Efficient of the moon's decay,
That Cancer with his poisonous claws
Attacks her in the milky way:

But Gadbury[2], in art profound,
From her pale cheeks pretends to show,
That swain Endymion is not found,
Or else that Mercury's her foe.

But, let the cause be what it will,
In half a month she looks so thin,
That Flamsteed[3] can, with all his skill,
See but her forehead and her chin.

Yet, as she wastes, she grows discreet,
Till midnight never shows her head:
So rotting Celia strolls the street,
When sober folks are all abed:

For sure, if this be Luna's fate,
Poor Celia, but of mortal race,
In vain expects a longer date
To the materials of her face.

When Mercury her tresses mows,
To think of black lead combs is vain;
No painting can restore a nose,
Nor will her teeth return again.

Ye powers, who over love preside!
Since mortal beauties drop so soon,
If ye would have us well supply'd,
Send us new nymphs with each new moon!


  1. Portugal.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Partridge and Gadbury wrote each an ephemeris.
  3. John Flamsteed, the celebrated astronomer royal.