The feminead: or, Female genius

The feminead: or, Female genius  (1751) 
by John Duncombe




SHALL lordly man, the theme of every lay,
Usurp the Muse's tributary bay?
In kingly state on Pindus' summit sit,
Tyrant of verse, and arbiter of wit?
By Salic law the female right deny,
And view their genius with regardless eye?
Justice forbid! and every muse inspire
To sing the glories of a sister-choir!
Rise, rise, bold swain; and to the list'ning grove
Resound the praises of the sex you love;
Tell how, adorn'd with every charm, they shine,
In mind and person equally divine,
Till man, no more to female merit blind,
Admire the person, but adore the mind.

To these weak strains, O thou! the sex's friend
And constant patron,[1] Richardson! attend!
Thou, who so oft with pleas'd, but anxious care,
Haft watch'd the dawning genius of the fair,
With wonted smiles wilt hear thy friend display
The various graces of the female lay;
Studious from Folly's yoke their minds to free,
And aid the generous cause espous'd by thee.

Long o'er the world did Prejudice maintain,
By sounds like these, her undisputed reign:
"Woman! she cried, to thee, indulgent Heaven
"Has all the charms of outward beauty given:
"Be thine the boast, unrival'd, to enslave
"The great, the wise, the witty, and the brave;
"Deck'd with the Paphian rose's damask glow,
"And the vale-lily's vegetable snow,
"Be thine, to move majestic in the dance,
"To roll the eye, and aim the tender glance,
"Or touch the strings, and breathe the melting song,
"Content to emulate that airy throng,
"Who to the fun their painted plumes display,
"And gaily glitter on the hawthorn spray,
"Or wildly warble in the beechen grove,
"Careless of aught but music, joy, and love."

Heavens! could such artful, slavish sounds beguile
The free-born sons of Britain's polish'd isle?
Could they, like fam'd Ulysses' dastard crew,
Attentive listen, and enamour'd view,
Nor drive the Syren to that dreary plain,
In loathsome pomp, where eastern tyrants reign;
Where each fair neck the yoke of slav'ry galls,
Clos'd in a proud Seraglio's gloomy walls,
And taught, that levell'd with the brutal kind,
Nor sense, nor souls to women are assign'd.

Our British nymphs with happier omens rove,
At freedom's call, thro' wisdom's sacred grove,
And, as with lavish hand each sister grace
Shapes the fair form and regulates the face,
Each sister muse, in blissful union join'd,
Adorns, improves, and beautifies the mind.
Ev'n now fond Fancy in our polish'd land
Assembled fhows a blooming, studious band:
With various arts our reverence they engage,
Some turn the tuneful, some the moral page;
These, led by Contemplation, soar on high,
And range the Heavens with philosophic eye;
While those, surrounded by a vocal choir,
The canvas tinge, or touch the warbling lyre.
Here, like the stars' mix'd radiance, they unite
To dazzle and perplex our wand'ring sight:
The muse each charmer singly shall survey,
And tune to each her tributary lay.
So when, in blended tints, with sweet surprise
Assembled beauties strike our ravish'd eyes,
Such as in Lely's melting colours shine,
Or spring, great Kneller! from a hand like thine,
On all with pleasing awe at once we gaze,
And, lost in wonder, know not which to praise,
But, singly view'd, each nymph delights us more,
Disclosing graces unperceiv'd before.

First let the muse with gen'rous ardor try
To chase the mist from dark opinion's eye:
Nor mean we here to blame that father's care
Who guards from learned wives his booby heir,
Since oft that heir with prudence has been known
To dread a genius that transcends his own:
The wise themselves should with discretion chuse,
Since letter'd nymphs their knowledge may abuse,
And husbands oft experience to their cost
The prudent housewife in the scholar lost:
But those incur deserv'd contempt, who prize
Their own high talents, and their sex despise,
With haughty mien each social bliss defeat,
And sully all their learning with conceit:
Of such the parent justly warns his son,
And such the muse herself will bid him shun.

But lives there one, whose unassuming mind,
Tho' grac'd by nature, and by art refin'd,
Pleas'd with domestic excellence, can spare
Some hours from studious ease to social care,
And with her pen that time alone employs
Which others waste in visits, cards, and noise;
From affectation free, tho' deeply read,
"With wit well natur'd, and with books well bred?"
With such (and such there are) each happy day
Must fly improving, and improv'd away;
Inconstancy might fix and settle there,
And Wisdom's voice approve the chosen fair.

Nor need we now from our own Britain rove,
In search of Genius to the Lesbian grove,
Tho' Sappho there her tuneful lyre has strung,
And am'rous griefs in sweetest accents sung,
Since here, in Charles's days, amidst a train
Of shameless bards, licentious and profane,
The chaste[2] Orinda rose; with purer light,
Like modest Cynthia, beaming thro' the night:
Fair Friendship's lustre, undisguis'd by art,
Glows in her lines, and animates her heart;
Friendship, that jewel, which, tho' all confess
Its peerless value, yet how few possess!
For her the never-dying myrtle weaves
A verdant chaplet of her od'rous leaves;
If Cowley's or Roscommon's song can give
Immortal fame, her praise shall ever live.

Who can unmov'd hear[3] Winchelsea reveal
Thy horrors, Spleen! which all, who paint, must feel?
My praises would but wrong her sterling wit,
Since Pope himself applauds what she has writ.

But say, what matron now walks musing forth
From the bleak mountains of her native North?
While round her brows two sisters of the Nine
Poetic wreathes with philosophic twine!
Hail,[4] Cockburne, hail! ev'n now from Reason's bowers
Thy Locke delighted culls the choicest flowers
To deck his great, successful champion's head,
And Clarke expects thee in the laurel shade.
Tho' long to dark, oblivious want a prey,
Thy aged worth pass'd unperceiv'd away,
Yet Scotland now shall ever boast thy fame,
While England mourns thy undistinguish'd name,
And views with wonder, in a female mind,
Philosopher, divine, and poet join'd!

The modest muse a veil with pity throws
O'er vice's friends, and virtue's female foes;
Abash'd she views the bold unblushing mien
Of modern[5] Manley, Centlivre, and Behn;
And grieves to see one nobly born disgrace
Her modest sex, and her illustrious race.
Tho' harmony thro' all their numbers flow'd,
And genuine wit its every grace bestow'd,
Nor genuine wit, nor harmony, excuse
The dangerous sallies of a wanton muse:
Nor can such tuneful, but immortal, lays
Expect the tribute of impartial praise:
As soon might[6] Philips, Pilkington, and V———
Deserv'd applause for spotless virtue gain.

But hark! what[7] nymph, in Frome's embroider'd vale,
With strains seraphic swells the vernal gale?
With what sweet founds the bordering forest rings?
For sportive Echo catches, as she sings,
Each falling accent, studious to prolong
The warbled notes of Rowe's ecstatic song.
Old Avon pleas'd, his reedy forehead rears,
And polish'd Orrery delighted hears.
See with what transport she resigns her breath,
Snatch'd by a sudden, but a wish'd-for death!
Releas'd from earth, with smiles she roars on high
Amidst her kindred spirits of the sky,
Where faith and love those endless joys bestow,
That warm'd her lays, and fill'd her hopes below.

Nor can her noble[8] friend escape unseen,
Or from the muse her modest virtues screen;
Here, sweetly blended, to our wondering eyes,
The peeress, poetess, and Christian rife:
And tho' the Nine her tuneful strains inspire,
We less her genius, than her heart, admire,
Pleas'd, 'midst the great, one truly good to see,
And proud to tell that Somerset is she.

By generous views one[9] peeress more demands
A grateful tribute from all female hands;
One, who to shield them from the worst of foes,
In their just cause dar'd Pope himself oppose.
Their own dark forms deceit and envy wear,
By Irwin touch'd with[10] truth's celestial spear.
By her disarm'd, ye witlings! now give o'er
Your empty sneers, and shock the sex no more.

Thus bold Camilla, when the Trojan chief
Attack'd her country, flew to its relief;
Beneath her lance the bravest warriors bled,
And fear dismay'd the host which great Æneas led.

But ah! why heaves my breast this pensive sigh?
Why starts this tear unbidden from my eye?
What breast from sighs, what eye from tears refrains,
When, sweetly-mournful, hapless[11] Wright complains?
And who but grieves to see her generous mind,
For nobler views and worthier guests design'd,
Admit the hateful form of black despair,
Wan with the gloom of superstitious care?
In pity-moving lays, with earnest cries,
She call'd on heaven to close her weary eyes,
And, long on earth by heart-felt woes opprest,
Was borne by friendly death to welcome rest.

In nervous strains, lo![12] Madan's polish'd taste
Has poetry's successive progress trac'd,
From antient Greece, where first she fix'd her reign,
To Italy, and Britain's happier plain.
Praise well-bellow'd adorns her glowing lines,
And manly strength with female softness joins.
So female charms and manly virtues grace,
By her example form'd, her blooming race,
And, fram'd alike to please our ears and eyes,
There new Cornelias and new Gracchi rife.
O that you now, with genius at command,
Would snatch the pencil from my artless hand,
And give your sex's portraits, bold and true,
In colours worthy of themselves and you!

Now in ecstatic visions let me rove,
By Cynthia's beams, thro' Brackley's glimmering grove,
Where still each night, by startled shepherds seen,
Young[13] Leapor's form flies shadowy o'er the green.
Those envied honours nature lov'd to pay
The briar-bound turf, where erst her Shakespear lay,
Now on her darling Mira she bestows;
There o'er the hallow'd ground she fondly strows
The choicest fragrance of the breathing spring,
And bids each year her favourite linnet sing.

Let cloister'd pedants, in an endless round,
Tread the dull mazes of scholastic ground;
Brackley unenvying views the glittering train
Of learning's useless trappings idly vain;
For, spite of all that vaunted learning's aid,
Their fame is rivall'd by her rural maid.

So, while in our Britannia's beechen sprays
Sweet Philomela trills her mellow lays,
We to the natives of the sultry line
Their boasted race of parrots pleas'd resign:
For tho' on citron boughs they proudly glow
With all the colours of the watery bow,
Yet thro' the grove harsh discord they prolong,
Tho' rich in gaudy plumage, poor in song.

Now bear me, Clio, to that Kentish strand,
Whose rude o'erhanging cliffs and barren sand
May challenge all the myrtle-blooming bowers
Of fam'd Italia, when, at evening hours,
Thy own[14] Eliza muses on the shore,
Serene, tho' billows beat and tempests roar.
Hail, Carter, hail! your favourite name inspires
My raptur'd breast with sympathetic fires;
Ev'n now I see your lov'd Ilyssus lead
His mazy current thro' th' Athenian mead;
With you I pierce thro' academic shades,
And join in Attic bowers th' Aonian maids;
Beneath the spreading plane with Plato rove,
And hear his morals echo thro' the grove.
Joy sparkles in the sage's looks, to find
His genius glowing in a female mind;
Newton admiring sees your searching eye
Dart thro' his mystic page, and range the sky;
By you his colours to your sex are shown,
And Algarotti's name to Britain known.
While, undisturb'd by pride, you calmly tread.
Thro' life's perplexing paths, by wisdom led;
And, taught by her, your grateful muse repays
Her heavenly teacher in nocturnal lays.

So when Prometheus from th' Almighty Sire,
As sings the fable, stole celestial fire,
Swift thro' the clay the vital current ran,
In look, in form, in speech resembling man;
But in each eye a living lustre glow'd,
That spoke the heav'nly source from whence it flow'd.

"What magic pow'rs in[15] Celia's numbers dwell,
Which thus th' unpractis'd breast with ardor swell
"To emulate her praise, and tune that lyre
"Which yet no bard was able to inspire!

"With tears her suffering Virgin we attend,
"And sympathize with father, lover, friend;
"What sacred rapture in our bosom glows,
"When at the shrine she offers up her vows!
"Mild majesty and virtue's awful pow'r
"Adorn her fall, and grace her latest hour"

Transport me now to those embroider'd meads,
Where the flow Ouze his lazy current leads;
There, while the stream soft-dimpling steals along,
And from the groves the green-hair'd Dryads throng,
Clio herself, or[16] Ferrar tunes a lay,
Sweet as the darkling Philomel of May.
Haste, haste, ye Nine, and hear a sister sing
The charms of Cynthia, and the joys of spring!
See! night's pale goddess, with a grateful beam
Paints her lov'd image in the shadowy stream,
While, round his votary, spring profusely showers

"A snow of blossoms, and a wild of flowers."
O happy nymph, tho' winter o'er thy head,
Blind to that form, the snow of age shall shed;
Tho' life's short spring and beauty's blossoms fade,
Still shall thy reason flourish undecay'd;
Time, tho' he steals the roseate bloom of youth,
Shall spare the charms of virtue and of truth,
And on thy mind new charms, new bloom bestow,
Wisdom's best friend, and only beauty's foe.

Nor shall thy much-lov'd[17] Pennington remain
Unsung, unhonour'd in my votive strain
See where the soft enchantress, wandering o'er
The fairy ground that Philips trod before,
Exalts her chymic wand, and swift behold
The basest metals ripen into gold:
Beneath her magic touch, with wondering eye,
We view vile copper with pure sterling vie:
Nor shall the farthing, sung by her, forbear
To claim the praises of the smiling fair;
Till chuck and marble shall no more employ
The thoughtless leisure of the truant boy.

Returning now to Thames's flow'ry side,
See how his waves in still attention glide!
And, hark! what songstress shakes her warbling throat?
Is it the nightingale, or[18] Delia's note?
The balmy zephyrs, hovering o'er the fair,
On their soft wings the vocal accents bear;
Thro' Sunbury's low vale the strains rebound,
Ev'n neighbouring Chertsey hears the chearful sound,
And wondering sees her Cowley's laurel'd shade
Transported listen to the tuneful maid.
O may those nymphs, whose pleasing pow'r she sings,
Still o'er their suppliant wave their foltering wings!
O long may Health and soft-ey'd Peace impart
Bloom to her cheek, and rapture to her heart!
Beneath her roof the red-breast shall prolong,
Unchill'd by frosts, his tributary song;
For her the lark shall wake the dappled morn,
And linnet twitter from the blossom'd thorn.
Sing on, sweet maid! thy Spenser smiles to see
Kind Fancy shed her choicest gifts on thee,
And bids his Edwards, on the laurel spray
That shades his tomb, inscribe thy rural lay.

With lovely mien[19] Eugenia now appears,
The muse's pupil from her tenderest years;
Improving talks her peaceful hours beguile,
The sister arts on all her labours smile,
And while the Nine their votary inspire,
"One dips the pencil, and one strings the lyre."
O may her life's clear current smoothly glide,
Unruffled by misfortune's boisterous tide!
So while the charmer leads her blameless days
With that content which she so well displays,
Her own Honoria we in her shall view,
And think her allegoric vision true.

Thus wandering wild among the golden grain
That fruitful floats on Bansted's airy plain,
Careless I sung, while summer's western gale
Breath'd health and fragrance thro' the dusky vale;
When from a neighbouring hawthorn, in whose shade
Conceal'd the lay, up-rose th' Aonian maid:
Pleas'ed had she listen'd; and, with smiles, she cried,
"Cease, friendly swain! be this thy praise and pride,
"That thou, of all the numerous tuneful throng,
"First in our cause hast fram'd thy generous song.

"And ye, our sister choir! proceed to tread
"The flow'ry paths of fame, by science led !
"Employ by turns the needle and the pen,
"And in their favourite studies rival men!
"May all our sex your glorious track pursue,
"And keep your bright example fill in view!
"These lasting beauties will in youth engage,
"And smooth the wrinkles of declining age,
"Secure to bloom, unconscious of decay,
"When all Corinna's roses fade away.
"For ev'n when love's short triumph shall be o'er,
"When youth shall please, and beauty charm no more,
"When man shall cease to flatter; when the eye
"Shall cease to sparkle, and the heart to sigh,
"In that dread hour, when parent dust shall claim
"The lifeless tribute of each kindred frame,
"Ev'n then shall wisdom for her chosen fair
The fragrant wreaths of virtuous fame prepare;
"Those wreaths which flourish in a happier clime,
"Beyond the reach of envy and of time;
"While here, th' immortalizing muse shall save
"Your darling names from dark Oblivion's grave;
"Those names the praise and wonder shall engage
"Of every polish'd, wise, and virtuous age;
"'To latest times our annals shall adorn,
"And save from folly thousands yet unborn."

  1. The author of those three celebrated works, Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison.
  2. Mrs. Catherine Philips: The celebrated Orinda, was distinguished by most of the wits of King Charles's reign, and died young. Her pieces on Friendship are particularly admired.
  3. Anne countess of Winchelsea, a lady of great wit and genius, wrote (among others) a poem, much admired, on the Spleen, and is praised by Mr. Pope, &c. under the poetical name of Ardelia.
  4. Mrs. Catharine Cockburne was the wife of a clergyman, lived obscurely, and died a few years ago in an advanced age in Northumberland; her works on dramatic, philosophical, and sacred subjects have been lately collected by the learned Dr. Birch, and are generally admired.
  5. The first of these wrote the scandalous memoirs called Atalantis, an the other two are notorious for the indecency of their plays.
  6. These three ladies have endeavoured to immortalize their shame by writing their own memoirs.
  7. The character of Mrs. Rowe and her writings is too well known to be dwelt on hers. It may be sufficient to say, that without any previous illness she met at last with that sudden death for which she had always wished.
  8. Frances, Countess of Hertford, and afterwards dutchess dowager of Somerset, Mrs. Rowe's illustrious friend, lamented her death in some verses prefixed to her poems, and was author of the letters in her collection signed Cleora.
  9. Anne, viscountess Irwin, and aunt to the present earl of Carlisle: this lady, in a poetical epistle to Mr. Pope, has rescued her sex's cause from the aspersions cast on them by that satyrist in his essay on the characters of women.
  10. See Milton, book iv. ver. 811.
  11. Mrs. Wright, sister to the famous Wesleys, has published some pieces, which, tho' of a melancholy cast, are written in the genuine spirit of poetry.
  12. Mrs. Madan is author of a poem called the Progress of Poetry, wherein the characters of the best Grecian, Roman, and English poets are justly and elegantly drawn.
  13. Mrs. Leapor, daughter to a Northamptonshire gardener, has lately convinced the world of the force of unassisted nature by imitating and equalling some it our most approved poets, by the strength of her parts, and the vivacity of her genius.
  14. Mrs. Eliza Carter of Deal, well known to the learned world for her late translation of Epictetus, has translated, from the Italian, Algarotti's dialogues on light and colours; and lately published a small collection of elegant poems.
  15. We could not here, with justice, with-hold our tribute of praise from Mrs. Brooke, author of the tragedy of Virginia.
  16. This lady has written two beautiful odes to Cynthia and the Spring.
  17. Miss Pennington has happily imitated Mr. Philips's Splendid Shilling in a burlesque poem called The Copper Farthing.
  18. This lady has written odes to Peace, Health, and the Robin Red-breast, which are here alluded to; and she has been celebrated in a sonnet by Mr. Edwards, author of the Canons of Criticism.
  19. This lady has successfully applied herself to the sister arts of drawing and poetry, and has written an ingenious allegory, wherein two pilgrims, Fidelio and Honoria, after a fruitless search for the palace of Happiness, are at last conducted to the house of Content.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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