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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 Sallic law the female right deny,
And view their genius with regardless eye?
Justice forbid ! and every inuse inspire
To sing the glories of a sister-choir !
Rise, rise, bold swain, and to the listening 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, Richardson! attend! Thou, who so oft with pleas’d, but anxious care, Hast 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 sun 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 freeborn 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 slavery 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.
Even now fond fancy, in our polish'd land
Assembled, shows 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 wandering 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 colors 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 generous 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 choose,
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 men 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.