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Nor know to make the present blessing last,
To hope the future, or esteem the past:
But vainly boast the joys they never try'd,
And find divulg'd the secrets they would hide.
The marry'd man may bear his yoke with ease,
Secure at once himself and heav'n to please;
And pass his inoffensive hours away,
In bliss all night, and innocence all day:
Tho' fortune change, his constant spouse remains,
Augments his joys, or mitigates his pains.
Some wicked wits have libell'd all the fair.
But what so pure, which envious tongues will spare?
With matchless impudence they style a wife
The dear-bought curse, and lawful plague of life;
A bosom-serpent, a domestic evil,
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 Judgment, 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 cry'd and cast a mournful look Around the room, and sign'd before he spoke:) "Beneath the weight of threescore years I bend, And, worn with cares, am hast ning to my end;
How I have livid, alas! you know too well,
In worldly follies, which I blush to teil;
But gracious heav'n has oped 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' th' 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,
May live like saints, by heav'n'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 ev'ry part.
Think not my virtue lost, tho' time has shed
These rev'rend 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 ev'ry friend with freedom speak his mind.
He said; the rest in diff'rent 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 wond'rous positive, and won'drous 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 wiseman'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 study'd 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'd 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 dang'rous thought,
A noble fool was never in a fault.
This, Sir, affects not you, whose ev'ry word
Is weigh'd with judgment, 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, tho' not Faith, had Sense as well as we) Bids us be certain our concerns to trust
To those of gen'rous 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 as 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 woman-kind;
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.
Heav'n 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 pow'rs, 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 vig'rous of us all.
And trust me, Sir, the chastest you can choose
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 heath'nish 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 heav'n the man's to blame, To slander wives, and wedlock's holy name. At this the council 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 wav'ring mind possest,
And reign'd the short-liv'd tyrant of his breast;
While fancy pictur'd ev'ry 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 ev'ry 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 ev'ry friend, And told them all, their pains were at an end.
"Heav'n, 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, tho' not rich; and tho' not nobly born,
Of honest parents, and may serve my turn.
Her will I wed, if gracious heav'n so please;
To pass my age in sanctity and ease:
And thank the pow'rs, I may possess alone
The lovely prize, and share my bliss with none!
If you, my friends, this virgin can procure,
My joys are full, my happiness is sure.
"One only doubt remains: Full oft I've heard,
By casuists grave, and deep divines averr'd;
That 'tis too much for human race to know
The bliss of heav'n above, and earth below.
Now should the nuptial pleasures prove so great,
To match the blessings of the future state,
Those endless joys were ill exchang'd for these;
Then clear this doubt, and set my mind at ease."
This Justin heard, nor could his spleen control,
Touch'd to the quick, and tickled at the soul.
"Sir Knight," he cry'd, "if this be all you dread,
Heav'n put it past your doubt, whene'er you wed;
And to my fervent pray'rs so far consent,
That ere the rites are o'er, you may repent!
Good heav'n, no doubt, the nuptial state approves,
Since it chastises still what best it loves.
"Then be not, Sir, abandon'd to despair;
Seek, and perhaps you'll find among the fair,
One, that may do your business to a hair;
Not ev'n in wish, your happiness delay,
But prove the scourge to lash you on your way:
Then to the skies your mounting soul shall go,
Swift as an arrow soaring from the bow!
Provided still, you moderate your joy,
Nor in your pleasures all your might employ,