On Reading Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women

What sage Instruction all these Lines impart!

Who like Fordyce can touch the Female Heart?

He makes our Vanities and Follies join

To aid an undertakeing all Divine,

To raise our Sex to Honor and to Fame 5

And make us studious to deserve a Name.

A Virtuous Name. – A Name that long may last

When Personal Attractions all are past,

When the bright sparkle quite forsakes the Eye

And the soft languish fails to excite a Sigh, 10

When Lillies wither and the Roses fade,

When Hair and Shape and ev’ry Charm’s decay’d.

Piety, Meekness, Virtue, we are told,

Adorn us more than Jewels or than Gold.

The Heart assents and ev’ry Female tries 15

To follow precepts gentle, easy, wise.

Thou lay’st down rules for ev’ry Sphere in Life,

As Daughter, Mother, Sister, Friend, and Wife.

No harsh, no rigid Maxims to affright

But calculated all to give delight. 20

Oh may a Plan so excellent succeed

And fill with Emulation all who read.

Sure like some Guardian Angel you were given

To teach the safe, the flowery path to Heaven,

To chase the gloom that Veil’d Religion’s face 25

And cast a Lustre over ev’ry grace.

No more the Goddess dres’t in Frowns appears

But smiles of sweet Serenity she wears,

Smiles which invite, which ev’ry Heart would gain.

Nor shall those Emanations be in vain, 30

Such soft persuasion do thy* Words convey, )

Such Beauties does that Angel form display, )

And you so plainly point to her the way. )

To obey her dictates must our joys increase,

“Whose ways, are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are Peace.”


*Religion [Marianna Attwater’s note.]

Text: Box 28, Reeves Collection, Bodleian Library; Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 4, pp. 1 61-62. This poem, and the next twelve, were inscribed as fair copies by Marianna Attwater (1749?-1832) into a thin chapbook with a vellum cover and high-quality paper, a volume carefully preserved by her descendants. The title of the first poem refers to Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, referred to as well in two poems by Mary Wakeford.