Silvia's Rattle (1769)

Dear Silvia, tho’ in jesting strain,

I bade you quit Parnassus plain,

I hope th’ advice you have not taken,

And that fine flow’ry spot forsaken;

For ’tis a pretty place they say, 5

And since your genius leads that way,

E’en let it go; for Don Apollo,

I think, a pretty Girl may follow,

Without so many cares and dangers

As may arise from other Strangers, 10

Ycleped Beaux, and Rakes, and Smarts,

Which prowl about, in quest of Hearts

And Money Bags; and these no doubt

Before ’tis long will find you out,

And one and tother will perswade ye 15

That such an excellent young Lady,

He loves beyond his own dear life,

And therefore, you must be his Wife:

And then, you know, ’twill be your duty,

To stifle wit, and cherish beauty; 20

Least wits should hound your doughty Mast’r,

Which sure wou’d be a dire disaster.

But if in spite of all the teachments,

Contain’d in Fo d e’s wise Preachments,

You still shou’d find yourself unable, 25

To do the honors of the table,

To turn you mind to household matters,

About the dripping pans, and platters,

About the dishclouts, mops and brooms,

And all the goods in all the rooms, 30

About your mending and your making,

Washing, scouring, brewing, baking;

If you shou’d never take delight

In ord’ring all such things aright,

And be so notable and handy 35

That many a spark wou’d fain command ye:

Why then alack a day why then,

Suppose you shou’dn’t please the men?

And get a Husband in a twink;

It wou’d be [...] I think, 40

To live without one all your time,

And prove yourself a Heroine!

By keeping am’rous fancys under,

As women may without a wonder!

And if you are not much afraid, 45

Of that terrific sound, Old Maid!

I think you safely may go on,

To drink the streams of Helicon;

And place your principal delight in

Improving reading, thinking, writing: 50

And sing in soft, and serious strains,

Upon th’ aforesaid pleasant plains.

But what’s all this perhaps you’ll say?

From one who took a diff’rent way,

And why shou’d she presume to teach 55

Who ne’er the flow’ry plain cou’d reach?

’Tis very true: I don’t pretend

To teach; but only as a friend.

Advise you nature to persue;

Tho’ fools may rail and envy you, 60

Don’t quit your path, (and genius fetter)

Unless you’re sure to find a better.

The matrimonial road, I know,

Is full of care, and pain, and woe;

And many a path of vice and pride, 65

Where vanity and folly guide.

Though many a girl such leaders chuses,

They’re worse companions than the Muses.

But you perhaps before this time,

May be full weary of my rhyme? 70

If so; ’twill serve to light the fire;

Not of your genius; that mounts higher;

To kindle that, and make it glow,

The lines harmoniously must flow.

And softly sweet, as ev’ning breeze, 75

When Zephyrs whisper, thro’ the Trees,

And gently fanning, seem to say,

Enjoy the charming month of May.

Soft verses fan poetic flame,

And May and Youth are much the same. 80

But, I’ve no knack at writing easy,

And therefore can’t expect to please ye;

With lines so hobb’ling, jumping, jerking,

Enough to make you fall a quirking,

To read such oddities; but yet, 85

As I’ve no fame to lose or get,

I freely send you any scribble

My pen may daintily down dribble,

As did the pen of honest Bunyan,

Who’d make you cry without an onion. 90

But his good aim was to convert ye,

While mine, is only to divert ye,

A motive not so good by half,

Yet as you now and then may laugh,

Perhaps this little jingling prattle, 95

May serve for you like Nancy’s rattle,

(Whenever she begins to play,)

To chuckle at, and fling away.

And so I leave you to your leisure,

With wishing you much health and pleasure. 100

Your Friends around I bear in mind,

And send them love, and wishes kind.

And am, or wou’d be if I cou’d

Your friend, to do you any good.


March 10 1769

Text: Steele Collection, 10/2, Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford; the poem was transcribed by Anne Steele, though signed 'M.W', and dated 10 March 1769, the date provided by Wakeford; see also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 4, p. On the back is written ‘Silvia’s Rattle’. The folium is now in five pieces, but when placed together the poem is intact except for one small tear that has obliterated two words. Reeves described the poem as being in two fragments and without the final lines (Pursuing the Muses, pp. 56-57). Once again, reference is made to Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women; also a reference is here to Anne Steele, Mary Steele's half-sister who was born in February 1769.