To Silvia (1769)

Dear Silvia, Consider, consider in time

The ills that await you, for daring to rhyme;

A girl that’s a writer, a friend of the muses,

Almost ev’ry woman and man too abuses,

And the preacher assures us that wit in a woman, 5

Is a very sad thing and approv’d of by no man;

A poetical turn too! ah! what man will have ye?

Perhaps you will tell me, “why then they may leave me,”

But it seems ’tis the bus’ness, and end of your life,

To get you a husband, and make a good wife, 10

To serve him with duty, obey him with love,

Be as tame as a spaniel, as meek as a dove.

What honor is this! but the highest you can,

Is the honor of being a mother to man;

Such honor, such duty, such pleasure as this, 15

What girl in her wits would be willing to miss?

Yet miss it you may if you poetry make,

For who such a damsel wou’d venture to take?

Alack the poor husband, how woeful his case

Who marries a woman of genius and taste. 20

Instead of a pudding you’d make him a poem,

Forgetting perhaps the observance you owe him;

Be writing an elegy, ode or a sonnet,

When you ought to be making a cap or a bonnet.

Instead of attending affairs in your kitchen, 25

Or minding your bus’ness of darning and stitching,

Perhaps you’d be reading some book so bewitching;

Your dress too neglected for leasure to think,

Your tresses dishevel’d, your fingers all ink,

Your servants unscolded, your house in a litter, 30

Your husband would fret, and your visitors titter.

What Job of a husband such doings cou’d bear?

Ah! Silvia, take warning in time, and beware,

That you do not the Muses acquaintance delight in.

If these are the fruits of much reading and writing, 35

Oh humble your genius, and quit your Parnassus,

For wife’s shou’d be stupid when Husbands are Asses.

Text: Steele Collection, 10/2 (signed ‘Amira’); also 5/8 (in William Steele’s hand), Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford; see also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, vol. 4, p. Apparently, Mary Scott had a copy of this poem as well, for Herbert McLachlan quoted from the poem, though he incorrectly attributes the poem to Scott and misidentifies ‘Sylvia’ as Anne Steele. See McLachlan, ‘Taylors and Scotts’, pp. 76-77. The "Preacher" is probably James Fordyce and his popular Sermons to Young Women, 2 vols (London: A. Millar for T. Cadell, 1766). Fordyce believed that a truly intelligent woman should not seek ‘any kind of pre-eminence’ in conversation, ‘but instead of pretending to teach, [should be] willing to learn – instead of courting applause, [should be] ready to confer it’, knowing that ‘the noblest improvement of superior knowledge, is superior humility’ (vol. 1, pp. 299-300).