Observing a man beating his wife near the edge of town, Charlotte and Eliza, two maidens, reflect on marriages good and bad. Eliza takes the women's part and accuses Charlotte of taking the men's, to which Charlotte replies, "Bad men, or fools, the idiot, or the rake, | No woman happy ever yet cou'd make: | Nor e'er unhappy, he, whose manly breast, | With sense, with softness, with religion's blest." At this point Charlotte's lover appears; we are told they they were afterwards married and live happily together. The poem concludes with a quotation from Crashaw.
Gentleman's Magazine: "Most of these poems are, as the author has acquainted the publick in a short advertisement, juvenile performances; the rest he says are the mere amusements of vacant moments, never suffered to interrupt useful occupations. And he publishes them not with any hope of encreasing his reputation, but because being scattered through different miscellanies, he was willing to collect them together. Among the pieces that have been lately written, are six pastorals, of which the author gives the following account. Having heard that Gesner, the celebrated author of the death of Abel, had published some pastorals, each enforcing some virtue, and all inculcating, from rural incidents, the whole social system, he eagerly procured them, but when he had read them, was greatly disappointed. He thought most of them puerile, and was greatly offended to find modern pastorals, full of Jupiters, Junos, Pans, Fawns, Dryads, and Metamorphoses. Being thus dissatisfied with Gesner, and having his own thoughts turned to pastoral poetry, he says, he amused himself, during an agreeable recess, with writing some pastorals upon the plan which he had conceived Gesner had pursued, and which, if he had pursued, this attempt would have been utterly precluded. Having formed his plan, several incidents in rural life assisted him in the execution" 37 (November 1767) 553.
Compare the treatment of this theme from the masculine perspective in Robert Aylett's pastoral eclogues, A Wife not made but Bespoken (1633).
As, arm in arm, to scent the fragrant air
From blossom'd beans which evening breezes bear,
Fair Charlotte and her friend Eliza rove,
Maids fam'd for beauty both, and form'd for love;
Just at the village end, with trembling fear,
Rough sounds contentious, and shrill cries they hear:
Tho' frighted, they advance; when, painful sight!
They view their neighbour Sims prepar'd for fight;
With passion raging, and by liquor fir'd,
The single combat furious he desir'd:
While, bath'd in tears, his tender wife withstands,
And cries, and trembles, as she holds his hands;
Her little strength well nigh exhausted, pleads,
While her fond heart with racking anguish bleeds;
And, fruitless ev'ry winning motive found,
Points to their boy, their infant, on the ground;
Pledge of their mutual faith: — "Ah, cruel, see,
And pity him, if you'll not pity me!
See, while I hold you, where your baby lies:
Hard-hearted, turn, and view his streaming eyes."
Thus as she spoke, he turn'd: — an aspect mild
His fierce looks soften'd as he view'd the child:
Strait from his eyes the tears paternal start,
And all the father fill'd his melting heart:
Then nature triumph'd; to the child he sprung;
Around his neck the child affrighted clung.
The lovely maidens, at the sight well pleas'd,
With zeal humane the soft occasion seiz'd;
And with the weeping wife assiduous join'd
To urge each motive which might fix his mind:
Nor urg'd in vain; persuaded he retreats,
While his big heart with varying passions beats:
And, thoughts of vengeance lab'ring in his breast,
He sinks, exhausted, to refreshing rest.
As now their walk intended they pursue,
"Here, Charlotte, with a sigh said Betsy, view,
View, Charlotte, what corroding sorrows wait
Poor helpless women in the marriage state!
Alas for us, in ev'ry state distrest,
When marry'd, wretched; when alone, unblest!"
Hard lot, my Betsy: yet I'd rather bear
The taunts for ever, which old maidens share,
Than live enslav'd throughout a wretched life,
The drunkard's, rake's, or tyrant's weeping wife!
But girls, in our degenerate days, who wed,
Must with such vile associates share their bed:
So void of principle our youth are grown—
They ape the manners of the wicked town!
Lords to their tenants have their vices taught,
And sons and servants have th' infection caught.
Can they but drink and riot, rake and fight;
They scoff with careless scorn at what is right.
How great the risk which girls in marriage run!
And yet, how great their haste to be undone!
But sure the more the danger which we dare,
The greater in our choice shou'd be our care.
Yet to our sex impartial if we be,
We shall not find them from just censure free:
Were they to virtue constant in their choice,
Gave they their hands, where reason gives her voice;
Were they more nice, distinguishing, retir'd,
The men to emulation wou'd be fir'd;
For they, be sure, will cultivate the arts,
They find most likely to engage our hearts.
I know not this: but, Charlotte, well I know,
Men are perfidious, women are not so:
For one bad woman, who shall faithless prove,
Or to her marriage faith, or plighted love,
An hundred men: — tho' yet so young a maid,
I've cause, you know, their falsehood to upbraid.
But, Charlotte, say, shall I myself accuse,
Because I listen'd to young William's vows:
Because I thought incapable of wrong
His heart so seeming honest from his tongue?
Because I gave him all my heart! — false swain,
Or pay thy vows, or give my heart again!
Fear not, my Betsy; you will shortly find
Returning William to your wishes kind:
And, blest with him, a pattern may you prove
Of conjugal fidelity and love!
Like that blest pair, who live at yonder farm—
Oh how the thoughts of them my bosom warm!
Yes, my dear friend, if, from the former sight,
Marriage appears in sables all bedight;
Turn to that pair, in yon dear mansion blest,
And marriage seems of ev'ry state the best!
This happy pair, their fondness to express,
Labour to build each others happiness.
No separate joys, no separate cares they know,
But share in pleasure, as they share in woe:
Woe! They have none: imparted 'tis no more;
While thus their joys are doubled o'er and o'er.
Blest pair! your loves with rapture, I review,
For sure all Eden is restor'd to you!
I wonder not, my Charlotte, you are fir'd,—
Who ever knew that pair, and not admir'd?
And who cou'd fail the highest bliss to prove,
If such an husband crown'd her faithful love?
Whene'er his wife is mention'd, you may spy
Bright satisfaction glisten in his eye:
Of her perfections with delight he tells;
And on her praise with tongue enraptur'd dwells.
Whene'er he goes to market, or to fair,
You never find him idly loit'ring there:
Much more in alehouse, treasuring for his wife
Vile drunkenness at night, and noisy strife:
His business done, you'll see him homeward haste
Well knowing that he comes a grateful guest;
And joy'd to think, within his honest mind
He brings the pleasure, which he's sure to find.
While to the husband just, my Betsy, pray,
To equal merit, equal honour pay:
For wives contribute not than husbands less,
Sure, my good friend, the marriage state to bless:
Oft find we, if good husbands make good wives,
These, in return, reform bad husbands' lives.
But, for our friends, it well may be confest,
If blest the wife, not less the husband's blest;
Affectionate and mild you see her share
One only pleasure, as one only care.
Can she but crown her husband with content,
Make light his troubles, or his joys augment;
She little heeds for all the world beside;
Fond as at first, and as at first a bride;
A bride in neatness, ever nice and clean,
The heart she won, still studious to retain!
And, happy in her husband's high esteem,
She lives, and thinks, and breathes alone for him!
Ne'er in her husband's absence is she found
A gossip, tattling all the village round:
Fomenting strife, and making many a foe:
Nor runs she gadding to each simple show.
By better means his absence she beguiles,
By needful business, and domestic toils:
Causing with transport his big heart to burn,
When, pleas'd surveying on his glad return,
His decent houshold in fair order drest;
He clasps his wife delighted to his breast,
Thanks her kind care, and reads in her full eyes,
That toils thus recompenc'd are truest joys!
Sure this blest pair, who, "link'd in friendship's tye,
Live each for each, as each for each wou'd die"
Kind nature form'd to make each other blest!—
Or sure the halves have met for once at least!
Charlotte, you know the tale: my William's lays,
When William's verse could speak of Betsy's praise,
Told it us sweetly once, — alas, in better days!
Ah Betsy! and full oft the halves would meet,
Were women in their choice but more discreet:
But if vile avarice or strong passion lead
The willing victim to the nuptial bed;
Or if that heart licentious rakes obtain,
Which modest merit fruitless strives to gain;
No wonder wedlock is a state accurst;
For the best things corrupted, are the worst.
Bad men, or fools, the idiot, or the rake,
No woman happy ever yet cou'd make:
Nor e'er unhappy, he, whose manly breast,
With sense, with softness, with religion's blest.
Poor women! — 'tis a maxim then with you,
That all their sorrows to themselves are due:
That neither heav'n nor man the blame must bear,
The woes of wedlock when they're doom'd to share:
Oh, Charlotte, you are partial to the men!—
Yet freely will I own, — not one in ten
Of our poor sex such miseries would prove,
If interest less, and more consulting love.
Wretch that she is, who must not her despise,
That Macra, who in arms decrepit lies,
(Spring with old winter,) only to be seen
Drest in fine cloaths, the paltry village queen!
Scorn to all such! and let all such be told,
They are but lawful prostitutes for gold:
Fools! all true bliss for splendor to forego:
A life of penance for a day of show!
Love, of each pleasure the perpetual spring,
True love, my Betsy, is a different thing:
The heart's dear union, youth with youth combin'd,
Truth meeting truth, and mingling mind with mind!
Thus highest pleasures rise to pure esteem,
And hence of rapture flows the sparkling stream!
Hence too of virtue wells the living flood,
For "who, in marriage, in each state are good."
'Tis neighbour Watson's saying, — and we prize
Her sayings, Bet, for neighbour Watson's wise—
And never did she know thro' her long life,
On either side, a husband or a wife,
Who in connubial tenderness excell'd,
And yet in other social duties fail'd.
Our neighbours, Charlotte, in the vale below,
This pleasing truth in liveliest colours show:
For not in marriage do they shine alone,
The praise of every virtue is their own:
And the same goodness which inclines their breast
To make and to preserve each other blest;
Prompts them alike to spread their comforts round;
For private good such hearts can never bound!
Parents more fond 'twere difficult to find,
Or neighbours more solicitously kind:
Few to their servants such attention give,
And none the wretched with more alms relieve!
Then, for Religion, 'tis their joy: — One day,
Thus with delight, I heard our neighbour say,
"Betsy, we're not asham'd, my wife and I,
To kneel together to the throne on high:
Thence springs our blessings: and be sure, my fair,
They cannot fail, who seek for blessings there:
But they who wed, will curse their hapless fate,
If HE's despis'd, who first ordain'd the state."
Oh sacred state! oh blest connubial love!
In thy sweet train the smiling virtues move;
All fond to croud, and act the fairest part,
Where truth affectionate blends heart with heart!
Thus as she spoke, her face deep blushes drest,
While all-tumultuous throbb'd her panting breast;
For lo! her William o'er the style just by
Leap'd, laughing love and transport in his eye:
He hastes and greets the maids; and tells his tale,
Why so long absent in the distant dale:
And ah, that prevalent the story prov'd
With Betsy, who can wonder that has lov'd?—
Cheerful and pleas'd they pass'd the field along,
While many a sky-lark treated them with song:
Much of true love, of marriage more they talk'd;
And oft again to these same Meadows walk'd;
'Till came the happy day, when, joyful sound!
The merry bells declar'd the village round
That their fond hands in wedlock were combin'd,
Whose hearts had long in tender love been join'd.
Great (says my legend) was the joy that day;
The shepherds blest it, and each nymph look'd gay:
With flow'ry chaplets every crook was crown'd,
And every brow with rosy wreaths was bound:
They danc'd upon the green till night drew on;
When other rites were needful to be done:
Thrown was the stocking, ceremonies o'er,
And clos'd by jocund maids the sacred door.
And farther still, the rural story goes,
That long the lovers liv'd in sweet repose;
For tender truth, and virtuous faith renown'd;
Blessing and blest — a smiling race around:
And to the present hour this verse is read,
On the plain grave-stone o'er their relics lay'd:
"To these, whom death again did wed,
The grave's the second marriage-bed:
For tho' the hand of fate cou'd force
'Twixt soul and body a divorce;
It cou'd not sever man and wife,
Because they both liv'd but one life.
Peace, good reader, do not weep:
Peace, — the lovers are asleep.
They, sweet turtles, folded lie
In the last knot that love cou'd tie.
Let them sleep; let them sleep on,
'Till this stormy night be gone;
And the eternal morrow dawn;—
Then the curtain will be drawn;
And they'll wake into a light,
Where day shall never die in night."