1716
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Toilet. A Town Eclogue.

Court poems. Viz; I. The Basset-table. An Eclogue. II. The Drawing-room. III. The Toilet. etc. Publish'd faithfully, as they were found in a Pocket-Book taken up in Westminster-Hall, the last Day of the Lord Winton's Tryal.

John Gay


This early contribution to the town eclogue genre consists of the lover's complaint of one Lydia, a bitter old maid who finds herself bereft of admirers. The textual history of this poem is complex: the version surreptitiously printed by Curll in Court Poems is that by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, apparently in collaboration with John Gay; his version (reproduced here) was first published in his Poems (1720). While Lady Mary claimed all of the court eclogues as her own, it seems unlikely that Gay, who had originated the town eclogue genre in "Araminta," would simply have pilfered "The Toilet" from her, and there is credible testimony from Pope that it is "almost wholly Gay's." Gay's modern editors regard the version in Poems (1720) as a revision of that which had appeared in 1716 (1974) 572. Lady Mary's editors, noting Pope's remark to Spence, attempt to resolve the matter of attribution by declaring that Gay's version of 1720 "really amounts to a different poem" (1977) 182.

Lydia is discovered dressing for the day, not exactly in a mockery of solitude: "Around her wait Shocks, monkeys and mockaws, | To fill the place of Fops, and perjur'd Beaus, | In these she views the mimickry of man, | And smiles when grinning Pug gallants her fan." As she despondently considers how to spend the day, her thoughts return to Chloe, her rival in Damon's affections, and a woman not much younger than herself. Damon has evidently amused himself by keeping both women in suspense: "Hence sprung th' ill-fated cause of all my smart, | To me the toy he gave, to her his heart. | But soon thy perj'ry in the gift was found, | The shiver'd China dropt upon the ground; | Sure omen that thy vows would faithless prove; | Frail was thy present, frailer is thy love." The allusion to the erotic prognostications in Theocritean pastoral underscores the inversions in town eclogue, where the items of humble use in the original are transformed into the glittering commodities of the burlesque.

Alexander Pope: "Lydia, in Lady Mary's poems, is almost wholly Gay's, and is published as such in his works. There are only five or six lines new set in it by that lady. It was that which gave the hint and she wrote the other five eclogues to it" December 1743; in Spence, Anecdotes, ed. J. M. Osborn (1966) 1:104.

William H. Irving: "In 1716 Pope's friendship for Lady Mary was passing through one of its more acute stages, and Gay was frequently drawn into social engagements with them. He apparently took The Toilette to one of these meetings and read it for criticism. Lady Mary had never heard anything quite like this poem before, was so much interested that she suggested a few lines by way of addition, and presently began writing town eclogues on her own account" John Gay, Favorite of the Wits (1940) 137-38.



LYDIA.
Now twenty springs had cloath'd the Park with green,
Since Lydia knew the blossom of fifteen;
No lovers now her morning hours molest,
And catch at her Toilette half undrest;
The thund'ring knocker wakes the street no more,
No chairs, no coaches croud her silent door;
Her midnights once at cards and Hazard fled,
Which now, alas! she dreams away in bed.
Around her wait Shocks, monkeys and mockaws,
To fill the place of Fops, and perjur'd Beaus,
In these she views the mimickry of man,
And smiles when grinning Pug gallants her fan;
When Poll repeats, the sounds deceive her ear,
For sounds, like his, once told her Damon's care.
With these alone her tedious mornings pass;
Or at the dumb devotion of her glass,
She smooths her brow, and frizles forth her hairs,
And fancys youthful dress gives youthful airs;
With crimson wooll she fixes ev'ry grace,
That not a blush can discompose her face.
Reclin'd upon her arm she pensive sate,
And curs'd th' inconstancy of youth too late.

O Youth! O spring of life! for ever lost!
No more my name shall reign the fav'rite Toast.
On glass no more the di'mond grave my name,
And rhymes mispell'd record a lover's flame:
Nor shall side-boxes watch my restless eyes,
And as they catch the glance in rows arise
With humble bows; nor white glov'd Beaus encroach
In crouds behind, to guard me to my coach.
Ah hapless nymph! such conquests are no more,
For Chloe's now what Lydia was before!

'Tis true, this Chloe boasts the peache's bloom,
But does her nearer whisper breathe perfume?
I own her taper shape is form'd to please,
Yet if you saw her unconfin'd by stays!
She doubly to fifteen may make pretence,
Alike we read it in her face and sense.
Her reputation! but that never yet
Could check the freedoms of a young Coquet.
Why will ye then, vain Fops, her eyes believe?
Her eyes can, like your perjur'd tongues, deceive.

What shall I do? how spend the hateful day?
At chappel shall I wear the morn away?
Who there frequents at these unmodish hours,
But ancient matrons with their frizled tow'rs,
And gray religious maids? my presence there
Amid the sober train would own despair;
Nor am I yet so old; nor is my glance
As yet fixt wholy to devotion's trance.

Strait then I'll dress, and take my wonted range
Through ev'ry Indian shop, through all the Change;
Where the tall jarr erects his costly pride,
With antick shapes in China's azure dy'd;
There careless lies the rich brocade unroll'd,
Here shines a cabinet with burnish'd gold;
But then remembrance will my grief renew,
'Twas there the raffling dice false Damon threw;
The raffling dice to him decide the prize.
'Twas there he first convers'd with Chloe's eyes;
Hence sprung th' ill-fated cause of all my smart,
To me the toy he gave, to her his heart.
But soon thy perj'ry in the gift was found,
The shiver'd China dropt upon the ground;
Sure omen that thy vows would faithless prove;
Frail was thy present, frailer is thy love.

O happy Poll, in wiry prison pent;
Thou ne'er has known what love or rivals meant,
And Pug with pleasure can his fetters bear,
Who ne'er believ'd the vows that lovers swear!
How am I curst! (unhappy and forlorn)
With perjury, with love, and rival's scorn!
False are the loose Coquet's inveigling airs,
False is the pompous grief of youthful heirs,
False is the cringing courtier's plighted word,
False are the dice when gamesters stamp the board,
False is the sprightly widow's publick tear;
Yet these to Damon's oaths are all sincere.

Fly from perfidious man, the sex disdain;
Let servile Chloe wear the nuptial chain.
Damon is practis'd in the modish life,
Can hate, and yet be civil to a wife.
He games; he swears; he drinks; he sighs; he roves;
Yet Chloe can believe he fondly loves.
Mistress and wife can well supply his need,
A miss for pleasure, and a wife for breed.
But Chloe's air is unconfin'd and gay,
And can perhaps an injur'd bed repay;
Perhaps her patient temper can behold
The rival of her love adorn'd with gold,
Powder'd with di'monds; free from thought and care,
A husband's sullen humours she can bear.

Why are these sobs? and why these streaming eyes?
Is love the cause? no, I the sex despise;
I hate, I loath his base perfidious name.
Yet if he should but feign a rival flame?
But Chloe boasts and triumphs in my pains,
To her he's faithful, 'tis to me, he feigns.

Thus love-sick Lydia rav'd. Her maid appears;
A band-box in her steady hand she bears.
How well this ribband's gloss becomes your face,
She crys, in raptures! then, so sweet a lace!
How charmingly you look! so bright! so fair!
'Tis to your eyes the head-dress owes its air.
Strait Lydia smil'd; the comb adjusts her locks,
And at the Play-house Harry keeps her box.

[(1731) 2:79-84]