Lucy Peacock's didactic allegory for children, published anonymously when she was 17 years old, boasted over 1,250 subscribers, chief among them the Princess Mary, to whom the book is dedicated. "A perusal of SPENCER'S FAIRY QUEEN, wherein he has so beautifully described the Passions, first suggested to her mind the idea of personifying them in a more familiar language, by painting the depravities of the human heart in such a manner, as might give an early impression of Virtue to young minds; and, while they amuse, might excite reflection" vii-viii.
The six princesses are sent on a quests by the Fairy Benigna, variously pursuing the Distaff of Industry, a Bottle of Water from the River of Good-nature, the Spear of Truth, the Mantle of Meekness, the Magnet of True Generosity, and the White Wand of Contentment. The successful achievement of the quests will result in the salvation of their parents. The stories themselves perhaps owe more to Bunyan than to Spenser.
Preface in second edition: "She has now only to lament her want of ability for such an undertaking. A perusal of SPENCER'S FAIRY QUEEN, wherein he has so beautifully described the Passions, first suggested to her mind the idea of personifying them in a more familiar language, by painting the depravities of the human heart in such a manner, as might give an early impression of Virtue to young minds; and, while they amuse, might excite reflection" (1786) vi-viii.
Samuel Badcock: "Under the veil of allegory the ingenious writer recommends the practice of virtue, and contrasting its difficulty with its advantages, shows the infinite superiority of the latter to the former. Diligence, good nature, truth, meekness, generosity, and contentment are the companions of virtue; and their worth and excellence are described with a considerable share of fancy. If this performance be, as we have heard, the production of a very young female, it may be considered as a work of considerable merit" Monthly Review 74 (April 1786) 313.
Critical Review: "The age of allegory is now past, for it approaches too nearly to positive precept; and we wish to be allured into virtue, and cheated into health. The luxuriance of Hawkesworth, and the energy of Johnson, for some time supported it; but their labours, in this mode of instruction, are, we believe, less popular than any other parts of their lucubrations. These objections are not intended to depreciate the pleasing performance before us, but to animate the exertions of the author in a more successful line. There is much fancy in the descriptions, and much wholesome instruction from the events: the wonders of fairy land, calculated to engage the imagination, are employed to fix the lessons more firmly on the heart.... A king and queen, driven from their dominions, are obliged to seek shelter in a 'lonely desert'; but the queen, sitting one day on the sea shore, sees a benevolent fairy, who tells her that she will be restored to her throne by the virtues of her daughters. These young ladies are, however, to be educated by the fairy, who adorns their minds with every valuable quality.... Their Adventures are the subjects of the work; and, with the assistance of benevolent fairies, the six heroines surmount every difficulty, and conquer the impediments which the baser passions scatter in their path. They procure these rarities, and each adventurer brings home a 'gentle knight,' to whom she is afterwards married. The father and mother are also restored to their kingdom" 60 (September 1785) 221-22.
Gentleman's Magazine: "The writer subscribes herself to the dedication, 'Lucy Peacock,' and dates at 'Lambeth.' Glad we are that such talents are patronised by such a large and respectable list of subscribers. In imitation of Spenser's Fairy Queen, the passions are here pleasingly and ingeniously personified, with a laudable view to impress virtue on young minds, and, while they entertain, amuse and reflect" 56 (January 1786) 50.
The Author of the following pages begs leave to offer her grateful thanks to those Noble and generous Subscribers, who have honoured with their names her humble attempt at Allegory: By their ready attention to the kind solicitations of some very worthy and respectable characters she has been enabled to venture on its publication; having, by their benevolent patronage, succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectations.
She has now only to lament her want of ability for such an undertaking. A perusal of SPENCER'S FAIRY QUEEN, wherein he has so beautifully described the Passions, first suggested to her mind the idea of personifying them in a more familiar language, by painting the depravities of the human heart in such a manner, as might give an early impression of Virtue to young Minds; and, while they amuse, might excite reflection.
But her fears (from a conviction she feels of the many disadvantages she labours under) compel her to appeal to that candour, which will ever flow from worthy and generous minds towards the unfortunate.
In former times there reigned over Babylon a certain King and Queen, no less renowned for their mercy and justice, than for the vast dominions they possessed; but a war happening with a neighbouring Prince, the Babylonians were defeated, and the unfortunate Monarch obliged to fly for shelter to a foreign kingdom, whilst his amiable Queen took refuge, with her young family (consisting of six lovely girls), in a lonely desert, that lay at a great distance from the city. One day, as she was sitting on the sea-shore, bathed in tears, and surrounded by her infant daughters, she was accosted by a decrepit old Woman, with a bundle of sticks under her arm: "What do you weep for, my good mistress? (said she) there are few evils but time and patience will surmount." — "Alas! (replied the Queen) my misery is past human relief, death is the only cure I can hope for; and even then my poor children must be left to perish in these deserts." "Don't despair, (returned the old woman) Heaven, like a good parent, corrects, but never abandons, its children: Behold, I am sent to be your protector." "I thank you, my good mother, for your kind intentions, (said the Queen, smiling in the midst of her grief) but, alas! thou can'st afford but a miserable protection." "You must not always judge from appearances, (again replied the hag) a plain and poor garment often conceals more valuable qualities than the richest embroidery."
While she was speaking these last words, the Queen, to her inexpressible surprise, observed her face (which was before covered with the wrinkles of age and infirmity) brighten into the most beautiful aspect; the deformity of her person gradually decreased; and she now, instead of a decrepit hag, beheld a delicate young Lady, clothed in a white garment that flowed gracefully below her feet. "Fear nothing, (said this charming figure) I am the Fairy Benigna, whom your sufferings have drawn from Fairy-land: I have consulted the Oracle, which declares you doomed to eternal exile, unless raised again to empire by the virtues of your children. Now, though it is out of my power entirely to over-rule Fate, I can, in some measure, counteract it: Consent, therefore, to resign your children to my direction, and patiently, with your husband, wait till the decrees of the Oracle are fulfilled. He is now in an island not far distant, wither, if you consent, my art shall instantly transport you."
The Queen fell on her knees, in order to express her gratitude and resignation to the will of Benigna, who, touching her with a wand she held in her hand, the Queen was immediately conveyed to her husband in the island which had been foretold. The Fairy then again waving her wand, an elegant gold chariot appeared, drawn by eight snow-white swans, in which seating herself, with the six Princesses, they mounted the air, and, in a short time, losing sight of the deserts of Babylon, arrived at a spacious grotto. — It was situated in the midst of a thick wood, and covered with a vine, whose purple clusters hung in full luxuriance round; whilst the harmony of birds, intermixed with the lulling sounds of several water-falls, made it the most delightful of abodes. Here the Fairy caused her little company to alight, and, having refreshed them with a variety of fruits, conducted them to rest in the inward part of the grotto.
In this solitude the good Benigna made it her chief study to instruct them in the most useful and entertaining parts of learning, at the same time taking care to instil into their minds the love of virtue. Nor were diversions wanting to render their lives agreeable; they danced, sung, played on their lutes, and often, equipped with a bow and arrows, solaced themselves with the pleasures of the chace.
Thus some years elapsed in the greatest tranquility; they neither knew, nor wished for, other society than that of the benevolent Fairy, or for amusement superior to those their Grotto afforded: But, alas! the time was now drawing nigh, when they must bid adieu to these serene enjoyments, and enter on a different scene of action.
One day the Fairy summoned them to her, and, bidding them give attention to what she was about to say, addressed them in the following words: — "You have now lived, my dear children, several years in this solitude, insensible of the great designs for which you were brought hither. But, before I proceed further on this subject, it is necessary to inform you, that the fate of your parents is so strongly connected and bound up in yours, that it is in your power, by your fortitude and virtue, to restore them again to empire and dominion, or, by your mutability and vice, to bring them with shame and misery to the grave. — Know then, that there are Six Wonders lie hid in nature, ordained as a trial of your constancy; they are attended with innumerable perils, but when once possessed, and kept among you, will render you more powerful than the most absolute monarch.
"The first (said she, addressing the eldest Princess) is the Distaff of Industry: an inestimable treasure! for, by applying one end of it to your right hand, you are instantly put in possession of the thing you desire. This, (continued she) Miranda, is allotted for your pursuit.
"The next, (said she) Florissa, must be your care: A Bottle of Water, taken from the River of Good-nature, no less valuable than the Distaff, being endowed with the power of reconciling all difference; one draught uniting, the most bitter enemies: And it has also this peculiar quality, that, when once attained, it can never be exhausted, since the more it is used, the more it continues to increase.
"The Spear of Truth is the next, and possesses even superior virtues to the former, having the power of overcoming all evil enchantment. Provided you keep the straight road, you need not fear any thing; but, should you once turn aside, the dangers are so numerous as to require the greatest experience and fortitude to surmount. Be this your pursuit, Clementina.
"The Mantle of Meekness is the fourth, which confers a degree of immortality on the possessor: She who is fortunate enough to obtain it, immediately becomes beautiful as an angel, and, though she should live to the most extreme age, will still continue to wear the full bloom of youth on her countenance. May your best endeavours, my dear Bonnetta, not be wanting to acquire so great an ornament!
"The fifth (said she) is the Magnet of True Generosity: Whosoever is possessed of it, is endowed with the power of transferring that pleasure they possess to another, which, at the same time, increased it in themselves. This, my dear Orinda, is the reward held up to you.
"Last of all come the White Wand of Contentment, (not less desirable than the rest) possessing the pleasing power of rendering the most disagreeable objects in nature agreeable. Let it be your care, Matilda, to return with this invaluable treasure!"
The Fairy then embraced them, and, after giving them some necessary directions concerning the roads they were to take, and advice for their future conduct, dismissed them with these words:
"Remember, my children, that on the success of this journey depends the happiness or misery of your lives; if you succeed, peace and prosperity attend you; but, should you fail, once more remember, that you lose my protection for ever, and bring shame and infamy on those who gave you birth."
The Princesses then departed, promising to keep the words of the good Benigna in their minds; and, after embracing each other, pursued their way, each taking the road prescribed by the Fairy.
How they succeeded, and what adventures they met with, will be the subject of the ensuing pages.
[pp. vii-viii, xxv-xxxi]