To A Friend on the Choice Of A Wife

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To A Friend
On The
Choice Of A Wife.

by Henry Fielding

   'TIS hard (experience long so taught the wise)
Not to provoke the person we advise.
Counsel, tho' ask'd, may very oft offend.
When it insults th' opinion of my friend.
Men frequent wish another's judgment known,
Not to destroy, but to confirm their own.
With feign'd suspense for our advice they sue,
On what they've done, or are resolv'd to do.
The favour'd scheme should we by chance oppose,
Henceforth they see us in the light of foes.
For could mankind th' advice they ask receive,
Most to themselves might wholesome counsel give.
Men in the beaten track of life's highway,
Ofter through passion than through error stray,
Want less advice than firmness to obey.

   Nor can advice an equal hazard prove
To what is given in the cause of love;
None ask it here till melting in the flame.
If we oppose the now victorious dame,
You think her enemy and yours the same.

   But yet, tho' hard, tho' dangerous the task,
Fidus must grant, if his Alexis ask.
Take then the friendly counsels of the muse;
Happy, if what you've chosen she should choose.

   The question's worthy some diviner voice,
How to direct a wife's important choice.
In other aims if we should miss the white,
Reason corrects, and turns us to the right:
But here, a doom irrevocable's past,
And the first fatal error proves the last.
Rash were it then, and desperate, to run
With haste to do what cannot be undone.
Whence come the woes which we in marriage find,
But from a choice too negligent, too blind?

   Marriage, by heav'n ordain'd is understood,
And bounteous heav'n ordain'd but what is good.
To our destruction we its bounties turn,
In flames, by heav'n to warm us meant, we burn.
What draws youth heedless to the fatal gin?
Features well form'd or a well polish'd skin.
What can in riper minds a wish create?
Wealth, or alliance with the rich and great:
Who to himself, now in his courtship, says,
I choose a partner of my future days?
Her face, or pocket seen, her mind they trust;
They wed to lay the fiends of avarice or lust.

   But thou, whose honest thoughts the choice intend
Of a companion, and a softer friend;
A tender heart, which while thy soul it shares,
Augments thy joys, and lessens all thy cares.
One who, by thee while tenderly caress'd,
Shall steal that God-like transport to thy breast,
The joy to find you make another blest.
Thee in thy choice let other maxims move,
They wed for baser passions; thou for love.

   Of Beauty's subtle poison well beware;
Our hearts are taken e'er they dread the snare:
Our eyes, soon dazzled by that glare, grow blind,
And see no imperfections in the mind.
Of this appris'd, the sex, with nicest art,
Insidiously adorn the outward part.
But beauty, to a mind deprav'd and ill,
Is a thin gilding to a nauseous pill;
A cheating promise of a short-lived joy,
Time must this idol, chance may soon destroy.
See Leda, once the circle's proudest boast,
Of the whole town the universal toast;
By children, age, and sickness, now decay'd,
What marks remain of the triumphant Maid?
Beauties which nature and which art produce,
Are form'd to please the eye, no other use.
The husband, sated by possession grown,
Or indolent to flatter what's his own;
With eager rivals keeps unequal pace:
But oh! no rival flatters like her glass.
There still she's sure a thousand charms to see,
A thousand times she more admires than he;
Then soon his dulness learns she to despise,
And thinks she's thrown away too rich a prize.
To please her, try his little arts in vain;
His very hopes to please her move disdain.
The man of sense, the husband, and the friend,
Cannot with fools and coxcombs condescend
To such vile terms of tributary praise,
As tyrants scarce on conquer'd countries raise.
Beauties think Heav'n they in themselves bestow,
All we return is gratitude too low.
A gen'ral beauty wisely then you shun;
But from a wit, as a contagion, run.
Beauties with praise if difficult to fill;
To praise a wit enough, is harder still.
Here with a thousand rivals you'll contest;
He most succeeds who most approves the jest.
Ill-nature too with wit's too often joined;
Too firm associates in the human mind.
Oft may the former for the latter go,
And for a wit we may mistake a shrew.
How seldom burns this fire, like Sappho's, bright!
How seldom gives an innocent delight!
Flavia's a wit at modesty's expence;
Iris to laughter sacrifices sense.
Hard labour undergo poor Delia's brains,
While ev'ry joke some mystery contains;
No problem is discuss'd with greater pains.
Not Lais more resolv'd, through thick and thin,
Will plunge to meet her ever-darling sin,
Than Myrrha, through ingratitude and shame,
To raise the laugh, or get a witty fame.
No friendship is secure from Myrrha's blows;
For wits, like gamesters, hurt both friends and foes.
Besides, where'er these shining flowers appear,
Too nice the soil more useful plants to bear;
Her house, her person, are below her care.
In a domestic sphere she scorns to move,
And scarce accepts the vulgar joys of love.
But while your heart to wit's attacks is cool,
Let it not give admission to a fool.
He who can folly in a wife commend,
Proposes her a servant, not a friend.
Thou, too, whose mind is generous and brave,
Would'st not become her master, but her slave;
For fools are obstinate, advice refuse,
And yield to none but arts you'd scorn to use.
When passion grows, by long possession dull,
The sleepy flame her folly soon must lull;
Tho' now, perhaps, those childish airs you prize,
Lovers and husbands see with diff'rent eyes.
A rising passion will new charms create;
A falling seeks new causes for its hate.
Wisely the bee, while teeming summer blooms,
Thinks of the dearth which with cold winter glooms,
So thou should'st, in thy love's serener time,
When passion reigns, and Flora's in her prime,
Think of that winter which must sure ensue,
When she shall have no charms, no fondness you.
How then shall friendship to fond love succeed?
What charms shall serve her then in beauty's stead?
What then shall bid the passion change, not cool?
No charm's in the possession of a fool.
Next for the all-attracting power of gold,
That as a thing indifferent you hold.
I know thy am'rous heart, whose honest pride
Is still to be on the obliging side,
Would wish the fair one, who your soul allures,
Enjoy'd a fortune rather less than yours.
Those whom the dazzling glare of fortune strikes,
Whom gold allures to what the soul dislikes;
If counterfeit affection they support,
Strict penance do, and golden fetters court.
But if ungrateful for the boon they grow,
And pay the bounteous female back with woe,
These are the worst of robbers in their wills,
Whom laws prevent from doing lesser ills.

   Many who profit in a match intend,
Find themselves clearly losers in the end.
Fulvius, who basely from Melissa broke,
With richer Chloe to sustain the yoke,
Sees, in her vast expence, his crimes repaid,
And oft laments the poor forsaken maid.
And say, what soul, that's not to slav'ry born,
Can bear the taunts, th' upbraidings, and the scorn,
Which women with their fortunes oft bestow?
Worse torments far than poverty can know.

   Happy Alexis, sprung from such a race,
Whose blood would no nobility disgrace.
But O prefer some tender of a flock,
Who scarce can graft one parson on her stock,
To a fair branch of Churchill's noble line,
If thou must often hear it match'd with thine.
Hence should, I say, by her big taunts compell'd,
With Tallard taken, Yillars forc'd to yield,
And all the glories of great Blenheim's field.
While thus secure from what too frequent charms,
Small force against the rest your bosom arms.
Ill-nature, pride, or a malicious spleen,
To be abhorr'd, need only to be seen;
But to discover 'em may ask some art:
Women to lovers seldom faults impart.
She's more than woman, who can still conceal
Faults from a lover, who will watch her well.
The dams of art may Nature's stream oppose,
It swells at last, and in a torrent flows.
But men, too partial, think, when they behold
A mistress rude, vain, obstinate, or bold,
That she to others who a demon proves,
May be an angel to the man she loves.
Mistaken hope, that can expect to find
Pride ever humble, or ill-nature kind.
No, rest assur'd, the ill which now you see
Her act to others, she will act to thee.
Shun then the serpent, when the sting appears,
Nor think a hurtful nature ever spares.
Two sorts of women never should be woo'd,
The wild coquette, and the censorious prude:
From love both chiefly seek to feed their pride,
Those to affect it strive, and these to hide.
Each gay coquette would be admir'd alone
By all, each prude be thought to value none.
Flaretta so weak vanities enthrall,
She'd leave her eager bridegroom for a ball.
Chloe, the darling trifle of the town,
Had ne'er been won but by her wedding gown;
While in her fond Myrtillo's arms caress'd,
She doats on that, and wishes to be dress'd.
Like some poor bird, just pent within the cage,
Whose rambling heart in vain you would engage,
Cold to your fondness, it laments its chain,
And wanton longs to range the fields again.
But prudes, whose thoughts superior themes employ
Scorn the dull transports of a carnal joy:
With screw'd-up face, confess they suffer raptures,
And marry only to obey the Scriptures.
But if her constitution take the part
Of honest Nature 'gainst the wiles of art;
If she gives loose to love, she loves indeed;
Then endless fears and jealousies succeed.
If fondness e'er abate, you're weary grown,
And doat on some lewd creature of the town.
If any beauty to a visit come;
Why can't these gadding wretches stay at home?
They think each compliment conveys a flame,
You cannot both be civil to the same.
Of all the plagues with which a husband's curst,
A jealous prude's, my friend sure knows, the worst.

   Some sterner foes to marriage bold aver,
That in this choice a man must surely err:
Nor can I to this lottery advise,
A thousand blanks appearing to a prize.
Women by nature form'd too prone to ill,
By education are made proner still;
To cheat, deceive, conceal each genuine thought,
By mothers and by mistresses are taught.
The face and shape are first the mother's care;
The dancing-master next improves the air.
To these perfections add a voice most sweet;
The skill'd musician makes the nymph complete.
Thus with a person well equipp'd, her mind
Left, as when first created, rude and blind,
She's sent to make her conquests on mankind.
But first inform'd the studied glance to aim,
Where riches shew the profitable game:
How with unequal smiles the jest to take,
When princes, lords, or squires, or captains speak;
These lovers careful shun, and those create,
And merit only see in an estate.
But tho' too many of this sort we find,
Some there are surely of a nobler kind.
Nor can your judgment want a rule to choose,
If by these maxims guided you refuse.
His wishes then give Fidus to declare,
And paint the chief perfections of the fair.
May she then prove, who shall thy lot befall,
Beauteous to thee, agreeable to all.
Nor wit, nor learning proudly may she boast;
No low-bred girl, nor gay fantastic toast:
Her tender soul, good-nature must adorn,
And vice and meanness be alone her scorn.
Fond of thy person, may her bosom glow
With passions thou hast taught her first to know.
A warm partaker of the genial bed,
Thither by fondness, not by lewdness led.
Superior judgment may she own thy lot;
Humbly advise, but contradict thee not.
Thine to all other company prefer;
May all thy troubles find relief from her.
If fortune gives thee such a wife to meet,
Earth cannot make thy blessing more complete.