The Ladies' Petition to the Honorable the House of Commons

W E , the Maids of Exon City,
The Maids! good lack; the more's the pity!
Do humbly offer this petition,
To represent our sad condition;
Which once made known, our hope and trust is,
Your honored House will do us justice.
But lest our tender sense of wrong,
And volubility of tongue,
Should make us trespass on your leisure,
And speechify it out of measure,
To save our breath, and eke your time,
We clog our fluent speech with rhyme.
First you shall hear — But cann't you guess
The reason of our sad distress? —
(Plague on the Widows that compel us
Thus to petition 'bout young fellows!)
But we were saying — you must know,
Tho' blushing we declare our woe,
A maiden was designed by nature
A weakly and imperfect creature,
So liable to err or stray,
Her wants require a guide, a stay;
And then so timorous of sprites,
She dreads to be alone at nights!
Say what she will, do what she can,
Her heart still gravitates to man;
From whence 'tis evident as light
That marriage is a woman's right;
And therefore 'tis prodigious hard
To be of such a right debarred:
Yet we, poor souls, cann't have the freedom
To get good husbands, tho' we need 'em!
The Widows, Sirs! — Their art denotes
Them Machiavels in petticoats!
These plagues, with heads on mischief running,
Exceed by far the fox in cunning!
They cut us out, are still before us,
And leave no lovers to adore us!
" Adore us!" nay, 'tis ten times worse,
Deuce take 'em! (but we should not curse)
For tho' our number is not small,
There's hardly one amongst us all,
Scarce one — 'tis true as G — 's in Glo'ster,
Can get a Strephon to accost her!
No single creature e'er is seen
With bearded chin and manly mien,
But what they have him in a minute!
Well! sure there is some witchcraft in it;
And all the elves are magic pimps
To aid and succour widow imps!
For when, by force of all our wits,
Kind looks, kind words, and fainting fits,
We've brought our beaus just to the lure,
And think the captives are secure —
When the ring glitters in our eye,
The lawyer called, the parson nigh,
Up starts a widow in the way,
And disappoints us of the prey;
By some curst hocus pocus trick
The lover leaves us in the nick,
And our confusion to confound,
He's led directly to Lob's pound.
Besides, what makes it more provoking,
The dames oft wound us by their joking,
Tho' they've a thousand times been told
They need not be so pert and bold;
For could we have the chance to try,
We would be wives, or else know why!
And having welcomed wedlock's boon,
We might be widows, too, and soon!
Thank heaven, we want nor will nor breath
To plague or talk a man to death!
But then the spiteful troop upbraids,
Calling us, sneeringly, old maids!
(The major part of us they mean.)
You well may think it moves our spleen,
When we must suffer such disgraces,
Or, what is worse, display our faces:
The fair and timid sex esteem'd,
We should about fifteen be deem'd;
Timid and fair are signs of youth;
The widows cann't deny this truth.
If still they urge we are not young,
However glib or loud the tongue,
'Till we afford 'em more conviction,
E'en let them talk sans contradiction!
" Old maids indeed!" for goodness sake
Could they no likelier scandal make?
When time's so much at our devotion,
They could not think to spread the notion.
In spite of registers and nurses,
(Whose blunders well deserve our curses)
Obsequious to a maiden's will,
Old Time turns backward or stands still.
However strange the thing appears,
Some have been twenty, twenty years!
And some that reckon just a score,
Were thirty, ten years since, or more!
Need any person now be told
That single ladies cann't grow old!
We should despise such taunting carriage,
Did we not quite despair of marriage;
Nor about husbands make this fuss,
Were there enough for them and us.
But, tis the truth we represent t'ye,
Men are so scarce, and maids so plenty,
That were each man a maid to wed,
Not one in fifty would be led
To Hymen's shrine, or, during life,
Become that envied thing — a wife.
While thus the widows interlope,
How can we maidens live in hope?
Your honored House will then debate
On our most lamentable state,
And after hearing this as fact,
Will guard our rights by legal act:
For if the widows be allowed
To taunt us thus, and be so proud,
We maidens must embrace the pillow,
Or cut a caper from a willow!
But lest your honors should surmise,
That we, more resolute than wise,
Make 'gainst the widows an invective,
When 'tis ourselves are most defective,
We state, (and thus for favor sue)
That ail that can be done, we do;
We plot, devise, try every plan,
To win the fickle creature man;
Contriving, or pursuing schemes,
Not more when waking than in dreams;
At every moment, every place,
Our lures we're throwing with a grace,
In curtsying, smiling, nodding, talking,
In laughing, singing, dancing, walking,
In romping, frowning, ogling, dressing,
And fifty things that want expressing;
At home, abroad, by night, by day,
We various stratagems display.
But sure the most becoming airs
Are those we practise at our prayers!
And therefore nothing can be fitter
Than frequent visits to St. Peter!
Which every maid more duly pays
Than Canons on refection days.
Ah! Sirs, 'twould do you good to know
The nice demeanour there we show;
And sure such visits are enchanting —
Good company is never wanting!
The forms too, and the ordinances,
So suited to young ladies' fancies;
For meekness grac'd by pure contrition,
To female beauty gives addition.
While turning round, to crave a blessing,
The figure's seen, and taste in dressing!
There one may sit, the eye not idle,
Tho' our discretion hold the bridle,
And archly view, behind a fan,
Which is the smartest gentleman;
And while we are his worth attesting,
He soon becomes more interesting,
Claims more respect, more notice shares,
And renders more devout our prayers!
If ever, as 'twill sometimes happen,
One cannot get one's hood or cap on,
So early as to be at church,
We never leave it in the lurch,
But with all possible regard
Wait in the consecrated yard:
Hindered by no profane pretences,
There we discharge our consci-ences!
Away we sail — if rough the weather,
It more directly drives us thither.
What tho' the wind disturb our clothes,
Why should the widows harm suppose?
Surely there can be nothing shocking
In a neat ankle and silk stocking!
If coxcombs pry, and make a fuss,
The blame must lie with them, not us.
So far we trust we do our duty,
In setting off our wit and beauty.
But more, if Nature, on her part,
Leaves us the smallest room for art,
We say, and to our praise 'tis known,
We show more graces than our own;
With stiffened stays, or iron boddices,
We are as finely shaped as goddesses.
If native colours are too faint,
It surely cann't be wrong to paint:
If too reveal'd the lily shows,
What harm to imitate the rose?
A patch that hides a freckled place
May add a beauty to the face;
Then as to faults — admit we've one,
It's name we change — the fault is gone:
For instance, if Miss looks awry,
Ha! Miss has got an ogling eye!
Or if a lengthened heel she want,
Her step's genteel, 'tis elegant!
Yet, Sirs, in spite of all our cares,
Our melting eyes and plaintive airs,
We must allow, when pressed thus far,
Just where we were at first, we are;
All means have failed — all tricks miscarried,
And we, alas! are still unmarried!
Since, then, 'tis not our fault, but fortune,
We take the freedom to importune
Your House will let it be enacted,
That not one widow be contracted,
Or, that it henceforth may be reckon'd,
" She killed the first who weds a second, "
'Till every maid is in the way
Of wedlock's treat, as well as they.
And yet in case (but heaven avert it!)
A luckless fair should be deserted,
She from that very hour may claim
A widow's privilege and name.
But since we plainly can foresee
The task will not more easy be
To keep the widow's host from marrving,
Than 'tis to keep the crows from carrion,
We think 'twill be extremely proper,
With all despatch to send a troop here
Of bold gallants to prop our cause,
Our rights maintain, and aid the laws!
But if you find it hard to muster
Of such like beaus sufficient cluster,
Rather than leave a single creature
Of our complacent, modest nature,
To bear the taunts of widow elves,
Take us, we pray you, to yourselves;
For we imagine, and don't flatter,
You will not start at such a matter;
For if 'tis rightly understood,
Our private weal is public good,
And public good, the wise ones say,
All real patriots should sway.
Then if you are not dead to beauty,
And know your parliamentary duty,
The question put — divide — and so,
When you say AY , we'll not say NO !
Come — make election — pick and choose,
Welcome to take, but not refuse:
Here all your fancies may be suited,
With real maids and maids reputed.
From these proposals we expect
The best your judgment can effect
Aid then our wishes — grant the boon,
And, we beseech you, grant it soon.
Old proverbs state, strike while you may,
All men lose something by delay,
And maids in sunshine should make hay:
Grant then this suit, Exonian Spinsters say,
And your petitioners will ever pray.
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