EPISTLE II. To a Lady.
Of the Characters of WOMEN.

Alexander Pope

1 Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
2 "Most Women have no Characters at all."
3 Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear,
4 And best distinguish'd by black, brown, or fair.

5 How many pictures of one Nymph we view,
6 All how unlike each other, all how true!
7 Arcadia's Countess, here, in ermin'd pride,
8 Is there, Pastora by a fountain side.
9 Here Fannia, leering on her own good man,
10 And there, a naked Leda with a Swan.
11 Let then the Fair one beautifully cry,
12 In Magdalen's loose hair and lifted eye,
13 Or drest in smiles of sweet Cecilia shine,
14 With simp'ring Angels, Palms, and Harps divine;
15 Whether the Charmer sinner it, or saint it,
16 If Folly grows romantic, I must paint it.

17 Come then, the colours and the ground prepare!
18 Dip in the Rainbow, trick her off in Air,
19 Chuse a firm Cloud, before it fall, and in it
20 Catch, e'er she change, the Cynthia of this minute.

21 Rufa, whose eye quick-glancing o'er the Park,
22 Attracts each light gay meteor of a Spark,
23 Agrees as ill with Rufa studying Locke,
24 As Sappho's diamonds with her dirty smock,
25 Or Sappho at her toilet's greazy task,
26 With Sappho fragrant at an ev'ning Mask:
27 So morning Insects that in muck begun,
28 Shine, buzz, and fly-blow in the setting-sun.

29 How soft is Silia! fearful to offend,
30 The Frail one's advocate, the Weak one's friend:
31 To her, Calista prov'd her conduct nice,
32 And good Simplicius asks of her advice.
33 Sudden, she storms! she raves! You tip the wink,
34 But spare your censure; Silia does not drink.
35 All eyes may see from what the change arose,
36 All eyes may see---a Pimple on her nose.

37 Papillia, wedded to her am'rous spark,
38 Sighs for the shades---"How charming is a Park!
39 A Park is purchas'd, but the Fair he sees
40 All bath'd in tears---"Oh odious, odious Trees!"

41 Ladies, like variegated Tulips, show,
42 'Tis to their Changes half their charms we owe;
43 Their happy Spots the nice admirer take,
44 Fine by defect, and delicately weak.
45 'Twas thus Calypso once each heart alarm'd,
46 Aw'd without Virtue, without Beauty charm'd;
47 Her Tongue bewitch'd as odly as her Eyes,
48 Less Wit than Mimic, more a Wit than wise:
49 Strange graces still, and stranger flights she had,
50 Was just not ugly, and was just not mad;
51 Yet ne'er so sure our passion to create,
52 As when she touch'd the brink of all we hate.

53 Narcissa's nature, tolerably mild,
54 To make a wash, would hardly stew a child,
55 Has ev'n been prov'd to grant a Lover's pray'r,
56 And paid a Tradesman once to make him stare,
57 Gave alms at Easter, in a Christian trim,
58 And made a Widow happy, for a whim.
59 Why then declare Good-nature is her scorn,
60 When 'tis by that alone she can be born?
61 Why pique all mortals, yet affect a name?
62 A fool to Pleasure, yet a slave to Fame:
63 Now deep in Taylor and the Book of Martyrs,
64 Now drinking citron with his Grace and Chartres.
65 Now Conscience chills her, and now Passion burns;
66 And Atheism and Religion take their turns;
67 A very Heathen in the carnal part,
68 Yet still a sad, good Christian at her heart.

69 See Sin in State, majestically drunk,
70 Proud as a Peeress, prouder as a Punk;
71 Chaste to her Husband, frank to all beside,
72 A teeming Mistress, but a barren Bride.
73 What then? let Blood and Body bear the fault,
74 Her Head's untouch'd, that noble Seat of Thought:
75 Such this day's doctrine---in another fit
76 She sins with Poets thro' pure Love of Wit.
77 What has not fir'd her bosom or her brain?
78 Cæsar and Tall-boy, Charles and Charlema'ne.
79 As Helluo, late Dictator of the Eeast,
80 The Nose of Hautgout, and the Tip of Taste,
81 Critick'd your wine, and analyz'd your meat,
82 Yet on plain Pudding deign'd at-home to eat;
83 So Philomedé, lect'ring all mankind
84 On the soft Passion, and the Taste refin'd,
85 Th'Address, the Delicacy---stoops at once,
86 And makes her hearty meal upon a Dunce.

87 Flavia's a Wit, has too much sense to Pray,
88 To Toast our wants and wishes, is her way;
89 Nor asks of God, but of her Stars to give
90 The mighty blessing, "while we live, to live."
91 Then all for Death, that Opiate of the soul!
92 Lucretia's dagger, Rosamonda's bowl.
93 Say, what can cause such impotence of mind?
94 A Spark too fickle, or a Spouse too kind.
95 Wise Wretch! with Pleasures too refin'd to please,
96 With too much Spirit to be e'er at ease,
97 With too much Quickness ever to be taught,
98 With too much Thinking to have common Thought:
99 You purchase Pain with all that Joy can give,
100 And die of nothing but a Rage to live.

101 Turn then from Wits; and look on Simo's Mate,
102 No Ass so meek, no Ass so obstinate:
103 Or her, that owns her Faults, but never mends,
104 Because she's honest, and the best of Friends:
105 Or her, whose life the Church and Scandal share,
106 For ever in a Passion, or a Pray'r:
107 Or her, who laughs at Hell, but (like her Grace)
108 Cries, "Ah! how charming, if there's no such place!
109 Or who in sweet vicissitude appears
110 Of Mirth and Opium, Ratafie and Tears,
111 The daily Anodyne, and nightly Draught,
112 To kill those foes to Fair ones, Time and Thought.
113 Woman and Fool are two hard things to hit,
114 For true No-meaning puzzles more than Wit.

115 But what are these to great Atossa's mind?
116 Scarce once herself, by turns all Womankind!
117 Who, with herself, or others, from her birth
118 Finds all her life one warfare upon earth:
119 Shines, in exposing Knaves, and painting Fools,
120 Yet is, whate'er she hates and ridicules.
121 No Thought advances, but her Eddy Brain
122 Whisks it about, and down it goes again.
123 Full sixty years the World has been her Trade,
124 The wisest Fool much Time has ever made.
125 From loveless youth to unrespected age,
126 No Passion gratify'd except her Rage.
127 So much the Fury still out-ran the Wit,
128 The Pleasure miss'd her, and the Scandal hit.
129 Who breaks with her, provokes Revenge from Hell,
130 But he's a bolder man who dares be well:
131 Her ev'ry turn with Violence pursu'd,
132 Nor more a storm her Hate than Gratitude.
133 To that each Passion turns, or soon or late;
134 Love, if it makes her yield, must make her hate:
135 Superiors? death! and Equals? what a curse!
136 But an Inferior not dependant? worse.
137 Offend her, and she knows not to forgive;
138 Oblige her, and she'll hate you while you live:
139 But die, and she'll adore you---Then the Bust
140 And Temple rise---then fall again to dust.
141 Last night, her Lord was all that's good and great,
142 A Knave this morning, and his Will a Cheat.
143 Strange! by the Means defeated of the Ends,
144 By Spirit robb'd of Pow'r, by Warmth of Friends,
145 By Wealth of Follow'rs! without one distress
146 Sick of herself thro' very selfishness!
147 Atossa, curs'd with ev'ry granted pray'r,
148 Childless with all her Children, wants an Heir.
149 To Heirs unknown descends th'unguarded store
150 Or wanders, Heav'n-directed, to the Poor.

151 Pictures like these, dear Madam, to design,
152 Asks no firm hand, and no unerring line;
153 Some wand'ring touches, some reflected light,
154 Some flying stroke alone can hit 'em right:
155 For how should equal Colours do the knack?
156 Chameleons who can paint in white and black?

157 "Yet Cloe sure was form'd without a spot---
158 Nature in her then err'd not, but forgot.
159 "With ev'ry pleasing, ev'ry prudent part,
160 "Say, what can Cloe want?---she wants a Heart.
161 She speaks, behaves, and acts just as she ought;
162 But never, never, reach'd one gen'rous Thought.
163 Virtue she finds too painful an endeavour,
164 Content to dwell in Decencies for ever.
165 So very reasonable, so unmov'd,
166 As never yet to love, or to be lov'd.
167 She, while her Lover pants upon her breast,
168 Can mark the figures on an Indian chest;
169 And when she sees her Friend in deep despair,
170 Observes how much a Chintz exceeds Mohair.
171 Forbid it Heav'n, a Favour or a Debt
172 She e'er should cancel---but she may forget.
173 Safe is your Secret still in Cloe's ear;
174 But none of Cloe's shall you ever hear.
175 Of all her Dears she never slander'd one,
176 But cares not if a thousand are undone.
177 Would Cloe know if you're alive or dead?
178 She bids her Footman put it in her head.
179 Cloe is prudent---would you too be wise?
180 Then never break your heart when Cloe dies.

181 One certain Portrait may (I grant) be seen,
182 Which Heav'n has varnish'd out, and made a Queen:
183 The same for ever! and describ'd by all
184 With Truth and Goodness, as with Crown and Ball:
185 Poets heap Virtues, Painters Gems at will,
186 And show their zeal, and hide their want of skill.
187 'Tis well---but, Artists! who can paint or write,
188 To draw the Naked is your true delight:
189 That Robe of Quality so struts and swells,
190 None see what Parts or Nature it conceals.
191 Th'exactest traits of Body or of Mind,
192 We owe to models of an humble kind.
193 If Queensberry to strip there's no compelling,
194 'Tis from a Handmaid we must take a Helen.
195 From Peer or Bishop 'tis no easy thing
196 To draw the man who loves his God, or King:
197 Alas! I copy (or my draught would fail)
198 From honest Mah'met, or plain Parson Hale.

199 But grant, in Public Men sometimes are shown,
200 A Woman's seen in Private life alone:
201 Our bolder Talents in full light display'd,
202 Your Virtues open fairest in the shade.
203 Bred to disguise, in Public 'tis you hide;
204 There, none distinguish 'twixt your Shame or Pride,
205 Weakness or Delicacy; all so nice,
206 That each may seem a Virtue, or a Vice.

207 In Men, we various Ruling Passions find,
208 In Women, two almost divide the kind;
209 Those, only fix'd, they first or last obey,
210 The Love of Pleasure, and the Love of Sway.

211 That, Nature gives; and where the lesson taught
212 Is but to please, can Pleasure seem a fault?
213 Experience, this; by Man's oppression curst,
214 They seek the second not to lose the first.

215 Men, some to Bus'ness, some to Pleasure take;
216 But ev'ry Woman is at heart a Rake:
217 Men, some to Quiet, some to public Strife;
218 But ev'ry Lady would be Queen for life.

219 Yet mark the fate of a whole Sex of Queens!
220 Pow'r all their end, but Beauty all the means.
221 In Youth they conquer, with so wild a rage,
222 As leaves them scarce a Subject in their Age:
223 For foreign glory, foreign joy, they roam;
224 No thought of Peace or Happiness at home.
225 But Wisdom's Triumph is well-tim'd Retreat,
226 As hard a science to the Fair as Great!
227 Beauties, like Tyrants, old and friendless grown,
228 Yet hate Repose, and dread to be alone,
229 Worn out in public, weary ev'ry eye,
230 Nor leave one sigh behind them when they die.

231 Pleasures the sex, as children Birds, pursue,
232 Still out of reach, yet never out of view,
233 Sure, if they catch, to spoil the Toy at most,
234 To covet flying, and regret when lost:
235 At last, to follies Youth could scarce defend,
236 It grows their Age's prudence to pretend;
237 Asham'd to own they gave delight before,
238 Reduc'd to feign it, when they give no more:
239 As Hags hold Sabbaths, less for joy than spight,
240 So these their merry, miserable Night;
241 Still round and round the Ghosts of Beauty glide,
242 And haunt the places where their Honour dy'd.

243 See how the World its Veterans rewards!
244 A Youth of Frolicks, an old Age of Cards,
245 Fair to no purpose, artful to no end,
246 Young without Lovers, old without a Friend,
247 A Fop their Passion, but their Prize a Sot,
248 Alive, ridiculous, and dead, forgot!

249 Ah Friend! to dazzle let the Vain design,
250 To raise the Thought, and touch the Heart, be thine!
251 That Charm shall grow, while what fatigues the Ring
252 Flaunts and goes down, an unregarded thing.
253 So when the Sun's broad beam has tir'd the sight,
254 All mild ascends the Moon's more sober light,
255 Serene in Virgin Modesty she shines,
256 And unobserv'd the glaring Orb declines.

257 Oh! blest with Temper, whose unclouded ray
258 Can make to morrow chearful as to day;
259 She, who can love a Sister's charms, or hear
260 Sighs for a Daughter with unwounded ear;
261 She, who ne'er answers till a Husband cools,
262 Or, if she rules him, never shows she rules;
263 Charms by accepting, by submitting sways,
264 Yet has her humour most, when she obeys;
265 Let Fops or Fortune fly which way they will;
266 Disdains all loss of Tickets, or Codille;
267 Spleen, Vapours, or Small-pox, above them all,
268 And Mistress of herself, tho' China fall.

269 And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,
270 Woman's at best a Contradiction still.
271 Heav'n, when it strives to polish all it can
272 Its last best work, but forms a softer Man;
273 Picks from each sex, to make the Fav'rite blest,
274 Your love of Pleasure, our desire of Rest,
275 Blends, in exception to all gen'ral rules,
276 Your Taste of Follies, with our Scorn of Fools,
277 Reserve with Frankness, Art with Truth ally'd,
278 Courage with Softness, Modesty with Pride,
279 Fix'd Principles, with Fancy ever new;
280 Shakes all together, and produces---You.

281 Be this a Woman's Fame: with this unblest,
282 Toasts live a scorn, and Queens may die a jest.
283 This Phoebus promis'd (I forget the year)
284 When those blue eyes first open'd on the sphere;
285 Ascendant Phoebus watch'd that hour with care,
286 Averted half your Parents simple Pray'r,
287 And gave you Beauty, but deny'd the Pelf
288 That buys your sex a Tyrant o'er itself.
289 The gen'rous God, who Wit and Gold refines,
290 And ripens Spirits as he ripens Mines,
291 Kept Dross for Duchesses, the world shall know it,
292 To you gave Sense, Good-humour, and a Poet.