Archive for January 15th, 2012

Sunday, 15 January 2012

To A School-Boy At Eton. Yes and No by Mary Savage

My Dearest Boy,
                            Since time begun,
Since earth was earth, and sun was sun;
Since thought by words was brought to light,
And answer mild set passion right:
The hardest task assigned to man
(Deny it, lordlings, if ye can),
In two short words has been confined
(I beg you’ll keep them in your mind,
For much upon their use depends,
To make us still continue friends).
I mean the use of No and Yea:
They are but simple words, you’ll say,
‘For surely, ma’am, ‘tis long ago,
Since I first learned both Yes and No.’
I learned them too, when I was young,
But still they blunder on my tongue;
And though unlike as day to night,
‘Tis ten to one I use them right;
For Yes will run, when No should drudge,
Or Yes won’t stir, and No will trudge;
And sure if they’ll dispute with me,
They won’t (as yet) with you agree.

   But that you may little guard
Against their blows, when they come hard,
We’ll state a few familiar cases,
To take the mask from both their faces.

   If you an apple-tree should spy,
With fruit delicious hanging high,
Secure from sight and out of bounds,
Where no preposter comes his rounds,
And chums at hands to lend a lift,
To have a taste you might make shift,
And Yes would then, with all its force,
As sure be first as headstrong horse:
But should be chance the fact be known,
Or pain in stomach cause a groan,
And make your worship cry out ‘Oh!’,
Then how you’ll wish you had said No.

   In winter’s morn, if ice abound,
Or white with snow appears the ground,
Or heavy rain from clouds descend,
Or stormy winds the branches rend;
Should you submit to wicked No,
And lay in bed, whilst others go
With cautious steps and well-conned book,
To watch the Doctor’s mystic look;
When next you’re called, and found to fail,
You’ll grieve that Yes did not prevail.

   Returned to school, with cash in hand,
Full near your elbow Yes will stand:
In tempting shape of top and whip,
Or hoop to drive, or rope to skip,
Ere long as swift as lightning run
For hackney tit, or boat, or gun.
Perhaps some buck, with lively face,
More full of spirit than of grace,
With gay deportment may advance
A scheme at cards, to try your chance:
Or else advise a cheerful glass,
A few years hence, perhaps a lass,
Unmarked the cash will glide away,
And naught but empty pockets stay.
Then, if a friend distressed should come,
And ask your help – what says my son?
‘A trifling Yes has ruled my day;
I naught for thee but sighs can pay.’

   ‘Tis fit that pleasure have a share –
Always to labour, who can bear? –
But prior claims in life you’ll find,
When social duties touch your mind;
And time’s slow hand shall point the way,
Where to object, and when to obey:
A task too hard for me to teach;
Should I proceed, you’d say I preach.

   A few words more, and I am off:
At prudence fools will often scoff;
If you a parent’s look attend,
Or fear in play to hurt a friend,
And won’t your only farthing lend,
You’ll be the jest of every wight,
Whose passions are his rule of right.
But let the laugh go ever so,
Be virtue’s friend, and vice’s foe,
And never blush at proper No.

From: Lonsdale, Roger (Ed), Eighteenth Century Women Poets, 1990, Oxford University Press: Oxford, pp. 349-351.

Date: 1777

By: Mary Savage (fl. 1763-177)