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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Wife

By William Livingston (1723–1790)

[Born in Albany, N. Y., 1723. Died at Ellzabethtown, N. J., 1790. Philosophic Solitude. 1747.]

BY love directed, I would choose a wife,

To improve my bliss, and ease the load of life.

Hail, wedlock! hail, inviolable tie!

Perpetual fountain of domestic joy!

Love, friendship, honor, truth, and pure delight

Harmonious mingle in the nuptial rite.

In Eden, first the holy state began,

When perfect innocence distinguished man;

The human pair, the Almighty pontiff led,

Gay as the morning, to the bridal bed;

A dread solemnity the espousals graced,

Angels the witnesses, and God the priest!

All earth exulted on the nuptial hour,

And voluntary roses decked the bower,

The joyous birds on every blossomed spray,

Sung hymeneans to the important day,

While Philomela swelled the spousal song,

And Paradise with gratulation rung.

Relate, inspiring muse! where shall I find

A blooming virgin with an angel mind?

Unblemished as the white-robed virgin quire

That fed, O Rome! thy consecrated fire?

By reason awed, ambitious to be good,

Averse to vice, and zealous for her God?

Relate, in what blest region can I find

Such bright perfections in a female mind?

What phœnix-woman breathes the vital air

So greatly good, and so divinely fair?

Sure not the gay and fashionable train,

Licentious, proud, immoral, and profane;

Who spend their golden hours in antic dress,

Malicious whispers, and inglorious ease.

Lo! round the board a shining train appears

In rosy beauty, and in prime of years!

This hates a flounce, and this a flounce approves,

This shows the trophies of her former loves;

Polly avers that Sylvia dressed in green,

When last at church the gaudy nymph was seen;

Chloe condemns her optics; and will lay

’Twas azure satin, interstreaked with gray;

Lucy, invested with judicial power,

Awards ’twas neither—and the strife is o’er.

Then parrots, lapdogs, monkeys, squirrels, beaux,

Fans, ribbons, tuckers, patches, furbelows,

In quick succession, through their fancies run,

And dance incessant on the flippant tongue.

And when, fatigued with every other sport,

The belles prepare to grace the sacred court,

They marshal all their forces in array,

To kill with glances, and destroy in play.

Two skilful maids, with reverential fear,

In wanton wreaths collect their silken hair;

Two paint their cheeks, and round their temples pour

The fragrant unguent, and the ambrosial shower;

One pulls the shape-creating stays; and one

Encircles round her waist the golden zone;

Not with more toil to improve immortal charms,

Strove Juno, Venus, and the queen of arms,

When Priam’s son adjudged the golden prize,

To the resistless beauty of the skies.

At length, equipped in Love’s enticing arms,

With all that glitters, and with all that charms,

The ideal goddesses to church repair,

Peep through the fan, and mutter o’er a prayer,

Or listen to the organ’s pompous sound,

Or eye the gilded images around;

Or, deeply studied in coquettish rules,

Aim wily glances at unthinking fools;

Or show the lily hand with graceful air,

Or wound the fopling with a lock of hair:

And when the hated discipline is o’er,

And misses tortured with repent, no more,

They mount the pictured coach; and, to the play,

The celebrated idols hie away.

Not so the lass that should my joys improve,

With solid friendship, and connubial love:

A native bloom, with intermingled white,

Should set her features in a pleasing light;

Like Helen flushing with unrivalled charms,

When raptured Paris darted in her arms.

But what, alas! avails a ruby cheek,

A downy bosom, or a snowy neck!

Charms ill supply the want of innocence,

Nor beauty forms intrinsic excellence,

But in her breast let moral beauties shine,

Supernal grace and purity divine:

Sublime her reason, and her native wit

Unstrained with pedantry, and low conceit:

Her fancy lively, and her judgment free

From female prejudice and bigotry:

Averse to idle pomp and outward show,

The flattering coxcomb, and fantastic beau.

The fop’s impertinence she should despise,

Though sorely wounded by her radiant eyes;

But pay due reverence to the exalted mind,

By learning polished, and by wit refined,

Who all her virtues, without guile, commends,

And all her faults as freely reprehends.

Soft Hymen’s rites her passion should approve,

And in her bosom glow the flames of love:

To me her soul, by sacred friendship, turn,

And I, for her, with equal friendship burn:

In every stage of life afford relief,

Partake my joys, and sympathize my grief;

Unshaken, walk in Virtue’s peaceful road,

Nor bribe her Reason to pursue the mode;

Mild as the saint whose errors are forgiven,

Calm as a vestal, and composed as heaven.

This be the partner, this the lovely wife,

That should embellish and prolong my life,

A nymph! who might a second fall inspire,

And fill a glowing cherub with desire!

With her I’d spend the pleasurable day,

While fleeting minutes gaily danced away:

With her I’d walk, delighted, o’er the green,

Through every blooming mead, and rural scene;

Or sit in open fields damasked with flowers,

Or where cool shades imbrown the noon-tide bowers.

Imparadised within my eager arms,

I’d reign the happy monarch of her charms;

Oft on her panting bosom would I lay,

And in dissolving raptures melt away;

Then lulled, by nightingales, to balmy rest,

My blooming fair should slumber at my breast.