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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Poems: 1713–17

Epilogue to Mr. Rowe’s Jane Shore

  • Designed for Mrs. Oldfield
  • Nicholas Rowe’s play was acted at Drury Lane in February, 1714. Mrs. Oldfield played the leading part, but Pope’s Epilogue was not used.

  • PRODIGIOUS this! the Frail-one of our play

    From her own sex should mercy find to-day!

    You might have held the pretty head aside,

    Peep’d in your fans, been serious, thus, and cried,—

    ‘The play may pass—but that strange creature, Shore,

    I can’t—indeed now—I so hate a whore!’

    Just as a blockhead rubs his thoughtless skull,

    And thanks his stars he was not born a fool;

    So from a sister sinner you shall hear,

    ‘How strangely you expose yourself, my dear!

    But let me die, all raillery apart,

    Our sex are still forgiving at their heart;

    And, did not wicked custom so contrive,

    We ’d be the best good-natured things alive.’

    There are, ’t is true, who tell another tale,

    That virtuous ladies envy while they rail;

    Such rage without betrays the fire within;

    In some close corner of the soul they sin;

    Still hoarding up, most scandalously nice,

    Amidst their virtues a reserve of vice.

    The godly dame, who fleshly failings damns,

    Scolds with her maid, or with her chaplain crams.

    Would you enjoy soft nights and solid dinners?

    Faith, gallants, board with saints, and bed with sinners.

    Well, if our author in the Wife offends,

    He has a Husband that will make amends:

    He draws him gentle, tender, and forgiving;

    And sure such kind good creatures may be living.

    In days of old, they pardon’d breach of vows;

    Stern Cato’s self was no relentless spouse.

    Plu—Plutarch, what ’s his name that writes his life,

    Tells us, that Cato dearly lov’d his wife:

    Yet if a friend, a night or so, should need her,

    He ’d recommend her as a special breeder.

    To lend a wife, few here would scruple make;

    But, pray, which of you all would take her back?

    Tho’ with the Stoic Chief our stage may ring,

    The Stoic Husband was the glorious thing.

    The man had courage, was a sage, ’t is true,

    And lov’d his country—but what ’s that to you?

    Those strange examples ne’er were made to fit ye,

    But the kind cuckold might instruct the city:

    There, many an honest man may copy Cato

    Who ne’er saw naked sword, or look’d in Plato.

    If, after all, you think it a disgrace,

    That Edward’s Miss thus perks it in your face,

    To see a piece of failing flesh and blood,

    In all the rest so impudently good:

    Faith, let the modest matrons of the town

    Come here in crowds, and stare the strumpet down.