The Ancient Spinster Beauty

When I was young and passing fair,
        The men in crowds came flocking round me;
Each with polite, discerning air,
        Some potent grace or merit found me.

My mother bade me not be vain,
        Said beauty was a fleeting treasure,
And sense and goodness were the twain
        In which alone the wise took pleasure!

But old and young, and wise, alike
        Seem’d with my slender stock contented:
How could such saws conviction strike,
        To which no mortal act assented?

I saw poor homely Merit grope
        Her way to coach or chair unaided;
And prosy Prudence lonely mope,
        Where Beauty with her train paraded.

I heard papas their daughters chide
        For vanity, and dress, and flirting,
Who quite good-humoured by my side
        Thought all I did and said diverting.

I found that rosy Nonsense charm’d
        Where wrinkled Wisdom oft was slighted;
Sage critics by a smile disarm’d,
        Divines, with sparkling eyes delighted.

Whene’er the merits were review’d
        Of nymph new-launched in town or city,
The question was not, Is she good?
        But, Tell me, tell me, is she pretty?

Mammas, who met in social chat,
        Would sometimes tire, discussing duty,
Decorum, virtue, and all that–
        Had still a friendly word for beauty.

What noses, lips, and cheeks, and eyes,
        And form, and grace! I oft heard ponder’d;
And then – for graver thoughts would rise–
        At folly and conceit they wonder’d!

I wondered too – for, preach who may,
        Youth reasons from effects, not causes;
I pleased, was always right, then say,
        Could I distrust the world’s applauses?

Girls without charms, who stove to please,
        Who wore the fashions Beauty sported,
Those were the vain, the foolish these,
        And I the wise – for I was courted!

And t’was no vanity to lend
        A meek assent when others praised me;
‘T had been presumption to contend,
        And pride to spurn the throne they raised me.

But O, when fifteen years were flown,
        I found my empire had departed;
For wrinkles came, and youth was gone,
        And lieges, courtiers, all deserted!

Well! let them go, who beauty prize,
        A gaudy flower, not worth preserving!
I still may charm the good and wise,
        And be of lasting fame deserving.

I trimm’d the lamp, I turned the page,
        I woo’d each muse of hill or grotto;
Track’d science through each modish stage–
        For hope to please was still my motto.

And when the wretched sought my door
        (For charity was now in fashion),
With chemistry I drugg’d the poor,
        And patronised the nymph Compassion.

Schools I endowed, cot-gardens plann’d,
        To make contentment more contented;
Shook knowledge o’er the clod-pole land,
        And pauper luxuries invented.

I loved the poor in days of yore,
        And some loved me, and praised my beauty;
But now I must bring something more
        Than smiles or alms to win their duty.

And was this all – was love of fame
        The only motive that could move me?
Papas, mammas, share ye the blame;
        Nor, beauty worshippers, reprove me.

The visions of my infant head,
        Like daisies in the sun delighting,
Look’d all to heaven from their green bed,
        Ere yet disclos’d to flattery’s blighting.

I had no doubt, I had no thought,
        But goodness was life’s only pleasure;
Kind deeds the daily work she wrought,
        And piety her hoarded treasure.

Why fled those dreams of happier hour?
        Why was the work I love deserted?
A root was wanting – and the flower
        Sufficed to please the hollow-hearted.

Source: Chambers Edinburgh Journal 7.339 (28 July 1838): 216.
(Available in ProQuest database)


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