Sarah Egerton, The Emulation
Say, tyrant Custom, why must we obey
The impositions of thy haughty sway?
From the first dawn of life unto the grave,
Poor womankind's in every state a slave,
The nurse, the mistress, parent and the swain,
For love she must, there's none escape that pain.
Then comes the last, the fatal slavery:
The husband with insulting tyranny
Can have ill manners justified by law,
For men all join to keep the wife in awe.
Moses, who first our freedom did rebuke,
Was married when he writ the Pentateuch.
They're wise to keep us slaves, for well they know,
If we were loose, we should soon make them so.
We yield like vanquished kings whom fetters bind,
When chance of war is to usurpers kind;
Submit in form; but they'd our thoughts control,
And lay restraints on the impassive soul.
They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,
Should we attempt the sciences and arts;
Pretend they were designed for them alone,
So keep us fools to raise their own renown.
Thus priests of old, their grandeur to maintain, Cried vulgar eyes would sacred laws profane;
So kept the mysteries behind a screen:
Their homage and the name were lost had they been seen.
But in this blessèd age such freedom's given,
That every man explains the will of heaven;
And shall we women now sit tamely by,
Make no excursions in philosophy,
Or grace our thoughts in tuneful poetry?
We will our rights in learning's world maintain;
Wit's empire now shall know a female reign.
Come, all ye fair, the great attempt improve,
Divinely imitate the realms above:
There's ten celestial females govern wit,
And but two gods that dare pretend to it.
And shall these finite males reverse their rules?
No, we'll be wits, and then men must be fools.
Traduzco a continuación el poema de Sarah Egerton "The Emulation". Creo que se refiere a emular a Eva mordiendo el fruto del árbol de la ciencia, idea expresada un tanto indirectamente por sus connotaciones satánicas. Consuela pensar que en 1703 hubiese al menos una persona capaz de escribir estas cosas sobre la opresión de las mujeres, aunque tenga un bajo concepto de los hombres (seguro que era por algo...). Siguen algunos datos sobre la autora, procedentes de Eighteenth-Century Women Poets (ed. Roger Lonsdale, Oxford, 1989).
Dime, Hábito tirano, ¿por qué hemos de obedecer
tu gobierno altanero y todas tus imposiciones?
Desde el alba de la vida hasta la tumba,
es siempre una esclava la pobre mujer:
de la niñera, de la institutriz, de los padres y del galán,
--pues se ha de enamorar, de ese mal ni una se libra.
Y luego viene la esclavitud última, la fatal:
el marido, con su insultante tiranía,
puede usar de malos modos, apoyado por la ley,
pues los hombres se conjuran para intimidar a las esposas.
Moisés, el primero en reprender nuestra libertad,
casado estaba cuando escribió el Pentateuco.
Prudentemente nos tienen de esclavas,
sabiendo que si nos soltásemos haríamos lo propio con ellos.
Nos rendimos como los reyes vencidos, presos,
cuando el azar de la guerra sonríe al usurpador
--de palabra únicamente; sin embargo en su ambición
querrían ellos controlar incluso los pensamientos,
y ponerle restricciones a un alma ya anestesiada.
Temen que sobrepasemos a sus torpes dotaciones,
si osásemos dedicarnos a las ciencias y a las artes;
arguyendo que se hicieron éstas sólo para ellos,
nos mantienen así necias para su enaltecimiento.
También antaño los sacerdotes clamaban, por mantener privilegios,
que ojos vulgares profanarían la ley divina,
y guardaban los misterios ocultos tras la cortina.
Pues misterios y respeto se habrían perdido, de verse.
Pero en esta era bendita tanta libertad tenemos
que no hay hombre que no explique lo que es la voluntad del cielo.
¿Y habremos de quedarnos las mujeres ahí sentadas mansamente,
sin hacer incursiones en la filosofía, ni adornado
veremos nuestro pensamiento con musical poesía?
Afirmaremos nuestros derechos en el mundo del saber; ha de ver
el país de la invención un reinado femenino.
emulando el gran asalto, vamos, hermosas, ahora hemos de superarlo;
imitad divinamente al reino de las alturas:
hay diez musas celestiales que gobiernan la invención,
y sólo dos dioses hombres que se atreven a intentarlo,
¿Y les pondrán reglas a ellas aquí estos machos finitos?
No; a nosotras el ingenio, y que sean los tontos ellos.
Sarah Egerton (née Fyge, later Field) (1670-1723)
Born in London, she was one of the six daughters of Thomas Fyge (d. 1706), a physician descended from a land-owning family at Winslow, Buckinghamshire, and his wife Mary Beacham (d. 1704). In 1686 she published The Female Advocate (revised edition, 1687), a reply to Robert Gould's Love Given O're: Or, A Satyr Against the Pride, Lust and Inconstancy, &c. of Woman (1682). For this teenage indiscretion her father forced her to leave London and live with relatives in the country, as she complains in some of her early autobiographical poems. She eventually married an attorney, Edward Field, who had died before 1700. She may have known John Dryden, on whose death in 1700 she published an ode in Luctus Britannici and, as 'Mrs. S.F.', contributed to The Nine Muses (1700), a collection of verse by women on the late poet, edited by Mrs. Manley. By 1703, the dedication to the Earl of Halifax of her Poems on Several Occasions. Together with a Pastoral was signed 'S.F.E.' indicating that she had remarried (The book was reissued as A Collection of Poems on Several Occasions ... by Mrs. Sarah Fyge Egerton (1706), The Female Advocate being reprinted in the same year, but with the date 1707.)
Her second husband was the Revd Thomas Egerton, a second cousin, who had been Rector of Adstock, Buckinghamshire, since 1671. A wealthy widower with adult children, he was some twenty years older than she. Before and after this marriage she was apparently in love with Henry Pierce, an attorney's clerk and a friend of her first husband ('Alexis' in her poems). Evidence has recently come to light that as early as 1703 the Egertons were involved in an acrimonious divorce suit, she accusing him of cruelty, he accusing her of desertion, but the divorce seems not to have been granted. She had been friendly, but later quarrelled, with Delariviere Manley, who gave a remarkable and no doubt heightened account of the Egerton marriage in her Secret Memoirs ... from the New Atlantis (1709). Manley's limited sympathy is reserved for her husband, 'an old thin raw-bon'd Priest', who is persecuted by his hysterical and violent wife ('a She-Devil incarnate'). Such is his punishment for marrying a younger wife, 'when I had Children grown up to keep my House, and administer comfortably to my Necessities'. With a good estate and income, he could keep a coach and four servants for her, but her violence had driven away his children, and 'Then she's in love with all the handsome Fellows she sees; but her Face, I believe, protects her Chastity ... [it] is made in part like a Black-a-more, flat-nos'd, blubber-lipp'd, there is no sign of life in her Complexion, it savours all of Mortality; she looks as if she had been buried a Twelve-month'. As for her incomprehensible verse, 'Deliver me from a poetical wife.... She rumbles in Verses of Atomes, Artic and Antartic, of Gods, and of strange things, foreign to all fashionable Understanding'. In her Memoirs of Europe (1710), the relentless Manley referred to her again as the 'shockingly ugly' woman who had presented the literary patron Julius Sergius (the Earl of Halifax) with 'the Labours of her Brain'. The unhappy marriage was evidently notorious: it was ridiculed again, together with her poetic ambitions, in The Butter'd Apple-Pye (1711), a broadsheet verse satire.
She had no children and died in February 1723 (her husband having died in 1720). She left £1 a year to the poor of Winslow, which failed to reach them because of the 'abuse' of her executor, a local mercer. In the course of some correspondence about her identity in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1780-1, one 'M.J.' claimed to own some 120 of her letters, but these have not come to light.