A Collier Defense For Women, Such As Myself, Who Are Scullery Maids Deigning to Be Poets

“IT is thought proper to assure the Reader, that the following Verses are the real Productions of the Person to whom the Title Page ascribes them.

THO She pretends not to the Genius of Mr. DUCK, nor hopes to be taken Notice of by the Great, yet her Friends are of Opinion that the Novelty of a Washer Woman’s turning Poetess, will procure her some Readers.

IF all that follow the same Employment would amuse themselves, and one another, during the tedious Hours of their Labour, in this, or some other Way as innocent, instead of tossing Scandal to and fro, many Reputations would remain unwounded, and the Peace of Families be less disturb’d.

I THINK it no Reproach to the Author, whose Life is toilsome, and her Wages inconsiderable, to confess honestly, that the View of her putting a small Sum of Money in her Pocket, as well as the Reader’s Entertainment, had its Share of Influence upon this Publication. And she humbly hopes she shall not be absolutely disappointed  ; since, tho’ she is ready to own that her performance could be no Means stand a critical Examination, yet she flatters herself that, with all its Faults and Imperfections, the candid Reader will judge it to be Something considerably beyond the common Capacity of those of her own Rank and Occupation.”

This is Mary Collier’s introduction to her poem The Woman’s Labour: An Epistle to Mr. Stephen Duck (1739). Mary Collier was an English working-class poet of the 18th C, most famous for the aforementioned poem. I’ve spoken about her before on this blog, and if you haven’t noticed, I have a habit of returning repeatedly to my favorite subjects. I appreciate Mary Collier, not simply because she was a poet and washer-woman, but also owing to her ability to debate in verse. I love this 18th C practice. One poet would publish a poem making bold and often offensive statements, another would publish a response, and so on and so forth. As you can see from the title, hers was in response to Stephen Duck, author of The Thresher’s Labour. Duck implies, in his verses, that women are lazy gossips, while men carry the brunt of the work. Both Duck and Collier were working-class poets–Duck should have known from experience that the women surrounding him worked just as hard or harder then the menfolk, then went home for a second shift to wait on their children and husbands.

I ran across Collier’s entire poem and intro in one of my files labeled “Mary Collier”. I don’t know where I ripped the poem from and can, therefore, give no back-links to its online version. I posted it today because I might start posting more of my own poetry on my blog. I’m not sure, yet. I’m still in a kind of Lenten Limbo, in which I’m praying and attempting to be as quiet as possible on the internet and elsewhere.

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2 comments

  1. Woo! Mary sure did tell them! I love spunky women, and it took guts to retaliate in such a man-centric age. The concept of lazy women in any period of history makes me laugh! Yeah right!

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