“A POETICAL EPISTLE … to her NIECE, upon her Marriage”

Annis Boudinot Stockton was well known for her patriotic verse during the Revolution, including one celebrating the end of the War in 1783 and several odes to George Washington. In 1985 a copybook of Stockton’s poems came to light titled Only for the Eye of a Friend. It was donated by Christine Carolyn McMillan Cairnes, a direct descendant of Annis Boudinot and Richard Stockton, to the New Jersey Historical Society. The newly found poems inspired scholar Carla Mulford to publish, in 1995, a collection of Stockton’s poems along with those recently discovered, using Stockton’s title. The following edited poem is interesting for the advice Stockton gives to her newly wed niece regarding appropriate behavior for a wife. You may be uncomfortable with what she recommends, but her advice is consistent with what was considered the proper role for a wife during the eighteenth century. Stockton signed it with the pen name she often used—Emilia.

A POETICAL EPISTLE, addressed by a LADY of New-
Jersey, to her NIECE, upon her Marriage, in this City.

Well! my lov’d Niece, I hear the Bustle’s o’er,
The wedding cake and visits are no more;
…………………………………………………………….
Now with your usual sweetness deign to hear,
What from a heart most friendly flows sincere:
…………………………………………………………….
Good nature—sense—of these you’ve ample store,
And Oeconomicks you have learnt before.
But there are lurking evils that do prove
Under the name of trifles—death to love.—
And from these trifles, all the jarring springs,
And trust me child, they’re formidable things.
First then—with rev’rence treat in ev’ry place,
The chosen patron of your future days;
For when you shew him but the least neglect,
Yourself you rifle of your due respect.—
……………………………………………………

Whene’er your husband means to stay at home,
Whate’er th’ occasion—dont consent to roam;
For home’s a solitary place to one
Who loves his wife, and finds her always gone.
At least consult the temper of his mind,
If vex’d abroad, he finds himself inclin’d
From public business to relax awhile;
How pleasing then the solace of a smile—
A soft companion to relieve his care,
His joy to heighten—or his grief to share?

Unbend his thoughts and from the world retire,
within his sacred home and round his chearful fire;
Nor let him know you’ve made a sacrifice,
He’ll find it out himself: And then he’ll prize
Your kind endeavors to promote his ease,
And make the study of your life to please.

Another rule, you’ll find of equal weight,
When jars subside, never recriminate;
And when the cloud is breaking from his brow,
Repeat not what he said—nor when nor how.
If he’s tenacious, gently give him way—
And tho’ ’tis night, if he should say, ’tis day—
Dispute it not—but pass it with a smile;
He’ll recollect himself—and pay your toil—
And shew he views it in a proper light;
And no Confusion seek—to do you right:
Just in his humour meet him—no debate,
And let it be your pleasure to forget.
His friends with kindness always entertain,
And tho’ by chance he brings them, ne’er complain;
whate’er’s provided for himself and you,
With neatness serv’d, will surely please them too.
…………………………………………………………….
But you, my dear—if you would wish to shine,
Must always say, your friends are also mine.
The house is your’s, and I will do the best,
To give a chearful welcome to each guest.

Nor are those maxims difficult to cope
When stimulated by so fair a hope,
To reach the summit of domestic bliss;
And crown each day with ever smiling peace.

Now if these lines one caution should contain.
To gain that end, my labor’s not in vain;
And be assur’d my dear, while life endures
With every tender sentiment, I’m your’s.
Emilia

The poem was printed in The Columbian Magazine 1 (November 1786), 143; MS, New Jersey Historical Society (dated October 19, 1784), also in Only for the Eye of a Friend: the Poems of Annis Budinot Stockton, edited with an introduction by Carla Mulford (University of Virginia Press, 1995) 134-37.

posted April 11th, 2013 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Daily life, Marriage


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