“Scriptures declare many men to be condemned to eternal torments, when no woman at any time condemned may be read of …”
So, next time I regale a lecture audience with John Donne provocatively entertaining the notion of women not having souls, I can half rectify the situation by pointing out that the unremitting interrogation of what the Bible says and doesn’t say, so characteristic of his age, had also produced this unanticipated finding.
I’ve been reading The glory of women: or, A treatise declaring the excellency and preheminence of women above men, which is proved both by scripture, law, reason, and authority, divine, and humane. Written first in Latine by Henricus Cornelius Agrippa Knight, and doctor both of law and physicke. And presented to Margaret Augusta, Queen of the Austrians and Burgundians. And now translated into English, for the vertuous and beautifull female sex of the
This was a generically normal rhetorical oration, in this case arguing pro rather than contra, written to display wit, tongue-in-cheek, and just sometimes approaching seriousness in its attacks on men. Fleetwood’s prose translation was seized upon by Hugh Crompton, who put it into verse as:
The glory of women or, a looking-glasse for ladies: Wherin they may behold their own excellency and preheminence, proved to be greater then mans, by scripture, law, reason & authority, divine & human. Written first in Latine, by Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Knight and doctor both of law and physick. Afterwards translated into English prose, but now turned into heroicall verse. By H. C. Gent.,1652.
I have posted on Hugh Crompton before (link below): he seems to be a case of a man writing verse to promote and display his uninhibited delight in women. But in glancing then at the titles listed to him on EEBO, I missed this versification. Prose was not elevated enough for Crompton’s notion of his favourite subject, and so, off he went.
Here’s the set description, the standard topos, the blazon, of a woman’s physical beauty as Fleetwood rendered Agrippa’s Latin:
“beauty, is nothing else but the divine light, and splendor shining through faire bodies, he certainly hath chose to dwell in, and fill with it, Women rather than Men.
Hence the Body of WOMAN is most delicate to the eye, and touch, her flesh most soft and tender, her colour bright and lustring, Skinne cleare, Head comely, Locks faire, haire soft, shining, and long, her Countenance majesticke, Aspect pleasant, her Face surpassing in beauty, necke milke white, fore-head high, eyes sparkling with a lovely chearfulnesse, mixed with tenne thousand graces above them, eye-browes smooth and thin, divided with decent distance, from the middle of which descendeth her nose, straight and of due proportion, under which is her mouth neat, round and lovely, with small, fresh and red lips, within which her teeth appeare when she gently smiles, being very small, and evenly placed, overcoming Ivory with their whitenesse, and to whom they are fewer in number then to man, because she is not given so much to eating, and consuming. Above them her jaw-bones rise handsomely, and cheeks of a tender softnesse, a rosie brightnesse, and full of modesty.
Next, take view of her round and dimpled Chinne, in a pleasant manner, under which the neck is placed, which is small, but something long, fairly erected upon her round shoulders, a delicate throat, white, and of an indifferent thicknesse, her voice sweet and pleasant, her brest somewhat large and prominent, adorned with two Nectar-fill’d Paps, the roundnesse of which, doth suite and agree well with the roundnesse of her belly, her sides soft, back smooth, and erect, armes stretched out, hands small and slender, fingers neatly jointed, her flanks and hips more full, the calves of her legs more fleshly, the tips of her hands and feet ending in a round orbicular compleatnesse, and every member full of juyce and moisture.”
And this is what Crompton did in versifying it:
the man is but the work of Nature,
But woman is the print of the Creator:
She's full of Beauty to inrich her fame,
She's often found abounding with the same;
This will appear within her cheeks to lie,
Excelling man in her serenitie;
Since Beauty then is nothing but the light,
And splendor shining in each body bright:
Then certainly Females the Lord did chuse
To fill with it, when man he did refuse.
But that I might them more illuminate,
I'le shew their bodies are most delicate,
In form, and colour, which for to behold,
Shines far more bright then the refined Gold:
Her locks are comely, and her head's most clear,
And it's adorned with her silken haire;
Her aspects lovely, glancing from her face,
Her forehead high, for beauty doth surpasse;
Her twinckling eyes plac't in their silver cases,
Are mixt and blended with ten thousand graces;
'Bove which there hang the curtains of her eyes,
And in the midst there doth her nose arise,
Plac't like a ballance, or an even weight
Descending downwards by a comly height:
Next unto this is made her mouth below,
Surrounded with those Ruby Lips that grow
In decent order, shining bright and clear,
And when she smiles, her candid teeth appear,
Both sharp and small, and placed equally,
Th'are far more bright then bones of Ivory;
They rest within the cheeks that do inclose
Both red and white, the Lilly and the Rose;
Behold her chin made Conojodicall,
Her neck beneath is placed long and small,
Erected neatly on her shoulders round;
Her throat but slender, yields a pleasant sound:
Her breasts adorn'd, her paps with Nectar fill'd,
Which dulcid drink she doth to infants yield:
Her belly's round, back small, sides soft & tender;
Her arms erect, her hands are thin and slender:
Her feet divide it neatly, and her hips
Are trimm'd with fatnesse; but her finger tips
End all compleatly, in a circle round:
Each part with sanguine moisture doth abound.
Maybe some qualm stopped him from rendering properly the assertion that female beauty manifests the divine light. The absurd proposition that women, with their smaller appetites, have fewer teeth than men also disappears (did he do some practical research rather than accept his author?) Both writers make a round belly part of the general physical appeal, but I do not recall seeing the ‘round orbicular compleateness’ of a woman’s fingers and toes being singled out before. It might be true to say that hands got more erotic attention back then (all that palm-paddling!).
The vocabulary of both writers is generally unremarkable (‘dulcid’ was a 17th century variant of ‘dulcet’). But 17th century writers are never completely predictable, and Crompton suddenly takes a punt on ‘conojodicall’ for the jaw: not in the OED, perhaps once on a reader’s index card and lost in the
For my picture, the celebrated Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, who is just posted there as the major 17th century babe.http://roy25booth.blogspot.com/2006/10/in-love-we-live-in-love-we-die-but-we.html