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Love Death and Reputation A Fable

Reputation,     Love, and     Death, 
(The last all Bones, the first all Breath,
The midd’st, compos’d of restlesse Fire)
From each other, wou’d retire;
Through the World, resolv’d to stray,               5        
Every one a severall way,
Excercising, as they went,
Each, such Power, as Fate had lent;
Which, if itt united were,
Wretched Mortals cou’d not bear;                   10  
But, as parting Friends, do show
To what Place, they mean to goe,
(Correspondence to engage)
Nominate their uttmost stage,
Death, declar’d he wou’d be found                  15     
Neer the fatal Trumpett’s sound;
Or, where Pestelence’s reign,
And Quacks, the greater Plagues maintain;
Shaking still, his sandy glasse,
And mowing human Flesh like Grasse.          20  
Love, as next, his leave he took,
Cast on both, so sweet a look,
As their Tempers neer disarm’d,
One relax’d, and t’other warm’d;
Shades, for his retreat he chose,                       25
Rural Plaines, and soft repose,
Where no Dowry ’ere was paid,
Where no Joynture e’re was made,
No ill Tongue the Nymph perplex’d,
Where, no Forms, the Shepheard vext,           30  
Where, himself, shou’d be the care
Of the fond, and of the Fair;
Where, that was, they soon shou’d know;
Au Revoir! Then, turn’d to goe.                                                                                              
Reputation, made a pause,                               35
Suting her severer Laws;
Second thoughts, and third, She us’d,
Weighing Consequenses,     mus’d;
When, at length, to both she cry’d,
You two, safely may divide,                             40
To th’Antipodes may fall,
And re-ascend th’encompass’d Ball;
Certain still, to meet again,
In the Breasts of tortur’d Men,
Who, by One, too far betray’d,                          45
Call in t’other, to their aid;
Whilst I, tender, Coy, and nice,
Rais’d, and ruin’d in a trice,
Either fix, with those I grace,
Or abandoning the Place                                   50       
No return, my Nature beares,
From green Youth, or hoary hairs;
If through guilt, or chance, I sever,
I once parting, part for ever.

About the poem

Finch composed numerous fables and included dozens of them in the one volume of her work that she authorized for print: Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (London, 1713). Among the best known fable collections in Finch's lifetime were those featuring the work of John Ogilby (1668 and 1675), Jean de La Fontaine (1668; 1678-94), Francis Barlow (1666 and 1687), and Roger L'Estrange (1692 and 1699).

Finch's poem, like most fables in her era, revises the tradition. She had at least two sources for "Love, Death and Reputation." The earliest and closest to hers is the version John Webster included in The Dutchesse of Malfy a tragedy (London, 1623). Finch would also have read this fable in Ogilby's The fables of Aesop (London, 1668, pp. 152-154). In Ogilby's version, "Of Cupid, Death, and Reputation," the three meet at the funeral of a noble young couple, where they feast on the mourners' sighs. Finch follows contemporary practice in adapting her source text to the present (see Stuart Gillespie and David Hopkins, eds., The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English 3: 1660-1790 [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], pp. 56, 62). While not as precise in setting as Ogilby's, her fable imagines the gods in a world of epistolary correspondence, travel by stage-coach, quack doctors, marriage contracts, and formal courtship: her own milieu.

Finch expands Webster's version, which contains such details as Love's declaration that he is to be found "'mongst unambitious shelpherds, / Where dowries were not talk't of" (E2, v). She transforms Webster's blank verse, however, into brisk hudibrastics, following what Hinnant has discussed as the contemporary practice of portraying heathen gods wittily rather than with reverence (pp. 167-168). The ephemeral yet crucial nature of reputation, especially for women, was often addressed in Restoration writings, as was the prominence of dowries and jointures in marriage negotiations. The destructiveness of gossip is figured in the grotesque image of an unruly winged tongue, which appears in George Wither's A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635, Book 1, p. 42; image digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; located at the Open Library, a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, which has been funded in part by a grant from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation) show image.

Dates and Sources

The composition date is unknown, but the latest possible date is c. 1701, based on the poem's appearance in the folio manuscript "Miscellany Poems with Two Plays by Ardelia" (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number Nb3), the copy-text used here. The poem was first printed in Finch's Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions (1713). Colman and Thornton included the fable in Poems by Eminent Ladies (London, 1755, vol. 2, p. 307). Our transcription follows these conventions: i/j and u/v are altered to reflect modern use, superscript letters and numbers are lowered, and abbreviations no longer current are expanded.