Articles which Female Vanity has Comprised as Necessaries

in about Warren

Date: June 1774

Author: Attributed by a contemporary to Miss Mercy Scollay; Mercy Otis Warren the likely author

“Sir, I was lately in a Company, where the conversation turned to the non-consumption agreement, and the vast importance of resolving not to purchase any thing but the necessities of life; in order to defeat the present plan of despotism, so insidiously concerted and violently pursued. One of the company desir’d a Lady to give him a list of the necessaries of life for a fine Lady, and she soon after sent him an elegant copy of verses; which falling into my hands I enclose to you, from a persuasion that they will prove an agreeable entertainment to your readers.

To a Gentleman who requested a List of those Articles which female Vanity has comprised under the Head of Necessaries.

Let freedom weep and tyranny prevail,

And stubborn patriots either frown or rail;

Let them of grave aeconomy talk loud,

Prate prudent measures to the list’ning crowd,

In strains thetotical with fervid seal

Display the danger of the common-weal,

And show fair liberty, who us’d to smile,

The guardian goddess of Britannia’s Isle,

Enwrap’d in sables, drooping o’er the grave

Of bleeding Heroes, whom she wish’d to save:

Let them mark out Columbia’s foes,

And still anticipating distant woes.

Point to that period when inglorious kings

Deal round the curses that a Churchill sings:

What is the anguish of whole towns in tears,

Or trembling cities groaning out their fears?

The state may totter o’ver proud ruin’s brink,

The sword be brandish’d, or the bark may sink,

But shall Clarissa throw her robes aside,

The brightest ornaments of female pride,

Quit the dear pomp, and all the gay parade,

The costly trappings that adorn the maid?

In full convention met for debate

To fix a plan to save a sinking state,

Where every fair one might, as she inclin’d,

Object, discuss and freely speak her mind;

Lamira wishes freedom may succeed;

But no such terms what female e’er agreed?

And tho’ she sees her injured country mourn

The powerful despot’s low’ring haughty frown,

Entrenched in forms and sanctions of the law,

Can she submit all commerce to withdraw

From that proud state, whose mercenary hand

Spreads wide confusion o’er this fertile land?

By hostile mandates, nurs’d in venal courts,

She robs the vintage, and blockades the ports,

Destroys the concord and breaks down the shrine

By virtue rais’d to harmony divine.

Fierce rancour blazon’d, on each breast display’d,

And for a crest a Gorgon’s snaky head,

While troops of guards are planted round the plain,

Whose comes contagious, youth and beauty stain.

The good, the wife, the prudent and the gay,

The mingled tear and sigh for sigh repay,

And anxious thoughts each generous bosom fill

How to avert the dread approaching ill.

But midst of discord, sadness and dismay

Hope spreads her wings and flight across the way.

Thanks to that sex, by heavenly hand design’d,

Form’d, or to bless, or ruin all mankind,

They in the pride of Roman Matrons rise,

Nobly resolve to make the sacrifice,

Quit all but the necessities of life

And imitate a Pompey’s prudent life.

But does ****, vigilant and wife,

Call for a schedule that will all comprise?

‘Tis so contracted that a Spartan sage

Must praise this frugal self-denying age.

And if ye doubt, an inventory clear

Of all the needs, Clarissa offers here,

Nor can she fear, a rigid Cato’s frown

When she lays by the rich embroider’d gown,

And Modesty compounds for just enough-

Perhaps a dozen, of less costly stuff,

With lawn and lutestrings, blond and meclin laces,

Fringes and jewels, fans and tweeser cases,

Gay cloaks and hats of every shape and size,

Scarfs, cardinals and ribbons of all dies;

With ruffles stamp’d and aprons of tambour,

Tippits and handkerchiefs at least a score.

In finest muslins that fair India boasts,

She sips the herbage fetch’d from China coasts:

For while the fragrant Hyson leaf regales,

Who’ll wear the homespun produce of the vales?

For if ‘twould save a nation from the curse

Of standing troops (or name a plague still worse)

Few can the choice, delicious draught give up,

Tho’ all Pandora’s poisons fill the cup.

But catgut work, and silken hose and shoes,

And fifty dittos that the ladies use,

If my poor treach’rous memory has miss’d,

Ingenious T—- shall complete the list.

So meek, so moderate, Clarissa’s claim (shame,

The manly cheek must burn with conscious

If he refuse applauses justly due

When Clara proves the sex’s wants so few.

In youth they in the antiquated page

Have read the threatenings of the Hebrew sage.

But wimples, mantles, curls and crisping pins

Need not be rank’d among the modern sins.

For when our taste and manner’s understood,

What in the seale is Stomacher or hood?

Though all may love the sprightly Debonaire

The pride of dress, the courtly mein and air,

One recent test of virtue let me bring,

Truth bear me witness, and same clap thy wing.

Mira locks up the full dress negligee

And substitutes the careless polanee,

Until some lais just from Britain’s court

A jaunty dress or a newer taste import;

The sweet temptation cannot be withstood,

Tho’ for the purchase pay’d her father’s blood,

Tho’ loss of freedom is the costly price

And flaming Comets sweep the angry skies,

‘Or earthquakes threaten or Volcanos roar,

Indulge this trifle, and she asks no more.

Tis reason asks, and justice must comply,

Nor sternest patriot can the fruit deny.

What! ail the aid of foreign looms refuse?

As beds of tulips strip’d of richest hues,

Or the gay blossom nipt by sudden frost;

Myrtilla reigns no more a favorite toast?

For what is virtue, or the winning grace

Of soft good humour playing round the face?

Or what those modest antiquated charms

That lur’d a Brutus to a Portia’s arms?

Or add the hidden beauties of the mind,

Compar’d to gauze and tassels well combin’d?

In this bles’d age, when such is female worth,

Who fears a Machiavel or guilty North?

Nor manly bosoms feel a higher flame:

Some cog the die, and others win the game.

Trace their meanders to the tainted source,

What the grand pole-star that directs their course?

Unmeaning vanity first threw the bowl

And pride and passion swell the narrow soul.

This prompts the narrow Sychophant’s address,

To him who plunges millions in distress,

To gratify revenge or innate vice,

His bold ambition or his avarice.

But though your wives in foreign frip’ries dresst,

And patriot’s virtue is the minion’s jest,

America still boasts a Thracia’s name

Who shall hereafter grace the tolls of fame;

Her good Cornelias and Avias fair,

Who death in its most hideous forms can dare,

Rather than live vain fickle fortune’s sport

Amidst the panders of a tyrant’s court;

With a long list of generous worthy men

Who spurn the yoke and servitude disdain,

And nobly struggle in a vicious age,

To stem the torrent of despotic rage,

Who leagu’d in solemn covenant unite,

And by the manes of a Hambden plight,

That while the surges lash Britannia’s shore,

Or wild Naigara’s cataracts shall roar,

And Heav’n looks down and sanctifies the deed,

They’ll fight for freedom, and for virtue bleed.”

Source: Royal American Magazine, Jun 1774; Vol. 1 (6), pp. 233-234.  Appears under a different name in Mercy Otis Warren’s 1790 collected poems.

Discussion: Miss Mercy Scollay is said to have been Joseph Warren’s fiancée at the time of his death. I believe this poem, written at a critical juncture in the implementation of aggressive Patriot non-importation and non-consumption measures embodied in the Solemn League and Covenant, was written by Mercy Scollay.

A contemporary Daughter of Liberty guessed the author to be Miss Scollay. The publisher, timing, and editor’s introduction hint that it was produced as a result of a friendly challenge among Patriot insiders during a social gathering in Boston in late June 1774.

By my reading it has a flirtatious aspect. It revels in feminine flounces and finery while at the same time condemning their purchase as succumbing to vanity and ignoring onerous political implications. The author seems to offer herself as a mature and intelligent alternative to empty-headed consumerist glitz. Proper attraction between men and women should be based on the best of ancient Roman Republican womanhood:

“Or what those modest antiquated charms

That lur’d a Brutus to a Portia’s arms?

Or add the hidden beauties of the mind,

Compar’d to gauze and tassels well combin’d?

In this bles’d age, when such is female worth,

Who fears a Machiavel[li] or guilty [Lord] North?”

Joseph Warren was the only unattached man among the leading Boston Patriots at the time. He had been a widower for just over a year. In addition to this poem being an elegant and clever piece alerting women to do their part to implement non-consumption aspects of the Solemn League and Covenant, it could be read as a memento of a budding relationship between Mercy Scollay and Joseph Warren. This poem, if initial attribution were correct, would be the only known writing of Miss Scollay pre-dating the Revolutionary War.

Ninety of her personal letters reside in a collection at the Cambridge Historical Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The earliest is dated August 17, 1775.

In 1790 the poem appeared in a volume of Mercy Otis Warren’s works under a different title and different introductory description.  Thus, the poem is most likely the work of Mercy Otis Warren. It remains unclear why in 1774 Hannah Winthrop, who guessed in a letter that Miss Mercy Scollay was the author, did not know her close friend Mercy Otis Warren had written it, or why Mercy Otis Warren did not then acknowledge authorship.

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