The Free-Thinkers. A poem in dialogue. London, printed and sold by booksellers of London and Westminster, 1711 (7 March Luttrell).
The poem was first ascribed to Finch by W. Rees-Mogg from a manuscript in his possession where it is attributed to "Lady Whinchelsea". The attribution made generally known by Samuel Halkett and John Laing, Dictionary of anonymous and pseudonymous English Literature, 1926-62, second edition and then reprinted by D. F. Foxon, English Verse, 1701-50: A Catalogue IF141 and F247) where it is "tentatively ascribed to Anne Finch."
See my Annotated Chronology No. 157 (1708-11). I have read the copy that is in NN-B, Berg Collection in NYPL, where the ascription reads: "By Lady Whinchelsea". My copy text is taken from the pamphlet whose data in the catalogue reads:
TITLE : Free-Thinkers
CALL # Berg Coll. 76-31
IMPRINT: London, Printed and sold by the booksellers
of London and Westminster, 1711.
DESCRIPTION: 28 p. 19 cm.
NOTE: Foxon F247 // Bond, R. P.: English burlesque poetry, 28.
Early ms. attribution "By Lady Whinchesea" (i. e. Anne
Finch, Countess of Winchilsea) on t. p. "The attribution
remains doubtful; not included in her poems or mss." -
William Rees-Mogg copy.
SUBJECT : Rees-Mogg, William, 1928- --Provenance.
ADD'L NAME: Winchilsea, Anne (Kingsmill) Finch, countess of,
I would like to stress as I do in my Annotated Chronology No. 157, that I agree that the attribution remains very doubtful. However, my reasons for doubting the ascription are all internal. There is just not that depth of apprehension, that inward tone and grave seriousness that one finds in Ann's poetry even when comic and that turns her Tunbridge satires into such harsh verse. Ann is rarely this light even when she writes gay ballads. I feel no ascription if contemporary should be ignored, and that this poem can teach us something more about the way Ann was viewed in her period. That there is no manuscript is nothing; there is no manuscript for much of the poetry in the 1713 Miscellany and for numbers of other poems by Ann nowadays firmly attributed to her which first appeared in Reynolds as taken from printed books.
Much that contemporaries of someone think and believe about that someone leave no trace behind. Much that they do leaves no documentary trace. And for good reason when we come to discuss religion and politics which in this period were burning issues.
From Ann's contributions to the 1699 Tate collection of poems, from her admiration for Prior's Solomon, and from the intense seriousness with which she goes about to counter atheism in her personal poetry, it seems to me it is by no means odd that contemporaries should attribute this poem to her. She was far more than a Jacobite, than a woman who was isolated and anguished and ridiculed, than a fable satirist or lyricist, or writer of friendship poems. She was seriously engaged with religious controversy partly because she came into close contacts with libertines at court. The arguments that she presents against atheism in Zeal (from the 1696 Tate) and in the various poems in the MS F-H 283 and Folger recall those here. She carried a lifelong detestation of drinking, possibly stemming from what she saw in her uncle's house in Northamptonshire when a girl. There are other parallels: Ann used the figure of Naboth, she has some harsh statements about mindless young men given over to tutors for their edution in her fables. However, these were commonplaces in the period. The attribution is by no means out of the question, though it remains questionable.
Further, that contemporaries could see this poem as hers gives us another important perspective on her world -- especially on the religious verse of which there is a large body -- which we late 20th century people are inclined not to pay careful attention to. As she can be seen in a line which leads to Thomson and age of sensibility poetry so she can also be seen in a line which led to Prior's fideist poetry and Edward Young's Night Thoughts.
Free Thinkers. A Poem in Dialogue
As Athism is in all Respects hatefull, so in this that it depriveth Human Nature
of the means to exalt it self above Human Frailty. Sir Fra. Bacon's Essay XVI of Atheism.
A Dialogue at a Tavern,
Between Jack, Tom, and Sir Plyant.
Jack: FRiend! if I'm late, excuse the failing,
And think, that Reasons much prevaliing,
Have kept me, for an house, or better
(Since I receive'd your tempting Letter)
From this dear Scene, of Joy, and Drinking,
And ev'ry Licence of Free-thinking.
But, tell me, who's this rustick Fellow (see Plyant)
That looks as Spleenatick and yellow,
As if his Rev'rend Parson aw'd him,
And with Ten Precepts weekly claw'd him?
Is he! of Parts, or Person, proper
With Men like us! to share a Supper,
To hear all Beings, prov'd Mechanick,
And Nature, resu'd from the *Panick?
Tom: Be easy, Jack, and you, this Bumpkin
Shall quickly find, is good for something,
Who may be moulded to our wishes,
By Wine, and Wit, and sav'ry Dishes;
And, if he's Plyant, as his Name is,
Well worth the case, you'll find the Game is.
In Youth, Pedantick Tutors, bred him,
And with half Notions, crudely fed him,
The Town, as he'll inform you, fully,
Next, turn'd him to a Take, and Bully;
The Country, since, has been his Station,
Where he's a Patriot out of Fashion;
Stickles for Monarchy, and Orders,
With all, that on Religion borders,
On which, so shrewdly he Discourses,
He Mawls sometimes, our **new rais'd Forces;
But we're uncivil -- here's your Health Sir,
'Tis hop'd you'll pardon, we Free-thinkers
Are unconfin'd, and Lawless Drinkers,
And whatsoever suits, or pleases,
Or for our Profit, or our Ease is,
We never baulk it, or ill breeding,
Is now esteem'd, this Frank proceeding.
Plyant. I thank you, Sir, for this Instruction,
Which did not need an Introduction,
For all, that I shall see you practice
I will conclude, still, most exact is;
I, formerly, with Wits, and Roarers,
With Bully-Rocks, and bilking Scorers,
Was us'd to Herd, and call'd a Ranter,
And in the Pit, could Vizars banter,
But since, reflecting on that Folly,
I can no more be loud, and jolly;
But fort he time to come, shall spend it
Like one, that knows he soon must end it;
Yet, real Wit, that's Chast, and Sober,
Heighten'd a little with October,
Whether express'd, in Words, or Writing,
Will to my Death-Bed be delighting.
Tom. Champaigne, will surely raise it faster,
Believe me, who have been your Taster,
A Flask of this, for your half Guinea,
Will stir up all, that's bright within ye,
Support you, when enclin'd to Sinking,
And teach your Pleasure! and Free-Thinking?[sic]
Ply. Why Sir, my thoughts were never bounded,
But still, have all the Globe surrounded,
Recall'd the past, and reach'd the future,
Unhelp'd by such a costly Tutor;
But this Free-Thinking, pray what is it?
If Wit, methinks I would not miss it,
Or see again, my Native Mansion,
Unlearn'd, in any new Invention;
And sure, a Cant, will bear rehearsal,
Which is become so universal,
That even the Drawer, (to my admiring)
Answer'd me, when you for you inquiring,
You wou'd be here, I need not doubt you,
Free-Thinkers, cou'd not live without you,
That Table's his, quote he, depend on't,
He always sits at th'upper end on't,
And talks such wonders, to the Youngsters,
They know not if they're Men, or Monsters,
But yet, of this, (so clear 'tis stated)
They're sure, they never were Created,
But first sprung up, they know not where,
Now when, nor how. 'Twill make you stare
To hear him, (whilst they do adore him)
Make Fools of all, that went before him.
A Dam'sel next, both Young and Pretty,
Cry'd, welcome Land-Lord to this City;
And clapp'd me roundly on the Shoulder,
No Army Trull, was ever bolder;
And, when I ask'd her, who had taught her
Such Impudence, and hither brought her,
She answer'd (mincing in her manners)
Free-Thinkers, Sir! I thank their Honours;
Which makes me find, you've condescended
By every Rank, to be attended,
And your new Doctrine (Grave, or Frolick,)
Has spread, as if 'twere Apostolick.
Tom. We have indeed, the World enlighten'd
And Boys, and Girls, are not so frighten'd
With God, and Evi, (taught at random
In Nurseries by Palsied Gran-am)
As heretofore, were Men, and Matrons;
Free-thinking, Sir, has mighty Patrons.
Ply. But may an honest Man relie on't?
Tom. Jack, Here's a Health to Lady Plyant;
Methinks, she seldom comes to Town, Sir.
Ply. Why, 'tis so hard, to get her down, Sir
But, this Free-thinking, pray explain it?
For, if a Man should over strain it,
What sees at first, but Whim, and Notion,
May, Clash with Honour, and Devotion;
With Magna Charta, or Superiors,
And make us think, there's no Inferiors,
But all were born upon the Level,
And equally should sway, and Revel.
Jack. Intolerable! Can you like him?
Tom. He'll soon be Drunk, and then we'll strike him,
Unfold our latitude Opinions,
And add him, to our large Dominions.
Jack. A mighty Triumph! As you will, Sir,
Tom. But all this while, your Glass stands still Sir.
Ply. Give me a Toast. -------------
Tom. Your Son, your Second,
He a Free-Thinker has been reckon'd,
A Man of wond'rou sense, and Mettal,
Fit to unhinge, and then resettle,
To lose the Bands, whch Education
Imposes, on a free born Nation;
To show, how Life shou'd slide along,
Unheeding hwat's to come, or gone;
How self! we always shou'd consider,
And follow still the fairest Bidder.
Snatch in the nick the Good that's certain,
Nor mind, what's hid behind the Curtain.
Ply. Why, if you mean young Richard Plyant,
He shall scale Heaven with any Gyant,
Who of Lycurgus talks, and Solon,
And is old Dog, at Dobbs and Toland;
Knows all Republican Defences,
And Raves on Cato Uticensis,
With t'other of that Name, and Brutus
He daily labours to confute us;
When Adam dug, and Eve set Onions,
He says, that all Men were Companions;
That Kings were made but for the People,
As for the Church was made the Steeple;
Which, tho' it highest stands, and fair is,
To make them meet, its only Care is;
And, whilst that Noise, and Pomp possesses
The People 'tis, must lay the Cesses;
That 'tis, but as the People bawl,
Unto whose share, the Ropes should fall;
And when it sinks, by Age, or Weather,
The People, must erect another.
Tom. Perfect Allusion! strong, and valid;
I ne'er heard Argument so solid,
Why here's a Lad, all Flame and Spirit,
Sir Disinherit! Disinherit!
Leave not the Eldest born, an Acre,
But raise this generous Undertaker;
In London let him still be gallant,
And much with us, to mend his Talent;
Encourag'd by our daring Papers,
And growling, talk of Spleen, and Vapors,
With Equipage, and Gold enough,
And let him be interr'd in Snuff;
And Smyrna for his House be noted,
And he, for early News, be quoted,
Which, if contested, let a Wager
Profusely big, cofute th'Engager.
Ply. How Dick!. have all, have Giles offended?
Tom. No, but your Race will thus be mended;
Hereditary, is a Jest Sir,
Right's in the strongest, and the Best Sir,
Let Dick ascend, or if the Females,
Do in your Line, outvalue the Males,
There, give the Land, and great match'em.
Ply. No, e'er I do, Old Nick shall fetch'em.
Tho' Moll coul'd spend a mighty Fortune,
And for Supplies does still Importune;
Is grown a Writer and a Rattler,
And ev'ry Moment, quotes the Tattler;
To Opera's, she sweekly Flutters,
And mirlst [sic] her talking, Verses sputters;
And, when I bid her leave that Tone,
She sings, I'll live for you alone,
I tell her, that she goes too fine,
She sings, ***Oh! Nymph of Race Divine!
I chanc'd to read upon her Toe,
She singing, scream'd out, Cupid Oh!
Besides, the Charge each time she hears it,
Wou'd buy a Shift, her Mother swears it.
Jack. She's a Free-Thinker, I imagine,
And all that's witty does engage in,
But her last Fault you'll see amended,
For Opera's will soon be ended,
Since Ridicule, that's so subduing,
Has now contriv'd it's total Ruin;
And though, indeed, it bore the Proof
Of ****Bread and Butter round the Loaf;
And still kept ground, before our Plays,
Though hack'd and hew'd, by Poet +Bays,
A waggish Title now must blast it,
And Punch's Opera will cast it.
Ply. I am glad 'twill down, but why that Tool,
Is reason, less then Ridicule,
Jack. Oh Sir, by much! all Mortals fear it,
And neither Man, nor Brute can bear it,
When I've but then my Finger pointed,
And with screw'd Looks my Face dis-jointed,
My Dog, I have uneasy seen.
Tom. Jack, you forget, he's a Machine…
Jack. There is a *****Tract! I'll say no more,
But, had they Rally'd heretofore,
We had not been misled and fetter'd.
Some Days kept plain, and some red Letter'd,
But, in full Liberty, had trod still,
Ply. And Heathn Idols, been our Gods still;
Yet, when lewd Wit, Thersites wasted,
All that he got, was to be basted,
Nor, wou'd the Greeks, have lost Elysium,
Shou'd he have held it in Derision,
Tho' Brittons, woul'd it seems have given
For smart Buffooning, all their Heaven.
Jack. They had reign'd to Ridiculing;
Ply. And wittily been damn'd for fooling.
Jack.. Make that, the Subject of your Laughter,
There's nothing Sir to come hereafter.
Tom. Free-Thinking, rescues from that Error,
Which keeps you in this constant Terror.
Ply. Why them, what you, Free-thinking call,
I find, is not to Think at all;
And Savages, through want of breeding,
Are what you grow, by dint of reading.
My Carter saw my Father buried,
And as to Earth, his Corps was carried,
Farewel quoth he, my good old Master,
You, and your mare who dyed last Easter,
Shall now, no more, know joys, or flashes,
But be, for ever, Dust and Ashes.
Tom. Well said, brave Hobb! is such Free-thinking
Down, to the dull Plebean Sinking?,
And so the Clowns, talk at this rate too?
Ply. Then Fools, were Socrates, and Plato,
Though once esteem'd both, wise and great,
For tracing out, a Future State.
Tom. The notion, has been new, and witty,
'Tis now a ******Ruff ------------
Ply.------------The more's the pity.
Jack. Wou'd you be still, then so confin'd,
Nor free in Body, nor in Mind?
Ply. Why Sir, were I all Air, or Fire,
What freedom more cou'd I desire?
Wo'd not with others Rights make bold,
And what's my own, is all Free-hold.
Tom. But, where's the Taste, in such posessing?
The Pleasure, sure, is in Transgressing,
In doing, what another dare not,
And showing, we, for Statutes care not;
Were I, but stronger than my Neighbours,
I'd reap the Fruit, of all their Labours,
A Fellow, that with-held his Wife
'Cause by the Priest, bestow'd for Life,
Should instantly be sack'd, and plunder'd,
And us'd the worst, in all the Hundred;
Had I a Naboth, on each side me,
Wh had a Field, or Grove, deny'd me,
In that, my Team, by force shou'd enter,
And this, shou'd warm my Hearth in Winter;
The Church, if to my House 'was joyn'd,
Shou'd with my Orange Trees, be lin'd,
The Parson, if she still wou'd keep it,
Should trim the Boughs, and dayly sweep it,
His Surplice, in true Blue being dy'd,
Shou'd Aprons for the Work provide.
Jack. Those Fellows, are indeed a burden,
And shou'd to Plough, or to the Garden,
Who're always Preaching low Submission,
And clog the paths, to bold Ambition.
Ply. But, for this vigorous Employment,
This self providing, this Enjoyment,
I can discern no proper Season;
Unless brought in, by War, and Treason,
And, I have still, been wond'rous loath,
To violate the Allegiance Oath.
Tom. Sir, I am much surpriz'd, at finding
You think a trivial Oath, so binding,
Swearing in Taverns, or the Temple,
Differ but only in th'Example;
One leads the Mob, to soar, and Hector,
T'other, to sneak to some Protector;
For Men of Sense, 'twas ne'er intended,
But, for the Countenance they lend it.
Ply. Yet, in my Thought, there one thing more is,
Are you, Free-Thinkers, Whiggs or Tories?
Jack. They steadily, indeed, are neither,
Occasionally, can be either;
Distinction, their large Aim, disgraces;
They're of no Party, but for Places;
Scorning all Ties, Divine or Civil.
Ply. Why this Free-Thinking is the Devil!
But yet I fear, that whilst I'm trying
With this new Scheme, to be complying,
I shall some Book, be turning over,
With Clasps, and Turky-Leather Cover,
Which I'll not name (aw'd by my Betters)
As 'tis Entitl'd in Gold Letters.
Jack. You'll never stick at those Abuses,
We've put that Book, to such odd Uses,
That is has lost its ancient Credit,
Though few amongst us ever read it.
Ply. Well Gentlemen, I must be trudging,
As far as Lombard Street's my Lodging,
Where I have plac'd Five Hundred Pounds,
The Product of my Pasture Ground,
And must make hast, so to dispose it,
That Bankrupts, may not sink, or lose it.
Jack. Tom:Now's the time!-----------
Tom. ------------------It is, be silent;
Jack. But I may beg the Fates to smile on't
Tom. You're for the city, Sir too late,
They've long e're this, barr'd ev'ry Gate,
And are each Lane, and Passage guarding,
As safe, as if they fear'd Bombarding:
Let me, this Night, your Presence borrow?
Ply. The Money must be paid to morrow,
'Twixt Eight, and Nine, it is appointed.
Tom. You are not with their Ways acquainted,
They'll make you wait till Twelve, or one,
Before this Business can be done;
And, you're not well, yet, of your Journey,
Give me your Letter of Attorney,
I'll take the Drudgery of staying,
And when 'tis ready for conveying,
Dispatch my Man, to give you warning,
Who may til then, sleep out the Morning;
Come, own the Truth, did not my Lady
Cry, be as careful Dear, as may be,
And, with her kind, controwling Powers,
Engage you to observe good Hours?
Then, since to night, you have transgress'd,
You must to morrow, take your rest,
Here's Pen, and Paper: -----------------
Jack. ----------------Keep him waking,
Kind Fortune, and his Hand from shaking.
Ply. There, 'tis perform'd, now I'll to Bed, Sir.
Tom. You have an able Hand, and Head Sir,
No Secretary e'er was quicker.
Ply. I do best still in my Liquor.
Jack. Waiter, a Coach! the Knight is winking,
He'll wake, instructed in Free-thinking.
Tom. Why, if he thoroughly has learnt it,
The summ is large, but we have earn'd it.
For he'll so fast his stock be raising,
Beyond the ways, of Plough and Grazing,
That he'll have Cause to bless the Minute,
And those, who did inform him in it;
Mean while, towards Holland I'll be jogging
Tom. Not daunted, when you talk of Murder,
What if in this we went no further.
Jack. Not any thing, wou'd them, come of it,
And the Attempt, without the Profit,
Wou'd wrong the Judgment of Free-thinkers.
Tom. Great Wits, from Dangers have been Shrinkers,
Therefore 'tis fix'd, I'll not pursue it,
Take you the Note, and boldly do it.
Who domineer, 'till shunn'd, and dreaded,
As if a Legion you had headed;
Then, sure you're Valiant at the bottom?
Jack. I'll share the Pounds, when you have got 'em.
But all Free-thinkers in the Nation,
Know our first Rule's Self-preservation,
For once our Life cut short below,
(Although we seem to brave it so)
You guess Friend Tom where next we go.
*Religious awe, so miscall'ed by Free-Thinkers
**Their Modern Arguments
***Piece taken out of Camilla
+Mr.Eastcourt's Opera, intermix'd with the Rehearsal
*****Letter of Enthusiasm, against which this Poem is chiefly
levell'd, and was compos'd (tho' till now neglected to be Publish'd)
immediately upon the coming out of that Pamphlet.
******Viz., Out of Fashion
Comment: 'Great Wits, from Dangers have been Shrinkers' is an ironic play on a famous line by Dryden,
Page Last Updated: 8 January 2003.