Mary Barber (c.1685 – c.1755), who published under the pseudonym Sapphira and who said she wrote to form the character of her children, was a friend of Swift and of members of his circle including Laetitia Pilkington and Constantia Grierson. Her poetry tends to the domestic and to explorations of relationships between the sexes as well as her own relatively impoverished condition.
A True Tale
A mother, who vast Pleasure finds
In modelling her Childrens Minds;
With whom, in exquisite Delight,
She passes many a Winter Night;
Mingles in ev’ry Play, to find
What Byass Nature gave the Mind;
Resolving thence to take her Aim,
To guide them to the Realms of Fame;
And wisely make those Realms their Way
To Regions of eternal Day;
Each boist’rous Passion to controul,
And early humanize the Soul;
In simple Tales, beside the Fire,
The noblest Notions would inspire:
Her Children, conscious of her Care,
Transported, hung around her Chair.
Of Scripture–Heroes she would tell,
Whose Names they lisp’d, ere they could spell:
The Mother then, delighted, smiles;
And shews the Story on the Tiles.
At other Times, her Themes would be
The Sages of Antiquity;
Who left immortal Names behind,
By proving Blessings to their Kind.
Again, she takes another Scope,
And tells of Addison, and Pope.
Studious to let her Children know
The various Turns of Things below;–
How Virtue here was oft oppress’d,
To shine more glorious with the Bless’d;
Told Tully’s and the Gracchi’s Doom,
The Patriots, and the Pride of Rome.
Then bless’d the Drapier’s happier Fate,
Who sav’d, and lives to guard the State.
Some Comedies gave great Delight,
And entertain’d them many a Night:
Others could no Admittance find,
Forbid, as Poison to the Mind:
Those Authors Wit and Sense, said she,
But heighten their Impiety.
This happy Mother met, one Day,
The Book of Fables, writ by Gay;
And told her Children, Here’s a Treasure,
A Fund of Wisdom, and of Pleasure!
Such Morals, and so finely writ;
Such Decency, good Sense, and Wit!
Well has the Poet found the Art,
To raise the Mind, and mend the Heart.
Her fav’rite Son the Volume seiz’d;
And, as he read, seem’d highly pleas’d;
Made such Reflections ev’ry Page;
The Mother thought above his Age;
Delighted read, but scarce was able
To finish the concluding Fable.
What ails my Child? the Mother cries:
Whose Sorrows now have fill’d your Eyes?
O dear Mamma, can he want Friends,
Who writes for such exalted Ends?
O base, degen’rate human Kind!
Had I a Fortune to my Mind,
Should Gay complain? But now, alas!
Thro’ what a World am I to pass?
Where Friendship is an empty Name,
And Merit scarcely paid in Fame?
Resolv’d to lull his Woes to Rest,
She tells him, He should hope the best:
This has been yet Gay’s Case, I own;
But now his Merit’s amply known.
Content that tender Heart of thine:
He’ll be the Care of Caroline.
Who thus instructs the royal Race,
Must have a Pension, or a Place.
Mamma, if you were Queen, says he,
And such a Book were writ for me,
I find ’tis so much to your Taste,
That Gay would keep his Coach at least.
My Son, what you suppose, is true:
I see its Excellence in you.
Poets who write to mend the Mind,
A royal Recompence should find.
But I am barr’d by Fortune’s Frowns,
From the best Privilege of Crowns;
The glorious, godlike Pow’r to bless,
And raise up Merit in Distress.
But, dear Mamma, I long to know,
Were you the Queen, what you’d bestow.
What I’d bestow, says she, my Dear?
At least, a thousand Pounds a Year.