Poems on Smallpox

Edited by Jack Lynch

A selection of British poems from the long eighteenth century on smallpox. The texts are cobbled together from many sources, and the dates aren’t (yet) reliable.

On a Gentlewoman, Whose Nose
Was Pitted with the Small Pox

Owen Felltham


Why (foul Disease) in cheek or eye
Durst not thy small Impressions lye?
Or why aspir’d’st thou to that place,
The graceful Promont of her face?
Alas! we see the Rose and Snow
In one thou couldst not overthrow:
And where the other did but please
To look and shine, they kill’d disease.
Then as some sulphurous spirit sent
By the torne Airs distemperment,
To a rich Palace; finds within
Some Sainted maid or Sheba Queen;
And, not of power for her offence,
Rifles the Chimney going hence.
So thou too feeble to controul
The Guest within, her purer soul,
Hast out of spleen to things of grace,
Left thy sunk footsteps in the place.
Yet fear not Maid, since so much fair
Is left, that these can those impair.
Face-scars do not disgrace, but shew
Valour well freed from a bold foe.
Like Jacobs lamenesse, this shall be
Honour and Palme to Time and Thee.

To a Gentleman That Fell Sick of the Small Pox,
When He Should Be Married

Alexander Brome


When you view these cheker’d lines and see,
How (bate the colour) like your face they be.
You’ll think this sheet to be your looking glass,
And all these spots, the Eccoes of your face.
VVherein Disease and Love their field have pight,
To try which is more lovely Red, or White.
Like our late Souldiers, who more rage did show,
Unto the place that fed them, then their foe.

Sickness, loves Rivall, envying the place,
VVhere Cupid chose to pitch his tents, your face,
VVent to write foul, but Cupid made it prove,
Spite of his spite, the alphabet of love.
So as they strove, love serv’d him in his trim,
For as that set on you, this set on him.
And love that conquers all things, soon made known,
To him a burning, greater then his own.
Accurst disease, durst thou come, crawling hither
To separate, whom Heaven had joyn’d together?
Had’st thou no time to vent thy rage, but this,
When swelling hopes did dawn towards their bliss?
I’th interregnum ’twixt desires and joyes.
The cursed Vigil of blest holy dayes!

What pitty ’tis that face where love has been,
So oft, so proud to play so sweetly in,
By thy dire hand should be ore-turned thus,
As to be made a Campus Martius,
Wherein the angry York and Lancaster,
New-vampe and do retrive their musty stir?
As if the Red rose and the white would be,
Where ere they met, still at Antipathy;
A face that was as clear as day, as bright,
Should bud with stars like an enamell’d night,
Your sickness meant to turn Astronomer,
Your face the Heaven, and every spot a Star.
Or else would write an Almanack, and raise,
By those red Letters, nought but holy-dayes.

Were it your Butlers face, a Man would think,
They had but been new boylings of the drink;
Or had his nose been such, one would have swore,
’Twere red with anger, ’cause he’d drink no more.
Or had your keeper such, hee’ld sell it all
For harts-horn to make halfts of knives withall.
Or if your Cooks were such, how it would fit,
To grate your ginger, or nutmegs with it?
But why on your face? what was his design?
Was it to break the Hymeneal twine,
That was half twisted? Tush! hee’s much mistook,
Your love was past the criss-cross of a look;
And your affections are of riper age,
Then now to gaze on beauties title page.
Or barely dwell upon the face, those toyes
Are Oceand in the hopes of future joyes.

Then blush no more, but let your Mrs. know,
They’re but Love-letters written on your brow,
Etch’d by th’ engravers hand, there she may see,
That beautie’s subject to mortality.

How frail a thing it is, how vain t’adore it,
VVhat fools are they that love or marry for it;
And that this sickness which hath curb’d you, is
But the sad prologue to your future bliss.
An Ember-week or Lent, which alwayes falls,
As fasting-eves before your festivals.

’Twill make you prize your joy the more when’t comes,
Usher’d along by tedious Martyrdomes.
How acceptable is a plenteous boul,
When ’tis carowsed by a thirsty soul!

So have I seen the winter strip the trees,
To fit them for their vernal Liveries!
And cloth th’ old Earth in gray, nip every thing,
Before it rowles it self into the spring.
So has black night begot a gray ey’d day,
So Sol does rout conspiring clouds with Ray;
As through this sickness does your joyes come on,
And gulfe your hopes in firm fruition.
When your red-rose, clubs with your Ladies white,
And as the Ancient flowers did unite,
Your happiness will swell, and you will prove
The Gemini of joy, as now of Love.

These things I guess not by your face, I find
Your front is not the Index of your mind.
Yet by your Physnomy, thus much is ment,
You are not spotles though you’re innocent
    Sir if these verses go as halting pace,
    They stumble in the vallies of your face.

Saturday: The Small-Pox

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu


The wretched Flavia on her couch reclin’d,
Thus breath’d the anguish of a wounded mind;
A glass revers’d in her right hand she bore,
For now she shun’d the face she sought before.

“How am I chang’d! alas! how am I grown
“A frightful spectre, to myself unknown!
“Where’s my complexion? where my radiant bloom,
“That promis’d happiness for years to come?
“Then with what pleasure I this face survey’d!
“To look once more, my visits oft delay’d!
“Charm’d with the view, a fresher red would rise,
“And a new life shot sparkling from my eyes!

“Ah! faithless glass, my wonted bloom restore;
“Alas! I rave, that bloom is now no more.
“The greatest good the gods on men bestow,
“Ev’n youth itself to me is useless now.
“There was a time (oh! that I cou’d forget!)
“When opera-tickets pour’d before my feet;
“And at the ring, where brightest beauties shine,
“The earliest cherries of the spring were mine.
“Witness, O Lilly; and thou, Motteux, tell,
“How much japan these eyes have made ye sell.

“With what contempt ye saw me oft despise
“The humble offer of the raffled prize;
“For at the raffle still each prize I bore,
“With scorn rejected, or with triumph wore.
“Now beauty’s fled, and presents are no more!

“For me the Patriot has the house forsook,
“And left debates to catch a passing look:
“For me the Soldier has soft verses writ:
“For me the Beau has aim’d to be a wit.
“For me the Wit to nonsense was betray’d;
“The Gamester has for me his dun delay’d,
“And overseen the card he would have play’d.
“The bold and haughty by success made vain,
“Aw’d by my eyes, have trembled to complain:
“The bashful ’Squire touch’d by a wish unknown,
“Has dar’d to speak with spirit not his own:
“Fir’d by one wish, all did alike adore;
“Now beauty’s fled, and lovers are no more!

“As round the room I turn my weeping eyes,
“New unaffected scenes of sorrow rise.
“Far from my sight that killing picture bear,
“The face disfigure, and the canvas tear:
“That picture, which with pride I us’d to show,
“The lost resemblance but upbraids me now.
“And thou, my toilette, where I oft have sate,
“While hours unheeded pass’d in deep debate,
“How curls should fall, or where a patch to place;
“If blue or scarlet best became my face;
“Now on some happier nymph your aid bestow;
“On fairer heads, ye useless jewels, glow;
“No borrow’d lustre can my charms restore;
“Beauty is fled, and dress is now no more.

“Ye meaner beauties, I permit ye shine;
“Go, triumph in the hearts that once were mine;
“But, ’midst your triumphs with confusion know,
“’Tis to my ruin all your arms ye owe.
“Wou’d pitying heav’n restore my wonted mien,
“Ye still might move unthought of and unseen:
“But oh, how vain, how wretched is the boast
“Of beauty faded, and of empire lost!
“What now is left but weeping, to deplore
“My beauty fled, and empire now no more?

“Ye cruel chymists, what with-held your aid!
“Could no pomatums save a trembling maid?
“How false and trifling is that art ye boast!
“No art can give me back my beauty lost.
“In tears, surrounded by my friends I lay,
“Mask’d o’er, and trembled at the sight of day;
Mirmillio came my fortune to deplore,
“(A golden-headed cane well carv’d he bore)
“Cordials, he cry’d, my spirits must restore!
“Beauty is fled, and spirit is no more!

Galen, the grave; officious Squirt was there,
“With fruitless grief and unavailing care:
Machaon too, the great Machaon, known
“By his red cloak and his superior frown;
“And why, he cry’d, this grief and this despair,
“You shall again be well, again be fair;
“Believe my oath; (with that an oath he swore)
“False was his oath; my beauty is no more!

“Cease, hapless maid, no more thy tale pursue,
“Forsake mankind, and bid the world adieu!
“Monarchs and beauties rule with equal sway;
“All strive to serve, and glory to obey:
“Alike unpitied when depos’d they grow —
“Men mock the idol of their former vow.

“Adieu! ye parks! — in some obscure recess,
“Where gentle streams will weep at my distress,
“Where no false friend will in my grief take part,
“And mourn my ruin with a joyful heart;
“There let me live in some deserted place,
“There hide in shades this lost inglorious face,
“Plays, operas, circles, I no more must view!
“My toilette, patches, all the world adieu!”

The Animalcule: A Tale

Occasion’d by His Grace the Duke of Rutland’s
Receiving the Small Pox by Inoculation

Richard Savage



In Animalcules, Muse, display,
    Spirits, of Name unknown in Song!
Reader a kind Attention pay,
    Nor think an useful Comment long.


Far less than Mites, on Mites they prey;
    Minutest Things may Swarms contain:
When o’er your Iv’ry Teeth they stray,
    Then throb your little Nerves with Pain.


Fluids, in Drops, minutely swell;
    These subtil Beings Each contains;
In the small sanguine Globes they dwell,
    Roll from the Heart, and trace the Veins.


Through evr’y tender Tube they rove,
    In finer Spirits, strike the Brain;
Wind quick through ev’ry fibrous Grove,
    And seek, through Pores, the Heart again.


If they with purer Drops dilate,
    And lodge where Entity began,
They actuate with a genial Heat,
    And kindle into future Man.


But, when our Lives are Nature’s Due,
    Air, seas, nor fire, their frames dissolve;
They Matter, through all Forms, pursue,
    And oft to genial Heats revolve.


Thus once an Animalcule prov’d,
    When Man, a Patron to the Bays;
This Patron was in Greece belov’d;
    Yet Fame was faithless to his Praise.


In Rome, this Animalcule grew
    Mæcenas, whom the Classics rate!
Among the Gauls, it prov’d Richlieu,
    In Learning, Pow’r, and Bounty Great.


In Britain, Hallifax it rose;
    (By Hallifax, bloom’d Congreve’s Strains)
And now it re-diminish’d glows,
    To glide through godlike Rutland’s Veins.


A Plague there is, too Many know;
    Too seldom perfect Cures befall it:
The Muse may term it Beauty’s Foe;
    In Physick, the Small Pox we call it.


From Turks we learn this Plague t’asswage,
    They, by admitting, turn its Course:
Their Kiss will tame the Tumor’s Rage;
    By yielding, they o’ercome the Force.


Thus Rutland did its Touch invite,
    While, watchful in the ambient Air,
This little, guardian, subtil Spright
    Did with the Poison in repair.


Th’ Infection from the Heart it clears;
    Th’ Infection, now dilated thin,
In pearly Pimples but appears,
    Expell’d upon the Surface Skin.


And now it, mould’ring, wasts away:
    ’Tis gone! — doom’d to return no more!
Our Animalcule keeps its Stay,
    And must new Labyrinths explore.


And now the Noble’s Thoughts are seen,
    Unmark’d, it views his Heart’s Desires!
It now reflects what It has been,
    And, rapt’rous, at its Change admires!


Its pristine Virtues, kept, combine,
    To be again in Rutland known;
But they, immers’d, no longer shine,
    Nor equal, nor encrease his own.

To Jacynta, Lamenting at Cloe’s Small-Pox

Jonathan Smedley



No more, no more, Jacynta, say,
    That Cloe’s former Face;
Each Heavenly Beauty did display,
    And every pleasing Grace.


The Half of what remains to her,
    Or, All, you say, is lost;
Thee, O Jacynta, would prefer
    To be a First-rate Toast.


Then thy ill-natur’d Pity spare,
    Nor Cloe’s Fate regret;
For Cloe is divinely Fair,
    And must be Envied yet.


Were she an Angel heretofore,
    As you’d be understood;
Yet, I’m contented, I’ll be swore,
    With this same Flesh and Blood.

Upon Cœlia Sick of the Small Pox

Henry Travers


See the malign envenom’d Pain
Shoot thro’ ev’ry tainted Vein!
With hostile Force the Flames engage,
And feed the growing Fever’s Rage:
Fierce to assail the vital Urn
Thro’ ev’ry Artery they burn,
And to consume that Heart conspire
That glow’d with a more gen’rous Fire.

The blooming Cheek, whose virgin Rose
Did such a beauteous Blush disclose,
So sweetly did Affection move,
So warmly redden’d into Love,
No more exerts its pleasing Skill,
No more can boast a Pow’r to kill,
How soon its varying Colour flies!
How soon unstable Beauty dies!
Ah how the Breast, that ne’er before
One Blot of foul Contagion bore,
Whose panting Whiteness did declare
Pure was the Soul that harbour’d there,
Throbs with a fierce consuming Fire,
And heaves with Torture, not Desire;
Hence envious Flame, nor dare to prove
Foe to the softer Flames of Love.

Where Love and Innocence combine,
Their Pow’r shall triumph over Thine,
The Dart, that arms her potent Eye,
Does all thy weaker Darts defy,
Thy feebler Shaft can but controul
The Body; her’s commands the Soul.
A while the languid Orbs decay,
The transient Splendors fade away;
Yet tho’ the trickling Eyelid show
A Heart dissolv’d with inward Woe,
The Nymph that ever glow’d so fair,
Shall scorn the Paleness of Despair,
A more diffusive Influence shed,
And thousands die where one has bled.

’Tis thus the Rose and Lily fade
Beneath the Night’s unwholsome Shade,
But, at the glad Approach of Day,
Their new enliven’d Charms display,
Again their lovely Beauties yield,
And smile with Fragrance round the Field.

Lady Hyde Having the Small-Pox,
Soon after the Recovery of Mrs. Mohun

George Granville, Baron Lansdowne


Scarce could the general Joy for Mohun appear,
But new Attempts shew other Dangers near;
Beauty’s attack’d in her imperial Fort,
Where all her Loves and Graces kept their Court;
In her chief Residence, besieg’d at last,
Laments to see her fairest Fields laid waste.

On things immortal, all Attempts are vain;
Tyrant Disease, ’tis Loss of Time and Pain;
Glut thy wild Rage, and load thee with rich Prize
Torn from her Cheeks, her fragrant Lips, and Eyes:
Let her but live; as much Vermilion take,
As might a Helen, or a Venus make;
Like Thetis, she shall frustrate thy vain Rape,
And in variety of Charms escape.

The twinkling Stars, drop numberless each Night,
Yet shines the radiant Firmament as bright;
So from the Ocean should we Rivers drain,
Still would enough to drown the World remain.

After the Small Pox

Mary Jones


When skillful traders first set up,
To draw the people to their shop,
They strait hang out some gaudy sign,
Expressive of the goods within.
The Vintner has his boy and grapes,
The Haberdasher thread and tapes,
The Shoemaker exposes boots,
And Monmouth Street old tatter’d suits.

So fares it with the nymph divine;
For what is Beauty but a Sign?
A face hung out, thro’ which is seen
The nature of the goods within.

Thus the coquet her beau ensnares
With study’d smiles, and forward airs:
The graver prude hangs out a frown
To strike th’ audacious gazer down;
But she alone, whose temp’rate wit
Each nicer medium can hit,
Is still adorn’d with ev’ry grace,
And wears a sample in her face.

What tho’ some envious folks have said,
That Stella now must hide her head,
That all her stock of beauty’s gone,
And ev’n the very sign took down:
Yet grieve not at the fatal blow;
For if you break a while, we know,
’Tis bankrupt like, more rich to grow.
A fairer sign you’ll soon hang up,
And with fresh credit open shop:
For nature’s pencil soon shall trace,
And once more finish off your face,
Which all your neighbours shall out-shine,
And of your Mind remain the Sign.

On Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s
Bringing with her out of Turkey,
the Art of Inoculating the Small-Pox

Aaron Hill


When Greece, reviving, into short delight,
Felt pride, and comfort, at our muse’s sight,
The rival’d nine no sooner saw her face,
But e’en their envy gave their wonder place!
Charm’d, into love, of what eclips’d their fame,
They wak’d Apollo, with her powerful name.

See! — God of Grecian wit! Urania cries,
How sweet a Muse the Western World supplies!
Say, should she ask some favour from your throne,
What could you bid her take, that’s not her own?
Sparkling in charms, the heavenly stranger view,
So grac’d! — she scarce can owe a beam to you!
Beauty, with love, her power to your’s prefers:
And wit, and learning, are, already, hers!

Rous’d, at her name — receding, from her eyes,
The gazing God rose slow, in soft surprize!
Fair miracle, he said, — and paus’d, a while:
Then, thus — Sweet glory of your envy’d Isle!
Charm’d, and oblig’d, lest we ungrateful seem,
Bear, hence, at least, one mark of our esteem.
One of my three great claims, your wish may fit;
Whose voice is musick, and whose thoughts are wit!
Physic, alone, remains, to grant you, here —
A skill! your godlike pity will endear.
Form’d, to give wounds, which must no ease procure,
Atone your influ’nce, by new arts, to cure.

Beauty’s chief foe, a fear’d and fierce disease!
Bows at my beck; and knows its God’s decrees.
Breath’d, in this kiss, take power, to tame its rage,
And, from its rancour, free the rescued age:
High o’er each sex, in double empire, sit:
Protecting beauty, and inspiring wit.

On Lucinda’s Recovery from the Small-Pox

Soame Jenyns


Bright Venus long with envious eyes
    The fair Lucinda ’s charms had seen,
And shall she still, the goddess cries,
    Thus dare to rival Beauty’s queen?

She spoke, and to th’ infernal plains
    With cruel haste indignant goes,
Where Death, the prince of terrors, reigns,
    Amidst diseases, pains, and woes.

To him her pray’rs she thus applies:
    O sole, in whom my hopes confide
To blast my rival’s potent eyes,
    And in her fate all mortal pride!

Let her but feel thy chilling dart,
    I will forgive, tremendous god!
Ev’n that which pierc’d Adonis’ heart:
    He hears, and gives th’ assenting nod.

Then calling forth a fierce Disease,
    Impatient for the beauteous prey,
Bids him the loveliest fabric seize,
    The gods e’er form’d of human clay.

Assur’d he meant Lucinda’s charms,
    To her th’ infectious dæmon flies;
Her neck, her cheeks, her lips disarms,
    And of their lightning robs her eyes.

The Cyprian queen with cruel joy
    Beholds her rival’s charms o’erthrown,
Nor doubts, like mortal Fair, t’employ
    Their ruins to augment her own.

From out the spoils of ev’ry grace
    The goddess picks some glorious prize,
Transplants the roses from her face,
    And arms young Cupids from her eyes.

Now Death (ah veil the mournful scene!)
    Had in one moment pierc’d her heart,
Had kinder Fate not stept between,
    And turn’d aside th’ uplifted dart.

What frenzy bids thy hand essay,
    He cries, to wound thy surest friend,
Whose beauties to thy realms each day
    Such num’rous crowds of victims send?

Are not her eyes, where-e’er they aim,
    As thine own silent arrows sure?
Or who, that once has felt their flame,
    Dar’d e’er indulge one hope of cure?

Death, thus reprov’d, his hand restrains,
    And bids the dire distemper fly;
The cruel beauty lives, and reigns,
    That thousands may adore, and die.