Monday, January 12, 2009

The Prevalence of Custom (Continued Discussion of Anne Finch)

Good Morning Readers,

What follows is a continuation of my discussion of Anne Finch. See post from Monday, Dec. 8.

A humorous, narrative poem written in Heroic Couplets, “The Prevalence of Custom” describes a wife’s attempt to break her husband’s drinking habit. Finding her husband unconscious after a night of drinking, she transports his bed to a “vault,” dresses herself in black clothing, and prepares a meal. When the husband wakes and does not recognize his wife or his surroundings, he questions her. The wife tells him he is dead and buried, that what he smells is the quick decay of bodies (brought on by their consumption of liquor) and it is her job to provide food for him. With this knowledge, the husband asks for a drink.

If “The Prevalence of Custom” and “Glass” are any evidence, it seems Finch had some contact with men who were prone to excessive drinking. The poem is much more playful than what I’ve read of her work so far; still, it demonstrates a particular effect of her work with the heroic couplet. As satire, it questions and undermines the preexisting and traditional use of the couplet by applying it to such a gaudy and degraded subject. Furthermore, its comical and degrading representation of men, by comparison, elevates women by demonstrating the wife’s moderation (or abstinence), persistence, and cleverness.

The Prevalence of Custom

A Female, to a Drunkard marry'd,
When all her other Arts miscarry'd,
Had yet one Stratagem to prove him,
And from good Fellowship remove him;
Finding him overcome with Tipple,
And weak, as Infant at the Nipple,
She to a Vault transports the Lumber,
And there expects his breaking Slumber.
A Table she with Meat provided,
And rob'd in Black, stood just beside it;
Seen only, by one glim'ring Taper,
That blewly burnt thro' misty Vapor.
At length he wakes, his Wine digested,
And of her Phantomship requested,
To learn the Name of that close Dwelling,
And what offends his Sight and Smelling;

[Page 23]

And of what Land she was the Creature,
With outspread Hair, and ghastly Feature?
Mortal, quoth she, (to Darkness hurry'd)
Know, that thou art both Dead and Bury'd;
Convey'd, last Night, from noisie Tavern,
To this thy still, and dreary Cavern.
What strikes thy Nose, springs from the Shatters
Of Bodies kill'd with Cordial Waters,
Stronger than other Scents and quicker,
As urg'd by more spirituous Liquor.
My self attend on the Deceas'd,
When all their Earthly Train's releas'd;
And in this Place of endless Quiet,
My Bus'ness is, to find them Diet;
To shew all sorts of Meats, and Salades,
Till I'm acquainted with their Palates;
But that once known, then less suffices.
Quoth he (and on his Crupper rises)
Thou Guardian of these lower Regions,
Thou Providor for countless Legions,

[Page 24]

Thou dark, but charitable Crony,
Far kinder than my Tisiphony,
Who of our Victuals thus art Thinking,
If thou hast Care too of our Drinking,
A Bumper fetch: Quoth she, a Halter,
Since nothing less thy Tone can alter,
Or break this Habit thou'st been getting,
To keep thy Throat in constant wetting.

Source: UPenn

Happy Reading,


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