Friday, April 10, 2015

To A Lady Who Said It Was Sinful to Read Novels - Christian Milne

To love these books, and harmless tea,
   Has always been my foible,
Yet will I ne'er forgetful be
   To read my Psalms and Bible.

Travels I like, and history too,
   Or entertaining fiction;
Novels and plays I'd have a few,
   If sense and proper diction.

I love a natural harmless song,
   But I cannot sing like Handel;
Deprived of such resource, the tongue
   Is sure employed - in scandal.

As a way of responding to a presumably unbearable sanctimonious "holier than thou" type woman, Christian Milne writes this somewhat wry, somewhat conciliatory poem.  While it's clear that Milne disagrees that reading novels is sinful (as she rightly should, what a ridiculous notion!) I think she does attempt to placate the woman addressing her with the last stanza.  Milne implies that song could be scandalous if not skillfully employed.  I'm not convinced that Milne entirely means this, though I must remember that cultural standards of sinfulness have changed quite a lot between Milne's life (1773-1816) and mine.

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