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Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681). Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson. 1906.

Appendix XXXVII: Dedication to Mrs. Hutchinson’s Translation of Lucretius

Lucretius de Rerum Natura.

A note on the fly leaf—
‘Anglesey. Given me, June 11, 1675, by the worthy author, Mrs Lucy Hutchinson’.

To the right honourable Arthur, Earl of Anglesey, Lord Keeper of his Majesty’s Privy Seal, and one of his Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council.

‘MY LORD,—When I present this unworthy translation to your lordship, I sacrifice my shame to my obedience; for (though a masculine wit hath thought it worth printing his head in a laurel crown for the version of one of these books) I am so far from glorying in my six, that had they not by misfortune been gone out of my hands in one lost copy, even your lordship’s command, which hath more authority with me, than any human thing I pay reverence to, should not have redeemed it from the fire. Had it been a work that had merited glory, or could my sex, (whose more becoming virtue is silence), derive honour from writing, my aspiring muse would not have sought any other patron than your lordship, the justly celebrated Macenas of our days, where learning and ingenuity finds its most honourable, I had almost said its only refuge, in this drolling, degenerate age, that hath hissed out all sober and serious studies; which your lordship not only cherisheth in others, but are yourself so illustriously eminent in that most honourable acquisition of learning, that ’tis the noblest crown of any work to gain your lordship’s approbation. And therefore, since I did attempt things out of my own sphere, I am sorry I had not the capacity of making a work, nor the good fortune of choosing a subject, worthy of being presented your lordship, whose dedication might gratefully have rendered some of the honour it receives in its acceptance. As your lordship’s command will vindicate me from arrogance in offering so unworthy a piece to such a hand, so I beseech your lordship to reward my obedience, by indulging me the further honour to preserve, wherever your lordship shall dispose this book, this record with it, that I abhor the atheisms and impieties in it, and translated it only out of youthful curiosity to understand things I heard so much discourse of at second hand, but without the least inclination to propagate any of the wicked pernicious doctrines in it. Afterwards being convinced of the sin of amusing myself with such vain philosophy, (which even at the first I did not employ any serious study in, for I turned it into English in a room where my children practised the several qualities they were taught with their tutors, and I numbered the syllables of my translation by the threads of the canvas I wrought in, and set them down with a pen and ink that stood by me: how superficially it must needs be done in this manner, the thing itself will show) but I say, afterward, as my judgment grew riper, and my mind was fixed in more profitable contemplations, I thought this book not worthy either of review or correction, the whole work being one fault. But when I have thrown all the contempt that is due upon my author, who yet wants not admirers among those whose religion little exceeds his, I must say I am not much better satisfied with the other fardle of philosophers who in some pulpits are quoted with divine epithets. They that make the incorruptible God part of a corruptible world, and chain up his absolute freedom of will to a fatal necessity; that make nature, which is only the order God hath set in his works, to be God Himself, that feign a God liable to passion, impotence, and mutability, and not exempt from the vilest lusts; that believe a multiplicity of gods, adore the sun and moon and all the host of heaven, and bandy their several deities in faction one against another; all these, and all the other poor deluded instructors of the Gentiles, are guilty of no less impiety, ignorance, and folly than this lunatic, who not able to dive into the true original and cause of beings and accidents, admires them who devised this casual, irrational dance of atoms. So far yet we may usefully be permitted to consider the productions of degenerate nature, as they represent to us the deplorable wretchedness of all mankind, who are not translated from darkness to light by supernatural illumination, and teach us that their wisdom is folly, their most virtuous and pure morality foul defilement, their knowledge ignorance, their glory shame, their renown contemptible, their industry vain, all their attainments cheats and delusions, their felicities unsubstantial dreams and apparitions, and their lives only a varied scene of perpetual woe and misery. This is the best account I can give of the best of them, who toiled themselves in vain to search out truth, but wandered in a maze of error, and could never discover her by Nature’s dim candle, which proved only an ignis fatui to lead them into quagmires and precipices, and to this day is no better to their admirers, who manifest they are still in their natural blindness, and never saw the sun, that can so extol corrupt glow-worms. I am persuaded that the encomiums given to these pagan poets and philosophers, wherewith tutors put them into the hands of their pupils, yet unsettled in principles of divine truth, is one great means of debauching the learned world, at least of confirming them in that debauchery of soul which their first sin led them into, and of hindering their recovery, while they puddle all the streams of truth, that flow down to them from divine grace, with this pagan mud; for all the heresies that are sprung up in the Christian religion are but the several foolish and impious inventions of the old contemplative heathen revived and brought forth in new dresses, while men wreck their wits, striving to wrest and pervert the sacred Scriptures from their genuine meaning, to comply with the false and foolish opinions of men. Some of them indeed acknowledge Providence, a divine original and regiment of all things, an internal law, which obliges us to eternal punishment if we transgress it, and shall be rewarded with present peace of conscience, and future blessedness if we obey it; but though they have general notions, wanting a revelation and guide to lead them into a true and distinct knowledge of the nature of God, of the original and remedy of sin, of the spring and nature of blessedness, they set up their vain imaginations in the room of God, and devise superstitious foolish services to avert His wrath and propitiate His favour, suitable to their devised God; inventing such fables of their Elizium and Hell, and the joys and tortures of those places, as made this author and others turn them into allegories, and think they treated more reverently of gods when they placed them above the cares and disturbances of human affairs, and set them in an unperturbed rest and felicity, leaving all things here to accident and chance, denying that determinate wise counsel and order of things they could not dive into, and deriding heaven and hell, eternal rewards and punishments, as fictions in the whole, because the instances of them in particular were so ridiculous, as seemed rather stories invented to fright children than to persuade reasonable men; therefore they fancied another kind of heaven and hell, in the internal peace or horror of the conscience, upon which account they urged the pursuit of virtue and the avoiding of vice, as the spring of joy or sorrow, and defined virtue to be all those things that are just, equal, and profitable to human society; wherein this poet makes true religion to consist, and not in superstitious ceremonies, which he makes to have had their original from the vain dread of men, imputing those events to the wrath of gods, which proceeded from natural causes whereof they were ignorant, and therefore sings high applause to his own wisdom, for having explored such deep mysteries of nature, though even these discoveries of his are so silly, foolish, and false, that nothing but his lunacy can extenuate the crime of his arrogant ignorance. But ’tis a lamentation and horror that in these days of the Gospel, men should be found so presumptuously wicked to study and adhere to his and his master’s ridiculous, impious, execrable doctrines, reviving the foppish casual dance of atoms, and denying the sovereign wisdom of God in the great design of the whole universe and every creature in it, and His eternal omnipotence, exerting itself in the production of all things, according to His most wise and fixed purpose, and His most gracious, ever-active Providence, upholding, ordering and governing the whole creation, and conducting all that appears most casual to us and our narrow comprehensions to the accomplishment of those just ends for which they were made. As by the study of them I grew in light and love, the little glory I had among some few of my intimate friends, for understanding this crabbed poet, became my shame, and I found I never understood him till I learned to abhor him, and dread a wanton dalliance with impious books. Then I reaped some profit by it, for it showed me that senseless superstitions drive carnal reason into atheism, which though policy restrains some from avowing so impudently as this dog, yet vast is their number, who make it a specious pretext within themselves, to think religion is nothing at all but an invention to reduce the ignorant vulgar into order and government. My philosophers taught me, by their own instance, that unregenerate, unsanctified reason makes men more monstrous by their learning than the most sottish, brutish idiots, while they employ the most excellent gifts of human understanding, with all the other noble endowments of the soul, as weapons against Him that gave them. This gave me a dreadful prospect of the misery of lapsed nature, whereby I saw, with sad compassion, the uncomfortable shadow of death wherein they consume their lives, that are alienated from the knowledge of God. I saw the insufficiency of human reason (how great an idol soever it is now become among the gownmen) to arrive to any pure and simple truth, with all its helps of art and study. I learnt to hate all unsanctified excellence, if that impropriety of expression may be admitted, and to run out of my monstrous self to seek light, life, knowledge, tranquillity, rest, and whatever else is requisite to make up a complete blessedness, and lasting felicity, in its only true and pure divine fountain. As one that, walking in the dark, had miraculously scaped a horrible precipice, by daylight coming back and discovering his late danger, startles and reviews it with affright, so did I, when I, in the mirror of opposed truth and holiness, and blessedness, saw the ugly deformity and the desperate tendency of corrupted nature in its greatest pretences, and having by rich grace scaped the shipwreck of my soul among those vain philosophers, who by wisdom knew not God, I could not but in charity set up this sea-mark, to warn uncautious travellers, and leave a testimony, that those walks of wit which poor vain-glorious scholars call the Muses’ groves, are enchanted thickets, and while they tipple at their celebrated Helicon, they lose their lives, and fill themselves with poison, drowning their spirits in those puddled waters, and neglecting that healing spring of Truth, which only hath the virtue to restore and refresh sick human life. To conclude, let none, that aspire to eternal happiness, gaze too long or too fixedly on that monster, into which man by the sorcery of the devil is converted, lest he draw infection in at his eyes, and be himself either metamorphosed into the most ugly shape, or stupefied and hardened against all better impressions, as daily examples too sadly instance.

But I say not this to your lordship, though I leave it in your book, as an antidote against the poison of it, for any novice who by chance might pry into it. Your lordship hath skill to render that which in itself is poisonous, many ways useful and medicinal, and are not liable to danger by an ill book, which I beseech your lordship to conceal, as a shame I did never intend to boast, but now resign to your lordship’s command, whose wisdom to make the defects and errors of my vainly curious youth pardonable, I rely on much more than my own skill in searching out an apology for them, and your lordship’s benign favour to me I have so many ways experienced, that it would be great ingratitude to doubt your lordship’s protection against all the censures a book might expose me to. And while I am assured of that I bid defiance to anything that can be said against, my lord, your lordship’s most devoted, obedient, humble servant,

L. H.’