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Chapter Two

The author gives some account of herself and her family; her younger years, learning secretly to read and to write; her affection for the Old Testament and the pleasures she secretly had reading Solomon’s Song of Songs; the author is getting married.

Wapping, Thursday the 7th of  May, 1699

MY father, Edmund Burton, was a rather successful hosier[17] in Newgate Street. His success was mostly due to his close friend, the famous surgeon Mr. James Bates. I was his second daughter (of my father’s, not of Master Bates’.) Apart from Stella, my eldest sister, and myself, all 6 sisters of mine died before they reached their first year. My father had no sons, a fact that deeply grieved him, and for which he resented and blamed my poor mother all her life, and even after her death at childbirth[18]. It was a daughter, again, and she died shortly after, too. Perhaps of agony and shame.[19]

      Stella and I were not allowed to study further than the writing of our names, but our mother still remembered her grandmother’s stories about the time of Queen Elizabeth I[20], when all girls were allowed to study (if their fathers so wished.) My mother learned reading and writing from her own mother - secretly - and she passed these secrets on to us. I was faster than my sister in learning to read, and that, I think, was the core reason for the resentment my sister always felt towards me. I guess my bragging did not help, either. Our mother taught us to read the Bible whilst making us pledge never to reveal this to our father. It is possible that Stella became so religious because of her difficulties in reading.


      The three of us were much amused whenever our father would pompously recite King James I’s famous saying: "To make women learned and foxes tame, has the same effect: to make them more cunning."


      We knew full well how right he was!

* * *

      Having learned to read the Bible, I soon got to the best part of it, which I read over and over again, well hidden from sight. The Song of Songs of Solomon gave me many secret pleasures. Reading verses such as: “I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands flowed myrrh, and my fingers sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock” [21]  always caused my Slit to get wet, and as I sneaked my hand down to my still locked treasure, I read on: “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I sick with love. His head the most fine gold, his locks bushy, black as a raven.” My fingers would caress my own raven-black bush, as I tried to breathe quietly, and I read on:

“Where is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Where is thy beloved turned aside? That we may seek him with thee. My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” 


      I imagined how King Solomon would go down on me, to my own garden of spices, to feast and feed in it, and my happiness was complete[22.


      In this pleasant (and secret) way I spent my tender years at my father’s home, helping in his business, sorting out wool and knitting dexterously, alongside my mother and sister. We were all quite good at it and thanks to my father’s close friendship with Master Bates we never lacked clientele, as Master Bates would commend his patients to buy their foot garments only from my father. The famous surgeon and my father were childhood mates and kept their friendship throughout their lives, even though my father was but a simple hosier. My father would always say that “Master Bates is our benefactor.” He spoke about Master Bates with much affection and admiration, so we were always perplexed, how come our father never wanted us to meet our benefactor. Up until my wedding day, I never set eyes on this good man!


      My mother died but a few months before. Stella was already married, and a mother herself, and my father was keen to have me off his hands as quickly as he only could. I felt the same. Hosiery has never been my passion.


      I remember that fine day when my father told me that I am to wed a sea-surgeon. I had mixed feelings about marrying a sea-farer, but then I heard that my future husband is called Lemuel Gulliver. I was to wed a man called Lemuel[23] ! All my fantasies were to come true! It was too good to be true, I thought. And then my father told me that, upon advice of Master Bates, Lemuel is to quit the seas, establish a surgeon-shop on land, and marry me!


      I was lucky (so I gullibly thought) that Stella, my elder sister, was already married (to Mr. Owen Lavender Jr., my father’s apprentice. My father wanted to keep the business within the family[24]). Had Gulliver been back from the Levant three years before, my father would have given my elder sister to him!


      I did manage to sneak a peek at my future husband when he came to negotiate the dowry[25] with my father, and oh, was I happy to see that he was indeed a handsome man! Not yet 30 years of age, he showed no sign of the Plague[26] and looked quite healthy. You may say what you wish about the dangers of sea-voyage, but you must admit that it tans the men magnificently, tones their muscles, and lands them a confident, manly posture. I was smitten. My mother would have been so proud and happy for me, marrying a Surgeon! I was enamored, pleased and hopeful that my husband’s respectable profession would guarantee long and healthy life for my children and me. (Stella, by the way, still is healthy and happy, living in our childhood house in Newgate Street, with her Owen Lavender Jr. and their eight surviving children. More than I can say about my poor self.)


      But back in 1688, when we first met, Lemuel was indeed a ravishing man, 27 years of age, while I was a fresh maiden of sixteen[27]. The age difference did not really bother me, seeing that Master Bates blessed our union.


      Later Lemuel told me that, when he was a seventeen-year-old bound apprentice to Master Bates he was immediately liked by the entire household, including, of course, Master Bates himself. Lemuel was ever the polite, gentle, and obliging type. I did not have an inkling, of course, what life had in store for me, so I was much pleased to be the Chosen One for Master Lemuel Gulliver, and by no one other than the good Master Bates.


      Stella was already giving suck to her first baby and heavy with her second, so she was in a position to tell me all about marital life. Still, I was hoping that my marriage would be more Biblical than hers, and yes, was I ever looking forward to my first night with Lemuel, my king Solomon!

A map with Newgate street, where Mary was born nearly 350 years ago.
Map: Courtesy Google 
Titled: Lied der Lieder (Song of Songs)
Artist: Ephraim Moshe Lilien (1874-1925)
Mary tries a wedding
Artist: Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677)
Ephraim Moshe Lilien
Wenceslaus Hollar
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