’TIS FOLLY TO BE WISE.
Punch, October 29, 1902
[An American scientist has come to the conclusion that the tendency of too much education or intellectual development in women is to make them lose their beauty.]
O Phyllis, once no task to me was sweeter
Than, grasping my enthusiastic quill,
To hymn your charms; erratic though the metre,
It gained in fervour what it lacked in skill.
But now, alas, those charms are like to vanish.
Without preamble duty bids me speak.
The rumour runs that you are learning Spanish,
Those eyes, to which I loved to dash off stanzas,
No longer gaze, as erstwhile, into mine;
They’re fixed on Quixote’s deeds, or Sancho Panza’s,
Or rest upon some Æschylean line.
Or, as you spell Thucydides his speeches,
Your face assumes a look of care and pain.
O Phyllis, heed the moral that it teaches,
And cease to run the risk of growing plain.
Shun, I implore, the vampire Education.
Be guided by my excellent advice.
You owe a solemn duty to the nation—
Simply to give your mind to looking nice.
Learning may be acquired, but beauty never;
Dry books, believe me, were not meant for you.
Be fair, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
If brains are wanted, I’ve enough for two.
Unsigned verse as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 123 of Punch.
“An American scientist has come to the conclusion that the tendency of too much education or intellectual development in women is to make them lose their beauty. He instances the Zaro women of India. They are supreme. They woo their men, control the affairs of the home and the nation, transmit property, and leave the men nothing to do. The result is, says the scientist, is that they are the ugliest women on earth.” (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, October 18, 1902)
The penultimate line is an adaptation from Charles Kingsley’s poem “A Farewell”; the original line is “Be good, sweet maid....” In the story “Keeping It from Harold” this poem is being memorized by the title character.