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"MIRA'S WILL" Mary Leapor (1748) A writer whose work has been termed labor-class poetry, the house maid Mary Leapor may have written "Mira's Will" based on the model of Jonathon Swift's well-known satire "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift." As noted by Leapor's biographer Richard Greene, Leapor's lines express the same "black humor" as do Swift's. In fine Augustan tradition Leapor writes of her own death, adopting the idea of balance and order in distributing her possessions at her death, then satirizing those ideas through emphasis of the fact that she has no material possessions. Instead she catalogs in 18th-century tradition aspects of her personality, which she bequeaths to those who remain behind. The poem reflects Leapor's knowledge of civil law, an important aspect of Augustan order, in her opening term, IMPRIMIS, (in the first place) as well as in a later direction to her executors. The poem also reflects a strong sense of self in the poet's ability to turn her own impending death into humor. Long in poor health, Leapor correctly predicted her early death at age 24.
Leapor's 16 sets of heroic couplets are as elegant as any constructed by Swift or Alexander Pope. Lacking material goods to leave behind, she instructs the distribution of other elements without a hint of sentimentality:
My name to public censure I submit,
To be disposed of as the world thinks fit;
My vice and folly let oblivion close,
The world already is o'erstocked with those;
Her gifts turn more positive in later lines, as she gives her "truth" to "modish lovers," her "cool reflection to unthinking youth," and "some good-nature" to "surly husbands, as their needs require." She concludes the first section of gifting with her own pursuits in mind, as "To the small poets" she leaves her pen.
Beginning at line 17 she instructs the design of her funeral and procession, as was common for wills of her era. Although it is meant to be a mock-description, she includes many traditional aspects, such as the carrying of evergreens, believed to represent the soul's immortality: "Let a small Sprig (true Emblem of my Rhyme) / Of blasted Laurel on my Hearse recline." Additional details include the employ of a "grave wight" who desires fame by "chanting dirges through a market-town," carrying a "broken flute." She also includes "six comic poets" as well as a "virtuoso, rich in sun-dried weeds" and "The politician, whom no mortal heeds." other individuals are noted, as Leapor constructs a crowd scene, quiet and orderly. As Greene writes, one could describe the scene as formal, except that Leapor undercuts that idea by offering "figures of folly or contradiction." She even includes directions for the paid mourners that eyes may be wiped and "widowed husbands o'er their garlic cry," making light of the false nature of such mourning. She concludes with the typical statement that declares herself "In body healthy, and composed in mind" at the time she recorded her will.
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