The Toast, 1732

NOTES: The author of The Toast, from which I give extracts below, was the Oxford don William King. King, during a stay in Ireland, had sued the Duchess of Newburgh (Lady Frances Brudenell) for several thousand pounds she owed him, but he lost the case. In revenge, he satirized her as a promiscuous bisexual witch and lesbian named "Myra". This satire is extremely dense and difficult to understand, and I have not attempted to explain its allusions. There was a second, larger, edition in 1736, and a fourth edition in 1754. It is notable for providing proof that the term "lesbians" was used in a sexual sense as early as 1732 in exactly the same way that it is used today. In fact King paints a picture of a lesbian cultural tradition, and conceives of lesbians as a category of women having a distinct stable sexual orientation.

The Translator’s Preface.

When I was last winter in Dublin I met with a Latin poem in old Monkish rhymes intitled Phoebus Noctivigator, seu Hermaphroditus, which was publish’d there in 1728. The Author, Mr. Frederick Scheffer, is a Swede, or, as some say, a native of Lapland. [p. 1] ... Another objection, as I have heard, has been made to the characters and persons which our Author has introduc’d as being far beneath the dignitiy of an Epic Poem, and only fit to appear in a Dutch Music-house or a Smithfield Droll. Myra, the principal Hero or Heroine (for she was both a man and a woman) from whom the Poet has denominated his work, is represented as a deform’d old Hag, possess’d of all the vices and ill qualities that can possibly enter into the composition of an Human creature. The Picture of the witch Duessa in Spencer is scarce more shocking than the Description of Scheffer’s Hermaphrodite. [p. 2] ... The Metamorphosis of Myra is indeed a wonderful Event: and the Poet has called in a Goddess to perform the Operation. Yet if credit may be given to some learned Historians and Anatomists, even such a Change may be wrought without the interposition of a Deity, and is not uncommonly the effect of a natural cause. But I shall enlarge on this subject in my Annotations on the fourth Book, where the manner of the old Matron’s Transformation is particularly reported. [p. 3] ...

By Knapp, AEnigmatical-Almanack Maker of the City of Cork, Upon reading the HERMAPHRODITUS of Mr. Frederick Scheffer.

Quaint Riddles I compose, but Scheffer brings
A nobler Verse – The British Myra sings;
The mighty Thing, which Lesbian Loves began,
Whilom the wanton Wife of every Man,
Now hap’ly form’d, in the decline of life,
A vig’rous Gallant fit for ev’ry Wife.
Tiresias thus some sportful God employs,
Changing the Sex, to prove alternate Joys. [p. 17] ...

Notes and Observations.

This Lady, who is the Heroine of the Poem was descended from a good Family among the Coritani. She was a Woman of an extraordinary Stature, and of such Vigour and Strength of Body as was not equal’d by any of her Co[n]temporaries. ’Tis said that when she was but eighteen Years of Age, she was a Match for Milo, and, like that famous Wrestler, cou’d carry a full grown Bull. ... Nor was our noble Matron debilitated by Age, or her Concupiscible Appetite in the least decay’d, when she had nearl arriv’d to the grand Climacterick. [i.e. the menopause] Even the ruins which had been made in her outward form by the malice of Father Time, she had so artfully repair’d and varnish’d over, that Apollo himself was deceiv’d by her first Apearance, as he had been by the shining Character which one of his favourite Bards had bestow’d on her. This Mistake or Misinformation, and the Incidents which follow upon it furnish the chief matter of Mr. Scheffer’s Poem. For the God having been rallied for toasting the old Dame, and thereupon making a nearer inspection, he discovered all the defects of her Person, and the various arts, which she us’d to disguise them. And farther examining into her Conduct and Constitution, and the Frame and Temper of her Mind, he plainly perceiv’d, that she had been guilty of all kind of Pollutions; that unsated by her male Gallants she daily practised that unnatural Act the Spaniards call Donna con Donna. His Godship was so much asham’d and incens’d to be thus disappointed, that in revenge he publish’d the famous Edict, which Mr. Scheffer has recited in his third Book. Among other Prohibitions contain’d in this Edict our old Matron was for the future interdicted all Commerce with Men. But this severe Sentence was immediately defeated by the Interposition of Venus. The Goddess thought her self highly affronted in the Person of her Votary. She was not unmindful of the Obligations, which she ow’d to Myra. And moreover she rightly judg’d, that the Loss of so indefatigable a Servant, and of one so thoroughly experienced in all Venereal Rites and Ceremonies, cou’d not but be very prejudicial to the Affairs of her Empire. She was inded unable to rescind Apollo’s Decree, it being an immutable Order of the Fates, that one God may not be permitted to undo the Acts of another. She therefore instantly chang’d our Matron into a Man, transferring at the same time to her new Being all that Vigour and Vivacity, which Myra was wont to exert in her Womanhood, together with all other Privileges and Advantages usually annexed to the Male Sex. Myra, after her Transformation, was possess’d with so much Fire and Coruae, that she engaged her quondam Husband the God of War in a single Combat. But just as the Victory inclin’d to her side she was overcome by a Strategem. [p. 22] ...

Book I

     Now the Supper bespoke, the Trium-dei sate;
Mars began to ask Questions concerning the State. [p. 39]
"Who has now the Ascendant in Jupiter’s House?
Does the Monarch grow old, and submit to his Spouse?
Who is most in his Favour, young Ganny or Hebe?
Has he found a fit Match for his Daughter Miss Phoebe?" ... [p. 40]

I must not here omit to inform the English Reader of the Dispute among the Commentators concerning the Etymology of the Name of MYRA. Tir-Oen will have it to be the same Name with Myrrha the Daughter of Cynaras King of Cyprus, a Woman of that inordinate Appetite, that she fell in love with her Father, and had a Son by him. ... [Another] Commentator conjectures, that Myra is a Corruption of Myrrhina a famous Courtesan of Athens, who first practis’d and taught in that City Sappho’s Manner and the Lesbian Gambols. ... [p. 64]

Vrow pusilla, or the little Dutch Frow is the Wife of one Traulus. She’s a Jewess and a Dwarf. However, this little Woman gave Myra more Pleasure than all the rest of her Lovers and Mistresses. She was therefore dignified with the Title of Chief of the Tribades or Lesbians. [p. 67]


SOURCE: The Toast, an Epic Poem, in Four Books. Written in Latin by Frederick Scheffer, Done into English by Peregrine O Donald, Esq;, Vol. I. Dublin: Printed in the Year, 1732. (There was no Vol. II.)
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Toast, 1732," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 4 June 2004 <>.

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