Knowledge and rational Entertainment
No. III. 1789-03March,1789. Vol. I.
Printed at Boston,
By Isaiah Thomasand Company.
Sold at their Bookſtore, No. 45, Newbury Street, by ſaid Thomas at his
Bookſtore in Worcester, and by the ſeveral Gentlemen who receive Subſcriptions
for this Work.
To the Editors of the Massachusetts Magazine, Gentlemen,
The following Essay is yielded to the patronage of Candour.—If it hath been anticipated, the teſtimony of many reſpectable perſons, who ſaw it in manuſcript as early as the year 17791779, can obviate the imputation of plagiariſm.
On the Equality of the Sexes,
That minds are not alike, full well I know,
This truth each day’s experience will ſhow;
To heights ſurpriſing ſome great ſpirits ſoar,
With inborn ſtrength myſterious depths explore;
Their eager gaze ſurveys the path of light,
Confeſt it ſtood to Newton’s piercing ſight.
Deep ſcience, like a baſhful maid retires,
And but the ardent breaſt her worth inſpires;
By perſeverance the coy fair is won.
And Genius, led by Study, wears the crown.
But ſome there are who wiſh not to improve,
Who never can the path of knowledge love,
Whoſe ſouls almoſt with the dull body one,
With anxious care each mental pleaſure ſhun;
Weak is the level’d, enervated mind,
And but while here to vegetate deſign’d.
The torpid ſpirit mingling with its clod,
Can ſcarcely boaſt its origin from God;
Stupidly dull—they move progreſsing on—
They eat, and drink, and all their work is done.
While others, emulous of ſweet applauſe,
Induſtrious ſeek for each event a cauſe,
Tracing the hidden ſprings whence knowledge flows,
Which nature all in beauteous order ſhows.
Yet cannot I their ſentiments imbibe,
Who this diſtinction to the ſex aſcribe,
As if a woman’s form muſt needs enrol,
A weak, a ſervile, an inferiour ſoul;
And that the guiſe of man muſt ſtill proclaim,
Greatneſs of mind, and him, to be the ſame:
Yet as the hours revolve fair proofs ariſe,
Which the bright wreath of growing fame ſupplies;
And in paſt times ſome men have ſunk ſo low,
That female records nothing leſs can ſhow.
But imbecility is ſtill confin’d,
And by the lordly ſex to us conſign’d;
They rob us of the power t’ improve,
And then declare we only trifles love;
Yet haſte the era, when the world ſhall know,
That ſuch diſtinctions only dwell below;
The ſoul unfetter’d, to no ſex confin’d,
Was for the abodes of cloudleſs day deſign’d.
Mean time we emulate their manly fires,
Though erudition all their thoughts inſpires,
Yet nature with equality imparts,
And noble paſsions, ſwell e’en female hearts.
Is it upon mature conſideration we adopt the idea, that nature is thus partial in her diſtributions? Is it indeed a fact, that ſhe hath yielded to one half of the human ſpecies ſo unqueſtionable a mental ſuperiority? I know that to both ſexes elevated underſtandings, and the reverſe, are common. But, ſuffer me to aſk, in what the minds of females are ſo notoriouſly deficient, or unequal. May not the intellectual powers be ranged under theſe four heads—imagination, reaſon, memory and judgment. The province of imagination hath long ſince been ſurrendered up to us, and we have been crowned undoubted ſovereigns of the regions of fancy. Invention is perhaps the moſt arduous effort of the mind; this branch of imagination hath been particularly ceded to us, and we have been time out 2 133 out of mind inveſted with that creative faculty. Obſerve the variety of faſhions (here I bar the contemptuous ſmile) which diſtinguiſh and adorn the female world; how continually are they changing, inſomuch that they almoſt render the wiſe man’s aſsertion problematical, and we are ready to ſay, there is ſomething new under the ſun. Now what a playfulneſs, what an exuberance of fancy, what ſtrength of inventine imagination, doth this continual variation diſcover? Again, it hath been obſerved, that if the turpitude of the conduct of our ſex, hath been ever ſo enormous, ſo extremely ready are we, that the very firſt thought preſents us with an apology, ſo plauſible, as to produce our actions even in an amiable light. Another inſtance of our creative powers, is our talent for ſlander; how ingenious are we at inventive ſcandal? what a formidable ſtory can we in a moment fabricate merely from the force of a prolifick imagination? how many reputations, in the fertile brain of a female, have been utterly deſpoiled? how induſtrious are we at improving a hint? ſuſpicion how eaſily do we convert into conviction, and conviction, embelliſhed by the power of eloquence, ſtalks abroad to the ſurpriſe and confuſion of unſuſpecting innocence. Perhaps it will be aſked if I furniſh theſe facts as inſtances of excellency in our ſex. Certainly not; but as proofs of a creative faculty, of a lively imagination. Aſsuredly great activity of mind is thereby diſcovered, and was this activity properly directed, what beneficial effects would follow. Is the needle and kitchen ſufficient to employ the operations of a ſoul thus organized? I ſhould conceive not. Nay, it is a truth that thoſe very departments leave the intelligent principle vacant, and at liberty for ſpeculation. Are we deficient in reaſon? we can only reaſon from what we know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our ſex cannot fairly be deduced from thence. Memory, I believe, will be allowed us in common, ſince every one’s experience muſt teſtify, that a loquacious old woman is as frequently met with, as a communicative old man; their ſubjects are alike drawn from the fund of other times, and the tranſactions of their youth, or of maturer life, entertain, or perhaps fatigue you, in the evening of their lives. But our judgment is not ſo ſtrong— we do not diſtinguish ſo well.—Yet it may be queſtioned, from what doth this ſuperiority, in this determining faculty of the ſoul, proceed. May we not trace its ſource in the difference of education, and continued advantages? Will it be ſaid that the judgment of a male of two years old, is more ſage than that of a female’s of the ſame age? I believe the reverſe is generally obſerved to be true. But from that period what partiality! how is the one exalted, and the other depreſsed, by the contrary modes of education which are adopted! the one is taught to aſpire, and the other is early confined and limitted. As their years increaſe, the ſiſter muſt be wholly domeſticated, while the brother is led by the hand through all the flowery paths of ſcience. Grant that their minds are by nature equal, yet who ſhall wonder at the apparent ſuperiority, if indeed cuſtom becomes ſecond nature; nay if it taketh place of nature, and that it doth the experience of each day will evince. At length arrived at womanhood, the uncultivated fair one feels a void, which the employments allotted her are by no means capable of filling. What can ſhe do? to books ſhe may not apply; or if ſhe doth, to thoſe only of the novel kind, leſt ſhe merit the appellation of a learned lady; and what ideas have been affixed to this term, the obſervation of many can teſtify. Faſhion, ſcandal, and ſometimes what is ſtill more reprehenſible, are then called in to her relief; and who can ſay to what lengths the liberties ſhe takes may proceed. Meantime ſhe herſelf is moſt unhappy; ſhe feels the want of a cultivated mind. Is ſhe ſingle, ſhe in vain ſeeks to fill up time from ſexual employments or amuſements. Is ſhe united to a perſon whoſe ſoul nature made equal to her own, education hath ſet him ſo far above her, that in thoſe entertainments which are productive of ſuch rational felicity, 3 134 felicity, ſhe is not qualified to accompany him. She experiences a mortifying conſciouſneſs of inferiority, which embitters every enjoyment. Doth the perſon to whom her adverſe fate hath conſigned her, poſseſs a mind incapable of improvement, ſhe is equally wretched, in being ſo cloſely connected with an individual whom ſhe cannot but deſpiſe. Now, was ſhe permitted the ſame inſtructors as her brother, (with an eye however to their particular departments) for the employment of a rational mind an ample field would be opened. In aſtronomy ſhe might catch a glimpſe of the immenſity of the Deity, and thence ſhe would form amazing conceptions of the auguſt and ſupreme Intelligence. In geopraphy ſhe would admire Jehovah in the midſt of his benevolence; thus adapting this globe to the various wants and amuſements of its inhabitants. In natural philoſophy ſhe would adore the infinite majeſty of heaven, clothed in condeſcenſion; and as ſhe traverſed the reptile world, ſhe would hail the goodneſs of a creating God. A mind, thus filled, would have little room for the trifles with which our ſex are, with too much juſtice, accuſed of amuſing themſelves, and they would thus be rendered fit companions for thoſe, who ſhould one day wear them as their crown. Faſhions, in their variety, would then give place to conjectures, which might perhaps conduce to the improvement of the literary world; and there would be no leiſure for ſlander or detraction. Reputation would not then be blaſted, but ſerious ſpeculations would occupy the lively imaginations of the ſex. Unneceſsary viſits would be precluded, and that cuſtom would only be indulged by way of relaxation, or to anſwer the demands of conſanguinity and friendſhip. Females would become diſcreet, their judgments would be invigorated, and their partners for life being circumſpectly choſen, an unhappy Hymen would then be as rare, as is now the reverſe.
Will it be urged that thoſe acquirements would ſuperſede our domeſtick duties. I anſwer that every requiſite in female economy is eaſily attained; and, with truth I can add, that when once attained, they require no further mental attention. Nay, while we are purſuing the needle, or the ſuperintendency of the family, I repeat, that our minds are at full liberty for reflection; that imagination may exert itſelf in full vigor; and that if a juſt foundation is early laid, our ideas will then be worthy of rational beings. If we were induſtrious we might eaſily find time to arrange them upon paper, or ſhould avocations preſs too hard for ſuch an indulgence, the hours allotted For converſation would at leaſt become more refined and rational. Should it ſtill be vociferated, Your domeſtick employments are ſufficient—I would calmly aſk, is it reaſonable, that a candidate for immortality, for the joys of heaven, an intelligent being, who is to ſpend an eternity in contemplating the works of Deity, ſhould at preſent be ſo degraded, as to be allowed no other ideas, than thoſe which are ſuggeſted by the mechaniſm of a pudding, or the ſewing the ſeams of a garment? Pity that all ſuch cenſurers of female improvement do not go one ſtep further, and deny their future exiſtence; to be conſiſtent they ſurely ought.
Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty ſex, our ſouls are by nature equal to yours; the ſame breath of God animates, enlivens, and invigorates us; and that we are not fallen lower than yourſelves, let thoſe witneſs who have greatly towered above the various diſcouragements by which they have been ſo heavily oppreſsed; and though I am unacquainted with the liſt of celebrated characters on either ſide, yet from the obſervations I have made in the contracted circle in which I have moved, I dare confidently believe, that from the commencement of time to the preſent day, there hath been as many females, as males, who, by the mere force of natural powers, have merited the crown of applauſe; who, thus unaſsiſted, have ſeized the wreath of fame. I know there are who aſsert, that as the animal powers of the one ſex are ſuperiour, of courſe their mental faculties alſo muſt be ſtronger; thus attributing ſtrength of mind to the tranſient organization of this earth born 4 135 born tenement. But if this reaſoning is juſt, man muſt be content to yield the palm to many of the brute creation, ſince by not a few of his brethren of the field, he is far ſurpaſsed in bodily ſtrength. Moreover, was this argument admitted, it would prove too much, for occular demonſtration evinceth, that there are many robuſt maſculine ladies, and effeminate gentlemen. Yet I fancy that Mr. Pope, though clogged with an enervated body, and diſtinguiſhed by a diminutive ſtature, could nevertheleſs lay claim to greatneſs of ſoul; and perhaps there are many other inſtances which might be adduced to combat ſo unphiloſophical an opinion. Do we not often ſee, that when the clay built tabernacle is well nigh diſsolved, when it is juſt ready to mingle with the parent ſoil, the immortal inhabitant aſpires to, and even attaineth heights the moſt ſublime, and which were before wholly unexplored. Beſides, were we to grant that animal ſtrength proved any thing, taking into conſideration the accuſtomed impartiality of nature, we ſhould be induced to imagine, that ſhe had inveſted the female mind with ſuperiour ſtrength as an equivalent for the bodily powers of man. But waving this however palpable advantage, for equality only, we wiſh to contend.
To be concluded next month.
For the Massachusetts Magazine.
On the Equality of the Sexes.
Continued from page 135.
Iam aware that there are many paſsages in the ſacred oracles which ſeem to give the advantage to the other ſex; but I conſider all theſe as wholly metaphorical. Thus David was a man after God’s own heart, yet ſee him enervated by his licentious paſsions! behold him following Uriah to the death, and ſhew me wherein could conſist the immaculate Being’s complacency. Liſten to the curſes which Job beſtoweth upon the day of his nativity, and tell me where is his perfection, where his patience— literally it exiſted not. David and Job were types of him who was to come; and the ſuperiority of man, as exhibited in ſcripture, being alſo emblematical, all arguments deduced from thence, of courſe fall to the ground. The exquiſite delicacy of the female mind proclaimeth the exactneſs of its texture, while its nice ſenſe of honour announceth its innate, its native grandeur. And indeed, in one reſpect, the preeminence ſeems to be tacitly allowed us, for after an education which limits and confines, and employments and recreations which naturally tend to enervate the body, and debilitate the mind; after we have from early youth been adorned with ribbons, and other gewgaws, dreſsed out like the ancient victims previous to a ſacrifice, being taught by the care of our parents in collecting the moſt ſhowy materials that the ornamenting our exteriour ought to be the principal object of our attention; after, I ſay, fifteen years thus ſpent, we are introduced into the world, amid the united adulation of every beholder. Praiſe is ſweet to the ſoul; we are immediately intoxicated by large draughts of flattery, which being plentifully adminiſtered, is to the pride of our hearts the moſt acceptable incenſe. It is expected that with the other ſex we ſhould commence immediate war, and that we ſhould triumph over the machinations of the moſt artful. We muſt be conſtantly upon our guard; prudence and diſcretion muſt be our characteriſticks; and we muſt riſe ſuperiour to, and obtain a complete victory over thoſe who have been long adding to the native ſtrength of their minds, by an unremitted ſtudy of men and books, and who have, moreover, conceived from the looſe characters which they have ſeen portrayed in the extenſive variety of their reading, a moſt contemptible opinion of the ſex. Thus unequal, we are, notwithſtanding, forced to the combat, and the infamy which is conſequent upon the ſmalleſt deviation in our conduct, proclaims the high idea which was formed of our native ſtrength; and thus, indirectly at leaſt, is the preference acknowledged to be our due. And if we are allowed an equality of acquirement, let ſerious ſtudies equally employ our minds, and we will bid our ſouls ariſe to equal ſtrength. We will meet upon even ground, the deſpot man; we will ruſh with alacrity to the combat, and, crowned by ſucceſs, we ſhall then anſwer the exalted expectations which are formed. Though ſenſibility, ſoft compaſsion, and gentle commiſeration, are inmates in the female boſom, yet againſt every deep laid art, altogether fearleſs of the event, we will ſet them in array; for aſsuredly the wreath of victory will encircle the ſpotleſs brow. If we meet an equal, a ſenſible friend, we will reward him with the hand of amity, and through life we will be aſsiduous 5 224 aſsiduous to promote his happineſs; but from every deep laid ſcheme for our ruin, retiring into ourſelves, amid the flowery paths of ſcience, we will indulge in all the refined and ſentimental pleaſures of contemplation. And ſhould it ſtill be urged, that the ſtudies thus inſiſted upon would interfere with our more peculiar department, I muſt further reply, that early hours, and cloſe application, will do wonders; and to her who is from the firſt dawn of reaſon taught to fill up time rationally, both the requiſites will be eaſy. I grant that niggard fortune is too generally unfriendly to the mind; and that much of that valuable treaſure, time, is neceſsarily expended upon the wants of the body; but it ſhould be remembered, that in embarraſsed circumſtances our companions have as little leiſure for literary improvement, as is afforded to us; for moſt certainly their provident care is at least as requiſite as our exertions. Nay, we have even more leiſure for ſedentary pleaſures, as our avocations are more retired, much leſs laborious, and, as hath been obſerved, by no means require that avidity of attention which is proper to the employments of the other ſex. In high life, or, in other words, where the parties are in poſseſsion of affluence, the objection reſpecting time is wholly obviated, and of courſe falls to the ground; and it may alſo be repeated, that many of thoſe hours which are at preſent ſwallowed up in faſhion and ſcandal, might be redeemed, were we habituated to uſeful reflections. But in one reſpect, O ye arbiters of our fate! we confeſs that the ſuperiority is indubitably yours; you are by nature formed for our protectors; we pretend not to vie with you in bodily ſtrength; upon this point we will never contend for victory. Shield us then, we beſeech you, from external evils, and in return we will transact your domeſtick affairs. Yes, your, for are you not equally intereſted in thoſe matters with ourſelves? Is not the elegancy of neatneſs as agreeable to your ſight as to ours; is not the well favoured viand equally delightful to your taſte; and doth not your ſenſe of hearing ſuffer as much, from the diſcordant ſounds prevalent in an ill regulated family, produced by the voices of children and many et ceteras?
By way of ſupplement to the foregoing pages, I ſubjoin the following extract from a letter, wrote to a friend in the December of 17801780.
And now aſsiſt me, O thou genius of my ſex, while I undertake the arduous taſk of endeavouring to combat that vulgar, that almoſt univerſal errour, which hath, it ſeemſ, enlisted even Mr. P—— under its banners. The ſuperiority of your ſex hath, I grant, been time out of mind eſteemed a truth incontrovertible; in conſequence of which perſuaſion, every plan of education hath been calculated to eſtabliſh this favourite tenet. Not long ſince; weak and preſuming as I was, I amuſed myſelf with ſelecting ſome arguments from nature, reaſon, and experience, againſt this ſo generally received idea. I confeſs that to ſacred teſtimonies I had not recourſe. I held them to be merely metaphorical, and thus regarding them, I could not perſuade myſelf that there was any propriety in bringing them to decide in this very important debate. However, as you, ſir, confine yourſelf entirely to the ſacred oracles, I mean to bend the whole of my artillery againſt thoſe ſuppoſed proofs, which you have from thence provided, and from which you have formed an intrenchment apparently ſo invulnerable. And firſt, to begin with our great progenitors; but here, ſuffer me to premiſe, that it is for mental ſtrength I mean to contend, for with reſpect to animal powers, I yield them undiſputed to that ſex, which enjoys them in common with the lion, the tyger, and many other beaſts of prey; therefore your obſervations reſpecting the rib under the arm, at a diſtance from the head, &c. &c. in no ſort militate againſt my view. Well, but the woman was firſt in the tranſgreſsion. Strange how blind ſelf love renders you men; were you not wholly abſorbed in a partial admiration of your own abilities, you would long ſince have acknowledged the force of what I am now going to urge. It is true ſome 6 225 ſome ignoramuſes have abſurdly enough informed us, that the beauteous fair of paradiſe, was ſeduced from her obedience, by a malignant demon, in the guiſe of a baleful ſerpent; but we, who are better informed, know that the fallen ſpirit preſented himſelf to her view, a ſhining angel ſtill; for thus, faith the criticks in the Hebrew tongue, ought the word to be rendered. Let us examine her motive— Hark! the ſeraph declares that ſhe ſhall attain a perfection of knowledge; for is there aught which is not comprehended under one or other of the terms good and evil. It doth not appear that ſhe was governed by any one ſenſual appetite; but merely by a deſire of adorning her mind; a laudable ambition fired her ſoul, and a thirſt for knowledge impelled the predilection ſo fatal in its conſequences. Adam could not plead the ſame deception; aſsuredly he was not deceived; nor ought we to admire his ſuperiour ſtrength, or wonder at his ſagacity, when we ſo often confeſs that example is much more influential than precept. His gentle partner ſtood before him, a melancholy inſtance of the direful effects of diſobedience; he ſaw her not poſseſsed of that wiſdom which ſhe had fondly hoped to obtain, but he beheld the once blooming female, diſrobed of that innocence, which had heretofore rendered her ſo lovely. To him then deception became impoſsible, as he had proof poſitive of the fallacy of the argument, which the deceiver had ſuggeſted. What then could be his inducement to burſt the barriers, and to fly directly in the face of that command, which immediately from the mouth of deity he had received, ſince, I ſay, he could not plead that faſcinating ſtimulous, the accumulation of knowledge, as indiſputable conviction was ſo viſibly portrayed before him. What mighty cauſe impelled him to ſacrifice myriads of beings yet unborn, and by one impious act, which he ſaw would be productive of ſuch fatal effects, entail undiſtinguiſhed ruin upon a race of beings, which he was yet to produce. Bluſh, ye vaunters of fortitude; ye boaſters of reſolution; ye haughty lords of the creation; bluſh when ye remember, that he was influenced by no other motive than a bare puſillanimous attachment to a woman! by ſentiments ſo exquiſitely ſoft, that all his ſons have, from that period, when they have deſigned to degrade them, deſcribed as highly feminine. Thus it ſhould ſeem, that all the arts of the grand deceiver (ſince means adequate to the purpoſe are, I conceive, invariably purſued) were requiſite to miſlead our general mother, while the father of mankind forfeited his own, and relinquiſhed the happineſ of poſterity, merely in compliance with the blandiſhments of a female. The ſubſequent ſubjection the apoſtle Paul explains as a figure; after enlarging upon the ſubject, he adds, This is a great myſtery; but I ſpeak concerning Chriſt and the church. Now we know with what conſummate wiſdom the unerring father of eternity hath formed his plans; all the types which he hath diſplayed, he hath permitted materially to fail, in the very virtue for which they were famed. The reaſon for this is obvious, we might otherwiſe miſtake his economy, and render that honour to the creature, which is due only to the creator. I know that Adam was a figure of him who was to come. The grace contained in this figure, is the reaſon of my rejoicing, and while I am very far from proſtrating before the ſhadow, I yield joyfully in all things the preeminence to the ſecond federal head. Confiding faith is prefigured by Abraham, yet he exhibits a contraſt to affiance, when he ſays of his fair companion, ſhe is my ſiſter. Gentleneſs was the characteriſtick of Moſes, yet he heſitated not to reply to Jehovah himſelf, with unſaintlike tongue he murmured at the waters of ſtrife, and with raſh hands he break the tables, which were inſcribed by the finger of divinity. David, dignified with the title of the man after God’s own heart, and yet how ſtained was his life. Solomon was celebrated for wiſdom, but folly is wrote in legible characters upon his almoſt every action. Laſtly, let us turn our eyes to man in the aggregate. He is manifeſted as the figure of ſtrength, but that we may not regard him as any thing more than a figure, his ſoul is formed in no ſort ſuperiour, but Vol.II. April, 1790. 2D every 7 226 every way equal to the mind of her, who is the emblem of weakneſs, and whom he hails the gentle companion of his better days.