Condition of Women,
And on the Injustice of
Printed for T.N. Longman, and O. Rees, No. 39, Paternoſter-Row,
by G. Woodfall, No. 22, Paternoſter-Row. 17991799.
To the public,
Finding that a Work on a ſubject ſimilar to the following, has lately been publiſhed at Paris, Mrs. Robinſon is induced to avow herſelf the Author of this Pamphlet. The firſt Edition was publiſhed in --02February laſt, under the fictitious Signature of Anne Frances Randall; and the mention of Mrs. Robinſon’s works was merely inſerted with a view to miſlead the reader reſpecting the Real Author of the Pamphlet.
London: Printed by G. Woodfall, No. 22, Paternoſter-row.
Letter, &c. &c.
Custom, from the earlieſt periods of antiquity, has endeavoured to place the female mind in the ſubordinate ranks of intellectual ſociability. Woman has ever been conſidered as a lovely and faſcinating part of the creation, but her claims to mental equality have not only been queſtioned, by envious and intereſted ſceptics; but, by a barabarous policy in the other ſex, conſiderably depreſſed, for want of liberal and claſsical cultivation. I will not expatiate largely on the doctrines of certain philoſophical ſenſualiſts, who have aided in this deſtructive oppreſsion, becauſe an illuſtrious Britiſh B female, 2 B1v 2 female, (whoſe death has not been ſufficiently lamented, but to whoſe genius poſterity will render juſtice) has already written volumes in vindication of The Rights of Woman. The writer of this letter, though avowedly of the ſame ſchool, diſdains the drudgery of ſervile imitation. The ſame ſubject may be argued in a variety of ways; and though this letter may not diſplay the philoſophical reaſoning with which The Rights of Woman abounded; it is not leſs ſuited to the purpoſe. For it requires a legion of Wollſtonecrafts to undermine the poiſons of prejudice and malevolence. But I ſhall endeavour to prove that, under the preſent ſtate of mental ſubordination, univerſal knowledge is not only benumbed and blighted, but true happineſs, originating in enlightened manners, retarded in its progreſs. Let woman once aſſert her proper ſphere, unſhackled by prejudice, and unſophiſticated by vanity; and pride, (the nobleſt ſpecies of pride,) will eſtabliſh her claims to the participation of power, both mentally and corporeally.In 3 B2r 3
In order that this letter may be clearly underſtood, I ſhall proceed to prove my aſſertion in the ſtrongeſt, but moſt undecorated language. I ſhall remind my enlightened country-women that they are not the mere appendages of domeſtic life, but the partners, the equal aſſociates of man: and, where they excel in intellectual powers, they are no leſs capable of all that prejudice and cuſtom have united in attributing, excluſively, to the thinking faculties of man. I argue thus, and my aſſertions are incontrovertible.
Suppoſing that deſtiny, or intereſt, or chance, or what you will, has united a man, confeſſedly of a weak underſtanding, and corporeal debility, to a woman ſtrong in all the powers of intellect, and capable of bearing the fatigues of buſy life: is it not degrading to humanity that ſuch a woman ſhould be the paſsive, the obedient ſlave, of ſuch an huſband? Is it not repugnant to all the laws of nature, that her feelings, actions, and opinions, B2 ſhould 4 B2v 4 ſhould be controuled, perverted, and debaſed, by ſuch an help-mate? Can ſhe look for protection to a being, whom ſhe was formed by the all wiſe Creator, to protect? Impoſsible, yet, if from prudence, or from pity, if for the ſecurity of worldly intereſt, or worldly happineſs, ſhe preſumes to take a lead in domeſtic arrangements, or to ſcreen her wedded ſhadow from obloquy or ruin, what is ſhe conſidered by the imperious ſex? but an uſurper of her huſband’s rights; a domeſtic tyrant; a vindictive ſhrew; a petticoat philoſopher; and a diſgrace to that race of mortals, known by the degrading appellation of the defenceleſs ſex.
The barbarity of cuſtom’s law in this enlightened country, has long been exerciſed to the prejudice of woman: The ancient Romans were more liberal, even during the reigns of this moſt atrocious tyrants: and it is to be preſumed that the intellectual powers of Britiſh women, were they properly expanded, are, at leaſt, equal to thoſe of the Roman ladies. and even 5 B3r 5 even the laws of honour have been perverted to oppreſs her. If a man receive an inſult, he is juſtified in ſeeking retribution. He may chaſitiſe, challenge, and even deſtroy his adverſary. Such a proceeding in man is termed honourable; his character is exonerated from the ſtigma which calumny attached to it; and his courage riſes in eſtimation, in proportion as it exemplifies his revenge. But were a woman to attempt ſuch an expedient, however ſtrong her ſenſe of injury, however invincible her fortitude, or important the preſervation of character, ſhe would be deemed a murdreſs. Thus, cuſtom ſays, you muſt be free from error; you muſt poſſeſs an unſullied fame: yet, if a ſlanderer, or a libertine, even by the moſt unpardonable falſhoods, deprive you of either reputation or repoſe, you have no remedy. He is received in the moſt faſtidious ſocieties, in the cabinets of nobles, at the toilettes of coquets and prudes, while you muſt bear your load of obloquy, and ſink beneath the uniting B3 efforts 6 B3r 6 efforts of calumny, ridicule, and malevolence. Indeed we have ſcarcely ſeen a ſingle inſtance where a profeſſed libertine has been either ſhunned by women, or reprobated by men, for having acted either unfeelingly or diſhonorably towards what is denominated the defenceleſs ſex. Females, by this miſ-judging lenity, while they give proofs of a degrading triumph, cheriſh for themſelves that anguiſh, which, in their turn, they will, unpitied, experience.
Man is able to bear the temptations of human exiſtence better than woman, becauſe he is more liberally educated, and more univerſally acquainted with ſociety. Yet, if he has the temerity to annihilate the bonds of moral and domeſtic life, he is acquitted; and his enormities are placed to the account of human frailty. But if woman advance beyond the boundaries of decorum, Ruin enſues, reproach, and endleſs ſhame,And one falſe ſtep, entirely damns her fame.Such 7 B4r 7
Such partial diſcriminations ſeem to violate all laws, divine and human! If woman be the weaker creature, her frailty ſhould be the more readily forgiven. She is expoſed by her perſonal attractions, to more perils, and yet ſhe is not permitted to bear that ſhield, which man aſſumes; ſhe is not allowed the exerciſe of courage to repulſe the enemies of her fame and happineſs; though, if ſhe is wounded,—she is loſt for ever!
Suppoſing that a woman has experienced every inſult, every injury, that her vain-boaſting, high-bearing aſſociate, man, can inflict: imagine her, driven from ſociety; deſerted by her kindred; ſcoffed at by the world; expoſed to poverty; aſſailed by malice; and conſigned to ſcorn: with no companion but ſorrow, no proſpect but diſgrace; ſhe has no remedy. She appeals to the feeling and reflecting part of mankind; they pity, but they do not ſeek to redreſs her: ſhe B4 flies 8 B4v 8 flies to her own ſex, they not only condemn, but they avoid her. She talks of puniſhing the villain who has deſtroyed her: he ſmiles at the menace, and tells her, ſhe is, a woman.
Let me aſk this plain and rational queſtion,—is not woman a human being, gifted with all the feelings that inhabit the boſom of man? Has not woman affections, ſuſceptibility, fortitude, and an acute ſenſe of injuries received? Does ſhe not ſhrink at the touch of perſecution? Does not her boſom melt with ſympathy, throb with pity, glow with reſentment, ache with ſenſibility, and burn with indignation? Why then is ſhe denied the exerciſe of the nobler feelings, an high conſciouſneſs of honour, a lively ſenſe of what is due to dignity of character? Why may not woman reſent and puniſh? Becauſe the long eſtabliſhed laws of cuſtom, have decreed her paſsive! Becauſe ſhe is by nature organized to feel every wrong more acutely, 9 B5r 9 acutely, and yet, by a barbarous policy, denied the power to aſſert the firſt of Nature’s rights, ſelf-preſervation.
How many vices are there that men perpetually indulge in, to which women are rarely addicted. Drinking, in man, is reckoned a proof of good fellowſhip; and the bon vivant is conſidered as the beſt and moſt deſirable of companions. Wine, as far as it is pleaſant to the ſenſe of taſting, is as agreeable to woman as to man; but its uſe to exceſs will render either brutal. Yet man yields to its influence, becauſe he is the ſtronger-minded creature; and woman reſists its power over the ſenſes, becauſe ſhe is the weaker. How will the ſuperiorly organized ſex defend this contradiction? Man will ſay his paſſions are ſtronger than thoſe of women; yet we ſee women ruſh not only to ruin, but to death, for objects they love; while men exult in an unmeaning diſplay of caprice, intrigue, and ſeduction, frequently, without even a zeſt for the vices they exhibit. 10 B5v 10 exhibit. The fact is ſimply this: the paſſions of men originate in ſenſuality; thoſe of women, in ſentiment: man loves corporeally, woman mentally: which is the nobler creature?
Gaming is termed, in the modern vocabulary, a maſculine vice. Has vice then a ſex? Till the paſsions of the mind in man and woman are ſeparate and diſtinct, till the ſex of vital animation, denominated ſoul, be aſcertained, on what pretext is woman deprived of thoſe amuſements which man is permitted to enjoy? If gaming be a vice (though every ſpecies of commerce is nearly allied to it), why not condemn it wholly? why ſuffer man to perſevere in the practice of it; and yet in woman execrate its propenſity? Man may enjoy the convivial board, indulge the caprices of his nature; he may deſert his home, violate his marriage vows, ſcoff at the moral laws that unite ſociety, and ſet even religion at defiance, by oppreſsing the defenceleſs; while woman is condemned to bear 11 B6r 11 bear the drudgery of domeſtic life, to vegetate in obſcurity, to love where ſhe abhors, to honour where ſhe diſpiſes, and to obey, while ſhe ſhudders at ſubordination. Why? Let the moſt cunning ſophiſt, anſwer me, why?
If women ſometimes, indeed too frequently, exhibit a frivolous ſpecies of character, we ſhould examine the evil in which it originates, and endeavour to find a cure. If the younger branches of ſome of our nobility are ſuperficially poliſhed, and wholly excluded from eſſential knowledge, while they are regularly initiated in the myſteries of a gaming table, and the mazes of intrigue, can we feel ſurprized at their ſoon diſcovering an aptitude to evince their hereditary follies? We know that women, like princes, are ſtrangers to the admonitions of truth; and yet we are aſtoniſhed when we behold them emulous of diſplaying every thing puerile and uneſſential; and aiming perpetually at arbitrary power, without one mental 12 B6v 12 mental qualification to authorize dominion. From ſuch women, the majority of mankind draw their opinions of ſexual imbecility; and, in order that their convenient plea may be ſanctioned by example, they continue to debilitate the female mind, for the ſole purpoſe of enforcing ſubordination.
Yet, the preſent era has give indiſputable proofs, that woman is a thinking and an enlightened being! We have ſeen a Wollſtonecraft, a Macaulay, a Sévigné; and many others, now living, who embeliſh the ſphere of literary ſplendour, with genius of the firſt order. The ariſtocracy of kingdoms will ſay, that it is abſolutely neceſſary to extort obedience: if all were maſters, who then would ſtoop to ſerve? By the ſame rule, man exclaims, If we allow the ſofter ſex to participate in the intellectual rights and privileges we enjoy, who will arrange our domeſtic drudgery? who will reign (as Stephano ſays, while we are vice-roys over them) in 13 B7r 13 in our houſehold eſtabliſhments? who will rear our progeny; obey our commands; be our affianced vaſſals; the creatures of our pleaſures? I anſwer, women, but they will not be your ſlaves; they will be your aſſociates, your equals in the extenſive ſcale of civilized ſociety; and in the indiſputable rights of nature. The Mahometans are ſaid to be of opinion that women have no ſouls! Some Britiſh huſbands would wiſh to evince that they have no senses, or at leaſt not the privilege of uſing them: for a modern wife, I mean to ſay that which is denominated a good one, ſhould neither hear, ſee, ſpeak, nor feel, if ſhe would wiſh to enjoy any tolerable portion of tranquillity.
In the common occurrences and occupations of life, what in man is denominated high-spirit, is in woman termed vindictive. If a man be inſulted and inflicts a blow upon his aſſailant, he is called a brave and noble-minded creature! If woman acts upon the ſame principle of reſiſtance, ſhe is branded as a Zantippe, though in ſuch a ſituation ſhe would ſcarcely meet with a Socrates, even if, in 14 B7v 14 in the ſcale of compariſon, ſhe poſſeſſed ſtronger corporeal, as well as mental, powers, than the object of her reſentment.
How comes it, that in this age of reaſon we do not ſee ſtateſmen and orators ſelecting women of ſuperior mental acquirements as their aſſociates? Men allow that women are abſolutely neceſſary to their happineſs, and that they had been brutes without them. But the poet did not inſinuate that none but ſilly or ignorant women were to be allowed the ſupreme honour of unbrutifying man, of rendering his life deſirable, and of ſmoothing the rugged path of care with their endearments. The ancients were emulous of patronizing, and even of cultitivating the friendſhip of enlightened women. But a Britiſh Demoſthenes, a Pythagoras, a Leontius, a Euſtathius, or a Brutus, would rather paſs his hours in dalliance with an unlettered courtezan, than in the converſation of a Theano, a Themiſte, 15 B8r 15 Themiſte, a Cornelia, a Soſipatra, or a Portia. What is this diſplay of mental ariſtocracy? what but the moſt inveterate jealouſy; the moſt pernicious and refined ſpecies of envy and malevolence?
Let me aſk the rational and thinking mortal, why the graces of feminine beauty are to be conſtituted emblems of a debilitated mind? Does the fineſt ſymmetry of form, or the moſt delicate tint of circulation, exemplify a tame ſubmiſsion to inſult or oppreſsion? Is ſtrength of intellect, in woman, beſtowed in vain? Has the supreme disposer of events given to the female ſoul a diſtinguiſhed portion of energy and feeling, that the one may remain inactive, and the other be the ſource of her deſtruction? Let the moraliſt think otherwiſe. Let the contemplative philoſopher examine the portions of human intellect; and let us hope that the immortality of the ſoul ſprings from cauſes that are not merely ſexual.2 Cicero 16 B8v 16
Cicero ſays, There was, from the beginning ſuch a thing as Reaſon; a direct emanation from nature itſelf, which prompted to good, and averted from evil. Reaſon may be conſidered as a part of ſoul: for, by its powers, we are taught intuitively to hope for a future ſtate. Cicero did not confine the attribute of Reaſon to ſex; ſuch doctrine would have been completely Mahometan!
The moſt celebrated painters have uniformly repreſented angels as of no ſex. Whether this idea originates in theology, or imagination, I will not pretend to determine; but I will boldly aſſert that there is ſomething peculiarly unjuſt in condemning woman to ſuffer every earthly inſult, while ſhe is allowed a ſex; and only permitting her to be happy, when ſhe is diveſted of it. There is alſo ſomething profane in the opinion, becauſe it implies that an all-wiſe Creator ſends a creature into the world, with a ſexual diſtinction, which 17 C1r 17 which ſhall authoriſe the very extent of mortal perſecution. If men would be completely happy by obtaining the confidence of women, let them unite in confeſsing that mental equality, which evinces itſelf by indubitable proofs that the ſoul has no ſex. If, then, the cauſe of action be the ſame, the effects cannot be diſsimilar.
In what is woman inferior to man? In ſome inſtances, but not always, in corporeal ſtrength: in activity of mind, ſhe is his equal. Then, by this rule, if ſhe is to endure oppreſsion in proportion as ſhe is deficient in muſcular power, only, through all the ſtages of animation the weaker ſhould give precedence to the ſtronger. Yet we ſhould find a Lord of the Creation with a puny frame, reluctant to confeſs the ſuperiority of a luſty peaſant girl, whom nature had endowed with that bodily ſtrength of which luxury had bereaved him.C The 18 C1v 18
The queſtion is ſimply this: Is woman perſecuted and oppreſſed becauſe ſhe is the weaker creature? Suppoſing that to be the order of Nature; let me aſk theſe human deſpots, whether a woman, of ſtrong mental and corporeal powers, is born to yield obedience, merely becauſe ſhe is a woman, to thoſe ſhadows of mankind who exhibit the effeminacy of women, united with the miſchievous foolery of monkies? I remember once, to have heard one of thoſe modern Hannibals confeſs, that he had changed his regiments three times, becauſe the regimentals were unbecoming!
If woman be the weaker creature, why is ſhe employed in laborious avocations? why compelled to endure the fatigue of houſehold drudgery; to ſcrub, to ſcower, to labour, both late and early, while the powdered lacquey only waits at the chair, or behind the carriage of his employer? Why are women, in many parts of the kingdom, permitted to follow the plough; to perform the laborious buſineſs of the 5 dairy; 19 C2r 19 dairy; to work in our manufactories; to waſh, to brew, and to bake, while men are employed in meaſuring lace and ribands; folding gauzes; compoſing artificial bouquets; fancying feathers, and mixing coſmetics for the preſervation of beauty? I have ſeen, and every inhabitant of the metropolis may, during the ſummer ſeaſon, behold ſtrong Welſh girls carrying on their heads ſtrawberries, and other fruits from the vicinity of London to Covent-Garden market, in heavy loads which they repeat three, four, and five times, daily, for a very ſmall pittance; while the male domeſticks of our nobility are revelling in luxury, to which even their lords are ſtrangers. Are women thus compelled to labour, becauſe they are of the weaker sex?
In my travels ſome years ſince through France and Germany, I often remember having ſeen ſtout girls, from the age of ſeventeen to twenty-five, employed in the moſt fatiguing and laborious avocations; C2 ſuch 20 C2v 20 ſuch as huſbandry, watering horſes, and ſweeping the public ſtreets. Were they ſo devoted to toil, becauſe they were the weaker creatures? and would not a modern petit maître have fainted beneath the powerful graſp of one of theſe ruſtic or domeſtic amazons?
Man is ſaid to poſſeſs more perſonal courage than woman. How comes it, then, that he boldly dares inſult the helpleſs ſex, whenever he finds an object unprotected? I here beg leave to preſent a true ſtory, which is related by a poliſhed and impartial traveller.――A foreign lady of great diſtinction, of a family to whom I had the honour to be well known, was appointed to be married to a young gentleman of equal rank: the ſettlements were all made, the families agreed, and the day was come for the union. The morning of the ſame day, the ceremony of the marriage being fixed for the ſame evening, the lover being young, thought- 21 C3r 21 thoughtleſs, and loſt with paſsion, when alone with the bride, inſinuated, in the ſofteſt and moſt endearing terms, that he was her huſband in every ſenſe but a few trifling words, which were to paſs that night from the mouth of the prieſt; and, that if ſhe loved him, as he preſumed ſhe did, ſhe certainly would not keep him one moment in anxiety; much leſs ten or twelve hours, which muſt be the caſe, if ſhe waited for the ceremony of the church. The lady, aſtoniſhed at what ſhe had heard, diſcovered in her looks not only the warmeſt reſentment, but reſolved in her heart to be amply revenged; and having had an excellent education, was well acquainted with the world, and no ſtranger to the artifices of deſigning men in affairs of love; after recovering a little her ſurpriſe, determined to keep her temper, and promiſed with a ſmile, obedience to her lover’s will, and begged him to name the place proper for ſuch a deſign; which, being mutually agreed on for four in the afternoon, the indiſcreet lover, raviſhed at C3 his 22 C3v 22 his expectation, met, agreeable to appointment, the lady, in a garden leading to the houſe, where they propoſed the interview. When walking together, with all ſeeming tenderneſs on both ſides, the lady, on a ſudden, ſtarted from her lover, and threw him a piſtol, holding another in her right hand, and ſpoke to him to this effect: Remember for what infamous purpoſe you invited me here: you ſhall never be a huſband of mine; and ſuch vengeance do I ſeek for the offence, that, on my very ſoul, I vow, you or I ſhall die this hour. Take inſtantly up the piſtol, I’ll give you leave to defend yourſelf; though you have no right to deſerve it. In this, you ſee, I have honour; though you have none. The lover, amazed at this unforeſeen change, took up the piſtol, in obedience to her commands, directing it towards the earth, threw himſelf at her feet, and was going to ſay a thouſand things in favour of his paſsion; the lady gave attention a few minutes, 23 C4r 23 minutes, pointing the piſtol to his breaſt; while the lover, with a voice confuſed, and every other appearance of deſpair, begged her pity and her pardon; declared his love for her was ſuch, that he was deprived of all power of reflection; that he had no views of offending; that all he ſaid was for want of thought, that his reaſon was abſent, and that her beauty was the cauſe of all.――Beauty! ſays the lady, interrupting him, Thou art a villain! I’ll hear no more, for one of us muſt die this moment.――The lover perceiving her violent anger, and finding that all his ſoft phraſes had no effect on her, in his diſtraction raiſed the piſtol then in his hand a little higher; thinking, by its appearance in that ſituation, to affect his admired lady with ſome terror, while he continued to purſue his defence; but alas! no ſooner did the angry fair perceive the piſtol of her lover raiſed breaſt high, but, that inſtant being the criſis of her reſentment, ſhe fired upon him, and ſhot him through the heart. He fell; and in falling, being C4 deprived 24 C4v 24 deprived of both ſpeech and reaſon, his piſtol went off, and the conſequence was, her collar bone was broke, and much blood followed. She clapped her handkerchief to the wound, ran to her coach, which was waiting at the garden door, ordered her ſervant to take care of the dead body, and directed ſome others to conduct her with the utmoſt expedition to her father’s houſe; to whom ſhe related the whole affair. Proper aſsiſtance was inſtantly ſent for; and I being that day at table with the phyſician of the Court, who was alſo of this family, went with him; ſaw the wound, and was well inſtructed in the particulars of this adventure. The lady was never ſo much as called to a trial for the death of her lover; becauſe all the circumſtances proved the truth of what ſhe had related: her promiſing to marry him that night, was ſo powerful an argument of her love for the deceaſed, that no other motive could have produced ſo dreadful an event. The lady was cured of her wound, threw herſelf into a convent;vent; 25 C5r 25 vent; and, from deſpair for the loſs of her lover, languiſhed a few weeks, and then followed him, as ſhe hoped, to the other world. The brother of the lover, according to the cuſtom of the country, fought the brother of the lady, and killed his antagoniſt. He flew to Spain for refuge, where I afterwards ſaw him a colonel in a regiment of that nation.
This ſhort ſtory will prove that the mind of woman, when ſhe feels a correct ſenſe of honour, even though it is blended with the very exceſs of ſenſibility, can riſe to the moſt intrepid defence of it. Yet had ſuch a circumſtance taken place in Britain, the perpetrator of this heroic act of indignant and inſulted virtue, would probably have ſuffered an ignominous death, or been ſhut up during the remainder of her days as a confirmed maniac; The fate of Miſs Broderick is ſtill recent in the memory of thoſe who either condemned her raſhneſs, or commiſerated her misfortunes. for here woman is placed in the 26 C5v 26 the very front of peril, without being allowed the means of ſelf-preſervation, and that very reſistance which would ſecure her from diſhonour, would ſtigmatize her in the world’s opinion.
What then is woman to do? Where is ſhe to hope for juſtice? Man who profeſſes himſelf her champion, her protector, is the moſt ſubtle and unrelenting enemy ſhe has to encounter: yet, if ſhe determines on a life of celibacy and ſecludes herſelf wholly from his ſociety, ſhe becomes an object of univerſal ridicule.
It has lately been the faſhion of the time, to laugh at the encreaſing conſequence of women, in the great ſcale of human intellect. Why? Becauſe, by their ſuperior luſtre, the overweening and oſtentatious ſplendour of ſome men, is placed in a more obſcure point of view. The women of France have been by ſome popular, though evidently prejudiced writers, denominated little better than ſhedevils!devils! 27 C6r 27 devils! And yet we have ſcarcely heard of one inſtance, excepting in the perſon of the vain and trifling Madame Du Barry, in which the females of that country have not diſplayed almoſt a Spartan fortitude even at the moment when they aſcended the ſcaffold. If there are political ſceptics, who affect to place the genuine ſtrength of ſoul to a bold but deſperate temerity, rather than to a ſublime effort of heroiſm, let them contemplate the laſt moments of Marie Antoinette; this extraordinary woman, whoſe days had paſſed in luxurious ſplendour; whoſe will had been little leſs than law! Behold her hurled from the moſt towering altitude of power and vanity; inſulted, mocked, derided, ſtigmatized, yet unappalled even at the inſtant when ſhe was compelled to endure an ignominious death! Let the ſtrength of her mind, the intrepidity of her ſoul, put to ſhame the vaunted ſuperiority of man; and at the ſame time place the female character in a point of view, at once favourable to nature,ture, 28 C6v 28 ture, and worthy of example. France has, amidſt its recent tumultuous ſcenes, exhibited women whoſe names will be the glory of poſterity. Women who have not only faced the very front of war, The DemoiſellesFernig, who followed, and ſhared the perils of Dumourier’s army. but thereby ſustained the heroic energies of their countrymen, by the force of example and the effect of emulation. Even the raſh enthuſiaſt, Corday, whoſe poniard annihilated the moſt ſanguinary and atrocious monſter that ever diſgraced humanity, claimed our pity, (even while religion and nature ſhuddered), as ſhe aſcended the fatal ſcaffold, to expiate the deed ſhe had accompliſhed.
Let us take a brief retroſpect of events in Britiſh hiſtory, and let the liberal mind dwell with rapture on the heroic affection evinced by the illuſtrious Eleonora, conſort of Edward the Firſt. Tradition may then point out the learned Elizabeth, 29 C7r 29 Elizabeth, (with all her ſexual failings) and then judge whether England ever boaſted a more wiſe or more fortunate ſovereign: one, more revered in council; more obeyed in power; or more ſucceſsful in enterprize. And yet Elizabeth was but a woman! A woman with all her ſex’s frailties. An hiſtorical writer in his account of Ruſſia, ſpeaking of the Czarina Elizabeth, ſays her reign was moſt uncommonly glorious. She aboliſhed all capital puniſhments, and introduced a ſpecies of lenity in the operations of government, before unknown in Ruſſia.
The glories of a part of the reign of Anne, riſe thick as the beauties of a conſtellation; this, the plain of Blenheim, and the field of Ramilies can witneſs.
It may not be amiſs, for the advantage of my unlettered readers, here to introduce an extract from the learned Vossius, in his treatiſe de philologia, concerning illuſtrious women who had excelled in polite 30 C7v 30 polite literature. It conſiſts chiefly of ſuch female names as he had not before celebrated, among his poets and hiſtorians: and the liſt might have been very much enlarged, ſince the time that Voſsius wrote. About a century and half ago.
It is wrong, ſays this learned and liberal author, to deny that the fair ſex are capable of literature; all the old philoſophers thought better of them. It was reſerved for modern Engliſhmen to queſtion their capability. Pythagoras inſtructed not men only, but women; and among them Theano, whom Laertius makes to be his wife, and St. Clement calls the firſt of women; declaring that ſhe both philoſophized and wrote poems. The Stoics, Epicureans, and even the Academicks, delivered their leſſons freely to both ſexes, and all conditions. Themiſte, the wife of Leontius, to whom there is extant, an epiſtle of Epicurus, 31 C8r 31 Epicurus, was a diſciple of this philoſopher.Atoſſa queen of Perſia, is ſaid to be the firſt who taught the art of writing epiſtles. In the time of Alexander the Great, flouriſhed Hipparchia, the ſiſter of Metroples the Cynic, and wife of Crates. She wrote of philoſophical arguments, eſſays and queſtions to Theodorus, ſurnamed the Deiſt. Pamphila, the Egyptian, who lived in the time of Nero, wrote eight books of Hiſtorical Miſcellanies. Agallis, of Corcyra, is celebrated for her ſkill in grammar. She aſcribes the invention of the play at ball, to her countrywoman Nauſicaa; who is the only one, of all his heroines, which Homer introduces at this diverſion. Quintilian, 32 C8v 32 Quintilian, celebrated three Roman women, in words to this effect. Cornelia the mother of the Gracchi, contributed much to the eloquence of her ſons; and her learned ſtile is handed down to poſterity in her letters. The daughter of Laelius expreſſed in her converſation the eloquence of her father. There is an oration of the daughter of Quintus Hortenſius, delivered before Triumvirs, which will ever be read to the honour of her ſex. Quintilian has omitted the learned wife of Varus, and Corniſicia the poeteſs, who left behind her moſt exquiſite epigrams. This woman, who flouriſhed in the reign of Octavius Caeſar, uſed to ſay that learning alone was free, as being entirely out of the reach of fortune. Corniſicia, happily, did not live in Britain, where learning, and even moderate mental expanſion, are not thought neceſſary to female education; at leaſt in the eighteenth century! Catherine of Alexandria was a learned woman; 33 D1r 33 woman; ſhe is ſaid to have diſputed with fifty philoſophers, at the age of eighteeen, and ſo far to have overcome them by the ſubtlety of her diſcourſe, as to have converted them to the chriſtian religion. Who was more learned than Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, by religion a Jew? We have the teſtimony of her conqueror himſelf, the emperor Aurelian, to her character in his letters to the Roman ſenate. Trebellius Pollio ſays, ſhe ſpoke Egyptian, read Latin into Greek, and wrote an abridgement both of Alexandrine and Oriental hiſtory. Her maſter, in the Greek, was Dionyſius Longinus, who was called a living library, and a walking muſeum. Sosipatra, wife of the famous Euſtathius remembered all the fineſt paſſages, of all the poets, philoſophers, and orators; and had an almoſt inimitable talent of explaining them. Though her huſbandD band 34 D1v 34 band was a man of high celebrity in learning, yet ſhe ſo far out-shone him, as to obſcure his glory; The fear that emulation may, in ſome inſtances, produce ſuperiority, probably occaſions that illiberal neglect of female genius, and that perſerverance in affording Britiſh women the contracted and trivial educations which ſtigmatize the preſent era. Yet were the youth of the eighteenth century committed to the care of ſome living females, both manners and morals would greatly be benefited. and after his death ſhe took upon her the education of youth. What ſhall we ſay of Euſtochium, daughter of Paulla the Roman, who was learned in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; and moſt aſsiduous in the ſtudy of the ſacred ſcriptures? St. Jerom ſpeaks many things in her praiſe; there are epiſtles of the ſame father, extant, to ſeveral illuſtrious women, as Paulla, Læta, Fabrilla, Marcella, Furia, Demetrias Salvia and Gerontia. Why ſhould we mention others to whom we have letters extant of Ambroſebroſe, 35 D2r 35 broſe, Auguſtin, and Fulgentius? The compliments of the fathers are teſtimonies of their learning. Men of modern education ſuppoſe that women are only worthy of receiving billet doux, becauſe the extent of their own literary acquirements is that of writing them. And it is to be lamented, that our claſſical ſcholars, and men of extenſive obſervation, ſcarcely condeſcend to acknowledge that there can be ſuch a thing as a woman of genius. Hypatia was the daughter of that Theon of Alexandria, whoſe writings now remain. She was a vaſt proficient in aſtronomy. This woman was murdered, through religious frenzy, by the Alexandrine mob; becauſe ſhe made frequent viſits to Oreſtes, the philoſopher. At the ſame time flouriſhed Eudocia, whoſe name before was Athenais, daughter of Leontius the philoſopher, and wife of the emperor Theodoſius the younger. She was deep read both in Greek and Latin D2 learning; 36 D2v 36 learning; ſkilled in poetry, mathematics, and all the philoſophical ſciences. About 0500the year of Chriſt, 500, Amalaſuenta, the daughter of Theodoric king of the Goths, and wife of Eutharic who was made conſul by the emperor Juſtin, was celebrated both for her learning and her wiſdom. Princes are ſaid to come and adviſe with her, and admire her underſtanding . If the great men of the preſent day paid more attention to the genius and good ſenſe of ſome Britiſh women, they would be conſiderable gainers by the experiment. She took upon her the adminiſtration of affairs, in the name of her ſon, Athalaric, who was left king, at eight years of age; and whom ſhe inſtructed in all the polite learning before unknown to the Goths. Query. Might not the ſociety of ſome living Engliſh women, if properly appreciated, tend to the reformation of certain gothic eccentricities; as well as, by compariſon, produce more maſculine energies? Men Men would be ſhamed out of their effeminate foibles, when they beheld the maſculine virtues dignifying the mind of woman. Helpis 37 D3r 37 Helpis, the learned wife of the learned Boethius flouriſhed in 0530530. She left behind her hymns to the apoſtles. Bandonia, the ſcholar of St. Radegundis, wrote the life of her holy miſtreſs. She died in 0530530. About 0650650 lived Hilda, an English abbeſs, celebrated by Pits among Engliſh writers, and Bede in his eccleſiaſtical hiſtory. She was daughter of Hereric, prince of Deira, and aunt of Aldulph, king of the Eaſt Saxons. This was at a period when Engliſh women, (excepting thoſe devoted to celibacy), were rarely taught either to read or write. It cannot be therefore a matter of ſurprize, that their minds were enervated by monkiſh ſuperſtition; the origin of thoſe idle tales reſpecting ghoſts, witches, &c. About 0770770 Rictrude, a noble virgin, D3 made 38 D3v 38 made great proficiency in literature under her maſter Alcuin; after whoſe departure out of England, ſhe ſhut herſelf up to her ſtudies in the monaſtery of Saint Bennet at Canterbury, where ſhe produced many writings. About two centuries lower down, under the emperors Otho I. and II. lived the nun Rhoſoitar, ſkilled both in the Latin and Greek languages. She wrote a panegyrick upon the deeds of the Othos; ſix comedies, the praiſes of the Bleſſed Virgin, and St. Dennis in elegiac verſe, with other works. In 1140the year of Chriſt 1140, flouriſhed Anna Comnena, daughter of Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Conſtantinople. This woman, in the fifteen books of her Alexiad, which ſhe wrote upon the deeds of her father, diſplayed equally her eloquence and her learning. St. 39 D4r 39 St. Hildegard of Mentz, was famous about eight years after, and at the ſame time flouriſhed St. Elizabeth of Schonua, ſister of king Ecbert. The monkiſh writers celebrate them for their viſions, which received the ſanction of pope Eugenius III. But we mention them for their hiſtorical, didactical and epiſtolary writings, a collection of which has been publiſhed. St. Catherine Seneſis alſo wrote epiſtles, and various treatiſes in the dialogue manner, which are now extant, as well as her life, written by Raimund her confeſſor, a Dominican friar. Whatever was the ſanctity of theſe women, of their learning we have certain monuments. In the year 14841484, under Charles VIII. king of France, flouriſhed Gabriele de Bourbon, princeſs Trimouille. Catalogues of her various writings are preſerved in French authors. About three years after, Caſſandra Fidele, a Venetian girl, acquired great applauſe, by an excellent D4 oration 40 D4v 40 oration delivered publicly, in the univerſities of Padua, A Caſſandra in the univerſities of England, at the preſent period, would be conſidered as one of thoſe literary bugbears, a female philſopher, and would conſequently be treated with ridicule and contempt. in behalf of Betruri Lamberti, her relation. She won the supreme crown in Philosophy! This oration was afterwards printed at Modena. Alike for her own learning, and her patronage of the learned, Margaret of Valois queen of Navarre, merited of mankind. Joan, the daughter of this princeſs, had by Anthony of Bourbon, Henry the Fourth, king of France, founder of the family now reigning. Bologna boaſts ſeveral learned women; among which were Joanna Blanchetta, and Novella Andrea, and the learned Catherina Landa, we read of in Bambo’s epiſtles. What 41 D5r 41 What ſhall we ſay of Joanna married to Philip archduke of Auſtria, duke of Burgundy, and, by his wife, king of Spain. She anſwered extempore, in Latin, the orations made to her through the ſeveral towns and cities, after her acceſsion . Our Engliſh ſovereign Elizabeth, gave ſimilar proofs of learning on ſeveral occaſions. Sir Thomas More, chancellor of England, had three daughters, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Cæcilia; of whom their father took care that they were not only very chaſte but very learned. Becauſe he rightly judged that their chaſtity would be, by this means, the more ſecure . Read this, ye Engliſh fathers and huſbands, and retract your erroneus opinions, reſpecting female education. The learning of Fulvia Olympia Morata, daughter of Perigrine Moratus, is evident from writings ſhe has left: and that 42 D5v 42 that Hippolita Taurellas was equal, appears from her writings, collected together with thoſe of Morata. It is needleſs, in England, to quote Queen Elizabeth, or the lady Jane Grey, as eminent inſtances of the kind; becauſe our hiſtorians are full of their praiſes upon the ſubject.
Voſsius mentions farther only Anne Schurman, a noble woman, whoſe Latin poetry recommends her to this day. He thinks, that if this catalogue were added to thoſe he had given ſeparately, of the female poets and historians, ſufficient examples would appear in behalf of women, that they were equally capable of fine literature with the other ſex.
We might add to theſe, ſays another author the two Le Fevres, among the French: one of them married to Monſieur Dacier; and the other to the famous Le Clerc: and among ourſelves, Mrs. Catherinerine 43 D6r 43 rine Philips, Mrs. Cenlivre, Mrs. Behn, and Mrs. Elizabeth Singer, (afterwards Mrs. Rowe), as in no degree, according to their ſeveral walks of literature, inferior to any that have been mentioned.
The name of the Grecian poeteſs, Sappho, is probably known to almoſt every reader. Some anecdotes of this celebrated woman, who lived near -0600600 years before Chriſt, may be found in the Abbé Barthelimi’s Travels of Anacharſis the Younger: and in the account of this poeteſs, preceding Mrs. Robinſon’s legitimate ſonnets.
Since the beginning of the preſent century, we have ſeen many examples, not only of natural genius, but of enthuſiaſtic reſolution, even in unlearned women; prompted by the pureſt and moſt feminine paſsion of the human ſoul. A memorable inſtance of genuine and invincible attachment appeared in the conduct of the miſguided and unfortunate Sophia Pringle: and though juſtice con- condemened her crime, pity will never refuſe a ſigh to the memory of her heroic affection. We have known 44 D6v 44 known women deſert their peaceful homes, the indolence of obſcure retirement, and the indulgence of feminine amuſements, to brave the very heat of battle, ſtand to their gun, amidſt the ſmoak and din of a naval engagement; Hannah Snell, and ſeveral others, equally brave and romantic. conceal the anguiſh of their wounds; and, from the very heroiſm of love, repeatedly hazard their exiſtence. How few men have we ſeen ſo nobly uniting the ſofteſt paſsion of the ſoul, with the enthuſiaſm of valour. When man expoſes his perſon in the front of battle, he is actuated either by intereſt or ambition: woman, with neither to impel her, has braved the cannons thunder; ſtood firmly glorious amidſt the din of deſolation; begrimed and footed in the ſmoak of war Shakeſpeare. and yet ſhe is, by the undiſcriminating or prejudiceddiced 45 D7r 45 diced part of mankind, denominated the weaker creature.
As another ſtriking example of female excellence, of invincible reſolution, of attachment, marking a ſublimity of character which will put to ſhame thoſe puerile cavillers who attempt to depreciate the mental ſtrength of woman, even where it is blended with the moſt exquiſite ſenſibility, I tranſcribe the following events, in the words of a brave and liberal Britiſh officer; whoſe feelings and manners, enlightened by philanthropy and poliſhed by learning, will be long remembered with regret and admiration. The late General Burgoyne.Lady Harriet Ackland had accompanied her huſband to Canada, in the beginning of the year 17761776. In the courſe of the campaign, ſhe traverſed a vaſt ſpace of country, in different extremities of ſeaſon, and with difficulties that an European traveller 46 D7v 46 traveller will not eaſily conceive, to attend in a poor hut at Chamblee upon his ſick bed. In the opening of the campaign of 17771777, ſhe was reſtrained from offering herſelf to a ſhare of the fatigue and hazard expected before Ticonderago, by the poſitive injunctions of her huſband. The day after the conqueſt of that place, he was badly wounded, and ſhe croſſed the Lake Champlain to join him. As ſoon as he recovered, Lady Harriet proceeded to follow his fortunes through the campaign; and at Fort Edward, or at the next camp, ſhe acquired a twowheeled tumbrel, which had been conſtructed by the artificers of artillery, ſomething ſimilar to the carriage uſed for the mail in the great roads of England. Major Ackland commanded the Britiſh grenadiers which were attached to Frazer’s corps; and conſequently were always the moſt advanced poſt of the army; their ſituationstuations 47 D8r 47 tuations were often ſo alert, that no perſon ſlept out of their clothes. In one of theſe ſituations, a tent, in which the Major and Lady Harriet were aſleep, ſuddenly took fire. An orderly ſerjeant of grenadiers, with great hazard of ſuffocation, dragged out the firſt perſon he caught hold of; it proved the Major. It happened in the ſame inſtant, that Lady Harriet had, unknowing what ſhe did, and perhaps not perfectly awake, providentially made her eſcape, by creeping under the walls of the back part of the tent. The firſt object ſhe ſaw, on the recovery of her ſenſes, was the Major, on the other ſide; and, in the ſame inſtant, again in the fire, in ſearch of her. The ſerjeant again ſaved him; but not without the Major being very ſeverely burned in the face, and different parts of the body: every thing they had with them in the tent was conſumed. This 2 48 D8v 48 This accident happened a little before the army paſſed Hudſon’s river. It neither altered the resolution nor the chearfulneſs of Lady Harriet; and ſhe continued her progreſs, a partaker of the fatigues of the advanced corps. The next call upon her fortitude was of a different nature; and more diſtreſsing, as of longer ſuſpenſe. On the march of the 1777-09-1919th of September, the grenadiers being liable to action every ſtep, ſhe had been directed by the Major to follow the route of the artillery and baggage, which was not expoſed. At the time the action began, ſhe found herſelf near a ſmall uninhabited hut, where ſhe alighted. When it was found that the action was becoming general and bloody, the ſurgeons of the hoſpital took poſſeſsion of the ſame place, as the moſt convenient for the care of the wounded. Thus was this lady, in hearing of one continued fire of 49 E1r 49 of cannon and muſketry for four hours together, with the preſumption, from the poſt of her huſband at the head of the grenadiers, that he was in the moſt expoſed part of the action. She had three female companions; the Baroneſs of Reideſel, and the wives of two Britiſh officers, Major Harnage, and Lieutenant Reynell: but in the event, their preſence ſerved but little for comfort. Major Harnage was ſoon brought to the ſurgeons, very badly wounded; and a little after came intelligence, that Lieutenant Reynell was ſhot, dead. Imagination will want no help to figure the ſtate of the whole group. From the date of that action, to the 1777-10-077th of October, Lady Harriet, with her uſual ſerenity, ſtood prepared for new trials! And it was her lot, that their ſeverity increaſed with their numbers. She was again expoſed to the hearing of the whole action; and at laſt recieved the ſhock of her individual misfortune, mixed E with 50 E1v 50 with the intelligence of the general calamity, that the troops were defeated, and that Major Ackland, deſperately wounded, was a priſoner. The day of 1777-10-08the 8th was paſſed by Lady Harriet and her companions in inexpreſsible anxiety: not a tent, not a ſhed was ſtanding, except what belonged to the hoſpital: their refuge was among the wounded and the dying. The night of 1777-10-08the 8th the army retreated; and at day-break on 1777-10-09the 9th, reached very advantageous ground. A halt was neceſſary to refreſh the troops, and to give time to the batteaux loaded with proviſions, to come a-breaſt. When the army was upon the point of moving after the halt, I received a meſſage from Lady Harriet, ſubmitting to my deciſion a propoſal of paſsing to the camp of the enemy, and requeſting General Gate’s permiſsion to attend her huſband! Lady Harriet expreſſed an earneſt ſolicitude2 tude 51 E2r 51 tude to execute her intentions, if not interfering with my deſigns. Though I was ready to believe, for I had experienced, that patience and fortitude, in a ſupreme degree, were to be found, as well as every other virtue, under the moſt tender forms, I was aſtoniſhed at the propoſal, after ſo long an agitation of ſpirits; exhauſted not only for want of reſt, but abſolutely for want of food; drenched by rains for twelve hours together; that a woman ſhould be capable of ſuch an undertaking as delivering herſelf to the enemy, probably in the night, and uncertain of what hands ſhe might fall into, appeared an effort, above human nature! The aſsiſtance I was enabled to give, was ſmall indeed. I had not even a cup of wine to offer her; but I was told ſhe had found, from ſome kind and fortunate hand, a little rum and dirty water. All I could furniſh to her was an open boat, and a few lines, written upon dirty and wet E2 paper, 52 E2v 52 paper, to General Gates, recommending her to his protection. Mr. Brudenell, the chaplain to the artillery, the ſame gentleman that had officiated ſo ſignally at General Frazer’s funeral, readily undertook to accompany her; and with one female ſervant and the Major’s valet de chambre, who had a ball, which he had received in the late action, then in his ſhoulder, ſhe moved down the river, to meet the enemy! But her diſtreſſes were not yet at an end. The night was advanced before the boat reached the enemy’s outpoſts; and the centinel would not let it paſs, nor even come on ſhore. In vain Mr. Brudenell offered the flag of truce; and repreſented the ſtate of the extraordinary paſſenger. The guard, apprehenſive of treachery, and punctilious to his orders, threatened to fire into the boat, if ſhe ſtirred before day-light. Her anxiety and ſuffering were thus protracted through ſeven 53 E3r 53 ſeven or eight dark and cold hours, and her reflections upon that firſt reception could not give her very encouraging ideas of the treatment ſhe was afterwards to expect. But it is due to juſtice, at the cloſe of this adventure, to ſay, that ſhe was received and accomodated by General Gates with all the humanity and reſpect that her rank, her merits, and her fortunes deſerved. The writer of this letter once knew General Gates, and believes him capable of every thing liberal and humane, which General Burgoyne’s ſtatement attributes to his character. Let ſuch as are affected by theſe circumſtances of alarm, hardſhip, and danger, recollect, that the ſubject of them was a woman! of the moſt tender and delicate frame; of the gentleſt manners; habituated to all the ſoft elegancies and refined enjoyments that attend high birth and fortune; and far advanced in a ſtate in which the tender cares, always due to the ſex, become indiſpenſably neceſſary. E3 Her 54 E3v 54 Her mind, alone, was formed for ſuch trials. The enlightened and liberal writer of this pathetic ſtory, confeſſes, that the ſubject of it was not maſculinely educated. Yet ſhe diſplayed the glorious energy of Roman conſtancy, mingled with affectations the moſt pure, and ſentiments the moſt exalted! An Arria or a Portia could have done no more.
The moſt argumentative theoriſts cannot pretend to eſtimate mental by corporeal powers. If ſtrength or weakneſs are not allowed to originate in the faculty of thought, Charles Fox, or William Pitt, labouring under the debilitating ravages of a fever, is a weaker animal than the thrice-eſſenced poppinjay, who mounts his feathered helmet, when he ſhould be learning his Greek alphabet. If ſtrength of body is to take the lead of ſtrength of mind, the pugiliſt is greater than the moſt experienced patriot; the uncultivated plough-boy ſurpaſſes the man of letters; and the felicity of kingdoms would be as ſafe in the hands of a ſavage Patagonian ruler, as under the wiſer 55 E4r 55 ſtronger faculties of the moſt accompliſhed Stateſman. By this rule, monarchs ſhould ſelect their cabinets by the ſtandard of meaſurement; and while the firſt miniſter could ſay with Sir Andrew Ague-cheek, I am as tall a man as any in Illyria, he may laugh to ſcorn the moſt gigantic talents.
This queſtion does not admit of argument; it is ſelf-evident. And yet, though it be readily allowed that the primary requiſites for the ruling powers of man, are ſtrong mental faculties; woman is to be denied the exerciſe of that intuitive privilege, and to remain inactive, as though ſhe were the leaſt enlightened of rational and thinking beings. What firſt eſtabliſhed, and then ratified this oppreſsive, this inhuman law? The tyranny of man; who ſaw the neceſsity of ſubjugating a being, whoſe natural gifts were equal, if not ſuperior to his own. Let theſe mental deſpots recollect, that education cannot unſex a woman; that tenderneſs of ſoul, and a love of ſocial intercourſe, will ſtill E4 be 56 E4v 56 be her’s; even though ſhe become a rational friend, and an intellectual companion. She will not, by education, be leſs tenacious of an huſband’s honour; though ſhe may be rendered more capable of defending her own.
A man would be greatly ſhocked, as well as offended, were he told that his ſon was an idiot; and yet he would care but little, if every action proved that his wife were one. Tell a modern huſband that his ſon has a ſtrong underſtanding, and he will feel gratified. Say that his wife has a maſculine mind, and he will feel the information as rather humbling than pleaſing to his ſelf-love. There are but three claſſes of women deſirable aſſociates in the eyes of men: handſome women; licentious women; and good ſort of women.— The firſt for his vanity; the ſecond for his amuſement; and the laſt for the arrangement of his domeſtic drudgery. A thinking woman does not entertain him; a learned woman does not flatter his ſelflove, by confeſsing inferiority; and a womanman 57 E5r 57 man of real genius, eclipſes him by her brilliancy.
Not many centuries paſt, the uſe of books was wholly unknown to the commonality of females; and ſcarcely any but ſuperior nuns, then denominated learned women could either read or write. Wives were then conſidered as houſehold idols, created for the labour of domeſtic life, and born to yield obedience. To brew, to bake, and to ſpin, were then deemed indiſpenſably neceſſary qualifications: but to think, to acquire knowledge, or to interfere either in theological or political opinions, would have been the very climax of preſumption! Hence aroſe the evils of bigotry and religious impoſition. The reign of credulity, reſpecting ſupernatural warnings and appearances, was then in its full vigour. The idle tales of ghoſts and goblins, and the no leſs degrading and inhuman perſecutions of age and infirmity, under the idea of witchcraft, were not only countenanced, but daily put in practice.tice. 58 E5v 58 tice. We do not read in hiſtory of any act of cruelty practiſed towards a male bewitcher; though we have authentic records to prove, that many a weak and defenceleſs woman has been tortured, and even murdered by a people profeſsing Chriſtianity, merely becauſe a pampered prieſt, or a ſuperſtitious idiot, ſanctioned ſuch oppreſsion. The witcheries of mankind will ever be tolerated, though the frenzy of fanaticiſm and the blindneſs of bigotry ſink into oblivion.
In or about the year 17591759, were publiſhed ſome excellent lines, from the pen of a Britiſh woman, I believe Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the ſame woman, whoſe name ſhould be immortalized, for having firſt introduced to Europe the bleſsing of inoculation. addreſſed to Mr. Pope, whoſe cynical aſperity towards the enlightened ſex was not one of his leaſt imperfections. I ſhall only give an extract:In 59 E6r 59 In education all the difference lies, Women, if taught, would be as brave, as wiſe, As haughty man, improv’d by arts and rules; Where God makes one, neglect makes twenty fools, Can women, left to weaker women’s care, Miſled by custom, Folly’s fruitful heir, Told that their charms a monarch may enſlave, That beauty, like the gods, can kill and ſave; And taught the wily and myſterious arts, By ambuſh’d dreſs, to catch unwary hearts; If wealthy born, taught to liſp French, and dance, Their morals left, Lucretius like, to chance; Strangers to Reaſon and Reflection made; Left to their paſſions, and by them betray’d; Untaught the noble end of glorious Truth, Bred to deceive, e’en from their earlieſt youth; Unus’d to books, nor Virtue taught to prize, Whoſe mind, a ſavage waſte, all deſart lies; Can theſe, with aught but trifles, fill the void, Still idly buſy, to no end employ’d: Can theſe, from ſuch a ſchool, with virtue glow, Or tempting vice, treat like a dang’rous foe? Can theſe reſist when ſoothing Pleaſure woos, Preſerve their virtue, when their fame they loſe? Can theſe, on other themes, converſe or write, Than what they hear all day, and dream all night? Not 60 E6v 60 Not ſo the Roman female fame was ſpread, Not ſo was Clelia or Lucretia bred! Not ſo ſuch heroines true glory ſought, Not ſo was Portia or Cornelia taught. Portia, the glory of the female race; Portia, more lovely in her mind than face; Early inform’d by Truth’s unerring beam, What to reject, what juſtly to eſteem. Taught by Philoſophy, all moral good; How to repel, in youth, th’ impetuous blood: How ev’ry darling paſsion to ſubdue; And Fame, through Reaſon’s avenues, purſue. Of Cato born; to noble Brutus join’d; Supreme in beauty, with a roman mind!
The women, the Sévignés, the Daciers, the Rolands, and the Genlis’s of France, were the firſt, of modern times, to ſhake off the yoke of ſexual tyranny. The widow of Scarron, (afterwards Madame de Maintenon,) was an ornament to her ſex, till ſhe became the dupe of a profligate monarch, and the inſtrument of bigot perſecution. The freezing reſtraint which cuſtom placed on the manners of other nations, 61 E7r 61 nations, and which is as far removed from true delicacy as the earth is from the heavens, in France, threw no chilling impediment on the progreſs of intellect. Men ſoon found by experience, that ſociety was embelliſhed, converſation enlivened, and emulation excited, by an intercourſe of ideas. The younger branches of male nobility in France, were given to the care of female preceptors; and the riſing generations of women, by habit, were conſidered as the rational aſſociates of man. Both reaſon and ſociety benefited by the change; for though the monaſteries had leſs living victims, though monks had fewer proſelytes, the republic of letters had more ornaments of genius and imagination.
Women ſoon became the idols of a poliſhed people. They were admitted into the councils of ſtateſman, the cabinets of princes. The influence they obtained contributed greatly towards that urbanity of manners which marked the reign 62 E7v 62 reign of Louis the Sixteenth. The tyrants of France, at the toilettes of enlightened women, were taught to ſhudder at the horrors of a Baſtille: which was never more crowded with victims, than when bigotry and prieſtcraft were in their moſt exulting zenith. I will not attempt to philoſophize how far the influence of reaſon actuated on more recent events. That hypotheſis can only be defined by poſterity.
It is an indiſputable fact that a woman, (excepting in ſome caſes of ſuppoſed witchcraft) if thrown into the water, has, as Falſtaffe ſays, a ſtrange alacrity at ſinking. And yet a woman muſt not be taught to ſwim; it is not feminine! though it is perfectly maſculine to let a woman drown merely becauſe ſhe is a woman, and denied the knowledge of preſerving her exiſtence. In this art the ſavages of Oreehoua and Tahoora are initiated from their infancy; the females of thoſe iſlands are early taught the neceſſaryceſſary 63 E8r 63 ceſſary faculty of ſelf-defence. They are familiarized to the limpid element at ſo early a period that a child of four years old, dropped into the ſea, not only betrays no ſymptoms of fear, but ſeems to enjoy its ſituation. The women conſider ſwimming as one of their favourite diverſions; in which they amuſe themſelves when the impetuoſity of the dreadful ſurf that breaks upon their coaſt, is encreaſed to its utmoſt fury, in a manner equally perilous and extraordinary. And yet theſe courageous females are denominated of the weaker ſex.
A celebrated geographer Salmon remarks, that the beſt teſt of civilization, is the reſpect that is ſhewn to women.
The little regard ſhewn to the talents of women in this country, ſtrongly characterizes the manners of the people. The Areopagites, once put a boy to death for 64 E8v 64 for putting out the eyes of a bird: and they argued thus, ſays an elegant writer, il ne s’agit point lá d’une condamnation pour crime, mais d’un jugement de moeurs, dans une republique fondée ſur les moeurs.
Heaven forbid that the criterion of this national and neceſſary good, ſhould be drawn from the conduct of mankind towards Britiſh women. There is no country, at this epocha, on the habitable globe, which can produce ſo many exalted and illuſtrious women (I mean mentally) as England. And yet we ſee many of them living in obſcurity; known only by their writings; neither at the tables of women of rank; nor in the ſtudies of men of genius; we hear of no national honours, no public marks of popular applauſe, no rank, no title, no liberal and ſplendid recompenſe beſtowed on Britiſh literary women! They muſt fly to foreign countries for celebrity, where talents are admitted to be of no sex, where genius, whether it be concealed beneath the 65 F1r 65 the form of a Grecian Venus, Lady Hamilton, and Helen Maria Williams, are exiſting proofs, that an Engliſh woman, like a prophet, is never valued in her own country. In Britain they were neglected, and ſcarcely known; on the continent, they have been nearly idolized! or that of a Farneſe Hercules, is ſtill honoured as genius, one of the beſt and nobleſt gifts of the creator.
Here, the arts and the ſciences have exhibited their accompliſhed female votaries. We have ſeen the graces of poetry, painting, and ſculpture, riſing to unperiſhable fame from the pen, the pencil, and the chiſſel of our women. Hiſtory has lent her claſsic lore to adorn the annals of female literature; while the manners of the age have been refined and poliſhed by the wit, and fancy of dramatic writers. I remember hearing a man of education, an orator, a legiſlator, and a ſuperficial admirier of the perſecuted ſex, declare, that the greateſt plague which F ſociety 66 F1v 66 ſociety would meet with, was a literary woman!
I agree that, according to the long eſtabliſhed rule of cuſtom, domeſtic occupations, ſuch as houſehold management, the education of children, the exerciſe of rational affection, ſhould devolve on woman. But let the partner of her cares conſider her zeal as the effect of reaſon, temporizing ſenſibility, and prompting the exertions of mutual intereſt; not as the conſtrained obſequiouſneſs of inferior organization. Let man confeſs that a wife, (I do not mean an idiot), is a thinking and a diſcriminating helpmate; not a bondſwoman, whom cuſtom ſubjects to his power, and ſubdues to his convenience. A wife is bound, by the laws of nature and religion, to participate in all the various viciſsitudes of fortune, which her huſband may, through life, be compelled to experience. She is to combat all the ſtorms of an adverſe deſtiny; to ſhare the ſorrows of adverſity, impriſonment, ſickneſs,neſs, 67 F2r 67 neſs, and diſgrace. She is obliged to labour for their mutual ſupport, to watch in the chamber of contagious diſeaſe; to endure patiently, the peeviſh inquietude of a weary ſpirit; to bear, with tacit reſignation, reproach, neglect, and ſcorn; or, by reſiſting, to be ſtigmatized as a violator of domeſtic peace, and enemy to decorum, an undutiful wife, and an unworthy member of ſociety. Hapleſs woman! Why is ſhe condemned to bear this load of perſecution, this Herculean mental toil, this labour of Syſsiphus; this more than Ixion’s ſufferings, as fabled by heathen mythologiſts? Becauſe ſhe is of the weaker ſex!
Tradition tells us that the Laura of Petrarch, whoſe name was immortalized by the Genius of her lover during twenty years of unabating fondneſs, could neither read nor write! Petrarch was a poet and a ſcholar; I will not ſo far ſtigmatize his memory, as to attribute his exceſsive idolatry to the intellectual obſcurity of his F2 idol. 68 F2v 68 idol. Yet from the conduct of ſome learned modern philoſophers, (in every thing but love), the ſpirit of cynical obſervation might trace ſomething like jealouſy and envy, or a dread of rivalry in mental acquirements. We have ſeen living huſbands, as well as lovers, who will agree with the author of ſome whimſical ſtanzas, printed in the year 17391739, of which I remember the following lines,Now all philoſophers agree, That women ſhould not learned be: Should modern preceptors object to the claſſics through fear that the minds of Engliſh women would be corrupted by the writings of an Ovid, a Martial, or a Tibullus: let them recollect, that there lived alſo a Virgil, a Terence, a Lucan, and a Propertius. They ſhould alſo remember that their native language preſent the works of Wycherly, Vanbrugg, Prior, and Rocheſter; and that they cannot ſo contataminate, as thoſe of Shakeſpeare, Denham, Steel, Cowley, Waller, Addiſon, Shenſtone, and many more, can purify. For fear that, as they wiſer grow, More than their huſbands they ſhould know. For 69 F3r 69 For if we look we ſoon ſhall find, Women are of a tyrant kind; They love to govern and controul, Their bodies lodge a mighty ſoul! The ſex, like horſes, could they tell Their equal ſtrength, would ſoon rebel; They would uſurp and ne’er ſubmit, To bear the yoke, and champ the bit.
Conſtrained obedience is the poiſon of domeſtic joy: hence we may date the diſguſt and hatred which too frequently embitter the ſcenes of wedded life. And I ſhould not be ſurprized, if the preſent ſyſtem of mental ſubordination continues to gain ſtrength, if, in a few years, European huſbands were to imitate thoſe beyond the Ganges. There, wives are to be purchaſed like ſlaves, and every man has as many as he pleaſes. The huſbands and even fathers are ſo far from being jealous, that they frequently offer their wives and daughters to foreigners. We have ſome Britiſh ſpoſos who already advance half way in this liberal ſyſtem of participation, ſtepping ſomewhat ſomewhat beyond the poliſhed track of Italian ceciſheos: it may be ſaid of ſuch huſbands as it was of Cataline, that he was alieni appetens, ſui profuſus: greedy after the goods of others, and laviſh of his own. However F3 70 F3v 70
However contradictory it may ſeem, to contracted minds, I firmly believe that the ſtrongeſt ſpell which can be placed upon the human affections, is a conſciouſneſs of freedom. Let the huſband aſſume the complacency of the friend, and he will, if his wife be not naturally depraved, poſſeſs not only her faith but her affection. There is a reſiſting nerve in the heart of both man and woman, which repels compulſion. Conſtraint and attachment, are incompatible: the mind of woman is not more ſoftened by ſenſibility than ſuſtained by pride; and every violation of moral propriety, every inſtance of domeſtic infidelity, every divorce which puts aſunder thoſe whom God has joined, is a proof of that maxim being a falſe, I may ſay a ludicrous one, which declares that man was born to command, and woman to obey! excepting in proportion as the intellectual 71 F4r 71 intellectual power devolves on the huſband.
If a woman receives an inſult, ſhe has no tribunal of honour to which ſhe can appeal; and by which ſhe would be ſanctioned in puniſhing her enemy. What in man, is laudable; in woman is deemed reprehenſible, if not prepoſterous. We have a living proof of this obſervation in the perſon of Madame D’Eon. When this extraordinary female filled the arduous occupations of a ſoldier and an embaſſador, her talents, enterprize, and reſolution, procured for her diſtinguiſhed honours. But alas! when ſhe was diſcovered to be a woman, the higheſt terms of praiſe were converted into, eccentricity, abſurd and maſculing temerity, at once ridiculous and diſguſting. What in man is noble daring, in woman is conſidered as the moſt vindictive perſecution. Suppoſing a woman is calumniated, robbed at a gaming table, falſely accuſed of mean or diſhonourable actions, if ſhe appeals to a ſtranger; it is no buſineſs of his! ſuch things happen every day! the world has nothing to do with the quarrels F4 of 72 F4v 72 of individuals! If ſhe involves a dear friend, or a relation in her defence; ſhe is a dangerous perſon; a promoter of miſchief; a revengeful fury. She has therefore no remedy but that of expoſing the infamy of her enemy; (for ſexual prejudices will not allow her to fight him honourably), even then, all that ſhe aſſerts, however diſgraceful to her opponent, is placed to the account of womaniſh revenge. The daſtardly offender triumphs with impunity, becauſe he is the noble creature man, and ſhe a defenceleſs, perſecuted woman.
Prejudice (or policy) has endeavoured, and indeed too ſucceſsfully, to caſt an odium on what is called a maſculine woman; or, to explain the meaning of the word, a woman of enlightened underſtanding. Such a being is too formidable in the circle of ſociety to be endured, much leſs ſanctioned. Man is a deſpot by nature; he can bear no equal, he dreads the power of woman; becauſe he knows 73 F5r 73 knows that already half the felicities of life depend on her; and that if ſhe be permitted to demand an equal ſhare in the regulations of ſocial order, ſhe will become omnipotent.
I again recur to the prominent ſubject of my letter, viz. that woman is denied the firſt privilege of nature, the power of self-defence. There are lords of the creation, who would not heſitate to rob a credulous woman of fortune, happineſs, and reputation, yet they would deem themſelves juſtified in puniſhing a petty thief, who took from them a watch or a pocket handkerchief. Man is not to be deprived of his property; he is not to be pilfered of the moſt trifling article, which cuſtom has told him is neceſſary to his ideas of luxury. But woman is to be robbed of that peace of mind which depended on the purity of her character; ſhe is to be duped out of all the proud conſolations of independence; defrauded of 74 F5v 74 of her repoſe, wounded in the ſenſibilites of her heart; and, becauſe ſhe is of the weaker ſex, ſhe is to bear her injuries with fortitude.
If a man is ſtopped on the highway, he may ſhoot the depredator: and he will receive the thanks of ſociety. If a woman were to act upon the ſame principle, reſpecting the more atrocious robber who has deprived her of all that rendered life deſirable, ſhe would be puniſhed as a murderer. Becauſe the highwayman only takes that which the traveller can afford to loſe, and the loſs of which he will ſcarcely feel; and the woman is rendered a complete bankrupt of all that rendered life ſupportable. The ſwindler and the cheat are ſhut out from ſociety; but the avowed libertine, the very worſt of defrauders, is tolerated and countenanced by our moſt faſtidious Britiſh females. This is one of the cauſes why the manners of the age are ſo unbluſhingly licentious:2 tious: 75 F6r 75 tious: men will be profligate, as long as women uphold them in the practice of ſeduction.
If, in the common affairs of life, a man be guilty of perjury, on conviction he is ſentenced to undergo the penalty of his crime, even though the motive for committing it, were unimportant to the community at large, and only acting againſt the plea of individual intereſt. But if a man takes an oath, knowing and premeditatedly reſolved to break it, at the altar of the Divinity, his crime is tolerated, and he pleads the force of example, in extenuation of his apoſtacy. Man ſwears to love and to cheriſh his wife, never to forſake her in ſickneſs, or in health, in poverty or wealth, and to keep to her alone ſo long as they both ſhall live. Let me aſk theſe law makers, and theſe law breakers, theſe ſacriligious oath takers, whether nine out of ten, are not conſcious of committing perjury at the moment when they make a vow ſo univerſally broken? But 76 F6v 76 But man is permitted to forſwear himſelf, even at the altar dedicated to the Supreme Being! He is allowed, even there, to conſider the moſt ſacred of ceremonies as merely a political inſtitution, of which he may excluſively avail himſelf as far as it tends to the promotion of his intereſt, while neither the publicity, nor the number of his infidelities, attach the badge of worldly cenſure to his conduct. He is ſtill the lordly reveller; the maſter of his pleaſures; the tolerated breaker of his oath: he pleads the frailty of human nature, though he, as the ſtronger creature, is ſuppoſed to poſſeſs an omnipotent ſource of mental power; he urges the ſovereignty of the paſsions, the dominion of the ſenſes, the ſanction of long eſtabliſhed cuſtom. He is a man of univerſal gallantry; he is conſequently courted and idolized by the generality of women, though all his days and all his actions prove, that woman is the victim of his falſehood.Now 77 F7r 77
Now examine the deſtiny of the weaker ſex, under ſimilar circumſtances. Woman is to endure neglect, infidelity, and ſcorn: ſhe is to endure them patiently. She is not allowed to plead the frailty of human nature; ſhe is to have no paſsions, no affections; and if the chance to overſtep the boundaries of chaſtity, (whatever witcheries and machinations are employed to miſlead her;) if ſhe violates that oath, which, perhaps the pride of her kindred, family intereſt, ambition, or compulſion, extorted from her, custom, that pliant and convenient friend to man, declares her infamous. While women, who are acceſſaries to her diſgrace, by countenancing her huſband’s infidelities, condemn the wife with all the vehemence of indignation; becauſe woman is the weaker creature, and moſt ſubjected to temptation! becauſe man errs voluntarily; and woman is ſeduced, by art and by perſecution, from the paths of Virtue.There 78 F7v 78
There is ſcarcely an event in human exiſtence, in which the oppreſsion of woman is not tolerated. The laws are made by man; and ſelf-preſervation is, by them, deemed the primary law of nature. Hence, woman is deſtined to be the paſſive creature: ſhe is to yield obedience, and to depend for ſupport upon a being who is perpetually authoriſed to deceive her. If a woman be married, her property becomes her huſband’s; and yet ſhe is amenable to the laws, if ſhe contracts debts beyond what that huſband and thoſe laws pronounce the neceſſaries of exiſtence. If the comforts, or even the conveniences of woman’s life reſt on the mercy of her ruler, they will be limited indeed. We have ſeen innumerable inſtances, in caſes of divorce, where the weaker, the defenceleſs partner is allotted a ſcanty pittance, upon which ſhe is expected to live honourably; while the huſband, the lord of the creation, in the very plentitude of wealth, in the very zenith of ſplen- 79 F8r 79 ſplendour, is permitted openly to indulge in every diſhonourable propenſity. Yet he is commiſerated as the injured party; and ſhe is branded with the name of infamous: though he is deemed the ſtronger, and ſhe the weaker creature.
Frailty, through all the ſtages of ſocial intercourſe, appears to be moſt enormous in thoſe who are ſuppoſed to have leaſt fortitude to ſustain the powers of ſelf-reſiſtance. Yet, ſuch is the force of prejudice, the law of cuſtom, againſt woman, that ſhe is expected to act like a philoſopher, though ſhe is not allowed to think like one. If ſhe pleads the weakneſs of her ſex, her plea is not admitted; if ſhe profeſſes an equal portion of mental ſtrength with man, ſhe is condemned for arrogance. Yet, if a General be ſent into the field of battle with a force inferior to that of the enemy, and is vanquiſhed, the plea of inequality in reſiſting powers is admitted, and his honour is exonerated from every imputation: woman encounters an allcommandingcom- 80 F8v 80 commanding enemy; ſhe is ſubdued;―― and ſhe is eternally diſhonoured!
The laws of man have long ſince decreed, that the jewel, Chaſtity, and the purity of uncontaminated morals, are the brighteſt ornaments of the female ſex. Yet, the framers of thoſe laws are indefatigable in promoting their violation. Man ſays to woman, without chaſtity you are declared infamous; and at the ſame moment, by a ſubtle and gradual proceſs, he undermines the purity of her heart, by a bold defiance of all that tends to the ſupport of religion and morality. Man thus commits a kind of mental ſuicide; while he levels that image to the loweſt debaſement, which he has oſtentatiouſly ſet up for univerſal idolatry.
It is not by precept, but by example, that conviction ſtrikes deeply into the thinking mind. Man is ſuppoſed to be the more wiſe and more rational creature; his faculties are more liberally expanded by 81 G1r 81 by claſsical education: he is ſuppoſed to be more enlightened by an unlimited intercourſe with ſociety. He is permitted to aſſert the dignity of his character; to puniſh thoſe who aſſail his reputation; and to aſſume a ſuperiority over all his fellow creatures. He is not accountable to any mortal for the actions of his life; he may revel in the follies, indulge the vices of his ſuperior nature. He purſues the pleaſures or the eccentricites of his imagination, with an avidity inſatiable: and he perpetually proves that human paſsions ſubjugate him to the degradations of human frailty; while woman, the weaker animal, ſhe whoſe enjoyments are limited, whoſe education, knowledge, and actions are circumſcribed by the potent rule of prejudice, ſhe is expected to reſiſt temptation; to be invincible in fortitude; ſtrong in preſcient and reflecting powers; ſubtle in the defence of her own honour; and forbearing under all the conflicts of the paſsions. Man firſt degrades, and then deſerts her. Yet, if driven by famine,G mine, 82 G1v 82 mine, inſult, ſhame, and perſecution, ſhe ruſhes forth like the wolf for prey; if, like Milwood, ſhe finds it neceſſary to be rich in this ſordid, ſelfiſh world, ſhe is ſhunned, abhorred, condemned to the very loweſt ſcenes of vile debaſement; to exiſt in miſery, or to periſh unlamented. No kindred breaſt will pity her misfortunes; no pious tear embalm her aſhes: ſhe ruſhes into the arms of death, as her laſt, her only aſylum from the monſters who have deſtroyed her.
Woman is deſtined to purſue no path in which ſhe does not find an enemy. If ſhe is liberal, generous, careleſs of wealth, friendly to the unfortunate, and bountiful to perſecuted merit, ſhe is deemed prodigal, and over-much profuſe; all the good ſhe does, every tear ſhe ſteals from the downcaſt eye of modeſt worth, every ſigh ſhe converts into a throb of joy, in grateful boſoms, is, by the world, forgotten; while the ingenuous liberality of her ſoul excites the imputation of folly and extravagance.trava- 83 G2r 83 travagance. If, on the contrary, ſhe is wary, ſhrewd, thrifty, economical, and eager to procure and to preſerve the advantages of independence; ſhe is condemned as narrow-minded, mean, unfeeling, artful, mercenary, and baſe: in either caſe ſhe is expoſed to cenſure. If liberal, unpitied; if ſordid, execrated! In a few words, a generous woman is termed a fool; a prudent one, a prodigal. miſer.
If woman is not permitted to aſſert a majeſty of mind, why fatigue her faculties with the labours of any ſpecies of education? why give her books, if ſhe is not to profit by the wiſdom they inculcate? The parent, or the preceptreſs, who enlightened her underſtanding, like the dark lantern, to ſpread its rays internally only, puts into her graſp a weapon of defence againſt the perils of exiſtence; and at the ſame moment commands her not to uſe it. Man ſays you may read, and you will think, but you ſhall not evince your knowledge, or employ your thoughts, G2 beyond 84 G2v 84 beyond the boundaries which we have ſet up around you. Then wherefore burthen the young mind with a gaudy outline which man darkens with ſhades indelible? why expand the female heart, merely to render it more conſcious that it is, by the tyranny of cuſtom, rendered vulnerable? Let man remember, that A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Let him not hope for a luxurious mental harveſt, where the ſun of cultivation is obſcured by impenetrable prejudice; that cloud which has too long ſpread over the mind of woman a deſolating darkneſs. So ſituated, woman is taught to diſcriminate juſt ſufficiently to know her own unhappineſs. She, like Tantalus, is placed in a ſituation where the intellectual bleſsing ſhe ſighs for is within her view; but ſhe is not permitted to attain it: ſhe is conſcious of poſſeſsing equally ſtrong mental powers; but ſhe is obliged to yield, as the weaker creature. Man ſays, you ſhall be initiated in all the arts of pleaſing; but you 85 G3r 85 you ſhall, in vain, hope that we will contribute to your happineſs one iota beyond the principle which conſtitutes our own. Senſual Egoiſts! woman is abſolutely neceſſary to your felicity; nay, even to your exiſtence: yet ſhe muſt not arrogate to herſelf the power to intereſt your actions. You idolize her perſonal attractions, as long as they influence your ſenſes; when they begin to pall, the magick is diſſolved; and prejudice is ever eager to condemn what paſsion has degraded.
A French author, Monſieur Tourriel, author of an Examination whether it was wiſely done to aboliſh that law of the Romans, by which women were kept under the power of guardianſhip all their lives. who wrote in the early part of the preſent century, ſays, The empire we exerciſe over the fair ſex is uſurped; and that which they obtain over us is by nature. Our ſubmiſsion very often coſts them no more than a glance of the eye; the moſt ſtern and G3 fierce 86 G3v 86 fierce of mankind grow gentle at the ſight of them. If this remark were true, it is to be lamented that they do not grow liberal and unprejudiced alſo. What a whimſical conduct it is to diſpute with women the right of managing their own eſtates, while we give up our liberties at ſo cheap a rate.
The ſame author, in the ſame work, ſays, It rarely happens, that we ſhare with women the ſhame of their errors, though we are either the authors, or the accomplices of them. On the other hand, how many follies have we, that are peculiar to ourſelves; how many occaſions are there where their modeſty conceals more merit, than we can ſhew, with all our vanity!
Suppoſing women were to act upon the ſame principle of egotiſm, conſulting their own inclinations, intereſt, and amuſement only, (and there is no law of Nature 87 G4r 87 Nature which forbids them; none of any ſpecies but that which is framed by man;) what would be the conſequences? The annihilation of all moral and religious order. So that every good which cements the bonds of civilized ſociety, originates wholly in the forbearance, and conſcientiouſneſs of woman.
I wiſh not to adviſe the ſex againſt cultivating what modern writers term, the graces. The mind of woman, in proportion as it is expanded by education, will become refined. Mental emulation would be the beſt ſafeguard againſt the vanity of ſenſual conqueſt. I would have woman highly, eminently poliſhed; ſhe ſhould dance, if her form be well proportioned; ſhe ſhould ſing, if nature has endowed her with the power of conveying that harmony ſo ſoothing to the ſenſes. She ſhould draw, paint, and perform fanciful taſks with her needle; particularly if her frame be delicate, her intellects feminine. But if nature has given her ſtrong mental powers, half her G4 hours 88 G4v 88 hours of ſtudy ſhould be devoted to more important acquirements. She ſhould likewiſe, if ſtrong and active, be indulged in minor ſports; ſuch as ſwimming, the uſe of the ball, and foot racing, &c; We ſhould then ſee Britiſh Atalantas, as well as female Nimrods.
However ſingular it may appear to a reflecting mind, hunting, certainly one of the moſt barabarous of maſculine ſports is, in Europe, tolerated as an amuſement for the ſofter ſex! There again, weakneſs is, by the humane ordinance of man, devoted to perſecution. The harmleſs ſtag and timid hare are hunted to deſtruction, even by women!—Why, in this ſingle inſtance, does man agree in the propriety of maſculine purſuits? Why does the huſband, without apprehenſion or diſguſt, permit the tender, weak and delicate partner of his cares to leap a quarry or a fivebarred gate, at the ſame time that he would deem it the exceſs of arrogance, to offer an opinion, on any ſubject which man 89 G5r 89 man conſiders as excluſively adapted to his diſcuſsion. I can only conclude that a wife has full permiſsion to break her neck; though ſhe is forbid to think or ſpeak like a rational creature. A huſband infers from this conduct, that he permits his wife to act like a mad-woman, but he does not allow her to think like a wiſe one.
Why are women excluded from the auditory part of the Britiſh ſenate? The welfare of their country, cannot fail to intereſt their feelings; and eloquence both exalts and refines the underſtanding. Many of the American tribes admit women into their public councils, and allow them the privileges of giving their opinions, firſt, on every ſubject of deliberation. The ancient Britons allowed the female ſex the ſame right: but in modern Britain women are ſcarcely allowed to expreſs any opinions at all! Man makes woman a frivolous creature, and then condemns her for the folly he inculcates. He tells her, that beauty is her firſt and moſt powerful attraction; her ſecond complacency of temper, and ſoftneſs 90 G5v 90 ſoftneſs of manners. She therefore dedicates half her hours to the embelliſhment of her perſon, and the other half to the practice of ſoft, languiſhing, ſentimental inſipidity. She diſdains to be ſtrong minded, becauſe ſhe fears being accounted maſculine; ſhe trembles at every breeze, faints at every peril, and yields to every aſſailant, becauſe it would be unwomanly to defend herſelf. She ſees no reſemblance of her own character in the Portias and Cornelias of antiquity; ſhe is content to be the epitome of her celebrated archetype, the good woman of St. Giles’s! This elegant and eſtimable female, is repreſented headleſs;—and I believe almoſt the only female in the kingdom univerſally allowed to be a good woman.
The embargo upon words, the enforcement of tacit ſubmiſsion, has been productive of conſequences highly honourable to the women of the preſent age. Since the ſex have been condemned for exerciſing the powers of ſpeech, they have 91 G6r 91 have ſucceſsfully taken up the pen: and their writings exemplify both energy of mind, and capability of acquiring the moſt extenſive knowledge. The preſs will be the monuments from which the genius of Britiſh women will riſe to immortal celebrity: their works will, in proportion as their educations are liberal, from year to year, challenge an equal portion of fame, with the labours of their claſsical male contemporaries.
In proportion as women are acquainted with the languages they will become citizens of the world. The laws, cuſtoms and inhabitants of different nations will be their kindred in the propinquity of nature. Prejudice will be palſied, if not receive its death blow, by the expanſion of intellect: and woman being permitted to feel her own importance in the ſcale of ſociety, will be tenacious of maintaining it. She will know that ſhe was created for ſomething beyond the mere amuſement of man; that ſhe is capable of mental1 tal 92 G6v 92 tal energies, and worthy of the moſt unbounded confidence. Such a ſyſtem of mental equality, would, while it ſtigmatized the trifling vain and pernicious race of high faſhioned Meſſalinas, produce ſuch Britiſh women, as would equal the Portias and Arrias of antiquity. Pætus being commanded by the emperor Nero, to die by his own hands, his wife, an illuſtrious Roman woman, was permitted to take leave of him. She felt the impoſſibility of ſurviving him, and plunging the poniard into her boſom, exclaimed Pætus it is not much, and inſtantly expired. This anecdote I relate for the information of my unlearned readers.
Had fortune enabled me, I would build an univerity for women; where they ſhould be politely, and at the ſame time claſsically educated; the depth of their ſtudies, ſhould be proportioned to their mental powers; and thoſe who were incompetent to the labours of knowledge, ſhould be diſmiſſed after a fair trial of their capabilites, and allotted to the more humble paths of life; ſuch as domeſtic and uſeful2 ful 93 G7r 93 ful occupations. The wealthy part of the community who neglected to educate their female offſpring, at this ſeminary of learning, ſhould pay a fine, which ſhould be appropriated to the maintenance of the unportioned ſcholars. In half a century there would be a ſufficient number of learned women to fill all the departments of the univerſity, and thoſe who excelled in an eminent degree ſhould receive honorary medals, which they ſhould wear as an order of literary merit.
O! my unenlightened country-women! read, and profit, by the admonition of Reaſon. Shake off the trifling, glittering ſhackles, which debaſe you. Reſist thoſe faſcinating ſpells which, like the petrifying torpedo, faſten on your mental faculties. Be leſs the ſlaves of vanity, and more the converts of Reflection. Nature has endowed you with perſonal attractions: ſhe has alſo given you the mind capable of expanſion. Seek not the viſionaryonary 94 G7v 94 onary triumph of univerſal conqueſt; know yourſelves equal to greater, nobler, acquirements: and by prudence, temperance, firmneſs, and reflection, ſubdue that prejudice which has, for ages paſt, been your inveterate enemy. Let your daughters be liberally, claſsically, philoſophically, By Philſophy, the writer of this Letter means rational wiſdom; neither the flimſy cobwebs of pretended metaphyſical and logical myſteries; nor the unbridled liberty which would lead to the boldneſs of licentious uſurpation. A truly enlightened woman never will forget that conſcious dignity of character which ennobles and ſustains, but never can debase her. and uſefully educated; let them ſpeak and write their opinions freely; let them read and think like rational creatures; adapt their ſtudies to their ſtrength of intellect; expand their minds, and purify their hearts, by teaching them to feel their mental equality with their imperious rulers. By ſuch laudable exertions, you will excite the nobleſt emulation; you will explode the ſuperſtitious tenets of bigotry and fanaticiſm; confirm the intuitive immortality of the ſoul, and give them 95 G8r 95 them that genuine glow of conſcious virtue which will grace them to poſterity.
There are men who affect, to think lightly of the literary productions of women: and yet no works of the preſent day are ſo univerſally read as theirs. The beſt novels that have been written, ſince thoſe of Smollet, Richardſon, and Fielding, have been produced by women: and their pages have not only been embelliſhed with the intereſting events of domeſtic life, portrayed with all the elegance of phraſeology, and all the refinement of ſentiment, but with forcible and eloquent, political, theological, and philoſophical reaſoning. To the genius and labours of ſome enlightened Britiſh women poſterity will alſo be indebted for the pureſt and beſt tranſlations from the French and German languages. I need not mention Mrs. Dobſon, Mrs. Inchbald, Miſs Plumptree, &c; &c; Of the more profound reſearches in the dead languages, we have many female claſsicks of the firſt celebrity: Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Thomas, 96 G8v 96 Thomas, (late Miſs Parkhurſt;) Mrs. Francis, the Hon. Mrs. Damer, &c; &c;
Of the Drama, the wreath of fame has crowned the brows of Mrs. Cowley, Mrs. Inchbald, Miſs Lee, Miſs Hannah More, and others of leſs celebrity. Of Biography, Mrs. Dobſon, Mrs. Thickneſs, Mrs. Piozzi, Mrs. Montagu, Miſs Helen Williams, have given ſpecimens highly honourable to their talents. Poetry has unqueſtionably riſen high in Britiſh literature from the productions of female pens; for many Engliſh women have produced ſuch original and beautiful compoſitions, that the firſt critics and ſcholars of the age have wondered, while they applauded. But in order to direct the attention of my fair and liberal country-women to the natural genius and mental acquirements of their illuſtrious contemporaries, I conclude my Letter with a liſt of names, which, while they ſilence the tongue of prejudice, will not fail to excite emulation.P.S. 97 H1r 97
P.S. Should this Letter be the means of influencing the minds of thoſe to whom it is addreſſed, ſo far as to benefit the riſing generation, my end and aim will be accompliſhed. I am well aſſured, that it will meet with little ſerious attention from the male diſciples of modern philosophy. The critics, though they have liberally patronized the works of Britiſh women, will perhaps condemn that doctrine which inculcates mental equality; leſt, by the intellectual labours of the ſex, they ſhould claim an equal portion of power in the tribunal of Britiſh literature. By the profound ſcholar, and the unprejudiced critic, this Letter will be read with candour; while, I truſt, its purpoſe will be deemed beneficial to ſociety.
List of British Female Literary Characters Living in the Eighteenth Century. In order to escape the imputation of partiality, the names are arranged alphabetically.
- Anſpach, Margravine of――Tour to the Crimea, and Dramatic Pieces.
- Barbauld, Mrs.――Poems and Moral Writings.
- Brooke, Mrs.――Novels and Dramatic Pieces.
- Bennet, Mrs.――Noveliſt.
- Carter, Mrs.――Greek and Hebrew Classic, Poeteſs, &c. &c.
- Cowley, Mrs.――Poems, Comedies, Tragedies, &c. &c. &c. &c.
- Creſpigny, Mrs.――Noveliſt.
- Coſway, Mrs.――Paintreſs.
- Dobſon, Mrs.――Life of Petrarch, from the Italian.
- D’Arblæy, Mrs.――Novels, Edwy and Elgiva, a Tragedy, &c. &c. &c.
- Damer, Hon. Mrs.――Sculptor, and Greek Claſsic.
- Francis, Mrs.――Greek and Latin Claſsic.
- Gunning, Mrs.――Noveliſt.
- Gunning, Miſs――Noveliſt, and Translator from the French.
- Hayes, Miſs――Novels, Philoſophical and Metaphyſical Diſquiſitions.
- Hanway, Mrs.――Noveliſt.
- Inchbald, Mrs.――Novels, Comedies, and Tranſlations from the French and German.
- Linwood, Miſs――Artiſt.
- Lee, Miſses――Romance, Comedies, Canterbury TalesCanterbury Tales for the Year 1797, a Tragedy, &c. &c.
- Lennox, Mrs.――Noveliſt.
- Macauley Graham, Mrs.――Hiſtory of England, and other works. Montagu, 102 H3v 102
- Montagu, Mrs.——Eſſay on the Writings and Genius of Shakeſpeare; being a Defence of him from the Slander of Voltaire.
- More, Miſs Hannah.――Poems, Sacred Dramas, a Tragedy, and other moral pieces.
- Piozzi, Mrs.――Biography, Poetry, Britiſh Synonymy, Travels, &c. &c. &c.
- Plumptree, Miſs――Tranſlations from the German, a Novel, &c.
- Parſons, Mrs.――Noveliſt.
- Ratdcliffe, Mrs.――Romances, Travels, &c. &c.
- Robinſon, Mrs.――Poems, Romances, Novels, A Tragedy, Satires, &c. &c.
- Reeve, Miſs――Romances and Novels.
- Robinſon, Miſs――Noveliſt.
- Seward, Miſs――Poems, a Poetical Novel, and various other works.
- Smith, Mrs. Charlotte――Novels, Sonnets, Moral Pieces, for the Inſtruction of Youth; and other works.
- Sheridan, Late Mrs.――Sidney Biddulph, a Novel.
- Thomas, Mrs. late Miſs Parkhurſt――Greek and Hebrew Claſsic
- Thickneſs, Mrs.――Biography, Letters, &c.
- Wolſtonecraft, Mrs.――A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Novels, Philoſophical Diſquiſitions, Travels, &c.
- Williams, Miſs Helen Maria――Poems, Travels, a Novel, and other miſcellaneous pieces.
- Weſt, Mrs.――Novels, Poetry, &c. &c.
- Yearſley, Mrs.――Poems, a Novel, a Tragedy, &c. &c.
There are various degrees of merit in the compoſitions of the female writers mentioned in the preceding liſt. Of their ſeveral claims to the wreath of Fame, the Public and the critics are left to decide. Moſt of them have been highly diſtinguiſhed at the tribunal of literature.