A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary WollstonecraftWith Strictures on Polital and Moral Subjects

…pardon my frankness, but I
must observe, that you treated it in too cursory a manner,
contented to consider it as it had been considered formerly, when
the rights of man, not to advert to woman, were trampled on as
chimerical. I call upon you, therefore, now to weigh what I have
advanced respecting the rights of woman, and national education;
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  • 1792
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8 April, 2001


M. Wollstonecraft was born in 1759. Her father was so great a
wanderer, that the place of her birth is uncertain; she supposed,
however, it was London, or Epping Forest: at the latter place she
spent the first five years of her life. In early youth she
exhibited traces of exquisite sensibility, soundness of
understanding, and decision of character; but her father being a
despot in his family, and her mother one of his subjects, Mary,
derived little benefit from their parental training. She received
no literary instructions but such as were to be had in ordinary day
schools. Before her sixteenth year she became acquainted with Mr.
Clare a clergyman, and Miss Frances Blood; the latter, two years
older than herself; who possessing good taste and some knowledge of
the fine arts, seems to have given the first impulse to the
formation of her character. At the age of nineteen, she left her
parents, and resided with a Mrs. Dawson for two years; when she
returned to the parental roof to give attention to her mother,
whose ill health made her presence necessary. On the death of her
mother, Mary bade a final adieu to her father’s house, and became
the inmate of F. Blood; thus situated, their intimacy increased,
and a strong attachment was reciprocated. In 1783 she commenced a
day school at Newington green, in conjunction with her friend, F.
Blood. At this place she became acquainted with Dr. Price, to whom
she became strongly attached; the regard was mutual.

It is said that she became a teacher from motives of benevolence,
or rather philanthropy, and during the time she continued in the
profession, she gave proof of superior qualification for the
performance of its arduous and important duties. Her friend and
coadjutor married and removed to Lisbon, in Portugal, where she
died of a pulmonary disease; the symptoms of which were visible
before her marriage. So true was Mary’s attachment to her, that
she entrusted her school to the care of others, for the purpose of
attending Frances in her closing scene. She aided, as did Dr.
Young, in “Stealing Narcissa a grave.” Her mind was expanded by
this residence in a foreign country, and though clear of religious
bigotry before, she took some instructive lessons on the evils of
superstition, and intolerance.

On her return she found the school had suffered by her absence, and
having previously decided to apply herself to literature, she now
resolved to commence. In 1787 she made, or received, proposals
from Johnson, a publisher in London, who was already acquainted
with her talents as an author. During the three subsequent years,
she was actively engaged, more in translating, condensing, and
compiling, than in the production of original works. At this time
she laboured under much depression of spirits, for the loss of her
friend; this rather increased, perhaps, by the publication of
“Mary, a novel,” which was mostly composed of incidents and
reflections connected with their intimacy.

The pecuniary concerns of her father becoming embarrassed, Mary
practised a rigid economy in her expenditures, and with her savings
was enabled to procure her sisters and brothers situations, to
which without her aid, they could not have had access; her father
was sustained at length from her funds; she even found means to
take under her protection an orphan child.

She had acquired a facility in the arrangement and expression of
thoughts, in her avocation of translator, and compiler, which was
no doubt of great use to her afterward. It was not long until she
had occasion for them. The eminent Burke produced his celebrated
“Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Mary full of sentiments
of liberty, and indignant at what she thought subversive of it,
seized her pen and produced the first attack upon that famous work.
It succeeded well, for though intemperate and contemptuous, it was
vehemently and impetuously eloquent; and though Burke was beloved
by the enlightened friends of freedom, they were dissatisfied and
disgusted with what they deemed an outrage upon it.

It is said that Mary, had not wanted confidence in her own powers
before, but the reception this work met from the public, gave her
an opportunity of judging what those powers were, in the estimation
of others. It was shortly after this, that she commenced the work
to which these remarks are prefixed. What are its merits will be
decided in the judgment of each reader; suffice it to say she
appears to have stept forth boldly, and singly, in defence of that
half of the human race, which by the usages of all society, whether
savage or civilized, have been kept from attaining their proper
dignity–their equal rank as rational beings. It would appear that
the disguise used in placing on woman the silken fetters which
bribed her into endurance, and even love of slavery, but increased
the opposition of our authoress: she would have had more patience
with rude, brute coercion, than with that imposing gallantry,
which, while it affects to consider woman as the pride, and
ornament of creation, degrades her to a toy–an appendage–a
cypher. The work was much reprehended, and as might well be
expected, found its greatest enemies in the pretty soft
creatures–the spoiled children of her own sex. She accomplished
it in six weeks.

In 1792 she removed to Paris, where she became acquainted with
Gilbert Imlay, of the United States. And from this acquaintance
grew an attachment, which brought the parties together, without
legal formalities, to which she objected on account of some family
embarrassments, in which he would thereby become involved. The
engagement was however considered by her of the most sacred nature,
and they formed the plan of emigrating to America, where they
should be enabled to accomplish it. These were the days of
Robespierrean cruelty, and Imlay left Paris for Havre, whither
after a time Mary followed him. They continued to reside there,
until he left Havre for London, under pretence of business, and
with a promise of rejoining her soon at Paris, which however he did
not, but in 1795 sent for her to London. In the mean time she had
become the mother of a female child, whom she called Frances in
commemoration of her early friendship.

Before she went to England, she had some gloomy forebodings that
the affections of Imlay, had waned, if they were not estranged from
her; on her arrival, those forebodings were sorrowfully confirmed.
His attentions were too formal and constrained to pass unobserved
by her penetration, and though he ascribed his manner, and his
absence, to business duties, she saw his affection for her was only
something to be remembered. To use her own expression, “Love, dear
delusion! Rigorous reason has forced me to resign; and now my
rational prospects are blasted, just as I have learned to be
contented with rational enjoyments.” To pretend to depict her
misery at this time would be futile; the best idea can be formed of
it from the fact that she had planned her own destruction, from
which Imlay prevented her. She conceived the idea of suicide a
second time, and threw herself into the Thames; she remained in the
water, until consciousness forsook her, but she was taken up and
resuscitated. After divers attempts to revive the affections of
Imlay, with sundry explanations and professions on his part,
through the lapse of two years, she resolved finally to forgo all
hope of reclaiming him, and endeavour to think of him no more in
connexion with her future prospects. In this she succeeded so
well, that she afterwards had a private interview with him, which
did not produce any painful emotions.

In 1796 she revived or improved an acquaintance which commenced
years before with Wm. Godwin, author of “Political Justice,” and
other works of great notoriety. Though they had not been
favourably impressed with each other on their former acquaintance,
they now met under circumstances which permitted a mutual and just
appreciation of character. Their intimacy increased by regular and
almost imperceptible degrees. The partiality they conceived for
each other was, according to her biographer, “In the most refined
style of love. It grew with equal advances in the mind of each.
It would have been impossible for the most minute observer to have
said who was before, or who after. One sex did not take the
priority which long established custom has awarded it, nor the
other overstep that delicacy which is so severely imposed. Neither
party could assume to have been the agent or the patient, the
toil-spreader or the prey in the affair. When in the course of
things the disclosure came, there was nothing in a manner for
either to disclose to the other.”

Mary lived but a few months after her marriage, and died in
child-bed; having given birth to a daughter who is now known to the
literary world as Mrs. Shelly, the widow of Percy Bysche Shelly.

We can scarcely avoid regret that one of such splendid talents, and
high toned feelings, should, after the former seemed to have been
fully developed, and the latter had found an object in whom they
might repose, after their eccentric and painful efforts to find a
resting place–that such an one should at such a time, be cut off
from life is something which we cannot contemplate without feeling
regret; we can scarcely repress the murmur that she had not been
removed ere clouds darkened her horizon, or that she had remained
to witness the brightness and serenity which might have succeeded.
But thus it is; we may trace the cause to anti-social arrangements;
it is not individuals but society which must change it, and that
not by enactments, but by a change in public opinion.

The authoress of the “Rights of Woman,” was born April 1759, died
September 1797.

That there may be no doubt regarding the facts in this sketch, they
are taken from a memoir written by her afflicted husband. In
addition to many kind things he has said of her, (he was not
blinded to imperfections in her character) is, that she was “Lovely
in her person, and in the best and most engaging sense feminine in
her manners.”





Having read with great pleasure a pamphlet, which you have lately
published, on National Education, I dedicate this volume to you,
the first dedication that I have ever written, to induce you to
read it with attention; and, because I think that you will
understand me, which I do not suppose many pert witlings will, who
may ridicule the arguments they are unable to answer. But, sir, I
carry my respect for your understanding still farther: so far,
that I am confident you will not throw my work aside, and hastily
conclude that I am in the wrong because you did not view the
subject in the same light yourself. And pardon my frankness, but I
must observe, that you treated it in too cursory a manner,
contented to consider it as it had been considered formerly, when
the rights of man, not to advert to woman, were trampled on as
chimerical. I call upon you, therefore, now to weigh what I have
advanced respecting the rights of woman, and national education;
and I call with the firm tone of humanity. For my arguments, sir,
are dictated by a disinterested spirit: I plead for my sex, not
for myself. Independence I have long considered as the grand
blessing of life, the basis of every virtue; and independence I
will ever secure by contracting my wants, though I were to live on
a barren heath.

It is, then, an affection for the whole human race that makes my
pen dart rapidly along to support what I believe to be the cause of
virtue: and the same motive leads me earnestly to wish to see
woman placed in a station in which she would advance, instead of
retarding, the progress of those glorious principles that give a
substance to morality. My opinion, indeed, respecting the rights
and duties of woman, seems to flow so naturally from these simple
principles, that I think it scarcely possible, but that some of the
enlarged minds who formed your admirable constitution, will
coincide with me.

In France, there is undoubtedly a more general diffusion of
knowledge than in any part of the European world, and I attribute
it, in a great measure, to the social intercourse which has long
subsisted between the sexes. It is true, I utter my sentiments
with freedom, that in France the very essence of sensuality has
been extracted to regale the voluptuary, and a kind of sentimental
lust has prevailed, which, together with the system of duplicity
that the whole tenor of their political and civil government
taught, have given a sinister sort of sagacity to the French
character, properly termed finesse; and a polish of manners that
injures the substance, by hunting sincerity out of society. And,
modesty, the fairest garb of virtue has been more grossly insulted
in France than even in England, till their women have treated as
PRUDISH that attention to decency which brutes instinctively

Manners and morals are so nearly allied, that they have often been
confounded; but, though the former should only be the natural
reflection of the latter, yet, when various causes have produced
factitious and corrupt manners, which are very early caught,
morality becomes an empty name. The personal reserve, and sacred
respect for cleanliness and delicacy in domestic life, which French
women almost despise, are the graceful pillars of modesty; but, far
from despising them, if the pure flame of patriotism have reached
their bosoms, they should labour to improve the morals of their
fellow-citizens, by teaching men, not only to respect modesty in
women, but to acquire it themselves, as the only way to merit their

Contending for the rights of women, my main argument is built on
this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to
become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of
knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be
inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice.
And how can woman be expected to co-operate, unless she know why
she ought to be virtuous? Unless freedom strengthen her reason
till she comprehend her duty, and see in what manner it is
connected with her real good? If children are to be educated to
understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother must be a
patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of
virtues spring, can only be produced by considering the moral and
civil interest of mankind; but the education and situation of
woman, at present, shuts her out from such investigations.

In this work I have produced many arguments, which to me were
conclusive, to prove, that the prevailing notion respecting a
sexual character was subversive of morality, and I have contended,
that to render the human body and mind more perfect, chastity must
more universally prevail, and that chastity will never be respected
in the male world till the person of a woman is not, as it were,
idolized when little virtue or sense embellish it with the grand
traces of mental beauty, or the interesting simplicity of

Consider, Sir, dispassionately, these observations, for a glimpse
of this truth seemed to open before you when you observed, “that to
see one half of the human race excluded by the other from all
participation of government, was a political phenomenon that,
according to abstract principles, it was impossible to explain.”
If so, on what does your constitution rest? If the abstract rights
of man will bear discussion and explanation, those of woman, by a
parity of reasoning, will not shrink from the same test: though a
different opinion prevails in this country, built on the very
arguments which you use to justify the oppression of woman,

Consider, I address you as a legislator, whether, when men contend
for their freedom, and to be allowed to judge for themselves,
respecting their own happiness, it be not inconsistent and unjust
to subjugate women, even though you firmly believe that you are
acting in the manner best calculated to promote their happiness?
Who made man the exclusive judge, if woman partake with him the
gift of reason?

In this style, argue tyrants of every denomination from the weak
king to the weak father of a family; they are all eager to crush
reason; yet always assert that they usurp its throne only to be
useful. Do you not act a similar part, when you FORCE all women,
by denying them civil and political rights, to remain immured in
their families groping in the dark? For surely, sir, you will not
assert, that a duty can be binding which is not founded on reason?
If, indeed, this be their destination, arguments may be drawn from
reason; and thus augustly supported, the more understanding women
acquire, the more they will be attached to their duty,
comprehending it, for unless they comprehend it, unless their
morals be fixed on the same immutable principles as those of man,
no authority can make them discharge it in a virtuous manner. They
may be convenient slaves, but slavery will have its constant
effect, degrading the master and the abject dependent.

But, if women are to be excluded, without having a voice, from a
participation of the natural rights of mankind, prove first, to
ward off the charge of injustice and inconsistency, that they want
reason, else this flaw in your NEW CONSTITUTION, the first
constitution founded on reason, will ever show that man must, in
some shape, act like a tyrant, and tyranny, in whatever part of
society it rears its brazen front, will ever undermine morality.

I have repeatedly asserted, and produced what appeared to me
irrefragable arguments drawn from matters of fact, to prove my
assertion, that women cannot, by force, be confined to domestic
concerns; for they will however ignorant, intermeddle with more
weighty affairs, neglecting private duties only to disturb, by
cunning tricks, the orderly plans of reason which rise above their

Besides, whilst they are only made to acquire personal
accomplishments, men will seek for pleasure in variety, and
faithless husbands will make faithless wives; such ignorant beings,
indeed, will be very excusable when, not taught to respect public
good, nor allowed any civil right, they attempt to do themselves
justice by retaliation.

The box of mischief thus opened in society, what is to preserve
private virtue, the only security of public freedom and universal

Let there be then no coercion ESTABLISHED in society, and the
common law of gravity prevailing, the sexes will fall into their
proper places. And, now that more equitable laws are forming your
citizens, marriage may become more sacred; your young men may
choose wives from motives of affection, and your maidens allow love
to root out vanity.

The father of a family will not then weaken his constitution and
debase his sentiments, by visiting the harlot, nor forget, in
obeying the call of appetite, the purpose for which it was
implanted; and the mother will not neglect her children to practise
the arts of coquetry, when sense and modesty secure her the
friendship of her husband.

But, till men become attentive to the duty of a father, it is vain
to expect women to spend that time in their nursery which they,
“wise in their generation,” choose to spend at their glass; for
this exertion of cunning is only an instinct of nature to enable
them to obtain indirectly a little of that power of which they are
unjustly denied a share; for, if women are not permitted to enjoy
legitimate rights, they will render both men and themselves
vicious, to obtain illicit privileges.

I wish, sir, to set some investigations of this kind afloat in
France; and should they lead to a confirmation of my principles,
when your constitution is revised, the rights of woman may be
respected, if it be fully proved that reason calls for this
respect, and loudly demands JUSTICE for one half of the human race.

I am, sir,

Yours respectfully,

M. W.


After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world
with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful
indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when
obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference
between man and man, or that the civilization, which has hitherto
taken place in the world, has been very partial. I have turned
over various books written on the subject of education, and
patiently observed the conduct of parents and the management of
schools; but what has been the result? a profound conviction, that
the neglected education of my fellow creatures is the grand source
of the misery I deplore; and that women in particular, are rendered
weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating
from one hasty conclusion. The conduct and manners of women, in
fact, evidently prove, that their minds are not in a healthy state;
for, like the flowers that are planted in too rich a soil,
strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting
leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on
the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived
at maturity. One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a
false system of education, gathered from the books written on this
subject by men, who, considering females rather as women than human
creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses
than rational wives; and the understanding of the sex has been so
bubbled by this specious homage, that the civilized women of the
present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire
love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their
abilities and virtues exact respect.

In a treatise, therefore, on female rights and manners, the works
which have been particularly written for their improvement must not
be overlooked; especially when it is asserted, in direct terms,
that the minds of women are enfeebled by false refinement; that the
books of instruction, written by men of genius, have had the same
tendency as more frivolous productions; and that, in the true style
of Mahometanism, they are only considered as females, and not as a
part of the human species, when improvable reason is allowed to be
the dignified distinction, which raises men above the brute
creation, and puts a natural sceptre in a feeble hand.

Yet, because I am a woman, I would not lead my readers to suppose,
that I mean violently to agitate the contested question respecting
the equality and inferiority of the sex; but as the subject lies in
my way, and I cannot pass it over without subjecting the main
tendency of my reasoning to misconstruction, I shall stop a moment
to deliver, in a few words, my opinion. In the government of the
physical world, it is observable that the female, in general, is
inferior to the male. The male pursues, the female yields–this is
the law of nature; and it does not appear to be suspended or
abrogated in favour of woman. This physical superiority cannot be
denied–and it is a noble prerogative! But not content with this
natural pre-eminence, men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely
to render us alluring objects for a moment; and women, intoxicated
by the adoration which men, under the influence of their senses,
pay them, do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts,
or to become the friends of the fellow creatures who find amusement
in their society.

I am aware of an obvious inference: from every quarter have I heard
exclamations against masculine women; but where are they to be
found? If, by this appellation, men mean to inveigh against their
ardour in hunting, shooting, and gaming, I shall most cordially
join in the cry; but if it be, against the imitation of manly
virtues, or, more properly speaking, the attainment of those
talents and virtues, the exercise of which ennobles the human
character, and which raise females in the scale of animal being,
when they are comprehensively termed mankind–all those who view
them with a philosophical eye must, I should think, wish with me,
that they may every day grow more and more masculine.

This discussion naturally divides the subject. I shall first
consider women in the grand light of human creatures, who, in
common with men, are placed on this earth to unfold their
faculties; and afterwards I shall more particularly point out their
peculiar designation.

I wish also to steer clear of an error, which many respectable
writers have fallen into; for the instruction which has hitherto
been addressed to women, has rather been applicable to LADIES, if
the little indirect advice, that is scattered through Sandford and
Merton, be excepted; but, addressing my sex in a firmer tone, I pay
particular attention to those in the middle class, because they
appear to be in the most natural state. Perhaps the seeds of false
refinement, immorality, and vanity have ever been shed by the
great. Weak, artificial beings raised above the common wants and
affections of their race, in a premature unnatural manner,
undermine the very foundation of virtue, and spread corruption
through the whole mass of society! As a class of mankind they have
the strongest claim to pity! the education of the rich tends to
render them vain and helpless, and the unfolding mind is not
strengthened by the practice of those duties which dignify the
human character. They only live to amuse themselves, and by the
same law which in nature invariably produces certain effects, they
soon only afford barren amusement.

But as I purpose taking a separate view of the different ranks of
society, and of the moral character of women, in each, this hint
is, for the present, sufficient; and I have only alluded to the
subject, because it appears to me to be the very essence of an
introduction to give a cursory account of the contents of the work
it introduces.

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational
creatures, instead of flattering their FASCINATING graces, and
viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood,
unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true
dignity and human happiness consists–I wish to persuade women to
endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to
convince them, that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart,
delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost
synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are
only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been
termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt.

Dismissing then those pretty feminine phrases, which the men
condescendingly use to soften our slavish dependence, and despising
that weak elegancy of mind, exquisite sensibility, and sweet
docility of manners, supposed to be the sexual characteristics of
the weaker vessel, I wish to show that elegance is inferior to
virtue, that the first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a
character as a human being, regardless of the distinction of sex;
and that secondary views should be brought to this simple

This is a rough sketch of my plan; and should I express my
conviction with the energetic emotions that I feel whenever I think
of the subject, the dictates of experience and reflection will be
felt by some of my readers. Animated by this important object, I
shall disdain to cull my phrases or polish my style–I aim at being
useful, and sincerity will render me unaffected; for wishing rather
to persuade by the force of my arguments, than dazzle by the
elegance of my language, I shall not waste my time in rounding
periods, nor in fabricating the turgid bombast of artificial
feelings, which, coming from the head, never reach the heart. I
shall be employed about things, not words! and, anxious to render
my sex more respectable members of society, I shall try to avoid
that flowery diction which has slided from essays into novels, and
from novels into familiar letters and conversation.

These pretty nothings, these caricatures of the real beauty of
sensibility, dropping glibly from the tongue, vitiate the taste,
and create a kind of sickly delicacy that turns away from simple
unadorned truth; and a deluge of false sentiments and
over-stretched feelings, stifling the natural emotions of the
heart, render the domestic pleasures insipid, that ought to sweeten
the exercise of those severe duties, which educate a rational and
immortal being for a nobler field of action.

The education of women has, of late, been more attended to than
formerly; yet they are still reckoned a frivolous sex, and
ridiculed or pitied by the writers who endeavour by satire or
instruction to improve them. It is acknowledged that they spend
many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of
accomplishments: meanwhile, strength of body and mind are
sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of
establishing themselves, the only way women can rise in the
world–by marriage. And this desire making mere animals of them,
when they marry, they act as such children may be expected to act:
they dress; they paint, and nickname God’s creatures. Surely these
weak beings are only fit for the seraglio! Can they govern a
family, or take care of the poor babes whom they bring into the

If then it can be fairly deduced from the present conduct of the
sex, from the prevalent fondness for pleasure, which takes place of
ambition and those nobler passions that open and enlarge the soul;
that the instruction which women have received has only tended,
with the constitution of civil society, to render them
insignificant objects of desire; mere propagators of fools! if it
can be proved, that in aiming to accomplish them, without
cultivating their understandings, they are taken out of their
sphere of duties, and made ridiculous and useless when the short
lived bloom of beauty is over*, I presume that RATIONAL men will
excuse me for endeavouring to persuade them to become more
masculine and respectable.

(*Footnote. A lively writer, I cannot recollect his name, asks
what business women turned of forty have to do in the world.)

Indeed the word masculine is only a bugbear: there is little
reason to fear that women will acquire too much courage or
fortitude; for their apparent inferiority with respect to bodily
strength, must render them, in some degree, dependent on men in the
various relations of life; but why should it be increased by
prejudices that give a sex to virtue, and confound simple truths
with sensual reveries?

Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female
excellence, that I do not mean to add a paradox when I assert, that
this artificial weakness produces a propensity to tyrannize, and
gives birth to cunning, the natural opponent of strength, which
leads them to play off those contemptible infantile airs that
undermine esteem even whilst they excite desire. Do not foster
these prejudices, and they will naturally fall into their
subordinate, yet respectable station in life.

It seems scarcely necessary to say, that I now speak of the sex in
general. Many individuals have more sense than their male
relatives; and, as nothing preponderates where there is a constant
struggle for an equilibrium, without it has naturally more gravity,
some women govern their husbands without degrading themselves,
because intellect will always govern.




In the present state of society, it appears necessary to go back to
first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to
dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground. To
clear my way, I must be allowed to ask some plain questions, and
the answers will probably appear as unequivocal as the axioms on
which reasoning is built; though, when entangled with various
motives of action, they are formally contradicted, either by the
words or conduct of men.

In what does man’s pre-eminence over the brute creation consist?
The answer is as clear as that a half is less than the whole; in

What acquirement exalts one being above another? Virtue; we
spontaneously reply.

For what purpose were the passions implanted? That man by
struggling with them might attain a degree of knowledge denied to
the brutes: whispers Experience.

Consequently the perfection of our nature and capability of
happiness, must be estimated by the degree of reason, virtue, and
knowledge, that distinguish the individual, and direct the laws
which bind society: and that from the exercise of reason,
knowledge and virtue naturally flow, is equally undeniable, if
mankind be viewed collectively.

The rights and duties of man thus simplified, it seems almost
impertinent to attempt to illustrate truths that appear so
incontrovertible: yet such deeply rooted prejudices have clouded
reason, and such spurious qualities have assumed the name of
virtues, that it is necessary to pursue the course of reason as it
has been perplexed and involved in error, by various adventitious
circumstances, comparing the simple axiom with casual deviations.

Men, in general, seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices,
which they have imbibed, they cannot trace how, rather than to root
them out. The mind must be strong that resolutely forms its own
principles; for a kind of intellectual cowardice prevails which
makes many men shrink from the task, or only do it by halves. Yet
the imperfect conclusions thus drawn, are frequently very
plausible, because they are built on partial experience, on just,
though narrow, views.

Going back to first principles, vice skulks, with all its native
deformity, from close investigation; but a set of shallow reasoners
are always exclaiming that these arguments prove too much, and that
a measure rotten at the core may be expedient. Thus expediency is
continually contrasted with simple principles, till truth is lost
in a mist of words, virtue in forms, and knowledge rendered a
sounding nothing, by the specious prejudices that assume its name.

That the society is formed in the wisest manner, whose constitution
is founded on the nature of man, strikes, in the abstract, every
thinking being so forcibly, that it looks like presumption to
endeavour to bring forward proofs; though proof must be brought, or
the strong hold of prescription will never be forced by reason; yet
to urge prescription as an argument to justify the depriving men
(or women) of their natural rights, is one of the absurd sophisms
which daily insult common sense.

The civilization of the bulk of the people of Europe, is very
partial; nay, it may be made a question, whether they have acquired
any virtues in exchange for innocence, equivalent to the misery
produced by the vices that have been plastered over unsightly
ignorance, and the freedom which has been bartered for splendid
slavery. The desire of dazzling by riches, the most certain
pre-eminence that man can obtain, the pleasure of commanding
flattering sycophants, and many other complicated low calculations
of doting self-love, have all contributed to overwhelm the mass of
mankind, and make liberty a convenient handle for mock patriotism.
For whilst rank and titles are held of the utmost importance,
before which Genius “must hide its diminished head,” it is, with a
few exceptions, very unfortunate for a nation when a man of
abilities, without rank or property, pushes himself forward to
notice. Alas! what unheard of misery have thousands suffered to
purchase a cardinal’s hat for an intriguing obscure adventurer, who
longed to be ranked with princes, or lord it over them by seizing
the triple crown!

Such, indeed, has been the wretchedness that has flowed from
hereditary honours, riches, and monarchy, that men of lively
sensibility have almost uttered blasphemy in order to justify the
dispensations of providence. Man has been held out as independent
of his power who made him, or as a lawless planet darting from its
orbit to steal the celestial fire of reason; and the vengeance of
heaven, lurking in the subtile flame, sufficiently punished his
temerity, by introducing evil into the world.

Impressed by this view of the misery and disorder which pervaded
society, and fatigued with jostling against artificial fools,
Rousseau became enamoured of solitude, and, being at the same time
an optimist, he labours with uncommon eloquence to prove that man
was naturally a solitary animal. Misled by his respect for the
goodness of God, who certainly for what man of sense and feeling
can doubt it! gave life only to communicate happiness, he considers
evil as positive, and the work of man; not aware that he was
exalting one attribute at the expense of another, equally necessary
to divine perfection.

Reared on a false hypothesis, his arguments in favour of a state of
nature are plausible, but unsound. I say unsound; for to assert
that a state of nature is preferable to civilization in all its
possible perfection, is, in other words, to arraign supreme wisdom;
and the paradoxical exclamation, that God has made all things
right, and that evil has been introduced by the creature whom he
formed, knowing what he formed, is as unphilosophical as impious.

When that wise Being, who created us and placed us here, saw the
fair idea, he willed, by allowing it to be so, that the passions
should unfold our reason, because he could see that present evil
would produce future good. Could the helpless creature whom he
called from nothing, break loose from his providence, and boldly
learn to know good by practising evil without his permission? No.
How could that energetic advocate for immortality argue so
inconsistently? Had mankind remained for ever in the brutal state
of nature, which even his magic pen cannot paint as a state in
which a single virtue took root, it would have been clear, though
not to the sensitive unreflecting wanderer, that man was born to
run the circle of life and death, and adorn God’s garden for some
purpose which could not easily be reconciled with his attributes.

But if, to crown the whole, there were to be rational creatures
produced, allowed to rise in excellency by the exercise of powers
implanted for that purpose; if benignity itself thought fit to call
into existence a creature above the brutes, who could think and
improve himself, why should that inestimable gift, for a gift it
was, if a man was so created as to have a capacity to rise above
the state in which sensation produced brutal ease, be called, in
direct terms, a curse? A curse it might be reckoned, if all our
existence was bounded by our continuance in this world; for why
should the gracious fountain of life give us passions, and the
power of reflecting, only to embitter our days, and inspire us with
mistaken notions of dignity? Why should he lead us from love of
ourselves to the sublime emotions which the discovery of his wisdom
and goodness excites, if these feelings were not set in motion to
improve our nature, of which they make a part, and render us
capable of enjoying a more godlike portion of happiness? Firmly
persuaded that no evil exists in the world that God did not design
to take place, I build my belief on the perfection of God.

Rousseau exerts himself to prove, that all WAS right originally: a
crowd of authors that all IS now right: and I, that all WILL BE

But, true to his first position, next to a state of nature,
Rousseau celebrates barbarism, and, apostrophizing the shade of
Fabricius, he forgets that, in conquering the world, the Romans
never dreamed of establishing their own liberty on a firm basis, or
of extending the reign of virtue. Eager to support his system, he
stigmatizes, as vicious, every effort of genius; and uttering the
apotheosis of savage virtues, he exalts those to demigods, who were
scarcely human–the brutal Spartans, who in defiance of justice and
gratitude, sacrificed, in cold blood, the slaves that had shown
themselves men to rescue their oppressors.

Disgusted with artificial manners and virtues, the citizen of
Geneva, instead of properly sifting the subject, threw away the
wheat with the chaff, without waiting to inquire whether the evils,
which his ardent soul turned from indignantly, were the consequence
of civilization, or the vestiges of barbarism. He saw vice
trampling on virtue, and the semblance of goodness taking place of
the reality; he saw talents bent by power to sinister purposes, and
never thought of tracing the gigantic mischief up to arbitrary
power, up to the hereditary distinctions that clash with the mental
superiority that naturally raises a man above his fellows. He did
not perceive, that the regal power, in a few generations,
introduces idiotism into the noble stem, and holds out baits to
render thousands idle and vicious.

Nothing can set the regal character in a more contemptible point of
view, than the various crimes that have elevated men to the supreme
dignity. Vile intrigues, unnatural crimes, and every vice that
degrades our nature, have been the steps to this distinguished
eminence; yet millions of men have supinely allowed the nerveless
limbs of the posterity of such rapacious prowlers, to rest quietly
on their ensanguined thrones.

What but a pestilential vapour can hover over society, when its
chief director is only instructed in the invention of crimes, or
the stupid routine of childish ceremonies? Will men never be wise?
will they never cease to expect corn from tares, and figs from

It is impossible for any man, when the most favourable
circumstances concur, to acquire sufficient knowledge and strength
of mind to discharge the duties of a king, entrusted with
uncontrolled power; how then must they be violated when his very
elevation is an insuperable bar to the attainment of either wisdom
or virtue; when all the feelings of a man are stifled by flattery,
and reflection shut out by pleasure! Surely it is madness to make
the fate of thousands depend on the caprice of a weak fellow
creature, whose very station sinks him NECESSARILY below the
meanest of his subjects! But one power should not be thrown down
to exalt another–for all power intoxicates weak man; and its abuse
proves, that the more equality there is established among men, the
more virtue and happiness will reign in society. But this, and any
similar maxim deduced from simple reason, raises an outcry–the
church or the state is in danger, if faith in the wisdom of
antiquity is not implicit; and they who, roused by the sight of
human calamity, dare to attack human authority, are reviled as
despisers of God, and enemies of man. These are bitter calumnies,
yet they reached one of the best of men, (Dr. Price.) whose ashes
still preach peace, and whose memory demands a respectful pause,
when subjects are discussed that lay so near his heart.

After attacking the sacred majesty of kings, I shall scarcely
excite surprise, by adding my firm persuasion, that every
profession, in which great subordination of rank constitutes its
power, is highly injurious to morality.

A standing army, for instance, is incompatible with freedom;
because subordination and rigour are the very sinews of military
discipline; and despotism is necessary to give vigour to
enterprises that one will directs. A spirit inspired by romantic
notions of honour, a kind of morality founded on the fashion of the
age, can only be felt by a few officers, whilst the main body must
be moved by command, like the waves of the sea; for the strong wind
of authority pushes the crowd of subalterns forward, they scarcely
know or care why, with headlong fury.

Besides, nothing can be so prejudicial to the morals of the
inhabitants of country towns, as the occasional residence of a set
of idle superficial young men, whose only occupation is gallantry,
and whose polished manners render vice more dangerous, by
concealing its deformity under gay ornamental drapery. An air of
fashion, which is but a badge of slavery, and proves that the soul
has not a strong individual character, awes simple country people
into an imitation of the vices, when they cannot catch the slippery
graces of politeness. Every corps is a chain of despots, who,
submitting and tyrannizing without exercising their reason, become
dead weights of vice and folly on the community. A man of rank or
fortune, sure of rising by interest, has nothing to do but to
pursue some extravagant freak; whilst the needy GENTLEMAN, who is
to rise, as the phrase turns, by his merit, becomes a servile
parasite or vile pander.

Sailors, the naval gentlemen, come under the same description, only
their vices assume a different and a grosser cast. They are more
positively indolent, when not discharging the ceremonials of their
station; whilst the insignificant fluttering of soldiers may be
termed active idleness. More confined to the society of men, the
former acquire a fondness for humour and mischievous tricks; whilst
the latter, mixing frequently with well-bred women, catch a
sentimental cant. But mind is equally out of the question, whether
they indulge the horse-laugh or polite simper.

May I be allowed to extend the comparison to a profession where
more mind is certainly to be found; for the clergy have superior
opportunities of improvement, though subordination almost equally
cramps their faculties? The blind submission imposed at college to
forms of belief, serves as a noviciate to the curate who most
obsequiously respects the opinion of his rector or patron, if he
means to rise in his profession. Perhaps there cannot be a more
forcible contrast than between the servile, dependent gait of a
poor curate, and the courtly mien of a bishop. And the respect and
contempt they inspire render the discharge of their separate
functions equally useless.

It is of great importance to observe, that the character of every
man is, in some degree, formed by his profession. A man of sense
may only have a cast of countenance that wears off as you trace his
individuality, whilst the weak, common man, has scarcely ever any
character, but what belongs to the body; at least, all his opinions
have been so steeped in the vat consecrated by authority, that the
faint spirit which the grape of his own vine yields cannot be

Society, therefore, as it becomes more enlightened, should be very
careful not to establish bodies of men who must necessarily be made
foolish or vicious by the very constitution of their profession.

In the infancy of society, when men were just emerging out of
barbarism, chiefs and priests, touching the most powerful springs
of savage conduct–hope and fear–must have had unbounded sway. An
aristocracy, of course, is naturally the first form of government.
But clashing interests soon losing their equipoise, a monarchy and
hierarchy break out of the confusion of ambitious struggles, and
the foundation of both is secured by feudal tenures. This appears
to be the origin of monarchial and priestly power, and the dawn of
civilization. But such combustible materials cannot long be pent
up; and getting vent in foreign wars and intestine insurrections,
the people acquire some power in the tumult, which obliges their
rulers to gloss over their oppression with a show of right. Thus,
as wars, agriculture, commerce, and literature, expands the mind,
despots are compelled, to make covert corruption hold fast the
power which was formerly snatched by open force.* And this baneful
lurking gangrene is most quickly spread by luxury and superstition,
the sure dregs of ambition. The indolent puppet of a court first
becomes a luxurious monster, or fastidious sensualist, and then
makes the contagion which his unnatural state spreads, the
instrument of tyranny.

(*Footnote. Men of abilities scatter seeds that grow up, and have
a great influence on the forming opinion; and when once the public
opinion preponderates, through the exertion of reason, the
overthrow of arbitrary power is not very distant.)

It is the pestiferous purple which renders the progress of
civilization a curse, and warps the understanding, till men of
sensibility doubt whether the expansion of intellect produces a
greater portion of happiness or misery. But the nature of the
poison points out the antidote; and had Rousseau mounted one step
higher in his investigation; or could his eye have pierced through
the foggy atmosphere, which he almost disdained to breathe, his
active mind would have darted forward to contemplate the perfection
of man in the establishment of true civilization, instead of taking
his ferocious flight back to the night of sensual ignorance.



To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious
arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes,
in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very
different character: or, to speak explicitly, women are not
allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really
deserves the name of virtue. Yet it should seem, allowing them to
have souls, that there is but one way appointed by providence to
lead MANKIND to either virtue or happiness.

If then women are not a swarm of ephemeron triflers, why should
they be kept in ignorance under the specious name of innocence?
Men complain, and with reason, of the follies and caprices of our
sex, when they do not keenly satirize our headstrong passions and
groveling vices. Behold, I should answer, the natural effect of
ignorance! The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices
to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when
there are no barriers to break its force. Women are told from
their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a
little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness
of temper, OUTWARD obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a
puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of
man; and should they be beautiful, every thing else is needless,
for at least twenty years of their lives.

Thus Milton describes our first frail mother; though when he tells
us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I
cannot comprehend his meaning, unless, in the true Mahometan
strain, he meant to deprive us of souls, and insinuate that we were
beings only designed by sweet attractive grace, and docile blind
obedience, to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar
on the wing of contemplation.

How grossly do they insult us, who thus advise us only to render
ourselves gentle, domestic brutes! For instance, the winning
softness, so warmly, and frequently recommended, that governs by
obeying. What childish expressions, and how insignificant is the
being–can it be an immortal one? who will condescend to govern by
such sinister methods! “Certainly,” says Lord Bacon, “man is of
kin to the beasts by his body: and if he be not of kin to God by
his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature!” Men, indeed,
appear to me to act in a very unphilosophical manner, when they try
to secure the good conduct of women by attempting to keep them
always in a state of childhood. Rousseau was more consistent when
he wished to stop the progress of reason in both sexes; for if men
eat of the tree of knowledge, women will come in for a taste: but,
from the imperfect cultivation which their understandings now
receive, they only attain a knowledge of evil.

Children, I grant, should be innocent; but when the epithet is
applied to men, or women, it is but a civil term for weakness. For
if it be allowed that women were destined by Providence to acquire
human virtues, and by the exercise of their understandings, that
stability of character which is the firmest ground to rest our
future hopes upon, they must be permitted to turn to the fountain
of light, and not forced to shape their course by the twinkling of
a mere satellite. Milton, I grant, was of a very different
opinion; for he only bends to the indefeasible right of beauty,
though it would be difficult to render two passages, which I now
mean to contrast, consistent: but into similar inconsistencies are
great men often led by their senses:–

“To whom thus Eve with perfect beauty adorned:
My author and disposer, what thou bidst
Unargued I obey; so God ordains;
God is thy law, thou mine; to know no more
Is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise.”

These are exactly the arguments that I have used to children; but I
have added, “Your reason is now gaining strength, and, till it
arrives at some degree of maturity, you must look up to me for
advice: then you ought to THINK, and only rely on God.”

Yet, in the following lines, Milton seems to coincide with me, when
he makes Adam thus expostulate with his Maker:–

“Hast thou not made me here thy substitute,
And these inferior far beneath me set?
Among unequals what society
Can sort, what harmony or delight?
Which must be mutual, in proportion due
Given and received; but in disparity
The one intense, the other still remiss
Cannot well suit with either, but soon prove
Tedious alike: of fellowship I speak
Such as I seek fit to participate
All rational delight.”

In treating, therefore, of the manners of women, let us,
disregarding sensual arguments, trace what we should endeavour to
make them in order to co-operate, if the expression be not too
bold, with the Supreme Being.

By individual education, I mean–for the sense of the word is not
precisely defined–such an attention to a child as will slowly
sharpen the senses, form the temper, regulate the passions, as they
begin to ferment, and set the understanding to work before the body
arrives at maturity; so that the man may only have to proceed, not
to begin, the important task of learning to think and reason.

To prevent any misconstruction, I must add, that I do not believe
that a private education can work the wonders which some sanguine
writers have attributed to it. Men and women must be educated, in
a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they
live in. In every age there has been a stream of popular opinion
that has carried all before it, and given a family character, as it
were, to the century. It may then fairly be inferred, that, till
society be differently constituted, much cannot be expected from
education. It is, however, sufficient for my present purpose to
assert, that, whatever effect circumstances have on the abilities,
every being may become virtuous by the exercise of its own reason;
for if but one being was created with vicious inclinations–that
is, positively bad– what can save us from atheism? or if we
worship a God, is not that God a devil?

Consequently, the most perfect education, in my opinion, is such an
exercise of the understanding as is best calculated to strengthen
the body and form the heart; or, in other words, to enable the
individual to attain such habits of virtue as will render it
independent. In fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous
whose virtues do not result from the exercise of its own reason.
This was Rousseau’s opinion respecting men: I extend it to women,
and confidently assert that they have been drawn out of their
sphere by false refinement, and not by an endeavour to acquire
masculine qualities. Still the regal homage which they receive is
so intoxicating, that, till the manners of the times are changed,
and formed on more reasonable principles, it may be impossible to
convince them that the illegitimate power, which they obtain by
degrading themselves, is a curse, and that they must return to
nature and equality, if they wish to secure the placid satisfaction
that unsophisticated affections impart. But for this epoch we must
wait–wait, perhaps, till kings and nobles, enlightened by reason,
and, preferring the real dignity of man to childish state, throw
off their gaudy hereditary trappings; and if then women do not
resign the arbitrary power of beauty, they will prove that they
have LESS mind than man. I may be accused of arrogance; still I
must declare, what I firmly believe, that all the writers who have
written on the subject of female education and manners, from
Rousseau to Dr. Gregory, have contributed to render women more
artificial, weaker characters, than they would otherwise have been;
and, consequently, more useless members of society. I might have
expressed this conviction in a lower key; but I am afraid it would
have been the whine of affectation, and not the faithful expression
of my feelings, of the clear result, which experience and
reflection have led me to draw. When I come to that division of
the subject, I shall advert to the passages that I more
particularly disapprove of, in the works of the authors I have just
alluded to; but it is first necessary to observe, that my objection
extends to the whole purport of those books, which tend, in my
opinion, to degrade one half of the human species, and render women
pleasing at the expense of every solid virtue.

Though to reason on Rousseau’s ground, if man did attain a degree
of perfection of mind when his body arrived at maturity, it might
be proper in order to make a man and his wife ONE, that she should
rely entirely on his understanding; and the graceful ivy, clasping
the oak that supported it, would form a whole in which strength and
beauty would be equally conspicuous. But, alas! husbands, as well
as their helpmates, are often only overgrown children; nay, thanks
to early debauchery, scarcely men in their outward form, and if the
blind lead the blind, one need not come from heaven to tell us the

Many are the causes that, in the present corrupt state of society,
contribute to enslave women by cramping their understandings and
sharpening their senses. One, perhaps, that silently does more
mischief than all the rest, is their disregard of order.

To do every thing in an orderly manner, is a most important
precept, which women, who, generally speaking, receive only a
disorderly kind of education, seldom attend to with that degree of
exactness that men, who from their infancy are broken into method,
observe. This negligent kind of guesswork, for what other epithet
can be used to point out the random exertions of a sort of
instinctive common sense, never brought to the test of reason?
prevents their generalizing matters of fact, so they do to-day,
what they did yesterday, merely because they did it yesterday.

This contempt of the understanding in early life has more baneful
consequences than is commonly supposed; for the little knowledge
which women of strong minds attain, is, from various circumstances,
of a more desultory kind than the knowledge of men, and it is
acquired more by sheer observations on real life, than from
comparing what has been individually observed with the results of
experience generalized by speculation. Led by their dependent
situation and domestic employments more into society, what they
learn is rather by snatches; and as learning is with them, in
general, only a secondary thing, they do not pursue any one branch
with that persevering ardour necessary to give vigour to the
faculties, and clearness to the judgment. In the present state of
society, a little learning is required to support the character of
a gentleman; and boys are obliged to submit to a few years of
discipline. But in the education of women the cultivation of the
understanding is always subordinate to the acquirement of some
corporeal accomplishment; even while enervated by confinement and
false notions of modesty, the body is prevented from attaining that
grace and beauty which relaxed half-formed limbs never exhibit.
Besides, in youth their faculties are not brought forward by
emulation; and having no serious scientific study, if they have
natural sagacity it is turned too soon on life and manners. They
dwell on effects, and modifications, without tracing them back to
causes; and complicated rules to adjust behaviour are a weak
substitute for simple principles.

As a proof that education gives this appearance of weakness to
females, we may instance the example of military men, who are, like
them, sent into the world before their minds have been stored with
knowledge or fortified by principles. The consequences are
similar; soldiers acquire a little superficial knowledge, snatched
from the muddy current of conversation, and, from continually
mixing with society, they gain, what is termed a knowledge of the
world; and this acquaintance with manners and customs has
frequently been confounded with a knowledge of the human heart.
But can the crude fruit of casual observation, never brought to the
test of judgment, formed by comparing speculation and experience,
deserve such a distinction? Soldiers, as well as women, practice
the minor virtues with punctilious politeness. Where is then the
sexual difference, when the education has been the same; all the
difference that I can discern, arises from the superior advantage
of liberty which enables the former to see more of life.

It is wandering from my present subject, perhaps, to make a
political remark; but as it was produced naturally by the train of
my reflections, I shall not pass it silently over.

Standing armies can never consist of resolute, robust men; they may
be well disciplined machines, but they will seldom contain men
under the influence of strong passions or with very vigorous
faculties. And as for any depth of understanding, I will venture
to affirm, that it is as rarely to be found in the army as amongst
women; and the cause, I maintain, is the same. It may be further
observed, that officers are also particularly attentive to their
persons, fond of dancing, crowded rooms, adventures, and ridicule.
Like the FAIR sex, the business of their lives is gallantry. They
were taught to please, and they only live to please. Yet they do
not lose their rank in the distinction of sexes, for they are still
reckoned superior to women, though in what their superiority
consists, beyond what I have just mentioned, it is difficult to

The great misfortune is this, that they both acquire manners before
morals, and a knowledge of life before they have from reflection,
any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. The
consequence is natural; satisfied with common nature, they become a
prey to prejudices, and taking all their opinions on credit, they
blindly submit to authority. So that if they have any sense, it is
a kind of instinctive glance, that catches proportions, and decides
with respect to manners; but fails when arguments are to be pursued
below the surface, or opinions analyzed.

May not the same remark be applied to women? Nay, the argument may
be carried still further, for they are both thrown out of a useful
station by the unnatural distinctions established in civilized
life. Riches and hereditary honours have made cyphers of women to
give consequence to the numerical figure; and idleness has produced
a mixture of gallantry and despotism in society, which leads the
very men who are the slaves of their mistresses, to tyrannize over
their sisters, wives, and daughters. This is only keeping them in
rank and file, it is true. Strengthen the female mind by enlarging
it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but, as blind
obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are
in the right when they endeavour to keep women in the dark, because
the former only want slaves, and the latter a play-thing. The
sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and
women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their
ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them.

I now principally allude to Rousseau, for his character of Sophia
is, undoubtedly, a captivating one, though it appears to me grossly
unnatural; however, it is not the superstructure, but the
foundation of her character, the principles on which her education
was built, that I mean to attack; nay, warmly as I admire the
genius of that able writer, whose opinions I shall often have
occasion to cite, indignation always takes place of admiration, and
the rigid frown of insulted virtue effaces the smile of
complacency, which his eloquent periods are wont to raise, when I
read his voluptuous reveries. Is this the man, who, in his ardour
for virtue, would banish all the soft arts of peace, and almost
carry us back to Spartan discipline? Is this the man who delights
to paint the useful struggles of passion, the triumphs of good
dispositions, and the heroic flights which carry the glowing soul
out of itself? How are these mighty sentiments lowered when he
describes the prettyfoot and enticing airs of his little favourite!
But, for the present, I waive the subject, and, instead of severely
reprehending the transient effusions of overweening sensibility, I
shall only observe, that whoever has cast a benevolent eye on
society, must often have been gratified by the sight of humble
mutual love, not dignified by sentiment, nor strengthened by a
union in intellectual pursuits. The domestic trifles of the day
have afforded matter for cheerful converse, and innocent caresses
have softened toils which did not require great exercise of mind,
or stretch of thought: yet, has not the sight of this moderate
felicity excited more tenderness than respect? An emotion similar
to what we feel when children are playing, or animals sporting,
whilst the contemplation of the noble struggles of suffering merit
has raised admiration, and carried our thoughts to that world where
sensation will give place to reason.

Women are, therefore, to be considered either as moral beings, or
so weak that they must be entirely subjected to the superior
faculties of men.

Let us examine this question. Rousseau declares, that a woman
should never, for a moment feel herself independent, that she
should be governed by fear to exercise her NATURAL cunning, and
made a coquetish slave in order to render her a more alluring
object of desire, a SWEETER companion to man, whenever he chooses
to relax himself. He carries the arguments, which he pretends to
draw from the indications of nature, still further, and insinuates
that truth and fortitude the corner stones of all human virtue,
shall be cultivated with certain restrictions, because with respect
to the female character, obedience is the grand lesson which ought
to be impressed with unrelenting rigour.

What nonsense! When will a great man arise with sufficient
strength of mind to puff away the fumes which pride and sensuality
have thus spread over the subject! If women are by nature inferior
to men, their virtues must be the same in quality, if not in
degree, or virtue is a relative idea; consequently, their conduct
should be founded on the same principles, and have the same aim.

Connected with man as daughters, wives, and mothers, their moral
character may be estimated by their manner of fulfilling those
simple duties; but the end, the grand end of their exertions should
be to unfold their own faculties, and acquire the dignity of
conscious virtue. They may try to render their road pleasant; but
ought never to forget, in common with man, that life yields not the
felicity which can satisfy an immortal soul. I do not mean to
insinuate, that either sex should be so lost, in abstract
reflections or distant views, as to forget the affections and
duties that lie before them, and are, in truth, the means appointed
to produce the fruit of life; on the contrary, I would warmly
recommend them, even while I assert, that they afford most
satisfaction when they are considered in their true subordinate

Probably the prevailing opinion, that woman was created for man,
may have taken its rise from Moses’s poetical story; yet, as very
few it is presumed, who have bestowed any serious thought on the
subject, ever supposed that Eve was, literally speaking, one of
Adam’s ribs, the deduction must be allowed to fall to the ground;
or, only be so far admitted as it proves that man, from the
remotest antiquity, found it convenient to exert his strength to
subjugate his companion, and his invention to show that she ought
to have her neck bent under the yoke; because she as well as the
brute creation, was created to do his pleasure.

Let it not be concluded, that I wish to invert the order of things;
I have already granted, that, from the constitution of their
bodies, men seem to be designed by Providence to attain a greater
degree of virtue. I speak collectively of the whole sex; but I see
not the shadow of a reason to conclude that their virtues should
differ in respect to their nature. In fact, how can they, if
virtue has only one eternal standard? I must, therefore, if I
reason consequentially, as strenuously maintain, that they have the
same simple direction, as that there is a God.

It follows then, that cunning should not be opposed to wisdom,
little cares to great exertions, nor insipid softness, varnished
over with the name of gentleness, to that fortitude which grand
views alone can inspire.

I shall be told, that woman would then lose many of her peculiar
graces, and the opinion of a well known poet might be quoted to
refute my unqualified assertions. For Pope has said, in the name
of the whole male sex,

“Yet ne’er so sure our passions to create,
As when she touch’d the brink of all we hate.”

In what light this sally places men and women, I shall leave to the
judicious to determine; meanwhile I shall content myself with
observing, that I cannot discover why, unless they are mortal,
females should always be degraded by being made subservient to love
or lust.

To speak disrespectfully of love is, I know, high treason against
sentiment and fine feelings; but I wish to speak the simple
language of truth, and rather to address the head than the heart.
To endeavour to reason love out of the world, would be to out
Quixote Cervantes, and equally offend against common sense; but an
endeavour to restrain this tumultuous passion, and to prove that it
should not be allowed to dethrone superior powers, or to usurp the
sceptre which the understanding should ever coolly wield, appears
less wild.

Youth is the season for love in both sexes; but in those days of
thoughtless enjoyment, provision should be made for the more
important years of life, when reflection takes place of sensation.
But Rousseau, and most of the male writers who have followed his
steps, have warmly inculcated that the whole tendency of female
education ought to be directed to one point to render them

Let me reason with the supporters of this opinion, who have any
knowledge of human nature, do they imagine that marriage can
eradicate the habitude of life? The woman who has only been taught
to please, will soon find that her charms are oblique sun-beams,
and that they cannot have much effect on her husband’s heart when
they are seen every day, when the summer is past and gone. Will
she then have sufficient native energy to look into herself for
comfort, and cultivate her dormant faculties? or, is it not more
rational to expect, that she will try to please other men; and, in
the emotions raised by the expectation of new conquests, endeavour
to forget the mortification her love or pride has received? When
the husband ceases to be a lover–and the time will inevitably
come, her desire of pleasing will then grow languid, or become a
spring of bitterness; and love, perhaps, the most evanescent of all
passions, gives place to jealousy or vanity.

I now speak of women who are restrained by principle or prejudice;
such women though they would shrink from an intrigue with real
abhorrence, yet, nevertheless, wish to be convinced by the homage
of gallantry, that they are cruelly neglected by their husbands;
or, days and weeks are spent in dreaming of the happiness enjoyed
by congenial souls, till the health is undermined and the spirits
broken by discontent. How then can the great art of pleasing be
such a necessary study? it is only useful to a mistress; the chaste
wife, and serious mother, should only consider her power to please
as the polish of her virtues, and the affection of her husband as
one of the comforts that render her task less difficult, and her
life happier. But, whether she be loved or neglected, her first
wish should be to make herself respectable, and not rely for all
her happiness on a being subject to like infirmities with herself.

The amiable Dr. Gregory fell into a similar error. I respect his
heart; but entirely disapprove of his celebrated Legacy to his

He advises them to cultivate a fondness for dress, because a
fondness for dress, he asserts, is natural to them. I am unable to
comprehend what either he or Rousseau mean, when they frequently
use this indefinite term. If they told us, that in a pre-existent
state the soul was fond of dress, and brought this inclination with
it into a new body, I should listen to them with a half smile, as I
often do when I hear a rant about innate elegance. But if he only
meant to say that the exercise of the faculties will produce this
fondness, I deny it. It is not natural; but arises, like false
ambition in men, from a love of power.

Dr. Gregory goes much further; he actually recommends
dissimulation, and advises an innocent girl to give the lie to her
feelings, and not dance with spirit, when gaiety of heart would
make her feet eloquent, without making her gestures immodest. In
the name of truth and common sense, why should not one woman
acknowledge that she can take more exercise than another? or, in
other words, that she has a sound constitution; and why to damp
innocent vivacity, is she darkly to be told, that men will draw
conclusions which she little thinks of? Let the libertine draw
what inference he pleases; but, I hope, that no sensible mother
will restrain the natural frankness of youth, by instilling such
indecent cautions. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth
speaketh; and a wiser than Solomon hath said, that the heart should
be made clean, and not trivial ceremonies observed, which it is not
very difficult to fulfill with scrupulous exactness when vice
reigns in the heart.

Women ought to endeavour to purify their hearts; but can they do so
when their uncultivated understandings make them entirely dependent
on their senses for employment and amusement, when no noble pursuit
sets them above the little vanities of the day, or enables them to
curb the wild emotions that agitate a reed over which every passing
breeze has power? To gain the affections of a virtuous man, is
affectation necessary?

Nature has given woman a weaker frame than man; but, to ensure her
husband’s affections, must a wife, who, by the exercise of her mind
and body, whilst she was discharging the duties of a daughter,
wife, and mother, has allowed her constitution to retain its
natural strength, and her nerves a healthy tone, is she, I say, to
condescend, to use art, and feign a sickly delicacy, in order to
secure her husband’s affection? Weakness may excite tenderness, and
gratify the arrogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a
protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for and deserves
to be respected. Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship!

In a seraglio, I grant, that all these arts are necessary; the
epicure must have his palate tickled, or he will sink into apathy;
but have women so little ambition as to be satisfied with such a
condition? Can they supinely dream life away in the lap of
pleasure, or in the languor of weariness, rather than assert their
claim to pursue reasonable pleasures, and render themselves
conspicuous, by practising the virtues which dignify mankind?
Surely she has not an immortal soul who can loiter life away,
merely employed to adorn her person, that she may amuse the languid
hours, and soften the cares of a fellow-creature who is willing to
be enlivened by her smiles and tricks, when the serious business of
life is over.

Besides, the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind
will, by managing her family and practising various virtues, become
the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband; and if she
deserves his regard by possessing such substantial qualities, she
will not find it necessary to conceal her affection, nor to pretend
to an unnatural coldness of constitution to excite her husband’s
passions. In fact, if we revert to history, we shall find that the
women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most
beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex.

Nature, or to speak with strict propriety God, has made all things
right; but man has sought him out many inventions to mar the work.
I now allude to that part of Dr. Gregory’s treatise, where he
advises a wife never to let her husband know the extent of her
sensibility or affection. Voluptuous precaution; and as
ineffectual as absurd. Love, from its very nature, must be
transitory. To seek for a secret that would render it constant,
would be as wild a search as for the philosopher’s stone, or the
grand panacea; and the discovery would be equally useless, or
rather pernicious to mankind. The most holy band of society is
friendship. It has been well said, by a shrewd satirist, “that
rare as true love is, true friendship is still rarer.”

This is an obvious truth, and the cause not lying deep, will not
elude a slight glance of inquiry.

Love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation take place
of choice and reason, is in some degree, felt by the mass of
mankind; for it is not necessary to speak, at present, of the
emotions that rise above or sink below love. This passion,
naturally increased by suspense and difficulties, draws the mind
out of its accustomed state, and exalts the affections; but the
security of marriage, allowing the fever of love to subside, a
healthy temperature is thought insipid, only by those who have not
sufficient intellect to substitute the calm tenderness of
friendship, the confidence of respect, instead of blind admiration,
and the sensual emotions of fondness.

This is, must be, the course of nature–friendship or indifference
inevitably succeeds love. And this constitution seems perfectly to
harmonize with the system of government which prevails in the moral
world. Passions are spurs to action, and open the mind; but they
sink into mere appetites, become a personal momentary
gratification, when the object is gained, and the satisfied mind
rests in enjoyment. The man who had some virtue whilst he was
struggling for a crown, often becomes a voluptuous tyrant when it
graces his brow; and, when the lover is not lost in the husband,
the dotard a prey to childish caprices, and fond jealousies,
neglects the serious duties of life, and the caresses which should
excite confidence in his children are lavished on the overgrown
child, his wife.

In order to fulfil the duties of life, and to be able to pursue
with vigour the various employments which form the moral character,
a master and mistress of a family ought not to continue to love
each other with passion. I mean to say, that they ought not to
indulge those emotions which disturb the order of society, and
engross the thoughts that should be otherwise employed. The mind
that has never been engrossed by one object wants vigour–if it can
long be so, it is weak.

A mistaken education, a narrow, uncultivated mind, and many sexual
prejudices, tend to make women more constant than men; but, for the
present, I shall not touch on this branch of the subject. I will
go still further, and advance, without dreaming of a paradox, that
an unhappy marriage is often very advantageous to a family, and
that the neglected wife is, in general, the best mother. And this
would almost always be the consequence, if the female mind was more
enlarged; for, it seems to be the common dispensation of
Providence, that what we gain in present enjoyment should be
deducted from the treasure of life, experience; and that when we
are gathering the flowers of the day and revelling in pleasure, the
solid fruit of toil and wisdom should not be caught at the same
time. The way lies before us, we must turn to the right or left;
and he who will pass life away in bounding from one pleasure to
another, must not complain if he neither acquires wisdom nor
respectability of character.

Supposing for a moment, that the soul is not immortal, and that man
was only created for the present scene; I think we should have
reason to complain that love, infantine fondness, ever grew insipid
and palled upon the sense. Let us eat, drink, and love, for
to-morrow we die, would be in fact the language of reason, the
morality of life; and who but a fool would part with a reality for
a fleeting shadow? But, if awed by observing the improvable powers
of the mind, we disdain to confine our wishes or thoughts to such a
comparatively mean field of action; that only appears grand and
important as it is connected with a boundless prospect and sublime
hopes; what necessity is there for falsehood in conduct, and why
must the sacred majesty of truth be violated to detain a deceitful
good that saps the very foundation of virtue? Why must the female
mind be tainted by coquetish arts to gratify the sensualist, and
prevent love from subsiding into friendship or compassionate
tenderness, when there are not qualities on which friendship can be
built? Let the honest heart show itself, and REASON teach passion
to submit to necessity; or, let the dignified pursuit of virtue and
knowledge raise the mind above those emotions which rather imbitter
than sweeten the cup of life, when they are not restrained within
due bounds.

I do not mean to allude to the romantic passion, which is the
concomitant of genius. Who can clip its wings? But that grand
passion not proportioned to the puny enjoyments of life, is only
true to the sentiment, and feeds on itself. The passions which
have been celebrated for their durability have always been
unfortunate. They have acquired strength by absence and
constitutional melancholy. The fancy has hovered round a form of
beauty dimly seen–but familiarity might have turned admiration
into disgust; or, at least, into indifference, and allowed the
imagination leisure to start fresh game. With perfect propriety,
according to this view of things, does Rousseau make the mistress
of his soul, Eloisa, love St. Preux, when life was fading before
her; but this is no proof of the immortality of the passion.

Of the same complexion is Dr. Gregory’s advice respecting delicacy
of sentiment, which he advises a woman not to acquire, if she has
determined to marry. This determination, however, perfectly
consistent with his former advice, he calls INDELICATE, and
earnestly persuades his daughters to conceal it, though it may
govern their conduct: as if it were indelicate to have the common
appetites of human nature.

Noble morality! and consistent with the cautious prudence of a
little soul that cannot extend its views beyond the present minute
division of existence. If all the faculties of woman’s mind are
only to be cultivated as they respect her dependence on man; if,
when she obtains a husband she has arrived at her goal, and meanly
proud, is satisfied with such a paltry crown, let her grovel
contentedly, scarcely raised by her employments above the animal
kingdom; but, if she is struggling for the prize of her high
calling, let her cultivate her understanding without stopping to
consider what character the husband may have whom she is destined
to marry. Let her only determine, without being too anxious about
present happiness, to acquire the qualities that ennoble a rational
being, and a rough, inelegant husband may shock her taste without
destroying her peace of mind. She will not model her soul to suit
the frailties of her companion, but to bear with them: his
character may be a trial, but not an impediment to virtue.

If Dr. Gregory confined his remark to romantic expectations of
constant love and congenial feelings, he should have recollected,
that experience will banish what advice can never make us cease to
wish for, when the imagination is kept alive at the expence of

I own it frequently happens, that women who have fostered a
romantic unnatural delicacy of feeling, waste their lives in
IMAGINING how happy they should have been with a husband who could
love them with a fervid increasing affection every day, and all
day. But they might as well pine married as single, and would not
be a jot more unhappy with a bad husband than longing for a good
one. That a proper education; or, to speak with more precision, a
well stored mind, would enable a woman to support a single life
with dignity, I grant; but that she should avoid cultivating her
taste, lest her husband should occasionally shock it, is quitting a
substance for a shadow. To say the truth, I do not know of what
use is an improved taste, if the individual be not rendered more
independent of the casualties of life; if new sources of enjoyment,
only dependent on the solitary operations of the mind, are not
opened. People of taste, married or single, without distinction,
will ever be disgusted by various things that touch not less
observing minds. On this conclusion the argument must not be
allowed to hinge; but in the whole sum of enjoyment is taste to be
denominated a blessing?

The question is, whether it procures most pain or pleasure? The
answer will decide the propriety of Dr. Gregory’s advice, and show
how absurd and tyrannic it is thus to lay down a system of slavery;
or to attempt to educate moral beings by any other rules than those
deduced from pure reason, which apply to the whole species.

Gentleness of manners, forbearance, and long suffering, are such
amiable godlike qualities, that in sublime poetic strains the Deity
has been invested with them; and, perhaps, no representation of his
goodness so strongly fastens on the human affections as those that
represent him abundant in mercy and willing to pardon. Gentleness,
considered in this point of view, bears on its front all the
characteristics of grandeur, combined with the winning graces of
condescension; but what a different aspect it assumes when it is
the submissive demeanour of dependence, the support of weakness
that loves, because it wants protection; and is forbearing, because
it must silently endure injuries; smiling under the lash at which
it dare not snarl. Abject as this picture appears, it is the
portrait of an accomplished woman, according to the received
opinion of female excellence, separated by specious reasoners from
human excellence. Or, they (Vide Rousseau, and Swedenborg) kindly
restore the rib, and make one moral being of a man and woman; not
forgetting to give her all the “submissive charms.”

How women are to exist in that state where there is to be neither
marrying nor giving in marriage, we are not told. For though
moralists have agreed, that the tenor of life seems to prove that
MAN is prepared by various circumstances for a future state, they
constantly concur in advising WOMAN only to provide for the
present. Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection are,
on this ground, consistently recommended as the cardinal virtues of
the sex; and, disregarding the arbitrary economy of nature, one
writer has declared that it is masculine for a woman to be
melancholy. She was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and
it must jingle in his ears, whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses
to be amused.

To recommend gentleness, indeed, on a broad basis is strictly
philosophical. A frail being should labour to be gentle. But when
forbearance confounds right and wrong, it ceases to be a virtue;
and, however convenient it may be found in a companion, that
companion will ever be considered as an inferior, and only inspire
a vapid tenderness, which easily degenerates into contempt. Still,
if advice could really make a being gentle, whose natural
disposition admitted not of such a fine polish, something toward
the advancement of order would be attained; but if, as might
quickly be demonstrated, only affectation be produced by this
indiscriminate counsel, which throws a stumbling block in the way
of gradual improvement, and true melioration of temper, the sex is
not much benefited by sacrificing solid virtues to the attainment
of superficial graces, though for a few years they may procure the
individual’s regal sway.

As a philosopher, I read with indignation the plausible epithets
which men use to soften their insults; and, as a moralist, I ask
what is meant by such heterogeneous associations, as fair defects,
amiable weaknesses, etc.? If there is but one criterion of morals,
but one archetype for man, women appear to be suspended by destiny,
according to the vulgar tale of Mahomet’s coffin; they have neither
the unerring instinct of brutes, nor are allowed to fix the eye of
reason on a perfect model. They were made to be loved, and must
not aim at respect, lest they should be hunted out of society as

But to view the subject in another point of view. Do passive
indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to
the present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures
perform their part? Do the women who, by the attainment of a few
superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the prevailing
prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands?
Do they display their charms merely to amuse them? And have women,
who have early imbibed notions of passive obedience, sufficient
character to manage a family or educate children? So far from it,
that, after surveying the history of woman, I cannot help agreeing
with the severest satirist, considering the sex as the weakest as
well as the most oppressed half of the species. What does history
disclose but marks of inferiority, and how few women have
emancipated themselves from the galling yoke of sovereign man? So
few, that the exceptions remind me of an ingenious conjecture
respecting Newton: that he was probably a being of a superior
order, accidentally caged in a human body. In the same style I
have been led to imagine that the few extraordinary women who have
rushed in eccentrical directions out of the orbit prescribed to
their sex, were MALE spirits, confined by mistake in a female
frame. But if it be not philosophical to think of sex when the
soul is mentioned, the inferiority must depend on the organs; or
the heavenly fire, which is to ferment the clay, is not given in
equal portions.

But avoiding, as I have hitherto done, any direct comparison of the
two sexes collectively, or frankly acknowledging the inferiority of
woman, according to the present appearance of things, I shall only
insist, that men have increased that inferiority till women are
almost sunk below the standard of rational creatures. Let their
faculties have room to unfold, and their virtues to gain strength,
and then determine where the whole sex must stand in the
intellectual scale. Yet, let it be remembered, that for a small
number of distinguished women I do not ask a place.

It is difficult for us purblind mortals to say to what height human
discoveries and improvements may arrive, when the gloom of
despotism subsides, which makes us stumble at every step; but, when
morality shall be settled on a more solid basis, then, without
being gifted with a prophetic spirit, I will venture to predict,
that woman will be either the friend or slave of man. We shall
not, as at present, doubt whether she is a moral agent, or the link
which unites man with brutes. But, should it then appear, that
like the brutes they were principally created for the use of man,
he will let them patiently bite the bridle, and not mock them with
empty praise; or, should their rationality be proved, he will not
impede their improvement merely to gratify his sensual appetites.
He will not with all the graces of rhetoric, advise them to submit
implicitly their understandings to the guidance of man. He will
not, when he treats of the education of women, assert, that they
ought never to have the free use of reason, nor would he recommend
cunning and dissimulation to beings who are acquiring, in like
manner as himself, the virtues of humanity.

Surely there can be but one rule of right, if morality has an
eternal foundation, and whoever sacrifices virtue, strictly so
called, to present convenience, or whose DUTY it is to act in such
a manner, lives only for the passing day, and cannot be an
accountable creature.

The poet then should have dropped his sneer when he says,

“If weak women go astray,
The stars are more in fault than they.”

For that they are bound by the adamantine chain of destiny is most
certain, if it be proved that they are never to exercise their own
reason, never to be independent, never to rise above opinion, or to
feel the dignity of a rational will that only bows to God, and
often forgets that the universe contains any being but itself, and
the model of perfection to which its ardent gaze is turned, to
adore attributes that, softened into virtues, may be imitated in
kind, though the degree overwhelms the enraptured mind.

If, I say, for I would not impress by declamation when reason
offers her sober light, if they are really capable of acting like
rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like
the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man, when they
associate with him; but cultivate their minds, give them the
salutary, sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious
dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God. Teach them,
in common with man, to submit to necessity, instead of giving, to
render them more pleasing, a sex to morals.

Further, should experience prove that they cannot attain the same
degree of strength of mind, perseverance and fortitude, let their
virtues be the same in kind, though they may vainly struggle for
the same degree; and the superiority of man will be equally clear,
if not clearer; and truth, as it is a simple principle, which
admits of no modification, would be common to both. Nay, the order
of society, as it is at present regulated, would not be inverted,
for woman would then only have the rank that reason assigned her,
and arts could not be practised to bring the balance even, much
less to turn it.

These may be termed Utopian dreams. Thanks to that Being who
impressed them on my soul, and gave me sufficient strength of mind
to dare to exert my own reason, till becoming dependent only on him
for the support of my virtue, I view with indignation, the mistaken
notions that enslave my sex.

I love man as my fellow; but his sceptre real or usurped, extends
not to me, unless the reason of an individual demands my homage;
and even then the submission is to reason, and not to man. In
fact, the conduct of an accountable being must be regulated by the
operations of its own reason; or on what foundation rests the
throne of God?

It appears to me necessary to dwell on these obvious truths,
because females have been insulted, as it were; and while they have
been stripped of the virtues that should clothe humanity, they have
been decked with artificial graces, that enable them to exercise a
short lived tyranny. Love, in their bosoms, taking place of every
nobler passion, their sole ambition is to be fair, to raise emotion
instead of inspiring respect; and this ignoble desire, like the
servility in absolute monarchies, destroys all strength of
character. Liberty is the mother of virtue, and if women are, by
their very constitution, slaves, and not allowed to breathe the
sharp invigorating air of freedom, they must ever languish like
exotics, and be reckoned beautiful flaws in nature; let it also be
remembered, that they are the only flaw.

As to the argument respecting the subjection in which the sex has
ever been held, it retorts on man. The many have always been
enthralled by the few; and, monsters who have scarcely shown any
discernment of human excellence, have tyrannized over thousands of
their fellow creatures. Why have men of superior endowments
submitted to such degradation? For, is it not universally
acknowledged that kings, viewed collectively, have ever been
inferior, in abilities and virtue, to the same number of men taken
from the common mass of mankind–yet, have they not, and are they
not still treated with a degree of reverence, that is an insult to
reason? China is not the only country where a living man has been
made a God. MEN have submitted to superior strength, to enjoy with
impunity the pleasure of the moment–WOMEN have only done the same,
and therefore till it is proved that the courtier, who servilely
resigns the birthright of a man, is not a moral agent, it cannot be
demonstrated that woman is essentially inferior to man, because she
has always been subjugated.

Brutal force has hitherto governed the world, and that the science
of politics is in its infancy, is evident from philosophers
scrupling to give the knowledge most useful to man that determinate

I shall not pursue this argument any further than to establish an
obvious inference, that as sound politics diffuse liberty, mankind,
including woman, will become more wise and virtuous.



Bodily strength from being the distinction of heroes is now sunk
into such unmerited contempt, that men as well as women, seem to
think it unnecessary: the latter, as it takes from their feminine
graces, and from that lovely weakness, the source of their undue
power; and the former, because it appears inimical with the
character of a gentleman.

That they have both by departing from one extreme run into another,
may easily be proved; but it first may be proper to observe, that a
vulgar error has obtained a degree of credit, which has given force
to a false conclusion, in which an effect has been mistaken for a

People of genius have, very frequently, impaired their
constitutions by study, or careless inattention to their health,
and the violence of their passions bearing a proportion to the
vigour of their intellects, the sword’s destroying the scabbard has
become almost proverbial, and superficial observers have inferred
from thence, that men of genius have commonly weak, or to use a
more fashionable phrase, delicate constitutions. Yet the contrary,
I believe, will appear to be the fact; for, on diligent inquiry, I
find that strength of mind has, in most cases, been accompanied by
superior strength of body, natural soundness of constitution, not
that robust tone of nerves and vigour of muscles, which arise from
bodily labour, when the mind is quiescent, or only directs the

Dr. Priestley has remarked, in the preface to his biographical
chart, that the majority of great men have lived beyond forty-five.
And, considering the thoughtless manner in which they lavished
their strength, when investigating a favourite science, they have
wasted the lamp of life, forgetful of the midnight hour; or, when,
lost in poetic dreams, fancy has peopled the scene, and the soul
has been disturbed, till it shook the constitution, by the passions
that meditation had raised; whose objects, the baseless fabric of a
vision, faded before the exhausted eye, they must have had iron
frames. Shakespeare never grasped the airy dagger with a nerveless
hand, nor did Milton tremble when he led Satan far from the
confines of his dreary prison. These were not the ravings of
imbecility, the sickly effusions of distempered brains; but the
exuberance of fancy, that “in a fine phrenzy” wandering, was not
continually reminded of its material shackles.

I am aware, that this argument would carry me further than it may
be supposed I wish to go; but I follow truth, and still adhering to
my first position, I will allow that bodily strength seems to give
man a natural superiority over woman; and this is the only solid
basis on which the superiority of the sex can be built. But I
still insist, that not only the virtue, but the KNOWLEDGE of the
two sexes should be the same in nature, if not in degree, and that
women, considered not only as moral, but rational creatures, ought
to endeavour to acquire human virtues (or perfections) by the SAME
means as men, instead of being educated like a fanciful kind of
HALF being, one of Rousseau’s wild chimeras.

But, if strength of body be, with some show of reason, the boast of
men, why are women so infatuated as to be proud of a defect?
Rousseau has furnished them with a plausible excuse, which could
only have occurred to a man, whose imagination had been allowed to
run wild, and refine on the impressions made by exquisite senses,
that they might, forsooth have a pretext for yielding to a natural
appetite without violating a romantic species of modesty, which
gratifies the pride and libertinism of man.

Women deluded by these sentiments, sometimes boast of their
weakness, cunningly obtaining power by playing on the WEAKNESS of
men; and they may well glory in their illicit sway, for, like
Turkish bashaws, they have more real power than their masters: but
virtue is sacrificed to temporary gratifications, and the
respectability of life to the triumph of an hour.

Women, as well as despots, have now, perhaps, more power than they
would have, if the world, divided and subdivided into kingdoms and
families, was governed by laws deduced from the exercise of reason;
but in obtaining it, to carry on the comparison, their character is
degraded, and licentiousness spread through the whole aggregate of
society. The many become pedestal to the few. I, therefore will
venture to assert, that till women are more rationally educated,
the progress of human virtue and improvement in knowledge must
receive continual checks. And if it be granted, that woman was not
created merely to gratify the appetite of man, nor to be the upper
servant, who provides his meals and takes care of his linen, it
must follow, that the first care of those mothers or fathers, who
really attend to the education of females, should be, if not to
strengthen the body, at least, not to destroy the constitution by
mistaken notions of beauty and female excellence; nor should girls
ever be allowed to imbibe the pernicious notion that a defect can,
by any chemical process of reasoning become an excellence. In this
respect, I am happy to find, that the author of one of the most
instructive books, that our country has produced for children,
coincides with me in opinion; I shall quote his pertinent remarks
to give the force of his respectable authority to reason.*

(*Footnote. A respectable old man gives the following sensible
account of the method he pursued when educating his daughter. “I
endeavoured to give both to her mind and body a degree of vigour,
which is seldom found in the female sex. As soon as she was
sufficiently advanced in strength to be capable of the lighter
labours of husbandry and gardening, I employed her as my constant
companion. Selene, for that was her name, soon acquired a
dexterity in all these rustic employments which I considered with
equal pleasure and admiration. If women are in general feeble both
in body and mind, it arises less from nature than from education.
We encourage a vicious indolence and inactivity, which we falsely
call delicacy; instead of hardening their minds by the severer
principles of reason and philosophy, we breed them to useless arts,
which terminate in vanity and sensuality. In most of the countries
which I had visited, they are taught nothing of an higher nature
than a few modulations of the voice, or useless postures of the
body; their time is consumed in sloth or trifles, and trifles
become the only pursuits capable of interesting them. We seem to
forget, that it is upon the qualities of the female sex, that our
own domestic comforts and the education of our children must
depend. And what are the comforts or the education which a race of
beings corrupted from their infancy, and unacquainted with all the
duties of life, are fitted to bestow? To touch a musical
instrument with useless skill, to exhibit their natural or affected
graces, to the eyes of indolent and debauched young men, who
dissipate their husbands’ patrimony in riotous and unnecessary
expenses: these are the only arts cultivated by women in most of
the polished nations I had seen. And the consequences are
uniformly such as may be expected to proceed from such polluted
sources, private misery, and public servitude.

“But, Selene’s education was regulated by different views, and
conducted upon severer principles; if that can be called severity
which opens the mind to a sense of moral and religious duties, and
most effectually arms it against the inevitable evils of
life.”–Mr. Day’s “Sandford and Merton,” Volume 3.)

But should it be proved that woman is naturally weaker than man,
from whence does it follow that it is natural for her to labour to
become still weaker than nature intended her to be? Arguments of
this cast are an insult to common sense, and savour of passion.
The DIVINE RIGHT of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may,
it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without
danger, and though conviction may not silence many boisterous
disputants, yet, when any prevailing prejudice is attacked, the
wise will consider, and leave the narrow-minded to rail with
thoughtless vehemence at innovation.

The mother, who wishes to give true dignity of character to her
daughter, must, regardless of the sneers of ignorance, proceed on a
plan diametrically opposite to that which Rousseau has recommended
with all the deluding charms of eloquence and philosophical
sophistry: for his eloquence renders absurdities plausible, and
his dogmatic conclusions puzzle, without convincing those who have
not ability to refute them.

Throughout the whole animal kingdom every young creature requires
almost continual exercise, and the infancy of children, conformable
to this intimation, should be passed in harmless gambols, that
exercise the feet and hands, without requiring very minute
direction from the head, or the constant attention of a nurse. In
fact, the care necessary for self-preservation is the first natural
exercise of the understanding, as little inventions to amuse the
present moment unfold the imagination. But these wise designs of
nature are counteracted by mistaken fondness or blind zeal. The
child is not left a moment to its own direction, particularly a
girl, and thus rendered dependent–dependence is called natural.

To preserve personal beauty, woman’s glory! the limbs and faculties
are cramped with worse than Chinese bands, and the sedentary life
which they are condemned to live, whilst boys frolic in the open
air, weakens the muscles and relaxes the nerves. As for Rousseau’s
remarks, which have since been echoed by several writers, that they
have naturally, that is from their birth, independent of education,