Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft [Godwin]

Part 2 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Vindication of the Rights of Women pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

a fondness for dolls, dressing, and talking, they are so puerile as
not to merit a serious refutation. That a girl, condemned to sit
for hours together listening to the idle chat of weak nurses or to
attend at her mother's toilet, will endeavour to join the
conversation, is, indeed very natural; and that she will imitate
her mother or aunts, and amuse herself by adorning her lifeless
doll, as they do in dressing her, poor innocent babe! is
undoubtedly a most natural consequence. For men of the greatest
abilities have seldom had sufficient strength to rise above the
surrounding atmosphere; and, if the page of genius has always been
blurred by the prejudices of the age, some allowance should be made
for a sex, who, like kings, always see things through a false

In this manner may the fondness for dress, conspicuous in women, be
easily accounted for, without supposing it the result of a desire
to please the sex on which they are dependent. The absurdity, in
short, of supposing that a girl is naturally a coquette, and that a
desire connected with the impulse of nature to propagate the
species, should appear even before an improper education has, by
heating the imagination, called it forth prematurely, is so
unphilosophical, that such a sagacious observer as Rousseau would
not have adopted it, if he had not been accustomed to make reason
give way to his desire of singularity, and truth to a favourite

Yet thus to give a sex to mind was not very consistent with the
principles of a man who argued so warmly, and so well, for the
immortality of the soul. But what a weak barrier is truth when it
stands in the way of an hypothesis! Rousseau respected--almost
adored virtue--and yet allowed himself to love with sensual
fondness. His imagination constantly prepared inflammable fuel for
his inflammable senses; but, in order to reconcile his respect for
self-denial, fortitude and those heroic virtues, which a mind like
his could not coolly admire, he labours to invert the law of
nature, and broaches a doctrine pregnant with mischief, and
derogatory to the character of supreme wisdom.

His ridiculous stories, which tend to prove that girls are
NATURALLY attentive to their persons, without laying any stress on
daily example, are below contempt. And that a little miss should
have such a correct taste as to neglect the pleasing amusement of
making O's, merely because she perceived that it was an ungraceful
attitude, should be selected with the anecdotes of the learned

(*Footnote. "I once knew a young person who learned to write
before she learned to read, and began to write with her needle
before she could use a pen. At first indeed, she took it into her
head to make no other letter than the O: this letter she was
constantly making of all sizes, and always the wrong way.
Unluckily one day, as she was intent on this employment, she
happened to see herself in the looking glass; when, taking a
dislike to the constrained attitude in which she sat while writing,
she threw away her pen, like another Pallas, and determined against
making the O any more. Her brother was also equally averse to
writing: it was the confinement, however, and not the constrained
attitude, that most disgusted him."
Rousseau's "Emilius.")

I have, probably, had an opportunity of observing more girls in
their infancy than J. J. Rousseau. I can recollect my own
feelings, and I have looked steadily around me; yet, so far from
coinciding with him in opinion respecting the first dawn of the
female character, I will venture to affirm, that a girl, whose
spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by
false shame, will always be a romp, and the doll will never excite
attention unless confinement allows her no alternative. Girls and
boys, in short, would play harmless together, if the distinction of
sex was not inculcated long before nature makes any difference. I
will, go further, and affirm, as an indisputable fact, that most of
the women, in the circle of my observation, who have acted like
rational creatures, or shown any vigour of intellect, have
accidentally been allowed to run wild, as some of the elegant
formers of the fair sex would insinuate.

The baneful consequences which flow from inattention to health
during infancy, and youth, extend further than is supposed,
dependence of body naturally produces dependence of mind; and how
can she be a good wife or mother, the greater part of whose time is
employed to guard against or endure sickness; nor can it be
expected, that a woman will resolutely endeavour to strengthen her
constitution and abstain from enervating indulgences, if artificial
notions of beauty, and false descriptions of sensibility, have been
early entangled with her motives of action. Most men are sometimes
obliged to bear with bodily inconveniences, and to endure,
occasionally, the inclemency of the elements; but genteel women
are, literally speaking, slaves to their bodies, and glory in their

I once knew a weak woman of fashion, who was more than commonly
proud of her delicacy and sensibility. She thought a
distinguishing taste and puny appetite the height of all human
perfection, and acted accordingly. I have seen this weak
sophisticated being neglect all the duties of life, yet recline
with self-complacency on a sofa, and boast of her want of appetite
as a proof of delicacy that extended to, or, perhaps, arose from,
her exquisite sensibility: for it is difficult to render
intelligible such ridiculous jargon. Yet, at the moment, I have
seen her insult a worthy old gentlewoman, whom unexpected
misfortunes had made dependent on her ostentatious bounty, and who,
in better days, had claims on her gratitude. Is it possible that a
human creature should have become such a weak and depraved being,
if, like the Sybarites, dissolved in luxury, every thing like
virtue had not been worn away, or never impressed by precept, a
poor substitute it is true, for cultivation of mind, though it
serves as a fence against vice?

Such a woman is not a more irrational monster than some of the
Roman emperors, who were depraved by lawless power. Yet, since
kings have been more under the restraint of law, and the curb,
however weak, of honour, the records of history are not filled with
such unnatural instances of folly and cruelty, nor does the
despotism that kills virtue and genius in the bud, hover over
Europe with that destructive blast which desolates Turkey, and
renders the men, as well as the soil unfruitful.

Women are every where in this deplorable state; for, in order to
preserve their innocence, as ignorance is courteously termed, truth
is hidden from them, and they are made to assume an artificial
character before their faculties have acquired any strength.
Taught from their infancy, that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind
shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only
seeks to adorn its prison. Men have various employments and
pursuits which engage their attention, and give a character to the
opening mind; but women, confined to one, and having their thoughts
constantly directed to the most insignificant part of themselves,
seldom extend their views beyond the triumph of the hour. But was
their understanding once emancipated from the slavery to which the
pride and sensuality of man and their short sighted desire, like
that of dominion in tyrants, of present sway, has subjected them,
we should probably read of their weaknesses with surprise. I must
be allowed to pursue the argument a little farther.

Perhaps, if the existence of an evil being was allowed, who, in the
allegorical language of scripture, went about seeking whom he
should devour, he could not more effectually degrade the human
character than by giving a man absolute power.

This argument branches into various ramifications. Birth, riches,
and every intrinsic advantage that exalt a man above his fellows,
without any mental exertion, sink him in reality below them. In
proportion to his weakness, he is played upon by designing men,
till the bloated monster has lost all traces of humanity. And that
tribes of men, like flocks of sheep, should quietly follow such a
leader, is a solecism that only a desire of present enjoyment and
narrowness of understanding can solve. Educated in slavish
dependence, and enervated by luxury and sloth, where shall we find
men who will stand forth to assert the rights of man; or claim the
privilege of moral beings, who should have but one road to
excellence? Slavery to monarchs and ministers, which the world will
be long in freeing itself from, and whose deadly grasp stops the
progress of the human mind, is not yet abolished.

Let not men then in the pride of power, use the same arguments that
tyrannic kings and venal ministers have used, and fallaciously
assert, that woman ought to be subjected because she has always
been so. But, when man, governed by reasonable laws, enjoys his
natural freedom, let him despise woman, if she do not share it with
him; and, till that glorious period arrives, in descanting on the
folly of the sex, let him not overlook his own.

Women, it is true, obtaining power by unjust means, by practising
or fostering vice, evidently lose the rank which reason would
assign them, and they become either abject slaves or capricious
tyrants. They lose all simplicity, all dignity of mind, in
acquiring power, and act as men are observed to act when they have
been exalted by the same means.

It is time to effect a revolution in female manners, time to
restore to them their lost dignity, and make them, as a part of the
human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world.
It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners. If
men be demi-gods, why let us serve them! And if the dignity of the
female soul be as disputable as that of animals, if their reason
does not afford sufficient light to direct their conduct whilst
unerring instinct is denied, they are surely of all creatures the
most miserable and, bent beneath the iron hand of destiny, must
submit to be a FAIR DEFECT in creation. But to justify the ways of
providence respecting them, by pointing out some irrefragable
reason for thus making such a large portion of mankind accountable
and not accountable, would puzzle the subtlest casuist.

The only solid foundation for morality appears to be the character
of the Supreme Being; the harmony of which arises from a balance of
attributes; and, to speak with reverence, one attribute seems to
imply the NECESSITY of another. He must be just, because he is
wise, he must be good, because he is omnipotent. For, to exalt one
attribute at the expense of another equally noble and necessary,
bears the stamp of the warped reason of man, the homage of passion.
Man, accustomed to bow down to power in his savage state, can
seldom divest himself of this barbarous prejudice even when
civilization determines how much superior mental is to bodily
strength; and his reason is clouded by these crude opinions, even
when he thinks of the Deity. His omnipotence is made to swallow
up, or preside over his other attributes, and those mortals are
supposed to limit his power irreverently, who think that it must be
regulated by his wisdom.

I disclaim that species of humility which, after investigating
nature, stops at the author. The high and lofty One, who
inhabiteth eternity, doubtless possesses many attributes of which
we can form no conception; but reason tells me that they cannot
clash with those I adore, and I am compelled to listen to her

It seems natural for man to search for excellence, and either to
trace it in the object that he worships, or blindly to invest it
with perfection as a garment. But what good effect can the latter
mode of worship have on the moral conduct of a rational being? He
bends to power; he adores a dark cloud, which may open a bright
prospect to him, or burst in angry, lawless fury on his devoted
head, he knows not why. And, supposing that the Deity acts from
the vague impulse of an undirected will, man must also follow his
own, or act according to rules, deduced from principles which he
disclaims as irreverent. Into this dilemma have both enthusiasts
and cooler thinkers fallen, when they laboured to free men from the
wholesome restraints which a just conception of the character of
God imposes.

It is not impious thus to scan the attributes of the Almighty: in
fact, who can avoid it that exercises his faculties? for to love
God as the fountain of wisdom, goodness, and power, appears to be
the only worship useful to a being who wishes to acquire either
virtue or knowledge. A blind unsettled affection may, like human
passions, occupy the mind and warm the heart, whilst, to do
justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, is forgotten. I
shall pursue this subject still further, when I consider religion
in a light opposite to that recommended by Dr. Gregory, who treats
it as a matter of sentiment or taste.

To return from this apparent digression. It were to be wished,
that women would cherish an affection for their husbands, founded
on the same principle that devotion ought to rest upon. No other
firm base is there under heaven, for let them beware of the
fallacious light of sentiment; too often used as a softer phrase
for sensuality. It follows then, I think, that from their infancy
women should either be shut up like eastern princes, or educated in
such a manner as to be able to think and act for themselves.

Why do men halt between two opinions, and expect impossibilities?
Why do they expect virtue from a slave, or from a being whom the
constitution of civil society has rendered weak, if not vicious?

Still I know that it will require a considerable length of time to
eradicate the firmly rooted prejudices which sensualists have
planted; it will also require some time to convince women that they
act contrary to their real interest on an enlarged scale, when they
cherish or affect weakness under the name of delicacy, and to
convince the world that the poisoned source of female vices and
follies, if it be necessary, in compliance with custom, to use
synonymous terms in a lax sense, has been the sensual homage paid
to beauty: to beauty of features; for it has been shrewdly
observed by a German writer, that a pretty woman, as an object of
desire, is generally allowed to be so by men of all descriptions;
whilst a fine woman, who inspires more sublime emotions by
displaying intellectual beauty, may be overlooked or observed with
indifference, by those men who find their happiness in the
gratification of their appetites. I foresee an obvious retort;
whilst man remains such an imperfect being as he appears hitherto
to have been, he will, more or less, be the slave of his appetites;
and those women obtaining most power who gratify a predominant one,
the sex is degraded by a physical, if not by a moral necessity.

This objection has, I grant, some force; but while such a sublime
precept exists, as, "be pure as your heavenly father is pure;" it
would seem that the virtues of man are not limited by the Being who
alone could limit them; and that he may press forward without
considering whether he steps out of his sphere by indulging such a
noble ambition. To the wild billows it has been said, "thus far
shalt thou go, and no further; and here shall thy proud waves be
stayed." Vainly then do they beat and foam, restrained by the
power that confines the struggling planets within their orbits,
matter yields to the great governing Spirit. But an immortal soul,
not restrained by mechanical laws, and struggling to free itself
from the shackles of matter, contributes to, instead of disturbing,
the order of creation, when, co-operating with the Father of
spirits, it tries to govern itself by the invariable rule that, in
a degree, before which our imagination faints, the universe is

Besides, if women are educated for dependence, that is, to act
according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right
or wrong, to power, where are we to stop? Are they to be
considered as viceregents, allowed to reign over a small domain,
and answerable for their conduct to a higher tribunal, liable to

It will not be difficult to prove, that such delegates will act
like men subjected by fear, and make their children and servants
endure their tyrannical oppression. As they submit without reason,
they will, having no fixed rules to square their conduct by, be
kind or cruel, just as the whim of the moment directs; and we ought
not to wonder if sometimes, galled by their heavy yoke, they take a
malignant pleasure in resting it on weaker shoulders.

But, supposing a woman, trained up to obedience, be married to a
sensible man, who directs her judgment, without making her feel the
servility of her subjection, to act with as much propriety by this
reflected light as can be expected when reason is taken at second
hand, yet she cannot ensure the life of her protector; he may die
and leave her with a large family.

A double duty devolves on her; to educate them in the character of
both father and mother; to form their principles and secure their
property. But, alas! she has never thought, much less acted for
herself. She has only learned to please men, to depend gracefully
on them; yet, encumbered with children, how is she to obtain
another protector; a husband to supply the place of reason? A
rational man, for we are not treading on romantic ground, though he
may think her a pleasing docile creature, will not choose to marry
a FAMILY for love, when the world contains many more pretty
creatures. What is then to become of her? She either falls an
easy prey to some mean fortune hunter, who defrauds her children of
their paternal inheritance, and renders her miserable; or becomes
the victim of discontent and blind indulgence. Unable to educate
her sons, or impress them with respect; for it is not a play on
words to assert, that people are never respected, though filling an
important station, who are not respectable; she pines under the
anguish of unavailing impotent regret. The serpent's tooth enters
into her very soul, and the vices of licentious youth bring her
with sorrow, if not with poverty also, to the grave.

This is not an overcharged picture; on the contrary, it is a very
possible case, and something similar must have fallen under every
attentive eye.

I have, however, taken it for granted, that she was well disposed,
though experience shows, that the blind may as easily be led into a
ditch as along the beaten road. But supposing, no very improbable
conjecture, that a being only taught to please must still find her
happiness in pleasing; what an example of folly, not to say vice,
will she be to her innocent daughters! The mother will be lost in
the coquette, and, instead of making friends of her daughters, view
them with eyes askance, for they are rivals--rivals more cruel than
any other, because they invite a comparison, and drive her from the
throne of beauty, who has never thought of a seat on the bench of

It does not require a lively pencil, or the discriminating outline
of a caricature, to sketch the domestic miseries and petty vices
which such a mistress of a family diffuses. Still she only acts as
a woman ought to act, brought up according to Rousseau's system.
She can never be reproached for being masculine, or turning out of
her sphere; nay, she may observe another of his grand rules, and,
cautiously preserving her reputation free from spot, be reckoned a
good kind of woman. Yet in what respect can she be termed good?
She abstains, it is true, without any great struggle, from
committing gross crimes; but how does she fulfil her duties?
Duties!--in truth she has enough to think of to adorn her body and
nurse a weak constitution.

With respect to religion, she never presumed to judge for herself;
but conformed, as a dependent creature should, to the ceremonies of
the church which she was brought up in, piously believing, that
wiser heads than her own have settled that business: and not to
doubt is her point of perfection. She therefore pays her tythe of
mint and cummin, and thanks her God that she is not as other women
are. These are the blessed effects of a good education! these the
virtues of man's helpmate. I must relieve myself by drawing a
different picture.

Let fancy now present a woman with a tolerable understanding, for I
do not wish to leave the line of mediocrity, whose constitution,
strengthened by exercise, has allowed her body to acquire its full
vigour; her mind, at the same time, gradually expanding itself to
comprehend the moral duties of life, and in what human virtue and
dignity consist. Formed thus by the relative duties of her
station, she marries from affection, without losing sight of
prudence, and looking beyond matrimonial felicity, she secures her
husband's respect before it is necessary to exert mean arts to
please him, and feed a dying flame, which nature doomed to expire
when the object became familiar, when friendship and forbearance
take place of a more ardent affection. This is the natural death
of love, and domestic peace is not destroyed by struggles to
prevent its extinction. I also suppose the husband to be virtuous;
or she is still more in want of independent principles.

Fate, however, breaks this tie. She is left a widow, perhaps,
without a sufficient provision: but she is not desolate! The pang
of nature is felt; but after time has softened sorrow into
melancholy resignation, her heart turns to her children with
redoubled fondness, and anxious to provide for them, affection
gives a sacred heroic cast to her maternal duties. She thinks that
not only the eye sees her virtuous efforts, from whom all her
comfort now must flow, and whose approbation is life; but her
imagination, a little abstracted and exalted by grief, dwells on
the fond hope, that the eyes which her trembling hand closed, may
still see how she subdues every wayward passion to fulfil the
double duty of being the father as well as the mother of her
children. Raised to heroism by misfortunes, she represses the
first faint dawning of a natural inclination, before it ripens into
love, and in the bloom of life forgets her sex--forgets the
pleasure of an awakening passion, which might again have been
inspired and returned. She no longer thinks of pleasing, and
conscious dignity prevents her from priding herself on account of
the praise which her conduct demands. Her children have her love,
and her brightest hopes are beyond the grave, where her imagination
often strays.

I think I see her surrounded by her children, reaping the reward of
her care. The intelligent eye meets her's, whilst health and
innocence smile on their chubby cheeks, and as they grow up the
cares of life are lessened by their grateful attention. She lives
to see the virtues which she endeavoured to plant on principles,
fixed into habits, to see her children attain a strength of
character sufficient to enable them to endure adversity without
forgetting their mother's example.

The task of life thus fulfilled, she calmly waits for the sleep of
death, and rising from the grave may say, behold, thou gavest me a
talent, and here are five talents.

I wish to sum up what I have said in a few words, for I here throw
down my gauntlet, and deny the existence of sexual virtues, not
excepting modesty. For man and woman, truth, if I understand the
meaning of the word, must be the same; yet the fanciful female
character, so prettily drawn by poets and novelists, demanding the
sacrifice of truth and sincerity, virtue becomes a relative idea,
having no other foundation than utility, and of that utility men
pretend arbitrarily to judge, shaping it to their own convenience.

Women, I allow, may have different duties to fulfil; but they are
HUMAN duties, and the principles that should regulate the discharge
of them, I sturdily maintain, must be the same.

To become respectable, the exercise of their understanding is
necessary, there is no other foundation for independence of
character; I mean explicitly to say, that they must only bow to the
authority of reason, instead of being the MODEST slaves of opinion.

In the superior ranks of life how seldom do we meet with a man of
superior abilities, or even common acquirements? The reason
appears to me clear; the state they are born in was an unnatural
one. The human character has ever been formed by the employments
the individual, or class pursues; and if the faculties are not
sharpened by necessity, they must remain obtuse. The argument may
fairly be extended to women; for seldom occupied by serious
business, the pursuit of pleasure gives that insignificancy to
their character which renders the society of the GREAT so insipid.
The same want of firmness, produced by a similar cause, forces them
both to fly from themselves to noisy pleasures, and artificial
passions, till vanity takes place of every social affection, and
the characteristics of humanity can scarcely be discerned. Such
are the blessings of civil governments, as they are at present
organized, that wealth and female softness equally tend to debase
mankind, and are produced by the same cause; but allowing women to
be rational creatures they should be incited to acquire virtues
which they may call their own, for how can a rational being be
ennobled by any thing that is not obtained by its OWN exertions?



That woman is naturally weak, or degraded by a concurrence of
circumstances is, I think, clear. But this position I shall simply
contrast with a conclusion, which I have frequently heard fall from
sensible men in favour of an aristocracy: that the mass of mankind
cannot be any thing, or the obsequious slaves, who patiently allow
themselves to be penned up, would feel their own consequence, and
spurn their chains. Men, they further observe, submit every where
to oppression, when they have only to lift up their heads to throw
off the yoke; yet, instead of asserting their birthright, they
quietly lick the dust, and say, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow
we die. Women, I argue from analogy, are degraded by the same
propensity to enjoy the present moment; and, at last, despise the
freedom which they have not sufficient virtue to struggle to
attain. But I must be more explicit.

With respect to the culture of the heart, it is unanimously allowed
that sex is out of the question; but the line of subordination in
the mental powers is never to be passed over. Only "absolute in
loveliness," the portion of rationality granted to woman is,
indeed, very scanty; for, denying her genius and judgment, it is
scarcely possible to divine what remains to characterize intellect.

The stamina of immortality, if I may be allowed the phrase, is the
perfectibility of human reason; for, was man created perfect, or
did a flood of knowledge break in upon him, when he arrived at
maturity, that precluded error, I should doubt whether his
existence would be continued after the dissolution of the body.
But in the present state of things, every difficulty in morals,
that escapes from human discussion, and equally baffles the
investigation of profound thinking, and the lightning glance of
genius, is an argument on which I build my belief of the
immortality of the soul. Reason is, consequentially, the simple
power of improvement; or, more properly speaking, of discerning
truth. Every individual is in this respect a world in itself.
More or less may be conspicuous in one being than other; but the
nature of reason must be the same in all, if it be an emanation of
divinity, the tie that connects the creature with the Creator; for,
can that soul be stamped with the heavenly image, that is not
perfected by the exercise of its own reason? Yet outwardly
ornamented with elaborate care, and so adorned to delight man,
"that with honour he may love," (Vide Milton) the soul of woman is
not allowed to have this distinction, and man, ever placed between
her and reason, she is always represented as only created to see
through a gross medium, and to take things on trust. But,
dismissing these fanciful theories, and considering woman as a
whole, let it be what it will, instead of a part of man, the
inquiry is, whether she has reason or not. If she has, which, for
a moment, I will take for granted, she was not created merely to be
the solace of man, and the sexual should not destroy the human

Into this error men have, probably, been led by viewing education
in a false light; not considering it as the first step to form a
being advancing gradually toward perfection; (This word is not
strictly just, but I cannot find a better.) but only as a
preparation for life. On this sensual error, for I must call it
so, has the false system of female manners been reared, which robs
the whole sex of its dignity, and classes the brown and fair with
the smiling flowers that only adorn the land. This has ever been
the language of men, and the fear of departing from a supposed
sexual character, has made even women of superior sense adopt the
same sentiments. Thus understanding, strictly speaking, has been
denied to woman; and instinct, sublimated into wit and cunning, for
the purposes of life, has been substituted in its stead.

The power of generalizing ideas, of drawing comprehensive
conclusions from individual observations, is the only acquirement
for an immortal being, that really deserves the name of knowledge.
Merely to observe, without endeavouring to account for any thing,
may, (in a very incomplete manner) serve as the common sense of
life; but where is the store laid up that is to clothe the soul
when it leaves the body?

This power has not only been denied to women; but writers have
insisted that it is inconsistent, with a few exceptions, with their
sexual character. Let men prove this, and I shall grant that woman
only exists for man. I must, however, previously remark, that the
power of generalizing ideas, to any great extent, is not very
common amongst men or women. But this exercise is the true
cultivation of the understanding; and every thing conspires to
render the cultivation of the understanding more difficult in the
female than the male world.

I am naturally led by this assertion to the main subject of the
present chapter, and shall now attempt to point out some of the
causes that degrade the sex, and prevent women from generalizing
their observations.

I shall not go back to the remote annals of antiquity to trace the
history of woman; it is sufficient to allow, that she has always
been either a slave or a despot, and to remark, that each of these
situations equally retards the progress of reason. The grand
source of female folly and vice has ever appeared to me to arise
from narrowness of mind; and the very constitution of civil
governments has put almost insuperable obstacles in the way to
prevent the cultivation of the female understanding: yet virtue
can be built on no other foundation! The same obstacles are thrown
in the way of the rich, and the same consequences ensue.

Necessity has been proverbially termed the mother of invention; the
aphorism may be extended to virtue. It is an acquirement, and an
acquirement to which pleasure must be sacrificed, and who
sacrifices pleasure when it is within the grasp, whose mind has not
been opened and strengthened by adversity, or the pursuit of
knowledge goaded on by necessity? Happy is it when people have the
cares of life to struggle with; for these struggles prevent their
becoming a prey to enervating vices, merely from idleness! But, if
from their birth men and women are placed in a torrid zone, with
the meridian sun of pleasure darting directly upon them, how can
they sufficiently brace their minds to discharge the duties of
life, or even to relish the affections that carry them out of

Pleasure is the business of a woman's life, according to the
present modification of society, and while it continues to be so,
little can be expected from such weak beings. Inheriting, in a
lineal descent from the first fair defect in nature, the
sovereignty of beauty, they have, to maintain their power, resigned
their natural rights, which the exercise of reason, might have
procured them, and chosen rather to be short-lived queens than
labour to attain the sober pleasures that arise from equality.
Exalted by their inferiority (this sounds like a contradiction)
they constantly demand homage as women, though experience should
teach them that the men who pride themselves upon paying this
arbitrary insolent respect to the sex, with the most scrupulous
exactness, are most inclined to tyrannize over, and despise the
very weakness they cherish. Often do they repeat Mr. Hume's
sentiments; when comparing the French and Athenian character, he
alludes to women. "But what is more singular in this whimsical
nation, say I to the Athenians, is, that a frolic of yours during
the Saturnalia, when the slaves are served by their masters, is
seriously continued by them through the whole year, and through the
whole course of their lives; accompanied too with some
circumstances, which still further augment the absurdity and
ridicule. Your sport only elevates for a few days, those whom
fortune has thrown down, and whom she too, in sport, may really
elevate forever above you. But this nation gravely exalts those,
whom nature has subjected to them, and whose inferiority and
infirmities are absolutely incurable. The women, though without
virtue, are their masters and sovereigns."

Ah! why do women, I write with affectionate solicitude, condescend
to receive a degree of attention and respect from strangers,
different from that reciprocation of civility which the dictates of
humanity, and the politeness of civilization authorise between man
and man? And why do they not discover, when "in the noon of
beauty's power," that they are treated like queens only to be
deluded by hollow respect, till they are led to resign, or not
assume, their natural prerogatives? Confined then in cages, like
the feathered race, they have nothing to do but to plume
themselves, and stalk with mock-majesty from perch to perch. It is
true, they are provided with food and raiment, for which they
neither toil nor spin; but health, liberty, and virtue are given in
exchange. But, where, amongst mankind has been found sufficient
strength of mind to enable a being to resign these adventitious
prerogatives; one who rising with the calm dignity of reason above
opinion, dared to be proud of the privileges inherent in man? and
it is vain to expect it whilst hereditary power chokes the
affections, and nips reason in the bud.

The passions of men have thus placed women on thrones; and, till
mankind become more reasonable, it is to be feared that women will
avail themselves of the power which they attain with the least
exertion, and which is the most indisputable. They will smile,
yes, they will smile, though told that--

"In beauty's empire is no mean,
And woman either slave or queen,
Is quickly scorn'd when not ador'd."

But the adoration comes first, and the scorn is not anticipated.

Lewis the XIVth, in particular, spread factitious manners, and
caught in a specious way, the whole nation in his toils; for
establishing an artful chain of despotism, he made it the interest
of the people at large, individually to respect his station, and
support his power. And women, whom he flattered by a puerile
attention to the whole sex, obtained in his reign that prince-like
distinction so fatal to reason and virtue.

A king is always a king, and a woman always a woman: (And a wit,
always a wit, might be added; for the vain fooleries of wits and
beauties to obtain attention, and make conquests, are much upon a
par.) his authority and her sex, ever stand between them and
rational converse. With a lover, I grant she should be so, and her
sensibility will naturally lead her to endeavour to excite emotion,
not to gratify her vanity but her heart. This I do not allow to be
coquetry, it is the artless impulse of nature, I only exclaim
against the sexual desire of conquest, when the heart is out of the

This desire is not confined to women; "I have endeavoured," says
Lord Chesterfield, "to gain the hearts of twenty women, whose
persons I would not have given a fig for." The libertine who in a
gust of passion, takes advantage of unsuspecting tenderness, is a
saint when compared with this cold-hearted rascal; for I like to
use significant words. Yet only taught to please, women are always
on the watch to please, and with true heroic ardour endeavour to
gain hearts merely to resign, or spurn them, when the victory is
decided, and conspicuous.

I must descend to the minutiae of the subject.

I lament that women are systematically degraded by receiving the
trivial attentions, which men think it manly to pay to the sex,
when, in fact, they are insultingly supporting their own
superiority. It is not condescension to bow to an inferior. So
ludicrous, in fact, do these ceremonies appear to me, that I
scarcely am able to govern my muscles, when I see a man start with
eager, and serious solicitude to lift a handkerchief, or shut a
door, when the LADY could have done it herself, had she only moved
a pace or two.

A wild wish has just flown from my heart to my head, and I will not
stifle it though it may excite a horse laugh. I do earnestly wish
to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where
love animates the behaviour. For this distinction is, I am firmly
persuaded, the foundation of the weakness of character ascribed to
woman; is the cause why the understanding is neglected, whilst
accomplishments are acquired with sedulous care: and the same
cause accounts for their preferring the graceful before the heroic

Mankind, including every description, wish to be loved and
respected for SOMETHING; and the common herd will always take the
nearest road to the completion of their wishes. The respect paid
to wealth and beauty is the most certain and unequivocal; and of
course, will always attract the vulgar eye of common minds.
Abilities and virtues are absolutely necessary to raise men from
the middle rank of life into notice; and the natural consequence is
notorious, the middle rank contains most virtue and abilities. Men
have thus, in one station, at least, an opportunity of exerting
themselves with dignity, and of rising by the exertions which
really improve a rational creature; but the whole female sex are,
till their character is formed, in the same condition as the rich:
for they are born, I now speak of a state of civilization, with
certain sexual privileges, and whilst they are gratuitously granted
them, few will ever think of works of supererogation, to obtain the
esteem of a small number of superior people.

When do we hear of women, who starting out of obscurity, boldly
claim respect on account of their great abilities or daring
virtues? Where are they to be found? "To be observed, to be
attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and
approbation, are all the advantages which they seek." True! my
male readers will probably exclaim; but let them, before they draw
any conclusion, recollect, that this was not written originally as
descriptive of women, but of the rich. In Dr. Smith's Theory of
Moral Sentiments, I have found a general character of people of
rank and fortune, that in my opinion, might with the greatest
propriety be applied to the female sex. I refer the sagacious
reader to the whole comparison; but must be allowed to quote a
passage to enforce an argument that I mean to insist on, as the one
most conclusive against a sexual character. For if, excepting
warriors, no great men of any denomination, have ever appeared
amongst the nobility, may it not be fairly inferred, that their
local situation swallowed up the man, and produced a character
similar to that of women, who are LOCALIZED, if I may be allowed
the word, by the rank they are placed in, by COURTESY? Women,
commonly called Ladies, are not to be contradicted in company, are
not allowed to exert any manual strength; and from them the
negative virtues only are expected, when any virtues are expected,
patience, docility, good-humour, and flexibility; virtues
incompatible with any vigorous exertion of intellect. Besides by
living more with each other, and to being seldom absolutely alone,
they are more under the influence of sentiments than passions.
Solitude and reflection are necessary to give to wishes the force
of passions, and enable the imagination to enlarge the object and
make it the most desirable. The same may be said of the rich; they
do not sufficiently deal in general ideas, collected by
impassionate thinking, or calm investigation, to acquire that
strength of character, on which great resolves are built. But hear
what an acute observer says of the great.

"Do the great seem insensible of the easy price at which they may
acquire the public admiration? or do they seem to imagine, that to
them, as to other men, it must be the purchase either of sweat or
of blood? By what important accomplishments is the young nobleman
instructed to support the dignity of his rank, and to render
himself worthy of that superiority over his fellow citizens, to
which the virtue of his ancestors had raised them? Is it by
knowledge, by industry, by patience, by self-denial, or by virtue
of any kind? As all his words, as all his motions are attended to,
he learns an habitual regard for every circumstance of ordinary
behaviour, and studies to perform all those small duties with the
most exact propriety. As he is conscious how much he is observed,
and how much mankind are disposed to favour all his inclinations,
he acts, upon the most indifferent occasions, with that freedom and
elevation which the thought of this naturally inspires. His air,
his manner, his deportment all mark that elegant and graceful sense
of his own superiority, which those who are born to an inferior
station can hardly ever arrive at. These are the arts by which he
proposes to make mankind more easily submit to his authority, and
to govern their inclinations according to his own pleasure: and in
this he is seldom disappointed. These arts, supported by rank and
pre-eminence, are, upon ordinary occasions, sufficient to govern
the world. Lewis XIV. during the greater part of his reign, was
regarded, not only in France, but over all Europe, as the most
perfect model of a great prince. But what were the talents and
virtues, by which he acquired this great reputation? Was it by the
scrupulous and inflexible justice of all his undertakings, by the
immense dangers and difficulties with which they were attended, or
by the unwearied and unrelenting application with which he pursued
them? Was it by his extensive knowledge, by his exquisite
judgment, or by his heroic valour? It was by none of these
qualities. But he was, first of all, the most powerful prince in
Europe, and consequently held the highest rank among kings; and
then, says his historian, 'he surpassed all his courtiers in the
gracefulness of his shape, and the majestic beauty of his features.
The sound of his voice noble and affecting, gained those hearts
which his presence intimidated. He had a step and a deportment,
which could suit only him and his rank, and which would have been
ridiculous in any other person. The embarrassment which he
occasioned to those who spoke to him, flattered that secret
satisfaction with which he felt his own superiority.' These
frivolous accomplishments, supported by his rank, and, no doubt,
too, by a degree of other talents and virtues, which seems,
however, not to have been much above mediocrity, established this
prince in the esteem of his own age, and have drawn even from
posterity, a good deal of respect for his memory. Compared with
these, in his own times, and in his own presence, no other virtue,
it seems, appeared to have any merit. Knowledge, industry, valour,
and beneficence, trembling, were abashed, and lost all dignity
before them."

Woman, also, thus "in herself complete," by possessing all these
FRIVOLOUS accomplishments, so changes the nature of things,

--"That what she wills to do or say
Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best;
All higher knowledge in HER PRESENCE falls
Degraded. Wisdom in discourse with her
Loses discountenanc'd, and like folly shows;
Authority and reason on her wait."--

And all this is built on her loveliness!

In the middle rank of life, to continue the comparison, men, in
their youth, are prepared for professions, and marriage is not
considered as the grand feature in their lives; whilst women, on
the contrary, have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties. It
is not business, extensive plans, or any of the excursive flights
of ambition, that engross their attention; no, their thoughts are
not employed in rearing such noble structures. To rise in the
world, and have the liberty of running from pleasure to pleasure,
they must marry advantageously, and to this object their time is
sacrificed, and their persons often legally prostituted. A man,
when he enters any profession, has his eye steadily fixed on some
future advantage (and the mind gains great strength by having all
its efforts directed to one point) and, full of his business,
pleasure is considered as mere relaxation; whilst women seek for
pleasure as the main purpose of existence. In fact, from the
education which they receive from society, the love of pleasure may
be said to govern them all; but does this prove that there is a sex
in souls? It would be just as rational to declare, that the
courtiers in France, when a destructive system of despotism had
formed their character, were not men, because liberty, virtue, and
humanity, were sacrificed to pleasure and vanity. Fatal passions,
which have ever domineered over the WHOLE race!

The same love of pleasure, fostered by the whole tendency of their
education, gives a trifling turn to the conduct of women in most
circumstances: for instance, they are ever anxious about secondary
things; and on the watch for adventures, instead of being occupied
by duties.

A man, when he undertakes a journey, has, in general the end in
view; a woman thinks more of the incidental occurrences, the
strange things that may possibly occur on the road; the impression
that she may make on her fellow travellers; and, above all, she is
anxiously intent on the care of the finery that she carries with
her, which is more than ever a part of herself, when going to
figure on a new scene; when, to use an apt French turn of
expression, she is going to produce a sensation. Can dignity of
mind exist with such trivial cares?

In short, women, in general, as well as the rich of both sexes,
have acquired all the follies and vices of civilization, and missed
the useful fruit. It is not necessary for me always to premise,
that I speak of the condition of the whole sex, leaving exceptions
out of the question. Their senses are inflamed, and their
understandings neglected; consequently they become the prey of
their senses, delicately termed sensibility, and are blown about by
every momentary gust of feeling. They are, therefore, in a much
worse condition than they would be in, were they in a state nearer
to nature. Ever restless and anxious, their over exercised
sensibility not only renders them uncomfortable themselves, but
troublesome, to use a soft phrase, to others. All their thoughts
turn on things calculated to excite emotion; and, feeling, when
they should reason, their conduct is unstable, and their opinions
are wavering, not the wavering produced by deliberation or
progressive views, but by contradictory emotions. By fits and
starts they are warm in many pursuits; yet this warmth, never
concentrated into perseverance, soon exhausts itself; exhaled by
its own heat, or meeting with some other fleeting passion, to which
reason has never given any specific gravity, neutrality ensues.
Miserable, indeed, must be that being whose cultivation of mind has
only tended to inflame its passions! A distinction should be made
between inflaming and strengthening them. The passions thus
pampered, whilst the judgment is left unformed, what can be
expected to ensue? Undoubtedly, a mixture of madness and folly!

This observation should not be confined to the FAIR sex; however,
at present, I only mean to apply it to them.

Novels, music, poetry and gallantry, all tend to make women the
creatures of sensation, and their character is thus formed during
the time they are acquiring accomplishments, the only improvement
they are excited, by their station in society, to acquire. This
overstretched sensibility naturally relaxes the other powers of the
mind, and prevents intellect from attaining that sovereignty which
it ought to attain, to render a rational creature useful to others,
and content with its own station; for the exercise of the
understanding, as life advances, is the only method pointed out by
nature to calm the passions.

Satiety has a very different effect, and I have often been forcibly
struck by an emphatical description of damnation, when the spirit
is represented as continually hovering with abortive eagerness
round the defiled body, unable to enjoy any thing without the
organs of sense. Yet, to their senses, are women made slaves,
because it is by their sensibility that they obtain present power.

And will moralists pretend to assert, that this is the condition in
which one half of the human race should be encouraged to remain
with listless inactivity and stupid acquiescence? Kind
instructors! what were we created for? To remain, it may be said,
innocent; they mean in a state of childhood. We might as well
never have been born, unless it were necessary that we should be
created to enable man to acquire the noble privilege of reason, the
power of discerning good from evil, whilst we lie down in the dust
from whence we were taken, never to rise again.

It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses,
cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing
opinion, that they were created rather to feel than reason, and
that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms
and weakness;

"Fine by defect, and amiably weak!"

And, made by this amiable weakness entirely dependent, excepting
what they gain by illicit sway, on man, not only for protection,
but advice, is it surprising that, neglecting the duties that
reason alone points out, and shrinking from trials calculated to
strengthen their minds, they only exert themselves to give their
defects a graceful covering, which may serve to heighten their
charms in the eye of the voluptuary, though it sink them below the
scale of moral excellence?

Fragile in every sense of the word, they are obliged to look up to
man for every comfort. In the most trifling dangers they cling to
their support, with parasitical tenacity, piteously demanding
succour; and their NATURAL protector extends his arm, or lifts up
his voice, to guard the lovely trembler--from what? Perhaps the
frown of an old cow, or the jump of a mouse; a rat, would be a
serious danger. In the name of reason, and even common sense, what
can save such beings from contempt; even though they be soft and

These fears, when not affected, may be very pretty; but they shew a
degree of imbecility, that degrades a rational creature in a way
women are not aware of--for love and esteem are very distinct

I am fully persuaded, that we should hear of none of these
infantine airs, if girls were allowed to take sufficient exercise
and not confined in close rooms till their muscles are relaxed and
their powers of digestion destroyed. To carry the remark still
further, if fear in girls, instead of being cherished, perhaps,
created, were treated in the same manner as cowardice in boys, we
should quickly see women with more dignified aspects. It is true,
they could not then with equal propriety be termed the sweet
flowers that smile in the walk of man; but they would be more
respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties
of life by the light of their own reason. "Educate women like
men," says Rousseau, "and the more they resemble our sex the less
power will they have over us." This is the very point I aim at. I
do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves.

In the same strain have I heard men argue against instructing the
poor; for many are the forms that aristocracy assumes. "Teach them
to read and write," say they, "and you take them out of the station
assigned them by nature." An eloquent Frenchman, has answered
them; I will borrow his sentiments. But they know not, when they
make man a brute, that they may expect every instant to see him
transformed into a ferocious beast. Without knowledge there can be
no morality!

Ignorance is a frail base for virtue! Yet, that it is the
condition for which woman was organized, has been insisted upon by
the writers who have most vehemently argued in favour of the
superiority of man; a superiority not in degree, but essence;
though, to soften the argument, they have laboured to prove, with
chivalrous generosity, that the sexes ought not to be compared; man
was made to reason, woman to feel: and that together, flesh and
spirit, they make the most perfect whole, by blending happily
reason and sensibility into one character.

And what is sensibility? "Quickness of sensation; quickness of
perception; delicacy." Thus is it defined by Dr. Johnson; and the
definition gives me no other idea than of the most exquisitely
polished instinct. I discern not a trace of the image of God in
either sensation or matter. Refined seventy times seven, they are
still material; intellect dwells not there; nor will fire ever make
lead gold!

I come round to my old argument; if woman be allowed to have an
immortal soul, she must have as the employment of life, an
understanding to improve. And when, to render the present state
more complete, though every thing proves it to be but a fraction of
a mighty sum, she is incited by present gratification to forget her
grand destination. Nature is counteracted, or she was born only to
procreate and rot. Or, granting brutes, of every description, a
soul, though not a reasonable one, the exercise of instinct and
sensibility may be the step, which they are to take, in this life,
towards the attainment of reason in the next; so that through all
eternity they will lag behind man, who, why we cannot tell, had the
power given him of attaining reason in his first mode of existence.

When I treat of the peculiar duties of women, as I should treat of
the peculiar duties of a citizen or father, it will be found that I
do not mean to insinuate, that they should be taken out of their
families, speaking of the majority. "He that hath wife and
children," says Lord Bacon, "hath given hostages to fortune; for
they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or
mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the
public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men." I say
the same of women. But, the welfare of society is not built on
extraordinary exertions; and were it more reasonably organized,
there would be still less need of great abilities, or heroic
virtues. In the regulation of a family, in the education of
children, understanding, in an unsophisticated sense, is
particularly required: strength both of body and mind; yet the men
who, by their writings, have most earnestly laboured to domesticate
women, have endeavoured by arguments dictated by a gross appetite,
that satiety had rendered fastidious, to weaken their bodies and
cramp their minds. But, if even by these sinister methods they
really PERSUADED women, by working on their feelings, to stay at
home, and fulfil the duties of a mother and mistress of a family, I
should cautiously oppose opinions that led women to right conduct,
by prevailing on them to make the discharge of a duty the business
of life, though reason were insulted. Yet, and I appeal to
experience, if by neglecting the understanding they are as much,
nay, more attached from these domestic duties, than they could be
by the most serious intellectual pursuit, though it may be
observed, that the mass of mankind will never vigorously pursue an
intellectual object, I may be allowed to infer, that reason is
absolutely necessary to enable a woman to perform any duty
properly, and I must again repeat, that sensibility is not reason.

The comparison with the rich still occurs to me; for, when men
neglect the duties of humanity, women will do the same; a common
stream hurries them both along with thoughtless celerity. Riches
and honours prevent a man from enlarging his understanding, and
enervate all his powers, by reversing the order of nature, which
has ever made true pleasure the reward of labour.
Pleasure--enervating pleasure is, likewise, within woman's reach
without earning it. But, till hereditary possessions are spread
abroad, how can we expect men to be proud of virtue? And, till
they are, women will govern them by the most direct means,
neglecting their dull domestic duties, to catch the pleasure that
is on the wing of time.

"The power of women," says some author, "is her sensibility;" and
men not aware of the consequence, do all they can to make this
power swallow up every other. Those who constantly employ their
sensibility will have most: for example; poets, painters, and
composers. Yet, when the sensibility is thus increased at the
expense of reason, and even the imagination, why do philosophical
men complain of their fickleness? The sexual attention of man
particularly acts on female sensibility, and this sympathy has been
exercised from their youth up. A husband cannot long pay those
attentions with the passion necessary to excite lively emotions,
and the heart, accustomed to lively emotions, turns to a new lover,
or pines in secret, the prey of virtue or prudence. I mean when
the heart has really been rendered susceptible, and the taste
formed; for I am apt to conclude, from what I have seen in
fashionable life, that vanity is oftener fostered than sensibility
by the mode of education, and the intercourse between the sexes,
which I have reprobated; and that coquetry more frequently proceeds
from vanity than from that inconstancy, which overstrained
sensibility naturally produces.

Another argument that has had a great weight with me, must, I
think, have some force with every considerate benevolent heart.
Girls, who have been thus weakly educated, are often cruelly left
by their parents without any provision; and, of course, are
dependent on, not only the reason, but the bounty of their
brothers. These brothers are, to view the fairest side of the
question, good sort of men, and give as a favour, what children of
the same parents had an equal right to. In this equivocal
humiliating situation, a docile female may remain some time, with a
tolerable degree of comfort. But, when the brother marries, a
probable circumstance, from being considered as the mistress of the
family, she is viewed with averted looks as an intruder, an
unnecessary burden on the benevolence of the master of the house,
and his new partner.

Who can recount the misery, which many unfortunate beings, whose
minds and bodies are equally weak, suffer in such
situations--unable to work and ashamed to beg? The wife, a
cold-hearted, narrow-minded woman, and this is not an unfair
supposition; for the present mode of education does not tend to
enlarge the heart any more than the understanding, is jealous of
the little kindness which her husband shows to his relations; and
her sensibility not rising to humanity, she is displeased at seeing
the property of HER children lavished on an helpless sister.

These are matters of fact, which have come under my eye again and
again. The consequence is obvious, the wife has recourse to
cunning to undermine the habitual affection, which she is afraid
openly to oppose; and neither tears nor caresses are spared till
the spy is worked out of her home, and thrown on the world,
unprepared for its difficulties; or sent, as a great effort of
generosity, or from some regard to propriety, with a small stipend,
and an uncultivated mind into joyless solitude.

These two women may be much upon a par, with respect to reason and
humanity; and changing situations, might have acted just the same
selfish part; but had they been differently educated, the case
would also have been very different. The wife would not have had
that sensibility, of which self is the centre, and reason might
have taught her not to expect, and not even to be flattered by the
affection of her husband, if it led him to violate prior duties.
She would wish not to love him, merely because he loved her, but on
account of his virtues; and the sister might have been able to
struggle for herself, instead of eating the bitter bread of

I am, indeed, persuaded that the heart, as well as the
understanding, is opened by cultivation; and by, which may not
appear so clear, strengthening the organs; I am not now talking of
momentary flashes of sensibility, but of affections. And, perhaps,
in the education of both sexes, the most difficult task is so to
adjust instruction as not to narrow the understanding, whilst the
heart is warmed by the generous juices of spring, just raised by
the electric fermentation of the season; nor to dry up the feelings
by employing the mind in investigations remote from life.

With respect to women, when they receive a careful education, they
are either made fine ladies, brimful of sensibility, and teeming
with capricious fancies; or mere notable women. The latter are
often friendly, honest creatures, and have a shrewd kind of good
sense joined with worldly prudence, that often render them more
useful members of society than the fine sentimental lady, though
they possess neither greatness of mind nor taste. The intellectual
world is shut against them; take them out of their family or
neighbourhood, and they stand still; the mind finding no
employment, for literature affords a fund of amusement, which they
have never sought to relish, but frequently to despise. The
sentiments and taste of more cultivated minds appear ridiculous,
even in those whom chance and family connexions have led them to
love; but in mere acquaintance they think it all affectation.

A man of sense can only love such a woman on account of her sex,
and respect her, because she is a trusty servant. He lets her, to
preserve his own peace, scold the servants, and go to church in
clothes made of the very best materials. A man of her own size of
understanding would, probably, not agree so well with her; for he
might wish to encroach on her prerogative, and manage some domestic
concerns himself. Yet women, whose minds are not enlarged by
cultivation, or the natural selfishness of sensibility expanded by
reflection, are very unfit to manage a family; for by an undue
stretch of power, they are always tyrannizing to support a
superiority that only rests on the arbitrary distinction of
fortune. The evil is sometimes more serious, and domestics are
deprived of innocent indulgences, and made to work beyond their
strength, in order to enable the notable woman to keep a better
table, and outshine her neighbours in finery and parade. If she
attend to her children, it is, in general, to dress them in a
costly manner--and, whether, this attention arises from vanity or
fondness, it is equally pernicious.

Besides, how many women of this description pass their days, or, at
least their evenings, discontentedly. Their husbands acknowledge
that they are good managers, and chaste wives; but leave home to
seek for more agreeable, may I be allowed to use a significant
French word, piquant society; and the patient drudge, who fulfils
her task, like a blind horse in a mill, is defrauded of her just
reward; for the wages due to her are the caresses of her husband;
and women who have so few resources in themselves, do not very
patiently bear this privation of a natural right.

A fine lady, on the contrary, has been taught to look down with
contempt on the vulgar employments of life; though she has only
been incited to acquire accomplishments that rise a degree above
sense; for even corporeal accomplishments cannot be acquired with
any degree of precision, unless the understanding has been
strengthened by exercise. Without a foundation of principles taste
is superficial; and grace must arise from something deeper than
imitation. The imagination, however, is heated, and the feelings
rendered fastidious, if not sophisticated; or, a counterpoise of
judgment is not acquired, when the heart still remains artless,
though it becomes too tender.

These women are often amiable; and their hearts are really more
sensible to general benevolence, more alive to the sentiments that
civilize life, than the square elbowed family drudge; but, wanting
a due proportion of reflection and self-government, they only
inspire love; and are the mistresses of their husbands, whilst they
have any hold on their affections; and the platonic friends of his
male acquaintance. These are the fair defects in nature; the women
who appear to be created not to enjoy the fellowship of man, but to
save him from sinking into absolute brutality, by rubbing off the
rough angles of his character; and by playful dalliance to give
some dignity to the appetite that draws him to them. Gracious
Creator of the whole human race! hast thou created such a being as
woman, who can trace thy wisdom in thy works, and feel that thou
alone art by thy nature, exalted above her--for no better purpose?
Can she believe that she was only made to submit to man her equal;
a being, who, like her, was sent into the world to acquire virtue?
Can she consent to be occupied merely to please him; merely to
adorn the earth, when her soul is capable of rising to thee? And
can she rest supinely dependent on man for reason, when she ought
to mount with him the arduous steeps of knowledge?

Yet, if love be the supreme good, let women be only educated to
inspire it, and let every charm be polished to intoxicate the
senses; but, if they are moral beings, let them have a chance to
become intelligent; and let love to man be only a part of that
glowing flame of universal love, which, after encircling humanity,
mounts in grateful incense to God.

To fulfil domestic duties much resolution is necessary, and a
serious kind of perseverance that requires a more firm support than
emotions, however lively and true to nature. To give an example of
order, the soul of virtue, some austerity of behaviour must be
adopted, scarcely to be expected from a being who, from its
infancy, has been made the weathercock of its own sensations.
Whoever rationally means to be useful, must have a plan of conduct;
and, in the discharge of the simplest duty, we are often obliged to
act contrary to the present impulse of tenderness or compassion.
Severity is frequently the most certain, as well as the most
sublime proof of affection; and the want of this power over the
feelings, and of that lofty, dignified affection, which makes a
person prefer the future good of the beloved object to a present
gratification, is the reason why so many fond mothers spoil their
children, and has made it questionable, whether negligence or
indulgence is most hurtful: but I am inclined to think, that the
latter has done most harm.

Mankind seem to agree, that children should be left under the
management of women during their childhood. Now, from all the
observation that I have been able to make, women of sensibility are
the most unfit for this task, because they will infallibly, carried
away by their feelings, spoil a child's temper. The management of
the temper, the first and most important branch of education,
requires the sober steady eye of reason; a plan of conduct equally
distant from tyranny and indulgence; yet these are the extremes
that people of sensibility alternately fall into; always shooting
beyond the mark. I have followed this train of reasoning much
further, till I have concluded, that a person of genius is the most
improper person to be employed in education, public or private.
Minds of this rare species see things too much in masses, and
seldom, if ever, have a good temper. That habitual cheerfulness,
termed good humour, is, perhaps, as seldom united with great mental
powers, as with strong feelings. And those people who follow, with
interest and admiration, the flights of genius; or, with cooler
approbation suck in the instruction, which has been elaborately
prepared for them by the profound thinker, ought not to be
disgusted, if they find the former choleric, and the latter morose;
because liveliness of fancy, and a tenacious comprehension of mind,
are scarcely compatible with that pliant urbanity which leads a
man, at least to bend to the opinions and prejudices of others,
instead of roughly confronting them.

But, treating of education or manners, minds of a superior class
are not to be considered, they may be left to chance; it is the
multitude, with moderate abilities, who call for instruction, and
catch the colour of the atmosphere they breathe. This respectable
concourse, I contend, men and women, should not have their
sensations heightened in the hot-bed of luxurious indolence, at the
expence of their understanding; for, unless there be a ballast of
understanding, they will never become either virtuous or free: an
aristocracy, founded on property, or sterling talents, will ever
sweep before it, the alternately timid and ferocious slaves of

Numberless are the arguments, to take another view of the subject,
brought forward with a show of reason; because supposed to be
deduced from nature, that men have used morally and physically to
degrade the sex. I must notice a few.

The female understanding has often been spoken of with contempt, as
arriving sooner at maturity than the male. I shall not answer this
argument by alluding to the early proofs of reason, as well as
genius, in Cowley, Milton, and Pope, (Many other names might be
added.) but only appeal to experience to decide whether young men,
who are early introduced into company (and examples now abound) do
not acquire the same precocity. So notorious is this fact, that
the bare mentioning of it must bring before people, who at all mix
in the world, the idea of a number of swaggering apes of men whose
understandings are narrowed by being brought into the society of
men when they ought to have been spinning a top or twirling a hoop.

It has also been asserted, by some naturalists, that men do not
attain their full growth and strength till thirty; but that women
arrive at maturity by twenty. I apprehend that they reason on
false ground, led astray by the male prejudice, which deems beauty
the perfection of woman--mere beauty of features and complexion,
the vulgar acceptation of the world, whilst male beauty is allowed
to have some connexion with the mind. Strength of body, and that
character of countenance, which the French term a physionomie,
women do not acquire before thirty, any more than men. The little
artless tricks of children, it is true, are particularly pleasing
and attractive; yet, when the pretty freshness of youth is worn
off, these artless graces become studied airs, and disgust every
person of taste. In the countenance of girls we only look for
vivacity and bashful modesty; but, the springtide of life over, we
look for soberer sense in the face, and for traces of passion,
instead of the dimples of animal spirits; expecting to see
individuality of character, the only fastener of the affections.
We then wish to converse, not to fondle; to give scope to our
imaginations, as well as to the sensations of our hearts.

At twenty the beauty of both sexes is equal; but the libertinism of
man leads him to make the distinction, and superannuated coquettes
are commonly of the same opinion; for when they can no longer
inspire love, they pay for the vigour and vivacity of youth. The
French who admit more of mind into their notions of beauty, give
the preference to women of thirty. I mean to say, that they allow
women to be in their most perfect state, when vivacity gives place
to reason, and to that majestic seriousness of character, which
marks maturity; or, the resting point. In youth, till twenty the
body shoots out; till thirty the solids are attaining a degree of
density; and the flexible muscles, growing daily more rigid, give
character to the countenance; that is, they trace the operations of
the mind with the iron pen of fate, and tell us not only what
powers are within, but how they have been employed.

It is proper to observe, that animals who arrive slowly at
maturity, are the longest lived, and of the noblest species. Men
cannot, however, claim any natural superiority from the grandeur of
longevity; for in this respect nature has not distinguished the

Polygamy is another physical degradation; and a plausible argument
for a custom, that blasts every domestic virtue, is drawn from the
well-attested fact, that in the countries where it is established,
more females are born than males. This appears to be an indication
of nature, and to nature apparently reasonable speculations must
yield. A further conclusion obviously presents itself; if polygamy
be necessary, woman must be inferior to man, and made for him.

With respect to the formation of the foetus in the womb, we are
very ignorant; but it appears to me probable, that an accidental
physical cause may account for this phenomenon, and prove it not to
be a law of nature. I have met with some pertinent observations on
the subject in Forster's Account of the Isles of the South Sea,
that will explain my meaning. After observing that of the two
sexes amongst animals, the most vigorous and hottest constitution
always prevails, and produces its kind; he adds,--"If this be
applied to the inhabitants of Africa, it is evident that the men
there, accustomed to polygamy, are enervated by the use of so many
women, and therefore less vigorous; the women on the contrary, are
of a hotter constitution, not only on account of their more
irritable nerves, more sensitive organization, and more lively
fancy; but likewise because they are deprived in their matrimony of
that share of physical love which in a monogamous condition, would
all be theirs; and thus for the above reasons, the generality of
children are born females."

"In the greater part of Europe it has been proved by the most
accurate lists of mortality, that the proportion of men to women is
nearly equal, or, if any difference takes place, the males born are
more numerous, in the proportion of 105 to 100."

The necessity of polygamy, therefore, does not appear; yet when a
man seduces a woman, it should I think, be termed a LEFT-HANDED
marriage, and the man should be LEGALLY obliged to maintain the
woman and her children, unless adultery, a natural divorcement,
abrogated the law. And this law should remain in force as long as
the weakness of women caused the word seduction to be used as an
excuse for their frailty and want of principle; nay, while they
depend on man for a subsistence, instead of earning it by the
exercise of their own hands or heads. But these women should not
in the full meaning of the relationship, be termed wives, or the
very purpose of marriage would be subverted, and all those
endearing charities that flow from personal fidelity, and give a
sanctity to the tie, when neither love nor friendship unites the
hearts, would melt into selfishness. The woman who is faithful to
the father of her children demands respect, and should not be
treated like a prostitute; though I readily grant, that if it be
necessary for a man and woman to live together in order to bring up
their offspring, nature never intended that a man should have more
than one wife.

Still, highly as I respect marriage, as the foundation of almost
every social virtue, I cannot avoid feeling the most lively
compassion for those unfortunate females who are broken off from
society, and by one error torn from all those affections and
relationships that improve the heart and mind. It does not
frequently even deserve the name of error; for many innocent girls
become the dupes of a sincere affectionate heart, and still more
are, as it may emphatically be termed, RUINED before they know the
difference between virtue and vice: and thus prepared by their
education for infamy, they become infamous. Asylums and Magdalens
are not the proper remedies for these abuses. It is justice, not
charity, that is wanting in the world!

A woman who has lost her honour, imagines that she cannot fall
lower, and as for recovering her former station, it is impossible;
no exertion can wash this stain away. Losing thus every spur, and
having no other means of support, prostitution becomes her only
refuge, and the character is quickly depraved by circumstances over
which the poor wretch has little power, unless she possesses an
uncommon portion of sense and loftiness of spirit. Necessity never
makes prostitution the business of men's lives; though numberless
are the women who are thus rendered systematically vicious. This,
however, arises, in a great degree, from the state of idleness in
which women are educated, who are always taught to look up to man
for a maintenance, and to consider their persons as the proper
return for his exertions to support them. Meretricious airs, and
the whole science of wantonness, has then a more powerful stimulus
than either appetite or vanity; and this remark gives force to the
prevailing opinion, that with chastity all is lost that is
respectable in woman. Her character depends on the observance of
one virtue, though the only passion fostered in her heart--is love.
Nay the honour of a woman is not made even to depend on her will.

When Richardson makes Clarissa tell Lovelace that he had robbed her
of her honour, he must have had strange notions of honour and
virtue. For, miserable beyond all names of misery is the condition
of a being, who could be degraded without its own consent! This
excess of strictness I have heard vindicated as a salutary error.
I shall answer in the words of Leibnitz--"Errors are often useful;
but it is commonly to remedy other errors."

Most of the evils of life arise from a desire of present enjoyment
that outruns itself. The obedience required of women in the
marriage state, comes under this description; the mind, naturally
weakened by depending on authority, never exerts its own powers,
and the obedient wife is thus rendered a weak indolent mother. Or,
supposing that this is not always the consequence, a future state
of existence is scarcely taken into the reckoning when only
negative virtues are cultivated. For in treating of morals,
particularly when women are alluded to, writers have too often
considered virtue in a very limited sense, and made the foundation
of it SOLELY worldly utility; nay, a still more fragile base has
been given to this stupendous fabric, and the wayward fluctuating
feelings of men have been made the standard of virtue. Yes, virtue
as well as religion, has been subjected to the decisions of taste.

It would almost provoke a smile of contempt, if the vain
absurdities of man did not strike us on all sides, to observe, how
eager men are to degrade the sex from whom they pretend to receive
the chief pleasure of life; and I have frequently, with full
conviction, retorted Pope's sarcasm on them; or, to speak
explicitly, it has appeared to me applicable to the whole human
race. A love of pleasure or sway seems to divide mankind, and the
husband who lords it in his little harem, thinks only of his
pleasure or his convenience. To such lengths, indeed, does an
intemperate love of pleasure carry some prudent men, or worn out
libertines, who marry to have a safe companion, that they seduce
their own wives. Hymen banishes modesty, and chaste love takes its

Love, considered as an animal appetite, cannot long feed on itself
without expiring. And this extinction, in its own flame, may be
termed the violent death of love. But the wife who has thus been
rendered licentious, will probably endeavour to fill the void left
by the loss of her husband's attentions; for she cannot contentedly
become merely an upper servant after having been treated like a
goddess. She is still handsome, and, instead of transferring her
fondness to her children, she only dreams of enjoying the sunshine
of life. Besides, there are many husbands so devoid of sense and
parental affection, that during the first effervescence of
voluptuous fondness, they refuse to let their wives suckle their
children. They are only to dress and live to please them: and
love, even innocent love, soon sinks into lasciviousness when the
exercise of a duty is sacrificed to its indulgence.

Personal attachment is a very happy foundation for friendship; yet,
when even two virtuous young people marry, it would, perhaps, be
happy if some circumstance checked their passion; if the
recollection of some prior attachment, or disappointed affection,
made it on one side, at least, rather a match founded on esteem.
In that case they would look beyond the present moment, and try to
render the whole of life respectable, by forming a plan to regulate
a friendship which only death ought to dissolve.

Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all
affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by
time. The very reverse may be said of love. In a great degree,
love and friendship cannot subsist in the same bosom; even when
inspired by different objects they weaken or destroy each other,
and for the same object can only be felt in succession. The vain
fears and fond jealousies, the winds which fan the flame of love,
when judiciously or artfully tempered, are both incompatible with
the tender confidence and sincere respect of friendship.

Love, such as the glowing pen of genius has traced, exists not on
earth, or only resides in those exalted, fervid imaginations that
have sketched such dangerous pictures. Dangerous, because they not
only afford a plausible excuse to the voluptuary, who disguises
sheer sensuality under a sentimental veil; but as they spread
affectation, and take from the dignity of virtue. Virtue, as the
very word imports, should have an appearance of seriousness, if not
austerity; and to endeavour to trick her out in the garb of
pleasure, because the epithet has been used as another name for
beauty, is to exalt her on a quicksand; a most insidious attempt to
hasten her fall by apparent respect. Virtue, and pleasure are not,
in fact, so nearly allied in this life as some eloquent writers
have laboured to prove. Pleasure prepares the fading wreath, and
mixes the intoxicating cup; but the fruit which virtue gives, is
the recompence of toil: and, gradually seen as it ripens, only
affords calm satisfaction; nay, appearing to be the result of the
natural tendency of things, it is scarcely observed. Bread, the
common food of life, seldom thought of as a blessing, supports the
constitution, and preserves health; still feasts delight the heart
of man, though disease and even death lurk in the cup or dainty
that elevates the spirits or tickles the palate. The lively heated
imagination in the same style, draws the picture of love, as it
draws every other picture, with those glowing colours, which the
daring hand will steal from the rainbow that is directed by a mind,
condemned, in a world like this, to prove its noble origin, by
panting after unattainable perfection; ever pursuing what it
acknowledges to be a fleeting dream. An imagination of this
vigorous cast can give existence to insubstantial forms, and
stability to the shadowy reveries which the mind naturally falls
into when realities are found vapid. It can then depict love with
celestial charms, and dote on the grand ideal object; it can
imagine a degree of mutual affection that shall refine the soul,
and not expire when it has served as a "scale to heavenly;" and,
like devotion, make it absorb every meaner affection and desire.
In each other's arms, as in a temple, with its summit lost in the
clouds, the world is to be shut out, and every thought and wish,
that do not nurture pure affection and permanent virtue. Permanent
virtue! alas! Rousseau, respectable visionary! thy paradise would
soon be violated by the entrance of some unexpected guest. Like
Milton's, it would only contain angels, or men sunk below the
dignity of rational creatures. Happiness is not material, it
cannot be seen or felt! Yet the eager pursuit of the good which
every one shapes to his own fancy, proclaims man the lord of this
lower world, and to be an intelligential creature, who is not to
receive, but acquire happiness. They, therefore, who complain of
the delusions of passion, do not recollect that they are exclaiming
against a strong proof of the immortality of the soul.

But, leaving superior minds to correct themselves, and pay dearly
for their experience, it is necessary to observe, that it is not
against strong, persevering passions; but romantic, wavering
feelings, that I wish to guard the female heart by exercising the
understanding; for these paradisiacal reveries are oftener the
effect of idleness than of a lively fancy.

Women have seldom sufficient serious employment to silence their
feelings; a round of little cares, or vain pursuits, frittering
away all strength of mind and organs, they become naturally only
objects of sense. In short, the whole tenor of female education
(the education of society) tends to render the best disposed,
romantic and inconstant; and the remainder vain and mean. In the
present state of society, this evil can scarcely be remedied, I am
afraid, in the slightest degree; should a more laudable ambition
ever gain ground, they may be brought nearer to nature and reason,
and become more virtuous and useful as they grow more respectable.

But I will venture to assert, that their reason will never acquire
sufficient strength to enable it to regulate their conduct, whilst
the making an appearance in the world is the first wish of the
majority of mankind. To this weak wish the natural affections and
the most useful virtues are sacrificed. Girls marry merely to
BETTER THEMSELVES, to borrow a significant vulgar phrase, and have
such perfect power over their hearts as not to permit themselves to
FALL IN LOVE till a man with a superior fortune offers. On this
subject I mean to enlarge in a future chapter; it is only necessary
to drop a hint at present, because women are so often degraded by
suffering the selfish prudence of age to chill the ardour of youth.

>From the same source flows an opinion that young girls ought to
dedicate great part of their time to needle work; yet, this
employment contracts their faculties more than any other that could
have been chosen for them, by confining their thoughts to their
persons. Men order their clothes to be made, and have done with
the subject; women make their own clothes, necessary or ornamental,
and are continually talking about them; and their thoughts follow
their hands. It is not indeed the making of necessaries that
weakens the mind; but the frippery of dress. For when a woman in
the lower rank of life makes her husband's and children's clothes,
she does her duty, this is part of her business; but when women
work only to dress better than they could otherwise afford, it is
worse than sheer loss of time. To render the poor virtuous, they
must be employed, and women in the middle rank of life did they not
ape the fashions of the nobility, without catching their ease,
might employ them, whilst they themselves managed their families,
instructed their children, and exercised their own minds.
Gardening, experimental philosophy, and literature, would afford
them subjects to think of, and matter for conversation, that in
some degree would exercise their understandings. The conversation
of French women, who are not so rigidly nailed to their chairs, to
twist lappets, and knot ribbands, is frequently superficial; but, I
contend, that it is not half so insipid as that of those English
women, whose time is spent in making caps, bonnets, and the whole
mischief of trimmings, not to mention shopping, bargain-hunting,
etc. etc.: and it is the decent, prudent women, who are most
degraded by these practices; for their motive is simply vanity.
The wanton, who exercises her taste to render her person alluring,
has something more in view.

These observations all branch out of a general one, which I have
before made, and which cannot be too often insisted upon, for,
speaking of men, women, or professions, it will be found, that the
employment of the thoughts shapes the character both generally and
individually. The thoughts of women ever hover around their
persons, and is it surprising that their persons are reckoned most
valuable? Yet some degree of liberty of mind is necessary even to
form the person; and this may be one reason why some gentle wives
have so few attractions beside that of sex. Add to this, sedentary
employments render the majority of women sickly, and false notions
of female excellence make them proud of this delicacy, though it be
another fetter, that by calling the attention continually to the
body, cramps the activity of the mind.

Women of quality seldom do any of the manual part of their dress,
consequently only their taste is exercised, and they acquire, by
thinking less of the finery, when the business of their toilet is
over, that ease, which seldom appears in the deportment of women,
who dress merely for the sake of dressing. In fact, the
observation with respect to the middle rank, the one in which
talents thrive best, extends not to women; for those of the
superior class, by catching, at least a smattering of literature,
and conversing more with men, on general topics, acquire more
knowledge than the women who ape their fashions and faults without
sharing their advantages. With respect to virtue, to use the word
in a comprehensive sense, I have seen most in low life. Many poor
women maintain their children by the sweat of their brow, and keep
together families that the vices of the fathers would have
scattered abroad; but gentlewomen are too indolent to be actively
virtuous, and are softened rather than refined by civilization.
Indeed the good sense which I have met with among the poor women
who have had few advantages of education, and yet have acted
heroically, strongly confirmed me in the opinion, that trifling
employments have rendered women a trifler. Men, taking her ('I
take her body,' says Ranger.) body, the mind is left to rust; so
that while physical love enervates man, as being his favourite
recreation, he will endeavour to enslave woman: and who can tell
how many generations may be necessary to give vigour to the virtue
and talents of the freed posterity of abject slaves? ('Supposing
that women are voluntary slaves--slavery of any kind is
unfavourable to human happiness and improvement.'--'Knox's

In tracing the causes that in my opinion, have degraded woman, I
have confined my observations to such as universally act upon the
morals and manners of the whole sex, and to me it appears clear,
that they all spring from want of understanding. Whether this
arises from a physical or accidental weakness of faculties, time
alone can determine; for I shall not lay any great stress upon the
example of a few women (Sappho, Eloisa, Mrs. Macaulay, the Empress
of Russia, Madame d'Eon, etc. These, and many more, may be
reckoned exceptions; and, are not all heroes, as well as heroines,
exceptions to general rules? I wish to see women neither heroines
nor brutes; but reasonable creatures.) who, from having received a
masculine education, have acquired courage and resolution; I only
contend that the men who have been placed in similar situations
have acquired a similar character, I speak of bodies of men, and
that men of genius and talents have started out of a class, in
which women have never yet been placed.



The opinions speciously supported, in some modern publications on
the female character, and education, which have given the tone to
most of the observations made, in a more cursory manner, on the
sex, remain now to be examined.


I shall begin with Rousseau, and give a sketch of the character of
women in his own words, interspersing comments and reflections. My
comments, it is true, will all spring from a few simple principles,
and might have been deduced from what I have already said; but the
artificial structure has been raised with so much ingenuity, that
it seems necessary to attack it in a more circumstantial manner,
and make the application myself.

Sophia, says Rousseau, should be as perfect a woman as Emilius is a
man, and to render her so, it is necessary to examine the character
which nature has given to the sex.

He then proceeds to prove, that women ought to be weak and passive,
because she has less bodily strength than man; and from hence
infers, that she was formed to please and to be subject to him; and
that it is her duty to render herself AGREEABLE to her master--this
being the grand end of her existence.

Supposing women to have been formed only to please, and be subject
to man, the conclusion is just, she ought to sacrifice every other
consideration to render herself agreeable to him: and let this
brutal desire of self-preservation be the grand spring of all her
actions, when it is proved to be the iron bed of fate, to fit
which, her character should be stretched or contracted, regardless
of all moral or physical distinctions. But if, as I think may be
demonstrated, the purposes of even this life, viewing the whole,
are subverted by practical rules built upon this ignoble base, I
may be allowed to doubt whether woman was created for man: and
though the cry of irreligion, or even atheism be raised against me,
I will simply declare, that were an angel from heaven to tell me
that Moses's beautiful, poetical cosmogony, and the account of the
fall of man, were literally true, I could not believe what my
reason told me was derogatory to the character of the Supreme
Being: and, having no fear of the devil before mine eyes, I
venture to call this a suggestion of reason, instead of resting my
weakness on the broad shoulders of the first seducer of my frail

"It being once demonstrated," continues Rousseau, "that man and
woman are not, nor ought to be, constituted alike in temperament
and character, it follows of course, that they should not be
educated in the same manner. In pursuing the directions of nature,
they ought indeed to act in concert, but they should not be engaged
in the same employments: the end of their pursuits should be the
same, but the means they should take to accomplish them, and, of
consequence, their tastes and inclinations should be different."
(Rousseau's 'Emilius', Volume 3 page 176.)

"Girls are from their earliest infancy fond of dress. Not content
with being pretty, they are desirous of being thought so; we see,
by all their little airs, that this thought engages their
attention; and they are hardly capable of understanding what is
said to them, before they are to be governed by talking to them of
what people will think of their behaviour. The same motive,
however, indiscreetly made use of with boys, has not the same
effect: provided they are let to pursue their amusements at
pleasure, they care very little what people think of them. Time
and pains are necessary to subject boys to this motive.

"Whencesoever girls derive this first lesson it is a very good one.
As the body is born, in a manner before the soul, our first concern
should be to cultivate the former; this order is common to both
sexes, but the object of that cultivation is different. In the one
sex it is the developement of corporeal powers; in the other, that
of personal charms: not that either the quality of strength or
beauty ought to be confined exclusively to one sex; but only that
the order of the cultivation of both is in that respect reversed.
Women certainly require as much strength as to enable them to move
and act gracefully, and men as much address as to qualify them to
act with ease."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Children of both sexes have a great many amusements in common; and
so they ought; have they not also many such when they are grown up?
Each sex has also its peculiar taste to distinguish in this
particular. Boys love sports of noise and activity; to beat the
drum, to whip the top, and to drag about their little carts:
girls, on the other hand, are fonder of things of show and
ornament; such as mirrors, trinkets, and dolls; the doll is the
peculiar amusement of the females; from whence we see their taste
plainly adapted to their destination. The physical part of the art
of pleasing lies in dress; and this is all which children are
capacitated to cultivate of that art."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Here then we see a primary propensity firmly established, which
you need only to pursue and regulate. The little creature will
doubtless be very desirous to know how to dress up her doll, to
make its sleeve knots, its flounces, its head dress, etc., she is
obliged to have so much recourse to the people about her, for their
assistance in these articles, that it would be much more agreeable
to her to owe them all to her own industry. Hence we have a good
reason for the first lessons which are usually taught these young
females: in which we do not appear to be setting them a task, but
obliging them, by instructing them in what is immediately useful to
themselves. And, in fact, almost all of them learn with reluctance
to read and write; but very readily apply themselves to the use of
their needles. They imagine themselves already grown up, and think
with pleasure that such qualifications will enable them to decorate

This is certainly only an education of the body; but Rousseau is
not the only man who has indirectly said that merely the person of
a young woman, without any mind, unless animal spirits come under
that description, is very pleasing. To render it weak, and what
some may call beautiful, the understanding is neglected, and girls
forced to sit still, play with dolls, and listen to foolish
conversations; the effect of habit is insisted upon as an undoubted
indication of nature. I know it was Rousseau's opinion that the
first years of youth should be employed to form the body, though in
educating Emilius he deviates from this plan; yet the difference
between strengthening the body, on which strength of mind in a
great measure depends, and only giving it an easy motion, is very

Rousseau's observations, it is proper to remark, were made in a
country where the art of pleasing was refined only to extract the
grossness of vice. He did not go back to nature, or his ruling
appetite disturbed the operations of reason, else he would not have
drawn these crude inferences.

In France, boys and girls, particularly the latter, are only
educated to please, to manage their persons, and regulate their
exterior behaviour; and their minds are corrupted at a very early
age, by the worldly and pious cautions they receive, to guard them
against immodesty. I speak of past times. The very confessions
which mere children are obliged to make, and the questions asked by
the holy men I assert these facts on good authority, were
sufficient to impress a sexual character; and the education of
society was a school of coquetry and art. At the age of ten or
eleven; nay, often much sooner, girls began to coquet, and talked,
unreproved, of establishing themselves in the world by marriage.

In short, they were made women, almost from their very birth, and
compliments were listened to instead of instruction. These,
weakening the mind, Nature was supposed to have acted like a
step-mother, when she formed this after-thought of creation.

Not allowing them understanding, however, it was but consistent to
subject them to authority, independent of reason; and to prepare
them for this subjection, he gives the following advice:

"Girls ought to be active and diligent; nor is that all; they
should also be early subjected to restraint. This misfortune, if
it really be one, is inseparable from their sex; nor do they ever
throw it off but to suffer more cruel evils. They must be subject,
all their lives, to the most constant and severe restraint, which
is that of decorum: it is, therefore, necessary to accustom them
early to such confinement, that it may not afterward cost them too
dear; and to the suppression of their caprices, that they may the
more readily submit to the will of others. If, indeed, they are
fond of being always at work, they should be sometimes compelled to
lay it aside. Dissipation, levity, and inconstancy, are faults
that readily spring up from their first propensities, when
corrupted or perverted by too much indulgence. To prevent this
abuse, we should learn them, above all things, to lay a due
restraint on themselves. The life of a modest woman is reduced, by
our absurd institutions, to a perpetual conflict with herself: not
but it is just that this sex should partake of the sufferings which
arise from those evils it hath caused us."

And why is the life of a modest woman a perpetual conflict? I
should answer, that this very system of education makes it so.
Modesty, temperance, and self-denial, are the sober offspring of
reason; but when sensibility is nurtured at the expense of the
understanding, such weak beings must be restrained by arbitrary
means, and be subjected to continual conflicts; but give their
activity of mind a wider range, and nobler passions and motives
will govern their appetites and sentiments.

"The common attachment and regard of a mother, nay, mere habit,
will make her beloved by her children, if she does nothing to incur
their hate. Even the restraint she lays them under, if well
directed, will increase their affection, instead of lessening it;
because a state of dependence being natural to the sex, they
perceive themselves formed for obedience."

This is begging the question; for servitude not only debases the
individual, but its effects seem to be transmitted to posterity.
Considering the length of time that women have been dependent, is
it surprising that some of them hug their chains, and fawn like the
spaniel? "These dogs," observes a naturalist, "at first kept their
ears erect; but custom has superseded nature, and a token of fear
is become a beauty."

"For the same reason," adds Rousseau, "women have or ought to have,
but little liberty; they are apt to indulge themselves excessively
in what is allowed them. Addicted in every thing to extremes, they
are even more transported at their diversions than boys."

The answer to this is very simple. Slaves and mobs have always
indulged themselves in the same excesses, when once they broke
loose from authority. The bent bow recoils with violence, when the
hand is suddenly relaxed that forcibly held it: and sensibility,
the plaything of outward circumstances, must be subjected to
authority, or moderated by reason.

"There results," he continues, "from this habitual restraint, a
tractableness which the women have occasion for during their whole
lives, as they constantly remain either under subjection to the
men, or to the opinions of mankind; and are never permitted to set
themselves above those opinions. The first and most important
qualification in a woman is good-nature or sweetness of temper;
formed to obey a being so imperfect as man, often full of vices,
and always full of faults, she ought to learn betimes even to
suffer injustice, and to bear the insults of a husband without
complaint; it is not for his sake, but her own, that she should be
of a mild disposition. The perverseness and ill-nature of the
women only serve to aggravate their own misfortunes, and the
misconduct of their husbands; they might plainly perceive that such
are not the arms by which they gain the superiority."

Formed to live with such an imperfect being as man, they ought to
learn from the exercise of their faculties the necessity of
forbearance; but all the sacred rights of humanity are violated by
insisting on blind obedience; or, the most sacred rights belong
ONLY to man.

The being who patiently endures injustice, and silently bears
insults, will soon become unjust, or unable to discern right from
wrong. Besides, I deny the fact, this is not the true way to form
or meliorate the temper; for, as a sex, men have better tempers
than women, because they are occupied by pursuits that interest the
head as well as the heart; and the steadiness of the head gives a
healthy temperature to the heart. People of sensibility have
seldom good tempers. The formation of the temper is the cool work
of reason, when, as life advances, she mixes with happy art,
jarring elements. I never knew a weak or ignorant person who had a
good temper, though that constitutional good humour, and that
docility, which fear stamps on the behaviour, often obtains the
name. I say behaviour, for genuine meekness never reached the
heart or mind, unless as the effect of reflection; and, that simple
restraint produces a number of peccant humours in domestic life,
many sensible men will allow, who find some of these gentle
irritable creatures, very troublesome companions.

"Each sex," he further argues, "should preserve its peculiar tone
and manner: a meek husband may make a wife impertinent; but
mildness of disposition on the woman's side will always bring a man
back to reason, at least if he be not absolutely a brute, and will
sooner or later triumph over him." True, the mildness of reason;
but abject fear always inspires contempt; and tears are only
eloquent when they flow down fair cheeks.

Of what materials can that heart be composed, which can melt when
insulted, and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod? Is
it unfair to infer, that her virtue is built on narrow views and
selfishness, who can caress a man, with true feminine softness, the
very moment when he treats her tyrannically? Nature never dictated
such insincerity; and though prudence of this sort be termed a
virtue, morality becomes vague when any part is supposed to rest on
falsehood. These are mere expedients, and expedients are only
useful for the moment.

Let the husband beware of trusting too implicitly to this servile
obedience; for if his wife can with winning sweetness caress him
when angry, and when she ought to be angry, unless contempt had
stifled a natural effervescence, she may do the same after parting
with a lover. These are all preparations for adultery; or, should
the fear of the world, or of hell, restrain her desire of pleasing
other men, when she can no longer please her husband, what
substitute can be found by a being who was only formed by nature
and art to please man? what can make her amends for this
privation, or where is she to seek for a fresh employment? where
find sufficient strength of mind to determine to begin the search,
when her habits are fixed, and vanity has long ruled her chaotic

But this partial moralist recommends cunning systematically and

"Daughters should be always submissive; their mothers, however,
should not be inexorable. To make a young person tractable, she
ought not to be made unhappy; to make her modest she ought not to
be rendered stupid. On the contrary, I should not be displeased at
her being permitted to use some art, not to elude punishment in
case of disobedience, but to exempt herself from the necessity of
obeying. It is not necessary to make her dependence burdensome,
but only to let her feel it. Subtilty is a talent natural to the
sex; and as I am persuaded, all our natural inclinations are right
and good in themselves, I am of opinion this should be cultivated
as well as the others: it is requisite for us only to prevent its

"Whatever is, is right," he then proceeds triumphantly to infer.
Granted; yet, perhaps, no aphorism ever contained a more
paradoxical assertion. It is a solemn truth with respect to God.
He, reverentially I speak, sees the whole at once, and saw its just
proportions in the womb of time; but man, who can only inspect
disjointed parts, finds many things wrong; and it is a part of the
system, and therefore right, that he should endeavour to alter what
appears to him to be so, even while he bows to the wisdom of his
Creator, and respects the darkness he labours to disperse.

The inference that follows is just, supposing the principle to be
sound: "The superiority of address, peculiar to the female sex, is
a very equitable indemnification for their inferiority in point of
strength: without this, woman would not be the companion of man;
but his slave: it is by her superiour art and ingenuity that she
preserves her equality, and governs him while she affects to obey.
Woman has every thing against her, as well our faults as her own
timidity and weakness: she has nothing in her favour, but her
subtilty and her beauty. Is it not very reasonable, therefore, she
should cultivate both?" Greatness of mind can never dwell with
cunning or address; for I shall not boggle about words, when their
direct signification is insincerity and falsehood; but content
myself with observing, that if any class of mankind be so created
that it must necessarily be educated by rules, not strictly
deducible from truth, virtue is an affair of convention. How could
Rousseau dare to assert, after giving this advice, that in the
grand end of existence, the object of both sexes should be the
same, when he well knew, that the mind formed by its pursuits, is
expanded by great views swallowing up little ones, or that it
becomes itself little?

Men have superiour strength of body; but were it not for mistaken
notions of beauty, women would acquire sufficient to enable them to
earn their own subsistence, the true definition of independence;
and to bear those bodily inconveniences and exertions that are
requisite to strengthen the mind.

Let us then, by being allowed to take the same exercise as boys,
not only during infancy, but youth, arrive at perfection of body,
that we may know how far the natural superiority of man extends.
For what reason or virtue can be expected from a creature when the
seed-time of life is neglected? None--did not the winds of heaven
casually scatter many useful seeds in the fallow ground.

"Beauty cannot be acquired by dress, and coquetry is an art not so
early and speedily attained. While girls are yet young, however,
they are in a capacity to study agreeable gesture, a pleasing
modulation of voice, an easy carriage and behaviour; as well as to
take the advantage of gracefully adapting their looks and attitudes
to time, place, and occasion. Their application, therefore, should
not be solely confined to the arts of industry and the needle, when
they come to display other talents, whose utility is already
apparent." "For my part I would have a young Englishwoman cultivate
her agreeable talents, in order to please her future husband, with
as much care and assiduity as a young Circassian cultivates her's,
to fit her for the Haram of an Eastern bashaw."

To render women completely insignificant, he adds,--"The tongues of
women are very voluble; they speak earlier, more readily, and more
agreeably than the men; they are accused also of speaking much
more: but so it ought to be, and I should be very ready to convert
this reproach into a compliment; their lips and eyes have the same
activity, and for the same reason. A man speaks of what he knows,
a woman of what pleases her; the one requires knowledge, the other
taste; the principal object of a man's discourse should be what is
useful, that of a woman's what is agreeable. There ought to be
nothing in common between their different conversation but truth."

"We ought not, therefore, to restrain the prattle of girls, in the
same manner as we should that of boys, with that severe question,
'To what purpose are you talking?' but by another, which is no less
difficult to answer, 'How will your discourse be received?' In
infancy, while they are as yet incapable to discern good from evil,
they ought to observe it as a law, never to say any thing
disagreeable to those whom they are speaking to: what will render
the practice of this rule also the more difficult, is, that it must
ever be subordinate to the former, of never speaking falsely or
telling an untruth." To govern the tongue in this manner must
require great address indeed; and it is too much practised both by
men and women. Out of the abundance of the heart how few speak!
So few, that I, who love simplicity, would gladly give up
politeness for a quarter of the virtue that has been sacrificed to
an equivocal quality, which, at best, should only be the polish of

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest