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

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But to complete the sketch. "It is easy to be conceived, that if
male children be not in a capacity to form any true notions of
religion, those ideas must be greatly above the conception of the
females: it is for this very reason, I would begin to speak to
them the earlier on this subject; for if we were to wait till they
were in a capacity to discuss methodically such profound questions,
we should run a risk of never speaking to them on this subject as
long as they lived. Reason in women is a practical reason,
capacitating them artfully to discover the means of attaining a
known end, but which would never enable them to discover that end
itself. The social relations of the sexes are indeed truly
admirable: from their union there results a moral person, of which
woman may be termed the eyes, and man the hand, with this
dependence on each other, that it is from the man that the woman is
to learn what she is to see, and it is of the woman that man is to
learn what he ought to do. If woman could recur to the first
principles of things as well as man, and man was capacitated to
enter into their minutae as well as woman, always independent of
each other, they would live in perpetual discord, and their union
could not subsist. But in the present harmony which naturally
subsists between them, their different faculties tend to one common
end; it is difficult to say which of them conduces the most to it:
each follows the impulse of the other; each is obedient, and both
are masters."

"As the conduct of a woman is subservient to the public opinion,
her faith in matters of religion, should for that very reason, be
subject to authority. 'Every daughter ought to be of the same
religion as her mother, and every wife to be of the same religion
as her husband: for, though such religion should be false, that
docility which induces the mother and daughter to submit to the
order of nature, takes away, in the sight of God, the criminality
of their error'.* As they are not in a capacity to judge for
themselves, they ought to abide by the decision of their fathers
and husbands as confidently as by that of the church."

(*Footnote. What is to be the consequence, if the mother's and
husband's opinion should chance not to agree? An ignorant person
cannot be reasoned out of an error, and when persuaded to give up
one prejudice for another the mind is unsettled. Indeed, the
husband may not have any religion to teach her though in such a
situation she will be in great want of a support to her virtue,
independent of worldly considerations.)

"As authority ought to regulate the religion of the women, it is
not so needful to explain to them the reasons for their belief, as
to lay down precisely the tenets they are to believe: for the
creed, which presents only obscure ideas to the mind, is the source
of fanaticism; and that which presents absurdities, leads to

Absolute, uncontroverted authority, it seems, must subsist
somewhere: but is not this a direct and exclusive appropriation of
reason? The RIGHTS of humanity have been thus confined to the male
line from Adam downwards. Rousseau would carry his male
aristocracy still further, for he insinuates, that he should not
blame those, who contend for leaving woman in a state of the most
profound ignorance, if it were not necessary, in order to preserve
her chastity, and justify the man's choice in the eyes of the
world, to give her a little knowledge of men, and the customs
produced by human passions; else she might propagate at home
without being rendered less voluptuous and innocent by the exercise
of her understanding: excepting, indeed, during the first year of
marriage, when she might employ it to dress, like Sophia. "Her
dress is extremely modest in appearance, and yet very coquettish in
fact: she does not make a display of her charms, she conceals
them; but, in concealing them, she knows how to affect your
imagination. Every one who sees her, will say, There is a modest
and discreet girl; but while you are near her, your eyes and
affections wander all over her person, so that you cannot withdraw
them; and you would conclude that every part of her dress, simple
as it seems, was only put in its proper order to be taken to pieces
by the imagination." Is this modesty? Is this a preparation for
immortality? Again. What opinion are we to form of a system of
education, when the author says of his heroine, "that with her,
doing things well is but a SECONDARY concern; her principal concern
is to do them NEATLY."

Secondary, in fact, are all her virtues and qualities, for,
respecting religion, he makes her parents thus address her,
accustomed to submission--"Your husband will instruct you in good

After thus cramping a woman's mind, if, in order to keep it fair,
he has not made it quite a blank, he advises her to reflect, that a
reflecting man may not yawn in her company, when he is tired of
caressing her. What has she to reflect about, who must obey? and
would it not be a refinement on cruelty only to open her mind to
make the darkness and misery of her fate VISIBLE? Yet these are
his sensible remarks; how consistent with what I have already been
obliged to quote, to give a fair view of the subject, the reader
may determine.

"They who pass their whole lives in working for their daily bread,
have no ideas beyond their business or their interest, and all
their understanding seems to lie in their fingers' ends. This
ignorance is neither prejudicial to their integrity nor their
morals; it is often of service to them. Sometimes, by means of
reflection, we are led to compound with our duty, and we conclude,
by substituting a jargon of words, in the room of things. Our own
conscience is the most enlightened philosopher. There is no need
of being acquainted with Tully's offices, to make a man of probity:
and perhaps the most virtuous woman in the world is the least
acquainted with the definition of virtue. But it is no less true,
than an improved understanding only can render society agreeable;
and it is a melancholy thing for a father of a family, who is fond
of home, to be obliged to be always wrapped up in himself, and to
have nobody about him to whom he can impart his sentiments.

"Besides, how should a woman void of reflection be capable of
educating her children? How should she discern what is proper for
them? How should she incline them to those virtues she is
unacquainted with, or to that merit of which she has no idea? She
can only sooth or chide them; render them insolent or timid; she
will make them formal coxcombs, or ignorant blockheads; but will
never make them sensible or amiable." How indeed should she, when
her husband is not always at hand to lend her his reason --when
they both together make but one moral being? A blind will, "eyes
without hands," would go a very little way; and perchance his
abstract reason, that should concentrate the scattered beams of her
practical reason, may be employed in judging of the flavour of
wine, discanting on the sauces most proper for turtle; or, more
profoundly intent at a card-table, he may be generalizing his ideas
as he bets away his fortune, leaving all the minutiae of education
to his helpmate or chance.

But, granting that woman ought to be beautiful, innocent, and
silly, to render her a more alluring and indulgent companion--what
is her understanding sacrificed for? And why is all this
preparation necessary only, according to Rousseau's own account, to
make her the mistress of her husband, a very short time? For no
man ever insisted more on the transient nature of love. Thus
speaks the philosopher. "Sensual pleasures are transient. The
habitual state of the affections always loses by their
gratification. The imagination, which decks the object of our
desires, is lost in fruition. Excepting the Supreme Being, who is
self-existent, there is nothing beautiful but what is ideal."

But he returns to his unintelligible paradoxes again, when he thus
addresses Sophia. "Emilius, in becoming your husband, is become
your master, and claims your obedience. Such is the order of
nature. When a man is married, however, to such a wife as Sophia,
it is proper he should be directed by her: this is also agreeable
to the order of nature: it is, therefore, to give you as much
authority over his heart as his sex gives him over your person,
that I have made you the arbiter of his pleasures. It may cost
you, perhaps, some disagreeable self-denial; but you will be
certain of maintaining your empire over him, if you can preserve it
over yourself; what I have already observed, also shows me, that
this difficult attempt does not surpass your courage.

"Would you have your husband constantly at your feet? keep him at
some distance from your person. You will long maintain the
authority of love, if you know but how to render your favours rare
and valuable. It is thus you may employ even the arts of coquetry
in the service of virtue, and those of love in that of reason."

I shall close my extracts with a just description of a comfortable
couple. "And yet you must not imagine, that even such management
will always suffice. Whatever precaution be taken, enjoyment will,
by degrees, take off the edge of passion. But when love hath
lasted as long as possible, a pleasing habitude supplies its place,
and the attachment of a mutual confidence succeeds to the
transports of passion. Children often form a more agreeable and
permanent connexion between married people than even love itself.
When you cease to be the mistress of Emilius, you will continue to
be his wife and friend; you will be the mother of his children."
(Rousseau's Emilius.)

Children, he truly observes, form a much more permanent connexion
between married people than love. Beauty he declares will not be
valued, or even seen, after a couple have lived six months
together; artificial graces and coquetry will likewise pall on the
senses: why then does he say, that a girl should be educated for
her husband with the same care as for an eastern haram?

I now appeal from the reveries of fancy and refined licentiousness
to the good sense of mankind, whether, if the object of education
be to prepare women to become chaste wives and sensible mothers,
the method so plausibly recommended in the foregoing sketch, be the
one best calculated to produce those ends? Will it be allowed that
the surest way to make a wife chaste, is to teach her to practise
the wanton arts of a mistress, termed virtuous coquetry by the
sensualist who can no longer relish the artless charms of
sincerity, or taste the pleasure arising from a tender intimacy,
when confidence is unchecked by suspicion, and rendered interesting
by sense?

The man who can be contented to live with a pretty useful companion
without a mind, has lost in voluptuous gratifications a taste for
more refined enjoyments; he has never felt the calm satisfaction
that refreshes the parched heart, like the silent dew of heaven--of
being beloved by one who could understand him. In the society of
his wife he is still alone, unless when the man is sunk in the
brute. "The charm of life," says a grave philosophical reasoner,
is "sympathy; nothing pleases us more than to observe in other men
a fellow-feeling with all the emotions of our own breast."

But, according to the tenor of reasoning by which women are kept
from the tree of knowledge, the important years of youth, the
usefulness of age, and the rational hopes of futurity, are all to
be sacrificed, to render woman an object of desire for a short
time. Besides, how could Rousseau expect them to be virtuous and
constant when reason is neither allowed to be the foundation of
their virtue, nor truth the object of their inquiries?

But all Rousseau's errors in reasoning arose from sensibility, and
sensibility to their charms women are very ready to forgive! When
he should have reasoned he became impassioned, and reflection
inflamed his imagination, instead of enlightening his
understanding. Even his virtues also led him farther astray; for,
born with a warm constitution and lively fancy, nature carried him
toward the other sex with such eager fondness, that he soon became
lascivious. Had he given way to these desires, the fire would have
extinguished itself in a natural manner, but virtue, and a romantic
kind of delicacy, made him practise self-denial; yet, when fear,
delicacy, or virtue restrained him, he debauched his imagination;
and reflecting on the sensations to which fancy gave force, he
traced them in the most glowing colours, and sunk them deep into
his soul.

He then sought for solitude, not to sleep with the man of nature;
or calmly investigate the causes of things under the shade where
Sir Isaac Newton indulged contemplation, but merely to indulge his
feelings. And so warmly has he painted what he forcibly felt,
that, interesting the heart and inflaming the imagination of his
readers; in proportion to the strength of their fancy, they imagine
that their understanding is convinced, when they only sympathize
with a poetic writer, who skilfully exhibits the objects of sense,
most voluptuously shadowed, or gracefully veiled; and thus making
us feel, whilst dreaming that we reason, erroneous conclusions are
left in the mind.

Why was Rousseau's life divided between ecstasy and misery? Can
any other answer be given than this, that the effervescence of his
imagination produced both; but, had his fancy been allowed to cool,
it is possible that he might have acquired more strength of mind.
Still, if the purpose of life be to educate the intellectual part
of man, all with respect to him was right; yet, had not death led
to a nobler scene of action, it is probable that he would have
enjoyed more equal happiness on earth, and have felt the calm
sensations of the man of nature, instead of being prepared for
another stage of existence by nourishing the passions which agitate
the civilized man.

But peace to his manes! I war not with his ashes, but his
opinions. I war only with the sensibility that led him to degrade
woman by making her the slave of love.

...."Curs'd vassalage,
First idoliz'd till love's hot fire be o'er,
Then slaves to those who courted us before."

The pernicious tendency of those books, in which the writers
insidiously degrade the sex, whilst they are prostrate before their
personal charms, cannot be too often or too severely exposed.

Let us, my dear contemporaries, arise above such narrow prejudices!
If wisdom is desirable on its own account, if virtue, to deserve
the name, must be founded on knowledge; let us endeavour to
strengthen our minds by reflection, till our heads become a balance
for our hearts; let us not confine all our thoughts to the petty
occurrences of the day, nor our knowledge to an acquaintance with
our lovers' or husbands' hearts; but let the practice of every duty
be subordinate to the grand one of improving our minds, and
preparing our affections for a more exalted state!

Beware then, my friends, of suffering the heart to be moved by
every trivial incident: the reed is shaken by a breeze, and
annually dies, but the oak stands firm, and for ages braves the

Were we, indeed, only created to flutter our hour out and die--why
let us then indulge sensibility, and laugh at the severity of
reason. Yet, alas! even then we should want strength of body and
mind, and life would be lost in feverish pleasures or wearisome

But the system of education, which I earnestly wish to see
exploded, seems to presuppose, what ought never to be taken for
granted, that virtue shields us from the casualties of life; and
that fortune, slipping off her bandage, will smile on a
well-educated female, and bring in her hand an Emilius or a
Telemachus. Whilst, on the contrary, the reward which virtue
promises to her votaries is confined, it is clear, to their own
bosoms; and often must they contend with the most vexatious worldly
cares, and bear with the vices and humours of relations for whom
they can never feel a friendship.

There have been many women in the world who, instead of being
supported by the reason and virtue of their fathers and brothers,
have strengthened their own minds by struggling with their vices
and follies; yet have never met with a hero, in the shape of a
husband; who, paying the debt that mankind owed them, might chance
to bring back their reason to its natural dependent state, and
restore the usurped prerogative, of rising above opinion, to man.


Dr. Fordyce's sermons have long made a part of a young woman's
library; nay, girls at school are allowed to read them; but I
should instantly dismiss them from my pupil's, if I wished to
strengthen her understanding, by leading her to form sound
principles on a broad basis; or, were I only anxious to cultivate
her taste; though they must be allowed to contain many sensible

Dr. Fordyce may have had a very laudable end in view; but these
discourses are written in such an affected style, that were it only
on that account, and had I nothing to object against his
MELLIFLUOUS precepts, I should not allow girls to peruse them,
unless I designed to hunt every spark of nature out of their
composition, melting every human quality into female weakness and
artificial grace. I say artificial, for true grace arises from
some kind of independence of mind.

Children, careless of pleasing, and only anxious to amuse
themselves, are often very graceful; and the nobility who have
mostly lived with inferiors, and always had the command of money,
acquire a graceful ease of deportment, which should rather be
termed habitual grace of body, than that superiour gracefulness
which is truly the expression of the mind. This mental grace, not
noticed by vulgar eyes, often flashes across a rough countenance,
and irradiating every feature, shows simplicity and independence of
mind. It is then we read characters of immortality in the eye, and
see the soul in every gesture, though when at rest, neither the
face nor limbs may have much beauty to recommend them; or the
behaviour, any thing peculiar to attract universal attention. The
mass of mankind, however, look for more TANGIBLE beauty; yet
simplicity is, in general, admired, when people do not consider
what they admire; and can there be simplicity without sincerity?
but, to have done with remarks that are in some measure desultory,
though naturally excited by the subject.

In declamatory periods Dr. Fordyce spins out Rousseau's eloquence;
and in most sentimental rant, details his opinions respecting the
female character, and the behaviour which woman ought to assume to
render her lovely.

He shall speak for himself, for thus he makes nature address man.
"Behold these smiling innocents, whom I have graced with my fairest
gifts, and committed to your protection; behold them with love and
respect; treat them with tenderness and honour. They are timid and
want to be defended. They are frail; O do not take advantage of
their weakness! Let their fears and blushes endear them. Let
their confidence in you never be abused. But is it possible, that
any of you can be such barbarians, so supremely wicked, as to abuse
it? Can you find in your hearts* to despoil the gentle, trusting
creatures of their treasure, or do any thing to strip them of their
native robe of virtue? Curst be the impious hand that would dare
to violate the unblemished form of Chastity! Thou wretch! thou
ruffian! forbear; nor venture to provoke heaven's fiercest
vengeance." I know not any comment that can be made seriously on
this curious passage, and I could produce many similar ones; and
some, so very sentimental, that I have heard rational men use the
word indecent, when they mentioned them with disgust.

(*Footnote. Can you?--Can you? would be the most emphatical
comment, were it drawled out in a whining voice.)

Throughout there is a display of cold, artificial feelings, and
that parade of sensibility which boys and girls should be taught to
despise as the sure mark of a little vain mind. Florid appeals are
made to heaven, and to the BEAUTEOUS INNOCENTS, the fairest images
of heaven here below, whilst sober sense is left far behind. This
is not the language of the heart, nor will it ever reach it, though
the ear may be tickled.

I shall be told, perhaps, that the public have been pleased with
these volumes. True--and Hervey's Meditations are still read,
though he equally sinned against sense and taste.

I particularly object to the lover-like phrases of pumped up
passion, which are every where interspersed. If women be ever
allowed to walk without leading-strings, why must they be cajoled
into virtue by artful flattery and sexual compliments? Speak to
them the language of truth and soberness, and away with the lullaby
strains of condescending endearment! Let them be taught to respect
themselves as rational creatures, and not led to have a passion for
their own insipid persons. It moves my gall to hear a preacher
descanting on dress and needle-work; and still more, to hear him
address the 'British fair, the fairest of the fair', as if they had
only feelings.

Even recommending piety he uses the following argument. "Never,
perhaps, does a fine woman strike more deeply, than when, composed
into pious recollection, and possessed with the noblest
considerations, she assumes, without knowing it, superiour dignity
and new graces; so that the beauties of holiness seem to radiate
about her, and the by-standers are almost induced to fancy her
already worshipping amongst her kindred angels!" Why are women to
be thus bred up with a desire of conquest? the very epithet, used
in this sense, gives me a sickly qualm! Does religion and virtue
offer no stronger motives, no brighter reward? Must they always be
debased by being made to consider the sex of their companions?
Must they be taught always to be pleasing? And when levelling
their small artillery at the heart of man, is it necessary to tell
them that a little sense is sufficient to render their attention
INCREDIBLY SOOTHING? "As a small degree of knowledge entertains in
a woman, so from a woman, though for a different reason, a small
expression of kindness delights, particularly if she have beauty!"
I should have supposed for the same reason.

Why are girls to be told that they resemble angels; but to sink
them below women? Or, that a gentle, innocent female is an object
that comes nearer to the idea which we have formed of angels than
any other. Yet they are told, at the same time, that they are only
like angels when they are young and beautiful; consequently, it is
their persons, not their virtues, that procure them this homage.

Idle empty words! what can such delusive flattery lead to, but
vanity and folly? The lover, it is true, has a poetic licence to
exalt his mistress; his reason is the bubble of his passion, and he
does not utter a falsehood when he borrows the language of
adoration. His imagination may raise the idol of his heart,
unblamed, above humanity; and happy would it be for women, if they
were only flattered by the men who loved them; I mean, who love the
individual, not the sex; but should a grave preacher interlard his
discourses with such fooleries?

In sermons or novels, however, voluptuousness is always true to its
text. Men are allowed by moralists to cultivate, as nature
directs, different qualities, and assume the different characters,
that the same passions, modified almost to infinity, give to each
individual. A virtuous man may have a choleric or a sanguine
constitution, be gay or grave, unreproved; be firm till be is
almost over-bearing, or, weakly submissive, have no will or opinion
of his own; but all women are to be levelled, by meekness and
docility, into one character of yielding softness and gentle

I will use the preacher's own words. "Let it be observed, that in
your sex manly exercises are never graceful; that in them a tone
and figure, as well as an air and deportment, of the masculine
kind, are always forbidding; and that men of sensibility desire in
every woman soft features, and a flowing voice, a form not robust,
and demeanour delicate and gentle."

Is not the following portrait--the portrait of a house slave? "I
am astonished at the folly of many women, who are still reproaching
their husbands for leaving them alone, for preferring this or that
company to theirs, for treating them with this and the other mark
of disregard or indifference; when, to speak the truth, they have
themselves in a great measure to blame. Not that I would justify
the men in any thing wrong on their part. But had you behaved to
THEIR OPINIONS in matters indifferent, passing by little instances
of unevenness, caprice, or passion, giving SOFT answers to hasty
words, complaining as seldom as possible, and making it your daily
care to relieve their anxieties and prevent their wishes, to
enliven the hour of dulness, and call up the ideas of felicity:
had you pursued this conduct, I doubt not but you would have
maintained and even increased their esteem, so far as to have
secured every degree of influence that could conduce to their
virtue, or your mutual satisfaction; and your house might at this
day have been the abode of domestic bliss." Such a woman ought to
be an angel--or she is an ass--for I discern not a trace of the
human character, neither reason nor passion in this domestic
drudge, whose being is absorbed in that of a tyrant's.

Still Dr. Fordyce must have very little acquaintance with the human
heart, if he really supposed that such conduct would bring back
wandering love, instead of exciting contempt. No, beauty,
gentleness, etc. etc. may gain a heart; but esteem, the only
lasting affection, can alone be obtained by virtue supported by
reason. It is respect for the understanding that keeps alive
tenderness for the person.

As these volumes are so frequently put into the hands of young
people, I have taken more notice of them than strictly speaking,
they deserve; but as they have contributed to vitiate the taste,
and enervate the understanding of many of my fellow-creatures, I
could not pass them silently over.


Such paternal solicitude pervades Dr. Gregory's Legacy to his
daughters, that I enter on the task of criticism with affectionate
respect; but as this little volume has many attractions to
recommend it to the notice of the most respectable part of my sex,
I cannot silently pass over arguments that so speciously support
opinions which, I think, have had the most baneful effect on the
morals and manners of the female world.

His easy familiar style is particularly suited to the tenor of his
advice, and the melancholy tenderness which his respect for the
memory of a beloved wife diffuses through the whole work, renders
it very interesting; yet there is a degree of concise elegance
conspicuous in many passages, that disturbs this sympathy; and we
pop on the author, when we only expected to meet the--father.

Besides, having two objects in view, he seldom adhered steadily to
either; for, wishing to make his daughters amiable, and fearing
lest unhappiness should only be the consequence, of instilling
sentiments, that might draw them out of the track of common life,
without enabling them to act with consonant independence and
dignity, he checks the natural flow of his thoughts, and neither
advises one thing nor the other.

In the preface he tells them a mournful truth, "that they will
hear, at least once in their lives, the genuine sentiments of a
man, who has no interest in deceiving them."

Hapless woman! what can be expected from thee, when the beings on
whom thou art said naturally to depend for reason and support, have
all an interest in deceiving thee! This is the root of the evil
that has shed a corroding mildew on all thy virtues; and blighting
in the bud thy opening faculties, has rendered thee the weak thing
thou art! It is this separate interest-- this insidious state of
warfare, that undermines morality, and divides mankind!

If love has made some women wretched--how many more has the cold
unmeaning intercourse of gallantry rendered vain and useless! yet
this heartless attention to the sex is reckoned so manly, so
polite, that till society is very differently organized, I fear,
this vestige of gothic manners will not be done away by a more
reasonable and affectionate mode of conduct. Besides, to strip it
of its imaginary dignity, I must observe, that in the most
civilized European states, this lip-service prevails in a very
great degree, accompanied with extreme dissoluteness of morals. In
Portugal, the country that I particularly allude to, it takes place
of the most serious moral obligations; for a man is seldom
assassinated when in the company of a woman. The savage hand of
rapine is unnerved by this chivalrous spirit; and, if the stroke of
vengeance cannot be stayed--the lady is entreated to pardon the
rudeness and depart in peace, though sprinkled, perhaps, with her
husband's or brother's blood.

I shall pass over his strictures on religion, because I mean to
discuss that subject in a separate chapter.

The remarks relative to behaviour, though many of them very
sensible, I entirely disapprove of, because it appears to me to be
beginning, as it were at the wrong end. A cultivated
understanding, and an affectionate heart, will never want starched
rules of decorum, something more substantial than seemliness will
be the result; and, without understanding, the behaviour here
recommended, would be rank affectation. Decorum, indeed, is the
one thing needful! decorum is to supplant nature, and banish all
simplicity and variety of character out of the female world. Yet
what good end can all this superficial counsel produce? It is,
however, much easier to point out this or that mode of behaviour,
than to set the reason to work; but, when the mind has been stored
with useful knowledge, and strengthened by being employed, the
regulation of the behaviour may safely be left to its guidance.

Why, for instance, should the following caution be given, when art
of every kind must contaminate the mind; and why entangle the grand
motives of action, which reason and religion equally combine to
enforce, with pitiful worldly shifts and slight of hand tricks to
gain the applause of gaping tasteless fools? "Be even cautious in
displaying your good sense.* It will be thought you assume a
superiority over the rest of the company-- But if you happen to
have any learning keep it a profound secret, especially from the
men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman
of great parts, and a cultivated understanding." If men of real
merit, as he afterwards observes, are superior to this meanness,
where is the necessity that the behaviour of the whole sex should
be modulated to please fools, or men, who having little claim to
respect as individuals, choose to keep close in their phalanx.
Men, indeed, who insist on their common superiority, having only
this sexual superiority, are certainly very excusable.

(*Footnote. Let women once acquire good sense--and if it deserve
the name, it will teach them; or, of what use will it be how to
employ it.)

There would be no end to rules for behaviour, if it be proper
always to adopt the tone of the company; for thus, for ever varying
the key, a FLAT would often pass for a NATURAL note.

Surely it would have been wiser to have advised women to improve
themselves till they rose above the fumes of vanity; and then to
let the public opinion come round--for where are rules of
accommodation to stop? The narrow path of truth and virtue
inclines neither to the right nor left, it is a straight-forward
business, and they who are earnestly pursuing their road, may bound
over many decorous prejudices, without leaving modesty behind.
Make the heart clean, and give the head employment, and I will
venture to predict that there will be nothing offensive in the

The air of fashion, which many young people are so eager to attain,
always strikes me like the studied attitudes of some modern prints,
copied with tasteless servility after the antiques; the soul is
left out, and none of the parts are tied together by what may
properly be termed character. This varnish of fashion, which
seldom sticks very close to sense, may dazzle the weak; but leave
nature to itself, and it will seldom disgust the wise. Besides,
when a woman has sufficient sense not to pretend to any thing which
she does not understand in some degree, there is no need of
determining to hide her talents under a bushel. Let things take
their natural course, and all will be well.

It is this system of dissimulation, throughout the volume, that I
despise. Women are always to SEEM to be this and that--yet virtue
might apostrophize them, in the words of Hamlet--Seems! I know not
seems!--Have that within that passeth show!--

Still the same tone occurs; for in another place, after
recommending, (without sufficiently discriminating) delicacy, he
adds, "The men will complain of your reserve. They will assure you
that a franker behaviour would make you more amiable. But, trust
me, they are not sincere when they tell you so. I acknowledge that
on some occasions it might render you more agreeable as companions,
but it would make you less amiable as women: an important
distinction, which many of your sex are not aware of."

This desire of being always women, is the very consciousness that
degrades the sex. Excepting with a lover, I must repeat with
emphasis, a former observation--it would be well if they were only
agreeable or rational companions. But in this respect his advice
is even inconsistent with a passage which I mean to quote with the
most marked approbation.

"The sentiment, that a woman may allow all innocent freedoms,
provided her virtue is secure, is both grossly indelicate and
dangerous, and has proved fatal to many of your sex." With this
opinion I perfectly coincide. A man, or a woman, of any feeling
must always wish to convince a beloved object that it is the
caresses of the individual, not the sex, that is received and
returned with pleasure; and, that the heart, rather than the
senses, is moved. Without this natural delicacy, love becomes a
selfish personal gratification that soon degrades the character.

I carry this sentiment still further. Affection, when love is out
of the question, authorises many personal endearments, that
naturally flowing from an innocent heart give life to the
behaviour; but the personal intercourse of appetite, gallantry, or
vanity, is despicable. When a man squeezes the hand of a pretty
woman, handing her to a carriage, whom he has never seen before,
she will consider such an impertinent freedom in the light of an
insult, if she have any true delicacy, instead of being flattered
by this unmeaning homage to beauty. These are the privileges of
friendship, or the momentary homage which the heart pays to virtue,
when it flashes suddenly on the notice--mere animal spirits have no
claim to the kindnesses of affection.

Wishing to feed the affections with what is now the food of vanity,
I would fain persuade my sex to act from simpler principles. Let
them merit love, and they will obtain it, though they may never be
told that: "The power of a fine woman over the hearts of men, of
men of the finest parts, is even beyond what she conceives."

I have already noticed the narrow cautions with respect to
duplicity, female softness, delicacy of constitution; for these are
the changes which he rings round without ceasing, in a more
decorous manner, it is true, than Rousseau; but it all comes home
to the same point, and whoever is at the trouble to analyze these
sentiments, will find the first principles not quite so delicate as
the superstructure.

The subject of amusements is treated in too cursory a manner; but
with the same spirit.

When I treat of friendship, love, and marriage, it will be found
that we materially differ in opinion; I shall not then forestall
what I have to observe on these important subjects; but confine my
remarks to the general tenor of them, to that cautious family
prudence, to those confined views of partial unenlightened
affection, which exclude pleasure and improvement, by vainly
wishing to ward off sorrow and error--and by thus guarding the
heart and mind, destroy also all their energy. It is far better to
be often deceived than never to trust; to be disappointed in love,
than never to love; to lose a husband's fondness, than forfeit his

Happy would it be for the world, and for individuals, of course, if
all this unavailing solicitude to attain worldly happiness, on a
confined plan, were turned into an anxious desire to improve the
understanding. "Wisdom is the principal thing: THEREFORE get
wisdom; and with all thy gettings get understanding." "How long ye
simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and hate knowledge?" Saith
Wisdom to the daughters of men!


I do not mean to allude to all the writers who have written on the
subject of female manners--it would in fact be only beating over
the old ground, for they have, in general, written in the same
strain; but attacking the boasted prerogative of man--the
prerogative that may emphatically be called the iron sceptre of
tyranny, the original sin of tyrants, I declare against all power
built on prejudices, however hoary.

If the submission demanded be founded on justice--there is no
appealing to a higher power--for God is justice itself. Let us
then, as children of the same parent, if not bastardized by being
the younger born, reason together, and learn to submit to the
authority of reason when her voice is distinctly heard. But, if it
be proved that this throne of prerogative only rests on a chaotic
mass of prejudices, that have no inherent principle of order to
keep them together, or on an elephant, tortoise, or even the mighty
shoulders of a son of the earth, they may escape, who dare to brave
the consequence without any breach of duty, without sinning against
the order of things.

Whilst reason raises man above the brutal herd, and death is big
with promises, they alone are subject to blind authority who have
no reliance on their own strength. "They are free who will be

(*Footnote. "He is the free man, whom TRUTH makes free!" Cowper.)

The being who can govern itself, has nothing to fear in life; but
if any thing is dearer than its own respect, the price must be paid
to the last farthing. Virtue, like every thing valuable, must be
loved for herself alone; or she will not take up her abode with us.
She will not impart that peace, "which passeth understanding," when
she is merely made the stilts of reputation and respected with
pharisaical exactness, because "honesty is the best policy."

That the plan of life which enables us to carry some knowledge and
virtue into another world, is the one best calculated to ensure
content in this, cannot be denied; yet few people act according to
this principle, though it be universally allowed that it admits not
of dispute. Present pleasure, or present power, carry before it
these sober convictions; and it is for the day, not for life, that
man bargains with happiness. How few! how very few! have
sufficient foresight or resolution, to endure a small evil at the
moment, to avoid a greater hereafter.

Woman in particular, whose virtue* is built on mutual prejudices,
seldom attains to this greatness of mind; so that, becoming the
slave of her own feelings, she is easily subjugated by those of
others. Thus degraded, her reason, her misty reason! is employed
rather to burnish than to snap her chains.

(*Footnote. I mean to use a word that comprehends more than
chastity, the sexual virtue.)

Indignantly have I heard women argue in the same track as men, and
adopt the sentiments that brutalize them with all the pertinacity
of ignorance.

I must illustrate my assertion by a few examples. Mrs. Piozzi, who
often repeated by rote, what she did not understand, comes forward
with Johnsonian periods.

"Seek not for happiness in singularity; and dread a refinement of
wisdom as a deviation into folly." Thus she dogmatically addresses
a new married man; and to elucidate this pompous exordium, she
adds, "I said that the person of your lady would not grow more
pleasing to you, but pray let her never suspect that it grows less
so: that a woman will pardon an affront to her understanding much
sooner than one to her person, is well known; nor will any of us
contradict the assertion. All our attainments, all our arts, are
employed to gain and keep the heart of man; and what mortification
can exceed the disappointment, if the end be not obtained: There is
no reproof however pointed, no punishment however severe, that a
woman of spirit will not prefer to neglect; and if she can endure
it without complaint, it only proves that she means to make herself
amends by the attention of others for the slights of her husband!"

These are true masculine sentiments. "All our ARTS are employed to
gain and keep the heart of man:"--and what is the inference?--if
her person, and was there ever a person, though formed with
Medicisan symmetry, that was not slighted? be neglected, she will
make herself amends by endeavouring to please other men. Noble
morality! But thus is the understanding of the whole sex
affronted, and their virtue deprived of the common basis of virtue.
A woman must know, that her person cannot be as pleasing to her
husband as it was to her lover, and if she be offended with him for
being a human creature, she may as well whine about the loss of his
heart as about any other foolish thing. And this very want of
discernment or unreasonable anger, proves that he could not change
his fondness for her person into affection for her virtues or
respect for her understanding.

Whilst women avow, and act up to such opinions, their
understandings, at least, deserve the contempt and obloquy that
men, WHO NEVER insult their persons, have pointedly levelled at the
female mind. And it is the sentiments of these polite men, who do
not wish to be encumbered with mind, that vain women thoughtlessly
adopt. Yet they should know, that insulted reason alone can spread
that SACRED reserve about the persons which renders human
affections, for human affections have always some base alloy, as
permanent as is consistent with the grand end of existence--the
attainment of virtue.

The Baroness de Stael speaks the same language as the lady just
cited, with more enthusiasm. Her eulogium on Rousseau was
accidentally put into my hands, and her sentiments, the sentiments
of too many of my sex, may serve as the text for a few comments.
"Though Rousseau," she observes, "has endeavoured to prevent women
from interfering in public affairs, and acting a brilliant part in
the theatre of politics; yet, in speaking of them, how much has he
done it to their satisfaction! If he wished to deprive them of
some rights, foreign to their sex, how has he for ever restored to
them all those to which it has a claim! And in attempting to
diminish their influence over the deliberations of men, how
sacredly has he established the empire they have over their
happiness! In aiding them to descend from an usurped throne, he
has firmly seated them upon that to which they were destined by
nature; and though he be full of indignation against them when they
endeavour to resemble men, yet when they come before him with all
respect for their PERSONS amounts almost to adoration." True!--For
never was there a sensualist who paid more fervent adoration at the
shrine of beauty. So devout, indeed, was his respect for the
person, that excepting the virtue of chastity, for obvious reasons,
he only wished to see it embellished by charms, weaknesses, and
errors. He was afraid lest the austerity of reason should disturb
the soft playfulness of love. The master wished to have a
meretricious slave to fondle, entirely dependent on his reason and
bounty; he did not want a companion, whom he should be compelled to
esteem, or a friend to whom he could confide the care of his
children's education, should death deprive them of their father,
before he had fulfilled the sacred task. He denies woman reason,
shuts her out from knowledge, and turns her aside from truth; yet
his pardon is granted, because, "he admits the passion of love."
It would require some ingenuity to show why women were to be under
such an obligation to him for thus admitting love; when it is clear
that he admits it only for the relaxation of men, and to perpetuate
the species; but he talked with passion, and that powerful spell
worked on the sensibility of a young encomiast. "What signifies
it," pursues this rhapsodist, "to women, that his reason disputes
with them the empire, when his heart is devotedly theirs." It is
not empire--but equality, that they should contend for. Yet, if
they only wished to lengthen out their sway, they should not
entirely trust to their persons, for though beauty may gain a
heart, it cannot keep it, even while the beauty is in full bloom,
unless the mind lend, at least, some graces.

When women are once sufficiently enlightened to discover their real
interest, on a grand scale, they will, I am persuaded, be very
ready to resign all the prerogatives of love, that are not mutual,
(speaking of them as lasting prerogatives,) for the calm
satisfaction of friendship, and the tender confidence of habitual
esteem. Before marriage they will not assume any insolent airs,
nor afterward abjectly submit; but, endeavouring to act like
reasonable creatures, in both situations, they will not be tumbled
from a throne to a stool.

Madame Genlis has written several entertaining books for children;
and her letters on Education afford many useful hints, that
sensible parents will certainly avail themselves of; but her views
are narrow, and her prejudices as unreasonable as strong.

I shall pass over her vehement argument in favour of the eternity
of future punishments, because I blush to think that a human being
should ever argue vehemently in such a cause, and only make a few
remarks on her absurd manner of making the parental authority
supplant reason. For every where does she inculcate not only BLIND
submission to parents; but to the opinion of the world.*

(*Footnote. A person is not to act in this or that way, though
convinced they are right in so doing, because some equivocal
circumstances may lead the world to SUSPECT that they acted from
different motives. This is sacrificing the substance for a shadow.
Let people but watch their own hearts, and act rightly as far as
they can judge, and they may patiently wait till the opinion of the
world comes round. It is best to be directed by a simple
motive--for justice has too often been sacrificed to
propriety;--another word for convenience.)

She tells a story of a young man engaged by his father's express
desire to a girl of fortune. Before the marriage could take place
she is deprived of her fortune, and thrown friendless on the world.
The father practises the most infamous arts to separate his son
from her, and when the son detects his villany, and, following the
dictates of honour, marries the girl, nothing but misery ensues,
because forsooth he married WITHOUT his father's consent. On what
ground can religion or morality rest, when justice is thus set at
defiance? In the same style she represents an accomplished young
woman, as ready to marry any body that her MAMMA pleased to
recommend; and, as actually marrying the young man of her own
choice, without feeling any emotions of passion, because that a
well educated girl had not time to be in love. Is it possible to
have much respect for a system of education that thus insults
reason and nature?

Many similar opinions occur in her writings, mixed with sentiments
that do honour to her head and heart. Yet so much superstition is
mixed with her religion, and so much worldly wisdom with her
morality, that I should not let a young person read her works,
unless I could afterwards converse on the subjects, and point out
the contradictions.

Mrs. Chapone's Letters are written with such good sense, and
unaffected humility, and contain so many useful observations, that
I only mention them to pay the worthy writer this tribute of
respect. I cannot, it is true, always coincide in opinion with
her; but I always respect her.

The very word respect brings Mrs. Macaulay to my remembrance. The
woman of the greatest abilities, undoubtedly, that this country has
ever produced. And yet this woman has been suffered to die without
sufficient respect being paid to her memory.

Posterity, however, will be more just; and remember that Catharine
Macaulay was an example of intellectual acquirements supposed to be
incompatible with the weakness of her sex. In her style of
writing, indeed, no sex appears, for it is like the sense it
conveys, strong and clear.

I will not call her's a masculine understanding, because I admit
not of such an arrogant assumption of reason; but I contend that it
was a sound one, and that her judgment, the matured fruit of
profound thinking, was a proof that a woman can acquire judgment,
in the full extent of the word. Possessing more penetration than
sagacity, more understanding than fancy, she writes with sober
energy, and argumentative closeness; yet sympathy and benevolence
give an interest to her sentiments, and that vital heat to
arguments, which forces the reader to weigh them.*

(*Footnote. Coinciding in opinion with Mrs. Macaulay relative to
many branches of education, I refer to her valuable work, instead
of quoting her sentiments to support my own.)

When I first thought of writing these strictures I anticipated Mrs.
Macaulay's approbation with a little of that sanguine ardour which
it has been the business of my life to depress; but soon heard with
the sickly qualm of disappointed hope, and the still seriousness of
regret--that she was no more!


Taking a view of the different works which have been written on
education, Lord Chesterfield's Letters must not be silently passed
over. Not that I mean to analyze his unmanly, immoral system, or
even to cull any of the useful shrewd remarks which occur in his
frivolous correspondence--No, I only mean to make a few reflections
on the avowed tendency of them--the art of acquiring an early
knowledge of the world. An art, I will venture to assert, that
preys secretly, like the worm in the bud, on the expanding powers,
and turns to poison the generous juices which should mount with
vigour in the youthful frame, inspiring warm affections and great

For every thing, saith the wise man, there is reason; and who would
look for the fruits of autumn during the genial months of spring?
But this is mere declamation, and I mean to reason with those
worldly-wise instructors, who, instead of cultivating the judgment,
instil prejudices, and render hard the heart that gradual
experience would only have cooled. An early acquaintance with
human infirmities; or, what is termed knowledge of the world, is
the surest way, in my opinion, to contract the heart and damp the
natural youthful ardour which produces not only great talents, but
great virtues. For the vain attempt to bring forth the fruit of
experience, before the sapling has thrown out its leaves, only
exhausts its strength, and prevents its assuming a natural form;
just as the form and strength of subsiding metals are injured when
the attraction of cohesion is disturbed. Tell me, ye who have
studied the human mind, is it not a strange way to fix principles
by showing young people that they are seldom stable? And how can
they be fortified by habits when they are proved to be fallacious
by example? Why is the ardour of youth thus to be damped, and the
luxuriancy of fancy cut to the quick? This dry caution may, it is
true, guard a character from worldly mischances; but will
infallibly preclude excellence in either virtue or knowledge. The
stumbling-block thrown across every path by suspicion, will prevent
any vigorous exertions of genius or benevolence, and life will be
stripped of its most alluring charm long before its calm evening,
when man should retire to contemplation for comfort and support.

A young man who has been bred up with domestic friends, and led to
store his mind with as much speculative knowledge as can be
acquired by reading and the natural reflections which youthful
ebullitions of animal spirits and instinctive feelings inspire,
will enter the world with warm and erroneous expectations. But
this appears to be the course of nature; and in morals, as well as
in works of taste, we should be observant of her sacred
indications, and not presume to lead when we ought obsequiously to

In the world few people act from principle; present feelings, and
early habits, are the grand springs: but how would the former be
deadened, and the latter rendered iron corroding fetters, if the
world were shown to young people just as it is; when no knowledge
of mankind or their own hearts, slowly obtained by experience
rendered them forbearing? Their fellow creatures would not then be
viewed as frail beings; like themselves, condemned to struggle with
human infirmities, and sometimes displaying the light and sometimes
the dark side of their character; extorting alternate feelings of
love and disgust; but guarded against as beasts of prey, till every
enlarged social feeling, in a word--humanity, was eradicated.

In life, on the contrary, as we gradually discover the
imperfections of our nature, we discover virtues, and various
circumstances attach us to our fellow creatures, when we mix with
them, and view the same objects, that are never thought of in
acquiring a hasty unnatural knowledge of the world. We see a folly
swell into a vice, by almost imperceptible degrees, and pity while
we blame; but, if the hideous monster burst suddenly on our sight,
fear and disgust rendering us more severe than man ought to be,
might lead us with blind zeal to usurp the character of
omnipotence, and denounce damnation on our fellow mortals,
forgetting that we cannot read the heart, and that we have seeds of
the same vices lurking in our own.

I have already remarked, that we expect more from instruction, than
mere instruction can produce: for, instead of preparing young
people to encounter the evils of life with dignity, and to acquire
wisdom and virtue by the exercise of their own faculties, precepts
are heaped upon precepts, and blind obedience required, when
conviction should be brought home to reason.

Suppose, for instance, that a young person in the first ardour of
friendship deifies the beloved object--what harm can arise from
this mistaken enthusiastic attachment? Perhaps it is necessary for
virtue first to appear in a human form to impress youthful hearts;
the ideal model, which a more matured and exalted mind looks up to,
and shapes for itself, would elude their sight. He who loves not
his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God? asked the
wisest of men.

It is natural for youth to adorn the first object of its affection
with every good quality, and the emulation produced by ignorance,
or, to speak with more propriety, by inexperience, brings forward
the mind capable of forming such an affection, and when, in the
lapse of time, perfection is found not to be within the reach of
mortals, virtue, abstractly, is thought beautiful, and wisdom
sublime. Admiration then gives place to friendship, properly so
called, because it is cemented by esteem; and the being walks alone
only dependent on heaven for that emulous panting after perfection
which ever glows in a noble mind. But this knowledge a man must
gain by the exertion of his own faculties; and this is surely the
blessed fruit of disappointed hope! for He who delighteth to
diffuse happiness and show mercy to the weak creatures, who are
learning to know him, never implanted a good propensity to be a
tormenting ignis fatuus.

Our trees are now allowed to spread with wild luxuriance, nor do we
expect by force to combine the majestic marks of time with youthful
graces; but wait patiently till they have struck deep their root,
and braved many a storm. Is the mind then, which, in proportion to
its dignity advances more slowly towards perfection, to be treated
with less respect? To argue from analogy, every thing around us is
in a progressive state; and when an unwelcome knowledge of life
produces almost a satiety of life, and we discover by the natural
course of things that all that is done under the sun is vanity, we
are drawing near the awful close of the drama. The days of
activity and hope are over, and the opportunities which the first
stage of existence has afforded of advancing in the scale of
intelligence, must soon be summed up. A knowledge at this period
of the futility of life, or earlier, if obtained by experience, is
very useful, because it is natural; but when a frail being is shown
the follies and vices of man, that he may be taught prudently to
guard against the common casualties of life by sacrificing his
heart--surely it is not speaking harshly to call it the wisdom of
this world, contrasted with the nobler fruit of piety and

I will venture a paradox, and deliver my opinion without reserve;
if men were only born to form a circle of life and death, it would
be wise to take every step that foresight could suggest to render
life happy. Moderation in every pursuit would then be supreme
wisdom; and the prudent voluptuary might enjoy a degree of content,
though he neither cultivated his understanding nor kept his heart
pure. Prudence, supposing we were mortal, would be true wisdom,
or, to be more explicit, would procure the greatest portion of
happiness, considering the whole of life; but knowledge beyond the
conveniences of life would be a curse.

Why should we injure our health by close study? The exalted
pleasure which intellectual pursuits afford would scarcely be
equivalent to the hours of languor that follow; especially, if it
be necessary to take into the reckoning the doubts and
disappointments that cloud our researches. Vanity and vexation
close every inquiry: for the cause which we particularly wished to
discover flies like the horizon before us as we advance. The
ignorant, on the contrary, resemble children, and suppose, that if
they could walk straight forward they should at last arrive where
the earth and clouds meet. Yet, disappointed as we are in our
researches, the mind gains strength by the exercise, sufficient,
perhaps, to comprehend the answers which, in another step of
existence, it may receive to the anxious questions it asked, when
the understanding with feeble wing was fluttering round the visible
effects to dive into the hidden cause.

The passions also, the winds of life, would be useless, if not
injurious, did the substance which composes our thinking being,
after we have thought in vain, only become the support of vegetable
life, and invigorate a cabbage, or blush in a rose. The appetites
would answer every earthly purpose, and produce more moderate and
permanent happiness. But the powers of the soul that are of little
use here, and, probably, disturb our animal enjoyments, even while
conscious dignity makes us glory in possessing them, prove that
life is merely an education, a state of infancy, of which the only
hopes worth cherishing should not be sacrificed. I mean, therefore
to infer, that we ought to have a precise idea of what we wish to
attain by education, for the immortality of the soul is
contradicted by the actions of many people, who firmly profess the

If you mean to secure ease and prosperity on earth as the first
consideration, and leave futurity to provide for itself, you act
prudently in giving your child an early insight into the weaknesses
of his nature. You may not, it is true, make an Inkle of him; but
do not imagine that he will stick to more than the letter of the
law, who has very early imbibed a mean opinion of human nature; nor
will he think it necessary to rise much above the common standard.
He may avoid gross vices, because honesty is the best policy; but
he will never aim at attaining great virtues. The example of
writers and artists will illustrate this remark.

I must therefore venture to doubt, whether what has been thought an
axiom in morals, may not have been a dogmatical assertion made by
men who have coolly seen mankind through the medium of books, and
say, in direct contradiction to them, that the regulation of the
passions is not always wisdom. On the contrary, it should seem,
that one reason why men have superiour judgment and more fortitude
than women, is undoubtedly this, that they give a freer scope to
the grand passions, and by more frequently going astray, enlarge
their minds. If then by the exercise of their own reason, they fix
on some stable principle, they have probably to thank the force of
their passions, nourished by FALSE views of life, and permitted to
overleap the boundary that secures content. But if, in the dawn of
life, we could soberly survey the scenes before us as in
perspective, and see every thing in its true colours, how could the
passions gain sufficient strength to unfold the faculties?

Let me now, as from an eminence, survey the world stripped of all
its false delusive charms. The clear atmosphere enables me to see
each object in its true point of view, while my heart is still. I
am calm as the prospect in a morning when the mists, slowly
dispersing, silently unveil the beauties of nature, refreshed by

In what light will the world now appear? I rub my eyes and think,
perchance, that I am just awaking from a lively dream.

I see the sons and daughters of men pursuing shadows, and anxiously
wasting their powers to feed passions which have no adequate
object--if the very excess of these blind impulses pampered by that
lying, yet constantly-trusted guide, the imagination, did not, by
preparing them for some other state, render short sighted mortals
wiser without their own concurrence; or, what comes to the same
thing, when they were pursuing some imaginary present good.

After viewing objects in this light, it would not be very fanciful
to imagine, that this world was a stage on which a pantomime is
daily performed for the amusement of superiour beings. How would
they be diverted to see the ambitious man consuming himself by
running after a phantom, and, pursuing the bubble fame in "the
cannon's mouth" that was to blow him to nothing: for when
consciousness is lost, it matters not whether we mount in a
whirlwind or descend in rain. And should they compassionately
invigorate his sight, and show him the thorny path which led to
eminence, that like a quicksand sinks as he ascends, disappointing
his hopes when almost within his grasp, would he not leave to
others the honour of amusing them, and labour to secure the present
moment, though from the constitution of his nature he would not
find it very easy to catch the flying stream? Such slaves are we
to hope and fear!

But, vain as the ambitious man's pursuit would be, he is often
striving for something more substantial than fame--that indeed
would be the veriest meteor, the wildest fire that could lure a man
to ruin. What! renounce the most trifling gratification to be
applauded when he should be no more! Wherefore this struggle,
whether man is mortal or immortal, if that noble passion did not
really raise the being above his fellows?

And love! What diverting scenes would it produce--Pantaloon's
tricks must yield to more egregious folly. To see a mortal adorn
an object with imaginary charms, and then fall down and worship the
idol which he had himself set up--how ridiculous! But what serious
consequences ensue to rob man of that portion of happiness, which
the Deity by calling him into existence has (or, on what can his
attributes rest?) indubitably promised; would not all the purposes
of life have been much better fulfilled if he had only felt what
has been termed physical love? And, would not the sight of the
object, not seen through the medium of the imagination, soon reduce
the passion to an appetite, if reflection, the noble distinction of
man, did not give it force, and make it an instrument to raise him
above this earthy dross, by teaching him to love the centre of all
perfection! whose wisdom appears clearer and clearer in the works
of nature, in proportion as reason is illuminated and exalted by
contemplation, and by acquiring that love of order which the
struggles of passion produce?

The habit of reflection, and the knowledge attained by fostering
any passion, might be shown to be equally useful though the object
be proved equally fallacious; for they would all appear in the same
light, if they were not magnified by the governing passion
implanted in us by the Author of all good, to call forth and
strengthen the faculties of each individual, and enable it to
attain all the experience that an infant can obtain, who does
certain things, it cannot tell why.

I descend from my height, and mixing with my fellow creatures, feel
myself hurried along the common stream; ambition, love, hope, and
fear, exert their wonted power, though we be convinced by reason
that their present and most attractive promises are only lying
dreams; but had the cold hand of circumspection damped each
generous feeling before it had left any permanent character, or
fixed some habit, what could be expected, but selfish prudence and
reason just rising above instinct? Who that has read Dean Swift's
disgusting description of the Yahoos, and insipid one of Houyhnhnm
with a philosophical eye, can avoid seeing the futility of
degrading the passions, or making man rest in contentment?

The youth should ACT; for had he the experience of a grey head, he
would be fitter for death than life, though his virtues, rather
residing in his head than his heart could produce nothing great,
and his understanding prepared for this world, would not, by its
noble flights, prove that it had a title to a better.

Besides, it is not possible to give a young person a just view of
life; he must have struggled with his own passions before he can
estimate the force of the temptation which betrayed his brother
into vice. Those who are entering life, and those who are
departing, see the world from such very different points of view,
that they can seldom think alike, unless the unfledged reason of
the former never attempted a solitary flight.

When we hear of some daring crime--it comes full upon us in the
deepest shade of turpitude, and raises indignation; but the eye
that gradually saw the darkness thicken, must observe it with more
compassionate forbearance. The world cannot be seen by an unmoved
spectator, we must mix in the throng, and feel as men feel before
we can judge of their feelings. If we mean, in short, to live in
the world to grow wiser and better, and not merely to enjoy the
good things of life, we must attain a knowledge of others at the
same time that we become acquainted with ourselves-- knowledge
acquired any other way only hardens the heart and perplexes the

I may be told, that the knowledge thus acquired, is sometimes
purchased at too dear a rate. I can only answer, that I very much
doubt whether any knowledge can be attained without labour and
sorrow; and those who wish to spare their children both, should not
complain if they are neither wise nor virtuous. They only aimed at
making them prudent; and prudence, early in life, is but the
cautious craft of ignorant self-love. I have observed, that young
people, to whose education particular attention has been paid,
have, in general, been very superficial and conceited, and far from
pleasing in any respect, because they had neither the unsuspecting
warmth of youth, nor the cool depth of age. I cannot help imputing
this unnatural appearance principally to that hasty premature
instruction, which leads them presumptuously to repeat all the
crude notions they have taken upon trust, so that the careful
education which they received, makes them all their lives the
slaves of prejudices.

Mental as well as bodily exertion is, at first, irksome; so much
so, that the many would fain let others both work and think for
them. An observation which I have often made will illustrate my
meaning. When in a circle of strangers, or acquaintances, a person
of moderate abilities, asserts an opinion with heat, I will venture
to affirm, for I have traced this fact home, very often, that it is
a prejudice. These echoes have a high respect for the
understanding of some relation or friend, and without fully
comprehending the opinions, which they are so eager to retail, they
maintain them with a degree of obstinacy, that would surprise even
the person who concocted them.

I know that a kind of fashion now prevails of respecting
prejudices; and when any one dares to face them, though actuated by
humanity and armed by reason, he is superciliously asked, whether
his ancestors were fools. No, I should reply; opinions, at first,
of every description, were all, probably, considered, and therefore
were founded on some reason; yet not unfrequently, of course, it
was rather a local expedient than a fundamental principle, that
would be reasonable at all times. But, moss-covered opinions
assume the disproportioned form of prejudices, when they are
indolently adopted only because age has given them a venerable
aspect, though the reason on which they were built ceases to be a
reason, or cannot be traced. Why are we to love prejudices, merely
because they are prejudices? A prejudice is a fond obstinate
persuasion, for which we can give no reason; for the moment a
reason can be given for an opinion, it ceases to be a prejudice,
though it may be an error in judgment: and are we then advised to
cherish opinions only to set reason at defiance? This mode of
arguing, if arguing it may be called, reminds me of what is
vulgarly termed a woman's reason. For women sometimes declare that
they love, or believe certain things, BECAUSE they love, or believe

It is impossible to converse with people to any purpose, who, in
this style, only use affirmatives and negatives. Before you can
bring them to a point, to start fairly from, you must go back to
the simple principles that were antecedent to the prejudices
broached by power; and it is ten to one but you are stopped by the
philosophical assertion, that certain principles are as practically
false as they are abstractly true. Nay, it may be inferred, that
reason has whispered some doubts, for it generally happens that
people assert their opinions with the greatest heat when they begin
to waver; striving to drive out their own doubts by convincing
their opponent, they grow angry when those gnawing doubts are
thrown back to prey on themselves.

The fact is, that men expect from education, what education cannot
give. A sagacious parent or tutor may strengthen the body and
sharpen the instruments by which the child is to gather knowledge;
but the honey must be the reward of the individual's own industry.
It is almost as absurd to attempt to make a youth wise by the
experience of another, as to expect the body to grow strong by the
exercise which is only talked of, or seen.

Many of those children whose conduct has been most narrowly
watched, become the weakest men, because their instructors only
instill certain notions into their minds, that have no other
foundation than their authority; and if they are loved or
respected, the mind is cramped in its exertions and wavering in its
advances. The business of education in this case, is only to
conduct the shooting tendrils to a proper pole; yet after laying
precept upon precept, without allowing a child to acquire judgment
itself, parents expect them to act in the same manner by this
borrowed fallacious light, as if they had illuminated it
themselves; and be, when they enter life, what their parents are at
the close. They do not consider that the tree, and even the human
body, does not strengthen its fibres till it has reached its full

There appears to be something analogous in the mind. The senses
and the imagination give a form to the character, during childhood
and youth; and the understanding as life advances, gives firmness
to the first fair purposes of sensibility--till virtue, arising
rather from the clear conviction of reason than the impulse of the
heart, morality is made to rest on a rock against which the storms
of passion vainly beat.

I hope I shall not be misunderstood when I say, that religion will
not have this condensing energy, unless it be founded on reason.
If it be merely the refuge of weakness or wild fanaticism, and not
a governing principle of conduct, drawn from self-knowledge, and a
rational opinion respecting the attributes of God, what can it be
expected to produce? The religion which consists in warming the
affections, and exalting the imagination, is only the poetical
part, and may afford the individual pleasure without rendering it a
more moral being. It may be a substitute for worldly pursuits; yet
narrow instead of enlarging the heart: but virtue must be loved as
in itself sublime and excellent, and not for the advantages it
procures or the evils it averts, if any great degree of excellence
be expected. Men will not become moral when they only build airy
castles in a future world to compensate for the disappointments
which they meet with in this; if they turn their thoughts from
relative duties to religious reveries.

Most prospects in life are marred by the shuffling worldly wisdom
of men, who, forgetting that they cannot serve God and mammon,
endeavour to blend contradictory things. If you wish to make your
son rich, pursue one course --if you are only anxious to make him
virtuous, you must take another; but do not imagine that you can
bound from one road to the other without losing your way.*

(*Footnote. See an excellent essay on this subject by Mrs.
Barbauld, in Miscellaneous pieces in Prose.)



Educated in the enervating style recommended by the writers on whom
I have been animadverting; and not having a chance, from their
subordinate state in society, to recover their lost ground, is it
surprising that women every where appear a defect in nature? Is it
surprising, when we consider what a determinate effect an early
association of ideas has on the character, that they neglect their
understandings, and turn all their attention to their persons?

The great advantages which naturally result from storing the mind
with knowledge, are obvious from the following considerations. The
association of our ideas is either habitual or instantaneous; and
the latter mode seems rather to depend on the original temperature
of the mind than on the will. When the ideas, and matters of fact,
are once taken in, they lie by for use, till some fortuitous
circumstance makes the information dart into the mind with
illustrative force, that has been received at very different
periods of our lives. Like the lightning's flash are many
recollections; one idea assimilating and explaining another, with
astonishing rapidity. I do not now allude to that quick perception
of truth, which is so intuitive that it baffles research, and makes
us at a loss to determine whether it is reminiscence or
ratiocination, lost sight of in its celerity, that opens the dark
cloud. Over those instantaneous associations we have little power;
for when the mind is once enlarged by excursive flights, or
profound reflection, the raw materials, will, in some degree,
arrange themselves. The understanding, it is true, may keep us
from going out of drawing when we group our thoughts, or transcribe
from the imagination the warm sketches of fancy; but the animal
spirits, the individual character give the colouring. Over this
subtile electric fluid,* how little power do we possess, and over
it how little power can reason obtain! These fine intractable
spirits appear to be the essence of genius, and beaming in its
eagle eye, produce in the most eminent degree the happy energy of
associating thoughts that surprise, delight, and instruct. These
are the glowing minds that concentrate pictures for their
fellow-creatures; forcing them to view with interest the objects
reflected from the impassioned imagination, which they passed over
in nature.

(*Footnote. I have sometimes, when inclined to laugh at
materialists, asked whether, as the most powerful effects in nature
are apparently produced by fluids, the magnetic, etc. the passions
might not be fine volatile fluids that embraced humanity, keeping
the more refractory elementary parts together--or whether they were
simply a liquid fire that pervaded the more sluggish materials
giving them life and heat?)

I must be allowed to explain myself. The generality of people
cannot see or feel poetically, they want fancy, and therefore fly
from solitude in search of sensible objects; but when an author
lends them his eyes, they can see as he saw, and be amused by
images they could not select, though lying before them.

Education thus only supplies the man of genius with knowledge to
give variety and contrast to his associations; but there is an
habitual association of ideas, that grows "with our growth," which
has a great effect on the moral character of mankind; and by which
a turn is given to the mind, that commonly remains throughout life.
So ductile is the understanding, and yet so stubborn, that the
associations which depend on adventitious circumstances, during the
period that the body takes to arrive at maturity, can seldom be
disentangled by reason. One idea calls up another, its old
associate, and memory, faithful to the first impressions,
particularly when the intellectual powers are not employed to cool
our sensations, retraces them with mechanical exactness.

This habitual slavery, to first impressions, has a more baneful
effect on the female than the male character, because business and
other dry employments of the understanding, tend to deaden the
feelings and break associations that do violence to reason. But
females, who are made women of when they are mere children, and
brought back to childhood when they ought to leave the go-cart
forever, have not sufficient strength of mind to efface the
superinductions of art that have smothered nature.

Every thing that they see or hear serves to fix impressions, call
forth emotions, and associate ideas, that give a sexual character
to the mind. False notions of beauty and delicacy stop the growth
of their limbs and produce a sickly soreness, rather than delicacy
of organs; and thus weakened by being employed in unfolding instead
of examining the first associations, forced on them by every
surrounding object, how can they attain the vigour necessary to
enable them to throw off their factitious character?--where find
strength to recur to reason and rise superior to a system of
oppression, that blasts the fair promises of spring? This cruel
association of ideas, which every thing conspires to twist into all
their habits of thinking, or, to speak with more precision, of
feeling, receives new force when they begin to act a little for
themselves; for they then perceive, that it is only through their
address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to
be obtained. Besides, all the books professedly written for their
instruction, which make the first impression on their minds, all
inculcate the same opinions. Educated in worse than Egyptian
bondage, it is unreasonable, as well as cruel, to upbraid them with
faults that can scarcely be avoided, unless a degree of native
vigour be supposed, that falls to the lot of very few amongst

For instance, the severest sarcasms have been levelled against the
sex, and they have been ridiculed for repeating "a set of phrases
learnt by rote," when nothing could be more natural, considering
the education they receive, and that their "highest praise is to
obey, unargued"--the will of man. If they are not allowed to have
reason sufficient to govern their own conduct--why, all they
learn--must be learned by rote! And when all their ingenuity is
called forth to adjust their dress, "a passion for a scarlet coat,"
is so natural, that it never surprised me; and, allowing Pope's
summary of their character to be just, "that every woman is at
heart a rake," why should they be bitterly censured for seeking a
congenial mind, and preferring a rake to a man of sense?

Rakes know how to work on their sensibility, whilst the modest
merit of reasonable men has, of course, less effect on their
feelings, and they cannot reach the heart by the way of the
understanding, because they have few sentiments in common.

It seems a little absurd to expect women to be more reasonable than
men in their LIKINGS, and still to deny them the uncontroled use of
reason. When do men FALL IN LOVE with sense? When do they, with
their superior powers and advantages, turn from the person to the
mind? And how can they then expect women, who are only taught to
observe behaviour, and acquire manners rather than morals, to
despise what they have been all their lives labouring to attain?
Where are they suddenly to find judgment enough to weigh patiently
the sense of an awkward virtuous man, when his manners, of which
they are made critical judges, are rebuffing, and his conversation
cold and dull, because it does not consist of pretty repartees, or
well-turned compliments? In order to admire or esteem any thing
for a continuance, we must, at least, have our curiosity excited by
knowing, in some degree, what we admire; for we are unable to
estimate the value of qualities and virtues above our
comprehension. Such a respect, when it is felt, may be very
sublime; and the confused consciousness of humility may render the
dependent creature an interesting object, in some points of view;
but human love must have grosser ingredients; and the person very
naturally will come in for its share--and, an ample share it mostly

Love is, in a great degree, an arbitrary passion, and will reign
like some other stalking mischiefs, by its own authority, without
deigning to reason; and it may also be easily distinguished from
esteem, the foundation of friendship, because it is often excited
by evanescent beauties and graces, though to give an energy to the
sentiment something more solid must deepen their impression and set
the imagination to work, to make the most fair-- the first good.

Common passions are excited by common qualities. Men look for
beauty and the simper of good humoured docility: women are
captivated by easy manners: a gentleman-like man seldom fails to
please them, and their thirsty ears eagerly drink the insinuating
nothings of politeness, whilst they turn from the unintelligible
sounds of the charmer--reason, charm he never so wisely. With
respect to superficial accomplishments, the rake certainly has the
advantage; and of these, females can form an opinion, for it is
their own ground. Rendered gay and giddy by the whole tenor of
their lives, the very aspect of wisdom, or the severe graces of
virtue must have a lugubrious appearance to them; and produce a
kind of restraint from which they and love, sportive child,
naturally revolt. Without taste, excepting of the lighter kind,
for taste is the offspring of judgment, how can they discover, that
true beauty and grace must arise from the play of the mind? and how
can they be expected to relish in a lover what they do not, or very
imperfectly, possess themselves? The sympathy that unites hearts,
and invites to confidence, in them is so very faint, that it cannot
take fire, and thus mount to passion. No, I repeat it, the love
cherished by such minds, must have grosser fuel!

The inference is obvious; till women are led to exercise their
understandings, they should not be satirized for their attachment
to rakes; nor even for being rakes at heart, when it appears to be
the inevitable consequence of their education. They who live to
please must find their enjoyments, their happiness, in pleasure!
It is a trite, yet true remark, that we never do any thing well,
unless we love it for its own sake.

Supposing, however, for a moment, that women were, in some future
revolution of time, to become, what I sincerely wish them to be,
even love would acquire more serious dignity, and be purified in
its own fires; and virtue giving true delicacy to their affections,
they would turn with disgust from a rake. Reasoning then, as well
as feeling, the only province of woman, at present, they might
easily guard against exterior graces, and quickly learn to despise
the sensibility that had been excited and hackneyed in the ways of
women, whose trade was vice; and allurement's wanton airs. They
would recollect that the flame, (one must use appropriate
expressions,) which they wished to light up, had been exhausted by
lust, and that the sated appetite, losing all relish for pure and
simple pleasures, could only be roused by licentious arts of
variety. What satisfaction could a woman of delicacy promise
herself in a union with such a man, when the very artlessness of
her affection might appear insipid? Thus does Dryden describe the

"Where love is duty on the female side,
On theirs mere sensual gust, and sought with surly pride."

But one grand truth women have yet to learn, though much it imports
them to act accordingly. In the choice of a husband they should
not be led astray by the qualities of a lover--for a lover the
husband, even supposing him to be wise and virtuous, cannot long

Were women more rationally educated, could they take a more
comprehensive view of things, they would be contented to love but
once in their lives; and after marriage calmly let passion subside
into friendship--into that tender intimacy, which is the best
refuge from care; yet is built on such pure, still affections, that
idle jealousies would not be allowed to disturb the discharge of
the sober duties of life, nor to engross the thoughts that ought to
be otherwise employed. This is a state in which many men live; but
few, very few women. And the difference may easily be accounted
for, without recurring to a sexual character. Men, for whom we are
told women are made, have too much occupied the thoughts of women;
and this association has so entangled love, with all their motives
of action; and, to harp a little on an old string, having been
solely employed either to prepare themselves to excite love, or
actually putting their lessons in practice, they cannot live
without love. But, when a sense of duty, or fear of shame, obliges
them to restrain this pampered desire of pleasing beyond certain
lengths, too far for delicacy, it is true, though far from
criminality, they obstinately determine to love, I speak of their
passion, their husbands to the end of the chapter--and then acting
the part which they foolishly exacted from their lovers, they
become abject wooers, and fond slaves.

Men of wit and fancy are often rakes; and fancy is the food of
love. Such men will inspire passion. Half the sex, in its present
infantine state, would pine for a Lovelace; a man so witty, so
graceful, and so valiant; and can they DESERVE blame for acting
according to principles so constantly inculcated? They want a
lover and protector: and behold him kneeling before them--bravery
prostrate to beauty! The virtues of a husband are thus thrown by
love into the background, and gay hopes, or lively emotions, banish
reflection till the day of reckoning comes; and come it surely
will, to turn the sprightly lover into a surly suspicious tyrant,
who contemptuously insults the very weakness he fostered. Or,
supposing the rake reformed, he cannot quickly get rid of old
habits. When a man of abilities is first carried away by his
passions, it is necessary that sentiment and taste varnish the
enormities of vice, and give a zest to brutal indulgences: but when
the gloss of novelty is worn off, and pleasure palls upon the
sense, lasciviousness becomes barefaced, and enjoyment only the
desperate effort of weakness flying from reflection as from a
legion of devils. Oh! virtue, thou art not an empty name! All
that life can give-- thou givest!

If much comfort cannot be expected from the friendship of a
reformed rake of superior abilities, what is the consequence when
he lacketh sense, as well as principles? Verily misery in its most
hideous shape. When the habits of weak people are consolidated by
time, a reformation is barely possible; and actually makes the
beings miserable who have not sufficient mind to be amused by
innocent pleasure; like the tradesman who retires from the hurry of
business, nature presents to them only a universal blank; and the
restless thoughts prey on the damped spirits. Their reformation as
well as his retirement actually makes them wretched, because it
deprives them of all employment, by quenching the hopes and fears
that set in motion their sluggish minds.

If such be the force of habit; if such be the bondage of folly, how
carefully ought we to guard the mind from storing up vicious
associations; and equally careful should we be to cultivate the
understanding, to save the poor wight from the weak dependent state
of even harmless ignorance. For it is the right use of reason
alone which makes us independent of every thing--excepting the
unclouded Reason--"Whose service is perfect freedom."



Modesty! Sacred offspring of sensibility and reason! true delicacy
of mind! may I unblamed presume to investigate thy nature, and
trace to its covert the mild charm, that mellowing each harsh
feature of a character, renders what would otherwise only inspire
cold admiration--lovely! Thou that smoothest the wrinkles of
wisdom, and softenest the tone of the more sublime virtues till
they all melt into humanity! thou that spreadest the ethereal cloud
that surrounding love heightens every beauty, it half shades,
breathing those coy sweets that steal into the heart, and charm the
senses--modulate for me the language of persuasive reason, till I
rouse my sex from the flowery bed, on which they supinely sleep
life away!

In speaking of the association of our ideas, I have noticed two
distinct modes; and in defining modesty, it appears to me equally
proper to discriminate that purity of mind, which is the effect of
chastity, from a simplicity of character that leads us to form a
just opinion of ourselves, equally distant from vanity or
presumption, though by no means incompatible with a lofty
consciousness of our own dignity. Modesty in the latter
signification of the term, is that soberness of mind which teaches
a man not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think,
and should be distinguished from humility, because humility is a
kind of self-abasement. A modest man often conceives a great plan,
and tenaciously adheres to it, conscious of his own strength, till
success gives it a sanction that determines its character. Milton
was not arrogant when he suffered a suggestion of judgment to
escape him that proved a prophesy; nor was General Washington when
he accepted of the command of the American forces. The latter has
always been characterized as a modest man; but had he been merely
humble, he would probably have shrunk back irresolute, afraid of
trusting to himself the direction of an enterprise on which so much

A modest man is steady, an humble man timid, and a vain one
presumptuous; this is the judgment, which the observation of many
characters, has led me to form. Jesus Christ was modest, Moses was
humble, and Peter vain.

Thus discriminating modesty from humility in one case, I do not
mean to confound it with bashfulness in the other. Bashfulness, in
fact, is so distinct from modesty, that the most bashful lass, or
raw country lout, often becomes the most impudent; for their
bashfulness being merely the instinctive timidity of ignorance,
custom soon changes it into assurance.*

(*Footnote. "Such is the country-maiden's fright,
When first a red-coat is in sight;
Behind the door she hides her face,
Next time at distance eyes the lace:
She now can all his terrors stand,
Nor from his squeeze withdraws her hand,
She plays familiar in his arms,
And every soldier hath his charms;
>From tent to tent she spreads her flame;
For custom conquers fear and shame.")

The shameless behaviour of the prostitutes who infest the streets
of London, raising alternate emotions of pity and disgust, may
serve to illustrate this remark. They trample on virgin
bashfulness with a sort of bravado, and glorying in their shame,
become more audaciously lewd than men, however depraved, to whom
the sexual quality has not been gratuitously granted, ever appear
to be. But these poor ignorant wretches never had any modesty to
lose, when they consigned themselves to infamy; for modesty is a
virtue not a quality. No, they were only bashful, shame-faced
innocents; and losing their innocence, their shame-facedness was
rudely brushed off; a virtue would have left some vestiges in the
mind, had it been sacrificed to passion, to make us respect the
grand ruin.

Purity of mind, or that genuine delicacy, which is the only
virtuous support of chastity, is near a-kin to that refinement of
humanity, which never resides in any but cultivated minds. It is
something nobler than innocence; it is the delicacy of reflection,
and not the coyness of ignorance. The reserve of reason, which
like habitual cleanliness, is seldom seen in any great degree,
unless the soul is active, may easily be distinguished from rustic
shyness or wanton skittishness; and so far from being incompatible
with knowledge, it is its fairest fruit. What a gross idea of
modesty had the writer of the following remark! "The lady who
asked the question whether women may be instructed in the modern
system of botany, consistently with female delicacy?" was accused
of ridiculous prudery: nevertheless, if she had proposed the
question to me, I should certainly have answered--They cannot."
Thus is the fair book of knowledge to be shut with an everlasting
seal! On reading similar passages I have reverentially lifted up
my eyes and heart to Him who liveth for ever and ever, and said, O
my Father, hast Thou by the very constitution of her nature forbid
Thy child to seek Thee in the fair forms of truth? And, can her
soul be sullied by the knowledge that awfully calls her to Thee?

I have then philosophically pursued these reflections till I
inferred, that those women who have most improved their reason must
have the most modesty --though a dignified sedateness of deportment
may have succeeded the playful, bewitching bashfulness of youth.*

(*Footnote. Modesty, is the graceful calm virtue of maturity;
bashfulness, the charm of vivacious youth.)

And thus have I argued. To render chastity the virtue from which
unsophisticated modesty will naturally flow, the attention should
be called away from employments, which only exercise the
sensibility; and the heart made to beat time to humanity, rather
than to throb with love. The woman who has dedicated a
considerable portion of her time to pursuits purely intellectual,
and whose affections have been exercised by humane plans of
usefulness, must have more purity of mind, as a natural
consequence, than the ignorant beings whose time and thoughts have
been occupied by gay pleasures or schemes to conquer hearts. The
regulation of the behaviour is not modesty, though those who study
rules of decorum, are, in general termed modest women. Make the
heart clean, let it expand and feel for all that is human, instead
of being narrowed by selfish passions; and let the mind frequently
contemplate subjects that exercise the understanding, without
heating the imagination, and artless modesty will give the
finishing touches to the picture.

She who can discern the dawn of immortality, in the streaks that
shoot athwart the misty night of ignorance, promising a clearer
day, will respect, as a sacred temple, the body that enshrines such
an improvable soul. True love, likewise, spreads this kind of
mysterious sanctity round the beloved object, making the lover most
modest when in her presence. So reserved is affection, that,
receiving or returning personal endearments, it wishes, not only to
shun the human eye, as a kind of profanation; but to diffuse an
encircling cloudy obscurity to shut out even the saucy sparkling
sunbeams. Yet, that affection does not deserve the epithet of
chaste which does not receive a sublime gloom of tender melancholy,
that allows the mind for a moment to stand still and enjoy the
present satisfaction, when a consciousness of the Divine presence
is felt--for this must ever be the food of joy!

As I have always been fond of tracing to its source in nature any
prevailing custom, I have frequently thought that it was a
sentiment of affection for whatever had touched the person of an
absent or lost friend, which gave birth to that respect for relics,
so much abused by selfish priests. Devotion, or love, may be
allowed to hallow the garments as well as the person; for the lover
must want fancy, who has not a sort of sacred respect for the glove
or slipper of his mistress. He could not confound them with vulgar
things of the same kind.

This fine sentiment, perhaps, would not bear to be analyzed by the
experimental philosopher--but of such stuff is human rapture made
up!-- A shadowy phantom glides before us, obscuring every other
object; yet when the soft cloud is grasped, the form melts into
common air, leaving a solitary void, or sweet perfume, stolen from
the violet, that memory long holds dear. But, I have tripped
unawares on fairy ground, feeling the balmy gale of spring stealing
on me, though November frowns.

As a sex, women are more chaste than men, and as modesty is the
effect of chastity, they may deserve to have this virtue ascribed
to them in rather an appropriated sense; yet, I must be allowed to
add an hesitating if:-- for I doubt, whether chastity will produce
modesty, though it may propriety of conduct, when it is merely a
respect for the opinion of the world, and when coquetry and the
lovelorn tales of novelists employ the thoughts. Nay, from
experience, and reason, I should be lead to expect to meet with
more modesty amongst men than women, simply because men exercise
their understandings more than women.

But, with respect to propriety of behaviour, excepting one class of
females, women have evidently the advantage. What can be more
disgusting than that impudent dross of gallantry, thought so manly,
which makes many men stare insultingly at every female they meet?
Is this respect for the sex? This loose behaviour shows such
habitual depravity, such weakness of mind, that it is vain to
expect much public or private virtue, till both men and women grow
more modest--till men, curbing a sensual fondness for the sex, or
an affectation of manly assurance, more properly speaking,
impudence, treat each other with respect--unless appetite or
passion gives the tone, peculiar to it, to their behaviour. I mean
even personal respect--the modest respect of humanity, and
fellow-feeling; not the libidinous mockery of gallantry, nor the
insolent condescension of protectorship.

To carry the observation still further, modesty must heartily
disclaim, and refuse to dwell with that debauchery of mind, which
leads a man coolly to bring forward, without a blush, indecent
allusions, or obscene witticisms, in the presence of a fellow
creature; women are now out of the question, for then it is
brutality. Respect for man, as man is the foundation of every
noble sentiment. How much more modest is the libertine who obeys
the call of appetite or fancy, than the lewd joker who sets the
table in a roar.

This is one of the many instances in which the sexual distinction
respecting modesty has proved fatal to virtue and happiness. It
is, however, carried still further, and woman, weak woman! made by
her education the slave of sensibility, is required, on the most
trying occasions, to resist that sensibility. "Can any thing,"
says Knox, be more absurd than keeping women in a state of
ignorance, and yet so vehemently to insist on their resisting
temptation? Thus when virtue or honour make it proper to check a
passion, the burden is thrown on the weaker shoulders, contrary to
reason and true modesty, which, at least, should render the
self-denial mutual, to say nothing of the generosity of bravery,
supposed to be a manly virtue.

In the same strain runs Rousseau's and Dr. Gregory's advice
respecting modesty, strangely miscalled! for they both desire a
wife to leave it in doubt, whether sensibility or weakness led her
to her husband's arms. The woman is immodest who can let the
shadow of such a doubt remain on her husband's mind a moment.

But to state the subject in a different light. The want of
modesty, which I principally deplore as subversive of morality,
arises from the state of warfare so strenuously supported by
voluptuous men as the very essence of modesty, though, in fact, its
bane; because it is a refinement on sensual desire, that men fall
into who have not sufficient virtue to relish the innocent
pleasures of love. A man of delicacy carries his notions of
modesty still further, for neither weakness nor sensibility will
gratify him--he looks for affection.

Again; men boast of their triumphs over women, what do they boast
of? Truly the creature of sensibility was surprised by her
sensibility into folly--into vice;* and the dreadful reckoning
falls heavily on her own weak head, when reason wakes. For where
art thou to find comfort, forlorn and disconsolate one? He who
ought to have directed thy reason, and supported thy weakness, has
betrayed thee! In a dream of passion thou consentedst to wander
through flowery lawns, and heedlessly stepping over the precipice
to which thy guide, instead of guarding, lured thee, thou startest
from thy dream only to face a sneering, frowning world, and to find
thyself alone in a waste, for he that triumphed in thy weakness is
now pursuing new conquests; but for thee--there is no redemption on
this side the grave! And what resource hast thou in an enervated
mind to raise a sinking heart?

(*Footnote. The poor moth fluttering round a candle, burns its

But, if the sexes be really to live in a state of warfare, if
nature has pointed it out, let men act nobly, or let pride whisper
to them, that the victory is mean when they merely vanquish
sensibility. The real conquest is that over affection not taken by
surprise--when, like Heloisa, a woman gives up all the world,
deliberately, for love. I do not now consider the wisdom or virtue
of such a sacrifice, I only contend that it was a sacrifice to
affection, and not merely to sensibility, though she had her share.
And I must be allowed to call her a modest woman, before I dismiss
this part of the subject, by saying, that till men are more chaste,
women will be immodest. Where, indeed, could modest women find
husbands from whom they would not continually turn with disgust?
Modesty must be equally cultivated by both sexes, or it will ever
remain a sickly hot-house plant, whilst the affectation of it, the
fig leaf borrowed by wantonness, may give a zest to voluptuous

Men will probably still insist that woman ought to have more
modesty than man; but it is not dispassionate reasoners who will
most earnestly oppose my opinion. No, they are the men of fancy,
the favourites of the sex, who outwardly respect, and inwardly
despise the weak creatures whom they thus sport with. They cannot
submit to resign the highest sensual gratification, nor even to
relish the epicurism of virtue--self-denial.

To take another view of the subject, confining my remarks to women.

The ridiculous falsities which are told to children, from mistaken
notions of modesty, tend very early to inflame their imaginations
and set their little minds to work, respecting subjects, which
nature never intended they should think of, till the body arrived
at some degree of maturity; then the passions naturally begin to
take place of the senses, as instruments to unfold the
understanding, and form the moral character.

In nurseries, and boarding schools, I fear, girls are first
spoiled; particularly in the latter. A number of girls sleep in
the same room, and wash together. And, though I should be sorry to
contaminate an innocent creature's mind by instilling false
delicacy, or those indecent prudish notions, which early cautions
respecting the other sex naturally engender, I should be very
anxious to prevent their acquiring indelicate, or immodest habits;
and as many girls have learned very indelicate tricks, from
ignorant servants, the mixing them thus indiscriminately together,
is very improper.

To say the truth, women are, in general, too familiar with each
other, which leads to that gross degree of familiarity that so
frequently renders the marriage state unhappy. Why in the name of
decency are sisters, female intimates, or ladies and their waiting
women, to be so grossly familiar as to forget the respect which one
human creature owes to another? That squeamish delicacy which
shrinks from the most disgusting offices when affection or humanity
lead us to watch at a sick pillow, is despicable. But, why women
in health should be more familiar with each other than men are,
when they boast of their superiour delicacy, is a solecism in
manners which I could never solve.

In order to preserve health and beauty, I should earnestly
recommend frequent ablutions, to dignify my advice that it may not
offend the fastidious ear; and, by example, girls ought to be
taught to wash and dress alone, without any distinction of rank;
and if custom should make them require some little assistance, let
them not require it till that part of the business is over which
ought never to be done before a fellow-creature; because it is an
insult to the majesty of human nature. Not on the score of
modesty, but decency; for the care which some modest women take,
making at the same time a display of that care, not to let their
legs be seen, is as childish as immodest.*

(*Footnote. I remember to have met with a sentence, in a book of
education that made me smile. "It would be needless to caution you
against putting your hand, by chance, under your neck-handkerchief;
for a modest woman never did so!")

I could proceed still further, till I animadverted on some still
more indelicate customs, which men never fall into. Secrets are
told--where silence ought to reign; and that regard to cleanliness,
which some religious sects have, perhaps, carried too far,
especially the Essenes, amongst the Jews, by making that an insult
to God which is only an insult to humanity, is violated in a brutal
manner. How can DELICATE women obtrude on notice that part of the
animal economy, which is so very disgusting? And is it not very
rational to conclude, that the women who have not been taught to
respect the human nature of their own sex, in these particulars,
will not long respect the mere difference of sex, in their
husbands? After their maidenish bashfulness is once lost, I, in
fact, have generally observed, that women fall into old habits; and
treat their husbands as they did their sisters or female

Besides, women from necessity, because their minds are not
cultivated, have recourse very often, to what I familiarly term
bodily wit; and their intimacies are of the same kind. In short,
with respect to both mind and body, they are too intimate. That
decent personal reserve, which is the foundation of dignity of
character, must be kept up between women, or their minds will never
gain strength or modesty.

On this account also, I object to many females being shut up
together in nurseries, schools, or convents. I cannot recollect
without indignation, the jokes and hoiden tricks, which knots of
young women indulged themselves in, when in my youth accident threw
me, an awkward rustic, in their way. They were almost on a par
with the double meanings, which shake the convivial table when the
glass has circulated freely. But it is vain to attempt to keep the
heart pure, unless the head is furnished with ideas, and set to
work to compare them, in order, to acquire judgment, by
generalizing simple ones; and modesty by making the understanding
damp the sensibility.

It may be thought that I lay too great a stress on personal
reserve; but it is ever the hand-maid of modesty. So that were I
to name the graces that ought to adorn beauty, I should instantly
exclaim, cleanliness, neatness, and personal reserve. It is
obvious, I suppose, that the reserve I mean, has nothing sexual in
it, and that I think it EQUALLY necessary in both sexes. So
necessary indeed, is that reserve and cleanliness which indolent
women too often neglect, that I will venture to affirm, that when
two or three women live in the same house, the one will be most
respected by the male part of the family, who reside with them,
leaving love entirely out of the question, who pays this kind of
habitual respect to her person.

When domestic friends meet in a morning, there will naturally
prevail an affectionate seriousness, especially, if each look
forward to the discharge of daily duties; and it may be reckoned
fanciful, but this sentiment has frequently risen spontaneously in
my mind. I have been pleased after breathing the sweet bracing
morning air, to see the same kind of freshness in the countenances
I particularly loved; I was glad to see them braced, as it were,
for the day, and ready to run their course with the sun. The
greetings of affection in the morning are by these means more
respectful, than the familiar tenderness which frequently prolongs
the evening talk. Nay, I have often felt hurt, not to say
disgusted, when a friend has appeared, whom I parted with full
dressed the evening before, with her clothes huddled on, because
she chose to indulge herself in bed till the last moment.

Domestic affection can only be kept alive by these neglected
attentions; yet if men and women took half as much pains to dress
habitually neat, as they do to ornament, or rather to disfigure

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