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toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle
in his ears whenever, dismissing reason,
he chooses to be amused."
A VINDICATION OF
To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man,
many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two
sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very different
character; or, to speak explicitly, women are not allowed to have sufficient
strength of mind to acquire what really deserves the name of virtue.
If then women are not a swarm of ephemeron triflers,
why should they be kept in ignorance under the specious name of innocence?
Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for at least twenty years of their lives.
Thus Milton describes our first frail mother; though when he tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning, unless, in the true Mahometan strain, he meant to deprive us of souls, and insinuate that we were beings only designed by sweet attractive grace, and docile blind obedience, to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar on the wing of contemplation.
How grossly do they insult us who thus advise us
only to render ourselves gentle, domestic brutes! For instance, the winning
softness so warmly and frequently recommended, that governs by obeying.
Lord Bacon, "man is of kin to the beasts by
his body; and if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and
Rousseau was more consistent when he wished to stop the progress of reason in both sexes, for if men eat of the tree of knowledge, women will come in for a taste; but, from the imperfect cultivation which their understandings now receive, they only attain a knowledge of evil.
Children, I grant, should be innocent; but when
the epithet is applied to men, or women, it is but a civil term for weakness.
Milton, I grant, was of a very different opinion; for he only bends to the indefeasible right of beauty, though it would be difficult to render two passages which I now mean to contrast, consistent. But into similar inconsistencies are great men often led by their senses:
These are exactly the arguments that I have used
to children; but I have added, your reason is now gaining strength, and,
till it arrives at some degree of maturity, you must look up to me for
advice - then you ought to think, and only rely on God.
In treating therefore of the manners of women,
let us, disregarding sensual arguments, trace what we should endeavour
to make them in order to co-operate, if the expression be not too bold,
with the Supreme Being.
To prevent any misconstruction, I must add, that
I do not believe that a private education can work the wonders which some
sanguine writers have attributed to it.
It may then fairly be inferred, that, till society
be differently constituted, much cannot be expected from education.
Consequently, the most perfect education, in my
opinion, is such an exercise of the understanding as is best calculated
to strengthen the body and form the heart.
In fact, it is a farce to call any being virtuous
whose virtues do not result from the exercise of its own reason. This
was Rousseau's opinion respecting men; I extend it to women, and confidently
assert that they have been drawn out of their sphere by false refinement,
and not by an endeavour to acquire masculine qualities.
I may be accused of arrogance; still I must declare what I firmly believe, that all the writers who have written on the subject of female education and manners, from Rousseau to Dr. Gregory, have contributed to render women more artificial, weak characters, than they would otherwise have been; and consequently, more useless members of society.
I might have expressed this conviction in a lower
key, but I am afraid it would have been the whine of affectation, and not
the faithful expression of my feelings, of the clear result which experience
and reflection have led me to draw.
Though, to reason on Rousseau's ground, if man
did attain a degree of perfection of mind when his body arrived at maturity,
it might be proper, in order to make a man and his wife one, that she should
rely entirely on his understanding; and the graceful ivy, clasping the
oak that supported it, would form a whole in which strength and beauty
would be equally conspicuous.
Many are the causes that, in the present corrupt
state of society, contribute to enslave women by cramping their understandings
and sharpening their senses.
To do everything in an orderly manner is a most
important precept, which women, who, generally speaking, receive only a
disorderly kind of education, seldom attend to with that degree of exactness
that men, who from their infancy are broken into method, observe.
This contempt of the understanding in early life
has more baneful consequences than is commonly supposed; for the little
knowledge which women of strong minds attain is, from various circumstances,
of a more desultory kind than the knowledge of men, and it is acquired
more by sheer observations on real life than from comparing what has been
individually observed with the results of experience generalised by speculation.
In the present state of society a little learning
is required to support the character of a gentleman, and boys are obliged
to submit to a few years of discipline.
As a proof that education gives this appearance
of weakness to females, we may instance the example of military men, who
are, like them, sent into the world before their minds have been stored
with knowledge, or fortified by principles.
Soldiers, as well as women, practise the minor virtues with punctilious politeness. Where is then the sexual difference, when the education has been the same? All the difference that I can discern arises from the superior advantage of liberty which enables the former to see more of life.
It is wandering from my present subject, perhaps, to make a political remark; but as it was produced naturally by the train of my reflections, I shall not pass it silently over.
Standing armies can never consist of resolute robust
men; they may be well-disciplined machines, but they will seldom contain
men under the influence of strong passions, or with very vigorous faculties;
and as for any depth of understanding, I will venture to affirm that it
is as rarely to be found in the army as amongst women. And the cause, I
maintain, is the same.
The great misfortune is this, that they both acquire
manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have from reflection
any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. The consequence
is natural. Satisfied with common nature, they become a prey to prejudices,
and taking all their opinions on credit, they blindly submit to authority.
May not the same remark be applied to women?
Nay, the argument may be carried still further,
for they are both thrown out of a useful station by the unnatural distinctions
established in civilised life.
Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right endeavour to keep woman in the dark, because they only want slaves, and the latter a plaything. The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them.
I now principally allude to Rousseau, for his character of Sophia is undoubtedly a captivating one, though it appears to me grossly unnatural. However, it is not the superstructure, but the foundation of her character, the principles on which her education was built, that I mean to attack; nay, warmly as I admire the genius of that able writer, whose opinions I shall often have occasion to cite, indignation always takes place of admiration, and the rigid frown of insulted virtue effaces the smile of complacency which his eloquent periods are wont to raise when I read his voluptuous reveries.
Is this the man who, in his ardour for virtue,
would banish all the soft arts of peace, and almost carry us back to Spartan
But for the present I waive the subject, and instead of severely reprehending the transient effusions of overweening sensibility, I shall only observe that whoever has cast a benevolent eye on society must often have been gratified by the sight of humble mutual love not dignified by sentiment, or strengthened by a union in intellectual pursuits.
The domestic trifles of the day have afforded matters for cheerful converse, and innocent caresses have softened toils which did not require great exercise of mind or stretch of thought; yet has not the sight of this moderate felicity excited more tenderness than respect ? - an emotion similar to what we feel when children are playing or animals sporting;  whilst the contemplation of the noble struggles of suffering merit has raised admiration, and carried our thoughts to that world where sensation will give place to reason.
Women are therefore to be considered either as moral beings, or so weak that they must be entirely subjected to the superior faculties of men.
Let us examine this question. Rousseau declares
that a woman should never for a moment feel herself independent, that she
should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning, and made a
coquettish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire,
a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chooses to relax himself.
I do not mean to insinuate that either sex should be so lost in abstract reflections or distant views as to forget the affections and duties that lie before them, and are, in truth, the means appointed to produce the fruit of life; on the contrary, I would warmly recommend them, even while I assert, that they afford most satisfaction when they are considered in their true sober light.
Probably the prevailing opinion that woman was created for man, may have taken its rise from Moses' poetical story; yet as very few, it is presumed, who have bestowed any serious thought on the subject ever supposed that Eve was, literally speaking, one of Adam's ribs, the deduction must be allowed to fall to the ground, or only be so far admitted as it proves that man, from the remotest antiquity, found it convenient to exert his strength to subjugate his companion, and his invention to show that she ought to have her neck bent under the yoke, because the whole creation was only created for his convenience or pleasure.
Let it not be concluded that I wish to invert the
order of things.
It follows then that cunning should not be opposed
to wisdom, little cares to great exertions, or insipid softness, varnished
over with the name of gentleness, to that fortitude which grand views alone
In what light this sally places men and women I shall leave to the judicious to determine. Meanwhile, I shall content myself with observing, that I cannot discover why, unless they are mortal, females should always be degraded by being made subservient to love or lust.
To speak disrespectfully of love is, I know, high treason against sentiment and fine feelings; but I wish to speak the simple language of truth, and rather to address the head than the heart.
To endeavour to reason love out of the world would be to out-Quixote Cervantes, and equally offend against common sense; but an endeavour to restrain this tumultuous passion, and to prove that it should not be allowed to dethrone superior powers, or to usurp the sceptre which the understanding should very coolly wield, appears less wild.
Youth is the season for love in both sexes; but
in those days of thoughtless enjoyment provision should be made for the
more important years of life, when reflection takes place of sensation.
Let me reason with the supporters of this opinion who have any knowledge of human nature.
Do they imagine that marriage can eradicate
the habitude of life? The woman who has only been taught to please will
soon find that her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have
much effect on her husband's heart when they are seen every day, when
the summer is passed and gone.
I now speak of women who are restrained by principle or prejudice. Such women, though they would shrink from an intrigue with real abhorrence, yet, nevertheless, wish to be convinced by the homage of gallantry that they are cruelly neglected by their husbands; or, days and weeks are spent in dreaming of the happiness enjoyed by congenial souls, till their health is undermined and their spirits broken by discontent
How then can the great art of pleasing be such
a necessary study? it is only useful to a mistress. The chaste wife and
serious mother should only consider her power to please as the polish of
her virtues, and the affection of her husband as one of the comforts that
render her task less difficult, and her life happier.
The worthy Dr. Gregory fell into a similar error. I respect his heart, but entirely disapprove of his celebrated Legacy to his Daughters.
He advises them to cultivate a fondness for dress,
because a fondness for dress, he asserts, is natural to them.
Dr. Gregory goes much further; he actually recommends dissimulation, and advises an innocent girl to give the lie to her feelings, and not dance with spirit, when gaiety of heart would make her feet eloquent without making her gestures immodest.
In the name of truth and common sense, why should
not one woman acknowledge that she can take more exercise than another?
Let the libertine draw what inference he pleases; but, I hope, that no sensible mother will restrain the natural frankness of youth by instilling such indecent cautions. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and a wiser than Solomon hath said that the heart should be made clean, and not trivial ceremonies observed, which it is not very difficult to fulfil with scrupulous exactness when vice reigns in the heart.
Women ought to endeavour to purify their heart; but can they do so when their uncultivated understandings make them entirely dependent on their senses for employment and amusement, when no noble pursuits set them above the little vanities of the day, or enables them to curb the wild emotions that agitate a reed, over which every passing breeze has power?
To gain the affections of a virtuous man, is affectation necessary?
Nature has given woman a weaker frame than man;
but, to ensure her husband's affections, must a wife, who, by the exercise
of her mind and body whilst she was discharging the duties of a daughter,
wife, and mother, has allowed her constitution to retain its natural strength,
and her nerves a healthy tone - is she, I say, to condescend to use art,
and feign a sickly delicacy, in order to secure her husband's affection?
In a seraglio, I grant, that all these arts are
necessary; the epicure must have his palate tickled, or he will sink into
apathy; but have women so little ambition as to be satisfied with such
Besides, the woman who strengthens her body
and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practising various
virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband;
and if she, by possessing such substantial qualities, merit his regard,
she will not find it necessary to conceal her affection, nor to pretend
to an unnatural coldness of constitution to excite her husband's passions.
Nature, or, to speak with strict propriety, God, has made all things right; but man has sought him out many inventions to mar the work.
I now allude to that part of Dr. Gregory's treatise, where he advises a wife never to let her husband know the extent of her sensibility or affection. Voluptuous precaution, and as ineffectual as absurd. Love, from its very nature, must be transitory. To seek for a secret that would render it constant, would be as wild a search as for the philosopher's stone, or the grand panacea; and the discovery would be equally useless, or rather pernicious, to mankind.
The most holy band of society is friendship. It has been well said, by a shrewd satirist, "that rare as true love is true friendship is still rarer."
This is an obvious truth, and, the cause not lying deep, will not elude a slight glance of inquiry.
Love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation
take place of choice and reason, is, in some degree, felt by the mass of
mankind; for it is not necessary to speak, at present, of the emotions
that rise above or sink below love.
This is, must be, the course of nature.
The man who had some virtue whilst he was struggling for a crown, often becomes a voluptuous tyrant when it graces his brow; and, when the lover is not lost in the husband, the dotard, a prey to childish caprices and fond jealousies, neglects the serious duties of life, and the caresses which should excite confidence in his children are lavished on the overgrown child, his wife.
In order to fulfil the duties of life, and to be
able to pursue with vigour the various employments which form the moral
character, a master and mistress of a family ought not to continue to love
each other with passion.
A mistaken education, a narrow uncultivated mind,
and many sexual prejudices, tend to make women more constant than men;
but, for the present, I shall not touch on this branch of the subject.
The way lies before us, we must turn to the right or left; and he who will pass life away in bounding from one pleasure to another, must not complain if he acquire neither wisdom nor respectability of character.
Supposing, for a moment, that the soul is not
immortal, and that man was only created for the present scene - I think
we should have reason to complain that love, infantine fondness, ever grew
insipid and palled upon the sense. Let us eat, drink, and love, for tomorrow
we die, would be, in fact, the language of reason, the morality of life;
and who but a fool would part with a reality for a fleeting shadow?
Why must the female mind be tainted by coquettish
arts to gratify the sensualist, and prevent love from subsiding into friendship,
or compassionate tenderness, when these are not qualities on which friendship
can be built?
I do not mean to allude to the romantic passion, which is the concomitant of genius. Who can clip its wing? But that grand passion not proportioned to the puny enjoyments of life, is only true to the sentiment, and feeds on itself.
The passions which have been celebrated for their
durability have always been unfortunate. They have acquired strength by
absence and constitutional melancholy.
Of the same complexion is Dr. Gregory's advice respecting delicacy of sentiment, which he advises a woman not to acquire, if she have determined to marry. This determination, however, perfectly consistent with his former advice, he calls indelicate, and earnestly persuades his daughters to conceal it, though it may govern their conduct, as if it were indelicate to have the common appetites of human nature.
Noble morality! and consistent with the cautious prudence of a little soul that cannot extend its views beyond the present minute division of existence.
If all the faculties of woman's mind are only to
be cultivated as they respect her dependence on man; if, when a husband
be obtained, she have arrived at her goal, and meanly proud, rests satisfied
with such a paltry crown, let her grovel contentedly, scarcely raised by
her employments above the animal kingdom; but, if struggling for the prize
of her high calling, she look beyond the present scene, let her cultivate
her understanding without stopping to consider what character the husband
may have whom she is destined to marry.
If Dr. Gregory confined his remark to romantic.expectations of constant love and congenial feelings, he should have recollected that experience will banish what advice can never make us cease to wish for, when the imagination is kept alive at the expense of reason.
I own it frequently happens,
that women who have fostered a romantic unnatural delicacy of feeling,
waste their  lives in imagining how happy they
should have been with a husband who could love them with a fervid increasing
affection every day, and all day.
That a proper education, or, to speak with more
precision, a well-stored mind, would enable a woman to support a single
life with dignity, I grant; but that she should avoid cultivating her taste,
lest her husband should occasionally shock it, is quitting a substance
for a shadow.
The question is, whether it procures most pain
Gentleness of manners, forbearance and long-suffering,
are such amiable Godlike qualities, that in sublime poetic strains the
Deity has been invested with them; and, perhaps, no representation of His
goodness so strongly fastens on the human affections as those that represent
Him abundant in mercy and willing to pardon.
How women are to exist in that state where there
is neither to be marrying nor giving in marriage, we are not told.
Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel like affection
are, on this ground, consistently recommended as the cardinal virtues of
the sex; and, disregarding the arbitrary economy of nature, one writer
has declared that it is masculine for a woman to be melancholy.
To recommend gentleness, indeed, on a broad basis
is strictly philosophical. A frail being should labour to be gentle. But
when forbearance confounds right and wrong, it ceases to be a virtue; and,
however convenient it may be found in a companion - that companion will
ever be considered as an inferior, and only inspire a vapid tenderness,
which easily degenerates into contempt.
As a philosopher, I read with indignation the plausible epithets which men use to soften their insults; and, as a moralist, I ask what is meant by such heterogeneous associations, as fair defects, amiable weaknesses, etc.
If there be but one criterion of morals, but one
architype for man, women appear to be suspended by destiny, according to
the vulgar tale of Mahomet's coffin; they have neither the unerring instinct
of brutes, nor are allowed to fix the eye of reason on a perfect model.
But to view the subject in another point of view.
So far from it, that, after surveying the history
of woman, I cannot help agreeing with the severest satirist, considering
the sex as the weakest as well as the most oppressed half of the species.
Following the same train of thinking, I have been led to imagine that the few extraordinary women who have rushed in eccentrical directions out of the orbit prescribed to their sex, were male spirits, confined by mistake in female frames. But if it be not philosophical to think of sex when the soul is mentioned, the inferiority must depend on the organs; or the heavenly fire, which is to ferment the clay, is not given in equal portions.
But avoiding, as I have hitherto done, any direct
comparison of the two sexes collectively, or frankly acknowledging the
inferiority of woman, according to the present appearance of things, I
shall only insist that men have increased that inferiority till women are
almost sunk below the standard of rational creatures. Let their faculties
have room to unfold, and their virtues to gain strength, and then determine
where the whole sex must stand in the intellectual scale.
It is difficult for us purblind mortals to say
to what height human discoveries and improvements may arrive when the gloom
of despotism subsides, which makes us stumble at every step; but, when
morality shall be settled on a more solid basis, then, without being gifted
with a prophetic spirit, I will venture to predict that woman will be either
the friend or slave of man.
Surely there can be but one rule of right, if morality has an eternal foundation, and whoever sacrifices virtue, strictly so called, to present convenience, or whose duty it is to act in such a manner, lives only for the passing day, and cannot be an accountable creature.
The poet then should have dropped his sneer when he says:
For that they are bound by the adamantine chain of destiny is most certain, if it be proved that they are never to exercise their own reason, never to be independent, never to rise above opinion, or to feel the dignity of a rational will that only bows to God, and often forgets that the universe contains any being but itself and the model of perfection to which its ardent gaze is turned, to adore attributes that, softened into virtues, may be imitated in kind, though the degree overwhelms the enraptured mind.
If, I say, for I would not impress by declamation
when Reason offers her sober light, if they be really capable of acting
like rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like
the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man, when they associate
with him; but cultivate their minds, give them the salutary sublime curb
of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves
only dependent on God.
Further, should experience prove that they cannot
attain the same degree of strength of mind, perseverance, and fortitude,
let their virtues be the same in kind, though they may vainly struggle
for the same degree; and the superiority of man will be equally clear,
if not clearer; and truth, as it is a simple principle, which admits of
no modification, would be common to both.
These may be termed Utopian dreams. Thanks to that
Being who impressed them on my soul, and gave me sufficient strength of
mind to dare to exert my own reason, till, becoming dependent only on Him
for the support of my virtue, I view, with indignation, the mistaken
notions that enslave my sex.
It appears to me necessary to dwell on these obvious
truths, because females have been insulated, as it were; and while they
have been stripped of the virtues that should clothe humanity, they have
been decked with artificial graces that enable them to exercise a short-lived
As to the argument respecting the subjection in
which the sex has ever been held, it retorts on man. The many have always
been enthralled by the few; and monsters, who scarcely have shown any discernment
of human excellence, have tyrannised over thousands of their fellow-creatures.
I shall not pursue this argument any further than to establish an obvious inference, that as sound politics diffuse liberty, mankind, including woman, will become more wise and virtuous.
 Why should women be censured with petulant acrimony because they seem to have a passion for a scarlet coat? Has not an education placed them more on a level with soldiers than any other class of men? RETURN TO TEXT
 Similar feelings has Milton's pleasing picture of paradisiacal happiness ever raised in my; yet, instead of envying the lovely pair, I have with concious dignity or satanic pride turned to hell for sublimer objects. In the same style, when viewing some noble monument of human art, I have traced the emanation of the Deity in the order I admired, till, descending from that giddy height, I have caught myself contemplating the grandest of all human sights; for fancy quickly placed in some solitary recess an outcast of fortune, rising superior to passion and discontent. RETURN TO TEXT
 For example, the herd of Novelists. RETURN TO TEXT
 Vide Rousseau and Swedenborg. RETURN TO TEXT
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