An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Preface
PRefaces to moſt Books, are like Prolocutors to Puppet-Shows, they come firſt to tell you what Figures are to be preſented, and what Tricks they are to play. According therefore to ancient and laudable Cuſtom, I have thought fit to let you know by way of Preface, or Advertiſement, (call it which you pleaſe) that here are many fine Figures within to be ſeen, as well worth your curioſity, as any in Smithfield at Bartholomew Tide. I will not deny, Reader, but that you may have ſeen ſome of ’em there already; to thoſe that have, I have little more to ſay, than that if they have a mind to ſee them again in Effigie, they may do it here. What is it you wou’d have? Here are St. George’s, Batemans, John Dories, Punchinello’s, and the Creation of the World, or what’s as good; here’s the German Artiſt too, or one that can ſhew more Tricks than he: If all this will not invite you, y’are grown more ſqueamiſh of late, Gentlemen, than you us’d to be, and the poor Bookſeller will make but an indifferent Market of you. Well, let the worſt come to the worſt, ’tis but ſhifting the ſcene to Smithfield, and making an Intereſt in half a dozen Vizor-Masks to be ſure of your Company: But he, good Man, is deſirous to pleaſe you at firſt hand, and therefore has put a fine Picture in the front to invite in, ſo like ſome of you (as he proteſts) that you ought never look in a Glaſs again, if it offends you. For my part, I declare, he has acted clear againſt my Opinion in this caſe, and ſo he has been told; for many a poor Man has loſt the ſhowing of his Monſter, by gratifying the curioſity of the gaping Crowd with too exact a picture without doors. Beſides, there’s an unlucky Rogue of a left-handed Barber, that looks like an ill Omen in the beginning. He was told too, that if he wou’d pleaſe moſt of you, he ought to take example by your Glaſſes, and flatter you. Yet he continued obſtinate and unmoveable to all theſe weighty Reaſons, and is ſo fondly bent for his Picture, that he reſolv’d againſt all advice to have it. Nay, and he wou’d have Rhimes underneath it too, which, he ſays, weigh more with you, than all the Reaſon in the world. I thought fit to let you know this, that the Bookſeller might not loſe the credit of his Fancy, if it takes with you, as he is perſwaded it will. For you muſt know, I am a great lover of ſtrict Juſtice, and therefore would by no means Rob, or Defraud him of the Glory of his Invention, or by any ſiniſter way ſullie, or diminiſh the Honour, or Reputation of his Parts and Ingenuity. For the ſame reaſon likewiſe I muſt acquaint you, that the Rhimes are none of mine neither; and now my Hand is in, I don’t much care if I tell you, that I am not very good at that ingenious Recreation, called Crambo, from which ſome riſe to be very conſiderable Rhimers. This now is more than I was oblig’d to tell you, and therefore I hope no body will deny, but that I deal ingenuoſly at leaſt with you.
This one would think were Preface ſufficient; but there are ſome Men ſo impertinently curious, that they muſt needs have a Reaſon for every thing, that is done in the World, tho’ it were in their favour (for which perhaps it were hard to give a good one) when it were their Intereſt to be ſatisfied, and thankful without further enquiry. To comply therefore in ſome meaſure with the humour of theſe People, if any one think fit to peruſe this Book, I muſt tell ’em very freely, that I was ſo far from aiming to oblige, or diſoblige ’em by it, that it was never intended for their View. It was occaſion’d by a private Converſation, between ſome Gentlemen and Ladies, and written at the requeſt, and for the Diverſion of one Lady more particularly, by whom with my conſent it was communicated to two or three more of both Sexes, my Friends likewiſe.
By them I was with abundance of Complements importun’d to make it publick; now tho’ I do with good reaſon attribute much more, of what was ſaid to me upon this Occaſion, to their good Breeding and Friendſhip, than to their real Opinions of my Performance; yet I have ſo much ſatisfaction in their Sincerity and Friendſhip, as to be confident they would not ſuffer, much leſs perſwade me to expoſe to the world any thing, of which they doubted ſo far, as to think it would not be tollerably acceptable. Nor have I leſs aſſurance of their Judgment and Skill in things of this nature, beſide that I have been inform’d by ſome of ’em, that it has been ſeen, and favourably receiv’d by ſome Gentlemen, whom the world thinks no incompetent Judges. After all this Encouragement, I ſuppoſe, I ſhall not be thought vain, if, as I pretend not to the applauſe, ſo I fear not the contempt of the world: Yet I preſume not ſo far upon the Merits of what I have written, as to make my Name publick with it. I have elſewhere held, that Vanity was almoſt the univerſal mover of all our Actions, and conſequently of mine, as well as of others; yet it is not ſtrong enough in me, to induce me to bring my Name upon the publick ſtage of the World.
There are many Reaſons, that oblige me to this cautious, reſerv’d way of procedure; tho’ I might otherwiſe be very ambitious of appearing in the defence of my Sex, cou’d I perſwade my ſelf, that I was able to write any thing ſutable to the dignity of the Subject, which I am not vain enough to think. This indeed is one Reaſon becauſe I am ſenſible it might have been much better defended by abler Pens, ſuch as many among our own Sex are; though I believe ſcarce thus much wou’d have been expected from me, by thoſe that know me. There is likewiſe another Reaſon, which was yet more prevalent with me, and with thoſe few Friends whom I conſulted about it, which is this; There are a ſort of Men, that upon all occaſions think themſelves more concern’d; and more thought of than they are, and that, like Men that are deaf, or have any other notorious Defect, can ſee no body whiſper, or laugh, but they think ’tis at themſelves. Theſe Men are apt to think, that every ridiculous deſcription they meet with, was intended more particularly for ſome one or other of them; as indeed it is hard to paint any thing compleat in their ſeveral Kinds, without hitting many of their particular Features, even without drawing from them. The knowledge of this, with the conſideration of the tenderneſs of Reputation in our Sex, (which as our delicateſt Fruits and fineſt Flowers are moſt obnoxious to the injuries of Weather, is ſubmitted to every infectious Blaſt of malicious Breath) made me very cautious, how I expos’d mine to ſuch poiſonous Vapours. I was not ignorant, how liberal ſome Men are of their Scandal, whenever provok’d, eſpecially by a Woman; and how ready the ſame Men are to be ſo, tho’ upon never ſo miſtaken Grounds. This made me reſolve to keep ’em in Ignorance of my Name, and if they have a mind to find me out, let ’em catch me (if they can) as Children at Blind-mans Buff do one another, Hoodwinkt; and I am of Opinion I have room enough to put ’em out of Breath before they come near me.
The Event has in Effect prov’d my ſuſpicious Prophetick; for there are (as I am inform’d) already ſome, ſo forward to intereſt themſelves againſt me, that they take Characters upon themselves, before they ſee ’em; and, for fear they ſhould want ſome Body to throw their Dirt at, with equal Ignorance and Injuſtice, Father this Piece upon the Gentleman, who was ſo kind as to take care of the Publication of it, only to excuſe me from appearing. This made me once reſolve to oppoſe my Innocence to their Clamour, and perfix my Name, which I thought I was bound to do in Juſtice to him. In this Reſolution I had perſiſted, had not the ſame Gentleman generouſly perſwaded, and over-rul’d me to the contrary, repreſenting how weak a defence Innocence is againſt Calumny, how open the Ears of theare, and how greedily they ſuck in any thing to the prejudice of a Woman; and that (to uſe his own Expreſſion) the ſcandal of ſuch Men, was like Dirt thrown by Children, and Fools at random, and without Provocation, it would dawb filthily at firſt, though it were eaſily waſht off again: Adding, that he deſird me not to be under any concern for him; for he valued the Malice of ſuch men, as little, as their Friendſhip, the one was as feeble as t’other falſe.
I ſuppoſe I need make no Apology to my own Sex for the meaneſs of this defence; the bare intention of ſerving ’em will I hope be accepted, and of Men, the Candid and Ingenuous I am ſure will not quarrel with me for any thing in this little Book; ſince there is nothing in it, which was not drawn from the ſtricteſt Reaſon I was Miſtreſs of, and the beſt Obſervations I was able to make, except a ſtart or two only concerning the Salique Law, and the Amazons, which, if they divert not the Reader, can’t offend him.
I ſhall not trouble the Reader with any account of the Method I have obſerv’d, he will eaſily diſcover that in reading the Piece it ſelf. I ſhall only take notice to him of one thing, which with a little attention to what he reads he will readily find to be true, that is, that the Characters were not written out of any Wanton Humour, or Malicious Deſign to characterize any Particular Perſons, but to illuſtrate what I have ſaid upon the ſeveral Heads, under which they are rang’d, and repreſent not ſingle Men, that play the Fool ſeriouſly in the World. If any Individual ſeem to be more peculiarly markt, it is becauſe he is perhaps more notorious to the World, by ſome one or more Articles of the General Character here given. I am ſure that there is no Man, who is but moderately Acquainted with the World, eſpecially this Town, but may find half a Dozen, or more Originals for every Picture. After all, if any Man have ſo little Wit, as to appropriate any of theſe Characters to himſelf, He takes a liberty I have hitherto never given him, but ſhall do it now in the Words of a Great Man, If any Fool finds the Cap fit him, let him put it on.
There are ſome Men, (I hear) who will not allow this Piece to be written by a Woman; did I know what Eſtimate to make of their Judgments, I might perhaps have a higher Opinion of this Triffle, than I ever yet had. For I little thought while I was writing this, that any Man (eſpecially an Ingenious Man) ſhould have the ſcandal of being the reputed Author. For he muſt think it ſcandalous to be made to Father a Womans Productions unlawfully. But theſe Gentlemen, I ſuppoſe, believe there is more Wit, that they’l find in this Piece, upon the Credit of the Bookſeller, whoſe Intereſt it is to flatter it. But were it as well written as I could wiſh it, or as the Subject wou’d bear, and deſerves; I ſee no reaſon why our Sex ſhou’d be robb’d of the Honour of it; Since there have been Women in all Ages, whoſe Writings might vie with thoſe of the greateſt Men, as the Preſent Age as well as paſt can teſtifie. I ſhall not trouble the Reader with their names, becauſe I wou’d not be thought ſo vain, as to rank my ſelf among ’em; and their names are already too well known, and celebrated to receive any additional Luſtre from ſo weak Encomiums as mine, I pretend not to imitate, much leſs to Rival thoſe Illuſtrious Ladies, who have done ſo much Honour to their Sex, and are unanſwerable Proofs of what I contend for. I only wiſh, that ſome Ladies now living among us (whoſe names I forbear to mention in regard to their Modeſty) wou’d exert themſelves, and give us more recent Inſtances, who are both by Nature and Education ſufficiently qualified to do it, which I pretend not to. I freely own to the Reader, that I know no other Tongue beſides my Native, except French, in which I am but very moderately skill’d. I plead not this to excuſe the meaneſs of my Performance; becauſe I know, I may reaſonably be ask’d, why I was ſo forward to write; for that I have already given my reaſons above, if they will not ſatisfie the Reader, he muſt endeavour to pleaſe himſelf with better, for I am very little ſolicitous about the matter. I ſhall only add, that for my Good Will I hope the Favour of my own Sex, which will ſatisfie my Ambition.