An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Letter 2/Modern

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To Madam — on the Occasion of her Essay, in Defence of her Sex.

Ican’t but smile at the Fantastic Malice of some, that love me not, for their Spiteful clamour has effected that, which the kind Insinuations of some of my mistaken Friends, in vain attempted, and fixed upon me an honour, and upon themselves Characters, they would be glad to claw off again, though at the expense of their Skins. Caprice, and Humour have indeed a great share in the Movements, even of the wisest of Mankind, but I never met before with such a frolicsome piece of Malice, as to slander a Man into Reputation.
I’m none of the first, that have shined by the lustre of another’s worth, and valued themselves upon it too: But I believe, Madam, you find but few Precedents of Men, that have taken so much pains to undeceive the World to their own disadvantage. I have known Men (and so I fancy have you too) and those of no mean Reputation, that have affected to look grave and composed at the Repetition of another Man’s Jest, that it might be taken for their own; and, to say truth, if the World will mistake Men for greater, or Wiser, than they are, there are few that have Ingenuity enough not to help on the Cheat. Your Conduct, Madam, is very different. You conquer without triumphing and like a generous Enemy scorn to insult over those you vanquish. You leave the Spoil to such as S—n,[*] you are contented with Victory, they, like peasants after the rout, of an Army, come in only to do the Butcherly Execution. Yet thus to keep yourself concealed, and refuse the Honour, is a strain beyond the Gallantry of Romance; there the Knight, though he achieves Incognito, always lifts up his Beaver to receive the Favour, and the Compliment. But you, like your Laurels, affect the Shade, and, like the richest Jewels, are content to have your Lustre tried in the Dark.
This Procedure of Yours, Madam, essentially distinguishes your Character from that of some, that malign it. They are so unwilling to acknowledge themselves defeated by you, that they endeavour to force the Honour, though unmerited, upon me, and extremely regretted by them; and disdain a chastisement from a Female Hand, though too weak to oppose it. You draw too well, to have occasion to write under your Pieces: for there is scarce an Eminent Fool in Town, but owns his Picture. Yet so far are they from mending for your smart correction, (so much Solomon is wiser than Mr. Dryden) so far from profiting by the Modesty of your Example, that instead of suppressing their names to what they write, they are ready upon all occasions to put them to what others write. Not a French Journal, Mercure, Farce, or Opéra can scape their pillaging, so violently they affect the Reputation of Wits. Yet the utmost they arrive at, is but a sort of Jack a Lantern Wit, that like the Sunshine with wanton Boys with Fragments of Looking Glass reflect in Men’s Eyes, dazzles the Weak-sighted, and troubles the strong. These are the Muse’s Black Guard, that, like those of our Camps, though they have no share in the danger, or Honour, yet have the greatest in the Plunder, that indifferently strip all that lie before them, dead or alive, Friends or Enemies. A stray Horse is safer in the Spanish Quarters, than an Anonymous Piece, Scene, or Line among them, and they are as unrefunding as a cast Mistress, and as unacknowledging as a Dutch Tradesman. Whatever they light on is Terra Incognita, and they claim the right of discoverers, that is, or giving their Names to it. They, like the Parson and Clerk, are the common Godfathers, and answer frequently what the true Parents are ashamed to own: They fancy they make a Splendid figure in print, but like the Phosphorus (which the Chemists extract from fermented Ordure) with all their glimmerling, and sham fire, they retain the Scent (pardon the homeliness of the expression, Madam,) of the Original, Sir Reverence. These Fellows are in their Humours something a-kin to one (that I once knew) who never met a Man very drunk in an Evening, but he led him to his own Door to discharge, that he might in the morning have the Credit of his Debauchery; so these will scarce suffer any one Scribbler to enjoy undisputed the Scandal of his own Nonsense.
Methinks, Madam, I begin to find the Ambition of an Author creeping upon me, and to feel (like some greater Men than my self) a strange itching to forfeit, by something of my own production, the Reputation I have got by yours. This thing called Reputation, Madam, is a very unaccountable thing, and baffles a very celebrated Axiom, or two of the Schools; for both they give, and they lose it, who never had, nor ever shall have any, like prodigal young Heirs, that spend their Estates before they come at them.
I perceive, Madam, after this way of digressing, it were easier to tire your patience than my own; for nothing is more natural (to me at least) than to forget the Design we first act upon, and write as incoherently as we talk: But whatever that were, I shall spare you that trouble at present, and only beg the continuance of your Friendship, which shall always be esteemed an honour, by


Your most humble, and
most obliged Servant,
J. D.
^*  Another Essay. Session of Poets 96, 6 Characters of a Beau, &c.