An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Section 1

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In Defence of the

Female Sex, &c.

THE Converſation we had ’tother day, makes me, Dear Madam, but more ſenſible of the unreaſonableneſs of your deſire; which obliges me to inform you further upon a Subject, wherein I have more need of your inſtruction. The ſtrength of Judgment, ſprightly Fancy, and admirable Addreſs, you ſhew’d upon that Occaſion, ſpeak you ſo perfect a Miſtreſs of that Argument (as I doubt not but you are of any other that you pleaſe to engage in) that whoever, would ſpeak or write well on it, ought firſt to be your Schollar. Yet to let you ſee how abſolutely you may command me, I had rather be your Eccho, than be ſilent when You bid me ſpeak, and beg your excuſe rather for my Failures, than want of Complacence. I know You will not accuſe me for a Plagiary if I return You nothing, but what I have glean’d from You, when You conſider, that I pretend not to make a Preſent, but to pay the Intereſt only of a Debt. Nor can you tax me with Vanity, ſince no Importunity of a Perſon less lov’d or valu’d by me than your ſelf could have extorted thus much from me. This Conſideration leaves me no room to doubt but that you will with your uſual Candour pardon thoſe Defects, and correct thoſe Errors, which proceed only from an over forward Zeal to oblige You, though to my own Diſadvantage.
The defence of our Sex againſt ſo many and ſo great Wits as have ſo ſtrongly attack’d it, may juſtly ſeem a Task too difficult for a Woman to attempt. Not that I can, or ought to yield, that we are by Nature leſs enabled for ſuch an Enterprize, than Men are; which I hope at leaſt to ſhew plauſible Reaſons for, before I have done: But becauſe through the Uſurpation of Men, and the Tyranny of Cuſtom (here in England eſpecially) there are at moſt but a few, who are by Education, and acquir’d Wit, or Letters, ſufficiently quallified for ſuch an Undertaking. For my own part I ſhall readily own, that as few as there are, there may be and are abundance, who in their daily Converſations approve themſelves much more able, and ſufficient Aſſertors of our Cauſe, than my ſelf; and I am ſorry that either their Buſineſs, their other Diverſions, or too great Indulgence of their Eaſe, hinder them from doing publick Juſtice to their Sex. The Men by Intereſt or Inclination are ſo generally engag’d againſt us, that it is not to be expected, that any one Man of Wit ſhould ariſe ſo generous as to engage in our Quarrel, and be the Champion of our Sex againſt the Injuries and Oppreſſions of his own. Thoſe Romantick days are over, and there is not ſo much as a Don Quixot of the Quill left to ſuccour the diſtreſſed Damſels. ’Tis true, a Feint of ſomething of this Nature was made three or four Years ſince by one; but how much ſoever his Engenia may be oblig’d to him, I am of Opinion the reſt of her Sex are but little beholding to him. For as you rightly obſerv’d, Madam, he has taken more care to give an Edge to his Satyr, than force to his Apology; he has play’d a ſham Prize, and receives more thruſts than he makes; and like a falſe Renegade fights under our Colours only for a fairer Opportunity of betraying us. But what could be expected elſe from a Beau? An Annimal that can no more commend in earneſt a Womans Wit, than a Man’s Perſon, and that compliments ours only to ſhew his own good Breeding and Parts. He levels his Scandal at the whole Sex, and thinks us ſufficiently fortified, that if out of the Story of Two Thouſand Years he has been able to pick up a few Examples of Women illuſtrious for their Wit, Learning or Vertue, and Men infamous for the contrary; though I think the moſt inveterate of our Enemies would have ſpar’d him that labour, by granting that all Ages have produc’d Perſons famous or infamous of both Sexes; or they muſt throw up all pretence to Modeſty, or Reaſon.
I have neither Learning, nor Inclination to make a Precedent, or indeed any uſe to Mr. W’s. labour’d Common Place Book; and ſhall leave Pedants and School-Boys to rake and tumble the Rubbiſh of Antiquity, and muſter all the Heroes and Heroins they can find to furniſh matter for ſome wretched Harangue, or ſtuff a miſerable Declamation with inſtead of Senſe or Argument.
Some advantages to be allow‘d to the diſparity of Education
I ſhall not enter into any diſpute, whether Men, or Women, be generally more ingenious, or learned; that Point muſt be given up to the advantages Men have over us by their Education, Freedom of Converſe, and variety of Buſineſs and Company. But when any Compariſon is made between ’em, great allowances muſt be made for the diſparity of thoſe Circumſtances. Neither ſhall I conteſt about the preheminence of our Virtues; I know there are too many Vicious, and I hope there are a great many Virtuous of both Sexes. Yet this I must ſay, that whatever Vices are found amongſt us, have in general both their ſource, and encouragement from them.
The Queſtion I ſhall at preſent handle is, whether the time an ingenious Gentleman ſpends in the Company of Women, may juſtly be ſaid to be miſemploy’d, or not. I put the queſtion in general terms; becauſe whoever holds the affirmative muſt maintain it ſo, or the Sex is no way concern’d to oppoſe him. On the other ſide I ſhall not maintain the Negative, but with ſome Reſtrictions and Limitations; becauſe I will not be bound to juſtifie thoſe Women, whoſe Vices and ill Conduct expoſe them deſervedly to the Cenſure of the other Sex, as well as of their own. The Question being thus ſtated, let us conſider the end and purpoſes for which Coverſation was at firſt inſtituted, and is yet deſirable; and then we ſhall ſee, whether they may not all be found in the Company of Women. Theſe Ends, I take it, are the ſame with thoſe of the Mind, and thoſe of the Body. Of the latter I ſhall take no further Notice, as having no Relation to the preſent Subject; but ſhall confine my ſelf wholly to the Mind, the Profit of which is the Improvement of the Underſtanding, and the Pleaſure is the Diverſion, and Relaxation of its Cares and Paſſions. Now if either of theſe Ends be attainable by the Society of Women, I have gain’d my Point. However, I hope to make it appear, that they are not only both to be met with in the Converſation of Women, but one of them more generally, and in greater meaſure than in Mens.