An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Section 10/Modern

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These are the most considerable Imperfections, or at least those which with most Colour of Reason are charged upon us, as general Defects; and I hope, Madam, I have fairly shown, that the other Sex are both by Interest and Inclination more exposed, and more Subject to them, than we. Pride, Lust, Cruelty, and many more, are by the Declaimers against us thrown into the Scale to make weight and bear us down, but with such manifest Injustice, that without giving my self any further trouble, I dare appeal to any reasonable Man, and leave him to decide the Difference.
More ill Men than Women.
I know there was a Tullia, a Claudia, and a Messalina; there was likewise, a Sardanapalus, a Nero, a Caligula; but if the Sexes in general are to be reproached with, and measured by these; Human Race is certainly the vilest Part of the Creation. ’Tis very ill Logic to argue from Particulars to Generals, and where the Premises are singular, to conclude Universally: But if they will allow us the Liberty they take themselves, and come to numbering the Vicious of both Sexes, they will certainly out poll us by infinite Numbers. It were therefore better Policy surely in them, to quit a way of arguing, which is at once so false, and so much to the disadvantage of the Cause they contend for: and when they can by sound Arguments make out any Advantages their Sex has over ours, other than what I have already granted, I am ready to be convinced, and become their Convert; and I make no doubt but every ingenuous Man will do as much by me. Thus I have endeavoured to vindicate our Sex, from the unjust Imputations with which some unreasonable, malicious Men would load us: For I am willing to think the greater, or at least the better Part of their Sex, more generous than to encourage their Scandal. There remains nothing more, but to show that there are some necessary Qualifications to be acquired, some good Improvements to be made by Ingenious Gentlemen in the Company of our Sex.
Many Advantages from Women’s Company.
Of this number are Complacence, Gallantry, Good Humour, Invention, and an Art, which (though frequently abused) is of admirable use to those that are Masters of it, the Art of Insinuation, and many others. ’Tis true a Man may be an Honest and Understanding Man, without any of these Qualifications; but he can hardly be a Polite, a Well Bred, an Agreeable, Taking Man, without all, or most of these. Without them Honesty, Courage, or Wit, are like Rough Diamonds, or Gold in the Ore, they have their intrinsic Value, and Worth, before, but they are doubtful and obscure, till they are polished, refined, and receive Lustre, and Esteem from these.
Complacence to be learned by it.
The Principal of these is Complacence, a good Quality, without which in a competent Measure no Man is fitted for Society. This is best learnt in our Company, where all Men affect Gaiety, and endeavour to be agreeable. State News, Politics, Religion, or private Business take up the greatest Part of their Conversation, when they are among themselves only. These are Subjects that employ their Passions too much, to leave any room for Complacence; they raise too much heat to suffer Men to be easy and pleasant, and Men are too serious when they talk of them, to suppress their natural Temper, which are apt to break out upon any Opposition. Men are as apt to defend their Opinions, as their Property, and would take it as well to have their Titles to their Estates questioned, as their Sense; and perhaps in that they imitate the Conduct of our Sex, and do, like indulgent Mothers, that are most tender of those Children that are weakest. But however it be, I have observed, when such Arguments have been introduced even in our Company, and by Men that affect Indifference and abundance of Temper, that very few have been able to show so much Mastery, but that something appeared either in their Air, or Expression, or in the Tone of their Voices, which argued a greater Warmth, and Concern, than is proper for the Conversation of Gentlemen, or the Company of Ladies. These Uneasinesses happen not so often among us, because the Men look upon us to have very little Interest in the Public Affairs of the World, and therefore trouble us very seldom with their grave, serious Trifles, which they debate with so much earnestness among one another. They look upon us as Things designed and contrived only for their Pleasure, and therefore use us tenderly, as Children do their Favourite Baubles. They talk gaily, and pleasantly to us, they do, or say nothing that may give us any Disgust, or Chagrin, they put on their cheerfullest Looks, and their best Humour, that they may excite the like in us: They never oppose us but with a great deal of Ceremony, or in Raillery, not out of a Spirit of Opposition, (as they frequently do one another) but to maintain a pleasant Argument, or heighten by variety of Opinions an agreeable Entertainment. Mirth, and Good Humour reign generally in our Society, Good Manners always; For with us Men show in a manner, the Reverse of what they are one to another: They let their thoughts play at Liberty, and are very careful of the Expression, that nothing harsh, or obscene escape them, that may shock a tender Mind, or offend a modest Ear. This Caution it is, which is the Root of Complacence, which is nothing but a Desire to oblige People, by complying with their Humours. ’Tis true some Tempers are too Obstinate, and forward, ever to arrive at any great Height of this good Quality, yet there is nothing so stubborn, but it may be bent. Assiduity and constant Practice will contract such Habits, as will make any thing easy and familiar, even to the worst contrived Disposition; but where Nature concurs, Men are soon Perfect. This is one great advantage Men reap by our Society, nor is it to be despised by the Wisest of them, who know the use of this Accomplishment, and are sensible, that it is hardly, if at all, to be acquired, but by conversing with us. For though Men may have Wit and Judgment, yet the Liberty they take of thwarting, and opposing one another makes them Eager, and Disputative, Impatient, Sour, and Morose; till by conversing with us, they grow insensibly ashamed of such Rustic Freedom. The truth of this is Evident from the Observation of the Universities, and Inns of Court, I mean those Students in them that lead a more recluse and Monastic Life, and converse little with our Sex. They want neither Wit, nor Learning, and frequently neither Generosity, nor Good Nature, yet when they come into gay, though Ingenious Company, are either damped and silent, or unseasonably Frolicsome and Free, so that they appear either Dull, or Ridiculous.
Gallantry acquired by our Company.
Nor is Complacence the only thing these Men want, they want likewise the Gallantry of those Men that frequent our Company. This Quality is the height and perfection of Civility, without which it is either Languishing, or Formal, and with which it appears always with an engaging Air of Kindness, and Good Will. It sets a value upon the most inconsiderable Trifles, and turns every Civility into an Obligation. For in ordinary Familiarities, and civil Correspondencies, we regard not so much what, as how things are done, the Manner is more looked upon than the Matter of such Courtesies. Almost all Men that have had a liberal, and good Education know, what is due to Good Manners, and civil Company. But till they have been used a little to Our Society, their Modesty sits like Constraint upon them, and looks like a forced Compliance to uneasy Rules, and Forms of Civility. Conversing frequently with us makes them familiar to Men, and when they are convinced, as well of the Easiness, as the Necessity of them, they are soon reconciled to the Practice. This Point once gained, and they become expert in the common, and necessary Practices. Those that have any natural Bravery of Mind, will never be contented to stop there; Indifference is too cold and Phlegmatic a thing for them, a little Formal Ceremony, and common Civilities, such as are paid to every one of Course, will not satisfy their Ambitious Spirits, which will put them upon endeavouring for better Receptions, and obliging those, whom they can’t without Reproach to themselves offend. This is the Original, and first Spring of Gallantry, which is an Humour of Obliging all People, as well in our Actions and Words.
Difference betwixt Complacence and Gallantry.
It differs from Complacence, this being more active, that more passive; This inclines us to oblige, by doing or saying after our own Humours such things as we think will please; that by submitting to, and following theirs. A Man may be Complacent without Gallantry, but he can’t be Gallant without Complacence. For ’tis possible to please and be agreeable, without showing our own Humours to Others; but ’tis impossible without some regard to theirs: yet this Pleasure will be but faint and languid, without a Mixture of both. This mixture of Freedom, Observance, and a desire of pleasing, when rightly tempered, is the true Composition of Gallantry; of which, who ever is complete Master, can never fail of being both admired, and beloved. This Accomplishment is best, if not only to be acquired by conversing with us; for besides the natural Deference, which the Males of every observable Species of the creation pay to their Females, and the Reasons before given for Complacence, which all hold good here, there is a tender Softness in the Frame of our Minds, as well as in the Constitution of our Bodies, which inspires Men, a Sex more rugged, with the like Sentiments, and Affections, and infuses gently and insensibly a Care to oblige, and a Concern not to offend us.
Invention, improved by our Society.
Hence it is that they employ all their Art, Wit, and Invention to say and do things, that may appear to us, surprising and agreeable either for their Novelty or Contrivance. The very End and Nature of Conversation among us retrench abundance of those things, which make the greatest part of Men’s discourse, and they find themselves obliged to strain their Inventions to fetch from other Springs, Streams proper to entertain us with. This puts them upon beating and ranging over the Fields of Fancy to find something new, something pretty to offer us, and by this means refines at the same time their Wit, and enlarges, and extends their Invention; For by forcing them out of the common Road, they are necessitated to invent new Arguments, and seek new ways to divert and please us, and by restraining the large Liberty they take one with another, they are compelled to polish their Wit, and File off the Roughness of it. To this they owe, the Neatness of Raillery, to which abundance of Gentlemen are now arrived; For Contrariety, of Opinions, being that which gives Life, and Spirit to Conversation, as well Women as Men do frequently hold Arguments contrary to their real Opinions, only to heighten the Diversion, and improve the pleasure of Society. In these the utmost Care is taken to avoid all things that may sound harsh, offensive, or indecent, their Wit is employed only to raise mirth, and promote good Humour, Conditions that can’t well be observed, when Men contend for Realities, and dispute for the Reputation of their Wit or Judgment, and the truth of their Opinions.
Fools no fit Companions for Women.
’Tis true these Improvements are to be made only by Men, that have by Nature an improvable Stock of Wit and good Sense; For those that have it not, being unable to distinguish what is proper for their Imitation, are apt to Ape us in those Things which are the peculiar Graces and Ornaments of our Sex, and which are the immediate Objects of Sight, and need no further Reflection, or thinking. This Affectation is notorious in our Modern Beaus, who observing the Care taken by some of our Sex in the setting of their Persons, without penetrating any farther into the Reasons Women have for it, or considering, that what became them, might be ridiculous in themselves, fall to licking, sprucing, and dressing their Campaign Faces, and ill contrived Bodies, that now, like all Foolish Imitators, they out do the Originals, and out-powder, out-patch, and out-paint the Vainest and most extravagant of our Sex at those Follies, and are perpetually Cocking, Brustling, Twiring, and making Grimaces, as if they expected we should make Addresses to them in a short Time. Yet ought not this to discourage any Ingenious Person, or bring any Scandal upon our Coversation, any more than Travelling ought to be brought into Disrepute, because it is observed, that those, who go abroad Fools, return Fops. It is not in our power to alter Nature, but to polish it, and if an Ass has learnt all his Paces, ’tis as much as the thing is capable of, ’twere absurd to expect he should chop Logic. This is so far from being an Objection against us, that it is an Argument, that none but Ingenious Men are duly qualified to converse with us; Who by our Means have not only been fitted, and finished for great things, but have actually aspired to them. For ’tis my Opinion, that we owe the Neat, Gentle Raillery in Sir George Etherege, and Sir Charles Sedley’s Plays, and the Gallant Verses of Mr. Waller to their Conversing much with Ladies. And I remember an Opinion of a very Ingenious Person, who ascribes the Ruin of the Spanish Grandeur in great measure, to the ridiculing in the Person of Don Quixote, the Gallantry of that Nation toward their Ladies. This Opinion however Ingenious carries me beyond the Scope and design of the present Argument, and therefore I shall leave all further Consideration of it to those that are more at leisure, and less weary than I am at present.
There remain yet some things to be spoken to, but I must confess to you, Madam, that I am already very much tired, and I have reason to fear that you are more. When you enjoined me to this Task, I believe, you did not expect, I am sure, I did not intend so long a Letter. I know I have written too much, yet I leave you to judge, whether it be enough. One Experience I have gained by this Essay, that I find, when our Hands are in, ’tis as hard to stop them, as our Tongues, and as difficult not to write, as not to talk too much. I have done wondering at those Men, that can write huge Volumes upon slender Subjects, and shall hereafter admire their Judgment only, who can confine their Imaginations, and curb their wandering Fancies. I pretend no Obligation upon our Sex for this Attempt in their Defence; because it was undertaken at your Command, and for your Diversion only, which if I have in any measure satisfied, I have my Ambition, and shall beg nothing farther, than that my ready Obedience may excuse the mean Performance of
Your real Friend, and
Most humble Servant.