An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Section 4

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Education of the Female Sex not ſo deficient as commonly thought
There are others that deſerve to be brought into the Company of theſe upon like Honourable Reaſons; but I keep them in reſerve for a proper place, where I may perhaps take the pains to draw their Pictures to the Life at full length. Let us now return to our Argument, from which we have had a long breathing while. Let us look into the manner of our Education, and ſee wherein it falls ſhort of the Mens, and how the defects of it may be, and are generally ſupply’d. In our tender years they are the ſame, for after Children can Talk, they are promiſcuously taught to Read and Write by the ſame Perſons, and at the ſame time both Boys and Girls. When theſe are acquir’d, which is generally about the Age of Six or Seven Years, they begin to be ſeparated, and the Boys are ſent to the Grammer-School, and the Girls to Boarding Schools, or other places, to learn Needle Work, Dancing, Singing, Muſick, Drawing, Painting, and other Accompliſhments, according to the Humour and Ability of the Parents, or Inclination of the Children. Of all theſe, Reading, and Writing are the main Inſtruments of Converſation; though Muſick and Painting may be allow’d to contribute ſomething towards it, as they give us an inſight into two Arts, that makes up a great part of the Pleaſures and Diverſions of Mankind. Here then lies the main Defect, that we are taught only our Mother Tongue, or perhaps French, which is now very faſhionable, and almoſt as Familiar amongſt Women of Quality as Men; whereas the other Sex by means of a more extenſive Education to the knowledge of the Roman and Greek Languages, have a vaſter Feild for their Imaginations to rove in, and their Capacities thereby enlarg’d. To ſee whether this be ſtrictly true or not, I mean in what relates to our debate, I will for once ſuppoſe, that we are inſtructed only in our own Tongue, and then enquire whether the Diſadvantage be ſo great as it is commonly imagin’d. You know very well, Madam, that for Converſation, it is not requiſite we ſhould be Philologers, Rhetoricians, Philoſophers, Hiſtorians, or Poets; but only that we ſhould think pertinently, and expreſs our thoughts properly, on ſuch matters as are the proper Subjects for a mixt Converſation.
Religion, &c. no proper ſubject for mixt Converſation.
The Italians, a People as delicate in their Converſation as any in the World, have a Maxim, That our ſelves, our Neighbours, Religion, or Buſineſs, ought never to be the Subject. There are very ſubſtantial Reaſons to be given for theſe Reſtrictions, for Men are very apt to be vain, and impertinent, when they talk of themſelves, beſides that others are very jealous, and apt to ſuſpect, that all the good things ſaid, are intended as ſo many arguments of preference to them. When they ſpeak of their Neighbours, they are apt out of a Principle of Emulation and Envy, natural to all the race of Adam, to leſſen, and tarniſh their Fame, whether by open Scandal, and Defamatory Stories, and Tales, or by malicious Inſinuations, invidious Circumſtances, ſiniſter and covert Reflections. This humour ſprings from an over fondneſs of our ſelves, and a miſtaken conceit that anothers loſs is an addition to our own Reputation, as if like two Buckets, one muſt neceſſarily riſe as the other goes down. This is the baſeſt and moſt ungenerous of all our natural Failures, and ought to be corrected as much as poſſible e’ry where; but more eſpecially in Italy, where Reſentments are carried ſo high, and Revenges proſecuted with ſo much Heat and Animoſity. Religion is likewiſe very tender there, as in all other places, where the Prieſts have ſo much Power and Authority. But even here, where our differences and diſputes have made it more tame, and us’d it to rough handling, it ought carefully to be avoided; for nothing raiſes unfriendly warmths among Company more than a religious Arugment, which therefore ought to be baniſht all Society intended only for Converſation and Diverſion. Buſineſs is too dry and barren to give any Spirit to Converſation, or Pleaſure to a Company, and is therefore rather to be reckon’d among the Encumbrances than Comforts of Life, however neceſſary. Beſides theſe, Points of Learning, abſtruſe Speculations, and nice Politicks, ought, in my opinion, to be excluded; becauſe being things that require much Reading and Conſideration, they are not fit to be canvas’d ex tempore in mixt Company, of which ’tis probable the greateſt part will have little to ſay to ’em, and will ſcarce be content to be ſilent Hearers only; beſides that they are not in their nature gay enough to awaken the good Humour, or raiſe the Mirth of the Company. Nor need any one to fear, that by theſe limitations Converſation ſhou’d be reſtrain’d to too narrow a compaſs, there are ſubjects enough that are in themſelves neither inſipid, nor offenſive? ſuch as Love, Honour, Gallantry, Morality, News, Raillery, and a numberleſs train of other Things copious and diverting.
Great Improvements to be made by the help of Engliſh Books only.
Now I can’t ſee the neceſſity of any other Tongue beſide our own, to enable us to talk plauſibly, or judiciouſly, upon any of theſe Topicks: Nay, I am very confident, that ’tis poſſible for an ingenious Perſon to make a very conſiderable progreſs in moſt parts of learning, by the help of Engliſh only. For the only reaſon I can conceive of learning Languages, is to arrive at the Senſe, Wit, or Arts, that have been communicated to the World in ’em. Now of thoſe that have taken the pains to make themſelves Maſters of thoſe Treaſures, many have been ſo generous as to impart a ſhare of ’em to the Publick, by Tranſlations for the uſe of the Unlearned; and I flatter my ſelf ſometimes, that ſeveral of theſe were more particularly undertaken by Ingenious, good Natur’d Men in Kindneſs and Compaſſion to our Sex. But whatever the Motives were, the obliging Humour has ſo far prevail’d, that ſcarce any thing either Ancient, or Modern, that might be of general uſe, either for Pleasure, or Inſtruction, is left untouch’d, and moſt of them are made entirely free of our Tongue. I am no Judge either of the Accuracy, or Elegance of ſuch Performances; but if I may credit the report of Learned and Ingenious Gentlemen, (whoſe Judgment or Sincerity I have no reaſon to queſtion) many of thoſe excellent Authors have loſt nothing by the change of Soil. I can ſee and admire the Wit and Fancy of Ovid in the Tranſlation of his Epiſtles, and Elegies, the ſoftneſs and Paſſion of Tibullus, the Impetuoſity and Fire of Juvenal, the Gayety, Spirit and Judgment of Horace; who, tho’ he may appear very different from himſelf through the diverſity, and inequality of the Hands concern’d in making him ſpeak Engliſh, yet may eaſily be gueſs’d at from the ſeveral excellent Pieces render’d by the Earl of Roſcommon, Mr. Cowley, Mr. Dryden, Mr. Congreve, Mr. Brown, and other ingenious Gentlemen, who have oblig’d the Nation with their excellent Verſions of ſome parts of him. Nor is it poſſible to be inſenſible of the ſweetneſs and Majeſty of Virgil, after having read thoſe little, but Divine Samples, already made publick in Engliſh by Mr. Dryden, which gives us ſo much Impatience to ſee the whole Work entire by that admirable Hand. I have heard ſome ingenious Gentlemen ſay, That it was impoſſible to do Juſtice in our Tongue to theſe two laſt Celebrated Roman Poets, and I have known others, of whoſe Judgments I have as high an Opinion, affirm the contrary; my ignorance of Latin diſables me from determining whether we are in the right, but the Beauty of what I have already ſeen by the means of thoſe Gentlemen, has ſo far prejudic’d me in favour of the latter; that might I have ’em entire from the ſame hands, I think I ſhou’d ſcarce envy thoſe, who can taſt the pleaſure of the Originals. Nor is it to the Poets only, that we ſtand indebted for the Treaſures of Antiquity, We have no leſs Engagements to thoſe, who have ſucceſsfully labour’d in Proſe, and have made us familiar with Plutarch, Seneca, Cicero, and in general with all the famous Philoſophers, Orators and Hiſtorians, from whom we may at once learn both the Opinions and Practices of their Times. Aſſiſted by theſe helps, ’tis impoſſible for any Woman to be ignorant that is but deſirous to be otherwise, though ſhe know no part of Speech out of her Mother Tongue. But theſe are neither the only, nor the greateſt Advantages we have; all that is excellent in France, Italy, or any of our neighbouring Nations is now become our own; to one of whom, I may be bold to ſay, we are beholding for more, and greater Improvements of Converſation, that to all Antiquity and the learned Languages together.
The name of Learning unjuſtly reſtrained to the knowledge of Latin and Greek only.
Nor can I imagine for what good Reaſon a Man skill’d in Latin, and Greek, and vers’d in the Authors of Ancient Times ſhall be call’d Learned; yet another who perfectly underſtands Italian, French, Spaniſh, High Dutch, and the reſt of the European Languages, is acquainted with the Modern Hiſtory of all thoſe Countries, knows their Policies, has div’d into all the Intrigues of the ſeveral Courts, and can tell their mutual Diſpoſitions, Obligations, and Ties of Intereſt one to another, ſhall after all this be thought Unlearned for want of thoſe two Languages. Nay, though he be never ſo well vers’d in the Modern Philoſophy, Aſtronomy, Geometry and Algebra, he ſhall notwithſtanding never be allow’d that honourable Title. I can ſee but one apparent Reaſon for this unfair procedure; which is, that when about an Age and an half ago, all the poor Remains of Learning then in Being, were in the hands of the School-men; they wou’d ſuffer none to paſs Muſter, that were not deeply engag’d in thoſe intricate, vexatious and unintelligible Trifles, for which themſelves contended with ſo much Noiſe and Heat; or at leaſt were not acquainted with Plato and Ariſtotle, and their Commentators; from whence the Sophiſtry and Subtleties of the Schools at that time were drawn. Thus Uſurpation was maintain’d by their Succeſſors, the Divines, who to this day pretend almoſt to the Monopoly of Learning; and though ſome generous Spirits have in good meaſure broke the neck of this Arbitrary, Tyrannical Authority; yet can’t they prevail to extend the name of Learning beyond the Studies, in which the Divines are more particularly converſant. Thus you ſhall have ’em allow a Man to be a wiſe Man, a good Naturaliſt, a good Mathematician, Politician, or Poet, but not a Scholar, a learned Man, that is no Philologer. For my part I think theſe Gentlemen have juſt inverted the uſe of the Term, and given that to the knowledge of words, which belongs more properly to Things. I take Nature to be the great Book of Univerſal Learning, which he that reads beſt in all, or any of its Parts, is the greateſt Scholar, the moſt learned Man; and ’tis as ridiculous for a Man to count himſelf more learned than another, if he have no greater extent of knowledge of things, becauſe he is more vers’d in Languages; as it would be for an Old Fellow to tell a Young One, his own Eyes were better than the other’s becauſe he Reads with Spectacles, the other without.
Engliſh Books the beſt helps to Converſation
Thus, Madam, you ſee we may come in Time to put in for Learning, if we have a mind, without falling under the Correction of Pedants. But I will let Learning alone at preſent, becauſe I have already baniſh’d it (though not out of diſreſpect) from mix’d Converſation; to which we will return, and of which the greateſt Magazines and Supports are ſtill in Reſerve. I mean the many excellent Authors of our own Country, whoſe Works it were endleſs to recount. Where is Love, Honour and Bravery more lively repreſented than in our Tragedies, who has given us Nobler, or juſter Pictures of Nature than Mr. Shakeſpear? Where is there a tenderer Paſſion, than in the Maids Tragedy? Whoſe Grief is more awful and commanding than Mr. Otways? Whoſe Deſcriptions more Beautifull, or Thoughts more Gallant than Mr. Drydens? When I ſee any of their Plays acted, my Paſſions move by their Direction, my Indignation, my Compaſſion, my Grief are all at their Beck. Nor is our Comedy at all inferiour to our Tragedy; for, not to mention thoſe already nam’d for the other part of the Stage, who are all excellent in this too, Sir George Etherege and Sir Charles Sedley for neat Raillery and Gallantry are without Rivals, Mr. Wicherley for ſtrong Wit, pointed Satyr, ſound and uſeful Obſervations is beyond Imitation; Mr. Congreve for ſprightly, gentile, eaſie Wit falls ſhort of no Man. Theſe are the Maſters of the Stage; but there are others who though of an inferiour Claſs, yet deſerve Commendation, were that at preſent my Buſineſs. Nay, even the worſt of ’em afford us ſome diverſion; for I find a ſort of fooliſh Pleaſure, and can laugh at Mr. D——y’s Farce, as I do at the Tricks, and Impertinencies of a Monkey; and was pleaſed to ſee the humour and delight of the Author in Mr. H——n’s Eating, and Drinking Play which I fancy’d was written in a Victualling Houſe. In ſhort, were it not for the too great frequency of looſe Expreſſions, and wanton Images, I ſhould take out Theaters for the beſt Schools in the World of Wit, Humanity, and Manners; which they might eaſily become by retrenching that too great Liberty. Neither have the Poets only, but the Criticks too Endeavour’d to compleat us; Mr. Dennis and Mr. Rimer have by their Ingenious, and judicious labours taught us to admire the Beauties as we ought, and to know the faults of the former. Nor are we leſs beholding to theſe for forming our Judgments, than to thoſe for raiſing our Fancies.
Theſe are the Sources from whence we draw our gayer part of Converſation; I don’t mean in excluſion to the other parts of Poetry, in moſt of which (as I have heard good Judges ſay) we equal at leaſt the Ancients, and far ſurpaſs all the Moderns. I honour the Names, and admire the Writings of Denham, Suckling and D’avenant, I am raviſh’d with the Fancy of Cowley, and the Gallantry of Waller, I reverence the Fairy Queen, am rais’d, and elevated with Paradiſe Loſt, Prince Arthur compoſes and reduces me to a State of Yawning indiffference, and Mr. W—ſtl—y’s Heroicks lull me to Sleep. Thus all Ranks and Degrees of Poets have their uſe, and may be ſerviceable to ſome body or other from the Prince to the Paſtry Cook, or Paſt-board Box-maker. I ſhould mention our Satyriſts, but it would be endleſs to deſcend to every particular, of theſe Mr. Oldham is admirable, and to go no further, the inimitable Mr. Butler will be an everlaſting Teſtimony, of the Wit of his Age, and Nation, and bid eternal defiance to the Wits of all Countries, and future Ages to follow him in a Path before untrack’d. Our Proſe Writers, that are eminent for a gay Style and Jovial Argument, are ſo many, that it would ſwell this Letter too much to name ’em, ſo that I ſhall only take notice, that whoever can read without Pleasure, or Laughter, The contempt of the Clergy, and the following Letters and Dialogues by the ſame Author, or the facetious Dialogues of Mr. Brown muſt be more Splenetick than Heraclitus, or more ſtupid, than the Aſs he laugh’d at.
Nor are we leſs provided for the ſerious Part; Morality has generally been the Province of our Clergy who have treated of all parts of it very largely with ſo much Piety, Solidity, and Eloquence, that as I think I may venture to ſay, they have written more upon it than the Clergy of all the reſt of the World; ſo I believe no Body will deny that they have written better. Yet I cou’d wiſh, that our Ingenious Gentlemen wou’d employ their Pens oftner on theſe Subjects; becauſe the ſeverity of the other’s Profeſſion obliges ’em to write with an Air, and in a Style leſs agreable, and inviting to Young People. Not that we are without many excellent Pieces of Morality, Humanity and Civil Prudence written by, and like Gentlemen. But it is the Excellence of ’em, and the ability of our Gentlemen, which appears in the Spirit, Wit, and curious Obſervations in thoſe Pieces, which makes me deſire more of the ſame Nature. Who can read the Eſſays of that Wonderful Man, my Lord Bacon, or the no leſs to be admir’d Sir Walter Raleigh’s, or Mr. Osborns advice to a Son, the Advice to a Daughter, Sir William Temple’s, or Sir George Machenzie’s Eſſays, Sir Roger L’Eſtrange’s Eſſay (to which laſt we are likewiſe oblig’d for an incomparable Verſion of Seneca) and abundance of others, without wiſhing for more from the ſame, or the like hands? Our Neighbours the French, have written a great deal of this kind, of the beſt of which we have the benefit in Engliſh; but more particularly the Meſſieurs, Montagne, Rochefaucaut, and St. Evremont, deſerve to be immortal in all Languages. I need not mention any more, it is apparent from theſe that Women want not the means of being Wiſe and Prudent without more Tongues than one; nay, and Learned too, if they have any Ambition to be ſo.
The numberleſs Treatiſes of Antiquities, Philoſophy, Mathematicks Natural, and other Hiſtory (in which I can’t paſs ſilently by, that learned One of Sir Walter Raleigh, which the World he writ of can’t match) written originally in, or tranſlated to our Tongue are ſufficient to lead us a great way into any Science our Curiouſity ſhall prompt us to. The greateſt difficulty we ſtruggled with, was the want of a good Art of Reaſoning, which we had not, that I know of, till that defect was ſupply’d by the greateſt Maſter of that Art Mr. Locke, whoſe Eſſay on Human Underſtanding makes large amends for the want of all others in that kind.
Thus, Madam, I have endeavour’d to obviate all our Adverſarie’s Objections, by touching upon as great a Variety of things relating to the Subject as I conveniently cou’d. Yet I hope I have troubled you with nothing but what was neceſſary to make my way clear, and plain before me; and I am apt to think I have made it appear, that nothing but diſencouragement or an Idle Uncurious Humour can hinder us from Rivalling moſt Men in the knowledge of great Variety of things, without the help of more Tongues than our Own; which the Men ſo often reproachfully tell us is enough. This Idleneſs is but too frequently to be found among us, but ’tis a Fault equally common to both Sexes. Thoſe that have means to play the Fool all their lives, ſeldom care for the trouble of being made wiſe. We are naturally Lovers of our Eaſe, and have great apprehenſions of the difficulty of things untry’d; Eſpecially in matters of Learning, the common Methods of acquiring which are ſo unpleaſant, and uneaſie. I doubt not but abundance of noble Wits are ſtiffled in both Sexes, for want but of ſuſpecting what they were able to do, and with how much facility. Experience ſhews us every day Blockheads, that arrive at a moderate, nay ſometimes a great Reputation by their Confidence, and brisk attempts which they maintain by their Diligence; while great Numbers of Men naturally more Ingenious lye neglected by, for want of Induſtry to improve, or Courage to exert themſelves. No Man certainly but wiſhes he had the Reputation in, and were Reſpected and Eſteem’d by the World as he ſees ſome Men are for the Fruits of their Pens; but they are loth to be at the pains of an Attempt, or doubt their ſufficience to perform; or what I believe is moſt general, never to enquire ſo far into themſelves, and their own Abilities, as to bring ſuch a thought into their Heads. This laſt I fancy is the true Reaſon, why our Sex, who are commonly charged with talking too much, are Guilty of Writing ſo little. I wiſh they would ſhake of this lazy Deſpondence, and let the noble examples of the deſervedly celebrated Mrs. Philips, and the incomparable Mrs. Behn, rouſe their Courages, and ſhew Mankind the great injuſtice of their Contempt.
Ignorance of Latin, &c. no diſadvantage.
I am confident they would find no ſuch need of the aſſiſtance of Languages as is generally imagin’d. Thoſe that have of their own need not graft upon Foreign Stocks. I have often thought that the not teaching Women Latin and Greek, was an advantage to them, if it were rightly conſider’d, and might be improv’d to a great heigth. For Girles after they can Read and Write (if they be of any Faſhion) are taught ſuch things as take not up their whole time, and not being ſuffer’d to run about at liberty as Boys, ar furniſh’d among other toys with Books, ſuch as Romances, Novels, Plays and Poems; which though they read careleſsly only for Diverſion, yet unawares to them, give ’em very early a conſiderable Command both of Words and Senſe; which are further improv’d by their making and receiving Viſits with their Mothers, which gives them betimes the opportunity of imitating, converſing with, and knowing the manner, and addreſs of elder Perſons. Theſe I take to be the true Reaſons why a Girl of Fifteen is reckon’d as ripe as a Boy of One and Twenty, and not any natural forwardneſs of Maturity, as ſome People would have it. Theſe advantages the Education of Boys deprives them of, who drudge away the Vigour of their Memories at Words, uſeleſs ever after to moſt of them, and at Seventeen or Eighteen are to begin their Alphabet of Senſe, and are but where the Girles were at Nine or Ten. Yet becauſe they have learnt Latin and Greek, reject with Scorn all Engliſh Books their beſt helps, and lay aſide their Latin ones, as if they were already Maſters of all that Learning, and ſo hoiſt Sail for the wide World without a Compaſs to Steer by. Thus I have fairly ſtated the difference between us, and can find no ſuch diſparity in Nature or Education as they contend for; but we have a ſort of ungenerous Adverſaries, that deal more in Scandal than Argument, and when they can’t hurt us with their Weapons, endeavour to annoy us with ſtink Pots. Let us ſee therefore, Madam, whether we can’t beat them from their Ammunition, and turn their own Artillery upon them; for I firmly believe there is nothing, which they charge upon us, but may with more Justice be retorted upon themſelves.