An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Section 6

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Impertinence comes next under Conſideration, in which I ſhall be as brief, as I conveniently can, in regard I have been ſo long upon the precedeing Head. Impertinence is a humour of buſying our ſelves about things trivial, and of no Moment in themſelves, or unſeaſonably in things of no concern to us, or wherein we are able to do nothing to any Purpoſe. Here our Adverſaries inſult over us, as if they had gain’d an intire Victory, and the Field were indiſputable; but they ſhall have no cauſe for Triumph, this is no Poſt of ſuch mighty advantage as they fondly perſuade themſelves.
Commonly miſtaken.
This Preſumption ariſes from an Erroneous Conceit, that all thoſe things in which they are little concern’d, or conſulted, are triffles below their care or notice, which indeed they are not by Nature ſo well able to manage. Thus, when they hear us talking to, and adviſing one another about the Order, Diſtribution and Contrivance of Houſhold Affairs, about the Regulation of the Family, and Government of Children and Servants, the provident management of a Kitchin, and the decent ordering of a Table, the ſuitable Matching, and convenient diſpoſition of Furniture and the like, they preſently condemn us for impertinence. Yet they may be pleaſed to conſider, that as the affairs of the World are now divided betwixt us, the Domeſtick are our ſhare, and out of which we are rarely ſuffer’d to interpoſe our Senſe. They may be pleaſed to conſider likewiſe, that as light and inconſiderable as theſe things ſeem, they are capable of no Pleaſures of Senſe higher or more refin’d than thoſe of Brutes without our care of ’em. For were it not for that, their Houſes wou’d be meer Bedlams, their moſt luxurious Treats, but a rude confuſion of ill Digeſted, ill mixt Scents and Reliſhes, and the fine Furniture, they beſtow ſo much coſt on, but an expenſive heap of glittering Rubbiſh. Thus they are beholding to us for the comfortable Enjoyment of what their labour or good Fortune hath acquir’d or beſtow’d, and think meanly of our care only, becauſe they underſtand not the value of it. But if we ſhall be thought impertinent for Diſcourſes of this Nature, as I deny not but we ſometimes juſtly may, when they are unſeaſonable; what cenſure muſt thoſe Men bear, who are perpetually talking of Politicks, State Affairs and Grievances to us, in which perhaps neither they, nor We are much concern’d, or if we be, are not able to propoſe, much leſs to apply any Remedy to ’em? Surely theſe are impertinent; not to call the Beau, or Poetaſter on the Stage again, whoſe whole Lives are one continued ſcene of Folly and Impertinence; let us make the beſt of our News Monger.
Character of a Coffee-Houſe Politician.
He is one whoſe Brains having been once over-heated, retain ſomething in the Fire in ’em ever after. He miſtakes his Paſſion for Zeal, and his Noiſe and Buſtling, for Services. He is always full of Doubts, Fears, and Jealouſies, and is never without ſome notable Diſcovery of a deep laid Deſign, or a dangerous Plot found out in a Meal Tub, or Petticoat. He is a mighty Liſtner after Prodigies, and never hears of a Whale, or a Comet, but he apprehends ſome ſudden Revolution in the State, and looks upon a Groaning-board, or a ſpeaking-head, as fore-runners of the Day of Judgment. He is a great Lover of the King, but a bitter Enemy to all about him, and thinks it impoſſible for him to have any but Evil Counſellors, and though he be very zealous for the Government, yet he never finds any thing in it but Grievances and Miſcarriages to declaim upon. He is a Well-wiſher to the Church, but he is never to be reconcil’d to the Biſhops and Clergy, and rails moſt inveterately at the Act of Uniformity. He hates Perſecution implacably, and contends furiouſly for Moderation, and can ſcarce think well of the Toleration, because it is an Act of the State. He profeſſes himself of the Church of England, pretends to like the Worſhip of it, but he goes to Meetings in ſpight to the Parſon of his Pariſh. His Conſcience is very tender and ſcrupulous in Matters of Ceremony, but it is as ſteely and tough as Brawn behind his Counter, and can digeſt any Sin of Gain. He lodges at home, but he lives at the Coffee-houſe. He converſes more with News Papers, Gazettes and Votes, than with his Shop Books, and his conſtant Application to the Publick takes him off all Care for his Private Concern. He is always ſettling the Nation, yet cou’d never manage his own Family. He is a mighty Stickler at all Elections, and tho’ he has no Vote, thinks it impoſſible any thing ſhou’d go right unleſs he be there to Bawl for it. His buſineſs is at Home, but his thoughts are in Flanders, and he is earneſtly inveſting of Towns till the Sheriff’s Officers beleaguer his Doors. He is buſie inforcing of Counterſcarps, and ſtorming of Breaches, while his Creditors take his Shop by ſurprize, and make Plunder of his Goods. Thus by mending the State, He marrs his own Fortune; and never leaves talking of the Laws of the Land, till the Execution of ’em ſilence him.
This ſort of Impertinents the Coffee-houſes are every day full of; nay, ſo far has this contagious Impertinence ſpread it ſelf, that Private Houſes, and Shops, nay, the very Streets and Bulks are infected and peſter’d with Politicks and News. Not a Pot cou’d go glibly down, or a ſtitch go merrily forward without Namur, a while ago; ’twas Spice to the Porter’s Ale, and Wax to the Cobler’s Thread; the one ſuſpended his Draught, and the other his Awl to enquire what was become of the Rogue, and were very glad to hear he was taken, and expected no doubt he ſhou’d come over and make ’em a Holy-day at his Execution. They were mightily rejoyc’d at the Arreſting of the Mareſchal Boufflers, and made no queſtion but they ſhou’d ſee him amongſt the reſt of the Beaſts at Bartholomew Fair for Two Pence. This Folly of the Mob was in ſome meaſure excuſable, becauſe their Ignorance led ’em into an expectation of ſeeing what had given the World ſo much Trouble. But thoſe that have better knowledge of things have no ſuch Plea, they ought to have been wiſer, than to have buſied themſelves ſo much and ſo earneſtly about affairs, which all their care and Sollicitude could have no more Influence upon, than over the Weather. ’Twas pleaſant to ſee what Shoals the report of the arrival of a Holland, or Flanders Mail, brought to the Secretary’s Office, the Poſt Office, and the Coffee-Houſes; every one Crowding to catch the News firſt, which as ſoon as they had, they poſted away like ſo many Expreſſes to diſperſe it among their Neighbours at more diſtance, that waited with Ears prickt up to receive ’em, or walk’d uneaſily with a Fooliſh Impatience to and from the Door, or Window, as if their looking out ſo often wou’d fetch ’em the ſooner. Moſt Men in their News are like Beau’s in their Diet, the worſt is welcome while ’tis freſh and ſcarce, and the beſt is not worth a Farthing when it has been blown upon; and commonly they fare like Beau’s, are fond of it while ’tis young and inſipid, and neglect it when ’tis grown up to its full, and true reliſh. No ſooner is it rumour’d that a Breach is made in the Caſtle Wall, or the White Flag hung out, but a Council of War is call’d in every Coffee-houſe in Town; the French, and Dutch Prints, their Intelligencers are call’d for immediately, and examin’d, and not a Shot is mention’d but they ſtart as if the Ball whizz’d juſt then by their Ears. After this follows a ſerious debate about a general Aſſault, and whether they ſhall ſtorm immediately, or not; who ſhall begin the Attack; what Conditions ſhall be granted on Capitulation. The Caſtle of Namur thus taken, or Surrender’d, they proceed to take their Meaſures, and ſettle the next Campaign, and whatever harm we ſuffer by thoſe miſcheivous French in the Field, they are ſure to take ſufficient Revenge, and pay ’em off Swingingly in the Coffee-houſes: But as if this were not enough, Our greateſt Actions muſt be Buffoon’d in Show, as well as Talk. Shall Namur be taken and our Hero’s of the City not ſhow their Proweſs upon ſo great an Occaſion?
City Militia.
It muſt never be ſaid, that the Coffee-houſes dar’d more than Moor-Fields; No, for the honour of London, out comes the Foreman of the Shop very Formidable in Buff and Bandileers, and away he marches with Feather in Cap, to the general Rendezvous in the Artillery Ground. There theſe terrible Mimicks of Mars are to ſpend their Fury in Noiſe and Smoke, upon a Namur erected for that purpoſe on a Mole-hill, and by the help of Guns and Drums out-ſtink and out-rattle Smith-field in all its Bravery, and wou’d be too hard for the greateſt Man in all France, if they had him but amongſt ’em. Yet this is but Skirmiſhing, the hot Service is in another Place, when they engage the Capons and Quart Pots; never was Onſet more Vigorous, For they come to Handy-Blows immediately, and now is the real cutting and ſlaſhing, and Tilting without Quarter, Were the Towns in Flanders all wall’d with Beef, and the French as good meat as Capons, and dreſt the ſame way, the King need never beat his Drums for Soldiers; all theſe Gallant Fellows wou’d come in Voluntarily, the meaneſt of which wou’d be able to eat a Mareſchal, and whom nothing cou’d oppoſe in conjunction.
Nothing is more common, and familiar than this ſort of Impertinence; Moſt Men wou’d have little to do, did they buſie themſelves about nothing, but what they underſtood, or were concern’d in. A Monkey is not liker a Man in his Figure, than in his humour. How ready are all Mankind to cenſure without Authority, and to give advice unaskt, and without reaſon. They are very much miſtaken, that think this forwardneſs to thruſt themſelves into other’s affairs, ſprings from any Principle of Charity or Tenderneſs for ’em, or the leaſt Regard to the Welfare of their Neighbours.
Officious Impertinence.
’Tis only a Vain Conceit that they are wiſer, and more able to adviſe, which puts ’em upon engaging in things they have nothing to do with, and paſſing their Judgments Magiſterially on matters they have no Cognizance of, and generally little Information, or Skill in. They are deſirous the World ſhou’d have as great an Opinion of ’em as they have of themſelves, and therefore impertinently interpoſe their own Authority and Sense, tho’ never ſo little to the purpoſe, only to ſhew how well they cou’d manage, were it their Buſineſs; thus they adviſe without good intention, or kindneſs, and cenſure without deſign, or malice to the Perſons counſell’d, or reflected on, Theſe buzzing Inſects ſwarm as thick every where, and are as troubleſome as Muskettoes in the West-Indies. They are perpetually in a hurry of Buſineſs, yet are forc’d to rack their Inventions to employ their Leiſure. They are very buſie for every Body, and ſerve no Body. They are always in haſt, and think themſelves expected every where with Impatience, yet come ſooner alwayes than they are welcome. They will walk a Mile, and ſpend an hour to tell any one how urgent their Buſineſs is, and what haſt they are in to be gone. Their Expedition is their greateſt Loſs, For Time is the only thing that lies heavy upon their hands. They are walking Gazetts, that carry News from one Neighbour to another, and have their Stages about the Town as regular and certain, as a Penny Poſtman. Every Man is their acquaintance, but no Man their Friend. They drudge for every Body, and are paid by no no Body, and tho’ their Lives be worn out in endeavours to oblige all Mankind, when they die no one regrets their Loſs, or miſſes their Service.
Character of a Vertuoſo.
There are another ſort of Impertinents, who, as they mind not the Buſineſs of other Men where it concerns ’em not, neglect it likewiſe where it does; and amuſe themſelves continually with the Contemplation of thoſe things, which the reſt of the World ſlight as uſeleſs, and below their regard. Of theſe the moſt Egregious is the Virtuoſo, who is one that has ſold an Eſtate in Land to purchaſe one in Scallop, Conch, Muſcle, Cockle Shells, Periwinkles, Sea Shrubs, Weeds, Moſſes, Sponges, Coralls, Corallines, Sea Fans, Pebbles, Marchaſites and Flint ſtones; and has abandon’d the Acquaintance and Society of Men for that of Inſects, Worms, Grubbs, Maggots, Flies, Moths, Locuſts, Beetles, Spiders, Graſhoppers, Snails, Lizards and Tortoiſes. His ſtudy is like Noah’s Ark, the general Rendezvous of all Creatures in the Univerſe, and the greateſt part of his Moveables are the remainders of his Deluge. His Travels are not deſign’d as Viſits to the Inhabitants of any Place, but to the Pits, Shores and Hills; from whence he fetches not the Treaſure, but the Trumpery. He is raviſh’d at finding an uncommon ſhell, or an odd ſhap’d Stone, and is deſperately enamour’d at firſt ſight of an unuſual markt Butter-flie, which he will hunt a whole day to be Maſter of. He trafficks to all places, and has his Correſpondents in e’ry part of the World; yet his Merchandizers ſerve not to promote our Luxury, nor increaſe our Trade, and neither enrich the Nation, nor himſelf. A Box or two of Pebbles or Shells, and a dozen of Waſps, Spiders and Caterpillars are his Cargoe. He values a Camelion or Salamanders egg above all the Sugars and Spices of the Weſt and Eaſt-indies, and wou’d give more for the Shell of a Star-fish or Sea Urchin entire, than for a whole Dutch Herring Fleet. He viſites Mines, Colepits, and Quarries frequently, but not for that ſordid end that other Men uſually do, viz. gain; but for the ſake of the foſſile Shells and Teeth that are ſometimes found there. He is a ſmatterer at Botany, but for fear of being ſuſpected of any uſeful deſign by it, he employs his curioſity only about Moſſes, Graſſes, Brakes, Thiſtles, &c. that are not accus’d of any vertue in Medicine, which he diſtinguiſhes and divides very nicely. He preſerves carefully thoſe Creatures, which other Men induſtriouſly deſtroy, and cultivates ſedulouſly thoſe Plants, which others root up as Weeds. He is the Embalmer of deceas’d Vermin, and dreſſes his Mummyes with as much care, as the Ancient Egyptians did their Kings. His Caſh conſiſts much in old Coins, and he thinks the Face of Alexander in one of ’em worth more than all his Conqueſts. His Inventory is a liſt of the Inſects of all Countries, and the Shells and Pebbles of all Shores, which can no more be compleat without two or three of remarkable Signatures, than an Apothecaries Shop without a Tortoiſe and a Crocodile, or a Country Barber’s without a batter’d Cittern. A piece of Ore with a Shell in it is a greater Preſent than if it were fine Gold, and a ſtring of Wampompeag is receiv’d with more joy, than a Rope of Orient Pearl, or Diamonds wou’d be. His Collection of Garden Snails, Cockle Shells and Vermine compleated, (as he thinks) he ſets up for a Philoſopher, and nothing leſs than Univerſal Nature will ſerve for a Subject, of which he thinks he has an entire Hiſtory in his Lumber Office. Hence forward he ſtruts and ſwells, and deſpiſes all thoſe little inſignificant Fellows, that can make no better uſe of thoſe noble inconteſtable Evidences of the Univerſal Deluge, Scallop and Oyſter Shells, than to ſtew Oyſters, or melt Brimſtone for Matches. By this time he thinks it neceſſary to give the World an Eſſay of his Parts, that it may think as highly of ’em (if poſſible) as he does himſelf; and finding Moſes hard beſet of late, he reſolves to give him a lift, and defend his Flood, to which he is ſo much oblig’d for ſparing his darling Toys only. But as great Maſters uſe, he corrects him ſometimes for not ſpeaking to his Mind, and gives him the lie now and then in order to ſupport his Authority. He ſhakes the World to Atoms with eaſe, which melts before him as readily as if it were nothing but a Ball of Salt. He pumps even the Center, and drains it of imaginary ſtores by imaginary Loopholes, as if punching the Globe full of holes cou’d make his Hypotheſis hold Water. He is a Man of Expedition, and does that in a few days, which coſt Moſes ſome Months to compleat. He is a Paſſionate Admirer of his own Works without a Rival, and ſuperciliouſly contemns all Anſwers, yet the leaſt Objection throws him into the Vapours. He ſets up for a grand Philoſopher, and palms Hypotheſes upon the World, which future Ages may (if they pleaſe) expect to hear his Arguments for; at preſent he is in no humour to give ’em any other ſatisfaction than his own word, that he is infallible. Yet thoſe that have a Faith complacent enough to take a Gentleman’s word for his own great Abilities, may perhaps be admitted to a ſight of his grand Demonſtration, his Raree Show; the particulars of which he repeats to ’em in a whining Tone, e’ry whit as formal and merry, though not ſo Muſical, as the Fellows that uſed formerly to carry theirs at their Backs. His ordinary diſcourſe is of his Travels under Ground, in which he has gone farther (if he may be believ’d) than a whole Warren of Conies. Here he began his Collection of Furniture for his Philoſophical Toy Shop, which he will conclude with his Fortune, and then like all Fleſh revert to the place from whence he came, and be tranſlated only from one Shop to another.
This, Madam, is another ſort of Impertinence our Sex are not liable to; one wou’d think that none but Mad Men, or highly Hypochondriacal, cou’d employ themſelves at this rate. I appeal to you, or indeed to any Man of Senſe, whether acts like the wiſer Animal; the man that with great care, and pains diſtinguiſhes and divides the many Varieties of Graſs, and finds no other Fruit of his labour, than the charging of his Memory with abundance of ſuperfluous Names; or the Aſs that eats all promiſcuously, and without diſtinction, to ſatisfy his Appetite and ſupport Nature. To what purpoſe is it, that theſe Gentlemen ranſack all Parts both of Earth and Sea to procure theſe Triffles? It is only that they may give their Names to ſome yet unchriſten’d Shell or Inſect. I know that the deſire of knowledge, and the diſcovery of things yet unknown is the Pretence; But what Knowledge is it? What Diſcoveries do we owe to their Labours? It is only the Diſcovery of ſome few unheeded Varieties of Plants, Shells, or Inſects, unheeded only becauſe uſeleſs; and the Knowledge, they boaſt ſo much of, is no more than a Regiſter of their Names, and Marks of Diſtinction only. It is enough for them to know that a Silk Worm is a ſort of Caterpiller, that when it is come to maturity Weaves a Web, is metamorphos’d to a Moth-Flye, lays Eggs, and ſo Dies. They leave all further enquiry to the Unlearned and Mechanicks, whoſe buſineſs only they think it to proſecute matters of Gain and Profit. Let him contrive, if he can, to make this Silk ſerviceable to Mankind; their Speculations have another Scope, which is the founding ſome wild, uncertain, conjectural Hypotheſis, which may be true or falſe; yet Mankind neither Gainers nor Loſers either way a little in point of Wiſdom or Convenience. Theſe Men are juſt the reverſe of a Rattle Snake, and carry in their Heads, what he does in his Tail, and move Laughter rather than Regard. What improvements of Phyſick, or any uſeful Arts, what noble Remedies, what ſerviceable Inſtruments have theſe Muſhrome, and Cockle ſhell Hunters oblig’d the World with? For I am ready to recant if they can ſhew ſo good a Med’cine as Stew’d Prunes, or ſo neceſſary an Inſtrument as a Flye Flap of their own Invention and Diſcovery. Yet theſe are the Men of exalted Underſtandings, the Men of elevated Capacities, and ſublime Speculations, that Dignifie and Diſtinguiſh themſelves from the reſt of the World by Specious Names, and Pompous Titles, and continue notwithſtanding as very Reptiles in Senſe, as thoſe they converſe ſo much with.
I wou’d not have any Body miſtake me ſo far, as to think I wou’d in the leaſt reflect upon any ſincere, and intelligent Enquirer into Nature, of which I as heartily wiſh a better knowledge, as any Vertuoſo of ’em all. You can be my Witneſs, Madam, that I us’d to ſay, I thought Mr. Boyle more honourable for his learned Labours, than for his Noble Birth; and that the Royal Society, by their great and celebrated Performances, were an Illuſtrious Argument of the Wiſdom of the August Prince, their Founder of happy Memory; and that they highly merited the Eſteem, Reſpect and Honour paid ’em by the Lovers of Learning all Europe over. But tho’ I have a very great Veneration for the Society in general, I can’t but put a vaſt difference between the particular Members that compoſe it. Were Supererogation a Doctrine in Faſhion, ’tis probable ſome of ’em might borrow of their Fellows merit enough to juſtifie their Arrogance, but alas they are come an Age too late for that trick; They are fallen into a Faithleſs, Incredulous Generation of Men that will give credit no farther than the viſible Stock will extend: And tho’ a Vertuoſo ſhould ſwell a Title-Page even till it burſt with large Promiſes, and ſonorous Titles, the World is ſo ill natur’d as not to think a whit the better of a Book for it. ’Tis an ill time to trade with implicite Faith, when ſo many have ſo lately been broken by an overſtock of that Commodity; no ſooner now a days can a Man write, or ſteal an Hypotheſis, and promiſe a Demonſtration for it hereafter in this or the next World; but out comes ſome malicious Anſwer or other, with Reaſons in hand againſt it, overthrows the credit of it, and puts the poor Author into Fits. For though a great Philoſopher that has written a Book of three Shillings may reaſonably inſult, and deſpiſe a ſix penny Anſwer, yet the Indignity of ſo low pric’d a Refutation wou’d make a Stoick fret, and Frisk like a Cow with a Breeze in her Tail, or a Man bitten by a Tarantula. Men meaſure themſelves by their Vanity, and are greater or leſs in their own Opinions, according to the proportion they have of it; if they be well ſtock’d with it, it may be eaſie to confute, but impoſſible to convince ’em. He therefore that wou’d ſet up for a great Man, ought firſt to be plentifully provided of it, and then a Score of Cockle Shells, a dozen of Hodmandods, or any Triffle elſe is a ſufficient Foundation to build a Reputation upon. But if a Man ſhall abdicate his lawful Calling in pure affection to theſe things, and has for ſome years ſpent all the Time and Money he was Maſter of in proſecution of this Paſſion, and ſhall after all hear his Caterpillars affronted, and his Butter-flies irreverently ſpoken of, it muſt be more provoking to him, than ’tis to a Lion to be pull’d by the Beard. And if, when to crown all his Labours, he has diſcover’d a Water ſo near a kin to the famous one, that cou’d be kept in nothing but the hoof of an Aſs, that it was never found but in the Scull of the ſame Animal; a Water that makes no more of melting a World, than a Dutchman does of a Ferkin of Butter; and when he has written a Book of Diſcoveries, and Wonders thereupon, if (I ſay) the Impertinent Scriblers of the Age, will ſtill be demanding Proofs and writing Anſwers, he has reaſon to throw down his Pen in a rage, and pronounce the world, that cou’d give him ſuch an interruption, unworthy to be bleſt with his future labours, and breath eternal Defiance to it, as irreconcilable, as the quarrel of the Sons of Oedipus. To which prudent Reſolution, let us leave him till he can recover his Temper.
Theſe Inſtances, Madam, will (I hope) ſuffice to ſhew that Men are themſelves altogether as impertinent, as they maliciouſly miſrepreſent us. It is not for want of plenty of others that I content my ſelf with theſe; but I am not willing to trouble you with any of an inferiour Character. Theſe are all impertinents of Mark and Note, and have ſeverally the good fortune to find crowds of Fools of their own Sex to applaud and admire them. Impertinence is a failing, that has its Root in Nature; but it is not worth Laughing at, till it has receiv’d the finiſhing ſtrokes of Art. A Man through natural defects may do abundance of incoherent, fooliſh Actions, yet deſerve Compaſſion and Advice rather than Deriſion. But to ſee Men ſpending their Fortunes, as well as Lives, in a courſe of Regular Folly, and with an induſtrious, as well as expenſive Idleneſs running through tedious Syſtems of impertinence, wou’d have ſplit the ſides of Heraclitus, had it been his fortune to have been a Spectator. ’Tis very eaſie to decide which of theſe Impertinents is the moſt ſignal; the Vertuoſo is manifeſtly without a Competitour. For our Follies are not to be meaſur’d by the degree of Ignorance, that appears in ’em, but by the Study, Labour and Expence they coſt us to finiſh and compleat ’em. So that the more Regularity and Artifice there appears in any of our Extravagancies, the greater is the folly of ’em. Upon this Score it is, that the laſt mention’d deſervedly claim the preference to all others; they have improv’d ſo well their Amuſements into an Art, that the Credulous and Ignorant are induc’d to believe there is ſome ſecret Vertue, ſome hidden Myſtery in thoſe darling toys of theirs; when all their Buſtling amounts to no more than a learned Impertinence, (for ſo they abuſe the Term) and all they teach Men is, but a ſpecious expenſive method of throwing away both Time and Money.