ESSAYS FOR YOUNG LADIES.
ESSAYS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS, Principally designed for YOUNG LADIES.
AS for you, I shall advise you in a few words: aspire only to those virtues that are PECULIAR TO YOUR SEX; follow your natural modesty, and think it your greatest commendation not to be talked of one way or the other.
Oration of Pericles to the Athenian Women.
LONDON: Printed for J. WILKIE, in St. Paul's Church-Yard; and T. CADELL, in the Strand. MDCCLXXVII.
TO MRS. MONTAGU.
IF you were only one of the finest writers of your time, you would probably have escaped the trouble of this address, which is drawn on you, less by the lustre of your understanding, than by the amiable qualities of your heart.
AS the following pages are written with an humble but earnest wish, to promote the interests of virtue, as far as the very limited abilities of the author allow; there is, I flatter myself, a peculiar propriety in inscribing them to you, Madam, who, while your works convey instruction and delight to the best-informed of the other sex, furnish, by your conduct, an admirable pattern of life and manners to your own. And I can with truth remark, that those graces of conversation, which would be the first praise of almost any other character, constitute but an inferior part of yours.
I am, MADAM, With the highest esteem, Your most obedient Humble Servant,
Bristol, HANNAH MORE. May 20, 1777.
INTRODUCTION Page 1 ON DISSIPATION 15 ON CONVERSATION 37 ON ENVY 63 ON SENTIMENTAL CONNEXIONS 77 ON TRUE AND FALSE MEEKNESS 107 ON EDUCATION 123 ON RELIGION 158 MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS ON WIT 178
IT is with the utmost diffidence that the following pages are submitted to the inspection of the Public: yet, however the limited abilities of the author may have prevented her from succeeding to her wish in the execution of her present attempt, she humbly trusts that the uprightness of her intention will procure it a candid and favourable reception. The following little Essays are chiefly calculated for the younger part of her own sex, who, she flatters herself, will not esteem them the less, because they were written immediately for their service. She by no means pretends to have composed a regular system of morals, or a finished plan of conduct: she has only endeavoured to make a few remarks on such circumstances as seemed to her susceptible of some improvement, and on such subjects as she imagined were particularly interesting to young ladies, on their first introduction into the world. She hopes they will not be offended if she has occasionally pointed out certain qualities, and suggested certain tempers, and dispositions, as peculiarly feminine, and hazarded some observations which naturally arose from the subject, on the different characters which mark the sexes. And here again she takes the liberty to repeat that these distinctions cannot be too nicely maintained; for besides those important qualities common to both, each sex has its respective, appropriated qualifications, which would cease to be meritorious, the instant they ceased to be appropriated. Nature, propriety, and custom have prescribed certain bounds to each; bounds which the prudent and the candid will never attempt to break down; and indeed it would be highly impolitic to annihilate distinctions from which each acquires excellence, and to attempt innovations, by which both would be losers.
WOMEN therefore never understand their own interests so little, as when they affect those qualities and accomplishments, from the want of which they derive their highest merit. "The porcelain clay of human kind," says an admired writer, speaking of the sex. Greater delicacy evidently implies greater fragility; and this weakness, natural and moral, clearly points out the necessity of a superior degree of caution, retirement, and reserve.
IF the author may be allowed to keep up the allusion of the poet, just quoted, she would ask if we do not put the finest vases, and the costliest images in places of the greatest security, and most remote from any probability of accident, or destruction? By being so situated, they find their protection in their weakness, and their safety in their delicacy. This metaphor is far from being used with a design of placing young ladies in a trivial, unimportant light; it is only introduced to insinuate, that where there is more beauty, and more weakness, there should be greater circumspection, and superior prudence.
MEN, on the contrary, are formed for the more public exhibitions on the great theatre of human life. Like the stronger and more substantial wares, they derive no injury, and lose no polish by being always exposed, and engaged in the constant commerce of the world. It is their proper element, where they respire their natural air, and exert their noblest powers, in situations which call them into action. They were intended by Providence for the bustling scenes of life; to appear terrible in arms, useful in commerce, shining in counsels.
THE Author fears it will be hazarding a very bold remark, in the opinion of many ladies, when she adds, that the female mind, in general, does not appear capable of attaining so high a degree of perfection in science as the male. Yet she hopes to be forgiven when she observes also, that as it does not seem to derive the chief portion of its excellence from extraordinary abilities of this kind, it is not at all lessened by the imputation of not possessing them. It is readily allowed, that the sex have lively imaginations, and those exquisite perceptions of the beautiful and defective, which come under the denomination of Taste. But pretensions to that strength of intellect, which is requisite to penetrate into the abstruser walks of literature, it is presumed they will readily relinquish. There are green pastures, and pleasant vallies, where they may wander with safety to themselves, and delight to others. They may cultivate the roses of imagination, and the valuable fruits of morals and criticism; but the steeps of Parnassus few, comparatively, have attempted to scale with success. And when it is considered, that many languages, and many sciences, must contribute to the perfection of poetical composition, it will appear less strange. The lofty Epic, the pointed Satire, and the more daring and successful flights of the Tragic Muse, seem reserved for the bold adventurers of the other sex.
NOR does this assertion, it is apprehended, at all injure the interests of the women; they have other pretensions, on which to value themselves, and other qualities much better calculated to answer their particular purposes. We are enamoured of the soft strains of the Sicilian and the Mantuan Muse, while, to the sweet notes of the pastoral reed, they sing the Contentions of the Shepherds, the Blessings of Love, or the innocent Delights of rural Life. Has it ever been ascribed to them as a defect, that their Eclogues do not treat of active scenes, of busy cities, and of wasting war? No: their simplicity is their perfection, and they are only blamed when they have too little of it.
ON the other hand, the lofty bards who strung their bolder harps to higher measures, and sung the Wrath of Peleus' Son, and Man's first Disobedience, have never been censured for want of sweetness and refinement. The sublime, the nervous, and the masculine, characterise their compositions; as the beautiful, the soft, and the delicate, mark those of the others. Grandeur, dignity, and force, distinguish the one species; ease, simplicity, and purity, the other. Both shine from their native, distinct, unborrowed merits, not from those which are foreign, adventitious, and unnatural. Yet those excellencies, which make up the essential and constituent parts of poetry, they have in common.
WOMEN have generally quicker perceptions; men have juster sentiments.—Women consider how things may be prettily said; men how they may be properly said.—In women, (young ones at least) speaking accompanies, and sometimes precedes reflection; in men, reflection is the antecedent.—Women speak to shine or to please; men, to convince or confute.—Women admire what is brilliant; men what is solid.—Women prefer an extemporaneous sally of wit, or a sparkling effusion of fancy, before the most accurate reasoning, or the most laborious investigation of facts. In literary composition, women are pleased with point, turn, and antithesis; men with observation, and a just deduction of effects from their causes.—Women are fond of incident, men of argument.—Women admire passionately, men approve cautiously.—One sex will think it betrays a want of feeling to be moderate in their applause, the other will be afraid of exposing a want of judgment by being in raptures with any thing.—Men refuse to give way to the emotions they actually feel, while women sometimes affect to be transported beyond what the occasion will justify.
AS a farther confirmation of what has been advanced on the different bent of the understanding in the sexes, it may be observed, that we have heard of many female wits, but never of one female logician—of many admirable writers of memoirs, but never of one chronologer.—In the boundless and aerial regions of romance, and in that fashionable species of composition which succeeded it, and which carries a nearer approximation to the manners of the world, the women cannot be excelled: this imaginary soil they have a peculiar talent for cultivating, because here,
Invention labours more, and judgment less.
THE merit of this kind of writing consists in the vraisemblance to real life as to the events themselves, with a certain elevation in the narrative, which places them, if not above what is natural, yet above what is common. It farther consists in the art of interesting the tender feelings by a pathetic representation of those minute, endearing, domestic circumstances, which take captive the soul before it has time to shield itself with the armour of reflection. To amuse, rather than to instruct, or to instruct indirectly by short inferences, drawn from a long concatenation of circumstances, is at once the business of this sort of composition, and one of the characteristics of female genius.
IN short, it appears that the mind in each sex has some natural kind of bias, which constitutes a distinction of character, and that the happiness of both depends, in a great measure, on the preservation and observance of this distinction. For where would be the superior pleasure and satisfaction resulting from mixed conversation, if this difference were abolished? If the qualities of both were invariably and exactly the same, no benefit or entertainment would arise from the tedious and insipid uniformity of such an intercourse; whereas considerable advantages are reaped from a select society of both sexes. The rough angles and asperities of male manners are imperceptibly filed, and gradually worn smooth, by the polishing of female conversation, and the refining of female taste; while the ideas of women acquire strength and solidity, by their associating with sensible, intelligent, and judicious men.
ON the whole, (even if fame be the object of pursuit) is it not better to succeed as women, than to fail as men? To shine, by walking honourably in the road which nature, custom, and education seem to have marked out, rather than to counteract them all, by moving awkwardly in a path diametrically opposite? To be good originals, rather than bad imitators? In a word, to be excellent women, rather than indifferent men?
 THE author does not apprehend it makes against her GENERAL position, that this nation can boast a female critic, poet, historian, linguist, philosopher, and moralist, equal to most of the other sex. To these particular instances others might be adduced; but it is presumed, that they only stand as exceptions against the rule, without tending to invalidate the rule itself.
DOGLIE CERTE, ALLEGREZZE INCERTE! PETRARCA.
AS an argument in favour of modern manners, it has been pleaded, that the softer vices of Luxury and Dissipation, belong rather to gentle and yielding tempers, than to such as are rugged and ferocious: that they are vices which increase civilization, and tend to promote refinement, and the cultivation of humanity.
BUT this is an assertion, the truth of which the experience of all ages contradicts. Nero was not less a tyrant for being a fiddler: He who wished the whole Roman people had but one neck, that he might dispatch them at a blow, was himself the most debauched man in Rome; and Sydney and Russel were condemned to bleed under the most barbarous, though most dissipated and voluptuous, reign that ever disgraced the annals of Britain.
THE love of dissipation is, I believe, allowed to be the reigning evil of the present day. It is an evil which many content themselves with regretting, without seeking to redress. A dissipated life is censured in the very act of dissipation, and prodigality of time is as gravely declaimed against at the card table, as in the pulpit.
THE lover of dancing censures the amusements of the theatre for their dulness, and the gamester blames them both for their levity. She, whose whole soul is swallowed up in "opera extacies" is astonished, that her acquaintance can spend whole nights in preying, like harpies, on the fortunes of their fellow-creatures; while the grave sober sinner, who passes her pale and anxious vigils, in this fashionable sort of pillaging, is no less surprised how the other can waste her precious time in hearing sounds for which she has no taste, in a language she does not understand.
IN short, every one seems convinced, that the evil so much complained of does really exist somewhere, though all are inwardly persuaded that it is not with themselves. All desire a general reformation, but few will listen to proposals of particular amendment; the body must be restored, but each limb begs to remain as it is; and accusations which concern all, will be likely to affect none. They think that sin, like matter, is divisible, and that what is scattered among so many, cannot materially affect any one; and thus individuals contribute separately to that evil which they in general lament.
THE prevailing manners of an age depend more than we are aware, or are willing to allow, on the conduct of the women; this is one of the principal hinges on which the great machine of human society turns. Those who allow the influence which female graces have, in contributing to polish the manners of men, would do well to reflect how great an influence female morals must also have on their conduct. How much then is it to be regretted, that the British ladies should ever sit down contented to polish, when they are able to reform, to entertain, when they might instruct, and to dazzle for an hour, when they are candidates for eternity!
UNDER the dispensation of Mahomet's law, indeed, these mental excellencies cannot be expected, because the women are shut out from all opportunities of instruction, and excluded from the endearing pleasures of a delightful and equal society; and, as a charming poet sings, are taught to believe, that
For their inferior natures Form'd to delight, and happy by delighting, Heav'n has reserv'd no future paradise, But bids them rove the paths of bliss, secure Of total death, and careless of hereafter.
THESE act consistently in studying none but exterior graces, in cultivating only personal attractions, and in trying to lighten the intolerable burden of time, by the most frivolous and vain amusements. They act in consequence of their own blind belief, and the tyranny of their despotic masters; for they have neither the freedom of a present choice, nor the prospect of a future being.
BUT in this land of civil and religious liberty, where there is as little despotism exercised over the minds, as over the persons of women, they have every liberty of choice, and every opportunity of improvement; and how greatly does this increase their obligation to be exemplary in their general conduct, attentive to the government of their families, and instrumental to the good order of society!
SHE who is at a loss to find amusements at home, can no longer apologize for her dissipation abroad, by saying she is deprived of the benefit and the pleasure of books; and she who regrets being doomed to a state of dark and gloomy ignorance, by the injustice, or tyranny of the men, complains of an evil which does not exist.
IT is a question frequently in the mouths of illiterate and dissipated females—"What good is there in reading? To what end does it conduce?" It is, however, too obvious to need insisting on, that unless perverted, as the best things may be, reading answers many excellent purposes beside the great leading one, and is perhaps the safest remedy for dissipation. She who dedicates a portion of her leisure to useful reading, feels her mind in a constant progressive state of improvement, whilst the mind of a dissipated woman is continually losing ground. An active spirit rejoiceth, like the sun, to run his daily course, while indolence, like the dial of Ahaz, goes backwards. The advantages which the understanding receives from polite literature, it is not here necessary to enumerate; its effects on the moral temper is the present object of consideration. The remark may perhaps be thought too strong, but I believe it is true, that next to religious influences, an habit of study is the most probable preservative of the virtue of young persons. Those who cultivate letters have rarely a strong passion for promiscuous visiting, or dissipated society; study therefore induces a relish for domestic life, the most desirable temper in the world for women. Study, as it rescues the mind from an inordinate fondness for gaming, dress, and public amusements, is an oeconomical propensity; for a lady may read at much less expence than she can play at cards; as it requires some application, it gives the mind an habit of industry; as it is a relief against that mental disease, which the French emphatically call ennui, it cannot fail of being beneficial to the temper and spirits, I mean in the moderate degree in which ladies are supposed to use it; as an enemy to indolence, it becomes a social virtue; as it demands the full exertion of our talents, it grows a rational duty; and when directed to the knowledge of the Supreme Being, and his laws, it rises into an act of religion.
THE rage for reformation commonly shews itself in a violent zeal for suppressing what is wrong, rather than in a prudent attention to establish what is right; but we shall never obtain a fair garden merely by rooting up weeds, we must also plant flowers; for the natural richness of the soil we have been clearing will not suffer it to lie barren, but whether it shall be vainly or beneficially prolific, depends on the culture. What the present age has gained on one side, by a more enlarged and liberal way of thinking, seems to be lost on the other, by excessive freedom and unbounded indulgence. Knowledge is not, as heretofore, confined to the dull cloyster, or the gloomy college, but disseminated, to a certain degree, among both sexes and almost all ranks. The only misfortune is, that these opportunities do not seem to be so wisely improved, or turned to so good an account as might be wished. Books of a pernicious, idle, and frivolous sort, are too much multiplied, and it is from the very redundancy of them that true knowledge is so scarce, and the habit of dissipation so much increased.
IT has been remarked, that the prevailing character of the present age is not that of gross immorality: but if this is meant of those in the higher walks of life, it is easy to discern, that there can be but little merit in abstaining from crimes which there is but little temptation to commit. It is however to be feared, that a gradual defection from piety, will in time draw after it all the bad consequences of more active vice; for whether mounds and fences are suddenly destroyed by a sweeping torrent, or worn away through gradual neglect, the effect is equally destructive. As a rapid fever and a consuming hectic are alike fatal to our natural health, so are flagrant immorality and torpid indolence to our moral well-being.
THE philosophical doctrine of the slow recession of bodies from the sun, is a lively image of the reluctance with which we first abandon the light of virtue. The beginning of folly, and the first entrance on a dissipated life cost some pangs to a well-disposed heart; but it is surprising to see how soon the progress ceases to be impeded by reflection, or slackened by remorse. For it is in moral as in natural things, the motion in minds as well as bodies is accelerated by a nearer approach to the centre to which they are tending. If we recede slowly at first setting out, we advance rapidly in our future course; and to have begun to be wrong, is already to have made a great progress.
A CONSTANT habit of amusement relaxes the tone of the mind, and renders it totally incapable of application, study, or virtue. Dissipation not only indisposes its votaries to every thing useful and excellent, but disqualifies them for the enjoyment of pleasure itself. It softens the soul so much, that the most superficial employment becomes a labour, and the slightest inconvenience an agony. The luxurious Sybarite must have lost all sense of real enjoyment, and all relish for true gratification, before he complained that he could not sleep, because the rose leaves lay double under him.
LUXURY and dissipation, soft and gentle as their approaches are, and silently as they throw their silken chains about the heart, enslave it more than the most active and turbulent vices. The mightiest conquerors have been conquered by these unarmed foes: the flowery setters are fastened, before they are felt. The blandishments of Circe were more fatal to the mariners of Ulysses, than the strength of Polypheme, or the brutality of the Laestrigons. Hercules, after he had cleansed the Augean stable, and performed all the other labours enjoined him by Euristheus, found himself a slave to the softnesses of the heart; and he, who wore a club and a lion's skin in the cause of virtue, condescended to the most effeminate employments to gratify a criminal weakness. Hannibal, who vanquished mighty nations, was himself overcome by the love of pleasure; and he who despised cold, and want, and danger, and death on the Alps, was conquered and undone by the dissolute indulgences of Capua.
BEFORE the hero of the most beautiful and virtuous romance that ever was written, I mean Telemachus, landed on the island of Cyprus, he unfortunately lost his prudent companion, Mentor, in whom wisdom is so finely personified. At first he beheld with horror the wanton and dissolute manners of the voluptuous inhabitants; the ill effects of their example were not immediate: he did not fall into the commission of glaring enormities; but his virtue was secretly and imperceptibly undermined, his heart was softened by their pernicious society; and the nerve of resolution was slackened: he every day beheld with diminished indignation the worship which was offered to Venus; the disorders of luxury and prophaneness became less and less terrible, and the infectious air of the country enfeebled his courage, and relaxed his principles. In short, he had ceased to love virtue long before he thought of committing actual vice; and the duties of a manly piety were burdensome to him, before he was so debased as to offer perfumes, and burn incense on the altar of the licentious goddess.
"LET us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered," said Solomon's libertine. Alas! he did not reflect that they withered in the very gathering. The roses of pleasure seldom last long enough to adorn the brow of him who plucks them; for they are the only roses which do not retain their sweetness after they have lost their beauty.
THE heathen poets often pressed on their readers the necessity of considering the shortness of life, as an incentive to pleasure and voluptuousness; lest the season for indulging in them should pass unimproved. The dark and uncertain notions, not to say the absolute disbelief, which they entertained of a future state, is the only apology that can be offered for this reasoning. But while we censure their tenets, let us not adopt their errors; errors which would be infinitely more inexcusable in us, who, from the clearer views which revelation has given us, shall not have their ignorance or their doubts to plead. It were well if we availed ourselves of that portion of their precept, which inculcates the improvement of every moment of our time, but not like them to dedicate the moments so redeemed to the pursuit of sensual and perishable pleasures, but to the securing of those which are spiritual in their nature, and eternal in their duration.
IF, indeed, like the miserable beings imagined by Swift, with a view to cure us of the irrational desire after immoderate length of days, we were condemned to a wretched earthly immortality, we should have an excuse for spending some portion of our time in dissipation, as we might then pretend, with some colour of reason, that we proposed, at a distant period, to enter on a better course of action. Or if we never formed any such resolution, it would make no material difference to beings, whose state was already unalterably fixed. But of the scanty portion of days assigned to our lot, not one should be lost in weak and irresolute procrastination.
THOSE who have not yet determined on the side of vanity, who, like Hercules, (before he knew the queen of Lydia, and had learnt to spin) have not resolved on their choice between VIRTUE and PLEASURE, may reflect, that it is still in their power to imitate that hero in his noble choice, and in his virtuous rejection. They may also reflect with grateful triumph, that Christianity furnishes them with a better guide than the tutor of Alcides, and with a surer light than the doctrines of pagan philosophy.
IT is far from my design severely to condemn the innocent pleasures of life: I would only beg leave to observe, that those which are criminal should never be allowed; and that even the most innocent will, by immoderate use, soon cease to be so.
THE women of this country were not sent into the world to shun society, but to embellish it; they were not designed for wilds and solitudes, but for the amiable and endearing offices of social life. They have useful stations to fill, and important characters to sustain. They are of a religion which does not impose penances, but enjoins duties; a religion of perfect purity, but of perfect benevolence also. A religion which does not condemn its followers to indolent seclusion from the world, but assigns them the more dangerous, though more honourable province, of living uncorrupted in it. In fine, a religion, which does not direct them to fly from the multitude, that they may do nothing, but which positively forbids them to follow a multitude to do evil.
 The Emperor Caligula.
 NOTHING can be more admirable than the manner in which this allegory is conducted; and the whole work, not to mention its images, machinery, and other poetical beauties, is written in the very finest strain of morality. In this latter respect it is evidently superior to the works of the ancients, the moral of which is frequently tainted by the grossness of their mythology. Something of the purity of the Christian religion may be discovered even in Fenelon's heathens, and they catch a tincture of piety in passing through the hands of that amiable prelate.
 The Struldbrugs. See Voyage to Laputa.
THOUGHTS ON CONVERSATION.
IT has been advised, and by very respectable authorities too, that in conversation women should carefully conceal any knowledge or learning they may happen to possess. I own, with submission, that I do not see either the necessity or propriety of this advice. For if a young lady has that discretion and modesty, without which all knowledge is little worth, she will never make an ostentatious parade of it, because she will rather be intent on acquiring more, than on displaying what she has.
I AM at a loss to know why a young female is instructed to exhibit, in the most advantageous point of view, her skill in music, her singing, dancing, taste in dress, and her acquaintance with the most fashionable games and amusements, while her piety is to be anxiously concealed, and her knowledge affectedly disavowed, lest the former should draw on her the appellation of an enthusiast, or the latter that of a pedant.
IN regard to knowledge, why should she for ever affect to be on her guard, lest she should be found guilty of a small portion of it? She need be the less solicitous about it, as it seldom proves to be so very considerable as to excite astonishment or admiration: for, after all the acquisitions which her talents and her studies have enabled her to make, she will, generally speaking, be found to have less of what is called learning, than a common school-boy.
IT would be to the last degree presumptuous and absurd, for a young woman to pretend to give the ton to the company; to interrupt the pleasure of others, and her own opportunity of improvement, by talking when she ought to listen; or to introduce subjects out of the common road, in order to shew her own wit, or expose the want of it in others: but were the sex to be totally silent when any topic of literature happens to be discussed in their presence, conversation would lose much of its vivacity, and society would be robbed of one of its most interesting charms.
HOW easily and effectually may a well-bred woman promote the most useful and elegant conversation, almost without speaking a word! for the modes of speech are scarcely more variable than the modes of silence. The silence of listless ignorance, and the silence of sparkling intelligence, are perhaps as separately marked, and as distinctly expressed, as the same feelings could have been by the most unequivocal language. A woman, in a company where she has the least influence, may promote any subject by a profound and invariable attention, which shews that she is pleased with it, and by an illuminated countenance, which proves she understands it. This obliging attention is the most flattering encouragement in the world to men of sense and letters, to continue any topic of instruction or entertainment they happen to be engaged in: it owed its introduction perhaps to accident, the best introduction in the world for a subject of ingenuity, which, though it could not have been formally proposed without pedantry, may be continued with ease and good humour; but which will be frequently and effectually stopped by the listlessness, inattention, or whispering of silly girls, whose weariness betrays their ignorance, and whose impatience exposes their ill-breeding. A polite man, however deeply interested in the subject on which he is conversing, catches at the slightest hint to have done: a look is a sufficient intimation, and if a pretty simpleton, who sits near him, seems distraite, he puts an end to his remarks, to the great regret of the reasonable part of the company, who perhaps might have gained more improvement by the continuance of such a conversation, than a week's reading would have yielded them; for it is such company as this, that give an edge to each other's wit, "as iron sharpeneth iron."
THAT silence is one of the great arts of conversation is allowed by Cicero himself, who says, there is not only an art but even an eloquence in it. And this opinion is confirmed by a great modern, in the following little anecdote from one of the ancients.
WHEN many Grecian philosophers had a solemn meeting before the ambassador of a foreign prince, each endeavoured to shew his parts by the brilliancy of his conversation, that the ambassador might have something to relate of the Grecian wisdom. One of them, offended, no doubt, at the loquacity of his companions, observed a profound silence; when the ambassador, turning to him, asked, "But what have you to say, that I may report it?" He made this laconic, but very pointed reply: "Tell your king, that you have found one among the Greeks who knew how to be silent."
THERE is a quality infinitely more intoxicating to the female mind than knowledge—this is Wit, the most captivating, but the most dreaded of all talents: the most dangerous to those who have it, and the most feared by those who have it not. Though it is against all the rules, yet I cannot find in my heart to abuse this charming quality. He who is grown rich without it, in safe and sober dulness, shuns it as a disease, and looks upon poverty as its invariable concomitant. The moralist declaims against it as the source of irregularity, and the frugal citizen dreads it more than bankruptcy itself, for he considers it as the parent of extravagance and beggary. The Cynic will ask of what use it is? Of very little perhaps: no more is a flower garden, and yet it is allowed as an object of innocent amusement and delightful recreation. A woman, who possesses this quality, has received a most dangerous present, perhaps not less so than beauty itself: especially if it be not sheathed in a temper peculiarly inoffensive, chastised by a most correct judgment, and restrained by more prudence than falls to the common lot.
THIS talent is more likely to make a woman vain than knowledge; for as Wit is the immediate property of its possessor, and learning is only an acquaintance with the knowledge of other people, there is much more danger, that we should be vain of what is our own, than of what we borrow.
BUT Wit, like learning, is not near so common a thing as is imagined. Let not therefore a young lady be alarmed at the acuteness of her own wit, any more than at the abundance of her own knowledge. The great danger is, lest she should mistake pertness, flippancy, or imprudence, for this brilliant quality, or imagine she is witty, only because she is indiscreet. This is very frequently the case, and this makes the name of wit so cheap, while its real existence is so rare.
LEST the flattery of her acquaintance, or an over-weening opinion of her own qualifications, should lead some vain and petulant girl into a false notion that she has a great deal of wit, when she has only a redundancy of animal spirits, she may not find it useless to attend to the definition of this quality, by one who had as large a portion of it, as most individuals could ever boast:
'Tis not a tale, 'tis not a jest, Admir'd with laughter at a feast, Nor florid talk, which can that title gain, The proofs of wit for ever must remain. Neither can that have any place, At which a virgin hides her face; Such dross the fire must purge away; 'tis just, The author blush there, where the reader must.
BUT those who actually possess this rare talent, cannot be too abstinent in the use of it. It often makes admirers, but it never makes friends; I mean, where it is the predominant feature; and the unprotected and defenceless state of womanhood calls for friendship more than for admiration. She who does not desire friends has a sordid and insensible soul; but she who is ambitious of making every man her admirer, has an invincible vanity and a cold heart.
BUT to dwell only on the side of policy, a prudent woman, who has established the reputation of some genius will sufficiently maintain it, without keeping her faculties always on the stretch to say good things. Nay, if reputation alone be her object, she will gain a more solid one by her forbearance, as the wiser part of her acquaintance will ascribe it to the right motive, which is, not that she has less wit, but that she has more judgment.
THE fatal fondness for indulging a spirit of ridicule, and the injurious and irreparable consequences which sometimes attend the too prompt reply, can never be too seriously or too severely condemned. Not to offend, is the first step towards pleasing. To give pain is as much an offence against humanity, as against good breeding; and surely it is as well to abstain from an action because it is sinful, as because it is impolite. In company, young ladies would do well before they speak, to reflect, if what they are going to say may not distress some worthy person present, by wounding them in their persons, families, connexions, or religious opinions. If they find it will touch them in either of these, I should advise them to suspect, that what they were going to say is not so very good a thing as they at first imagined. Nay, if even it was one of those bright ideas, which Venus has imbued with a fifth part of her nectar, so much greater will be their merit in suppressing it, if there was a probability it might offend. Indeed, if they have the temper and prudence to make such a previous reflection, they will be more richly rewarded by their own inward triumph, at having suppressed a lively but severe remark, than they could have been with the dissembled applauses of the whole company, who, with that complaisant deceit, which good breeding too much authorises, affect openly to admire what they secretly resolve never to forgive.
I HAVE always been delighted with the story of the little girl's eloquence, in one of the Children's Tales, who received from a friendly fairy the gift, that at every word she uttered, pinks, roses, diamonds, and pearls, should drop from her mouth. The hidden moral appears to be this, that it was the sweetness of her temper which produced this pretty fanciful effect: for when her malicious sister desired the same gift from the good-natured tiny Intelligence, the venom of her own heart converted it into poisonous and loathsome reptiles.
A MAN of sense and breeding will sometimes join in the laugh, which has been raised at his expence by an ill-natured repartee; but if it was very cutting, and one of those shocking sort of truths, which as they can scarcely be pardoned even in private, ought never to be uttered in public, he does not laugh because he is pleased, but because he wishes to conceal how much he is hurt. As the sarcasm was uttered by a lady, so far from seeming to resent it, he will be the first to commend it; but notwithstanding that, he will remember it as a trait of malice, when the whole company shall have forgotten it as a stroke of wit. Women are so far from being privileged by their sex to say unhandsome or cruel things, that it is this very circumstance which renders them more intolerable. When the arrow is lodged in the heart, it is no relief to him who is wounded to reflect, that the hand which shot it was a fair one.
MANY women, when they have a favourite point to gain, or an earnest wish to bring any one over to their opinion, often use a very disingenuous method: they will state a case ambiguously, and then avail themselves of it, in whatever manner shall best answer their purpose; leaving your mind in a state of indecision as to their real meaning, while they triumph in the perplexity they have given you by the unfair conclusions they draw, from premises equivocally stated. They will also frequently argue from exceptions instead of rules, and are astonished when you are not willing to be contented with a prejudice, instead of a reason.
IN a sensible company of both sexes, where women are not restrained by any other reserve than what their natural modesty imposes; and where the intimacy of all parties authorises the utmost freedom of communication; should any one inquire what were the general sentiments on some particular subject, it will, I believe, commonly happen, that the ladies, whose imaginations have kept pace with the narration, have anticipated its end, and are ready to deliver their sentiments on it as soon as it is finished. While some of the male hearers, whose minds were busied in settling the propriety, comparing the circumstances, and examining the consistencies of what was said, are obliged to pause and discriminate, before they think of answering. Nothing is so embarrassing as a variety of matter, and the conversation of women is often more perspicuous, because it is less laboured.
A MAN of deep reflection, if he does not keep up an intimate commerce with the world, will be sometimes so entangled in the intricacies of intense thought, that he will have the appearance of a confused and perplexed expression; while a sprightly woman will extricate herself with that lively and "rash dexterity," which will almost always please, though it is very far from being always right. It is easier to confound than to convince an opponent; the former may be effected by a turn that has more happiness than truth in it. Many an excellent reasoner, well skilled in the theory of the schools, has felt himself discomfited by a reply, which, though as wide of the mark, and as foreign to the question as can be conceived, has disconcerted him more than the most startling proposition, or the most accurate chain of reasoning could have done; and he has borne the laugh of his fair antagonist, as well as of the whole company, though he could not but feel, that his own argument was attended with the fullest demonstration: so true is it, that it is not always necessary to be right, in order to be applauded.
BUT let not a young lady's vanity be too much elated with this false applause, which is given, not to her merit, but to her sex: she has not perhaps gained a victory, though she may be allowed a triumph; and it should humble her to reflect, that the tribute is paid, not to her strength but her weakness. It is worth while to discriminate between that applause, which is given from the complaisance of others, and that which is paid to our own merit.
WHERE great sprightliness is the natural bent of the temper, girls should endeavour to habituate themselves to a custom of observing, thinking, and reasoning. I do not mean, that they should devote themselves to abstruse speculation, or the study of logic; but she who is accustomed to give a due arrangement to her thoughts, to reason justly and pertinently on common affairs, and judiciously to deduce effects from their causes, will be a better logician than some of those who claim the name, because they have studied the art: this is being "learned without the rules;" the best definition, perhaps, of that sort of literature which is properest for the sex. That species of knowledge, which appears to be the result of reflection rather than of science, sits peculiarly well on women. It is not uncommon to find a lady, who, though she does not know a rule of Syntax, scarcely ever violates one; and who constructs every sentence she utters, with more propriety than many a learned dunce, who has every rule of Aristotle by heart, and who can lace his own thread-bare discourse with the golden shreds of Cicero and Virgil.
IT has been objected, and I fear with some reason, that female conversation is too frequently tinctured with a censorious spirit, and that ladies are seldom apt to discover much tenderness for the errors of a fallen sister.
If it be so, it is a grievous fault.
NO arguments can justify, no pleas can extenuate it. To insult over the miseries of an unhappy creature is inhuman, not to compassionate them is unchristian. The worthy part of the sex always express themselves humanely on the failings of others, in proportion to their own undeviating goodness.
AND here I cannot help remarking, that young women do not always carefully distinguish between running into the error of detraction, and its opposite extreme of indiscriminate applause. This proceeds from the false idea they entertain, that the direct contrary to what is wrong must be right. Thus the dread of being only suspected of one fault makes them actually guilty of another. The desire of avoiding the imputation of envy, impels them to be insincere; and to establish a reputation for sweetness of temper and generosity, they affect sometimes to speak of very indifferent characters with the most extravagant applause. With such, the hyperbole is a favourite figure; and every degree of comparison but the superlative is rejected, as cold and inexpressive. But this habit of exaggeration greatly weakens their credit, and destroys the weight of their opinion on other occasions; for people very soon discover what degree of faith is to be given both to their judgment and veracity. And those of real merit will no more be flattered by that approbation, which cannot distinguish the value of what it praises, than the celebrated painter must have been at the judgment passed on his works by an ignorant spectator, who, being asked what he thought of such and such very capital but very different pieces, cried out in an affected rapture, "All alike! all alike!"
IT has been proposed to the young, as a maxim of supreme wisdom, to manage so dexterously in conversation, as to appear to be well acquainted with subjects, of which they are totally ignorant; and this, by affecting silence in regard to those, on which they are known to excel.—But why counsel this disingenuous fraud? Why add to the numberless arts of deceit, this practice of deceiving, as it were, on a settled principle? If to disavow the knowledge they really have be a culpable affectation, then certainly to insinuate an idea of their skill, where they are actually ignorant, is a most unworthy artifice.
BUT of all the qualifications for conversation, humility, if not the most brilliant, is the safest, the most amiable, and the most feminine. The affectation of introducing subjects, with which others are unacquainted, and of displaying talents superior to the rest of the company, is as dangerous as it is foolish.
There are many, who never can forgive another for being more agreeable and more accomplished than themselves, and who can pardon any offence rather than an eclipsing merit. Had the nightingale in the fable conquered his vanity, and resisted the temptation of shewing a fine voice, he might have escaped the talons of the hawk. The melody of his singing was the cause of his destruction; his merit brought him into danger, and his vanity cost him his life.
 Lord Bacon.
Envy came next, Envy with squinting eyes, Sick of a strange disease, his neighbour's health; Best then he lives when any better dies, Is never poor but in another's wealth: On best mens harms and griefs he feeds his fill, Else his own maw doth eat with spiteful will, Ill must the temper be, where diet is so ill.
FLETCHER'S PURPLE ISLAND.
"ENVY, (says Lord Bacon) has no holidays." There cannot perhaps be a more lively and striking description of the miserable state of mind those endure, who are tormented with this vice. A spirit of emulation has been supposed to be the source of the greatest improvements; and there is no doubt but the warmest rivalship will produce the most excellent effects; but it is to be feared, that a perpetual state of contest will injure the temper so essentially, that the mischief will hardly be counterbalanced by any other advantages. Those, whose progress is the most rapid, will be apt to despise their less successful competitors, who, in return, will feel the bitterest resentment against their more fortunate rivals. Among persons of real goodness, this jealousy and contempt can never be equally felt, because every advancement in piety will be attended with a proportionable increase of humility, which will lead them to contemplate their own improvements with modesty, and to view with charity the miscarriages of others.
WHEN an envious man is melancholy, one may ask him, in the words of Bion, what evil has befallen himself, or what good has happened to another? This last is the scale by which he principally measures his felicity, and the very smiles of his friends are so many deductions from his own happiness. The wants of others are the standard by which he rates his own wealth, and he estimates his riches, not so much by his own possessions, as by the necessities of his neighbours.
WHEN the malevolent intend to strike a very deep and dangerous stroke of malice, they generally begin the most remotely in the world from the subject nearest their hearts. They set out with commending the object of their envy for some trifling quality or advantage, which it is scarcely worth while to possess: they next proceed to make a general profession of their own good-will and regard for him: thus artfully removing any suspicion of their design, and clearing all obstructions for the insidious stab they are about to give; for who will suspect them of an intention to injure the object of their peculiar and professed esteem? The hearer's belief of the fact grows in proportion to the seeming reluctance with which it is told, and to the conviction he has, that the relater is not influenced by any private pique, or personal resentment; but that the confession is extorted from him sorely against his inclination, and purely on account of his zeal for truth.
ANGER is less reasonable and more sincere than envy.—Anger breaks out abruptly; envy is a great prefacer—anger wishes to be understood at once: envy is fond of remote hints and ambiguities; but, obscure as its oracles are, it never ceases to deliver them till they are perfectly comprehended:—anger repeats the same circumstances over again; envy invents new ones at every fresh recital—anger gives a broken, vehement, and interrupted narrative; envy tells a more consistent and more probable, though a falser tale—anger is excessively imprudent, for it is impatient to disclose every thing it knows; envy is discreet, for it has a great deal to hide—anger never consults times or seasons; envy waits for the lucky moment, when the wound it meditates may be made the most exquisitely painful, and the most incurably deep—anger uses more invective; envy does more mischief—simple anger soon runs itself out of breath, and is exhausted at the end of its tale; but it is for that chosen period that envy has treasured up the most barbed arrow in its whole quiver—anger puts a man out of himself: but the truly malicious generally preserve the appearance of self-possession, or they could not so effectually injure.—The angry man sets out by destroying his whole credit with you at once, for he very frankly confesses his abhorrence and detestation of the object of his abuse; while the envious man carefully suppresses all his own share in the affair.—The angry man defeats the end of his resentment, by keeping himself continually before your eyes, instead of his enemy; while the envious man artfully brings forward the object of his malice, and keeps himself out of sight.—The angry man talks loudly of his own wrongs; the envious of his adversary's injustice.—A passionate person, if his resentments are not complicated with malice, divides his time between sinning and sorrowing; and, as the irascible passions cannot constantly be at work, his heart may sometimes get a holiday.—Anger is a violent act, envy a constant habit—no one can be always angry, but he may be always envious:—an angry man's enmity (if he be generous) will subside when the object of his resentment becomes unfortunate; but the envious man can extract food from his malice out of calamity itself, if he finds his adversary bears it with dignity, or is pitied or assisted in it. The rage of the passionate man is totally extinguished by the death of his enemy; but the hatred of the malicious is not buried even in the grave of his rival: he will envy the good name he has left behind him; he will envy him the tears of his widow, the prosperity of his children, the esteem of his friends, the praises of his epitaph—nay the very magnificence of his funeral.
"THE ear of jealousy heareth all things," (says the wise man) frequently I believe more than is uttered, which makes the company of persons infected with it still more dangerous.
WHEN you tell those of a malicious turn, any circumstance that has happened to another, though they perfectly know of whom you are speaking, they often affect to be at a loss, to forget his name, or to misapprehend you in some respect or other; and this merely to have an opportunity of slily gratifying their malice by mentioning some unhappy defect or personal infirmity he labours under; and not contented "to tack his every error to his name," they will, by way of farther explanation, have recourse to the faults of his father, or the misfortunes of his family; and this with all the seeming simplicity and candor in the world, merely for the sake of preventing mistakes, and to clear up every doubt of his identity.—If you are speaking of a lady, for instance, they will perhaps embellish their inquiries, by asking if you mean her, whose great grandfather was a bankrupt, though she has the vanity to keep a chariot, while others who are much better born walk on foot; or they will afterwards recollect, that you may possibly mean her cousin, of the same name, whose mother was suspected of such or such an indiscretion, though the daughter had the luck to make her fortune by marrying, while her betters are overlooked.
TO hint at a fault, does more mischief than speaking out; for whatever is left for the imagination to finish, will not fail to be overdone: every hiatus will be more then filled up, and every pause more than supplied. There is less malice, and less mischief too, in telling a man's name than the initials of it; as a worthier person may be involved in the most disgraceful suspicions by such a dangerous ambiguity.
IT is not uncommon for the envious, after having attempted to deface the fairest character so industriously, that they are afraid you will begin to detect their malice, to endeavour to remove your suspicions effectually, by assuring you, that what they have just related is only the popular opinion; they themselves can never believe things are so bad as they are said to be; for their part, it is a rule with them always to hope the best. It is their way never to believe or report ill of any one. They will, however, mention the story in all companies, that they may do their friend the service of protesting their disbelief of it. More reputations are thus hinted away by false friends, than are openly destroyed by public enemies. An if, or a but, or a mortified look, or a languid defence, or an ambiguous shake of the head, or a hasty word affectedly recalled, will demolish a character more effectually, than the whole artillery of malice when openly levelled against it.
IT is not that envy never praises—No, that would be making a public profession of itself, and advertising its own malignity; whereas the greatest success of its efforts depends on the concealment of their end. When envy intends to strike a stroke of Machiavelian policy, it sometimes affects the language of the most exaggerated applause; though it generally takes care, that the subject of its panegyric shall be a very indifferent and common character, so that it is well aware none of its praises will stick.
IT is the unhappy nature of envy not to be contented with positive misery, but to be continually aggravating its own torments, by comparing them with the felicities of others. The eyes of envy are perpetually fixed on the object which disturbs it, nor can it avert them from it, though to procure itself the relief of a temporary forgetfulness. On seeing the innocence of the first pair,
Aside the devil turn'd, For Envy, yet with jealous leer malign, Eyed them askance.
As this enormous sin chiefly instigated the revolt, and brought on the ruin of the angelic spirits, so it is not improbable, that it will be a principal instrument of misery in a future world, for the envious to compare their desperate condition with the happiness of the children of God; and to heighten their actual wretchedness by reflecting on what they have lost.
PERHAPS envy, like lying and ingratitude, is practised with more frequency, because it is practised with impunity; but there being no human laws against these crimes, is so far from an inducement to commit them, that this very consideration would be sufficient to deter the wise and good, if all others were ineffectual; for of how heinous a nature must those sins be, which are judged above the reach of human punishment, and are reserved for the final justice of God himself!
ON THE DANGER OF SENTIMENTAL OR ROMANTIC CONNEXIONS.
AMONG the many evils which prevail under the sun, the abuse of words is not the least considerable. By the influence of time, and the perversion of fashion, the plainest and most unequivocal may be so altered, as to have a meaning assigned them almost diametrically opposite to their original signification.
THE present age may be termed, by way of distinction, the age of sentiment, a word which, in the implication it now bears, was unknown to our plain ancestors. Sentiment is the varnish of virtue to conceal the deformity of vice; and it is not uncommon for the same persons to make a jest of religion, to break through the most solemn ties and engagements, to practise every art of latent fraud and open seduction, and yet to value themselves on speaking and writing sentimentally.
BUT this refined jargon, which has infested letters and tainted morals, is chiefly admired and adopted by young ladies of a certain turn, who read sentimental books, write sentimental letters, and contract sentimental friendships.
ERROR is never likely to do so much mischief as when it disguises its real tendency, and puts on an engaging and attractive appearance. Many a young woman, who would be shocked at the imputation of an intrigue, is extremely flattered at the idea of a sentimental connexion, though perhaps with a dangerous and designing man, who, by putting on this mask of plausibility and virtue, disarms her of her prudence, lays her apprehensions asleep, and involves her in misery; misery the more inevitable because unsuspected. For she who apprehends no danger, will not think it necessary to be always upon her guard; but will rather invite than avoid the ruin which comes under so specious and so fair a form.
SUCH an engagement will be infinitely dearer to her vanity than an avowed and authorised attachment; for one of these sentimental lovers will not scruple very seriously to assure a credulous girl, that her unparalleled merit entitles her to the adoration of the whole world, and that the universal homage of mankind is nothing more than the unavoidable tribute extorted by her charms. No wonder then she should be easily prevailed on to believe, that an individual is captivated by perfections which might enslave a million. But she should remember, that he who endeavours to intoxicate her with adulation, intends one day most effectually to humble her. For an artful man has always a secret design to pay himself in future for every present sacrifice. And this prodigality of praise, which he now appears to lavish with such thoughtless profusion, is, in fact, a sum oeconomically laid out to supply his future necessities: of this sum he keeps an exact estimate, and at some distant day promises himself the most exorbitant interest for it. If he has address and conduct, and, the object of his pursuit much vanity, and some sensibility, he seldom fails of success; for so powerful will be his ascendancy over her mind, that she will soon adopt his notions and opinions. Indeed, it is more than probable she possessed most of them before, having gradually acquired them in her initiation into the sentimental character. To maintain that character with dignity and propriety, it is necessary she should entertain the most elevated ideas of disproportionate alliances, and disinterested love; and consider fortune, rank, and reputation, as mere chimerical distinctions and vulgar prejudices.
THE lover, deeply versed in all the obliquities of fraud, and skilled to wind himself into every avenue of the heart which indiscretion has left unguarded, soon discovers on which side it is most accessible. He avails himself of this weakness by addressing her in a language exactly consonant to her own ideas. He attacks her with her own weapons, and opposes rhapsody to sentiment—He professes so sovereign a contempt for the paltry concerns of money, that she thinks it her duty to reward him for so generous a renunciation. Every plea he artfully advances of his own unworthiness, is considered by her as a fresh demand which her gratitude must answer. And she makes it a point of honour to sacrifice to him that fortune which he is too noble to regard. These professions of humility are the common artifice of the vain, and these protestations of generosity the refuge of the rapacious. And among its many smooth mischiefs, it is one of the sure and successful frauds of sentiment, to affect the most frigid indifference to those external and pecuniary advantages, which it is its great and real object to obtain.
A SENTIMENTAL girl very rarely entertains any doubt of her personal beauty; for she has been daily accustomed to contemplate it herself, and to hear of it from others. She will not, therefore, be very solicitous for the confirmation of a truth so self-evident; but she suspects, that her pretensions to understanding are more likely to be disputed, and, for that reason, greedily devours every compliment offered to those perfections, which are less obvious and more refined. She is persuaded, that men need only open their eyes to decide on her beauty, while it will be the most convincing proof of the taste, sense, and elegance of her admirer, that he can discern and flatter those qualities in her. A man of the character here supposed, will easily insinuate himself into her affections, by means of this latent but leading foible, which may be called the guiding clue to a sentimental heart. He will affect to overlook that beauty which attracts common eyes, and ensnares common hearts, while he will bestow the most delicate praises on the beauties of her mind, and finish the climax of adulation, by hinting that she is superior to it.
And when he tells her she hates flattery, She says she does, being then most flatter'd.
BUT nothing, in general, can end less delightfully than these sublime attachments, even where no acts of seduction were ever practised, but they are suffered, like mere sublunary connexions, to terminate in the vulgar catastrophe of marriage. That wealth, which lately seemed to be looked on with ineffable contempt by the lover, now appears to be the principal attraction in the eyes of the husband; and he, who but a few short weeks before, in a transport of sentimental generosity, wished her to have been a village maid, with no portion but her crook and her beauty, and that they might spend their days in pastoral love and innocence, has now lost all relish for the Arcadian life, or any other life in which she must be his companion.
ON the other hand, she who was lately
An angel call'd, and angel-like ador'd,
is shocked to find herself at once stripped of all her celestial attributes. This late divinity, who scarcely yielded to her sisters of the sky, now finds herself of less importance in the esteem of the man she has chosen, than any other mere mortal woman. No longer is she gratified with the tear of counterfeited passion, the sigh of dissembled rapture, or the language of premeditated adoration. No longer is the altar of her vanity loaded with the oblations of fictitious fondness, the incense of falsehood, or the sacrifice of flattery.—Her apotheosis is ended!—She feels herself degraded from the dignities and privileges of a goddess, to all the imperfections, vanities, and weaknesses of a slighted woman, and a neglected wife. Her faults, which were so lately overlooked, or mistaken for virtues, are now, as Cassius says, set in a note-book. The passion, which was vowed eternal, lasted only a few short weeks; and the indifference, which was so far from being included in the bargain, that it was not so much as suspected, follows them through the whole tiresome journey of their insipid, vacant, joyless existence.
THUS much for the completion of the sentimental history. If we trace it back to its beginning, we shall find that a damsel of this cast had her head originally turned by pernicious reading, and her insanity confirmed by imprudent friendships. She never fails to select a beloved confidante of her own turn and humour, though, if she can help it, not quite so handsome as herself. A violent intimacy ensues, or, to speak the language of sentiment, an intimate union of souls immediately takes place, which is wrought to the highest pitch by a secret and voluminous correspondence, though they live in the same street, or perhaps in the same house. This is the fuel which principally feeds and supplies the dangerous flame of sentiment. In this correspondence the two friends encourage each other in the falsest notions imaginable. They represent romantic love as the great important business of human life, and describe all the other concerns of it as too low and paltry to merit the attention of such elevated beings, and fit only to employ the daughters of the plodding vulgar. In these letters, family affairs are misrepresented, family secrets divulged, and family misfortunes aggravated. They are filled with vows of eternal amity, and protestations of never-ending love. But interjections and quotations are the principal embellishments of these very sublime epistles. Every panegyric contained in them is extravagant and hyperbolical, and every censure exaggerated and excessive. In a favourite, every frailty is heightened into a perfection, and in a foe degraded into a crime. The dramatic poets, especially the most tender and romantic, are quoted in almost every line, and every pompous or pathetic thought is forced to give up its natural and obvious meaning, and with all the violence of misapplication, is compelled to suit some circumstance of imaginary woe of the fair transcriber. Alicia is not too mad for her heroics, nor Monimia too mild for her soft emotions.
FATHERS have flinty hearts is an expression worth an empire, and is always used with peculiar emphasis and enthusiasm. For a favourite topic of these epistles is the groveling spirit and sordid temper of the parents, who will be sure to find no quarter at the hands of their daughters, should they presume to be so unreasonable as to direct their course of reading, interfere in their choice of friends, or interrupt their very important correspondence. But as these young ladies are fertile in expedients, and as their genius is never more agreeably exercised than in finding resources, they are not without their secret exultation, in case either of the above interesting events should happen, as they carry with them a certain air of tyranny and persecution which is very delightful. For a prohibited correspondence is one of the great incidents of a sentimental life, and a letter clandestinely received, the supreme felicity of a sentimental lady.
NOTHING can equal the astonishment of these soaring spirits, when their plain friends or prudent relations presume to remonstrate with them on any impropriety in their conduct. But if these worthy people happen to be somewhat advanced in life, their contempt is then a little softened by pity, at the reflection that such very antiquated poor creatures should pretend to judge what is fit or unfit for ladies of their great refinement, sense, and reading. They consider them as wretches utterly ignorant of the sublime pleasures of a delicate and exalted passion; as tyrants whose authority is to be contemned, and as spies whose vigilance is to be eluded. The prudence of these worthy friends they term suspicion, and their experience dotage. For they are persuaded, that the face of things has so totally changed since their parents were young, that though they might then judge tolerably for themselves, yet they are now (with all their advantages of knowledge and observation) by no means qualified to direct their more enlightened daughters; who, if they have made a great progress in the sentimental walk, will no more be influenced by the advice of their mother, than they would go abroad in her laced pinner or her brocade suit.
BUT young people never shew their folly and ignorance more conspicuously, than by this over-confidence in their own judgment, and this haughty disdain of the opinion of those who have known more days. Youth has a quickness of apprehension, which it is very apt to mistake for an acuteness of penetration. But youth, like cunning, though very conceited, is very short-sighted, and never more so than when it disregards the instructions of the wife, and the admonitions of the aged. The same vices and follies influenced the human heart in their day, which influence it now, and nearly in the same manner. One who well knew the world and its various vanities, has said, "The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done, and there is no new thing under the sun."
IT is also a part of the sentimental character, to imagine that none but the young and the beautiful have any right to the pleasures of society, of even to the common benefits and blessings of life. Ladies of this turn also affect the most lofty disregard for useful qualities and domestic virtues; and this is a natural consequence: for as this sort of sentiment is only a weed of idleness, she who is constantly and usefully employed, has neither leisure nor propensity to cultivate it.
A SENTIMENTAL lady principally values herself on the enlargement of her notions, and her liberal way of thinking. This superiority of soul chiefly manifests itself in the contempt of those minute delicacies and little decorums, which, trifling as they may be thought, tend at once to dignify the character, and to restrain the levity of the younger part of the sex.
PERHAPS the error here complained of, originates in mistaking sentiment and principle for each other. Now I conceive them to be extremely different. Sentiment is the virtue of ideas, and principle the virtue of action. Sentiment has its seat in the head, principle in the heart. Sentiment suggests fine harangues and subtile distinctions; principle conceives just notions, and performs good actions in consequence of them. Sentiment refines away the simplicity of truth and the plainness of piety; and, as a celebrated wit has remarked of his no less celebrated contemporary, gives us virtue in words and vice in deeds. Sentiment may be called the Athenian, who knew what was right, and principle the Lacedemonian who practised it.
BUT these qualities will be better exemplified by an attentive consideration of two admirably drawn characters of Milton, which are beautifully, delicately, and distinctly marked. These are, Belial, who may not improperly be called the Demon of Sentiment; and Abdiel, who may be termed the Angel of Principle.
SURVEY the picture of Belial, drawn by the sublimest hand that ever held the poetic pencil.
A fairer person lost not heav'n; he seem'd For dignity compos'd, and high exploit, But all was false and hollow, tho' his tongue Dropt manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels, for his thoughts were low, To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds Tim'rous and slothful; yet he pleas'd the ear.
PARADISE LOST, B. II.
HERE is a lively and exquisite representation of art, subtilty, wit, fine breeding and polished manners: on the whole, of a very accomplished and sentimental spirit.
NOW turn to the artless, upright, and unsophisticated Abdiel,
Faithful found Among the faithless, faithful only he Among innumerable false, unmov'd, Unshaken, unseduc'd, unterrified; His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal. Nor number, nor example with him wrought To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind, Though single.
BUT it is not from these descriptions, just and striking as they are, that their characters are so perfectly known, as from an examination of their conduct through the remainder of this divine work: in which it is well worth while to remark the consonancy of their actions, with what the above pictures seem to promise. It will also be observed, that the contrast between them is kept up throughout, with the utmost exactness of delineation, and the most animated strength of colouring. On a review it will be found, that Belial talked all, and Abdiel did all. The former,
With words still cloath'd in reason's guise, Counsel'd ignoble ease, and peaceful sloth, Not peace.
IN Abdiel you will constantly find the eloquence of action. When tempted by the rebellious angels, with what retorted scorn, with what honest indignation he deserts their multitudes, and retreats from their contagious society!
All night the dreadless angel unpursued Through heaven's wide champain held his way.
NO wonder he was received with such acclamations of joy by the celestial powers, when there was
But one, Yes, of so many myriads fall'n, but one Return'd not lost.
AND afterwards, in a close contest with the arch fiend,
A noble stroke he lifted high On the proud crest of Satan.
WHAT was the effect of this courage of the vigilant and active seraph?
Amazement seiz'd The rebel throne, but greater rage to see Thus foil'd their mightiest.
ABDIEL had the superiority of Belial as much in the warlike combat, as in the peaceful counsels.
Nor was it ought but just, That he who in debate of truth had won, Shou'd win in arms, in both disputes alike Victor.
BUT notwithstanding I have spoken with some asperity against sentiment as opposed to principle, yet I am convinced, that true genuine sentiment, (not the sort I have been describing) may be so connected with principle, as to bestow on it its brightest lustre, and its most captivating graces. And enthusiasm is so far from being disagreeable, that a portion of it is perhaps indispensably necessary in an engaging woman. But it must be the enthusiasm of the heart, not of the senses. It must be the enthusiasm which grows up with a feeling mind, and is cherished by a virtuous education; not that which is compounded of irregular passions, and artificially refined by books of unnatural fiction and improbable adventure. I will even go so far as to assert, that a young woman cannot have any real greatness of soul, or true elevation of principle, if she has not a tincture of what the vulgar would call Romance, but which persons of a certain way of thinking will discern to proceed from those fine feelings, and that charming sensibility, without which, though a woman may be worthy, yet she can never be amiable.
BUT this dangerous merit cannot be too rigidly watched, as it is very apt to lead those who possess it into inconveniencies from which less interesting characters are happily exempt. Young women of strong sensibility may be carried by the very amiableness of this temper into the most alarming extremes. Their tastes are passions. They love and hate with all their hearts, and scarcely suffer themselves to feel a reasonable preference before it strengthens into a violent attachment.
WHEN an innocent girl of this open, trusting, tender heart, happens to meet with one of her own sex and age, whose address and manners are engaging, she is instantly seized with an ardent desire to commence a friendship with her. She feels the most lively impatience at the restraints of company, and the decorums of ceremony. She longs to be alone with her, longs to assure her of the warmth of her tenderness, and generously ascribes to the fair stranger all the good qualities she feels in her own heart, or rather all those which she has met with in her reading, dispersed in a variety of heroines. She is persuaded, that her new friend unites them all in herself, because she carries in her prepossessing countenance the promise of them all. How cruel and how censorious would this inexperienced girl think her mother was, who should venture to hint, that the agreeable unknown had defects in her temper, or exceptions in her character. She would mistake these hints of discretion for the insinuations of an uncharitable disposition. At first she would perhaps listen to them with a generous impatience, and afterwards with a cold and silent disdain. She would despise them as the effect of prejudice, misrepresentation, or ignorance. The more aggravated the censure, the more vehemently would she protest in secret, that her friendship for this dear injured creature (who is raised much higher in her esteem by such injurious suspicions) shall know no bounds, as she is assured it can know no end.
YET this trusting confidence, this honest indiscretion, is, at this early period of life as amiable as it is natural; and will, if wisely cultivated, produce, at its proper season, fruits infinitely more valuable than all the guarded circumspection of premature, and therefore artificial, prudence. Men, I believe, are seldom struck with these sudden prepossessions in favour of each other. They are not so unsuspecting, nor so easily led away by the predominance of fancy. They engage more warily, and pass through the several stages of acquaintance, intimacy, and confidence, by slower gradations; but women, if they are sometimes deceived in the choice of a friend, enjoy even then an higher degree of satisfaction than if they never trusted. For to be always clad in the burthensome armour of suspicion is more painful and inconvenient, than to run the hazard of suffering now and then a transient injury.
BUT the above observations only extend to the young and the inexperienced; for I am very certain, that women are capable of as faithful and as durable friendship as any of the other sex. They can enter not only into all the enthusiastic tenderness, but into all the solid fidelity of attachment. And if we cannot oppose instances of equal weight with those of Nysus and Euryalus, Theseus and Pirithous, Pylades and Orestes, let it be remembered, that it is because the recorders of those characters were men, and that the very existence of them is merely poetical.
 See Voltaire's Prophecy concerning Rousseau.
ON TRUE AND FALSE MEEKNESS.
A LOW voice and soft address are the common indications of a well-bred woman, and should seem to be the natural effects of a meek and quiet spirit; but they are only the outward and visible signs of it: for they are no more meekness itself, than a red coat is courage, or a black one devotion.
YET nothing is more common than to mistake the sign for the thing itself; nor is any practice more frequent than that of endeavouring to acquire the exterior mark, without once thinking to labour after the interior grace. Surely this is beginning at the wrong end, like attacking the symptom and neglecting the disease. To regulate the features, while the soul is in tumults, or to command the voice while the passions are without restraint, is as idle as throwing odours into a stream when the source is polluted.
THE sapient king, who knew better than any man the nature and the power of beauty, has assured us, that the temper of the mind has a strong influence upon the features: "Wisdom maketh the face to shine," says that exquisite judge; and surely no part of wisdom is more likely to produce this amiable effect, than a placid serenity of soul.
IT will not be difficult to distinguish the true from the artificial meekness. The former is universal and habitual, the latter, local and temporary. Every young female may keep this rule by her, to enable her to form a just judgment of her own temper: if she is not as gentle to her chambermaid as she is to her visitor, she may rest satisfied that the spirit of gentleness is not in her.
WHO would not be shocked and disappointed to behold a well-bred young lady, soft and engaging as the doves of Venus, displaying a thousand graces and attractions to win the hearts of a large company, and the instant they are gone, to see her look mad as the Pythian maid, and all the frightened graces driven from her furious countenance, only because her gown was brought home a quarter of an hour later than she expected, or her ribbon sent half a shade lighter or darker than she ordered?
ALL men's characters are said to proceed from their servants; and this is more particularly true of ladies: for as their situations are more domestic, they lie more open to the inspection of their families, to whom their real characters are easily and perfectly known; for they seldom think it worth while to practise any disguise before those, whose good opinion they do not value, and who are obliged to submit to their most insupportable humours, because they are paid for it.
AMONGST women of breeding, the exterior of gentleness is so uniformly assumed, and the whole manner is so perfectly level and uni, that it is next to impossible for a stranger to know any thing of their true dispositions by conversing with them, and even the very features are so exactly regulated, that physiognomy, which may sometimes be trusted among the vulgar, is, with the polite, a most lying science.
A VERY termagant woman, if she happens also to be a very artful one, will be conscious she has so much to conceal, that the dread of betraying her real temper will make her put on an over-acted softness, which, from its very excess, may be distinguished from the natural, by a penetrating eye. That gentleness is ever liable to be suspected for the counterfeited, which is so excessive as to deprive people of the proper use of speech and motion, or which, as Hamlet says, makes them lisp and amble, and nick-name God's creatures.
THE countenance and manners of some very fashionable persons may be compared to the inscriptions on their monuments, which speak nothing but good of what is within; but he who knows any thing of the world, or of the human heart, will no more trust to the courtesy, than he will depend on the epitaph.
AMONG the various artifices of factitious meekness, one of the most frequent and most plausible, is that of affecting to be always equally delighted with all persons and all characters. The society of these languid beings is without confidence, their friendship without attachment, and their love without affection, or even preference. This insipid mode of conduct may be safe, but I cannot think it has either taste, sense, or principle in it.
THESE uniformly smiling and approving ladies, who have neither the noble courage to reprehend vice, nor the generous warmth to bear their honest testimony in the cause of virtue, conclude every one to be ill-natured who has any penetration, and look upon a distinguishing judgment as want of tenderness. But they should learn, that this discernment does not always proceed from an uncharitable temper, but from that long experience and thorough knowledge of the world, which lead those who have it to scrutinize into the conduct and disposition of men, before they trust entirely to those fair appearances, which sometimes veil the most insidious purposes.
WE are perpetually mistaking the qualities and dispositions of our own hearts. We elevate our failings into virtues, and qualify our vices into weaknesses: and hence arise so many false judgments respecting meekness. Self-ignorance is at the root of all this mischief. Many ladies complain that, for their part, their spirit is so meek they can bear nothing; whereas, if they spoke truth, they would say, their spirit is so high and unbroken that they can bear nothing. Strange! to plead their meekness as a reason why they cannot endure to be crossed, and to produce their impatience of contradiction as a proof of their gentleness!
MEEKNESS, like most other virtues, has certain limits, which it no sooner exceeds than it becomes criminal. Servility of spirit is not gentleness but weakness, and if allowed, under the specious appearances it sometimes puts on, will lead to the most dangerous compliances. She who hears innocence maligned without vindicating it, falsehood asserted without contradicting it, or religion prophaned without resenting it, is not gentle but wicked.
TO give up the cause of an innocent, injured friend, if the popular cry happens to be against him, is the most disgraceful weakness. This was the case of Madame de Maintenon. She loved the character and admired the talents of Racine; she caressed him while he had no enemies, but wanted the greatness of mind, or rather the common justice, to protect him against their resentment when he had; and her favourite was abandoned to the suspicious jealousy of the king, when a prudent remonstrance might have preserved him.—But her tameness, if not absolute connivance in the great massacre of the protestants, in whose church she had been bred, is a far more guilty instance of her weakness; an instance which, in spite of all her devotional zeal and incomparable prudence, will disqualify her from shining in the annals of good women, however she may be entitled to figure among the great and the fortunate. Compare her conduct with that of her undaunted and pious countryman and contemporary, Bougi, who, when Louis would have prevailed on him to renounce his religion for a commission or a government, nobly replied, "If I could be persuaded to betray my God for a marshal's staff, I might betray my king for a bribe of much less consequence."
MEEKNESS is imperfect, if it be not both active and passive; if it will not enable us to subdue our own passions and resentments, as well as qualify us to bear patiently the passions and resentments of others.
BEFORE we give way to any violent emotion of anger, it would perhaps be worth while to consider the value of the object which excites it, and to reflect for a moment, whether the thing we so ardently desire, or so vehemently resent, be really of as much importance to us, as that delightful tranquillity of soul, which we renounce in pursuit of it. If, on a fair calculation, we find we are not likely to get as much as we are sure to lose, then, putting all religious considerations out of the question, common sense and human policy will tell us, we have made a foolish and unprofitable exchange. Inward quiet is a part of one's self; the object of our resentment may be only a matter of opinion; and, certainly, what makes a portion of our actual happiness ought to be too dear to us, to be sacrificed for a trifling, foreign, perhaps imaginary good.
THE most pointed satire I remember to have read, on a mind enslaved by anger, is an observation of Seneca's. "Alexander (said he) had two friends, Clitus and Lysimachus; the one he exposed to a lion, the other to himself: he who was turned loose to the beast escaped, but Clitus was murdered, for he was turned loose to an angry man."
A PASSIONATE woman's happiness is never in her own keeping: it is the sport of accident, and the slave of events. It is in the power of her acquaintance, her servants, but chiefly of her enemies, and all her comforts lie at the mercy of others. So far from being willing to learn of him who was meek and lowly, she considers meekness as the want of a becoming spirit, and lowliness as a despicable and vulgar meanness. And an imperious woman will so little covet the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, that it is almost the only ornament she will not be solicitous to wear. But resentment is a very expensive vice. How dearly has it cost its votaries, even from the sin of Cain, the first offender in this kind! "It is cheaper (says a pious writer) to forgive, and save the charges."
IF it were only for mere human reasons, it would turn to a better account to be patient; nothing defeats the malice of an enemy like a spirit of forbearance; the return of rage for rage cannot be so effectually provoking. True gentleness, like an impenetrable armour, repels the most pointed shafts of malice: they cannot pierce through this invulnerable shield, but either fall hurtless to the ground, or return to wound the hand that shot them.