Page images

all ranks, and been as uniformly and completely refuted by experience. A great part of the objections made to the education of women, are rather objections made to human nature than to the female sex: for it is surely true, that knowledge, where it produces any bad effects at all, does as much mischief to one sex as to the other; and gives birth to fully as much arrogance, inatteution to common affairs, and eccentricity among men, as it does among women. But it by no means follows, that you get rid of vanity and self-conceit, because you get rid of learning. Self-complacency can never want an excuse; and the best way to make it more tolerable, and more useful, is to give it as high and as dignified an object as possible. But, at all events, it is unfair to bring forward against a part of the world an objection which is equally powerful against the whole.

When foolish women think they have any distinction, they are apt to be proud of it; so are foolish men. But we appeal to any one who has lived with cultivated persons of either sex, whether he has not witnessed as much pedantry, as much wrongheadedness, as much arrogance, and certainly a great deal more rudeness, produced by learning in men than in women; therefore, we should make the accusation general, or dismiss it altogether; though, with respect to pedantry, the learned are certainly a little unfortunate, that so very emphatic a word, which is occasionally applicable to all men embarked eagerly in any pursuit, should be reserved exclusively for them: for, as pedantry is an ostentatious obtrusion of knowledge, in which those who hear us cannot sympathise, it is a fault of which soldiers, sailors, sportsmen, gamesters, cultivators, and all men engaged in a particular occupation, are quite as guilty as scholars; but they have the good fortune to have the vice only of pedantry, while scholars have both the vice and the name for it too.

Some persons are apt to contrast the acquisition of important knowledge with what they call simple plea. sures; and deem it more becoming that a woman should educate flowers, make friendships with birds, and pick up plants, than enter into more difficult and fatiguing studies. If a woman has no taste and genius for higher occupations, let her engage in these, to be sure, rather than remain destitute of any pursuit. But why are we necessarily to doom a girl, whatever be her taste or her capacity, to one unvaried line of petty and frivolous occupation? If she is full of strong sense, and elevated curiosity can there be any reason why she should be diluted and enfeebled down to a mere culler of simples, and fancier of birds? Why books of history and reasoning are to be torn out of her hand; and why she is to be sent, like a butterfly, to hover over the idle flowers of the field ? Such amusements are innocent to those whom they can occupy; but they are not innocent to those who have too powerful understandings to be occupied by them. Light broths and fruits are innocent food only to weak or to infant stomachs; but they are poison to that organ in its perfect and mature state. But the great charm appears to be in the word simplicitysimple pleasures! If by a simple pleasure is meant an innocent pleasure, the observation is best answered by showing, that the pleasure which results from the acquisition of important knowledge is quite as innocent as any pleasure whatever ; but if by a simple pleasure is meant one, the cause of which can be easily analized, or which does not last long, or which in itself is very faint, then simple pleasures seem to be very nearly synonymous with small pleasures; and if the simplicity were to be a little increased, the pleasure would vanish altogether.

As it is impossible that every man should have industry or activity sufficient to avail himself of the advantages of education, it is natural that men who are ignorant themselves, should view, with some degree of jealousy and alarm, any proposal for improving the education of women. But such men may depend upon it, however the system of female education may be exalted, that there will never be wanting a due propor. tion of failures; and that after parents, guardians, and preceptors, have done all in their power to make every body wise, there will still be a plentiful supply of women who have taken special care to remain otherwise; and they may rest assured, if the utter extinction of ignorance and folly is the evil they dread, that their in

terests will always be effectually protected, in spite of every exertion to the contrary.

We must in candour allow, that those women who begin, will have something more to overcome than may probably hereafter be the case. We cannot deny the jealousy which exists among pompous and foolish men, respecting the education of women. There is a class of pedants, who would be cut short in the estimation of the world a whole cubit, if it were generally known that a young lady of eighteen could be taught to decline the tenses of the middle voice, or acquaint herself with the olic varieties of that celebrated language. Then women have, of course, all ignorant men for encmies to their instruction, who being bound, (as they think) in point of sex, to know more, are not well pleased, in point of fact, to know less. But, among men of sense and liberal politeness, a woman, who has successfully cultivated her migd, without diminishing the gentleness and propriety of her manners, is always sure to meet with a respect and attention bordering upon enthusiasm.

There is in either sex a strong and permanent disposition to appear agreeable to the other: and this is the fair answer to those who are fond of supposing, that an higher degree of knowledge would make women rather the rivals than the companions of men. Presupposing such a desire to please, it seenis much more probable, that common pursuit should be a fresh source of interest, than a cause of contention. Indeed, to suppose that

any mode of education can create a general jealousy and rivalry between the sexes, is so very ridiculous, that it requires only to be stated in order to be refuted. The same desire of pleasing, secures all that delicacy and reserve which are of such inestimable value to

We are quite astonished, in hearing men converse on such subjects, to find them attributing such beautiful effects to ignorance. It would appear, from the tenor of such objections, that ignorance had been the great civilizer of the world. Women are delicate and refined, only because they are ignorant; they attend to their children only because they know no better. Now, we must really confess, we have all our


[blocks in formation]


lives been so ignorant as not to know the value of igno

We have always attributed the modesty and the refined manners of women, to their being well taught in moral and religious duty; to the hazardous situation in which they are placed; to that perpetual vigilance which it is their duty to exercise over thought, word, and action; and to that cultivation of the mild virtues, which those who cultivate the stern and magnanimous virtues, expect at their hands. After all, let it be remembered, we are not saying there are no objections to the diffusion of knowledge among the female sex. We would not hazard such a proposition respecting any thing; but we are saying, that, upon the whole, it is the best method of employing time; and that there are fewer objections to it, than to any other method. There are, perhaps, fifty thousand females in Great Britain, who are exempted by circumstances from all necessary labour; but every human being must do something with their existence; and the pursuit of knowledge is, upon the whole, the most innocent, the most dignified, and the most useful method of filling up that idleness, of which there is always so large a portion in nations far advanced in civilization.

Let any man reflect, too, upon the solitary situation in which women are placed; the ill treatment to which they are sometimes exposed, and which they must endure in silence, and without the power of complaining; and he must feel convinced that the happiness of a woman will be materially increased, in proportion as education has given to her the habit and the means of drawing her resources from herself.

There are a few common phrases in circulation respecting the duties of women, to which we wish to pay some degree of attention, because they are rather inimical to those opinions which we have advanced on this subject. Indeed, independently of this, there is nothing which requires more vigilance than the current phrases of the day, of which there are always some resorted to in every dispute, and from the sovereign authority of which it is often vain to make any appeal. * The true theatre for a woman is the sick chamber."

Nothing so honourable to a woman as not to be spoken


of at all.” These two phrases, the delight of Noodledom, are grown into common-places upon the subject, and are not unfrequently employed to extinguish that love of knowledge in women which, in our humble opinion, it is of so much importance to cherish. Nothing, certainly, is so ornamental and delightful in women as the benevolent virtues; but time cannot be filled up, and life employed, with high and impassioned virtues. Some of these feelings are of rare occurrence-all of short duration or nature would sink under them.' A scene of distress and anguish is an occasion where the finest qualities of the female mind may be displayed; but it is a monstrous exaggeration to tell women that they are born only for scenes of distress and anguish. Nurse father, mother, sister, and brother, if they want it;- it would be a violation of the plainest duties to neglect them. But, when we are talking of the common occupations of life, do not let us mistake the accidents for the occupations; when we are arguing how the twenty-three hours of the day are to be filled up, it is idle to tell us of those feelings and agitations above the level of common existence, which may employ the remaining hour. Compassion, and every other virtue, are the great objects we all ought to have in view; but no man (and no woman) can fill up the twenty-four hours by acts of virtue. But one is a lawyer, and the other a ploughman, and the third a merchant; and then, acts of goodness, and intervals of compassion and fine feeling, are scattered up and down the common occupations of life. We know women are to be compassionate, but they cannot be compassionate from eight o'clock in the morning till twelve at night. And what are they to do in the interval? This is the only question we have been putting all along, and is all that can be meant by literary education.

Then again, as to the notoriety which is incurred by literature. The cultivation of knowledge is a very distinct thing from its publication ; nor does it follow that a woman is to become an author, merely because she has talent enough for it. We do not wish a lady to defend and reply; to squabble about the tomb of Achilles, or the plain of Troy; any more than we wish


« PreviousContinue »