Obrázky na stránke

fashionable schools. This blame, however, does by no means rest with these places of instruction, but falls more deservedly upon parents and guardians, whose vanity and false judgements interpose between the true interests of the scholars, and the persons to whom they are committed. If the main stream be discoloured, the rivulets which join it in its course will take the same complexion. However that may be, nothing is more certain than that we, poor females are educated as if we had no souls to be saved, or old age to be provided for. To figure away with a fine exterior, and to share the stupid admiration of coxcombs, with their horses and their equipages, seems to be all that is required of us by our grave instructors. When this view is accomplished, we are brought forward, in all the mockery of dress, for the entertainment of the men, cased


like Indian idols, or carried out as victims to the altar.

“ Only that little of our lives is consulted which can contribute to the brilliancy of a ball-room, or the decoration of a court; so that just the prime and middle of our days is called for, the rest being thrown away like the tops and tails of radishes. To accomplish us in the flourishing trade and mystery of multiplying words without knowledge, to enable us to propagate repetition, and give wings to nonsense, we are taught as many languages as our memories can hold ; without any enlargement of capacity, or accession of ideas; without any exercise of reason, or elevation of thought.

“ Nothing, however,” she continued, “ gives me such serious concern, as to observe, in the system of modish education, the perverse direction of the noble principle of shame, which was given us for the greatest purposes. That tender conscious spirit, which was designed to be the principle guard of our virtue, and the support of all the great qualities of womankind, is applied to circumstances and occasions the most frivolous and absurd. To be hungry, healthy, rosy, and robust, are circumstances of shame to a girl of fashion. To run is rude, to laugh is vulgar, and to play is monstrous, because it is natural. Ignorance of cards is shocking, ignorance of fashions is abominable, and ignorance of French is heretical. But while they are taught shame at these excesses or deficiences, they can brave the recollection of an uncharitable or unjust action ; they can tell untruths without flinching ; they can read the memoirs of stale actresses and battered demireps without confusion; they can ogle without a blush; and hug themselves in visions of rope-ladders and chaises and four, accomplished dancing-masters, and sentimental staymakers,

“ Methinks," continued Miranda, “ that a truly fashionable school might consistently enough advertise to refine and reduce the appetite so common in young people educated at ordinary schools; to banish all disagreeable redness from the cheeks ; to correct the errors of nature, in the vulgar propensity youth have to exercise and play ; to contract the waste, where nature has forgotten to do it; to pinch the foot to a sizeable disproportion and beautiful deformity; to comprehend all religious duties within a very small compass, and teach sound morals and virtuous principles at moderate rates.

“To the misapplication of these generous rudiments of virtue, given us with our nature, are ascribable all those vanities and petty ambitions, which so predominate amongst us, as to give a sort of title to the satirist to thunder out his catholic censures

against us, and with an unqualifying severity to talk of the ruling passions of women as absolute universalities. The poets and moralists of ancient and modern times are stuffed with this common-place against us; and even the petit-maître of philosophy, the flimsy Fontenelle, amidst all his gallantries, has not scrupled to put the following confession into the mouth of a queen of Syria, who, in one of his dialogues of the dead, tells her story to Dido, as illustrative of our ruling passion of vanity.- A painter, who was of the court of my husband, had long owed me a grudge; and, to gratify his resentment, he painted me in the arms of a soldier. The picture was exposed, and the artist absconded. My subjects, zealous for my honour, were on the point of burning the piece in the public street; but as I was, to say the truth, most admirably painted, and every way charming, although it must be acknowledged the attitude in which I was represented was not much to the advantage of my virtue, yet I rescued the picture, and pardoned the painter.'

“It is surprising what transformations are sometimes formed by this perverse direction of the principle of shame. I remember a very promising girl, the daughter of a worthy neighbour, who had learned, under her mother's instructions, many useful arts and accomplishments : she could make pastry and pickles, knew the price and quality of meat, and was a tolerable proficient in carving: she could write legibly, spell correctly, and speak her own language purely and grammatically : in short, her mind was so vulgarized, that she knew more of the Bible than of lord Chesterfield or Voltaire ; and I really once detected her knitting stockings for prizes to the Sunday-school girls, whom she often instructed herself. On the death of her mother, she was sent by her father to a place of fashionable education ; and, in the course of three weeks, rose to such a pitch of modesty, as to blush at the mention of her former meannesses. She is now squared and tortured into a very fine married lady; and so sensibly delicate, that, on passing by a butcher's shop the other day, she was seized with an agony in every joint; and on meeting by accident a charity-girl, when she was far gone in her pregnancy, she has ever since been under the terrible apprehension of bringing into the world a child with a pair of knit-stockings on its legs.

“I would not pretend to suggest any new system, in the place of that against which I have so much descanted; I would only presume to recommend a little more of the Christian religion, and a little less of fashionable idolatry. I do not desire that learning or politics, or riding astride, should succeed to this mischievous culture; I wish only to see the native ornaments of a woman's mind primarily attended to ; I wish to see her arrayed in all her na. tural perfections of sensibility, softness, and grace; and to contemplate, through a curtain of unaffected modesty, an understanding furnished with every thing that has a tendency to make the heart good, and the conduct exemplary.

“How can I here resist the temptation to quote a passage from an admirable writer ? to quote whom cannot be pedantry even in a woman ; while not to have read and studied him, is want of taste in man or woman. It is thus that Dr. Hawkesworth sums up the character of Stella, in his life of Swift:

• Beauty, which alone has been the object of universal admiration and desire, which alone has elevated the possessor from the lowest to the highest situation, has given dominion to folly, and armed caprice with the power of life and death, was in Stella only the ornament of intellectual greatness 3

and wit, which had rendered deformity lovely, and conferred honour upon vice, was in her only the decoration of such virtue, as without either wit or beauty would have compelled affection, esteem, and reverence.'

“I am very far from desiring to level these distinctions which custom has established between the virtues and excellences of the male and female character. Nature has clearly enough appointed our different offices and destinations ; and, by the many domestic wants and dependences with which she has encompassed us, has circumscribed the sphere of our exertions and our ambitions within the circle of our families and our houses. When I see a woman launching out beyond this natural line of her ability, and challenging the rewards of popular talents, I look upon her as a kind of deserter, or as a soldier fighting under foreign banners, whose renown is infamy, and whose victories are disgraces.

The expediency of life, and the moral order of the world, demand the observance of this natural distinction between our duties and capacities; and not only our greatest pleasures, but the highest concerns of our being, depend upon their separation. I regard the social system of the world as a great machine, which requires a regular distribution of labour, for the uniform course of its operation : a deficiency of hands in one part of it is little remedied by the superfluity of them in another; and such as are out of their place, can only be regarded as so much loss in quality, and incumbrance in quantity.

“ We surely can never reasonably complain of our unimportance in the system, when we consider ourselves as charged with the first care of the species, and intrusted with the heirs of immortality,

« PredošláPokračovať »