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IT is a singular injustice which is often exercised towards women, first to give them a very defective education, and then to expect from them the most undeviating purity of conduct; to train them in such a manner as shall leave them open to the most dangerous faults; and then to censure them for not proving faultless. Is it not unreasonable and unjust, to express disappointment if our daughters should, in their subsequent lives, turn out precisely that very kind of character for which it would be evident to an unprejudiced by-stander that the whole scope and tenor of their instruction had been systematically pre paring them : Some reflections on the present erroneous system are here with great deference submitted to public consideration. The author is apprehensive that she shall be accused of betraying the interests of her sex by laying open their defects: but surely, an earnest wish to turn their attention to objects calculated to promote their true dignity, is not the office of an enemy. So to expose the weakness of the land as to suggest the necessity of internal improvement, and to point out the means of effectual defence, is not treachery, but patriotism. Again, it may be objected to this little work, that many errors are here ascribed to women which by no means belong to them exclusively, and that it seems to confine to the sex those faults which are common to the species : but this is in some measure unavoidable. In speaking on the qualities of one sex, the moralist is somewhat in the situation of the geographer, who is treating on the nature of one country: the air, soil, and produce of the land which he is describing, cannot fail in many essential points to resemble those of other countries under the same parallel; yet it is his business to descant on the one without adverting to the other ; and though in drawing his map he may happen to introduce some of the neighbouring coast, y ct - A
his principal attention must be confined to that country which he proposes to describe, without taking into account the resembling circumstances of the adjacent shores. It may be also objected, that the opinion here suggested on the state of manucrs among the higher classes of our country-women, may seem to controvert the just encomiums of modern travellers, who generally concur in ascribing a decided superiority to the ladies of this country over those of every other. But such is the state of foreign manners, that the comparative praise is almost an injury to English women. To be flattered for excelling those whose standard of excellence is very low, is but a degrading kind of commendation; for the value of all praise derived from superiority depends on the worth of the competitor. The character of British ladies, with all the unparalledadvantages they possess, must never be determined by a comparison with the women of other nations, but by what they themselves might be if all their talcnts and unrivalled opportunities were turned to the best account. Again, it may be said, that the author is less disposed to expatiate on excellence than error; but the office of the historian of human manners is delineation rather than panegyric. Were the end in view eulogium and not improvement, eulogium would have been far more gratifying, nor would just objects for praise have been difficult to find. Even in her own limited sphere of observation, the author is acquainted with much excellence in the class of which she treats; with women who, possessing learning which would be thought extensive in the other sex, set an example of deep humility to their own ; women who, distinguished for wit and genius, are eminent for domestic qualities; who, excelling in the fine arts, have carefully enriched their understandings; who, enjoying great affluence, devote it to the glory of God; who, possessing elevated rank, think their noblest style and title is that of a Christian. That there is also much worth which is little known, she is persuaded; for it is the modest nature of goodness to exert itself quietly, while a few characters of the opposite cast, seem, by the rumour of their exploits, to fill the world; and by their noise to multiply their numbers. It often happens that a very small party of people, by occupying the foreground, so seize the public attention, and monopolize the public talk, that they appear to be the great body : and a few active spirits, provided their activity take the wrong turn and support the wrong cause, seem to fill the scene ; and a few disturbers of order, who have the talent of thus exciting a false idea of their multitudes by their mischiefs, actually gain strength, and swell their numbers by this fallacious arithmetic. . . But the present work is no more intended for a panegyric on those purer characters who seek not human praise, because they act from a higher motive, than for a satire on the avowedly licentious, who, urged by the impulse of the moment, or led away by the love of fashion, dislike not censure, so it may serve to rescue them from neglect or oblivion.
There are, however, multitudes of the young and the well-disposed, who have as yet taken no decided part, who are just launching on the ocean of life, just about to lose their own right convictions, and to counteract their better propensities, unreluctantly yielding themselves to be carried down the tide of popular practices, sanguine and confident of safety. To these the author would gently hint, that, when once embarked, it will be no longer easy to say to their passions, or even to their principles, “Thus far shall ye go, and no further.”
Should any reader revolt at what is conceived to be unwarranted strictness in this little book, let it not be thrown by in disgust before the following short consideration be weighed. If in this Christian country we are actually beginning to regard the solemn office of Baptism as merely furnishing an article to the parish register; if we are learning from our indefatigable Teachers, to consider this Christian rite as a legal ceremony retained for the sole purpose of recording the age of our children; then, indeed, the prevailing System of Education and Manners on which these volumes presume to animadvert, may be adopted with propriety, and persisted in with safety, without entailing on our children or on ourselves the peril of broken promises, or the guilt of violated vows. But, if the obligation which Christian Baptism imposes be really
binding; if the ordinance have, indeed, a meaning beyond
a mere secular transaction, beyond a record of names and dates ; if it be an institution by which the child is solemnly devoted to God as his Father, to Jesus Christ as his Saviour, and to the Holy Spirit as his Sanctifier; if there be no definite period assigned when the obligation of fulfilling the duties it enjoins shall be superseded ; if, having once dedicated our offspring to their Creator, we no longer dare to mock Him by bringing them up in ignorance of His Will and neglect of His Laws; if, after having enlisted them under the banners of Christ, to fight manfully against the three great enemies of mankind, we are no longer at liberty to let them lay down their arms; much less to lead them to act as if in alliance instead of hostility with these enemies; if after having promised
that they shall renounce the vanities of the world, we are , .
not allowed to invalidate the engagement; if after such a covenant we should tremble to make these renounced vanities the supreme object of our own pursuit, or of their instruction; if all this be really so, then the Strictures on Modern Education, and on the Habits of polished Life, will not be found so repugnant to truth, and reason, and common sense, as may on a first view be supposed. But if on candidly summing up the evidence, the design
and scope of the author be fairly judged, not by the cus- .
toms or opinions of the worldly, (for every English subject has a right to object to a suspected or prejudiced jury) but by an appeal to that divine law which is the only infallible rule of judgment; if on such an appeal her views and principles shall be found censurable for their rigour, absurd in their requisitions, or preposterous in their restrictions, she will have no right to complain of such a verdict, because she will then stand condemned by that court to whose decision she implicitly submits. Let it not be suspected that the author arrogantly conceives herself to be exempt from that natural corruption of the heart which it is one chief object of this slight work to exhibit; that she superciliously erects herself into the impeccable censor of her sex and of the world; as if from the critic’s chair she were coldly pointing out the faults and errors of another order of beings, in whose welfare