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VIEW OF THE PRINCIPLES AND CONDUCT
WOMEN OF RANK AND FORTUNE.
THE PRACTICAL USE OF FEMALE KNOWLEDGE, WITH
A SKETCH OF THE FEMALE CHARACTER, AND A COMPARATIVE VIEW OF THE SEXES.
The chief end to be proposed, in cultivating the understandings of women is to qualify them for the practical purposes of life. Their knowledge is not often, like the learning of men, to be reproduced in some literary composition, and never in any learned profession; but it is to come out in conduct; it is to be exhibited in life and manners. A lady studies, not that she may qualify herself to become an orator or a pleader ; not that she may learn to debate, but to act. She is to read the best books, not so much to enable her to talk of them, as to bring the improvement which they furnish to the rectification of her principles and the formation of her habits. The great uses of study to a woman are to enable her to regulate her own mind, and to be instrumental to the good of others.
To woman, therefore, whatever be her rank, I would recommend a predominance of those more sober studies, which, not having display for their object, may make her wise without vanity, happy without witnesses, and content without panegyrists; the exercise of which may not bring celebrity, but will improve usefulness. She should pursue every kind of study which will teach her to elicit truth; which will lead her to be intent upon realities; will give precision to her ideas; will make an exact mind. She should cultivate every study which, instead of stimulating her sensibility, will chastise it; which will neither create an excessive nor a false refinement; which will give her definite notions; will bring the imagination under dominion; will lead her to think, to compare, to combine, to methodise; which will confer such a power of discrimination, that her judgment shall learn to reject what is dazzling, if it be not solid; and to prefer, not what is striking, or bright, or new, but what is just. That kind of knowledge which is rather fitted for home consumption than foreign exportation is peculiarly adapted to It is because the superficial nature of their education furnishes them with a false and low standard of intellectual excellence, that women have too often become ridiculous by the unfounded pretensions of literary vanity; for it is not the really learned, but the smatterers, who have generally brought their sex into discredit, by an absurd affectation, which has set them on despising the duties of ordinary life. There have not indeed been wanting (but the character is not now common) Précieuses Ridicules *, who, assuming a superiority to the sober cares which ought to occupy their sex, have claimed a lofty and supercilious exemption from the dull and plodding drudgeries
* May I be allowed to strengthen my own opinion with the authority of Dr. Johnson, that a woman cannot have too much arithmetic? It is a solid, practical acquirement, in which there is much use and little display; it is a quiet sober kind of knowledge, which she acquires for herself and her family, and not for the world.
Of this dim speck called earth /
There have not been wanting ill-judging females, who have affected to establish an unnatural separation between talents and usefulness, instead of bearing in mind that talents are the great appointed instruments of usefulness; who have acted as if knowledge were to confer on woman a kind of fantastic sovereignty, which should exonerate her from the discharge of female duties; whereas, it is only meant the more eminently to qualify her for the performance of them. A woman of real sense will never forget, that while the greater part of her proper duties are such as the most moderately gifted may fulfil with credit, — since Providence never makes that to be very difficult
See a comedy of Moliere so entitled.
which is generally necessary; — yet that the most highly endowed are equally bound to fulfil them; and let her remember that the humblest of these offices, performed on Christian principles, are wholesome for the minds even of the most enlightened, as they tend to the casting down of those high imaginations," which women of genius are too much tempted to indulge.
For instance, ladies whose natural vanity has been aggravated by a false education may look down on economy as a vulgar attainment, unworthy of the attention of a highly cultivated intellect; but this is the false estimate of a shallow mind. Economy, such as a woman of fortune is called on to practise, is not merely the petty detail of small daily expenses, the shabby curtailments and stinted parsimony of a little mind, operating on little concerns; but it is the exercise of a sound judgment exerted in the comprehensive outline of order, of arrangement, of distribution; of regulations by which alone well-governed societies, great and small, subsist. She who has the best regulated mind will, others things being equal, have the best regulated family. As in the superintendence of the universe, wisdom is seen in its effects; and as in the visible works of Providence, that which goes on with such beautiful regularity is the result not of chance but of design ; so that management which seems the most easy is commonly the consequence of the best concerted plan; and a wellconcerted plan is seldom the offspring of an ordinary mind. A sound economy is a sound understanding brought into action; it is calculation realised; it is the doctrine of proportion reduced to practice; it is foreseeing consequences, and guarding against them; it is expecting contingences, and being prepared for them. The difference is, that to a narrow-minded vulgar economist the details are continually present; she is overwhelmed by their weight, and is perpetually bespeaking your pity for her labours, and your praise for her exertions; she is afraid you will not see how much she is harassed. She is not satisfied that the machine moves harmoniously, unless she is perpetually exposing every secret spring to observation. Little events and trivial operations engross her whole soul; while a woman of sense, having provided for their probable recurrence, guards against the inconveniences, without being disconcerted by the casual obstructions which they offer to her general scheme. Subordinate expenses and inconsiderable retrenchments should not swallow up that attention which is better bestowed on regulating the general scale of expense, correcting and reducing an overgrown establishment, and reforming radical and growing
Superior talents, however, are not so common, as, by their frequency, to offer much disturbance to the general course of human affairs; and many a lady, who tacitly accuses herself of neglecting her ordinary duties because she is a genius, will perhaps be found often to accuse herself as unjustly as good St. Jerome, when he laments that he was