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ON FEMALE VIRTUE, WITH INTELLECTUAL
1 TIM. ii. 8, 9.
I will that women adorn themselves with Sobriety:
PROV. iv. 5, 6. 8, 9.
Get Wisdom, get Understanding.---Forsake her not, and she
shall preserve thee : love her, and she shall keep thee.--Exalt her, and she shall promote thee. She shall give to thy head an ornament of grace : a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.
N a country like this, where there is certainly a native fund of good sense, where sciences and arts are widely cultivated, where works of genius and taste in every kind are allowed to abound; is it not somewhat strange, that the common style of conversation should be so little instructive or entertaining? How seldom do we fall into a company, in which we learn any thing useful, or hear any thing whatever above the rate of the multitude ; such as low jests, vulgar conceits, incoherent disputation, or impertinent tattle! How very seldom does a thinking man come away from the visit of an evening, delighted with his manner of spending it! One who has conversed only with a small circle of ingenious friends, will hardly conceive what frivolous, what a piteous thing, the ordinary strain of company appears to an intelligent by-stander.
The favourite communications of men of pleasure are beyond description corrupt and groveling, with scarce any diversity. Those of gay assemblies are the quintessence of dulness and dissimulation ; except only that the first is sometimes tinctured with a few sprinklings of smartness, and the last always concealed under the specious colours of civility. As to the busy, the learned, and the grave; the greater part are no sooner released from their respective pursuits, than they throw themselves loose into a listlessness of disposition, that wanders with impatience in quest of public diversion, or diffuses itself in private through the vacuity of idle talk: as if there were no medium between seriousness and folly, or as if people could not find relief from the stretch of application, in the agreeable unbendings of moderate amusement and rational dis
In short, if we want to find a conversation enlivened with variety and spirit, enlightened by intelligence and tempered by politeness, we must seek for it amongst a few men who join sentiment to knowledge, and a few women who join knowledge to vivacity.
That the number of these should be so small, compared with the untaught and the ungoverned .many, is surely matter of lamentation. To what shall we chiefly impute it? To what else, but to that whirl of dissipation, which, like some mighty vortex, has swallowed up in a manner all conditions and characters ? That the young indeed should be often carried down the strear, till they sink into insignificance, is not much to be wondered at, how much soever it is to be regretted. But alas ! they do not always stop there. From what is trivial, how easy the transition to what is mean! How quick the descent from thoughtlessness to vice! No
thing perhaps, requires better sense, or a stricter guard, than to trifle without being foolish, or to be frolicksome without sin. They that would hold fast their righteousness, and not depart from the decorum of their character, cannot be too careful to regulate their conversation, as well as their conduct, by the great law of reflexion, and in the hour of gaiety itself not to lose sight of wisdom. But how should this be expected, where the mind is wholly unimproved, where no internal resources are secured in the days of youth, but all is left to nature neglected by education, and warpcd by fashion, or to the scanty supplies which company, news and accidents afford ?
What I would therefore now labour is, with the help of God, to persuade you, my fair auditory, to enrich and adorn your understandings with such attainments, as shall render you not only less dependant on external amusements and empty gratifications, but more superior to every thing corrupting and dangerous ; such as shall entertain and edify you at the same time, enable you to enjoy solitude, and qualify you to shine in conversation even without designing it, to inspire a mixture of complacence and respect, in fine, to unite decency and şense with mirth and joy. Thus would I still endeavour to promote that spirit of Christian Sobriety which our apostle inculcates, and by the same ineans contribute to the felicity and dignity of your sex.
. . The passage froin the Proverbs, which I have read to you, by way of a second text, requires no commentary; and in truth I know not any that, could do it justice. As it is, it must strike you at once with its · simplicity, tenderness, and sublimity. The Wisdom or Understanding, so beauti
fully personified by Solomon, is doubtless to be considered chiefly as representing Religion, which is certainly the highest exercise of our rational powers. But I see no reason for conceiving it to represent that only. In many parts of his writings it is manifestly used to signify Mental Improvements, in the proper sense of the phrase : nor is there any thing said of it here, which will not in one degree or another hold true of these, when under right direction ; besides, in fact, the cultivation of those powers to every valuable purpose, is unquestionably a duty which we owe to their author. That the exhortation is addressed by our inspired writer to a male scholar, whom in the manner of eastern teachers he calls his son, makes no essential difference, in the spirit of his doctrine, as I hope will appear from the sequel.
The degree of those Intellectual Accomplishments which your sex should aim at, I pretend not to determine. That must depend on the capacities, opportunities, and encouragements, which you severally enjoy. With regard to all these however, this may be said in general, that they are better, and more than many of
you seem solicitous. to improve.
As to the first indeed, I scruple not to declare my opinion, that Nature appears to have formed the faculties of your sex for the most part with less vigour than those of ours ; observing the same distinction here, as in the more delicate frame of your bodies. Exceptions we readily admit, and such as do the individuals great honour in those particular walks of excellence, wherein they have been distinguished. But you yourselves, I think, will allow that war, commerce, politics, exercises of strength and dexterity, abstract philosophy,
and all the abstruser sciences, are most properly the province of men. I am sure those masculine women, that would plead for your sharing any part of this province equally with us, do not understand your true interests. There is an influence, there is an empire which belongs to you, and which I wish you ever to possess : I mean that which has the. heart for its object, and is secured by meekness and modesty, by soft attraction and virtuous love.
But now I must add, that your power in this way will receive a large accession from the culture of your minds, in the more elegant and polished branches of knowledge. When I say so, I would by no means insinuate, that you are not capable of the judicious and the solid, in such proportion as is suited to your destination in life. This, I apprehend, does not require reasoning or accuracy, so much as observation and discernment. Your busi ness chiefly is to read Men, in order to make
yourselves agreeable and useful.
It is not the argumentative but the sentimental talents, which give you that insight, and those openings into the human heart, that lead to your principal ends as Wo
Nevertheless, in this study you may derive great assistance from books. Without them, in effect, your progress here will be partial and confined. Neither are you to attach yourselves wholly to this study, important as it is, and grateful as
Whatever kinds of reading may contribute to your general improvement and satisfaction, as reasonable beings. designed for society, virtue, and religion, will deserve your attentive regard. Suffer me to enter a little into the detail. And
you may find it.