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faults! nobody ever accused me of that before! Nay,
of them ; they must know me best.”
But if, instead of attacking the material parts of your character, your husband should merely presume to advert to your manners, to some slight personal habit which might be made more agreeable to him ; prove, in the first place, that it is his fault that it is not agreeable to him ; ask which is most to blame, “she who ceases to please, or he who ceases to be pleased ”*–His eyes are changed, or opened. But it may perhaps have been a matter almost of indifference to him, till you undertook its defence: then make it of consequence by rising in eagerness, in proportion to the insignificance of your object; if he can draw consequences, this will be an excellent lesson : if you are so tender of blame in the veriest trifles, how unimpeachable must you be in matters of importance. As to personal habits, begin by denying that you have any; or in the paradoxical language of Rousseau t declare that the only habit you have is the habit of having none: as all personal habits, if they have been of any long standing, must have become involuntary, the unconscious culprit may assert her innocence without hazarding her veracity.
However, if you happen to be detected in the
+ Emilius and Sophia.
very fact, and a person cries, “ Now, now, you are doing it !” submit, but declare at the same moment“ That it is the very first time in your
whole life that you were ever known to be guilty of it; and therefore it can be no habit, and of course nowise reprehensible.”
Extend the rage for vindication to all the objects which the most remotely concern you; take even inanimate objects under your protection. Your dress, your furniture, your property, every thing which is or has been yours defend, and this upon the principles of the soundest philosophy; each of these things all compose a part of your personal merit; * all that connected the most distantly with your idea gives pleasure or pain to others, becomes an object of blame or praise, and consequently claims your support or vindication.
In the course of the management of your house, children, family, and affairs, probably some few errors of omission or commission
husband's pervading eye; but these errors, admitting them to be errors, you
you please, allow to be charged to any deficiency in memory, judgment, or activity, on your part.
There are surely people enough around you to divide and share the blame ; send it from one to another, till at last, by universal rejection, it is proved to belong to nobody. You will say, however, that facts remain unalterable ; and that in some un
* Vide Hume.
lucky instance, in the changes and chances of human affairs, you may be proved to have been to blame. Some stubborn evidence may appear against you ; still you may prove an alibi, or balance the evidence. There is nothing equal to balancing evidence ; doubt is, you know, the most philosophic state of the human mind, and it will be kind of you to keep your husband perpetually in this sceptical state.
Indeed the short method of denying absolutely all blameable facts, I should recommend to pupils as the best ; and if in the beginning of their career they may startle at this mode, let them depend upon it that in their future practice it must become perfectly familiar. The nice distinction of simulation and dissimulation depends but on the trick of a syllable ; palliation and extenuation are universally allowable in self-defence ; prevarication inevitably follows, and falsehood « is but in the next degree.”
Yet I would not destroy this nicety of conscience too soon. It
may be of use in your first setting out, because you must establish credit; in proportion to your credit will be the value of your future asseverations.
In the mean time, however, argument and debate are allowed to the most rigid moralist. You can never perjure yourself by swearing to a false opinion.
I come now to the art of reasoning: don't be alarmed at the name of reasoning, fair pupils; I will explain to you my meaning.
If, instead of the fiery-tempered being I formerly described, you should fortunately be connected with
a man, who, having formed a justly high opinion of your sex, should propose to treat you as his equal, and who in any little dispute which might arise between you should desire no other arbiter than reason; triumph in his mistaken candour, regularly appeal to the decision of reason at the beginning of every contest, and deny its jurisdiction at the conclusion. I take it for granted that you
will be on the wrong side of every question, and indeed, in general, I advise you to choose the wrong
side of an argument to defend ; whilst you are young in the science, it will afford the best exercise, and, as you improve, the best display of your talents. .
If, then, reasonable pupils, you would succeed in argument, attend to the following instructions.
Begin by preventing, if possible, the specific statement of any position, or, if reduced to it, use the most general terms, and take advantage of the ambiguity which all languages and which most philosophers allow.
Above all things, shun definitions ; they will prove fatal to you; for two persons of sense and candour, who define their terms, cannot argue long without either convincing, or being convinced, or parting in equal good-humour; to prevent which, go over and over the same ground, wander as wide as possible from the point, but always with a view to return at last precisely to the same spot from which you set out. I should remark to you, that the choice of your weapons is a circumstance much to be attended to: choose always those which your adversary cannot use. If
husband is a man of wit, you
will of course undervalue a talent which is never connected with judgment: “ for your part, you do not presume to contend with him in wit.”
But if he be a sober-minded man, who will go link by link along the chain of an argument, follow him at first, till he grows so intent that he does not perceive whether you follow him or not; then slide back to your own station, and when with perverse patience he has at last reached the last link of the chain, with one electric shock of wit make him quit his hold, and strike him to the ground in an instant. Depend upon the sympathy of the spectators, for to one who can understand reason, you will find ten who admire wit.
But if you should not be blessed with “ a ready wit,” if demonstration should in the mean time stare you in the face, do not be in the least alarmed-anticipate the blow. Whilst you have it yet in your power, rise with becoming magnanimity, and cry, “I give it up! I give it up! La! let us say no more about it ; I do so hate disputing about trifles. I give it up!” Before an explanation on the word trifle can take place, quit the room with flying colours.
If you are a woman of sentiment and eloquence, you have advantages of which I scarcely need apprise you. From the understanding of a man, you have always an appeal to his heart, or, if not, to his affection, to his weakness. If you have the good fortune to be married to a weak man, always choose the moment to argue with him when you have a full audiTrust to the sublime
of numbers ; it