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Title: Mary Wollstonecraft and the beginnings of female emancipation in France and   England
Author: Bouten, Jacob
Language: English
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[Illustration: Logo]









There is something particularly fascinating about the study of the
literature and philosophy of the eighteenth century, with its gradual
evolution of lofty social ideals which the Revolution failed to
realise. When the altered circumstances brought promotion within my
reach, it completely brought me under its sway, and ultimately came to
determine my choice of a subject for an inaugural dissertation. It was
while engaged upon tracing the influence of Rousseau's hopebringing
theories on his English disciple William Godwin, that the less boldly
assertive, but all the more humanly attractive personality of the
latter's first wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, attracted my attention. My
admiration of her husband's intellect paled before my sympathy for her
more modest, but at the same time more emotional character. Where the
indebtedness of Godwin to Rousseau and the Encyclopedians has been
manifested so clearly in different works, the absence of any direct
attempt to prove and determine the extent of the relations between
Mary Wollstonecraft and the early French philosophers struck me as an
omission for which I found it difficult to account, and made me turn
to a subject to which I am fully aware that a book of the size of the
present little volume does but scant justice.

I wish to avail myself of this opportunity to thankfully acknowledge
the valuable help and friendly encouragement received from _Professor
Dr. A. E. H. Swaen_, of the University of Amsterdam, whose unceasing
kindness and ever-ready interest in the preparation of this treatise I
shall never forget.

_Mr. K. R. Gallas_, Lecturer on French Literature in the same
University, has likewise a claim to my heartfelt gratitude for giving
me the benefit of his extensive knowledge in making various suggestions
with regard to the chapters dealing with the literature of France.

My best thanks are also due to _Mr. M. G. van Neck_ and _Dr. P.
Fijn van Draat_ for guiding my reading for the B.-examination, and
particularly to my first teacher of English, _Mr. L. P. H. Eijkman_,
for giving me that interest in England and her language and literature
which has determined my subsequent career.

_Amsterdam_, November 1922.


CHAP.                                              PAGE
       OF WOMEN                                       1

       FRANCE                                        11

       CENTURY SOCIETY                               52

       THE ENGLISH AUGUSTANS                         73



     BIBLIOGRAPHY                                   183


_The Main Theories regarding the Position of Women._

The history of the Emancipation of Women is the long and varied record
of their slow and gradual liberation from that utter subjection to
Man in which various circumstances beyond their control--among which
the physical superiority of the latter, a form of male supremacy
which has seldom been called into question, was probably the most
prominent--had combined to place them. It relates how in the course of
centuries--either with the support of a certain portion of the opposite
sex or relying upon their own resources--they strove to cast off the
shackles which bound and degraded them, and to acquire that degree of
physical, intellectual and moral freedom to which they felt themselves
entitled. That the movement towards complete enfranchisement met with
a varied reception and was hampered and retarded by men and often by
women themselves was due chiefly to the fact that in the question of
female possibilities there was much diversity of opinions at different
times and among different nations. The worst enemies to evolution
of this kind were those women who, holding the Empire of Love and
Gallantry to be their exclusive domain, in which their sway was not
likely to be ever disputed, turned deliberately against those of their
own sex who in trying to wrench from the hands of men the sceptre of
social power, were willing to forego the privileges of sex. That women
were thus divided among themselves from the first, was the natural
outcome of those differences in personal attractions and in personal
intelligence which have always constituted the great danger of too
sweeping conclusions with regard to the inclinations and capabilities
of the female sex. Individual members of the same sex may yet be
radically different, and he who would prescribe for all will always
find himself confronted by the bewildering problem of the disparity of

The champions of the Cause of Woman have had to overcome a great deal
of stubborn opposition, nor can it be said that even at the present
moment the emancipation of women is complete. Even now that the
ideal of perfect equality in everything seems almost within reach,
and the domestic woman has largely given way to the social worker and
political agitator, it may be a matter of speculation whether the full
realisation of the long wished-for end, throwing open to women all
those occupations from which centuries of injustice rigorously excluded
them, would mean a blessing to society and to women in particular, or
a mixture of gain and loss. Those who regard women from the all-human
standpoint, holding the functions of sex to be only a passing incident
in the great scheme of life, will be inclined to take the former view;
those, on the other hand, who believe that a woman's life derives its
colour from considerations of sex which refuse to be ignored, may well
wonder where a rigorous application of perfect equality will land us in
the end. In one respect however, there has been great and undeniable
progress. The modern tendency to overlook sexual differences ensures to
individual women the necessary freedom to judge for themselves whether
a life of domestic or one of social duties will be more compatible with
their personal inclinations; and no woman whose hopes of domestic bliss
are rudely blunted, need--as was the case in former times--despair of
succeeding in life; any talents she may happen to possess, will find
full scope. If we contrast with this the truly pitiable condition
of unmarried women in earlier ages, who were too often treated
contemptuously for failing to perform what was considered the only
duty of womanhood--the propagation of the species--we cannot but feel
grateful to the champions of emancipation, whose restless ardour and
unceasing devotion has entailed such glorious results.

The feminist programme includes a number of points, on some of which
something will have to be said. There is, in the first place, that
physical enfranchisement which makes the woman cease to be the willess,
and therefore irresponsible and soulless, slave to the caprices of
a brutal master. There is, in the second place, the intellectual
emancipation of women, admitting the female sex to the participation
of Reason and granting them that education of the mind which is to
place them on a par with the other half of humanity; and there is
that moral emancipation which recognises woman as a being endowed
with a soul, equal to that of man, with consequent moral duties and
responsibilities, partly dictated by considerations of sex. As a
direct consequence of these, there is finally, social emancipation,
constituting principles of perfect equality between the sexes, also in
matters of social and political interest. They are all of them largely
dependent on the growth of civilisation. It has even been said that the
degree of civilisation in a nation is determined by the position of its
women in the life of the community.

In the early stages of history--in that savage state which some
authors persist in preferring to the social state of an imperfect
civilisation--only the physical condition of women was considered,
and, where even some of the most fervent advocates of the female
excellence are forced to acknowledge the physical inferiority of
the sex, it is but natural that the women of prehistoric times were
kept in utter subjection, being regarded exclusively as a means of
gratifying the animal instincts. But with the growth of civilisation
came the development of the mind, and it has always been one of
the bitterest grievances of feminists against man, that he, taking
advantage of his usurped authority, deliberately withheld from woman
the means of proving that the supposed inferiority only concerned
her physical capacities, and not those of the mind. Even as late as
the 18th century the complaint is repeatedly uttered (and this is
one of the points where two women of such widely different views as
Mary Wollstonecraft and Hannah More fully agree) that men keep from
women all opportunities of that cultivation of the understanding which
infallibly leads to virtue, and by a singular want of logic hold
them responsible for the moral deficiency which is the inevitable
consequence. In the introduction to her "_Strictures on the modern
system of female education_" Hannah More calls it "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 lay them
open to the most dangerous faults and then to censure them for not
proving faultless"[1], and the argument seems indeed unanswerable.
Hence the cry for female education which Plato was among the first
to raise. The physical inequality between the sexes was apparent and
therefore remained, upon the whole, uncontested, but the problem of the
possibilities of the female understanding was less easy to solve and
admitted of different opinions; hence it was in the first stage of the
growth of the human mind that the great question was first broached the
solution of which was to occupy so many minds in so many successive

While making every possible allowance for deviations due to individual
opinion, which mostly had its roots either in a particular form of
creed or in some special system of philosophy, it may be stated that
there were throughout the centuries two directly opposing lines of
thought, each leading to certain clearly marked conclusions.

Of these, the first and oldest is based upon considerations of practice
rather than theory, which makes it less rigid and more adaptable to the
exigencies of practical life. It was adopted on the whole by churchmen
and religious moralists rather than by abstract philosophers, and
had the full support of the unquestioned doctrines of Christianity,
of which support its adherents never failed to make the best use. It
determined the attitude of the early Christian Church towards women
in taking for granted the existence of a sexual character, from which
it draws inferences. The difference between the sexes is essential
and not restricted to physical differentiations. They were intended
for different functions and have widely different duties to fulfil.
Man's chief duty is the support of the family he has reared--for which
obviously his strength of muscle was intended,--his is the struggle for
life against a hostile society in which egoism reigns supreme and the
interests of individuals constantly clash. Woman's special province is
the home; hers is the difficult and important task of regulating the
domestic life and bringing up the children she has borne. So far this
theory receives support from observations of the animal world. But
that faculty which marks the essential difference between the human
and the animal kingdom became the apple of discord among many later
generations. For Reason was held to be the prerogative of Man only, in
which Woman had no share. His world is the world of the Intellect, the
world of Action, in which sex is only an episode; hers is the world of
Sentiment and of Contemplation, in which sex is the dominant factor.
To think is the prerogative of Man, to feel that of Woman. That there
is also an intellectual side to the quiet undisturbed contemplation
of confinement at home was demonstrated by Shakespeare when creating
the character of Lady Macbeth, nor was the monopoly of Thought greatly
abused by the mediaeval Lords of creation, the only scholars of that
period being those who had resigned their sex. But apart from those who
lived in convents and whose reading was exclusively religious, women
were self-taught or rather taught by experience, and the use of books
was confined to some monasteries.

Starting from the above principle, any claim to intellectual equality
would have seemed an encroachment upon the male kingdom. Love and
maternity, and the daily routine of the household ought to be the only
considerations in a woman's existence and whatever is outside these
is the domain of Man. To Woman was allotted the task of managing the
home, to Man the more comprehensive one of managing society. That in
reality the former is quite as important as the latter, which must
always largely depend on it, since Woman is the mother of Man, and
the guide of his first steps, did not find full recognition until the
17th century, when Fénelon and some of his contemporaries made this
consideration a basis on which to build their demands for a female

Early Christianity, drawing the necessary conclusions from certain
Biblical allusions to the position of Woman and guided by St. Paul's
teachings, adopted the Hebraic notions of female inferiority and
dependence, which long met with no resistance whatever. The early
churchmen, in strict obedience to the teaching of their faith, tacitly
accepted the inferiority of women and their subjection to men. About
these little need be said here. They were partly responsible for the
misery of women in the early Middle Ages, the time of their greatest
debasement and degradation, and will be remembered only among the
adversaries of feminism. However, the fact must here be emphasized,
that even the full acceptance of a sexual character does not
necessitate, and in practice did not always lead to, insistence upon
the female inferiority.

There are those who, while assigning to woman a place in society
differing essentially from that held by man, do not infer that woman
is necessarily inferior to man. They purposely refrain from comparing
that which by its very nature defies comparison: "for Woman is not
undeveloped Man, but diverse." They insist instead on the division of
functions which makes the sexes supplement each other. The majority are
moralists, churchmen of a later age, and to them the problem is that of
sexual duties, with the promise of eternity in the background, which
is intended for both sexes, female as well as male. The pursuit of
Christian virtue, which to them is the essential thing, is regardless
of sex and leads to self-abnegation which renders the sexual problem
of secondary importance. The very orthodoxy of her faith prevented
Hannah More from becoming a feminist in the full sense of the word,
and as Mary Wollstonecraft's feminism came to absorb her mind more
fully, her religious convictions retired into the background. To the
Christian moralist the place of woman in the social structure must of
necessity be an important one; but it is made so only by the domestic
duties which devolve upon her. She is expected to bring up her children
to be good Christians, good citizens, and good fathers and mothers,
in the moral interest of society, and this duty obviously involves
the necessity for women to receive the benefit of a moral education.
In this lies the gist of the moralist's arguments in favour of a
partial female emancipation. To be a good educator of the young it is
indispensable that the mother herself should be liberally instructed,
for what is to become of her influence, should her male offspring
come to regard her as intellectually inferior? In this argument the
feminist and the moralist join hands. Fénelon and his contemporaries
were philosophers and for the rigid, inflexible interpretation of
Scripture by the early churchmen they substituted the structure of
moral philosophy, which thus indirectly promoted the growth of feminist
ideas. In their eyes an education is the very first requisite to enable
a woman to discharge the duties imposed by motherhood.

The second line of thought, in direct opposition to the assumption of a
sexual character, takes for its starting-point the theory of _equality_
in everything except what is physical, arriving at the conclusion
that there is nothing which woman--if given the benefit of the same
education--is not capable of performing equally well as man. In view of
the impossibility of furnishing conclusive rational evidence--women are
not educated and therefore no opportunity is given them to vindicate
their powers--the adherents of this theory, who mostly belong to the
rational school of philosophy, point to the example of some individual
women, who in spite of a defective education obtained great results,
thereby laying themselves open to the criticism that what may apply
to certain individuals, need not hold good for the entire sex, which
argument they try to refute by insisting on the experiment being made.
This ultra-feminist way of thinking equally originated in France,
where Mlle de Gournay and François Poullain de la Barre built up their
theories more than a century before Mary Wollstonecraft voiced their
claims in the English language.

Apart from certain physical differences which even she could not deny,
although she held with truth that they were often exaggerated, nay,
purposely augmented, woman possesses the same capabilities as man and
the existing difference in intellectual development may be entirely
removed by means of an education which does not regard sex. This
process of reasoning naturally leads to a denial of sexual character.
The mental inferiority of women is merely the consequence of ages
of neglect which urgently demands reparation. The soul, they agreed
with the moralists, has no sex--an assertion which some of the early
Christian leaders might have felt inclined to call into question--and
since the development of the moral sense depends largely upon the
condition of the mind, it is the _right_ of women to be educated. The
claim for education as a natural right was first made in its full
purport by Mary Wollstonecraft, to whom belongs the undivided honour
of having been the first woman in Europe to apply Rousseau's famous
theory of the Rights of Man to her own sex by taking her stand upon the
principle of equality of the sexes.

The extreme adherents of equality among the philosophers of the
French Revolution founded their claims upon an absolute denial of all
innate character, holding the character of every individual to be the
resultant of different influences to which it has been exposed. Among
French philosophers Helvétius had been the first to profess this theory
in his "_Traité de l'Homme_." Diderot had written an energetic reply,
vindicating the theory of innateness and heredity, and the topic had
remained a theme of frequent dispute. The partisans of Helvétius, among
whom were both Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, continuing his line
of argument, were naturally led to the most optimistic forecasts for
a happy future. It only remained to find a way to perfect education
and to extend it from a few privileged ones to the multitude, and all
evil would of necessity disappear, and society would be rebuilt upon a
more solid foundation. The consequence was an overwhelming number of
educational treatises, mainly in the French language, most of which,
however, sadly overlooked the pressing needs of woman.

It was again Mary Wollstonecraft who extended this implicit faith in
the perfectibility of humanity to the case of woman. All that women
needed was to be given a good education, and the rest would follow.
So convinced were these idealists of the incontestability of their
arguments that they refused to make any concessions, however slight,
to those who held different views. This very inflexibility became
the means of ruining their best intentions. They did not stop at
intellectual and moral enfranchisement, their daring schemes comprised
complete social and political emancipation. In the period with which we
shall be chiefly concerned, their efforts were doomed to failure by the
circumstance that their aims were physically incapable of realisation
while society remained in the state in which it found itself at the
time of the outbreak of the French Revolution. Those more or less
unconscious feminists, the Bluestockings, were responsible for far more
direct improvement through the very moderation of their suggestions
than Mary Wollstonecraft, whose lonely voice in the wilderness of
British conventionality heralded the great and successful movement of a
later century. When the inevitable reaction set in, the entire feminist
movement, which Mary had identified with the cause of liberty, as
advocated by the French, was regarded as anti-national and seditious,
and first ridiculed and reviled, to be soon after consigned to a
temporary oblivion.

When called upon to decide which of the two lines of argument
referred to above deserves most sympathy, the unbiased onlooker may
find himself sadly perplexed. In choosing between the advocates of
dignified domesticity and those of perfect equality, one might be
inclined to decide in favour of the former; yet the fact remains that,
if especially the last decades have brought considerable progress, it
is chiefly the latter we have to thank for it. For the pathway of the
pioneer is rough and beset with difficulties, and she may seem "no
painful inch to gain", and yet the amount of progress, when measured
after the lapse of ages may be found to be considerable. But the
fatal tendencies to generalise and to exaggerate are everywhere, and
invariably spoil the best arguments. To the advocates of equality
_à outrance_ might be held up the warning example of the "masculine
woman", who has succeeded in getting herself abominated both by man
and by the wise members of her own sex; who has voluntarily, for the
prospect of mostly imaginary gains, unsexed herself, forgetful alike
of her task of propagation and education and of the fact that even
outside the home-circle there are the sick to be ministered to, and
the suffering to be comforted, occupations that demand the loving
gentleness and unselfish devotion of which the womanly woman is made
more capable by Nature than her brother Man. She scornfully resigns the
chivalrous worship of the opposite sex, mixing in political and other
debates with a want of moderation and often with a narrowness of views
which prove all too clearly that the average woman's qualities fit her
for the domestic rather than the social task.

On the other hand, those moralists who exhort women to be content
to take their place in society as "wives and mothers", not inferior
to man, but different, forget to provide for those women, whom
circumstances beyond their control have destined for celibacy,
debarring them from the privileges of their own sex, while not
allowing them to share those of the male. For such women it was indeed
a blessed day when the word that was to deliver them from bondage
and to open to them paths of public usefulness was first spoken by
the pioneers of feminism, throwing open to the female sex the many
professions for which they are as fit, or even fitter--in spite of the
equality theory--than men!

Whatever may be the absolute truth,--which probably no moralist or
feminist has ever held, although some may have held a considerable
portion of it,--both may be credited with a firm and unshakable belief
in the creative force of a good education for women, of whatever
description their chief duties in life may be. And, after all, the
question of perfect equality and of rivalry between the sexes leading
to a struggle for pre-eminence will chiefly attract women who, being
more gifted than their sisters, and filled with a laudable desire to
devote their talents to their cause, make the error of identifying
their own individual plight with that of their sex, imagining women
in general to be thwarted in their aims and ambitions, and ascribing
to them aspirations which the majority of women never cherished and
probably never will cherish. They turn their weapons against "man,
the usurper", goading him to opposition and forgetting Hannah More's
wise remark that "cooperation, and not competition is indeed the clear
principle we wish to see reciprocally adopted by those higher minds
in each sex which really approximate the nearest to each other"[2].
This remark, however much it may hold good for the times in which we
live, would have elicited from Mary Wollstonecraft the reply that
between master and slave there can be no cooperation until the latter's
individuality has been fully recognised by emancipation. If, moreover,
we consider how she was always thinking of duties before considering
the question of female rights, claiming the latter only that with
their help women might be better enabled to perform the former, it is
difficult to withhold from either woman that sympathy to which the
purity of her motives and the extreme earnestness of her endeavour
justly entitles her.

The history of female emancipation, therefore, is so closely bound
up with that of female education that it often becomes impossible to
separate them. Education, to follow the feminist line of rational
thought, forms the mind; and a well-formed mind shows a natural
inclination towards that perfect virtue which ought to be the ruling
power in the universe and the attainment of which is the sole aim of
humanity. The feminist problem will not be fully settled until all men
and women are equal partakers of the best education which it is in our
power to bestow.

It is impossible to record the earliest beginnings of feminism in
England without first glancing at that country whence came the powerful
wave of philosophical thought which, stimulated by the fathers of
British philosophy, in its turn stung the latent feminist energy
of a Mary Wollstonecraft to life and was also--although in a less
degree--indirectly responsible for the more qualified feminism in the
tendencies of the Bluestocking circles and their literature, which it
will be our business to describe. After one or two abortive attempts of
a directly feminist nature a movement of indirect feminism, which was
fostered and nursed by the French _salons_ of the 17th century began
at a time when in England the condition of women was rapidly sinking
to the lowest ebb since the dark ages of mediaevalism. All through
the 17th and the greater portion of the 18th century female influence
and importance grew and intensified without calling forth anything
like a parallel movement in the great rival nation beyond the Channel.
Those who, like Mary Astell and Daniel Defoe, caught the spirit of
emancipation were indeed pioneers, and to them all English women owe a
never-to-be-forgotten debt.

From the beginning of the religious revival in England in the early
part of the 18th century to the outbreak of the French Revolution a
strong and determined reaction against French manners was noticeable
in England. This reaction found its root in national prejudices,
which held whatever came from France to be tainted with the utter
corruption and depravity of French society and as a natural consequence
disqualified public opinion from appreciating the glorious edifice
of philosophical thought which was being erected at the same time.
It derived greater emphasis from the vicious excesses of the French
aristocracy and afterwards from the unparalleled horrors of the
Revolution. The English nation has never been remarkable for any
special love of imitation, and the menace of French revolutionism
turned Great Britain into the very bulwark of the most rigid
conservatism. So general did the feeling of hatred of the French
revolutionary spirit become, that even Mary Wollstonecraft's determined
attempt remained unsupported and was predoomed to failure merely
because it was identified with the hated principles of the French


[1] Edition T. Cadell, Strand, 1830; p. IX.

[2] _Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education_, p. 226.


_The Beginnings of a Feminist Movement in France._

The two main feminist tendencies of the preceding chapter may be found
illustrated among the Ancients by the respective theories of Plato and
Plutarch regarding women.

The history of ancient Greece records the earliest traces of what might
be termed a feminist movement. There was a period when the position of
the women of Greece, who had long been kept in submission, excluded
from political influence and treated contemptuously in literature,
began to awaken some interest. The views of Plato were of an advancedly
feminist tendency. His _Republic_, of which the fifth Book deals with
the position of women in the ideal state, ascribed their inferior
power of reasoning to an education which was based upon the assumption
of a sexual character. Plato was the first to assert the moral and
intellectual equality of women and to claim for them an equal share in
the public duties. His writings foreshadow the constant alternative of
later centuries. The woman who is regarded as essentially a citizen
will find the consequent responsibilities crowding upon her, which
she will be expected to share with her male partners, a bar to the
exclusively feminine duties of motherhood and the education of her own
progeny. No theories and social movements of the past or of any future
time have altered or will alter the axiom that every individual woman
will sooner or later find herself at a parting of roads, one of which
will lead her to devote her energies to the progress of human society
at large, the other to the more exclusive happiness and welfare of
the domestic circle. So completely does Plato disregard the feminine
instinct, that the children in his commonwealth were to be entrusted to
professional nurses, and that the mothers were to be allowed only to
suckle the infants promiscuously and without even recognising them, out
of bare necessity. The maternal instinct in Plato's state was ignored,
and the existence of a sexual character emphatically denied.

Another feminist among the Ancients, although his views differed widely
from Plato's, was Plutarch, whose ideas represent the opposite extreme
of the ideal set up for women. Woman's chief duty he held to be, not to
the state, but to her own family. She should try to be her husband's
associate not merely in material things, but also in the fulfilment
of more delicate tasks, prominent among which is that of educating
the young, for which purpose she herself requires to be instructed.
In direct opposition to Plato, Plutarch insists on the essentially
feminine qualities of tenderness, gentleness, grace and sensibility.
In preference to a national education, he wishes for a home-education,
based upon the natural affections between parent and child.

The theories of Plato and Plutarch contain the germ of one of the main
points of dispute among later feminists and anti-feminists: that of a
sexual character. On the attitude taken by later writers on the Woman
Question towards this all-important problem depends the course into
which they are directed. Those who, like Plato, either deny or ignore
the existence of a specially feminine character and specially feminine
proclivities, are naturally driven to assert the equality of the sexes,
and to claim for the female sex an equal share in both the rights and
the responsibilities of social life. On the other hand, those who,
like Plutarch, lay stress on the domestic and educational duties of
womanhood, counterbalancing the public duties of man, duties which take
their origin in the innate propensities of the female character, may
yet become defenders of the cause of woman, but their demands will be
more qualified, and while including in their programme a liberal female
education to make women fitting companions to their husbands and wise
mothers to their children, will regard the political emancipation of
the sex as a hindrance to the discharge of more important duties, and
therefore as undesirable.

Although the problem regarding the social status of women was a matter
of some speculation and discussion in the early days of antiquity,
no female writers arose to take part in them, and the position of
the female sex was exclusively determined by male opinion. This
circumstance in itself proves conclusively that the prevailing opinion
was that woman in her then state was an inferior creature. Women were
not even appealed to to make known their own wishes on a subject so
vitally concerning them. Their participation in the movement belongs
to later times. Upon the whole, the educationalists of Rome took
little notice of the problem of female education and instruction.
Quintilian, the chief among them, completely ignores the point, and
Roman literature affords no contribution of any real importance.

The first statements of the cause thus remained without any direct
results. Such traces as had been left were completely swept up in the
years of turmoil that followed, causing early civilisation to fall
back into barbarism. The centuries that elapsed between the fall of
the Latin Empire and the Renaissance may be called the Dark Age of
feminism. Mr. Mc. Cabe in his "_Woman in Political Evolution_" states
that the decline of the comparative esteem in which women were held
among the Romans set in even before the great Empire began to totter
on its foundations, and was largely due to the Judaic spirit which
prevailed in the early days of Christianity, demanding the implicit
obedience of women to the stronger sex, a point of view which was
found endorsed in many places in both the old and the New Testament.
The earliest Christian leaders had been taught to regard woman as the
agent of man's downfall, and readily observed the law that rendered her
dependent. They were for the most part zealots, who did not believe in
any literature that was not devotional. Even the most enlightened among
them, St. Jerome, who had to answer the charge of occupying himself
preferably with the instruction of women--which accusation he met with
the complaint that the men were displaying an absolute indifference to
instruction of any kind--wanted to make narrow religious asceticism
the basis of his education of women. Being exempt from social and
political duties, they seemed naturally fitted for a life of devotion
and contempt of the world, directing their energies and hopes towards
a life to come. In the strict retirement of the cloisters they filled
their time with prayer and sacred literature. Thus, in the dark age,
the ideal of womanhood became the Virgin, who lived her life of
devotion far from the temptations of a wicked world with which she had
nothing in common. Those women--and they were the majority--who did not
pursue so lofty an ideal, sank lower and lower, and came to be regarded
as mere sexual instruments, without any claim to consideration, by men
whose only interest was war, and among whom learning was regarded with

Before the great Renaissance came with its revival of learning in which
some women had a share, bringing improvement to some privileged ones,
but leaving the bulk of them in the pool of ignorance and slavery
into which they had sunk, two minor renaissances call for mention.
The first, of the late eighth and early ninth century, centres round
the names of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Franks, and Alcuin. They
saw, indeed, the necessity for better instruction and founded a great
many schools, but in their scheme women as a class were unfortunately
overlooked. The second revival, that of Abélard, which took place in
the twelfth century, marks the beginning of a more rational education,
subjecting various theological problems to the test of reason and
logic. Unfortunately, this second revival soon degenerated, and gave
rise to a class of pedants who neither understood the aims, nor even
the principles of education and against whose severity and arrogance
the great reformers of the Renaissance as Rabelais, Montaigne and Roger
Ascham directed their shafts. Neither of these revivals, therefore,
exercised any considerable influence on the position of women.

It was also in the twelfth century that the influence of the conquest
of England by the Normans began to make itself felt in Latin Europe.
The early traditions of England regarding women offer a striking
contrast to those which lived on the continent. When in the days of
Julius Caesar the Romans first set foot on British soil, they found
a well-balanced society, in which prevailed a state of comparative
equality between the sexes, and a correspondingly high code of
morality. The British women were consulted whenever an important
resolution had to be taken, and Tacitus, and in later days Selden, were
lavish in their praise of the dignity and bravery of Boadicea, whose
history has furnished even modern authors with a fitting subject.

About the middle of the fifth century there began those invasions of
Anglo-Saxons which led to a partial blending of the two races. The
newcomers also reverenced their women; history even records the names
of some "Queens regnant" among them, and ladies of birth and quality
sat in their Witenagemot. The church boasted among its abbesses some
fine specimens of intellectual womanhood (St. Hilda, St. Modivenna),
and in general the position of women among the Anglo-Saxons points to a
spirit of generous chivalry.

William the Conqueror and his men, who overran and subjected the
country in the eleventh century, came from a land where the principles
of the Salic law were recognised. Seen from a feminist point of view,
this invasion was a most fatal occurrence. Under Norman influence a
rapid decline set in.

But if the Normans Latinised the manners and customs of the nations
subjected to their rule, the latter influenced their conquerors in
a more subtle way through their literature. It was especially the
literature of Celtic England that hit the taste of mediaeval France.
The Arthurian Cycle found its way to the Continent. It breathes a
spirit of chivalry, and depicts a blending of the sexes on terms
of homage to the fair and weaker which came like a revelation.
And although the chivalrous element soon degenerated--Mr. Mc. Cabe
deliberately leaves early romanticism out of account, calling it "a
cult of pretty faces and rounded limbs, leading to a general laxity in
morals"--yet it opened the eyes of the stronger sex to the possibility
of women playing some slight part in society. In this connection it
is rather amusing--and also enlightening as illustrating the general
estimate of women--to read about a proposal made by one Pierre du
Bois to king Edward the First to make Christian women marry Saracen
husbands, that they might have a chance of converting them. The first
social mission of women, if du Bois had been given his way, would thus
have been that of utilising their charms to make religious converts.
At the same time, he deemed it advisable to fit them for this task by
giving them a rather liberal education and instruction.

There was, however, one important result of the new tendencies. The
education of girls in the early Middle Ages,--such as it was--was a
monastic one, practised within the walls of a convent. But in feudal
society it became more and more customary to have the daughters of
aristocratic families brought up at home, either by a tutor, or by some
member of the family whose parts fitted him for the task. This first
secularisation of female education among the higher classes was mainly
responsible for the awakening interest of some women in literature of
a secular kind. The traditions of the Church had demanded the teaching
of Latin long after it had fallen into disuse in the outside world. The
secular education, which comprised little actual instruction, next to
music and dancing, came to include a good deal of physical exercise.
Religion was not neglected, but relegated to a less commanding
position, and secular literature in the vernacular became a favourite
pastime, so much so, that (about 1400) Gerson thought it necessary to
protest against the reading of the _Roman de la Rose_ by young ladies,
from motives of delicacy.

In spite of many backslidings, the position of women was now very
slowly beginning to improve, and in the argument between the partisans
and the opponents of female instruction the latter were beginning to
have the worst of it. In the fifteenth century one or two forerunners
of the renaissance-women swelled the ranks of the advocates of the

There was in France Christine de Pisan, who in her "_Cité des Dames_"
protested against the conventional statement, that the spreading of
learning among women had had a disastrous influence upon their morals.
In illustration of her plea she quoted the example of Jehan Andry,
"solennel canoniste à Boulogne", who, when prevented by circumstances
from giving his lessons of divine wisdom, sent his daughter Novelle
in his place. In order that the beauty of her appearance might not
awaken illicit thoughts among her male scholars "elle avait une petite
courtine devant son visage." Christine de Pisan was one of the first
women who made a living by their pen, and is said to have lived a life
of irreproachable virtue, besides being possessed of great erudition.

The country where the most considerable gain was recorded was Italy.
Not only did many Italian women share in the enthusiasm aroused by the
Renaissance, but their doings were no longer regarded as unworthy of
interest. In Boccaccio's writings, for instance, women occupy a very
prominent place, and Chaucer was among those who followed his example.
Although a great many writers of the period make the failings of women
the object of their satirical remarks, yet there is in their very
criticism the wish for something better and nobler, and better still,
the conviction that women are capable of improvement.

The Renaissance, with its revival of ancient culture, contained a
strong educational element, which, although like the earlier revivals
it busied itself only very indirectly with the female half of society,
was not without importance to the movement of female emancipation. For
in the first place man was the usurper of all authority, and it was
only by educating him and widening his horizon that he could be made to
recognise the absurdity of the relations between the sexes; and in the
second place it was the philosophical spirit of the Renaissance that
built its educational speculations upon a solid foundation of thought
and method. The educationalists of the Renaissance were not churchmen,
but philosophers. The tendency among them--when at all interested in
women--is to condemn both the monastic education, which forms devotees
instead of mothers, and that secular education which creates literary
ladies instead of housewives, and to return to the ancient ideal of
womanhood in making them essentially wives and mothers, assuming
without discussion the female inferiority.

The most striking exception to this rule was the German Cornelius
Agrippa, of Nettesheim, who was the first to state the cause and
pronounce upon it in a sense so favourable to female instruction that
it entitles him to the name of "father of feminism". His treatise "_De
nobilitate et praecellentia feminini sexus_" (first published in 1505),
though naturally crude and immature, and hesitatingly put forward,
has that enthusiasm of firm convictions which touches the reader's
heart. The rudiments of later contentions are to be found in his plea.
The tyranny of men, he says, has deprived woman of her birthright of
liberty. Iniquitous laws have prevented her from enjoying it, usage and
custom have neglected it, and finally an exclusively sexual education
has quite extinguished it. In her youth she is kept a close prisoner
at home, as though she were utterly incapable of any more dignified
occupation than the performance of domestic duties like a kind of
superior servant, and using the needle. Thus she is prepared for the
matrimonial yoke which is laid upon her the moment she has attained
maturity, that she may quickly serve her chief purpose of propagating
the species. She is then delivered up to the oppression of a husband
whose inordinate jealousy and fits of temper reduce her to a deplorable
condition. Or she is kept all her life in the even more rigorous
confinement of a convent, a retreat of so-called virgins and vestals,
where she is left to a thousand agonies, the worst among which is a
gnawing regret for lost happiness which finishes her.

In a supplementary treatise Agrippa exhorts the husband to regard
and to treat his wife as a companion, and not as a servant. He seems
almost afraid of the consequences of his audacity when he tries to
weaken its effects by acknowledging the natural dominion of the male
sex. "However", he adds, "let their rule be all grace and reverence.
Although woman be inferior, let her be given a place by the husband's
side, that she may be his faithful helpmate and counsellor. Not a
slave, but the mistress of the house; not the first among the servants,
but the mother of the fine children who are to inherit her husband's
property, succeed to his business, and transmit his name to posterity."

Erasmus in his _Dialogues_ depicts women as eager to rise out of
their conditions of servitude. However much he tempers the force of
his argument by continual jokes and pleasantries, yet he seems to
sympathise with the female complaint that woman herself has abandoned
her cause, leaving the husband to decide all matters of importance and
voluntarily resigning all liberty, consigning herself to a life of
religious devotion and household duties. The consequence is that men
regard them as mere playthings and even deny them the name of human
beings. The woman who voices this complaint enumerates the various
occupations for which her sex would be fit, and winds up by saying that
"there is nothing in what she has said which does not deserve serious
and mature consideration."

In "_Abbates et Eruditiae_" Erasmus anticipates the problem of female
education as it would present itself in later ages. He foresees that
there will come a time when women, dissatisfied with the state of
bondage, will seek improvement by demanding an education. The innate
masculine egoism, however, will realise that learning will make women
less submissive to male authority, and they will resist any innovations
by which their supremacy may be endangered. The coming struggle is thus
foreshadowed by one of the most prominent among the philosophers of the
Renaissance, and his sympathies are, upon the whole, with the female
sex. He is the first to see the close connexion between the moral
worthlessness of females and their need of an education. To remedy the
frivolity of women he demanded that girls should be taught some useful
occupation, so as to keep them from idleness and its concomitant vices.
He also wished for a more liberal intellectual education to be supplied
in the family, and, should that be impossible, by the husband.

In full accordance with the above is the main drift of the third of
the great humanist's works which show a tendency favourable to women:
his "_Christian Marriage_", which made its appearance in 1526. It
resolutely prefers the state of matrimony to that of religious celibacy
and makes the possibilities of conjugal happiness dependent on the
cultivation of the female soul.

Works like the above could not fail to draw to the problem the
attention of the reading public, and to make it a favourite topic of
controversy. France especially proved an extremely fruitful soil, and
the French nation became interested in a regular "querelle des femmes"
which inspired a great many pens, and culminated in the third Book of
Rabelais' _Pantagruel_. The habit of reviling the female character
and satirising the female weaknesses was of mediaeval growth, and may
be found illustrated among many other examples in that portion of
the "_Roman de la Rose_" which is the work of Jean de Meung, in the
"_Lamentations de Matheolus_", of which the late professor van Hamel
issued a new edition in 1892, and in a great many "_fabliaux_". It also
prevailed in England with great persistence for several centuries.[3]
But the somewhat puerile invective became a controversy in France
when about the middle of the 15th century the female sex found some
staunch defenders among the male French authors. Martin le Franc's
"_Champion des Dames_", composed between 1440 and 1442, aroused a
great deal of hostile criticism, mostly in the prevailing satirical
form and culminating in the "_Grand Blason des Faulces Amours_" by
Guillaume-Alexis, and some sympathy, as in the "_Chevalier aux Dames_",
an allegorical poem; while some authors, like Robert de Herlin in
his "_Acort des mesdisans et biendisans_" tried to reconcile the two

After 1500 the growth of the Renaissance spirit soon caused the
controversy to enter into a new phase. The interest it commanded
remained undiminished and towards the middle of the century it even
increased to immense proportions, without, however, leading to any
pronounced tangible results. The progress of learning caused the
argument to become intensified into a more serious, philosophical cast.
One of the champions of the female sex, at the time when the "quarrel"
had reached its acute stage, François du Billon, who also made use
of the allegorical device to level his threats at the heads of the
revilers of women in his "_Fort inexpugnable de l'honneur fëminin_",
narrates how three of the worst sinners are taken prisoner by the
gallant defenders of the fortress. They are Boccaccio, Gratien Dupont,
seigneur de Drusac, whose "_Controverses_", written in 1534, are full
of the fiercest invective against women, and Jean Nevizan, author of a
Latin treatise, published in 1521, of which the very lengthy title may
be advantageously condensed into "_Sylva nuptialis_". Nevizan's work
shows the Renaissance spirit of enquiry into the stores of antiquity
in its mention of a great many sources from Christ to Plato and itself
became a source of inspiration to Rabelais.

In the years that followed the champions of feminism became identified
with the Platonic idealists who were bent upon spiritualising love[4],
whilst its adversaries tried to uphold the ancient "gaulois" traditions
with their lower estimate of womanhood. The publication (in 1542)
of Antoine Héroët's "_Parfaicte Amye_", with its Platonic notions,
heralded a new phase in the history of the "Querelle des Femmes". In
its metaphysical tendencies this brief treatise contains a delicate
analysis of the emotions attendant upon the pure passion, the chief
inspirer of virtue which brings us nearer to God. It ushered in the
acute stage, during which not one of the great authors remained silent
on a question which occupied so many minds. The different contributions
to the problem under discussion were soon combined in one volume under
the name of "_Opuscules d'Amour_". The poets and poetesses of the
"école lyonnaise", Maurice Scève, Pernette du Guillet, Louise Labé,
and others, ranged themselves among those who tried to introduce a
purified love-ideal and also Marguerite, Queen of Navarre[5] joined
the controversialists in her poetry. So general did the interest taken
in the issue become, that Rabelais interrupted the narrative of his
_Pantagruel_ to contribute his reflections on the subject in the Third
Book (about 1546). He took his cue from Nevizan's "_Sylva nuptialis_"
in introducing the problem as a consequence of speculations regarding
the marriage of Panurge. Rabelais proved himself on the whole an
anti-feminist, and we have du Billon's authority for the fact that the
name "Pantagruéliste" was considered equivalent to that of enemy to the
cause of woman.[6]

If we except Christine de Pisan, Marie de Jars de Gournay, and "la
Belle Cordière," the Lyons poetess Louise Labé, the number of French
female authors was not greatly increased by the Renaissance movement.
But the number of women of the higher classes who took part in the
great intellectual movement grew all over Europe, particularly in
France, England and Spain. One of the most erudite Frenchwomen of the
time was Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre, (1492-1549), sister to
Francis the First, who welcomed to her court the greatest scholars of
the day, and who was herself no mean poetess. It would not be difficult
to extend this list with more names of high-placed women who owed their
intellectual development to the instruction of special preceptors.
Education of this kind became the privilege of the female aristocracy.
The schools for the most part refused to admit women; in the convent
learning was discouraged because a spirit of free inquiry mostly led
to heresy, and for the women of the lower classes nothing at all was
done. Their more fortunate sisters learned to speak and write Latin,
Greek and Italian, and after 1600 also Spanish, and the abuse by women
of Italian words while pretending to speak their own language called
forth a strong reaction in 1579, the year which saw Euphues, and the
beginning of its influence at the Elizabethan court.

The tendencies of the Reformation pointed in the same direction; they
encouraged a spirit of free inquiry and were directly opposed to
those of the monastic education. Under Luther's influence a number of
lay-schools for girls arose in Germany and the early Reformation thus
tried to fill up the gap in female education which the Renaissance
had left. Unfortunately the political condition of France in the late
16th century was most unfavourable to educational reform owing to
the violence of the religious wars, and it was not until after the
Edict of Nantes that a number of Huguenot schools arose. The outlook
in the opening years of the 17th century was far from bright; great
misery prevailed everywhere, in addition to which the internal wars
had brought about a general decay of morals which threatened to become
the country's ruin. It was at this critical stage in the history of
France that woman had become sufficiently confident of her powers to
claim a beneficial share in all matters of social importance.[7] For
the first time in history the Woman Question reached an acute stage.
The seventeenth century, which witnessed the deepest abasement of
English women, will always be remembered in the history of France as
the time of the first self-conscious vindication of female rights.
This vindication--except in one or two isolated instances--did not
take the form of a direct appeal; it adopted the persuasive method of
furnishing convincing evidence of woman's capacity to hold her own both
intellectually and morally and even to supply certain elements which
were lacking among the opposite sex, for the benefit of French society.

We have seen that in the late sixteenth century the problem came to
be a much-discussed one in French literature, which it remained all
through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. M. Ascoli, in the
"_Revue de synthèse historique_" (Tome XIII) has published an extensive
bibliography of no fewer than ninety-seven works of a feminist or
anti-feminist tendency written between 1564 and 1773, which proves
conclusively that the intellectual condition of women remained a
subject of contemplation. The thirst for knowledge, as we have seen,
had imparted itself to a small category of women whose circumstances
enabled them to share the literary pursuits of their menfolks. But even
the boldest of these earliest champions in their wildest dreams did
not go beyond that enfranchisement of the mind which--however important
in itself--is only the indispensable first step in female emancipation.
Until quite late in the 16th century no women had entered the field
as the avowed champions of their sex against the arrogant assertions
of male supremacy. The alleged inferiority of women was a theme of
frequent discussion only in the works of male authors, who further
degraded the sex by the bantering, often insolently satirical tone of
their contentions. But no woman had come forward to test the evidence
on both sides, far less to enter into competition with men on behalf of
her sex. The growing taste for literature had done little or nothing
to improve the social position of women; it unfortunately limited
itself to a few privileged women, leaving the rest of womanhood in the
obscurity of hopeless ignorance. Thus matters stood when in the first
quarter of the seventeenth century two events of great importance in
the history of feminism took place, of which the first, abortive though
it was, and therefore predoomed to barrenness, represents a deliberate
attempt by a woman to constitute herself the champion of her sex; the
second being something in the nature of a social experiment, which,
without aiming definitely at the attainment of an exclusively feminist
ideal, did more to improve the condition of women than any more direct
endeavour. I refer to the work of Marie de Jars de Gournay, and to the
establishment of the first _salon_ by Catherine de Rambouillet.

The former struck a bold and defiant note, resolutely claiming for
her sex equality with men. This audacious assertion stamps her as the
pioneer of modern feminism. The remarkable thing about her theories is
that without the help of anything like a clearly defined philosophy
she strikes the keynote of whatever claim was put forward on behalf
of women in later times as a consequence of more than a century
of philosophical speculation, the practice of which entailed the
all-absorbing consequences of the great Revolution of 1789. When the
cause of woman was taken up in England by Mary Wollstonecraft, and
grafted upon the larger cause of humanity as its logical consequence,
the arguments of her plea were directly derived from that philosophy
of liberty, equality and fraternity which may be traced to its origin
in Locke, Descartes and Bacon. Yet here was a lady, at a time when
Descartes was a mere boy, boldly asserting that nature is opposed to
all inequality. "La pluspart de ceux qui prennent la cause des femmes
contre cette orgueilleuse preferance que les hommes s'attribuent, leur
rendent le change entier: r'envoyans la preferance vers elles. Moy
qui fuys toutes extremitez, je me contente de les esgaler aux hommes:
la nature s'opposant pour ce regard autant à la supériorité qu'à
l'infériorité." She thus sets about vindicating the equality of her sex
in everything except physical strength, going beyond the most daring
speculation of any previous author, with the exception of those who,
blinded by hate, had put forth theories of female pre-eminence in which
in sober moments they themselves hardly believed.

Marie de Gournay ascribed the state of inequality to the circumstance
that woman is purposely denied an education by man, who owes his
usurped authority to abuse of physical force, which she holds in utter
contempt. "Les forces corporelles sont vertus si basses, que la beste
en tient plus pardessus l'homme, que l'homme pardessus la femme." Woman
is man's inferior in bodily strength only "par la nécessité de port et
la nourriture des enfants", compensating her lack of brute force by
her delicate mission of propagation. But Mlle de Gournay emphatically
asserts the perfectibility of the female mind.

To understand and partly justify the extreme vehemence of the lady's
attack upon the opposite sex, whose unmerited contempt of the feminine
intellect had deeply injured her feelings, it is necessary to take into
account the circumstances of her life, which explain her acerbity. She
was a studious woman,--a forerunner of the Hannah Mores and Elizabeth
Carters as well as of the Mary Astells and Mary Wollstonecrafts of a
later period--whom her exceptional intellectual gifts betrayed into
that error so common among the extreme female champions--that of
substituting herself for her sex and claiming for all what no one with
any discernment would think of refusing her personally. Her mother's
attempts to turn her away from literature only irritated her. She
had no personal beauty and her entire life was a protracted struggle
against indifference, opposition and ridicule, which embittered her
beyond measure against that sex which valued the gift of a pleasing
appearance above that of a comprehensive mind. Born in or about 1565,
she must have been a mere girl when first brought into contact with
Montaigne's _Essays_. She expressed her admiration of them in a letter
to the author, couched in terms so enthusiastic that the philosopher
came to see her, thus laying the foundation of a friendship which
was only disturbed by his death in 1592. She became his spiritual
daughter,--his "fille d'alliance"--and took an active part in the
publication of the later editions of the _Essays_. She rather
conceitedly accounted for the close affection which bound them together
as "the sympathy from genius to genius". When Montaigne died, his
"fille d'alliance" was in a fair way to become a prominent figure in
the literary world, having under his influence written some pedagogical
essays, which were favourably received. With the philosopher her chief
guide passed away, and subsequent experience seems to have soured her
and made her spiteful and old-maidish before her time. Those whose
object was to ridicule her represent her with three cats, following
her about wherever she went. She met with little sympathy beyond that
expressed from chiefly intellectual motives in the correspondence
of the learned Dutchwoman Anna Maria Schuurman, and of the renowned
Louvain professor Juste Lipse--whose praise of Montaigne's _Essays_ had
won her instant recognition. But she deserves respect for the courage
of her opinions, regardless of the prejudices of her contemporaries,
and for standing her ground firmly, often turning ridicule into esteem.

Such was the pioneer whose ideas regarding the position of women are
embodied chiefly in a treatise entitled: "_De L'Egalité des Hommes et
des Femmes_" and in the "_Grief des Dames_", and further alluded to in
her preface to the 1595 edition of Montaigne's _Essays_ and in a prose
"_Apology_", intended to disarm her ridiculers, in which she protests
against being disregarded merely on account of her womanhood. Here,
indeed, we are confronted by a sense of personal injury. Concerning
"_De L'Egalité_" she says in one of her later writings: "Il faut le
soubmettre à la touche par ce que peuvent valoir ses raisons et ses
pensées, fortes ou feibles qu'elles soient, et puis apres, par la
consideration de son dessein. Sçavoir si ce nouveau biais qu'elle
prend, et qui la rend originale, est bon pour relever le lustre et pour
verifier les privileges des Dames, opprimez par la tyrannie des hommes."

The treatise "_De L'Egalité_" consists of two parts. In the first,
the right of women to equal consideration with men is vindicated by
means of evidence derived from the writings of men; in the second the
authority of God himself as contained in the Bible is referred to and
expounded in a manner wholly favourable to the doctrine of equality.

Regarding the first point, the author derives comfort from the
reflexion that the chief revilers of women are to be found among the
worst specimens of the male sex, who merely repeat the opinions of
others, "n'ayans pas appris que la première qualité d'un mal habill'
homme, c'est de cautionner les choses soubs la foy populaire et par
ouyr dire," in doing which, "d'une seule parolle ils desfont la moitié
du Monde." Their sole aim is to rise at the expense of the female sex.
But fortunately there is the testimony of truly great men to prove
the mental and moral capacity of women. Here follows a list of the
male partisans of some degree of feminism among the philosophers of
antiquity and of the renaissance: Plato, Socrates, Plutarch, Seneca,
Aristotle, Erasmus, Politian, Agrippa. Montaigne is introduced as
"le tiers chef du triumvirat de la sagesse humaine et morale" (with
Plutarch and Seneca), for having written that "il se trouve rarement
des femmes dignes de commander aux hommes," which she twists into an
implication that he holds woman to be the equal of man.

To counterbalance the principles of the Salic law, constructed entirely
upon considerations of war, Tacitus' account of the position of women
among the Germanic tribes is quoted, together with the example of the
Spartans, who in the discussion of their public affairs consulted
female opinion.

Marie de Gournay held that the two sexes have equal souls given them;
the institution of a sexual difference having been made exclusively
with regard to the propagation of the species. To illustrate which, the
author, whom nobody would dream of accusing of levity, bashfully craves
permission to quote a popular saying. "Et s'il est permis de rire en
passant, le quolibet ne sera pas hors de saison, nous apprenant: qu'il
n'est rien plus semblable au chat sur une fenestre, que la chatte."

After passing in review the principal secular authorities with
feminist tendencies, Mlle de Gournay tries the more difficult task
of reconciling her feminist views to those of the early Christians,
taking what she calls "la route des tesmoignages saincts", quoting St.
Basil and St. Jerome, and finding herself for the first time somewhat
perplexed at the teachings of St. Paul, who forbids preaching by women
and enjoins silence, "not because he despises the female sex, but
merely lest their beauty and grace, displayed to advantage in a public
office, should become a source of temptation to men."

That women have always excelled in religious devotion is demonstrated
by means of a reference to the championship of Judith and the martyrdom
of Joan of Arc. The mention of the former brings us to direct
Scriptural evidence, which the author finds an even harder subject to
tackle. Here, indeed she is sometimes led by her zeal into the most
palpable absurdities: "Et si les hommes se vantent, que Jesus-Christ
soit nay de leur sexe, on respond qu'il le falloit par nécessaire
biensceance, ne se pouvant pas sans scandale, mesler jeune et à toutes
les heures du jour et de la nuict parmy les presses, aux fins de
convertir, secourir et sauver le genre humain, s'il eust esté du sexe
des femmes: notamment en face de la malignité des Juifs."

The entire treatise is mere theorising, and being produced at a
time when the public mind on the subject was one mass of inveterate
prejudice, brushing aside any speculations of the kind it contained
as ridiculous and "paradoxical", it is not astonishing that Marie de
Gournay spoke to the winds, and that the practical results of her
labour were nihil.

One gets the impression that the author herself was fully convinced
of the hopelessness of even obtaining a hearing, and wrote chiefly
to relieve herself of the burden of her glowing indignation. To this
circumstance it may be attributed that she refrains from formulating
any practical claims, or drawing up a scheme of an ideal society in
which women were given their due. But her zeal and devotion to the
cause she believed to be just were above suspicion, and she has a claim
to the gratitude of her sex for having asserted the female equivalence.

If Mlle de Gournay combined in her person some of the elements of the
social reformer, there certainly is nothing sensational about her
personality and way of expressing her views, and she must be described
as revolutionary in a limited sense. Apart from her extreme feminism,
her social and political views were quite conventional, and in her
preface to "_De l'Egalité_" she even seeks the patronage of Queen Anne,
as the most prominent and influential member of her sex. François
Poullain de la Barre, however, who half a century later became heir to
her spiritual legacy, was an out-and-out revolutionist, whose theories
of female equality proceeded from generally revolutionary tendencies.
Like Mlle de Gournay, he was a theorist, but he differed from her in
being above all a philosopher of the school of Descartes, and the
first to apply the doctrine of Cartesianism to social problems. This
consideration renders him important not merely as the direct advocate
of the cause of woman, in which capacity his efforts met with no
success whatever, but as the forerunner of J. J. Rousseau in his theory
of human rights, which in its turn became the basis of the feminist
movement in England in the last years of the next century, inaugurated
by Mary Wollstonecraft. As M. Piéron puts it, "le chemin réel ira de
Descartes au féminisme par la Révolution, et non de Descartes à la
révolution par le féminisme."

M. Rousselot, in drawing attention to Poullain de la Barre, refers to
his works as "now almost forgotten."[8] The utter obscurity in which
this author remained buried for two centuries is probably due to his
life of retirement,--as M. Henri Grappin has pointed out in opposition
to M. Piéron's opinion, who, basing himself upon evidence of style
and language, adjudged him to be a frequent visitor to salons--to
his complete indifference to worldly fame, and to this freedom from
worldly ambitions. His work, like that of Mlle de Gournay, was received
with a mixture of scorn and ridicule, and soon forgotten. A century
later, some of the works of the Encyclopedians, which developed
the same social ideas--with a striking difference in the matter of
female education,--were burnt by the common hangman by order of the
authorities, who could not, however, prevent the new ideas from
taking root and bearing fruit. In striking contrast, Poullain, whose
revolutionism found few sympathisers and was consequently adjudged
harmless, was left at peace, and brought out his revolutionary
treatises "avec privilege du Roy", and "avec permission signée de la
Reynie", for which he paid with disregard and oblivion. Both Mary
Wollstonecraft and Poullain should have been born in the nineteenth
century, but whereas the former was the embodiment of that indomitable
spirit of rebellion which had taken almost a century to mature,
Poullain stands revealed to the modern reader, a living anachronism.
There is something in his "fanaticism of ideas" which anticipates
the intellectual "tours de force" of William Godwin, whose eccentric
genius, however, was made subservient to the larger cause of mankind.

Born at Paris in 1647, it seems that Poullain chiefly studied theology
at the University of his native city, until the discontent which was
roused in him by the system of education followed there, made him
yield to the intellectual allurements of Cartesianism. Descartes had
been dead some dozen years when the great vogue of his philosophy
began. Poullain became a fervent Cartesian and after some years
turned Protestant, which religion he felt to be better suited to his
philosophical ideas. He lived mostly at Paris and at Geneva, and died
at the latter place in 1723.

Although Poullain seems to shrink from openly confessing himself
influenced by Descartes, his works show the rationalist tendencies
of pronounced Cartesianism, to which we shall often have occasion to
refer in coming chapters. He may be called one of the forerunners of
the Encyclopedians, anticipating their imperturbable rationalism, their
contempt of tradition and custom,--which, by a somewhat sophistic turn
of reasoning, they call superstition and prejudice,--their habit of
referring to original principles, and above all their absolute faith in
the perfectibility of mankind through the education of the mind and in
the certainty of unlimited human progress. No theory had ever been put
forward which contained brighter promises for the future of the human
race, and the enthusiasm which it awakened was not damped by the fatal
experience of the failure of former experiments. To this circumstance
must be ascribed the boundless optimism of the partisans of the new
philosophy and their radicalism.

The three feminist treatises, in the order of their publication, were:

1. "_De L'Egalité des deux sexes, discours physique et moral ou l'on
voit l'importance de se défaire des préjugés._" (1673);

2. "_De L'Education des Dames, pour la conduite de l'esprit dans les
sciences et dans les moeurs._" (1674);

3. "_De l'Excellence des Hommes, contre l'Egalité des sexes, avec une
dissertation qui sert de réponse aux objections tirées de l'Ecriture
Sainte contre le sentiment de l'Egalité._" (1675).

Of these, the second may be dismissed in a few words, as containing
nothing very striking beyond the author's dissatisfaction with the
spirit prevailing at the Universities.

The first, on the other hand, contains the gist of Poullain's
contentions. We are exhorted to judge only from evidence, without
regarding the opinions of others, and are brought face to face with
what the author holds to be the unvarnished truth, unaffected by
that spirit of misplaced gallantry which he feels to be particularly
offensive. If, therefore, anybody is shocked at the crudeness of some
statements, he expects him to blame Truth, and not Poullain de la Barre.

Conventionalism is what the author holds to be the chief source of the
prevailing inequality. In conformity with the tenets of the Christian
faith, people are taught to regard the submission of women as the
will of God, whereas Reason shows it to be merely the consequence
of inferior strength. To maintain this usurped supremacy men have
purposely kept women from being instructed. In many respects the
capabilities of women are superior to those of men: it is their special
province to study medecine and by its aid to restore health to the sick
and ailing. There is, in fact, nothing for which he pronounces women to
be unfit: "il faut reconnaître que les femmes sont propres à tout." He
would make them judges, preachers and even generals.

The faults of women, which even this fanaticist of Reason cannot
overlook in the face of the distressing state of female manners and
morals, are due to the defective education which is given them.
They are taught to feel an interest only in balls, theatres and
the fashions, with the result that vanity is their predominant
characteristic. So far we might be listening to some English moralist
of the eighteenth century. Their only literature is of a devotional
kind, "avec ce qui est dans la cassette," Poullain meaningly adds. For
a girl to display any knowledge she may have acquired is thought a
shame, and makes her a "précieuse" in the eyes of everybody.

The only state of dependence which finds favour in Poullain's eyes
is that of children on their parents. Here again, we have the purely
rational view which was also Mary Wollstonecraft's. The reason of a
child is undeveloped, and therefore requires the support of full-grown
reason. But this dependence naturally comes to an end as soon as that
age is reached when the faculty is sufficiently developed to enable the
child to judge for himself, when advice may take the place of command.

Pierre Bayle informs us that Poullain fully expected to be taken to
task for this daring vindication of the right of woman to be educated.
However, as two years passed without bringing the looked-for refutation
of his arguments, he himself anticipated his opponents by writing the
third treatise. Its title is rather misleading. As a matter of fact,
the pamphlet itself presents the usual arguments in favour of the
theory of male excellence with which the arsenal of anti-feminists was
stocked, whilst the "remarques nécessaires" by which it is followed,
demonstrating the author's opinions, contain the entire feminist
theory. The spirit that was to conduct straight to the Revolution
breaks out when the author confidently states that as yet feminism is
only a matter of theoretical speculation, and not ripe for social or
political action. He next enters upon a diatribe against civilisation,
which has failed to bring humanity any nearer to absolute truth, and
extols the never-failing power of Reason.

However interesting treatises like the above may be in the evidence
they contain of what was secretly going on, of the mental processes
which occupied individuals when conventionalism was at its height,
processes which contained in them the germs of the great upheaval of
a later century, yet it cannot be sufficiently insisted on that they
were only abortive eruptions, showing that the social volcano was very
far from being extinct; mere puffs of smoke which the slightest breath
of wind dispersed. Of far greater direct importance to the growth of
opinions was that social movement which began in the early seventeenth
century, of which woman was herself the originator, and by means of
which she almost leapt into the seat of social influence: the movement
of the _salons_. We have seen that it was in the sixteenth century
that woman made her triumphal entry into society and began to dominate
the world of conversation and of literature. The chivalrous worship of
earlier centuries had degenerated without doing anything permanent to
increase the esteem in which women stood. But in the sixteenth century
a new form of courtship was introduced from Italy and Spain, which was
utilised by clever women as a means of gaining the ascendancy over men.

The love theory evolved by Plato, with its metaphysical conception
of the passion, which in the Greek philosopher's days had fallen on
deaf ears, was carried into practice two thousand years later under
the auspices of the great Renaissance. In accordance with the views
of Plato's circle, love came to be recognised as the chief inspirer
of virtue and of noble deeds. The platonic ideal thus was from the
beginning a refining influence, a corrective to coarseness and
materialism, and an incentive to the purest idealism. The theory of
spiritualised love recognised the love of physical beauty only as the
first step on the ladder of Beauty connecting Earth with Heaven; at
each new step, however, the ideal becomes transfigured and purified,
until everything earthly sinks into nothingness, the Soul becomes
paramount and everything else falls away. This view was adopted by the
intellectual leaders of the Italian Renaissance, Dante and Petrarch,
and also by the leading churchmen, in whose speculations the highest
and purest form of passion became the love of God. The spirit of
Platonism thus became mingled with that of religious mysticism, which
even surpassed Plato in its condemnation of that earthly love which
the latter had recognised. The Florentine Academy, however, adopted the
Platonic view, making human love one of the steps leading to the ideal
of eternal beauty; and refining upon it until it became the chaste
passion of the sacrifice of self to the loved object, of which the
passion of Michel Angelo and Vittoria Colonna furnishes an example.

The Italian wars of the late fifteenth century had brought Lewis the
Twelfth and his retinue to Genoa. One of the highly-cultured ladies of
that city, Tommassina Spinola, made a deep impression upon the king.
She was married and virtuous, and so the royal lover had to control his
passion and to be content with that platonic friendship which made of
the lady "la dame de ses pensées", and entitled him to nothing beyond
the purest and most disinterested friendship. A great many parallel
cases occurred among the king's followers, and the women found their
influence upon their platonic lovers far greater and more lasting
than that exercised over the husband in matrimony. There was in this
new form of courtship,--which in literature often took a pastoral
form,--an element of idealism which placed the weaker sex on a pedestal
in putting the adored one far beyond the reach of the lover, who only
aspired the more faithfully for not having his passion gratified. In
this lay the dormant power of womanhood, which might be successfully
turned into a means of improving their position in society; and as soon
as women came to realise this they made the most of their opportunity.
The "Platonic friendship craze" spread to France, where the sentimental
passion of these "Jansenists of love" found a fruitful soil. Before
this new form of worship all class-distinctions fell away; not
unfrequently the lady was so high above the lover's reach as to exclude
all possibility of gratification, which only added an additional zest
to the adventure.

Unfortunately the morals of the French court were not such as to
encourage the hope of a permanent improvement in the relations
between the sexes. The antithesis between the platonic ideals and the
brutal coarseness of sexual desire, ill-concealed under a varnish of
hypocritical gallantry, was indeed very marked. At the court of Francis
physical beauty was considered far above virtue. The years following
the introduction of the female element and the rise of female influence
at court witnessed a long and bitter struggle between the coarse
manners which the long years of warfare had engendered, regarding
women as the playthings of men, to be trifled with and to be lightly
thrown away when used, and the newly-introduced "galanterie" which
implied patient and disinterested worship of an object, superior in
the possession of that beauty of feature which was regarded as the
reflection of a beautiful soul. Women had become conscious of their
growing influence, and of the means of increasing it. This struggle
for recognition found expression in literature in the "_Contes de la
reine de Navarre_", written by Marguerite after her marriage, and
modelled upon Boccacio's _Decamerone_, the evident purpose of which
was to correct French manners and morals, and to glorify that form of
love which is a mixture of the worship of chivalry and the platonic
passion. The _Contes_ themselves show a certain looseness of morals
which is rather a concession to the general taste of the times, but
the prologues and epilogues are of a far more refined character,
and breathe a spirit of platonic idealism. In their celebration of
virtue and the pure, idealistic passion it inspires, the _Contes_
are a precursor of Mlle de Scudéry's later romances. Instead of the
deceitful, hypocritical homage of feudal times, the demand was for
women to be respected and to be recognised as the social equals of men.

The first serious attempt made by the ladies of the French court to
better their position ended disastrously. Their influence was more than
discounted by the demoralising effects of the wars and by the gross
libertinism of the male leaders of society. The more determined among
the women, finding the task of reforming the morals of a dissolute
court beyond their strength, resolved to cultivate in their own private
circles that refinement of manners and higher civilisation which
the court refused to adopt. Thus arose the famous _salons_ of the
seventeenth century, in which the struggle for the emancipation of the
female mind was combined with that for the improvement of contemporary
morals, the refinement of contemporary taste, and the purification of
the French language and literature.

"Depuis le salon de Madame de Rambouillet jusqu'au salon de Madame
Récamier", says M. Ferdinand Brunetière, "l'histoire de la littérature
française pourrait se faire par l'histoire des salons." This statement
by an eminent critic implies a magnificent eulogy of women and
testifies to the magnitude of their literary influence during the whole
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for the history of the
_salons_ is the history of indirect feminism. Nor was their influence
restricted to literature; in nearly every department of social life
French women rose to ascendancy; and this, too, at a time when the
subjugation of their sex in the other countries of Europe, and notably
in England, was most complete. After the great triumphs of the first
half-century of their existence, the _salons_ shared in the general
decline, to be revived with a fair amount of success,--although of a
somewhat different kind--in the eighteenth century.

Woman thus became a social influence to be reckoned with. The
question may be put whether upon the whole this remarkable event was
favourable to the cause of feminism? For, however much the movement
of "preciosity" did to make women realise their independence, and
assert their individuality, its original tendencies were not towards
any appreciable increase of female instruction. The leaders of the
movement: Mme de Rambouillet and her daughters, and afterwards Mme
de Sévigné and Mme de la Fayette, detested the "femme savante" quite
as much as they hated ignorance. The only aim of the education they
recommended was to make women fit for the society in which they were
expected to move; manners, taste and wit were cultivated at the expense
of those qualities which are indispensable to rouse a spirit of pure
feminism. The "précieuses" were bent upon cultivating sentiment rather
than intellect, and--apart from the fact that sentiment is rather apt
to run riot and that many women have a natural surplus which does not
require cultivation--it is by a well-regulated intellect that the cause
of feminism will be best served. As it was, the essentially feminine
qualities were cultivated by the _salons_, and the sexual difference
emphasized. It must therefore be admitted that the _salons_ only very
indirectly furthered the feminist movement and that the interest
evinced by the "précieuses" in the equality problem and its levelling
tendencies was naturally slight. But it stands to their credit that
they compelled men to recognise the importance of sex in other matters
than those which are purely sexual. If the cause of feminism in the
days of the _salons_ had been in a more advanced state, the ladies who
frequented them might have turned anti-feminist in their horror of
social changes which threatened to rob them of the empire which their
essentially feminine qualities had so easily secured over men.

The better "précieuse" was not an intellectual; she was expected
to conceal such knowledge as she might possess and to cherish that
"pudeur sur la science" which makes Mme de Lambert refer to her secret
"débauches d'esprit", and which became the prevailing sentiment also
among her Bluestocking sisters of the eighteenth century.

The history of the French _salons_ and of the "précieuses" who peopled
them begins in the year 1613, when Catherine, marquise de Rambouillet
invited to her town residence all those who, like herself, felt
disgusted at the camp-manners prevailing at the court and at the
licentiousness of the language and literature practised there. The
Rambouillet-assemblies, in their original intention a reaction against
the "esprit gaulois", accomplished far more than they aimed at in
securing for women a prominent place in French society. They became
a powerful factor in that thorough reform of manners and of language
which became the glory of the century and which, whatever excesses may
have followed in its train, did away for good and all with coarseness
and brutality. Of the very questionable society at court it might
be said that "force prevailed, while grace was wanting"; the latter
essentially feminine quality was abundantly supplied at the Hôtel de
Rambouillet, where the feminine element found its way into literature;
and conversation, which hitherto had been masculine, became the means
of introducing a new language for new manners.

In opposition to the scant respect with which women were treated in
court-circles, an ideal of love was set up which was more in accordance
with the platonic sentiment. Once again the virginal state became an
object of glorification. The state of matrimony, on account of its
coarser foundation, was relegated to an inferior position. To the
crude, almost offensive lovemaking of the courtier was opposed the
modest, unselfish worship of platonic love of a pastoral kind; and
the representative poetry of the period, some of which was the work
of women, exalted the platonic passion which was to revolutionize the
relations of the sexes. The warrior-lover of the feudal past, who was
only a tyrant under the mask of chivalrous adulation, gave way to the
"honnête homme", or knight without an armour, of whom it could be said
that he possessed "la justesse de l'esprit et l'équité du coeur",
safe-guarding him against error of judgment and excess of passion,
and making him the devoted and constant lover of his mistress. The
following enumeration is given of his duties: "aimer le monde, aimer
les lettres sans affectations; mais surtout être amoureux et rechercher
la conversation des femmes". Anybody wishing to be admitted to polite
society had to conform to these rules. The tone of conversation was
characterised by a spirit of "galanterie", a kind of chivalry of
words and actions, which was to inspire men to noble feelings and to
corresponding deeds.

Mme de Rambouillet attracted to her salon not only men and women
of the aristocracy, but also a great many men-of-letters, who were
valued according to their literary merit, regardless of fortune and
importance. This close alliance between the female sex and the men
of culture was in some respects the best education the former could
have chosen. They were bent on proving once for all, as Fléchier puts
it, that "l'esprit est de tout sexe" and that nothing was wanting to
make women the intellectual equals of men, but the habit of being
instructed and the liberty of acquiring useful knowledge. Women became
the unchallenged arbitresses of morals, taste, language, literature and
wit, in all of which they themselves set the example. In a contemporary
work we find the earliest salon described as "l'école de Madame de
Rambouillet, qui a renouvelé en partie les moeurs, où l'on mettait sa
gloire dans une conduite irréprochable." Not only was the language
purified by removing its overgrowth of obscenity and indelicacy, but
it was divested of a number of superfluous and affected foreign words.
The female influence upon the literary taste was equally all-embracing.
A number of new words owed their existence to feminine initiative,
and although the writers of the very first class were on the whole
unfavourably disposed towards what came to be called "préciosité", and
were consequently inclined to satirise its excesses, a great deal of
respectable second class talent was lavished upon the frequenters of
the salons.

The literature produced by the "habitués" of Mme de Rambouillet's
salon was mostly of an occasional nature, and composed in homage to
the female sex, comprising sonnets, madrigals, epistolary prose, and
plays. The literature of the Scudéry circle, besides the products of
a growing pedantry, also included many occasional pieces of a lighter
kind, among which were so-called sonnets-énigmes, vers-échos and the
like, which, if contributing to the enjoyment of an idle moment, had no
permanence whatever as literature. To this kind of poetry the ladies
themselves were important contributors. In M. Victor du Bled's "_La
société française_" we read about a "Journée des Madrigaux" at Mlle
de Scudéry's, occasioned by a present of a "cachet de cristal" made
to the hostess on one of her famous Saturdays, calling forth poetical
ebullitions from the most widely different authors. There were the
famous "Portrait" series, composed by the ladies of the Duchess of
Montpensier's circle; the written "Conversations",--those by Mlle de
Scudéry herself were judged by Mme de Maintenon to contain "useful
hints to young females" and therefore introduced at St. Cyr--and a very
extensive literature in the epistolary style, which was to become the
current form of the Richardsonian novel.

The topics of the day also formed a subject of animated discussion
at the assemblies. Among them the social position of women and their
treatment by the male sex occasionally found a place. Dissertations on
literary subjects alternated with discussions of intellectual problems,
one of the themes at Mlle de Scudéry's being: "De quelle liberté les
femmes doivent-elles jouir dans la société?" Although the salons of
the seventeenth century were not so revolutionary in their tendencies
as some of the next, inasmuch as they were strictly private and did
not either directly or indirectly aim at subverting the existing
government or promoting seditious theories, yet political subjects
were not shunned, and even philosophy and science--the craze of the
salons of the early eighteenth century--found a number of devotees and
sympathisers. About the middle of the seventeenth century, Cartesianism
became the fashionable philosophy in spite of the opposition of the
universities. Mme de Sévigné's letters prove that many women were
interested in its propagation. The "précieuses" felt attracted by the
speculations of Descartes, to follow which the cultivation of a sound
sense of logic is more indispensable than any great erudition. The
consequence of the philosophical movement was a widening interest in
knowledge, an awakening curiosity about science, and a corresponding
contempt of tradition, resulting from that self-reliance which is the
natural outcome of the theory of human perfectibility.

The two principal salons, those of the marquise de Rambouillet and of
Mlle de Scudéry, although of the same general tendencies, differed
somewhat in their particulars. The glory of the former and earlier was
never equalled by any subsequent one. The marquise herself was in every
respect an ornament of her sex. Born and bred in Italy, she married
the marquis de Rambouillet before she had reached the age of thirteen.
After some turbulent years at court she retired to the privacy of her
residence in the Rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre and became the centre of a
brilliant circle of aristocratic people and celebrated men-of-letters.
Although some of the greatest wits of the age frequented her
salon--Malherbe, and afterwards Corneille and Balzac were among her
occasional visitors--there never was question of a domination of
literary men: the hostess remained enthroned in full and undisputed
authority, receiving the verbal and written homage which they paid to
her virtues.

The entire house was reconstructed after her own ideas, so as to afford
more room for the reception of guests. In one of the apartments which
opened into each other, the marquise was in the habit of keeping
her state, receiving her visitors while reclining upon a luxurious
couch. The Blue Room, which, by the way, changed its aspect with each
succeeding fashion, was a marvel of refined taste. Nor did the marquise
confine her receptions to her town-residence; assemblies were held at
Rambouillet in summer and garden-parties introduced plenty of variety.
Great praise has been lavished on her kindness of character, and rising
authors in particular found in her a warm-hearted patroness, always
ready to applaud and encourage. One of her daughters, Julie d'Angennes,
equalled her in popularity and had her beauty and virtue celebrated in
a collection of laudatory verse entitled "_La Guirlande de Julie_", to
which different poets made contributions, the principal being the young
marquis de Montausier, who afterwards became her husband. Among her
closest intimates were two men of a very much inferior social station:
Voiture, the chief poet and chronicler, and Chapelain, the chief oracle
and critic of the Hôtel de Rambouillet. She had made these two her own;
they basked in the serenity of her smile, shared in her joys as in her
troubles, and were the most perfect male satellites to female beauty
and brilliance.

The years between 1630 and 1645 were the crowning years of glory in the
history of the Hôtel de Rambouillet. After Julie's marriage, however,
there came a decline. There were some sudden deaths, including that of
the marquise's only son, and the Fronde began, in which some of the
marquise's intimates followed the fortunes of the rebels, entailing
fresh partings. In 1652 she sustained a further loss through the death
of her husband. Bowed down with sorrow, she retired to Rambouillet to
seek comfort in the intimacy of Julie's family.

The influence of the Hôtel de Rambouillet passed on to the circle
presided over by Madeleine de Scudéry, whose "Saturdays" were much
sought after. Her visitors were rather more given to affectations of
manners and speech than those of her aristocratic predecessor and the
transfer therefore marks the first step in the decadence which set in.
In her "ruelle" the Third Estate was largely represented; in fact, as
the "bourgeois" element gained in strength, the decadence became more
marked, for its representatives were more easily led into excesses
than the female members of the aristocracy. This explains how the name
of Mlle de Scudéry--rather unjustly--came to be identified with that
false preciosity which did the female cause such harm. And yet she
was herself an ardent feminist, not only in the qualified sense of
her predecessor, but in the full sense of the word. Her two principal
romances: "_Artamène, ou le grand Cyrus_" and "_Clélie_", derive an
interest--which their longwindedness greatly endangers--from their
marked feminist tendencies. In the former, Mlle de Scudéry, whose
views are expressed by Sapho, pleads for mental occupation as the only
means of promoting female virtue. She rebukes the vanity of ignorance
so common among those of her sex who imagine that "elles ne doivent
jamais rien savoir, si ce n'est qu'elles sont belles, et ne doivent
jamais rien apprendre qu'à se bien coiffer". She is also one of the
first to accuse the male sex of inconsistency, refusing their womenfolk
an education, yet finding fault with them for lacking those qualities
which are the fruit of education only. "Sérieusement, y a-t-il rien
de plus bizarre que de voir comment on agit pour l'ordinaire en
l'éducation des femmes? On ne veut pas qu'elles soient coquettes ni
galantes, et on leur permet pourtant d'apprendre soigneusement tout ce
qui est propre à la galanterie, sans leur permettre de savoir rien qui
puisse fortifier leur vertu, ni occuper leur esprit". But the "femme
savante" equally inspires her with profound disgust, and this some
of her critics have failed to recognize. The Damophile of the _Grand
Cyrus_ is an exact reproduction of the Philaminte of Molière's "_Femmes
Savantes_", pretending to an erudition which is only imaginary and
prevents her from attending to her household duties. There is nothing
more objectionable in Mlle de Scudéry's opinion than for a woman to
make parade of her knowledge, which may be useful chiefly in enabling
her to listen with appreciation when men were talking. The theory of
perfect equality, proposed about the same time by Poullain de la Barre,
did not find an adherent in Mlle de Scudéry. The "honnête homme" of her
dreams has more power of diverting and amusing than the most erudite
of her own sex. Of all the leading ladies of seventeenth century
French society there were none whose qualifications would have fitted
them so perfectly to be the rivals of Mrs. Montagu in presiding over
Bluestocking assemblies as Mlle de Scudéry!

Her second great romance, "_Clélie_", marks the culminating point
of the usual seventeenth century feminism in expressing the rather
one-sided ideal to which the ladies of the salons aspired, that of
commanding the love of gallantry and of ruling the world through it.
The entire romance is nothing but an elaborate code of gallantry by
which all love is to be regulated. In some passages, however, the
social position of women becomes the theme, regardless of the rather
too obtrusive love-theories. After protesting indignantly against
female bondage, Mlle de Scudéry proves that the doctrine of gallantry
has not impaired her judgment. She demands that man shall be "neither
the tyrant nor the slave of woman", and that the rights and duties of
matrimony shall be equally shared between the two partners. Nor has the
glitter of the platonic love-arsenal blinded her to the blessings of
the virginal state. Far superior to matrimony she holds the condition
of the wise and (of course!) beautiful woman who, although much
courted, remains indifferent; who has many friends, but no lovers; who
lives and moves in a world which to her is without peril, unswayed by
the passions which rule others, always free and always virtuous--and,
we may add, always sublimely conscious of her own superiority--an ideal
embodied in the person of Plotine.

The attempt at "regulating the passions", i. e. keeping the affections
under perfect control, no doubt led to a great deal of absurdity which
supplied the many antagonists with weapons against "la préciosité."
Some of the worst sinners in this respect were ladies of the Scudéry
circle. There was a certain Mlle Dupré, given to philosophy, and
surnamed "la Cartésienne" whose glory was to consider herself incapable
of tenderness; and, worse still, there was the example of her friend
Mlle de la Vigne, whose infatuation went so far as to make her reject
even the comforts of platonic worship.

Mlle de Scudéry herself was more moderate in her ideas, and proved
capable of cherishing some "tendresse" for the poet Pellisson whom
she rescued from the Bastille. Her verdict that "la vraie mesure du
mérite doit se prendre sur la capacité qu'on a d'aimer" even suggests
that she was capable of undergoing the real passion. Gradually,
however, the excesses in false "préciosité" began to multiply. The
original signification of the term had been a taste for whatever is
refined and delicate; noble, grand and sublime. The affectation and
pedantry which came to be substituted for this, gave rise to the
worst excesses of language. In their admiration of the fine phrasing
of the literary masterpieces the "précieuses" took to substituting
their periphrases and metaphors for the simple mode of expression
which daily conversation requires[9], making themselves ridiculous and
objectionable in the eyes of soberminded people and calling forth some
malignant attacks even by people who could not be accused of misogynist
leanings. To make matters worse, some very inferior imitations of
the aristocratic salons had sprung up among the "bourgeoisie" both at
Paris and in the provinces, where prudery was substituted for purity,
affectation for elegance and pedantry for charm and taste. The moral
tone prevailing at these meetings also compared very unfavourably
with the atmosphere of culture and good breeding which had reigned
at the Hôtel de Rambouillet. Scandal became a favourite topic of
conversation, and literary men of a usurped reputation, to whom the
better circles remained closed, laid down the law and constituted
themselves the arbiters of literary taste. The decline, which had been
slow and partial in the salons of Mlle de Scudéry and afterwards of
Mme Deshoulières, became rapid and complete in those of the so-called
"bourgeoisie de qualité".

M. Brunetière has pointed out that the "esprit précieux" of the salons,
aiming at polish and refinement--for which in later years it came to
substitute narrowness and affectation--was directly opposed to the
"esprit gaulois" which had the upper hand in court circles and whose
satire of the salons often degenerated into cynicism and coarseness.
The great authors found themselves occupying an intermediate position,
trying to reconcile what was recommendable in either and ridiculing
what was objectionable. The fact that they drew their inspiration
from Nature and from the lessons taught by antiquity brought them
into conflict with the précieuses who lived in an artificial present,
and eagerly welcomed whatever was new. In the Ancient and Modern
Controversy, which was started in the seventeenth century and
revived in the early eighteenth, the female element, with a very few
exceptions, unhesitatingly took the side of the Moderns. How powerful
a factor they had become in determining what was to be the public
opinion appears from the share they had in the ultimate victory of the
Moderns, and more still from the utter futility of the repeated efforts
made by men of the first genius to crush their power by means of
ridicule. Molière opened the campaign in his "_Précieuses Ridicules_"
(1659). Although very successful as a play, and warmly applauded by
the Rambouillet-circle, it missed its aim in utterly failing to crush
false "préciosité". When after Molière's death Boileau continued the
campaign, he met with no better success. No sooner had he retired from
the field than the monster he had set out to kill reared its head
again, enjoying undisputed possession until Mme de Lambert and her
friends made an endeavour to return to the old ideals; in doing which,
however, they did not forget to march with the times and to observe the
signs of impending change which were beginning to manifest themselves.

While the "précieuse" society of the salons in its anxiety to
strengthen the female element was occupying itself with the cultivation
of polished manners, taste and wit in the members of the sex, and
came to neglect female morals and instruction, the problem of a
moral education was introduced and discussed by a philosopher among
churchmen, the great Fénelon. The civil wars in France were followed
by a religious renaissance, representing a supreme effort made by
catholicism to recover the ground which had been lost to the combined
classical renaissance and reformation. The religious order of the
Jesuits, founded in the middle of the sixteenth century, saw in a
strictly religious education the means of strengthening the position of
the Roman Catholic church. Before the end of the century they had their
colleges in different parts of France and became the educators of the
Roman Catholic youth of that country. From the first their aim was the
attainment of political influence for the church by means of religious
propaganda. To this end they tried to suppress all spontaneity and
individuality in their pupils, a system which in that age of awakening
individualism and philosophical enquiry could not long remain without
protest. A reaction set in which aimed at combining a certain amount
of personal freedom and patriotic sense with religious sentiment, and
at reconciling the tenets of Catholicism with the theories of the new
philosophy. Such was the general character of the first great rival of
Jesuitism, the "Oratoire".

Neither society, however, took any notice of female education. The
omission was repaired by the Jansenists, the implacable enemies of the
Jesuits, be it in a manner in which some sound common sense was mingled
with a good deal of narrow dogmatism. For a number of years they
maintained a somewhat precarious footing in France, during which time
they proved themselves zealous educators, to whom the moral interests
of their pupils, and not the worldly ones of their society, were
paramount. Their chief educational establishment at Port Royal, founded
in 1643, was in many ways superior to contemporary institutions, and
some of their methods have found imitation in France to this very day.

It is true that the Jansenist system of education was, upon the whole,
a monastic one, and as such could not be a very great improvement. But
its practice was distinguished by a few characteristics which made it
superior to all parallel schemes of education. Nowhere do we find that
perfect purity of motives, that eagerness on the part of the educator
to keep his charges from temptation and evil. This circumstance found
its origin in the tenets of Jansenism, asserting that a tendency to sin
and evil is inherent in the infant soul. To the Jansenists, education
meant the unrelaxing struggle of the educator, aided by divine grace,
against this natural bias, for the purpose of saving the soul. That
this constant watchfulness on the teacher's part involved the total
disappearance of the last frail spark of liberty left to the child,
is only natural. On the other hand, it strengthened the affections.
The Jansenist "religieuses" were filled with a most laudable sense
of responsibility and loved their charges with the most unselfish
tenderness and devotion. Their individual kindness tempered the
severity of the rules laid down in Jacqueline Pascal's "_Règlement pour
les enfants_". (1657).

The discipline was of the strictest, and the entire system directed
towards forming pious Christian women and docile wives, rich in virtue
rather than in knowledge. The final decision was left to the girls
themselves; they either became nuns or re-entered the world after
some years of close sequestration, "selon qu'il plaisait à Dieu d'en
disposer", but it is to be feared that some moral pressure was often
brought to bear upon them. The rules for daily observance implied
early rising, strict silence, very limited ablutions and the greatest
simplicity in dress; the hours of daylight being divided among prayers,
devotional literature, manual labour and the elements of practical

The above will be sufficient to show that Port Royal was a convent
rather than a school and that its spirit was directly opposed to both
the Renaissance spirit and the philosophical spirit of the later
generations. In the annals of female education the "Petites Ecoles" of
Port Royal will therefore not be remembered as a milestone in the march
of Woman towards the ideal of perfect enfranchisement. They derive
their importance from the fact that they were among the very first
institutions in which great stress was laid on a moral education and in
which some attention was paid to psychology.

The convents of other religious orders also participated in the
educational movement and tried to recover lost influence. The seclusion
of convent-life in those days was not nearly so strict as it had been
in the days of early christianity, and this concession gained for them
many pupils who had no intention of taking the veil, but were merely
obeying the increasing call for female instruction. Some of these
religious orders, as for instance the Ursulines, did good service,
although they aimed at the pursuit of the moral virtues rather than
intellectual accomplishments. What constitutes their chief merit,
however, is the fact that by the side of the existing boarding-schools
for paying resident pupils they established dayschools for the benefit
of the poorer classes, in which all instruction was gratuitous. The
number of secular schools for girls was so small, that we may safely
regard the above as a first attempt to bring education within the reach
of the untaught female multitude. Unfortunately, the convent-schools
became involved in the general decline which marks the latter half of
the century. All sorts of abuses found their way into them. A great
deal too much regard was paid to the social standing of pupils, the
nuns were often unfit for their educational task, for which they
lacked preparation, and many convents became havens of refuge to
worldly ladies with a damaged reputation, who paid well, but in return
introduced lazy morals and a loose conversational tone. Add to this the
intense and general misery which both the Fronde and the later foreign
wars had engendered, and it need not astonish anybody that the efforts
of the religious orders were of too partial and desultory a nature to
bring about a lasting improvement in female education. Although the
actual progress recorded was slight, yet something had been gained. The
necessity for some degree of female instruction--thanks largely to the
indirect influence of the salons--was now universally granted, although
opinions varied regarding the extent and the means to be employed. It
had to a certain extent become a topic in France, and as such began to
attract a good deal of notice among moral philosophers. There arose the
philosophy of education, making the subject a basis for philosophical
speculation and applying to the systems then in vogue the severe
test of Reason. In this way some glaring abuses were revealed which
urgently demanded correction. The entire monastic system, based upon
conventional grounds, was full of faults and the reverse of practical,
showing an utter disregard of the demands of life. Thus began the
gradual emancipation of education from the shackles of monasticism, the
urgent necessity of which was recognised even by some of the leading
churchmen, whose works breathe the more liberal spirit of the new
philosophy. The theorisings of Fénelon mark a new departure in moral
education, and his ideas became the prevailing ones of the eighteenth
century which he heralded. He did not fall into the error made by his
predecessors of overlooking the female half of society, but placed
himself on the standpoint that the education of women is as important
a social problem as that of men. At the time of the composition of
his treatise "_De l'Education des Filles_" (published in 1683) he was
director of the "Nouvelles Catholiques", a Parisian institution in
which female converts from Protestantism were educated. Its direct
claims on behalf of woman--apart from absolute insistence on the right
of a moral education--are rather modest, but its originality consists
in the introduction of the problems of feminine psychology, lifting the
subject into the sphere of moral philosophy. Unmoved by the passion
which swayed some of the later feminists--there is a wide gulf between
his ideal of morality and theirs of equality--the moderation of his
views and the soundness of his logic gained him a hearing and procured
him some staunch supporters among the better Précieuses, who justly
admired his insight into the female character. Madame de Maintenon was
very much taken with his ideas and even procured him an appointment
to the archbishopric of Cambrai. While insisting on the fundamental
difference between the male and the female character, Fénelon never
hesitates to put woman on the same level as man, without troubling
to decide the theoretical question of superiority. The all-important
promise of eternity he believed to apply with perfect equality to both
sexes, and as regards earthly life he held that man and woman are
too fundamentally different to allow of comparison in the sense of
competition. However, he recognised that while the chief duties of man
were concerned with social life, those of woman lay within a smaller
circle: that of the home, upon the management of which depend both the
happiness of every individual and the prosperity of the state; thus
granting to woman a sphere of interest and activity in no wise inferior
to, though different from, that of man, and exhorting her to fulfil
those sacred duties to the very best of her ability. The domestic
duties of womanhood are first regarded by Fénelon as an important
social function, for which the monastic education was the worst
preparation that could be imagined. There are not only children to be
educated, but servants to be managed. The more deeply we enter into the
spirit and full purport of Fénelon's contentions, the more it strikes
us how he anticipates all the points of discussion which were to keep
the philosophical moralists of the next century busy. A woman may
excel in the art of being served; she may show in her treatment of her
inferiors that she realises the great truth that all human beings in
their widely different social stations are equal before God, and that
any amount of authority involves an equal amount of responsibility.
Ideas like the above seem to belong to the eighteenth century rather
than to the seventeenth. Fénelon was in the full sense of the word: a

We have said that the Jansenist educators held that "la composition
du coeur de l'homme est mauvaise dès son enfance", directing their
efforts towards reclamation from innate evil. Fénelon's views are more

To him, there is no original tendency towards either good or evil.
Everything depends upon guidance; give a child a good education and all
its possibilities for good will be developed and bear fruit. The sole
aim of education is not social influence or intellectual culture, but
merely what he calls "l'amour de la vertu". And who can be fitter for
such a task than the girl's own mother? "A good mother", says Fénelon,
"is infinitely preferable to the best convent". Only she can prepare
her daughter for the domestic circle over which it will one day be her
task to preside, and only she has enough natural affection for her to
impress upon her receptive mind lessons of moral wisdom. Boys, who are
brought up to be citizens, require a public education, but for girls
there is no place of education like the home, watched over by a loving

A few of the points introduced may here be passed in rapid review.
Great stress is laid on tenderness in education. Unless the pupil
feels real affection for the teacher, unless the task of learning
lessons is made a pleasant, and not a wearisome one, the results will
be disappointing. Gentle reasoning and persuasion ought therefore as
a rule to take the place of severity. Also in matters of religion an
appeal should be made to the child's budding reason. The religious
principles should be instilled in a subtle, slightly philosophical
manner, and cleverly arranged questions--often in the form of metaphors
or similes--should suggest to the pupil the expected replies. Here we
have an anticipation of that "mise en scène" which becomes a striking
feature in Rousseau.

A close study of the characters of women implies an insight into the
essentially feminine failings, which may render them unfit for their
task, and therefore ought to be first exposed and then carefully
eradicated. Fénelon's list of female shortcomings and their remedies
proves that there was no great difference in the matter of inclinations
between the female youth of France and that of England.

Their worst vices are said to proceed from the misdirection of two
characteristically feminine qualities: imagination and sensibility.
Want of purpose renders the former over-active and turns it towards
dangerous objects. A careful watch should be kept over the literature
put into the hands of young females, for of the amorous romances then
in vogue which were so eagerly devoured by the sex, the majority were
far too stimulating to an imagination which in the close seclusion
of home- or convent-life was but too apt to run riot. By living in
an imaginary society of "précieux et précieuses" the girls became
dissatisfied with everyday life and were made unfit for it.

Another dangerous consequence of inoccupation is that thirst for
amusement which is the leading motive in female society. It creates
egoists, bent upon indulging every wanton caprice. This, coupled with
physical weakness, makes women resort to cunning and dissimulation
as a means of attaining their end, to the detriment of their moral

Vanity, which is another inherent portion of the female character, is
responsible for that inordinate desire to please which in leading to
an all-absorbing passion for clothes and fashion threatens to ruin
domestic life and to deprave the female morals.

Fénelon had no patience with the "précieuses" of the decline, who
tried to appear "savantes" without being even "instruites". To him,
the value of knowledge depends entirely on its practical use as a
means of edifying the mind and soul. Woman was not meant for science,
and what Fénelon has seen of the "femme savante" is not calculated to
make him enthusiastic. Girls should feel "une pudeur sur la science
presque aussi délicate que celle qu'inspire l'horreur du vice." His
programme of subjects of female study is correspondingly small. Reading
and writing, spelling, arithmetic and grammar are the principal.
In addition, music, painting, history, Latin and literature are
conditionally recommended, for the individual talents have to be taken
into consideration.

Fénelon's picture of contemporary womanhood is far from alluring. Its
chief interest lies in the circumstance that it is the first instance
in French literature of a systematic estimate of female manners based
upon the feminine psychology, anticipating the current opinion among
the writers of the next century regarding the foibles of the sex.
Fénelon was among the first to realise--what Mary Wollstonecraft a
century later stated with that characteristic frankness which almost
entirely robbed her of female sympathy--that the worst enemy of female
emancipation is, and always has been, woman herself. As long as the
majority of women make considerations of sex the foundation of all
their actions, it will prove impossible for the champions of equality
to accomplish their full aims. Although a churchman and a moralist,
Fénelon was in open revolt against the spirit of monasticism which
regarded only eternity and failed to see its relation to everyday
life, with its many exigencies. The best preparation for eternity,
according to him, is a daily attention to the nearest duties of
life. Not science, but the domestic circle was the proper domain of
woman. More necessary than theoretical knowledge was that practical
instruction in the little household ways which turn a young woman into
a good housekeeper. What Fénelon did not sufficiently realise, was the
indispensable connection between a moral and an intellectual education.
The theory that perfect virtue arises out of the intellect and derives
its chief value from a rational source, was a further step in the same
direction which it was left to his successors to take. But he was
instrumental in preparing the enfranchisement of the female education
from the narrow principles of that church to which he belonged heart
and soul.

His precepts were almost immediately put in practice. Making some
allowance for personal inclinations and circumstances which forbade
their full application, we may call Madame de Maintenon the foremost
pupil of Fénelon's school. This remarkable woman's educational views
present two entirely different aspects. She was a pietist of the Roman
Catholic faith, but with certain leanings towards liberalism which
smacked of heresy, the origin of which may be found in the influence
of the philosophical creeds with which her early career as a précieuse
had brought her into contact. On the other hand, her experience of
society--after her marriage to the poet Scarron she had for some years
kept a salon in Paris--had given her a taste for literature and made
her a believer in "l'art de dire et d'écrire" as one of the necessary
elements of female education. She thus combined in her person two of
the principal tendencies of the century: a strong religious spirit
and an intense interest in literature, and both became important
factors in her educational system, in which she aimed at reconciling
the exigencies of the world with the demands of piety in forming
society women who were devout Christians. She was a woman of practical
common sense, actuated by the most unselfish motives, and devoted to
the exercise of that Reason which she held ought to be the constant
regulator of Piety and the governing motive of all human actions.
Nothing could be more directly opposed to the monastic spirit. Her
principles therefore stamped her as a reactionary of Fénelon's school,
save for the fact that "the world was too much with her", which made
her always keep in view that polite society whose morals she had set
out to improve, and the allurements of which constantly clashed with
the rigidity of her religious devotion. At the same time the charms
of domesticity appealed to her as strongly as to Fénelon. Reason, she
argued, forbids the education of women to any station except that for
which Providence originally intended them, and Providence never meant
them to pass their lives in a convent, but rather in the domestic
circle as devoted wives and loving mothers. She felt the monastic
education to be a violation of the destination of womanhood, and her
educational writings were a plea for emancipation from the compulsion
of conventional religiosity with its disregard of practical life.

The equality-claim has no place in her programme. The very spirit of
Christianity condemns it. "Dieu a soumis notre sexe au moment qu'il l'a
créé, la faiblesse de notre esprit et de notre corps a besoin d'être
conduite, soutenue et protégée; notre ignorance nous rend incapable
de décision, et nous ne pouvons dans l'ordre de Dieu, gouverner que
dépendamment des hommes." No further steps towards intellectual,
social or political enfranchisement are to be expected from Madame de

Although woman can only "govern dependently", yet her rule of the
home--and here again she fully agrees with Fénelon--is of the utmost
importance, not only to her own small circle, but to society, or rather
to that portion of it which alone had her full regard and affection:
the kingdom of France. Woman was meant for marriage and her education
should be relative to her position in society. Plutarch's line of
thought, which we had almost lost sight of, re-enters the stage with
the appearance of Fénelon and Madame de Maintenon. No motives of false
delicacy should withhold from young women such information as may
be useful to them in their struggle against the temptations of the
outside world. The right place to prepare them for their natural place
in society is not the convent, but the college, where the educational
taste is entrusted to capable teachers, of whom it may be said that
"le monde n'est étranger qu'à leur coeur". The optimistic faith in the
capability of her sex of being perfected, which links her to Helvétius
and the other Encyclopedians gave her the necessary courage to attempt
an experiment which she confidently trusted might lead to a general
reform in female morals. The words of Racine's _Esther_:

     Ici, loin du tumulte, aux devoirs les plus saints
     Tout un peuple naissant est formé par mes mains,

are a faithful reflection of her hope for the future. And so Madame
de Maintenon declared war against convention and tradition and went
the way she had marked out for herself. Her influence with the king
enabled her to carry out her scheme to the minutest details and became
the means of placing the vast establishment of St. Cyr at her disposal.
The time had come to realise her dream of education. Two hundred and
fifty girls of aristocratic families whom the endless wars had ruined,
were entrusted to the care of a headmistress, Mme de Brinon, and her
staff, under Madame de Maintenon's personal superintendance. It was her
wish that they should constitute a large family and that the relation
between teacher and pupil should be as nearly as possible that of
mother to child, so as to make the reality differ as little as possible
from what Fénelon's theory had considered the ideal form. The secular
character of the establishment--on which the king had also insisted,
holding that there were already more nuns than was strictly compatible
with the interests of his kingdom--appeared from the fact that the
teachers--"les dames de Saint Louis"--were called "madame" instead
of "soeur" and wore dresses which, although simple, were different
from those worn in the convent. They were not at first expected to
take the vow for life, but their patroness expressed a distinct wish
that they should always regard their pupils' interests before their
own and show the greatest possible devotion to this task. In respect
of this insistence upon the most absolute self-abnegation--involving
a most unyielding sternness in taking what seemed the right moral
course and a most complete subjection on the part of the pupil--Mme
de Maintenon's ideas came dangerously near those of the Jansenists
against whose severe methods she professed to be in revolt. The rules
of discipline at St. Cyr were in some respects as strict as those
practised at Port Royal and in both the motive was to shield the pupil
against contamination. Realising the danger of influence from abroad at
an age when the character was not sufficiently formed, and apt to take
impressions too easily, Mme de Maintenon determined that all parental
authority should cease. The girls were kept in the establishment
until they were well out of their teens, and supposed to be morally
strong enough to resist temptation and to exercise influence on their
surroundings instead of undergoing it. There were no holidays and the
"demoiselles" were allowed to see their parents only four times a year
for half an hour or so under the watchful eye of one of the mistresses.
Even their correspondence with them was limited, and the tone of the
letters had to be strictly formal, in fact they were mere exercises of
style. Apart from these restrictions, the girls were treated with great
kindness, if with little outward show of affection. Mme de Maintenon
was too much devoted to Reason to approve of such demonstrations, and
wished the emotions to be kept under strict control. On the other
hand, punishments were few, the teacher took a liberal share in all
recreations and amusements, and the necessary instruction was made as
attractive and imparted in as unobtrusive a manner as possible, in
accordance with Fénelon's precepts.

The sudden change in Mme de Maintenon's system of discipline which
took place in the third year of St. Cyr and which narrowed down the
comparative liberty which had been a fundamental principle to the
absolute subjection described above, was a frank avowal of the failure
of her original methods and at the same time a proof of the sincerity
of her endeavour. It was due to a most unexpected development.

In the first years of St. Cyr--the establishment was opened in
1686--the study of literature had occupied an important place among the
subjects of the curriculum. The girls were made to act little domestic
scenes written by the headmistress. At the patroness's instigation
an experiment was made with Racine's "_Andromaque_", which, in her
opinion, "succeeded too well", for the girls so entered into the
spirit of the play, and developed such histrionic talents, that their
monitress, realising the danger, asked Racine to write another play
specially for them. In accordance with this request the great dramatist
wrote "_Esther_", which was performed several times before the king
and a select audience with signal success, and results disastrous to
the spirit prevailing among the girls of St. Cyr. Never before had the
discipline of the institution been in greater jeopardy. The girls'
heads were turned, and their vanity and conceit knew no bounds.

Mme de Maintenon saw that energetic measures were urgently called for,
and did not hesitate to adopt them. With an earnestness and resolution
greatly to her credit she undertook the necessary reform with the
effect of radically removing whatever was liberal and reactionary
in her system, and reducing St. Cyr to a slightly modified form of a
convent, thus granting to her opponents the satisfaction of a great
moral victory, which the latter deserved no more than Mme de Maintenon
deserved her defeat.

One of the unfortunate consequences was that the instruction which
the girls received, and which had never been abundant, was reduced to
almost a minimum. "Il n'est point question de leur orner l'esprit",
said Mme de Maintenon. The horrors of exaggerated preciosity were ever
since before her eyes. Too much learning, she feared, might turn the
girls into précieuses, and manual labour was introduced as an effective
antidote. Fortunately the years tended to soften the severity which
had prevailed immediately after the catastrophe, and upon the whole
the institution, which enjoyed special protection and undiminished
popularity until its suppression by the Convention in 1793, could boast
excellent results, and turned out some real "ornaments of their sex".

It seems a pity that in Mme de Maintenon's schemes so secondary a
place should have been given to that education of the mind which is so
essential to lasting improvement. She inevitably suffers by comparison
with her contemporary Mme de Sévigné, whose correspondence with her
daughter Mme de Grignan contains a most enlightened scheme for the
education of her granddaughter Pauline de Simiane. She recognises
that it is by literature that the mind is fed, and since to the
pure everything is pure, there is little to be feared even of the
otherwise pernicious reading of novels, for a sound mind will not
easily go astray. An optimistic view of education, taking its root in
considerations of philosophy, for Mme de Sévigné, like her daughter,
was a Cartesian. In comparing her contribution to the educational
problem with that of Mme de Maintenon, it should be remembered,
however, that an individual education within the family circle offers
better opportunities for freedom and less danger of contamination than
the collective system of St. Cyr. Mme de Sévigné's ideas, contained
in private correspondence, intended only for her daughter's use and
entirely without the militant spirit, exercised little influence and
were of little direct value to the cause of feminism.


[3] Cf. the two articles in "_A Cambridge History of English
Literature_", by Prof. F. M. Padelford (Vol. 2 p. 384) and by Prof. H.
V. Routh (vol. 3 p. 88).

[4] Cf. p. 30.

[5] See also page 32.

[6] A very interesting article on "_Le tiers Livre du Pantagruel et la
Querelle des Femmes_" by M. Abel Lefranc, containing an extensive list
of contributions to the feminist and the anti-feminist literature of
the time, may be found in the "Revue des Etudes Rabelaisiennes", (Tome
II, 1904).

[7] Heinrich Morf, in his "_Geschichte der französischen Literatur im
Zeitalter der Renaissance_" relates that a number of ladies took to
frequenting the _Académie de poésie et de musique_ founded by Baïf
under the auspices of Charles IX; especially after his successor Henry
III had transferred its seat to an apartment in the Louvre, whence it
came to be called "_Académie du Palais_".

[8] P. Rousselot. _Histoire de l'Education des Femmes en France._

Poullain de la Barre owes his revival to an article by M. Henri
Piéron in the "_Revue de Synthèse historique_" of 1902. The latter's
judgment is based upon two works: "_De l'Egalité des Sexes_" and "_De
l'Education des Dames_", which he found in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
In 1913 the "_Revue d'Histoire Littéraire de la France_" contained an
article by M. Henri Grappin, pointing out that some of Poullain's works
had been overlooked, supplying a full list of his literary productions
and fully discussing one, entitled: "_De l'Excellence des Hommes,
contre l'Egalité des Sexes_." The above-named three are the only
treatises by Poullain which bear upon the position of women.

[9] Cf. Livet, _Précieux et Précieuses_, p. XXV.


_The Position of French Women in Eighteenth Century Society._

In the earlier half of the eighteenth century, at a time when the
inferiority of English women was so generally recognised as to leave
no room at all for controversy, the Woman Question was attracting a
good deal of notice in France, and scarcely a year passed without
some kind of contribution to its literature.[10] It was by this time
an acknowledged problem, and theoretically speaking it may be said
that by the middle of the century feminism in France had carried the
day, thanks mainly to the influence of modern philosophy, which the
salons helped in propagating. The instruction-problem was also settled
in theory in a manner satisfactory to feminists, and only that of
female occupations remained as yet unbroached. The position of women
in society not only became a favourite topic of conversation and
controversy, but came to command a number of able pens in periodical
literature and in the drama. In the latter branch of literature a
number of pieces were written on the subject, some of which were
hostile and sought the aid of ridicule, but of which the majority were
of a more sympathetic tendency, showing that Molière's attack had
failed. All the important theatres paid their tribute of attention to
the cause of feminism. One of the earliest was Montchenay's "_Cause
des Femmes_", a comedy performed at the Théâtre italien as early as
1687, while a more elaborate dramatic statement of the cause, entitled
"_l'Ile des Amazones_" was composed in 1718 by Lesage and d'Orneval,
and suggested the machinery of the "_Amazones Modernes_" of Legrand
(1727), performed at the Théâtre français. This brings us to the field
of Utopian literature _à la_ Mrs. Manley, whose "_New Atlantis_" had
appeared a few years previously. The Amazons, who had founded their own
community in a remote island, having forsworn the society of men, made
their return conditional on the acceptance of the following terms:

1stly, there was to be no subordination of the wife to the husband;

2ndly, the women were to be allowed to study, and to have their own

3rdly, they were to be eligible to the highest positions in the army
as in jurisdiction and finance; and finally it was to be considered as
shameful an act on the part of a man to break the conjugal faith as on
that of a woman, so that men might no longer boast of that which in a
woman was deemed criminal. That the last was among the most rankling
sores will be seen later on, when the "dual standard of morality"
aroused the indignation of true "Blues" like Mrs. Chapone, and equally
of radical feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft.

But the piece in which the question was best and most conclusively
treated was a comedy, entitled "_La Colonie_", which Marivaux wrote
about the middle of the century, and which, possibly owing to lack of
success, was not included in the different editions of his works,
so that it is at present accessible only in the _Mercure de France_
of 1750[11]. It was on the whole sympathetic to women, in spite of
the failure of their effort--described in the play--to establish a
feminine republic, and the pleasantries of which men and women alike
are the object. Both the weak points of the female character, as
vanity, coquetry, garrulity and frivolity, and those of the men, as
envy and vainglory, are made the object of ridicule. But the feminist
tendency of the whole appears from the fact that the speeches of the
female leaders are more reasonable than those of the males who are
worsted by them. The women of the island-state, bent upon vindicating
their rights, and inflamed by the speeches of Arthenice and Madame
Sorbin,--whose respective lover and husband occupy responsible
positions on the male side--contemplate a final breach between the
sexes. They experience their first disappointment when the young and
pretty women refuse to give up their empire of coquetry, especially
when told to make themselves ugly! An ultimatum is duly sent to the
male leaders, demanding the admission of women to different occupations
and equality between the sexes in matrimonial affairs, a refusal of
which will mean instant dissolution of the social state. When the men,
driven to despair, are on the point of surrendering, a philosopher's
stratagem brings relief. Rumours are spread of a hostile attack upon
the island, and the women, by virtue of the proposed compact, are
called upon to swell the ranks of the defending army. This proves too
much for the majority, who find that they prefer the worries of the
daily household routine to the hardships of war, causing peace to be

The periodical essay was also made subservient to the propagation of
feminist ideas when in 1750, while in London, Mme Leprince de Beaumont
started the "_Nouveau Magasin français_", in which the rights of women
were vindicated with great fervour. Nine years later, a second, even
more pronounced attempt to adapt the periodical to the female interests
was made in the "_Bibliothèque des Femmes_", which after a short run,
was continued in the "_Journal des Dames_". This paper, which enjoyed
great success, was continued for twenty years, during which it served
the female interests and contained a number of articles written by
women. The original intention of having only female contributors
proved incapable of realisation. The paper sang the praises of women
in different keys, as an antidote to the daily revilings in other
periodicals, and the original idea of promoting the female interests by
stimulating the female intellect was gradually lost sight of.

But the greatest friends of woman and her cause, who fought and won
her battles for her, and were willing to recognise her empire, were
the philosophers of the Encyclopedia, with the emphatic exception
of that most inconsistent of all geniuses: J. J. Rousseau. The
Encyclopedian spirit is best reflected by d'Alembert's "_Lettre à J.
J. Rousseau_", written in reply to the "_Lettre sur les Spectacles_"
in the famous controversy on the drama. He protests against the
latter's cynical views of womanhood. The human race would be indeed
in a pitiable condition, he says, if the worthiest object of the
male homage were indeed so rare an occurrence as Rousseau chooses to
intimate. But supposing he should be right, to what cause would such a
deplorable state of things be attributable? "L'esclavage et l'espèce
d'avilissement où nous avons mis les femmes; les entraves que nous
donnons à leur esprit et à leur âme, le jargon futile et humiliant pour
elles et nous; auquel nous avons réduit notre commerce avec elles,
comme si elles n'avaient pas une raison à cultiver, ou n'en étaient
pas dignes; enfin, l'éducation funeste, je dirai presque meurtrière,
que nous leur prescrivons, sans leur permettre d'en avoir d'autre;
éducation ou elles apprennent presque uniquement à se contrefaire sans
cesse, à n'avoir pas un sentiment qu'elles n'étouffent, une opinion
qu'elles ne cachent, une pensée qu'elles ne déguisent. Nous traitons
la nature en elles comme dans nos jardins, nous cherchons à l'orner en
l'étouffant." And d'Alembert makes an appeal to the philosophers of the
age to destroy so pernicious a prejudice, to shake off the barbarous
yoke of custom and to set the example by giving their daughters the
same education as their sons, that they may be saved from idleness and
the evils that follow inevitably in its train. And the cause of woman
thus became incorporated in the great scheme of Liberty and Equality
which was slowly maturing in the master minds of the nation.

The gulf that yawned between the two opposing parties was widening
every instant. On one side were those in possession of power and
authority, leaning upon Custom and Tradition, drawing what inspiration
animated them from the source of the Ancients and stubbornly opposing
any change which might tend to undermine their position. Ranged on the
other was the intellect of the nation, the devotees of a philosophy
which held the promise of the millennium to be almost within immediate
reach, firing the mind with their daring schemes for improvement
and asserting the coming triumph of Modernism. Nothing could be more
natural than that woman should throw in her lot with the latter and
that her cause should become a subdivision of the great problem of
humanity. The great sphere of activity, next to the wide field of
literature, was the more modest compass of the eighteenth century salon.

Madame de Lambert herself draws a parallel somewhere between the salons
of the seventeenth and those of the eighteenth century, more especially
with regard to the prevailing codes of morality. Her conclusions, like
those of M. Brunetière nearly two centuries later, are overwhelmingly
in favour of Mme de Rambouillet and her contemporaries. She complains
that the delicate intellectual amusements of the seventeenth century
assemblies have been largely superseded by the grosser delights of the
card-table and of a declining stage. The merest semblance of knowledge
is regarded with disapproval,--this in consequence of Molière's furious
onslaught in his _Femmes Savantes_--and as a natural consequence of
ignorance, the female morals have sadly decayed. Being thus deprived
of the means of improving the mind, women are naturally driven to a
life of pleasure-seeking. And she doubts whether society has derived
any benefit from the change. "Les femmes ont mis la débauche à la
place du savoir, le précieux qu'on leur a tant reproché, elles l'ont
changé en indécence." In other words, Mme de Lambert wanted to return
to the earlier preciosity, granting women the right to be instructed,
and trying to steer clear of those excesses which had called forth the
attacks of Molière and Boileau. She emphatically protests against the
pernicious habit of making a pleasing appearance the sole aim of female
education, and claims for her sex the blessings of an education which
in cultivating the mind will improve the female morals.

It would be impossible to deny that the moral standard was considerably
lower than it had been half a century earlier. The consequences
entailed by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and by the
suppression of Port Royal had been equally disastrous. The chief
bulwarks of Protestant and Catholic orthodox faith had been removed,
leaving a free field to both libertinage and disbelief. The coarseness
of manners which it had been the aim of the Rambouillet societies to
suppress reasserted itself on the one hand, while on the other the
rising spirit of philosophical inquiry and scientific research had
degenerated into a scepticism which was no longer counteracted by that
spirit of religious mysticism which had been a weapon of orthodoxy
against unbelief. The Encyclopedian spirit often spelt deism and
atheism, both of which flourished in the salons. The very fact that
their society was no longer exclusive, but freely admitted people of
all class and opinions, and from different parts of the world, accounts
for the enormous influence exercised by these "bureaux d'esprit" upon
public opinion in the eighteenth century. Moreover, the monarchical
power was declining, and the king, in establishing a barrier between
himself and the society of the salons, was himself instrumental in
raising opinions which more and more became the prevailing ones, and
upon which he had no influence whatever. Rationalism began to gain
ground rapidly and became a basis for speculations which soon came to
include politics and economics.

M. Brunetière, whose judgment on the salons of the eighteenth century
is very severe, complains that the lofty artistic and moral ideals of
the preceding generation had given way to scepticism and to cynicism of
a kind which made Madame de Tencin refer to her guests as "ses bêtes".
This statement, which no doubt is mainly correct, seems strange in
consideration of the fact that it was by the new philosophy which the
same salons helped in spreading, that the great problems of the future
of the human race were put forward, which in broader minds gave rise
to much idealism in what M. du Bled so finely calls: "le souci de la
modernité." But eighteenth century society regarded philosophy as an
intellectual pastime rather than as bringing the hope of relief to the
oppressed millions, and if it occasionally dabbled in social problems,
the misery of the multitude did not touch the majority of those who
lived lives of comfort and luxury, and were utterly unacquainted with
suffering, very deeply. No direct attempt at improvement, therefore,
was to be expected from them, they were talking in theory about things
of the practice of which they knew nothing. Brunetière calls the
eighteenth century salon "le triomphe de l'universelle incompétence",
with which its seventeenth century predecessor, with its more limited
programme, compares favourably. It became habitual "to talk wittily
of serious problems, while seriously discussing trifling subjects".
It needed, indeed, the fiery imagination and fervent enthusiasm of a
Rousseau to inspire the philosophical theories with the life of his
genius. And yet, if the social problems of the time were not directly
solved by eighteenth century society, they were at least formulated by
it in such a manner as to make them the catchword of the period and to
draw to them the attention of those who were better able to do them
justice. The very fact that the salons were ruled over by women and
independent of court-influence made them the place where opinions were
most freely uttered and most readily listened to.

Literature, which had been the chief occupation of the early salons,
now found a powerful rival in science. The poetry of the eighteenth
century "ruelles" became of an even lighter and more insipid kind. On
the other hand, the latter half of the previous century had witnessed a
growing interest in anatomy and surgery, and after the introduction (by
Fontenelle) of astronomy as a fashionable science, Newton became the
rage, and ladies of quality like the marquise du Châtelet were among
his worshippers. The domination of the salons thus became extended
to philosophy, science, economics and politics. When the Ancient and
Modern controversy was re-introduced in the opening years of the
century, nearly all the female philosophers were fervent partisans of
the Moderns, believing in a future in which all human beings would be
guided by the light of Reason.

Of this eighteenth century modernism, feminism is, in fact, only a
subdivision. This appears from the work of Poullain de la Barre,
and still more from the great defence of the Cause of Woman (when
threatened by Boileau in Satire X "_Sur les Femmes_") by the great
champion of modernism Perrault in his "_Apologie des Femmes_." The
Moderns, indeed, saw in the prejudice against women a remnant of
the servility of antiquity which was in flagrant contradiction with
the dictates of Reason. Hence the close connection between feminist
literature in the eighteenth century and life in the salons, of which
the authors were mostly among the regular frequenters. The marquise de
Lambert laid down her ideas of feminism in her "_Réflexions sur les
Femmes_", and we have seen that both D'Alembert and Marivaux were among
the staunch defenders of the right of the sex to equal consideration.

Boileau's death had left the "précieuses" in the undisputed possession
of the field of light literature, to which now became added that of
science. This new form of preciosity, "la préciosité scientifique",
which made its appearance in the salon of Mme de Lambert, where it
found an ardent worshipper in Fontenelle, grew so powerful that even
Voltaire's efforts to crush it with ridicule were unavailing. So strong
had the female dictatorship become, that three of the most influential
men-of-letters in the kingdom had vainly tried to get the better of
it. But unfortunately the platonic ideal to which the women of the
preceding century had owed their ascendancy had degenerated, and in
consequence of the altered circumstances women often had to buy with
physical submission and degradation that worship of their beauty and
deference to their opinion which made them at the same time the rulers
and the slaves of men, and against which the moralists of the century,
with the glaring exception of Rousseau, made it their business to
protest loudly, but in vain.

Mme de Lambert merely wanted to restore the right sort of preciosity
to its throne as an antidote to the evils of ignorance, in which she
set herself the ideals of the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and advocated
moderation in everything. Her salon thus became as much a protest
against exaggeration and affectation as against the prevailing opinion
that the education of women should only aim at teaching them how to
please the opposite sex. An occasional frequenter calls it "l'hôtel de
Rambouillet présidé par Fontenelle, et où les précieuses corrigées se
souvenaient de Molière."

Being left a widow at a comparatively early age, Mme de Lambert opened
her salon in the Palais Mazarin in the rue Colbert about 1700. She
was at that time rather more than fifty, and reigned supreme over her
circle of visitors for more than thirty years. She set herself to prove
that it was possible to have a lively entertainment without the help
of the card-table, relying chiefly on conversation and literature.
Her Tuesdays and Wednesdays soon became famous, and attracted both
the aristocracy and the literati. Among her regular visitors were
Fontenelle, Marivaux, Mlle de Launay (Mme de Staal) and de la Motte,
champion of the moderns, whilst Mme Dacier undertook the defence of the
opposite cause. Mme de Lambert herself was the ruling spirit of the
Académie, of which the way towards membership lay through her favour,
and the chief literary productions previous to being published--if
published they were--were read and criticised in her circle.

If Mme de Lambert deserves mention for having kept a salon which
formed a link between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, and
exercised a beneficial influence on the tone of conversation, she
is even more entitled to attention on account of the part played by
her in the development of feminism. She was a moralist rather than
educator, and followed in the steps of Fénelon. She had the Cartesian
belief in the infallibility of Reason, with two exceptions, which do
honour to the qualities of her heart, and saved her from the inevitable
conclusions of logic _à outrance_: religion and honour. "Il y a deux
préjugés auxquels il faut obéir: la religion et l'honneur", and a
little further: "En fait de religion, il faut céder aux autorités.
Sur tout autre sujet, il ne faut recevoir que celle de la raison et
de l'évidence", excluding even honour. But her actions show that she
realised the danger which lies in obeying the duties of reason while
totally excluding the admonitions of the heart. Stronger than her love
of logic was that exquisite form of sensibility which made her at least
a real champion of the less fortunately situated. There is real concern
for the welfare of her inferiors in the precept that "servants should
be treated as unhappy friends", and a true love of humanity in the
statement that "humanity suffers in consequence of the inequality which
Fortune has introduced among men". Words which come from the heart and
entitle her to sympathy and admiration.

Her ideas concerning female education are contained in the "_Avis d'une
mère à sa fille_". She insists on the importance of cultivating the
female mind to render woman an agreeable companion to her husband, who
will then honour her and give her her due. And she places herself on
the standpoint which Mary Wollstonecraft took after her, in basing upon
this foundation her vindication of women's _right_ to be instructed.
She complains of the tyranny of men, who condemn to ignorance
the partners of their wedded lives, disregarding the pernicious
consequences entailed thereby. For ignorance leads to vice, and the
mind should be kept employed, were it only as a means of avoiding
mischief. To Mme de Lambert the Muses were "l'asyle des moeurs". Her
educational scheme contains more instruction than Fénelon's, as it
includes philosophy, which is to reclaim women to virtue through the
medium of Reason.

Of all the French female authors on the Woman Question it is Mme de
Lambert whose ideas show the nearest approach to Mary Wollstonecraft.
The essential difference between the two--the former's indifference
to political emancipation--was due to a difference in social
circumstances, which made her a ruler whose influence over men no
political enfranchisement could have increased, and also to the
condition of things in France, where the first steps towards the
political equality of the stronger sex were yet to be taken. She
believed the domestic circle to be the proper sphere of women, and
her "metaphysics" of love--if less fantastic than the ideals of her
17th century predecessors, which, however, found some adherents among
the regulars of her own circle in de la Motte and the Duchesse du
Maine--were certainly more conducive to real happiness in the high
moral principles out of which they arose. It was the marquis d'Argenson
who said of her writings that they were "un résumé complet de la morale
du monde et du temps présent la plus parfaite", and there seems no
reason to doubt the truth of his judgment.

Unfortunately the good example set by the marquise de Lambert was
not followed in other circles, where the increasing influence of the
feminine element, instead of purifying the morals of the male sex,
depraved them yet further. The great catastrophe of the end of the
century was hastened by the vicious excesses of many females.

Goncourt says that the eighteenth century lady of quality represented
the principle that governed society, the reason which directed it and
the voice which commanded it; she was, in fact, "la cause universelle
et fatale, l'origine des événements, la source des choses," and
nothing could be achieved without her concurrence. Rousseau, when
first arriving in Paris, was advised by a Jesuit to cultivate the
acquaintance of women, "for nothing ever happened in Paris except
through them".

The bulk of female influence upon the morals of the century was
disastrous. The gross materialism amongst society-women found
expression in a well-known utterance of the marquise du Châtelet:
"We are here merely to procure ourselves the greatest possible
variety of agreeable sensations." The most perverse code of morality
came to reign in some of the most-frequented salons. One of the
leading hostesses of Paris boasted that one of her reception-days
was reserved for "gentlemen of a damaged reputation", the so-called
"jour des coquins". Of the Englishmen who frequented these circles of
appalling vice, Horace Walpole--who in a space of forty years paid
six successive visits to Paris, and who was very far indeed from
being a sentimentalist,--refers to the utter absence of any sense of
decency among people whose chief occupation was the demolition of
all authority, whether temporal or spiritual, including the Divine
Authority itself.

One of the worst examples of the epicurian spirit was furnished by
the salon of the notorious Mme de Tencin. She disdained even to keep
up the appearance of quasi-platonic courtship and lived in open and
shameless debauch. Her entire life was made up of political intrigues
and adventures of gallantry, in which she turned the latter to account
to promote the former. She possessed plenty of literary talent, and her
two novels "_Le Comte de Comminges_" and "_Le siège_ _de Calais_" rank
among the best female productions of the century--but even Fontenelle
thought her heartless. After a childhood spent in the very imperfect
seclusion of a convent which was notorious for its nocturnal orgies,
"la religieuse Tencin" came to Paris in 1712 to begin her siege of
male hearts, directing her first attack against no less a person than
the Regent himself, and ultimately contenting herself with one of his
ministers, which gallant adventure was followed by many more. She gave
birth to a child, whom she deposited on the steps of a church, to be
found and brought up by strangers. This child afterwards became the
famous d'Alembert.

In order to be able to pursue her political schemes she filled her
salon on different days of the week with people of various occupations
and interests; keeping philosophers and académiciens, politicians and
ecclesiastics carefully separated, making herself their confidante, and
possessing herself of their secrets, managing them all so cleverly that
they became her tools without being aware of it, secretly despising her
"bêtes" while openly flattering them. The visitors to her two weekly
dinners were nearly all men, Bolingbroke and Matthew Prior being among
her "habitués". Apart from Mme Geoffrin, who became her successor, and
of whom she said that "she only came to see if there was anything among
her inventory that she might have a use for", there were hardly any
women, for Mme de Tencin would brook no possible rivals. Such was her
degradation that she wrote a most indecent "_Chronique scandaleuse_"
for the special delectation of the Regent. As Mme de Lambert's salon
represents eighteenth century society at its best, so Mme de Tencin's
foreshadowed some of the worst instances of female intriguing that were
to follow.

A totally different salon was that kept by Mme Geoffrin. Mme de
Tencin--whose own birth was not above suspicion--had all the pride
of class, and looked down upon the Third Estate; Mme Geoffrin on the
contrary was the daughter of a court-valet and consequently remained
all her life a "bourgeoise", without any pretence to "préciosité" or
anything but a kind and warm heart, a most remarkable wit, sound common
sense and a natural delicacy which made her an ideal hostess. For Mme
de Tencin's lofty disdain she substituted an almost maternal solicitude
for the welfare of her "children", who, with the exception of Mlle de
Lespinasse, were of the male sex. Besides d'Alembert, Diderot, Morellet
and Grimm there were the ubiquitous Horace Walpole, David Hume the
philosopher and Wraxall; the first-named of whom in his correspondence
declared her to be "a most extraordinary woman with more common sense
than he had ever encountered in one of her sex."

The principles of the salon in the Rue St. Honoré were much the same
as at Mme de Tencin's, but a milder spirit prevailed, and the demon
of intrigue was absent. Mme Geoffrin kept fixed reception-days, her
Mondays being devoted to artists, and her Wednesdays to men-of-letters
and philosophers, while her intimates were made welcome on both days.
The hostess presided over the assemblies without in any way obtruding
her personal opinions or bringing her private interests into play,
exercising an absolute authority which never became tyranny, and
keeping peace among the more excitable of her guests[12]. She was
much appreciated by them all, not least by the future king of Poland,
Stanislas Augustus, her devoted "son", causing Walpole to refer to
her as "the queen-mother of Poland". Her apotheosis came when in her
sixty-eighth year she visited Warsaw, where she met with a royal
reception. After her return her mental powers declined rapidly, and her
daughter--fearing the influence of scepticism upon her mother--kept her
favourite philosophers at a distance, eliciting from her the remark
that she was, like Godfrey of Bouillon, "protecting her tomb against
the infidels."

The third of the "Muses of the philosophical Decameron", whose
salon was much in vogue, was Julie de Lespinasse, whose attractive
personality and brilliant conversational and epistolary powers account
for her success. She combined the warmth of heart of Mme Geoffrin with
the ardent temperament of Mme de Tencin, but without the latter's
brazen-facedness. She possessed a degree of sensibility which made her
succumb to different lovers "for each of whom she cherished a passion
which it was beyond her power to resist." Her youth had been fed with
Richardson, "_Clarissa Harlowe_" being her favourite. She had entered
the employ of the famous marquise du Deffand, herself a prominent
hostess, in the capacity of reader. Her wit and the natural buoyancy
of her character soon made her more popular than her mistress, whose
guests took to visiting her in her room, while her mistress was still
asleep. Mme du Deffand in her jealousy accused her of "skimming off
the cream of her visitors' conversation"; a breach followed, and Julie
was enabled by some supporters to set up a small salon in the rue
St. Dominique, which flourished from 1764 till the year of her death
in 1776. She could not afford sumptuous dinners, but her guests were
sure of a warm welcome and of some interesting conversation, which
she conducted so tactfully, effacing herself completely and making
her guests feel at home by always appearing interested, that her lack
of personal beauty was quite forgotten in the charm of her manner.
Politics were a frequent topic, and Mlle de Lespinasse was among the
professed admirers of the British Constitution. D'Alembert, Condorcet,
Turgot and also Mme Geoffrin belonged to her circle, and that Walpole
knew her also, appears from the correspondence between him and Mme du
Deffand, who at Julie's death complained that the rupture with her had
robbed her of the friendship of d'Alembert.

While the women of society were celebrating their triumphs in the
salons, philosophy was trying to do something for the female multitude.
We have seen that it was Fénelon who caused education to be included
among the subjects of moral philosophy, but it was the diffusive
power of Rousseau's writings that made it one of the most frequently
discussed themes of the century. His "_Emile, ou de l'Education_",
which appeared in 1762--curiously enough, the year of the suppression
of Jesuitism in France--marked a new era in the history of education,
if not in that of feminism. Of Rousseau it might have been reasonably
expected as the champion of liberty and equality to carry to their full
extent the philosophical venturings of Fénelon and thus to usher in a
new era of female emancipation. However, with an inconsistency which
is one of his chief characteristics, Rousseau not only deliberately
left the female half of mankind out of his scheme for political
enfranchisement, but ranged himself among the anti-feminists by the
great emphasis he laid on the consideration of a sexual character,
which he construed into evidence of female inferiority, by arguing
that it makes the subjection of woman a natural law, which is to be
respected according to the theory that "whatever is in Nature, must be
right." Owing to the contradictory nature of his views, however, while
directly opposing the movement, he indirectly furthered it in two ways.
In the first place, his social theories were adopted without reserve
and without restrictions by some of his followers, who thus repaired
the omission which had left Woman out of the scheme; and secondly it
was Rousseau who once for all broke the back of the monastic system of
education by continuing the campaign which Fénelon in theory, and Mme
de Maintenon in practice, had entered upon before him, and bringing
it to a happy conclusion. The reduction and ultimate abolition of
the education of religion, which was one of the great victories of
the philosophical school, became manifest in the latter half of the
century. It was a signal success, achieved over an unwilling government
and crowned by the expulsion of the Jesuits, who had formed one of the
chief bulwarks against the growing revolutionary spirit.

The Cartesian principles, which had been a beacon-light to seventeenth
century philosophy, were supplemented in the next by a new element:
that of _utility_. In John Locke's "_Treatises of Government_" and
also in "_Some Thoughts concerning Education_", he let himself be
guided chiefly by considerations of usefulness, thus becoming the
founder of that doctrine of Utilitarianism which, after influencing
the French Encyclopedians, was to return to England a century later
and to find a fervent champion in William Godwin. In deciding upon a
course of action, the inevitable question was: "What is the use?" and
this guiding principle became paramount also in matters of education.
To Locke, who was a man of practical sense and not a mere theorist,
the problem was how to make people understand their real interests,
and to make them act in accordance with them, which must necessarily
lead to happiness. His educational system, therefore, is based upon the
communication of such useful knowledge as will most contribute to the
total amount of happiness to be found on this globe[13]. Locke insisted
on the necessity for a physical education which increases the mental
and moral capacity by rendering the body less subject to fatigue.
Simplicity and effectiveness in dress and food, and plenty of outdoor
exercise are recommended, and in this important matter, as indeed in a
great many others, Locke may be said to have struck the keynote of the
philosophical tendencies of the eighteenth century, anticipating the
famous Nature-theory of Rousseau. Many important questions were mooted
by him. He introduced the ethical problem of reward and punishment, and
discussed the advisability of reasoning with a child and of making him
learn a trade, which became a part of the educational programme of the
next generations.

The French philosophers became Locke's immediate heirs, and afterwards
repaid their debt to England with interest. Where Locke gave his "young
gentleman" a tutor, his views were adopted by the opponents of the
monastic education. It could hardly be expected of Locke, who lived
in a time when the female fortunes in his own country were at a very
low ebb, to have paid much attention to the possibility of making
women share in the obvious advantages of the new system. However, if
he did little or nothing for British women, his theories were turned
to account for the benefit of their French sisters, whose position
in the lower walks of life was not very much better than theirs. His
French disciples, carrying the theory of utility to its fullest extent,
included the female sex in their reflections. The first in point of
time was the Abbé de St. Pierre, of whom Rousseau contemptuously said
that he was "a man of great schemes and narrow views". Seen from
a feminist standpoint this judgment is cruelly unjust. For, even
granting that the Abbé's schemes were too Utopian to be capable of
full realisation--a circumstance he himself sadly recognised--the
fact remains that he was responsible for the first project of female
education _on a national basis_, making wholesale education a
state-concern and thus wanting to extend the benefit of instruction to
many who would otherwise be deprived of it. He stands at the beginning
of the lane that leads via Bernardin de St. Pierre and Talleyrand to
the great Condorcet.

The Abbé de St. Pierre was willing to grant women _as a class_ that
equality which the better-class women had actually attained, and he
believed in their instruction, holding that on the instruction given
to the young, whether male or female, depended the happiness of
the coming race. But he believed still more in the necessity for a
moral education, for his utilitarianism is not of this earth, but of
eternity. With him the ever recurring question is: "What will it profit
the soul?", and the fear of punishment in Hell is rather stronger with
him than the sense of moral duty. He thus laid himself open to attack
from the notorious Mme de Puysieux, who believed in reputation and the
preservation of appearances, informing him that it was silly to let the
fear of Hell withhold people from seeking happiness by cultivating the
good opinion of others, _whether deserved or not_! The final clause
sums up what moralists found most objectionable in the inclinations of
a depraved age.

The real aim of women, according to the Abbé, should be to please God,
and not men, so as to gain eternal life. He has no ambition for women
beyond that of making them devout Christians and good housekeepers,
and his educational efforts are accordingly directed towards these two
accomplishments. Girls are to dress simply, to eschew cards--that curse
of the age--and to learn useful needlework, the keeping of accounts and
in general such things as will be of the greatest use to them in the
performance of their domestic duties. But he very unaccountably refuses
their youth the advantages and innocent enjoyments of home-life,
wishing them to be brought up in colleges, in which they are to be kept
immured until such time as their education will be completed, when they
will be ready for matrimony! At college girls may learn to be good
citizenesses, but they will scarcely gain the necessary experience for
managing a home of their own. The comprehensiveness of his scheme,
however, and his recognition of the female equality entitles him to a
place in the history of feminism above Rousseau.

The latter's attitude towards the feminist movement is so complicated
as to demand careful analysis. Where women were concerned the strong
individuality of the female genius would not allow him to side
fully either with "those who wished to condemn them to a life of
household-drudgery, making of them a sort of superior slaves, or those
who, not satisfied to vindicate woman's rights, made her usurp those
of the stronger sex", for the former have too low a notion of the
duties of womanhood, whilst the latter overlook the considerations
of a sexual character by which, according to Rousseau, the relations
between the sexes are exclusively determined. Rousseau's opinion of the
depth to which women had sunk appears from his "_Lettre à d'Alembert
sur les Spectacles_," which contains a fierce onslaught upon their
moral perversity, which has caused the drama, too feeble to rise
to worthier themes, to fall back upon erotics of a most despicable
kind. Rousseau judged women capable of becoming something better than
what eighteenth century society had made of them, but in his demands
for them and in his schemes for perfecting their moral education he
was extremely modest. Next to the salons he held the education of
the convents, "ces véritables écoles de coquetterie", to be chiefly
responsible for the degradation of the female character. The young
women who, on leaving them, enter society, carry into instant practice
the lessons of vanity and coquetry which the convents have supplied.
For convent and salon Rousseau wanted to substitute the blessings
of true domesticity--painted in glowing colours in the pages of the
"_Nouvelle Héloise_." His sympathies went out, not to that college-life
of which the Abbé de St. Pierre had such sanguine expectations, but to
the intimacies of the family-circle, presided over by loving parents,
an ideal which he reintroduced in the fifth book of his treatise on
education, where, circumstances rendering it advisable to provide the
finished male product with a suitable partner for life, the principles
of Sophie's education are elaborately described[14].

Where he recommends making the duties of life as pleasant as possible
to the young pupil, protesting against that austere conception which
allowed her no other diversion than studies and prayers, Rousseau sides
with Fénelon. In his opinion girls enjoy too little freedom, whilst
grown-up women are left too much liberty. Let the young girls have an
opportunity to enjoy life, he says, or they will take it when they are
older. Nor does the notion of making them at an early age acquainted
with the world inspire him with terror, for he trusts with Mme de
Sévigné that the sight of noisy gatherings will only fill them with
disgust instead of tempting them to imitation.

So far there is nothing anti-feminist in Rousseau's ideas. But
unfortunately we have come to the end of what is positive and his
further utterances rather advocate woman's subjection than her
enfranchisement. The habit of reverting to first principles which
is so dominant a characteristic of his Nature-theory makes him draw
a parallel between the sexes upon the foundation of those innate
qualities which constitute the sexual character. Men and women are the
same in whatever is independent of sex, and radically different, almost
diametrically opposed, in all that pertains to it. Thus all disputes
regarding equality are vain, for "in what the sexes have in common they
are naturally equal, and in that in which they differ no comparison is
possible". And woman is to be congratulated upon this diversity, for
in it lies the great secret of her subtle power. Where woman asserts
the natural rights which arise from this difference she is superior
to man; where she tries to usurp the natural rights of the opposite
sex she remains hopelessly below their level. The two sexes have
different spheres of activity, and each sex can do well only in its own
sharply-defined sphere.

Reason itself demands this stress laid on the contrast between the
sexes. For, says Rousseau, once women are brought up to be as like men
as possible, their authority and influence, _which are rooted_ _in
their being essentially different_, will be lost without a substitute.
This remark is one of great wisdom and psychological insight. Rousseau
saw what many extreme feminists are so apt to forget, that those who
wish to develop in women those qualities which naturally belong to man,
and to suppress in them what is proper to their own sex, are in reality
doing them irreparable harm.

There are, according to Rousseau, a male empire and a female one. The
former rests upon a foundation of superior physical strength and mental
superiority; but although the stronger sex are masters in appearance,
they in reality depend on the weaker. For the female empire,
_established by Nature herself_, derives its strength from those
delicate feminine charms which command the worship of that gallantry
which Nature again has instilled into the hearts of men.

In giving this interpretation of female power and influence Rousseau
exposed himself to attack. The platonic worship, we have seen, had
sadly degenerated, and what remained was a worthless, hypocritical
imitation which was felt by well-meaning women as an insult rather than
a compliment. But what called down a storm of feminist indignation upon
his head was the sweeping conclusion he drew from the natural law that
man, having physical strength on his side, must always play the active
part in the intercourse between people of different sexes, while woman
has to be always content with the passive rôle. "The sole object of
women," says Rousseau, "ought consequently to be _to please_ men, on
whom their relative weakness has made them dependent", and goes on to
assert that all female education should as a natural consequence be
"relative to men".

There is in the above passage, which shows that on the subject
of feminism Rousseau, instead of a revolutionary, was rather a
conservative, nothing to suggest the bold and daring vindication of
female rights that was so soon to resound in the philosophical world
like a mighty trumpet-blast. His ideas about the position of Woman are
characteristic of his want of equilibrium in presenting a bewildering
chaos of judicious observations and unaccountable oversights. It is
not so much that some of his statements are untrue, as that they
are incomplete. In drawing sweeping conclusions from the physical
inferiority of the sex he deliberately closes his eyes to their moral
and mental possibilities. It is true that he insists upon a moral
education for women, but whatever of merit may be contained in this
claim is instantly neutralised by its only object: making women more
acceptable companions to their husbands, contributing to the happiness
of the latter by unwearying devotion and unalterable constancy. There
are undoubtedly many women to whom the above would seem the most
acceptable task, as there are others whose consciousness of their
talents would make them indignantly reject so subordinate a part. As
long as women are not cut after the same pattern, allowance will have
to be made for individual propensities and any theory, however cleverly
put together, will succeed with some types of womanhood and hopelessly
fail with others.

St. Marc Girardin indignantly remarks that the condition of the women
in Rousseau's Nature-scheme suggests the oriental seraglio. This is an
exaggeration, for the "relative education" is qualified by Rousseau to
such an extent that the harem-picture which it may at first conjure up
is considerably modified. He wished the term "made to please men" to be
understood in a far wider meaning than the merely sensual, for no one
realised better than he that in the absence of a spiritual element no
love based upon the grosser passions can possibly endure.

Where the female weaknesses and vanities are concerned Rousseau's
discernment even surpasses that of Fénelon. The task of woman being to
please, Nature has made her regard above all things the opinion of the
opposite sex. And the moralist who teaches men to ignore the opinion of
others as destructive of individuality, goes so far as to prescribe for
women an unlimited deference to opinion and reputation. "Opinion, which
is the grave of virtue among men, ought to be among women its high
throne". The utilitarian question: "A quoi cela est-il bon?", which
is to be the guiding principle in Emile's case, changes its character
where Sophie is concerned, and becomes: "Quel effet cela fera-t-il?"
The question what impression a thing will produce naturally leads to
putting the shadow before the substance, and appearance before reality,
and as such may have a most disastrous effect.

Sophie's love of needlework is accounted for not so much by
considerations of usefulness as by the reflection that this delicate
occupation will make her appear to advantage to her admirer. The same
train of thoughts makes her abominate the useful occupation of cooking,
by which her hands might become soiled. Did Rousseau actually imagine
that his much-recommended simplicity in dress would hold out against
the innate love of finery which was to help in the accomplishment of
what he considered the chief aim of womanhood?

Rousseau certainly did not mean to imply that woman must of necessity
be morally inferior to man, but simply that Nature had ordained that
she shall be subjected to his superior strength, to his cooler judgment
and to his superior common sense. He was certainly capable of imagining
an ideal female, and of worshipping in her the essentially sexual
qualities which make her differ from man. That portion of the fifth
book of _Emile_ which deals with the first meeting between the lovers
leaves little doubt as to how he pictured to himself his ideal of
womanhood. The philosophical treatise is more than once in danger of
becoming a romance, embodying the slightly sobered ideals of courtship
of the author of "_Julie_". It cannot be denied that Sophie has charm
and that her subjection to Emile is not oppressive. But to form a
correct notion of Rousseau's ideas regarding the social position of
women we must strip the story of its lyrical element and glance at
the purely philosophical portion of the treatise. It is there that we
must look for an answer to the question: "Did Rousseau look upon women
as partakers of the faculty of Reason?" And he gives his reply in the
following words: "L'art de penser n'est pas étranger aux femmes, mais
elles ne doivent faire qu'effleurer les sciences de raisonnement." He
would not even object to a system by which the functions of women were
strictly limited to the performance of sexual duties, if it were not
that utter ignorance would make them fall a too easy prey to rascally
adventurers! The subsequent statement that, after all, it being the
task of woman to get herself esteemed, _so as to justify her husband's
choice_, a little knowledge would not come amiss, does not mend matters
in its re-introduction of the relativity-principle. Here indeed,
Rousseau "pitches the pipe too low".

Woman's special domain is that of sentiment. But the very "sensibility"
which renders her more alluring by contrast, prevents her from forming
a sound judgment. This appreciation of women appears clearly in the
passages of _Emile_ in which the choice of a religion is discussed.
Emile is not allowed to decide until he has completed his eighteenth
year, when he is made to judge for himself, uninfluenced by his tutor.
Sophie's religious notions, on the contrary, are carefully instilled
by her parents at an early age, it being silently taken for granted
that she will never arrive at a degree of understanding which will
enable her to form her own convictions. "The female reason is of a
practical nature, which renders them very quick to find the means of
arriving at a fixed conclusion, but _does not enable them_ _to form
that conclusion independently of others_". Again that utter dependence,
that total lack of individuality which characterises Rousseau's female
ideal. "My daughter", says Sophie's father, "knowledge does not belong
to your age; when the time has come, your husband will instruct you."

The amount of actual instruction in Rousseau's scheme is reduced to a
minimum. There is no knowing what damage may be done to the unstable
female imagination by the dangerous literature of the time. Here
we recognise the author of the Dijon prize-essay with its crushing
conclusion. Rousseau frankly hated the "femme bel esprit". Sophie's
mind is to be formed by observation and reflection, and not by books.
But how can Sophie be supposed to reflect, one might ask, unless she
had certain fundamental truths pointed out to her, the instilment of
which is not the work of every parent, however well-intentioned? It
is Rousseau's fatal mistake that he cannot bring himself to realise
that moral culture simply cannot exist without a certain amount of
intellectual culture. He wanted to have both granted to men, and his
conclusions tended to withhold both from women. The march of humanity
finds him in the first rank of those who were pioneers; the feminist
movement, while recognising his cleverness, looks upon him as a
dangerous, and sometimes does him the injustice of calling him an
hypocritical enemy.

The charge of insincerity has, indeed, been often brought against
him, although he has found some defenders also. However, he is
condemned by most women. Mrs. Fawcett, in her introduction to Mary
Wollstonecraft's _Vindication_, opines that a man who made so light
of his duties towards his own children, and whose married life was
so full of blame has no right to pronounce on problems which require
the disinterestedness and self-abnegation of the pure idealist. Where
Rousseau points out the shortcomings of the women, of his time and
regrets them, he is with Mary Wollstonecraft; where he fails to show
the way by which improvement may be attained, he remains hopelessly
behind one who, with considerably less genius, had a great deal more
moral courage and a far wider conception of the ideals of woman.

Of the disciples and opponents of Rousseau, some of whom, like Mme de
Staël, Mme de Genlis, and Mme de Necker de Saussure were of the female
sex, little need be said here, as their writings either did not throw
any new light on the problem under consideration, or belong to a period
following that of Mary Wollstonecraft. When the Revolution came,
bringing with it an increased demand for a public education, some of
its theorists, who like Condorcet, showed an interest in the female
part of the problem, will call for mention.


[10] The "_Revue d'Histoire Littéraire de la France_" (Tome XXIII,
XXIV and XXV) contains a contribution by M. Raymond Toinet entitled:
"Les Ecrivains moralistes au 17ième siècle"; being an alphabetical
nomenclature of moral writings published during the age of Louis
the Fourteenth (1638-1715). In this list works of a feminist or an
anti-feminist nature figure so largely that little doubt can be
entertained as to the interest taken in the topic under discussion.
They may be conveniently classified as follows:

_1._ _Assertions of female superiority_, including a. o. two French
translations of Agrippa, three pieces entitled: "_Le Triomphe des
Dames_", and one by Mlle. Jacquette Guillaume, entitled: "_Les Dames
Illustres_". They were frequently combined with attacks on the male
half of humanity, as in the case of Regnard's "_Satire contre les

_2._ _Apologies for the female sex_, including Perrault's "_Apologie
des Femmes_", Poullain de la Barre's "_Egalité des deux Sexes_", and
a Latin translation of Anna Maria Schuurman. Some were meant as a
refutation of some male attack. To this class belong Ninon de l'Enclos'
"_Coquette Vengee_" and a number of replies to Boileau's satire.

_3._ _Attacks on the female sex_, which are gradually diminishing in
number, or rather changing from the direct invective to the moral essay
with a didactic purpose, busying itself with the female morals and the
female character. A collection of pieces dealing with the problem of
sexual preference was published in 1698 by de Vertron under the name of
"_La nouvelle Pandore, ou les femmes illustres du siècle de Louis le

_4._ _Rules of female conduct_, for the use of young ladies "about to
enter the world", insisting chiefly on the feminine duty of preserving
the reputation. A translation of Lord Halifax's "_Advice_" (see page
83), "_Etrennes ou conseils d'un homme de qualité à sa fille_" seems to
have attracted some notice.

_5._ _Pieces dealing with the relations between the sexes in daily
intercourse_, including the subjects of love and gallantry, and of
marriage. Some are directly favourable to the state of matrimony,
pointing to the reciprocal duties of the partners in the contract, and
instructing them in the readiest way to happiness; others, frequently
deriving their inspiration from Boileau, arguing about marriage as a
social institution and enumerating its advantages and its drawbacks.
To the period under discussion belongs a translation of Erasmus'
"_Christian Marriage_".

_6._ _Treatises of female education_, containing a plea for the
development of the female intellect. They are, as yet, remarkably few.
Beyond the contributions by Poullain de la Barre and Fénelon there
are some half-dozen pieces dealing with the education of girls on a
religious basis, and a few in which the question of the pursuit of
science and philosophy by women is stated and answered favourably.
There was an "_Apologie de la science des Dames, par Cléante_", (1662);
a treatise entitled: "_Avantages que les femmes peuvent recevoir de la
philosophie et principalement de la morale_", (1667); another by René
Bary bearing the somewhat questionable title of "_La fine philosophie
accommodée à l'intelligence des dames_", and, in conclusion, one by
Guillaume Colletet, headed: "_Question célèbre, s'il est nécessaire ou
non que les filles soient savantes, agitée de part et d'autre par Mlle
Anne Marie de Schurmann, hollandoise, et André Rivet, poictevin, le
tout mis en françois par le sieur Colletet_" (1646)

[11] "_La Nouvelle Colonie, ou la Ligue des Femmes_", first presented
in the Théâtre italien on the 18th of April 1729, a three-act comedy,
afterwards reduced to one single act to be performed in the "théâtres
de société", and published in this form in the _Mercure_. (Cf.
Larroumet; _Marivaux, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres_, Paris 1882).

[12] Such, at least, is the description of Mme Geoffrin's character in
M. E. Pilon's "_Portraits français_". M. G. Lanson, in his "_Lettres du
dix-huitième siècle_", accuses her of vanity and consequent despotic
leanings. "Elle aimait à conseiller ses amis, et les régentait en
mère un peu despotique; elle n'aimait pas les indépendants, les âmes
indociles et fières qui ne se laissent pas protéger, et veulent être
consultés dans le bien qu'on leur fait".

[13] That a great many of the Utilitarian ideas of John Locke may be
traced to their origin in the works of Montaigne has been demonstrated
by M. Pierre Villey in his "_L'influence de Montaigne sur les Idées
pédagogiques de Locke et de Rousseau_", who thus claims for the
literature of his own country an honour which was commonly granted to
that of England.

[14] The education recommended for Emile is not domestic. He was to
be kept carefully isolated from the world, so as to escape its taint,
until such time as his character would be fully matured, placing him
above the reach of disastrous influences. A similar principle had
prevailed at Mme de Maintenon's establishment of St. Cyr.


_Feminist and Anti-Feminist Tendencies among the English Augustans._

In studying the march of feminism among the two rival nations on either
side the Channel, one cannot help being struck by the remarkable
lateness of anything resembling a feminist movement in England. That
the women of mediaeval England were looked down upon, not only on
account of their inferior muscular strength, but also on the score of
their supposed want of mental and moral stability, appears but too
plainly from the numerous scornful references to the weaker sex in
the literature of those days. The Song-collections of the Transition
Period clearly betray the "esprit gaulois" in their brutal estimate
of woman and in the tone of undisguised contempt and ridicule which
prevails whenever women are the theme. The often-repeated story of the
henpecked husband and the shrewish wife contains a warning against
marriage which, although couched in the form of banter, evidently has
its foundation in the general conviction of female depravity. The
early plays with their brawling scenes and stock female characters
were also most unfavourable to women. Nor did the early Renaissance
bring any marked improvement either in the female morals or in the male
appreciation of them, for the satires against women continued with
hardly a refutation. The improvement which resulted in Ascham's days
from the awakening female interest in learning and in the Caroline
period from the introduction into poetry of the Platonic love ideal,
was too partial and too qualified to be permanent, and in later years
the Puritanic ideal of womanhood was an abomination to feminists of
the Wollstonecraft type. But the general estimate of women in England
had never been lower than in the notorious days that followed the
Restoration. In the Middle Ages all influence had been denied them on
the score of their supposed inferiority of understanding and inequality
of temper; the men of the reign of Charles II regarded them merely as
fair dissemblers and utter strangers to the nobler motives, in which
opinion the ladies of the age did all they could to confirm them.
The higher the society in which they moved, the less likely they were
to escape the many vices which prevailed in that age of depravity and
libertinism. There were, of course, the Puritans, who were forced
by circumstances to lead lives of retirement, regarding the vicious
excesses of Whitehall with disgust and jealously guarding their women
against degrading influences. The puritan ideal of womanhood was thus
preserved; but there was no promise for the future in the state of
close confinement and complete submission which the Judaic notions of
Puritanism demanded.

In those days, when night was darkest, a faint glimmer of a coming
dawn was seen. It consisted in some women beginning to take a modest
share in literary pursuits. When late in the seventeenth and early in
the 18th century the modern novel was passing through its preparatory
stage, Mrs. Aphra Behn, Mrs. Manley, Mrs. Haywood and some other women
realised that here was a new domain of literature in which woman was
qualified by her fertile imagination and quick power of observation to
excel. Even before the Restoration, the birth of a new social problem
dealing with the relative positions of the sexes was heralded in the
works of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle[15]. However, public
opinion stamped any such efforts--whether conscious or no--as immature,
and therefore doomed to failure.

All through the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century
women were regarded from a purely sexual point of view; they were,
as Mr. Lyon Blease calls it "enveloped in an atmosphere of sex".
Their being judged exclusively by a sexual standard entailed as a
necessary consequence the scornful neglect of those among them who
were disqualified by age or lack of physical attractions. If the lot
of the married women was often a sad one, considering the habitual
inconstancy of husbands, the condition of those who had drawn a blank
in the matrimonial lottery was even more pitiable. Hence that desperate
hunting for husbands which it is among the most creditable performances
of modern feminism to have lessened. It is easy to understand that
it is among forsaken married women and especially among the more
pronounced spinsters that we must look for such elements of female
wisdom and virtue as the barren age affords. The middle-aged mother of
a family was sometimes possessed of a certain hard-acquired dignity;
and to the often bitter experiences of spinsterhood we owe women of
the type of Mary Astell. But contemporary literature, while on the
whole inclined to be lenient towards married women who became "stricken
in years" was almost uniformly severe in dealing with the "old maid of
fiction", and the unmarried female had to await the broader days of
humanitarianism to have her troubles understood and her wrongs righted.

But even the more privileged among the female sex, those who in their
personal attractions possessed some kind of coin, the value of which
masculine opinion was not slow to recognise, were not much better off
than their plain sisters. The prevailing views regarding the place of
women in social life were the direct outcome of the general tendencies
of egoism and materialism by which the age was characterised. Woman was
regarded only in her relations to the male sex, and, what was worse,
woman herself had not yet learned to rebel against the shackles of a
convention of centuries, unquestioningly adopted the male verdict and
tried her hardest to become what the opposite sex wanted her to be.
They found it easy to relinquish all individuality, and live up to the
ideal set up by a degenerated manhood, and readily assumed the vices
which their lack of any sense of moral responsibility prevented them
from recognising as such. This total absence of moral purpose is a
characteristic of the age which was not restricted to women only. The
moral standard had sunk very low indeed, existence among the better
situated seemed exclusively devoted to the pursuit of pleasure with
all its attendant vices. From the male standpoint this view of life
determined the esteem in which the female sex was held. The eighteenth
century "beau" regarded woman only as an instrument of animal passion,
which hypocrisy tried very successfully to gild over with a varnish of
mock gallantry that was a remnant of better times of Platonic chivalry,
and aroused the indignation of moralists. This gallantry tried to make
up in extravagance for what it lacked in sincerity. The pursuit of the
object of his passion led the libertine to the most absurd excesses
which were very far removed from a devout worship[16]. Love had become
a grossly sensual passion, and women were treated with exaggerated
ceremony, but with little respect. Men held with Pope that "every
woman is at heart a rake", and treated them accordingly. They laid a
mock siege to what was conventionally called "the female heart" and
when that fortress in an unguarded moment surrendered or was taken
by storm, the conqueror, after enjoying the spoils of his victory,
left the poor victim to pay the penalty of social excommunication and
flaunted his conquest in the face of a society which maintained a
double standard of morality, and in which seduction and adultery on the
part of the male were held to be titles of honour.

To fully understand the eighteenth century interpretation of the
passion of love we have only to scan the pages of that new form of
fiction, the novel, which has supplied us with a truthful and lifelike
picture of the morals and manners of the time. In many of them the
heroine is made the object of libertine attempts which to the twentieth
century reader are absolutely revolting. It is true that she does
not submit to the outrage, but defends her honour as well as she is
able--strange to say, the eighteenth century heroine, apart from a few
females of the picaresque kind, is generally represented as virtuous
and chaste, rather a picture of womanhood as the author liked to
imagine than a faithful one, a circumstance for which the presence of
a moral purpose may account--but the secondary female characters are
often of a frailty which contrasts strongly with it. The "_Memoirs of
a Lady of Quality_" in _Peregrine Pickle_, for instance, are a frank
confession of the most shameless female profligacy, and the outrages
upon decorum and good taste described in them are corroborated by
numerous descriptions of female indecency and wantonness displayed
either in the baths of the fashionable watering-places or at the
masquerades which were in great vogue, giving the female sex ample
opportunity for displaying their charms with an utter want of delicacy.
Nor were the "bucks", "beaux" or "maccaronies" at all inclined to be
particular with regard to the language they used in the presence of
ladies. The obscenity of their conversation aroused the indignation of
Swift's Stella, but upon the whole women were too much accustomed to
the coarseness of male conversation to think of protesting, nor did
their parents or husbands think it necessary to interfere. Besides
which, the dialogue of those novels which constituted their daily
amusement was of much the same kind, and even the works of an Aphra
Behn or a Mrs. Manley were read freely in the presence of young girls
without being considered in the least offensive to feminine delicacy.

The improvement which the latter half of the century witnessed in
this respect was, as we shall see, in no small measure due to female
influence. The Bluestocking circles were largely instrumental in
bringing about this purifying of conversational and literary taste.
The female novelists of the next generation, while following in the
steps of Richardson and Fielding, and imitating their choice of
incidents, do not imitate their revolting coarseness. The stories
of libertinage and violence occur in a much modified form, and the
treatment is less offensive and not unfrequently humorous, taking the
edge off the indelicacy of many a doubtful situation.

The chief literary exponents of female depravity, satirising women for
what they were and hardly allowing an exception to the general rule,
forgetting the part of men in their degraded state, and regarding
the prospect of improvement with a degree of scepticism which has
made them the abomination of feminists, were Alexander Pope and Lord
Chesterfield. Pope's estimate of the sex, contained in the second of
the "_Moral Essays_", and confirmed by numerous allusions in his other
works, ranks him among those who jeer at women in general. Their two
prevailing passions according to him, are "love of pleasure", and "love
of sway":

     "Men, some to bus'ness, some to pleasure take,
     But every woman is at heart a rake:
     Men, some to quiet, some to public strife,
     But every lady would be queen for life."

The former he is rather inclined to excuse, for "where the lesson
taught is but to please, can Pleasure be a fault?" But the latter
contains in it the germs of unavoidable wretchedness to the woman who
outlives the power and influence which beauty grants her and whose
punishment consists in finding herself in later years friendless and
neglected, and without the redeeming blessing of a cultivated intellect
and a sensitive heart, which

     "... shall grow, while what fatigues the ring
     Flaunts and goes down, an unregarded thing."

The many inconsistencies in the female character are passed in review
and scourged with the whip of a satirist who does not care to rack
his brains for means of improvement, but whose egoism revels in the
intellectual delight of scathing ridicule. Women make their very
changeability a means of attracting suitors, they are "like variegated
tulips," showing many colours and attracting chiefly by variety:

     "Yet ne'er so sure our passion to create
     As when she touched the brink of all we hate."

It was no doubt Pope's intention to run down the entire female sex, but
while uttering the above insinuation, he seems fatally blind to the
very questionable light the successful application of certain female
devices reflected on the contemporary male character!

From a purely feminist point of view, the name of "cold-hearted
rascal", by which Mary Wollstonecraft distinguished the Earl of
Chesterfield, although not altogether deserved--for where his son was
concerned he was anything but "cold-hearted"--may be easily accounted
for. Whenever woman is the subject, his contentions as well as his tone
of uttering them betray a callous, contemptuous cynicism which marks
the man of fashion who "knows the season, when to take occasion by the
hand", and has been taught by the intricacies of diplomacy to regard
women from a purely egoistical standpoint as political weathercocks,
whose undeniable influence may be turned to account, but upon whom
otherwise no judgment can be too severe. There is in his writings no
trace of interest whatever in women for their own sake; despising them
for their weaknesses, he regards them merely as possible instruments by
which his personal ends may be furthered. The morality preached in the
famous "_Letters to his Son_" (written between the years 1739 and 1768,
representing the dawn of the Bluestocking movement) has been severely
and deservedly criticised. Their worst defect as well as their greatest
danger is that while containing a number of maxims which are absolutely
repugnant in their cynicism, they were written for an educational
purpose and pretended to instil the ways of conscious virtue "which
is the only solid foundation of all happiness."[17] Another objection
is that he insisted far too much on "the graces" (i. e. deportment),
while almost forgetting to recommend the more solid acquirements of
the character. Mrs. Chapone complained that he substituted appearances
for the real excellences which she considered more important, and Mrs.
Delany wrote that his letters were generally considered ingenious and
useful as to polish of manners, but very hurtful in a moral sense. "Les
grâces", she added, "are the sum total of his religion." This, and the
fact that he made a point of discussing moral questions of the greatest
importance with a child not yet ten years old and incapable of grasping
their full purport, afterwards made Mary Wollstonecraft turn upon
him with her accustomed vehemence. No doubt she found this education
of deliberate cynicism more difficult to forgive than even his cold
contempt of the female sex.

Chesterfield wanted to perfect his son in what he considered the most
important of arts, to be recommended to both sexes with equal emphasis:
that of pleasing. No man held more by opinion as a means of reaching
aims than he. To read his correspondence one might think the chief aim
of life to be a perfect mastery of the art of "wriggling oneself into
favour", with all its attendant insincerity and duplicity. Such was the
man whose advice the bishop of Waterford asked in respect to the kind
of reading to be permitted to his daughters[18].

When women are the topic, Lord Chesterfield invariably appears at his
worst. Nowhere in literature do we find a lower estimate of the sex and
a more sneeringly insolent ridicule of their foibles. Little is known
about the marriage of young Philip Stanhope, who even forgot to inform
his father of the circumstance, and who died too soon after to test
the truth of his father's teaching that "husband and wife are commonly
clogs upon each other." However, with such a mentor his chances of
happiness in the matrimonial state would have been slight in any case.

In the first place Lord Chesterfield regards women as intellectually
inferior and beneath notice. They are to him only "children of a
larger growth"[19] who seldom reason or act consistently; their best
resolutions being swayed by their inordinate passions, which their
reason is to weak to keep under constant control. Even the so-called
"femme forte",--of which type Catherine the Second was a prominent
representative--was in his eyes only another proof of this statement;
for at bottom all women are Machiavelians and they cannot do anything
with moderation, sentiment always getting the better of reason[20].
They do not appreciate or even understand the language of common sense,
and the proper tone to be adopted in their presence is "the polite
jargon of good company"[21].

His opinion of female morals is not more flattering. Women are capable
of, and ruled by two passions: vanity and love, of which the latter is
made dependent upon the former. "He who flatters them most pleases them
best; and they are most in love with him who they think is the most in
love with them"[22]. They value their beauty--real or imaginary--above
everything, and in this respect "scarce any flattery is too gross for
them to follow".

The above, if true, might be a reason for a man to rather avoid female
company than court it. However, says Chesterfield, low as they are,
we cannot afford to ignore them, for it is not to be denied that they
are a social power. "As women are a considerable, or at least a pretty
numerous part of company; and as their suffrages go a long way towards
establishing a man's character in the fashionable part of the world
(which is of great importance to the fortune and figure he proposes
to make in it), it is necessary _to please_ them". The sole use of
women in Chesterfield's eyes is that they may be turned into a ladder
for social advancement: "here women may be put to some use"; and he
who has discovered the right way of humouring them may serve his own
interest by cultivating their acquaintance and fooling them to the top
of their bent with judicious and cleverly administered flattery. Of all
Chesterfield's insinuations this is certainly the worst.

But how is woman to be pleased? The scheme for social promotion
involves an effort to please on an even more general scale. Women feel
a contempt for men who pass their time in "ruelles", making themselves
their voluntary slaves; they value those most who are held in the
highest esteem among their fellowmen; for this will render their
conquest by a woman worth her while. However, to please men, and gain
influence among them, the concurrence of women is indispensable, and so
forth, ad nauseam.

Practical hints are not wanting either. The best stepping-stones to
fortune are "a sort of veteran women of condition" who, besides having
great experience, feel flattered by the least attention from a young
fellow and in return render him excellent services by pointing out
to him those manners and attentions which pleased and engaged them
when they were in the pride of their first youth and beauty, and are
therefore the most likely to prove effective.

In conclusion, two instances may here be quoted of the excellent
father's recommendable advice to his son in regard to the exploitation
of female sympathies. The first regards that Mme du Bocage whose
name will be mentioned again in connection with her relations to the
Bluestocking circles in England. When young Stanhope was residing in
Paris and frequenting some salons, Lord Chesterfield advised his son to
make the French lady his confidante and confess to her his eagerness
"to please", asking her in true hypocritical fashion to teach him her
secret of pleasing everybody. Offered under different circumstances
this might have been a pretty compliment, coming as it did from the pen
of such a cynic and confirmed womanhater it was about the worst insult
that could be offered to a lady of "esprit" and dignity.

But the second passage is even worse. The exemplary father here
suggests a full scheme for political advancement through the
intermediacy of a lady of unsullied reputation, who was to be courted
and inveigled into granting her concurrence in a manner so beyond words
that we must let the letter speak for itself. "A propos, on m'assure
que Mme de Blot, sans avoir des traits, est joli comme un coeur, et
que nonobstant cela, elle s'en est tenu jusqu'ici scrupuleusement à
son mari, quoiqu'il ait déja plus qu'un an qu'elle est mariée. Elle
n'y pense pas; il faut décrotter cette femme-là. Décrottez vous done
tous les deux réciproquement. Force, assiduités, attentions, regards
tendres, et déclarations passionnées de votre côté produiront au moins
quelque velléité du sien. Et quand une fois la velléité y est, les
oeuvres ne sont pas loin."

Social life in the eighteenth century had indeed sunk to the appalling
depth which such letters as Chesterfield's reveal, through an utter
lack of purpose. The time was entirely void of social interest. At a
time when the French philosophy which had been so largely stimulated by
British example found its way into the assemblies of Paris, awakening a
vivid intellectual interest in thousands of minds and giving birth to a
national thought-life which laid the theoretical foundations not only
of the coming changes in the social order, but also of that glorious
edifice of science of which the nineteenth century was to witness the
rapid growth--English society was content to let things remain as they
were and did not at once respond to the call that came from beyond the
Channel. If England, too, contained a number of social abuses that
were rank and appealed to the justice of Heaven, they did not heed
them. The self-sufficiency thus revealed remained characteristic of the
better classes in England, and was in the majority of cases increased
rather than lessened by the outbreak of the Revolution, when most
Englishmen felt secure in the conviction that in England there were
no great wrongs to be righted. It had its origin in gross selfishness
and coarse materialism, which did not leave the bulk of the nation
an opportunity to realise the miserable condition of the poorer
classes in Ireland,--in England itself there was comparatively little
pauperism in the beginning--or the gross injustice of the prevailing
system of Parliamentary representation, or the cruelty of punishments,
or the abominable condition of the jails in which thousands of small
offenders were abandoned to the horrors of slow and gradual extinction,
or the shame of the execrable system of slavery prevailing in the
colonies. It was not until the second half of the century that the
great humanitarian movement began to make rapid progress; before that
great dawn British society remained undisturbed while pursuing their
round of pleasure which was interrupted only by death. Of the heralds
of a better time, who acted according to their lights, and of whom
some were doomed to failure, while others were to see their efforts
crowned with ultimate success, it is gratifying to think that a fair
percentage were women. If the education of men was sadly inadequate,
that of women was so hopelessly neglected that ladies of quality could
hardly sign their own name. They were, upon the whole, quite content to
remain in ignorance. Their horror of the "femme savante" was such, that
all appearance of even the slightest degree of learning was carefully
avoided. The result was disastrous. Dean Swift can hardly be said to
rank among the defenders of the sex, and yet even he recognised the
absurdity of this utter ignorance. In a letter, dated October 7th
1734, occurring in Mrs. Delany's correspondence, and addressed to
her, he says: "I speak for the public good of this country; because a
pernicious heresy prevails here among the men, that it is the duty of
your sex to be fools in every article except what is merely domestic;
and to do the ladies justice, there are very few of them without a good
share of that heresy, except upon one article, that they have as little
regard for family business as for the improvement of their minds." He
proposes to "carry Mrs. Delany about among his adversaries", and (I
will) "dare them to produce one instance where your _want of ignorance_
makes you affected, pretending, conceited, disdainful, endeavouring to
speak like a scholar, with twenty more faults objected by themselves,
their lovers or their husbands. But I fear your case is desperate, for
I know you never laugh at a jest before you understand it, and I must
question whether you understand a fan, or have so good a fancy at silks
as others; and your way of spelling would not be intelligible."

Only those qualities were considered worth developing which were
calculated to excite desire in the opposite sex. Women were skilled in
the commonplace conversation of the gaming-table, and were taught to
dance and to play the spinet, or the harpsichord, and to say ballads,
regardless of talent. Household duties and needlework were held in less
repute, and the qualities of the mind were utterly disregarded. All
feminine education was deliberately discouraged.[23]

In marriage the wife was completely subjected to the husband's
authority. If he proved inconstant--which was the rule--and transferred
his attentions to other women, it was considered most unwise in the
wife to object, the approved course being to pretend ignorance of the
fact, lest the husband should be displeased at being taken to task by
his inferior. About 1700 Lord Halifax's "_Advice to a Daughter_" was
published; and being the reflections of a man of recognised social
abilities, became a standard-work not only in England, but also on
the other side the Channel, where it was translated into French and
repeatedly quoted with great deference. Viewed in the light of the
conditions then prevailing it must be unreservedly admitted that
the advice is absolutely the best that could be given under the
circumstances. Mr. Lyon Blease's indignation in quoting it, seems
due rather to very natural disgust at the social conditions that
necessitated it, than to the nature of the advice in itself. Lord
Halifax exhorts his daughter to consider that she "lives in a time
which hath rendered some kind of frailties so habitual that they lay
claim to large grains of allowance." This reasoning would seem faulty
to a moralist, but there is more. "This being so, remember that next to
the danger of committing the fault yourself, _the greatest is that_
_of seeing it in your husband_. Do not seem to look or hear that way,
if he is a man of sense he will reclaim himself; the folly of it is of
itself sufficient to cure him; if he is not so, he will be provoked,
but not reformed." In other words he advises her to "eat her half
loaf and be happy", rather than disturb her share of happiness by
aiming higher than is compatible with the character and morality of
the average male. Halifax further observes that a benign indulgence
on the wife's part for the husband's wanderings will "make him more
yielding in other things", i. e. he admonishes his daughter to make a
compromise, enabling her to acquire certain advantages by conniving at
her husband's faithlessness! This is certainly pretty bad; but there
seems no room for any doubt that Halifax indeed struck the key-note of
eighteenth century opinion.

So far we have looked at the purely negative side of the picture, which
presents no features that can be called redeeming. Before passing to
the brighter side to examine the utterances of those who aimed at
the moral improvement of the female sex, or at an amelioration of
their social position, or both, we shall have to make some mention of
the views expressed by Swift in his "_Letter to a Young Lady on her
Marriage_". The general tone is certainly not encouraging. It holds the
male sex to be absolutely superior in matters physical, intellectual
and moral. While criticising with his habitual sarcasm the errors,
fopperies and vices of the female sex, Swift does not even trouble
to consider what has made them so depraved. The nearest suggestion
of possible blame to the male sex in regard to their treatment of
women is to be found in a passage in the "_Hints towards an Essay
on Conversation_". There are certain signs of a coming dawn in this
passage. After complaining of the degeneracy of conversation, "with the
pernicious consequences thereof upon our humours and dispositions,"
Swift suggests that it may be partly owing to "the custom arisen for
some time past of excluding women from any share in our society,
farther than in parties at play, or dancing, or in the pursuit of
an amour." In this respect he readily admits the superiority of the
more peaceable part of Charles the First's reign, "the highest period
of politeness in England," when the example set by France, and the
love-ideals prevailing among French society found English followers,
"and although we are apt to ridicule the sublime Platonic notions
they had, or personated, in love and friendship; I conceive their
refinements were grounded upon reason, and that a little grain of the
romance is no ill ingredient to preserve and exalt the dignity of
human nature, without which it is apt to degenerate into everything
that is sordid, vicious and low." This astonishing avowal on the part
of one so inclined to cynicism throws a most unfavourable light upon
the relations between the sexes in the early years of the eighteenth

However, if it could not be denied that manners and morals had decayed,
Swift never doubted that the female sex were chiefly responsible.
In his advice to the young bride their depravity is contrasted with
the sound wisdom and the more dignified conduct(!) of their lords
and masters. Swift satirises the worthlessness of the females who
spend their afternoon visiting their neighbours to indulge in talking
scandal, and whose evenings are devoted to the gambling-table. His
opinion of the sex in general is such as to make him emphatically warn
his young _protégée_ against the dangers of female conversation. "Your
only safe way of conversing with them is, by a firm resolution to
proceed in your practice and behaviour directly contrary to whatever
they say or do." The fondness of the sex for finery disgusts him to
such an extent, that he "cannot conceive them to be human creatures,
but a certain sort of species hardly a degree above a monkey."

Such was the verdict Swift passed upon the women of his time, whose
moral ideals, he was willing to grant, might be and ought to be the
same as those of men, always excepting "a certain reservedness, which
however, as they manage it, is nothing but affection and hypocrisy."

Man being superior to woman in every respect, also morally, it
follows that her chief aim should be to render herself more worthy
of him. Swift here introduces that pernicious theory of "relativity"
which in Rousseau's "_Emile_" was to arouse the indignation of Mary
Wollstonecraft. An effort is to be made to raise women out of that pool
of iniquity into which they have sunk, not so much for the sake of
their precious souls, as to render them more acceptable companions to
men. Whatever in Swift seems to favour a certain degree of emancipation
owes its origin to this consideration. He does not believe in what
he calls "the exalted passion of a French romance". By the time his
first passion is spent, the husband will want a companion to amuse and
cheer his leisure hours. Some provision should be made for the years
to come when, beauty having disappeared forever, it will be necessary
to fall back upon the accomplishments of the mind as a substitute, by
means of which the husband's esteem may be gained. Thus, by a process
differing materially from that of the feminists, Swift arrives at the
same conclusion; viz. that the first step towards improvement is the
institution of some kind of mental education for women. At the same
time he has little confidence in the mental capacities of the female
sex, so that his claims are in truth modest enough. Books of history
and travel represent the limit of what he deems them capable of
grasping; and he even recommends the making extracts from them, should
the fair reader's memory happen to be a little weak! For the rest the
task of instructing woman will necessarily devolve upon man; i. e.
upon the husband and upon those of his friends whom he judges best
calculated to enrich her mind by their advice and conversation, and to
set her right should her imagination tend to lead her judgment astray!
"Learned women," in the full sense of the term, were an abomination to
Swift, who believed the average female intellect to be so deficient
that "they could never arrive in point of learning to the perfection of
a schoolboy."

There can be no doubt that Swift's estimate of female capabilities
was the general one, which makes it all the more astonishing to find
that as early as 1673 a deliberate attempt was made to "raise women to
the dignity and usefulness which distinguished their ancestresses",
by giving them an education which included a rather considerable
amount of knowledge. A school for girls was founded in that year by
a certain Mrs. Makin, who explained her purpose in "_An Essay to
revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen in Religion, Manners,
Arts, and Tongues; with an Answer to the Objection against this Way
of Education_", dedicated to Mary, daughter of James, Duke of York.
The author protests against "the barbarous custom to breed women low",
which arises from the general belief that women are not endowed with
the same reason as man. Learning, and even virtue, in a woman are
"scorned and neglected as pedantic things, fit only for the vulgar",
and the creation of schools seems the only way to restore women to the
place they once held. Mrs. Makin wisely refrains from asking too much,
and therefore will not "as some have wittily done, plead for female
pre-eminence. To ask too much, is the way to be denied all". A plea,
therefore, for female education as a means of improving female morals.
Curiously enough, one of her pupils, Elizabeth Drake, was destined to
become Mrs. Robinson, and the mother of that Elizabeth Robinson who as
Mrs. Montagu became the recognised queen of the Bluestockings.

To strengthen her argument Mrs. Makin points to a number of women
who were proficient in knowledge among the Ancients, after which she
refers to some Englishwomen of great erudition, as: Lady Jane Grey,
Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of Newcastle, "who overtops many grave
gownsmen", and the princess Elizabeth, daughter of Charles the First,
whose tutoress Mrs. Makin had been.

Her school for gentlewomen was situated at Tottenham High Cross,
then within four miles of London, on the road to Ware, "where by the
blessing of God, gentlewomen may be instructed in the principles of
religion and in all manner of sober and virtuous education: more
particularly in alle things ordinarily taught in other schools." Half
the time available for study, according to the sort of prospectus
with which the essay closes, was to be devoted to foreign languages,
particularly Latin and French, and those who wanted further instruction
could be served with "Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and Spanish, in all which
this gentlewoman hath a competent knowledge." As a linguist, therefore,
Mrs. Makin here constitutes herself the rival of the famous translator
of Epictetus, Mrs. Carter. But she realised that the gift of languages
is not granted everybody. "Those who think one language enough for
a woman may forbear the languages and learn only (!) experimental

That the lady herself regarded the undertaking more or less as an
experiment appears from the fact that the terms were made dependent on
the success achieved. The minimum was twenty pounds per annum, but in
case of very marked improvement "something more would be expected", it
being left to the happy parents to judge how much more was due to the

A discourse on the "practicability of the scheme" was to be delivered
by a proxy "every Tuesday at Mrs. Mason's Coffee House in Cornhill,
near the Royal Exchange; and Thursdays at the 'Bolt and Tun' in Fleet
Street, between the hours of three and six in the afternoon."

That in Mrs. Robinson's case, at least, Mrs. Makin's efforts had not
been wholly in vain, is demonstrated by the fact that her children
called their mother "Mrs. Speaker", probably in connection with her
easy flow of language in the miniature contests of wit that used to be
held among them, which were no doubt an excellent preparation for the
later Mrs. Montagu's social task.

If we consider that both Port Royal and St. Cyr aimed far more at
instilling moral principles than imparting useful knowledge and that
neither in France nor in England had so sweeping an assertion ever been
put forward, it seems only giving Mrs. Makin her due to allow her a
prominent place among the pioneers of female education in Europe.

The history of feminism is as much that of the indirect influences
fostering the movement while slowly and almost imperceptibly leavening
the whole of society, as that of the direct and embittered struggle
for enfranchisement. The earlier half of the eighteenth century cannot
boast any direct champions of the cause beyond that Mary Astell of whom
it will be our business to speak presently, no martyrs out of whose
sacrifice arose the hopes of better things to come, but there are some
instances of men--and even of women--of letters who, while aiming at a
less ambitious or even a different object, indirectly contributed to
the growth of new opinions regarding the social status of women. Among
them must be reckoned the essayists, whose aim was (as the General
Advertisement of the _Tatler_ has it) "to teach the minuter decencies
and inferior duties, to regulate the practice of daily conversation, to
correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminal,
and remove those grievances which, if they produce no lasting
calamities, impress hourly vexation." Life is chiefly made up of such
seeming trifles, and the men who by pointing out the shortcomings of
humanity bring about an improvement in the general morals may claim to
be mentioned among the benefactors of mankind. Where the correction
of the slighter errors was avowedly the object in view, the essayists
were naturally drawn to consider the relations between the sexes,
to criticise women freely, and to point out the ready way towards
improvement. That the success they undeniably achieved was not--at
least in its direct consequences--in proportion to the talent lavished
on the essays, nor to the eagerness with which these literary efforts
were devoured by the reading public, was due mainly to two causes. In
the first place, considering probably that the times were not ripe for
that more direct form of attack upon the stronghold of conventional
manners and customs which in arousing opposition and resistance
results in war to the knife and ends in the complete overthrow of one
of the combatants, they chose to inculcate their moral lessons almost
imperceptibly, assuming a light and bantering tone of ridicule which
was not likely to give serious offence and might cause the reader to
laugh at her own expense and perhaps make her consider how much of
truth there lay in a criticism so jovially offered. No doubt this plan
was the wisest course under the circumstances then prevailing, but it
is not the way in which thorough reforms arise. Moreover, the moral
lessons were introduced so much at random, and with such utter lack of
system; and the improvements suggested were so vague, that in stating
that the periodical essay of the days of Addison and Steele helped
in some measure to prepare the way for the more emphatic assertions
of the later feminists, we have done the essayists full justice.
Their feminism is indeed extremely qualified, and stamps them as the
forerunners of the moralists among the Bluestockings, while leaving a
very wide gulf between them and Mary Wollstonecraft.

The thought of making anything like a definite claim never entered
their minds; the time for suggesting extensive social and political
improvements was yet far off, and Addison and Steele were content
to recommend in a general way the cultivation of the female mind
as the readiest way to overcome the prevailing worthlessness and
irresponsibility, thus continuing a line of thought which others
had held before them, and bringing it under the public notice. This
involves the supposition that the female mind is improveable to an
eminent degree, and here Addison and Steele fully agree. In No. 172 of
the _Guardian_ the latter, in giving an extract from a poem "in praise
of the invention of writing, written by a lady", delivers himself of
the sentiment that "the fair sex are as capable as men of the liberal
sciences; and indeed there is no very good argument against the
frequent instruction of females of condition this way, _but that they
are too powerful without that advantage_."

Addison in another number (155) of the same periodical says that "he
has often wondered that learning is not thought a proper ingredient in
the education of a woman of quality or fortune. Since they have the
same improveable minds as the male part of the species, why should they
not be cultivated by the same method? Why should reason be left to
itself in one of the sexes, and be disciplined with so much care in the
other?" An assertion, therefore, of the faculty of Reason in woman, and
a denial of that much-professed sexual character upon which eighteenth
century society was almost exclusively founded, and which Steele held
to be the main cause of contemporary female inferiority. He complained
(_Tatler_ No. 61) that the fact that the eighteenth century woman
valued herself only on her beauty, caused her to be regarded by men on
no other consideration as "a mere woman" from a purely sexual point of
view; it being his opinion that the rule for pleasing long (which, with
a want of logic in matters of sex characteristic of his time, he held
to be woman's chief consideration) was "to obtain such qualifications
as would make them so, were they not women," and therefore without any
reference to sex.

The superiority of the accomplishments of the mind over mere physical
beauty is a favourite theme with Steele, and may be found illustrated
in the usual way in No. 33 of the _Spectator_ in the character of the
two sisters Laetitia and Daphne. The suitor whom the former's charms
have captivated is not long in discovering that her pleasing appearance
but ill conceals the insipidity of her character, and promptly
transfers his affections to the less handsome but more cultured and
therefore far more agreeable Daphne. And so Steele wants it to be
realised that we commit a gross blunder when "in our daughters we take
care of their persons and neglect their minds", whereas "in our sons we
are so intent upon adorning their minds that we wholly neglect their
bodies" (_Spectator_ No. 66). Strangely enough in a moralist, the
ethical side of the question is here left out of discussion.

The conclusions drawn by both Steele and Addison from this neglect
of the education of the mind are characteristic of the difference
between the two. Steele observes that the unavoidable loss of her
beauty through the ravages of time causes a woman in the prime of her
years to be out of fashion and neglected, and he pleads earnestly for
an education to be given to women, that they may have better chances
of happiness in the later years of matrimony; whilst Addison with his
habitual irony weakens the impression produced by his assertion of the
perfectibility of the female mind, by ridiculing the much-discussed
"femmes savantes" in his picture of Lady Lizard and her daughters
reading Fontenelle's "_Pluralité des mondes_" while "busy preserving
several fruits of the season, dividing their speculation between
jellies and stars, and making a sudden transition from the sun to an
apricot, or from the Copernican system to the figure of a cheese-cake."
His treatment of the question is throughout tinged with sarcasm. "If
the female tongue will be in motion", he says, after complaining of
their _copia verborum_, "why should it not be set to go right?" Thus
science might be made into an antidote to scandal and intrigue.

The most directly feminist among the authors of the late seventeenth
and the early eighteenth century was Mary Astell, the author of "_A
Serious Proposal to the Ladies_", written in 1696. Her personality
and ideas remind us strongly of Mlle de Gournay, who lived nearly a
century earlier. The conviction that all contact with the world and
its wickedness would infallibly end in moral ruin had made Mary Astell
the warm advocate of education in a nunnery, far from the madding
crowd, where women might be brought up to lives of Christian virtue.
The very fact, however, that she was not a worldly woman, made her
overlook the circumstance that her scheme, however promising in theory,
could never hope to stand the test of practice. It was to be expected
that the first practical hint for an educational establishment for
women--a hint which, however, was not more regarded than Mary Astell's
had been--would come from one whose close contact with the outside
world enabled him to do something more than brood over schemes that
were incapable of realisation. Mary Astell in her religious zeal had
entirely forgotten to take into account the innate proclivities of the
female character. Daniel Defoe knew how to reconcile the demands of
life and of womanhood with those of a moral educational establishment,
and he suggested a scheme which was certainly more capable of being
put into practice than Mary Astell's. But even he was firmly convinced
that his proposal would meet with almost universal disapprobation and
therefore recommended it to the consideration of a later generation.
Defoe was a man of great inventiveness and sound common sense, and many
undeniable improvements were suggested in his "_Essay upon Projects_"
(1702). He had certainly heard of, and very probably read (although
he misquotes the title) Mrs. Astell's "_Serious Proposal_", and it
redounds to his credit that he is one of the very few contemporaries
of that eccentric lady to do justice to her motives in seriously
considering her ideal of a nunnery, instead of making it the object
of obscene insinuations like those of which Dr. Swift was guilty in
the pages of the _Tatler_. His estimate of the possibilities of women
was very considerably in advance of his time, and places him among the
most advanced of woman's male advocates. Unlike the essayists, his
tone is serious throughout, and the proposal well worth considering,
although even Defoe has so far become tainted with the prevailing
opinion regarding women as to assume certain sexual propensities which
he fears will be in the way of their moral improvement. "I doubt a
method proposed by an ingenious lady in a little book called "_Advice
to the Ladies_" would be found practicable," he says. "For, saving my
respect for the sex, _the levity which is perhaps a little peculiar
to them_, at least in their youth, will not bear the restraint, and
I am satisfied nothing but the height of bigotry can keep a nunnery."
Here we have the voice of worldly experience and psychological insight
protesting against Utopianism. For in women who for ages have lacked
the moulding influence of education Nature cannot fail to assert
herself, and will ruin the scheme.

On the other hand, his confidence in the improvability of the sex is
such as to make him claim for them the right to an education which
will bring out their dormant qualities. "I have often thought of it
as one of the most barbarous customs in the world, considering us as
a civilised and a Christian country, that we deny the advantage of
learning to our women. We reproach the sex every day with folly and
impertinence, which I am confident, had they the advantage of education
equal to us, _they would be guilty of less than ourselves_." That the
pioneer should occasionally somewhat overstep the bounds of moderation
is surely pardonable. Defoe in his zeal holds the capacities of women
to be greater and their senses quicker than those of men.

Nor does he fail to recognise the advantage that will accrue to the
female soul from an education which will "polish the rough diamond",
and without which its lustre might never appear. The Academy for
Women which he proposes, therefore, shall be "different from all sort
of religious confinements," and above all, there shall be no vows
of celibacy. The ascetic view of finding fault with every innocent
enjoyment seems to him as objectionable as the perpetual pursuit of
pleasure upon which it was a reaction.

The Academy was to be a sort of public school, supplying women with the
advantages of learning "suitable to their genius", without requiring
any monastic vows which were sure to be broken. Defoe is inclined to
try his women "by the principles of honour and strict virtue", being
convinced that the measure of keeping the men effectually away from the
college will put an end to all intriguing. According to him, temptation
comes with the suggestion of opportunity and all modesty takes its root
in custom, "for this alone, when inclinations reign, tho' virtue's
fled, will act of vice restrain".

     "If their desires are strong, and nature free,
     Keep from her man and opportunity,
     Else 'twill be vain to curb her by restraint;
     But keep the question off, you keep the saint."

Everything should be done to render intriguing dangerous, if not
impossible. The building should be of three plain fronts, "that the
eye might at a glance see from one coin to the other, the gardens
walled in the same triangular figure, with a large moat and but one
entrance." But the restraint would be only relative, for only those
were to be admitted into the seclusion of the college who were willing
to live there, and even they were not to be confined a moment longer
than the same voluntary choice inclined them.

Defoe realised that upon an absolute separation from the opposite sex
depended the success of his undertaking. We seem to be listening to
Lilia in Tennyson's _Princess_ saying: "But I would make it death for
any male thing but to peep at us", when Defoe pleads the advisability
of an act of parliament making it "felony for any man to enter by
force or fraud into the house, or to solicit any woman though it were
to marry, while she was in the house." Any woman willing to receive
the advances of a suitor, might leave the establishment, whilst those
anxious to "discharge themselves of impertinent addresses" would be
sure at any time to find a refuge in it.

The plan of instruction is made relative to the natural inclinations
of the sex. An important place is to be given to music and dancing,
"because they are their darlings", and to foreign languages,
particularly French and Italian, "and I would venture the injury
of giving a woman more tongues than one." Books are recommended,
especially on historical subjects, to make them understand the world,
nor are "the graces of speech", and "the necessary air of conversation"
forgotten, in which the usual education was so defective.

In the solution he proposes to the problem of female erudition,
Defoe was equally effective. He recognises that it will not do to
fit all women into a universal harness. Allowance must be made for
individuality. "To such whose genius would lead them to it" he would
deny no sort of learning. He is even roused to an ecstatic pitch
of enthusiasm by the contemplation of the ideal female which his
imagination conjures up before his mind's eye. "Without partiality;
a woman of sense and manners is the finest and most delicate part of
God's creation, the glory of her Maker, and the great instance of his
singular regard to man, his darling creature, to whom he gave the best
gift either God could bestow or man receive", to which he adds that
education may make of any woman "a creature without comparison, whose
society is the emblem of sublime enjoyments." God has given to all
mankind souls equally capable, and the entire difference between the
sexes proceeds "either from accidental differences in the make of their
bodies, or from the foolish difference of education." And Defoe winds
up with the bold assertion that all the world are mistaken in their
practice about women, "for I cannot think that God Almighty ever made
them such delicate and glorious creatures, and furnished them with such
charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind, with souls capable
of the same accomplishments with men, and only to be stewards of our
houses, cooks and slaves."

In direct opposition to the opinion of the Dean of St. Patrick's,
holding women to be the main cause of their own depravity and endowing
them with a very limited share of intelligence rendering them forever
inferior to men, stand out the views of at least one individual member
of the sex. While fully sharing Swift's disapproval of the actual
condition of women, she felt more inclined to follow Defoe in blaming
the other half of mankind for refusing them every opportunity to show
their possibilities. The tyranny of the male sex aroused the burning
indignation of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, whose feelings found vent
both in her voluminous correspondence and in her, mostly occasional,
poetry. She was most vehement in her denunciation of the treatment of
married women by their husbands, which she made an argument against
matrimony, and in favour of the virginal state, which at least ensured
to women a certain amount of freedom and leisure. "Wife and servant
are the same, but only differ in the name", and accordingly women are
exhorted to "shun that wretched state, and all the fawning flatt'rers
hate."[24] She did not, like Swift, believe in the moral superiority
of man, and called marriage "a lottery, where there is (at the lowest
computation) ten thousand blanks to a prize." Being all her life a
furious reader, she had in her earliest years imbibed the romantic
notions of d'Urfé's _Astrée_ and of de Scudéry's long-winded romances
of _Cyrus_ and _Clélie_, causing her to deeply regret the utter loss
of that platonic ideal of gallantry with its tendency to elevate the
mind and to instil honourable sentiments which had so charmed her hours
of meditation. In spite of the fact that her passion for literature
met with little or no encouragement, and that her own education had
been, according to her own statement[25] "one of the worst in the
world"--being an exact parallel to that of which the unfortunate
Clarissa Harlowe became the much-lamented victim--her erudition was
such, that Pope--previous to their quarrel, when he said some very
nasty things about her--playfully wondered what punishment might be in
store for one who, not content, like Eve, with a single apple, "had
robbed the whole tree".

Her own marriage to Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu was hardly a success.
His diplomatic career, however, gave his wife the much wished-for
opportunity to cultivate her understanding by means of foreign travel.
As a result of her experiences at Constantinople she was enabled on the
one hand to furnish the medical science with the means of successfully
combating that most destructive disease: the smallpox, and on the
other to enrich literature with a correspondence which bespeaks a
profound knowledge of the world, combined with great sagacity and a
wonderful discriminating power, and cannot fail to charm even the
modern reader with the freshness and variety of its descriptions. Both
style and descriptive manner show a pronounced resemblance to Mary
Wollstonecraft's "_Letters from Sweden_", written nearly eighty years
later. A preface to Lady Mary's Letters, which were not published until
her death, was written in 1724 by Mrs. Astell, who certainly did not
deserve the description given of her by the first editor of the Letters
as "the fair and elegant prefacer", being "a pious, exemplary woman,
and a profound scholar, but as far from fair and elegant as any old
schoolmaster of her time."[26] Her friendship for Lady Mary found its
origin in the circumstance that she saw in the latter's talents the
conclusive evidence of that mental equality of the sexes which she made
it her business to demonstrate. "I confess I am malicious enough to
desire that the world should see to how much better purpose the Ladies
travel than their Lords; and that, whilst it is surfeited with male
travels all in the same tone, and stuffed with the same trifles, a lady
has the skill to strike out a new path and to embellish a worn-out
subject with variety of fresh and elegant entertainment." That this
praise is--at least partly--due to considerations of feminism, appears
from the following verses:

     "Let the male authors with an envious eye
     Praise coldly, that they may the more decry;
     Women (at least I speak the sense of some)
     This little spirit of rivalship o'ercome.
     I read with transport, and with joy I greet
     A genius so sublime, and so complete,
     And gladly lay my laurels at her feet."

Lady Mary on her part wrote an "_Ode to Friendship_", addressed to
Mrs. Mary Astell. She also sympathised with the latter's scheme for
the establishment of a convent. She thought that a safe retreat might
be preferable to a show of public life. Her friend Lady Stafford
once said of her that her true vocation was a monastery, and we have
Lady Mary's own evidence where, approving of a project of an English
monastery in "_Sir Charles Grandison_", she confesses that it was one
of the favourite schemes of her early youth to get herself elected
lady-abbess. This intellectual propensity--for what appealed to
her most in the scheme was the indefinite leisure to be devoted to
studies--pervades all her writings, and throws further light upon her
disinclination to the matrimonial state and her recluse habits.

Lady Mary's social career came to a sudden close when in 1739 her
declining health made it advisable for her to leave England for the
sunny skies of northern Italy, where she remained till the year
before her death. To this period belong her chief contributions
to the Woman Question, contained in her correspondence with her
daughter the Countess of Bute, and giving her views of the position
of women, elicited by certain remarks on the education of her little
granddaughter. The circumstances under which this correspondence was
carried on bear a close resemblance to Mme de Sévigné's when writing
to her daughter Mme de Grignan her excellent advice regarding the
education of little Pauline de Simiane. From what has already been
said it may be readily concluded that the principal of Lady Mary's
grievances against the existing system was not that women were not
allowed their share of political and social power,--for she felt
no difficulty in entrusting the male sex with those duties which
would have kept her from her favourite pursuit--but rather that they
should be purposely and systematically debarred from studies and kept
in ignorance. But she was wise in avoiding all generalisation and
recommending the consideration of each individual case by itself and
for its own sake, since what might suit one woman might prove a source
of misery to another.

When her own daughter had been young, the fact that she was likely to
attract the highest offers had made it necessary that she should learn
to live in the world, for which very few intellectual qualifications
were then needed. But her granddaughter's chances of a brilliant
match were considerably less, and so she ought to be taught how to be
perfectly easy out of the world, in that retirement which Lady Mary
herself preferred to the social state. Thus, a new element is added
to the arguments in favour of liberal instruction, which is to be a
pleasure rather than a task, with no more important background than
the providing of a substitute for social intercourse to those whose
circumstances prevent them from occupying a place in social circles.
And it is clearly the mother's task to talk over with her daughter what
the latter may have read, that she may not "mistake pert folly for wit
and humour, or rhyme for poetry, which are the common errors of young
people, and have a train of ill consequences."

The moral education which she recommends for her granddaughter is
rather slight, and based chiefly on the negative principle--which we
have also found in Fénelon and other French moralists--of keeping the
mind occupied as a means of preventing idleness, which is the mother of
mischief. Learning,--which modesty would have them carefully conceal,
for ignorance is bold, and true knowledge reserved--will tend to make
women less deceitful instead of more so, and as the same lessons will
form the same characters, there is no reason to "place women in an
inferior rank to men."

Lady Mary thus declared her belief in the equality of the sexes, but
she has not enough of the social leaven in her to make any definite
claim for her sex. She is rather an isolated specimen of womanhood,
serving as a proof of the capacities of some exceptional women, than
a fighter for female rights. Her intellectual and literary powers
were of a critical and satirical rather than a creative nature. That
she was among the very first women to possess the critical faculty in
an eminent degree, appears from the clever criticism of contemporary
fiction with which her correspondence abounds, and which makes her
the forerunner of her husband's relative of Bluestocking fame. She
was sufficiently independent in her judgment to disagree with the
general opinion of Richardson's novels, without being able to remain
uninfluenced by his pathos. "I heartily despise him, and eagerly read
him, nay, sob over his works in a most scandalous manner." This merely
because of the parallel some of the heroine's circumstances afforded
to those of her own youth, for neither Miss Howe nor even Clarissa
herself found favour in her eyes. She was one of the very few readers
of Richardson who saw the faultiness of the moral of both _Pamela_ and
_Clarissa Harlowe_, considering them "to be two books that will do more
general mischief than the works of Lord Rochester." Her sound common
sense made her heartily despise any excess of that sensibility which
Richardson's works fostered. Her verdict of _Sir Charles Grandison_
was even more crushing. "His conduct (towards Clementina) puts me in
mind of some ladies I have known who could never find out a man to
be in love with them, let him do or say what he would, till he made a
direct attempt, and then they were so surprised, I warrant you! nor
do I approve Sir Charles's offered compromise (as he calls it). There
must be a great indifference to religion on both sides, to make so
strict a union as marriage tolerable between people of such distinct
persuasions. He seems to think women have no souls, by agreeing so
easily that his daughters should be educated in bigotry and idolatry."

In her love of learning, and more still in her keen literary judgment
Lady Mary foreshadowed the coming of the Bluestockings, whom her total
lack of sociability would have forever prevented her from joining.


[15] "_The World's Olio_" (1655) contains an essay on "_The Inferiority
of Woman, morally and physically_".

[16] See Forsyth, _Novels and Novelists of the Eighteenth Century_, pp.

[17] Letter 126.

[18] Letter 298.

[19] Letter 76.

[20] Letter 481.

[21] Letter 78.

[22] Letter 124.

[23] The above statement may at first sight seem rather too sweeping.
But it is supported by the authority of Mary Astell (cf. page 90),
who in her "_Serious Proposal to the Ladies_" remarks that it was
generally considered quite unnecessary to waste money on the education
of daughters. Most parents, she says, "_took as much pains to beat
girls away from knowledge as to beat boys towards it_". She was quite
aware that her scheme for the establishment of a nunnery in which the
daughters of the aristocracy were to be saved from neglect must be
shocking to the parents of her generation, who feared that such an
education might in all probability corrupt their morals(!) and would
certainly _prevent them from marrying_. In this lies the gist of all
deliberate discouragement of female learning. The only object in a
girl's life being to make a suitable match,--meaning a wealthy one,--it
followed that everything was subordinated to this consideration. And
it unfortunately happened that the men of the century preferred their
partners in wedlock silly and ignorant, and consequently easy-going and

At one time Mary Astell's scheme came very near to realisation. The
devout, intellectual and wealthy Lady Elizabeth Hastings became
interested in it and declared herself willing to supply the necessary
funds. But it so happened that Bishop Burnet heard of the plan and of
the promised donation. A scheme for a rational education for girls
struck this conservative churchman as so absurd that in his Anglican
hatred of Catholicism he rather irrelevantly referred to it as "a
popish project", using all his influence to divert Lady Elizabeth's
charity, in which effort he was completely successful.

[24] _A Caveat to the Fair Sex._

[25] _Letter_ to the Countess of Bute, March 6, 1753.

[26] "_Introductory Anecdotes_" to Lord Wharncliffe's Edition of the
Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Paris, 1837).


_Qualified Feminism: The Bluestockings._

"Feminism", says M. Ascoli, in an article in the "_Revue de Synthèse
historique_", "is the mental attitude of those who refuse to admit a
natural and necessary inequality between the faculties of the sexes,
and, in consequence of this, between their respective rights; who
believe that--within certain limits clearly defined by Nature--women
are capable of the same occupations as men, in which they will succeed
equally well when, prepared for their task by an adequate education,
they will be no longer opposed by the ill-will and the hostile jealousy
of the opposite sex; of those who, eager for the birth of a more
extensive liberty and a more liberal justice, hope for the realisation
of an ideal which will bring the greatest boon not only to women, but
to all humanity."

If the above is a correct and exhaustive definition of feminism, the
Bluestockings certainly cannot be called feminists, for they none
of them believed that the future of the human race was in any way
dependent on a recognised equality between the sexes. This, however,
should not be understood as implying that they did nothing to promote
the march of feminism, or rather to prepare the national mind for the
first symptoms of a more directly feminine movement which were to
manifest themselves before the more or less artificial conversations
of the Bluestocking côteries had retired into insignificance before
the looming spectre of Revolution, filling the mind with speculations
of more direct importance, and arousing the hereditary conservatism
which slumbers at the bottom of every true British heart in a common
effort to uphold the laws of the country against the revolutionary
element, sown broadcast at home, and prevailing with most disastrous
consequences abroad. But the contribution of the English salons to
feminism in its narrower sense, however important in its consequences,
must be described as largely unintentional, and extremely qualified.
The very mention of Mary Wollstonecraft's name was enough to arouse
indignation and disgust in the bosom of every true "Blue" except Miss
Seward, on the joint score of her being considered an extreme feminist,
a revolutionary and most of all: an atheist.

The charge of atheism is of the many accusations brought against the
author of "_A Vindication of the Rights of Women_" beyond any doubt the
most absurd, and where there was so little mutual understanding, it
is not astonishing that there should be an utter lack of appreciation
between such women as Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft, both of whom
were actuated by the noblest motives and whom a closer acquaintance
could not have failed to bring nearer together. Of the main contentions
in the former's "_Strictures_" a very considerable majority, stripped
of their dogmatic spirit of orthodox Christianity, and worded in
such a manner as to make them sound as a vindication of inalienable
rights and corresponding duties rather than an exhortation to a life
of moral virtue, are an exact repetition of the notions put forward
in the "_Rights of Women_"; with the contents of which Hannah More
was unacquainted. Horace Walpole, the tone of whose letters to "Saint
Hannah" is so completely different from his usual scoffing as to
suggest a conflict in the writer's mind between irony and genuine
admiration, in referring to the Paris massacres, expresses his disgust
of "the philosophing serpent", and is pleased to find that his friend
has not read her works; to which Hannah replies that she has been "much
pestered" to read the "_Rights of Women_", which she evidently never

Mary's feminism was of the most comprehensive description. Although
very far from atheism, her religious notions, shaken by bitter
experience, were not sufficiently strong to support her in what was to
her the very cruel struggle for life, the facts of which were, from her
earliest infancy, so hideous as to leave her no leisure for the gradual
development of social ideas under the regulating influence of a riper
mind, but put her through the hard school of suffering. The problem
with which she found herself confronted was an urgent one, calling for
immediate solution.

Considerations of a future existence certainly did come at different
times to comfort her, but they were to her a remnant of convention
and called forth in times of pressure rather than an inherent part
of her being. In proportion as the more tangible ideals of the
Revolution came to absorb her interest, the hope of salvation became
a secondary consideration, which was not to be allowed to interfere
with the necessity for correcting present evils and relieving present
wants. To her, the problem of the female cause was stern reality which
was well worth the devotion of a lifetime. Her energetic mind took
in the subject in its entirety and thought it out to the minutest
details, suggesting radical changes without stopping to consider their
feasibility, and impressing us with the almost masculine width of its

How insipid and uninteresting compared to her radicalism are the
attempts at a partial reform of a Hannah More, the very limitations
of which bring out more clearly the utter want of breadth, the narrow
conventionality which hampered the growth of the ideal! To her and
to her associates the Woman Question had a much narrower range, and
remained limited to the problem of moral improvement. Hannah More,
indeed, had no cause to complain of scornful treatment at the hands
of men, and in her circle, next to one or two of the greatest men of
the day, women were the ruling influence. Of the lower classes and
their struggles her early youth had taught her little or nothing, and
her sympathy with the poor and humble was awakened in the course of
the long and bitter struggle of conventionalism against radicalism,
in which, viewing the matter broadly, she ranged herself among the
defenders of a doubtful cause. It gave her a better insight into the
social conditions of England, and no doubt she grew to realise that the
great problem of humanity had reached an acute stage, and that even
in her own cherished country there were many wrongs to be righted.
From that time she became more and more of a social reformer, but the
pressing need of the case was forever mitigated by considerations
of Eternity. To her, who pinned her faith on the promise of life
everlasting, the most glaring pictures of human misery faded before
the beacon-light of faith and trust. She never found it difficult to
be reconciled to the preponderance of evil, for she looked upon it "as
making part of the dispensations of God", who in his supreme wisdom
meant this world for a scene of discipline, not of remuneration. Hence
the utter incompatibility of the orthodox view with the doctrine of
perfectibility, and the hostile attitude of the Bluestocking ladies
towards those of the new faith, by which this world was looked upon
as all-in-all, and in which want and misery were considered as evils
arising solely from the defects of human governments. "Whatever is,
is right", was Hannah More's guiding principle, and to remove that
inequality which in her eyes was a portion of God's great scheme
seemed to her rebelling against God's own decree. She relieved human
misery where she could, from a sense of Christian duty and propriety,
and by establishing schools tried to rouse the poor to a sense of
moral duty, teaching them to be satisfied in the position in which it
had pleased God to place them and to live in the hope of Eternity.
The practice of that humility which is among the first duties of a
Christian forbade any attempt at rising in the social scale. Likewise,
in the case of woman, there was to her only one great and leading
circumstance that raised her importance, and might to a certain extent
establish her equality: "Christianity had exalted them to true and
undisputed dignity; in Christ Jezus, as there is neither rich nor poor,
bond nor free, so there is neither male nor female. In the view of
that immortality which is brought to light by the Gospel, she has no
superior. Women, to borrow the idea of an excellent prelate, make up
one half of the human race, equally with men redeemed by the blood of
Christ." All other forms of equality do not seen to her worth fighting

This view of Hannah More's was fully shared by those among the
Bluestockings who took a more direct interest in social questions: Mrs.
Montagu, Mrs. Chapone and Mrs. Carter. In their opinions about social
inequality they were guided by the conservatism of dogmatic faith, as
their views of the position of women derived colour from notions of
propriety. They rejoiced with the rest of the nation at the news of
the fall of the Bastille, which to every true John Bull had become
the symbol of French slavery and which served as an opportunity to
assert his own superiority and praise that perfect liberty which he
imagined to be the privilege of every individual Briton--and no doubt
thought themselves extremely enlightened in doing so. But at the first
reports of bloodshed and lawlessness propriety suggested that they
had suffered themselves by their all-embracing love of humanity to be
betrayed into feelings which might be thought distinctly improper,
or be translated into a want of patriotic feeling. They chose to be
Englishwomen rather than cosmopolitans. This choice was made the
easier for them as they had come to regard France as the chief bulwark
of irreligion. Hannah More complains (1799) that "that cold compound
of irony, irreligion, selfishness and sneer, which make up what the
French (_from whom we borrow the thing as well as the word_) so well
express by the term _persiflage_, has of late years made an incredible
progress in blasting the opening buds of piety in young persons of
fashion."[27] When the immediate danger of revolution in England was
over, some Bluestockings--in particular Mrs. Montagu, Hannah More and
Mrs. Carter--responded to the appeal of suffering humanity, in a narrow
compass, to the best of their ability, and in the case of the second
with highly creditable zeal and devotion, but they did not, like Mary
Wollstonecraft, rise to the occasion, forego public praise and suffer
martyrdom for the cause of humanity.

The Bluestockings, therefore, cannot be ranked as militant feminists.
They were content with the position of dependence which the authority
of the Bible assigns to women. It is true that even from among
their circle an occasional protest was heard against the deliberate
subjection of the female sex. The learned Mrs. Carter once complained
to her friend Archbishop Seeker of the partiality of the male
translator of the Bible, who in rendering the First Epistle of St.
Paul to the Corinthians had translated the same verb in different ways
so as to bring out what he thought ought to be the relations between
husband and wife, writing that he was not to "put away" his wife, and
that she was not to "leave" him; and the archbishop, who began by
contradicting her, on referring to the Bible was forced to acknowledge
that she was right. On the whole, however, the literary remains of
the Bluestockings demonstrate pretty clearly that their confidence
in female equivalence was not great. Mrs. Chapone, in her letters,
mostly adheres to the creed of male superiority. She tries, however, to
effect a compromise. Man, the appointed ruler and head, is undoubtedly
woman's superior, but a woman "should choose for her husband one whom
she can heartily and willingly acknowledge her superior, and whose
understanding and judgment she can prefer to her own". This sounds most
revolutionary at a time when women, as a rule, were not allowed to
choose their own husbands. It is interesting to note that Miss Hester
Mulso did, and made a love-match with Mr. Chapone, whom she soon after
lost through death. She goes on to say that the husband should have
"such an opinion of his wife's understanding, principles and integrity
of heart, as will induce him to exalt her to the rank of his first and
dearest friend", and concludes: "I believe it necessary that all such
inequality and subjection as must check and refrain that unbounded
confidence and frankness which are the essence of friendship, be laid
aside or suffered to sleep". A qualified superiority, therefore, upon
which the lord and master is supposed not to presume.

Among the correspondence of Mrs. Montagu, the "Queen of the Blues",
published "by her great-great niece" Miss E. J. Climenson, is a letter
to her devoted friend and admirer the Earl of Bath on the subject of
her archenemy Voltaire's tragedy of "_Tancred_", in which she finds
fault with the character of Aménaide for not following virtue as by law
established, but despising forms and following sentiment, "a dangerous
guide". This is what we should expect from a Bluestocking leader. She
continues: "_Designed by nature to act but a second part_, it is a
woman's duty to obey rules; she is not to make or redress them". Hannah
More also admits the male superiority in a chapter on conversation
in her "_Strictures_", where she follows Swift and Mrs. Barbauld in
suggesting that men shall concur in the education of the female sex
by allowing them the humble part of interested listeners to their
superior conversation. "It is to be regretted", she says, "that many
men, even of distinguished sense and learning, are too apt to consider
the society of ladies as a scene in which they are rather to rest their
understandings than to exercise them; while ladies, in return, are too
much addicted to make their court by lending themselves to this spirit
of trifling: they often avoid making use of what abilities they have,
and affect to talk below their natural and acquired powers of mind,
considering it as a tacit and welcome flattery to the understanding of
men to renounce the exercise of their own"[28]. The last part of this
statement strikes a higher note in its denunciation of the pernicious
system of "relativity". Mrs. Carter also refers somewhere in her
correspondence to the indignity of ladies and gentlemen at various
assemblies being kept separated, as if the former were disqualified
by the shortcomings of their sex from listening to the improving
conversation of the latter.

In conclusion it may be stated that the Bluestocking assemblies
in all probability arose from an ardent wish on the part of some
intellectual ladies to intermingle with the conversation of the members
of Dr. Johnson's club the charms of their own. One of the Literary
Clubbists informs us that a certain lady, whom he does not name, but
describes as distinguished by her beauty and taste for literature,
used to invite them to dinner and share in the conversation. He may
have meant Miss Reynolds, Sir Joshua's sister, who wrote a much
praised "_Essay on Taste_", and whose salon was among the first where
Wits and Bluestockings learnt to appreciate each other's society.
Boswell, in his "_Life of Johnson_" says: "It was much the fashion for
several ladies to have evening assemblies, where the fair sex might
participate in conversation with literary and ingenious men, _animated
by a desire to please_". Although the duty of receiving the guests and
so placing them as to ensure animated discussions fell to the share
of the women, yet few of them were bold enough to let themselves be
heard in the presence of the literary dictator, whose oracular speeches
were delivered with pompous assurance and listened to and taken in
with becoming deference and humility. Dr. Johnson made and marred the
literary and conversational reputations of his bevy of female admirers;
Fanny Burney owed her success as a Bluestocking principally to his
praise of "_Evelina_", as Hannah did hers--next to the kind protection
of Garrick--to his unstinted eulogy of her "_Bas Bleu_" poem. Johnson
had said that "there was no name in poetry that might not be glad to
own it." But after Johnson's death there came a radical change, and
in the absence of a male dictator to occupy the vacant throne, the
female element predominated more and more. Especially Mrs. Montagu
"queened it" over her satellites, both male and female, and of all
the Bluestocking hostesses who vied for supremacy she came nearest to
justifying the charge of pedantry.

The question whether the Bluestocking societies were either directly
or indirectly an imitation of the older French salons must be answered
with some degree of circumspection. That the influence of the latter
was considerable may be taken for granted, and the direct points of
contact were numerous. Horace Walpole in particular was an intimate of
both, David Hume frequented several Paris salons and Mme du Bocage,
Mme de Genlis and Mme de Staël--the last two in the year of their
exile from France--were repeatedly seen in blue society. It is to
the pen of the first that we owe one of the most vivid descriptions
of Mrs. Montagu's convivial meetings. If we moreover consider that
French interest in England which is a prominent feature of 18th
century society and the close relations between the two countries,
we do not wonder that a parallel movement to that of the French
salon should have sprung up. And yet the Bluestocking assemblies
had a distinct individuality of their own; inferior to their French
rivals in some respects, they were superior to them in others. Most
critics of the time agree in asserting their inferiority, which is a
natural circumstance in view of the fact that they considered them as
a literary and conversational movement, in which the chief aim was
literary taste and polished, witty conversation. Their estimate never
went beyond these limits to consider the influence exercised by these
côteries upon society in general. And it is when throwing into the
scale the moral improvement, especially among women, which was the
result of the efforts of the Bluestocking ladies, that we realise that
although different, they were not necessarily inferior to their French

Wraxall in his "_Historical Memoirs_" opines that "neither in the
period of its duration, nor in the number, merit or intellectual
eminence of the principal members, could the English society be
held upon any parity with that of France." He might have added with
equal truth that the average Frenchwoman of the cultivated class is
distinguished from her English sister by greater keenness of wit
and by a greater brilliance of conversation. The chief talents of
the French are of the mind, "de l'esprit", and are shown off to the
best advantage, those of the English are rather of the heart and are
not flaunted in public. English society, in the matter of outside
splendour and brilliance, has always been completely overshadowed by
the greater expansiveness of the French. The Bluestocking hostesses
were upon the whole less brilliant specimens of female magnificence,
but they were undoubtedly far better women. For the light-hearted
gallantry practised in the French salons they substituted warm and
generous friendship, which considerations of envy only very rarely
disturbed. The Bluestocking atmosphere was purer, allowing one to
breathe more comfortably than in some French salon where intrigue
ruled the hour. The women were like the men, lacking in that "finesse"
in which the French excelled, but kind and considerate, and upon the
whole quicker to praise than to find fault. Hannah More realised this
when singing the praises of the Blues in her "_Bas Bleu_" poem. She
describes the members of the French assemblies as brilliant and witty,
but lacking common sense and simplicity. Her verdict would have
been more correct if for the Hôtel de Rambouillet, against which her
disapprobation is directed, she had substituted the later salons of
the decline, where indeed a mistaken "préciosité" prevailed and "where
point, and turn, and équivoque distorted every word they spoke". For
indeed the parallelism with the salon of the 17th century is far more
marked than with that of the 18th. The evolution of both French and
English polite literary society furnishes a strong argument in favour
of Rousseau's theory that "everything degenerates in the hands of
man"--by which he meant "humanity"--for after a short spell of glory
both degenerated sadly. In both pedantry supplanted wit, and Molière's
"_Femmes Savantes_" might have found its counterpart--though probably
not its equivalent--in Fanny Burney's play of "_The Witlings_", which
the unfavourable criticism of her friends induced her to destroy. The
history of Bluestocking pedantry is a repetition of what took place
in French society with the exception that to the Bluestocking society
of England no second blossoming was granted by the chilling blasts
of Revolution. Pedantry, that archenemy of Wit, robbed it of all its
charm, leaving naked Learning, than which nothing can be less sociable.
Fanny Burney signalled its approach, warned against it, and ended by
joining in the general homage.

There can be no doubt that the French salons occupy the more important
place in the history of 18th century thought. No daring philosophical
schemes were hatched under the auspices of the Bluestockings, and
if their conversation showed the influence of the rationalist
spirit, their rationalism was not made subservient to projects of
a revolutionary nature, but made to support with its evidence the
long-established truth of orthodox religion. Mrs. Chapone in her
"_Letters on the Improvement of the Mind_" warns her niece that Reason,
which may help us to discover some of the great laws of morality,
is yet liable to error. The sending of God's son therefore is to be
looked upon as a demonstration or revelation of the evidences of the
Christian religion, by which we become convinced _on rational grounds_
of its divine authority. Here, as in the matter of sexual preeminence,
Mrs. Chapone loved a compromise between the head and the heart. The
company at Mrs. Vesey's is described as a good "rational society" by
Hannah More, who herself rather affected a "comfortable, rational day".
Where politics are discussed, the door is opened wide to intrigue,
and party-feelings will prevail. Politics had been the ruin of many a
periodical attempt and their exclusion at the Bluestocking assemblies
left the field to literary conversation. Philanthropy, or active
benevolence, was practised instead, and the light moralising tendencies
of the _Spectator_ enlistened the same sympathy among the Bluestockings
which the sterner moral code of Port Royal awakened in the heart of the
more serious Hannah.

Upon the whole the Bluestockings were not, like their French rivals,
recruited from the aristocracy. They belonged to the middle-class, to
whom the 18th century was a time of great financial prosperity. Mrs.
Montagu's wealth was considerable, and she made a liberal use of it not
only in philanthropy, but also in encouraging needy authors, which made
Hannah More refer to her as "the female Maecenas of Hill Street"[29].
They were mostly the daughters of clergymen and schoolmasters, who in
early youth acquired that taste for learning which their fathers or
near relations were able to gratify, and that serious cast of mind
which never forsook some of them and fitted them to be religious

The tone of their conversation and writings was a distinct improvement
upon that of the ladies of the preceding generation, of whom it was
said that those who--like Mrs. Aphra Behn and Mrs. de la Rivière
Manley--excelled in wit, failed signally in chastity. The love of
scandal which had been their chief characteristic, and which Sheridan
justly satirised, was an object of scorn to the Bluestockings, who
were as careful to preserve the reputation of others as they were of
their own. That some of them occasionally went too far in constituting
themselves the mentors of others who were fully able to take care of
themselves, is an "amiable weakness" which may be readily forgiven.
Thus, for instance, Mrs. Thrale's second marriage with the Italian
vocalist Signor Piozzi aroused a good deal of unfavourable comment,
brought about an indirect rupture with Fanny Burney and partly caused
her withdrawal from the Bluestocking circles. The same exaggerated
notions, arising partly from hatred of the Encyclopedian spirit of
revolutionism embodied in the much-reviled Rousseau, occur in Mrs.
Delany's "_Essay on Propriety_" and in her extremely voluminous
correspondence. Mrs. Chapone's _Letters_ insist on a proper regard to
reputation as one of the most desirable qualities in a friend. She
emphatically distinguished between love of reputation, which is nothing
but discretion, and undue regard of opinion, which is only vanity.
Here her views coincided with Mary Wollstonecraft's, who had pointed
out the error of wanting to make opinion "the high throne of Virtue"
to women in Rousseau's _Emile_, but who did not make Mrs. Chapone's
distinction. In the behaviour of young women towards gentlemen, the
latter says, great delicacy is required, "yet women oftener err from
too great a consciousness of the supposed views of men, than from
inattention to those views, or want of caution against them." She
therefore agreed that the "desire to please" should be kept under a
certain amount of restriction.

All the Bluestockings' actions arose from a strong sense of duty,
which the majority of French hostesses--with the emphatic exception
of Mme de Lambert--sadly lacked. One of their deliberate aims was the
substitution of conversation "à la française" for cards. The first
determined attack upon the greatest social curse of the age was made
by Mrs. Chapone,--then Miss Mulso--in collaboration with Johnson in
No. 10 of the _Rambler_ in the year 1750. She wrote to Johnson in his
capacity of censor of manners, informing him that she, "Lady Racket",
intended to have "cards at her house every Sunday". She, of course,
intended that Johnson should seize the opportunity to attack gambling
and thus range himself openly on the side of the intellectual ladies
who were in open revolt against the practice. Johnson replied that
even at the most brilliant of card-tables he had always thought his
visit lost, "for I could know nothing of the company but their clothes
and their faces." Their complete absorption in the vicissitudes of
the game, their exulting triumph when successful, and their flush of
rage at defeat or at "the unskilful or unlucky play of a partner" so
disgusted him that he soon retired. "They were too trifling for me
when I was grave, and too dull when I was cheerful". Mrs. Carter, who
did not object to taking an occasional hand at whist or quadrille, was
vehement in her condemnation of faro, which she hoped Horace Walpole
on getting into the House would succeed in putting down. Hannah More's
"_Bas Bleu_" further endorses the statement that the substitution of
conversation for cards was one of the objects of Bluestockingism.
The introduction states its origin and character. The ladies at Mrs.
Vesey's, Mrs. Montagu's and Mrs. Boscawen's, to mention the three
hostesses to whom according to their chronicler Hannah More "the triple
crown divided fell", although in the opinion of others Mrs. Thrale and
Mrs. Ord were candidates for Mrs. Boscawen's place--assembled "for the
sole purpose of conversation, and were different in no respect from
other parties, but that the company did _not_ play at cards." It was
there that Hannah More found the Rambouillet-ideal realised of learning
without pedantry, good taste without affectation, and conversation
without calumny, levity or any censurable error.

The attacks directed against whist, "that desolating Hun", and
quadrille, "that Vandal of colloquial wit", were made not so much on
the score of their devastating influence on the moral character as of
their exclusion of conversation. It should be remembered, however, that
Hannah More wrote her "_Bas Bleu_" in the years before the desire to
effect moral reforms got the better of the natural vanity of displaying
her considerable intellectual talents.

Conversation thus became in itself a pursuit, almost a cult, the
purpose of which was to "mend the taste and form the mind". The
record of what was said by the most prominent male and female wits
at the Bluestocking gatherings was kept with a minuteness which is
characteristic of the time in the endless memoirs and the voluminous
correspondence in which every literary lady indulged, and upon which
she lavished her talents as an author. Immeasurably the best is Fanny
Burney's diary, with its clever and vivid sidelights upon gatherings
in which she herself as the successful author of _Evelina_, and
the protégée of Johnson, was lionised, although she never became a
Bluestocking in the full sense of the word, her temperament being far
too sprightly and volatile, and the language of her pen too gushing to
suit the notions of propriety of some ladies, whom she further offended
by her marriage to a French refugee and by the freedom with which she
published details that were not meant for the general ear.

The constellation in the Bluestocking circles differed somewhat from
French society, where the hostess received in her drawing-room a
number of prominent men-of-letters, scientists, diplomatists, artists
and philosophers, the female element being represented by herself,
and only a very few privileged friends. At the English assemblies
the majority were ladies, and although some members of the Literary
Club, Johnson's satellites, were regular frequenters, the female
element predominated. Boswell, Johnson's biographer, the painter Sir
Joshua Reynolds, the politicians Fox and Burke--before the stirring
political events that drew them apart,--the historian Gibbon, the poet
Goldsmith, the actor Garrick and the author Lyttleton--Mrs. Montagu's
friend and collaborator in the "_Dialogues of the_ _Dead_"--alike
delighted in Bluestocking society and by their conversation helped
in that diffusion of high principles which to Mrs. Chapone in her
"_Essay on Conversation_" seemed more important than the French object
of sharpening the wit. In her "_Letters on the Improvement of the
Mind_" she says that conversation must be cultivated "by the mutual
communication of whatever may conduce to the improvement or innocent
entertainment of each other."

The literature which was the direct outcome of Bluestockingism is
far slighter in bulk than the poetical effusions called forth by the
spirit of gallantry which dominated the early French salons. There
was between the ladies and gentlemen of the English circles rather
less love-making and rather more mutual esteem. There was hardly any
of that complimentary occasional poetry of the lighter kind in which
the love-sick French swains of the Montausier type had found relief.
One of the rare instances of verse-making at an assembly occurred in
Mrs.--afterwards Lady--Miller's provincial drawing-room at Batheaston,
where, in imitation of a French custom, each of the assembled guests
deposited his or her poetry in an antique vase, to be read aloud
and judged. That this "puppet-show Parnassus[30]" called forth the
ridicule of Walpole and Johnson proves sufficiently that emulation of
this kind was not regarded with sympathy among Bluestockings and their

It is difficult to say whether the Bluestockings' contribution to
the increase of female importance and influence rivalled that of the
French societies, but we undeniably find, that in the latter half of
the 18th century the popular verdict regarding women is undergoing a
distinct change. Instead of the scornful blame to which Pope, Swift and
Chesterfield have made us accustomed we actually find women recognised
as an influence in literature by no less a critic than the great Doctor
himself. Madame d'Arblay's _Diary_ relates how--in 1799--Johnson once
talked to Mrs. Thrale and Sir Philip Jennings about "the amazing
progress made of late years in literature by the women." He said he
himself was astonished at it, and told them he well remembered when a
woman who could spell a common letter was regarded as all-accomplished;
but now they vied with the men in everything. The same _Diary_ makes
mention (in 1782) of the verses published by the author's father--Dr.
Burney--in the _Herald_, making women the object of praise instead
of blame and ridicule. The composition was entitled "_Advice to the
Herald_", published anonymously, and ascribed to Sir W. W. Pepys, until
in 1822 a M. S. copy was found among Dr. Burney's papers. They exhort
the paper not only to proclaim the shame of woman, but to also "record
in story such as shine their sex's glory". Hannah More's "pathetic
pen", Mrs. Carter's "piety and learning", Fanny Burney's "quick
discerning" are praised; and special places are retained for Mrs.
Chapone, "high-bred, elegant Mrs. Boscawen"; Lady Lucan, Mrs. Leveson
Gower, Mrs. Greville, Lady Crewe and "fertile-minded" Mrs. Montagu.

David Garrick, Hannah More's faithful friend and supporter, in
referring to the success of her ballad entitled "_Sir Eldred of the
Bower_", followed by another poem called "_The Bleeding Rock_",
playfully represents the male sex as mortified by female success and
makes Apollo the author. And in Hoole's "_Aurelia, or the Contest_",
likewise referred to in Fanny Burney's _Diary_, the example of "the
wiser females" is glanced at to counterbalance female folly. All
which examples tend to show that public opinion regarding women was
undergoing a slow process of change. Now that women themselves had
taken their moral improvement in hand, the male authors felt that they
could again indulge in some measure of praise.

On the other hand, women had become sufficiently conscious of the moral
shortcomings of the opposite sex, to take an occasional share in their
reclamation and point out the error of their ways. When, after long
circulating in manuscript, the "_Bas Bleu_" poem was at last published,
it was accompanied by another entitled "_Florio_", describing the
fopperies and the utter worthlessness of a typical "maccaroni" or young
man of fashion, a criticism which none of us would think of calling

The department of literature in which women were qualified to shine
_par excellence_ was the novel. Richardson's novels had succeeded
marvellously in awakening interest in the workings of the female heart,
and analysis of the female character to its minutest details was what
the reading public had grown to expect. This was a field in which
women have since abundantly proved themselves in many ways the equals
of men, and the story of the universal praise with which "_Evelina_"
was welcomed, and the author's mingled pride in her achievement
and bashfulness, arising out of the fear that she might be thought
lacking in modesty, is among the most amusing parts of her diary.
Unfortunately, for all her keenness of perception and fine sense of
humour, there was about her character a certain want of depth, which
became more apparent as she grew older. But she certainly paved the way
for the later female novelists, and particularly for Jane Austen.

Not the least among the Bluestockings' merits was the fact that by the
example some of them gave they accustomed the British public to seeing
females engaged in different occupations which before had been the
exclusive work of men. Where ladies of such a strong sense of propriety
did not shrink from appearing before the public as authors, and even
pseudonyms were often thought unnecessary, the domain of literature
ceased to be the exclusive property of men. Strangely enough, the
notion that female knowledge should be carefully concealed, originating
in Molière's _Femmes Savantes_ and prevailing all through the 17th and
18th centuries in both literatures until Mary Wollstonecraft openly
disregarded it, was implicitly obeyed by the Bluestockings.

Not all the Bluestocking ladies were authors; Mrs. Vesey for instance,
probably the most loveable among the hostesses, who understood better
than any of her rivals the art of making her guests comfortable,
has left us no literary legacy. Of the others, Mrs. Delany and Mrs.
Boscawen concentrated their literary energies chiefly upon their
correspondence, while Mrs. Carter's clever translation of Epictetus
which elicited the unstinted praise of Mr. Long, a later translator,
who repeatedly, when in doubt, consulted her text, is of no importance
to her sex. The principal literary contributions to the subject of
feminism were made by three Bluestockings: Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Chapone
and Mrs. Hannah More, the nature of whose contributions corresponds
closely with their respective characters.

The natural bias of Elizabeth Robinson's character was strengthened by
the circumstances of her education. In her early youth she was often
at Cambridge, where her grandmother's second husband, Dr. Conyers
Middleton, took great delight in her keenness of understanding, and
often kept her in the room while he was conversing with his visitors,
among whom were the greatest philosophers and scholars of the day.
Her father was also amused at the child's precocity and they used to
have frequent "brain cudgellings", until he became painfully aware
that he was no longer a match for his clever daughter. She was a
furious letter-writer, which occupation, if it sharpened her wit, also
developed in her that insatiable intellectual vanity which afterwards
became her ruling passion, distinguished her as a Bluestocking from
her more modest rivals and prevented her from being as universally
liked as a Mrs. Vesey. Her biographer Mr. Huchon says that "she
was all mind, if not all soul", and was more respected than loved.
Sentimentality was not among her weaknesses, her sound practical sense
dictated both to herself and to others. She strongly opposed the
love-match which her ward Miss Dorothea Gregory--one of the daughters
to whom the well-known physician of that name addressed his legacy of
advice--asked her permission to make, and the ubiquitous Fanny Burney
writes that Mrs. Montagu once asked her, "if she should write a play,
to let her know of it", which vexed Fanny's "second Daddy", Mr. Crisp,
as it "implied interference". Her own marriage (1742) was purely a
"marriage de raison", the husband being considerably older, and a man
of great wealth. Mrs. Chapone afterwards called her with reason "an
ignoramus in love", which did not in this case prevent the marriage
from being fairly happy.

Neither was Mrs. Montagu free from affectation. Much-praised simplicity
and humility were not among her virtues, and no flattery seems to
have been too gross for her to accept. Lady Louisa Stuart--Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu's granddaughter, to whom we are indebted for some
humorous pictures of Bluestocking society--describes her as thoroughly
satisfied with herself. Her speech is described as affected, although
ready wit can scarcely be denied her. Her reply on being informed that
Voltaire, Shakespeare's translator, had boasted of having been the
first Frenchman to find "quelques perles dans son fumier": "c'est donc
un fumier qui a fertilisé une terre bien ingrate" is a good specimen
both of her proficiency in the French language and of her quickness of
repartee. However, she often descended from the heights of rhetoric,
and her affectation of speech seems to have been a weakness into
which she was occasionally betrayed by a momentary lapse of her fine
judgment. Speaking of Mr. Gray she once said: "I think he is the first
poet of my age; but if he comes to my fireside, I will teach him not
only to speak prose, but to talk nonsense, if occasion be."

She loved to make a display of her learning, and Johnson said of her
that "she diffused more knowledge in her conversation than any women he
knew." At the same time she criticised others freely, which procured
her many enemies. Mr. Crisp thought her "a vain, empty, conceited
pretender, and little else"; Wraxall judged that "there was nothing
feminine about her"; and an essay by Cumberland in the _Observer_
of 1785 describes the "Feast of Reason" at Mrs. Montagu's house in
Portman Square, where the lady herself is satirised under the name
of "Vanessa". It describes her as stimulated to charity, affability
and hospitality exclusively by the dictates of inordinate vanity,
and even accuses her of bribing her critics: "Authors were fee'd for
dedications, and players patronised on benefit nights".

Her charity was, indeed, of a condescending kind. Thus her annual feast
to the chimney-sweeps on May day rather smacks of the doctrine of Good
Works pointing the way to Salvation, and to the working people in her
coal-mines she was a dutiful but immeasurably superior patroness. In
a few isolated cases, however, there were flashes of real kindness.
She gave unstinted financial support to Mrs. Williams, the blind
poetess whose lot had aroused Johnson's compassion, and her letter
of condolence to Mrs. Delany on the occasion of the death of their
mutual friend the Duchess of Portland has the genuine ring of grief
and sympathy. It tries to find solace in considerations of eternity.
Mrs. Montagu's religious views were strict, and religious worship was
a serious matter with her. However, her strong individuality would not
suffer her to bow her intellect before that of any man. Beyond the
admitted fact that "God is the loving father of all", she has only
Hope, but no definite knowledge of the certainty of a future state.

Such was the character of the lady whom Johnson called "Queen of the
Blues", and Fanny Burney "our sex's glory". The incident which had a
determining influence on her further life was the death of her only
child. Grief of that kind may be to some extent drowned in religion or
in social intercourse, and Mrs. Montagu tried both. She emphatically
believed in the social state as productive of good through the friction
of minds. Thus it came about that in the middle of the century--the
exact date is nowhere given, which makes it difficult to decide whether
Mrs. Montagu, or Mrs. Vesey, or Miss Frances Reynolds had the right to
consider herself the first Bluestocking hostess,--Mrs. Montagu opened
her salon in Hill Street, where she entertained a great number of
guests of the most widely different description, her rooms being often
filled from eleven in the morning till eleven at night.

The best descriptions of Mrs. Montagu's parties are to be found in
Hannah More's correspondence and in Mme du Bocage's "_Letters on
England, Holland and Italy_." The latter visited England at a time
when Mrs. Montagu's breakfasts were all the fashion, served "in
a closet lined with painted paper of Pekin and furnished with the
choicest movables of China", the so-called Chinese Room, recalling the
splendours of the "Chambre bleue" of the marquise de Rambouillet. It
was probably at Mrs. Montagu's and at Mrs. Thrale's that Dr. Johnson
chiefly indulged in his tea-orgies, and Mme Du Bocage describes his
hostess as pouring out her delicious tea, attired in a white apron and
a large straw hat. On the whole the English ladies paid more attention
to gastric delights than their French sisters, and in Mrs. Montagu's
case her well-provided table often relieved her from the wearisome duty
of keeping up the flow of conversation. In this lay the characteristic
difference between Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Vesey. The latter wanted her
guests to forget her and to consult their own inclinations in the
forming of groups of conversation, contenting herself with listening
to her literary lions; Mrs. Montagu on the other hand, to quote Fanny
Burney, "cared not a fig, as long as she spoke herself". That her
intellectual queenship involved the duty of maintaining conversation at
a high pitch seems to have considerably worried her upon occasions.

The Bluestocking hostesses kept a great variety of hours. In the
last decades of the century late teas were in vogue, but the usual
entertainments were breakfasts and dinners, in which there was a great
variety. We read of Mrs. Garrick's dinner parties to a select company
of eight chosen friends, among whom Hannah More was proud to find
herself, and according to Horace Walpole Mrs. Montagu's breakfasts at
her house in Portman Square sometimes included seven hundred guests,
from royalty downwards. To this magnificent abode she removed in 1781,
six years after the death of her husband. She spared no cost in fitting
it up in the most gorgeous fashion, and although Walpole thought her
decorations in good taste, one cannot help feeling doubts as to the
room with the feather hangings of which Cowper wrote in 1788 that "the
birds put off their every hue, to dress a room for Montagu." The famous
"Room of the Cupidons" made her a little ridiculous in the eyes of the
more sober-minded ladies, one of whom (Mrs. Delany) in a letter refers
somewhat spitefully to "her age".

There are no references to any of Mrs. Montagu's parties taking place
out of doors, but some of the minor hostesses would sometimes send
out invitations to tea, followed by a walk in the Park or fields.
This custom was perhaps an imitation of the habits prevailing among
Rambouillet-circles. Neither do we find anywhere mention of stated
days, such as were kept by the French hostesses, although Sundays were
objected to by some of the more orthodox.

The greater artificiality of arrangement at the Bluestocking assemblies
appears from the pains taken by the hostess to so place her guests
as to ensure a free flow of wit. In connection with Mrs. Montagu,
reports are contradictory. Hannah More's correspondence informs us
that the company used to split up into little groups of five or six;
Fanny Burney on the contrary relates how the guests were seated in
a semi-circle round the fire. Here again, Mrs. Vesey followed her
individual inclinations, for the Bas-Bleu poem tells us how her
"potent ward the circle broke", insisting on an easy informality in
the grouping of her guests. Mrs. Ord seems to have preferred the later
method of drawing chairs round a table in the centre.

Mrs. Montagu's early correspondence is full of wit and humour, and
displays so much discrimination that we feel surprised the writer did
not make her mark later in life as a novelist. The critical faculty
she possessed in so eminent a degree fitted her for satire, the object
being naturally contemporary society. In a letter, written when she
was twenty, she gives a vivid description of fashionable life at Bath,
ridiculing the emptiness of daily conversation and signalising the
general depravity of morals. "How d'ye do?" prevails in the morning,
and "What's trumps?" at night; the ladies' only topic is diseases, and
the men are all bad. "There is not one good, no not one." She likewise
freely vented her ridicule of overdone fashions, and descriptions like
the following are by no means rare. "Lady P. and her two daughters make
a very remarkable figure, and will ruin the poor mad woman of Tunbridge
by out-doing her in dress. Such hats, capuchins, and short sacks as
were never seen! One of the ladies looked like a state-bed running upon
castors. She had robbed the valance and tester of a bed for a trimming."

Although her satire is chiefly directed against her own sex, she
strongly protested against the opinion that women were morally inferior
to men, whose insincere flattery was largely responsible for female

One of her most constant friends and Platonic admirers was Mr.
(afterwards Lord) Lyttleton, her vindication of whose memory against
Dr. Johnson in later years led to the most famous of Bluestocking
quarrels. In 1760, Lyttleton published his "_Dialogues of the
Dead_"--referred to rather unkindly by Walpole as the "Dead
Dialogues". The preface says that after the dialogues of Lucan, Fénelon
and Fontenelle, English literature can boast only the learned dialogues
of one Mr. Hurde, who takes living persons for his characters. The
author proposes to take his cue from the history of all times and
nations, opposing them to or comparing them with each other, "which
is, perhaps, one of the most agreeable methods that can be employed of
conveying to the mind any critical, moral or political observations".
Needless to say, the dead are supposed to know all that has taken place
since their decease.

Mr. Lyttelton goes on to say that the last three dialogues are by a
different hand. "If the friend who favoured me with them should write
any more, I shall think the public owes me a great obligation, for
having excited a genius so capable of uniting delight with instruction,
and giving to knowledge and virtue those graces which the wit of the
age has too often employed all its skill to bestow upon folly and vice."

The above sufficiently denotes the character of the dialogues in which
Mrs. Montagu--for the "different hand" was hers--had every opportunity
to display her satirical vein. The numbers 27 and 28, of which the
former satirises fashionable conduct and the latter the literature of
gallantry, are illustrative of her opinions of contemporary female
character. The characters of No. 27 are Mercury and a Modern Fine
Lady, whose name is Mrs. Modish. The god comes to fetch her to the
nether world, but she begs to be excused: "I am engaged, absolutely
engaged". Mercury thinks she is referring to her duties to her
husband and children, but he is quickly disillusioned. "Look on my
chimneypiece, and you will see I was engaged to the play on Mondays,
balls on Tuesdays, the Opera on Saturdays, and to card-assemblies the
rest of the week, for two months to come; and it would be the rudest
thing in the world not to keep my appointments. If you will stay with
me till the summer season, I will wait on you with all my heart.
Perhaps the Elysian Fields may be less detestable than the country in
our world. Pray have you a fine Vauxhall and Ranelagh? I think I should
not dislike drinking the Lethe waters when you have a full season."
When Mercury objects that she has made pleasure the only object in
her life, she replies that she has indeed made diversion her chief
business, but has got no real pleasure out of it. For late hours and
fatigue have given her the vapours and spoiled the natural cheerfulness
of her temper. Her ambition to be thought "du bon ton" (which Mrs.
Montagu explains in a note is French cant for the fashionable air of
conversation and manners) has ruled her conduct. When asked by Mercury
to define the term, Mrs. Modish is somewhat perplexed. "It is--I can
never tell you what it is; but I will try to tell you what it is not.
In conversation it is not wit, in manners it is not politeness, in
behaviour it is not address; but it is a little like them all. It can
only belong to people of a certain rank; who live in a certain manner,
with certain persons, who have not certain virtues, and who have
certain vices, and who inhabit a certain part of the town. Like a place
by courtesy, it gets a higher rank than the person can claim, but which
those who have a legal title to precedency dare not dispute for fear of
being thought not to understand the rules of politeness."

Mercury finds fault with her for sacrificing all her real interests
and duties to so arbitrary a thing as "bon ton". She asks him what he
would have had her do? To which Mercury replies that her real business
consisted in promoting her husband's happiness and devoting herself
to the education of her children. It appears that their religion,
sentiments and manners were to be learnt from a dancing-master, a
music-master and a French governess. The result will be "wives without
conjugal affection and mothers without maternal care." Mercury's final
advice to the lady is to "remain on this side the Styx", and to wander
about without end or aim, to look into the Elysian Fields, but never
attempt to enter them, lest Minos should push her into Tartarus, "for
duties neglected may bring on a sentence not much less severe than
crimes committed."

The characters of the next dialogue are Plutarch, Charon and a modern
bookseller. It contains a pointed satire on literary taste. It appears
that the works of Plutarch do not command any sale whatever except
to "a few pedants," but "_The Lives of Highwaymen_" have brought our
bookseller a competent fortune, and the enormous sale of "The Lives of
Men that never Lived" (by which the novel is meant) have set him up
for life. This latest modern improvement in writing enables a man to
"read all his life and have no knowledge at all." Modern books not only
dispose to gallantry and coquetry, but give rules for them. Caesar's
commentaries and the account of Xenophon's expedition are not more
studied by military commanders than our novels are by the fair; to a
different purpose indeed, for their military maxims teach to conquer,
ours to yield; those inflame the vain and idle love of glory, these
inculcate a noble contempt of reputation. If the women had not the
friendly assistance of modern fiction, the bookseller fears they might
long remain "in an insipid purity of mind; with a discouraging reserve
of behaviour."

Plutarch is shocked at so much degeneracy of taste and wishes that for
the sake of the good example he had expatiated more on the character of
Lucretia and some other heroines. It grieves him to hear that chastity
is no longer valued, and that crime and immorality, far from meeting
with the punishment they deserve, are universally applauded. And yet
it is not more than a century since a Frenchman wrote a much admired
Life of Cyrus under the name of Artamenes[31], in which he ascribed
to him far greater actions than those recorded of him by Xenophon and
Herodotus. He goes on to praise the gallant days of chivalry, when
authors made it their business to incite men to virtue by holding up
as an example the deeds of fabulous heroes, whereas it seems to be the
custom of a later age to incite them to vice by the history of fabulous
scoundrels. "Men of fine imagination have soared into the regions of
fancy to bring back Astrea: you go thither in search of Pandora, oh
disgrace to letters! Oh shame to the Muses!"

The bookseller's feeble remonstrance that authors have to comply with
the manners and disposition of those who are to read them, is met
with the indignant remark that they should first of all correct the
vices and follies of their age. To give examples of domestic virtue
would surely be more useful to women than to inflame their minds with
the deeds of great heroines. "True female praise arises not from the
pursuit of public fame, but from an equal progress in the path marked
out for them by their great Creator."

Thus we find that even Plutarch is pressed into service to inculcate a
religious moral. The Bluestocking ladies were sufficiently enlightened
to recognise the deep wisdom of the Ancients, which is of all ages and
independent of religious doctrines. Mrs. Carter, the translator of
Epictetus, was a woman of profound piety.

The bookseller now remarks that some authors have indeed tried to
instil virtuous notions. In _Clarissa Harlowe_ "one finds the dignity
of heroism tempered by the meekness and humility of religion, a perfect
purity of mind and sanctity of manners", and _Sir Charles Grandison_ is
"a noble pattern of every private virtue, with sentiments so exalted
as to render him equal to every public duty." Next to Richardson,
Fielding and Marivaux are remarkable for their fine moral touches, and
some comfort is to be derived from the reflection that when there is
wit and elegance enough in a book to make it sell, it is not the worse
for good morals.

Here Charon appears to conduct our bookseller to his future abode,
but deeming him after all "too frivolous an animal to present to wise
Minos", proposes to constitute him _friseur_ to Tisiphone, and make him
"curl up her locks with satires and libels".

The above pieces derive their chief interest from the fact that they
are among the very first instances of female satire of a kind which in
being more pointed and more direct than that of the Spectator, and less
bitter and exaggerated than that of Swift, written by a member of the
sex who was herself a recognised leader of society, was more calculated
than anything else to impress the female mind with the necessity of
thorough reform.

Strange to say, Mrs. Montagu's claims for female instruction other than
moral are very modest. It is a subject she seldom refers to, although
there is a letter dated 1773 to her sister-in-law Mrs. Robinson,
containing a reference to the education of her little niece, in which
she certainly does not aim very high. A boarding-school is recommended
in spite of the fact that what girls learn there is most trifling, "but
they unlearn what would be of great disservice--a provincial dialect
which is extremely ungenteel, and other tricks that they learn in the
nursery." French lessons she deems unnecessary, "unless for persons
in very high life", and she expects a great deal of benefit from a
good air and a good dancing-master. Mrs. Montagu here presents that
curious mixture of good sense and narrow conventionality which proves
the extreme difficulty of getting away from influences and forming an
independent judgment.

In the "_Essay on Shakespeare_" (1769) Mrs. Montagu appears as a
literary critic. She felt offended at Voltaire's disparagement of the
great English author and also at the Frenchman's haughty arrogance. The
Essay was favourably criticised in the _Critical Review_, and Cowper
praised it in a letter to Lady Hesketh in the following words: "I no
longer wonder that Mrs. Montagu stands at the head of all that is
called learned, and that every critic veils his bonnet to her superior
judgment.... The learning, the good sense, the sound judgment, and
the wit displayed in it fully justify not only my compliment, but all
compliments that either have been already paid to her talents or shall
be paid hereafter." But Johnson spoke scornfully of it. He said he had
"taken up the end of the web, and finding it packthread, had thought
it useless to go further in search of embroidery," but had to grant
afterwards that it was conclusive against Voltaire. It procured Mrs.
Montagu a great many friends in France, where such wit as hers was sure
to find full appreciation. When, seven years later, she visited Paris,
Voltaire wrote another furious article against Shakespeare, which was
read at the Académie in her presence. "I think Madam," said one of the
members when the reading was over, "you must be rather sorry at what
you have just heard." Mrs. Montagu shrugged her shoulders. "I, Sir! Not
at all! I am not one of M. Voltaire's friends!"

Of quite a different cast of character was Mrs. Chapone, whose
"_Letters on the Improvement of the Mind_" were dedicated to Mrs.
Montagu. She was plain and uninteresting, and when the romance of her
life had taken an untimely ending, it is to be feared her conversation
became too much like sermonizing to suit vivacious young ladies like
Fanny Burney, who thought her assemblies "very dull". But whatever she
wrote bears the stamp of sincerity. She was evidently deeply concerned
about the moral welfare of the niece she addressed in her Letters--the
example set by Mme de Sévigné and imitated by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
had found followers--and she honestly tried to reconcile what was noble
and proper in her eyes with the demands of convention. Above all she
tried to inculcate that sense of responsibility for our actions which
she held to be the basis of true Christianity. All our strivings should
have the same purpose; that of bringing us nearer to God. Her niece is
told to render herself more useful and pleasing to her fellow-creatures
(a concession to prevailing opinions), "_and consequently more
acceptable to God_". This last addition completely subverts the meaning
of what precedes. Without it, the sense would be: "Please others and
you will please your own vanity," which now becomes: "Please others and
try to make them happy, and you will please God."

Mrs. Chapone thought pride and vanity the worst vices. Men were
particularly addicted to the former, since to be proud is to admire
oneself; and women to the latter, for vain is she who desires to be
admired by others. It is the vice of little minds, chiefly conversant
with trifling subjects, and brings affectation in its train.

The vain woman turns exaggerated weakness to account to ensure her
empire over the stronger sex. Thus arises that false sensibility which
will weep for a fly and leads to a thousand excesses. A well-directed
reason will keep the feelings under control and spur us to actions of
Christian charity. Those who relieve the sufferer are of more benefit
to him than those who lament over his misfortunes.

Sensibility is, indeed, one of the catchwords of the century.
Originally a laudable compassion and sympathy with the sufferings of
others and a reaction against "the faithless coldness of the times",
Richardson's novels show how soon it began to degenerate into sickly
sentimentality which, when indulging in the luxury of woe, forgot to
relieve the suffering which called forth the tears of sentiment. One
of the most serious charges brought against J. J. Rousseau was that
in his "_Nouvelle Héloise_" and in his "_Confessions_" he makes his
lovers wallow to a sickening extent in the ecstasy of grief, inducing
others by the magic of his personality to imitate him. This false
sensibility was as much the abomination of the Bluestocking ladies
as a well-regulated fellow-feeling was thought commendable, and here
at least Mary Wollstonecraft heartily agreed with them. The usual
reproach that the revolutionary leaders, those "friends of humanity",
in fighting for the interest of the human race neglected the immediate
wants of the individual--of which argument especially the Anti-Jacobin
made ample use--was, therefore, in her case at least, utterly

Hannah More made "_Sensibility_" the subject of a poem dedicated to
Mrs. Boscawen, and in her "_Strictures_" devoted an entire chapter
to it. In both the conclusion runs that sensibility has received its
true direction when it is supremely turned to the love of God: "But if
religious bias rule the soul, then sensibility exalts the whole."

There is, of course, in Mrs. Chapone's letters the usual warning
against the danger of fiction, especially of the sentimental kind, the
chief nurse of false sensibility, and also an element arising from the
wish to reconcile Christian charity with the "necessary inequality"
among individuals: the question of the treatment of inferiors. Since
the chief duties of woman are of a domestic nature, it follows that
the management of servants will be her task, and the Christian in Mrs.
Chapone would see them treated with kind civility, while the lady of
quality in her warns against the danger of too close intimacy with
people of low birth and education. The idea of raising them by slow
degrees to a higher social level probably never suggested itself to her.

Her ideal of female instruction must be likewise described as in the
main conventional, with a few useful hints to mark a partial advance.
Dancing and French are "so universal that they cannot be dispensed
with", but music and drawing she wanted to be taught only to those
who were qualified by possessing talent. The study of history is
recommended as giving a liberal and comprehensive view of human nature,
and supplying materials for conversation, and the reading of poetry
will improve the female imagination, which only wants regulating to
be superior to that of men. Shakespeare, Milton, and Mrs. Montagu's
_Essay_ ought to be the object of diligent study, and even heathen
mythology and Greek philosophy may be recommended as containing a
strong moral element. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake clearly
did not appeal to Mrs. Chapone at all.

The most pronounced character among the Bluestockings, as well as the
most privileged among them in literary gifts was beyond any doubt Mrs.
Hannah More.[32] It will be interesting, in continuation of the more
general appreciation of respective tendencies in the introduction to
this chapter, to contrast her with Mary Wollstonecraft with a view to
establishing the chief causes from which the difference in their ideas
arose, and arriving at a vindication of the laudable intentions of both.

If Mary Wollstonecraft was turned into a social reformer chiefly
through the influence of the outward circumstances which dominated her
youth, Hannah More's career was largely the consequence of certain
innate qualities, which predestined her to become a moralist. She may
have inherited her preaching propensities from her father, who had
himself been designed for the church before circumstances interfered to
turn him into a schoolmaster. Her mother, a farmer's daughter, devoted
herself entirely to the children's education. In her earliest youth,
little Hannah's favourite pastime--as her biographer and admirer Mr. W.
Roberts tells us in his memoirs--was the writing of long exhortative
letters "to depraved characters", and when in later years she lived
at Mrs. Garrick's we find her referred to as the latter's "domestic
chaplain". And yet she could be witty enough when she chose and was
not without a sense of humour. At the time of the writing of her "_Bas
Bleu_" she sent her friend Mrs. Pepys a pair of stockings for one of
her children, accompanied by a letter, "_The Bas Blanc_", in which
she treats the subject as if it were an epic, "so far of a moral cast
that its chief end is utility,"--hoping the child will be able "to run
through it with pleasure". She goes on to say that "the exordium is
the natural introduction by which you are led into the whole work.
The middle, I trust, is free from any unnatural humour or inflation,
and the end from any disproportionate littleness. I have avoided
bringing about the catastrophe too suddenly, as I know that would
hurt him at whose feet I lay it", and so on in the same strain. Mary
Wollstonecraft would have been utterly incapable of such playfulness. A
further determining factor in the difference in the lives of both was
the treatment received at the hands of the influential. Mary was first
treated with indifference and coldness, and afterwards reviled for her
opinions, whereas Hannah More was courted and flattered in a way which
might have turned the head of any more volatile girl. To the struggle
for life of which Mary bore the marks till her dying-day, Hannah was
a total stranger, having had a comfortable annuity settled on her by
a Mr. Turner, who once made her an offer of marriage. Thus secured
against penury, that constant dread of rising authors, Hannah could go
to London and give herself up to social amusements and to literature.
Her meeting with Garrick ensured her a hearty welcome in Bluestocking
circles, and his support smoothed her brief dramatic career and
contributed to the warm reception of her first poetic attempts. They
represent her contribution to romanticism, and gained the approval of
no less a critic than Dr. Johnson himself.

Hannah More thus became a universal favourite, and her "vers de
société" became very popular. However, her career as a dramatist came
to an end with Garrick's death, and after the success of "_Bas Bleu_"
and "_Sensibility_" she more and more directed her energies towards
social and moral reform. The Bluestocking assemblies, much as they
appealed to her love of witty conversation, afforded no outlet for that
pent-up energy which made her long for some worthy object on which to
concentrate herself for the benefit of society. It may be said that
from the decade which saw the outbreak of the French Revolution dates
the participation of English women in the discussion of the great
social problems by which the times were stirred. It was as natural
that Hannah More should openly declare herself in favour of a strict
maintenance of the existing social order as that Mary Wollstonecraft
should become the champion of radical social and political reform.
Thus, each of the contending parties numbered among the warmest
advocates of their cause a member of the female sex. And yet, previous
to the great social upheaval in France, Hannah More at one time seemed
likely to range herself among the partisans of moderate social reform.
Her first social object was found in the struggle for the abolition
of the slave-trade which in 1787 held the attention of Parliament. Mr.
Wilberforce became her "Red Cross Knight", and Hannah wrote a poem
entitled "_The Black Slave Trade_", in which her attitude towards the
Revolution is foreshadowed. The lines:

     Shall Britain, _where the soul of freedom reigns_,
     Forge chains for others she herself disdains?
     Forbid it, Heaven! O let the nation know,
     The liberty she tastes she will bestow;

are sufficient to show that she consented to be the champion of liberty
in other countries only while they regarded England as the natural home
of Freedom. Burke had no more faithful follower among his conservative
friends than the reformer Hannah More.

After the outbreak of the Revolution she soon altered her opinion
that, although the capture of the Bastille had been undertaken by
"lawless rabble" yet "some good" might be expected from it. Price's
sermon filled her with horror, and Burke's _Reflections_ had her
undivided sympathy. While engaged upon religious tracts and plans for
instructing the children of the poor came the news of Dupont's speech
in the National Assembly, attacking all religion and calling Nature
and Reason the gods of men. Indignation made Hannah take up her pen in
reply, and refute the atheistic arguments in a pamphlet. The success of
this effort caused her to be solicited from all sides to undertake the
refutation of Thomas Paine's _Rights of Man_. Her humorous treatment of
the subject in this second tract, entitled "_Village Politics, by Will
Chip_", appealed to the class for whom it was chiefly intended and was
a distinct success, as were her doggerel ballads on the subject, some
of which were to popular tunes, preaching submission to the existing
social order, for, as "Will Chip" puts it in his "true Rights of Man":

     That some must be poorer, this truth will I sing,
     _Is the law of my Maker_, and not of my king;
     And the true Rights of Man, and the life of his cause,
     Is not equal possessions; but equal, just laws.

Hannah's sympathy went out to patient Joe, the Newcastle collier, who
held that "all things which happened were best", and to the ploughman
who felt safe in his cottage with the British laws for his guard: "If
the Squire should oppress, I get instant redress"; a view which the
author of _Caleb Williams_ emphatically did not share, and which makes
the modern reader feel as if Hannah More were "laying it on a little
too thick."

Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft--who, as will be seen in the
next chapter, ranged herself among the opponents of Burke--thus took
opposite sides in the great struggle, defending diametrically opposed
principles, yet collaborating in gradually weaning the reading public
from the conventional notion that the domain of literature was taboo
to women and in accustoming them to the unwonted spectacle of women
participating in a social struggle.

Mary Wollstonecraft's claims for a complete emancipation impressed
Hannah More as directed straight against the divine authority. The
state of inequality, we have seen, was looked upon by her as God's
will, and to rebel against it was to oppose the decrees of the
Almighty. The right way to benefit her sex seemed to her to insist on
a better moral education. On this subject at least the two political
adversaries were agreed. "In those countries in which fondness for
the mere persons of women is carried to the highest excess, they
are slaves; their moral and intellectual degradation increases in
direct proportion to the adoration which is paid to their charms" is
one of the many statements in Hannah More's "_Strictures on Female
Education_"[33] which Mary Wollstonecraft might have written, and
both saw in a liberal moral education the only remedy. At this point,
however, the two paths become separated. To Mary Wollstonecraft
female education was merely one of the milestones in the march
towards perfection; to Hannah More it seemed that women might be made
instrumental "to raise the depressed tone of public morals and to
awaken the drowsy spirit of religious principle", and also that they
might be called upon "to come forward and contribute their full and
fair proportion towards the saving of their country." With Hannah More,
high morality and patriotism necessarily went hand in hand. Her ideal
was to see all English women join in a thorough reform of manners and
morals, that her country might become not only the bulwark of tradition
against the mania for innovation, but also that of the religion she
held sacred against the onslaughts of atheism coming from across the

If she had a less fervent temperament than Mary, she compensated for
this lack through her practical insight, which told her that sudden
radical changes are apt to destroy the edifice of ages, without
offering anything solid as a substitute. She felt the guardian of
her sex against the attacks of infidelity which in her eyes were
principally directed against the female heart. "Conscious of the
influence of women in civil society, _conscious of the effect which
female infidelity produced in France_, they attribute the ill success
of their attempts in this country to their having been hitherto chiefly
addressed to the male sex. They are now sedulously labouring to
destroy the religious principles of women, and in too many instances
have fatally succeeded. For this purpose not only novels and romances
have been made the vehicles of vice and infidelity, but the same
allurement has been held out to the women of our country which was
employed in the Garden of Eden by the first philosophist to the first

The above lines determine Hannah More's attitude towards female
learning, which she regarded as the devil's own bait. As an example
of the corrupting tendencies of foreign literature she makes a few
remarks on the much-admired German plays of "_The Robbers_" and "_The
Stranger_", the second of which presents the character of an adulteress
in the most pleasing and fascinating colours. "To make matters worse,
the German example has found a follower in a woman, a professed admirer
and imitator of the German suicide Werter. The female Werter, as she
is styled by her biographer, asserts in a work entitled, "_The Wrongs
of Women_" that adultery is justifiable, and that the restrictions
placed on it by the laws of England, constitute one of the wrongs of

To come to a correct understanding of this passage, it is necessary
to remember that the "_Strictures_" were written in 1799, when the
remembrance of Mary Wollstonecraft's attempt at suicide was still
fresh, and when her unexpected death had drawn attention to Godwin's
edition of her works, the only one containing "_Maria, or the Wrongs of

In their ideas of marriage, as indeed in all their applications
of religious precepts, the gulf between Hannah More and Mary
Wollstonecraft becomes immeasurably wide. But wherever the sense of
moral duty, unhampered by convention or by a rigid philosophical
harness, was free to assert itself, it is curious to note the close
affinity between the ideas of two women who occupied such widely
different positions in the social life of their time, yet were
both so extremely conscious of the moral responsibility of their
sex. It remains for us to consider the interesting--if somewhat
eccentric--personality of the woman who had brought down upon herself
so many charges of gross immorality.


[27] _Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, p. 10._

[28] _Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, p. 245._

[29] See W. Roberts, _Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs.
Hannah More_, p. 62.

[30] Walpole.

[31] There seems to have been a good deal of uncertainty as to the
authorship of the works of the famous brother and sister. Contemporary
opinion unanimously assigns that of "_Le Grand Cyrus_" to Madeleine de
Scudéry, and not to her brother George.

[32] Like Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah More took brevet-rank as a matron
by virtue of her literary publications.

[33] p. 2.

[34] _Strictures_, p. 29.

[35] _Strictures_, p. 32.


_Radical Feminism: Mary Wollstonecraft._

Around the name of Mary Wollstonecraft a storm of adverse criticism
raged for years after her death, prompting Godwin to the publication of
his "_Memoirs of the author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman_",
and calling forth the somewhat half-hearted defence of her actions
and writings by an anonymous author in 1803. Both failed to attract
any degree of notice. Shelley, whose meetings with young Mary Godwin
over her mother's grave in St. Pancras cemetery are described in Mrs.
Marshall's biography, offered her the sincere tribute of his verse
in "_The Revolt of Islam_", where the heroine resembles her in her

The champion of the Cause of Woman was herself an essentially loveable,
thoroughly feminine representative of her sex, whose many troubles
arose from an extremely sensitive heart, a pure, refined sensibility,
without any of the alloy which she was the first to regret in so many
other women, and from the circumstance that, being born a century
before her time, her striving was only moderately successful and
brought her the ill-will of many who were unable to appreciate the
sincerity of her motives. Nothing could be more undeserved, or bespeak
a more glaring ignorance of the character it reviled than Horace
Walpole's mention of Mary Wollstonecraft in his letter to Miss Hannah
More--in her rigid respectability the direct opposite of the author
of the "_Vindication_"--as "a hyena in petticoats, whose books were
excommunicated from the pale of his library". Few books and their
authors have been the object of such unsparing censure as the _Rights
of Women_ and Mary Wollstonecraft, and it may be added that seldom was
the imputation of meddling spitefulness and even of gross immorality
more utterly undeserved. There speaks from the entire work a spirit of
absolute sincerity, of disinterested eagerness for necessary reforms
and of that fervent enthusiasm in the pursuit of aims which will not
shrink at martyrdom, which endear the author to the unbiased reader,
and which only the narrowest conservatism could overlook. Nor would
it have met with the bitter antagonism it encountered had not the
public mind, harassed by the constant menace of the French Revolution,
been overmuch inclined to cry down all works of reform. As it was,
Mary Wollstonecraft's reputation passed through three distinctly
marked phases; in the first, the work and its author were violently
attacked by the many, and enthusiastically defended by the few; in the
second, they were consigned to temporary oblivion; in the third, Mr.
Kegan Paul in 1876, and after him Miss Mathilde Blind in "_The New
Quarterly Review_", Miss H. Zimmern in the "_Deutsche Rundschau_",
and E. R. Pennell in the "_Eminent Women Series_" tried with a fair
amount of success to awaken a new interest in both and to vindicate the
author's memory by clearing her personal character from the monstrous
imputations of immorality. The fact has now been definitely established
that she was prompted by the noblest love of humanity, and is entitled
to rank among those champions of the new faith who suffered martyrdom
for the cause. She was one of those predestined by that innate
character she was so fain to deny to a life of the bitterest anguish,
brightened by spells of almost perfect happiness. Both the joys and
the sorrows of humanity were abundantly hers. With her, character was
indeed fate, and the outward circumstances of her life only emphasized
the convictions to which a woman of her stamp was bound to come in
the world of inequality and cruel injustice in which she moved. She
combined in her person the rarest gifts of both head and heart; as
a quick perception, enabling her to grasp a situation very rapidly;
a never-flinching determination to use the divine gift of Reason in
the pursuit of useful knowledge, and a boundless devotion to what
she considered the obvious task of her life. Once she had discovered
her vocation she flung herself into her work with indomitable zeal,
trying to do herself violence in asserting the superiority of reason
over sentiment, and to put a restraint on the passions that threatened
to overpower her. In this attempt she did not always succeed, and
while it makes her appear to us thoroughly human, yet her imperfect
self-control was not without influence on her works of reform, leading
her to exaggeration and wearisome reiterations. In the chapter of the
_Vindication_ which deals with national education she insists that only
that man makes a good citizen, who has in his youth "exercised the
affections of a son and a brother," for public affections grow out of
private, and it is in youth that the fondest friendships are formed.
This sounds like a confession, for if Mary Wollstonecraft had not been
in earlier years such a devoted friend to her dear ones as to utterly
disregard her own comfort in her desire to befriend them, she could
never have loved humanity with such intensity. It is difficult to say
what would have become of the Wollstonecraft household if Mary had not
strained every faculty to assist them. When her drunken father beat
his wife, the latter used to appeal to Mary for protection. When at
last the poor soul felt death approach, it was again Mary who without
a second's hesitation flung up her situation as a lady's companion at
Bath to return to her mother's sickbed and to ease her last moments.
Not only her sisters Everina and Eliza, but also her younger brothers
Charles and James received from her both moral and financial support,
to be able to give which she cramped herself to such an extent that
the room in George Street in which she wrote was furnished only with
the barest necessaries, and her gowns were so extremely shabby that
Knowles in his "_Life of Fuseli_" describes her as "a philosophical
sloven". In thus reducing her wants, however, she was merely acting in
accordance with the view--held by all the friends of reform and derived
from Rousseau--that only he can be happy whose desires are so few that
he can afford to gratify them, an offshoot of the famous Nature-theory.
Nevertheless, the description of Mary as a "sloven" seems exaggerated,
judging from the two portraits by Opie which have been preserved, of
which the one may be spurious, but the other, now in the National
Portrait Gallery, is beyond any doubt genuine. It shows the face
("physiognomy" Mary Wollstonecraft herself would have preferred to call
it) of a strikingly pretty, refined-looking woman, with a profusion of
auburn hair, a clear complexion and a pleading look in her brown eyes
which reminded Mr. Kegan Paul of Beatrice Cenci.

The grim realities of Mary's youth left little space for the
development of any sense of humour, but they bred in her a fighting
spirit which afterwards stood her in good stead. Her next championship
was that of Fanny Blood, whom she shielded from domestic misery very
much like that she had herself experienced, and whose brother George,
who became involved in a nasty scandal[36], also experienced Mary's
all-embracing kindness of heart. From her correspondence with him in
the years of his forced absence from England it indeed appears that she
was not by any means a "fair-weather friend".

The extremely serious cast of her character--which circumstances
afterwards developed into melancholy--also found expression in a strong
sense of duty. Unlike those champions of humanity who clamour for the
rights of Man without reference to the corresponding obligations, Mary
Wollstonecraft in later years always insisted not only that every right
of necessity involves a duty, but also that we should insist upon
those rights chiefly to be enabled to perform the moral duties which
life imposes. Add to this an absolute "incapability of disguise", as
her friend and publisher Johnson expressed it, and a frankness which
made her "fling whate'er she felt, not fearing, into words"--often
uncovering the worst sores of society in all their hideousness with a
determination bordering upon indelicacy--and the portrait of Mary's
character, as far as elementary traits go, is complete.

The strong natural bent of her character was further emphasized by
incidents which presented to her mind the problem of the subjugation
of women urgently demanding a champion. On three different occasions
did she see the lives of women ruined by cruel, dissipated husbands.
The third of these was by far the worst. It concerned the marriage of
her sister Eliza ("Poor Bess", as Mary calls her in her correspondence
with Everina and Fanny), to a Mr. Bishop, who, although he was probably
a clergyman, appears to have been a most hypocritically sensual brute.
No doubt the wife also was to blame; indeed, all the Wollstonecraft
girls were inclined to be suspicious, irritable, and over-ready to
take offence. Shortly after the birth of a child matters came to a
crisis, and Mary, having come over to nurse her sister, who after
her confinement had had an attack of insanity, proposed that they
should leave Mr. Bishop's house together, a plan actually carried
into execution, after which Mary, Eliza and Fanny Blood started
teaching as a profession. The daily bickerings of the Bishop household
impressed upon Mary's mind the state of utter defencelessness and
abject slavery in which many women were kept. It afterwards made her
decide to supplement her "_Rights of Women_" with a novel, dealing
with the Wrongs of Women, in which some of the incidents she had
witnessed found a place. The work was unfortunately interrupted by her
unexpected death, and in its unfinished state was included by Godwin
in the posthumous edition of some of Mary Wollstonecraft's works in
1798. Thus death claimed her while making a last effort to succour the

With the sisters' flight from Mr. Bishop's house began the long
struggle against adverse circumstances in which Mary did most of the
fighting. One wonders what would have become of Eliza and the boys--who
had soon left their father's home--but for Mary's resourcefulness.
Everina found a home with Edward, the eldest brother, who obviously
thought that in sheltering her he had done all that could be expected
of him. The girls met with little or no sympathy from friends, the
general opinion finding fault with Eliza's conduct and judging that
"women should accept without a murmur whatever it suits their husbands
to give them, whether it be kindness or blows". This represents the
general belief of those days with regard to the position of married
women. The possibility of girls of the better middle class having
at any time of their lives to earn their own living had never been
seriously considered, and the sisters were indeed in great distress.
Again Mary had the utter incapacity of even the bravest of her sex to
support themselves brought home to her in a way that left no doubt. And
yet the two or three years of the little boarding-school at Newington
Green were not wholly devoid of enjoyment. Mary made the acquaintance
of the famous Dr. Price, the dissenting preacher who was soon to rouse
the fire of Burke's indignation, and who strongly influenced her
religious views.

It seems the right place here to say something of Mary's attitude
towards religion. In a life like hers, bringing her face to face with
the evils of existing society, and with her degree of sensitiveness it
is but natural that religious feelings should have played a prominent
part. Her mother had bred her in the principles of the Church of
England, but Mary was far too independent to allow her mother any real
influence. But at least the circumstances of her youth saved her from
sophistic teachings, which may form hypocrites or awaken an altogether
disproportionate hatred of whatever smacks of Christianity, under
the impression that Christianity and the dogmatism of narrow-minded
orthodoxy are at bottom one and the same thing. Such was Godwin's
case, and it proved a deathblow to his faith. Mary, however, was a
great deal left to herself and, as Godwin informs us in the _Memoirs_,
her religion was mostly of her own creation, and little allied to any
system of forms. The many Biblical quotations in her works suggest
diligent reading of the Bible and point to a state of mind very far
removed from indifference or antipathy. She rather felt a natural
leaning towards religion, a craving for mental peace to be satisfied
only by firm religious convictions. As Godwin puts it, the tenets of
her system were the growth of her own moral taste, and her religion
therefore was always a gratification, never a terror to her. The
same almost feminine yearning for the moral support of a religion
that warms the heart, distinguished Rousseau from the robust and
self-reliant philosophers of the rational school, and possibly caused
Mary Wollstonecraft to feel attracted towards him and at the same time
to pity him, when first reading his "_Emile_"[37]. Up to the time of
her first meeting with Dr. Price her attitude had been that of simple
faith, with constant appeals to the Divine interference. She had been
a regular church-goer, and it is quite possible that the public and
regular routine of sermons and prayers and the implicit subjection
it demands, had already begun to pall upon her, and predisposed her
for the adoption of the less dogmatic views of Deism. It may also be
safely assumed that her experiences in Ireland as a governess and
the subsequent period of close intimacy with some of the leading
revolutionists lessened her interest in religion, which points to
the future, and proportionately increased that in Man, who is the
present. As the years advanced, the rapid growth of her considerable
intellectual powers, the tendencies of the times in which she lived,
and the society which she frequented made her drift unconsciously
towards rationalism. Then it was that a conflict arose between
Sentiment and Intellect. She set about "repressing her natural ardour
and granting a more considerable influence to the dictates of Reason",
or, as Professor Dowden puts it, "she set her brain as a sentinel over
her heart, trying to put a curb on her natural impulsiveness"[38].

This change in her views of life, dating from her intimacy with Price,
was hastened by circumstances. The death of her friend Fanny--who
died in her arms at Lisbon,--and the want of success of her first
educational efforts--due chiefly to Mrs. Bishop's mismanagement of
the school in Mary's absence--had made her feel low-spirited and
ill. It was only the sale of the manuscript of the "_Thoughts on_
_the Education of Daughters_" to Mr. Johnson, the publisher of Fleet
Street, for ten guineas--part of which sum she sent to the Bloods
whose straits were worse than her own--that staved off utter ruin. She
relinquished her work as a schoolmistress, and through her friend Mr.
Prior, assistant master at Eton, obtained the situation of governess to
the children of Lord Kingsborough at a salary of forty pounds a year.
Before leaving for Mitchelstown in Ireland, she spent some time with
the Priors at Eton, where she had an opportunity to study the life in
an English public-school. It did not impress her favourably and gave
rise to some severe criticism in the _Rights of Women_ on the subject
of false religion and undue attachment to outward things. "I could not
live the life they lead at Eton", she says in a letter to her sister
Everina, "nothing but dress and ridicule going forward, and I really
believe their fondness for ridicule tends to make them affected, the
women in their manners, and the men in their conversation, for witlings
abound and puns fly about like crackers, though you would scarcely
guess they had any meaning in them, if you did not hear the noise they
create". This was her first glimpse of society. In the same letter
she finds comfort in the reflection that the time will come when "the
God of love will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and neither death
nor accidents of any kind will interpose to separate us from those we
love". No wonder she was horrified at the boy who only consented to
receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to avoid forfeiting half a

She was now, indeed, entering upon a new phase of her life. She had
witnessed the horrors of a domestic life in which drunkenness and
other moral vices reigned supreme; she was now to behold the utter
worthlessness of the pleasure-seeking, irresponsible upper classes,
whose religion was all sham, and who tried to make up in dogmatic
narrowness what they lacked in true piety. It was the conduct of her
own sex that most of all disgusted her. It taught her that the absurd
distinctions of rank corrupted not merely the oppressed dependents,
but also their tyrants, whose only claim to respectability was in the
titles they held. In short, it turned her from a mere educator into a
social reformer, and from a devout Christian into a Deist.

What struck her most forcibly about the women of the Kingsborough
household was their unfitness for their chief task in life: that of
educating their own children. They represented a varied catalogue of
female errors. Lady Kingsborough was too much occupied with her dogs to
care for her children, whom she left to the care of their governess.
When afterwards that governess came to stand first in the children's
affections, she promptly dismissed her. Mary Wollstonecraft's revilers
have tried to substantiate the charge of irreligiousness against her
by pointing out that her favourite pupil Margaret--afterwards Lady
Mount Cashel--was not wholly without blame in her later life; thus
ignoring the degrading influence of a mother like Lady Kingsborough,
and overlooking the fact that Mary's stay in Ireland lasted only one
year. In her correspondence with Mrs. Bishop there is a description of
Lady Kingsborough's stepmother and her three daughters, "fine girls,
just going to market, as their brother says". This short sentence shows
the state of revolt she was in against the frivolity of women in making
a wealthy marriage the sole aim of life. If, therefore, her religious
principles were of a sternness hardly suited to the practice of those
days, it need not necessarily be the former that were at fault. The
imputation of insincerity, however, merits absolute contempt. Here,
indeed, "to doubt her goodness were to want a heart". It is impossible
to read any portion of her works without being struck by the earnest
tone of sincere piety which pervades them all. It was a great pity that
what she saw of Christianity prevented her from going to the source of
that religion, which might have given her that peace "which passeth
understanding" for which her heart yearned and which the vagueness of
her deistic views, although better suited to satisfy her Reason, could
not supply.

While at Bristol Hot Wells in the summer of 1788 she wrote a little
book entitled "_Mary, A Fiction_", relating the incidents of her
friendship with Fanny Blood. But it is not the incidents that make
the charm of this composition. Godwin, who could admire in another
those qualities which he knew he himself lacked, says that in it "the
feelings are of the truest and most exquisite class; every circumstance
is adorned with that species of imagination which enlists itself under
the banners of delicacy and sentiment"[39].

Mary's dismissal as a governess fortunately did not leave her
unprovided for. The generous Mr. Johnson found her lodgings in George
Street, near Blackfriar's Bridge, and made her his reader. She
criticised the manuscripts sent to him, and the kindness and sincerity
of her criticisms brought her a few real friends, among whom was Miss
Hayes, who afterwards became the means of bringing her and Godwin
together. Mr. Johnson had just started the _Analytical Review_, in
which Mary took a considerable share. The many translations she did
at this period were suggested by Johnson, and as such throw no light
on her personal taste, but in the case of Salzmann's "_Moralisches
Elementarbuch_" he certainly gave her a congenial subject. She had by
this time read Rousseau's _Emile_, with the main tendencies of which
she agreed as far as the boy Emile was concerned, but whose ideal of
womanhood, embodied in Sophie, was very far removed from her own, and
also Thomas Day's "_Sandford and Merton_," in which the influence of
Rousseau is very marked. The ideas expressed by Day, corroborated and
added to by her own experience and by Salzmann's theories, form the
basis of her "_Original Stories from Real Life, with Conversations
calculated to regulate the Affections and form the Mind to Truth and
Goodness_". (1788). The idea of a private tutor (or preceptor) had
been Rousseau's, and Day makes a kind-hearted clergyman, Mr. Barlow,
who had attained excellent results in the training of young Harry
Sandford, a farmer's son, undertake the instruction of Tommy Merton,
the son of a rich planter of Jamaica. Day obviously cannot refrain from
introducing the theme of class-distinctions, making the farmer's child
appear to great advantage by the side of the gentleman's son, who has
been utterly spoiled by an over-indulgent mother and has had the whole
catalogue of prejudices of birth and station inculcated into him. The
story consists of a string of incidents, partly arising from natural
causes and partly due to Mr. Barlow's "coups de théâtre pédagogiques",
in which Rousseau also was fond of indulging. They all contribute
towards the formation of Tommy's mind and heart, in conjunction
with a number of stories, told at the psychological moment by their
preceptor, which it appears do not fail to produce their effect, for
Tommy is promptly changed from an insufferable little despot into a
paragon of virtue. Nor is he slow himself to adopt the oracular tone of
self-sufficiency which Harry exhibits from the first. Where Day's book
differs from Rousseau,--which is only in two respects,--the deviation
is due to the fact that Rousseau was essentially a theorist, whose
aim was to provide an educational scheme, whilst Day in combination
with Mr. Edgeworth meant to, and did carry his theories into practice,
in doing which he had to make a good many concessions to outward
circumstances. Rousseau seldom indulges in story-telling, in his scheme
the work of instructing the child under twelve (Tommy and Harry are
only six) is left to Nature, and the preceptor keeps his precepts to
himself and merely mounts the most jealous guard over his pupil to
ward off undesirable influences and to leave Nature undisturbed in
accomplishing her task. Thus Rousseau advises the negative education
for young children. In Day, however, the preceptor takes a decidedly
active part, and both by precept and example directs his pupils'
thoughts towards certain conclusions they are meant to draw. A natural
consequence of Rousseau's radical Nature-scheme is that the pleasure
of reading books--beyond a few of great practical value to the Man of
Nature, such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe--is withheld from the young
pupil, who is only taught to read at his own request, and at a much
later age. Instead, he should be content to read the book of Nature,
which is in a language every human creature can understand. Here again
the more practical Day disagrees, and in _Sandford and Merton_ books
play a prominent part. Again, Rousseau wants to separate his pupil not
only from the family to which he belongs, but from all other children,
thus overlooking the important factor of inter-education. Day educates
the two boys together and occasionally brings them in contact with
other children also, mostly of the peasant-class.

For the rest, however, there is a close parallelism between the two
systems. Stress is laid on simplicity being the mother of all virtues,
the boys are taught to regard manual labour as an honest occupation of
which no so-called "gentleman" need be ashamed, and which may stand him
in good stead should circumstances make it necessary for him to earn
his own living. They have their physical strength developed by manly
exercise, and the advantages accruing from a life in accordance with
the dictates of Nature are pointed out to them in a most suggestive
way. They learn to regard class-privileges with scorn; to them a "man"
is a being superior to a "gentleman"; are taught that the only property
a man is entitled to is the result of his own labour; and acquire some
knowledge of botany, zoology, cosmography, geography and in general of
such subjects as may render the child more fit for a life in accordance
with Nature such as Day himself practised.

It need hardly be said that Mary Wollstonecraft's educational ideas did
not go the entire length of Day's somewhat eccentric radicalism. She
sympathised with Rousseau's Nature-scheme only inasmuch as it asserted
the advantages of country-life and did away with conventionality.
Although accustomed to the most rigid simplicity, she never approached
the utter disregard of appearances which Day professed to feel. She
utterly disagreed with Rousseau where he asserted the necessity of
giving girls an education "relative to men", it being one of the chief
aims of her later works to show that there should be no difference
of principles in the education of the two sexes; but she applied a
great many of Rousseau's suggestions, which he intended for boys,
to her own sex. Far from wishing to furnish a complete scheme for
the education of young girls upon a basis of abstract reasoning, she
follows Day in attacking the defects most common to childhood and
in trying to establish a standard of virtue which may be attained
by following Reason. She entirely relies upon the force of a moral
lesson contained in a well-told story, or, better still, illustrated
by personal example. In one point of difference the contrast in
character between her and Rousseau becomes most obvious. The latter's
lack of moral firmness makes him, while shielding his pupil from the
evil influence of his surroundings, rather unaccountably overlook the
necessity of inculcating a sense of duty. His scheme has no ethical
background. In Mary Wollstonecraft, however, this ethical background
is the essential thing. Her parting advice to her pupils (voiced by
Mrs. Mason) is: "Recollect, that from religion your chief comfort must
spring, and never neglect the duty of prayer. Learn from experience the
comfort that arises from making known your wants and sorrows to the
wisest and best of Beings not only of this life, but of that which is
to come." Rousseau's pupil was not likely to become a "striver", Mary
Wollstonecraft's had had high ethical principles instilled into her.

The lack of incentives to virtue which characterises Rousseau's scheme
may be the consequence of his theory of original innocence. He does not
believe in the existence of evil in connection with the Divine Will,
but holds that evil is merely the consequence of wrong opinions. Here
he was Godwin's teacher. A radical change in individual opinion will
cause evil to disappear. How original sin and evil could find their
way into the world, mankind being in a state of perfect innocence, he
does not explain. Godwin, and with him Mary Wollstonecraft, were of
opinion that there is in mankind no natural bias towards either good or
evil, and that everything depends on the forming of the mind, hence the
all-importance of education.

Religion, therefore, is an essential part of Mary Wollstonecraft's
educational plan. It is true that the child cannot grasp the
fundamental truths, its power of reasoning being as yet limited, and
should not for this reason be permitted to read the Bible. But her
girls are taught from the first that "religion ought to be the active
director of our affections" and that "happiness can only arise from
imitating God in a life guided by considerations of virtue. Virtue,
according to her mouth-piece Mrs. Mason, is "the exercise of benevolent
affections to please God and bring comfort and happiness here, and
become angels hereafter."

In the "_Original Stories_" we have some of the theories of the _Rights
of Women_ presented to us in a nutshell. They claim for girls equality
of education with boys, and indirectly deny the sexual character
theory, based on that of innate principles, which Mary Wollstonecraft
agreed with Godwin did not exist. Rousseau held that Reason was the
prerogative of Man, and that Woman's substitute for it was Sensibility.
Man was made to think, and Woman to feel. "Whatever is in Nature is
right", was the axiom he applied to the case of Woman. Nature meant
her to be kept in a state of subjection to Man, and to give her an
education without regarding the limitations of her sex would have
seemed to him flying in the face of providence.

Mary Wollstonecraft's views of society were sufficiently pessimistic
to consider the average parent utterly unfit to educate a child. She
therefore adhered to Rousseau's idea of a preceptor. Her two girls,
Mary and Caroline, aged 14 and 12, far from having been kept in
ignorance, and further handicapped by the death of their mother, had
already imbibed some false notions and prejudices. Mary's judgment
was not sufficiently cool to make her realise that appearances are
often deceptive, and that bodily defects may be found together with
excellent moral qualities. She had an unfortunate turn for ridicule.
Her sister Caroline, by being vain of her person, proved that she
did not understand the source of true merit. It was, therefore, the
task of their monitress to carefully eradicate these prejudices and
to substitute for them correct notions of true virtue. In Mrs. Mason,
Mary Wollstonecraft enriched English literature with the portrait of
the typical British matron with "no nonsense about her", but in making
this woman her mouth-piece she scarcely did justice to the qualities
of her own heart. It was the struggle of her life to make her heart
yield to the dictates of Reason, and Mrs. Mason certainly does not
impress the reader as struggling very hard. She is the embodiment of
pure, undiluted Reason in all its unyielding sternness. Any show of
tenderness towards her charges would have seemed to her a confession of
weakness. When after a long spell of life together she returns them to
their father, they have advanced just far enough in her affection to be
termed "candidates for her friendship"; which, by the way, is meant
to imply that they have made satisfactory progress in the faculty of

Mary Wollstonecraft for the moment does not seem to realise that the
essential quality in an educator should be to make her pupils not
only respect, but also love her, and Mrs. Mason is a most unloveable
person. Her haughty arrogance and insufferable self-sufficiency were
not likely to escape her eldest pupil's sense of humour and could not
but seriously affect her influence over the girls. Thus the children of
Mary Wollstonecraft's fancy are brought up in the midst of reasoning
logic, unwarmed by the sunshine of parental love.

To make matters worse, this champion of liberty, who found fault with
Rousseau for failing to see that his schemes of freedom applied with
equal justice to women; who was soon herself to protest against the
abuse of parental authority, who held with Locke that "if the mind
be curbed and humbled too much in children, if the spirit be abased
and broken much by too strict a hand over them, they lose all their
vigour and industry",[40] herself made the fatal mistake of aiding
and abetting the thraldom of the young girl. The education which
Mary and Caroline receive is nothing but a dreary course of constant
admonition, in which the word liberty would be utterly misplaced.
She has entirely failed to catch the spirit of Rousseau's _Emile_,
in which the instructor only prevents the pupil from hurting himself
overmuch through his ignorance, leaving him otherwise free to draw
the conclusions of awakening Reason, and above all allowing him to
live out his life. Harry Sandford and Tommy Merton go together for
long walks in the woods, get lost and owe their rescue to the lucky
accident of meeting a boy who takes them to his home. When Mr. Barlow
is informed that the boys have turned up, he goes to meet them on their
way home and merely tells them to be more careful in future, availing
himself of the incident to instil certain lessons in geography which
smack of Rousseau. But their liberty is in no way cramped. With Mary
Wollstonecraft, however, the case is entirely different. One wonders
what sort of paragons Mrs. Mason was going to turn out. The chances
would seem pretty even between prim old maids and confirmed young
hypocrites, depending on those very innate tendencies she was fain
to deny! She held that children should not be left too much freedom,
because, the faculty of Reason being as yet insufficiently developed
in them, they might make the wrong use of it. But the restrictions on
their liberty should be such as to remain almost unnoticed by them.
They should not have a variety of prohibitions imposed upon them, as
was the case with Lady Kingsborough's children, whom she immediately
restored to some degree of liberty. One cannot help thinking that
theory and practice often clash, owing to the perpetual conflict
between reason and the feelings. Granting, however, that Mrs. Mason had
the best and most disinterested intentions, what, we may ask, can be
left of liberty to children whom their monitress "never suffers out of
her sight?"

In her catalogue of living creatures Mary puts animals at the bottom on
account of their being incapable of Reason. They are guided exclusively
by instinct, which is a faculty of a coarser growth than Reason. The
love of their young, for instance, though sweet to behold, and worthy
of imitation, is not in their case dictated by Reason. Next upon the
list come children; in them the latent faculty ought to be developed by
older and wiser people bringing what Godwin would call "the artillery
of Reason" to bear upon the infant mind. Mary Wollstonecraft protests
against the arrogance of those philosophers who, while granting their
own sex the privilege of an education, wilfully exclude the other half
of humanity from the blessings of Reason, which is the only guide to
virtue and moral perfection.

When Mary wrote the "_Original Stories_" she was not more than
twenty-nine herself, and had known neither the passion of love nor
motherhood. Her all-embracing love of humanity made the subject of
interest to her, but there is upon the whole too much of Reason and
too little of the heart in the little volume. Circumstances over
which she had no control were soon to teach her for good and all that
the affections will not be suppressed and peremptorily demand their
share. When next she touched upon the subject she was a mother and
confronted with the task of educating her own child in the long and
frequent absences of a faithless and undeserving father. The "_First
Lessons for an Infant_" in Volume II of the posthumous edition of
her works are the result of the joint teachings of maternal love and
bitter experience. Here she is herself, an essentially human, loving
woman, overflowing with tenderness and bound up closely with her child
not merely by the ties of duty, but by those of an all-absorbing
affection. Having thus tried to do justice to the author by accounting
for what seems contradictory, we may frankly say that Mrs. Mason is an
insufferable pedant. The Mr. Barlow of _Sandford and Merton_, while
constantly moralising,--in doing which he draws far more sweeping
conclusions than even Mrs. Mason--and arranging incidents to illustrate
and anticipate his moral lessons like the best of stage-managers[41],
at least does not obtrude her own personality. But the impeccable Mrs.
Mason in her boundless self-confidence never loses an opportunity to
introduce her own personality. Her benevolence is unlimited, and she
is utterly incapable of doing wrong. If she inflicts bodily pain, it
is that Reason has whispered to her that in doing so she avoids a
greater evil. She puts her foot deliberately on a wounded bird's head,
"turning her own the other way". She teaches by example rather than
precept, and the example somehow seems to be always herself. Never for
a moment are the girls allowed a rest from the moral deluge. The first
eight chapters of the little book contain the moral food for one single
day, carefully divided into a morning, an afternoon and an evening
of incessant moralising. Yet she is "naive" enough to imagine that
she teaches imperceptibly, by rendering the subject amusing! If Mary
Wollstonecraft had possessed the slightest indication of a possible
sense of humour, the absurdity of the Mrs. Mason portrait would have
struck her. But she had not, and while relating the most ludicrous
incidents, she always remains terribly in earnest!

There is something distinctly oppressive, too, about Mrs. Mason's
benevolence. She relieves the distress of the poor, but while doing so
her coldly critical eye wanders about the humble cottage and makes the
poor wretch feel uncomfortably conscious of its generally unfinished
appearance. With her, Reason is always enthroned. The passions are not
to be mentioned in her presence. And yet, her cupboard, too, has its
skeleton. Early attachments, we are informed, have been broken, her own
husband has died, followed by her only child, "in whom her husband died
again". Her afflictions have taught her to pin her faith on the hope
of eternity, in doing which she has unfortunately forgotten to learn
the lesson of earthly suffering and to realise her own imperfections.
The virtue of modesty, which she recommends to the girls in contrasting
the sweet and graceful rose to the bold and flaunting tulip (!) was not
among her many accomplishments.

The little book prepares the reader's mind for the "_Vindication of the
Rights of Women_," which was soon to follow, in that it contains a
long plea for the glorious faculty of Reason, leading to virtue. The
heart should be carefully regulated by the understanding to prevent
its running amuck. All errors are due to a relegation of Reason to an
inferior position; a systematical application, however, cannot fail to
conduct towards perfection.

One seems too be listening to the sweeping assertions of _Political
Justice_, which was to appear a few years later and in which the
general philosophical tendencies of the revolutionary movement were
gathered up and stated with bold radicalism. The main line of thought
which Godwin followed, and the tendency to resort to "first principles"
is everywhere manifest. To call girls "rational creatures" for doing
what their monitress expects of them is to give them the most unstinted
praise. The absolute subjection of the poor children to their governess
is the necessary outcome of the infallibility of the latter's superior
Reason, which renders implicit obedience the interest of the former.
In her discussion of the filial duties in connection with the parental
affections in the _Vindication_, Mary Wollstonecraft insists on just
such a degree of obedience as is compatible with the child's obvious
interest. Nor is the respect due to superior Reason lost sight of when
she opines with respect to marriage that, although after one and twenty
a parent has no right to withhold his consent on any account, yet
the son ought to promise not to marry for two or three years, should
the object of his choice not meet with the approbation of his "first
friend". Thus the principles of liberty and obedience are made to fit
each other.

The infallibility of Reason is enforced by some "glaring" examples,
which bring fresh proof of the author's fatal insensibility to the
ludicrous and absurd. The story of the girl who, like Caroline, was
vain of her good looks, until she had smallpox, when, having to pass
many days in a darkened room, she learned to reflect and afterwards
took to reading as a means of enlarging the mind, may pass; but the
history of Charles Townley is utterly absurd and distinctly inferior
to Day's stories, some of which afford pleasant reading and must have
amused the boys. Its hero is the "man of feeling" so prominent in the
sentimental school, who allows his conduct to be governed solely by
sentiment. Having chosen the wrong guide, he is made miserable for
life, and his sorrows culminate when he beholds the daughter of his
benefactor, a maniac, "the wreck of a human understanding", merely
because he has too long put off assisting her and relieving her
distress, as he intended to do.

The principal vices against which the book inveighs and which are
for the most part illustrated by means of fitting stories, or warned
against by means of toward incidents, are: anger and peevishness,
by which Reason is temporarily dethroned (story of Jane Fretful),
lying, immoderate indulgence of the appetite, procrastination, pride,
arrogance to servants[42], sensitiveness to pain and an excessive
regard for the vanities of dress and for the opinions of the world
(story of the schoolmistress). Thus the ideas which found an outlet
in the _Vindication_ were anticipated, and the little book marks the
first step in the transition from pedagogical to social and political

Next to the careful eradication of vices, the cultivation of virtues is
attended to. The children are taught to love all living creatures, the
love of animals being characteristic of the new movement as a natural
offshoot of the greater but more difficult love of mankind. They are
instructed in the practice of charity, economy, self-denial, modesty
and simplicity. The last-named virtue constitutes the link between
the educational and the social instruction. The stories of "the Welsh
Harper" and of "Lady Sly and Mrs. Trueman" are intended to convey the
great truth that class-distinctions are not by any means dependent on
moral character and that often "the lower is the higher." Nor can Mary
Wollstonecraft refrain from making herself the advocate of the greater
love towards mankind. The sad fate of Crazy Robin, who languishes in
a debtor's prison, after losing his wife and children through death,
is described in a little story which has true touches of pathos, and
the horrors of the Bastille are incidentally thrown in to heighten
the impression produced. In the naval story told by "Honest Jack"--in
which, by the way, absurdity reaches its climax when the hero, losing
an eye in a storm, thanks God for leaving him the other--we hear that
even the French are not so bad as they are often painted, and are
capable of mercy, for while Jack was pining away in a French prison,
some women brought him broth and wine, and one gave him rags to wrap
round his wounded leg. The whole story is rather a poor attempt at a
sailor's yarn, in which the author visibly though vainly exerts herself
to catch the right tone, with a rather too obtrusive moral background.
We feel that Jack is Mrs. Mason's ideal of manhood and the excellent
lady forgets herself and her constant companion Reason to such an
extent that tears of benevolence are seen "stealing down her cheeks"!

The girls' trials come to an end when at last their father writes for
them to return to London. They are described as visibly improved, "an
air of intelligence" beginning to animate Caroline's fine features.
Mrs. Mason accompanies them to London, and there takes her leave of
the two girls, probably to inflict her personality on a pair of fresh

In the next few years the problem of the education of children,
although remaining a subject of constant speculation, receded before
that of the Cause of Woman. But when Mary was herself a happy mother,
the old problems presented themselves in a more tangible form. Godwin
informs us in the "_Memoirs_" that shortly before her death she
projected a work upon the management of the infant years, "which she
had carefully considered, and well understood".

It was about the time of the publication of the "_Original Stories_"
that Mary made up her mind to definitely adopt writing as a profession.
She realised that in doing so she was flying in the face of prejudice.
But she had seen enough of the world, and the result of her long and
bitter wrestlings with adversity had been a sufficient increase of
moral strength to render her independent of the opinion of others.
Henceforth it was to be her task to form the opinions of her sex, and
in doing so she totally disregarded the opinion of others concerning
herself. Her voluntary martyrdom had begun.

At the same time her scope of observation became considerably widened.
Mr. Johnson's house was the resort of a great many of the leading
philosophical minds of the day, all of whom had strong revolutionary
tendencies, and whose works he brought out with an utter contempt of
consequences very much to his credit. Nothing could be more natural
than that the constant intercourse with people like Thomas Paine,
Fuseli the Swiss painter, Mr. Bonnycastle the pedagogue, Dr. Priestley,
Dr. Geddes, Dr. George Fordyce, Lavater and Talleyrand (who in those
days paid a visit to England)--to whom was added afterwards the
enigmatical personality of William Godwin--should tend to inspire her
with strong revolutionary ideas. It had the effect of widening her
horizon and of causing her to transfer her energies from the work of
education to that of social reform. Mr. Johnson's circle consisted
almost entirely of men, the only women, besides Mary, being the more
easy-going, and less energetic Mrs. Inchbald and the far less gifted
Miss Hayes and Mrs. Trimmer. Where the men had the Rights of Men for
their watchword, Mary Wollstonecraft as a natural consequence found her
attention directed towards the position of her own sex, a subject which
these hot-headed champions were too apt to overlook.

It was in those days (Nov. 1, 1790) that Burke made his violent
onslaught upon what he termed the "seditious" theories concerning the
rights of man voiced by her dear friend Dr. Price in his epoch-making
sermon at the Old Jewry to his congregation of sympathisers with
the Revolution. This direct attack had the effect of making Mary
Wollstonecraft seize her pen in defence of her old friend and in
support of those principles which had slowly and gradually come to mean
a great deal to her. Already the correspondence of the Kingsborough
period is distinctly suggestive of awakening social interests, stress
being laid on the prejudices connected with rank and station. (Letters
to Everina, 1787 and 1788, and to Mrs. Bishop, 1787). In Ireland her
eyes had been opened to the moral inferiority of men and women of
quality and to the distress of those who, like herself, were dependent
on them. The picture of eternity receded before that of earthly
injustice to be repaired.

At Mr. Johnson's she frequently took part in the discussion of the
possibility of reestablishing the governments of Europe on primary
principles, and the new ideas sounded in her ears like a new Gospel of
Man. The reflections of Jean-Jacques--she must have read and discussed
the _Contrat Social_ in those days, although there is no correspondence
to prove the assumption--couched in prose "made lyrical by faith" could
not fail to impress a mind like that of Mary, than whom they never made
an easier proselyte. Add to this the direct stimulus of the revolution,
and the prospect of immediate application of the new theories which
electrified all revolutionary minds, and it will not be difficult to
account for her enthusiasm, which placed her among the first to use
her pen in defence of the new creed. When she had almost finished her
pamphlet and was about to have it printed, she felt less sanguine
about her powers of persuasion, but the work as she wrote it bears the
unmistakable evidence of having been struck at a heat, which, together
with its obvious sincerity, may account for some of its success.

Dr. Price, in his sermon of 1789, "in commemoration of the Revolution
of 1688", had given vent to the feelings of approbation with which he
had greeted the outbreak of the French Revolution, and among others
expressed the view that the king owes his crown to the choice of his
people and "may be cashiered for misconduct", thus openly declaring
himself a follower of the theories of the Social Contract, which are
based upon the sovereignty of the people.

Burke in his "_Reflections on the Revolution in France_", takes his
stand upon the British constitution--once the object of the admiration
of a Montesquieu--to oppose what he regards as nothing less than a
direct attempt at sowing the seeds of revolution in Great Britain. His
pamphlet called forth no fewer than thirty-eight replies, of which that
written by Thomas Paine was the most successful amongst the partisans
of the new movement in consequence of its radical tendencies. Mary
Wollstonecraft was in the van of the revolutionary army, and shared
with Dr. Priestley the honour of being the first to enter the field.
To account for her indignation it should be remembered that Burke had
until then been regarded as one of the principal Whig advocates of
reform, in connection with his attitude towards the American problem.
No one had anticipated this sudden change of tactics, so welcome,
though unlooked-for, to King George and to Pitt, and it fairly maddened
the champions of reform.

Buckle, in his "_History of Civilisation in England_", deeply regrets
Burke's conduct, which he calls the consequence of an unfortunate
hallucination, due to his feelings having temporarily got the better
of his Reason. The vehemence of the controversy in question between
opponents who were equally sincere and convinced of the soundness of
their views, is due to an essential difference in standpoint, leading
to opinions which in either case, though containing an element of
truth, must be termed one-sided. The thoroughly practical Burke,
whose political ideas were the fruit of an experience of nearly half
a century, placed himself upon the purely empirical standpoint,
resting his arguments upon a basis of sound historical experience,
and asserting that the legislator's first aim should be expediency,
taught by experience, and not abstract, speculative truth. He points
to the difference between political and social principles, which are
the outcome of reason; and political practice, which is the product of
human nature, and of which reason is but a part. The reformers of the
opposing camp took their stand upon a basis of abstract, geometrical
reasoning, and persistently refused to consider the argument of
expediency. They only regarded the theoretical aspect of the social
problem. Both parties recognised the doctrines of human rights and of
the popular sovereignty, which were of British growth, having been put
forward long before Rousseau by John Locke; but they differ in their
application of them. With Burke, rights are of an hereditary nature.
To him, the constitution is the embodiment both of the rights of the
free British citizen, and of the duties of the British subject, an
inheritance they derived from their ancestors of 1688, together with
the duty of keeping the legacy intact in its general tendencies. It
was Burke's firm conviction that a statesman should steer clear of
philosophical principles, which an absolute want of adaptability to the
exigencies of a special case renders unfit for practice.

It must be granted that this line of argument in Burke's case led to
a fatal blindness to obvious injustice and to a curious inability
to appreciate what was good, noble and disinterested in the leaders
of the revolutionary movement. Mary Wollstonecraft and her friends
failed to see that reforms which are to affect the roots of existing
conditions--however desirable and even necessary--must of necessity
be slow and gradual, lest our gain should prove but a poor substitute
for our certain loss. There are none more dangerous to society than
the abstract idealist, whose very inexperience confirms him in the
belief that he is in possession of absolute Truth, for which he is
willing to lay down his own life, and, _en passant_, the lives of
others. Of such a nature was the "amiable defect"--to use her own
terminology--developed in Mary Wollstonecraft's nature by too impulsive
a zeal in the cause of mankind.

She felt intensely on the subject. The furious onslaught which she
makes upon Burke in the _Rights of Man_--without that respect for grey
hairs which she would have Burke observe in his dealings with Dr.
Price--was prompted by a far deeper feeling for mankind than Burke was
capable of. The two vulnerable points in Burke's pamphlet were his
unreasonable vehemence and the personal character of his attacks on the
one hand, and his want of real sympathy with the "swinish multitude"
on the other. The submerged portions of humanity have little to hope
for in a statesman who coolly advises them "by labour to obtain what by
labour can be obtained and to be taught their consolation in the final
proportions of eternal justice". The hopeless conservatism of this view
aroused the indignation of Mary Wollstonecraft. "It is possible," she
exclaims, "to render the poor happier in this world without depriving
them of the consolation which you gratuitously grant them in the next!"

Nor has Mr. Burke's "immaculate constitution" her undivided sympathy.
She agrees with Rousseau that property, while one of the pillars of the
monarchical system, is a deadly enemy to that equality of men before
the law without which there can be no real liberty. The preservation
of the intact family-estate for the purpose of perpetuating a
time-honoured name and tradition, much as it appeals to Burke, was a
phrase the force of which did not strike Mary Wollstonecraft, whose
indifference to opinion we have already referred to. It would be far
better for society if each large estate were divided into a number
of small farms, so that each might have a competent portion and all
amassing of property cease.

In the same passage she boldly asserts the rights of man, as laid
down by Rousseau in his famous Social Compact, which give him a title
to as much liberty, both civil and religious, as is compatible with
the rights of every other individual. As it is, the first rule of the
doctrine of equality, which says that all men are equal before the
law, is utterly disregarded, for does not the law shield the rich and
oppress the poor? Property in England is a great deal more secure than

The views expressed in the above passage to a great extent anticipate
those of Godwin's "_Caleb Williams_", published in 1794, which,
according to the author's preface, comprehended "a general view of
the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism by which man becomes
the destroyer of man", and in which a social system was denounced
which enabled the rich man to use the power of a law which seemed
to regard only the interests of one single class of society for the
most nefarious purposes[43]. A parallel to this sociological novel is
afforded by Mary Wollstonecraft's unfinished "_Maria, or the Wrongs of
Woman_", to which, if we replace the last word by "woman", the sentence
just quoted applies literally.

It is but fair to state that Mary Wollstonecraft did not persist in her
extreme views as to the necessity of a sudden and radical change which
at one time made her overlook the principle of slow evolution. She was
willing to recognise this principle in her "_Historical and Moral View
of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution_", of which the
first and only volume was written some three years later. At Paris,
before her intimacy with Imlay and the birth of her daughter Fanny
brought about a temporary relaxation in her social zeal, her time was
spent in watching the development of events with eager and sympathetic
interest. Her optimistic faith in the perfectibility of mankind helped
her--as it did Wordsworth--to look beyond the horrors and bloodshed
by which her heart was moved to intense pity and indignation. She was
convinced that out of the chaotic mass "a fairer government was rising
than ever shed the sweets of social life on the world." But, she adds,
"things must have time to find their level."

The "_Vindication of the Rights of Man_"--although quite overshadowed
by Paine's pamphlet--met with so much success that very soon after its
publication a second edition was called for. There is no doubt that
this circumstance gave Mary a great deal of encouragement. It became
an incentive to further efforts on a larger scale in the direction in
which she now realised lay the mission of her life. In spite of her
theories she was sufficiently sensitive to praise to feel gratified by
it and to derive from it the moral courage necessary to defy public
opinion and constitute herself the champion of the Cause of Woman.

We have seen that the Cause of Woman had met with very little regard in
England in the course of the century, except where moral improvement
was concerned. In France, however, the progress to be recorded was
considerable. It will be remembered that Fénelon had been the first
to insist on an education which might teach girls the pursuit of some
useful ideal instead of leaving them to pass their time in a degrading
search for pleasure. There is in Fénelon a distinct foreshadowing
of the tendencies of educational reform in later years. With Mary
Wollstonecraft also, the chief aim of education is not to prepare the
individual for social intercourse, but to accustom the mind to listen
to the dictates of Reason. Fénelon has a more negative way of putting
the question. He believes in filling the mind with useful ideas as a
means of preventing moral degradation.

In the course of the following century, the philosophers of the
Encyclopédie introduced their theories of rationalism. Helvétius
(in his _Traité de l'Homme_, 1774) insisted on the necessity of an
education in connection with his theory that the human mind, which is
sovereign, is the exclusive product of education and experience. He
may be called a link in the chain of advocates of the Cause of Woman,
although not paying the slightest attention to women in particular;
for he indirectly advances their cause a step by defending the view
that an education is indispensable to develop the mind and thus attain
perfection. He is one of the originators of the theory which says that
the mind is in a perfectly neutral state at birth, capable of receiving
and guarding any impressions which may be produced by accidental
circumstances, which a well-regulated education may to a certain extent
make or re-make; the obvious conclusion being that all men are of equal
birth. To this scheme Diderot in his "_Réfutation_" opposed his theory
of heredity, or innate character. Both Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft
were adherents of Helvétius. Viewed in the light of original equality,
which supposes equal possibilities in individuals who are only
physically different, it will be readily seen what a long vista of
improvements may be opened by perfecting the education.

In the catalogue Rousseau must be passed over until Mary herself will
introduce him, when he will be fighting on the wrong side, although
not so completely as Mary Wollstonecraft would have us believe.
Although their respective views on the subject of female education and
the consequent position of women in society are almost diametrically
opposed, yet there is a great deal of sound reasoning in the remarks
of both. However, we find in each the same unfortunate tendency to
generalisation and exaggeration.

A discussion of the social position of women without direct reference
to education, criticising them as they then were, and pointing out what
they might be, may be found in d'Holbach's _Social System_ (1774),
where an entire chapter is devoted to the subject. Mr. Brailsford[44]
points out the strange incongruity which lies in the fact that an
atheist and a confirmed materialist was among the first to recommend
the emancipation of women. For a rationalist philosopher, indeed, to
arrive at the conclusion that women should be made the social equals of
men, would be nothing very remarkable, but where d'Holbach constantly
keeps in view the moral side of the problem, he approaches the English
moralists rather than the French thinkers of the school of Reason.

The tone of his plea is sincere, and his hints are wise, moderate and
worthy of consideration. He complains that the education of the women
of his time, instead of developing in them those qualities which are
best calculated to bring happiness to men, merely tends to make them
inconstant, capricious and irresponsible. They are being tyrannised
over in every country; in Europe their position is not more enviable
than elsewhere, although a varnish of gallantry seeks to hide the fact.
Not woman herself is to blame for this, but rather man, who refuses her
the benefit of an education which may render her fit to perform the
duties of life. There is nothing more inconsistent than the education
of girls, which includes instruction in religious matters, teaching
them the hope of eternity in conjunction with all the vanities of life,
such as dancing and a too great regard for dress and deportment, which
are incompatible with true piety.

D'Holbach was also the first to protest against those marriages in
which even mutual esteem is wanting, which is even more important than
love, because of its greater permanence. Where conjugal infidelity is
encouraged on the stage and in society, married life too often becomes
one protracted intrigue, and the domestic duties and the education
of the children cease to be regarded. Women of the lower classes are
even worse off; prostitution is their only course, and society, while
readily forgiving the seducer, leaves the victim to a life of infamy.

The chapter ends with an earnest appeal to women to learn the value of
reason and the power of virtue, which alone lead to happiness, and to
respect themselves if they wish others to respect them.

The parallelism between the passages referred to above and the main
drift of Mary Wollstonecraft's contentions in her "_Vindication of the
Rights of Women_" is so particularly striking, that the assumption
seems justified that she had read d'Holbach.

The outbreak of the revolution caused the new philosophical principles
to be put to the test of practical experiment. In 1791 the National
Assembly, realising that an important step towards the realisation
of that equality they aimed at was the institution of a national
education, called upon Talleyrand to elaborate a project of an
educational scheme on rational principles. Talleyrand's report pointed
out the desirability of allowing women to share in the universal
education and to establish schools to which both sexes were to be
admitted. As regards the possibility of their taking part in political
discussions, he was of opinion that their domestic duties forbade their
entering the arena of politics. The education of children was the
principal of these duties, and the report says that "after reaching the
age of eight, girls should be restored to their parents to be taught
housekeeping at home."

The dissolution of the National Assembly caused Talleyrand's scheme to
be consigned to oblivion, and his task was entrusted by the Legislative
Assembly to the philosopher Condorcet. This disciple of Turgot, who
may be called the French Godwin, sharing the latter's love of the
mathematics of philosophy, blessed with the same boundless confidence
in the future of humanity, and actuated by the same unselfish
enthusiasm, which he did not, like Godwin, take the trouble to hide
under a mask of seeming Stoicism,--read his report in April 1792. It
almost coincided with the publication of the _Vindication_, for a
letter written by Mrs. Bishop to Everina Wollstonecraft in July of
the same year refers to Mary as the successful author of the _Rights
of Women_. Condorcet's views differ from Mary's in that he wishes the
instruction which is open to all classes to be regulated in accordance
with talent and capacity. An education, therefore, regarding innate
talents rather than social distinctions, and by which each man is to be
rendered independent of others[45].

Women are to receive the same instruction as men. It is not astonishing
that the theorist Condorcet should be inclined to go beyond what the
practical Talleyrand considered feasible and to forget the undeniable
difference in character and capacities existing between the sexes. In
this, Mary Wollstonecraft felt like Condorcet. Both make the mistake,
when anxious to assert the intellectual equality of women and to have
them recognised as "partakers of Reason", of trying to strengthen
their plea by pointing to one or two exceptional women to prove what
woman is capable of. The grounds on which Condorcet--continuing the
line of thought of his French predecessors--demands instruction for
women are the same as those of Mary. Women are the natural educators
of the young, they should guard their husbands' affections by making
themselves agreeable companions, capable of taking an interest in their
daily occupations. But it is the last argument that clinches matters:
the two sexes have equal _rights_ to be instructed.

It is Condorcet's ideal--as it had been that of Bernardin de St.
Pierre--to give the children of the two sexes a joint education, which
may prepare them for the social state, and which he feels confident
will remove the atmosphere of unhealthy mystery which an artificial
separation is apt to produce. Mary heartily concurs with this view. "I
should not," she says, "fear any other consequence than that some early
attachment might take place, which, whilst it had the best effect on
the moral character of the young people, might not perfectly agree with
the views of the parents."

I have tried to point out that, although the acquaintance of Mary
Wollstonecraft with the works of the French educationalists (Rousseau,
of course, excepted) is doubtful, yet there is the closest resemblance
in the spirit which animates them. The English writers on the subject,
as we have seen, were upon the whole much less enlightened. Their
names are repeatedly mentioned in the _Vindication_, and their methods
criticised. The principles underlying the theory of the Rights of
Man are adopted with perfect logic as a basis on which to consider
the position of the female half of society. "If the abstract rights
of man will bear discussion and explanation", says the dedication to
Talleyrand, in whom she trusted to find a sympathiser, "those of woman,
by a parity of reasoning, will not shrink from the same test."

Mary's methods of investigation are borrowed from Rousseau. In his
scheme for the improvement of social conditions, the latter had
insisted on the necessity of reverting to the original principles
which underlie the social structure, and out of the misunderstanding
and consequent misapplication of which the great hindrances to human
progress, prejudice and prescription arose. A too close regard to
expediency--continually contrasted with simple principles--seems to
her the cause of the introduction of measures "rotten at the core",
from which flow the misery and disorder which pervade society. While
adopting Rousseau's general lines of thought, however, she cannot bring
herself to share his raptures about the state of nature, which in its
essence is nothing but a denial of the possibility of a well-organised
society. The optimism with which he regards the individual does not
extend to society, in respect to which he is far too pessimistic to
suit Mary's unshakable confidence in human perfectibility. Where
Rousseau asserts that "l'homme est né bon", and holds the social state
responsible for the introduction of evil, Mary Wollstonecraft feels
in the presence of evil the will of the Almighty that we should make
use of the gift of Reason as a means of conquering evil and attaining
perfection. To return to Nature, therefore, would mean evading the
chief task which God meant to impose upon his favourite creature, that
of cultivating virtue in the social state which He ordained.

Here again, as in Helvétius, d'Holbach and so many others, Reason is
to be the governing power. In Reason lies Man's pre-eminence over
the brute creation, and out of the struggle between Reason and the
passions arise virtue and knowledge, by which man is conducted towards
happiness. Mary Wollstonecraft, in bringing her reason to bear upon
the existing social conditions, had become deeply conscious of the
degrading position of her sex, and, having herself risen above her
troubles, makes a fervent appeal to rational men to give them a chance
of becoming more respectable. Her plea, while in the first place
for her sex, embraces all humanity, for unless woman be prepared by
education to become the companion of man rather than his mistress, she
will hamper the progress of knowledge and virtue.

There seems, indeed, a great deal of absurdity in a social scheme which
in vindicating the rights of the male portion of humanity, in claiming
for them equality, liberty and the blessings of education, could leave
the other half of mankind out of consideration. Was liberty to be the
portion of men only; and was woman to continue in her state of bondage?
Were all men to be partakers of Reason, guided by her only, whilst
women had the use of that faculty denied them? In a social state where
such partiality could prevail, man was himself responsible for the
utter depravity of women. The worst despotism is not that of kings, but
that of man, and woman is the trampled-upon victim.

We are thus led to a natural division of the subject into an
examination of the position of woman such as it is, and an
investigation of what it ought to be and might be. There is one
circumstance which distinguishes Mary Wollstonecraft from other
champions of the new social creed. In their eagerness to champion
oppressed humanity against all forms of tyranny and oppression, Thomas
Paine and his followers had been too much inclined to forget that
"every right necessarily includes a duty." It is very much to Mary's
credit that she emphatically pointed out that "they forfeit the right
who do not fulfil the duty." In her claims for equality with men,
far from being prompted by sordid motives of envy, or by a desire to
obtain power or influence for her sex, she aims at enabling women to
discharge the duties of womanhood, among which that of educating their
own children occupies the first place. She was always ready herself to
take more than her share of those duties, and no one at present doubts
her sincerity when saying that she pleads for her sex rather than for

In considering the actual position of women in society she concludes
that the trouble arises from two widely different sources. Women
have either too much attention paid them, or they have no attention
whatever paid them, and the result is equally disastrous, although in a
different way. She had had personal experience of the defencelessness
and helplessness of a young woman whom fate had cast out upon the
cruel world without the means of fighting adverse circumstances, when
financial embarrassments forced her to accept a situation as governess
in Lord Kingsborough's home. It had stung her to the quick to realise
the contempt in which she was held by those whom she justly considered
her intellectual inferiors, merely because no government had ever
taken the trouble to provide for women without a natural protector,
and the narrow views of society were that any woman who, compelled
by circumstances, tried to support herself in an honest profession,
degraded herself. That her only alternative was to throw herself upon
the protection of some lord of creation and prostitute herself, did
not seem to occur to these judges of morality. The only compassion
excited by the helplessness of females was the consequence of personal
attractions, making pity "the harbinger of lust."

It is the duty of a benevolent government to add to the respectability
of women by enabling them to earn their own bread, and to save them
from inevitable prostitution, or from the degradation of marrying
for support. Let the professions be thrown open to them, let women
study to become physicians and nurses. Let there be midwives rather
than "accoucheurs", let them study history and politics, all of which
will keep them far better employed than the perusal of romances or
"chronicling small beer". Women are capable of taking a share in the
dealings of trade, of regulating a farm, or of managing a shop. The
only employments which have hitherto been open to them are of a menial
kind. Thus the position of a governess, who must be a gentlewoman to be
equal to her important task of education, is held in less repute than
that of a tutor, who is himself treated as a dependant. This prejudice
entirely destroys the aim of tutorship in rendering him contemptible to
his pupils.

How the personal note appears in the above remarks, the demands of
which will certainly not strike the modern reader as exorbitant.
However, seen in the light of the prejudices prevailing in Mary's days,
they make her stand out very clearly from the common herd of those who
were willing slaves to man. She seconds Condorcet in hinting at the
remote possibility of having female representatives in Parliament. It
may here be argued in favour of her modest proposal--which she fears
may excite laughter--that the introduction of women into the Parliament
of those days could not very well have made matters worse than they
were. The mock representation of the "rotten boroughs" was indeed as
she calls it "a handle for despotism" of the worst description, and
on this subject at least a large portion of the nation held coinciding

The position of women of the upper classes, who have every attention
paid them and pass their lives in search of amusement, although
it seems better, is in reality even worse. In connection with his
views on this subject Mary is reluctantly obliged to recognise in
Rousseau--whose inconsistency is among his chief characteristics--a
champion of despotism. Making allowance for a few deviations in details
of education, it may be said that here Rousseau's views reflect the
general opinion of his time. His educational scheme, which upon the
whole had Mary's sympathy, and from which she borrowed largely in
her purely educational works, only regards Emile, the boy. The girl,
Sophie, only interests him as being essential to the happiness of the
male. The theory that the education of women should be "relative to
men", as Rousseau puts it, places him in direct opposition to Mary
Wollstonecraft, as it implies a necessary inferiority on the part of
women. His maxims supply her with a target against which to direct
the shafts of her disapprobation and indignation. In his "_Lettre à
d'Alembert_" he had made a violent onslaught on women and the passion
they inspire. It does not leave them a shred of reputation: modesty,
purity and decency are said to have completely forsaken them. The
hysterical violence of his sallies was probably due to his hatred of
the Encyclopedians, those "philosophers of a day" whose rationalism
opposed the utter subjection of women to man's desires. I have already
pointed out that it was from the French school of rationalism that the
first suggestions of emancipation came, and the above-mentioned epistle
marks the beginning of hostilities between the rationalist and the
emotional school.

Mary Wollstonecraft did not find it difficult to agree with Rousseau
that many women had sunk to a state of deep degradation, but, she
asked: "A qui la faute?" It was man who brought her there, and she
expected man to lift her on to a more exalted plane.

The Julie of Rousseau's "_Nouvelle Héloise_" impresses us as
another inconsistency. She displays, it is true, the characteristic
submissiveness to a characteristically masterful parent, and the usual
notions of virtue consisting chiefly in the preservation of reputation
which Mary attacks so vigorously in the _Rights of Women_, but Julie
has far more individuality than the average young woman of the period.
She rather leads her lover than he her. The _Nouvelle Héloise_,
however, displays Rousseau's sentimental vein, and is therefore more
directly irrational than anything else he wrote. The Sophie of _Emile_
is partly the creation of his intellect, the Julie of the _Nouvelle
Héloise_ almost exclusively that of his sentiment.

In the fifth book of _Emile_, therefore, sentimentality only plays
an occasional part. Rousseau's intellect assigns to woman the place
which she ought to fill in society. A writer on female education,
says Lord John Morley, may consider woman as destined to be a wife,
or a mother, or a human being; as the companion of man, as the rearer
of the young, or as an independent personality, endowed with talents
and possibilities in less or greater number, and capable as in the
case of men of being trained to the best or the worst use, or left
to rust unused[46]. Rousseau insists upon the first, makes little of
the second, and utterly ignores the third. Emile is brought up to be
above all a man; Sophie, however, is given no chance of attaining the
necessary qualifications for womanhood and motherhood and is merely
educated to be an obedient and submissive companion to her husband. Her
opinions are modelled upon Emile's, and in no matter of importance, not
even in religion, is she allowed to choose for herself. The last is
an emphatic denial of the faculty of Reason in women. That a woman of
this stamp, accustomed to mental and moral dependence, is all unfit to
educate her own children, is self-evident, nor did Rousseau destine her
for this task. As soon as the child has been weaned, the mother passes
out of the educational scheme, her place and that of the father being
taken by the instructor.

Mary Wollstonecraft regards women in the first place as human beings
and asserts their right to be educated. They are in possession of the
faculty of Reason, which in them is as capable of being perfected as
in their lord and master, man. Their conduct and manners, however,
show that their minds are in no healthy state. Having been taught that
their chief aim in life is to make a wealthy marriage, they sacrifice
everything to beauty and attractiveness of appearance. Instead of
cherishing nobler ambitions, they are satisfied to remain in that
state of perpetual childhood in which the tyranny of man has purposely
kept them. The relative education has made them utterly dependent on
masculine opinion. Rousseau, who calls opinion the tomb of virtue in
men, recommends it to women as its "high throne", thus introducing
a sexual code of morality. They know that the flattering sense of
physical superiority makes man prefer them feeble and clinging for
protection, and accordingly they cultivate physical weakness and
dependence. A puny appetite is considered by them "the height of human
perfection". Why did not Rousseau extend his excellent advice regarding
outdoor sports and games to girls? They would not care for dolls if
their involuntary confinement within doors did not incapacitate them
from healthier pursuits. Thus the physical inferiority of women is
partly of man's own creation, and might be to a large extent remedied.

Once the right of being educated has been granted to women, they must
of necessity develop into suitable companions to their husbands and
affectionate parents to their children. To assert that woman's only
duty consists in catering for the happiness of her lord and master
is taking a sordid view of her possibilities. Granting that woman
has a soul, and that the promise of immortality applies also to
her, it follows naturally that the cultivation of that soul is her
chief business in life. The prevailing notion of a sexual character,
therefore, is subversive of all morality. Soldiers, who like women are
sent into the world before their minds have been stored with knowledge
or fortified by principles, show the same deplorable lack of common

Scattered through the book are a number of rather desultory remarks
from which may be gathered the author's notions regarding the baleful
influence of slavery upon the moral aspirations of her sex. Nearly all
contemporary authors agreed that woman's chief aim ought to be "to
please". Among their number were Mrs. Barbauld, Mrs. Piozzi, Mme de
Genlis and Mme de Staël. From the first the notion was inculcated that
the chief object is to make an advantageous match, "it is acknowledged
that they spend many of the first years of their lives in acquiring
a smattering of accomplishments, meanwhile strength of mind and body
are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of
establishing themselves--the only way women can rise in the world--by

The cardinal virtues of the sex are therefore those qualities which
are best calculated to make them acceptable to men, as gentleness,
sweetness of temper, docility and a "spaniel-like" affection. Men
complain, and with reason, of the follies and caprices of women,
forgetting that they are the natural outcome of an ignorance which is
very far removed from innocence.

The education of women, such as it is, consists only in some kind of
preparation for social life, instead of being considered the first
step to form a rational being, advancing by gradual steps towards
perfection. Thus a woman is methodically prepared for the bondage
that awaits her, and never gets an opportunity of asserting her better
possibilities. A sexual character is established by artificial means,
and in this circumstance Mary sees the chief cause of woman's moral
decay, for which she herself is only partly responsible.

All her life she remains powerless to get away from the shackles of
first impressions. Her conduct is regulated by absurd notions of a
specially feminine virtue, chastity, modesty and propriety. Instead
of realising that virtue--which surely ought to be the same for women
as for men--is nothing but love of truth and fortitude, she confounds
with it reputation. Respect for the opinion of the world is considered
one of her chief duties, for does not Rousseau himself declare that
reputation is no less indispensable than chastity?

For true modesty--which is only that purity of thought which is
characteristic of cultivated minds--she substitutes the coquettish
affectations which are to draw the lover on while seemingly rejecting
him. The insincerity of these principles of daily conduct tend to
develop in the female mind that cunning which Rousseau calls natural
and accordingly recommends! For a woman to show her actual feelings is
to be guilty of the most flagrant breach of modesty.

Where writers have granted to man the monopoly of reason, they have
given to woman as a substitute that which is delicately termed
"sensibility", but is in reality nothing but a morbid sort of
sensuality, the consequence of devouring novels which have the effect
of inflaming the senses, and the only antidote to which is healthy

Mary Wollstonecraft, like the Bluestocking moralists, regarded the
quality of sensibility with favour only when regulated by Reason.
In her enjoyment of the beauty of natural scenery, according to her
own analysis, it is her very reason which "obliged her to permit her
feelings to be her criterion." (Letters from Sweden). But it was one
of her chief contentions that far too much stress was laid on the
cultivation of that kind of sensibility in women which in its very
exaggeratedness leads to the worst excesses of sentimentalism. The
eighteenth century interpretation of the term "sensibility" with its
concomitant absurdities awakened in her feelings of intense disgust.
All Rousseau's errors in her opinion arose from its source. To indulge
his feelings, and not to imbibe moral strength at the fountain of
Nature, or to satisfy a thirst for scientific investigation, he sought
for solitude when meditating the rapturous but dangerous love-scenes
of the _Nouvelle Héloise_. No doubt these scenes were in her mind
when she wrote: "Love such as the glowing pen of genius has traced,
exists not, or only resides in those exalted, fervid imaginations that
have sketched such dangerous pictures." She only sees in them "sheer
sensuality under a sentimental veil." The sentimentalists who, like
Richardson and Rousseau, laid bare the play of the human passions to a
reading public consisting almost entirely of women, whose minds were
not sufficiently occupied to keep their imagination within bounds, "set
fire to a house for the sake of making the pumps play."

Morbid sensibility, in its exaggerated tenderness over insignificant
trifles and corresponding indifference to real social evils, excludes
from the mind all sense of moral duty.

Two writers of Mary Wollstonecraft's time had shown a more than usual
narrowness of views. They were the Rev. Dr. James Fordyce, author
of a number of sermons addressed to women, and Dr. Gregory, who had
written a "_Legacy to his Daughters_." The former proceeded from the
propositions which had formed the basis of Rousseau's argument. He is
so thoroughly convinced of the all-round superiority of man, that he
assumes the natural folly of woman to be the cause of all matrimonial
differences. He feels sure that women who behave to their husbands with
"respectful observance", studying their humours and overlooking their
mistakes, submitting to their opinion, passing by little instances of
unevenness, caprice or fashion, and relieving their anxieties will find
their homes "the abode of domestic bliss."

Fordyce held the principal charm of women to be a sickly sort of
delicacy which, as it flatters the vanity of the male, is not wholly
without effect even in our days, in spite of all Mrs. Fawcett may say
to the contrary. Men of sensibility, he says, "desire in every woman
soft features and a flowing voice, a form not robust, and demeanour
delicate and gentle." This hint could only have the effect of making
women more insipid than even Rousseau's Sophie, who at least after her
marriage shared her husband's outdoor exercise. But the worst part of
Fordyce's argument is that passage in which he advises young women to
remember that the devout attitude of pious recollection (in prayer)
is most likely to conquer a man's heart. When a clergyman thus by
well-meant advice perverts his flock, what are we to expect from the
grosser bulk of mankind!

As Mary Wollstonecraft justly points out, there is about these
sermons, for all their sentimental posing and bombastic phrasing, a
certain sneaking voluptuousness which would strike a modern woman as
most insulting; a confident tone of proprietorship which could not
fail to stimulate any woman of independent temper into revolt. Mrs.
Rauschenbusch points out that Dr. Fordyce was acting in accordance with
the tendencies of the Church in advocating that meekness and bearing of
injuries without retaliation which are taught by the Gospel.

What particularly galled Mary was the hypocritical prostration of men
before woman's charms, that mock politeness which seemed to her the
most cruel proof of the degradation of her sex. The description of
women by Fordyce as "smiling, fair innocents", and the frequent use of
terms like "fair defects", "amiable weakness", etc. where women were
concerned, sounded to her as an insult.

In Gregory's "_Legacy to his Daughters_" the case was slightly
different. The author was an affectionate father, whose anxiety to
shield his motherless girls induced him to become an author. That an
honest, well-intentioned man like he should be capable of writing such
trash makes us realise the hopelessness of Mary's task. He openly
recommends dissimulation. For a woman to show what she feels must be
termed indelicate. A girl should be careful to hide her gaiety of
heart, "lest the men who beheld her might either suppose that she was
not entirely dependent on their protection for her safety, or else
entertain dark suspicions as to her modesty." In the lives of the poor
Gregory girls Mrs. Grundy was omnipotent!

Unreserved praise, on the contrary, is bestowed upon Mrs. Catherine
Macaulay's "_Letters on Education with Observations on Religion and
Metaphysical Subjects_", which had appeared in 1790, shortly before
their author's death. Mrs. Macaulay had been among the opponents of
Burke in a vindication of a French government which owed its authority
to the will of a majority; and also in matters educational her
views coincided with those of Mary Wollstonecraft. She believed in
co-education up to a certain age, which has the obvious advantage of
making the daily intercourse between people of different sexes less
strained and more natural not only in early youth, but also later in
life, when the relations between the sexes ought to be based upon
mutual appreciation and esteem. Like Mary Wollstonecraft, she protested
against what she called "the absurd notion of a sexual excellence",
which not only excluded the female sex from every political right, but
left them hardly a civil right to save them from the grossest injuries.
It was an unlucky circumstance indeed that the only woman who might
have granted Mary the full support of her reputation as the author of
a very successful work on the "_History of England from the Accession
of James the First to that of the Brunswick Line_" should have been
removed by death at a time when that support might have been of so much
value to one who felt forsaken by the majority of her own sex.[47]

Mary Wollstonecraft pleads the necessity of giving woman an education
like that which is granted to man, that she may learn to take
Reason for her guide. Only then will she be able to perform the
specific duties of her sex. But there is a weightier argument for
the cultivation of Reason in women. Their deplorable deficiency in
this quality has so far made them consider only earthly interests and
disqualified them from looking beyond the affairs of this world to the
promise of that eternity for which only the soul can fit them. It is
in pointing out the evil consequences to the soul of a life devoted to
pleasure that Mary's pleadings attain their greatest depth of pathos
and intensity. The profound piety of her character makes her protest
against this sordid view of life.

"Surely" she exclaims, "she has not an immortal soul who can loiter
life away merely employed to adorn her person that she may amuse the
languid hours and soften the cares of a fellow-creature who is willing
to be enlivened by her smiles and tricks when the serious business of
life is over."

Once a woman has attained her aim of a profitable marriage, the
circumstances of which almost exclude the possibility of love, she
turns all her "natural" cunning to account to establish a sort of mock
tyranny over her master. She lives in the enjoyment of her present
influence, forgetting that adoration will cease with the loss of her
charms, and that woman is "quickly scorned when not adored". In later
years there will be no sound basis of friendship arising from equality
of tastes to take its place, no reflection to be substituted for
sensation, and their earthly punishment consists in a miserable old
age. Even when married to a sensible husband, who thinks for her, what
will be the fate of a woman who is left a widow with a large family?
"Unable to educate her sons, or to impress them with respect, she
pines under the anguish of unavailing impotent regret." The passage
in which she pictures her ideal of rational womanhood, who, far from
being rendered helpless by her husband's death, rises to the occasion
and devotes herself with a strong heart to the discharge of her
maternal duties, finally reaping the reward of her care when she sees
her children attain a strength of character enabling them to endure
adversity, is a piece of true eloquence. "The task of life fulfilled,
she calmly waits for the sleep of death, and rising from the grave, may
say: "Behold, thou gavest me a talent, and here are five talents".[48]

There never was a more fervent champion of marriage and domesticity
than Mary. The sanctity of matrimony needed no enforcement by means of
a wedding ceremony, but consisted in the mutual affection and esteem
which was felt. Hence her violent criticism of loveless marriages
contracted from mercenary motives and her severe condemnation of the
harshness with which society treated poor ruined girls.

The twelfth chapter of the _Rights of Women_ contains a plea for
national education. Mary is here seen treading in the steps of
Talleyrand, and forsaking her old masters Locke and Rousseau. They
both advocate a private education. Locke wants to educate the
"gentleman", making his scheme practicable in isolated applications,
but disregarding the bulk of the nation.

Rousseau, who did regard the mass of the people in matters of political
speculation, entirely loses sight of the public interest in favour
of the private in his educational scheme, thus reducing it to mere
abstract speculation, incapable of extensive realisation. But Mary
Wollstonecraft adopts the more practical view of the active socialist.
The children of the nation are to be educated without the slightest
reference to class distinction, and they ought to be brought up
together. The exclusive teaching of a child by a tutor will make him
acquire a sort of premature manhood, and will not tend to make him a
good citizen. He is to be a member of society, and it will not do to
regard him as a unit, complete in himself. The same view limits the
freedom of the individual to what is compatible with the rights of
others. To ignore the duties of the individual towards society would be
to build the entire structure of education upon an unsound basis.

This plea for co-education will be seen to be a recantation from former
opinions expressed in the "_Original Stories_". The latter had their
rise chiefly in the experience gained of boarding-schools during her
stay at Eton with the Priors. They seemed to her absolute hotbeds of
vice and folly, where an utter want of modesty introduced the most
repulsive habits. The younger boys delighted in mischief, the older in
every form of vice. The colleges were full of the relics of popery, the
'mouth-service',which makes all religion but a cold parade of show, and
the educators themselves were very poor champions of true religion.
What Mary saw at Eton confirmed her in the belief that dayschools were
to be preferred, as the only way of combining the advantages of private
and public education.

That important part of education which aims at awakening the affections
can only be given in the home of loving parents, and only that man can
be a good citizen who has first learned to be a good son and brother.
A country day-school, affording the best opportunities for unstinted
physical exercise, might be expected to be productive of the greatest
benefit to young pupils. The division of the educational task between
school and home will moreover leave the children the necessary amount
of freedom which is denied them when living the cramped lives of

To make women the companions of men, and to remove the unhealthy
atmosphere of an artificial separation of the sexes which produces
indelicacy in both, she thinks it necessary that boys and girls should
be brought up together. All children should be dressed regardless of
class and submitted to the same rules of discipline. They should not be
made to remain in the schoolroom for longer than an hour, and be taken
out into the schoolyard, or better still, for walks. A good deal of
outdoor instruction of the kind Rousseau described might be given by
means of spectacular illustration.

At the age of nine comes the first great change in the daily routine.
The two sexes will still be together in the morning, engaged in common
pursuits, but the afternoon will find the girls bent over their
needlework, millinery, etc., while the boys' further instruction
will depend on their choice of a trade. Special schools ought to be
established for those whose superior abilities render them fit to
pursue some course of scientific studies.

Being thus together will take the edge off that unnatural restraint
which too often marks the relations between children of a different
sex. The position of the teachers--not ushers--should be such as to
render them entirely independent of their pupils' parents. The usher's
ambiguous position of mixed authority and submission frequently
rendered him an object of ridicule to the children. Talleyrand, from
whom Mary in all probability borrowed this suggestion, even wanted
to make the children independent of their masters in respect of
punishment, by having it inflicted only after the offender had been
tried and found guilty by his peers.

It will be seen that the "_Vindication of the Rights of Women_" touches
upon a great many points which at the present time have become foregone
conclusions, but which, nevertheless, were in Mary's days daring
speculations, which were received with anything but general approval.

If it should now appear to us that some of her conclusions were rather
too sweeping, that the very physical inferiority of woman which she
is willing to grant makes it impossible for her to combine in her
person the wife, the mother and the social woman, and that a too
ardent application of her theories of the social possibilities of her
sex is responsible for some abominations of the public hustings, who,
banging their fists on the table, "refuse to be the playthings of men
any longer"--it should be remembered that she insisted with equal
emphasis upon the cultivation of the female qualities, and that it was
not granted her to be taught moderation by the repulsive spectacle
of female extremism in later times! Moreover, in the introduction to
the first edition of the _Vindication_, she expresses her disgust of
"masculine women". And yet the type of a "masculine woman" in Mary's
days, with her "ardour in hunting, shooting and gaming", was not nearly
so objectionable as her modern sister.

It is, indeed, very difficult to find anything to praise in the
_Vindication_ when viewed as a literary effort. Mary Wollstonecraft
herself clearly did not regard it as such. The importance of the
object by which she was animated made her disdain to cull her phrases
or polish her style, wishing rather to persuade by the force of her
arguments than dazzle by the elegance of her language. Unfortunately
the former is not inconsiderably weakened by a deplorable tendency
to reiteration, and a general desultoriness and lack of system which
cannot fail to strike the reader. The "flowery diction" which she
professed herself anxious to avoid, but did not succeed in completely
banishing, is responsible for a great deal of the turgidity and false
rhetoric which disfigure certain passages.

Godwin, whose unemotional nature enabled him to judge of his wife's
work without prejudice and whose _Memoirs_ contain a most sincere and
therefore valuable criticism, although admiring the courage of her
convictions, the disinterestedness of her motives and the originality
of her contentions, finds fault with what he calls "the stern and
rugged nature" of certain passages which will probably impress the
modern reader as coarse and indelicate. Her great devotion to the cause
may account for the "amazonian" temper which fills some parts of her
book, more especially the "animadversions" on the opinions of those
of her opponents whose "backs demanded the scourge". Her disapproval
of Lord Chesterfield's moral standpoint has already been referred to.
Mary Wollstonecraft was not in the habit of mincing matters, and her
sincerity and consequent frankness brought her the ill-will of many.

The publication of the _Rights of Women_ at once brought Mary into
prominence. Unfortunately, the scare of a French invasion and the
trial of the reformers were most unfavourable to the spread of any
new ideas in England. From her sisters she had little sympathy, and
"poor Bess" rather spitefully alluded to information she had received
to the effect that "Mrs. Wollstonecraft was grown quite handsome" and
intended going to Paris. For this trip to France there were several
causes. In the first place she felt intensely interested in the march
of events there, which were hastening to a crisis, Louis XVI being a
prisoner in the hands of the Convention. The second motive--perhaps
the principal--was connected with her friendship for Mr. Fuseli, the
celebrated Swiss painter; but whether she hoped to make the trip in
company with the Fuselis and her friend Johnson, as Mr. Kegan Paul
supposes[49], or wanted to get away from the influence of the artist,
with whom Godwin informs us she was in love, is uncertain. The end was
that she went to Paris alone in December 1792, and boarded at the house
of Mme Filliettaz, a lady in whose school Eliza and Everina had been
teachers, but who was absent from home, so that Mary's French was put
to the severe test of conversation with the servants.

She now became a close spectator of the progress of that Revolution
which upon the whole had her sympathy. Yet it was with mingled feelings
that she saw the chariot pass her house in which the royal prisoner
was conveyed to his trial a few days after her arrival. The sight of
Louis going to meet death with more dignity than she expected from his
character, brought before her mind the picture of his ancestor Louis
XIV, entering his capital after a glorious victory, and pity, her
ruling passion, interceded for the poor victim who had to pay for the
crimes of his forefathers.

Economy prescribed her removal from the Filliettaz mansion to less
pretentious quarters at Neuilly, where she was left a great deal to
herself, save for an occasional visit to her English friends in Paris
Miss Williams and Mrs. Christie. It was at the latter's house that a
meeting took place which decided the next few years of her life.

Her days at Neuilly were thus spent in retirement. She had a devoted
old gardener to wait upon her and generally went out for a walk in
the evening, the hours of daylight being given up to the composition
of a new work, combining history with philosophy and inspired by the
stirring events to which she was such a close witness. Although not
published until some years after, "_An Historical and Moral View of
the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, and the Effect it
has produced in Europe_" was written in the first months of 1793 at
Neuilly. The Advertisement with which it opens declares the author's
intention of extending the work to two or three more volumes, a
considerable part of which, it informs us, had already been written;
but Godwin assures us that no part of the proposed continuation was
found among her papers after her death. The only existing volume both
in style and method shows a very decided advance upon the earlier
_Vindication_. Mary's narrative powers were even greater than her
capacity for philosophy, and her imagination had been fired by the
thrilling accounts she had received from her Parisian friends of the
march of events. The greater freedom and fluency of the style, the
greater cogency of the reasoning and the dignity of the narrative
render the volume very pleasant reading, the more so, as it shows great
moderation and impartiality as far as actual facts are concerned.
That the delineations of personal character are not always felicitous
may be due to the fact that the author obtained all her information
from witnesses who were not free from the prejudices which strong
party-feelings awaken. On the whole, however, Mary succeeded in placing
herself above her subject and in proving that time had taught her
to modify her extreme views and made her readier to grant certain
concessions. The book is a compromise between her former principles
of abstract philosophy and those of gradual evolution. Although
unwilling to abandon her original view that "Reason beaming on the
grand theatre of political changes, can prove the only sure guide to
direct us to a favourable or just conclusion", and that the erroneous
inferences of sensibility should be carefully guarded against, yet she
felt sufficient appreciation for her old enemy Burke's principle of
growth to admit that the Revolution was the natural consequence of
intellectual improvement, gradually proceeding to perfection.

Never before had her hopes been so sanguine. It seemed to her that
the time was at hand for the final overthrow of the tremendous empire
of superstition and hypocrisy. What, in comparison with the great
end in view, were the inevitable horrors of the Revolution, produced
by desperate and enraged factions? There is not a single page in
the history of man but is tarnished by some foul deed or bloody
transaction. That the vices of man in a savage state make him appear an
angel compared with the refined villain of artificial life finds its
cause in those unjust plans of government which exist in every part of
the globe. A simpler and more effective political system would be sure
to check those evils, and a faithful adherence to the new principles
will lead mankind towards happiness.

Her feelings for mankind, however strong, were not powerful enough
to interfere with the coolness of her judgment, and the light of her
reason which was so soon to be temporarily eclipsed by the conflict of
passions a thousand times more powerful because proceeding from within,
was never obscured by the contemplation of social evils, which could
not disturb her optimistic faith.

The history of the French Revolution is traced down to the king's
removal to Paris, where he was sent to stand for trial. It is, upon
the whole, a successful attempt at impartial narrative not only of
the course of events in Paris, but also of the causes which produced
them, the author indulging in a minute survey of the state of French
society and politics previous to and during the catastrophe. The
severity of the judgment she passes on the king and more especially on
Marie Antoinette has been commented upon. Here especially it should
be remembered that she had everything from hearsay. What she heard of
the character and actions of the queen struck her as characteristic
of the type of womanhood she had so violently attacked in the _Rights
of Women_. She saw in Marie Antoinette the product of education by a
priest, who had instilled into her all those vices which Mary held in
abhorrence. She was devoted to a life of pleasure, vain of her good
looks, but dead to intelligence and benevolence, using the fascination
of her cultivated smiles and artificial weakness to exercise the
tyranny of sex over a sensual, besotted husband, whose depravity she
completed; an artificial dissembler, regarding only decorum, without
any reference to moral character, making free with the nation's
money to support a worthless brother, and depraving the morals of
those around her; in short, Mary Wollstonecraft regarded her as the
Babylonian scarlet woman, a sort of "painted Jezebel." Her judgment is
diametrically opposed to that of Burke, who went into such raptures
over the beauty and dignity of the queen, and gave vent to such a burst
of indignation at her sad and ignominious fate that Thomas Paine saw
fit to remind him that "while pitying the plumage, he was forgetting
the dying bird."

The outer revolution which was to assert the rights of the species
was followed by an inner revolution in the individual which came to
constitute the tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft's life. The Father of
Nature, whom she thanked for having made her so intensely alive to
happiness, had also implanted in her breast an overwhelming capacity
for sorrow, and after a short taste of the former, the latter became
her portion to such an extent that life seemed to her unendurable.

The letter to Mr. Johnson referring to the king's trial was the last
news her friends in England received from her for eighteen months.
In February 1793 war broke out between England and France and Mary's
nationality made it advisable for her to keep close. Among her
new acquaintances was an American, Captain Gilbert Imlay, and the
tenderness which about this time she began to cherish for him, was no
doubt fostered by a sense of loneliness. Moreover, that affection for
Mr. Fuseli which she had so resolutely suppressed,--Fuseli was happily
married--left her more vulnerable than before to Cupid's arrows, in
addition to which Imlay was to her the representative of that nation
which embodied her ideals of liberty and virtue. She gave herself up
body and soul to the all-devouring passion of love, and Reason, seeing
another in full possession of the field, "with a sigh retired."

Mr. Imlay had served as a captain in the revolutionary army during
the War of Independence, and derived some slight literary fame
from the publication of a short monograph on the state of America,
entitled "_Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North
America_." He was, therefore, a man of some accomplishments, which
makes his subsequent behaviour to Mary all the more unpardonable.

At the time of Mary's first meeting him he appears to have been in
business--probably his line was timber--and the dealings of his
trade claimed a great deal of his time and nearly all his attention.
Circumstances putting marriage out of the question,--a wedding-ceremony
would have betrayed that nationality she was so anxious to conceal--she
consented to live with him as his wife by virtue of their mutual
affections. His correspondence shows that he regarded her as his
lawful wife, and as Mary fully expected the alliance to be of a
permanent nature, and believed him capable of that affection which
Reason causes to subside into friendship after the first flame of
passion is spent, she was acting in full accordance with the views she
had repeatedly expressed.[50]

The letters which she wrote him in the first stage of their growing
intimacy are full of exquisite tenderness. Her repeated "God bless
you", which Sterne says is equal to a kiss, shows the depth of her
feelings towards him. Seldom was a purer, more unselfish love wasted
upon a more unworthy recipient. Imlay was a "mere man", of a cheerful
disposition and to a certain extent good-natured, but easy-going,
self-indulgent, inconstant and incapable of appreciating a noble love
which he himself could not cherish. He evidently looked upon his
relation to Mary as the amusement of a day,--she lavished upon him
that which might have made a greater soul happy for life. She tried to
draw him up to her level and failed; her efforts to cure him of his
sordid love of money which so disgusted her only irritated him, and
made him anxious to cast off the bonds of a union of which he soon
began to tire. Their agreement had been entered upon in a different
spirit, and it was Mary who paid the full penalty of disillusionment. A
letter he wrote to Mrs. Bishop in November 1794, when the estrangement
had already begun, at a time when Mary was deeply conscious of the
fact that he neglected her for business and perhaps worse, in which he
states that he is "in but indifferent spirits occasioned by his long
absence from Mrs. Imlay and their little girl" shows that he cannot
even be acquitted from the charge of absolute hypocrisy.

Such was the individual whom Mary had appointed the sole keeper of her
possibilities of happiness. Love had come to her late in life, but when
it did, it took the shape of that complete surrender in which consists
woman's greatest bliss and which she had never thought possible. It
came as a revelation and brought experience in its train. Who shall
describe the anguish of her heart when after a short spell of ecstatic
bliss, the inevitable truth began to dawn upon her! Mary was not an
essentially sensual woman; almost from the first she looked for that
sympathy of the mind which was not forthcoming. She found him wanting,
and the recognition of this probably irritated him, and ultimately
made him transfer his easy-going affections to those who were less
exacting. He was far too matter-of-fact to sympathise with or even
understand her moments of tenderness, and too much occupied with his
business to be much of a companion to her. In the month of September,
after a few months together, he went to Hâvre. Then it was that Mary's
troubles began. In her letters she repeatedly protested against his
prolonged absences. She grew to hate commerce, which kept him away from
her. His promise "to make a power of money to indemnify her for his
absence", failed to produce any impression. Perhaps there was already
then the vague fear of a possible desertion haunting her. She was in
expectations, and the tenderness with which her letters refer to the
coming event would stamp a repetition of her hopes and fears as an
indelicacy. For the first time in her life, the champion of the rights
of women was happy in acknowledging the superiority of a man. "Let me
indulge the thought that I have thrown out some tendrils to cling to
the elm by which I wish to be supported." Well might she say that this
was talking a new language for her! The feelings, so long pent up and
cheated of their birthright by tyrannical Reason, were indeed asserting
themselves with a vengeance!

The undefined dread of coming disaster makes her letters more and
more insistent. Grief and indignation at Imlay's neglect struggle for
the mastery. At last he wrote to ask her to join him at Hâvre. The
irritation he had felt against her--which she humbly ascribed to the
querulous tone of her correspondence--had worn away and there was a
brief renewal of happiness when in the spring of 1794 a little girl
was born, to whom the name of Fanny was given in commemoration of the
friend of Mary's youth.

In the course of the following August Imlay went to Paris, where Mary
joined him in September, at the end of which month he proceeded to
London on business. The extensive trade he was carrying on with Sweden
and Norway at this time completely engrossed him. Mary's first letters
after this fresh separation were cheerful and pleasant, although she
was subject to occasional fits of depression. The conviction that Imlay
was about to forsake her does not appear to have taken root until the
closing month of the year. The days of the Terror were now over, and
people once more breathed freely. Mary made an heroic effort to let
the future take care of itself and to concentrate her attention upon
her little girl, who developed an early fondness for scarlet coats
and music, and on one occasion wore the red sash in honour of J. J.
Rousseau, her mother confessing that "she had always been half in love
with him."

Imlay's letters now became few and far between. His business-schemes
were unsuccessful, and Mary took the opportunity to point out to him
the absurdity of thus wasting life in preparing to live. The tone of
her correspondence betrays a growing indignation at his treatment
of her, which appeared in spite of herself and which repeated
protestations of unalterable affection could not hide. "I do not
consent to your taking any other journey," she writes, "or the little
woman and I will be off the Lord knows where." She wants none of his
cold kindness and distant civilities, but wishes to have him about her,
enjoying life and love. The picture of sweet domesticity, of parents
sharing the sacred duty of education, of pleasant evenings of homely
tenderness spent at the fireside, recurred to her mind with a sense
of aching regret. She would far sooner struggle with poverty than go
on living this unnatural life of separation. Too proud to be under
pecuniary obligations to a neglectful husband, she began to consider
the possibility of having to provide for herself and her child.

When at last he allowed her to join him in England, she no longer
cherished false hopes, but begged him to tell her frankly whether
he had ceased to care. But Imlay wanted her support for his
business-schemes. He asked her to go to Sweden and Norway for him to
attend to his interests and Mary consented with a heavy heart, hoping
that a complete change of surroundings might afford distraction, if not
amusement, for she was feeling utterly worn out and ill.

Imlay kept up the melancholy farce a few months longer. Mary wrote him
a series of long epistles from Scandinavia, into which, as a means
of keeping her mind concentrated upon other matters, she inserted
elaborate descriptions of the voyage, of the countries in which she was
travelling, and of their inhabitants.

Of these letters, the descriptive portions of which were published in
1796, Godwin speaks highly. Their perusal caused him to change his
opinion of the author of the _Rights of Women_. Their first, and so
far only, meeting--in November 1791--had not prepossessed him in her
favour. She seemed to him to monopolize the conversation, and prevented
him from listening to Tom Paine, who never was a great talker, and whom
she reduced to absolute silence. But he now learned to think highly of
her literary talent. The passages dealing with personal affairs had
of course been omitted, and afterwards found their way into Godwin's
_Posthumous Edition of the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft_, and also into
Mr. Kegan Paul's collection of _Letters to Imlay_. The tone of despair
has on the whole given way to one of resigned melancholy. In spite
of the sadness which prevailed in Mary's heart, the change was doing
her good, and her health was improving rapidly. Before her arrival at
Tonsberg in Sweden, she had felt very ill, a slow fever preyed on her
every night. One day she found "a fine rivulet filtered through the
rocks and confined in a basin for the cattle." The water was pure, and
she determined to turn her morning-walks towards it and seek for health
from the nymph of the fountain. She also wished to bathe, and there
being no convenience near, took to rowing as a pleasant and at the same
time useful exercise.

While thus the flush of health was returning to her cheeks, she found
it easier to arrive at a conclusion. She made up her mind that there
should be an end to all uncertainty. Imlay was put before a dilemma.
Either they must live together after her return, or part forever. Still
he kept flattering her with the hope that he might join her at Hamburg,
for a trip to Switzerland, the country of her dreams since the days of
Neuilly. But he did not keep his word, and when Mary landed at Dover in
October 1795, she realised that all was over and that Imlay had entered
into a new connection with an actress.

Then it was that Mary made up her mind to die. The harrowing details
of her fruitless attempt at suicide may be found in Godwin's _Memoirs_
and also in Mr. Kegan Paul's work. After her rescue she learnt to live
for her child's sake, and not to flinch from the sacred duties which
tied her to life. Imlay passed out of her sphere, and she parted with
him in peace. But the sufferings through which he had made her pass had
stamped themselves indelibly upon her heart.

The "_Letters written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and
Denmark_" met with a favourable reception. Being the narrative of
foreign travel, they mark a new departure in her literary career. She
held with Rousseau that travelling, as the completion of a liberal
education, ought to be adopted on rational grounds.[51] The writing
of a journal was to her a means of keeping the mind employed, and
preventing it from dwelling overmuch on painful recollections of
disappointed hopes. Her works of education and reform had been so
full of the militant spirit, and her correspondence with Imlay so
replete with the anguish of unrequited love, that she had not yet come
to recognise the soothing effect upon the mind of a close communion
with Nature. It is in the Scandinavian correspondence that the
Nature-element is first met with. The contemplation of the grand
coast-scenery gave her that peace and quiet for which her heart
yearned. It did not bring her forgetfulness of present troubles, but
it gave her the necessary strength to meet them without flinching.
In her little boat, surrounded by the glorious works of Nature,
she found herself for the first time capable of grappling with her
problem, which the sense of human insignificance reduced to its true
proportions. The nature of her worship stamps her as the true spiritual
child of Jean-Jacques. The writers of an earlier period had been
able to appreciate only what is congenial in nature. The forbidding
austerity of the snow-clad mountains of Switzerland had produced no
raptures in Goldsmith's breast, and Cowper's English landscape owed its
attractiveness to its suggestion of peaceful harmony. Rousseau had been
the first to love Nature also in her sterner moods and aspects; like
Wordsworth, "the sounding cataract haunted him like a passion", and
the _Nouvelle Héloise_ contains the faithful record of the impressions
produced upon him by the grandeur of the Valais mountains. Some of
Mary's nature-descriptions--notably those of the Trolhaettan Falls, and
of the rocky Norwegian coast--afford a parallel to these passages. She
was deeply impressed by the wonders of Nature she witnessed, and by the
exquisite loveliness of the short northern summer. "In the evening the
western gales which prevail during the day, die away, the aspen leaves
tremble into stillness, and reposing Nature seems to be warmed by the
moon, which here assumes a genial aspect; and if a light shower has
chanced to fall with the sun, the juniper, the underwood of forest,
exhales a wild perfume, mixed with a thousand nameless sweets, that,
soothing the heart, leave images in the memory which the imagination
will ever hold dear."

There is an anticipation of Wordsworth in the last line of the above
passage. Mary recognises in Nature "the nurse of sentiment", producing
melancholy as well as rapture, as it touches the different chords of
the human soul like the changing wind which agitates the aeolian harp.

Her worship of Nature, like that of Wordsworth, contains an element
of profound piety. When she wrote her letters from Sweden, Mary had
reached that stage in her religious life which is marked by a complete
silence as far as dogma is concerned. Yet this silence should not be
misconstrued into indifference. Her feelings on the subject were not of
the nature of a systematic creed, and therefore never took an external
organisation. They remained perfectly subjective in their vagueness,
like the natural religion of Rousseau with which they have so much
in common. Mary did not care to become an apostle of faith, to her
religion was rather a matter of the inner life, which wanted no outlet
into the world, but remained locked up in itself. She believed that her
rational powers enabled her to discover certain portions of Truth, but
that the mystery which veiled the presence of God could not be removed
by Reason, but remained a matter of the heart. There is no touch of
rationalism, or anything but pure sentiment, in the passage in which
she describes her return from Fredericshall in a perfect summer night.
"A vague pleasurable sentiment absorbed me, as I opened my bosom to the
embraces of Nature, and my soul rose to its author, with the chirping
of the solitary birds, which began to feel, rather than see, advancing

A great deal of attention is paid in the letters to the national
character of the inhabitants of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which
she holds to be the result chiefly of the climatic conditions. Never
had she seen the blessings of civilisation more clearly demonstrated
than by the utter lack of them among the Scandinavians. Especially in
Sweden, civilisation was at that time in its earliest infancy, and what
struck Mary from the first was the ignorance of the people. What she
saw of their manners and customs was not calculated to make her fall
in love with Rousseau's golden age of simplicity. They were full of
vices, and their very virtues had their origin in considerations of a
lower order. They were hospitable, but their hospitality, arising from
a total want of scientific pursuits, was merely the outcome of their
inordinate fondness of social pleasures, "in which, the mind not having
its proportion of exercise, the bottle must be pushed about."

Being ignorant of the advantages of the cultivation of the mind, they
were content to remain as they were: ignorant, sluggish and indifferent
to social progress. They moved in a narrow sphere, did not care for
politics, had no interest whatever in literature and no topics of
conversation, and were strangely incapable of appreciating the charms
of Nature. Mary's experience was chiefly gained in the small provincial
towns. They necessarily presented to her--so she thought--the worst
side of the picture. To her, the ideal condition was "to rub off in
a metropolis the rust of thought, and polish the taste which the
contemplation of Nature had rendered just." But no place seemed to her
so disagreeable and unimproving as a small country-town.

The refined amusements of a cultivated society being thus inaccessible
to the Swede, he will choose them of the coarsest kind. Meals occupy a
prominent place in the daily routine, and a good many hours are wasted
at table. A "visiting-day" means a severe strain upon the powers of
digestion, and to make matters worse, the brandy-bottle,--the bane of
the country--passes round freely.

What Mary saw of wedded life in Sweden did not give her a high opinion
of Swedish morals. The men were generally inconstant, and also the
women lacked chastity--the product of the mind. The statement that
in later life "the husband becomes a sot, whilst the wife spends her
time in scolding the servants", likewise finds its explanation in
the _Rights of Women_ as the natural result of vacancy of mind where
youthful beauty and animal spirits have gone the way of all flesh!

Neither has the treatment of servants Mary's sympathy. "They are not
termed slaves; yet a man may strike a man with impunity because he pays
him wages." But the lot of female servants is immeasurably harder.
Their having to eat a different kind of food from their masters strikes
Mary as a remnant of barbarism.

The general appearance of the women is not prepossessing. Too much
attention to the delights of a well-provided table makes them fat and
unwieldy and soon changes the natural pink of their complexions to a
sallow hue. They are uncleanly of their persons, and vanity is more
inherent in them than taste. Their ignorance is even more profound than
that of the males, and Mary once had the compliment paid her that "she
asked men's questions."

The peasantry of Sweden impressed her as more really polite and
obliging than the better-situated classes, whose cold politeness
consisted chiefly in tiresome ceremonies.

In Norway, however, the unmistakable signs of a coming dawn were
noticeable. A river forms the boundary between the two countries, and
yet, what a difference in the manners of the inhabitants of the two
sides! Instead of the sluggishness and poverty of the Swede, here
are industry and consequent prosperity. It is the patient labour of
men who are only seeking for a subsistence which affords leisure for
the cultivation of the arts and sciences that lift man so far above
his first state. The world requires the hand of man to perfect it,
and as this task naturally unfolds the faculties he exercises, it is
physically impossible that he should remain in Rousseau's golden age
of stupidity. And although the cultivation of science in Norway is as
yet in its earliest stages--the time for universities having not yet
come--yet a bright future is awaiting her.

Norway seemed to Mary Wollstonecraft the country of the greatest
individual freedom. The king of Denmark, it is true, was an absolute
monarch, but the state of imbecility to which illness had reduced him
placed the reins of government into the hands of his son the prince
royal and of his wise and moderate minister Count Bernstorff. Under
their almost patriarchal authority every man was left to enjoy an
almost unlimited amount of freedom. The law was mild, and the lot of
those it sentenced to hard labour not unnecessarily hard. She found
in Norway no accumulation of property such as existed in Sweden,
resulting in the abject poverty of the submerged tenth. Rich merchants
were made to divide their personal fortunes among their children;
and the distribution of all landed property into small farms,--one
of the ideals hesitatingly put forward by Mary in the _Rights of
Women_--produced a degree of equality which was found nowhere else in
Europe. The tenants occupied their farms for life, which made them
independent. There was every hope that drunkenness, the inherent vice
of generations, would before long disappear, giving place to gallantry
and refinement of manners; "but the change will not be suddenly

The Norwegians love their country, but they have not yet arrived at
that point where an enlarged understanding extends the love they
cherish for the land of their birth to the entire human race. They have
not much public spirit. However, the French Revolution meets with a
great deal of sympathy among the people of Norway, who follow with the
most lively interest the successes of the French arms. "So determined
were they," says Mary, "to excuse everything, disgracing the struggle
of freedom by admitting the tyrant's plea necessity, that I could
hardly persuade them that Robespierre was a monster."

Mary hoped that the French Revolution would have the effect of making
politics a subject of discussion among them, "enlarging the heart by
opening the understanding," and leading to the cultivation of that
public spirit the absence of which she regretted.

Although the women of Norway were not much more cultivated than their
Swedish sisters, regarding custom and opinion to such an extent that
Mary's educational advice was not listened to lest "the town might
talk", and on the plea that "they must do as other people did"--yet
they compared favourably with the latter in the matter of personal
appearance and cheerfulness of disposition. They had rosy complexions,
and were pronouncedly fond of dancing. They were very strict in the
performance of their religious duties; yet showed the greatest
toleration; nor was the Norwegian Sunday remarkable for that stupid
dulness which characterises the English Sabbath, the outcome of that
fanatical spirit which Mary feared was gaining ground in England.

The same lack of public spirit which Mary commented upon in her
description of the national character of the Norwegians, also struck
her when observing the manners and customs of the Danes in their
capital. There had been a huge fire, destroying a considerable portion
of the town, and held by some to be the work of Pitt. It was the
general opinion, that the conflagration might have been smothered in
the beginning by pulling down several houses before the flames had
reached them, to which, however, the inhabitants would not consent.
Mary found among the Danes a great many vices. The men led dissolute
lives, and utterly neglected their wives, who were reduced to the state
of mere house-slaves. Their only interest was love of gain, which, in
rendering them over-cautious, sapped their energy. A visit to a theatre
showed Mary the state of the dramatic art in Denmark and the gross
taste of the audience, and the fact that well-dressed women took their
children to witness the execution of a criminal as a favourite kind of
entertainment, filled her with unutterable disgust. "And to think that
these are the people," she exclaims, "who found fault with the late
Queen Matilda's education of her son!" Matilda, it appears, had carried
some of Rousseau's principles into effect, which, however, had found no
favour at the court.

The ignorance and coarse brutality which she found among the Danes
were instrumental in changing Mary's opinions of the French. The
Parisian festivals were rendered more interesting by the sobriety of
those who took part in them, a Danish merry-making, however, generally
degenerated into a drunken bacchanal. "I should have been less severe,"
she says, "in the remarks I have made on the vanity and depravity of
the French, had I travelled towards the north before I visited France."

The antipathy with which she had always regarded the dealings of
business was increased by the experience she gained during her stay in
Scandinavia. At Gotheburg and at Hamburg the contrast between opulence
and penury which the war had called forth filled her with indignation,
and at Laurvig, in Norway, the lawyers proved to be all great
chicaners. It seemed to her that traffic was necessarily allied with
cunning. The gulf which now yawned between her and Imlay was widened
by the circumstance that she was unable to feel anything but contempt
for what he had made his chief object in life. She was willing to admit
that England and America to a certain extent owed their liberty to
commerce, which created a new species of power to undermine the feudal
system. But let them beware of the consequence, the tyranny of wealth
is still more galling and debasing than that of rank!

Shortly after the final rupture with Imlay Mary renewed her
acquaintance with Godwin in the house of their mutual friend Miss
Hayes. She took a fancy to him, and in the following month of April
called upon him in Somers Town, having herself taken a lodging in
Pentonville. In Godwin's _Memoirs_ the description of their friendship,
"melting into love" may be found. A temporary separation in July 1796,
when Godwin made an excursion into Norfolk, had its effect on the mind
of both parties. As Godwin says, it "gave a space for the maturing of
inclination," and both realised that each had become indispensable to
the other.

They did not at once marry. Godwin, in his _Political Justice_, had
declared himself against marriage, which compels both parties to go
on cherishing a relation long after both have discovered their fatal
mistake. Moreover, marriage is a contract for life, and binding to
both parties; and no rational being can undertake to promise that
his opinions will undergo no change in the future. Mary's ideas of
marriage we have seen to be different, nor did she change her mind
under Godwin's influence. But she had been much and rudely spoken of in
connection with Imlay, and she could not resolve to do anything that
might revive that painful topic, and therefore agreed to keep their
relations a secret from the world.

Mary's pregnancy, however, became their motive for complying with
a ceremony to which Godwin in a letter to Mr. Wedgwood, refers as
follows: "Nothing but a regard for the happiness of the individual,
which I had no right to injure, could have induced me to submit to an
institution which I wish to see abolished, and which I would recommend
to my fellowmen never to practise but with the greatest caution." The
marriage took place at Old St. Pancras Church on March 29th, 1797, but
was not declared till the beginning of April. Godwin records with some
bitterness that certain of his friends, among whom were Mrs. Inchbald
and Mrs. Siddons, from this moment treated him with coldness.

In accordance with Godwin's ideas of cohabitation he engaged an
apartment about twenty doors from their house in Somers Town, where
he pursued his literary occupations and sometimes remained for days
together. The notes which passed between the two lovers in their five
months of married life show that upon the whole they were very happy,
although they had one or two slight differences. Their most serious
trouble in those days were the constant financial embarrassments. In
June Godwin went on a long excursion with his friend Montagu, and the
letters of both husband and wife are full of the most affectionate
solicitude. The time of Mary's confinement was now rapidly approaching,
but her health was quite good, and she concentrated a good deal of
energy upon a novel which she had begun in the first period of her
intimacy with Godwin. It engrossed her mind for months, and she wrote
and rewrote several chapters of it with the most elaborate care. When
she died, the work, to which she gave the name of "_Maria, or the
Wrongs of Woman_", was unfinished, in spite of which circumstance
Godwin decided to include the fragment in his edition of her posthumous

A long and circumstantial account of Mary's last days is given in
Mr. Kegan Paul's "_William Godwin; His Friends and Contemporaries_."
Suffice it to say, that she gave birth to a daughter Mary on the 30th
of August, 1797, and in spite of the constant attendance of some of the
best doctors in London, died eleven days later.

In the year following her death, Godwin published his _Memoirs_. They
are an admirable piece of writing; yet they did not produce the effect
he hoped for: that of making the principles and motives by which she
was actuated in life better understood and more generally appreciated.
The disfavour with which his personality was regarded in many circles
on account of his radicalism rendered him all unfit for the task.
Fortunately, later generations have done justice to the impartiality of
his judgments. We, at least, realise what the unstinted praise of a man
of Godwin's sincerity means, although to us her character and actions
require no vindication.

Perhaps without being aware of it himself, Godwin paid his deceased
wife the greatest compliment in his power when insisting on the
astonishing degree of soundness which pervaded her sentiments, enabling
her to supplement her husband's deficiencies. Both he and Mary carried
farther than to their common extent the characteristics of the sexes
to which they belonged. Godwin, while stimulated by the love of
intellectual distinction, was painfully aware of his lack of what he
calls "an intuitive sense of the pleasures of the imagination." Women,
he says, who are more delicate and susceptible of impression than men,
in proportion as they receive a less intellectual education, are more
unreservedly under the empire of feeling."

If this estimate of women is correct, it proves the superiority of Mary
Wollstonecraft over the other members of her sex. For the fact that
her great natural gifts, joined to her boundless energy enabled her to
attain an intellectual level far beyond the reach of others, did not in
any sense detract from the warmth of her heart and the intensity of her
feelings, by which she proved herself above all a tender, loving woman,
thoroughly capable of constituting the happiness of a husband who was
himself a leader of men.

When two years after Mary's death Godwin published "_St. Leon_," he
gave in his idealised description of the married life of St. Leon and
Margaret what he felt to be a faithful account of their short spell of
matrimonial happiness. Well might he say of his Margaret that the story
of her life is the best record of her virtues.

It has been the aim of the present study to prove Mary Wollstonecraft
the spiritual child and heir to the French philosophers of her own
and of the preceding century--to a Poullain de la Barre, a Fénelon, a
Mme de Lambert, a d'Holbach, who ventured to propose a scheme for the
improvement of the deplorable conditions of an erring and suffering
womanhood. More extreme in her views, and more determined in her claims
than her Bluestocking sisters, she stands out the one great apostle of
female emancipation among the revolutionary leaders who held out the
hope of lasting social improvement to all mankind. That she aimed too
high and failed to find that recognition among her contemporaries to
which her spirit of ready sacrifice entitled her, lends her a certain
tragic dignity which adds materially to the interest felt by posterity
in her striking personality.

And yet her work certainly was not done in vain, although it was left
to a later generation to build the huge structure of modern feminism
on the ruins of a hope which, together with even more comprehensive
ideals, had been blasted by the rude winds of Reaction. This structure
the present generation beholds with feelings which are not wholly
unmixed, for it is as yet full of imperfections, and much remains to be
done. But those who feel doubtful of the final issue, may turn to Mary
Wollstonecraft, to borrow from her that unshakable faith in evolution
and progress which to her became a kind of religion which never forsook


[36] C. Kegan Paul, _William Godwin, His Friends and Contemporaries_.

[37] See Letter from Mary to Everina, dated from Dublin, March 24th.
1788, with which compare the following severe judgment by Hannah More
in her _Strictures_: "It is worthy of remark that 'Depart from me, I
never knew you', is not the malediction denounced on the sceptic or
the scoffer, but on the high professor, on the unfruitful worker of
"miracles", on the unsanctified utterer of "prophecies", for even acts
of piety, wanting the purifying principle, however they may dazzle men,
offend God. Cain sacrificed, Balaam prophesied, Rousseau most sublimely
panegyrised the son of Mary...." Those who lacked true humility did not
fall within the range of Hannah More's compassion.

[38] E. Dowden, _The French Revolution and English Literature_.

[39] W. Godwin, _Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights
of Women_.

[40] "A slavish bondage to parents cramps every faculty of the mind."
(_A Vindication_, Chapter on _Duty to Parents_).

[41] The creation of congenial surroundings, and the bringing about
of circumstances which involuntarily lead the pupil to draw certain
illuminating inferences, is recommended also in _Emile_, where the
preceptor relies largely upon them. There seems nothing to be said
against them, unless it were that the pupil might sooner or later
discover that he was "being sold", which might be attended with awkward

[42] The position of servants very naturally called for discussion in
the great liberty scheme. The treatment of female servants never failed
to interest Mary. Many years later, Godwin treated the subject in an

[43] Mr. Falkland, the "high-spirited and highly cultured" gentleman of
the dramatis personae, utilises all the advantages of his superior rank
to crush his enemy Caleb and finds the law upon his side.

[44] See H. W. Brailsford, _Shelley, Godwin and their Circle_.

[45] This rule, which also applies to property, and may be traced to
the _Contrat Social_, strikes the keynote of what was the common view
of the social reformers. Mary's scheme of enfranchisement advocates the
admission of women to the different professions to ensure their social

[46] See Morley's _Rousseau_.

[47] See Lilly Bascho, _Englische Schriftstellerinnen in ihre
Beziehungen zur französischen Revolution_. (_Anglia 41)._

[48] Curiously enough, Hannah More,--who refers to the education of
the children as "the great object to which those who are, or may be
mothers, are especially called"--unwittingly copies Mary Wollstonecraft
where she says: "In the great day of general account, may every
Christian mother be enabled, through Divine grace, to say, with humble
confidence, to her Maker and Redeemer, Behold the children whom thou
hast given me!"

[49] C. Kegan Paul, Memoir to the "_Letters to Imlay_".

[50] "We are soon to meet, to try whether we have mind enough to keep
our hearts warm". (_Letter to Imlay_, August 1793).

[51] When Emile's education is almost completed, he is sent abroad for
the final touch. In this way he obtains full command of the principal
languages of Europe.


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     1. There never was a more fervent champion of marriage and
     domesticity than Mary Wollstonecraft, who twice lived with a man
     to whom she was not married.

     2. The Bluestocking assemblies differed in their essential
     qualities from the French salons both of the seventeenth and of
     the eighteenth century.

     3. British influence was a potent factor in the intellectual
     revolt which preceded the French Revolution.

     4. Those who, like St. Marc Girardin and Lord John Morley, observe
     that in the fifth Book of Rousseau's "_Emile_" we are confronted
     with the oriental conception of women, do its author an injustice.

     5. The views expressed in Paine's "_Rights of Man_" regarding the
     attitude of Burke towards democracy are open to criticism.

     6. Mr. R. H. Case's interpretation of the text of Shakespeare's
     "_The Tragedy of Coriolanus_", Act I, Scene IX, l. 45:

          When steel grows soft as the parasite's silk,
          Let him be made an overture for the wars!

     is quite plausible.

     7. The popularity of Tennyson's poetry is largely due to
     circumstances which are independent of his greater poetic

     8. There is a strong element of romance in Richardson's so-called
     "realistic" novels.

     9. Behoudens het geven van eene beknopte historische inleiding is
     het niet wenschelijk het onderwijs in de Engelsche letterkunde
     aan onze middelbare scholen en gymnasia uit te strekken tot die
     perioden welke vallen vóór Shakespeare.

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