Charles Brockden Brown, “The Rights of Women” (Weekly Magazine, Mar-Apr 1798)

Source: Charles Brockden Brown Electronic Archive and Scholarly Edition

The Weekly Magazine…, March 1798, vol 1, issue 7.

 image pending 198

For the Weekly Magazine.


a dialogue.

I CALLED, last evening on Mrs.
Carter. I had no previous ac-
quaintance with her. Her brother is
a man of letters, who, nevertheless,
finds little leisure from the engage-
ments of a toilsome profession. He
scarcely spends an evening at home,
yet takes care to invite, specially and
generally to his house, every one who
enjoys the reputation of learning and

His sister became, on the death of
her husband, his housekeeper. She
was always at home. The guests who
came in search of the man, finding
him abroad, lingered a little as polite-
ness enjoined, but soon found some-
thing in the features and accents of
the lady, that induced them to pro-
long their stay, for their own sakes:
Nay, without any well defined ex-
pectation of meeting their inviter,
they felt themselves disposed to repeat
their visit.

We must suppose the conversation
of the lady not destitute of attractions;
but an additional, and perhaps the
strongest inducement, was the society

of other visitants. The house became,
at length, a sort of rendezvous of
persons of different ages and condi-
tions, but respectable for talents or
virtues. A commodious apartment,
and excellent tea, were added to the
pleasures of instructive society: No
wonder that Mrs. Carter’s circle be-
came the favourite resort of the liberal
and ingenious.

These things did not necessarily
imply any uncommon merit in the
lady. Skill in the superintendence of
a tea-table, affability and modesty,
promptness to enquire, and docility to
listen, were all that were absolutely
requisite in the mistress of the cere-
monies. Her apartment was nothing
perhaps but a lyceum, open at stated
hours, and to particular persons, who
enjoyed, gratis, the benefits of rational
discourse and agreeable repasts. Some
one was required to serve the guests,
direct the menials, and maintain, with
suitable vigilance, the empire of clean-
liness and order. This office might
not be servile, merely because it was
voluntary. The influence of an un-
bribed inclination might constitute the
whole difference between her and a
waiter at an inn, or the porter of a

Books are too often insipid. In
reading, the senses are inert and slug-
gish, or they are solicited by foreign
objects. To spur up the flagging at-
tention, or check the rapidity of its
flights, and wildness of its excursions,
are often found to be impracticable.
It is only on extraordinary occasions
that this faculty is at once sober and
vigorous, active and obedient. The
revolutions of our minds may be
watched and noted, but can seldom
be explained to the satisfaction of the
inquisitive. All that the caprice of
nature has left us is to profit by the
casual presence of that which can, by
no spell, be summoned or detained.

I hate a lecturer. I find little or
no benefit in listening to a man who
does not occasionally call upon me
for my opinion, and allow me to can-
vass every step in his argument. I

 image pending 199

cannot, with any satisfaction, survey
a column, however costly its materials,
and classical its ornaments, when I
am convinced that its foundation is
sand which the next tide will wash
away. I equally dislike formal debate,
where each man, however few his
ideas, is subjected to the necessity of
drawing them out to the length of a
speech. A single proof, or question,
or hint, may be all that the state of
the controversy or the reflections of
the speaker suggests; but this must be
amplified and iterated, till the sense,
perhaps, is lost or enfeebled, that he
may not fall below the dignity of an
orator. Conversation, careless and
unfettered; that is sometimes abrupt
and sententious; sometimes airy,
fugitive, and brilliant; and sometimes
copious and declamatory, is a scene,
for which, without being much ac-
customed to it, I entertain great af-
fection. It blends, more happily than
any other method of instruction, utility
and pleasure. No wonder I was de-
sirous of knowing, long before the
opportunity was afforded me, how far
these valuable purposes were accom-
plished by the frequenters of Mrs.
Carter’s lyceum.

In the morning I had met the doctor
at the bed-side of a sick friend, who
had strength enough to introduce us
to each other. At parting I received
a special invitation for the evening,
and a general one to be in force at all
other times.

At five o’clock I shut up my little
school, and changed an alley in the
city, dark, dirty, and narrow, as all
alleys are, for the fresh air and smooth
footing of the fields. I had not for-
gotten the doctor and his lyceum.

Shall I go (said I to myself) or shall
I not. “No,” said the pride of po-
verty and the bashfulness of inexpe-
perience. I looked at my unpowdered
locks, my worsted stockings, and my
pewter buckles. I bethought me of
my embarrassed air and my uncouth
gait. I pondered on the supercilious-
ness of wealth and talents, the awful-
ness of flowing muslin, the mighty task

of hitting on a right movement at
entrance, and a right posture in sitting,
and on the perplexing mysteries of
tea-table decorum; but, though con-
fused and panick-struck, I was not

I had some leisure, particularly in
the evening. Could it be employed
more agreeably or usefully? To read,
to write, to meditate, to watch a de-
clining moon, and the varying firma-
ment, with the emotions of poetry or
piety; with the optics of Dr. Young,
or of De la Lande, were delightful
occupations, and all at my command.
Eight hours of the twenty-four were
consumed in repeating the names and
scrawling the forms of the alphabet,
or in engraving, on infantile memories,
that twice three make six. The rest
was employed in supplying an ex-
hausted, rather than craving stomach,
in sleep that never knew, nor desired to
know, the luxury of down and the
pomp of tissue, in unravelling the
mazes of Dr. Waring, or in ampli-
fying the seducing suppositions of “If
I were a king,” or, “If I were a lover.”

Few indeed are as happy as Edwin.
What is requisite to perfect my felicity
but the blessings of health—which is
incompatible with periodical head-
aches, and the visits of rheumatism; —
of peace—which cannot maintain its
post against the hum of a school, the
discord of cart-wheels, and the rheto-
ric of a notable landlady; of compe-
tence—my trade preserves me from
starving and nakedness, but not from
the discomforts of scarcity, or the
disgrace of shabbiness. Money to
give me leisure, and exercise to give
me health: these are all that my lot
denies: in all other respects I am the
happiest of mortals. The pleasures of
society, indeed, I seldom taste: that
is, I have few opportunities of actual
intercourse with that part of mankind
whose ideas extend beyond the oc-
currences of the neighbourhood, or
the arrangement of their household.
Not but that, when I want company,
it is always at hand. My solitude is
populous whenever my fancy thinks

 image pending 200

proper to people it, and, with the
very beings that best suit my taste.
These beings are, perhaps, on account
of my slender experience, too uniform
and somewhat grotesque. Like some
other dealers in fiction, I find it easier
to give new names to my visionary
friends, and vary their condition, than
to introduce a genuine diversity into
their characters. No one can work
without materials. My stock is slen-
der. There are times when I feel a
moment’s regret that I do not enjoy
the means of enlarging it.

But this detail, it must be owned,
is a little beside the purpose. I merely
intended to have repeated my conver-
sation with Mrs. Carter, but have
wandered, unawares, into a disserta-
tion on my own character. I shall now
return, and mention that I cut short
my evening excursion, speeded home-
ward, and, after japanning anew my
shoes, brushing my hat, and equipping
my body in its best gear, proceeded
to the doctor’s house.

(To be continued.)

The Weekly Magazine…, March 1798, vol 1, issue 8

 image pending 231

For the Weekly Magazine.


a dialogue.

[Continued from page 200.]

I SHALL not stop to describe the
company, or to dwell on those
embarrassments and awkwardnesses
always incident to an unpolished
wight like me. Suffice it to say, that
I was, in a few minutes, respectfully
withdrawn into a corner, and, fortu-
nately, a near neighbour of the lady.
To her, after much deliberation and
forethought, I addressed myself thus:
“Pray, Madam, are you a fœde-

The theme of discourse was poli-
tical. The present condition of our
country had furnished ample materials
of discussion. This was my hint. The
question, no doubt, was strange, espe-
cially as addressed to a lady; but I
could not, by all my study, light upon
a better mode of beginning discourse.
She did not immediately answer. I

I see my question produces a smile
and a pause.

True, said she, a smile may well be
produced by its novelty, and a pause
by its difficulty.

Is it so hard to say what your
creed is on this subject? Judging
from the slight observation of this
evening, I should imagine that, to

you, the theme was far from being

She answered, that she had been
often called upon to listen to discus-
sions of this sort, but did not recollect
when her opinion had been asked.

Will you favour me, said I, with
your opinion notwithstanding?

Surely, she replied, you are in jest.
What! ask a woman, shallow and
inexperienced, as all women are known
to be, especially with regard to these
topics, her opinion on any political
question! What in the name of de-
cency have we to do with politics?
If you enquire the price of this rib-
band, or at what shop I purchased
that set of China, I may answer you;
though I am not sure that you would
be the wiser for my answer. These
things, you know, belong to the wo-
man’s province. We are surrounded
by men and politicians. You must
observe that they consider themselves
in an element congenial to their sex
and station. The daringness of female
curiosity is well known; yet it is
seldom so adventurous as to attempt
to penetrate into the mysteries of go-

It must be owned, said I, there is
sufficient reason for their forbearance.
Most men have trades, but every wo-
man has a trade. They are univer-
sally trained to the use of the needle
and the government of a family. No
wonder that they should be most
willing to handle topics that are con-
nected with their daily employment,
and the arts in which they are profi-
cients. Merchants may be expected
to dwell with most zeal on the prices
of the day, and those numerous inci-
dents, domestic and foreign, by which
commerce is affected. Lawyers may
quote the clauses of a law, or the
articles of a treaty, without forget-
ting their profession, or travelling, as
they phrase it, out of the record.
Physicians will be most attached to
livid carcases and sick-beds. Women
are most eloquent on a fan or a tea-
cup; on the furniture of a nursery,
or the qualifications of a chamber-

 image pending 232

maid. How should it be otherwise?
In so doing, the merchant, the laywer,
the physician, and the matron may all
equally be said to stick to their lasts.
Doubtless every one’s last requires
much of his attention. The only
fault lies in sometimes allowing it
wholly to engross his faculties, and
often in overlooking considerations
that are of the utmost importance to
him, even as the member of a pro-

Well, said the lady, now you talk
reasonably. Your inference is, that
women occupy their proper sphere,
when they confine themselves to the
tea-table and their work-bag; but this
sphere, whatever you may think, is
narrow. They are obliged to wander,
at times, in search of variety. Most
commonly they digress into scandal,
and this has been their eternal re-
proach; with how much reason, per-
haps you can tell me.—

Most unjustly, as it seems to be.
Women profit by their opportunities.
They are trained to a particular art.
Their minds are, of course, chiefly
occupied by images and associations
drawn from this art. If this be
blameable, it is not more so in them
than in others. It is a circumstance
that universally takes place. It is by
no means clear that a change in this
respect is either possible or desirable.
The arts of women are far from con-
temptible, whether we consider the
skill that is required by them, or,
which is a better criterion, their use-
fulness in society. They are more
honourable than many professions
allotted to the men. But though we
may strive, we can never wholly ex-
tinguish in women the best principle
of human nature, curiosity. We
cannot shut them out from all com-
merce with the world. We may
nearly withold from them all know-
ledge of the past, because that is
chiefly contained in books, and it is
possible to interdict them from read-
ing, or, to speak more accurately,
withold from them those incitements
to study, which no human being

brings into the world with him, but
must owe to external and favourable
occurrences. But they must be, in
some degree, witnesses of what is
passing. Theirs is a limited sphere,
in which they are accurate observers.
They see and hear somewhat of the
actions and characters of those around
them. These are, of course, remem-
bered, become the topics of reflection,
and, when opportunity offers, they
delight to produce and compare them.
All this is perfectly natural and rea-
sonable. I cannot for my life discover
in it any cause of censure.

Very well, indeed! cried the lady,
I am glad to meet with so zealous
an advocate. I am ready enough to
adopt a plausible apology for the pe-
culiarities of women. And yet it is
a new doctrine that would justify
triflers and slanderers. According to
this system, it would be absurd to
blame those who are perpetually pry-
ing into other people’s affairs, and
industriously blazoning every disad-
vantageous or suspicious tale.

My dear Madam you mistake me.
Artists may want skill: Historians
may be partial. Far be it from me
to applaud the malignant or the stupid.
Ignorance and envy are no favourites
of mine, whether they have, or have
not a chin to be shaved; but nothing
would be more grossly absurd than to
suppose these defects to be peculiar
to female artists, or the historians of
the tea-table. When these defects
appear in the most flagrant degree,
they are generally capable of an easy
apology. If the sexes had in reality
separate interests, and it were not
absurd to set more value on qualifica-
tions on account of their belonging to
one of our own sex, it is the women
who may justly triumph. Together
with power and property, the men
have likewise asserted their superior
claim to vice and folly.

If I understand you rightly, said
the lady, you are of opinion that the
sexes are essentially equal.

It appears to me, answered I,
that human beings are moulded by the

 image pending 233

circumstances in which they are
placed. In this they are all alike.
The differences that flow from the
sexual distinction are as nothing in
the balance.

And yet women are often reminded
that none of their sex are to be found
among the formers of states, and the
instructors of mankind: that Pytha-
goras, Lycurgus, and Socrates, New-
ton and Locke, were not women.

True: Nor were they mountain
savages, nor helots. You might as
well expect a Laplander to write
Greek spontaneously, and without
instruction, as that any one should be
wise or skilful, without suitable op-
portunities. I presume one has a
better chance of becoming an astro-
nomer by gazing at the stars through
a telescope, than in eternally plying
the needle or snapping the scissars.
To settle a bill of fare, to lard a pig,
to compose a pudding, to carve a
goose, are tasks that do not, in any
remarkable degree, tend to instil the
love, or facilitate the acquisition of
literature and science. Nay, I do not
form prodigious expectations even of
one who reads a novel or comedy
once a month, or chants once a day
to her harpsichord the hunter’s stupid
invocation to Phœbus or Cynthia.
Women are generally superficial and
ignorant, because they are generally
cooks and sempstresses. Men are the
slaves of habit. It is doubtful whe-
ther the career of the species will
ever terminate in knowledge. Certain
it is, it began in ignorance. Habit
has given permanence to errors, which
ignorance had previously rendered
universal. They are prompt to con-
found things which are really distinct,
and to persevere in a path to which
they have been accustomed. Hence
it is, that certain employments have
been exclusively assigned to women,
and that their sex is supposed to dis-
qualify them for any other. Women
are defective: They are seldom or
never metaphysicians, chymists, or
law-givers. Why? Because they are
sempstresses and cooks: This is un-

avoidable: Such is the unalterable
constitution of human nature. They
cannot read who never saw an alpha-
bet. They who know no tool but
the needle, cannot be skilful at the

Yes, said the lady, of all forms of
injustice, that is the most egregious
which makes the circumstance of sex
a reason for excluding one half of
mankind from all those paths which
lead to usefulness and honour.

Without doubt, returned I, there
is abundance of injustice in this sen-
tence; yet it is possible to misappre-
hend and overrate the injury that
flows from the established order of
things. If a certain part of every
community must be condemned to
servile and mechanical professions, it
matters not of which sex it may con-
sist. If the benefits of leisure and
science be, of necessity, the inheri-
tance of a few, why should we be
anxious to which sex the preference
is given? The evil lies in so much of
human capacity being thus fettered
and perverted. This allotment is
sad. Perhaps it is unnecessary. Per-
haps that precept of justice is prac-
ticable which requires that each man
should take his share of the labour,
and enjoy his portion of the rest; that
the tasks now assigned to a few,
ought to be divided among the whole,
and what now degenerates into cease-
less and brutalizing toil, might, by an
equitable distribution, be changed into
agreeable and useful exercise. Per-
haps this inequality is incurable. In
either case it is to be lamented, and,
as far as possible, mitigated. Now
the question, of which sex either of
these classes may be composed, is of
no importance. Though we must
admit the claims of the female sex to
an equality with the other, we cannot
allow them to be superior. The state
of the ignorant, servile, and laborious
is entitled to compassion and relief,
not because they are women, nor be-
cause they are men, but simply be-
cause they are rational. Among
savage nations the women are slaves.

 image pending 234

They till the ground, and cook the
victuals. Such is the condition of
half of the community. Deplorable,
without doubt! but it would be nei-
ther more nor less so, if the bearers
of burthens were only males, or if the
sexes were equally distributed through
each class.

But the burthen is unequal, said
Mrs. Carter, since the strength of
females is less.

What matters it, returned I, whe-
ther my strength be much or little,
if I am tasked to the utmost of it,
and no more, and no task can be beyond.

But nature, said the lady, has sub-
jected us to peculiar infirmities and
hardships. In consideration of what
we suffer as mothers and nurses, I
think we ought to be exempted from
the same proportion of labour.

It is hard, said I, to determine
what is the amount of your pains as
mothers and nurses. Have not ease
and luxury a tendency to increase
that amount? Is not the sustenance
of infant offspring, in every view, a
privilege? Of all changes in their
condition, that which should transfer
to men the task of nurturing the in-
nocence and helplessness of infancy
would, I should imagine, be to mo-
thers the least acceptable.

I do not complain of this province.
It is not, however, exempt from dan-
ger and trouble. It makes a large
demand upon our time and attention.
Ought not this to be considered in the
distribution of tasks and duties?

Certainly. I was afraid you would
imagine that too much regard had
been paid to it. That the circle of
female pursuits had been too much
contracted on this account.

I, indeed, rejoined the lady, think
it by far too much contracted. But
I cannot give the authors of our in-
stitutions credit for any such motives.
On the contrary, I think we have the
highest reason to complain of our
exclusion from many professions which
might afford us, in common with the
men, the means of subsistence and


How far, dear Madam, is your
complaint well grounded? What is
it that excludes you from the various
occupations in use among us? Cannot
a female be a trader? I know of no
law or custom that forbids it. You
may, at any time, draw a subsistence
from wages, if your station in life, or
your education, have rendered you
sufficiently robust. No one will deride
you, or punish you, for attempting to
hew wood or bring water. If we
rarely see you driving a team, or
beating the anvil, is it not a favour-
able circumstance? In every family
there are various duties. Certainly
the most toilsome and rugged do not
fall to the lot of women. If your
employments be, for the most part,
sedentary and recluse, to be exempted
from an intemperate exertion of the
muscles, or to be estranged from scenes
of vulgar concourse, might be deemed
a privilege. The last of these advan-
tages, however, is not yours. For
do not we buy most of our meat,
herbs, and fruit of women? In the
distribution of employments, the chief
or only difference perhaps is, that
those which require most strength or
a more unremitted exertion of it,
belong to the males. And yet there
is nothing obligatory or inviolable in
this arrangement. In the country
the maid that milks, and the man
that ploughs, if discontented with their
present office, may make an exchange,
without breach of law, or offence to
decorum. If you possess stock, by
which to purchase the labour of
others, and stock may accumulate in
your hands as well as in ours, there
is no species of manufacture in which
you are forbidden to employ it.

But are we not, cried the lady,
excluded from the liberal professions?

Why that may admit of a question.
You have free access, for example, to
the accompting house. It would be
somewhat ludicrous, I own, to see
you at the exchange, or superintend-
ing the delivery of a cargo: Yet this
would attract our notice merely be-
cause it is singular, not because it is

 image pending 235

disgraceful or criminal. But if the
singularity be a sufficient objection,
we know that these offices are not
necessary. The profession of a mer-
chant may be pursued with success
and dignity, without being a constant
visitant of the quay or the coffee-
house. In the trading cities of Eu-
rope, there are bankers and merchants
of your sex, to whom is attached that
consideration to which they are en-
titled by their skill, their integrity, or
their opulence.

But what apology can you make
for our exclusion from the class of

To a certain extent the exclusion
is imaginary. My grandmother was
a tolerable physician. She had much
personal experience, and her skill was,
I assure you, in much request among
her neighbours. It is true, she forbore
to tamper with diseases of an uncom-
mon or complicated nature. Her
experience was almost wholly per-
sonal. But that was accidental: She
might have added, if she had chosen,
the experience of others to her own.

But the law—

True: We are not accustomed to
see female pleaders at the bar. I
never wish to see them there. But
the law, as a science, is open to their
curiosity or their benevolence. It
may be even practised by you as a
source of gain, without obliging you
to frequent and public exhibitions.

Well, said the lady, let us dismiss
the lawyer and physician, and turn
our eye to the pulpit. That, at least,
is a sanctuary which women must not

It is only, replied I, in some sects
that divinity, the business of explain-
ing to men their religious duty, ex-
clusively belongs to our sex. In such,
custom, or law, or the canons of their
faith have confined the pulpit to men:
Perhaps this distinction, wherever it
is found, is an article of their religious
creed, and, consequently, is no topic
of complaint, since the propriety of
this exclusion must be admitted by
every member of the sect, whether

male or female. There is, indeed,
but one sect which admits females
into the class of preachers. But there
is no religious society in which women
are debarred from the privileges of
superior sanctity. The Christian reli-
gion has done much to level the dis-
tinctions of property, and rank, and
sex. Perhaps, in reviewing the history
of mankind, we shall find the autho-
rity derived from a real or pretended
intercourse with Heaven, pretty
equally divided between them. And
after all, what do these restrictions
amount to? If some pursuits are
monopolized by men, from others
they are excluded. If it appears that
your occupations have least of toil,
are most friendly to purity of man-
ners, to delicacy of sensation, to intel-
lectual improvement, and activity, or
to public usefulness; if it should
appear that your skill is in such de-
mand as always to afford you employ-
ment, when you stand in need of it:
that, though few in number, you are
so generally and constantly useful,as
always to furnish you subsistence, or,
at least, to expose you by their vicis-
situdes to the pressure of want, as
rarely as is incident to men; you
cannot reasonably complain; and, in
my opinion, all this is true.

Perhaps not, replied the lady: Yet
I must own your statement is plausi-
ble. I shall not take much pains to
confute it.

(To be continued.)

The Weekly Magazine…, March 1798, vol 1, issue 9

 image pending 271

For the Weekly Magazine.


a dialogue.

[Continued from page 235.]

IT is evident, continued my compa-
nion, that for some reason or other,
the liberal professions, those which re-
quire most vigour of mind, greatest ex-
tent of knowledge, and most commerce
with books and with enlightened so-
ciety, are occupied only by men. If
contrary instances occur, they are
rare, and must be considered as ex-

Admitting these facts, said I, I
do not see reason for drawing morti-
fying inferences from them. For my
part, I entertain but little respect for
what are called the liberal professions;
and, indeed, but little for any pro-
fession whatever. If their motive be
gain, and that it is which constitutes
them a profession, they seem to be,
all of them, nearly on a level, in point
of dignity. The consideration of
usefulness is of more value. He that
roots out a national vice, or checks
the ravages of a pestilence, is, no
doubt, a respectable personage; but
it is no man’s trade to perform these
services. How does a mercenary
lawyer, or physician, differ from a
dishonest chimney-sweep? The worst
that can be dreaded from a chimney-
sweep, is the spoiling of our dinner,
or a little temporary alarm; but what
injuries may we not dread from the
abuses of law or medicine? Honesty,
you will say, is the best policy.
Whatever it be, it is not the way to
wealth. To the purposes of a pro-
fession, as such, it is not subservient.
Degrees, and examinations, and li-
cences, may qualify us for the trade,
but benevolence needs not their aid
to refine its skill, or augment its
activity. Some portion of their time
and their efforts must be employed by
those who need, in obtaining the means
of subsistence. The less toilsome,
boisterous, and servile, that task is
which necessity enjoins; the less ten-

dency it has to harden our hearts, to
benumb our intellects, to undermine
our health. The more leisure it af-
fords us to gratify our curiosity and
cultivate our moral discernment, the
better. Here is a criterion for the
choice of a profession, and one which
obliges us to consider the condition of
women as preferable.

I cannot perceive it. But it mat-
ters nothing what field may offer, if
our education does not qualify us to
range over it. What think you of
female education? Mine has been
frivolous. I can make a pye and cut
out a gown. To this only I am in-
debted to my teachers. If I have
added any thing to these valuable
attainments, it is through my own
efforts, and not by the assistance or
encouragement of others.

And ought it not to be so? What
can render men wise but their own
efforts? Does curiosity derive no en-
couragement from the possession of the
power and materials? You are taught
to read and to write. Quills, paper,
and books, are at hand; instruments
and machines are forthcoming to those
who can purchase them. If you be
insensible to the pleasures and benefits
of knowledge, and are therefore igno-
rant and trifling, truly, it is not for
want of assistance and encouragement.

I shall find no difficulty, said the
lady, to admit that this system is not
such as to condemn all women, with-
out exception, to stupidity. As it is,
we have only to lament that a sen-
tence so unjust, is executed on by far
the greater number. But you forget
how seldom those who are most for-
tunately situated, are permitted to
cater for themselves. Their conduct
in this case, as in all others, is subject
to the control of others, who are
guided by established prejudices, and
are careful to remember that we are
women. They think a being of this
sex is to be instructed in a manner
different from those of the other.
Schools, and colleges, and public in-
structors, are provided in all the ab-
struse sciences and learned languages;

 image pending 272

but whatever may be their advantages,
are not women totally excluded from

It would be prudent, said I, in the
first place, to ascertain the amount of
those advantages, before we indulge
ourselves in lamenting their loss.
Let us consider whether a public edu-
cation be not unfavourable to moral
and intellectual improvement; or, at
least, whether it be preferable to the
domestic method? Whether most
knowledge be obtained by listening
to professors, or by reading books?
Whether the abstruse sciences be best
studied in a closet or a college?
Whether the ancient tongues be worth
learning? Whether, since languages
are of no use but as avenues to know-
ledge, our native tongue, especially
in its present state of refinement, be
not the best. Before we lament the
exclusion of women from colleges, all
these points must be settled; unless
this be precluded by reflecting that
places of public education, which are
colleges in every respect but the name,
are, perhaps, as numerous for females
as for males.

They differ, said the lady, from
colleges in this, that a very different
plan of instruction is followed. I
know of no female school where Latin
is taught, or geometry, or chymistry.

Yet, madam, there are female geo-
metricians, and chymists, and scholars,
not a few. Were I desirous that my
son or daughter should become either
of these, I should not deem the assist-
ance of a college indispensable. Sup-
pose an anatomist should open his
school to pupils of both sexes, and so-
licit equally their attendance, would
you comply with the invitation?

No: Because that pursuit has no
attractions for me. But if I had a
friend whose curiosity was directed to
it, why should I dissuade her from

Perhaps, said I, you are but little
acquainted with the real circumstances
of such a scene. If your disdain of
prejudices should prompt you to ad-
venture one visit, I question whether

you would find any inclination to
repeat it.

Perhaps not, said she; but that
mode of instruction in all the experi-
mental sciences is not, perhaps, the
best. A numerous company can de-
rive little benefit from a dissection in
their presence. A closer and more
deliberate inspection than the circum-
stances of a large company will allow,
seems requisite. But the assembly
need not be a mixed one. Objections
on the score of delicacy, though they
are more specious than sound, and owe
their force more to our weakness than
our wisdom, would be removed by
making the whole company, professor
and pupils, female. But this would
be obviating an imaginary evil at the
price of a real one. Nothing has
been more injurious than this separa-
tion of the sexes. They associate in
childhood without restraint, but the
period quickly arrives when they are
obliged to take different paths. Ideas,
maxims, and pursuits, wholly opposite,
engross their attention. Different
systems of morality, different lan-
guages, or, at least, the same words
with a different set of meanings, are
adapted. All intercourse between
them is fettered and embarrassed. On
one side, all is reserve and artifice;
on the other, adulation and affected
humility. The same end must be
compassed by opposite means. The
man must affect a disproportionable
ardour; while the woman must coun-
terfeit indifference or aversion: Her
tongue has no office, but to belie the
sentiments of her heart, and the dic-
tates of her understanding.

By marriage she loses all right to
separate property. The will of her
husband is the criterion of all her
duties. All merit is comprised in
unlimited obedience. She must not
expostulate or repel. In all contests
with him, she must hope to prevail by
blandishments and tears; not by ap-
peals to justice, and addresses to reason.
She will be most applauded when she
smiles with most perseverance on her
oppressor; and when, with the undi-

 image pending 273

stinguishing attachment of a dog, no
caprice or cruelty shall be able to
estrange her affection.

Surely, madam, this picture is ex-
aggerated. You derive it from some
other source than your own experi-
ence, or even your own observation.

No. I believe the picture to be
generally exact. No doubt there are
exceptions: I believe myself to be
one. I think myself exempted from
the grosser defects of women, but by
no means free from the influence of
a mistaken education. But why should
you think the picture exaggerated?
Man is the strongest. This is the
reason why, in the earliest stage of
society, the females are slaves. The
tendency of rational improvement is
to equalize conditions: to abolish all
distinctions but those that are founded
on truth and reason: to limit the
reign of brute force and incontrolable
accidents. Women have unquestion-
ably benefited by the progress that has
hitherto taken place. If I look abroad
I may see reason to congratulate my-
self on being born in this age and
country. Women that are no where
totally exempt from servitude; no
where admitted to their true rank in
society, may yet be subject to differ-
ent degrees or kinds of servitude.
Perhaps there is no country in the
world where the yoke is lighter than
here; but this persuasion, though in
one view it may afford us consolation,
ought not to blind us to our true con-
dition, or weaken our efforts to re-
move the evils that still oppress us.
It is manifest that we are hardly and
unjustly treated. The natives of the
most distant regions do not less resem-
ble each other, than the male and fe-
male of the same tribe, in consequence
of the different discipline to which
they are subject. Now this is palpa-
bly absurd. Men and women are
partakers of the same nature. They
are rational beings, and, as such, the
same principles of truth and equity
must be applicable to both.

To this I replied, certainly madam;
but it is obvious to enquire to which

of the sexes the distinction is most
favourable. In some respects different
paths are allotted to them, but I am
apt to suspect that of the woman to
be strewed with fewest thorns; to be
beset with fewest asperities; and to
lead, if not absolutely in conformity
to truth and equity, yet with fewest
deviations from them. There are
evils incident to your condition as
women. As human beings we all lie
under considerable disadvantages; but
it is of an unequal lot that you com-
plain. The institutions of society have
injuriously and capriciously distin-
guished you. True it is, laws, which
have commonly been male births,
have treated you unjustly, but they
have distinguished you by irrational
and undeserved indulgencies: They
have exempted you from a thousand
toils and cares: Their tenderness has
secluded you from tumult and noise:
Your persons are sacred from profane
violence; your eyes from ghastly
spectacles; your ears from a thousand
discords by which ours are incessantly
invaded: Yours are the most peaceful
recesses of the mansion: Your hours
glide along in sportive chat, in harm-
less recreation, or voluptuous indo-
lence; or in labours so light as scarcely
to be termed encroachments on the
reign of contemplation: Your indus-
try delights in the graceful and mi-
nute; it enlarges the empire of the
senses, and improves the flexibility
of the fibres. The art of the needle,
by the lustre of its hues and the deli-
cacy of its touches, is able to mimic
all the forms of nature and pourtray
all the images of fancy; and it prepares
the hand for doing wonders on the
harp, for conjuring up the “piano”
to melt, and the “forte” to astound us.

This, cried the lady, is a very par-
tial description: It can apply only to
the opulent, and but to few of them.
Meanwhile how shall we estimate the
hardships of the lower class. You have
only pronounced a panegyric on indo-
lence and luxury. Eminent virtue
and true happiness is not to be found
in this element.

 image pending 274

True, returned I, I have only at-
tempted to justify the male sex from
the charge of cruelty. Ease and lux-
ury are pernicious: Kings and nobles,
the rich and the idle, enjoy no ge-
nuine content. Their lot is hard
enough; but still it is better than
brutal ignorance and unintermitted
toil; than nakedness and hunger.
There must be one condition of so-
ciety that approaches nearer than any
other to the standard of rectitude and
happiness. For this, it is our duty
to search; and, having found it, en-
deavour to reduce every other con-
dition to this desirable mean. It is
useful, meanwhile, to ascertain the
relative importance of different con-
ditions; and, since deplorable evils
are annexed to every state, to discover
in what respects, and in what degree,
one is more or less eligible than an-
other. Half of the community are
females: let the whole community
be divided into classes; and let us
enquire whether the wives, and daugh-
ters, and single women of each class,
be not placed in a more favourable
situation than the husbands, sons, and
single men of the same class. Our
answer will surely be in the affirmative.

There is, said the lady, but one
important question relative to this
subject: Are women as high in the
scale of social felicity and usefulness
as they may, and ought to be?

To this, said I, there can be but
one answer: No; at present they are
only higher on that scale than the
men. You will observe, Madam, I
speak only of that state of society
which we enjoy. If you had ex-
cluded sex from the question, I must
have made the same answer. Human
beings, it is to be hoped, are destined
to a better condition on this stage, or
some other, than is now allotted them.

(To be continued.)

The Weekly Magazine…, March 1798, vol 1, issue 10

 image pending 299

For the Weekly Magazine.


a dialogue.

[Continued from Page 274.]

part ii .

THIS remark was succeeded by a
pause on both sides. The lady
seemed more inclined to listen than
talk. At length I ventured to resume
the conversation.

Pray, madam, permit me to return
from this impertinent digression, and
repeat my question. Are you a feder-

And let me, she replied, repeat my
answer. What have I, as a woman,
to do with politics? Even the govern-
ment of our own country, which is
said to be the freest in the world,
passes over women as if they were
not. We are excluded from all
political rights without the least cere-
mony. Law-makers thought as little
of comprehending us in their code of
liberty as if we were pigs or sheep.
That females are exceptions to their
general maxims perhaps never occur-
ed to them. If it did, the idea was
quietly discarded, without leaving be-
hind it the slightest consciousness of
inconsistency, or injustice. If to up-
hold and defend, as far as a woman’s
little power extends, the constitution
against violence, if to prefer a scheme
of union and confederacy, to war and
dissention, entitle me to that name,
I may justly be stiled a federalist;
but if that title be incompatible with
a belief that, in many particulars,
this constitution is unjust and absurd.
I certainly cannot pretend to it: But
how should it be otherwise? While
I am conscious of being an intelligent
and moral being; while I see myself
denied, in so many cases, the exercise
of my own discretion, incapable of
separate property; subject, in all
periods of my life to the will of
another, on whose bounty I am made
to depend for food, raiment and
shelter: When I see myself, in my
relation to society, regarded merely

as a beast or an insect, passed over, in
the distribution of public duties, as
absolutely nothing, by those who
disdain to assign the least apology for
their injustice—What, though politi-
cians say I am nothing, it is impossi-
ble I should assent to their opinion,
so long as I am conscious of willing
and moving. If they generously ad-
mit me into the class of existences,
but affirm that I exist for no purpose
but the convenience of the more dig-
nified sex, that I cannot be entrusted
with the government of myself:
that to foresee, to deliberate, and de-
cide belongs to others, while all my
duties resolve themselves, into this
precept, “Listen and obey;” it is
not for me to smile at their tyranny,
or receive as my Gospel, a code built
upon such atrocious maxims. No,
I am no federalist.

You are, at least, said I, a severe
and uncommon censor. You assign
most extraordinary reasons for your
political heresy. You have many
companions in your aversion to the
government, but, I suspect, are wholly
singular in your motives. There are
few even among your own sex, who
reason in this manner.

Very probably. Thoughtless and
servile creatures! but that is not
wonderful. All despotism subsists by
virtue of the errors and supineness of
its slaves. If their discernment were
clear, their persons would be free.
Brute strength has no part in the
government of multitudes. They are
bound in the fetters of opinion.

The Lady then proceeded to de-
claim against the prevailing modifica-
tions of society, chiefly as they affect
the condition of woman. She main-
tained with great warmth the justice
of admitting the female part of the
community to elect and to be elec-

In answer to her invectives, I ob-
served, that, if women be excluded
from political functions, yet, it is
sufficient that in the exercise of these
functions their happiness is amply

 image pending 300

Say what you will, cried the lady,
I shall ever consider it as a gross abuse
that we are hindered from sharing
with you, in the power of choosing
our rulers and of making those laws
to which we, equally with yourselves,
are subject.

We claim the power, rejoined,
I. This cannot be denied, but I must
maintain that, as long as it is
equitably exercised, no alteration is
desirable. Shall the young, the poor,
the blacks, the stranger, and the
females be-admitted indiscriminately
to political privileges? Shall we an-
nex no condition to a voter but that
he be a thing in human shape, not
lunatic, and capable of loco-motion?
And no qualifications to a candidate
but the choice of a majority? Would
any benefit result from the change?
Will it augment the likelihood that
the choice will fall upon the wisest?
Will it endow the framers and inter-
preters of law with more sagacity
and moderation than they at present

Perhaps not, said she. I plead
only for my own sex. Want of
property, youth, and servile condition
may possibly be well founded objec-
tions: but mere sex is a circumstance
so purely physical; has so little es-
sential influence, beyond what has
flowed from the caprice of civil insti-
tutions on the qualities of mind or
person, that I cannot think of it
without impatience. If the laws
should exclude from all political func-
tions every one who had a mole on
his right cheek or whose stature did
not exceed five feet six inches, who
would not condemn without scruple
so unjust an institution? Yet, in
truth, the injustice would be less
than in the case of women. The
distinction is no less futile, but the
injury is far greater, since it annihi-
lates the political existence of at
least one half of the community.

But you appeared to grant, said I,
that want of property and the servile
condition are allowable disqualifica-
tions. Now, may not marriage be

said to take away both the liberty
and property of women? At least,
does it not bereave them of that in-
dependent judgment which it is just
to demand from a voter?

Not universally the property,
answered she. So far as it has the
effect you mention, was there ever
any absurdity more palpable, any in-
justice more flagrant? But you well
know that there are cases in which
women, by marriage, do not relinquish
their property. All women, however,
are not wives and wards. Granting
that such are disqualified, what shall
we say of those who are indisputably
single, affluent, and independent?
Against these, no objection, in the
slightest degree plausible, can be
urged. It would be strange folly to
suppose women of this class to be
necessarily destitute of those qualities
which the station of a citizen requires.
We have only to examine the pre-
tentions of those who already occupy
public stations. Most of them seem
not to have attained heights inacces-
sible to ordinary understandings; and
yet the delegation of a woman, how-
ever opulent, and enlightened, would,
probably, be a more insupportable
shock to the prejudices that prevail
among us, than the apointment of a
youth of fifteen, or a beggar, or a

If this innovation be just, said I,
the period for making it has not ar-
rived. You, madam, are singular.
Women, in general, do not reason in
this manner. They are contented
with the post assigned them. If the
rights of a citizen were extended to
them they would not employ them.
Stay till they desire it.

If they were wise, returned the
lady, they would desire it; mean-
while it is an act of odious injustice
to withhold it. This privilege is
their due. By what means have you
discovered that they would not exer-
cise it, if it were granted? You can-
not imagine but that some would step
forth and occupy this station, when
the obstruction was removed.

 image pending 301

I know little of women, said I.
I have seldom approached, but less
have I enjoyed their intimate society.
Yet, as a specimen of the prejudice
you spoke of, I must own I should
be, not a little, surprised, to hear of
a woman proffering her services as
president or senator. It would be hard
to restrain a smile, to see her rise in
a popular assembly to discuss some
weighty topic. I should gaze as at
a prodigy, and listen with a doubting
heart. Yet I might not refuse devo-
tion to the same woman in the cha-
racter of household deity. As a mo-
ther pressing a charming babe to her
bosom; as my companion in the paths
of love, or poetry, or science; as par-
taker with me in content and an ele-
gant sufficiency, her dignity would
shine forth in full splendour. Here
all would be decency and grace.
But, as a national ruler; as busied in
political intrigues and cares; as in-
intrenched in the paper mounds of a
secretary; as burthened with the
gravity of a judge; as bearing the
standard in battle; or even as a
champion in senatorial warfare, it
would be difficult to behold her with-
out regret and disapprobation: These
emotions I should not pretend to
justify; but such, and so difficult to
vanquish is prejudice.

Prejudices countenanced by an ex-
perience so specious and universal,
cannot be suddenly subdued. I will
tell you, however, my genuine and
deliberate opinion on this subject. I
have said that the equality of the
sexes was all that could be admitted—
That the superiority we deny to men,
can with as little justice be ascribed
to women. But this, in the strictest
sense, is not true. On the contrary it
must be allowed that women are su-

We cannot fail to distinguish be-
between the qualities of mind and
those of person. Whatever be the
relation between the thinking princi-
ple and the limbs and organs of the
body, it is manifest that they are dis-
tinct; insomuch that when we pass

judgment on the qualities of the
former, the latter is not necessarily
taken into view or included in it.
So when we discourse on our exterior
and sensible qualities, we are sup-
posed to exclude from our present
consideration, the endowments of the
mind. This distinction is loose but
sufficiently accurate for my purpose.

Have we not abundant reason to
conclude that the principle of thought
is, in both sexes, the same: that it
is subject to like influences, that like
motives and situations produce like
effects? We are not concerned to
know which of the sexes has occu-
pied the foremost place on the stage
of human life. They would not be
beings of the same nature in whom
different causes produced like effects.
It is sufficient that we can trace di-
versity in the effects, to a corres-
ponding diversity in the circumstan-
ces: that women are such as obser-
vation exhibits them, in consequence
of those laws which belong to a ra-
tional being, and which are common
to both sexes. But such, beyond all
doubt, must be the result of our en-
quiries. In this respect then the
sexes are equal.

But what opinion must be formed
of their exterior or personal quali-
ties? Are not the members and or-
gans of the female body as aptly suit-
ed to their purposes as those of the
male? The same, indeed, may be
asserted of a mouse or a grass-hopper:
but are not these purposes as wise
and dignified; nay, are they not pre-
cisely the same? Considering the
female frame as the subject of im-
pressions and the organ of intelligence,
it appears to deserve the preference.
What shall we say of the acuteness
and variety of your sensations, of the
smoothness, flexibility, and compass
of your voice?

Beauty is a mere doubtful quality.
Few men will scruple to resign the
superiority in this respect to women.
The truth of this decision may be,
perhaps, physically demonstrated. Or,
perhaps all our reasonings are vitia-

 image pending 302

ted by this circumstance, that the
reasoner and his auditors are males.
We all know in what the sexual dis-
tinction consists, and what is the
final cause of this distinction. It is
easier to conceive than describe that
species of attraction which sex an-
nexes to the person. It would be falla-
cious perhaps to infer female superi-
ority in an absolute and general sense,
from the devotion which, in certain
cases, we are prone to pay them;
which it is impossible to feel for one
of our own sex; and which is mu-
tually felt: yet methinks, the infer-
ence is inevitable. When I reflect on
the equality of mind, and attend to
the feelings which are roused in my bo-
som by the presence of accomplished
and lovely women; by the mere graces
of their exterior, even when the ma-
gic of their voice sleeps, and the elo-
quence of eyes is mute, I am irre-
sistibly induced to believe that of the
two sexes, yours is, on the whole, the

It is difficult, I know, to reason
dispassionately on this subject. Wit-
ness the universal persuasion of man-
kind that in grace, symmetry, and me-
lody, the preference is due to women.
Yet beside that, opinion is no criterion
of truth but to him that harbours it;
when I call upon all human kind as
witnesses, it is only one half of them,
the individuals of one sex, that obey
my call.

It may at first appear that men
have generally ascribed intellectual
pre-eminence to themselves. Nothing,
however, can be inferred from this.
It is doubtful whether they judge
rightly on the question of what is, or
is not intrinsically excellent. Not
seldom they have placed their superi-
ority in that, which rightly under-
stood, should have been pregnant with
ignominy and humiliation. Should
women themselves be found to con-
cur in the belief that the other sex
surpasses them in intelligence, it will
avail but little. We must still re-
member that opinion is evidence of
nothing but its own existence. This

opinion, indeed, is peculiarly obnox-
ious. They merely repeat what they
have been taught, and their teach-
ers have been men. The prevalence
of this opinion, if it do not evince
the incurable defects of female ca-
pacity, may at least be cited to prove
in how mournful a degree that capa-
city has been neglected or perverted.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email