« AnteriorContinuar »
it is supposed that some were permitted to acquire a knowledge of figures, and perhaps still more to employ themselves in music. But though among the Phenicians and Babylonians some attention was paid to female improvement, and it is said that the kings of the Medes and Persians were educated and instructed by women; yet it is lamentable to learn, that in Greece, whence have flowed to after times such copious streams of literary knowledge, their condition was little above that of the most abject slavery, and they were wholly denied the invaluable benefits of education.
It reflects discredit also on the codes of those ancient lawgivers, Solon and Lycurgus, that the precepts of the one established a mode of instruction for females, calculated to destroy the delicacy of their character, and to substitute a masculine boldness and effrontery in its place, while those of the other were wholly silent on this interesting subject. Of the ancient nations, Rome certainly shines forth most resplendent in the homage of the rougher to the milder sex, and the honourable estimation in which it held the latter. · That the education of females formed an important object of attention there, is well ascertained, and the names and characters of many bright examples of female talents, fortitude, and virtue, as handed down to us by history, evince its good effects.
What shall we say of latter times?
In the romantic days of chivalry, great as was the devotion of each valorous knight, to the protection and defence of his favoured fair, or warm and generous as was his attachment to the sex at large, little can be said of the exertions made in those times for the enlargement of their understandings, or the cultivation of their minds.
In many, also, of the more modern nations, where much of luxury and refinement has prevailed, female education has been either so greatly neglected, conducted on such injudicious and mistaken plans, or directed to such improper ends, as to sink the female character much below that station to which it is every where justly entitled. If now and then a female understanding, rising above every impediment, and disdaining every shackle, has shone forth like a bright corruscation amid surrounding darkness, it has afforded, to astonished observers, a mingled sensation of pleasure and regret; pleasure in perceiving those occasional victories of mind, and regret that the instances are rendered so rare, by the depression to which, error of opinion, and the force of bad habits have subjected it.
The result of these observations is, that a state of cultivated society is most propitious to the intellectual improvement and happiness of the female sex, but that with all the advantages of such a state, it has not generally occurred, that mankind have duly appreciated the advanta-, ges of female education, or been sufficiently sedulous in forming plans for their literary advancement.
It is due to the last century to acknowledge, that while almost every species of science and learning have undergone great and rapid improvements, the subject of education generally, and more particularly that department of it now under consideration, has occupied much reflection, and received great elucidation, both of a theoretical and practical kind.
In our own country, the incalculable value of education, viewed either as the promoter of happiness in its possessor, or as a mean of enabling him to contribute to the happiness of others, is by the enlighted part of the community correctly estimated.
Seminaries of learning, superintended by men of superior talents, and conducted under regulations liberal and wise are continually rising among us.
Blessed by the beneficent dispenser of all our benefits with an abundance of natural advantages, and favoured with an exemption from many of the evils of the transatlantic world, we have learnt also to prize the means h is providence has presented us for the culture of intellect; and we should also render him a partial return for his goodness, by an adaptation of our acquirements to all the useful purposes of life.
The degrading opinion, that the female mind is either unworthy or incapable of literary ornament, or that its acquisition is incompatible with the relative duties of women, has been nearly exploded. It is considered an ungenerous sentiment, that would ascribe to them an inferiority in natural genius, or an incapacity for the reception of learning; a nd instead of the illiberal recommendation of household cares, as alone deserving their attention, it has been discovered that it is easy for them to reconcile the acquirement and enjoyment of the benefits of a good education with the faithful discharge of every female duty.
It is a gratifying circumstance, that since the zeal for encouraging literature has ceased to seek its objects in our sex only, many illustrious examples have been added to those recorded in ancient history, of ladies who have been the delight of every circle where polite learning was the theme of conversation, as they have been examples of every domestic virtue in their own families.
In this metropolis ample means of instruction for the youth of both sexes are provided. Useful learning accommodated to the capacities of individuals, and regulated in its kind and extent by the situation and prospects of pupils, is now equally offered to the acceptance of all; and although the short-sighted policy, or false economy of some parents may lead them to reject the boon, and the indolence and frivolity of some children may defeat the kind endeavours of their friends to pro
mote their advancement in learning, yet we have great reason to congratulate ourselves that so much has already been done, and to indulge in agreeable anticipations of what may yet be effected.
While, however, indulging such feelings, while exulting in the emancipation of the female mind from the fetters of prejudice, and the bondage of ignorance, let it be forever recollected, that as a polite and well-informed woman is the most welcome companion of the intelligent of our sex, a female pedant is in all respects the reverse.
The modesty and amiableness of her character should ever be considered by a well-bred woman, as ornaments of too valuable a description to give place to the affectation and conceit of scholastic attainments, and it should be her constant study to avoid an ostentatious display of the decorations of her mind, as a correct taste would direct her to do in those of her person. It must, indeed, be confessed, that in our days there is less danger than formerly of the occurrence of this evil.
The beneficial alterations that have taken place in the species of learning prosecuted in seminaries of female education, have had the effect of uniting the useful and agreeable.
While the pupil is directed to such branches of study as are calculated not wholly to engross the mind, but to allow her to prepare for the duties in life to which she may be destined; while she is presented with sach as may never mar the delicacy of her sentiments, or the softness of her demeanor, but will embellish any situation in society she may be called to occupy; we need have little dread of female pedantry.
Possibly, in a disposition, as a general scheme, not to encourage our amiable friends to attempt the highest flights of scientific attainment, not to involve themselves in laborious efforts to become acquainted with the dead languages, or familiar with all the subtleties of an abstract
philosophy, we may err on the contrary extreme. . We may not sufficiently inculcate the necessity of adhering to what
is really useful, and by carelessness in this respect may suffer our young ladies to acquire a fondness for reading of too light and trivial a kind. This is a fault, into which, of all others, the undirected youthful mind is most apt to fall.
On one description of books it feeds, if permitted, with a ruinous avidity. I mean the trash, under the names of novels and romances, which false taste, weak intellects, or depraved dispositions have thrown in such numbers on the world. Instead of the evil of pedantry, these are calculated to seduce the unsettled minds of young persons into the adoption of erroneous and immoral principles, to beget frivolity of disposition, and a dislike of more solid and profitable reading, to encourage false views of life, and frequently to terminate in a disastrous course of conduct.
I know that this may be considered a hackneyed topic of censure and declamation, but I hope to obtain some credit for venturing on it, even from my young friends, when I assure them that I by no means intend to proclaim a general denunciation of works of fiction. Some works of this description do equal honour to the heads and hearts of their authors, and may unhesitatingly be read with profit and delight.
While entertaining the imagination of the female reader, they may increase her knowledge, correct her taste, and regulate her morals. Others, without impurity of sentiment, or vulgarity of diction, may excite innocent mirth and gayety, and may occasionally afford a seasonable relief from the toils of study or of business.
But the number of novels entitled to encomium of any kind is comparatively so small, that it would be infinitely better for a young lady never to open one, than to seize them with that total neglect of discrimination, which, it is to be feared, too often obtains.
The injurious effects of this neglect would be more apparent, were it not that the rapidity used in running through the endless variety of insipid nonsense, unnatural incident, corrupt sentiment, and beggarly style, of the duodecimos daily emitted from our circulating libraries, prevents the memory of the reader from retaining their baneful contents.
Permit me, my young friends, without attempting a cynical exclusion of novels from your parlour windows, earnestly to recommend to you to consult your better informed parents and friends in the choice, and peruse only such as will neither destroy your relish for more solid reading, nor suffuse your cheek by the indelicacy of their pages.
You will find a sufficient fund of amusement in a very limited selection, and if a deficiency ever occur, and the moment should not be propitious to studies of a higher order, entertainment of an unexceptionable nature will be open to you in the productions of the best of our English poets, with which every young lady should be proud to be familiar.
Before I dismiss this subject, let me add, that if parents, instead of permitting a premature and unrestrained intercourse with novels, and thus assisting the formation of an early attachment to trifling reading in their children, were to place before them works of real merit, and with kindness persuade them to undertake their perusal, great evil, the mere result of their unpardonable inattention, would be avoided, wild and romantic notions in juvenile minds would be repressed, and that disrelish for serious study, so unhappily prevalent, would, in a great degree, subside. VOL. I.
Young persons would be less liable to be seduced into views of itfe so dissimilar from their actual prospects, and become better qualified for the discharge of their allotted duties in the world.
Those works of fiction composed with a view to promote the cause of morality, and to add to the stock of useful polite literature, instead of being confounded, as they now are, with the trifling ephemera that disgrace the shelves of every circulating library, would be more highly appreciated, and without requiring a neglect of the necessary emplorments of the female station, the duties of religion, or studies of a severer nature, would furnish a perpetual fund of pleasure and amusement, producing profit to the mind and polish to the manners.
I have alluded to the poets, and I would repeat my recommendation of them, but not unaccompanied by a qualification, leading to the exercise of great care in selecting the chastest and the best ; for the novelists with whose hasty and idle effusions our presses teem, have met with ample competition for literary notice, in the hosts of male and female versifiers, who have fancied themselves inspired by the muses, when in fact only inspired by vanity and mistaken notions of their ta. lents. Such were the ditty writers described in the Dunciad.
" Each cygnet sweet, of Bath and Tunbridge race
While a Milton, a Shakspeare, a Pope, a Cowper, a Hayley, of the one sex; a Carter, a Seward, a More, a Smith, of the other; and a numerous list of poets of the first class, can at any time be resorted to, that taste indeed must have become vitiated that can relish the puerile and weak attempts of the poetasters of the day.
I will not undertake to decide whether it be true or not, according to the Latin adage, that genuine poets are born poets; but that more failures are consequent upon the imbecile presumption of many in this than in almost any other walk of polite literature, will not I apprehend be denied ; and certain it is that a considerable extent of knowledge, and talents of no ordinary kind in the exercise of prose composition, have been in many instances wholly insufficient to elevate its possessor to the rank of poet. To young ladies, whose genius is not evidently of a poetical cast, let me offer the advice and opinion of a late writer.
“ I would not wish you to cultivate poetry further than to possess a relish for its beauties. Verses, if not excellent, are execrable. The mu