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FEMALE EDUCATION. (E. Review, 1810.)
Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind. By
MR. BROADHURST is a very good sort of a man, who has not written a very bad book upon a very important subject. His object (a very laudable one) is to recommend a better system of female education than at present prevails in this country — to turn the attention of women from the trifling pursuits to which they are now condemned — and to cultivate faculties which, under the actual system of management, might almost as well not exist. To the examination of his ideas upon these points, we shall very cheerfully give up a portion of our time * and attention. A great deal has been said of the original difference of capacity between men and women; as if women were more quick, and men more judicious—as if women were more remarkable for delicacy of association, and men for stronger powers of attention. All this, we confess, appears to us very fanciful. That there is a difference in the understandings of the men and the women we every day meet with, every body, we suppose, must perceive; but there is none surely which may not be accounted for by the difference of circumstances in which they have been placed, without referring to any conjectural difference of original conformation of mind. As long as boys and girls run about in the dirt, and trundle hoops ." together, they are both precisely # #;" one half of those creatures, and train them to a particular set of actions and opinions, and the other half to a perfectly opposite set, of course their understandings will differ, as one or the other sort of occupations has called this or that talent into action. There is surely no occasion to go into any deeper or more abstruse reason.
ing, in order to explain so very simple a phenomenon. Taking it, then, for granted, that nature has been as bountiful of understanding to one sex as the other, it is incumbent on us to consider what are the principal objections commonly made against the communication of a greater share of knowledge to women than commonly falls to their lot at present: for though it may be doubted
whether women should learn all that men learn, the im
mense disparity which now exists between their knowledge we should hardly think could admit of any rational defence. It is not easy to imagine that there can be any just cause why a woman of forty should be more ignorant than a boy of twelve years of age. If there be any good at all in female ignorance, this (to use a very colloquial phrase) is surely too much of a good thing. Something in this question must depend, no doubt, upon the leisure which either sex enjoys for the cultivation of their understandings: — and we cannot help
thinking, that women have fully as , if not more, idle time upon their hands than men's Women are excluded from all the serious business of the WOTIT; men are lawyers, physicians, clergymen, apothecaries, and jus. tices of the peace — sources of exertion which consume a great deal more time than producing and suckling children; so that if the thing is a thing that ought to be done — if the attainments of literature are objects really worthy the attention of females, they cannot plead the want of leisure as an excuse for indolence and neglect. The lawyer who passes his day in exasperating the bickerings of Roe and Doe, is certainly as much engaged as his lady who has the whole of the morning before her to correct the children and pay the bills. The apothecary, who rushes from an act of phlebotomy in the western parts of the town to insinuate a bolus in the east, is surely as completely absorbed as that fortunate female who is darning the garment or preparing the repast of her Æsculapius at home; and, in every degree and situation of life, it seems that men must necessarily be exposed to more serious demands upon their time and attention, than can possibly be the case with respect to the other sex. We are speaking always of the fair demands which ought to be made upon the time and attention of women; for, as the matter now stands, the time of women is considered as worth nothing at all. Daughters are kept to occupations in sewing, Matching, mantuamaking, and mending, by which it is impossible they can earn tenpence a day. The intellectual improvement of women is considered to be of such subordinate importance, that twenty pounds paid for needle-work would give to a whole family leisure to acquire a fund of real knowledge. They are kept with nimble fingers and vacant understandings, till the season for improvement is utterly past away, and all chance of forming more important habits completely lost. We do not therefore say that women have more leisure than men, if it be necessary they should lead the life of artisans; but we make this assertion only upon the supposition that it is of some importance women should be instructed; and that many ordinary occupations, for which a little money. will find a better substitute, should be sacrificed to this consideration. We bar, in this discussion, any objection which proceeds from the mere novelty of teaching women more than they are already taught. It may be useless that their education should be improved, or it may be pernicious; and these are the fair grounds on which the question may be argued. But those who cannot bring their minds to consider such an unusual extension of knowledge, without connecting with it some sensation of the ludicrous, should remember, that, in the progress from absolute ignorance, there is a period when cultivation of the mind is new to every rank and description of persons. A century ago, who would have believed that count gentlemen could be brought to read and spell with the ease and accuracy which we now so frequently remark, – or supposed that they could be carried up even to the elements of ancient and modern history Nothing is more common, or more stupid, than to take the actual for the possible—to believe that all which is, is all which can be; first to laugh at every proposed deviation from
practice as impossible — then, when it is carried into effect, to be astonished that it did not take place before. It is said, that the effect of knowledge is to make women pedantic and affected; and that nothing can ...] more offensive, than to see a woman stepping out of the natural modesty of her sex, to make an ostentatious display of her literary attainments. This may be true enough; but the answer is so trite and obvious, that we are almost ashamed to make it. All affectation and display proceed from the supposition of possessing something better than the rest of the world possesses. Nobody is vain of possessing two legs and two arms;– because that is the precise quantity of either sort of limb which every body possesses. Who ever heard a lady boast that she understood French 7– for no other reason, that we know of, but because every body in these days does understand French; and though there may be some disgrace in being ignorant of that language, there is little or no merit in its acquisition. Diffuse tool generally among women, and you will at once cure!, the conceit which knowledge occasions while it is rare. Vanity and conceit we shall of course witness in men and women as long as the world endures: but by multiplying the attainments upon which these feelings are founded, you increase the difficulty of indulging them, and render them much more tolerable, by making them the proofs of a much higher merit. & hen learning ceases to be uncommou among women, learned women will cease to be io, A great many of the lesser and more obscure duties of life necessarily devolve upon the female sex. The | arrangement of all household matters, and the care of children in their early infancy, must of course depend upon them. Now, there is a very general notion, that the moment you put the education of women upon a better footing than it is at present, at that moment there will be an end of all domestic economy;(and that, if you once suffer women to eat of the tree of knowledge, the rest of the family will very soon be reduced to the same . kind of ačrial and unsatisfactory diet. These, and all
such opinions, are referable to one great and common cause of error; – that man does every thing, and that nature does nothing; and that every thing we see, is referable to positive institution, rather than to original feeling. Can any thing, for example, be more perfectly absurd than to suppose that the care and perpetual solicitude which a mother feels for her children, depends upon her ignorance of Greek and Mathematics; and that she would desert an infant for a quadratic equation ? We seem to imagine, that we can break in pieces the solemn institution of nature, by the little laws of a boarding-school; and that the existence of the human race depends upon teaching women a little more or a little less;– that Cimmerian ignorance can aid parental affection, or the circle of arts and sciences produce its destruction. In the same manner, we forget the principles upon which the love of order, arrangement, and all the arts of economy depend. They depend not upon ignorance nor idleness; but upon the poverty, confusion, and ruin which would ensue from neglecting them. Add to these principles the love of what is beautiful and magnificent, and the vanity of display; — and there can surely be no reasonable doubt but that the order and economy of private life is amply secured from the perilous inroads of knowledge.
Y We would fain know, too, if knowledge is to produce such baneful effects upon the material and the household virtues, why this influence has not already been felt 2 Women are much better educated now than they were a century ago; but they are by no means less remarkable for attention to the arrangements of their household, or less inclined to discharge the offices of parental affection. It would be very easy to show, that the same objection has been made at all times to every improvement in the education of both sexes, and all ranks — and been as uniformly and completely refuted by experience. A great part of the objections made to the education of women, are rather objecti made to human nature than to emale sex: for it is surely edge, where it produces any bad effects