Story type: Essay
Thursday, May 31, 1711.
‘Oderunt peccare boni virtutis amore.’
I have received very many Letters of late from my Female Correspondents, most of whom are very angry with me for Abridging their Pleasures, and looking severely upon Things, in themselves, indifferent. But I think they are extremely Unjust to me in this Imputation: All that I contend for is, that those Excellencies, which are to be regarded but in the second Place, should not precede more weighty Considerations. The Heart of Man deceives him in spite of the Lectures of half a Life spent in Discourses on the Subjection of Passion; and I do not know why one may not think the Heart of Woman as Unfaithful to itself. If we grant an Equality in the Faculties of both Sexes, the Minds of Women are less cultivated with Precepts, and consequently may, without Disrespect to them, be accounted more liable to Illusion in Cases wherein natural Inclination is out of the Interests of Virtue. I shall take up my present Time in commenting upon a Billet or two which came from Ladies, and from thence leave the Reader to judge whether I am in the right or not, in thinking it is possible Fine Women may be mistaken.
The following Address seems to have no other Design in it, but to tell me the Writer will do what she pleases for all me.
‘I am Young, and very much inclin’d to follow the Paths of Innocence: but at the same time, as I have a plentiful Fortune, and of Quality, I am unwilling to resign the Pleasures of Distinction, some little Satisfaction in being Admired in general, and much greater in being beloved by a Gentleman, whom I design to make my Husband. But I have a mind to put off entering into Matrimony till another Winter is over my Head, which, (whatever, musty Sir, you may think of the Matter) I design to pass away in hearing Music, going to Plays, Visiting, and all other Satisfactions which Fortune and Youth, protected by Innocence and Virtue, can procure for,’
Your most humble Servant,
‘My Lover does not know I like him, therefore having no Engagements upon me, I think to stay and know whether I may not like any one else better.
I have heard WILL. HONEYCOMB say,
A Woman seldom writes her Mind but in her Postscript.
I think this Gentlewoman has sufficiently discovered hers in this. I’ll lay what Wager she pleases against her present Favourite, and can tell her that she will Like Ten more before she is fixed, and then will take the worst Man she ever liked in her Life. There is no end of Affection taken in at the Eyes only; and you may as well satisfie those Eyes with seeing, as controul any Passion received by them only. It is from loving by Sight that Coxcombs so frequently succeed with Women, and very often a Young Lady is bestowed by her Parents to a Man who weds her as Innocence itself, tho’ she has, in her own Heart, given her Approbation of a different Man in every Assembly she was in the whole Year before. What is wanting among Women, as well as among Men, is the Love of laudable Things, and not to rest only in the Forbearance of such as are Reproachful.
How far removed from a Woman of this light Imagination is Eudosia! Eudosia has all the Arts of Life and good Breeding with so much Ease, that the Virtue of her Conduct looks more like an Instinct than Choice. It is as little difficult to her to think justly of Persons and Things, as it is to a Woman of different Accomplishments, to move ill or look awkward. That which was, at first, the Effect of Instruction, is grown into an Habit; and it would be as hard for Eudosia to indulge a wrong Suggestion of Thought, as it would be for Flavia the fine Dancer to come into a Room with an unbecoming Air.
But the Misapprehensions People themselves have of their own State of Mind, is laid down with much discerning in the following Letter, which is but an Extract of a kind Epistle from my charming mistress Hecatissa, who is above the Vanity of external Beauty, and is the best Judge of the Perfections of the Mind.
“I Write this to acquaint you, that very many Ladies, as well as myself, spend many Hours more than we used at the Glass, for want of the Female Library of which you promised us a Catalogue. I hope, Sir, in the Choice of Authors for us, you will have a particular Regard to Books of Devotion. What they are, and how many, must be your chief Care; for upon the Propriety of such Writings depends a great deal. I have known those among us who think, if they every Morning and Evening spend an Hour in their Closet, and read over so many Prayers in six or seven Books of Devotion, all equally nonsensical, with a sort of Warmth, (that might as well be raised by a Glass of Wine, or a Drachm of Citron) they may all the rest of their time go on in whatever their particular Passion leads them to. The beauteous Philautia, who is (in your Language) an Idol, is one of these Votaries; she has a very pretty furnished Closet, to which she retires at her appointed Hours: This is her Dressing-room, as well as Chapel; she has constantly before her a large Looking-glass, and upon the Table, according to a very witty Author,
Together lye her Prayer-book and Paint,
At once t’ improve the Sinner and the Saint.
It must be a good Scene, if one could be present at it, to see this Idol by turns lift up her Eyes to Heaven, and steal Glances at her own dear Person. It cannot but be a pleasing Conflict between Vanity and Humiliation. When you are upon this Subject, choose Books which elevate the Mind above the World, and give a pleasing Indifference to little things in it. For want of such Instructions, I am apt to believe so many People take it in their Heads to be sullen, cross and angry, under pretence of being abstracted from the Affairs of this Life, when at the same time they betray their Fondness for them by doing their Duty as a Task, and pouting and reading good Books for a Week together. Much of this I take to proceed from the Indiscretion of the Books themselves, whose very Titles of Weekly Preparations, and such limited Godliness, lead People of ordinary Capacities into great Errors, and raise in them a Mechanical Religion, entirely distinct from Morality. I know a Lady so given up to this sort of Devotion, that tho’ she employs six or eight Hours of the twenty-four at Cards, she never misses one constant Hour of Prayer, for which time another holds her Cards, to which she returns with no little Anxiousness till two or three in the Morning. All these Acts are but empty Shows, and, as it were, Compliments made to Virtue; the Mind is all the while untouched with any true Pleasure in the Pursuit of it. From hence I presume it arises that so many People call themselves Virtuous, from no other Pretence to it but an Absence of Ill. There is Dulcianara is the most insolent of all Creatures to her Friends and Domesticks, upon no other Pretence in Nature but that (as her silly Phrase is) no one can say Black is her Eye. She has no Secrets, forsooth, which should make her afraid to speak her Mind, and therefore she is impertinently Blunt to all her Acquaintance, and unseasonably Imperious to all her Family. Dear Sir, be pleased to put such Books in our Hands, as may make our Virtue more inward, and convince some of us that in a Mind truly virtuous the Scorn of Vice is always accompanied with the Pity of it. This and other things are impatiently expected from you by our whole Sex; among the rest by,
Your most humble Servant,’