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FOR JULY, 1810. *
FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind. 8vo. London. 1808.
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 pretisely alike. If you catch up one
Vol. Iv. a.
half of these 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 abstrusc reasoning, 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 immense 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 much if not more idle, time upon their hands, than men. Women are excluded from all the serious business of the world; men are lawyers, physicians, clergymen, apothecaries, and justices 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, patching, mantuamaking, and mending, by which it is impossible they can earn ten pence 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 passed 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 mind is new to every rank and description of persons. A century ago, who would have believed that country 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 pedantick and affected; and that nothing can be 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 –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 knowledge 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. When learning ceases to be uncommon among women, learned women will cease to be affected. 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 domestick economy; and that, if you once suffer women to eat of the tree of knowledge, the rest of the family will . soon be reduced to the same kind of aerial and unsatisfactory diet. These, and all such opinions, are referable to one great and common cause of errour; that man does everything, and that nature does nothing; and that
every thing we sce 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 mathematicks; and that she would desert an infant for a quadratick 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. We would fain know, too, if knowledge is to produce such baneful effects upon the maternal and the household virtues, why this influence has not already been felt? 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
to one sex as to the other; and gives birth to fully as much arrogance, inattention to common affairs, and eccentricity among men, as it does among women. But it by no means follows, that you get rid of vanity and self-conceit, because you get rid of learning. Self-complacency can never want an excuse; and the best way to make it more tolerable, and more useful, is to give to it as high, and as dignified an object as possible. But at all events, it is unfair to bring forward against a part of the world an objection which is equally powerful against the whole. When foolish women think they have any distinction, they are apt to be proud of it; so are foolish men. But we appeal to any one who has lived with cultivated persons of either sex, whether he has not witnessed as much pedantry, as much wrongheadedness, as much arrogance, and certainly a great deal more rudeness, produced by learning in men, than in women; therefore, we should make the accusation general, or dismiss it altogether; though, with respect to pedantry, the learned are certainly a little unfortunate, that so very emphatick a word, which is occasionally applicable to all men embarked eagerly in any pursuit, should be reserved exclusively for them: for, as pedantry is an ostentatious obtrusion of knowledge, in which those who hear us cannot sympathize, it is a fault of which soldiers, sailors, sportsmen, gamesters, cultivators, and all men engaged in a particular occupation, are quite as guilty as scholars; but they have the good fortune to have the vice only of pedantry; while scholars have both the vice, and the name for it too. Some persons are apt to contrast the acquisition of important know
ledge with what they call simple pleasures; and deem it more becoming that a woman should educate flowers, make friendship with birds, and pick up plants, than enter into more difficult and fatiguing studies. If a woman has no taste and genius for higher occupations, let her engage in these, to be sure, rather than remain destitute of any pursuit. But why are we necessarily to doom a girl, whatever be her taste or her capacity, to one unvaried line of petty and frivolous occupation ? If she is full of strong sense, and elewated curiosity, can there be any reason why she should be diluted and enfeebled down to a mere culler of simples, and fancier of birds : why books of history and reasoning are to be torn out of her hand, and why she is to be sent, like a butterfly, to hover over the idle flowers of the field 3 Such amusements are innocent to those whom they can occupy; but they are not innocent to those who have too powerful understandings to be occupied by them. Light broths and fruits are innocent food only to weak or to infant stomachs; but they are poison to that organ in its perfect and mature state. But the great charm appears to be in the word simplicity: simple pleasures: If by a simple pleasure is meant an innocent pleasure, the observation is best answered by showing, that the pleasure which results from the acquisition of important knowledge is quite as innocent as any pleasure whatever; but if by a simple pleasure is meant one, the cause of which can be easily analyzed, or which does not last long, or which in itself is very faint, then simple pleasures seem to be very nearly synonymous, with small pleasures; and if the simplicity were to be a little increased, the pleasure would vanish altogether. As it is impossible that every man should have industry or activity suf
ficient to avail himself of the advan.
tages of education, it is natural that
men who are ignorant themselves, should view, with some degree of jealousy and alarm, any proposal for improving the education of women. But such men may depend upon it, however the system of female education may be exalted, that there will never be wanting a due proportion of failures; and that after parents, guardians, and preceptors have done all in their power to make every body wise, there will still be a plentiful supply of women who have taken special care to remain otherwise; and they may rest assured, if the utter extinction of ignorance and folly is the evil they dread, that their interests will always be effectually protected, in spite of every exertion to the contrary. We must, in candour, allow, that those women who begin, will have something more to overcome than may probably, hereafter, be the case. We cannot deny the jealousy which exists among pompous and foolish men, respecting the education of women. There is a class of pedants, who would be cut short, in the estimation of the world, a whole cubit, if it were generally known that a young lady of eighteen could be taught to decline the tenses of the middle voice, or acquaint herself with the CEolick varieties of that celebrated language. Then women have, of course, all ignorant men for enemies to their instruction, who being bound (as they think) in point of sex, to know more, are not well pleased, in point of fact, to know less. But, among men of sense and liberal politeness, a woman who has successfully cultivated her mind, without diminishing the gentleness and propriety of her manners, is always sure to meet with a respect and attention bordering upon enthusiasm. There is, in either sex, a strong and permanent disposition to appear agreeable to the other: and this is the fair answer to those who are fond of supposing, that a higher
degree of knowledge would make women rather the rivals than the companions of men. Presupposing such a desire to please, it seems much more probable, that a common pursuit should be a fresh source of interest, than a cause of contention. Indeed, to suppose that any mode of education can create a general jealousy and rivalry between the sexes is so very ridiculous, that it requires only to be stated in order to be refuted. The same desire of pleasing secures all that delicacy and reserve which are of such inestimable value to women. We are quite astonished, in hearing men converse on such subjects, to find them attributing such beautiful effects to ignorance. It would appear, from the tenour of such objections, that ignorance had been the great civilizer of the world. Women are delicate and refined, only because they are ignorant; they manage their household, only because they are ignorant; they attend to their children, only because they know no better. Now, we must really confess, we have all our lives been so ignorant as not to know the value of ignorance. We have always attributed the modesty and the refined manners of women, to their being well taught in moral and religious duty; to the hazardous situation in which they are placed; to that perpetual vigilance which it is thcir duty to exercise over thought, word, and action, and to that cultivation of the mild virtues, which those who cultivate the stern and magnanimous virtues expect at their hands. After all, let it be remembered, we are not saying there are no objections to the diffusion of knowledge among the female sex. We would not hazard such a proposition respecting any thing; but we arc saying, that, upon the whole, it is the best method of employing time; and that there are fewer objections to it than to any other method. There are, perhaps, 50,000 females in Great Britain, who