Sunday, January 12, 2003

Man Superior to Woman - Chapter Five


What Capacity the Women have for Sciences.

I cannot help being of the same mind with the Duke of Britany quoted by Montagne in his essays, and every one in their right senses must think with us, that a woman is learned enough in conscience if she can distinguish between her husband's shirt and his breeches. A severer imprecation could scarce be uttered against the lovely sex than to wish them science-mad. 'Tis their pretty fluency in nonsense, and their bewitching confidence in ignorance, which give their charms the power of pleasing us in the soft moments, when unbending the mind from study we seek in their native folly a respite from sense and speculation. But why should we put them to the pains of learning to entertain us with that nonsense and ignorance in several languages? Why should they be suffered to distract their poor tender brains with hard words and technical terms: is it not enough that they can clip and carve their own mother tongue into a variety of dialects, without obliging them to confound others into a kind of mixed jargon, as unintelligible as the conversation of negroes?

I don't however pretend to dispute their natural Genius for words. It is undoubtedly to them we owe the preservation of that ancient and venerable language, called gibberish, which had long since been utterly lost but for their care and assiduity in cultivating it. It would therefore be highly ungrateful not to give them the praise due to their excellent talents in this branch of learning, especially since we reap such important advantages from their excellence in it. Without the instructions of those pretty jabbering creatures, we should be at a loss to converse with our own infants. Our ignorance would run us into the dilemma of either frighting them with plain English, or reducing them to the necessity of learning it much sooner than the usual time, and even before they had gone through the politer language of the nursery. How vulgar would it be to hear an infant say, "Pray mother give your little boy a plum!" Is it not infinitely more elegant to say, Pay Mamma div eeky boy a pum." And how should a child ever be able to learn the latter preferably to the former, if the women were not more industrious in teaching them than we are? Besides, we are such natural dunces when put out of the road of sense, that we should never succeed in making children reach the eloquent unintelligible so soon as they do under their present teachers. For my own part I have been often in a nursery of young children, and, though ever so attentive to their conversation with one another, could understand no more of their meaning than if they had been so many Hottentots. Though every woman who came in, I found, was perfectly versed in their language. Well for me and them they were so, or I am afraid I should often have done mischief, but particularly once. Being where two or three children were at play, on a sudden I heard one of them cry, and more good natured than wise was offering to pacify it with these barbarous words, Pretty thing, what do you cry for? But the children were terribly frightened, and for aught I know had all fallen into fits at the cannibal sound, if a learned woman in the room had not interpreted my meaning in familiar gibberish, which it seems runs thus: Peety sing! did um ky, did um vets it, sall um beat paw paw man, div me a bow den, dare, doe paw man doe. These mellifluous sounds quite tranquillized the little peevish gentry, and finished to convince me of how great importance it is to mankind that this feminine science should be kept up.

So far then from thinking the Ladies incapable of teaching at least this branch of knowledge, I am for moving the legislature for the establishment of a female university for that purpose. And if I were not afraid of offending my fair antagonist's great modesty, I would, with all due submission to higher powers, propose her for Chancellor. One of the professors I have already in my eye; 'tis a Lady who keeps a female academy in Blackfriars. I was agreeably surprized, some time ago, to find her excellent talents, for such a purpose, displayed on the very board over her door. Where was written in golden capitals these elegant words, Yong Laydis taut to spill and imbrawther. Which by the nicest of critics is translated thus, "Young Ladies taught to spell and embroider." But I have since had the satisfaction to hear that this piece of antique learning has brought her such a number of scholars, that she thinks it now beneath her to keep out a board, convinced of the old proverb, that Good wine needs no bush.

Nevertheless I would not have gibberish the sole affair of this university. No, I would have some taught to lisp a little English, and write it, however askew and unintelligibly. If I am not misinformed there is a Lady now at work upon a new English grammar for the use of the fair sex; which in all probability will take very much, as her chief view has been to save unnecessary trouble, by reducing the work to a very concise compass. Still she has spared no pains to make it of universal use to the women, and by the strength of her Genius, and continued application, she has abridged the whole art of grammar to four parts of speech, lisping, mispelling, noise, and nonsense. If my scheme should take effect, what a considerable figure would not this Lady make in an university chair?

I can by no means however consent to the women's losing any time in the study of the law. To complete a man a knave, it is absolutely necessary to make a lawyer of him. But every woman from her cradle is by nature a lawyer in this sense. They have all such finished talents for lying, dissembling, cajoling, undermining, equivocating and barefacedly cheating, that there is no law profane or sacred which they cannot argue away or brazen out. 'Tis rather than a woeful shame their knowledge of this kind has no bridle put to it, than any ways likely they should improve us or themselves by any farther advances.

What a disgrace to her sex, and what a bane to ours, is Lolia, with all her jurisprudence. There is no tricking attorney she has not out-tricked, no sharping counsellor she has not bit, and no both-sided sergeant she has not outwitted. There's not a court in England but she is versed in the practice of, and not a quirk in it but she has made use of. She has cozened a bribe-worthy Judge into open perversion of the law, and bilked him after all of the premium of his iniquity. She has forged away an eminent knave's ears without risking her own, and married away the estate of an honest dupe of rank from his lawful issue, to squander it away upon her own lawless mongrel. Her greatest praise is the having utterly ruined many, and greatly injured all she ever had to do with. The never having built upon one honest plea the numberless suits she has had upon her hands; and the having gained many causes without using any honest means; though she never lost a single one for want of any knavish artifice in her power. To sum up the litigious merit of this Machiavelian Lady in few words; without ever poring over Littleton or Coke, there is no law so plain which could any ways concern her, but what she has baffled by the sanction of the laws themselves. So idle and needless is it for that sex to study the chicaneries of the law; so easy is it for them without study to be perfect in the practice, and so pernicious is this perfection in them to all who have any concerns with them? I would therefore, for Lolia's sake, have all matters of law banished the female province under pain of death.

Indeed they may, if they think proper, erect a faculty of their own to give a grace to the mischief they do with their nostrums. To qualify them for physicians there is nothing wanting but a little solemnity of phiz, the use of spectacles, and a profuseness of unintelligible jargon; though the latter, thanks to their propitious stars, their natural glibness of tongue, and fondness for hard words, gives them an admirable disposition for.

For history I think they have an uncommon capacity: at least one of the most noted productions in that kind is thought to be the work of a female Genius. For though a Reverend Bishop, in compliance with the modesty of its real author, was so kind to lend his name to the celebrated history of his own times, it is believed by many that this Chaplains old grandmother had the chief hand in it. In politics and novels too they are remarkable for excelling: their propensity to intriguing qualifies them for the latter, and the former they are assisted in by curiosity and the gift of tattle.

Novilia is an excellent newspaper, which neither tires your eyes, nor sounds your purse: your ears are at all the expense of your information. There is not a thing happens or can happen but she knows or invents, unless there be too much probability in it. She can fettle the affairs of all Europe with as great facility as the grounds in her coffee-pot; can carry on war with equal resolution; and has actually taken more ships from Spain since the rupture, than Admiral Haddock had time to take; nay than that nation has to lose. I was informed of the convention by her two hours before I read it in a Hague letter; and had from her some months ago the joyful news of Cuba being taken by Admiral Vernon; which if it was not true, was very near being so; but luckily for the Spaniards the Admiral had not yet quitted the Downs. She has often communicated to me the important conferences a certain great monarch had in bed with his wife. And if she is not always right in her accounts it is owing to the impolitic proceedings of the ministers of state. For to give her her due, in telling you what is done, she only means to acquaint you with what she thinks ought to be done. I would by all means therefore have a chair erected in the female university, for the instruction of such women as discover a Genius for politics: but that they may be of some use to the public, I would humbly propose to the Government to take off the duty from all other newspapers, and lay it upon these living Gazettes.

In the Chair, for the Education of such as have a peculiar talent for novels, I would have the works of the learned authors Mrs. Behn and Mrs. Manly read as the standard of that Science; and as impiety and smut are considerable branches of it, I would have those passages, which are the most remarkable for either, particularly enforced to the fair students. I know no one more happy for a communicative faculty, in that part of literature, and therefore none likely to make a more able Professor of it, than the witty Saphira, that surprising Genius the first essay of whose incomparable pen was closed in the sprightly parentheses of bawdy and blasphemy. The Lady, you must know, is a freethinker by profession; but most firmly believes there is a God, because folks will have it there is none: though she can with a becoming ease talk of him in as careless a manner as she does of the Devil, whom she looks upon as a mere fiction, and wishes she had nothing to trouble her more than the Fears of Hell. For she is very sure God is too good to make such a troublesome being, or such a dismal place. As she has, besides these accomplishments, a tolerable taste for poetry she may give her pretty scholars a little tincture of it by reading to them Mrs. Barber's "Family Poems", unless she should think it more instructive to paraphrase Mrs. Behn's piece upon Enjoyment.

If I mistake not, Sophia disclaims, in the name of her whole sex, the privilege of interfering in matters of Divinity: though she still contends hard for their natural aptness for it. What commission she may have from her pretty clients to give up so considerable a claim I know not. However, I am absolutely of opinion, that it becomes them full as well to hold forth on the subject of religion in a Church as in their drawing-rooms; in a pulpit as at a tea-board; and both are as graceful in them as riding astride would be. What schism ever rended the Church, which they have not had a principal hand in? What error ever crept in among Christians which they have not been industrious to forward? What point too abstruse in religion which they are not for deciding? If they must be Chamber-Divines, why do they not even go farther and seize the Church and pulpit too? Why do they not copy after that female pattern of consistency, Dromonia? This fleshly Tabernacle of Spirit hath wisely thrown off all idle forms, to preach the outward man into the arms of the inward one. Convinced of the Light within her, she hath not buried it under a bushel; at her levee, but has placed it on a candlestick in the House of the Lord, that it may give Light unto all that are in it. And the Lord in return hath so replenished her with the Light of his Knowledge, that she expoundeth the Scriptures without ceasing, and bursteth not, albeit she knoweth not how to read them. He hath made her a picklock of Wisdom, and given unto her a key to open the greatest mysteries of the revelations, and show that there is no mystery in them; to unfold the prophets as she unfoldeth her apron; and to expose the evangelists as she exposeth herself. Nay he hath given her a two-edged tongue for a snare, two rolling eyes for a bait; he hath added claws unto her fingers, and behold she goeth forth like unto a fisher of men, and spreadeth her snowy arms like unto a net. But the Spirit bloweth where it lifteth; and the Sons of Flesh will not bite at the bait, nor be caught in the net.

However unsuccessful the industry of this female Divine is, I think she is a living proof of the ability of that sex for the study of Theology. And therefore I am not against their erecting a Chair to teach, and appointing her the Professor.

But I can by no means give into their puzzling their little delicate heads with the more intricate study of philosophy of any sort. Every branch of that is built upon reason, and reason they have nothing to do with. However as they have some faint glimmerings of it, I don't pretend to say there will be any harm in their gaining a little superficial smatch of some trifles dependent on philosophy: such as a few mysterious terms, a small number of detached sentences, and here and there a trite experiment. These will suffice to make any woman as learned as she need be, and these any woman may pick up without much cost.

I was lately, entertained by one of your very learned Ladies in her study, where I had the opportunity, during a short space she left me alone there, to take a survey of her library, and the choice collection which had contributed to make her such a scholar. As I found it very curious I was at the pains of writing a catalogue, which I shall here transcribe for the benefit of all the fair lovers of polite learning. So far am I from envying them any opportunity of improving their talents:

Her books then stood in the following order.

"The Atalantis", "A Common-prayer-book", "Rochester's Poems", "Preparation for Communion", "Love's Last Shift", "Meditations of Death", "A Patch Box", "Paradise Lost", "The Art of being Easy at all Times", "Behn's Novels", "Whitefield's Sermons", "Ovid's Art of Love", "Advice of a Mother to her Son and Daughter", "Petronius in English", A Bible, "A Paper of Pins", "A Theeand- Thou Almanack", "The Moral Philosopher", "The Pilgrim's Progress", "Geography of Children", "The Tatlers", "A Pocket Looking Glass", "Dacier's Homer", "Persian Tales", "The Merry Jester", "Essay on Midwifery" . . . in a vacancy lay Swift's "Dressing-Room", with a housewife upon it stuffed with silks, and a paper of Spanish wool, "The Plain-Dealer", "Law's Serious Call to a devout Life", "Tale of a Tub", "Dyche's Spelling-Book", "The Whole Duty of Man", "The Art of getting Beautiful Children" . . .

After having given an account of her library, it is fit I should give some idea of its fair owner. She has read a great deal, and has a very good memory; can talk incoherently in five several languages; has translated and even composed; is a critic in prose and an author in verse. But with all this deal of learning and memory, she neither knows how to set her cap straight, nor can remember to buckle her shoes. . . . It must be owned, that if this Lady is a scholar she is a very sluttish one; and the much she reads is to little purpose, since it can make nothing better than a bookish slattern. . . . For my part, after seeing such an instance of the ill consequence of literature in women, I cannot but be of Juvenel's mind, as Mr. Dryden translates him,

That of all plagues, the greatest is untold;
The book-learned wife in Greek and Latin bold.
The Critic-Dame, who at her table sits;
Homer and Virgil quotes, and weighs their wits;
And pities Dido's agonizing fits.
She has so far the ascendant of the board,
The prating pedant puts not in one word:
The man of law is nonplussed, in his suit;
Nay every other female tongue is mute.
Hammers and beating anvils, you would swear,
And vulcan with his whole militia there.
Tabors and trumpets cease;
for she alone Is able to redeem the labouring moon.
Even wit's a burden, where it talks too long:
But she, who has no continence of tongue,
Should walk in breeches, and should wear a beard;
And mix among the philosophic herd.
O what midnight curse has he,
whose side Is pestered with a mood and figure bride?
Let mine, ye gods! (if such must be my fate)
No logic learn, nor history translate;
But rather be a quiet, humble fool:
I hate a wife to whom I go to school,
Who climbs the grammar tree, distinctly knows
Where noun, and verb, and participle grows;
Corrects her country neighbour; and a-bed
For breaking priscian's breaks her husband's head.

Neither Juvenal nor I deny that women may acquire some superficial learning: all we contend for is that it is ever ill bestowed upon them, inasmuch as it renders them useless to their own sex, and a nuisance to ours. Of which the Lady whose portraiture I have just given is a signal proof. If Sophia should bring me a few instances out of the common rule, what will she get by it? I grant that Greece has shown its Sappho; Rome her Cornelia; France has produced Dacier; Holland has brought forth a Schurman; Italy a Doctress; and, more blessed than all, England now boasts an Eliza and a Sophia: what then? Are seventy instances, though seventy times seven times doubled, in upwards of five thousand seven years, sufficient to prove a general capacity in women for knowledge and learning? Would my fair antagonist think horses a fit party for her at quadrille, if I should instance some of that species which have been dabs at put? Or would she like to be confined to the conversation of parrots because many of them can talk a great deal? No: neither can we deem the women fit associates for us in the study of sciences, because a few have had a tolerable smattering of them. But let us proceed to view them in another light in the following question.

Chapter Six

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