Henry J. (Henry John) Van-Lennep.

The American lady's preceptor : a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading online

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Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry John) Van-LennepThe American lady's preceptor : a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading → online text (page 4 of 18)
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who had disguised their features with paint ; but
then it was merely to give a tinge of red to their
cheeks, and did not look very frightful — and as to
ointment, they rarely use any now, except occa-
sionally a little grecian oil for their hair, which
gives it a glossy, greasy, and (as they think) very
comely appearance. The last mentioned class of
females, I take it for granted, have been but lately
caught, and still retain strong traits of their origi-
nal savage propensities.

The most flagrant and inexcusable fault, how-,
ever, which I find in these lovely savages, is the
shameless and abandoned exposure of their per-
sons. Wilt thou not suspect me of exaggeration
when I affirm — wilt thou not blush for them, most
discreet masselman, when I declare to thee, that
they are so lost to all sense of modesty as to ex-
pose the whole of their faces from the forehead to
the chin, and that they even go abroad with their
hands uncovered !— Monstrous indelicacy !—

But what I am going to disclose, will doubtless
appear to thee still more incredible. Though I
cannot forbear paying a tribute of admiration to
the beautiful faces of these fair infidels, yet I must
give it as my firm opinion that their persons are
preposterously unseemly. In vain did I look


around me on my first landing, for those divine
forms of redundant proportions which answer to
the true standard of eastern beauty — not a single
fat fair one could I behold among the multitudes
that thronged the streets ; the females that passed
in review before me, tripping sportively along, re-
sembled a procession of shadows, returning to
their graves at the crowing of the cock.

This meagreness I at first ascribed to their ex-
cessive volubility ; for I have somewhere seen it
advanced by a learned doctor, that the sex were
endowed with a peculiar activity of tongue, in
order that they might practise talking as a health-
ful exercise, necessary to their confined and seden-
tary mode of life. This exercise, it was natural
to suppose, w§,uld be carried to great excess in a
logocracy. " Too true," thought I, " they have
converted what was undoubtedly meant as a be-
neficent gift, into a noxious habit that steals the
flesh from their bones and the roses from their
checks ; they absolutely talk themselves thin !"
Judge then of my surprise when I was as-
sured not long since, that this meagreness was
considered the perfection of personal beauty,
and that many a lady starved herself with all the
obstinate perseverance of a pious dervise — into
a fine figure ! " nay more," said my informer,
*' they will often sacrifice their healths in this
eager pursuit of skeleton beauty, and drink vine-
gar, eat pickles, and smoke tobacco to keep them-
selves within the scanty outlines of the fashion."
Faugh ! Allah preserve me from such beauties,
%vho contaminate their pure blood with noxious re-
cipes ; who impiously sacrifice the best gift of
heaven, to a preposterous and mistaken vanity.
Ere long I shall not be surprised to see them scar-
ring their faces like the negroes of Congo, flatten-
ing theit nqses in imitation of the HottentotSj^ or


like the barbarians of Ab-al Timar, distorting
their lips and ears out of all natural dimensions.
Since I received this information, I cannot contem-
plate a fine figure, without thinking of a vinegar
cruet : nor look at a dashing belie, without fancy-
ing her a pot of pickled cucumbers ! What a
diflference, my friend, between these shades, and
the plump beauties of Tripoli ; what a contrast
between an infidel fair one and my favorite Avife,
Fatima, whom I bought by the hundred w^eight,
and had trundled home in a wheel-barrow !

But enough for the present ; I am promised a
faithful account of the arcana of a lady's toilet — >
a complete initiation into the arts, mysteries, spells
and potions ; in short, the v/hole chemical process
by which she reduces herself do\yn to the most
fashionable standard of insignificilTice ; together
with specimens of the strait waistcoats, the lacings,
the bandages, and the various ingenious instru-
ments with which she puts nature to the rack, and
tortures herself into a proper figure to be ad-

Farewel, thou sweetest of slave-drivers ! the
echoes that repeat to a lever's ear the song of his
mistress, are not more soothing than tidings from
those we love. Let thy answers to my letters be
speedy; and never, I pray thee, for a moment
cease to Avatch over the prosperity of my house,
and the welfare of my beloved wives. Let them
want for nothing, my friend ; but feed them plen-
tifully on honey, boiled rice and water gruel, so
that when I return to the blessed land of my fa-
thers (if that can ever be !) I may find them im-
proved in size and loveliness, and sleek as the grace-
ful elephants that range the green valley of Abimar*
Ever thine,


( 56 )


[Ledyard, the celebrated traveller, who is quoted in
the ensuing extract from one of the essays of Sedley,
an occasional correspondent with the Port Folio,
was a native of Connecticut. At the early age of
eighteen, with no other advantages than those
which a grammar school had afforded, his ardent
curiosity and enterprizing genius were displayed.
Alone, in a canoe, the work of his own hands, and
with provisions, for which he was indebted to the
kindness of his village friends, he performed his first
voyages, by descending the Connecticut river from
Dartmouth to F^artford, without any previous know-
ledge of its tifcvigation. In 1771, he sailed to Lon-
don as a common sailor, and accompanied captain
Cook, with whom he was a favorite, in his third
voyage of discovery. A narrative of his various
adventures, a description of the fatigues, the perils
and the disappointments which this Indefatigable tra-
veller encountered, though highly interesting, would
not be within the scope of this work. We shall
merely add, that he died at Cairo, in the year 1789,.
while on a journey to explore the interior parts of

In the year 1781, he published an account of Cook's
voyage ; and his pilgrimage throug^h various regions
of the globe, may be traced in his communications
to the African Association at London. In one of
these, he has borne a testimony in behalf of the
sex, which is at once elegant, grateful and just.
We hope the manner in which it is introduced to
our readers will not be disapproved.]

I CONFESS I am not one of those who endea-
vour to establish a fancied superiority by reviling
the female character, and I think these midnight


lucubrations have borne testimony to my sincere
fondness and undissembled respect for its loveliness
and dignity. Milton has acknowledged that" love is
one of the lowest ends of humanlife;" and I readily
believe that this world, without the sxveet inter-
course of looks and smiles^ would be but a wide
. waste indeed. Why is it that, in the hour of dis-
tress, we forget all our vaunted heroism, and fly
to the arms of female kindness for that consola-
tion, which we in vain seek in our own reflections ?
And why is it that the tears of a woman have
more effect in arousing our feelings, than the loud-
est call of the clarion ? It is that all-pervading
influence, v/hich moves every passion of the hu-
man breast ; it is that which melts the most fierce
into docility, and inspires even cowardice with

Spenser, a favorite poet with me, has a passage
on the influence of v/omen in distress, which I wish
every one to read and admire :

Nought is there under Heaven's hollownessc
That moves more deare compassion of mind,
Than beauty brought t' unworthie wretchednesse.
Through envie's snares, or fortune's freaks unkind,
I, lately, x^hether through her brightness blynd^
Or, thro' allegiance and part fealty.
Which I doe owe unto all womankind,
Feel my heart prest vv^ith so great agony,
When such I see, that all for pity I could dy.

But whilst I admire, and praise, and defend, let
me not be supposed to be so blind as to see ail
their virtues and their vices, their beauties and
deformities in the same partial light. No ;
the canvas so alluring to the eye is yet tarnished
by many a stain. The sickly mein of afl'ectation,
the folly of a weak mind, and the ungenial chill
of prudery, the, vice of an impure rnind, with


many other frailties that female Jtesk is heir to^
must be corrected before woman can be called
perfect. Yet, with all these imperfections, how
infinitely do they surpass us in virtue, friendship,
constancy, fortitude, genuine good sense, and un-
affected good nature !

Let me add a grateful testimony of older expe- .
rience, of which I have been reminded by these
reflections. In the travels of Ledyard, this cele-
brated traveller says, he has " always remarked
that women, in all countries, are civil, obliging,
tender and humane ; that they are ever inclined
to be gay and cheerful, timorous and modest ;
and that they do not hesitate, like men^ to perform
a kind or generous action.

" Not haughty, not arrogant, not supercilious,
they are full of courtesy, and fond of society.
More liable in general to err than man, but, in
general also, more virtuous, and performing more
good actions than he. To a woman, whether ci-
vilized or savage, I never addressed myself in
the language of friendship and decency, without
receiving a friendly and decent answer ; with man
it has often been otherwise.

" In wandering over the barren plains of inhos-
pitable Denmark, through honest Sweden and fro^
zen Lapland, rude and churlish Finland, unprinci-
pled Russia^ and the wide-spread regions of the
wandering Tartars ; if hungry, dry, cold, wet, or
sick, the women have ever been friendly to me,
and uniforml> so ; and to add to this virtue, so
worthy the appellation of be7ievole7ice^ these actions-
have been performed in so free and kind a man-
ner, that if I was thirst)', I drank the sweetest
draught, and if hungry, I ate the coarsest meal
with a double relish,"

( 59 )


FLAVELLA has a multitude of charms. She
is sensible, affable, modest and good-humoured»— •
She is tall without being aukward, and as strait as
an arrow. She has a clear complexion, lively
eyes, a pretty moudi, and white even teeth ; and
will answer the description which any rhyming
lover can give of the mistress of his affections,
after having ransacked heaven and earth for simi-
lies ; and yet I cannot admire her. She wants, in
my opinion, that nameless somethings or "Je ne sai
guoi, which is far more attractive than beauty.—
It is, in short, a peculiar manner of saying the
most insignificant things, and doing the most tri-
fling actions which captivates us, and takes our
hearts by surprise. Though I am a strenuous ad-
vocate for a modest, decent and an unaffected de-
portment in the fair sex, I would not, however,
have a fine woman altogether insensible of her per-
sonal charms, for she would then be as insipid as
Flavella. 1 would only have her conscious
enough of them to behave with modest freedom,
and to converse with fluency and spirit. When a
woman stalks majestically into a room, with the
haughty airs of a first rate beauty, and expects
every one who sees her to admire her, my indig-
nation rises, and I get away as fast as I can, in or-
der to enjoy the conversation of an easy, good hu-
moured creature, who is neither beautiful, nor
conceited enough to be troublesome, and who is
as willing to give pleasure, as desirous to receive



MARK ! that parent hen, said a father to his
beloved daughter. With what anxious care does
she call together her little offspring, and cover
them with her expanded wings. The kite is ho-
vering into the air, and, disappointed of his pre}',
by the care the hen takes of her broody may, per-
haps, dart upon the hen herself, and bear her off
in his talons.

Does not this sight suggest to you the tender-
ness and affection of your mother? her watchful
care protected you in the helpless period of your
infancy, when she nourished you with her milk,
taught your limbs to move, and your tongue to
lisp its unformed accents. In childhood, she has
mourned over your little griefs, has rejoiced in
vour innocent delights, has administered to you
'the healing balm in sickness, and has instilled into
your mind the love of truth, of virtue, and ot
wisdom. Oh ! cherish every sentiment of re-
spect to such a mother : she merits your warmest
gratitude, esteem and veneration.



FLIRTILL A is a gay, lively, giddy girl ; she
is what the world calls handsome ; she dances and
sings admirably, has something to say upon every
fashion, person, play, opera, masquerade, or pub-
lie exhibition, and has an easy flow of words, that
pass upon the multitude for wit. In short, the


whole end of her existence seems to be centered
in a love of company and the fashion. No won-
der she is noticed only by the less worthy
part of the world. Amelia, the lovely Amelia,
makes home her greatest happiness. Nature has
not been so lavish of her charms, as to her sister,
but she has a soft pleasing countenance, that plain-
ly indicates the goodness of her heart within. —
Her person is not striking at first, but as it be-
comes familiar to the beholder, is more so than
that of her sister. For her modest deportment,
and her sweet disposition, will daily gain ground
on any person who has the happiness of conver-
sing with her. She reads much, and digests what
she reads. Her serenity of mind is not to be dis-
turbed by the disappointment of a party of plea-
sure, nor her spirit agitated by the shape of a cap,
or the colour of a ribbon. She speaks but little
when in company, but when she does, every one
is silent, and attends to her as an oracle, and she
has one true friend with whom she passes her
days in tranquillity. The reader may easily judge
which of these two sisters is the most amiable.


I WILL amuse you with a little experiment,
said Charles one evening to Lucy, Emilia, and Ja-
cobus, and, rising from the table, he took the candles
and held them about half an inch asunder, opposite
to a medallion of Dr. Franklin, about two yards
distant from it. The motto round the figure —
^' Unhurt amidst the war of elements'^ was but
just distinctly visible : when the degree of light
had been sufficiently observed, he united the


flames of the two candles, by putting them close
together, and the whole figure with the inscription
became instantly illuminated in a much stronger
manner than before. They were all pleased, aijd
struck with the effect, and they desired Euphroni-
us, who now entered the parlour, to explain to
them the cause of it. He commended their en-
tertainment, and informed them that a greater de-
gree of heat is produced by the junction of the
two flames, and consequently a farther attention,
and more copious emission of the particles of
which light consists. But, my dear youngfriends,
continued he, attend to the lesson of virtue, as
^vell a.s of science, which the experiment you have
seen affords. Nature has implanted in your
hearts, benevolence, friendship, gratitude, human-
ity and generosity ; and these social affections are
separately shining lights in the world : but, they
burn with peculiar warmth and lustre, when more
concentered in the kindred charities of brother,
sister, .child, and parent ; and harmony, peace,
sympathy in joy and grief, mutual good offices,
forgiveness and forbearance are the bright ema-
nations of domestic love. May the radiance of
such virtues long illuminate this happy household.



IF girls do not apply ear It/ to things of
some solidity, they will have neither taste for
them, nor pleasure in them, afterwards. A mo-
ther should by degrees represent to her daughter
the advantage of rational application ; but she
sliould rather make the acquisition of knowledge


a recreation, than a toil, otherwise she will cause
the child to be disgusted with all improvement.

Begin to teach children history, by relating lit-
tle tales of interesting and noble actions, which
will engage their attention, enlarge their ideas,
and give them a taste for virtue ; this method
will lead them, as they grow older, to wish to ac-
quire general knowledge, and will render them
pleasing companions.

But endeavour to guard against presumption,
and self-conceit ; always praise them more when
they doubt or ask for information, than when
they seem certain of their knowledge : this is the
best means of infusing into them gently a proper
modesty of opinion, and of discouraging an argu-
meHtative manner, which is extremely disgusting
in young females.

Let not girls mistake vivacity of imagination
and facility of speaking for wit ; they will other-
wise interfere upon all occasions, and talk and de-
cide upon subjects the least suited to their capa-
city. Tell them, that quickness of repartee, and
a readiness of expressing themselves with ease
and grace, are not essential talents, because they
are frequently possessed by women who are de-
ficient in solidity of understanding ; but imprint
strongly on their minds, that a discreet and regu-
lar conduct, and a knowledge when to be silent
and when to deliver their sentiments with pro-
priety, are essential qualifications which com-
mand respect and conciliate esteem.

Parents frequently encourage girls in softness
and timidity, bordering on weakness, which ren-
der them incapable of being firm and uniform
characters. They are perhaps naturally fearful,
and they affect to be so still more, and thus cus-
tom confirms this failing ; if you shew contempt


for these fears and affectations, it will be the most
effectual way to correct them.

As an extreme love of refinement is too apt to
influence the sex, represent to a young lady, the
utility of an accommodating disposition. Since
we must frequently associate with persons who
are not very refined, and enter into occupations
not suitable to our tastes : reason, which is true
good sense, points out fastidiousness as a weak-
ness of character. A mind that understands true
politeness, and knows how to descend to ordinary
occupations, is infinitely superior to those exces-
sively delicate minds, that are overcome with dis-
gust upon every occasion.

Endeavour to persuade young ladies not to im-
agine that great beauty is the most desirable gift.
A beauty idolizers her own person more than the
most passionate lover. Inform them, that beauty
deceives the person who possess it much more
than those who are its admirers ; and lead them
to reflect, that a very few years will rob them of
all their charms.

Beauty without merit is very little serviceable
to a girl ,• she can only expect to draw in a young
coxcomb to marry her, with whom she must be
wretched. But when modesty and virtue are
joined with beauty, the possessor of these qualifi-
cations may aspire to an union with a man of real

As there are no regulations for dress, equip-
ages, or way of living, there are in effect none for
the general situations in life. Most women are
disposed to love an ostentatious display, and are
fond of leading the fashions : this vain ambition
frequently ruins families and the ruin of families
must draw on the corruption of morals. On one
side, this parade excites in persons of a low con-


dition the desire of appearing above their situa-
tion, which leads them to commit dishonest ac-
tions ; on the other hand, it induces persons of
quality, who find themselves withotit resources, to
be guilty of mean and scandalous actions to sup-
port their expenses ; by these means are extin-
guished good faith, probity and ingenuousness,
even among the nearest relations. Endeavour,
therefore, to convince young ladies how much
more estimable that honour is, which is derived
from a right conduct, and cultivated understand-
ing, than from any ostentatious display.

Endeavour to give a young woman a proper
sense of the part she is to act, if she marries. —
She is to have the care of educating her children;
of the boys to a certain age, of the girls till they
marry* She ought to have a quick discernment
to find out the natural genius and disposition of
each child, to conduct herself properly towards
them, to discover their inclinations, talents and
tempers ; to persuade them by good advice, and
to correct their errors. She should carefully ac-
quire and preserve her authority, without losing
their love and confidence.

A mother of a family should have a proper
sense of religion, to be able to instil good princi-
ples into her children. St. Paul assures women,
that their salvation depends upon well educating
their children.

Many women too much neglect economy, par-
ticularly those in higher stations of life ; accus-
tomed to affluence and indolence, they disclaim
this virtue, as involving them in unworthy occu-
pations. Teach young ladies, that a mistress of a
family should accustom htrself to keep an ac-
count of her expenses, to know the value of the
F 2


necessaries of life as well as the articles of dress,
that she may prevent waste and imposition. But
though she should avoid prodigality, let her not
run into the opposite extreme. Avarice gains
little, and greatly dishonours those who are under
its influence. A reasonable woman only practises
frugality to avoid the shame and injustice attend-
ing an expensive and ruinous conduct; she re-
trenches superfluous expenses, that she may have
it in her power the more liberally to perform acts
of friendship, benevolence, and charity."



Accommodated to the present state of society^ ma?i-
7iers^ and government^ in the United States of
America. Addressed to the Visitors of the
Toung Ladies'^ Academy in Philadelphia^ 28th
July^ 1787, hy Benjamin Rush, M, Z).

THE branches of literature most essential for
a young lady in this country, appear to be,

1st. A knowledge of the English language. —
She should not only read, but speak and spell it
correctly. And to enable her to do this, she should
be taught the English grammar, and be frequenth'
examined in applying its rules in common con-


2d. Pleasure and interest conspire to make
the writing of a fair and legible hand, a necessary
branch of a lady's education. For this purpose
she should be taught not only to shape every let-
ter properl}^, but to pay the strictest regard to
points and capitals.

I once heard of a man who professed to dis-
cover the temper and dispositions of persons by
looking at their hand writing. Without enquir-
ing into the probability of this story ; I shall only
remark, that there is one thing in which all man-
kind agree upon this subject, and that is, in con-
sidering writing that is blotted, crooked, or illegi-
ble, as a mark of vulgar education. I know of
few things more rude or illiberal, than to intrude
a letter upon a person of rank or business, which
cannot be easily read. Peculiar care should be
taken to avoid every kind of ambiguity and affect-
ation in writing names, I have now a letter in
my possession upon business, from a gentleman
of a liberal profession m a neighbouring state,
which 1 am unable to answer, because 1 cannot
discover the name which is subscribed to it. For
obvious reasons 1 v^ould recommend the writing
of the first, or christian name, at full length, where
it does not consist of more than two syllables. — ■
Abbreviations of all kind in letter writing, which
always denote either haste or carelessness, should
likewise be avoided. I have only to add under
this head, that the Italian and inverted hands
which are read with difficulty, are by no means
accommodated to the active state of business in
America, or to the simplicity of the citizens of a

3d. Some knowledge of figures and book-
keeping is absolutely necessary to qualify a young-
lady for the duties which await her in this coun-


try. There are certain occupations in which she
may assist her husband \^ith this knowledge ; and
should she survive him, and agreeably to the cus-
tom of our country be the executrix of his will,

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Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry John) Van-LennepThe American lady's preceptor : a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading → online text (page 4 of 18)