Mrs. (Jane) West.

Letters to a young lady, in which the duties and character of women are considered, chiefly with a reference to prevailing opinions online

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Online LibraryMrs. (Jane) WestLetters to a young lady, in which the duties and character of women are considered, chiefly with a reference to prevailing opinions → online text (page 1 of 52)
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iTIIni^terial f^ibrary,



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Gift of .J^ </a^y ^^nx^

*.• *












Favour is deceliful, and hiaitfy is vain; lut a zvoman thai feareth tie Lord,
Jhc Jhall b( fraifid. PfQV. xxxi. 30.




O. Penniman & Co. Printers.






The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty;















Since the publication of the much favoured « Letters" re-
ferred to in the title page, the author has been repeatedly
advifed to make the character and duties of her own fex the
fubjedt of a feparate work, fimilar, and in feme refpedts fup-
plenientary, to the former ; yet ftill preferving thofe pecu-
liar features which would render it more interefting and
beneficial to women. It was urged on the one hand, that
the late publication was in fome parts adapted to female ftu-
dents. This was admitted j but it was further obferved,
that, though all rational creatures are circumfcribed within
one general pale of moral and religious obligation, the pecu-
liar path of each fex is marked by thofe nice Ihades of ap-
propriation, which only an all-wife Being, intent on the ge-
neral benefit of the whole human race, could impofe : and
this remark was exemplified by fhewing, that any violation
of this prefcribed decorum expofed the offender to a degree
of opprobrium by no means conimenfurate with the ofience.
To the remark, that of late, women had been peculiarly for-
tunate in having had a number of admirable auvifers, It was
anfwered, that they had ulfo been milled by many falfe lights,
and were more expofed than at any former period to the ar-
tifices of feducers ; who, intent to polfon the minds of the
unwary, had contrived to introduce their dangerous notions
on manners, morals, and religion, into every fpecies of com-
pofition, and all forms of fociety ; the fentlmeats and regu-
lations of which had lately, as far as concerns women, un-
dergone an alarming change. And with regard to the many
really valuable moralifts who have attempted to ftem this
torrer.t^ the obfervation which the author formerly made re-


fpa^Ing young men was equally true of women. The ext
iremes of Ibciety were chiefly attended to ; and if we judged
by the ftyle generally ufed by the infl:ru(Si:or of the fair fex,
we fhoukl think that the whole female world was 'livided
jnto *< high-lived company" and pauperc ;* that numerous
and important body the middle clafies of fociety, whof^ du-
ties are moft complicated, and confequently moft diflicult,
being generally overlooked ; and yet the change of manners
and purfuits among thefe are {o marked, that the mofl: fu-
perficial obfervers muft be alarmed at the profpect of what
it portends. Something too was jfeid of the advantage, as
well as of the propriety, of intrufting female practitioners
with the preparation of nofirums for the moral difeafes of
their own flfterhood ; and a hint was given, that it would
be patriotic to endeavour to reflore the reputation of the fair
college of pharmacopolifts, which has been grievoufly tar-,
niflied by the pracSlice of thofe charlatans who had aggrava-
ted the difeafes which they pretended to cure by ftimulants
or anodynes, till in many cales they were become too obfti-
nate for any remedy. It was urged too, that a popular au-
thor was in confcience bound to employ the (perhaps) tran-
sient period of public approbation in ufing her moft ftrenu-
ous endeavour to repay the favour of generous prote£lion,
by endeavouring to give that turn to the tafte and morals of
fociety which would be moft beneficial to its temporal and
eternal interefts. This folemn conlideration, enforced by
the dying injunctions of a much refpccled friend, who, near
the clofe of his valuable life, addreiled an awful charge to
the author, that flie fliould « Purfue the courfe in which
flie then trod, and let all her future works tend not only to
moral but religious edification," has determined her to con-
quer the timid, or perhaps prudential motives, which advifed
a timely retreat from the field of literature, before the fure
indications of negleCl ftiould prevent her from doing fo with
honour. The prefent work is the confequence of this re-
covered hardihood.

Aware that humble views are beft fuitcd to her abilities,
flie does not attempt to compofe a correft and elaborate fyf-
tem of morals •, nor will flie examine the evidences and doc-
trines of religion with logical minutenefs : able writers have
preceded her in thefe departments. Her aim is, to prefent

• This obftTvatton mufl he taken with exceptions; amnnq; which, Dr.
CJIboriu'ii Tfiid on the Duties of Women liolcls a prc-euilnetit rank.


re.iders of her own fcx, and ftatlon, with fome admonitory
reflexions on thofe points which appeared to her of fuperi-
or importance, either from their having been omitted or
nightly difcuffecl by other writers, or from the prevailing
temper of the times requiring them to be recalled to gener-
al attention, and, if poffible, placed in a novel and therefore
more attraftive point of view. To arreft the attention of
thofe who are terrified by the uniform aufterity of a inelan-
choly cenfor, the fombre hue of precept will be relieved by
fuch ornaments as can be adopted without injury to the main
defign. Perhaps this lad intimation is but a fpecious apolo-
gy for a manner of writing, at firft natural, and now fo con-
firmed by habit, that a determination to avoid it would cer-
tainly give a difgufting ftifFnefs to the following lucubra-

The author is aware that there is a confiderable refem-
blance between this and her preceding work on a fimilar
fubjedl. This was unavoidable, unlefs flie had omitted what
flie judged the moft important part of her undertaking, or
referred her prefent readers to another publication : in eith-
er cafe, the prefent would be incomplete. She has endeav-
oured to give all the variety in her power, by varying her
expreffions, and the order of her refledlions -, by throwing
in fuch new remarks as recent occurrences, or her own fub-
fequent reading, have fupplied ; by flightly paffing over what
flie there attempted to explain in detail ; and by fupplying
what an impartial review taught her to think deficient in
her former work.

As thefe admonitions are chiefly defigned for readers
whofe time is occupied in purfuits and duties which compel
them to take up a book rather as an improving relaxation
than a ferious ftudy, the epiftolary ftyle was adopted, as beil
fuited to this purpofe. It is, however, acknowledged, that
thefe letters were originally ivritien for the purpofe of publi-
cation, although they are addrefled to a young lady, the
daughter of the deareft friend of the author's early life. By
kindly permitting her name to be the vehicle for thefe re-
flexions, Mifs M has, in a confiderable degree, beguil-
ed the fatigue of authorfliip ; for certainly there have been
in%ments when the awful idea of public obfervation has fail-
ed to opprefs the imagination which, infl:ead of a load of fu-
ture refponfibility, pi-efented the foothing image of lifl:ening,
partial friendlhip j endeared by the lively recolkXion of he-


reditary virtues, and every lively fenfatlon vhich the indeli-
ble remembrance of a long loll;, yet ftill dearly regretted
friend can awake in a grateful and fufceptible heart. But,
to check a train of thought foreign to the purpofe of this
prefatory addrefs, let it be obferved, that though, fo far as
refpe£ts the feelings of the author, the appropriation of this
compofition has been mofl: beneficial and agreeable, there is
a kind of prefumptuous impertinence in the choice of the
medium through Avhich thefe reflections are conveyed to the

public, which only the fweetnefs of Mifs M 's difpofition

could excufe, or the unequivocal merit of her character
counteradt. Within the reipeclable circle which bounds her
fame and her duties, it is well known, that, fo far from want-"
ing the advice of others, flie teaches all who obferve her
condu£l, by that nobleft and moft imprelRve mode of in-
ftru^ion, example.


Is'c. bfc. ^C.


Introdudory Sketch of the Deftgn,



1 EN years have elapfcd fince the inevitable confequences
of an excruciating and lingering decay deprived you of a
mother, whofe counfels and example would have been your
beft guide to all that was amiable and praife worthy in your
fex. It is not for us misjudging mortals, whofe views are
bounded by the narrow horizon of feventy years, to queftion
the decrees of that infinite Being whofe eye pervades the,
meafurelefs ages of eternity ; nor can we fay how far the re-
lations and advantages of that endlefs exiftence, on which
chriftianity allows us to believe the glorified fpirit of your
pious parent has now entered, depended upon the brief ter-
mination of her mortal courfe. Of this we are fure, that
the merciful Father of the human race fees it expedient to
perf^dl his creatures by fufi:erings, even as a child in a well
regulated family is trained to virtue and knowledge by a
fyftem of difcipline and reftr^int, of which it does not then

difcern the advantage. Thus, my dear Mifs M , your

mother was doomed to pafs tlirough a rugged and painful
paflage in her early journey to eternity ; and thus alfo, with
refpeft to yourfelf, the young fcion was left expofed juft at
that period when it feemed moft to require fhelter from the
external violence of jftormy winds, and from thofe difeafes
which arife from premature expofurc, and often deflroy the
moft promifing vegetation.

The fame ftroke which deprived you of a mother, fepara-
ted me from the friend whom I beft loved ; whofe partial
approbation firft ftimulated me to break through oppofing


difficulties, and to beftow all the cultivation on my pafllon
for literature which my fituation in life allowed. Encour-
aged by her praifes, guided by her tafte, and (what was in-
fmitely more important to mc) corrected and improved in
my moral judgment by the lllcnt eloquence of her blamciefs
manners, I ftarted In the career of authorfliip with the moft
flmguine expectations of full and immediate fuccefs. The
premonitory cautions which flie thought it right to beftpvv,
were too gentle to reprcfs the warm hopes of youthful inex-
perience -, and it was only the fucceffive difappointment of
my firft attempts which taught me that it was eafier to pleafe
the candid and judicious, than to propitiate the multitude,
when unfanctioned by the patronage of a mighty name, and
unrecommended by a blamable fiicrifice to fiilfe princijile.

I fhall not forget the tender folicitude with which my
late friend exerted herfelf to obviate the eftctfls of thofe mor-
tifications of which her prudence had in vain forewarned
me, and from which her enei'gctic exertions coulil not pro-
tect an unknown inexperienced writer. To the happy in-
fluence of her kindnefs, and her counfels, I may attribute my
tfcape from the morbid prelTure of defpondency, and my
ftill happier prefervation from the torrent of falfe theories
;md dlforganizing principles which was at that time poured
into this country. As the effe6ls of thefe fubverting doc-
trines had not then appeared ; and as, like their author Sa-
tan, they took the difgulfe of angels of light ; a half cultiva-
ted romantic mind, ignorant of men and manners, and en-
thufiaflically attached to thofe vilions of indej-K^ndence, phi-
lanthropy, energy, and perfe<SHon, which are fo dear to the
votaries of the mufes, might have been feduced by the fair
femblance in which thefe apoftles of anarchy were then en-
veloped ; efpecially as they affefted refpe£t for the palladi-
um of religion. The mature and enlightened underftanding-
of your excellent mother faw through the impofture, and
taught her credulous friend to diftinguifli between pretences
to fuperior virtue, and the artlefs unboaftful reality. You,
doubtlefs, recollect the apprehenfions which ihe felt, left the
fpirit of infubordi nation and difcontent, though difcounte-
nanced by all wife and worthy Britons, ihould be diffufed
among the lower orders, who, being more inclined to feel
the difad vantages of ignorance, than to acknowledge the
comforts of obedience, would in confequence be betrayed to
renounce the limple path in which their forefathers walked,
and to follow thofe new lights which pretended to dirc<^


them to the tree of knowledge. She lived to fee her appre-
iienllons verified, nor has the evil yet ceafed to work : may
the Almighty, in his mercy, limit its progrefs !

Such were the obligations that I owed to your mother ;
and to which muft be fuperadded, all the common offices of
generous, a(5live, afFe(Slionate friendlliip : no wonder then
that the lapfe of years has not diminilhed my attachment to
her memory. The folemn fcenes which preceded her diflb-
luaon afforded an inilru6live example, to all around her, of
the pofhbility of difcharging the hard duty of confecrating
afHiifiion ; and they taught us to mingle with our tears for
her lofs, the confolations Avhich arlfe from a conviction of
her beatitude.

Among the injun£lions that I received from her dying
lips, there is one to which I fliall now more particularly re-
fer : I mean her earneft delire that I would " write to ycUf
and remind yrM of our friendiliip." My dear young friend,
our correfpondence has not fufiered any long interruption
fince that period ; yet I often feel as if I had not, in my pri-
vate addrelTes to you, fully accompriflied the wiflaes of your
mother. It is a mofl inexpreffible fatisfadlion to me, to per-
ceive that you attain the age of majority with every fair
promife of being the true reprcfcntativc of the revered de-
ceafed ; nor can I point out any part of your condudl which
my knowledge of her fentiments perfuades me fhe would
have wiflied to be altered. Yet I feel fuch an exquillte fat-
isfaClion in the idea of being employed in (I muft not fay
her fervice, but in) fhewing my attachment to what flie befl
loved, that I cannot refrain from alking your permiffion to
addrefs to you fome counfels and admonitions, which many
young women ef your age would find but too necelTary in
thefe portentous times. That " myftery of iniquity," v/hofe
courfe is marked on the continent of Europe by fubverted
empires, and defolated realms, has on this ifland been at pre-
fent bufy in effefting thofe moral revolutions Vk'hich are the
precurfors of political ones. The manly fenie and indepen-
dent pride of Britons have (with few exceptions) nobly dif~-
dained to adopt the political example of a people to whom
they have been accullomed to give laws in the field of arms ;
but it is much to be feared, that they have not with equal
warinefs refifted the blandifhments of their vicious example,
or braced up their minds to repel the confequences which
refult from luxury, diffipation, and every varied form of
pleafurable indulgence. By thefc affailants the weaker fex


arc more particularly aiTaiilted. Under the covert of con-
tinual amufement, pride, levity, felfifliners, difregard of punc-
tuality, extravagance, and religious indifference, have fi:olen
unfulpe(fl;ed upon our unguarded hearts, and often have fo
far alienated us, as to occafion a total negleft of God's holy
word and commandments. In this ftate, the mind is apt to
weigh whatever is fubmitted to its judgment, rather by the
loofe fcale of prefent expediency and con^'enience, than by
the immutable ftandard of right, or the certain ex'^eclations
of future confequcnces. Such is the procefs by which many
are led to commit a crime, rather than make a breach in
their politenefs, and to injure their probity fooner than re-
nounce an indulgence ; and thus they lofe, in the tranfient
gratifications of the animal fenfes, the uobleft diftin<ftions and
fureft rewards of their intelledlual being. But let us defcend
from general declamation, to particular inftances of the
change of public opinion as it relates to our fex.

The focicty, which young women who are devoted to a
life of fafhionable amufement frequently meet, creates a fpe-
cies of danger which in the prefent times is moft trulv alarm-
ing. The unblufliing effrontery with which women of
doubtful or loft charadler obtrude themfelves upon public
notice, is a marked charafteriftic of the age we live in, that
was unknown to our anceftors (except, perhaps, in one prof-
ligate reign,) and ftrongly demonftrative that the out pofts
of female honour are given up. What can more tend to
debafe the purity of virtue, and to enfeeble the ftability of
principle, than to find that a notorious courtezan retains all
the diftin^lions due to unfpotted chaftity ; nay, even to fee
her pointed out as a moft engaging creature, with a truly
benevolent heart ; while all retrofpecl of her flagitious cour-
duel is prevented, by the obfervation, that we have nothing
to do with people's private charafter. Can we wonder, that,
fmce the age is become fo liberal, profligacy fliould not feel
the neceflity of being guarded in its tranfgreftlons ?

If we turn from thefe flagrant violations of divine and hu-
man laws, which even the groffeft depravity cannot juftify,
por the moft fubtle fophiftry palliate ; may v.e not, in the
licenfcd freedom of modern manners, trace many deviations
from reftitude and dehcacy ? To what defcription of condudl
muft we refer tliat marked attention which married women
permit from fafliionable libertines .'' Is it compatible with any
of the peculiar tr;tits of the matronly charat'ler, prudence,
decorum, and confiftcncy ? What is tliat mode of drefs which


they fan^lion by their example, the expenfe to which they
devote their fortunes, or the amufements to which they fac-
riiice their time ? A young woman who now adventures in-
to the labyrinth of life, has more to fear from the feniors of
her own fex, than from male artifices. The Lovelaces and
Pollexfens have not indeed totally difappeared from the cir-
cle of fafhion ; but it is not youthful beauty and virgin in-
nocence that now attraifl their purfuit. While the fpright-
ly fpinfter waits till the coquetifh wife difmifTes her wearied
Cecifbeo, to yawn out an unmeaning compliment to the im-
mature attractions of nineteen, fhe muft conlole her chagrin
by refolving to take the firft offer that flie can meet with,
provided the creature pofleffes the requifites of wealth and
fafhion to enable her to revenge her prefent wrongs on the
pajt generation of beauties, and in her turn to triumph over
the Jucceedlng.

This refle£lion leads me to that paffion for genteel appear-
ance in drefs, equipage, furniture, and every mode of ex-
penfe, which is fuch a ftrong feature in the afpeft of this
luxurious age ; and which really defcends to every rank, even
to thofe on whom poverty has ftamped the marks of wretch-
edncfs. To outfliine your equal in tafte and fmartnefs, is a
rule which every underftanding can comprehend, and which,
requiring no great exertions of the mental .or moral powers,
becomes a marketable medium of fluiftuating value in the
commerce of life. Though the effefts of this abfurd pro-
penfity are moft feverely felt in the lower orders, its mif-
chiefs are not imknown in thofe circles from which it wns
iirft derived. We females have had many monitors on this
(to us) important topic ; yet as the evil vifibly gains ground,
and even threatens to fubvert all diftindlions in fociety, all
attempts to place in a clear point of view the abfurd ity of
endeavouring to impofe upon the world, by pratSlIfing a cheat
too familiar to deceive an idiot, deferve commendation.

Nor are the evils confequent on a life of diffipation the
only dangers that young ladies may now dread. In retire-
ment, they are haunted by another fpecies of enemies, no
lefs alarming to their underftandings, to their morals, and to
their repofe. The fpecies of reading, prepared to relieve the
toils of diffipation, is faithful to its intereft, and is either in-
tended to miflead or to gratify. Under the former defer ip-
tion may be ranked all thofe fyftems of ethics, and treatifcs
on education, which are founded on the falfe dodtrine of hu-
man perfedlibility, and confequently rejeCl the neceffity of


divine revelation and fupernatural agency. Many elementa-
ry works on the fcienccs come under tliis defcription -, and by
thefc the young ftudent may learn that fhe is a free indepen-
dent being, endowed with energies which (lie may exert at
will, and reftrained by no conlldcrations but tliofe which her
own judgment may think it expc'dietit to obey. She is taught,
that the nature flie inherits was originally perfect ; that its
prefent difordered ftate did not arife from an hereditary taint,
the confequence of primeval rebellion, but from wretched
fyftems of worldly policy, ill concerved laws, and illiberal re-
ftraints ; which if happily removed, the human mind would
at once ftart forth in a rapid purfuit of that perfection which
it is luUy able to attain. She will hear much praife beftow-
ed on generofity, greatnefs of foul, liberality, benevolence,
and this caft of virtues ; but as their offices and properties
would not be clearly defined, and as all reference to the pre-
venting and affifting grace of God, or to the clear explana-
tions which accompany Chriftian ethics, are fyftematically
excluded from thele compofltions, it will not be wonderful
if the bewildered reader fliould beftow thefe titles on the ac-
tions of pride, pertinacity, indifcretion, and extravagance.
We have feen the effects of thefe theories on the vacant im-
petuous mind of uniuftructed youth, fufficiently to deter-
mine, that, like the pagan corrupters of old times, who
*' changed the glory of the invifible God into an image made
like unto corruptible man," they, while *' profefling them-
felves to be wife, have become fools."

But we will fuppofe a young woman happily free from the
metaphyfical mania, and influenced by no inordinate defire
to diftingullli herfelf among her companions by the difguft-
ing affedtation of fupcrior knowledge ; I mean by this, a
common charac^ter, who is willing to Aide with the world ;
who reads to kill time j who adopts the opinions that flie
hears, and fuffers the paffing fcene to flit by her v/ithout
much anxiety, or much reflection. Unengaging as this char-
acter is, I confefs that I greatly prefer it to the petticoat phi-
lolophift, who feeks for eminence and diiiinction in infideli-
ty and i'cc})ticifm, or in the equally monftrous extravagancies
of German morality. Women of ordinary abilities were in
former times confined to their famplers or their confection-
ary ; and furely they were as well employed in picking out
the feeds of .currants, or in ftitching the " tale of Troy di-
vine," as now, when they are dependant on the circulating
liJTary for n^.ear.s to overcome the tedium of a difeu^aged day.


Novels, plays, and perhaps a little poetry, are tlie limits of
their literary refearches. Shall we inquire what impreflions
romantic adventures, high wrought fcenes of pafaon, and all
the turmoil of intrigue, incident, extravagant attachment,
and improbable vlciilitudes of fortune, muft make upon a
vacant mind, whofe judgment has not been exercifed either
by real information, or the conclufions of experience and
obfervation ? The inferences that we mufl draw are felf-

Let us introduce a third poffibility, and fuppofe a young
woman well difpofcd, and pofTcfTed of fuch a fuperficial
knowledge of religion as the fafliion of the prefent day, and
the time allotted to the acquifition of pohte accomplifliments,
feem to permit. Such a one will, in her private ftudies, en-
deavour to improve her acquaintance with thofe eternal
truths which will make her wife unto falvation. If fhe pof-

Online LibraryMrs. (Jane) WestLetters to a young lady, in which the duties and character of women are considered, chiefly with a reference to prevailing opinions → online text (page 1 of 52)