Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

in every part, awakened and communicated by the slightest touch.

Not a few of the evils of the present day arise from a new and perverted application of terms; among these, perhaps, there is not one more abused, misunderstood, or misapplied, than the term accomplishments. This word in its original meaning, signifies completeness, perfection. But I may safely appeal to the observation of mankind, whether they do not meet with swarms of youthful females, issuing from our boarding schools, as well as emerging from the more private scenes of domestic ed. ucation, who are introduced into the world, under the broad and universal title of accomplished young ladies, of all of whom it cannot very truly and correctly be pronounced, that they illustrate the definition by a completeness which leaves nothing to be added, and a perfection which leaves nothing to be desired.

This frenzy of accomplishments, unhappily, is no longer restricted within the usual limits of rank and fortune; the middle orders have caught the contagion, and it rages downward with increasing violence, from the elegantly dressed but slenderly portioned curate's daughter, to the equally fashionable daughter of the little tradesman, and of the more opulent but not more judicious farmer, And is it not obvious, that as far as this epidemical mania has spread, this very valuable part of society is declining in usefulness, as it rises in its unlucky pretensions to elegance? And this revolution of the manners of the middle class has so far altered the character of the age, as to be in danger of rendering obsolete the heretofore common saying, “that most 6 worth and virtue are to be found in the middle sta. " tion.” For I do not scruple to assert, that in general, as far as my little observation has extended, this class of females, in what relates both to religious knowledge and to practical industry, falls short both of the very high and the very low. Their new course of education, and the habits of life and elegance of dress connected with it, pe. culiarly unfits them for the active duties of their own very important condition ; while, with frivolous eager

7

ness and secondhand opportunities, they run to snatch a few of those showy acquirements which decorate the great. This is done apparently with one or other of these views; either to make their fortune by marriage, or if that fail, to qualify them to become teachers of others : hence the abundant multiplication of superficial wives, and of incompetent and illiterate governesses. The use of the pencil, the performance of exquisite but unnecessary works, the study of foreign languages and of music, require (with some exceptions which should al. ways be made in favour of great natural genius) a degree of leisure which belongs exclusively to afiluence.* One use of learning languages is, not that we may know what the terms which express the articles of our dress and our table are called in French or Italian ; not that we may think over a few ordinary phrases in English, and then translate them, without one foreign idiom; for he who cannot think in a language cannot be said to understand it : but the great use of acquiring any foreign language is, either that it enables us occasional. ly to converse with foreigners gnacquainted with any other, or that it is a key to the literature of the country to which it belongs; and those humbler females, the chief part of whose time is required for domestic offices, are little likely to fall in the way of foreigners; and so far from enjoying opportunities for the acquisition of foreign literature, they have seldom time to possess themselves of all that valuable knowledge which the books of their own country so abundantly furnish; and the acquisition of which would be so much more useful and honourable than the paltry accessions they make, by hammering out the meaning of a few passages in a tongue they but imperfectly understand, and of which they are likely to make no use.

It would be well if the reflection how eagerly this redundancy of accomplishments is seized on by their

* Those among the class in question, whose own good sense leads them to avoid these mistaken pursuits, cannot be offended at a reproof which does not belong to them.

inferiors, were to operate as in the case of other absurd fashions which the great can seldom be brought to renounce from any other consideration than that they are adopted by the vulgar.

Bat to return to that more elevated, and, on account of their more extended influence only, that more im. portant class of females, to whose use this little work is more immediately dedicated. Some popular authors, on the subject of female instruction, had for a time es. tablished a fantastic code of artificial manners. They had refined elegance into insipidity, frittered down del. icacy into frivolousness, and reduced manner intu minauderie. But “to lisp, and to amble, and to nick. “ name God's creatures," has nothing to do with true gentleness of mind; and to be silly makes no necessary part of softness. Another class of cotemporary authors turned all the force of their talents to excite emotions, to inspire sentiment, and to reduce all mental and moral excellence into sympathy and feeling. These softer qual. ities were elevated at the expense of principle; and young women were incessantly hearing unqualified sen. sibility extolled as the perfection of their nature; till those who really possessed this amiable quality, instead of directing, and chastising, and restraining it, were in danger of fostering it to their hurt, and began to con. sider themselves as deriving their excellence from its excess; while those less interesting damsels, who happened not to find any of this amiable sensibility in their hearts, but thought it creditable to have it somewhere, fancied its seat was in the nerves; and here indeed it was easily found or feigned ; till a false and excessive display of feeling became so predominant, as to bring in question the actual existence of that true tenderness, without which, though a woman may he worthy, she can never be amiable. Fashion then, by one of her s

apid turns, instantaneously struck out real

d the affec. tation of it from the standiug

erfection

shifted and, by a quick touch of he scene, and at once produced

indepe

[graphic]

beauty, the intrepid female, the hoyden, the huntress, and the archer; the swinging arms, the confident ad. dress, the regimental, and the four-in-hand. These self. complacent heroines made us ready to regret their softer predecessors, who had aimed only at pleasing the other sex, while these aspiring fair ones struggled for the bold. er renown of rivalling them; the project failed : for, whereas the former had sued for admiration, the latter challenged, seized, compelled it ; but the men, as was natural, continued to prefer the more modest claimant to the sturdy competitor.

It were well if we, who have the advantage of con. templating the errors of the two extremes, were to look for truth where she is commonly to be found, in the plain and obvious middle path, equally remote from each excess ; and while we bear in mind that helpless. ness is not delicacy, let us also remember that masculine manners do not necessarily include strength of character nor vigour of intellect. Should we not reflect also, that we are neither to train up Amazons nor Circassians, but to form Christians ? that we have to educate not only rationable but accountable beings ? and, remembering this, should we not be solicitous to let our daughters learn of the well-taught, and associate with the well-bred? In training them, should we not carefully cultivate intel. lect, implant religion, and cherish modesty ? then, what. ever is delicate in manners, would be the natural result of whatever is just in sentiment, and correct in principle: then, the decorums, the proprieties, the elegancies, and even the graces, as far as they are simple, pure, and honest, would follow as an almost inevitable conse. quence; for to follow in the train of the Christian virtues, and not to take the lead of them, is the proper place which religion assigns to the graces.

Whether we have made the best use of the errors of our predecessors, and of our own numberless advantages, and whether the prevailing system be really consistent with sound policy or with Christian principle, it may be worth our while to inquire.

Would not a stranger be led to imagine by a view of the reigning mode of female education, that human life consisted of one universal holiday, and that the grand contest between the several competitors was, who should be most eminently qualified to excel, and carry off the prize, in the various shows and games which were in. tended to be exhibited in it? And to the exhibitors themselves, would he not be ready to apply Sir Francis Bacon's observation on the Olympian victors, that they were so excellent in these unnecessary things, that their perfection must needs have been acquired by the neglect of whatever was necessary ?

What would the polished Addison, who thought that one great end of a lady's learning to dance was, that she might know how to sit still gracefully; what would even the Pagan historian* of the great Roman conspirator, who could commemorate it among the defects of his hero's accomplished mistress, "that she was too good " a singer and dancer for a virtuous woman ;" what would these refined critics have said, had they lived as we have done, to see the art of dancing lifted into such importance, that it cannot with any degree of safety be confided to one instructor, but a whole train of successive masters are considered as absolutely essential to its perfection ? What would these accurate judges of female manners have said, to see a modest young lady first de. livered into the hands of a military serjeant to instruct her in the feminine art of marching ? and when this del. icate acquisition is attained, to see her transferred to a professor, who is to teach her the Scotch steps ; which professor, having communicated his indispensable portion of this indispensable art, makes way for the professor of French dances ; and all perhaps, in their turn, either yield to or liave the honour to co-operate with a finish. ing master ; each probably receiving a stipend which would make the pious curate or the learned chaplain rich and happy ?

* Sallust.

« ForrigeFortsæt »