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Locke recommended the study of grammar; Lord Halifax insisted on a competent acquaintance with arithmetie; the sentimental Hervey tenderly advised his lovely disciples to take a few lessons in geography, and even intimated that it might not be improper to acquire an insight into the wonders of nature. Even at this period there were, however, some rare examples of fathers who hesitated not to bestow on their daughters elaborate culture, at the same time admonishing them carefully to conceal from the world the extent of their attainments. Under such a system of minute restrictions, of self-imposed mental censorship, it is not surprising that few women should have ventured to write, and that fewer still should have produced what was worthy to be read. During two thirds of the last century the British fair were completely eclipsed by the literary dames of France; and the Deshoulières, the Lamberts, the Daciers, and the Sevignés, were still allowed to reign unrivalled, or alone opposed by the witty Lady Mary and the gentle Elizabeth Rowe. At length genius revealed itself in a female form, and Letitia Aikin, (whose maiden appellation was soon superseded by the now venerable name of Barbanld,)- Letitia, the sister of the late Dr. Aikin, published essays in prose and verse, which established her own fame and redeemed the honour of her countrywomen. Since that epoch rival schools of literature have risen and declined. Masters and their disciples have successively flourished and decayed, and not a few of those who once wore the garland of triumph are consigned to un. grateful oblivion; but it is the property of genius to retain the freshness of immortal youth. After many revolving seasons we find Mrs. Barbauld's leaf still unwithered; nor has she relinquished the high station she was originally permitted to assume among our national essayists.
But, as demonstration is better than argument, instead of quoting further examples, or discussing the subject of female cultivation with those timid alarmists who discover perils to virtue in the elements of grammar and orthography, I shall simply invite them to a lounge in Miranda's Boudoir. Who is Miranda ? Of that hereafter. For the present let it suffice to observe, that the most scrupulous fair has no cause to decline the invitation. It is to no pavilion of the Champs Elysées that I entice her steps, to no voluptuous dressing-room of a Duchess of Portsmouth, or even the secret chamber in which a Duchess of Marlborough or a Countess of Sunderland gave audience to Whig or Tory visitors, at once adjusting their tresses and embroiling the affairs of Government. It is neither to coquets nor to stateswomen that I would introduce my amiable companions, but to a cultivated English lady of the Nineteenth Century, in whose mansion every object bespeaks the happy union of wealth and intellect, of luxury and taste. I pass over the ordinary suite of apartments and their appropriate decorations, and proceed with impatience to the octagon chamber, which, though at stated seasons opened to the world, I am accustomed to consider as the sanctuary of its accomplished mistress. I will not indeed deny but that on some occasions the arched door, which now bars communication with the other apartments, has been thrown open, and this shrine of the Muses has become, for a few hours, the temple of the Graces.
On this ottoman, where I now recline, I have alternately caught inspiration from the matchless glance of Siddons or De Staël's im
passioned eloquence, or gazed on a Lady D *** and listened to
till I became insensible to the fascination of the waltz that swam before my eyes, or even to the melody that floated on the perfumed air, like the song of spirits in Elysium. But now all is still and silent within this luxurious and ornamented solitude, from whence the disembodied spirit of literature seems to have banished the vulgar cares and turbulent passions that corrode existence. Miranda is absent ; but here are her mute companions, and they are suited to persons of every age and temperament. Enthroned on their symmetrical shelves appear the historians and poets of classic Greece, of ancient and modern Italy, the Romances of Spain, the Teutonic bards, the wits and orators of France ; above all, the brightest gems of English literature. For the lover of the arts, behold folios of choice prints and British landscapes ; for the lovers of Nature, rare plants and masterly botanical delineations ; for the citizen of the world, various plans of usefulness, the beautiful visions of enlightened benevolence : for idlers, like myself, lie scattered on the round table in rich profusion, poems and reviews, plays and romances, songs and sonatas. Among novelties of the literary class, I find myself attracted by two small folios, deliciously perfumed, entitled “ The Living and the Dead." The first contains manuscript fragments in prose or verse by several distinguished living ladies of Britain; the second is appropriated to a collection of posthumous autographs, designating almost every authoress who has died since the commencement of the present Century. In this collection I recognize nearly fifty names, some of which, it must be acknowledged, were in a manner resuscitated from oblivion ; but it is gratifying to add, that if few of these fair candidates had secured a passport to the Temple of Fame, not one of them had forfeited her claim to the respect of her contemporaries. From a cursory glance of the Album I remarked, that within the last fifteen years there had been a considerable increase in the number of female writers, whose pro. ductions now form no unimportant supplement to our national literature. In examining the contents of the autograph obituary, I was at first disposed to look for certain interesting physiognomical indications from these records of literary calligraphy; but in vain did I try to reconcile to the rules of system the delicate feeble strokes of Elizabeth Hamilton's pen, with the vigorous tone of her mind. In vain seek to discover a type of delicacy and erve in the masculine lines of Mrs. Brunton; and little was there of elegance or even vivacity in the long, meagre, but regular characters of Mrs. Piozzi. In many of these specimens I remarked a whimsical incongruity with literary pursuits, that seemed to intimate they had been surreptitiously obtained from the fair writers. The authoress of the Count de Poland, the Lady Bountiful of her neighbours, was recognized in a recipe to restore a lost voice. Of Mrs. Dobson, the translator of the Life of Petrarch, nothing better was produced than an illegible scrawl accompanying an annual donation of plum cake. But I was most struck with the posthumous equality established among those whom fortune should seem to have for ever divided : : nor could I suppress a melancholy smile in observing the momentary gleam of splendour, that, like a flash of phosphoric light, Aitted over each recent grave. The indigent authoress, who had so often traced her painful steps from Paternoster to Leadenhall, was now,
by representation, admitted to Miranda's boudoir, from which she had herself been excluded. The modest Austin is thus forced from the seclusion in wbich she had lived and died. The name of Hunter calls up tender, deep regrets, where her venerable presence so lately diffused delight, whilst the delicious notes of “ I scorn to complain," were warbled by one who, like her, now lives but in remembrance.
In contemplating the characters, I naturally wished for an opportunity of comparing the lineaments of the respective autographists; but reflecting how rarely even in youth an accurate delineation is given of the human countenance, I suppressed my regrets and referred to the biographic notices appended to the signatures, each of which might have been comprised in the scanty limits of an epitaph. How, indeed, should it be otherwise ; since, with few exceptions, literary women are found to have passed through the world with as much privacy, though less tranquillity than other females in corresponding stations : the single circumstance that appears to have broken the insipid monotony of their existence, and that which alone gave a peculiar colour to their destiny, was their first public introduction to the press-a decisive step, by which they were in a certain degree separated from the community of womanhood, and deprived of its best privileges,-the protection of the other sex. Neither the father nor the husband can shield an acknowledged writer from calumnious misrepresentation or malevolent reproach. Left to herself, the victim of prejudice or detraction, she has no alternative but to descend to entreaty or altercation, to renounce her rights or suffer injuries in silence. It may perhaps be doubted whether the career even of successful authorship affords a triumph sufficiently splendid to atone to a woman of delicacy for the outrage which an anonymous adversary may inflict on her character and feelings. In this country not even our bards, much less poetesses, are crowned ; neither, perhaps, were the honour offered, would our English Corinnas be eager to accept the homage; since they often evince more solicitude than females of any other class, not to transgress the decorums of society, or overstep the barrier that custom and authority have established. It has been usual to identify the Blues with old maids; but judging from the autographic obituary before me, the majority of these lettered dames have been wives and mothers. It is natural to enquire whether they have often been permitted to realize that domestic felicity so touchingly pourtrayed, so exquisitely embellished by the female pen. On referring to my biographic notices, I find reason to believe that those matrons had for the most part ample experience of the evils incident to the lot of woman.
It is sometimes reserved for a fortunate necessity to elicit female talent which might otherwise remain dormant. of this we have a pleasing example in Mrs. Griffiths, who, under the signature of Frances, became celebrated by the publication of those well-known letters, originating in the embarrassments of a clandestine marriage, which gave ample scope to the taste and fancy of two accomplished lovers. In a sentimental correspondence it was naturally to be expected that the lady should almost exclusively engross the reader's sympathy and admiration. Epistolary composition is the single province of literature, of which men have voluntarily yielded the superiority to their fair competitors : it is a sort of common land, of which the more delicate are decidedly the most tasteful and fortunate cultivators : it is they only who have enough of patience and enthusiasm to clothe the barren heath with graceful and picturesque foliage, and to embellish it with a simple but imperishable memorial of love and friendship. Here and there, indeed, we may trace the hand of a poet, or the design of a kindred spirit to Cowper or Graham, whose sylvan bower embalms the air with delicious fragrance ; but these intrusions are so rare that the right of property seems almost exclusively vested in that sex whose purest sources of pleasure are derived from imagination and feeling. It appears not that Mrs. Griffiths had originally aspired to celebrity, but she learnt to cherish it, when the Duke of Bedford, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was in the number of her readers and admirers, evinced his respect for her talents by conferring a lucrative appointment on her beloved correspondent. Of all the years that this wedded pair spent together, of all the vicissitudes that they were destined to experience, ere Frances had lost the distinction of a delicate form, or Henry's raven locks were changed to silver grey, it is not difficult to conceive that the happiest moment of the wife's existence was that in which she saw herself unintentionally the patroness of her delighted husband.
Contemporary with Mrs. Griffiths was Mrs. Lenox, the authoress of the Female Quixotte, who, with the aid of Johnson's powerful friendship, produced for representation plays which were not condemned, and published a critical and biographical illustration of Shakspeare, which was long unrivalled. It is not often that the pupil of a great critic wins the favour of the public. In avoiding petty faults he is apt to miss those negligent beauties which might have delighted the fastidious or disarmed the rigid judgment; in aspiring to peculiar merits of style, he becomes harsh or constrained, loses the freshness of his first impressions, and the inestimable faculty of breathing life into his compositions. It is not improbable but that Mrs. Lenox was at once overawed and overrated by the great Lexicographer. Her best work, the novel of Euphemia, was not produced till long after his death, when she was herself in the wane of life and reputation. Whilst this lady and Mrs. Griffiths enjoyed celebrity beyond their deserts, the authoress of Sidney Biddulph, the meritorious mother of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, seemed destined to languish in unhonoured obscurity; but by no difficulties, no discouragements, is the energy of real talent to be extinguished. In spite of cares and vexations, and amidst multiplied domestic impediments, Mrs. Sheridan produced in Sidney Biddulph one of the standard novels in the English language, and which long after furnished her son with two of the most felicitous scenes in his comedy of the School for Scandal.
Hitherto we have confined our attention exclusively to matrons : it is time to retrace our steps. Yet, ere we approach the venerable train of maiden writers, we must steal a glance at Mrs. Chapone, whose letters on the Improvement of the Female Mind have not been superseded by any modern publication. United to the object of her youthful affections, of whom she was bereaved by an untimely death, it was the fate of this lady to spend two thirds of life in desolate widowhood; oppressed with sorrows and disappointments, of which the burthen weighs hea
vily on the delicate mind, and yet submitting with cheerfulness to every privation, save the loss of friends and the absence of congenial society: but, peace to her gentle spirit ! the exquisite pen of Mrs. Barbauld has consecrated to remembrance her talents and virtues. Among the unmarried ladies of the last century, Miss Carter, by seniority and learning, is justly entitled to precedence; and were we to decide on the comparative happiness of married or single authoresses, from the individual examples of this lady, and her excellent friend Catharine Talbot, we should have no hesitation in pronouncing for the spinster's choice. Without rank or affluence, the translatress of Epictetus appears to have constantly revolved in the orbit of peace and equanimity; alternately the pupil of her father, and the preceptress of her brothers, she enjoyed the privileges of home without its restrictions, tasted all the sweets of friendship unembittered by jealousy, and, what is more extraordinary, attracted the homage of the great, without submitting to humiliation, or incurring reproach. Among the causes of this rare felicity, something may be ascribed to a philosophic temperament, and still more to strict moral discipline, eminently distinguished by directness and steadiness of purpose. Her feelings were uniformly submitted to her judgment, and those habits of application and correctness she had acquired in the pursuit of knowledge, she successfully applied to the current purposes of life. To the latest period of existence she retained her aptitudes to study, and even persevered in the laudable habit of yielding a portion of every day to classical literature.-Nor did she ever cease to cherish that spirit of independence that taught her to value the privileges of home. In her annual visits to the metropolis, she resisted every solicita tion to domesticate in the mansions of the great, choosing rather to return to her lodging in Berkeley-street, where she enjoyed in its full extent the privileges of her own fireside. It would not be easy to find a female character exactly corresponding with that of Miss Carter; perhaps the portrait of the Princess Palatine, the friend of Penn and Descartes, offers the closest resemblance; and, like Madame Dacier, her prevailing quality was modesty. To her learning, Ancient Greece had, perhaps, raised a votive statue ; in Rome her accomplishments would have been eulogized in a funeral oration ; in Modern Italy her rare attainments might have secured her progress to academic honours. In England not even a funereal tribute was offered to her memory; no enthusiasm is here inspired for a female scholar. The purity of her character, her moral worth, her benevolence and dignity, are justly valued. But as the translatress of Epictetus, she is certainly less popularly admired, than as the correspondent of Miss Talbot and Mrs. Montague; and the charm of this epistolary collection consists in the living sketches which it offers of those who have gone before us, and who in many respects are essentially different from the present age. Curiosity is at once stimulated and gratified by the careless, yet faithful portraiture which these volumes present to us, of bishops and generals, and scholars; fine gentlemen and elegant ladies, strikingly different from those we are now accustomed to meet in parallel lines of society. It is not, however, to be denied that this circumstance, which enhances the value, diminishes the interest of the correspondence. To Miss Carter we listen with respectful deference, whilst our sympathies