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The Vindications by Mary Wollstonecraft

The Vindications by Mary Wollstonecraft

Author:Mary Wollstonecraft
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Alma Books
Published: 2020-02-28T17:12:04+00:00


II

Dr Fordyce’s sermons* have long made a part of a young woman’s library – nay, girls at school are allowed to read them – but I should instantly dismiss them from my pupil’s if I wished to strengthen her understanding by leading her to form sound principles on a broad basis, or were I only anxious to cultivate her taste, though they must be allowed to contain many sensible observations.

Dr Fordyce may have had a very laudable end in view, but these discourses are written in such an affected style that, were it only on that account and had I nothing to object against his mellifluous precepts, I should not allow girls to peruse them unless I designed to hunt every spark of nature out of their composition, melting every human quality into female meekness and artificial grace. I say artificial, for true grace arises from some kind of independence of mind.

Children, careless of pleasing and only anxious to amuse themselves, are often very graceful, and the nobility, who have mostly lived with inferiors and always had the command of money, acquire a graceful ease of deportment which should rather be termed habitual grace of body than that superior gracefulness which is truly the expression of the mind. This mental grace, not noticed by vulgar eyes, often flashes across a rough countenance and, irradiating every feature, shows simplicity and independence of mind. It is then we read characters of immortality in the eye, and see the soul in every gesture, though when at rest neither the face nor limbs may have much beauty to recommend them, or the behaviour anything peculiar to attract universal attention. The mass of mankind, however, look for more tangible beauty – yet simplicity is, in general, admired, when people do not consider what they admire – and can there be simplicity without sincerity? But to have done with remarks that are in some measure desultory, though naturally excited by the subject…

In declamatory periods Dr Fordyce spins out Rousseau’s eloquence, and in most sentimental rant details his opinions respecting the female character and the behaviour which woman ought to assume to render her lovely.

He shall speak for himself, for thus he makes Nature address man: “Behold these smiling innocents, whom I have graced with my fairest gifts and committed to your protection – behold them with love and respect; treat them with tenderness and honour. They are timid and want to be defended. They are frail – oh, do not take advantage of their weakness! Let their fears and blushes endear them. Let their confidence in you never be abused. But is it possible that any of you can be such barbarians, so supremely wicked, as to abuse it? Can you find in your hearts* to despoil the gentle, trusting creatures of their treasure, or do anything to strip them of their native robe of virtue? Cursed be the impious hand that would dare to violate the unblemished form of Chastity! Thou wretch! Thou ruffian! Forbear – nor venture to provoke Heaven’s fiercest vengeance.



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