Analytical Review (1798)

Analytical Review, 28 (July 1798), 23-36. 

 

Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women. 8vo. 314 pages. Price 6s. boards. Johnson. 1798. [Review by Alexander Geddes.]

 

    If it be true, as asserted by one of the ancient poets, that the day which makes man a slave “takes half his worth away,” and it must be owned that experience seems in proof of the assertion, it might be difficult to allege a satisfactory reason, why this maxim should not be impartially extended. Every valuable improvement in the history of mankind appears to have kept pace with civil liberty, which affords a scope for the exertion of individual talent and character. Amidst the [24] revolutions of political opinion, which have lately agitated the western world, our fair country-women have entered the lists, and brought against us, as a sex, a heavy charge of usurpation and oppression, utterly inconsistent, as they pretend, with the liberal principles between man and man so eagerly contended for by the more enlightened part of society, and subversive of every notion of rational reform. Our claims of superiority and exclusive legislation, they affirm, wear the features of tyranny, and carry with them, as founded merely in brute-strength, but a doubtful and savage authority. In favor of their pretensions, they contend that the improvement of the female character, as of the male, has in every age kept it’s due proportion with their political emancipation, while a few distinguished individuals have, alike in both sexes, outstripped by the force of their own reason the maturing reason of mankind: hence they triumphantly infer a solid foundation for their appeal; and indignantly demand by what authority one half of the species, on a self-erected throne, pretend to set limits to their equals and their fellows, and arrogantly say to the free mind, “Hitherto shalt thou go, but no further.” Our opposition to what they entitle their just claims they affect to trace to motives which do us but little credit; and have the temerity to hint, that while, as individuals, they feel their superiority to the majority of men with whom they associate, our pretence, that nature has fixed between the sexes an intellectual barrier which cannot be passed, is a subject only of derision. In vain they tell us, we shut against them our universities and academies, while the art of printing has spread before them the fair page of knowledge, and given to ignorance, the parent of vassalage, it’s mortal blow. Our arguments for their wholesome subjection they charge with fallacy, while our imperial care and protection they presume to treat with contempt. Why, they inquire, with equal impertinence and ingratitude, have we not, to preserve their allegiance, continued to immure them within the walls of our harems, where their ignorance might have been our security for their blind submission? They warn us to yield with a grace, what the progress of truth and opinion, flow but irresistible, will ultimately rend from us. They ask, in a masculine tone, by what pretense we make laws for them without their concurrence, exclude them from the acquisition of property, and from the possession of civil privileges, rendering them utterly dependent for comfort, for importance, even for existence in society, upon our caprices? Woman’s only chance for tolerable happiness, even in the most favorable situation, they affirm, must rest, not upon rights clearly defined and acknowledged, but upon the personal qualities, a precarious dependence of the husband, whose property, whose vassal, in the eye of the law, she becomes; against whose tyranny, whose avarice, whose profligacy, except in extreme cases, which for his own sake he will avoid, there lies neither appeal nor redress. Some of these amazons have even the boldness to insinuate, that the severity, with which we exact from them the virtue held most important to the sex, is but a sacrifice to the sensuality of man, who, choosing to indulge without restraint in his own voluptuousness, imposes on woman multiplied restraints, to counteract it’s baneful tendencies: weak precaution, say they, and absurd as weak! of which hypocrisy, not purity, is the genuine fruit. As if the dissoluteness of man did not necessarily corrupt woman, [25] as if chastity could exist when not mutually respected. By these sophisms, these paradoxes, these tyrannical distinctions, we pervert, as they pretend, our own reason, vitiate our morals, stifle the noblest sympathies of our nature, and poison the most exquisite enjoyments of the human heart. They call upon us to relinquish our vices, to abandon our fallacies, to snap their chains, to disdain the brute argument of force, by which the many have too long been subjected by the worthless few, and to give to future generations rational wives and mothers, who, by the dignity of their own examples, shall teach their offspring to be virtuous and to be free.

    We confess ourselves alarmed and agitated by these high pretensions, which ought to confirm our wise governors, in this innovating age, in their avowed determination to resist every principle of reform, which once admitted may, indeed, carry us dangerous lengths. The dominion of truth and reason, as by certain politicians profoundly observed*, by lessening the vices and follies of individuals, would strike at the root of wealth, the population, and the glory of the community.

    The present champion for her sex, more wily but not less urgent, comes forward with a feminine grace, and, assuming a sportive air, assails us with no unskilful weapons. In an advertisement, the reader is informed, that her appeal has lain dormant for several years, superseded, when nearly prepared to see the light, as at the time she modestly apprehended, by writers+ professing greater claims to popular attention.    


                             [long quotation here from p. 5 of The Appeal]    

 

[26] Such, as professed by herself, is the plan of our authoress; in the execution of which, after an introductory address, arguments adduced first from Scripture, and secondly from reason, the latter methodically arranged, against the subjection of women, are bright forward in support of her appeal.

    The subject is divided into a consideration of [long quotation from p. 30 and p. 28 of The Appeal].

    In treating the several divisions considerable ability and acuteness are manifested; perhaps the arguments might have been compressed with advantage, particularly in the concluding section, respecting ‘what women ought to be,’ in which the reasoning is somewhat enfeebled by the prolixity and diffuseness of the manner. An analysis of the work is by the preceding sketch rendered in some degree unnecessary: as a specimen of the author’s style and spirit we present our readers with the following extracts. Respecting the erroneous opinions formed by men of the abilities of women, a parallel is drawn between the sexes in the first classes of society: crowned heads are brought forward as illustrious examples, ‘as being neither more nor less than men and women.’

    [Here follows long quotations from pp. 36, 40, 47, 49, 51, 54, 56, 60, 68, 69, 78, 88, 103, 107, 108, 112, 115, 131, 133, 138, 149, 155, 159, 161, 166, 170, 175, 264, 278, 252, 290, 293, and 295 of The Appeal.] [26-36]

    We have, in reviewing this production, exceeded our usual limits, from regarding a subject involving the welfare and happiness of half the human species as of no inconsiderable importance. Of the style and composition the specimens given afford a copious and sufficient example.

A. G. 

 

 

* Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, &c.

+ Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman; Major Jardine’s Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal, &c.