The following papers might, perhaps, with greater propriety have been entitled sketches, than essays; as they are rather hints and outlines, than complete and finished pieces.
It is observed by the sensible vindicator of female rights – “that as society is at present constituted, the little knowledge, which even women of stronger minds attain, is of too desultory a nature, and pursued in too secondary a manner to give vigour to the faculties, or clearness to the judgement.” I feel the truth of this observation with a mixture of indignation and regret: and this is the only apology I [vi] shall make to the critical reader, who may be inclined to censure as unconnected, or inconclusive, any of the subsequent remarks. Impressed with sentiments of the sincerest reverence and esteem for the author of a work, in which every page is irradiated by truth and genius, I cannot mention the admirable advocate for the rights of woman (rights founded in nature, reason, and justice, though so long degraded and sunk in frivolity and voluptuous refinement,) without pausing to pay a tribute of public respect in the name of my sex, I will say, of grateful respect to the virtue and talents of a writer, who with equal courage and ability hath endeavoured to rescue the female mind from those prejudices, by which it has been systematically weakened, and which have been the canker of genuine virtue; for purity of heart can only be the result of knowledge and reflection. [vii]
By degrading the female character, and by repressing the wish for improvement, men have, with a narrow and temporary policy, been enemies, not only to their own happiness, but to their offspring: for the follies of the parents are often literally visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. When will human beings be wise enough to see their true interest? When will they drop the semblance, and seek the substance? While light streams all around them, they veil their faces, and stumble in darkness. Moral precepts have been so warped and confused, that it requires a clear and a strong head to disentangle them: seeming, through all the intercourses of polished life, has been substituted for substantial virtue: were principles inculcated, instead of rules for behaviour, such degrading maxims would be unnecessary. – What effect will my conduct produce? (and not- of what utility will it [vii] be?) is the anxious inquiry of the generality of men, as well as women; while the selfish coxcomb, and the fine lady equally sacrifice all the graceful sensibilities of the heart to the paltry ambition of living in a certain style: for too true is the observation- That the want of domestic taste, and not the acquirement of knowledge, is the most likely to take women out of their families. A reformation of manners is surely wanting; the fountain is poisoned at its source: sensible and virtuous individuals vainly struggle against the stream, which continues to draw down the majority with destructive force. Yet the spirit is gone abroad, first principles are on every subject reverted to, and causes must eventually produce their effects.
If by seeing some common truths placed in an interesting point of view, any young minds should be incited to mental, or moral [ix] improvement, the end for which this little work was designed will be answered; and the author will have the satisfaction of reflecting that she has not entirely wasted the Master’s talent: if only one talent has been given, the improvement of that one only will be required in the day of final retribution!
It is in the cause of what the writer conceives to be truth and virtue, that she has taken up the pen: every endeavor towards meliorating the human mind- how weak, or imperfect soever, must be acceptable in the fight of that Being whose nature is pure benevolence, and “no effort will be lost.”
The Fragment in the manner of the old Romances, the Eastern Tale, and the Poems, were written at an early period of life, as exercises of fancy.- The Invocation to the Nightingale has been inserted in Harrison’s [x] Collection of British Poetry.- The Ode to a Bullfinch, one of the Sonnets, and the Eastern Tale, in the Universal Magazine.
The two Moral Tales signed E.H exemplifying the misery attending unsuitable connections, and the pernicious effects of early indulgence, are the productions of a younger Sister.