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It is necessary to inform the reader, that the greater part of the following pages, was written and arranged nearly in the present form, some years ago. The subject though at all times of general concern, had then likewise some degree of novelty to recommend it; in so far at least as that no work had appeared, I believe, for the professed purpose of advancing and defending the pretensions of women, to a superior degree of consideration in society, to that which they at present enjoy.
The public too at that time was at leisure, and seemed disposed, to encourage the endeavours of individuals to instruct, or amuse; and in such circumstances the following little work, without any claim to extraordinary attention, except in the interesting nature of its subject, might have come in for its share of notice, with other things of the same degree of merit. But times and circumstances are now so different, that some apology is necessary for obtruding it on the public; after having kept it back at a moment, when it might have been better received.
While I was pursing my work with all the enthusiasm common to a first attempt, and to my natural disposition; a gentleman of distinguished abilities and learning, but not one of those who wish to confine all knowledge to their own sex, sent me – Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal, &c. by an English officer. Perhaps the most singular part of that very sensible and spirited performance, is the author’s opinions with regard to women; and I was at first highly flattered to find that the sentiments I had pre-conceived on that subject, were nearlysimilar to those of one, whose abilities, in every point of view, appeared so respectable. And who was certainly less liable to prejudices, which, – however much I endeavoured against them, – I always feared might influence my own opinions.
These were my first reflections on reading Major Jardine’s Letters; but those which succeeded were not so agreeable, and retarded for a considerable time the finishing of this sketch. For, it could not but occur to me, that, as he had – though, but incidentally – treated the subject of it so well; those who should come immediately after him, could have little claim to notice.
As it is not however an easy matter to give up a favourite pursuit, upon which the mind has accustomed itself to dwell with complacency and partiality, after a pretty long recess I found it not difficult, to reason myself into my own good opinion again; and in fact, resumed the business, with more ardor than ever.
Just at this period, and when I had the goal almost in view; and, as if the very demonof intelligencewere let loose, to persecute me with information, though in an obscure corner of the kingdom – the Rights of Woman by Miss Wollstonecraft was sent by a friend, for my perusal.
Mortified still more I must candidly acknowledge, by this second anticipation; because by its pointed title, and declared purpose, it was more likely than even the first, to impede the success of an attempt, which not had less claim to that novelty which ensures at least temporary notice; I flung aside my little sketch in favor of women, with a degree of disdain, which, I begin to hope, it did not deserve. I likewise hope, nay I most sincerely believe, that once spark of envy, did not lurk at the bottom of this conduct; though we have it from too good authority, that, the heart is desperately wicked. Be this as it may, sufficiently discouraged, and despairing of being able at the time, to give it the finishing touches with that degree of spirit, which, only, can render a work of any kind acceptable to the public; I laid aside all thoughts of it for a considerable time.
But though a still greater interval than the last elapsed, before I could prevail on myself to finish the sketch as it now appears; yet I had gone too far, and bestowed too much pains upon it, easily to relinquish my purpose. Indeed, when we consider how many books are written, and read upon every subject – I may rather say how many myriads of books of every different degree of merit, are absolutely necessary, to suit the different tastes, capacities, and judgements of mankind – before the public opinion is influenced to any great degree, far more before any new doctrine can be firmly established; there is perhaps no great presumption in supposing, that each may in some degree, more or less, have its effect.
I would have it understood, however, that I found my pretentions, whatever they may be, rather upon the merits, than – as is too often the case among writers, – upon the alleged defects of those who have treated the same subjects. So far indeed, are works of very superior merit, from superseding the necessity of others; that on the contrary, it is too evident, that such are not always the most popular; or, at least that some time generally elapses before they become so. That which raises them in the eyes of the few, either sets them beyond the reach of the multitude; or, what is infinitely worse, renders them obnoxious to its hatred and persecutions. If any thing indeed can be objected to, in the works to which I have alluded, it is an error but too commonly attendant on genius; who seldom deigns, by managing, and sympathizing with, the prejudices of mankind, to make new and unexpected truths palatable to common minds.
Yet to manage with some degree of tenderness the prejudices of the generality of mankind; to respect that even these till the multitude can be persuaded that all prejudices are inimical to its happiness and interests; can neither justly be esteemed immoral, or deceitful. It is only doing that by gentle means and by degrees, which can never be done wellby any other.
The task be mine then, of presenting a sketch, which presumes to recommend this gradual reformation, this gentle emancipation from error; and from error too as deeply rooted, and as fondly cherished, as any in the whole circle of humanity.
Whatever the fate of this attempt may be, I shall not have my friends to blame, nor to thank, for ushering it into the world; for the truth is, that the fear of appearing in a new character before them, though not a very numerous body, is one of the reasons which determine me to take shelter behind the scenes; and I am at this moment in a situation perhaps as truly ludicrous as can well be conceived. For, having written a book which I wish to expose to the public; I yet have not the resolution to submit it, to the eye if friendship or affection; whether most, from fear of partiality or censure, I scarcely myself know. But this I know, that here I am with my Appeal in my hand, determined to print and publish, – yet not knowing a printer or publisher in the whole world, to whom to apply; and at present determined to interpose no medium, between me and those formidable gentlemen.
How long this farce may last, I cannot pretend to guess; but I have strong pre-sentiment that after all discouragements, the following sketch will appear before the public at last.