Having more than once taken up my pen, how humble soever its efforts may have been, in the cause, and for the honour and advantage, of my sex; and having deeply at heart, as connected with the welfare of the human species, and of society at large, the moral rights and intellectual advancement of woman, I acceded cheerfully, though declining in physical strength and mental activity, to the request of the publishers of the present volumes, that I would select, compress, and compile, from the records of female eminence and worth, a memoir of [vi] Queens only, illustrious for heir great qualities, or celebrated for their endowments and fortunes. The throne itself, with but few exceptions, secures not woman from the peculiar disadvantages that have hitherto attended her sex.
It is not my purpose to revive, I wave altogether, the long disputed question respecting the mental or physical equality, or identity, of the sexes; but I maintain, and, while strength and reason remain to me, ever will maintain, that there is, there can be, but one moral standard of excellence for mankind, whether male or female, and that the licentious distinctions made by the domineering party, in the spirit of tyranny, selfishness, and sensuality, are at the foundation of the heaviest evils that have afflicted, degraded, and corrupted society: and I found my arguments upon nature, equity, philosophy, and the Christian religion.
The powers and capacity of woman for rational [vii] and moral advancement are, at this day, no longer a question: still, her general training – though superior minds, aided by the diffusion of literature, struggle and assert themselves, – is for adornment rather than for use; for exhibition rather than for moral and mental improvement; for the delights of the harem, rather than to render her the friend, the companion, the assistant, the counsellor of man, the former of his infant habits, the instructor of his early years, the source from which his character takes its bias, his principles their rise. The education of woman is yet directed only towards the embellishment of the transient season of youth.
We live in an age of great events, vicissitudes, and innovations: the invention of printing, the consequent diffusion of literature and extension of education, necessarily lead to a new order of things: it is in the nature, and of the essence, of man and mind to be active and progressive: much is to be feared; more perhaps to be hoped. [viii] Knowledge, virtue, happiness, are inseparably connected: wisdom must be the mean, moral improvement the end. All beside is but folly, is but as the squirrel running round in an endless circle, climbing, falling, and jingling its bells.
In the present work but little that is novel can, it is obvious, be brought forward: had not sickness retarded its progress, it would have appeared earlier.
If, in the slight memoir of Britain’s present Queen, some difference of tone should be noticed between its commencement and its conclusion; it is only necessary to observe, that it was begun previous to the memorable trial; finished after it ended.