Analytical Review (1793)

Analytical Review 16 (August 1793), 464-67.


Letters and Essays, Moral, and Miscellaneous. By Mary Hays. 8vo. 260 pages. Price 5s. in boards. Knott. 1793. 


     The rights of woman, which have been of late so ably asserted by an enlightened female philosopher*, have been very successfully exercised by the writer of these papers. Taking encouragement from the doctrine and the example of the justly admired advocate for her sex, miss H. ventures beyond the boundaries which the tyranny of example and custom has prescribed to female writers; and while, in some of her pieces, she amuses her readers with pleasing and instructive moral tales, in others, she carries them out of the flowery path of fiction into the sober walks of reason, and leads them to inquiry and reflection on various subjects of political, metaphysical, and theological speculation. If the work be less distinguished by the elegant composition than the productions of some other female pens, the deficiency is, in a great measure, compensated by the just and useful observations which she makes on moral conduct; and by the perspicuity with which she explains to her female readers some of the leading arguments on philosophical or theological subjects.

     Of the fictitious tales contained in this volume two only are works of fancy, enlivened by poetical imagery; the first, a fragment, in the manner of the old romances; the second, the hermit, an eastern tale: the rest are simple domestic narratives, chiefly intended, and very well adapted, to guard young females against the contagion of fashionable frivolousness; to teach them the great importance of improving their understandings; to warn them of the pernicious consequences of early indulgence; and to guide their judgment respecting the connexions they may form in life. Religious sentiments are interspersed through all these pieces, as well as though those which are written in the [465] form of essays, on the topics of female character  the choice of books, conversation, and friendship, and the like; but these sentiments are not of the fanatical or superstitious kind, but such as appear to have arisen from rational inquiry. In some of these letters are discussed, in the way of easy argumentation, several of those topics which have lately engaged the attention of the public, particularly the controversy concerning the utility and obligation of worship  and those concerning materialism and necessity. But these subjects, as may be easily supposed, are treated rather in a loose and general way, than in the style of close reasoning, or deep investigation. The system of Dr. Priestley on these subjects is pretty closely followed. Referring to the volume itself for what miss H. has advanced on these topics, we shall quote, as a specimen, her remarks in a letter to a friend on a more general subject, that of reading novels. p. 86.


    [What follows here is along quotation from that essay, on pages 465-67 of this article.]


     Some small pieces of poetry are annexed. We regret that these letters and essays, which are in many respects valuable, were not carefully revised by some learned friend, who might have prevented such errours as the following: – the general tendency of the scriptures militate against this idea – ideas that harmonize best with the general tenure of revelation – have stimulus to mental improvement – when suitability is wanting.

                                     D. M.


* Mrs. Wollstonecraft.