European Magazine (1803)
European Magazine, 43 (June 1803), 450-53; 44 (July 1803), 41-44; 44 (August 1803), 117-20.
Female Biography; or, Memoirs of illustrious and celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries. Alphabetically arranged by Mary Hays. Six Volumes. 12 mo. [This review is confined to vols. 1-2.]
A sedulous attention has been given of late years to the improvement of the education of young females, in schools of established reputation throughout the United Kingdom; and much praise is due to Mrs. Chapone,  Mrs. Hannah More, Mrs. Barbauld, Mrs. Trimmer, and other celebrated writers and governesses, who have contributed by their literary labors, or by their powerful example, to the amendment of the old system, so deservedly exploded.
The introduction of Geography and Chronology, which Lord Chesterfield justly calls “the Eyes of History;” and of History itself in the most convenient form to render it attractive, being destined to occupy only its due proportion in the circles of elegant acquirements, we mane by judicious abridgements, merits the grateful acknowledgments of liberal-minded parents and guardians. We have therefore contemplated with pleasure, and do earnestly recommend the abridgements of Ancient and Modern History by Dr. Mavor, the precursor of the present work, planned and published by the same active and enterprising bookseller.*
Biography must ever be considered as a valuable branch of History, where the recorded lives are connected with the transactions of civil society, and set before the rising generation bright examples of patriotic heroism, of public virtue, of sound morals, and of pure religion. Such are the great majority of the lives contained in these volumes; but we should not do justice to the public, if we did not notice the frivolity of a few, which have no claim whatever to a place, in a collection calculated “for the advancement of the fair sex in the grand scale of rational and social existence.” It will not require the discernment “of the well informed critic,” for the common reader will readily discover those lives which cannot possibly accord with Mrs. Hays’s laudable design, “to excite a worthier emulation than that of a rivalry for admiration, and offering daily sacrifice at the shrine of fashion, the following memorial of those women whose endowments or whose conduct have reflected lustre on the sex, is presented more especially to the rising generation. – I have endeavored, in general, to serve the cause of virtue and truth.” We firmly believe this was the lady’s intention, but she has failed by mixing dross with sterling ore – and we are happy to find in another part of her preface, a warrant for the liberty we intend to take in recommending a retrenchment of the work in a future edition, or the substitution of other meritorious characters. “I shall receive with patience, nay, more, with thankfulness, the corrections of the candid and experience critic, whose art I equally reverence and esteem.”
The present Review is confined to the two first Volumes; the same course shall be observed with respect to the third and fourth, which it is proposed to examine and report with candor in our next, and the two last Volumes, in our Review department for the month of August; a decided proof of the high esteem in which we hold the work, independent of the defects we intend to point out, and which we might have passed over, if a well founded opinion of its general merit had not persuaded us, that a new edition will be soon called for by the numerous encouragers of this class of useful literature.
Should the six volumes be reduced to four in consequence of our advice, let the fair Editor bear in mind, that the celebrated Richardson submitted to have his moral tale of Clarissa Harlowe curtailed from 28 to 8 volumes. We have still another improvement to offer, an arrangement in classical instead of alphabetical order. By adopting the former in future, public and private characters may be separately considered as afforded two distinct subjects of useful and entertaining information, the first illustrating universal history, the second exhibiting examples for imitation, of the talents and virtues suited to private stations. In the alphabetical arrangement, the great and the little, the good and the insignificant, not to say the censurable, are all inked together, like good and bad neighbors.
We highly approve the annexation of the authorities which have been consulted in composing the present work; they must not, however, be admitted as an excuse for the insertion of some lines, that with more propriety might have been omitted.
In the life of Abassa, the first, in Vol. I, for instance we cannot discern any thing worthy of imitation, or even of particular notice; and the principal incident is not of a very delicate nature. It was a proper article for the General  Biographical Dictionary, and for the historical notes to Madame de Genlis’ Knights of the Swan; but we cannot think Les Femmes Celebres an authority for Mrs. Hay[s] to have followed; and in fact, she has herself given us the life of Giaffer, from the two other respectable authorities, rather than that of Abassa, concerning whom we have only a translation of a few objectionable lines attributed to her.
Agrippina the younger, the mother of Nero the Roman Tyrant, is thus introduced – “an example of the disquietude and misery which arises out of the perversion of great talents, can be neither uninstructive nor useless.” We defy the wit of woman to discover in tracing this infamous character “from the earlier periods of life, to the latest hour of her existence” any great talents, except for vices and crimes of the deepest dye; and we want no other authority for this assertion than pages 14, 15, 21, 27, 29, 31, 41, of this too long life, which indeed requires an apology, – unnecessarily made in the preface, for the extraordinary length of the well-written lives of those illustrious women, (in the same rank as Agrippina,) Queen Elizabeth, and Catharine II. of Russia.
The story of Athenais, a Greek Virgin of obscure rank, whose personal beauty and mental accomplishments raised her to the imperial throne of the Greek Emperor Theodosius, whose wife she became, and changed her name to Eudocia, on her conversion from paganism to christianity, is written in the manner our author expresses herself solicitous to have acquired – it is distinguishable “for uniformity of language, the style is clear, correct, and harmonious;” the subject is truly interesting, and the example animating. (See Vol. I. p. 222.) We were pleased to find several of the same description in this Volume; amongst others, the life of Margaret Beaufort, daughter and heiress of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, grandson of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married in the fifteenth year of her age to the Earl of Richmond, to whom she bore a son, Henry VIIth, King of England. A Volume would scarcely suffice to contain a detail of this lady’s munificent and noble actions. She was the rewarder of merit, and the benefactress of the distressed. In the very next page to this truly illustrious and pious lady, we find Mrs. Aphara Behn, “more celebrated for her wit and dramatic powers, than for the scrupulous delicacy of her productions” – a very good reason in support of a classical arrangement, where she may be placed in the back-ground.
The Memoirs of Boadicea, of Anne Boleyn, the unfortunate wife of Henry VIII. and mother of our renowned Queen Elizabeth, and of Queen Caroline, the consort of George II. hold the first rank in the list of illustrious British females recorded in Vol. II. To Calpurnia, the virtuous and amiable wife of Julius Caesar, occupying s scarcely four pages, succeeds that of Bianca Capella a Venetian, who elopes from her father with Pietro Bounaventuri, a young Florentine, having first secured, as a dowry, a set of jewels belonging to her father, by whom she had been kept in strict confinement, conformable to the Venetian custom with respect to young women of noble families; “but bolts and bars,” says our author, “are but feeble obstacles when opposed to passion, which, ingenious to circumvent, and fertile in resource, bursts the trammels of authority, and overleaps, without difficulty, the barriers of external restraint.” Surely Mrs. Hays had forgot that she was professedly writing to excite laudable emulation in the hearts of young women! Scenes of the most criminal intrigues, of artifice, perfidy, and infidelity, fill almost every page of the scandalous Memoirs of this Venetian lady, extended to an extraordinary length, founded on no other authority but a life of Bianco Capello translated from the German, and for no better reasons than that, in the end, she became the wife of Francisco de Medicis, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who, though a married man, had seduced her from her husband, and had lived with her publicly as his mistress; and her conduct in other respects rendered her odious, and detested by the Florentines.
Catharine of Aragon, the virtuous and pious wife of the tyrannical Henry VIII. deserved more circumstantial details, and afforded scope for instructive moral reflections, whilst the life of Catharine de Medicis, the ambitious and cruel mother of the imbecile Charles IX. King of France, and regent of the kingdom during his minority: at whose instigation the dreadful massacre of the French protestants, begun  at Paris in the nights of the Festival of St. Bartholomew, attended with circumstances of the most horrid cruelty, was perpetrated, and buy her means extended throughout the kingdom, whereby 70,000 innocent persons fell victims to the bigotry and vengeance of this wretched woman; does such a character, deserve a considerable portion in a Volume of female Biography, composed for the improvement of the minds of British ladies? An answer must be given in the negative, by all well disposed readers. The remainder, nearly one third of this Volume, and a part of the third, are devoted to the long life of Catharine II, the late Empress of Russia, which will be further noticed in our next.
(To be continued in our next.)
* R. Phillips, of St. Paul’s Church-yard.
Female Biography; or, Memoirs of illustrious and celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries. Alphabetically arranged by Mary Hays. Six Volumes. 12 mo. [This second part of the review is confined to vols. 3-4.]
The life of Catharine the Second, continued through 271 pages of the third volume, is closed with the following pertinent remark: “There are few reigns more interesting than that of Catharine, more strictly biographical; few that involve more important principles, that afford a wider scope, or that more forcibly tend to awaken reflection. Let this be an apology for a diffuseness that may seem to form an exception to the limits allowed to individuals by the nature of the present work.” We have to add, let it operate as a charm to induce young females to turn from the delusive and seductive volumes of novels, to the rational, the instructive, and amusing, records of history and biography.
This life is written in a superior manner, collected in general from well known and esteemed authorities, more especially from the Rev. Mr. Tooke’s Life of Catharine, amply reviewed in our Magazine, Vols. XXXIV. and XXXV. for the years 1798 and 1799; but enriched likewise by selections from other able writers on the same subject. The dictatorial conduct of the Empress, in tasing her favorite, Prince Poniatoffsky, to the throne of Poland, we give as a specimen.
“Conscious of her power, Catharine successively dismissed the various candidates for the Polish monarchy, till, to the amazement of Warsaw, her choice, which fell on Poniatoffsky, was made known. Universal discontent ensued; the Polish Nobles enquired of each others, by what services, or by what qualities, this man had rendered himself worthy of so extravagant a reward: The endowments of the new King, who was handsome, agreeable, accomplished, eloquent, calculated to please, but incapable of command, were better suited to conciliate private affection, than to fit him for a throne. But murmurs and resistance, opposed to the Russian ;power, were equally vain. Catharine wrote to her Minister at Warsaw to employ every engine to favor her lover. “Remember,” says she, “my candidate. I write this two hours after midnight: judge if I am indifferent kin this affair.”
“The Russian Generals neglected nothing for securing the wishes of their Sovereign. The Dietines were convoked. Poniatoffsky was, by that of Warsaw, unanimously elected: those of the provinces proved less tractable. Crowds of foreigners had poured into the city, ready to unite at the first signal. In the Diet, confusion and tumult prevailed: its Marshal, venerable for his age and for his virtues, in vain attempted to reduce it to order; he was answered by drawn sabres and furious outcries. Mokranoffsky, Nuncio of Cracow, risked his life under the swords of the Russian soldiers, who tried to pierce him from the galleries of the speakers. Returning into its sheath his sabre, which he ad at first drawn, he opposed his breast to their weapons. “If you must have a victim,” said he to the Russians, “I stand here before you. At least I shall die as I have lived, free!” He had not escaped their rage, but for the generous courage of Prince Adam Chartorinsky, who threw his body as a shield between him and his adversaries.
“A Courtier at Petersburgh, sensible of the aversion of Poland to the Monarch imposed upon them, had the boldness to hint it to the Empress. ‘No,  man,’ said he, ‘is less proper than Poniatoffsky to fill the throne of Poland; his grandfather having been an intendant (steward) of a little estate belonging to the Princess Lubominsky.’ ‘Though he had been intendant himself,’ replied Catharine haughtily, ‘I will have him to be King, and a King he shall be.’
“Twelve thousand Russians had entered Lithuania, and fresh reinforcements advanced towards Kief: the Russian Ambassador governed Warsaw, and the armies of Catharine compressed the republic. The spirit of Poland yet struggled: an action took placer between the contending parties, in which the Russians were victorious: the sister of a Prince of Poland, and his bride whom he had newly espoused, fought with sabres, and mounted on horseback, by the side of a brother and a husband, for the expiring freedom of their country.”
The tragical story of Prince Ivan is related more circumstantially than we remember to have read in any former publication; the suspicion of his being sacrificed to state intrigue and the dread of secret conspiracies to dethrone the Empress, appear, in this affecting narrative, to be but too well founded.
From Spittler’s Sketch of the History of the Governments of Europe, we are presented with this striking passage: – “The volumes of modern history can produce no reign like this; for boo Monarch has ever yet succeeded in the attainment of such a dictator in the grand republic of Europe as Catharine the Second now holds; and none of all the Kings who have heretofore given cause to read the erection of an universal monarchy, seem to have had any knowledge of her art: to present herself with the pride of a conqueror, in the most perilous situations, and with an unusual, a totally new dignity, in the most common transactions. And it is manifestly not only the supreme authority which here gives law, but the judgment, which knows when to shew that authority, and when to employ it.”
On the subject of her Code of Laws being made public, we have the following representation, which, if not new, has the merit of exhibiting the transaction in a most pleasing point of view.
“The provinces of the empire, without excepting any, however barbarous or remote, had orders to present, by deputies at Moscow, their ideas on the regulations fitted to their peculiar exigencies. Catharine having herself repaired to that ancient capital, the opening of the States was, held with solemn pomp.
“To behold the deputies of a numerous people, various in manners, dress, and language, ignorant of law, and accustomed to the arbitrary will of a master, assembled for the purpose of a legislative discussion, afforded a novel and affecting spectacle. To leave to the assembly an unconstrained appearance, a gallery had been constructed in the hall, where the Empress, without being perceived, witnessed all that passed. The business common led by reading, translated into the Russian language, those instructions, the original of which, written in French, almost wholly in the hand of Catharine, has been since enclosed in a case of silver gilt, deposited in an apartment of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at Petersburgh.
“Bursts of applause interrupted the reading of the instructions, while the sagacity, the wisdom, the humanity, of the Empress, were loudly extolled. In these acclamations, countless, fear and adulation had their share. One person only, the deputy of the Samoyedes, had the courage to speak with freedom, in the name of his brethren. ‘we are a simple and honest people – we quietly tend our rein-deer. We want no new code; but make laws for the Russians our neighbours, that may put a stop to their depredations.’
“The succeeding fittings passed not so quietly. Liberty to the boors and been proposed: thousands of this oppressed class prepared to support by force what they expected from equity. An insurrection was dreaded by the Nobles, who feared more a defalcate of their revenues. Among them were some who rashly asserted, that the first man who should move for the affranchisement of the vassals, should fall by their poniards. In despite of these menaces, Count Scheremetoff, the richest individual in Russia, to whom 150,000 peasants appertained, rising up, declared, that, for his part, he would cheerfully accede to the affranchisement. The debate grew warm, fatal consequences were apprehended, and the deputies were dismissed to their respective provinces.
“Previous to the dissolution of the  Assembly, it was required of the members to signalize their meeting by a memorial of gratitude to the Empress. The titles of Great, Wise, Prudent, and Mother of her Country, were, by unanimous acclamation, conferred upon Catharine. When informed of this decree, she replied, with apparent modesty, ‘that if she had rendered herself worthy the first title, it was for posterity to confer it on her: that wisdom and prudence were the gifts of Heaven, to which she daily gave thanks, without presuming to arrogate merit to herself: but that the Mother of her Country was the title to her the most dear, and which she regarded as the benign and glorious recompense for her solicitudes and labour in behalf of a people whom she loved.’
“Proud of the work which had obtained her this flattering homage, copies of the instructions were dispatched to those Sovereigns whose esteem she courted. Having complimented her on her labour, they hesitated not to pronounce that they would afford to her honor an eternal monument. The King of Prussia, among other flattering observations, thus expressed himself: – ‘Semiramis commanded armies; Elizabeth of England was accountable ted a Politician; but no woman has hitherto been a Legislatrix: a glory reserved for the Empress of Russia, who so well deserves it.’”
Next, in importance, to the life of Catharine, in this volume, are those of Cleopatra, the celebrated Queen of Egypt, and Christina, Queen of Sweden. Of the private lives we distinguish Lady Mary Chudleigh, an eminent English Poetess. Ann Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, Dorset, and Montgomery, memorable for her exemplary piety, her extensive charities, and her firm, independent spirit, manifested upon more than one occasion to the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. Catherine Cockburn, a Dramatic Poetess of considerable reputation. And, Juana Inez de la Cruz, a Spanish Poetess. Intermixed with these, in the alphabetical order, the reader will be surprised to find Charlotte Cordy, stiles “the young Heroine of the French Revolution,” who assassinated the republican tyrant Marat in his own house; for which she was publicly executed at Paris. Surely it would have found a fitter place for preservation in the history of “the many virtues and vices,” which Mrs. Hays affirms, “that revolution called forth.”
The fourth volume contains memoirs of the following public characters:
Livia Drusilla, in early youth married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, a Patrician, who followed the fortunes of Antony in his wars against Octavius Caesar; but upon the temporary reconciliation of the competitors for supreme power, by the marriage of Antony with Octavia, the sister of Octavius, Tiberius appeared with his beautiful wife at the nuptial festivals; when Octavius, struck with her charms, repudiated his own wife, and prevailed on Tiberius to resign Livia to him: she then became the wife and future Empress of Octavius, who, after the death of Antony, became Emperor of the Romans, and had the title of Augustus conferred on him by the Senate and people of Rome. A fund of entertainment will be found in this article, but not an unsullied reputation: it is not a model for imitation.
The life of the illustrious Queen Elizabeth does great credit to our Authoress; it is composed with judgment, fidelity, and impartiality, from the best authorities extant; some interesting anecdotes are introduced not commonly known, and, we think omitted in former memoirs of this renowned Sovereign: the article occupies nearly one half of the volume, and well deserves the space it fills.
The affecting story of Lady Jane Gray, who fell a victim to the blind ambition of her father-in-law, is related in such a pathetic stile, that it must call forth the sensibility, and draw tears from the bright eyes of the fair readers who reflect on her youth, innocence, piety, and mental accomplishments; doomed to an untimely grave, to quiet the fears of a bloody tyrant of her own sex.
Of the private lives we give the preference, in the order in which they are arranged, to Madame Dacier, a French Lady of great celebrity in the republic of letters, for her profound learning, her dramatic poetry, her letters, and other miscellaneous works.
The little history of Eponina, the wife of Sabinus, a native of Langres, who, during the struggles of Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, put in his claim to the possession of the throne, but was defeated, has in it, as Mrs. Hays justly observes, “something so peculiarly  interesting and affecting, that it can scarcely be read without emotion.” We have sensibly felt that emotion; and have only to add, that it is as wonderful as the legends of romance, yet has all the evidence of historical truth.
When, casting our eyes over the other conspicuous articles in this volume, we found Ninon de l’Enclos, Heloise, and Leontium, and Athenian Courtezan, in the same sheets with the chaste Lucretia, we could not avoid calling in question the discretion of the writer, and wishing once more to lop off the rotten branches from the goodly tree of knowledge in this garden of literature. Why copy from Bayle’s Historical Dictionary the bad to intermix with the good! But we will close the account for the present, with expressing a firm reliance on the good sense and excellent moral character of the publisher and proprietor of the work, for revision and reformation in a new edition.
(To be concluded in our next.)
Female Biography; or, Memoirs of illustrious and celebrated Women of all Ages and Countries. Alphabetically arranged by Mary Hays. Six Volumes. 12 mo. [This third part of the review is confined to vols. 5-6.]
Our duty now enjoins us to scrutinize the two remaining volumes of this instructive compilation: and it is with satisfaction we notice the well-written life of the unfortunate Mary Queen of the Scots. If accuracy, candor, and a disposition to place in the most favourable light, in consideration of the frailty of our nature, those transactions over which a veil of obscurity and uncertainty has been thrown by time and adventitious circumstances, are recommendations of an historian, Mrs. Hays cannot fail of acquiring the esteem of sensible readers for this portion of her useful labour.
The fifth volume extends to 527 pages, 286 of which are dedicated to the curious memoirs of this celebrated victim to state policy, or what our modern Ministers, and their scribbling agents, would call political necessity. As our lists will by no means admit of entering into the body of this ample life of Mary, we substitute, as strong inducements to the perusal of it, the following extracts from the judicious notes of the Author:
“In the course of this narrative, it has been studiously avoided to pronounce any actual decision respecting the real guilt or criminality of Mary, in those two important transactions of her reign, the murder of Darnly, and the subsequent marriage of his widow with the murderer. Still farther to oppose to the circumstances which may seem to tend to the crimination of Mary, justice and candor demand, that a brief abstract should be given of the arguments alleged in her vindication. The reader will then be left to form his own conclusions on the evidence presented to him.
“If by the (Roman) Catholics Mary was held up a s model of perfection, and by the Calvinists, represented as a monster of wickedness, the, by every mind that has attended to the history of party-bigotry, even in ages of boasted civilization and refinement, was necessarily to be expected. But why, it may be asked, do we see the same division, and the same prejudices, for nearly two centuries after these fervor have subsided, and a general indifference has taken place of the enthusiasm and violence which they produced? To this question is has been answered, that it is a well known fact, that the only histories of the reign of Mary which were suffered to be published in the language of the country, and allowed to circulate among the people, were penned by her avowed and open enemies. The frantic zeal of Knox in the cause of the reformation rendered him at once the easy dupe and the powerful tool of an artful and politic faction, which made successful use of his popular talents. In times of fanaticism and faction, religious zeal and political opinions are almost always inseparably connected; and super-human indeed must be the strength that should succeed in dissevering them. While the lower classes of the Scots were the implicit disciples of Knox, the Detection of Mary by Buchanan and its effect among the learned. This work, patronized by Queen Elizabeth and the regency of Scotland, spread through the realm, and was distributed among foreign Princes. His Latin history was taught in the schools, and made a study at Universities. While these writings were thus favored, those composed by the opposite party, whose credit and popularity were ruined and sunk, either remained unpublished, were suppressed by the arm of power, or were written in languages not understood by the people.” Mrs. Hays then brings, in proof of this assertion, the arbitrary suppression of Bishop Lesly’s Vindication of Mary – the cancelling a leaf in the continuation of Hollinshed’s History (or Chronicles of England, Ireland, and Scotland0 “for a single insinuation in favor of Mary.” The Annals of Camden, written in Latin, were not printed for nearly a century after. Neither were the Memoirs of Crawford published till their anonymous author had lain in the grave near a hundred and fifty years. These were the principal works written in favor of Mary, whose cause circumstances had combined to render unpopular. A long and general acquiescence in the truth of the asseverations of the adverse party gradually silenced even doubt; while one historian copied another, and every one those which had preceded him.
“At length, a small number of speculative persons began to examine the nature of the evidence produced against Mary; and as the age became more  enlightened and sceptical, the historic doubt arose. Mr. Goodall, late Keeper of the Advocate’s Library at Edinburgh, whose office gave him access to original records, was the first modern champion in the cause of Mary; his work, which was ingenious and acute, laid the foundation for those who came after him. Tytler followed the same path, but took a wider circuit. Stuart succeeded, but without a perfect development of his plan” – the chief aim of this writer was to controvert the opinion of the respectable Dr. Robertson; and we were surprised to find that Mrs. Hays has passed over in silence his History of Scotland, which is a production as modern, and as deserving of credit on the other side of the question, as the compilations of the champions before mentioned for the Queen of Scots in this enlightened age. Whitaker next, by connecting incidents, and contrasting different accounts of the same transaction, illustrated many events, and threw a light on what had before appeared obscure.” Here let a private opinion be introduced with respect to the last-mentioned author – his principal design is to accuse the illustrious Elizabeth of the foulest crimes, to fully her immortal reputation by the following groundless assertion: – “Respecting the real history the murder of Darnly; the whole plan appears, after a long and minute examination of circumstances and facts, with strong presumption, to have orientated between Elizabeth, Cecil, Morton, and Murray, while the former (viz. Elizabeth) was to defend the conspirators in charging the crime on Mary, for the purpose of giving credit to which she was to be betrayed into a marriage with Bothwell, the perpetrator.” Is there an intelligent Englishman who can read this abominable libel on the memory of the illustrious Sovereign, who saved his country from the bloody scourge of papal jurisdiction by the wisdom of her councils, and her own personal fortitude, without reprobating the writer, and wishing to consign his work to eternal oblivion.
The life of Mrs. Catharine Macauly [sic] Graham follows next, in the alphabetical order of this volume, a life of little consequence to the public, to whom she exhibited inconsistency of character, both as an historian and a woman; and in this instance, Mrs. Hays, in our opinion, has. sacrificed her own judgment to the partial communications of a warm female friend of the late Mrs. C. M. Graham.
Short memoirs of Julia Moesa and her daughter Mammea, celebrated roman Ladies, collated from Gibbon’s History of the Decline of the Roman Empire, intervene between the interesting life of the Queen of the Scots and the very entertaining and expanded narrative of the life and character of the celebrated Madame de Maintenon. Born in the dungeons of a prison, in which her father was confined for a state crime; reduced by poverty to the alternative of taking the veil in a convent of nuns, or of becoming the wife of Scarron, the celebrated French comic Poet and Satirist, at the age of sixteen, she preferred the latter, though he was deformed in his figure, deprived of the use of his limbs, tortured with the gout, and laden with infirmities; left a widow at the age of twenty-seven, with scanty means of support, but enriched by the instructions of her husband with every mental accomplishment, and by nature with personal beauty; she rose, by degrees, to the elevated station of consort (being privately married) to Louis the Fourteenth, at that time the most renowned Monarch in Europe. In this, and in all other situations, from the lowest to the highest, the purity of her manners, the rectitude of her conduct, her scrupulous discharge of what she conceived to be the duties of religion, and her charitable institutions in the zenith of her prosperity, altogether furnish a bright example to her sex of persevering virtue amidst the vicissitudes of a life extended to an extraordinary period. The following was an aphorism of this Lady – “Begin early, as, I have done, to live like an old woman, and you may live as long.” A steady adherence to this principle prolonged her life to the age of eighty-three years, with some infirmity, but without any serious disease.
Of the remaining lives in this volume, those of Margaret de Valois, sister to Francis the First, King of France, and Queen of Naples by marrying Henry d’Albert, King of that country, and of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, are the most conspicuous. We have no exceptions to take against any of the lives contained in this volume, but were surprised to find the letter M closed without any notice taken of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, so celebrated for her letters on Turkey, whose  other literary compositions, together with those letters, if we are not misinformed, will soon make their appearance from the press, under the direction and care of the indefatigable Phillips, the publisher of the work now before us. The omission, therefore, he will have a fair opportunity of rectifying in a future edition of the “Female Biography.”
The sixth volume opens with memoirs of Octavia, the second wife of Mark Antony, and the sister of Augustus Caesar, not very interesting, but offering a lesson of patience and fortitude to married women, under the severe trial of infidelity and unkindness on the part of their husbands. Another Octavia also, the wife of the tyrant Nero, by whose order she was cruelly put to death, fills a few pages; “her life was a series of calamities; a dark and deep cloud obscured her fate, through which a beam of joy scarcely ever penetrated – yet, to personal charms, she added modesty, sweetness, beneficence, purity of manners, talents, and an irreproachable conduct.” Learn, ye fair ones, to avoid repining at small misfortunes, and to be content with the station in which it has pleased God to place you! To the life of Mrs. Oldfield, the next in order, we strongly object; though a celebrated actress, she ought not to have been found in a work composed for the use and entertainment of modest women; and to avoid further trouble on this head, we here enter the same protest against the memoirs of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, one of the mistresses of Louis the Fourteenth, in the course of which anecdotes of two more are introduced. The simple question between us and the enterprising publisher is this – Having a race of lovely girls, advancing annually to years of understanding, would he wish to have them find this work, in its present state, in his private book-case? If not – let him feel the force of our admonition, for the sake of the parents of grown-up daughters; and as speedily as possible produce a chaste edition. There are loose readers enough in our corrupt metropolis to take off the present edition, through the medium of multiplying circulating libraries.
The life of Lady Pakington, the reputed author of The Whole Duty of Man, and of several other religious and moral tracts, cannot fail of being beneficially interesting to al pious and well-disposed readers. She was the daughter of Thomas Lord Coventry, Keeper of the Great Seal of England in the reign of James the First, and the wife of Sir John Pakington, Bart. “By the author of ‘The English Baronetage,’ she is spoken of as a bright example to her age, and one of the most learned and accomplished of her sex.”
Passing over a few lives of less consequence, we come to that of the unfortunate Madame Roland, the wife of Monsieur Roland, a short time Minister of the Finances to Louis the Sixteenth, and the victim of the French Revolution. It is written in a masterly style of elegance, in most parts acknowledged by Mrs. Hays to be the language of Madame Roland, whenever it was practicable in an English dress. The variety of incidents, their importance, and the strong interest which the reader is excited to take in them by the pleasing and affecting manner of relating them, render these memoirs by far the most entertaining of any in the whole performance. The vicissitudes of fortune this unfortunate couple underwent, the delineation of the characters of Mirabeau, Bristol, Dumouriez, Marat, Robespierre, and other principal leaders of the Republican Party, prior to and after the French revolution, throws a curious and clear light on that grand era in the political history of France; and the following observation respecting the last King of France contains a striking illustration of the delicacy of his situation: “I never,” says she, “could bring myself to believe in the constitutional vocation of a King, born and brought up in despotism, and accustomed to arbitrary sway. Had Louis the Sixteenth been sincerely the friend of a constitution that would have restrained his power, he must have bee a man above the common race of mortals; and had he been such a man, he would never have suffered those events to occur that produced the Revolution.”
Roland dismissed from the Ministry, first by the King, and after his execution recalled, and dismissed again by Robespierre’s faction, was in continual apprehension of being arrested by the Convention, totally under the control of that bloody demagogue.
“To-day on a throne, to-morrow in a prison” – “Such,” observes Madame Roland, “is the fate of virtue in revolutionary times. Enlightened men who have pointed out its rights are, by a national weary of oppression,  first called into authority. But it is not possible that they should long keep their places: the ambitious, eager to take advantage of circumstances, mislead the people by flattery, and, to acquire confidence and power, prejudice them against their real friends. Men of principle, who despise adulation and contemn intrigue, meet not their opposers on equal terms; their fall is therefore certain: the still voice of sober reason, amidst the tumults of the passions, is easily overpowered.” – Can there be a more instructive lesson held forth to sensible men, to true patriots lamenting the abuses which time and degeneracy of manners may have introduced into monarchical governments; but for which , they will seek for milder remedies than revolutions, if they are not misled by such men as Madame Roland so accurately pourtrays! The narrative of the sufferings, and fatal catastrophe, of the honest Ex-Minister and his virtuous wife, is uncommonly affecting, and cannot be read without a tear.
The following character is given of Madame Roland, by M. Champagneux, the intimate friend of her husband: – During the first twenty-five years of her life, she had read and studied with attention every work of celebrity, both ancient and modern; from the greater number of which she had mad extracts. She wrote with ease and grace, both in English and Italian, her thoughts always outstripping her pen and her words. She was mistress of several sciences, and particularly skilled in botany. By her travels she had acquired experience and improvement. She was remarkable for her penetration, her sagacity, and her judgment. She was remarkable for her penetration, her sagacity, and her judgment. In private and domestic life she practiced every virtue; her filial piety was exemplary; and united to a man twenty years older than herself, she made his constant happiness. As a mother she was exquisitely tender. Order, economy, and foresight, presided over her domestic management; her servants seemed to partake of her excellencies, and served her from attachment rather than from interest: this was manifested by their affection and courage at the time of her apprehension. The worthy Lecoq, (her valet,) the faithful Fleury, were ambitious of following her to he scaffold; Lecoq succeeded; but Fleury failing, grief for the loss of her mistress threw her into a state of mental derangement: she was dismissed from the bar of the bloody revolutionary tribunal as an insane woman. She was afterwards protected and sheltered by the daughter of Madame Roland, with whom she mingled her tears and her regrets.”
The life of our celebrated English poetess and moral prose writer, Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe, is the next in succession. The distinguishing characteristic of this lady, besides her literary fame, was, “her possessing a command over her passions, and a constant serenity and sweetness of temper, which neither age nor misfortune could ruffle. It is questioned whether she had ever been angry in her life: a proof that the tender and gentle sensibilities may exist independent of the irascible passions. Her servant, who lived with her near twenty years, gave a testimony to the kind and even tenor of her mistress’s temper.” May this bright example have its due effect on such of the female readers of those memoirs as are mistresses of families, and induce them to treat their servants with less hauteur and indignity than is generally to be met with in the higher classes of society. The life of Lady Rachel Russel, daughter of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, in the reign of Charles the First, and the wife of that illustrious patriot Lord Russel, who was unjustly condemned and executed for high unjustly condemned and executed for high treason against Charles the Second, is peculiarly interesting, and furnishes another instance of female conjugal affection, and of pious resignation to the will of Duke of Bedford, under the severest trials – the legal murder of her husband – the death of their only son, the first Duke of Bedford, in the thirty-first year of his age, and of the Duchess of Rutland, one of her daughters, in child-bed.
The other remarkable lives in this volume are those of Laura Sade, including memoirs of Petrarch; of Anna Maria Schurman, a learned German Lady; of Madeliene de Scudery, a celebrated French Poetess and writer of Romances, who, it is asserted, composed eighty volumes, and died at the great age of ninety-four; of the Marchioness de Sevigne, whose letters are so generally known and esteemed, that they alone are sufficient recommendations to the perusal of her life.
Curious and highly entertaining memoirs of Zenobia, the celebrated Queen of Palmyra, close the work, and will be read with great pleasure by the lovers of ancient literature, and the admirers of heroic fortitude in the female breast.