Friday, December 11, 2009

Advice to women

A Father's Legacy To His Daughters is an odd book written in 1774 by a widower who fears to leave his daughters without guidance. It makes depressing reading, but I have to think it the work of a depressed mind. His wife is dead, and it seems he has reason to fear that he will soon die.

"Your whole life is often a life of suffering. You cannot plunge into
business, or dissipate yourselves in pleasure and riot, as men too often do,
when under the pressure of misfortunes. You must bear your sorrows in
silence, unknown and unpitied. You must often put on a face of serenity
and cheerfulness, when your hearts are torn with anguish, or sinking in
despair. Then your only resource is in the consolations of religion. It
is chiefly owing to these that you bear dosmetic misfortunes better than
we do."

This, however, I simply find odd. What does it mean?

"There is a species of refinement in luxury, just beginning to prevail
among the gentlemen of this country, to which our ladies are yet as
great strangers as any women upon earth ; I hope, for the honour of the
sex, they may ever continue so : I mean, the luxury of eating. It is a
despicable selfish vice in men, but in your sex it is beyond expression
indelicate and disgusting."

The scanning of this book is crude, and most of the s are missing, but another online version which leaves in the f/s shows the same word. Eating. He might have meant a style of eating, for he follows it with:

Every one who remembers a few years back, is ſenſible of a very ſtriking change in the attention and reſpect formerly paid by the gentlemen to the ladies. Their drawing-rooms are deſerted ; and after dinner and ſupper, the gentlemen are impatient till they retire. How they came to loſe this reſpect, which nature and politeneſs ſo well intitle them to, I ſhall not here particularly inquire. The revolutions of manners in any country depend on cauſes very various and complicated. I ſhall only obſerve, that the behaviour of the ladies in the laſt age was very reſerved and ſtately. It would now be reckoned ridiculouſly ſtiff and formal. Whatever it was, it had certainly the effect of making them more reſpected. "

It's passages like this that make clear the divide in understanding between us and even the quite recent past.


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