The Female Right to LITERATURE,
in a Letter to a young Lady from FLORENCE.
1 WHilst you, ATHENIA, with assiduous toil
2 Reap the rich fruits of learning's fertile soil;
3 Now search whate'er historick truth has shewn,
4 And make the wealth of ages past your own;
5 Now crop the blossoms of poetick flow'rs,
6 And range delighted in the Muses bowers;
7 Say, will the sweetest of her sex attend
8 To lines by friendship, not by by flatt'ry penn'd;
9 To lines which tempt not worth with empty praise;
10 But to still greater height that worth would raise;
11 To lines which dare against a world decide,
12 And stem the rage of custom's rapid tide!
13 Come then, ATHENIA, freely let us scan
14 The coward insults of that tyrant, man.
15 Self-prais'd, and grasping at despotick pow'r,
16 He looks on slav'ry as the female dow'r;
17 To Nature's boon ascribes what force has giv'n,
18 And usurpation deems the gift of heav'n.
19 See the first-peopled East, where ASIA sheds
20 Her balmy spices o'er her fertile meads:[Page 295]
21 There, while th' ASSYRIAN stretch'd his wide domain
22 From distant Indus to the Cyprian main,
23 All nature's laws by impious force were broke;
24 The female sex to slav'ry's galling yoke
25 Bow'd their fair necks: from social life confin'd,
26 And all th' exertions of th' enlighten'd mind,
27 Clos'd in a proud Seraglio's wanton bow'rs,
28 The dalliance of a tyrant's looser hours.
29 By kings' examples subjects form their lives,
30 Dependent satraps had their train of wives;
31 Proportion'd pow'r each petty tyrant craves,
32 And each poor female was the slave of slaves.
33 When PERSIA next o'erturn'd th' Assyrian throne,
34 Destroy'd her tyranny and fix'd its own;
35 The fair distress'd no milder treatment saw,
36 This was indeed th' unalterable law.
37 In future times, whatever masters came,
38 Tyrants were chang'd, but tyranny the same:
39 At length t' accumulate the female woes,
40 The grand impostor MAHOMET arose;
41 Swoln with prophetick lyes, he lay'd his plan
42 On the firm basis of the pride of man;
43 "Women, the toys of men, and slaves of lust,
44 "Are but mere moulds to form man's outward crust;
45 "The heavenly spark, that animates the clay,
46 "Of the prime essence that effulgent ray,
47 "Th' immortal soul is all to man confin'd,
48 "Not meanly squander'd on weak woman-kind. "
49 Accursed wretch! by hell's black council driv'n
50 Thus to debase the fairest work of heav'n.
51 And could Religion rear her sacred head
52 Fraught with such doctrines? could such errors spread
53 From western TANGIER, and the sun-burnt Moor,
54 To the cold TARTAR'S ever-frozen shore?
55 Ev'n GREECE too not exempt, GREECE, once the seat
56 Where Sense and Freedom held the reins of state;
57 Where Force was Reason's hand-maid; where the bands
58 Of Love and Friendship join'd the wedded hands;
59 Where flourish'd once, and flourish still in fame
60 Th' ATHENIAN matron, and the SPARTAN dame.
61 In ROME too Liberty once reign'd, in ROME
62 The female virtues were allow'd to bloom,
63 And bloom they did: when CANNAE'S fatal plain
64 Was heap'd with mountains of the Roman slain,
65 Was there a matron wept her children dead?
66 Was there a matron wept not those that fled?
67 Then when each rumour seem'd the voice of fate,
68 And spoke the victor thund'ring at their gate,
69 Was there one mention'd peace? did they not pour
70 Their wealth, their jewels to the publick store,
71 In emulous haste all pressing to be poor?
72 Alas how chang'd! how are the mighty sunk,
73 From the firm Patriot to the whining Monk!
74 Where Industry secur'd the publick good,
75 Where censors, consuls, and dictators plough'd.[Page 297]
76 Now lazy zealots batten on the spoil,
77 And consecrated Sloth devours the farmer's toil.
78 But oh still worse! where Love and Friendship shone,
79 Domestick Tyranny has fix'd his throne,
80 With all his train of monsters: at his side
81 Swoln with self-flatteries sits stiff-neck'd Pride;
82 Two twin-born fiends his other ear engage,
83 Heart-canker'd Jealousy, and fire-ey'd Rage;
84 In front, his empire's sole support and source,
85 Rattling chains, bars and locks, stalks brutal Force;
86 Whilst pale and shrivel'd, crouch'd beneath the chair,
87 Lies sneaking, conscious Worthlessness; and near
88 Squint-ey'd Suspicion lurks, with self-distracting Fear.
89 Hail, happy BRITAIN, dear parental land,
90 Where Liberty maintains her latest stand!
91 Oh while amidst tyrannick realms I rove,
92 Enamour'd let me pour my filial love
93 Into thy bosom. When the raven wings
94 Of darkness hover o'er me, when the springs
95 Of every outward sense are shut, my soul
96 Thee oft revisits, oft without controul
97 Ranges thy fields delighted, and inhales
98 Friendship's pure joys, and Freedom's healthful gales.
99 But say, BRITANNIA, do thy sons, who claim
100 A birth-right liberty, dispense the same
101 In equal scales? Why then does Custom bind
102 In chains of Ignorance the female mind?[Page 298]
103 Why is to them the bright etherial ray
104 Of science veil'd? Why does each pedant say,
105 "Shield me, propitious powers, nor clog my life
106 "With that supreme of plagues a learned wife.
107 "'Tis man's, with science to expand the soul,
108 "And wing his eagle-flight from pole to pole;
109 "'Tis his to pierce antiquity's dark gloom,
110 "And the still thicker shades of times to come;
111 "'Tis his to guide the pond'rous helm of state,
112 "And bear alone all wisdom's solid weight.
113 "Let woman with alluring graces move
114 "The fondling passions and the baby love;
115 "Be this our only science, be her doom
116 "Fix'd to the toilette, the spinnet and loom. "
117 Tongue-doughty pedant, was ATHENIA'S soul
118 Form'd for these only? Bring th' exactest rule
119 Of judgment to the tryal, prove that e'er
120 Thy school-proud tribe engross'd a greater share
121 Of mental excellence; tho' vernal Youth
122 Justs swell her lovely bosom, yet blest Truth,
123 Offspring of Sense and Industry, has there
124 Long fix'd her residence; and taught the fair
125 Or wisdom's deep recesses to explore,
126 Or on invention's rapid wings to soar
127 Above th' Aonian mount; and can'st thou think
128 That virtues, which exalt the soul, can sink
129 The outward charms? must knowledge give offence?
130 And are the graces all at war with sense?[Page 299]
131 Say, who of all the fair is form'd to move
132 The fondest passions, most ecstatick love,
133 More than ATHENIA? in her gentle eye
134 Soft innocence and virgin modesty
135 Incessant shine, while still a new-born grace
136 Springs in each speaking feature of her face.
137 Her sprightly wit no forward pertness spoils:
138 No self-assuming air her judgment soils;
139 Still prone to learn, tho' capable to teach,
140 And lofty all her thoughts, but humble all her speech.
141 Proceed, ATHENIA, let thy growing mind
142 Take ev'ry knowledge in of ev'ry kind:
143 Still on perfection fix thy steady eye,
144 Be ever rising, rise thou ne'er so high.
145 But oh reflect, that in th' advent'rous flight,
146 Thou mount'st a glorious, but a dangerous height:
147 When ev'ry science ev'ry grace shall join,
148 When most thy wit, when most thy beauties shine,
149 When thickest crowds enamour'd press around,
150 When loudest ev'ry tongue thy praise shall sound,
151 When verse too offers incense to thy shrine,
152 And adoration breathes in ev'ry line,
153 Then let my friendly Muse express her care,
154 Then most will danger spread her viewless snare:
155 Then let this truth possess thy inmost soul,
156 "One drop of Vanity may spoil the whole."
157 Not self-secure on earth can Knowledge dwell,
158 Knowledge the bliss of heav'n and pang of hell,[Page 300]
159 Alike the instrument of good and evil,
160 The attribute of God and of the Devil.
161 Without her, Virtue is a powerless Will;
162 She, without Virtue, is a powerful ill;
163 Does she then join with Virtue, or oppose,
164 She proves the best of Friends, or worst of Foes.
165 O! be they once in happiest union join'd,
166 And be that union in ATHENIA'S mind.