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ciencies. No superiority of parts is :he least recommendation, nor is any depression of fortune the smallest objection. None are too wise to be excused from performing the duties of religion, nor are any too poor to be excluded from the consolations of its promises.
If we admire the wisdom of God, in having furnished different degrees of intelligence, so exactly adapted to their different destinations, and in having fitted every part of his stupendous work, not only to serve its own immediate purpose, but also to contribute to the beauty and perfection of the whole: how much more ought we to adore that goodness, which has perfected the divine plan, by appointing one wide, comprehensive, and universal means of salvation : a salvation, which all are invited to partake; by a means which all are capable of using ; which nothing but voluntary blindness can prevent our comprehending, and nothing but wilful error can hinder us from embracing.
The muses are coy, and will only be wooed and won by some highly favoured suitors. The sciences are lofty, and will not stoop to the reach of ordinary capacities. But “ wisdom (by which the royal preacher means piety) is a loving spirit; she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of all such as seek her.” Nay, she is so accessible and condescending, “ that she preventeth them that desire her, making herself first known unto them."
We are told by the same animated writer, " that wisdom is the breath of the power of God." How infinitely superior, in grandeur and sublimity, is this description to the origin of the wisdom of the heathens, as described by their poets and mythologists ! In the exalted strains of the Hebrew poetry, we read, that “wisdom is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.”
The philosophical author of “The Defence of Learning" observes, that knowledge has something of venom and malignity in it, when taken without its
proper corrective; and what that is, the inspired Saint Paul teaches us, by placing it as the immediate antidote—“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. Perhaps it is the vanity of human wisdom, unchastised by this correcting principle, which has made so many infidels. It may proceed from the arrogance of a self-sufficient pride, that some philosophers disdain to acknowledge their belief in a Being, who has judged proper to conceal from them the infinite wisdom of his counsels; who (to borrow the lofty language of the man of Uz) refused to consult them when he laid the foundations of the earth, when he shut up the sea with doors, and made the clouds the garment thereof.
A man must be an infidel either from pride, prejudice, or bad education : he cannot be one unawares, or by surprise ; for infidelity is not occasioned by sudden impulse or violent temptation. He may be hurried by some vehement desire into an immoral action, at which he will blush in his cooler moments, and which he will lament as the sad effect of a spirit unsubdued by religion ; but infidelity is a calm, considerate act, which cannot plead the weakness of the heart, or the seduction of the senses. Even good men frequently fail in their duty through the infirmities of nature, and the allurements of the world; but the infidel errs on a plan, on a settled and deliberate principle.
But though the minds of men are sometimes fatally infected with this disease, either through unhappy prepossession, or some of the other causes above mentioned, yet I am unwilling to believe that there is in nature so monstrously incongruous a being as a female infidel. The least reflection on the temper, the character, and the education of
women, makes the mind revolt with horror from an idea so improbable, and so unnatural.
May I be allowed to observe that, in general, the minds of girls seem more aptly prepared in their early youth for the reception of serious impressions than those of the other sex, and that their less exposed situations in more advanced life qualify them better for the preservation of them? The daughters (of good parents I mean) are often more carefully instructed in their religious duties than the sons, and this from a variety of causes. They are not so soon sent from under the paternal eye into the bustle of the world, and so early exposed to the contagion of bad example: their hearts are naturally more flexible, soft, and liable to any kind of impression the forming hand may stamp on them; and, lastly, as they do not receive the same classical education with boys, their feeble minds are not obliged at once to receive and separate the precepts of Christianity, and the documents of pagan philosophy. The necessity of doing this perhaps somewhat weakens the serious impressions of young men, at least till the understanding is formed; and confuses their ideas of piety, by mixing them with so much heterogeneous matter. They only casually read, or hear read, the scriptures of truth, while they are obliged to learn by heart, construe and repeat, the poetical fables of the less than human gods of the ancients.
And, as the excellent author of “ The Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion"* observes, "Nothing has so much contributed to corrupt the true spirit of the Christian institution, as that partiality which we contract, in our earliest education, for the manners of pagan antiquity."
Girls, therefore, who do not contract this early partiality, ought to have a clearer notion of their religious duties: they are not obliged, at an age when
* Soame Jenyns, Esq.
the judgment is so weak, to distinguish between the doctrines of Zeno, of Epicurus, and of Christ; and to embarrass their minds with the various morals which were taught in the Porch, in the Academy, and on the Mount.
It is presumed that these remarks cannot possibly be so misunderstood, as to be construed into the least disrespect to literature, or a want of the highest reverence for a learned education, the basis of all elegant knowledge: they are only intended, with all proper deference, to point out to young women that, however inferior their advantages of acquiring a knowledge of the belles-lettres are to those of the other sex, yet it depends on themselves not to be surpassed in this most important of all studies, for which their abilities are equal, and their opportunities perhaps greater.
But the mere exemption from infidelity is so small a part of the religious character, that I hope no one will attempt to claim any merit from this negative sort of goodness, or value herself merely for not being the very worst thing she possibly can be. Let no mistaken girl fancy she gives a proof of her wit by her want of piety, or that a contempt of things serious and sacred will exalt her understanding, or raise her character even in the opinion of the most avowed male infidels. For one may venture to affirm, that with all their profligate ideas, both of women and of religion, neither Bolingbroke, Wharton, Buckingham, nor even Lord Chesterfield himself, would have esteemed a woman the more for her being irreligious.
With whatever ridicule a polite freethinker may affect to treat religion himself, he will think it necessary his wife should entertain different notions or it. He may pretend to despise it as a matter o opinion, depending on creeds and systems; but, he is a man of sense, he will know the value of it
as a governing principle, which is to influence her conduct and direct her actions. If he sees her unaffectedly sincere in the practice of her religious duties, it will be a secret pledge to him that she will be equally exact in fulfilling the conjugal; for he can have no reasonable dependence on her attachment to him, if he has no opinion of her fidelity to God; for she who neglects first duties, gives but an indifferent proof of her disposition to fill up inferior ones; and how can a man of any understanding (whatever his own religious professions may be) trust that woman with the care of his family, and the education of his children, who wants herself the best incentive to a virtuous life, the belief that she is an accountable creature, and the reflection that she has an immortal soul.
Cicero spoke it as the highest commendation of Cato's character, that he embraced pihlosophy, not for the sake of disputing like a philosopher, but of living like one. The chief purpose of Christian knowledge is to promote the great end of a Christian life. Every rational woman should, no doubt, be able to give a reason of the hope that is in her; but this knowledge is best acquired, and the duties consequent on it best performed, by reading books of plain piety and practical devotion, and not by entering into the endless feuds, and engaging in the unprofitable contentions of partial controversialists. Nothing is more unamiable than the narrow spirit of party zeal, nor more disgusting than to hear a woman deal out judgments, and denounce vengeance, against any one who happens to differ from her in some opinion, perhaps of no real importance, and which, it is probable, she may be just as wrong in rejecting, as the object of her censure is in embracing. A furious and unmerciful female bigot wanders as far beyond the limits prescribed to her sex, as a Thalestris or a Joan d'Arc. Violent debate has