« PreviousContinue »
Letter from M. Kenspeckle.
considering the fair as the frail daughters of humanity, elevated them to the rank of goddesses ; giving to their virtues a superhuman origin, and painting their errors as the occasional eccentricities of a superior order of beings. No one feels more disposed than I do to give them all manner of justice; I even think that the exaggerations of the poets by exhibiting the sex in so amiable a light, have tended to heighten our respect for human nature, and our love for the fairest part of the creation. But truth which is such an enemy to fiction, obliges me to despoil the ladies of this heavenly garb which conceals their foibles from our view, and leaves us
nothing to contemplate but a collection of the rarest virtues. When I make a forenoon visit, and leave a charming and an accomplished girl, who has bewitched me with the sprightliness of her conversation, and entrapped me by the elegance of her person; and on my way home am obliged to listen to the discord which issues from some plebeian dwelling, or to shrink from the humbling spectacle of an elegant female in rags, or a fine countenance disfigured by filth, I am forced to confess that women are neither angels nor sylphs, but unaccountable, lovely, and often misguided mortals. Such, however, is the power of cultivation, that those very creatures whose foibles imagination even revolts to dwell on, may be converted into heroines of romance and tragedy, with powers
of fascination which no philosophy can resist and arts of beguiling which no stoicism can set at defiance: and it is strange enough, that when any sudden change of fortune produces such a metamorphosis, beauties are seen which never had existence before, and charms which it perhaps requires rather close inspection to discover.
But a truce to general observation : I have proz.ised a desscription of the ladies of Glasgow, and shall commence by observing, that in no town in Scotland is such pointed attention paid to female education. Not only those branches which are ornamental, but such as contribute to enlarge the mind, to give
it a stability which Nature is conceived to have in some degree overlooked, and a solidity to the understanding which is by no means characteristic of women, enter as essentials into the plan of female instruction. Elegant literature, French, I. talian, and even the graver studies of Latin and Mathematics, which are certainly superfluous, employ the attention of the rising generation of young ladies ; and if the youths of the other sex are not a little more attentive to the cultivation of their
Letter from M. Kenspeckle.
minds, they will be totally eclipsed by the mental qualifications of their townswomen.
I am sometimes disposed to think that matters may be carried to an excess at present, and that discrimination is forgotten in the general anxiety for improvement. But it is erring on the safe side, and by providing society with a race of virtu.. ous and intelligent women, is securing to posterity the most inestimable blessing which one age can bequeath to another. There is no object in nature which creates so unmingled a sen• sation of pleasure, as a beautiful woman; but perhaps there is nothing in the whole range of animated creation, which excites such mortifying disappointment, as a lovely nothing. Mere face or figure constitutes a mean part of woman's charms: but when united to animation and intelligence, the artillery is irresistible. Much as I feel disposed to praise the ladies of this city, do not think that there is no frivolity, no insipidity, no pertness here. You will often see dullness adorned with feathers, gadding about with an air of insuperable self-sufficiency, and you will meet with empty vulgarity pluming itself on wealth of family and connections: but of the majority of the Glasgow dames I feel warranted in asserting, that while destitute of that affectation of finery which distinguishes the manners of our metropolis, they are as intelligent for their sphere as is at all necessary, and as accomplished and well: bred as the future wives of plain men need be. ;
It has been always alleged that females are more readily inflamed by religious zeal an men, and if the assertion be correct, I suspect the ladies of this city must plead guilty. If this dare be called a foible, it is one which time will remedy, and which in its nature is amiable. There is nothing for which I have such intuitive dread as a woman indifferent about religion. There must be something either defective in her education, or radically bad in the constitution of her mind; and when I meet with such a person, I am disposed to consider her either an anomaly in the history of her sex, or the victim of delusion and false precept. But observe that there is a medium. I by no means admire that mighty zeal which would extend to the rights of nations, or can I allow that women are proper judges of such important matters as religious politics naturally embrace. I am always better pleased with that quiet, unassuming, and cheerful religion which is shown by its effects on the conduct, and which is so unobtrusive as to require some little seeking ere its abode.
Letter from M. Kenspeckle.
can be discovered. The ladies of Glasgow, however, err on the opposite side, and are, generally speaking, advocates for what may be termed an assumption of puritanical sanctity. They are consequently intolerant, and are somewhat uncharitable, when in religious discussion you differ from them in opinion.
Of their persons, I know not what to say: but if Diana wanted nymphs I fear she would not visit Glasgow, unless she required them sensible and sturdy. It was said by a roguish wria ter
in Edinburgh that the ladies of that city did not stand on trifles, in allusion to some degree of superfluous thickness about their heels, and if I were disposed to be sarcastic, I would extend the charge to Glasgow. But I have said as much about their heads, as I hope will rescue their heels from obloquy: they are well enough for walking with.
In general they dress with neither neatness. nor elegance, and walk with an air of carelessness which is perfectly inexcusable. You seldom see a lady well dressed without being gaudy, or majestic in her deportment without such a superabundance of affectation as to make her ridiculous; and fashion sanctioning what is technically termed the Grecian head, they have acquired an appearance of drooping and distortion which it is painful to look at. Their complexion is in general pale, and wants that fine bloom, that pleasing contrast between the blushing red and the delicate white, which when in due proportion constitutes a lovely face, and when joined to intelligence and expression, forms a contour whence the painter may derive instruction, and the poet subject for hyperbole. When intellect is discovered in the female countenance, I do not regret the absence of colour. I feel disposed to admire, though I am neither dazzled by the intenseness of beauty, if I may use the phrase, or struck inute by the powerful influence of a pair of sparkling eyes. There is a description of face which pleases me more than either of the two to which I have alluded.
It is characterised by an expression of tenderness, by a cast of features, which seems to indicate a disposition for retirement, and is uniformly united to an unobtrusive manner, and probably a degree of taciturnity. The fair possessor displays none of those exterior charms which captivate superficial admirers, and though altogether free from awkwards ness, the addresses of a stranger occasionally cover her face and bosom with a delicate suffusion. Such is the woman I am. disposed to admire. To whom Nature has given the more ina
Letter from M. Kenspeckle.
softer graces; whose modest deportment and unassuming air mark a mind untainted by the fopperies of girlish habits, and unvitiated by the dissipation of fashionable follies.
I cannot be more minute without being impertinent, and shall conclude by remarking, that the fair of this city possess all those virtues for which Scotchwomen are so justly admired : and it is one of the most pleasing features of the age, that vice finds no tenement in such tender bosoms, but is confined to those rugged and uncultivated wilds where with the luxuriance of weeds it germinates, blossoms, and bears fruit. What though our alpine hills bear neither shrub nor flower ? what though the fickleness of our climate frustrate the plans of the husbandman, and distract the speculations of the philosopher ; who would exchange the bleakness of Scotland's hills for the insipidity of Southem climes? Our glens are the cradles of industry and fortitude. Our plains are the nurseries of honesty and honour; and while we continue to live according to the dictates of reason and religion, and cultivate the minds of a rising generation, our climate will be ameliorated by the genial influence of female virtues, and the bleakness of our country dispelled by the sacred peace of domestic happi
There are some virtues which are supposed to be indigenous to Northern climates, amongst which chastity and connubial fidelity are the most remarkable: and what is singular enough these are as conspicuous in an age of affluence and luxury, as they were during the times of untutored barbarity: nor do I think that the repudiation* of the German women could have had a greater effect on the moral feeling of that singular people, than the disgrace which is so unsparingly attached to criminal deviations in Scotland, during our own times, and long may it continue so. - It is the bulwark of our prosperity, the safe-guard of our happiness : for whatever flimsy and voluptuous politicians may say, the morals and manners of females have a more decided influence over the well-being of the community, than any other insulated set of rules which have been established for the regulation of society. It is of the greatest consequence then, that every possible encouragement be given for the cultivation of
* Paucissima in tam numerosa gente adulteria, quorum pæna præsens, et maritis. permissa, accisis crinibus nudatam coram propinquis expellit domo maritus, ac per omnem vicum verbere agit, publicatæ enim pudicitiæ nula venia, non forma, non ætate, non opibus maritum invenerit. Nemo enim illic vitia ridet; nec corrumpere et corrumpi, sæculum vocatur.Tacit. de Mor. Germanorum.
Letter from M. Kenspeckle.
the severer virtues of the sex; for if once laxity of feeling were introduced, its collateral power would be astonishing. Young minds initiated to scenes of debauchery, would forget that intuitive horror which innocence always feels for wickedness, and the sacred barrier being once broken down, licentious youth would widen the bre decorum would be laid aside, and the fair, who are at present the objects of our love and adoration, being des poiled of their influence, dissoluteness would riot over virtue, and a moral chaos would come again!
Such changes can hardly take place, so long as society is cons stituted as it is in Scotland, and the same attention is paid to. the education of our youth. Indeed the ductuations of a mere cantile community seem to forbid it, for wealth in a trading nation is migratory, and moves with astonishing rapidity from place to place, from individual to individual: so that ere any person can acquire such a fortune as to render his example or preponderance dangerous in a neighbourhood, fate hurls him from his undue eminence, and after the ephemeral possession of lordly consequence, mingles him with the herd, where, like the junction of a small stream with a large river, his importance is lost amid the surrounding multitude. Let us, then, be contented with our hills and our climate, for they pourish the nobler virtues: and while we reprobate affectation or prudery, let us never forget the reciprocal influence which the manners of women exert, and glory in that rigidity which seems at first sight the offspring of hypocrisy, and the twin sister of deceit. While Scotchmen con tinue reíarkable for intellectual cultivation, Scotchwomen will never disgrace them by foppery or vice; and the two uniting will constitute props to the national happiness, which time will find difficulty in destroying, and which unlike every other emblem of humanity, may be perennial,
Adieu, my dear Brother, excuse my prolixity, and believe
7. Mr. John Kenspeckle, Kilmarnocka