A Serious PROPOSAL To the Ladies, For the Advancement of their true and greatest Interest.
SInce the Profitable Ad∣ventures that have gone abroad in the World, Page 2 have met with so great Encouragement, tho' the highest advantage they can propose, is an uncertain Lot for such matters as O∣pinion (not real worth) gives a value to; things which if obtain'd, are as flitting and fickle, as that Chance which is to dis∣pose of them. I there∣fore persuade my self, you will not be less kind to a Proposition that comes at∣tended with more certain and substantial Gain; whose only design is to improve your Charms and heighten your Value, by suffering you no longer to be cheap and contemptible. It's aim Page 3 is to fix that Beauty, to make it lasting and per∣manent, which Nature with all the helps of Art, cannot secure: And to place it out of the reach of Sickness and Old Age, by transferring it from a cor∣ruptible Body to an im∣mortal Mind. An oblig∣ing Design, which wou'd procure them inward Beau∣ty, to whom Nature has unkindly denied the out∣ward; and not permit those Ladies who have comely Bodies, to tarnish their Glo∣ry with deformed Souls. Wou'd have you all be wits, or what is better Wise. Raise you above the Vul∣gar Page 4 by something more truely illustrious, than a founding Title, or a great Estate. Wou'd excite in you a generous Emulati∣on to excel in the best things, and not in such Trifles as every mean per∣son who has but Mony e∣nough, may purchase as well as you. Not suffer you to take up with the low thought of distinguish∣ing your selves by any thing that is not truly va∣luable; and procure you such Ornaments as all the Treasures of the Indies are not able to purchase. Wou'd help you to surpass the Men as much in Vertue and In∣genuity, Page 5 as you do in Beau∣ty; that you may not on∣ly be as lovely, but as wise as Angels. Exalt and Esta∣blish your Fame, more than the b•st wrought Poems, and loudest Panegyricks, by ennobling your Minds with such Graces as really deserve it. And instead of the Fu∣stian Complements and Ful∣some Flatteries of your Ad∣mirers, obtain for you the Plaudit of Good Men and Angels, and the approbati∣on of him who cannot err. In a word, render you the Glory and Blessing of the present Age, and the Ad∣miration and Pattern of the next.
Page 6 And sure, I shall not need many words to persuade you to close with this Pro∣posal. The very offer is a sufficient inducement; nor does it need the set-off's of Rhetorick to recommend it, were I capable, which yet I am not, of applying them with the greatest force. Since you cannot be so unkind to your selves, as to refuse your real Interest; I only entreat you to be so wise as to examine wherein it consists; for nothing is of worser consequence than to be deceiv'd in a matter of so great concern. 'Tis as little beneath your Grandeur as your Prudence, to examine Page 7 curiously what is in this case offer'd you; and to take care that cheating Hucksters don't impose up∣on you with deceitful Ware. This is a matter infinitely more worthy your Debates, than what Colours are most agreeable, or whats the Dress becomes you best? Your Glass will not do you half so much service as a serious reflection on your own Minds; which will discover Irregularities more worthy your Correction, and keep you from being either too much elated or depress'd by the representa∣tions of the other. 'Twill not be near so advantagious Page 8 to consult with your Dan∣cing-master as with your own Thoughts, how you may with greatest exactness tread in the Paths of Ver∣tue, which has certainly the most attractive Air, and Wisdom the most grace∣ful and becoming Meen: Let these attend you, and your Carriage will be al∣ways well compos'd, and ev'ry thing you do will carry its Charm with it. No solicitude in the adorna∣tion of your selves is discom∣mended, provided you em∣ploy your care about that which is really your self; and do not neglect that par∣ticle of Divinity within Page 9 you, which must survive, and may (if you please) be happy and perfect when it's unsuitable and much inferiour Companion is mouldring into Dust. Nei∣ther will any pleasure be de∣nied you, who are only de∣sir'd not to catch at the Shadow and let the Sub∣stance go. You may be as ambitious as you please, so you aspire to the best things; and contend with your Neighbours as much as you can, that they may not out∣do you in any commenda∣ble Quality. Let it never be said, that they to whom pre∣eminence is so very agree∣able, can be tamely content Page 10 that others shou'd surpass them in this, and precede them in a better World! Remember, I pray you, the famous Women of former Ages, the Orinda's of late, and the more Modern D'a∣cier and others, and blush to think how much is now, and will hereafter be said of them, when you your selves (as great a Figure as you make) must be buried in si∣lence and forgetfulness! Shall your Emulation fail there only, where it is com∣mendable? Why are you so preposterously humble, as not to contend for one of the highest Mansions in the Court of Heav'n? Be∣lieve Page 11 me Ladies, this is the on∣ly Place worth contending for; you are neither better nor worse in your selves for going before, or coming after now; but you are really so much the better, by how much the higher your station is in an Orb of Glory. How can you be content to be in the world like Tulips in a Garden, to make a fine shew and be good for nothing; have all your Glories set in the grave, or perhaps much sooner? What your own sentiments are, I know not, but I can∣not without pity and re∣sentment reflect, that those Glorious Temples on which Page 12 your kind Creator has be∣stow'd such exquisite work∣manship, shou'd enshrine no better than Egyptian Deities; be like a garnish'd Sepulchre, which for all it's glittering, has nothing with∣in but Emptiness or Putri∣faction! What a pity it is, that whilst your Beauty casts a lustre round about, your Souls which are infi∣nitely more bright and ra∣diant (of which if you had but a clear Idea, as lovely as it is, and as much as you now value it, you wou'd then despise and neglect the mean Case that encloses it) shou'd be suffer'd to over∣run with Weeds, lye fallow Page 13 and neglected, unadorn'd with any Grace! Altho the Beauty of the Mind is necessary to secure those Conquests which your Eyes have gain'd; and Time that mortal Enemy to hand∣some Faces, has no influ∣ence on a lovely Soul, but to better and improve it. For shame, let us abandon that Old, and therefore one wou'd think, unfashionable employment of pursuing Butterflies and Trifles! No longer drudge on in the dull beaten road of Vanity and Folly, which so many have gone, before us; but dare to break the enchanted Circle that custom has Page 14 plac'd us in, and scorn the vulgar way of imitating all the Impertinencies of our Neighbours. Let us learn to pride our selves in some∣thing more excellent than the invention of a Fashion: And not entertain such a degrading thought of our own worth, as to imagin that our Souls were given us on∣ly for the service of our Bo∣dies, and that the best im∣provement we can make of these, is to attract the eyes of men. We value them too much, and our selves too little, if we place any part of our worth in their Opinion; and do not think our selves capable of Page 15 Nobler Things than the pi∣tiful Conquest of some worthless heart. She who has opportunities of making an interest in Heav'n, of ob∣taining the love and admi∣ration of GOD and Angels, is too prodigal of her Time, and injurious to her Charms, to throw them away on vain insignificant men. She need not make her self so cheap, as to descend to Court their Applauses; for at the greater distance she keeps, and the more she is above them, the more effectually she secures their esteem and wonder. Be so generous then Ladies, as to do no∣thing unworthy of you; so Page 16 true to your Interest as not to lessen your Empire, and depreciate your Charms. Let not your Thoughts be wholly busied in observing what respect is paid you, but a part of them at least, in studying to de∣serve it. And after all, re∣member, that Goodness is the truest Greatness, to be wise for your selves, the greatest Wit, and that Beauty the most desirable, which will endure to Eter∣nity.
Pardon me the seeming rudeness of this Proposal, which goes upon a supposi∣tion that there is something amiss in you, which it is Page 17 intended to amend. My design is not to expose, but to rectify your Failures. To be exempt from mistake, is a priviledge few can pre∣tend to, the greatest is to be past Conviction, and too obstinate to reform. Even the Men, as exact as they wou'd seem, and as much as they divert themselves with our Miscarriages, are very often guilty of great∣er faults; and such as con∣sidering the advantages they enjoy, are much more inexcusable. But I will not pretend to correct their Errors, who either are or at least think themselves too wise to receive Instruc∣tion Page 18 from a Womans Pen. My earnest desire is, that you Ladies, would be as perfect and happy as 'tis possible to be in this im∣perfect state; for I love you too well to endure a spot upon your Beauties, if I can by any means remove and wipe it off. I would have you live up to the dig∣nity of your Nature, and express your thankfulness to GOD for the benefits you enjoy by a due improvement of them: As I know ve∣ry many of you do, who countenance that Piety which the men decry, and are the brightest Patterns of Religion that Page 19 the Age affords; 'tis my grief that all the rest of our Sex do not imitate such il∣lustrious Patterns, and there∣fore I would have them en∣creas'd and render'd more conspicuous, that Vice be∣ing put out of countenance, (because Vertue is the only thing in fashion) may sneak out of the world, and it's darkness be dispell'd by the confluence of so many shin∣ing Graces. Some perhaps will cry out that I teach you false Doctrine; for be∣cause by their seductions, some amongst us are become very mean and contempti∣ble, they would fain per∣suade the rest to be as des∣picable Page 20 and forlorn as they. We are indeed oblig'd to them for their management, in endeavouring •o make us so; who use all 〈◊〉 artifice they can to spoil, •nd deny us the means of improve∣ment. So that instead of inquiring why all Women are not wise and good, we have reason to wonder that there are any so. Were the men as much neglected, and as little care taken to cultivate and improve them, perhaps they wou'd be so far from surpassing those whom they now despise, that they themselves wou'd sink into the greatest stupi∣dity and brutality. The Page 21 preposterous returns that the most of them make, to all the care and pains that is bestow'd on them, ren∣ders this no uncharitable, nor improbable Conjecture. One wou'd therefore almost think, that the wise dispo∣ser of all things, foreseeing how unjustly Women are denied opportunities of im∣provement from without, has therefore by way of com∣pensation endow'd them with greater propensions to Vertue, and a natural good∣ness of Temper within, which if duly manag'd, would raise them to the most eminent pitch of Heroick Vertue. Hither Ladies, I desire you Page 22 wou'd aspire, 'tis a noble and becoming Ambition; and to remove such Obsta∣cles as lye in your way, is the design of this Paper. We will therefore enquire what it is that stops your flight, that keeps you gro∣veling here below, like Do∣mitian catching Flies, when you should be busied in ob∣taining Empires?
Whatever has been said by Men of more Wit than Wisdom, and perhaps of more malice than either, that Women are natural∣ly Incapable of acting Pru∣dently, or that they are necessarily determined to folly, I must by no means Page 23 grant it; that Hypothesis would render my endea∣vours impertinent, for then it would be in vain to ad∣vise the one, or endeavour the Reformation of the o∣ther. Besides, there are Examples in all Ages, which sufficiently confute the Ig∣norance and Malice of this Assertion.
The Incapacity, if there be any, is acquired not na∣tural; and none of their Follies are so necessary, but that they might avoid them if they pleased them∣selves. Some disadvantages indeed they labour under, & what these are we shall see by and by, and endeavour Page 24 to surmount; but Women need not take up with mean things, since (if they are not wanting to themselves) they are capable of the best. Neither God nor Nature have excluded them from being Ornaments to their Families, and useful in their Generation; there is therefore no reason they should be content to be Cyphers in the World, useless at the best, and in a little time a burden and nuisance to all about them. And 'tis very great pity that they who are so apt to over-rate themselves in smaller matters, shou'd, where it most concerns Page 25 them to know, and stand upon their Value, be so insensible of their own worth.
The cause therefore of the defects we labour un∣der, is, if not wholly, yet at least in the first place, to be ascribed to the mistakes of our Education; which like an Error in the first Concoction, spreads its ill Influence thro' all our Lives.
The Soil is rich and would, if well cultivated, produce a noble Harvest, if then the Unskilful Ma∣nagers not only permit, but incourage noxious Weeds, tho' we shall suf∣fer by their Neglect, yet Page 26 they ought not in justice to blame any but them∣selves, if they reap the Fruit of their own Folly. Women are from their ve∣ry Infancy debar'd those Advantages, with the want of which, they are after∣wards reproached, and nur∣sed up in those Vices which will hereafter be upbraided to them. So partial are Men as to expect Brick where they afford no straw; and so abundantly civil as to take care we shou'd make good that obliging Epithet of Ignorant, which out of an excess of good Manners, they are pleas'd to bestow on us!
Page 27 One wou'd be apt to think indeed, that Parents shou'd take all possible care of their Childrens Educati∣on, not only for their sakes, but even for their own. And tho the Son convey the Name to Posterity, yet cer∣tainly a great Part of the Honour of their Families de∣pends on their Daughters. 'Tis the kindness of Educa∣tion that binds our duty fastest on us: For the be∣ing instrumental to the bringing us into the world, is no matter of choice, and therefore the less obliging: But to procure that we may live wisely and happi∣ly in it, and be capable of Page 28 endless Joys hereafter, is a benefit we can never suffi∣ciently acknowledge. To introduce poor Children in∣to the world, and neglect to fence them against the temp∣tations of it, and so leave them expos'd to tempo∣ral and eternal Miseries, is a wickedness, for which I want a Name; 'tis beneath Bruta∣lity, the Beasts are better natur'd, for they take care of their off-spring, till they are capable of caring for themselves. And, if Mo∣thers had a due regard to their Posterity, how Great soever they are, they wou'd not think themselves too Good to perform what Na∣ture Page 29 requires, nor thro' Pride and Delicacy remit the poor little one to the care of a Foster Parent. Or, if ne∣cessity inforce them to de∣pute another to perform their Duty, they wou'd be as choice at least in the Man∣ners and Inclinations, as they are in the complections of their Nurses, least with their Milk they transfuse their Vices, and form in the Child such evil habits as will not easily be eradicated.
Nature as bad as it is, and as much as it is complain'd of, is so far improveable by the grace of GOD, upon our honest and hearty endea∣vours, that if we are not Page 30 wanting to our selves, we may all in some, tho not in an equal measure, be instru∣ments of his Glory, Bles∣sings to this world, and ca∣pable of eternal Blessedness in that to come. But if our Nature is spoil'd, instead of being improv'd at first; if from our Infancy, we are nurs'd up in Ignorance and Vanity; are taught to be Proud and Petulent, Deli∣cate and Fantastick, Hu∣morous and Inconstant, 'tis not strange that the ill ef∣fects of this Conduct ap∣pears in all the future Acti∣ons of our Lives. And see∣ing it is Ignorance, either ha∣bitual or actual, which is Page 31 the cause of all sin, how are they like to escape this, who are bred up in that? That therefore women are unpro∣fitable to most, and a plague and dishonour to some men is not much to be regretted on account of the Men, be∣cause 'tis the product of their own folly, in denying them the benefits of an inge∣nuous and liberal Educa∣ion, the most effectual means to direct them into, and to secure their progress in the ways of Vertue.
For that Ignorance is the cause of most Feminine Vi∣ces may be instanc'd in that Pride and Vanity which is usually imputed to us, and Page 32 which, I suppose, if through∣ly sifted, will appear to be some way or other, the rise and Original of all the rest. These, tho very bad Weeds, are the product of a good Soil; they are nothing else but Generosity degenerated and corrupted. A desire to advance and perfect its Be∣ing, is planted by GOD in all Rational Natures, to ex∣cite them hereby to every worthy and becoming Acti∣on; for certainly, next to the Grace of GOD, nothing does so powerfully restrain people from Evil, and stir them up to Good, as a ge∣nerous Temper. And there∣fore to be ambitious of per∣fections Page 33 is no fault; tho to assume the Glory of our Ex∣cellencies to our selves, or to Glory in such as we really have not, are. And were Womens haughtiness ex∣press'd in disdaining to do a mean and evil thing; wou'd they pride themselves in somewhat truly per∣fective of a Rational Nature, there were no hurt in it. But then they ought not to be denied the means of ex∣amining and judging what is so; they should not be impos'd on with tinsel ware. If by reason of a false Light, or undue Medium, they chuse amiss; theirs is the loss, but the Crime is the Page 34 Deceivers. She who right¦ly understands wherein the perfection of her Na∣ture consists, will lay out her Thoughts and In∣dustry in the acquisition of such Perfections. But she who is kept ignorant of the matter, will take up with such Objects as first offer themselves, and bear any plausible resemblance to what she desires; a shew of advantage is sufficient to render them agreeable baits to her, who wants Judgment and skill to dis∣cern between reality and pretence. From whence it easily follows, that she who has nothing else to Page 35 value her self upon, will be proud of her Beauty, or Money, and what that can purchase; and think her self mightily oblig'd to him, who tells her she has those Perfections which she natu∣rally longs for. Her imbred self-esteem, and desire of good, which are degenera∣ted into Pride, and mista∣ken self-love, will easily o∣pen her Ears to whatever goes about to nourish and delight them; and when a cunning designing Enemy from without, has drawn over to his Party these Tray∣tors within, he has the Poor unhappy Person at his Mer∣cy, who now very glibly Page 36 swallows down his Poyson, because 'tis presented in a Golden Cup; and credu∣lously hearkens to the most disadvantagious Proposals, because they come attended with a seeming esteem. She whose Vanity makes her swallow praises by the whole sale, without examin∣ing whether she deserves them, or from what hand they come, will reckon it but gratitude to think well of him who values her so much; and think she must needs be merciful to the poor dispairing Lover whom her Charms have reduc'd to die at her feet. Love and Honour are what every Page 37 one of us naturally esteem; they are excellent things in themselves, and very wor∣thy our regard; and by how much the readier we are to embrace what ever resem∣bles them, by so much the more dangerous, it is that these venerable Names should be wretchedly a∣bus'd, and affixt to their direct contraries, yet this is the Custom of the World: And how can she possibly detect the fallacy, who has no better Notion of either, but what she derives from Plays and Romances? How can she be furnished with any solid Principles whose very Instructors are Froth Page 38 and emptiness? Whereas Women were they rightly Educated, had they obtain'd a well inform'd and discern∣ing Mind, they would be proof against all these Bat∣teries, see through and scorn those little silly Artifices which are us'd to ensnare and deceive them. Such an one would value her self only on her Vertue, and consequently be most cha∣ry of what she esteems so much. She would know, that not what others say, but what she her self does, is the true Commendation, and the only thing that ex∣alts her; the loudest Enco∣miums being not half so sa∣tisfactory Page 39 as the calm and secret Plaudit of her own Mind; which moving on true Principles of Honour and Vertue, wou'd not fail on a review of it self to anti∣cipate that delightful Eulo∣gy she shall one day hear.
Whence is it but from ig∣norance, from a want of un∣derstanding to compare and judge of things, to chuse a right end, to proportion the means to the end, and to rate ev'ry thing according to its proper value; that we quit the Substance for the Sha∣dow, Reality for Appear∣ance, and embrace those ve∣ry things, which if we un∣derstood, we shou'd hate and Page 40 fly, but now are reconcil'd to, merely because they us∣urp the Name, tho they have nothing of the Nature of those venerable Objects we desire and seek? Were it not for this delusion, is it proba∣ble a Lady who passionately desires to be admir'd, shou'd ever consent to such Actions as render her base and con∣temptible? Wou'd she be so absurd as to think either to get love, or to keep it, by those methods which occasi∣on loathing, and consequent∣ly end in hatred? Wou'd she reckon it a piece of her Gran∣deur, or hope to gain esteem by such excesses as really les∣sen her in the eyes of all con∣siderate Page 41 and judicious per∣sons? Wou'd she be so silly as to look big, and think her self the better person, be∣cause she has more Mony to bestow profusely, or the good luck to have a more ingeni∣ous Taylor or Milliner than her Neighbour? Wou'd she who by the regard she pays to Wit, seems to make some pretences to it, undervalue her Judgment so much as to admit the Scurrility and pro∣fane noisy Nonsense of men, whose Fore-heads are better than their Brains to pass un∣der that Character? Wou'd she be so weak as to imagine that a few airy Fancies, joyn'd with a great deal of Page 42 Impudence (the right defi∣nition of modern Wit) can be speak him a Man of sense, who runs counter to all the sense and reason that ever appear'd in the world? than which nothing can be an Argument of greater shal∣lowness, unless it be to re∣gard and esteem him for it. Wou'd a woman, if she tru∣ly understood her self, be af∣fected either with the prais∣es or calumnies of those worthless persons, whose Lives are a direct contradic∣tion to Reason, a very sink of corruption; by whom one wou'd blush to be com∣mended, lest they shou'd be mistaken for Partners or Page 43 Connivers at their Crimes? Will she who has a jot of discernment think to satisfy her greedy desire of Plea∣sure, with those promising nothings that have again & again deluded her? Or, will she to obtain such Bubbles, run the risque of forfeiting Joys, infinitely satisfying and eternal? In sum, did not ignorance impose on us, we would never lavish out the greatest part of our Time and Care, on the decoration of a Tenement, in which our Lease is so very short, and which for all our indust∣ry, may lose it's Beauty e're that Lease be out, and in the mean while neglect a Page 44 more glorious and durable Mansion! We wou'd never be so curious of the House, and so careless of the Inha∣bitant, whose beauty is ca∣pable of great improvement, and will endure for ever without diminution or de∣cay!
Thus Ignorance and a nar∣row Education, lay the Foun∣dation of Vice, and imita∣tion and custom rear it up. Custom, that merciless tor∣rent that carries all before. And which indeed can be stem'd by none but such as have a great deal of Pru∣dence and a rooted Vertue. For 'tis but Decorous that she who is not capable of Page 45 giving better Rules, shou'd follow those she sees before her, lest she only change the instance, and retain the ab∣surdity. 'T wou'd puzzle a considerate Person to ac∣count for all that Sin and Folly that is in the World, (whcih certainly has no∣thing in it self to recommend it,) did not custom help to solve the difficulty. For Vertue without question has on all accounts the pre∣eminence of Vice 'tis abun∣dantly more pleasant in the Act, as well as more advan∣tagious in the consequences, as any one who will but right∣ly use her reason, in a serious reflection on her self, and the Page 46 nature of things, may easily perceive. 'Tis custom there∣fore, that Tyrant Custom, which is the grand motive to all those irrational choices which we daily see made in the World, so very contrary to our present interest and pleasure, as well as to our Future. We think it an un∣pardonable mistake, not to do what others do round a∣bout us, and part with our Peace and Pleasure as well as our Innocence & Vertue, meerly in complyance with an unreasonable Fashion. And having inur'd our selves to Folly, we know not how to quit it; we go on in Vice, not because we find satis∣faction Page 47 in it, but because we are unacquainted with the Joys of Vertue.
Add to this the hurry and noise of the world, which does generally so busy and pre-ingage us, that we have little time, and less inclina∣tion to stand still and reflect on our own Minds. Those impertinent Amusements which have seiz'd us, keep their hold so well, and so constantly buz about our Ears, that we cannot attend to the Dictates of our Rea∣son, nor to the soft whispers and winning persuasives of the divine Spirit, by whose assistance were we dispos'd to make use of it, we might Page 48 shake off these Follies, and regain our Freedom. But alas! to complete our mis∣fortunes, by a continual ap∣plication to Vanity and Fol∣ly, we quite spoil the con∣texture and frame of our Minds; so loosen and dissi∣pate, that nothing solid and substantial will stay in it. By an habitual inadvertency we render our selves incapable of any serious & improving thought, till our minds themselves become as light and frothy as those things they are conversant about. To all which, if we further add the great industry that bad people use to corrupt the good, and that unaccoun∣table Page 49 backwardness that ap∣pears in too many good per∣sons, to stand up for, and propagate the Piety they profess; (so strangely are things transposed, that Ver∣tue puts on the blushes, which belong to Vice, and Vice insults with the autho∣rity of Vertue!) and we have a pretty fair account of the Causes of our non-im∣provement.
When a poor Young La∣dy is taught to value her self on nothing but her Cloaths, and to think she's very fine when well accou∣tred. When she hears say, that 'tis Wisdom enough for her to know how to dress Page 50 her self, that she may be∣come amiable in his eyes, to whom it appertains to be knowing and learned; who can blame her if she lay out her Industry and Money on such Accomplishments, and sometimes extends it farther than her misinformer desires she should? When she sees the vain and the gay, ma∣king Parade in the World, and attended with the Courtship and admiration of all about them, no won∣der that her tender Eyes are dazled with the Pageantry; and wanting Judgment to pass a due Estimate on them and their Admirers, longs to be such a fine and celebra∣ted Page 51 thing as they! What tho' she be sometimes told of another World, she has however a more lively per∣ception of this, and may well think, that if her In∣structors were in earnest, when they tell her of here∣after, they would not be so busied and concerned about what happens here. She is, it may be, taught the Prin∣ciples and Duties of Religion, but not acquainted with the Reasons and Grounds of them; being told, 'tis enough for her to believe, to examin why, and wherefore be∣longs not to her. And therefore, though her Piety may be tall and spreading, Page 52 yet because it wants founda∣tion and Root, the first rude Temptation overthrows and blasts it; or perhaps the short liv'd Gourd decays and withers of its own ac∣cord. But why should she be blamed for setting no great value on her Soul, whose noblest Faculty, her Understanding is render'd useless to her? Or censur'd for relinquishing a course of Life, whose Prerogatives she was never acquainted with, and tho highly reasonable in it self, was put upon the em∣bracing it, with as little rea∣son as she now forsakes it? For if her Religion it self, be taken up as the Mode of the Page 53 Country, 'tis no strange thing that she lays it down again, in conformity to the Fashion. Whereas she whose Reason is suffer'd to display it self, to inquire into the grounds and Mo∣tives of Religion, to make a disquisition of its Graces, and search out its hidden Beau∣ties; who is a Christian out of Choice, not in conformi∣ty to those about her; and cleaves to Piety, because 'tis her Wisdom, her Interest, her Joy, not because she has been accustom'd to it; she who is not only eminently and unmoveably good, but able to give a Reason why she is so; is too firm and stable Page 54 to be mov'd by the pitiful Allurements of sin, too wise and too well bottom'd to be undermin'd and supplanted by the strongest Efforts of Temptation. Doubtless a truly Christian Life requires a clear Understanding, as well as regular Affections, that both together may move the Will to a direct choice of Good, and a sted∣fast adherence to it. For tho the heart may be honest, it is but by chance that the Will is right, if the Under∣standing be ignorant and Cloudy. And whats the rea∣son that we sometimes un∣happily see persons falling off from their Piety, but Page 55 because 'twas their Affecti∣ons, not their Judgment, that inclin'd them to be Re∣ligious? Reason and Truth are firm and immutable, she who bottoms on them is on sure ground: Humour and Inclination are sandy Foun∣dations; and she who is sway'd by her Affections more than by her Judgment, owes the happiness of her Soul in a great mea∣sure to the temper of her Body; her Piety may perhaps blaze higher, but will not last so long. For the Affections are various and changeable, mov'd by e∣very Object, and the last comer easily undoes whate∣ver Page 56 its Predecessor had done before it. Such Persons are always in extreams; they are either violently good, or quite cold and indifferent, a perpetual trouble to them∣selves & others, by indecent Raptures, or unnecessary Scruples; there is no Beauty and order in their lives, all is rapid and unaccounta∣ble; they are now very furious in such a course, but they cannot well tell why, & anon as violent in the other extream. Having more Heat than Light, their Zeal out runs their knowledge and instead of representing Piety as it is in it self, the most lovely and inviting Page 57 thing imaginable, they ex∣pose it to the contempt and ridicule of the censorious World. Their Devotion being ricketed, starv'd and contracted in some of it's vi∣tal parts, and disproportion∣ed and over grown in less material instances; whilst one Duty is over done, to commute for the neglect of another, and the mistaken Person thinks the being of∣ten on her knees, attones for all the miscarriages of her Conversation: Not consi∣dering that 'tis in vain to Petition for those Graces which we take no care to Practice, and a mockery to a∣dore those Perfections we Page 58 run counter to: and that the true end of all our Pray∣ers and external Observan∣ces, is to work our minds in∣to a truly Christian temper, to obtain for us the Empire of our Passions, and to reduce all irregular Inclinations, that so we may be as like GOD in Purity, Charity, and all his imitable excellen∣cies, as is consistent with the imperfection of a Creature.
And now having discove∣red the Disease and its cause, 'tis proper to apply a Reme∣dy; single Medicines are too weak to cure such compli∣cated Distempers, they re∣quire a full Dispensatory; and what wou'd a good wo∣man Page 59 refuse to do, could she hope by that to advantage the greatest part of the world, and improve her Sex in Knowledge and true Re∣ligion? I doubt not Ladies, but that the Age, as bad as it is, affords very many of you who will readily em∣brace whatever has a true tendency to the Glory of GOD, and your mutual E∣dification, to revive the an∣tient Spirit of Piety in the World, and to transmit it to succeeding Generations. I know there are many of you who so ardently love GOD, as to think no time too much to spend in his service, nor any thing too difficult to do Page 60 for his sake; and bear such a hearty good-will to your Neighbours, as to grudge no Prayers or Pains to reclaim and improve them. I have therefore no more to do, but to make the Proposal, to prove that it will answer these great and good Ends, and then 'twill be easy to obviate the Objections that Persons of more Wit than Vertue may happen to raise against it.
Now as to the Proposal, it is to erect a Monastry, or if you will (to avoid giving of∣fence to the scrupulous and injudicious, by names which tho innocent in themselves, have been abus'd by super∣stitious Page 61 Practices.) we will call it a Religious Retirement, and such as shall have a dou∣ble aspect, being not only a Retreat from the World for those who desire that advan∣tage; but likewise, an insti∣tution and previous discip∣line, to fit us to do the great∣est good in it; such an insti∣tution as this (if I do not mightily deceive my self,) would be the most probable method to amend the pre∣sent, and improve the future Age. For here, those who are convinc'd of the empti∣ness of earthly Enjoyments, who are sick of the vanity of the world, and its imper∣tinencies, may find more Page 62 substantial and satisfyingen∣tertainments, and need not be confin'd to what they justly loath. Those who are desirous to know and fortify their weak side, first do good to themselves, that hereafter they may be capable of do∣ing more good to others; or for their greater security are willing to avoid temptation, may get out of that danger which a continual stay in view of the Enemy, and the familiarity and unwearied application of the Temptati∣on may expose them to; and gain an opportunity to look into themselves, to be ac∣quainted at home, and no longer the greatest strangers Page 63 to their own hearts. Such as are willing in a more pe∣culiar and undisturb'd man∣ner, to attend the great bu∣siness they came into the world about, the service of GOD, and improvement of their own Minds, may find a convenient and blissful re∣cess from the noise and hur∣ry of the world. A world so cumbersom, so infecti∣ous, that altho' thro' the grace of GOD, and their own strict watchfulness, they are kept from sinking down into its corruptions, 'twill however damp their flight to heav'n, hinder them from attaining any eminent pitch of Vertue.
Page 64 You are therefore Ladies, invited into a place, where you shall suffer no other con∣finement, but to be kept out of the road of sin: You shall not be depriv'd of your grandeur, but only exchange the vain Pomps and Pagean∣try of the world, empty Ti∣tles and Forms of State, for the true and solid Greatness of being able to dispise them. You will only quit the Chat of insignificant people, for an ingenious Conversation; the froth of flashy wit for real wisdom; idle tales for instruc¦tive discourses. The deceitful Flatteries of those who un∣der pretence of loving and admiring you, really served Page 65 their own base ends, for the seasonable Reproofs and wholsom Counsels of your hearty well-wishers and af∣fectionate Friends; which will procure you those per∣fections your feigned lovers pretended you had, and kept you from obtaining. No uneasy task will be enjoyn'd you, all your labour being only to prepare for the high∣est degrees of that Glory, the very lowest of which, is more than at present you are able to conceive, and the prospect of it suffici∣ent to out-weigh all the Pains of Religion, were there any in it, as really there is none. All that is requir'd of Page 66 you, is only to be as happy as possibly you can, and to make sure of a Felicity that will fill all the capacities of your Souls! A happiness, which when once you have tasted, you'l be fully con∣vinc'd, you cou'd never do too much to obtain it; nor be too solicitous to a∣dorn your Souls, with such tempers and dispositions, as will at present make you in some measure such holy and Heavenly Creatures, as you one day hope to be in a more perfect manner; with∣out which Qualifications you can neither reasonably expect, nor are capable of en∣joying the Happiness of the Page 67 Life to come. Happy Re∣treat! which will be the in∣troducing you into such a Paradise as your Mother Eve forfeited, where you shall feast on Pleasures, that do not, like those of the World, disappoint your ex∣pectations, pall your Appe∣tites, and by the disgust they give you, put you on the fruitless search after new Delights, which when obtain'd are as empty as the former; but such as will make you truly happy now, and prepare you to be per∣fectly so hereafter. Here are no Serpents to deceive you, whilst you entertain your selves in these delicious Gar∣dens. Page 68 No Provocations are given in this Amicable So∣ciety, but to Love and to good Works, which will af∣ford such an entertaining employment, that you'l have as little inclination as lei∣sure to pursue those Follies which in the time of your ignorance pass'd with you under the name of love; al∣tho' there is not in nature two more different things, than true Love, and that bru∣tish Passion which pretends to ape it. Here will be no Rivalling but for the love of GOD, no ambition but to procure his Favour, to which nothing will more effectually recommend you, Page 69 than a great and dear affecti∣on to each other. Envy, that Canker, will not here di∣sturb your Breasts; for how can she repine at anothers wel-fare, who reckons it the greatest part of her own? No Covetousness will gain admittance in this blest a∣bode, but to amass huge Treasures of good Works, and to procure one of the brightest Crowns of Glory. You will not be solicitous to encrease your Fortunes, but enlarge your Minds; esteeming no Grandeur like being conformable to the meek and humble JESUS. So that you only withdraw from the noise and trouble, Page 70 the folly and temptation of the world, that you may more peaceably enjoy your selves, and all the innocent Pleasures it is able to afford you, and particularly that which is worth all the rest, a noble, Vertuous and Disin∣teress'd Friendship. And to compleat all that acme of de∣light which the devout Se∣raphic Soul enjoys, when dead to the World, she de∣votes her self entirely to the contemplation and fruition of her Beloved; when hav∣ing disengag'd her felf from all those Lets which hin∣dred her from without, she moves in a direct and vigo∣rous motion towards her Page 71 true and only Good, whom now she embraces and ac∣quiesces in, with such an unspeakable pleasure, as is only intelligible to them who have tried and felt it, which we can no more de∣scribe to the dark and sensu∣al part of Mankind, than we can the beauty of Colours, and harmony of Sounds, to the Blind and Deaf. In fine, the place to which you are invited will be a Type and Antipast of Heav'n, where your Employment will be as there, to magni∣fy GOD, and to love one a∣nother, and to communicate that useful knowledge, which by the due improvement of Page 72 your time in Study and Con∣templation you will obtain; and which when obtain'd, will afford you a much sweeter and durable delight, than all those pitiful diversi∣ons, those revellings and a∣musements, which now thro your ignorance of better, ap∣pear the only grateful and relishing Entertainments.
But because we were not made for our selves, nor can by any means so effectually glorify GOD, and do good to our own Souls, as by do∣ing Offices of Charity and Beneficence to others; and to the intent, that every Ver∣tue, and the highest degrees of every Vertue, may be ex∣ercis'd Page 73 & promoted the most that may be; your Retreat shall be so manag'd as not to exclude the good Works of an Active, from the pleasure and serenity of a contemplative Life, but by a due mixture of both, retain all the advanta∣ges, and avoid the inconve∣niencies that attend either. It shall not so cut you off from the world, as to hinder you from bettering and improv∣ing it; but rather qualify you to do it the greatest Good, and be a Seminary to stock the Kingdom with pious and prudent Ladies; whose good Example it is to be hop'd, will so influence the rest of their Sex, that Women may no longer pass for those little Page 74 useless and impertinent Ani∣mals, which the ill conduct of too many, has caus'd them to be mistaken for.
We have hitherto consi∣der'd our Retirement only in relation to Religion, which is indeed its main, I may say, its only design; nor can this be thought too contracting a word, since Religion is the adequate business of our lives; and largely consider'd, takes in all we have to do; nothing being a fit employment for a rational Creature, which has not either a direct or remote tendency to this great and on∣ly end. But because, as we have all along observ'd, Reli∣gion never appears in it's true Beauty, but when it is ac∣companied Page 75 with Wisdom and Discretion; and that without a good Understand∣ing, we can scarce be truly, but never eminently Good; being liable to a thousand seductions and mistakes; for even the men themselves, if they have not a competent degree of Knowledge, they are carried about with every wind of Doctrine. Therefore, one great end of this institu∣tion, shall be to expel that cloud of Ignorance, which custom has involv'd us in, to furnish our minds with a stock of solid and useful Knowledge, that the Souls of women may no longer be the only unadorn'd and neg∣lected things. It is not in∣tended Page 76 that our Religious shou'd waste their time, and trouble their heads about such unconcerning matters, as the vogue of the world has turn'd up for Learning; the impertinency of which has been excellently expos'd by an ingenious Pen, but busy themselves in a * serious enquiry after necessary and perfective truths; something which it concerns them to know, and which tends to their real interest and perfection, and what that is, the excellent Author just now mention'd, will suf∣ficiently inform them, such a course of Study will neither be too troublesome nor out of the reach of a Female Virtu∣oso; Page 77 for it is not intended she shou'd spend her hours in learning words but things, and therefore no more Languag∣es than are necessary to ac∣quaint her with useful Au∣thors Nor need she trouble her self in turning over a huge number of Books, but take care to understand and digest a few well-chosen and good ones. Let her but ob∣tain right Ideas, and be truly acquainted with the nature of those Objects that present themselves to her mind, and then no matter whether or no she be able to tell what fanciful people have said a∣bout them: And throughly to understand Christianity as profess'd by the Church of Page 78England, will be sufficient to confirm her in the truth, tho she have not a Catalogue of those particular errors which oppose it. Indeed a Learn∣ed Education of the Women will appear so unfashionable, that I began to startle at the singularity of the propositi∣on, but was extreamly pleas'd when I found a late ingeni∣ous Author (whose Book I met with since the writing of this) agree with me in my Opinion. For speaking of the Repute that Learning was in about 150 years ago: It*was so very mo∣dish (says he) that the fair Sex seem'd to be∣lieve that Greek and Latin ad∣dedPage 79to their Charms; and Pla∣to and Aristotle untranslated, were frequent Ornaments of their Closets. One wou'd think by the effects, that it was a pro∣per way of Educating them, since there are no accounts in History of so many great Women in any one Age, as are to be found be∣tween the years 15 and 1600.
For, since GOD has given Women as well as Men in∣telligent Souls, why should they be forbidden to improve them? Since he has not de∣nied us the faculty of Think∣ing, why shou'd we not (at least in gratitude to him) em∣ploy our Thoughts on him∣self, their noblest Object, and not unworthily bestow them on Trifles and Gaities Page 80 and secular Affairs? Being the Soul was created for the contemplation of Truth, as well as for the fruition of Good, is it not as cruel and unjust to preclude Women from the knowledge of the one, as well as from the en∣joyment of the other? Espe∣cially since the Will is blind, and cannot chuse but by the direction of the Understand∣ing; or to speak more pro∣perly, since the Soul always Wills according as she Ʋnder∣stands, so that, if she Ʋnder∣stands amiss she Wills amiss: And as Exercise enlarges and exalts any Faculty, so thro' want of using, it becomes crampt and lessened; if we make little or no use of our Page 81 Understandings we shall shortly have none to use; and the more contracted, and un∣employ'd the deliberating and directive Power is, the more liable is the elective to unworthy and mischievous options. What is it but the want of an ingenious Educa∣tion that renders the genera∣lity of Feminine Conversati∣ons so insipid and foolish, and their solitude so insupportable? Learning is therefore necessa∣ry to render them more agree∣able and useful in company, and to furnish them with be∣coming entertainments when alone, that so they may not be driven to those miserable shifts, which too many make use of to put off their time, Page 82 that precious Talent that ne∣ver lies on the hands of a ju∣dicious Person. And since our Happiness in the next world depends so far on those dispositions which we carry along with us out of this, that without a right habitude and temper of mind, we are not capable of Felicity; and see∣ing our Beatitude consists in the contemplation of the di∣vine Truth and Beauty, as well as in the fruition of his Goodness, can Ignorance be a fit preparative for Hea∣ven? Is't likely that she whose Understanding has been busied about nothing but froth and trifles, shou'd be capable of delighting her self in noble and sublime Page 83 Truths? Let such therefore as deny us the improvement of our Intellectuals, either take up his Paradox, who said, That Women have no Souls; which at this time a day, when they are allow'd to Brutes, wou'd be as un∣philosophical as it is unman∣nerly; or else let them per∣mit us to cultivate and im∣prove them. There is a sort of Learning indeed which is worse than the greatest Igno∣rance: A woman may study Plays and Romances all her days, & be a great deal more knowing, but never a jot the wiser. Such a Knowledge as this serves only to instruct and put her forward in the practice of the greatest Fol∣lies; Page 84 yet how can they just∣ly blame her, who forbid, or at least, won't afford oppor∣tunity of better? A rational mind will be employ'd, it will never be satisfy'd in doing nothing; and if you neglect to furnish it with good mate∣rials, 'tis like to take up with such as come to hand.
We pretend not that Wo∣men shou'd teach in the Church, or usurp Authority where it is not allow'd them; permit us only to understand our own duty, and not be forc'd to take it upon trust from others; to be at least so far learned, as to be able to form in our minds a true Idea of Christianity, it being so very necessary to fence us a∣gainst Page 85 the danger of these last and perilous days, in which Deceivers, a part of whose Character is, to lead captive silly Women, need not creep into Houses, since they have Au∣thority to proclaim their Er∣rors on the House top. And let us also acquire a true Prac∣tical Knowledge, such as will convince us of the absolute necessity of Holy Living, as well as of Right Believing, and that no Heresy is more dan∣gerous, than that of an un∣godly and wicked Life. And since the French Tongue is un∣derstood by most Ladies, me∣thinks they may much better improve it by the study of Philosophy (as I hear the French Ladies do,) Des Cartes,Page 86Malebranch, and others, than by reading idle Novels and Romances. 'Tis strange we shou'd be so forward to imi∣tate their Fashions and Fop∣peries, and have no regard to what is truly imitable in them! And why shall it not be thought as genteel, to un∣derstand French Philosophy, as to be accoutred in a French Mode? Let therefore the fa∣mous Madam D'acier, &c. and our own incomparable Orin∣da, excite the Emulation of the English Ladies.
The Ladies, I'm sure, have no reason to dislike this Pro∣posal, but I know not how the Men will resent it, to have their enclosure broke down, and Women invited Page 87 to tast of that Tree of Know∣ledge they have so long unjust∣ly monopoliz'd. But they must excuse me, if I be as partial to my own Sex as they are to theirs, and think Women as capable of Learning as Men are, and that it becomes them as well. For I cannot ima∣gine wherein the hurt lyes, if instead of doing mischief to one another, by an unchari∣table and vain Conversation, women be enabled to inform and instruct those of their own Sex at least; the Holy Ghost having left it on re∣cord, that Priscilla as well as her Husband catechis'd the eloquent Apollos, and the great Apostle found no fault with her. It will therefore Page 88 be very proper for our Ladies to spend part of their time in this Retirement, in adorning their minds with useful Knowledge.
To enter into the detail of the particulars concerning the Government of the Reli∣gious, their Offices of Devo∣tion, Employments, Work, &c. is not now necessary. Suffice it at present to signi∣fy, that they will be more than ordinarily careful to re∣deem their time, spending no more of it on the Body than the necessities of Nature re∣quire, but by a judicious choice of their Employment, and a constant industry about it, so improve this invaluable Treasure, that it may nei∣ther Page 89 be buried in Idleness, nor lavish'd out in unprofitable concerns. For a stated por∣tion of it being daily paid to GOD in Prayers and Praises, the rest shall be employ'd in innocent, charitable, and use∣ful Business; either in study (in learning themselves, or in∣structing others; for it is de∣sign'd that part of their Em∣ployment be the Education of those of their own Sex) or else in spiritual and corpo∣ral Works of Mercy, reliev∣ing the Poor, healing the Sick, mingling Charity to the Soul with that they express to the Body, instructing the Igno∣rant, counselling the Doubt∣ful, comforting the Afflicted, and correcting those that err and do amiss.
Page 90 And as it will be the busi∣ness of their lives, their meat and drink to know and do the Will of their heavenly Fa∣ther, so will they pay a strict conformity to all the Precepts of their holy Mother the Church, whose sacred Injunc∣tions are too much neglect∣ed, even by those who pre∣tend the greatest zeal for her. For, besides the daily perfor∣mance of the Publick Offices after the Cathedral manner, in the most affecting and ele∣vating way, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist every Lords Day and Holyday, and a course of solid instructive Preaching and Catechizing; our Religious, considering that the holy JESUS punctu∣ally Page 91 observ'd the innocent usages of the Jewish Church; and tho in many instances the reason of the Command ceas'd as to him, yet he wou'd obey the letter to avoid giv∣ing offence, and to set us an admirable pattern of Obedi∣ence; therefore, tho' it may be thought such pious Souls have little occasion for the severities of fasting and mor∣tification; yet, they will consider it as a special part of their Duty, carefully to ob∣serve all the Fasts of the Church, viz. Lent, Ember, and Rogation-days, Fridays and Vigils; times so little heeded by the most, that one wou'd scarce believe them set apart for Religious Purposes, did Page 92 we not find them in the an∣tiquated Rubricks. And 〈◊〉 their Devotion will be regu∣lar, so shall it likewise be so∣lid and substantial. They will not rest in the mere out-side of Duty, nor fancy the per∣formance of their Fasts and Offices will procure them li∣cense to indulge a darling Vice. But having long since laid the Ax to the root of sin, and destroy'd the whole bo∣dy of it, they will look upon these holy times of recollecti∣on and extraordinary Devo∣tion (without which Fasting signifies little) as excellent means to keep it down, and to pluck up every the least Fibre that may happen to re∣main in them. But we in∣tend Page 93 not by this to impose any intolerable burden on tender Constitutions, know∣ing that our Lord has taught us, that Mercy is to be pre∣fer'd before Sacrifice; and that Bodily Exercise profit∣eth but a little, the chief bu∣siness being to obtain a di∣vine and God-like temper of Mind.
And as this institution will strictly enjoyn all pious and profitable Employments, so does it not only permit but recommend harmless and in∣genious Diversions, Musick particularly, and such as may refresh the Body, without e∣nervating the mind. They do a disservice to Religion who make it an enemy to in∣nocent Page 95 Nature, and injure the Almighty when they repre∣sent him as imposing burdens that are not to be born. Nei∣ther GOD nor Wise men will like us the better, for an af∣fected severity and waspish sourness. Nature and Grace will never disagree, provided we mistake not the one, nor indulge the petulency of the other; there being no Displacencies in Religon, but what we our selves have unhappily made. For true Piety is the most sweet and engaging thing imaginable, as it is most ob∣liging to others, so most ea∣sie to our selves. 'Tis in truth the highest Epicurism, exalting our Pleasures by re∣sining Page 94 them; keeping our Appetites in that due regu∣larty which not only Grace, but 〈◊〉 Nature and Reason require, in the breach of which, tho' there may be a Transport, there can be no true and substantial delight.
As to Lodging, Habit and Diet, they may be quickly resolv'd on by the Ladies who shall subscribe; who I doubt not will make choice of what is most plain and decent, what Nature, not Luxury requires. And since neither Meat nor Cloaths commend us unto GOD, they'l content themselves with such things as are fit and convenient, without occasioning scruple to themselves, or giving any Page 96 trouble or offence to others. She who considers to how much better account that Money will turn, which is bestow'd on the Poor, then that which is laid out in un∣necessary Expences on her self, needs no Admonitions against superfluities: She who truly loves her self, will never waste that Money on a decaying Carkass, which if prudently disburs'd, wou'd procure her an eternal Man∣sion. She will never think her self so fine, as when the backs of the Poor do bless her; and never feast so luxuriously as when she treats an hungry person. No perfume will be thought so grateful as the Odour of Good Page 97 Works; nor any Wash so beautifying as her own tears. For her Heroic Soul is too great to ambition any Em∣pire but that of her own Breast; or to regard any o∣ther Conquest than the res∣cuing poor unhappy-Souls from the slavery of Sin and Satan, those only unsuppor∣table Tyrants; and therefore what Decays she observes in her Face will be very uncon∣cerning, but she will with greatest speed and accuracy rectify the least Spot that may prejudice the beauty of her lovely Soul.
In a word, this happy So∣ciety will be but one Body, whose Soul is love, animating and informing it, and perpe∣tually Page 98 breathing forth it self in flames of holy desires after GOD, and acts of Benevo∣lence to each other. Envy and Uncharitableness are the Vices only of little and nar∣row hearts, and therefore 'tis suppos'd, they will not enter here amongst persons whose Dispositions as well as their Births are to be Generous. Censure will refine into Friendly Admonition, all Scoffing and offensive Railleries will be abo∣minated and banish'd hence; where not only the Words and Actions, but even the very Thoughts and Desires of the Religious, tend to pro∣mote the most endearing Love, and universal Good- Page 99 will; for tho' there may be particular Friendships, they must by no means prejudice the general Amity. Thus these innocent and holy Souls shou'd run their Race, mea∣suring their hours by their Devotions, and their days by the charitable Works they do. Thus wou'd they live the life of Heaven whilst on Earth, and receive an Earn∣est of its Joys in their hearts. And now, what remains for them to do at Night, but to review the Actions of the Day? to examine what Pas∣sions have been stirring? How their Devotions were perform'd? in what temper their Hearts are? what good they have done? and what Page 100 progress made towards Hea∣ven? and with the plaudit of a satisfied Conscience sweetly to sleep in peace and safety, Angels pitching their Tents round about them, and he that neither slumbers nor sleeps, rejoycing over them to do them good!
And to the end, that these great designs may be the bet∣ter pursu'd, and effectually obtain'd, care shall be taken that our Religious be under the tuition of persons of irre∣proachable Lives, of a con∣summate Prudence, sincere Piety, and unaffected Gravi∣ty. No Novices in Religi∣on, but such as have spent the greatest part of their lives in the study and practice of Page 101 Christianity; who have liv∣ed much, whatever the time of their abode in the world has been. Whose under∣standings are clear and com∣prehensive, as well as their Passions at command, and Af∣fections regular; and their knowledge able to govern their Zeal. Whose scrutiny into their own hearts has been so exact, that they fully understand the weaknesses of human Nature, are able to bear with its defects, and by the most prudent methods procure its Amendment. Plentifully furnish'd with in∣structions for the ignorant, and comfort for the disconso∣late. Who know how to quicken the slothful, to a∣waken Page 102 the secure, and to dis∣pel the doubts of the Scrupu∣lous. Who are not ignorant when to use the Spur, and when the Rein, but duly qua∣lified to minister to all the spiritual wants of their Charge. Watching over their Souls with tenderness and prudence; applying fitting Medicines with sweetness & affability. Sagacious in dis∣covering the very approach∣es of a fault, wise in prevent∣ing, and charitable in bear∣ing with all pityable Infirmi∣ties. The sweetness of whose Nature is commensurate to all the rest of their good Qua∣lities, and all conspire toge∣ther to make them lov'd and reverenc'd. Who have the Page 103 perfect government of them∣selves, and therefore rule ac∣cording to Reason, not Hu∣mour, consulting the good of the Society, not their own ar∣bitrary sway. Yet know how to assert their Authority when there is just occasion for it, and will not prejudice their Charge, by an indiscreet remissness and loosning the Reins of discipline. Yet what occasion will there be for ri∣gour, when the design is to represent Vertue in all her Charms and native Loveli∣ness, which must needs at∣tract the eyes, and enamour the hearts of all who behold her? To joyn the sweetness of Humanity to the strictness of Philosophy, that both to∣gether Page 104 being improv'd and heighten'd by grace, may make up an accomplish'd Christian; who (if truly so) is certainly the best-bred and best-natur'd person in the world, adorn'd with a thou∣sand Charms, most happy in her self, and most agreeable and beneficial to all about her. And that every one who comes under this holy Roof, may be such an ami∣able, such a charming Crea∣ture, what faults they bring with them shall be corrected by sweetness, not severity; by friendly Admonitions, not magisterial Reproofs; Piety shall not be roughly impos'd, but wisely insinuated by a perpetual Display of the Page 105 Beauties of Religion in an exemplary Conversation, the continual and most powerful Sermon of an holy Life. And since Inclination can't be forc'd, (and nothing makes people more uneasy than the fettering themselves with un∣necessary Bonds) there shall be no Vows or irrevocable Obligations, not so much as the fear of Reproach to keep our Ladies here any longer than they desire. No: Ev'ry act of our Religious Votary shall be voluntary and free, and no other tye but the Pleasure, the Glory and Ad∣vantage of this blessed Re∣tirement, to confine her to it.
And now, I suppose, you will save me the labour of Page 106 proving, that this instituti∣on will very much serve the ends of Piety and Charity; it is methinks self-evident, and the very Proposal suffi∣cient proof. But if it will not promote these great ends, I shall think my self mightily oblig'd to him that will shew me what will; for provided the good of my Neighbour be advanc'd, 'tis very indif∣ferent to me, whether it be by my method or by ano∣thers. Here will be no im∣pertinent Visits, no foolish Amours, no idle Amusements to distract our Thoughts, and waste our precious time; a very little of which is spent in Dressing, that grand de∣vourer, and its concomitants; Page 107 and no more than necessity requires in sleep and eating; so that here's an huge Trea∣sure gain'd, which for ought I know, may purchase an happy Eternity. But we need not rest in generals, a curso∣ry view of some particulars will sufficiently demonstrate the great usefulness of such a Retirement; which will appear by observing first, a few of those inconveniences to which Ladies are expos'd, by living in the world, and in the next place the positive advantages of a Retreat.
And first, as to the incon∣veniences of living in the World; no very small one is that strong Idea and warm perception it gives us of its Page 108 Vanities; since these are e∣ver at hand, constantly thronging about us, they must necessarily push aside all other Objects, and the Mind being prepossess'd and gratefully entertain'd with those pleasing Perceptions which external Objects occa∣sion, takes up with them as its only Good, is not at lei∣sure to taste those delights which arise from a Reflecti∣on on it self, nor to receive the Ideas which such a Re∣flection conveys, and conse∣quently forms all its Noti∣ons by such Ideas only as sensation has furnish'd it with, being unacquainted with those more excellent ones which arisefrom its own Page 109 operations and a serious re∣flection on them, and which are necessary to correct the mistakes, and supply the de∣fects of the other. From whence arises a very partial knowledge of things, nay, almost a perfect ignorance in things of the greatest mo∣ment. For tho we are ac∣quainted with the Sound of some certain words, v. g. God, Religion, Pleasure and Pain, Honour and Dishonour, and the like; yet having no other Ideas but what are convey'd to us by those Trifles we con∣verse with, we frame to our selves strange & awkard noti∣ons of them, conformable on∣ly to those Ideas sensation has furnish'd us with, which Page 110 sometimes grow so strong and fixt, that 'tis scarce pos∣sible to introduce a new Scheme of Thoughts, and so to disabuse us, especially whilst these Objects are thick about us.
Thus she who sees her self and others respected in proportion to that Pomp and Bustle they make in the world, will form her Idea of Honour accordingly. She who has relish'd no Pleasures but such as arise at the pre∣sence of outward Objects, will seek no higher than her Sen∣ses for her Gratification. And thus we may account for that strange insensibility that appears in some people when you speak to them of any se∣rious Page 111 religious matter. They are then so dull you'l have much ado to make them un∣derstand the clearest Truth: Wheras if you rally the same persons, or chat with them of some Mode or Foppery, they'll appear very quick, ex∣pert, and ingenious. I have sometimes smil'd to hear Women talk as grave∣ly and concernedly about some trifling disappointment from their Milliner or Tay∣lor, as if it had related to the weightiest concerns of their Soul, nay, perhaps more seri∣ously than others who wou'd pass for Good, do about their eternal Interest; but turn the talk that way, and they grow as heavy and cold as Page 112 they were warm and sensi∣ble before. And whence is this, but because their heads are full of the one, and quite destitute of such Ideas as might give them a competent notion of the other; and therefore to discourse of such matters, is as little to the pur∣pose as to make Mathemati∣cal Demonstrations to one who knows not what an Angle or Triangle means. (Hence by the way, will ap∣pear the great usefulness of judicious Catechizing, which is necessary to stir up clear Idea's in the mind, without which it can receive but little benefit from the Dis∣courses of the Pulpit, and per∣haps the neglect of the for∣mer Page 113 is the reason that the great plenty of the latter has no better effect.) By all which it appears, that if we wou'd not be impos'd on by false Reprefentations and Impo∣stures, if we wou'd obtain a due knowledge of the most important things, we must remove the little Toys and Vanities of the world from us, or our selves from them; enlarge our Ideas, seek out new Fields of Knowledge, whereby to rectify our first mistakes.
From the same Original, viz. the constant flattery of external Objects, arises that querulousness and delicacy observable in most Persons of Fortune, and which be∣trays Page 114 them to many incon∣veniencies. For besides that, it renders them altogether unfit to bear a change, which considering the great uncer∣tainty, the swift vicissitudes of worldly things, the Great∣est and most established, ought not to be unprepar'd for; besides this, it makes them perpetually uneasy, a∣bates the delight of their en∣joyments, for such persons will very rarely find all things to their mind, and then some little disorder which others wou'd take no notice of, like an aching Tooth or Toe, spoils the re∣lish of their Joys. And tho many great Ladies affect this temper, mistaking it for a Page 115 piece of Grandeur, 'tis so far from that, that it gives evi∣dence of a poor weak Mind; a very childish Humour, that must be cocker'd and fed with Toys and Baubles to still its frowardness; & is like the crazy stomach of a sick Person, which no body has reason to be fond of or desire.
This also disposes them to Inconstancy, (for she who is continually supply'd with variety, knows not where to fix,) a Vice which some wo∣men seem to be proud of, and yet nothing in the world so reproachsul and degrading, because nothing is a stronger evidence of a weak and inju∣dicious mind. For it suppo∣ses us either so ignorant as Page 116 to make a wrong Choice at first, or else so silly as not to know and stick to it, when we have made a right one. It bespeaks an unthinking inconsiderate Mind, one that lives at Random, without any design or end; who wanting judgment to discern where to fix, or to know when she's well, is ever fluct∣uating and uncertain, undo∣ing to day what she had done yesterday, which is the worst Character that can be given of ones Understanding.
A constant Scene of Temp∣tations, and the infection of ill company, is another great danger, which conversing in the world exposes to. 'Tis a dangerous thing to have all Page 117 the opportunities of sinning in our power, and the danger is increas'd by the ill Prece∣dents we daily see of those who take them. Liberty (as some body says) will corrupt an Angel. And tho it is in∣deed more glorious to con∣quer than to fly, yet since our Vertue is so visibly weakned in other instances, we have no reason to pre∣sume on't in this. 'Tis be∣come no easy matter to se∣cure our Innocence in our necessary Civilities and daily Conversations; in which, if we have the good luck to a∣void such as bring a necessity on us, either of seeming rude to them, or of being really so to GOD Almighty, whilst Page 118 we tamely hear him, our best Friend and Benefactor af∣fronted, and swallow'd it, at the same time, that we wou'd reckon't a very piti∣ful Spirit to hear an Acquain∣tance traduc'd and hold our Tongue; yet, if we avoid this Trial, our Charity is however in continual dan∣ger, Censoriousness being grown so modish, that we can scarce avoid being active or passive in it; so that she who has not her pert jest ready to pass upon others, shall as soon as her back is turn'd, become a Jest her self for want of Wit.
In consequence of all this, we are insensibly betray'd to a great loss of time, a Trea∣sure Page 119 whose value we are too often quite ignorant of, till it be lost past redemption. And yet, considering the shortness and uncertainty of Life, the great work we have to do, and what advantages accrew to us by a due ma∣nagement of our time, we cannot reconcile it with pru∣dence to suffer the least mi∣nute to escape us. But be∣sides our own lavish Expen∣ces (concerning which one may ask as Solomon does of Labour, What Fruit have we of all that Sport and Pastime we have taken under the Sun?) So unreasonable is the hum∣our of the World, that those who wou'd reckon it a rude∣ness to make so bold with Page 120 our Mony, never scruple to waste, and rob us of this in∣finitely more precious Trea∣sure.
In the last place, by reason of this loss of time and the continual hurry we are in, we can find no opportunities for thoughtfulness and recol∣lection; we are so busied with what passes abroad, that we have no leisure to look at home, nor to rectify the dis∣orders there. And such an unthinking mechanical way of living, when like Machins we are condemn'd every day to repent the impertinencies of the day before; shortens our Views, contracts our Minds, exposes to a thousand practical Errors, and renders Page 121 Improvement impossible, be∣cause it will not permit us to consider and recollect, which is the only means to attain it. So much for the inconveniences of living in the World; if we enquire about Retirement, we shall find it does not only remove all these, but brings consi∣derable advantages of its own.
For first, it helps us to mate custom, and delivers us from its Tyranny, which is the most considerable thing we have to do, it being no∣thing else but the habituating our selves to Folly that can reconcile us to it. But how hard is it to quit an old road? What courage as well as pru∣dence Page 122 does it require? How clear a Judgment to over∣look the Prejudices of Edu∣cation and Example, and to discern what is best, and how strong a resolution, notwith∣standing all the Scoffs and Noises of the world to adhere to it! For Custom has u∣surpt such an unaccountable Authority, that she who wou'd endeavour to put a stop to its Arbitrary Sway, and reduce it to Reason, is in a fair way to render her self the Butt for all the Fops in Town to shoot their im∣pertinent Censures at. And tho a wise Woman will not value their Censure, yet she cares not to be the subject of their Discourse. The only Page 123 way then is to retire from the world, as the Israelites did out of Egypt, lest the Sacrifice we must make of its Follies, shou'd provoke its Spleen.
This also puts us out of the road of temptation, and very much redeems our Time, cutting off those ex∣travagancies on which so much of it was squandred away before. And furnish∣ing us constantly with good employment, secures us from being seduc'd into bad. Great are the Benefits of holy Con∣versation which will be here enjoy'd: As Vice is, so Ver∣tue may be catching; and to what heights of Piety will not she advance, who is plac'd where the sole Bu∣siness Page 124 is to be Good, where there is no pleasure but in Religion, no contention but to excel in what is truly commendable; where her Soul is not defil'd nor her Zeal provok'd, by the sight or relation of those Villanies the World abounds with?
And by that Learning which will be here afforded, and that leisure we have, to enquire after it, and to know and reflect on our own minds, we shall rescue our selves out of that woful in∣cogitancy we have slipt into, awaken our sleeping Powers, and make use of that reason which GOD has given us. We shall then begin to won∣der at our Folly, that amongst Page 125 all the pleasures we former∣ly pursued, we never attend∣ed to that most noble and de∣licious one which the chase of truth affords us; and bless our selves at last, that our eyes are open'd to discern how much more pleasantly we may be entertain'd by our own Thoughts, than by all the Diversions which the world affords us. By this means we are fitted to re∣ceive the influences of the ho∣ly Spirit, and are put in a due frame of Devotion. No doubt but he has often knock'd at the door of our hearts, when the croud and noise of our Vanities would not suffer us to regard or hear him; and could find no admittance Page 126 when our house was so fill'd with other company. Here therefore is the fittest place for his Entertainment, when we are freed from outward disturbances, and entirely at leisure to attend so divine a Guest. Our Devotions will be perform'd with due attention, those Objects that used to distract being now remov'd from us; simplicity of desire will beget simplici∣ty of thought, and that will make our minds most intense and elevated, when we come to address our selves to the Throne of Grace. Being dead to the things of this world, we shall with greater fervour petition for those of another; and living always in a lively Page 127 and awful sense of the divine Majesty, our hearts will e∣ver be dispos'd to approach him in the most solemn, seri∣ous and reverent manner. 'Tis a very unseemly thing to jump from our Diversions to our Prayers; as if when we have been entertaining our selves and others with Vanity, we were instantly prepar'd to appear in the sacred presence of GOD. But a Religious Retirement and holy Conversation, will procure us a more serious Temper, a graver Spirit, and so both make us constantly sit to approach, and likewise stir us up to be more careful in our preparations when we do. For besides all other Page 128 improvements of knowledge, we shall hereby obtain tru∣er Notions of GOD than we were capable of before, which is of very great conse∣quence, since the want of right apprehensions concern∣ing him, is the general cause of mistakes in Religion, and Errors in Practice; for as he is the noblest Object of our Understanding, so nothing is more necessary or of such con∣sequence to us as to busy our thoughts about him. And did we rightly consider his Na∣ture, we shou'd neither dare to forget him, nor draw near to him with unclean hands, and unholy hearts.
From this sacred Moun∣tain where the world will Page 129 be plac'd at our feet, at such a distance from us, that the steams of its corruptions shall not obscure our eye∣sight; we shall have a right prospect of it, and clearly dis∣cern that all its Allurements, all those Gaities and Pagean∣tries which at present we ad∣mire so much, are no better than insignificant Toys, which have no value but what our perverse Opinion imposes on them. Things which contribute so very little to our real Good, that even at present, which is their only season, we may live much happier without than with them; and which are so far from being necessary to true Felicity, that they Page 130 shall vanish and be no more when that is consummate and perfect. Many are the Topic's from whence we might declaim against the vanity of the world, but me∣thinks Experience is so con∣vincing, that it supersedes all the rest, and wou'd certain∣ly reclaim us from the im∣moderate love of earthly en∣joyments, did we but seri∣ously hearken to it. For tell me Ladies, if your greatest Pleasures are not attended with a greater sting; when you think to grasp them, do they not either vanish into froth, or gall your fingers? To want, or to enjoy them, is equally tormenting; the one produces in you the Pain Page 131 of Hunger, the other of Loathing. For in reality, there is no good in them, no∣thing but the Shadow and Appearance; if there were, you cou'd not so easily loath your old Delights, and be so fond of variety, what is tru∣ly desirable never ending in disgust. They are not there∣fore Pleasures but Amuse∣ments which you now pur∣sue, and which, through your ignorance of better Joys, pre∣tend to fill their place; toll you on with fair pretences, and repay your Labour with defeated Hopes. Joys, not near so lasting as the slightest toy you wear; the most ca∣pricious Humorist among you is more constant far than Page 132 they. Come hither there∣fore and take a true view of 'em, that you may no longer deceive your selves with that which profits not; but spurning away these empty nothings, secure a portion in such a Bliss as will not fail, as cannot disappoint you! A Felicity which de∣pending on GOD only and your own Minds, is out of Fortunes reach, will place you above the Batteries of the world, above its Terrors and Allurements, and enable you at once to triumph over, and despise it. And what can be more glorious, than to have a mind unshaken by the blandishments of Prosperity, or the rough shocks of Ad∣versity; Page 133 that passes thro both with the same indifferency and integrity, is not to be tempted by either to a mean unworthy and indecent Acti∣on?
Farther yet, besides that holy emulation which a con∣tinual view of the brightest and most exemplary Lives will excite in us; we shall have opportunity of contrac∣ting the purest and noblest Friendship; a Blessing, the purchase of which were rich∣ly worth all the world be∣sides! For she who posses∣ses a worthy Person, has cer∣tainly obtain'd the richest Treasure! a Blessing that Monarchs may envy, and she who enjoys is happier than Page 134 she who fills a Throne! a Blessing, which next to the love of GOD, is the choicest Jewel in our Caelestial Dia∣dem, which, were it duly practic'd, wou'd both fit us for heav'n, and bring it down into our hearts whilst we tarry here. For Friendship is a Vertue which compre∣hends all the rest; none be∣ing fit for this, who is not a∣dorn'd with every other Vertue. Probably one con∣siderable cause of the degene∣racy of the present Age, is the little true Friendship that is to be found in it; or per∣haps you will rather say, that this is the effect of our cor∣ruption. The cause and the effect are indeed reciprocal; Page 135 for were the world better, there wou'd be more Friend∣ship, and were there more Friendship we shou'd have a better world. But because Iniquity abounds, therefore the love of many is not only wax∣en cold, but quite benum'd and perish'd. But if we have such narrow hearts, be so full of mistaken Self-love, so unreasonably fond of our selves, that we cannot spare a hearty Good-will to one or two choice Persons, how can it ever be thought, that we shou'd well acquit our selves of that Charity which is due to all mankind? For Friend∣ship is nothing else but Cha∣rity contracted; it is (in the words of an admired Au∣thor) Page 136 a kind of revenging our selves on the narrowness of our Faculties, by exemply∣fying that extraordinary cha∣rity on one or two, which we are willing, but not able to exercise towards all. And therefore 'tis without doubt, the best Instructor to teach us our duty to our Neigh∣bour, and a most excellent Monitor to excite us to make payment as far as our pow∣er will reach. It has a spe∣cial force to dilate our hearts, to deliver them from that vi∣cious selfishness and the rest of those sordid passions, which express a narrow illiberal temper, and are of such per∣nitious consequence to man∣kind. That institution there∣fore, Page 137 must needs be highly beneficial, which both dispo∣ses us to be friends our selves, and helps to find them. But by Friendship I do not mean any thing like those intima∣cies that are about in the world, which are often com∣binations in evil, and at best but insignificant dearnesses; as little resembling true Friendship, as Modern Practice does Primitive Christianity. But I in∣tend by it the greatest usefulness, the most refin'd and disinteress'd Benevolence, a love that thinks nothing within the bounds of Power and Duty, too much to do or suffer for its Beloved: And makes no distinction Page 138 betwixt its Friend and its self, except that in Tempo∣rals it prefers her interest. But tho it be very desirable to obtain such a Treasure, such a Medicine of Life, (as the wise man speaks) yet the danger is great, least being deceiv'd in our choice, we suck in Poyson where we expected Health. And con∣sidering how apt we are to disguise our selves, how hard it is to know our own hearts, much less anothers, it is not advisable to be too hasty in contracting so important a Relation; before that be done, it were well if we could look into the very Soul of the beloved Person, to discover what resemblance Page 139 it bears to our own, and in this Society we shall have the best opportunities of do∣ing so. There are no inte∣rests here to serve, no contri∣vances for another to be a stale to; the Souls of all the Religious will be open and free, and those particular Friendships must be no pre∣judice to the general Amity. But yet, as in Heav'n, that region of perfect Love, the happy Souls (as some are of opinion) now and then step aside from more general Con∣versations, to entertain them∣selves with a peculiar friend; so, in this little emblem of this blessed place, what shoud hinder, but that two Persons of a sympathizing dispositi∣on Page 140 the make and frame of whose Souls bears an exact conformity to each other, and therefore one wou'd think, were purposely design'd by Heaven to unite and mix; what shou'd hinder them from entring into an holy combination to watch over each other for Good, to ad∣vise, encourage and direct, and to observe the minutest fault in order to its amend∣ment. The truest effect of love being to endeavour the bettering the beloved Person. And therefore nothing is more likely to improve us in Vertue, and advance us to the very highest pitch of Goodness, than unfeigned Friendship, which is the most Page 141 beneficial, as well as the most pleasant thing in the world.
But to hasten; such an in∣stitution will much confirm us in Vertue, and help us to persevere to the end, and by that substantial Piety and so∣lid Knowledge, we shall here acquire, fit us to propagate it when we return into the World. An habitual Prac∣tice of Piety for some years will so root and establish us in it, that Religion will be∣come a second Nature, and we must do strange violences to our selves, if after that we dare venture to oppose it. For besides all the other Ad∣vantages that Vertue has o∣ver Vice, this will disarm it of Custom, the only thing Page 142 that recommends it, bravely win its strongest Fort, and turn its own Cannon against it self. How almost impossi∣ble wou'd it be for her to sin, whose Understanding being clearly illuminated with the knowledge of the Truth, is too wise to be impos'd on by those false representations that sin wou'd deceive it with; whose will has found out and united it self to its true Centie; and having been long habitu∣ated to move in a right line, has no temptation to decline to an Oblique. Whose affecti∣ons have daily regaled on those delicious Fruits of Pa∣radice, which Religion pre∣sents them with, and are therefore too sublime and re∣fin'd Page 143 to relish the muddy Pleasures of sensual Delights. It must certainly be a Mira∣cle if such an one relinquish her Glory and Joy; she must be as bad as Lucifer himself who after such Enjoyments can forsake her Heaven. 'Tis too unreasonable to imagine such an Apostacy, the suppo∣sition is monstrous, & there∣fore we may conclude will never, or very rarely happen. And then what a blessed world shou'd we have, shin∣ing with so many stars of Vertue! Who, not content to be happy themselves, for that's a narrowness of mind too much beneath their God∣like temper, would like the glorious Lights of Heav'n, or Page 144 rather like him who made them, diffuse their benign Influences round about. Ha∣ving gain'd an entrance into Paradise themselves, they wou'd both shew the way and invite all others to par∣take of their felicity. Instead of that froth and imperti∣nence, that Censure and Prag∣maticalness, with which Fe∣minine Conversations so much abound, we should hear their tongues employ'd in making Proselytes to hea∣ven, in running down Vice, in establishing Vertue, and proclaiming their Makers Glory. 'Twou'd be more genteel to give and take in∣structions about the orna∣ments of the Mind, than to Page 145 enquire after the Mode; and a Lecture on the Fashions wou'd become as disagreeable as at pre∣sent any serious discourse is. Not the Follies of the Town, but the Beauties and the Love of JESUS wou'd be the most polite and de∣licious Entertainment. 'Twould be thought as rude and barbarous to send our Visitors away unin∣structed, as our foolishness at pre∣sent reckons it to introduce a pertinent and useful Conversati∣on. Ladies of Quality wou'd be able to distinguish themselves from their Inferiors by the bles∣sings they communicated, and the good they did. For this is their grand Prerogative, their distinguishing Character, that they are plac'd in a condition which makes that which is every ones chief business, to be their only employ. They have nothing to do but to glorify GOD, and to Page 146 benefit their Neighbours, and she who does not thus improve her Talent, is more vile and des∣picable than the meanest Crea∣ture about her.
And if after so many spiritual Advantages, it be convenient to mention Temporals, here Heir∣esses and Persons of Fortune may be kept secure, from the rude at∣tempts of designing Men; And she who has more Mony than Dis∣cretion, need not curse her Stars, for being expos'd a prey to bold importunate and rapacious Vul∣tures. She will not here be in∣veigled and impos'd on, will nei∣ther be bought nor sold, nor be forc'd to marry for her own quiet, when she has no inclinati∣on to it, but what the being tir'd out with a restless importunity occasions. Or if she be dispos'd to marry, here she may remain in safety till a convenient Match Page 147 be offer'd by her Friends, and be freed from the danger of a dis∣honourable one. Modesty requi∣ring that a Woman should not love before Marriage, but only make choice of one whom she can love hereafter: She who has none but innocent affections, be∣ing easily able to fix them where Duty requires.
And tho at first I propos'd to my self to speak nothing in par∣ticular of the employment of the Religious, yet to give a Specimen how useful they will be to the World, I am now inclin'd to de∣clare, that it is design'd a part of their business shall be to give the best Education to the Children of Persons of Quality, who shall be attended and instructed in lesser matters by meaner persons deputed to that Office, but the forming of their minds shall be the particular care of those of Page 148 their own Rank; who cannot have a more pleasant and useful employment than to exercise and encrease their own knowledge, by instilling it into these young ones, who are most like to profit under such Tutors. For how can their little Pupils forbear to cre∣dit them, since they do not decry the World (as others may be thought to do) because they cou'd not enjoy it; but when they had it in their power, were courted and caress'd by it, for very good Reasons, and on mature delibe∣ration, thought fit to relinquish and despise its offers for a better choice? Nor are mercenary peo∣ple on other accounts capable of doing so much good to young Persons, because, having often but short views of things them∣selves, sordid and low Spirits, they are not like to form a gene∣rous temper in the minds of the Page 149 Educated. Doubtless 'twas well consider'd of him, who wou'd not trust the breeding of his Son to a Slave, because nothing great or excellent could be expected from a person of that condition.
And when by the increase of their Revenue, the Religious are enabled to do such a work of Charity, the Education they de∣sign to bestow on the Daughters of Gentlemen who are fallen in∣to decay, will be no inconsidera∣ble advantage to the Nation. For hereby many Souls will be preserv'd from great Dishonours, and put in a comfortable way of subsisting, being either receiv'd into the House, if they incline to it, or otherwise dispos'd of. It being suppos'd that prudent men will reckon the endowments they here acquire a sufficient Dowry; and that a disereet and vertuous Gentlewoman will make a better Page 150 Wife than she whose mind is empty, tho her Purse be full.
But some will say, May not peo∣ple be good without this confine∣ment? may they not live at large in the world, and yet serve GOD as acceptably as here? 'tis allow'd they may; truly wise and vertu∣ous Souls will do it by the assist∣ance of GODS Grace, in despite of all temptations; and I hearti∣ly wish, that all Women were of this temper. But it is to be con∣sider'd, that there are tender Ver∣tues, who need to be screened from the ill Airs of the world: Many persons who had begun well might have gone to the Grave in peace and innocence, had it not been their misfortune to be vio∣lently tempted. For those who have honest Hearts have not al∣ways the strongest Heads; and sometimes the enticements of the world, and the subtil insinuations Page 151 of such as lye in wait to deceive, may make their Heads giddy, stagger their Resolutions, and o∣verthrow all the fine hopes of a promising beginning. 'Tis fit therefore, such tender Cyons shou'd be transplanted, that they may be supported by the prop of Vertuous Friendship, and con∣firm'd in Goodness by holy Ex∣amples, which alas! they will not often meet with in the world. And, such is the weakness of hu∣man Nature, that bad people are not so apt to be better'd by the Society of the Good, as the Good are to be corrupted by theirs. Since therefore we daily pray a∣gainst temptation, it cannot be amiss if we take all prudent care to avoid it, and not out of a vain presumption face the danger, which GOD may justly permit to overcome us for a due correc∣tion of our Pride. It is not im∣possible Page 152 for a man to live in an infected House or Town, and es∣cape with Life and Health; yet if he have a place in the Country to retire to, he will not make slight of that advantage; and surely the Health of our Souls is of greater consideration than the health of our Bodies. Besides, she has need of an establish'd Ver∣tue and consummated Prudence, who so well understands the great end she was sent into the world about, and so faithfully pursues it, that not content to be wise and good her self alone, she en∣deavours to propagate Wisdom and Piety to all about her. But neither this Prudence nor heroic Goodness are easily attainable a∣midst the noise and hurry of the world, we must therefore retire a while from its clamour and im∣portunity, if we generously de∣sign to do it good; and having Page 153 calmly and sedately observ'd and rectify'd what is amiss in our selves, we shall be fitter to pro∣mote a Reformation in others. A devout Retirement will not only strengthen and confirm our Souls, that they be not insected by the worlds Corruptions, but likewise so purity and resite them, that they will become An∣tidotes to expel the Poyson in o∣thers, and spread a salutary Air round about them.
If any object against a Learn∣ed Education, that it will make Women vain and assuming, and instead of correcting, encrease their Pride: I grant, that a smat∣tering in Learning may; for it has this effect on the Men, none so Dogmatical, and so forward to shew their Parts as your little Pretenders to Science. But I wou'd not have the Ladies con∣tent themselves with the shew, my Page 154 desire is, that they shou'd not rest till they obtain the Substance. And then she who is most know∣ing, will be forward to own with the wise Socrates, that she knows nothing: nothing that is matter of Pride and Ostentation; no∣thing but what is attended with so much ignorance and imperfec∣tion, that it cannot reasonably elate and puff her up. The more she knows, she will be the less subject to talkativeness and its sister Vices, because she discerns, that the most difficult piece of Learning is, to know when to use and when to hold ones Tongue, and never to speak but to the purpose.
But the men if they rightly understand their own interest, have no reason to oppose the in∣genious Education of the Wo∣men, since 'twou'd go a great way towards reclaming the men; great Page 155 is the influence we have over them in their Childhood, in which time, if a Mother be discreet and knowing as well as devout, she has many opportunities of giving such a Form and Season to the ten∣der Mind of the Child, as will shew its good effects thro' all the stages of his Life. But tho' you should not allow her capable of doing good, 'tis certain, she may do hurt: If she do not make the Child, she has power to marr him, by suffering her fondness to get the better of discreet affection. But besides this, a good and pru∣dent Wife, wou'd wonderfully work on an ill man; he must be a Brute indeed, who cou'd hold out against all those innocent Arts, those gentle persuasives, and obliging methods she wou'd use to reclaim him. Piety is of∣ten offensive, when it is accom∣panied with indiscretion: but Page 156 she who is as Wise as Good, pos∣sesles such Charms as can hardly fail of prevailing. Doubtless, her Husband is a much happier Man, and more likely to aban∣don all his ill Courses, than he who has none to come home to, but an ignorant, froward and fan∣tastick Creature. An ingenious Conversation will make his life comfortable, and he who can be so well entertain'd at home, needs not run into Temptations in search of Diversions abroad. The only danger is, that the Wife be more knowing than the Husband; but if she be, 'tis his own fault, since he wants no opportunities of improvement; unless he be a natural Blockhead, and then such an one will need a wise Woman to govern him, whose prudence will conceal it from publick Ob∣servation, and at once both co∣ver and supply his defects. Give Page 157 me leave therefore to hope, that no Gentleman who has honoura∣ble designs, will henceforward decry Knowledge and Ingenuity in her he wou'd pretend to Ho∣nour: Or if he does, it may serve for a Test to distinguish the feigned and unworthy from the real Lover.
Now, who that has a Spark of of Piety, will go about to oppose so Religious a design? What ge∣nerous Spirit that has a due re∣gard to the good of Mankind, will not be forward to advance and perfect it? Who will think 500 pounds too much to lay out for the purchase of so much Wisdom and Happiness? Certainly, we shou'd not think them too dear∣ly paid for by a much greater Sum, did not our pitiful and sor∣did Spirits set a much higher va∣lue on Money than it deserves. But granting so much of that dear Page 158 Idol is given away, a person thus bred, will easily make it up by her Frugality and other Vertues: if she bring less, she will not waste so much, as others do in superfluous and vain Expences. Nor can I think of any expedi∣ent so useful as this to Persons of Quality, who are over-stock'd with Children; for thus they may honourably dispose of them with∣out impairing their Estates. Five or six hundred pounds may be easily spar'd with a Daughter, when so many thousand would go deep; and yet as the world goes be a very inconsiderable Fortune for Ladies of their Birth; neither maintain them in that Port which Custom makes almost necessary, nor procure them an equal Match; those of their own Rank (contrary to the generous custom of the Germans) chusing rather to fill their Coffers than Page 159 to preserve the purity of their Blood, and therefore think a weighty Bag the best Gentility, preferring a wealthy Upstart be∣fore the best Descended and best Qualifyed Lady: Their own ex∣travagancies perhaps having made it necessary, that they may keep up an empty shadow of Greatness, which is all that re∣mains to shew what their An∣cestors have been.
Does any think their money lost to their Families, when 'tis put in here? I will only ask what course they can take to save it, and at once to preserve their Money, their Honour and their Daughters too? Were they sure the Ladies wou'd die unmarried, I shou'd commend their Thrift; but Experience has too often shewn us the vanity of this ex∣pectation. For the poor Lady having past the prime of her Page 160 years in Gaity and Company, in running the Circle of all the Vanities of the Town, having spread all her Nets and us'd all her Arts for Con∣quest, and finding that the Bait fails where she wou'd have it take, and having all this while been so over-careful of her Body, that she had no time to improve her mind, which therefore affords her no safe retreat now she meets with Disappointments abroad, and growing every day more and more sensible that the respect which us'd to be paid her, decays as fast as her Beauty; quite ter∣rified with the dreadful name of Old Maid, which yet none but Fools will reproach her with, nor any wise Woman be afraid of; to avoid this terrible M•r∣mo, and the scoffs that are thrown on superannuated Virgins, she f••es to some dishonourable Match Page 161 as her last, tho much mistaken Refuge, to the disgrace of her Family, and her own irreparable Ruin. And now let any person of Honour tell me, if it were not richly worth some thousand Pounds, to prevent all this mis∣mischief, and the having an idle Fellow, and perhaps a race of beggarly Children to hang on him, and to provide for?
Cou'd I think of any other ob∣jection, I wou'd consider it; theres nothing indeed which witty per∣sons may not argue for & against, but they who duly weigh the Ar∣guments on both sides, unless they be extreamly prejudiced, will casily discern the great use∣fulness of this Institution. The Beaux perhaps, and topping Sparks of the Town, will ridi∣cule and laugh at it. For Vertue her self as bright as she is, can't escape the lash of scurrilous Page 162 Tongues; the comfort is, whilst they impotently endeavour to throw dirt on her, they are un∣able to soil her Beauty, and only render themselves the more con∣temptible. They may therefore if they please, hug themselves in their own dear folly, and enjoy the diversion of their own insipid Jests. She has but little Wisdom and less Vertue, who is to be frighted from what she judges reasonable by the scoffs and in∣significant noises of ludicrous Wits, and pert Buffoons. And no wonder that such as they, (who have nothing to shew for their pretences to Wit, but some scraps of Plays, and blustring Non-sence; who fancy a well adjusted Peruke is able to supply their want of Brains, and that to talk much is a sign of Ingenuity, tho't be ne∣ver so little to the purpose,) ob∣ject against our Proposal; 'twou•d Page 163 indeed spoil the Trade of the gay fluttering Fops, who wou'd be at a loss, had they no body as im∣pertinent as themselves to talk with. The Criticism of their Dress wou'd be useless, and the labour of their Valet de Chambre lost, unless they cou'd peaceably lay aside their Rivalling, and one Ass be content to comple∣ment and admire another. For the Ladies wou'd have more dis∣cernment than to esteem a Man for such Follies as shou'd rather incline them to scorn and despise him. They wou'd never be so sottish as to imagine, that he who regards nothing but his own bru∣tish Appetite, shou'd have any real affection for them, nor ever expect Fidelity from one who is unfaithful to GOD and his own Soul. They wou'd not be so ab∣surd as to suppose, that man can esteem them who neglects his Page 164 Maker; for what are all those fine Idolatries, by which he wou'd recommend himself to his pre∣tended Goddess; but mockery and delusion from him who for∣gets and affronts the true Dei∣ty? They wou'd not value them∣selves on account of the Admi∣ration of such incompetent Judg∣es, nor consequently make use of those little trifling Arts that are necessary to recommend them to such Admirers: Neither wou'd they give opportunity to profess themselves their Slaves so long, till at last they become their Masters.
What now remains, but to re∣duce to Practice that which tends so very much to our advantage. Is Charity so dead in the world that none will contribute to the saving their own and their neigh∣bours Souls? Shall we freely ex∣pend our Money to purchase Va∣nity, Page 165 and often times both pre∣sent and future Ruin, and find none for such an eminent good Work, which will make the Ages to come arise and call us Blessed? I wou'd fain persuade my self better things, and that I shall one day see this Religious Retirement happily setled, and its great designs wisely and vigorously pursu'd; and methinks I have al∣ready a Vision of that lustre and glory our Ladies cast round about them! Let me therefore intreat the rest of our Sex, who tho at liberty in the world, are the mi∣serable Slaves of their own vile affections; let me entreat them to lay aside their Prejudices, and whatever borders on Envy and Malice, and with impartial eyes to behold the Beauties of our Religious. The native innocen∣cy and unaffectedness of whose Charms, and the unblameable Page 166 Integrity of their Lives, are a∣bundantly more taking than all the curious Artifices and studied Arts the other can invent to re∣commend them, even bad men themselves being Judges, who often betray a secret Veneration for that vertue they wou'd seem to despise and endeavour to cor∣rupt. As there is not any thing, no not the least shadow of a mo∣tive to recommend vice, but its fashionableness, and the being ac∣custom'd to it; so there is no∣thing at all forbidding in vertue but her uncouthness. Acquaint your selves with her a little, and you'l wonder how you cou'd be so foolish as to delight in any thing besides! For you'l find her Conversation most sweet and obliging; her Precepts most ea∣sy and beneficial; her very tasks Joys, and her Injunctions the highest Pleasures. She will not Page 167 rob you of any innocent delight, not engage you to any thing be∣neath your Birth and Breeding: But will put a new and more grateful relish into all your Enjoyments, and make them more delicious with her Sweet∣ness She'll preserve and aug∣ment your Honour, by allying you to the King of Heaven; secure your Grandeur by fixing it on a firm bottom, such as the caprice of Fortune cannot shake or overthrow; she'll enlarge your souls, raise them above the common level, and encourage that allowable Pride of Scorn∣ing to do a base unworthy action. Make you truly amiable in the eyes of GOD and Man, preserve even the Beauty of your Bodies as long as 'tis possible for such a brittle thing to last; and when it must of necessity decay, impress such a loveliness on your Minds, Page 168 as will shine thro' and brighten your very Countenances; en∣riching you with such a stock of Charms, that Time which de∣vours every other thing, shall never be able to decay. In a word, 'tis Vertue only which can make you truly happy in this world as well as in the next.
There is a sort of Bravery and Greatness of Soul, which does more truly ennoble us than the highest Title, and it consists in the living up to the dignity of our Natures, scorning to do a mean unbecoming thing; in passing differently thro' Good and Evil Fortune, without being corrupted by the one or deprest by the other. For she that can do so, gives evidence that her Happiness depends not on so mutable a thing as this world; but, in a due subserviency to the Almighty, is bottom'd only on Page 169 her own great Mind. This is the richest Ornament, and ren∣ders a Woman glorious in the lowest Fortune: So shining is real worth, that like a Diamond it loses not its lustre, tho cast on a Dunghill. Whereas, she who is advanc'd to some eminent Stati∣on, and wants this natural and solid Greatness, is no better than Fortunes May-game, rendered more conspicuous, that she may appear the more contemptible. Let those therefore who value themselves only on external Ac∣complishments, consider how li∣able they are to decay, and how soon they may be depriv'd of them, and that supposing they shou'd continue, they are but san∣dy Foundations to build Esteem upon. What a disappointment will it be to a Ladies Admirer as well as to her self, that her Con∣versation shou'd lose and endan∣ger Page 170 the Victory her eyes had gain'd! For when the Passion of a Lover is evaporated into the cool temper of a Husband, and a frequent review has lessen'd the wonder which her Charms at first had rais'd, she'll retain no more than such a formal re∣spect as decency and good breed∣ing will require, and perhaps hardly that; but unless he be a very good Man (and indeed the world is not over full of 'em) her worthlesness has made a forfeit of his Affections, which are seldom fixt by any other thing than Veneration and Es∣teem. Whereas, a wise and good Woman is useful and valuable in all Ages and Conditions; she who chiefly attends the one thing needful, the good part which shall not be taken from her, lives a cheerful and pleasant Life, inno∣cent and sedate, calm and tran∣quile, Page 171 and makes a glorious Exit; being translated from the most happy life on Earth, to unspeakable happiness in heaven; a fresh and fragrant Name, em∣balming her Dust, and extend∣ing its Perfume to succeeding Ages. Whilst the Fools, and the worst sort of them the wick∣ed, live as well as die in Misery, go out in a snuff, leaving nothing but stench and putrefaction be∣hind them.
To close all, if this Proposal which is but a rough draught and rude Essay, and which might be made much more beautiful by a better Pen, give occasion to wiser heads to improve and per∣fect it, I have my end. For im∣perfect as it is, it seems so desi∣rable, that she who drew the Scheme is full of hopes, it will not want kind hands to perform and compleat it. But if it miss Page 172 of that, it is but a few hours thrown away, and a little la∣bour in vain, which yet will not be lost, if what is here of∣fer'd may serve to express her hearty Good-will, and how much she desires your Improvement, who is
Your very humble Servant.