INCLUDING SOME PARTICULARS RELATING TO
MRS. MONTAGU AND MRS. BARBAULD.
[Embelliſſhed with an elegant ENGRAVING of thoſe LADIES.]
Happily we do not live in thoſe days when prejudice condemned our women to ignorance to be deplored. The ridicule which Moliere caſt on Female Pedantry brought all kinds of Knowledge into ſuch diſrepute with the Women of France, that many of them made a merit of murdering their mother-tongue : there have been always, however, ſome Fair-ones, who, detaching themſelves from the ſlavery of cuſtom, have ventured to think, to ſpeak, and to write with propriety; and there are many Ladies at this time in England who do not bluſh--who have no reaſon to be aſhamed to diſcover that they are better inſtructed than the majority of the ſmart fellows of the age.
The ingenious Author of the Feminead*, or Female Genius, opens his Poem with the following lines, which muſt be read by every Lady who thinks the "enlargement of her mind, as well as the expanſion of her head," worth her attention, with particular pleaſure :
Shall lordly Man, the theme of every lay,
Uſurp the Muſe's tributary bay;
In kingly ſtate on Pindus' ſummit ſit,
By Salic law the female right deny,
And view their genius with regardleſs eye ?
Juſtice forbid ! ------ ------
Long o'er the world did Prejudice maintain,
By ſounds like theſe, her undiſputed reign;
" Woman! (ſhe cried) to thee indulgent Heav'n
Has all the charms of outward beauty giv'n :
Be thine the boaſt, unrivall'd to enſlave
The great, the wiſe, the witty, and the brave :
Deck'd with the Paphian roſe's damaſk glow,
And the vale-lily's vegetable ſnow;
Be thine, to move majeſtic in the dance,
To roll the eye, and aim the tender glance;
Or touch the ſtrings, and breathe the melting ſong,
Content to emulate that airy throng,
Who to the ſun their painted plumes diſplay,
And gaily glitter on the hawthorn ſpray;
Or wildly warble in the beachen grove,
Careleſs of aught but muſic, joy, and love. "
Heavens! could ſuch artful, ſlavish ſounds beguile
The free-born ſons of Britain's poliſh'd iſle ?
Could they, like fam'd Ulyſſes' d ſstand crew,
Attentive liſten, and enamoured view,
Nor drive the Syren to that dreary plain,
In loathſome pomp where Eaſtern tyrants reign;
Where each fair neck the yoke of ſlav'ry galls,
And in a proud ſeraglio's gloomy walls
Are taught, that, levell'd with the brutal kind,
Nor ſenſe nor ſouls to Women are aſſign'd !
Our British Nymphs with happier omens rove'
At Freedom's call, thro' Wiſdom's Sacred grove;
And as with laviſh hand each Siſter Grace
Shapes the fair form, and regulates the face,
Each ſiſter Muſe, in bliſsful union join'd,
Adorns, improves,and beautifies the mind.
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
With various acts our rev'rence they engage,
Some turn the tuneful, ſome the moral page;
Theſe, led by Contemplation, ſoar on high,
And range the heavens with philoſophic eye;
While thoſe ſurrounded by a vocal choir,
The canvaſs tinge, or touch the warbling lyre.
In the number of ingenious Female Writers who have diſtinguiſhed themſelves in ſeveral branches of polite literature, the two Ladies whom we have ſelected for the embelliſhment of our preſent Magazine make a very brilliant appearance. With regard to theſe Ladies, indeed, the Author of this ſheet cannot, for obvious reaſons, expatiate on their reſpective merits in a manner agreeable to his inclination; but he hopes that nothing which he does ſay concerning them will give the leaſt offence. He is very ſure, that he wiſhes to give them rather pleaſure than uneaſineſs, by his ſketches of their literary characters.
Mrs. Montagu, with a very pleaſing perſon, a liberal mind, a benevolent heart, and a large fortune, appears, in conſequences of her combined advantages, in a great variety of attractive ſituations. In her life, as well as in her writings, the ſolidity of her underſtanding and the elegance of her taſte are equally conſpicuous :
Theſe Dialogues certainly diſcover the fair Writer's judgment and her taſte; but they both appear dans tout leur jour, in her " Eſſay on the Writings and Genius of Shakeſpeare, compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets; with ſome Remarks upon the Miſrepreſentations of M. de Voltaire."--The merits of the Eſſay are not, however, confined to a mere defence of Shakeſpeare, or to obſervations of Voltaire's criticiſms. It abounds with curious diſquiſitions, and will undoubtedly hold a high rank among the moſt claſſical pieces of the ſame nature in the Engliſh language. The parallel drawn between the conduct of the two Poets, in reſpect to the Ghoſt of Darius, in the Perſeus of Eſchylus, and that of Hamlet, as well as the compariſons made between Shakeſpeare and the French Dramatic Writers, are attended with a great number of the moſt judicious and beautiful obſervations. The charge againſt Voltaire of miſrepreſentations, of not underſtanding the Engliſh language, and of his being guilty of the greateſt abſurdities in his tranſlation of the firſt act of Shakeſpeare's Julius Cæsar, are abundantly proved.
Mrs. Barbauld, who, with the name of Aikin, firſt darted into the poetical world a few years ago, and charmed all thoſe who have a true reliſh for the effuſions of a genius under the immediate inſpiration of the Muſes, ſtill ſhines with a luſtre ſufficient to make the Mob of Gentlemen who write "about it, Goddeſs, and about it," appear like "little ſtars hiding their diminiſhed rays" at the approach of the ſun in his riſing ſplendor. This Lady is not only poetically enchanting, but perſonally attractive. With a countenance in which every thing agreeable in a woman is ſtrongly expreſſed, ſhe prepoſſeſſes you
extremely in her favour at firſt ſight; and you are doubly pleaſed with the diſplay of her intellectual powers in converſation with her, as ſhe ſeems not to be conſcious of an underſtanding ſuperior to the greateſt part of ther ſex. "Her eye ſpeaks ſenſe diſtinct and clear," when ſhe is ſilent, and ſhe never opens her lips to deliver her thoughts with an oracular ſententiouſneſs; nor does ſhe ever converſe with an oracular duplicity. She never ſpeaks as if ſhe attempted to command admiration; but ſhe says nothing which does not deſerve it. With her lettered friends ſhe opens her mental ſtores with the leaſt affectation to be imagined, and is doubly cautious, before the illiterate, to ſhade her talents with the veil of diffidence, that ſhe may not force them to feel their inferiority. There is, indeed, a delicacy as well as propriety in her deportment uncommonly pleaſing; which, joined to the mildneſs of her manners, and her affability to all kinds of people, throw an inxpreſſible charm over her whole perſon, and induce us to venerate the beauties of her mind.
With regard to Mrs. Barbauld's poetical compoſitions, there is a maſculine force in them, which the moſt vigorous of our poets has not excelled : there is nothing, indeed, feminine belonging to them, but a certain gracefulneſs of expreſſion (in which dignity and beauty are both included) that marks them for the productions of a Female Hand. Her ſtyle is perfectly Horation, elegantly poliſhed, and harmoniouſly eaſy. The curioſa felicitas dicendi, which Genius alone and the ear that Nature has harmonized can produce, is frequently to be found in her beautiful Poems. She has alſo written ſome pieces in proſe, which, in point of elegance, are as much ſuperior to the laboured Eſſays of our ſturdy Moraliſt as the easy motions of a fine Gentleman are, in point of grace, to the ſtiff attitudes of a Dancing-maſter.