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To form the female mind to wisdom, piety, and virtue, and consequently to utility and happiness, is an object which, from the peculiar circumstances attending it, an instructor of the rising generation, or a contributor to the useful pleasures of more mature age, ought particularly to devote his talents and his time.
The youth of the other sex have within their power every mean and opportunity of improvement, and happy it is for the world that so many laudable exertions are made to promote their present and eternal welfare ; although it is to be deeply lamented, that from human depravity and vicious example, there are some who do not profit by the instruction and advice with which the kind providence of God has favoured them.
It is an axiom universally acknowledged, that early impressions have a direct tendency in forming the future character; and it is equally true, that the actions resulting from those impressions will have a beauty or deformity, as the ideas which have been inculcated have been good or evil : illustrating that divine maxim, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Experience indeed has furnished many melancholy exceptions, which have induced some to doubt the efficacy of a virtuous and pious education; such persons however have yet to learn, that other causes beyond the power of mere tuition, have operated to counteract the benefits proposed. But notwithstanding these instances of failure, it is a satisfaction to reflect that by far the greater proportion bear the living impress of those ennobling characters which in early youth have been imprinted on their tender minds; while, on the contrary, we have too many painful witnesses of the truth, that negligence in education, or the adoption of a bad system, will produce lasting and pernicious effects.
It is to be regretted, that notwithstanding knowledge has been more generally diffused than in any preceding age, the advantages of female instruction, when compared with those of the other sex, have been very limited, and confined to objects trifling and unimportant. Whether exactly the same system of education ought to be adopted in both cases, is a question which admits of no difficult solution. Are both sexes destined to move in the same sphere of life? Will their avocations and their duties be the same? Surely not. Then let their minds be so prepared to engage in their future and varied employments, as may be most conducive to the benefit of society, and to their own individual interest and honour. It is however an important question, whether or not the female mind is properly cultivated by the prevailing modes of education; or whether it is favoured with sufficient means of improvement to prepare it for the rational enjoyments, and the pleasurable duties of domestic life.
The compiler of the present work does not mean to depreciate any of the modern systems of education, although some of them are doubtless defective, in preferring the graceś, to morality, and external accomplishments to intellectual worth ; his object being to comprise in this volume whatever appears most essential in forming the mind and character for the sober pleasures and enjoyments of human life, and to conduce to that purity of soul, necessary to participate in the blessedness of an eternal world.
That females still hold a rank in the scale of being inferior, in some respects, to the lord of the creation, as man is 'arrogantly deemed, is a position none will dare contradict; but whether that inferiority be an evil or a good, or what are the degrees of knowledge and elevation to which woman should attain, are questions about which mankind continue to be at variance; and happy is he who can contribute any thing towards reconciling these jarring opinions, or mediate between the contending parties. While some with an extravagant enthusiasm have soared beyond the boundaries of reason and moderation in asserting an unconditional equality; others have inculcated notions derogatory to the character of a rational being, considering women as created only for the temporary amusement of men, or destined to a slavish submission to their will
It is not, however, the intention of the writer to enter into this discussion, in these preliminary remarks, nor to incorporate in the following work any part of this unedifying controversy. His object in stating it, is to shew that he has adopted a middle course, being persuaded that females are capable of higher degrees of improvement, and rational pleasure, than they have in general hitherto attained ; and to present them with a volume that shall at once afford them instruction and delight.
As the frivolous amusements and miscalled pleasures of high life are incompatible with simplicity of education, intellectual enjoyments, and domestic duties, the compiler las adapted his work to the humble, yet more respectable class of females ; and every one in that class, whether residing in the decent mansion or the rustic cottage, who would unite instruction, utility, and happiness, will find here some means for its accomplishment.
To apologize for aspiring to the high office of female preceptor, is to make an acknowledgment which candour and modesty demand. Forgiveness from those on whose behalf the following work is written and compiled, the Author need not ask: and to others he has only to offer as his excuse, the consideration of a deep concern for the interest and happiness of the fairest part of the creation. It will be his endeavour to convince the female world, that while some have maintained that it should be kept in comparative ignorance, and consequent servility, one attempt has at least been made to enlighten their understandings, and to promote their intellectual and moral independence.