Insanientis dun sapientæ
Consultus erro.— HOR. Lib. i. Od. xxxiv. 2.
I miss’d my end, and lost my way,
By crack-brain’d wisdom led astray.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
It has long been charged by one part of mankind upon the other, that they will not take advice; that counsel and instruction are generally thrown away; and that, in defiance both of admonition and example, all claim the right to choose their own measures, and to regulate their own lives.
That there is something in advice very useful and salutary, seems to be equally confessed on all hands: since even those that reject it, allow for the most part that rejection to be wrong, but charge the fault upon the unskilful manner in which it is given: they admit the efficacy of the medicine, but abhor the nauseousness of the vehicle.
Thus mankind have gone on from century to century: some have been advising others how to act, and some have been teaching the advisers how to advise; yet very little alteration has been made in the world. As we must all by the law of nature enter life in ignorance, we must all make our way through it by the light of our own experience; and for any security that advice has been yet able to afford, must endeavour after success at the hazard of miscarriage, and learn to do right by venturing to do wrong.
By advice I would not be understood to mean, the everlasting and invariable principles of moral and religious truth, from which no change of external circumstances can justify any deviation; but such directions as respect merely the prudential part of conduct, and which may he followed or neglected without any violation of essential duties.
It is, indeed, not so frequently to make us good as to make us wise, that our friends employ the officiousness of counsel; and among the rejectors of advice, who are mentioned by the grave and sententious with so much acrimony, you will not so often find the vicious and abandoned, as the pert and the petulant, the vivacious and the giddy.
As the great end of female education is to get a husband, this likewise is the general subject of female advice: and the dreadful denunciation against those volatile girls, who will not listen patiently to the lectures of wrinkled wisdom, is, that they will die unmarried, or throw themselves away upon some worthless fellow, who will never be able to keep them a coach.
I being naturally of a ductile and easy temper, without strong desires or quick resentments, was always a favourite amongst the elderly ladies, because I never rebelled against seniority, nor could be charged with thinking myself wise before my time; but heard every opinion with submissive silence, professed myself ready to learn from all who seemed inclined to teach me, paid the same grateful acknowledgments for precepts contradictory to each other, and if any controversy arose, was careful to side with her who presided in the company.
Of this compliance I very early found the advantage; for my aunt Matilda left me a very large addition to my fortune, for this reason chiefly, as she herself declared, because I was not above hearing good counsel, but would sit from morning till night to be instructed, while my sister Sukey, who was a year younger than myself, and was, therefore, in greater want of information, was so much conceited of her own knowledge, that whenever the good lady in the ardour of benevolence reproved or instructed her, she would pout or titter, interrupt her with questions, or embarrass her with objections.
I had no design to supplant my sister by this complaisant attention; nor, when the consequence of my obsequiousness came to be known, did Sukey so much envy as despise me: I was, however, very well pleased with my success; and having received, from the concurrent opinion of all mankind, a notion that to be rich was to be great and happy, I thought I had obtained my advantages at an easy rate, and resolved to continue the same passive attention, since I found myself so powerfully recommended by it to kindness and esteem.
The desire of advising has a very extensive prevalence; and since advice cannot be given but to those that will hear it, a patient listener is necessary to the accommodation of all those who desire to be confirmed in the opinion of their own wisdom: a patient listener, however, is not always to be had; the present age, whatever age is present, is so vitiated and disordered that young people are readier to talk than to attend, and good counsel is only thrown away upon those who are full of their own perfections.
I was, therefore, in this scarcity of good sense, a general favourite; and seldom saw a day in which some sober matron did not invite me to her house, or take me out in her chariot, for the sake of instructing me how to keep my character in this censorious age, how to conduct myself in the time of courtship, how to stipulate for a settlement, how to manage a husband of every character, regulate my family, and educate my children.
We are all naturally credulous in our own favour. Having been so often caressed and applauded for docility, I was willing to believe myself really enlightened by instruction, and completely qualified for the task of life. I did not doubt but I was entering the world with a mind furnished against all exigencies, with expedients to extricate myself from every difficulty, and sagacity to provide against every danger; I was, therefore, in haste to give some specimen of my prudence, and to show that this liberality of instruction had not been idly lavished upon a mind incapable of improvement.
My purpose, for why should I deny it? was like that of other women, to obtain a husband of rank and fortune superior to my own; and in this I had the concurrence of all those that had assumed the province of directing me. That the woman was undone who married below herself, was universally agreed: and though some ventured to assert, that the richer man ought invariably to be preferred, and that money was a sufficient compensation for a defective ancestry; yet the majority declared warmly for a gentleman, and were of opinion that upstarts should not be encouraged.
With regard to other qualifications I had an irreconcilable variety of instructions. I was sometimes told that deformity was no defect in a man; and that he who was not encouraged to intrigue by an opinion of his person, was more likely to value the tenderness of his wife: but a grave-widow directed me to choose a man who might imagine himself agreeable to me, for that the deformed were always insupportably vigilant, and apt to sink into sullenness, or burst into rage, if they found their wife’s eye wandering for a moment to a good face or a handsome shape.
They were, however, all unanimous in warning me, with repeated cautions, against all thoughts of union with a wit, as a being with whom no happiness could possibly be enjoyed: men of every other kind I was taught to govern, but a wit was an animal for whom no arts of taming had been yet discovered: the woman whom he could once get within his power, was considered as lost to all hope of dominion or of quiet: for he would detect artifice and defeat allurement; and if once he discovered any failure of conduct, would believe his own eyes, in defiance of tears, caresses, and protestations.
In pursuance of these sage principles, I proceeded to form my schemes; and while I was yet in the first bloom of youth, was taken out at an assembly by Mr. Frisk. I am afraid my cheeks glowed, and my eyes sparkled; for I observed the looks of all my superintendants fixed anxiously upon me; and I was next day cautioned against him from all hands, as a man of the most dangerous and formidable kind, who had writ verses to one lady, and then forsaken her only because she could not read them, and had lampooned another for no other fault than defaming his sister.
Having been hitherto accustomed to obey, I ventured to dismiss Mr. Frisk, who happily did not think me worth the labour of a lampoon. I was then addressed by Mr. Sturdy, and congratulated by all my friends on the manors of which I was shortly to be lady: but Sturdy’s conversation was so gross, that after the third visit I could endure him no longer; and incurred, by dismissing him, the censure of all my friends, who declared that my nicety was greater than my prudence, and that they feared it would be my fate at last to be wretched with a wit.
By a wit, however, I was never afterwards attacked, but lovers of every other class, or pretended lovers, I have often had; and, notwithstanding the advice constantly given me, to have no regard in my choice to my own inclinations, I could not forbear to discard some for vice, and some for rudeness. I was once loudly censured for refusing an old gentleman who offered an enormous jointure, and died of the phthisic a year after; and was so baited with incessant importunities, that I should have given my hand to Drone the stock-jobber, had not the reduction of interest made him afraid of the expenses of matrimony.
Some, indeed, I was permitted to encourage; but miscarried of the main end, by treating them according to the rules of art which had been prescribed me. Altilis, an old maid, infused into me so much haughtiness and reserve, that some of my lovers withdrew themselves from my frown, and returned no more; others were driven away, by the demands of settlement which the widow Trapland directed me to make; and I have learned, by many experiments, that to ask advice is to lose opportunity.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,