When a girl ceases to blush

The following snippets come from a little 18th Century book entitled A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters by Dr Gregory of Edinburgh. The author lays down his ideals of womanhood in the hope of instructing and educating young ladies everywhere:

One of the chief beauties in a female character is that modest reseve, that retiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye and is disconcerted even at the gaze of admiration… When a girl ceases to blush, she has lost the powerful charm of beauty. Pedants, who think themselves philosophers, ask why a woman should blush when she is conscious of no crime?  It is a sufficient answer that nature has made you to blush when you are guilty of no fault, and has forced us to love you because you do so.

Wit is the most dangerous talent you can possess. It must be guarded with great discretion and good nature, otherwise it will create you many enemies… Be even cautious in displaying your good sense. It will be thought you assume a superiority over the rest of the company. But, if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts, and a cultivated understanding. Consider every species of indelicacy in conversation as shameful in itself, and as highly disgusting to us. All double entendre is of this sort. This dissoluteness of men’s education allows them to be diverted with a kind of wit which yet they have delicacy enough to be shocked at it when it comes from your mouths.

There is a species of refinement in luxury, just beginning to prevail among the gentlemen of this country, to which our ladies are yet as great strangers as any women upon earth; I hope, for the honour of their sex, they may ever continue so: I mean the luxury of eating. It is a despicable selfish vice in men, but in your sex it is beyond expression indelicate and disgusting.

The intention of your being taught needlework, knitting, and such like is not on account of the intrinsic value of all you can do with your hands, which is trifling, but… to enable you to fill up, in a tolerably agreeable way, some of the many solitary hours you must necessarily pass at home.

Dress is an important article in female life. The love of dress is natural to you, and therefore it is proper and reasonable.  Good sense will regulate your expense in it, and good taste will direct you to dress in such a way as to conceal your blemishes, and set off your beauties, if you have any… A fine woman shows off her charms to the most advantage when she seems most to conceal them. The finest bosom in Nature is not so fine as what imagination forms.

I would have you dance with spirit, but never allow yourself to be so far transported with mirth as to forget the delicacy of your sex.

I know no entertainment that gives such pleasure to any person of sentiment or humour as the theatre. But I am sorry to say that there are a few English comedies a lady cannot see without a shock to delicacy… Sometimes a girl laughs with all the simplicity of unsuspecting innocence, for no other reason but being infected with other people’s laughter. If she does happen to understand an improper thing, she suffers a very complicated distress… The only way to avoid these inconveniences is never to go to a play that is particularly offensive in delicacy. Tragedy subjects you to no such distress.

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One comment

  • April 7, 2010 - 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes you get lucky and unearth a little treasure like this 18th century booklet. It doesn’t matter how conservative the father’s views were, to have a contemporary piece of social history like this is a joy. Too often family letters etc are just thrown in the rubbish bin.

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