1833292The Female Advocate — Introduction1799Mary Ann Radcliffe


"Say, first of God above, or man below,
"What can we reason from, but what we know?"


LET not the fair fame of this country be tarnished with an unnoticed appeal; in particular, an appeal of such magnitude as to involve, at once, the peace, the happiness, and the welfare of every individual. The author's design is by no means to contend for power, but protection for this oppressed people; imagining that to be the firmest basis on which to establish the happiness of both sexes.

It must be allowed, however, when custom has given permanency to any practice, however evil in its tendency, it is next to impossible to effect its removal, or to succeed in any reasonable claim; therefore I contend not with the lords of the creation, for any other privilege than that protection, which they themselves avow to be the real rights of women. I would not have it understood, that the generality of women, any more than men, are incapable of acquiring the same degree of knowledge and improvement in literature; and happy am I to learn, that this state of prohibition is not general; and that a classical education, in some parts, is not confined to men alone; for, if the author is not misinformed, it is upwards of seven years since there was an establishment formed in Philadelphia, where youth and innocence find protection from the guardian genius, Instruction, whose emblematical trophy may very well be formed of Knowledge gaining the victory over Ignorance.

But these advantages, in Britain, being monopolized by the male sex, permit me to ask, if it is not their duty, at least, to afford protection in their stead; for, surely, if they refuse to protect, they have no right whatever to govern.

"Britons, attend! be worth like this approv'd,
"And shew you have the virtue to be mov'd."

Therefore I am led to keep firmly to the assertion, that it is not power, but protection, which is required; for the generality of women, natives of this country, are so perfectly tamed, either through custom or compulsive submission, that, let but the lenient hand of protection be stretched out to their aid, and, doubtless, content and happiness will resume their seat, and cheerfulness form the leading feature, to bespeak the tranquillity of those souls, which have been so long depressed.

All women possess not the Amazonian spirit of a Wolstonecraft. But, indeed, unremitted oppression is sometimes a sufficient apology for their throwing off the gentle garb of a female, and assuming some more masculine appearance; yet, when the curtain of misrepresentation is once withdrawn, it is to be hoped, (not doubted) that the cause of complaint will quickly be removed,

It seems, however, very necessary to call in some able assistants, and consequently I make my appeal to reason, justice, and truth, which, in checking the spirit of malevolence, should it rear its hydra head to the prejudice of the cause, will also be the means of shielding the writer from the common censure which the narrow-minded, in general, bestow on a first production.

A serious statement of facts, it is to be hoped, will be productive of good to great numbers, who would be happy to relieve their fellow-creatures, but whose exalted situations in life too generally preclude them the opportunity of obtaining a knowledge of the real wants of the wretched, or the causes of their sufferings; by exhibiting, though feebly, a complicated picture of misery and distress.

Yet, it may not be amiss to observe, that having made my remarks chiefly on real, and not imaginary grievances, should any thing in these pages do violence to the critical abilities of any of my readers, whose superior education exalts them above the level of the interior ranks of society, it is the writer's request, that the intention may be kept in remembrance.

Still, methinks, I hear the voice of reason reproaching me, after the many acknowledged disadvantages, for attempting to write on a subject of such weighty importance. Indeed, considering the great number of eminent writers that are daily displaying their erudition in a variety of subjects, and in styles so very far superior to my poor abilities, the undertaking were presumption itself. But, amidst the abundant shew of publications which are daily ushered into the world, I have not seen one on a subject similar to this. This alone is the exciting cause to my undertaking, in which it will be my utmost ambition to be the humble means of directing the tender eye of benevolence to worthy objects of commiseration; or, inducing some more able advocate to take up the cause of a much-injured and oppressed part of the community.

Doubtless, in their journey through life, a number of my fellow travellers have made the same observations with myself, though they have not made them public; yet, willing to suppose that silence did not proceed from a want of those philanthropic dispositions which have, at all times, distinguished Britons, we will suppose this great omission, for undoubtedly great it will appear, when properly investigated, cannot possibly have been occasioned from any other cause than the force of custom, by which the greatest part of the community have been so long hoodwinked; and those grievances passed by in silence, of which I am about to speak. Many excellent charities this country supports, and many worthy individuals seem to exult in stepping forward to the aid of the distressed; nor is it to be doubted, that many more would as cheerfully contribute in support of the still unfortunate and oppressed, were they made acquainted with the real objects: but, alas! when keen adversity strikes its pointed dart into the bosom of the afflicted, the pain is too great to admit of an explanation; and when past, their only endeavour is to bury its remembrance in oblivion: therefore, unless some friendly hand take up the pen, how can those, who are enabled by fortune and prompted by compassion, stretch forth the hand of clemency to distresses, of which they never heard; or, like the good Samaritan, pour oil into wounds which they never saw. In the mean time, then, let mine be the painful, though voluntary, task; and even, should the design not immediately meet with the desired success, no doubt, but in a short time it may, by the kindly interference of the great, powerful, and humane investigators of human calamities, to the emancipation of this oppressed part of the human kind.

At the commencement of the Magdalen charity, it is true, an objection was started, which was founded upon this candid question: "What will you do with such poor creatures, when you have them?" But the difficulty was as soon solved by Robert Dingley, Esq. the first humane proposer of the charity. Nor is there a doubt, were a similar enquiry to take place, it would as soon be solved; for what undertaking is too bold for man to attempt, when a restoration of happiness to his fellow creatures is the object. I shall, then, cheerfully proceed to offer the following general hints, which, it is hoped, will be improved upon to the good of society.