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(In the Conclusion to The Gleaner, which appears at the end of Volume III, Judith explains why she chose a male pen name. She also notes that not even john Murray, her husband, knew The Gleaner's real identity!)
The Gleaner Unmasked
And now in my own habiliments array'd,
I quit those scenes where I so oft have stray'd;
The curtain dropt, illusions are no more,
Gladly my borrow'd prowess I restore;
Well pleas'd, resigning an unwieldy part,
To blest reality I yield my heart.
But, gentle reader, in the moment when throwing aside the veil, I appear before thee in propia persona, acknowledging myself to be that identical Constantia, whom possibly thou mayest recollect, as filling some pages in the Boston, and afterwards in Massachusetts Magazine — In the moment, I say, when thou art recognizing, in thy friend the Gleaner, this said Constantia, it may be proper to render unto thee a reason, why I have endeavoured to pass myself upon thee in the masculine character; and as I now take leave of every unnecessary disguise, it is my determination to be very explicit.
Observing, in a variety of instances, the indifference, not to say contempt, with which female productions are regarded, and seeking to arrest attention, at least for a time, I was thus furnished with a very powerful motive for an assumption, which I flattered myself would prove favourable to my aspiring wishes. I anticipate, on this occasion, the significant shrug and expressive smile of the pedantic petit-maitres; Esop's fable of the Ass in the Lion's Skin, will be triumphantly revived; and it will be affirmed, that the effeminacy and tinsel glitter of my style could not fail of betraying me at every sentence which I uttered. But, having passed the rubicon, it is necessary that I possess sufficient firmness to remain undismayed by the attacks of the ill disposed critic. My ingenuity did not furnish me with any expedient, so well calculated for concealment, as the envelopment in which I enwrapped myself; and having conceived, that in my borrowed character I should become abundantly more useful, I felt assured that this consideration was in reality sufficient to justify the measure.
Another strong inducement to the assumption and continuance of my disguise, was the opportunity it afforded me of making myself mistress of the unbiassed sentiments of my associates. A few persons were immeasurably partial to my essays; and, as it generally happens, those were the individuals with whom alone I was intimately conversant. I had the good fortune to elude the penetration of my best friend, and he read in my presence from my first Essay, entitled the Gleaner, without the shadow of a suspicion of its author. Thus I went on; nor was it until my thirty-third number, which contains the story of Eliza, that the person, to whom I am principally accountable for my conduct, declared his conviction that I was the real author of the Gleaner. The fact, from which the little narrative of Eliza's originated, I received from my husband; I might have predicted the consequence — I was of course detected.
But I had yet a further reason for concealment; I was ambitious of being considered independent as a writer; if I possessed any merit, I was solicitous it should remain undiminished, nor did I harbour a wish that my errors should be imputed to another; and I imagined I could effectually accomplish my views in this particular, by suffering my connexions of every description to remain in total ignorance of my plans; nor can I conceive myself capable in thus acting, since I was not seeking to wound the feelings of any human being, and it was hardly possible I could essentially dishonour those affectionate friends, to whom any heart has ever acknowledged the most ardent and grateful attachment.
Rousseau has said, that although a female may ostensibly wield the pen, yet it is certain some man of letters sits behind the curtain to guide its movements; and, contemplating this assertion, I imagined that if those of the literati, to whose aid either friendship or affinity might entitle me, were not so far of my my council as even to be informed of my designs, they would at least be exempted from those censures which my folly or presumption might involve.
A celebrated writer of the present century observes, that "a woman ought never to suffer a man to add a single word to her writings; if she does, the man she consults, let him be who he may, will always pass for the original inventor, while she will be accused of putting her name to the works of others;" and surely the feelings of rectitude must revolt even at a suspicion of this kind.
Thus much I have thought proper to say, by way of responding to some insidious remarks, which my manner of conducting the foregoing papers, particularly their masculine character, have occasioned.
The reader is already apprized, that the numbers which continue the first volume of the Gleaner were ushered into the world in that very respectable miscellany, the Massachusetts Magazine; and my original design was to continue them in that publication. My secret was now generally known, but I had no reason to be dissatisfied with the reception given to my humble attempts, and I had many pages prepared for the press. It has frequently been asked, both in public and private, "why the Gleaner was discontinued?" The very respectable and learned gentleman, whose love of literature induced him, on the resuscitation of the magazine, in the spring of 1795, to become its editor, complained, and with reason, of the paucity of original productions, which immediately succeeded the arduous engagement into which he had entered: yet, for myself, largely indebted to the candour of the new editor, I am free to own, that if any consideration could have induced me to continue a writer in that publication, my perfect confidence in the superintendent in whose revision my sketches would have been submitted, must have furnished the motive. But during the suspension of the miscellany so often adverted to, a serious accusation was preferred against me, the nature of which, in my own apprehension, effectually barred my appearance in its pages.
I have pledged myself to a public, which I do most sincerely venerate, to render a reason, "why the Gleaner was not continued in the Magazine;" and although I might content myself with observing, that its irregularity, and the uncertainty of its duration, together with the years which must have elapsed, ere the completion of my plan could have been exhibited, were extremely adverse to my views; yet, agreeably to my engagement, I had arranged a circumstantial detail, which developed the real cause that hath produced me, in my individual character, a candidate for the indulgence of my readers; my design, however, is superseded; a few sincere friends, whose disinterested attachment cannot be considered as problematical, and from whose judgment reason hesitated to appeal, warmly remonstrating against it, rendered it incumbent upon me to deliberate — deliberation produced conviction — and, certain that a recurrence to facts, which were productive of much infelicity, can answer no valuable purpose, I gladly consign the promised narrative to oblivion; and if a recollection of my proposals for this publication should procure an impeachment of my veracity, I trust, when it is known, that my original intention has been relinquished from the fear of agitating the feelings of malevolence, the pleadings of candour will procure my absolution.
If the manner in which my dramatic essays are introduced, should require an apology, it may be sufficient to observe that it was requisite to the uniformity of my plan; and I have presumed that as it was my wish to promote, by those productions, the interests of rectitude, they will not, in this enlightened age, give offence even to the most serious and delicate mind; their history may, in some future period, amuse the curious; and for the present, it only remains to say, that, as I constructed them without coajutor, it is but justice their errors, of every description, should rest entirely upon my own head.
Nor are the numerous faults with which these volumes may abound, to be imputed to any other individual. In this arduous enterprise, however daring, I have stood alone. To the toil of writing letters to myself, I have been condemned; and to this cause the candid will impute that want of variety which they have doubtless complained. The aberration of unassisted fancy, however unwearied the intellectual research, does not always answer the wishes of its proprietor; and, although the infrequency of original views may be lamented, it must, nevertheless, be submitted to.
My sketches have seldom been drawn from living characters; but I will confess I have experienced superior pleasure in once more embodying those virtues that I have seen exemplified by persons who have bid adieu to those scenes which they have heretofore illumined by their presence; and imagination has delighted to produce them again in that radiant career in which it was their great business to soothe and to bless the FAMILY OF MAN.
To my very respectable and numerous Patrons and Patronesses, I am largely indebted. It would be my pride to enhance their pleasures. Could I, in return for the liberal countenance by which they have honoured me, bestow upon them tranquility, with every attendant blessing, it would be equally my duty and my felicity thus to do: But, although my efforts are inadequate to any important effect, I cannot, however, suppress the fervid emotions of gratitude with which my breast is replete. The most ardent wishes for their happiness are wafted warm from my heart. May the good they communicate be returned a thousand fold into their own bosoms — and may they, when encompassed about by those misfortunes to which humanity is incident, reflect rationally on the brevity of the present scene, and upon the incalculable bliss which awaits them in the regions of immortality.
Such are, and such will continue to be the fervent aspirations of
Their highly obliged,
And very humble servant,
Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the
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