Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Gleaner. No. XC.
For the latest news on Judith Sargent Murray, please "Friend" her on Facebook!

This essay appears in Judith Sargent Murray's 1798 book The Gleaner. It continues her essay on female abilities.

The Gleaner. No. XC.

'Tis joy to tread the splendid paths of fame,
Where countless myriads mental homage claim;
Time honour'd annals careful to explore,
And mark the heights which intellect can soar.

Fifthly, They are equally patriotic. We have, in some measure, forestalled this article. The Grecian women have produced their testimonies, and that preference which they demonstrably manifested to the character Citizen; estimating it beyond the endearing appellations, Wife and Mother, incontrovertibly establishes the sex's capability of experiencing with an ardour not to be exceeded, the patriotic glow; and yet it is true, that sexual occupations frequently humiliating, and generally far removed from whatever has a tendency to elevate the mind, may rationally be supposed to chill, in the female bosom, the fine fervours of the amor patriae.

Women are not usually exercised in those extensive contemplations which engage the legislator: They are not called on to arm in their country's cause; to appear in the well sought field, or to put their lives at hazard: But when they part with him in whom is centered their dearest hopes, who blends the characters lover, friend, husband and protector  — when they resign to the hostile career the blooming youth whom from infancy they have watched with all a mother's tenderness, and whose rich maturity hath become the pride and consolation of their declining life  — on those moments of anguish, their heroism and their fortitude are indisputably evinced. Nor is the patriotism of the chief arrayed for the battle; nor his, who devotes himself with all a statesman's integrity to the public weal, condemned to an ordeal more severe.

The patriotism of the Roman ladies, procured a senatorial decree that funeral orations should be pronounced from the rostrum in their praise: Repeatedly they saved their country. And the patriotism of the mother and wife of Coriolanus, while it snatched Rome from impending ruin, devoted to inevitable destruction the husband and the son: Hence towered the temple consecrated to feminine honour, and it must be confessed they had purchased this distinction at a very high price. The venerable Senate, too, again interposed; public thanks were decreed; and men were ordered, on all occasions, to yield precedence to women.

Sixthly, They are as influential. The ascendancy obtained by females, is so notorious, as to have become proverbial. Instances are multiplied, wherein women have bent to their purposes the strongest masculine understanding. Samson, the victim of female blandishments, is not a singular instance. The example cited under the last article is in point. Coriolanus rejected with unbending severity supplicating friendship, garbed in senatorial robes; succeeding deputies plead in vain  — The ministers of religion, cloathed in sacerdotal habits, joined in solemn procession  — they crowded around the warrior, commissioned to advocate a sinking people's cause; still, however, he continued obdurate, unflexibly firm and steady to his plans. But Veturia and Volumnia, his wife and mother, attended by the most illustrious of the Roman ladies, appear  — they shed torrents of tears  — they embrace his knees  — the hero is disarmed  — his heart is melted  — his resentment and his resolutions vanish together  — and Rome is saved.

Seventhly, They are as energetic, and as eloquent. Women always decree with fervour: Did it depend on them, their movements would be decisive. Their expressions are often as strongly marked, as they are vehement; and both their plans and the execution thereof, are endowed with all the vigour that exciting regulations will permit. Their eloquence is indisputable. Possessing a richness of fancy; their words are sufficiently copious; and education, when they are indulged with its aids, prescribes the proper rules. Aspasia, of Miletus, it is well known, taught the immortal Socrates rhetoric and politics. And, when Rome groaned under the enormous cruelties of her second Triumvirate, the three barbarians by whom she was enslaved, and who had armed themselves for the destruction of her citizens, as if desirous of spreading every possible calamity, seized not only the lives, but the treasures of the people, and equally greedy of gold as of blood, after exhausting every other mode of of plunder, turned their rapacious views on those respectable matrons, who had hitherto been exempted from pecuniary exactions; an exorbitant tax was levied on every individual female, and the consternation ocasioned by this unheard of assumption, was proportioned to the distress of which it was productive.

In this extraordinary emergency, the oppressed females earnestly solicited the aid of those advocates who were appointed to plead the cause of the injured and defenseless; but the orators, fearful of incurring the displeasure of those who had usurped the power of life and death, refused to interfere; and no means of redress appearing, submission to an imposition acknowledged grievous, seemed inevitable: It was, however, reserved to the talents and exertions of Hortensia to furnish the desired aid.

This lady inherited all the abilities of her father; and she presented herself a voluntary advocate for her sex. With modest intrepidity she opened, conducted, and closed the pleadings. Persuasion dwelt on her tongue: Her arguments resulting from rectitude, were pointed by reason: And it will be conceived that her rhetorical powers must have been of the first rate, when its remembered that the countenance of the tyrants betrayed sudden and evident tokens of that remorse which was then first enkindled in their bosoms; the hue of guilt pervaded their cheeks, and they hastily repealed the injurious decree. For the brow of Hortensia, fame appeared an immortal wreath: To the utmost gratitude of her contemporaries she was entitled: Her triumph was the triumph of virtue and of talents: She enkindled even in the callous breasts of assassins, the almost extinguished sparks of humanity; and she stands on the page of history, a pattern of dauntless courage, and an example of genuine eloquence.

Eighthly, They are as faithful and as persevering in their attachments. Here countless witnesses crowd on retention, and the greatest difficulty is in choosing judiciously. Repeatedly have I seen the faithfully attached female, firmly persevering in that affection which was first implanted in the soil of innocence, and fondly watching with tender anxiety every symptom of the diseased man: With patient assiduity she hath hung over the couch, and sought to mitigate the pangs of him, whose licentious conduct had brought ruin on herself and her unoffending children! Had circumstances been reversed, divorce would have succeeded  — a hospital must have sheltered the helpless woman; and, had she received from the man she had injured any trivial attention, the unmerited gratuity would have resounded through the circle of their connexions, been dwelt on with rapture, and echoed by every tongue. But when virtue is the basis; when acts of kindness cement the union, THE SEX in many instances have set no bound to that faithful attachment which their hearts have exultingly acknowledged. Filial duty  — conjugal affection  — persevering constancy  — these receive in the female bosom the highest perfection of which they are, in the present state, susceptible.

The young Roman, supporting her imprisoned parent by the milk of her own chaste bosom, if unparalleled in history, would yet, in like situation, obtain many imitators; and the feelings of a daughter would prompt, for the relief of the authors of her being, the noblest exertions. The celebrated Mrs. Roper, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Moore, continued his affectionate solace during his imprisonment: With heart —affecting anguish she rushed through the guards to catch, from the illustrious martyr, a last embrace. Bending under a weight of calamity, she obtained permission to pay him sepulchral honours; and, regardless of tyrant's power, she purchased the venerable head of the meritorious sufferer: yet, too noble to permit the consequences to fall upon another, with dauntless courage she became her own accuser, and, loaded with setters for two crimes, "for having watched the head of her father as a relique, and for having preserved his books and his writings," appeared with unconcern before her judges  — justified herself with that eloquence which virtue bestows on the injured merit  — commanding admiration and respect  — and spent the remainder of her life in solitude, in sorrow, and in study.

But women, unable to support existence, when deprived of those with whom they have exchanged the nuptial vow, have mounted the funeral pile, and hastened to rejoin their deceased partners in other worlds. Portia, the daughter of Cato Uticensis, and wife of Brutus, hearing of the death of her husband, disdained to live; and when debarred access to the usual weapons of destruction, made her exit by resolutely swallowing burning coals of fire! Julia, the wife of Pompey, expired upon seeing his robe disdained with the blood which she imagined had issued from his veins. Molsa Tarquinia, rendered illustrious by genius and literature, of unblemished virtue, and possessing, also, a beautiful exterior, although one of the brightest ornaments of the Court of Ferrara, and receiving from the people of Rome, that unprecedented honour, the freedom of their city, mourned, nevertheless, through a long life until the hour of dissolution, the husband of her youth. Artemisia, wife of Mausolus, rendered herself illustrious, and obtained immortality, by her devotion to the memory of her husband. The mausoleum, which she reared in honour of him, was considered as one of the seven wonders of the world; and it gave name to all those succeeding monuments, which were distinguished by extraordinary marks of magnificence. Artemisia expired, the victim of inconsolable regret and tender sorrow, before the mausoleum was completed. Victoria Colonna, Marchioness of Pescaidid, ardently engaged in literary pursuits, while fame did ample justice to her productions; yet, separated by the stroke of death, in the morning of her days, from an illustrious and gallant husband, appropriated her remaining years to unceasing grief, lamenting, in her pathetic Essays, the long —lost hero. The Celebrated Mrs. Rowe, equally conspicuous for genius and virtue, continued faithful and persevering in her attachment to her deceased husband; nor could a length of years abate her regrets.

Ninthly, They are capable of supporting, with equal honour, the toils of government. Semiramis appears to have associated all the virtues and vices which have received the masculine stamp  — she extended her empire from Ethiopia to India, and subdued many nations  — her buildings and gardens were also magnificent  — and she governed, in many respects, judiciously. Artemisia, queen of Caria, and daughter of Lygdamis, possessing, during the minority of her son, sovereign authority, distinguished herself, both by her counsels and her personal valour. Amalasuntha governed with greatest justice, wisdom, and prudence. Julia Mammaea educated her son, Alexander Severus, implanting in his bosom the seeds of virtue, and adorning him with every princely accomplishment: He was worthy of the high rank to which he was raised, and disposed to become the father of his people: His mother presided in his councils; the era of their administration was tumultuous and hazardous, and its disastrous termination is one of the events which the student of history will not fail to deplore.

Zenobia united genius and valour  — she was dignified by the title of Augusta. After the demise of her husband, the supreme authority devolving upon her, she governed with rectitude, firmness, and intrepidity. She preserved the provinces in their allegiance, and aided Egypt to her dominions. Moreover, when led into captivity, she knew how to bring into subjection, her feelings; she endured misfortune with the heroism of a noble spirit, and found a solace for the loss of royalty, and the pageantry of a throne, in those rational pursuits, which solitude and freedom from care interruptedly permit. Longinus was her preceptor and friend; and she was worthy of his tuition and preferable attachment. Elizabeth of England was endowed with energetic talents; her reign was glorious for the people over which she presided; she was undoubtedly a great politician, and governed with uniform vigour; she is characterized as possessing much penetration, and an understanding fruitful of resources; her foreign negociations were conducted with propriety and dignity; her mind was opened and polished by all the aids of an extensive education, and adversity was among her preceptors. Christina, queen of Sweden, governed her subjects twenty —one years, with uniform wisdom and unimpeached prudence, when she magnanimously resigned her crown; thus giving a rare example of an elevation of intellect, which has not been surpassed.

Tenthly, and Lastly, They are equally susceptible of every literary acquirement. Corinna, it is said, triumphed a fifth time over the immortal Pindar, who had publickly challenged her to contend with him in the poetical line. Sappho, the Lesbian poetess, was admired by the ancients  — she produced many poems, and was addressed as the tenth Muse. Sulpicia, a Roman lady, who lived under the reign of Domitian, was called the Roman Sappho. Hypatia, beautiful, learned, and virtuous, the daughter of Theon, presided over the Platonic school at Alexandria, about the close of the fourth century; she was judged qualified to succeed her father in that distinguished and important office; her wisdom was held in universal esteem; and from her judgment no one thought proper to appeal: Persons cloathed in public authority, even the first magistrates, deliberated with her on the most urgent and important emergencies; this unavoidably drew around her succeeding circles of men; yet she maintained her intercourse with characters of various descriptions, without the shadow of an impeachment of her reputation, until barely traduced, in a single instance, by bigotted and interested calumniators. Cassandra, a Venetian lady, attained an accurate skill in language, and made great proficiency in the learning of her time; she composed with facility, both in numbers and in prose, in the language of Homer, Virgil, and Dante; she was a proficient in the philosophy of her own and preceding ages; she rendered theology harmonious; she supported these with brilliancy; she lectured publickly at Padua; she blended the fine arts with her serious studies; and the mild complacency of her manners constituted the completion of her character: She received homage from sovereign princes; and she continued an ornament of her Sex, and of humanity, one hundred and two years.

The daughter of Sir Thomas Moore, Mrs. Roper, already cited under the eighth article, whose virtues were polished by literary attainments, corresponded in Latin with the celebrated Erasmus, and successfully appropriated many years of her life to study: Her daughter inherited her erudition, and her amiable qualifications. The Seymours, sisters, and nieces of a king, wrote elegantly in Latin. Isabella of Rosera, in Spain, by her substantial arguments, natural deductions, and able rhetoric, greatly augmented the number of believing Jews; the great church of Barcelona was open for the exertion of her pulpitorial abilities; and she acquired much honour by her commentaries upon the learned Scotus. France knew how to estimate the talents of the Duchess of Retz; she pursued her studies amid the seducing pleasures of a court; and, although young and beautiful, spoke the ancient languages with propriety and elegance. Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, possessing all the advantages of exterior, and every sexual grace, assiduously cultivated her mind: Her learning was as remarkable as her beauty; she could, we are informed, write and speak six languages; her numbers enchanted the gallic ear; and, at an early age, she pronounced before the French Court a Latin oration, calculated to convince her hearers, that literary pursuits are proper to the Female Sex. Beauty could not plead in vain; the lovely speaker exemplified, in her own character and attainments, the truth she inculcated; she was, herself, that happy combination, the practicability of which she laboured to impress; and conviction undoubtedly irradicated the minds of her audience.

In the thirteenth century, a young lady of Bologna, pursuing, with avidity, the study of the Latin language, and the legislative institutions of her country, was able, at the age of twenty —three, to deliverer, in the great church of Bologna, a Latin oration, in praise of a deceased person, eminent for virtue; nor was she indebted for the admiration she received, to the indulgence granted to her youth, or Sex. At the age of twenty —six, she took the degree of Doctor of Laws, and commenced her career in this line, by public expositions of of the doctrines of Justinian: At the age of thirty, her extraordinary merit raised her her to the chair, where she taught the law to an astonishing number of pupils, collected from various nations. She joined to her profound knowledge, sexual modesty, and every feminine accomplishment; yet her personal attractions were absorbed in the magnitude and splendor of her intellectual abilities; and the charms of her exterior only commanded attention, when she ceased to speak. The fourteenth century produced, in the same city, a like example, and the fifteenth continued, and acknowledged the pretentions of THE SEX, insomuch that a learned chair was appropriated to illustrious women.

Issotta Nogarolla was also an ornament of the fifteenth century; and Sarichisa of Naples was deemed worthy of a companion with Tasso. Modesta Pozzo's defence of her Sex did her honour; she was, herself, an example of excellence. Gabrielle, daughter of a king, found leisure to devote to her pen; and her literary pursuits contributed to her usefulness and her happiness. Mary de Gournai rendered herself famous by her learning. Guyon, by her writings and her sufferings, hath evinced the justice of her title to immortality. Anna Maria Schurman of Cologne, appears to have been mistress of all the useful and ornamental learning of the age which she adorned: She was born in 1607; her talents unfolded with extraordinary brilliancy: In the bud of her life, at the age of six years, she cut, with her scissors, the most striking resemblances of every figure which was presented to her view, and they were finished with astonishing neatness. At ten, she was but three hours in learning to embroider. She studied music, painting, sculpture and engraving, and made an admirable proficiency in all those arts. The Hebrew, Greek and Latin languages were familiar to her; and she made some progress in the oriental tongues. She perfectly understood French, English and Italian, and expressed herself eloquently in all those languages; and she appropriated a portion of her time, to the acquirement of an extensive acquaintance with geography, astronomy, philosophy, and other sciences: Yet she possessed so much feminine delicacy, and retiring modesty, that her talents and acquirements had been consigned to oblivion, if Vassius, and other amateurs of literature, had not ushered her, in opposition to her wishes, upon the theatre of the world: But when she was once known, persons of erudition, of every description, corresponded with her; and those in the most elevated stations, assiduously sought opportunities of seeing and conversing with her.

Mademoiselle Scudery, stimulated by necessity, rendered herself eminent by her writings. Anna de Parthenay possessed great virtues, great talents, and great learning; she read, with facility and pleasure, authors in the Greek and Latin languages; she was a rational theologian; she was a perfect mistress of music; and was as remarkable for her vocal powers, as for her execution on the various instruments which she attempted. Catherine de Parthenay, niece to Anna, married to Renatus de Rohan, signalized herself by her attention to the education of her children; and her maternal cares were crowned with abundant success: Her eldest son was the illustrious Duke de Rohan, who obtained immortal honour by his zeal and exertions in the Protestant cause; and she was also mother to Anna de Rohan, who was as illustrious for her genius and piety, as for her birth. She was mistress of the Hebrew language; her numbers were beautifully elegant; and she supported, with heroic firmness, the calamities consequent upon the siege of Rochelle.

Mademoiselle le Fevre, celebrated in the literary world by the name Madame Dacier, gave early testimonies of that fine genius which her father delighted to cultivate. Her edition of Callimachus was received with much applause. At the earnest request of the Duke de Montansier, she published an edition of Florus, for the use of the dauphin; she exchanged letters with Christina, queen of Sweden; she devoted herself to the education of her son and daughter, whose progress were proportioned to the abilities of their interested preceptress: Greek and Latin were familiar to her; and she was often addressed in both those languages, by the literati of Europe. Her translation of the Iliad was much admired. She is said to have possessed great firmness, generosity, and equality of temper, and to have been remarkable for her piety. Maria de Sevigne appropriated her hours to the instruction of her son and daughter; she has enriched the world with eight volumes of letters, which will be read with pleasure by every critic in the French language. The character of Mary II. Queen of England, and consort to William of Nassau, is transcendently amiable. She is delineated as princess, endowed with uncommon powers of mind, and beauty of person. She was extensively acquainted with history, was attached to poetry, and possessed a good taste in compositions of this kind. She had a considerable knowledge of architecture and gardening; and her dignified condescension, and consistent piety, were truly admirable and praiseworthy  — Every reader of history, and lover of virtue, will lament her early exit. The Countess of Pembroke translated from the French, a dramatic piece; she gave a metrical edition of the Book of psalms, and supported an exalted character.

Anna Killigrew, and Anna Wharton, were eminent, both for poetry and painting; and their unblemished virtue, and exemplary piety, pointed and greatly enhanced the value of their other accomplishments. Catharine Phillips was, from early life, a love of the Muses; she translated Corneille's Tragedy of Pompey into English; and in this, as well as the poems which she published, she was successful. Lady Burleigh, Lady bacon, Lady Russell, and Mrs. Killigrew, daughter of Sir Anthony Cook, received from their father a masculine education; and their prodigious improvement was an ample compensation for his paternal indulgence: They were eminent for genius and virtue, and obtained an accurate knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages. The writings of the Dutchess of Newcastle were voluminous; she is produced as the first English lady who attempted what has since been termed polite literature. Lady Halket was remarkable for her erudition; she was well skilled, both in physic and divinity. Lady Masham, and Mary Astell, reasoned accurately on the most abstract particulars in divinity, and in metaphysics. Lady Grace Gethin was happy in natural genius and a cultivated understanding; she was a woman of erudition; and we are informed that, at the age of twenty, "She treated of life and morals, with the discernment of Socrates, and the elegance of Xenophon"  — Mr. Congreve has done justice to her merit. Chudleigh, Winchelsea, Monk, Bovey, Stella, Montague  — these all possess their respective claims. Catharine Macauley wielded successfully the historic pen; nor were her exertions confined to this line  — But we have already multiplied our witnesses far beyond our original design; and it is proper that we apologize to our readers, for a transgression of that brevity which we had authorized them to expect.


2008 © Bonnie Hurd Smith


Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths, a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history -- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.