WWP The Project Newsletter Archive Volume 2, Number 1 From the Textbase

From the Textbase

Maria Edgeworth lived from 1767 to 1849. Her Letters for Literary Ladies, from which this excerpt was taken, was published in 1795.

See the original titlepage for Letters for Literary Ladies.

An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification

by Maria Edgeworth

Endowed, as the fair sex indisputably are, with a natural genius for the invaluable art of self-justification, it may not be displeasing to them to see its rising perfection evinced by an attempt to reduce it to a science. Possessed, as are all the fair daughters of Eve, of an hereditary propensity, transmitted to them undiminished through succeeding generations, to be "soon moved with the slightest touch of blame;" very little precept and practice will confirm them in the habit, and instruct them in all the maxims of self-justification.

Candid pupil, you will readily accede to my first and fundamental axiom- That a lady can do no wrong. But simple as this maxim may appear, and suited to the level of the meanest capacity, the talent of applying it on all the important, but more especially on all the most trivial, occurrences of domestic life, so as to secure private peace and public dominion, has hitherto been monopolized by the female adepts in the art. Excuse me for insinuating by this expression, that there may yet be amongst you some novices. To these, if there be any such, I principally address myself.

And now, lest fired with ambition you lose all by aiming at too much, let me explain and limit my first principle, "That you can do no wrong." You must be aware that real perfection is beyond the reach of mortals; nor would I have you aim at it; indeed it is not in any degree necessary to our purpose. You have heard of the established belief in human infallibility which prevailed not many centuries ago, but since that happy period is past, leave the opinions of men to their natural perversity; their actions are the best test of their faith. Instead then of a belief in your infallibility, endeavour to enforce implicit submission to your authority. This will give you infinitely less trouble, and will answer your purpose as well.

Right and wrong, if we go to the foundation of things, are, as casuists tell us, really words of very dubious signification, perpetually varying with custom and fashion, and to be referred to and adjusted ultimately by no other standards but opinion and force. Obtain power then by all means; power is the law of man; it is his law and yours. But to return from a frivolous disquisition about right, let me teach you the art of defending the wrong. After having thus pointed out to you the "glorious end" of your labors, I must now instruct you in the equally "glorious means."

For the advantage of my subject I beg to consider you all, ladies, as married; but those who have not as yet the good fortune to have that common enemy, a husband, to combat, may in the mean time practise my precepts upon their fathers, brothers, and female friends; with caution, however, lest by discovering their arms too soon, they preclude themselves from the power of using them to the fullest advantage hereafter. I therefore recommend it to them to prefer, with a philosophical moderation, the future to the present.

Timid brides, you have, probably, hitherto been addressed as angels-Prepare for the time when you shall again become mortal. Take the alarm at the first approach of blame, at the first hint of a discovery that you are any thing less than infallible. Contradict, debate, justify, recriminate, rage, weep, swoon, do any thing but yield to conviction.

I take it for granted that you have already acquired sufficient command of voice; you need not study its compass; going beyond its pitch has a peculiarly happy effect upon some occasions. But are you voluble enough to drown all sense in a torrent of words? Can you be loud enough to overpower the voice of all who shall attempt to interrupt or contradict you? Are you mistress of the petulant, the peevish, and the sullen tones? Have you practised the sharpness that provokes reply, and the continual monotony which effectually precludes it, by setting your adversary to sleep? an event which is always to be considered as decisive of the victory, or at least as reducing it to a drawn battle-You and Morpheus divide the prize.

The Project | The Texts | Research and Encoding
Contact | Site Index | Northeastern University