Vindication


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At this time she was desirous of assisting the father and mother of Fanny in an object they had in view, the transporting themselves to Ireland; and, as usual, what she desired in a pecuniary view, she was ready to take on herself to effect. For this purpose she wrote a duodecimo pamphlet of one hundred and sixty pages, entitled, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. Hewlet obtained from the bookseller, Mr. Johnson in St.


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Paul's Church Yard, ten guineas for the copy-right of this manuscript, which she immediately applied to the object for the sake of which the pamphlet was written. Every thing urged Mary to put an end to the affair of the school. She was dissatisfied with the different appearance it presented upon her return, from the state in which she left it.

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Experience impressed upon her a rooted aversion to that sort of cohabitation with her sisters, which the project of the school imposed. Cohabitation is a point of delicate experiment, and is, in a majority of instances, pregnant with ill-humour and unhappiness. The activity and ardent spirit of adventure which characterized Mary, were not felt in an equal degree by her sisters, so that a disproportionate share of every burthen attendant upon the situation, fell to her lot.

On the other hand, they could scarcely perhaps be perfectly easy, in observing the superior degree of deference and courtship, which her merit extorted from almost every one that knew her. Her kindness for them was not diminished, but she resolved that the mode of its exertion in future should be different, tending to their benefit, without intrenching upon her own liberty. Thus circumstanced, a proposal was made her, such as, regarding only the situations through which she had lately passed, is usually termed advantageous.

This was, to accept the office of governess to the daughters of lord viscount Kingsborough, eldest son to the earl of Kingston of the kingdom of Ireland. The terms held out to her were such as she determined to accept, at the same time resolving to retain the situation only for a short time.

Independence was the object after which she thirsted, and she was fixed to try whether it might not be found in literary occupation. She was desirous however first to accumulate a small sum of money, which should enable her to consider at leisure the different literary engagements that might offer, and provide in some degree for the eventual deficiency of her earliest attempts. The situation in the family of lord Kingsborough, was offered to her through the medium of the rev. Prior, at that time one of the under masters of Eton school.


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She spent some time at the house of this gentleman, immediately after her giving up the school at Newington Green. Here she had an opportunity of making an accurate observation upon the manners and conduct of that celebrated seminary, and the ideas she retained of it were by no means favourable. By all that she saw, she was confirmed in a very favourite opinion of her's, in behalf of day-schools, where, as she expressed it, "children have the opportunity of conversing with children, without interfering with domestic affections, the foundation of virtue.

Though her residence in the family of lord Kingsborough continued scarcely more than twelve months, she left behind her, with them and their connections, a very advantageous impression. The governesses the young ladies had hitherto had, were only a species of upper servants, controlled in every thing by the mother; Mary insisted upon the unbounded exercise of her own discretion.

When the young ladies heard of their governess coming from England, they heard in imagination of a new enemy, and declared their resolution to guard themselves accordingly. Mary however speedily succeeded in gaining their confidence, and the friendship that soon grew up between her and Margaret King, now countess Mount Cashel, the eldest daughter, was in an uncommon degree cordial and affectionate. Mary always spoke of this young lady in terms of the truest applause, both in relation to the eminence of her intellectual powers, and the ingenuous amiableness of her disposition.

Lady Kingsborough, from the best motives, had imposed upon her daughters a variety of prohibitions, both as to the books they should read, and in many other respects. These prohibitions had their usual effects; inordinate desire for the things forbidden, and clandestine indulgence. Mary immediately restored the children to their liberty, and undertook to govern them by their affections only.

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The consequence was, that their indulgences were moderate, and they were uneasy under any indulgence that had not the sanction of their governess. The salutary effects of the new system of education were speedily visible; and lady Kingsborough soon felt no other uneasiness, than lest the children should love their governess better than their mother. Mary made many friends in Ireland, among the persons who visited lord Kingsborough's house, for she always appeared there with the air of an equal, and not of a dependent.

I have heard her mention the ludicrous distress of a woman of quality, whose name I have forgotten, that, in a large company, singled out Mary, and entered into a long conversation with her. After the conversation was over, she enquired whom she had been talking with, and found, to her utter mortification and dismay, that it was Miss King's governess.

One of the persons among her Irish acquaintance, whom Mary was accustomed to speak of with the highest respect, was Mr. George Ogle, member of parliament for the county of Wexford. She held his talents in very high estimation; she was strongly prepossessed in favour of the goodness of his heart; and she always spoke of him as the most perfect gentleman she had ever known.

She felt the regret of a disappointed friend, at the part he has lately taken in the politics of Ireland.


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Lord Kingsborough's family passed the summer of the year at Bristol Hot-Wells, and had formed the project of proceeding from thence to the continent, a tour in which Mary purposed to accompany them. The plan however was ultimately given up, and Mary in consequence closed her connection with them, earlier than she otherwise had purposed to do. A considerable part of this story consists, with certain modifications, of the incidents of her own friendship with Fanny.

All the events that do not relate to that subject are fictitious. This little work, if Mary had never produced any thing else, would serve, with persons of true taste and sensibility, to establish the eminence of her genius.

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The story is nothing. He that looks into the book only for incident, will probably lay it down with disgust. But the feelings are of the truest and most exquisite class; every circumstance is adorned with that species of imagination, which enlists itself under the banners of delicacy and sentiment. A work of sentiment, as it is called, is too often another name for a work of affectation.

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He that should imagine that the sentiments of this book are affected, would indeed be entitled to our profoundest commiseration. Being now determined to enter upon her literary plan, Mary came immediately from Bristol to the metropolis. Her conduct under this circumstance was such as to do credit both to her own heart, and that of Mr. Johnson, her publisher, between whom and herself there now commenced an intimate friendship. She had seen him upon occasion of publishing her Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, and she addressed two or three letters to him during her residence in Ireland.

Upon her arrival in London in August , she went immediately to his house, and frankly explained to him her purpose, at the same time requesting his advice and assistance as to its execution. After a short conversation, Mr. Johnson invited her to make his house her home, till she should have suited herself with a fixed residence. She accordingly resided at this time two or three weeks under his roof. At the same period she paid a visit or two of similar duration to some friends, at no great distance from the metropolis. Johnson had provided for her during her excursion into the country.

The three years immediately ensuing, may be said, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, to have been the most active period of her life. She brought with her to this habitation, the novel of Mary, which had not yet been sent to the press, and the commencement of a sort of oriental tale, entitled, the Cave of Fancy, which she thought proper afterwards to lay aside unfinished.

I am told that at this period she appeared under great dejection of spirits, and filled with melancholy regret for the loss of her youthful friend. A period of two years had elapsed since the death of that friend; but it was possibly the composition of the fiction of Mary, that renewed her sorrows in their original force.

Soon after entering upon her new habitation, she produced a little work, entitled, Original Stories from Real Life, intended for the use of children. At the commencement of her literary carreer, she is said to have conceived a vehement aversion to the being regarded, by her ordinary acquaintance, in the character of an author, and to have employed some precautions to prevent its occurrence.

The employment which the bookseller suggested to her, as the easiest and most certain source of pecuniary income, of course, was translation. With this view she improved herself in her French, with which she had previously but a slight acquaintance, and acquired the Italian and German languages.

The greater part of her literary engagements at this time, were such as were presented to her by Mr.

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She new-modelled and abridged a work, translated from the Dutch, entitled, Young Grandison: she began a translation from the French, of a book, called, the New Robinson; but in this undertaking, she was, I believe, anticipated by another translator: and she compiled a series of extracts in verse and prose, upon the model of Dr. Enfield's Speaker, which bears the title of the Female Reader; but which, from a cause not worth mentioning, has hitherto been printed with a different name in the title-page.

About the middle of the year , Mr. Johnson instituted the Analytical Review, in which Mary took a considerable share. She also translated Necker on the Importance of Religious Opinions; made an abridgment of Lavater's Physiognomy, from the French, which has never been published; and compressed Salzmann's Elements of Morality, a German production, into a publication in three volumes duodecimo.

The translation of Salzmann produced a correspondence between Mary and the author; and he afterwards repaid the obligation to her in kind, by a German translation of the Rights of Woman. Such were her principal literary occupations, from the autumn of , to the autumn of It perhaps deserves to be remarked that this sort of miscellaneous literary employment, seems, for the time at least, rather to damp and contract, than to enlarge and invigorate, the genius. The writer is accustomed to see his performances answer the mere mercantile purpose of the day, and confounded with those of persons to whom he is secretly conscious of a superiority.

No neighbour mind serves as a mirror to reflect the generous confidence he felt within himself; and perhaps the man never yet existed, who could maintain his enthusiasm to its full vigour, in the midst of this kind of solitariness. He is touched with the torpedo of mediocrity. I believe that nothing which Mary produced during this period, is marked with those daring flights, which exhibit themselves in the little fiction she composed just before its commencement. Among effusions of a nobler cast, I find occasionally interspersed some of that homily-language, which, to speak from my own feelings, is calculated to damp the moral courage, it was intended to awaken.

This is probably to be assigned to the causes above described. I have already said that one of the purposes which Mary had conceived, a few years before, as necessary to give a relish to the otherwise insipid, or embittered, draught of human life, was usefulness.

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On this side, the period of her existence of which I am now treating, is more brilliant, than in a literary view. She determined to apply as great a part as possible of the produce of her present employments, to the assistance of her friends and of the distressed; and, for this purpose, laid down to herself rules of the most rigid economy. She began with endeavouring to promote the interest of her sisters. She conceived that there was no situation in which she could place them, at once so respectable and agreeable, as that of governess in private families.

She determined therefore in the first place, to endeavour to qualify them for such an undertaking. Her younger sister she sent to Paris, where she remained near two years. The elder she placed in a school near London, first as a parlour-boarder, and afterwards as a teacher. Her brother James, who had already been at sea, she first took into her house, and next sent to Woolwich for instruction, to qualify him for a respectable situation in the royal navy, where he was shortly after made a lieutenant.

Charles, who was her favourite brother, had been articled to the eldest, an attorney in the Minories; but, not being satisfied with his situation, she removed him; and in some time after, having first placed him with a farmer for instruction, she fitted him out for America, where his speculations, founded upon the basis she had provided, are said to have been extremely prosperous.

The reason so much of this parental sort of care fell upon her, was, that her father had by this time considerably embarrassed his circumstances.

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His affairs having grown too complex for himself to disentangle, he had intrusted them to the management of a near relation; but Mary, not being satisfied with the conduct of the business, took them into her own hands. The exertions she made, and the struggle into which she entered however, in this instance, were ultimately fruitless.

To the day of her death her father was almost wholly supported by funds which she supplied to him. In addition to her exertions for her own family, she took a young girl of about seven years of age under her protection and care, the niece of Mrs. John Hunter, and of the present Mrs. Skeys, for whose mother, then lately dead, she had entertained a sincere friendship.

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