Project Canterbury

The Ladies Calling
attributed to Richard Allestree

Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1673

Part I. SECT. II. Of Meekness.

1. IN the next place we may rank Meekness as a necessary feminine Vertu; this even nature seems to teach, which abhors monstrosities and disproportions, and therefore having allotted to women a more smooth and soft composition of body, infers thereby her intention, that the mind should correspond with it. For tho the adulterations of art, can represent in the same Face beauty in one position, and deformity in another, yet nature is more sincere, and never meant a serene and clear forhead, should be the frontispiece to a cloudy tempestuous heart. 'Tis therefore to be wisht they would take the admonition, and whilst they consult their glasses, whether to applaud or improve their outward form, they would cast one look inwards, and examine what symmetry is there held with a fair outside; whether any storm of passion darken and overcast their interior beauty, and use at least an equal dilligence to rescu that; as they would to clear their face from any stain or blemish.

2. But it is not nature only which suggests this, but the God of nature too, Meekness being not only recommended to all as a Christian vertu, but particularly enjoin'd to women as a peculiar accomplishment of their Sex, 1 Pet. 3. 4. where after the mention of all the exquisit and costly deckings of art, this one ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, is confronted to them, with this eminent attestation, that it is in the sight of God of great price, and therefore to all who will not enter dispute with God, and contest his judgment, it must be so too. Now tho Meekness be in it self a single entire vertu, yet it is diversifi'd, according to the several faculties of the soul, over which it has influence; so that there is a Meekness of Understanding, a Meekness of the Will, and a Meekness of the Affections; all which must concur to make up the Meek and quiet spirit.

3. And first for the Meekness of the Understanding, it consists in a pliableness to conviction, and is directly opposite to that sullen adherence observable in too many; who judg of tenets not by their conformity to truth and reason, but to their prepossessions and tenaciously retain'd opinions, only because they (or some in whom they confide) have once own'd them; and certainly such a temper is of all others the most obstructive to Wisdom. This puts them upon the chance of a Lottery, and what they first happen to draw, determines them meerly upon the priviledg of its precedency, so that had Mahomet first seiz'd them, his tenure would have bin as indesesable, as Christs now. How great the force of such prejudices are, we may see by the oppositions it raisd against Christian doctrine in gross at its first promulgation; the Jews blind Zeal for the Traditions of their Fathers, engaging them in the murder even of that very Messias whom those Traditions had taught them to expect, and after in the persecution of that doctrine which his Resurrection had so irrefragably attested. And to justifie the propriety of this observation, to those I now write to, 'tis expresly affirm'd, Acts. 1. 3. 50. That they made use of the zeal of the female Proselites for that purpose. The Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and rais'd a persecution against Paul and Barnabas. So that 'tis no unseasonable advice to such, to be sure they see well their way before they run too fierce a carriere in it; otherwise the greatest heat without light, does but resemble that of the bottomless pit, where flames and darkness do at once cohabit.

4. But whilst I decry this prejudicate stifness, I intend not to plead for its contrary extreme, and recommend a too easie flexibility; which is a temper of equal, if not more ill consequence then the former. The adhering to one opinion can expose but to one error, but a mind that lies open to the effluxes of all new tenets, may successively entertain a whole ocean of delusions; and to be thus yielding, is not a Meekness but Servileness of Understanding. Indeed 'tis so great a weakness of mind, that the Apostle sinks it somwhat below the impotence of women, and resembles it to that of children, Eph. 4. 14. yet it seems the folly of some women had levelled them with children in this matter, for the same Apostle takes notice of such, to whom as he gives the Epithet of silly, so the latter part of the Character speaks them incorrigibly so, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledg of the truth, 1 Tim. 3. 6. a description which if we compare with our times, we must think prophetic. For how many instances hath this age given us of women so led captive; who being either affected with the novelty, or seduced by the pretended zeal of a new teacher, have given up their understanding to him: and for a while this strong man has kept possession, but when a stronger then he hath come it has fared as with him in the Gospel, a louder zeal or a newer doctrine soon divides his spoils; and that by force of the very same principle, on which he set up, which within a while undermines the latter also, and so successively; till the poor Proselite has bin huried through all the mazes of wild error, and at last perhaps (like a palate distracted by too much variety) she fixes upon that which at first she most decried. This has bin eventually true in some, who setting out in the fiercest detestation of Popery, have wandred so long like the blinded Syrians, 2 King. 6. 20. that they have at last found themselves in the midst of Samaria; by an insensible circular motion bin brought about to that Religion, from which alone they designed to fly. So little do itching ears know whether they may be carried: and indeed the ear when infected with that prurient humor may vie Mischiefs with the tongue, which St. James tells us, Chap. 3. 15. is (tho a little member) a world of iniquity.

5. 'Tis therefore the most important concern of all, to fortifie that so assailable part; but 'tis especially so of women, not only in respect of that natural imbecillity, which renders them liable to seducement, but also because the opinion of their being so, makes them particularly aim'd at by seducers. For as he who is to put off adulterated wares, will chuse the most unwary chapmen, so these Sophisticators of Divinity, desire the most undiscerning Auditors. And truly that so many of that Sex are so, I do not so much impute to any natural defect, as to the loose notions they have of Religion, of which they have perhaps some general confused apprehensions, but have so little penetrated the depth of it, that they know not why they are Christians, rather then Turks, why of the Church of England, rather then of that of Rome, or Geneva. And while they are thus unfixt, and have no better principle then custom and compliance; they have nothing to answer to any the grossest deceit that can be obtruded upon them, which for ought they know or have consider'd, may be as true as any thing they formerly profest. Now when any one in this condition shall be assaulted, not only by the repeated importunities of false teachers, but also by ingeminated threatnings of hell and damnation, she is like one awaked by the outcry of fire, and in that amaze will be apt to run where-ever the first discoverer of her danger shall lead her.

6. I shall therefore most earnestly recommend it as the best Antidote against the poison of novel doctrins, to examin well the grounds of the old; for want of this it is that our Church has bin exposed to so many frivolous cavils, it being too incident to the perverse Pride of humane nature, to speak evil of things we understand not. And had our she-zealots first consulted som sober guides, and from them understood upon what grounds the Practice as well as Doctrin of our Church was founded, they could not so easily have bin carried away by every wind of doctrine, as the Apostle phrases it, Eph. 4. 14.

7. Indeed this is no more then common justice exacts, which forbids the condemning even the vilest malefactor unheard, (& unheard and not understood, are in this case terms equivalent) yet sure they owe somthing more to that Church from whose ministry themselves must confess to have derived their Christianity, in whose bosom they have bin cherisht, and consequently may plead a mothers right in them; so that unless possession, which fortifies Civil rights, destroy the Ecclesiastic; she may challenge besides that natural justice, (which is the common due of humanity) a parental respect and reverence, a debt which is sure very ill answered by those, who cast off her obedience before they have at all considered what it is she commands. And if the abdicating a child be a thing so unnatural, as needs som very important cause to justifie it; the renouncing of a Parent must require a reason as far transcending that, as the guilt does, if it be causless; and such it must inevitably be in all, who for want of due examination, suffer themselves to be led into groundless prejudices and disgusts.

8. To prevent that guilt, and a multitude of others which spring from it; I must again repeat my Proposal, that women of Quality (who are presumed to want neither Parts nor lesure for it) would a little look into the inside of the Religion they profess; if it be a true one, 'twill bear the inspection, truth never shunning the light; if it be not, the discovery cannot be too early. And indeed among the many remarkable impresses of truth our Church bears, this is one, that she does not blindfold her Proselites, leaves them the use of their discerning Faculty, and does not by obtruding upon them an implicit belief, force them to lay down their Reason when they take up their Faith. And now why should not Ladies spend a few of their many idle hours in this inquisition, I mean not to embark them in a maze of controversies, but only to discern those plain grounds of Truth on which our Church builds; which if well digested, will prove a better amulet against delusion then the reading whole Tomes of Disputations, more apt to distract then fortify their understandings. And had they thus don, had their minds bin ballasted by sober principles, so many of them had never made up the triumphs of so many and so various seducers. And tho to such this advertisement may come too late (like assistance after a defeat) yet it may be a seasonable caution to others; and to those I offer it, as that very temper wherein consists that rational Meekness of the understanding I would recommend to them, which is equally violated by a blind obstinacy, or as blind a flexibility.

9. A second sort of Meekness is that of the Will, which lies in its just subordination, and submission to a more supream Autority, which in Divine things is the Will of God; in Natural or Moral right Reason; and in human Constitutions the command of Superiors: and so long as the Will governs it self by these in their respective Orders, it transgresses not the Meekness requir'd of it. But experience attests, that the Will is now in its depravation an imperious Faculty, apt to cast off that subjection to which it was design'd; and act independently from those motives which should influence it. This God knows is too common in all Ages, all Conditions, and Sexes: but the Feminine lies more especially under an ill name for it. Whether that have grown from the low opinion conceived of their Reason, less able to maintain its Empire, or from the multiplied habitual instances themselves have given of unruly Wills, I shall not undertake to determin; but either way 'tis, I am sure, so great a reproch, as they should be very industrious to wipe off. And truly I know nothing more incentive to that endeavor, then the having a right estimate of the Happiness as well as Vertu of a governable Will. How calmly do those glide through all (even the roughest) events, that can but master that stubborn Faculty? A will resign'd to God's, how does it enervate and enfeeble any calamity? Nay indeed it triumphs over it, and by that conjunction with him that ordains it, may be said to command even what it suffers. 'Twas a Philosophical Maxim, that a Wise moral man could not be injured, could not be miserable. But sure 'tis much more true of him who has that divine Wisdom of Christian resignation, that twists and inwraps all his choices with God's, and is neither at the pains nor hazard of his own elections; but is secure, that unless Omniscience can be deceived, or Omnipotence defeated, he shall have what is really best for him.

10. Proportionable (tho not equal) to this, is the happiness of a Will regulated by Reason in things within its Sphere: 'tis the dignity of humane Nature, and that which distinguishes it from that of Beasts. Yea, even those grow more contemtible in their kinds, the farther they are removed from it. The stupid sturdiness of an Asse has render'd it Proverbial for folly, when the tractableness of other Animals has temted som to list them among rationals. Besides, reason affords somthing of a Basis and Foundation for the Will to bottom on. He that governs himself by reason (that being still the same) will act equally and consonant to himself; but he that does a thing this moment, only because he will, may the next have as weighty an argument to do somthing quite contrary; and so may spend his whole time in unravelling his Spiders webs, as the Prophet rightly calls the vain designs of such brutish men, Isa. 59. 5. Not to speak of those recoilings and upbraidings of the rational faculties, which are the uneasie attendants of those who resist its more direct admonitions; there is nothing exposes to more secular ruins. An ungovernable Will is the most precipitous thing imaginable, and like the Devil in the Swine, hurries headlong to destruction, and yet deprives one of that poor reserve, that faint comfort of the miserable, Pitty; which will not be so much invited by the misery, as averted by that wilfulness which caused it. Nay indeed, so little can such persons expect the compassion of others, that 'twill be hard for them to afford themselves their own: the consciousness that their calamities are but the issues of their own perverseness, being apt to dispose them more to hate then pitty. And this is no small accumulation of wretchedness, when a man suffers not only directly, but at the rebound too; reinflicts his miseries upon himself by a grating reflection on his own madness. Yea, so great an aggravation is it, that even Hell it self is enhaunced and compleated by it; all the torments there being edged and sharpned by the woful remembrance, that they might once have bin avoided.

11. In the last place a Will duly submissive to lawfull Superiors, is not only an amiable thing in the eies of others, but exceedingly happy to ones self; 'tis the parent of peace, and order both public and private. A blessing so considerable, as is very cheaply bought with a little receding from ones own will or humor, whereas the contrary temper is the spring and original of infinit confusions, the grand incendiary which sets Kingdoms, Churches, Families, in combustion; a flat contradiction not only to the word, but even the works of God; a kind of Anticreative power, which reduces things to that Chaos from whence God drew them. Our age has given us too many and too pregnant instances of its mischievous effects, which may serve to enhaunce the value of that governable malleable temper I now recommend. And as a Will thus resign'd to Reason and just Autority, is a felicity all rational natures should aspire to; so especially the feminine Sex, whose passions being naturally the more impetuous, ought to be the more strictly guarded and kept under the severe discipline of Reason; for where 'tis otherwise, where a woman has no guid but her Will, and her Will is nothing but her Humor, the event is sure to be fatal to her self, and often to others also.

12. And the hazard of this renders that other restraint of the will, I mean that of obedience to Superiors, a very happy imposition, tho perhaps 'tis not alwaies thought so, for those who resist the government of Reason, are not very apt to submit to that of Autority. Yet sure God and nature do attest the particular expediency of this to women, by having placed that Sex in a degree of inferiority to the other. Nay farther 'tis observable, that as there are but three states of life, through which they can regularly pass, viz. Virginity, Marriage, and Widowhood, two of them are states of Subjection, the first to the parent, the second to the husband; and the third, as it is casual, whether ever they arrive to it or no, so if they do, we find it by God himself reckon'd as a condition the most desolate and deplorable. If I should say this happens upon that very score that they are left to their own guidance, the sad wracks of many would too much justifie the gloss; but however it evinces, that God sets not the same valu upon their being masterless, which some of them do, whilst he reckons them most miserable, when they are most at liberty.

13. And since Gods assignation has thus determined subjection to be the womens lot, there needs no other argument of its fitness, or for their acquiescence. Therefore when ever they oppose it, the contumacy flies higher then the immediat Superior, and reaches God himself. And I am apt to think there would not many of that timorous Sex dare so far, were it not for some false punctilioes of honor, which (like those among our Duellists) have imposed themselvs. These represent Meeknes and Submission as a silly sheepish quality unfit for women of breeding and spirit: whilst an imperious obstinacy passes for nobleness and greatness of mind. But alas they are wofully mistaken in their notion of a great spirit, which consists in scorning to do unworthy and vile things, and couragiously encountering the adverse events of life, not in spurning at duty, or seeking to pull themselves from that Sphere where the divine Wisdom hath placed them. No sure, stubbornness is the mark only of a great stomac, not of a great mind; and the cruelty of a coward may as well denominate him valiant, as the ungovernableness of a woman can speak her generous.

14. In this I presume I speak the common sense of all, for what value soever they put upon themselves, nothing renders them less acceptable to others; an imperious woman being a plague to her relatives, and a derision to strangers, yea and a torment to her self. Every the least contradiction (which a meek person would pass over insensibly) inflaming such an unruly temper, and transporting her to such extravagances, as often produce very mischievous effects. On the other side if she be humor'd and complied with, that serves only to make her more insolent and intolerable; makes her humors grow to such a height, that she knows not her self what would please her, and yet expects that others should: so that to such a one, we may apply what Hannibal said of Marcellus, that if he were vanquished; he never gave rest to himself, nor if he were victorious, to others. Certainly the uneasiness of a perverse spirit is so great, that could such come but to compare it with the calm and happy serenity of Meekness and Obedience, there would need no other Lecture to commend them to their esteem or practice.

15. The last branch of Meekness is that of Affections, and consists in reducing the passions to a temper and calmness, not suffering them to make uproars within to disturb ones self, nor without to the disquieting of others, and to this regulation Meekness is generally subservient. Yet because the correcting of som particular passions are more immediatly assignable to other vertues, I shall insist only upon that, on which this has a more direct and peculiar influence, I mean Anger, a two edged passion, which whilst it deals it blows without, wounds yet more fattally within. The commotion and vexation which an angry man feels, is far more painful then any thing he can ordinarily inflict upon another: herein justifying the Epithet usually given to Anger, that it is a short madness, for who that were in his right wits, would incur a greater mischief to do a less. It is indeed so great a distemper of the mind, that he that is possest with it, is incompetent for any sober undertaking, and should as much be suspended from acting, as one in a Phrensy or Lunacy. This was the judgment and practice too of Plato, who going to chastise a servant, and finding himself grow angry, stopt his correction, a friend coming in and asking what he was doing, punishing replies he, an angry man, as thinking himself unfit to discipline another, till he had subdued his own passion. Another time his slave having offended him, I would beat thee, saies he, but that I am angry. It were endless indeed to recite the black Epithets given by all Moralists to this vice. It shall suffice to take the suffrage of the wisest of men, one that had acquainted himself to know madness and folly, Ecl. 1. 17. and we find it his sentence, that anger rests in the bosom of fools, Ecl. 7. 11.

16. And what is thus universally unbecoming to human nature, cannot sure be less indecent for the gentler Sex: 'tis rather more so, every thing contracting so much more of deformity, by how much it recedes from its proper kind. Now nature hath befriended women with a more cool and temperat constitution, put less of fire and consequently of choler, in their compositions; so that their heats of that kind are adventitious and preternatural, rais'd often by fancy or pride, and so both look more unhandsomly, and have less of pretence to veil and cover them. Besides women have a native feebleness, unable to back and assert their angers with any effective force, which may admonish them 'tis never intended they should let loose to that passion, which nature seems by that very unability to have interdicted them. But when they do it, they render themselves at once despised and abhor'd; nothing being more ridiculously hateful, then an impotent rage.

17. But as the most feeble insect may somtimes disturb, tho not much hurt us, so there is one feminine weapon which as 'tis alwaies ready, so proves often troublesom, I mean the tongue, which, tho in its loudest clamors can naturally invade nothing but the ear, yet even that is a molestation. The barking of a dog, tho we are secure he cannot bite, is a grating unpleasant sound; and while women seek that way to vent their rage, they are but a sort of speaking brutes, and should consider whether that do not reflect more contemt upon themselves, then their most virulent reproches can fix upon others.

18. But some things have had the luck to acquire a formidableness no body knows how, and sure there is no greater instance of it, then in this case. A clamorous woman is lookt on, tho not with reverence, yet with much dread, and we often find things don to prevent or appease her storms, which would be denied to the calm and rational desires of a meeker person. And perhaps such successes have not bin a little accessory to the fomenting the humor; yet sure it gives them little cause of triumph, when they consider how odious it makes them, how unfit (yea intolerable) for human society; let them take the verdict of Solomon who declares it better to dwell Pro. 25. 24. in a corner of a house top, then with a brawling woman in a wide house. Nor does the son of Sirach speak less sharply tho more ironically, Ecl. 18. 16. A loud crying woman and a scold, shall be sought out to drive away the enemy. And tho he taxes the feminine vices impartially enough, yet there is scarce any of them which he more often and more severely brands then this of unquietness. It seems 'twas a thing generally lookt on, as very insufferable; as appears by Socrates, who when he design'd to discipline himself to perfect patience and tolerance, knew no better way of exercise, then to get a shrew to his wife, an excellence that may perhaps again recommend a woman, when we fall to an age of Philosophers; but at present 'twill be hard for any of our Xantippes to find a Socrates; and therefore that quality is as destructive to their interests in getting husbands, as it is to the husbands quiet when he is got. But I presume I need not declame farther against this fault, which I suppose cannot be frequent among that rank of women to whom this tract is intended: for if neither moral nor divine Considerations have prevented it, yet probably civility and a gentile education hath: a scold being a creature to be lookt for only in Stalls and Markets, not among persons of quality. Yet if there be any that have descended to so sordid a practice, they have so far degraded themselves, that they are not to wonder if others substract that respect, which upon other accounts they might demand.

19. And to such I should recommend the usual method of Physic, which is to cure by revulsion, let that sharp humor which so habitually flows to the tongue, be taught a little to recoile, and work inward; and instead of reviling others, discipline and correct themselves: let them upbraid their own madness, that to gratifie an impotent, nay a most painful passion, have degenerated from what their nature, their qualities, their education, design'd them. And if they can thus reverse their displesures, 'twill not only secure others from all their indecent assaults, but it will at last extinguish them: for anger is corrosive, and if it be kept only to feed upon its self, must be its own devourer; if it be permitted to fetch no forrage from without, nor to nourish it self with suspicions and surmises of others, nor to make any sallies at the tongue, it cannot long hold out.

20. And how much they will herein consult their interest and their reputation too, they may be taught by Solomon, who makes it the distinctive sign of a foolish woman to be clamorous, Prov. 9. 13. whereas when he gives the character of his Excellent woman, he links Wisdom and Gentleness together, she openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness, Prov. 31. 26. If this verdict may be admitted (as sure it ought, whether we consider his wisdom, or dear bought experience in women) it will confute the common plea of querulous spirits, who think to seem insensible of any the least provocation, is to appear silly and stupid; tho truly if it were so, 'twould be full as eligible as to appear mad and raving, as they commonly do in the transport of their fury.

21. To conclude, Meekness is so amiable, so indearing a quality, and so peculiarly embellishing to women, that did they but all consider it with half the attention they do their more trivial exterior ornaments, 'twould certainly be taken up as the universal mode, in all the several variations of it this Section has presented.

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