Project Canterbury

The Ladies Calling
attributed to Richard Allestree

Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1673

Part II. Sect. I. Of Virgins.

1. WE have taken a view of those general qualifications, which are at once the duty and the ornament of the Female sex, considér'd at large. These like the common Genius involve all; but there are also specific differences, arising from the several circumstances and states of life, som whereof may exact greater degrees even of the former vertues, & all may have some distinct & peculiar requisits adapted to that particular state and condition: and of these our proposed method engages us now to consider. Human life is full of vicissitudes and changes, so that 'tis impossible to enumerate all the lesser accidental alterations to which it is lyable. But the principal & most distinct scenes, in which a woman can be suppos'd regularly to be an actor, are these three, Virginity, Marriage and Widowhood; which as they differ widely from each other, so for the discharging their respective duties, there are peculiar cautions worthy to be adverted to.

2. Virginity is first in order of time, and if we wil take S. Pauls judgment in respect of excellence also, 1 Cor. 7. And indeed she that preserves her self in that state upon the account he mentions v. 33. that she may care for the things that are of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in Spirit, deserves a great deal of veneration, as making one of the nearest approaches to the Angelical State, And accordingly in the primitive time, such a Virginity was had in a singular estimation, and by the assignment of the Schoolmen, hath a particular coronet of glory belonging to it. Nay even among the heathens, a consecrated Virgin was lookt on as a thing most sacred. The Roman Vestals had extraordinary privelidges allowed them by the state; and they were generally held in such reverence, that Testaments and other depositums of the greatest trust were usually committed to their custody, as to the surest and most inviolable Sanctuary. Nay their presence was so to convicted malefactors; the Magistrates veiling their fasces when they appear'd, and giving up the criminal to the commanding intercession of Virgin innocence.

3. As for the religious orders of Virgins in the present Roman Church, tho some and those very great abuses have crept in; yet I think twere to be wishd, that those who supprest them in this nation, had confind themselves within the bounds of a reformation, by choosing rather to rectify and regulate, then abolish them.

4. But tho there be not among us such societies, yet there may be Nuns who are not Profest. She who has devoted her heart to God, and the better to secure his interest against the most insinuating rival of Human Love, intends to admit none, and praies that she may not; does by those humble purposes consecrate her self to God, and perhaps more acceptably, then if her presumtion should make her more positive, and engage her in a vow she is not sure to perform.

5. But this is a case does not much need stating in our Clime, wherin women are so little transported with this zeal of voluntary Virginity, that there are but few can find patience for it when necessary. An old maid is now thought such a curse, as no Poetic fury can exceed; lookt on as the most calamitous creature in nature. And I so far yeild to the opinion, as to confess it so to those who are kept in that state against their wills: but sure the original of that misery is from the desire, not the restraint of Marriage: let them but suppress that office, and the other will never be their infelicity. But I must not be so unkind to the sex, as to think 'tis alwaies such desire that gives them aversion to Celibacy; I doubt not many are frighted only with the vulgar contemt under which that state lies: for which if there be no cure, yet there is the same armor against this which is against all other causeless reproches, viz. to contemn it. Yet I am a little apt to believe there may be a prevention in the case. If the superannuated virgins would behave themselves with gravity and reservedness, addict themselves to the strictest vertu and piety, they would give the world some cause to believe, 'twas not their necessity but their choise which kept them unmarried; that they were preengag'd to a better Amour; espoused to the spiritual Bridegroom: & this would give them among the soberer sort at least the reverence and esteem of Matrons. Or if after all caution and endeavor, they chance to fall under the tongues of malicious slanderers; this is no more then happens in all other instances of duty: and if contemt be to be avoided, Christianity it self must be quitted, as well as virgin Chastity. But if on the other side they endeavor to disguise their age, by all the impostures and gaieties of a youthful dress and behavior, if they still herd them selves among the youngest and vainest company, betray a yong mind in an aged body; this must certainly expose them to scorn and censure. If no play no ball, or dancing meeting can escape them, people will undoubtedly conclude that they desire, to put off themselves, to meet with chapmen, who so constantly keep the fairs. I wish therefore they would more universally try the former expedient, which I am confident is the best amulet against the reproch they so much dread, and may also deliver them from the danger of a more costly remedy, I mean that of an unequal and imprudent match, which many have rush'd upon as they have ran frighted from the other, and so by an unhappy contradiction, do both stay long and marry hastily, gall their neck to spare their ears, and run into the yok rather then hear so slight and unreasonable a reproch. They need not, I think, be upbraided with the folly of such an election, since their own experience is (to many of them) but too severe a monitor. I shall not insist farther on this, but having given the elder virgins that ensign of their seniority as to stand first in my discourse, I shall now address more generally to the rest.

6. And here the two grand elements essential to the Virgin state are Modesty and Obedience, which, tho necessary to all, yet are in a more eminent degree requir'd here; and therefore, tho I have spoken largely of the vertue of Modesty in the first part of this tract, yet it will not be impertinent to make som farther reflections on it, by way of application to Virgins, in whom modesty should appear in its highest elevation, and should come up to Shamefacedness. Her look, her speech, her whole behavior should own an humbl distrust of her self; she is to look on her self, but as a novice, a probationer in the world, and must take this time, rather to learn and observe, then to dictate & prescribe. Indeed there is scarce any thing looks more indecent, then to see a young maid too forward and confident in her talk. 'Tis the opinion of the wise man, Ecclus. 32. 8. that a young man should scarce speak tho twice asked: in proportion to which, 'twill sure not become a young woman, whose sex puts her under greater restraints, to be either importunate or magisterial in her discours. And tho that which former ages called Boldness, is now only Assurance and good breeding, yet we have seen such bad superstructures upon that foundation, as sure will not much recommend it to any considering person.

7. But there is another breach of Modesty as it relates to Chastity, in which they are yet more especially concern'd. The very name of virgin imports a most critical niceness in that point. Every indecent curiosity, or impure fancy, is a deflowring of the mind, & every the least corruption of them gives some degrees of defilement to the body too: for between the state of pure immaculat Virginity & arrant Prostitution there are many intermedial steps, and she that makes any of them, is so far departed from her first integrity. She that listens to any wanton discourse, has violated her ears; she that speaks any, her tongue; every immodest glance vitiates her eye, and every the lightest act of dalliance leaves somthing of stain and sullage behind it. There is therefore a most rigorous caution requisit herein: for as nothing is more clean and white then a perfect Virginity, so every the least spot or soil is the more discernible. Besides, youth is for the most part flexible, & easily warps into a crookedness, and therefore can never set it self too far from a temtation. Our tender blossoms we are fain to skreen and shelter, because every unkindly air nips and destroies them; and nothing can be more nice and delicate then a maiden vertu, which ought not to be expos'd to any of those malignant airs which may blast and corrupt it, of which God knows there are too many, some that blow from within, and others from without.

8. Of the first sort there is none more mischievous then Curiosity, a temtation which foil'd human Nature even in Paradise: and therefore sure a feeble girle ought not to trust her self with that which subdued her better fortified parent. The truth is, an affected ignorance cannot be so blamable in other cases as it is commendable in this. Indeed it is the surest & most invincible guard, for she who is curious to know indecent things, 'tis odds but she will too soon and too dearly buy the learning. The suppressing and detesting all such curiosities is therefore that eminent fundamental piece of continence I would recommend to them, as that which will protect and secure all the rest.

9. But when they have set this guard upon themselves, they must provide against forreign assaults too; the most dangerous whereof I take to be ill Company, and Idleness. Against the first they must provide by a prudent choise of conversation, which should generally be of their own sex; yet not all of that neither, but such who will at least entertain them innocently, if not profitably. Against the second they may secure themselvs by a constant series of emploiments: I mean not such frivolous ones as are more idle then doing nothing; but such as are ingenuous, and som way worth their time, wherein as the first place is to be given to the offices of piety, so in the intervalls of those, there are divers others, by which they may not unusefully fill up the vacancies of their time: such are the acquiring of any of those ornamental improvements which become their quality, as Writing, Needle works, Languages, Music, or the like. If I should here insert the art of Oeconomy and Houshold Managery, I should not think I affronted them in it; that being the most proper feminine business, from which neither wealth nor greatness can totally absolve them; and a little of the theory in their parents house, would much assist them towards the practic when they come to their own. In a word there are many parts of knowledg useful for civil as well as divine life; and the improving themselves in any of those is a rational emploiment.

10. But I confess I know not how to reduce to that head many of those things which from divertisements are now stept up to be the solemn business of many young Ladies, (& I doubt of som old;) such is in the first place gaming, a recreation whose lawfulness I question not, whilst it keeps with the bounds of a recreation: but when it sets up for a calling, I knownot whence it derives its license. And a calling sure it seems to be with some, a laborious one too, such as they toil night and day at, nay do not allow themselvs that remission which the laws both of God and man have provided for the meanest mechanic: the Sabbath is to them no day of rest, but this trade goes on when all shops are shut. I know not how they satisfy themselves in such an habitual wast of their time, (besides all the incidental faults of avarice and anger) but I much doubt that plea, whatsoever it is, which passes with them, will scarce hold weight at his Tribunal, who has commanded us to redeem, not fling away our time.

11. There is another thing to which some devote a very considerable part of their time, and that is the reading Romances, which seems now to be thought the peculiar and only becoming study of young Ladies. I confess their youth may a little adapt it to them when they were children, and I wish they were alwaies in their event as harmless; but I fear they often leave ill impressions behind them. Those amorous passions, which 'tis their design to paint to the utmost life, are apt to insinuate themselves into their unwary readers, and by an unhappy inversion, a copy shall produce an original. When a poor young creature shall read there of some triumphant Beauty, that has I know not how many captiv'd Knights prostrate at her feet, she will probably be temted to think it a fine thing; and may reflect how much she loses time, that has not yet subdu'd one heart: and then her business will be to spread her nets; lay her toils to catch somebody, who will more fatally ensnare her. And when she has once wound her self into an amour, those Authors are subtil casuists for all difficult cases that may occur in it, will instruct in the necessary Artifices of deluding Parents and Friends, and put her ruine perfectly in her own power. And truly this seems to be so natural a consequent of this sort of study, that of all the divertisements that look so innocently, they can scarce fall upon any more hazardous. Indeed it is very difficult to imagine what vast mischief is don to the World, by the false notions and images of things; particularly of Love and Honor, those noblest concerns of human life, represented in these Mirrors: but when we consider upon what principles the Duellists and Hectors of the Age defend their outrages; and how great a devotion is paid to lust, instead of vertuous Love; we can not be to seek for the Gospel which makes these doctrines appear orthodox.

12. As for the entertainments which they find abroad, they may be innocent, or otherwise according as they are managed. The common entercourse of Civility is a debt to Humanity, and therefore mutual visits may often be necessary, and so (in some degree) may be several harmless and healthful recreations which may call them abroad; for I write not now to Nuns, and have no purpose to confine them to a Cloister. Yet on the other side to be alwaies wandring, is the condition of a vagabond, and of the two 'tis better to be a Prisoner to ones home, then a Stranger. Solomon links it with som very unlaudable qualities of a Woman Pro. 7. 11. that her feet abide not in her house, and 'tis an unhappy impotence not to be able to stay at home, when there is any thing to be seen abroad; that any mask, or revel, any jollity of others must be their rack and torment, if they can not get to it. Alas such meetings are not so sure to be safe, that they had need be frequent, and they are of all others least like to be safe to those, who much dote on them: and therefore those that find they do so, had need to counter biass their minds, and set them to somthing better, and by more serious entertainments supplant those vanities, which at the best are childish; and may often prove worse; it being too probable that those Dinah's which are still gadding, tho on pretence to see only the daughters of the land Gen. 34. may at last meet with a son of Hamor.

13. There is also another great devourer of time subservient to the former, I mean dressing: for they that Love to be seen much abroad, will be sure to be seen in the most exact form. And this is an emploiment that does not steal but challenge their time; what they wast here is cum Privilegio, it being by the verdict of this age the proper business, the one science wherein a young Lady is to be perfectly verst; so that now all vertuous emulation is converted into this single ambition, who shall excel in this faculty. A vanity which I confess is more excusable in the younger then the elder sort; they being supposable not yet to have outworn the reliques of their childhood, to which toies and gaiety were proportionable. Besides 'tis sure allowable upon a soberer account, that they who design Marriage should give themselves the advantage of decent ornaments, and not by the negligent rudeness of their dress bely Nature, and render themselves less amiable then the has made them. But all this being granted, 'twill by no means justify that excessive curiosity and solicitude, that expence of time and mony too which is now used; a very moderate degree of all those will serve for that ordinary decency which they need provide for, will keep them from the reproch of an affected singularity, which is as much as a sober person need take care for. And I must take leave to say, that in order to marriage, such a moderation is much likelier to succeed then the contrary extravagance. Among the prudenter sort of men I am sure it is, if it be not among the loose and vain, against which 'twill be their guard, and so do them the greater service: for certainly he that chuses a wife for those qualities for which a wise man would refuse her, understands so little what marriage is, as portends no great felicity to her that shall have him But if they desire to marry men of sobriety and discretion, they are obliged in justice to bring the same qualities they expect, which will be very ill evidenced by that excess and vanity we now speak of.

14. For to speak a plain (tho perhaps ungrateful truth, this (together with some of the modish liberties now in use) is it, which keeps so many young Ladies about the Town unmarried 'till they lose the epithet of young. Sober men are afraid to venture upon a humor so disagreeing to their own lest whilst (according to the primitive reason of marriage) they seek a help, they espouse a ruine. But this is especially dreadful to a plain Country. Gentleman, who looks upon one of these fine women as a Gaudy Idol, to whom if he once become a votary, he must sacrifice a great part of his fortune, and all his content. How reasonable that apprehension is, the many wracks of considerable families do too evidently attest. But I presume some of the nicer Ladies have such a contemt of anything that they please to call rustic, that they will not much regret the averting of those whom they so despise. They will not perhaps while they are in pursuit or hopes of others; but when those fail, these will be lookt on as a wellcome reserve, and therefore 'twill be no prudence to cut themselves off from that last resort, lest they (as many have don) betake themselves to much worse. For as in many instances 'tis the Country which feeds and maintains the grandeur of the Town, so of all commerces there, marriage would soonest fail, if all Rural supplies were cut off.

15. But I have pursued this speculation farther than perhaps my virgin readers will thank me for, I shall return to that which it was brought to inforce, and beseech them that if not to Men, yet to approve themselves to God, they will confine themselves in the matter of their dress within the du limits of decency and sobriety. I shall not direct them to those strict rules which Tertullian and some other of the ancient Fathers have prescribed in this matter; my petition is only that our virgins would at least so take care of their bodies, as Persons that also have a soul; which if they can be perswaded to, they may reserve much of their time for more worthy uses then those of the Comb, the Tuillets, and the Glasse. And truly 'tis not a little their concern to do so, for this spring of their age is that critical instant that must either confirm or blast the hopes of all the succeeding seasons. The minds of young people are usually compared to a blank sheet of paper, equally capable of the best or the worst impressions; 'tis pitty they should be fill'd with childish scrawls, and little insignificant figures, but 'tis shame and horror they should be staind with any vicious characters, any blots of impurity or dishonor. To prevent which let the severest notions of modesty and honor be early and deeply impest upon their souls, graven as with the point of a Diamond, that they may be as indelible as they are indispensibly necessary to the virgin state.

16. There is also another very requisite quality, and that is Obedience. The younger sort of virgins are supposed to have parents, or if any has bin so unhappy as to lose them early, they commonly are left in the charge of some friend or guardian, that is to supply the place; so that they cannot be to seek to whom this obedience is to be paid. And it is not more their duty then their interest to pay it. Youth is apt to be foolish in it its designs, & heady in the pursuit of them; and there can be nothing more deplorable then to have it left to its self. And therefore God, who permits not even the brutes to destitute their young ones till they attain to the perfection of their kind, has put children under the guidance and protection of their parents, 'till by the maturing of their judgments they are qualified to be their own conductors. Now this Obedience (as that which is due to all other superiors) is to extend it self to all things that are either good or indifferent, and has no clause of exception, but only where the command is unlawful. And in so wide a scene of action there will occur so many particular occasions of submission, that they had need have a great reverence of their parents judgments, and distrust of their own. And if it should happen that some parents are not qualified to give them the former, yet the general imbecillity of their age, will remain a constant ground of the later: so that they may safelier venture themselves to their parents misguidance, then their own; by how much the errors of humility and obedience, are lesse malignant then those of presumtion and arrogance.

16. But this is a doctrine which will scarce pass for orthodox with many of the young women of our daies, with whom 'tis prejudice enough against the prudentest advice that it comes from their parents. 'Tis the grand ingenuity of these times to turn every thing into Ridicule; and if a girle can but rally smartly upon the sober admonition of a parent, she concludes she is the abler person; takes her self for a wit, and the other for a fop; (a bugbear word devised to fright all seriousness and sobriety out of the World;) and learns not only to disobey but to contemn. Indeed the great confidence that youth now seems to have of its self, as it is very indecent, so is it extremely pernicious. Children that will attemt to go alone before their time, oft get dangerous falls; and when those who are but little removed from children, shall cast off the wiser conduct of others, they oft sadly miscarry by their own,

18. I know this age has so great a contemt of the former, that 'tis but matter of scorn to alledg any of their customs, else I should say that the liberties that are taken now, would then have bin startled at. They that should then have seen young maid rambling abroad without her mother or some other prudent person, would have lookt on her as a stray, and thought it but a neighborly office to have brought her home; whereas now 'tis a rarity to see them in any company graver then themselves, and she that goes with her parent (unless it be such a parent as is as wild as her self) thinks she does but walk abroad with her jailor. But sure there are no small mischeifs that attend this liberty, for it leaves them perfectly to the choise of their company, a thing of too weighty an importance for giddy heads to determin; who will be sure to elect such as are of their own humor, with whom they may keep up a traffic of little impertinencies and trifling entertainments; and so by consequence condemn themselvs never to grow wiser which they might do by an ingenuous conversation. Nay 'tis wel if that negative ill be the worst, for it gives opportunity to any that have ill designs upon them. It will be easy getting into their company, who have no guard to keep any body out, and as easy by little compliances & flatteries to insinuate into their good graces, who have not the sagacity to discern to what insidious purposes those blandishments are directed; and when they once begin to nibble at the bait, to be pleased with the Courtship, 'tis great odds they do not escape the hook.

19. Alas how many poor innocent creatures have bin thus indiscernibly ensnared; have at first perhaps only liked the wit and raillery, perhaps the language and address, then the freedom and good humor; 'till at last they come to like the person. It is therefore a most necessary caution for young women, not to trust too much to their own conduct, but to own their dependance on those, to whom God and nature has subjected them, and to look on it not as their restraint and burden, but as their shelter and Protection. For where once the autority of a parent comes to be despis'd, tho in the lightest instance, it laies the foundation of utmost disobedience. She that wil not be prescrib'd to in the choise of her ordinary diverting company, will less be so in chusing the fixt companion of her life; and we find it often eventually true, that those who govern themselves in the former, will not be govern'd by their friends in the latter, but by pre-engagements of their own prevent their elections for them.

20. And this is one of the highest injuries they can do their parents, who have such a native right in them, that 'tis no less an injustice then disobedience to dispose of themselves without them. This right of the parent is so undoubted, that we find God himself gives way to it, and will not suffer the most holy pretence no not that of a Vow, to invade it as we may see his own stating of the case Numb 30. How will he then resent it, to have his so indispensible a law violated upon the impulse of an impotent passion, an amorous inclination? Nor is the folly less then the sin: they injure and afflict their parents, but they generally ruine and undo themselvs. And that upon a double account, first as to the secular part. Those that are so rash as to make such matches, cannot be imagined so provident as to examine how agreable 'tis to their interest; or to contrive for any thing beyond the marriage. The thoughts of their future temporal conditions (like those of the eternal) can find no room amidst their foolish raptures; but as if love were indeed that Deity which the Poets feigned, they depend on it for all, and take no farther care. And event does commonly too soon instruct them in the deceitfulness of that trust; love being so unable to support them, that it cannot maintain its self; but quickly expires when it has brought the lovers into those straits, from whence it cannot rescu them. So that indeed it does but play the decoy with them, brings them into the noose and then retires. For when secular wants begin to pinch them, all the transports of their kindness do usually convert into mutual accusations, for having made each other miserable.

21. And indeed there is no reason to expect any better event, because in the second place they forfeit their title to the divine blessing; nay they put themselves out of the capacity to ask it, it being a ridiculous impudence to beg God to prosper the transgressions of his law. Such weddings seem to invoke only som of the Poetic Romantic Deities, Venus & Hymen, from whence they derive a happiness as fictitious as are the Gods that are to send it. Let all Virgins therefore religiously observe this part of Obedience to their parents, that they may not only have their benediction but Gods. And to that purpose let this be laid as a fundamental rule, that they never harken to any proposal of marriage made them from any other hand; but when any such overture is made, divert the address from her self and direct it to her parents, which will be the best test imaginable for any pretender: for if he know himself worthy of her, he wil not fear to avow his design to them; and therefore if he decline that, 'tis a certain symptom, he is conscious of somthing that he knows wil not give a valuable consideration; so that this course will repel no suitor but such as it is their interest not to admit. Besides tis most agreeable to the virgin modesty, which should make marriage an act rather of their obedience then their choise; and they that think their friends too flow paced in the matter, and seek to outrun them, give cause to suspect they are spurr'd on by somwhat too warm desires.

22. But as a Daughter is neither to anticipate, nor contradict the will of her Parent, so (to hang the ballance even) I must say she is not obliged to force her own, by marrying wher she cannot love; for a negative voice in the case is sure as much the child's right as the Parent's. It is true she ought well to examine the grounds of her aversion, and if they prove only childish and fanciful, should endeavor to correct them by reason and sober consideration; but if after all she cannot leave to hate, I think she should not proceed to marry. I confess I see not how she can without a sacrilegious hypocrisie, vow so solemnly to love where she at the instant actually abhors: and where the married state is begun with such a perjury, 'tis no wonder to find it continued on at the same rate, that other parts of the vow be also violated; and that she observe the negative part no more then the positive, and as little forsake others, as she does heartily cleave to her husband. I fear this is a consequence wherof there are too many sad instances now extant; for tho doubtless, there are some Vertues which wil hold out against all the temtations their a versions can give, nay which do at last even conquer those a versions, and render their duty as easie as they have kept it safe; yet we find there are but some that do so: that it is no inseparable property of the sex, and therefore it is sure too hazardous an experiment for any of them to venture on.

23. And if they may not upon the more generous motive of Obedience, much less may they upon the worse inducements of Avarice and Ambition; for a woman to make a vow to the man, and yet intend only to marry his fortune, or his title, is the basest insincerity and such as in any other kind of civil contracts, would not only have the infamy but the punishment of a cheat. Nor will it at all secure them, that this is only liable to Gods tribunal, for that is not like to make the doom less but more heavy, it being as the Apostle witnesses, a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Heb. 20. 31. In a word, marriage is Gods ordinance, & should be consider'd as such; not made a stale to any unworthy design. And it may well be presum'd one cause why so few matches are happy, that they are not built upon a right foundation. Some are grounded upon wealth, some on beauty, too sandy bottoms God knows to raise any lasting felicity on: whilst in the interim, vertu & piety, the only solid Basis for that superstructure, are scarce ever consider'd. Thus God is commonly left out of the consultation. The Lawyers are resorted to, to secure the settlements all sorts of Artificers to make up the equipage, but he is neither advis'd with as to the motives, nor scarce supplicated as to the event of wedding. Indeed tis a deplorable sight to see with what lightness & unconcernedness young people go to that weightiest action of their livs, that a mariage day is but a kind of Bacchanal, a more licensed a vowed revel, when if they duly consider'd it, 'tis the hinge upon which their future life moves, which turns them over to a happy or miserable being; & therfore ought to be enter'd upon with the greatest seriousness and devotion. Our Church advises excellently in the preface to matrimony, & I wish they would not only give it the hearing at the time, but make it their study a good while before: yea and the marriage-vow too, which is so strict and awful a bond, that methinks they had need well weigh every branch of it, ere they enter it; and by the ferventest praiers implore that God, who is the witness, to be their assistant too in its performance.

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