Lady Montagu, Joseph Addison, & Sir Richard Steele


Lady Montagu's Biography

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu went after what she wanted in life-even when that meant defying social customs. For example, although the custom of the time was for women to receive less education than men, the young Montagu sneaked a Latin dictionary and grammar book from her family's library and secretly taught herself the language. She defied convention at twenty-three, when she chose not to marry man her father had arranged for her and eloped instead with the man she loved, Edward Wortley Montagu.
When her husband was appointed ambassador to Turkey in 1716, she embraced the culture, learning Turkish, visiting mosques, and even getting to know harem women. She noticed the efectiveness of the Turkish practice of immunizing children against smallpox, a disease that had marred her beauty when she was a young woman. When her husband was recalled to England in 1718, she pushed English doctors toadopt this immunization practice--and succeeded. She also composed a series of letters dealing with feminism. By this time, Lady Mary's relationship with her husband become formal and impersonal. After twenty-five years of marriage, during which she had raised a son and daughter, Montagu separated from her husband and spent the next twenty years living in ltaly and France. She died of cancer at the age of seventy-three, shortly after returning to London.

Lady Montagu's "Letter to Her Daughter"

Dear Child,
You have given me a great deal of satisfaction by your account of your eldest daughter. I am particularly pleased to hear she is a good arithmetician; it is the best proof of understanding. The knowledge of numbers is one of the chief distinctions between us and brutes. If there is anything in blood, you may reasonably expect your children should be endowed with an uncommon share of good sense. Mr. Wortley's family and mine have both produced some of the greatest men that have been born in England. I mean Admiral Sandwich and my great-grandfather who was distinguished by the name of Wise William. I have heard Lord Bute's father mentioned as an extraordinary genius (though he had not many opportunities of showing it), and his uncle the present Duke of Argyle has one of the best heads I ever knew.
I will therefore speak to you as supposing Lady Mary not only capable but desirous of learning. In that case, by all means let her be indulged in it. You will tell me I did not make it a part of your education. Your prospect was very different from hers, as you had no defect either in mind or person to hinder, and much in your circumstances to attract, the highest offers. It seemed your business to learn how to live in the world, as it is hers to know how to be easy out of it. It is the common error of builders and parents to follow some plan they think beautiful (and perhaps is so) without considering that nothing is beautiful that is misplaced. Hence we see so many edifices raised that the raisers can never inhabit, being too large for their fortunes. Vistas are laid open over barren heaths, and apartments contrived for a coolness very agreeable in Italy but killing in the north of Britain. Thus every woman endeavors to breed her daughter a fine lady, qualifying her for a station in which she will never appear, and at the same time incapacitating her for that retirement to which she is destined. Learning (if she has a real taste for it) will not only make her contented but happy in it. No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet.. To render this amusement extensive, she should be permitted to learn the languages. I have heard it lamented that boys lose so many years in mere learning of words. This is no objection to a girl, whose time is not so precious. She cannot advance herself in any profession and has, therefore, more hours to spare; and as you say her memory is good, she will be very agreeably employed this way.
There are two cautions to be given on this subject: first, not to think herself learned when she can read Latin or even Greek. Languages are more properly to be called vehicles of learning than learning itself, as may be observed in many schoolmasters, who though perhaps critics in grammar are the most ignorant fellows upon earth. True knowledge consists in knowing things, not words. I would wish her no further a linguist than to enable her to read books in their originals, that are often corrupted and always injured by translations. Two hours' application every morning will bring this about much sooner than you can imagine, and she will have leisure enough besides to run over the English poetry, which is a more important part of a woman's education than it is generally supposed. Many a young damsel has been ruined by a fine copy of verses, which she would have laughed at if she had known it had been stolen from Mr. Waller: I remember when I was a girl, I saved one of my companions from destruction, who communicated to me an epistle she was quite charmed with. As she had a natural good taste, she observed the lines were not so smooth as Prior's or Pope's, but had more thought and spirit than any of theirs. She was wonderfully delighted with such a demonstration of her lover's sense and passion, and not a little pleased with her own charms, that had force enough to inspire such elegancies. In the midst of this triumph, I showed her they were taken from Randolph's Poems, and the unfortunate transcriber was dismissed with the scorn he deserved. To say truth, the poor plagiary was very unlucky to fall into my hands; that author, being no longer in fashion, would have escaped anyone of less universal reading than myself. You should encourage your daughter to talk over with you what she reads, and as you are very capable of distinguishing, take care she does not mistake pert folly for wit and humor, or rhyme for poetry, which are the common errors of young people, and have a train of ill consequences.
The second caution to be given her (and which is most absolutely necessary) is to conceal whatever learning she attains, with as much solicitude as she would hide crookedness or lameness. The parade of it can only serve to draw on her the envy, and consequently the most inveterate hatred of all he and she fools, which will certainly be at least three parts in four of all her acquaintance. The use of knowledge in our sex (beside the amusement of solitude) is to moderate the passions and learn to be contented with a small expense, which are the certain effects of a studious life and, it may be, preferable even to that fame which men have engrossed to themselves and will not suffer us to share. You will tell me I have not observed this rule myself, but you are mistaken; it is only inevitable accident that has given me any reputation that way. I have always carefully avoided it and ever thought it a misfortune.
The explanation of this paragraph would occasion a long digression, which I will not trouble you with, it being my present design only to say what I think useful for the instruction of my granddaughter, which I have much at heart. If she has the same inclination (I should say passion) for learning that I was born with, history, geography, and philosophy will furnish her with materials to pass away cheerfully a longer life than is allotted to mortals. I believe there are few heads capable of making Sir Isaac Newton's calculations, but the result of them is not difficult to be understood by a moderate capacity. Do not fear this should make her affect the character of Lady_____ or Lady or Mrs._____. Those women are ridiculous, not because they have learning but because they have it not. One thinks herself a complete historian after reading Echard's Roman History, another a profound philosopher having got by heart some of Pope's unintelligible essays, and a third an able divine on the strength of Whitefield's sermons. Thus you hear them screaming politics and controversy. It is a saying of Thucydides: Ignorance is bold, and knowledge reserved. Indeed, it is impossible to be far advanced in it without being more humbled by a conviction of human ignorance than elated by learning.
At the same time I recommend books, I neither exclude work nor drawing I think it as scandalous for a woman not to know how to use a needle as for a man not to know how to use a sword. I was once extreme fond of my pencil, and it was a great mortification to me when my father turned off my master, having made a considerable progress for the short time I learned. My overeagerness in the pursuit of it had brought a weakness on my eyes that made it necessary to leave it off, and all the advantage I got was the improvement of my hand. I see by hers that practice will make her a ready writer. She may attain it by serving you for a secretary when your health or affairs make it troublesome to you to write yourself, and custom will make it an agreeable amusement to her. She cannot have too many for that station in life which will probably be her fate. The ultimate end of your education was to make you a good wife (and I have the comfort to hear that you are one); hers ought to be to make her happy in a virgin state. I will not say it is happier, but it is undoubtedly safer than any marriage. In a lottery where there is (at the lowest computation) ten thousand blanks to a prize, it is the most prudent choice not to venture.
I have always been so thoroughly persuaded of this truth that notwithstanding the flattering views I had for you (as I never intended you a sacrifice to my vanity) I thought lowed you the justice to lay before you all the hazards attending matrimony. You may recollect I did so in the strongest manner. Perhaps you may have more success in the instructing your daughter. She has so much company at home she will not need seeking it abroad, and will more readily take the notions you think fit to give her. As you were alone in my family, it would have been thought a great cruelty to suffer you no companions of your own age, especially having so many near relations, and I do not wonder their opinions influenced yours. I was not sorry to see you not determined on a single life, knowing it was not your father's intention, and contented myself with endeavoring to make your home so easy that you might not be in haste to leave it.
I am afraid you will think this a very long and insignificant letter. I hope the kindness of the design will excuse it, being willing to give you every proof in my power that I am your most affectionate mother, M. Wortfey

"Letter to Her Daughter" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What is Montagu's reaction to the news that her granddaughter is good at arithmetic? What reason does she give for feeling this way?
2. Montagu says that languages ought to be called "vehicles of learning" rather than "learning" itself. What might she mean by this?
3. What reason does Montagu give for recommending that her granddaughter be taught ". . . to conceal whatever learning she attains"?
4. Besides being taught to read books, what else does Montagu believe her granddaughter's education should include? What does this tell you about women's education during this period?

Evaluate and Connect
5. In your opinion, would Montagu have agreed with Alexander Pope's aphorism, "A little learning is a dangerous thing"? Why or why not?
6. How might Lady Montagu's daughter respond to her advice? Might she share some of the same reactions you explored in the Reading Focus on page 550?
7. Describe the life Montagu recommends for her granddaughter. Would you like to lead such a life? Explain.
8. If Montagu were advising Lady Bute on the education of a grandson, in what ways might her advice differ? Do you think there are similar differences between men's and women's education today? Explain.

Joseph Addison's Biography

(1672-1719), was an English author and politician. He is best known for his collaboration with Sir Richard Steele in writing and publishing The Spectator, a series of 555 popular essays published in 1711 and 1712. These essays were intended to improve manners and morals, raise the cultural level of the middle-class reader, and popularize serious ideas in science and philosophy. Most of the essays deal with social behavior, love and marriage, and literature. Addison wrote with charm and polish, and Steele with liveliness and feeling.
The Spectator became popular because it expressed in a natural but sophisticated manner the ideals admired by its readers. The essays also gave middle-class readers a pleasant sense of self-improvement in manners and taste. To add to the interest of the essays, Addison and Steele introduced a set of representative English characters. The most famous of these characters was the simple but delightful country squire, Sir Roger de Coverley.
Addison also contributed to The Tatler (1709-1711), a periodical started by Steele. Addison's verse tragedy, Cato (1713), ran for a month on the London stage and was admired for its patriotic sentiments. Addison was born in Milston in Wiltshire. While attending Oxford University from 1687 to 1699, he earned a reputation as a classical scholar. He was rather reserved, but his personal charm and wit won him powerful friends in London. Addison entered politics after achieving sensational success with a patriotic poem, "The Campaign" (1704), which described the English victory in the Battle of Blenheim. He served in Parliament from 1708 until his death and also held several government appointments. In 1717, Addison was appointed secretary of state. Illness forced him to resign in 1718.

Sir Richard Steele's Biography

(1672-1729), an Irish-born writer, created the popular journalistic essays that were published as The Tatler. He worked with Joseph Addison in writing the essays published as The Spectator. The Tatler (1709-1711) dealt in a humorous, good-natured way with family life, the theater, and literature. Steele tried to inform and entertain his readers, especially women, and to develop their taste. Steele did most of the writing in The Tatler, though Addison helped him. Addison contributed more essays to The Spectator (1711-1712) than his friend did. Steele was a frank, warm person, and his essays are livelier than Addison's. Steele later published several less successful series of essays. He also wrote poems and four comic plays. The first play, The Funeral (1701), was very popular. His last play, The Conscious Lovers (1722), was the best example of sentimental comedy, which flourished in English drama during the 1700's.
Steele was born in Dublin. In 1684, he entered the Charterhouse School in London, where he began his long friendship with Addison, a fellow student. Steele went to Oxford University in 1689, but left without a degree to join the army. He served several terms in Parliament beginning in 1713. He was knighted in 1715.

"Sir Roger de Coverley" by Sir Richard Steele

Friday, March 2, 1711
The first of our society is a gentleman of Worcestershire, of ancient descent, a baronet, his name Sir Roger de Coverley. His greatgrandfather was inventor of that famous country-dance! which is called after him. All who know that shire are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger. He is a gentleman that is very singular in his behavior, but his singularities proceed from his good sense and are contradictions to the manners of the world only as he thinks the world is in the wrong. However, this humor creates him no enemies, for he does nothing with sourness or obstinacy; and his being unconfined to modes and forms makes him but the readier and more capable to please and oblige all who know him. When he is in town, he lives in Soho Square. It is said he keeps himself a bachelor by reason he was crossed in love by a perverse, beautiful widow of the next county to him. Before this disappointment, Sir Roger was what you call a fine gentleman, had often supped with my Lord Rochester and Sir George Etherege, fought a duel upon his first coming to town, and kicked Bully Oawson in a public coffeehouse for calling him "youngster." But being ill used by the above-mentioned widow, he was very serious for a year and a half; and though, his temper being naturally jovial, he at last got over it, he grew careless of himself and never dressed afterwards. He con- tinues to wear a coat and doublet of the same cut that were in fashion at the time of his repulse, which, in his merry humors, he tells us, has been in and out twelve times since he first wore it. . . . He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty; keeps a good house both in town and country; a great lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behavior that he is rather beloved than esteemed. His tenants grow rich, his servants look satisfied, all the young women profess love to him, and the young men are glad of his company; when he comes into a house, he calls the servants by their names and talks all the way upstairs to a visit. I must not omit that Sir Roger is a justice of the quorum; that he fills the chair at a quarter-session with great abilities; and three months ago gained universal applause by explaining a passage in the Game Act.

"Sir Roger de Coverley" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Describe Sir Roger's "singularities." How does the essay account for these singularities?
2. What "disappointment" did Sir Roger suffer? How has it affected him?
3. What evidence from the selection supports the statement that Sir Roger is "rather beloved than esteemed"? What is the difference between being beloved and esteemed?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Might you enjoy meeting Sir Roger? Why or why not?
5. Do you think this description of Sir Roger is meant to be a caricature, an exaggeration of certain individual qualities for ridiculous effect? Support your answer.

Joseph Addison's "Country Manners"

The first and most obvious reflections which arise in a man who changes the city for the country are upon the different manners of the people whom he meets with in those two different scenes of life. By manners I do not mean morals, but behavior and good breeding as they show themselves in the town and in the country.
And here, in the first place, I must observe a very great revolution that has happened in this article of good breeding. Several obliging deferences, condescensions, and submissions, with many outward forms and ceremonies that accompany them, were first of all brought up among the politer part of mankind, who lived in courts and cities and distinguished themselves from the rustic part of the species (who on all occasions acted bluntly and naturally) by such a mutual complaisance and intercourse of civilities. These forms of conversation by degrees multiplied and grew troublesome; the modish world found too great a constraint in them, and have therefore thrown most of them aside. Conversation was so encumbered with show and ceremony that it stood in need of a reformation to retrench its superfluities and restore its natural good sense and beauty. At present, therefore, an unconstrained carriage and a certain openness of behavior are the height of good breeding. The fashionable world is grown free and easy; our manners sit more loose upon us; nothing is so modish as an agreeable negligence. In a word, good breeding shows itself most where to an ordinary eye it appears the least.
If after this we look on the people of mode in the country, we find in them the manners of the last age. They have no sooner fetched themselves up to the fashion of a polite world, but the town has dropped them, and are nearer to the first stage of nature than to those refinements which formerly reigned in the court and still prevail in the country. One may now know a man that never conversed in the world by his excess of good breeding. A polite country squire shall make you as many bows in half an hour as would serve a courtier for a week. There is infinitely more to do about place and precedency in a meeting of justices wives than in an assembly of duchesses.
This rural politeness is very troublesome to a man of my temper who generally takes the chair that is next me and walks first or last, in the front or in the rear, as chance directs. I have known my friend Sir Roger's dinner almost cold before the company could adjust the ceremonial and be prevailed upon to sit down; and have heartily pitied my old friend when I have seen him forced to pick and cull his guests, as they sat at the several parts of his table, that he might drink their healths according to their respective ranks and qualities. Honest Will Wimble, who I should have thought had been altogether uninfected with ceremony, gives me abundance of trouble in this particular. Though he has been fishing all the morning, he will not help himself at dinner till I am served. When we are going out of the hall, he runs behind me; and last night, as we were walking in the fields, stopped short at a stile till I came up to it and, upon my making signs to him to get over, told me, with a serious smile, that sure I believed they had no manners in the country.
There has happened another revolution in the point of good breeding which relates to the conversation among men of mode and which I cannot but look upon as very extraordinary. It was certainly one of the first distinctions of a well-bred man to express everything that had the most remote appearance of being obscene in modest terms and distant phrases; whilst the clown, who had no such delicacy of conception and expression, clothed his ideas in those plain homely terms that are the most obvious and natural. This kind of good manners was perhaps carried to an excess so as to make conversation too stiff, formal, and precise; for which reason (as hypocrisy in one age is generally succeeded by atheism in another) conversation is in a great measure relapsed into the first extreme; so that at present several of our men of the town, and particularly those who have been polished in France, make use of the most coarse, uncivilized words in our language and utter themselves often in such a manner as a clown would blush to hear.
This infamous piece of good breeding, which reigns among the coxcombs of the town, has not yet made its way into the country; and as it is impossible for such an irrational way of conversation to last long among a people that makes any profession of religion or show of modesty, if the country gentlemen get into it, they will certainly be left in the lurch. Their good breeding will come too late to them, and they will be thought a parcel of lewd clowns, while they fancy themselves talking together like men of wit and pleasure.
As the two points of good breeding, which I have hitherto insisted upon, regard behavior and conversation, there is a third which turns upon dress. In this too the country are very much behindhand. The rural beaus are not yet got out of the fashion that took place at the time of the Revolution but ride about the country in red coats and laced hats; while the women in many parts are still trying to outvie one another in the height of their headdresses.
But a friend of mine, who is now upon the western circuit, having promised to give me an account of the several modes and fashions that prevail in the different parts of the nation through which he passes, I shall defer the enlarging upon this last topic till I have received a letter from him, which I expect every post.

"Country Manners" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Summarize the basic difference described between polite behavior in the country and in the city. Why is the narrator troubled by the "rural politeness" he experiences?
2. What is "extraordinary" about the latest trend in conversation? Why might this trend be disastrous to the country people who follow it?
3. Describe the narrator's observations about fashion. What do his observations suggest about his opinion of country folk? Explain your answer.

Evaluate and Connect
4. Theme Connections How is "Country Manners" a work of criticism? Support your answer with evidence from the selection.
5. With what ways of behaving and dressing do people today find fault? Why?