1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Robinson

A Friend to the Fair, "To the Editor" Lady's Monthly Museum 6 (April 1801) 259.



SIR,

It is a common, though I am not inclined to think it a judicious, observation, that "it is wrong to advert to the failings of the dead." — Now, Sir, I must beg leave to inform you that I not only differ from this opinion, but am convinced that, if a just degree of stigma were publicly attached to disgraceful actions, it would frequently be the means of preventing the practice of them.

It was a custom amongst some of the ancients not only to attach the severest reproach to the memory of depraved characters, but even the interests of their children were injured by their vices, as they were prevented from filling any public offices of state. How far this practice may be reconciled to our ideas of justice, I shall not pretend to say; but merely inform you, Sir, that I have been led to make these observations from having seen an eulogium in your last month's MUSEUM upon a character absolutely notorious in the annals of intrigue.

It is not, Mr. Editor, that I mean to doubt those qualities which Mrs. Robinson's historian informs us she possessed, or that I suppose the mind which is lost to delicacy and virtue must necessarily be devoid of every other grace; but I would not have characters held up to general esteem that have publicly trampled upon the laws of virtue.

To Mrs. Robinson's genius I offer the tribute of applause; to her misfortunes I subscribe a voluntary tear; but the errors of her conduct call forth my contempt.

At a period of time when both both delicacy and virtue seem upon the wane, and modest Diffidence is driven from her seat; when conjugal infidelity is openly esteemed, and splendor is a passport for infamy and vice, we surely want not public panegyrics upon characters which have been lost to decency and shame.

Modesty is allowed to be a female's choicest possession, and it is necessary to guard it with unremitting care; but so completely are they lost to their own interest, and so little do they seem to know what the valuable part of our sex admire, that, instead of that interesting diffidence which used modestly to shrink from the public gaze, we now behold young women not only courting partial attention, but adorning their persons in a manner that must necessarily produce a general stare.

Were this practice, Mr. Editor, merely adopted by the young and thoughtless, some few palliatives might be offered in excuse; but what shall we say of those injudicious mothers, who, instead of checking this imprudence in their children's conduct, not only suffer, but countenance and encourage it; and, by the extravagant folly of their own appearance, license them to dress in whatever way they please?

If these sentiments, Mr. Editor, should meet with your approbation, and you think them worthy of being presented before the public eye, I flatter myself they may tend to promote decency, though they may not be able to check the career of vice.

I am, Sir, with much esteem,

Your faithful admirer,

A FRIEND TO THE FAIR.

The EDITOR assures this correspondent, and his Readers in general, that he is very sorry that the Article alluded to was inserted. It did not at the moment appear to him in the same light as it has since done.