1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Frances Wright

A Man of the World, "Miss Frances Wright" The Ariel [Philadelphia] 2 (21 February 1829) 172.



We take pleasure in inserting the following notice in our columns, taken from the New York Commercial Advertiser, which deserves great praise for its successful shafts against the spread of Miss Wright's infidel principles.

The first number of Miss Wright's Free Enquirer has at length made its appearance. To the citizens of New York, who have been heretofore happily removed from the scenes of infidel warfare, and who were therefore unacquainted with the mode of combat of Deistical writers, the contents of this paper will be a source of considerable surprise. There has been such a flourish of trumpets preceding the entrance of this literary Semiramia — we have been so deafened by the clamor and chatterings of this petticoated infidel, that many of us, in our simplicity, imagined that some new and irresistible attack was to be made on the pillars of our support in this world, and our hope after death; but the surprise is over, and with it our fear. The blasphemous. Journal has appeared; and a more empty, insignificant, and tedious paper — a paper evincing more intellectual imbecility has not been sent forth in our city. No wit — no reasoning — no facts — no theories — no sense are to be seen; no writing above the mediocrity of a schoolboy's theme; nothing to save the reader from unmitigated ennui, but an occasional audacious profanity, which excites, for the poor creatures whose infatuated guilt has produced it, at once, the reader's horror and compassion—

Persist, by reason, sense and law unaw'd,
But learn, ye dunces, not to scorn your god!

No! — such of our fellow creatures as have been startled by the threatenings of our modern Atheists, may rest assured that what the reasoning of Diderot, and Hume and Gibbon could not shake — what the wit of Voltaire and Byron assailed in vain; against which Bolingbroke splintered his dazzling weapon — will never be injured by Frances Wright & Robert Dale Owen. Nor will the humble believer in his Bible's truth — "a truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew" — be endangered in his treasured faith; for the Free Enquirer is as unattractive to the unlettered, as it is contemptible to the cultivated reader.

This Frances Wright is nothing new in the philosophical world. She is the mere imitator of Mary Wolstoncraft, whose "Rights of Woman" attracted such attention thirty years ago; but an imitator without the seductive eloquence, and what is better, without the innate loveliness of her prototype. We have read all Miss Wright's trash about "Priestcraft — reason, and the tyranny over woman," when she was ten years old, and in far better language, than that of the Free Enquirer. The world has read it too; and yet woman remains, what Miss Wright by example and precept would destroy, the chaste wife and constant friend of man — supporting the two extremes of life, and charming and delighting its interval.

What might not Miss Frances Wright have been, if niggard, or rather too redundant nature had not disqualified her to be an interesting woman? Start not at this remark, philosophic Frances! it is only Mr. Owen's theory of Circumstances. According to your doctrine, circumstances might have made Caesar himself but the "best wrestler on the green." Ah! had generous nature given a pretty foot, it had never worn a blue stocking; had the waist been "fine by degrees, and beautifully less," it had never been exhibited to the coarse stare of the theatre gallery; had the mouth been handsome, although

The apothegm were light as air,
Yet red the lips — and oh! what wisdom there;

In short, had the philosopher been a pretty girl, the honest mother of a numberless family had been made, of what is now a sterile spinster, fruitful only in crazy theories, and unsexed atheism. To leave Poetry, which has certainly little connexion with my subject, it is a curious speculation, but true as the doctrine of circumstances, that cruel disabilities of nature to shine in the domestic circle, have produced the modern exhibition, which Lavater says, is more disgusting than a "woman with a beard."

In taking leave of the subject, I congratulate all who reverence Religion, on the character of the Free Enquirer. It can do no harm, but to those who furnish the "Royal Quarto" and the printing ink. It carries its antidote with it. Inaccurate as the "Tour in America," — fabulous as "the Days in Athens," — and chimerical as the "Institutions of New Harmony," its imbecile dulness renders it harmlessly wicked.