- Book: The Gentlewomans Companion
- Section: What Recreations and Pleasures are most fitting and proper for young Gentlewomen.
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What Recreations and Pleasures are most fitting and proper for young Gentlewomen.
REcreations which are most proper and suitable to Ladies, may be rankt under four principal heads, Musick, Dancing, Limning62 and Reading. Of Dancing I have already lightly treated on in the directions for your deportment at Balls63 ; however this I will say further of it, that though the Romans had no very great esteem for it as may appear by Salusts speaking of Sempronia64 , She danced better than became a virtuous Lady, yet the mode and humour of these times look upon it not only as a generous and becoming property, but look upon Gentility ill bred if not thorowly acquainted therewith; and to speak the truth it is the best and readiest way to put the body into a graceful posture; behaviour must of necessity halt without it; and how will you blush when you come into a mixt society, where each person strives to shew her utmost art and skill in Dancing, and you for the want thereof must stand still and appear like one whose body was well framed but wanted motion, or a soul to actuate it.
In the next place, Musick is without doubt an excellent quality; the ancient Philosophers were of the opinion, that Souls were made of Harmony; and that that Man or Woman could not be virtuously inclined who loved not Musick; wherefore without it a Lady or Gentlewoman can hardly be said to be absolutely accomplished.
Limning is an excellent qualification for a Gentlewoman to exercise and please her fance therein. There are many foreign Ladies that are excellent Artists herein; neither are there wanting Examples enough in his Majesty's three Kingdoms of such Gentlewomen, whose indefatigable industry in this laudable and ingenious Art may run parallel with such as make it their profession.
Some may add Stage-plays as a proper recreation for Gentlewomen; as to that (provided they have the consent of Parents or Governess) I shall leave them to make use of their own liberty, as they shall think convenient.
I am not ignorant that Stage-plays have been much envy'd at, and not without just cause; yet most certain it is, that by a wise use, and a right application of many things we hear and see contain'd therein, we may meet with many excellent precepts for instruction, and sundry great Examples for caution, and such notable passages, which being well applied (as what may not be perverted) will confer no small profit to the cautious and judicious Hearers. Edward the Sixth the Reformer of the English Church, did so much approve of Plays, that he appointed a Courtier eminent for wit and fancy to be the chief Officer in supervising, ordering, and disposing what should be acted or represented before his Majesty; which Office at this time retains the name of Master of the Revels. Queen Elizabeth, that incomparable Virtuous Princess, was pleased to term
20Plays the harmless Spenders of time, and largely contributed to the maintenance of the Authors and Actors of them.
But if the moderate recourse of Gentlewomen to Plays may be excused, certainly the daily and constant frequenting them, is as much to be condemned.
There are an hundred divertisements65 harmless enough, which a young Lady may find out, suitable to her inclination; but give me leave to find out one for her which hath the attendance of profit as well as pleasure and that is Reading.
Mistake me not; I mean the reading of Books whose subjects are noble and honourable. There are some in these later days so Stoical, that they will not allow any Books to Womankind, but such as may teach them to read, and the Bible. The most severe of them do willingly permit young Gentlewomen to converse with wise and learned men; I know not then by what strange nicety they would keep them from reading their Works. There are a sort of Religious men in foreign parts, who do not debar the people from knowing there is a Bible; yet they prohibit them from looking into it.
I would sain ask these sower Stoicks what can be desired for the ornament of the mind, which is not largely contain'd and exprest in Books; where Virtue is to be seen in all her lovely and glorious dresses, and Truth discovered in what manner soever it is desired. We may behold it in all its force, in the Philosophers; with all its purity in faithful Historians; with all its beauty and ornaments in golden-tongu'd Orators, and ingenious Poets.
In this pleasing variety (whatsoever your humour be) you may find matter for delectation66 and information. Reading is of most exquisite and requisite use, it for nothing but this that these dumb Teachers instruct impartially. Beauty, as well as Royalty, is constantly attended with more flatterers than true informers. To discover and acknowledg their faults, it is necessary that they sometimes learn of the dead what the living either dare not or are loth to tell them. Books are the true discoverers of the mind's imperfections, as a glass the faults of their face, herein shall they find Judges that cannot be corrupted with love or hate. The fair and the foul are both alike treated, having to do with such who have no other eyes but to put a difference betwen Virtue and Vice. In perswading you to read, I do not advise you should read all Books; advise with persons of understanding in your choice of Books; and fancy not their quantity for quantity but quality. For why should ye seek that in many which you may find in one? The Sun, whilst in our Hemisphere needs no other light but its own to illuminate the World. One Book may serve for a Library. The reading of few Books, is not to be less knowing, but to be the less troubled.
Page 19 - 63. The author provides a short discussion of proper female behavior at balls and the necessity of learning dance in a previous chapter entitled "Rules for a Gentlewomans Behaviour at a Ball."
Page 19 - 64. In his account of The Conspiracy of Catiline, Roman writer and historian Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86 B.C-35 B.C) refers to Sempronia, one of a number of accomplices to Lucius Catiline, who attempted to overthrow the Roman Senate during Pompey's absence in 64 B.C. According to Sallust, Catiline chose Sempronia because "she committed many crimes that showed her to have the reckless daring of a man" (192-3). Most striking about Sallust's description of Sempronia, as the author alludes to here, is that he reveals his own fear of women who are both learned and skilled in pursuits of pleasure. "Well educated in Greek and Latin literature," Sallust writes, "she had greater skill in lyre-playing and dancing than there is any need for a respectable woman to acquire, besides many other accomplishments such as minister to dissipation" (193). Sempronia is thus a fitting figure to appear in the seventeenth-century Companion, for Sallust's representation of her supports the stereotype that female education is incompatible with chastity.
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