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Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Gentlewoman's Companion: or, A Guide to the Female Sex, an electronic edition

by Hannah Woolley [Woolley, Hannah, fl. 1670]

date: 1675
source publisher: Printed by A. Maxwell for Edward Thomas
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

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The duty and qualification of a Governess to Gentlemen's Children

They who undertake the difficult Employ of being an Instructress or Governess of Children should be persons of no mean birth and breeding, civil in deportment, and of an extraordinary winning and pleasing conversation. They should not be harsh in expression, nor severe in correcting such as are under their charge; but instruct them with all mildness, cheerfully incouraging them in what they are injin'd to perform; not suddenly striking, nor startling them with a loud rebuke, which causeth in some an oversees to what they should love, embittering all the former delight they had in learning. Whereas if you woe them with soft words, you will soon find them won by the testimony of their good works.

There is so much servility in rigor and restraint, that of consequence there can be no greater enemy to Ingenuity and good nature. Fools are to be always bald upon, and blows are fitter for beasts than rational creatures; wherefore there can northing more engage an ingenious generous soul, than cheerfulness and liberty; not over-frightened. I have often observed the many ill consequences which attends an unadvised severity. A Gentlewoman of my acquaintance, who was well-born and bred, and every way accomplisht for a Tutoress to young Ladies, lost all her employment in | | 5 that faulty, by her irresistible passion. Another in Dorsetshire being somewhat aged, and suspecting her strength was not able to grapple with active youth call'd up her mail to her assistance, with whose help she so cruelly chastised a young Gentlewoman for some fault she had committed, that with grief and shame, she died in a little time after. Many more instances I could insert, but I shall forbear to publish further the shame of such inconsiderate rashness.

As I must condemn the insolent severity of such a Governess, so I must not let pass without reproof the tyranny of some Mothers, whose presence makes their Children tremble, without the commission of a fault, by which means they many times with their imperviousness frighten their love into an abhorrency of their fight, to be sure they make them tell many a lye to excuse their negligence, (which otherwise they would not do) only that for that time they might escape the rigor of their punishment. Yet I would not have any mistake me in my perswading young Gentlewomen to be used mildly, and tenderly, that I intend thereby their over-indulgence, so as to let their tender age rust in sloth and vanity; all that I would have a Mother do, is, that she would be moderate in the correction of an offence, left by correcting one she commit another, and so transgress that positive command in holy Writ, Parents provoke not your children to wrath.

A Governess is to study diligently the nature, disposition, and inclination of those she is to teach; and so by suiting their humours, make their study the more facile, by how much it is more pleasant | | 6 to them, praising such and such of their own age that are thus and thus qualified, which will breed in them an emulation to tread in their footsteps. If she finds any addicted to reading let her ask the question, What she thinks of such a Book she hath read: by the answer she may easily conjecture at the strength of her intellect: If she find her a lover of conversation, it will not b amiss to ask what she thinks of such a Gentlewoman or Gentleman whose Virtues she hath a great esteem for, when she hath return'd an answer to the demand, let the Governess require a reason for her so saying, which in the approving or condemning will not only make the Scholar cautious of what she delivers, but give a great insight both into her disposition and understanding.

Whatever she doth, let her have a special care in obstructing the growth of evil manners, and in graft the good, still in the very birth those corruptions which will grow in the purest natures without an indefatigable circumspection.

Countenance not an untruth by any means, especially if they stand in it; this is a very great Vice and argues an inclination impudently vicious: There is a fault contrary to this, and shall be reckoned in the number of infirmities, which by an over-modesty, and too much bashfulness, a young Maid cannot hold up her head when spoken to; and if askt a question, would blush, as if by some gross miscarriage she had lately contracted a guilt. This sudden alteration of the countenance may breed an underserv'd suspition, and therefore it ought to be corrected discreetly with good instruction. Favour not obstinacy by any means, for flattery | | 7 in this café will spoil the Gentlewoman.

Be the incessant tormentor of her sloth, left by proving burdensome to others, she at length becomes so to her self, by which means her understanding starves, and her body contracts an Hospital of Diseases. This you may remedy by suffering her nor to sleep over long, left the spirits be over-dull'd, as well as by too little rest.

If the season be dry, walk them in the fields; if not, some moderate exercise within doors, which will be instrumental in keeping them from the knowledg of the Physician. And now since Nature only gives us a being; and Education, a well-being; the Parent or Governess ought to have a special care how she seasons youth with what is most conductible to the orderly and prudent management of the concerns of this life; let such a Foundation be therefore laid which may sufficiently promise the Parents a happy issue, when their Children shall arrive to maturity of age.

Letters undoubtedly is the fist step to the perfection of knowled, by which means they come to improve their own understandings by the help of others: Reading, furisheth them with agreeable discourse, and adapts them for the conversation of the most ingenious, without which I know not how the fancy can be supplied with what is acceptable to the Auditor. How little would conversation signifie, did not reading on all occasions find matter for discourse. The want of which hath made so many Country Gentlewomen stand like so many Mutes or Statues when they have hapried into the company of the ingenious; their quaint expressions have seem'd to them | | 8 Arabian sentences; and have stated like so many distracted persons, in that they should hear the sound of English, and yet understand but here and there a word of their own language. The consideration hereof is sufficient one would think to make the preposterous suspitions of some to vanish, who vainly imagine that Books are Womens Academies, wherein they learn to do evil with greater subtilry and cunning; whereas the helps of Learning, which are attained from thence, not only fortifies the best inclinations, but enlargeth a mean capacity to a great perfection.

Having thus proved, That the reading Books doth much conduce to the improving the understanding of young Gentlewomen, it behoverth the Governess to be careful in her choice of them. In the first place let them read some choice pieces of Piety, which may inflame their hearts with the love of God, and kindle in them ardent desires to be early followers of the Doctrine of Christ Jesus. Let there be a strict watch to keep unviolated the two gates of the Soul, the Ears and Eyes; let the last be imployed on good and proper Subjects, and there will be the less fear that the Ears should be surpriz'd by the conerse of such who delight in wanton and obscene discourses, which too often do pleasantly and privately insinuate themselves into the Ear, carrying with them that unwholsome air which infects and poysons the purity of the Soul.

I know it will be expected what sort of Books of Piety, I would recommend to the perusual of these Gentlewomen; London affords such plenty of them, I know not which to pitch on. Not to trouble you | | 9 with too many, take these which follow: Bishop Ushers Body of Divinity Mr. Swinnocks Christian calling. Mr. Firmins Real Christian. Mr. James Faneways book, Intituled, Acquaintance with God be-times; and his Token for Children when they are young.

Some may imagine, that to read Romances after such practical Books of Divinity, will not only be a vain thing, but will absolutely overthrow that fabrick I endeavoured to erect: I am of a contrary opinion, and do believe such Romnaces which treat of Generosity, Gallantry, and Virtue, as Cassandra, Clelia, Grand Cyrus, Cleopatra, Parthenissa, not omitting Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia, are Books altogether worthy of their Observation. There are few Ladies mention'd therein, but are character's what they ought to be the magnanimity, virtue, gallantry, patience, constancy, and curage of the men, might intitle them worthy Husbands to the most deserving of the female sex. Thus having qualified them for reading, you should so practice them in their pengas nor to be ignorant in a Point de Venice, & all the Productions of the Needle, with all the curious devices of Wal-mark, Rock-work, Moss work, Cabinet-work, Beugle-work, etc. and in due time let them know how to Prserve, Conserve, Dissil; with all those laudable Sciences which adorn a compleat Gentlewoman.

Having thus characteriz'd in part, what a Governess ought to be, I shall with your leave and patience give you some account of my self.

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