Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"The pleasures of the world are deceitful," 1728

Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Susan reporting:

As we saw yesterday with Regency courtesan Harriette Wilson, cheerfully, willfully bad girls are not a modern invention. Alexander Pope famously (if cynically) noted in 1735:

Men, some to Business, some to Pleasure take,
But every Woman is, at heart, a Rake:
Men, some to Quiet, some to public Strife,
But every Lady would be Queen for life.

Clearly this was enough to worry careful 18th c. parents of daughters. Then, as now, publishers happily answered the call, and London booksellers offered a wealth of cautionary guides for ladies. Sobriety, modesty, decorum, piety, and other traditional virtues are all preached on their pages, if not necessarily heeded by their readers. (Yes, Harriette, we mean you.)

Among the most popular of these conduct books was the 1728 Advice of a Mother to her Daughter by the Marquise de Lambert (1647-1733), which was translated into English and published in many editions throughout the century, an early self-help bestseller. Still, one suspects that more girls were breathlessly devouring the romantic trials and attempted seductions of Pamela and Clarissa (two more Georgian bestsellers by Samuel Richardson), than these somber words from the marquise:

The pleasures of the world are deceitful; they promise more than they perform; the quest of them is full of anxiety: their enjoyment is far from yielding any true satisfaction, and their loss is attended with vexation....Honours and riches have no charms that are lasting for any length of time...Pleasures when they grow familiar, lose their relish. Before you have tasted them, you may do without them; whereas enjoyment makes that necessary to you, which was once superfluous, and you are worse at your ease than you were before...and when you lose them, they leave you nothing but emptiness and want.

If you're feeling in need of more edification, Advice continues to be available in many different versions. Here it's included in a compilation of conduct manuals: The Young Lady's Pocket Library, or Parental Monitor, reprinted from a 1790 edition, and here, as a Google book of an 1800 edition.

Above: Mr. B. snatches Pamela's letter to her parents and reads it, illustration from Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, 1742.

4 comments:

Felicity Flower said...

That's an awesome quote about "every woman's a rake." Pope may be cynical, but I think he sounds like he's running scared, too. Wonder who the lady was who traumatized him?

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe that anyone would read PAMELA or CLARISSA without being forced to do it is, though Lady de Lambert looks like she could drive you to it.

Lady Burgley said...

Agreed, Richardson can be slow-going.
But thank you ladies once again for referring us to the free e-books to be found on-line. What a splendid resource for all of us lucky enough to be getting readers for Christmas!

Jane O said...

I got a terrible sunburn reading Clarissa when I was a student. I was expecting to hate it, so I thought I might as well get some sun while reading it, so I went out on the dorm roof to lie down with it.

Well, I was completely enthralled and lost all track of time. I was in pain for a week thereafter, but I must confess, contrary to all my expectations, I loved the book. I suppose it was partly that the interest was so unexpected. Still, I cannot recall the book without feeling a certain burning sensation on my back.

Life is full of surprises.

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