Coda: From Discourse to a Theory of Feminization in the Essays of David Hume

  • E. J. Clery
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


At the time Elizabeth Carter’s translation of Epictetus appeared in 1758, the political climate in England had moved on from the prosperous stasis of the Pelham administration. The Seven Years’ War with France began in 1756, and after a disastrous start and the replacement of the Duke of Newcastle by William Pitt as head of the government, a few victories in Europe and the colonies were reported. The patriotic tendency of the discourse of feminization was quickly mobilized in the reception of Epictetus. The Monthly Review commented, ‘France can now no longer boast her Dacier, but must be compelled to own that our women excel theirs in Sense and Genius, as far as they surpass them in Modesty and Beauty’; George, Lord Lyttelton, observed in a letter to Mrs Montagu: ‘I have lately read over again our friend Miss Carter’s preface to Epictetus, and admire it more and more. I am also much struck with the poem prefixed to it by another female hand [Hester Mulso]. The English ladies will appear as much superior to the French in wit and in learning, as the men in arms.’1


Political Discourse Monthly Review Moral Legitimation Early Essay Virtuous Leader 
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  1. 4.
    Cit. F.T.H. Fletcher, Montesquieu and English Politics (1750–1800) (1939; Philadelphia, 1980) 162, 165. Ralph is quoted from The Case of Authors by Profession or Trade (1758), Cowper from Table Talk (1782). But Fletcher also cites more enthusiastic judgements from Voltaire, who believed Brown was responsible for reviving the fighting spirit of England, and from Burke, 165.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    The exceptions are Jerome Christensen, Practicing Enlightenment: Hume and the Formation of a Literary Career (Madison, 1987); and Barker-Benfield, Culture of Sensibility, 133–6. More recently, commentators on the bluestockings have pointed out the relevance of the Essays: see Guest, Small Change, 87–9, 238; and remarks by Grant, Eger and Kelly, in Eger et al., eds, Women, Writing and the Public Sphere, 85–6, 114, 165–6. Critics who have explored parallels between the philosophy of Hume and Richardson’s novels include Carol Kay, Political Constructions: Defoe, Richardson, and Sterne in Relation to Hobbes, Hume, and Burke (Ithaca and London, 1988); and Burgess, British Fiction, 59–64, but they focus on the Treatise and do not engage with issues raised by the Essays or relating to gender difference. In the 1741–2 volumes, other essays discussing women and their influence are ‘Of the Study of History’, ‘Of Moral Prejudices’, ‘the Epicurean’, in addition to ‘Of Love and Marriage’ and ‘Of Polygamy and Divorce’.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    David Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (revised edition, Indianapolis, 1985) 536. Page references will henceforth be given in brackets after quotes.Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    See J.A.W. Gunn, ‘Mandeville: poverty, luxury, and the Whig theory of government’, in Beyond Liberty and Property: The Process of Self-Recognition in Eighteenth-Century Political Thought (Kingston and Montreal, 1983) 96–119, especially 99–101 and 110–11. Gunn comments on the strangeness of continuing influence of the Machiavellian connection ‘between political libery and poverty’ (99).Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    See Paul Bowles, ‘John Millar, the four-stages theory, and women’s position in society’, History of Political Economy 16: 4 (1984) 619–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© E. J. Clery 2004

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