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‘Women that would plague me with rational conversation’: Aspiring Women and Scottish Whigs, c. 1790–1830

  • Jane Rendall

Abstract

The women whom, fifty years later, Eliza Fletcher represented as like herself, ‘aspiring or ambitious’ in early nineteenth-century Edinburgh society were, like Francis Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review from 1802, heirs to the Enlightenment in Scotland. The significance of the Scottish Enlightenment for the language employed about the condition of women in the early nineteenth century, and potentially for the social and political practice of women of the middling to upper ranks has still to be identified. Much recent work has suggested that both the conjectural histories of the condition of women shaped by John Millar and Lord Kames, and the language of ‘complacency’ and female sensibility employed by Henry Mackenzie and his associates, served to differentiate more sharply a ‘private and intimate domestic realm’ within which alone women’s moral powers and influence might be fulfilled.2 But most recently Mary Catherine Moran has argued that conjectural histories of the condition of women may be read rather as indicators of progress and refinement in the manners of men, implying a passivity for women, even if she also identified Millar’s qualified endorsement of a social role for women in a modernising commercial society as in ‘an intermediary social sphere that was thought to guarantee both civic and domestic virtue’.3 The emphasis of Millar and others on a progressive improvement in the situation of women, as a significant index of the development of a commercial and civilized society characterized by free institutions, could however be employed in more challenging ways.

Keywords

Civic Virtue Rational Conversation Intimate Friend Literary Woman Unhappy Marriage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    J. Dwyer, Virtuous Discourse. Sensibility and Community in Late Eighteenth Century Scotland (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987), pp. 117–137, here 137; idem, The Age of the Passions. An Interpretation of Adam Smith and Enlightenment Culture (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1998); M. Ignatieff, ‘John Millar and individualism’, in I. Hont and M. Ignatieff (eds), Wealth and Virtue. Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    M. C. Moran, ‘“The Commerce of the Sexes”: Civil Society and Polite Society in Scottish Enlightenment Historiography’, in F. Trentmann (ed.), Paradoxes of Civil Society. New Perspectives on Modern German and British History (New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2000), p. 80.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    K. Gleadle, The Early Feminists. Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women’s Rights Movement, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), esp. pp. 64–8.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    London, 1771, repr. as Origin of the Distinction of Ranks 3rd ed. (London: John Murray, 1779); for much biographical information on Millar and his family, see W. C. Lehmann, John Millar of Glasgow, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), esp. pp. 410–4.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    C. Eckhardt, Fanny Wright. Rebel in America (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); see also: A. Perkins and T. Wolfson, Frances Wright Free Enquirer: the Study of a Temperament (New York: Harper Bros, 1939); W. R. Waterman, Frances Wright (New York: AMS Press, 1967)Google Scholar
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    B. Fontana, Rethinking the Politics of Commercial Society. The Edinburgh Review ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  8. 47.
    E. Hamilton, Letters on the Elementary Principles of Education, 2nd edn (Bath: R. Cruttwell, 1801, 02); see my forthcoming article ‘Adaptations: Gender, History, and Political Economy in the Work of Dugald Stewart and Elizabeth Hamilton’, in T. Ahnert, S. Manning and N. Phillipson (eds), The Science of Man (Cambridge University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  9. 69.
    Benger, Memoirs of … Elizabeth Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 278; T. Bernard, ‘Extract from an account of an establishment for the benefit of the poor, in the city and suburbs of Edinburgh’, The Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor, 5 vols (London: for the Society, 1811), vol. II, pp. 168–75.Google Scholar
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    E. Hamilton, Memoirs of Modern Philosophers, ed. C. Grogan (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000), Part III passim.Google Scholar
  11. 73.
    M. J. D. Roberts, ‘Reshaping the Gift Relationship. The London Mendicity Society and the Suppression of Begging in England ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+)’, International Review of Social History 36 (1991), 201–31; J. S. Duncan, ‘Extract from an Account of the Bath Society for the Suppression of Vagrants, the Relief of Distress and the Encouragement of Industry’, in Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition … of the Poor, vol. V, pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 80.
    G. Morton, Unionist Nationalism. Governing Urban Scotland, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1999), especially Ch. 4.Google Scholar
  13. 85.
    M. Mylne, Woman and Her Social Position. An article reprinted from the Westminster Review, No. LXVIII, 1841. (London: C. Green and Son, 1872), p. iii.Google Scholar

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© Jane Rendall 2005

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  • Jane Rendall

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