A sammelband of pirated sermons with a rare early modern feminist tract

A sammelband of pirated sermons with a rare early modern feminist tract

Eugenia, a Lady of Quality [pseud.]. The Female Preacher. Being an Answer to the late Rude and Scandalous Wedding-Sermon, Preach'd by Mr. John Sprint, May the 11th, at Sherburn, in Dorsetshire: wherein the Levite is Expos'd as he Deserves. London. Printed for H. Hills in Black-fryars. [ca. 1700]. 24pp.  [WITH]Sprint, John (fl. 1699 – 1700). The Bride-Womans Counseller. Being a Sermon Preach'd at a Wedding, May the 11th, 1699, at Sherbourn, in Dorsetshire. London. Printed by H. Hills in Black-fryars, near the Water-side. For the Benefit of the Poor, [ca. 1700]. 16pp.  [WITH]  John Tillotson, William Dawes, et al., 27 sermons by Anglican divines, 1678 – 1706, published by H. Hills in Black-fryars, ca. 1700 to 1707. 29 pamphlets in all, bound together in a sammelband. Each pamphlet 16 or 24 pages; 496 pages total. A handwritten table at the rear of the volume lists the contents in chronological order. Bound in period paneled calf showing considerable use. Handwritten labels to spine identify the volume as “Miscellan[eous] Sermons Vol. 3.” Bookplate of the Acton Scott library, Shropshire.

A superb collection of almost 30 short works published in the first years of the eighteenth century by the literary pirate Henry Hills, including a rare pair of pamphlets debating women’s rights.

The Female Preacher, published also as The Female Advocate, is a cutting reply to The Bride-Womans Counseller, a gleefully misogynist tract by the nonconformist minister John Sprint, who took the occasion of a wedding to express his low opinion of “imperious wives” who fail to submit fully to the authority of their husbands. “You women will acknowledge that Men can learn to command, and rule fast enough, which is as Husbands they ought to do, but tis very rare to find that Women learn so fast to Submit and obey, which as wives they ought to do.” But learn they must. “I know not of any duty belonging to any Men or Women, in the Whole Book of God, that is urged with more vehemency.” The Lord, Sprint insists, gave authority to husbands as “absolutely and peremptorily as unto Christ himself.”  Sprint ends his patriarchal fantasy on a profoundly patronizing note. “But I must forbear enlargement,” he concludes, “lest, that by over-lading the memories of the Women, I should cause them to forget their Duty which has been set before them.” Invited controversy, Sprint sent copies to select readers. One of these was the “lady of quality” who signed herself Eugenia.

Eugenia cherished her anonymity. “If you inquire who I am,” she writes, “I shall only tell you in general, that I am one that never yet came within the Clutches of a Husband; and therefore what I write may be the more favourably interpreted as not coming from a Party concern'd.” She writes of her outrage at reading the The Bride-Womans Counseller and her decision to respond:

[W]hen I had follow'd [Sprint] to the end of the Chapter, I could not but wonder to find a Sex attack'd from the Pulpit with more confident impudence than ever they were on the Stage, tho' with far less Wit and Ingenuity . . . Hereupon I laid aside the Book as a most self-confuting piece, till I found that Miracles were not ceased, and that some People were so charm'd with it, that they thought it worth their while to seize every poor Woman they met with it. Upon this I began to have some Design to taking Arms, and alarming the whole Power of Females against him. But upon second thoughts I resolved to save them the trouble, and enter into a single Combat with this great Goliath, this Man of mighty Fame.

            As a single combatant, Eugenia offers a point-by-point refutation of Sprint’s tract, matching Scripture for Scripture, and salting her text with allusions to Milton, Montaigne and other authors. When Sprint quotes 1 Cor. vii. 34 (“But she that is married, careth for the things of the World, how she may please her Husband.”), she reminds the reader of the preceding verse (“He that is married careth for the things of the World, how he may please his Wife”). If women have duties to their husbands, then men have equal duties to their wives:

'Tis granted the Woman was created for the Man, but we deny that this is any pretense to use the limited Power which Heaven has given him to the Unhappiness and Ruine of a Creature that was made for him. If the Scripture tells us that tho the Beasts are made for Men, yet a good man is Merciful to a Beast, much more regard is there to be had of a nobler Creature, which thou' inferior in Brutal Strength of Body, yet in Strength and Beauty of Reason equals the Superior Sex. . . . Tho' Women are for the Comfort and Benefit of Men, yet that's no reason why they should be their most obedient Slaves and Vassals. I suppose the Author will grant that Men are to be for the Comfort and Benefit of Women, and yet the Consequence will not be allow'd that therefore Man is to cast this away, and that way, and every way, how to please his Wife.

To the old chestnut blaming Eve for original sin, Eugenia notes that the blame is properly shared (“I don't argue for our Mother Eve to defend her Transgression, but to show the unreasonableness of the Inference from it. All the other Sex sprang from her as well as we, and are therefore, I think, equally guilty of her Transgression”). Further, it is presumptuous for Spring to think “it the Duty of a Man to execute the Curse of God upon his Wife.”

Publishing her response in the same year as Reflections upon Marriage by Mary Anstell (1666 – 1731), Eugenia extends a parallel argument, drawn from Locke, that marriage is a form of slavery. Eugenia uses this insight to disassemble the logical flaws in the misogynist argument.

[Sprint] tells us that if the Wife becomes pliant and yielding (that is, becomes a good easy tractable Slave) to her Husbands Desire, she then may do e'en what she pleases with him: Which is as much as to say, If she be a perfect Slave, she may have her Liberty. . . .

Then he tells us, Married Women are to please their Husbands by honouring them (by all means, Honour to whom Honour is due.) But I think he goes a little too far when he makes it a Woman's duty to lie like a Spaniel at her Husband's feet, and suffer her self very civilly to be trampled on. …

And so the more barbarous and cruel any Husband is, the more a Woman ought to respect, and love, and rejoice in him. Precious Doctrine no doubt! and easily believ'd by every one who has once cast off those foolish things call'd Liberty, Reason, and common Sense.

            Sprint cautioned women against addressing men by their Christian names – a familiarity that might easily turn to contempt; better, he said, for wives to address their husbands as “Lord.” Eugenia offers a scoffing reply: “But what if so strange a thing should happen that a Man should be really a Fool, must a Woman call him Solomon?” In place of patriarchal domination, Eugenia argues for a reconceptualization of marriage as a union of equals:

I think it a much nobler Comfort to have a Companion, a Person in whom a Man can confide, to whom he can communicate his very Soul, and open his Breast and most inward Thoughts, than to have a Slave sitting at his Footstool, and trembling at every word that comes like Thunder and Lightning from the mouth of the domestic Pharaoh.

"In sum, against Sprint," writes Jacqueline Broad, "Eugenia holds that true freedom is the freedom to make one's own rational choices in the interests of moral self-preservation, She supports a concept of freedom as self-governance in the sense of having rational control over one's moral choices and actions" (Broad, 74).

The parallels between Eugenia's work and Anstell’s Reflections upon Marriage was no coincidence. They appear to have been members of a common literary circle. The Female Preacher is dedicated to a Lady W---ly; might this be Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762)?  Eugenia’s pseudonym may have come from Astell’s friend Mary, Lady Chudleigh (1656–1710), who also received a copy of Sprint’s tract. Chudleigh referred to her acquaintances with pastoral nicknames. She signed herself “Marissa” and addressed Astell as “Almystrea”; Elizabeth Thomas (1675–1731), another member of their circle, was “Corinna.” Eugenia is also one of the protagonists of William Walsh’s A Dialogue concerning women, being a defence of the sex, written to Eugenia (1691). Eugenia’s identity is still unknown at present, but she is supposed to be the subject of Chudleigh’s poem, “To Eugenia, on her Pastoral” which begins:

Methinks I see the Golden Age agen,

Drawn to the Life by your ingenious Pen…

After limning ancient times, when “Crooks rul’d the Sheep, and Virtue rul’d the Men,” Chudleigh’s poem rues the present day (“Unhappy we! born in the Dregs of Time, / Can ne’er to their vast height of Virtue climb; / But lie immers’d in Vice, forsaken quite / Of those pure Joys which did their Souls delight.”). Chudleigh concludes “To Eugenia” by praising her friend’s work:

Yet of this wretched Place so well you’ve writ,

That I admire your Goodness and your Wit…

In the poem, Chudleigh clearly has another work by Eugenia in mind than The Female Preacher, but she would draw inspiration from that tract too. In 1701 she published a reply to John Sprint of her own, in the form of a long verse dialogue, The ladies defence.

Sprint’s Bride-Womans Counseller and Eugenia’s The Female Preacher are bound at the end of a sammelband of almost 30 pamphlets published by Henry Hills, Jr. Active between 1680 and 1713, Hills was one of two sons of the printer Henry Hills Sr. (1641 – 1689). One of the partners in the King’s Printing House in Blackfriars, the elder Hills was forced to flee England in 1688, after his conversion to Roman Catholicism became known. Hills Jr., a Protestant, was largely disinherited by his father and though he sued his Catholic stepmother and other family members for a portion of his father’s share in the King’s Printing House, he was unsuccessful. Employed as a government agent “appointed to inspect printing presses for the discovery of unlicensed books, pamphlets, and newspapers,” Hills would after 1700 become notorious as “the most audacious [literary] pirate of his time,” according to historian John Velz (188). Taking advantage of the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695, Hills “regularly pirated every good Poem or Sermon that was published,” according to Nichols (VIII: 168), issuing editions of Addison, Congreve, Defoe, Dryden, Milton, Shakespeare, Swift, and others. At a time when pamphlets sold for sixpence, Hills sold his pamphlets for a penny “for the benefit of the poor” until the copyright act of 1710 put an end to these activities. His work, cheaply produced on stock derided as “tobacco paper,” was known for its poor quality. A poem of 1712 compares “Pirate Hill’s brown Sheets and scurvy Letter” unfavorably with respect to the productions of Elzevir, Aldus, and other printers. “On the whole,” says antiquarian Edward Solly, “I am inclined to think that Hills was by no means the ‘black sheep’ he is usually depicted, and that his name ought rather to be remembered as one who did some very good service, than as a kind of literary burglar, worthy of reprobation and abuse.” Publishing Sprint’s work and Eugenia’s riposte is certainly an example of this service.

Scholars tend to study the debate over women’s rights through an abstract philosophical lens – wars of ideas, battles of wit. This volume of cheap tracts pirated by Hills offers a concrete reminder us that Eugenia, Mary Anstell, Lady Chudleigh, and their intellectual daughters fought for equality not simply in the rarified court of letters but on the streets of public opinion. Although they are very rare today, Hills’s pamphlets were once set not before courtiers and salonistes, but before common readers. How did the publication of The Female Preacher alongside works by eminent divines affect its reception? What is suggested by the fact that the binder of this sammelband placed Sprint's pamphlet and Eugenia's response at the very end? Eugenia’s arguments belong to the history of ideas; this volume is the stuff of British social history.

Selected References

Broad, Jacqueline. “Marriage, slavery, and the merger of wills: responses to Sprint, 1700–01,” in Jacqueline Broad and Karen Detlefsen, eds., Women and Liberty, 1600–1800: Philosophical Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)

Browne, Alice. The Eighteenth-century feminist mind (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1987)

Chudleigh, Mary Lee, Lady. The poems and prose of Mary, Lady Chudleigh, ed. Margaret J. M. Ezell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

DNB. Hills, Henry (d. 1713)

Ferguson, Moira. First feminists: British women writers, 1578-1799 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985)

Nichols, John. Literary anecdotes of the eighteenth century: comprizing biographical memoirs of William Bowyer, printer, F.S.A., and many of his learned friends, an incidental view of the progress and advancement of literature in this kingdom during the last century, and biographical anecdotes of a considerable number of eminent writers and ingenious artists : with a very copious index. Second edition; 9 vols. (London: Printed for the author, by Nichols, Son, and Bentley, at Cicero's Head, Red-Lion-Passage, Fleet-Street, 1812-1816)

Plomer, Henry Robert, et al. A dictionary of the printers and booksellers who were at work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668 to 1725. (Oxford: Oxford UP 1922)

Runge, Laura L., ed. Texts from the Querelle, 2 vols. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007)

Solly, Edward. “Henry Hills, the pirate printer,” The Antiquary, XI (1885), 151-54

Velz, John W. “‘Pirate Hills’ and the quartos of ‘Julius Caesar.’” The papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 63, no. 3 (1969): 177–93.

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