Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fulltext: the first Vindication

Isn't fulltext a blessing?  What did we ever do before CTRL+F?

Today we feature A Vindication of the Rights of Men, Mary Wollstonecraft's first major success. Edmund Burke attacked her mentor Dr Richard Price and Mary sprung to his defence, writing at white heat and beating Tom Paine into print. (Thanks to Joseph Johnson.) Dr Price had for decades been minister of the chapel at Newington Green, and thus a leader of that Dissenters' village just north of London where Mary set up her boarding school with the help of the widow Burgh. He saw something special in her (as did many) and he fostered it, probably lending money discreetly too. She owed him, and she knew it, and more than that, she loved this old man and his "grey hairs of virtue".
...a member of the community whose talents and modest virtues place him high in the scale of moral excellence. I am not accustomed to look up with vulgar awe, even when mental superiority exalts a man above his fellows; but still the sight of a man whose habits are fixed by piety and reason, and whose virtues are consolidated into goodness, commands my homage .... Tottering on the verge of the grave, that worthy man in his whole life never dreamt of struggling for power or riches.
Some of my contemporaries still seem to think God is an Englishman and Mary Wollstonecraft a Labour voter. I think you'l find it's a bit more complicated than that (with a tip of the hat to Ben Goldacre, or Dr Stats as I call him, who ran a piece on international maternal mortality entitled Mary Wollstonecraft died in childbirth).

Here is the fulltext of A Vindication of the Rights of Men (as in "human beings", in the context of the French Revolution). It is presented in a variety of digital options by the Liberty Fund Library, who, at a guess, are not what you would call democratic socialists. (Do Labour call themselves that any more? Or was that all thrown out with the Clause 4/ Group 4 bathwater?)

Byron said he awoke one morning, famous. (That was for his long poem, Childe Harold.) Much the same happened to Mary, with her first Vindication. It's still worth reading; much has changed; much hasn't. I wonder how many Arabs are reading it this spring?

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