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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

III. Religion

15. A Father’s Advice to his Daughters, 1774

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1John Gregory (1724-1773), a Scottish physician, medical writer and moralist, was appointed professor of philosophy at King’s College in 1746. In 1756 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1765 he published A Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Man, with those of the Animal World. In 1761 he wrote A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters, which was to become his most famous publication, going through many editions and translations. The text advises parents and women on religion, moral conduct, friendship and interactions with men and suggests that women refrain from exposing any learning that they might have acquired. In 1766 Gregory was appointed the first physician in Scotland to George III and made a member of the faculty of Edinburgh University.

2John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters: With a Biographical Sketch of the Author, London: W Strahan, T. Cadell; Edinburgh: W. Creech, 1774, p. 9-10.

Though the duties of Religion, strictly speaking, are equally binding on both sexes, yet certain differences in their natural character and education, render some vices in your sex particularly odious. The natural hardness of our hearts and strength of our passions, inflamed by the uncontrouled licence we are too often indulged with in our youth, are apt to render our manners more dissolute, and make us less susceptible of the finer feelings of the heart. Your superior delicacy, your modesty, and the usual severity of your education, preserve you, in a great measure, from any temptation to those vices to which we are most subjected. The natural softness and sensibility of your dispositions particularly fit you for the practice of those duties where the heart is chiefly concerned. And this, along with the natural warmth of your imaginations, renders you peculiarly susceptible of the feelings of devotion.

There are many circumstances in your situation that peculiarly require the supports of religion to enable you to act in them with spirit and propriety. Your whole life is often a life of suffering. You cannot plunge into business, or dissipate yourselves in pleasure and riot, as men too often do, when under the pressure of misfortunes. You must bear your sorrows in silence, unknown and unpitied. You must often put on a face of serenity and chearfulness, when your hearts are torn with anguish, or sinking in despair. Then your only resource is in the consolations of religion. It is chiefly owing to these, that you bear domestic misfortunes better than we do.

But you are sometimes in very different circumstances, that equally require the restraints of religion. The natural vivacity, and perhaps the natural vanity of your sex, is very apt to lead you into a dissipated state of life, that deceives you under the appearance of innocent pleasure; but which in reality wastes your spirits, impairs your health, weakens all the superior faculties of your minds, and often sullies your reputations. Religion, by checking this dissipation, and rage for pleasure, enables you to draw more happiness, even from those very sources of amusement, which, when too frequently applied to, are often productive of satiety and disgust.

Religion is rather a matter of sentiment than reasoning. The important and interesting articles of faith are sufficiently plain. Fix your attention on these, and do not meddle with controversy. If you get into that, you plunge into a chaos, from which you will never be able to extricate yourselves. It spoils the temper, and, I suspect, has no good effect on the heart.

Avoid all books, and all conversation, that tend to shake your faith on those great points of religion, which should serve to regulate your conduct, and on which your hopes of future and eternal happiness depend.

Never indulge yourselves in ridicule on religious subjects; nor give countenance to it in others, by seeming diverted with what they say. This, to people of good breeding, will be a sufficient check.

I wish you to go no farther than the Scriptures for your religious opinions. Embrace those you find clearly revealed. Never perplex yourselves about such as you do not understand, but treat them with silent and becoming reverence.–I would advise you to read only such religious books as are addressed to the heart, such as inspire pious and devout affections, such as are proper to direct you in your conduct, and not such as tend to entangle you in the endless maze of opinions and systems.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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