“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word [accomplished]; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
Pride and Prejudice
The following is an excerpt from The Mirror of the Graces, by a Lady of Distinction, 1811, reprinted here with kind permission from The Jane Austen Centre.
When so much has been said of the body and its accoutrements, I cannot but subjoin a few words on the intelligence which animates the frame, and of the organ which imparts its meaning.
Connected speech is granted to mankind alone. Parrots may prate and monkeys chatter, but it is only to the reasonable being that power of combining ideas, expressing their import, and uttering, in audible sounds, all its various gradations, the language of sense and judgment, of love and resentment is awarded as a gift, that gives us a proud and undeniable superiority above all the rest of the creation.
To employ this faculty well and gracefully, is one grand object of education. The mere organ itself, as to sound, is like a musical instrument, to be modulated with elegance, or struck with the disorderly nerve of coarsene vulgarity.
I must add to what has been said before, the subject, that excessive rapidity of speaking is, in general, even with a clear enunciation, very disagreeable; but, when it is accompanied with a shrill voice, high in alt, the effect is then inexpressibly discordant and hideous. The first orator the heathen world knew, so far remedied the natural defects of his speech, (and they were the most embarrassing) as to become the most easy and persuasive of speakers. In like manner, when a young woman finds any difficulty or inelegance in her organs, she ought to pay the strictest attention to rectify the fault.
Should she have too quick or encumbered an articulation, she ought to read with extreme slowness, for several hours in the day, and even pay attention in speaking to check the rapidity or confusion of her utterance. By similar antidotal means, she must attack a propensity of talking in a high key. Better err in the opposite extreme, while she is prosecuting her cure, as the voice will gradually and imperceptibly attain its most harmonious pitch; than, by at first attempting the medium, most likely retain too much of the screaming key.
A clear articulation, a tempered intonation, and in a moderate key, are essentials in the voice of an accomplished female. For her graceful peculiarities, those nature and rare taste must bestow. Fine judgment and delicate sensibility are the best schoolmistresses on this subject. Indeed, where is it that, in relation to man or woman, we shall find, that an improved understanding, an enlightened mind, and a refined taste, are not the best polishers of manners, and in all aspects the most efficient handmaids of the Muses?
Let me then, in one short sentence, in one tender adieu, my fair readers and endeared friends! enforce upon your minds, that if Beauty be woman’s weapon, it must be feathered by the Graces, pointed by the eye of Discretion, and shot by the hand of Virtue!
Look then, my sweet pupils, not merely to your mirrors, when you would decorate yourselves for conquest, but consult the specluum, which will reflect your hearts and minds. Remember that it is the affections of a sensible and reasonable soul you hope to subdue, and seek for arms likely to carry the fortress.
He that is worthy, must love answering excellence. Which of you all would wish to marry a man merely for the colour of his eye, or the shape of his leg? Think not then worse of him than you would do of yourselves; and, hope not to satisfy his better wishes with the possession of a merely handsome wife.
Beauty of person will ever be found a dead letter, unless it be animated with beauty of mind. We must then, not only cultivate the shape, the complexion, the air, the attire, the manners; but most assiduously must our attention be devoted to teach “the young idea how to shoot,” and to fashion the unfolding mind to judgment and virtue. By such culture, it will not be merely the charming girl, the captivating woman “We shall present to the world; but, the dutiful daughter, affectionate sister, tender wife, judicious mother, faithful friend, and amiable acquaintance.
Let these then be the fair images which will form themselves on the models drawn by my not inexperienced pen! Let me see Beauty, whose soul is Virtue, approach me with the chastened step of Modesty; and, ere she advances from behind the heavenly cloud that envelops her, I shall behold Love and all the Graces hovering in air to adorn and attend her charms!
This may be thy picture, lovely daughter of Albion! Make thyself then worthy of the likeness, and thou wilt fulfil the fondest wish of thine unknown friend.
From The Mirror of Graces, by a Lady of Distinction, 1811.
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