The First Printing of England's First Feminist Tract, Postulating Men's Fear of Women's Intellectual Superiority

AN ESSAY IN DEFENCE OF THE FEMALE SEX. IN WHICH ARE INSERTED THE CHARACTERS OF A PEDANT, A VERTUOSO, A SQUIRE, A POETASTER, A BEAU, A CITY-CRITICK, &C.

(London: Printed for A. Roper and E. Wilkinson at the Black Boy, and R. Clavel at the Peacock, in FleetStreet, 1696). 171 x 105 mm. (6 3/4 x 4"). 12 p.l., 148, [4] pp. FIRST EDITION.

Contemporary sprinkled calf, raised bands, spine compartment with central gilt lozenge composed of acorns and floral sprigs. With engraved frontispiece of "The Compleat Beau." Title page with early ink inscriptions: "Ex don Jo: Tredenham" and "Beresford" (the latter with many flourishes). Wing D-2125A (variant with final line on p. 148 reading "the mean Performance of"). ◆Spine label missing, joints and extremities rather worn and slightly damaged, one-inch cracks at top of joints, shorter cracks at tail, but the original unrestored binding still solid and bravely doing its job. Paper missing along most of front hinge (and small portions of back hinge), engraving trimmed close at head and tail, with loss of about half of the second line of text below the image, first quire with text leaves trimmed close at head, occasionally with partial loss of headline. A number of condition problems, but INTERNALLY AN EXTREMELY FRESH AND CLEAN COPY, in a much better state of preservation than one might expect from the binding.

This is the first printing of England's first feminist tract, arguing in rationalist terms for women's intellectual and moral equality to men. Though long mis-attributed to Mary Anstell, who had published an essay advocating better education for women in 1694, the work is now known to be that of Judith Drake (fl. 1696-1723), wife of the physician and writer James Drake (bap. 1666 - d. 1707), who penned the laudatory poem at the beginning of the book. Judith drew upon one of the key writings of the Enlightenment, John Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding," to frame her argument: if knowledge derives from experience, rather than innate nature, then both sexes are born capable of intellectual equality. Women are not inferior by nature; they simply lack men's opportunities for education, first and foremost, but also for social interactions, conversation, and participation in politics and business. Unlike Anstell, who prescribed religious--specifically Anglican--study and devotion for women, Drake takes a very secular approach. As DNB observes, her "Essay" is "written in a lively and witty style." She takes the vices historically attributed to women--vanity, frivolousness, envy, capriciousness--and shows them equally applicable to men. She critiques the various male types listed in the title, showing the fops and beaux, the coffee-house political hacks, and the blustering squires in all their foolishness. Women, by contrast, were "never design'd for Fatigue," but "chiefly intended for Thought and the Exercise of the Mind." She blamed men's fear of being surpassed intellectually for their resistance to allowing women a good education and for excluding them from discussions of consequence. The "Essay," somewhat surprisingly, met with great success: three editions appeared within two years, and it continued to be printed into the mid-18th century. The notation on the title page of our copy suggests its association with John Tredenham (1668-1710), a Tory member of Parliament for the final two decades of his life. He is now chiefly remembered for being embroiled in a scandal stemming from his not demonstrating sufficient antipathy toward the French at the outbreak of hostilities in 1701. His possession of this book may suggest a certain enlightened understanding of the rightful role of women, though the account of his life includes no conspicuous evidence of this: his marriage was unsuccessful and (perhaps related) his death, according to a contemporary account, was said to have been in large part the result of excessive corpulence.
(ST19572)

Price: $13,000.00