London: W. Cadell and T. Davies, 1803. First edition. Contemporary tree calf, recornered and rebacked to style with gilt and morocco label to spine. All edges speckled blue. Original endpapers, with contemporary notation of the author's name to the front pastedown. Small thumbprint to lower title page, and pinpoint wormhole to far outer margin until page 112 never affecting text, else internally about flawless. Wide margined and measuring 210 x 120mm (pages) and collating xii, 452: complete. A scarce and early example of an educated woman advising her son in print, OCLC locates 12 copies in the U.S.
From the 17th to18th century, "the appearance of printed advice literature...signaled a profound historical change in the social distribution of knowledge" (Mechling). Traditionally an oral method of sharing information, as parents and grandparents spoke to rising generations about the beauties and dangers of the world, "the appearance of this printed genre suggests the increased physical mobility of families (who might move away from extended family)...and certain social conditions (such as social class aspirations)" (Mechling). Early on, it was common for such works to be written by professional authority figures -- physicians, educators, religious leaders and the like -- before parents themselves began entering the field. Even then, while fathers as heads of family might author advice literature to children of either sex, mothers were often relegated to printing only that advice which would guide young women into their adult roles.
Drawing on her roles as a wife and mother, Mary Champion de Crespigny carves out a wider space for women in the advice genre. After all, who better to inform a son -- a future husband and father -- on sexual relationships, marital partnership, the treatment of household staff, and effective parenting than a woman? In gathering private letters for publication, de Crespigny further asserts that sons other than her own should heed her wisdom. In addition to urging young men against the vices of gambling and drinking and toward the virtues of public worship, she touches on the critical importance of finding the right partner for their lives. As a woman, it is a subject that "may be particularly difficult to discuss -- though in some respects I may be the more competent to guard you against the dangers of forming hasty and improper connexions." Thus, she provides the men insight that will help them as well as the women around them: beauty and attraction are insufficient for an equal bond, and men must seek someone truly companionate in their values, ideas, interests, and temperaments. (Item #4256)