The Ladies Calling, in two parts
Oxford: The Theatre, 1673.
Oxford: The Theatre, 1673. First edition. Contemporary calf rebacked to style with gilt and morocco label to spine. Measuring 180 x 110mm (pages). Collates , 24, 141, , 96, 89-95, : complete, including the engraved frontis and confirming to the mispaginations called for by ESTC (in part I page 50 is misnumbered 42, pages 65-72 are omitted from pagination, pages 73-80 have duplicated numbering, pages 98-99 are misnumbered 74-75, pages 102-103 are misnumbered 78-79; and in part II pages 97-103 are misnumbered 89-95). Some rubbing and chipping to boards, but a square copy overall. Armorial bookplate of Brighouse and advert for this copy adhered to front pastedown; contemporary ownership signature of E. Napier to recto of frontis. Minor stains to pages 58-59 and 80-81 of part II; paper repair to lower quarter of final leaf with two final letters in facsimile. Largely fresh and unmarked internally. A scarce book in the early women's education movement, in the past 20 years, only three first editions have appeared at auction, several with significant dampstaining. ESTC reports 6 copies of this variant at North American institutions.
The Querelle des Femmes (the Woman Question) was a debate on women's status that raged across Europe and England through the 16th to 18th century, depicted at times in drama and literature but most often enacted through broadsides, pamphlets, and tracts. While early iterations of the debate focused on whether women were humans or indeed possessed souls, this began to shift as women and their allies used logic to argue against some inherent inferiority in the sex in favor of pointing out the educational disadvantages imposed upon women. Allestree's Ladies Calling is an early example of this type of argument. A provost of Eton College and a noted divine, Allestree was praised for his scholarly diligence. "Few of his time had either a greater compass or deeper insight into all parts of learning; the modern and learned languages, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, history, antiquity, moral and polemical divinity" (Fell). He achieved his widest influence over the 17th century -- and indeed, made his impact on the Querelle -- with his didactic books The Whole Duty of Man and The Ladies Calling. In the latter, he draws on his own experience of human learning to apply it to women. He recognizes that women have been discouraged from infancy and may even have absorbed prejudicial ideas about their limited capacities, and their failures often unfold through little fault of their own. "It may therefore upon this account be a necessary Charity to the Sex, to acquaint them with their own valu [sic], animate them to higher thoughts of themselves; not to yield their suffrage to those injurious estimates the World hath made of them, and from a supposed incapacity of nobler things to neglect the pursuit of them; from which God and Nature have no more precluded the Feminine then the Masculine part of mankind...We may conclude that whatever vicious impotence Women are under, it is acquired, not natural." Allestree asserts an equality between men and women's intellectual potential; and the forces that create disparity can be adjusted. To this end, he calls upon men to resist oppressing women even if it is for selfish reasons. "I might urge the more regular Powers which apertain unto that Sex that all mankind is the Pupil and Disciple of Female Intuition: the Daughters till they write women and the Sons till at least the first seven years past." In this sense, men should also be invested in women's education, as it affects their sons and the future of the nation. A powerful and rational argument for women's education.
Madan 2960. Wing A-1141. ESTC R203973. (Item #4971)