University of Virginia Library


It must be remembered that by the time Astell came to make the vast ma-
jority (quite possibly all) of the changes to and comments in her copy of SPII, it
had long ceased to exist as a text separate from SPI. In the final two of its three
issues (1697 and 1701), SPII had been bound with corrected new editions of SPI;
though a title page announced the work in "two parts," the separate title page
to SPII never changed from the initial printing of 1697. In other words, as Astell
pondered her revision, she likely would have been thinking of A Serious Proposal to
the Ladies Parts I and II,
not of the second part alone, even though the text in which
she recorded her changes and additions was not itself bound with SPI.

This fact may explain the nature of the paratextual additions Astell wrote
on the opening and closing blank leaves of her book, many of which would ap-
pear to be more directly related to the primary argument of SPI—i.e., the need
for the education of women through the establishment of academies—than to
that of SPII, which adduces a plan for self education. French theologian François
Fénelon, for example—a figure of evident interest to Astell during the period
in question[16] —mattered to Astell because the education of girls had mattered to
him; it is not coincidence that the brief biography of him she added to the front
pastedown (see Appendix 2) opens with a reference to his Traité de l'education des
(1687), wherein the influential French theologian had argued that custom,


Page 205
not nature, dictated against the academic instruction of girls, and that educating
children, rather than just boys, would have salubrious, not destructive, social re-
sults. The long passage Astell recorded on the recto of the penultimate rear free
endpaper from a 1684 sermon by Fénelon's English translator, George Hickes,
likewise underscores the importance of implementing a societal plan for female
education—i.e., of actually "building schools" (see Appendix 4).[17] Hickes's was
the sort of plan Astell herself would later propose in SPI, of course, perhaps with-
out thinking fully of the legal and logistical hurdles such an establishment would
need to clear. Now, however, she seems prepared to mount not only a moral,
but a legal justification for constructing female schools. On the recto and verso
of the first front free endpaper, Astell has transcribed from Sir Edward Coke's
The Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (1641) the operative portions
of two English statutes (39. Eliz. Cap. 5. and 21. Jac. Cap. 1) that clear the way
for private citizens to build and incorporate charitable "hospitals" or "houses of
God" (see Appendix 3). By establishing this legal footing, Astell effectively aligns
her proposal with a demonstrably English and Protestant tradition of privately
sponsored charity, thereby justifying her campaign for establishing a separate
Chelsea school facility.[18] The Charterhouse school, also known as Sutton's Hos-
pital after its founder, Thomas Sutton (1532–1611), must have struck Astell as
exemplary of the sort of charitably funded institution she was hoping to found;
she has included an account of its operating costs on the recto and verso of the
final rear free endpaper (see Appendix 5 and figure 1).

For all of the practical ramifications a new edition would have entailed, how-
ever, Astell's motives were not purely benevolent. In pointing to Elizabethan and
Jacobean statutes legitimizing her proposal for female academies, for instance,
Astell belatedly answers the primary charge laid at her door by those who had
attacked SPI when it was first published some 20 years before—namely, that it
amounted to de facto Catholicism. (Astell, it should be noted, would never have
used the phrase "protestant nunnery" to characterize her proposed institutions.[19]


Page 206
John Locke (d. 1704), another of Astell's early opponents, also resurfaces in the
annotations within the text of SPII itself—though, it is important to note, her
references to him here are at worst ambiguous, at best respectful, and thus work
against Springborg's insistent reading of SPII as unrepentantly anti-Lockean in

Those behind The Ladies Library, first published in 1714,[21] were similarly in
Astell's sights, albeit in a decidedly complex fashion. A compilation of uncredited
excerpts from a host of writers, Astell among them, The Ladies Library claims on its
title page to have been "Written by a Lady" but "Published by Mr. Steele"; Sir
Richard Steele also provided the dedication and the preface to the first volume.
Astell held him responsible for the plagiarism—as she had for satiric attacks on
her in The Tatler—and his Whiggism would only further have inspired her invari-
ably Tory-leaning pen. (The actual author of The Ladies Library, George Berkeley,
was only definitively revealed in 1980 by Stephen Parks.[22] ) It is clear from the
front pastedown (Appendix 2) that Astell was looking for grounds on which to
confront Steele. The Ladies Library, she here correctly points out, "recom. Poetry
p. 22. & discomends it p. 25.V.1."—precisely the sort of obvious logical contra-
diction on which Astell liked to seize when on the attack.[23] And in pointing to
"p361–365 V.2," Astell may be expanding the charge of thievery beyond SPII, to
a more subtle borrowing of her arguments in Reflections Upon Marriage.[24]


Page 207

Yet, on the other hand, Astell appears either to accept or, at least, to consider
accepting a number of Berkeley's revisions to the excerpt he lifted from SPII. She
does not record every variant as she would have done, one assumes, were she
simply keeping track.[25] Instead, she seems to weigh his changes, both minor and
major, at times even revising his revision.[26] True, several of Astell's attempts to
comport her text with Berkeley's break down syntactically, the inchoateness of
the "revised" text suggesting a level of uncertainty, or perhaps haste, on her part.
And, to be sure, Astell's pointed reference in her Preface to the second edition of
Bart'lemy Fair (1722) to Steele's (as she thought it) piracy suggests, at the very least,
skepticism as to the value of the revisions: "[O]ur honest Compilator has made an
honourable Amends to the Author, (I know not what he has to the Book-Seller)
by transcribing above an hundred Pages in to his Ladies Library, verbatim; except
in a few Places, which if the Reader takes the Trouble to compare, perhaps he
will not find improv'd" (quoted in Perry 230).

Ultimately, then, one can only speculate as to Astell's plans for those of Berke-
ley's revisions she incorporated into her text. Given the fact that these changes
exist alongside other revisions unrelated to Berkeley's pilfering, and that Astell
tinkered with his changes even as she recorded them, I tend to think that she
would indeed have followed some of Berkeley's unsolicited editorial advice in a
new edition of SPII—probably with a requisite, and perfectly Astellian, satiric
jab at the original theft. One can easily imagine Astell "thanking" Steele in a new
preface for his editorial assistance, and noting that in acknowledging his minor
changes, she is doing more than he felt compelled to do when he copied an en-
tire chapter of her book. After all, she might have noted, unlike herself, Steele
had benefited from a free education at a respected institution—having been ac-
cepted by the respected Charterhouse school in 1684 as a gownboy, essentially a
scholar-in-residence. Surely, the product of Thomas Sutton's charitable bounty,
the evidence for which Astell had dutifully recorded down to the penny (see Ap-
pendix 5), would join her in soliciting charitable donations toward the Chelsea
school for girls. So subtle a response, however, would obviously have been pre-
cluded when Astell was forced to abandon her plans for a second edition in 1720,
which might explain her scoffing dismissal of the revisions two years later in
Bart'lemy Fair.


Page 208

How does this text affect our understanding of Astell? On the one hand, it
most assuredly does not clear up any sensational mysteries for which our post-
Possession sentiments hunger—Astell has scribbled in her book neither an an-
nouncement of sexual passion for another woman, nor the name of the "eminent
clergyman" (rendered, one fantasizes, in a clever but discernible anagram) to
whom George Ballard claims she had been affianced at a young age (385, note).
Nevertheless, it does work to flesh out, if only in small measure, the biogra-
phy of a woman who has discovered herself to us only, if at all, as in a glass,
darkly. (Even Ballard, writing in 1752, was forced to rely primarily on hearsay
in his brief account of her life.) Who knew, for instance, that Astell had read
works by René Rapin (Appendix 1, 89.10–16), yet another in a growing list of
Cartesian Catholics peopling her list of intellectual influences? Or the degree
to which she herself recognized, or came to recognize, the precedents in Fé-
nelon and Hickes for her arguments on behalf of women? And if we have come
to recognize Astell's derision for Locke and Steele, her equivocal treatment of
them in her copy of SPII will perhaps give us pause, for it may reveal a more
complex reaction on Astell's part to these erstwhile adversaries than heretofore

But more than anything else, Astell's book reveals a clue as to how its author's
mind was working at a critical point in her history—as well as a lesson in the
tenuous nature of book production at this time. If the dating I have proposed in
this essay is more or less correct, then the degree to which Astell relied on her
bookseller Richard Wilkin may have been even more pronounced than previ-
ously recognized. I do not pretend to know with certainty how Astell would have
used the material she recorded in her copy of SPII in a new edition. Perhaps,
taking as a model the substantial "Preface" Astell added to the third edition of
Some Reflections Upon Marriage (1706), her comments would have served as fodder
for a new introduction to her undeniably dated, but not outmoded, work. The
Chelsea school, I have suggested, must have struck Astell as the logical exten-
sion of her original hobby horse; and, however much one may be reminded of
Parson Adams's myopic faith in the value of his volumes of sermons in Henry
Fielding's Joseph Andrews (1742), she still believed—or wished to believe—in the
ability of her earliest works to communicate her sense of urgency on this score.
Indeed, in this respect, the piracy of The Ladies Library may very well have inspired
Astell to contemplate a new edition by showing her that the world continued to
be interested in the subject.

Although Astell's work toward a new edition of SPII did not make it into
print, she never abandoned the project that had in large measure stimulated her
revisions. Even as death, in the form of breast cancer, approached in 1730, she
was still actively seeking donations "towards building a charity school for the
teaching and instructing of the children of poor soldiers belonging to Chelsea


In a letter of 1-8-1720 (?) [Perry's question mark] Astell writes to Lady Ann Coventry,
"I have bin reading ye late A. Bp. of Cambrays Letters, wcḥ make me very sick of my own"
(repr. in Perry 389). Perry assumes that Astell is reading the Paris edition of 1718, and thus
must have "mastered" French at this point (389, note), but it should be noted that an English
translation of Fénelon's letters appeared in 1719: Private Thoughts Upon Religion, In Several Letters.
Written to His Royal Highness the Duke Regent of France. By the Archbishop of Cambray


Hickes was one of a number of non-juring High Churchmen interested in the "cause"
of "women's education," as Perry puts it (119). In fact, Perry notes, he "recommended Astell's
books in the 1707 edition of his translation of Fénelon's Traité de l'education des filles," in particular
SPI and II and Christian Religion (119, 498, note 60).


It is worth remembering the primary rhetorical function of SPI—to solicit charitable
contributions toward Astell's cause. Hence, in her peroration, Astell pointedly wonders, "Is
Charity so dead in the world that none will contribute to the saving their own and their neigh-
bours Souls?" (44–45).


Ballard explained that Astell's scheme had found significant support from "a certain
great lady" ready to "give ten thousand pounds"; Bishop Gilbert Burnet "powerfully remon-
strated against it" to the unnamed woman (perhaps, Perry suggests, Princess Anne [134]),
explaining that "it would look like preparing a way for popish orders [and] would be reputed
a nunnery, etc.," thereby effectively eviscerating the project (Ballard 383). In the course of her
sustained critique ofjohn Norris in Discourse of the Love of God (1696), John Locke's supporter and
friend Damaris, Lady Masham, also attacked Astell's proposal. Astell responded in her Christian
complaining, "what they seem most affraid of, is dispeopling the World and driving
Folks into Monasterys [Astell marginally cites Masham's Discourse, 120], tho' I see none among us
for them to run into were they ever so much inclin'd; but have heard it generally complain'd of
by very good Protestants, that Monasteries were Abolish'd instead of being Reform'd: And tho'
none that I know of plead for Monasteries, strictly so call'd, in England, or for any thing else
but a reasonable provision for the Education of one half of Mankind, and for a safe retreat so
long and no longer than our Circumstances make it requisite." See p. 235 of her "Appendix"
to the second edition of Christian Religion (1717), included as Appendix Three in my and Melvyn
New's modem edition of Astell and Norris's Letters (221 –258).


Of the two references, one may be read either as an attack on Locke or, more likely, as a
note of indebtedness; the other is almost certainly an acknowledgment of debt (see Appendix 1,
entry for 49.2fb–50.2 (92.13–14) and note; and entry for 133.10–14 (122.19–21) and note.
As I have argued elsewhere ("Astell's Ironic Assault"), Astell almost certainly composed SPII
before she had identified Locke as someone of any particular concern to her either personally
or intellectually; hence, her only direct textual reference to him in SPII—139 of Springborg's
edition—is both utterly tangential and blithely commendatory.


The Ladies Library actually appeared in (at least) two editions in 1714; see below, intro-
duction to Appendix 1. Unless otherwise noted, all references are to the earlier version.


See Parks, "George Berkeley." Parks includes a transcription of the 1713 agreement
between Berkeley, Steele, and Jacob Tonson (2). As Richard Dammers notes, "the paternity of
The Ladies Library was quickly attached to Steele"; as early as 1714 publisher Royston Meredith
"accused Steele of using [Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Holy Dying] without paying for it"


On p. 22 of Vol. 1, The Ladies Library calls on women to "despise those Arts which
have no Complacency for the Deficiencies of their Education, and take Pleasure and Profit
in such as freely lay open all their Stores to them, as do History, Poetry, and Eloquence."
Yet, on p. 25, it warns of "the Danger of reading soft and wanton Writings, which warm and
corrupt the Imagination," noting that "too much of this will be found among the Works of
Poetry and Eloquence, with which none but Ladies of good Taste and solid Judgment should be


In recommending that widows remain unmarried, The Ladies Library adduces a number
of decidedly "Astellian" arguments—e.g., "[I]t seems not very prudent to relinquish both Lib-
erty and Property, to espouse at the best a Subjection, but perhaps a Slavery"; and, "[W]herefore
'tis their Concern well to Ballast their Minds, and to provide that their Passion never get
the Ascendant over their Reason" (2: 361, 365). Astell does not register any awareness of
Berkeley's other definite "borrowing" from her works; Volume 1, pp. 438—447 excerpts SPI


On p. 113 of Springborg's edition, for instance, Astell writes, "And in order to the
restraining it we may consider …"; vol. 1 of The Ladies Library reads, "That we may the bet-
ter restrain it, let us consider …" (474). Similarly, on p. 130 of Springborg's edition, Astell
writes "rest and terminate," while Berkeley has only "terminate" (500). It is worth noting that
in both instances, Astell does record two other specific changes made by Berkeley on the page
in question, so it is clear that she did not somehow skip these pages; see Appendix 1, entries for
107.7fb (113.15) and 155.14–15 (130.13).


See, for instance, Appendix 1, entry for 138.7fb–6fb (124.15–16) and note. With
respect to the changes to Astell's text, Dammers characterizes the "editor" of The Ladies Library
as one "careful" to make "appropriate changes." Berkeley's revisions, Dammers believes, are
"generally designed to moderate an enthusiastic tone, to delete sentences referring to an earlier
section of A Serious Proposal, to improve awkward wording, or to summarize an entire section
into a few words" (533).


See Astell's letter of 9 September 1730 to her patron and friend Lady Betty Hastings
acknowledging receipt of £50, a full 1/4 of her total commitment to the project (repr. in Perry