He has got the dean’s opinion with him; for our debate began before we came to town: and then he would not let me state the case; but did it himself; and yet ’tis but an half opinion, as I may, neither. For it is, that if the husband is set upon it, it is a wife’s duty to obey.
But I can’t see how that is; for if it be the natural duty of a mother, it is a divine duty; and how can a husband have power to discharge a divine duty? As great as a wife’s obligation is to obey her husband, which is, I own, one indispensable of the marriage contract, it ought not to interfere with what one takes to be a superior duty; and must not one be one’s own judge of actions, by which we must stand or fall?
I’ll tell you my plea:
I say, that where a mother is unhealthy; subject to communicative distempers, as scrophulous or scorbutic, or consumptive disorders, which have infected the blood or lungs; or where they have not plenty of nourishment for the child, that in these cases, a dispensation lies of course.
But where there is good health, free spirits, and plentiful nourishment, I think it an indispensable duty.
For this was the custom of old, of all the good wives we read of in Scripture.
Then the nourishment of the mother must be most natural to the child.
These were my pleas, among others: and this is his answer which he gave to me in writing:
“As to what you allege, my dear, of old customs; times and fashions are much changed. If you tell me of Sarah’s, or Rachel’s, or Rebecca’s, or Leah’s nursing their children, I can answer, that the one drew water at a well, for her father’s flocks; another kneaded cakes, and baked them on the hearth; another dressed savoury meat for her husband; and all of them performed the common offices of the household: and when our modern ladies shall follow such examples in every thing, their plea ought to be allowed in this.
“Besides, my fondness for your personal graces, and the laudable, and, I will say, honest pleasure, I take in that easy, genteel form, which every body admires in you, at first sight, oblige me to declare, that I can by no means consent to sacrifice these to the carelessness into which I have seen very nice ladies sink, when they became nurses. Moreover, my chief delight in you is for the beauties of your mind; and unequalled as they are, in my opinion, you have still a genius capable of great improvement; and I shan’t care, when I want to hear my Pamela read her French and Latin lessons, which I take so much delight to teach her (and to endeavour to improve myself from her virtue and piety, at the same time), to seek my beloved in the nursery; or to permit her to be engrossed by those baby offices, which will better befit weaker minds.