Dublin: Printed by J.A. Husband, For Messrs. S. Price, R. Cross…[et al.], 1779. First Dublin edition, published the same year as the first (second edition overall), of this wide-ranging history of the female sex. Small splits in spine, but generally a very good copy, tight and fresh. Light pencil annotations throughout by a former owner (late nineteenth-century). Includes the half-title to Volume I and the terminal blanks. Contemporary calf, gilt red morocco labels. Two volumes, octavo. , xxii, 448, [22, index], [2, blank]; , 449, , [25, index], [3, blank] pp. Item #13788
William Alexander (bap. 1742?, d. 1788?) was a University of Edinburgh-educated medical doctor. The present work, which has sociological and anthropological overtones, is his best know. It “deserves to take a place among Enlightenment histories of civil society. Though Alexander clearly knew and was influenced by Montesquieu and the encyclopédistes, it was to contemporary Scottish historians such as John Millar, Lord Kames, and Gilbert Stuart that he owed his greatest debts. Like them, he attempted to place the history of women and gender roles firmly within the history of civil society, though he also perpetuated their disagreements and inconsistencies. The History is long, rambling, and inconsistent, and omits any scholarly references. In it, Alexander drew widely and indiscriminately upon biblical history, theological studies, classical and medieval histories, and travel literature to construct narratives of women's employment, marriage, child-rearing patterns, customs and ceremonies, and the status and public power of women. He explored the relative influences of nature, or biology, and education, or environment, in shaping the manners of women; the potential for the moral corruption of nations in the absence of female chastity; the relationship between the progress of ‘civilization’ and the condition of women; and the distinctive characteristics of both ‘northern’ and British women. On the whole Alexander was inclined to give little weight to the influence of Christianity in the improvement of the condition of women, and there is an anti-Catholic and anti-clerical tinge to much of his discussion” (D.N.B.). The History of Women went through three British editions in as many years. It was translated into French and German, and two American editions were produced.