The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting

Jane Collier
An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting
ed. A. Bilger, 2003 (1753)
…it is from suffering, and not from inflicting torments, that the true idea of them is gained (130).

A satire in the manner of Swift’s Directions to Servants,1 Collier’s Essay is neither so light nor so sharp a piece of prose, though it possesses a certain sardonic weariness. I am reminded of Woolf’s criticism of Jane Eyre – one feels the author’s indignation and, more importantly, lack of control so much that the work itself is weakened. Such criticism is not quite appropriate in this case, not least because the sections dealing with Collier’s own experience as an unmarried dependent female or any of the common perversities of friendship are the most powerful in the work:

When a person so thoroughly loves his friend, that it is one his greatest pleasure, to serve, to please, or to amuse him; he cannot, it is true, want thanks for every thing he does; nay, he will be so far from it, that nothing could be more unpleasant to him, than to receive such perpetual acknowlegements for his kindness; yet there is a manner of overlooking such constant endeavours, which is not only mortifying, but very grating, and which I would have you, my good pupil, not fail to practise. But if ever it has been in your power to do the least service to your friend, you may puff and blow; you may magnify the trouble you have taken; and you may praise your own friendly disposition and good-nature, till you have forced from your friend thanks and acknowlegements enough to repay you for having conferred the greatest favour in the world (100).

Although it is possible to read the Essay looking for humor, as I did, I wonder now whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate to consider it as an anatomy of psychological abuse, an approach that might reconcile a reader the occasional broken and limping passages.

There is one mistake which people have often run into, in their choice of a dupe; namely, in thinking, that the principle qualification to be insisted on is, his having a soft place in his head; whereas the chief thing to seek after is, the man who has a soft place in his heart. Many a disappointment has arose, from fixing your choice on a fool; for frequently will you find such a want of affection, such a thorough selfishness, so much cunning and obstinacy, annexed to folly, that all your labour will be thrown away (94).
  1. The Broadview edition contains an excerpt from Swift’s satire, as well as passages from Sarah Fielding’s The Adventures of David Simple (1744) and Maria Edgeworth’s An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification (1795). []


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