"These lively conjectures are the breezes that preserve the still lake from stagnating"

— Wollstonecraft, Mary (1759-1797)

Place of Publication
Joseph Johnson
December 1790
"These lively conjectures are the breezes that preserve the still lake from stagnating"
Metaphor in Context
Dr Price, when he reasons on the necessity of men attending some place of public worship, concisely obviates an objection that has been made in the form of an apology, by advising those, who do not approve of our Liturgy, and cannot find any mode of worship out of the church, in which they can conscientiously join, to establish one for themselves. This plain advice you have tortured into a very different meaning, and represented the preacher as actuated by a dissenting phrensy, recommending dissensions, ‘not to diffuse truth, but to spread contradictions.’ A simple question will silence this impertinent declamation.–What is truth? A few fundamental truths meet the first enquiry of reason, and appear as clear to an unwarped mind, as that air and bread are necessary to enable the body to fulfil its vital functions; but the opinions which men discuss with so much heat must be simplified and brought back to first principles; or who can discriminate the vagaries of the imagination, or scrupulosity of weakness, from the verdict of reason Let all these points be demonstrated, and not determined by arbitrary authority and dark traditions, lest a dangerous supineness should take place; for probably, in ceasing to enquire, our reason would remain dormant, and delivered up, without a curb, to every impulse of passion, we might soon lose sight of the clear light which the exercise of our understanding no longer kept alive. To argue from experience, it should seem as if the human mind, averse to thought, could only be opened by necessity; for, when it can take opinions on trust, it gladly lets the spirit lie quiet in its gross tenement. Perhaps the most improving exercise of the mind, confining the argument to the enlargement of the understanding, is the restless enquiries that hover on the boundary, or stretch over the dark abyss of uncertainty. These lively conjectures are the breezes that preserve the still lake from stagnating. We should be aware of confining all moral excellence to one channel, however capacious; or, if we are so narrow-minded, we should not forget how much we owe to chance that our inheritance was not Mahometism; and that the iron hand of destiny, in the shape of deeply rooted authority, has not suspended the sword of destruction over our heads. But to return to the misrepresentation.
(pp. 49-50)
A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France. (London: Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1790).

2 entries in ESTC (1790). Anonymous, first edition appears in December of 1790 <ESTC>. Second edition, with MW's name on the cover, published December 14 <ESTC>

Reading The Vindications. eds. D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. (Toronto: Broadview Press, 2001). [Based on the 2nd ed.] See also edition at the Online Library of Liberty <Link to OLL>.
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.