Woman in the Nineteenth Century
But to you, women, American women, a few words may not be addressed in vain. One here and there may listen.
You know how it was in the Oriental clime. One man, if wealth permitted, had several wives and many handmaidens. The chastity and equality of genuine marriage, with "the thousand decencies that flow" from its communion, the precious virtues that gradually may be matured within its enclosure, were unknown.
But this man did not wrong according to his light. What he did, he might publish to God and Man; it was not a wicked secret that hid in vile lurking-places and dens, like the banquets of beasts of prey. Those women were not lost, not polluted in their own eyes, nor those of others. If they were not in a state of knowledge and virtue, they were at least in one of comparative innocence.
You know how it was with the natives of this continent. A chief had many wives, whom he maintained and who did his household work; those women were but servants, still they enjoyed the respect of others and their own. They lived together in peace. They knew that a sin against what was in their nation esteemed virtue, would be as strictly punished in Man as in Woman.
Now pass to the countries where marriage is between one and one. I will not speak of the Pagan nations, but come to those which own the Christian rule. We all know what that enjoins; there is a standard to appeal to.
See, now, not the mass of the people, for we all know that it is a proverb and a bitter jest to speak of the "down-trodden million." We know that, down to our own time, a principle never had so fair a chance to pervade the mass of the people, but that we must solicit its illustration from select examples.
Take the Paladin, take the Poet. Did they believe purity more impossible to Man than to Woman? Did they wish Woman to believe that Man was less amenable to higher motives, --that pure aspirations would not guard him against bad passions,-- that honorable employments and temperate habits would not keep him free from slavery to the body? 0 no! Love was to them a part of heaven, and they could not even wish to receive its happiness, unless assured of being worthy of it. Its highest happiness to them was that it made them wish to be worthy. They courted probation. They wished not the title of knight till the banner had been upheld in the heats of battle, amid the rout of cowards.
I ask of you, young girls --I do not mean you whose heart is that of an old coxcomb, though your locks have not yet lost their sunny tinge. Not of you whose whole character is tainted with vanity, inherited or taught, who have early learned the love of coquettish excitement, and whose eyes rove restlessly in search of a "conquest" or a "beau;" you who are ashamed not to be seen by thers the mark of the most contemptuous flattery or injurious desire. To such I do not speak. But to thee, maiden, who, if not so fair, art yet of that unpolluted nature which Milton saw when he dreamed of Comus and the Paradise. Thou, child of an unprofaned wedlock, brought up amid the teachings of the woods and fields, kept fancy-free by useful employment and a free flight into the heaven of thought, loving to please only those whom thou wouldst not be ashamed to love I ask of thee, whose cheek has not forgotten its blush nor thy heart its lark-like hopes, if he whom thou mayest hope the Father will send thee, as the companion of life's toils and joys, is not to thy thought pure? Is not manliness to thy thought purity, not lawlessness? Can his lips speak falsely? Can he do, in secret, what he could not avow to the mother that bore him? 0 say, dost thou not look for a heart free, open as thine own, all whose thoughts may be avowed, incapable of wronging the innocent, or still further degrading the fallen --a man, in short in whom brute nature is entirely subject to the impulses of his better self?
Yes! it was thus that thou didst hope; for I have many, many times seen the image of a future life, of a destined spouse, painted on the tablets of a virgin heart.
It might be that she was not true to these hopes. She was taken into what is called "the world," froth and scum as it mostly is on the social caldron. There, she saw fair Woman carried in the waltz close to the heart of a being who appeared to her a Satyr. Being warned by a male friend that he was in fact of that class, and not fit for such familiar nearness to a chaste being, the advised replied that "women should know nothing about such things." She saw one fairer given in wedlock to a man of the same class. "Papa and mamma said that 'all men were faulty at some time in their lives; they had a great many temptations.' Frederick would be so happy at home; he would not want to do wrong." She turned to the married women- they, 0 tenfold horror! laughed at her supposing "men were like women." Sometimes, I say, she was not true, and either sadly accommodated herself to "Woman's lot," or acquired a taste for satyr-society, like some of the Nymphs, and all the Bacchanals of old. But to those who could not and would not accept a mess of pottage, or a Circe cup, in lieu of their birthright, and to these others who have yet their choice to make, I say, Courage! I have some words of cheer for you. A man, himself of unbroken purity, reported to me the words of a foreign artist, that "the world would never be better till men subjected themselves to the same laws they had imposed on women; that artist, he added, was true to the thought. The same was true of Canova, the same of Beethoven. "Like each other demigod, they kept themselves free from stain; "and Michael Angelo, looking over here from the loneliness of his century, might meet some eyes that need not shun his glance.
In private life, I am assured by men who are not so sustained and
occupied by the worship of pure beauty, that a similar consecration is
possible, is practised; that many men feel that no temptation can be too
strong for the will of man, if he invokes the aid of the Spirit instead
of seeking extenuation from the brute alliances of his nature. In
short, what the child fancies is really true, though
We are now in a transition state, and but few steps have yet been taken. From polygamy, Europe passed to the marriage de convenance. This was scarcely an improvement. An attempt was then made to substitute genuine marriage (the mutual choice of souls inducing a permanent union), as yet baffled on every side by the haste, the ignorance, or the impurity of Man.
Where Man assumes a high principle to which he is not yet ripened, it will happen, for a long time, that the few will be nobler than before; the many, worse. Thus now. In the country of Sidney and Milton, the metropolis is a den of wickedness, and a sty of sensuality; in the country of Lady Russell, the custom of English peeresses, of selling their daughters to the highest bidder, is made the theme and jest of fashionable novels by unthinking children who would stare at the idea of sending them to a Turkish slave-dealer, though the circumstances of the bargain are there less degrading, as the will and thoughts of the person sold are not so degraded by it, and it is not done in defiance of an acknowledged law of right in the land and the age.
I must here add that I do not believe there ever was put upon record more depravation of Man, and more despicable frivolity of thought and aim in Woman, than in the novels which purport to give the picture of English fashionable life, which are read with such favor in our drawing-rooms, and give the tone to the manners of some circles. Compared with the cold, hard-hearted folly there described, crime is hopeful; for it, at least, shows some power remaining in the mental constitution.
To return: --Attention has been awakened among men to the stains of celibacy, and the profanations of marriage. They begin to write about it and lecture about it. It is the tendency now to endeavor to help the erring by showing them the physical law. This is wise and excellent; but forget not the better haIf. Cold bathing and exercise will not suffice to keep a life pure, without inward baptism, and noble, exhilarating employment for the thoughts and the passions. Early marriages are desirable, but if (and the world is now so out of joint that there are a hundred thousand chances to one against it) a man does not early, or at all, find the person to whom he can be united in the marriage of souls, will you give him in the marriage de convenance ? or, if not married, can you find no way for him to lead a virtuous and happy life? Think of it well, ye who think yourselves better than pagans, for many of them knew this sure way.*
To you, women of America, it is more especially my business to address myself on this subject, and my advice may be classed under three heads:
Clear your souls from the taint of vanity.
Do not rejoice in conquests, either that your power to allure may be seen by other women, or for the pleasure of rousing passionate feelings that gratify your love of excitement.
It must happen, no doubt, that frank and generous women will excite love they do not reciprocate, but, in nine cases out of ten, the woman has, half consciously, done much to excite. In this case, she shall not be held guiltless, either as to the unhappiness or injury of the lover. Pure love, inspired by a worthy object, must ennoble and bless, whether mutual or not; but that which is excited by coquettish attraction of any grade of refinement, must cause bitterness and doubt, as to the reality of human goodness, so soon as the flush of passion is over. And, that you may avoid all taste for these false pleasures,
"Steep the soul
In one pure love, and it will last thee long."
The love of truth, the love of excellence, whether you clothe them in the person of a special object or not, will have power to save you from following Duessa, and lead you in the green glades where Una's feet have trod.
* As described by the historian: --
It was on this one subject that a venerable champion of good, the last representative of the spirit which sanctified the Revolution, and gave our country such a sunlight of hope in the eyes of the nations, the same who lately, in Boston, offered anew to the young men the pledge taken by the young men of his day, offered, also, his counsel, on being addressed by the principal of a girl's school, thus:
REPLY OF MR. ADAMS.
Mr. Adams was so deeply affected by the address of Miss Foster, as to be for some time inaudible. When heard, he spoke as follows:
"This is the first instance in which a lady has thus addressed me personally; and I trust that all the ladies present will be able sufficiently to enter into my feelings to know that I am more affected by this honor than by any other I could(I have received.
"You have been pleased, madam, to allude to the character of my father, and the history of my family, and their services to the country. It is indeed true that, from the existence of the republic as an independent nation, my father and myself have been in the public service of the country, almost without interruption. I came into the world, as a person having personal responsibilities, with the Declaration of Independence, which constituted us a nation. I was a child at that time, and had then perhaps the greatest of blessings that can be bestowed on man --a mother who was anxious and capable to form her children to be what they ought to be. From that mother I derived whatever instruction religious especially and moral --has pervaded a long life; I will not say perfectly, and as it ought to be; but I will say, because it is justice only to the memory of her whom I revere, that if, in the course of my life, there has been any imperfection, or deviation from what she taught me, the fault is mine, and not hers.
"With such a mother, and such other relations with the sex, of sister, wife, and daughter, it has been the perpetual instruction of my life to love and revere the female sex. And in order to carry that sentiment of love and reverence to its highest degree of perfection, I know of nothing that exists in human society better adapted to produce that result, than institutions of the character that I have now the honor to address.
"I have been taught, as I have said, through the course of my life, to love and to revere the female sex; but I have been taught, also --and that lesson has perhaps impressed itself on my mind even more strongly, it may be, than the other --I have been taught not to flatter them. It is not unusual, in the intercourse of Man with the other sex --and especially for young men-- to think that the way to win the hearts of ladies is by flattery. To love and to revere the sex, is what I think the duty of Man; but not to flatter them ; and this I would say to the young ladies here --and if they, and others present, will allow me, with all the authority which nearly four score years may have with those who have not yet attained one score-- I would say to them what I have no doubt they say to themselves, and are taught here, not to take the flattery of men as proof of perfection.
"I am now, however, I fear, assuming too much of a character that does not exactly belong to me. I therefore conclude, by assuring you, madam, that your reception of me has affected me, as you perceive, more than I can express in words; and that I shall offer my best prayers, till my latest hour, to the Creator of us all, that this institution especially, and all others of a similar kind, designed to form the female mind to wisdom and virtue, may prosper to the end of time."
It will be interesting --to add here the character of Mr. Adams' mother, as drawn by her husband, the first John Adams, in a family letter* written just before his death.
"I have reserved for the last the life of Lady Russell. This I have
not yet read, because I read it more than forty years ago. On this
hangs a tale which you ought to know and communicate it to
Will a woman who loves flattery or an aimless excitement, who wastes the flower of her mind on transitory sentiments, ever be loved with a love like that, when fifty years' trial have entitled to the privileges of "the golden marriage?"
Such was the love of the iron-handed warrior for her, not his hand-maid, but his help-meet:
"Whom God loves, to him gives he such a wife."
I find the whole of what I want in this relation, in the two epithets
by which Milton makes Adam address his wife. In the intercourse of every day he begins:
The Woman who permits, in her life, the alloy of vanity; the woman who lives upon flattery, coarse or fine, shall never be thus addressed. She is not immortal so far as her will is concerned, and every woman who does so creates miasma, whose spread is indefinite. The hand which casts into the waters of life a stone of offence knows not how far the circles thus caused may spread their agitations.
A little while since I was at one of the most fashionable places of public resort. I saw there many women, dressed without regard to the season or the demands of the place, in apery, or, as it looked, in mockery, of European fashions. I saw their eyes restlessly courting attention. I saw the way in which it was paid; the style of devotion, almost an open sneer, which it pleased those ladies to receive from men whose expression marked their own low position in the moral and intellectual world. Those women went to their pillows with their heads full of folly, their hearts of jealousy, or gratified vanity; those men, with the low opinion they already entertained of Woman confirmed. These were American ladies; that is, they were of that class who have wealth and leisure to make full use of the day, and confer benefits on others. They were of that class whom the possession of external advantages makes of pernicious example to many, if these advantages be misused.
Soon after, I met a circle of women, stamped by society as among the most degraded of their sex. "How," it was asked of them, "did you come here?" for by the society that I saw in the former place they were shut up in a prison. The causes were not difficult to trace: love of dress, love of flattery, love of excitement. They had not dresses like the other ladies, so they stole them; they could not pay for flattery by distinctions, and the dower of a worldly marriage, so they paid by the profanation of their persons. In excitement, more and more madly sought from day to day, they drowned the voice of conscience.
Now I ask you, my sisters, if the women at the fashionable house be not answerable for those women being in the prison?
As to position in the world of souls, we may suppose the women of the prison stood fairest, both because they had misused less light, and because loneliness and sorrow had brought some of them to feel the need of better life, nearer truth and good. This was no merit in them, being an effect of circumstance, but it was hopeful. But you, my friends (and some of you I have already met), consecrate yourselves without waiting for reproof, in free love and unbroken energy, to win and to diffuse a better life. Offer beauty, talents, riches, on the altar; thus shall ye keep spotless your own hearts, and be visibly or invisibly the angels to others.
I would urge upon those women who have not yet considered this subject, to do so. Do not forget the unfortunates who dare not cross your guarded way. If it do not suit you to act with those who have organized measures of reform, then hold not yourself excused from acting in private. Seek out these degraded women, give them tender sympathy, counsel, employment. Take the place of mothers, such as might have saved them originally.
If you can do little for those already under the ban of the world, - and the best-considered efforts have often failed, from a want of strength in those unhappy ones to bear up against the sting of shame and the prejudices of the world, which makes them seek oblivion again in their old excitements, --you will at least leave a sense of love and justice in their hearts, that will prevent their becoming utterly embittered and corrupt. And you may learn the means of prevention for those yet uninjured. These will be found in a diffusion of mental culture, simple tastes, best taught by your example, a genuine self-respect, and, above all, what the influence of Man tends to hide from Woman, the love and fear of a divine, in preference to a human tribunal.
But suppose you save many who would have lost their bodily innocence (for as to mental, the loss of that is incalculably more general), through mere vanity and folly; there still remain many, the prey and spoil of the brute passions of Man; for the stories frequent in our newspapers outshame antiquity, and vie with the horrors of war.
As to this, it must be considered that, as the vanity and proneness to seduction of the imprisoned women represented a general degradation in their sex; so do these acts a still more general and worse in the male. Where so many are weak, it is natural there should be many lost; where legislators admit that ten thousand prostitutes are a fair proportion to one city, and husbands tell their wives that it is folly to expect chastity from men, it is inevitable that there should be many monsters of vice.
I must in this place mention, with respect and gratitude, the conduct of Mrs. Child in the case of Amelia Norman. The action and speech of this lady was of straightforward nobleness, undeterred by custom or cavil from duty toward an injured sister. She showed the case and the arguments the counsel against the prisoner had the assurance to use in their true light to the public. She put the case on the only ground of religion and equity. She was successful in arresting the attention of many who had before shrugged their shoulders, and let sin pass as necessarily a part of the company of men. They begin to ask whether virtue is not possible, perhaps necessary, to Man as well as to Woman. They begin to fear that the perdition of a woman must involve that of a man. This is a crisis. The results of this case will be important.
In this connection I must mention Eugene Sue, the French novelist, several of whose works have been lately translated among us, as having the true spirit of reform as to women. Like every other French writer, he is still tainted with the transmissions of the old regime. Still, falsehood may be permitted for the sake of advancing truth, evil as the way to good. Even George Sand, who would trample on every graceful decorum and every human law, for the sake of a sincere life, does not see that she violates it by making her heroines able to tell falsehoods in a good cause. These French writers need ever to be confronted by the clear perception of the English and German mind, that the only good man, consequently the only good reformer, is he
"Who bases good on good alone, and owes
Still, Sue has the heart of a reformer, and especially towards women; he sees what they need, and what causes are injuring them. From the histories of Fleur de Marie and La Louve, from the lovely and independent character of Rigolette from, the distortion given to Matilda's mind, by the present views of marriage, and from the truly noble and immortal character of the "humpbacked Sempstress" in the "Wandering Jew," may be gathered much that shall elucidate doubt and direct inquiry on this subject. In reform, as in philosophy, the French are the interpreters to the civilized world. Their own attainments are not great, but they make clear the past,, and break down barriers to the future.
Observe that the good man of Sue is as pure as Sir Charles Grandison.
Apropos to Sir Charles. Women are accustomed to be told by men that the reform is to come from them. "You," say the men, "'must frown upon vice; you must decline the attentions of the corrupt; you must not submit to the will of your husband when it seems to you unworthy, but give the laws in marriage, and redeem it from its present sensual and mental pollutions."
This seems to us hard. Men have, indeed, been, for more than a hundred years, rating women for countenancing vice. But, at the same time, they have carefully hid from them its nature, so that the preference often shown by women for bad men arises rather from a confused idea that they are bold and adventurous, acquainted with regions which women are forbidden to explore, and the curiosity that ensues, than a corrupt heart in the woman. As to marriage, it has been inculcated on women, for centuries, that men have not only stronger passions than they, but of a sort that it would be shameful for them to share or even understand; that, therefore, they must "confide in their husbands," that is, submit implicitly to their will; that the least appearance of coldness or withdrawal, from whatever cause, in the wife is wicked, because liable to turn her husband's thoughts to illicit indulgence; for a man is so constituted that he must indulge his passions or die!
Accordingly, a great part of women look upon men as kind of wild beasts, but "suppose they are all alike;" the unmarried are assured by the married that, "if they knew, men as they do," that is, by being married to them, "they would not expect continence or self-government from them."
I might accumulate illustrations on this theme, drawn from acquaintance with the histories of women, which would startle and grieve all thinking men, but I forbear. Let Sir Charles Grandison preach to his own sex; or if none there be who feels himself able to speak with authority from a life unspotted in will or deed, let those who are convinced of the practicability and need of a pure life, as the foreign artist was, advise the others, and warn them by their own example, if need be.
The following passage, from a female writer, on female affairs, expresses a prevalent way of thinking on this subject:
It may be that a young woman, exempt from all motives of vanity, determines to take for a husband a man who does not inspire her with a very decided inclination. Imperious circumstances, the evident interest of her family, or the danger of suffering celibacy, may explain such a resolution. If, however, she were to endeavor to surmount a personal repugnance, we should look upon this as injudicious. Such a rebellion of nature marks the limit that the influence of parents, or the self-sacrifice of the young girl, should never pass. We shall be told that this repugnance is an a air of he imagination. It may be so; but imagination is a power which it is temerity to brave; and its antipathy is more difficult to conquer than its preference."*Among ourselves, the exhibition of such a repugnance from a woman who had been given in marriage "by advice of friends," was treated by an eminent physician as sufficient proof of insanity. If he had said sufficient cause for it, he would have been nearer right.
It has been suggested by men who were pained by seeing bad men admitted, freely, to the society of modest women, --thereby encouraged to vice by impunity, and corrupting the atmosphere of homes,-- that there should be a senate of the matrons in each city and town, who should decide what candidates were fit for admission to their houses and the society of their daughters. **
Such a plan have excellent results; but it argues a moral dignity and decision which does not yet exist, and needs to be induced by knowledge and reflection. It has been the tone to keep women ignorant on these subjects, or, when they were not, to command that they should seem so. "It is indelicate," says the father or husband, "to inquire into the private character of such an one. It is sufficient that I do not think him unfit to visit you." And so, this man, who would not tolerate these pages in his house, "unfit for family reading," because they speak plainly, introduces there a man whose shame is written on his brow, as well as the open secret of the whole town, and, presently, if respectable still, and rich enough, gives him his daughter to wife. The mother affects ignorance, "supposing he is no worse than most men." The daughter is ignorant; something in the mind of the new spouse seems strange to her, but she supposes it is "woman's lot" not to be perfectly happy in her affections; she has always heard, "men could not understand women," so she weeps alone, or takes to dress and the duties of the house. The husband, of course, makes no avowal, and dreams of no redemption.
"In the heart of every young woman," says the female writer above quoted, addressing herself to the husband, "depend upon it, there is a fund of exalted ideas; she conceals, represses, without succeeding in smothering them. So long as these ideas in your wife are directed to You, they are, no doubt, innocent, but take care that they be not accompanied with too much pain. In other respects, also, spare her delicacy. Let all the antecedent parts of your life, if there are such, which would give her pain, be concealed from her; her happiness and her respect for you would suffer from this misplaced confidence. Allow her to retain that flower of purity, which should distinguish her, in your eyes, from every other woman." We should think so, truly, under this canon. Such a man must esteem purity an exotic that could only be preserved by the greatest care. Of the degree of mental intimacy possible, in such a marriage, let every one judge for himself!
On this subject, let every woman, who has once begun to think, examine herself; see whether she does not suppose virtue possible and necessary to Man, and whether she would not desire for her son a virtue which aimed at a fitness for a divine life, and involved, if not asceticism, that degree of power over the lower self, which shall "exterminate the passions, but keep them chained at the feet of reason." The passions, like fire, are a bad master; but confine them to the hearth and the altar, and they give life to the social economy, and make each sacrifice meet for heaven.
When many women have thought upon this subject, some will be fit for the senate, and one such senate in operation would affect the morals of the civilized world.
At present I look to the young. As preparatory to the senate, I should like to see a society of novices, such as the world has never yet seen, bound by no oath, wearing, no badge. In place of an oath, they should have a religious faith in the capacity of Man for virtue; instead of a badge, should wear in the heart a firm resolve not to stop short of the destiny promised him as a son of God. Their service should be action and conservatism, not of old habits, but of a better nature, enlightened by hopes that daily grow brighter.
If sin was to remain in the world, it should not be by their connivance at its stay, or one moment's concession to its claims.
They should succor the oppressed, and pay to the upright the reverence due in hero-worship by seeking to emulate them. They would not denounce the willingly bad, but they could not be with them, for the two classes could not breathe the same atmosphere.
They would heed no detention from the time-serving, the worldly and the timid.
They could love no pleasures that were not innocent and capable of good fruit.
I saw, in a foreign paper, the title now given to a party abroad, "Los Exaltados." Such would be the title now given these children by the world: Los Exaltados, Las Exaltadas; but the world would not sneer always, for from them would issue a virtue by which it would, at last, be exalted too.
I have in my eye a youth and a maiden whom I look to as the nucleus of such a class. They are both in early youth; both as yet uncontaminated; both aspiring, with out rashness; both thoughtful; both capable of deep affection; both of strong nature and sweet feelings; both capable of large mental development. They reside in different regions of earth, but their place in the soul is the same. To them I look, as, perhaps, the harbingers and leaders of a new era, for never yet have I known minds so truly virgin, without narrowness or ignorance.
When men call upon women to redeem them, they mean such maidens. But such are not easily formed under the present influences of society. As there are more such young men to help give a different tone, there will be more such maidens.
The English, novelist, D'Israeli, has, in his novel of "The Young Duke," made a man of the most depraved stock be redeemed by a woman who despises him when he has only the brilliant mask of fortune and beauty to cover the poverty of his heart and brain, but knows how to encourage him when he enters on a better course. But this woman was educated by a father who valued character in women.
Still, there will come now and then one who will, as I hope of my young Exaltada, be example and instruction for the rest. It was not the opinion of Woman current among Jewish men that formed the character of the mother of Jesus.
Since the sliding and backsliding men of the world, no less than the mystics, declare that, as through Woman Man was lost, so through Woman must Man be redeemed, the time must be at hand. When she knows herself indeed as "accomplished," still more as "immortal Eve," this may be.
As an immortal, she may also know and inspire immortal love, a happiness not to be dreamed of under the circumstances advised in the last quotation. Where love is based on concealment, it must, of course, disappear when the soul enters the scene of clear vision!
And, without this hope, how worthless every plan, every bond, every power!
"The giants," said the Scandinavian Saga, "had induced Loke (the spirit that hovers between good and ill) to steal for them Iduna (Goddess of Immortality) and her apples of pure gold. He lured her out, by promising to show, on a marvellous tree he had discovered, apples beautiful as her own, if she would only take them with her for a comparison. Thus having lured her beyond the heavenly domain, she was seized and carried away captive by the powers of misrule.
"As now the gods could not find their friend Iduna, they were confused with grief; indeed, they began visibly to grow old and gray. Discords arose, and love grew cold. Indeed, Odur, spouse of the goddess of love and beauty wandered away, and returned no more. At last, however, the gods, discovering, the treachery of Loke, obliged him to win back Iduna from the prison in which she sat mourning. He changedd himself into a falcon, and brought her back as a swallow, fiercely pursued by the Giant King, in the form of an eagle. So she strives to return among us, light and small as a swallow. We must welcome her form as the speck on the sky that assures the glad blue of Summer. Yet one swallow does not make a summer. Let us solicit them in flights and flocks!
Returning from the future to the present, let us see what forms Iduna takes, as she moves along the declivity of centuries to the valley where the lily flower may concentrate all its fragrance.
It would seem as if this time were not very near to one fresh from books, such as I have of late been --no: not reading, but sighing over. A crowd of books having been sent me since my friends knewme to be engaged in this way, on Woman's "Sphere," Woman's "Mission," and Woman's "Destiny," I believe that almost all that is extant of formal precept has come under my eye. Among these I read with refreshment a little one called "The Whole Duty of Woman," indited by a noble lady at the request of a noble lord," and which has this much of nobleness, that the view it takes is a religious one. It aims to fit Woman for heaven; the main bent of most of the others is to fit her to please, or, at least, not to disturb, a husband.
Among these I select, as a favorable specimen, the book I have already quoted, "The Study* of the Life of Woman, by Madame Necker de Saussure, of Geneva, translated from the French." This book was published at Philadelphia, and has been read with much favor here. Madame Necker is the cousin of Madame de Stael, and has taken from her works the motto prefixed to this.
"Cette vie n'a quelque prix que si elle sert a' l'education morale de notre coeur."
Mde. Necker is, by nature, capable of entire consistency in the application of this motto, and, therefore, the qualifications she makes, in the instructions given to her own sex, show forcibly the weight which still paralyzes and distorts the energies of that sex.
The book is rich in passages marked by feeling and good suggestions; but, taken in the whole, the impression it leaves is this:
Woman is, and shall remain, inferior to Man and subject to his will, and, in endeavoring to aid her, we must anxiously avoid anything that can be misconstrued into expression of the contrary opinion, else the men will be alarmed, and combine to defeat our efforts.
The present is a good time for these efforts, for men are less occupied about women than formerly. Let us,then, seize upon the occasion, and do what we can to make our lot tolerable. But we must sedulously avoid encroaching on the territory of Man. If we study natural history, our observations may be made useful, by some male naturalist; if we draw well, we may make our services acceptable to the artists. But our names must not be known; and, to bring these labors to any result, we must take some man for our head, and be his hands.
The lot of Woman is sad. She is constituted to expect and need a happiness that cannot exist on earth. She must stifle such aspirations within her secret heart, and fit herself, as well as she can, for a life of resignations and consolations.
She will be very lonely while living with her husband. She must not expect to open her heart to him fully, or that, after marriage, he will be capable of the refined service of love. The man is not born for the woman, only the woman for the man. "Men cannot understand the hearts of women." The life of Woman must be outwardly a well-intentioned, cheerful dissimulation of her real life.
Naturally, the feelings of the mother, at the birth of a female child, resemble those of the Paraguay woman, described by Southey as lamenting in such heart-breaking tones that her mother did not kill her the hour she was born, --"her mother, who knew what the life of a woman must be" ---or of those women seen at the north by Sir A. Mackenzie, who performed this pious duty towards female [nfants whenever they had an opportunity.
"After the first delight, the young mother experiences feelings a little different, according as the birth of a son or a daughter has been announced.
"Is it a son? A sort of glory swells at this thought the heart of
the mother; she seems to feel that she is entitled to gratitude.
She has given a citizen, a defender, to her country; to her husband an
heir of his name; to herself a protector. And yet the contrast of
all these fine titles with this being, so humble, soon strikes her.
At the aspect of this frail treasure, opposite feelings agitate her heart;
she seems to recognize in him a nature superior to her own, but
"Is it a daughter? There is usually a slight degree of regret; so deeply rooted is the idea of the superiority of Man in happiness and dignity; and yet, as she looks upon this child, she is more and more softened towards it. A deep sympathy --a sentiment of identity with this delicate being-- takes possession of her; an extreme pity for so much weakness, a more pressing need of prayer, stirs her heart. Whatever sorrows she may have felt, she dreads for her daughter; but she will guide her to become much wiser, much better than herself. And then the gayety, the frivolity of the young woman have their turn. This little creature is a flower to cultivate, a doll to decorate."
Similar sadness at the birth of a daughter I have heard mothers express not unfrequently.
As to this living so entirely for men, I should think when it was proposed to women they would feel, at least, some spark of the old spirit of races allied to our own. "If he is to be my bridegroom and lord," cries Brunhilda,* "he must first be able to pass through fire and water." "I will serve at the banquet," says the Walkyrie, "but only him who, in the trial of deadly combat, has shown himself a hero."
If women are to be bond-maids, let it be to men superior to women in fortitude, in aspiration, in moral power, in refined sense of beauty! You who give yourselves "to be supported," or because "one must love something," are they who make the lot of the sex such that mothers are sad when daughters are born.
It marks the state of feeling on this subject that it was mentioned, as a bitter censure on a woman who had influence over those younger than herself, --"She makes those girls want to see heroes?"
"And will that hurt them?"
"Certainly; how can you ask? They will find none, and so they will never be married."
"Get married" is the usual phrase, and the one that correctly indicates the thought; but the speakers, on this occasion, were persons too outwardly refined to use it. They were ashamed of the word, but not of the thing. Madame Necker, however, sees good possible in celibacy.
Indeed, I know not how the subject could be better illustrated, than by separating the wheat from the chaff in Madame Necker's book; place them in two heaps, and then summon the reader to choose; giving him first a near-sighted glass to examine the two; -it might be a Christian, an astronomical, or an artistic glass, --any kind of good glass to obviate acquired defects in the eye. I would lay any wager on the result.
But time permits not here a prolonged analysis. I have given the clues for fault-finding.
As a specimen of the good take the following passage, on the phenomena of what I have spoken of, as the lyrical or electric element in Woman.
"Women have been seen to show themselves poets in the most pathetic pantomimic scenes, where all the passions were depicted full of beauty; and these poets used a language unknown to themselves, and, the performance once over, their inspiration was a forgotten dream. Without doubt there is an interior development to beings so gifted; but their sole mode of communication with us is their talent. They are, in all besides, the inhabitants of another planet."
Similar observations have been made by those who have seen the women at Irish wakes, or the funeral ceremonies of modern Greece or Brittany, at times when excitement gave the impulse to genius; but, apparently, without a thought that these rare powers belonged to no other planet, but were a high development of the growth of this, and might, by wise and reverent treatment, be made to inform and embellish the scenes of every day. But, when Woman has her fair chance, she will do so, and the poem of the hour will vie with that of the ages.
I come now with satisfaction to my own country, and to a writer, a female writer, whom I have selected as the dearest, wisest, and kindliest, who has, as yet, used pen here on these subjects. This is Miss Sedgwick.
Miss Sedgwick, though she inclines to the private path, and wishes that, by the cultivation of character, might should vindicate right, sets limits nowhere, and her objects and inducements are pure. They are the free and careful cultivation of the powers that have been given, with an aim at moral and intellectual perfection. Her speech is moderate and sane, but never palsied by fear or sceptical caution.
Herself a fine example of the independent and beneficent existence that intellect and character can give to Woman, no less than Man, if she know how to seek and prize it, --also, that the intellect need not absorb or weaken, but rather will refine and invigorate, the affections,-- the teachings of her practical good sense come with great force, and cannot fail to avail much. Every way her writings please me both as to the means and the ends. I am pleased at the stress she lays on observance of the physical laws, because the true reason is given. Only in a strong and clean body can the soul do its message fitly.
She shows the meaning of the respect paid to personal neatness, both in the indispensable form of cleanliness, and of that love of order and arrangement, that must issue from a true harmony of feeling.
The praises of cold water seem to me an excellent sign in the age. They denote a tendency to the true life- We are now to have, as a remedy for ills, not orvietan, or opium, or any quack medicine, but plenty of air and water, with due attention to warmth and freedom in dress, and simplicity of diet.
Every day we observe signs that the natural feelings on these subjects are about to be reinstated, and the body to claim care as the abode and organ of the soul; not as the tool of servile labor, or the object of voluptuous indulgence.
A poor woman, who had passed through the lowest grades of ignominy, seemed to think she had never been wholly lost, "for," said she, "I would always have good under-clothes;" and, indeed, who could doubt that this denoted the remains of private self-respect in the mind?
A woman of excellent sense said, "It might seem childish, but to her one of the most favorable signs of the times was that the ladies had been persuaded to give up corsets."
Yes! let us give up all artificial means of distortion. Let life be healthy, pure, all of a piece. Miss Sedgwick, in teaching that domestics must have the means of bathing as much as their mistresses, and time, too, to bathe, has symbolized one of the most important of human rights.
Another interesting sign of the time is the influence exercised by two women, Miss Martineau and Miss Barrett, from their sick-rooms. The lamp of life which, if it had been fed only by the affections, depended on precarious human relations, would scarce have been able to maintain a feeble glare in the lonely prison, now shines far and wide over the nations, cheering fellow-sufferers and hallowing the joy of the healthful.
These persons need not health or youth, or the charms of personal presence, to make their thoughts available. A few more such, and "old woman" shall not be the synonyme for imbecility, nor "old maid" a term of contempt, nor Woman be spoken of as a reed shaken by the wind.
It is time, indeed, that men and women both should cease to grow old in any other way than as the tree does, full of grace and honor. The hair of the artist turns white, but his eye shines clearer than ever, and we feel that age brings him maturity, not decay. So would it be with all, were the springs of immortal refreshment but unsealed within the soul; then, like these women, they would see, from the lonely chamber window, the glories of the universe; or, shut in darkness, be visited by angels.
I now touch on my own place and day, and, as I write, events are occurring that threaten the fair fabric approached by so long an avenue. Week before last, the Gentile was requested to aid the Jew to return to Palestine; for the Millennium, the reign of the Son of Mary was near. Just now, at high and solemn mass, thanks were returned to the Virgin for having delivered O'Connell from unjust imprisonment, in requital of his having consecrated to her the league formed in behalf of Liberty on Tara's Hill. But last week brought news which threatens that a cause identical with the enfranchisement of Jews, Irish, women, ay, and of Americans in general, too, is in danger, for the choice of the people threatens to rivet the chains of slavery and the leprosy of sin permanently on this nation, through the Annexation of Texas!
Ah! if this should take place, who will dare again to feel the throb of heavenly hope, as to the destiny of this country? The noble thought that gave unity to all our knowledge, harmony to all our designs, --the thought that the progress of history had brought on the era, the tissue of prophecies pointed out the spot, where humanity was, at last, to have a fair chance to know itself, and all men be born free and equal for the eagle's flight, --flutters as if about to leave the breast, which, deprived of it, will have no more a nation, no more a home on earth.
Women of my country! Exaltadas! if such there be, --women of English, old English nobleness, who understand the courage of Boadicea, the sacrifice of Godiva, the power of Queen Emma to tread the red-hot iron unharmed, --women who share the nature of Mrs. Hutchinson, Lady Russell, and the mothers of our own revolution,-- have you nothing to do with this? You see the men, how they are willing to sell shamelessly the happiness of countless generations of fellow-creatures, the honor of their country, and their immortal souls, for a money market and political power. Do you not feel within you that which can reprove them, which can check, which can convince them? You would not speak in vain; whether each in her own home, or banded in unison.
Tell these men that you will not accept the glittering baubles, spacious dwellings, and plentiful service, they mean to offer you through these means. Tell them that the heart of Woman demands nobleness and honor in Man, and that, if they have not purity, have not mercy, they are no longer fathers, lovers, husbands, son yours.
This cause is your own, for, as I have before said, there is a reason why the foes of African Slavery seek more freedom for women; but put it not upon that ground, but on the ground of right.
lf you have a power, it is a moral power. The films of interest are not so close around you as around the men. If you will but think, you cannot fail to wish to save the country from this disgrace. Let not slip the occasion, but do something to lift off the curse incurred by Eve.
You have heard the women engaged in the Abolition movement accused of boldness, because they lifted the voice in public, and lifted the latch of the stranger. But were these acts, whether performed judiciously or no, so bold as to dare before God and Man to partake the fruits of such offence as this?
You hear much of the modesty of your sex. Preserve it by filling the mind with noble desires that shall ward off idleness. A profligate woman, who left her accustomed haunts and took service in a New York boarding-house, said "she had never heard talk so vile at the Five Points, as from the ladies at the boarding-house." And why? Because they were idle; because, having nothing worthy to engage them, they dwelt, with unnatural curiosity, on the ill they dared not go to see.
It will not so much injure your modesty to have your name, by the unthinking, coupled with idle blame, as to have upon your soul the weight of not trying to save a whole race of women from the scorn that is put upon their modesty.
Think of this well! I entreat, I conjure you, before it is too late. It is my belief that something effectual might be done by women, if they would only consider the subject, and enter upon it in the true Spirit, spirit gentle, but firm, and which feared the offence of none, save One who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
And now I have designated in outline, if not in fulness, the stream which is ever flowing from the heights of my thought.
In the earlier tract I was told I did not make my meaning sufficiently clear. In this I have consequently tried to illustrate it in various ways, and may have been guilty of much repetition. Yet, as I am anxious to leave no room for doubt, I shall venture to retrace, once more, the scope of my design in points, as was done in old-fashioned sermons.
Man is a being of two-fold relations, to nature beneath, and intelligences above him. The earth is his school, if not his birthplace; God his object; life and thought his means of interpreting nature, and aspiring to God.
Only a fraction of this purpose is accomplished in the life, of any one man. Its entire accomplishment is to be hoped only from the sum of the lives of men, or Man considered as a whole.
As this whole has one soul and one body, any injury or obstruction to a part or to the meanest member, affects the whole. Man can never be perfectly happy or virtuous, till all men are so.
To address Man wisely, you must not forget that his life is partly animal, subject to the same laws with Nature.
But you cannot address him wisely unless you consider him still more as soul, and appreciate the conditions and destiny of soul.
The growth of Man is two-fold, masculine and feminine.
So far as these two methods can be distinguished, they are so as
These two sides are supposed to be expressed in Man and Woman, that is, as the more and the less, for the faculties have not been given pure to either, but only in preponderance. There are also exceptions in great number, such as men of far more beauty than power, and the reverse. But, as a general rule, it seems to have been the intention to give a preponderance on the one side, that is called masculine, and on the other, one that is called feminine.
There cannot be a doubt that, if these two developments were in perfect harmony, they would correspond to and fulfil one another, like hemispheres, or the tenor and bass in music. But there is no perfect harmony in human nature; and the two parts answer one another only now and then; or, if there be a persistent consonance, it can only be traced at long intervals, instead of discoursing an obvious melody.
What is the cause of this?
Man, in the order of time, was developed first; as energy comes before harmony; power before beauty.
Woman was therefore under his care as an elder. He might have been her guardian and teacher.
But, as human nature goes not straight forward, but by exces-sive action and then reaction in an undulated course, he misunderstood and abused his advantages, and became her temporal master instead of her spiritual sire.
On himself came the punishment. He educated Woman more as a servant than a daughter, and found himself a king without a queen.
The children of this unequal union showed unequal natures, and, more and more, men seemed sons of the handmaid, rather than princess.
At last, there were so many Ishmaelites that the rest grew frightened and indignant. They laid the blame on Hagar, and drove her forth into the wilderness.
But there were none the fewer Ishmaelites for that.
At last men became a little wiser, and saw that the infant Moses was, in every case, saved by the pure instincts of Woman's breast. For, as too much adversity is better for the moral nature than too much prosperity, Woman, in this respect, dwindled less than Man, though in other respects still a child in leading-strings.
So Man did her more and more justice, and grew more and more kind.
But yet- his habits and his will corrupted by the past --he did not clearly see that Woman was half himself; that her interests were identical with his; and that, by the law of their common being, he could never reach his true proportions while she remained in any wise shorn of hers.
And so it has gone on to our day; both ideas developing, but more slowly than they would under a clearer recognition of truth and justice, which would have permitted the sexes their due influence on one another, and mutual improvement from more dignified relations.
Wherever there was pure love, the natural influences were, for the time, restored.
Wherever the poet or artist gave free course to his genius, he saw the truth, and expressed it in worthy forms, for these men especially share and need the feminine principle. The divine birds need to be brooded into life and song by mothers.
Wherever religion (I mean the thirst for truth and good, not the love of sect and dogma) had its course, the original design was apprehended in its simplicity, and the dove presaged sweetly from Dodona's oak.
I have aimed to show that no age was left entirely without a witness of the equality of the sexes in function, duty and hope.
Also that, when there was unwillingness or ignorance, which prevented this being acted upon, women had not the less power for their want of light and noble freedom. But it was power which hurt alike them and those against whom they made use of the arms of the servile, --cunning, blandishment, and unreasonable emotion.
That now the time has come when a clearer vision and better action are possible --when Man and Woman may regard one another as brother and sister, the pillars of one porch, the priests of one worship.
I have believed and intimated that this hope would receive an ampler fruition, than ever before, in our own land.
And it will do so if this land carry out the principles from which sprang our national life.
I believe that, at present, women are the best helpers of one another.
Let them think; let them act; till they know what they need.
We only ask of men to remove arbitrary barriers. Some would like to do more. But I believe it needs that Woman show herself in her native dignity, to teach them how to aid her; their minds are so encumbered by tradition.
When Lord Edward Fitzgerald travelled with the Indians, his manly heart obliged him at once to take the packs from the squaws and carry them. But we do not read that the red men followed his example, though they are ready enough to carry the pack of the white woman, because she seems to them a superior being.
Let Woman appear in the mild majesty of Ceres, and rudest churls will be willing to learn from her.
You ask, what use will she make of liberty, when she has so long been sustained and restrained ?
I answer; in the first place, this will not be suddenly given. I read yesterday a debate of this year on the subject of enlarging women's rights over property. It was a leaf from the class-book that is preparing for the needed instruction. The men learned visibly as they spoke. The champions of Woman saw the fallacy of arguments on the opposite side, and were startled by their own convictions. With their wives at home, and the readers of the paper, it was the same. And so the stream flows on; thought urging action, and action leading to the evolution of still better thought.
But, were this freedom to come suddenly, I have no fear of the consequences. Individuals might commit excesses, but there is not only in the sex a reverence for decorums and limits inherited and enhanced from generation to generation, which many years of other life could not efface, but a native love, in Woman as Woman, of proportion, of "the simple art of not too much," -- a Greek moderation, which would create immediately a restraining party, the natural legislators and instructors of the rest, and would gradually establish such rules as are needed to guard, without impeding, life.
The Graces would lead the choral dance, and teach the rest to regulate their steps to the measure of beauty.
But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply --any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will. I do not doubt there are women well fitted for such an office, and, if so, I should be as glad to see them in it, as to welcome the maid of Saragossa, or the maid of Missolonghi, or the Suliote heroine, or Emily Plater.
I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers. A party of travellers lately visited a lonely hut on a mountain. There they found an old woman, who told them she and her husband had lived there forty years. "Why," they said, "did you choose so barren a spot?" She "did not know; it was the man's notion."
And, during forty years, she had been content to act, without knowing why, upon "the man's notion." I would not have it so.
In families that I know, some little girls like to saw wood, others to use carpenters' tools. Where these tastes are indulged, cheerfulness and good-humor are promoted. Where they are forbidden, because "such things are not proper for girls," they grow sullen and mischievous.
Fourier had observed these wants of women, as no one can fail to do who watches the desires of little girls, or knows the ennui that haunts grown women, except where they make to themselves a serene little world by art of some kind. He, therefore, in proposing a great variety of employments, in manufactures or the care of plants and animals, allows for one third of women as likely to have a taste for masculine pursuits, one third of men for feminine.
Who does not observe the immediate glow and serenity that is diffused over the life of women, before restless or fretful, by engaging in gardening, building, or the lowest department of art? Here is something that is not routine, something that draws forth life towards the infinite.
I have no doubt, however, that a large proportion of women would give themselves to the same employments as now, because there are circumstances that must lead them. Mothers will delight to make the nest soft and warm. Nature would take care of that; no need to clip the wings of any bird that wants to soar and sing, or finds in itself the strength of pinion for a migratory flight unusual to its kind. The difference would be that all need not be constrained to employments for which some are unfit.
I have urged upon the sex self-subsistence in its two forms of self-reliance and self-impulse, because I believe them to be the needed means of the present juncture.
I have urged on Woman independence of Man, not that I do not think the sexes mutually needed by one another, but because in Woman this fact has led to an excessive devotion, which has cooled love, degraded marriage, and prevented either sex from being what it should be to itself or the other.
I wish Woman to live, first for God's sake. Then she will not make an imperfect man her god, and thus sink to idolatry. Then she will not take what is not fit for her from a sense of weakness and poverty. Then, if she finds what she needs in Man embodied, she will know how to love, and be worthy of being loved.
By being more a soul, she will not be less Woman, for nature is perfected through spirit.
Now there is no woman, only an overgrown child.
That her hand may be given with dignity, she must be able to stand alone. I wish to see men and women capable of such relations as are depicted by Landor in his Pericles and Aspasia, where grace is the natural garb of strength, and the affections are calm, because deep. The softness is that of a firm tissue, as when
"The gods approve
A profound thinker has said, "No married woman can represent the female world, for she belongs to her husband. The idea of Woman must be represented by a virgin."
But that is the very fault of marriage, and of the present relation between the sexes, that the woman does belong, to the man, instead of forming a whole with him. Were it otherwise, there would be no such limitation to the thought.
Woman, self-centred, would never be absorbed by any relation it would be only an experience to her as to man. It is a vulgar error that love, a love, to Woman is her whole existence; she also is born for Truth and Love in their universal energy. Would she but assume her inheritance, Mary would not be the only virgin mother. Not Manzoni alone would celebrate in his wife the virgin mind with the maternal wisdom and conjugal affections. The soul is ever young, ever virgin.
And will not she soon appear? --the woman who shall vindicate their birthright for all women; who shall teach them what to claim, and how to use what they obtain? Shall not her name be for her era Victoria, for her country and life Virginia? Yet predictions are rash; she herself must teach us to give her the fitting name.
An idea not unknown to ancient times has of late been revived, that, in the metamorphoses of life, the soul assumes the form, first of Man, then of Woman, and takes the chances, and reaps the benefits of either lot. Why then, say some, lay such emphasis on the rights or needs of Woman? What she wins not as Woman will come to her as Man.
That makes no difference. It is not Woman, but the law of right, the law of growth, that speaks in us, and demands the perfection of each being in its kind --apple as apple, Woman as Woman. Without adopting your theory, I know that I, a daughter, live through the life of Man --but what concerns me now is, that my life be a beautiful, powerful, in a word, a complete life in its kind. Had I but one more moment to live I must wish the same. Suppose, at the end of your cycle, your great world-year, all will be completed, whether I exert myself or not, (and the supposition is false, --but suppose it true), am I to be indifferent about it? Not so! I must beat my own pulse true in the heart of the world; for that is virtue, excellence, health.
Thou, Lord of Day! didst leave us to-night so calmly glorious, not dismayed that cold winter is coming, not postponing thy beneficence to the fruitful summer! Thou didst smile on thy day's work when it was done, and adorn thy down-going as thy up-rising, for thou art loyal, and it is thy nature to give life, if thou canst, and shine at all events!
I stand in the sunny noon of life. Objects no longer glitter in the dews of morning, neither are yet softened by the shadows of evening. Every spot is seen, every chasm revealed. Climbing the dusty hill, some fair effigies that once stood for symbols of human destiny have been broken; those I still have with me show defects in this broad light. Yet enough is left, even by experience, to point distinctly to the glories of that destiny; faint, but not to be mistaken streaks of the future day. I can say with the bard,
"Though many have suffered shipwreck, still beat noble hearts."
Always the soul says to us all, Cherish your best hopes as a faith, and abide by them in action. Such shall be the effectual fervent means to their fulfilment;
For the Power to whom we bow
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