« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
sound of her praise, therefore, only fatigues them. Fame itself may be even a reproach to a woman; because fame is the reverse of what nature intended for her. Severe virtue condemns celebrity, even in what is really praise-worthy in itself, as being in some measure inimical to perfect modesty. Men of sense, astonished to find rivals amongst the fair sex, can neither judge them with the generosity of an adversary, nor with the indulgence of a protector: and in this new conflict they adhere neither to the laws of honor, nor to those of good nature. If, as the greatest misfortune that could befall her, a woman chanced to acquire remarkable celebrity in a time of political dissension, her influence would be thought boundless, even when she attempted not to exert any; the actions of her friends would be all attributed to her: she would be hated for whatever she loved, and this poor defenseless object would be attacked before those, who are really formidable, were even thought of. Nothing gives greater scope to vague conjectures, than the uncertain existence of a woman whose name is celebrated, and whose life has been obscure. If the vanity of one man excites derision; if the abhorred character of another makes him sink under the burden of public contempt; if a man of inferior talents fails of some desired success; all are ready to attribute these events to the invisible agency of female power.
Women have no means of manifesting the truth, nor of explaining the particulars of their life: if any calumny is spread concerning them, the public hears it; but their intimate friends alone can judge of the truth. What authentic means can a woman have of proving the falsity of scandalous reports? A calumniated man replies by his actions to an accusing world, and may justly say,
"Let the tenor of my life speak for me."
But of what service is such a testimony to a woman? Some private virtues; some good deeds, scarcely known; some sentiments confined to the narrow circle in which she was destined to move; some writings which may render her name celebrated in countries of which she is not an inhabitant, and at a time when, perhaps, she has ceased to exist.
A man may, even in his works, refute the calumnies of which he is become the object: but as to women, to defend themselves is an additional disadvantage; to justify themselves, a new alarm. They are conscious of a purity and del
icacy in their nature, which the notice of the public will tarnish; sense, talents, an impassioned mind, may induce them to emerge from the cloud in which they ought always to be enveloped; but they never cease to recur to it with regret as their safest asylum.
Women, however distinguished they may be, tremble at the aspect of malevolence; and although courageous in adversity, enmity intimidates them: they are exalted by reflection, but weakness and sensibility must ever be the leading features of their character. The generality of those whose superior talents have inspired them with a desire of fame, resemble Herminius, clothed in a coat of mail; the warriors perceive the helmet, the lance, and the dazzling plume; they expect to meet with equal force; they begin the onset with violence, and the first wound cuts to the heart.
Injustice may not only destroy female happiness and peace, but it may detach the heart from the first object of its affections; who knows whether the effects produced by slander, may not sometimes obliterate truth from the memory? Who can tell whether the authors of this calumny, having already embittered life, may not even after death, deprive an amiable woman of those regrets which are universally due to her memory? In this description, I have hitherto portrayed only the injustice of men towards any distinguished female: is not that of her own sex equally to be feared? Do they not secretly endeavor to awaken the ill will of men against her? Will they ever unite, in order to aid, to defend, and support her path of difficulty?
Nor is this all: opinion seems to exempt men from all those attentions usually paid to the sex in all that concerns an individual, whose superior abilities are generally allowed; towards such, men may be ungrateful, deceitful, and ill-designing, without being called to account by the public. "Is she not an extraordinary woman?” Every thing is comprised in these words: she is left to the strength of her own mind, to struggle as she can with her afflictions. The interest usually inspired by females, the power which is the safeguard of men, all fail her at once: she drags on her isolated existence like the Parias of India, amongst all those distinct classes, into none of which she can ever be admitted, and who consider her as fit only to live by herself, as an object of curiosity, perhaps of envy, although, in fact, deserving of the utmost commiseration.
There is a greatness which owes its effect in part to the sacrifice of symmetry; genius is aggrandized by its eccentricities; learning claims many privileges for itself, and wit often acknowledges none in others; the details of duties and reciprocities are not seldom trampled upon by those to whom the world's flattery concedes the charter of despising ordinary things; but Hannah More, caressed by princes and nobles, the delight of intellectual society, the center round which so many luminaries revolved, having her name echoed from shore to shore through the civilized world, was yet a plain, home-bred, practical, and true-hearted woman; who managed so to live through a life of unusual length, that while one half of her contemporaries were drawing largely from her stores of instruction and entertainment, the other half knew her only by the solace imparted by her labors of love. While she was employed in the daily office of cherishing virtue, advocating merit, animating diligence, and clearing the road to happiness, she stood at the gate of mercy, an humble supplicant for grace and forgiveness, and rested the success of all her endeavors on their conformity to the will of heaven.
She was a person to live with, to converse with, and to pray with. Her powers were capable of dilating or contracting their dimensions as occasion required. Every one found it easy to deal with her in a commerce of benevolence. Her genius invited a near approach. It was great and commanding, but it was lovely and kind. Genius, in general, requires to be placed at a certain distance to produce its effect. The equilibrium of the mind is often disturbed by it,—its stability shaken, and its moral texture dissolved; and often out of this elementary disorder, forms and combinations arise which the mastery of genius molds and disposes at will. It claims our homage, and visits as a conqueror, to whom belongs the tribute of suit and service. But to domicile and diet with genius, is for the most part an unenviable lot. Its hearth and home are not usually the scene of comfort. In Mrs. More the colors of character were so blended, that all was consistency, and quiet, and pleasantness around her. Her wit was entirely subordinate to her good-nature, and her great qualities did homage to her little graces. Her companions were sheltered from her brilliance by the shade of her humility.
Her manners were unostentatious and unconstrained: and although she could not but be sensible that she was always, in all companies, a principal object of attention, this consciousness produced in her neither reserve nor effort. She had the art of saying and communicating much, without seeming to engross a larger share of the conversation than others; and as she could afford better than most to throw away her opportunities of excelling, it was one of the exercises of her skill in which she took most pleasure, to draw forth the capabilities of retiring merit, to give confidence to the timorous, ease to the embarrassed, and its full credit to common sense. It was the prerogative of her superiority to maintain the fundamental rights of social equality, by the equal distribution of her kind attentions.
Iler friends were often astonished at the candor and good humor with which she listened to criticisms on her works. What was accomplished with so little labor, was never so fondly cherished by her as to become a subject of fretful anxiety: those who pointed out defects, or repetitions, or redundances in her compositions, were always considered by her as giving proof of their kind feelings towards her. And as to those who treated her with severity, she was too conscious of the careless rapidity with which she generally worked, to be offended at that which she had taken so little pains to avert, or to be wounded by the sharp animadversions which her own salutary censures naturally provoked. It is true that the homage of the world attended her throughout her life, with little interruption, but then it is equally true that homage is not the nurse of contentedness, nor fame and success the usual preservatives of a patient spirit and a gentle temper.
No exemptions or immunities of genius were claimed by her. In her dress she was very neat and decorous, but very plain and frugal; a great enemy to singularity and artifice, but especially to the artifice of seeming to despise art, as far as it was called for by the infirmities of our condition and the duty of reciprocal respect. She was, however, so little taken with the tinsel of life and studious decoration, that what she often said of herself has been confirmed by the testimony of those who knew her best and longest, that she never wore a jewel, or trinket, or any adjunct to her dress, of the merely ornamental kind, in her whole life, though much of that life was spent in the society of the great and splendid.
A very distinguishing part of her character was her "consideration," a word not yet perhaps of abstract and special force enough to designate a particular virtue, but to which Mrs. More had attached a sort of technical meaning, by declaring a half-intention of writing a treatise upon what she called “ the law of consideration." Taking it, however, in her own sense, as expressing an anxiety to carry one's self in one's daily intercourse, especially with inferiors, and in the common matters of life, so as to be the author of as little unnecessary uneasiness, trouble, or inconvenience as possible, in any supposed case, she may be said to have practised it herself to perfection. She would suffer considerable privations, rather than allow her wants to harrass others, and would often express a dread of appearing to her servants to be regardless of the trouble she was giving them. She carried, indeed, this little morality to a remarkable extent. She never rang a bell without asking herself why, and when doubtful whether she had rung or not, would wait a considerable time, to avoid the suspicion of impatience.
Her thoughts were always on the business before her, nor was any thing too small for her attention, if it affected the feelings, or comfort, or interests of the meanest about her. She had no aberrations or fits of absence, to require the apology of wit, or to favor its effect on weak judgments. She despised all shapes of affectation; but the affectation of absence of mind, as indicating abstraction of thought, she considered as the lowest of those little cheats which we are hourly passing upon each other.
A cultivated relish for natural scenery was one of her distinctions, and so great was her delight in the disposition of her garden and grounds, that she would sometimes say that Providence had consulted her good by disabling her during the greatest part of the year from exposing herself to the air, as there was danger, had it been otherwise, of her allowing this strong propensity to absorb too large a portion of her time. Akin to this innocent relish, was the gayety with which she entered into the happiness of young children, who were seldom introduced to her without receiving some advice from her, conveyed in so pleasing a form as to engage their attention and impress their memories.
It was always, however, the foible of her mind to lean too much towards indulgence, the predominance of which propensity was sometimes productive of consequences injurious to her