Page images
PDF
EPUB

At all events, in whatever way an honest, a fearless, and faithful examination had ended, one lesson he would most assuredly have learned; 'Blame not before thou hast examined the truth: understand first and then rebuke.' And probably with examination and understanding, all disposition to blame and rebuke would have ceased, though a difference of opinion might still have been the result."-p. 106.

II. The Daughters of England, their position in Society. Character and Responsibilities, by Mrs. Ellis, Author of the "Women of England," &c. &c. Fisher, Son & Co., Newgate Street, London. 1842.

We rejoice that so many of the works issuing from the press on the rights and duties of women are written by themselves, for we believe that women must ultimately settle for themselves their own position in Society, and that this will be in exact relation to the moral and intellectual energy which they exert. It is to be regretted that works treating expressly on women's duties generally regard her only in her family relations, and seem to speak as if the whole subject was exhausted when the duties of the daughter, sister, wife and mother have been pointed out. Miss Martineau is however an honourable exception to this rule, and though we are far from agreeing with the details of her plans for improving the condition of women, yet we fully sympathise with the deep moral feeling with which she has treated the subject of woman's more general relationship to Society as an intellectual and moral being.

We are often surprised that women possessing knowledge and kind feelings, can reconcile to their conscience the apathy with which they regard the moral and intellectual degradation of such a large proportion of their Sex as is found even in England.

But in general women are very ignorant respecting the moral as well as all the other statistics of their country; and it would be highly desirable, if those works, which treat of their duties, would take the broad basis of their actual position, as a foundation for the theory of morals which is built up.

Nothing can be more certainly requisite than such knowledge, for if we wish women to act suitably to their true relations in Society, they must know what these are, and they obviously depend in a great measure upon the political and social atmosphere around them. We sincerely regret therefore that the "Daughters of England" does not justify its ambitious title,

and contains little excepting "a somewhat skilful dressing up of common places;" but as we understand that it is a popular work, it may not prove uninteresting to those who have not read it, to know something concerning a style of thought and reading which is now very fashionable among a large class of our countrywomen. The work opens with some "Important Inquiries," from which we extract the following statement :—

"As women then, the first thing of importance is to be content to be inferior to men-inferior in mental power, in the same proportion that you are inferior in bodily strength. Facility of movement, aptitude, and grace, the bodily frame of woman may possess in a higher degree than that of man; just as in the softer touches of mental and spiritual beauty, her character may present a lovelier page than his. Yet as the great attribute of power must still be wanting there, it becomes more immediately her business to inquire, how this want may be supplied. An able and eloquent writer on Woman's Mission' has justly observed that woman's strength is in her influence.”—p. 3.

The inferiority of women to men, is an axiom which is far more admirable in the mouth of men than of women; men may, as the great Milton did, turn it to a very moral account, and argue that if sin is so dishonourable in woman, who is the glory of man, how much more dishonourable it is in man, who is both the image and glory of God. This is the legitimate conclusion of superiority, for where much is given much is required; and the correlative of every right is a duty. But if women cannot and dare not use the converse of this argument to excuse themselves to their own consciences, why then do they retain the original position from which it flows? Many women many no doubt assent to this theory from an amiable modesty, or from being accustomed to take for granted the assertions of others, without looking at the foundation of human rights and duties. But what St. Paul says in his admirable comparison of the members of the human body applies with peculiar force here; "whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it." Man is not dignified when woman is not honoured. Diversity is not inferiority. "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole body were hearing, where were the smelling?" Man seems determined in all things to find an absolute greater and a less, a superior and inferior; God has made but virtue, the absolute, supreme, unchanging good; and upon everything else stamped the inevitable doom of compensation, so that what we gain on one side we lose on another. If the father's heart swells with a noble and lofty ambition, as he

gazes on his lovely children, the mother feels a depth of tenderness which may well atone in its intensity, if it wing a less adventurous flight. Which is the purer pleasure? either if the possessor be contented; neither if he envy the other. But even if this inferiority were granted, as far as this world is concerned, as it ceases in another and better state of being, it is unreasonable to suppose that women's duties depend upon a short-lived inferiority, which endures but for a moment's space, in comparison with the infinity of time which lies before her.

On the whole, then, we advise our readers not to trouble themselves with this questio vexata, because our conduct must ever have reference to a higher standard than any petty distinctions of this nature. Mrs. Ellis herself, when treating upon the subject of gratitude, claims a moral and spiritual equality for woman; but, as the following extract will show, she believes that she did not possess this until 4004 times the sun had run his annual course:

[ocr errors]

'I have said that women, above all created beings, have cause for gratitude. Deprived of the benefits of the Christian dispensation, woman has ever been, and will be ever the most abject, and the most degraded of creatures, oppressed in proportion to her weakness, and miserable in proportion to her capability of suffering. Yet, under the Christian dispensation, she who was the first to sin, is raised to an equality with man, and made his fellow-heir in the blessings of eternal life. Nor is this all. A dispensation which had permitted her merely to creep and grovel through this life, so as to purchase by her patient sufferings a title to the next, would have been unworthy of that law of love by which pardon was offered to a guilty world. In accordance with the ineffable beneficence of this law, woman was therefore raised to a moral, as well as a spiritual equality with man; and from being first his tempter, and then his slave, she has become his helpmate, his counsellor, his friend, the object of his most affectionate solicitude, the sharer of his dignity, and the partaker of his highest enjoyments."-p. 258.

We confess we are rather surprised that Mrs. Ellis did not follow the example of many modern writers, and declare that woman was superior, as a moral and religious being, to man, and inferior to him as an intellectual and physical being. It is certainly a curious fact, that some people seem able to appreciate diversity in no other way than the algebraical one of plus and minus. We believe, however, that if such parties would draw out the quotient of their several calculations, it would come nihil, which would sufficiently confirm our own position.

As it is admitted by all that "Power cannot act where it is not," there is a manifest absurdity in stating that the correlative of the position, that woman " is wanting in the great attribute of

power," is that woman's strength lies in her influence. Influence is exerted power. And as surely as every effect has a cause, if a woman exercise influence she must possess power.

Considering the low estimate generally made of woman's intellectual capacity, we are pleased to find so long a list of subjects recommended to her attention; but in the midst of the just praise bestowed on scientific pursuits, the following remark seems to come in very oddly:-"It is not necessary that you should sacrifice any portion of your feminine delicacy by diving too deep, or approaching too near the professor's chair."-(p. 69.) If a subject of inquiry is delicate in itself, we cannot see how studying it deeply can deprive it of that quality; and surely the authoress does not mean to recommend any study which is deficient in this preliminary requisite. The following summary of Mrs. Ellis's views on intellectual improvement is written much in the same strain :

"It must not be supposed that the writer is one who would advocate, as essential to a woman, any very extraordinary degree of intellectual attainment, especially if confined to one particular branch of study. ‘I should like to excel in something,' is a frequent, and, to some extent, a laudable expression; but in what does it originate, and to what does it tend? To be able to do a great many things tolerably well, is of infinitely more value to a woman than to be able to excel in one. By the former, she may dazzle for an hour. By being apt, and tolerably well skilled in everything, she may fall into any situation in life with dignity and ease-by devoting her time to excellence in one, she may remain incapable of other."-p. every

97.

It is absurd to warn people against extraordinary attainments, because it must be evident that the mass of mankind have no reason to fear such a result following upon their very best endeavours. How excellence in one mental pursuit should incapacitate the mind for every other, is a problem, which it is as difficult to prove theoretically, as it is impossible to confirm by actual experience. That energy of mind which is aroused in doing one thing well, generally casts a charm even upon the most insignificant actions of life; we are, therefore, willing advocates of the preacher's text, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.'

وو

We should be very sorry to see the authoress's suggestion carried out, and painting degraded into being a substitute for a hortus siccus; or employed, merely, in any other delineations from nature, as its ultimate object; what then would become of the idealizing tendencies which throw such splendour over Greek and Italian art?

As for those who feel "a natural repugnance" to a hortus siccus, we should pity them if the comical did not overcome the tragical in their case.

We are sorry for a perversion of mind which makes the authoress see with pleasure and joy all beauty, excepting that which radiates from the human face divine; for while she calls upon us to rejoice in all else that is bright and fair, she thus speaks of personal beauty :—

"When we think of its frailty, its superficial character, and the certainty of its final and utter extinction; and connect these considerations with the incalculable amount of ambition, envy, and false applause, which beauty has excited—we should rather be inclined to consider it a bane than a blessing to the human race.”—p. 167.

Still more revolting to common sense and experience is the following consolation to plain women :—

[ocr errors]

'From many dangers attendant upon beauty you are safe, from many sorrows you are exempt; above all, should you become a wife, from that which is perhaps the greatest calamity in woman's history, the loss of her husband's love, because the charms for which alone he valued her have vanished. This never can be your experience, and so far you are blessed."-p. 180.

How many a plain woman, married for her fortune and not her face, may exclaim on reading this, "Oh that the cestus of Venus were ugliness!"

We have made these strictures "rather in sorrow than in anger," and we willingly do justice to the many excellent general considerations scattered throughout the book. Particularly we were pleased with the connection pointed out between health and temper; and the effects of bad temper are pourtrayed with great power and truth. We believe, however, that the best means of inducing women to attend to their health, is to make them acquainted with the organic laws of their constitution, as folly is most frequently found the companion of ignorance. The observations on punctuality and integrity are well worth serious attention-but women must be taught to value their own time, before they can be made duly sensible of the value of that of others. The following remarks are a fair specimen of the practical observations on life and manners :—

"In speaking of friendship, I have said nothing of that which might be supposed to exist between the two sexes; because I believe, that, in early youth, but little good can accrue to either party from making the experiment; and chiefly for reasons already stated, that man in his intercourse with woman, seldom studies her improvement; and that woman in her's with man, is too much addicted to flirtation. The

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »