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Women and the Alphabet By Thomas Wentworth Higginson Characters: 51271

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[Greek: 'Andros kai gunaikos ae autae antae aretae.]--ANTISTHENES in Diogenes Laertius, vi. i, 5.

"Virtue in man and woman is the same."


The Invisible Lady, as advertised in all our cities a good many years ago, was a mysterious individual who remained unseen, and had apparently no human organs except a brain and a tongue. You asked questions of her, and she made intelligent answers; but where she was, you could no more discover than you could find the man inside the Automaton Chess-Player. Was she intended as a satire on womankind, or as a sincere representation of what womankind should be? To many men, doubtless, she would have seemed the ideal of her sex, could only her brain and tongue have disappeared like the rest of her faculties. Such men would have liked her almost as well as that other mysterious personage on the London signboard, labelled "The Good Woman," and represented by a female figure without a head.

It is not that any considerable portion of mankind actually wishes to abolish woman from the universe. But the opinion dies hard that she is best off when least visible. These appeals which still meet us for "the sacred privacy of woman" are only the Invisible Lady on a larger scale. In ancient Boeotia, brides were carried home in vehicles whose wheels were burned at the door in token that they would never again be needed. In ancient Rome, it was a queen's epitaph, "She stayed at home, and spun,"--Domum servavit, lanam fecit. In Turkey, not even the officers of justice can enter the apartments of a woman without her lord's consent. In Spain and Spanish America, the veil replaces the four walls of the house, and is a portable seclusion. To be visible is at best a sign of peasant blood and occupations; to be high-bred is to be invisible.

In the Azores I found that each peasant family endeavored to secure for one or more of its daughters the pride and glory of living unseen. The other sisters, secure in innocence, tended cattle on lonely mountain-sides, or toiled bare-legged up the steep ascents, their heads crowned with orange-baskets. The chosen sister was taught to read, to embroider, and to dwell indoors; if she went out it was only under escort, and with her face buried in a hood of almost incredible size, affording only a glimpse of the poor pale cheeks, quite unlike the rosy vigor of the damsels on the mountain-side. The girls, I was told, did not covet this privilege of seclusion; but let us be genteel, or die.

Now all that is left of the Invisible Lady among ourselves is only the remnant of this absurd tradition. In the seaside town where I write, ladies of fashion usually go veiled in the streets, and so general is the practice that little girls often veil their dolls. They all suppose it to be done for complexion or for ornament; just as people still hang straps on the backs of their carriages, not knowing that it is a relic of the days when footmen stood there and held on. But the veil represents a tradition of seclusion, whether we know it or not; and the dread of hearing a woman speak in public, or of seeing a woman vote, represents precisely the same tradition. It is entitled to no less respect, and no more.

Like all traditions, it finds something in human nature to which to attach itself. Early girlhood, like early boyhood, needs to be guarded and sheltered, that it may mature unharmed. It is monstrous to make this an excuse for keeping a woman, any more than a man, in a condition of perpetual subordination and seclusion. The young lover wishes to lock up his angel in a little world of her own, where none may intrude. The harem and the seraglio are simply the embodiment of this desire. But the maturer man and the maturer race have found that the beloved being should be something more.

After this discovery is made, the theory of the Invisible Lady disappears. It is less of a shock for an American to hear a woman speak in public than it is for an Oriental to see her show her face in public at all. Once open the door of the harem, and she has the freedom of the house: the house includes the front door, and the street is but a prolonged doorstep. With the freedom of the street comes inevitably a free access to the platform, the tribunal, and the pulpit. You might as well try to stop the air in its escape from a punctured balloon, as to try, when woman is once out of the harem, to put her back there. Ceasing to be an Invisible Lady, she must become a visible force: there is no middle ground. There is no danger that she will not be anchored to the cradle, when cradle there is; but it will be by an elastic cable, that will leave her as free to think and vote as to pray. No woman is less a mother because she cares for all the concerns of the world into which her child is born. It was John Quincy Adams who said, defending the political petitions of the women of Plymouth, that "women are not only justified, but exhibit the most exalted virtue, when they do depart from the domestic circle, and enter on the concerns of their country, of humanity, and of their God."


In the preface to that ill-named but delightful book, the "Remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench," there is a singular remark by the editor, her son. He says that "the adage is certainly true in regard to the British matron, Bene vixit quae bene latuit," the meaning of this phrase being, "She has lived well who has kept herself well out of sight." Applying this to his beloved mother, he further expresses a regret at disturbing her "sacred obscurity." Then he goes on to disturb it pretty effectually by printing a thick octavo volume of her most private letters.

It is a great source of strength and advantage to reformers, that there are always men preserved to be living examples of this good old Oriental doctrine of "sacred obscurity." Just as Mr. Darwin needs for the demonstration of his theory that the lower orders of creation should still be present in visible form for purposes of comparison, so every reformer needs to fortify his position by showing examples of the original attitude from which society has been gradually emerging. If there had been no Oriental seclusion, many things in the present position of woman would be inexplicable. But when we point to that; when we show that even in the more enlightened Eastern countries it is still held indecorous to allude to the feminine members of a man's family; when we see among the Christian nations of Southern Europe many lingering traits of this same habit of seclusion; and when we find an archdeacon of the English Church still clinging to the theory, even while exhibiting his mother's family letters to the whole world,--we more easily understand the course of development.

These reassertions of the Oriental theory are simply reversions, as a naturalist would say, to the original type. They are instances of "atavism," like the occasional appearance of six fingers on one hand in a family where the great-great-grandfather happened to possess that ornament. Such instances can always be found, when one takes the pains to look for them. Thus a critic, discussing in the "Atlantic Monthly" Mr. Mahaffy's book on "Social Life in Greece," is surprised that this writer should quote, in proof of the degradation of woman in Athens, the remark attributed to Pericles, "That woman is best who is least spoken of among men, whether for good or for evil." "In our opinion," adds the reviewer, "that remark was wise then, and is wise now." The Oriental theory is not then, it seems, extinct; and we are spared the pains of proving that it ever existed.

If this theory be true, how falsely has the admiration of mankind been given! If the most obscure woman is best, the most conspicuous must undoubtedly be worst. Tried by this standard, how unworthy must have been Elizabeth Barrett Browning, how reprehensible must be Dorothea Dix, what a model of all that is discreditable is Rosa Bonheur, what a crowning instance of human depravity is Florence Nightingale! Yet how consoling the thought, that, while these disreputable persons were thus wasting their substance in the riotous performance of what the world weakly styled good deeds, there were always women who saw the folly of such efforts; women who by steady devotion to eating, drinking, and sleeping continued to keep themselves in sacred obscurity, and to prove themselves the ornaments of their sex, inasmuch as no human being ever had occasion to mention their names!

But alas for human inconsistency! As for this inverse-ratio theory,--this theory of virtue so exalted that it has never been known or felt or mentioned among men,--it is to be observed that those who hold it are the first to desert it when stirred by an immediate occasion. Just as a slaveholder, in the old times, after demonstrating to you that freedom was a curse to the negro, would instantly turn round, and inflict this greatest of all curses on some slave who had saved his life; so, I fear, would one of these philosophers, if he were profoundly impressed with any great action done by a woman, give the lie to all his theories, and celebrate her fame. In spite of all his fine principles, if he happened to be rescued from drowning by Grace Darling, he would put her name in the newspaper; if he were tended in hospital by Clara Barton, he would sound her praise; and if his mother wrote as good letters as did Mrs. Trench, he would probably print them to the extent of five hundred pages, as the archdeacon did, and all his gospel of silence would exhale itself in a single sigh of regret in the preface.


A young friend of mine, who was educated at one of the very best schools for girls in New York city, told me that one day her teacher requested the older girls to write out a list of virtues suitable to manly character, which they did. A month or more later, when this occurrence was well forgotten, the same teacher bade them write out a list of womanly virtues, she making no reference to the other list. Then she made each girl compare her lists; and they all found with surprise that there was no substantial difference between them. The only variation, in most cases, was, that they had put in a rather vague special virtue of "manliness" in the one case, and "womanliness" in the other; a sort of miscellaneous department or "odd drawer," apparently, in which to group all traits not easily analyzed.

The moral is that, as tested by the common sense of these young people, duty is duty, and the difference between ethics for men and ethics for women lies simply in practical applications, not in principles.

Who can deny that the philosopher Antisthenes was right when he said, "The virtues of the man and the woman are the same"? Not the Christian, certainly; for he accepts as his highest standard the being who in all history best united the highest qualities of both sexes. Not the metaphysician; for his analysis deals with the human mind as such, not with the mind of either sex. Not the evolutionist; for he is accustomed to trace back qualities to their source, and cannot deny that there is in each sex at least a "survival" of every good and every bad trait. We may say that these qualities are, or may be, or ought to be, distributed unequally between the sexes; but we cannot reasonably deny that each sex possesses a share of every quality, and that what is good in one sex is also good in the other. Man may be the braver, and yet courage in a woman may be nobler than cowardice. Woman may be the purer, and yet purity may be noble in a man.

So clear is this, that some of the very coarsest writers in all literature, and those who have been severest upon women, have yet been obliged to acknowledge it. Take, for instance, Dean Swift, who writes:--

"I am ignorant of any one quality that is amiable in a woman, which is not equally so in a man. I do not except even modesty and gentleness of nature; nor do I know one vice or folly which is not equally detestable in both."

Mrs. Jameson, in her delightful "Commonplace Book," illustrates this admirably by one or two test cases. She takes, for instance, from one of Humboldt's letters a much-admired passage on manly character:--

"Masculine independence of mind I hold to be in reality the first requisite for the formation of a character of real manly worth. The man who allows himself to be deceived and carried away by his own weakness may be a very amiable person in other respects, but cannot be called a good man: such beings should not find favor in the eyes of a woman, for a truly beautiful and purely feminine nature should be attracted only by what is highest and noblest in the character of man."

"Take now this same bit of moral philosophy," she says, "and apply it to the feminine character, and it reads quite as well:--

"'Feminine independence of mind I hold to be in reality the first requisite for the formation of a character of real feminine worth. The woman who allows herself to be deceived and carried away by her own weakness may be a very amiable person in other respects, but cannot be called a good woman; such beings should not find favor in the eyes of a man, for a truly beautiful and purely manly nature should be attracted only by what is highest and noblest in the character of woman.'"

I have never been able to perceive that there was a quality or grace of character which really belonged exclusively to either sex, or which failed to win honor when wisely exercised by either. It is not thought necessary to have separate editions of books on ethical science, the one for man, the other for woman, like almanacs calculated for different latitudes. The books that vary are not the scientific works, but little manuals of practical application,--"Duties of Men," "Duties of Women." These vary with times and places: where women do not know how to read, no advice on reading will be found in the women's manuals; where it is held wrong for women to uncover the face, it will be laid down in these manuals as a sin. But ethics are ethics: the great principles of morals, as proclaimed either by science or by religion, do not fluctuate for sex; their basis is in the very foundations of right itself.

This grows clearer when we remember that it is equally true in mental science. There is not one logic for men, and another for women; a separate syllogism, a separate induction: the moment we begin to state intellectual principles, that moment we go beyond sex. We deal then with absolute truth. If an observation is wrong, if a process of reasoning is bad, it makes no difference who brings it forward. Any list of mental processes, any inventory of the contents of the mind, would be identical, so far as sex goes, whether compiled by a woman or a man. These things, like the circulation of the blood or the digestion of food, belong clearly to the ground held in common. The London "Spectator" well said some time since,--

"After all, knowledge is knowledge; and there is no more a specifically feminine way of describing correctly the origin of the Lollard movement, or the character of Spenser's poetry, than there is a specifically feminine way of solving a quadratic equation, or of proving the forty-seventh problem of Euclid's first book."

All we can say in modification of this is, that there is, after all, a foundation for the rather vague item of "manliness" and "womanliness" in these schoolgirl lists of duties. There is a difference, after all is said and done; but it is something that eludes analysis, like the differing perfume of two flowers of the same genus and even of the same species. The method of thought must be essentially the same in both sexes; and yet an average woman will put more flavor of something we call instinct into her mental action, and the average man something more of what we call logic into his. Whipple tells us that not a man guessed the plot of Dickens's "Great Expectations," while many women did; and this certainly indicates some average difference of quality or method. So the average opinions of a hundred women, on some question of ethics, might very probably differ from the average of a hundred men, while it yet remains true that "the virtues of the man and the woman are the same."


Blackburn, in his entertaining book, "Artists and Arabs," draws a contrast between Frith's painting of the "Derby Day" and Rosa Bonheur's "Horse Fair,"--"the former pleasing the eye by its cleverness and prettiness, the latter impressing the spectator by its power and its truthful rendering of animal life. The difference between the two painters is probably more one of education than of natural gifts. But whilst the style of the former is grafted on a fashion, the latter is founded on a rock,--the result of a close study of nature, chastened by classic feeling and a remembrance, it may be, of the friezes of the Parthenon."

Now it is to be observed that this description runs precisely counter to the popular impression as to the work of the two sexes. Novelists like Charles Reade, for instance, who have apparently seen precisely one woman in their lives, and hardly more than one man, and who keep on sketching these two figures most felicitously and brilliantly thenceforward, would be apt to assign these qualities of the artist very differently. Their typical man would do the truthful and powerful work, and everybody would say, "How manly!" Their woman would please by cleverness and prettiness, and everybody would say, "How womanly!" Yet Blackburn shows us that these qualities are individual, not sexual; that they result from temperament, or, he thinks, still more from training. If Rosa Bonheur does better work than Frith, it is not because she is a woman, nor is it in spite of that; but because, setting sex aside, she is a better artist.

This is not denying the distinctions of sex, but only asserting that they are not so exclusive and all-absorbing as is supposed. It is easy to name other grounds of difference which entirely ignore those of sex, striking directly across them, and rendering a different classification necessary. It is thus with distinctions of race or color, for instance. An Indian man and woman are at many points more like to each other than is either to a white person of the same sex. A black-haired man and woman, or a fair-haired man and woman, are to be classified together in these physiological aspects. So of differences of genius: a man and woman of musical temperament and training have more in common than has either with a person who is of the same sex, but who cannot tell one note from another. So two persons of ardent or imaginative temperament are thus far alike, though the gulf of sex divides them; and so are two persons of cold or prosaic temperament. In a mixed school the teacher cannot class together intellectually the boys as such, and the girls as such: bright boys take hold of a lesson very much as bright girls do, and slow girls as slow boys. Nature is too rich, too full, too varied, to be content with a single basis of classification: she has a hundred systems of grouping, according to sex, age, race, temperament, training, and so on; and we get but a narrow view of life when we limit our theories to one set of distinctions.

As a matter of social philosophy, this train of thought logically leads to coeducation, impartial suffrage, and free cooperation in all the affairs of life. As a matter of individual duty, it teaches the old moral to "act well your part." No wise person will ever trouble himself or herself much about the limitations of sex in intellectual labor. Rosa Bonheur was not trying to work like a woman, or like a man, or unlike either, but to do her work thoroughly and well. He or she who works in this spirit works nobly, and gives an example which will pass beyond the bounds of sex, and help all. The Abbé Liszt, the most gifted of modern pianists, told a friend of mine, his pupil, that he had learned more of music from hearing Madame Malibran sing, than from anything else whatever.


It is better not to base any plea for woman on the ground of her angelic superiority. The argument proves too much. If she is already so perfect, there is every inducement to let well alone. It suggests the expediency of conforming man's condition to hers, instead of conforming hers to man's. If she is a winged creature, and man can only crawl, it is his condition that needs mending.

Besides, one may well be a little incredulous of these vast claims. Granting some average advantage to woman, it is not of such completeness as to base much argument upon it. The minister, looking on his congregation, rarely sees an unmixed angel, either at the head or at the foot of any pew. The domestic servant rarely has the felicity of waiting on an absolute saint at either end of the dinner-table. The lady's-maid has to compare her little observations of human infirmity with those of the valet de chambre. The lover worships the beloved, whether man or woman; but marriage bears rather hard on the ideal in either case; and those who pray out of the same book, "Have mercy upon us, miserable sinners," are not supposed to be offering up petitions for each other only.

We all know many women whose lives are made wretched by the sins and follies of their husbands. There are also many men whose lives are turned to long wretchedness by the selfishness, the worldliness, or the bad temper of their wives. Domestic tyranny belongs to neither sex by monopoly. If man tortures or depresses woman, she also has a fearful power to corrupt and deprave man. On the other hand, to quote old Antisthenes once more, "the virtues of the man and woman are the same." A refined man is more refined than a coarse woman. A child-loving man is infinitely tenderer and sweeter toward children than a hard and unsympathetic woman. The very qualities that are claimed as distinctively feminine are possessed more abundantly by many men than by many of what is called the softer sex.

Why is it necessary to say all this? Because there is always danger that we who believe in the equality of the sexes should be led into over-statements, which will react against ourselves. It is not safe to say that the ballot-box would be reformed if intrusted to feminine votes alone. Had the voters of the South been all women, it would have plunged earlier into the gulf of secession, dived deeper, and come up even more reluctantly. Were the women of Spain to rule its destinies unchecked, the Pope would be its master, and the Inquisition might be re?stablished. For all that we can see, the rule of women alone would be as bad as the rule of men alone. It would be as unsafe to give women the absolute control of man as to make man the master of woman.

Let us be a shade more cautious in our reasonings. Woman needs equal rights, not because she is man's better half, but because she is his other half. She needs them, not as an angel, but as a fraction of humanity. Her political education will not merely help man, but it will help herself. She will sometimes be right in her opinions, and sometimes be altogether wrong; but she will learn, as man learns, by her own blunders. The demand in her behalf is that she shall have the opportunity to make mistakes, since it is by that means she must become wise.

In all our towns there is a tendency toward "mixed schools." We rarely hear of the sexes being separated in a school after being once united; but we constantly hear of their being brought together after separation. This union is commonly, but mistakenly, recommended as an advantage to the boys alone. I once heard an accomplished teacher remonstrate against this change, when thus urged. "Why should my girls be sacrificed," she said, "to improve your boys?" Six months after, she had learned by experience. "Why," she asked, "did you rest the argument on so narrow a ground? Since my school consisted half of boys, I find with surprise that the change has improved both sexes. My girls are more ambitious, more obedient, and more ladylike. I shall never distrust the policy of mixed schools again."

What is true of the school is true of the family and of the state. It is not good for man, or for woman, to be alone. Granting the woman to be, on the whole, the more spiritually minded, it is still true that each sex needs the other. When the rivet falls from a pair of scissors, we do not have than mended because either half can claim angelic superiority over the other half, but because it takes two halves to make a whole.


There is a story in circulation--possibly without authority--to the effect that a certain young lady has ascended so many Alps that she would have been chosen a member of the English Alpine Club but for her misfortune in respect to sex. As a matter of personal recognition, however, and, as it were, of approximate courtesy, her dog, who has accompanied her in all her trips, and is not debased by sex, has been elected into the club. She has therefore an opportunity for exercising in behalf of her dog that beautiful self-abnegation which is said to be a part of woman's nature, impelling her always to prefer that her laurels should be worn by somebody else.

The dog probably made no objection to these vicarious honors; nor is any objection made by the young gentlemen who reply eloquently to the toast, "The Ladies," at public dinners, or who kindl

y consent to be educated at masculine colleges on "scholarships" perhaps founded by women. Those who receive the emoluments of these funds must reflect within themselves, occasionally, how grand a thing is this power of substitution given to women, and how pleasant are its occasional results to the substitute. It is doubtless more blessed to give than to receive, but to receive without giving has also its pleasures. Very likely the holder of the scholarship, and the orator who rises with his hand on his heart to "reply in behalf of the ladies," may do their appointed work well; and so did the Alpine dog. Yet, after all, but for the work done by his mistress, the dog would have won no more honor from the Alpine Club than if he had been a chamois.

Nothing since Artemus Ward and his wife's relations has been finer than the generous way in which fathers and brothers disclaim all desire for profits or honors on the part of their feminine relatives. In a certain system of schools once known to me, the boys had prizes of money on certain occasions, but the successful girls at those times received simply a testimonial of honor for each; "the committee being convinced," it was said, "that this was more consonant with the true delicacy and generosity of woman's nature." So in the new arrangements for opening the University of Copenhagen to young women, Karl Blind writes to the New York "Evening Post," that it is expressly provided that they shall not "share in the academic benefices and stipends which have been set apart for male students." Half of these charities may, for aught that appears, have been established originally by women, like the American scholarships already mentioned. Women, however, can avail themselves of them only by deputy, as the Alp-climbing young lady is represented by her dog.

It is all a beautiful tribute to the disinterestedness of woman. The only pity is that this virtue, so much admired, should not be reciprocated by showing the like disinterestedness toward her. It does not appear that the butchers and bakers of Copenhagen propose to reduce in the case of women students "the benefices and stipends" which are to be paid for daily food. Young ladies at the university are only prohibited from receiving money, not from needing it. Nor will any of the necessary fatigues of Alpine climbing be relaxed for any young lady because she is a woman. The fatigues will remain in full force, though the laurels be denied. The mountain-passes will make small account of the "tenderness and delicacy of her sex." When the toil is over she will be regarded as too delicate to be thanked for it; but, by way of compensation, the Alpine Club will allow her to be represented by her dog.


"The silliest man who ever lived," wrote Fanny Fern once, "has always known enough, when he says his prayers, to thank God he was not born a woman." President ---- of ---- College is not a silly man at all, and he is devoting his life to the education of women; yet he seems to feel as vividly conscious of his superior position as even Fanny Fern could wish. If he had been born a Jew, he would have thanked God, in the appointed ritual, for not having made him a woman. If he had been a Mohammedan, he would have accepted the rule which forbids "a fool, a madman, or a woman" to summon the faithful to prayer. Being a Christian clergyman, with several hundred immortal souls, clothed in female bodies, under his charge, he thinks it his duty, at proper intervals, to notify his young ladies, that, though they may share with men the glory of being sophomores, they still are in a position, as regards the other sex, of hopeless subordination. This is the climax of his discourse, which in its earlier portions contains many good and truthful things:--

"And, as the woman is different from the man, so is she relative to him. This is true on the other side also. They are bound together by mutual relationship so intimate and vital that the existence of neither is absolutely complete except with reference to the other. But there is this difference, that the relation of woman is, characteristically, that of subordination and dependence. This does not imply inferiority of character, of capacity, of value, in the sight of God or man; and it has been the glory of woman to have accepted the position of formal inferiority assigned her by the Creator, with all its responsibilities, its trials, its possible outward humiliations and sufferings, in the proud consciousness that it is not incompatible with an essential superiority; that it does not prevent her from occupying, if she will, an inward elevation of character, from which she may look down with pitying and helpful love on him she calls her lord. Jesus said, 'Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of man came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.' Surely woman need not hesitate to estimate her status by a criterion of dignity sustained by such authority. She need not shrink from a position which was sought by the Son of God, and in whose trials and griefs she will have his sympathy and companionship."

There is a comforting aspect to this discourse, after all. It holds out the hope, that a particularly noble woman may not be personally inferior to a remarkably bad husband, but "may look down with pitying and helpful love on him she calls her lord." The drawback is not only that it insults woman by a reassertion of a merely historical inferiority, which is steadily diminishing, but that it fortifies this by precisely the same talk about the dignity of subordination which has been used to buttress every oppression since the world began. Never yet was there a pious slaveholder who did not quote to his slaves, on Sunday, precisely the same texts with which President ---- favors his meek young pupils. Never yet was there a slaveholder who would not shoot through the head anybody who should attempt to place him in that beautiful position of subjection whose spiritual merits he had just been proclaiming. When it came to that, he was like Thoreau, who believed resignation to be a virtue, but preferred "not to practice it unless it was quite necessary."

Thus, when the Rev. Charles C. Jones of Savannah used to address the slaves on their condition, he proclaimed the beauty of obedience in a way to bring tears to their eyes. And this, he frankly assures the masters, is the way to check insurrection and advance their own "pecuniary interests." He says of the slave, that under proper religious instruction "his conscience is enlightened and his soul is awed;... to God he commits the ordering of his lot, and in his station renders to all their dues, obedience to whom obedience, and honor to whom honor. He dares not wrest from God his own care and protection. While he sees a preference in the various conditions of men, he remembers the words of the apostle: 'Art thou called being a servant? care not for it; but if thou mayest be free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant.'"[1]

I must say that the Rev. Mr. Jones's preaching seems to me precisely as good as Dr.------'s, and that a sensible woman ought to be as much influenced by the one as was Frederick Douglass by the other--that is, not at all. Let the preacher try "subordination" himself, and see how he likes it. The beauty of service, such as Jesus praised, lay in the willingness of the service: a service that is serfdom loses all beauty, whether rendered by man or by woman. My objection to separate schools and colleges for women is that they are too apt to end in such instructions as this.

[Footnote 1: Religious Instruction of the Negroes. Savannah, 1842, pp. 208-211.]


There was once a real or imaginary old lady who had got the metaphor of Scylla and Charybdis a little confused. Wishing to describe a perplexing situation, this lady said,--

"You see, my dear, she was between Celery on one side and Cherubs on the other! You know about Celery and Cherubs, don't you? They was two rocks somewhere; and if you didn't hit one, you was pretty sure to run smack on the other."

This describes, as a clever writer in the New York "Tribune" declares, the present condition of women who "agitate." Their Celery and Cherubs are tears and temper. It is a good hit, and we may well make a note of it. It is the danger of all reformers, that they will vibrate between discouragement and anger. When things go wrong, what is it one's impulse to do? To be cast down, or to be stirred up; to wring one's hands, or clench one's fists,--in short, tears or temper.

"Mother," said a resolute little girl of my acquaintance, "if the dinner was all spoiled, I wouldn't sit down, and cry! I'd say, 'Hang it!'" This cherub preferred the alternative of temper, on days when the celery turned out badly. Probably her mother was addicted to the other practice, and exhibited the tears.

But as this alternative is found to exist for both sexes, and on all occasions, why charge it especially on the woman-suffrage movement? Men are certainly as much given to ill temper as women; and, if they are less inclined to tears, they make it up in sulks, which are just as bad. Nicholas Nickleby, when the pump was frozen, was advised by Mr. Squeers to "content himself with a' dry polish;" and so there is a kind of dry despair into which men fall, which is quite as forlorn as any tears of women. How many a man has doubtless wished at such times that the pump of his lachrymal glands could only thaw out, and he could give his emotions something more than a "dry polish"! The unspeakable comfort some women feel in sitting for ten minutes with a handkerchief over their eyes! The freshness, the heartiness, the new life visible in them, when the crying is done, and the handkerchief comes down again!

And, indeed, this simple statement brings us to the real truth, which should have been more clearly seen by the writer who tells this story. She is wrong in saying, "It is urged that men and women stand on an equality, are exactly alike." Many of us urge the "equality:" very few of us urge the "exactly alike." An apple and an orange, a potato and a tomato, a rose and a lily, the Episcopal and the Presbyterian churches, Oxford and Cambridge, Yale and Harvard,--we may surely grant equality in each case, without being so exceedingly foolish as to go on and say that they are exactly alike.

And precisely here is the weak point of the whole case, as presented by this writer. Women give way to tears more readily than men? Granted. Is their sex any the weaker for it? Not a bit. It is simply a difference of temperament: that is all. It involves no inferiority. If you think that this habit necessarily means weakness, wait and see! Who has not seen women break down in tears during some domestic calamity, while the "stronger sex" were calm; and who has not seen those same women, that temporary excitement being over, rise up and dry their eyes, and be thenceforth the support and stay of their households, and perhaps bear up the "stronger sex" as a stream bears up a ship? I said once to an experienced physician, watching such a woman, "That woman is really great."--"Of course she is," he answered; "did you ever see a woman who was not great, when the emergency required?"

Now, will women carry this same quality of temperament into their public career? Doubtless: otherwise they would cease to be women. Will it be betraying confidence if I own that I have seen two of the very bravest women of my acquaintance--women who have swayed great audiences--burst into tears, during a committee meeting, at a moment of unexpected adversity for "the cause"? How pitiable! our critical observers would have thought. In five minutes that April shower had passed, and those women were as resolute and unconquerable as Queen Elizabeth: they were again the natural leaders of those around them; and the cool and tearless men who sat beside them were nothing--men were "a lost art," as some one says--compared with the inexhaustible moral vitality of those two women.

No: the dangers of "Celery and Cherubs" are exaggerated. For temper, women are as good as men, and no better. As for tears, long may they flow! They are symbols of that mighty distinction of sex which is as ineffaceable and as essential as the difference between land and sea.


In the interesting Buddhist book, "The Wheel of the Law," translated by Henry Alabaster, there is an account of a certain priest who used to bless a great king, saying, "May your majesty have the firmness of a crow, the audacity of a woman, the endurance of a vulture, and the strength of an ant." The priest then told anecdotes illustrating all of these qualities. Who has not known occasions wherein some daring woman has been the Joan of Arc of a perfectly hopeless cause, taken it up where men shrank, carried it through where they had failed, and conquered by weapons which men would never have thought of using, and would have lacked faith to employ even if put into their hands? The wit, the resources, the audacity of women, have been the key to history and the staple of novels, ever since that larger novel called history began to be written.

How is it done? Who knows the secret of their success? All that any man can say is that the heart takes a large share in the magic. Rogers asserts in his "Table-Talk," that often, when doubting how to act in matters of importance, he had received more useful advice from women than from men. "Women have the understanding of the heart," he said, "which is better than that of the head." Then this instinct, that begins from the heart, reaches other hearts also, and through that controls the will. "Win hearts," said Lord Burleigh to Queen Elizabeth, "and you have hands and purses;" and the greatest of English sovereigns, in spite of ugliness and rouge, in spite of coarseness and cruelty and bad passions, was adored by the nation that she first made great.

It seems to me that women are a sort of cavalry force in the army of mankind. They are not always to be relied upon for that steady "hammering away," which was Grant's one method; but there is a certain Sheridan quality about them, light-armed, audacious, quick, irresistible. They go before the main army; their swift wits go scouting far in advance; they are the first to scent danger, or to spy out chances of success. Their charge is like that of a Tartar horde, or the wild sweep of the Apaches. They are upon you from some wholly unexpected quarter; and this respectable, systematic, well-drilled masculine force is caught and rolled over and over in the dust, before the man knows what has hit him. Even if repelled and beaten off, this formidable cavalry is unconquered: routed and in confusion to-day, it comes back upon you to-morrow--fresh, alert, with new devices, bringing new dangers. In dealing with it, as the French complained of the Arabs in Algiers, "Peace is not to be purchased by victory." And, even if all seems lost, with what a brilliant final charge it will cover a retreat!

Decidedly, we need cavalry. In older countries, where it has been a merely undisciplined and irregular force, it has often done mischief; and public men, from Demosthenes down, have been lamenting that measures which the statesman has meditated a whole year may be overturned in a day by a woman. Under our American government we have foolishly attempted to leave out this arm of the service altogether; and much of the alleged dulness of our American history has come from this attempt. Those who have been trained in the various reforms where woman has taken an equal part--the anti-slavery reform especially--know well how much of the energy, the dash, the daring, of those movements have come from her. A revolution with a woman in it is stronger than the established order that omits her. It is not that she is superior to man, but she is different from man; and we can no more spare her than we could spare the cavalry from an army.


It is a part of the necessary theory of republican government, that every class and race shall be judged by its highest types, not its lowest. The proposition of the French revolutionary statesman, to begin the work of purifying the world by arresting all the cowards and knaves, is liable to the objection that it would find victims in every circle. Republican government begins at the other end, and assumes that the community generally has good intentions at least, and some common sense, however it may be with individuals. Take the very quality which the newspapers so often deny to women,--the quality of steadiness. "In fact, men's great objection to the entrance of the female mind into politics is drawn from a suspicion of its unsteadiness on matters in which the feelings could by any possibility be enlisted." Thus says the New York "Nation." Let us consider this implied charge against women, and consider it not by generalizing from a single instance,--"just like a woman," as the editors would doubtless say, if a woman had done it,--but by observing whole classes of that sex, taken together.

These classes need some care in selection, for the plain reason that there are comparatively few circles in which women have yet been allowed enough freedom of scope, or have acted sufficiently on the same plane with men, to furnish a fair estimate of their probable action, were they enfranchised. Still there occur to me three such classes,--the anti-slavery women, the Quaker women, and the women who conduct philanthropic operations in our large cities. If the alleged unsteadiness of women is to be felt in public affairs, it would have been felt in these organizations. Has it been so felt?

Of the anti-slavery movement I can personally testify--and I have heard the same point fully recognized among my elders, such as Garrison, Phillips, and Quincy--that the women contributed their full share, if not more than their share, to the steadiness of that movement, even in times when the feelings were most excited, as, for instance, in fugitive-slave cases. Who that has seen mobs practically put down, and mayors cowed into decency, by the silent dignity of those rows of women who sat, with their knitting, more imperturbable than the men, can read without a smile these doubts of the "steadiness" of that sex? Again, among Quaker women, I have asked the opinion of prominent Friends, as of John G. Whittier, whether it has been the experience of that body that women were more flighty and unsteady than men in their official action; and have been uniformly answered in the negative. And finally, as to benevolent organizations, a good test is given in the fact,--first pointed out, I believe, by that eminently practical philanthropist, Rev. Augustus Woodbury of Providence,--that the whole tendency has been, during the last twenty years, to put the management, even the financial control, of our benevolent societies, more and more into the hands of women, and that there has never been the slightest reason to reverse this policy. Ask the secretaries of the various boards of State Charities, or the officers of the Social Science Associations, if they have found reason to complain of the want of steadfast qualities in the "weaker sex." Why is it that the legislation of Massachusetts has assigned the class requiring the steadiest of all supervision--the imprisoned convicts--to "five commissioners of prisons, two of whom shall be women"? These are the points which it would be worthy of our journals to consider, instead of hastily generalizing from single instances. Let us appeal from the typical woman of the editorial picture,--fickle, unsteady, foolish,--to the nobler conception of womanhood which the poet Wordsworth found fulfilled in his own household:--

"A being breathing thoughtful breath,

A traveller betwixt life and death;

The reason firm, the temperate will;

Endurance, foresight, strength and skill;

A perfect woman, nobly planned

To warn, to comfort, to command,

And yet a spirit still, and bright

With something of an angel light."


When a certain legislature had "School Suffrage" under consideration, the other day, the suggestion was made by one of the pithiest and quaintest of the speakers, that men were always better for the society of women, and therefore ought to vote in their company. "If all of us," he said, "would stay away from all places where we cannot take our wives and daughters with us, we should keep better company than we now do." This expresses a feeling which grows more and more common among the better class of men, and which is the key to much progress in the condition of women. There can be no doubt that the increased association of the sexes in society, in school, in literature, tends to purify these several spheres of action. Yet, when we come to philosophize on this, there occur some perplexities on the way.

For instance, the exclusion of woman from all these spheres was in ancient Greece almost complete; yet the leading Greek poets, as Homer and the tragedians, are exceedingly chaste in tone, and in this respect beyond most of the great poets of modern nations. Again, no European nation has quite so far sequestered and subordinated women as has Spain; and yet the whole tone of Spanish literature is conspicuously grave and decorous. This plainly indicates that race has much to do with the matter, and that the mere admission or exclusion of women is but one among several factors. In short, it is easy to make out a case by a rhetorical use of the facts on one side; but, if we look at all the facts, the matter presents greater difficulties.

Again, it is to be noted that in several countries the first women who have taken prominent part in literature have been as bad as the men; as, for instance, Marguerite of Navarre and Mrs. Aphra Behn. This might indeed be explained by supposing that they had to gain entrance into literature by accepting the dissolute standards which they found prevailing. But it would probably be more correct to say that these standards themselves were variable, and that their variation affected, at certain periods, women as well as men. Marguerite of Navarre wrote religious books as well as merry stories; and we know from Lockhart's Life of Scott, that ladies of high character in Edinburgh used to read Mrs. Behn's tales and plays aloud, at one time, with delight,--although one of the same ladies found, in her old age, that she could not read them to herself without blushing. Shakespeare puts coarse repartees into the mouths of women of stainless virtue. George Sand is not considered an unexceptionable writer; but she tells us in her autobiography that she found among her grandmother's papers poems and satires so indecent that she could not read them through, and yet they bore the names of abbés and gentlemen whom she remembered in her childhood as models of dignity and honor. Voltaire inscribes to ladies of high rank, who doubtless regarded it as a great compliment, verses such as not even a poet of the English "fleshly school" would now print at all. In "Poems by Eminent Ladies,"--published in 1755 and reprinted in 1774,--there are one or two poems as gross and disgusting as anything in Swift; yet their authors were thought reputable women. Allan Ramsay's "Tea-Table Miscellany"--a collection of English and Scottish songs--was first published in 1724; and in his preface to the sixteenth edition the editor attributes its great success, especially among the ladies, to the fact that he has carefully excluded all grossness, "that the modest voice and ear of the fair singer might meet with no affront;" and adds, "the chief bent of all my studies being to attain their good graces." There is no doubt of the great popularity enjoyed by the book in all circles; yet it contains a few songs which the most licentious newspaper would not now publish. The inference is irresistible, from this and many other similar facts, that the whole tone of manners and decency has very greatly improved among the European races within a century and a half.

I suspect the truth to be, that, besides the visible influence of race and religion, there has been an insensible and almost unconscious improvement in each sex, with respect to these matters, as time has passed on; and that the mutual desire to please has enabled each sex to help the other,--the sex which is naturally the more refined taking the lead. But I should lay more stress on this mutual influence, and less on mere feminine superiority, than would be laid by many. It is often claimed by teachers that co-education helps not only boys, but also girls, to develop greater propriety of manners. When the sexes are wholly separate, or associate on terms of entire inequality, no such good influence occurs: the more equal the association, the better for both parties. After all, the Divine model is to be found in the family; and the best ingenuity cannot improve much upon it.

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