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   Chapter 5 SOCIETY

Women and the Alphabet By Thomas Wentworth Higginson Characters: 51997

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Place the sexes in right relations of mutual respect, and a severe morality gives that essential charm to woman which educates all that is delicate, poetic, and self-sacrificing, breeds courtesy and learning, conversation and wit, in her rough mate; so that I have thought a sufficient measure of civilization is the influence of good women."--EMERSON, Society and Solitude, p. 21.


Sometimes, on the beach at Newport, I look at the gayly dressed ladies in their phaetons, and then at the foam which trembles on the breaking wave, or lies palpitating in creamy masses on the beach. It is as pretty as they, as light, as fresh, as delicate, as changing; and no doubt the graceful foam, if it thinks at all, fancies that it is the chief consummate product of the ocean, and that the main end of the vast currents of the mighty deep is to yield a few glittering bubbles like those. At least, this seems to me what many of the fair ladies think, as to themselves.

Here is a nation in which the most momentous social and political experiment ever tried by man is being worked out, day by day. There is something ocean-like in the way in which the great currents of life, race, religion, temperament are here chafing with each other, safe from the storms through which all monarchical countries may yet have to pass. As these great currents heave, there are tossed up in every watering-place and every city in America, as on an ocean beach, certain pretty bubbles of foam; and each spot, we may suppose, counts its own bubbles brighter than those of its neighbors, and christens them "society."

It is an unceasing wonder to a thoughtful person, at any such resort, to see the unconscious way in which fashionable society accepts the foam, and ignores the currents. You hear people talk of "a position in society," "the influential circles in society," as if the position they mean were not liable to be shifted in a day; as if the essential influences in America were not mainly to be sought outside the world of fashion. In other countries it is very different. The circle of social caste, whose centre you touch in London, radiates to the farthest shores of the British empire; the upper class controls, not merely fashion, but government; it rules in country as well as city; genius and wealth are but its tributaries. Wherever it is not so, it is because England is so far Americanized. But in America the social prestige of the cities is nothing in the country; it is a matter of the pavement, of a three-mile radius.

Go to the farthest borders of England: there are still the "county families," and you meet servants in livery. On the other hand, in a little village in northern New Hampshire, my friend was visited in the evening by the landlady, who said that several of their "most fashionable ladies" had happened in, and she would like to show them her guest's bonnet. Then the different cities ignore each other: the rulers of select circles in New York may find themselves nobodies in Washington, while a Washington social passport counts for as little in New York. Boston and Philadelphia affect to ignore both; and St. Louis and San Francisco have their own standards. The utmost social prestige in America is local, provincial, a matter of the square inch: it is as if the foam of each particular beach along the seacoast were to call itself "society."

There is something pathetic, therefore, in the unwearied pains taken by ambitious women to establish a place in some little, local, transitory domain, to "bring out" their daughters for exhibition on a given evening, to form a circle for them, to marry them well. A dozen years hence the millionaires whose notice they seek may be paupers, or these ladies may be dwelling in some other city, where the visiting cards will bear wholly different names. How idle to attempt to transport into American life the social traditions and delusions which require monarchy and primogeniture, and a standing army, to keep them up--and which cannot always hold their own in England, even with the aid of these!

Every woman, like every man, has a natural desire for influence; and if this instinct yearns, as it often should yearn, to take in more than her own family, she must seek it somewhere outside. I know women who bring to bear on the building-up of a frivolous social circle--frivolous, because it is not really brilliant, but only showy; not really gay, but only bored-- talent and energy enough to influence the mind and thought of the nation, if only employed in some effective way. Who are the women of real influence in America? They are the schoolteachers, through whose hands each successive American generation has to pass; they are those wives of public men who share their husbands' labor, and help mould their work; they are those women who, through their personal eloquence or through the press, are distinctly influencing the American people in its growth. The influence of such women is felt for good or for evil in every page they print, every newspaper column they fill: the individual women may be unworthy their posts, but it is they who have got hold of the lever, and gone the right way to work. As American society is constituted, the largest "social success" that can be attained here is trivial and local; and you have to "make believe very hard," like that other imaginary Marchioness, to find in it any career worth mentioning. That is the foam, but these other women are dealing with the main currents.


One sometimes hears from some lady the remark that very few people "in society" believe in any movement to enlarge the rights or duties of women. In a community of more marked social gradations than our own, this assertion, if true, might be very important; and even here it is worth considering, because it leads the way to a little social philosophy. Let us, for the sake of argument, begin by accepting the assumption that there is an inner circle, at least in our large cities, which claims to be "society," par excellence. What relation has this favored circle, if favored it be, to any movement relating to women?

It has, to begin with, the same relation that "society" has to every movement of reform. The proportion of smiles and frowns bestowed from this quarter upon the woman-suffrage movement, for instance, is about that formerly bestowed upon the anti-slavery agitation: I see no great difference. In Boston, for example, the names contributed by "society" to the woman-suffrage festivals are about as numerous as those which used to be contributed to the anti-slavery bazaars; no more, no less. Indeed, they are very often the same names; and it has been curious to see, for nearly fifty years, how radical tendencies have predominated in some of the well-known Boston families, and conservative tendencies in others.

The traits of blood seem to outlast successive series of special reforms. Be this as it may, it is safe to assume, that, as the anti-slavery movement prevailed with only a moderate amount of sanction from "our best society," the woman-suffrage agitation, which has at least an equal amount, has no reason to be discouraged.

On looking farther, we find that not reforms alone, but often most important and established institutions, exist and flourish with only incidental aid from those "in society." Take, for instance, the whole public school system of our larger cities. Grant that out of twenty ladies "in society," taken at random, not more than one would personally approve of women's voting: it is doubtful whether even that proportion of them would personally favor the public school system so far as to submit their children, or at least their girls, to it. Yet the public schools flourish, and give a better training than most private schools, in spite of this inert practical resistance from those "in society." The natural inference would seem to be, that if an institution so well established as the public schools, and so generally recognized, can afford to be ignored by "society," then certainly a wholly new reform must expect no better fate.

As a matter of fact, I apprehend that what is called "society," in the sense of the more fastidious or exclusive social circle in any community, exists for one sole object,--the preservation of good manners and social refinements. For this purpose it is put very largely under the sway of women, who have, all the world over, a better instinct for these important things. It is true that "society" is apt to do even this duty very imperfectly, and often tolerates, and sometimes even cultivates, just the rudeness and discourtesy that it is set to cure. Nevertheless, this is its mission; but so soon as it steps beyond this, and attempts to claim any special weight outside the sphere of good manners, it shows its weakness, and must yield to stronger forces.

One of these stronger forces is religion, which should train men and women to a far higher standard than "society" alone can teach. This standard should be embodied, theoretically, in the Christian Church; but unhappily "society" is too often stronger than this embodiment, and turns the church itself into a mere temple of fashion. Other opposing forces are known as science and common-sense, which is only science written in shorthand. On some of these various forces all reforms are based, the woman-suffrage reform among them. If it could really be shown that some limited social circle was opposed to this, then the moral would seem to be, "So much the worse for the social circle." It used to be thought in anti-slavery days that one of the most blessed results of that agitation was the education it gave to young men and women who would otherwise have merely grown up "in society," but were happily taken in hand by a stronger influence. It is Goethe who suggests, when discussing Hamlet in "Wilhelm Meister," that, if an oak be planted in a flower-pot, it will be worse in the end for the flower-pot than for the tree. And to those who watch, year after year, the young human seedlings planted "in society," the main point of interest lies in the discovery which of these are likely to grow into oaks.

But the truth is that the very use of the word "society" in this sense is narrow and misleading. We Americans are fortunate enough to live in a larger society, where no conventional position or family traditions exert an influence that is to be in the least degree compared with the influence secured by education, energy, and character. No matter how fastidious the social circle, one is constantly struck with the limitations of its influence, and with the little power exerted by its members as compared with that which may easily be wielded by tongue and pen. No merely fashionable woman in New York, for instance, has a position sufficiently important to be called influential compared with that of a woman who can speak in public so as to command hearers, or can write so as to secure readers. To be at the head of a normal school, or to be a professor in a college where co-education prevails, is to have a sway over the destinies of America which reduces all mere "social position" to a matter of cards and compliments and page's buttons.


The great winter's contest of the visiting-cards recommences at the end of every autumn. Suspended during the summer, or only renewed at Newport and such thoroughbred and thoroughly sophisticated haunts, it will set in with fury in the habitable regions of our cities before the snow falls. Now will the atmosphere of certain streets and squares be darkened--or whitened--at the appointed hour by the shower of pasteboard transmitted from dainty kid-gloved hands to the cotton-gloved hands of "John," and destined through him to reach the possibly gloveless hands of some other John, who stands obsequious in the doorway. Now will every lady, after John has slammed the door, drive happily on to some other door, rearranging, as she goes, her display of cards, laid as if for a game on the opposite seat of her carriage, and dealt perhaps in four suits,--her own cards, her daughters', her husband's, her "Mr. and Mrs." cards, and who knows how many more? With all this ammunition, what a very mitrailleuse of good society she becomes; what an accumulation of polite attentions she may discharge at any door! That one well-appointed woman, as she sits in her carriage, represents the total visiting power of self, husband, daughters, and possibly a son or two beside. She has all their counterfeit presentments in her hands. How happy she is! and how happy will the others be on her return, to think that dear mamma has disposed of so many dear, beloved, tiresome, social foes that morning! It will be three months at least, they think, before the A's and the B's and the C's will have to be "done" again.

Ah! but who knows how soon these fatiguing letters of the alphabet, rallying to the defence, will come, pasteboard in hand, to return the onset? In this contest, fair ladies, "there are blows to take as well as blows to give," in the words of the immortal Webster. Some day, on returning, you will find a half-dozen cards on your own table that will undo all this morning's work, and send you forth on the warpath again. Is it not like a campaign? It is from this subtle military analogy, doubtless, that when gentlemen happen to quarrel, in the very best society, they exchange cards as preliminary to a duel; and that, when French journalists fight, all other French journalists show their sympathy for the survivor by sending him their cards. When we see, therefore, these heroic ladies riding forth in the social battle's magnificently stern array, our hearts render them the homage due to the brave. When we consider how complex their military equipment has grown, we fancy each of these self-devoted mothers to be an Arnold Winkelried, receiving in her martyr-breast the points of a dozen different cards, and shouting, "Make way for liberty!" For is it not securing liberty to have cleared off a dozen calls from your list, and found nobody at home?

If this sort of thing goes on, who can tell where the paper warfare shall end? If ladies may leave cards for their husbands, who are never seen out of Wall Street, except when they are seen at their clubs; or for their sons, who never forsake their billiards or their books,--why can they not also leave them for their ancestors, or for their remotest posterity? Who knows but people may yet drop cards in the names of the grandchildren whom they only wish for, or may reconcile hereditary feuds by interchanging pasteboard in behalf of two hostile grandparents who died half a century ago?

And there is another social observance in which the introduction of the card system may yet be destined to save much labor,--the attendance on fashionable churches. Already, it is said, a family may sometimes reconcile devout observance with a late breakfast, by stationing the family carriage near the church-door--empty. Really, it would not be a much emptier observance to send the cards alone by the footman; and doubtless in the progress of civilization we shall yet reach that point. It will have many advantages. The effete of society, as some cruel satirist has called them, may then send their orisons on pasteboard to as many different shrines as they approve; thus insuring their souls, as it were, at several different offices. Church architecture may be simplified, for it will require nothing but a card-basket. The clergyman will celebrate his solemn ritual, and will then look in that convenient receptacle for the names of his fellow-worshippers, as a fine lady, after her "reception," looks over the cards her footman hands her, to know which of her dear friends she has been welcoming. Religion, as well as social proprieties, will glide smoothly over a surface of glazed pasteboard; and it will be only very humble Christians, indeed, who will do their worshipping in person, and will hold to the worn-out and obsolete practice of "No Cards."


It is almost a stereotyped remark, that the women of the more fashionable and worldly class, in America, are indolent, idle, incapable, and live feeble and lazy lives. It has always seemed to me that, on the contrary, they are compelled, by the very circumstances of their situation, to lead very laborious lives, requiring great strength and energy. Whether many of their pursuits are frivolous, is a different question; but that they are arduous, I do not see how any one can doubt. I think it can be easily shown that the common charges against American fashionable women do not hold against the class I describe.

There is, for instance, the charge of evading the cares of housekeeping, and of preferring a boarding-house or hotel. But no woman with high aims in the world of fashion can afford to relieve herself from household cares in this way, except as an exceptional or occasional thing. She must keep house in order to have entertainments, to form a circle, to secure a position. The law of give and take is as absolute in society as in business; and the very first essential to social position in our larger cities is a household and a hospitality of one's own. It is far more practicable for a family of high rank in England to live temporarily in lodgings in London, than for any family with social aspirations to do the same in New York. The married woman who seeks a position in the world of society must, therefore, keep house.

And, with housekeeping, there comes at once to the American woman a world of care far beyond that of her European sisters.

Abroad, everything in domestic life is systematized; and services of any grade, up to that of housekeeper or steward, can be secured for money, and for a moderate amount of that. The mere amount of money might not trouble the American woman; but where to get the service? Such a thing as a trained housekeeper, who can undertake, at any salary, to take the work off the shoulders of the lady of the house,--such a thing America hardly affords. Without this, the multiplication of servants only increaseth sorrow; the servants themselves are often but an undisciplined mob, and the lady of the house is like a general attempting to drill his whole command personally, without the aid of a staff-officer or so much as a sergeant. For an occasional grand entertainment, she can, perhaps, import a special force; some fashionable sexton can arrange her invitations, and some genteel caterer her supper. But for the daily routine of the household--guests, children, door-bell, equipage--there is one vast, constant toil every day; and the woman who would have these things done well must give her own orders, and discipline her own retinue. The husband may have no "business," his wealth may supersede the necessity of all toil beyond daily billiards; but for the wife wealth means business, and the more complete the social triumph, the more overwhelming the daily toil.

For instance, I know a fair woman in an Atlantic city who is at the head of a household including six children and nine servants. The whole domestic management is placed absolutely in her hands: she engages or dismisses every person employed, incurs every expense, makes every purchase, and keeps all the accounts; her husband only ordering the fuel, directing the affairs of the stable, and drawing checks for the bills. Every hour of her morning is systematically appropriated to these things. Among other things, she has to provide for nine meals a day; in dining-room, kitchen, and nursery, three each. Then she has to plan her social duties, and to drive out, exquisitely dressed, to make her calls. Then there are constantly dinner-parties and evening entertainments; she reads a little, and takes lessons in one or two languages. Meanwhile her husband has for daily occupation his books, his club, and the above-mentioned light and easy share in the cares of the household. Many men in his position do not even keep an account of personal expenditures.

There is nothing exceptional in this lady's case, except that the work may be better done than usual: the husband could not well contribute more than his present share without hurting domestic discipline; nor does the wife do all this from pleasure, but in a manner from necessity. It is the condition of her social position: to change it, she must withdraw herself from her social world. A few improvements, such as "family hotels," are doing something to relieve this class to whom luxury means labor. The great undercurrent which is sweeping us all toward some form of associated life is as obvious in this new improvement in housekeeping, as in co?perative stores or trades-unions; but it will nevertheless be long before the "women of society" in America can be anything but a hard-working class.

The question is not whether such a life as I have described is the ideal life. My point is that it is, at any rate, a life demanding far more of energy and toil, at least in America, than the men of the same class are called upon to exhibit. There is growing up a class of men of leisure in America; but there are no women of leisure in the same circle. They hold their social position on condition of "an establishment," and an establishment makes them working-women. One result is the constant exodus of this class to Europe, where domestic life is just now easier. Another consequence is that you hear woman suffrage denounced by women of this class, not on the ground that it involves any harder work than they already do, but on the ground that they have work enough already, and will not bear the suggestion of any more.


I was present at a lively discourse, administered by a young lady just from Europe to a veteran politician. "It is of very little consequence," she said, "what kind of men you send out as foreign ministers. The thing of real importance is that they should have the right kind of wives. Any man can sign a treaty, I suppose, if you tell him what kind of treaty it must be. But all his social relations with the nations to which you send him will depend on his wife." There was some truth, certainly, in this audacious conclusion. It reminded me of the saying of a modern thinker, "The only empire freely conceded to women is that of manners,--but it is worth all the rest put together."

Every one instinctively feels that the graces and amenities of life must be largely under the direction of women. The fact that this feeling has been carried too far, and has led to the dwarfing of women's intellect, must not lead to a rejection of this important social sphere. It is too strong a power to be ignored. George Eliot says well that "the commonest man, who has his ounce of sense and feeling, is conscious of the difference between a lovely, delicate woman, and a coarse one. Even a dog feels a difference in their presence." At a summer resort, for instance, one sees women who may be intellectually very ignorant and narrow, yet whose mere manners give them a social power which the highest intellects might envy. To lend joy and grace to all one's little world of friendship; to make one's house a place which every guest enters with eagerness, and leaves with reluctance; to lend encouragement to the timid, and ease to the awkward; to repress violence, restrain egotism, and make even controversy courteous,--these belong to the empire of woman. It is a sphere so important and so beautiful, that even courage and self-devotion seem not quite enough, without the addition of this supremest charm.

This courtesy is so far from implying falsehood, that its very best basis is perfect simplicity. Given a naturally sensitive organization, a loving spirit, and the early influence of a refined home, and the foundation of fine manners is secured. A person so favored may be reared in a log hut, and may pass easily into a palace; the few needful conventionalities are so readily acquired. But I think it is a mistake to tell children, as we sometimes do, that simplicity and a kind heart are absolutely all that are needful in the way of manners. There are persons in whom simplicity and kindness are inborn, and who yet never attain to good manners for want of refined perceptions. And it is astonishing how much refinement alone can do, even if it be not very genuine or very full of heart, to smooth the paths and make social life attractive.

All the acute observers have recognized the difference between the highest standard, which is nature's, and that next to the highest, which is art's. George Eliot speaks of that fine polish which is "the expensive substitute for simplicity," and Tennyson says of manners,--

"Kind nature's are the best: those next to best That fit us like a nature second-hand; Which are indeed the manners of the great."

In our own national history we have learned to recognize that the personal demeanor of women may be a social and political force. The slave-power owed much of its prolonged control at Washington, and the larger part of its favor in Europe, to the fact that the manners of Southern women had been more sedulously trained than those of Northern women. Even at this moment, one may see at any watering-place that the relative social influence of different cities does not depend upon the intellectual training of their women, so much as on the manners. And, even if this is very unreasonable, the remedy would seem to be, not to go about lecturing on the intrinsic superiority of the Muses to the Graces, but to pay due homage at all the shrines.

It is a great deal to ask of reformers, especially, that they should be ornamental as well as useful; and I would by no means indorse the views of a lady who once told me that she was ready to adopt the most radical views of the women-reformers if she could see o

ne well-dressed woman who accepted them. The place where we should draw the line between independence and deference, between essentials and non-essentials, between great ideas and little courtesies, will probably never be determined--except by actual examples. Yet it is safe to fall back on Miss Edgeworth's maxim in "Helen," that "Every one who makes goodness disagreeable commits high treason against virtue." And it is not a pleasant result of our good deeds, that others should be immediately driven into bad deeds by the burning desire to be unlike us.


They tell the story of a little boy, a young scion of the house of Beecher, that, on being rebuked for some noisy proceeding, in which his little sister had also shared, he claimed that she also should be included in the indictment. "If a boy makes too much noise," he said, "you tell him he mustn't be boisterous. Well, then, when a girl makes just as much noise, you ought to tell her not to be so girlsterous."

I think that we should accept, with a sense of gratitude, this addition to the language. It supplies a name for a special phase of feminine demeanor, inevitably brought out of modern womanhood. Any transitional state of society develops some evil with the good. Good results are unquestionably proceeding from the greater freedom now allowed to women. The drawback is that we are developing, here and now, more of "girlsterousness" than is apt to be seen in less enlightened countries.

The more complete the subjection of woman, the more "subdued" in every sense she is. The typical woman of savage life is, at least in youth, gentle, shy, retiring, timid. A Bedouin woman is modest and humble; an Indian girl has a voice "gentle and low." The utmost stretch of the imagination cannot picture either of them as "girlsterous." That perilous quality can only come as woman is educated, self-respecting, emancipated. "Girlsterousness" is the excess attendant on that virtue, the shadow which accompanies that light. It is more visible in England than in France, in America than in England.

It is to be observed, that, if a girl wishes to be noisy, she can be as noisy as anybody. Her noise, if less clamorous, is more shrill and penetrating. The shrieks of schoolgirls, playing in the yard at recess-time, seem to drown the voices of the boys. As you enter an evening party, it is the women's tones you hear most conspicuously. There is no defect in the organ, but at least an adequate vigor. In travelling by rail, when sitting near some rather underbred party of youths and damsels, I have commonly noticed that the girls were the noisiest. The young men appeared more regardful of public opinion, and looked round with solicitude, lest they should attract too much attention. It is "girlsterousness" that dashes straight on, regardless of all observers. Of course reformers exhibit their full share of this undesirable quality. Where the emancipation of women is much discussed in any circle, some young girls will put it in practice gracefully and with dignity, others rudely. Yet even the rudeness may be but a temporary phase, and at last end well. When women were being first trained as physicians, years ago, I remember a young girl who came from a Southern State to a Northern city, and attended the medical lectures. Having secured her lecture-tickets, she also bought season-tickets to the theatre and to the pistol-gallery, laid in a box of cigars, and began her professional training. If she meant it as a satire on the pursuits of the young gentlemen around her, it was not without point. But it was, I suppose, a clear case of "girlsterousness;" and I dare say that she sowed her wild oats much more innocently than many of her male contemporaries, and that she has long since become a sedate matron. But I certainly cannot commend her as a model.

Yet I must resolutely deny that any sort of hoydenishness or indecorum is an especial characteristic of radicals, or even "provincials," as a class. Some of the fine ladies who would be most horrified at the "girlsterousness" of this young maiden would themselves smoke their cigarettes in much worse company, morally speaking, than she ever tolerated. And, so far as manners are concerned, I am bound to say that the worst cases of rudeness and ill-breeding that have ever come to my knowledge have not occurred in the "rural districts," or among the lower ten thousand, but in those circles of America where the whole aim in life might seem to be the cultivation of its elegances.

And what confirms me in the fear that the most profound and serious types of this disease are not to be found in the wildcat regions is the fact that so much of it is transplanted to Europe, among those who have the money to travel. It is there described broadly as "Americanism;" and, so surely as any peculiarly shrill group is heard coming through a European picture-gallery, it is straightway classed by all observers as belonging to the great Republic. If the observers are enamoured at sight with the beauty of the young ladies of the party, they excuse the voices;

"Strange or wild, or madly gay, They call it only pretty Fanny's way."

But other observers are more apt to call it only Columbia's way; and if they had ever heard the word "girlsterousness," they would use that too.

Emerson says, "A gentleman makes no noise; a lady is serene." If we Americans often violate this perfect maxim of good manners, it is something that America has, at least, furnished the maxim. And, between Emerson and "girlsterousness," our courteous philosopher may yet carry the day.


A clergyman's wife in England has lately set on foot a reform movement in respect to dress; and, like many English reformers, she aims chiefly to elevate the morals and manners of the lower classes, without much reference to her own social equals. She proposes that "no servant, under pain of dismissal, shall wear flowers, feathers, brooches, buckles or clasps, earrings, lockets, neck-ribbons, velvets, kid gloves, parasols, sashes, jackets, or trimming of any kind on dresses, and, above all, no crinoline; no pads to be worn, or frisettes, or chignons, or hair-ribbons. The dress is to be gored and made just to touch the ground, and the hair to be drawn closely to the head, under a round white cap, without trimming of any kind. The same system of dress is recommended for Sunday-school girls, schoolmistresses, church-singers, and the lower orders generally."

The remark is obvious, that in this country such a course of discipline would involve the mistress, not the maid, in the "pain of dismissal." The American clergyman and clergyman's wife who should even "recommend" such a costume to a schoolmistress, church-singer, or Sunday-school girl,--to say nothing of the rest of the "lower orders,"--would soon find themselves without teachers, without pupils, without a choir, and probably without a parish. It is a comfort to think that even in older countries there is less and less of this impertinent interference: the costume of different ranks is being more and more assimilated; and the incidental episode of a few liveries in our cities is not enough to interfere with the general current. Never yet, to my knowledge, have I seen even a livery worn by a white native American; and to restrain the Sunday bonnets of her handmaidens, what lady has attempted?

This is as it should be. The Sunday bonnet of the Irish damsel is only the symbol of a very proper effort to obtain her share of all social advantages. Long may those ribbons wave! Meanwhile I think the fact that it is easier for the gentleman of the house to control the dress of his groom than for the lady to dictate that of her waiting-maid,--this must count against the theory that it is women who are the natural aristocrats.

Women are no doubt more sensitive than men upon matters of taste and breeding. This is partly from a greater average fineness of natural perception, and partly because their more secluded lives give them less of miscellaneous contact with the world. If Maud Muller and her husband had gone to board at the same boarding-house with the Judge and his wife, that lady might have held aloof from the rustic bride, simply from inexperience in life, and not knowing just how to approach her. But the Judge, who might have been talking politics or real estate with the young farmer on the doorsteps that morning, would certainly find it easier to deal with him as a man and a brother at the dinner-table. From these different causes women get the credit or discredit of being more aristocratic than men are; so that in England the Tory supporters of female suffrage base it on the ground that these new voters at least will be conservative.

But, on the other hand, it is women, even more than men, who are attracted by those strong qualities of personal character which are always the antidote to aristocracy. No bold revolutionist ever defied the established conventionalisms of his times without drawing his strongest support from women. Poet and novelist love to depict the princess as won by the outlaw, the gypsy, the peasant. Women have a way of turning from the insipidities and proprieties of life to the wooer who has the stronger hand; from the silken Darnley to the rude Bothwell. This impulse is the natural corrective to the aristocratic instincts of womanhood; and though men feel it less, it is still, even among them, one of the supports of republican institutions. We need to keep always balanced between the two influences of refined culture and of native force. The patrician class, wherever there is one, is pretty sure to be the more refined; the plebeian class, the more energetic. That woman is able to appreciate both elements is proof that she is quite capable of doing her share in social and political life. This English clergyman's wife, who devotes her soul to the trimmings and gored skirts of the lower orders, is no more entitled to represent her sex than are those ladies who give their whole attention to the "novel and intricate bonnets" advertised this season on Broadway.


Mrs. Blank, of Far West--let us not draw her from the "sacred privacy of woman" by giving the name or place too precisely--has an insurmountable objection to woman's voting. So the newspapers say; and this objection is that she does not wish her daughters to encounter disreputable characters at the polls.

It is a laudable desire, to keep one's daughters from the slightest contact with such persons. But how does Mrs. Blank precisely mean to accomplish this? Will she shut up the maidens in a harem? When they go out, will she send messengers through the streets to bid people hide their faces, as when an Oriental queen is passing? Will she send them travelling on camels, veiled by yashmaks? Will she prohibit them from being so much as seen by a man, except when a physician must be called for their ailments, and Miss Blank puts her arm through a curtain, in order that he may feel her pulse and know no more?

Who is Mrs. Blank, and how does she bring up her daughters? Does she send them to the post-office? If so, they may wait a half-hour at a time for the mail to open, and be elbowed by the most disreputable characters, waiting at their side. If it does the young ladies no harm to encounter this for the sake of getting their letters out, will it harm them to do it in order to get their ballots in? If they go to hear a concert they may be kept half an hour at the door, elbowed by saint and sinner indiscriminately. If they go to Washington to the President's inauguration, they may stand two hours with Mary Magdalen on one side of them and Judas Iscariot on the other. If this contact is rendered harmless by the fact that they are receiving political information, will it hurt them to stay five minutes longer in order to act upon the knowledge they have received?

This is on the supposition that the household of Blank are plain, practical women, unversed in the vanities of the world. If they belong to fashionable circles, how much harder to keep them wholly clear of disreputable contact! Should they, for instance, visit Newport, they may possibly be seen at the Casino, looking very happy as they revolve rapidly in the arms of some very disreputable characters; they will be seen in the surf, attired in the most scanty and clinging drapery, and kindly aided to preserve their balance by the devoted attentions of the same companions. Mrs. Blank, meanwhile, will look complacently on, with the other matrons: they are not supposed to know the current reputation of those whom their daughters meet "in society;" and, so long as there is no actual harm done, why should they care? Very well; but why, then, should they care if they encounter those same disreputable characters when they go to drop a ballot in the ballot-box? It will be a more guarded and distant meeting. It is not usual to dance round-dances at the ward-room, so far as I know, or to bathe in clinging drapery at that rather dry and dusty resort. If such very close intimacies are all right under the gas-light or at the beach, why should there be poison in merely passing near a disreputable character at the City Hall?

On the whole, the prospects of Mrs. Blank are not encouraging. Should she consult a physician for her daughters, he may be secretly or openly disreputable; should she call in a clergyman, he may, though a bishop, have carnal rather than spiritual eyes. If Miss Blank be caught in a shower, she may take refuge under the umbrella of an undesirable acquaintance; should she fall on the ice, the woman who helps to raise her may have sinned. There is not a spot in any known land where a woman can live in absolute seclusion from all contact with evil. Should the Misses Blank even turn Roman Catholics, and take to a convent, their very confessor may not be a genuine saint; and they may be glad to flee for refuge to the busy, buying, selling, dancing, voting world outside.

No: Mrs. Blank's prayers for absolute protection will never be answered, in respect to her daughters. Why not, then, find a better model for prayer in that made by Jesus for his disciples: "I pray Thee, not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil." A woman was made for something nobler in the world, Mrs. Blank, than to be a fragile toy, to be put behind a glass case, and protected from contact. It is not her mission to be hidden away from all life's evil, but bravely to work that the world may be reformed.


Every mishap among American women brings out renewed suggestions of what may be called the "European plan" in the training of young girls,--the plan, that is, of extreme seclusion and helplessness. It is usually forgotten, in these suggestions, that not much protection is really given anywhere to this particular class as a whole. Everywhere in Europe the restrictions are of caste, not of sex. Even in Turkey, travellers tell us, women of the humbler vocations are not much secluded. It is not the object of the "European plan," in any form, to protect the virtue of young women, as such, but only of young ladies; and the protection is pretty effectually limited to that order. Among the Portuguese in the island of Fayal I found it to be the ambition of each humble family to bring up one daughter in a sort of lady-like seclusion: she never went into the street alone, or without a hood which was equivalent to a veil; she was taught indoor industries only; she was constantly under the eye of her mother. But in order that one daughter might be thus protected, all the other daughters were allowed to go alone, day or evening, bareheaded or bare-footed, by the loneliest mountain-paths, to bring oranges or firewood or whatever their work may be--heedless of protection. The safeguard was for a class: the average exposure of young womanhood was far greater than with us. So in London, while you rarely see a young lady alone in the streets, the housemaid is sent on errands at any hour of the evening with a freedom at which our city domestics would quite rebel; and one has to stay but a short time in Paris to see how entirely limited to a class is the alleged restraint under which young French girls are said to be kept.

Again, it is to be remembered that the whole "European plan," so far as it is applied on the continent of Europe, is a plan based upon utter distrust and suspicion, not only as to chastity, but as to all other virtues. It is applied among the higher classes almost as consistently to boys as to girls. In every school under church auspices, it is the French theory that boys are never to be left unwatched for a moment; and it is as steadily assumed that girls will be untruthful if left to themselves, as that they will do every other wrong. This to the Anglo-Saxon race seems very demoralizing. "Suspicion," said Sir Philip Sidney, "is the way to lose that which we fear to lose." Readers of the Bronte novels will remember the disgust of the English pupils and teachers in French schools at the constant espionage around them; and I have more than once heard young girls who had been trained at such institutions say that it was a wonder if they had any truthfulness left, so invariable was the assumption that it was the nature of young girls to lie. I cannot imagine anything less likely to create upright and noble character, in man or woman, than the systematic application of the "European plan."

And that it produces just the results that might be feared, the whole tone of European literature proves. Foreigners, no doubt, do habitual injustice to the morality of French households; but it is impossible that fiction can utterly misrepresent the community which produces and reads it. When one thinks of the utter lightness of tone with which breaches, both of truth and chastity, are treated even in the better class of French novels and plays, it seems absurd to deny the correctness of the picture. Besides, it is not merely a question of plays and novels. Consider, for instance, the contempt with which Taine treats Thackeray for representing the mother of Pendennis as suffering agonies when she thinks that her son has seduced a young girl, a social inferior. Thackeray is not really considered a model of elevated tone, as to such matters, among English writers; but the Frenchman is simply amazed that the Englishman should describe even the saintliest of mothers as attaching so much weight to such a small affair.

An able newspaper writer, quoted with apparent approval by the "Boston Daily Advertiser," praises the supposed foreign method for the "habit of dependence and deference" that it produces; and because it gives to a young man a wife whose "habit of deference is established." But it must be remembered, that, where this theory is established, the habit of deference is logically carried much farther than mere conjugal convenience would take it. Its natural outcome is the authority of the priest, not of the husband. That domination of the women of France by the priesthood which forms even now the chief peril of the republic--which is the strength of legitimism and imperialism and all other conspiracies against the liberty of the French people--is only the visible and inevitable result of this dangerous docility.

One thing is certain, that the best preparation for freedom is freedom; and that no young girls are so poorly prepared for American life as those whose early years are passed in Europe. Some of the worst imprudences, the most unmaidenly and offensive actions, that I have ever heard of in decent society, have been on the part of young women educated abroad, who have been launched into American life without its early training,--have been treated as children until they suddenly awakened to the freedom of women. On the other hand, I remember with pleasure, that a cultivated French mother, whose daughter's fine qualities were the best seal of her motherhood, once told me that the models she had chosen in her daughter's training were certain families of American young ladies, of whom she had, through peculiar circumstances, seen much in Paris.

One of the most amusing letters ever quoted in any book is that given in Curzon's "Monasteries of the Levant," as the production of a Turkish sultana who had just learned English. It is as follows:--



MY NOBLE FRIEND:--Here are the featherses sent my soul, my noble friend, are there no other featherses leaved in the shop besides these featherses? and these featherses remains, and these featherses are ukly. They are very dear, who buyses dheses? And my noble friend, we want a noat from yourself; those you brought last tim, those you sees were very beautiful; we had searched; my soul, I want featherses again, of those featherses. In Kalada there is plenty of feather. Whatever bees, I only want beautiful featherses; I want featherses of every desolation to-morrow.

(Signed) YOU KNOW WHO.

The first steps in culture do not, then, it seems, remove from the feminine soul the love of pretty things. Nor do the later steps wholly extinguish it; for did not Grace Greenwood hear the learned Mary Somerville conferring with the wise Harriet Martineau as to whether a certain dress should be dyed to match a certain shawl? Well! why not? Because women learn the use of the quill, are they to ignore "featherses "? Because they learn science, must they unlearn the arts, and, above all, the art of being beautiful? If men have lost it, they have reason to regret the loss. Let women hold to it, while yet within their reach.

Mrs. Rachel Rowland of New Bedford, much prized and trusted as a public speaker among Friends, and a model of taste and quiet beauty in costume, delighted the young girls at a Newport Yearly Meeting, a few years since, by boldly declaring that she thought God meant women to make the world beautiful, as much as flowers and butterflies, and that there was no sin in tasteful dress, but only in devoting to it too much money or too much time. It is a blessed doctrine. The utmost extremes of dress, the love of colors, of fabrics, of jewels, of "featherses," are, after all, but an effort after the beautiful. The reason why the beautiful is not always the result is because so many women are ignorant or merely imitative. They have no sense of fitness: the short wear what belongs to the tall, and brunettes sacrifice their natural beauty to look like blondes. Or they have no adaptation; and even an emancipated woman may show a disregard for appropriateness, as where a fine lady sweeps the streets, or a fair orator the platform, with a silken or velvet train which accords only with a carpet as luxurious as itself. What is inappropriate is never beautiful. What is merely in the fashion is never beautiful. But who does not know some woman whose taste and training are so perfect that fashion becomes to her a means of grace instead of a despot, and the worst excrescence that can be prescribed--a chignon, a hoop, a panier--is softened into something so becoming that even the Parisian bondage seems but a chain of roses?

In such hands, even "featherses" become a fine art, not a matter of vanity. Are women so much more vain than men? No doubt they talk more about their dress, for there is much more to talk about; yet did you never hear the men of fashion discuss boots and hats and the liveries of grooms? A good friend of mine, a shoemaker, who supplies very high heels for a great many pretty feet on Fifth Avenue in New York, declares that women are not so vain in that direction as men. "A man who thinks he has a handsome foot," quoth our fashionable Crispin, "is apt to give us more trouble than any lady among our customers. I have noticed this for twenty years." The testimony is consoling--to women.

And this naturally suggests the question, What is to be the future of masculine costume? Is the present formlessness and gracelessness and monotony of hue to last forever, as suited to the rough needs of a workaday world? It is to be remembered that the difference in this respect between the dress of the sexes is a very recent thing. Till within a century or so, men dressed as picturesquely as women, and paid as minute attention to their costume. Even the fashions in armor varied as extensively as the fashions in gowns. One of Henry III.'s courtiers, Sir J. Arundel, had fifty-two complete suits of cloth of gold. No satin, no velvet, was too elegant for those who sat to Copley for their pictures. In Puritan days the laws could hardly be made severe enough to prevent men from wearing silver-lace and "broad bone-lace," and shoulder-bands of undue width, and double ruffs and "immoderate great breeches." What seemed to the Cavaliers the extreme of stupid sobriety in dress would pass now for the most fantastic array. Fancy Samuel Pepys going to a wedding of to-day in his "new colored silk suit and coat trimmed with gold buttons, and gold broad lace round his hands, very rich and fine." It would give to the ceremony the aspect of a fancy ball; yet how much prettier a sight is a fancy ball than the ordinary entertainment of the period!

At intervals the rigor of masculine costume is a little relaxed; velvets resume their picturesque sway: and, instead of the customary suit of solemn black, gentlemen even appear in blue and gold editions at evening parties. Let us hope that good sense and taste may yet meet each other, for both sexes; that men may borrow for their dress some womanly taste, women some masculine sense; and society may again witness a graceful and appropriate costume, without being too much absorbed in "featherses."

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