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   Chapter 6 STUDY AND WORK

Women and the Alphabet By Thomas Wentworth Higginson Characters: 43628

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Movet me ingens scientiarum admiratio, seu legis communis aequitas, ut in nostro sexu, rarum non esse feram, id quod omnium votis dignissimum est. Nam cum sapientia tantum generis humani ornamentum sit, ut ad omnes et singulos (quoad quidem per sortem cujusque liceat) extendi jure debeat, non vidi, cur virgini, in qua excolendi sese ornandique sedulitatem admittimus, non conveniat mundus hic omnium longè pulcherrimus."--ANNAE MARIAE à SCHURMAN EPISTOLAE. (1638.)

"A great reverence for knowledge and the natural sense of justice urge me to encourage in my own sex that which is most worthy the aspirations of all. For, since wisdom is so great an ornament of the human race that it should of right be extended (so far as practicable) to each and every one, I have not perceived why this fairest of ornaments should not be appropriate for the maiden, to whom we permit all diligence in the decoration and adornment of herself."


Why is it, that, whenever anything is done for women in the way of education, it is called "an experiment,"--something that is to be long considered, stoutly opposed, grudgingly yielded, and dubiously watched,-- while, if the same thing is done for men, its desirableness is assumed as a matter of course, and the thing is done? Thus, when Harvard College was founded, it was not regarded as an experiment, but as an institution. The "General Court," in 1636, "agreed to give 400 l. towards a schoale or colledge," and the affair was settled. Every subsequent step in the expanding of educational opportunities for young men has gone in the same way. But when there seems a chance of extending, however irregularly, some of the same collegiate advantages to women, I observe that respectable newspapers, in all good faith, are apt to speak of the measure as an "experiment."

It seems to me no more of an "experiment" than when a boy who has usually eaten up his whole apple becomes a little touched with a sense of justice, and finally decides to offer his sister the smaller half. If he has ever regarded that offer as an experiment, the first actual trial will put the result into the list of certainties; and it will become an axiom in his mind that girls like apples. Whatever may be said about the position of women in law and society, it is clear that their educational disadvantages have been a prolonged disgrace to the other sex, and one for which women themselves are in no way accountable. When Fran?oise de Saintonges, in the sixteenth century, wished to establish girls' schools in France, she was hooted in the streets, and her father called together four doctors of law to decide whether she was possessed of a devil in planning to teach women,--"pour s'assurer qu'instruire des femmes n'était pas un oeuvre du démon." From that day to this we have seen women almost always more ready to be taught than was any one else to teach them. Talk as you please about their wishing or not wishing to vote: they have certainly wished for instruction, and have had it doled out to them almost as grudgingly as if it were the ballot itself.

Consider the educational history of Massachusetts, for instance. The wife of President John Adams was born in 1744; and she says of her youth that "female education, in the best families, went no farther than writing and arithmetic." Barry tells us in his "History of Massachusetts," that the public education was first provided for boys only; "but light soon broke in, and girls were allowed to attend the public schools two hours a day."[1] It appears from President Quincy's "Municipal History of Boston,"[2] that from 1790 girls were there admitted to such schools, but during the summer months only, when there were not boys enough to fill them,--from April 20 to October 20 of each year. This lasted until 1822, when Boston became a city. Four years after, an attempt was made to establish a high school for girls, which was not, however, to teach Latin and Greek. It had, in the words of the school committee of 1854, "an alarming success;" and the school was abolished after eighteen months' trial, because the girls crowded into it; and as Mr. Quincy, with exquisite simplicity, records, "not one voluntarily quitted it, and there was no reason to suppose that any one admitted to the school would voluntarily quit for the whole three years, except in case of marriage!"

How amusing seems it now to read of such an "experiment" as this, abandoned only because of its overwhelming success! How absurd now seem the discussions of a few years ago!--the doubts whether young women really desired higher education, whether they were capable of it, whether their health would bear it, whether their parents would permit it. An address I gave before the Social Science Association on this subject, at Boston, May 14, 1873, now seems to me such a collection of platitudes that I hardly see how I dared come before an intelligent audience with such needless reasonings. It is as if I had soberly labored to prove that two and two make four, or that ginger is "hot i' the mouth." Yet the subsequent discussion in that meeting showed that around even these harmless and commonplace propositions the battle of debate could rage hot; and it really seemed as if even to teach women the alphabet ought still to be mentioned as "a promising experiment." Now, with the successes before us of so many colleges; with the spectacle at Cambridge of young women actually reading Plato "at sight" with Professor Goodwin,--it surely seems as if the higher education of women might be considered quite beyond the stage of experiment, and might henceforth be provided for in the same common-sense and matter-of-course way which we provide for the education of young men.

And, if this point is already reached in education, how long before it will also be reached in political life, and women's voting be viewed as a matter of course, and a thing no longer experimental?

[Footnote 1: Vol. iii. 323.]

[Footnote 2: Page 21.]


When, some thirty years ago, the extraordinary young mathematician, Truman Henry Safford, first attracted the attention of New England by his rare powers, I well remember the pains that were taken to place him under instruction by the ablest Harvard professors: the greater his abilities, the more needful that he should have careful and symmetrical training. The men of science did not say, "Stand off! let him alone! let him strive patiently until he has achieved something positively valuable, and he may be sure of prompt and generous recognition--when he is fifty years old." If such a course would have been mistaken and ungenerous if applied to Professor Safford, why is it not something to be regretted that it was applied to Mrs. Somerville? In her case, the mischief was done: she was, happily, strong enough to bear it; but, as the English critics say, we never shall know what science has lost by it. We can do nothing for her now; but we could do something for future women like her, by pointing this obvious moral for their benefit, instead of being content with a mere tardy recognition of success, after a woman has expended half a century in struggle.

It is commonly considered to be a step forward in civilization, that whereas ancient and barbarous nations exposed children to special hardships, in order to kill off the weak and toughen the strong, modern nations aim to rear all alike carefully, without either sacrificing or enfeebling. If we apply this to muscle, why not to mind? and if to men's minds, why not to women's? Why use for men's intellects, which are claimed to be stronger, the forcing process,--offering, for instance, many thousand dollars a year in gratuities at our colleges, that young men may be induced to come and learn,--and only withhold assistance from the weaker minds of women? A little schoolgirl once told me that she did not object to her teacher's showing partiality, but thought she "ought to show partiality to all alike." If all our university systems are wrong, and the proper diet for mathematical genius consists of fifty years' snubbing, let us employ it, by all means; but let it be applied to both sexes.

That it is the duty of women, even under disadvantageous circumstances, to prove their purpose by labor, to "verify their credentials," is true enough; but this moral is only part of the moral of Mrs. Somerville's book, and is cruelly incomplete without the other half. What a garden of roses was Mrs. Somerville's life, according to some comfortable critics! "All that for which too many women nowadays are content to sit and whine, or fitfully and carelessly struggle, came naturally and quietly to Mrs. Somerville. And the reason was that she never asked for anything until she had earned it; or, rather, she never asked at all, but was content to earn." Naturally and quietly! You might as well say that Garrison fought slavery "quietly," or that Frederick Douglass's escape came to him "naturally." Turn to the book itself, and see with what strong, though never actually bitter, feeling, the author looks back upon her hard struggle.

"I was intensely ambitious to excel in something; for I felt in my own breast that women were capable of taking a higher place in creation than that assigned them in my early days, which was very low" (p. 60). "Nor ... should I have had courage to ask any of them a question, for I should have been laughed at. I was often very sad and forlorn; not a hand held out to help me" (p. 47). "My father came home for a short time, and, somehow or other finding out what I was about, said to my mother, 'Peg, we must put a stop to this, or we shall have Mary in a strait-jacket one of these days'" (p. 54). "I continued my mathematical and other pursuits, but under great disadvantages; for, although my husband did not prevent me from studying, I met with no sympathy whatever from him, as he had a very low opinion of the capacity of my sex, and had neither knowledge of nor interest in science of any kind" (p. 75). "I was considered eccentric and foolish; and my conduct was highly disapproved of by many, especially by some members of my own family" (p. 80). "A man can always command his time under the plea of business: a woman is not allowed any such excuse" (p. 164). And so on.

At last, in 1831,--Mrs. Somerville being then fifty-one,--her work on "The Mechanism of the Heavens" appeared. Then came universal recognition, generous if not prompt, a tardy acknowledgment. "Our relations," she says, "and others who had so severely criticised and ridiculed me, astonished at my success, were now loud in my praise."[1] No doubt. So were, probably, Cinderella's sisters loud in her praise, when the prince at last took her from the chimney-corner, and married her. They had kept for themselves, to be sure, as long as they could, the delights and opportunities of life; while she had taken the place assigned her in her early days,--"which was very low," as Mrs. Somerville says. But, for all that, they were very kind to her in the days of her prosperity; and no doubt packed their little trunks and came to visit their dear sister at the palace as often as she could wish. And, doubtless, the Fairyland Monthly of that day, when it came to review Cinderella's "Personal Recollections," pointed out that, as soon as that distinguished lady had "achieved something positively valuable," she received "prompt and generous recognition."

[Footnote 1: Page 176.]


The learned Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, England, is frequently facetious; and his jokes are quoted with the deference due to the chief officer of the chief college of that great university. Now it is known that the Cambridge colleges, and Trinity College in particular, are doing a great deal for the instruction of women. The young women of Girton College and Newnham College--both of these being institutions for their benefit, in or near Cambridge--not only enjoy the instruction of the university, but they share it under a guaranty that it shall be of the best quality; because they attend, in many cases, the very same lectures with the young men. Where this is not done, they sometimes use the vacant lecture-rooms of the college; and it was in connection with an application for this privilege that the Master of Trinity College made a celebrated joke. When told that the lecture-room was needed for a class of young women in psychology, he said, "Psychology? What kind of psychology? Cupid-and-Psychology, I suppose."

Cupid-and-Psychology is, after all, not so bad a department of instruction. It may be taken as a good enough symbol of that mingling of head and heart which is the best result of all training. One of the worst evils of the separate education of the sexes has been the easy assumption that men were to become all head, and women all heart. It was to correct the evils of this that Ben Jonson proposed for his ideal woman

"a learned and a manly soul."

It was an implied recognition of it from the other side when the great masculine intellect, Goethe, held up as a guiding force in his Faust "the eternal womanly" (das ewige weibliche). After all, each sex must teach the other, and impart to the other. It will never do to have all the brains poured into one human being, and christened "man;" and all the affections decanted into another, and labelled "woman." Nature herself rejects this theory. Darwin himself, the interpreter of nature, shows that there is a perpetual effort going on, by unseen forces, to equalize the sexes, since sons often inherit from the mother, and daughters from the father. And we all take pleasure in discovering in the noblest of each sex something of the qualities of the other,--the tender affections in great men, the imperial intellect in great women.

On the whole, there is no harm, but rather good, in the new science of Cupid-and-Psychology. There are combinations for which no single word can suffice. The phrase belongs to the same class with Lowell's witty denunciation of a certain tiresome letter-writer, as being, not his incubus, but his "pen-and-inkubus." It is as well to admit it first as last: Cupid-and-Psychology will be taught wherever young men and women study together. Not in the direct and simple form of mutual love-making, perhaps; for they tell the visitor, at universities which admit both sexes, that the young men and maidens do not fall in love with each other, but are apt to seek their mates elsewhere. The new science has a wider bearing, and suggests that the brain is incomplete, after all, without the affections; and so are the affections without the brain. A certain professorship at Harvard University which the Rev. Dr. Francis G.

Peabody now fills, and which Phillips Brooks was once invited to fill, was founded by a woman, Miss Plummer; and the name proposed by her for it was "a professorship of the heart," though they after all called it only a professorship of "Christian morals." We need the heart in our colleges, it seems, even if we only get it under the ingenious title of Cupid-and-Psychology.


For one, I have never been fascinated by the style of domestic paradise that English novels depict,--half a dozen unmarried daughters round the family hearth, all assiduously doing worsted-work and petting their papa. I believe a sufficiency of employment to be the only normal and healthy condition for a human being; and where there is not work enough to employ the full energies of all at home, it seems as proper for young women as for young birds to leave the parental nest. If this additional work is done for money, very well. It is the conscious dignity of self-support that removes the traditional curse from labor, and woman has a right to claim her share in that dignified position.

Yet I cannot agree, on the other hand, with those who maintain that the true woman should be self-supporting, even in marriage. Woman's part of the family task--the care of home and children--is just as essential to building up the family fortunes as the very different toil of the out-door partner. For young married women to undertake any more direct aid to the family income is in most cases utterly undesirable, and is asking of themselves a great deal too much. And this is not because they are to be encouraged in indolence, but because they already, in a normal condition of things, have their hands full. As, on this point, I may differ from some of my readers, let me explain precisely what I mean.

As I write, there are at work, in another part of the house, two paper-hangers, a man and his wife, each forty-five or fifty years of age. Their children are grown up, and some of them married: they have a daughter at home, who is old enough to do the housework, and leave the mother free. There is no way of organizing the labors of this household better than this: the married pair toil together during the day, and go home together to their evening rest. A happier couple I never saw; it is a delight to see them cheerily at work together, cutting, pasting, hanging: their life seems like a prolonged industrial picnic; and if I had the ill-luck to own as many palaces as an English duke I should keep them permanently occupied in putting fresh papers on the walls.

But the merit of this employment for the woman is that it interferes with no other duty. Were she a young mother with little children, and obliged by her paper-hanging to neglect them, or to leave them at a "day-nursery," or to overwork herself by combining too many cares, then the sight of her would be very sad. So sacred a thing is motherhood, so paramount and absorbing the duty of a mother to her child, that in a true state of society I think she should be utterly free from all other duties,--even, if possible, from the ordinary cares of housekeeping. If she has spare health and strength to do these other things as pleasures, very well; but she should be relieved from them as duties. And as to the need of self-support, I can hardly conceive of an instance where it can be to the mother of young children anything but a disaster. As we all know, this calamity often occurs; I have seen it among the factory operatives at the North, and among the negro women in the cotton-fields at the South: in both cases it is a tragedy, and the bodies and brains of mother and children alike suffer. That the mother should bear and tend and nurture, while the father supports and protects,--this is the true division.

Does this bear in any way upon suffrage? Not at all. The mother can inform herself upon public questions in the intervals of her cares, as the father among his; and the baby in the cradle is a perpetual appeal to her, as to him, that the institutions under which that baby dwells may be kept pure. One of the most devoted young mothers I ever knew--the younger sister of Margaret Fuller Ossoli--made it a rule, no matter how much her children absorbed her, to read books or newspapers for an hour every day; in order, she said, that she should be more to them than a mere source of physical nurture, and that her mind should be kept fresh and alive for them. But to demand in addition that such a mother should earn money for them is to ask too much; and there is many a tombstone in New England, which, if it told the truth, would tell what comes of such an effort.


"The hopeless defect of women in all practical matters," said a shrewd merchant the other day, "is that it is impossible to make them thorough." It was a shallow remark, and so I told him. Women are thorough in the things which they have been expected to regard as their sphere,--in their housekeeping and their dress and their social observances. There is nothing more thorough on earth than the way housework is done in a genuine New England household. There is an exquisite thoroughness in the way a milliner's or a dressmaker's work is done,--a work such as clumsy man cannot rival, and can hardly estimate. No general plans his campaigns or marshals his armies better than some women of society--the late Mrs. Paran Stevens, for instance--manage the circles of which they are the centre. Day and night, winter and summer, at city or watering-place, year in and year out, such a woman keeps open house for her gay world. She has a perpetual series of guests who must be fed luxuriously, and amused profusely; she talks to them in three or four languages; at her entertainments she notes who is present and who absent, as carefully as Napoleon watched his soldiers; her interchange of cards, alone, is a thing as complex as the army muster-rolls: thus she plans, organizes, conquers, and governs. People speak of her existence as that of a doll or a toy, when she is the most untiring of campaigners. Grant that her aim is, after all, unworthy, and that you pity the worn face which has to force so many smiles. No matter: the smiles are there, and so is the success. I often wish that the reformers would do their work as thoroughly as the women of society do theirs.

No, there is no constitutional want of thoroughness in women. The trouble is that into the new work upon which they are just entering they have not yet brought their thoroughness to bear. They suffer and are defrauded and are reproached, simply because they have not yet nerved themselves to do well the things which they have asserted their right to do. A distinguished woman, who earns one of the largest incomes ever honestly earned by any one of her sex, off the stage, told me the other day that she left all her business affairs to the management of others, and did not even know how to draw a check on a bank. What a melancholy se

lf-exhibition was that of a clever American woman, whom I knew, the author of half a dozen successful books, refusing to look her own accounts in the face until they had got into such a tangle that not even her own referees could disentangle them to suit her! These things show, not that women are constitutionally wanting in thoroughness, but that it is hard to make them carry this quality into new fields.

I wish I could possibly convey to the young women who write for advice on literary projects something of the meaning of this word "thorough" as applied to literary work. Scarcely any of them seem to have a conception of it. Dash, cleverness, recklessness, impatience of revision or of patient investigation, these are the common traits. To a person of experience, no stupidity is so discouraging as a brilliancy that has no roots. It brings nothing to pass; whereas a slow stupidity, if it takes time enough, may conquer the world. Consider that for more than twenty years the path of literature has been quite as fully open for women as for men, in America,-- the payment the same, the honor the same, the obstacles no greater. Collegiate education has until quite recently been denied them, but how many men succeed as writers without that advantage! Yet how little, how very little, of permanent literary work has yet been done by American women! Young girls appear one after another: each writes a single clever story or a single sweet poem, and then disappears forever. Look at Griswold's "Female Poets of America," and you are disposed to turn back to the title-page, and see if these utterly forgotten names do not really represent the "female poets" of some other nation. They are forgotten, as most of the more numerous "female prose writers" are forgotten, because they had no root. Nobody doubts that women have cleverness enough, and enough of power of expression. If you could open the mails, and take out the women's letters, as somebody says, they would prove far more graphic and entertaining than those of the men. They would be written, too, in what Macaulay calls--speaking of Madame d'Arblay's early style--"true woman's English, clear, natural, and lively." What they need, in order to convert this epistolary brilliancy into literature, is to be thorough.

You cannot separate woman's rights and her responsibilities. In all ages of the world she has had a certain limited work to do, and has done that well. All that is needed, when new spheres are open, is that she should carry the same fidelity into those. If she will work as hard to shape the children of her brain as to rear her bodily offspring, will do intellectual work as well as she does housework, and will meet her moral responsibilities as she meets her social engagements, then opposition will soon disappear. The habit of thoroughness is the key to all high success. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. Only those who are faithful in a few things will rightfully be made rulers over many.


The brilliant Lady Ashburton used to say of herself that she had never written a book, and knew nobody whose books she would like to have written. This does not seem to be the ordinary state of mind among those who write letters of inquiry to authors. If I may judge from these letters, the yearning for a literary career is now almost greater among women than among men. Perhaps this is because of some literary successes lately achieved by women. Perhaps it is because they have fewer outlets for their energies. Perhaps they find more obstacles in literature than young men find, and have, therefore, more need to write letters of inquiry about it. It is certain that they write such letters quite often; and ask questions that test severely the supposed omniscience of the author's brain,--questions bearing on logic, rhetoric, grammar, and orthography; where to find a publisher, and how to obtain a well-disciplined mind.

These letters may sometimes be too long or come too often for convenience, nor is the consoling postage-stamp always remembered. But they are of great value as giving real glimpses of American social life, and of the present tendencies of American women. They sometimes reveal such intellectual ardor and imagination, such modesty, and such patience under difficulties, as to do good to the reader, whatever they may do to the writer. They certainly suggest a few thoughts, which may as well be expressed, once for all, in print.

Behind almost all these letters there lies a laudable desire to achieve success. "Would you have the goodness to tell us how success can be obtained?" How can this be answered, my dear young lady, when you leave it to the reader to guess what your definition of success may be? For instance, here is Mr. Mansfield Tracy Walworth, who was murdered the other day in New York. He was at once mentioned in the newspapers as a "celebrated author."

Never in my life having heard of him, I looked in a "Manual of American Literature," and there found that Mr. Walworth's novel of "Warwick" had a sale of seventy-five thousand copies, and his "Delaplaine" of forty-five thousand. Is it a success to have secured a sale like that for your books, and then to die, and have your brother penmen ask, "Who was he?" Yet, certainly, a sale of seventy-five thousand copies is not to be despised; and I fear I know many youths and maidens who would willingly write novels much poorer than "Warwick" for the sake of a circulation like that. I do not think that Hawthorne, however, would have accepted these conditions; and he certainly did not have this style of success.

Nor do I think he had any right to expect it. He had made his choice, and had reason to be satisfied. The very first essential for literary success is to decide what success means. If a young girl pines after the success of Marion Harland and Mrs. Southworth, let her seek it. It is possible that she may obtain it, or surpass it; and though she might do better, she might do far worse. It is, at any rate, a laudable aim to be popular: popularity may be a very creditable thing, unless you pay too high a price for it. It is a pleasant thing, and has many contingent advantages,--balanced by this great danger, that one is apt to mistake it for real success.

"Learning hath made the most," said old Fuller, "by those books on which the booksellers have lost." If this be true of learning, it is quite as true of genius and originality. A book may be immediately popular and also immortal, but the chances are the other way. It is more often the case that a great writer gradually creates the taste by which he is enjoyed. Wordsworth in England and Emerson in America were striking instances of this; and authors of far less fame have yet the same choice which they had. You can take the standard which the book market offers, and train yourself for that. This will, in the present age, be sure to educate certain qualities in you,--directness, vividness, animation, dash,--even if it leaves other qualities untrained. Or you can make a standard of your own, and aim at that, taking your chance of seeing the public agree with you. Very likely you may fail; perhaps you may be wrong in your fancy, after all, and the public may be right: if you fail, you may find it hard to bear; but, on the other hand, you may have the inward "glory and joy" which nothing but fidelity to an ideal standard can give. All this applies to all forms of work, but it applies conspicuously to literature.

Instead, therefore, of offering to young writers the usual comforting assurance, that, if they produce anything of real merit, it will be sure to succeed, I should caution them first to make their own definition of success, and then act accordingly. Hawthorne succeeded in his way, and Mr. M.T. Walworth in his way; and each of these would have been very unreasonable if he had expected to succeed in both ways. There is always an opening for careful and conscientious literary work; and by such work many persons obtain a modest support. There are also some great prizes to be won; but these are commonly, though not always, won by work of a more temporary and sensational kind. Make your choice; and, when you have got precisely what you asked for, do not complain because you have missed what you would not take.


A young girl of some talent once told me that she had devoted herself to "the career of letters." I found, on inquiry, that she had obtained a situation as writer of society gossip for a New York newspaper. I can hardly imagine any life that leads more directly away from any really literary career, or any life about which it is harder to give counsel. The work of a newspaper correspondent, especially in the "society" direction, is so full of trials and temptations, for one of either sex, in our dear, inquisitive, gossiping America, that one cannot help watching with especial solicitude all women who enter it. Their special gifts as women are a source of danger: they are keener of observation from the very fact of their sex, more active in curiosity, more skilful in achieving their ends; in a world of gossip they are the queens, and men but their subjects, hence their greater danger.

In Newport, New York, Washington, it is the same thing. The unbounded appetite for private information about public or semi-public people creates its own purveyors; and these, again, learn to believe with unflinching heartiness in the work they do. I have rarely encountered a successful correspondent of this description who had not become thoroughly convinced that the highest desire of every human being is to see his name in print, no matter how. Unhappily, there is a great deal to encourage this belief: I have known men to express great indignation at an unexpected newspaper-puff, and then to send ten dollars privately to the author. This is just the calamity of the profession, that it brings one in contact with this class of social hypocrites; and the "personal" correspondent gradually loses faith that there is any other class to be found. Then there is the perilous temptation to pay off grudges in this way, to revenge slights, by the use of a power with which few people are safely to be trusted. In many cases, such a correspondent is simply a child playing with poisoned arrows: he poisons others; and it is no satisfaction to know that in time he may also poison himself, and paralyze his own power for mischief.

There lies before me a letter written some years ago to a young lady anxious to enter on this particular "career of letters,"--a letter from an experienced New York journalist. He has employed, he says, hundreds of lady correspondents, for little or no compensation; and one of his few successful writers he thus describes: "She succeeds by pushing her way into society, and extracting information from fashionable people and officials and their wives.... She flatters the vain, and overawes the weak, and gets by sheer impudence what other writers cannot.... I would not wish you to be like her, or reduced to the necessity of doing what she does, for any success journalism can possibly give." And who can help echoing this opinion? If this is one of the successful laborers, where shall we place the unsuccessful; or, rather, is success, or failure, the greater honor?

Personal journalism has a prominence in this country with which nothing in any other country can be compared. What is called publicity in England or France means the most peaceful seclusion, compared with the glare of notoriety which an enterprising correspondent can flash out at any time--as if by opening the bull's-eye of a dark lantern--upon the quietest of his contemporaries. It is essentially an American institution, and not one of those in which we have reason to feel most pride. It is to be observed, however, that foreigners, if in office, take to it very readily; and it is said that no people cultivate the reporters at Washington more assiduously than the diplomatic corps, who like to send home the personal notices of themselves, in order to prove to their governments that they are highly esteemed in the land to which they are appointed. But however it may be with them, it is certain that many people still like to keep their public and private lives apart, and shrink from even the inevitable eminence of fame. One of the very most popular of American authors has said that he never, to this day, has overcome a slight feeling of repugnance on seeing his own name in print.


Every time a woman does anything original or remarkable,--inventing a rat-trap, let us say, or carving thirty-six heads on a walnut-shell,--all observers shout applause. "There's a woman for you, indeed! Instead of talking about her rights, she takes them. That's the way to do it. What a lesson to these declaimers upon the platform!"

It does not seem to occur to these wise people that the right to talk is itself one of the chief rights in America, and the way to reach all the others. To talk is to make a beginning, at any rate. To catch people with your ideas is more than to contrive a rat-trap; and Isotta Nogarola, carving thirty-six empty heads, was not working in so practical a fashion as Mary Livermore when she instructs thirty-six hundred full ones.

It shows the good sense of the woman-suffrage agitators, that they have decided to begin with talk. In the first place, talking is the most lucrative of all professions in America; and therefore it is the duty of American women to secure their share of it. Mrs. Frances Anne Kemble used to say that she read Shakespeare in public "for her bread;" and when, after melting all hearts by a course of farewell readings, she decided to begin reading again, she said she was doing it "for her butter." So long as women are often obliged to support themselves and their children, and perhaps their husbands, by their own labor, they have no right to work cheaply, unless driven to it. Anna Dickinson had no right to make fifteen dollars a week by sewing, if, by stepping out of the ranks of needle-women into the ranks of the talkers, she could make a hundred dollars a day. Theorize as we may, the fact is that there is no kind of work in America which brings such sure profits as public speaking. If women are unfitted for it, or if they "know the value of peace and quietness," as the hand-organ man says, and can afford to hold their tongues, let them do so. But if they have tongues, and like to use them, they certainly ought to make some money by the performance.

This is the utilitarian view. And when we bring in higher objects, it is plain that the way to get anything in America is to talk about it. Silence is golden, no doubt, and like other gold remains in the bank-vaults, and does not just now circulate very freely as currency. Even literature in America is utterly second to oratory as a means of immediate influence. Of all sway, that of the orator is the most potent and most perishable; and the student and the artist are apt to hold themselves aloof from it, for this reason. But it is the one means in America to accomplish immediate results, and women who would take their rights must take them through talking. It is the appointed way.

Under a good old-fashioned monarchy, if a woman wished to secure anything for her sex, she must cajole a court, or become the mistress of a monarch.

That epoch ended with the French Revolution. When Bonaparte wished to silence Madame de Sta?l, he said, "What does that woman want? Does she want the money the government owes to her father?" When Madame de Sta?l heard of it, she said, "The question is not what I want, but what I think." Henceforth women, like men, are to say what they think. For all that flattery and seduction and sin, we have substituted the simple weapon of talk. If women wish education, they must talk; if better laws, they must talk. The one chief argument against woman suffrage, with men, is that so few women even talk about it.

As long as the human voice can effect anything, it is the duty of women to use it; and in America, where it effects everything, they should talk all the time. When they have obtained, as a class, absolute equality of rights with men, their appeals on this subject may cease, and they may accept, if they please, that naughty masculine definition of a happy marriage,--the union of a deaf man with a dumb woman.


There are other things that women wish to do, it seems, beside studying and voting. There are a good many--if I may judge from letters that occasionally come to me--who are taking, or wish to take, their first lessons in public speaking. Not necessarily very much in public, or before mixed audiences, but perhaps merely to say to a roomful of ladies, or before the committee of a Christian Union, what they desire to say. "How shall I make myself heard? How shall I learn to express myself? How shall I keep my head clear? Is there any school for debate?" And so on. My dear young lady, it does not take much wisdom, but only a little experience, to answer some of these questions. So I am not afraid to try.

The best school for debate is debating. So far as mere confidence and comfort are concerned, the great thing is to gain the habit of speech, even if one speaks badly. And the practice of an ordinary debating society has also this advantage, that it teaches you to talk sense (lest you be laughed at), to speak with some animation (lest your hearers go to sleep), to think out some good arguments (because you are trying to convince somebody), and to guard against weak reasoning or unfounded assertion (lest your opponent trip you up). Speaking in a debating society thus gives you the same advantage that a lawyer derives from the presence of an opposing counsel: you learn to guard yourself at all points. It is the absence of this check which is the great intellectual disadvantage of the pulpit When a lawyer says a foolish thing in an argument, he is pretty sure to find it out; but a clergyman may go on repeating his foolish thing for fifty years without discovering it, for want of an opponent.

For the art of making your voice heard, I must refer you to an elocutionist. Yet one thing at least you might acquire for yourself,--a thing that lies at the foundation of all good speaking,--the complete and thorough enunciation of every syllable. So great is the delight, to my ear at least, of a perfectly distinct and clear-cut utterance, that I fear I should rather listen for an hour to the merest nonsense, so uttered, than to the very wisdom of angels if given in a confused or nasal or slovenly way. If you wish to know what I mean by a clear and satisfactory utterance, go to a woman-suffrage convention, and hear Miss Mary F. Eastman.

As to your employment of language, the great aim is to be simple, and, in a measure, conversational; and then let eloquence come of itself. If most people talked as well in public as in private, public meetings would be more interesting. To acquire a conversational tone, there is good sense in Edward Everett Hale's suggestion, that every person who is called on to speak,--let us say, at a public dinner,--instead of standing up and talking about his surprise at being called on, should simply make his last remark to his neighbor at the table the starting-point for what he says to the whole company. He will thus make sure of a perfectly natural key, to begin with; and can go on from this quiet "As I was just saying to Mr. Smith," to discuss the gravest question of Church or State. It breaks the ice for him, like the remark upon the weather by which we open our interview with the person whom we have longed for years to meet. Beginning in this way at the level of the earth's surface, we can join hands and rise to the clouds. Begin in the clouds,--as some of my most esteemed friends are wont to do,-- and you have to sit down before reaching the earth.

And, to come last to what is first in importance, I am taking it for granted that you have something to say, and a strong desire to say it. Perhaps you can say it better for writing it out in full beforehand. But whether you do this or not, remember that the more simple and consecutive your thought, the easier it will be both to keep it in mind and to utter it. The more orderly your plan, the less likely you will be to "get bewildered," or to "lose the thread." Think it out so clearly that the successive parts lead to one another, and then there will be little strain upon your memory. For each point you make, provide at least one good argument and one good illustration, and you can, after a little practice, safely leave the rest to the suggestion of the moment. But so much as this you must have, to be secure. Methods of preparation of course vary extremely; yet I suppose the secret of the composure of an experienced speaker to lie usually in this, that he has made sure beforehand of a sufficient number of good points to carry him through, even if nothing good should occur to him on the spot. Thus wise people, in going on a fishing excursion, take with them not merely their fishing tackle, but a few fish; and then, if they are not sure of their luck, they will be sure of their chowder.

These are some of the simple hints that might be given, in answer to inquiring friends. I can remember when they would have saved me some anguish of spirit; and they may be of some use to others now. I write, then, not to induce any one to talk for the sake of talking,--Heaven forbid!--but that those who are longing to say something should not fancy the obstacles insurmountable, when they are really slight.

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