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ART. IV.-1. Reports of various Trials in the principal Cities
of the United States, from 1855 to 1865. 2. Women as they are, or the Manners of the Day. By Mrs.
GORE. London. 3. Privileges of Women. By Jonah S. MARSTON. London. 4. The Poisoners of the Seventeenth Century. Edinburgh. 5. Remarkable Female Criminals. London. 6. Des Femmes avant le mariage, pendant le mariage et apres le
THERE is nothing in which Americans differ from other enlightened nations more than in their treatment of woman. In general the comparison is in our favor; so far as our intentions are concerned, it is so in nearly all respects ; but in certain circumstances none more grievously err.
The sex cannot be too much respected; a country in which they are not highly respected cannot be said to be highly enlightened. But the difficulty with us is that we are too indiscriminate in our respect; not only do we call them all “ladies," but we claim for the good, bad and indifferent the same privileges, and the same immunities. This is wrong and unjust; its tendency, instead of being salutary, is pernicious.
It is but a spurious gallantry that allows a woman to do what she likes with impunity merely because she is a woman; nor is it by any means a characteristic of a high civilization, as it is generally supposed. In no state of society is woman allowed more liberty than in the barbarous or semi-barbarous; and in no state of society is her husband more controlled by her. Even in countries where polygamy is established, the power of the favorite wife to do harm, by her influence on her husband, is proportioned to the degree of intelligence and enlightenment possessed by the latter, and vice versa.
There is no more interesting or instructive chapter in M. Guizot's admirable work on “Civilization in Europe” than that in which he shows from various authorities, ancient and modern, that in the primitive state of society woman is regarded as possessed of supernatural power, and reverenced accordingly as a superior being. That, in general, she is worse treated by her hnsband than she would be likely to be in an enlightened state of society does not alter the fact. The ancient Germans of the time of Tacitus consulted their wives much more than their enlightened descendants do at the
present day; nay, the Gallic women of the time of Cæsar had more control over their husbands than the French women have at the present day. But neither race were indiscriminate in their respect or esteem; they made a wide distinction between the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. While they dignified the former with titles, and allowed them to take part in their public deliberations, they inflicted on the latter all gradations of punishment, including that of death, according
to the character of the crimes of which they were proved guilty
We will take some pains with this branch of our subject, because most of those jurors who think they ought to acquit a woman, no matter how revolting is the crime she has committed; no matter how much she has disgraced her own sex ; do so under the impression that they exhibit superior enlightenment. It is, perhaps, reasonable enough that it is those who claim to be most in favor of what is called " woman's rights” that are the first to raise shouts of triumph when a woman is acquitted under any circumstances. Whether they may be sincere or not in this exultation is but a secondary consideration; in either case they are the enemies rather than the friends of the sex, simply because the tendency of their course is to degrade them. That they call themselves reformers, and in some instances really believe they are, is no more than might be expected; but the truth is that the effect of their teachings, if successful, would be to cause society to retrograde instead of advancing. Be it remembered that not one of the rights claimed for woman, if granted to-morrow, would be new ; all had been possessed before by their ancestors, but set aside as derogatory or unsuitable, according as civilization advanced. It is sometimes claimed that our wives and sisters are capable even of leading armies, and ought to be placed in such positions, the same as men, when found qualified. But the ancient Britons, made a general as well as a queen of Boadicea, at a time when they used to paint their naked bodies, as the red men do at the present day, and, unlike the red men, used to sell each other into slavery. Nor was Boadicea wanting in courage ; perhaps, few male generals or kings had more. But the question at issue is not whether a woman has more courage than a man, but whether the battle-field or the camp is as suitable for her as home. It may be said that since Boa dicea wasa queen, what she did cannot be held to be a criterion of the course pursued in her time towards women VOL. XI.-NO XXII.
in general ; but Tacitus tells us that the ancient Britons were wont to war under the leadership of women, and to make no difference of sex in places of command and government.*
Still more to the point, if possible, is the testimony of Cæsar, who informs us that the Britons advised with their women in matters of peace and war; and if any questions arose of difference of opinion, they were referred to their arbitration.
Now, the most liberal of the advocates of woman's rights would hardly maintain that, if our male legislators. in both houses of congress cannot agree on some important international question, they ought to refer it to their wives and daughters, and be guided by their decision. Nor did the Britons become less gallant after their subjugation by the Romans; when driven into the mountains and fastnesses of Wales, they were as favorable as ever to “ woman's rights;" in short, the ancient laws of Wales allow woman more privileges than those of any other country. Indeed, they overlook or omit nothing in which the interest of woman is concerned ; but while thus careful in protecting her, they are not the less particular in prescribing the punishment that shall be inflicted upon her when she is guilty of crimes much less heinous than murder or homicide. In other words, the same barbarians who provided that she should not be wronged in the slightest manner with impunity, - either in person or property, provided at the same time that if, like a bad man, she committed murder, like a bad man she would have to pay the penalty with her life.
If we approach nearer to our own times we shall find that precisely in proportion as civilization advanced did “woman's rights” fall into disuse, and generally with her own consent and good will. In the earlier of the Anglo-Saxon charters that are still extant the queen's signature is found beside that of the king; and for nearly two centuries after this custom ceased her name continued to be joined with that of the king in the body of the charter. Nor did she confiue herself to signing her name as long as she was allowed to do so; we are informed by Turner, in his excellent “ History of the Anglo-Saxons,”s that she often sat in the witemagemot (Saxon parliament) even after she became queen dowager.
. Fæmenarum ductu bellare, et sexum in imperiis non discernei.- Vita Agric, et ann. 4.
† Mos inolevet ut pacis et belli cum fæminis consilia inirent. Si quæ ques tiones cum sociis inciderent, earam arbitrio has commiterent.--De Bello Gaū.
Vide Leges Wallicoe. 1, 2, De Mulieribus.
It is not alone the queen that sometimes signed the royal charters of the Anglo-Saxons; the historians of the time inform us that abbesses did the same. Thus, in the charter of King Offa_ to the Abbey of Croyland, the following entry is made: “ J, Ceolburgha, Abbesse of Berdea, have assented."* That the abbesses enjoyed the same rights as the abbots is evident from all the works which give any account of the privileges allowed the sex at this early period of our history. The historian already quoted tells us that the charter of King Etelwulphe was made in the presence of, and with the subscriptions first, of the archbishops, after them of the kings of Mercia and East Angles, and an infinite number of abbots, abbesses, dukes, &c., and other faithful people of the land;" but he also informs us that " no lady accused of a crime was allowed any privilege by the Anglo-Saxon laws," and that "
any one against whom à crime was proved, even though she were an abbesse, was not only punished as much as a man in the same circumstances, but generally more, because it was held that a woman ought not to be as evildisposed as a man.”
From the characteristic gallantry of the Normans we need hardly say that they were not illiberal in their treatment of the sex; it was they who introduced the good old English adage, " When a man reigns a woman governs, a nd vice versa." Daniel tells us, in his “ History of the Norm an Kings” (p. 72), that in the reign of Edward III., Alice Perrers possessed such an ascendency that she was in the habit of sitting with the judges in Westminster Hall. Rymer mentions, with astonishment, the power she exercised.t But, great as it was, it did not secure her impunity when she violated the law; neither king, nor courtier, nor judge thought that because she was a woman she ought not to be punished when she misbehaved. We have a curious and interesting proof of this in Petyt's Theatrum Criminalium,in which a full report is given of the proceedings in parliament against her, and in the same work there is a copy of a writ of Edward III, proclaiming that any woman who had been guilty of “ Maintenance in causes" (receiving bribes and acting as the " lobby members” of the present day), and especially warning Alice Perrers from interfering in such matters, on pain of ignominious banishment from the kingdom. Thus
Ingulphus, Hist., p. 854.
she had power and influence as long as she was believed to deserve them, but when found to be unworthy she was held responsible for her conduct the same as any other person.
In the reign of Henry IV., the office known as Justice of the Forrest was filled by a woman. At the coronation of that monarch, Thomas Dymocke officiated as champion in right of his mother Margaret. The Countess of Richmond, officiated for years as a justice of the peace. It is well known to every intelligent student of English history that Queen Mary commissioned Lady Bartlett a justice of the peace in Gloucester ; and in the Harleian Manuscripts we have the additional information that the lady usually sat upon the bench among the justices, as did several other ladies, with her sword by her side (gladio cincta).
That women acted as military officers at the same period is beyond question. Thus, in the work last quoted, we are informed that Lady Hawis de London held the manor of Esegarston of the king, in capite, by sergeanty, as part of Kidwelby, to conduct the vanguard of the king's army as often as he should go into Wales with one, and in returning to bring up the rear guard.* The ladies who filled these various offices wore all the insignia belonging to them the same as men ; those having military commissions not only wearing swords, but coats of mail. This habit continued up to the time of Elizabeth ; even the Virgin Queen herself wore a coat of mail. That which she is said to have worn while reviewing her troops at Tilbury may still be seen in the British Museum. But this was one of the last, if not the very last, of its kind. The age of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Bacon, and Raleigh became too enlightened for this sort of woman's rights. All are aware, however, that at, no time had women more power ; but it is equally notorious that at no time was she punished in a more summary or severe manner. The latter fact is but too well attested by the executions of Lady Jane Grey and the Queen of Scots. That both of these celebrated but ill-fated ladies were cruelly wronged does not alter the fact that the public opinion of the day, however distinguished for its gallantry, was not at all opposed to the punishment of women when they were believed to have violated the laws.
We are here reminded of the absurd pretension that Luther was the first advocate of woman's rights; the facts we have already stated render it superfluous to take any notice of this,
* Harl. Mss., No. 2087, p. 23.