Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

The only art her guilt to cover
And hide her shame from every eye;
To give repentance to her lover
And wring his bosom-is to die.'

And how many have thus died! Worse-how many have lived a living-death in scorn and infamy, spoiled, perforce, of all that is beautiful in woman; compelled to be all that is base in human nature! Let any one stand apart from this question and look at the case here presented dispassionately, as at a problem, and, leaving feeling quite out of the consideration, ask his common sense what he thinks of it! And to see what slavery will do for the slave-to this system women have not only submitted, this system they have assisted to uphold, and even now there are many think it moral and religious to uphold it. (The dog which has long worn a collar will show the mark even though the collar be removed.) For what was this nefarious system established? That men might secure having legitimate offspring and a wanton licence. But the two things are incompatible as a universal rule: many a proud pedigree is, as regards purity of descent, a rope of sand. While men are corrupt women cannot be wholly otherwise; as easy were it to suppose that one-half of the atmospheric air could be tainted and the other half pure.

As national happiness depends on purity of morals, hap piness and morality are impossible to that people whose education does not aim at equal morals and equal intelligence for the sexes. In religion we especially want the junction of charity, and in morals of justice.

The negative character, incapable of energy, and void of depth and discrimination, which a short-sighted selfish policy has sought to impress upon women, may wear the aspect of amability, but it wants its soul.

'A smile on the face of the waters may glow,

While the tide runs in darkness and coldness below;
So the cheek may be tinged with a soft sunny smile,
While the cold heart to ruin runs darkly the while.'

From my intense detestation of morbid sensibility, maudlin sentimentality, and slavish submission, I am sometimes led to adopt a strong idiom, so that I should little wonder if I were to hear it said, that I was one who walked out with a pistol instead of a parasol, and a blunderbuss in place of a boa; that I had eschewed the bodkin for the battle-axe; that I had forsworn the social smile for the aspect of the grim stone, heads which, on prison doors, petrify the passers by; and that, instead of loving 'jest and song,' I never spoke but to breathe

Curses, not loud, but deep.'

But let me say, (without reference to self, but to general human

[ocr errors]

nature,) that they who are the first to resist a degrading wrong, are the last who would betray an honourable trust; the same spirit which spurns the false, prizes the true; and the mind most accessible to disgust from the mean, is the most susceptible to delight from the magnificent. My zeal may be warm, because it is vital; but it is worthy, because it embraces the best interests of all; for the subject I advocate is the spring head of happiness. I know my inspiration, and am therefore above imputation; I have the fond fearlessness of the surgeon who cuts to cure. If I stood upon a precipice and a plunge could save my cause, I believe I have so much of the spirit of Decius, that I would make that plunge.

Some proof of this I may be allowed to say I have given. Reputation and reward rarely lie in the path of opposition. I have preferred trusting to the labour of the oar, rather than to taking advantage of the wind. My sheet-anchor is a spirit of independence which makes the hermit's fare sweeter to me than the parasite's feast. If I have little, I want even less, and thus am richer than those who have much, and want yet more.

Far be it from me, (and, oh! let this burst of egotism into which I have been betrayed, be forgiven me,) far be it from me to violate any of the altars at which true devotion worships-to undervalue the beauty of fidelity, the grandeur of fortitude, the grace of patient endurance. But the character of passive, vapid, uninquiring, I may say unfeeling, amability impressed upon women, and from motives of policy praised into pre-eminence, comprehends none of these fine qualities-these primary colours of the moral prism. And, save in one case perhaps in a million, I deny the real existence of such a character. The faith, fondness, and forgiveness, which at last rewards the questionable reformation of the heart-harrowing rake-the marriage or reunion which is deemed reward for all the suffering and sacrifices of woman-teaches that the moral ruffian does enough, if at any time, and after any manner, he comes back to the path of decency; and that he, with his fraction of affection and integrity, stands as high as she who has not one item of the whole sum of either blotted. This is the fatal and infectious code of fiction! I believe in my heart that Captain Macheath and Tom Jones, and such like heroes, have created more disciples to vice and dissipation than, if calculable, would be credible; and whenever real life realizes these instances of uncomplaining, all loving, female martyrs, the refuge and reward of the unworthy, the state of female slavery and dependence deserves the meed, not the natural and sincere feeling of the sex. Nature makes us shriek when we suffer agony, and smile when we experience joy; they who can smile alike in both cases, must be more indebted to the discipline of art than the dictates of truth,

Let woman's love do all it can, and more than anything else in this world it can do; but let it not be done slavishly, mechanically, alike for the worthy and the unworthy. That which man demands of woman, she has a right to ask of him; in the measure she metes, to be repaid; and if she gives gold she should take no other coinage. In cases of moral bankruptcy-yes, even then, be they ever so desperate, let her be the abiding prop, and certificate the insolvent, if it be from a principle of attachment existing in herself, or from a prospect of redemption existing in the defaulter while there be hope or holiness in the exertion of female fondness, be it made. But let her not cling from a principle of mercenary dependence, growing out of man's monopoly of the means of existence; nor from a faith in the presumptuous axiom, that woman was made for man-not more than he as made for her; there can be no contract without two parties; the first who violates the conditions of the contract renders it void; and each party is then justly free; whatever they may be politically: but how beautiful is the freedom of the unoffending, though the world may know little of the feeling which makes it beautiful; with that at her heart, let her look to nothing but God and herself. It is certain that institutions affect those living under them, but it is also certain that people react upon institutions; and if a people, or any portion of a people, are determined to enjoy and deserve freedom and equity, they need never despair of obtaining them.

Executive power must in a great measure be lodged in the hands of men, as legislators, social and political; but inasmuch as human nature is fallible, a safeguard must be sought against the contingencies of incapacity, injustice, and error, in the capability of the people in the one case, and of women in the other. The holder of power will be less likely to abuse it in proportion as he feels that those for whom he acts can appreciate and uphold him when he does well; and will contemn and call him to order if he does otherwise.

I do not contend for public offices for women, but I do not therefore admit, when properly educated, their incapacity for them, or the inexpediency, in many cases, of their being admitted to them. While human society is compounded of the two sexes, so also should be human legislation. Suppose woman suddenly endowed with all which man presumes to be solely his own-how would he like to be the unvoiced, unregarded, unquestioned being which woman is-receiving from her laws and regulations without any inquiry being made how far they are consistent with his peculiar talents, feelings, and wishes?

To those still disposed to smile at the idea of female legislators, I will ask what kind of state counsellors would those men who serve in drapers and mercers' shops make? Of course most inefficient ones-and why? Not because they carry less

brains to the counter than other men do to the Commons, but because those brains have no information, no exercise; these men are so employed as not merely to make them superficial thinkers, but so as in a great degree to preclude their thinking at all. (In this age of intellectual light, ought not some effort to be made for these doomed dispensers of tapes and bobbins?) A similar parallel may, and has been, drawn between the character and capacities of military men and of women with the same justice, upon the same principle.

Why do grey hairs bring no honour to woman? I may say, why do they bring dishonour? for an old woman is the ne plus ultra of a term of contempt! Because women are taught to think the carriage of the head of more consequence than its contents, and they emulate the almost empty ears in a corn field, which the less wheat they hold the higher they wave.

And now, while I think of it, to inquire into that notion, (which makes men so vain, that if vanity was gaugeable and exciseable, we should have fewer male absentees, since few of fortune could pay the export duty,) the notion that women's whole lives and thoughts are devoted to the purpose of pleasing the men. Granted, in very, very many cases; and for what? For them? Let them not lay the flattering unction to their souls, for their admiration, for the aliment on which vanity feeds. It is the gift, not the giver; the offering, not the offerer: a vain woman often despises the slave, while she seeks his homage. The phrenologist will never find an animal with the organ of destructiveness so large as the coquette; to awaken fruitless love and excite groundless jealousy is her sole aim and object. The more people she keeps awake, the sounder she sleeps; their tortures are her triumphs. This is the creature which female education makes, and not this alone; many other less piquante, perhaps, but quite as paltry. Retribution is one of the universal laws.

The moral institutions of custom, like the legal institutions of courts, are streams which have had their source in the darkness of past times; the sun of reform must be permitted to purify them, as it does other waters, or their fetor will spread infection. Better to arrest the cause of disease than fee the physician. Heaven knows, the sins of the fathers have been visited on the sons, in all that relates to social mal-administration. In the

abstract, man's policy is hateful; in the detail, deplorable: and I know not which deserves most compassion, the wrongs he has done to us or to himself. The wise and worthy among the men of present times are the sufferers for the unwise and unworthy of past times. The want of a true standard of morals has tended to universal debasement; has made an ostensible morality the only rule, and an uncomprehended creed the only refuge. Let men and women see themselves as they really are; look

into the farce (alas, often tragedy) which they are enacting, and when conviction of its contemptible character and melancholy consequences reaches them, may we not hope they will awaken to a sense of the real purpose and capabilities of the large, joyous, glorious powers of humanity?

And now to the patient reader of my portion of The Repository' I say farewell as regards this subject, though I fear it is probable that, in essaying any other, I shall be much like the monographic artist, who, when at length persuaded to attempt painting an angel, told his employer he might depend upon it that it would be very like a red lion.

I once touched all subjects like one performing ordeal over burning ploughshares; that is, I took a quick bound from one to another, feeling my inability to rest on any: now I fear I am apt to dwell too long upon one subject, and so risk the imputation of monomania; but when once the mind fixes to a particular point, every subsequent operation of the reflective faculty is only a radius from that one centre; the individual gradually makes out a system for himself, of which he is sometimes a sun and sometimes a spider, spreading beneficial rays, or ramifying useless subtilties. If the first, they will continue and coruscate, no matter what the clouds amid which they rise; if the latter, they will be swept away by the busy broom of thrifty Time.

M. L. G.

NOTES ON SOME OF THE MORE POPULAR DIALOGUES OF PLATO.

No. IV.

THE APOLOGY OF SOCRATES.

WE have given several specimens of the philosophy of Socrates, as exhibited, and doubtless improved, by Plato, in those of his works which there is no reason to consider as having any foundation in real incidents, or conversations actually held between the supposed interlocutors. It will now be interesting to the reader to be introduced to Socrates as described by himself, in the work which stands among Plato's writings under the title of the Apology of Socrates,' and in the form of a speech delivered before his judges, on the celebrated trial for blasphemy, which terminated in his capital condemnation. It has been a question among the critics, whether this speech is the work of Socrates himself, or of Plato under his master's name. But the discerning Schleiermacher, and a scholar and critic not unworthy to be named even with Schleiermacher, the Rev. Connop Thirlwall, have adduced reasons which, in our judgment, leave little doubt that a speech,

« VorigeDoorgaan »