Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

WOMAN AND HER MASTER.

BOOK I.

CHAPTER I.

WOMAN.

"Ce sexe, que nous bornons à des emplois obscurs et domestiques, ne serait il pas destiné à des fonctions plus nobles et plus relevées ? N'a-t-il pas donné des exemples de courage, de sagesse, de progrès dans toutes les vertus, et dans tous les arts? Peut-être que ses qualités se ressentent de sa faiblesse, et sont inférieures aux nôtres: s'ensuit-il qu'elles doivent être inutiles à la patrie? Non, la nature ne dispense aucun talent pour le rendre sterile; et le grand art du legislateur est de remettre en jeu tous les ressorts qu'elle fournit, et que nous laissons en repos."-Plato de Republica-As cited by the Abbé Barthélemy.

THE chronicles of six thousand years, the records of the known world, lie open for the benefit and the wonder of mankind, preserving, in pages indited by the lights of their respective times, monuments of the ignorance, the timidity, and the credulity, of successive generations.

From the earliest aggregations of society, man, in his shallow pride, has laboured to perpetuate the memory of his own imperfection, the story of his selfishness and his errors; and the annals which he has bequeathed from age to age, for the benefit of posterity, are but evidences of the long and painful struggles, by which the human species, on isolated points, and for periods brief and remote, have succeeded in partially escaping from physical evil, and from moral darkness.

[blocks in formation]

It is thus the artless illuminations of antique missals, in preserving the rude outlines of the dark originals they were meant to honour, perpetuate, also, in vivid tints, that expression of feebleness and suffering, which is the inseparable characteristic of suspicious and unaccommodated ignorance in all ages.

*

It was not till the close of a long and unmitigated reign of barbarism, even in regions most favourable to intellectual culture, that mind began at last to assume some supremacy over brute force; but, from its first inroad of inquiry upon the density of ignorance and prejudice, it has proceeded steadily onward in its high career, unsubdued by penalties and persecutions, undaunted by calumnies and contempt.

Neglected, when not discouraged, often repelled, and occasionally crushed, amidst the conflicts of races, and the fall of empires, science has receded only to advance ; multiplying the blessings of physical existence to the species, and purging the general weal" by its extorted truths. Before its luminous progress, many maladies have disappeared, many crimes have fallen into dissuetude; and vices, once boastfully indulged, are now scarcely breathed. Society has become less cruel; and the appetite for blood, the ferocious instinct of semi-civilized man, has diminished. The scaffold is less frequently erected, the stake has been torn up; the fagot has been quenched; and the rack and the wheel, banished from codes (once miscalled) of justice, are now preserved with other relics of older times, as warnings to illustrate a principle, as images to enforce its observance.

The monopoly of knowledge is no longer cloistered and exclusive; and, if all those who run may not read, and all who live have not at their disposition the means of learning, yet a respect for education and a desire for its acquisition are in active operation throughout all the great European communities, and penetrating all classes of society.

Under this mighty influence, the relations of time and space to human power have been changed, till minutes

* Obvious even in the fine heads of Cimabue and Giotto.

comprise the labours of days; facts have been substituted for figments, and experiment for learning; and, above all, the intellectual machine itself, released from its scholastic trammels, and worked in obedience to its own laws, like the mechanic engine of modern improvement, realizes, with certainty and precision, effects which the combined exertions of past ages were inadequate to accomplish. Mind, the universal mind, is now every where in action, producing new and endless combinations, political, moral, and material; and, though the interests of a few, or the lingering prejudices of the many, may oppose and delay its march, still (as the martyr of physical truth was heard to mutter when he left the tribunal of his inquisitors for his dungeon), e pure si muove.

Much, however, as has been effected, that progress serves but to disclose the more that remains to be done. As the acquirement of a physical elevation, in expanding the sphere of vision, and opening new and vast regions to the sense, obscures and diminishes the individual details comprehended in its grasp; so, that intellectual and moral elevation, which has opened to the mind's eye the wider fields of scientific research and of social combination, has caused the relative value of the smaller facts presented to its apprehension to be either overlooked, or mistaken. Society has become complicated more rapidly than philosophy and legislation can follow the actions of man upon man, and those of the species upon nature, have multiplied faster than observation can co-ordinate, or reason control; until a positive advance has assumed the appearance of a relative retrogradation.

:

A large and formidable sum of suffering, therefore, still subsists in the bosom of the most civilized communities, untouched by science, unmitigated by laws. Crimes necessitated and inevitable, are still committed with a fearful regularity, and in pre-assignable proportions. The arithmetic of statistics can foreshow the numbers of the victims of violence, and determine the instruments of its perpetration.* It can calculate the minds that must de

* See that curious and admirable work, "Sur l'Homme, ou Essai de la Physique Social," by Monsieur Quetelet, Astronomer Royal and Secretaire Perpetuel de l'Academie Royale de Bruxelles.

grade, the hearts which must break, the felons who must suffer, the suicides who must perish. The future murderer, while yet smiling in innocence on his mother's bosom, is already surrounded by the circumstances which foredoom him to crime; and the fair and blooming hope of many a parent's heart must tread her fated path to shame and reprobation, because institutions are still unexplored, and laws are at war with the ends for which they were enacted.

There are, then, still unmastered, some great impediments to the working of the social machinery; there are unfitnesses and incongruities obstructing its play, and clogging its movements, that are yet scarcely suspected. The discordant fragments of elder systems still remain, which work not smoothly with a newer principle of action. In the great and general progress of knowledge, much has been neglected, much overstepped; and, amidst the most beneficial reforms and sagacious improvements, great moral incoherences still linger, which require to be eleminated, before the interests of humanity can be based upon a system, consonant with nature, and conducive to general happiness.

But where lies the oversight? Can it be one, astounding in its obviousness, and all-important in its mischiefs? While codes have been reformed, institutes rationalized, and the interests of orders and classes have been minutely attended to, has one half of the human species been left, even to the present moment, where the first rude arrangements of a barbarous society and its barbarous laws had placed it. Is woman still a thing of sufferance and not of rights, as in the ignorant infancy of early aggregation, when the law of the strongest* was the only law acted on? and in the great impulsion to a regenerating reform, has that most applicable and intelligible instrument of social improvement and national well-being, has woman, been forgotten?

*"The husband, by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction; for, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her by domestic chastisement, allowing him-flagellis et fustibus acriter verberare uxorem," &c.-Blackstone.

Even now, when supremacy has been transferred from muscle to mind, has that most subtle spirit, that being of most mobile fibre, that most sensitive and apprehensive organization—has she, whom God has placed, to be a "mate and a help to man," at the head of his creation, the foundress of nations, the embellisher of races,* has she alone been left behind, at the very starting-post of civilisation, while around her all progresses and improves ? And is man still "the master," and does he, by a misdirected self-love, still perpetuate her ignorance and her dependence, when her emancipation and improvement are most wanting, as the crowning element of his own happiness? If, in the progress of refinement he has brightened instead of breaking the chain of his slave, he has only linked a more showy nucleus of evil to his own destiny, and bound up, with his noblest views of national and social developement, a principle that too often thwarts the progress and enfeebles the results of his best reforms.

If, in the first era of society, woman was the victim of man's physical superiority, she is still, in the last, the subject of laws, in the enactment of which she has had no voice-amenable to the penalties of a code, from which she derives but little protection. While man, in his first crude attempts at jurisprudence, has surrounded the sex with restraints and disabilities, he has left its natural rights unguarded, and its liberty unacknowledged. Merging the very existence of woman in his own, he has allowed her no separate interest, assigned her no independent possessions: "for," says the law-the law of man-" the hus

"That the blood of the Persians is naturally gross, appears from the Guebres, who are a remnant of the ancient Persians, and are an ugly, ill-made, and rough-skinned people. But, in the other parts of the kingdom, the Persians' blood is now highly refined by frequent admixture with the Georgians and Circassians, two nations which surpass all the world in personal beauty. There is hardly a man of rank in Persia who is not born of a Georgian or Circassian mother; and even the king himself is commonly sprung, on the female side, from one or other of these nations. As it is long since this admixture commenced, the Persian women have become very beautiful, the men tall, noble, and graceful. But these qualities they inherit not from their remote progenitors; and, without the alliances alluded to above, the men of rank in Persia (as descendants of the Tartars) would be extremely ugly and deformed."-Chardin "Voyages en Perse," 1, 2. See Plates of Antiquities in Mr. Morier's "Travels in Persia."

« ZurückWeiter »