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band is the head of the wife, and all that she has belongs to him."* Even the fruit of her own labour is torn from her, unless she is protected by the solitary blessedness. of a derided but innocent celibacy, or by an infamous frailty. Thus, (to adopt the barbarous jargon of these barbarous laws,) as femme sole or femme couverte, she is equally the victim of violence and injustice, those universal and invariable attributes of the law of the strongest. But there is still a more terrible outrage committed against all that is most dear to her nature; she may be deprived of the possession of her own child-of that child, which, but an hour before, was shrined in her bosom, a portion of herself, flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone -her infant may be torn from her while it is still drawing its nourishment from her breast, and while she is still thanking the gods for all her labour past," as she gazes tenderly on its helplessness.
In the progress of moral improvement, it is true, some faint rays of light have broken on the darkness of these wrongs; and equity, the common sense of advancing civilisation, has endeavoured, by a system of fictions, to defeat the law. Timidly admitting the possible injustice of early institutes, it hesitatingly evades the consequences, and ventures not to touch the principle. Thus has the destiny of woman become only more complicated and uncertain; and rights, on which the nature of things has already decided, are kept for years at anxious issue, through the incoherences and contradictions of the machinery by which they have been bolstered, until a life of hope deferred may be worn out, before the industry and intelligence of its defenders can acquire a mastery of the case, and ripen it to a decision.†
But in vain has opinion, the new depository of power,
"The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or, at least, is incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing (and is therefore called; in our law-Freuch, a feme coverte, or covert Baron, or, under the protection and influence of her husband, her Baron, or Lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture)."--Blackstone.
+ See an Essay on the Equitable Rights of Married Women, by J. Clancy, Esq., Barrister-at-law.
the antagonist of physical force, opened its tribunals to the wrongs of the aggrieved! Even there her master meets her, citing against her what he calls philosophy and science; and if, even while these lines are tracing, a scanty measure of partial and reluctant amelioration has been wrung from the legislature, the exceptional fact has only been made an occasion for the sterner assertion of the outrageous principle. The natural dependence of the sex on its master, its imputed inaptitude for the higher intellectual pursuits, and presumed incapacity for concentration, are still insisted upon; and, while woman is permitted to cultivate the arts which merely please, and which frequently corrupt, she is denounced as a thing unsexed, a lusus naturæ, if she directs her thoughts to pursuits which aspire to serve, and which never fail to elevate.
Educating her for the Harem, but calling on her for the practices of the Portico, man expects from his odalisque the firmness of the stoic, and demands from his servant the exercise of those virtues which, placing the élite of his own sex at the head of its muster-roll, give immortality to the master. He tells her that obscurity is her true glory, insignificance her distinction, ignorance her lot, and passive obedience the perfection of her nature;" yet he expects from her, as the daily and hourly habit of her existence, that conquest over the passions by the strength of reason, that triumph of moral energy over the senses and their appetites, and that endurance of personal privations and self-denials, which with him (even under all the excitements of ambition and incentives to renown) are qualities of rare exception, the practices of most painful acquirement.
Such has been the destiny of woman amongst the most highly-organized and intellectual of the human races, and in the regions most favourable to their moral developement. Among the inferior varieties, and in less temperate regions, she is even yet more degraded and helpless. The object and the victim of a brutal sensuality, her life passes in humiliating restriction and debasing ignorance; while her death is not unusually an act of murderous violence, or of refined torture.
But how has this Pariah of the species, this alien to
law, this dupe of fictions and subject of force-how has she felt, how acted, how borne the destiny assigned her? Has she bowed her head to the yoke with tame acquiescence, as one for whose nature it was fitted and adapted? or has she, as slave, concubine, or wife, felt and protested? Has she not, under the corrupting influence of oppression, sometimes converted those qualities of her sex, which were designed as the supplement of the intellectual system of the species, as an aid to man in his war with the elements, into weapons against him? Has not her quick apprehension often degenerated into cunning under his misrule? Has she not, in discovering how little was to be hoped from his justice, succeeded in founding an empire over his passions? And has not man, who denies every right that interferes with his own supremacy, submitted to the spell which undermines it; and, by thus giving influence, direct or indirect, where he has withheld knowledge and denied rights, established an insidious, ignorant tyranny, that perpetually thwarts his own designs, injures the best interests of society, and retards its progress to reform?
Still, notwithstanding her false position, woman has struggled through all disabilities and degradations, has justified the intentions of Nature in her behalf, and demonstrated her claim to share in the moral agency of the world. In all outbursts of mind, in every forward rush of the great march of improvement, she has borne a part; permitting herself to be used as an instrument, without hope of reward, and faithfully fulfilling her mission, without expectation of acknowledgment. She has, in various ages, given her secret services to her task-master, without partaking in his triumph, or sharing in his success. Her subtlety has insinuated views which man has shrank from exposing, and her adroitness found favour for doctrines, which he had the genius to conceive, but not the art to divulge. Priestess, prophetess, the oracle of the tripod, the sibyl of the cave, the veiled idol of the temple, the shrouded teacher of the academy, the martyr or missionary of a spiritual truth, the armed champion of a political cause, she has been covertly used for every purpose, by which man, when he has failed to reason his species into truth, has endeavoured to fanaticise it into good; when
ever mind has triumphed by indirect means over the inertia of masses.
In all moral impulsions, woman has aided and been adopted; but, her efficient utility accomplished, the temporary part assigned her for temporary purposes performed, she has been ever hurled back into her natural obscurity, and conventional insignificance: no law against her has been repealed, no injury redressed, no right admitted. Alluded to, rather as an incident than a principal in the chronicles of nations, her influence, which cannot be denied, has been turned into a reproach; her genius, which could not be concealed, has been treated as a phenomenon, when not considered as monstrosity!
But where exist the evidences of these merits unacknowledged, of these penalties unrepealed? They are to be found carelessly scattered through all that is known in the written history of mankind, from the first to the last of its indited pages. They may be detected in the habits of the untamed savage, in the traditions of the semicivilized barbarian! and in those fragments of the antiquity of our antiquity, scattered through undated epochs,monuments of some great moral débris, which, like the fossil remains of a long-imbedded and unknown species, serve to found a theory, or to establish a fact.
Wherever woman has been, there has she left the track of her humanity, to mark her passage-incidentally impressing the seal of her sensibility and her wrongs upon every phasis of society, and in every region, " from Indus to the Pole."
Humbly but "fearlessly" to plead her cause, and to illustrate her agency, by traits more graphic than didactic, is the object of the following pages.
The Women of Savage life. Of Semi-civilized Tribes.
TOWARDS the commencement of the sixteenth century, the accidents of civilisation awakened throughout Europe an universal zeal for maritime discovery. A geographical theory took possession of the public mind, that there stood out, at the southern pole of the earth, some great continent, (named, before it was discovered, Terra Australis incognita), which, from its mighty extent, deserved to be considered as a fifth division of the globe.
Of this continent much was assumed before any thing was proved. Its latitudes were assigned, its importance predetermined; and some visionary voyagers even believed that they had coasted a part of its shores. In later times, navigators ascertained that no such continent existed: but, in the vain pursuit, numerous islands were discovered in the mighty ocean of the southern hemisphere, whose aggregate extent was scarcely inferior; and science and research, in replacing the dream of idle speculation by observed fact, in some sense confirmed its conjectures. These islands have received from modern geographers the name of Australasia.
The climes and local aspects of this island-continent were infinitely diversified; but all was new, all was original. There was, however, one division which seemed wanting in the foregone conclusions, drawn, of the general beauty and brightness of nature, in that region,-a spot where vegetation was dark and dull, and where animal life bore scarce any resemblance to the types of the other quarters of the globe. The foliage was coriaceous and spiny; the fruits ligneous and devoid of nutriment; and nothing recalled the majesty of the virgin forests of the western world, or the rich variety of the vegetable genera of the East. The birds, the quadrupeds, and the fishes, partook equally of these characteristics; the hideous am