Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

|head, (the distinctive feature of mental deficiency) with all the brutal sensuality of the savage, and all the lowest vices of civilisation, simple, and unintelligent, is equally satisfied of his own superiority over the female, as the American or the Siberian-the same causes every where producing the same effects. Still, however, the African, like the Siberian, while he oppresses, feels that he fears; and, fearing, fancies that he despises her. As a father, he beats, barters, or kills her at discretion. As bridegroom, he receives her a slave into his hut; and his first order is to send her to fetch wood and water—a foretaste of her future servitude-a token that he is the master.

He scarcely shares with her his cabin, and never his board. Even the common wrong of West Indian slavery does not remove this distinction; for the Negress, in the sugar islands, as in her native Africa, presents on her knees the tobacco and drink, which her intelligent industry has prepared for her indolent husband. Lord of the ascendant in his native region, the male Negro hunts and fishes, makes and repairs the hut, constructs his own weapons, and sometimes manufactures clothes and ornaments for his family. Still the greater part of his time passes in idleness and in smoking; while to the female he consigns all the various toils of agriculture and domestic service. The patient laborious Negress tills, and sows, and reaps (often with one infant at her back, and another at her bosom); she gathers and weaves the cotton, and prepares the maize, the millet, and the tobacco. She rears also the domestic animals, carries in the wood, and fetches the water, and is at once the providence of her master and his victim.

Even the women of the Barbaric chiefs and kings are not always exempt from these labours; and when time destroys their powers, or satiety marks them for disgust, they are sold in the European slave-market, or hurried to a premature grave by aggravated brutality and misusage. Amidst all this violence and injustice, the moral influence

Asia (including Chaldeans, Jews, Persians, Arabians, &c.) The moral feelings and intellectual powers of this variety are susceptible of the highest developement and culture; their white complexions and symmetric forms present the most perfect type, the beau ideal of poetry and art.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

of the female is still felt and feared: for the Negro, in common with the Mongol and the American, is possessed of a jealous dread of the sex, for which he tries not to account an apprehension of powers beyond the reach of his physical force to subdue or to counteract.

To the Negroes, the mind, or rather the temperament, of woman is a fearful mystery; and by a fearful mystery they endeavour to meet it. For this purpose the males enter into a horrid covenant of secrecy and revenge, forming a tribunal not unworthy the suspicious despotism of more civilized, though scarcely more corrupted society. They have invented a secret language, which it is death to the other sex to learn, and which is employed for concealing the meditated vengeance, that female penetration might otherwise discover and evade. The machinery of this system is as rude as the minds which invented it. It consists in the agency of an avenging demon, whom the women are taught to believe is a wild man or monster; or whom they affect to regard in that light-the penalty of their scepticism being torture, or death.

This frightful deity of the husband's altars, known by the name of Mumbojumbo, is a man disguised in horrible attire, and raised by a crown of straw to a gigantic and supernatural height. Woe to the wretched woman, who (however innocent) hears on the wind the well-known midnight howl of Mumbojumbo! The first terrific sound urges her flight; but she flies in vain. The monster-god and his attendant demons soon overtake her. She is seized, scourged, or murdered, according to the nature of her crime, her disobedience, or her heresy. For Negresses have been found, who have sought knowledge at its dearest price, who have penetrated the mystery of Mumbojumbo, and even dared to whisper to their wretched partners in slavery, that the creed of their masters was an absurdity, that his grotesque god was a fabrication, and that their own subjection was the injurious motive of the gross and puerile invention: thus marking the difference between minds, even in the same race, when developed by the inherent sensibility peculiar to one sex, or brutified by the consciousness of superior physical force possessed by the other.

CHAPTER III.

The Women of the East. The Women of Oriental Antiquity, Traditional and Historical. Of India, and China. Of Assyria, and Egypt.

THE sufferings and the wrongs of woman among the savage tribes of the inferior races, however separated by origin or by distance, every where alike exhibit her and her master in the same relation-in that of slave and tyrant—a relation determined by physical causes, and by that pressure of externals, to which the male organization is the most successfully opposed. The possession of power awakens the selfishness of man in all races and in all climes, developing tendencies, which a high civilisation and an enlightened morality alone can regulate and adjust.

But the position of the woman of savage life, miserable as it may be, is less strikingly degraded than that of the females of those vast empires of the East, which vaunt an antique origin, and in which the lights of a semi-civilisation have surrounded a fraction at least of the species with the luxuries of wealth, and afforded something of the semblance of a social policy. Of the earliest condition of these widely extended nations nothing is known; and the few scattered fragments of their history which have reached posterity show them as then already far removed from the rudeness of savage life. In these fragments, the records of ages when civilisation was as yet exclusively confined to Asia, (the supposed cradle of the human species, and, certainly, the cradle of its written history), physical pressure of another character and origin is found to determine the servitude of woman, and to crush her under a slavery, if possible, more revolting than that of the mere

savage.

The precocious developement of the maternal organization, which, in some Oriental countries, confounds infancy with motherhood, and leaves the functions of the brain

imperfect, while the affections and the passions are already matured, may be assigned as the origin of polygamythat institute which has the most impeded the progress of society, wherever it has been perpetuated.

It is an awful and heart-rending act to raise the dark curtain which hangs before "the sanctuary of the women," throughout the great continent of Asia, and to penetrate the domestic holds of those vainglorious nations, which arrogate to themselves the precedence in creation, and date their power and their policy from eras, anterior to the written records of more civilized communities. In these states, on whose condition the passage of some thousands of years has impressed no change, and in which the sufferings of one half the species have awakened no sympathy, may be discovered the most graphic illustrations of the tyranny of man, and of the degradation of woman. There, the sexes, in their mutual relations, are still where the earliest necessities of the species first placed them; perpetuating, by their false position, the barbarous rudiments of primeval society. The sin of polygamy, still unredeemed in the East, dries up the fountains of human sensibility, and crushes every better impulse of feeling,annihilating even the hope of political liberty, and leaving the wisest legislative reformer, at best but a happy accident, if not an anomaly and a discord.

In the Zenana of the modern Hindoo, woman is still reared the slave of the most frightful superstition, the victim of the most selfish institutes which man has yet devised. Frail, her infidelity to her lord is punished by a living burial: faithful, her constancy is rewarded by a place on his funeral pyre: her life and death, alike a violence to nature, an outrage to society, and a mortifying evidence of the incapacity of some races for improvement and reform.*

In the Persian Harem, and the Turkish Seraï, the story of the victims devoted on the altars of man's sensuality and cruelty is briefly and bitterly told: ignorance, corruption, incarceration; infants murdered, mothers maddened;

*While this page was writing, the papers announced the horrible sacrifice of a young and beautiful Hindoo wife, burned alive with the body of her aged husband.

[ocr errors]

for the unfaithful, the sack, the bowstring, or the tower; for the true, satiety, neglect, and untimely death. For this existence of pains, and penalties, and privations, what are the compensations? a toy, a flower, a sweetmeat, and, above all, a smile from those lips which might pronounce death to the dearest, or extinction of sight to the brightest.

But there is a pompous and a pedantic land, which boasts supremacy in wisdom and in science from an epoch anterior to all human record save its own-China, the land of many letters, of many lanterns, and of few ideas. Peopled by the long-eared, elliptic-eyed, flat-nosed, olivecoloured, Mongolian race, it offers a population singularly deficient in intellectual physiognomy; though, to its absurd ugliness, the women of the higher classes occasionally offer striking exceptions.*

In China, polygamy prevails virtually, if not by name; and the sovereign, self-imprisoned in his golden-roofed palace, with his one empress, six queens, and three hundred (or, if he please, three thousand) concubines, reflects, on the great scale, the domestic establishment of those among his subjects, whose wealth may permit the irrational indulgence of their passion or their pride. The female slave, who, at the head of a band of inferior slaves, is dignified with the name of superior (adequate to that of wife), who has been purchased with gold, and may be returned, if on trial not approved, is not deemed worthy to eat at her master's table. Crippled from her cradle, morally and physically, ignorant of any one of the many thousand letters of her husband's alphabet, referred to the futile amusements of infancy for all resource against utter tedium, to dress and to smoke are her highest pleasures; and to totter on the flat roof of her golden cage her sole privilege. She, too, feeble and imbecile as she is, is outraged in the only feeling that nature may have rescued from the wreck of man's oppression: for the Chinese wife, like the odalisque of Turkey, yields up her offspring a sacrifice to the murderous policy of her master.

If such is the destiny of the lady of the celestial empire,

"We saw women in China (though few) who might pass for beauties even in Europe."--Travels in China, p. 183-5.

[blocks in formation]
« ZurückWeiter »