When a man and a woman both dislike something that has to be done, it is generally the latter who does it.
We have previously met Charlotte O’Conor Eccles (1860?–1911) as the author of the light-hearted novels The Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore and The Matrimonial Lottery. Some years earlier, hidden behind the pseudonym “A Modern Maid”, she gave us this series of essays on Modern Men.
Though the book itself gives no information, and I couldn’t find any other citations, it reads like a collection of articles originally published independently. Chapter I refers to “these papers”; Chapters III and IV also each describe themselves as “this paper”.
In Chapter V, the author refers to the much-quoted line, “A woman will never desert her child for a quadratic equation.” It turns out to be from Sydney Smith’s article “Female Education”; I’ve included the whole thing at the bottom of the page.
This ebook is based on the 1887 Field & Tuer edition.
There are occasional bits of unexpectedly old-fashioned language, such as “discover” and “explode” with their earlier meanings of “reveal” and “discredit”. The name “Brummel” is consistently spelled with one “l”.
Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the end of each chapter. The word “invisible” means that the punctuation mark is missing—generally at the end of a line—but there is an appropriately sized blank space.
A MODERN MAID.
“Alas, poor book, . . . go spread thy papery wings.
Thy lightness cannot help or hurt my fame.”
Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press, E.C.
Simpkin, Marshall & Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co.
FIELD & TUER,
THE LEADENHALL PRESS, E.C.
|I.||The Decay of Courtesy,||7|
|III.||Our Fellow Boarders,||31|
|IV.||Husbands and Brothers,||47|
|V.||The Vanity of Men,||71|
|VI.||Men and Money Matters,||89|
My dear Readers,—
We poor women seem to come in for more than our share of admonition, reproof, and sarcasm, not only from the opposite sex, but from our own. Are the lords of creation exempt from the faults, follies, and foibles said to distinguish the ladies? yet few men, and fewer women, remark on these, while no writer considers himself unable to ridicule us and to lash our failings. I have seen hundreds of articles of various degrees of merit on our extravagance, bad housekeeping, love of gossip and novelty, et cætera, yet in sober earnest most of the girls I know are good, helpful, affectionate, and have many capabilities for developing with suitable training into worthy and even noble women. What is worse, some 4 women depict their sex in so unfavourable and untrue a light that their masculine readers, who naturally think they ought to know, are startled at the picture, and unless they have members of their family or intimate friends whose characters refute these calumnies, conceive a certain suspiciousness in their relations with women more easily felt than defined by its objects. Of course, there are silly, mischievous, and wicked women in the world, just as there are men to whom similar adjectives apply, and in about the same proportion to the wise, the dignified, and the virtuous.
A good man I esteem the noblest work of God, but am unwilling to grant that a good woman is such a long way behind him as many try to prove. My experience—such as it is—has shown the contrary.
It seems to many that the sterner sex can be, and sometimes are, more disagreeable than their sisters. A spirit of contempt, or, at best, of toleration for women, is often evinced by youths, as well as by a few who, being older, ought to know better. The desire to please and serve us is more rarely manifested than ever before, if tradition speaks truth, nor is it 5 fair, in excuse for this falling off, to point to certain persons, and ask how can we expect honour or respect if members of our sex do this or that. Why should guiltless sufferers be treated with rudeness or indifference because Mrs So and So scorns the restraints of propriety and politeness? They have no part with her. She and those like her are in so small a proportion to our body as to be practically non-existent. We decline to answer for their shortcomings.
There have arisen in these latter days far too many of the class whom men of better feelings themselves stigmatise as “puppies,” and an effort should be made to stamp out the type of character that is so described. None would rejoice more at their extinction than those who worthily bear the title of gentleman. I admire all who, like my own dear father, are models of chivalry, honour, and courtesy; but in Society one meets some who, though gentlemen by birth and education, are not of this type, and to them I mean to devote a few remarks, with your kind permission. Unlike masculine writers in the reverse case, I do not say they apply to all or even to most men; but that 6 they do to a body sufficiently numerous to merit rebuke, most of my lady readers can testify.
Though my name and condition are unknown, it is a source of mental satisfaction that I am young, and so fortunately situated as to have nothing to complain of personally. I have no private grievances, never was crossed in love; my remarks are made without prejudice or bias, and I hope may be read as good-humouredly as they certainly are written.
I trust my critics will not “break a butterfly,” but show their superiority to the little weaknesses of lesser men, by being as merciful as may be to
A Modern Maid.
Though my name and condition are unknown, it is a source of mental satisfaction that I am young
[Though her exact year of birth is uncertain, in 1887 Charlotte O’Conor Eccles was definitely not over 30.]
“Manners make the man.”—Proverb.
Women are by common consent privileged to acknowledge themselves cowards; so, taking advantage of this right, I ensconce myself behind the barricade of a nom de plume, and mean from its shelter to launch a few missiles at the heads of those I lack courage openly to attack. Gracious! What would become of me if my identity was suspected; if Mr Golightly, who devoted himself exclusively to my comfort last September at Mrs Blank’s picnic, thought me capable of putting down in black and white unfavourable impressions of him and his kind! To what lengths might not his resentment carry him if he knew I despised him for singling me out for attention because he heard I was popular, and was good 10 enough to think my appearance reflected credit on his taste, while he utterly neglected Miss Dimple, because she was, as usual, badly dressed, though she came with his mother, and is much better looking than I am. He ministered to his own vanity, not to mine, so I owe him no gratitude; still I should not like him to discover me. Fortunately, the publishers have vowed to keep my secret as faithfully as M. de Chamillart did that of the “Man with the Iron Mask.” Were it ever revealed, the young men of my acquaintance might organise indignation meetings, and having first accurately fitted the cap on their own heads, pass resolutions binding themselves to boycott me, and then indeed would life be no longer worth living.
Those who read these papers without suspecting their author will probably say, “Some sour old maid, of course! Doesn’t get as much attention as she’d like, so goes about abusing men, and saying there is little or no politeness nowadays; or else
“A lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
Who ’doesn’t think’ she waltzes, but would rather like to try.”
Such suppositions wound my feminine vanity to the quick, so I hasten to premise.11
My good friends, like the little boy in Punch, “I am not old, I’m nearly new,” and, moreover, good-looking, according to my glass. I dress very nicely, waltzing is my strong point, nor do I lack partners. I go about with my eyes open, am quick to see and despise folly or affectation; like fine, manly men, and sometimes compare notes with my friends; voila tout!
“Which I rise to maintain,
And my meaning is plain,”
that general courtesy to women is now at a discount, unless all old ladies are in a conspiracy to say that in their time politeness was cultivated to a much greater extent than at present! Even from across the Atlantic comes the cry. Mr W. D. Howells gives voice to it in a recent story, by making a lady complain that young men have changed so from what they were in her youth; then they were only too pleased to be friendly and entertaining, but now “New York has grown almost as bad as London”; girls they ignore, and only young married women can hope to receive the slightest attention.
One sees examples of better breeding 12 amongst men of a past generation than any modern society can furnish; one hears of young men who had simple tastes, unassuming manners, were easily amused, courteous to women of all ranks, incapable of spite, while at the present day one finds common politeness to be almost rarer than common sense. Too many of our young men are luxurious, presumptuous, or boastful, difficult to entertain, rude to their inferiors, and capable of petty resentments. Where has the larger spirit flown? To my mind, Louis XIV. was never so truly a king as when, lifting his plumed hat, he begged pardon of the women washing out the marble corridors of Versailles for interrupting their occupation. Would young Tomkins in a marching regiment, or Snooks, the briefless barrister, or Jinks, clerk in the War Office, do as much? Not they. If they ever read Lytton they forget that he says, “To a gentleman every woman is a lady in right of her sex.” If the scrubbers were very pretty their pails might not be upset, but if plain and elderly, bah!
Gone are the days when the gentleman who pathetically deplored his sufferings in song, 13 caught a cold in the head with its attendant miseries—
“All through obliging a lady.”
No one now cares to oblige a lady, at least not simply and solely for politeness’ sake. If he is in love with her (good old-fashioned phrase), if she is young and handsome, or if on-lookers are likely to think him a fine fellow, he may submit to some discomfort on her account, but “catch him bothering,” as one of the number elegantly said, about any girl whose position or attractions do not flatter his vanity. Granted the qualification, he is able to show an amount of politeness as astonishing as unexpected, while the older, plainer, and less ready at repartee is the lady whom he selects for a show of downright rudeness, or of covert impertinence still harder to bear, the better. The principle of honouring the weaker sex in all its representatives is long since exploded, and few there are who care to piece its fragments. Chivalry is dead; would that words of mine had power to revive it! Could men but know how all true women value even its semblance, they would surely modify their free and easy ways. A sensible man is more 14 easily befooled by a handsome face without more solid qualities, than a sensible woman; wealth and good looks have their attractions for us, but chivalry wins our hearts, above all, when combined with that simplicity of character that belongs to noble minds, and betokens gentle upbringing.
Many young men need to be reminded of the mere elements of etiquette, as, for example, that what are commonly know as “airs and graces” should be avoided, and that it is not polite for one to show any lady, met on equal terms at the house of a mutual friend, that he thinks himself better than she is, though he may be conscious of being younger, handsomer, or better born. I have seen many imply, without uttering a word directly to that effect, that they thought themselves very condescending in speaking at all to persons not specially attractive, and this though their own physical and mental gifts were not of the highest order.
It is all very fine to say a gentleman is polite to every lady, whether young or old, pretty or ugly—a true gentleman certainly is, but there are many who wear good coats, have had the advantages of education, occupy honourable 15 positions, are well connected and would hotly resent any imputation on their gentility, yet whose conceit, selfishness, and want of breeding disqualify them for any claim to the “grand old name.” It would be well if there was some means other than unpleasant experience to distinguish the true from the false. Felix Holt happily describes Mr Jermyn as “a sort of amateur gentleman.” These amateur gentlemen are the culprits; men with a superficial polish, with the power of being civil when it suits them, and of showing their claws when they dare, with manners like the sets of dolls’ clothes daily advertised as “warranted capable of being put on and off,” and either so heartless or so thoughtless that they never stop to consider the wishes or the feelings of others.
Some say that women have themselves to thank if they are rudely treated. This is simply begging the question. With such persons we have nothing to do. Perhaps they deserve what they get, and that there is a certain amount of excuse for those who give them tit for tat, but no woman in society is even sharp to a man unless he has merited it. We are as a body almost too anxious to please 16 and conciliate men, and very little thanks some of us get for our pains. I protest solely against unprovoked impertinence. It is for the poor, the plain, the dowdy of my sex I speak: they are the sufferers. Those who are rich, young, well born, handsome, and well dressed, can secure attention from the veriest snob; in courtesy to their less fortunate sisters the gentleman is manifest.
A lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy
[The year is 1887, when everyone in the English-speaking world would have recognized the lines.]
I rise to maintain
[If this is Bret Harte’s Swinburne parody “Heathen Chinee”, our author has conflated four lines into two:
“Which I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to explain.” ]
“Modern manners give great scope for rudeness.”
St Mungo’s City.
One of the characters in A Nile Novel says, “I never knew a man yet, who in the bottom of his soul did not cherish the idea that the mere fact of his being a man was a proof of his own cleverness. I wish one did not have to meet so many men who have limited their cleverness to that.” The present writer leaves it to men to say whether this be true or not. If it is, there is no worse place for the victims of the delusion than the British Islands, and that for two or three reasons, one of which is that they are in the minority here, and proportionately in request. They receive more invitations to balls, garden parties, and “at homes” than they care to accept, so are led to set on themselves a fictitious value, and to 20 forget that in many instances their hostess looks on them pretty much as on the flowers or ices she orders for her guests.
“I shall ask young Gosling,” she says to her husband.
“Well, of all the idiotic——”
“O! I know that, but he waltzes well, and we are a man short.”
Young Gosling, getting his card, sticks it into the frame of his glass for the admiration of less brilliant acquaintances, and thinks he is dreadfully run after—for his personal merits and charms, of course!
Strange as it may seem, there are few places, except in the privacy of home, where a man’s character can be more easily gauged by a quick observer than in a ballroom. Do we not meet every day in society some who are too selfish, too fond of ease to do anyone an avoidable service, who by their manner make a compliment of every trifle, see after a carriage as if they condescended, and search out wraps for an elderly lady with the air of a martyr. They are given to complaints that a gossiping world declares them to be the lover of any girl to whom or to whose mother they 21 show the smallest attention, seeking thus to excuse their intolerable want of breeding, but they and not the world are to blame, for the fact remains that when they do seem civil, attentive, and thoughtful, they generally are in love, as much, at least, as in their nature lies. Give me the man who practises self-restraint in trifles, refrains from looking bored when dancing a “duty dance” and from chatting to friends in the pauses, to his partner’s exclusion, who resists the temptation to raise his eyebrows with an air of pathetic resignation for the benefit of Miss Sharp, when his hostess asks him to take old Lady Biggleswade down to supper, who does not know much of ladies’ dresses, and is unable to criticise them smartly for the benefit of his fellows or of some frivolous girl, who, when he accepts an invitation, comes prepared to make himself agreeable, and does not pay his entertainers the bad compliment of hanging aimlessly about the doorways, or of devoting himself exclusively to one person, as if no one else in the room was to his taste; and, finally, who is not afflicted by a morbid dread of being good-natured or amusing lest he should “make himself too cheap.” There is an 22 old story of one whose dancing was the only accomplishment that rendered him tolerable. He went to a ball in the country, where, to show his dignity, he chose to prop up the wall, and survey the guests superciliously through his eyeglass. To offers of introductions he answered languidly, “No, tha-anks.” At last came his host in despair. “My dear Smaltalke, why are you not dancing? I fear you don’t enjoy this much! Do let me introduce you to Miss Handsome—such a charming girl—an intimate friend of ours, daughter of Sir Herbert Handsome, you know—grand old place—heiress to a pot of money—they rave about her down here.”
This was evidently some one to whom the great young man might partially unbend.
“A—ah,” he said slowly. “Don’t—a—mind if I do. Trot her—a—up!”
Miss Handsome, shaded by a gigantic palm, stood near, and, herself unseen, overheard the dialogue. She moved quickly away with her chaperone, and was soon the centre of a group of acquaintances. Presently she saw the graceful Smaltalke approaching with her host.
“Mr Smaltalke, Miss Handsome.”23
The lady bowed as slightly as might be.
“May I have the—a—pleasha?” said the gentleman, with a tentative advance of his arm. She looked at him slowly, and turning to his introducer said, with a languid smile modelled on his own—
“A—ah! Trot him—a—down.”
Men are our superiors in intellect—so, at least, they always tell us, and so, of course, we believe. It must therefore be because they fear to dazzle us that some hide their light under a bushel. They leave it to the lady to find subjects for conversation; and how difficult that is when talking to a perfect stranger who gives you no help whatever, only those who have tried it know. If a girl has but just come out, or happens not to have many acquaintances in the room, she is frequently to be pitied. This is a not unusual programme. She sits beside her chaperone until the hostess makes a sudden descent on her, and says, with a hurried smile, “Are you engaged for this dance, Miss Twoshoes?” Our débutante says, “No, Mrs Blank.” The lady then twitters away, and Miss Twoshoes sees with the corner of her eye that she is in earnest conversation with a 24 gentleman in the doorway. She knows they are speaking about her, for he glances in that direction. Then he comes forward with the hostess, while poor Miss Twoshoes stares as hard as she can at vacancy, and tries to look as if she wasn’t nervous and didn’t know what was coming. They are introduced. Neither hears the other’s name. He mutters something. She replies, “With pleasure.” Then there is silence, and an awful interval, which he fills by fitting his glove to a nicety and buttoning it. That done, he says something about beginning, and she rises. They take a couple of turns without a word. Then he remarks, “Capital floor, is it not?” This admits only of a monosyllabic reply. She is racking her brains for something new to add on the subject, but can think of nothing. “If he would only begin something sensible,” is her despairing thought. Another and a longer interval. He speaks again: “The music is very good, isn’t it?” “Very,” answers his partner. Another interval. “Have you been going out much this season?” “Not very much as yet.” Still another interval, then crash, crash go the final chords, and the waltz 25 is over. He leads her to her place, as she declines refreshments, and stands beside her in silence till the next dance begins, when with a bow he goes in search of a fresh partner, and repeats all about the floor, music, &c., over again, varying it occasionally by a remark about the weather, or by asking “Have you seen ——?” naming whatever play is making a sensation at the time. Now, if men would once for all discard these threadbare subjects, and break fresh ground—any remarks or questions as to travelling, pictures, new books, or the daily papers may lead to a rational and amusing conversation, at least they do not admit of inane replies. Young girls find it very difficult to know what to say to strange gentlemen, though, if they got a lead, they could follow it up, and this, to my mind, it is the man’s business to give. I once began six different and distinct subjects in a vain endeavour to draw my partner out. He put an extinguisher on each by answering, “Ah, so do I,” or “So have I,” or “So was I.” Then I retired within myself, having no place else to retire to.
Dancing with a double dummy is bad enough, 26 but far worse is the partner who begins to flirt desperately before he has known you five minutes, and is not to be checked by the coolest of manners. He thinks “young ladies like it”; some may, there is no accounting for tastes, but I for one think it little better than impertinence. What can be more embarrassing than to have a man you scarcely know making himself and you conspicuous? One gets hot and cold by turns, and longs to tell him not to be foolish. A girl must be vain indeed who takes such conduct as a compliment.
Another variety, the worst of all, is the rude partner. He perhaps wanted to dance with Miss Lydia Languish, but her aunt circumvented him, and unhappily he falls to poor little Miss Muffett, to whom he pays not the slightest attention as he jealously watches Lydia revolving, and shows himself so cross and bored that she is ready to cry for vexation. I heard of one of this class who was presented to a lady at a ball; she did not take his fancy, so he offered her his arm and began to promenade. Arriving opposite one of his acquaintances he said, “I say, Meadows! 27 allow me to introduce you to Miss Aster,” and disengaging his arm, he left the girl with a bow! Now, what is a woman to do or say when so insulted? She might of course make a fuss, but that is not to be thought of by anyone of refined feeling. Her helplessness makes it all the harder. If men could but know the burning yet powerless indignation she must try to choke back, none could be found so utterly devoid of chivalry as to subject her to such a mortification.
As I said before, and cannot too often repeat, I sketch in these papers types of an unpleasant class alone. We have all had too many delightful, genial, amusing, and courteous partners, not to notice those who are the reverse, and to whom alone these remarks apply.
I mentioned before that young men are frequently difficult to entertain, and through this they lose a great deal of simple family amusement that would be better for them, body and soul, than the constant excitement they crave. If a brilliant soirée is given everyone is glad to go; if there are two or three invitations for the same night men naturally 28 enough choose the house where the best supper is likely to be provided, but hostesses are afraid to ask young men who are not relations, unless they have something particular on the tapis. They have no scruple, however, in asking poor girls to a dull family party, and will say quite coolly: “So sorry we have no beaux for you, my dears, this evening, but I really did not like asking any young men, as we are only going to have a little music, and they expect so much.” Now, if the young men’s pretensions were less, and they were willing to be agreeable, both parties might have spent a pleasant evening with music or a merry round game to pass the time, have come to know each other better than in meeting at twenty large dances, and had far more real enjoyment. Why is it that young men are, or affect to be, more blasés than young girls? Why are they so afraid of manifesting open honest enjoyment of any simple pleasure? Why do they pretend to despise small dances when they have at the same time no better engagement? Why do they choose as partners married ladies, no longer young, but who entertain largely? Some of these questions answer themselves; 29 to others one can only reply, with “Cornelius O’Dowd,” “There are some fellows who would bestow no higher praise than ‘’tis not too bad’ on heaven itself, if they ever had the good fortune to get there.” Even if a man has got beyond the years when dancing is in itself delightful, men as well as women should remember there are duties they owe to society which are as real in their way as the more serious claims of home. Of course gloomy people exist who call every amusement frivolity, and would suppress all social gatherings except heavy dinner-parties, but others more sensible will admit that one may practice acts of virtue by exercising the small self-denial of going out occasionally when one would sooner sit quietly at home, if by so doing an evening may be made to pass off well, and the anxious mind of a tired hostess relieved.
devoting himself exclusively to one person, as if no one else in the room was to his taste
[Are you paying attention, Mr Darcy?]
allow me to introduce you to Miss Aster
[It would be more fun if an aster were a type of wallflower, but it’s basically just a fancier daisy.]
“Forget the soil whereon they grew,
And think themselves ‘the Lord knows who.’”
“This vulgarity of being ashamed of one’s society is much more common among men than women.”—Thackeray.
Once on a time, as fairy stories say, boarding-houses were looked on as such un-English and unconventional institutions that they were frequented but by few. The general public, taking their impressions from the pages of Dickens and others, considered them as a sort of terra incognita, where men and women, modelled on Miss Cherry Pecksniff and the young gentleman who played the flute were to be met. Their excellence and utility has, however, of late years been acknowledged, and only old-fashioned people now consider it infra dig. to frequent them in preference to comfortless 34 lodgings or the gilded splendours of our huge caravansaries. Country people visiting London for more than a few days find them invaluable, especially ladies, who are glad to stop at an agreeable, well-managed house, with handsome reception-rooms and a good table, without the expense and publicity of a hotel, or the trouble of catering for themselves. Thus it happens that every year the number of boarding-houses increases, yet guests are always found to fill them when deserving of patronage. Nor are people wanting who prophesy that this mode of life will yet be as general here as in America. Some friends of mine who have tried it speak quite enthusiastically of the kindness of the principal, the agreeable and well-bred people they met, the scrupulous care exercised as to references, and the general comfort. They say they cannot be too thankful for having overcome the prejudice they previously had to such establishments, but add that, as “life would be tolerable but for its amusements,” so life in a boarding-house would be more than tolerable but for a section of the young men. They ask me to state some of their grievances, and as these seem 35 to be at once general and well founded, I shall devote this paper to making manifest what is disagreeable in men who live en pension, especially as it is by no means confined to them, but is frequently manifested in other spheres of society.
In such establishments many of those who are permanent are young fellows studying for different examinations, and of all ages from sixteen to twenty-six; the elder men, frequently retired officers, are seldom married, being either old bachelors or widowers. Besides these fixed stars, there are meteoric apparitions of professional men whose families are out of town, country gentlemen up for a fortnight in London, and members of Parliament summoned at inconvenient times for important divisions. It will therefore be seen that an immense variety of characters may be met with under one roof, and people have not the same power of avoiding those for whom they do not care as in their own homes; it is on this account all the more important that each should contribute towards the general harmony, and, by trying to be good-natured and agreeable, make everything go smoothly. 36 one may leave and never meet one’s fellow-guests again, but it is worth while to treat such with courtesy, without familiarity, for the time being, else why does one frequent the place at all? The temporary inhabitants do not often fail on this point, but it seems that nothing can equal the disagreeability of some who are fixtures for one or more years. “It is only a boarding-house!” their frequent observation, gives at once the key to their behaviour. No one or nothing is good enough for them. They form little cliques, who meet in each other’s rooms and pass their time in a manner more or less edifying. In the general amusements they seldom or never share, though in what respect they are superior to those who do would puzzle one to say. If anything is being got up, such as charades or tableaux, it is hopeless to ask their assistance, though they are sometimes kind enough to look on when others have brought all to a successful issue. They keep their hats on when passing ladies on the stairs, and instead of removing their cigars almost puff the smoke into their faces. If a pretty girl, a stranger, arrives, they sometimes surprise everyone by putting in an appearance 37 in the drawing-room, and paying her more or less devoted attention until the novelty wears off, when they again retire, and, like so many veiled prophets, refuse to show their faces. Women are accused of gossiping, but, if prizes were given for proficiency, such gentlemen would bear away the palm from the expertest female scandal-monger in any country town. They canvas among themselves all the girls in the house,—their faults and failings, their dress and claims to good looks, adding, as often as not, remarks which, if uttered, as they never would be, before any of these young ladies’ brothers, would ensure the speakers prompt punishment.
Some of the younger ones are nice enough at first, but soon are scarcely to be recognised. They give short answers to the ladies, have private jokes incomprehensible to outsiders, constantly giggle like schoolgirls, and, if they are medical students, “talk shop” till everyone near them shudders; they help themselves plentifully to all that they require, without bestowing a thought on their neighbours, and, if fruit or anything else be particularly good or scarce, they make sure of getting some, whoever 38 else goes without. “I am so sorry to see such a change in young Mr Downey since he got intimate with that Mr Stuckup,” said one lady to another; “he is getting quite spoiled.” Her friend answered sensibly, “If he is one of those who are easily spoiled, it is just as well that it should show, for the taint must be there; if not, he will come out of the ordeal a better man.” She was right. How men can imagine they show their superiority by assuming insolence and “aloofness,” if the word may be permitted me, is, to quote Lord Dundreary, “a thing no fellah can understand.” What is the necessity for it? If they really are gentlemen by birth, and accustomed to superior surroundings, it only lowers them—people come to know their position sooner or later without the aid of airs and graces; if they are not, that too leaks out; they deceive no one, and are secretly laughed at, while, like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, they fail to see they are discovered. “Who is that affected young Doublechick?” says someone, “I always feel inclined to go up to him and ask, as Beau Brummel did of the dandy, ‘Pray, sir, are you anyone in particular?’”39
“Oh, didn’t you know? he is one of the rich ‘Diaphanous Soap’ people.”
“Indeed! I’m not surprised, I always thought he was something like that.” I pity parents whose sons, studying in London, are led into such sets; the amusements disdained indoors are sought without: gambling replaces the general round game; the stage door, private theatricals, a music hall, is found livelier than a small dance, and for tea are substituted strong waters.
If people stay but a short time they may act as they like about taking part in what is going forward without exciting comment, but if they remain several months—a year, or more as frequently happens—and during that time never enter the drawing-room in the evenings, nor interest themselves in anything, they may expect remarks will be made. The others naturally conclude they either disapprove of their doings, or think themselves too good for the company. It should not be necessary to explain that, if they have a real genuine excuse—an engagement with friends, or studies to be pursued—they are quite right to absent themselves; where the error lies is in keeping away 40 through “snobbishness” or churlishness. To illustrate my meaning let me cite an example. A young fellow of twenty-two or three, who may be called Mr Bassclef, was gifted with a remarkably good voice, lived for a long time in a certain pension, and frequently sang in the evenings, without being asked, for his own gratification and the amusement of the company. His hostess was particularly kind to him, as were also a Mr and Mrs Goodchild whom he met at her house. One morning, at breakfast, the former told her guests that Mrs Goodchild had asked friends to spend the evening, and that she thought of having some music and a dance to follow. “I suppose we may count on you, Mr Bassclef,” she added. That gentleman muttered something which was taken to be an affirmative, and everyone looked on the matter as settled. What did he do?—Went off to bed immediately after tea—“he’d be hanged if he entertained anyone’s visitors”—and induced some of his friends to absent themselves likewise, with the result that both music and dance fell through. Some may contend he was acting within his rights; so he was, perhaps, but can you honestly say you admire his conduct?41
There are young men who never seem to think that the proprietors of boarding-houses are other than mere machines specially constructed to make them comfortable; it never strikes them that many are ladies by birth, who are making a valiant struggle with the world for the sake of those dear to them, and whose difficulties are increased tenfold by rudeness on the part of frequenters of their establishments. How often, alas! because they are poor and friendless, they have to bear impertinence and scarcely veiled contempt, from men who, as likely as not, leave soon after in their debt.
While urging those who have to live in a boarding-house to prove themselves gentlemen under all circumstances, I do not mean to imply that men should “dance attendance,” as it is called, on women; I do not ask them to show comparative strangers the attention they would bestow on their personal friends, nor do I expect anyone to invite such to share in their private amusements. Great independence of action is of course allowed; still there is not quite as much freedom as in a hotel, and though the acquaintance terminates when one 42 or other leaves, it is nonsense to think that people can treat those they meet several times every day for months, who partake of breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same table, and who occupy adjoining rooms, exactly as if they had never seen them before. It may be all very well in theory, but cannot be carried out in practice.
Many a woman, perhaps no longer young, is forced, by the death of her husband or the break-up of her girlhood’s home, to leave the spot where long, happy years were spent. She has, let us say, a small income, good enough, possibly, but insufficient to maintain the style to which she has been accustomed. Large rooms and society her previous life has taught her to look on as necessaries, so she resolves, instead of taking some small, pokey cottage, to try what life in a boarding-house is like. It is very hard for such a one to endure the unprovoked impertinence of boys who might be her sons, or of others older, but not more capable of acting a manly part. “What would you do in such and such a case, Mr Rough, if you were a woman?” asked a lady of a young cub about eighteen, whom she was foolish enough 43 to address. “A woman!” he echoed. “I’d sooner be a monkey than a woman.”
“Nature granted that desire,” was the well-merited retort.
Mr Rough called himself a gentleman, and was given to boast of the splendour of his home and the grandeur of his acquaintances. He thought he had only said something smart to Miss Elderly, who, as a spinster no longer young, had no earthly right to expect civility, and he was furious when the laugh went against him. One is inclined to wonder who and what were the mother and sisters of a lad who could speak thus to a lady. Strangely enough, I heard, in the instance given, they were charming and well-bred women, yet the home influences could not have been strong. Another young fellow—he was in the army, by the way—was led by circumstances to spend a few days at a boarding-house in Scarborough. He fell asleep on the sofa while waiting for the dinner-bell, though the room was full of ladies and gentlemen, many of whom were in an infinitely better social position than himself, had he but known it. He evidently thought no one who lived there could be of sufficient 44 importance to make it worth while to overcome his drowsiness. Later in the evening he made some advance to join a whist party, and, though two of the players were ladies, secured his comfort by elevating his legs on a convenient chair as he leisurely sorted his cards. Would he have dared to act so in a private house? Though in virtue of his commission he was, I suppose, to be called a gentleman, it is almost needless to add he was no more one by birth than he was by breeding, and everyone suspected as much, while he doubtless fancied he was impressing them with a sense of his greatness and their inferiority. It is persons of this sort who, having good natural capacities, frequently succeed in passing into the Civil Service and Army, and, having obtained influential positions, too often render the name of Englishmen hateful in India, where they insolently tyrannise over the natives, despising their courtesies and customs, treating swarthy princes and potentates with contempt, and showing men of a far older civilisation a specimen of manners to be expected from the proverbial “beggar on horseback.”45
I would appeal to men, who for one reason or another reside in boarding-houses, not to imitate the examples cited. Why should they think themselves absolved from the duties of politeness by which in their own homes they would consider themselves bound? Is it not “snobbish” to a degree to choose a place of residence which is undoubtedly comfortable, convenient, and suitable, and then, when once established, pretend to look down on other residents who are just as good, or better, and who came for precisely the same reasons? Giving oneself the airs of what Artemus Ward calls a “disguised dook” is no proof of nobility, else dukes would be as plentiful as blackberries. If others are wanting in the courtesies of life, why should each new comer assume their bad manners? It is a shame to be so easily influenced for evil. Men cannot and should not be tied for ever to home and their mother’s apron-string. They must pass through Vanity Fair, and see strange sights and hear strange sounds. To each it remains to prove if he will become as the revellers or not, if he will valiantly hold his own or desert to the enemy, if the light laugh of a fool suffice to make him forsake his colours, 46 or human respect force him to blush for good principles learned in early days at a loving mother’s knee. The time comes to every young man facing the world when he must prove what he is made of; would that in all cases it was stuff to stand wear and tear. Should the foundation be poor and coarse, embroideries of gold and silver and precious stones avail not to disguise it.
If nothing else, the boarding house was very convenient for fiction writers. Much of The Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore takes place in the boarding house where the principal characters—the Misses Semaphore—live.
True, one may leave and never meet one’s fellow-guests again
, invisible at line end
to quote Lord Dundreary
[From Our American Cousin of “Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln—” fame.]
“There was an old man who lived in a wood,
As you shall plainly see;
He thought he could do more work in a day
Than his wife could do in three.
“‘With all my heart,’ the old wife said,
‘If you will me allow,
’Tis you shall stay at home to-day,
And I will hold the plough.’
. . . . . .
“And when his wife came home at night.
He said he could plainly see
That she could do more work in a day
Than he could do in three.”
“Si vous voulez qu’une chose soit faite, faites la faire PAR UNE AUTRE!”
Women often say that all men are selfish. One scarcely likes to repeat such a sweeping assertion—the word sounds harsh, and selfishness is admittedly an odious vice; yet it must be 50 confessed that men evince, to put it mildly, less consideration for others than do the opposite sex. They have not the same power of entering into their views, of sharing their feelings, of finding interest in their occupations, as their wives and sisters possess. A woman can readily understand that her husband or brother may be worried by business cares, and sympathise with his perplexities, though she knows none of the details of his duties, while he frequently has difficulty in realising that she may be fretted and annoyed by domestic anxieties, and, because he is ignorant of the trouble that devolves on her, treats it all as a bagatelle. It is really wonderful how soon a boy shows a sense of his own importance, with a corresponding disregard for others, and especially a proper contempt for womankind. Little Tommy in the nursery excuses himself for taking away his sister Lilly’s wooden horse by saying “She’s only a girl,” and refuses to let her play with his bricks for the same excellent reason. It is remarked somewhere that even the best of mothers seldom or never think of training up their sons so that in future years they may be good husbands, though they consider it a duty 51 to fit their daughters to be good wives; and to this defect in their early education is owing the want of consideration which men too frequently exhibit in their relations with the weaker sex, and from which members of their family are, of course, the chief sufferers. Most women have to endure much in silence; their lives of inaction are hard to bear, yet must be borne; their love of their children, if they have any, draws them entirely out of themselves; there are usually many calls on their sympathy, so that any tendency to selfishness is checked, while in men, especially if clever and successful, it is allowed to run riot. The mere fact of being a man places them at once in a position of superiority; the ball is at their feet if they have talent and energy to seize it, while we are handicapped from the hour of our birth.
It is, of course, in married life that women suffer most, if want of consideration is an element in their husband’s character; it is really harder to get on with a good man having this defect than with one far less perfect, but thoughtful for others. The former is often absorbed in his own successes or losses, and never notices that household cares press on his wife. She wearies 52 herself making arrangements for his comfort. He never notices the change, and if she draws his attention to it, says, “Oh! ah! Yes, to be sure!” He is, perhaps, fond of society, and is cross if she doesn’t feel strong enough to go to every amusement in progress; or he likes a quiet, humdrum life, and cannot understand that she should pine for a little change. He goes off to his club evening after evening to play whist, and it never strikes him that she may find it dull and “” sitting over the fire with a book. If they have children he is more or less jealous, and complains that the little monkeys absorb all her time and attention, that she is fonder of them than of him, and so forth, as if a fine, strong, six-foot man needed the same care as a poor little, feeble, squalling thing that anyone would pity. However his wife manages, the youngsters must be kept out of his way; he must not be disturbed. He treats the babies as disagreeable private possessions of hers, in whose ownership he does not share, and resents notice bestowed on them as so much taken from him.
I cannot do better than quote here a capital extract from the clever and amusing novel, 53 Dr Edith Romney, in which the shrewd Miss Jacques puts the case in a nutshell:—
“‘You are all steeped in the same egotism—you all regard women in reference to yourselves,’ said Miss Jacques, scornfully. ‘Your selfishness is ludicrously transparent. Women are to be this, that, and the other, not for themselves, not for their own comfort and advantage, but because men like them to be so! They are to be men’s companions: therefore some slight cultivation of their minds is desirable, as men—all being richly endowed with intellect—prefer intelligent companions. Do you ever hear of men being recommended to fit themselves to be pleasant companions for their wives? But of course not: companionship is to be as one-sided as everything else. If a man sits in his chair, and varies the evening’s entertainment by dozing and grumbling, he fulfils the whole duty of man.’
“‘I am sorry I drove the cat away,’ murmured Dr Fullagher, with a suppressed air.
“Miss Jacques laughed, and shook her head.
“‘The superior being always shows his contempt for us by slighting our she said.”54
Men now marry much later in life than did their fathers, simply because they are unwilling to curtail their luxuries; “marrying for love and working for money” they look on as supreme folly. I do not, of course, advocate imprudence, but a little less selfishness would make all parties happier, nor would they lose by not seeking to begin where their parents were satisfied to end.
A man’s profession, if one that suits him, is deeply interesting. Fame, or at any rate profit, results from its successful prosecution, but no matter what time, talent, and energy a woman devotes to household affairs, she has nothing to gain beyond the consciousness of duty done, though it is quite as difficult to spend a small income judiciously as to earn a large one. Husbands rarely see this. They take things too much as a matter of course, and seldom accord praise, which women find the greatest incentive to exertion. They get accustomed to a well-managed home, and really think things go right of themselves until something happens to throw the trouble on their own shoulders. “Man,” says Thoreau, “is continually saying to woman, ‘Why art thou not more wise?’ 55 Woman is continually saying to man, ’Why art thou not more loving?’ Until each is both wise and loving there can be no real growth.”
It is this want of consideration, combined with the belief that housekeeping is the easiest thing in the world, that makes Mr Spiffington insist on his friends Brown, Jones, and Robinson coming to dinner the very day the cook’s mother got ill, and that excellent domestic asked with tears in her eyes to be allowed home in consequence. He never thinks of warning his wife, who had ordered a modest repast just sufficient for two, and thinks it quite ridiculous she should be so overwhelmed. Couldn’t Anne or Mary see to things just as well as cook? He never reflects that the former is a young person whose fingers are all thumbs, and that the latter, though possessed of some culinary knowledge, cannot at the same time prepare two or three extra dishes and wait at table. How indignant he would be, and how earnestly he’d move for an adjournment, if his great case of “Rogers v. Podgers and another” was brought forward without due notice! One never hears of a woman bringing home two or three friends to dinner unexpectedly; she 56 knows that unless the domestic arrangements are on a very large scale, warning and preparation are necessary, and that even where they are not, the mistress of the house likes to be apprised beforehand if particular guests are invited.
Still harder is it for poor little Mrs Goodchild, when Adolphus, meeting Lady Dashaway at the top of Westbourne Terrace with her daughter Arabella, for whom he had a penchant long ago, insists on them coming back with him then and there to make his wife’s acquaintance. If there is anyone in the world before whom Mrs G. would like to appear at her best it is Arabella, but this particular day she feels out of sorts, and is lying on a couch when the impatient ring at the visitors’ bell startles her. She dresses hastily and hurries down, but her hair is rough, and she knows her eyes are red; in her confusion she took the first gown at hand, which happens to be unbecoming, and so goes to meet Miss Dashaway, dressed to perfection, and coldly critical of “Dolly Goodchild’s wife.” When they leave, Adolphus is furious; what on earth did she do to make herself such a fright, and why did she 57 wear that old thing? Had she nothing decent to put on? and more to that effect, as if she was to blame, and not he.
No one ever knew human nature better than Thackeray, and the type of man he sketches in George Osborne is as true to life to-day as at the date of the battle of Waterloo. Most people have met those gay, charming, pleasant fellows, always on good terms with themselves, who run into debt, and never deny themselves what they fancy, as long as by any means they can come at the wherewithal to purchase it. Their children may want new boots, and their wives have worn the same winter mantle year after year, but “papa” must always have his little luxuries; he could not bear to be otherwise than elegantly dressed, though every tailor in Bond Street went bankrupt; his glass of good wine, well-served dinner, and choice cigar are indispensable, for he is a man of taste, with a discriminating palate, and the cold mutton with which Mrs Littlecash contents herself would be odious to him. He does not prevent her doing as she likes, of course, he often says. It is no use increasing such a man’s income, for his expenses grow in proportion; 58 he never can keep his head over water, and very little comfort has the sad-hearted wife out of the unpaid-for splendour with which he loves to surround himself. Two scenes from Vanity Fair depict this character as well as a volume of details. In one, good-natured Dobbin remonstrates against the style of the dinner given by George on the return of the party from Brighton. “I’ve always been accustomed to travel like a gentleman,” George said, “and my wife shall travel like a lady. As long as there is a shot in the locker she shall want for nothing,” said the generous fellow, quite pleased with himself for his magnificence of spirit. Nor did Dobbin try and convince him that Amelia’s happiness was not centred in turtle Again, how full of pith are these few words:—“Amelia had risen very early in the morning, and packed her little trunks with the greatest alacrity, while Osborne lay in bed deploring that she had not a maid to help her.” One of the most charming men in society that I ever met was of this kind. He had a taste for literature, and, loving adventure, plunged into difficulties that anyone else would have sunk 59 under, but never lost his gaiety and bonhomie. Let him get an unexpected fifty pounds: in vain his wife might plead that a few of the more pressing creditors should be staved off—the impertinent butcher and the importunate baker satisfied. He would laugh pleasantly at her fears, and return home in the evening with a lovely bouquet or a pretty fan for her, the rest of the money having somehow vanished. On one occasion he borrowed money off the Jews, and spent it, in fewer hours than there were pounds, at cards or otherwise. He was leaving home at the time, and in his absence the money-lenders came down on the wife, who, in consequence of his magnificent ideas, was struggling almost hopelessly to keep a roof over her children’s heads. She wrote to him—he had nothing to send her. With terrible pinching and difficulty she succeeded in paying off by instalments the claim and the usurious interest thereto attached. When her husband returned, a friend, remonstrating with him on his conduct, said, “How could you go to such people for cash? I’d have thought a child would have known what blood-suckers they are.” Did he plead absolute need 60 of money, debts of honour, necessity?—no such thing. He thrust his hands in his pockets, leant back in his chair, smiled genially, and said, in an explanatory tone, “Well, of course, it was foolish, very foolish, but—to be candid with you—my principal reason was that, having always read and heard of Levi and Co., my curiosity was roused, and I wanted to get a little experience of what they were really like: it would come in very usefully in my novel.” His friend started up indignantly. “Good gracious, man, you purchased your experience second-hand. It was your wife that suffered, not you: she had to face it out while you were Lord knows where.”
Whether his explanation was truth or bravado I do not know, but the novel has not yet appeared.
It has often struck me that in families where rich bachelor relations exist they do remarkably little good; having none of my own the remark is quite disinterested. One of my acquaintances is a widow lady, having two or three children to provide for. A wealthy brother of her late husband frequently dines at her house, gets a bed whenever he is in town, and asks 61 her to do for him many little services from time to time, but he never—or hardly ever—thinks of bringing a toy for Maudie or Alec, or a present for herself, of treating the family occasionally to stalls at the theatre, or a box at the opera, or giving them any little pleasure at his expense, as he very easily could, since his income is considerably more than that on which the widow educates her boys and girls, and keeps up an establishment in comfort. The sister-in-law, being one of the best little women in the world, always makes him welcome, and never hints that he might in some fashion return the compliment, but I am sure she feels it just the same.
So many men—chiefly unmarried these—have an aversion to correspondence, and, having made a firm resolution never to do anything they do not like, stick to it through thick and thin. The amount of trouble given to their families in consequence cannot be overestimated. Mothers may be poor, sentimental creatures, but they do love to hear how their boys are getting on in India or at the Cape, or even up in London, and, as they are foolish enough to feel hurt at months of silence and 62 neglect, Tom, Dick, or Harry might stretch a point to humour them. They won’t live for ever, and sometimes, when it is too late, sons have heartache at the thought of pleasure they could have given and did not. I know one young fellow who starts off on walking tours and other excursions occupying from one week to ten, and during that time never communicates with those at home unless compelled by lack of funds, when he expends sixpence on a telegram bearing, besides his name and address, the magic words, “Send cash.” I know another who put his people in immense inconvenience about law business because he absolutely would not take the trouble of replying to some questions asked by letter. A girl would be considered eccentric—to put it mildly—if she acted thus, but no one expresses a doubt of the sanity of these gentlemen; they merely say, “You know what a queer fellow he is,” or “How much he dislikes writing!” or “You must make allowances for John; he has such an aversion to pen-and-ink.”
Now, my dear good sir, do not say I am severe. It is the last thing I’d like to be, and am sure that in your heart you know I am not. 63 You of course do not deserve a word of reproach on any point mentioned, but there are others who are in fault, or at any rate we women think they are, which comes to the same thing as far as we are concerned. Don’t you agree with me that those I complain of acted badly in the examples given? You do. Well, you may believe me that each had its counterpart in real life, and my earnest desire is that these remarks may meet the eyes of the guilty ones. Men who are impolite, vain, selfish, and so forth, seldom or never hear the truth about themselves, while women are constantly being lectured on their faults. I cannot therefore resist the temptation of telling them for once what we think of some of them. It would not be safe to say it to their faces, of course, for they’d deny it and get quarrelsome. Now, I hate quarrels, so ask you quietly to pass this book over to Snooks when you have done with it. Every word applies to him, and the reproof may do good.
A party of friends were speaking of a girl obliged through sudden loss of fortune to earn her living, when a good-natured young fellow said, “It is a shame that ladies should have to 64 work; men ought to work for them, it is their place.” This was charming in theory though impossible in practice, and only men as kind-hearted as himself would express the sentiment, unless when arguing down a be-spectacled upholder of “woman’s rights.” Then it might do, sounding, moreover, nice and magnanimous, but it is not everyone who puts it in practice in private life. Mind, I do not pity girls for having to work: it is grand to be independent, and truly dignified to prefer honest labour to living on one’s friends. Besides, work in one shape or another is not only the absolute duty of women of all ranks, but a comfort in sorrow, a safeguard in temptation, a panacea for ill-temper, and the declared enemy of mischief, whose mother, saith the proverb, is Idleness. Again, do not think I’d like a man to come home cold and weary from his office, or from a day’s ride in the wet over his land, or even from tramping through turnip fields after pheasants—though that is supposed to be pleasure,—and find no arm chair drawn to the blazing fire, no slippers toasting, no dressing-gown in readiness, no tea, creamed and sugared to a nicety, at hand, no sign of a loving woman’s 65 care for his comfort visible. Far from it. What I object to is that some men allow ladies to take the lion’s share of the trouble in occupations and amusements which both sexes share in common, and even make their woman-kind fetch and carry for them, like well-trained retrievers. Jack meets his sister Amy in town. She has been shopping, and some of her purchases are things he asked her to buy for him, so she is laden with a variety of small bags and parcels. The day is rainy; with one hand she clutches her packages and tries to keep her skirts out of the mud, while with the other she endeavours to hold up her umbrella in the teeth of the wind. Does her brother offer to relieve her of some of her encumbrances? He never thinks of it, because, like all men, he has an objection to carrying such things. So has poor Amy, but needs must at times, and when a man and a woman both dislike something that has to be done, it is generally the latter who does it.
How often young men say to their sister, “Run up to my room, Nellie, for so-and-so,” “Get me this or that, Kate, like a good girl,” but if Nellie or Kate, in their turn, sent them about the house on messages, they would be 66 vastly surprised, and wonder what the world was coming to. Have you ever seen young fellows allow their sisters to mark out the tennis ground, put up the net, bring out balls and rackets, then, when all was ready, fling away their cigarettes and join in the fun?
Here it must be confessed that some girls have themselves to thank if they find, not only their masculine relations, but their friends and acquaintances, treat them with scant courtesy. They make too little of themselves. They spoil young men by neither expecting nor exacting deference, and would feel almost embarrassed if it was shown to them. They reverse the old order of things; they do the wooing; they are unhappy if they have not a man (though not necessarily a husband in posse) by their side, and, to secure this, no loss of dignity stops them. Past pleasant villas by the Thames, or over the rippling sea, one watches the boats glide on summer evenings. The plash of the oars comes soothingly to the ear; one hears the sound of merry voices, and snatches of merry song. “A lover and his lass,” thinks the listener with a smile, and pictures the rower resting a moment on his oars, his handsome 67 bronzed face bent forward as he murmurs to his mistress, who sits back, a dainty, graceful figure, the ropes loosely held in her white fingers as she smiles at his eager words. No, no, my good sir or madam, you are dreaming of the fashion of bygone days. Look at the reality. It is the lady who plies the oar, and strains and tugs with flushed forehead and hair blown by the evening breeze, while, cool and comfortable, her lover lies at full length and lazily steers with the current. I assure you you are mistaken; if they were nearer you would see they are no “Arry and Mary Jane” down from London for “an outing”; she is Miss Vernon, of The Priory—you know the family,—and he is Captain Melville, old Lord Roebuck’s nephew. Fact, I assure you, but she is one of those whose ambition it is to be described as “jolly girls, with no nonsense about them”—indifferent praise did they but know it, and were they but aware how their attendant cavaliers would resent its application to their own sisters. Alas! they do not know, so flirt, flatter, and smile, until one cannot wonder if poor Mr Calfington’s feeble brain is turned, if he thinks himself irresistible, an 68 Adonis, a gay Lothario, and gives himself such airs in consequence as render him odious to any girl of a different stamp. Even men of a better mental calibre are intoxicated by the homage they receive. For a time it is delightful, but, as De Savary says, “the woman who throws herself at a man’s head will soon find her place at his feet,” and, after a course of so-called love affairs, most men come to despise the adulation and the adulators. Their ideal, if they ever possessed one, is cast from its throne. They cannot see, in the forward, flirting girls they meet at every turn, any principle worthy of respect: there is a dreadful similarity between them all. One is as bold, as ready to go to almost any length as the other; and the young man subjected to such influence, thrown on the world of London, and far from home, with its sweet, peaceful, holy associations, too often develops a cynicism as to the existence of modesty and virtue in woman-kind for which he is hardly to blame, but which would break his mother’s heart if he confessed it to her.
Reader, do you think I exaggerate? Assuredly, if you mix ever so little in our modern world, if you have been present at even one 69 large gathering, if those near and dear to you come back to tell what they have seen, you know I do not.
And now I must conclude a paper which has grown to a length unintended at its commencement, and, perhaps, in parts more serious than some may like. It is difficult to write lightly when one feels deeply, and all must admit my words are true.
she may find it dull and “langweilich” sitting over the fire with a book
clever and amusing novel, Dr Edith Romney
[Anne Elliot, 1883. Personally I found it kinda boring, but YMMV.]
by slighting our earnestness,’ she said.”
’ (single close quote) invisible at line end
Men now marry much later in life than did their fathers
[Has there ever been a time in Anglo-American history when people did not believe this? In fact the average age at first marriage went down in the course of the 19th century. (In the US it plummeted further in the mid-20th century, giving an even more distorted idea of historical trends.)]
Amelia’s happiness was not centred in turtle soup.”
quotation marks printed as shown
it is grand to be independent, and truly dignified to prefer honest labour to living on one’s friends
[And there, in a nutshell, is why I never cared for Jane Fairfax. She would happily have spent the rest of her life sponging off her impoverished female relatives rather than embark on the work she had been educated for.]
make their woman-kind fetch and carry for them
[Or possibly “womankind”. The first occurrence of the word in this book was at mid-line, without hyphen. The third and last occurence will be at mid-line, with hyphen. This one is at a line break. What’s a transcriber to do?]
“Die Männer auch sind Eitel, . . .”—Seidl.
An old proverb advises people who live in glass houses not to throw stones, while a second rebukes the folly of the kettle that called another kitchen utensil black. Both may be recommended to the attentive consideration of the large body of gentlemen who never tire of expatiating on the vanity of women-kind. We certainly are vain; a woman superior to the weakness is an anomaly, but is vanity the distinctive and exclusive failing of our sex? What says Thackeray? “The girls have only to turn the tables, and say of one of themselves—‘She is as vain as a man,’ and they will have perfect reason. The bearded creatures are quite as eager for praise, quite as finikin over their toilettes, quite as 74 proud of their personal advantages, quite as conscious of their powers of fascination, as any coquette in the world.” I do love to have Thackeray on my side; he knew men so well, far better than women, except bad specimens, and then, being a man, he cannot be suspected of bias. If one of my masculine readers, himself perhaps free from the failing, should say he does not believe vanity exists among the Lords of Creation, he must acknowledge that everyone feels most a shaft aimed at his weakest point. Now women have discovered—some to their cost—that a man will pardon anything rather than a wound to his vanity. For instance, a girl must exercise the utmost tact in rejecting the advances of an unwelcome admirer, if she does not wish to make him an enemy for life. It is a great misfortune for any girl to have an enemy of her own sex, for there is no woman so stupid or so powerless as to be unable to injure another, but it is infinitely worse to incur the dislike of a man. If a girl is young and pretty, men are naturally inclined to take her part against other women, and set down anything said in her disfavour to envy, malice, and all uncharitableness, but 75 what they hear from a fellow-man impresses them—a remark at the clubs, a vague expression of disapproval, coupled with the sudden cessation of the gentleman’s attentions, and the business is done. Men imagine there must be something strange, something disagreeable about the lady, and avoid her without knowing exactly why. For example, a young girl, finding reason to object to the attentions and conversation of a gentleman, declined dancing with him. He was mortally offended, for he guessed her motives. Being a man who went out greatly, and mixed in the same set as she did, they frequently met in the same room. His coolness to her was so evident, he made such biting remarks about her to other men, and so impressed those who knew nothing of the true state of the case, that he formed quite a clique against her, while, seeing all this, yet being powerless to prevent it, she suffered deeply. Precisely those things that one never gets an opportunity of explaining, injure one irreparably. If you fire up, and say—“No gentleman would act so!” I like you all the better for your indignation, and quite agree with you, but similar things have been done over and over 76 by men of good family, irreproachably dressed, and belonging to the best society, when angered by a slight, sometimes unintentional, on the part of a girl they admired. Base feelings are not confined to any sex or class, nor are despicable actions committed only by persons of low origin and little education. I have known peasants with the instincts of a Bayard, and noblemen who proved themselves no better than clowns.
It is the vanity of men that leads numbers of them to think they can have any girl they like for the asking. Very mediocre young men talk in the loftiest way of their intention of “marrying blood,” or of “marrying money,” according to circumstances, and their hearers cannot help wondering if they will find it as easy as they think to induce blood or money to marry them. It fairly astonishes one to hear Mr Littlecash means to propose for Miss Million. Can he ever have considered what he has to offer her in exchange for the luxury in which she was reared? If he intends to live on her income, and if Papa Million will let him, it is all very well, but his own possessions are straight features, pale skin, reddish (he 77 says auburn) hair and moustache, a rather good figure, certain suits of clothes, and £250 a year. He waltzes well and has a nice voice, but alas! as the world is constituted, pensions are not bestowed on those skilled in either accomplishment.
Elderly men sometimes propose for girls thirty and more years their juniors, and seem to see no incongruity in such an alliance. If the union of
“Youth and crabbed age”
is gilded by wealth and a title, some, alas! may be found to barter their happiness for gold or rank, but, when neither is offered, the bait is not tempting. Though some marriages are very happy despite a great disparity in years between husband and wife, I used to think the man entered on such an alliance with a certain amount of misgiving as to his power of making the girl happy, which circumstances fortunately proved needless, but have since learned that this is not always the case! For instance, a retired officer, and of course not rich, a widower, father of a large and unruly family, placed his hand and heart at the disposal of a girl of twenty. She had looked on the old gentleman 78 as one who might have been her father at the least, and took all his compliments as the agreeable nothings elderly gentlemen are privileged to say. Great then was her astonishment on receiving a letter from him (as a school-boy friend with sisters tersely puts it, “old chaps always write”), in which he proposed to make her head of his house, and offered as an agreeable recreation the bringing into order of ill-reared rebellious lads and girls, some of whom were about her own age. The prospect did not smile on the damsel, so she wrote a civil excuse, thanking him, according to the usual form, for “the honour he had done her,” but begging to decline it. Some time after Major Z. told a mutual friend of his want of success, when the latter expressed surprise that he had tried his fate in such an unlikely quarter, and suggested that, as Miss K. was younger than his eldest son, he could hardly have expected her to jump at his offer. This view of the case amazed the old gentleman. “I assure you,” he gasped; “I assure you you are quite mistaken. She told me herself that she thanked me for the honour I had done her.”79
There are some men, and these chiefly no longer young, who go through life with an “I’m on my guard, you don’t catch me” sort of manner, which is founded on vanity, and is calculated to fill women with amusement if not with indignation. These gentlemen may rest assured that all their partners are not “making a set at them,” nor are they in most instances favourably impressed, though politeness may prevent them administering a downright snub, or coquetry, and a spice of malice, may lead them to flatter their cavalier’s delusion.
Such terribly cautious old stagers have generally a fair income,—their chief possession next to their opinion of themselves. They are usually secured in the end by some unworthy woman, who is bent solely on “making a good match,” or astonish the world by wedding their cook, and atone, as it were, for previous overcautiousness, by walking blindfold into a palpable snare.
Of course, if we get suitors who win our hearts, we are delighted if they ask us to marry them, but be it understood that all girls are not engaged in husband-hunting any more 80 than all men are engaged in fortune-hunting. A very large proportion of our sex do not consider an uncongenial husband better than none. Many who live and die unwedded have had excellent offers, and refused them because they could not bring themselves to care sufficiently for their wooers; others, having “loved and lost,” remain faithful to a memory; more have been in some way separated or estranged from the object of their affections, and never filled his place. Thus they indirectly choose the single state. Men say every woman would marry if she could. So she might—one particular man, but, failing him, we are not all of the stuff that puts up with a substitute. Old maidenhood has perforce lost many of its terrors for the girls of this generation. We are constantly being told that if every bachelor in the world got married to-morrow, about eighty-five thousand spinsters (odious word!) would still remain unmated. We therefore learn early to be prepared for a fate which is inevitable for a large number.
Our younger brothers are fond of making before strangers a statement of the exact number of minutes we take to dress on any given occasion, but the elder ones are not 81 much behind us on this score. What girl is more particular about the sit of dress or habit than a modern young man as to that of his coat or tie; nor in our grandfather’s days were things different. “These are our failures!” said Beau Brummel’s valet tragically, as he descended the stairs, both arms filled to overflowing with slightly crushed cravats. I know a young man whose dressing-table is covered with every perfume, pomade, and cosmetic advertised; he has little pots full of stuff for whitening the skin and little jars whose contents produce instantaneous crops of hair. He certainly is the only one of my masculine acquaintances who takes care of his complexion, but many lads lately from college spend a good portion of their pocket money on “whiskerine,” or “cappelline,” and other infallible nostrums.
Gentlemen are fond of giving sly hits at our weakness in conforming to the fashion; some tell us to choose once for all a pretty, picturesque costume that suits us, and keep to it: very good advice in its way, but an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory, and, as far as one can see, they adopt every varying mode in hat-brims, neckties, and handkerchiefs. 82 Their dress on the whole may not change much, but the details alter incessantly. Which of them now wears a Byronic collar? Have we not seen men with long necks, short necks, fat necks, thin necks, and no necks, all swathed in rigid linen bands, that could be worn with ease by a giraffe only? and then they tell us men study comfort alone, and are superior to the dictates of fashion!
If men are not vain, why do they so dislike clever girls, and hate women who are their equals or almost their equals in ability? They conjure up a bugbear compounded of the blue-stocking Précieuses Ridicules of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and a Lady Orator as represented in comic prints, and with this delightful but nonexistent personage in their mind, they declare that clever women are intolerable, as indeed they would be if they resembled the fancy portrait. They take it for granted that Miss Doublefirst, whom they have never seen, must be ugly, elderly, and tiresome, for nothing is more calculated to spoil a girl’s prospects with a certain class of men than a reputation for talent. If either man or woman is a bore, their fellow creatures are justified in avoiding them, 83 but it should not be decided beyond yea and nay that one belongs to that category, simply because she is accounted clever. I have known of men being charmed by unknown young ladies whom they brought down to dinner, and whose names as usual they did not catch. Nothing could equal their astonishment at hearing later their agreeable acquaintances were celebrated in art or literature. Had they been told beforehand, they probably would have been a little afraid, spoken in monosyllables on indifferent subjects, and gone home more prejudiced than ever against females with brains. A woman may be a lady even if richly endowed by nature.
In a recent number of the Fortnightly Review, a writer, speaking of the Crown Princess of Germany, says—“Her Royal Highness once asked a certain Prussian General, before his friends, who was Consul at Rome in a particular year. Naturally that distinguished officer has from that day been more Bismarckian than the North German Gazette, or the Post itself.” “Naturally,” mark you! If a distinguished man made a lifelong enemy of a powerful woman by incautiously asking a question to 84 which she could not reply correctly, would not many be found to speak of her wounded vanity and feminine spite? Why should we not be encouraged to use our gifts? It is ridiculous to speak as if the cultivation of our minds robbed us of domestic tastes; some writer truly says—“A woman will never desert her child for a quadratic equation.” Some of the best housekeepers and most charming hostesses living are women of rare and highly cultivated mental power, while the most idle, inveterate gad-abouts and gossips, the worst mistresses and most careless mothers, devoted to society and aimless chatter, have been half-educated and empty-headed girls.
Men often are attracted to a foolish woman simply by her undisguised admiration for them, but though it is pleasant to flirt with a pretty silly lassie, she never seems as charming when one has settled down to spend a lifetime at her side. Her blunders, social or otherwise, her want of tact never seem as excusable after marriage as before. Husbands think Ada or Emma disimproved, she used to be much nicer; but the fact is they see more clearly. It gratified their vanity to hear her say during their courtship—“Oh, 85 how clever you are, dear!” or “Don’t talk to me about this or that; it is all very well for a genius like you, but take pity on poor little me; you know I’m stupid.” Afterwards, when they want some one who can occasionally act for herself, take in difficulties at a glance, or even advise prudently, what are they to do?—what do they do? Too often scold the poor wife for being what she always was. As an Irish girl amusingly said—“Some men will marry a nigger, and then beat her for being black.”
No one can advance a man, especially a man engaged in public life, like a clever wife, an intelligent and foreseeing woman. It may be taken for granted that if such a woman marries the right man, there is nothing she cannot do for and by him. Why then should brains be considered useless to a girl? Is vacuity desirable? Can it be that modern youths are sensible of their own deficiencies, and so prefer the partners least likely to find them That, in fact, they agree with Mrs Poyser—“If th’ A’mighty made the women foolish, ’twas to match the men.”
Nothing places a man as far above his fellow-creatures in his own estimation as being a good 86 dancer. Who so fastidious as he who has gained a certain ball-room reputation? He considers that perfect waltzing atones for the deadly sins, and compensates for the lack of the cardinal virtues. Have ye not seen him, my sisters? know ye not over well his airs of self-satisfaction? have ye not watched him pick and choose partners as if he was a conceited young beauty of seventeen? One does not generally observe as much vanity among men renowned as athletes, bold riders, or dead shots, as amongst those who excel in what may be termed essentially ladylike accomplishments, or dabblers in art or literature. Genius and vanity generally exist in inverse ratios; they are sometimes, though rarely, combined, as in Victor Hugo, but the latter quality only serves to make the former ridiculous, especially when it afflicts one who is by no means a Victor Hugo in other respects. A young man, who had written a couple of novelettes, once said to me with the utmost seriousness—“Competent judges consider my success to be unprecedented, not only in the nineteenth century but in the annals of literature.” This was pretty strong, but I quote his speech word for word. I really 87 thought he was joking, and looked up with a smile, but instantly perceived my error. The man was in sober earnest, and, had I laughed, would probably not have forgiven me. If my readers could have the pleasure which was granted me of reading one of those novelettes! (I was unable to finish the second), they would better appreciate the modesty of the fledgling who, according to his own account, left Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante in the shade. Even if one is an admirable Crichton, simplicity and absence of assumption add so great a charm to talents and accomplishments that one cannot but wish they were more cultivated. After men as well as women may reflect that there are few so handsome, so gifted, so amusing, that dozens of others may not be found in the world who are handsomer, wiser, and wittier.
the kettle that called another kitchen utensil black
[Or vice versa.]
In a recent number of the Fortnightly Review
[I couldn’t find the Fortnightly Review online, but the article was reprinted in Littell’s Living Age, vol. 172 (February 1887) with the title “The Present Position of European Politics”, subtitled “Part I, Germany”. The referenced passage comes on pages 389-90 (with my emphasis):
The crown princess is not popular in Germany. The reasons of that unpopularity are upon the surface. She has been the patron of reputedly freethinking clergymen, and popular gossip has accused her of being a complete freethinker. This makes her unpopular in some quarters. She has often turned German prejudices into ridicule, and this makes her unpopular in others. She is very clever, a quality which in courts makes princes unpopular with fools. She is somewhat learned, which everywhere makes people unpopular with the ignorant. Her Royal Highness once asked a certain Prussian general, before his friends, who was consul at Rome in a particular year.
The said crown princess is Victoria, the clever first-born daughter of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately her husband Frederick died after only three months as Kaiser, leaving Victoria to live out her days as Empress Dowager.]
some writer truly says
[Sydney Smith, “Female Education”:
Can any thing . . . be more perfectly absurd than to suppose that the care and perpetual solicitude which a mother feels for her children, depends upon her ignorance of Greek and Mathematics; and that she would desert an infant for a quadratic equation?
On second thought, it’s too good too excerpt. I’ve put the article at the bottom of this page.]
As an Irish girl amusingly said
[According to Google’s ngram viewer, the key word first peaked—at least in print—in the early 1860s, though its all-time peak was in the late 1930s. Interestingly, the frequency graphs have much the same shape for British as for American English, except that America witnessed a further spike around 1970.]
Can it be that modern youths . . . prefer the partners least likely to find them out.
punctuation unchanged: expected question mark
Even if one is an admirable Crichton
[The 16th-century Scottish polymath, not the title character of the early-20th-century Barrie play.]
After all, men as well as women may reflect
, invisible at line end
“For money matters are the test
Whereby one knows his neighbour best;
Not one in ten your work will do
As he would wish it done by you.”
Scrupulous honour in money matters is to a man what virtue is to a woman. The slightest defect on this point cannot be condoned, overlooked, nor covered by any number of perfections. Nothing would affect me personally with such distrust and dislike for anyone, as hearing of a shabby action or a trifling meanness into which he fell. As indications of character such lapses are infallible; as well might one try to build on a quicksand, as to depend on one who is not above suspicion of shiftiness. The number of men, gentlemen by birth and education, who have a confirmed weakness in money matters is really amazing. None would 92 credit it who had not some experience, at least at second hand, for men with this fatal defect are frequently genial companions, “good fellows” all round, and in every way charming, were it not for their lack of principle. Ladies in particular have little opportunity of finding them out, if they meet merely as agreeable acquaintances.
Shakiness in money matters is a vice of the impecunious upper classes; lower in the social sphere it degenerates into practices which ensure board and lodging at Her Majesty’s expense, in return for arduous daily labour. Business men have their business reputation to consider, and, if they are not downright swindlers, are seldom guilty of small shabbinesses, perhaps because they find that honesty is the best policy; but amongst men moving in Society, it is not at all uncommon to meet some “who, being too proud to beg, and too honest to steal, borrow” even from servants, and conveniently forget to repay. Taking part in amusements got up by subscription, and neglecting to send one’s contribution; giving commissions to friends in town, but enclosing no cheque to defray 93 taking a cab with another, and walking off in a fit of abstraction leaving that other to settle with Jehu; asking a friend to “turn in” while passing a theatre, letting him get both tickets, and failing to recoup him later, or offering to do so in such a way that he is forced to refuse it,—all these, and many more, come under the head of everyday shabbinesses, perpetrated by people who consider their actions irreproachable. The loser is invariably unwilling to ask for his money, unless he happens to be one of the same stamp as the gainer, when he is sure to be exact in having his little claims settled, or at least in giving broad hints that payment would be acceptable. A generous or high-minded man does not like to remind his careless friend of the trifle owed, as he might if the sum was large, for he fears to appear stingy and grasping, so the slippery one is rarely put to shame, while his friends continue to lose small amounts, that come in the aggregate to something considerable. If anyone had the moral courage to mention the subject, Slippery would probably pay, and blame his “wretched memory” for not having done so before, but there are some things no one is justified in forgetting, 94 and which no man of really good principles ever does forget for any considerable time.
That there are women who act in much the same way cannot be denied, and such conduct is odious, whether in man or woman, but, according to the world’s defective code of morals, it is, like cowardice, more disgraceful in a man. If they are to fail, we expect failings on a nobler scale.
Sometimes such persons are good-natured, though careless, and are willing to do as much for another as they themselves accept,—the greater the pity in such cases that they allow their laxity in money matters to become habitual; in all their dealings men should avoid, not merely doing wrong, but the very appearance of wrong. The greater number of the shifty, however, are really mean, and though they never do anything likely to get them into prison, can no more resist taking advantage of others when they get a chance, than a cat can help stealing fish. To give an illustration of how they act, I cite the following example:—Two friends of mine, the elder a girl about seventeen, the younger thirteen, were sent to live with a family abroad, in order 95 to learn German. When remittances from home (sometimes very large ones) reached them, they were accustomed to ask an acquaintance to change the money, which was always sent in the form of drafts of a noted provincial bank on the Bank of England, so that, granted of course that these drafts were genuine, the financial stability of private persons was not in any way called into question. My friends asked the gentleman, firstly because at that time they were not very proficient in the language, and secondly because they objected to pushing their way through the crowded bank unless obliged, for English ladies in Germany are unmercifully stared at. He always consented readily, bringing them on each occasion, for every £10, two hundred marks, and making no allowance for the difference between English and German currency, which is about fifty pfennigs, or 6d. in the pound. This went on for nearly a year, until once, on going themselves, they were surprised at receiving several marks to which they did not know they were entitled, and so were led to make inquiries. The result was that, though at first incredulous, they came to see that 96 Mr —— must on each occasion have pocketed the difference.
As they entrusted him with no more cheques, he began to suspect that they doubted him, so went to the bank and requested the officials not to change cheques for the English girls in future, unless presented or endorsed by himself. Foreign bankers are timid. Though all previous cheques cashed were duly honoured, they feared something must be wrong when a customer took on himself to warn them. Accordingly, the next time the young ladies presented themselves, the cashier was very sorry. He regretted extremely to refuse them, but unless the order was endorsed by Mr ——, and passed through his account, it could not in future be cashed there. The English girls saw at once whose manœuvring inspired this new regulation, and, being very indignant, determined at first to go elsewhere, as they knew another bank where they could get their money directly. On consideration, however, they rightly or wrongly thought that, if they did not return, the bankers might think Mr —— had refused to endorse the draft, and so a slur would be cast on their financial position, 97 which might seem to justify his previous action. Had they been older and less timid they would not have troubled about what was thought of them, but being as they were, they applied to Mr ——, asking him to endorse the order. This he had hoped and expected. He did as they requested, but when they wanted it back he refused to give it, saying not to trouble themselves, his clerk would go at once with it to Messrs Oppenheim. When the clerk returned, his master sent up the money, minus all the difference between English and German currency, accompanied by a little note, which ran somewhat as follows:—
|“Rate of exchange this day on £40 English,
(It should have been at least 820 marks.)
|= 800 marks.|
|Commission deducted for endorsing and cashing cheque, with loss of messenger’s time,||5 „|
|Handed to Miss Star,||795 marks.”|
On reading this they at once saw how foolish they had been not to have gone to the other bank, but it was then too late. They had lost 25 marks by the transaction,—little enough if you will, yet too much out of which to be swindled. I suppose every time he stopped the interest, which sometimes on large sums was 98 considerable, he satisfied his conscience by saying he kept it for his trouble.
Women forced by circumstances to act for themselves consider it a great hardship that their men of business, agents, solicitors, and so forth, seldom act by them as they would by a man. They are more dilatory, unsatisfactory, and exorbitant. If their client is anxious about her affairs, they often say, “My dear madam,” or “My dear young lady, you really need not worry yourself,” and affect to treat her fears as due to her ignorance of business matters, while if a man asked the same questions they would not venture to reply in the same tone of semi-contemptuous carelessness. No man would stand it. I have known a lady to lose heavily because her lawyer set aside as unnecessary some queries she was anxious to have answered. The sequel proved her right and him wrong, but that was small consolation.
If a woman of property has not a husband to back her up, how exacting are her tenants. Their demands never cease, while these very people show themselves tractable, reasonable, and submissive when dealing with a man. If a lady wishes to buy or sell a house, a horse, or 99 anything else, she is almost sure to be imposed on unless a male relation acts for her.
Even in shops, ladies are less promptly attended to than men. My brother and I sent tennis costumes to be cleaned. He got his back without delay, but though I waited patiently mine was not forthcoming. At last I called at the shop; the attendant did not think the dress would be ready for another week. “How is it then that Mr So and So’s things were sent so soon? They were all left here the same day.” “A gentleman’s clothes are always seen to before a lady’s, Miss,” was the reply; and the rule holds good as regards many other things.
Women are in a thousand ways unfairly dealt with in money matters by men. Amongst the working classes they are offered wages which the luckier sex would promptly refuse; a little higher in the social scale, female clerks are happy to get a salary half or a third less than a man’s; in fact, no matter what is the trade or occupation to which a woman takes, from domestic service up, she is expected, solely because of her sex, to work for less. All this is very hard to be borne by sensible capable women, who feel that they should be dealt with 100 in money matters just as their husbands, sons, or cousins expect to be, and generally are.
A large class of men, young, strong, and capable when they choose, are not ashamed to sponge on their parents, or on relations, even when these are women. As long as their wants are supplied they care not whence the money comes, and the only way to make them exert themselves is to cut off their resources. Such characters are, I venture to think, commoner amongst men than women. Though we are, from the very nature of things, dependent on others as a rule, and brought up to that dependence, it is only affection that makes the position tolerable. It is rare to find a girl, unwillingly supported by her friends, who makes herself easy in such a position, and is not sincerely desirous of escaping from it, even at the expense of uncongenial labour, although she may have been reared in luxury, and although conventional prejudices and the difficulty of obtaining suitable employment are against her.
Besides men who sponge on their relations, there are some ready to take anything they can from friends or acquaintances, and that even when the latter are poorer than themselves. 101 They never give anything in return, and are, of course, cordially hated, but they seldom get paid out. One did, however, whom I shall call Mr Stingy. He had an acquaintance named Liberal, a member of that large class whose incomes just suffice to dress them like gentlemen, pay their way, and leave no surplus. Stingy, besides having a rich father, made a good deal by his profession, but he was never known to spend a farthing on anyone except himself, while he cheerfully took all he could. How it came about I know not, but one day, in a burst of generosity of which he soon repented, and hoping perhaps to be refused, he asked Liberal, who had often befriended him, to dine on a certain day. Liberal, not a little surprised, accepted. The day came, and he with it. He found Stingy brushing his hat, and making other preparation to leave his office. After some desultory conversation, the latter said—“You must excuse me, old boy, I have to catch a train. Going down to Kingston. Ta, ta.”
“To Kingston!” repeated Liberal, in astonishment. “Why, I,—why you,—that is to say, you asked me to dine with you to-day.”102
“Asked you to dine with me to-day?”
“Yes, at the club last Monday evening. Don’t you remember? You said Wednesday, at seven sharp.”
“Well, if so, I had quite forgotten. You must come some other day; this is a particular appointment—a lady, in fact. I promised to meet her; you see I cannot avoid it. So sorry.”
“Oh! all right,” said the other. “It’s of no consequence. Don’t apologise,” and off he went.
Seven struck as he was passing a well-known restaurant, so he turned in, purposing to dine, and then go to the theatre. The first person he met, at the first table, was his friend who was going to Kingston.
“Missed the train,” he explained, in some confusion, in answer to a wondering “Halloa! you here!” “No use going now until to-morrow. Sit down, we may as well dine together after
Liberal felt suspicious and angry. He would have refused, but the thought struck him that, as Stingy had made such a frantic effort to get out of the invitation, it would be a pity to spare him, so he took a seat.103
“What will you take?”
Liberal consulted the menu and made his choice. The pair had an excellent repast, and at its conclusion the waiter came with the reckoning, which he presented to Stingy, presuming him to be the host. Stingy glanced at the total, took out his purse, laid down half the amount, plus some coppers for the attendant, and passed the bill over to the man who thought he was his guest.
Liberal, in deep but silent disgust, produced his share, and laid it down likewise. Suddenly a brilliant idea struck him; he would have his revenge, come what might, and pay the fellow in his own coin.
“Waiter!” he said, “let us have a bottle of ——,” and he named the most expensive wine on the list, a rare and costly vintage, one bottle of which far exceeded in price the sum of their dinners.
Stingy brightened immediately. This was unlooked-for good fortune. Liberal was evidently going to stand treat. The wine was brought. Liberal passed the bottle to his vis-a-vis, then helped himself plentifully, repeatedly, until he had as much as he cared to take. When his 104 last glass was nearly exhausted, he suddenly started, stared at vacancy through the window behind his companion.
“Excuse me for a moment,” he said, gulping down the remaining contents. “There’s a fellow just passing to whom I must say a word.”
He seized his hat, rushed off, and did not return, leaving Stingy to pay for the wine,—as neat a case of the biter bitten as well could be, and told everywhere next day by Liberal with great gusto.
. missing (in full-page chapter head)
“who, being too proud to beg, and too honest to steal, borrow”
[The position of the quotation marks implies that she is quoting some specific text, rather than the general idea of “too proud to beg, too honest to steal”. (A variant runs “ashamed [or too independent] to borrow, too proud to beg, and too honest to steal”.) There is, for example, the music-hall song “Shabby Genteel” (Harry Clifton 1832–1872):
“Too proud to beg, too honest to steal,
I know what it is to be wanting a meal.
My tatters and rags, I try to conceal,
I’m one of the Shabby Genteel.”
Or take the New York Times for 15 April 1877:
Americans, being too proud to beg and too prudent to steal, resort, in case of need, to borrowing, for which they have a certain talent. Borrowing, though often injudicious, is harmless enough in itself, when the borrower has the means or a prospect of repayment. ]
but enclosing no cheque to defray expenses;
; invisible at line end
the difference between English and German currency, which is about fifty pfennigs, or 6d. in the pound.
[Evidently “difference between” means something other than “exchange rate”. I think she is saying that the exchange rate is not 1:20 (£10 = 200 mark) but closer to 1:20.5 (£40 = 820 mark), accounting for the odd 50 pfenning (½ mark) . . . which in turn is retro-converted to sixpence (1/40 pound) just to confuse us.]
Sit down, we may as well dine together after all.”
close quote missing
“There’s nothing but trouble, dear, with or without.”
“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever.
One foot on sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.”
Friar of Orders Grey.
Whether a girl is in a worse position with or without lovers, is really difficult to say. Each situation has its disadvantages. A nice lover is of course delightful, but if the one we want is “backward in coming forward,” while a crowd of indifferent people present themselves with intent to fascinate, or if Mr Right makes his appearance, and, having been graciously received, develops jealousy and combativeness till life is made burthensome, our last state becomes worse than the first. A coquette may take pleasure in her conquests, and delight in 108 playing off one of her cavaliers against another, but even she has sometimes a bad quarter of an hour trying to prevent Harry from quarrelling with Dick, or persuading Bertie to tolerate Fred. Girls of a different temperament get very little enjoyment out of more admirers than one at a time, and even one is often difficult to manage. Men sometimes seem to think that “if a lassie has a laddie,” her cup of happiness is full, and do not reflect that wooers can make themselves disagreeable at times.
To show the reverse of the metal, I beg to introduce a well-known character,—the jealous lover.
No man who is in love is free from jealousy, and for some disagreeables on this point we must all be prepared; but when it is carried to excess, when a girl dares not speak civilly to another man, dance with him unless positively obliged, praise him or anything connected with him, accept his escort, or the smallest service at his hands, without bringing down a storm of reproaches on her head of groundless taunts on her fickleness, her vanity, her love of admiration, of vague threats that she will live to repent it, and dark hints at suicide, she comes 109 to ask herself—Is the game worth the candle? for nothing wears out the most devoted affection sooner. So hackneyed are the lines—
“Trifles light as air
Seem to the jealous strong as proofs of Holy Writ,”
that but for their exact expression of the truth I would forbear to quote them. Our jealous lovers see what no one else does, and suspect a hundred times more than they see; of explanations they take no heed, and many a girl who reads this will remember tears shed and pain suffered over ridiculous accusations of preference shown to some person or other. I know at least one whose eye may scan this page, who will recollect a weary night spent in watching the distant light in her lover’s room, trembling with fear at every sound (she was very young and foolish then), lest he should, as he fiercely threatened, blow out his brains. “He didn’t, though—they very seldom do.”
Next on the list of objectionable lovers comes one who may or may not belong to that class, according to the feelings of his inamorata; this is the man who is determined. If he has the ghost of a chance, his perseverance makes it a certainty; he accepts no refusal, takes no rebuff, 110 turns up again and again when least expected, and finally gets his own way. If his adored one really does not care for him, and is as obstinate as himself, she finds him terribly trying, while a weak-minded woman is fairly worried into accepting him, especially if, as it often happens, such a suitor has much to recommend him, and her family join with her friends in daily asking how she can refuse one so devoted and eligible.
“Why did you marry Mr Strongwill?” asked some one of an unhappy wife. “To get rid of him, my dear, he plagued me so,” was the unexpected reply.
The demonstrative lover should, properly speaking, be confined to the servant’s hall, but, alas! he sometimes makes his appearance in circles where no one would expect to see him. It is the imperative duty of his Dulcinea to suppress him as far as possible, sometimes no easy task. The case of a certain attached pair may be a warning to others. Not very long since a Cinderella dance was given, within a thousand miles of Kensington. Among the guests was a young lady, with her sister and two brothers. Thither came likewise the person I 111 am tempted to describe, in housemaid’s parlance, as “her young man.” The pair, after a space, fatigued by their exertions and bent on exchanging endearments to an extent scarcely possible in a more public position, sought the seclusion of the upper flight of stairs, and there sat on absorbed in each other, and regardless of the flight of time. Midnight struck, they heard it not; the “extras” came to an end, they heeded not; the guests departed, our lovers never moved. Her sister made some search for the lady, but in vain, so, as they lived not very far away, and as one brother was likewise missing, she concluded our friend had asked him to take her home, without apprising the rest of the party, and so went away quite easy in her mind. Meanwhile, the hostess and her family had gathered round the cosy fire in the supper-room, and, while discussing the different events of the evening, helped themselves to the refreshments they had been too busy to seek earlier with comfort. As they were laughing and chatting, the hands of the clock stood at a quarter to two; paterfamilias was urging on them the necessity for turning off the gas and getting to bed, when the missing lady and her 112 admirer took the group by storm, as they appeared bewildered at the doorway. The awkwardness of their position, the excuses they made, and the stifled mirth of their entertainers may be imagined. I hope it was a lesson to the girl, and that in future she vetoed endless tête têtes, unless under suitable circumstances. These very ardent wooers make by no means the best husbands. They seem to burn up at once, in a flare of affection, the love that, judiciously used, should last a lifetime, and, their stock thus speedily exhausted, total darkness succeeds. “Love me little, love me long,” is not a bad motto, and, if borne in mind, might prevent the unhappy ending of some of these violent love matches.
Ladies! have any of you had a lachrymose lover? I have met the variety. His fair one did not smile on him (she never does), and the touching manner in which he was wont to appeal to her younger sisters to intercede for him, and tell them how cruelly she treated him, while great tears filled his eyes and flowed down his manly nose, would move a heart of stone—to scorn. It is wonderful how sentimental some men get under the influence of the 113 tender passion, and how very ridiculous they make themselves and the object of their adoration. No woman likes to be made ridiculous. We all despise “muffs” and “faint heart never won fair lady,” which may probably explain why such gentlemen never prosper in their wooing.
The silent lover has a way of sitting in a corner, and glowering at the object of his affections, which is trying to sensitive nerves. She always feels that he acts the “Skibereen Eagle” to Napoleon, and “keeps his eye” on her. He rarely speaks, preferring that the depth of his affection should be measured by the intensity of his gaze. All the other varieties act this part at times when sulky, but they mingle reproach with the adoration alone expressed by the silent lover proper.
Last on my list comes the irritable lover, and what a plague he is! Everything offends him, and he thinks he has satisfactorily accounted for his ill-temper when he attributes it to his extreme sensitiveness where his Angelina is concerned. “If I did not love you so,” he says touchingly, “I should not mind, but I feel any unkindness on your part acutely.” To give 114 an instance of what he calls unkindness, let us suppose the pair have arranged to take a walk. Both are ready to start with a cheerful “gooseberry picker” in attendance, when up drives a carriage full of visitors. There is no one else perhaps to receive them that particular day, and they are people of importance, who have come eight or ten miles. Whatever the circumstances, the lady has no choice but to make her way to the drawing-room, and put the best face possible on her disappointment. The guests remain a long time, and at their departure it is too late to venture on the proposed excursion. Most people would think the lady and her lover had exactly the same amount of grievance, but he would not agree with them. Oh! dear no! He will not listen to reason. “Why did she go near those old fossils? Why did she make him lose the walk he had so long anticipated? It was most unkind. Why did she not slip out by a side door, and bid the servants say—‘Not at home?’” &c., &c. There is no use in telling him these particular people could not be so treated, nor in reminding him they saw her before she saw them, and so escape was impossible. No! it was all her fault, and he must be petted and 115 soothed into good humour, like a spoiled child. Again, they are going somewhere together, and he offers her a rug, an umbrella, a book, a particular seat, or anything else, which she, not requiring, declines with thanks, and thinks no more about it. Soon she remarks he is very silent; he assumes a “grim rigidity of limb” and of countenance that plainly betokens displeasure. She timidly asks what is the matter, and he answers “Nothing,” in a tone so fierce that she is startled. They have a miserable day; he vouchsafes no explanation, and, when by entreaties she at last gets him to speak, he overwhelms her with reproaches. She “never takes anything from him”; he “supposes” it was because he offered her so and so she refused it; “why does she not tell him at once she hates him?” and so ad infinitum.
These, my readers, are not fancy sketches. I have known—I almost wrote have had—them all.
So many men expect, because they have taken a fancy to a girl, that she must, as a matter of course, reciprocate their affection. This is very hard on her, unless she has encouraged her suitor, when she deserves to 116 catch a Tartar, and generally does sooner or later, but it is so difficult now-a-days to know a man’s real mind, so many pay unmeaning attentions, that some of our sex are absolutely afraid to accept a man’s advances otherwise than smilingly, unless he goes very far. It is dreadfully disagreeable to be placed in a false position, which of course will be the case if he turns sharp round, and gives one to understand she need not take the trouble of refusing him, since he never intended to propose. Thus it is that girls get to be flirts; they are afraid to risk their hearts in a game where it is difficult to know if the other side stakes anything of equal value, and where honest players too often find themselves at disadvantage. We hear of men whose “blighted affections” have sent them headlong to a personage of dusky complexion never mentioned in polite society; but were the truth known, it would be manifest that a far larger number of women have had their lives wrecked by a similar stroke, only we must hide what we suffer from every eye. Men sometimes take up the cause of another ill-treated by a coquette, and show her more or less pointedly what they think of her conduct. 117 But women, alas! have seldom this esprit de corps.
Never was it as common for men to make and break engagements as it now is, and in no other European country does the habit prevail. Whatever may be our opinion as to the relative merit of Frenchmen, Germans, and Englishmen, we must acknowledge that the two former, when they enter into a matrimonial contract, do so with the intention of carrying it out, which does not seem to be always the case with our compatriots. This dishonourable conduct has increased so much of late that we all know multiplied instances of projected marriages broken off suddenly at the last moment, of ridiculous pretexts given in excuse for declining to fulfil engagements, and of misery brought about by lovers who, received at first perhaps coolly, pressed their suit with impassioned eagerness to a successful issue, but who, once accepted, seem to lose all interest in the lady. Such a state of things deserves to be exposed and suppressed. Before a man proposes for any girl, or goes far enough in his attentions to lead people to link his name with hers, he should know his own 118 mind, and when he has well weighed what he is about to do, let him carry out his engagement like a man of honour, or retreat before he has committed himself. Instead of acting thus, many men begin their love-making without a thought as to what it may lead to, and then, when they find they have gone too far—that everyone takes it for granted they are going to be married, and their most intimate friends begin congratulating them, they see no way out of the self-made difficulty but proposing for the girl and trusting to the chapter of accidents.
“I’m in a fix about Miss Blank,” said a young man to a friend. “I made a regular fool of myself yesterday.” “How so? are you not going to marry her?” “No, I shan’t marry her, but I suppose I must ask her now.” “But if she accepts you?” “Oh! that does not matter; it is always easy to break off on the score of settlements!” Objection to the settlements is thus the short cut to freedom! If a man’s position is such that he cannot marry, he is not justified in trying to win any girl’s affections, while, if on the contrary he is able to support a wife, he will not let money be a barrier should he really love her. As a rule, 119 when one’s fiancé tries to postpone the wedding without a good solid reason, such as a death in the family or something of equal weight, the lady may understand he is tired of his bargain and anxious to get out of it, when, if she is wise, she had better give him the freedom he craves, and let him go quietly. Personally, I should esteem it a good riddance, and have no doubt many of my sisters would agree with me, but that does not make such conduct right in itself nor justifiable.
Besides breaking off on the score of settlements, some men find an excuse in the difference of religion, if they chance to pay too much attention to a girl of another faith. Here is an instance. A gentleman (conventionally speaking) met a young lady of great personal attractions, and much sought after. Though he did not love, he admired the girl, and it gratified his vanity to win her if possible from other suitors, and make her give marks of preference for him. This occurred at a country house in Devonshire, where both were visitors. The hostess took it for granted he meant to propose for her young friend, and he found himself so placed by his own fault that he 120 hardly knew how to get out of the dilemma, so determined to ask the lady to marry him, trusting that her relations would oppose the match because of the difference in creed, as they were said to be very strict adherents to their own religious belief. The girl, poor thing, was persuaded he loved her, and sincerely returned his “affection.” She accepted his proposal, and to his surprise he found her people made no demur. The engagement was published, wedding presents poured in, the wedding day was fixed, when at the last moment he announced his firm intention of not being married by the lady’s clergyman, and of not having the ceremony take place according to the rites of her church, as had been decided from the beginning. So palpable an excuse left the poor bride no choice but to dismiss him, and I hope he is as happy as I wish him.
I heard through a friend of a perfect fever of excitement caused in a certain locality, by a gentleman refusing in church to marry a lady to whom he had long been engaged, and from whom he parted the evening before, apparently in excellent terms. Why he waited for that 121 particular time was the still-unsolved problem that puzzled everybody.
One more case, almost as hard, and more fatal in its results. A girl was to be married, let us say, on Wednesday. The Friday previous she and her father dined at a friend’s house, and she was taken down to dinner by a gentleman whom she did not know. He said something about the number of marriages coming off just then, and added—“In fact, what brings me to town at present is that I have promised to act as best man to a fellow in our regiment on Thursday—a Captain Lightlove. Do you know him at all?”
It was the name of her fiancé, and she answered, smiling—“Yes, I know Captain Lightlove very well indeed, but I think you are mistaken in saying he is to be married on Thursday; you will find Wednesday is the day fixed.”
“Oh! no,” said her neighbour. “I am quite positive he said Thursday. I have his letter somewhere about me, but I am sure of the day.”
“Well,” answered the amused girl, “I know it is very rude to contradict, but since I am to 122 be the bride, you’ll allow me to be positive as to Wednesday.”
“You the bride! Is it possible! Pray excuse me; it was really very stupid of me, but I was confident he said Thursday. Very odd indeed. So glad I met you, or I’d never have known my mistake.” They got confidential at once over the bridegroom elect, and parted the best of friends.
As the lady was driving home she said to her father—“The gentleman who took me down to dinner is a great friend of Edmund’s. He is to be his best man. It was really very funny. In the beginning he did not know in the least who I was, and tried to persuade me our wedding was to be on Thursday.”
When they got home a letter from Captain Lightlove lay on the hall table. The girl seized it eagerly. It contained only a few lines, to the effect, that after careful consideration he had come to the conclusion their engagement was a mistake. He begged to be released from it, and was always her sincere friend, &c. Her father was just in time to catch her as she sank fainting to the ground, and from her deadly swoon she woke to an attack of brain fever. When 123 the following Friday the morning paper was read, the family saw among the marriage announcements that of Captain Lightlove, on the previous day, to a lady to them unknown, so his best man had been in the right after all.
The hardest part of this for our sex is, that in the eyes of the world a girl always comes second best out of a broken engagement. An absolute injury is done to her prospects, and one which no man is justified in inflicting on her without the gravest reason. It is almost criminal to rush into such a contract with so little care or consideration that one finds it to be a mistake in a week or two, and wants to rush out again. What would be thought of a man who acted thus in an important business matter? These fickle lovers sometimes meet their match, and no one can pity them when they do; one day or other they play their tricks on a woman of coarser mental fibre than their victims, and find themselves face to face with the unpleasant consequences of an action at law, a course naturally not open to those who are what the poor love to call “real ladies.”
That girl is to be congratulated to whom heaven has sent an honest, manly, chivalrous, 124 sincere lover for whose fidelity she need not tremble. She hardly knows what a prize she has gained. No wonder, seeing what they see, that women flirt, and sometimes wring unwittingly an honest heart, on the principle of “once caught twice shy.”
Though on us falls the larger share of worry and anxiety, marriage certainly brings at the same time more advantages to us than to men. As society is now constituted, we have but a lonely age in prospect should we remain unwedded, unless we merge our existence in that of nephews, nieces, or other animals, and few women are happy enough to attain an independent position by their own exertions. Men are of equal account, married or single, while we are not. They have their professions to interest them, and from a worldly point of view have less gain personally if they marry. Yet, despite our inducements, it is quite untrue that more women make mercenary matches than men, though some of these constantly speak of “marriage markets,” “sales to the highest bidder,” “hooking a husband,” and so forth. Against this very unchivalrous mode of thought and of expression I wish to offer a strong protest. 125 How many men look for rank and wealth, yet no one seems to remark it. We often see young fellows wedded to women old enough to be their mothers; wealth of course has nothing to do with their choice. It is only in comic opera that an impecunious barrister finds it convenient to fall in love with—
“A rich attorney’s elderly ugly daughter.”
Whatever may be said of girls being mercenary, it may be asserted, without fear of contradiction, that far more of us are willing to share poverty with the man we love, than there are men who would face a struggle for the sake of any woman, however good or beautiful.
Seem to the jealous confirmation strong as proofs of Holy Writ
[Printed as shown. The line, or rather lines, are canonically
Seem to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of Holy Writ
If you guessed it is from Othello, you guessed right.]
endless tête à têtes
text has tête á têtes
would move a heart of stone—to scorn
[One version of the famous Oscar Wilde line is “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears . . . of laughter.”]
“A rich attorney’s elderly ugly daughter.”
[From Trial by Jury—which incidentally involves a Breach of Promise case. The “elderly ugly daughter” line is repeated, at rough estimate—I don’t have the libretto to hand—some eighty-five times in the course of the song, because W. S. Gilbert believed that an aging spinster is inherently and intrinsically hilarious.]
“A Christian is God Almighty’s gentleman.”
When men write about women they are fond of laying stress on their influence, of telling them it is their fault that their fathers, brothers, and husbands are not perfect, of saying that to them belongs the task of bringing this world nearer heaven, and of telling them that if they tried they could raise and ameliorate society. There is truth in this worth laying to heart, but it cuts two ways. Though I do not hesitate to blame women when they are in the wrong, I cannot admit either the burden or the blame to be wholly theirs. If men were different, woman, whose aim in the main is to please them, would be different too. What they are is the result of a series of efforts, mistaken efforts if you will, with that end in view. Law approaches the 130 truth more nearly when he says—“Whatever littleness and vanity is to be observed in the minds of women, is, like the cruelty of butchers, a temper which is wrought into them by that life which they are taught and expected to lead.”
Men and women are, in the grain, very much alike. They act and react on each other, and similar causes produce similar results in both. Each should try to live worthily and nobly, but to me it seems hard that the weaker sex should be held responsible for the deterioration of the stronger. One wonders why these latter should not themselves try the raising process, and note its results. True sons of Adam are those who cry—“The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
As things are, quiet gentle girls find themselves too often overlooked, and so are tempted to assume manners not naturally theirs, if they do not want, as the common phrase runs, “to be left on the shelf.” Though men say they do not admire women who are bold and fast in manner, yet they crowd round them at every ball and assembly, leaving their modester sisters 131 to draw conclusions as to what their conduct must be if they want to be popular. It is foolish, I admit, of any girl to act on such deductions, as the best men should prefer the best women (though they frequently do not); but she probably does not think so, and aims to please the majority. Men often draw us into mischief and leave us to bear the censure. For instance, they flirt with a young silly girl, and when she has made herself conspicuous, or uttered some foolish impulsive speech sure to be remembered by a good-natured acquaintance, turn her into ridicule, as I have more than once heard, or say how very forward Miss Dollikins is!
Of all the failings of modern men, the most conspicuous and disagreeable is “snobbishness.” If it could be crushed, the really good qualities of many would cease to be obscured. This hateful weakness arises equally from vanity and human respect. The first leads men to desire that people should see what fine fellows they are, how superior to their surroundings, and how good it is of them to live in the world at all; the second makes them tremble lest their fellows should chaff them as Quixotic or as 132 would-be lady-killers. Human respect is, in more ways than one, the bane of modern men. They lack courage to do what is right because it is right, if it may draw on them remark or ridicule. Hence, like the Athenians of old, many know what is right, but few practise it. Surely this is a poor spirit, an ignoble weakness, an unworthy bending of the knee to Belial. In a moral atmosphere men of the stamp of Roland, Bayard, Du Guesclin, and women worthy of them, cannot exist.
And now I have said my say, leaving deep truths untouched, and taking things in their lightest aspect, if indeed it can be considered light “feelingly to persuade” men how noble and worthy it is to prove oneself a gentleman on all occasions, even in trifles; advocating, not unmeaning conventional courtesy and lip-service, too easily acquired, but that politeness which springs from sound principles and a good heart, and flowing from such a source cannot fail to dignify and ennoble modern young men.
In Chapter V, the author quotes, “A woman will never desert her child for a quadratic equation.” The line is from Sydney Smith’s article “Female Education”, ostensibly a review of the book Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind (Broadhurst 1808), published in the Edinburgh Review for January, 1810.
Here is the whole essay as it appears in the 1880 Routledge edition of Smith’s Edinburgh Review essays. Page numbers are from this edition, in case anyone needs to check up on me. Missing or invisible punctuation has been silently supplied.
Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind. By Thomas Broadhurst. 8vo. London. 1808.
Mr. Broadhurst is a very good sort of man, who has not written a very bad book upon a very important subject. His object (a very laudable one) is to recommend a better system of female education than at present prevails in this country—to turn the attention of women from the trifling pursuits to which they are now condemned—and to cultivate faculties which, under the actual system of management, might almost as well not exist. To the examination of his ideas upon these points, we shall very cheerfully give up a portion of our time and attention.
A great deal has been said of the original difference of capacity between men and women; as if women were more quick, and men more judicious—as if women were more remarkable for delicacy of association, and men for stronger powers of attention. All this, we confess, appears to us very fanciful. That there is a difference in the understandings of the men and the women we every day meet with, everybody, we suppose, must perceive; but there is none surely which may not be accounted for by the difference of circumstances in which they have been placed, without referring to any conjectural difference of original conformation of mind. As long as boys and girls run about in the dirt, and trundle hoops together, they are both precisely alike. If you catch up one half of these creatures, and train them to a particular set of actions and opinions, and the other half to a perfectly opposite set, of course their understandings will differ, as one or the other sort of occupations has called this or that talent into action. There is surely no occasion to go into any deeper or more abstruse reasoning, in order to explain so very simple a phenomenon. Taking it, then, for granted, that nature has been as bountiful of understanding to one sex as the other, it is incumbent on us to consider what are the principal objections commonly made against the communication of a greater share of knowledge to women than commonly falls to their lot at present; for though it may be doubted whether women should learn all that men learn, the immense disparity which now exists between their knowledge we should hardly FE-182 think could admit of any rational defence. It is not easy to imagine that there can be any just cause why a woman of forty should be more ignorant than a boy of twelve years of age. If there be any good at all in female ignorance, this (to use a very colloquial phrase) is surely too much of a good thing.
Something in this question must depend, no doubt, upon the leisure which either sex enjoys for the cultivation of their understandings:—and we cannot help thinking that women have fully as much, if not more, idle time upon their hands than men. Women are excluded from all the serious business of the world; men are lawyers, physicians, clergymen, apothecaries, and justices of the peace—sources of exertion which consume a great deal more time than producing and suckling children; so that if the thing is a thing that ought to be done—if the attainments of literature are objects really worthy the attention of females, they cannot plead the want of leisure as an excuse for indolence and neglect. The lawyer who passes his day in exasperating the bickerings of Roe and Doe, is certainly as much engaged as his lady, who has the whole of the morning before her to correct the children and pay the bills. The apothecary, who rushes from an act of phlebotomy in the western parts of the town to insinuate a bolus in the east, is surely as completely absorbed as that fortunate female who is darning the garment or preparing the repast of her Æsculapius at home; and in every degree and situation of life it seems that men must necessarily be exposed to more serious demands upon their time and attention than can possibly be the case with respect to the other sex. We are speaking always of the fair demands which ought to be made upon the time and attention of women; for, as the matter now stands, the time of women is considered as worth nothing at all. Daughters are kept to occupations in sewing, patching, mantua-making, and mending, by which it is impossible they can earn tenpence a day. The intellectual improvement of women is considered to be of such subordinate importance that twenty pounds paid for needle-work would give to a whole family leisure to acquire a fund of real knowledge. They are kept with nimble fingers and vacant understandings till the season for improvement is utterly past away, and all chance of forming more important habits completely lost. We do not therefore say that women have more leisure than men, if it be necessary they should lead the life of artizans; but we make this assertion only upon the supposition that it is of some importance women should be instructed; and that many ordinary occupations, for which a little money will find a better substitute, should be sacrificed to this consideration.
We bar, in this discussion, any objection which proceeds from the mere novelty of teaching women more than they are already taught. It may be useless that their education should be improved, or it may be pernicious; and these are the fair grounds on which the question may be argued. But those who cannot bring their minds to consider such an unusual extension of knowledge, without connecting with it some sensation of the ludicrous, should remember that, in the progress from absolute ignorance, there is a period when cultivation of the mind is new to every rank and description of persons. A century ago, who would have believed that country gentlemen could be brought to read and spell with the ease and accuracy which we now so frequently remark,—or supposed that they could be carried up even to the elements of ancient and modern history? Nothing is more common, or more stupid, than to take the actual for the possible—to believe that all which is, is all which can be; first to laugh at every proposed deviation from practice as impossible—then, when it is carried into effect, to be astonished that it did not take place before.FE-183
It is said that the effect of knowledge is to make women pedantic and affected; and that nothing can be more offensive than to see a woman stepping out of the natural modesty of her sex, to make an ostentatious display of her literary attainments. This may be true enough; but the answer is so trite and obvious, that we are almost ashamed to make it. All affectation and display proceed from the supposition of possessing something better than the rest of the world possesses. Nobody is vain of possessing two legs and two arms;—because that is the precise quantity of either sort of limb which everybody possesses. Who ever heard a lady boast that she understood French?—for no other reason, that we know of, but because everybody in these days does understand French; and though there maybe some disgrace in being ignorant of that language, there is little or no merit in its acquisition. Diffuse knowledge generally among women, and you will at once cure the conceit which knowledge occasions while it is rare. Vanity and conceit we shall, of course, witness in men and women as long as the world endures: but by multiplying the attainments upon which these feelings are founded, you increase the difficulty of indulging them, and render them much more tolerable, by making them the proofs of a much higher merit. When learning ceases to be uncommon among women, learned women will cease to be affected.
A great many of the lesser and more obscure duties of life necessarily devolve upon the female sex. The arrangement of all household matters, and the care of children in their early infancy, must of course depend upon them. Now, there is a very general notion that the moment you put the education of women upon a better footing than it is at present, at that moment there will be an end of all domestic economy; and that, if you once suffer women to eat of the tree of knowledge, the rest of the family will very soon be reduced to the same kind of aërial and unsatisfactory diet. These and all such opinions are referable to one great and common cause of error;—that man does everything, and that nature does nothing; and that everything we see is referable to positive institution, rather than to original feeling. Can anything, for example, be more perfectly absurd than to suppose that the care and perpetual solicitude which a mother feels for her children depends upon her ignorance of Greek and Mathematics; and that she would desert an infant for a quadratic equation? We seem to imagine that we can break in pieces the solemn institutions of nature by the little laws of a boarding-school; and that the existence of the human race depends upon teaching women a little more or a little less;—that Cimmerian ignorance can aid parental affection, or the circle of arts and sciences produce its destruction. In the same manner, we forget the principles upon which the love of order, arrangement, and all the arts of economy depend. They depend not upon ignorance nor idleness; but upon the poverty, confusion, and ruin which would ensue from neglecting them. Add to these principles the love of what is beautiful and magnificent, and the vanity of display;—and there can surely be no reasonable doubt but that the order and economy of private life is amply secured from the perilous inroads of knowledge.
We would fain know, too, if knowledge is to produce such baneful effects upon the material and the household virtues, why this influence has not already been felt? Women are much better educated now than they were a century ago; but they are by no means less remarkable for attention to the arrangements of their household, or less inclined to discharge the offices of parental affection. It would be very easy to show that the same objection has been made at all times to every improvement in the education of both sexes, and all ranks—and been as uniformly and completely refuted by FE-184 experience. A great part of the objections made to the education of women are rather objections made to human nature than to the female sex: for it is surely true that knowledge, where it produces any bad effects at all, does as much mischief to one sex as to the other,—and gives birth to fully as much arrogance, inattention to common affairs, and eccentricity among men, as it does among women. But it by no means follows that you get rid of vanity and self-conceit because you get rid of learning. Self-complacency can never want an excuse; and the best way to make it more tolerable, and more useful, is to give to it as high and as dignified an object as possible. But, at all events, it is unfair to bring forward against a part of the world an objection which is equally powerful against the whole. When foolish women think they have any distinction, they are apt to be proud of it; so are foolish men. But we appeal to anyone who has lived with cultivated persons of either sex, whether he has not witnessed as much pedantry, as much wrongheadedness, as much arrogance, and certainly a great deal more rudeness, produced by learning in men than in women: therefore, we should make the accusation general—or dismiss it altogether; though, with respect to pedantry, the learned are certainly a little unfortunate that so very emphatic a word, which is occasionally applicable to all men embarked eagerly in any pursuit, should be reserved exclusively for them: for, as pedantry is an ostentatious obtrusion of knowledge in which those who hear us cannot sympathise, it is a fault of which soldiers, sailors, sportsmen, gamesters, cultivators, and all men engaged in a particular occupation are quite as guilty as scholars; but they have the good fortune to have the vice only of pedantry,—while scholars have both the vice and the name for it too.
Some persons are apt to contrast the acquisition of important knowledge with what they call simple pleasures; and deem it more becoming that a woman should educate flowers, make friendships with birds, and pick up plants, than enter into more difficult and fatiguing studies. If a woman have no taste and genius for higher occupations, let her engage in these, rather than remain destitute of any pursuit. But why are we necessarily to doom a girl, whatever be her taste or her capacity, to one unvaried line of petty and frivolous occupation? If she be full of strong sense and elevated curiosity, can there be any reason why she should be diluted and enfeebled down to a mere culler of simples, and fancier of birds?—why books of history and reasoning are to be torn out of her hand, and why she is to be sent, like a butterfly, to hover over the idle flowers of the field? Such amusements are innocent to those whom they can occupy; but they are not innocent to those who have too powerful understandings to be occupied by them. Light broths and fruits are innocent food only to weak or to infant stomachs; but they are poison to that organ in its perfect and mature state. But the great charm appears to be in the word simplicity—simple pleasure! If by a simple pleasure is meant an innocent pleasure, the observation is best answered by showing that the pleasure which results from the acquisition of important knowledge is quite as innocent as any pleasure whatever; but if by a simple pleasure is meant one, the cause of which can be easily analysed, or which does not last long, or which in itself is very faint; then simple pleasures seem to be very nearly synonymous with small pleasures; and if the simplicity were to be a little increased, the pleasure would vanish altogether.
As it is impossible that every man should have industry or activity sufficient to avail himself of the advantages of education, it is natural that men who are ignorant themselves, should view, with some degree of jealousy and alarm, any proposal for improving the education of women. But such men may depend upon it, however the system of female education may be exalted, that FE-185 there will never be wanting a due proportion of failures; and that after parents, guardians, and preceptors have done all in their power to make everybody wise, there will still be a plentiful supply of women who have taken special care to remain otherwise; and they may rest assured, if the utter extinction of ignorance and folly be the evil they dread, that their interests will always be effectually protected, in spite of every exertion to the contrary.
We must in candour allow that those women who begin, will have something more to overcome than may probably hereafter be the case. We cannot deny the jealousy which exists among pompous and foolish men respecting the education of women. There is a class of pedants who would be cut short in the estimation of the world a whole cubit, if it were generally known that a young lady of eighteen could be taught to decline the tenses of the middle voice, or acquaint herself with the Æolic varieties of that celebrated language. Then women have, of course, all ignorant men for enemies to their instruction, who being bound (as they think), in point of sex, to know more, are not well pleased, in point of fact, to know less. But among men of sense and liberal politeness, a woman who has successfully cultivated her mind, without diminishing the gentleness and propriety of her manners, is always sure to meet with a respect and attention bordering upon enthusiasm.
There is in either sex a strong and permanent disposition to appear agreeable to the other: and this is the fair answer to those who are fond of supposing that a higher degree of knowledge would make women rather the rivals than the companions of men. Presupposing such a desire to please, it seems much more probable that a common pursuit should be a fresh source of interest than a cause of contention. Indeed, to suppose that any mode of education can create a general jealousy and rivalry between the sexes, is so very ridiculous that it requires only to be stated in order to be refuted. The same desire of pleasing secures all that delicacy and reserve which are of such inestimable value to women. We are quite astonished in hearing men converse on such subjects to find them attributing such beautiful effects to ignorance. It would appear, from the tenor of such objections, that ignorance had been the great civiliser of the world. Women are delicate and refined only because they are ignorant;—they manage their household only because they are ignorant;—they attend to their children only because they know no better. Now, we must really confess, we have all our lives been so ignorant as not to know the value of ignorance. We have always attributed the modesty and the refined manners of women to their being well taught in moral and religious duty,—to the hazardous situation in which they are placed,—to that perpetual vigilance which it is their duty to exercise over thought, word, and action,—and to that cultivation of the mild virtues, which those who cultivate the stern and magnanimous virtues expect at their hands. After all, let it be remembered, we are not saying there are no objections to the diffusion of knowledge among the female sex. We would not hazard such a proposition respecting anything; but we are saying that, upon the whole, it is the best method of employing time; and that there are fewer objections to it than to any other method. There are, perhaps, 50,000 females in Great Britain who are exempted by circumstances from all necessary labour; but every human being must do something with their existence; and the pursuit of knowledge is, upon the whole, the most innocent, the most dignified, and the most useful method of filling up that idleness of which there is always so large a portion in nations far advanced in civilisation. Let any man reflect, too, upon the solitary situation in which women are placed,—the ill treatment to which they are sometimes exposed, and which they must endure in silence and without the power FE-186 of complaining,—and he must feel convinced that the happiness of a woman will be materially increased in proportion as education has given to her the habit and the means of drawing her resources from herself.
There are a few common phrases in circulation respecting the duties of women to which we wish to pay some degree of attention, because they are rather inimical to those opinions which we have advanced on this subject. Indeed, independently of this, there is nothing which requires more vigilance than the current phrases of the day, of which there are always some resorted to in every dispute, and from the sovereign authority of which it is often vain to make any appeal. “The true theatre for a woman is the sick chamber;” “Nothing so honourable to a woman as not to be spoken of at all.” These two phrases, the delight of Noodledom, are grown into commonplaces upon the subject, and are not unfrequently employed to extinguish that love of knowledge in women which, in our humble opinion, it is of so much importance to cherish. Nothing, certainly, is so ornamental and delightful in women as the benevolent affections: but time cannot be filled up, and life employed, with high and impassioned virtues. Some of these feelings are of rare occurrence—all of short duration—or nature would sink under them. A scene of distress and anguish is an occasion where the finest qualities of the female mind may be displayed; but it is a monstrous exaggeration to tell women that they are born only for scenes of distress and anguish. Nurse father, mother, sister, and brother, if they want it: it would be a violation of the plainest duties to neglect them. But when we are talking of the common occupations of life, do not let us mistake the accidents for the occupations; when we are arguing how the twenty-three hours of the day are to be filled up, it is idle to tell us of those feelings and agitations above the level of common existence which may employ the remaining hour. Compassion and every other virtue are the great objects we all ought to have in view; but no man (and no woman) can fill up the twenty-four hours by acts of virtue. But one is a lawyer, and the other a ploughman, and the third a merchant; and then acts of goodness, and intervals of compassion and fine feeling, are scattered up and down the common occupations of life. We know women are to be compassionate; but they cannot be compassionate from eight o’clock in the morning till twelve at night: and what are they to do in the interval? This is the only question we have been putting all along, and is all that can be meant by literary education.
Then, again, as to the notoriety which is incurred by literature. The cultivation of knowledge is a very distinct thing from its publication; nor does it follow that a woman is to become an author merely because she has talent enough for it. We do not wish a lady to write books—to defend and reply—to squabble about the tomb of Achilles or the plain of Troy—any more than we wish her to dance at the opera, to play at a public concert, or to put pictures in the Exhibition, because she has learned music, dancing, and drawing. The great use of her knowledge will be that it contributes to her private happiness. She may make it public: but it is not the principal object which the friends of female education have in view. Among men, the few who write bear no comparison to the many who read. We hear most of the former, indeed, because they are, in general, the most ostentatious part of literary men; but there are innumerable persons who, without ever laying themselves before the public, have made use of literature to add to the strength of their understandings, and to improve the happiness of their lives. After all, it may be an evil for ladies to be talked of: but we really think those ladies who are talked of only as Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Barbauld, and Mrs. Hamilton are talked of, may bear their misfortunes with a very great FE-187 degree of Christian patience; such singular examples of ill-fortune may, perhaps, render the school of adversity a little more popular than it is at present.
Their exemption from all the necessary business of life is one of the most powerful motives for the improvement of education in women. Lawyers and physicians have in their professions a constant motive to exertion; if you neglect their education, they must, in a certain degree, educate themselves by their commerce with the world: they must learn caution, accuracy, and judgment, because they must incur responsibility. But if you neglect to educate the mind of a woman by the speculative difficulties which occur in literature, it can never be educated at all: if you do not effectually rouse it by education, it must remain for ever languid. Uneducated men may escape intellectual degradation; uneducated women cannot. They have nothing to do; and if they come untaught from the schools of education, they will never be instructed in the school of events.
Women have not their livelihood to gain by knowledge; and that is one motive for relaxing all those efforts which are made in the education of men. They certainly have not; but they have happiness to gain, to which knowledge leads as probably as it does to profit; and that is a reason against mistaken indulgence. Besides, we conceive the labour and fatigue of accomplishments to be quite equal to the labour and fatigue of knowledge; and that it takes quite as many years to be charming as it does to be learned.
Another difference of the sexes is, that women are attended to, and men attend. All acts of courtesy and politeness originate from the one sex, and are received by the other. We can see no sort of reason in this diversity of condition for giving to women a trifling and insignificant education; but we see in it a very powerful reason for strengthening their judgment, and inspiring them with the habit of employing time usefully. We admit many striking differences in the situation of the two sexes, and many striking differences of understanding, proceeding from the different circumstances in which they are placed: but there is not a single difference of this kind which does not afford a new argument for making the education of women better than it is. They have nothing serious to do;—is that a reason why they should be brought up to do nothing but what is trifling? They are exposed to greater dangers;—is that a reason why their faculties are to be purposely and industriously weakened? They are to form the characters of future men;—is that a cause why their own characters are to be broken and frittered down as they now are? In short, there is not a single trait in that diversity of circumstances in which the two sexes are placed that does not decidedly prove the magnitude of the error we commit in neglecting (as we do neglect) the education of women.
If the objections against the better education of women could be overruled, one of the great advantages that would ensue would be the extinction of innumerable follies. A decided and prevailing taste for one or another mode of education there must be. A century past, it was for housewifery—now it is for accomplishments. The object now is to make women artists—to give them an excellence in drawing, music, painting, and dancing—of which persons who make these pursuits the occupation of their lives, and derive from them their subsistence, need not be ashamed. Now, one great evil of all this is that it does not last. If the whole of life (as somebody says) were an Olympic game—if we could go on feasting and dancing to the end—this might do; but this is merely a provision for the little interval between coming into life and settling in it, while it leaves a long and dreary expanse behind, devoid both of dignity and cheerfulness. No mother, no woman FE-188 who has past over the few first years of life, sings, or dances, or draws, or plays upon musical instruments. These are merely means for displaying the grace and vivacity of youth, which every woman gives up, as she gives up the dress and the manners of eighteen: she has no wish to retain them; or, if she has, she is driven out of them by diameter and derision. The system of female education, as it now stands, aims only at embellishing a few years of life, which are in themselves so full of grace and happiness that they hardly want it; and then leaves the rest of existence a miserable prey to idle insignificance. No woman of understanding and reflection can possibly conceive she is doing justice to her children by such kind of education. The object is to give to children resources that will endure as long as life endures—habits that time will ameliorate, not destroy,—occupations that will render sickness tolerable, solitude pleasant, age venerable, life more dignified and useful, and therefore death less terrible: and the compensation which is offered for the omission of all this is a shortlived blaze,—a little temporary effect, which has no other consequence than to deprive the remainder of life of all taste and relish. There may be women who have a taste for the fine arts, and who evince a decided talent for drawing, or for music. In that case there can be no objection to the cultivation of these arts; but the error is to make such things the grand and universal object,—to insist upon it that every woman is to sing, and draw, and dance,—with nature, or against nature,—to bind her apprentice to some accomplishment, and if she cannot succeed in oil or water colours, to prefer gilding, varnishing, burnishing, box-making, to real and solid improvement in taste, knowledge, and understanding.
A great deal is said in favour of the social nature of the fine arts. Music gives pleasure to others. Drawing is an art, the amusement of which does not centre in him who exercises it, but is diffused among the rest of the world. This is true; but there is nothing, after all, so social as a cultivated mind. We do not mean to speak slightingly of the fine arts, or to depreciate the good humour with which they are sometimes exhibited; but we appeal to any man, whether a little spirited and sensible conversation—displaying, modestly, useful acquirements—and evincing rational curiosity, is not well worth the highest exertions of musical or graphical skill. A woman of accomplishments may entertain those who have the pleasure of knowing her for half an hour with great brilliancy; but a mind full of ideas, and with that elastic spring which the love of knowledge only can convey, is a perpetual source of exhilaration and amusement to all that come within its reach;—not collecting its force into single and insulated achievements, like the efforts made in the fine arts—but diffusing, equally over the whole of existence, a calm pleasure—better loved as it is longer felt—and suitable to every variety and every period of life. Therefore, instead of hanging the understanding of a woman upon walls, or hearing it vibrate upon strings,—instead of seeing it in clouds, or hearing it in the wind,—we would make it the first spring and ornament of society, by enriching it with attainments upon which alone such power depends.
If the education of women were improved, the education of men would be improved also. Let anyone consider (in order to bring the matter more home by an individual instance) of what immense importance to society it is, whether a nobleman of first-rate fortune and distinction is well or ill brought up;—what a taste and fashion he may inspire for private and for political vice!—and what misery and mischief he may produce to the thousand human beings who are dependent on him! A country contains no such curse within its bosom. Youth, wealth, high rank, and vice, form a combination which FE-189 baffles all remonstrance and invective and beats down all opposition. A man of high rank who combines these qualifications for corruption, is almost the master of the manners of the age, and has the public happiness within his grasp. But the most beautiful possession which a country can have is a noble and rich man who loves virtue and knowledge;—who, without being feeble or fanatical, is pious—and who, without being factious, is firm and independent;—who, in his political life, is an equitable mediator between king and people; and in his civil life, a firm promoter of all which can shed a lustre upon his country, or promote the peace and order of the world. But if these objects are of the importance which we attribute to them, the education of women must be important, as the formation of character for the first seven or eight years of life seems to depend almost entirely upon them. It is certainly in the power of a sensible and well educated mother to inspire, within that period, such tastes and propensities as shall nearly decide the destiny of the future man; and this is done, not only by the intentional exertions of the mother, but by the gradual and insensible imitation of the child; for there is something extremely contagious in greatness and rectitude of thinking, even at that age; and the character of the mother with whom he passes his early infancy is always an event of the utmost importance to the child. A merely accomplished woman cannot infuse her tastes into the minds of her sons; and if she could, nothing could be more unfortunate than her success. Besides, when her accomplishments are given up, she has nothing left for it but to amuse herself in the best way she can; and becoming entirely frivolous, either declines altogether the fatigue of attending to her children, or, attending to them, has neither talents nor knowledge to succeed; and, therefore, here is a plain and fair answer to those who ask so triumphantly, Why should a woman dedicate herself to this branch of knowledge? or why should she be attached to such science?—because, by having gained information on these points, she may inspire her son with valuable tastes, which may abide by him through life, and carry him up to all the sublimities of knowledge;—because she cannot lay the foundation of a great character if she is absorbed in frivolous amusements, nor inspire her child with noble desires, when a long course of trifling has destroyed the little talents which were left by a bad education.
It is of great importance to a country that there should be as many understandings as possibly actively employed within it. Mankind are much happier for the discovery of barometers, thermometers, steam-engines, and all the innumerable inventions in the arts and sciences. We are every day and every hour reaping the benefit of such talent and ingenuity. The same observation is true of such works as those of Dryden, Pope, Milton, and Shakspeare. Mankind are much happier that such individuals have lived and written;—they add every day to the stock of public enjoyment—and perpetually gladden and embellish life. Now, the number of those who exercise their understanding to any good purpose, is exactly in proportion to those who exercise it at all; but, as the matter stands at present, half the talent in the universe runs to waste, and is totally unprofitable. It would have been almost as well for the world, hitherto, that women, instead of possessing the capacities they do at present, should have been born wholly destitute of wit, genius, and every other attribute of mind of which men make so eminent an use: and the ideas of use and possession are so united together, that because it has been the custom in almost all countries to give to women a different and a worse education than to men, the notion has obtained that they do not possess faculties which they do not cultivate. Just as, in breaking up a common, it is sometimes very difficult to make the poor believe it will carry corn, merely because they FE-190 have been hitherto accustomed to see it produce nothing but weeds and grass—they very naturally mistake present condition for general nature. So completely have the talents of women been kept down, that there is scarcely a single work, either of reason or imagination, written by a woman, which is in general circulation, either in the English, French, or Italian literature;—scarcely one that has crept even into the ranks of our minor poets.
If the possession of excellent talents is not a conclusive reason why they should be improved, it at least amounts to a very strong presumption; and, if it can be shown that women may be trained to reason and imagine as well as men, the strongest reasons are certainly necessary to show us why we should not avail ourselves of such rich gifts of nature; and we have a right to call for a clear statement of those perils which make it necessary that such talents should be totally extinguished, or, at most, very partially drawn out. The burthen of proof does not lie with those who say, Increase the quantity of talent in any country as much as possible—for such a proposition is in conformity with every man’s feelings: but it lies with those who say, Take care to keep that understanding weak and trifling, which nature has made capable of becoming strong and powerful. The paradox is with them, not with us. In all human reasoning, knowledge must be taken for a good, till it can be shown to be an evil. But now, Nature makes to us rich and magnificent presents; and we say to her—You are too luxuriant and munificent—we must keep you under, and prune you;—we have talents enough in the other half of the creation; and, if you will not stupefy and enfeeble the minds of women to our hands, we ourselves must expose them to a narcotic process, and educate away that fatal redundance with which the world is afflicted, and the order of sublunary things deranged.
One of the greatest pleasures of life is conversation;—and the pleasures of conversation are of course enhanced by every increase of knowledge: not that we should meet together to talk of alkalis and angles, or to add to our stock of history and philology—though a little of these things is no bad ingredient in conversation; but let the subject be what it may, there is always a prodigious difference between the conversation of those who have been well educated and of those who have not enjoyed this advantage. Education gives fecundity of thought, copiousness of illustration, quickness, vigour, fancy, words, images, and illustrations;—it decorates every common thing, and gives the power of trifling without being undignified and absurd. The subjects themselves may not be wanted upon which the talents of an educated man have been exercised; but there is always a demand for those talents which his education has rendered strong and quick. Now, really, nothing can be further from our intention than to say anything rude and unpleasant; but we must be excused for observing that it is not now a very common thing to be interested by the variety and extent of female knowledge, but it is a very common thing to lament that the finest faculties in the world have been confined to trifles utterly unworthy of their richness and their strength.
The pursuit of knowledge is the most innocent and interesting occupation which can be given to the female sex; nor can there be a better method of checking a spirit of dissipation, than by diffusing a taste for literature. The true way to attack vice is by setting up something else against it. Give to women, in early youth, something to acquire, of sufficient interest and importance to command the application of their mature faculties, and to excite their perseverance in future life;—teach them that happiness is to be derived from the acquisition of knowledge, as well as the gratification of vanity; and you will raise up a much more formidable barrier against dissipation than an host of invectives and exhortations can supply.FE-191
It sometimes happens that an unfortunate man gets drunk with very bad wine—not to gratify his palate, but to forget his cares: he does not set any value on what he receives, but on account of what it excludes;—it keeps out something worse than itself. Now, though it were denied that the acquisition of serious knowledge is of itself important to a woman, still it prevents a taste for silly and pernicious works of imagination;—it keeps away the horrid trash of novels; and, in lieu of that eagerness for emotion and adventure which books of that sort inspire, promotes a calm and steady temperament of mind.
A man who deserves such a piece of good fortune, may generally find an excellent companion for all the vicissitudes of his life; but it is not so easy to find a companion for his understanding, who has similar pursuits with himself, or who can comprehend the pleasure he derives from them. We really can see no reason why it should not be otherwise; nor comprehend how the pleasures of domestic life can be promoted by diminishing the number of subjects in which persons who are to spend their lives together take a common interest.
One of the most agreeable consequences of knowledge is the respect and importance which it communicates to old age. Men rise in character often as they increase in years;—they are venerable from what they have acquired, and pleasing from what they can impart. If they outlive their faculties, the mere frame itself is respected for what it once contained; but women (such is their unfortunate style of education) hazard everything upon one cast of the die;—when youth is gone, all is gone. No human creature gives his admiration for nothing: either the eye must be charmed, or the understanding gratified. A woman must talk wisely or look well. Every human being must put up with the coldest civility who has neither the charms of youth nor the wisdom of age. Neither is there the slightest commiseration for decayed accomplishments;—no man mourns over the fragments of a dancer, or drops a tear on the relics of musical skill. They are flowers destined to perish; but the decay of great talents is always the subject of solemn pity; and, even when their last memorial is over, their ruins and vestiges are regarded with pious affection.
There is no connection between the ignorance in which women are kept and the preservation of moral and religious principle; and yet certainly there is, in the minds of some timid and respectable persons, a vague, indefinite dread of knowledge, as if it were capable of producing these effects. It might almost be supposed, from the dread which the propagation of knowledge has excited, that there was some great secret which was to be kept in impenetrable obscurity,—that all moral rulers were a species of delusion and imposture, the detection of which, by the improvement of the understanding, would be attended with the most fatal consequences to all, and particularly to women. If we could possibly understand what these great secrets were, we might perhaps be disposed to concur in their preservation; but believing that all the salutary rules which are imposed on women are the result of true wisdom, and productive of the greatest happiness, we cannot understand how they are to become less sensible of this truth in proportion as their power of discovering truth in general is increased, and the habit of viewing questions with accuracy and comprehension established by education. There are men, indeed, who are always exclaiming against every species of power, because it is connected with danger: their dread of abuses is so much stronger than their admiration of uses, that they would cheerfully give up the use of fire, gunpowder, and printing, to be freed from robbers, incendiaries, and libels. It is true, that every increase of knowledge may possibly render depravity more depraved, FE-192 as well as it may increase the strength of virtue. It is in itself only power; and its value depends on its application. But, trust to the natural love of good where there is no temptation to be bad—it operates nowhere more forcibly than in education. No man, whether he be tutor, guardian, or friend, ever contents himself with infusing the mere ability to acquire; but giving the power, he gives with it a taste for the wise and rational exercise of that power; so that an educated person is not only one with stronger and better faculties than others, but with a more useful propensity—a disposition better cultivated—and associations of a higher and more important class.
In short, and to recapitulate the main points upon which we have insisted,—Why the disproportion in knowledge between the two sexes should be so great, when the inequality in natural talents is so small; or why the understanding of women should be lavished upon trifles, when nature has made it capable of higher and better things, we profess ourselves not able to understand. The affectation charged upon female knowledge is best cured by making that knowledge more general: and the economy devolved upon women is best secured by the ruin, disgrace, and inconvenience which proceeds from neglecting it. For the care of children, nature has made a direct and powerful provision; and the gentleness and elegance of women is the natural consequence of that desire to please which is productive of the greatest part of civilisation and refinement, and which rests upon a foundation too deep to be shaken by any such modifications in education as we have proposed. If you educate women to attend to dignified and important subjects, you are multiplying, beyond measure, the chances of human improvement, by preparing and medicating those early impressions which always come from the mother; and which, in a great majority of instances, are quite decisive of character and genius. Nor is it only in the business of education that women would influence the destiny of men. If women knew more, men must learn more—for ignorance would then be shameful—and it would become the fashion to be instructed. The instruction of women improves the stock of national talents, and employs more minds for the instruction and amusement of the world;—it increases the pleasures of society, by multiplying the topics upon which the two sexes take a common interest;—and makes marriage an intercourse of understanding as well as of affection, by giving dignity and importance to the female character. The education of women favours public morals; it provides for every season of life, as well as for the brightest and the best; and leaves a woman when she is stricken by the hand of time, not as she now is, destitute of everything, and neglected by all; but with the full power and the splendid attractions of knowledge,—diffusing the elegant pleasures of polite literature, and receiving the just homage of learned and accomplished men.
after parents, guardians, and preceptors have done all in their power to make everybody wise, there will still be a plentiful supply of women who have taken special care to remain otherwise
[A phenomenon observable in those U.S. states that have attempted to raise the caliber of schoolteachers by requiring them to have degrees in some legitimate academic subject instead of the traditional “elementary education”. As it turns out, no power on earth can compel someone to become educated if she does not want to be, hence the profusion of pseudo-majors like “Liberal Studies” and “Human Development”.—Ed.]
We are quite astonished in hearing men converse on such subjects to find them attributing such beautiful effects to ignorance.
[Printed as shown. It would help to add commas after “astonished” and “subjects”.]
“Nothing so honourable to a woman as not to be spoken of at all.”
[Pericles—at least according to Thucydides. See David Schaps’ much-reprinted 1977 article, “The Woman Least Mentioned”.]
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.