“Implicit faith, all hail! Imperial Man

          Exacts submission.” –       

                                            Yearsley

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    What Men Would Have Women To Be. 

           

Of all the systems, – if indeed a bundle of contradictions and absurdities may be called a system, – which human nature in its moments of intoxication has produced; that which men have contrived with a view to forming the minds, and regulating the conduct of women, is perhaps the most completely absurd. And, though the consequences are often very serious to both sexes, yet if one could for a moment forget these, and consider it only as a system, it would rather be found a subject of mirth and ridicule than serious anger. 

What a chaos! – What a mixture of strength and weakness, of greatness and littleness, – of sense and folly, – of exquisite feeling and total insensibility, – have they jumbled together in their imaginations, and then given to their pretty darling the name of woman! [48] How unlike the father of gods and men, the gay, the gallant Jupiter, who on producing wisdom the fruit of his brains, presented it to admiring worlds under the character of a female!

But in the composition of Man’s woman, wisdom must not be spoken of, may not even hinted at, yet strange to tell! there it must be in full force, and come forth upon all convenient occasions. This is a mystery which, as we are not allowed to be amongst the initiated, we may admire at an awful distance, but we can never comprehend. 

Again how great in some parts of their conduct, and how insignificant upon the whole, would men have women to be! For one example; – when their love, their pride, their delicacy; in short, when all the finest things of humanity are insulted and put to the rack, what is the line of conduct, then expected from them? [49] 

I need not explain that the situation I here allude to is, when a woman finds that the husband of her choice, the object of her most sincere and constant love, abandons himself to other attachments; and not only this, but when, – the natural consequences of these, – estrangement of affection and estrangement of confidence follow, which are infinitely cutting to a woman of sensibility and soul; what I say is the line of conduct then expected from a creature declared to be, – weak by nature, and who is rendered still weaker by education? 

Now here is one of those absurdities of which I accuse men in their system of contradictions. They expect that this poor weak creature, setting aside in a moment, love, jealousy, and pride, the most powerful and universal passions interwoven in the human heart, and which even men, clothed in wisdom and fortitude, find so difficult to conquer, that they seldom attempt it – that she shall notwithstanding lay all these aside as easily as she would her gown and petticoat, and plunge at once into the cold [50] bath of prudence, of which though the wife is only to receive the shock, and make daily use of, yet if she does so, it has the virtue of keeping both husband and wife in a most agreeable temperament. Prudence being one of those rare medicines which affect by sympathy, and this being likewise one of those cases, where the husbands have no objections to the wives acting as principals, nor to their receiving all the honors and emoluments of office; even if death should crown their martyrdom, as had been sometimes known to happen. 

Dear, generous creatures!

This reminds me of a singular circumstance which I heard the other day, of a poor man who had the misfortune to have a cataract on each eye. The one was cut, or extracted, or what you please to call it, and suffered as one may suppose the most extreme anguish. The other immediately wore off, or, I really don’t know how to express myself, dispersed, nobody knows how, except by the power of sympathy; but certainly without any operation being performed upon it. Now this last eye, [51] – this not guiltless though unsuffering luminary, is what learned physicians call the male eye; and this operation when followed by such consequences, in honor of those consequences they have been pleased to distinguish by a most expressive name, which I have however entirely forgot; but under it they mean in future to class, all those cases, where one part only suffers, and the other receives all the benefits. For, I almost forgot to mention, that the poor eye on which the experiment was made, soon ‘Closed in endless night.’

But to return to our subject; the situations before alluded to, though perhaps the most trying for human nature in general, and to minds of sensibility in particular, are not the only ones prepared for women upon which to exercise their patience and temper. For, there are no vices to which a man addicts himself, no follies he can take it into his head to commit, but his wife and his nearest female relations are expected to connive at, are expected [52] to look upon, if not with admiration, at least with respectful silence, and at awful distance. Any other conduct is looked upon, as a breach of that fanciful system of arbitrary authority, which men have so assiduously erected in their own favor; and any other conduct is accordingly resisted, with the most acrimonious severity. 

A man, for example, is addicted to the destructive vice of drinking. His wife sees with terror and anguish the approach of this pernicious habit, and by anticipation beholds the evils to be dreaded to his individual health, happiness, and consequence; and the probable misery to his family. Yet with this melancholy prospect before her eyes, it is reckoned an unpardonable degree of harshness and imprudence, if she by any means whatever endeavour to check in the bud, this baleful practice; and she is in this case accused at all hands of driving him to pursue in worse places, that which he cannot enjoy in peace at home. And, when this disease gains ground, and ends in an established [53] habit, she is treated as a fool for attempting a cure for what is incurable. 

Thus there is no stage of this disorder, or any other to which man is morally liable, when it is accounted and necessary or proper for women to interfere; or if they do so, men suppose themselves fully justified to plunge deeper and deeper into those vices, which create most misery to their wives, in order to punish their presumption. And this it is that the designs of Providence seem to be counteracted, by the pride and obstinacy of man. For, the design of Providence seems evidently to be, – that the sexes should restrain, discourage, and prevent vice in each other; as much as they should encourage, promote, and reward virtue. 

Again, women are often connected with men, whose harmful extravagance leave little for their families to hope for, but poverty, and the consequent neglect of a hard-hearted world. In this case perhaps, in the little sphere in which she is permitted to move, a wife may likewise [54] be permitted to economise; but the fruits of her economy are still at the mercy of an imperious master, who thinks himself entitled to spend upon his unlawful pleasures, what might have procured her, innocent enjoyment, and rational delight. And, I am sorry to add, that the men in general are but too apt in these cases, as well as upon most occasions, to take part of their own sex; and to consider nothing as blameable in them in such a degree, as to justify opposition from the women connected with them. 

Again, women of liberal sentiments and expanded hearts, – and surely there are such, in consequence of good, or in spite of bad education, – who would willingly employ fortune in acts of benevolence and schemes of beneficence; are connected with men, sordid in principle, rapacious in acquiring riches, and contemptibly mean in restraining them from returning again into society, through their proper channels. Woman here again is the sport, of the vices and infirmities of her tyrant; [55] and however formed by nature to virtue and benevolence, – however trained by education, – here she finds all this against her. Here she finds that her time and endeavours would have been much more happily employed, in strengthening the opposite habits of selfishness, and uncharitableness. Since, the highest pitch of virtue, to which a woman can possibly aspire on the present system of things; is to please her husband, in whatever line of conduct pleasing him consists. And, to this great end, this one thing needful, men are impolitic enough to advance, and to expect, that every thing else should be sacrificed. Reason, religion, – or at least many of the most important maxims of religion, – private judgement, prejudices; all these, and much more than these must be swallowed up in the gulph of authority; which requiring every thing as a right, disdains to return any thing but as a concession. 

I wish not however to be misunderstood, if even but for a moment; for though this is not the place to enlarge upon the subject, it must [56] be acknowledged, that to please a reasonable and worthy husband, – let me repeat my own words, – in whatever pleasing him consists, is one of the most heartfelt, and purest pleasures, which a woman such as she ought to be, can possibly enjoy. But for women to be obliged to humor the follies, the caprice, the vices of men of a very different stamp, and to be obliged to consider this as their duty; is perhaps as unfortunate s system of politics in morals, as ever was introduced for degrading the human species. 

I could here enumerate numberless instances, of what men would have women to be, under circumstances the most trying and the most humiliating; but as I neither wish to tire out the reader nor myself with what may be well imagined without repetition, I shall only say; that though they are allowed, and even expected, to assume upon proper occasions, and when it happens to indulge the passions, or fall in with the humors of men, and that firmness of character, and greatness of [57] mind commonly esteemed masculine; yet this is in so direct opposition, and so totally inconsistent with that universal weakness, which men first endeavour to affix upon women for their own convenience, and then for their own defence affect to admire; that really it requires more than female imbecility and credulity to suppose that such extremes can untie with any degree of harmony, in such imperfect beings as we all of us, men and women, must acknowledge ourselves to be. And therefore, except a women has some schemes of her own to accomplish by this sort of management, – which necessity is most galling to an ingenuous mind; or except she is herself a mere nothing, – in which case her merit is next to nothing; these violent extremes, – these violent exertions of the mind, – are by no means natural or voluntary ones; but are on the contrary at variance with nature, with reason, and with common sense. 

Indeed by preparatory tortures any mode of conduct, however unnatural, may be forced upon individuals. [58]  

Even inferior animals are taught not only to dance but to dance to appearance in time, and with alacrity, when their tyrant pipes. Bears and Turkeys for example. But we ought not to forget, that to produce these wonderful exertions; the first have had their eyes put out, to render them more docile to the cruel caprice of man; and nothing less than hot iron applied to the feet of the latter, had furnished that singular spectacle, with which many had the barbarity to be amused. 

So alas! women often go through scenes with apparent cheerfulness, that did the most indifferent spectators, but consider what such appearances must have previously cost them, they would execrate the mean and sordid system; and join in endeavouring to expel from society those errors in theory, which produce such consequences in practice. For, from exertions made under such circumstances; – against nature, – against reason, – and against common sense; – can good be expected? Can such mend the understanding, or purify [59] the heart? No, never! On the contrary they debase the one, and they corrupt the other. But it is a melancholy truth, that the whole system raided and supported by the men, tends to, nay I must be honest enough to say hangs upon, degrading the understandings, and corrupting the hearts of women; and yet! They are unreasonable enough to expect, discrimination in the one, and purity in the other. 

This may be deemed a harsh judgement, but I fear it is in the main a true one; yet it admits of softening, which pleasing task I shall take upon myself, in another division of this sketch. 

In the mean time I may be permitted to advise men to consider, whether it would not be better for them to be more confident, and not quite so unreasonable, with regard to their expectations as to the character and conduct of women? And I may be permitted to add, more guarded and exemplary in their own? For, though men declare themselves superior to women in degree, yet in kind they must acknowledge [60] themselves so closely akin, that their example by the very superiority they claim, is of the greater necessity, because the more likely to be followed. Indeed, of carrying every thing agreed upon by the common sense of mankind to be called good, to its utmost perfection on the one hand; and if on the other, suppressing every baser passion, compose what we call virtue; and if that virtue is not to be reduced to a name, a mere political engine in the hands of the most powerful, – Where is perfection to be expected in it but in man? – where but in him who declares himself to be – Lord paramount, of the creation? Why will not people consider how much more difficult it is to support, than to assume superiority of character! 

Notwithstanding this declaration of their own superiority however, it is a compliment which men are by no means backward in paying to women, that they are better formed by nature than themselves, for the perfection of virtue; and especially of those virtues which are of most difficult attainment, and which occur most commonly [61] in life. Perhaps this may be true; but if so, it is granting all and more than I wish; for the moment that this is admitted, you either degrade virtue and all good morals, by supposing them capable of being best perfected by, and best suited for, beings of an inferior order – upon which terms no order of rational beings can be supposed very anxious about the attainment of them – Or, leaving these, I mean virtue and good morals, in their proper places, and supposing them inherent in the soul of man, because planted there by the hand of God; and yet still insisting on the necessity and propriety of women practicing them, in a stricter degree than men; you from the moment, I say, tacitly grant to women, that superiority of mind, which you have not generosity enough openly to avow. 

But we relinquish willingly kind of preference which you force upon us, and which we have no title to; and which indeed is an intolerable burthen in the way you contrive to administer it; and instead of this, we only entreat [62] of you to be fair, to be candid, and to admit, that both sexes are upon a footing of equality when they are permitted to exert in their different spheres of action, the talents their Creator has been pleased to bestow upon them. 

Do not therefore endeavour to degrade women on the one hand, and in every material point in life, and then suppose you make it up to them, by a few idle ceremonies and unmeaning words; which as Sir Henry Wotton says of the new behavior and habits introduced by William the Conqueror among the English; ‘are under shew of civility, in effect but rudiments of subjection.’ Do not endeavour to flatter them into the belief, that they ought to practice virtues which you almost confess to be above your reach, and which are indeed severe tasks upon humanity when not founded upon certain principles, and urged on by adequate motives; but which when they are so, good consequences must as naturally follow, as physical effects ensue, in consequence of their causes. [63]

Do not then expect to join the extremes of active virtue, and passive obedience, in the characters and conduct of women, for they are incompatible. You may indeed say to women, as the Scripture I believe does to us all, ‘Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves;’ for these qualities of the mind are by no means at variance. Wisdom is never so sure of our esteem, nor ever appears so amiable, as when accompanied by innocence and simplicity of manners. But had the Bible itself said, as you do to women in as many words, Be ye wise as serpents, and foolish as turkey pouts; –why I really don’t know well how we should have managed matters, – I believe we must have remonstrated a little; – but I am sure it would have been impossible to have obeyed. 

Once for all then, for heaven’s sake! Give you us good example as well as preaching, or I should rather say instead of preaching, for really the one has a wonderful effect upon people, and the other very little. And surely for this reason, – that they go so seldom hand in hand. [64]

I beg leave to present to you the following well known Fable. And though I am very confident it has never before been applied, as it infallibly must upon the present occasion; – yet ‘if the cap fits,’ it is just as good, as if made on purpose.

 

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         ‘Le Loup Moraliste.


      ‘Fable. 

                           

‘Un loup à ce que dit l’histoire,

Voulut donner un jour des leçons à son fils, 

Et lui graver dans la mémoire,

Pour être honnéte loup, de beaux & bons avis.

Mon fills, luo disoit-il, dans ce désert sauvage,

A l’ombre des forêts vous passerez vos jours;  

Vous pourrez cependant avec les petits ours,

Goûter les doux plaifirs qu’on permet à votre âge.

Contentezz-vous du peu que j’amasse pour vous: 

Point de larcin; menes une innocente vie: 

Point de mauvaise compagnie: 

Choifissez pour amis les plus honnêtes loups. 

Ne vous démentez point, foyez toujours le même,

Ne satisfaites point vos appétits gloutons; 

Mon fils, jeunez plûtôt l’Avent &le Carême; [65] 

Que de fucer le fang des malheureux moutons; 

Car efin, ont commis ces immocens agneaux’

Au reste vous sçacez qu’il y va de la vie: 

D’énormes chines défendent les troupeaux.

Helas! Je m’en souviens, un jour votre grandpere,

Pour appaiser sa faim entra dans un Hameau:

Dès qu’on s’en apperçut: ô bête carnaciere,

Au loup, s’écria-t-on? L’un s’arme d’un hoyau,

L’autre prend une fourche, & mon pere eut beau faire.

Helas! il y laissa sa peau: 

De sa témerité ce fut là le falaire.

Sois sage à ses dépens, ne suis que la vertu,

Et ne sois point battant de peur d’être battu,

Si tu m’aimes, deteste un vice que j’abhorre. 

Le petit vit alors, dans la gueule du loup, 

De la laine & du sang qui dégoutoit encore, 

         ‘Il se mit à rire à ce coup. 

Comment, petit Fripon, dit le loupe n colore, 

         Comment vous reiz des avis

         Que vous donne ici votre pere!

Tu seras un Veaurien, va, je ta le predis:

Quoi! Se moquer déjà d’un conseil salutaire!

         L’autre répondit en riant, 

Mon pere, je ferai ce que je vous vois faire, 

         Votre Exemple Est Un Bon Garant.’ [66]