페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

have no place, where they are not named. There are women distinguished for genius and for literature; there are women of qur day notorious for struggles against their insignificance of position, and for eccentric and often repulsive efforts to change this, to them, humiliating state of things; but there are no historical American women. There are no records of women exercising actual power, possessing popular acknowledged weight; and we much doubt if they are in the way to get it, whatever theorists and modern philosophers may say. For is not society in America too shifting and restless a scene for female influence? Are the men who are engaged in perpetual party struggles, every year, almost every day of their lives, immersed in the ups and downs of politics, and thrown together constantly for these purposes, in a state for the slow, gradual, insinuating influence of woman? Much is said of the superior education of American women, of the vast range of science which their teaching leads them through, of the literature with which they are early imbued, and the languages in which they become adepts. In all these points it is insinuated that they are not unfrequently superior to their husbands and their brothers. But mere acquirements, the learning that may be attained before sixteen or eighteen, bring no great moral weight with them; it is not learning only, but learning joined with something else, that brings influence. In some circles in England (more especially the mercantile middle classes), the women devote more time to education, and are much more conversant with literature, than the men; but we do not see that their influence is greater in their own society or families for this difference in their favour. Such we apprehend to be the case in a wider sphere in America. The women read Dante and Goethe, and the men are occupied in business and politics, and trouble their heads with no language but their own. The attainments of their wives and daughters bring them no nearer to sharing this real power; there is no connexion between the two ideas. Some of them see this, and are willing to sacrifice accomplishments and elegancies for a place and a name.

It is this place which the women of America seem to want, and for the want of which they are to be pitied. Mary Wollstonecraft raved for a democracy, and attributed all the wrongs of her sex to an hereditary monarchy. She never made a greater mistake. Democracy is essentially against a woman's legitimate influence. The great comedian of Athens, in his most offensive plays, the Ecclesiazuse and Lysistrata, connects, truthfully enongh, the revolt of the Attic harem with the wildest periods of political anarchy. Woman's rule, wherever we see it in due exercise, is itself a little kingdom. She has dependants and

a

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

obedient subjects for whom she makes laws, and in proportion as these are obeyed, and her rule acknowledged, does her kingdom prosper. Whether Margaret Fuller knew it or not, here lies the reason of the differences she discovers between the women of her own day and those of the old monarchical times, while her country still owned King George's sway. • Women,' she says, ' are now taught at school all that men

are; they run over, superficially, even more studies, without ..being really taught anything. When they come to the business of life, they find themselves inferior, and all their studies have

not given them that practical good sense, and mother wisdom • and wit, which grew up with our grandmothers at the spinning

wheel.' These grandmothers ruled their households; but what kingdom has an American woman? where are her subjects ? She married early, probably, and perhaps began her conjugal life in a boarding-house-an effectual blow to the wife's domestic authority over her husband, her first subject. But if she takes house, where are her legitimate subjects, her servants, over whom, exercising a wise and beneficent control, —not labouring but directing-constantly acting in a superior capacity, she is learning the art of power? In Ămerica women are the victims of their servants, who disown the title, and with it the subjection. She has children, but from infancy the principles of democracy and restless liberty are at work to nullify the mother's authority, or at least to remove them prematurely from it, and the whole practice of society is to make children independent of their parents.

Let us illustrate and endeavour to prove these positions from various sources. We may appeal to some prejudiced ones, but they are matters of notoriety. The system of living in boardinghouses is taken for granted in all American pictures of manners. Mrs. Trollope thus expresses herself on the effect the custom has on the domestic influence of women ::- I can hardly imagine “a contrivance more effectual for ensuring the insignificance of « a woman than marrying her at seventeen, and placing her in a boarding-house.' Then follows a history of a day at one of these places, concluding with the comment:

It is not thus that the women can obtain that influence in society which is allowed to them in Europe, and to which both sages and men of the world have agreed in ascribing such salutary effects. It is vain that “ collegiate institutes” are formed for young ladies, or that “ academic degrees” are conferred upon them. It is after marriage, when these young attempts upon all the sciences are forgotten, that the lamentable insignificance of American women appears.'-Mrs. Trollope's America, vol. ii. p. 80.

This lady's lively strictures upon the little influence of women on society in America are probably in the memory of our

6

readers; we will not therefore adduce more from her

pen.

Nor will they have forgotten the troubles so graphically recorded by our country woman arising from the independent class of helps.' American writers themselves are eloquent upon the evils of the present aversion to domestic service, as derogatory to their dignity, which characterises the poorer classes in America ; and from all these we gather that the ladies of that country still suffer from the same inconvenience. Mr. Theodore Parker, as a theorist, argues that in the present advanced state of science American women have an immense deal of time upon their hands unemployed, and indulges in the following comparison between past and present:

• When all manufactures were domestic—when every garment was made at home, every web wove at home, every thread spun at home, every fleece dyed at home when the husband provided the wool or the sheepskin, and the wife made it into a coat-when the husband brought home a sack of corn on a mule's back, and the wife pounded it in a mortar, or ground it between two stones, as in the Old Testament—then the domestic function might rell consume all the time of a very able-headed woman. But now. a-days, when so much work is done abroad—when the flour-mills of Rochester and Boston take the place of the pestle and mortar, and the hand-mill of the Old Testament-when Lowell and Lawrence are two enormous Old Testament women, spinning and weaving year out and year in, day and night both—when so much of woman's work is done by the butcher and the baker, by the tailor, and the cook, and the gas-maker, and she is no longer obliged to dip or mould with her own hands every candle that “goeth not out by night,” as in the Old Testament woman's housekeeping-you see how very much of woman's time is left for other functions. This will become yet more the case, Ere long, a great deal of lofty science will be applied to housekeeping, and work be done by other than human hands in the house, as out of it. And accordingly, you see that the class of women not wholly taken up by the domestic function will get larger and larger.'—The Public Function of Woman, pp. 8, 9.

As a theory, this is plausible. Indeed it would be true if women, freed from their household labours, were content to live on in the homely way necessary when all these cares fell upon them. But as it is human nature to rise in our desires as our facilities increase, as a taste for elegancies and luxuries will come with the wealth to obtain them, and as fashion is infectious, we find that the ambition of American ladies to equal in style of living their sisters of the old world, entails upon them the same amount of labour as before, only bestowed upon different objects, and without the same amount of help that formerly could be reckoned on. So far from its being a common idea that these labours are indeed lightened, the practical experience of a democracy tells quite a different tale. Mrs. Beecher Stowe is pathetic upon the loss of early bloom, and the ravages upon health and beauty, which the domestic toils of a modern American lady entail upon her :

• There is one thing more which goes a long way towards the continued health of these English ladies, and therefore towards their beauty, and that is the quietude and perpetuity of their domestic institutions. They do not, like us, fade their cheeks lying awakč nights, ruminating the awful question who shall do the washing next week, or who shall take the chambermaid's place who is going to be married, or that of the cook who has signified her intention of parting with the mistress. Their hospitality is never embarrassed hy the consideration that the whole kitchen cabinet may desert at the moment the guests arrive. They are not obliged to choose between washing their own dishes, or having their cut-glass, silver, and china left to the mercy of a foreigner, who has never done anything but field-work. And last, not least, they are not possessed with that ambition to do the impossible in all branches, which, I believe, is the death of a third of the women in America. What is there ever read of in books, or described in foreign travel, as attained by people in possession of every means and appliance, which our women will not undertake singlehanded, in spite of every providential indication to the contrary? Who is not cognisant of dinner parties invited, in which the lady of the house has figured successively as confectioner, cook, dining-room girl, and lastly, rushed up stairs to bathe her glowing cheeks, smoothe her hair, draw on satin dress and kid gloves, and appear in the drawing-room as if nothing were the matter? Certainly the undaunted bravery of our American females can never be enough admired. Other women can play gracefully the head of an establishment; but who, like them, could be head, hand, and foot all at once ?'-Sunny Memories, p. 251.

And again, writing from Paris, where she is visiting some compatriots, and admiring the smooth waxed floors as so suited to a hot climate, she asks if they could not be introduced into America:

L., who is a Yankee housekeeper, answered with spirit, “ No, indeed, not while the mistress of the house has everything to do as in America. I think I see myself, in addition to all my cares, on my knees waxing up one of these floors."

Ab,” says Caroline, “ the thing is better managed in Paris; the frotteur comes in before we are up in the morning, shod with great brushes, and dances over the floors till they shine."'-Ibid. p. 509.

These are her household cares, anxious, vexatious, absorbing, and yet so far undignified, that a wise woman will brood over them in secret, and say as little about them as may be. We have said that a mother's authority over her children is more short-lived in America than elsewhere, and never so stringent. For this we adduce not one book or one opinion, but the universal literature of America. Every book or story written for the instruction of young people that we have seen-and America is peculiarly prolific of these-practically ignores the mother's office, and teaches children to do without her altogether. They are all told to make themselves and each other good and wise. The mother has no hand in it. Little motherless girls, with only their own sense to guide them, are the salvation of households. They are wise, expert little women of business. They buy and sell, and conduct affairs. They are discreet in conduct, well-informed in mind, graceful in carriage, all without a mother's training. Indeed, we cannot call to mind a single mother beyond the first few pages of an American child's book, unless she happen to be an unwise one, whom the child has to reform. Jacob Abbot, author of · The Mother at Home,' has lately written a series of children's books, “ The Franconia Stories, all based on this motherless principle of showing children how they are to train one another. Some of the children must have parents, but they never seem to presume to exercise any control, and the children do perfectly well without it. The parental office might seem a superfluity; and it cannot play the same part, it cannot fill the general mind, in a society whose literature makes this grand omission, as it does with us; and besides, the fact of the early dispersion and independence of the sons, and early marriage of the daughters, would necessarily and without design conduce to the same unfavourable results. In both cases the mother has lost her charge, and sinks in importance.

Judging, then, not from observation, but from general report and from all these data, we see that the social position of American women is not as noble and dignified as it ought to be, and that those who desire a change have some plea ; though we believe the remedies they propose are neither practicable in any large sense, nor tolerable if they were.

It is not a little agreeable to our patriotism to perceive the envy with which our institutions are regarded by these candidates for emancipation. We have queens, regents, peeresses. They have hunted through our archives, and find that women may be anything with us, and bring to light facts which we certainly did not know to be such before. In more than one document it is stated that women in England may be parish clerks; and it gives no small idea of the eagerness for office amongst our fair neighbours, that this apocryphal distinction should be so coveted and dwelt on. The following list, gallantly collected by Mr. Higginson, may, perhaps, open a new view of their privileges to the ladies whom we hope to class among our readers :

In England, “in a reported case, it is stated by counsel, and substantially assented to by the court, that a woman is capable of serving in almost all the offices of the kingdom; such as those of queen, marshal, grand chamberlain, and constable of England, the champion of England, commissioner of sewers, governor of a workhouse, sexton (parish clerk), keeper of the prison, of the gate-house of the Dean and Chapter of WestIninster, returning officer for members of Parliament, and constable, the latter of which is in some respects judicial. The office of gaoler is frequently exercised by a woman." '-Woman and her Wishes, p. 12. Going on' to cite examples of noble dames in our chronicles,

« 이전계속 »