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As from all their functions he chose the fatal one “to please man,” for the beginning and end of their lives, so from among their qualities and capacities he falls back on their physical weakness as the one which shall settle their rôle in life. At the lowest estimate, so he argues, women are dependent on men for the satisfaction of their actual necessities. His plea is might taking the place of right in its crudest form ; men have the greater share of strength, therefore if they wish they can starve women. He disregards the inherent improbability of men ever wishing to do so, because this particular thesis is so convenient, it works in so excellently with the exalted chosen function--"la femme est faite spécialement pour plaire à l'homme.”
In a world where brute force is to reign triumphant, the stupidest of us can see that a woman's first and perhaps last line of defence would be the capacity to please. Where morality and justice go for nothing, where there is no virtue but force, it becomes roughly true that “il ne suffit pas qu'elles soient estimables, il faut qu'elles soient estimées : il ne leur suffit pas d'être belles, il faut qu'elles plaisent : il ne leur suffit pas d'être sages, il faut qu'elles soient reconnues pour telles.”
Yet revelling in this most crude and brutal form of male omnipotence, Rousseau appears to forget conveniently that in destroying women men destroy the race; in rendering them servile, they ruin all joy and spontaneity in life. Yet it is upon this theory of making women pleasing, and only pleasing, to men, that he builds his system of women's education.
He passes over the problems of physical education lightly; the girl is allowed physical exercises like a boy, but with a difference: a boy's exercises are designed to produce strength, a girl's charm. Even the modicum of strength which he allots to a woman is not for her own benefit, but for that of her sons. When he turns to other matters he lays down the amazing
proposition that nearly every little girl hates learning to read and write, but loves needlework. This he says is a path smoothed by nature; let Sophie “cut out,” embroider, make lace. One is not concerned to argue that it is not very desirable that all girls should know how to “cut out” and sew; the point is that to some it will prove an attractive, to others an unattractive task, a fact which escaped Rousseau's notice, if indeed his cursory glance in the direction of women and girls can be called “notice" at all.
He goes on to argue, with a breadth quite delightful in him, that good sense—in spite of the wags—belongs to both sexes; hence he deprecates useless occupations, producing no results. He will not have girls idle: idleness and intractability are the most dangerous faults in women. Hence, he says, make them work, and always at useful occupations. The aim which Galiani set before the whole youth of the human race, that all should learn to bear injustice, and to endure ennui, Rousseau keeps for women only. Education he designs to teach them to endure boredom: but this boredom is not to enter their work, and leave their pleasures untouched “as in vulgar educational schemes,” but it is to be with them always, everywhere, till “habitual constraint” issues at last “in that docility which they will need throughout life.” Gentleness is praised as a woman's first, supreme virtue, not for her husband's sake but for her own, kicking against the pricks only deepens the wound; and he rounds off his observations with the remark that the cunning of women compensates them for their lack of physical strength. A perusal of this strange fifth book arouses in a reader's mind the question whether in the whole range of literature there is a writer more brutally callous to women and children than Rousseau.
Then à propos of nothing in particular, and in contravention of everything he has written or is going to write, he elaborates a sudden theory that man + woman becomes a moral being, woman being the eye, man the arm, so “the woman learns from the man what to see, the man from the woman what
No one can be surprised by Rousseau's statement that every woman is to take her religion on authority, and such authority too. As it is not a matter of reason,-Rousseau scornfully interpolates the remark “if one had to wait to discuss such matters methodically, one would risk never speaking to a woman about it ”—as it is not a matter of reason, it can be begun early. Unlike Émile,—the type of every boy,—“Every daughter should have her mother's religion; every wife her husband's. Should the religion chance to be false, the docility which submits daughter and wife to the natural order wipes out the fault in God's sight.”
After Sophie has been subjected to the system invented by Rousseau, she appears to possess the following merits. She is well-born (this may be a matter merely of wise selection), she has an amiable disposition ; she is not strictly beautiful, but possesses charm. She likes and understands pretty clothes, having acted as her mother's maid. She walks gracefully, she has learnt singing from her father, dancing from her mother, while the neighbouring organist has left his natural vocation to teach her to play upon the harpsichord : she can moreover do beautiful needlework, and understands the details of housekeeping, two graces for which the reader feels profoundly thankful. But she seems to spoil even these latter accomplishments, so useful and desirable in themselves, by an unfortunate tendency to finick: all the dinner might fall into the fire rather than she should stain her cuff; and for similar reasons she will not garden. This is passed over lightly as all her mother's fault : from Sophie's infancy that good lady has exaggerated somewhat the virtue of cleanliness. Yet it is from this injudicious mother that Sophie is to take her religion, her soul being apparently a matter of less moment than her cuff or her fingers. Naturally, this paragon of women was a glutton, a fault she has most fortunately overcome; but not till she had been told with great frequency that sweets ruin the teeth, and over-eating the figure,—-motives charged with fine morality.
She is not, one is glad to learn, “absolutely placid”: she is not free from caprice. She can even sulk, but leave her alone, says Rousseau, she will come round. Sophie's religion is described as reasonable and simple, with few dogmas and fewer devotional practices; yet-although it seems unlikelyshe devotes her whole life to serving God by doing good, which apparently in Rousseau's eyes is not a devotional practice. She loves virtue, though one does not see why: she realises the respective rights and responsibilities of the two sexes (i.e. after the Gospel according to Jean Jacques); she (like Rousseau) has little knowledge of the world, but she is accommodating and gracious, and she appears to be able to hold her tongue. After all this, one is hardly surprised to learn that Sophie “a l'esprit agréable sans être brillant, et solide sans être profonde.”
Here then, set forth at length, is Rousseau's philosophy of feminine education, and then its finest flower-Sophie. The statement of it suffices for its condemnation. If anything further be needed to prove its gratuitous folly it may be found in the remembrance that Madame d'Epinay was for many years among Rousseau's familiar friends.
MADAME D’ÉPINAY was born on the 11th of March, 1726; she died, fifty-seven years later, on the 15th of April, 1783.
Readers of those Mémoires, which M. Bourgeois has described as “la confession d'une société qui se laisserait surprendre au milieu de ses entretiens les plus intimes,” will find it hard to realise that so much energy, activity, suffering and wit could have been packed into so few short years. A brilliant member of that brilliant circle which numbered among the rest Diderot, Rousseau, Grimm and Galiani, she came, through the timely counsel of Grimm, and after divagations and hesitations, to rely at last on her own finely poised judgment, which itself issued from a penetration unusually keen, exercising itself in an unceasing tireless analysis of men and things.
Introduced to Grimm by Rousseau when she was twentyfive, she seems to have found in him at once a kindred spirit, for by the end of the first evening of their acquaintance she has already shewn him “quelques morceaux de ma composition qui m'ont paru lui faire plaisir®.” Six years later, in 1757, he has become her chief adviser, and with a modesty which, in such a
1 Mémoires de Madame d'Épinay, 2 vols., Bibliothèque-Charpentier. Conversations d'Émilie, 2 vols., Paris (Humblot), 1781. Lettres de l'Abbé Galiani, 2 vols., Bibliothèque-Charpentier.
2 Mémoires, Vol. 1. p. 403.