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ordinary rules of conduct, and exchanging that conservative practical good sense which we have always thought a feminine attribute, for the new, untried ground of theory, for extravagant assumption, and argument founded on abstract reasoning, it becomes necessary to inquire into the causes of the phenomenon, and to ascertain, before we apply indiscriminate blame, whether there may not be some social injustice pressing hard on certain tempers—some fault of position giving reasonable ground of dissatisfaction, and perhaps at the root of these discontents. That such social injustice does exist in America, depriving woman of her natural weight and influence, we have endeavoured to show while adducing local causes for the evil; may there not be errors in our social economy, producing, though in a less degree, unfavourable results ?
The party in England have published (as furnishing arguments for their cause) a brief summary of the English laws concerning women,' showing especially the loss of all independent rights of person or property suffered by the wife. It is the married woman who, according to this view, is the victim of injustice. She ceases to exist, and great point is laid on this legal disappearance from the human family, this absorption into another stronger being, as though a degradation of which the victim must be always conscious. We are far from denying that where the husband grossly fails in his duty, and casts aside all respects, he is enabled to play the tyrant to terrible purpose, and yet keep within the limits of the law. Something has been done to protect women of the lowest class from a husband's brutality; something has no doubt still to be done to relieve women in a higher position from this worst of all oppressions. But no man can ill-use his wife and retain his place in public estimation; he cannot make his wife miserable without, at the same time, himself being held contemptible or odious. Public opinion is dead against him. No impartial observer of English society can say that the position of the English wife is affected by these exceptional cases, or show that anything is wanting as a general rule to her dignity, honour, or happiness. No other country can be pointed out, where woman, including in herself the offices of wife, mother, mistress, and director of social intercourse, has a nobler sphere for the exercise of her faculties, or stands higher in the respect of mankind.
According, however, to those legal tests of woman's position, that of the unmarried woman is the most satisfactory. 'A woman
of twenty-one becomes an independent human creature, capable • of holding and administering property to any amount ; or if she * can earn money, she may appropriate her earnings freely to any purpose she thinks good. Her father has no power over her or
' her property. But if she unites herself to a man, the law im' mediately steps in, and she finds herself legislated for, and her
condition of life suddenly and entirely changed. Whatever age • she may be of, she is again considered an infant-she is again
under reasonable restraint. She loses her separate existence, ' and is merged in that of her husband.' All this is true enough, but there are laws of feeling prior to laws of the land ; and it is by those natural estimates that the question of the most aggrieved is truly decided; and we believe, whatever quarrel may be found against certain laws, that the real blame of what is amiss rests with public opinion, and that the sufferers are not the married, on whom our enactments are supposed to press so hard, but these same independent and comparatively free single women. Women always have been, and, it is no bold prophecy to say, they always will be, more dependent on public opinion than men; and this great power does certainly interfere to depress single women as a class, and withhold them from a free, natural development into usefulness and honour. The term applied to them is one of disparagement, from which too many women have shrunk, and sacrificed all that was best worth living for, from dread of being called an old maid. This is an old tale, and a very trite complaint; but a name would not have the influence it is acknowledged on all hands to have, did not public opinion contribute to the formation of the character it holds up to derision, by condemning women of mature age, if they would keep their station to a life of indolence.
One difference between male and female nature is a natural love in women for occupation: we do not say hard or repulsive labour, but work. The curse upon labour was not spoken to them, and this immunity-if we may call it so—is typified in the different uses by the two sexes of this very word.
A woman's 'work'is her pleasure, her refreshment, without which her most unrestrained hours would miss some of their charm. She applies it to light, easy, manual occupation. A man's work' is his duty, the sweat of his brow. His repose comes after it is over. Thus, even an industrious man spends some hours of every day doing nothing; his wife finds something for her hands to do all the day long. In youth and girlhood this necessity finds ample indulgence in light, graceful employments; in the cultivation of accomplishments—even, it may be, in what so disgusted the high-minded American young lady, 'making pretty things' for herself and her friends to wear. Then commonly comes marriage, and the more responsible occupations of mature life succeed naturally, leaving no void. But if a woman does not marry, the time comes when accomplishments are acquired, or given up, when they cease to be a pursuit filling much time,
when light employments lose some of their grace, when ‘pretty things to wear'should not occupy the mind of the wearer, when graver cares and weightier occupations would become her well; and from these public opinion, with one or two exceptions, debars her. She is expected and required to tend the sick and feeble amongst her own relations; the task 'to smoothe the pillow of declining age' is hers, and she may devote her energies to the poor, and she is happy and honoured in both these occupations; but beyond them she cannot em-, ploy herself in practical absorbing employment, without losing caste. Even if she be comparatively poor, in narrow circumstances, her family would rather she continued the prey of little cares, and be forced all her life to small shifts, than that by any occupation, even that of tuition, she enlarged her income. Any occupation, in trade or official service, such as her brothers pursue, would sink her in the social scale. If she would stand well with her acquaintance, and be acknowledged by them, she must not attempt to earn money. Whatever her energies or capabilities, she would better please her relations, those on whom her comfort depends and her affections rest, by remaining inactive, than by turning them to any profitable account. Literature may be held an exception ; but it can neither be regarded seriously as a paying occupation, nor thought of simply as something to do without more express qualifications. Thus, that industry which we have spoken of as a feminine characteristic, is denied free action, or left to prey upon itself. And all personal peculiarities, which a busy life would keep under just as the cares of married life keep them under, are left to develop, and become unpleasing exaggerations in uncongenial leisure. This is an evil—if it be granted to be an evil—which no laws can remove. Any change must be gradual. It is difficult even to those most alive to it to propose a remedy; for society is so complicated a body, every detail of it so depending on every other, that changes in it always seem practical impossibilities, Yet the fact of a class of intelligent human beings condemned to inactivity in a busy community—not because their nature chooses idleness, nor because society fosters and respects them for it, but because gentility requires this self-immolation—is at least a just subject for speculation and inquiry. The question of nunneries, sisterhoods, and the like, is not relevant here. These imply a vocation which few can be supposed to have, and society would indeed be a loser if its best, most self-devoted, able, genial single women, were withdrawn from their natural sphere, and collected into compact organized bodies. Nor does what we say apply to rich persons. Money always secures respect enough, and, what is better for this argument, it gives some
thing to do. A single woman of independent fortune has a place in society, and may be an iroportant and influential member of it. We are speaking for that class, be it large or small, whom we need not further define, towards which society has always been most hard and unsympathising, and who are legislated for in its parliament without being allowed representatives or a voice.
We need scarcely say we are not advocating for ladies, single or otherwise, an admission to the learned professions. We do not desire to see them preachers, doctors, or lawyers ; indeed, our own sex furnishes more than enough in all these departments, and the principle of self-defence comes in. We cannot doubt, however, that society might be so organized, with a view to the capabilities and powers of its members, as to find suitable employment for all. Nor are we bound to believe any acknowledged evil necessary, because we cannot suggest a sure remedy.
The heaviest complaints of oppression, however,-to return to the grievances which form our subject-are made on the condition of married women. The law does not forbid spinsters earning money, nor keeping it when earned; but in the other case the wife earns money, it is said, for the husband to spend. The law will not allow her a separate purse. She has nothing, and can have nothing, of her own; and cases of great hardship are adduced, both in England and America, where a woman's hard-won money supports the husband in disgraceful extravagance. All these evils are laid to the blame of the lau. But does the law do more than acknowledge that great primary law of the marriage state, they twain shall be one flesh?'and could it interfere and make provision for imprudent, illadvised, and worldly marriages, and secure the wife from the natural consequences of a bad choice, whether made for her or by herself, wilfully or in ignorance, without weakening the strength of that most sacred tie in all cases, and impairing the impression of unity of interests, so essential to perfect unity of thought and feeling? No law can prevent an unfortunate marriage being the utmost evil that can befal a woman, though it could certainly mitigate some of its consequences. But the knowledge of a careful protection, by the law, of pecuniary interests, might encourage recklessness of choice, and might also remove some salutary checks on the indulgence of temper, discontent, and the whole train of matrimonial
miseries. Other countries are adduced—France, Turkey, Hungary–where the laws of property are much more in favour of the wife; but we believe facts would fully show that in those countries marriages are neither so happy nor the wife so honoured and so secure as in our own. But leaving the question of the disposition of inherited property, great point is made, as we have said, of the right of married women to the uncontrolled use of their own earnings, on the supposition that women of the higher classes might find time, in addition to their household cares, to pursue some regular employment or profession. Mr. Parker especially instances preaching and the practice of medicine as suitable occupations for the mistress of a family. And other American authorities are rejoicing that the law has its female advocates. These peculiar pursuits sound as yet impossible extremes to English ears; but they are some amongst many means of earning money; and it is on this pecuniary ground alone that we now object to the suggestion. We believe that any additional encouragement to married women to devote themselves to earning money would be an evil.
It is very well for men intent on a theory to suppose, that because in some things the labours of women are lightened, therefore the mother and mistress of a family has indefinitely more time at her command than was formerly the case. We assert confidently, with no fear of contradiction from any competent to judge, that there is now, as there always has been, and we doubt not always will be, occupation for all the best energies of even a gifted woman in the due performance of her conjugal, maternal, household, and social duties; and also that no household is conducted as well as it might and ought to be, where a woman's best powers are not devoted to her husband, her children, and her home. We say her best powers—all that is most choice, gifted, and original. If there is any part of herself that she withholds from these claimants, and devotes to some other purpose; if there is any channel for exertion and display for which she circumscribes and curtails her home efforts ; if she is ever tempted to keep her second best for home, in order to lavish her affluence and freshness elsewhere, to weary herself in another service, and bestow only her worn-out energies on this smaller scene; if she ever suffers other spheres of so-called duty to interfere with the highest excellence she is capable of in these primary obligations; or if she allow talent and genius to tempt her into regarding as drudgery the work nature and Heaven have laid out for her,—she betrays her trust, and errs fatally in that very article of duty most paramount and essential. And what a temptation to this error does the suggestion of an independent calling and separate interests offer! No doubt talent and genius, power of any kind, are designed for as wide a field as they can occupy, without forsaking this central point of home; and cases of gifted women will occur to every one, who have furthered the interests of their family while benefiting