« FöregåendeFortsätt »
earthly passion will but distort her being; she struggles all in vain against a divine appointment, and sinks into more woful servitude, and the primeval curse weighs a thousand fold upon her, and the primeval companionship perishes. But bowing beneath that law which sounded through the darkening Paradise, she wins for her dower the only freedom that is worthy of woman—the moral liberty which God bestows upon the faithful and obedient spirit. It is from the soil of meekness that the true strength of womanhood grows, and it is because it has its root in such a soil that it has a growth so majestic, showering its blossoms and its fruits upon the world. Her influence follows man from the cradle to the grave, and the sphere of it is the whole region of humanity. We marvel at the might of it, because its tranquil triumphs are so placid and so noiseless, and penetrating into the deep places of our nature. It was the sun and the wind that in the fable strove for the mastery, and the strife was for a traveller's cloak; the quiet moon had naught to do with such fierce rivalry of the burning or the blast, but as in her tranquil orbit she journeys round the earth, silently sways the tides of the ocean.
There probably can be found no better test of civilization than the prevailing tone of feeling and opinion with regard to womanhood, and the recognition of woman's influences and social position. There may be the rude use of woman in barbaric life, or the frivolous uses of an over-civilized society. There may be the high-wrought adulation of an age of chivalry, which, so far as it is a sentiment of idolatry, is at once false and pernicious ; or there may be that wise and well-adjusted sense of affectionate reverence of womanhood, which is thoughtful
of the vast variety of human companionship-matronly, maidenly, sisterly, daughterly. In woman, there may be a true sense of sex, its duties and its claims, meekness with its hidden heroism ; or there may be the unfeminine temper, fit to be rebuked by the Desdemona model.* Such a rebuke
may be apposite where female character disfigures itself by obtrusiveness and self-sufficiency and pedantry. But, as far as my observation goes, that is not the state of society here; on the contrary, there is needed an effort much more difficult than repressing the froward; and that is, to lift modest, intelligent, sensitive womanhood above the dread of the ridicule of pedantry. Manly culture would gain by it as well as womanly. I heard lately from a woman's lips one of the finest pieces of Shakspeare criticism I ever met with ; admirable in imagination and in the true philosophy of criticism, and yet uttered in conversation in the easy, natural intercourse of society.† Such should be the culture of woman, and such the tone of society, that these fine processes of womanly thought and feeling may mingle naturally with men's judgments.
There may be a social condition in which womanly
* With regard to the Desdemona model, it must also be remembered that it is not the only model of womanly character which the poet has left to the world ; on the contrary, he has given others of equal worth and beauty, varied to the infinite variety of womanly duty. Indeed, what a woman ought to do often depends upon what man does, and very often, too, on what he leaves undone : so that, while it may be her duty to bow “like the gentle lady married to the Moor,” man's wrongs or his omissions may call her to other dutiesgoing forth, like Imogen, for womanly well-doing in the open and rude places of the earth.
H. R. † Mrs. Kemble.
culture is in advance of the manly, and then the woman is placed in the sad dilemma of either lowering the tone of her own thoughts, or of raising the minds of men and their habits of thought-a task that demands all of womanly sagacity and gentleness, and is a trial to womanly modesty. The companionship of the sexes is important in the culture of each, and by such communion the marvellous harmony of diverse qualities is made more perfect for the strength and beauty of their common humanity. One of the latest strains of English poetry has well proclaimed
“The woman's cause is man's: they rise or sink
Together, dwarf'd or godlike, bond or free:
(She must) “Live, and learn, and be
* I quote from that late poem of Mr. Tennyson's, “ The Princess," which has made a deep impression on the thoughtful criticism of his
I have been tempted further into this subject than I meant to be, but what I have said respecting the companionship of the sexes can have no better illustration than in the study of literature. All that is essential literature belongs alike to mind of woman and of man; it demands the same kind of culture from each, and most salutary may the companionship of mind be found, giving reciprocal help by the diversity of their power. Let us see how this will be. In the first place, a good habit of reading, whether in man or woman, may be described as the combination of passive recipiency from the book and the mind's reaction upon it: this equipoise is true culture. But, in a great deal of reading, the passiveness of impression is well nigh all, for it is luxurious indolence, and the reactive process is neglected. With the habitual
countrymen, and which has been described as having for its leading purpose the exhibiting the true idea and dignity of womanhood. I will not part from it without citing that other fine tribute to womanly influence-a manly acknowledgment full of deep thought and of true feeling, when he speaks of
novel-reader, for instance, the luxury of reading becomes a perpetual stimulant, with no demand on the mind's own energy, and slowly wearing it away. The true enjoyment of books is when there is a co-operating power in the reader's mind—an active sympathy with the book; and those are the best books which demand that of you. And here let me notice how unfortunate and, indeed, mischievous a term is the word “ taste” as applied in intercourse with literature or art; a metaphor taken from a passive sense, it fosters that lamentable error, that literature, which requires the strenuous exertion of action and sympathy, may be left to mere passive impressions. The temptation to receive an author's mind unreflectingly and passively is common to us all, but greater, I believe, for women, who gain, however, the advantages of a readier sympathy and a more unquestioning faith. The man's mind reacts more on the book, sets himself more in judgment upon it, and trusts less to his feelings; but, in all this, he is in more danger of bringing his faculties separately into action: he is more apt to be misled by our imperfect systems of metaphysics, which give us none but the most meagre theories of the human mind, and which are destined, I believe, to be swept away, if ever a great philosopher should devote himself to the work of analyzing the processes of thought. That pervading error of drawing a broad line of demarcation between our moral and intellectual nature, instead of recognising the intimate interdependence of thought and feeling, is a fallacy that scarce affects the workings of a woman's spirit. If a gifted and cultivated woman take a thoughtful interest in a book, she brings her whole being to bear on it, and hence there will often be a better assurance of truth in