Mitchell Carroll.

Woman: in all ages and in all countries online

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London " had already begun to possess that fascination
for the weak in morals, the light-headed and frivolous,
which has made them a wrecker's beacon on a rockbound
shore, luring to destruction untold hosts of inexperienced
country youth. Nor was the drift Londonward due alto-
gether to the fascination which the gay and pleasure-
pandering city possessed, for there were not wanting
methods of enticement such as are still employed, in spite
of legal penalties. The example of city dwellers of out-
ward respectability did not tend to elevate the moral tone
of those who came fresh from the country, with its purer
home life; for while the sanctity of the home was an
appreciable fact of the seventeenth century, it was much
less so in the metropolis and in the cities generally than
it was in the country.

A notorious fact that attracted the notice of conti>
nental visitors to England was that lax morality prevailed
in many English families. Muralt, a Frenchman, even
asserts that he found it customary for husbands generally
to maintain mistresses and also to bring them to their
homes and place them on a footing \A'ith their wives.
This is doubtless an exaggerated statement of the case;
but when the king was not faultless, the people were apt
to pursue folly. Although no king after Charles II., ex-
cept George II., disgraced the nation by the profligacy
which he exhibited, yet Charles's successor, James II.,
kept a mistress, as did most of the kings following him.


Referring again to Fielding, we get what is probably a
truer picture of the times in this respect than could be
penned from the hasty observations of a traveller. A
young fellow who has led astray his landlady's daughter is
addressed by his uncle in the following manner: " Honour
is a creature of the world's making, and the world has
the power of a creator over it, and may govern and direct
it as they please. Now, you well know how trivial these
breaches of contract are thought; even the grossest make
but the wonder and conversation of the day. Is there a
man who afterwards will be more backward in giving you
his sister or daughter, or is there any sister or daughter
who would be more backward to receive you? Honour is
not concerned in these engagements." It need not be
supposed that such sentiments were general; but that
they were all too prevalent is manifested by the literature
that mirrors the times.

Drinking and swearing, the coarse associations of the
alehouse, the obscene jokes and sallies which were in-
dulged in freely in such places and made up a great part
of the conversation, were conducive to a very low moral
standard for men, and there was nothing in the times to
lead women to uphold higher ideals of conduct than those
which were imposed upon them by the male sex. Con-
sequently, they were accustomed to a lower standard than
would be tolerated to-day; but as libertinism was largely
concerned with the outcast element of society, the women
of the homes were not called upon to sacrifice integrity of
character for its satisfaction. So that the lower moral
standard was set up for men, and a woman who would
attempt at once to maintain her respectability and follow
such courses would very soon have found that difference
in standards for the sexes visited a stricter condemnation
upon her than upon the male delinquent.


The testimony of foreigners to the chastity of the Eng'
lish matron quite coincides with that which comes from
English sources. Le Blanc remarks: " Most of those who
among us pass for men of good fortune in amours would
with difficulty succeed in addressing an English fair. She
would not sooner be subdued by the insinuating softness
of their jargon than by the amber with which they are
perfumed." Another observer, of the same nationality,
speaking of the unassailability of the English woman,
attributes it to the insurmountable rampart which she had
in the love for her family, the care of her household, and
her natural gravity, and says that he does not know any
city in the world where the honor of husbands is in less
danger of deflection than in London.

The social hypocrisy of the eighteenth century, as it
relates to woman, was due to the failure as yet to place
the sex in correct adjustment with the times. Instead of
considering her as having serious qualities and value other
than the realization of matrimony, everything that entered
into woman's life pointed in that one direction. The art
of pleasing was not cultivated as an opportunity of the
sex due to their special graces of spirit and of person,
which might legitimately be employed for their own sake
to make the world happier and brighter. There was not
afforded to men the restfulness and pleasure in the company
of women which would serve as a delightful foil to the prac-
tical and anxious cares of their daily lives; nor were women
taught to believe in themselves as capable persons in the
spheres of life in which feminine personality, taste, and
touch best affect and mould civilization. Except in a few
notable cases, literature and art, to say nothing of science,
were outside of woman's sphere, because she neither be-
lieved in herself nor was seriously regarded by men as a
factor in any of the wide relations of life other than those


which were involved in her sex. The arts of the toilette,
conversation, and deportment were all in which she was
considered to need to be adept. Where naturalness was
suppressed, it is not strange that the young women should
have been influenced by false standards; false modesty,
false sensitiveness, false ignorance, were depended upon
to give them the artlessness and innocence of deportment
which should recommend them to the blase men of the

The estimate in which the sex was held was not quietly
accepted by all women; although the new woman had not
appeared upon the horizon, there were not wanting women
who realized that their position was a humiliating one, and
who sought to create a sentiment for its betterment.
Mary Astell was one such, and the case as presented by
her shows the superficiality of the conventional routine of
a woman's life. She says: " When a young lady is taught"
to value herself on nothing but her cloaths, and to think
she's very fine when well accoutred; when she hears say,
that 'tis wisdom enough for her to know how to dress her-
self, that she may become amiable in his eyes to whom it
appertains to be knowing and learned; who can blame her
if she lays out her industry and money for such accomplish-
ments, and sometimes extends it farther than her misin-
former desires she should.' . . . If from our infancy
we are nurs'd upon ignorance and vanity; are taught to
be proud and petulant, delicate and fantastick, humourous
and inconstant, 'tis not strange that the ill effects of this
Conduct appear in all the future actions of our lives. . . .
That, therefore, women are unprofitable to most, and a
plague and dishonor to some men, is not much to be re-
gretted on account of the men, because 'tis the product of
"their folly in denying them the benefits of an ingenuous
and liberal education, the most effectual means to direct


them into, and secure their progress in, the ways of

A French writer criticised the Englishmen of the day
for their failure to avail themselves of the refining influ-
ence of women, in whose graces, he affirmed, there could
be found constant charm and a certain sweetness peculiar
to the sex. He said that the conversation of the women
would polish and soften the manners of the men and en-
able them to contract a manner and tone which would be
agreeable to both sexes; and he ascribed the bluntness of
the English character to this lack of the refining influence
of female society.

As women were left so largely to their own devices,
failing the comradeship of men, they gave themselves over
to the needle as the chief resource for idle hours. The
Female Spectator protested against this excessive needle-
work on the part of women: "Nor can I by any means
approve of your compelling young ladies of fortune to
make so much use of the needle, as they did in former
days, and some few continue to do. ... It always
makes me smile when I hear the mother of fine daughters
say: '1 always keep my girls at their needle;' one, perhaps,
is working her a gown, another a quilt for a bed, and a
third engaged to make a whole dozen shirts for her father.
And then, when she had carried you into the nursery and
shown you them all, add: ' It is good to keep them out of
idleness; when young people have nothing to do, they
naturally wish to do something they ought not.' " With
such a narrow circle of interest, it was not strange that
women who had leisure should have wasted it in frivolity.

Gambling among women of fashion was more a result
of too much leisure and too little intellectual stimulus than
an indication of vicious propensities. Tlie Female Spectator.
from which we have quoted, in an article in 1745, relating


an account of the visit of a country lady to a London
friend, furnishes an illustration of the extent and effects of
the vice. The article recites that after knocking a consid-
erable time at the door of her friend's house, — the hour
was between eleven and twelve o'clock in the day, — a
footman, with his nightcap on and a general appearance of
having risen from the dead, responded to her inquiry for
her friend, in the interim of his yawns: "We had a racquet
here last night, and my lady cannot possibly be stirring
these three hours." The surprised visitor refrained from
asking any questions concerning this unintelligible answer,
and, after leaving her name, returned again at three
o'clock. She had the good fortune to be admitted, and
found her friend at her chocolate. She had a dish of this
in one hand, and with the other she seemed to have been
busy in sorting a large pile of guineas, which she had
divided in two heaps on the table before her. Rising, she
greeted her visitor with great civility, and expressed regret
at the larter's disappointment on first calling, saying, with
a smile, that when her friend had been a little longer in
town, she would lie longer in bed in the morning. She
then enlightened her as to the term " racquet," telling her
that when the number assembled for cards exceeded ten
tables the game was so styled; if fewer, it was called a
"rout"; and if there were but two tables, it was a "drum."
It must always appear a curious and an unfortunate cir-
cumstance that at the time of the great industrial awaken-
ing in England in the last half of the eighteenth century,
when men, women, and children were losing their indi-
viduality and becoming mere industrial units, representing
so many pounds of human energy to be added to a machine,
the women and children of the factories and of the hovels
of the factory towns cried piteously to the Church for bread
and received but a stone. And this was at a time when the


social needs were so great and the sympathies of all other
classes seemed to be alienated by diversity of interest
from those who were called upon to toil for the making of
England's wealth. Professor Thorold Rogers, the pains-
taking and acute investigator of England's industry, says
with regard to the lethargy which constituted a veritable
Dark Age for the English Church: "It is hard indeed to
see what there is to relieve the darkness of the picture
which the Anglican Church presents from the death of
Queen Anne to the time of the Evangelical Revival. Over
against the Anglican Church, formal, jealous of laymen,
fearful of schism or irregularity, should be set the noncon-
formist churches." Although there was a great deal of
religious enthusiasm in the religious communities of the
Commonwealth, the principal branches of the Protestant
nonconformists soon became wedded to their own systems,
and, in a way, as narrow in their application of the prin-
ciples of the New Testament as the church from which
they had separated. It was not until the last quarter of
the seventeenth century that a movement began which
opened the way to lines of development which have been
going on ever since. The vast number of present-day
religious societies, whether in direct connection with the
Church or outside of its pale, may be traced in some ways
to the period just before and during the reign of William III.
Then arose societies for the reformation of manners in
all parts of the kingdom. These societies represented the
£arly stirring of the spirit of reform which found its ex-
pression in so many forms of activity in later times. They
resembled somewhat the modern societies for the correc-
tion of social evils, such as societies for the prevention of
vice, or societies for preventing the corrupting of the youth.
It was all done under the impulse of religion, but was not
initiated by the Church; it was a lay movement. The first


distinctively women's movements in religious matters were
outside of the Church. The great preacher Whitfield
attracted the attention of the Countess of Huntingdon,
whose drawing rooms were thrown open for his preaching
and were filled by fashionable auditors. Other titled
women joined the countess, and among them was the
famous Duchess of Marlborough. The interest of noble-
women in a movement essentially plebeian has its parallel
in the nineteenth century, when the Salvation Army en-
listed the interest and support of women of rank and title.

The attitude of the countess in her loyal support of the
new evangelical movement brought her under the criticism
that is always encountered by a zeal which is not under-
stood by people generally. The Duchess of Buckingham
wrote to her: " 1 thank your Ladyship for the information
concerning the Methodist preachers; their doctrines are
most repulsive, and strongly tinctured with impertinence
and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually en-
deavouring to level all ranks and do away with all dis-
tinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart
as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.
This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but
wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments
so at variance with high rank and good breeding." The
Countess of Suffolk on one occasion was so incensed at
a sermon of Whitfield in the Countess of Huntingdon's
drawing room, that she rushed out of the house in a pas-
sion, under the impression that the discourse was a
personal attack. The attitude of the clergy generally to
the Methodist movement within the Church was one of

The suffering among the wives of the inferior clergy,
who were impoverished and suffered under the defeat of
the endeavor to make their scanty resources meet the


demands of household expenses, the lack of opportunity
for educating their children, and their own loss of self-
respect, must have made their lives more miserable in
some ways than those of the wives of the potters, whose
sphere of existence and needs were much more limited.
One of the clergymen of this order plaintively sets forth
his pecuniary distress as follows: "Oh, my Lord, how
prettily and temperately may a wife and half a dozen chil-
dren be maintain'd with almost £10 per annum! What
an handsome shift will an ingenious and frugal divine
make, to take by turns and wear a cassock and a pair of
breeches another! What a primitive sight it will be to
see a man of God with his shoes out at the toes, and his
stockings out at heels, wandering about in an old russet
coat and tatter'd gown for apprentices to point at and
wags to break jest on! And what a notable figure will he
make in the pulpit on Sundays who has sent his Hooker and
Stillingfleet, his Pearson and Saunderson, his Barrow and
Tillotson, with many more fathers of the English Church,
into limbo long since to keep his wife's pensive petticoat
company, and her much lamented wedding ring!" Such a
picture belongs rather to the latter part of the eighteenth
century than to its beginning, for in its earlier days the
Church was prolific of quiet scholars and antiquaries, in
both parsonage and manse, living peaceful, comfortable,
and cultured existences.

The attitude of the Church of the eighteenth century
toward women is hardly one of record, as there was not
enough animation or interest displayed in social conditions
— or, indeed, during a part of the century, enough of intel-
lectual comprehension — to serve the Church for any dis-
crimination as to women's status. When the change of
attitude of the Church in respect to its indifference toward
that element of its body which before the Reformation,


and continuously since then, has been so serviceably em-
ployed by the Roman Catholic Church did occur, it was
the High Church party which brought it about, and so
preserved for English Protestantism the work of women.

Although the Church was indifferent to the great mis-
sion that lay before it in the eighteenth century, — a mission
that had to be met by the raising up from the laity of men
and women who should stand for the spiritual rights of the
lower orders of society especially, — there was a notable
band of Christian philanthropic women who brightened
the close of the century.

By harnessing human compassion to social needs, the
distressed classes of society came to be lifted to that posi-
tion of betterment which is theirs to-day, largely through
agencies that owe their beginnings to the More sisters,
Elizabeth Fry, and Harriet Martineau. It is always
a pleasing task to turn to such women as these, exempli-
fying as they do the attainments of the sex in those
peculiar and special ways which so well represent the
adaptations of women. The greatest woman who graced
the annals of helpfulness of the last half of the eighteenth
century in England was Hannah More. The beautiful devo-
tion of her long and honorable life to the cause of teaching,
and the widespread interest which, by her writings, she
attracted to the subject both in Europe and America, place
her at the source of one of the mighty streams of per-
vasive influence that have ever permeated human society.
So great was her appreciation of the character and the
position of woman, that she was able to forecast well-nigh
everything that has been enunciated in modern times with
regard to the place of the sex in education and in society.

Hannah More was born in 1745, in a little village near
Bristol. Her father, who was the village schoolmaster,
gave his five daughters educations adapted as near as


might be to the peculiar talents of each. Three of the
girls opened a boarding school in Bristol, when the oldest
was only twenty years of age. This school soon became
fashionable and ultimately famous. It was to this institu-
tion that the early labors of Hannah More were given,
and it was here that she attracted the attention of such
men as Ferguson the astronomer, the elder Sheridan,
Garrick the tragedian. Goldsmith, Reynolds, Burke,
and indeed nearly all men of eminence in intellectual and
state life. But her associations were not solely with the
fashionable world, by which she was petted and flattered,
for she turned her attention to labors for the poor and the
ignorant. She sought to do for the children who lived
amid the savage profligacy of the peasant class what
Madame de Maintenon sought to do for girls of the aristo-
cratic class in her country. Both alike aimed to offset the
perversion of character which threatened the girls of their
respective schools, from different sources, but to the same
end, — their destruction. Madame de Maintenon worked to
counteract the insidious infidelity that permeated the upper
walks of life — Hannah More, to counteract the practical
atheism of the lowest plane of life. The fundamental
principle of her educational system was the necessity of
Christian instruction. She recognized the close relation-
ship of education and religion, and gauged well the signifi-
cance of the historical fact of woman's debt to Christianity
for her elevation. The question which she asked was not
that of social utility, but that of personal character. She
saw too much of the utilitarian principle in its actual work-
ings, the reducing of human life to the plane of mechanism/
to permit her to base her educational efforts upon a utili-
tarian foundation. She sought to cultivate that "sensi-
bility which has its seat in the heart rather than in the
nerves." Anything which detracted from modesty or


delicacy, or tended to make a girl bold or forward, she
severely rebuked. She taught the wastefulness of ex-
pending time upon the cultivation of a talent which one
does not possess, and held that excessive cultivation of
the sesthetic range of subjects contributes to a decline in
those more stable factors upon which is based the security
of states. Neither indelicate exposure of the person in
style of dress nor extravagance in dancing found favor at
her hands. Such were some of the views which were
entertained and promulgated by the woman who created
an epoch in the attitude of society toward her sex. She
taught the dignity of womanhood, from which the duties
of domesticity cannot detract, the performance of them as
a function of womankind being of all things honorab'e.
The pure common sense of Hannah More did for the women
of her time the service which had failed of performance by
the Church.

Passing from the theoretical to the practical part of
Hannah More's work, it is interesting to see her putting
into effect her philanthropic labors. The people among
whom she labored were destitute of almost everything
that makes life comfortable. Among the Mendip Hills,
out from Bristol, lived a wild, barbarous, lawless popula-
tion, compared with which the millers and the colliers of
the mines were mild and tractable. Among these people
Hannah More established her schools. Some of the chil-
dren had already had the schooling of the prison, and all
of them had been tutored in vice beyond comprehension
for persons so young. Hannah More's schemes were
regarded by many as visionary and impracticable, and re-
ceived opposition from sources where sympathy and help-
fulness were to be expected. Gradually, however, her
school work was extended until it covered an area of
twenty-eight miles.


In the Sunday schools the children received religious
instruction, and in the day schools they were taught to
spin flax and wool. No missionary bishop travelled more
constantly, no Methodist itinerant cultivated his circuit
district more assiduously, than did Hannah and her sister
Patty More their lay diocese. The many difficulties which
had to be overcome by them cannot be appreciated by
workers among the destitute to-day, with all the appli-
ances and books and methods which represent a century's
experience in such lines. Nothing of the sort was to hand
for these sisters; but Hannah More was an author as wel/
as a philanthropist, and the tales for the interest and in
struction of the children she wrote herself.

While Hannah More lived and worked in the eighteenf/i
century, her life's service extended over into the nine-
teenth century also. She was a contemporary of Miss
Mitford, Mary Carpenter, Mrs. Summerville, and Maria
Edgeworth. The eighteenth century brought forth the
women who were to carry into the nineteenth century
the elements of service for society, which were to be like
the seed sown in good ground and to bring forth the maxi-
mum fold of fruitage.

The national system of education had not been devel-
oped in the eighteenth century, making the acquirement
of an education somewhat dependent upon individual cir-
cumstances as affected by personal ambitions. There was
nothing in the way of general education for women. But
the dawn of better things intellectually was shown by the
development of a group of women of literary comprehen-
sion and productivity, who formed a set apart and yet
were in a real sense prophets in a wilderness, proclaiming
the democracy of letters. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
writes very bitterly of the low esteem in which was held
the intellectuality of the sex, and ^ in speaking of the study


of classics, says: " My sex is usually forbid studies of this

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 23 of 30)