Mitchell Carroll.

Woman: in all ages and in all countries online

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nature, and folly reckoned so much our proper sphere we
are sooner pardoned any excesses of that, than the least
pretensions to reading or good sense. . . . Our minds
are entirely neglected, and, by disuse of reflections, filled
with nothing but the trifling objects our eyes are daily
entertained with. This custom so long established and
industriously upheld makes it even ridiculous to go out of
the common road, and forces one to find as many excuses
as if it was a thing altogether criminal not to play the fool
in concert with other women of quality, whose birth and
leisure only serve to render them the most useless and
most worthless part of the creation. There is hardly a
creature in the world more despicable or more liable to
universal ridicule than a learned woman! These words
imply, according to the received sense, a tattling, imperti-
nent, vain, and conceited creature. . . . The Abbe
.Bellegarde gives a reason for women's talking over much:
they know nothing, and every outward object strikes their
imagination and produces a multitude of thoughts, which,
if they knew more, they would know not worth thinking
of. I am not now arguing for an equality of the two sexes.
I do not doubt God and nature have thrown us into an
inferior rank; we are a lower part of the creation, we owe
obedience and submission to the superior sex, and any
woman who suffers her folly and vanity to deny this
rebels against the laws of the Creator, and indisputable
order of nature; but there is a worse effect than this,
which follows the careless education given to women of
quality — it's being so easy for any man of sense, that
finds it either his interest or his pleasure to corrupt them.
The common method is to begin by attacking their reli-
gion: they bring a thousand fallacious arguments their
excessive ignorance hinders them from refuting; and, I


speak now from my own knowledge and conversation
among them, there are more atheists among the fine ladies
than among the lowest sort of rakes." This bitter plaint
of a lady of quality, with its humiliating acknowledgment
of the inferiority of her sex and the hopelessness of that
inferiority, sounds very pathetic in the light of the present-
day estimate of woman and her acknowledged equality
with man in all matters, saving only in the exercise of the
public functions for which the advocates of the full pro-
gramme of woman's rights contend.

It is not surprising that women of intellectual gifts grew
morbid under a sense of social inferiority; it is not strange
that they hid their light under a bushel, and were afraid
of acknowledging their talents or their aspirations, when
men regarded learning for their daughters "as great a
profanation as the clergy would do if the laity should
undertake to exercise the functions of the priesthood."
In matters intellectual, woman was negative. She must
not embarrass her superiors by displaying in their pres-
ence indications of talent or evidences of learning; her
theories and opinions were not worthy of statement or
consideration in the presence of the male sex. Her gen-
tility was one of breeding, but it did not involve the brain.
Of necessity the intellectual development of woman in
such a mental atmosphere was slow. Her elevation was
dependent upon an awakening of thought in all depart-
ments of life. There was lacking an incentive to intel-
lectual industry when the fruits of such toil might not be

Under such adverse conditions, the names of the women
of exceptional intellectual gifts in the eighteenth century
constitute a roll of honor worthy to be inscribed in every
hall of learning devoted to the education of women. This
literary coterie included, besides Lady Mary Wortley


Montagu, Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Parker, Mrs.
Vesey, Hannah More, Mrs. Chapone, Elizabeth Carter,
and Miss Talbot.

Lady Montagu was of an aggressive nature, and well
fitted to conquer difficulties rather than to despair in their
presence. She was a good classical scholar, a student
under Bishop Burnet, and was abreast of all the thought
pf her time. She is credited, among other things, with
the courage to introduce the system of inoculation for
smallpox, having had her son so treated.

Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu was an insatiable devotee of
society, and abounded with a fund of mirth for the enliven-
ment of the dullest company. In her correspondence,
amid a lively flow of chatter, she introduces discussions of
Dr. Middleton's Life of Cicero and other critical and his-
torical allusions relating to the classic authors, and evinces
familiarity with such literature. Again, she is found des-
canting in a critical vein on the qualities of Warburton's
Notes on Shakespeare. Her observations upon English his-
tory are appreciative of Its distinguishing features. In
these remarks she says: "In some reigns, the kingdom
is in the most terrible confusion, in others it appears mean
and corrupt; in Charles II. 's time, what a figure we make
with French measures and French mistresses! But when
our times are written, England will recover its glory; such
conquests abroad, such prosperity at home, such prudence
in council, such vigor in execution, so many men clothed
in scarlet, so many fine tents, so many cannon that do not
so much as roar, such easy taxes, such flourishing trade!
Can posterity believe \U I wish our history, from its in-
credibility, may not get bound up with fairy tales and
serve to amuse children, and make nursery maids moral-
ize." The same light touch and whimsical insight dis-
played in this quotation are evidenced in all her writings.


It matters not the subject — balls or books, flirtations or
syllogisms, the same delicate vein of humor runs through-
out them.

Miss Carter, the particular friend of Mrs. Montagu, frail
in health and devoted, a beauty, a wit, a brilliant conver-
sationalist, was yet of a much more retiring disposition
than was her friend. She created no Hillstreet and Port-
man Square assemblies, although she was by no means a
recluse; and even if she did not have so strong a social
following as Mrs. Montagu, her presence possessed charm
for those who assembled about her. She had a wide ac-
quaintance with literature, and patronized the libraries ex-
tensively; her linguistic accomplishments included French,
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and, most rare acquirement
in those days, German. She was discriminating in her
literary tastes, and is found commenting upon German
books of fiction. She says that they are dangerous for
young people, for the reason that they possess the singular
art of sanctifying the passions. Mere sentimentality was
repugnant to her feelings, and she dismissed from her
attention a German book, with the expression: "A de-
testable book, but I know of no other in German that is
exceptionable in the same horrid way."

Mrs. Vesey was another literary character whose salon,
made thoroughly delightful, was frequented only by per-
sons of the greatest culture. Just how the name bas-bleu
came to be identified with the assembly which Mrs. Vesey
gathered about her is not known. One explanation which
was current at the time attributes the term to a foreign
gentleman who was invited to go to either Mrs. Montagu's
or Mrs. Vesey's, and was assured as to the informality of
the occasion by an acquaintance, who told him that full
dress was quite optional, and, in fact, he might go in blue
stockings if he was so minded. Other accounts do not


agree with this; one lays the phrase at the door of Mr.
Benjamin Stillingfleet, the naturalist, who always wore
blue stockings; but it is asserted by Miss Carter's biog-
rapher that Stillingfleet died before the name came into
vogue. Hannah More, in some whimsical lines, describes
a bas-bleu assembly:

" Here sober Duchesses are seen,
Chaste wits and critics void of spleen :
Physicians fraught with real science,
And Whigs and Tories in alliance ;
Poets fulfilling Christian duties.
Just Lawyers, reasonable Beauties,
Bishops who preach and Peers who pray,
And Countesses who seldom play,
Leam'd Antiquaries who from college
Reject the rust and bring the knowledge ;
And hear it, age, beheve it, youtk, —
Polemics really seeking truth ;
And Travellers of that rare tribe
Who've seen the countries they describe."

The brilliant woman who gathered about her such a
representative gathering of celebrities as is suggested by
these lines — an assemblage in which Dr. Johnson could
discourse in one corner on moral duties, and Horace Wal-
pole amuse another group with his lively wit, while the
younger portion discussed the opera or the fashions — was
the daughter of Sir Thomas Vesey, Archbishop of Tuam.
By her second marriage — with a relative, Mr. A. Vesey —
she resumed her maiden name. Prominent persons, other
than those mentioned, who were attracted to her salon were
Burke, Pulteney, Garrick, Lord Lyttleton, Dr. Burney,
and Lord Monboddo.

Women were not only given to shining in exclusive
social circles, but brilliant representatives of the sex were
keenly interested in the political trend of the times. The
Duchess of Marlborough was one of the most notable and


politically active women of the age of Anne. This was a
time of ascendency in politics of the Dissenters, who are
described by Burton in his history of that age as a clog
upon the free movements of the complicated machinery of
British social and political life. Another of the famous
women at court was the Countess of Suffolk, who appears
in Swift's correspondence as Mrs. Howard. These women
were thoroughly informed as to the political movements of
their time, as is revealed by their correspondence; and
they, with others as noteworthy, often shaped state policy.
Among names which appear prominently in the political
movements of the century are those of the Countess of
Bristol, Mrs. Selwyn, who was one of the ladies of the
bedchamber to the queen of George II., Lady Hervey, and
the Duchess of Queensborough. The latter declared her-
self so wearied of elections that, in all good conscience,
they ought to occur only once in an age. The Countess
of Huntingdon, the supporter of Whitfield, the Duchess of
Devonshire, and other women of position, had vital interest
in public questions.

The interest which English ladies took in politics was
a matter of constant surprise to foreigners, but it was
significant of the awakening to a sense of privilege which
led in the next century to the various female declarations
of rights, of which the most extreme was the claim to

STije SSEomen of tf)e Hineteentf) (STenturg



At the opening of the nineteenth century, practically-
unfettered opportunity extended in all directions before
women; but it was necessary for the century to spend its
force before they had fully availed themselves of the
privileges which were objected to only by those who still
descanted on woman's sphere as a purely domestic one.
The "woman question" is very modern, because woman
has so lately come to be seriously regarded as a factor in
the work of life. The changed conditions of the nine-
teenth century resulted from those forces which were
operating for the larger liberty of the sex. Contributions
to the widening of the scope of their lives came from
many sources. Religion has been the evangel of woman;
but even it cannot claim that the modern woman, with
her versatility of touch and her multiform influence, is its
product. Law reluctantly acknowledged the rights of the
sex where it was futile to deny them; but it has sinned
too grievously in the years that are past to receive recog-
nition as a promoter of the new Renaissance, although it
cherishes the rights which woman has achieved, and is
to-day one of her most chivalrous defenders. Convention
is too unadaptive to do more than recognize adjustments
which have been otherwise brought about, but, as repre-
senting the rules of society, it is promotive of the dignity



and the rights of the sex to the extent that these dignities
and rights have been otherwise afforded.

Acknowledgment for the position which woman attained
during the last century is due not to any one of these
forces, but to all working together, although Nature must
be chiefly credited with having brought it about. The
great increase in population in England, and the excess of
the female portion, led women to ponder the question of
other spheres for their lives than solely the domestic. At
the same time, the complex nature of modern business
offered, to some extent, a practical solution of the prob-
lem. While the question of woman's sphere was greatly
agitated, and was academically and forensically debated
pro and con, women themselves were practically settling
the matter at issue by accepting positions in commercial
life, with little regard to the censure of critics or the praise
of friends. The independence shown by women, their
self-assertiveness, indicated that their failure previously
to break into the outer world of affairs was not due to the
force of convention, but to the lack of opportunity. Their
excess in the population of the country afforded them
strong ground for the claim, which they practically made
in accepting the opportunities of business life, — that the
sphere of domesticity was not open to them all. It is not
a question as to whether woman is or is not in her sphere
outside of the home or the limited circle of esthetic follow-
ing; for the time of theorizing is already past, and women
have become so identified with industry as to preclude the
possibility of a return to the narrower life. Vestigia nulla
retrorsum is the motto of woman to-day, and has been
from the early part of the nineteenth century. She is in
the line of progress, and following her manifest destiny.
The fears of the faint-hearted and the regrets of the con-
servative cannot alter the established fact that the practical


status which women achieved in the nineteenth century is
theirs, to be recognized and furthered.

The views prevailing in the nineteenth century with
regard to matrimony were not greatly different from those
of the eighteenth: it was considered just as discreditable
to be an old maid, and marriage was the goal of existence
for young women; but there was a portion of the sex who
were willing to brave the aspersions cast upon them and
to remain single — when the opportunity to do otherwise
was not wanting — in- order that they might follow careers
which offered to them greater interest or profit. It was
inevitable that such choice should lay them open to the
charge of unsexing themselves and of being recreant to
that esprit de corps of womankind which finds its common
interest in the achieving of matrimony. Women would
never have wrought out their independence of action if
there had not been a great widening of life's opportunities.
The ease of locomotion, abundant opportunities for educa-
tion, and the lightening of domestic labor by inventions,
were the important factors which made it possible for-
women to step out into the avenues of active business.
The middle-class women, who were thrust out into the
arena of life, were still the women who best preserved
the pure idea of marriage. They were not subjected to the
temptations which assailed those in the higher and the
lower ranks of society, and, being less affected by tradi-
tion, they wrought out for themselves independent ideals.
The marriage of convenience of the higher ranks and the
marriage of necessity of the lower were not the forms
which were common to the middle-class women. Unaf-
fected by either of these influences, they regarded well
the character of the men to whom they were to plight
their troth, and were not disposed to pass over the weak-
nesses of suitors. Marriages were no longer contracted at


the early ages of fifteen and sixteen years, which had been
commonly the case heretofore. A bride under twenty-one
was thought very youthful.

The entrance of woman into the ranks of labor has not
been uncontested, for she has been charged with taking
the bread out of the mouths of husbands and fathers; and,
by working for much less wage than is given the men, she
has been thought dangerously to affect the standard of
payment for men's work. Just what will be the effect
of the innovation of woman in industry cannot at present
be stated, as she has not as yet gotten into normal and
recognized relationship to men as a sharer of their work.
One effect, however, of woman's contact with the other
sex in the brusque business world has been to reduce her
claim to special consideration in the way of the amenities
which were accorded her at a time when she was not
nearly so sincerely respected as she has become in recent
years. A modern writer has summed up the matter in
the following words: " Not the least among the changes is
that effected by the fuller and freer life led by all women.
A greater companionship and friendship is permitted them
with the other sex; there is a larger sharing of interest,
and women are expected to have a higher standard of
education and to conceal their knowledge and culture with
tasteful skill. Their interest in the political life of the
countr}', and their acknowledged usefulness in their place
in the working out of the political machine, the works,
philanthropical and social, which are admitted by all to
be within their sphere, have broadened and deepened the
stream of life which is common to both sexes, and brought
the social life on to a different level."

This broadening influence brought greater recognition of
woman's activities in social and philanthropic measures
and a corresponding increase of responsibility on her part.


There are many women of this century whose noble deeds
will never be forgotten, but one may be singled out as a
splendid example of self-sacrifice and devotion to others,
Mrs. Elizabeth Fry was a Quakeress of gentle birth;
though the mother of a large family, she made the condi-
tion of the social outcasts her constant care. She was, in
truth, a worthy successor to John Howard. The moral
and physical degradation and suffering of the inmates of
prisons particularly appealed to her compassionate nature,
and she set herself the task of alleviating their condition.
Her first visit to Newgate Prison was in 181 3; alone and
unprotected, she entered the pandemonium where nearly
two hundred women were confined, among them some of
the most degraded and desperate of their sex. Mrs. Fry's
sincere compassion, gentleness, and purity conquered these
women. Four years later she organized an association for
the reformation of female prisoners. Though her name is
chiefly associated with the reform of prisons and prisoners,
her philanthropy embraced the promotion of education of
the needy, religious movements, the cause of freedom, and
private charity. The influence of this good woman was
widespread, and her labors were not confined to her own
country, but extended to the continent of Europe.

One of the most striking of the phenomena of modern
life which came about in the nineteenth century is the
fusion of classes, making it increasingly difficult to use
class definitions. The passage from one to another has
become so easy as to make mobility the principal charac-
teristic of modern society. Travel, education, art appre-
ciation, and home decoration are not confined to any section
or class. The degree of luxury of living, and not the dis-
tinction between luxury and lack, is the only way to set
aside one circle of society from another. A result of
this wider diffusion of the comforts of life has been the


awakening of the altruistic spirit, which finds expression
in many and varied benevolences — so many, in fact, that
the danger of the times is over-organization. This ten-
dency, if pursued, will react to the disadvantage of women
by depriving them of a sense of personal responsibility and
individual initiative.

The assumption by society, as a whole, of the responsi-
bility of its members of necessity gives an organized form
to all efforts for its improvement. The nature of prob-
lems of this sort requires wide organization in order to
bring into touch with the social need, for its satisfying, as
many persons as possible of means and talent. If the
philanthropist is rich, she employs her money as the ex-
pression of her interest in and recognition of her duty
toward society. If not wealthy, but possessed of time
and talent, the woman herself becomes the instrument
of social amelioration, and the money from the coffers of
others is placed in her hands for judicious expenditure.
The great interest in philanthropy which in modern times
■ is evinced by all classes of society tends to unite the
women of to-day in a bond of common sympathy and pur-
pose. It is not solely because they have more abundant
leisure than men that the burden of philanthropy rests
upon their shoulders, for their wider sympathy and clearer
insight lead them to perceive more readily and to meet
more effectively the needs of mankind.

One of the prominent women of England who gave
herself largely to benevolent labors was the Baroness
Burdett-Coutts. The generous and wise use of her im-
mense fortune has secured her an enduring name; she
built churches, she founded charities; and although Lon-
don was the chief field for her philanthropy, her native
country of Ireland was remembered in a way to shrine her
name there in grateful memory. She possessed the spirit


of the great ladies of old England, who felt a responsibility
toward the dependent and necessitous classes about them,
and to this spirit she gave the wide expression her for-
tune and her exceptional environment made possible. The
great variety of her benevolent sympathies and the per-
sonal part she took in the various charities which enlisted
them cause her life to mark an era in the history of
philanthropy. There was nothing beyond the catholicity
of her spirit.

The modern temperance movement, which enlisted
largely the interest of the women of England and America,
and which led, in the latter country, to the organization of
the Women's Christian Temperance Union, found its best
representative in England in the person of Lady Henry
Somerset. Lady Somerset's efforts in behalf of temper-
ance and social reforms in England are too much matters
of present-day knowledge to need more than a notice of
them in these pages; they have enrolled her name in the
list of great women of the century, where it had already
been long placed by the affections of a nation. Another
expression of the interest of women in society is found in
the Young Women's Christian Association, Girls' Friendly
Society, the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young
Servants, and other organizations which care for the inter-
ests of young women exposed to imposition or temptation.
It is impossible to enumerate even the more important of
the organizations which owe their institution to women
and are conducted by the sex for the benefit of society.
Wide as has been the field in the past, new phases of
modern life are constantly coming under the purview of
women's societies, which, although to a large extent vol-
untary, are none the less splendidly organized and disci-
plined forces, occupying, for the most part, independent


Woman as a nurse is not a new aspect of her nature,
but not until the last quarter of the century was nursing
elevated to the dignity of a profession. There were not
wanting women who bore the title of professional nurse,
but these did not have the training to justify the name.
Before the Crimean War there were upward of two thou-
sand five hundred such nurses in England. Florence
Nightingale, whose name will ever be identified with the
founding of schools for nurses, said: "Sickness is every^
where. Death is everywhere. But hardly anywhere is
the training necessary to relieve sickness, to delay death.
We consider a long education and discipline necessary to
train our medical man; we consider hardly any training at
all necessary for our nurse, although how often does our
medical man himself tell us, 'I can do nothing for you
unless your nurse will carry out what I say.' " The
revelation of suffering on the part of uncared-for soldiers

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 24 of 30)