William Alexander.

The history of women, from the earliest antiquity, to the present time : giving an account of almost every interesting particular concerning that sex, among all nations, ancient and modern (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 27)
Online LibraryWilliam AlexanderThe history of women, from the earliest antiquity, to the present time : giving an account of almost every interesting particular concerning that sex, among all nations, ancient and modern (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 27)
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By William Alexander, M* D.






Of Delicacy and Cbajiity - 5


The fame Subjecl continued - 10

Of the various Opinions entertained by different Na-
tions concerning Women - t>5


The fame Subjecl continued - 51


Of Drefs, Ornament, and the various other Methods
whereby Women endeavour to render ihemfelves
agreeable to the Men. - 83

The fame Subjecl continued - 98

The fame Subjecl continued - 121



Of Courtjhip . . j 44

The fame Subjecl continued - 165


Of Matrimony - - 186


The fame Subj 'eel continued - 197


The fame Subjecl continued - 216

The fame Subjecl continued - 241


The fame Subjecl continued . 266


Of Widowhood - - 289


Of the Rights, Privileges, and Immunities of the
Women of Great Britain ; the Puni foments to which
they are liable by Law; and the Rcflriclions they
are laid under by Law and Cuflom 3 1 5



wy of

Of Delicacy and Qb&jiity*

F all the virtues which adorn the female
qhara&er, and enable the fex to fteal imperceptibly
into the heart, none arc mure confpicuous
unaffected fimplicity and fhynefs of manners which
we diftinguiih by the name of delicacy. In the moll
rude and favage dates of mankind, however, deli-
cacy has no exiftence; in thofe where politenefs and
the various refinements connected with it are carried
to excefs, delicacy is difcarded, as a vulgar and
unfaflbionable reftraint on the freedom of good

To illuftrate thefe obfervations, we.fhall adduce a
few facts from the hiftory of mankind. Where the
human race have little other culture than what they
receive from nature, and hardly any other ideas but
fuch as (he dictates; the two fexes live together,
unconfeious of almoft any reftraint oa their words
or on their actions : Diodorus Siculus mentions
feveral nations among the antients, as the Hylo-
phagi, and Icthiophagi, who had fcarcely anycloath-
ing, whole language was exceedingly imp erf f : ft, and



whofe manners were hardly diilingui (liable from
thofe of the brutes which furrounded them. The
Greeks, in the heroic ages, as appears from the
whole hiflory of their conduct, delineated by Homer
and their other poets and hiflorians, were totally
unacquainted with delicacy. The Romans, in the
infancy of their empire, were the fame. Tacitus
informs us, that the ancient Germans had not fepa-
rate beds for the two fexes, but that they lay pro-
niiicuoufly on reeds or on heath along the walls of
their hoafes ; a cuftom (till prevailing in Lapland,
among the peafauts of Norway, Poland, and Ruifia ;
and not altogether obliterated in forae parts of the
Highlands of Scotland and of Wales. In Terra del
Fuego, on feveral places of the Gold Coafi, in the
Brazils, and a variety of other parts, the inhabi-
tants have hardly any thing to cover their bodies,
and fcarcely the lead inclination to canceal any natu-
ral action from the eyes of the public. In Otaheite,
to appear naked, or in cloaths, are circumftances
equally indifferent to both fexes : nor does any word
in their language, nor any action to which they have
an inclination, feem more indelicate or reprehenfible
than another. Such are the effects of a total want
of culture: and effects not very diflimilar are in
France and Italy produced from a redundance of it;
delicacy is laughed out of cxiflence as a filly and
unfafhionable weaknefs.

Among neople holding a middling degree, or
rather perhaps fomething below a middle degree,
between the mod uncultivated rnf./city, and the
mod refined politenefs, we find female delicacy in
its higheft perfection. The Japanefe are but jtift
emerged ionic degrees above favagc barbarity, and
in their hiflory we are prcfented by Kempfer, with
an inftance of the effect of delicacy, which perhaps
has not a parallel in any other country. A lady


being at table in a promifcuous company, in reaching
for fomething that me wanted, accidentally broke
wind backwards, by which her delicacy was fo much
wounded, that me immediately arofe, laid hold on
her breads with her teeth, and tore them tiil (lie
expired on the fpot. In Scotland, and a few other
parts of the north of Europe, where the inhabitants
are fome degrees farther advanced in politenefs than
the Japanefe; a woman would be almoit as much
amamed to be detected going to the temple of Cloa-
cina, as to that of Venus. In England, to go in
the moll: open manner to that of the former, hardly
occafions a blulh on the mod delicate cheek. At
Paris, we are told that a gallant frequently accom-
panies his miftrefs to the dirine of the goddefs, ftands
centinel at the door, and entertains her with boa
mots, and protedations of love all the time {he is
worfhipping there; and that a lady when in a carri-
age, whatever company be along with her, if called
upon to exonerate nature, pulls the cord, orders the
driver to flop, deps out, and ha.ving performed
what nature required, refumes her feat without the
lead ceremony or difcompoiure. The Pariiian wo-
men, as well as thofe in many of the other large
towns of France, even in the mod public companies
make no fcruple of talking concerning thofe fecrets
of their fex, which almod in every other country are
reckoned indelicate in the ears of the men: nay, fo
little is their referve on this head, that a young lady
on being aiked by her lover to dance, will without
bludi or hefitation, excufe herfelf on account of the
impropriety of doing fo in her prefent circumdances.
The Italians, it is faid, carry their indelicacy dill
farther: women even of character and fafliion, when
aiked a favour of another kind, will with the utmofl
compofure decline the propofal on account of being
at prefent under a courfe of medicine for the cure of


a certain diforder. When a people have arrived at
that point in the fcale of politenefs, which entirely
difcards delicacy, the chaftity of their women mult
beat a low ebb; for delicacy is the centinel that is
placed over female virtue, and th it centinel once
ever-come, chaflityis more than half conquered.

From thefe obfervations, a queftion of the moil
difficult determination arifes. Is the female delicacy
natural or artificial ? if natural, it fhould be found
in the highefl perfection in thofe ftates where man-
kind approach the neareft to nature ; if artificial,
it mould be mofl confpicuous in fiates the moll artiii-
cially polifhed, But notwithftanding what we rela-
ted in the laft fection, it appears to be regulated by
no general or fixed law in either. The inhabitants
of the coail of New Zealand are perhaps as little
cultivated as any on the globe, and yet their
women were amamed to be fcen naked even at a
di (lance by the Englifh. In Otaheite, where they
are confiderably more polifhed, we have already
feeta that they are confeious of no fuch fhame. 4 With
4 the mod innocent look,' fays Hawkefworth, e Obe-
c rea their queen and feverai others, on going io
' meet another chief of the ifiand, full uncovered
1 their heads, and then their bodies as low as tfie
6 waid.' Nor can privacy,' adds he, ' be much
' wanted among a people who have not even an
' idea of indecency, and who gratify every appetite
' ana paflion before witneiTes, with no more fenfe
' of impropriety than we feel when w e fatisfy ' our
* hunger at the ibcial board.' We have ken that in
I ir.ee and Italy, which are reckoned the politeft
coimiries in Europe, women let themfelvcs above
ihame and defpife delicacy ; but in China, one of
the po'liteif countries in Afia, and perhaps not even
in this refpeft behind France or Italy, the cafe ii


quite otherwife : no being can be fo delicate as a
women, in her drefs, in her behaviour, and conver-
sation ; and fhould (lie ever happen to be expofed
in any unbecoming manner, fhe feels with the great-
eft poignancy the aukwardnefs of her fituatkm,
and if poifible covers her face that fhe may not be
known. In the midfl of fo many difcordant appear-
ances, the mind is perplexed, and hardly can fix
upon any caufe to which delicacy, that chiefeft orna-
ment of the fair fex, can be aicribed : ihoulu We
afcribe it to cullom only, we would do violence to
our own inclinations, as we would willingly trace
it to a nobler fource. In profecuting this attempt,
let us attend to the whole of the animal creation ;
let us confider it attentively, and wherever ft falls
under our obfervatL.n, it will difcover to us that in
the female there is a greater degree of delicacy or coy
referve than in the male : is not this a proof that
through the wide extent of the creation, the feeds
of delicacy are more liberally beftowed upon females
than on males ? And do not the facts which we
have mentioned prove, that in the human genius
thefe feeds require fome culture to expand, and ftill
more to bring them to perfection ; whereas, on t g
other hand, too much culture actually dellroys i!;tm
altogether; as plants may bedeflroyed in a hot bsd
by too much heat, which by a moderate decree: of
it would have arrived to the higheft perfection;

Allowing then, that delicacy is a virtue planted
by the hand of nature in the female mind, let us take
a view of the progrefs of this virtue, which males fo
diftinguifhing a part of the character of that fex whole
Li (lory we are endeavouring to elucidate.

In the remoteit periods of which we have any Lif-
torical account, we find that the women had a deli-


cacy to which the other fex were ftrangers. Re-
becca veiled hcrielf when (lie firfl approached to
Ifaac her future hufband, and in thofe ages it would
feem that even proftitution was too delicate to fhew
itfelf openly, for Taraar, when ihe perfonated an
harlot, covered herfelf with a veil, which appears
from the (lory to have been a part of the drefs worn
in thofe days by women of that profeffion. Many of
the fables of antiquity, while they paint in the molt
(biking colours the profligacy of manners, point out
at the fame time that delicacy was a latent principle
in the female mind, which often mewed itfelf in fpite
of manners, cuftoms, and every other difadvantage
under which it laboured. Of this kind is the fable
of Actceon and Diana. Aft.Ton being a famous
hunter, was in the woods with his hounds beating
for fome game, when accidentally fpying Diana and
her nymphs bathing in ? river, he Hole fikntly into
a neighbouring thicket that he might have a nearer
view of them; when the goddefs difcovering him,
was fo affronted at his audacity, and fo much afhawed
to have been fcen naked, that (he in revenge imme-
diately transformed him into a Hag, and fet his own
hounds upon him, who foon overtook and devoured

Even among the Lydians, a people who were
highly debauched, it appears that female delicacy
was far from being totally extinguished ; Candaules,
one of their kings, being married to a lady of exqui-
fitc beauty, was perpetually boafting of her charms
to his courtiers, and at laft, to fatisfy his favourite
Gyges that he had not exaggerated the description ,
he took the dangerous and indelicate refolution of
giving him an opportunity of feeing her naked. To
accomplish this, Gyges was conveyed by the king
into a fecret place, where he might fee the queen


drefs and undrefs, from whence, however, as he
retired, (lie accidentally fpied him, but taking no
notice of him for the prefent, fhe only fet herfelf to
confider the mod proper method of revenging her
injured modefty, and puniiliing her indelicate huf-
band ; having refolved how to proceed, me fent for
Gyges, and told him that as me could not tamely
fobmit to the (lain which had been offered to her
honour, me infilled that he mould expiate his crime
either by his own death or that of the king, that
two men might not be living, at the fame time who
had thus feeh her in a If ate of nature. Gyges, after
fome fruitlefs remoniirances, performed the latter,
married the queen, and mounted the throne of Ly-
dia. Beildes the fables and hiliorical anecdotes of
antiqn^y, their poets feldom exhibited a female
character in its love licit form, without adorning it
with the graces of modefty and delicacy ; hence we
may infer, that theie qualities have not only been
always efferitfal to virtuous women in civilized coun-
tries, but have been alfo conilantly praifsd and
eilcemed by men of fenfibility*

Plutarch, in his treatife, entitled, The virtuous
Actions, of Women, mentions feveral anecdotes
which itrongly favour our idea of delicacy being an
innate principle in the female mind ; the moil link-
ing is that of the young women of Milefia, many of
whom, about that time of life, when nature giving
birth to reftlefs and turbulent deiires inflames the
imagination, and aitoniihes the heart at the fen fa -
fio'n of wants which virtue forbids to gratify, to free
themfeivesfrom the conflict between nature, and vir-
tue, laid violent hands on themfelves ; the conta-
gion becoming every day more general, to put a (lop
to it, a law was made, ordaining that every one who
committed that c ira( (houid fc*e brought naked to


the market place and publickly expofed to the peo-
ple ; and fo powerfully did the idea of this idelicate
eJtpofure, even after death, operate on their minds,
that from thenceforth not one of them ever made an
attempt on her own life.

There are fo many evils attending the lofs of vir-
tue in women, and fo greatly are minds of that fex
depraved when they have deviated from the path of
rectitude, that their being generally contaminated
may be confidered one of the greater! misfortunes
that can befal a ftate, as it in time deftroys almofl
every public virtue of the men. Hence all wife
legiflators, especially of republics, have ftrictly en-
forced upon the fex a particular purity of manners ;
and not fatisfied that they mould abftain from vice
only, have required them even to fhun every appear-
ance of it. Such, in fome periods, were the effects
of the laws of the Romans, and fuch were the effects
of thefe laws, that if ever female delicacy mone forth
in a confpicuous manner, we are of opinion it was
among thofe people, after they had worn off much
of the barbarity of their firif ages, and before they
become contaminated by the wealth and manners of
the nations which they plundered and fubjected :
then it was that we find many of their women furpaf-
fing in modefty almoft every thing related by fable ;
and then it was that their ideas of delicacy were fo
highly refined, that they could not even bear the
fecrel confeioufnefs of an involuntary crime, and far
lefs of having even tacitly confented to it. Of this
nothing can be aflronger proof than the cuflom men-
tioned by Mofes, of expofmg to public view the
tokens of a bride's virginity on the morning after her
wedding night, to which we fhall only add, that the
price demanded by Saul for his daughter, when he
gave her to David in marriage j a price the mod


highly character iftic of the indelicate manners of the
times. The Greeks themfelves, who eonfidercd all
the reft of the world as barbarians, were in delicacy
hardly a few degrees above the inftancesjuft now
mentioned; one can icarcely determine whether the
comedies of Anftophanes or of Euripides are t,he
moll Stocking to a modeft ear. Martial, and even
Horace, among the Romans were fcarcely lefs inde-
licate, but they flourifhed at Rome during thefe
periods when falfe refinement of manners had ban-
ifhed delicacy as a filly and unprofitable virtue, and
when even law was fo repugnant to decency, that
a women taken in adultery was proftituted in the
public fbeet to all comers, who were invited by the
ringing of a bell to the abpnaipabie ceremony.

After the fubverfion of the Roman Empire, there
arofe among the barbarians an inllitution, which,
as it was in a great meaiiire directed to the defence
and protection of women, created in them a dignity
and delicacy unknown to any otlvrr age or people,
and which perhaps will ever remain unparalleled in
the hiliory of mankind, unlefs chivalry or fome fimi-
lar inftitution be again revived ; but as chivalry
began to decline, . delicacy declined aifc along with
it, till at kill both fexes aiiumcd a rudenefs of man-
ners and of drels, which for levtral centuries d
graced Europe, and required a feries of ages and of
efforts to rub oil* and polilh to any decent degree of

Such as we have now feen was the (Lite of delicacy
among the antients, and among the inhabitants of
Europe; when we leave Europe, and colonies fet-
tled by Europeans, we find it a virtue in moil; o*her
places hardly taken notice of or cultivated; we fhail
therefore turn our attention from delicacy, which we



confider onlv as an out- work to chnftity, and make
a few obfervations on chaftity itfelf. But as we have
already ihewn the ftate and fituation of this virtue
among the greato part both of the ancients and
moderns, we (hall not again enter upon that fubjeit,
but confine ourfelves to pointing out the various
methods which in divers places and periods have
been, and ftill are made uie of to preferve, encou-
rage, and defend that virtue.

Such has always been the conflitution of human
nature, and mode of governing, that the legiilators of
every country, except China, have conftantly held
oilt terrors to hinder from the commiHion of vice,
but feldom or never offered rewards for the practice
of virtue; the reafon maybe, that the vicious are
few in number, and punifhments cheap; whereas
the virtuous are many, and premiums fo coflly, that
no government could afford to bellow a reward on
each of them; and, befides the moral virtues, not
only reward us themfelves with peace of mind in this
world; but have annexed to them the promifes of a
frill more ample reward in that which is to come.
When we confider thefe reafons, it is not furprifing
to find that chaftity, upon which all polifhed ftates
have fet the higheft value, has never been encoura-
ged by any pofitive inllitution in its favour; while
its oppofite vice has, by every well regulated govern-
ment, been branded with a greater or lefs degree
of infamy, according to the ideas which fuch govern-
ment had, of the duties of religion and morality,
and to the love which it entertained of rectitude and
order. Wherever good laws are ellablimed, tend-
ing to enforce a decent propriety of manners, every
woman, who deviates from chaltity, forfeits almoft
entirely the fociety of her own fex, and of the moft
worthy and regular part of ours; and, what i^ oi


infinitely greater confeqaence, flie forfeits ahnoft ail
chance of entering into that llate. which women
have fo many natural, as well as political reafons, to
determine them to wifh for more than the men;
and if fhe has any fmall degree of chance left of
entering into it, me rauft do it with a partner be-
low her rank and itation in life; and even thus
matched, flie is liable to have the follies and frailties
of her former conduct thrown up to her on every
occafion, which gives birth even to the flightefl
matrimonial difference.

Thefe and others of the fame nature, are the
punilhments which every wife legiflature has inflict-
ed on the breach of chatlity in unmarried women.
We ihall fee afterward, that almoic every people?.,
whether civilized or favage, have treated this crime
in married women with much greater feverny; fub-
jecting them not only to feveral kinds of public (hame
and indignity, but even to a variety of corporal, and
often to capital punilhments. But as every feverity
and every punidiment, has been found too weak to
prevail againft the vice of incontinence ; especially
among people of foft and voluptuous manners, un-
der the influence of a warm fun, and profeffing a reli-
gion, which lays no reiiraint upon the pailions ; the
Eallerns, where thefe caufes moft powerfully operate,
have time immemorial endeavoured to fecure the
chaftity of their women, by eunuchs and confine-

At what period, or in what part of the world,
fome of the males of our fpecies were firft emafcu-
lated, in order to qualify them for guarding the
objects of pleafures of the reft, is not perfectly
known. The inftitution cf a cuilom fo barbaroufly
unnatural, has, by fome, been attributed to the hi-


famous Scmiramis ; but we are of opinion, that it
was more likely to originate from the men than the
women ; and, befides, we have reaibn to believe,
that it was invented long before the time of Semi-
ramis ; for Mofes, in his code of legiilation, ex-
prefsly prohibits eunuchs from entering into the con-
gregation j and Manetho fays, that the father of
Seioilris, who lived near two hundred years before
Mofes, was afTaflinated by his eunuchs. In the days
of Samuel, it feems to have been a general cuirom
for the kings of the nations, who lived in the neigh-
bourhood of the Ifraelites, to have eunuchs ; for we
find this prophet, among the other reafons that he
made ufe oi to difluade "his people from chuling a
king, telling them, ' that he would take their
ennuchs to guard his women.' The nature of our
undertaking does not permit us to enquire, how it
was firfl difcovered that emafculation would fit men
for the defpicable employments to which fuch muti-
lated beings have generally been deflined : it is fuf.
ficient for us to obferve, that all the voluptuous na-
tions of the Eafl have conftantly confidercd fuch
beings, as fo envious of the joys, which themfelves
Were incapable of tailing, that they would exert
every power to hinder ethers from tailing them alio;
and hence have fixed upon them as the moil proper
guardians of female chaility : nor has their choice
been improperly made ; for thefe wretches, lofmg
every tender feeling for the other fex, along with
the power of enjoying them, to ingratiate themfelves
with their jealous mailers, not only debar them from
every fpecies of pleafure, under pretence of hindering
them from that which is unlawful ; but treat them
too often with the utmofl feverity.

While the empires and kingdoms of ihc Eaft have
been the mod unfettled, and fubjett to the mod lie-


quent and fudden revolutions, the manners and cuf-
toms, like the mountains and rocks of the country,
have been, time immemorial, permanent and un-
changeable ; and, at this day, exhibit nearly the
fame appearance that they did in the patriarchal
ages ; nor have thefe cufloms in any thing remained
more fixed and unalterable, than in the ufe of
eunuchs : every Eaftern potentate, and every other
perfon who can defray the expence, employs a num-
ber of thofe wretches to fuperinrend his feraglio, and
guard the chaflity of his women ; not only from
everv rude invader- but alfo from the effects of female
affociation and intrigue : nor need we wonder at
this, when we confider that into the women of this
country are inililled no virtuous principles to enable
them to defend themfelves ; that the men are taught
by fafhion and prompted by reftraint to attack them
as often as they have opportunity ; that the women
may therefore be considered in the fame fituation
with regard to the men, as the defencelefs animals of
the field are to the bead's of prey which prowl around
them ; and that on thefe accounts, while the prefent
conflitution of the country remains unaltered, to guard
the fex by this fpecies of neutral beings, may not be
fo unnecefTary as we in this country are apt to confi-
der it.

There is in the human mind, a reluctance at lhaiv
ing with another what we think necefTary for our-
felves, or what we greatly love and admire ; hence,

Online LibraryWilliam AlexanderThe history of women, from the earliest antiquity, to the present time : giving an account of almost every interesting particular concerning that sex, among all nations, ancient and modern (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 27)