S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I have often thought there has not been sufficient pains taken in finding out proper employment and diversions for the fair ones. Their amusements seem contrived for them rather as they are women than as they are reasonable creatures; and are more adapted to the sex than to the species. The toilet is their great scene of business, and the right adjusting of their hair the principal employment of their lives. The sorting of a suit of ribands is reckoned a very good mornings work; and if they make an excursion to a mercers or a toy-shop, so great a fatigue makes them unfit for anything else all the day after. Their more serious occupations are sewing and embroidery, and their greatest drudgery the preparation of jellies and sweetmeats. This, I say, is the state of ordinary women; though I know there are multitudes of those of a more elevated life and conversation, that move in an exalted sphere of knowledge and virtue, that join all the beauties of the mind to the ornaments of dress, and inspire a kind of awe and respect, as well as love, into their male beholders.
I have often reflected with myself on this unaccountable humour in womankind, of being smitten with everything that is showy and superficial; and on the numberless evils that befall the sex, from this light fantastical disposition.
The passion for praise, which is so very vehement in the fair sex, produces excellent effects in women of sense, who desire to be admired for that which only deserves admiration; and I think we may observe, without a compliment to them, that many of them do not only live in a more uniform course of virtue, but with an infinitely greater regard to their honour, than what we find in the generality of our sex.
When I was in the theatre the time above mentioned, I had the curiosity to count the patches on both sides, and found the tory patches to be about twenty stronger than the whig; but, to make amends for this small inequality, I the next morning found the whole puppet-show filled with faces spotted after the whiggish manner. Whether or no the ladies had retreated hither in order to rally their forces I cannot tell; but the next night they came in so great a body to the opera that they outnumbered the enemy.
Women in their nature are much more gay and joyous than men; whether it be that their blood is more refined, their fibres more delicate, and their animal spirits more light and volatile; or whether, as some have imagined, there may not be a kind of sex in the very soul, I shall not pretend to determine. As vivacity is the gift of women, gravity is that of men.
But whatever was the reason that man and woman were made with this variety of temper, if we observe the conduct of the fair sex, we find that they choose rather to associate themselves with a person who resembles them in that light and volatile humour which is natural to them, than to such as are qualified to moderate and counterbalance it. It has been an old complaint, that the coxcomb carries it with them before the man of sense .
The same female levity is no less fatal to them after marriage than before. It represents to their imaginations the faithful, prudent husband as an honest, tractable, and domestic animal; and turns their thoughts upon the fine, gay gentleman that laughs, sings, and dresses so much more agreeably.
As this irregular vivacity of temper leads astray the hearts of ordinary women in the choice of their lovers and the treatment of their husbands, it operates with the same pernicious influence towards their children, who are taught to accomplish themselves in all those sublime perfections that appear captivating in the eye of their mother. She admires in her son what she loved in her gallant, and by that means contributes all she can to perpetuate herself in a worthless progeny.
The satires or iambics of Simonides, with which I shall entertain my readers in the present paper, are a remarkable instance of what I formerly advanced. The subject of this satire is woman. He describes the sex in their several characters, which he derives to them from a fanciful supposition raised upon the doctrine of pre-existence. He tells us that the gods formed the souls of women out of those seeds and principles which compose several kinds of animals and elements: and that their good or bad dispositions arise in them according as such and such seeds and principles predominate in their constitutions.
I have often been puzzled to assign a cause why women should have this talent of a ready utterance in so much greater perfection than men. I have sometimes fancied that they have not a retentive power, or the faculty of suppressing their thoughts, as men have, but that they are necessitated to speak everything they think; and if so, it would perhaps furnish a very strong argument to the Cartesians for the supporting of their doctrine that the soul always thinks. But as several are of opinion that the fair sex are not altogether strangers to the art of dissembling and concealing their thoughts, I have been forced to relinquish that opinion, and have therefore endeavoured to seek after some better reason.
Women are apt to form themselves in everything with regard to that other half of reasonable creatures with whom they are blended and confused; their thoughts are ever turned upon appearing amiable to the other sex; they talk, and move, and smile, with a design upon us; every feature of their faces, every part of their dress, is filled with snares and allurements. There would be no such animals as prudes or coquettes in the world, were there not such an animal as man. In short, it is the male that gives charms to womankind, that produces an air in their faces, a grace in their motions, a softness in their voices, and a delicacy in their complexions.
Put a case of a land of Amazons, where the whole government, public and private, is in the hands of women: is not such a preposterous government against the first order of nature, for women to rule over men, and in itself void?
Women have, in general, but one object, which is their beauty; upon which scarce any flattery is too gross for them. Nature has hardly formed a woman ugly enough to be insensible to flattery upon her person: if her face is so shocking that she must in some degree be conscious of it, her figure and her air, she trusts, make ample amends for it. If her figure is deformed, her face, she thinks, counterbalances it. If they are both bad, she comforts herself that she has graces; a certain manner; a je ne sais quoi, still more engaging than beauty. This truth is evident from the studied dress of the ugliest women in the world. An undoubted, uncontested, conscious beauty is, of all women, the least sensible of flattery upon that head: she knows it is her due, and is therefore obliged to nobody for giving it her. She must be flattered upon her understanding; which, though she may possibly not doubt of herself, yet she suspects that men may distrust.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Oct. 16, 1747.
Women are much more like each other than men; they have, in truth, but two passions, vanity and love: these are their universal characteristics . He who flatters them most pleases them best; and they are most in love with him who they think is the most in love with them. No adulation is too strong for them; no assiduity too great; no simulation of passion too gross; as on the other hand, the least word or action that can possibly be construed into a slight or contempt is unpardonable, and never forgotten.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Dec. 19, 1749.
The plainest man who pays attention to women will sometimes succeed as well as the handsomest who does not. Wilkes observed to Lord Townsend, You, my lord, are the handsomest man in the kingdom, and I the plainest. But I would give your lordship half an hours start, and yet come up with you in the affections of any woman we both wished to win; because all those attentions which you would omit on the score of your fine exterior, I should be obliged to pay, owing to the deficiencies of mine.
I have observed that most ladies who have had what is considered as an education have no idea of an education progressive through life. Having attained a certain measure of accomplishment, knowledge, manners, &c., they consider themselves as made up, and so take their station: they are pictures which, being quite finished, are now put up in a framea gilded one, if possibleand hung up in permanence of beauty! in permanence, that is to say, till Old Time, with his rude and dirty fingers, soil the charming colours.
It is a most amazing thing that young people never consider they shall grow old. I would, to young women especially, renew the monition of this anticipation every hour of every day. I wish we could make all the cryers, watchmen, ballad-singers, and even parrots, repeat to them continually, You will be an old womanyou will and you.Then, if they have left themselves to depend almost entirely, as most of them do, on exterior and casual accommodations, they will be wretchedly neglected. No beaux will then draw a chair close to them, and sweetly simper, and whisper that the bowers of paradise did not afford so delightful a place.
The situation of females without fortune in this country is indeed deeply affecting. Excluded from all the active employments, in which they might engage with the utmost propriety, by men who, to the injury of one sex, add the disgrace of making the other effeminate and ridiculous, an indigent female, the object probably of love and tenderness in her youth at a more advanced age a withered flower! has nothing to do but retire and die.
This so eminent industry in making proselytes more of that sex than of the other, groweth: for that they are deemed apter to serve as instruments in the cause. Apter they are through the eagerness of their affection; apter, through a natural inclination unto piety; apter, through sundry opportunities, &c. Finally, apter, through a singular delight which they take in giving very large and particular intelligence how all about near them stand affected as concerning the same cause.
We see women universally jealous of the reputation of their beauty, and frequently look with contempt on the care with which they study their complexions, endeavour to preserve or supply the bloom of youth, regulate every ornament, twist their hair into curls, and shade their faces from the weather. We recommend the care of their nobler part, and tell them how little addition is made by all their arts to the graces of the mind. But when was it known that female goodness or knowledge was able to attract that officiousness, or inspire that ardour, which beauty produces wherever it appears? And with what hope can we endeavour to persuade the ladies that the time spent at the toilet is lost in vanity, when they have every moment some new conviction that their interest is more effectually promoted by a riband well disposed, than by the brightest act of heroic virtue?
But though age be to every order of human beings sufficiently terrible, it is particularly to be dreaded by fine ladies, who have had no other end or ambition than to fill up the day and the night with dress, diversions, and flattery, and who, having made no acquaintance with knowledge or with business, have constantly caught all their ideas from the current prattle of the hour, and been indebted for all their happiness to compliments and treats. With these ladies, age begins early, and very often lasts long; it begins when their beauty fades, when their mirth loses its sprightliness, and their motion its ease.
It may be particularly observed of women, that they are for the most part good or bad, as they fall among those who practise vice or virtue; and that neither education nor reason gives them much security against the influence of example. Whether it be that they have less courage to stand against opposition, or that their desire of admiration makes them sacrifice their principles to the poor pleasure of worthless praise, it is certain, whatever be the cause, that female goodness seldom keeps its ground against laughter, flattery, or fashion.
Our next subject of conversation was the repugnance of women to let their age be known. The Emperor [Napoleon I.] made some very lively and entertaining remarks. An instance was mentioned of a woman who preferred losing an important law-suit to confessing her age. The case would have been decided in her favour had she produced the register of her baptism, but this she could not be prevailed on to do. Another anecdote of the same kind was mentioned. A certain lady was much attached to a gentleman, and was convinced that her union with him would render her happy; but she could not marry without proving the date of her birth, and she preferred remaining single.
Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases: Life of Napoleon, vol. iii., pt. ii., 104.
Whatever littleness and vanity is to be observed in the minds of women, it is, like the cruelty of butchers, a temper that is wrought into them by that life which they are taught and accustomed to lead.
I have observed among all nations that the women ornament themselves more than the men; that, wherever found, they are the most civil, kind, obliging, humane, tender beings; that they are ever inclined to be gay and cheerful, timorous and modest. They do not hesitate, like man, to perform a hospitable or generous action; not haughty, nor arrogant, nor supercilious, but full of courtesy and fond of society; industrious, economical, ingenuous; more liable, in general, to err than man, but in general, also, more virtuous, and performing more good actions, than he. I never addressed myself in the language or decency and friendship to a woman, whether civilized or savage, without receiving a decent and friendly answer. With man it has often been otherwise. In wandering over the barren plains of inhospitable Denmark, through honest Sweden, frozen Lapland, rude and churlish Finland, unprincipled Russia, and the wide-spread regions of the wandering Tartar, if hungry, dry, cold, wet, or sick, woman has ever been friendly to me, and uniformly so: and, to add to this virtue, so worthy of the appellation of benevolence, these actions have been performed in so free and so kind a manner, that, if I was dry, I drank the sweet draught, and if hungry, ate the coarse morsel, with a double relish.
On great occasions it is almost always women who have given the strongest proofs of virtue and devotion: the reason is, that with men good and bad qualities are in general the result of calculation, whilst in women they are impulses springing from the heart.
Count Montholon: Captivity of Napoleon, vol. i. ch. ii.
What means did the devil find out, or what instruments did his own subtilty present him, as fittest and aptest to work his mischief by? Even the unquiet vanity of the woman; so as by Adams hearkening to the voice of his wife, contrary to the express commandment of the living God, mankind by that her incantation became the subject of labour, sorrow, and death: the woman being given to man for a comforter and companion, but not for a counsellor. It is also to be noted by whom the woman was tempted: even by the most ugly and unworthy of all beasts, into whom the devil entered and persuaded. Secondly, What was the motive of her disobedience? Even a desire to know what was most unfitting her knowledge; an affection which has ever since remained in all the posterity of her sex. Thirdly, What was it that moved the man to yield to her persuasions? Even the same cause which hath moved all men since to the like consent: namely, an unwillingness to grieve her, or make her sad, lest she should pine, and be overcome with sorrow. But if Adam, in the state of perfection, and Solomon the son of David, Gods chosen servant, and himself a man endued with the greatest wisdom, did both of them disobey their Creator by the persuasion and for the love they bare to a woman, it is not so wonderful as lamentable that other men in succeeding ages have been allured to so many inconvenient and wicked practices by the persuasions of their wives, or other beloved darlings, who cover over and shadow many malicious purposes with a counterfeit passion of dissimulate sorrow and unquietness.
For a man may flatter himself as he pleases; but he will find that the women have more understanding in their own affairs than we have, and women of spirit are not to be won by mourners. He that can keep handsomely within rules, and support the carriage of a companion to his mistress, is much more likely to prevail, than he who lets her see the whole relish of his life depends upon her. If possible, therefore, divert your mistress rather than sigh for her. The pleasant man she will desire for her own sake; but the languishing lover has nothing to hope from, but her pity.
You see in no place of conversation the perfection of speech so much as in accomplished women. Whether it be that there is a partiality irresistible when we judge of that sex, or whatever it is, you may observe a wonderful freedom in their utterance, and an easy flow of words, without being distracted (as we often are who read much) in the choice of dictions and phrases.
A man that is treacherously dealt with in love may have recourse to many consolations. He may gracefully break through all opposition to his mistress, or explain with his rival; urge his own constancy, or aggravate the falsehood by which it is repaid. But a woman that is ill treated has no refuge in her griefs but in silence and secrecy. The world is so unjust that a female heart which has been once touched is thought forever blemished.
But indeed I must do my female readers the justice to own that their tender hearts are much more susceptible of good impressions than the minds of the other sex. Business and ambition take up mens too much to leave room for philosophy; but if you speak to women in a style and manner proper to approach them, they never fail to improve by your counsels.
The humour of affecting a superior carriage generally rises from a false notion of the weakness of a female understanding in general, or an overweening opinion that we have of our own; for when it proceeds from a natural ruggedness and brutality of temper, it is altogether incorrigible, and not to be amended by admonition. Sir Francis Bacon, as I remember, lays it down as a maxim that no marriage can be happy in which the wife has no opinion of her husbands wisdom; but, without offence to so great an authority, I may venture to say that a sullen wise man is as bad as a good-natured fool. Knowledge, softened with complacency and good breeding, will make a man equally beloved and respected; but when joined with a severe, distant, and unsociable temper, it creates rather fear than love.
I am sure I do not mean it an injury to women when I say there is a sort of sex in souls. I am tender of offending them, and know it is hard not to do it on this subject; but I must go on to say that the soul of a man, and that of a woman, are made very unlike, according to the employments for which they are designed. The ladies will please to observe, I say, our minds have different, not superior, qualities to theirs. The virtues have respectively a feminine and masculine cast. What we call in men wisdom, is in women prudence. It is a partiality to call one greater than the other.
You men are writers, and can represent us women as unbecoming as you please in your works, while we are unable to return the injury. You have twice or thrice observed in your discourse, that hypocrisy is the very foundation of our education; and that an ability to dissemble our affections is a professed part of our breeding. These and such other reflections are sprinkled up and down the writings of all ages, by authors, who leave behind them memorials of their resentment against the scorn of particular women, in invectives against the whole sex.
It has been thought we are not generally so ignorant as ill-taught, or that our sex does not so often want wit, judgment, or knowledge, as the right application of them. You are so well-bred, as to say your fair readers are already deeper scholars than the beaux, and that you could name some of them that talk much better than several gentlemen that make a figure at Wills. This may possibly be, and no great compliment, in my opinion, even supposing your comparison to reach Toms and the Grecian. Surely you are too wise to think that the real commendation of a woman. Were it not rather to be wished we improved in our own sphere, and approved ourselves better daughters, better wives, mothers, and friends?