Imágenes de páginas

between the sexes upon a very different footing from the above. Our unmarried females stand on the same ground as the other individuals who compose society. As soon as their age and acquirements permit, they are allowed every opportunity of studying mankind, and of becoming acquainted with the being with whom they are to make an interchange of happiness, a barter of affection. Neither are their hearts condemned to apathy,' to death-like silence, and a dread repose.' They may feel; they may speak, and unblushingly own the true but chastened language of nature. It is theirs to choose, and to say which the man is whose mind and temper they hold to be the most congenial to their own, from whom they may expect to receive, and on whom to confer the largest portion of happiness. The choice indeed of youth and inexperience may not always be that which the anxiety of parents or the prudence of age would suggest; and the voice of affection may differ from that of interest or ambition. But interest and ambition must be heard with caution in such cases; and age is too frozen a counsellor for the heart of youth. To maintain that conjugal happiness is more to be expected from another's choice than from our own, is little less than saying that, in a lottery, the wheel of fortune would help us with more constancy, than if we were allowed to put our hand in her coffers ourselves, and made our own selection of her favours. Some prizes have indeed been thus obtained; but how many disastrous blanks, with all their attendant depravity, have been poured upon society to make up the amount !

When this choice is made and crowned, the transition from the single to the married state is attended by no moral violence, no expansion of feelings never known before. No new part is to be enacted; no new forms of behaviour are to be conned and learned by rote. New duties indeed are imposed; but they are so in unison with all the preceding obligations, that they seem to flow from them as a necessary consequence. By previous intercourse proportioned to circumstances, by example, by the esteem and sympathy which precede her union, an English female is gradually trained

up to the frame of mind which suits a wife; and to feel as a mother needs no tuition. She is not, the day before her marriage, a blushing child, a boarding school miss, or a' pensionnaire de couvent;' and, the day after it, a heroine dubbed with connubial intrepidity. In both situations she is the same person, in mind and in manners; but now, with a dilated heart and augmented affections.

Like all other things in the two nations—and more especially those which depend on delicacy of tact, and nicety of perception --the question of female morality has been the subject of much


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The natural and the artificial language between the sexes are so different in the two countries, that it would be strange indeed if many mistakes did not occur.

The social habits of France have established a more coustant intercourse between the adult and emancipated individuals of either

sex, than the manners of England. The French indeed live more generally in public than we do; and to them domestic privacy is rather an affliction. Hardly any occurrence, of whatever nature, indispensably requires the separation of men from women. There was a time-before a political mania had seized their brains-when one of those apocryphal creatures, called an abbé, was a necessary appendage to every female toilette of fashion; and colonels of hussars have embroidered falbalas with their armed hands. Whether the conversation of such men may have raised the female intellect a little higher than it otherwise would have stood, we know not; but we mightily suspect that the system must have very much weakened that which should be the strongest. But a consequence was, more general ease in society; greater familiarity between the sexes; and more uninterrupted opportunity of indulging whatever feeling or passion might ensue from the presence of each other.

To remove all restraints, yet to preserve the decency of which highly polished society is so jealous, was the great aim of all who sighed for personal gratification, and their nation's glory-of all to whom their own vanity and the vanity of la belle France were dear. Every sophistry was employed to honour depravity; every corner of ingenuity was ransacked to beautify deformity. Illicit perseverance was revered; illicit constancy was held sacred; success was applauded; and to snatch a married mistress from the arms of a favoured rival deserved a Paphian crown, brighter than shone even for him who had the glory of being her first seducer. But, in all this, the forms of good breeding were preserved; in the midst of every wounded feeling of injury and mockery, politeness reigned.

To an Englishman, the masonic language of looks and gestures, which, to the initiated, reveals the past or present intimacy of the parties; the bow, the smile, the word, which all understand, but none will interpret aloud, are not immediately comprehensible. What he sees he believes, and he looks for no more.

He interprets that kind of social jargon, as he would a letter written with the common alphabet, and upon a common subject, never suspecting that every word contains, besides what is ostensible, some hidden sign, instantaneously intelligible to all who possess. the key of the cipher. He suspects no secret, and no cipher. But

with a single glance, the hackneyed Frenchman catches the clue of every intrigue, of every amour in a crowded assembly; and the discretion to which he is bound is as great a proof of his savoir vivre, as the rapid accuracy of his observation is a proof of his tact. Even in society exclusively French, a respectful silence upon these points in public is required; but it has been justly remarked that, in the presence of Englishınen, scandal-even op the most notorious topics—is absolutely mute. They have somehow picked up a notion that we are fastidious about female morals—and suspicious about the female morals of France, and not to act accordingly would be unpatriotic-it would be worse still,' mauvais genre'!

If we Englishmen possess no key to decipher the French secret, the French, on the other hand, have one so general that it only serves to lead them astray whenever they apply it to our language. The freedom which they see between unmarried persons in this country, they cannot admit to be innocent, because they know that, with them, the like could not be so; the reserve they take for hypocrisy; and a very general opinion among them has long been, and still is, that all our unmarried females are unchaste, and that our men care not whether they be so or not. They cannot conceive that two persons of opposite sexes can see each other unrestrained, without giving loose to every passion; and all that we look upon as bar-. riers to profligacy they hold as nothing. Neither do they entertain a higher opinion of British wives and mothers; and the modesty which they cannot deny, they consider as a veil to cover secret wrong

Admitting, for the sake of argument, the shyness and diffidence of English women to be all that these people suppose, we will ask them what has made such hypocrisy necessary ? Surely if the French could reason at all, they would stand convicted of absurdity by their own assertion. What is hypocrisy but an extorted homage paid by vice to virtue? The man who does not feel that virtue must be respected has no call to be a hypocrite. Madame de Staël, who abounds in felicitous perceptions, says that the secrecy or the notoriety of amours in England is a proof of morality; and her remark is perfectly just. English women who err are chained to one extreme or driven to the other, by one and the same cause; by the respect in which female virtue is held in this country. As long as they can conceal their misconduct they do so, and use every means to play the hypocrite, and preserve the good opinion of society. When detected, or even suspectedwhen they know that public censure hunts them down, that no management can retrieve them, they throw off the mask, and discard at once all the modesty of their sex. Their gallantry becomes


as notorious as it had been mysterious, as barefaced as it once was blushing; for with public opinion, with esteem in England, there is happily no compromise. Rank and wealth, and extraordinary dexterity, may keep some women afloat for a season upon the surface of society, in spite of faults and errors; but the surest weight which drags them to the bottom is opprobrium. The very great share of public attention excited in this country by the unexpected emersion of a female from the privacy of concealment to calamitous celebrity, as if a sun were to burst into the meridian at midnight, is precisely the thing which proves the comparative unfrequency of error. Yet, strange to say, much of the depreciation of the reputation of English women, both at home and abroad, is due to this very circumstance. In certain more civilized regions, it must be owned, one is amused with no extraordinary tales of love and intrigue. All goes on smoothly; no Doctors Commons, no damages, no divorces, no intrusive husbands. If a woman escapes the general contagion, she becomes almost as remarkable as those in England, whose loves have been brought before the woolsack. When Madame de Genlis mentions a lady of whom she chooses to tell no scandal, or of whom no scandal can be told, she seldom fails to bestow upon her the due note of singularity.

It would be difficult to refine upon the principles of depravity with more ability than the French have done; and, whenever their mettle is not raised by our assertion of purer morality, there is no subject which elates them more than the superior elegance of their corruption. "Perhaps,' say they sometimes, ' perhaps we may be as vicious as the English, but then we are bad more gracefully;' and a few instances of very ungraceful vice indeed in some of our fair countrywomen have confirmed this opinion. But a thing which the French have hardly seen at all, or ever can see, is the interior of an English family in the middling ranks of society; in that numerous class which is the broad and solid basis of English worth, and English prosperity. There they might behold —though perhaps they might not comprehend—woman in all her glory; not a doll to carry silks and jewels, a puppet to be dangled by coxcomb children, an idol for profane adoration; reverenced to-day, discarded to-morrow; always justled out of the true place which nature and society would assign her by sensuality or by contempt; admired but not respected, desired but not esteemed; ruling by fashion, not by affection; imparting her weakness, not her constancy, to the sex which she should exalt; the source and the mirror of vanity. They would see her as a wife partaking the cares, and cheering the anxiety of a husband; dividing his labours by her domestic diligence, spreading cheerfulness around her;






for his sake sharing in the decent refinements of the world, without being vain of them; placing all her pride, all her jov, all her happiness in the merited approbation of the man she honours. As a mother, they would find her the affectionate, the ardent instructress of the children she had tended from their infancy; training them up to thought and virtue, to meditation and benevolence, addressing them as rational beings, and preparing them to be men and women in their turn.

Our morals, male and female, are chastened by one general cause—a cause of which, even while the French confess its existence, they deny the effect. We are too busy a people to be vicious. We have not time to carry on long and complicated intrigues, to be profound in duplicity; to lavish away a year in Corsica, write volumes, and travesty ourselves perpetually, for the purpose of blasting the reputation of a woman, of seducing her, or of making the public believe that she, and not the wife of our brother, is the object of our desires. We have other matters to settle; and better is it for us to be condemned to labour for our country's good than to luxuriate in olives, vines, and vices.

If the various occupations of Englishmen divide them more from the fair sex than the futile pleasures of the French, we 'cannot but think that though there may be some cause for regret, on both sides, for this separation, yet the advantages of our sys. tem more than compensate its defects. The men remain more men than when softened by the perpetual presence of females.

Their minds are more masculine, more capable of the great affairs to which they seem destined by nature, and not unfitted for any of the minor social relations. The women have more leisure for their domestic concerns, more time for improvement; and, as they know that their mates and partners will return to them with invigorated minds, it is natural that they should endeavour to meet them on the same heights. The avocations of the men to public meetings, public dinners, &c. and the seclusion in which the ladies live during those moments, are, we are convinced of it, favourable to both parties; and their meeting again, when those are past, has no taste of satiety. The exclusive tea-table may sometimes be as dull as Madame de Staël has described it in her Corinna ; and the eveniing sittings of the gentlemen may be now and then abusive. But we are persuaded that were these daily secessions to be abolished, as in France, both sexes would be the worse for it, and the nation would lose a part of its greatness. France, says Madame de Genlis, is the paradise of women: but never do we see any of those noble creatures, whose true and Christian paradise on earth we maintain to be Britain, wiled away from their native land to wed in foreign climes, to give up their country, their religion, to wish

[ocr errors]


« AnteriorContinuar »