WHAT IS SAID OF THEM
A REPRINT OF
A SERIES OF ARTICLES IN THE
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
MRS. LUCIA GILBERT CALHOUN
NEW YORK J. S. REDFIELD, PUBLISHER 140 FULTON STREET 1868
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by
J. S. REDFIELD,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of New York.
EDWARD O. JENKINS, PRINTER AND STEREOTYPER, No. 20 North William St.
The following papers on Woman were originally published in the columns of the London SATURDAY REVIEW. Some of them have already been reprinted in the literary and daily journals of this country, and they have excited no little discussion and comment among readers of both sexes.
Whether agreeing or not with the writer, it is impossible not to concede the eminent ability with which the various subjects are handled. No series of essays has appeared in the English language for many years which has been so extensively reprinted and so generally read.
The authorship of these papers has been attributed to different individuals, male and female; but it is more than probable that the writers whose names have been mentioned in this connection are precisely those who have had nothing whatever to do with them. It is not unlikely that, in due time, the publisher of this volume may be in possession of authentic information on this head, and that the name of the author may then appear on the title-page.
I.—THE GIRL OF THE PERIOD, 25
II.—FOOLISH VIRGINS, 34
III.—LITTLE WOMEN, 43
V.—PUSHING WOMEN, 61
VI.—FEMININE AFFECTATIONS, 73
VII.—IDEAL WOMEN, 83
VIII.—WOMAN AND THE WORLD, 93
IX.—UNEQUAL MARRIAGES, 101
XI.—PERILS OF "PAYING ATTENTION," 118
XII.—WOMEN'S HEROINES, 128
XIV.—PLAIN GIRLS, 148
XV.—A WORD FOR FEMALE VANITY, 157
XVI.—THE ABUSE OF MATCH-MAKING, 167
XVII.—FEMININE INFLUENCE, 177
XIX.—AMBITIOUS WIVES, 198
XX.—PLATONIC WOMAN, 206
XXI.—MAN AND HIS MASTER, 215
XXII.—THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER, 225
XXIV.—WOMAN IN ORDERS, 243
XXV.—WOMAN AND HER CRITICS, 253
XXVI.—MISTRESS AND MAID, ON DRESS AND UNDRESS, 262
XXVII.—AESTHETIC WOMAN, 272
XXVIII.—WHAT IS WOMAN'S WORK? 281
XXIX.—PAPAL WOMAN, 291
XXX.—MODERN MOTHERS, 300
XXXI.—PRIESTHOOD OF WOMAN, 309
XXXII.—THE FUTURE OF WOMAN, 319
XXXIII.—COSTUME AND ITS MORALS, 329
XXXIV.—THE FADING FLOWER, 339
XXXV.—LA FEMME PASSEE, 347
XXXVI.—PRETTY PREACHERS, 355
XXXVII.—SPOILT WOMEN, 364
The "Woman Question" will not be put to silence. It demands an answer of Western legislators. It besets college faculties. It pursues veteran politicians to the fastnesses of so-called National Conventions. Under the sacred sounding-boards of New England pulpits has its voice been heard, and its unexpected ally, the London SATURDAY REVIEW, introduces it to the good society of English drawing-rooms. That this introduction comes in the form of diatribe and denunciation is a matter of the least moment. Judgment will finally rest, not on the conclusions of the special pleader, but on the strength of the case of the accused.
Something, clearly, is wrong with fashionable women. They accept the thinnest gilt, the poorest pinchbeck, for gold. They care more for a dreary social pre-eminence than for home and children. They find in extravagance of living and a vulgar costliness of dress their only expression of a vague desire for the beauty and elegance of life. Is it, therefore, to be inferred that the race of noble women is dying out? St. Paul was hardly less severe than the London SATURDAY, if less explicit, in his condemnation of the fashionable women of his day, yet we look upon that day as heroic. Certainly neither London nor New York can rival the luxury of a rich Roman matron, yet it was not the luxury of her women which destroyed the empire, and Brutus's Portia was quite as truly a representative woman as the superb Messalina. John Knox thought that things were as bad as they could possibly be when he thundered at vice in high places; and if there had been a John Knox in the court of Charles the Second, he would have sighed for a return of the innocent days of his great-grandfather.
On the whole, that hope which springs eternal suggests that the fashionable women of the reign of Victoria, and of our seventeenth President, are not essentially more discouraging than all the generations of the thoughtless fair who danced idly down forgotten pasts. Nay, we may even hope that they are better. If they will not actually think, yet the fatal contagion of the newspaper and the modern novel communicates to them an intellectual irritation which might almost stand for a mental process. If they have not ideas, they have notions of things, and however inexact and absurd these may be, they are better than emptiness.
"Worse, decidedly worse," says our implacable critic; "when women were content with looking pretty before marriage, and with good housekeeping after, they were uninteresting certainly, but they were respectable. Now they dabble in all things; are weakly aesthetic, weakly scientific, weakly controversial, and wholly prosy, and contemptible." Dabbling is pitiful, certainly, and weakness has few allies, but let us do justice even to the weak dabblers. AEsthetic, or scientific, or controversial training has but recently been made possible to women. Their previous range of study had been very narrow. It is not strange that the least attainments should seem to them very profound and satisfactory, and the most manifest deductions pass for original conclusions. It is natural that their undisciplined faculties should grapple feebly with difficulties, and be quite unequal to argument. This is no reason for flinging the baffling volumes at their heads; better so educate their heads that the volumes shall no longer baffle.
Scolded because they have not an idea beyond dress, laughed at when they try to think of something better, a word may certainly be said for the good temper and the patience even of the fashionable women, who would be wiser if they could.
The fault is, we are assured, that these women take up books only to enhance their matrimonial value, and with no thought of the worth of study. Let us be just. What business or the professions are to most men, marriage is to most women. Men qualify themselves, if they can, for that competitive examination which is always going on, and which insures clients to the best lawyers, and business to the best merchant, and parishes to the best preacher. Women, compelled to wait at home for the wooing which changes their destiny, qualify themselves with attractions for that competitive examination which all marriageable young women feel that they undergo from every marriageable young man. Each has an eye to business. One does not feel that the motive in the one case is any higher than in the other.
It is very bad, of course, that marriage should be a matter of business. It is, perhaps, the most tragic of all perversions. But, evidently, the evil is not to be abated by jeremiads, nor by lectures to young women, no, nor even by brilliant editorials. So long as women believe that inglorious ease is better than work, so long as they are taught that they are born to be the gentle dependents of a stronger being, so long as courage and capacity are held to be "strong-minded," so long as the range of employments for women is narrow, and the standard of wages lower than men's, so long they will seek in marriage a home, a larger liberty of action, an establishment, a servant who shall supply them with money and insure them ease without effort of their own.
Men take the business opening which seems most congenial and most profitable. Women do the same thing, and their choice naturally falls upon marriage as altogether the most promising speculation of their very small list. The remedy seems to be to give women as thorough mental training as men receive, to make their training tend as directly to the business of earning their bread and their pretty feminine adornments, and for the same work to pay them the same wages. If it be objected that fashionable women will not work, let it be answered that work itself would be fashionable if it were held to be a dignity, and not a drudgery, and that the really fine and thoughtful leaders of society could easily establish the new order of things. In an aristocratic country, where labor is the badge of caste, it would be difficult to make it honorable. In a democracy like our own, it is the most contemptible snobbishness which frowns on the honest earning of money.
The accusation of prodigal and senseless expenditure in dress must stand unrefuted. Sums which would adorn our cities with pleasure-gardens, with libraries, with galleries of art, are spent on perishable gauds that have not even beauty to commend them. Charities might be founded, lives be enriched with travel, all lands laid under contribution with the money that every year flows into Stewart's drawers, and the strong-boxes of fashionable dress-makers. But the jewelled prodigals who spend it are not more selfish, perhaps, than we plain folks who carp.
Again, it is a mistake. They have the money. They mean to secure all the pleasure that money can buy. They have that feminine sensuousness which delights in color, and odor, and richness of fabric. Their sense of beauty is untaught. A little lower in the scale of civilization they would pierce their noses, and dye their finger-nails, and wear strings of glass beads. A little higher, they would sacrifice the splendid shawl to a rare marble, banish the chromo-lithograph, and turn the solitaire ear-drops into a lovely picture, and build a conservatory with the price of lace flounces. A little higher still, and we might have model lodging-houses, and foundling hospitals, and music in the squares given us by kindly women who had saved the money from milliner, and jeweller, and silk-mercer.
But standing just where they are, clothes seem to these same undeveloped women the best things money can buy; and a lack of culture confuses them as to the attributes of clothes. Just now our fashionable women are bitterly reprehended for copying the dress of the "Anonymas," who establish the very pronounced fashions of Paris. Half of them do not know what model they have taken. The other half accept the various and tasteless costumes, not because they are devised by "Anonyma," but because they are striking. There is something in the commonplaceness of fashionable life which smothers all originality of thought, of action, even of device in costume; and the women who give most time and money to dress, to whom one would look for perfection in that mixed art, are almost invariably the women who are exact reproductions of their neighbors in this regard, as in their house-furnishing, their equipages, and their manners.
Upon these splendidly monotonous fine ladies flashes the vision of "Anonyma," with her meretricious beauty, and her daring toilettes. Amenable to no social Mrs. Grundy, her love of dress develops itself in bold contrasts of color, in bizarre and showy ornaments, in picturesque, and often in grotesque and tawdry effects. But whatever the details, the whole is always striking. Our women longing for the new, accept the absurd; desiring the picturesque, take the bizarre, and eager for the elegant, content themselves with the costly.
Nor does the fact that our present fashionable evening costume is immodest, of necessity impugn the modesty of the women who wear it. That they are wanting in fineness of perception must be admitted. But women of fashion accept without question the dictum of their modistes. La Belle Hamilton, the famous beauty of the reign of Charles the Second, so delicately modest and pure that she passed unbreathed upon by scandal through that most dissolute court, is painted in a costume that the fastest of New York belles would not venture to wear at the most fashionable of receptions. The gracious and self-sacrificing and womanly women of our revolution, wore dresses cut lower than those of their great-grand-daughters, as any portrait-gallery will show. The dress is indefensible, but let us not be too ready to condemn the wearer for worse sins than thoughtlessness and vanity.
One doubts if there is a single Becky Sharp the less, (poor Becky!) since Thackeray gave such terrible immortality to their great prototype. The satirist is not the reformer. The satirized do not see themselves in the exaggerated type. They go their way, and thank God that they are not as these others. The critic of the London SATURDAY, beginning, perhaps, with the intention of telling sad and sober truth about a class, has ended with a list of the follies and faults of individuals, and these are set down with the keen and unconvincing clearness of the satirist.
It is a good thing indeed, that any aspect of the "woman question" should claim place, week after week, in a leading English journal. It is a good thing that it has been thought wise to reprint these essays here. All this talk about the wrong ways of women suggests that there is a right way, as yet very much involved in the dust of discussion and the fogs of speculation. All these accusations against her folly imply a proportionate tribute to her possible wisdom, if once she can get a fair chance to be wise.
What the reviewer urges against the effect of fashionable life on the intellect, cannot be gainsayed. But in America, at least, the injury to the young men is greater apparently than to the young women. At any evening party in New York, at any "Hop" in Newport or Saratoga, the faces of the men are of a lower type, their talk is more inane, their manners are more vulgar. The girls are empty enough, heaven knows! but they seem capable of better things, most of them. And they are not so wholly spoiled in character. I have found very fashionable girls capable of large sacrifices for love, or kindred, or obedience to some divine voice. This proves that they have only to be taught that there is something better than being very fashionable, to take it thankfully. But the men seemed sordid and selfish, and grown worldly-wise before their time.
Yet it might make us both more just and more generous to remember that during our time of peril as a nation, these very ranks of purposeless men furnished us soldiers and money, and a cheerful faith in the cause, just as these very legions of idle women gave us workers and nurses.
There is this cheer for American readers of these pages: What we have been told is our national sin of extravagance, the too pronounced character of our social life, the frivolity and ignorance of our women, the lack of a universal and high-toned society, we find not to be inborn defects peculiar to our system of government, and hopeless of change, but vices, also, of an old and cultivated and dignified nation.
A cheerful optimist may well believe that we are in a transition state; that women, impatient of the old life which was without thought and culture and motive, in the blind struggle to something better have fallen for the time on something worse; that with the movement of the age toward mutual helpfulness, man to man, women will move not less steadily, if more slowly, and come gradually into truer relations with each other and with men. It will not hurt woman to be criticised. She has too long been assured of her angelhood, and denied her womanhood. It will not help her very greatly to be criticised as if she were being tomahawked. If they who come to scoff would but remain to teach! There has been much ungentle judgment of men by women, of women by men. Thoreau said, "Man is continually saying to Woman, 'Why are you not more wise?' Woman is continually saying to Man, 'Why are you not more loving?' Unless each is both wise and loving there can be no real growth."
L. G. C.
THE GIRL OF THE PERIOD.
Time was when the stereotyped phrase, "a fair young English girl," meant the ideal of womanhood; to us, at least, of home birth and breeding. It meant a creature generous, capable, and modest; something franker than a Frenchwoman, more to be trusted than an Italian, as brave as an American, but more refined, as domestic as a German and more graceful. It meant a girl who could be trusted alone if need be, because of the innate purity and dignity of her nature, but who was neither bold in bearing nor masculine in mind; a girl who, when she married, would be her husband's friend and companion, but never his rival; one who would consider their interests identical, and not hold him as just so much fair game for spoil; who would make his house his true home and place of rest, not a mere passage-place for vanity and ostentation to go through; a tender mother, an industrious house-keeper, a judicious mistress. We prided ourselves as a nation on our women. We thought we had the pick of creation in this fair young English girl of ours, and envied no other men their own.
We admired the languid grace and subtle fire of the South; the docility and affectionateness of the East seemed to us sweet and simple and restful; the vivacious sparkle of the trim and sprightly Parisienne was a pleasant little excitement when we met with it in its own domain; but our allegiance never wandered from our brown-haired girls at home, and our hearts were less vagrant than our fancies. This was in the old time, and when English girls were content to be what God and nature had made them. Of late years we have changed the pattern, and have given to the world a race of women as utterly unlike the old insular ideal as if we had created another nation altogether. The girl of the period, and the fair young English girl of the past, have nothing in common save ancestry and their mother-tongue: and even of this last the modern version makes almost a new language through the copious additions it has received from the current slang of the day.
The girl of the period is a creature who dyes her hair and paints her face, as the first articles of her personal religion; whose sole idea of life is plenty of fun and luxury; and whose dress is the object of such thought and intellect as she possesses. Her main endeavor in this is to outvie her neighbors in the extravagance of fashion. No matter whether, as in the time of crinolines, she sacrificed decency, or, as now in the time of trains, she sacrifices cleanliness; no matter either, whether she makes herself a nuisance and an inconvenience to every one she meets.
The girl of the period has done away with such moral muffishness as consideration for others, or regard for counsel and rebuke. It was all very well in old-fashioned times, when fathers and mothers had some authority and were treated with respect, to be tutored and made to obey, but she is far too fast and flourishing to be stopped in mid-career by these slow old morals; and as she dresses to please herself, she does not care if she displeases every one else. Nothing is too extraordinary and nothing too exaggerated for her vitiated taste; and things which in themselves would be useful reforms if let alone become monstrosities worse than those which they have displaced so soon as she begins to manipulate and improve. If a sensible fashion lifts the gown out of the mud, she raises hers midway to her knee. If the absurd structure of wire and buckram, once called a bonnet, is modified to something that shall protect the wearer's face without putting out the eyes of her companion, she cuts hers down to four straws and a rosebud, or a tag of lace and a bunch of glass beads.
If there is a reaction against an excess of Rowland's Macassar, and hair shiny and sticky with grease is thought less nice than if left clean and healthy crisp, she dries and frizzes and sticks hers out on end like certain savages in Africa, or lets it wander down her back like Madge Wildfire's, and thinks herself all the more beautiful the nearer she approaches in look to a maniac or a negress. With purity of taste she has lost also that far more precious purity and delicacy of perception which sometimes mean more than appears on the surface. What the demi-monde does in its frantic efforts to excite attention, she also does in imitation. If some fashionable devergondee en evidence is reported to have come out with her dress below her shoulder-blades, and a gold strap for all the sleeve thought necessary, the girl of the period follows suit next day; and then wonders that men sometimes mistake her for her prototype, or that mothers of girls not quite so far gone as herself refuse her as a companion for their daughters. She has blunted the fine edges of feeling so much that she cannot understand why she should be condemned for an imitation of form which does not include imitation of fact; she cannot be made to see that modesty of appearance and virtue ought to be inseparable, and that no good girl can afford to appear bad, under penalty of receiving the contempt awarded to the bad.
This imitation of the demi-monde in dress leads to something in manner and feeling, not quite so pronounced, perhaps, but far too like to be honorable to herself or satisfactory to her friends. It leads to slang, bold talk, and fastness; to the love of pleasure and indifference to duty; to the desire of money before either love or happiness; to uselessness at home, dissatisfaction with the monotony of ordinary life, and horror of all useful work; in a word, to the worst forms of luxury and selfishness, to the most fatal effects arising from want of high principle and absence of tender feeling.
The girl of the period envies the queens of the demi-monde far more than she abhors them. She sees them gorgeously attired and sumptuously appointed, and she knows them to be flattered, feted, and courted with a certain disdainful admiration of which she catches only the admiration while she ignores the disdain. They have all for which her soul is hungering, and she never stops to reflect at what a price they have bought their gains, and what fearful moral penalties they pay for their sensuous pleasures. She sees only the coarse gilding on the base token, and shuts her eyes to the hideous figure in the midst, and the foul legend written around the edge.
It is this envy of the pleasures, and indifference to the sins, of these women of the demi-monde which is doing such infinite mischief to the modern girl. They brush too closely by each other, if not in actual deeds, yet in aims and feelings; for the luxury which is bought by vice with the one is the thing of all in life most passionately desired by the other, though she is not yet prepared to pay quite the same price. Unfortunately, she has already paid too much, all, indeed, that once gave her distinctive national character. No one can say of the modern English girl that she is tender, loving, retiring, or domestic. The old fault so often found by keen-sighted Frenchwomen, that, she was so fatally romanesque, so prone to sacrifice appearances and social advantages for love, will never be set down to the girl of the period. Love, indeed, is the last thing she thinks of, and the least of the dangers besetting her. Love in a cottage, that seductive dream which used to vex the heart and disturb the calculations of prudent mothers, is now a myth of past ages. The legal barter of herself for so much money, representing so much dash, so much luxury and pleasure; that is her idea of marriage; the only idea worth entertaining.
For all seriousness of thought respecting the duties or the consequences of marriage, she has not a trace. If children come, they find but a stepmother's cold welcome from her; and if her husband thinks that he has married anything that is to belong to him—a tacens et placens uxor pledged to make him happy—the sooner he wakes from his hallucination and understands that he has simply married some one who will condescend to spend his money on herself, and who will shelter her indiscretions behind the shield of his name, the less severe will be his disappointment. She has married his house, his carriage, his balance at the banker's, his title; and he himself is just the inevitable condition clogging the wheels of her fortune; at best an adjunct, to be tolerated with more or less patience as may chance. For it is only the old-fashioned sort, not girls of the period pur sang, that marry for love, or put the husband before the banker.
But she does not marry easily. Men are afraid of her; and with reason. They may amuse themselves with her for an evening, but they do not take her readily for life. Besides, after all her efforts, she is only a poor copy of the real thing; and the real thing is far more amusing than the copy, because it is real. Men can get that whenever they like; and when they go into their mother's drawing-rooms, to see their sisters and their sisters' friends, they want something of quite different flavor. Toujours perdrix is bad providing all the world over; but a continual weak imitation of toujours perdrix is worse. If we must have only one kind of thing, let us have it genuine; and the queens of St. John's Wood in their unblushing honesty, rather than their imitators and make-believes in Bayswater and Belgravia. For, at whatever cost of shocked self-love or pained modesty it may be, it cannot be too plainly told to the modern English girl that the net result of her present manner of life is to assimilate her as nearly as possible to a class of women whom we must not call by their proper—or improper—name. And we are willing to believe that she has still some modesty of soul left hidden under all this effrontery of fashion, and that, if she could be made to see herself as she appears to the eyes of men, she would mend her ways before too late.
It is terribly significant of the present state of things when men are free to write as they do of the women of their own nation. Every word of censure flung against them is two-edged, and wounds those who condemn as much as those who are condemned; for surely it need hardly be said that men hold nothing so dear as the honor of their women, and that no one living would willingly lower the repute of his mother or his sisters. It is only when these have placed themselves beyond the pale of masculine respect that such things could be written as are written now; when they become again what they were once they will gather round them the love and homage and chivalrous devotion which were then an Englishwoman's natural inheritance. The marvel, in the present fashion of life among women, is how it holds its ground in spite of the disapprobation of men. It used to be an old-time notion that the sexes were made for each other, and that it was only natural for them to please each other, and to set themselves out for that end. But the girl of the period does not please men. She pleases them as little as she elevates them; and how little she does that, the class of women she has taken as her models of itself testifies.
All men whose opinion is worth having prefer the simple and genuine girl of the past, with her tender little ways and pretty bashful modesties, to this loud and rampant modernization, with her false red hair and painted skin, talking slang as glibly as a man, and by preference leading the conversation to doubtful subjects. She thinks she is piquant and exciting when she thus makes herself the bad copy of a worse original; and she will not see that though men laugh with her they do not respect her, though they flirt with her they do not marry her; she will not believe that she is not the kind of thing they want, and that she is acting against nature and her own interests when she disregards their advice and offends their taste. We do not see how she makes out her account, viewing her life from any side; but all we can do is to wait patiently until the national madness has passed, and our women have come back again to the old English ideal, once the most beautiful, the most modest, the most essentially womanly in the world.
The heroines of the London season—the fillies, we mean, who have been entered for the great matrimonial stakes, and have been mentioned in the betting—have by this time exchanged the fast pleasures of the town for the vapid pastimes of the country. We do not of course concern ourselves with those poor simple girls who only repeat the lives and morals of old-fashioned English homes, and who are too respectable and too modest to be pointed at as the girls of the season. We speak of the fast sisterhood only. After three months of egregious dissipation they enter duly upon the next stage of their regular yearly alternations. Three months of headlong folly are succeeded by three months of deadly ennui. Action and reaction are always equal. The pains and weariness of moral crapulousness arise in nice proportion to the passion of the debauch. It is a dismal hour when we look on the withered leaves of last night's garland.
The lovely and unlovely beings who are now living depressed days far from Belgravia and the Row have, it is true, but joyless orgies to look back upon. Their pleasures gave but a pinchbeck joviality after all, were but a thin lacker spread over mercenary cares and heart-aching jealousies—not the jealousies of passion, but the nipping vulgar vexation with which a shopkeeper trembles lest a customer should go to his rival over the way. Still there was excitement—the excitement of outdoing a rival in shamelessness of apparel, in reckless abandonment of manner, in the unblushing tolerance of impudent speech, in all the other elements of ignoble casino-emulation. Above all, there was the tickling excitement of knowing that all this was in some sort clandestine; that ostensibly, and on the surface, things looked as if they were all exhibiting human nature at its stateliest, most dignified, and most refined pitch. The consciousness that the thin surface only conceals some of the worst elements of character in full force and activity must give a pleasantly stinging sensation to an acutely cynical woman. However, this is all over for a time.
For a time the half-dressed young Maenads of the season will be found clothed and in their right minds. And what sort of a right mind is it? We know the kind of preparation which they have had for the business of the season—for flirting, husband-hunting, waltzing, dressing so as to escape the regulations of the police, and the rest. For this their training has been perfect. But wise men agree that education should comprehend training for all the parts of life equally—for pleasure not less than for business, for hours of relaxation as well as for hours of strain and pressure, for leisure just as much as for active occupation. Education is supposed to arm us at every point. Nobody in this world was ever perfectly educated. Everybody has at least one side on which he is weak—one quarter where temptations are either not irresistible, or else are not recognised as alluring to what is wrong. But we all know that training, though never perfect, can make the difference between a decently right and happy life and a bad, corrupt half-life or no life. What does training do for the nimble-footed young beauties of the London ball-room? It makes them nimble-footed, we admit. And what else?
The root-idea of the training of girls of the uppermost class in this country is perhaps the most absolutely shameless that ever existed anywhere out of Circassia or Georgia. It puts clean out of sight the notion that women are rational beings as well as animals, or that they are destined to be the companions of men who are, or ought to be, also something more than animals. It takes the mind into account only as an occasionally useful accident of body. The mind ought to be developed a little, and in such a way as to make the body more piquant and attractive. Like the candle inside a Chinese lantern, it may serve to light up and show to advantage the pretty devices outside. But the outside is the important thing, and the inside only incidental. Insipidity of mind is perhaps a trifle objectionable, because there are a few young men of property who dislike insipidity, and who therefore might be lost from the toils in consequence. It is a crotchet and an eccentricity in a man to desire a wife with a bright mind, but since there are such persons, it is just as well to pay a slight attention to the mind in odd moments when one is not engaged upon the more urgent business of the body. You don't know what may happen, and it is possible that the most eligible parti of a season may dislike the idea of taking a female idiot to wife. Still it would be absurd to change the entire system of up-bringing for our girls merely because here and there a man has a distaste for a fool.
The majority of men are incapable of gauging power of intellect and fineness of character. But the veriest blockhead and simpleton who ever lounged in a doorway or lisped in Pall Mall can tell a fine woman when he sees her, and is probably able to find pleasure and hope in the spectacle. It is these blockheads and simpletons who thus set the mode. They fix the standard of fashionable female education. Education, or the astounding modern conception of it, means preparation of girls for the marriage market. If a girl does not get well married, it were better for her and for her mother also if she had never been born, or had been cast with a millstone round her neck into the sea. Whom she marries—whether a man old enough to be her father, whether a pattern of imbecility, whether a man of a notoriously debauched character—this matters not a jot. Only let him have money. This being the conception of marriage, and marriage being the aim of all sagacious up-bringing, as most men unhappily are more surely taken on their animal than on their rational side, it is perfectly natural that you should strive to bring up a worthy family of attractive young animals. And let us pause upon this.
If the idea which, even at its best, would be so deplorably imperfect, were rationally carried out, still it would not be so absolutely pestilent and debasing as it is. Physical education, rightly practiced, is a fine and indispensable process in right living. If the system had for its end the rearing of really robust and healthy creatures, it would mean something. On the contrary, however, anybody who makes a tour through fashionable rooms in the season may see that, in a vast quantity of cases, the heroines of the night are just as sorrily off in bodily stamina as they are for intellectual ideas and interests. Here we again encounter the fundamental blunder, that it is only the outside about which we need concern ourselves. Let a woman be well dressed (or judiciously undressed), have bright eyes, a whitish skin, rounded outlines, and that suffices. All this a wise English mother will certainly secure, just as a wise Chinese woman will take care to have tiny feet, plucked eyebrows, and black finger-nails.
If you go into a nursery you will see the process already at work. The little girl, who would fain exercise her young limbs by manifold rude sprawlings and rushing hither and thither, and single combats with her brothers, is tricked out in ribbons and gay frocks, and bid sit still in solemn decorum. With every year of her growth this principle of attention to outside trickeries and fineries is more rigidly pursued. Less and less every year are the nerves and muscles, the restless activities of arms and legs, exercised and made to purvey new vigor to the life. The blood is allowed to grow stagnant. The life of the woman, even as mere animal, becomes poor and morbid and artificial. By dint of much attention and many devices, the outside of the body is maintained comely in the eyes of people whose notions of comeliness are thoroughly artificial and sophisticated. But how can there be any health with high eating, little exercise, above all, with the mind left absolutely vacant of all interests? The Belgravian mother does not even understand the miserable trade she has chosen. She is as poor a physical trainer as she is poor morally and intellectually.
The truth is that in a human being, even from the physical point of view, it is rather a dangerous thing to ignore the intellect and the emotions. Nature resents being ignored. If you do not cultivate her, she will assuredly avenge herself. If you do not get wheat out of your piece of ground, she will abundantly give you tares. And there can be no other rule expressly invented for the benefit of fashionable young women. Their moral nature, if nobody ever taught them to keep an eager eye upon it, is soon overgrown, either with flaunting poison plants, or at best with dull gray moss. The parent dreams that the daughter's mind is all swept and garnished. Lo, there are seven or any other number of devils that have entered in and taken possession, more or less permanently. The human creature who has never been taught to take an interest in what is right and wholesome will, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, take an interest in what is wrong and unwholesome. You cannot keep minds in a state of vacuum. A girl, like anybody else, will obey the bent of the character which has been given either by the education of design or the more usual education of mere accidental experience. Everything depends, in the ordinary course of things, upon the general view of the aims and objects of life which you succeed, deliberately or by hazard, in creating.
A girl is not taught that marriage has grave, moral and rational purposes, itself being no more than a means. On the contrary, it is always figured in her eyes as an end, and as an end scarcely at all connected with a moral and rational companionship. It is, she fancies, the gate to some sort of paradise whose mysterious joys are not to be analysed. She forgets that there are no such swift-coming spontaneous paradises in this world, where the future can never be anything more than the child of the present, indelibly stamped with every feature and line of its parent. This castle-building, however, is harmless. If it does not strengthen, still it does not absolutely impoverish or corrupt, characters. Of some castle-building one cannot say so much. Character is assuredly corrupted by avaricious dreams of marriage as a road to material opulence and luxury. There is, indeed, no end to the depraved broodings which may come to an empty and undirected mind. If the emotions and the intellect are not tended and trained, they will run to an evil and evil-propagating seed. Rooted and incurable frivolty is the best that can come of it; corruption is the worst.
People madly suppose that going to church, or giving an occasional blanket to a sick old woman, will suffice to implant a worthy conception of the aims of life. At this moment, some mothers are, perhaps, believing that the dull virtue of the country will in a few days redress the balance which had been too much discomposed by the rush and whirl of the town. As if one strong set of silly interests and emotions could be effaced at will by simple change of scene, without substitution of new interests and emotions. Excess of frivolous excitement is not repaired or undone by excess of mere blankness and nothingness. The dreariness of the virtue of the villeggiatura is as noxious as the whirl of the mercenary and little virtuous period of the season. Teach young women from their childhood upwards that marriage is their single career, and it is inevitable that they should look upon every hour which is not spent in promoting this sublime end and aim as so much subtracted from life. Penetrated with unwholesome excitement in one part of their existence, they are penetrated with killing ennui in the next.
If mothers would only add to their account of marriage as the end of a woman's existence—which may be right or it may not—a definition of marriage as an association with a reasonable and reflective being, they would speedily effect a revolution in the present miserable system. To the business of finding a husband a young lady would then add the not less important business of making herself a rational person, instead of a more or less tastefully decorated doll with a passion for a great deal of money. She might awaken to the fact, which would at first startle her very much no doubt, that there is a great portion of a universe outside her own circle and her own mind. This simple discovery would of itself effect a revolution that might transform her from being an insipid idiot into a tolerably rational being. As it is, the universe to her is only a collection of rich bachelors in search of wives, and of odious rivals who are contending with her for one or more of these too wary prizes. All high social aims, fine broad humanizing ways of surveying life, are unknown to her, or else appear in her eyes as the worship of Mumbo Jumbo appears in the eyes of the philosopher. She thinks of nothing except her private affairs. She is indifferent to politics, to literature—in a word, to anything that requires thought. She reads novels of a kind, because novels are all about love, and love had once something to do with marriage, her own peculiar and absorbing business. Beyond this her mind does not stir. Any more positively gross state one cannot imagine. There are women who are by accident more degraded physically. Mutatis mutandis, there are none more degraded, morally and intellectually, than those whose minds are constantly bent upon marriage at any cost, and with anybody, however decrepit, however silly, and however evil, who can make a settlement.
The conventional idea of a brave, an energetic, or a supremely criminal woman is a tall, dark-haired, large-armed virago, who might pass as the younger brother of her husband, and about whom nature seemed to have hesitated before determining whether to make her a man or a woman—a kind of debatable land, in fact, between the two sexes, and almost as much one as the other. Helen Macgregor, Lady Macbeth, Catharine de' Medici, Mrs. Manning, and the old-fashioned murderesses in novels, are all of the muscular, black-brigand type, with more or less of regal grace superadded according to circumstances; and it would be thought nothing but a puerile fancy to suppose the contrary of those whose personal description is not already known. Crime, indeed, especially in art and fiction, has generally been painted in very nice proportion to the number of cubic inches embodied, and the depth of color employed; though we are bound to add that the public favor runs towards muscular heroines almost as much as towards muscular murderesses, which to a certain extent redresses the overweighted balance.
Our later novelists, however, have altered the whole setting of the palette. Instead of five foot ten of black and brown, they have gone in for four foot nothing of pink and yellow; instead of tumbled masses of raven hair, they have shining coils of purest gold; instead of hollow caverns whence flash unfathomable eyes eloquent of every damnable passion, they have limpid lakes of heavenly blue; and their worst sinners are in all respects fashioned as much after the outward semblance of the ideal saint as can well be managed. The original notion was a very good one, and the revolution did not come before it was wanted; but it has been a little overdone of late, and we are threatened with as great a surfeit of small-limbed, yellow-headed criminals as we have had of the man-like black. One gets weary of the most perfect model in time, if too constantly repeated; as now, when we have all begun to feel that the resources of the angel's face and demon's soul have been more heavily drawn on than is quite fair, and that, given "heavy braids of golden hair," "bewildering blue eyes," "a small lithe frame," "a special delicacy of feet and hands," and we are booked for the companionship, through three volumes, of a young person to whom Messalina or Lucretia Borgia would be a mere novice.
And yet there is a physiological truth in this association of energy with smallness; perhaps, also, with a certain tint of yellow hair, which, with a dash of red through it, is decidedly suggestive of nervous force. Suggestiveness, indeed, does not go very far in an argument; but the frequent connection of energy and smallness in women is a thing which all may verify in their own circles. In daily life, who is the really formidable woman to encounter?—the black-browed, broad-shouldered giantess, with arms almost as big in the girth as a man's? or the pert, smart, trim little female, with no more biceps than a ladybird, and of just about equal strength with a sparrow? Nine times out of ten, the giantess with the heavy shoulders and broad black eyebrows is a timid, feeble-minded, good tempered person, incapable of anything harsher than a mild remonstrance with her maid, or a gentle chastisement of her children. Nine times out of ten her husband has her in hand in the most perfect working order, so that she would swear the moon shone at midday if it were his pleasure that she should make a fool of herself in that direction. One of the most obedient and indolent of earth's daughters, she gives no trouble to any one, save the trouble of rousing, exciting, and setting her agoing; while, as for the conception or execution of any naughty piece of self-assertion, she is as utterly incapable as if she were a child unborn, and demands nothing better than to feel the pressure of the leading-strings, and to know exactly by their strain where she is desired to go and what to do.
But the little woman is irrepressible. Too fragile to come into the fighting section of humanity, a puny creature whom one blow from a man's huge fist could annihilate, absolutely fearless, and insolent with the insolence which only those dare show who know that retribution cannot follow—what can be done with her? She is afraid of nothing, and to be controlled by no one. Sheltered behind her weakness as behind a triple shield of brass, the angriest man dare not touch her, while she provokes him to a combat in which his hands are tied. She gets her own way in everything, and everywhere. At home and abroad she is equally dominant and irrepressible, equally free from obedience and from fear. Who breaks all the public orders in sights and shows, and, in spite of king, kaiser, or policeman X, goes where it is expressly forbidden that she shall go? Not the large-boned, muscular woman, whatever her temperament; unless, indeed, of the exceptionally haughty type in distinctly inferior surroundings, and then she can queen it royally enough, and set everything at most lordly defiance. But in general the large-boned woman obeys the orders given, because, while near enough to man to be somewhat on a par with him, she is still undeniably his inferior. She is too strong to shelter herself behind her weakness, yet too weak to assert her strength and defy her master on equal grounds. She is like a flying-fish, not one thing wholly; and while capable of the inconveniences of two lives, is incapable of the privileges of either.
It is not she, for all her well-developed frame and formidable looks, but the little woman, who breaks the whole code of laws and defies all their defenders—the pert, smart, pretty little woman, who laughs in your face, and goes straight ahead if you try to turn her to the right hand or to the left, receiving your remonstrances with the most sublime indifference, as if you were talking a foreign language she could not understand. She carries everything before her, wherever she is. You may see her stepping over barriers, slipping under ropes, penetrating to the green benches with a red ticket, taking the best places on the platform over the heads of their rightful owners, settling herself among the reserved seats without an inch of pasteboard to float her. You cannot turn her out by main force. British chivalry objects to the public laying on of hands in the case of a woman, even when most recalcitrant and disobedient; more particularly if a small and fragile-looking woman. So that, if it is only a usurpation of places especially masculine, she is allowed to retain what she has got amid the grave looks of the elders—not really displeased though at a flutter of her ribbons among them—and the titters and nudges of the young fellows.
If the battle is between her and another woman, they are left to fight it out as they best can, with the odds laid heavily on the little one. All this time there is nothing of the tumult of contest about her. Fiery and combative as she generally is, when breaking the law in public places she is the very soul of serene daring. She shows no heat, no passion, no turbulence; she leaves these as extra weapons of defence to women who are assailable. For herself she requires no such aids. She knows her capabilities and the line of attack that best suits her, and she knows, too, that the fewer points of contact she exposes the more likely she is to slip into victory; the more she assumes, and the less she argues, the slighter the hold she gives her opponents. She is either perfectly good-humored or blankly innocent; she either smiles you into indulgence or wearies you into compliance by the sheer hopelessness of making any impression on her. She may, indeed, if of the very vociferous and shrill-tongued kind, burst out into such a noisy demonstration that you are glad to escape from her, no matter what spoils you leave on her hands; just as a mastiff will slink away from a bantam hen all heckled feathers and screeching cackle, and tremendous assumption of doing something terrible if he does not look out. Any way the little woman is unconquerable; and a tiny fragment of humanity at a public show, setting all rules and regulations at defiance, is only carrying out in the matter of benches the manner of life to which nature has dedicated her from the beginning.
As a rule, the little woman is brave. When the lymphatic giantess falls into a faint or goes off into hysterics, she storms, or bustles about, or holds on like a game terrier, according to the work on hand. She will fly at any man who annoys her, and bears herself as equal to the biggest and strongest fellow of her acquaintance. In general she does it all by sheer pluck, and is not notorious for subtlety or craft. Had Delilah been a little woman she would never have taken the trouble to shear Samson's locks. She would have defied him with all his strength untouched on his head, and she would have overcome him too. Judith and Jael were both probably large women. The work they went about demanded a certain strength of muscle and toughness of sinew; but who can say that Jezebel was not a small, freckled, auburn-haired Lady Audley of her time, full of the concentrated fire, the electric force, the passionate recklessness of her type? Regan and Goneril might have been beautiful demons of the same pattern; we have the example of the Marchioness de Brinvilliers as to what amount of spiritual deviltry can exist with the face and manner of an angel direct from heaven; and perhaps Cordelia was a tall dark-haired girl, with a pair of brown eyes, and a long nose sloping downwards.
Look at modern Jewesses, with their flashing Oriental orbs, their night-black tresses, and the dusky shadows of their olive-colored complexions; as catalogued properties according to the ideal, they would be placed in the list of the natural criminals and lawbreakers, while in reality they are about as meek and docile a set of women as are to be found within the four seas. Pit a fiery little Welsh woman or a petulant Parisienne against the most regal and Junonic amongst them, and let them try conclusions in courage, in energy, or in audacity; the Israelitish Juno will go down before either of the small Philistines, and the fallacy of weight and color in the generation of power will be shown without the possibility of denial. Even in those old days of long ago, when human characteristics were embodied and deified, we do not find that the white-armed, large-limbed Here, though queen by right of marriage, lorded it over her sister goddesses by any superior energy or force of nature. On the contrary, she was rather a heavy-going person, and, unless moved to anger by her husband's numerous infidelities, took her Olympian life placidly enough, and once or twice got cheated in a way that did no great credit to her sagacity. A little Frenchwoman would have sailed around her easily; and as it was, shrewish though she was in her speech when provoked, her husband not only deceived but chastised her, and reduced her to penitence and obedience as no little woman would have suffered herself to be reduced.
There is one celebrated race of women who were probably the powerfully-built, large-limbed creatures they are assumed to have been, and as brave and energetic as they were strong and big—the Norse women of the sagas, who, for good or evil, seem to have been a very influential element in the old Northern life. Prophetesses, physicians, dreamers of dreams and the accredited interpreters as well, endowed with magic powers, admitted to a share in the councils of men, brave in war, active in peace, these fair-haired Scandinavian women were the fit comrades of their men, the fit wives and mothers of the Berserkers and the Vikings. They had no tame or easy life of it, if all we hear of them is true. To defend the farm and the homestead during their husbands' absence, and to keep themselves intact against all bold rovers to whom the Tenth Commandment was an unknown law; to dazzle and bewilder by magic arts when they could not conquer by open strength; to unite craft and courage, deception and daring, loyalty and independence, demanded no small amount of opposing qualities. But the Steingerdas and Gudrunas were generally equal to any emergency of fate or fortune, and slashed their way through the history of their time more after the manner of men than women; supplementing their downright blows by side thrusts of craftier cleverness when they had to meet power with skill, and were fain to overthrow brutality by fraud. The Norse women were certainly as largely framed as they were mentally energetic, and as crafty as either; but we know of no other women who unite the same characteristics, and are at once cunning, strong, brave and true.
On the whole, then, the little women have the best of it. More petted than their bigger sisters, and infinitely more powerful, they have their own way in part because it really does not seem worth while to contest a point with such little creatures. There is nothing that wounds a man's self-respect in any victory they may get or claim. Where there is absolute inequality of strength, there can be no humiliation in the self-imposed defeat of the stronger; and as it is always more pleasant to have peace than war, and as big men for the most part rather like than not to put their necks under the tread of tiny feet, the little woman goes on her way triumphant to the end, breaking all the laws she does not like, and throwing down all the barriers that impede her progress, perfectly irresistible and irrepressible in all circumstances and under any condition.
Not many years ago no really refined gentlewoman would have worn pinchbeck. False jewelry and imitation lace were touchstones with the sex, and the woman who would condescend to either was assumed, perhaps not quite without reason, to have lost something more than the mere perception of technical taste. This feeling ran through the whole of society, and pinchbeck was considered as at once despicable and disreputable. The successful speculator, sprung from nothing, who had made his fortune during the war, might buy land, build himself a mansion, and set up a magnificent establishment, but he was never looked on as more than a lucky adventurer by the aboriginal gentry of the place; and the blue blood, perhaps nourishing itself on thin beer, turned up its nose disdainfully at the claret and madeira which had been personally earned and not lineally inherited. This exclusiveness was narrow in spirit, and hard in individual working; and yet there was a wholesome sentiment underlying its pride which made it valuable in social ethics, if immoral on the score of natural equality and human charity. It was the rejection of pretentiousness, however gilded and glittering, in favor of reality, however poor and barren; it was the condemnation of make-believes—the repudiation of pinchbeck. It is not a generation since this was the normal attitude of society towards its nouveaux riches and Brummagem jewelry; but time moves fast in these later days, and national sentiments change as quickly as national fashions.
We are in the humor to rehabilitate all things, and pinchbeck has now its turn with the rest. The lady of slender means who would refuse to wear imitation lace and false jewelry is as rare as the country society which would exclude the nouveau riche because of his newness, and not adopt him because of his riches. The whole anxiety now is, not what a thing is, but how it looks—not its quality, but its appearance. Every part of social and domestic life is dedicated to the apotheosis of pinchbeck. It meets us at the hall door, where miserable make-believes of stuccoed pillars are supposed to confer a quasi-palatial dignity on a wretched little villa, run up without regard to one essential of home comfort or of architectural truth. It goes with us into the cold, conventional drawing-room, where all is for show, nothing for use, where no one lives, and which is just the mere pretence of a dwelling-room, set out to deceive the world into the belief that its cheap finery is the expression of the every-day life and circumstances of the family. It sits with us at the table, which a confectioner out of a back street has furnished, and where everything, down to the very flowers, is hired for the occasion. It glitters in the brooches and bracelets of the women, in the studs and signet-rings of the men; it is in the hired broughams, the hired waiters, the pigmy page-boys, the faded paper flowers, the cheap champagne, and the affectation of social consideration that meet us at every turn. The whole of the lower section of the middle classes is penetrated through and through with the worship of pinchbeck, and for one family that holds itself in the honor and simplicity of truth, ten thousand lie, to the world and to themselves, in frippery and pretence.
The greatest sinners in this are women. Men are often ostentatious, often extravagant, and not unfrequently dishonest in that broadway of dishonesty which is called living beyond their means—sometimes making up the deficit by practices which end in the dock of the Old Bailey; but, as a rule, they go in for the real thing in details, and their pinchbeck is at the core rather than on the surface. Women, on the contrary, give themselves up to a more general pretentiousness, and, provided they can make a show, care very little about the means; provided they can ring their metal on the counter, they ignore the want of the hall-stamp underneath. Locality, dress, their visiting-list, and domestic appearances are the four things which they demand shall be in accord with their neighbor's; and for these four surfaces they will sacrifice the whole internal fabric. They will have a showy-looking house, encrusted with base ornamentation and false grandeur, though it lets in wind, rain, and sound almost as if it were made of mud or canvas, rather than a plain and substantial dwelling-place, with comfort instead of stucco, and moderately thick walls instead of porches and pilasters. Most of their time is necessarily passed at home, but they undergo all manner of house discomfort resulting from this preference of cheap finery over solid structure, rather than forego their "genteel locality" and stereotyped ornamentation. A family of daughters on the one side, diligent over the "Battle of Prague;" a nursery full of crying babies on the other; more Battles of Prague opposite, diversified by a future Lind practicing her scales unweariedly; water-pipes bursting in the frost, walls streaming in the thaw, the lower offices reeking and green with damp, and the upper rooms too insecure for unrestricted movement—all these, and more miseries of the same kind, she willingly encounters rather than shift into a locality relatively unfashionable to her sphere, but where she could have substantiality and comfort for the same rent that she pays now for flash and pinchbeck.
In dress it is the same thing. She must look like her neighbors, no matter whether they can spend pounds to her shillings, and run up a milliner's bill beyond what she can afford for the whole family living. If they can buy gold, she can manage pinchbeck; glass that looks like jet, like filagree work, like anything else she fancies, is every bit to her as good as the real thing; and if she cannot compass Valenciennes and Mechlin, she can go to Nottingham and buy machine-made imitations that will make quite as fine a show. How poor soever she may be, she must hang herself about with ornaments made of painted wood, glass, or vulcanite; she must break out into spangles and beads and chains and benoitons, which are cheap luxuries, and, as she thinks, effective. Flimsy silks make as rich a rustle to her ear as the stateliest brocade, and cotton-velvet delights the soul that cannot aspire to Genoa. The love of pinchbeck is so deeply ingrained in her that even if, in a momentary fit of aberration into good taste, she condescends to a simple material about which there can be neither disguise nor pretence, she must load it with that detestable cheap finery of hers till she makes herself as vulgar in a muslin as she was in a cotton velvet.
The simplex munditiis, which used to be held as a canon of feminine good taste, is now abandoned altogether, and the more she can bedizen herself according to the pattern of a Sandwich islander the more beautiful she thinks herself, the more certain the fascination of the men, and the greater the jealousy of the women. This is the cause of all the tags and streamers, the bits of ribbon here and flying ends of laces there, the puffed-out chignons, and the trailing curls cut off some dead girl's head, wherewith the modern Englishwoman delights to make herself hideous. It is pinchbeck throughout. But we fear she is past praying for in the matter of fashion, and that she is too far given over to the abomination of pretence to be called back to truth for any ethical reason whatsoever, or indeed by anything short of high examples. And then, if simplicity became the fashion, we should have our pinchbeck votaries translating that into extremes as they do now with ornamentation; if my lady took to plainness, they would go to nakedness.
Another bit of pinchbeck is the visiting-list—the cards of invitation stuck against the drawing-room glass—with the grandest names and largest fortunes put forward, irrespective of dates or tenses. The chance contact with the people represented may be quite out of the ordinary circumstances of life, but their names are paraded as if an accident, which has happened once and may never occur again, were in the daily order of events. They are brought to the front to make others believe that the whole social thickness is of the same quality; that generals and admirals and sirs and ladies are the common elements of the special circle in which the family habitually moves; that pinchbeck is good gold, and that stucco means marble. Women are exceedingly tenacious of these pasteboard appearances.
In a house with its couple of female servants, where formal visitors are very rare, and invitations, save by friendly word of mouth, rarer still, you may see a cracked china bowl or cheap mock patera on the hall table, to receive the cards which are assumed to come in the thick showers usual with high people who have hall-porters, and a thousand names or more on their books. The pile gets horribly dusty to be sure, and the upper layer turns by degrees from cream-color to brown; but antiquity is not held to weaken the force of grandeur. The titled card left on a chance occasion more than a year ago still keeps the uppermost place, still represents a perpetual renewal of aristocratic visits, and an unbroken succession of social triumphs. Yellowed and soiled, it is none the less the trump-card of the list; and while the outside world laughs and ridicules, the lady at home thinks that no one sees through this puerile pretence, and that the visiting-list is accepted according to the status of the fugleman at the head. She is very happy if she can say that the pattern of her dress, her cap, her bonnet, was taken from that of Lady So and So; and we may be quite sure that all personal contact with grand folks does so express itself, and perpetuate the memory of the event, by such imitation—at a distance. It is too good an occasion for the airing of pinchbeck to be disregarded, and, consequently, for the most part is turned to this practical account. Whether the fashion will be suited to the material, or to the other parts of the dress, is quite a secondary consideration, it being of the essence of pinchbeck to despise both fitness and harmony.
There is a large amount of pinchbeck in the appearance of social influence, much cultivated by women of a certain activity of mind, and with more definite aims than all women have. This belongs to a grade one step higher than the small pretences we have been speaking of—to women who have money, and so far have one reality, but who have not, by their own birth or their husband's, the original standing which would give them this influence as of right. Some make themselves notorious for their drawing-room patronage of artists, which, however, does not often include buying their pictures; others gather around them scores of obscure authors, whose books they talk of, if they do not read; a few, a short time since, were centres of spiritualistic circles, and got a queer kind of social influence thereby, so far as Philistine desire to witness the "manifestations" went; and one or two are names of weight in the emancipated ranks, and take chiefly to what they call "working women." These are they who attend Ladies' Committees, where they talk bosh, and pound away at utterly uninteresting subjects, as diligently as if what they said had any point in it, and what they did any ultimate issue in probability or common sense. But beyond the fact of having a large house, where their several sets may assemble at stated periods, these would-be lady patronesses are utterly impotent to help or hinder; and their patronage is just so much pinchbeck, not worth the trouble of weighing.
In all this gaudy attempt at show, this restless dissatisfaction with what they are, and ceaseless endeavour to appear something they are not, our middle-class ladies are doing themselves and society infinite mischief. They set the tone to the world below them, and the small tradespeople and the servants, when they copy the vices of their superiors, do not imitate her grace the duchess, but the doctor's wife over the way, and the lawyer's lady next door, and the young ladies everywhere, who all try to appear women of rank and fortune, and who are ashamed of nothing as much as of industry, truth and simplicity. Hence the rage for cheap finery in the kitchen, just a trifle more ugly and debased than that worn in the drawing-room; hence the miserable pretentiousness, and pinchbeck fine-ladyism, filtering like poison through every pore of our society, to result God only knows in what grave moral cataclysm, unless women of mind and education will come to the front, and endeavour to stay the plague already begun.
Chains and brooches may seem but small material causes for important moral effects, but they are symbols; and, as symbols, of deep national value. No good will be done till we get back some of our fine old horror of pinchbeck, and once more insist on truth as the foundation of our national life. Education and refinement will be of no avail if they do not land us here; and the progress of the arts and society must not be brought to mean chiefly the travesty of civilized ladies into the semblance of savages, by the cheap imitation of costly substances. Women are always rushing about the world eager after everything but their home business. Here is something for them to do—the regeneration of society by means of their own energies; the bringing people back to the dignity of truth and the beauty of simplicity; and the substitution of that self-respect which is content to appear what it is, for the feeble pride which revels in pinchbeck because it cannot get gold, and which endeavors so hard to hide its real estate, and to pass for what it is not and never could be.
The achievements of Anglo-Saxon energy present a rich mine of material to the bookmaker. We are justly proud of our self-made men—of our Chancellors who have risen from the barber's-shop to the Woolsack, of our low-born inventors who have fought their way to scientific recognition, of our merchant princes who have begun life with a capital of one half-crown. The story of the man who has raised himself to eminence by his own exertions, in the face of overwhelming disadvantages and obstacles, is a thrice-told tale, thanks to Mr. Smiles and other biographers. But our admiration has been almost exclusively drawn to these signal examples of pushing men. The analogous exploits of the fair sex remain comparatively unchronicled. No one has hitherto published a book about Self-made Women. Yet this branch of the subject would be very interesting, and even instructive. Of course the opportunity for the display of energy in pushing is, in the case of woman, much more limited. She cannot push at the Bar or in the Church, or in business. Her sphere for pushing is practically narrowed down to one department of human life—society. But within the limits of that sphere she exhibits very remarkable proofs of this peculiar form of activity. Moreover, pushing is a feature so peculiarly characteristic of the English, as distinct from the Continental salon, that no attempt to place a picture of the Englishwoman in her totality before her foreign critics would be complete without it.
There are three periods in the career of a pushing woman. The first is that in which she emerges from obscurity, or, worse perhaps, from the notoriety of commercial antecedents, and carried, by a vigorous push, the outworks of fashionable society. The wife of a successful speculator in cotton or guano, who is also the mistress of a comfortable mansion in Bloomsbury, gradually becomes restless and dissatisfied with her surroundings. It would be curious to trace the growth of this discontent. Ambition is deeply rooted in the female bosom. Even housemaids are actuated by an impulse to better themselves, and village school-mistresses yearn for a larger sphere. Perhaps it is this instinct to rise, so creditable to the sex, which compels a lady with a long purse, and a name well known in the city, to enter the lists as an aspirant to fashion. Perhaps her career is developed by a more gradual process. Climbing social Alps is like climbing material Alps—for a time the intervening heights shut out from view the grander peaks. It is not till one has topped Peckham or Hackney that a more extended horizon bursts on the eye, and one catches sight of the glittering summits of Belgravia. Account for it as we may, the phenomenon of a woman in the enjoyment of every comfort and luxury that wealth can give, but ready to barter it all for a few crumbs of contemptuous notice from persons of rank, is by no means uncommon. Probably the fashionable newspaper is a great stimulus to pushing.
The rich vulgarian pores over Court Circulars and catalogues of aristocratic names till the fascination becomes irresistible, and the desire to see her own name, purged of cotton or guano, figuring in the same sheet grows to a monomania. But how is this to be done? Fortunately for the purpose which she has in view, there exist in these latter days amphibious beings, half trader, half fop, with one set of relations with the world of commerce and another set of relations with the world of fashion. The dandy, driven into the city by the stress of his fiscal exigencies, forms a link between the East-end and the West. Among his other functions is that of giving aid and counsel, not exactly gratis, to any fair outsider who wants to "get into" society. For every applicant he has but one bit of advice. She must spend money.
For a woman who is neither clever nor beautiful nor high-born, there is but one way to proceed. She must bribe right and left. No rotten borough absorbs more cash than the fashionable world. Its recognition is merely a question of money. All its distinctions have their price. It exacts from the pushing woman a thumping entrance-fee in the shape of a sumptuous concert or ball. Nor is it only the first push which costs. Every subsequent advance is as much a matter of purchase as a step in the army.
There is a tariff of its honors, and any Belgravian actuary can calculate to a nicety the price of a stare from a great lady, or a card from a leader of fashion. This is the philosophy expounded by the amphibious dandy to his civic pupil. The upshot is, that she must give an entertainment, or a series of entertainments, on a scale of great splendor. Of course the house in Bloomsbury must be exchanged for another in a fashionable quarter. A more profuse style of living must be adopted. Her equipages must be gorgeous, her flunkeys numerous and well powdered. Above all, she must at once and for ever make a clean sweep of all her old friends. Upon these conditions, and in consideration of a douceur for himself, he agrees to be her friend, and help her to push. Then follows a delicate negotiation with one of those dowagers who rather pique themselves on their good nature in standing sponsors to pushing nobodies. She, too, makes her conditions. For the sake of the elderly pet to whom she is indebted for her daily supply of scandal, she consents to countenance his protegee. But she declines to ask her to her own house. She will dine with her, provided the dinner is exquisite, and two or three of her own cronies are included in the invitation. Last and crowning condescension, she will ask the company for the proposed concert or ball, provided the thing is done regardless of expense. It would be hard to say which a cynic would think most charming—the readiness to accept, or the inclination to impose, such conditions.
At last the great occasion arrives. Planted at the top of her staircase, under the wing of her fashionable allies, the nominal giver of the entertainment is duly stared at and glared at by a supercilious crowd, who examine her with the same sort of languid interest which they devote to a new animal at the Zoological. The greater number are "going on" to another party. But the next morning brings balm for every mortification. Her ball is blazoned in the fashionable journals, and the well-bred reporter, while elaborately complimentary to the exotics, is discreetly silent as to the supercilious stares. She does not exactly awake to find herself famous, but at least she is no longer outside the Pale. At a considerable outlay, she has got into what a connoisseur in shades of fashion would call tenth-rate society. This is not much; still, it is a beginning, and a beginning is everything to a pushing woman.
In the pushing woman of the transition period we behold a lady who has got a certain footing in society, but who is straining every nerve, in season and out of season, by hook and by crook, to improve her position. Society within the Pale is divided into a great many "zones" or "sets." It is like a target, with outer, middle, inner, and innermost circles. The exterior circle, corresponding to "the black" in archery, consists of persona, for the most part, with limited means and moderate ambition. People who try to combine fashion with economy stick here, and advance no further. Carpet-dances and champagneless suppers are typical of this circle. Here mothers and daughters prey upon the inexperienced youth of the Universities and green young officers, who are deluded for one season by their pretensions to fashion, but who cut them the next. Here, too, may be found persons whose social progress has been retarded by foolish scruples about cutting their old friends. Between this band of prowlers upon the outskirts of fashion and "the best set"—the golden ring in the centre of the shield—are many intermediate circles, each representing a different stage of distinction and exclusiveness. It is the multiplicity of these invisible lines of demarcation which makes pushing so laborious.
The world of fashion is not one homogeneous camp, but it is parcelled out into a number of cliques and coteries. Into one after another of these a pushing woman effects her entrance. She is always edging her way into a new and better set. At every step there are obstacles to be encountered, rivals to be jostled, fierce snubs to be endured. There is something almost sublime in the spectacle of this untiring activity of shoulder and elbow. The mere shoving—vis consili expers—would never bring her near to her goal. An adept in the art of pushing does not rely on sheer impudence alone. She has recourse to artificial aids and appliances. A great deal of ingenuity is exhibited in the selection of her self-propelling machinery. It is a good plan to acquire a name for some one social speciality.
Private theatricals, for instance, or similar entertainments, may be turned to excellent account. Exhibitions of this kind pique curiosity, and people who come to stare remain to supper, and possibly return to drop a card on the following afternoon. But, if you go in for this sort of thing, you must resign yourself to certain inconveniences. Your pretty drawing-room will be like Park Lane in a state of chronic obstruction. The carpenter's work will interfere somewhat with your comfort, and it is tiresome to be perpetually unhinging your doors and pulling your windows out of their frames. The jealousies and bickerings among the performers are another source of vexation. Miss A. declines to sit as Rowena to Miss B.'s Rebecca; and the drawing-room Roscius invariably objects to the part for which he is cast. Altogether, unless you have a positive taste for carpentry and green-room squabbles, it is better to steer clear of private theatricals.
Then there is the musical dodge. In skillful hands there is no better leverage for pushing operations than drawing-room music. Every one knows Lady Tweedledum and her amateur concerts. The fuss she makes about them is prodigious. They are a cheap sort of entertainment, but they cost the thrifty patroness of art a vast deal of trouble. She is always organizing practices, arranging rehearsals, drawing up programmes, or scouring London for musical recruits. She has been known to invade dingy Government offices for a tenor, and to run a soprano to earth in distant Bloomsbury. After all, her "music" is only so-so. You may hear better any night at Even's or the Oxford. One has heard "Dal tuo stellato soglio" before, and Niedermeyer insipidities are a little fade. Sometimes, to complete the imposture, the names of Mendelssohn and Mozart are invoked, and, under cover of doing honor to an immortal composer, a chorus of young people assemble for periodical flirtation. On the whole, it is wise not to attempt too much. Miss Quaver, with her staccato notes and semi-professional minauderies, is not exactly a queen of song. Nor does it give one any exquisite delight to hear Sir Raucisonous Trombone give tongue in a French romance. The talented band of the Piccadilly Troubadours, floundering through the overture to Zampa, hardly satisfies a refined musical ear. But, however indifferent in a musical point of view, from the point of view of the fair projector the thing is a success. It serves as a trap to catch duchesses, a device for putting salt on the tails of the popinjays of fashion. One fine day Lady Tweedledum's pretended zeal for music receives its crowning reward. The noise of it reaches august ears. An act of gracious condescension follows. Her Ladyship has the supreme delight of leading a scion of Royalty to a chair of state in her drawing-room, to hear Sir Raucisonous bleat and Miss Quaver trill.
There are subtler means of pushing than amateur concerts and private theatricals. There is the push vertical, as in the case of the commercial lady; and there is also the push lateral. A good example of the latter style of operation is afforded by the dowager who is fortunate enough to have an eldest son to use as a pushing machine. Handled with tact, a young heir, not yet cut adrift from the maternal apron-string, may be turned to excellent account. There is, or was, a sentimental ballad entitled, "I'll kiss him for his mother." One might reverse the sentiment in the case of Madame Mere. Of her the dowagers with daughters to marry sing in chorus, "I'll visit her for her son." Civility to the mother is access to the son. A sharp tactician sees her advantage, and works the precious relationship for her own private ends. It is a mine of invitations of an eligible kind. By aid of it she springs over barriers which it would otherwise take her years to surmount, and is lifted into circles which by their unassisted efforts she and her daughters would never reach. Scheming dowagers are glad to have her at their balls when there is a chance of young Hopeful following in her train, and her five o'clock tea is delightful when there is a young millionaire to sip it with. Deprived of her decoy duck she would soon lose ground, and be left to push her way in society with uncomfortably reduced momentum.
Another capital instrument for pushing is a country-house. The mistress of a fine old hall and a cypher of a husband is apt to take a peculiar view of the duties of property. One might expect her to be content with so dignified and enviable a lot, and to pass tranquil days in coddling the cottagers, patronizing the rector's wife, and impressing her crotchet on the national school. But no—she is bitten with the tarantula of social success. She wants to "get on" in society. She must push as vigorously as any trumpery adventuress in May Fair. A good old name is dragged into the dirt inseparable from pushing. The family portraits look disdainfully from their frames, and the ancestral oaks hang their heads in shame. The company reflects the peculiar ambition of the hostess. The neighboring squires are conspicuous by their absence. The local small fry are of course ignored, though to the great lady of the county, who cuts her in town, she is cringingly obsequious. The visitors consist mainly of relays of youths, fast, foolish, and fashionable, with now and then a stray politician or journalist thrown in to give the party a soupcon of intellect. The principle of invitation is very simple. No one is asked who will not be of use in town. Any brainless little fop, any effete dandy, is sure of a welcome, provided he is known to certain circles and can help her to scramble into a little more vogue.
One more instance of lateral pushing. A connection with literature may be very effectively worked. The wives of poets, novelists, and historians have great facilities for pushing if they care to use them. Even the sleek parasite who fattens on a literature which he has done nothing to adorn, and conceals his emptiness under the airs of Sir Oracle, has been known to hoist his female belongings into the high levels of society.
The last period in the career of a pushing woman is the triumphant. This is when she has achieved fashion, and has virtually done pushing. There is nothing left to push for. The Belgravian citadel has fairly capitulated. Like Alexander weeping that there are no more worlds to conquer, she may indulge a transient regret that there are no more salons left to penetrate. But rest is welcome after so harassing a struggle. And with rest comes a sensible improvement in her character and manners. The last stage of a pushing woman is emphatically better than the first. It is curious to notice what a change for the better is produced in her by the partial recovery of her self-respect. One might almost call her a pleasant person. She can at last afford to be civil, occasionally even good-natured. And this is only natural. In the thick of a struggle which taxes her energies to the uttermost, there is no time for courtesies and amenities. The better instincts of her nature necessarily remain in abeyance. But they reassert themselves, unless she be irretrievably spoilt, when the struggle is over.
At last she can afford to speak her true thoughts, consult her own tastes, and receive her own friends, not another's, like a lady to the manner born. And if this emancipation from a self-imposed thraldom is not too long deferred, if it finds her at sixty with a relish for gaiety still unslaked, she may yet be able to enjoy society herself and to render it enjoyable to others. How many women there are of whom one says, How pleasant they will be when they have done pushing! or have pushed enough to allow themselves and others a little rest! One longs for the time to arrive when they shall have kicked down the ladders by which they have mounted, and effaced the trace of the rebuffs which they have encountered. One longs to see them cleansed from the stains with which their toilsome struggle has bespattered them, enjoying the ease and tranquillity of the after-push. If "getting on in society" must continue to be an object of female ambition, would it not be wise to abate the nuisance by rendering the process somewhat more easy? Might not some central authority be established to grant diplomas to pushing women, which would admit them per saltum to those select circles which they go through so much dirt to reach?
The old form of feminine affectation used to be that of a die-away fine lady afflicted with a mysterious malady known by the name of the vapors, or one, no less obscure, called the spleen. Sometimes it was an etherealized being who had no capacity for homely things, but who passed her life in an atmosphere of poetry and music, for the most part expressing her vague ideas in halting rhymes that gave more satisfaction to herself than to her friends. She was probably an Italian scholar, and could quote Petrarch and Tasso, and did quote them pretty often; she might even be a Della Cruscan by honorable election, with her own peculiar wreath of laurel and her own silver lyre; any way she was "a sister of the Muses," and had something to do with Apollo and Minerva, whom she was sure to call Pallas, as being more poetical. Probably she had dealings with Diana too, for this kind of woman does not in any age affect the "sea-born," save in a hazy sentimental way that bears no fruits; a neatly-turned sonnet or a clever bit of counterpoint being to her worth all the manly love or fireside home delights that the world can give.
What is the touch of babies' dimpled fingers or the rosy kisses of babies' lips compared to the pleasures of being a sister of the Muses, and one of the beloved of Apollo? The Della Cruscan of former days, or her modern avatar, will tell you that music and poetry are godlike and bear the soul away to heaven, but that the nursery is a prison, and babies no dearer gaolers than any other, and that household duties disgrace the aspiring soul mounting to the empyrean. This was the Ethereal Being of the last generation—the Blue-stocking, as a poetess in white satin, with her eyes turned up to heaven, and her hair in dishevelled cascades about her neck. She dropped her mantle as she finally departed; and we still have the Della Cruscan essence, if not in the precise form of earlier times. We still have ethereal beings who, as the practical outcome of their etherealization, rave about music and poetry, and Halle and Ruskin, and horribly neglect their babies and the weekly bills.
A favorite form of feminine affectation among certain opposers of the prevalent fast type is in an intense womanliness, an aggravating intensity of womanliness, that makes one long for a little roughness, just to take off the cloying excess of sweetness. This kind is generally found with large eyes, dark in the lids and hollow in the orbit, by which a certain spiritual expression is given to the face, a certain look of being consumed by the hidden fire of lofty thought, that is very effective. It does not destroy the effectiveness that the real cause of the darkened lids and cavernous orbits, when not antimony, is most probably internal disease; eyes of this sort stand for spirituality and loftiness of thought and intense womanliness of nature, and, as all men are neither chemists nor doctors, the simulation does quite as well as truth.
The main characteristic of these women is self-consciousness. They live before a moral mirror, and pass their time in attitudinizing to what they think the best advantage. They can do nothing simply, nothing spontaneously and without the fullest consciousness as to how they do it, and how they look while they are doing it. In every action of their lives they see themselves as pictures, as characters in a novel, as impersonations of poetic images or thoughts. If they give you a glass of water, or take your cup from you, they are Youth and Beauty ministering to Strength or Age, as the case may be; if they bring you a photographic album, they are Titian's Daughter carrying her casket, a trifle modernized; if they hold a child in their arms, they are Madonnas, and look unutterable maternal love, though they never saw the little creature before, and care for it no more than for the puppy in the mews; if they do any small personal office, or attempt to do it, making believe to tie a shoestring, comb out a curl, fasten a button, they are Charities in graceful attitudes, and expect you to think them both charitable and graceful. Nine times out of ten they can neither tie a string nor fasten a button with ordinary deftness, for they have a trick of using only the ends of their fingers when they do anything with their hands, as being more graceful, and altogether fitting in better than would a firmer grasp with the delicate womanliness of the character; and the less sweet and more commonplace woman who does not attitudinize morally, and never parades her womanliness, beats them out of the field for real helpfulness, and is the Charity which the other only plays at being.