SKETCHES OF THE FAIR SEX,
IN ALL PARTS OF THE WORLD.
TO WHICH ARE ADDED RULES FOR DETERMINING THE PRECISE FIGURE, THE DEGREE OF BEAUTY, THE HABITS, AND THE AGE OF WOMEN,
NOTWITHSTANDING THE AIDS AND DISGUISE OF DRESS.
BOSTON: THEODORE ABBOT, 388 WASHINGTON ST.
Entered according to act of congress, in the year 1841, by
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
In the following Pages,
It is our design to present a pleasing and interesting miscellany, which will serve to beguile the leisure hour, and will at the same time couple instruction with amusement. We have used but little method in the arrangement: Choosing rather to furnish the reader with a rich profusion of narratives and anecdotes, all tending to illustrate the
to display its delicacy, its sweetness, its gentle or sometimes heroic virtues, its amiable weaknesses, and strange defects—than to attempt an accurate analysis of the hardest subject man ever attempted to master, viz—WOMAN.
It will be seen that we do not set down Woman as a cipher in the account of human beings. We accord to her her full share of importance in the world, and we have not attempted to relieve her from a sense of her responsibility as an accountable being. Above all, we have not failed to impress upon her the obligations she is under to CHRISTIANITY, whose benign influences have raised her to be the companion and bosom-friend of man, instead of his mere handmaid and dependant. It is religion that must form such a character as the following, which though applied by Pope to one of the most accomplished women of his time, is that of a CHRISTIAN WIFE in every age and station,—
"Oh! blest with temper whose unclouded ray Can make tomorrow cheerful as to-day: She who can love a sister's charms, or hear Sighs for a daughter with unwounded ear; She who ne'er answers till a husband cools, Or, if she rules him, never shows she rules; Charms by accepting—by submitting sways, Yet has her humor most, when she obeys."
By causing the character of woman to be more thoroughly discussed and better understood;—by making it more frequently the theme of rational meditation to the young and ardent, who, from the force of defective education, are apt to regard all "the sex," beyond a very limited circle, as mere accessaries to animal enjoyment,—whose peace they may wound without compunction, and whose happiness they may peril without reflection,—we feel that we shall do both sexes a good service, and one for which as they advance in life, and in their turn become husbands, wives and parents, they will thank our little book, as having helped them to know themselves and each other.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
African Women, 43 Adultery, punishment of 155 Bathing at Rome, 31 Betrothing and Marriage, 104 Chinese Women, 40 Chinese Bridegroom, 41 Caesar, Anecdote of 157 Celibacy of the Clergy, 160 Cleopatra, Death of, 199 Courts of Love, 172 Courtship, ancient Swedish 176 Courtship, Grecian 165 Courtship, Eastern 168 Condition of Women in the 8th Century, 52 Egyptian Women, Ancient 13 Egyptian Women, Modern 15 Euthira, desperate act of 162 Eastern Women, 37 English Women, 62 First Woman, 9 Female Friendship, 109 Female Delicacy, 30 French Women, 53 French Girls, 55 Female Simplicity, 71 Female Inferiority, idea of 67 Females during the age of Chivalry, 48 First Kiss of Love, 198 Grecian Women, 19 German Women, 99 Grecian Courtezans, 20 Greeks, religious festivals of 180 Grecian Ladies, luxurious dress of 164 Girls sold at Auction, 153 Husbands, on the choice of 114 Italian Women, 57 Influence of female society, 83 Immodesty at Babylon, 173 Indecency at Adrianople, 175 Lucretia and Virginia, 182 Ladies of Lapland and Greenland, 177 Matrimony, an essay on 203 Matrimony among the French 55 Matrimony in three different lights, 103 Magnanimity of Women, 77 Monastic Life, 89 Marriage Brokers at Genoa, 60 Marrying, power of 159 Noah's three sons, 43 Nuptial Ceremonies, 66 On looking at the picture of a beautiful female, 183 Persian Women, 17 Philtres and charms, power of 167 Roman Women, 24 Roman Oppian Law, 29 Russian Women, 65 Spanish Women, 60 St. Valentine's Day, 171 Sentimental Attachment, 92 Sale of a wife, 154 Saxons and Danes, long hair of 170 Venus de Medici, 194 Women, Art of determining the figure, beauty, habits, and the age of 185 Women in the Patriarchal ages, 10 Woman in Savage Life, 32 Woman in times of Chivalry, 45 Women in Asia and Africa, 79
"Sketches indeed, from that most passionate page, A woman's heart, of feelings, thoughts, that make The atmosphere in which her spirit moves; But like all other earthly elements, O'ercast with clouds; now dark, now touched with light, With rainbows, sunshine, showers, moonlight, stars, Chasing each other's change. I fain would trace Its brightness and its blackness."
SKETCHES OF "THE SEX."
THE FIRST WOMAN, AND HER ANTEDILUVIAN DESCENDANTS.
The great Creator, having formed man of the dust of the earth, "made a deep sleep to fall upon him, and took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man." Hence the fair sex, in the opinion of some authors, being formed of matter doubly refined, derive their superior beauty and excellence.
Not long after the creation, the first woman was tempted by the serpent to eat of the fruit of a certain tree, in the midst of the garden of Eden, with regard to which God had said, "Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die."
This deception, and the fatal consequences arising from it, furnish the most interesting story in the whole history of the sex.
On the offerings being brought, and that of Abel accepted, Cain's jealousy and resentment rose to such a pitch, that, as soon as they came down from the mount where they had been sacrificing, he fell upon his brother and slew him.
For this cruel and barbarous action, Cain and his posterity, being banished from the rest of the human race, indulged themselves in every species of wickedness. On this account, it is supposed, they were called the Sons and Daughters of Men. The posterity of Seth, on the other hand, became eminent for virtue, and a regard to the divine precepts. By their regular and amiable conduct, they acquired the appellation of Sons and Daughters of God.
After the deluge there is a chasm in the history of women, until the time of the patriarch Abraham. They then begin to be introduced into the sacred story. Several of their actions are recorded. The laws, customs, and usages, by which they were governed, are frequently exhibited.
WOMAN IN THE PATRIARCHAL AGES.
The condition of women among the ancient patriarchs, appears to have been but extremely indifferent. When Abraham entertained the angels, sent to denounce the destruction of Sodom, he seems to have treated his wife as a menial servant: "Make ready quickly," said he to her, "three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes on the hearth."
In many parts of the east, water is only to be met with deep in the earth, and to draw it from the wells is, consequently, fatiguing and laborious. This, however, was the task of the daughters of Jethro the Midianite; to whom so little regard was paid, either on account of their sex, or the rank of their father, as high priest of the country, that the neighboring shepherds not only insulted them, but forcibly took from them the water they had drawn.
This was the task of Rebecca, who not only drew water for Abraham's servant, but for his camels also, while the servant stood an idle spectator of the toil. Is it not natural to imagine, that, as he was on an embassy to court the damsel for Isaac, his master's son, he would have exerted his utmost efforts to please, and become acceptable?
When he had concluded his bargain, and was carrying her home, we meet with a circumstance worthy of remark. When she first approached Isaac, who had walked out into the fields to meet her, she did it in the most submissive manner, as if she had been approaching a lord and master, rather than a fond and passionate lover. From this circumstance, as well as from several others, related in the sacred history, it would seem that women, instead of endeavoring, as in modern times, to persuade the world that they confer an immense favor on a lover, by deigning to accept of him, did not scruple to confess, that the obligation was conferred on themselves.
This was the case with Ruth, who had laid herself down at the feet of Boaz; and being asked by him who she was, answered, "I am Ruth, thine handmaid; spread, therefore, thy skirt over thine handmaid, for thou art a near kinsman."
When Jacob went to visit his uncle Laban, he met Rachel, Laban's daughter, in the fields, attending on the flocks of her father.
In a much later period, Tamar, one of the daughters of king David, was sent by her father to perform the servile office of making cakes for her brother Amnon.
The simplicity of the times in which these things happened, no doubt, very much invalidates the strength of the conclusions that naturally arise from them. But, notwithstanding, it still appears that women were not then treated with the delicacy which they have experienced among people more polished and refined.
Polygamy also prevailed; which is so contrary to the inclination of the sex, and so deeply wounds the delicacy of their feelings, that it is impossible for any woman voluntarily to agree to it, even where it is authorized by custom and by law. Wherever, therefore, polygamy takes place, we may assure ourselves that women have but little authority, and have scarcely arrived at any consequence in society.
WOMEN OF ANCIENT EGYPT.
Wherever the human race live solitary, and unconnected with each other, they are savage and barbarous. Wherever they associate together, that association produces softer manners and a more engaging deportment.
The Egyptians, from the nature of their country, annually overflowed by the Nile, had no wild beasts to hunt, nor could they procure any thing by fishing. On these accounts, they were under a necessity of applying themselves to agriculture, a kind of life which naturally brings mankind together, for mutual convenience and assistance.
They were, likewise, every year, during the inundation of the river, obliged to assemble together, and take shelter, either on the rising grounds, or in the houses, which were raised upon piles, above the reach of the waters. Here, almost every employment being suspended, and the men and women long confined together, a thousand inducements, not to be found in a solitary state, would naturally prompt them to render themselves agreeable to each other. Hence their manners would begin, more early, to assume a softer polish, and more elegant refinement, than those of the other nations who surrounded them.
The practice of confining women, instituted by jealousy, and maintained by unlawful power, was not adopted by the ancient Egyptians. This appears from the story of Pharaoh's daughter, who was going with her train of maids to bathe in the river, when she found Moses hid among the reeds. It is still more evident, from that of the wife of Potiphar, who, if she had been confined, could not have found the opportunities she did, to solicit Joseph to her adulterous embrace.
The queens of Egypt had the greatest attention paid to them. They were more readily obeyed than the kings. It is also related, that the husbands were in their marriage-contracts, obliged to promise obedience to their wives; an obedience, which, in our modern times, we are often obliged to perform, though our wives entered into the promise.
The behavior of Solomon to Pharaoh's daughter is a convincing proof that more honor and respect was paid to the Egyptian women, than to those of any other people. Solomon had many other wives besides this princess, and was married to several of them before her, which, according to the Jewish law, ought to have entitled them to a preference. But, notwithstanding this, we hear of no particular palace having been built for any of the others, nor of the worship of any of their gods having been introduced into Jerusalem. But a magnificent palace was erected for Pharaoh's daughter; and she was permitted, though expressly contrary to the laws of Israel, to worship the gods of her own country.
MODERN EGYPTIAN WOMEN.
The women of modern Egypt are far from being on so respectable a footing as they were in ancient times, or as the European women are at present.
In Europe, women act parts of great consequence, and often reign sovereigns on the world's vast theatre. They influence manners and morals, and decide on the most important events. The fate of nations is frequently in their hands.
How different is their situation in Egypt! There they are bound down by the fetters of slavery, condemned to servitude, and have no influence in public affairs. Their empire is confined within the walls of the Harem. There are their graces and charms entombed. The circle of their life extends not beyond their own family and domestic duties.
Their first care is to educate their children; and a numerous posterity is their most fervent wish. Mothers always suckle their children. This is expressly commanded by Mahomet:—"Let the mother suckle her child full two years, if the child does not quit the breast; but she shall be permitted to wean it, with the consent of her husband."
The harem is the cradle and school of infancy. The new born feeble being is not there swaddled and filletted up in a swathe, the source of a thousand diseases. Laid naked on a mat, exposed in a vast chamber to the pure air, he breathes freely, and with his delicate limbs sprawls at pleasure.
The daughter's education is the same. Whalebone and husks, which martyr European girls, they know not. They are only covered with a shift until six years old: and the dress they afterwards wear confines none of their limbs, but suffers the body to take its true form; and nothing is more uncommon than ricketty children, and crooked people. In Egypt, man rises in all his majesty, and woman displays every charm of person.
The Egyptian women, once or twice a week, are permitted to go to the bath, and visit female relations and friends. They receive each other's visits very affectionately. When a lady enters the harem, the mistress rises, takes her hand, presses it to her bosom, kisses, and makes her sit down by her side; a slave hastens to take her black mantle; she is entreated to be at ease, quits her veil, and discovers a floating robe tied round her waist with a sash, which perfectly displays her shape. She then receives compliments according to their manner: "Why, my mother, or my sister, have you been so long absent? We sighed to see you! Your presence is an honor to our house! It is the happiness of our lives!"
Slaves present coffee, sherbet, and confectionary. They laugh, talk and play. A large dish is placed on the sofa, on which are oranges, pomegranates, bananas, and excellent melons. Water, and rose-water mixed, are brought in an ewer, and with them a silver bason to wash the hands; and loud glee and merry conversation season the meal. The chamber is perfumed by wood of aloes, in a brazier; and, the repast ended, the slaves dance to the sound of cymbals, with whom the mistresses often mingle. At parting they several times repeat, "God keep you in health! Heaven grant you a numerous offspring! Heaven preserve your children; the delight and glory of your family!"
When a visitor is in the harem, the husband must not enter. It is the asylum of hospitality, and cannot be violated without fatal consequences; a cherished right, which the Egyptian women carefully maintain, being interested in its preservation. A lover, disguised like a woman, may be introduced into the harem, and it is necessary he should remain undiscovered; death would otherwise be his reward. In that country, where the passions are excited by the climate, and the difficulty of gratifying them is great, love often produces tragical events.
Several historians, in mentioning the ancient Persians, have dwelt with peculiar severity on the manner in which they treated their women. Jealous, almost to distraction, they confined the whole sex with the strictest attention, and could not bear that the eye of a stranger should behold the beauty whom they adored.
When Mahomet, the great legislator of the modern Persians, was just expiring, the last advice that he gave to his faithful adherents, was, "Be watchful of your religion, and your wives." Hence they pretend to derive not only the power of confining, but also of persuading them, that they hazard their salvation, if they look upon any other man besides their husbands. The Christian religion informs us, that in the other world they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. The religion of Mahomet teaches us a different doctrine, which the Persians believing, carry the jealousy of Asia to the fields of Elysium, and the groves of Paradise; where, according to them, the blessed inhabitants have their eyes placed on the crown of their heads, lest they should see the wives of their neighbors.
To offer the least violence to a Persian woman, was to incur certain death from her husband or guardian. Even their kings, though the most absolute in the universe, could not alter the manners or customs of the country, which related to the fair sex.
Widely different from this is the present state of Persia. By a law of that country, their monarch is now authorized to go, whenever he pleases, into the harem of any of his subjects; and the subject, on whose prerogative he thus encroaches, so far from exerting his usual jealousy, thinks himself highly honored by such a visit.
A laughable story, on this subject, is told of Shah Abbas, who having got drunk at the house of one of his favorites, and intending to go into the apartment of his wives, was stopped by the door-keeper, who bluntly told him, "Not a man, sir, besides my master, shall put a mustachio here, so long as I am porter." "What," said the king, "dost thou not know me?" "Yes," answered the fellow, "I know that you are king of the men, but not of the women."
Woman, in ancient Greece, seems to have been regarded merely in the light of an instrument for raising up members of the state. And surely it may be said of them that they nobly fulfilled this duty. The catalogue of heroes and sages which shine in Grecian history bright and numerous as stars in the firmament, are so many testimonials to the faithfulness of Grecian women in this respect.
The sexes were but little society for each other. Even husbands were, in Sparta, limited as to the time and duration of the visits made to their wives.
That women in ancient Greece did not enjoy that delicate consideration which other refined nations accord to their sex, may be inferred from the inferiority of the apartments allotted to them. The famous Helen is said to have had her chamber in the attic; and Penelope, the queen of Ulysses, descended from hers by a ladder.
The rank which the courtezans enjoyed, even in the brightest ages of Greece, and particularly at Athens, is one of the greatest singularities in the manners of any people. By what circumstances could that order of women, who debase at once their own sex and ours—in a country where the women were possessed of modesty, and the men of sentiment, arrive at distinction, and sometimes even at the highest degree of reputation and consequence? Several reasons may be assigned for that phenomenon in society.
In Greece, the courtezans were in some measure connected with the religion of the country. The Goddess of Beauty had her altars; and she was supposed to protect prostitution, which was to her a species of worship. The people invoked Venus in times of danger; and, after a battle, they thought they had done honor to Miltiades and Themistocles, because the Laises and the Glyceras of the age had chaunted hymns to their Goddess.
The courtezans were likewise connected with religion, by means of the arts. Their persons afforded models for statues, which were afterwards adored in the temples. Phryne served as a model to Praxiteles, for his Venus of Cnidus. During the feasts of Neptune, near Eleusis, Apelles having seen the same courtezan on the sea-shore, without any other veil than her loose and flowing hair, was so much struck with her appearance, that he borrowed from it the idea of his Venus rising from the waves.
They were, therefore connected with statuary and painting, as they furnished the practisers of those arts with the means of embellishing their works.
The greater part of them were skilled in music; and, as that art was attended with higher effects in Greece than it ever was in any other country, it must have possessed, in their hands, an irresistible charm.
Every one knows how enthusiastic the Greeks were of beauty. They adored it in the temples. They admired it in the principal works of art. They studied it in the exercises and the games. They thought to perfect it by their marriages. They offered rewards to it at the public festivals. But virtuous beauty was seldom to be seen. The modest women were confined to their own apartments, and were visited only by their husbands and nearest relations. The courtezans offered themselves every where to view; and their beauty as might be expected, obtained universal homage.
Greece was governed by eloquent men; and the celebrated courtezans, having an influence over those orators must have had an influence on public affairs. There was not one, not even the thundering, the inflexible Demosthenes, so terrible to tyrants, but was subjected to their sway. Of that great master of eloquence it has been said, "What he had been a whole year in erecting, a woman overturned in a day." That influence augmented their consequence; and their talent of pleasing increased with the occasions of exerting it.
The laws and the public institutions, indeed, by authorizing the privacy of women, set a high value on the sanctity of the marriage vow. But in Athens, imagination, sentiment, luxury, the taste in arts and pleasures, was opposite to the laws. The courtezans, therefore may be said to have come in support of the manners.
There was no check upon public licentiousness; but private infidelity, which concerned the peace of families, was punished as a crime. By a strange and perhaps unequalled singularity the men were corrupted, yet the domestic manners were pure. It seems as if the courtezans had not been considered to belong to their sex; and, by a convention to which the laws and the manners bended, while other women were estimated merely by their virtues, they were estimated only by their accomplishments.
These reasons will in some measure, account for the honors, which the votaries of Venus so often received in Greece. Otherwise we should have been at a loss to conceive, why six or seven writers had exerted their talents to celebrate the courtezans of Athens—why three great painters had uniformly devoted their pencils to represent them on canvass—and why so many poets had strove to immortalize them in verses. We should hardly have believed that so many illustrious men had courted their society—that Aspasia had been consulted in deliberations of peace and war—that Phryne had a statue of gold placed between the statues of two kings at Delphos—that, after death, magnificent tombs had been erected to their memory.
"The traveller," says a Greek writer, "who, approaching to Athens, sees on the side of the way a monument which attracts his notice at a distance, will imagine that it is the tomb of Miltiades or Pericles, or of some other great man, who has done honor to his country by his services. He advances, he reads, and he learns that it is a courtezan of Athens who is interred with so much pomp."
Theopompus, in a letter to Alexander the Great, speaks also of the same monument in words to the following effect—"Thus, after her death, is a prostitute honored; while not one of those brave warriors who fell in Asia, fighting for you, and for the safety of Greece, has so much as a stone erected to his memory, or an inscription to preserve his ashes from insult."
Such was the homage which that enthusiastic people, voluptuous and passionate, paid to beauty. More guided by sentiment than reason, and having laws rather than principles, they banished their great men, honored their courtezans, murdered Socrates, permitted themselves to be governed by Aspasia, preserved inviolate the marriage bed, and placed Phryne in the temple of Apollo!
Among the Romans, a grave and austere people, who, during five hundred years, were unacquainted with the elegancies and the pleasures of life, and who, in the middle of furrows and fields of battle, were employed in tillage or in war, the manners of the women were a long time as solemn and severe as those of the men, and without the smallest mixture of corruption, or of weakness.
The time when the Roman women began to appear in public, marks a particular era in history.
The Roman women, for many ages, were respected over the whole world. Their victorious husbands re-visited them with transport, at their return from battle. They laid at their feet the spoils of the enemy, and endeared themselves in their eyes by the wounds which they had received for them and for the state. Those warriors often came from imposing commands upon kings, and in their own houses accounted it an honor to obey. In vain the too rigid laws made them the arbiters of life and death. More powerful than the laws, the women ruled their judges. In vain the legislature, foreseeing the wants which exist only among a corrupt people, permitted divorce. The indulgence of the polity was proscribed by the manners.
Such was the influence of beauty at Rome before the licentious intercourse of the sexes had corrupted both.
The Roman matrons do not seem to have possessed that military courage which Plutarch has praised in certain Greek and barbarian women; they partook more of the nature of their sex; or, at least, they departed less from its character. Their first quality was decency. Every one knows the story of Cato the censor, who stabbed a Roman Senator for kissing his own wife in the presence of his daughter.
To these austere manners, the Roman women joined an enthusiastic love of their country, which discovered itself upon many great occasions. On the death of Brutus, they all clothed themselves in mourning. In the time of Coriolanus they saved the city. That incensed warrior who had insulted the senate and priests, and who was superior even to the pride of pardoning, could not resist the tears and entreaties of the women. They melted his obdurate heart. The senate decreed them public thanks, ordered the men to give place to them upon all occasions, caused an altar to be erected for them on the spot where the mother had softened her son, and the wife her husband; and the sex were permitted to add another ornament to their head-dress.
The Roman women saved the city a second time, when besieged by Brennus. They gave up all their gold as its ransom. For that instance of their generosity, the senate granted them the honor of having funeral orations pronounced in the rostrum, in common with patriots and heroes.
After the battle of Cannae, when Rome had no other treasures but the virtues of her citizens, the women sacrificed both their jewels and their gold. A new decree rewarded their zeal.
Valerius Maximus who lived in the reign of Tiberius, informs us that, in the second triumvirate, the three assassins who governed Rome thirsting after gold, no less than blood, and having already practised every species of robbery, and worn out every method of plunder; resolved to tax the women. They imposed a heavy contribution upon each of them. The women sought an orator to defend their cause, but found none. Nobody would reason against those who had the power of life and death. The daughter of the celebrated Hortensius alone appeared. She revived the memory of her father's abilities, and supported with intrepidity her own cause and that of her sex. The ruffians blushed and revoked their orders.
Hortensia was conducted home in triumph, and had the honor of having given, in one day, an example of courage to men, a pattern of eloquence to women, and a lesson of humanity to tyrants.
During upwards of six hundred years, the virtues had been found sufficient to please. They now found it necessary to call in the accomplishments. They were desirous to join admiration to esteem, 'till they learned to exceed esteem itself. For in all countries, in proportion as the love of virtue diminishes, we find the love of talents to increase.
A thousand causes concurred to produce this revolution of manners among the Romans. The vast inequality of ranks, the enormous fortunes of individuals, the ridicule, affixed by the imperial court to moral ideas, all contributed to hasten the period of corruption.
There were still, however, some great and virtuous characters among the Roman women. Portia, the daughter of Cato, and wife of Brutus, showed herself worthy to be associated with the first of human kind, and trusted with the fate of empires. After the battle of Phillippi, she would neither survive liberty nor Brutus, but died with the bold intrepidity of Cato.
The example of Portia was followed by that of Arria, who seeing her husband hesitating and afraid to die, in order to encourage him, pierced her own breast, and delivered to him the dagger with a smile.
Paulinia too, the wife of Seneca, caused her veins to be opened at the same time with her husband's, but being forced to live, during the few years which she survived him, "she bore in her countenance," says Tacitus, "the honorable testimony of her love, a paleness, which proved that part of her blood had sympathetically issued with the blood of her spouse."
To take notice of all the celebrated women of the empire, would much exceed the bounds of the present undertaking. But the empress Julia the wife of Septimius Severus, possessed a species of merit so very different from any of those already mentioned, as to claim particular attention.
This lady was born in Syria, and a daughter of a priest of the sun. It was predicted that she would rise to sovereign dignity; and her character justified the prophecy.
Julia, while on the throne, loved, or pretended passionately to love, letters. Either from taste, from a desire to instruct herself, from a love of renown, or possibly from all these together, she spent her life with philosophers. Her rank of empress would not, perhaps, have been sufficient to subdue those bold spirits; but she joined to that the more powerful influences of wit and beauty. These three kinds of empire rendered less necessary to her that which consists only in art; and which, attentive to their tastes and their weaknesses, govern great minds by little means.
It is said she was a philosopher. Her philosophy, however, did not extend so far as to give chastity to her manners. Her husband, who did not love her, valued her understanding so much, that he consulted her upon all occasions. She governed in the same manner under his son.
Julia was, in short, an empress and a politician, occupied at the same time about literature, and affairs of state, while she mingled her pleasures freely with both. She had courtiers for her lovers, scholars for her friends, and philosophers for her counsellors. In the midst of a society, where she reigned and was instructed. Julia arrived at the highest celebrity; but as among all her excellencies, we find not those of her sex, the virtues of a woman, our admiration is lost in blame. In her life time she obtained more praise than respect; and posterity, while it has done justice to her talents and her accomplishments, has agreed to deny her esteem.
LAWS AND CUSTOMS RESPECTING THE ROMAN WOMEN.
The Roman women, as well as the Grecian, were under perpetual guardianship; and were not at any age, nor in any condition, ever trusted with the management of their own fortunes.
Every father had power of life and death over his own daughters: but this power was not restricted to daughters only; it extended also to sons.
The Oppian law prohibited women from having more than half an ounce of gold employed in ornamenting their persons, from wearing clothes of divers colors, and from riding in chariots, either in the city, or a thousand paces round it.
They were strictly forbid to use wine, or even to have in their possession the key of any place where it was kept. For either of these faults they were liable to be divorced by their husbands. So careful were the Romans in restraining their women from wine, that they are supposed to have first introduced the custom of saluting their female relations and acquaintances, on entering the house of a friend or neighbor, that they might discover by their breath, whether they had tasted any of that liquor.
This strictness, however, began in time to be relaxed; until at last, luxury becoming too strong for every law, the women indulged themselves in equal liberties with the men.
But such was not the case in the earlier ages of Rome. Romulus even permitted husbands to kill their wives, if they found them drinking wine.
Fabius Pictor relates, that the parents of a Roman lady, having detected her picking the lock of a chest which contained some wine, shut her up and starved her to death.
Women were liable to be divorced by their husbands almost at pleasure, provided the portion was returned which they had brought along with them. They were also liable to be divorced for barrenness, which, if it could be construed into a fault, was at least the fault of nature, and might sometimes be that of the husband.
A few sumptuary laws, a subordination to the men, and a total want of authority, do not so much affect the sex, as to be coldly and indelicately treated by their husbands.
Such a treatment is touching them in the tenderest part. Such, however we have reason to believe, they often met with from the Romans, who had not learned, as in modern times to blend the rigidity of the patriot, and roughness of the warrior, with that soft and indulging behavior, so conspicuous in our modern patriots and heroes.
Husbands among the Romans not only themselves behaved roughly to their wives, but even sometimes permitted their servants and slaves to do the same. The principal eunuch of Justinian the Second, threatened to chastise the Empress, his master's wife, in the manner that children are chastised at school, if she did not obey his orders.
With regard to the private diversions of the Roman ladies, history is silent. Their public ones, were such as were common to both sexes; as bathing, theatrical representations, horse-races, shows of wild beasts, which fought against one another, and sometimes against men, whom the emperors, in the plenitude of their despotic power, ordered to engage them.
The Romans, of both sexes, spent a great deal of time at the baths; which at first, perhaps, were interwoven with their religion, but at last were only considered as refinements in luxury. They were places of public resort, where people met with their acquaintances and friends, where public libraries were kept for such as chose to read, and where poets recited their works to such as had patience to hear.
In the earlier periods of Rome, separate baths were appropriated to each sex. Luxury, by degrees getting the better of decency, the men and women at last bathed promiscuously together. Though this indecent manner of bathing was prohibited by the emperor Adrian; yet, in a short time, inclination overcame the prohibition; and, in spite of every effort, promiscuous bathing continued until the time of Constantine, who, by the coercive force of the legislative authority, and the rewards and terrors of the Christian religion, put a final stop to it.
WOMAN IN SAVAGE LIFE.
Man, in a state of barbarity, equally cruel and indolent, active by necessity, but naturally inclined to repose, is acquainted with little more than the physical effects of love; and having none of those moral ideas which only can soften the empire of force, he is led to consider it as his supreme law, subjecting to his despotism those whom reason had made his equals, but whose imbecility betrayed them to his strength.
Cast in the lap of naked nature, and exposed to every hardship, the forms of women, in savage life, are but little engaging. With nothing that deserves the name of culture, their latent qualities, if they have any, are like the diamond, while enclosed in the rough flint, incapable of shewing any lustre. Thus destitute of every thing by which they can excite love, or acquire esteem; destitute of beauty to charm, or art to soothe, the tyrant man; they are by him destined to perform every mean and servile office. In this the American and other savage women differ widely from those of Asia, who, if they are destitute of the qualifications necessary for gaining esteem, have beauty, ornaments, and the art of exciting love.
In civilized countries a woman acquires some power by being the mother of a numerous family, who obey her maternal authority, and defends her honor and her life. But, even as a mother, a female savage has not much advantage. Her children, daily accustomed to see their father treat her nearly as a slave, soon begin to imitate his example, and either pay little regard to her authority or shake it off altogether.
Of this the Hottentot boys afford a remarkable proof. They are brought up by the women, till they are about fourteen years of age. Then, with several ceremonies they are initiated into the society of men. After this initiation is over it is reckoned manly for a boy to take the earliest opportunity of returning to the hut of his mother, and beating her in the most barbarous manner, to show that he is now out of her jurisdiction. Should the mother complain to the men, they would only applaud the boy for showing so laudable a contempt for the society and authority of women.
In the Brazils, the females are obliged to follow their husbands to war, to supply the place of beasts of burden, and to carry on their backs their children, provisions, hammocks, and every thing wanted in the field.
In the Isthmus of Darien, they are sent along with warriors and travellers, as we do baggage horses. Even their Queen appeared before some English gentlemen, carrying her sucking child, wrapt in a red blanket.
The women among the Indians of America are what the Helots were among the Spartans, a vanquished people obliged to toil for their conquerors. Hence on the banks of the Oroonoko we have heard of mothers slaying their daughters out of compassion, and smothering them in the hour of their birth. They consider this barbarous pity as a virtue.
Father Joseph Gumilla, reproving one of them for this inhuman crime, received the following answer:—"I wish to God, Father, I wish to God, that my mother had, by my death, prevented the manifold distresses I have endured, and have yet to endure as long as I live. Had she kindly stilled me in my birth, I should not have felt the pain of death, nor the numberless other pains to which life has subjected me. Consider, Father, our deplorable condition. Our husbands go to hunt with their bows and arrows, and trouble themselves no farther: we are dragged along with one infant at our breast, and another in a basket. They return in the evening without any burden; we return with the burden of our children. Though tired with long walking, we are not allowed to sleep, but must labor the whole night, in grinding maize to make chica for them. They get drunk, and in their drunkenness beat us, draw us by the hair of the head, and tread us under foot. A young wife is brought upon us and permitted to abuse us and our children. What kindness can we show to our female children, equal to that of relieving them from such servitude, more bitter a thousand times than death? I repeat again, would to God my mother had put me under ground, the moment I was born."
"The men," says Commodore Byron, in his account of the inhabitants of South America, "exercise a most despotic authority over their wives whom they consider in the same view they do any other part of their property, and dispose of them accordingly. Even their common treatment of them is cruel. For, though the toil and hazard of procuring food lies entirely on the women, yet they are not suffered to touch any part of it, until the husband is satisfied; and then he assign them their portion, which is generally very scanty, and such as he has not a stomach for himself."
The Greenlanders, who live mostly upon seals, think it sufficient to catch and bring them on shore; and would rather submit to starve than assist their women in skinning, dressing, or dragging home the cumbrous animals to their huts.
In some parts of America, when the men kill any game in the woods, they lay it at the root of a tree, fix a mark there, and travelling until they arrive at their habitation, send their women to fetch it, a task which their own laziness and pride equally forbid.
Among many of the tribes of wandering Arabs, the women are not only obliged to do every domestic and every rural work, but also to feed, to dress, and saddle the horses, for the use of their husbands.
The Moorish women, besides doing all the same kinds of drudgery, are also obliged to cultivate the fields, while their husbands stand idle spectators of the toil, or sleep inglorious beneath a neighboring shade.
In Madura the husband generally speaks to his wife in the most imperious tone; while she with fear and trembling approaches him, waits upon him while at meals, and pronounces not his name, but with the addition of every dignifying title she can devise. In return for all this submission he frequently beats and abuses her in the most barbarous manner. Being asked the reason of such a behavior, one of them answered, "As our wives are so much our inferiors why should we allow them to eat and drink with us? Why should they not serve us with whatever we call for, and afterwards sit down and eat up what we leave? If they commit faults, why should they not suffer correction? It is their business only to bring up our children, pound our rice, make our oil, and do every other kind of drudgery, purposes to which only their low and inferior natures are adapted."
The Circassian custom of breeding young girls, on purpose to be sold in the public market to the highest bidder, is generally known. Perhaps, however, upon minute examination, we shall find that women are, in some degree, bought and sold in every country, whether savage or civilized.
The women of the East, have in general, always exhibited the same appearance. Their manners, customs, and fashions, unalterable like their rocks, have stood the test of many revolving ages. Though the kingdoms of their country have often changed masters, though they have submitted to the arms of almost every invader, yet the laws by which their sex are governed and enslaved, have never been revised nor amended.
Had the manners and customs of the Asiatic women been subject to the same changes as they are in Europe, we might have expected the same changes in the sentiments and writings of their men. But, as this is not the case, we have reason to presume that the sentiments entertained by Solomon, by the apocryphal writers, and by the ancient Bramins, are the sentiments of this day.
Though the confinement of women be an unlawful exertion of superior power, yet it affords a proof that the inhabitants of the East are advanced some degrees farther in civilization than mere savages, who have hardly any love and consequently as little jealousy.
This confinement is not very rigid in the empire of the Mogul. It is, perhaps, less so in China, and in Japan hardly exists.
Though women are confined in the Turkish empire, they experience every other indulgence. They are allowed, at stated times, to go to the public baths; their apartments are richly, if not elegantly furnished; they have a train of female slaves to serve and amuse them; and their persons are adorned with every costly ornament which their fathers or husbands can afford.
Notwithstanding the strictness of confinement in Persia, their women are treated with several indulgences. They are allowed a variety of precious liquors, costly perfumes, and beautiful slaves: their apartments are furnished with the most elegant hangings and carpets; their persons ornamented with the finest silks, and even loaded with the sparkling jewels of the East. But all these trappings, however elegant, or however gilded, are only like the golden chains sometimes made use of to bind a royal prisoner.
Solomon had a great number of queens and concubines; but a petty Hindoo chief has been known to have two thousand women confined within the walls of his harem, and appropriated entirely to his pleasure. Nothing less than unlimited power in the husband is able to restrain women so confined, from the utmost disorder and confusion. They may repine in secret, but they must clothe their features with cheerfulness when their lord appears. Contumacy draws down on them immediate punishment: they are degraded, chastised, divorced, shut up in dark dungeons, and sometimes put to death.
Their persons, however, are so sacred, that they must not in the least be violated, nor even be looked at, by any one but their husbands. This female privilege has given an opportunity of executing many conspiracies. Warriors, in such vehicles as are usually employed to carry women, have been often conveyed, without examination, into the apartments of the great; from whence, instead of issuing forth in the smiles of beauty, they have rushed out in the terror of arms, and laid the tyrants at their feet.
No stranger is ever allowed to see the women of Hindostan, nor can even brothers visit their sisters in private. To be conscious of the existence of a man's wives seems a crime; and he looks surly and offended if their health is inquired after. In every country, honor consists in something upon which the possessor sets the highest value. This, with the Hindoo, is the chastity of his wives; a point without which he must not live.
In the midst of slaughter and devastation, throughout all the East, the harem is a sanctuary. Ruffians, covered with the blood of a husband, shrink back with veneration from the secret apartment of his wives.
At Constantinople, when the sultan sends an order to strangle a state-criminal, and seize on his effects, the officers who execute it enter not into the harem, nor touch any thing belonging to the women.
Every Turkish seraglio and harem, has a garden adjoining to it, and in the middle of this garden a large room, more or less decorated according to the wealth of the proprietor. Here the ladies spend most of their time, with their attendant nymphs around them employed at their music, embroidery, or loom.
It has long been a custom among the grandees of Asia, to entertain story-tellers of both sexes, who like the bards of ancient Europe, divert them with tales, and little histories, mostly on the subject of bravery and love. These often amuse the women, and beguile the cheerless hours of the harem, by calling up images to their minds which their eyes are forever debarred from seeing.
All their other amusements, as well as this, are indolently voluptuous. They spend a great part of their time in lolling on skien sofas; while a train of female slaves, scarcely less voluptuous, attend to sing to them, to fan them, and to rub their bodies; an exercise which the Easterns enjoy, with a sort of placid ecstasy, as it promotes the circulation of their languid blood.
They bathe themselves in rose water and other baths, prepared with the precious odors of the East. They perfume themselves with costly essences, and adorn their persons, that they may please the tyrant with whom they are obliged to live.
Of all the other Asiatics, the Chinese have, perhaps the best title to modesty. Even the men wrap themselves closely up in their garments, and reckon it indecent to discover any more of their arms and legs than is necessary.—The women, still more closely wrapt up, never discover a naked hand even to their nearest relations, if they can possibly avoid it. Every part of their dress, every part of their behavior is calculated to preserve decency, and inspire respect. And, what adds lustre to of their charms, is that uncommon modesty which appears in every look and in every action.
Charmed, no doubt, with so engaging a deportment, the men behave to them in a reciprocal manner. And, that their virtue may not be contaminated by the neighborhood of vice, the legislature takes care that no prostitutes shall lodge within the walls of any of the great cities of China.
Some, however, suspect whether this appearance of modesty be any thing else than the custom of the country; and allege that, notwithstanding so much decency and decorum, they have their peculiar modes of intriguing, and embrace every possible opportunity of putting them in practice; and that, in these intrigues, they frequently scruple not to stab the paramour they had invited to their arms, as the surest method of preventing detection and loss of character.
A bridegroom knows nothing of the character or person of his intended wife, except what he gathers from the report of some female relative, or confidant, who undertakes to arrange the marriage, and determine the sum that shall be paid for the bride. Very severe laws are made to prevent deception and fraud in these transactions. On the day appointed for the wedding the damsel is placed in a close palanquin the key of which is sent to the bridegroom, by the hands of some trusty domestic. Her relations and friends accompanied by squalling music, escort her to his house; at the gate of which he stands in full dress, ready to receive her. He eagerly opens the palanquin and examines his bargain. If he is pleased, she enters his dwelling, and the marriage is celebrated with feasting and rejoicing; the men and women being all the time in separate apartments. If the bridegroom is dissatisfied, he shuts the palanquin, and sends the woman back to her relations; but when this happens, he must pay another sum of money equal to the price he first gave for her. A woman who unites beauty with accomplishments brings from four to seven hundred louis d'ors; some sell for less than one hundred. The apartments of the women are separated from those of the men by a wall at which a guard is stationed. The wife is never allowed to eat with her husband; she cannot quit her apartments without permission; and he does not enter hers without first asking leave. Brothers are entirely separated from their sisters at the age of nine or ten years.
The Africans were formerly renowned for their industry in cultivating the ground, for their trade, navigation, caravans and useful arts.—At present they are remarkable for their idleness, ignorance, superstition, treachery, and, above all, for their lawless methods of robbing and murdering all the other inhabitants of the globe.
Though they still retain some sense of their infamous character, yet they do not choose to reform. Their priests, therefore, endeavor to justify them, by the following story: "Noah," say they, "was no sooner dead, than his three sons, the first of whom was white, the second tawny, and the third black, having agreed upon dividing among them his goods and possessions, spent the greatest part of the day in sorting them; so that they were obliged to adjourn the division till the next morning. Having supped and smoked a friendly pipe together, they all went to rest, each in his own tent. After a few hours sleep, the white brother got up, seized on the gold, silver, precious stones, and other things of the greatest value, loaded the best horses with them, and rode away to that country where his white posterity have been settled ever since. The tawny, awaking soon after, and with the same criminal intention, was surprised when he came to the store house to find that his brother had been beforehand with him. Upon which he hastily secured the rest of the horses and camels, and loading them with the best carpets, clothes, and other remaining goods, directed his route to another part of the world, leaving behind him, only a few of the coarsest goods, and some provisions of little value.
When the third, or black brother, came next morning in the simplicity of his heart to make the proposed division, and could neither find his brethren, nor any of the valuable commodities, he easily judged they had tricked him, and were by that time fled beyond any possibility of discovery.
In this most afflicted situation, he took his pipe, and begun to consider the most effectual means of retrieving his loss, and being revenged on his perfidious brothers.
After revolving a variety of schemes in his mind, he at last fixed upon watching every opportunity of making reprisals on them, and laying hold of and carrying away their property, as often as it should fall in his way, in revenge for that patrimony of which they had so unjustly deprived him.
Having come to this resolution, he not only continued in the practice of it all his life, but on his death laid the strongest injunctions on his descendants to do so, to the end of the world."
Some tribes of the Africans, however, when they have engaged themselves in the protection of a stranger, are remarkable for fidelity. Many of them are conspicuous for their temperance, hospitality, and several other virtues.
Their women, upon the whole, are far from being indelicate or unchaste. On the banks of the Niger, they are tolerably industrious, have a considerable share of vivacity, and at the same time a female reserve, which would do no discredit to a politer country. They are modest, affable, and faithful; an air of innocence appears in their looks and in their language, which gives a beauty to their whole deportment.
When, from the Niger, we approach toward the East, the African women degenerate in stature, complexion, sensibility, and chastity. Even their language, like their features, and the soil they inhabit, is harsh and disagreeable. Their pleasures resemble more the transports of fury, than the gentle emotions communicated by agreeable sensations.
GREAT ENTERPRISES OF WOMEN IN THE TIMES OF CHIVALRY.
The times and the manners of chivalry, by bringing great enterprises, bold adventures, and extravagant heroism into fashion, inspired the women with the same taste.
The two sexes always imitate each other. Their manners and their minds are refined or corrupted, invigorated or dissolved together.
The women, in consequence of the prevailing passion, were now seen in the middle of camps and of armies. They quitted the soft and tender inclinations, and the delicate offices of their own sex, for the courage, and the toilsome occupations of ours.
During the crusades, animated by the double enthusiasm of religion and of valor, they often performed the most romantic exploits. They obtained indulgences on the field of battle, and died with arms in their hands, by the side of their lovers, or of their husbands.
In Europe, the women attacked and defended fortifications. Princesses commanded their armies, and obtained victories.
Such was the celebrated Joan de Mountfort, disputing for her duchy of Bretagne, and engaging the enemy herself.
Such was the still more celebrated Margaret of Anjou, queen of England and wife of Henry VI. She was active and intrepid, a general and a soldier. Her genius for a long time supported her feeble husband, taught him to conquer, replaced him upon the throne, twice relieved him from prison, and though oppressed by fortune and by rebels, she did not yield, till she had decided in person twelve battles.
The warlike spirit among the women, consistent with ages of barbarism, when every thing is impetuous because nothing is fixed, and when all excess is the excess of force, continued in Europe upwards of four hundred years, showing itself from time to time, and always in the middle of convulsions, or on the eve of great revolutions.
But there were eras and countries, in which that spirit appeared with particular lustre. Such were the displays it made in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Hungary, and in the Islands of the Archipelago and the Mediterranean, when they were invaded by the Turks.
Every thing conspired to animate the women of those countries with an exalted courage; the prevailing spirit of the foregoing ages; the terror which the name of the Turks inspired; the still more dreadful apprehensions of an unknown enemy; the difference of dress, which has a stronger effect than is commonly supposed on the imagination of a people; the difference of religion, which produced a kind of sacred horror; the striking difference of manners; and above all, the confinement of the female sex, which presented to the women of Europe nothing but the frightful ideas of servitude and a master; the groans of honor, the tears of beauty in the embrace of barbarism, and the double tyranny of love and pride!
The contemplation of these objects, accordingly, roused in the hearts of the women a resolute courage to defend themselves; nay, sometimes even a courage of enthusiasm, which hurled itself against the enemy.—That courage, too, was augmented, by the promises of a religion, which offered eternal happiness in exchange for the sufferings of a moment.
It is not therefore surprising, that when three beautiful women of the isle of Cyprus were led prisoners to Selim, to be secluded in the seraglio, one of them, preferring death to such a condition, conceived the project of setting fire to the magazine; and after having communicated her design to the rest, put it in execution.
The year following, a city of Cyprus being besieged by the Turks, the women ran in crowds, mingling themselves with the soldiers, and, fighting gallantly in the breach, were the means of saving their country.
Under Mahomet II. a girl of the isle of Lemnos, armed with the sword and shield of her father, who had fallen in battle, opposed the Turks, when they had forced a gate, and chased them to the shore.
In the two celebrated sieges of Rhodes and Malta, the women, seconding the zeal of the knights, discovered upon all occasions the greatest intrepidity; not only that impetuous and temporary impulse which despises death, but that cool and deliberate fortitude which can support the continued hardships, the toils, and the miseries of war.
OTHER PARTICULARS RESPECTING FEMALES DURING THE AGE OF CHIVALRY.
When a man had said any thing that reflected dishonor on a woman, or accused her of a crime, she was not obliged to fight him to prove her innocence: the combat would have been unequal. But she might choose a champion to fight in her cause, or expose himself to the horrid trial, in order to clear her reputation. Such champions were generally selected from her lovers or friends. But if she fixed upon any other, so high was the spirit of martial glory, and so eager the thirst of defending the weak and helpless sex, that we meet with no instance of a champion ever having refused to fight for, or undergo whatever custom required, in defence of the lady who had honored him with the appointment.
To the motives already mentioned, we may add another. He who had refused, must inevitably have been branded with the name of coward: and, so despicable was the condition of a coward, in those times of general heroism, that death itself appeared the more preferable choice. Nay, such was the rage of fighting for women, that it became customary for those who could not be honored with the decision of their real quarrels, to create fictitious ones concerning them, in order to create also a necessity of fighting.
Nor was fighting for the ladies confined to single combatants. Crowds of gallants entered the lists against each other. Even kings called out their subjects, to shew their love for their mistresses, by cutting the throats of their neighbors, who had not in the least offended.
In the fourteenth century, when the Countess of Blois and the widow of Mountford were at war against each other, a conference was agreed to, on pretence of settling a peace, but in reality to appoint a combat. Instead of negotiating, they soon challenged each other; and Beaumanoir, who was at the head of the Britons, publicly declared that they fought for no other motive, than to see, by the victory, who had the fairest mistress.
In the fifteenth century, we find an anecdote of this kind still more extraordinary. John, duke de Bourbonnois, published a declaration, that he would go over to England, with sixteen knights, and there fight it out, in order to avoid idleness, and merit the good graces of his mistress.
James IV. of Scotland, having, in all tournaments, professed himself knight to queen Anne of France, she summoned him to prove himself her true and valorous champion, by taking the field in her defence, against his brother-in-law, Henry VIII. of England. He obeyed the romantic mandate; and the two nations bled to feed the vanity of a woman.
Warriors, when ready to engage, invoked the aid of their mistresses, as poets do that of the Muses. If they fought valiantly, it reflected honor on the Dulcineas they adored; but if they turned their backs on their enemies, the poor ladies were dishonored forever.
Love, was at that time, the most prevailing motive to fighting. The famous Gaston de Foix, who commanded the French troops at the battle of Ravenna, took advantage of this foible of his army. He rode from rank to rank, calling his officers by name, and even some of his private men, recommending to them their country, their honor, and, above all, to shew what they could do for their mistresses.
The women of those ages, the reader may imagine, were certainly more completely happy than in any other period of the world. This, however, was not in reality the case.
Custom, which governs all things with the most absolute sway, had, through a long succession of years, given her sanction to such combats as were undertaken, either to defend the innocence, or display the beauty of women. Custom, therefore, either obliged a man to fight for a woman who desired him, or marked the refusal with infamy and disgrace. But custom did not oblige him, in every other part of his conduct, to behave to this woman, or to the sex in general, with that respect and politeness which have happily distinguished the character of more modern times.
The same man who would have encountered giants, or gigantic difficulties, "when a lady was in the case," had but little idea of adding to her happiness, by supplying her with the comforts and elegancies of life. And, had she asked him to stoop, and ease her of a part of that domestic slavery which, almost in every country, falls to the lot of women, he would have thought himself quite affronted.
But besides, men had nothing else, in those ages, than that kind of romantic gallantry to recommend them. Ignorant of letters, arts, and sciences, and every thing that refines human nature, they were, in every thing where gallantry was not concerned, rough and unpolished in their manners and behavior. Their time was spent in drinking, war, gallantry, and idleness. In their hours of relaxation, they were but little in company with their women; and when they were, the indelicacies of the carousal, or the cruelties of the field, were almost the only subjects they had to talk of.
From the subversion of the Roman empire, to the fourteenth or fifteenth century, women spent most of their time alone. They were almost entire strangers to the joys of social life. They seldom went abroad, but to be spectators of such public diversions and amusements as the fashion of the times countenanced. Francis I. was the first monarch who introduced them on public days to court.
Before his time, nothing was to be seen at any of the courts of Europe, but long bearded politicians, plotting the destruction of the rights and liberties of mankind; and warriors clad in complete armor, ready to put their plots in execution.
In the eighth century, so slavish was the condition of women on the one hand, and so much was beauty coveted on the other, that, for about two hundred years, the kings of Austria were obliged to pay a tribute to the Moors, of one hundred beautiful virgins per annum.
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, elegance had scarcely any existence, and even cleanliness was hardly considered as laudable. The use of linen was not known; and the most delicate of the fair sex wore woollen shifts.
In the time of Henry VIII. the peers of the realm carried their wives behind them on horseback when they went to London; and, in the same manner, took them back to their country seats, with hoods of waxed linen over their heads, and wrapped in mantles of cloth, to secure them from the cold.
There was one misfortune of a singular nature, to which women were liable in those days: they were in perpetual danger of being accused of witchcraft, and suffering all the cruelties and indignities of a mob, instigated by superstition and directed by enthusiasm; or of being condemned by laws, which were at once a disgrace to humanity and to sense. Even the bloom of youth and beauty could not secure them from torture and from death. But when age and wrinkles attacked a woman, if any thing uncommon happened in her neighborhood, she was almost sure of atoning with her life for a crime it was impossible for her to commit.
Though the ladies of France are not very handsome, they are sensible and witty. To many of them, without the least flattery, may be applied the distich which Sappho ascribes to herself:
"If partial nature has denied me beauty, the charms of my mind amply make up for the deficiency."
No women upon earth can excel, and few rival them, in their almost native arts of pleasing all who approach them. Add to this, an education beyond that of most European ladies, a consummate skill in those accomplishments that suit the fair sex, and the most graceful manner of displaying that knowledge to the utmost advantage.
Such is the description that may safely be given of the French ladies in general. But the spirit, or rather the evil genius of gallantry, too often perverts all these lovely qualities, and renders them subservient to very iniquitous ends.
In every country, women have always a little to do, and a great deal to say. In France, they dictate almost every thing that is said, and direct every thing that is done. They are the most restless beings in the world. To fold her hands in idleness, and impose silence on her tongue, would be to a French woman worse than death. The sole joy of her life is to be engaged in the prosecution of some scheme, relating either to fashion, ambition, or love.
Among the rich and opulent, they are entirely the votaries of pleasure, which they pursue through all its labyrinths, at the expense of fortune, reputation, and health. Giddy and extravagant to the last degree, they leave to their husbands economy and care, which would only spoil their complexions, and furrow their brows.
When we descend to tradesmen and mechanics, the case is reversed: the wife manages every thing in the house and shop, while the husband lounges in the back-shop an idle spectator, or struts about with his sword and bag-wig.
Matrimony among the French, seems to be a bargain entered into by a male and female, to bear the same name, live in the same house, and pursue their separate pleasures without restraint or control. And, so religiously is this part of the bargain kept, that both parties shape their course exactly as convenience and inclination dictate.
The French girls are kept under very strict superintendence. They are not allowed to go to parties, or places of public amusement, without being accompanied by some married female relation; and they see their lovers only in the presence of a third person. Marriages are entirely negotiated by parents; and sometimes the wedding day is the second time that a bride and bridegroom see each other. Nothing is more common than to visit a lady, and attend her parties, without knowing her husband by sight; or to visit a gentleman without ever being introduced to his wife. If a married couple were to be seen frequently in each other's company, they would be deemed extremely ungenteel. After ladies are married, they have unbounded freedom. It is a common practice to receive morning calls from gentlemen, before they have risen from bed; and they talk with as little reserve to such visiters, as they would in the presence of any woman of refinement.
In no country does real politeness shew itself more than in France, where the company of the women is accessible to every man who can recommend himself by his dress, and by his address. To affectation and prudery the French women are equally strangers. Easy and unaffected in their manners, their politeness has so much the appearance of nature, that one would almost believe no part of it to be the effect of art. An air of sprightliness and gaiety sits perpetually on their countenances, and their whole deportment seems to indicate that their only business is to "strew the path of life with flowers." Persuasion hangs on their lips; and, though their volubility of tongue is indefatigable, so soft is their accent, so lively their expression, so various their attitudes, that they fix the attention for hours together on a tale of nothing.
The Jewish doctors have a fable concerning the etymology of the word Eve, which one would almost be tempted to say is realized in the French women. "Eve," say they, "comes from a word, which signifies to talk; and she was so called, because, soon after the creation, there fell from heaven twelve baskets full of chit chat, and she picked up nine of them, while her husband was gathering the other three."
French ladies, especially those not young, use a great deal of rouge. A traveller who saw many of them in their opera boxes, says, "I could compare them to nothing but a large bed of pionies."
After the French revolution, it became the fashion to have everything in ancient classic style. Loose flowing drapery, naked arms, sandaled feet, and tresses twisted, were the order of the day.
The state of gross immorality that prevailed at this time ought not to be described, if language had the power. The profligacy of Rome in its worst days was comparatively thrown into the shade. Religion and marriage became a mockery, and every form of impure and vindictive passion walked abroad, with the consciousness that public opinion did not require them to assume even a slight disguise. The fish-women of Paris will long retain an unenviable celebrity for the brutal excess of their rage. The goddess of Reason was worshipped by men, under the form of a living woman entirely devoid of clothing; and in the public streets ladies might be seen who scarcely paid more attention to decorum.
Dr Goldsmith thus characterises the Italians in general:
"Could nature's bounty satisfy the breast, The sons of Italy were surely blest. Whatever fruits in different climes are found, That proudly rise, or humbly court the ground; Whatever blooms in torrid tracts appear, Whose bright succession decks the varied year: Whatever sweets salute the northern sky, With vernal leaves that blossom but to die: These here disporting, own the kindred soil, Nor ask luxuriance from their planter's toil; While sea-born gales their gelid wings expand, To winnow fragrance round the smiling land.
"But small the bliss that sense alone bestows, And sensual bliss is all the nation knows. In florid beauty groves and fields appear, Man seems the only growth that dwindles here. Contrasted faults thro' all his manners rein; Though poor, luxurious; though submissive, vain; Though grave, yet trifling; zealous, yet untrue; And e'en in penance planning sins anew. All evils here contaminate the mind, That opulence departed leaves behind: For wealth was theirs, not far remov'd the date, When commerce proudly flourish'd thro' the state; At her command the palace learn'd to rise, Again the long fall'n column sought the skies; The canvass glow'd, beyond e'en nature warm; The pregnant quarry teem'd with human form. Till, more unsteady then the southern gale, Commerce on other shores display'd her sail; While naught remain'd of all that riches gave, But towns unmann'd, and lords without a slave; And late the nation found, with fruitless skill, Its former strength was but plethoric ill.
"Yet still the loss of wealth is here supplied By arts, the splendid wrecks of former pride; From them the feeble heart and long fall'n mind An easy compensation seem to find. Here may be seen in bloodless pomp array'd, The pasteboard triumph, and the cavalcade; Processions form'd from piety and love, A mistress or a saint in every grove."
Almost every traveller who has visited Italy, agrees in describing it as the most abandoned of all the countries of Europe. At Venice, at Naples, and indeed in almost every port of Italy, women are taught from their infancy the various arts of alluring to their arms the young and unwary, and of obtaining from them, while heated by love or wine, every thing that flattery and false smiles can obtain, in these unguarded moments.
The Italians, like their neighbors of Spain and Portugal, live under the paralyzing influence of a religion that retains its superstitious forms, while little of life-giving faith remains. Like them they have lively passions, are extremely susceptible, and in the general conduct of life more governed by the impetuosity of impulse than rectitude of principle. The ladies have less gravity than the Spanish, and less frivolity than the French, and in their style of dress incline towards the freedom of the latter. Some of the richest and most commodious convents of Europe are in Italy. The daughters of wealthy families are generally bestowed in marriage as soon as they leave these places of education. These matters are entirely arranged by parents and guardians, and youth and age are not unfrequently joined together, for the sake of uniting certain acres of land. But the affections, thus repressed, seek their natural level by indirect courses. It is a rare thing for an Italian lady to be without her cavaliere servente, or lover, who spends much of his time at her house, attends her to all public places, and appears to live upon her smiles. The old maxim of the Provencal troubadours, that matrimony ought to be no hindrance to such liaisons, seems to be generally and practically believed in Italy.
In Genoa, there are marriage-brokers, who have pocketbooks filled with the names of marriageable girls of different classes, with an account of their fortunes, personal attractions, &c. When they succeed in arranging connections, they have two or three per cent. commission on the portion. The marriage-contract is often drawn up before the parties have seen each other. If a man dislikes the appearances or manners of his future partner, he may break off the match, on condition of paying the brokerage and other expenses.
As the Spanish ladies are under a greater seclusion from general society, than the sex is in other European countries, their desires of an adequate degree of liberty are consequently more strong and urgent. A free and open communication being denied them, they make it their business to secure themselves a secret and hidden one. Hence it is that Spain is the country of intrigue.
The Spanish women are little or nothing indebted to education. But nature has liberally supplied them with a fund of wit and sprightliness, which is certainly no small inducement to those, who have only transient glimpses of their charms, to wish very earnestly for a removal of those impediments, that obstruct their more frequent presence. This not being attainable in a lawful way of customary intercourse, the natural propensity of men to overcome difficulties of this kind, incites them to leave no expedient untried to gain admittance to what perhaps was at first only the object of their admiration, but which, by their being refused an innocent gratification of that passion, becomes at last the subject of a more serious one. Thus in Spain, as in all countries where the sex is kept much out of sight, the thoughts of men are continually employed in devising methods to break into their concealments.
There is in the Spaniards a native dignity; which, though the source of many inconveniences, has nevertheless this salutary effect, that it sets them above almost every species of meanness and infidelity. This quality is not peculiar to the men; it diffuses itself, in a great measure, among the women also. Its effects are visible both in their constancy in love and friendship, in which respects they are the very reverse of the French women. Their affections are not to be gained by a bit of sparkling lace, or a tawdry set of liveries. Their deportment is rather grave and reserved; and, on the whole, they have much more of the prude than the coquette in their composition. Being more confined at home, and less engaged in business and pleasure, they take more care of their children than the French, and have a becoming tenderness in their disposition to all animals, except a heretic and a rival.
Something more than a century ago, the Marquis D'Astrogas having prevailed on a young woman of great beauty to become his mistress, the Marchioness hearing of it, went to her lodging with some assassins, killed her, tore out her heart, carried it home, made a ragout of it, and presented the dish to the Marquis. "It it exceedingly good," said he. "No wonder," answered she, "since it was made of the heart of that creature you so much doated on." And, to confirm what she had said, she immediately drew out her head all bloody from beneath her hoop, and rolled it on the floor, her eyes sparkling all the time with a mixture of pleasure and infernal fury.
A lady to whom a gentleman pays his addresses, is sole mistress of his time and money; and, should he refuse her any request, whether reasonable or capricious, it would reflect eternal dishonor upon him among the men, and make him the detestation of all the women.
But, in no situation does their character appear so whimsical, or their power so conspicuous, as when they are pregnant. In this case, whatever they long for, whatever they ask, or whatever they have an inclination to do, they must be indulged in.
The women of England are eminent for many good qualities both of the head and of the heart. There we meet with that inexpressible softness and delicacy of manners, which, cultivated by education, appears as much superior to what it does without it, as the polished diamond appears superior to that which is rough from the mine. In some parts of the world, women have attained to so little knowledge and so little consequence, that we consider their virtues as merely of the negative kind. In England they consist not only in abstinence from evil, but in doing good.
There we see the sex every day exerting themselves in acts of benevolence and charity, in relieving the distresses of the body, and binding up the wounds of the mind; in reconciling the differences of friends, and preventing the strife of enemies; and, to sum up all, in that care and attention to their offspring, which is so necessary and essential a part of their duty.
A woman may succeed to the throne of England with the same power and privileges as a king; and the business of the state is transacted in her name, while her husband is only a subject. The king's wife is considered as a subject; but is exempted from the law which forbids any married woman to possess property in her own right during the lifetime of her husband; she may sue any person at law without joining her husband in the suit; may buy and sell lands without his interference; and she may dispose of her property by will, as if she were a single woman. She cannot be fined by any court of law; but is liable to be tried and punished for crimes by peers of the realm. The queen dowager enjoys nearly the same privileges that she did before she became a widow; and if she marries a subject still continues to retain her rank and title; but such marriages cannot take place without permission from the reigning sovereign. A woman who is noble in her own right, retains her title when she marries a man of inferior rank; but if ennobled by her husband, she loses the title by marrying a commoner. A peeress can only be tried by a jury of peers.
In old times, a woman who was convicted of being a common mischief-maker and scold, was sentenced to the punishment of the ducking-stool; which consisted of a sort of chair fastened to a pole, in which she was seated and repeatedly let down into the water, amid the shouts of the rabble. At Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a woman convicted of the same offence was led about the streets by the hangman, with an instrument of iron bars fitted on her head, like a helmet. A piece of sharp iron entered the mouth, and severely pricked the tongue whenever the culprit attempted to move it.
A great deal of vice prevails in England, among the very fashionable, and the very low classes. Misconduct and divorces are not unfrequent among the former, because their mode of life corrupts their principles, and they deem themselves above the jurisdiction of popular opinion; the latter feel as if they were beneath the influence of public censure, and find it very difficult to be virtuous, on account of extreme poverty, and the consequent obstructions in the way of marriage. But the general character of English women is modest, reserved, sincere, and dignified. They have strong passions and affections, which often develope themselves in the most beautiful forms of domestic life. They are in general remarkable for a healthy appearance, and an exquisite bloom of complexion. Perhaps the world does not present a lovelier or more graceful picture than the English home of a virtuous family.
It is only a few years since the Russians emerged from a state of barbarity.
A late empress of Russia, as a punishment for some female frailties, ordered a most beautiful young lady of family to be publicly chastised, in a manner which was hardly less indelicate than severe.