THE AGE OF WOMAN.
TRI S Jubilee year of the only Queen who has, as far as we -I-- know, ever completed her half-century of reign, must have suggested to many persons the question,—What is the real value of that new female influence which has had this female reign as its era ? It would be childish, no doubt, to lay any stress on the concurrence of the long life of an individual with the growing prominence of a sex. If the fact of along and prosperous female occupancy of the Throne has afforded those who desire to establish a class of female citizens with a telling argument-in favour of woman's civil capacity, that is as much as it has done. Still, such an epoch affords a good opportunity for considering the moral result of that change which we sum up under the head of the emancipation of women. No one will deny that our day has revealed women as possible rivals to men in regions where formerly they were not thought of as serious critics; or dispute the importance of such a change. Not many will question its beneficence. Whether women work or starve, whether they are educated or uneducated, whether they marry from choice or necessity,—these are alternatives about which our generation has made up its mind. But we may still inquire how far the gain is unmixed, and whether the price be inevitable.
Let us put before our readers, as a contribution towards an answer, a quotation from a little work which certainly does not, at any rate, belong to the Conservative aide of thought. The Religion of Socialism is a manifesto from the party most especially opposed to Conservatism ; it is the expression of that group of sympathies for which the emancipation of women is One of the most salient triumphs. Yet it is the opinion of the writer that— "Far some time past the tendency of the bourgeois world, as ex- pressed in its legislation and sentiment, has been towards a factitious exaltation of the woman at the expense of the man,—in other words, the cry for equality between the sexes' haste the course of its realiaa- Oen become a sham, masking a de facto inequality- The inequality in question presses, as usual, heaviest upon the working-man, whose wife, to all intents and purposes, now has him completely in her power. If dissolute or drunken, she can sell up his goods or break up his home at pleasure, and still compel him to keep her and live with her to her life's end. There is no law to protect him. On the other hand, let him but raise a finger in a moment of exasperation against this precious representative of the sacred principle of' woman- hood,' and straightway he is consigned to the treadmill for his six months, amid the jubilation of the D. T. and its kindred, who pro- nounce him a brute, and sing r teems over the power of the 'law' to protect the innocent and helpless female. Thus does bourgeois society offer sacrifice to the idol, equality between the seam."
We take this extract from a collection of essays with the sub- stance of which we disagree and the tone of which we strongly disapprove, because it is from a party fanatically devoted to equality and enthusiastic in support of the weak that a com- plaint of the disadvantages of the strong and the privileged comes with most force. The complaint seems to us, indeed, exaggerated. But we desire to commend to the reader's attention the fact that it is possible.
The movement by which the female aide of life has received a new honour, is characteristic of our own time in a special sense. Bat in a general sense we may say that it is characteristic of the eighteen Christian centuries, as contrasted with the life of classic antiquity. The ancients—(as we must call the young races of European life, but the phrase is one which brings out its absurdity)—lived in a hemisphere of our moral world ; they knew only half the springs of all that we feel excellent. The best men admired what we may call womanly excellence quite as little in the ancient world as the worst men did. The Greek whose death will always be remembered beside that of Christ, speaks in his last hour contemptuously of his sorrowing wife; his disciple framed an ideal world in which no mother should know her own child. From the canvas where the Divine Mother clasps her son, the spirit of Media3val Christianity makes its undying protest against that mutilated ideal; the lesson, enshrined in immortal art, is secured for awakening intelligence in every age. That glorification of the Mother sanctions the claim of all weakness, hallows the promise of whatever is incomplete ; it holds in germ the power of a boundless faith, the strength of an infinite compassion. All that supplies the infinite to human feeling lies in the mystic expansiveness of a mother's love ; and a mother's love is but the focus of all that makes up womanhood. The worship of theVirgin symbolises the sudden rapture with which men gazed on a new aspect of ideal humanity,—the sudden glow of reverence with which they turned to the passive side of human life, pre- viously associated with slavery, and associated it with God. Eighteen centuries have not more than worked out the thought latent in that rapture; we are still exploring, as it were, that new continent of goodness which had no more place in the chart of the ancient world than America had. We have hardly began to map out its limits ; we are still occupied in recognising its wealth and its extent. What is the whole movement of modern democracy on its best side but the working out of this ideal? So far as Democracy expresses the triumph of the majority, it is a totally unmoral principle, ready to become immoral the moment its dangers are forgotten. And, so far as Democracy expresses the triumph of the weak, it is identical with the elevation of this female side of humanity. Only by strange confusion has the influence of woman been dreaded as an aristocratic influence; the liberation of the slave, the elevation of the degraded, the concession of rights to the lowly, are at once an expression of all that side of excellence which is truly womanly, and a portion of the very process which has resulted in the emancipation of woman herself. Her political emancipation would, we believe—and history surely encourages the suspicion —tend to strengthen the revolutionary forces of the world. Woman looks towards the past, but even more does she look towards the future; hers is always the sympathy of the mother —she always yearns over the needs of the coming race. The true ballast of the world must always be kept by the man, and we feel it a grave drawback in our satisfaction at woman's enlarged scope that he shows some signs of forgetting his part of his vocation. Only those who would be slow to recognise each a danger at any time will deny that the manly elements of human worth are now in danger of being crowded out by the expansiveness of those sympathies which are typically female. Compassion for disaster expands to shut out condemnation of wrong. Sympathy with weakness contracts the rights of the powerful, and respect for every natural impulse seriously endangers the majesty of law. There is in our day a danger that strength, losing the credit of popular sympathy, should come to be allied with violence, and that the weak should lack defenders, because they have refused restraint.
It is a shallow and ignorant view of life which allows itself to set aside as something with which an advanced civilisa- tion has nothing to do, the influence of physical force. The question whether the citizen is prepared for the duties of the soldier lies at the heart of political philosophy. We do not say that it must never be answered in the negative. We insist only that the answer is important. The weaker half of mankind, by the mere fact that they are the weaker, have peculiar des' abilities and peculiar endowments. They are prepared always to side with the weak, and those words gather up a vast group of moral tendencies,—moral first, and then, if you will, immoral. Sympathy with the weak means compassion and tenderness ; but if it meet no counteracting influence it is always ready to pass into injustice. For although wrong is not always weak, and in some respects is even allied with strength, still the average man, while he will not always find virtue recorded in accumulated power, will generally find vice recorded in diminished power, and they who are compassionate to weakness are con- stantly tempted to be lenient to wrong. The fad that a woman is never called on to fight is but the culminating point of all those limitations which help to snake her what she is they are her strength if she remembers them; but woe to the generation in which mankind erects them into a standard of virtue ! They shut her into a world for which instinct has fitted her ; but also they reveal to her, by their own incompleteness, the existence of a correlative world, inverting its tendencies and supplying. its needed background of contrast, and the excellence of both worlds will disappear together.
If there be a law that is common to the physical and mental universe throughout their whole extent, it would seem to be that of balanced movement. All that our forefathers thought the more ethereal forms of matter are resolved, for our generation, into the swing of atoms; the worlds of colour and of music are all revealed to us by that pulsating throb which seems allied to the very rhythm of life within our frame. Vibration, we may almost say, makes up the physical universe. Its place in the spiritual universe, we firmly believe, is not less important. The swing that creates light for the outward eye is no less needed for the eye of the soul ; truth for human vision consists in alternate movements of expansion and contraction, just as light does.
The mystic relation of sex holds this law in embryo. Neither the woman nor the man sees truth alone ; truth lies not in the union of their opposite views—for union is impossible—but in a free rush of feeling between them, a readiness to leave space for each, and then, again, to claim space and scope for the work- ing of each. The spirit that says to man or woman,' Here pause, hence you may take an adequate view of the moral world," is the same spirit that promised them of old, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." God sees at once what man can only see in successive moments of vision,—moments that no ascent into any height accessible to mortals can ever combine into a single view. Let us leave immobility to Him, and remember our place as creatures of the time-world, and through the time. world gaining our vision of eternity.
No confusion of sentiment is more perilous than that view which, ascribing the presidency of the intellectual realm to man, would keep for woman a peculiar jurisdiction and responsibility in the realm of morals. Doubtless it has its excuse in the temptations of either sex. But that impulse to judge, that capacity for condemnation which men are slower to exercise than women, because they better know its difficulty, is a con- servative influence of everything that is good in life. Bad people, says John Stuart Mill, ask nothing more of good people than to let them alone ; and in some respects an ordinary human being had better begin to do wrong than cease to condemn it. It is those who have endeavoured to exercise this faculty of judgment who know its incompleteness; they are fully aware that when we say of an action that it is wrong, we have not said all that may be known about it. Nothing else about it is true if that decision be forgotten; but no one should refuse at some time to pass on from it to the opposite point of view. From one end, as it were, of this throb of pulsation we see an action as an instance of wretchedness appealing to pity ; from the other, as an instance of wrong calling for judgment ; and either becomes false the moment it is regarded as complete. To pause in the pulsating movement is as fatal in the moral as it is in the physical life. Who can put into words intelligible to the mere understanding what it is that he seeks who says, " Forgive !" ? We can say only what it is not; we are sure only that none who from his heart has breathed the prayer, whether for a divine or human ear, has ever meant by it, "Remit the due penalty; help me to escape suffering." What he does mean, it is impossible, perhaps, to put into other words; bat we may be certain that it is something that none can confer who is not also capable of condemnation.
The danger of our generation is that we are losing this power. It seems impossible for the men of our time to say steadily of any action whatever, "This is wrong!" We must always translate the verdict of the ages into terms of our own analysis. We do not take for granted even the needed permanence of relations without which morality has no starting. point. A few weeks ago the correspondent of an evening contemporary boldly demanded that those who acceded any special reepeot to the lifelong union of one man and one woman should concede to others, who preferred what may be called a leasehold view of the bond, the same tolerance with which they were prepared to regard any other diversity of taste, as long, of course, as force and fraud formed no part in the connection. We have said that the question was asked boldly, but the adverb involves an anachronism ; no courage is now required to ask such a question, nor to answer it either. And in truth it was lees the question than the answer which seemed to us a landmark of our progress downward. To sanction a union between man and woman, terminable at will, would be, it was urged, fatal to the interests of the weaker party, whose attractian lasted only for a season, and who, when youth was past, would have no means of forming another. Such a defence of marriage seems to us infinitely more damaging than almost any attack upon it. We have heard of a lady who pleaded for the cbangeof only one letter in the marriage service,—" so long as ye both shall like," instead of" live." The justification jest given would suit the hypothesis that the change was one only of a letter either way. If the facilities for divorce which date from the present reign be regarded as the keynote of the relation, if it is to become a contract dissoluble at will, and the onus of proof lies on the party claiming its continuance—then the true unit of the moral world is lost. Man and woman are two halves of one whole ; the bond that makes them one lies deeper than our analysis can reach. To question it is to be already in the path that leads to its denial; to deny it is not to cut off an important branch of morality, but to destroy its root.