24 NOVEMBER 1866, Page 9


THE true point of Dr. Mary Walker's defence of herself—for, when all is said, it is after all a defence of herself—is very easily stated. "She is one of those who think it better to live her individual life than to live according to other people's notions, to live, in fact, the lives of other people." That, the absolute moral right of every human being, subject always to the supreme law, to lead his own life, the life he judges to be fullest of good things, seems to us the great forgotten truth of English society. Miss Mary Walker, for instance, presented herself on Tuesday before a large and very mixed audience, consisting of scientific men, educated women, average Great Britons, average Great Britons' wives, and medical students, dressed in a rather long frock coat and black trousers, a hybrid costume in fact between that of a girl and that of a man, and the world, as represented by educated women and medical students and all the classes between those widely separated poles, professes to be slightly or greatly shocked. Why ? Because the dress is immodest? No woman in the lecture- hall thought so, and no man who did not mean something very different from what he said. Because it was irrational ? That was exactly the point the lecturer was anxious to discuss, and could not discuss without some visible illustration of her arguments. Because it tended to confuse the sexes? That is a real argument, and one of enormous weight ; but it did not in the instance before the objectors find any true application. Nobody took Dr. Mary for a man, or would have taken any woman similarly attired. The real objection was that the dress was condemned by the con- sensus of Western mankind, and our protest is against the elevation of this consensus, which within its function is worthy of

all respect, into a moral law. The new variety of the Bloomer is, in our judgment, a very bad dress. It is very ugly, dwarfing the figure, as much out of accord with a woman's natural, and there- fore beautiful, outline as a cuirass would be, and false to the ethical theory of woman's dress, which should be—if there be a morality higher than mere convention—always faintly enticing or fascinating. Women's first function is to be mothers, and in any sound system of ethics even the dress of the Second Empire, which for reasons not worth specifying here passes the narrow line between enticement and allurement, is a better dress than a mannish variety of the Bloomer costume. The argument from convenience is repudiated by every able woman who speaks upon

the subject, for example, by every one of the million or so of business-doing Frenchwomen; and that from health is simply non- sensical. Working women live just as long as working men, and the whole sex lives, as any actuary's table will show, just a little longer. Dr. Mary Walker, confiding in the strength of a feeling which in New England makes it improper to allude to a shirt and in England to a chemise—the impropriety in one case and the other being identical in character and kind—talks mysteriously about the effect which petticoats exercise upon the health, but after all this is a married nation, and what does it all amount to ? That cold air is not good for the legs ; which is a question as absolutely dependent upon habit as the similar one, whether cold air is good for the hands. If a man or woman always wore gloves, he or she would catch cold if they went without them, just as our fathers said they would do if they went without heavy neckcloths or other swathings for the throat. As a matter of fact, the wives of the agriculturists, who have not advanced to crypto-Bloomerism, suffer less from cold and all other - illnesses, except such as are the result of overtoil, than those who have so advanced, and in no case has the question anything to do with Dr. Walker's argument. Any woman may wear knicker- bockers if she likes, provided the petticoat is long enough to hide them. Nevertheless, fully entertaining the ordinary dislike to the dress, and holding its general adoption exceedingly inexpe- dient, we maintain that if Dr. Mary Walker, or Mrs. Smith, or Miss Jones, likes to wear such a costume, she has as absolute a right to assert that liberty as she has to learn music instead of drawing. Society has no right to exert any compulsion in the matter, and a strong interest in not doing it. The object of civili- zation is not to be stereotyped, but to be multiform, and multiformity suffers immensely from uniformity in costume. The dead unifor- mity of men's dress, for example, besides destroying the picturesque- ness of our streets, really shuts up one great outlet for the mani- festation of individual character—a real mischief, if only because it retards the discovery of the dress which must ultimately unite the maximum of picturesqueness, of variability, and of convenience for hard work. The human intellect, if we let it alone, is not exhausted in the swallow-tail of society. Subject to certain police principles perfectly well understood and not in the least worth describing, the wider the license assigned to human caprice in the matter of dress the better for civilization. Only it is trying to be told, even by Dr. Mary Walker, that her choice of a very ugly and particu- larly unsuitable dress is defensible upon grounds infinitely loftier than her mere will. She chooses to wear it, and there is an end of it ; but at the same time it is not over pretty, not exceptionally healthy, and not specially convenient. The argument against tight-lacing had serious reason at the bottom of it, the argument for trousers of cloth as against trousers of flannel has none at all. The true argument is the right of choice, and in denying it society is injuring itself, just as it is in denying women the right of riding as they choose. So fixed is this particular form of oppression that English society will not even discuss it, refuses to entertain the question, would condemn a dozen leaders of fashion if they made the attempt to introduce a reform. They might walk into a ball-room dressed a la Josephine, that is, undressed to the waist, and the only result would be a general disappearance of tucker, but they dare not for their lives ride astride. Yet there is abso- lutely no reason, either of convenience, or security, or modesty, in favour of the side-saddle, not one single argument which ought even to have a hearing when opposed to the distinct right, subject to the laws of morality, to ride as they please. We do not say there are reasons for abolishing the side-saddle, for though we think there are, that is not the point. A woman has a right to ride English fashion, or Turkish fashion, or Chinese fashion, if she chooses, and society loses in refusing to concede the choice.

Precisely the same argument applies to the doctorate. Any woman who feels that physic is the true profession of her life, or surgery, or chemistry, has an absolute right to learn and follow that profession, and any rule, or law, or etiquette, or social obli- gation which prevents her is a tyranny, an undue interference of the majority with the rights of the minority. There are women in the world whom God made to be physicians, to whom nothing save calm, incessant, scientific battle with physical and visible misery can ever give adequate scope, either for their energies or for their love of humanity. Let them follow their career in all freedom, and amid all reverence. We do give them all reverence for it, when our hearts are stirred, as in the Crimean War, or still more in the Indian Mutiny, when the great European hospitals were really served, more especially in Calcutta, by ladies,—women who thought fanning themselves a fatigue waiting on sorely wounded men for hours and days together, and performing offices

from which even trained nurses _shrink. Only we ieftise the reverence when the need is less imitediate, because then men allow a wretched conventionalism to get the better alike of instinct— which dictates female nurses—and of reason, which in all things -lawful gives " every human being liberty. Why do they ? We have no particular fancy for female doctors as a regular improve- ment in the profession. On the contrary, we believe that the Western theory of female education, which is based on obscnrant- ism, is, on the whole, the 'soundest and healthiest yet tried, that in abrogating it as aristocratic and"Red ideas tad to abrogate it we run the risk of destroying that flower of modesty, that uncon- scious or half conscious delicacy Of thought and feeling and expression, which, though not as valuable as chastity, is as beautiful, and as much to be reverenced. It was the lot of the writer years since to talk for some hours to a female medical missionary, then engaged with her husband in the civi- lization of a wild tribe. She was a lady, if culture could make one, and was doing the work of a St.Paul,—was civilizing an entire people as no man ever could have done, and was in return followed by a love and reverence almost painful to see, it was so like that of collet' dogs for a shePherd. But she said things, nevertheless, could not help saying things, he would be very sorry to hear currently said in drawing-rooms—as they are, for instance, said, if Miss Cobbe and a hundred other observers may be trusted, in Italian drawing-rooms. But that holy ignorance or reticence is not worth guarding at the expense of a career of usefulness or philanthropy, and the woman who thrusts it aside because her nature requires that particular form of warfare with misery, or because she is specially fitted so to war, or because it is to her the readiest path to independence, has as much right to reverence in her course as a man has. She has no more, though that is her permanent pretension, but she has no less. Of course if she will do :absurdities, will assert her sex constantly, will demand separate lecture-rooms, and profess that she only attends women, she must take the consequences, which are not pleaaant. Science knows nothing of sex, or philanthropy either, or business, and when Dr. Walker asserts that she only attends men at their wives' request, she simply surrenders her whole poeitiOn, which is that of a doctor or a good hospital nurse, to whom sex has no meaning, except so far as it influences treatment. She has a right to be a doctor if that is her chosen way of life, and society has no right to object except to the pretension that she is necessarily nobler, or more self-sacrificing, or better skilled than any other doctor. Why should she be ? A trained woman will be physically a little weaker than a trained man, and mentally a little more impatient of slow processes; will succeed better in diagnosis, and worse in curative experiment ; will have in treating men a faint want of sympathy, and in treating women a faint overplus of it, and there it ends. If she likes to overcome these weak- nesses and use that strength, and patients think she has over- come them and will use it; why should not she and they assert their right to use all the ability God has put in the world? What on earth does it signify to mankind whether Macbeth was writ- ten by a man or a woman? If a woman can write it, why is the world to lose it, and if she can set a hip joint, why is the world to lose that? The absurdity of the objec- tion is patent, when we remember that no human being would object to a sick nurse setting the limb if she could, the only objection then felt in our caste contempt being addressed to the education which would fit her to do it properly. But this absurdity is not greater than to claim an unquestionable right with a tremendous flourish of trumpets, simply because the bone- setter is a woman. That, if it makes any difference at all, is an objection, though, in our judgment, it makes none.

Dr. Mary Walker told a story about a patient, dying, as we understand it, but, at all events, severely wounded, wanting to kiss her, and the very uproarious audience laughed her into silence. She told it, in fact, very badly, with an out-of-place allusion to his comrade's presence and his own emaciated look; but did any human being not utterly a brute ever laugh at this, which is the same story told properly ?

"Ever she passed on her way, and came to a conch where pined

One with a face from Venetia, white with a hope out of mind.

Long she stood and gazed, and twice she tried at the name,

But two great crystal tears wore all that faltered and came.

Only a tear for Venice 2—she turned as in passion and loss,

And stooped to his forehead and kissed it, as if she were kissing the


Faint with that strain of heart she moved on then to another, Stern and strong in his death. 'And dot thou suffer, may brother?"