7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 15


As a general rule, the word " common-sense " upon the title- page of a book repels, rather than attracts, the thoughtful reader. The quality which takes that seemingly humble but really pretentious name is wont to be both hard and superficial, —hard, because it refuses to make those gracious allowances which are duo from us to thoughts and things, as well as to persons ; and superficial, because it is apt to take account of obvious facts only, ignoring those which, though less obvious, are equally significant, and to repose in ready-made generalisa- tions, which are useful enough as provisional hypotheses for the every-day work of life, but which lack that fineness and accu- racy which we demand from our intellectual tools when a "nice bit of work," as Adam Bode would have described it, has to be done. This, however, is the common-sense of the vulgar, using that epithet in its intellectual, rather than its social signification ; it is the favourite weapon in the armouries of Gath faud Askalon ; and whenever we meet Common-San's about Women. By Thomas Wentworth Higginson. London W. Swan Sonnensehein and Co. with Mr. Higginscin, we know that we are in the presence not of a Philistine, but of one of the true children of the light,—of a man to whom truth is a complex thing, compact not of obvious facts and rough rules, but of differentiations between fact and fact, of exceptions, of allowances, of apparent para-.

doxes, even apparent contradictions, of things which must be seen together to be seen rightly, because they transfigure each other, just as feature is often transfigured by the expression to which it contributes. We may speak of a higher common- sense, just as we speak of a higher culture, meaning by it a common-sense which differs from the tantalising method of the doctrinaire by never losing its hold upon reality, but differing also from the common-sense of the vulgar, by seeing that reality means the sum-total of available facts, seen in the mass and in their relations to each other.

Of this higher common-sense, everything that Mr. Higginson has so .far published has proved him a worthy exponent, and in this latest work it must be declared that, on the whole, he not merely sustains, but strengthens his reputation. We insert the modifying phrase with hesitation, and our reasons for its insertion must be given further on, in order that it may be seen how slight is the stress we wish the reader to lay upon it. In the meantime, we congratulate Mr. Higginson upon the courage which has prompted him to apply his kind of sense to the solution of a problem which has unfortunately been mainly dealt with by dealers in a sense which is in every way too com- mon,—dealing that tempts thoughtful people to say to the contending disputants, " A plague on both your houses !" If there be any subject in the treatment of which common-sense is specially refreshing, it is surely that of the true relation of woman to man.

Mr. Higginson's little volume consists of a number of very short essays, gathered together in eight groups, entitled respectively, Physiology," " Temperament," " The Home," " Society," " Education," "Employment," "Suffrage," and "Objec- tions to Suffrage." Each essay is, so far as it goes, complete in itself, and is not a mere link in an argumentative chain ; but of course it has logical relations with all its companion papers, especially with those which are grouped under the same general "heading. To each group Mr. Higginson has prefixed a brief quotation, which gives the reader a hint of the general line of thought along which he is to be led. The book, as a whole, is without any such motto, but we know of none better, as describ- ing the attitude of the writer, than the lines from The Princess, which have been quoted a thousand times, but which cannot be quoted too often :— " For woman is not undevelopt man,

But diverse : could we make her as the man, Sweet love were slain : his dearest bond is this,— Not like to like, but like in difference."

Mr. Higginson can hardly have failed to think of so memor- able a passage, and it was probably ignored, either as too hack- neyed, or because it was thought that the old demon of Con- servatism, which Mr. Higginson has set himself to exorcise, might be found lurking in the clause which is begun in the third and ended in the fourth line; but were this his feeling, he might have remembered Mr. Tennyson's ample admission, that,— "In the long years liker must they grow,

The man be more of woman, she of man, Till at the last she sot herself to man, Like perfect music unto noble words."

'The quotation reminds us of our sole complaint against Mr. Higginson. He is so angry, we think justly angry, with the multitude of people who persist in talking of woman as inferior to man, that in some pages he seems guilty of a homicidal assault upon "sweet love," by endeavouring to "make her as the man." We freely admit that the pages in which this mistake is made are corrected by other pages, in which man and woman are unmistakably described as comple- mentary each to each, and therefore necessarily unlike ; but we feel so kindly to Mr. Higginson, that we do not like to see him stand in need of correction, even by him- self. He is so moderate, so judicious, and in every way so sane in his utterances, that it is difficult to quote a sentence that shall substantiate our accusation ; but some of the essays, especially the first two in the first group, do undoubtedly leave the impression that he unfairly minimises the significance of sex. Mr. Higginson first uses as a motto, and then quotes with approbation, a sentence in which Joan Paul Richter says that, " before and after being a mother, one is a human being ; and neither the motherly nor the wifely destination can overbalance or replace the human, bat must become its means, not its end."

This statement is absolutely true, but it may easily be forced into false applications, and it can hardly be said that Mr. Hig- ginson keeps quite clear of such forcing. He rightly denounces the narrow incompleteness of the assertion that "women, as such, are constituted for purposes of maternity and the con- tinuation of mankind ;" but we are inclined to think that there is a similar incompleteness in the view formulated in the follow- ing sentences :- "Throughout Nature, the laws of sex rule everywhere ; but they rule a kingdom of their own, always subordinate to the greater king- dom of the vital functions. Every creature, male or female, finds in its sexual relations only a subordinate part of its existence. The need of food, the need of exercise, the joy of living, these come first, and absorb the bulk of its life, whether the individual be male

or female If this be true of the lower animals, it is far more true of the higher. The mental and moral laws of the Uni- verse touch us first and chiefly as human beings. We eat our break- fasts as human beings, not as men and women ; and it is the same with nine-tenths of our interests and duties in life. In legislating or philosophising for woman, we must neither forget that she has an organisation distinct from that of man, nor must we exaggerate the fact."

Now, in these sentences, Mr. Higginson certainly does not exaggerate the fact of which he is speaking ; but we certainly think that he minimises it. Sex in the lower animals is simply a physiological difference, but in human beings it is psychologi- cal as well, as the writer fully admits in other papers. He betrays his weakness here by his choice of an illustration. " We eat our breakfasts," he says, "as human beings, not as men and women ;" and this is true, but what of it P Eating is outside the sexual region ; the laws of digestion have identical action in both sexes, but Mr. Higginson is too cautious a thinker to say that we think and love as human beings, not as men and women, without such modifications as would destroy the force of the statement. Wifehood and motherhood are sexual relations, and because they are more important relations in the life of a woman than in the life of any animal, the sexual difference has to be considered more, instead of less, as wo ascend in the scale of being. Mr. Higginson's countryman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, expressed his sense of the importance of the fact, when he said, with fine discrimination, "The lees of sex there is about a woman, the more she is to be dreaded."

But we cannot afford to quarrel concerning the mint, anise, and cnmmiu of phraseology, with a writer who is so sound upon the weightier matters of the law ; and as we have already said, Mr. Higginson corrects himself much more effectually than we can pretend to correct him. His book is a treasury of practical wisdom, on a subject con- cerning which much has been said that sounds wise, without being practical, and even more that looks practical, but is not in the least wise. 'Where all is so good, it is difficult to select any- thing as specially admirable, but the chapters on "The Home" may be mentioned as among the best in the book. They are undoubtedly the.most radical, but we think they are also among the most unanswerable of Mr. Higginson's utterances; and those who think of home government as an autocracy tempered by fond- ness and liberality will do well to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the papers entitled " A Copartnership," " Our Respon- sible Head," and " Asking for Money." From the last essay, we must find room for one extract, which we hope may be made a "means of grace" to husbands who adhere to the feudal idea of the home :- " I have carefully avoided using the word allowance' in what has been said, because that word seems to imply the untrue and mean assumption that the money is all the husband's, to give or withhold as he will. Yet I have heard this sort of phrase from mon who woro living on a wife's property or a wife's earnings ; from men who nominally kept boarding-houses, working a little while their wives worked hard, or from farmers, who worked hard, and made their wives work harder. Even in cases where the wife has no direct part in the money-making, the indirect part she performs, if she takes faithful charge of her household, is so essential, so beyond all com- pensation in money, that it is an utter shame and impertinence in the husband, when he speaks of 'giving' money to his wife, as if it were an act of favour. It is no more an act of favour, than when the business manager of a firm pays out money to the unseen part- ner who directs the indoor business or runs the machinery. Be the joint income more or less, the wife has a claim to her honourable share, and that as a matter of right, without the daily ignominy of sending in a petition for it."

Mr. Higginson's book is full of this kind of trenchant, homely wisdom. If such sense be not common, so much the worse, not merely for wives, but for husbands as well.