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every tragedy, every comedy, every farce, every melo-drama; it is top, bottom, and sides of some; it is praised by all that know it not, and abused by half of them that do. It is a sacrament of the Catholic church; the Quakers have it their own way; the Unitarian would gladly have it so; the soldier tries it over a bayonet, and slips the noose with a bullet; and Jack the tar manages half a dozen at once. A man may not marry his grandmother; and when he makes a servile mésalliance he generally marries his cook. Some indeed marry players, and others dancers; Sophonisba becomes a countess, and a drunken butcher puts a halter round his Monimia's neck, and sells her for a glass of gin. In short, it is a serio-comic, philosophical, farcical, theological, moral, and immoral subject, and might furnish matter for as many folios as Duns Scotus. One or two will satisfy us.
The first process is termed courtship. But it is not the invariable preliminary. We must distinguish: distinction is the soul of logic and philosophy. And how does a man contrive to court, or pay his court to the object which he supposes himself to adore? "Marry! we cannot tell." It is a difficult adventure at least; since no young gentleman, nay, for the matter of that, no old one, is ever allowed an unwitnessed conversation with a young lady-nor, for the matter of that also, with the lady who is of no particular age.
There is a purpose in every thing in this lower sphere, if we could find it out. In England, (we suppose it is pretty much the same elsewhere,) the two sexes are as cautiously separated as if there was a waged and innate war between them; they are as carefully watched and spied as if the one was an article to be stolen, or broken, or eaten up, and the other the thief and spoiler. If the mother cannot conduct the espionage, if the maiden aunt is not the check, there is a moucharde in some cousin, or there is an envious sister, or perhaps my lady's maid is bribed, or some meddling old dame, who is generally very knowing, (probably from experience of her own juvenile propensities,) volunteers the kind service. Or, lastly and generally, there is a conspiracy of all the whole sex against the one unfortunate, and she cannot move a finger or twinkle an eye-lid, but a thousand eyes are on her, and the other thousand on the imagined correlative object-all scanning, guessing, discovering, or, when they cannot discover, inventing.
If opposed sexes chance to dance together, if a glove falls and is picked up, there is a flirtation-that is the term-at least in the minds of the surveillance; and all the world is the surveillance. If there should be a shoe-string to be replaced-heavens and earth! crimen criminis !-virtue is in danger-she totters-she falls. The lady's horse runs away-humanity at least makes the gentleman's horse follow; instantly, all the mouchardes gallop up, lest-lest what? lest the parties should elope to Gretna Green. If there is an intricate shrubbery, perhaps the fair wishes a rose: the gentleman cannot fail to prick his fingers-this occupies time; they are missed, and a moucharde cousin or aunt is dispatched in breathless haste, to save to save what? the lady's virtue. If perchance the lady is sitting in the public drawing-room, and the gentleman walks in, the lady must walk out; or the whole house would be in commotion, should a casual footman, coming in to seek for the newspaper, make the
horrid discovery. If it should happen that dinner is served, and that the lady and gentleman are both absent, all the servants are dispatched into all the walks and roads to seek them-the untasted morsel fallsthe mouchardes become red in the face-their faces lengthen; and it is at last discovered that the lady's maid had been tedious, and that the gentleman had taken a ride and left his watch behind. Should they be in the same church, half the eyes are directed to one, and half to the other, though one should be in the pit and the other in the gallery. The clergyman preaches in vain. Should they casually sit near each other at the same table, neither of them can look up without seeing that all eyes are fixed on them. If the gentleman enters the drawing-room, any drawing-room; if he should speak first to her whom he knows best, whom perhaps he knows only—it is a settled point; if he is aukward or shy, because he sees eyes in motion-it is a lost case; if he is open and free-he is dangerously intimate; if reserved-he is cunning, and there is a private understanding more dangerous still.
Such is society-the intercourse of the single sexes in England. How far it is a happy state of intercourse, is not a difficult problem: how far it is an useful regulation, is not much more difficult to decide: what the cause and motive may be, is a question partaking of a difficult ontology; yet perhaps not very difficult.
Putting out of enquiry the matter of courtship and all that belongs to it, here is an insuperable bar placed to the freedom of intercourse between the unmarried; and, what is a natural consequence, a general restraint thrown all over society. It were as well to be locked up like Turks, as to be displayed under these absurd restraints. Half the world is employed in watching the other, which is a bad enough occupation; and the other half is watched, which is not a very amiable position. The first half becomes spies, busy, prying, malevolent-the second learns fraud and cunning. Universal enmity, universal fear, universal trickery and manoeuvring, are the natural results. The character loses its openness, it is taught to suspect itself, and it soon becomes deserving of suspicion. Perhaps marriage ensues; and she who has learnt lessons so admirable, escapes surveillance and takes her rank as a moucharde. Thus are made, daughters-thus are made, mothers. Female cousins and aunts inherit or acquire it all by instinct.
If it be all instinct together, there is no help. If it be not, there is a remedy; but it is a difficult one, since it must be that of giving virtue to them who never possessed it, or have voluntarily perverted the gifts of nature. And this leads us to the cause. No one suspects another but because he draws the portrait of another's mind from his own. The moucharde who watches the innocentminded and open-hearted girl, yet new to the world, suspects her because she suspects herself. She remembers that she has done wrong in the same situation, or she knows that she would do it if she had an opportunity. It is not a very great compliment to her own sex, if she thinks that a female mind is to be corrupted by conversation with a man: it is rather a bad one to ours, to suppose us all seducers or ravishers. We must use plain terms, because, disguise the matter as they may, this is the solution, and nothing else. The virtue of an
unmarried girl is in danger from being left a minute in the company of an unmarried man-or of a married one. To be understood, language must be definite, else we revolve amidst inextricable fallacies. At least, if rape is not to follow, as in the case of Clarissa, there may be elopement, or corruption of mind. It must be one or other of these, for there is nothing else which it can be. Unless it be a deep artifice to bring on matrimony. That it does answer this purpose occasionally, we do not deny; but, maneuvering as the sex is, this solution would not apply to all the cases. It does not apply to the case of the unmarried woman and married man; and it is not the solution.
We may ask the married women also, who form a large part of the surveillance in this case, how it happens that their own virtue is not in as much danger as those of their single neighbours? Or is it, that they would claim exemption, because the one case is hazardous, and the other without danger? As to the cousins and the rest, hopeless virginity in all shapes and modes, envy, and nothing more, is the foundation motive-envy, malevolence, and jealousy. If we have not succeded in stripping naked the real reasons, let any one find better. It is the conspiracy, not of prudence or virtue, but of suspicion and consciousness. A virtuous mind has no suspicions, nor is it often deceived. If they derive the characters of their own sex from their own hearts, as we may convince ourselves by reading the novels of their production, whence do they derive those of ours? Not from experience, that is most certain: otherwise than as their own suspicious espionage may make the fault it fears. He who cannot obtain what is honest and innocent, honestly and innocently, must learn to be stealthy and fraudful: being suspected of evil, he knows of an evil which he had not suspected, and it is often enough to know it. The system corrupts both sexes.
Though it corrupted neither, in fact, in practice it does sufficient evil in exciting ideas of corruption or wrong. It encroaches on that purity and plainness of mind which is the charm of charms, on that candour, and openness, and simplicity of straight conduct, which is the basis of all social happiness. There is no happiness under such a system of suspicion.
It may be from Grandison and Fielding that the sex has derived its theory of ours: it is certainly not from experience, as we have just said. We are much inclined to believe, that man is the most virtuous and upright half of the world-it is certainly the most direct and open. The sentiments are displayed-wrong or right-those of the other sex never. The whole is a system of fiction and concealment; and if not made by what we have been here censuring, it is aggravated and supported.
The evil consequences are various and numerous; there are others, besides those at which we have just pointed. Englishmen have been accused of shunning the sex in society, that they may associate with each other: hence their after-dinner compotations, their clubs-all the separation which is found in English society. It cannot be otherwise: we only wonder that they are so fast surrendering their freedom to gain nothing in exchange. Stale virginity, and peevish matrimony, complain of the want of that attention which they desire. But they desire to engross it; they will not allow youth and singleness to par
take, and thus they defeat their own ends. They would gladly secure all the male attentions; but, like schoolmasters, they would be the tyrants and the spies of those of whose superior attractions they are jealous.
We do not deny that female society has a charm which nothing else can equal. But, to be charming, it must be free. It endures no restraint; and least of all will man be directed whom he shall cultivate; less still will he be monopolized by age and ugliness, to be cut off from the intercourse of youth and beauty. When the female society of England shall throw itself open, without espionage and suspicion-when it shall cease to dread its own virtue, and watch the virtue of others, man will not long tarry in the dinner-room, and frequent the clubs.
It is something too that it should cultivate its own mind, and render itself fit society for men. It is attempting to doth is by reading novels and the Quarterly Review, and by learning ologies. It becomes less conversible than before-it becomes ennuyante-a persecution and a bore. It will not learn how to converse with men by studying poetry or philosophy, or by keeping albums: it will learn this art only by conversing with men, and for this end it must attack them by frankness and simplicity, instead of terrifying them by suspicion and espionage. Let the married allow the single to partake in all the rights of general society-let age and ugliness allow youth and beauty that freedom which it would monopolize, and we shall soon see woman what she has never yet been in England-the companion of man, single or married: his companion married, because she has acquired the art of being so when single.
The general intercourse might be as free as the light; and while men gained by it in happiness and ease, they would also gain in polish and manners. Young men, in particular, are now singled out as patterns of rudeness and neglect. It cannot be otherwise. They feel that they are restrained in that which would be as inoffensive and innocent as it would be agreeable, that they are directed and governed as well as watched, and they rebel of course. They seek, perhaps, among vice, what they would equally dislike and despise, had they the freedom for which we argue; or, the novel writers say, with what truth we do not know, that they fly for relief to married women. This is a prevalent opinion at least, whether true or not, even among themselves.
If they do not seek this society with improper views, as it is asserted by the novellist that they do, they feel, at any rate, that there is here no restraint: the married woman assumes a liberty which she denies to the single, and perhaps finds the monopoly convenient. She condemns the single to be "stupid and disagreeable"-such is the phrase, and men shun them.
Or she makes them crafty and designing, and men are alarmed. One of two things a man must find; either that the single is stupid, awkward, and a hypocrite, or else that she is laying a trap for him. Thus evils multiply and combine, and so do their consequences. The apparently timid or reserved girl, who seems so cautiously to guard her virtue at all points, because her mother or aunt has cautioned and taught her, becomes married, turns out a fool or a
virago, or of loose opinions. Being unexpectedly freed, she runs riot; and he who has fallen into the trap-finds, when he expected all gentleness and order, that he has caught a Tartar.
One deception generates another, the whole character becomes artificial, and we draw our wives in a lottery as effectually as if we had been Persians, and married them by bargain and sale, under a veil. It is a contest of fraud against confidence.
It is said that the sexes mutually conspire to deceive each other. That is not true. Man deceives, no otherwise than as he is deceived himself. If he, by unusual care and gentleness to the object of his admiration, appears to assume a false character, this is but the natural bienséance to the sex, though it is partly also produced by the system. To all the rest of the world, his character and conduct are natural and open; and the object herself needs never be at a loss to know it. But the heart of a woman is a deep pit; who can find it out or fathom it? She is all artifice and deception; and not till she is married does she cast off the mask-for good, it sometimes happens; more commonly, for evil.
We have assigned some motives for the system, but the spirit of tyranny is one of them. That spirit is natural to mankind-it is one of our main inheritances from the devil. A woman has few opportunities of exerting it? She is not a naval or a military officer, she has no office clerks beneath her: she cannot always succeed in tyrannizing over her husband; nor her children, because she sends them to school; nor her footmen, because they will not bear it. She can beat her maid, scold the housemaids if she is low enough in society, and abuse her milliner and shoemaker. That is her natural limit. Therefore, she assumes to persecute the single sex.
We see no remedy, unless the single sex chooses to mutiny and rebel. Or perhaps the men might conspire to starve the tyranny into compliance. In either way, whoever shall succeed in breaking up the system will deserve the order of knighthood at least. The surveillance will cry out that the virtue of the rising generation is in danger. Let them clap the padlock on the mind; that is the right place. It is not true: establish universal freedom, and that which is no longer difficult would cease to be a subject of anxiety. No one would form designs, when designs were not necessary. Woman, finding her virtue not suspected, would not suspect it herself. Man, finding no difficulties in intercourse, would not seek it by fraud. He would not conspire, when conspiracy was useless; and the single-heartedness and simplicity of the sex would at once disarm him. Single woman would become a cultivated and a reasonable animal instead of being what she is—ignorant and unconversable: she would be what nature designed her, instead of being a combination of insincerity, deceit, coquetry, and affectation. Is this a consummation that we shall ever see? We fear not.
But enough of this. How does it bear on courtship and on marriage, the titles of our paper, from which we have diverged? Man courts he knows not what: he gains one thing and finds that he has obtained another, and the consequences naturally flow, as might be expected. He has married a veiled wife.
It is difficult to fathom deceit, but he is not allowed even the means.