WOMAN IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
THIS is the title of a book now in press in this city, which will be likely to excite a good deal of remark, for and against. It is from the pen of Margaret Fuller, a woman of more powerful intellect, comprehensive thought, and thorough education, than any other American authoress, with whose productions I am acquainted. Her style is vigorous and significant, abounding with eloquent passages, and affluent in illustration; but it is sometimes rough in construction, and its meaning is not always sufficiently clear. This does not arise from affectation, or pedantic elaboration; it is the defect of a mind that has too many thoughts for its words; an excess by no means common, either in men or women. She is a contralto voice in literature: deep, rich, and strong, rather than mellifluous and clear.
The book in question is written in a free energetic spirit. It contains a few passages that will offend the fastidiousness of some readers; for they allude to subjects which men do not wish to have discussed, and which women dare not approach. But the clean-minded will not sneer; for they will see that the motive is pure, and the object is to ennoble human nature.
There is a great deal of unuttered thought and suppressed feeling, concerning the terrible discords of society, as it now exists. The passion of love, divorced from the pure and elevating sentiment, is felt to be unsatisfactory, as well as degrading. More and more earnestly rise the questions, “Is love a mockery, and marriage a sham? What is woman’s true mission? What is the harmonious relation of the sexes?”
This extending murmur of the human heart, this increasing conviction that woman should be the friend, the companion, the real partner of man in all his pursuits, rather than the mere ornament of his parlor, or the servant of his senses, cannot be silenced.
The author of “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” has uttered noble aspirations on this subject, rather than definite theories. She is wise enough to see, that to purify the atmosphere will gradually affect all forms of life.
I quote a few passages at random, to give some idea of the import and tendencies of the book.
“A better comment could not be made on what is required to perfect man, and place him in that superior position for which he was designed, than by the interpretation of Bacon upon the legends of the Syren coast. When the wise Ulysses passed, says he, he caused his mariners to stop their ears with wax, knowing there was no power to resist the lure of that voluptuous song. But he, the much experienced man, who wished to be experienced in all, and use all to the service of wisdom, desired to hear the song that he might understand its meaning. Yet, distrusting his own own power to be firm in his better purpose, he caused himself to be bound to the mast, that he might be kept secure against his own weakness. But Orpheus passed unfettered, so absorbed in singing hymns to the gods, that he could not even hear those sounds of degrading enchantment.
“Meanwhile not a few believe, and men themselves have expressed the opinion, that the time is come when Eurydice is to call for an Orpheus, rather than Orpheus for Eurydice: that the idea of Man, however imperfectly brought out, has been far more so than that of Woman; that she, the other half of the same thought, the other chamber of the heart of life, needs now to take her turn in the full pulsation, and that improvement in the daughters will best aid in the reformation of the sons of this age.
“It should be remarked that, as the principle of liberty is better understood, and more nobly interpreted a broader protest is made in behalf of Woman. As men become aware that few men have had a fair chance, they are inclined to say that no women have had a fair chance.
“Without attaching importance, in themselves, to the changes demanded by the champions of woman, we hail them as signs of the times. We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man. Were this done and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we should see crystallizations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres would ensue.
“Yet, then and only then, will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for woman as much as for man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession. As the friend of the negro assumes that that one man cannot by right, hold another in bondage, so should the friend of woman assume that man cannot, by right, lay even well-meant restrictions on woman. If the negro be a soul, if the woman be a soul, apparelled in flesh, to one Master only are they accountable. There is but one law for souk, and if there is to be an interpreter of it, he must come not as man. or son of man, but as son of God.
“Were thought and feeling once so far elevated, that man should esteem himself the brother and friend, but nowise the lord and tutor of woman, were he reaby bound with her in equal worship, arrangements as to function and employment would be of no consequence. What woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded, to unfold such powers as were given her when we left our common home. If fewer talents are given her, yet if allowed the free and full employment of these, so that she may render back to the giver his own with usury, she will not complain; nay, I dare to say she will bless and rejoice in her earthly birth-place, her earthly lot.
“Man, in the order of time, was developed first; as energy comes before harmony; power before beauty.
“Woman was therefore under his care as an elder. He might have been her guardian and teacher.
But as human nature goes not straight forward, but by excessive; action and then reaction in an undulated course, he misunderstood and; abused his advantages, and became her temporal master instead of her spiritual sire.
“On himself came the punishment. He educated woman more as a servant than a daughter, and found himself a king without a queen.
“The children of this unequal union showed unequal natures, and, more and more, men seemed sons of the hand-maid, rather than princes.
“The civilized world is still in a transition state about marriage; not only in practice, but in thought. It is idle to speak with contempt of the nations where polygamy is an institution, or seraglios a custom, when practices far more debasing haunt, well nigh fill, every city and every town. And so far as union of one with one is believed to be the only pure form of marriage, a great majority of societies and individuals are still doubtful whether the earthly bond must be a meeting of souls, or only supposes a contract of convenience and utility. Were woman established in the rights of an immortal being, this could not be. She would not, in some countries, be given away by her father, with scarcely more respect than is shown by the Indian chief, who sells his daughter for a horse, and beats her if she runs away from her new home. Nor in societies where her choice is left free, would she be perverted, by the current of opinion that seizes her, into the belief that she must marry, if it be only to find a protector, and a home other own.
“Neither would man, if he thought the connection of permanent importance, form it so lightly. He would not deem it a trifle, that he was to enter into the closest relations with another soul, which, if not eternal in themselves, must eternally affect his growth.
“Neither, did he believe woman capable of friendship, would he, by rash haste, lose the chance of finding a friend in the person who might, probably, live half a century by his side. Did love, in his mind, stretch forth into infinity, he would not miss in his chance of its revelations, that he might, the sooner, rest from his weariness by a bright fireside, and secure a sweet and graceful attendant ?’ devoted to him alone.” Were he a step higher, he would not carelessly enter into a relation where he might not be able to do theduty of a friend, as well as protector from external ill, to the other party, and have a being in his power pining for sympathy, intelligence and aid, that he could not give.”L. M. C.
“Woman in the Nineteenth Century.” Broadway Journal, 15 February 1845, pp. 97-98.