Woman in the Nineteenth Century.

WOMAN IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY. By S. Margaret Fuller. New York, Greeley& McElrath. 1846. Price 60 cents.

  IT will be a happy time for the world, but especially happy for the reading part of it, when people shall be content to accomplish, in the shortest time possible, whatever they may feel themselves called to do. TIME FLIES, should be inscribed on the door-posts of every author’s dwelling. An emblematic figure, like tbat in the Hall of our National Legislature, does not appear to be sufficiently striking, though it tells the hours as they fly. The author who writes to amuse, may write as long as he can amuse, even though he should write tales longer than the Grand Cyrus, or Sir Charles Grandison; but the author who writes to instruct, cannot write too briefly, for we have much to learn, and but little time to learn in; one third must be given to sleep, another third, at least, to labor, and the rest to study, to amusements, to writing, and talking, and sight-seeing. The time that the best of us can devote to reading, is but short, and therefore, we cannot afford to read books which lack method, or which contain more words than are necessary to convey the author’s meaning, provided he have any. That Miss Fuller is justly chargeable with wasting the lime of her readers, her most devout admirer cannot deny. Her book consists of two hundred pages, but all that it contains of her own suggesting, might be fairly compressed into a third of the space. The title is a misnomer to begin with; the one under which the essay was once published, “The great Law-suit, Man vs. Men: Woman vs. Women,” was much better, because, having no particular meaning, it created no improper expectations.

  Miss Fuller informs us that she changed it because it was not understood; she will have to change the present one, for an opposite reason. We keep looking for woman of the nineteenth century, but we only End a roster of female names from Panthea to Amelia Norman. The propriety of the title is the more doubtful from the following passage in her preface.

  “By man, I mean both man and woman. I lay no especial stress on the welfare of either. I believe the welfare of the one cannot be effected without that of the other. My highest wish is that this truth should be distinctly and rationally apprehended; and the conditions of life and freedom recognised as the same for the daughters and the sons of time.”

  The style is somewhat stilted, but the thought is just and philosophical, and proves Miss Fuller to be a thinking, right-judging person. Why could she not, then, since she thinks so correctly, call her book, Man, or Society in the, Nineteenth century, and so plead in a straight forward manner in behalf of man, without any specialities about woman’s rights or woman’s wrongs, as though she had either rights or wrongs, which are not also the rights and wrongs of men. We certainly did not expect from a woman of Miss Fuller’s natural and acquired powers, the wretched cant which we hear so often from men, who, having no claim upon man, seek for the sympathies of women, and from women, who, having as little claim upon the sympathies of men, try for it by speaking in the name of their sex, about woman’s mission, woman’s influence, and woman’s rights; and we have not been disappointed; she seems to entertain a wholesome horror of the whole tribe of shallow canters. But then, if we do not misapprehend her, which we are not sure of, she has errors of her own which are more dangerous, because not so shallow as the others. She forgets, or rather seems to forget, that God created man male and female, notwithstanding the declaration in her preface, which we suspect, contains, like the postscript of a woman’s letter, the fact which she intended to put into the body of her work. She is dissatisfied that women are not men, and takes offence at the term “women and children”; words which to us sound sweeter for being spoken together. She is offended that women should esteem it a compliment to be called masculine, while men consider it a reproach to be called feminine. “Early I perceived,” she says, “that men, in no extremity of distress, ever wished themselves women.” Of course not. It is the law that woman shall reverence her husband, and that he shall be her head. We may love those whom we protect, but we can never wish ourselves in their place, although we naturally wish to be like those from whom we receive protection. The wish of Desdemona that Heaven had made her like Othello, is the sweetest touch of nature in Shakspeare. Some have doubted what she meant, but they have only to read her wish by the light of revelation, and her meaning is clear. Miss Fuller says:

  “I have urged on woman, independence of man, not that I do not think the sexes mutually needed by one another, hut because in woman, this fact has led to an excessive devotion, which has cooled love, degraded marriage, and prevented either sex from being what it should be to itself or the other. *  *  *  That her hand may he given with dignity, she must be able to stand alone.”

  This, we conceive to be the radical error of Miss Fuller’s reasoning, and directly opposed to the law of nature, of experience and revelation. She says,

  “A profound thinker has said, that no married woman can represent the female world, for she belongs to her husband. The idea of woman must be represented by a virgin.”

  He was a very shallow thinker, or a joker. It would be as reasonable to say that none but a deaf man could give a true idea of music. Woman is nothing but as a wife. How, then, can she truly represent the female character who has never filled it? No woman can be a true woman, who has not been a wife and a mother. These are not accidental characters like those of mistress and servant, which may be thoroughly understood without being acted; but they are the natural destiny of woman, and if she is kept from them, her nature is distorted and unnatural; and she sees things through a false medium. Her report, therefore, of a character which she never filled, must be received with distrust.

  It is not easy to discover from Miss Fuller’s essay what her precise ideas of the true relation of man and woman are; although on some points she is sufficiently distinct. Mrs. Jamieson, with true womanly feeling, said that she would prefer being Mary of Scotland to Elizabeth of England; but Miss Fuller would prefer being the termagant Queen and swearing by “God’s teeth.” Colonel Emily Plater and Madame George Sand sound pleasantly in her ears. “If you ask me what offices women may fill,” says Miss Fuller, “I reply any; let them be sea captains if you will.” Very good, let them. We have a queen of England, and England claims to be mistress of the seas; let us have a woman Admiral. But we take sides with Spinoza, and answer that woman cannot command. She lacks the chief qualities of a commander. She cannot invent. She is an apt imitator, but she cannot originate; and therefore we have no fears that we shall ever see woman in our halls of legislature, or in command of our ships or armies. “A party of travellers lately visited a lonely hut on a mountain. There they found an old woman that told them she and her husband had lived there forty years; why, they said, did you chose so barren a spot? She did not know, it was the man’s notion. And during forty years she had been content to act, without knowing why, upon the man’s notion. I would not have it so”; says Miss Fuller. In the name of all that is monstrous, what would she have? Would she have the woman to leave her husband, or would she have the husband abandon what he believed to be for his interest to do, to satisfy a whim of his wife? She is not bound to provide for him, but he is bound to provide for her, and therefore he must be allowed the privilege of following his own business in his own way, unless she can advise him better; hut he must be the judge of the advice. The old woman was a true woman and a good wife, who had no thought but to please her husband. Women who have any other thoughts have no business with a husband. If there is anything clear in revealed and natural law, it is that man is the head of the woman. All the beauty, all the harmony, all the happiness of life is centred in this truth. The most perfect woman that the world has ever known, one who was tried as no other woman was ever tried, who was endowed by nature as few women have ever been endowed, the sweetest, purest being that ever bore the name of woman, counted herself nothing but the wife of her husband, would know no law but his will, no happiness but his love; and when his love grew cold, and he became dead to her, though living, she still remained true to him. The world has abounded in Ephesian widows, but there has been only one Eloisa. Yet Eloisa is the true type of perfect woman. But Eloisa is not the type of Miss Fuller’s ideal wife: she is better pleased with such a wife as Madame Roland, whose equality with her husband, and congeniality of tastes and employments, made her his companion and friend. She was, in truth, no wife at all, at least, to him, and she fully exemplified the truth which Miss Fuller denies, that love is a necessity with woman.

  “This is one of the best instances (the marriage of Madame Roland) of a marriage of friendship. It was only friendship, whose basis was esteem; probably neither party knew love, except by name;” says Miss Fuller. But Thiers says; “Elle respectait et chérissait son époux comme un père: elle éprouvait pour l’un des Girondins proscrits une passion profonde, qu’ elle avait toujours contenue.

“Woman in the Nineteenth Century.” Broadway Journal, 1 March 1845, pp. 130—131.