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3-182 (Original)

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addressee author,female,Weekes, Cora Ann,un
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Webby, 1989
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I would have begun to address you, ladies and gentlemen, with a great and holy thought of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's, which embodies that illustrious lady's ideas of Woman's duty as a member of the Commonwealth - had not a remarkable passage from the Book of Books, occurred to my mind. I may, without irreverence or pedantry, read you the passage, which is so full of wholesome truth and rich poetry. It is taken from the Book of Proverbs, and reads thus:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household; and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Now we have here, from the mouth of ineffable wisdom itself, the characteristic traits of the greatly good woman. We have immaculate purity; exquisite sensibility; indefatigable industry; and strength of mind and purpose. In proportion as a woman - no matter to what sphere of duty called - possesses these qualities - in proportion as they give shape and colour to her mortal nature - so is she good; great; pre-eminent; heroic! (Applause.) Fling upon her all fame and glory - hail her genius, her devotedness, her enthusiasm - bow before her surpassing beauty and exquisite grace - worship her queenly presence and her lightning wit; still, if she lack the four normal attributes referred to, she is no heroine, as I understand the term. (Applause.( She is of the earth, earthy. She is an ephemeral divinity! [320]
- the gilding will soon fade and the glory depart! But if on the other hand, she be possessed of these four cardinal virtues, then indeed shall the words of the wise man be verified - "Her children shall rise up and call her blessed."
I have made these preliminary remarks because I intend presently to meet an objection and attack a prejudice. There never was a great social or civil reform that did not create opposition and excite enmity. This is a consequence, and consequently a natural result, of our poor, weak, fallible nature. Honest efforts at great civil and social reforms, then, causing commotion as they do; arousing enemies and enmities; exciting jealousies; alarming weak heads and craven hearts; - are sure to be misrepresented - they are overlaid with falsehoods and calumnies, so that it takes time and requires patience, courage, and a good conscience, to effect a happy result.
During the last thirty or forty years, a movement has been made to remove certain social disabilities of Woman - to elevate her position in the commonwealth - to enfranchise her with certain moral privileges - and to enlarge the sphere of her activity and usefulness. The effort was an honest and an honourable one. Discussion ensued, and the best of the argument lay on the side of the weaker sex, while all or most of the wit and humour was with the stronger. A joke may contain a reason, although the chances are sadly against any such gold veining the quartz. But it is no joke to scout and flout fair, straightforward, logical reason out of the field by jokes - some of them pointed - others very blunt; some possessing attic salt - others very unsavoury - some very piquant and peppery - others very flat and flippant.
One of the greatest literary caricaturists of the age has made the question of "Woman's Rights" as ridiculous as a vivid fancy and a fine eye for contrasts could make it. He has created the absurd and improbable character of Mrs Jellyby. [...]
Now this description is all very funny, and may have been provoked by certain eccentricities of certain ladies who felt themselves "called to perform missions"; - but that this sketch should be flung in the face of every earnest woman who makes an effort to elevate the condition of her sex, is as absurd as it is unjust. [321] These Mrs Jellabys are not the women who will do anything greatly good. They want one or more of the prime conditions laid down at the very outset of my remarks. They forget their domestic obligations - they forget their most obvious responsibilities - they do not possess that particular sort of industry which alone is recommended by the "wise man". In the Female Heroism which I commend, and on which I propose to talk with you for a half-hour tonight, you will find none of their extravagance. You will find no moral or domestic duty neglected - no personal responsibility laid aside. You will see that women can go earnestly and directly to a good work, with the same bravery and loyalty as men. You will find nothing absurd, nothing unfeminine, nothing unbecoming the co-operation of every true Christian patriot, in that species of "Woman's Rights" which I am here this evening to advocate.
But inasmuch as I have given you Mr Charles Dickens's idea of "Woman's Mission", in the ridiculous character of Mrs Jellyby, perhaps you will permit me to quote a few lines from the pen of a dear friend, a noble example and shining light to her sex. Let us see bow a woman's idea of "Woman's Rights" compares with Mrs Jellyby's practice. The passage runs thus:
The Rights of Women! what are they? The right to labour and to pray!
The right to succour in distress - 
The right, when others curse, to bless! 
The right to smooth the brow of pain 
To lift the fallen up again!
The right to suffer and forgive!
The right to teach men how to live!
(Loud and long contained applause.)
O, my friends, these are woman's true rights! These are the glorious duties which it is our high mission to perform! These are the heroic achievements that the true women of the Nineteenth Century are expected to accomplish! These are the labours which have written the name of Miss Dix on a million hearts - these are the deeds which have encircled, with a halo of imperishable glory, the honoured names of hundreds of English heroines. (Sensation.)
Before proceeding further with my discourse, it may not be impertinent to the general question at issue, to answer a personal charge that may be made. The general reasoning that I shall adduce would, indeed, be a sufficient answer to the particular charge, but I will take the objection up for a moment in a more direct manner. Why am I doing so unusual a thing for a lady - why am I attempting to lecture tonight? To this I have two answers to make: First, as the Editor of a public journal, I am in the habit of addressing myself to the general public. [322] There is no conclusive reason, why, if I can amuse or instruct the public in that capacity, I may not in this. (Cries of hear! hear!) I have another answer. I am here - although perhaps some will be ungenerous enough to doubt the assertion - I am here, really, and positively, this night, to do good! (Applause.) How that good may be accomplished, I shall presently attempt to explain. There never was an age in the worlds history in which woman did not, by her life and actions, demonstrate that divine gifts had been bestowed upon her, the queen, as well as upon man, the lord of creation. From Judith to Joan of Arc - from Joan of Arc to Elizabeth of England - from Elizabeth of England to Maria Therese - from Maria Therese to our own sovereign lady, Queen Victoria - fame and glory, or rather the glories of bright fame - like a radiant atmosphere surround and encircle them. They each have niches in the temple - a halo round their heads - places in the annals of human greatness - and they are memorable examples for all time to come. (Sensation.) And if woman has adorned the crown and the diadem - if she has stood in regal pomp at the head of mighty nations - if her virtues have added grace and dignity to the sceptre - if her beauty has dazzled amid the glittering pageantry of court and state, so also has her presence, like the sun-rays that burst from the Eastern hills, shed bounteous blessings in every scene of life. Go to yonder humble cottage-home. See the poor young wife - she whose whole wealth is the wealth of a pure conscience and a loving heart! See how her gentle assiduities console and comfort her husband, who has just returned home after a day's struggle with the great, selfish world. See how her home smiles with beauty - how flowers just bursting into blossom, carefully tended and nurtured by her hand, add fragrance and loveliness to all - till even Poverty himself, ever intruding where he is not wanted, slinks away, and hides his diminished head. (Laughter and applause)
But it is not to eulogise the achievements or dwell on the renown of my sex, that I address you. I prefer rather to call your attention to the fact, and, if possible, make you converts to my opinion - that there is a finer, more vigorous, more healthy development in woman's efforts to accomplish the great and good - that is, the heroic - in this Nineteenth Century, than has hitherto manifested itself. I will not read you biographies of illustrious heroines; but I will in the course of my remarks, adduce shining instances of their high ambition and good work done, as illustrations of the justness of the position I take.
But before I proceed, I wish to call your attention to one important point. It is the imperative duty of society to find, immediately, additional means of honest and respectable employment for females! Old Europe full of inhabitants and full of prejudices, must sooner or later suffer great disasters, unless the means of earning a virtuous livelihood, is found for every adult female. And Australia, the fairest child of an august parent, must share in the disasters, as well as the blessings, of the fatherland. [323] The sneers and jokes about women in the senate - women in the army - women at the bar, in gown and wig - are mere subterfuges - a mean shrinking of the knotty question at issue. We do not look for, nor desire, employment in the army, the navy, the bar - and why? Because as Dr Wharton of America would say, because we are WOMEN! He writes:
Physiology points us to the grand fact of sex. It tells us what that means. It tells us that Woman is human, but not Man. She is Woman! The vine and oak both spring from a common source, the earth. They both grow, and flourish, and decay. They have elements and laws in common. But they have elements and laws not common, those namely, which constitute one a vine, and the other an oak, which makes one tall and strong, the wrestler with the storm, which makes the other dependent, graceful and ornamental. Both were planted for ends, by the Creator; and to compare the ultimate utility of those ends, or to murmur because they are not the same, is to shame the thoughts of Deity and denounce him as an imperfect being.
The sex of woman has entailed upon her a weaker constitution, generally. Her muscular system is of slighter texture. She is liable to injurious fatigue from violent exertion. Exercise cannot bring her up to the physical level of man, and while it thus fails, it renders her less feminine. The women of Sparta were the least attractive of those of Greece; and the youths who contemplated matrimony, turned from the gaunt Amazons to the romantic and fascinating maidens of Athens. Yet, in contending for the participation of women in all the political privileges of men, you would metamorphose our fair Athenians into ungainly Lacedemonians; for privileges are never unaccompanied with duties, with laborious conditions preliminary to their enjoyment. In effect, you would establish a more barbarous rack than that of Procrustes, for women would be its tortured victims.
Now these remarks have not been contravened by any true, heroic woman of the age. They are true to nature, and therefore just. But is this any answer to the general charge, that women are not experiencing the blessings of advancing civilisation, in proportion as men are? How many situations in life are open to industrious young Women? Are they employed in printing houses, in jewellers' shops, in studios, chemists' establishments, and other light occupations? No! They are only dressmakers, or school mistresses, or drapers' assistants, and no more! They are driven in hundreds - yea, thousands and thousands - through the force of circumstances, often through actual want and the inhuman thoughtlessness of men, to live for ever in the violation of God's holy law! The days of gloomy superstition are past and gone. The dull, dark cloud, like a heavy nightmare, no longer rests on the enlightened soul. The forest is no longer full of fears - the old hail no more the home of terrors - the earth and air are no longer contaminated by the presence of the unhappy dead. [324] "We no longer believe in ghosts", cries out Hans Christian Anderson, 'and no longer believe that the dead in their white garments, appear to be living at the hour of midnight. Ah! we see them yet in the great cities. By moonlight, when the cold north wind passes over the snow, and we wrap ourselves closer in our cloaks, we see white-garmented females, in light summer dresses, beckoning, float past us. The poisonous atmosphere of the grave breathes from their figures - trust not the roses on their cheeks, for the death's bead is painted there' Their smiles are the smiles of intoxication, or of despair! They are dead - more horribly dead than our deceased ones. The soul is interred - the bodies wander, like evil spirits, hither and thither! They are horrible, unhappy ghosts, which do not sink into the graves by the morning twilight! No, for then they are followed home by the dreams of despair, which sit like nightmares on their breasts, and tell them of the scorn of men, of a better life - of a terrible, terrible hereafter! 'Save me! save me!' is oftentimes the cry of such unhappy being. But everyone flies away horrified who hears the voice out of the grave, till she has no longer strength to throw from her the coffin lid of her circumstances, and the heavy earth of sin!"
O, my good friends, is not this terribly truthful, and truthfully terrible? Think of these midnight ghosts of the Nineteenth Century - think of these creatures with the tainted atmosphere of death surrounding and around them. Think of all this, and then ask your conscience, each one of you. "Have I done ought to bury these unholy ghosts, that not only haunt us by night, but flout the heavenly sun by day!" (Sensation.)
In proportion as civilisation advances, the temptation to live on the bread, of sin and death seems to be brought nearer day by day to thousands of our sex. But as in the first French Revolution, we find the most heroic virtue as well as the most atrocious profligacy - the loftiest patrotism as well as the most wretched treachery - the sincerest piety as well as the most shameless neglect of God and all holy things; so in this corruption of the age, in this wide dishonour to our common humanity - side by side with the evil, a great and glorious good has arisen. Women - brave, noble, energetic women, have gone forth clothed in purity brighter than raiment made from the sunbeams - crowned with Charity, a more radiant diadem than the stars of God - walking strongly in Faith, with the simple majesty of Eve in Eden before the fall - inwardly illumined with Hope, a light from the luminous centre above; they have gone forth, I say with the invincible and impregnable armour of a pure intent, to do battle with the dragon - to wage war against the hydra-headed monster that destroys and desolates so many homes. They have spoken in their prayerful, powerful might, and the demon Intemperance has spread his dark wings and soared away; they have stooped to lift from the dust of death their sin-stained sisters, and God has blessed them in their good work - they have founded "Female Hospitals". "Magdalen Retreats", and "Houses of the Good Shepherd". [325] And the women who engaged in the good cause - who sacrificed many of the most obvious joys of life for the sake of humanity - were of the high and noble of the earth. Their example is indeed bright and memorable. Their heroic deeds are worthy of man's reverence and man's love! (Deep sensation.)
Thus it is, ladies and gentlemen, that we find woman's beneficent influence permeating and pervading, like an atmosphere of light and fragrance, all climes, all countries, and all nations. The proud and mighty bow to her - the lowly pay her homage. She was honoured above all - she was the mother of that great Architect who has designed for fallen man a path - more beautiful than Jacob's ladder of old, which reaches from earth to heaven! She was the follower of that great Teacher who went about doing good! She lingered at the foot of the cross, when its heavenly Victim suffered - she mourned at the door of the sepulchre, till the grave gave up its dead, and Immortality appeared, robed in glory, to display its mighty triumph over death! (Sensation)
But perhaps you will tell me, that while all these remarks are just and eminently true, they are not pertinent to the question at issue.
You will tell me that woman is and will ever be, respected in her own proper sphere. You will tell me that woman is born to be the light and the blessing of home - that whenever she steps aside from the duties of domestic life, to face the world in public capacities, she becomes in some sense a gladiator. That the Editor's chair, and the lecturer's desk, are not within her proper sphere. Well, my friends, I have but one answer to make to these objections. The surest standard by which to judge of man's fitness for his profession, is just this - his success. And should not the same rule apply to my own sex? Can I not point you to a hundred shining instances wherein women have succeeded as public teachers? Who today stands at the head of the literary press of America? A WOMAN - Mrs Stephens. (Applause) Who has for many years maintained an honourable position in the literary press of England? A WOMAN - Eliza Cook. (Loud applause.)
Who has even penetrated to the country of the Celestials, and taken her place at the head of the literary press, to teach the Chinese barbarians respectable English? A WOMAN - Mrs Beecher. And may not I, less gifted and more humble than these whom I have named, strive to emulate their good works in this fifth division of the globe? I challenge my opponents to give one good and substantial reason why I should be denied this privilege.
But I must hasten to give you one or two illustrations of Female Heroism in the Nineteenth Century. I might dwell on the deeds of Grace Darling and others; but I am rather anxious to point you to deeds of moral, not of physical greatness. [326] And perhaps, in this connection, it may not be out of place for me to relate to you an anecdote - an incident in the life of my good friend and sister, Miss Dix of America. You have all doubtless heard of this lady. She was born in the city of Boston, United States. She was the child of opulent parents, and during her early years, she was surrounded with all the refinements and luxuries of a patrician home. But she had a heart which could feel for the woes of her fellow creatures. She knew that God had given her talent, strength of mind, warm sympathies. She asked herself - "Shall I waste my years in indolent pleasure at home, while lacerated hearts and desolate hearths are all around me? No! I will go out into the world, and faithfully perform the duty which God has given me to do.'
She turned her attention to prisons, and prison discipline. She visited every jail and penitentiary in the United States. She entered the convict's cell, and carried light and blessings with her. The condemned in his dungeon, all chained as he was, fell on his knees and kissed the hem of her garment, when she told him of that mercy which is vouchsafed to the contrite in heart. Thus, year after year, did that heroic woman travel up and down the land, introducing reforms in prison management, till at this hour, through her instrumentality, the prisons of the United States are changed from their former horrible and disgusting condition, to be the most perfectly managed establishments of the kind in the known world. (Cries of hear, hear!)
On one occasion, Miss Dix was the only passenger in the mail, through a wild and unsettled country. She noticed that the guard had provided himself with a huge pair of pistols, and that his conduct was somewhat singular and constrained. She asked him why he carried those weapons? Because, madam," he replied, 'this is a very dangerous road. The mail has been robbed more than once in this forest, and it is well to be armed." "Give me the pistols!" she exclaimed, "I will protect the mail? He did so very reluctantly. Soon after, a powerful man sprang from the bush, seized the horses, presented a revolver, and demanded the money and valuables of the party. She looked out from the window, and said to the highwayman. "Sir, would you be so unmanly as to rob a woman? I am the only passenger in the coach. I have but little money, and what I have I intend to give for the benefit of the prisoners confined in jail at the next town. Still, if you are suffering, I will give you half!"
He listened to her words, relinquished his hold of the horses, and approached the carriage window. "That voice" he exclaimed, "1 think I know that voice. Are you not Miss Dix? Before she could reply, he had caught a glimpse of her face. He threw his revolver from him and fell on his knees. 'God forever guard and bless you, Miss Dix," he cried, as great tears streamed down his swarthy face. [327] "I was a prisoner in the Philadelphia jail, condemned to death. You visited me - you wept with me - you prayed for me. I escaped from prison, and I am now a fugitive, obliged to hide in this forest, and to get bread by robbery. But never, so help me God, would I wrong the woman whose lips have breathed a prayer for me!" (The sensation and applause was here so long continued as to occasion a considerable pause in the discourse.) Saying this, he plunged into the depths of the forest, and disappeared.
Now, my friends, will you tell me that woman has no right to step aside from the duties of domestic life? Will you tell me that her place, and her only place, is at home, a puppet in the chimney-corner, or a drudge in the kitchen? Will you tell me that she ought not to have a soul above puddings and pastry? - that she is only competent to darn stockings, and sew on buttons, on the one hand, or to gossip or gad on the other? Heaven forbid that we should be deficient in the culinary department; and I sincerely advise the gentlemen never to take a wife till she has served at least a short apprenticeship to pies and puddings. (Loud laughter and cheers.) But if she can not only make a tart well, but accomplish the higher and more important duties of life well, there is no earthly reason why she should not be allowed to do so. (Hear, hear.)
But it is not only in high moral warfare that the women of our age have won imperishable renown. In a more appalling field of heroic enterprise they have brought away honours far beyond trophies and laurel crowns. When the flame of red war, fanned by the black wing of the eagle of the North, lit all the heaven, east and west - when men rushed madly to the strife and the conflict, rage in their hearts and blanching words on their lips - when the cannon awakened the and the trumpet sounded its shrill notes of danger - there was a soft presence in the midst of the -fierce warriors - there was a heavenly light streaming along, and if I may be allowed the expression, silver-lining the lurid clouds! Woman - mild, beneficent, devoted, and heroic woman - was there; - yes, was there to avert, as far as might be, the horrors of the strife - to attend the sick, and wounded - to comfort the bereaved - to counsel the weak - to do, in her own gentle, but energetic way, the great work of God. O, my hearers, you know as I know, and you value as I value, those pale-faced Sisters of Charity who, during the horrors of that memorable Crimean winter, flitted from camp to camp, blessings on their lips, charity in their hearts, loving kindness and human kindness vibrating through every chord and fibre of their natures. And you remember, as I remember, and you reverence as I reverence, the radiant moon that rose up among those virgin stars. Nobler than all in goodly presence - higher than all in queenly grace - equally single-minded, enthusiastic, and devoted - she illuminated that dark epoch of history, and banished half its night away. [328] Yes, you remember as I remember, and you reverence as I reverence, that name first and highest among holy names in the Nineteenth Century - that heroine so far above all heroes - that mortal so far above mortality - that name which you cannot utter without heaving hearts and swimming eyes - that name written in immortal characters among God's high and noble ones - the name of Florence Nightingale! (Immense applause.)
Here I might well pause. My sex is vindicated. I need speak no more, and still this audience would retire more than satisfied. They have listened to my illustrations of the greatness, the heroism of my sex. O, my sisters, be proud! Bow not your heads - falter not your hearts. Remember the watchword before you. See how history is bright with our names. Read of Sarah, the wife of Abraham's old age - of Ruth, the gentle and loving - of MARY, the follower of Jesus - then come down through the night of ages, and on to that long line of English heroines who have given the British nation its strength and virtue. I tell you my sisters, we may hold high our heads with a lofty and a holy pride, when we think of these. When I think of them, I am constrained to bend the knee in thankfulness to God that I am a woman. (Applause.)
On the achievements of woman in art and letters in our day, I fear time will not allow me to dwell. The traces of her progress in these departments, however, are so remarkable, that no one will deny she has in some of their highest walks, excelled her male rivals. Who will deny that Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a great poet; that she is imaginative, reflective, bold, real, and impassioned. Tell me the poem of Tennyson's you can compare with her "Aurora Leigh"; or the piece of Longfellow's you will put alongside her sublimely shadowed "Exile". Tell me the prose writer in fiction you will compare with that wonderful Charlotte Bronte - the "she Carlyle", to use the somewhat too vigorous language of a literary friend of mine. For downright, steady, practical common sense, put into bold, thorough English, - the fine old English our ancestors spoke three hundred years ago - who can excel the earnest, heroic, Harriet Martineau? And then there is in France that wonderful Madam Dudevant, and there has been in Germany the thoughtful de Stael, and there is in the cold North, Frederica Bremer, and there has been in Ireland Maria Edgeworth and in every European country, within the last fifty years, there have been great, hardworking, virtuous, heroic Women.
And, now, a few words in conclusion. What is the moral of all I have said? What will be the result of this great heroic demonstration on the part of woman? What is to become of the thousands and millions of our sex, who, less gifted than these, are obliged to tax their physical rather than their intellectual qualities? My observations have tended to this point - a point to the realisation of which I fearlessly tell you I have as far as in me lies, devoted my humble life - namely, to give equal facilities to women as are possessed by men towards earning as honest livelihood. [329] O, if men are men, if made of sterner stuff than women; if the great Creator in his ineffable wisdom bath given them larger bone and stronger muscle - if they have higher wisdom and superior inventive faculties - surely they can leave a larger field of productive labour open to the weaker, feebler, less gifted sex; and betake themselves to rougher labour and severer toil. We must have more means opened up to us of living honestly. The necessities of the world cry out for it. The destinies of society demand it. Therefore I ask you, gentlemen, to weigh this moral problem well - to tax your conscience on the duty you have to perform. And to you, ladies, I address myself. Many of you have already practised yourselves in the art of binding up wounds - of cooling the aching head - of strengthening the feeble heart - of illumining the darkened soul. O, do not forget the exigencies of the times - the terrible condition of thousands of your sisters. Many of you are only walking in the first soft downy path of life. To you the world is young, and bright, and fresh, and fragrant, and musical. Nature smiles upon you with smiles of intense enchantment. The beauty of earth and the glory of heaven hold your souls in a divine enthralment. I say to you, as you value the blessing of a long life without a stain - as you value the treasure of a happy memory - as you thank God that he gave you soft hearts and kindly nature - I ask you to cooperate in every movement for the elevation of your sex. The new year is at hand. God grant that through your instrumentality, it may be a happy new year to many of the tempted and erring of your sisters. (Applause.) But not alone on myself, nor on yourselves, do I rely for the accomplishment of the great moral work - not alone in the human will and human arm do I confide - but on the might and power that never falters - on the love that never fails - on the goodness that is infinite - on God, the Father of us all!