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- 420: Neighborhood Watch
Here's my change of address, individual only. So you just sometimes know things. It's like a doctor. You know things about people, but you don't say anything or acknowledge it. It's just in your head. It's funny because I'll run into people sometimes, and I'll know their name and then I'll know their address. And they'll say, "How do you know my address? You have that little grey box off to the side, and it's got a little dent in the front. They'll just freak out.
Paul says that a common scam in Southern Florida is the people who go door to door pretending to sell stuff just to see if it's an old person who lives in the house, to see if they live by themselves, casing the place basically to rob it later. He's called the cops lots of times on strangers in the neighborhood who seem to be doing just that.
He's comforted a little boy who came out of his house crying one day, wondering why his mom's late getting home from work. And he saved a guy. He went into the studio with me to tell me the story. It happened one day. Paul was driving in his mail truck. He saw these two guys standing on the sidewalk in front of an office building right near the entrance to the parking lot. And they were punching each other and fighting and wrestling. As I'm coming closer, I noticed some people standing there watching.
One guy I remember clearly had his arms folded. And I'm thinking, OK, they must be filming a movie. Sometimes they film movies in the area. And that was my initial thought. Well I kind of recognized this guy from delivering his mail occasionally. He owned a pizza place there. So as I got closer, he saw the mail truck. And he started waving his hand back and forth for me to stop. So I slowed down. And he had this guy by the pants with one arm and he put his hand to his ear for me to call for help. And he's saying, "Help!watch
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So Paul pulls over and he calls , when he notices that the pizza shop owner must have been stabbed. There were these huge circles of blood on his clothes. The two guys were still tussling on the ground. So in the midst of this, what really struck me as odd is a person that worked at the office building is pulling into the parking lot. These two people are fighting. The guy saying, "Let me go! Paul found out later that would had happened was the older guy, the pizza shop owner, had fired the younger guy, told him to get out.
The guy went home, came back, snuck in the back door with a steak knife, and stabbed him five times. And after he did that, he ran to get away. Well, the restaurant owner in his anger chased him out into the parking lot to apprehend him so he couldn't get away. I mean he was not going to take it.
And that's when I came across the scene. So I heard the sirens coming. I'm pleading with the dispatcher, "Hurry, hurry! He ran away back to his restaurant, because he was worried that he had left the door unlocked. So they had to catch him and sit him down until the ambulance got there. What struck me really odd about the whole situation was that so many people stood there and did nothing. And that's what the gentleman said, "You know, people drove by. They were standing there, and nobody helped me until the mailman came by.
Others who were named that year, a postal carrier in Cedar Rapids who crawled inside a partially submerged car and rescued the driver. A carrier in New York who alerted the authorities to what became a major identity theft case, had been noticing tons of credit card mail in the name of an year-old woman who had been in a nursing home for months. It's so common for letter carriers to stumble onto something during their route and perform a good deed that these incidents are a regular feature of the Letter Carrier Association's monthly magazine.
These postal workers, they see what is happening around them, and they feel responsible. Versus the rest of us. We're more like the people standing on the sidewalk. And today's show is about the tension between those two different ways of reacting to trouble. Which kind of person do we want to be? Our show today in four acts. Four acts where there are decent reasons for people step in and help and even better reasons not to. Let's begin today with a story of a bunch of people on the sidewalk in one neighborhood deciding if they're going to intervene one by one. And mostly, I have to say, deciding yes.
I don't think that's much of a spoiler. And they say yes for reasons that will all become clear enough to you. Ryan Knighton is the dad in the story. He's Canadian, and I only point that out because he uses the word nappy. Tess is our 4-month-old. This would be our first walk together. My wife Tracy paused. I was already busy putting the harness on inside out. She sounded extra cheerful, persuasive. I couldn't angle a kind way to say, "But I don't want you to walk with us. For once I want to take Tess for a walk by myself.
In four months, she'd never been further than the shower without Tess either in her arms or in sight. She hadn't much in the way of alternatives either. I'm her husband, but I'm also blind, and people are naturally wary of leaving me in charge of a baby, even my own. Though I've been blind for 10 years now, I'm still not very good at it. I lost my sight slowly over a 15 year stretch, a slow and painless deterioration of my retinas caused by a genetic misfire with a long name. While I've adapted to much over time, four months with a baby is a slender window in which to perfect my new dad skills.
Just imagine changing a nappy in the dark. What was once a diaper is now psychedelic origami. Today my plan was to strap on our child for a walk through city traffic. You can understand Tracy's reluctance. A few minutes later I descended our front stoop with Tess. I have never been more petrified as a blind pedestrian. Tess was harnessed to my belly, and the weight of her there, that new presence against my chest and stomach, brought other sensations to the surface. I could feel memories of mushing my gut into any number of undetected obstacles, into poles, bicycles, parking meters, chain-link fences, you name it.
I stepped cautiously, deliberately, as if carrying a sack of sweaty dynamite. I swept my cane with the care of a mine detector. We live two doors down from the corner. The first person to pass us saw the situation in simpler terms. Maybe she said it to me or maybe to a person she was walking with or maybe, as her phrasing suggested, to her pal Jesus. Already strangers were praying for our survival. Within the next block and the next 20 minutes of slow-going movement, at least a half a dozen others offered similar prayers or insisted on guiding us or asked to take us home or asked if we'd lost mommy.
Slowly we edged around the corner at Grant Street and left the residential sidewalks for Commercial Drive. More people meant more noise to govern by, a good thing. The sound of traffic stretched into the distance, so at least I had something pointing me in the right direction. The help of crowds has a backhand though. Busy people pay less attention to their surroundings.
Folks regularly clip my shoulders, and I've been caught off-balance and knocked down before. Here they might even slam us head on or smush a slice of hot, cheap pizza into Tess's face. And there will be dogs too. Usually it's pit bulls around here. Pit bulls leashed to bike racks or snoozing in front of doorways, as you'd find them in their native habitat by the Gates of Hades. Too often I've whacked my cane against a dog where no dog should be.
And too many times large, toothy shadows have snapped at my legs. Tess could become a chew toy. I waved my free hand in front of us, braced my arm, and pushed ahead, the way running backs rush into a dog pile, but really, really slowly. Within 10 steps, somebody clipped my shoulder. As I rebounded, it happened again, this time sending me off course towards a garbage can. A woman caught up with us. She'd retrieved Tess's baby sunglasses that had fallen to the sidewalk awhile back.
Telling a blind person he should be careful is like telling him to look out. It's not a question of should but how. I thanked her again and tried to fit the glasses back on to Tess's face. Mostly though I just poked at her chubby cheeks with the arms. Soon I recognized a voice at a sidewalk cafe table. The voice belonged to Joe, an older Italian man who continues to be as best I can determine shackled to my preferred coffee shop. This was a man who looked past my blindness and her vulnerability. He simply drank in the baby and her babyness. My God, no," he said, his voice low and serious.
My God, she don't see like you. He found it hard to believe that babies might wear sunglasses for comfort. As we rounded the corner at Graveley Street, stepping past the pub and local U-Brew, a mere 30 yards from home plate, I heard the ridiculous girth of an SUV shoot out from a building's underground parking lot.
The weight of its super-sized engineering and Freudian neurosis blew across the sidewalk in front of us, close enough in fact to bat the cane from my hand and into the street. I didn't know if Tess had been clipped. Everything happened so fast. She sucked wind, readying a hail of tears and a permanent distrust of her father's guidance.
And still nothing came. So I knew she was shaping that worst cry, the deep, silent, open-mouthed cry, the one that can't find any voice in the beginning. I braced myself, and then it arrived. She violently shook and kicked and squealed with laughter. Out of her came a glee powerful enough to start my heart again, a laugh like I've never heard before.
Meanwhile the driver had stopped. He fetched my cane. Had I been one step closer home when the SUV had left the lot, my spine would have resembled what now remained of my cane. Dispatches From a Dad in the Dark. I'm being asked if you want the dog to be intermittently barking in the interview or not. We have a dog in the office. Debbie spoke to me from her office. She's the building manager for a development of apartments and townhouses in Nashua, New Hampshire called Twin Ponds, units. And in those units, at least dogs, she says.
Since they started advertising their dog friendliness about a year ago, business has been unstoppable. We have no weight or breed restrictions. We have one small dog playground on our property. We're in the process of building a large one. And that's why a lot of people come to us and why our occupancy rate it so high. Take that, economic recession. But of course there's a problem that goes with having lots of dogs around, and that's human beings who don't pick up after their dogs. You see this pretty much everywhere in the world where there's large numbers of people and dogs living together.
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And here at Twin Ponds, there's a woodsy area and a little brook and of course two ponds, lots of potential places for wayward, hidden poo. There was a lot of problems, but it was impossible to find out who they were. They were very sneaky, and they would go out at night or around a corner when nobody's looking. And the bigger problem was that it was showing up in grassy areas where kids were meant to play.
And around the ponds when people are going over there to enjoy the fishing. And one of the biggest things was I'd get a call that said, "Well I can't prove it, but I swear it's so-and-so in whatever unit number. She tried the neighborhood watch kind of approach to the problem for a while, put the residents on the lookout. We did offer to pay people if they could show us a video of another offender. It only worked for a very short amount of time, and we found out very quickly that people aren't comfortable doing that.
It worked for a brief amount of time? How many people shot videos of their neighbors? And most of those videos I couldn't even tell who the person was anyway. It just wasn't working, and the more we thought about that, that wasn't the right way to do things. So Debbie began researching. She spent four or five months looking for some alternative, looking at what cities do and what dog parks do to get people to pick up after their dogs.
What she found was that nobody seemed to be doing much at all. She could put in video cameras everywhere, but that would cost a fortune. She didn't want to have to pass that cost onto her tenants. Watson and Crick, when they discovered the double helix in a strand of DNA, Crick supposedly announced, "We have found the secret of life. And I happened to come across it finally. And initially I thought that it was a little on the crazy side to DNA dogs.
Yeah, it actually does sound crazy. Well it just seems like, really? Things have come to this? That that's what we're going to do? It's working, though it took some effort. First step, Debbie had to get samples of all the DNA of all the dogs in all of her buildings. She had the owners bring the dogs to her office. Which you would think would be simple, except that they're dogs. You have to schedule them one at a time. You don't want the risk of you're doing a dog DNA in the office and you have someone else coming in.
And if those dogs greet each other, then that's it. You have to reschedule that appointment. So we only do an appointment every hour. And we stayed open late and weekends. So one of the things that I love the most right now is of course is if somebody calls and they've "found a pile," quote, unquote, on the property, we send a maintenance guy out, and we have a collection kit.
And it's like we play a little CSI out there. We get our sample, send it in. And sure, she says, the poor maintenance guy who has to get a dab of poo and then mix it with a special solution and FedEx that sample to the lab in Knoxville. Not much fun for him. But just how exciting does Debbie find it? She finds it so exciting that she has a music cue on the ready on her computer. So pretty much, when I know there's a sample to be picked up, I cue up the music and crank it when one of my maintenance guys is walking through the door.
He knows exactly what he'll be doing when he hears this. And as your poo technician, does he get excited when he actually gets samples to test? BioPet was the kind of company that ran blood tests for veterinarians. Then a few years ago, they realized that since the dog genome had been mapped, there must be a way to make money selling DNA testing of some kind to dog owners.
So they started doing doggy paternity tests. Yes, there is a market for that. Also they sell a test that tells you pretty inexpensively exactly what breeds make up your dog, though other companies offer those services as well. But then when somebody at BioPet read about a town in Israel that had a huge problem with dog waste and that hoped to solve it with DNA testing of dogs, they wondered if it would be possible to get a DNA sample from dog poo and ship it to a lab in usable form.
This turned out to be a tricky thing to figure out. Bacteria grows in the poo sample if you don't do it right. But finally about two months ago, they had it down. And they started to market the product, PooPrints, in earnest. Only six places have bought it so far, which is why the company president knows Debbie by name. She is his biggest customer for PooPrints. But Jim Simpson thinks the potential is huge. We think it's worldwide. We've got representatives all over the world that are the starting to push the product and then they are getting interest.
But we think it's going to be a material part of our business at the end of one year. Now I would think that another problem in terms of just getting this product out is that there are lots of places where there might be dog waste in front of a building, but it's in a city or it's on a street where all kinds of dogs come by who don't live in that building. And so testing all the dogs in that building isn't going to help you. Yeah, it definitely has to be a defined area. Most apartment complexes are a gated type community and they have a defined area for the dogs to go to the restroom, so it seems to work quite well.
We do have some small islands that are looking at the program as well. He said islands, specifically on the island of Cypress in the Mediterranean, the town of Limassol. An environmental health official inquired about bringing in PooPrints to solve their poo problem. Meanwhile an executive in Copenhagen read that perhaps they could collaborate with BioPet and offered to help with the politics to institute mandatory adoption of PooPrints, either all through Denmark, or at least in its biggest cities.
Though it has to be said that when people start debating mandatory DNA dog testing, they don't always end up choosing it. Richard tipped off a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He was squarely against the testing. He says that two puppies were being house-trained in the building at the same time, and that might have been a lot of the problem. What happened at the very beginning was the board had come up with this set of rules, what the fines would be.
In order to bring a guest dog into the building, they'd have to be DNA tested. And the people at the front door were supposed to check every dog that came in the lobby to see if they had a tag. This very elaborate set of rules. Everybody was just laughing about it. And I thought it was just funny. So in my mind I was thinking, first of all, how do you know that you have every dog in the building tested? My little dogs don't have photo ID, so how is anyone going to know if I show up, have my dog tested, that it's really Sparky?
You're saying that people, members of the building, would actually try to evade the rules by bringing in a random dog for the dog test? That's what you're saying? Well I don't know what would happen, but if you consider the kind of person you're dealing with, it's the sort of person who would watch their dog make a number two in the hallway inside the building and not do anything about it. So if you're dealing with that kind of a person to begin with, then who knows what they're going to do?
And it just seems so silly to try and get a cheek swab from my little dog. I mean my dog doesn't even have a snout, so I'm not even sure that he really even has a cheek. He's not going to cooperate. It's a Q-tip that you put into his mouth and then you pull it out. It doesn't seem so hard. I guess I've never tried. And I suppose it's possible, but I mean it seems like there was an easier solution, which is either look at the closed-circuit cameras.
Or deal with it on a neighborly basis. It's a condominium building. I know for instance on my floor that there are four other dogs. And if there was a mess, I would be able to pretty well identify where it came from. And you just talk to people in a neighborly way, rather than trying to use this technological advancement. The article in the Sun papers got picked up everywhere, all over the country. There were TV stories. And the simple threat of action was enough to make the poo problem vanish too.
So there are still some hurt feelings in the building. There's two board members who won't even acknowledge me at this point if our paths cross in the lobby. Yeah, they were very upset by it. The apartment buildings up in Nashua, New Hampshire are a very different situation. All of the illegal poo was outside, where there were no closed-circuit TV cameras. I would say it only took about a month's time to see a dramatic difference once we started going, once the word started getting out there that we were doing this. Now since you've started this, how many times have you had violations that you had to investigate?
We have actually fined six pet owners, and believe it or not, one of the people was a two-time offender, which is mind-boggling. It's a pretty steep fine when we catch you. The pet owner informed me that they believed they were having problems with another tenant and they thought it was a conspiracy and that it was a setup. And did they lay out exactly how that would go? That somebody would abduct their dog, squeeze poo out of it, and then plant it? Did they lay out a whole scenario? Actually the scenario was that they knew where they disposed of their dog droppings, and that they must have collected them in the middle of the night and then set it up on the property elsewhere, dot dot dot.
In the last two decades, DNA evidence introduced an element of certainty to our criminal justice system. Wrongly convicted men were sprung from prison. There was a clarity where things had been cloudy and ambiguous. It's her favorite thing about the doggy DNA program, the certainty. She's not kidding around. She runs a tight ship. But it hasn't come to that yet. Coming up, what to do when your neighborhood watch is low-rent wise guys.
We have practical tips. Emily's plan actually has two parts, and one of them is a real long shot. She's trying to recruit volunteers from all over Fair Lawn. Neighbors, strangers, anyone who is willing to sign up to be Scott's friend, to serve collectively as Scott's surrogate mom after Emily herself is gone. But first she had to lay the foundation. She'd already made sure Scott knew how to drive and cook and shop for his own food. But at 38, he was still living at home.
So she bought Scott a house, basically so he could have a trial run at living on his own. I wanted to be there for the mistakes, because I felt that by the time something happens to me, he would know that he's fine. I mean I'm here. I can make sure it's going right and make those corrections, that nobody will have that quote "burden.
So this way I'll see it. Emily couldn't have a better vantage point. Scott's house is smack across the street from her. It's a cute Cape Cod with essentially the same floor plan as the house where he grew up, except this one's his. On the summer day when Scott gave me a tour of his new place, he had lived there only a few days. I was going to use it for my bedroom, but it looks better on this sofa here. The house became available last spring after the previous owner died. He makes the payments with his Social Security income. The house is very tidy, but the setup is kind of strange.
It looks like what a year-old boy might come up with if he had the chance to live on his own. There's a dolphin nightlight in the bedroom, a list on the wall of US Presidents' birthdays and birth places that he got off the Internet, and tons of Disney DVDs and stuffed animals throughout the house. In the kitchen, Scott's taped hooks on the outside of each cabinet door and then hung a cooking utensil on each one.
- The Lost Journals of Nikola Tesla.
- Cacoethes Scribendi.
- Get a JOB and Keep It!.
- Neighborhood Watch - This American Life.
It's practical, but it looks a bit surreal, as if the ladles and spatulas simply floated out of the drawers and got stuck on their way to the ceiling. It's easier for me to know it's there when I need it and I don't have to mix it up in the drawer, because we don't have enough drawers to separate all of these.
Not surprisingly, Scott's had a few mishaps since he moved in.
Early on he ripped out the metal tracking for all the closet doors because he didn't know what they were for and then dumped them at the recycling depot. And last month he strung an extension cord across the living room floor, then threw a blanket over it to cover it up.
It took a while for Emily to convince him what a bad idea it was and that he should just tuck it under the carpet. It's as if now that Scott's in his own place, every day is the dress rehearsal for Emily's death, another day where she has a glimpse of how Scott will live without her.
Emily thought that once Scott got into his own house, the hard part would be over. But Scott has a tendency to isolate himself, and Emily worries the house gives him the perfect cave to disappear into. She's afraid that once she's gone, he'll withdraw, spend days without talking with anyone, and wind up feeling even more depressed, which he's done in the past.
420: Neighborhood Watch
So Emily wants to recruit people to check in on him, help him solve problems, take him out for a game of ping pong. She could use state funds to hire a caretaker or place him in a group home, but Scott's always hated following someone else's rules, so much so that used to hurl the TV and yank the toilet seats off their hinges when he felt boxed in.
I don't like people telling me what to do. People just like to steal my rights by annoying me with commands and threats. Emily spent the whole summer working diligently for Scott, trying to find volunteers who could create a safety net for after she's gone. She wants volunteers instead of paid helpers, not just because of the expense, but because she believes volunteers will be devoted to Scott, not a paycheck.
She's not expecting anyone to be his mom, but she is hoping that if enough people step forward, Scott will be OK. What I want to do is bring in as many people. I'm going to even ask somebody from the police. I want them to know he's here. Believe me, by the time I'm not here, I want to know that people are there for him in some way. And they don't have to do the work. It's just look in and if you see something's not right, there are other people to call. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to spend any money. It's just being there. Still the regal homage which they receive is so intoxicat ing, that till the manners of the times are changed, and formed on more reasonable prin ciples, it may be impossible to convince them that the illegitimate power which they ob tain, by degrading themselves, is a curse, and that they must return to nature and equa lity, if they wish to secure the placid satis faction that unsophisticated affections im part.
But for this epoch we must wait —wait, perhaps, till kings and nobles, en lightened by reason, and, preferring the real dignity of man to childish state, throw off their gaudy hereditary trappings: I may be accused of arrogance; still I must declare, what I firmly believe, that all the writ ers who have written on the subject of fe male education and manners, from Rousseau to Dr.
When I come to that divi sion of the subject, I shall advert to the pas sages that I more particularly disapprove of, in the works of the authors I have just alluded to; but it is first necessary to observe, that my objection extends to the whole purport of those books, which tend, in my opinion, to degrade one half of the human species, and render women pleasing at the expence of every solid virtue. Though, to reason on Rousseau's ground, if man did attain a degree of perfection of mind when his body arrived at maturity, it might be proper, in order to make a man and his wife one , that she should rely entirely on his under standing; and the graceful ivy, clasping the oak that supported it, would form a whole in which strength and beauty would be equally conspicuous.
One, perhaps, that silently does more mischief than all the rest, is their disregard of order. To do every thing in an orderly manner, is a most important precept, which women, who, generally speaking, receive only a dis orderly kind of education, seldom attend to with that degree of exactness that men, who from their infancy are broken into method, observe. This negligent kind of guess-work, for what other epithet can be used to point out the random exertions of a sort of instinc tive common sense, never brought to the test of reason? Led by their dependent situation and domestic employments more into society, what they learn is rather by snatches; and as learning is with them, in general, only a secondary thing, they do not pursue any one branch with that persevering ardour necessary to give vigour to the faculties, and clearness to the judgment.
In the present state of society, a little learning is required to support the character of a gentle man; and boys are obliged to submit to a few years of discipline. But in the educa tion of women, the cultivation of the under standing is always subordinate to the acquire ment of some corporeal accomplishment; even while enervated by confinement and false no tions of modesty, the body is prevented from attaining that grace and beauty which relaxed half-formed limbs never exhibit.
Besides, in youth their faculties are not brought forward by emulation; and having no serious scien tific study, if they have natural sagacity it is turned too soon on life and manners. As a proof that education gives this appear ance of weakness to females, we may instance the example of military men, who are, like them, sent into the world before their minds have been stored with knowledge or fortified by principles. The consequences are similar; soldiers acquire a little superficial knowledge, snatched from the muddy current of conver sation, and, from continually mixing with society, they gain, what is termed a know ledge of the world; and this acquaintance with manners and customs has frequently been confounded with a knowledge of the human heart.
But can the crude fruit of casual observation, never brought to the test of judgment, formed by comparing specula tion and experience, deserve such a distinc tion? Soldiers, as well as women, practise the minor virtues with punctilious politeness. Where is then the sexual difference, when the education has been the same? All the difference that I can discern, arises from the superior advantage of liberty, which enables the former to see more of life.
And as for any depth of understanding, I will ven ture to affirm, that it is as rarely to be found in the army as amongst women; and the cause, I maintain, is the same. Like the fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry. Yet they do not lose their rank in the distinction of sexes, for they are still reckoned superior to women, though in what their superiority consists, be yond what I have just mentioned, it is difficult to discover.
The consequence is natural; satisfied with common nature, they become a prey to prejudices, and taking all their opinions on credit, they blindly submit to authority. So that, if they have any sense, it is a kind of instinctive glance, that catches pro portions, and decides with respect to manners; but fails when arguments are to be pursued below the surface, or opinions analyzed. May not the same remark be applied to women?
Nay, the argument may be car ried still further, for they are both thrown out of a useful station by the unnatu ral distinctions established in civilized life. Riches and hereditary honours have made cyphers of women to give consequence to the numerical figure; and idleness has pro duced a mixture of gallantry and despotism into society, which leads the very men who are the slaves of their mistresses to tyrannize over their sisters, wives, and daughters.
This is only keeping them in rank and file, it is true. The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their mi nisters, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them. I now principally allude to Rousseau, for his character of Sophia is, undoubtedly, a captivating one, though it appears to me grossly unnatural; however, it is not the superstructure, but the foundation of her character, the principles on which her edu cation was built, that I mean to attack; nay, warmly as I admire the genius of that able writer, whose opinions I shall often have oc casion to cite, indignation always takes place of admiration, and the rigid frown of insulted virtue effaces the smile of complacency, which his eloquent periods are wont to raise, when I read his voluptuous reveries.
Is this the man, who, in his ardour for vir tue, would banish all the soft arts of peace, and almost carry us back to Spartan disci pline? But, for the pre sent, I wave the subject, and, instead of se verely reprehending the transient effusions of overweening sensibility, I shall only observe, that whoever has cast a benevolent eye on society, must often have been gratified by the sight of humble mutual love, not dignified by sentiment, nor strengthened by a union in intellectual pursuits.
The domestic trifles of the day have afforded matter for cheerful converse, and innocent caresses have softened toils which did not require great exercise of mind or stretch of thought: Women are, therefore, to be considered either as moral beings, or so weak that they must be entirely subjected to the superior faculties of men.
Let us examine this question. Rousseau declares that a woman should never, for a moment, feel herself independent, that she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning, and made a coquetish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, when ever he chooses to relax himself.
He carries the arguments, which he pretends to draw from the indications of nature, still further, and insinuates that truth and fortitude, the corner stones of all human virtue, should be cultivated with certain restrictions, because, with respect to the female character, obe dience is the grand lesson which ought to be impressed with unrelenting rigour. If women are by nature inferior to men, their virtues must be the same in quality, if not in de gree, or virtue is a relative idea; conse quently, their conduct should be founded on the same principles, and have the same aim.
Connected with man as daughters, wives, and mothers, their moral character may be estimated by their manner of fulfilling those simple duties; but the end, the grand end of their exertions should be to unfold their own faculties and acquire the dignity of conscious virtue. They may try to render their road pleasant; but ought never to forget, in com mon with man, that life yields not the feli city which can satisfy an immortal soul. I do not mean to insinuate, that either sex should be so lost in abstract reflections or dis tant views, as to forget the affections and duties that lie before them, and are, in truth, the means appointed to produce the fruit of life; on the contrary, I would warmly re commend them, even while I assert, that they afford most satisfaction when they are consi dered in their true subordinate light.
Let it not be concluded that I wish to in vert the order of things; I have already granted, that, from the constitution of their bodies, men seem to be designed by Providence to attain a greater degree of virtue. I speak collectively of the whole sex; but I see not the shadow of a reason to conclude that their virtues should differ in respect to their nature. In fact, how can they, if virtue has only one eternal standard? I must therefore, if I reason consequentially, as strenuously maintain that they have the same simple direction, as that there is a God. I shall be told that woman would then lose many of her peculiar graces, and the opinion of a well known poet might be quoted to re fute my unqualified assertion.
For Pope has said, in the name of the whole male sex,. In what light this sally places men and women, I shall leave to the judicious to de termine; meanwhile I shall content myself with observing, that I cannot discover why, unless they are mortal, females should al ways be degraded by being made subservient to love or lust. To speak disrespectfully of love is, I know, high treason against sentiment and fine feel ings; but I wish to speak the simple language of truth, and rather to address the head than the heart. Youth is the season for love in both sexes; but in those days of thoughtless enjoyment provision should be made for the more im portant years of life, when reflection takes place of sensation.
But Rousseau, and most of the male writers who have followed his steps, have warmly inculcated that the whole tendency of female education ought to be directed to one point: Let me reason with the supporters of this opinion who have any knowledge of human nature, do they imagine that marriage can eradicate the habitude of life? The woman who has only been taught to please will soon find that her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have much effect on her husband's heart when they are seen every day, when the summer is passed and gone.
When the husband ceases to be a lover—and the time will inevitably come, her desire of pleasing will then grow languid, or become a spring of bitterness; and love, perhaps, the most evanescent of all passions, gives place to jealousy or vanity. I now speak of women who are restrained by principle or prejudice; such women, though they would shrink from an intrigue with real abhorrence, yet, nevertheless, wish to be con vinced by the homage of gallantry that they are cruelly neglected by their husbands; or, days and weeks are spent in dreaming of the happi ness enjoyed by congenial souls, till the health is undermined and the spirits broken by dis content.
How then can the great art of pleasing be such a necessary study? Gregory fell into a simi lar error. I respect his heart; but entirely disapprove of his celebrated Legacy to his Daughters. He advises them to cultivate a fondness for dress, because a fondness for dress, he asserts, is natural to them. I am unable to compre hend what either he or Rousseau mean, when they frequently use this indefinite term.
If they told us that in a pre-existent state the soul was fond of dress, and brought this incli nation with it into a new body, I should listen to them with a half smile, as I often do when I hear a rant about innate elegance. In the name of truth and common sense, why should not one woman acknowledge that she can take more exercise than another? Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and a wiser than Solo mon hath said, that the heart should be made clean, and not trivial ceremonies observed, which it is not very difficult to fulfil with scrupulous exactness when vice reigns in the heart.
To gain the affections of a virtuous man is affectation necessary? Nature has given woman a weaker frame than man; but, to ensure her husband's affections, must a wife, who by the exercise of her mind and body whilst she was discharging the duties of a daughter, wife, and mother, has allowed her constitution to retain its natural strength, and her nerves a healthy tone, is she, I say, to con descend to use art and feign a sickly delicacy in order to secure her husband's affection?
Weak ness may excite tenderness, and gratify the ar rogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for, and deserves to be respected. Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship! In a seraglio, I grant, that all these arts are necessary; the epicure must have his pa late tickled, or he will sink into apathy; but have women so little ambition as to be satis fied with such a condition?
Can they supinely dream life away in the lap of pleasure, or the languor of weariness, rather than assert their claim to pursue reasonable pleasures and render themselves conspicuous by practising the vir tues which dignify mankind? Besides, the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by manag ing her family and practising various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble de pendent of her husband, and if she deserves his regard by possessing such substantial qua lities, she will not find it necessary to conceal her affection, nor to pretend to an unnatural coldness of constitution to excite her husband's passions.
In fact, if we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distin guished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex. Nature, or, to speak with strict propriety, God, has made all things right; but man has sought him out many inventions to mar the work. I now allude to that part of Dr. Gre gory's treatise, where he advises a wife never to let her husband know the extent of her sensibility or affection. Voluptuous precau tion, and as ineffectual as absurd.
The most holy band of society is friendship. It has been well said, by a shrewd satirist, "that rare as true love is, true friendship is still rarer. This is an obvious truth, and the cause not lying deep, will not elude a slight glance of inquiry. Love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation take place of choice and reason, is, in some degree, felt by the mass of mankind; for it is not necessary to speak, at present, of the emotions that rise above or sink below love.
This passion, naturally in creased by suspense and difficulties, draws the mind out of its accustomed state, and ex alts the affections; but the security of mar riage, allowing the fever of love to subside, a healthy temperature is thought insipid, only by those who have not sufficient intellect to substitute the calm tenderness of friend ship, the confidence of respect, instead of blind admiration, and the sensual emotions of fondness.
Passions are spurs to action, and open the mind; but they sink into mere appetites, be come a personal and momentary gratification, when the object is gained, and the satisfied mind rests in enjoyment. The man who had some virtue whilst he was struggling for a crown, often becomes a voluptuous tyrant when it graces his brow; and, when the lover is not lost in the husband, the dotard, a prey to childish caprices, and fond jealou sies, neglects the serious duties of life, and the caresses which should excite confidence in his children are lavished on the overgrown child, his wife.
In order to fulfil the duties of life, and to be able to pursue with vigour the various em ployments which form the moral character, a master and mistress of a family ought not to continue to love each other with passion. The mind that has never been engrossed by one object wants vigour—if it can long be so, it is weak. A mistaken education, a narrow, unculti vated mind, and many sexual prejudices, tend to make women more constant than men; but, for the present, I shall not touch on this branch of the subject.
I will go still further, and advance, without dreaming of a paradox, that an unhappy marriage is often very advan tageous to a family, and that the neglected wife is, in general, the best mother. And this would almost always be the consequence if the female mind was more enlarged: The way lies before us, we must turn to the right or left; and he who will pass life away in bounding from one pleasure to another, must not complain if he neither acquires wisdom nor respectability of character.
Let us eat, drink, and love, for to-morrow we die, would be, in fact, the language of reason, the morality of life; and who but a fool would part with a reality for a fleeting shadow?
But, if awed by observing the improvable powers of the mind, we dis dain to confine our wishes or thoughts to such a comparatively mean field of action; that only appears grand and important, as it is connected with a boundless prospect and sub lime hopes, what necessity is there for false hood in conduct, and why must the sacred majesty of truth be violated to detain a de ceitful good that saps the very foundation of virtue?
Why must the female mind be tainted by coquetish arts to gratify the sensualist, and prevent love from subsiding into friendship, or compassionate tenderness, when there are not qualities on which friendship can be built? I do not mean to allude to the romantic passion, which is the concomitant of genius. But that grand passion not proportioned to the puny enjoy ments of life, is only true to the sentiment, and feeds on itself.
The passions which have been celebrated for their durability have al ways been unfortunate. They have acquired strength by absence and constitutional me lancholy. With perfect propriety, according to this view of things, does Rousseau make the mis tress of his soul, Eloisa, love St. Preux, when life was fading before her; but this is no proof of the immortality of the passion. Of the same complexion is Dr. Gregory's advice respecting delicacy of sentiment, which he advises a woman not to acquire, if she has determined to marry.
If all the faculties of wo man's mind are only to be cultivated as they respect her dependence on man; if, when she obtains a husband she has arrived at her goal, and meanly proud is satisfied with such a paltry crown, let her grovel contentedly, scarcely raised by her employments above the animal kingdom; but, if she is struggling for the prize of her high calling, let her cultivate her understanding without stopping to con sider what character the husband may have whom she is destined to marry.
Let her only determine, without being too anxious about present happiness, to acquire the qua lities that ennoble a rational being, and a rough inelegant husband may shock her taste without destroying her peace of mind. Gregory confined his remark to romantic expectations of constant love and congenial feelings, he should have recollected that experience will banish what advice can ne ver make us cease to wish for, when the ima gination is kept alive at the expence of reason. But they might as well pine married as single —and would not be a jot more unhappy with a bad husband than longing for a good one.
That a proper education; or, to speak with more precision, a well stored mind, would enable a woman to support a single life with dignity, I grant; but that she should avoid cultivating her taste, lest her husband should occasionally shock it, is quitting a substance for a shadow. People of taste, married or single, without distinction, will ever be disgusted by various things that touch not less observing minds. On this conclusion the argument must not be allowed to hinge; but in the whole sum of enjoyment is taste to be denominated a blessing?
The question is, whether it procures most pain or pleasure? The answer will decide the propriety of Dr. Gregory's advice, and shew how absurd and tyrannic it is thus to lay down a system of slavery; or to attempt to educate moral beings by any other rules than those deduced from pure reason, which apply to the whole species. Gentleness of manners, forbearance and long-suffering, are such amiable Godlike qualities, that in sublime poetic strains the Deity has been invested with them; and, perhaps, no representation of his goodness so strongly fastens on the human affections as those that represent him abundant in mercy and willing to pardon.
Abject as this picture appears, it is the portrait of an accom plished woman, according to the received opinion of female excellence, separated by specious reasoners from human excellence. How women are to exist in that state where there is to be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, we are not told. For though mo ralists have agreed that the tenor of life seems to prove that man is prepared by various cir cumstances for a future state, they constantly concur in advising woman only to provide for the present.
She was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused. To recommend gentleness, indeed, on a broad basis is strictly philosophical. A frail being should labour to be gentle. But when forbearance confounds right and wrong, it ceases to be a virtue; and, however conve nient it may be found in a companion—that companion will ever be considered as an infe rior, and only inspire a vapid tenderness, which easily degenerates into contempt.
If there is but one criterion of morals, but one archetype for man, women appear to be sus pended by destiny, according to the vulgar tale of Mahomet's coffin; they have neither the unerring instinct of brutes, nor are allowed to fix the eye of reason on a perfect model. They were made to be loved, and must not aim at respect, lest they should be hunted out of society as masculine. But to view the subject in another point of view.
Do passive indolent women make the best wives? Confining our discussion to the present moment of existence, let us see how such weak creatures perform their part? Do the women who, by the attainment of a few superficial accomplishments, have strengthened the prevailing prejudice, merely contribute to the happiness of their husbands? Do they dis play their charms merely to amuse them? So far from it, that, after surveying the his tory of woman, I cannot help, agreeing with the severest satirist, considering the sex as the weakest as well as the most oppressed half of the species.
What does history dis close but marks of inferiority, and how few women have emancipated themselves from the galling yoke of sovereign man? In the same style I have been led to imagine that the few extraordinary women who have rushed in eccentrical directions out of the orbit pre scribed to their sex, were male spirited, con fined by mistake in a female frame. But if it be not philosophical to think of sex when the soul is mentioned, the inferiority must depend on the organs; or the heavenly fire, which is to ferment the clay, is not given in equal portions.
Let their faculties have room to unfold, and their virtues to gain strength, and then determine where the whole sex must stand in the intellectual scale. Yet let it be remembered, that for a small number of distinguished women I do not ask a place. It is difficult for us purblind mortals to say to what height human discoveries and im provements may arrive when the gloom of des potism subsides, which makes us stumble at every step; but, when morality shall be set tled on a more solid basis, then, without be ing gifted with a prophetic spirit, I will ven ture to predict that woman will be either the friend or slave of man.
We shall not, as at present, doubt whether she is a moral agent, or the link which unites man with brutes. He will not, with all the graces of rhetoric, advise them to submit implicitly their understanding to the guidance of man. He will not, when he treats of the education of women, assert that they ought never to have the free use of rea son, nor would he recommend cunning and dissimulation to beings who are acquiring, in like manner as himself, the virtues of hu manity.
Surely there can be but one rule of right, if morality has an eternal foundation, and whoever sacrifices virtue, strictly so called, to present convenience, or whose duty it is to act in such a manner, lives only for the pass ing day, and cannot be an accountable creature. If, I say, for I would not impress by de clamation when Reason offers her sober light, if they are really capable of acting like rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man, when they associate with him; but cultivate their minds, give them the sa lutary, sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God.
Teach them, in common with man, to submit to necessity, instead of giving, to render them more pleas ing, a sex to morals. Nay, the order of society as it is at present regulated would not be in verted, for woman would then only have the rank that reason assigned her, and arts could not be practised to bring the balance even, much less to turn it. These may be termed Utopian dreams. I love man as my fellow; but his scepter, real, or usurped, extends not to me, unless the reason of an individual demands my ho mage; and even then the submission is to rea son, and not to man.
In fact, the conduct of an accountable being must be regulated by the operations of its own reason; or on what foundation rests the throne of God? Love, in their bosoms, taking place of every nobler passion, their sole ambi tion is to be fair, to raise emotion instead of inspiring respect; and this ignoble desire, like the servility in absolute monarchies, destroys all strength of character.
Liberty is the mo ther of virtue, and if women are, by their very constitution, slaves, and not allowed to breathe the sharp invigorating air of free dom, they must ever languish like exotics, and be reckoned beautiful flaws in nature;— let it also be remembered, that they are the only flaw.
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As to the argument respecting the subjec tion in which the sex has ever been held, it retorts on man. The many have always been enthralled by the few; and monsters, who scarcely have shewn any discernment of hu man excellence, have tyrannized over thou sands of their fellow creatures.
Why have men of superiour endowments submitted to such degradation? China is not the only country where a living man has been made a God. Men have sub mitted to superiour strength to enjoy with impunity the pleasure of the moment— wo men have only done the same, and therefore till it is proved that the courtier, who ser vilely resigns the birthright of a man, is not a moral agent, it cannot be demonstrated that woman is essentially inferior to man because she has always been subjugated.
Brutal force has hitherto governed the world, and that the science of politics is in its infancy, is evident from philosophers scru pling to give the knowledge most useful to man that determinate distinction. I shall not pursue this argument any fur ther than to establish an obvious inference, that as sound politics diffuse liberty, man kind, including woman, will become more wise and virtuous.
BODILY strength from being the distinction of heroes is now sunk into such unmerited contempt, that men, as well as women, seem to think it unnecessary: That they have both by departing from one extreme run into another, may easily be proved; but first it may be proper to observe, that a vulgar error has obtained a degree of credit, which has given force to a false con clusion, in which an effect has been mistaken for a cause. Yet the con trary, I believe, will appear to be the fact; for, on diligent inquiry, I find that strength of mind has, in most cases, been accompanied by superior strength of body,—natural sound ness of constitution,—not that robust tone of nerves and vigour of muscles, which arise from bodily labour, when the mind is qui escent, or only directs the hands.
Priestley has remarked, in the pre face to his biographical chart, that the ma jority of great men have lived beyond forty-five. And, considering the thoughtless man ner in which they have lavished their strength, when investigating a favourite science they have wasted the lamp of life, forgetful of the midnight hour; or, when, lost in poetic dreams, fancy has peopled the scene, and the soul has been disturbed, till it shook the con stitution, by the passions that meditation had raised; whose objects, the baseless fabric of a vision, faded before the exhausted eye, they must have had iron frames.
I am aware that this argument would carry me further than it may be supposed I wish to go; but I follow truth, and, still adhering to my first position, I will allow that bodily strength seems to give man a natural supe riority over woman; and this is the only so lid basis on which the superiority of the sex can be built. Women, deluded by these sentiments, some times boast of their weakness, cunningly ob taining power by playing on the weakness of men; and they may well glory in their illicit sway, for, like Turkish bashaws, they have more real power than their masters: Women, as well as despots, have now, perhaps, more power than they would have if the world, divided and subdivided into kingdoms and families, was governed by laws deduced from the exercise of reason; but in obtaining it, to carry on the compa rison, their character is degraded, and licen tiousness spread through the whole aggregate of society.
The many become pedestal to the few. I, therefore, will venture to as sert, that till women are more rationally educated, the progress of human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive con tinual checks. The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this en lightened age, be contested without danger, and, though conviction may not silence many boisterous disputants, yet, when any pre vailing prejudice is attacked, the wise will consider, and leave the narrow-minded to rail with thoughtless vehemence at innovation.
The mother, who wishes to give true dig nity of character to her daughter, must, re gardless of the sneers of ignorance, proceed on a plan diametrically opposite to that which Rousseau has recommended with all the de luding charms of eloquence and philosophical sophistry: Throughout the whole animal kingdom every young creature requires almost conti nual exercise, and the infancy of children, conformable to this intimation, should be passed in harmless gambols, that exercise the feet and hands, without requiring very minute direction from the head, or the constant at tention of a nurse.
But these wife designs of nature are counteracted by mistaken fondness or blind zeal. The child is not left a mo ment to its own direction, particularly a girl, and thus rendered dependent—dependence is called natural. To preserve personal beauty, woman's glory! For men of the greatest abi lities have seldom had sufficient strength to rise above the surrounding atmosphere; and, if the page of genius has always been blurred by the prejudices of the age, some allowance should be made for a sex, who, like kings, always see things through a false medium.
In this manner may the fondness for dress, conspicuous in women, be easily accounted for, without supposing it the result of a de sire to please the sex on which they are de pendent. The absurdity, in short, of sup posing that a girl is naturally a coquette, and that a desire connected with the impulse of nature to propagate the species, should ap pear even before an improper education has, by heating the imagination, called it forth prematurely, is so unphilosophical, that such a sagacious observer as Rousseau would not have adopted it, if he had not been accus tomed to make reason give way to his desire of singularity, and truth to a favourite paradox.
Rousseau respected—al most adored virtue—and yet he allowed himself to love with sensual fondness. His imagination constantly prepared inflammable fewel for his inflammable senses; but, in order to reconcile his respect for self-denial, fortitude, and those heroic virtues, which a mind like his could not coolly admire, he labours to invert the law of nature, and broaches a doctrine pregnant with mischief and derogatory to the character of supreme wisdom.
His ridiculous stories, which tend to prove that girls are naturally attentive to their per sons, without laying any stress on daily ex ample, are below contempt. Rousseau—I can recollect my own feel ings, and I have looked steadily around me; yet, so far from coinciding with him in opi nion respecting the first dawn of the female character, I will venture to affirm, that a girl, whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp, and the dolls will never excite attention unless confinement al lows her no alternative.
Girls and boys, in short, would play harmlessly together, if the distinction of sex was not inculcated long be fore nature makes any difference. The baneful consequences which flow from inattention to health during infancy, and youth, extend further than is supposed— dependence of body naturally produces depen dence of mind; and how can she be a good wife or mother, the greater part of whose time is employed to guard against or endure sickness?
Nor can it be expected that a wo man will resolutely endeavour to strengthen her constitution and abstain from enervating indulgencies, if artificial notions of beauty, and false descriptions of sensibility, have been early entangled with her motives of action. Most men are sometimes obliged to bear with bodily inconveniencies, and to endure, occa sionally, the inclemency of the elements; but genteel women are, literally speaking, slaves to their bodies, and glory in their sub jection.
I once knew a weak woman of fashion, who was more than commonly proud of her delicacy and sensibility. Is it possible that a human creature could have become such a weak and depraved being, if, like the Sybarites, dissolved in luxury, every thing like virtue had not been worn away, or never impressed by precept, a poor substi tute, it is true, for cultivation of mind, though it serves as a fence against vice? Such a woman is not a more irrational mon ster than some of the Roman emperors, who were depraved by lawless power.
Women are every where in this deplorable state; for, in order to preserve their innocence, as ignorance is courteously termed, truth is hidden from them, and they are made to as sume an artificial character before their facul ties have acquired any strength. Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.
Men have various em ployments and pursuits which engage their attention, and give a character to the open ing mind; but women, confined to one, and having their thoughts constantly directed to the most insignificant part of themselves, sel dom extend their views beyond the triumph of the hour. I must be allowed to pursue the argument a little farther. Perhaps, if the existence of an evil being was allowed, who, in the allegorial language of scripture, went about seeking whom he should devour, he could not more effectually degrade the human character than by giving a man absolute power.
This argument branches into various rami fications. In proportion to his weakness, he is played upon by designing men, till the bloated monster has lost all traces of humanity. And that tribes of men, like flocks of sheep, should quietly follow such a leader, is a solecism that only a de sire of present enjoyment and narrowness of understanding can solve. Educated in slavish dependence, and enervated by luxury and sloth, where shall we find men who will stand forth to assert the rights of man;—or claim the privilege of moral be ings, who should have but one road to excellence?
Let not men then in the pride of power, use the same arguments that tyrannic kings and venal ministers have used, and fallaci ously assert that woman ought to be subject ed because she has always been so. Women, it is true, obtaining power by unjust means, by practising or fostering vice, evidently lose the rank which reason would assign them, and they become either abject slaves or capricious tyrants. They lose all simplicity, all dignity of mind, in acquiring power, and act as men are observed to act when they have been exalted by the same means.
It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local man ners. And if the dignity of the female soul be as disputable as that of animals—if their reason does not afford sufficient light to di rect their conduct whilst unerring instinct is de nied—they are surely of all creatures the most miserable! But to justify the ways of Provi dence respecting them, by pointing out some irrefragable reason for thus making such a large portion of mankind accountable and not accountable, would puzzle the subtilest casuist.
The only solid foundation for morality appears to be the character of the supreme Being; the harmony of which arises from a balance of attributes;—and, to speak with reverence, one attribute seems to imply the necessity of another. He must be just, because he is wise, he must be good, because he is omnipotent.
Man, accustomed to bow down to power in his sa vage state, can seldom divest himself of this barbarous prejudice, even when civilization determines how much superior mental is to bodily strength; and his reason is clouded by these crude opinions, even when he thinks of the Deity. I disclaim that specious humility which, after investigating nature, stops at the author.
It seems natural for man to search for ex cellence, and either to trace it in the object that he worships, or blindly to invest it with perfection, as a garment. But what good effect can the latter mode of worship have on the moral conduct of a rational being? And, supposing that the Deity acts from the vague impulse of an undirected will, man must also follow his own, or act according to rules, deduced from principles which he disclaims as irreve rent.
Into this dilemma have both enthu siasts and cooler thinkers fallen, when they laboured to free men from the wholesome restraints which a just conception of the cha racter of God imposes. It is not impious thus to scan the attributes of the Almighty: For to love God as the fountain of wisdom, goodness, and power, appears to be the only worship use ful to a being who wishes to acquire either virtue or knowledge. A blind unsettled af fection may; like human passions, occupy the mind and warm the heart, whilst, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, is forgotten.
I shall pursue this subject still further, when I consider reli gion in a light opposite to that recommended by Dr. Gregory, who treats it as a matter of sentiment or taste. It were to be wished that women would che rish an affection for their husbands, founded on the same principle that devotion ought to rest upon. No other firm base is there under heaven—for let them beware of the fallacious light of sentiment; too often used as a softer phrase for sensuality. It follows then, I think, that from their infancy women should either be shut up like eastern princes, or educated in such a manner as to be able to think and act for themselves.
Why do men halt between two opinions, and expect impossibilities? Why do they ex pect virtue from a slave, from a being whom the constitution of civil society has rendered weak, if not vicious? I foresee an obvi ous retort—whilst man remains such an im perfect being as he appears hitherto to have been, he will, more or less, be the slave of his appetites; and those women obtaining most power who gratify a predominant one, the sex is degraded by a physical, if not by a moral necessity. This objection has, I grant, some force; but while such a sublime precept exists, as, 'be pure as your heavenly Father is pure;' it would seem that the virtues of man are not limited by the Being who alone could limit them; and that he may press forward with out considering whether he steps out of his sphere by indulging such a noble ambition.
Vainly then do they beat and foam, restrained by the power that confines the struggling planets in their orbits, matter yields to the great governing Spirit. Besides, if women are educated for depend ence; that is, to act according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right or wrong, to power, where are we to stop? Are they to be considered as vicegerents al lowed to reign over a small domain, and an swerable for their conduct to a higher tri bunal, liable to error? It will not be difficult to prove that such delegates will act like men subjected by fear, and make their children and servants endure their tyrannical oppression.
But, supposing a woman, trained up to obedience, be married to a sensible man, who directs her judgment without making her feel the servility of her subjection, to act with as much propriety by this reflected light as can be expected when reason is taken at second hand, yet she cannot ensure the life of her protector; he may die and leave her with a large family. A double duty devolves on her; to edu cate them in the character of both father and mother; to form their principles and secure their property. What is then to become of her? She either falls an easy prey to some mean fortune-hunter, who defrauds her children of their paternal inhe ritance, and renders her miserable; or be comes the victim of discontent and blind in dulgence.
Unable to educate her sons, or impress them with respect; for it is not a play on words to assert, that people are never respected, though filling an important station, who are not respectable; she pines under the anguish of unavailing impotent regret. The serpent's tooth enters into her very soul, and the vices of licentious youth bring her with sorrow, if not with poverty also, to the grave. This is not an overcharged picture; on the contrary, it is a very possible case, and some thing similar must have fallen under every at tentive eye.
I have, however, taken it for granted, that she was well-disposed, though experience shews, that the blind may as easily be led into a ditch as along the beaten road. The mother will be lost in the coquette, and, instead of making friends of her daughters, view them with eyes askance, for they are rivals—rivals more cruel than any other, because they invite a comparison, and drive her from the throne of beauty, who has never thought of a seat on the bench of reason.
It does not require a lively pencil, or the discriminating outline of a caricature, to sketch the domestic miseries and petty vices which such a mistress of a family diffuses. Still she only acts as a woman ought to act, brought up according to Rousseau's system. She can never be reproached for being mascu line, or turning out of her sphere; nay, she may observe another of his grand rules, and cautiously preserving her reputation free from spot, be reckoned a good kind of woman. Yet in what respect can she be termed good? She abstains, it is true, without any great struggle, from committing gross crimes; but how does she fulfil her duties?
She there fore pays her tythe of mint and cummin— and thanks her God that she is not as other women are. These are the blessed effects of a good education! Formed thus by the discharge of the re lative duties of her station, she marries from affection, without losing sight of prudence, and looking beyond matrimonial felicity, she secures her husband's respect before it is neces sary to exert mean arts to please him and feed a dying flame, which nature doomed to ex pire when the object became familiar, when friendship and forbearance take place of a more ardent affection.
I also suppose the husband to be virtuous; or she is still more in want of independent principles. Fate, however, breaks this tie. The pang of nature is felt; but after time has softened sorrow into melancholy resignation, her heart turns to her children with redoubled fondness, and anxious to provide for them, affection gives a sacred heroic cast to her maternal du ties.
Raised to heroism by mis fortunes, she represses the first faint dawning of a natural inclination, before it ripens into love, and in the bloom of life forgets her sex —forgets the pleasure of an awakening pas sion, which might again have been inspired and returned. She no longer thinks of pleas ing, and conscious dignity prevents her from priding herself on account of the praise which her conduct demands. Her children have her love, and her brightest hopes are beyond the grave, where her imagination often strays.
I think I see her surrounded by her chil dren, reaping the reward of her care. The intelligent eye meets hers, whilst health and innocence smile on their chubby cheeks, and as they grow up the cares of life are lessened by their grateful attention. The task of life thus fulfilled, she calmly waits for the sleep of death, and rising from the grave, may say—Behold, thou gavest me a talent—and here are five talents.
I wish to sum up what I have said in a few words, for I here throw down my gauntlet, and deny the existence of sexual virtues, not excepting modesty. For man and woman, truth, if I understand the meaning of the word, must be the same; yet the fanciful female character, so prettily drawn by poets and novelists, demanding the sacrifice of truth and sincerity, virtue becomes a relative idea, having no other foundation than utility, and of that utility men pretend arbitrarily to judge, shaping it to their own convenience.
Women, I allow, may have different du ties to fulfil; but they are human duties, and the principles that should regulate the dis charge of them, I sturdily maintain, must be the same. In the superiour ranks of life how seldom do we meet with a man of superiour abili ties, or even common acquirements? The reason appears to me clear, the state they are born in was an unnatural one. The human character has ever been formed by the employments the individual, or class, pur sues; and if the faculties are not sharpened by necessity, they must remain obtuse.
The argument may fairly be extended to women; for, seldom occupied by serious business, the pursuit of pleasure gives that insignificancy to their character which renders the society of the great so insipid. The same want of firmness, produced by a similar cause, forces them both to fly from themselves to noisy pleasures, and artificial passions, till vanity takes place of every social affection, and the characteristics of humanity can scarcely be discerned.
THAT woman is naturally weak, or de graded by a concurrence of circumstances, is, I think, clear. But this position I shall simply contrast with a conclusion, which I have frequently heard fall from sensible men in favour of an aristocracy: Men, they further observe, submit every where to oppression, when they have only to lift up their heads to throw off the yoke; yet, instead of asserting their birthright, they quietly lick the dust, and say, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.
But I must be more explicit. Only 'absolute in loveliness,' the portion of rationality granted to woman, is, indeed, very scanty; for, denying her genius and judgment, it is scarcely possible to divine what remains to characterize intellect. But, in the present state of things, every difficulty in morals that escapes from human discussion, and equally baffles the investigation of profound think ing, and the lightning glance of genius, is an argument on which I build my belief of the immortality of the soul.
Reason is, conse quentially, the simple power of improvement; or, more properly speaking, of discerning truth. Every individual is in this respect a world in itself. But, dismissing these fanciful theories, and considering wo man as a whole, let it be what it will, in stead of a part of man, the inquiry is whe ther she has reason or not. If she has, which, for a moment, I will take for granted, she was not created merely to be the solace of man, and the sexual should not destroy the human character. On this sen sual error, for I must call it so, has the false system of female manners been reared, which robs the whole sex of its dignity, and classes the brown and fair with the smiling flowers that only adorns the land.
The power of generalizing ideas, of draw ing comprehensive conclusions from indivi dual observations, is the only acquirement, for an immortal being, that really deserves the name of knowledge. Merely to observe, without endeavouring to account for any thing, may in a very incomplete manner serve as the common sense of life; but where is the store laid up that is to clothe the soul when it leaves the body? This power has not only been denied to women; but writers have insisted that it is inconsistent, with a few exceptions, with their sexual character.
Let men prove this, and I shall grant that woman only exists for man. I must, however, previously remark, that the power of generalizing ideas, to any great extent, is not very common amongst men or women. But this exercise is the true cultivation of the understanding; and every thing conspires to render the cultiva tion of the understanding more difficult in the female than the male world. I shall not go back to the remote annals of antiquity to trace the history of woman; it is sufficient to allow that she has always been either a slave, or a despot, and to remark, that each of these situations equally retard the progress of reason.
The grand source of female folly and vice has ever appeared to me to arise from narrowness of mind; and the very constitution of civil governments has put almost insuperable obstacles in the way to prevent the cultivation of the female under standing: The same obstacles are thrown in the way of the rich, and the same conse quences ensue.
Necessity has been proverbially termed the mother of invention—the aphorism may be ex tended to virtue. It is an acquirement, and an acquirement to which pleasure must be sacrificed —and who sacrifices pleasure when it is within the grasp, whose mind has not been opened and strengthened by adversity, or the pursuit of knowledge goaded on by necessity?