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THE OBLIGING ASSASSIN.
FROM THE FRENCH.
ONCE sleeping in an Inn at Dover,
When a pale heteroclite figure,
With dusty shoes stalk'd in, and spoke : "You see what 'tis I want-make haste! Dress!-you've no moment's time to waste."
Trembling all over with the notion
Of being suddenly dispatch'd,
I huddled on my clothes, and snatch'd
Round me a winding-sheet, or shroud:
What horrors to my fancy crowd!
And when I winced, and made grimace,
Drops from my face began to flow,
I clench'd my teeth, and pump'd my breath.
Moved by the terror I betray'd,
And wishing to dispatch me quicker,
He flourish'd an alarming blade,
Whose very aspect made me sicker:
The cut-throat presently repenting
He seized me by the throttle fast,
Th' assassin took deliberate aim.—
As Fate still saved me from his fangs,
He twisted, pull'd, and tore my hair.
And in a glass my face 1 view.
Guess my surprise-my joy to see,
That the assassin who distress'd me,
Instead of mortal injury,
Had kindly powder'd, shaved, and dress'd me!
Ir has often been a subject of meditation with me, whether there be really any difference between men and women-I mean in their intellectual powers. It is argued by some, that there is naturally no difference whatever, and that all the difference we observe is produced by art. Education has certainly a wonderful influence in fashioning the mind, and some philosophers have carried this principle so far, as to ascribe to it all the varieties in the animal creation. They say that man is indebted for his superiority solely to some accidental peculiarities in his organization; that had he had the hoof of an ox, the nails of the wolf, or the claws of the lion, he would have been no better than these animals. I confess I do not hold with this sort of philosophy; I rather think, with Galen, that man is wise not because of his hands, but that he had hands appended to his wrists instead of the hoofs of a horse, because of his pre-eminent wisdom. And I think, in like manner, it will be easy to shew, that there is a natural, or, as the Marquis of Londonderry would say, a fundamental difference between the sexes, wholly independent of social institutions.
Were there not this difference, how is it that women, in all ages and in all countries, have held only a subordinate station in society? Education is insufficient to account for this circumstance, because it is in nature for every thing ultimately to triumph over adventitious obstacles, and attain that rank for which it is qualified. Besides, we do not observe that education exerts such an omnipotent influence over the destiny of individuals. Most persons, remarkable for intellectual eminence, have attained it in spite of peculiar disadvantages; it has ever been the lot of Genius to contend with the difficulties of fortune, birth, and education. Allowing, then, that females labour under disadvantages from this source, is it not surprising that they do not exhibit similar instances of triumphing over them? yet we do not find such instances. If they afford any extraordinary examples of intellect, they are always, I apprehend, an inferior grade. Thus they have produced no philosopher equal to Newton, no poet like Homer, no conqueror like Alexander, no dramatist like Shakspeare,-nor, to my mind, any cook equal to the great Doctor Kitchener.
Eminent women, no doubt, there have been; but when we examine their productions, we seldom, I think, fail to discover traces to which sex they belong: the peculiarities of their nature usually reminding us of the fable of Æsop, quoted by Bacon; when puss sat demurely at table, in man's attire, till a mouse crossed the room. The late Madame de Stael was a striking instance of this sort. No female displayed greater and more varied powers of intellect; yet in her occasional vanity and egotism, and especially in her personal antipathies, she evinced all the weaknesses (shall I say?) of her sex. Queen Elizabeth is another instance of a masculine mind conjoined with womanly infirmities. She was never weary of listening to discourses on her "excellent beauties," and her most grave ministers found no way so effectual to her favour as by telling her, that "the lustre of her beauty dazzled them like the sun, and they could not behold it with fixed eyes." But perhaps the rarest example of intellectual manhood is Catherine the Second, Empress of Russia: she indeed seems to have had very little of woman in her nature; even her vices were of a manly order ambitious, cruel, and imperious; and in her amours she appears, in some respects, to have usurped the place of the opposite sex, and treated her numerous lovers more like her mistresses than admirers.
I have chosen these three examples as being the best known, and exhibiting the strongest claims to an equality with man. I perhaps might have found living instances of great merit, but I prefer confining my observations to those that are dead. The examples, however, that I have quoted, by no means decide the question: it is not by particular instances, but by comparing the most eminent of both sexes, that a fair inference can be drawn.
But perhaps, after all, it is only a dispute about words, arising from the standard to which we refer. Man's superiority is not universal. If he possess the comprehension of an angel, he has neither the eye of an eagle, nor the fleetness of a greyhound. If he excel woman ("lovely woman," as the poets say) in arts and arms, and science and philosophy, in foresight and grandeur of soul, how vastly inferior is he in all the softer graces, in tenderness, delicacy, and sentiment! What, inIdeed, would man have been without woman, or where would he have been!
"Oh, woman! lovely woman! Nature made you
To temper man: we had been brutes without you!
There's in you all that we believe of Heaven-
But there is no end to such a theme.
For my part, I think Nature in this matter has shewn her accustomed wisdom. As she made man with a right and a left hand, so it seems meet that there should be some inequality between the sexes; for, as monogamy (Mr. Malthus notwithstanding) is clearly a state designed for man, it would obviously have been a source of endless embarrassment, contention, and difficulty, had the parties in all respects been exactly equal and homologous.
I shall conclude these observations, by remarking three paradoxes concerning females, the first shewing how much more individual security depends on public opinion than positive institutions. Although
females are excluded from power, and apparently without protection, yet no class is more secure in the enjoyment of its rights. Without representative in parliament, they are least of all obnoxious to oppressive laws; excluded from juries, the bar, and the bench, their offences are always viewed with indulgence. They have no minister in the church, yet no class is prayed for more fervently; nor have they any part in the army or navy, yet both are enthusiastic in their service; nor in the magistracy, yet aldermen and justices of peace are almost proverbially devoted to their interests. In short, every where, and on every occasion, they are treated as privileged beings, entitled to precedency; and thus do they enjoy the honours and immunities through courtesy, which the most unquestioned right and superiority would scarcely procure them. It is certainly a most refined and noble principle, which grants from generosity that respect, reverence, and devotion which the most unbounded power could scarcely command. If that chivalrous feeling which protects the interests of the fair from violation from a sense of their weakness, were to be extended to the poorer classes from a sense of their destitute condition, there cannot be a doubt that their rights would be far more effectually guarded than by universal suffrage and annual parliaments. So much more omnipotent is opinion than law.
The second paradox is somewhat connected with the first. Though females are considered unqualified for superior stations in society, yet they sometimes exercise sovereign authority; though they are considered unfit to discharge the functions of an admiral, a judge, a commander-in-chief, or even a parish beadle, yet they are sometimes placed, by the principle of hereditary succession, at the head of the army, the navy, and the administration of justice.
The last paradox is this: one would imagine in the warm regions of the south, where men's passions are the most violent, females would have attained the highest rank; instead of which, it is in the cold countries of the north that modern gallantry had its origin. Tacitus gives an interesting account of the distinguished manner in which our German ancestors treated their women in their almost impenetrable forests. They worshipped them as a sort of supernatural beings; their household gods in peace, their most valued treasure in war, and their counsellors and companions at all times. This high homage no doubt, arose from the extreme delicacy which prevailed respecting the sexual intercourse. It was esteemed dishonourable to be intimate with a woman till the twentieth year; a custom which, Sir Walter Scott observes, was not only favourable to health and morals, but contributed to place females in that dignified rank which they held in society. "Nothing," continues the same writer, "tends so much to blunt the feelings, to harden the heart, and to destroy the imagination, as the worship of the Vaga Venus in early youth."* The German wife, once married, seldom endeavoured to form a second union. Polygamy was unknown; and adultery, which rarely occurred, was punished with great severity; while the unfortunate offender had no chance to obtain a second husband, however distinguished by beauty, birth, or wealth. These customs sufficiently account for the high estimation of women
Art. Chivalry, Supp. to Encyc. Brit.
among the Gothic tribes. The divinity of females is in their chastity: when that is violated, the veil of the temple is rent, and they cease almost to be objects of devotion. They are then reduced to that state of humiliation in which we find them in the seraglios of the East. Is it surprising, then, that they guard with such watchfulness this secret of their power? To them it is the wand of harlequin; and such as betray it to the enemy are very naturally shunned as traitresses to the interests of their order. Indeed it is a double treachery, equally injurious to both sides by it the women lose their dominion, and the men, who had probably fed on heavenly visions, awake, in the fruition of their hopes, with the sad conviction of Phillip of their own mortality.
There is another consideration arising out of this subject, which may, perhaps, be worth noticing. We learn from it, that European gallantry is not formed on the models of ancient chivalry, but that it is derived from a much higher source-from that source from which we derive our most valued municipal institutions. Indeed chivalry (whatever may be said to the contrary, and as has been elsewhere observed) was but a gloomy, ascetic, and absurd superstition, which very soon after its institution degenerated into the coarsest brutality and licentiousness. Mr. Dymoke, at the Coronation, I have often thought, was but a poor representation of the stern, subacid knights of yore; his gaudy plumes and tinsel trappings had as much relation to the Godfreys, Orlandos, and Bertrands of the old time, as a modern drawingroom has to the hall of William Rufus.-But I have now done, Mr. Editor. In looking over the beginning of this epistle, I find that there are some matters at which your fair readers may probably cavil: you know, Sir, my object is merely truth and fair play; should I therefore have inadvertently fallen into any considerable errors, I shall most willingly submit to correction. They are, however, points I should by no means wish to discuss viva voce; therefore, with your permission, would prefer receiving a trifling list of errata through the medium of a future Number.
P. S. I intend, on a future occasion, to send you my thoughts on LOVE this will probably be about Christmas, or perhaps not till the vernal equinox. MONTAIGNE The Younger.
O SLEEP! where hast thou been the live-long night,
The care-toss'd couch of melancholy wight,
And lips that breathe but mirth and melody,
Still silencing the prattle of delight.
And now thou com'st to me, when at this hour
Its springiness and youth, but thou forbid'st,