Sunday, January 12, 2003

Man Superior to Woman - Chapter Four

From “Man Superior to Woman” – by Anonymous, 1739


Whether the Women are equally qualified with Men for Government and Public Offices.

Our female champion is in a very great passion with Cato for excluding her sex from all Government; and, I must own not without some appearance of reason. For it is certainly true that Cato was not the most well-bred man who ever spoke of them. He had too little of the courtier in him to flatter; and spoke too plain truth not to fet a pretty Lady, who wants to wear the breeches, on pouting. But Sophia would have much more reason to be angry with him, if he had been the only one of opinion that women are to be ever kept in subjection. Whereas unluckily for them, all the greatest sages of antiquity, as well as the wisest legislators of all ages, have been of the same mind. The greatest poets, the most eminent divines, the brightest orators, the ablest historians, the most skilful physicians, and the profoundest philosophers, in a word, all who have been famous for excelling in learning, wisdom, and parts, have condemned the women to perpetual subjection, and less noble, less perfect, and consequently inferior to men. The laws of all common-wealths are so many confirmations of the subjection they have ever been in. Neither can the men free them from this subjection, without revolting against the decree of Heaven, which appointed them masters, as I have already shown, and therefore need not repeat. There are not wanting other texts of scripture to confirm this matter. Ecclesiasticus, ch.vii. absolutely forbids the men to give woman any power over their minds; and the prophet Micab positively says to them, Keep the doors of thy mouth from her who lyeth in thy bosom.

. . . How exactly of a mind are the divines and the poets! Euripedes tells us, that of all animals, especially the intellectual ones, woman is the poorest thing. Therefore, says Pittacus, "keep womankind in subject." Tibullus says, "they are a cruel generation void of all Faith." Menander says almost the same, and adds that "when a woman speaks with most affability, it is then she is most to be dreaded." And if we believe Plautus "Once a woman has any mischief in her head, sickness, nay what is worse old age, is less insupportable to her, than being thwarted in the pursuit of it. Either let her complete it, or you make her completely miserable. But if by chance or whim she attempts anything that is good, how soon is she sick and tired of it! Whatever you do, if she begins anything tolerable, never be afraid of her hurting herself; she'll be sure to do little enough. For women have a natural Genius for exceeding in mischief, but are never guilty of excess in what is right."

The greatest of orators are not the most favourable to them, and the best the character Cicero, one of the ablest, had to give them, was that they are a covetous race, sovereignly ruled by the inordinate love of lucre. Nor are the physicians a jot more in their interest. We are assured by Philo that the women, according to the common received opinion of the faculty "are but a kind of imperfect men, that their understandings are naturally weaker than ours, and that they are incapable of comprehending anything but what immediately falls under the jurisdiction of their sensation."

If we credit historians, whose opinions are less to be suspected as being founded on the irrefragable evidence of experience, we shall find women everywhere a weak, inconsistent generation, ever irresistibly led away by some predominant passion, which enslaves and engrosses them. "The fair sex (says Tacitus) is not only weak and unequal to toil, but, if truth may be spoken, cruel, ambitious, and greedy after power." Valerius Maximus goes yet further and assures us, that the practice of poison had still been unknown, if the cruel artifice of that sex had not made it necessary to enact laws against it.

Cato then was not the only wise man who thought the women unfit to govern. The sacred writers tell us they are not to be trusted; divines, poets, orators, physicians, and historians agree that they are weak, silly, poor, fickle, cruel, ambitious things, ever forward in mischief, ever sluggards in good. Pretty qualifications truly to entitle them to Government and public offices!

But let us suspend our judgment till we hear what the philosophers think. Those oracles of wisdom may perhaps be more their friends, and then it will ill become us to be their adversaries. Not at all; Aristotle tells us that "a city must needs be wretchedly governed which is governed by women," and well may he think so who tells us that "the judgment of boys is only imperfect, but that of women is absolutely impotent." Therefore, says an anonymous author, "when things are come to so bad a pass as to suffer an old woman to reign, or interfere in state affairs, nothing better is to be expected than to see her rend the state and involve it in calamities and confusion." Among men the oldest are generally the fittest to govern, because the most confirmed in wisdom and experience, but in women, according to this author, age is incapable of any wisdom: and no wonder at it, when their judgment is all impotence.

To which if we add their natural itch of tattling, their invincible curiosity, and their innate aversion to secrecy, it can no longer be doubted that they are absolutely unfit for public Government, and every office connected with it. Nothing more requisite in one who is to be entrusted with Government, than a steadiness which no curiosity can make giddy, and nothing more powerful to make a woman give up the most important interests of her own or others than curiosity. Secrecy is the very soul of public administration, which to require from that tongue-punished race would be downright barbarity. The wise Romans were thoroughly convinced of the natural incapacity of women for keeping a secret, and therefore were kind enough to them never to entrust any of them with one. Every one knows the strategem young Papirius was forced to make use of to satisfy his mother's curiosity, without betraying the secrets of the Senate. Being one day extremely solicited by her to reveal the subject of that morning's debate, to rid himself of her importunities, he was reduced to the necessity of feigning, that a law was proposed to allow the men a plurality of wives. There needed no more to alarm the whole sex. Papirius's mother, spite of her solemn engagements, divulges it to all the women she knew, and they to as many more, till the whole tribe of wives, acquainted with it, formed themselves into a league, and began to make open opposition to a law so odious to them. How safe would the young Senator have been, had he been indiscreet enough to trust his tattling mother with a real secret as he did with a fiction!

Plutarch tells us of another Senator, who, teased by his wife, on the like score, beyond all power of toleration, and unwilling to mortify her, told her, that a lark being seen to fly over the Senate house with a golden helmet on his head and a spear on his claws, the augurs had been consulted, to know what it could portend. To make it appear the more like a real secret, he had had the precaution to exact from her the most solemn vows of privacy, assuring her that nothing less than his life could atone for his divulging it to her, should it be known he had done so. But what force could the fear of a husband's death have to make a woman keep a secret, who must herself burst or vent it? No sooner had her husband taken leave of her, to return again to the Senate, than she eased herself of the intolerable burden, and the tale flew so swiftly about the city, that, before he got to his journey's end, he had it whispered in his ear as a profound secret, by one who supposed him to have been absent from the Senate. At his return home he charges his wife with having undone him. But she, with a confidence peculiar to that sex, flatly denies her having divulged what he entrusted her with; and to silence him at once, of three hundred Senators in the house, why should the secret be supposed to come from you alone, says she? She had carried her boldness yet farther, but for his stopping her mouth by telling her, that it was a fiction of his own making.

Fulvius was far from coming off so well, but he must blame himself for knowing womankind no better. We are obliged to Plutarch for the account. Augustus displeased with Fulvius for disinheriting his own nephews in favour of Livia's children, blamed him for it; and he like a silly oaf was weak enough to tell it his wife. She immediately tells the Empress of it; and the Empress upbraided the Emperor with it. So that the next time Fulvius went to court was to receive a severe reprimand from Augustus, and the pleasure of finding himself undone. And what did he get by returning home to tell his wife what she had done, and that he was resolved to stab himself? Why, no other satisfaction than to be answered that he was a fool and deserved no better fate, for living with her for so long without finding out that she was a true woman, and could not keep a secret.

What shall we say after this? Shall we agree with Sophia, that the women are fit for Government and public offices? Or shall we not rather conclude them absolutely unqualified for them; and that the ancients were undoubtedly right in saying that woman are no more to be trusted than their wombs - these not being more liable to miscarry of their fruits than they of the trusts we deposit in them?

If England has been so wise to admit these evils to reign over us when necessary to avoid greater evils, is that any proof that they are qualified for it? No 'twas not their capacity, but our prudence placed them on the throne, to remove occasions of bloodshed and other ill effects of civil dissension. And though it must be confessed that during the reign of some of our women, this nation has been in its most flourishing condition; yet whether ought it to be attributed to, the capacity of the soft cyphers placed over us, or the wisdom of the ministry which made them of some account. Mere adjectives of Nature, what use could they have been of but for the substantial support of their counsel and parliament? Into which none, not even themselves ever thought it worth while to introduce a woman.

However, I am apt to think that the pretty fawning faces of these fair creatures would go a great way towards wheedling us into the folly of admitting them to a share in public offices, if we could discern in them the least talent for governing their own families. Whereas without much study we need but step into the next house we can think of, where the gray mare is the better horse, to find a Babylon of anarchy and confusion.

Belluina's is the first in my mind, let us pay her a visit then. To do her justice, nothing can be more decent than her apartments, her whole house from the cellars to the stairs, from the kitchen to the closet are so many varied scenes of finished neatness; not the meanest piece of furniture owes its situation to the hand of chance; every table has its proper post; every picture its fellow; there's not a chair a hair's breadth from its place; not a carpet but what is mathematically spread; nay, woe to Mrs. Betty if the very china is not as regularly disposed as the features in her Ladyship's face. From such an orderly economy in trifles who would not expect to find a little Commonwealth, where peace and decorum have taken up their residence? But a moment's patience, and the all-divulging tea- table will set you right. An insufferable troop of illtrained brats are called in to expose their want of manners, and put yours on the trial. Pretty Miss must throw your hat about, Master Jacky must put his fingers in your eyes, Charlie in you dish; and Tommy, her favorite for never doing what his father bids him, should offer to wipe his greasy fingers on your coat, you must suffer him to do so, or be as much in her disgrace as John, who had his head broke but an hour ago, just where you see the plaster, for hastily setting Veny upon the bare ground to save my Lord from falling downstairs. Happily for John he is in her Ladyship's good graces, or he had fared no better than Fanny the housemaid, who had warning given her, for letting a tea-cup fall to hinder the house from taking fire. But this lucky fellow, who is too much used to his Lady to be often guilty of such mistakes, has absolutely rooted himself into his post by once leaving a butt of wine to run about the cellar rather than let the parrot call him twice. So despotic is Belluina in her family! Her children, sure never to be corrected but when they behave well, are incessantly rude and unruly; and her servants, never sure that her Ladyship will think what they do right, are always doing wrong, with as sedate a confusion as the workmen of Babel. If you call for a teaspoon a saucer is brought you; and if you have a mind for sugar you must call for the milk-pot. But it's time to leave this orderly Lady, Miss's cap you see is the tenth part of an inch awry; the lightning in her mother's looks are portentous of a storm, and once it breaks out the house will be too hot for every one in it. Her Ladyship can bear anything but disorder in trifles; but that like a true woman she is so averse to, that she'll rather throw herself, her family and even her country into confusion, than suffer the symmetry of a curl or a cap to be broken with impunity. Whence it appears that all this excellent Lady's qualifications for Government are owing to her happy want of sense to set others right, and temper to curb herself when wrong.

Muccabella has a great deal more temper but much less sense than Belluina. She can with incredible calmness see her house a perpetual dung-hill, for want of brains to reflect how ill it becomes the fortune she has, and the figure she affects. She has a number of servants, every one of which is too busy, in helping their mistress to litter the rooms, ever to be clean themselves. Neither is it fit they should disgrace their superiors by being less dirty than they are. About seven months ago, before she was a widow, I went for the first and last time to breakfast with her and her gouty husband and family. The dirty disorder of the room I was introduced to offended me less than the rankness of my company poisoned me. It is true I was forced to stand for some time, every chair in the place being taken up with some greasy heap; one with foul plates, another with the Lady's stays, and the rest with miscellaneous muck. At length however I was helped to a chair and dish of excellent coffee from a silver teaboard, placed on a large table near my old gouty friend, and jumbled together with a mangled piece of beef, a woman's dirty night-cap, a comb-brush, an old stocking, and a urinal. The conversation I was entertained with was a piece with the persons who held it: 'twas an argument between the Lady and her husband, who would fain have persuaded her that one clean shift a week could not prejudice her health. But with all her meekness she had been put out of temper, if Mamma's own daughter had not taken up the argument, and insisted that the trouble was needless when a pair of sleeves would do as well. It must be thought I could not be fond of staying in such a disorderly Jakes: accordingly I took leave never to return thither again. My old friend followed my example not long after: he died in about two months, and was sent to rot in a decent tomb after having lived many years buried in a disorderly sink of sluttery. However I have been lately informed that this Lady has put her children in a terrible fright, by turning cleanly at last. They are under dreadful apprehensions of her marrying again; and not without some reason. For she has washed her hands and face twice since my friend's death, has the dining room swept once a week, and has shifted her no less than three times in one fortnight. Whatever might be said of Muccabella the wife, it cannot be disowned that the widow discovers a tolerable disposition for Government, and public offices. For if outward cleanliness is any proof of inward neatness, and if an orderly outside is an indication of no confusion within, why may not she be at least advanced to the dignity of Mistress of Ceremonies to the Court?

Priscilla is akin to neither of the former: not finically nice nor carelessly sluttish. She loves neatness and knows when she sees it, but has been too genteely bred to be able to give any directions towards it. For the very economy of her table she is forced to depend upon the discretion of her servants: and if her housekeeper should desert her, she would be as much puzzled to order a dinner, as a blind man could be to find out his way without a guide. This was a secret to her husband, till an unlucky accident brought him acquainted with it. One day when he was without a housekeeper he came home and desired his wife to add another dish to the table, because he should bring an accquaintance or two home with him. She did as he ordered her; and the gentlemen when they sat down had the solid satisfaction of two legs of mutton and turnips to feed on at the first course. A Lady so versed in domestic economy must needs be wondrous fit for public Government: must she not?

In justice to that sex I must not put an end to this subject without taking notice of Prudentia. She is one of your notable women, a tip-top housewife I assure you. There's not a secret in domestic management unknown to her. She can metamorphose a leg of mutton to a haunch of venison, make the Lark transmigrate to an Ortolan, and transform English hog's flesh into good Westphalia ham as ever was imported into Great Britain. She is perfectly acquainted with the mystery of making butter and cheese, jellies, conserves, sweet meats, cordials, and what not. Gardening she is quite learned in, and at the needle she is perfect mistress. Nay she is a good accomptant too. In short, nothing which relates to economy comes amiss to her. And yet she is not vain of all these accomplishments. For though she does often plague us with her dissertations upon these subjects, 'tis ever the commendable view of learning what she knows not, or showing us how much she does know. So far is she from being proud that she has stooped to the humble office of boiling an egg; and, to show how fit she was to govern, she submitted once, in her husband's life time, to boil him a pig pursuant to his own request. But, such is the fatality of that poor sex, she has forfeited, since a widow, all her reputation of wisdom, in the management of her children; though she has but two to manage. Possessed of a thousand pounds a year at her own disposal, she has withstood the temptation of a second match to lay up all for them; and has made no better use of it than to ruin one by excess of extravagance, and the other by extreme niggardliness. By giving her daughter a profusion of money and liberty, she has afforded her the means to gain the title of Mother independent of Wedlock. And to make amends for that error in the care of her son, has kept him so short of money, that to get rid of twelve penny dun he has married a fritter- woman.

Strange as this circumstance is, 'tis no less strange than true. Nevertheless Prudentia cannot be charged with want of love. All the defect lies in that want of talent for Government, which is so evident in that tender sex. It can no longer then be doubted that those poor pretty creatures must make a very sorry figure in Government and public offices, who appear so universally unqualified for the administration of private economy. But I fear I have proved this matter too plainly to them, and therefore not to give them the pain of more ungrateful truths on this head, I shall follow whither Sophia leads me, that is to consider.

Bedroom Politics – Mathieu of Boulogne, 1295 A.D.
Chapter Five

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