Obrázky na stránke

Now, is it intended, or is it desirable, that the personal influence of a woman should be employed in this direction ? Her beauty or her ugliness, her grace or her awkwardness, her charm of voice and manner, or her brusqueness of speech and address, is it well that all these should be brought to bear upon her audience, and displayed to the aid or to the detriment of the cause she advocates ?

It seems to me that the personal attributes which play a secondary part in teaching, are, in speaking, of primary importance. Here may therefore be drawn a true, though by no means the only, line between woman as a teacher and woman as a public speaker. Teaching is suitable to women because it can be done only on certain subjects and within certain limits, and because it implies superiority in the teacher over the persons taught, and again, submission on the part of the pupil.

Yet the question of how far women may go in teaching on religious subjects opens so wide a door, and so nearly suggests preaching, which, in spite of good and learned opinion to the contrary, appears to an unprejudiced mind to be distinctly forbidden to women by the inspired St. Paul, that great caution is needed, if women are to instruct other grown men and women in religion, that it does not become preaching.

The teaching of spiritual and religious truths to children of both sexes is so distinctly a woman's work that no comment upon it can be necessary beyond the obvious remark that it would be well if more educated women would employ themselves, their high cultivation, and their imaginative faculties more largely in this direction. I am not now speaking so much of their home duties, because the instruction of her own children in religion is understood to be incumbent on every mother, but rather of the children of the lower orders, who are left to be educated (for that is the much-abused word which is employed) by crammed machines, who are only capable of making other machines of their pupils. And when the mechanical principle comes to be applied to religious teaching, in which, if ever, appeal should be made through the teacher's noble faculties of imagination and feeling to those of the child, the results are in a high degree unsatisfactory. So that here alone a field of wide and vast usefulness, of which the end even cannot be foreseen, is open to the cultivated woman.

Again, the woman who makes literature her occupation, and who tries to influence or to teach the world by means of her written thoughts, and gives it in this way the benefit of her imaginative faculties, is a public character only in so far as she chooses ; her private personal feelings may be unknown and even unguessed at; she may remain a wholly fictitious personage in the eyes of the world. In a word, the natural right of privacy of the literary man or woman is uninvaded, and yet they may influence, have influenced, and will still influence, the whole civilised world. Witness, shades of Sir Walter Scott, of George Eliot, of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (for whose life

among them the Florentines have inscribed their gratitude upon the walls of her house), nay, of the great master and depicter of human nature itself, to the truth of my assertion. The distinction, therefore, which I have drawn between teaching and public speaking exists equally between writers and speakers.

But teaching and literature are quiet fields of usefulness in these days of excitement, and they are hardly enough to satisfy the cravings of ambition. A desire to be a visible power in the world around us, to exercise a conscious and widely-felt influence on our equals of both sexes, to make our opinions on questions, social, moral, and religious, heard, and, if possible, entertained by certain sections of the public, if not by the world at large, to leave a mark which shall be seen by all, and a gap which shall be felt by the many instead of the few; this is woman's ambition and aim in these latter days.

And surely a righteous aim, a most worthy ambition! Let women only be sure that they are pursuing the right road to their attainment, that they are not eating ashes for bread, taking bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, darkness for light and light for darkness, that they are really gainers, and are not letting what is valuable slip from their hold, whilst they are grasping at what may after all hardly prove to be a substance worth possessing.

It is nothing new, this desire to play a public part in the life of the world; educated women of all ages have felt it, and it is only, I believe, put prominently forward just now because more women are in a position to feel their intellectual power than was formerly the case.

Names like those of Hypatia, Catherine of Siena, Vittoria Colonna, Elizabeth of Hungary, and, nearer our own time, Mrs. Fry and Mrs. Nassau Senior, rise to our recollection as among those who, in their separate ways, tried to benefit their generation by putting themselves personally forward either as public teachers, speakers, or leaders of a movement in a new and sometimes startling direction. But of all these women, as of one or two still living whose names will readily occur, it may be said that they were exceptions, single instances perhaps, or nearly single, in their own century. They had followers, but scarcely imitators. What they spoke came out as it were in spite of themselves; they were enthusiasts pure and simple in the different causes of morality, religion, ethics, philanthropy. Some of these women moved the world at large, not so much because they stood upon a platform themselves, but because they were enthusiasts, and were therefore able to make their subject assume large proportions and fill a platform. And enthusiasm is still, as it always has been, one of the very few levers by which this world can be raised. Thus carried out of and beyond themselves, a few women have moved that portion of the world which they desired to lift, and have left great names behind them. Were it possible to imitate them successfully, even once a century, the world might be the better for it.

Meanwhile we are surely in danger of confounding real enthusiasm with restless craving for excitement, and absorption in a vital question affecting the world at large with the desire for a platform on which to exhibit our dissatisfied restlessness.

How will the world be the better for the public-speaking women of our own day is the question before us, for of course the bettering of society at large is universally acknowledged to be the object of all public speaking and teaching on whatever subject. That immediate good results may be traced to women's work in this direction, among educated men and women, as well as among men and women the very lowest of the low and most corrupt of the corrupt, no reasonable person can doubt. A woman's powers of persuasion are great, her personal attractiveness, be she young or old, is often greater still; she possesses, as a rule, a larger share of energy and perseverance than men, she has an unmistakable gift of speech, she can be eloquent and heart-stirring in her appeals to the imagination of her hearers, even addresses to their sense and reason are not wanting. If she be not always as logical as she is heart-stirring, logic is not what is mainly wanted in speakers, though it may be granted that some very few women (and only some few men!) have strictly logical minds.

I would admit all this fully and heartily, and yet I must also declare that there are serious intellectual draw backs (apart from any others) to women as public orators. We commonly allow ourselves (and this I regard as part of our physical constitution, and dependent upon it), when we feel strongly on any subject, to become mentally warped in that direction. We are no longer able to see it in its true bearings as it stands in relation to other things, it fills our whole horizon (justly it may be, and even necessarily), and therefore we see no reason why it should not fill the horizon of everyone else, to the exclusion and almost to the extinction of matters which are in themselves perhaps equally important, and which may be to other people of greater significance than what we have in hand. When, therefore, we force our particular subject, as likewise our own special view of it, on the minds of others (it may be, less educated minds than our own, and therefore in our power as regards the immediate impression to be produced, upon them), we do certainly achieve our object, we oblige our hearers to take our view of the matter, but if it be a warped or a one-sided view, how do we thereby contribute to the improvement of the world? All teaching is of course open to this objection, since a man may be narrow-minded and warped as well as a woman, but I believe that we women have this one-sided tendency to such a marked degree that we are usually unable to control it. Education only increases our unfitness as public teachers and speakers, since with education our power of using influence fairly or unfairly also increases.

Further, not only is the calm judicial quality usually absent from

[ocr errors]

our natures, but common fairness under argument or opposition of any kind is apt to desert us. We are ready to measure ourselves with men, and yet we require of them that they shall treat us with the courtesy and consideration which used to be accorded to old-fashioned weak-minded women, and we lose our self-possession, if not exactly our temper, because we have deliberately put ourselves outside the pale by our own act and by the declaration of our ability to stand alone.

Here it becomes desirable to notice, though for a moment only in passing, the physical disqualifications of women for any sustained or prolonged public effort. Our conditions of being are against us, and let those who have made such efforts say whether they have not paid either in the quality of their work, or in the health of their bodies, and through these, in their tempers, ay, and in their intellects too, for the strain which they have put upon themselves in order to sustain their parts. This, however, is hardly a part of our subject, and is only a digression, because it applies to actresses, to public singers and readers, to medical women, women artists and others, of whom we are not speaking, because the following of their professions implies no personal display whatever, and may be consistent with the utmost actual privacy.

But admitting all that has been said, and that it cannot be denied that, with many drawbacks, the immediate results produced by women speakers are great, the question reduces itself to a simple

Is the game worth the candle? Let us weigh the results against the grave difficulties to which the present condition of women's minds on this subject is likely in the long run to give rise. Already unpleasant consequences are apparent. The attitude of some of the best men and women towards women who present themselves upon platforms verges upon repulsion. These are the beginnings of sorrows; and, alas, we women are not far-sighted. We commonly act upon impulse, and by this I do not mean that we immediately follow an impulse, but that on the whole we are governed by impulse. Nay, we care often only for results which we can measure, and which we can see are pretty certain to follow closely upon our actions. We fail to grasp that, in the long run, we may risk the loss of what is more really valuable than any new possession; we may forfeit what has been ours' by right of inheritance, by long centuries of possession, what might have been ours, or, better still, the world's, for centuries to come.

In self-assertion we lose respect. By insisting upon our own opinion on subjects of which, owing to our condition as well as our education, we cannot see or understand all the bearings, we let go the justly and righteously high honour in which on certain points the instincts of a woman have always been held. By demanding as our right (what can be accorded only to our pertinacity) power in political and social affairs, we are losing, insensibly and gradually it may be, but still


losing, the natural influence which belongs to every woman more or less, according to her own force of character, over the men and women who come within her private circle, and who are therefore naturally under the dominion of her personal attractiveness. Women who are exhibiting themselves, their persons, talents, and opinions, upon platforms (for exhibiting is often the only word to use), these also, although they may perhaps be doing a certain amount of immediate good in their own line, are unconsciously helping to lower the standard of womanhood in the eyes of the world at large. They are descending from their firm pedestal hewn from the solid rock of the honour and glory, aye, and the heroism of their sex in ages past, and are anxiously engaged in scrambling up a ladder, each treading upon the other's heels, and trying to get to the top first in spite of broken steps. It will be well if the ladder itself be not destined soon to give way under the unnatural pressure, long before the wished-for platform of the house-top is reached. They are bartering the acknowledged sovereignty and boundless influence of gentleness, softness, and quiet dignity, which once belonged to them as an undisputed right, for an uncertain kingdom, held by declamation and opinionativeness and by determined meddling with legislation, the very drift of some of which they are unable to appreciate. It is just possible that occasionally a man's vanity may lead him to allow his wife to distinguish herself upon a platform, even though at the same time the display may lower herself in his eyes, but what is to become of all the finer delicacy of feeling, and of the quiet, almost nameless, intangible quality which we call influence? For a platform woman must strive, she must oppose herself to those who differ from her; she may have to suffer rudeness and contempt at their hands, she must assert herself, and make herself a very different creature from that which we should wish our children to possess as a recollection of their mothers, or our brothers of their sisters.

To rub off the bloom, to blow away the aroma, so soon alas ! got rid of that we appear hardly to be aware any longer of its existence, to banish good taste, the appreciation for what is refined and retiring and fitting in a woman's nature, and to do all this in the name of religion or philanthropy, is this to improve the world at large? We present ourselves before our children or

our younger sisters as talking machines, too often one-sided, with only one idea, as speci- . mens of what they too may become when by aid of our example they shall have rid themselves of all latent feelings of retirement, and quietness, and dislike of being stared at bodily and spiritually by the multitude, and shall have put on, like their elders, a panoply of self-assertion which gradually thickens and becomes a brazen front upon which nothing short of an arrow or a sword-thrust can make a mark or leave an impression.

It will be objected that these are hard words, that they do not

« PredošláPokračovať »