« PredošláPokračovať »
no means implies an impatience under present suffering; for the female, though less courageous than the male, is commonly more resigned and patient under severe affliction. The mental constitutions, in this respect, of the sexes are happily adapted to the different provinces allotted to them in life; the male being the natural protector of the female in moments of danger and sudden alarm; the female destined to be his comfort and support in seasons of sorrow, and of protracted suffering.
From the greater delicacy of their frame, and from the numerous ailments connected with their sexual temperament, combined with their constant familiarity with distresses which are not their own, the sympathy of women with the sufferings of others is much more lively, and their promptitude to administer relief, wherever it is possible, is much more eager than in the generality of men. To the truth of this remark, every day's experience bears witness; and from the testimony of travellers, it appear, that the observation extends to women in all the different stages of society. The strong testimony of Ledyard (the celebrated pedestrian traveller) on this point, may be regarded as perfectly decisive.*
In consequence of the greater nervous irritability of women, their muscular system seems to possess a greater degree of that mobility by which the principle of sympathetic imitation operates. Hence their proneness to hysteric affections, and to that species of religious enthusiasm which is propagated by contagion. Hence also their tendency to mimicry, and the niceness of their tact with respect to the more delicate features of character. To this nice tact that peculiar quickness and facility of association which I have on a former occasion ascribed to them, cannot fail to contribute powerfully.†
In the present state of the civilized world, the scientific or the professional pursuits of young men, establish very early in their understandings the influence of the stricter and more philosophical principles of association; while the minds of
*Though this has been already quoted in so many publications, that it must of course be known to most of my readers, yet I cannot deny myself the pleasure of giving it a place in a note.
"To a woman, whether civilized or savage, I never addressed myself in the "language of decency and friendship, without receiving a decent and friendly "answer. With men it has often been otherwise.
"In wandering over the barren plains of Denmark, through Sweden, Lapland, "Finland, Russia, and the wide-spread regions of the Tartar,-if hungry, dry, "cold, wet, or sick, the women have ever been friendly to me, and uniformly so: " and to add to this virtue, these actions have been performed in so free and kind "a manner, that if I was thirsty, I drank the sweetest draught, and if hungry, I "ate the coarse meal with a double relish,"
† Elements, Vol. I. p. 294. Sixth Edition. See also the note in page 282.
young women, like those of well educated men of independent fortune, are left much more open to the effects of casual impressions, and of such associations as regulate the train of thought in a mind which has no particular object in view.
To these early habits I think it is owing, that, in general, women are inferior to well educated men in a power of steady and concentrated attention; or in what Newton called a capacity for patient thought. An additional disqualification for abstruse researches arises from their inaptitude to employ skilfully language as an instrument of thought; an art to which the scientific studies of young men must necessarily train them in a greater or less degree. Will it be thought a fanciful idea if I farther suggest, that in this part of the world, the grammatical education which boys receive while learning Latin, by teaching them experimentally the aid which the memory derives from general rules, prepares them for acquiring habits of generalization when they afterwards enter on their philosophical studies?* To this I am disposed to ascribe, in a great measure, the little curiosity which girls commonly discover about the causes of physical phenomena; for what is vulgarly called a knowledge of causes (as I have frequently remarked in these volumes) is nothing else than a knowledge of general
* Latin, I observe with pleasure, is now beginning to enter more and more into the system of female education; and nothing could have so long delayed so obvian improvement, but those exceptionable passages with which the Latin classics abound, and from which it is devoutly to be wished that the more common school-books were carefully purged, in editions fitted for the perusal of youth of both sexes.
In consequence however, of the method which has been hitherto followed in the classical education of females, it is not likely to have the same tendency to prepare their minds for scientific pursuits with the grammatical discipline to which school-boys are subjected; for, as far as I have had access to know, girls are generally taught Latin on the plan recommended by Marsais in the French Encyclopédie. In this, their instructors, in my opinion, act judiciously; for although I should be sorry to see any such innovation introduced into our grammar schools, I think that any plan which facilitates the acquisition of the language is desirable for the other sex; few of whom, it may be presumed, would aim at a more critical acquaintance with grammatical minutia than is necessary to enable them to relish the beauties of classical authors. The mild Melanchton would, I am sure, have been disposed to relax, in favour of their teachers, the severity of those penal statutes with which he wished to repress the heresy of certain schoolmasters, who in his times were beginning to depart from the orthodox methods of their predecessors.
"Pessimè de pueris merentur Præceptores, qui aut regulas nullas tradunt, aut “ certè statim abjiciunt, et magnificê promittunt, fore, ut usu loquendi discantur "CONSTRUCTIONES. Nam illi qui non norunt regulam, etiamsi legunt exempla "in auctoribus linguæ, tamen loqui non satis audent, quia non habent certam ra"tionem, ad quam dirigant compositionem verborum. Quare publicè debebant "in tales præceptores pænæ constitui, qui præcepta fastidiunt. Omninò enim "danda est opera, ut tamdiu in ipsa arte detineantur adolescentes, donec perfecti "grammatici, donec architecti sermonis, et obsoluti artifices evaserint.”
rules. Many splendid exceptions, however, occur to these remarks; insomuch that it is impossible to name a branch of knowledge in which there have not been female authors of the first eminence. But that these examples are comparatively rare, may be inferred from this, that good sense and good taste invariably dispose women who have made extraordinary attainments in any of the abstract sciences, to draw a veil over them to common observers, as not according well with the more appropriate accomplishments of their sex.
A taste for the Philosophy of Mind is more peculiarly rare among women; it is even rarer than a taste for pure mathematics. Nor is this wonderful; for as their early habits invite their attention constantly to sensible objects, their minds become singularly alive to things external, and of consequence more liable to those habits of inattention to the phenomena of the internal world, which, while they damp their curiosity with respect to these phenomena, prevent the cultivation of that power of reflection, without which it is impossible to study them with success. All this must render that influence of casual associations upon their judgment, which was already remarked, an evil (so far as it is an evil) not likely to be remedied, excepting by some extraordinary concurrence of circumstances.
The works of Madame de Staël undoubtedly abound in observations on moral subjects which bear marks of profound reflection on the operations and feelings of her own mind; and in Miss Edgeworth's writings on education are many original suggestions with respect to the culture of the understanding, which discover a turn of mind very happily adapted to these abstract pursuits. It has not, however, been, on the whole, unfortunate for the world that the genius of this lady was early diverted from such unattractive speculations, to that more brilliant career of literature which she has pursued with so unrivalled a reputation. To these two illustrious names, I cannot recollect a third which deserves to be added as an exception to the above position.
The reflections of a very nice observer of the characteristical differences of the sexes coincide nearly with some of the foregoing remarks.
"La récherche des verités abstraites et spéculatives, des principes, des axio"mes dans les sciences, tout ce qui tend à généraliser les idées, n'est point du "ressort des femmes: leurs études doivent se rapporter toutes à la pratique ; c'est à elles à faire l'application des principes que l'homme a trouvés, et c'est à elles "de faire les observations qui ménent l'homme à l'établissement des principes. "Toutes les réflexions des femmes, en ce qui ne tient pas immédiatement à leurs "devoirs, doivent tendre à l'étude des hommes ou aux connoissances agréables "qui n'ont que le goût pour objet ; car quant aux ouvrages de génie ils passent "leur portée; elles n'ont pas, non plus, assez de justesse et d'attention pour réus"sir aux sciences exactes; et quant aux connoissances physiques, c'est à celui "des deux qui est le plus agissant, le plus allant, qui voit le plus d'objets; c'est à "celui qui a le plus de force et qui l'exerce davantage, à juger des rapports des "êtres sensibles et des lois de la nature." * L'Art de penser
"n'est pas étranger aux femmes, mais elles ne doivent faire qu'effleurer les scien"ces de raisonnement. Sophie conçoit et ne retient pas grand chose. Ses "plus grand progrès sont dans la morale et les choses de goût; pour la physique,
To the influence, however, of these casual associations upon their ordinary train of thought, may be ascribed the superiority of the fair sex in their powers of converation, in epistolary writing, and in those unstudied graces which distinguish the style of their compositions from that of the retired student. Madame de Sévigné, when she wrote the following sentence, had a clear perception of the circumstances to which she was indebted for the singular ease and felicity of her transitions. "Il faut un peu entre bons amis laisser trotter les plumes "comme elles veulent, la mienne a toujours la bride sur le "cou.""
But it is not to this cause alone that Madame de Sévigné owes the pre-eminent rank which she occupies, in the judgment of her own countrymen, among their epistolary writers. Much must be ascribed also to another talent, strikingly characteristical of her sex and of her courtly habits, the nice and unerring discrimination with which she scatters over her style so lavishly, and, to all appearance, so negligently, those idiomatical phrases which are peculiar to the French tongue; without ever lighting on any of those modes of speaking which have been contaminated by the lips of the vulgar.* Of the horror with which the somewhat morbid sensitiveness of her taste regarded all common and proverbial expressions, no description can convey so perfect an idea as an anecdote told with singular liveliness by herself. "Un Président m'est venu voir, avec qui j'ai une affaire que je vais essayer de finir, "" pour avancer mon retour autant que je le puis. Ce Président "avoit avec lui un fils de sa femme, qui a vingt ans, et que je "trouvai, sans exception, de la plus agréable et de la plus jolie figure que j'aie jamais vue. J'allais dire que je l'avois vu à "cinq ou six ans, et que j'admirais, comme M. de Montbason, "qu'on pût croître en si peu de tems. Sur cela il sort une
"elle n'en retient que quelque idée des lois générales et du systême du monde.” -Emile.
*For this reason, I doubt much whether the rapture with which Englishmen often speak of the style of Madame de Sévigné be not in some measure affected. Such at least was the opinion of M. Suard, a perfect judge, and one of the very few to whom we might apply the words of Horace, docte Sermones utriusque lingua.
"Les Etrangers ne peuvent acquérir une parfaite connoisance de ces Gallicismes que par une étude approfonde de la langue, et par une longue habitude de "vivre avec des personnes qui parlent bien. Le grand monde a donné cours d ces acceptions, et c'est à l'heureux emploi qu'on en fait qu'on reconnoît les personnes qui y ont vécu. Madame de Sévigné fourmille de ces Gallicismes " qui donnent à ses lettres une grâce inexprimable."—Suard, Essai sur les Galli
"voix terrible de ce joli visage, qui nous plante au nez, d'un "air ridicule, que mauvaise herbe croit toujours; voilà quí "fut fait, je lui trouvai des cornes. S'il m'eût donné un coup "de massue sur la tête, il ne m'auroit pas plus affligée. Je "jurai de ne me plus fier aux physionomies."
The foregoing passage, with which it is impossible not to be amused, in a letter from a lady bred at the Court of Louis XIV. would in this country have appeared too extravagant for the pen even of Horace Walpole.
The characteristical taste of Madame de Sévigné (exquisite undoubtedly of its own kind) was chiefly that sort of conventional taste on which I have, on other occasions, offered various remarks.* It is that sort of taste, founded on a facility of association, which the other sex seem to me to have a peculiar aptitude to acquire; and which, if I am not deceived, is exemplified still more strongly in French than in English ladies. From this, too, may be traced, as I have elsewhere observed, some of the most remarkable features, both of their intellectual and moral character. I have mentioned particularly the facility with which they contract and lose habits, and accommodate their minds to new situations; to which I have added their proneness to that species of superstition, which is founded on accidental combinations of circumstances.t I might also have added the ease and the perfection with which they acquire foreign languages by the ear. I recollect to have heard a French gentleman (a person eminently skilled in his own language) remark, that he had never met with an Englishman who spoke French with more purity and correctness than the late Mr. Fox; but that he knew several English ladies who spoke it better.
In consequence of these distinguishing peculiarities of the female mind, we may remark, that women in general possess a greater docility or aptitude to learn than men; a docility much aided by that easy faith in the infallibility of their instructors, which they are led to repose by the deference they are early taught to pay to superior knowledge, and which, it must be owned, too often serves to mislead their confidence, To this easy faith, however, they are not a little indebted for that apparent quickness, by which they are so much distinguished, not only in acquiring languages, but all the common branches of education.
* Elements, Vol. I. pp. 374, 375. Ed. 6. Phil. Essays, pp. 490, 491. Second Edit. Elements, Vol. I. pp. 294, 295.