Images de page


In the case of fraternal friendship, too, there is the strong additional circumstance, that, in loving a brother, we love one who is dear to those, to whom our liveliest affections have been already given. We cannot love a friend, without taking some interest in whatever may befall the friends of our friends; and we cannot love our parents, therefore, without feeling some additional sympathy with those, whose happiness we know would be happiness to them, and whose distresses, misery. This reflection from our filial fondness, however, is but a circumstance in addition; the great source of the fraternal regard, as I have already said, is in that general susceptibility of our nature, to which we owe all our friendships-that susceptibility, which has made brothers of mankind, at least of all the nobler individuals of mankind,-though their common passions might seem to oppose them in endless rivalries. The same affection, which, in the nursery, attracted its two little inhabitants, to look on the same objects,—to mix in the same sports, -to form the same plans,-not, indeed, for the next year or month, but for the next hour or minute, is that, which, in a different period of life, augments, and perpetuates, and extends to others, the same feelings of social regard,—a regard, which

"Push'd to social, to divine,

Gives thee to make thy neighbour's blessing thine.

Is this too little for thy boundless heart?

Extend it-let thy enemies have part.

Grasp the whole worlds of reason, life, and sense,

In one close system of benevolence ;

Happier as kinder, in whate'er degree,

And height of bliss, but height of charity."*

Such is man,—the parent, the child, the brother, the citizenthe member of the great community of all who live. There is still another aspect, however, in which our susceptibilities of the emotions of love may be considered; and that which has, in common language, almost absorbed the name, the affection which the sexes bear to each other—an affection, on which, in its mere physical relation to the preservation of the species, all our other emotions may be said indirectly to depend, and of which the moral relations, that alone are to be considered by us, are as powerful,

Essay on Man, Ep. IV. v. 353-360.

in their influence on the conduct, as they are general in their empire, and not more productive of hope or misery, than they are of virtue, or of vice.

In considering the influences of this relation on human happiness, we are not to have regard merely to those emotions which are excited, in the individuals who feel that exclusive delight in each other's society, and that reciprocal admiration and confidence, the charm of which constitutes the moral part of what is called love. These feelings, indeed, are truly valuable in themselves, as a part of the happiness of the world, and would still be most valuable, even though no other beneficial influence were to flow from them. But, precious as they are in this respect, we are not to regard them as extending only to the individuals themselves, and beginning and ceasing with their enjoyments. The chief value of this relation is diffused over all mankind. It is to be traced in that character of refinement which it has given to society, and with which love extends its delightful and humanizing influence, even to those who may pass through life, without feeling its more direct and immediate charms. It is, in this respect, like that sunshine, which even the blind enjoy, in the warmth which it produces, though they are incapable of distinguishing the light from which it flows.

The system of gentler manners, once produced in this way, may diffuse the influence in a great degree, without a renewal of the cause which gave rise to it; and yet, even at present, when men live long together, without much intercourse with the gentler sex, we are soon able to discover some proof, of the absence of that influence, which is not necessary only for raising man from savage life, but for saving him from relapsing into it.

That the female character, however, may have its just influence, it is necessary that the female character should be respected. When woman is valued, only as subservient to the animal pleasures of man, or to the multiplication of his race, there may be as much fondness as is involved in sensual profligacy, there might be a dreadful mixture of momentary tenderness with habitual tyranny and servility; but this is not love, and therefore not the moral influence of love-not that equal and reciprocal communication of sentiments and wishes,

[blocks in formation]

"When thought meets thought, ere from the lips it start,
And each warm wish springs mutual from the heart."

"The empire of women," says an eloquent foreigner, "is not theirs because men have willed it, but because it is the will of nature. Miserable must be the age in which this empire is lost, and in which the judgments of women are counted as nothing by man. Every people in the ancient world, that can be said to have had morals, has respected the sex,-Sparta, Germany, Rome. At Rome, the exploits of the victorious generals were honoured by the grateful voices of the women; on every public calamity, their tears were a public offering to the gods. In either case, their Vows and their sorrows were thus consecrated as the most solemn judgments of the state. It is to them, that all the great revolutions of the republic are to be traced. By a woman, Rome acquired liberty, by a woman, the Plebeians acquired the consulate, by a woman, finished the decemviral tyranny,-by women, when the city was trembling with a vindictive exile at its gates, it was saved from that destruction which no other influence could avert. To our eyes, indeed, accustomed to find in everything some cause or pretence for mockery, a procession of this sort might seem to present only a subject of derision; and, in the altered state of manners of our capitals, some cause of such a feeling might perhaps truly be found, in the different aspect of the procession itself. But compose it of Roman women, and you will have the eyes of every Volscian, and the heart of Coriolanus."

In the whole progress of life, in its permanent connexions, and even in the casual intercourse of society, so much of conduct must have relation to the other sex, and be regulated, in a great measure, by the views which we have been led to form, with respect to them, that there is scarcely a subject on which just views seem to me of so much importance to a young and ingenuous mind. In such a mind, a respect for the excellencies of woman, is, in its practical consequences, almost another form of respect for virtue itself.

In estimating the character of the other sex, we are too apt to measure ourselves with them, only in those respects, in which we arrogate an indisputable superiority, and to forget the circumstances, from which chiefly that superiority is derived, if even there

be as great superiority as we suppose, in the respects in which we may, perhaps falsely, lay claim to it. We think, in such an estimate, not so much of the peculiar merits which they possess, as of peculiar merits which we flatter ourselves with the belief of possessing. We forget those tender virtues, which are so lovely in themselves, and to which we owe half the virtue of which we boast. We forget the compassion, which is so ready to soothe our sorrows, and without which, perhaps, to awaken and direct our pity to others, we should scarcely have known that the relief of misery was one of our duties, or rather one of the noblest privileges of our nature. We forget the patience, which bears so well every grief, but those which ourselves occasion, and which feels these deepest sorrows with intenser suffering, only from that value, above all other possessions, which is attached to our regard. We forget those intellectual graces, which are the chief embellishment of our life, and which, shedding over it at once a gaiety and a tenderness, which nothing else could diffuse, soften down the asperities of our harsher intellect. But, forgetting all these excellencies which are the excellencies of others, we are far from forgetting the scholastic acquisitions of languages or science, which seem to us doubly important, because they are our own-acquisitions that, in some distinguished instances, indeed, may confer glory on the nature that is capable of them, but they, in many cases, leave no other effect on the mind, than a pride of sex, which the inadequacy of these supposed means of paramount distinction, should rather have converted into respect for those, who, almost without study, or at least, with far humbler opportunities, have learned from their own hearts what is virtuous, and from their own genius, whatever is most important to be known.

Even with respect to those studies, which we have reserved almost as an exclusive privilege of our sex, we should remember, that the privation, on the part of woman, is a sacrifice that is made to a system of general manners, which, whether truly essential or not, we have at least chosen to regard as essential to our happiness. We impose on them duties, that are, perhaps, incompatible with severe study-we require of them the highest excellence in many elegant arts,-to excel in which, if we too were to attempt it, would be the labour of half our life-we require of them even the charm of a sort of delicate ignorance, as if igno

rance itself were a grace ;-and then, with most inconsistent severity, we affect to regard them with contempt, because they have fulfilled the very duties imposed on them, and have charmed us with all the excellencies, and perhaps, too, with some of the defects, which we required. If they err, in being as ignorant of the choral prosody of the Greeks, and of the fluxionary calculus of the moderns, as the greater number even of the well-educated of our own sex,-let us at least allow them the privilege of speaking of anapasts and infinitesimals, without forfeiting our regard,-before we smile at ignorance, which ourselves have produced, and which, if we could remove with a wish, there are few, perhaps, even of those who affect to despise it, who would not tremble at the comparative light in which they would themselves have to appear.

In the course of your life, you must often mingle with the frivolous of our own sex, who knowing little more, know at least, and can repeat, as their only literature, some of the trite traditionary sarcasms, which have been tediously repeated against women; -though they have had no difficulty in forgetting the far more numerous sarcasms, which even men have pointed against the vices of men. But, though minds, which women would despise and blush to resemble, may speak contemptuously of excellence, which they cannot hope to equal,-it is only from the contemptible, in such a case, that you will hear the expression of contempt; and the real, or affected disdain of such minds, is, perhaps, not less glorious to the character of the sex which they deride, than the respect which that character never fails to obtain, from those who alone are qualified to appreciate it, and whose admiration alone is honour.

To the dissolute, indeed, who are fond of associating with the lowest of the sex, and who, in their conception of female excellence, can form no brighter pictures in their mind, than of the inmates of a brothel, or of those whom a brothel might admit as its inmates, woman may seem a being like themselves, and be a subject of insulting mockery, in the coarse laughter and drunkenness of the feast; but the mockery, in such a case, is descriptive of the life and habits of the deriders, more than of the derided. It is not so much the expression of contempt, as the confession of vice.

The respect, which he feels for the virtues of woman, may

« PrécédentContinuer »