« AnteriorContinuar »
Miss Martineau as the total independence of American
. We like to look over a book written by a lady. There is, we believe,' an immense tract of unknown world in the female heart; there exists between these two sexes, created so essentially to belong to and to be necessary to each other, to share all hopes and fears, all cares and enjoyments of life, a barrier of conventional dignity and propriéty, of sexual etiquette, which almost every lover and husband flatters himself with removing, but which perhaps no living man ever succeeded in so doing, and which we do not know but it were perhaps unadvisable that every one should attempt to remove.
Yet it is but too natural that we should all stand on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of this terra incognita, and we would willingly renounce all the pleasure derivable from one of Captain Parry's voyages to the North Pole, or from an American South Sea 'expedition, to be enabled to overhcar, without indelicacy, a conversation between two fair «bosom friends » in some trying and unguarded moment, or to possess the key to that magic telegraph of nods' and winks and smiles by which two female spirits commune with each other before company, to the utter mystification of the duller sex.
Next to this would be the other no less unhallowed gratification of intercepting one of those four-page, small-hand, close-written, cross-lined feminine epistles, to the uninitiated conveying scarcely any meaning at all, but where, in every turning in every letter, the corresponding parties are enabled to decipher so much more than meets the eye.»
Next to this, again, is the pleasure of perusing the works of a female author; for although the fair writer, knowing that her page is to stand the full glare of broad daylight, may be constantly on her guard lest she should by any involuntary indiscretion jeopardize the secret interests of the community, yet some unlucky expression, some half-word may, in the heat of inspiration, happen to drop from her pen, which will shoot like wild-fire across the benighted understanding of a man who can read, and do more than an age of learning towards his initiation into the mysteries of female freemasonry.
Of these voluntary confessions and involuntary revelations, thanks to heaven, in our own country, we have enough; and the new novels and essays by ladies, misses and mistresses, issuing every year from the English press, bid fair to leave scarcely one fold of the female heart unexplored, scarcely one blush of the maiden's cheek unaccounted for.
But if this be the case in Old and New England, as well as in France and Germany, the same can hardly be said of the Italian peninsula, where, with the exception of a very few Petrarchesque poetesses, and still fewer moral or ascetic writers, man seems still almost completely to monopolize the trade of book-making.
For this apparent sterility of the female mind in the land of Vittoria Colonna and Olimpia Morata, it would not perhaps be difficult to adduce many important reasons. But the most insurmountable obstacle against female authorship lies in the deep-rooted antipathy, or, if we must call it so, prejudice, of the people of that country against any attempt on the part of a woman to call upon herself the gaze of the multitude or court notoriety.
The Italians, a highly sensitive and cultivated nation, are as far from grudging the tender and timid creatures whom they associate with their destinies through life, the advantages of a liberal education, as any other people can well be; but a fond notion-it may be a mistaken one--prevails among them, that all a lady's accomplishments and acquirements should be exclusively consecrated to enliven that little domestic circle which she is called to bless with her presence. Hence an authoress, no less than an actress or an improvisatrice, is for them an anomaly, an exceptional being wh@has cast aside all the delicacy, grace, and modesty, which constitute the peculiar charm of her sex, and thereby forsworn its inalienable privileges, and rendered herself liable to the disrespect of the other.
Female authorship in Italy is looked upon as a kind of moral anomaly; nor would the high station and still higher
character, the noble and irreprehensible life of the lady whose name graces this page, have secured her against the sneering comments of her jealous countrymen, had she not made choice of that only subject which exclusively belonged to one of her sex the illustration of the domestic and social virtues which ought to characterize * a wise and amiable woman, » and the degree of moral and intellectual distinction to which it is not only lawful but even desirable that she should aspire.
Anna, Countess Pepoli, and widow of the Marquis Sampieri--for her titles, according to the Italian custom, are carefully omitted in the title-page,-belongs by birth to one of the most ancient and illustrious historical families of Bologna. Her brother, Count Carlo Pepoli, already well known to the republic of letters as the author of the melodrama « I Puritani • and other poems, is an exile from his native eountry, and belongs to ours for various reasons, because he fills the chair of Professor of Italian Literature in London University College, and because he evinced his preference in favour of our ladies by choosing a bride among the daughters of Albion.
The Countess Anna has been a wife and a mother, and it was only after having performed her uxorial and maternal duties in a manner that won her the admiration and esteem of all who knew her, having trusted to another the happiness of her only daughter, whom she had brought up with all the solicitude of love, that she endeavoured to draw up a theory of those countless and nameless cares by which woman can make a heaven of a husband's home, and indemnify the world for the unavoidable, however remote, contingency of her loss, by leaving behind her what has been not unaptly called a second edition of self.
But besides her desire of communicating to her countrywomen all that her own experience had taught her respecting the duties of woman as a house-keeper (reggitrice or, as an instructress (educatrice), and as a social being (donna conversevole), the Countess harboured in her bosom a higher object, common in Italy to every person who thinks or feels, no less than to all who write, that of vindicating the women of Italy · from the unjust judgment » and «false accusations » brought
against them by partial or prejudiced foreigners, the rehabilitation of the national character being the aim of the most anxious endeavours of every generous soul that lives between the Alps and the sea
Certainly this plea in favour of the national character is neither uncalled-for nor inopportune.
That the character of the Italians has been wilfully misrepresented by ignorant travellers, who have hurried through the country under the influence of illiberal prepossessions, is a fact sufficiently demonstrated by the more mature and rational reports of other visitors, who had leisure to ground their estimate a closer observation and a more intimate acquaintance. We do not believe that those writers have any wish or interest to be unjust to other nations, but the poor honest Milanese, or light-hearted Florentine, who happens to read a smuggled French or English newspaper, or a stray volume of a novel, where it is unblushingly stated that Italian life is a mass of rottenness and corruption, " that every man is there a swindler, every woman a wanton, » (we quote at chance from a leading article in the Britannia newspaper) must be sympathized with, if taking such compliments literally, and supposing such uncharitable animadversions to be implicitly relied upon abroad, he feels sore and bitter on the subject, and considers himself bound to seize every opportunity to stand forth as his country's sworn champion and advocate.
We shall be always as willing to open in these pages a list where duties to the sex, no less than our sense of right, are equally engaged to allow the Countess Pepoli to plead in favour of a class of women, of whom her virtues no less than her rank have made her one of the brightest ornaments, and upon whose morals her book is likely to exercise the most pious and salutary influence.
We need scarcely repeat here the well-known maxim that woman is invariably such as man wishes her to be : that the female mind and heart are moulded according to the ideas prevailing in the society in which she is brought up, and that, by a natural reaction, she exercises an equal ascendancy over society itself, that as she is physically a daughter and a mother, so is she by turns also a pupil and a mistress; so that her sex may always be taken as a fair representative of the moral standard reached by the human family in all ages and countries.
In proportion, therefore, as our authoress succeeds in demonstrating how far her country-women have attained a high degree of feminine excellence, so shall we feel inclined to judge more or less favourably of the morals of the nation at large; and every proof she may be able to bring forward in support of her subject will have the force of a hundred arguments in refutation of the charges brought against the Italian name.
The work of our authoress seems from its very beginning calculated to overthrow our long-cherished ideas of Italian female education. No mention of convents is made. That strict rule of monastic seclusion to which every young lady of high rank was almost universally supposed to be condemned in Catholic countries, there to be walled up in a narrow cell, only to pass from the silence and solitude of the cloisters, to the glare and bustle of the wide world, affianced to a husband, whose very portrait she had never seen, we know that many of our readers will be astonished and scandalized to hear it is neither better nor worse than one of the thousand and one absurd fables by which Italian life is rather romantically than veritably represented.
Countess Pepoli does not inquire into the good or evil effects of monastic education. She does not advocate or inveigh against the system. She seems not even to suspect, to dream of its existence; belonging by birth to and moving all her life among the highest circles, she knows very well that neither herself nor her daughter, nor any of her friends, at least since the days of Napoleon, ever set their foot within the precincts of a nunnery, except only those few unfortunate or perhaps deluded ones, who, either through disappointment, or dread of the world, or misunderstood devotion, are still occasionally induced to leave all their worldly hopes and anxieties with their shorn hair on its threshold.