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TO THIS EDITION.
The former editions of this little book, printed in America, contained not only innumerable errors of the press, but omissions to the extent of at least ten or twelve pages. In presenting to my American friends an edition, more compact and complete, as well as more correct than any of the preceding, I seize the opportunity of adding a few words by way of preface.
Beyond a short advertisement to the second English edition, (which differed materially from the first,) I have never yet written any preface to this work, conceiving that the Introductory Dialogue sufficiently explained its intention, and its meaning. But I have reason to think, that on this point I have been mistaken; and that some misapprehension does exist, relative to the object I have had in view.
I am quite aware that the work derives its chief interest from the subject; as it owes its most unhoped-for success principally to the great name of Shakspeare, that bond of sympathy among all who speak his language." But it has been justly observed, that, as an analysis of the female characters of Shakspeare's plays, the work is imperfect; for that many of them, and not the least striking, have been slightly noticed, or omitted altogether. I must therefore repeat once for all, that my object was not to present a complete commentary on Shakspeare's Women: such an undertaking would have required much more critical learning than I possess; a profounder knowledge of the spirit of past ages; and more acquaintance with the sources whence Shakspeare drew his incidents and materials. I must have dived far deeper into that vast perplexing chaos of tradition, poetry, history, romance, real life, whence he conjured up spirits of grace, intellect, grandeur, and bade them stand before us, clothed in the aspects and passions of humanity. I could not do this, but I selected a few among the creatures of his art, for particular consideration, merely to throw into a planning and intelligible form, some observations on the natural workings of mind and feeling in my own sex, which might lead to good. More than this I never designed; more than this I never attempted; and what I have attempted I sincerely wish I had done better.
In general, I have only to thank my kind critics in England, America, and Germany, for the approbation with which they have honored me, and the indulgence with which they have treated my deficiencies; and I do thank them with very grateful and gratified feelings. That some among them differ from me in their view of one or two of the characters, rather pleases me than otherwise ; for, as I have elsewhere remarked, it is the necessary result of the innate truth of those wondrous creations, that, like individuals in real life, they strike every observer in a different light. Forgetting the artist in his own work, we are unconsciously biased in our judgment by peculiar habits of feeling and thought, by our own opinions and prejudices. We condemn or sympathise with these beings of air, approve or disapprove their motives and actions as if they had really existed—did now exist in this veritable world. We give them, from our faith in their identity with ourselves, a sort of moral responsibility, and hence, their moral influence.
I have received some anonymous letters and confidential communications, which would induce me to believe that there exist some people who strangely misapprehend me; who imagine, that in admiring Juliet, I intended to recommed unadvised passion, disobedience, and
suicide; and in pleading for Lady Macbeth, to excuse treachery and murder. I can but say, peace to all such.” On this point, and others therewith connected, I trust myself and my book to the “ ciful construction of good women:” to the good observe! for they only can afford to be merciful.
And let me add thus much: Could we but, in real life, look into any heart as Shakspeare has permitted us to look into Juliet's and Lady Macbeth's,—could we follow the whole course of feeling in any feminine mind,—trace correctly the links that connect certain consequences with remote causes, often rendering what we most condemn, a dread necessity derived from foregone conclusions—could we, in short, see the whole, and clearly, what we now see only in part and darkly—all that tempted to wrong, all that blinded to right, we should not then presume, from the little known, to infer the unknown; to set ourselves up as accusers, judges, executioners, all at once: we should have more mercy on each other—as becomes “good women.”
Men make it a general accusation against us, as a sex, that we are ill-natured, unfair, pitiless, in judging one another. They say that when women get together, “at every word a reputation dies;” they say that as a savage proves his heroism by displaying in grim array the torn scalps of his enemies, so a woman thinks she proves her virtue by exhibitingthe mangled reputations of her friends; they say—but there is no end to the witty impertinences, and fag ends of rhymes from Simonides to Pope, which they fling at us on this subject. I have never heard men so eloquently satirical, as when treating with utter scorn the idea, that a woman can possibly elevate herself in the eyes of one of their sex by degrading, or suffering to be degraded, one of her own: and in their censure they are right-quite right; but wrong-quite wrong in attributing this, our worst propensity, to ill-nature and jealousy. Ignorance is the main cause; ignorance of ourselves and others; and when I have heard any female acquaintance commenting with a spiteful, or a sprightly levity on the delinquencies and mistakes of their sex, I have only said to myself, they know not what they do." Here
then, I present to woman a little elementary manual, or introduction to the knowledge of woman; in which they may learn to understand better their own nature; to judge more gently, more truly of each other.
And in the silent hour of inward thought,
Toronto, January, 1837.