Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

THE

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

ART. I.-1. Marcella. By Mrs. Humphry Ward. London, 1894, 2. The Heavenly Twins. By Sarah Grand. London, 1894. 3. Woman in the Past, Present, and Future. By August Bebel. Translated from the German. London, 1893. 4. Die Gleichstellung der Geschlechter. Von Irma von TrollBorostyani. Zürich, 1888. 5. Das Recht der Frau, Vermächtniss einer Ungliicklichen. Zürich, 1885. 6. The Strike of a Ser. By G. Noyes Miller (of the Oneida Community). London, 1893. 7. Man and Woman. By Havelock Ellis. (Contemporary Science Series.) London, 1894. And other Works.

HICH among the famous days of the French Revolution is more tragic or more ludicrous than the Fifth of October, 1789? It is the day of the “Insurrection of Women.” That wet autumnal evening saw the bedraggled Parisian host, volunteers and captives, defiling in sullen rage before the front of Versailles, bewildered at the glories they were themselves overcasting as with eclipse, and resolved to do justice on Marie Antoinette, whom her enemies called Messalina. Leading these anarchist women, came on the brown-locked Théroigne de Méricour, for an instant brilliant and victorious, but already hysterical, driven by impulse like a leaf before the wind, and destined, after she had dipped her hands in the blood of September massacres, to lose what little mind she could ever boast and spend long years in the Salpêtrière. The Queen whom she took captive died on a scaffold with a kind of funereal grandeur. Théroigne died in her asylum, when she had lapsed down the many degrees which separate our nature Wol. 179.—No. 358, U from

from the brutish and chaotic appetite. So in these two women,
both suffering and making to suffer, the gay society of France,
the City, and the Court became an example to the nations;
and their tragedy was a looking-glass in which the laws of
righteousness, economic, domestic, religious, stood revealed
as in lightning-flashes. For Queen and courtesan symbolized
all that a light-minded century admired and worshipped; while
the Place de la Révolution and the cells of the Salpêtrière bore
witness that, in so worshipping, the world had by some dreadful
blunder missed its upward path and had taken the abyss for
a shallow stream. Into that abyss a whole order of things
plunged headlong, nor has it ever again emerged. A hundred
years after, we find ourselves asking whether society has learned

its lesson.
The New Woman boldly answers No. In her wide-spreading
tumultuous battalions, many of them wearing the divided skirt,
she advances, with drums beating and colours flying, to the
sound also of the Phrygian flutes, a disordered array, but
nowise daunted, resolute in her determination to end what she
is pleased to define as the slavery of one-half the human race.
One-half, and surely the better! A voice from Oneida Creek
proclaims the ‘strike of a sex –that never before imagined
battle of Armageddon, in which all on one side are Amazons,
marshalled by their Idealas and their Louise Michels, all on
the other mere conscience-stricken males, “skulking creatures of
the opposite sex,'—to quote that unsparing critic, Mrs. Evadne
Colquhoun, -who know their sin and are ashamed to be found
out. The Rights of Woman must supplement and crown the
Rights of Man. Thus argued Olympe de Gouges, Louise
Lacombe, and their feminine disciples, in the seventeen articles
which they defended with ear-piercing eloquence, before the
Paris Commune on the 28th Brumaire, 1793. “Woman has a
right to ascend the scaffold,’ they maintained ; “has she not,
therefore, the still more revolutionary right of ascending the
platform 2'. To the platform they mounted; nay, they asked
to defend their country in the field,—true Lysistratas, who
feared no Duke of Brunswick. But Anaxagoras Chaumette,
though an “enraged Republican,’ was startled. ‘Foolish
women l’ he said, ‘why will you become men? In the name
of Nature remain what you are. Envy us not the dangers of a
stormy life; be content rather to make us forget them in the
bosom of our families; and let our eyes rest on the delicious
spectacle of our happy children, preserved in health through

your care.’
Thus did the atheist Chaumette prove himself a mere bour:
geois

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

geois and peruque, a reactionary, a timid conservative and partisan of the old order, when brought face to face with these “sincere convictions.” As the translator of Bebel remarks, in his doubtful English, Chaumette's oration was inspired by ‘manly egotism, rather than by the sentiment of equality. But though women have taken part in revolts—like that insurrection which Théroigne headed—for wars or for revolutions demanding powers of forethought and generalship they have not, hitherto, shown the capacity of average men. Excesses they may commit as pétroleuses in a Commune of 1871; nor is there any degree of self-sacrifice from which they have shrunk, whether as Sisters of Charity bearing help to the wounded under the storm-shot of Sedan, or as criminals, no less deluded than pitifully daring, witness that Sophie Perovskaya, to whom Joaquin Miller has written a Funeral Ode, in commemoration of the deed which shattered Alexander II. in pieces, and lifted her to the gallows. What they cannot undertake is a regular campaign. This, perhaps, even his Amazonian audience dimly felt when Chaumette harangued them, and so they were persuaded to go home. But the Woman's Crusade was begun. Echoing the astonished words of Thackeray, must we not say to ourselves, ‘The leaves of the Diderot and Rousseau tree have produced this goodly fruit: here it is, ripe, bursting, and ready to fall:—and how to fall? Heaven send that it may drop

easily, for all can see that the time is come !’ Rousseau, we are all aware, returned to the golden age, or the state of primeval innocence, not alone, but in the society of Madame de Warens, the Amiable Indifferent, as we may describe her. And Diderot, in his rhapsodical fragment “Sur les Femmes, while exalting their qualities of tenderness, of devotion, and of ecstasy, concludes by saying that “they are inore civilized than men on the surface, but within have remained true savages.” From which it seems to follow that the road which would lead them back to the age of instinct is more direct and a good deal shorter than the way of the skulking creature, man. Or, as Burdach observes, with his sure touch, “though women do not tend to vary so much as men, when they do vary, they fall into an extreme.' The wits and the philosophers of the eighteenth century in France exemplified, not only the law by which genius often displays a certain feminine softness, but also the fact that the brains of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen are much upon an average. Hence, on the one hand, “masculine thought’—so abhorrent to the New Woman—did set in motion those systems and sketch those Utopias, which account for the idyls of Les Charmettes, the U 2 Watteau-like Watteau-like pastorals of the Little Trianon, the heroics of ‘Corinne,’ and the Rights of the Female, as summed up in her seventeen articles by Mlle. Olympe de Gouges. But, on the other hand, if the brains of the two sexes had been decidedly unequal in weight and in the number of their convolutions, it is probable that men might have preached in vain for want of an audience. Women can hardly take to themselves, therefore, the glory of the fresh and glad tidings, the liberty, equality, and free union, which make the substance of that Evangel. Yet, now as always, they have proved to be servent disciples, emergetic, unrelenting, self-convinced. They have pleaded with equal enthusiasm the privileges of genius and the wrongs of their own sex. They were willing to forego the honours decreed them by chivalry, if only they might claim even-handed justice. And to them justice signified emphatically freedom: “La carriere ouverte aux talents.' But their chief talent has ever been to please, as Joubert would tell them with a smile. How, then, are they to please? Alas if it be true that they remain savages, according to Diderot! alas if that diamond-pointed satirist Pope should not be quite in the wrong when he affirms that “every woman is at heart a rake,' and “most women have no character at all '! For in this arduous, this unprecedented enterprise, who would desire to behold vice decked out with the plumes of genius, character sacrificed to impulse, modesty put to the blush on the score of emancipating knowledge, and the “forsaken Sibyl' leaping from her Delphic seat, in order to join Théroigne de Méricour

and her Menads in their assault upon Versailles? Yet we have but to open the melodious and melancholy pages of George Sand, to see all these things. Her early life and writings—for she changed greatly as the years went on— manifest a temperament to which Madame de Warens might have set the music; it is all instinct, nature, passion, with recurring bars of despair. She pursues a flying rainbow, an elusive ideal. She is enthusiastic and headlong, then analytic, then for ever cold to the personality which she has measured and seen through. The circles of her flights of feeling grow less and less; but, more fortunate than Madame de Warens, her intellect expands: she learns to be robust and tranquil, though not until others, as blameworthy but not so well-balanced, have come to famous disasters in the free union which she calmly practised. Her character was ‘intolerant of restraint'; but the liberty which she exercised she did not know how to share with Alfred de Musset or Frédéric Chopin. Obeying her feelings so long as they proved agreeable, in a highly philosophic,

[graphic][graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »