Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/139

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We never think of the women of Asia, without deploring the severity of their lot. We figure them to ourselves thwarted in all their inclinations, restrained in all their actions, watched with degrading vigilance, exposed to the caprices, the insults and torments of jealousy: compelled to regulate their habits and actions by the wishes of an imperious master; torn from their parents, the protectors of their childhood, and the companions of their early years; disappointed in the hopes which their youthful imaginations had fondly indulged; floating incessantly, according to the whim of their lord, between the condition of mistress and that of slave; lastly, doomed to live imprisoned in a harem, and to receive the caresses of an object for whom they can feel no other sentiment than hatred—what pleasures could ever make amends for the horrors of such a life?

Mirza-Abu-Taleb, a Persian, who resided some time in England, and committed to writing his observations on our manners, which were afterwards given to the public in an English dress, has endeavoured to prove, in his work, that these women, who are the objects of our pity, enjoy a condition far preferable to that of European females. It is curious to see how he establishes so extraordinary a position.

Six reasons, according to this writer, cause us to think that the women of Asia have less liberty than those of Europe:— 1. The little intercourse which they have with the other sex, and the seclusion in which they live. 2. The power granted to men, by law, of marrying four wives. 3. The right of divorce possessed by the husband. 4. The small degree of credit attached to the testimony of women. 5. The custom which forbids women to be present at public diversions, or to use personal ornaments after the decease of their husbands. 6. The custom which denies females the liberty of rejecting a husband.

Abu Taleb does not strive to overthrow the first of these reasons; but he asserts that the liberty enjoyed by our European women is a calculation of interest. If we live in the same apartments with them, and admit them to our repasts, it is because we cannot afford to keep up two establishments: if they share our beds, it is owing to want of room and the coldness of the climate; if they go abroad without restraint and intermeddle with our affairs, it is on account of the duties which they have to fulfil, and the experience in business which it is necessary for them to acquire.