Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/25

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remarkable intensity. It is an economical power of considerable importance, for it is the principal source of those habits of saving and hoarding which characterise the French people, and I regard it as descended, by a long chain of succession, from the obligatory provisions of the marriage law of the Emperor Augustus.

The importance and interest of our subject, when treated in all its bearings and throughout its whole history, are quite enough to excuse me, I trust, for having detained you with an account of its obscure beginnings. It has been said that the degree in which the personal immunity and proprietary capacity of women are recognised in a particular state or community is a test of its degree of advance in civilisation; and, though the assertion is sometimes made without the qualifications which are necessary to give it value, it is very far indeed from being a mere gallant commonplace. For, inasmuch as no class of similar importance and extent was, in the infancy of society, placed in a position of such absolute dependence as the other sex, the degree in which this dependence has step by step been voluntarily modified and relaxed, serves undoubtedly as a rough measure of tribal, social, national capacity for self-control—of that same control which produces wealth by subduing the natural appetite of living for the present, and which fructifies in art and learning through subordinating a material and immediate to a remote, intangible, and spiritual enjoyment. The assertion, then, that there is a relation between civilisation and the proprietary capacities of women is only a form of the truth that every one of those conquests, the sum of which we call civilisation, is the result of curbing some one of the strongest, because the primary, impulses of human nature. If we were asked why the two societies with which we have been concerned this evening—the Hindoos on the one hand, and the Romans and all the races to which they have bequeathed their institutions on the other—have had so widely different a history, no reply can be very confidently given, so difficult is it, among the vast variety of influences acting on great assemblages of men, to single out any one or any definite number of them, and to be sure that these have operated more powerfully than the rest. Yet, if it were absolutely necessary to give an answer, it would consist in pointing to the difference in their social history which has been the subject of this lecture, and in observing that one steadily carried forward, while the other recoiled from, the series of changes which put an end to the seclusion and degradation of an entire sex.