The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 6/The Good Women
The Good Women
The Good Women
Henrietta and Armidoro had been for some time engaged in walking through the garden, in which the Summer Club was accustomed to assemble. It had long been their practice to arrive before the other members; for they entertained the warmest attachment to each other, and their pure and virtuous friendship fostered the delightful hope that they would shortly be united in the bonds of unchanging affection.
Henrietta, who was of a lively disposition, no sooner perceived her friend Amelia approach the summerhouse from a distance, than she ran to welcome her. The latter was already seated at a table in the antechamber, where the newspapers, journals, and other recent publications, lay displayed.
It was her custom to spend occasional evenings in reading in this appartment, without paying attention to the company who came and went, or suffering herself to be disturbed by the rattling of the dice, or the loud conversation which prevailed at the gaming-tables. She spoke little, except for the purpose of rational conversation. Henrietta, on the contrary, was not so sparing of her words; being of an easily satisfied disposition, and ever ready with expressions of commendation. They were soon joined by a third person, whom we shall call Sinclair. "What news do you bring?" exclaimed Henrietta, addressing him as he approached.
"You will scarcely guess," replied Sinclair, as he opened a portfolio. "And even if I inform you that I have brought for your inspection the engravings intended for the 'Ladies' Almanac' of this year, you will hardly guess the subjects they portray; but when I tell you that young ladies are represented in a series of twelve engravings—"
"Indeed!" exclaimed Henrietta, interrupting him, "you have no intention, I perceive, of putting our ingenuity to the test. You jest, if I mistake not; for you know how I delight in riddles and charades, and in guessing my friends' enigmas. Twelve young ladies, you say,—sketches of character, I suppose; some adventures or situations, or something else that redounds to the honour of the sex."
Sinclair smiled in silence; whilst Amelia watched him with calm composure, and then remarked, with that fine sarcastic tone which so well became her, "If I read his countenance truly, he has something to produce of which we shall not quite approve. Men are so fond of discovering something which shall have the appearance of turning us into ridicule."
Sinclair.—You are becoming serious, Amelia, and threaten to grow satirical. I shall scarcely venture to open my little packet.
Henrietta.—Oh! produce it.
Sinclair.—They are caricatures.
Henrietta.—I love them of all things.
Sinclair.—Sketches of naughty ladies.
Henrietta.—So much the better: we do not belong to that class. Their portraits would afford us as little pleasure as their society.
Sinclair.—Shall I show them?
Henrietta.—Do so at once.
So saying, she snatched the portfolio from him, took out the pictures, spread six of them upon the table, glanced over them hastily, and then shuffled them together as if they had been a pack of cards. "Capital!" she exclaimed: "they are done to the very life. This one, for instance, holding a pinch of snuff to her nose, is the very image of Madame S—, whom we shall meet this evening; and this old lady with the cat is not unlike my grand-aunt; that figure holding the skein of thread resembles our old milliner. We can find an original for every one of these ugly figures; and even amongst the men, I have somewhere or other seen such an old fellow bent double, and also a close resemblance to the figure holding the thread. They are full of fun, these engravings, and admirably executed."
Amelia, who had glanced carelessly at the pictures and instantly withdrawn her eyes, inquired how they could look for resemblances in such things. "One deformity is like another, just as the beautiful ever resembles the beautiful. Our minds are irresistibly attracted by the latter in the same degree as they are repelled by the former.
Sinclair.—But our fancy and our wit find more amusement in deformity than in beauty. Much can be made of the former, but nothing at all of the latter.
"But beauty exalts, whilst deformity degrades, us," observed Armidoro, who, from his post at the window, had paid silent attention to all that had occurred. Without approaching the table, he now withdrew into the adjoining cabinet.
All clubs have their peculiar epochs. The interest the members take in each other, and their friendly agreement, are of a fluctuating character. The club of which we speak had now attained its zenith. The members were, for the most part, men of refinement, or at least of calm and quiet deportment: they mutually recognised each other's value, and allowed all want of merit to find its own level. Each one sought his own individual amusement, and the general conversation was often of a nature to attract attention.
At this time, a gentleman named Seyton arrived, accompanied by his wife. He was a man who had seen much of the world, first from his engagement in business, and afterward in political affairs: he was, moreover, an agreeable companion; although, in mixed society, he was chiefly remarkable for his talent as a card-player. His wife was a worthy woman, kind and faithful, and enjoying the most perfect confidence and esteem of her husband. She felt happy that she could now give uncontrolled indulgence to her taste for pleasure. At home she could not exist without a companion, and she found in amusement and diversions the only incentive to home enjoyment.
We must treat our readers as strangers, or rather as visitors to the club; and in full confidence we must introduce them speedily to our new society. A poet paints his characters by describing their actions: we must adopt a shorter course, and by a hasty sketch introduce our readers rapidly to the scenes.
Seyton approached the table and looked at the pictures.
"A discussion has arisen," observed Henrietta, "with respect to caricatures. What side do you take? I am in favour of them, and wish to know whether all caricatures do not possess something irresistibly attractive?"
Amelia.—And does not every evil calumny, provide it relate to the absent, also possess an incredible charm?
Henrietta.—But does not a sketch of this kind produce an indelible impression?
Amelia.—And that is just the reason why I condemn it. Is not the indelible impression of what is disagreeable precisely the evil which so constantly pursues us in life and destroys our greatest enjoyments?
Henrietta.—Favour us, Seyton, with your opinion.
Seyton.—I should propose a compromise. Why should our pictures be better than ourselves? Our nature seems to have two sides, which cannot exist separately. Light and darkness, good and evil, height and depth, virtue and vice, and a thousand other contradictions unequally distributed, appear to constitute the component parts of human nature; and why, therefore, should I blame an artist, who, whilst he paints an angel bright, brilliant, and beautiful, on the other hand paints a devil black, ugly, and hateful?
Amelia.—There could be no objection to such a course, if caricaturists did not introduce within their province subjects which belong to higher spheres.
Seyton.—So far, I think you perfectly right. But artists, whose province is the Beautiful alone, also appropriate what does not precisely belong to them.
Amelia.—I have no patience, however, with caricaturists who ridicule the portraits of eminent men. In spite of my better sense, I can never consider that great man Pitt as anything else than a snub-nosed broomstick; and Fox, who was in many respects an estimable character, anything better than a pig stuffed to its utmost capacity.
Henrietta.—Precisely my view. Caricatures of such a nature make an indelible impression, and I cannot deny that it often affords amusement to evoke their recollection and pervert them even into worse distortions.
Sinclair.—But, ladies, allow us to revert for a moment from this discussion to a consideration of our engravings.
Seyton.—I observe that a fancy for dogs is here delineated in no very flattering manner.
Amelia.—I have no objection, for I detest these animals.
Sinclair.—First an enemy to caricatures, and then unfriendly to the dog tribe.
Amelia.—And why not? What are such animals but caricatures of men?
Seyton.—You probably remember what a certain traveller relates of the city of Gratz, "that the place was full of dogs, and of dumb persons half idiotic." Might it not be possible that the habitual sight of so many barking, senseless animals should have produced an effect upon the human race?
Sinclair.—Our attachment to animals deteriorates our passions and affections.
Amelia.—But if our reason, according to the general expression, is sometimes capable of standing still, it may surely do so in the presence of dogs.
Sinclair.—Fortunately there is no one in our company who cares for dogs but Madame Seyton. She is very much attached to her pretty greyhound.
Seyton.—And that same animal is particularly dear and valuable to her husband.
Madame Seyton, from a distance, raised her finger in threat of her husband.
Seyton.—I know a proof that such animals detach our affections from their legitimate objects. May I not, my dear child (addressing his wife), relate our anecdote? We need not be ashamed of it.
Madame Seyton signified her assent by a friendly nod, and he commenced his narration.
"We loved each other, and had entered into an engagement to marry before we had well considered the possibility of supporting an establishment. At length better hopes began to dawn, when I was unexpectedly compelled to set out upon a journey which threatened to last longer than I could have wished. On my departure I forgot my favourite greyhound. It had often been in the habit of accompanying me to the house of my betrothed, sometimes returning with me, and occasionally remaining behind. It now became her property, was a cheerful companion, and reminded her of my return. At home the little animal afforded much amusement; and in the promenades, where we had so often walked together, it seemed constantly engaged in looking for me, and barked as if announcing me, as it sprang from among the trees. My darling little Meta amused itself thus for a considerable time by fancying me really present, until at length, about the time when I had hoped to return, the period of my absence being again indefinitely prolonged, the poor animal pined away and died."
Madame Seyton.—Just so, dear husband. And your narrative is sweetly interesting.
Seyton.—You are quite at liberty to interrupt me, my dear, if you think fit. My friend's house now seemed desolate; her walks had lost all their interest; her favourite dog, which had ever been at her side when she wrote to me, had grown to be an actual necessity of existence; and her letters were now discontinued. She found, however, some consolation in the company of a handsome youth, who evinced an anxiety to fill the place of her former four-footed companion, both in the house and on her walks. But without enlarging on this subject, and let me be ever so inimical to rash judgments, I may say that matters began to assume a rather critical appearance.
Madame Seyton.—I must let you continue. A story which is all truth, and wholly free from exaggeration, is seldom worth hearing.
Seyton.—A mutual friend, versed in the world, and acquainted with human nature, continued to reside near my dear friend after my departure. He paid frequent visits at her house, and had noticed the change she had undergone. He formed his plan in secrecy, and called upon her one day, accompanied by a greyhound which precisely resembled mine. The cordially affectionate and appropriate address with which he accompanied his present, the unexpected appearance of a favourite which seemed to have risen from the grave, the silent rebuke with which her susceptible heart reproached her at the sight, brought back to her mind a lively recollection of me. My young friend, who had hitherto filled my place, accordingly received his congé in the politest manner possible; and the new favourite was retained by the lady as her constant companion. When, upon my return, I held my beloved in my embrace, I thought the greyhound was my own, and wondered not a little that he barked at me as at a stranger. I thought that dogs of the present day had far less faithful memories than those of classical times, and observed that Ulysses had been remembered by his dog after many years' absence, whilst mine had forgotten me in an incredibly short space of time. "And yet he has taken good care of your Penelope," she replied, promising at the same time to explain her mysterious speech. This was soon done, for cheerful confidence has at all times caused the happiness of our union.
Madame Seyton.—Well, now, conclude with the anecdote. If you please, I will walk for an hour; for you intend doubtless to sit down to the card-table.
He nodded his assent. She took the arm of her companion, and went toward the door. "Take the dog with you, my dear!" he exclaimed as she departed. The entire company smiled, as did Seyton also, when he saw how apt had been his unintentional observation; and every one else silently felt a trifling degree of malicious satisfaction.
Sinclair.—You have told us of a dog that was happily instrumental in promoting a marriage: I can tell of another whose influence destroyed one. I was also once in love, and it was also my fate to set out upon a journey; and I also left my love behind me, with this difference: my wish to possess her was as yet unknown to her. At length I returned. The many adventures in which I had engaged were strongly imprinted upon my mind. Like all travellers I was fond of recounting them, and I hoped by this means to win the attention and sympathy of my beloved. I was anxious that she should know all the experience I had acquired, and the pleasures I had enjoyed. But I found that her attention was wholly directed to a dog. Whether this was done from that spirit of opposition which so often characterises the fair sex, or whether it arose from some unlucky accident, it so happened that the amiable qualities of the dog, their pretty amusements, and her attachment to the little animal, were the sole topics of conversation which she could find for a lover who had long been passionately devoted to her. I marvelled, and ceased speaking; then related various other circumstances I had reserved for her whilst I was absent. I then felt vexed at her coldness, and took my leave, but soon returned with feelings of self-reproach, and became even more unhappy than before. Under these circumstances our attachment cooled, our acquaintance was discontinued; and I felt in my heart that I might attribute the misfortune to a dog.
Armidoro, who had once more joined the company from the cabinet, observed, upon hearing the anecdote, "that it would be interesting to make a collection of stories showing the influence social animals of the lower order exercise over mankind. In the expectation that such a collection will be one day made, I will relate an anecdote to show how a dog was the cause of a very tragical occurrence.
"Ferrand and Cardano, two noblemen, had been attached friends from their very earliest youth. As court-pages, and as officers in the same regiment, they had shared many adventures together, and had become thoroughly acquainted with each other's dispositions. Cardano's attraction was the fair sex, whilst Ferrand had a passion for gambling. The former was thoughtless and haughty, the latter suspicious and reserved. It happened, at a time when Cardano was accidentally obliged to break off a certain tender attachment, that he left a beautiful little pet spaniel behind him. He soon procured another, which he afterward presented to a second lady, from whom he was about to separate; and from that time, upon taking leave of every new female friend with whom he had become intimate, he invariably presented her with a similar little spaniel. Ferrand was aware of Cardano's peculiar habit in this respect, but he never paid much attention to the circumstance.
"The different pursuits of the two friends at length caused a long separation between them; and, when they next met, Ferrand had become a married man, and was leading the life of a country gentleman, Cardano spent some time with him, either at his house or in the neighbourhood, where, as he had many relations and friends, he resided for nearly a year.
"Upon his departure, Ferrand's attention was attracted by a very beautiful spaniel of which his wife had lately become possessed. He took it in his arms, admired its beauty, stroked it, praised it, and inquired where she had obtained so charming an animal. She replied, 'From Cardano.' He was at once struck with the memory of bygone times and events, and with a recollection of the significant memorial with which Cardano was accustomed to mark his insincerity: he felt oppressed with the indignity of an injured husband, raged violently, flung the innocent little animal with fury to the earth, and ran from the apartment amid the cries of the spaniel and the supplications of his astonished wife. A fearful dispute and countless disagreeable consequences ensued, which, though they did not produce an actual divorce, ended in a mutual agreement to separate; and a ruined household was the termination of this adventure."
The story was not quite finished when Eulalia entered the apartment. She was a young lady whose society was universally sought after; and she formed one of the most attractive ornaments of the club,—an accomplished woman and successful authoress.
The female caricatures were laid before her with which a clever artist had sinned against the fair sex, and she was invited to defend her good sisterhood.
"Probably," said Amelia, "a collection of these charming portraits is intended for the almanac, and possibly some celebrated author will undertake the witty task of explaining in words what the ingenious artist has represented in his pictures."
Sinclair felt that the pictures were not worthy of utter condemnation; nor could he deny that some sort of explanation of their meaning was necessary, as a caricature which is not understood is worthless, and is, in fact, only valuable for its application. For, however the ingenious artist may endeavour to display his wit, he cannot always succeed; and without a title or an explanation his labour is lost: words alone can give it value.
Amelia.—Then, let words bestow a value upon this little picture. A young lady has fallen asleep in an armchair, having been engaged, as it appears, with some sort of writing. Another lady, who stands by weeping, presents a small box, or something else, to her companion. What can it mean?
Sinclair.—Am I, after all, to explain it, notwithstanding that the ladies seem but ill disposed both to caricatures and their expounders? I am told that it is intended to represent an authoress, who was accustomed to compose at night: she always obliged her maid to hold her inkstand, and forced the poor creature to remain in that posture, even when she herself had been overcome by sleep, and the office of her maid had thus been rendered useless. She was desirous, on awaking, to resume the thread of her thoughts and of her composition, and wished to find her pen and ink ready at the same moment.
Arbon, a thoughtful artist who had accompanied Eulalia, declared war against the picture. He observed, that to delineate this circumstance, or whatever it may be called, another course should have been adopted.
Henrietta.—Let us, then, compose the picture afresh.
Arbon.—But let us first of all consider the subject attentively. It seems natural enough that a person employed in writing should cause the inkstand to be held, if the circumstances are such that no place can be found to set it down. So Brantome's grandmother held the inkstand for the Queen of Navarre, when the latter, reposing in her litter, composed the history which we have all read with so much pleasure. Again, that any one who writes in bed should cause his inkstand to be held, is quite conceivable. But tell us, pretty Henrietta, you who are so fond of questioning and guessing, tell us what the artist should have done to represent this subject properly.
Henrietta.—He ought to have removed the table, and given the sleeper such an attitude, that nothing should appear at hand upon which an inkstand could be placed.
Arbon.—Quite right. I should have drawn her in a well-cushioned easy chair, of the fashion which, if I mistake not, are called Bergères: she should have been near the fireplace, and presenting a front view to the spectator. I should suppose her to be engaged in writing upon her knee, for usually one becomes uncomfortable in exacting an inconvenience from another. The paper sinks upon her lap, the pen from her hand; and a sweet maiden stands near, holding the inkstand with a forlorn look.
Henrietta.—Quite right. But here we have an inkstand upon the table already; and what is to be done, therefore, with the inkstand in the hand of the maiden? It is not easy to conceive why she should seem to be wiping away her tears.
Sinclair.—Here I defend the artist: he allows scope for the ingenuity of the commentator.
Arbon.—Who will probably be engaged in exercising his wit upon the headless men that hang against the wall. This seems to me a clear proof of the inevitable confusion that arises from uniting arts between which there is no natural connection. If we were not accustomed to see engravings with explanations appended to them, the evil would cease. I have no objection that a clever artist should attempt witty representations; but they are difficult to execute, and he should at all events endeavour to make his subject independent of explanations. I could even tolerate remarks and little sentences issuing from the mouths of his figures, provided he turn his own commentator.
Sinclair.—But, if you allow such a thing as a witty picture, you must admit that it is intended only for persons of intelligence; it can possess an attraction for none but those conversant with the occurrences of the day: why, then, should we object to a commentator who enables us to understand the nature of the intellectual amusement prepared for us?
Arbon.—I have no objection to explanations of pictures which fail to explain themselves. But they should be short and to the point. Wit is for the well-informed, they alone can understand a witty work; and the productions of bygone times and foreign lands are completely lost upon us. It is all well enough with the aid of such notes as we find appended to Rabelais and Hudibras, but what should we say of an author who should find it necessary to write one witty work to elucidate another? Wit, even when fresh from its fountain, is oftentimes feeble enough: it will scarcely become stronger by passing through two or three hands.
Sinclair.—How I wish, that, instead of thus arguing, we could assist our friend, the owner of these pictures, who would be glad to hear the opinions that have been expressed.
Armidoro.—(Coming from the cabinet.) I perceive that the company is still engaged with these much=censured pictures: had they produced a pleasant impression, they would doubtless have been laid aside long ago.
Amelia.—I propose that that be their fate now: the owner must be required to make no use of them. What! a dozen and more hateful, objectionable pictures to appear in a Ladies' Almanac! Can the man be blind to his own interest? He will ruin his speculation. What lover will present a copy to his mistress, what husband to his wife, what father to his daughter, when the first glance will display such a libel upon the sex?
Armidoro.—I have a proposal to make. These objectionable pictures are not the first of the kind which have appeared in the best almanacs. Our celebrated Chodoviecki has, in his collection of monthly engravings, already represented scenes, not only untrue to nature, but low, and devoid of all pretensions to taste; but how did he do it? Opposite the pictures I allude to, he delineated others of a most charming character,—scenes in perfect harmony with nature, the result of a high education, of long study, and of an innate taste for the Good and Beautiful. Let us go a step beyond the editor of the proposed almanac, and act in opposition to his project. If the intelligent artist has chosen to portray the dark side of his subject, let our author or authoress, if I may dare to express my view, choose the bright side to exercise her talents, and so form a complete work. I shall not longer delay, Eulalia, to unite my own wishes to this proposal. Undertake a description of good female characters. Create the opposite to these engravings, and employ the charm of your pen, not to elucidate these pictures, but to annihilate them.
Sinclair.—Do, Eulalia. Render us that favour: make haste and promise!
Eulalia.—Authors are ever apt to promise too easily, because they hope for ability to execute their wishes; but experience has rendered me cautious. And even if I could foresee the necessary leisure, within so short a space of time, I should yet hesitate to undertake the arduous duty. The praises of our sex should be spoken by a man,—a young, ardent, loving man. A degree of enthusiasm is requisite for the task, and who has enthusiasm for one's own sex?
Armidoro.—I should prefer intelhgence, justice, and delicacy of taste.
Sinclair.—And who can discourse better on the character of good women than the authoress from whose fairy-tale of yesterday we all derived such pleasure and so much incomparable instruction?
Eulalia.—The fairy-tale was not mine.
Armidoro.—To that I can bear witness.
Sinclair.—But still it was a lady's?
Eulalia.—The production of a friend.
Sinclair.—Then, there are two Eulalias.
Eulalia.—Many, perhaps; and better than—
Armidoro.—Will you relate to the company what you so lately confided to me? You will all hear with astonishment how this delightful production originated.
Eulalia.—A young lady, with whose great excellence I became accidentally acquainted upon a journey, found herself once in a situation of extreme perplexity, the circumstances of which it would be tedious to narrate. A gentleman to whom she was under many obligations, and who finally offered her his hand, having won her entire esteem and confidence, in a moment of weakness obtained from her the privileges of a husband before their vows of love had been cemented by marriage. Some peculiar circumstances compelled him to travel; and, in the retirement of a country residence, she anticipated with fear and apprehension the moment when she should become a mother. She used to write to me daily, and informed me of every circumstance that happened. But there was shortly nothing more to fear—she now needed only patience; and I observed, from the tone of her letters, that she began to reflect with a disturbed mind upon all that had already occurred, and upon what was yet to take place in her regard. I determined, therefore, to address her in an earnest tone, on the duty she owed no less to herself than to her infant, whose support, particularly at the commencement of its existence, depended so much upon her mind being free from anxiety. I sought to console and to cheer her, and happened to send her several volumes of fairy-tales she had wished to read. Her own desire to escape from the burden of her melancholy thoughts, and the arrival of these books, formed a remarkable coincidence. She could not help reflecting frequently upon her peculiar fate; and she therefore adopted the expedient of clothing all her past sorrowful adventures, as well as her painful apprehensions for the future, in a garb of romance. The events of her past life,—her attachment, her passion, her errors, and her sweet maternal cares,—no less than her present sad condition, were all embodied by her imagination in forms vivid, though impalpable, and passed before her mind in a varied succession of strange and unearthly fancies. Pen in hand, she spent many a day and night noting down her reflections.
Amelia.—In which occupation she must have found it difficult to hold her inkstand.
Eulalia.—Thus did I acquire the rare collection of letters which I now possess. They are all picturesque, strange, and romantic. I never received from her an account of anything actual, so that I sometimes trembled for her reason. Her own situation, the birth of her infant, her sweet affection for her offspring, her joys, her hopes, and her maternal fears, were all treated as events of another world, from which she only expected to be liberated by the arrival of her husband. On her nuptial day she concluded the fairy-tale which you heard recited yesterday, almost in her own words, and which derives its chief interest from the unusual circumstances under which it was composed.
The company could not sufficiently express their astonishment at this statement; and Seyton, who had abandoned his place at the gaming-table to another person, now entered the apartment, and made inquiries concerning the subject of conversation. He was briefly informed that it related to a fairy-tale, which, partly founded on facts, had been composed by the fantastic imagination of a mind not altogether sound.
"It is a great pity," he remarked, "that private diaries are so completely out of fashion. Twenty years ago they were in general use, and many persons thought they possessed a veritable treasure in the record of their daily thoughts. I recollect a very worthy lady upon whom this custom entailed a sad misfortune. A certain governess had been accustomed from her earliest youth to keep a regular diary; and, in fact, she considered its composition to form an indispensable part of her daily duties. She continued the habit when she grew up, and did not lay it aside even when she married. Her memorandums were not looked upon by her as absolute secrets, she had no occasion for such mystery; and she frequently read passages from it for the amusement of her friends and of her husband. But the book in its entirety was entrusted to nobody. The account of her husband's attachment had been entered in her diary with the same minuteness with which she had formerly noted down the ordinary occurrences of the day; and the entire history of her own affectionate feelings had been described from their first opening hour until they had ripened into a passion, and at length become a rooted habit. Upon one occasion this diary accidentally fell in her husband's way, and the perusal afforded him a strange entertainment. He had undesignedly approached the writingdesk upon which the book lay, and, without suspicion or intention, had read through an entire page which was open before him. He took the opportunity of referring to a few previous and subsequent passages, and then retired with the comfortable assurance that it was high time to discontinue the disagreeable amusement."
Henrietta.—But, according to the wish of my friend, our conversation should be confined to good women; and already we are turning to those who can scarcely be counted among the best.
Seyton.—Why this constant reference to bad and good? Should we not be quite as well contented with others as with ourselves, either as we have been formed by nature, or improved by education?
Armidoro.—I think it would be at once pleasant and useful to arrange and collect a series of anecdotes such as we have heard narrated, and many of which are founded on real occurrences. Light and delicate traits which mark the characters of men are well worthy of our attention, even though they give birth to no extraordinary adventures. They are useless to writers of romance, being devoid of all exciting interest; and worthless to the tribe of anecdote-collectors, for they are for the most part destitute of wit and spirit; but they would always prove entertaining to a reader who, in a mood of quiet contemplation, should wish to study the general characteristics of mankind.
Sinclair.—Well said. And, if we had only thought of so praiseworthy a work a little earlier, we might have assisted our friend, the editor of the "Ladies' Calendar," by composing a dozen anecdotes, if not of model women, at least of well-behaved personages, to balance his catalogue of naughty ladies.
Amelia.—I should be particularly pleased with a collection of incidents to show how a woman forms the very soul and existence of a household; and this because the artist has introduced a sketch of a spendthrift and improvident wife, to the defamation of our sex. Seyton.—I can furnish Amelia with a case precisely in point.
Amelia.—Let us hear it. But do not imitate the usual custom of men who undertake to defend the ladies: they frequently begin with praise, and end with censure.
Seyton.—Upon this occasion, however, I do not fear the perversion of my intention, through the influence of any evil spirit. A young man once became tenant of a large hotel which was established in a good situation. Amongst the qualities which recommend a host, he possessed a more than ordinary share of good temper; and, as he had from his youth been a friend to the ale-house, he was peculiarly fortunate in selecting a pursuit in which he found it necessary to devote a considerable portion of the day to his home duties. He was neither careful nor negligent, and his own good temper exercised a perceptible influence over the numerous guests who assembled around him.
He had married a young person who was of a quiet, pleasing disposition. She paid punctual attention to her business, was attached to her household pursuits, and loved her husband; though she often found fault with him in secret for his carelessness in money matters. She had, as it were, a great reverence for ready money: she thoroughly comprehended its value, and understood the advantage of securing a provision for herself. Devoid of all activity of disposition, she had every tendency to avarice. But a small share of avarice becomes a woman, however ill extravagance may suit her. Generosity is a manly virtue, but parsimony is becoming in a woman. This is the rule of nature, and our judgments must be subservient thereto.
Margaret (for such was the name of this prudent personage) was very much dissatisfied with her husband's carelessness. Upon occasions when large payments were made to him by his customers, it was his habit to leave the money lying for a considerable time upon the table, and then to collect it in a basket, from which he afterward paid it away, without making it up into packages, and without keeping any account of its application. His wife plainly perceived, that even without actual extravagance, where there was such a total want of system, considerable sums must be wasted. She was above all things anxious to make her husband change his negligent habits, and became grieved to observe that the small savings she collected and so carefully retained were as nothing in comparison with the money that was squandered, and determined, therefore, to adopt a rather dangerous expedient to make her husband open his eyes. She resolved to defraud him of as much money as possible, and for this purpose had recourse to an extraordinary plan. She had observed, that, when he had once counted his money which he allowed to remain so long upon the table, he never reckoned it over a second time before putting it away: she therefore rubbed the bottom of a candlestick with tallow, and then, apparently without design, placed it near the spot where the ducats lay exposed, a species of coin for which she entertained a warm partiality. She thus gained possession of a few pieces, and subsequently of some other coins, and was soon sufficiently well satisfied with her success. She therefore repeated the operation frequently, and entertained no scruple about employing such evil means to effect so praiseworthy an object, and tranquillised her conscience by the reflection that such a mode of abstracting her husband's money could not be termed robbery, as her hands were not employed for the purpose. Her secret treasure increased gradually, and soon became very much greater by the addition of the ready money she herself received from the customers of the hotel, and of which she invariably retained possession.
She had carried on this practice for a whole year, and, though she carefully watched her husband, never had reason to believe that his suspicions were awakened, until at length he began to grow discontented and unhappy. She induced him to tell her the cause of his anxiety, and learned that he was grievously perplexed. After the last payment he had made of a considerable sum of money, he had laid aside his rent; and not only this had disappeared, but he was unable to meet the demand of his landlord from any other channel: and as he had always been accustomed to keep his accounts in his head, and to write down nothing, he could not understand the cause of the deficiency.
Margaret reminded him of his great carelessness, censured his thoughtless manner of receiving and paying away money, and spoke of his general imprudence. Even his generous disposition did not escape her remarks; and, in truth, he had no excuse to offer for a course of conduct, the consequences of which he had so much reason to regret.
But she could not leave her husband long in this state of grievous trouble, more especially as she felt a pride in being able to render him happy once more. Accordingly, to his great astonishment, on his birthday, which she was always accustomed to celebrate by presenting him with something useful, she entered his private apartment with a basket filled with rouleaux of money. The different descriptions of coin were packed together separately, and the contents carefully indorsed in a handwriting by no means of the best. It would be difficult to describe his astonishment at finding before him the precise sums he had missed, or at his wife's assurance that they belonged to him. She thereupon circumstantially described the time and the manner of her abstracting them, confessed the amount which she had taken, and told also how much she had saved by her own careful attention. His despair was now changed into joy; and the result was, that he abandoned to his wife all the duty of receiving and paying away money for the future. His business was carried on even more prosperously than before; although, from the day of which we have spoken, not a farthing ever passed through his hands. His wife discharged the duty of banker with extraordinary credit to herself; no false money was ever taken; and the establishment of her complete authority in the house was the natural and just consequence of her activity and care; and, after the lapse of ten years, she and her husband were in a condition to purchase the hotel for themselves.
Sinclair.—And so all this truth, love, and fidelity ended in the wife becoming the veritable mistress. I should like to know how far the opinion is just that women have a tendency to acquire authority.
Amelia.—There it is again. Censure, you observe, is sure to follow in the wake of praise.
Armidoro.—Favour us with your sentiments on this subject, good Eulalia. I think I have observed in your writings no disposition to defend your sex against this imputation.
Eulalia.—In as far as it is an imputation, I should wish it were removed by the conduct of our sex. But, where we have a right to authority, we can need no excuse. We like authority, because we are human. For what else is authority, in the sense in which we use it, than a desire for independence, and the enjoyment of existence as much as possible? This is a privilege all men seek with determination; but our ambition appears, perhaps, more objectionable, because nature, usage, and social regulations place restraints upon our sex, whilst they enlarge the authority of men. What men possess naturally, we have to acquire; and property obtained by a laborious struggle will always be more obstinately held than that which is inherited.
Seyton.—But women, as I think, have no reason to complain on that score. As the world goes, they inherit as much as men, if not more; and in my opinion it is a much more difficult task to become a perfect man than a perfect woman. The phrase, "He shall be thy master," is a formula characteristic of a barbarous age long since passed away. Men cannot claim a right to become educated and refined, without conceding the same privilege to women. As long as the process continues, the balance is even between them; but, as women are more capable of improvement than men, experience shows that the scale soon turns in their favour.
Armidoro.—There is no doubt, that, in all civilised nations, women in general are superior to men; for, where the two sexes exert a mutual influence on each other, a man cannot but become more womanly, and that is a disadvantage; but, when a woman takes after a man, she is a gainer; for, if she can improve her own peculiar qualities by the addition of masculine energy, she becomes an almost perfect being.
Seyton.—I have never considered the subject so deeply. But I think it is generally admitted that women do rule, and must continue to do so; and therefore, whenever I become acquainted with a young lady, I always inquire upon what subjects she exercises her authority; since it must be exercised somewhere.
Amelia.—And thus you establish the point with which you started?
Seyton.—And why not? Is not my reasoning as good as that of philosophers in general, who are convinced by their experience? Active women, who are given to habits of acquisition and saving, are invariably mistresses at home; pretty women, at once graceful and superficial, rule in large societies; whilst those who possess more sound accomplishments exert their influence in smaller circles.
Amelia.—And thus we are divided into three classes.
Sinclair.—All honourable, in my opinion; and yet those three classes do not include the whole sex. There is still a fourth, to which perhaps we had better not allude, that we may escape the charge of converting our praise into censure.
Henrietta.—Then, we must guess the fourth class. Let us see.
Sinclair.—Well, then, the first three classes were those whose activity was displayed at home, in large societies, or in smaller circles.
Henrietta.—What other sphere can there be where we can exercise our activity?
Sinclair.—There may be many. But I am thinking of the reverse of activity.
Henrietta.—Indolence! How could an indolent woman rule?
Henrietta.—In what manner?
Sinclair.—By opposition. Whoever adopts such a course, either from character or principle, acquires more authority than one would readily think.
Amelia.—I fear we are about to fall into the tone of censure so general to men.
Henrietta.—Do not interrupt him, Amelia. Nothing can be more harmless than these mere opinions; and we are the gainers, by learning what other persons think of us. Now, then, for the fourth class: what about it?
Sinclair.—I think I may speak unreservedly. The class I allude to does not exist in our country, and does not exist in France; because the fair sex, both among us and our gallant neighbours, enjoys a proper degree of freedom. But in countries where women are under restraint, and debarred from sharing in public amusements, the class I speak of is numerous. In a neighbouring country, there is a peculiar name by which ladies of this class are invariably designated.
Henrietta.—You must tell us the name: we can never guess names.
Sinclair.—Well, I must tell you, they are called roguish.
Henrietta.—A strange appellation.
Sinclair.—Some time ago you took great interest in reading the speculations of Lavater upon physiognomy: do you remember nothing about roguish countenances in his book?
Henrietta.—It is possible, but it made no impression upon me. I may, perhaps, have construed the word in its ordinary sense, and read on without noticing it.
Sinclair.—It is true that the word "roguish," in its ordinary sense, is usually applied to a person, who, with malicious levity, turns another into ridicule; but, in its present sense, it is meant to describe a young lady, who, by her indifference, coldness, and reserve—qualities which attach to her as a disease—destroys the happiness of one upon whom she is dependent. We meet with examples of this everywhere, sometimes even in our own circle. For instance, when I have praised a lady for her beauty, I have heard it said in reply, "Yes; but she is a bit of a rogue." I even remember a physician saying to a lady, who complained of the anxiety she suffered about her maid servant, "She is a rogue, and will give a deal of trouble."
Amelia rose from her seat, and left the apartment.
Henrietta.—That seems rather strange.
Sinclair.—I thought so too: and I therefore took a note of the symptoms, which seemed to mark a disease half moral and half physical, and framed an essay which I entitled, "Chapter on Rogues;" and, as I meant it to form a portion of a work on general anthropological observations, I have kept it by me hitherto.
Henrietta.—But you must let us see it; and, if you know any interesting anecdotes to elucidate your meaning of the word "rogue," they must find a place in our intended collection of novels.
Sinclair.—This may be all very well, but I find I have failed in the object which brought me hither. I was anxious to find some one in this gifted assembly to undertake an explanatian of these engravings, to recommend some talented writer for the purpose; in place of which, the engravings are abused and pronounced worthless, and I must take my leave without having attained my purpose. But, if I had only made notes of our conversation and anecdotes this evening, I should almost possess an equivalent.
Armidoro.—(Coming from the cabinet, to which he had frequently retired.) Your wish is accomplished. I know the motive of our friend, the editor of the work. I have taken down the heads of our conversation upon this paper. I will arrange the draught; and, if Eulalia will kindly promise to impart to the whole that spirit of charming animation which she possesses, the graceful tone of the work, and perhaps also its contents, will in some measure expiate the offence of the artist for his ungallant attack.
Henrietta.—I cannot blame your officious friendship, Armidoro: but I wish you had not taken notes of our conversation; it is setting a bad example. Our intercourse has been quite free and unrestrained; and nothing can be worse than that our unguarded conversation should be overheard and written down, perhaps even printed for the amusement of the public.
But Henrietta's scruples were silenced by a promise that nothing should meet the public eye except the little anecdotes which had been related.
Eulalia, however, could not be persuaded to edit the notes of the shorthand writer. She had no wish to withdraw her attention from the fairy-tale with which she was then occupied. The notes remained in possession of the gentlemen of the party, who, with the aid of their own memories, generously afforded their assistance, that they might thereby contribute to the general edification of all "good women."