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'Tis all mighty fine to talk of Prides of Villages subdued by wicked red-coats,-to hang garlands on the tombs of ill-starred Calanthas (vide the very old Timon who calleth himself New,—as if aught could be more antique than stale spite, stale wit, and stale sentiment !) that have been won by the noble air of such Bevilles and Ardens, as the Miss Porters described, with pale cheeks, and lamp-like eyes, and beards past resisting. Folly-fallacy—and finery, all this ! In nine cases out of ten,-in ninety-nine out of a hundred-your girl will rate Distinction as higher than roses and lilies ; and lay herself at the feet of Renown, though sweet smiles and sweet words may be hers to command in the largest possible measure. Ambition is nowhere more singular in its workings than among the unsophisticated, and the half-informed : and when to this universal passion is added all that is comprehended in the words, “pride of sex,”—the notion of being of consequence to those whom Fame and Fortune delight to honour—the exquisite flattery of being selected as “the identical She” who is essential to the well-being and well-doing of Greatness, -few, I insist, who take all these matters into account, will be inclined to question what I have advanced ;—that your Hero(not precisely Mr. Carlyle's, since he, sometimes, comes oddly near a brute-force gentleman) shall outbid and outbuy your Beauty, or your Man of Wealth. If, unluckily, the Great Man happens to have a Byron head into the bargain : if, as not unfrequently happens, his mind speaks in his face,—or is heard in the tones of his voice,—well-a-day, for poor simple Ann, Eliza, or Mary! It is “ ask and have" with a vengeance!
Or there is another condition in which Great Men commit wedlock, leading to consequences gravely worthy of examination. He and She (as the old music-books primitively state the personages of an eclogue) shall be both insignificant at the time of their “ billing and cooing,”-shall make what is called a love-match ; with no disturbing thoughts of the future before them, save a vague prospect of getting alongsome how or other. And, argumenti gratiâ, the briefless barrister shall shoot up into a Lord Chancellor—the clerk in the back shop blaze out as a Railway King, the spoiler of paper (most rare miracle of all), become an R.A., called to sit at the feasts of grandees and welcomed (even as all Greatness is, moral, imaginative, or intellectual) by the Sovereign of our country as an honoured guest, or a worshipful adviser. Again and again have such metamorphoses
NO. XVI.–VOL. III.
been seen ; the man becoming famous, the woman remaining obscure. Again and again shall you have pity vented-pity, but for whom? Truly, for the one on the sunny side of the wall ;—for the stronger, the more courted, the more gifted member of the household; while his mate, according to the delicious justice of the world's ministrations of sympathy, shall be criticised, shunned, blamed, threatened with the pillory of public censure, with the stocks of fashionable restraint, with transportation to the Coventry of civil neglect ;--not for any wrong she has done, not for any change which has passed over her: but because she dared to marry one apparently her equal in fortune, her equal in age, her equal in position, her superior in every endowment which qualifies one human being to concede, to condescend, and to sympathise with another. Poor, maltreated, fortune-spited Greatness! But where, even in these our days of philanthropy and toleration, shall we find help and sorrow, and brotherly love for the Small ?
Well : the wedlock is committed, and the pair start in life the one on his upward way—the other to remain on the same level of mind as that on which “ her star” had placed her :-nay, perhaps, to decline from thence, as the spirits of youth fade, and the pleasing consciousness of beauty departs, and the care of “ parlour, kitchen and hall,” or, as I have heard it called, “the soap-and-candle fever,” begins to enter the soul. Poor Woman ! remember, too, that her waning time sets in when Man is still in his prime, that the fine gold of her enchantments is tarnished long before the splendour of his success comes to its brightest! Every new accident moves the pair further and futher asunder. Affection becomes sapped by flatteries on every side : preyed upon by a spirit of inevitable comparison. The World moves the Great Man to take consolation. The small Woman, with lost youth, lost beauty, lost elasticity : bewildered by flights for which neither nature nor education had prepared her, becomes perverse, dogged, reproachful ;-attempts, poor blinded creature ! small self-assertions of her own, crooked little managements to gain her secret ends,-or provocations to prove that “she is not merely the tame drudge which some folks think her.” Woe to her, if she once begins such an unequal contest! In any case her lot is sure to be a sad one-at best the dull estate of an upper servant : in which the German woman delighteth, the English not. But let her take an attitude of warfare ; let her, the weaker vessel, show,-be it in ever so mean a degree,-the leaven of humanity, and she shall have the whole world against her, in the twinkling of an eye ;-most of all the world of Women : No lack of Clarissas and Clementinas dying to sympathise with the popular preacher, or the deep politician, or the high-soaring poet, or the artist who brings the play-house down ! No want of steady friends to the Great Man! No want of zealous women :—from the slipper-working race, (who in some sort reproduce the toe-kissingworship of his Arch-Infallibility), to the loftier and more liberal souls, who, despising “ conventions,” are ready to be beguiled or guided wheresoever the Genius will! No want of angry females, I say, by silent contempt to satirise the small Woman ; by obtrusive homage to prove how the Great Man should be appreciated! Enthusiasm is a noble thing, one of life's most comfortable excitements : but it may be also a very cruel one. Shall the world go on for ever, without our finding means to separate the exaltation of some from the degradation of others? Cannot great and small, strong and weak, Man and Woman fall into their places ; without the latter being tortured or ground to death by the former? Shall we not some day test Genius by the manner in which it supports, not casts aside, responsibilities? Or is the coarse and low-thoughted cant of “inspired idiocy” to be allowed till the end to excuse the bad husband, father, and citizen ?bearing hard with proportionate unfairness on those who surround him, and who bleed beneath the chariot-wheels of his triumph ?
And this leads me to the last and darkest phase of the union betwixt the great and the common-place :-I mean, when the inferior being is demoralised either to serve the purpose of the superior one, or by the unconscious influence of his companionship. I have always considered as among the most really tragical devices of modern fiction, the incident imagined (may we not say transcribed ?) by Miss Martineau in one of her tales: of the forger's innocent wife compelled by her husband to go out every day to circulate a given quantity of base coin ; and thankful, when she felt the listlessness of fever creeping over her, as though her one chance of respite and happiness was in confinement to a sick-bed! There is many a case which the biographies of Great Men conceal, less extreme in its misery, but nevertheless of the same family. There is the woman, permitted, which means encouraged, to go round among the friends of the Great Man“ in difficulties,” to raise money which, in her own despairing heart, she knows there exists no means of paying. There is the woman driven, for the sake of “ keeping up appearances,” to reckless expenditure at the moment when she feels the future to be hopelessly encumbered with difficulties. In what respect are their agonies less than those of the terrified child compelled by its task-master to attitudinise on tight-rope or slack-wire, with a smile of grimace on its countenance? There, again, is the woman, compelled to support the man in some flagrant apostacy from his avowed principles ; to give out the lies he has fabricated in excuse for some wretched recourse to expediency :-knowing the while,-albeit by instinct, possibly, rather than by reflection, —that she is art and part in a profligate transaction. And all this, without the excitement of responsibility (don't stare at my phrase) to support her! Yet analyse the story as given by the world, of the Man of Letters in extremities ; or of the Man in Office anxious to conceal possible downfall ; or of the Man in Power bent on justifying some marvellously sudden harlequinade ; and if the wife figures in it:-how perpetually will you find a part of the misadventure traced to her influence, or want of influence. How strongly will Reproof lift its voice against her thoughtlessness—how keenly society criticise the advocacy of one assumed, because of her recognised inferiority, to be unprincipled ! The one word of indulgent notice or kind construction bestowed on the secondary figure will be listened for in vain ; the idea of such & non-entity having proved struggles or trials worth counting be “ignored ;" while the severe verdict is, as the mathematicians would put it, “a constant quantity!” Think, once again, how the companion of Greatness, without any tyranny prepense, or want of love, or withering neglect, may be stretched and strained, as it were, to the destruction past cure of all health, strength, and equilibrium! It is not hard for the companion of an ambitious man,-himself balanced by that proud humility which always accompanies the highest ambitions—to caricature his desire to rise, seeing that no such equipoise as his exists to keep even moderate hopes and purposes in check ;-or for the flimsier thinker, who flutters in the train of the profound philosophical inquirer, to find herself stripped, bewildered, lost in a chaos from which she has no power to emerge ;-or for the Poet's wife to imagine that in his outward eccentricities lies his poetry, and therefore to out-do the same. From all this what rueful consequences proceed! Who has forgotten the clever simile, comparing the most celebrated of modern authors to a burning-glass through which the rays of the sun passed without destroying it, and his wife to the “ bit of paper beside, which
would be presently in a blaze?”—but who has added, with the commonest and cheapest of charity, that the bit of paper thus placed could not, according to Nature's laws, help burning ?
It is a safe and convenient manner, moreover, of wreaking envy, which cannot have escaped the cognizance of any one skilled in the subject, for those who feel Greatness itself to be beyond their detraction, to fasten on some one of its accessories. Venus could not be called imperfect ; but then her noisy slippers ! Ais past the power of depreciation to injure; but really Mrs. Candour “did expect something more from A- 's wife!” Bhas written the book of the season : young damsels blush, and elder ones rise on tip-toe to see him come. “Such a countenance! such a manner ! such a gentleman of Nature's making!” To run down B-_ 's book is to write yourself an ass. But, of the little woman “like dejected Pity” at his side... “Who was saying that he had married her out of a milliner's shop ?-and she looks like it.” C- is damaged yet worse by his domestic circumstances. “ He would come among us, poor fellow : but that horrid woman keeps him at home. And no one can put up with her !" Let these charming, charitable verdicts come round to the ears of A- or B— or C— ; and who knows, but that in the friendly report of the same may lie the germ of one of those long domestic tragedies of dull misery, the end whereof is a desperate man breaking loose from a dogged woman: the one for every sympathetic soul to soothe; the other, an obstacle in every one's way ; indefensible, unsightly, to be jostled out of sight, broken, and forgotten!
“ Whither,” says some impatient Hero-worshipper, “ would you lead us, by this defence of the mean, the limited, the stupid ?"To the strengthening of the Great Man ; to the supporting of him in “all due and becoming domestic amiabilities,” (as a clerical friend of mine, who preached the most mellifluous of sermons and had not spoken a word to his wife for ten years, used to phrase it) to the encouragement of him—here all the ladies will bridle, and look applause, -in a less random choice than his wont. Further, if any one fears that the Small Woman will give herself undue airs, and grow imperious upon the improved scale of mercy and notice awarded to her, let me gently remind him ;—that the days of improving intelligence by proscription, of raising the moral tone by vengeful punishment are past; and that—without meaning to announce a Millennium in which Frailty and Folly shall reign,-still less the commencement of an Amazonian epoch when she-Bishops