Page images
PDF
EPUB

humanity as we know it, though no proof of the correctness of that principle, is at any rate a fact in its favour. Hence the allegation that mankind are not good enough to admit of the sexes living together harmoniously under the law of equal freedom, in no way militates against the validity or sacredness of that law.

But the never-ceasing process of adaptation will gradually remove this obstacle to domestic rectitude. Recognition of the moral law and an impulse to act up to it, going hand in hand, as we have seen that they must do (p. 20), equality of rights in the married state will become possible as fast as there arises a perception of its justness. As elsewhere shown (p. 50), the same sentiment which leads us to maintain our own rights, leads us, by its sympathetic excitement, to respect the rights of our neighbours. A state in which every one is jealous of his natural claims, is not therefore a litigious state, because if there is a due fellow feeling there is of necessity a diminished tendency to aggression. Experience proves this. For, as it cannot be denied that there is now a greater disposition among men towards the assertion of individual liberty than existed during the feudal ages, so neither can it be denied that there is now a less disposition among men to trespass against each other than was then exhibited. The two changes are co-ordinate, and must continue to be so. Hence, whenever society shall have become civilized enough to recognize the equality of rights between the sexes—when women shall have attained to a clear perception of what is due to them, and men to a nobility of feeling which shall make them concede to women the freedom which they themselves claim-humanity will have undergone such a modification as to render an equality of rights practicable.

Married life under this ultimate state of things will not be characterized by perpetual squabbles, but by mutnal concessions. Instead of a desire on the part of the husband to assert his claims to the uttermost, regardless of those of his wife, or on the part of the wife to do the like, there

will be a watchful desire on both sides not to transgress. Neither will have to stand on the defensive, because each will be solicitous for the rights of the other. Committing a trespass will be the thing feared, and not the being trespassed against.

[NOTE.—For the author's views concerning the political position of women, the reader is referred to Part IV of The Principles of Ethics, treating of Justice, Chapters xx and xxiv.]

THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN.

As an abstract truth we all admit that passion distorts judgment; yet we never inquire whether our passions are influencing us. We all decry prejudice, yet are all prejudiced. We see how habits, and interests, and likings, mould the . theories of those around us; yet forget that our own theories are similarly moulded. Nevertheless, the instances in which our feelings bias us in spite of ourselves are of hourly recurrence. That proprietary passion which a man has for his ideas, veils their defects from him as effectually as maternal fondness blinds a mother to the imperfections of her offspring. An anthor cannot, for the life of him, judge correctly of what he has just written: he has to wait until lapse of time enables him to read it as though it were a stranger's, and he then discerns flaws where all had seemed perfect. It is only when his enthusiasm on its behalf has grown cold, that the artist is able to see the faults of his picture. While they are transpiring, we do not perceive the ultimate bearings of our own acts or the acts of others towards us: only in after years are we able to philosophize upon them. Just so, too, is it with successive generations. Men of the past quite misunderstood the institutions they lived under. They pertinaciously adhered to the most vicious principles, and were bitter in their opposition to right ones, at the dictates of their attachments and antipathies. So difficult is it for man to emancipate himself from the invisible fetters which habit and education cast over his intellect; and so palpable is the consequent incompetency of a people to judge rightly of itself

and its deeds or opinions, that the fact has been embodied in the aphorism—“No age can write its own history.”

If we act wisely, we shall assume that the reasonings of modern society are subject to the like disturbing influences. We shall conclude that, even now, as in times gone by, opinion is but the counterpart of condition. We shall suspect that

many of those convictions which seem the results of dispassionate thinking, have been nurtured in us by circumstances. We shall confess that as, heretofore, fanatical opposition to this doctrine and bigoted adhesion to that, have been no tests of the truth or falsity of the said doctrines; so neither is the strength of attachment or dislike which a nation now exhibits towards certain principles, any proof of their correctness or their fallacy.

a

We say that a man's character may be told by the company he keeps. We might similarly say that the truth of a belief may be judged by the beliefs with which it is associated. Given a theory universally current among degraded sections of our race—a theory received only with considerable abatements by civilized nations-a theory in which men's confidence diminishes as fast as society advances; and we may safely pronounce that theory to be a false one. On such, along with other evidence, the subordination of sex was lately condemned. Those commonly-observed facts, that the enslavement of woman is invariably associated with a low type of social life, and that, conversely, her elevation uniformly accompanies progress, were cited in part proof that the subjection of female to male is wrong. If now, instead

, of women we read children, kindred facts may be cited, and a kindred deduction may be drawn. If it be true that the dominion of man over woman has been oppressive in proportion to the badness of the age or the people, it is also true that parental authority has been stringent and unlimited in a like proportion. If it be a fact that the emancipation of women has kept pace with the emancipation of society, it is

a

likewise a fact that the once despotic rule of the old over the young has been ameliorated at the same rate.

Whoever wants illustrations of this alleged harmony between the political, connubial, and filial relationships, inay discover them everywhere. Scanning those primitive states of humanity during which the aggressive conduct of man to man renders society scarcely possible, he will see not only that wives are slaves and exist by sufferance, but that children hold their lives by the same tenure, and are sacrificed to the gods when fathers so will. He may observe how, during classic times, the thraldom of five-sixths of the population was accompanied both by a theory that the child is the property and slave of its male parent, and by a legal fiction which regarded wives as children similarly owned. In China, under a government purely autocratic, there exists a public opinion which deems it an unpardonable offence for a wife to accuse her husband to the magistrate, and which ranks filial disobedience as a crime next in atrocity. to murder. Nor is our own history barren of illustrations. On reviewing those times when constitutional liberty was but a name, when men were denied freedom of speech and belief, when the people's representatives were openly bribed and justice was boughtthe times, too, with which the laws enacting the servitude of women were in complete harmony-the observer cannot fail to be struck with the harshness of parental behaviour, and the attitude of humble subjection which sons and daughters had to assume. Between the last century, when our domestic condition was marked by the use of Sir and Madam in addressing parents, and by the doctrine that a child onght unhesitatingly to marry whomsoever a father appointed, and when our political condition was marked by aristocratic supremacy, by the occurrence of church-and-king riots, and by the persecution of reformers-between that day and ours, the decline in the rigour of paternal authority and in the severity of political control, has been simultaneous. And the like companionship of facts is seen in the present rapid

« PreviousContinue »