THE FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF MEN TRADERS ENGROSSING WOMEN'S OCCUPATIONS.
TO detail human misery in all its various shapes is not in the power of any individual: so complicated and numerous are the ills of this life, and so various its misfortunes, that we need not have recourse to the airy regions of fiction or romance, to find out objects of distress, to pourtray the woes of our fellow creatures; yet, from motives of delicacy, beg leave to withhold names, lest the suffering objects should feel hurt at the melancholy recital of their tale of woe; and shall therefore only select a few instances, and leave the candid moralist to take a comparative view of the rest, through all the wonderful mazes and wide tracts, to which a part of our fellow mortals have been condemned.—And by what? not by divine law, which is, or ought to be, the standing rule of all our action, but by an evil precedent, which happens to fall with all its force upon that part of the community, whose feeble powers of resistance, joined to an habitual passive submission, are the least able to defend them. Consequently it has never yet been thought a business worth investigation, although so many others, of much less moment, have been sought out, and redressed.
When we look around us, nothing is more conspicuous in the eyes of the world, than the distresses of women. I do not say those whom a kind Providence hath placed under the immediate care of a tender father, or an affectionate and kind husband; or, by chance, a friend, or brother. But these, alas! comprise only one part of the community. Notwithstanding all are of the same nature, and were formed by the same Divine Power, yet their comforts differ very widely indeed. Still, as women seem formed by nature to seek protection from man, why, in the name of justice, refuse the boon? Does it not become highly worthy the attention of men in general, to consider in what manner to redress the grievances already within their notice?
Perhaps it may be said, and very justly, that, considering human frailty, there is amongst women, as well as men, a vast number of vicious and undeserving. Granted; still, is it not better to pass over a hundred guilty, than let punishment fall upon one innocent person?—Besides, is there not a possibility of forming a plan of discrimination, for the benefit of those only who merit such humane and friendly interference?
Some years ago, who would have been made believe, so many persons could be restored to life, as the Royal Humane Society, for the recovering of drowned persons, has effected? Yet so it is; which proves to a demonstration, the practicability of this design. But before I proceed with my Hint for erecting any established plan, for the restoration of peace and happiness to the, perhaps, once happy, but now most miserable of beings, I cannot help making a remark, that, in order to lay a good foundation, every builder must find it necessary, first, to remove the rubbish out of his way—So let us proceed to the ground-work of the design; and, before any further steps are taken, ask, What can be said in favour of men-milliners, men-mantua-makers, and men stay-makers? besides all the numerous train of other professions, such as hair-dressers, &c. &c.; all of which occupations are much more calculated for women than men. But, thanks to the fashions of the times, for once, which have nearly exploded that disgraceful custom of men dressing ladies' hair, by the introduction of all the brutuses and chignons, of every denomination, which have found their way to the toilets of all descriptions of females. Where is there a Stevens now? was there ever a wider field for the display of his talents? Yet, if perukes are the fashion of the day, what is to prevent a woman from displaying her taste upon a lady's head as well as a man, who seems much better calculated for a more masculine employment.
"Look," says an observer, "to the shops of perfumers, toymen, and others of a similar occupation; and, above all, look to the haberdashery magazines, where from ten to twenty fellows, six feet high, may be counted in each, to the utter exclusion of poor females, who could sell a tooth-pick, or a few ribbons, just as well."
A tax upon these fellows would be very salutary, so say I; yet, for a poor female individual to attack so numerous a body of men, however insignificant by custom, is a bold stroke, no doubt; yet, having thrown these sentiments together, in defence of the oppressed, even the censure of malevolence itself will not prevent the truth, which, like a huntsman's whip, cannot give pain to any but those it touches: for, as no rule can be established without exceptions, so in this case more than one must be granted, which shall be treated of in a subsequent part of these pages. To class the innocent with the guilty would be doing injustice to the cause.
But, in the mean time, where are these fathers, husbands, brothers, and professed friends to virtue and happiness, who step not forward in the business? No doubt but there are many men of great probity and humanity, and yet, through the progressive course of custom, have not adverted either to the cause or its fatal consequences; or, in fine, are not aware of the real distresses of our fellow-creatures; from which idea it is so frequently wished a reference to facts may take place, since neither the sufferings of these poor women, nor the cause of their sufferings can possibly be known, but by investigation.
It is not to be supposed but all, in some degree, share the common misfortunes in life; and few there are, however wretched their situations, who cannot single out other beings as bad, if not in a more deplorable state.
But, in the case of these poor women, where is there a state nearly equal to theirs? borne down by fate's afflicting hand, they are not able to act, or seek redress; and this, by the unfeeling part of the world, we have too great reason to fear, is termed idleness and profligacy.
What a littleness of mind! what an unfeeling and despicable meanness must lurk in the breasts of those, who can, with impunity, insult over distress! Into what fits of desperation have numbers of helpless females fallen through these contemptible insults and revilings, and even neglects! for, it is in those dark moments of distress, when the senses are all alive to the fine feelings of nature, that every nerve is relaxed and ready to receive the fatal dart.
Then indeed it is, that she stands exposed in the field of adversity, surrounded by every disadvantage, without the aid of education, or the guardian hand of protection; that is to say, without either weapon or shield of defence: a situation which, it is natural to suppose, would draw pity from the most obdurate hearts. Yet, how many are the instances of the censorious part of the creation, dastardly and cruelly assassinating and murdering the character of these poor unfortunate victims, and those of all murderers are the worst under heaven. The common and detected murderer stands exposed to the laws of his country, but the assassin, who, under a cloak of hypocrisy, can persecute and defame the characters of oppressed females, are no longer worthy the invaluable title of Christian.
Then, pass no longer, so unconcernedly and without notice, the distressed and wretched situation of the most helpless part of the creation, who are not impowered by any means whatever to defend themselves; having, by the strong power of custom, so long been deemed unworthy of notice.
O! may that auspicious day arrive. when the curtain may be withdrawn, and the tragic scene exposed to open view; when every true Briton who reveres his Maker, or his king, may cheerfully exert himself in the general cause.
What greater satisfaction can the good heart feel, than to be the instrument of drawing distress from the dark shades of obscurity and wretchedness? In addition to which, are we not fully convinced, from the words of our blessed Teacher, that a kind and charitable disposition towards our fellow-creatures, is one of the greatest precepts of our religion? Does he not say, by this the world shall know you to be my disciples, if you love one another. Then, on the strength of divine exhortation, let us comfort these poor women in the words of the immortal Milton:
"Be not disheartened then, nor cloud those looks,
"That wont to be more cheerful and serene."
But with joyful expectation wait a relief to those trying hardships which the unfortunate part of poor females have so long sustained; not doubting but some friendly and humane well-wisher to the distressed, and the public in general, will zealously undertake the cause, whether individually, or in general, matters not; for it is not to be supposed, all men are in the same mind at once, or can obtain a full knowledge of the case at first view; but when once begun, doubtless others will as quickly join in the grand cause, and from a serious survey, discover some mode of regulating this complex business, which carries such a vast train of grievances after it, and which is deeply interwoven with the happiness of the greatest part of the people, connected with the whole, will manifest itself to every serious enquirer, and shall be more fully enlarged upon, as we explore the dreary scene. But I can never force myself to a belief, that woman, the mother of all mankind, was ever intended by Divine Providence to become a butt, or mark, to receive so many piercing darts from the sons of her bosom, as her only reward for all that maternal affection and kindness which the helpless state of infancy and childhood render so necessary: independently, does it not seem a social interest in nature, to give aid and succour to one another?
No: it was never intended that women should be left destitute in the world, without the common necessaries of life, which they so frequently experience, even without any lawful or reputable means of acquiring them, through the vile practice of men filling such situations as seem calculated, not only to give bread to poor females, but thereby to enable them to tread the paths of virtue, and render them useful members, in some lawful employment, as well as ornaments to their professions and sex. This lovely appearance, alas! is but too often thrown aside, and, frequently, not from vicious inclinations, but the absolute necessity of bartering their virtue for bread.
Then, is it not highly worthy the attention of men, men who profess moral virtue and the strictest sense of honour, to consider in what mode to redress these grievances! for women were ultimately designed for something better, though they have so long fared otherways.
That there should he a mixture of characters in the world is, beyond a doubt, for wise and good reasons, which we poor short-sighted mortals know not, more than that it is a principle in which all reflecting persons have agreed, that our present state, on this side the grave is certainly designed for improvement, in order to fit us for a better. This being admitted, where can the well-disposed find a better opportunity, than by defending the innocent and unprotected, selecting them from the noxious part of mankind, with whom they are, through keen adversity, obliged to associate; and placing them in such situations, as will enable them, to pursue the paths of virtue, by means of some honest employment?
But to accomplish so laudable a design rests both with the humane and the opulent, by whose investigation, there is not a doubt, but it will be found a work of the utmost importance, not only in the present state of things but in looking forward to a succession. For in times like the present, is not the aid and assistance of men required in the military and naval departments? And in more peaceable times, which we have to look forward to, are not, or ought not, the manufactories of the country to be the first object considered? In either of these cases, it evidently appears, that men may be much better employed than in filling women's occupations. For, in the words of St. Luke, these poor females may very justly say, "to dig I cannot, to beg I am ashamed." From this evil precedent, there is no other alternative for these poor women, but beggary or vice!
Let us then, if you please, select one of these distressed females, out of the prodigious multitude, and pursue her through the humiliating scene of beggary: I believe it is granted, that pride is well known to be the predominant passion of the human breast, and consequently any comments on that head are needless; but certain it must be, that after, perhaps, a life of ease and affluence, to be compelled to such a mortifying situation, requires more than a common share of fortitude to support. Still this prevailing passion, with all its train of attendants, must be subdued, in the dreadful situation of beggary which cannot fail to bring down the spirits of these unhappy victims, with more oppressive force than it is in the power of words to express, or pen to paint, and can only be conceived, in part, by the silent sensations of those who can adopt another's woes, and trace the passions of the human mind. For what must not be the perturbation of a mind like this, when dire necessity compels the poor, neglected victim to pursue such degrading steps, in order to support a miserable existence! See her trembling limbs, which are scarcely able to support her load of wretchedness, whilst she asks an alms from the casual passenger. She who, perhaps, a short time since, charmed her acquaintance with her sprightly conversation and virtuous example, by one adverse stroke, is nevertheless so soon become the contempt, the scorn, and the outcast of mortals! Nor is this wretched doom confined to youth alone; but, by the cruel hand of fate, the poor, dejected mother, as well as daughter, is condemned to share the same direful misfortunes, and be reduced to the same low state of wretchedness, from which their characters are stigmatized with infamy, and to which they unavoidably fall a sacrifice. In this miserable state they must for ever remain, until the spirit of oppression and mistaken prejudice is eradicated, and the heavy cloud of misrepresentation cleared away, through a proper investigation of the cause, which, doubtless, will lead to a conviction; that the distress and wretchedness of these poor, abandoned creatures originate chiefly from the avaricious and mercenary views of that set of beings, who are "Eating the bread of the hungry, and drinking the drink of the thirsty." Nor are these poor women allowed "to pick up the crumbs," which will appear in the sequel.
In the mean time, let us, if you please, take another view of this poor mother and her miserable daughter, in this forlorn and distressing state of beggary, and there see what relief they obtain, from their piercing accents and broken sighs—little more, it is to be feared, than contempt or insults. Even the hand of charity, accustomed to bestow on the needy, no sooner observes the appearance of youth, or a capability of industry, than it is instantly withdrawn, and kept in reserve (as it is thought) for some more proper object.
Good heavens, what a scene of woe! when the poor mother and her helpless daughter are turned adrift, to the mercy of an unfeeling world; which neither their genteel education, or delicate constitutions, broken down by poverty and hardships, can prevent. O! what distress, in a situation like this! The mother, the fond mother, in the full bitterness of maternal affection, takes another, and another view of her darling child; perhaps the only remaining pledge of a late kind partner! sees her still laden with the fruits of a pious education at least; views her with unutterable fondness, "whilst all the soft passions of her tender soul throb through her breast with unavailing grief," at the near approach of their destruction! In vain do they supplicate their former friends, for the voice of censure has pointed them out as infamous! Good God ! what grief can equal this? Abandoned by friends, and left to the reproach, contempt, and censure of a cruel world, without a provision, or any probable means of gaining a subsistence, or even the smallest glimpse of distant hope.
And, though shocking to relate, yet such is the miserable situation of thousands of defenceless women.
Nor let the unfeeling and censorious part of mankind refute the assertion, until provision is made for the relief of all those who would be both industrious and virtuous, had they the means. After which, the remaining few may justly be reckoned in the class of incorrigible sinners, and be a sufficient mode of forming a discrimination.
But until that provision is made, it is inhuman, base, and cruel, and beneath the dignity of a Christian, to load with infamy the poor, neglected female, who suffers through misfortunes, and the continuation of an evil precedent; and whose passive virtue is, perhaps, at the very instant of calumny, offering up the divine petition of, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do;" and endeavouring to arm with Christian fortitude herself and beloved child, according to the advice of the wise man, who says, "Has thou children, instruct them from their youth." She remonstrates with the child of her bosom not with standing she is her partner in wretchedness, and still encourages her to persevere in virtue, and live in joyful hope.
"Let us, my dear child,"; says she, "form our estimation of the world and its objects at they deserve; remembering we are pilgrim; and strangers here. Let us keep in view the glorious prize; and let us soar above the crowd of human difficulties, and rejoice that the hand which made us is divine. Then, let not our feet tread in the muddy paths of vice nor suffer the purity of our good intentions to be stained with a single act of disobedience to a Supreme Power."
And under these and such like reviving comforts, the effects of a religious and pious education, she still endeavours to persevere in virtue, though in the midst of poverty; a state which, without the interference of the humane, not any thing can hide them from but the silent grave. Oh! let not then our ears be polluted by the envenomed breath of censure, but endeavour to remove the cause, as well as stigma, which, like the pendulum to a clock, sets every wheel of wretchedness in motion; and by seriously investigating the cause, searching deeply into the state of facts, and the origin of this tribulation, let the censure rest where it is due. For, is it not enough, enough indeed! for the innocent to struggle with the hardships of penury and want, without the double load of malevolence? Alas! even in this despicable state, they are still liable to sorrows they never yet felt, nor are even aware of; for the very means they are driven to use, to obtain the trifling pittance which they sue for, renders them exposed to the merciless hand of any avaricious russian, who may be base enough to drag these poor victims they know not where.
What says the Vagrant Act?—"Persons who beg in the streets are idle and disorderly; and any person who apprehends and carries such a beggar before a justice, shall receive five shillings, when the said justice may commit them to a house of correction."
However shocking the sentence, what numbers of these poor objects have been dragged away by the ruthless hand of the unfeeling savage, to some loathsome prison, without regard to the more refined or delicate sensations of one or another? Good heavens! there surely needs no Siddonian powers to heighten such a tragic scene. She who, perhaps, was reared with all the gentle softness and maternal care of a fond parent; she, who so lately was looked upon as an ornament to her sex, until the pressure of misfortunes compelled her to seek for bread, to be at once confined in a dark prison, there to be obliged to hear all the opprobrious language of the very lowest set of beings, and that under a storm of oaths and imprecations, which, of itself, must pierce her very soul. There to have her ears grated with the rattling of bolts and bars, and all the adamantine setters of misery. Good God! is it possible we can see our fellow creatures debased so low! Can we see the tender and delicate frame, which was formerly accustomed to ease and tranquillity, and which was formed by nature to participate in others misfortunes! can we let these innocent and helpless beings pass unnoticed, and not commiserate their distress, and ask, from whence the cause?—No! it is impossible the eyes can any longer be shut to their sufferings, or the ears to their piercing cries of, "Have pity on me! Oh! ye, my friends, have pity on me!"
Is not this real distress? Surely there cannot be any thing more wretchedly miserable than the situation of these poor women, who are prohibited from sharing in industry, or the common necessaries of life, or even tasting the very dregs of comfort. For let us but figure to ourselves this wretched pair upon their bed of straw, with all their innocence, with all their tenderness, and quick sensations of distress, still laden with the fruits of a pious education,
"They shriek, start up, the same sad prospect find,
"And wake to all the ills they left behind."
And thus they linger out a wretched exile in this miserable dungeon, until the law hath had its course, and they again are liberated. When see, the fond mother, the poor mother, taking another, and another review of her wretched offspring, groaning out a miserable existence on the narrow verge of life! her sorrow surrounds her like the stern winter's blast, and she feels her worn-out senses just bordering upon desponding madness; for, when Hope no longer offers her consolation, despondency must take place; and with all the bitter pangs of distress, she, like the poor widow in sacred writ, sets about to prepare her last handful of meal, that "they may eat it and die." A release they most ardently wish for, whilst in a state of innocence, rather than keep life upon such wretched terms as are now presented: for, alas! by this time, they see that period near at hand, which must determine the great and shocking alternative between vice or death. And what must be the conflict at this long-dreaded moment, to a heart which, in early youth, was taught to serve its great Creator, and still retains an ardent wish to be virtuous! Can any state under heaven be more distressing to a delicate and susceptible mind, than that between good and evil? And, how shocking it must be, at length, to hear these poor victims of wretchedness, defend themselves, by exclaiming, "I sought not redress in vice, till urged to it by self-defence, in order to support an existence, which, though I no longer covet, it is my duty to preserve: nor is there any other remedy for ills like mine; for, as the wise Solomon says, "extreme oppression maketh us desperate!"
What a horrid and shocking state! to be driven, by absolute necessity, to support a wretched existence by the forfeiture of every thing she holds most dear in this life, and at the hazard of what is still more precious, her immortal soul!
Besides, what must not be the agonies of her soul in this wretched state, on the dreadful approach of death? a death which, though so much desired in innocence, is dreaded with so great horror in guilt, when all her crimes appear at once to her distracted view. Worn out with intemperance and disease, she feels the dreadful period near at hand, when she must appear before the grand tribunal! How many are her penetential tears in such a horrid situation? She calls, and calls again, upon her great Creator, "O Lord, rebuke me not in thy fury, nor chastise me in thy wrath; for who can stand before the face of thy indignation?" And thus surrounded with all these dismal and heart-piercing sensations, without a friend to comfort, or the still more invaluable consolations of a dying Christian; her every sense is racked with horror, and little unlike the infernal regions is her wretched situation.
Whilst her associates in vice are revelling in drunkenness, in order to banish from their reflections all ideas of the horrid scene, and thus she lies, "Groaning out the poor remains of life," her limbs bathed in sweat, and struggling with convulsive throws, pains insupportable throbbing in every pulse, and innumerable darts of agony transfixing her conscience.
"Raves round the walls of her clay tenement,
"Runs to each avenue and shrieks for help,
"But shrieks in vain. How wishfully, she looks
"On all she's leaving, now no longer her's.
"A little longer, yet a little longer."
Thus her exhausted breath expires, and she dies in all the bitterness of woe. And this alike must continue to be the fate (as it has been so long to numbers) of both parents and children, unless the kind hand of interference shall sever the chain of misery, by which they have so long been held down.
But will not a serious investigation into these scenes of horror be sufficient to arouse the most callous of mankind? for who would not use their utmost endeavours to relieve such unheard-of distress? Or, what is still better, prevent such dire calamities, and all such complicated scenes of misery and wretchedness: for, is it not always granted, that prevention is better than cure?
Then let it not be said, that a country so famed for its justice and humanity, should suffer a continuance of such distress; or that any of our fellow creatures should be compelled to take shelter under the baneful shades of vice, in order to support a miserable existence.
Much, very much, indeed, may be said or this subject, but it is not my wish or intention to delineate, or dwell longer upon the tragical history, than may serve to lead to the avenue of investigation; when a small part of these striking truths, to a reflecting mind, will be sufficient to conciliate, and cause them to exert a cheerful readiness to serve our fellow, creatures; by doing which we are well assured it is performing a three-fold duty, viz. to God to our neighbour, and ourselves. I am fully persuaded, it will appear equally as political as humane; for the poor, miserable, and oppressed creatures cannot say with Job, "I have erred, mine error remains with myself." No: their crimes are contagious, and their errors extend and spread their baneful influence through cities, towns, and whole countries, to the utter destruction of families of all descriptions; in which case, is it possible unwary youth should escape ?
What numbers of unguarded young men, even with hearts inclined to virtue, have unhappily been drawn on to vice, by the powerful insinuations of these poor abandoned females, who, like Eve in Paradise, is no sooner fallen herself, than, by deceitful artifice, she spreads the net of destruction to catch others. For example: need we go any farther than the theatres, the resort of all, both good and bad, and where abandoned females, of all ages and degrees of profligacy, attend to make their harvest, and gather in their unlawful plunder, to supply the ordinary wants of the ensuing day ? And what can better answer the purpose of decoy than the drama? for, should it be comedy, the obscenity which prevails in many of our modern plays, cannot fail to act as poison upon the young mind: or is it tragedy, what can have a greater influence upon the feelings of sensibility, or sooner awaken the tender passions, which these miserable women take special care to translate to their own evil purposes? Perhaps, in drawing a simile of their own distress, or by some other artful representation or pretence, by which such numbers of innocent and inexperienced young men are artfully led astray, in their most unguarded moments, whilst seeking a rational and innocent amusement, as a relaxation from the toils of the day, from which too many have found themselves, at once, immerged in destruction, and ingulphed in the quicksands of vice.
Horrid destruction! if all, or the greatest part, of this originates from women being precluded from supporting themselves by means of some lawful employment, who will continue to countenance a precedent, big with so much destruction?
How many unhappy young men have fallen a sacrifice, both in mind and body, to the diabolical artifices which these poor, miserable, abandoned women are driven to practice for bread! And how many Barnwells, who, not able to support, by honest industry, the wants of a favourite mistress, have forcibly pursued such methods as have brought them to misery, shame, and death, and their distracted parents with sorrow to their graves! leaving behind them the remainder of an unprovided family, to toil up the steep of difficulty; and, if females, with all the tribulations before them which we have been just tracing in others!
Nor does the dreadful calamity end here; for, notwithstanding so many unfortunate females have been obliged to seek bread in the paths of vice, and so many young men have fallen victims to their solly and wickedness, still the same devouring jaws of destruction are open for its future prey; nor can they ever possibly close, until the grievous precedent of men usurping females' occupations is entirely done away, or some proper substitute provided, so as to enable women to share the common necessaries along with their fellow-creatures: till then, we need not wonder at the vast number of pickpockets and housebreakers which, at all times, infest the streets, to the disturbance of all civil society; for we may again repeat with Milton, when night
"Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons
"Oh Belial, flush'd with insolence and wine."
For when "young men, void of understanding," are seduced by such lawless and licentious methods to squander away, in riot and drunkenness, what they have obtained by unlawful plunder, it is no difficult talk to find out the cause of these nocturnal depredations; for we may naturally suppose, these poor unhappy women are always ready to benumb and drown their reflections with intoxicating liquors, the effects of which must lead them, with their wretched associates, into every excess of sin and wickedness, to the utter demolition of public happiness and safety, as well as incurring a heavy burden of expences upon the inhabitants.
It is said, the city of London alone pays upwards of twenty thousand pounds annually to patrols, beadles, and watchmen; and it may be a much greater sum; yet, that of itself seems a vast sum indeed, to be raised by levy, in which the honest trader must unavoidably contribute a large share. Would not that contribution answer a much better purpose in providing for the necessitous poor, such as we have just been treating of, and who are judged unfit objects to be received into a parish workhouse; being, as it is termed, able enough to earn their own bread out of the house?
Yet, so long as there continues a prohibition against women having an employment, it is to be feared, double the sum already raised by the inhabitants will be found inefficacious. But such is the link of progression, arising from this dreadful usurpation; which shews the necessity of entering into the origin of these melancholy truths, that so the chain of connection may be found whole; otherways, far be it from me to entertain a wish to offer to the generous part of my readers a work fraught with so many tragic representations: but, least the want of a full narrative should leave the subject dark to comprehend, I still pursue my plan; and even should my zeal in the cause of happiness lead into an eccentric mode of writing, be it remembered it is an eccentric cause, but with a most sanguine wish to see all the inhabitants of this favoured isle become useful and happy members of society, instead of being the harpies of destruction.
That political and private happiness are invariably connected, is beyond a doubt; and that the morals of this nation are very corrupt, is but too visible, from the vast numbers of disgraceful women who infest the face of the country. As for the number of these mi serable beings, it cannot be an easy matter to ascertain: but suppose, from the prodigious numbers, that are seen scattered about, like sheep having no shepherd, that in London, for example, there are five or six thousand: Nay; I have either read, or heard it said, ten thousand! but how that calculation can be made, I shall not take upon me to say; yet, suppose we call it half that number; are not five thousand destitute females too many to suffer through so poor a cause, and will not a much less number suffice to contaminate the morals of more than half the youths in town, and prove a source of destructive oppression to a vast number of inhabitants? for, without morals, how can we expect happiness, or what is to support the public good?
Then, what sort of beings are they, who can, with impunity, oppress these unfortunate women, to the entire destruction of all happiness, both national and domestic? Or where is the breast, truly warm in the cause of virtue and a country's good, who will suffer the continuance of a precedent so destructively oppressive, without exerting themselves in the cause? for granting it is a great part of the Christian religion, to assist our neighbours as far as we are empowered. To neglect an investigation of these grievances admits no excuse, when once the clouds of obscurity are dispersed; for enquiry is the great source of knowledge.
From the holy scriptures we learn, that "Wisdom is justified in all her children;" and from what but wisdom and justice is derived the support of our common weal, by investigating which, will not the judicious quickly discover a numerous train of oppressive grievances not yet told. Let him but enquire the cause of such vast numbers of convicts having been sent abroad, to the great expence of the nation; and see if their connection with these necessitous women has not been a great means of their misfortunes: for, alas! young men, upon their first entrance into the world, are too often inebriated with the pleasing, but baneful, draught of pleasures, till their senses are so much intoxicated, that they run they know not where, and at length find themselves ensnared in the net, which these poor abandoned women, or rather the instigators of their misery, have so artfully set to entrap the unwary.
Yet, a serious consideration, no doubt, will prompt an enquiry, and a perseverance in the pursuit; and surely we may hope, an undertaking, founded on such a basis as the laws of humanity, and a general good, can never fail of success. Nor will the more generous part of men-traders, such as are before described, delay to resign a privilege, maintained upon such unjust principles; for far, very far, be it from me to suppose, or entertain a with to insinuate a supposition, that all effeminate tradesmen are equally guilty of a known violation. Nor is any individual accused for involuntary crimes: yet, does it not behove every member of society to inform themselves, especially when the object of enquiry is of such great magnitude, as to extend beyond the interest of individuals, and affect a whole community?
It is beyond a doubt, that many men, through the force of custom, are ignorant of the injury they are doing their neighbour, and mankind in general, the details of which I have very scrupulously collected, and may say with Shakespeare, I have "nothing extenuated, nor set down aught in malice."
Indeed, I have not a wish to accuse, or call in question, the conduct or motive of any individual. No: suffice it that appeal to their own feelings, to humanity, and the gospel truths; after which, let the inward monitor of the guilty say, 'Thou art the man.' But permit me to infer, this self accusation only extends to one part of the oppressive body; yet, what is to be said for the remainder, who shall still persevere in persecuting these poor helpless women, to the subversion of all civil society? for, are we not told by the inspired writer, "It is not the will of our Father, which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." Then, in compliance with our threefold obligation, are we not strictly enjoined to exhort our brethren to turn from their evil ways. What says St. Matthew, "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his faults: but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established; and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto them as an heathen man and a publican.
But by what means, less than enquiry, are we to know who our offending brother is? or why, in this enlightened age, is a business of so much consequence neglected! a business on which nothing less than the ruin or prosperity of a state depends; independent of Christianity or humanity, the great characteristic of the nation. Then, in a case where the whole is so strongly connected, why delay a single moment in the research. Indeed, it is a well-known maxim, and must be allowed, that those who are not forward in a cause, may be justly said to be against it; or, in other words, whoever is not the encourager of virtue, must unavoidably be the encourager of vice. But let the breast of sympathy participate in the sufferings of their fellow creatures. Let the tender eye of pity, which can so soon dissolve at an imaginary tragedy, a mere mock representation in a theatre, be truly melted into pity at real calamity.
That great numbers would be happy in contributing to the aid and relief of those who appear to be objects of distress, is beyond a doubt: but, alas! for helpless, injured females! the heavy clouds of prejudice and misrepresentation have thrown so dark a veil between them and the pity of the world, that they are despised by all. Yet, when the curtain is once withdrawn, and the tragic scene exposed to open view, leading these poor creatures from obscurity into open light, then will be the crisis, when every good Christian may be impowered to soften the affliction of another's woes; and though it may not be in the power of every sympathising breast to contribute towards their temporal wants, they may still be impowered to sooth their sorrows, rather than drive the envenomed arrows of censure still deeper into their afflicted bosoms.
What kind of monument did the immortal Hervey make choice of for himself? "Let me," says he, "leave a memorial in the breasts of my fellow-creatures. Let surviving friends bear witness, that I have not lived to myself alone, nor been altogether unserviceable in my generation. O! let an uninterrupted series of beneficent offices be the inscription, and the best interests of my acquaintance the plate that exhibits it. Let the poor, as they pass by my grave, point at the little spot, and thankfully acknowledge, there lies the man, whose unwearied kindness was the constant relief of my various distresses; who tenderly visited my languishing bed, and readily supplied my indigent circumstances. How often were his councils a guide to my perplexed thoughts, and a cordial to my dejected spirits."
And why may not the same inscriptive monument belong to many? It is in the power of any one to merit it, even by the good offices and tender concern for these poor objects, who, like a foot-ball, are still rolling upon the surface, ready to receive the next stroke, without being able to make the smallest resistance. Nor is there any other set of being under the heavens, who stand in greater need of consolation, than these poor unfortunate women: or who, through vile censure, receive less; consequently, the more desperate and distressing the case, the sympathy and condolence the more welcome; and will always, in some degree, soften and alleviate afflictions.
Indeed, it is not any, but the luke-warm, or misinformed, who requires to be reminded of such distress; for, where is the breast, truly warm in the cause of happiness, that is not hurt at the very sight of so many shocking spectacles in the streets. Even under the appearance of guilt, it is horrid to see human nature debased so low: but how much greater the sensations of pity, when it appears, the greatest part of the distress we see, is not through a vicious or depraved disposition, but absolute compulsion; through the encouragement given to a destructive custom, which permits men to enjoy a privilege, which nature never assigned them; and they are thereby encouraging vice to predominate, and holding virtue in fetters.
Consequently, whether this evil be persisted in through ignorance, from its being an ancient custom, or whether from the interested narrow views of a malignant passion for gain; or from whatever cause, seeing it robs such a number of helpless women of employment and bread, it is a privilege, which, in justice to every tie of honour or conscience, ought to be relinquished, unless—I repeat it—a substitute is found.—Can it be termed either manly, honourable, or humane, to oppress industry and helpless innocence, and place them under the absolute necessity of sacrificing their virtue, their happiness, and every thing they hold dear, at the shrine of the avaricious, and (for the sake of distinction) effeminate tradesmen; and flying to the rendezvous of sin and wickedness, to support a miserable existence; and after, perhaps, having fallen a sacrifice to discase or compunction of mind, are possibly so fortunate as to gain the privilege of an asylum; a charity, which will ever redound honour to its illustrious patrons and benefactors, and will be a lasting monument of British munificence: and, it is hoped, and fervently wished, the noble example, and the many proofs of its utility, may extend its influence over the remaining part of the benevolent, who are blessed with affluence, and that we may shortly see a similar institution take place, as an asylum of prevention, until a more effectual relief can be procured or given; for, whilst such salutary benefits may be derived from protecting the repenting sinner, how much greater will be the satisfaction in protecting innocence!
The Orphan Hospital also, is undoubtedly a most excellent charity, and preserves numbers of poor young creatures from the devouring jaws of seduction; and, to the immortal honour of its liberal benefactors, is most nobly and spiritedly supported: yet, it can but contain a small number out of the many who are left destitute; and even admitting the Orphan Asylum and the Magdalen Charity could contain the whole number of these unfortunate fugitives, there is still certain ages of admission and dismission, the extent of which, though I am not certain, I presume seldom exceeds five or six and twenty years.
Give me leave then to ask, what provision there is for unfortunate women, who are turned of that period, amongst whom are great numbers of widows, but just in the meridian of their days, who, after a life of affluence, and, perhaps, every ease and comfort, are now wandering about through this vale of tears, in the abject and forlorn condition just described; possibly driven from their homes by keen adversity, naked and destitute, in the most inclement season of the year, without a prospect, or means of any sort, for providing the common necessaries of life, since every branch of trade is occupied by these usurpers of a female's right, till, at length, quite weary with fatigue and pining with hunger, the dreaded period arrives, "when, like a hunted bird, she becomes quite exhausted with fatigue," and weariness obliges her to fall to the ground, and become the prey or sport of every school-boy.
Poor, helpless creatures! will no one fly to their relief? They assuredly have a claim on the assistance and compassion of every one and, I flatter myself, the generous feelings of the humane will no sooner be sensible of their sufferings, than all, who wish well to the cause of virtue, will lend their assistance towards abolishing so destructive a precedent; and every lady, that has a wish to support the general character of her sex, will retire with indignation, when offered to be served by any of these authors of female destruction.
The efficacy of these reflections to a feeling and generous mind that can participate in another's woes, cannot be doubted; yet what will all that pity or all that sympathy avail, unless some exertions are used towards effecting a redress?
Suppose no lady would suffer herself to be served, in the shops of these effeminate traders, by any of the short clothed gentry, would it not be a means of compelling all those who chuse to carry on the tragi-comic farce, to effect the business under the disguise of gown and petticoat?
But joking apart: believe me, ladies, it is past a joke, when poor, unfortunate females are compelled to go without clothing, in order to support an army of Herculian figures at the back of a counter, displaying the beauties of a lady's bandeau, or commenting upon the device of a fan.
Fie upon such conduct! let men act like men, and, as men of honour, support the dignity of their character. To hear them talk, they profess the finest feelings; but what do all these professions tend to? is it not an apparent solecism, that the same person, in the very moment they profess to be friends to civil society, should be loading the defenceless with unheard-of oppression? But let us, if you please, develope these assertions in the full light of impartial truth.
TRUTH and REASON.
An Imitation from Horace.
"What applause is not due to that excellent youth,
"(The last and the best of Darius's pages)
"Who wisely and nobly contended that truth
"Is the majesty, kingdom, and power of all ages."
"How different the wretch, who to right prefers wrong
"To the guilt of his lie adding treason.
"For surely the miscreant, whose treacherous tongue
"Rebels against Truth, is a traitor to Reason.
"Together they sprung from th' Eternal great mind,
"The honour, the peace, and the bond of mankind."
Since truth and reason closed the last sentence, what is there forbids making the next appeal to justice? and enquire, why these poor, helpless women are to be cut off from all civil society, and that at a period of life which might have been to them the most happy. Instead of rendering them noxious to community, they might have been useful members, as well as good Christians, and, in the end, have died the death of the just, having calmly passed through life, instead of being the dupes of an avaricious set of useless members, who, by their professions, are a degradation to the honourable title of man.
What is life? a bare existence, when compared with a life of civil security and freedom, neither of which do these unfortunate women experience: for, notwithstanding, sometimes even difficulties are instructive, and, in many cases, may prevent a number of unforeseen troubles, they cannot profit by their knowledge, from their not being empowered to exercise their talents. It is truly shocking to see such numbers of miserable wretches wandering about without employment, or any human comfort, either dressed up at the cost of their virtue and peace of mind, or in so wretched, forlorn, and abject a state, that they scarely retain an appearance of their sex; thus dragging on a miserable existence, which nothing but the effects of a religious education can induce them to preserve. For, what is life without hope? and where is there the smallest glimpse of hope for them? they cannot fly from the frowns of the world, which on all sides attack them. Yet how astonishing is it, that the oppressions of these men, who are the authors of so much mischief, should so long have been passed unnoticed!
"But, every one that doeth evil hateth the light;" therefore the sufferings of these poor creatures are hid by the dark shade of misrepresentation. Did every one candidly deliver their sentiments without restraint, would it not be a means of affording a light to the discerning eye of impartiality to examine into these heinous grievances? for where no less than private interest is the foundation of so much misery, dragging after it the most dreadful consequences, the origin of which, may we not suppose, proceeds from one of the three following causes, viz. A want of reflection, from its being a precedent of long standing; a wilful blindness, through avaricious views; or a downright want of understanding. The latter of which we hope is the case, that it may rest in their favour; for, where little is given, little may be required.
But ye of the world, whose understandings have so long been carried down the stream of misrepresentation, suffer not yourselves to be any longer led away by false and mistaken prejudice, nor let the innocent suffer with the guilty; for pity's sake, spare the innocent, although it be at the risk of suffering the guilty to go unpunished; mercy is Heaven's distinguished attribute, and contains a greatness next to celestial.
In searching for a date to the era of this destructive precedent, wherein men have been made substitutes in women's occupations, it will be found to be of very long standing; and in its infancy might not, nor, perhaps, was not attended with the evils it has since produced; for, in those days, when manufactures and commerce were not so extensive, every situation and scene in life were in a more contracted state, and while the father and the brother were employed in trade, the mother and daughters were employed in the domestic concerns of the household. In fact, they were then the manufacturers also, and consequently were never at a loss for employment; they found enough to do in spinning, knitting, and preparing necessaries for the use of the family, which, being common, was not looked upon as any degradation.
But were the tradesman, in this refined age, to employ his wife or daughters in any such low capacity, what would the world suppose, or where would be his credit? Therefore, in exploring the case and its evil consequences, shall we not be well convinced, it is not custom alone which ought to constitute a right; for what precedent or practice ought to be supported upon unjust principles. Doubtless there have been various precedents, which seemed good at the beginning, and yet have been productive of much evil in the end, as the one in question; at the commencement of which, as I before observed, it might be, and was, a very laudable pursuit; for, in those days, when all things were in a more contracted state, and trade not so universally extended, the father of a family was glad to dispose of his sons to such mechanical branches of trade as first presented, that his son might be empowered to improve or increase his little fund, and be able to make a provision, not only for himself, but for a wife which, in primitive times, he was obliged to endow.
Alas! how much unlike our modern days, when women endow their husbands, and, with large portions, frequently purchase a very heavy bondage.
In fact, the generality of things appear to be diametrically opposite to what they were in former times.
We need but look back about three centuries, and then see the vast change; for example: What would be the consequence, were a labourer, in the present times, to receive no better wages than a penny a day, which used to be the standard even in the reign of Henry VII and in the reign of Henry VIII. it did not exceed three halspence? Must not every one allow, so small a recompence, in the present times, insufficient to exist upon, and much less to support a family. Still, in those days, it was found a sufficient provision, and they could live comfortably upon it; but the reason is evident; every article of provision at that time bore a very inferior price to what it does now. Wheat, for example, which we may call the first grand article of provision, sold in King Henry VII.'s reign at so low a price as three shillings per quarter, and every other article equally cheap; which enforces a conviction, that through time all things alter. Therefore, to come to the point in view, whilst all things change according to the state of times and contingencies, why exclude poor females from a small share in the improvements? it is well known they cannot defend themselves.
Were a body of miserable women, be they really virtuous or not, to assemble with a petition to parliament, where is the person who would be persuaded to present it, particularly when they are all considered as worthless wretches.
But were a body of men artificers (be their conduct or morals as they may) to offer a representation of grievances, doubtless their case would be heard, and considered, in every sense of the word, both political and humane.
Yet I would gladly believe, these differences must alone proceed from the defect of not knowing the true state of grievances; for, in every other case of oppression, except the one in question, do we not always find a protection from the police of the country? consequently, there is no fear, but a serious investigation will throw open the iron gates of misrepresentation, and lead to the avenues of happiness, both for these poor women and the community in general.
I acknowledge, we are too apt to call things just, that have been long in practice; and, through ancient custom, these oppressive tradesmen act in open defiance of either equity or conscience, thinking none will call them to account, and they may still ride triumphant upon the stream of avarice. But let not a precedent, abounding with so much mischief, any longer disgrace the age; let not virtue and happiness any longer be bartered, which, in the present case, they evidently are, to the abuse of all civil society, and disuniting the very bands of mutual benefit and preservation; nor suffer these men to monopolize the whole from the female part of the creation, unless there is a provision made to secure them from penury.
Nothing, it is presumed, can be more reasonable and just, than that those who deprive others of subsistence should contribute to their support. For what law, either divine or human, will justify the continuance of a precedent, which has influence sufficient to prevail over the virtue of individuals? What statute is there, which grants that men alone shall live, and women scarcely exist?—Is it not an usurpation which every violator must blush at, when considered in the light it ought to be, as an act of the greatest injustice? Then, drive hence all such distress: let it not be said, that Britons can cherish a wish to oppress their sisters, wives, and mothers, but rather that they are merciful to the fatherless and the widow; and though the mischief of this iniquitous precedent should lie too deep to be cured by any thing less than a total suppression, can it be called an invasion of right? No; it is only the suppression of an usurped prerogative; and cannot fail to be productive of every good, not only in clearing the streets of prostitutes, but in providing a sufficient number of proper and fit hands, in time of peace, for the various manufactories which, it must be granted, it is always the interest of Britain to cherish; and in such calamitous times as these, by having ready a sufficient number of soldiers and sailors fit for service, without being driven to so many expensive and oppressive expedients: independent of the little need there is of throwing any thing in the way to send such colonies abroad, to the prodigious expence of the nation, or suffering such numbers of men idling at the back of a counter, when they might be employed to so much better advantage. The enormous expence attending all these things, must be visible to every one who will take the trouble to look; therefore, it is unnecessary to weary my readers with a recital of these heavy expences or grievances, farther than is absolutely necessary; for a short reflection must convince every enquirer, that to countenance this evil precedent, is not only robbing poor females of their birthrights, which they are not empowered to contend for, but is actually robbing the whole country of its right, as well as safety and happiness, and doubtless is tending to impoverish the nation.
"But view them closer, craft and fraud appear,
"E'en liberty itself is barter'd here."
These are facts, not founded on theory alone, which might be greatly enlarged upon, were the pen of information in the hand of one of those humane, generous, and learned philanthropists, who distinguish themselves by a cheerful and ready exertion in the cause of justice and retribution, and who, being conversant in the language of the law, might trace all the precedents, acts, and repeals, with their conveniencies and inconveniencies, from Adam to Magna Charta, and from thence to the present day; when, alas! it is a female's province only (if a mother) to nurse, cherish, and watch over her darling son, who, perhaps, in maturity, may be the foremost in adding to the weight of this oppressive burden. "Art thou one of them!" said Julius Caesar to his son, when he saw him amongst those that murdered him. That went deeper to his heart than the swords of all his enemies.
Let then the claim to these female occupations be developed; let not an indelible stain be fixed on the character of men; for, when the affair is finally discussed, will these grievances sound credible to the ear of posterity? Let not then our annals be stained with suffering a longer continuance of so much misery, but let an immediate interference take place. Why shall the deliberate destroyers of happiness be suffered to continue, without some notice being taken of their in human and avaricious guilt? To refuse a compliance with this request, is to become enemies to peace and happiness: to enjoy the necessaries of life is an invaluable right, which each individual expects to share in common with his neighbour; and, in fact, is what all do share, more or less, except the identical women in question.
The very poor, who are born in an abject state, are taught from their infancy to struggle through life in the same manner they see their needy connections: bread must be had, and all the instructions they can possibly get, is in what way to obtain it. Consequently, if by labour and industry, they can acquire a sufficiency to exist upon, they are perfectly at case, without bestowing a single thought upon to-morrow.
But the poor, unfortunate woman, who has seen better days, and been reared and educated with tenderness and care, she it is that feels her broken slumbers can no longer give relief to her weary limbs. Her inability to wrestle with difficulties are great indeed; especially when she finds her whole endeavours fruitless: and, what is still as bad, by running to and fro, in pursuit of some means for bread, (which she is not able to obtain) the shrill voice of censure, or the destructive whisper of calumny, having breathed such a poisonous vapour over her character, she is despised by all, in the manner described in the foregoing pages, and irremediably doomed to sink, never more to rise; for, who will admit a woman of lost reputation into their house? O, cruel censure! what must be the sensations of oppressed innocence, under the censure of guilt! Even what is it they do not feel, on the bare appellation of idle and disorderly, when they have tried every expedient to obtain employment, though to no effect?
Under such a pressure of misfortunes, they must bear their sorrows in silence, unknown and unpitied! and must frequently put on a face of cheerful serenity, when their hearts are torn with secret grief. Thus they pass their time in sorrow, till they meet the fatal alternative, either to be passive under the horrors of a prison, or compound for their preservation, by entering under the infernal roof of vice for protection.
When such an alternative is presented, what is to be expected? Should they evade the latter by conforming to the former, what is to be the advantage? I believe, it is generally allowed, that all prisons, or places of confinement, are but poor schools for virtue; and that youth and inexperience, or even those of a more advanced age, seldom return to the world without being, in some degree, contaminated; for it is not to be supposed, that these poor, miserable mortals are invulnerable. Indeed, should they even pass through these tracts unpolluted, it is next to impossible they should still escape destruction. After the death of kindred, faithlessness of friends, misfortunes, and disgrace, where are they to find a plank to save them from the wreck, where they see so many tossing up and down before them? and may very applicably say, with Pope's Sappho,
"Shall fortune still in one sad tenor run,
"And still increase the woes so soon begun?"
But it is yet to be hoped, the charitable and humane will step forward in the cause, and no longer suffer the noble faculties of the understanding to remain buried in a torpid state of acquiescence to outward appearances, whilst such numbers are labouring under the most pitiable distress, and so many honest, industrious tradesmen and mechanics are obliged to contribute to the cause, which the profligacy of these distressed women brings upon the community.—Although it be supposed the most judicious cannot foresee or provide against every fraud or accident, yet, from the deep penetration and strict justice of such as are in power, there is not a doubt, but some plan will be adopted for the benefit of the whole, and some expedient thought of, as a temporary relief, for these distressed women, until a more permanent arrangement of things can take place. Indeed, it is possible some difficulties may arise, from the complication of the undertaking, yet what is it human efforts cannot effect, when aided by divine promise? which says, "Whatever you do unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me."
An undertaking commenced upon such grounds, must infallibly be productive of great good, and in that step alone, can we fail to see many of these usurpers drop away in confusion and shame, whilst the remainder, being held up to public ridicule, which they so justly merit, must quickly follow? for, should they be suffered to continue in their effeminate and unmanly employment, and neither be forced nor shamed out of their evil courses, where will they stop, or what will be the consequence?
"But whatsoever thou findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest"
- The Magdalen.
- Vide stat. 11th of Henry VII. and stat. 6. of Henry VIII. concerning artificers.
- Vide Baker's Chronicle.
- Ecclesiastes, ch. ix, v. 10.