A Continuation of the foregoing.
Which demonstrates that the Frailty of Female Virtue more frequently originates from embarrassed Circumstances, than from a depravity of Disposition.
HAVING given a faint sketch of the grand cause which precludes women from partaking in the comforts of life, let us next proceed to the avenue which leads to so much misery. Doubtless, through the vicissitudes of human affairs, neither great riches nor great happiness are always permanent; the dark and crooked paths of fate are, by the unerring hand of Divine Providence, hid from mortal eyes: nor can we see into futurity. "To-day we are here, and to-morrow in the grave;" or, according to the Proverbs, chap. xxvii. v. 1. "Who knoweth what a day may bring forth?" For how often does death, insatiable death, unexpectedly snatch, in a moment, the indulgent parent from the beloved child, who is at once left at large in the wide world, perhaps in the morning of her days, and in all the simplicity of artless youth, without a provision, or any means of obtaining one. Pitiable object! thy fate seems hard indeed: yet so it but too frequently happens to hundreds, besides thyself. Where wilt thou go, to secure thee from real want? A parish workhouse is but a poor consolation for so great a loss, at a period when neither reason nor religion is ripened into maturity, to moderate the grievance. But, if, perhaps, a friend step forward, the Asylum for the protection of Orphan Girls may receive the poor fugitive; in which blessed and happy institution, through time, the memory of her woeful loss, in parents and provision, may, in some degree, be wiped away in the benevolence of her new protectors, who not only provide for her temporal, but also for her spiritual concerns, in instructing her as a good Christian and a useful member. But, alas! small is the number which this institution can admit, when compared with the vast numbers left in similar situations. And for those, who are more advanced in age, to what standard can they repair? It is true, necessity will teach people to exert themselves, who have nothing but their own industry to depend upon, and consequently they seek for a female occupation. But how great their surprise, and inexpressible their grief, to find, like the rest, that they are repulsed in every pursuit of industry, whereby they might expect a maintenance!
Good Heavens! what course can a poor, young creature pursue, when, from the quick transition from good to evil, at that early period of life, when discernment has not made its way to a knowledge of the world, she is at once on the verge of the precipice, where so many have unhappily been lost? Without a pilot, she finds herself launched out into the ocean of the world, where she floats about so awhile, until she perceives her danger, and would gladly retreat; but neither meeting protection nor aid, necessity drives her back, and she shortly engages in the dissipation of the age, and at once becomes the object of scorn and contempt, and the real food for scandal in which deplorable state she finds herself involved, even before she is aware of her danger, which no sooner presents itself to he view, but she endeavours to retreat and clear away the black vapour; but, alas! though short-lived the experiment, it is now too late for the misty cloud of obloquy has discoloured her reputation, and she is now doubly distant from a friend to defend her, or point out mode of redress; for the unfeeling part of the world exclaims, in the words of a much admired writer,
"How shall I then your helpless fame defend?
"'Twill then be infamy to seem your friend."Pope
No: her supplication is not noticed, not withstanding "God hath given to every one the charge of his neighbour."
This excellent charge being so very seldom put in practice, superadded to her youth and inexperience, she not being sufficiently armed with that fortitude, which is so necessary in her time of trial, and seeing the frowns of the world against her, she naturally perseveres, and even launches out still farther in the stream of those false and mistaken pleasures, which cannot fail to terminate in her destruction; and, perhaps, at length, she triumphs in obtaining (what she thinks) protection from those whose acknowledged right it is to guard the weaker sex.
But here, alas! under the specious name of friendship, she too soon sees her mistake, and finds herself the real object of distress, abandoned by the world, and left to her own bitter reflections; until the kind hand of Providence once more takes her under protection, and admits her a member of that humane charity, the Magdalen; where, in a small degree, she is once more permitted to taste a portion of comfort, by the cheering rays of Christian charity; and her oppressed spirits are somewhat enlivened by the following sweet and comfortable discourse from the Matron, on her admission into that most excellent charity.
"You cannot be insensible of the kindness of providence in bringing you hither; the wretched situation you are reduced to seems to offer you no other relief. Your interest and ours is the same; we mean to do you all the good we can, and you to have good done to you; we mean to render you happy in this world, and what is of much greater moment, in the next also."
How can charity be better employed than in taking care of the soul as well as the body? This is, perhaps, the most comfortable discourse she has heard since death closed the lips of her dear parents. Yet how much greater would be the charity for protecting the innocent, than in reclaiming the guilty? Prevention must certainly be better than cure; and were there a capacious establishment for industry, built upon such a basis as would form a discrimination between the well-bred female, who is reduced by the unseen hand of fate, and the very poor and abject, whose birth has deprived them of the knowledge of refinement or delicacy; what crowds of unprovided women would flock to the standard!
But, in the mean time, it cannot fail to afford infinite satisfaction to the humane contributors, by enabling the poor penitent to repeat the following hymn of admission.
"Rise, O my soul! the hours review,
"When aw'd by guilt and fear,
"Thou durst not heaven for mercy sue,
"Nor hope for pity here.
"Dried are thy tears, thy griefs are fled,
"Dispell'd each bitter care;
"See, heaven itself has lent its aid,
"To raise thee from despair.
"Here then, O God! thy work fulfil,
"And from thy mercy's throne,
"Vouchsafe me strength to do thy will,
"And to resist my own.
"So shall my soul each power employ,
"Thy mercies to adore,
"Whilst heav'n itself proclaims with joy,
"One pardon'd sinner more."
How nearly do the humane contributors to this excellent charity imitate the compassionate sentence of our blessed Lord, when he bade the offending woman "Go, and sin no more?" For there is scarcely a period in life, when the most irregular characters may not be reclaimed. It is through misfortunes and a want of employment, that such as these poor, helpless, young creatures have brought so great an additional load of heavy misfortunes upon their guilty heads; yet, we are told, there is joy in heaven at the repentance of a sinner:—What a blessed institution, then, to provide a means for that purpose!
Human nature is undoubtedly liable to corruption, yet it is impregnated with the seeds of virtue; and when the mind is properly cultivated, they will quickly grow up and ripen into good works. It must afford a most lively and pleasing sensation to the humane and sympathising breast, in contributing their endeavours, to let the memory of former woes be lost in the enjoyment of present blessings.
Compassion is a heaven-born virtue, and not only consoles the innocent, but is the first step to reclaim the guilty: a kind and gentle treatment must ever be efficacious, when harsh proceedings, in general, drive to desperation. For the truth of this, we need but scrutinize our own hearts, (the golden rule is a most excellent guide) and there see, on a serious investigation, if any one of us is not more ready to comply, in any case whatever, by lenient means, than from the force of peremptory methods.
Yes: the most obdurate sinner, if possessed of one single spark of grace, on the repeated calm admonitions of a good Christian, cannot suppress that spark from kindling into a flame of gratitude, at least, and must blush at their perfidy; whereas the hardened wretch, by constant upbraidings and severe treatment, becomes callous to every thing.
Therefore, these poor young women, who have, through extreme necessity, been driven to criminal and unlawful pursuits, are not to be despised or sunk beneath our care, but cherished and supported, in order to reclaim their wicked course of life. What says the oracle of truth?—Whilst we have time, let us do good, for the night cometh, when no man can work.
For the opulent, and those in power, to suppose they have done their part, in helping to relieve their spiritual wants only, is a mistake; so long as the soul and body act in unison, provision must be made for their temporal necessities also. What says St. James, chap. ii. v. 15 and 16. "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be you warmed and filled, notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?"
But in the humane charity of the Magdalen, as well as in others, the wants of the needful are plentifully supplied, both as to soul and body, and as many destitute objects received as the foundation of the institution will admit; and, in general, such as these it is of whom we have been discoursing (if in London) who reap the benefit. Their ages of admission being from sixteen to twenty-six years, between which periods they, in general, find their fatal mistake, and are happy to find an asylum under so beneficent an institution. Or if, unhappily, their situations in life are too far distant, or other casual accidents prevent them from obtaining the benefit, they must inevitably fall a victim to their misfortunes and vice, and the world's contempt. Which brings to my remembrance a poem, entitled The Country Church Yard.
"Where the long grass obscures yon briery grave,
"And antique yews their branches sadly wave,
"A wretched female, with the silent dead,
"Unnotic'd, unlamented, rests her head.
"No weeping friend is seen to deck her bier,
"Or o'er her ashes shed the tender tear:
"But, buried in the tomb's sad mouldering heap,
"Her sorrows and her fate in silence sleep.
"'Tis beauteous Jeffey's frail, neglected shade,
"Whose pale form swells the solitary glade.
"Ah, hapless fair! I hear the still slow gale,
"Which bore thy death-bell through the hollow vale,
"When thy sad spirit, freed from misery's load,
"In trembling expectation, sought its last abode.
"Though vice awhile obscur'd thy rising fame,
"And stamp'd with early infamy thy name.
"Yet o'er thy grave, mid sober evening's shade,
"The muse with pitying tear shall swell the glade,
"And tell the villain's guilt, whose perjur'd art,
"From virtue's path allur'd thy simple heart,
"When without parents, in that early day,
"When youth most wants a guide to lead the way,
"Then false to honour, truth, and promis'd love,
"Left thee alone in life's wide course to move."
Notwithstanding the misfortunes of such poor young creatures are truly pitiable, others there are whose case is still more lamentable. But to conduct my readers to the various avenues which lead to the destruction and misery of the female part of the creation, would swell this volume to a greater bulk than is intended; therefore shall content myself with just touching upon a few characters, who have been plunged into this dreadful pit of destruction, by the known misconduct of connections, or the mishap of human events. From such as these it is we must gather our information. Doubtless, imagination might lead to a number of visionary flights, but, by engaging with personalities, the faculties are confined, and external appearances must distinguish the objects.
Let us then commence with a gentleman of small, independent fortune; for, as it is the general maxim through life, that every one should endeavour to outvie his neighbour, the gentleman also must keep up appearances for the benefit of his family (as he is pleased to term it;) and, in the present day, where do we see the father or mother of a family, with an independent fortune, be it ever so small, who would not be shocked at the bare idea of placing their daughter in the world in such situations as would enable them to rise, through their own industry and merit, or fit them for becoming wives to some honest and industrious tradesman?—No: that would be a degradation which must not take place. It is the etiquette of the times for the daughters to be bred fine ladies, although it be without a fortune, either dependent or independent, to support it. As for trade, that is out of the question. The sons indeed are differently provided: the eldest, in course, inherits the paternal estate and the younger ones are placed in the church the army, the navy, or at the bar; and others again are genteelly situated in the mercantile world: the whole of which are fit professions for a gentleman, and by which, if they have merit and success, they may acquire a competency.
But for the female part of the family, what appears in their favour? what prospects have they in life?—The parents die, and leave them, without a provision, a burden upon their connections; which forms the first step to deprive them of friends as well as subsistence. A miserable inheritance, to be their best and only portion! What can be said in behalf of such parents? can their easy compliance with the fashion of the times form any apology for such a mistaken conduct?—This surely cannot be called true paternal affection, to entail upon these helpless young creatures such a succession of misery as must eventually ensue. Is not this a sufficient definition of the second divine commandment, that "the sins of the father shall descend to their children, to the third and fourth generation." Which under such circumstances is justly verified; for, what less than a miracle can destroy the entail of misery brought upon helpless innocence, by the sins of their parents? which, however harsh the term, is worse than Herod's cruelty; that could only affect the body, but by a compliance with this mistaken folly of the day, there is a great chance of its affecting the soul also.
What was it brought ruin upon the first distressed female, who was admitted into the Magdalen Charity; and what but a miracle led her to taste comfort?
What numbers of helpless and destitute young women there are, who, seeing themselves neglected and despised by their connections, notwithstanding all the refined and delicate ideas which their education and mode of bringing up have possessed them with, would gladly endeavour, through necessity, to make up the deficiency of their parents' neglect, by putting themselves forward in the world, in order to obtain a support. But, alas! to their sorrow, they quickly see it is not in their power; for, under their present circumstances, "the world is not their friend, nor the world's laws;" and what was not effected by their parents, cannot possibly be obtained by an inexperienced young woman.
Indeed, it is frequently said, the female part of the creation are by far the most ready in censuring their own sex. But permit me to ask, would it not be highly reprehensible in any lady to countenance even the appearance of a guilty conduct? By so doing, it is not only the means of encouraging vice, but must unavoidably incur censure upon herself, which, above all other misfortunes in life, is the most to be dreaded, since a female character, once lost, is for ever irretrievable. But, in justice to my own sex, I would gladly hope, there is not a female, who really considers the many horrid mischiefs which are the attendants upon censure, who will ever suffer the smallest intimation thereof to escape the bounds of her own breast, unless through the most flagrant proofs of guilt.
Out of the many, some there are, no doubt' who, to colour their own vicious lives, are ever ready to murder the character of any one, without taking the smallest thought or concern as to the consequences, nor even sparing the innocent with any greater degree of lenity than they would the guilty. But of this class we hope there are but few; for, why should it be supposed that female objects in distress, particularly those who have youth and beauty on their side, must unavoidably be objects of contempt rather than pity? From what motive can this certain part of the sex continue to load the sufferings of these poor, helpless women with reviling and contempt? None other, must repeat it, but to draw a veil over their own vicious lives; for neither religion nor virtue ever countenanced so much injustice. To cad the poor sufferer with calumny, is cruel indeed; suffice it, she has to struggle with the hardships of penury!
Let them be traced along from the moment that fate's afflicting hand is stretched out against them: trace them through every stage of life and then see if they are not the most pitiable of all mortals! Then, how can the time of the opulent part of the sex be better employed, than in searching into the source of their sorrow and endeavouring to obtain redress? To investigate the cause will be speak a remedy near at hand. But for a continuation of the various distresses which poor females are subject to, we need but take a general review, an represent the case as it evidently is, which will save the unpleasant task of using names: for, it is to be feared, few there are who have any knowledge of life, but can reason upon this subject, if not through fatal self-experience, yet through experimental observations on others. For example: how often do we see whole families entirely ruined by the improper conduct of a husband or father, who, through giving way to some predominant vice, at once overwhelms the whole of his family in ruin and distress, or, at least, the female part of it, who, not being able to defend themselves, or seek redress, are liable to every misfortune.
How far the wife was intended to be the slave to her husband, I know not, but certain we are, she was designed to be his friend, his companion, and united part; or, according to the gentlemen's phrase, his better part; and yet how often do we see her sinking under the burden of a household load, whilst the unfeeling husband is lavishing away the substance which ought to be for the comfort and support of a family? Yet such unnatural beings there are, who, by giving way to some unlawful passion, can, without scruple or remorse, trample under foot all laws, divine and human, and with impunity bring wretchedness upon those he is bound to support: notwithstanding St. Paul tells us, "if any one provide not for his own, and especially those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
Let us but look at the many unhappy females, who come to ruin through mercenary marriages. How many are the instances of young women, who have been brought up in affluence, and reared with all the tender care and attention, which are in the power of maternal affection to bestow; yet, perhaps, through her youthful follies and credulity, she is led away by the artifice and false pretensions of one of these mercenary men, on whom she cheerfully bestows her patrimony, whether acquired by inheritance, or the smiles of fortune upon the honest industry of her deceased parents, avails not, for her expected happiness is vanished in empty air, and she is quickly exposed to all the ills of fate.
"O thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
"Too soon dejected, and too soon elate.
"Sudden their honours shall be snatch'd away,
"And doom'd for ever this victorious day."Pope.
As leading to a further explanation, let us represent a case which very frequently happens. A gentleman's daughter, one of these well-bred young ladies, which was spoken of at the beginning of this discourse; or be it a tradesman's daughter, it matters not, they being equally trained up in the same liberal plan of female education, married to a respectable and worthy tradesman, who, we will say, according to the common run of the times, has made choice of a very proper partner for superintending the domestic concerns of his household, and conducting a table with taste; which, according to the beau monde, must undoubtedly be complied with, since his credit in trade so greatly depends upon appearances; and however great may be his dislike to the practice, yet he it is that is absolutely obliged to comply with the custom of the times, and make a figure in life, in order to support the credit of his trade; a precedent big with every evil consequence, yet he must comply, and act like his neighbour, if he expects to receive neighbour's fare. Therefore, before we censure or condemn such conduct in any one individual, let us, if you please, place choice and necessity in the scales of justice, and see which will preponderate.
I recollect an observation upon this subject some time ago, made by a noble and very learned man, the Earl of—. Says his lordship, "it is the tradesman and mechanic who are under the necessity of making a figure in life, in order to catch notice and obtain credit in their line of business." But, continued his lordship, "for such as me there is no occasion, and consequently we can save whilst they are obliged to spend: we can live as we please, dress as we please, and, in fine, act as we please; for our independence and ancestry will always command respect, and enable us to do as we like."
I must confess, I thought it was a hard case, that so many sensible, clever men, of an inferior class, with regard to pecuniary matters, should absolutely be held down for what was not a fault; but, after a moment's consideration, I could not help joining in the validity of his lordship's opinion. Although I knew, at the same time, his lordship was frequently ridiculed for the meanness of his table and dress; yet, it occurred to me, that did not erase any names from his lordship's rent-roll; though the same conduct might occasion a great deficiency in a tradesman's ledger.
In fine, need we advance any further than Change-alley for a confirmation, that it is in compliance with evil customs, and a conformity to destructive precedent, that bring on such a train of misfortunes, with the greatest force, which is sure to fall where there is the least resistance? How frequent and sudden are the fluctuations in the stocks, owing to the artifices of stock-jobbers, under some false pretence or other: notwithstanding it is a practice so highly detested, both by government and the generality of the parties concerned, yet appearances take the lead; so that, however wrong the practice, since the tradesman finds the absolute necessity of acting like his neighbour, no doubt but a generous public will either point out an expedient, or absolve him, at least, from censure, let the consequence prove how it may. Pope says.
"True consciencious honour is to feel no sin,
"He's arm'd without that's innocent within:"
and very justly so, with regard to men; but for poor women, the weight of all these grievances must unavoidably rest upon them, as the weakest sex; who, having struggled through the labyrinth of misfortunes, no sooner arrive at the gate of industry, viz. female occupations, than they find it shut, and men, so much stronger, and in power, the porters at the door. So, begging pardon for the digression, we will leave these poor unfortunate women at the gate, and peeping through the wicket to no effect, till we proceed with our young couple, who journey on a few years through this maze of life, a life that seems calculated for felicity, happy in each other, and blessed with a rising progeny, which, in course becomes the mother's care, whilst the father, attentive to the interest of his family, endeavours to extend his trade for the mutual advantage of all; and thus tied with the silken bands of unity, they pass their days in one continued round of bliss, actuated by the amiable endearments of the affectionate father, the fond husband, and the generous friend. But, alas! how frequently does the malice of fate unseen, pursue, and often blast, the happiness of human enjoyments.
"Ah gentle pair! ye little think how nigh
"Your change approaches, when all these delights
"Will vanish and deliver ye to woe,
"More woe, the more your taste is now of joy."
Next, let us suppose, which supposition too is frequently realized, that the father of this happy family. whom we have just left in the sunshine of prosperity, and in the full enjoyment of conjugal and paternal bliss, is snatched away by the hand of death, and leaves his disconsolate widow, in the meridian of her days, surrounded by her innocent offspring, who must now look up to her alone for protection, which even herself may stand in need of.
How keen, how poignant must be her grief at such a separation, when, at once, she is robbed of a tender husband, and her children of an indulgent father! Yet, like a true Christian, she endeavours to arm herself with such fortitude as is necessary to support her in the time of trial; and by the help of reason and religion, she begins to revive, and flatters herself with new hopes, in the many comforts she is to receive from her darling children.
Short-sighted mortal! she now begins to take new courage, from having subdued her stubborn heart to submit, as she thinks, to her greatest affliction; which, alas! is no more than a prelude to her future misfortunes: for her late husband's concerns come next to be adjusted, when it is found there is a very small provision, if any, left for herself and helpless children: for the deceased husband, having been under the necessity of deceiving the world by the vile pretext of appearances, has now involved his family in the unavoidable necessity of seeing the world had deceived him; the dreadful consequences of which they are now left to struggle with. These are real trials: yet how frequently do they happen! and now, at once, are all her expectations of future happiness blasted; an intervening cloud has darkened the scene, and that maternal triumph which used to gladden the face of the fond mother, is now done away by the dark gloom of adversity; and her sorrows are like the impetuous torrent. A family, brought up and educated with the idea of being gentlemen and ladies, who have just been figuring away in the gaieties of life, to find themselves entangled in a wilderness of misery, without money, and consequently without friends, or any means of support, requires more than human strength to combat; for, in such a melancholy situation, independent of real want, the struggles of reluctant nature are not easy to suppress. The parent, the virtuous and tender mother, sees her darling offspring, with all their innocence about them, upon the verge of destruction, yesterday, in the full enjoyment of all the happiness this world can bestow, and to-day turned adrift into the wide world, attended with all those fine and delicate feelings which nature, education, and a pious example could bestow. Yet, all cannot save them from the cruel hand of fate, the die is cast, and they must now bid adieu to the comforts of life, and plunge forward in an ocean of misery; for, by this time, their small fund being nearly, if not quite, exhausted, the distressed mother finds the absolute necessity of making her unhappy situation known to some relation, or former acquaintance, which she had used to call friend. But, alas! she has yet to learn, the world in general takes but little concern for the fate of individuals, and too oft, will sooner upbraid than relieve distress; and so precarious is the possession of friendship, that, in general, on the approach of distress, it dissolves like snow under the rays of the sun, or evaporates, like ether, at the approach of poverty: yet, such an unfeeling class there are, who, in prosperity, used to extol her conduct; and are, perhaps, at the very moment decking out themselves, table, and family after her example, and yet can be the first to brand her name with obloquy.
O, cruel censure, are not the pangs of distress and poverty enough to bear! is this Christian charity! is this acting the part of the good Samaritan! Yet, yet, it is past dispute, that such distress does afflicted poverty experience, although the cordial of friendship, and the benevolent sympathy of fellow mortals would so very much alleviate: however, by woeful experience, beginning to see the world in its true colours, she fees her only resource is in the consolation of religion, and in an humble submission to the Divine Will; and with this shield, she endeavours to guard herself and innocent suffering offspring from the impending, storm which appears ready to burst upon their unfortunate heads. Still their pious and laudable endeavours will not alone supply the necessity of extreme want; they are mortal, and consequently both nature and duty press hard upon the unhappy mother, to look into the world for a means of support; for now every prospect of happiness to her future days is blackened by anxious care, and, perhaps, at a period which might have been expected the happiest of her life: but since adversity has taught her submission, and she finds she has to climb up the sleep of difficulty, with her children dragging after her like so many clogs at her feet, to retard her progress, her first step is to look out for situations for her sons, to whom Providence having denied an education, so as to command such situations in life as the generality of men are enabled to look up to, and without the aid of connections, or friends, to lead them out into the world; if the poor mother can obtain for them a situation at the back of a counter, it is the highest step in life which she can sue for, or expect; and such as these, indeed, are an exception as to filling women's occupations; for, if nothing else presents, what are they to do? But for the poor mother, who perhaps has not yet attained her thirty-fifth year, and her still unfortunate daughters, what is there in their favour? without money, friends, character, or means of industry, they are unavoidably doomed to wretchedness, if any thing on earth can be wretched, notwithstanding her utmost exertions, as well as her pious and exemplary conduct to her children, who not insensible to her merit, endeavour to soothe her sorrows by their tender regard and fond affections.
Alas! what can they do, they all seem to look up to the poor mother for aid, who I as it not in her power even to help herself. She now takes a serious retrospect of her past life, and the mode of education in which herself and children have been trained, and most ardently does she wish they had been reared with industry at least, instead of all those bright accomplishments, which must unavoidably be lost in their misfortunes. But, since there is no recalling past time, their only redress is, to try to get into some situation where their endeavours and exertions, at least, will make up the deficiency of their want of knowledge. What, but such distress as this, and the want of a proper education, or trade, is it which fill the papers daily with wants of every kind? "Wants a situation to superintend;" or, "A person who has seen better days, would be glad to undertake;" or, "Wants a situation, as companion or assistant, &c.;" little supposing how frequently these advertisements get answered by that arrogant set of mortals we before spoke of, with the common phrase of, "I want no gentlewomen, or gentlewomen's daughters;" and although this assertion may found harsh to the ears of the humane and sympathising part of the community, be assured, this and such like unfeeling cruelty is exercised over the unfortunate, even by their own sex, and those whose professed feelings are so fine, as to shed tears over a novel, or saint at the rehearsal of a tragedy; however, of these we hope the number is small.—Seeing these women are excluded all benefit in trade, what else can they have recourse to, but to seek an asylum under the roof of the affluent, in some menial capacity? which brings to my memory the contents of the tenth letter of the first Magdalen who was admitted into that most excellent charity.
"I was reduced," says she, "to the manifest danger of starving. I would have attempted the most laborious work, but no one would try me, although I offered my labour at half price; but even my industry was made an argument against me: I must, they said, be very bad to be reduced to that, and they supposed, I intended to steal the other part of my wages.
"To be willing and able to work, and yet to starve for want of employment, seemed a hard fate, yet it touched no heart but my own."
What a miserable prospect for helpless innocence! What a shocking case, that poor unfortunate females should be denied the privilege of obtaining a support by servitude, after being precluded earning an honest maintenance, by any other means of industry, merely to make way for a set of beings who are much better calculated for more manly employments; and, in particular, at a time when so many men are required in defence of their country. Besides, if there is not employment for the whole, and some must feel the inconveniencies, are not men much better calculated to bear hardships than women? at least, is it not always supposed and considered by men, that women are not equal to any thing great, then surely they may be permitted to fill some inferior department in life, whereby, at least, they may be prevented from becoming burdensome, or pining away for want of real necessaries? And, however shocking to the sympathising part of mankind may be the recital of these melancholy truths, yet the vast numbers of poor unhappy mothers and daughters, who are daily labouring under the weight of these cruel oppressions are innumerable. Nor is it possible for words to express, or pen to paint, the grief of one of these unhappy mothers, who, with her helpless children, is reduced to such extreme misery and want: can any thing be more distressful or pitiable!
O, that men would be wise unto salvation, and not prefer sordid gain to the more substantial happiness of conforming to the precepts of the Supreme Judge, who cannot deceive nor be deceived! namely "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea." A sentence one cannot think upon without horror, seeing so many little one offended daily and hourly, and left helpless and forlorn in all the storms and trials of the world, to work their passage through mortality, still floating about, like a bubble upon the surface, in all the delicacy and softness of their sex, without money, friend, or prospect of any human comfort, or even relief, to enable them to drag on a miserable existence the ensuing day; surely, there is not any thing can equal the horrors of a state like this: yet what numbers experience it all, before they will condescend so low as to shrink from the paths of virtue. Surely this does not merit censure: yet, astonishing it is, the smallest feature of poverty is almost sure to be branded with the names of infamy and vice. What a trying situation after a life of affluence! yet, where is the mind of sensibility, under such circumstances as these, who would not feel it almost as great an affliction to discover their poverty as to sustain it; for, thus miserably situated, to have any of their former acquaintance witness their wretchedness, must be a very trying circumstance indeed, and especially since, by woeful experience, they are taught to know that little more than censure will be derived from it.
Indeed, amidst the great variety of complicated ills which are attendant upon all mankind, and from which not any are exempt, there will appear several in the world, the origin of whose woe is scarcely to be traced; and who, as a much admired author (Dr. Gregory) observes, will find none to compassionate, or even understand their sufferings: witness amongst the prodigious numbers of unhappy females in the married state, whom the adversity of fate has left alone to wander through all this labyrinth of difficulties, and, perhaps, surrounded by a numerous train of children, who alike must feel the supercilious sneers of taunt and reprobation, for they know not what. Indeed, this subject would alone open a very wide and dreary field to range in, so various and complicated are the calamities brought upon mortals by the unseen hand of fate, to which all must submit, since it is not in the power of human skill to prevent: but all must allow, it is in the power of any one to moderate these afflictions by our best aid, or sympathy at least, instead of heightening the sorrows of this unfortunate and oppressed part of the community, and with that well-known philanthropist, Goldsmith, may we say, and firmly believe,
"Every want that stimulates the breast,
"Becomes a source of pleasure when redress'd:"
for what can add greater pleasure to the sensations of humanity, than to sympathise with the distressed? consequently to them I need not address this discourse, but chiefly to those whose feelings are less warmed by the misery of their fellow creatures, for a mixture of both sorts there is in the world, is beyond a doubt. Witness a paragraph I have this day, the 17th of August 1798, copied from a well-known daily paper, the Morning Herald, which runs exactly as follows:
"My friend and self, a few days ago, having dined with an officer at his barracks, returned home between ten and eleven: in Panton-street we were accosted by an unfortunate woman, who first solicited our charity in English; but overhearing us, in our progress speak French, she renewed her suit in that language, probably thinking we might be foreigners, and therefore did not understand the nature of her first application. You will own, it is by no means astonishing, that hearing an English mendicant, especially a female, beg in different languages should excite our admiration, particularly as she spoke both fluently and elegantly, the evident result of a liberal education.
"Under this idea, we listened to her petition delivered in French, which, being now so common an acquisition, made us desirous of knowing whether her learning was confined to that tongue only; my friend, therefore, replied to her in Italian, and we were not a little surprised to find her not only mistress of that language, but also well versed in Latin.
"Shocked to discover such extensive learning in one who seemed to profit so little by its possession, and conceiving her an object of the greatest pity, probably abandoned by unfeeling, sordid relations, we delayed not instantly affording her some temporary relief; but in the moment of so doing, I was so unfortunate as to be recognized by my parents, who were returning from a friend's house, where they had supped. In such a place, at such an hour, and with a female, what could be thought? We were immediately adjudged criminal; and, upon our joining them, were accordingly reproached, as if their suspicions had been true. Such is the power of prejudice, that it was in vain we protested our innocence, in vain we informed them of the nature of our conversation with this woman; these availed us nothing: we were not only censured for the immorality of the affair itself, but also despised for the meanness and vulgarity of our taste.
"Unfortunately, what tends to confirm them in this their premature opinion, is the circumstance of my friend's stepping aside immediately, on perceiving their approach. But how easy is that accounted for? in such a situation, where all direct proof of the innocence of the individual is, by the peculiar nature of the circumstance, excluded, what avails, except to yourself, the conscious rectitude of the heart.
"Mens sibi conscia recti? It is impossible to impart to others the internal feelings, except by words; and when people are predetermined to disbelieve every syllable you urge in your own justification, how are you to effect your own exculpation? This action, therefore, of my friend is by no means a confirmation of our guilt, as it was extremely natural, that he should with to avoid being seen in such a situation, in which appearances were so much against him. His motives being now explained, I beg leave for once to differ from that proverb, that Innocence hath nothing to fear.
"I am, Sir, yours, &c.
A striking proof indeed, in addition to the many, that unprotected innocence has every human thing to fear. But whose conduct of the four, think ye, was the most commendable, or pleasing in the fight of God or man?
Supposing, or even admitting, this poor unfortunate woman to be one of the wretched tribe, of whom we have been speaking. is it not evident, her education was not calculated either for beggary or vice? Nor can it be supposed, from the distress which always seems attendant upon this abject state of beggary alone, that it can be by choice preferred to some laudable and reputable employment. No: it is not in nature.
Then, in the name of reason, justice, and truth, permit me to ask, from whence originates, and what is it that countenances, the cause of all these evils? Are they incurable? Are not women, by nature, of a more gentle and delicate composition than men, and less able to bear the hardships which so frequently are forced upon them? Has it not, in all ages, been the task, or rather the avowed choice, of the male part of the creation, to protect and defend the weaker sex? and is not the male part of the creation better able to bear cold, hunger, fatigue, and hardships than women are? Poor helpless women! who no sooner meet the heavy fate of indigence, than, from their appearance, they are bound to support a load of infamous censure along with it.
Although, at the same time, permit me to infer, there is not the least necessity for men to undergo the smallest part of these hardships, even bad they relinquished their claim to women's occupations, since there is such a number of branches in trade, beside arts and sciences, which are only calculated for men. Surely, then, women ought to be permitted to occupy the remaining few, nor any longer suffered to be bound down by these oppressive chains; for, does not generous Pity demand a hearing in their behalf? Does not common decency forbid they should be insulted in the manner they are? Is it manly, is it noble, is it generous, or humane? Would not one think, from such oppressions, that men had determined to exert themselves for the misery and torture of their fellow-creatures.
I allow this kind of reasoning, to the interested parties, may sound rather grating to the ear: but, be it remembered, I have not undertaken the task of panegyric, but plain truth, which needs no high-flown language to express it: nor have I a wish to make an invidious remark upon the conduct or behaviour of any man, and much less to include a whole body of them. But what success in trade, if such they have, can make the smallest atonement, on a death-bed, or come nearly adequate to the loss of a poor soul, whom they may have been the means of casting into the utmost misery and distress, and forcing to seek an asylum in the jaws of perdition? Would but a mind, capable of the smallest feelings of humanity, reflect on the many sacrifices made to this voluptuous avarice, and, in time, spare themselves that pungent remorse due to such severe reflections.
But, says the reasonable enquirer, with regard to suppressing this ancient custom, which is pointed out as productive of so much evil, supposing an expedient is found out, will it not be attended with such a number of inconveniencies, as thereby to render the remedy as bad as the disease. To which I beg leave to reply: I do not presume to instruct the learned, but simply to communicate my ideas; for, a complicated business like this, which has taken so deep root, requires a greater knowledge in human affairs to discuss than the writer is possessed of; and a general knowledge of the causes which facilitate or obstruct the happiness of the community is absolutely requisite, which discovers the many convincing reasons why a business of so much consequence should be properly investigated; and, upon these considerations, as all things, whether great or small, must have a beginning, I have taken some pains to be informed as to the nature of the subject. But as it is not expected a female can have much knowledge in judicature, I go upon the grounds of common sense and reason, and not actuated by any other motive than a wish to see happiness prevail, I shall accordingly beg leave to proceed to the following considerations; for, as in the estimation and choice of things, it is always granted we are to prefer better to worse, and such things as are grounded in reason, to others that hold no comparison therewith: we will, therefore, suppose the very worst supposition on which the argument can be founded, which is, What are this body of men to do, or how are they to be disposed of, if deprived of their present employment? Which may be briefly answered:
That although there may be some men, like women, of a timorous disposition, and thereby may experience some inconveniencies, yet it is not possible the whole body of them can suffer, by reason that, as I before observed, men can turn themselves so many ways in the world, which, were a woman to attempt, she would be pointed at as ridiculous and frantic: independent of which, after having stated the heavy grievances under which, not only the female part of the creation are oppressed, but the community in general, it may justly be replied, that no man, or body of men can, in reason, lay claim to a privilege that is absolutely repugnant to all civil society: after which, will not all other reasons appear to have little weight? In other cases, has it had any weight with the police of the country? How many repeated instances have we seen of men, and even bodies of men, who, by certain obligations, have been obliged to give up public or private property, when a general good could not be otherwise obtained?
Then, why is there any distinction to be made between relinquishing property and privilege, when the public good requires it, which in all exigencies must confessedly be just? for, if change of circumstances were to have no weight with the legislature in directing human affairs, what would the intercourse of mankind end in, but contention between private interest and public good? But so long as we are blessed with a happy constitution, and rulers possessing humanity united with wisdom, what have we to fear?
Were the desire of procuring liberty or happiness for this, or any other set of people, at the hazard of injuring the community, or any part of it, the request would not only be unreasonable but unjust: but after summing up, under each respective head, all the evidences I have collected, with a very gentle hint at the enormous expence, as well as danger, and other inconveniencies attending a continuance of this precedent, and considering the many great advantages which would accrue, not only to the community, but to themselves, by engaging in more manly employments, I shall leave the impartial reader to draw the conclusion, and rest the basis of my observations with those in power, for there are few, if any, precedents of arbitrary commitments, except the one in question, which have not come under the watchful eye of the legislature, whose vigilance and impartiality have, at all times, been a strong barrier and shield against any infringements upon the rights and privileges of the British nation; and, I presume, an investigation into the grievances of these poor suffering females will quickly be a means of doing away the precedent of encouraging, or countenancing, effeminate tradesmen, which, it is evident, are not only the origin of such unheard of distresses to poor helpless females, and preventing parents, who may be desirous of breaking through the fashions of the times, from placing their daughters to trades, but is absolutely leading to the dissolution of all good government.
Nor is there the smallest danger, when once the business is commenced, that the deep penetration and humanity of the guardians of the common weal will ever be baffled in so laudable a pursuit. For, notwithstanding the subtlety of the enemy of mankind may invent a number of false and artful reasonings, yet what will all that avail, when the curtain is drawn aside, for then the spirit of justice and retribution is to be no longer appeased by such artifice; for neither law nor equity will admit of mending their fortunes by fraud or violence. And, although some of the offensive body may endeavour, by little artful chicanery, to gloss over their crimes, and endeavour to palliate them with idle excuses, yet the only real plea these oppressive traders can make, being that of private interest, as I before observed, it has at all times been judiciously ordered to be given up for a public good.
What can possibly be deemed a more efficacious good, than to relieve the oppressed, and preserve so many poor miserable souls from perdition. Yet it is greatly to be feared these considerations to men, who are grown torpid by custom, or blind by ignorance, will give but little room for reflection.
Have we not every reason to believe, to the disgrace of such part of the community as call themselves Christians, that there are some, though we will hope but a small part, whose hearts are too much contracted and bound down by avarice, to admit of any humane sensations, which, in a quarter of the globe, where the refinements of the age are cried up by all nations, is unaccountably strange; for, in a scrupulous search for facts, which confirms the writer's opinion on this subject, certain it is, there is not a single page in the New Testament which does not explicitly, or on the fairest inference, condemn such conduct, either by the example or precepts of Christ and his apostles.
Then, since these men have become apostates from Christianity, why any longer suffer their arbitrary power to be a subterfuge for fraud and oppression? Let the salutary laws of Great Britain provide means for suppressing a precedent, which, through time and unforeseen events, has become productive of so much mischief. Or let them appear and shew cause, why they are entitled to oppress these poor women, in order to enjoy indolence and ease. And let their claims to the flagrant violation of the rights of our fair countrywomen be developed.
Although, at the same time, permit me to infer, I cannot flatter myself these modes of proceeding are expected entirely to eradicate the sin against the seventh commandment. But, from the prodigious numbers, which are by compulsion driven to the paths of wickedness, will it not be a means of saving thousands of miserable creatures from sin and sorrow, and enable magistrates, and men in power, to exercise justice and authority over the wicked, without fear of punishing the innocent with the guilty? for, believe me, it is not the incorrigible sinner I take upon me to commiserate, but the encouraged, or rather the compelled, sinner; and still more those who suffer in innocence, which is the hapless, wretched fate of thousands. And although I cannot recal to my memory the trifling observations I have made on this occasion, I am conscious they are my real sentiments; and flatter myself, however bad the composition, the design will be adopted by the generous and humane; when there is not a doubt, but the heavy burden, which these children of misery have so long supported, will quickly be thrown off, and the stumbling block to virtue and happiness be rolled away.
Have we not had sufficient proofs, that the happiness and welfare of mortals have at all times been thought worthy the attention of a Briton. Witness the poor slaves; what exertions have not been used by the humane friends of liberty in their behalf? Yet less, much less, are their sufferings to be lamented than the poor females I speak of, who have been bred up and educated in the school of Christianity, and fostered by the tender hand of Care.
The slave is little acquainted with the severe pangs a virtuous mind labours under, when driven to the extreme necessity of forfeiting their virtue for bread. The slave cannot feel pain at the loss of reputation, a term of which they never heard, and much less know the meaning. What are the untutored, wild imaginations of a slave, when put in the balance with the distressing sensations of a British female, who has received a refined, if not a classical, education, and is capable of the finest feelings the human heart is susceptible of. A slave, through want of education, has little more refinement than cattle in the field; nor can they know the want of what they never enjoyed, or were taught to expect; but a poor female, who has received the best instruction, and is endowed with a good understanding, what must not she feel in mind, independent of her corporeal wants, after the adversity of fate has set her up as a mark, for the ridicule, the censure, and contempt of the world? Her feelings cannot be described, nor her sufferings sufficiently lamented.
I recollect some observations, made some years ago, by a late honourable, humane, learned, and truly worthy member of the House of Commons, respecting the business of the slave-trade, which doubly confirms my opinion of the great necessity there is for an investigation into the grievances I have been speaking of, since it leads to a clear demonstration, that the most judicious and benevolent may still remain in the dark, as to the sufferings of our Christian slaves at home.
"There is," said the honourable gentleman, "no state in human nature but had its compensations. What was a slave? a happy slave was a degraded man; his happiness consisted in having no thought of the past, or the future, and this deficiency of mind it was which lessened the dignity of man, and conferred happiness on the African."
A very striking and just observation, with regard to the African, it must be granted; yet I cannot but differ in opinion, when it is said, that all mankind are capable of a compensation. For, admitting the same mode of reasoning to stand good, if the oppressions of one part of the creation are moderated through their ignorance, how much must the other be heightened by their sensibility and the refinements of education. Nor can I see the smallest trait of compensation remaining for these miserable females, since the very education they have received in youth, redounds to their misfortunes in maturity.
Then, if an investigation into the business of the slave-trade has been founded on such humane and generous principles, how much greater pleasure must it give the feeling heart, to patronize the poor, unfortunate women of our own nation, who labour under the very worst kind of slavery, and must continue to languish under the fetters of a painful bondage, till death, or the kindly hand of interference, has severed the chain?
But the justice of retribution taking place, shall we not see these poor, helpless, and forlorn women set on a level with their fellow-creatures, and not be under the shocking and cruel necessity of starving in a land of plenty? And when the face of sorrow is enlivened with the smile of happiness and content, and the weary tradesman can lie down in peace, without fear or danger of being annoyed, by the lawless plunderer; when all are united in the bands of mutual benefit and preservation, and the memory of former woes is lost in the blessings of a future age; it is then we may reasonably expect, that less than half the immense sums which are now required, will be sufficient to encourage honest industry.
But to detail the extent of human woes in so small a compass is impossible, so various and so fluctuating are the events of human life, and its ills so numerous: so many sudden deaths, losses in trade, and other casualties daily happen within our knowledge, the bare recital of which is not only painful to the narrator, but revives the melancholy tale of woe in the ears of the suffering parties; therefore, as the fate of an unknown individual seems so much on a par with the rest of mankind, permit the foregoing pages to suffice; and, instead of adding the distressing history of the unfortunate Mrs———, the writer begs leave to introduce the story of Fidelia, which being picturesque, and well adapted to the design, by permission, may serve as a kind of back-ground to the piece, without wounding again the heart of sensibility, by the recital of past misfortunes.
- Vide Rules and Regulations of the Magdalen Charity.
- See a book, entitled The Magdalen, or a History of the First Penitents received into that charitable Asylum.
- Mr. Burke