« AnteriorContinuar »
It is a good sign of the advance of society when attention is paid to the education of women. The youth of the other sex commonly monopolise all the care of a rude people; and the female child is left to acquire as she may the little menial arts, which are to be her perpetual and exclusive employment. And even when war and the chase have given place to intellectual pursuits, it is long before woman reaps the advantage. Her beauty is still considered her sole claim to regard, and her mind is thought incapable of culture, or not worth the pains.
The increased attention bestowed upon female improvement is a proof of the superiority of the modern to the ancient civilised world. We hear of one or two gifted women in Greece and Rome, of Sappho, and of Aspasia, and of
Porcia; but the generality were consigned to
the distaff, and were never thought of in connection with any more elevated employment. One might almost say, at present, that the error lies in the contrary extreme; - not that too much thought or pains can be bestowed on female education; but that too much is sometimes attempted in it, and too much expected from it. Education is indeed very influential, but it cannot do every thing. It may mould, but it seldom transforms, character; it may call forth, but it cannot originate; it improves, but it does not create. In religion, the Christian knows that education can do nothing without a higher influence; and in ordinary matters, the accurate observer will confess that its operation will be much affected by constitutional tone and natural eapacity.
However contrary to the theory of some, it is very evident that there is an innate moral and intellectual bias, which contributes greatly to the formation of individual character. It is in the mind as in the body; there is a peculiarity in each which no training can take away, which is observable, not only in those pre-eminently distinguished, but in all. For all have their pecu
liar aspects, as well as their general resemblance: and we need not be indebted to physiognomical or phrenological science for a truth which experience and observation sufficiently discover.
It is, perhaps, one of the faults of modern education, and especially of that of women, that this difference is sometimes overlooked. There are now a system and a routine, to which every girl must be subjected. A few years ago, this was by some extended even to bodily discipline; and we have heard of delicate females being sent out with their brothers with perforated shoes, that they might be inured to hardships, which they would probably in after-life never have to
The folly of such conduct was evident from its results it was a mania that lasted only for a while (till Emile was forgotten); but it is easier to discern a physical than a moral error; and much easier, too, to correct it.
We may often see instances of a similar mistake in the intellectual treatment of young people of the present day, especially in matters of mere taste. Yet, in these, we must allow that nature
is peculiarly arbitrary. There are some who can see no beauty in a Claude, - there are others who can hear, unmoved, the death-song of Weber; still painting and music are deemed so essential, that every young woman must handle a pencil, or strike the harp. How many a poor girl is, in this way, doomed to symphonise three or four hours every day, to play without an ear, and to sing without a voice; and, after many years of irksome drudgery, to discover that her soul was not tuned to harmony, and that all her meritorious exertions cannot supply natural defects?
Music and drawing are very delightful, but they are surely not essential. A woman may be very good, very clever, very pleasing, without them; nay, much more pleasing than when she is, as it were, forced into their service, and made to affect a taste. For then there will be a perpetual display of some laboured studio, or some double octave bravura, the only merit of which is its painful execution. And for a woman to play and draw only a little is equally distressing to herself and to her friends; for she is con
strained to execute, and they to admire, in spite of the consciousness of insincerity on the one hand, and of failure on the other.
The loss of time which these useless efforts involve is, perhaps, their least evil. To force the inclination in things indifferent has a bad moral effect. Constrained studies are seldom successful; and, frequently, the error is universal, and pervades the system. Certain things are to be acquired, certain rules observed, whatever be the ability, taste, or temper. Natural inferiority, instead of feeling itself assisted, is, not unfrequently, wholly discouraged by this unbending routine; and the innate and peculiar talent, if such there be, languishes for want of culture. Still more lamentable is the effect on disposition. How often is irritability the consequence of wounded sensitiveness; and how often does the severity which may be requisite to restrain the impetuous, freeze and paralyse the diffident and tender! Many a gentle spirit has been crushed; many a feeling heart chilled ; many an amiable disposition rendered fretful and peevish, by a want of sympathy in in