Sunday, August 12, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The American Spinster Circa 1913


Author of “The Fireside Sphinx,” etc.

THAT this is the Golden Age of spinsters no one will deny, and that America furnishes the soil in which these hardy plants put forth their finest bloom is equally indisputable. How many years have passed since the “antient maydes” of Boston—which term included all unmarried women older than twenty-five—were pronounced by John Dunton to be a “dismal spectacle”? How many years since a few “acute and ingenious gentlewomen” in colonial Virginia had the temerity to remain single and cultivate their own tobacco plantations, for which unnatural behavior they were subjected to repeated “admonishments”? Now the “antient mayde” flaunts her freedom in the faces of those who are patiently doing their duty to the world. Now if a woman runs a successful apple-orchard or dairy-farm, her exploits are heralded far and wide, and other women write exultant papers about her, intimating that the day of the male agriculturist is virtually over. I am not sure that the attitude of our great-great-grandfathers, who jealously and somewhat fearfully guarded their prerogatives, was not more flattering to my sex than this enthusiasm evoked by achievements which in a man would not be found worthy of notice.

As for age—well, who in these years of grace is frankly and confessedly old? We no longer say, “On a l’âge de son cœur,” but “On a l’âge de sa volonté.” Jane Austen settled down to caps and spinsterhood before she was thirty. Dr. Johnson alluded to Miss Lucy Porter’s “hoary virginity” when that lady was fifty-two. The Ettrick Shepherd stubbornly protested that “to ca’ a woman saxty, and then mainteen that ye didna ca’ her auld, is naething short o’ a sophism.” But now no one gets beyond middle age, or “the prime of life.” I have heard a Boston spinster of eighty-two (a remarkable woman, I admit) casually spoken of as middle-aged; and when, in a desperate resolve to push matters to an issue, I said: “Miss D—is not middle-aged; she is old. If you are not old when you are eighty-two, when are you old?” the remark was taken in ill part. “I should not dream of calling Miss D—old,” said one gallant Bostonian, and all his hearers agreed with him.

The French spinster is a negligible factor. The English spinster has conquered her territory and become a force to be reckoned with. But the American spinster is the standard-bearer of the tribe. Her incessant activities and her radiant self-satisfaction have made her appear more dominant than she is, and have caused her critics much needless apprehension. When Mrs. Van Vorst wrote, in 1903, “Our factories are full of old maids, our colleges are full of old maids, our ball-rooms in the worldly centers are full of old maids,” Americans read these words with placid unconcern. They had given too many wedding presents in their day to have any doubts anent the permanent popularity of marriage. But English readers, who are ever prone to be literal, appear to have accepted Mrs. Van Vorst’s statements au pied de la lettre. Mr. Marriott Watson, chilled to the heart—as well he might be—by the vision of a ballroom destitute alike of girls and matrons, wrote for the “Nineteenth Century” a severe and agitated protest. He asserted that a woman’s “functions” “alone excuse or explain her existence,”—which is one way of looking at the matter; and he pointed out that American women are the most remote the world can show from the primitive and savage type which represents the dynamic force of a race.

The mere fact that the American spinster is so often and so sharply censured marks the strength of her position. No one dreams of censuring the French vieille fille or the German jungfrau. These victims of fate meet with scorn or sympathy, according to the taste and breeding of commentators. In either case, their lives are registered as failures. Nothing can rob the German woman of those vital sensibilities which center in the home and family. “Every great movement of the Teutonic soul,” says Mr. Havelock Ellis, “has been rooted in emotion.” If the women of Germany are demanding “rights,” and demanding them with no uncertain voice, it is because they seek to meet their responsibilities with authority. The sphere of home and child-rearing is their sphere, and they purpose to rule in it.

It is not possible for the Frenchwoman, who understands the structure of society, to welcome spinsterhood. “All her instincts of expansion,” says that acute observer Mr. William Crary Brownell, “are hostile to it. There is no more provision in the French social constitution than in the order of nature itself for the old maid.” Therefore, as the twin passions of the French heart are to be in rational accord with nature and in rational accord with social life, the unmarried woman has no alternative but to feel herself doubly incomplete. She is unstirred by the American woman’s vaulting ambition to be man’s rival, or by an uneasy envy of man’s estate. Perhaps it is because a French girl never regrets her sex that France has produced more eminent women than any other nation in the world. Certainly the only man who ever had the courage to say he would like to be a woman (a beautiful woman, he stipulated) was that distinguished Frenchman M. Jules Lemaître.

No one since De Quincey has spoken so generously of the English spinster as has Mr. John B. Atkins in the pages of THE CENTURY. He does not, like so many of his contemporaries, accuse her of gross selfishness. He does not deny her the right to control her own life. He goes so far as to say that she may use it to good purpose, and extract from it some measure of content. He points out the philanthropic paths which it should be her duty and her pleasure to tread. He draws a pleasing picture of the maiden aunt giving to nieces and nephews—to nephews especially—her sympathy and comradeship. Sir Leslie Stephen says that “Woman to a boy is simply an incumbrance upon reasonable modes of life,” and it is to be feared that many women—aunts and others—have the same doubtful regard for boys. But British sentimentality demands of the old maid, if she be a good old maid, that yearning attitude toward other people’s children which marks her as “womanly” and earns for her the tolerance of the world.

The American spinster is seldom sentimental, which is in her favor, and she is seldom emotional, which is both gain and loss. Her attenuation of feeling lessens her charm and influence, but serves to keep her in accord with the orderly conventions of society. She is keenly competitive, and eager for new fields of activity; but she can read Ellen Key’s “Love and Marriage” with intelligent detachment. She cries occasionally for the moon, but she is in no immediate danger of scorching her fingers by trying to play with the sun.

The flexibility of American social life gives to the unmarried woman an assured position which has no counterpart in the older civilizations. She may be an anomaly in nature, but she is in perfect accord with her more or less agreeable surroundings. She has no background to give repute and distinction to her rôle; but she infuses into it her own persuasive personality. She stands free from the common obligations of her sex, but she does work which is well worth doing, and she not infrequently adds to the gaiety of life. “Of how many homes,” says Mr. Brownell, “is she not the decorously decorative ornament! She may have courted or have drifted into her position of dignified singleness; it is in either case equally sure that she has not considered her estate incomplete in itself, or disengaged from the structure of society.”

As a matter of fact, she is wont to feel herself—birth and fortune permitting—a pillar of society. It is no question with her of wasted force or blighted vitality. It is a question of directing her superabundant energy into those channels where she can accomplish measurable results. She seeks and finds a constructive human existence remote from marriage and maternity. The French or German woman remains unmarried because the unkindly fates have so decreed. The English woman occasionally assists fate from sheer love of independence. “The most ordinarie cause of a single life,” says Bacon, “is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds.” But it is surely reserved for the American woman to remain unmarried because she feels herself too good for matrimony, too valuable to be intrusted to a husband’s keeping. Her attitude bears some resemblance to that of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, who wrote with praiseworthy conviction: “I may say without vanity that just Heaven would not bestow such a woman as myself upon a man who was unworthy of her.”

This is not idle jesting. Would it be possible in any country save our own for a lady to write to a periodical, explaining, “Why I am an Old Maid,” and be paid coin of the realm for the explanation? Would it be possible in any other country to hear such a question as “Should the Gifted Woman Marry?” seriously asked, and seriously answered? Would it be possible for any sane and thoughtful woman who was not an American to consider even the remote possibility of our spinsters becoming a detached class, who shall form “the intellectual and economic élite of the sex, and leave marriage and maternity for the less developed woman”? What has become of the belief, as old as humanity, that marriage and maternity are highly developing processes, forcing into flower a woman’s latent potentialities; and that the less developed woman is inevitably the woman who has escaped this keen and powerful stimulus. “Never,” says Edmond de Goncourt, “has a virgin, young or old, produced a work of art.” One makes allowance for the Latin point of view. And it is probable that M. de Goncourt never read “Emma.”

Signor Ferrero, contemplating the unmarried women of England, those amazing creatures who “devote themselves to sterility, not from religious motives, but from sheer calculation” (which is also a Latin point of view), has recorded his conviction that they will make themselves felt as a force, and has expressed his genuine dismay as to the possible results of their activity. He has even confessed to some whimsical misgivings lest Italian and Sicilian women should acquire this Saxon taste for spinsterhood. Yet England is emphatically a man’s country—which France has never been—and its attitude toward marriage is a robustly masculine attitude, as unacceptable to the French as to the American woman. There is no attempt anywhere to gloss over this rude fact. The Englishman believes with Mr. Kipling:

“He travels the fastest who travels alone.”
He echoes the verdict of Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, “Marriage narrows and damps the spirits of generous men.” “The position of a single man,” says a stout-hearted writer in the “Contemporary Review,” “is in itself envied and applauded; that of a single woman certainly is not. To every woman marriage is still accounted a promotion. There may be counterbalancing circumstances, but to be married is, in itself, an object of desire and a subject for congratulation.”

In the good old days when English spinsters softened the reproach of spinsterhood by borrowing the prefix “Mrs.,” as did those excellent ladies, Mrs. Hannah More and Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, the position of a single man was neither envied nor applauded. He was held to be (if of decent life,—much allowance was made for rakes) only a little less contemptible than a single woman. “The pain and the opprobrium o’ defunckin an auld bachelor,” writes the Ettrick Shepherd, expressing after his hardy fashion the sentiment of his time. Dr. Johnson firmly maintained that marriage was more necessary for a man than for a woman, because a woman could make herself comfortable and a man could not. The responsibility for the more modern and more supercilious masculine attitude must be placed where it belongs,—on the shoulders of the Englishwoman, who has accepted the creed that for her marriage is a promotion, and that “counterbalancing circumstances” should not be held to weigh too heavily in the scale. As Dean Hole’s friend said to him, when congratulated on her daughter’s engagement: “To be sure, Jenny hates the man, but then there’s always something.”

Miss Austen was the most veracious of chroniclers, one who with careful self-control refused to wander beyond the area of her own observation; but there is nothing in American fiction, and very little, I fancy, in the fiction of any land, which is comparable to the marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. Many novelists have made easy copy of husband-hunting. It is a favorite theme with Trollope, who treats it with ruthless cynicism, and it is a not uncommon element in modern story-telling. But Charlotte Lucas staggers us. Miss Austen calls her “sensible and intelligent.” She is also well-bred, clear-headed, and kind. She is Elizabeth Bennet’s chosen friend. And she marries Mr. Collins! Marries him with alacrity, and with permanent satisfaction. If there be any one episode in life and letters which is calculated to reconcile us to the rapid increase of spinsterhood in England and America, it is the amazing fact that Jane Austen not only married Charlotte Lucas to Mr. Collins, but plainly considered it a not unnatural thing for her to do.

Ten years ago, when a rage for compiling useless statistics swept over Europe and the United States, it occurred to some active minds that children should be made to bear their part in the guidance of the human race. Accordingly a series of questions—some sensible and some foolish—were put to English, German, and American school children, and their enlightening answers were given to the world. One of these questions read: “Would you rather be a man or a woman, and why?” Naturally this query was of concern only to little girls. No sane educator would ask it of a boy. Even Jules Lemaître at twelve must have shared the convictions of his fellows. German pedagogues, be it noted, struck the question off the list. They said that to ask a child, “Would you rather be something you must be, or something you cannot possibly be?” was both foolish and useless. Interrogations concerning choice were of value only when the will was a determining factor.

In this country no such logical inference chilled the examiner’s zeal. The question was asked and was answered, and we discovered as a result that a great many little American girls (a minority, to be sure, but a respectable minority,) were well content with their sex; not because it had its duties and dignities, its pleasures and exemptions; but because they plainly considered that they were superior to little American boys, and were destined, when grown up, to be superior to American men. One small New England maiden wrote that she would rather be a woman because “Women are always better than men in morals.” Another, because “Women are more use in the world.” A third, because “Women learn things quicker than men, and have more intelligence.” And so on through varying degrees of self-sufficiency. “Lord, gie us a gude conceit o’ ourselves!” prayed the Scotchman, who knew the value of assurance.

Now certainly these little girls were old maids in the making. They had stamped upon them in their tender infancy the hall-mark of the American spinster. In a few more years they will be writing papers on “The Place of Unmarried Women in the World’s Work,” and reading addresses on “The Woman of Intellect: her Duty to Herself and to the State.” There is a formidable lack of humor in this easy confidence, in the somewhat contemptuous attitude of women whose capacities have not yet been tested, toward men who stand responsible for the failures of the world. It denotes, at home or abroad, a density not far removed from dullness. In that dreary little Irish drama, “Mixed Marriages,” which the Dublin actors played in New York two years ago, an old woman, presumed to be witty and wise, said to her son’s betrothed: “Sure, I believe the Lord made Eve when He saw that Adam could not take care of himself”; and the remark, while received with applause, reflected painfully upon the absence of that humorous sense which we used to think was the birthright of Irishmen. The too obvious retort which nobody uttered, but which everybody must have thought, was that if Eve had been designed as a care-taker, she had made a shining failure of her job.

It is conceded, theoretically at least, that woman’s sphere is an elastic term, comprising any work she is able to do well. Therefore, it may be that American spinsters, keen, college-bred, ambitious, and, above all, free, are destined to compete vigorously and permanently with men. They are, we are told, the only women who can give themselves unreservedly to work, and from them alone enduring results are to be expected. Yet it is at least worthy of notice that most of the successful business women of France,—Mme. Clicquot-Ponsardin, Mme. Pommery, Mme. Dumas, Mme. Bernet, Mme. Boucicault,—have been either married women who were their husbands’ partners, or widows who took upon their capable shoulders the burden of their dead husbands’ cares. They were also mothers who, with the definite aims and practical instincts of their race, projected themselves into the future, and wove out of their own pursuits the fabric of their children’s lives.

At present the American spinster is in a transition stage, a stage so replete with advantages that we may be permitted to hope it will last long. She has escaped from the chimney-corner, and is not yet shut up in banks and offices. She does a reasonable amount of work, and embraces every reasonable opportunity of enjoyment. She gratifies her own tastes, and cherishes her natural affinities. She sometimes cultivates her mind, and she never breaks her heart. She is the best of friends, and she has leisure for companionship. She is equally free from l’esprit gaulois and from “les mœurs de vestales pétrifiées,” which are the Scylla and Charybdis of the French vieille fille. She is content with a contentment which the German jungfrau neither understands nor envies. She is assured with an assurance unknown to the experienced English old maid. She is, as I have said, the standard-bearer of her tribe, and the pibroch to which she marches blithely through life has the ring of the old Covenanting song:

“That a’ the world may see
There’s nane in the right but we.”
All this is far removed, as Mr. Marriott Watson warns us, from the savage and primitive woman, who represents the dynamic force of a race. But who shall ring the bells backward? And who shall reconcile the primitive woman to the exigencies and formalities of civilization? Some years ago in South Carolina I came to know and love an old Negro “mammy,” a wise, fat, kind, mysterious old mammy, whose heart was soft, whose touch was healing, whose voice was like a lullaby, and whose experiences would have colored half a dozen ordinary lives. Her sister, the laundress, was one day under discussion, and I asked, with more than my customary ineptitude: “Aunt Cordelia, is Caroline an old maid?”

Aunt Cordelia turned upon me a look in which contempt for my ignorance blended with a deep acceptance and understanding of life as she had known it, unfiltered, unsheltered, unevasive. “Laws, honey,” she said, “we’s no ole maids. Some’s married, and some isn’t; but we’s no ole maids.”

 Compiles from Sources in the Public Domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Shadows in a Timeless Myth Presents Frances Namon Sorcho First Female Deep Sea Diver


“As a girl in a quiet little home in Virginia, I little thought I would ever become a diver. In fact I didn’t know what a real diver was.

“When I first saw the queer rig I shuddered, but now the grotesque costume is as natural to me as is my tea-gown, and perhaps I feel a little more at home in it.

“Only arms, limbs and a body well trained muscularly can walk about in shoes that weigh 27 pounds apiece, supporting an armor with copper helmet and breastplate, and leaden belt of weights which tip the scale-beam at 246 pounds. Therefore, the commencement of my education as a diver consisted of a year’s training in a school of physical culture. When it was completed my muscles were as hard and springy as steel, and I felt no fear on the score of physical strength as I contemplated my first visit to the ‘bottom of the sea.’

“My first dive was off the southern coast of Florida, not far from Clear Water Harbor. My husband was at the time engaged in the business of collecting rare shells and coral for several Northern Universities. I well remember how I felt when I first donned the armor. Fear and curiosity were so closely blended that I hardly know which I felt the most of. At any rate, my husband was waiting, and almost before I realized it the queer canvas armor had been adjusted and the breastplate had been slipped over my head. A thick pad or collar had been put on my shoulders to take the weight off the breastplate and helmet, which alone weigh 56 pounds; but even then the plate felt quite heavy, and as the metal gaskets were being screwed down with thumb-nuts and a wrench, I felt as if I were being screwed up in my coffin. But there was little time for such gruesome reflections, and a stout leather belt holding the sub-marine knife was next girded about my waist.

“This knife, a double-edged affair, sharp as a razor, screws into a watertight brass scabbard. It is the diver’s only weapon, and with it he must protect himself against sharks and other sub-marine monsters. The shoes come next. How heavy and awkward they looked, with their soles of cast-iron two inches thick, and how clumsy they felt when I tried to walk in them for the first time!

“The life-line—that all-important half-inch manilla rope—was then knotted about my waist, and the belt of leaden weights was strapped about me under the arms, and I was told to step over the railing of the boat on to the short ladder that had been suspended over her stern. I did so, mechanically I fear, and when I had managed to get down a few steps, the helmet was slipped over my head and by a deft turn locked.

“The queer headpiece was much larger than my head, and admitted of considerable freedom of movement inside it.

“‘Now recollect,’ said my husband, ‘if you want to come up quick in case anything happens, give one jerk on the life-line. If you want more air give two jerks, or less air three jerks.’
“I expected to shoot to the bottom like a lump of lead, owing to all the weight I had on me, but I sank gradually instead, so buoyant was the inflated armor. I was on the bottom with five fathoms of water over my head almost before I realized it.

“I felt a sensation of pressure on the chest, and in my ears and head, which was quite painful. The first thing that I noticed, was a boiling of the water about me for which I was unable to account, until I happened to think of the foul air escaping through the valve in the back of the helmet.

“I found, also, to my surprise, that I could see quite well some distance about me, and observed a number of little fishes, which finally swam quite close to me and appeared to gaze in the glass front of the helmet with their little bead-like eyes, as though wondering what sort of a fish I was. I felt strangely light and buoyant, and found that with the slightest upward movement I would shoot surfaceward several feet. The armor also felt so stiff and hard that I could scarcely move in it.

“The next time I went down was not on a pleasure trip, but to work, and for several weeks my husband and I took turns diving for shells and curios. We finally completed our contract.

“Recovering a dead body is the task a diver dislikes more than any other kind, and although I have recovered quite a number, the work is yet horrible to me.

“The first dead body I ever brought to the surface was that of a man who was supposed to have been murdered and thrown into a lake near Atlanta, Ga. I searched the entire bottom of the lake, and finally in a deep hole found the body.

“It was shockingly mutilated and disfigured, and was almost unrecognizable, but we never found out whether the man had been murdered or not.

“When I came to the surface with that bloated, disfigured corpse, strong men were made sick and turned away, and to tell the truth I felt a little squeamish myself; but it was a matter of business, not sentiment, with me, so I doffed the armor and pocketed the reward that had been offered.
“The exploding of sub-marine torpedoes is dangerous work, and you can take my word for it that one does not feel very comfortable groping about with five or six pounds of dynamite in her hand, not knowing what minute it may take a notion to go off and blow her into kingdom come. Diving is fascinating, but it is dangerous, and there are very few women who would care to engage in it even if they had the nerve.”

Frances Namon Sorcho.

Compiled from sources in the public domain

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Women In Ancient Britain

No deities were nearer to the hearts of Celtic peasants than those who were known as deae matres,—the mother goddesses. Once they were thought to belong to Germans and Celts alone; but their statues have been found in numbers at Capua; and, slightly modified, they survived into the Middle Age. Generally figured in groups of three—a mystic number—their aspect was that of gentle serious motherly women, holding new-born infants in their hands, or bearing fruits and flowers in their laps; and many offerings were made to them by country folk in gratitude for their care of farm and flock and home.

There is evidence, though it is hardly needed, that the inevitable hardships of life were not equally shared, and that the lot of the women was worse than that of the men. Judging from the measurements of the neolithic skeletons, the disparity between the sexes in stature was as great as it is among modern savage tribes. The average height of the men was about five feet six inches, of the women only four feet ten inches: the difference in civilized communities is about half as much. It is perhaps safe to conclude that when food was scarce, the men thought first of themselves, and that the women not only suffered from the effects of early child-bearing, but had more than their Duration of life. share of toil. No doubt disease, the attacks of wild beasts, and frequent accidents, as well as intertribal wars, tended to shorten the duration of life: at all events Thurnam calculated that the average age of the people whose skeletons he had examined was not more than forty-five years.

We all learned in childhood that the Britons admitted the sovereignty of women. In the middle of the first century Cartismandua was queen of the Brigantes; and a few years later, when the Iceni revolted against Rome, their general was Boudicca, who is better known by the barbarous misnomer of Boadicea. The Gauls may have had the same institution; and perhaps it would hardly be worth noticing if it were not apparently inconsistent with what Caesar tells us about the status of Gallic wives. They were indeed permitted to own property. The bride brought a dowry to her husband; but he was obliged to add an equivalent 270 from his own estate and to administer the whole as a joint possession, which, with its accumulated increments, went to the survivor. On the other hand, the husband had the power of life and death over his wife as well as his children; and when a man of rank died his relations, if they had any suspicion of foul play, examined his wife, like a slave, by torture, and, if they found her guilty, condemned her to perish in the flames of the funeral pyre.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

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Smiles & Good Fortune,



It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity,
to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W.
Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Shadows in a Timeless Myth presents The Socialist and the Suffragist


Said the Socialist to the Suffragist:
“My cause is greater than yours!
You only work for a Special Class,
We for the gain of the General Mass,
Which every good ensures!”
Said the Suffragist to the Socialist:
“You underrate my Cause!
While women remain a Subject Class,
You never can move the General Mass,
With your Economic Laws!”
Said the Socialist to the Suffragist:
“You misinterpret facts!
There is no room for doubt or schism
In Economic Determinism—
It governs all our acts!”
Said the Suffragist to the Socialist:
“You men will always find
That this old world will never move
More swiftly in its ancient groove
While women stay behind!”
“A lifted world lifts women up,”
The Socialist explained.
“You cannot lift the world at all
While half of it is kept so small,”
The Suffragist maintained.
The world awoke, and tartly spoke:
“Your work is all the same:
Work together or work apart,
Work, each of you, with all your heart—
Just get into the game!”


Fashionable women in luxurious homes,
With men to feed them, clothe them, pay their bills,
Bow, doff the hat, and fetch the handkerchief;
Hostess or guest; and always so supplied
With graceful deference and courtesy;
Surrounded by their horses, servants, dogs—
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
Successful women who have won their way
Alone, with strength of their unaided arm,
Or helped by friends, or softly climbing up
By the sweet aid of “woman’s influence”;
Successful any way, and caring naught
For any other woman’s unsuccess—
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
Religious women of the feebler sort—
Not the religion of a righteous world,
A free, enlightened, upward-reaching world,
But the religion that considers life
As something to back out of!—whose ideal
Is to renounce, submit, and sacrifice,
Counting on being patted on the head
And given a high chair when they get to heaven—
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
Ignorant women—college bred sometimes,
But ignorant of life’s realities
And principles of righteous government,
And how the privileges they enjoy
Were won with blood and tears by those before—
Those they condemn, whose ways they now oppose;
Saying, “Why not let well enough alone?
Our world is very pleasant as it is”—
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
And selfish women—pigs in petticoats—
Rich, poor, wise, unwise, top or bottom round,
But all sublimely innocent of thought,
And guiltless of ambition, save the one
Deep, voiceless aspiration—to be fed!
These have no use for rights or duties more.
Duties today are more than they can meet,
And law insures their right to clothes and food—
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
And, more’s the pity, some good women, too;
Good, conscientious women with ideas;
Who think—or think they think—that woman’s cause
Is best advanced by letting it alone;
That she somehow is not a human thing,
And not to be helped on by human means,
Just added to humanity—an “L”—
A wing, a branch, an extra, not mankind—
These tell us they have all the rights they want.
And out of these has come a monstrous thing,
A strange, down-sucking whirlpool of disgrace,
Women uniting against womanhood,
And using that great name to hide their sin!
Vain are their words as that old king’s command
Who set his will against the rising tide.
But who shall measure the historic shame
Of these poor traitors—traitors are they all—
To great Democracy and Womanhood!
Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Monday, February 26, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Women's Lives During The Civil War


Capt. Francis W. Dawson,
Academy of Music, Baltimore, Md.
Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, Printers,
Nos. 3 and 5 Broad and 117 East Bay Sts.

Have you any just idea of the burdens and cares of the Southern women in the last two or three years of the war? Take the vivid description given by Mrs. Mary Rhodes, of Alabama, as an illustration:
“We not only had to furnish clothes for our own immediate soldiers, but there were others belonging to the company whose friends were entirely out of reach, and we clothed them to the end. The clothing for the negroes was a heavy item, and all supplies of that kind was cut off, and we could only give them what was made at home. On every plantation, and almost in every house, were heard the constant hum of the wheels and click of the looms. The soldiers’ clothes were a constant care. As soon as one suit was sent another was made, for they often lost their clothing, and it had to be ready to send at a moment’s notice.

“We wore homespun dresses, which were really very pretty. At a little distance they looked like gingham, and we were very proud of our work. We dyed them very prettily, and were more anxious to learn a new process of dyeing than we ever had been to learn a new stitch in crochet or worsted work. We knitted all the undershirts the soldiers wore, also socks and gloves, besides those required at home. We often knitted until midnight, after all the day’s work was done, and ladies knitted as they rode in their carriages. Indeed, we were very busy, and in the constant employment found our greatest comfort. I heard one woman say: ‘I never go to bed until I am too tired and worn out to think.’

“And through all the trials, and trouble, and work, the love of the South kept us up. We never would listen to the thought that we might fail. We fully realized what defeat meant, and dreaded it so much that we were willing to risk our all rather than submit to it. We had the hardest lot. The men were moving about—to-day a fight, or looking forward to one, the constant excitement keeping them up; and even when not on duty the camp seldom failed to provide amusement. We at home had to sit still and wait.

“Now in those last two years all our medicines were exhausted, and we had to go to the woods for bark, and roots and herbs. We made quinine of dogwood and poplar, boiled to a strong decoction, and then to paste. We had to do the work of a chemist, without his laboratory. We made our own mustard and opium and castor oil. This last, with all the refining that we were capable of, was a terrible dose, and only used in extreme cases.”

There was a host of queer devices. Shoe blacking was made from the China berry, and it unfortunately happened, once at least, that a bottle of it which was sent, with a quantity of edibles, to a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute was applied internally instead of externally. The comment of the cadet who swallowed it was that “the catsup was rather insipid.”

For ordinary candles and lamps there were many substitutes, such as sycamore balls split in half and soaked in some fatty substance. On the large plantations candles were made from beef tallow, with twisted cloth for wicks, or of tallow and beeswax. There were also green candles made of the wax of myrtle berries.

Then the children in those days, as even in these days, would burst their buttons. Pins could take their place, but pins cost $5 a paper. Persimmon, peach and gourd seeds were then resorted to. It was only necessary to extract the seeds and bore holes in them, by which they could be sewed on, and lo! there was a button more durable than that of pearl or porcelain.

Exquisite artificial flowers were made from goose feathers, and what was considered a very pretty head-dress was made from the pith of a pumpkin.

House-made dyes were easily devised: For yellow, sassafras; for drab, kalmia or dwarf laurel; for slate color in cotton and blue-black, in wool or linen, willow bark; for chocolate brown, red oak bark; for lead color, white oak bark; for dyeing cotton a dun color, sweet gum bark; for dyeing wool lead color, the seeds of guinea corn.

Here is another woman’s story:

“The nimble fingers were never idle, nor did they stop at the adornment of self. The women stitched incessantly. What a precious thing a needle was in those days! Bone and wooden knitting needles were used when steel failed. Our women wove domestic and linsey-woolsey. Black and white check was very popular. Gray and brown flannels, piped with scarlet, made very pretty and serviceable suits. Then Garibaldis came into vogue. These were made of every material, from velvet to muslin, and worn with black or plaid skirts. Cotton and woollen yarn was used for a hundred different purposes. It was knitted into gloves, caps, jackets, comforters, socks, shirts and skirts. Our shoes were carefully husbanded. Happy was that maiden whose lover captured and sent her a pair when out on a raid. Sheepskin made a soft but stretchable shoe. Hats were crocheted of homespun cotton, bleached, starched, pressed and trimmed with odds and ends of ribbons and flowers made of feathers. Sometimes they were made of palmetto, bleached, split and plaited. Those palmetto hats, without trimming, cost only $30. They were trimmed with ornaments made of palmetto or dried natural grasses, wheat ears, &c. Hats for the boys and men were made of remains of the soldiers’ clothes, or of rushes, and sometimes of pine needles twisted and sewn together with strong homespun twisted and dyed thread. Heavy? Yes, but what would you do? They could not go bare-headed. Stylish jackets were contrived out of the cast-off clothes of some male member of the family, and all were glad to make over old clothes which, in ante-bellum days, were scarce good enough for the negroes.

“Money there was in plenty, but some things were not to be bought. One dollar was good for a piece of gingerbread five inches square, but the syrup and flour were home-raised, and ginger there was none. Fifty cents would buy a pint of ‘goobers,’ but they, too, were home-raised. ‘Striped candy’ for the little ones was not come-at-able, but our women boiled the home-made syrup, and that answered as well.”

Tea was made of the sassafras root or blackberry leaf. Coffee was made of parched meal, rye, wheat, okra, corn and black-eyed peas. Late in the war, it was discovered that parched sweet potato was the best substitute. Miss Kate Burwell Bowyer, of Bedford, Va., gives an amusing illustration of the patriotic adaptability of our people. It was, as she says, at once amusing and pathetic when the old Virginia cavaliers would meet and innocently endeavor to assist each other in sustaining our various patriotic Confederate delusions. Then such a colloquy as this would take place:

“Now, Mr. B., what do you think this coffee is?”

Mr. B., emphatically: “Think it is? Madame, I do not often now, as I said, taste the genuine article, but still I can never be deceived when I do come across it. This is the real old Mocha!”

Mrs. Bowyer’s mother, who prided herself upon her own particular admixture and adjustment, as did other housekeepers, with equal right, pride themselves upon theirs, now came forth deliberately and with triumph.

“This, sir, is parched wheat, with a little rye and a few roasted chestnuts added, I never put sweet potatoes in mine!”

Mr. B., rising in eloquence: “If such a drink as this can be compounded without coffee, I find we have in our time expended hundreds of dollars uselessly upon the product, and if the war should end to-morrow, I protest I shall never desire any better drink than the cup of coffee you gave me to-day.”
And not only in Virginia. There is a venerable gentle woman in South Carolina, who numbers well-nigh four-score years, who insists to this day that the best coffee she ever tasted was made during the war, and from rye at that. Such were our Southern women. This lady last mentioned was born in a Northern State, yet firmly believes that there is no place like the South, and that, as one of the preachers said at Columbia, after the burning of that city, “there will be no villanous Yankees in the New Jerusalem”—unless “they have entirely new hearts.”

Dress was peculiar, if pretty. The bodies of black silk dresses were turned into bonnets, which were lined with red or blue satin from the lining of old coat sleeves.

For ornaments the girls wore jewelry of their own making. Dainty chains and bracelets were formed of water-melon seeds, linked together and varnished and dried. Earrings, pins and bracelets were made of S. C. army buttons, also of palmetto cut into lace fibres, and so prepared and cured as to be cream-tinted. Gleaming pearl-like flowers were formed of bleached and polished fish scales.
The most ingenious dress that is recorded was a black silk, made from the covers of worn parasols, the umbrella-form being preserved. It was lined with mosquito netting and considered very stylish.

By the autumn of 1863, any lingering tendency to follow the fashions “had long since been beaten out of the female mind, and women now aspired to nothing beyond the mere wearing of clothes, irrespective of style, shape or texture. Large women appeared squeezed into garments of smallest proportions, small women floating about in almost limitless space, while women of tall statue dangled below circumscribed skirts, and others trailed about in fathoms of useless material. To all these eccentricities of costumes the Confederate eye had become inured, as well as to the striking effect of blue bonnets with green plumes, red dresses with purple mantles, &c., until these extraordinary modes failed to offend even the most fastidious.”

But there were some bright spots, as in the account of a Confederate marriage at Bull’s Gap, Tennessee, which is found in Mr. de Fontaine’s Marginalia:

“The bridegroom stood largely over six honest feet in his socks, was as hairy as Esau, and pale, slim and lank. His jacket and pants represented each other of the contending parties at war. His shoes were much the worse for wear, and his toes, sticking out of the gaping rents thereof, reminded one of the many little heads of pelicans you observe protruding from the nest which forms a part of the coat of arms of Louisiana. The exact color of his suit could not be given. Where the buttons had been lost in the wear and tear of the war, an unique substitute, in the shape of persimmon seed, was used. The bride had assayed to wash ‘Alabam’s’ clothes, while he modestly concealed himself behind a brush heap.

“The bride was enrobed in a neat but faded dress. Her necklace was composed of a string of chinquapins, her brow was environed by a wreath of faded bonnet flowers, and her wavy red hair was tucked up behind in the old-fashioned way. She wore a stout pair of number nine brogans, and her stockings and gloves were made of rabbit skin, fur side next to the skin. On her fingers were discerned several gutta percha and bone rings, presents, at various times, from her lover. All being ready, the ‘Texas parson’ proceeded to his duty with becoming gravity. ‘Special’ acted the part of waiter for the bride and groom. Opening the book, the parson commenced: ‘Close up!’ and the twain closed up. ‘Hand to your partner!’ and the couple handed. ‘Attention to orders!’ and we all attentioned. Then the following was read aloud: ‘By order of our directive general, Braxton Bragg, I hereby solemnly pronounce you man and wife, for and during the war, and you shall cleave unto each other until the war is over, and then apply to Governor Watts for a family right of public land in Pike County, the former residence of the bridegroom, and you and each of you will assist to multiply and replenish the earth.’”

The end was drawing nigh. Sadness sat on the brows of patient mothers who had demeaned themselves so gallantly, and of wives who had blithely buckled on their husbands’ swords. In the latter part of 1863 flour was $50 a barrel, bacon $2.25 a pound, salt 70 cents a pound, butter $1 a pound, meal $2.25 a bushel, tobacco $4 a pound, sugar $2 a pound, sheeting $1.75 a yard, nails $1.50 a pound. Fearful prices; but low in comparison with the prices a year later, when butter was as high as $10 a pound, bleached domestic $12.50 a yard, spool cotton $1 a spool, and a pair of cavalry boots $250. In Richmond, in March, 1865, the prices, as recorded at the time, were: Barrel of flour $300, coffee per pound $40, butter $25, beefsteak $13, shoes $80 a pair, and sewing cotton $4 and $5 a spool.

Under the stress of the rapidly depreciating currency and the demands of refugees who had no place where to lay their heads, rents became enormously high, and houses of average size were usually occupied by five or six families. Each family had its own rooms, with the right to use the common parlor. Those who had had whole houses now only had rooms. The fit phrase was coined, “Are you housekeeping?” “No,” was the response, “I room-keep.” Prices went higher and higher. It sorrowfully was said, towards the end of the war, that the frugal housewife took her Confederate money to market in a basket and brought back in her pocket all she could buy with it. But how touching is the history of the Confederate note:

Too poor to possess the precious ores,
And too much of a stranger to borrow,
We issue to-day our promise to pay,
And hope to redeem on the morrow.
The days rolled on and weeks became years
But our coffers were empty still.
Gold was so scarce, the treasury quaked,
If a dollar should drop in the till.
17But the faith that was in us was strong indeed,
Though our poverty was undiscerned,
And this little note represented the pay
That our suffering veterans earned.
They knew it had hardly a value in gold,
But as gold our soldiers received it;
It gazed in our eyes with a promise to pay,
And every true soldier believed it.
But our boys thought little of price or pay,
Or of bills that were overdue.
We knew if it bought our bread to-day
’Twas the best our poor country could do.
Keep it, it tells all our history o’er,
From the birth of the dream to the last;
Modest, and born of the Angel Hope,
Like our hope of success it Passed!
Nevertheless, there was no doubt, no dismay. The army must be fed and clothed. Boxes must still be sent to the dear boys in the West, or in the trenches around Petersburg and Richmond. Yet how different was the picture. Miss A. C. Clark, of Atlanta, draws a vivid sketch of the scene:
“Were these the same people—these haggard, wrinkled women, bowed with care and trouble, sorrow and unusual toil? These tame, pale, tearless girls, from whose soft flesh the witching dimples had long since departed, or were drawn down into furrows—were they the same school girls of 1861? These women who, with coarse, lean and brown hands, sadly and mechanically were stowing away into boxes, (not large ones,) meat, bread, cabbage, dried fruit, soda, syrup, home-made shoes and coarse home knit socks, garments of osnaburg and homespun, home-woven clothing of every description—these women with scant, faded cotton gowns and coarse leather shoes—these women who silently and apathetically packed the boxes, looking into them with the intense and sorrowful gaze that one casts into the grave—were these, I say, could these be the same airy-robed, white-fingered women, so like flowers, who, months and months ago, (it appeared an eternity) packed away, ’mid laughter and song, smile and jest those articles de luxe for the boys at the front?
“Before the close of the conflict I knew women to walk twenty miles for a half bushel of coarse, musty meal with which to feed their starving little ones, and leave the impress of their feet in blood on the stones of the wayside ere they reached home again. When there, the meal was cooked and ravenously eaten, though there was not even salt to be eaten with it. Yet these women did not complain, but wrote cheerful letters to their husbands and sons, if they were yet living, bidding them to do their duty and hold the last trench.”

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Marriage Among The Vikings

It is particularly striking, in reading the Sagas and the ancient laws which corroborate them, to see the high position women occupied in earlier and later pagan times.

If we are to judge of the civilisation of a people in their daily life by the position women held with regard to men, we must conclude that in this respect the earlier Norse tribes could compare favourably with the most ancient civilised nations whose history has come down to us.

A maiden was highly respected, and on becoming a wife she was greatly honoured, and her counsels had great weight; by marrying she became the companion and not the inferior of her husband. She held property in her own right, whatever she received by inheritance and by marriage being her own; though there were restrictions put upon her, as well as upon her husband, in regard to the use of her property.

In a word, a retrograde movement in regard to the rights and standing of women took place after the extinction of the Asa creed. The high position they had occupied before was lost, and it is only latterly that they have striven, and in some countries with success, to regain the authority that once belonged to them in regard to property and other matters.

From the earliest time we see the chivalrous regard that men had for women, and the punishment that any breach of its laws involved. Young men went into warlike expeditions to attain great fame, so that their acts of bravery could be known or extolled, and that they might become worthy of the maiden they wished to woo. The same spirit afterwards spread from the North to other countries in Europe, where, however, the opinion only of women of higher rank was valued. Among the earlier tribes of the North all were respected.

Marriage was not a religious contract or ceremony. It was simply regarded as a civil compact, owing to the relations which man and wife held towards each other in regard to property. It was the means of joining families together, which was called tengja saman, and therefore the relation was called tengdir. Consequently marriage itself was a bargain and on that account was called brud-kaup (bride-buying).

When a man had selected for himself, or by the advice of his parents, a woman or maiden whom he wanted to marry, he, accompanied by his father, or nearest relatives or best friends, and by a retinue, according to his rank, went to get the consent of the father, or of those who were the guardians of the woman. It was the exception for the suitor himself not to go on this journey, which was called bonordsför (suit journey).

The suitor, even if present, had a spokesman who spoke on his behalf, and enumerated his good qualities, deeds of valour, &c., and other qualifications which might speak well for the suit. If the suit was favourably received, a talk ensued in regard to the conditions of the marriage

The qualities which the parents or guardians took most into consideration were good birth, powerful and prominent relatives. Families on both sides had to be well matched in rank, wealth, and personal bravery, the last being highly prized by the one whose hand was sought.

In order that marriage should be regarded as perfectly lawful, the woman had to be “mundi keypt”; that is, bought with mund acquired by a legal agreement between the man on one side, and the parents or guardians of the intended bride on the other, in regard to the dower or property agreed on both sides as belonging to the bride.

Mund was originally the name for all the conditions in regard to the property of both, especially that of the wife. This agreement was the most important thing at the festar (betrothal, fastening). Children born without the payment of it were not inheritance-born—in a word, were considered illegitimate.

If the wife was poor and entirely without property the husband had to give a mund of twelve aurar, in order that the marriage should be regarded as fully legal.

“Next we must know how we shall buy women with mund, so that the child is inheritance-born. The man shall give that woman a poor man’s mund, amounting to 12 aurar, and have witnesses (at the ceremony). He shall have bridesmen, and she bridesmaids, and he shall give her a gift in the morning when they have been together one night, as large as the one at the betrothal. Then the child born thereafter is inheritance-born” (Gulath., 5).

“All men are not inheritance-born though they are free-born. The man whose mother is not bought with mund, with a mark, or still more property, or not wedded, or not betrothed, is not inheritance-born. A woman is bought with mund when a mark consisting of aurar, of the value of 12 feet of vadmal, or more property, is paid or stipulated by hand-shaking. A wedding is lawfully made if the lawful man betroths the woman, and six men at least are present” (Gragas, i. 75).

If a man married a girl without the consent of her parents or guardians, or made a runaway match, the husband was outlawed.

“The mother shall take as much property if her daughter dies childless as she has given her from home, and also the mund without interest. She and her children shall get this in preference to the father. Every man who has given anything for the heimanfylgja shall get it back if the wife dies childless, and also get the mund, if he has declared it at the betrothal or the wedding” (Gragas, i. 174).

The givers-away of the bride were called giptingar-men, and were either parents, kinsmen, or guardians.

After the preliminaries to the marriage had taken place, and the agreement had been announced to the witnesses, the festar or betrothal followed, when the parties became festarmadr or betrothed man, and festarkona or betrothed woman. This was a legal tie which could not be broken with impunity. The suitor went over to the father or guardian of the woman, and the latter betrothed her to him with a “handsal” (hand-shaking); at the same time both parties also named their witnesses to their betrothal. Gragas gives the formula used at this ceremony, which is as follows:—

“A woman is betrothed according to law if a man recites the agreement about the mund; then the guardian and the man to whom the woman is betrothed shall name witnesses to it. The man who is betrothed shall say: ‘We name witnesses that thou N. N. betrothest thyself to me N. N. with a lawful betrothal, and givest me the heimanfylgja with hand-shaking, as the fulfilment and performance of the whole agreement which was a while ago recited between us without fraud and tricks.’ This is a complete and lawful match. It is lawful when the betrother is the one who has the right to betroth according to law; and it is complete if the betrothed is in such health that she would be bought at no less price if she was a bondmaid, or has no other faults or blemishes which would make her cost less or which she had when sixteen winters old. But if these faults are found in the woman, the man who knowing it betrothed the woman is liable to lesser outlawry for it, and the wedding may be prevented if the man betrothed wishes it, provided he had before pronounced the words, ‘a complete and lawful match’—but not otherwise. Now if the betrothed man wants to demand the mund he shall summon the guardian, because he has betrothed the woman knowing such faults in 8her that she would cost less if she were a bondmaid. He shall summon him to lesser outlawry, and summon nine of his neighbours to the Thing. If the witnesses are against him he is to be outlawed, and the mund cannot be claimed. If the witnesses say that the guardian knew not the faults of the woman he can defend himself, but he cannot claim the mund unless he can get five dwellers at the farm of the woman as witnesses that she has not these faults; then the mund is to be paid back” (Gragas, i. 316)

If the betrothed woman was injured or wronged in any way the man had the same right to gain redress as if she were his wife.

“Every man has full rétt on the behalf of his betrothed as well as his wife, as long as it is due; but if she sits at home in the house of a father or brother they have the full rétt on her behalf which her betrothed would otherwise have had” (Frostath., xi. 12).

“If a man runs away with a betrothed woman he shall pay full rétt to the betrothed man and also to her father” (Bjarkey law, 125).

The virtue of a betrothed woman was very carefully guarded.

“If the father dies before the wedding within the twelve months, and the child is begotten, then that child shall take its father’s inheritance as if its mother were bought with mund. But in no other way is a man inheritance-born unless his mother is bought with mund, or he is led lawfully into the family (adopted). Though a man betroth his concubine in order that according to this law his children be inheritance-born, or delays the wedding on account of this, it does not matter, for neither shall inheritance-fraud be committed, nor the wedding be dishonoured by this” (Frostath., 13).

The breaking of a betrothal by either party was severely punished, and the laws on the subject were strict.

“If a man will not take his betrothed he shall be summoned home to take her, and a day be fixed. Thereupon he shall be summoned to the Thing because he flees from his betrothed. Then the thingmen shall make him an outlaw, and he is called a runaway (fudflogi)” (Gulath., 51).

“If a man wants a better match, the father shall betroth his daughter himself if she is a maiden, and the brother shall do it if the father is dead. If the father will not give his daughter to the man to whom she has been betrothed, he shall be summoned home and a day be fixed on which he shall have his betrothed. If the betrother will not let him have her, he shall demand the dowry of his betrothed, and summon him to the Thing for robbery; then the thingmen have to outlaw him. The maiden has no power in this matter, if she does not draw back from the marriage herself. The man who has charge of the betrothed woman may keep her from the betrothed man for a twelvemonth. A widow may betroth herself, but shall take the advice of her kinsmen; then she cannot break her troth. If she has not taken the advice of her kinsmen, she may break it and pay three marks for the breach of faith to the one who was betrothed to her. If a man betroths to a man a woman over whom he has no betrothing power, he shall pay three marks to the one who was betrothed to her. Two or more brothers shall have power over their sister; if one of them betroths her to a man, and the others object, then they shall draw lots who of them shall rule; if the one who betrothed her draws the lot, the betrothal shall be kept, otherwise not, and then the betrother shall pay three marks for breach of faith” (Earlier Gulathing’s Law, c. 51).

The length of the betrothal, if no special agreement had been made, was limited to twelve months, that being the longest time that a woman’s guardian could defer a marriage against the will of her future husband. Three years seems to have been the longest delay allowed; during that time the woman was said to sit as betrothed, if the suitor was away and did not return within that time the agreement was void, and the woman was free to marry another man.

The betrothed who without valid reason did not fulfil her engagement, and the giver-away who kept back the betrothed woman, were outlawed. If she of her free will took another man than her betrothed, both she and the giver-away were outlawed.

“If a man betroths a woman he shall have her married within twelve months if no necessity hinders” (Frostath., iii. 12).

“The giver-away of a woman may keep her from her betrothed man for twelve months” (Gulathing’s Law, 51).

“If she (the betrothed woman) wants to break the betrothal within twelve months, and says she has been betrothed against her will, he can use his witnesses against her words and get her. If he lacks witnesses then she and also her father and mother, or their nearest kinsmen if they do not exist, shall assure it is against her will with an oath, and pay the betrothed man as much as was promised. If this takes place after the wedding she loses her third” (Frostath., iii. 22).

“If the man to whom a woman is betrothed becomes sick he shall send word half a month before (the wedding) to the man who has betrothed the woman that he will not come to the wedding on account of his health, and the woman need not be brought home to him though it was agreed, and the reasons must be told. Then the wedding shall not be before the same time next year, unless the man wants it before, and then word must be sent half a month or more before, and he shall keep the wedding at his sole cost. If he does not recover in the 11next twelvemonth the betrothal is dissolved, unless both wish otherwise” (Gragas, i. 310).

The wedding generally took place at the home of the bride; very seldom at the bridegroom’s: on the wedding-night the mund became the wife’s personal property.

After the marriage the bride and bridegroom were hjón, a word which means man and wife; and then the wife became an eiginkona (own woman, wife, spouse) and hùsfreyja (housewife), and enjoyed the rights belonging to that position.

This bridal linen was a long wide head-dress hanging down the back from the top of the head, or a kind of veil. In Thrymskvida the bride wore such a head-dress, which was fastened on the head with an ornament. At the waist a bunch of keys was placed to show her authority as mistress of the household, and on her breast she had an ornament.

The jötun Thrym had got Thor’s hammer and would not give it back, unless Freyja were married to him. Thor was disguised as Freyja, and sent as a bride to Thrym; he got hold of the hammer, and crushed Thrym and the jötnar.

Then said Thor,
The mighty Ás,
The Asar will me
Effeminate call
If I let myself
Be tied in bridal linen.
Then they tied Thor
In the bridal linen,
And the great
Let keys hang
From his belt,
And woman’s clothes
Hang round his knees,
And broad stones
Be on his breast,
And fastened the cloth
On his head with skill.
We have nothing to show positively that marriage was celebrated with religious ceremonies, but certain forms may have taken place. In the later Edda we have the goddess Vár, who hears the vows of men and women. In Helgi Hjörvardson there are also vows called by her name, and it seems that she was solemnly invoked at weddings, and the sign of the hammer of Thor made over the bride.

Then said Thrym,
The chief of Thursar:
Carry in the hammer
To consecrate the bride,
Lay Mjöllnir
In the maiden’s lap.
Wed us together
With the hand of Var.
The mind laughed
In the breast of Hlórridi
As the hard-minded one
Saw the hammer;
Thrym killed he first,
The lord of Thursar,
And thrashed
The Jötun’s whole kin.
(Earlier Edda; Thrymskvida.)
Marriage without betrothal proceedings and dowry was called skyndibrúdhlaup (hasty wedding), or lausa-brudhlaup (loose wedding). Such an union was illegal, and the children begotten thereby had no right of inheritance.

The father or the guardian of the girl had the decision over her marriage. If the father was dead the brothers were the guardians of the unmarried sister. If she had neither father nor brothers, her mother in connection with the nearest uncle could give her away; and as the maiden had no voice in the matter, she could be forced by her father or guardians into a marriage against her will.

“The giver away next to a father or brother is a lawfully wedded mother. If there is no mother, then the man twenty winters old or more who is the nearest heir after the woman who is married” (Frostath., law ii. 13).

The father did not always exercise his right of deciding about the marriage; sometimes he left the decision of the suit entirely in the hands of the daughter, but such cases must be regarded as an exception.

If a girl married against the will of her parents or kinsmen the latter could disinherit her, and her progeny were illegitimate, and this act of disobedience would even get her self-chosen husband declared an outlaw as a woman-robber.

When a poor girl was given in marriage to a rich man, one of the conditions made was that her clothes and ornaments should be provided, though if she was an heiress and fifteen years of age she could betroth herself with the advice of her kinsmen.

The different Sagas and laws place the age of majority of men as well as of women at fifteen years, and early marriages of women at that age were not uncommon.

“The maiden who becomes an heiress may marry herself to whomever she likes when she is fifteen winters old, with the counsel of those of her kinsmen who are the wisest and nearest both on her father’s and mother’s side” (Frostath., xi. 18).

When girls were of age they could transact their own business.

“There are maidens called baugryg. They shall pay with rings and take rings when they are only children and inheritance-born, till they sit down on a bride’s chair. Then they throw this into the lap of their kinsmen, and shall neither pay nor take rings thereafter” (Frostath., vi. 4).

A widow, who had the same rights as a girl of age, could not be forced into a new marriage by her father or kinsmen, but on the other hand she could not marry without their consent; and the conditions of the marriage were generally settled by the spokesmen of the suitor and her nearest of kin in the usual manner.

“A widow shall betroth herself and take the advice of her kinsmen” (Gulathing’s Law, 51).

People could not marry unless they had means enough to support themselves in comfort. If they acquired wealth afterwards, then he owned two-thirds, and she one-third, both of land and movable property, and the husband could not take his wife’s property out of the country without her consent. Partnership between husband and wife was said to be established after a certain time, which according to Frostathing’s Law was twelve months.

But according to the Gulathing, man and wife could not, without the consent of the heirs of both, enter into partnership before they had children; but when they had, they could make whatever partnership they liked. When they had been married twenty years they were partners according to law.

“If men marry who have less property than one hundred legal aurar, besides their everyday clothes, and no children, then they are liable to lesser outlawry unless the woman is barren. No féránsdóm shall be held, and their property is not confiscated, and they shall leave the land with their children, and not come back unless their property increases 18so much that they own a hundred or more, or the woman is barren” (Gragas, i. 323).

“If man and wife have equal property they shall make partnership if they wish, which is also valid for their heirs. The contract of betrothal is valid between man and wife while its witnesses live and no other contracts are made. But if the witnesses remembering it are dead, then their property is in common, according to law, if he owned a mark or more, and the mund was paid, and they have lived together three winters or more. If they are poor and earn property, their property is in common according to law. According to law the joint partnership is always thus, that he owns two parts, and she one-third” (Gragas, i. 334).

“If a wife loses her husband, and they have lived twelve months together, she owns one-third of the farm and of all loose property, and her clothes besides” (Frostathing, xi. 6).

“If a man marries a widow or maiden who owns a farm, he owns nothing of the farm before they have lived together twelve months. Then the laws lay their property together.

“If two paupers marry according to the laws of the land, and their property increases, then he owns two-thirds, and she one-third of lands and loose property” (Frostathing, ix. 8, 9).

“A man shall not take the property of his wife out of the land, except with her consent. He shall rule over all their property for their use. Neither of them shall by word or deed forfeit the property of the other. Every man has the same rétt for his wife as for himself” (Earlier Gulathing’s Law, 52).

“If a man wants to leave the country with the property of his wife, she may give full powers to any man she wishes to forbid him going, and prosecute him and the men who take him away, if needed” (Grágás, i. 331).

“A wife shall not refuse partnership to her husband. If a man marries a maiden, they cannot enter into partnership unless the men who have right to their inheritance assent; but if they have inheritance-born children, they can enter into such partnership as they like.

“If a man marries a widow, and she has children (inheritance-born children) which are under age, and the man nevertheless wants to enter into partnership with her, ‘then a meeting shall be summoned of the children nearest of kin on their father’s side, and a partnership be made according to the worth of their property; land shall be valued against land, and loose property against loose property,’ and his property valued also if it is more than hers. It cannot be broken if thus made.

“If they enter into partnership in another way, it may be broken, whether his heirs or hers want it, by going to a Thing before they have been twenty winters together, and declaring that the partnership is broken. If this is not done before they have been twenty winters together, he (the husband) can never change it thereafter.

“Wherever husband and wife enter into partnership, they shall declare it before many men. Now if they have lived together twenty winters or more, they are partners according to the laws, if they were not before. Then she owns a third of the property, and he two-thirds. Though it (the partnership) be made, if it is not made public during the twenty winters, it is as if it had not been made” (Gulathing’s Law, 53).

Marriages were forbidden to the fifth degree of relationship.

“It is a new law that marriage is not allowed nearer than the fifth degree in the same degrees of relationship and kinsmanship. If they are both kinsmen in the fifth degree they may marry if they like, but pay a larger tithe of all their property” (Grágás, i. 308).

The wedding feasts, at which the gods were invoked for the happiness of the marriage, were often very splendid, and guests, to whom presents were given, came from long distances. The length of the feasts varied according to the rank and wealth of the family, and were so gorgeous that they remained long in the memories of the people.

In sparsely-settled countries we find that a bondi was obliged to shelter the bridal party.

“A bondi shall feed at least five of them (the bridesmen and bridesmaids). He is an outlaw if he refuses to lodge them. This is if the bride or bridegroom are with them; otherwise he must feed three men” (Kristinrett Thorláks og Ketils biskupa, p. 94).

In the hall where the wedding-feast took place there were bridal benches, which were probably kept in the family for such an occasion; just as to-day the bridal crowns are kept in Norway.
On one of the long benches the bridegroom was seated with his men; on the other, which was opposite, the father of the bride and his male guests. On the cross-bench sat the women, with the bride in the middle; therefore this bench was called brudbekk (bride-bench).

We find that during the feast the bride was seated between the bridesmen and bridesmaids, a custom that has come down to this day; the linfé was then presented to her as she sat under the bridal linen.
“Then he (the bridegroom) shall sit between the bridesmen, and she between the bridesmaids. He shall walk across the floor and give her linfé. That is lawful whether the gift is small or great” (N. G. L., ii. 305, King Magnus’ Laws).

It was the custom to offer to the bride a bekkjar-gjöf (bench-gift) while she sat on the bridal bench.

The man, as the guardian of his wife, had to manage their property; but nevertheless the property of each was quite separate. At the marriage the property of both was valued, and the heimanfylgja, tilgjöf, linfé, and also what she had got or would get by inheritance or other ways, were regarded as the property of the woman.

If the husband died first, his natural heir got his property, while the wife kept hers; but if the wife died first, the husband took back the tilgjöf, and the other property went to her heirs.

If a man did not value the property of his wife at the marriage, then he had to pay the value to her heirs if she died before him, and take an oath that he had not received more. But if he died first, and his property also had not been valued, and they had been married for twelve months, then she got one-third of the loose property and land, besides her clothes.

“A man shall rule over his wife’s property while they are married, and not separated, except that which is stipulated at their betrothal or their marriage; that property shall she answer for and rule herself. If an inheritance falls to a man’s wife, and there are umagi in that inheritance but no property, her husband shall take care of these, and “fit them out,” but her heimanfylgja shall not diminish when it is made public in a drinking-hall. But if there is property in that inheritance, the lands and all loose property shall be valued, and he shall have the care of them and the increase, but he shall pay as much back as he got, except the land-rents which he got afterwards” (Earlier Frostathing’s Law, xi. 5).

“A gift given to a woman shall be her property, in whatever manner she may be separated. All the property of a maiden shall be valued, loose property against loose property, but one half of a widow’s property shall be valued. The valuation shall be lawful in every case except two—if she dies childless or leaves him without a protector” (Gulath., 54).

The only certain examples of polygamy occur among the great chiefs, such as Harald Fairhair. Harald Hardradi had two wives, Elizabeth, the daughter of the King of Gardaríki, and Thora, the daughter of a Norwegian chief; both enjoyed the name of queen.

The husband was obliged to protect his wife, and take as much care of her honour as of his own.
“Now is about the rights of women. Every man has claim on behalf of his wife. A Hauld owns three marks if she is struck; but a widow shall have the same rétt as her last husband (had), and the one she wishes shall prosecute. But if a maiden is struck, her nearest kinsman shall claim her rétt as if it were his own. But if she is to have it herself, the right plaintiff shall summon a Thing” (Earlier Frostathing’s Law, x., c. 37).

The following laws show how strict people were in regard to kisses:—

“If a man kisses a woman (belonging to another) secretly, with her will, he is liable to pay three marks, and the one who would have to prosecute for seduction has to prosecute. If she gets angry at it, she may prosecute herself, and the man is then liable to lesser outlawry. If a man kisses a man’s wife secretly, he is liable to lesser outlawry whether she allows it or refuses it. Nine neighbours are to be called as witnesses to this at the Thing.... If a man puts on a fald or woman’s clothes to deceive a woman, he is liable to lesser outlawry” (Gragas, i. 337).

“If a man makes a song of love on a woman, he is to be outlawed. If the woman is twenty years or older, she shall prosecute the case herself. But if she is younger, or will not prosecute, her legal guardian has to do it” (Gragas, vol. ii., p. 150).

Women’s rights appear to have been not altogether unknown even in these early days; for women who got their own livelihood and whose kinsmen did not trouble themselves about their support, were their own masters.

“If kinsmen will not take proper care of women, and they (the women) get their living themselves, then they shall rule over themselves as they like” (Frostath., xi. 17).

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915