Sunday, August 19, 2018

Shadows In A Timeless Mytth Presents A Hidden Heroine of the French Revolution

THE year 1788 was the last of the old régime. Mme. Le Brun was now thirty-two and at the height of
her fame and prosperity. She had more commissions than she could execute, more engagements than she could keep, more invitations than she could accept, but her mind was full of gloomy presentiments. She passed the summer as usual between Paris and the country houses where she stayed.

As she drove with a friend down to Romainville to stay with the Comte de Ségur, she noticed that the peasants they met in the roads did not take off their hats to them, but looked at them insolently, and sometimes shook their sticks threateningly at them.

While she was at Romainville there was a most awful storm, the sky which had become deep yellow with black clouds of alarming appearance, seemed to open and pour forth flash after flash of lightning, accompanied by deafening thunder and enormous hailstones, which ravaged the country for forty leagues round Paris. Pale and trembling, Mme. de Ségur and Mme. Le Brun sat looking at each other in terror, fancying that they saw in the awful tempest raging around them, the beginning of the fearful times whose approach they now foresaw.

When the storm had subsided the peasants were crying and lamenting over the destruction of their crops, and all the large proprietors in the neighbourhood came most generously to their assistance. One rich man distributed forty thousand francs among them. The next year he was one of the first to be massacred.

As time went on and affairs became more and more menacing, Mme. Le Brun began to consider the advisability of leaving the country, and placing herself and her child out of the reach of the dangers and calamities evidently not far distant.

Early in 1789 she was dining at La Malmaison, which then belonged to the Comte de Moley, a rabid Radical; he and the Abbé de Sieyès and several others were present, and so fierce and violent was their talk that even the Abbé de Sieyès said after dinner—

“Indeed, I think we shall go too far;” while the Comtesse du Moley and Mme. Le Brun were horror-stricken at the terrible prospects unfolded to them.

After this, Mme. Le Brun went for a few days to Marly to stay with Mme. Auguier, sister of Mme. Campan, and attached like her to the Queen’s household.

One day as they were looking out of a window into the courtyard which opened on to the road, they saw a man stagger in and fall down.

Mme. Auguier sent her husband’s valet de chambre to help him up, and take him into the kitchen. Presently the valet returned, saying, “Madame is indeed too kind; that man is a wretch. Here are some papers which have fallen out of his pocket.” He gave them several sheets of papers, one of which began, “Down with the Royal Family! down with the nobles! down with the priests!” and all of which were filled with a tissue of blasphemies, litanies of the Revolution, threats and predictions horrible enough to make their hair stand on end.

Mme. Auguier sent for the maréchaussé, four of whom appeared, and took the fellow in charge; but the valet de chambre who followed them unperceived, saw them, as soon as they thought themselves out of sight, singing and dancing, arm in arm with their prisoner.

Terror-stricken, they agreed that these papers must be shown to the Queen, and when, a day or two afterwards, Mme. Auguier was in waiting, she took them to Marie Antoinette, who read and returned them saying—

“These things are impossible. I shall never believe they meditate such atrocities.”

Mme. Auguier’s affection for the Queen cost her her life. In the fury of the Revolution, knowing her to be without money, she lent Marie Antoinette twenty-five louis. This became known, and a mob rushed to her house to take her to prison and execution. In a frenzy of terror Mme. Auguier threw herself out of the window, and was killed on the spot.

The last time Mme. Le Brun saw the Queen was at the last ball given at Versailles, which took place in the theatre, and at which she looked on from one of the boxes. She observed with indignation the rudeness of some of the young Radical nobles; they refused to dance when requested to do so by the Queen, whose agitation and uneasiness were only too apparent. The demeanour of the populace was becoming every day more ferocious and alarming; the drives and streets were scarcely safe for any but the lower classes. At a concert given by Mme. Le Brun, most of the guests came in with looks of consternation. They had been driving earlier in the day to Longchamps, and as they passed the barrière de l’Étoile, a furious mob had surrounded and insulted everybody who passed in carriages. Villainous looking faces pressed close to them, horrible figures climbed on to the steps of the carriages, crying out, with infamous threats and brutal language, that next year they should be in the carriages and the owners behind them.

The continual terror in which she now lived began to affect the health of Lisette. She knew perfectly well that she herself was looked upon with sinister eyes by the ruffians, whose bloodthirsty hands would soon hold supreme power in France. Her house in the rue Gros-Chenet, in which she had only lived for three months, was already marked; sulphur was thrown down the grating into the cellars; if she looked out of the windows she saw menacing figures of sans-culottes, shaking their fists at the house.

If she had not got away in time there can be no doubt as to what would have been her fate; fortunately her fears made her act with prudence. M. Brongniart, the architect, and his wife, friends of hers, seeing her so pale and altered, persuaded her to go and stay with them for a few days at the Invalides, where they had rooms; she gladly accepted and was taken there by a doctor attached to the Palais Royal, whose servants wore the Orléans livery, the only one that was now respected, and in whose carriage she consequently arrived safely. Her kind friends nursed and tried to comfort her; made her take Bordeaux and soup as she could eat nothing, and tried to reassure her, being amongst those who did not believe in the perils to come. It was no use. When they went out they heard the threats and violent talk of the mob, and the discussions they held with each other; by no means calculated to give comfort to those who were listening.

Mme. Le Brun returned home, but dared not stay there, so she accepted the invitation of her brother’s father-in-law, M. de Rivière, in whose house she thought she would be safe, as he was a foreign minister. She stayed there a fortnight, treated as if she were a daughter of the house, but she had resolved to get out of France before it was too late.

It would in fact have been folly to stay any longer; already the mob had set fire to the barrière at the end of the rue Chaussée-d’Antin, where M. de Rivière lived, and had begun to tear up the pavement and make barricades in the streets. Many people disapproved of emigrating, some from patriotic  reasons, others as a matter of interest. To many it was of course a choice between the certainty of losing their property and the chance of losing their lives; and rather than become beggars they took the risk and stayed, very often to the destruction of themselves and those dearest to them. To Lisette there was no such alternative. Wherever she went she could always provide herself with money without the least difficulty; she had always longed to see Rome, now was the time.

She had numbers of orders, and of portraits half finished, but she was too nervous and agitated to paint, and she had a hundred louis which some one had just paid for a picture—to herself fortunately, not to M. Le Brun, who generally took everything, sometimes never even telling her it had been paid, at other times saying he must have the whole sum for an investment, or to pay a bill owing.
This hundred louis would take her to Rome with her child and nurse, and she began in haste to pack up and prepare for the journey.

It was the evening before the day fixed for their departure, the passport was ready, her travelling carriage loaded with luggage, and she was resting herself in her drawing-room, when a dreadful noise was heard in the house, as of a crowd bursting in; trampling of feet on the stairs, rough voices; and as she remained petrified with fear the door of the room was flung open and a throng of ruffianly-looking gardes nationaux with guns in their hands, many of them drunk, forced their way in, and several of them approaching her, declared in coarse, insolent terms, that she should not go.

In reply to her observation that she had a perfect right to go where she chose, they kept repeating—
Vous ne partisez pas, citoyenne, vous ne partisez pas.

At last they went away, but in a few moments two of them whose appearance was different from the rest returned and said—

“Madame, we are your neighbours; we have come back to advise you to go, and to start as soon as possible. You cannot live here, you are so changed that we are sorry. But do not travel in your carriage; go by the diligence, it is safer.”

Lisette thanked the friendly gardes with all her heart, and followed their advice. She sent to take three places in the diligence, but there were none to be had for a fortnight, as so many people who were emigrating travelled by it for greater safety.

Those of her friends who were Radicals blamed Lisette for going, and tried to dissuade her. Mme. Filleul, formerly Mlle. Boquet, said to her—

“You are quite wrong to go. I shall stay, for I believe in the happiness the Revolution will bring us.”
She remained at La Muette until the Terror began. Mme. Chalgrin, of whom she was an intimate friend, came there to celebrate very quietly the marriage of her daughter. The day after it, both Mme. Chalgrin and Mme. Filleul were arrested by the revolutionists and guillotined a few days later, because they were said to have “burnt the candles of the nation.”

Lisette paid no attention to the dissuasions of her friends; in spite of all they said she knew quite well that she was in danger. No one could be safe, however innocent, if any suspicion or grudge against  them was in the minds of the ruffians who were thirsting for blood.

“Although, thank Heaven, I have never done harm to anybody,” she said. “I agree with the man who said: ‘They accuse me of having stolen the towers of Notre Dame; they are still in their place, but I am going, for it is clear that they have a grudge against me.’”

“What is the use of taking care of one’s health?” she would say when her friends were anxious about her. “What is the good of living?”

It was not until the 5th of October that the places in the diligence could be had, and on the evening of the 4th Lisette went to say goodbye to her mother, whom she had not seen for three weeks, and who at first did not recognise her, so much had she changed in that short time and so ill did she look.
They were to start at midnight, and it was quite time they did so.

That very day the King, Queen, and royal family were brought from Versailles to Paris by the frantic, howling mob. Louis Vigée, after witnessing their arrival at the Hôtel de Ville, came at ten o’clock to see his sister off, and give her the account of what had happened.

“Never,” he said, “was the Queen more truly a Queen than to-day, when she made her entry with so calm and noble an air in the midst of those furies.”

It was then she made her well-known answer to Bailly, “J’ai tout vu, tout su, et tout oublié.”
Half beside herself with anxiety and fear for the fate of the royal family and of all respectable people, Lisette, her child, and the nurse or nursery governess went to the diligence at midnight, escorted by M. Le Brun, Louis Vigée, and M. Robert, the landscape painter, an intimate friend of theirs, who never left the diligence, but kept close to its doors as it lumbered along through the narrow dark streets to the barrière du Trône. For the terrible faubourg Saint Antoine had to be passed through, and Lisette was dreadfully afraid of it.

However, it happened on that night to be unusually quiet, for the inhabitants had been to Versailles after the King and Queen, and were so tired that they were asleep.

At the barrier came the parting with those she was leaving in the midst of perils. When they would meet again, if they ever did at all, it was impossible to guess.

The journey was insupportable. In the diligence with them was a dirty, evil-looking man, who openly confessed that he was a robber, boasting of the watches, &c., that he had stolen, and speaking of many persons he wished to murder à la lanterne, amongst whom were a number of the acquaintances of Mme. Le Brun. The little girl, now five or six years old, was frightened out of her wits, and her mother took courage to ask the man not to talk about murders before the child.

He stopped, and afterwards began to play with her; but another Jacobin from Grenoble, also a passenger, gave vent to all kinds of infamous and murderous threats and opinions, haranguing the people who collected round the diligence whenever they stopped for dinner or supper; whilst every now and then men rode up to the diligence, announcing that the King and Queen had been assassinated, and that Paris was in flames. Lisette, terrified herself for the fate of those dear to her, tried to comfort her still more frightened child, who was crying and trembling, believing that her father was killed and their house burnt. At last they arrived safely at Lyon, and found their way to the house of a M. Artaut, whom Lisette did not know well. But she had entertained him and his wife in Paris on one or two occasions, she knew that their opinions were like her own, and thought they were worthy people, as indeed they proved to be.

They did not know her at first, for besides her altered looks she was dressed as an ouvrière, having just exhibited in the Salon her portrait which she had painted with her child in her arms, and fearing she might be recognised.

They spent three days in the Artaut family, thankful for the rest, the quietness and the kindness they received. M. Artaut engaged a man he knew to take them on their journey, telling him that they were relations of his, and recommending them to his care. They set off accordingly, and, this journey was indeed a contrast to the last. Their driver took the greatest care of them, and they arrived in safety at the bridge of Beauvoisin, the frontier of France.

Never, would Mme. Le Brun say in after years, could she forget or describe the feelings with which she drove across that bridge to find herself at the other side—safe, free, and out of France.
Henceforth the journey was a pleasure, and with feelings of admiration and awe she gazed upon the magnificent scenery as she ascended the mighty Mont Cenis; stupendous mountains rising above her, their snowy peaks buried in clouds, their steep sides hung with pine forests, the roar of falling torrents perpetually in her ears.

“Madame should take a mule,” said a postillion coming up to her, as she walked slowly up the precipitous mountain path. “It is much too tiring for a lady like Madame to go up on foot.”

“I am an ouvrière,” she replied, “and am accustomed to walk.”

The man laughed.

“Ah!” he said, “Madame is no ouvrière; it is very well known who she is.”

“Well, who am I, then?”

“You are Mme. Le Brun, who paints with such perfection, and we are all very glad to know that you are far away from those wicked people.”

“I could never guess,” said Lisette, “how the man knew me. But this proved the number of spies the Jacobins had everywhere. However, I was not afraid of them now; I was out of their execrable power. If I had no longer my own country, I was going to live where art flourished and urbanity reigned—I was going to Rome, Naples, Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg.”

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, 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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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, 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