LETTERS TO THE PRESS (6)
Is Chivalry Still Possible?
[Buchanan’s letters on this topic, extracts from Mrs. Lynn Lynton’s replies, and the letter from ‘An Injured Pessimist’ were reprinted in The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters (London: William Heinemann, 1891). All the original letters from The Daily Telegraph are available below, followed by Buchanan’s comments on the debate from The Coming Terror and finishing with some other relevant newspaper items.]
The Daily Telegraph (22 March, 1889 - p.5)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—While congratulating myself on the complimentary expressions contained in your editorial article of yesterday, on the subject of my paper in the current number of the “Universal Review,” I am constrained to deprecate certain remarks in which you appear to class me with merely destructive critics, incapable of enthusiasm for anything contemporary. I know that I have been previously so classified, chiefly because I have thought it my duty, on more than one occasion, to attack popular reputations. I have invariably done so, however, on public—never on merely literary—grounds. But to say that I do not honour or glorify every contemporary is quite another thing to saying that I have depreciated all. My error, indeed, has been, in certain cases, on the side of enthusiasm. As one instance in point, I may mention the fact that I worked loyally twenty years ago to establish the literary reputation of Mr. Browning, and that I have at this moment before me a letter from that gentleman describing me as “the kindest critic he ever had.” In short, I hold him to be a poor critic indeed, or no critic at all, who reserves all his idolatry for the gods of the past, and can find no divinities, literary or artistic, in the present. This, however, is merely by the way. The matter which moves me to write this letter is of far higher importance than any of my personal sympathies or antipathies—of far more burning consequence than any subject merely “literary.” I have touched upon it currente calamo in the paper you have criticised so sympathetically. I am anxious to touch upon it again, with your permission.
One of my strongest contentions against the Modern Young Man as Critic—against, in other words, the average half-educated, semi-cultivated, small pessimist of the present generation—is that, thanks to him and his, Chivalry is fast becoming forgotten; that the old faith in the purity of womanhood, which once made men heroic, is being fast exchanged for an utter disbelief in all feminine ideals whatsoever; and that women, in their turn, in their certainty of the contempt of men, are spiritually deteriorating. As an illustration of this, I state that the piteous type of the Magdalen, which had so signal and sublime an influence on life, on literature, and on art, is now put aside, not merely as sentimental, but as practically “inexpedient,” while the pent-up barbarity and savagery of the pseudo-scientist falls with all the violence of horror on the class called “fallen.” As I write, one of your contemporaries proposes to get rid of certain midnight nuisances, which culminated a few nights ago in a disgraceful street-scene, by giving absolute and practically despotic power “to the police”—that is, to its individual members. Every day, in every club-room, we are told by men of the world that there is practically no such thing as “seduction,” and that the hideous nightmare which haunts our civilisation is really born out of the folly and the depravity of womankind. So that, it would seem, the only way to deal with the Abominable is to put it under the control of the guardians of the peace, and, while accepting its necessity, to take care that it does not trouble our social comfort.
Here, again, I am in serious disagreement with the quasi-scientific Pessimist of To-day. So far from having the Abominable hushed up and well regulated, I would have it flaunted publicly, in all its hideousness, till the real truth is understood—that it is a creation of the filth of man’s heart, and that the class called “fallen” is practically a class of martyrs. Heaven knows I am not writing as a would-be moralist and Pharisee; Heaven knows I am not blind to my own or my brother’s infirmity! But when the pessimist postulates firstly, with Swedenborg, that this human sacrifice is a necessity, and secondly, that women as a class wilfully and cheerfully sacrifice themselves, I know out of my own experience that he is uttering a lie!
We have consistently degraded Women. From generation to generation we have denied them their rights and privileges. We have asserted that their only function is parasitic, their best qualities less intellectual than instructive. But hitherto, while complacently admitting their inferiority, we have believed in their moral influence, in their divine sympathy. Now at last—while Jack the Ripper, in Whitechapel, desecrates and destroys the bodily mansion—his kinsman, the Pessimist of To-day, pollutes the tabernacle of woman’s soul. He frankly despises and persistently depreciates what was once a temple where all strong men, all men who were sons, husbands, or fathers, might meet and pray. There is, he says, no “seduction.” Women minister, for the most part cheerfully, to our vanities and our pleasures. Antigones, Cordelias, Rosalinds, Imogens, Eugénie Grandets, are the mere dreams of “poets.” A popular dramatist thinks he touches the quick of the question by making comic capital of “Woman’s Rights.” Popular poets and novelists swarm the bagnios of literature with monsters, which they label “studies of women.” Certain of contempt, certain of misconception, women at last throw off their lendings, and become what men make them. The Rome of Juvenal repeats itself in the London of to-day. And masculine corruption, male deterioration, is, I contend, at the bottom of it all. The master, who once worshipped his slave because she was beautiful, now scorns her because he believes her to be base. Let it not be forgotten, either, in this connection, that those women who most cheerfully accept the master’s supremacy, and wear with his sanction the raiment of conventional morality—these women who are bought and sold, not in the streets, but in the higher marriage market—are the bitterest enemies, the cruellest judges, of such members of their own sex as sink to sorrow or try to escape convention. The petted favourite assists her lord to hunt down her less fortunate sisters.
This question is far too broad and world-embracing to be discussed in a newspaper letter. Some good may be done, however, by asking if it is not possible, in the face of the grievous social peril—the threatened loss of a Feminine Ideal—for some few men, knights errant in the modern sense, but full of the old faith, the old enthusiasm, to remind the world, in the very teeth of modern pessimists, of what woman has been to the world, and of what she may yet become; to keep intact for our civilisation the living belief which sanctified a Madonna and a Magdalen; to protect the helpless, to sympathise with the unfortunate, and above all, despite the familiar sneer of the worldling and the coarse laugh of the sensualist, to reverse the familiar adage now and then, and read it cherchez l’Homme? Quite recently, I am happy to say, the man has been sought and found. We may find him much oftener, if we try! I for one, at least, look forward anxiously and hopefully for some glimpse of the old chivalry, which set the name of Bayard high as a star in Heaven, and made even the eccentric Don Quixote a figure to sweeten human happiness and “brighten the sunshine.”—I am, &c.,
London, March 20.
The Daily Telegraph (23 March, 1889 - p.5)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Mr. Robert Buchanan asks you whether “Chivalry is still possible?”—meaning, as I gather, Is it possible to revive that ideal of conduct on the part of man towards woman which is designated, in strictly modern metaphor, “chivalrous”? I say in metaphor, and in modern metaphor, because, as Mr. Buchanan is of course well aware, the ideal which men of later days have constructed for themselves in this matter has never had any complete historical realisation in the past—the position of woman in the so-called age of chivalry being, in more than one respect, conspicuously inferior to that which she occupies even in our own unchivalrous times. Taking the word, however, in the meaning which Mr. Buchanan obviously intends us to assign to it, and asking ourselves the question whether it is possible to revive chivalry in this sense, it appears to me that we are at once brought face to face with two preliminary questions: First, did chivalry of this description ever exist at all, except among a comparatively small class of the community? And, secondly, is it not to the limited extent of that existence still as flourishing and as little in need of revival as ever?
That genuine examples of this noble habit of mind and lofty standard of conduct are, and always have been, to be found among us, I would be the last to deny. There have always been men of pure and high nature who have constructed for themselves an ideal type of womanhood, which they have not only reverenced as sacred in itself, but have regarded as extending its consecration to every individual member of the sex; so that there shall be no woman, however humble or homely—nay, however sunken and degraded—who can be deemed to have altogether forfeited her title to some share of that exceptional leniency of judgment, that special gentleness of treatment, which chivalry recognises as the inalienable birthright of the whole sisterhood. Such men, I admit, have always existed. Colonel Newcome, their immortal representative in English fiction, is no mere fanciful creation of a novelist’s brain. Originals of that inspiring and pathetic portrait are to be found among us yet; but they are few, and, with submission to Mr. Buchanan, they never have been, never will be, otherwise than few. It is not given to the average man to idealise, to discern for himself the “soul of goodness in things evil,” the indestructible element of purity in things impure; and it is of the average man that Mr. Buchanan, I have a right to assume, is talking. If he is not, he on his part has no right to frame, as he appears to me to have framed, an indictment against society at large. Such an indictment can only be sustained by showing that a general decline has taken place in the masculine conception of womanhood—that the average masculine mind is more sceptical than formerly of the existence of female purity, truth, and goodness, and less ready to do homage to those qualities where their presence is too unmistakable to be denied.
It is for Mr. Buchanan to produce proof, or at any rate, if absolute demonstration, is, as it well may be, impossible in such a matter, to establish a reasonable presumption that such a change has taken place. I cannot think that he has done so. I cannot admit that his appeals to the cynical talk of “club rooms,” to the disquisitions of the “quasi-scientific pessimist,” and to the “analytical” fictions of the day prove anything. As to the cynicism of the club-rooms it is no doubt, so far as it is sincere, and indeed, to some extent, if it is insincere, a decidedly unlovely thing. But I altogether decline to trust it as a portentous sign of the times. Does Mr. Buchanan imagine that the walls of those apartments have ever listened to talk of any other kind since clubs, or the taverns which were their forerunners, first came into being? Does he suppose that the “man of the world,” and still more the “boy of the world”—if he will forgive my calling him so—has ever talked otherwise in any age; that the young bloods of Mr. Richardson’s day did not think it fine to give themselves the airs of his Lovelace, and proclaim, with many a “damme,” their profound disbelief in the possibility of female virtue? It is no doubt true that even among the rakes of that time there were many too honest and too manly to feign an incredulity so dishonouring to the sex to which their mothers and sisters belonged. Tom Jones—to cite an example which Mr. Buchanan ought especially to appreciate—scapegrace as he was, held no such debasing view of women. His attachment to Sophia saved him from that, and his love for that young lady was no doubt a passion of the most purely chivalrous kind. But Tom, after all, would be a dangerous witness for Mr. Buchanan to call, for he would certainly be cross-examined as to his relations with Molly Seagrim and Lady Bellaston, towards neither of whom was the element of chivalry very apparent in his behaviour. Probably he would have brought himself under your correspondent’s condemnation by citing these two ladies in proof of the odious proposition that “Women minister, for the most part cheerfully, to our vanities and our pleasures.” No, Sir; I do not believe that cynical dicta of this kind are at all more frequently propounded in our own day than at any previous period. There has never been a time when men, and especially young men—and still more especially vain young men—have not professed this “delightfully wicked” disbelief in female virtue. It is a necessity of their own conception of themselves, for how else could they be the irresistible dogs they are? Men, however, who have outgrown this little weakness, and have no longer the character of Lotharios to support, are as ready to recognise and to respect purity in woman as ever they were; whilst their attitude towards women of whom that feminine grace can no longer be predicated has, I make bold to say, distinctly changed for the better and the more “chivalrous” in these latter days. Mr. Buchanan seems to take peculiar exception to man’s present treatment of “the class called ‘fallen,’” as though it had undergone a change for the worse. But, surely, it is a matter of the commonest experience and observation that the class he refers to are, on the whole, treated nowadays with a forbearance and tenderness which our rougher ancestors would have been simply unable to comprehend.
As to Pessimism and the modern “naturalistic” and “analytical” novelist, they do not appear to me to play anything like that important part as causæ causantes of the decline of Chivalry which Mr. Buchanan assigns to them. “Naturalism,” or the discovery of the great fact that human nature consists wholly of the hideous, is a constant phenomenon in life and letters; and its exceptional popularity and vogue at any given moment only shows that the writers who for the time being are the preachers of that dismal gospel happen to be preachers of exceptional directness and force. Byron made the same discovery in poetry, and, lo! a wind of Byronism swept over the land, laying all young men’s collars flat before it. Now it is Zola who makes the discovery in prose, and very unpoetic prose, and straightway follows the epidemic of Zolaism. Of course the great discovery is the discovery of a mare’s-nest, and in their secret hearts the discoverers know it. They do not believe in their own theory of humanity. Only one man of letters ever did; and he died mad, and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Mr. Buchanan should seek consolation and reassurance in a pilgrimage to that sombre shrine. Jonathan Swift has preached the gospel that your correspondent abhors, as no man ever preached it before him, and as none is ever likely to preach it again; and Mr. Buchanan may console himself with the reflection that a race which has retained its faith in itself after reading the “Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,” is not likely to be converted to the doctrine of despair by the author of “L’Assommoir.”
As to the operation of Pessimism considered as a philosophy, and the grave injustice of Mr. Buchanan’s attempt to fix it with responsibility for the decline of Chivalry and other mischievous consequences, there is much which I should like to say. And some day, Sir, when you can put seven or eight columns of your esteemed journal at my disposal, I may, perhaps, endeavour to say it. I will content myself at present with asserting that the most complete acceptance of the philosophical doctrine of Pessimism is perfectly compatible with as complete a recognition and as anxious a cultivation of all that (in unphilosophical language) is “pure, lovely and of good report” in life; and that, pending an opportunity of expounding and defending this truth at greater length, I am, &c.,
AN INJURED PESSIMIST.
London, March 22.
The Daily Telegraph (25 March, 1889 - p.3)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Whatever Mr. Buchanan writes is worth reading. Having carefully constructed a “case,” and convinced himself that it is indefeasible, he puts it in such sturdy, hard-hitting English, and with such thorough-going faith in the force of his arguments, that it is impossible not to sympathise with his sincerity and fervour, however widely one may differ from his views. In his letter recently published in your columns, for instance, I find much that is admirable, striking—above all, chivalric; but with the chief postulates set forth therein I entirely disagree. He denounces the modern young man—otherwise, “the average half-educated, semi-cultivated, small pessimist of the present generation”—as the insidious underminer of male honour and female self-respect. Thanks to this emasculate monstrosity, he says, “women, in their certainty of the contempt of men, are spiritually deteriorating.” With all due respect to Mr. Buchanan, who, no doubt, writes what he thinks to be true, I do not believe a word of it. If his modern young man—who seems to me a shadowy creature of his own fervid imagination—has endeavoured to make men despise women, and women despise themselves, he has signally failed to achieve his purpose. Your gifted correspondent attaches far too much importance to the assumed influence of this feeble spectre. The conceited critics and morbid psychological analysts whom he indicts under ingeniously opposite class headings have made no impression whatsoever on the popular mind. What they have written has been read by few; and of those few not one in a hundred has given a second thought to such sickly, tiresome rubbish. Upon the robust intellectual temperament of the British middle-classes, in which the most omnivorous readers of miscellaneous literature are to be found, the puling pessimism to which Mr. Buchanan ascribes such poisonous potency effects no lodgment more enduring than that of water on a duck’s back. As for the workers who constitute the great bulk of our nation, they neither read the pseudo-psychological novels nor the ultra-cynical periodicals in which the “superfine” and “olfactory” young men are wont to air their pitiful scoffs against virtue and truth.
As far as your correspondent’s assertion is concerned, that “we have consistently degraded women,” and have denied them their rights and privileges from generation to generation, all I can say is that the annals of English history and romance alike teem with overwhelming testimony to the fact that women, for at least three centuries past, have been more highly honoured and respected in England than in any other country on the face of the globe. Admitting, however, for the sake of argument, that they have been oppressed, or even severely snubbed, by our legislators in times gone by, surely no unprejudiced person will deny that the amende honorable has been made to them of late years, and that just now they have very little to complain of in the way of disabilities imposed upon them by male supremacy. Except the army and navy, for which they are physically unfitted; the Church, from holding office in which they are excluded by apostolic prohibition; and the Law, which, for their own sakes, I sincerely hope they will keep clear of, no liberal and lucrative career is closed to them. They do not, truly, at present possess the doubtful privilege of taking part in Parliamentary debates; the more gracious their state! But they sit on Boards, and are members of County Councils. Yea, England is of a verity entitled to boast of at least one Alderman among her brand-new municipal sages. We have among us, doing good work, and earning a comfortable livelihood, physicians and surgeons, editors and journalists, authors and lecturers, composers and painters, theatrical managers and political economists, all of the sex which, according to Mr. Buchanan, is so shamefully treated and “consistently degraded” by the tyrant, Man. Girls graduate at our universities, are admitted to our technical colleges, and hold clerkships in our public service. They avenge such wrongs as they may have suffered in the past by underselling their male competitors in the intellectual labour market, and by increasing the difficulties of bread-earning for young men of mediocre abilities.
With respect to the painful question which prompts Mr. Buchanan’s indignant allusion to “certain midnight nuisances,” it is one which has puzzled human wisdom and benevolence from time immemorial. If “the hideous nightmare which haunts our civilisation” be not exclusively “born out of the folly and depravity of womankind,” neither is it wholly and solely the offspring of male viciousness. Men have not the monopoly of unbridled passion or of reckless frivolity; nor must it be forgotten that, in every over-populated country, sheer want compels many helpless, uninstructed women to practise a calling which they detest and loathe. It is, moreover, much easier to denounce the nocturnal horrors of our streets, mournful and revolting as they unquestionably are, than to suggest a practical means of doing away with them. Mr. Buchanan seems to object to the remedy—an inefficient one, I admit—afforded by police intervention. But what else, in the present state of the law, can be done to prevent these unhappy women from constituting a public offence? All the dancing saloons and other afterdark resorts in which they were formerly enabled to take refuge have been closed to them. In the name of morality—with how much truth or falsehood the nation has had ample opportunity to judge—legislation has turned the “unfortunates” out of doors, and is at a loss how to deal with them sub cælo. As long as they do not break the law they cannot be shut up in prison; and if statutes were passed legalising their incarceration for street-walking, all the gaols in the United Kingdom would not accommodate a tenth of their number. Any attempt to regulate their conduct for their own good and the protection of the public, as sad experience has repeatedly proved, is met by such a tremendous opposition on the part of the “unco’ guid” that it has to be abandoned as a hopeless enterprise. “Respectable” women, as Mr. Buchanan justly points out, are the most inveterate foes and merciless persecutors of the “unfortunate” class. In this country, however, respectable women rule the roost; and, by his own account, Mr. Buchanan would not have it otherwise. He is thus placed upon the horns of a dilemma, from which many another eminent philanthropist, every whit as earnest and honest as he, has in vain struggled to extricate himself. Human nature, in a word, despite modern education and enlightenment, is pretty much what it was uncounted years ago, and I apprehend, is likely to remain unchanged until “the crack of doom.”—Yours obediently,
South Hampstead, March 22.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Often have you opened your columns to sweet converse on the many complex social problems of the day, and possibly on this vexed question of “Is Chivalry still possible?” you may lend a moment’s kindly attention to a woman’s view of the matter. As far as I understand your leader, your letters, and Mr. Buchanan, it is asserted that the spirit of “Chivalry,” the beautiful, passionate reverence for women, the tender grace of manner, the fond respect, the strong dominance that insists on its right to protect, and the cheerful healthy love are things of the past—vanished ghosts, scattered spectres. Chivalry is an eternal and immortal and natural instinct, common to all times among civilised races, but the fashion and manner of expressing it changes even as manners and customs change. It was a spirit of chivalry that led the old Hellenes to spend a decade of their artistic lives fighting the Trojans “all on account of” a middle-aged lady. It was a spirit of chivalry that made the Spanish Don run tilting against windmills, and sent out the Knights of the Round Table to prove their love by deeds of daring which in our nineteenth-century view were just so many foolhardy, nonsensical escapades. It was a spirit of chivalry that made Sir Walter Raleigh spoil his cloak in the mud, and, later on, caused the foolish courtier to drink the water in the finger-glass wherein the lady of his adoration had dipped her nails, and it was the same spirit that brought about the ridiculous pass, that for a man to win favour in the eyes of a woman he should of necessity begin by making a sentimental goose of himself. Sir, we accept the homage and the reverence that is of our right, but no sensible woman will ask for the fantastic bombast of past days, in lieu of what we call reality and earnestness. Modern “chivalry,” as those among whom I live understand it, is a sweet-tempered good-fellowship. It is a combination of humour, rectitude, and manliness, unsullied by grossness, nor made ridiculous by extravagance. The very basis of society rests on a foundation of trust and loyalty, and cleanliness of life and habit and though, and no sensible healthy woman desires to exact from her lover any of Mr. Buchanan’s pretentious and elaborate artificiality. We talk to each other naturally nowadays in the best circles, and we contend that the spirit of chivalry is not extinct, but that it has taken a new form, and that that form is simple and natural courtesy. This is, at all events, the manner of the men I like best, and with whom I am most “at home.” Why should we women lose trust in men because they have begun to treat us as equals, and thrown overboard the false theatrical nonsense of that useless companion the Buchanan chivalrist?—Yours, &c.,
A SENSIBLE WOMAN.
London, March 23.
The Daily Telegraph (26 March, 1889 - p.3)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Would that Fortune always sent me adversaries like your correspondent “An Injured Pessimist,” who, while lightly and playfully tilting at me, manages to make his gallant steed frisk and curvet all round, to the discomfiture of my original opponents! I have only one fault to find with him, which he shares with the famous knight in “Ivanhoe”—that he comes disguised, and very lugubriously! In point of fact he is about as much “a pessimist” as Charles Dickens. I fancy, indeed, that if he deigned to lift his vizor, the world would laugh merrily in recognition of one whose name is a synonym for kindliness and kindly optimism. He challenges me, however, to prove my case further, and, since your insertion of the challenge intimates your approval, I will join issue with him at once. Let me premise, however, by saying that the subject is one of unusual delicacy, and could not be completed save with the addition of evidence necessarily given in camerâ, not in the columns of a newspaper; nor would even the six columns asked for by your correspondent afford sufficient space for its full and absolute discussion. One can only select a few points out of many, and leave all corroborative testimony to the experience of our jury, your readers.
Of course students of Modern Pessimism know very well that, as a philosophy, it claims to be beneficent. Its founder, Schopenhauer, and its chief apostle and re-creator, Hartmann, feeling profoundly for the sufferings of creatures emerging into life and pain, have assured us that the only comfort and joy of humanity, so soon to perish, is in acts of mutual service, mutual pity, mutual love. The blind Will, or the blind Unconscious (whichever name we give it) flowers up to its apex of moral sentiment, gleams piteously, and disappears. These philosophers, like all others, testify, of course, to the beauty of human affection; and, so far as I personally am concerned, I could as easily find comfort in their gloomy Nirwâna as in the mysterious Immanence of approven Pantheists like Spinoza. It is not with pure pessimistic philosophy, however, that I have at present to deal.
When Bishop Berkeley said there was no matter,
And proved it—’twas no matter what he said,
and there is nothing that metaphysics cannot establish, when we once grant its premisses. I spoke of Pessimism and Pessimists as they emerge in Literature, I spoke more particularly of Pessimistic Realism. Your correspondent’s contention appears to be that the phenomenon to which I alluded is merely a familiar one, certain to emerge from time to time, and equally certain to disappear. To support this contention, he asserts, truly enough, that a certain class of men have always been cynical and unchivalrous, just as the majority of men have always been impure. Lovelace and his friends, he says, talked much the same banalities as the modern young men about town. Quite true. But just then, in the person of the inspired little printer, in some respects the sanest and wisest soul of his generation, rose the Knight Errant of Literary Chivalry. It is the custom, as we all know, to sneer at Richardson. While the warm weak heart of Fielding awakens love, Richardson’s piercing intellect almost repels it. Women, however, who are supposed to have no logic, recognised the great Logician of Morality, and cried, “This man is our champion! This man understands us, justifies us!” In the story of Clarissa Harlowe—tedious, monotonous, straggling, bourgeois—the great tradition of Literary Chivalry was carried on, and the world had the spectacle of a Chaste Soul, reaching its fulness at that moment when the martyred girl, with the libertine maundering at her feet and offering to make her “an honest woman” by marriage, turned quietly and proudly away, and passed through the portals of the tomb. Almost any English author, from that moment to this, would have satisfied himself and his readers by bringing down the curtain on the happy union of Miss Harlowe and the tamed, repentant Lovelace. Good, honest, virile Fielding would have done it, and chuckled over it. Richardson, far wiser, knew that, horrible as is the outrage of the body, still more horrible may be the outrage of the Soul; that for a Soul once violated, once disenchanted, there is no possible human reparation; that for Woman cast from her sphere of purity, bereft of her faith in humanity, the only hope lies beyond the shades of Death!
Which brings me to the heart of my sad argument. I have mourned the decay of Chivalry; I have asked if its revival is not possible. Your correspondent—who loves Chivalry as much as I do, who has bowed down as I bow down before Don Quixote and Colonel Newcome—says, firstly, that Chivalry never existed at all save in a small class of the community. Yet it is admitted by the realists that Literature represents the spirit of its age—is, in other words, the adumbration of the noblest temper of the community at large. What, then, must have been the temper of communities which, crystallising in individual genius, produced Cassandra and Antigone, Beatrice and Francesca, Cordelia and Imogen (to say nothing of the whole female galaxy of Elizabethan drama), Eve and the Lady of Comus, Clarissa Harlowe and Sophia Western, Beatrice Cenci and the heroine of Epipsychidion, Eugénie Grandet and Modeste Mignon, Lady Esmond and Laura Pendennis, Lizzie Hexam and Little Nell? I should be unjust, moreover, to the lights under which we live if I denied that, even now, this tradition of purity survives, that now and then Divine things come to us, such as I found the other day when I read the infinitely piteous episode of Lyndale in the “Story of an African Farm,” such as give modesty and charm to the “girls” of Black and Besant, and power to the full blooded women of Thomas Hardy, such as ennoble the stainless page of Mrs. Oliphant and brighten the gladsome books of Bret Harte, such as lend glory to the maidens of Alfred Tennyson, to the madonna-like young mothers of Coventry Patmore, and to the Shakesperian women of Robert Browning. But, alas! most of the writers I have named belong to the last generation, and several of them are already voted “old-fashioned.” The triumph now is with the realist, with the pessimist, with the young man who had never been a child, who has never dwelt in Bohemia. Why the whole attempt of my original article was to draw a comparison between the last generation and the one in which we live!
Your correspondent asserts, secondly, that, after all Chivalry is still flourishing and as little in need of revival as ever? Does he deny, then, that within the last decade, since the apotheosis of popular science and the spread of popular materialism, a very great change has taken place in the moral estimate of women? Of their social position I say nothing; that is another matter; but they, like the Irish nation, have won all that for themselves. It is not a question of whether we fear their power more, but of whether we honour and reverence them as much. The best proof of such honour and reverence would be the condition of our own morals, the purity of our own lives? Are we, then, so pure? I will turn away from the revelations of the divorce courts, from the reports of the newspapers, and just walk out once more into the midnight streets. What do I see there? Instead of the bold, painted woman’s face of twenty years ago I see the pale, thin face of a child! Instead of the coarse, robust young person from the country I see the delicate young person, who has, perhaps, been “a lady,” and has known luxury. Let me tell, in this connection, two absolutely true stories within my own knowledge. A little while ago, two pure young girls, daughters of a clergyman, left Yorkshire and came to London, deliberately, out of choice, dispassionately, to throw themselves on the London streets! They did so, and were swept away into the great vortex. Here, certainly, we seem to have a proof in favour of the man of the world’s argument that there is no “seduction;” but the exception is meant to prove the rule. These young girls, well educated, familiar with modern pessimistic books, concluded that the world was impure, and, having lost all vital belief, followed their despair to a logical conclusion. My second story is of a young girl who, when I first met her, was a beautiful child of seventeen, reared in luxury, accomplished in music and painting, the idol of her home. She, too, became a reader of the new literature; she, too, had become utterly without faith, either in God or human nature, when, a few years later, she made the acquaintance of a married man, an officer in the army. This man deliberately set himself to undermine these moral instincts which still kept her personally pure. He convinced her that society was honeycombed through and through with libertinism, that there were no pure women, that, since life was transient, indulgence of all kinds was wise and justifiable. Eager, like poor Lyndale to know, she came at last to as piteous and terrible an end, dying in utter despair. Never shall I forget the contrast between the bright happy girl I first met, all intellectual ardour, all moral purity, all faith and hope, and the poor heartbroken woman whom, only a few years later, I saw lying on her bed of death.
My correspondent thinks the world is no worse, that Chivalry is no longer needed. Let him remember, however, that a generation ago the devil lacked his one last convincing argument which proves to the weak and blind that there is absolutely no God, no hope, no succour, beyond these vices. If pessimism means anything, it means that. Science corroborates it. Experience seems to justify it. So that, after all is said and done, we come to the final and irresistible conclusion that there is no hope in this world because there is no faith in another, and that Schopenhauer was right when he described death—i.e. annihilation—as the great and only Nirwâna. In that case, of course, it is useless to trouble ourselves about what old-fashioned people call the Soul. Let us legislate for something more substantial.
So the world is no worse?—nay, hints your correspondent, it is possibly much better, especially in this particular point of woman’s condition. How, then, does he account for the fact—which I suppose he will not deny—that the ranks of the so-called “fallen” (I say the “driven”) are now to so large an extent recruited from the educated classes, from those classes which are aware of the culture of the age? I speak within my own knowledge when I state that I have personally found, among the throngs who nightly haunt such places as the Empire and the Alhambra, women whose refinement of manner and purity of accomplishment would grace any drawing-room; faces which not all the fever of the gaslight could rob of the beauty and distinction which come of gentle blood. A generation ago these types did not exist on this side of the Channel. But now, as the satirist sings:
Instead of Greece, whose lewd arts poisoned Rome,
The harlot France infects our island home!
and the educated girl who discovers that she has been brought up in a dead faith, and turns her early accomplishment to use in the secret study of detrimental French novelists, soon loses the hallucinations which kept her pure. She, too, discovers that Divine sanctions are no longer needed. She, too, finds that Pessimism is the only need thoroughly alive. Her father, possibly, is either an open sceptic or a person who still accepts religion because it is “respectable.” Her brothers, perhaps, are young men about town, from whom she soon learns the argot of fast life. It is a horrible thing to say in this connection, but I have known many instances of pure young girls whose minds first became polluted through the conversation of their own brothers.
Now, Chivalry, as I conceive it, and as I hope and pray for it, might do something to remedy this grievous state of things, on which I have touched but very lightly. But Chivalry, unfortunately, means Religion; not necessarily the religion of any creed or sect, but that large faith in a Divine Power conditioning all we think and feel; and even that nebulous sort of religion, as we know, is hard to find. Cheery Mr. Andrew Lang, lecturing to-day to an amazed audience of Scotchmen, informs them that one day, long ago in primæval time, it “began to thunder,” and some one “began to wonder,” and so God was invented. Energetic Mr. Frederick Harrison, contemptuous of an anthropomorphic God, offered us his master’s fetish, Humanity, the Grand Être, as a substitute, until quite lately a ferocious Professor, not to be humbugged that way, pulverised the Monster, to the general satisfaction (see Professor Huxley’s diatribe, passim!) In all the conflict of the new discovery that the moon is made not of green cheese, but of magnesium, there is not much time for reverence; and, unfortunately, the scientists are even harder on Woman than the poets and romancists. How, then, shall Chivalry arise?
In one way only. Through the physical purification of men. I am certainly not for turning the world into a moral seminary; for eliminating from life that passion which alone, perhaps, lifts it towards divinity. But the man who goes out into the market place to buy the body or the soul of a woman is a leper, and as such he should be treated. Put a label on his breast, put a clapper into his hand, that all the world may know he is “unclean.” My entire argument is that Man is the sinner here, and that Woman is the martyr. I know well how my good physician and physiologist, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, will smile at my logic. From time immemorial the Master has usurped the privileges of sensuality, while the Slave has been forced to acquiesce. Only when the master has become a knight-errant, and has said to his ideal, “Be pure, and I will emulate, so far as my coarser nature may, your purity! Be good, and I will uphold your goodness before the world!” then, and only then, has Woman become glorified—no longer a Martyr, but a Madonna.
I have hinted pretty broadly at certain social phenomena which I allege to be taking place in our midst. Thousands of your readers, if they cared to speak, could, I feel sure, corroborate me on such points as the decay of self-respect in women owing to male contamination, and as the want of Chivalry or purity in the young men of their homes. With what your correspondent says on the abominations and absurdities of Naturalism I thoroughly agree; but I open my eyes in wonder when I find him classing Byron among the discoverers “of the great fact that Nature consists only of the hideous.” Byron was a romanticist pure and simple. He discovered that the world and society were full of shams, and he turned in gloomy pride to Nature, to the mountains and the sea. Bitter things said about mankind, sarcastic things said about the sex, do not make a Pessimist; in fact, Poetry and Pessimism are antagonistic terms. Byron’s idea of Woman was not, perhaps, the highest, but it was a high one, nevertheless, and I only wish we had a few of his women now. To put the creator of Haidée in the same pillory as the author of “La Curée” seems rough and ready justice indeed! Byron, with all his thoughts, was a Man, and, when he revolted against what Mr. Morley justly calls “the piggish virtues of the Georges,” Nature revolted with him and proclaimed him right. Had he lived a little longer he would have become, perhaps, the noblest knight-errant that modern Chivalry has seen!—I am, &c.,
London, March 23.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Will you allow me through the medium of your valuable paper to thank Mr. Robert Buchanan for his able letter. I would especially call attention to his remarks on the “Modern Young Man as Critic,” unhappily largely on the increase. To verify Mr. Buchanan’s statement about the young men of the present day (the mashers), one has only to listen to the conversation carried on by them in railway carriages and restaurants. I think much encouragement is given them by the comic papers now in circulation. I trust that the writings of such men as Mr. Robert Buchanan will be influential in helping to exterminate the pest of modern society, the Edmund Sparklers of the age. The masher has many vices in addition to his stupidity, and is generally, if not always, without Edmund’s redeeming quality, admiration for his mother. We boast of our education in this nineteenth century. I thought one of the results of education was the elevation of women in the minds of men, and we know that women as a class are indeed “spiritually deteriorating.” Heartily re-echoing the hope expressed by Mr. Buchanan at the end of his letter, I am, yours truly,
The Mount, Garlies-road, Forest-hill, S.E., March 23.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Mr. Buchanan is labouring under a palpable mistake as regards the modern day-attitude of men towards women. He attempts to form a judgment on the question by the perusal of an occasional newspaper article or the overhearing of a little club gossip. The subject is a wide one, and needs a much greater perspective than this before it can be fairly viewed.
We read ancient works and records and find that women in the days when the world was young were considered by the majority of men simply as slaves. Even “Chivalry” itself was not in reality quite the golden-coloured thing that, half hid by the mystery of time and romance, it appears to our eyes now. From all reliable accounts it was more of an outdoor holiday cloak than a garment to be worn day by day in the house. What little it did, too, it did only for the few; it left the great mass of womankind unhelped.
If Mr. Buchanan will leave his club smoking room and look at the world from a somewhat loftier and clearer vantage point, he will see that woman’s position, as a whole, is better at this moment than it even yet has been, and that it is still evidently on the onward road.
All the earth over, she is being gradually less and less regarded as man’s plaything, drudge, or pet; and more and more respected as his helper, friend, and equal. A general survey of modern history quickly prove this. Mr. Buchanan sits down in sheltered little coves, and watches the pools; one must climb up to the cliffs to see how the tide is flowing.—Yours obediently,
JEROME K. JEROME.
104, Chelsea-gardens, March 23.
The Daily Telegraph (27 March, 1889 - p.5)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Can any one explain how it is that, when people discuss the Woman Question in any of its phases, they lose sight of proportion and take their leave of common sense? The Idealists seem to hold women as altogether of a different race from men; not only different in degree, but different in kind; not only told off by Nature for certain special functions, whereby are emphasized certain common qualities, but as possessing intentions, faculties, characteristics with which men have nothing to do. To these Idealists women, quâ women, are semi-divine, where men are more than half bestial. The sex is sacred, and to be a woman is to be ex-officio consecrated. To the Cynics, on the other hand, to be a woman is to be the source of all the evil in the world—where each daughter of Eve repeats her mother’s folly and transgression, and where men are but the puppets whom she makes dance at her pleasure. Mr. Buchanan offers himself as an Idealist, and talks sentimental bunkum with splendid literary power. He speaks of Chivalry as “fast becoming forgotten,” of “the old faith in the purity of womanhood which once made men heroic,” as “being fast exchanged for an utter disbelief in all feminine ideals whatsoever”; and says that “women, in their turn, in their certainty of the contempt of men, are spiritually deteriorating.” What does he mean? Is this a tilt against the woman’s rights women? or against the pretty “impecuniosities” who marry contemptible millionaires? or against the heroines of the Divorce Court, of whom we have lately had some notable examples? Outside these three sections where do we find the spiritual deterioration of women? Among those quiet, silent, devoted workers for Christ’s sake who give their best energies for the good of their less fortunate brothers and sisters? Among the diligent self-supporters who practise their trade, their profession, with that conscientious industry which of itself ensures success? Do we find spiritual deterioration in George Eliot, in Mrs. Oliphant, as compared with Aphra Behn or Eliza Haywood? And are our modern Lady Sneerwells and the rest of her crew worse than their predecessors? We have bred a race of mental and moral hommasses, certainly; but that is the logical outcome of all this absurd idealisation of woman, so that they themselves accept their own superiority—their own consecration—as a proved fact, and hold that inferior man can do nothing well unless aided and directed of their inspired judgment. Else, where has woman deteriorated? Why, even the poor Abominables are less degraded than of olden times; and the modern danger with respect to them is not of their oppression, but of their being treated with undue partiality—so that the good of the community is less considered than their unchecked individuality. As for the Chivalry of which so much nonsense is talked and so little true knowledge is afloat—well, it may stand as a sign, like any other algebraic symbol. We need these signs and symbols in life—words which evoke ideas, no matter whether the root be real or not. The past of Chivalry was a very different thing from this all-embracing, all-suggestive, this verbal symbol for an impossible ideal. Instituted to give women a certain poetic solatium for the brutal prose of the feudal marriage, the weakness of human nature soon reduced the poetry to the low level of the prose. The favoured knight who wore his lady’s sleeve was the direct ancestor of the modern cicisbeo, and the relation was more often than not on the same lines. Sir Tristram and Iseult, Sir Lancelot and Guinevere were not the only unlawful lovers whose marriage vows were forgotten; nor was “le petit Jehan” the only pretty boy whose education was begun by a charming woman of experience. The generalised respect, too, paid by all loyal knights to all noble ladies was emphatically a class respect. The churl’s wife did not count—the villein’s daughter was honoured when she was taken for a noble’s passing pleasure. The knights led in golden chairs by their ladies was a ridiculous travesty of a lovely sentiment, and Chivalry died because it became corrupt, affected, and unreal. The true hold that women had then on the respect and love of men was to be found in the bower and the hall—the house, where women reign, and where alone they ought to reign. men came from the heat and passion of the strife to the rest and peace, the wholesome purity and order of the house. Women were their solace, ministering to their needs, soothing their weariness, healing their wounds. The clash and din of battle were exchanged for the music of the bower, the peaceful revelry of the hall. Thus it came about that in those rough fighting times women were indeed, in a sense, sacred; that the home was, as it were, their temple; and that, alternating as they did with the rude life without the castle walls, they were idealised and reverenced by the men who died to protect them. How this spirit will survive the modern acceptance of warfare as part of woman’s life remains to be seen. We have no long harryings and raids, burning of homesteads, and lifting of cattle, but we have, instead, party cries and political passions; and when these have invaded the home, and women are fighters with their men and against their men, it is to be feared the fabric of society as at present constituted will fall to pieces, to be built up again on a different—but a better!—plan.
As for the degradation of women by men, that applies to only one of the various relations between the sexes. Do men degrade their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, their wives? Here and there a few wretches may, just as here and there a few women kill their children for the sake of their insurance-money; but not the mass—not the generality. In that most tremendous problem of how to reconcile the imperative laws of human nature with the arbitrary requirements of society, women suffer, and must suffer. To expect to found a nation of Sir Galahads and Unas is to look for the re-establishment of Pierrehole’s kingdom with the return of the Cocklicranes! The whole question of the Abominable is one of political economy, not of sentimentality. As much tenderness and kindness to the individual as you will; but the thing itself ought to be dealt with scientifically, dispassionately, and with more regard to the community than the section involved. The Magdalen is a very beautiful theme for art and poetry, but the poor drunken flaunting Professionals are stern facts—the results of poverty and passion combined—and white kid gloves are as much out of place when dealing with them as either art or poetry. Let that pass. Women have inflicted the deadliest wrong on their generation in connection with their unhappy sisters, but in a very different sense from that deprecated by Mr. Buchanan; and I repeat it—the present danger is not in over-severity, but in over-petting and sentimentality, in maudlin pity and unjust partiality. If, as Mr. Buchanan says, men are the causes of all the misery of the world, and cherchez l’homme ought to take the place of the familiar cherchez la femme, are not men the direct and absolute creation of woman? Built up day by day out of the very substance of her body, do they not also receive their first ineffaceable mental impressions from her? As mothers, have not women unchecked power—absolute authority? How foolish it is to differentiate the sexes on one ground only, and to judge of men and women simply on the platform of unlawful love! For that is what the whole thing comes to. The wholesome orderliness of marriage, the dignity of the home and family, the domestic influence of women—all this is ignored; and the wife and mother, mistress of her house and shaper of her children’s minds and characters, is forgotten for the sake of the poor Abominable whom Mr. Buchanan wants us to idealise as the Magdalen! But, indeed, all this clamour about woman, whether as ideals, as subjects for “dissection,” or as very pitiful realities, is in itself destructive of the virtues which should be specially theirs before all of that modesty which was the very core of her chivalrous ideal. And why all this fatal incense of flattery? Smaller than men, with weaker animal instincts and weaker heroic virtues, why should they be worshipped as superior beings, too good for life as we have it? If men are to worship us, what are we to reverence? Ourselves—like the Buddha on the lotus-leaf? Some already do, not to the edification of the race at large; while those who still frankly and womanfully acknowledge their natural leaders in men are treated as traitresses to the divine cause. And yet history does not quite bear out this assumption of the Idealists. Les dames de la Halle and the Tricoteuses, who danced the Carmagnole in the streets on their way to the Assembly which they dominated, stand as warning examples in the past; and, with some of our own women haranguing from platforms and flinging themselves into heated political battles, we have cause to fear, not the deterioration of the sex by man’s disdain, but by their own restlessness and vanity. If Chivalry has died out, is it not because women themselves have gone away from their own best selves?—I am, &c.,
E. LYNN LINTON.
London, March 26.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Mr. Robert Buchanan deserves the gratitude of all persons who like to have a good subject started for discussion. The agreeable personages who gathered around the dinner table of Otho Lawrence and discussed, literally “by the card,” some of the most important questions that can agitate humanity might have been pleased and more than pleased if Leslie, or Mr. Luke, or Mr. Rose had inscribed upon the fantastic bill of fare the question, “Is chivalry still possible?” But while I fully admit the attraction of the theme, I may, perhaps, be permitted to say that I do not agree with, or rather, that I do not quite understand the conclusions at which Mr. Buchanan has arrived. As far as I can see chivalry is as possible now as it ever was. So far as I am able to appreciate the story of the world it seems to me that there was no period in which the spirit of chivalry reigned supreme over a chivalrous earth. So far as I can remember, in running over my slight acquaintance with history and with literature, man was at all times very much the same as he is now, and I cannot help believing that he will remain very much same in the immediate future—though what he may develope into in the long processes of civilisation it would be desperate to speculate.
Was there ever a time in which the doctrine of chivalry was not preached by some one; was there ever a time when some one did not advocate the extremest form of pessimism; was there ever a more persistent pessimist than Mimnermus, the fine fleur of Greek Lyricism; was there ever a more persistent pessimist than Omar-I-Khayyam, the king of Persian poets; was there ever a more persistent pessimist than Kobeleth, who put his sombre musings into the mouth of the Great King? Leopardi, Schopenhauer, Hartmann, even Julius Bahnsen, that latest weed of the wild pessimistic garden, were anticipated long ago, in the white youth of the world, by some of the thinkers of Hellas and some of the thinkers of the East.
All this, of course, Mr. Robert Buchanan knows as well as, or rather better, than I do. But I take it that he regards the young man of the present day as a more pessimistic, less chivalrous young man than any of the young men who have adorned previous generations. In this I cannot agree with him. The young men of the age are not all the besotted admirers of Zola and Zolaismus that he apparently conceives them to be. They do not all look askance upon life with an eye jaundiced by ill-digested science, and a mind starved upon the poorest possible culture. There are plenty of young men who most devoutly delight in Don Quixote, that incomparable saviour of society; there are plenty of young men whose ideal is higher than that of the Venetian Baffo, or the French De Sade; there are plenty of young men who do not think the secret of existence is shut up between the yellow covers of the Parisian so-called realist, or their imitators in London and in new York. Who are the young Englishmen of letters who have most influence in the time that runs? Let me mention two of them, Mr. Andrew Lang and Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson. Both these writers have a wide and profound influence upon rising thought, and though neither of them sets up as a prophet or a preacher, each guides a great following, and the man would be rash indeed who could assert that he detected in their writings the cheap pessimism and that spirit antagonistic to chivalry which Mr. Buchanan deplores. Men who were creedless might find a new creed of courage, of manhood, and of hope in certain of the essays to be found in “Virginibus Puerisque” and in “A Christmas Sermon.” Men who were spiritless might find spirit from the poet of Melville and Coghill, of Gordon, the poet who in all his writings, prose or verse, has always appreciated and honoured bravery and tenderness, those two essential qualities of all chivalry. Here are young men who lead young men and have nothing in common beyond existence with the poor creatures against whom Mr. Buchanan breaks his spear.
It is the same thing elsewhere. In France, the France of the Zolaists, M. Alphonse Daudet has created no unchivalrous types in Jack and in the old world Loyalist of the “Rois en Exile.” In Russia Tolstoi, whose name admirers do their best to make abhorrent, has written “My Religion,” which can hardly be called a book of pessimism. If young America, in the person of Mr. Edgar Saltus, amuses itself by certain sensually cynical views of life, it has on the other hand presented in the pages of Mr. Bret Harte a chivalrous spirit that is worthy of the Round Table. The great master of the realistic school has given in Daniel d’Arthez and in Laurence de St. Cygne two of the most chivalrous types of men and women to be found in modern fiction. What too, to return to our own tongue, of that exquisitely chivalrous gentleman, the Marquis Jean Hyacinthe de St. Palaye of Mr. Shorthouse’s story! And if the would-be chivalrous youth looks for a text book still current happily amongst us, let him turn to “The Broad Stone of Honour” and take delight therein.
May I say in conclusion that, while Mr. Buchanan does not it may be exaggerate the cheap cynicism and sensualism of the day, he exaggerates its proportion? Some men will always be cynical; some men will always be sensual; some men, happily, will always have in their composition more of the golden strain of the hero than of the black blood of the satyr.—I am, &c.,
JUSTIN HUNTLY McCARTHY.
House of Commons, March 26.
The Daily Telegraph (28 March, 1889 - p.5)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Writing from an Irishman’s point of view, the question cannot only be answered in the affirmative, but considerable surprise must be felt that it should be asked at all. There never has been, as far as I am aware, any decay of the old deference for the sex, which seems born with Irishmen of all ranks. When I first came to London nothing excited in me so much surprise as the free and easy manners of young men towards their elder relatives and friends and the absolute equality of their attitude towards men and women in society. A young Irishman was at that time trained, as a matter of course, not only to feel but to show deference towards all old, or even middle-aged, gentlemen he met, and his manner in ladies’ society was marked by eagerness to please and to be pleased. I used to think the young English fellows of my own age positive boors when they answered their fathers or uncles with a curt “No” or “Yes,” delivered “straight from the shoulder,” like a blow. Their manner towards ladies in society sinned not by commission but by omission. They spoke to a young lady with very little, if any, differentiation of tone or attitude, seldom bowed, disagreed with her flatly if they did not like what she said, and, in fact, treated her much as if she were a young fellow of their own age. I ventured sometimes to suggest to English girls that these manners were hardly right, but they defended their young friends. They liked them thus because they were manly, honest boys; they “did not care for Frenchified manners”; they “did not see why a man should be so full of deference or politeness to a lady.” Irishmen were “too polite,” and carried the thing too far. So that gradually I had to adopt the simpler stolid tone of the young Englishmen around me, taught by London experience that what I thought good manners in Dublin were in London a mistake.
There still lingers with me, however, a recollection of the Dublin society of my youth, when a young man was the willing slave of the ladies of his acquaintance, eager to serve them, happy to please them, and delighting in their society. I still believe that even though we may have to retrench our expressions of courtesy, no man can be a gentleman unless his manner to a woman is different from his manner to a man. I abhor all pleas for equality which would place the two sexes on a level and allow the same manners towards both. No doubt the simplicity of style in the present day makes it difficult, but a true gentleman will easily contrive to make the distinction felt, and to convey to the lady he is talking to that subtle sense of difference which he should feel when his interlocutor is a woman, not a man. I mean no attack on Englishmen, but what often strikes me in observing them is that they can be gentlemen at heart and soul, honest and honourable, really generous and tender-hearted, true in every relation of life and trustworthy as friends—yet, as far as manners in society are concerned, be almost boors. They will speak as bluntly to a lady or to a stranger as to a relative or familiar friend. They tread, metaphorically, on everybody’s toes, and never dream of offering an apology. They are never gracious, never courteous in little things, never considerate of the feelings of others in small matters. It vexes one to think that such solid and estimable qualities should be marred by such an entire absence of manners. I have two examples in my mind—the late W. E. Forster and the late Thomas Carlyle. Forster was one of the noblest Englishmen who ever lived; thoroughly true and warm-hearted; yet he cultivated a roughness of manner, a boorishness of demeanour that ruffled every stranger who ever came across him. Carlyle was a man who passionately loved his wife, and felt noble remorse for lost opportunities when she passed away; but we know as a matter of fact from the complaints of one and the confessions of the other that he could not bring himself ever to treat her with even the commonplace courtesies of daily life. As far as speech was concerned he was always a growler, apparently ungrateful for her exertions, a thankless lout, taking all and giving nothing, not even a kiss or a kind word, for days of toil for him. Yet he appreciated her heartily and loved her deeply. Had he been a gentleman in manners as in heart their lives would have been ten times brighter. But the curse of British shyness and stolidity chained his tongue; the man of genius was outwardly a boor; and he poured forth after her death the loving words which he never gave her during life.
I have often heard Englishmen say in conversational raillery that Irish deference to women is “all humbug”—that our politeness is a sham, and that we are not willing to make greater sacrifices for wives and daughters than English husbands and fathers. If ti comes to solid facts, to surrender of substantial privileges, to the abiding virtues of the heart and home, I think there is very little difference between the two nations. There are good men in both countries, but that the diversity of manners is not entirely superficial may be shown by two hard, unmistakable, statistical facts. In Ireland we have no wife-beating and we have no divorce. There are Irishmen of the humbler orders who desert their wives—very few, it may be said. There are a greater number who do not entirely support their wives—who send them out to service or work them hard on a patch of potato-ground at home. But self-supporting wives swarm in the English industrial districts; so that matter is matched. The cardinal fact is that you may search through the records of Dublin, Cork, and Belfast police-courts for years and not find a single case of an Irishman “lifting his hand to a woman save in kindness.” Then if Irish manners towards women are merely superficial, how do you account for the fact that there is no divorce law in Ireland? We have asked for everything in reason and out of it—for Disestablishment, Tenant Right, Repeal—but we have never agitated for divorce. This may be due to the fact that all Irish wives are lovable, tender, and true, or it may be attributed to the circumstance that all Irish husbands are faithful, fond, and attentive; or both parties to the contract may be more or less perfect—“a little lower than the angels, in fact.” Still, however Englishmen may laugh, there are the plain figures: many English marriages are dissolved—all Irish contracts remain unbroken. May it not be due to the congenital tendency of the Irishman to be kind and courteous to every woman—even to his wife? I throw out this suggestion for what it is worth.
Tennyson says, “Manners are not idle, but the fruit of loyal nature and of noble mind.” I believe that the difference between English and Irish manners in this respect has had a great deal to do with the failure of the English Government of Ireland. That country has often been compared to a woman—in her unreasonableness, her sentiment, her contempt of solid advantages, her sensitiveness to insult, her preference of courtesy to solid gains. If English rulers had only treated Ireland as a true Irish gentleman treats a lady, how different might have been the history of the islands? We have, of late, heaped boons on the people, but in such a way, with such alternation of rudeness and such want of tact, that no thanks have followed. I do not acquit my countrymen of ingratitude and of hysterical folly; they have not been ready enough to recognise great gifts. Nevertheless we must remember that they have had provocation; Englishmen of high rank and station have spoken of all Irishmen as if they were of inferior race. This tone is resented, even by Irish Tories, as a signal instance of British brutality; how much more by Irish Nationalists? The excuse is that the Parnellites abound in furious invective. But the excuse is insufficient. If a gentleman has a man at his mercy, he does not return railing for railing; he allows his defeated foe the luxury of invective. An English ruler who has an Irish patriot under lock and key need not compete with him in sarcasm and stinging jokes. Perfect firmness in administration ought to be combined with perfect politeness—with the chivalry that forbears advantage, and pays respect to the vanquished. To the question, then: “Is Chivalry Possible?” I should say “certainly,” and wish we had more of it, not only in streets and drawing-rooms, but in politics and the House of Commons itself.—I am, &c.,
London, March 25.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Some of your readers may be glad to know that during the last six years there has been in this country a persistent effort to give a practical and affirmative answer to the question raised in your columns by Mr. Robert Buchanan. In some circles there is a disposition to discredit any movement that professes a distinctly religious basis, and amongst these the “White Cross” will be at once set down as a quixotic or Utopian scheme.
The temperance movement has done much, in spite of ridicule, and the inevitable unwisdom which asserts itself and is imputed indiscriminately to all reformations affecting public prejudices. The movement for the promotion of social purity and a chivalrous respect for women will in time carry all before it, in spite of the ill-advised action of allies who “spatter mud with the ill-handled besom of reform.”
Thousands of men are enrolling themselves in a crusade which accepts these obligations—viz.: 1. To treat all women with respect, and endeavour to protect them from wrong and degradation. 2. To endeavour to put down all indecent language and coarse jests. 3. To maintain the law of purity as equally binding on men and women. 4. To endeavour to spread these principles among my companions, and to try and help my younger brothers. 5. To use every possible means to fulfil the command, “Keep thyself pure.” They belong to no one nation or religious body.—I am, yours faithfully,
HERBERT EVERITT, Lieutenant-Colonel, Sec. C.E.P.S.
9, Bridge-street, Westminster, March 26.
The Daily Telegraph (29 March, 1889 - p.3)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Mr. Swinburne, with the passion and tenderness of which his art is the chief mistress, depicts the intense grief of the old Greek at the death of his ancient oracles—Delphis oracula cessant. It is not so much the confession of defeat—vicisti o Galilee—as the wail of a soul for the loss of something that had made Greece beautiful. In a similar vein Mr. R. Buchanan writes of a dead faith slaughtered by science, a faith which not so long ago, if it failed to make the average man virtuous, certainly safeguarded female modesty. He is right to be pathetic concerning the faith which gave the world Madonnas, and stereotyped the character of the English maid and wife of the past; for the true and pure woman was a bright exemplar to the coarser sex. But is faith dead? Because a dozen limbs of a tree happen to be withered, is there no life left in the remaining branches? Many phases of that faith are doubtless moribund; those, for example which take for their basis authority alone, or pedantry, or art, or philosophy. Yet there remains one phase; and this one, so far from dying, has given the amplest proofs of intense vitality. Mr. R. Buchanan says, in a tone of infinite sadness, not only that science is against faith, but experience also. I ask pardon for meeting this latter assertion with a flat contradiction. That faith which rests not merely on mens conscia recti, but on mens conscia Dei, cannot die, nor descend to pessimism, nor wallow—except in defiance of itself—in Zolaism, nor reject that anchor of the soul, hope. I do not fancy Mr. Buchanan will encounter this particular phase in scientific, literary, or artistic circles, in the City or the club; but it is discoverable even in London. Its ablest exponent happens to be a compatriot of Mr. Buchanan, Professor Drummond; its ablest advocate, also a Scotchman, Mr. Hay-Aitken.
Thanks to the fidelity of these brave men, myriads, both in Scotland and England, have been rescued from that sheer hopelessness which Mr. Buchanan so justly deplores, and their mental condition can only be controverted by affirming that they are one and all the victims of an illusion. On that hypothesis it comes to this, that the pure, the moral, the unselfish, the hopeful are insane, while the lost, the selfish, the hopeless alone deserve to be regarded as sane. What is termed the higher thought of the age may be, I must admit, dead against faith based on actual experience, the faith of the Pentecost. It was so on Mars Hill in the first century. It will be so to the end of the chapter; but the creed of speculative thought teems with discords, while the hope of Pentecost is one long-drawn concord of ceaseless satisfaction. Confronted by the real in pessimism we can only meet it by the real in religion.—Yours, &c.
Kenchester Rectory, March 28.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—In reading the remarkable correspondence which you have, with your usual public spirit and broad sympathies, admitted to your columns, I am most struck by the tremendous dangers of generalisation. Mr. Buchanan’s motive is, of course, excellent; and the idea at bottom of his jeremiads must be held absolutely correct that the status of a people depends upon its estimate and its treatment of women. It is true of nations, as of individuals, that, as M. Renan says, the judgments passed upon them in “the Valley of Jehoshaphat” at the “last day” will be the judgments of their women, “countersigned by God the Lord.” The two tenets which have given Christianity its victory over all other creeds in the battle of civilisation are its “Golden Rule” and its “Divine Mother.” “Chivalry”—such as it was—took a European beginning there; but chivalry did not commence that idealisation of the female sex which, with all deference to Mrs. Lynn Lynton, is not sentimental, but positively fundamental as a law of human evolution. Three thousand years ago it was a deadlier crime in India to kill a nursing mother than to slay a hundred Brahmans or a thousand cows; and five hundred years ago Sa’di, the Persian, knew and taught every deep doctrine of love regarded as a lesson, which it really is, to lift souls to the Highest. In advocating all these ideal views Mr. Buchanan does well, but when he comes to condemn the present times, and to declare that we are going down the spiral of moral development, instead of up to it, he commits, in my judgement, the old logical fault of deducing universals from particulars, and strikes a note of utterly needless despair by asking, “Is chivalry still possible?”
Chivalry of the right sort—as far as I can see from constant coming and going among the public, and from constant touch with its social, civil, political, domestic, and intellectual life—has increased, and is increasing. You must not judge of the Atlantic by the cinders thrown into it, or by the raffle of weed and drift-wood floating on its billows, nor must you characterise national manners by the scum upon its surface of mashers, slang, fast talk, bad or foolish books, and feeble pessimism. Ours is an age of transition, of displaced foundations, of free speculation, and unsettled beliefs, and a good deal of the rubbish of the universal movement comes to the top; but when were women better and more fairly treated? When did they enjoy more liberty and authority? When have we before heard a Prime Minister willing to give them equal civil rights with men? Mrs. Lynn Linton calls this the “fatal incense of flattery,” and asks what is left for women to reverence. The answer to that is, their mission, which is eternally fixed for them by Nature, and consists in furnishing to man food and ground-work for his attempt to create and maintain the ever-unreached ideal. Nature has developed the instinct of maternity from the vague feeling of the cod-fish with her 9,000,000 eggs to an English mother’s proud passion of guardianship; she has evolved love to the height which poets, artists, and true lovers know of, from the blind contact of differing cells; she has built up the matchless enchantments of womanly beauty from the primeval shapelessness of the mollusc, and added to the impulses of humanity the dream, the hope, the ache of immortal longings. As for what this gifted lady calls “Abominables,” who does not know that all sorts of types must exist in the wonderful mass of society? Michelot wrote, with truth, that women are born in three natural categories, the vestal, who turns nun, or nurse, or old maid; the domestic female, who becomes wife and mother; and the hetaira, who sometimes mischievously obeys her inclinations, and sometimes guides them to good. But the middle class of these three is vastly dominant and preponderant, and keeps alight a fire more useful, if less sacred, than any burning on the virginal altar. The warmth of that fire glows everywhere; not to be extinguished by cynics or pessimists. You may see its worshippers everywhere if you know how to look—in omnibuses, rail-cars, churches, houses, and streets. Chivalry is as much shown by the workman bringing his wages home to wife and children, or by the policeman convoying an old woman across the thronged street, as by any knight-errant, or plumed tilter; and Walt Whitman was right in pointing to “every mechanic’s wife with a baby at her breast interceding for us as much as does the Madonna.”
A sense of this, and of the high mysteries which make woman the Priestess to Man of the Religion of Love, and the Instinct for the Ideal which may raise and redeem him, is rather spreading than diminishing, I believe, among us. At any rate, that is my diagnosis of the times, made without ignoring or greatly caring for the fact that the priestess in question is often foolish, frivolous, vicious, slatternly, drunken, or stupid. being these she better suits a good many of her “lords,” who are at present only a “poor lot.” But the bulk of the population—the solid body of the households and homely people—are all right, and quite “chivalrous” enough for their chaces and circumstances; while in the region of ideas and of the lighting and leading—which eventually govern the world—the conception of woman as maid, mother, and queen, that celestial Trinity of Mary’s nature, grows, I consider, ever clearer, dearer, and fairer: mashers, pessimists, “Abominables” (poor gentle souls!) and well-meaning croakers not affecting one whit the destined uprise of the race, and its ever enlarging enlightenment.—I am, &c.
London, March 27.
The Daily Telegraph (30 March, 1889 - p.3)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—A perusal of your interesting correspondence on this subject makes one feel that justice has hardly been done to the real chivalry existing among us, out of sight mainly, yet cropping up unmistakeably here and there. We want a new Milton to write a “Defence of the People of England” against the attacks of those who view them from such a tremendously lofty elevation that they fail to see the little incidents of every-day life, in which respect for women is clearly shown. For my part, I think that one sees the worst and most unchivalrous side of human nature in great cities. Respect for women, and for one’s fellow-creatures generally, is far more difficult to keep up here than in the more sparsely populated country districts, where life is simpler and more wholesome. How can one be expected to “love one’s neighbour as oneself” in a place where one sees such an overpowering number of neighbours every minute of the day? Still, I do maintain that chivalry exists as a living and potent force in our urban highways and byways, in our streets and our tramcars, in our trains and our omnibuses, in the grimy alley and the cottage home, as well as in Buckingham Palace.
Take such an instance as the following, which came under my notice only yesterday. A labouring man was getting out of an omnibus, and was evidently in a desperate hurry to reach his destination. It was close to a great London terminus, so I presume he was going to his suburban home by train. It so happened that next to him was a woman who had a number of bundles, two under the seat, others round about her; the conductor was on the roof, and so, of course, could not help in taking them out. I watched this workman’s behaviour all through. He was on the point of rushing off to catch his train when he saw the poor woman struggling with her packages. For a moment he hesitated, then with a half-longing look in the direction of the station, he turned, and gave a hand to assist his embarrassed female fellow-passenger. As plain as acts could say it he said: “I know I may miss my train; but, hang it all, here is a woman in distress, and I’m bound to help her!” And help her he did. It is a small matter, but such small straws show how the current is running. My own experience certainly is that you will see as much politeness to women in the “lower” ranks of life as in the higher, and that if women who travel by rail have to fear rudeness or impoliteness, it is not in third-class carriages that they will meet most of it. They will meet very little of it in any class.
It must, of course, be admitted that the English race does not give as much outward expression to its feelings as do other and more impulsive nations. Therefore, it is absurd to look at Englishmen’s behaviour towards women with the expectation of finding it as deferential and polite, in a superficial sort of way, as is the average Frenchman’s. The best-bred Briton does not feel it at all necessary to take off his hat when he enters a shop, as every Frenchman with a pretence to politeness always does. I have seen a French innkeeper standing at the door of a wagonnette, in which some women belonging to what we should call the humbler classes were going off, his hat in his hand, and bowing as low and making as great a parade of politeness as “mine host” would do in England if he were speeding a parting duchess and her daughters on their way. It would indeed be wholly impossible to conceive of the latter, even if he had a duchess before him, “showing off” as a Frenchman would do; an Englishman considers a display of fine manners rather childish, and is apt, when he sees them exemplified in foreigners, to call them “antics.” So we need never expect to see the outward and visible signs of a chivalrous spirit as prevalent in England as they are in France, or Italy, or Spain. This, however, does not at all affect the question of whether feelings of chivalry towards the weaker sex are really stronger in Southern Europe than with us. Superficial politeness is pleasant enough, but it is not everything. It is a poor substitute for the true and honest regard for women felt by a really honourable man. Not infrequently it is a hypocritical cloak assumed to hide feelings which are in no way honourable.
Hoping you may insert these few words of honest appreciation, founded on every-day experience, of my countrymen’s conduct towards the other sex,—I remain, yours obediently,
London, March 29.
The Daily Telegraph (1 April, 1889 - p.5)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Allow me a brief space, as a woman, to thank Mr. Buchanan for his manly, vigorous, and much-needed words. As he truly remarks, the subject opened up is infinite in scope, but, in some form or other, it is becoming more and more the burning question of the day.
Whilst not disputing for a moment the terrible want of courtesy and consideration in the class of modern young men alluded to by Mr. Buchanan, there is one encouraging and indisputable fact which needs recognition, viz., that the large and growing army of self-supporting, independent, and high-spirited women simply ignore the existence of this species. They cannot “pollute our souls.” These are our own, to keep pure, if we will. With such sources of inspiration as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Sand, George Eliot, the Bronté sisters, Shelley, and Shakespeare, not to enumerate all those true prophets of humanity secure of eternal fame, what care we for their poor emasculated literature? We are too intent upon our own purposes to wish to refute the fleeting, idle calumnies of the vicious and self-indulgent—mere “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Whether or not such men despise us matters little. At no time in the history of the world were women so determined to succeed and so near to possessing that power which will, in my belief, transform and renovate the whole fabric of society. Popular dramatists may try to raise a laugh at our expense—the time is gone by for this feeble kind of satire. Women are insisting on their rights, and, what is more, are actually obtaining them by instalments.
I feel confident that chivalrous devotion in a much more extended sense than is at present conceived will prevail when it is possible for women to educate men in such matters. The sneering and egotistical tone adopted by many poor specimens of our race will be stifled for very shame, and their sphere of mischief limited.
Although deeply grateful to men of Mr. Buchanan’s stamp for holding aloft the banner of chivalry so-called, in other words, of respect due to our sex, it is to women themselves we look for help. Let them resent promptly every injury, every insult levelled at their womanhood; let them cultivate sedulously a generous esprit de corps, bury all pettiness, jealousy, and bitterness, and strong in the justice of their cause, go forth and conquer.—Your obedient servant,
JULIA MITCHELL, Licentiate College Physicians, Ireland, &c.
Sloane-street, S.W., March 28.
The Daily Telegraph (2 April, 1889 - p.3)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—I was in hopes that Mrs. Lynn Linton’s very characteristic letter, published in your issue of the 27th, would have been answered by some authoritative person of her own sex. In common with everybody else, I admire Mrs. Linton hugely, and have done so ever since the days when she who had sat at the feet of the old heathen Landor, first began scarifying her less accomplished sisters. Who does not love a clever woman, even one with a bee—in this case was it a wasp?—in her bonnet? Who cannot forgive a brilliant woman, even when she becomes angry and describes male Chivalry as “sentimental bunkum”? This gifted lady begins by asking in a tone of no little asperity, “Can anyone explain why it is that, when people discuss the Woman Question in any of its phases, they take their leave of common sense?” Let me, in Scottish fashion, duplicate this question with another. Can any one explain why it is that, when ladies of a certain temperament discuss the characters of their own sex they take their leave of common charity?
Mrs. Lynn Linton is a serious writer, and deserves to be dealt with seriously; otherwise, I should have looked upon her letter as a mere flash from the sombre spectacles of some Mrs. Pardiggle converted to the religion of the Hall of Science. Strangely enough, she, a woman of rare intellectual gifts, is on the side of those who would rivet the chains on womankind; who sneer at men in whose opinion the “sex is sacred”; who talk about the “idealisation” of woman as “absurd”; who think that the world is in danger, not of being too cruel to the fallen and the driven, but of treating them “with undue partiality.” Well, I suppose she ought to know. George Eliot could never get over her hatred of pretty women—of poor butterflies like Hetty Sorrel; and Mrs. Linton, if she spoke her mind, would no doubt say that all naughty creatures deserve “slapping.” Thus far, indeed, I can understand her; but when she goes on to talk about “the imperative laws of human nature,” and says that “the whole question of the Abominable is one not of sentimentality, but of political economy,” I am lost in wonder. I remember on one occasion, many years ago, when someone was talking at the late G. H. Lewes’s about a simple social question chiefly affecting the nursery, the voice of George Eliot suddenly intoned, “Very true, but, in that case, what is to become of our Jurisprudence?” Jurisprudence was a good word, and so is political economy, but I have yet to learn what political economy has to do with Chivalry. And then, mirabile dictu! “the imperative laws of human nature.” Is sensuality, then, a “law”? Just as much, perhaps, as virtue is a “law,” or purity, or philanthropy, or misanthropy, or any other “anthropy”; and in this case, I suppose, Mrs. Linton’s ferocious Puellaphobia is a “law” too!
This is not the place, nor is the present the occasion, to discuss the interminable question of Woman’s Rights. To many sensible people the very idea of social and political activity on the part of women is annoying, if not repulsive. For my part, I sympathise with any movement which may render Woman more happy, more active, more beneficent, and, above all, more influential. Woman will never be the equal of Man, because (pace Mrs. Linton) she is so infinitely his superior. Just as the reason of a human being transcends the instinct of an animal, so does the insight of a woman transcend the reason of a man. Deep in the nature of humanity abides a light which illustrates truth better than any syllogism, and this light burns brightest in the clear souls of the weaker sex. The great Positivist, as we know, admitted this. For what, after all, is Insight? Reason enlarged and glorified. And what, to proceed still higher, is Faith? Insight purified till it reaches the subtlety of Divination. Faith and Insight, the power of perceiving those verities which constitute Religion, are often denied to great men; they are never denied to a pure and perfect woman. This, of course, is the creed of Chivalry. In the eyes of a modern knight-errant Woman is the purifier of the earth, the creature
The earth would smell like what it is—a tomb!
Whatever sullies her, whatever degrades her to a lower level of thought and action, injures and hampers man’s own progress upwards. I am now, of course, talking of the Ideal, not always, yet very often, realised in contemporary experience. Unhappy, however, is that man who has never realised such an Ideal at all; who, after base moments of the strenuous sense, after misconception and moral backsliding, after the blows and buffets of the world, after all the efforts of his reason to solve the ever-present Mystery, has not been comforted and strengthened by the faith and insight, the pure benediction of a woman’s belief and love. The free-and-easy scientists, the patterers about “heredity,” “development of species,” “laws of nature,” “moral dynamics,” resolve the difference between the sexes into a mere little matter of physiology. Just so; a little matter which, according to some physiologists, gives Woman a second and supplementary brain, or, according to sentimentalists, gives her a clearer spiritual vision, the lens of a finer-seeing soul. The votaries of Chivalry, the preachers of sentimental bunkum, find in the Ewigweibliche an abiding temple; on its threshold, kneeling prone, the Magdalen; in its inmost shrine, typical and supremely spiritual, the Madonna.
Here, however, I would pause to deprecate all misconception. When I wrote of masculine purity, I was not posing as a moralist, least of all as an Ascetic. I am not of that sect which macerates the flesh, and pretends to find baseness in all sensuous passion. I simply contend that the relations between the sexes, when not consecrated by spiritual Love, become purely animal; that the buying and selling of what is the divinest possession given by God to human nature is a living horror and a deadly sin. Personally, indeed, I would rather be Burns than St. Simeon Stylites; and should prefer, on the whole, to be lost with Heine than saved with Mrs. Hannah More.
Chastity is the noblest privilege of Womanhood; it is more, it is a quality appertaining to Woman as light to the ruby, “growing more precious as it nears the core”; but it does not preclude, it includes and sanctifies, Passion. A passionless heart is not necessarily a pure one; on the contrary, those hearts are the purest which can burn most ardently. In one suggestion, perhaps, Mrs. Linton is right enough—that we are all very human. For that very reason let us beware how we forget that the purest Soul who ever wore earth about Him was not only the greatest Sentimentalist, but the greatest Logician. He knew the truth so far as it concerns our poor human nature; and out of His infinite insight came the deathless Ideal from which Mrs. Linton turns to “laws of human nature” and to “political economy”—the Ideal of the Magdalen. —I am, etc.,
London, March 28.
Changes in the version published in The Coming Terror:
‘Puellaphobia’ replaced by ‘Nymphophobia’.
In the sentence: ‘Faith and Insight, the power of perceiving those verities which constitute Religion, are often denied to great men; they are never denied to a pure and perfect woman.’ ‘’never’ is replaced by ‘seldom’.
In the sentence: ‘Personally, indeed, I would rather be Burns than St. Simeon Stylites; and should prefer, on the whole, to be lost with Heine than saved with Mrs. Hannah More.’ ‘Heine’ is replaced by ‘Byron’.]
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—I feel a great conviction that true chivalry—the chivalry which has grown and expanded to our modern needs, and it would be a dead and worthless thing if it had not, has a wider and a deeper meaning than in the olden days, though the same word remains, as many older things have done, a type of an eternal truth. Chivalry is still possible, because the women who show the reason for its existence are still with us—wise counsellors. Who can say he has not had some whom he would have been the better for following? Mothers who by their judgement and exquisite sympathy have kept their children’s hearts an open book to them—in every possible relation of life standing, as they have always stood in critical moments, offering hope in the place of despair. There are men and women in the world now who know what it is in those moments to have had the helping hand of a wise, pure woman stretched out to them, and are glad in return to burn their incense of grateful devotion. Men carry out the spirit of modern chivalry by making friendship between the sexes possible, by the better amount of mental food a woman receives where she was starving before, and by the ease with which she can move about a crowded city unattended and uninsulted where it was an impossibility a few years back.
I think I agree with “An Irishman” that his nation exercise a peculiarly gentle courtesy towards women, paying not only that deference to their mere presence which we are accustomed to see upon the Continent, but listening to their opinions upon intellectual subjects with interest as well as respect. “Insular prejudice” contends that there is a more chivalrous side of life to be seen in the country. With this I beg to differ entirely. Men are scarce, as a rule, in the country, and as a natural consequence are made a great deal of. At a social entertainment the hostess usually deplores the disproportionate number of girls she is obliged to invite. Now the knowledge of this alone puts the average man in a very wrong state of mind for the exercise of chivalry: by this I do not mean that, being a gentleman, he will fail in ordinary conventional behaviour, but that the generality of men in the country do not seem to consider that a woman is able to discuss political or other subjects of the day with any equality with himself. In fact, it frequently astonishes a woman, used to the mental activity of town life, how small a share men in the country expect them to take in their conversation. As to the chivalry of assisting female fellow-passengers, I do not consider that Englishmen of any class are wanting; at any rate, in various wanderings amongst most classes I have always met with it.
With regard to the pessimistic literature of which Mr. Buchanan speaks, surely he has somewhat exaggerated the effect produced by its perusal. It is difficult to believe that people by becoming familiar with certain books should conclude that the whole world is impure, or who, having arrived at that conclusion, should necessarily become impure themselves. If women cannot keep themselves from vice except by fear of an eternal punishment then is their virtue very weak—not fit for the strain which may be laid on it in this work-a-day world. It is not by dogmatic teaching setting forth the wrong of living a low life, but by the innate horror of the individual, which naturally shrinks from all contact with uncleanness and degradation, that people will be kept free from contamination.
We are helpmates to each other, both men and women: neither can be helped effectively by weakness or worthily by a slave. Of all Shakespeare’s heroines Ophelia was the only weak one—she failed Hamlet at his greatest need. Weakness was not considered a fault in mediæval heroine worship, but it is rightly classed as such to-day. Women with capacity for pity and self-sacrifice, with instinctive knowledge of wrong, with affections which act like a stimulant through the battle of life and the troubles of every-day existence—it is these women who, in our nineteenth century, scatter their influence far and wide. They do more to raise a man’s view of life than all the denunciations of yellow-bound books, which I am fain to think do not convert the average healthy young Englishman to the horrible creed Mr. Buchanan denounces.
I hold that manhood and womanhood have the same fearless strength and tender grace that they ever had—nay, more. Remember a woman, within the last thirty years, wrote these words:
“And so, my Lillo, if you mean to act nobly and seek to know the best things God has put within the reach of man, you must learn to fix your mind on that end, and not on what will happen to you because of it; and remember, if you were to choose something lower, and make it the rule of your life to seek your own pleasure and escape from what is disagreeable, calamity might come just the same; and it would be calamity falling on a base mind, which is the one form of sorrow which has no balm in it, and that may well make a man say, ‘It would have been better for me if I had never been born.’” As long as these words find an echo in the heart of man modern chivalry will never die out.—I am, &c.,
London, April 1.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—A useful contribution to the very interesting discussion now going on in your columns might, I think, be made by an examination of this question in its bearing on the present state of society generally. What is chivalry, after all? Courtesy to women is, no doubt, an important part of it, but it is not everything. Chivalry was as much displayed in olden times on the battle-field as in the peaceful circles of social life, and if we seek for it here surely we should look for it wherever men contend. To begin with arms, which are especially associated in romance with chivalry, can it be said that we have none of this quality nowadays? Is war, as conducted by Englishmen, not to speak of other nations, not as chivalric, that is, as gallant, as humane, and as honourable, as ever it was? Have our recent campaigns—small as they were—been marked by cruelty, treachery, or needless bloodshed? Certainly not, at least so far as our soldiers are concerned. Look at the long and glorious list of the Victoria Cross. Shall we not find much chivalry in that noble roll of honour? But to turn from actual warfare to the strifes and rivalries of peace. Even in politics I think we shall find a little chivalry still left among us. Parties, no doubt, too often fight unfairly enough, and Parliament is frequently disgraced by scenes that make us recall with a blush Palmerston’s proud words, “We are all gentlemen here.” Yet between the leaders on both sides many a graceful courtesy is often exchanged, and courtesy is the very soul of chivalry. What, for instance, could be more chivalric than the recent act of the leader of the House of Commons in postponing the intended tribute to the memory of John Bright till Mr. Gladstone should be able to take part in it? Even at elections there is less personal abuse, less unfair fighting than there used to be, and many an instance is presented of the victor and vanquished shaking hands in public after the contest, in token that there is no bad blood on either side. Nay, is it not the fact that political enmity is almost unknown in our social life, and that Conservatives and Liberals—aye, and even Unionists and Parnellites—can meet at dinner tables and evening parties in amicable intercourse? Surely this is an example of latter-day chivalry, and a state of things not to be seen in the political life of some countries that could be mentioned. That there is chivalry at the Bar almost “goes without saying.” Every day, in every court of law, examples of it are witnessed. Nor is it altogether absent from the field of religion. The attitude of many enlightened Churchmen towards Dissenters abounds in instances of true chivalry, and indeed the whole spirit of the age, as regards the mutual relations of the creeds, is instinct with the courtesy which marked the conduct of ancient rivalry in arms. It is scarcely needful to point out how chivalry distinguishes every sort and form of those athletic sports, never so popular in this country as in the present age. Do not the conditions of the University boat race furnish one of the most striking examples of this kind of chivalry? I should not wonder if, after diligent search, some slight specimens of chivalry were to be picked up on the Turf itself. Passing from the higher to the lower grades of social life, I venture to say that there is far more chivalry to be found among what are called the working classes than ever existed in the days of knight-errantry. The revelations of brutality to women and children made by our police reports, and by the evidence of our observation as we take our walks abroad, are sickening enough, no doubt; but no one in the habit of frequenting those quarters where the poor reside can have failed to notice how often the conduct of men towards each other, as well as towards women, is marked by the very essence of chivalry. We are far from being an ideally polished nation, but I doubt whether at any time there was greater gentleness and courtesy of manners among our working men and women than is to be found at this present epoch. The “young man” is doubtless an important factor in our social life, but he is not the most important, though perhaps some of his class may think so. I altogether dispute the right of any one to assert on his behalf that he is the typical representative of the chivalry, or want of chivalry, of our age and country. I further deny that the question whether chivalry exists among us depends merely upon the manner in which women are treated in our midst. For what is, perhaps, the finest definition of the conditions of chivalry in any language I would refer your readers to certain noble lines in “Guinevere,” and ask them to mark how many things, which the Laureate’s King Arthur deemed essential to the credit of his “Table Round,” are altogether independent of the relations of the sexes. Doubtless, nowadays, only a few Tories of the old school, believers in Divine right, “reverence the King as if he were their conscience,” but can it not be said of many that they reverence “their conscience as their King”? We do not go forth “to break the heathen” in the old sense, but our brave missionaries often risk their lives as nobly as any Crusader of the Middle Ages. And can it be asserted that some among us “ride abroad redressing human wrongs,” or that some observe the injunction “to speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,” or, again, “to honour his own word as if his God’s”? And if we pass to the duty of men towards women, not less finely expressed by the poet, surely we shall be reminded of those who “lead sweet lives of purest chastity,” and remember how many among us are influenced by that pure passion the tendency of which is to “teach high thought, and amiable words, and courtliness, and the desire of fame, and love of truth, and all that makes a man.” I need add nothing to this suggestive language. It contains the very essence of the purest chivalry the world has ever seen. I will only ask if there is not very much of these grand and elevating qualities still existing among our men, whether of war or of peace, whether rich or poor, whether young or old?—I am, yours, &c.,
Kensington, April 1.
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—I have just read with feelings of deep admiration the ringing letter of Mr. Robert Buchanan, published in your issue of the 22nd, under the heading, “Is Chivalry Still Possible?” The keen sympathy which I have with nearly everything that Mr. Buchanan has said in this letter, and in his recent paper in the “Universal Review,” makes me all the more regret a statement which appears in his communication. I refer to the following lines: “But when the pessimist postulates firstly, with Swedenborg, that this human sacrifice is a necessity,” &c.—the inference being that Swedenborg endorses the position of the modern pessimist that prostitution is a necessity. I should not presume to call Mr. Buchanan’s attention to this statement if I did not feel quite certain that it must be an inadvertent utterance founded, perhaps, not upon a careful reading of what Swedenborg has really said upon this subject, but upon the criticisms of those who belong to the very class which Mr. Buchanan so vigorously and justly denounces. Certain it is that no man has ever paid higher tribute to true womanhood than has Emanuel Swedenborg.
He, above all who have written upon the subject, has held up the beauty of chastity before men; and at the same time he has uttered, in language so logical and powerful, that it must strike terror to the heart of any evil-doer who has a spark of conscience within him, those awful warnings of the consequences which must inevitably be the result, in man’s moral and spiritual nature, of the violation of the laws of chastity.
Furthermore, if any reform of the evil which is the burning shame of this and all other great cities is ever to be effected, it must be through a knowledge of these foundation principles of human nature, and the laws governing human action, which are nowhere more clearly elucidated than in the writings of Swedenborg.
With this slight correction of what was undoubtedly a mere oversight, I tender my sincere thanks to Mr. Buchanan for the manly scorn and intellectual vigour he has exhibited in his castigation of the modern pessimist.—I am, &c.,
JAMES LEON WILLIAMS.
Bayswater, March 28.
The Daily Telegraph (4 April, 1889 - p.3)
IS CHIVALRY STILL POSSIBLE?
TO THE EDITOR OF “THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.”
SIR—Will you allow me to say a few words in reply to Mr. Buchanan? To begin with the personals. No woman has less “puellaphobia” than I have. No woman of my age has so many friends among girls and young married women; and with none is the sentiment of maternity more powerfully developed. Nor have I the smallest inclination to “slap” the poor “naughty creatures.” On the contrary, I have no feeling whatever of personal shrinking from them. I would do them all the good I could; and if I could not, like Dr. Johnson, carry one on my back or in my arms, I would, were it necessary, lead her home to my own fireside, lay her to sleep in my own bed, and treat her as my fellow creature to be gently dealt with in all ways. But I would not reverence her, nor idealise her, nor make her my type of the woman who is man’s “abiding temple.” Nor should I call her the Magdalen. It is possible that here and there one may find the real Magdalen—the woman whom circumstance, not inherent vice, had thrown down but not degraded. I have known of more than one in my lifetime. But to liken the drunken, painted, brazen woman one sometimes sees gathered about a gin-shop door, shouting blasphemies and obscenities, to the sweetest figure of all poetic history, is a misnomer, and as mischievous as it is misleading. Mr. Buchanan calls my letter “characteristic.” I accept the term as meaning that in this, as in other matters, I have kept my head cool and level in the midst of the heated and sickly wave of sentimentality with which we are flooded for the moment—let us hope only for the moment! And in this special part of the great, rampant, noisy woman question, I trust that it is characteristic in me to remember what the idealisers of street-walkers do not, that we have our virtuous young to care for even more than their poor erring sisters, and that any class movement which weakens the joints of national virtue is an evil to be fought against by all who regard the general good.
Let Mr. Buchanan or any of his school consider what is the likely effect of all this high-flown idealisation on the mind and principles of the struggling hard-worked girl who resists the easy temptation of the streets, and prefers to vice and champagne, chastity and a crust. She resists that temptation importuning her at every turn, in part for self-respect, in part for religious fear, but in part also for that potent influence—the esteem of the world, with its correlative, the loss of character and consequent loss of consideration. But when she reads of the women whose lives she has been taught to loathe, talked of as only the pitiable victims of man’s brutality, held as themselves free from moral blame, and as the fit objects for admiration and pathetic idealisation, how much easier does that make her own hard struggle? Difficult enough as things are—her fall offering her all things pleasant to youth and womanhood—this perversion of the wholesome moral law which pronounced these women moral outcasts, makes it ten times harder. It takes away one of the strongest of the props which support her poor fragile temple of virtue, and it undermines the others. There is no religious fear of offending God necessary for a woman who qualifies herself to be called the Magdalen—the beloved of Christ, whose sins were forgiven because she loved much. Instead of the contempt of the world she has the prurient petting of the men who stand and sigh over her—of the women who question first and exhort afterwards. Her self-respect receives no shock, for in her fall she is more cared for than ever she was in her virtue, and the joy of the angels in heaven over one sinner that repenteth is nothing compared to the excitement of which she is the centre. If she believes the newspapers and the idealists she cannot condemn herself. She is a victim, according to some; a martyr whose life was a sacrifice and who is worthy of all esteem according to others. That she preferred fine dresses, idleness, and the excitements of drink and adventures to close, dry, ill-paid work was no sign of a lower taste, but was all the fault of men—as, indeed, in one way it was, but not in the way meant by the idealists. I repeat it, and I know that thousands of kindly women and humane men will bear me out in what I say. This sentimental placing of prostitutes on an ideal pedestal as objects for poetry and pity only, and not at all as objects for condemnation, is one of the most disastrous things in all this flabby age, in view of the young who have to be kept straight against difficulties and in the face of temptations. Anyone who for over forty years has walked about London as I have done must have seen and heard things which take all the sentimentality about vice out of one. Good, generous, loving, and even essentially pure-hearted girls there are, one in ten thousand among the class; but, as a class, to treat them with poetry and sentimentality is a wrong done to society at large, and an infinite wrong done to the virtuous.
On another account, too, I differ from the idealists. While seeking to enlarge the sphere of woman’s influence and power—as some of us think, disastrously to the nation—they, in the matter of chastity, take from her the moral responsibility she has ever had as the conservator of virtue. It is the fashion now to say it is all the men’s fault, and the women are not to be blamed if they fall—they are helpless to protect themselves. The men ought even to resist temptations offered to them. The conscience of woman says differently. Save in the case of the very young, whose ruin rests on the mothers who did not properly safeguard them, women are their own guardians. And ought to be. If they are to be held capable of governing the Empire, they should be made accountable at least for their own self-governance. If they are to be man’s “abiding temple,” they should of their own proper force keep that temple clean and pure. It is emphatically in their own choice not to listen to serpents and not to eat forbidden apples; or to lend a willing ear, and run the danger of the rest. To give them a broader political margin, and to narrow their moral borders, seems to me, and to many more than myself, a terrible inversion of good sense and right reasoning.
These letters are headed “Is Chivalry still Possible?” It is a pity that all the circumstances of chivalry are not taken into account, and that only the idealisation which we have read into the life is dwelt on. What would Mr. Buchanan say to the ferocious disesteem felt by the men of that time against the women who went over the border, and committed themselves too œcumenically? Against the doors of those ladies whose love was more free than discreet, and whose lovers had broken the Eleventh Commandment and blabbed, the loyal knights and chivalrous squires of that eminently idealised age scrawled insults, epithets, and warnings, in plain nervous English, which all who ran might read. There was no mincing matters here—no wreaths, of white roses or red, for the Magdalen in samite and cloth of gold. She had proved herself what the Scotch call a “cuttie,” and a cuttie she was called according to the vernacular of the time, which would scarce bear translation into the columns of The Daily Telegraph. If we could transport one of these plainspoken gentlemen at midnight into the London streets of the present time, and then set him to read Mr. Buchanan’s letters, and learn how these women, whose lives are the graves of thousands, are idealised as Magdalens—abiding temples for men, a little out of repair to be sure—I think he would be even more shocked, more revolted, than ever was King Arthur when he came to know the truth about Lancelot. The honest blood of the straightforward gentleman, in the days of chivalry or not, would, and does, resent the picture; the motherly regard for her daughter’s purity of every sensible woman rejects it as untrue, and as in itself an incentive to licentiousness. Just as the sentimentalists of justice pity the condemned criminal, but have no thought for the murdered victim, so does the sentimentalist of unchastity idealise the street-walker, but never give a thought to the virtuous girls whom this prurient poetry of itself seduces. No! it is not because I am a “puellaphobist” that I repudiate this view; it is because I love and reverence the purity of my girls, my young wives, my young mothers too well to see it shaken, or confounded with prostitution in one mass of mingled flowers and garbage. Just because I love and reverence all the noblest womanly qualities of my own sex, do I stand out against movements which I feel and know will weaken those qualities, and which will give us women without womanly charm, leaders without knowledge, and men without courage, honour, or backbone.—I am, &c.,
E. LYNN LINTON.
London, April 3.
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