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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 447 Volume 18, New Series, July 24, 1852   By:

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No. 447. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JULY 24, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


Ever since that unfortunate affair in which the mother of mankind was so prominently concerned, the female sex might say, with Shylock, 'Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.' They are, in fact, an incarnation of the Passive Voice no mistake about it. 'Ah, gentle dames, it gars me greet,' as Burns pathetically says, to think on all the hardships and oppressions which you have undergone throughout the course of history, political and domestic. It is most wonderful that you can bear up your heads at all in the world. Most assuredly it could not be done except under favour of some inherent principle of fortitude, quite beyond all that your associate, Man, has ever displayed. For this reason, I propose to fix upon you the honourable style and title of the Martyr Sex.

As insanity is the more affecting when we observe its victim to be unconscious of the visitation, so does my heart bleed most particularly for the Martyr Sex, when I observe them undergoing severe oppressions without knowing it. So natural is suffering to the sex, or so accustomed are they to it, that they subject themselves spontaneously to enormous loads of trouble and torture, which no one would think of imposing upon them, and which they might easily avoid. It might almost be said, that suffering has a sort of fascination for them, drawing them placidly into it, whether they will or not. It seems in some mysterious way wrought up with their entire destiny.

Hence, at no period of the history of the Sex, do we find them free from some form of amateur affliction. At one time, it is one part of their persons, at another time, another, which is subjected to voluntary distress but always some part. Not that the shifting is, so far as can be seen, designed as a measure of relief; it would rather appear the object simply is to make every part bear its share in turn, and allow none to escape. Thus, about a hundred years ago, a lady went about with shoes that raised her heels three inches above the floor, and threw her whole person out of its proper balance, occasioning, of course, a severe strain upon certain muscles, attended by constant pain. A little later, her feet might have been found restored to their right level; but, as if to make up for this, and allow no interval of misery, a tower of hair, pomatum, flour, pins, and pinners, had been reared on the head, such as an inquisitor might have considered himself very ingenious in devising, as a means of undoing the convictions of heretics, or bringing round a Jew to Christianity. Verily, it was a most portentous enginery for the affliction of female humanity; but how heroically it was endured! A whole generation bore it without a sigh! It often cost them their night's rest merely to get it properly put in order for, dressing being in those days very elaborate, the attendants had to prepare some ladies one day for a party that was to take place the next. They would sit, however, in a chair all night, in order to preserve the structure in all its integrity, sleeping only by snatches, and often waking in terror lest something might be going wrong. Talk of the martyrs of science Galileo in prison, Bruno at the stake. These men had something of importance in view to sustain them in their trials. Give me the Martyr Sex, who sacrifice ease and convenience, without having any adventitious principle whatever to compensate for and support them under their sufferings.

In more recent times, we have seen the entire Sex submitting to torture in a middle ground namely, the waist with an equal degree of magnanimity. The corsets also formed an engine which would have perfectly fitted the purposes of the Inquisition; indeed, there were some ingenious devices of the Holy Office which did not greatly differ from it... Continue reading book >>

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