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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 459 Volume 18, New Series, October 16, 1852   By:

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CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL

CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.

No. 459. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.

THE WOMAN OF THE WORLD.

We all know that there are certain conventional laws by which our social doings and seemings are regulated; but what is the power which compels the observance of these laws? There is no company police to keep people moving on, no fines or other penalties; nobody but the very outrageous need fear being turned out of the room; we have every one of us strong inclinations and strong will: then, how comes it that we get on so smoothly? Why are there no outbreaks of individual character? How is it that we seem dovetailed into each other, as if we formed a homogeneous mass? What is the influence which keeps up the weak and keeps down the strong, and spreads itself like oil upon the boiling sea of human passion? We have a notion of our own, that all this is the work of an individual of the female sex; and, indeed, even the most unconscious and unreflecting would appear to assign to that individual her true position and authority, in naming her the Woman of the World.

Society could never exist in a state of civilisation without the woman of the world. The man of the world has his own department, his own métier ; but She it is who keeps up the general equilibrium. She is a calm, quiet, lady like person, not obtrusive, and not easily put out of the way. You do not know by external observation that she is in the room; you feel it instinctively. The atmosphere she brings with her is peculiar, you cannot tell how. It is neither warm nor chill, neither moist nor dry; but it is repressive. You do not move in it with natural freedom, although you feel nothing that could be called gêne . Her manner is generally sweet, sometimes even caressing, and you feel flattered and elevated as you meet her approving eye. But you cannot get into it. There is a glassy surface, beautiful but hard, of which you can make nothing, and presently you feel a kind of strangeness come over you, as if you were not looking into the eye of a creature of your own kind. What you miss is sympathy.

It is to her want of sympathy the woman of the world owes her position. The same deficiency is indispensable in the other individuals such as a great monarch, or a great general who rule the fate of mankind; but with this difference, that in them it is partial and limited, and in her universal. In them, it bears relation to their trade or mission; in her, it is a peculiarity of her general nature. She is accused of inhumanity; of sporting with the feelings of those about her, and rending, when they interfere with her plans, the strings of the heart as ruthlessly as if they were fiddlestrings. But all that is nonsense. She does not, it is true, ignore the existence of strings and feelings; on the contrary, they are in her eyes a great fact, without which she could do nothing. But her theory is, that they are merely a superficial net work surrounding the character, the growth of education and other circumstances, and that they may be twisted, broken, and fastened anew at pleasure by skilful fingers. No, she is not inhumane. She works for others' good and her own greatness. Sighs and tears may be the result of her operations; but so are they of the operations of the beneficent surgeon. She dislikes giving pain, and comforts and sustains the patient to the best of her power; but at the most, she knows sighs are but wind, and tears but water, and so she does her duty.

Although without sympathy, the woman of the world has great sensitiveness. She sits in the room like a spider, with her web fitting as closely to the whole area as the carpet; and she feels the slightest touch upon the slightest filament. So do the company: not understandingly like her, but instinctively and unconsciously, like a fly who only knows that somehow or other he is not at freedom... Continue reading book >>


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