Upon giving an introductory lecture on the law, James Wilson imagines he hears a woman in his audience objecting that she has been left out of the society Wilson and that first generation of statesmen were building. Civilization is contained in his answer to this objection:
Methinks I hear one of the female part of my audience exclaim–What is all this to us? We have heard much of societies, of states, of governments, of laws, and of a law education. Is every thing made for your sex? Why should not we have a share? Is our sex less honest, or less virtuous, or less wise than yours?
Will any of my brethren be kind enough to furnish me with answers to these questions?–I must answer them, it seems, myself? and I mean to answer them most sincerely.
Your sex is neither less honest, nor less virtuous, nor less wise than ours. With regard to the two first of these qualities, a superiority, on our part, will not be pretended: with regard to the last, a pretension of superiority cannot be supported.
I will name three women; and I will then challenge any of my brethren to name three men superiour to them in vigour and extent of abilities. My female champions are, Semiramis of Nineveh; Zenobia, the queen of the East; and Elizabeth of England. I believe it will readily be owned, that three men of superiour active talents cannot be named.
You will please, however, to take notice, that the issue, upon which I put the characters of these three ladies, is not that they were accomplished; it is, that they were able women.
This distinction immediately reminds you, that a woman may be an able, without being an accomplished female character.
In this latter view, I did not produce the three female characters I have mentioned. I produced them as women, merely of distinguished abilities–of abilities equal to those displayed by the most able of our sex.
But would you wish to be tried by the qualities of our sex? I will refer you to a more proper standard–that of your own.
All the three able characters, I have mentioned, had, I think, too much of the masculine in them. Perhaps I can conjecture the reason. Might it not be owing, in a great measure–might it not be owing altogether to the masculine employments, to which they devoted themselves?
Two of them were able warriours: all of them were able queens; but in all of them, we feel and we regret the loss of the lovely and accomplished woman: and let me assure you, that, in the estimation of our sex, the loss of the love and accomplished woman is irreparable, even when she is lost in the queen.
For these reasons, I doubt much, whether it would be proper that you should undertake the management of publick affairs. You have, indeed, heard much of publick government and publick law: but these things were not made for themselves: they were made for something better; and of that something better, you form the better part–I mean society–I mean particularly domestick society: there the lovely and accomplished woman shines with superiour lustre.
By some politicians, society has been considered as only the scaffolding of government; very improperly, in my judgment. In the just order of things, government is the scaffolding of society: and if society could be built and kept entire without government, the scaffolding might be thrown down, without the least inconvenience or cause of regret.
Government is, indeed, highly necessary; but it is highly necessary to a fallen state. Had man continued innocent, society, without the aids of government, would have shed its benign influence even over the bowers of Paradise.
For those bowers, how finely was your sex adapted! But let it be observed, that every thing else was finished, before Heaven’s “last best gift” was introduced: let it be also observed, that, in the pure and perfect commencement of society, there was a striking difference between the only two persons, who composed it. His “large fair front and eye sublime” declared that, “for contemplation and for valour he was formed.”
“For softness, she, and sweet attractive grace.
Grace was in all her steps, Heav’n in her eye;
In every gesture, dignity and love.
A thousand decencies unceasing flow’d
From all her words and actions, mixt with–
Her accomplishments indicated her destination. Female beauty is the expression of female virtue. The purest complexion, the finest features, the most elegant shape are uninteresting and insipid, unless we can discover, by them, the emotions of the mind. How beautiful and engaging, on the other hand, are the features, the looks, and the gestures, while they disclose modesty, sensibility, and every sweet and tender affection! When these appear, there is a “Soul upon the countenance.”
These observations enhance the value of beauty; and show, that to possess and to admire it, is to possess and to admire the exhibition of the finest qualities, intellectual and moral. These observations do more: they show how beauty may be acquired, and improved, and preserved. When the beauties of the mind are cultivated, the countenance becomes beautifully eloquent in expressing them.
I know very well, that mere complexion and shape enter into the composition of beauty: but they form beauty only of a lower order. Separate them from animation–separate them from sensibility–separate them from virtue: what are they? The ingredients that compose a beautiful picture or a beautiful statue. I say too much; for the painters and the statuaries know, that expression is the soul of mimick as well as of real life.
As complexion and shape will not supply the place of the higher orders of beauty; so those higher orders have an independent existence, after the inferiour influence of complexion and shape are gone. Though the bloom of youth be faded; though the impressions of time be distinctly marked; yet, while the countenance continues to be enlivened byt he beaming emanations of the mind, it will produce, in every beholder possessed of sensibility and taste, an effect far more pleasing, and far more lasting, than can be produced by the prettiest piece of uninformed nature, however florid, however regular, and however young.
How many purposes may be served at once, if things are done in the proper way! I have been giving a recipe for the improvement and preservation of female beauty; but I find that I have, at the same time, been delivering instructions for the culture and refinement of female virtue; and have been pointing at the important purposes, which female virtue is fitted and intended to accomplish.
If nature evinces her designs by her works; you were destined to embellish, to refine, and to exalt the pleasures and virtues of social life.
To protect and to improve social life, is, as we have seen, the end of government and law. If, therefore, you have no share in the formation, you have a most intimate connexion with the effects, of a good system of law and government.
That plan of education, which will produce, or promote, or preserve such a system, is, consequently, an object to you peculiarly important.
But if you would see such a plan carried into complete effect, you must, my amiable hearers, give it your powerful assistance. The pleasing task of forming your daughters is almost solely yours. In my plan of education for your sons, I must solicit you to cooperate. Their virtues, in a certain proportion–the refinement of their virtues, in a much greater proportion, must be moulded on your example.
In your sex, too, there is a natural, an easy, and, often, a pure flow of diction, which lays the best foundation for that eloquence, which, in a free country, is so important to ours.
The style of some of the finest orators of antiquity was originally formed on that of their mothers, or of other ladies, to whose acquaintance they had the honour of being introduced.
I have already mentioned the two Scevolæ among the illustrious Roman characters. One of them was married to Lælia, a lady, whose virtues and accomplishments rendered her one of the principal ornaments of Rome. She possessed the elegance of language in so eminent a degree, that the first speakers of the age were ambitious of her company. The graces of her unstudied elocution were the purest model, by which they could refine their own.
Cicero was in the number of those, who improved by the privilege of her conversation. In his writing, he speaks in terms of the warmest praise concerning her singular talents. He mentions also the conversation of her daughters and grand daughters, as deserving particular notice.
The province of early education by the female sex, was deemed, in Rome, an employment of so much dignity, that ladies of the first rank did not disdain it. We find the names of Aurelia and Attia, the mothers of Julius Cæsar and of Augustus, enumerated in the list of these honourable patronesses of education.
The example of the highly accomplished Cornelia, the daughter of the great Africanus, and the mother of the Gracchi, deserves uncommon attention. She shone, with singular lustre, in all these endowments and virtues that can dignify the female character.
She was, one day, visited by a lady of Campania, who was extremely fond of dress and ornament. This lady, after having displayed some very rich jewels of her own, expressed a wish to be favoured with the view of those which Cornelia had; expected to see some very superb ones, in the toilet of a lady of such distinguished birth and character. Cornelia diverted the conversation, till her sons came into the room: “These are my jewels,” said she, presenting them to the Campanian lady.
Cicero had seen her letters: his expressions concerning them are very remarkable. “I have read,” says he, “the letters of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi; and it appears, that her sons were not so much nourished by the milk, as formed by the style of their mother.”
You see now, my fair and amiable hearers, how deeply and nearly interested you are in a proper plan for law education. By some of you, whom I know to be well qualified for taking in it the share, which I have described, that share will be taken. By the younger part of you, the good effects of such a plan will, I hope, be participated: for those of my pupils, who themselves shall become most estimable, will treat you with the highest degree of estimation.