Page images

notice his work, not from its scientific but its romantic character, which may be summed up in a few words.—If it does not display either much genius or invention, it is full of amiable and humanizing feeling; is, in the descriptive parts, frequently beautiful; and, in the reflections, sensible and ju


ART. VII.-The Parliament of Ladies; or, Divers remarkable Passages of Ladies in Spring Garden, in Parliament assembled. Vespre Veneris, Martis 26, 1647.

Woman not inferior to Man; or, a short and modest Vindication of the natural Right of the Fair Sex to a perfect Equality of Power, Dignity, and Esteem with the Men. By Sophia, a Person of Quality. London, 1739.

Man superior to Woman; or, a Vindication of Man's natural Right of sovereign Authority over the Woman. Containing a plain Confutation of Sophia, &c. London, 1739.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. By Mary Wollstonecraft. London, 1792.


Of the existence of the " virtual influence" of women, no man of the world, since the ante-diluvian period, in which Eve tempted Adam, can entertain a rational doubt and from the classic times, when Aspasia governed Pericles and educated Alcibiades, to the present year of the A. D. 1824, the influence of the fair sex has undoubtedly increased with the progress of civilization. Montesquieu, and all the great writers on legislation and history, have remarked, that the rank and power of the women in a state, are a sure criterion of the national taste and superiority.

Our limits will not permit us to enter at any length into the female rights of the Oriental, Greek, and Roman governments. Plato allows women to govern, (De Rep. lib. 5); and Aristotle (Polit. lib. 1.) does not deny them the privilege. Plutarch narrates, that it was an ancient custom to admit them to debate on questions of peace and war. Varro, (lib. xviii. c. 9.) does not want for a story to explain the cause of their elective suspension in Greece: he says, that, in the reign of Cecrops,


women were allowed voices in the popular assemblies Athens, but were dispossessed of their franchise in consequence of their supporting Minerva against Neptune, in the contest of these two great deities for the representation of that independent city; when Minerva, bringing over the females to her party (whose votes were far more numerous than those of the men) is reported to have gained the victory. We shall, however, pass over these days of fable, and of gods and goddesses, to the real history of the early Britons.

The ancient German nations and Gauls, who probably were the early settlers of the British isles, from the scanty details of history, appear to have treated their women with great deference and politeness: they had a peculiar faith in their counsels and foresight: their armies were always accompanied by sorceresses, who seem to have exercised a power of controul over the military chiefs and commanders.-Tacitus says of our British ancestors-" Fœminarum ductu bellare, et sexum in imperiis non discernere ;" (Vit. Agric. et ann. 4.) that they were wont to war under the conduct of women, and to make no difference of sex in places of command and government. Cæsar records an old custom-" Mos inolevit ut pacis et belli cum fæminis consilia inirent. Si quæ questiones cum sociis inciderent, earum arbitrio has committerent:" (De Bell Gall.) the Britons advised with their women in matters of peace and war; and if any questions arose of difference of opinion, they were referred to their arbitration. That their courage was equal to the confidence thus placed in them, is amply proved by many celebrated examples of female heroism. Courage and fortitude are most eminently displayed by women in circumstances of particular excitement. Sophia, the authoress of Woman not inferior to Man, thus warmly vindicates the quality of the sex:

"Need I bring Amazons from Scythia to prove the courage of woman? Need I run to Italy for a Camilla, to shew an instance of warlike courage ? Would the wife of Pætus, who stabbed herself first, to encourage her desponding husband to do the like, have been afraid to mount a breach? Would not she, who could snatch the knife from her bleeding breast, and, with an unconcerned countenance, give it to Thraseas, adding, 'strike, Pætus, it does not smart:' would not she, I say, have been equally capable of animating with persuasion and example an army in defence of her country? Let France boast its Maid of Orleans; and other nations glory in their numberless store of warlike women. We need not go out of England, to seek heroines, while we have annals to preserve their illustrious names. To whom did England owe its deliverance from the tyrannic yoke of the Danes? But, to pass over the many instances of warlike bravery in our sex, let it suffice to name a Boadicea, who made the most glo

rious stand against the Romans, in the defence of her country, that ever that great empire was witness to; and if her endeavours did not meet with the success of an Alexander, a Cæsar, or a Charles of Sweden, in his fortunate days, her courage and conduct were such, as renders her worthy to be considered equal, if not superior, to them all, in bravery and wisdom; not to mention the nicer justice of her intentions."-p. 54-5.

The reign of Boadicea is a proof that the Salic law did not prevail in that part of England over which she governed with so much personal courage and judgment. Our fair readers are probably aware, that the Salic, or Salique law, lex Salica, was an ancient and fundamental law of the kingdom of France; originating, as is supposed by some, in the times of Pharamond and Clovis, in virtue of which males only inherit. This law has been the subject of much copious writing and dispute. We are not aware that any traces of it, properly so called, can be discovered in our early constitution, although the exclusion of females from inheritance of fixed possessions was certainly not uncommon among the Teutonic nations. We learn from Tacitus, also, that the German women were not endowed at their marriage.-Dotem non uxor marito, sed maritus uxori confert. c. 18. We suspect, however, that the English and Irish very soon began to esteem their brides more agreeable in the ratio of their portions. And, although the French ladies, by the Salic law, could not inherit certain allodial possessions subject to the burthen of public defence, the monks speedily invented a mode of admitting female succession by will and testament; an invention which was one of the richest perquisites of the papal revenues; and which, also, by the religious influence of popery over women, subsequently endowed so many splendid monasteries and nunneries. The rule of succession among the ancient Germans and Britons is involved in considerable obscurity: it is clear, however, that they had no idea of the rights of primogeniture; a man's property, at his death, appears to have been divided equally among his sons; if he left no sons, among his daughters; or, if he left no children, among his nearest relatives. Although marriage among the Britons was, perhaps, too easily and too frequently dissolved, yet the laws undoubtedly provided with great care for the maintenance of the children, and the equitable division of the family effects. The ancient laws of Wales descend to very long and particular details on this subject, and make provision for every possible case with the most minute exactness. (Leges Wallica 1. 2. De Mulieribus). Our British ancestors are, therefore, free from the imputation of the Salic exclusion of women; a barbarous custom, indignantly

styled by Marculfus, "diuturna et impia consuetudo." As we cannot discover that any two etymologists agree on the derivation of the word Salic, we shall leave it, and the obscurity of the law, to the ingenuity of verbal critics, by merely observing, that the most probable opinion derives it from the ancient Franks, who were called Sali, Salici, and Salingi, from the Sala, a river of Germany. Charlemagne subsequently adopted and reformed the Salic law; and the perpetual succession of the males to the crown of France, excluding the female right, is now the only remarkable part of it remaining in the continental code. Mr. Hallam, in the first volume of his History of the Middle Ages, has treated the subject with great learning and perspicuity. John Selden, in his historical tract, Jani Anglorum Facies Altera," has a long and gallant chapter on the subject, (c. xii.)-" Women admitted to publick debates-a large commendation of the sex; together with a vindication of their fitness to govern against the Salick law, made out by several examples of most nations." Whitelocke, in his valuable Notes on the King's Writ, vol. i. c. 51, p. 473, discusses the subject with elaborate erudition, and strongly in favour of the ladies: his references to various foreign authors who have treated on the Salic law, will assist the curious reader in investigating all that has been written on a question formerly momentous in cases of disputed succession.

To proceed, chronologically :-the British women enjoyed considerable dignities in the ancient religion of the country. Druidesses assisted in the offices, and shared in the honours and emoluments of the priesthood. When Suetonius invaded the island of Anglesea, his soldiers were struck with terror at the strange appearance of a great number of these consecrated females, who ran up and down among the ranks of the British army, like enraged furies, with dishevelled hair, and flaming torches, imprecating the wrath of heaven on the invaders of their country. The Druidesses of Gaul and Britain are said to have been divided into three ranks or classes. Those of the first class had vowed perpetual virginity, and lived together in sisterhoods, very much sequestered from the world. They

It seems, however, notwithstanding, extremely difficult to exclude the fair sex even in France. Their queens have been regents during the minority of some of their kings. Blanch had the tuition of Lewis; Isabel governed under Charles VI.; Katherine de Medicis in the minority of her son. Their female noblesse have, also, held peerages, exercising the judicial privileges. "Les femmes sont capables de tenir pairies, ont opinion en jugemens, et y doivent adjourneès et appelleès comme les autres pairs, pour ce que elles prennent dignitez ayans exercise de justice.' Du Haillan, lib. viii. f. 232.

were great pretenders to divination, prophecy, and miracles; were highly reverenced and esteemed by the people, who consulted them on all important occasions as infallible oracles, and gave them the honorable appellation of Senæ, i. e. venerable women. Mela gives a curious description of one of these Druidical nunneries. It was situated in an island in the British Sea, and contained nine of these venerable vestals, who pretended that they could raise storms and tempests by their incantations; could cure the most incurable diseases; could transform themselves into all kinds of animals; and foresee future events. But it seems, like all profane prophetesses, that they chose to make some advantage of so rare and valuable a gift for, it is added, they disclosed the things which they had discovered to none but those who came into their island on set purpose to consult their oracles; and none of these, we take for granted, came without offerings, besides what they expended in the island. The second class consisted of certain female devotees, who were, indeed, married, but spent the greater part of their time-the holy-days-in the company of the Druids, and in the offices of religion; conversing occasionally with their husbands, whose superstition appears to have lulled their jealousy asleep in the reflected honour (and, perhaps, profit) of possessing such pious wives. The third class of Druidesses was the lowest, and consisted of such as performed the most servile offices about the temples, the sacrifices, and the persons of the Druids.-Tacit. Annal. 1. 14.-Mela, lib. 3. c. 2.-Gruttes, p. 62.- Relig. de Gaul. lib. 1. c. 27.- Henry's History, vol. i.

In the Anglo-Saxon charters the queen's name is often joined in the charters, and it is not unusual to find them signed by her. Mr. Turner mentions, in his Anglo Saxon History, vol. iii. p. 180. (third edition) that she often sate in the Witenagemot even after she became queen dowager.* Whitelocke has


We suppose that the instance here alluded to is that mentioned by Malmesbury (lib. 11. c. 8.) of a Parliament held by Edgar, in which Alfgina his mother was present. Canute, in his parliament, is said to have restored a monastery by the council of Emma the queen, and of the bishops and barons of England." (Mat. Westm.) Malmesbury says of Queen Sexburga, (lib. 2. c. 2.)-"Spiritus ad obeunda regui munera, novos exercitus moliri, veteres tenere in officio, ipsa subjectos clementer moderari, hostibus minaciter infremere, prorsus omnia facere ut nihil præter sexum decerneres:"- "that there was not wanting in her a spirit to fill the offices of the kingdom; that she knew how to levy new armies, how to maintain old ones. She could mildly govern her subjects, and by force tame her enemies. She could so

« PreviousContinue »