1. The Legend


The Legend.

JOHN STUART MILL is dead! but his eloquent wail of the subjection of women is never let die–it rings in our ears every day. It is solemn, it is pathetic; it overflows with the chivalric sentiment which Mill professes to repudiate as out of date, like the clanship and hospitality of the wandering Arab, but which nevertheless, is so strongly developed in the average male. It has become the gospel of women’s pretended wrongs, and has caused the ingenuous youth of Oxford and Cambridge to blush for their fellow males. The only objection that the lawyers of the present year of grace can raise to it is that it is really the reverse of legal truth. But even apart from the late John Stuart Mill, for considerably more than a generation past–indeed, one may say, more or less from the beginning of the present century–mankind, in this and some other countries, has had sedulously instilled into its mind the notion that the female sex is labouring under a grievous oppression at the hands of the tyrant male. In the present day this opinion has acquired the character of an axiom which few people think of disputing. Every occurrence bearing upon the social or economical relation of the sexes is judged in the light of this fixed idea. The press in general voices the view of public opinion with the result that the assumption in question is continually being reiterated. The moral of the injustice exercised by man upon woman is insisted upon with all the devices of rhetoric, and every chance occurrence is eagerly seized upon and pressed into the service to point the moral and adorn the tale of the favourite theory. No one, as far as we are aware, has seriously set him or herself to proving the theory to have any foundation at all. Starting with the assumption, the state of things it implies has been deplored, people have tried to explain it, to suggest remedies for it, but tested it has never been. We all know the story of King Charles II. and the Royal Society; how the Merry Monarch, shortly after the institution of that learned body, propounded a problem for its solution, to wit, why a dead fish weighed more than a live one? Many were the explanations suggested, till at length one bold man proposed that they should come back to first principles, and have a dead fish and a live fish respectively placed in the scales before them. The proposition was received with horror, one member alleging that to doubt the fact amounted to nothing less than high treason. After much difficulty, however, the bold man got his way; the matter was put to the test, when, to the utter discomfiture of the loyal members, the alleged fact which they were seeking to explain evinced itself as but a figment of the Royal fancy. We propose in the following paragraphs to consider whether the matter does not stand similarly only very much “more so” as regards the conventional notion of the legal and social disabilities of women. In the present paper we shall merely confine ourselves to the legal aspects of the question. It will not, we think, take us long to convince our- selves that the allegations on this subject which the present generation, at least, has had dinned into its ears from all sides since its infancy, are even on a less favour- able footing as regards accuracy. Charles II. thought the dead fish weighed heavier than the live one. The event only proved that they weighed the same–not that 2 the live one weighed heavier than the dead one. Our modern women’s righters bewail the alleged legal oppression of women by men. The facts show not that neither sex is oppressed as such, but, on the contrary, they disclose a legalised oppression of men by women.

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