EIGHT years ago Mrs. Jameson published two valuable and interesting lectures, "On Sisters of Charity." The title indicated the interest which she felt in those who bore that name abroad, her desire that her own countrywomen should engage in tasks like theirs. What principle did an able and accomplished admirer of these Sisterhoods discover in them, which she believed that we were neglecting and upon which we ought to act ?
The man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord; this was the motto which Mrs. Jameson chose for her lectures. From the beginning to the end of them, they were an exposition and illustration of her text. She argued from all her foreign experience, that no good works can be performed effectually to which each of the sexes is not contributing something. She refuted the objections--the prejudices, as she believed them to be--which interfere with their cooperation in England. She pointed out in how many ways we were suffering from the want of it. She urged that single women might be most valuable servants of the commonwealth, because there were various manly enterprises in which they, quite as much as the married, might assist. She pleaded on this ground that the ladies who had recently gone to superintend Hospitals in the Crimea, were not doing a strange exceptional act, but vindicating a permanent maxim.
Now certainly this is not the moral which is always discovered in the existence of Sisterhoods of Charity, or of other Sisterhoods. Many persons, laymen and clergymen, men and women, appear to reverence them for precisely the opposite reason to that on which Mrs. Jameson dwelt with so much force. Because women in these Sisterhoods are separated from the other sex, therefore, it is said, they point to a high ideal of Christian life. Because Sisterhoods encourage and consecrate this separation, they are escapes from the frivolity and degradation of ordinary society. The prejudices of Englishmen, according to these critics, do not hinder co-operation, but hinder isolation. They are to be resisted as low, grovelling, ungodly prejudices on this account. We ought to labour diligently for the establishment of Sisterhoods among us, as a chief instrument of combating the notion that it is not good for women to be alone.
I know that some will accuse me of stating these opinions unfairly. If I attributed them to any individual, I should be open to the charge. In the mind of every man and woman who entertains them most strongly, they are mixed with others of an opposite kind. Arguments maintaining the blessings of separation are sustained by arguments which are founded on the need of co-operation. The inconsistency is most instructive. But it is an inconsistency, and it leads to very great confusion in thought and in practice. We must adopt the one maxim or the other. To hover between them may be possible for a time. The more we desire to exchange speculation for action, the more impossible it will become. My object in this paper is to vindicate the doctrine of Mrs. Jameson; to show that she was not wrong in alleging the authority of St. Paul and of the early Christian Church in behalf of it; to show that she was not wrong in regarding the history of Orders as supplying the most striking confirmation of it; to show that she was not wrong in thinking that if we apply it to the present circumstances of England, and discard any notions which are incompatible with it, we shall enlist the best English feelings, we shall profit by the best foreign examples, in combating the evils which surround us.
I. It would be absurd to found any conclusion upon the mere words, however sacred, which Mrs. Jameson took as the heading to her lectures. She or I may have quite misunderstood the meaning of them. The sense which we have put into them may be refuted by other words, by casual allusions to institutions which are at variance with it, by facts which cannot be gainsaid. Such allusions and such facts, if they exist, will be certain to force themselves upon us in St. Paul's Epistles. He was writing, it must be remembered, to Greeks, who contemplated the separation of the sexes as an incident of their civilization; the exception being in the case of persons whose characters were not likely to meet the approbation of an Apostle. His words would reach hereafter into oriental countries, where the separation would be regarded as a part of religion. He was addressing himself to the dwellers in specially corrupt cities. Whatever motives of moral precaution could dictate the establishment of separate institutions for women in modern London, Paris, Vienna, must have had a tenfold or a thousandfold strength in ancient Rome, Corinth, Ephesus. He was, moreover, watching over the formation of Societies in which persons of different races were blended; in which the habits and traditions of the Hebrew were in continual conflict with those of the Gentile.
Under these circumstances, what do we find? I open the Epistle to the Romans, I turn to the last chapter. No questions about doctrine are raised by that chapter. It is simply a collection of salutations. The persons saluted have generally Greek names. They indicate, as the language of the Epistle itself indicates, that the Christians of the Latin capital were drawn either from the Greek or the Jewish part of its inhabitants. There was no portion of Rome, if we may judge from the Satirist of the first century, more corrupt and odious than the Greek part of it. St. Paul himself says that the name of God was blasphemed by the Jews who were dwelling there. Does this chapter, then, show any signs of that kind of isolation which might have seemed so natural and reasonable in that time, which might have afforded a sacred precedent for the times to come? Read and judge. I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus......Salute Andronicus and Junia.....Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which arc with them. These are a few specimens. What impression do they leave upon any ordinary reader? He must feel that at all events not the slightest hint is given of a scheme for dividing the men and women of the Church, that everything is done to point them out as fellow-labourers. He will attach importance to these signs just in proportion as he attaches importance to the authority of the Apostle, and to the work in which he was engaged. He will require very strong evidence indeed, to rebut the presumption which words so simple and yet so serious and considerate raise, that the Apostle regarded the principle which is expressed in Mrs. Jameson's quotation as a cardinal and characteristic one of the Christian community.
Have we any adverse evidence elsewhere, if not in the letter to the Romans'? So far as frivolity and moral corruption are concerned, Corinth might supply a stronger reason for separate Sisterhoods than Rome. The argument derived from old Greek customs is of especial weight there. The Apostle does not shrink from minute directions respecting the behaviour of women in Churches, even from censuring some of the extravagances in dress which Christian women were adopting, either in imitation of heathen priestesses, or from an ambition of singularity. Moreover, this is the letter from which some persons gather that St. Paul undervalued married in comparison with single life. I do not read his words in that sense; but those who do, must surely expect that here, if anywhere, institutions sanctifying and glorifying the single state will be recommended to the adoption of that Church, and of those which should rise out of it in after days. It is in this very Epistle that Mrs. Jameson's favourite maxim is enunciated. It stands forth without exception or qualification. It is the key to the meaning of the passage in which it occurs. Take it away, and a great part of the Epistle would become unintelligible.
The third city to which I have alluded, may, however, supply what we have missed in the two others. The Epistle to the Church of Ephesus contains the most elevated--what some would call the most transcendental--exhibition of the constitution of the Church universal. The Epistle to Timothy contains elaborate directions as to the order of this particular Church of Ephesus. In the former the Apostle treats marriage as associated with the highest Christian mysteries. That was surely the moment for speaking of a more celestial union which might be contracted by those who would withdraw themselves from the ordinary human relation. The letter to Timothy speaks much of the marriage of Bishops and Deacons, and of their management of their households. It speaks of the services of widows, of the functions which each sex might perform for the general service of the Church. That surely was the occasion for pointing out the use of a special institution which would fulfil these ministries better, because men were, as far as possible, excluded from any share in them. It is little to say that both these expectations are disappointed, that there is no allusion to the celestial marriage, that there is none to the separate institution. The more we read the general letter, or the pastoral letter, the more we discover a habit of thought which appears equally at variance with either the idea or its embodiment; the more we feel that the principle of co-operation here, as in the letters to Rome and to Corinth, is recognised as the instrument by which the Church is to win its conquests, to establish its civilization in the world.
II. "But we cannot deny that separate Sisterhoods did come into existence, and that they did some good service, whether there were precedents for them in the Apostolic period or not." I have no wish to deny that fact. I thankfully accept it. I wish to look steadily into it. We may explain away the good of Sisterhoods by saying, that there are exceptions to every rule, that the worst things have some merit in them. We may explain away the evil of Sisterhoods by saying, that the abuse of a thing is no argument against its use. For practical purposes these solemn sentences, however wise and well delivered, do not profit us in the least. We cannot afford to part with the good: therefore we want to know what it is. We cannot afford to tolerate the evil: therefore we want to know what that is. I believe we may know, if we will take the pains to examine the pleas on which Sisterhoods are praised by those who praise them most, and the pleas which they find it most difficult to rebut. They bore, we are told, such a witness as nothing else could have borne in the Middle Ages, that women do not exist as ministers to the amusement of men; that they are not merely to be reverenced for their weakness or their beauty; that they are capable of the highest exercises of devotion--of profound thought as well as feeling; that they can endure what men cannot endure; that they can do works which men cannot do.
Let all this be admitted. If the facts which establish these conclusions are not sufficient of themselves, let them receive all the additional strength they can from the eloquence of a Montalembert. They and it will show that these institutions did their part to affirm the doctrine of the Apostle. In a rough, hard age which would have been inclined to worship physical force, they demonstrated how poor it is when left to itself; what need it has to bow before a might which is greater than its own. There were many influences connected with chivalry which were wholly apart from this influence, essentially unlike it. We may readily own that they would have been very imperfect without it, as it would have been very imperfect without them. Both alike attest the need of female co-operation in refining and elevating humanity; neither go one step towards proving that the separation of women from men is the most reasonable or the most divine method of effecting the refinement and elevation.
But now turn to the other side of the picture. There we want no aid from Protestant rhetoricians: the less we hear of them the better. That there were great and continual scandals in convents, we have the evidence, not of such rhetoricians, not of Government Commissioners, but of those Reformations of Orders which deserve all admiration, and which have given name and fame to some of the most illustrious persons in the Catholic Calendar. That where no such scandals existed, these nunneries, which were to be protests against the frivolity of worldly society, were apt to become nurseries of frivolity, is a fact which rests not upon the authority of external documents, but of those which have gone forth from themselves--upon the censures of women who were sighing for a nobler and truer life. That those who did not yield to these temptations, who seemed to be furthest removed from the attractions of the earth, and to be breathing the most celestial atmosphere, did carry into their visions of Heaven many of the most idolatrous tendencies which have defiled the religion of the earth; that they were the special instruments of incorporating these with the theology of the Church; that confessors and doctors surrendered their own convictions to what they thought the sublime perceptions and intuitions of devotees; that there came a violent masculine reaction in the shape of hard scholastical dogmatism against these feminine innovations; that some of the bitterest and most hopeless disputes in different parts of Christendom--those which have most scandalized the outward world, and have made it resist spiritual influences as unfavourable to moral simplicity as well as to peace and order--may be traced to this cause; these are facts which may be more obvious to the student of divinity than to the mere cursory reader of ecclesiastical records, but which are inscribed deeply on almost every page of them.
If these discoveries have led not only Protestant but Romanist writers to exalt the practical above the contemplative orders, the reason is obvious. Naturally the last would be the most attractive to those who are distressed by the hurry and bustle of ordinary existence, who have a dislike to mere activity in women. But because these practical Orders restore the intercourse between the sexes which the rules of the convent, as such, suspend; because they bear testimony that inward faith and zeal may be brought to the truest test when it is exposed to some of the most trying circumstances of common life; therefore the wisest men and women have preferred them. It has been felt as a spiritual good that the spiritual director should not be the only link to mankind; the patient and the physician were more salutary links. I do not think, then, that the strongest arguments which the most enthusiastic admirer of Sisterhoods can find in their favour, really contradict in the very slightest degree the arguments which have influenced statesmen to discountenance them, Churchmen to dread them. Fairly considered, each sustain the other. One who acknowledges the principle which Mrs. Jameson learnt from St. Paul, will not seek to qualify the praise or the censure, or to discover some compromise between them. They equally confirm that principle.
It may be well, however, to take a single illustration. I will choose the Port Royal Sisterhood for three reasons, (i.) Because it is the institution which excites most sympathy in the minds of English people generally, the one against which the fewest Protestant prejudices are likely to be arrayed. (2.) Because the narrative of its deeds and its destruction falls within the period of authentic indisputable history, and in its outline is tolerably well known. (3.) Because it united many of the qualities of a highly contemplative and a highly practical society. Many of us have felt that we could not bear the picture of the reign of Louis XIV. without this background; that it was a witness for the dignity of the female character which no time could spare, but without which that time would have been intensely hideous; that Jesuitism, unchecked by this protest against it, would have consecrated every Court crime, and have utterly undermined social honesty in France.
Now what was the singularity of that Society; what, apart from all religious or moral considerations, does one unconsciously and immediately fix upon as its distinction from other conventual institutions, at least in the period of its prime? Clearly this: the man was NOT without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. Through a rare felicity in its circumstances--certainly not intended or foreseen by the illustrious Abbess whose name is so closely associated with its fame--for she as deliberately renounced her kindred as any nun ever did--the Sisterhood of Port Royal was in the strictest, most literal sense, connected with a Brotherhood. The Arnauld family was the nucleus of it. We can scarcely in thought separate the thoroughly masculine intellects which conducted its controversies, organised its education, justified its stern Augustinian doctrine, from those women who softened their asperities, strengthened their courage, shared their persecutions. The whole story would present a different aspect if either of these elements were withdrawn, or if they stood apart from each other.
The Court and the Jesuits could have despised a mere set of Jansenian dogmatists. A body of Christian women sincerely possessed by their faith, and devoted to good works, might have shamed the conventional religion of the times, but they could have been encountered by epigrams instead of swords. But the union of theological subtlety and refined satire, with feminine nobleness and self-sacrifice, had a dangerous effect on Parisian society; such a union must be dissolved by gens d'armes. The great monarch who warred with Holland, England, and Germany, must bear the ridicule of seeing himself committed to a desperate conflict with a few feeble women.
The decree for extinguishing the Port Royal went forth at the time which was best for its reputation, best for the world. It had done its work. It was a work which could not be imitated. It belonged more than any institution ever did to a peculiar crisis in the history of a single country. It was French far more than Catholic. And though it bore a grand, witness against Jesuit faith, Jesuit morality, it could not really, for any length of time, encounter that faith and morality. For they leavened courts, they entered into the ordinary houses of men and women, they did not shrink from contact with common life. Nor did their offspring--the faith and morality of the eighteenth century--shrink from contact with it. The Salons might recognise a little of both, might balance their respective claims with graceful impartiality, might at last give the palm to the younger competitors. But the sweet voices of the Salons must be soon drowned in gruffer voices rising from the abyss, crying for some faith or morality which could reach them, or else to be freed from such shackles altogether. Could cloistered men and women answer these cries? Could they be answered at all?
III. I come to the experiences of our own time. To many of these Mrs. Jameson alluded in her lectures. Some on which she might have dwelt with great effect as illustrations of her doctrine, have acquired a new significance from events which have occurred since she was taken from us.
Among these I may especially mention the influence which was exerted by Miss Sellon, and those who worked with her, over the boys of Devonport during the cholera. No more conspicuous instance of the power of Christian Ladyhood upon the roughest male natures, is to be found in recent records. What could any man's voice or man's teaching have done to awake the chivalry which was latent in those little ragamuffins, and. which came forth in response to female grace and gentleness?
No wonder the story simply told made a great impression upon Englishmen. To it, more than to any other cause, we may attribute the unusual sympathy with which Miss Sellon's proposition to found a Sisterhood was received by persons of various classes and opinions, some of them having the strongest dislike to anything which reminded them of Romanist or Greek practices. The favour lasted for a while. It was shaken in some, by unpleasant reports which reached them from various quarters. Many resolutely discredited those reports, were determined to trust, even to the utmost, a person who manifestly possessed such devotion and such gifts. If, very reluctantly, after making the largest deductions for pique and misrepresentation, they have accepted evidence which proves that the temptations of a Lady Abbess to exercise dominion are not less in England than elsewhere, not less in the 19th century than in any former century--that the dangers of a convent to physical health, to intellectual growth, to spiritual life, are not less--they need not pronounce any harsh judgment upon the lady who has made the experiment. They may thank her heartily for having supplied a demonstration which no person less singularly endowed could have supplied. She has shown what, with the simplest means, with the least possible pretension, her sex can accomplish when it is claiming its right to act, even upon the most untractable, hopeless members of the other, for their good. She has shown what a person with eminent abilities for command, supported by much public assistance and admiration, is not able to effect in producing order, harmony, moral blessing among the most manageable, promising, submissive of her own sex, when she withdraws them from their natural position, and endeavours to constitute them a separate Society.
A Sisterhood called forth by an impulse similar to that which created the one at Devonport, has recently supplied a great London Hospital with nurses. Every report which I have heard has borne witness to the fidelity and the usefulness of their services: the medical men, I understand, are thoroughly contented with them, and feel how much will be gained--if not by substituting voluntary nurses for paid nurses--at least by obtaining the help and superintendence of ladies who can direct the paid nurses in their work. Here is a new case of co-operation. It is a case in which another obedience is substituted for the conventual obedience. The blister is put on, the medicine is administered, according to the orders of the Surgeon or Physician in the ward, not according to the orders of any Lady Abbess. There is no reference to the judgment of any confessor. If he suggested one course of proceeding and the doctor another, his course must be rejected, or the Sister must quit the Hospital. How admirable is a separate Sisterhood when it ceases to be one, when all its rules and maxims are suspended! I need not multiply examples, I believe those I have given are critical ones. The more glimpses one gets of that kind of life which Sisters--Protestant or Romanist--lead when they are acting as uncloistered women, the more interest one feels in it; the more one is sure that there is a hidden life, from which that outward life of charity proceeds. When by any chance the veil is withdrawn from the cloistered life--when one asks if the hidden life is there, the discovery is not soothing, the answer is not satisfactory. We are glad that the curtain should drop again, that the secrecy which is courted should not be disturbed.
I have spoken only of England. I am loath to speak of countries which I know only by hearsay, the circumstances of which I may interpret quite falsely. So far as their institutions become portions of history, we may contemplate them as freely and as fairly as we contemplate our own. Contemporary events and persons one must approach timidly; with much self-suspicion, with a determination not to make our experiences the measures of theirs. But no one can be ignorant that much of the craving for Sisterhoods among us, arises from the feeling that if we had them we should be more like our neighbours; that our insular prejudices deprive us of a blessing which other people possess; that we wickedly drove out nuns from their convents in the days of Henry VIII.; that now, in the days of Queen Victoria, we are feeling the want of them, and must get them back if we can. We are reminded that Protestant Germany has become conscious of the necessity, and is seeking to provide for it. We are asked why, if France, after the storm of an infidel revolution, has sought the aid of Sisterhoods again, we should think that they make too great demands on our religious sympathies? We are told that we may surely trust our Protestant atmosphere, our free institutions, our mechanical temper, to preserve us from any terrors with which Papal authority, priestly influence, religious enthusiasm, may inspire us.
With respect to the last of these arguments, Miss Goodman has, I think, proved satisfactorily, if she has proved nothing else, that English Sisterhoods, by reason of that Protestant atmosphere and those free institutions to which we turn for our protection, must be left far more to themselves than Romanist Sisterhoods ever can be, and are therefore liable to much more internal misgovernment than they are. That a mechanical temper, and the creed of the Stock Exchange, are safeguards against any amount of spiritual delusion or superstition--that where this temper and this creed are prevalent there is not almost certain to be a violent reaction towards spiritual delusion and superstition--and that women are not likely from their inward and cordial hatred of what they regard as material and worldly, to accredit and propagate such delusions and superstitions--I should be more ready to believe if those phenomena which have been so ably discussed in the pages of this MAGAZINE were not continually forcing themselves upon us. But I am far from denying that the desire of Englishwomen as well as Englishmen to be more en rapport with the minds of foreigners and to profit by their wisdom, is in itself an honest and laudable desire. The violent suppression of it is far more dangerous to Protestantism than the fullest indulgence of it. We become bitterly disgusted with our own position and eager to change it, when pious frauds are practised upon us, when our own evils and other men's, virtues, are concealed from us. We learn to love that which has been bequeathed to us by our fathers, that which has become a part of our English existence, when we do justice to] that which foreign nations hold by the like tenure, to that which has become part of their existence. If we are zealous in our efforts to reform whatever enfeebles us, we have fellowship with all reformers abroad who are striving to rid themselves of whatever enfeebles them.
First, then, as to Protestant Germany. Very recently a biography has appeared, beautifully translated by Miss Winkworth, which Mrs. Jameson would have delighted in, and which throws a clear light upon the whole subject. Amelia Sieveking--often described, and worthily described so far as such comparisons are of any use, as the Mrs. Fry of Hamburgh--is the subject of this admirable sketch. No one had ever so marked a vocation for the work of a Sister of Charity and a teaching Sister as Miss Sieveking. No one felt the vocation more strongly from her childhood afterwards, or gave herself more heartily to it--discarding all temptations which stood in the way, yet always seeking for guidance, never moving a step to gratify her self-will. She thought that she was intended to form a Protestant Sisterhood. The opportunity of being at the head of one was offered her. Pastor Fliedner, of whom we have all heard so much in connexion with Kaiserswerth, twice urged her to come to him, and to direct the institution which he had founded. But before this most tempting offer had reached her, Miss Sieveking had learnt that she could be far more effectually a Sister of Charity in her own city, while she continued to fulfil all her duties to a mother who had adopted her, while she retained all her sympathies with the members of her own family, than if she withdrew to a convent. The vocation was fulfilled. Throughout a humble, devout, joyous life, she was showing what a woman could do to help and direct all labours of wisdom and love. She was showing still more thoroughly how a woman, if she is led by the true Spirit, may cast aside her own dreams and imaginations of what is best for her, that she may know and do what is really best.
On this account more than any other, though it has a thousand merits, I would refer to this useful and opportune work. We hear much of vocations in our day. We cannot hear too much of them. If a man has not a vocation to be a divine, a physician, a lawyer, he will be a bad divine, or physician, or lawyer. If a woman has not a vocation to be a wife or a Sister of Charity, she will make a bad wife or a bad Sister of Charity. But people speak as if the vocation determined what that is to which any man or woman is called: as if the instinct of the particular divine, or physician, or lawyer, or Sister of Charity, could lay down maxims as to what is right or expedient in any of those functions. There cannot be a greater mistake. And there is not a more excellent corrective of it than the discovery that the very best people who have been most possessed with the sense of a particular work to which they were destined, have mistaken the mode in which this work was to be performed, and have been led step by step to perceive that a much less novel and startling course than that which they had marked out for themselves was not only the one in which they were appointed to walk, but the one which would best enable them to realize the ideal which had been always set before them. Let us then learn as much as it pleases any one to tell us, of Kaiserswerth and its Sisters. I doubt not that Kaiserswerth is a good place for training nurses, and that any lady possessing the means of obtaining that education, and endowed with any of the gifts with which Miss Nightingale was endowed, might as wisely avail herself of it as a student of Agricultural Chemistry might attend the lectures of Liebig. I do not dispute the benefit of organisation in this or any work; I dispute only the benefit of organising bodies of women on the principle that separation from men makes them more capable of work.
But France, could she dispense with Sisterhoods? Very possibly not. She has had them for many centuries. As long as they continue I shall believe there is a reason for their existence, and I shall hope that there will be a good coming forth from them which will compensate some of their manifest evils. But this I do perceive;--to this all French Literature bears witness--that there is in that country a notion--which has been, it seems to me, as fatal to the man as to the woman--that the last is born to be a religious animal, and should therefore be indulged in every superstitious taste and instinct; that the former is born to think, and very probably will think the things which she counts divine--pretty, necessary, and untrue.
Now against this prevalent kind of belief, this miserable adjustment, there has come forth a very striking and practical protest from the quarter in which we could have most wished it to appear. The eminent Ultramontane statesman, M. Falloux, has recently published the letters of Madame Swetchine, a Russian lady, converted from the Greek Church to Romanism, and during the latter years of her life--which were passed in much suffering and in the habitual practice of devotion and charity--an ornament of Parisian society. She does not appear to have possessed originally, or to have acquired in the country of her adoption, the faculty of rapid and brilliant conversation. Yet the power which she exercised over men of the highest intellects, of the most various opinions--the influence which she diffused through the circles of which, even in great bodily pain, she continued, almost till her departure from the world, to be the centre--the attraction towards goodness which all acknowledged in her presence, are attested by her biographer with an affection which does not in the least diminish our sense of his truthfulness.
Madame Swetchine would have counted most of my countrywomen heretics, me certainly a very intolerable one, for trying to persuade them that there is a nobler life than the conventual. But I prize her example which lives, more than her opinions, which may have been dissolved in a higher and purer light. I think she bore witness by her acts that there is a power committed to women, to all in different measures, of which they have no right to deprive the world; from the loss of which all society must suffer. If what I have written in the previous part of this paper is true, they are not withdrawing from common human life that they may seek a higher Christian standard. They are departing from that standard. They are in fact despairing of it. Such despair is very natural; we all yield to it continually. But it cannot be put forward as a sign of excellence, or high aspiration. If they suppose that by forming separate communities they are bearing testimony against some of the low notions which are characteristic of Englishmen, let them understand that they are sanctioning and fostering some of the lowest of those notions. That opinion which I have attributed to Frenchmen is making rapid advances here. The man is shutting himself up in his scepticism; he will leave the woman to her superstition. If that division is once established in England, where for centuries there has been a testimony against it, the effects will not be only such as are seen in France or Italy. There will be a far greater separation of the sexes than in either; a far deeper sinking of the one into an unfathomable unbelief, of the other under the power of priests and confessors, who, as always is the case, will be slaves as well as masters, will learn more idolatry than they teach.
Should these words lead any to think what may be done to avert, at least not to hasten, this great calamity, their purpose will be accomplished. I knew Mrs. Jameson less than many readers of the VICTORIA MAGAZINE. But I knew her enough to be certain that she would not have scorned an attempt practically to illustrate her principle by offering such co-operation as a rough male hand can offer, to a cause that has been advocated by feminine zeal and wisdom.
[NOTE.--Long as this paper is, I must add a few words to explain why I have passed over two topics which are closely involved with the subject of Sisterhoods. The first is that of vows. The Sisterhoods which are now rising in England are not, so far as I know, generally bound by vows. Their defenders do not say distinctly whether they think vows desirable. I preferred therefore to speak of separate societies for women as such, without asking what is done or not done to keep the members of them together. The worth of the vow must depend on the worth of the state which it upholds. If I had been writing a treatise on divinity, I should have explained why I hold that the idea of the vow as the contract of an individual soul to the celestial Bridegroom is subversive of the principle of the Catholic Church, denying the dignity, annulling the obligations of other Christians. If I had been writing a treatise on ethics, I should have spoken of the perilous temptations to moral sincerity and devotion which arise from the vow. As I am merely writing an article in a Magazine, I am content to ask whether English Sisterhoods can maintain the special sanctity of the separate state without this idea and the vow which is the expression of it; whether--if they only defend separation on grounds of expediency--the arguments against it are not overwhelming?
The other subject is the present condition of Charitable Institutions in England. I cannot doubt that discontent with them is one main motive to the establishment of Sisterhoods.
"The benefit club of mutual flattery" is one which a devout and humble woman may be glad to exchange for the quiet of a convent. Certainly I do not defend the arrangements of that club. I think we ought all to consider most earnestly how they may be reformed. To enter on so vast a question in this article would have been absurd. What I have done is to explain why the reformation must be the result of a more zealous co-operation between the sexes, not of a wider division; why it should enlist on its side all those good English feelings which rest on the reverence for domestic life, and should only oppose the bad English feelings which treat women as destined to thoughtlessness and frivolity; why it should not be a galvanic process for making dry bones shake and clatter by the help of new institutions imported from other lands, or of old institutions which have proved ineffectual among us; but be grounded on a confession that the dry bones need a flesh to cover them and a spirit to quicken them.]