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[65]

XIII. “chances.”

The head of a great collegiate institution for women once told me of receiving a visit from a titled Englishman, who examined with much interest all the departments. Finally, taking her aside with an air of mystery, he said that there was one question which he greatly desired to ask her. On her assenting, he said, “This is all very interesting, but I really want to know what influence it is found to have upon their future lives, don't you know.” She was pleased at the question, and at once proceeded to give statistics as to how many of the graduates were now teachers, how many were missionaries, and the like. This evidently did not satisfy him. “Ah! That's very interesting,” he said-“very interesting indeed; but that isn't just it. What effect does this higher education have upon-upon their chances?” “Upon their chances?” she naively said “chances of what?” “Why, of course,” he said, “their chances of getting a husband.”

Being a lady of some humor,--she found it difficult at first to answer, but presently explained that she [66] had not tabulated any statistics on that point, although, judging from the frequency with which wedding-cards came through the post-office, the graduates were in a fair way to be married quite as fast as was desirable, possibly faster. And Sir John was apparently a little relieved when, on exhibiting to him the gymnasium, sheik pointed out the use of various articles of apparatus for physical improvement. “A1!” he said, “that, now, is very interesting indeed; that is excellent. After all, don't you know, nothing improves a girl's chances like a good carriage of the person!”

Why is it that nobody ever speaks of a man's “chances” in a sense wholly matrimonial? Perhaps they do in England, where, I must say, one grows accustomed to hearing the worldly side of marriage presented in a way that rather disgusts an American; but even a travelling Englishman would hardly, I fancy, go through Harvard or Yale asking himself whether the lecture-rooms and the gymnasium were likely to hinder or help the young men's chances of marriage. Yet he-and possibly some of our own countrymen also-would use this odd phrase about women without thinking of its oddity. The assumption is, of course, that marriage is the one momentous event of a woman's life, and a very subordinate matter in a man's; and, moreover, that in a woman's case it is a matter of chance, and [67] in a man's of certainty. Let us consider all this a little.

We may well grant that marriage must hold a more controlling share in a woman's life than in a man's, because she is anchored by her children as a man is not. Yet when we look round us and see the enormous number of cases where a woman either is never married, or is childless, or is left widowed, it is quite evident that there are for her in life other opportunities and duties, and therefore “chances,” besides those determined by marriage alone. And as to the risk involved in marriage, the more we reduce it to a minimum by care and judgment and good sense, the better. There is no surer preparation for misery, one would think, than to accustom a young girl to think of every offer of marriage as a “chance,” to be eagerly seized as a fish swallows the bait, without knowing who or what is at the other end of the fishing-rod.

So long as it is the custom of society for men to ask the momentous question and for women only to answer it-and this custom will probably last, in spite of certain philosophers, forever-so long there will be a little more clement of chance in the marriage relations of women than of men. A ballroom is in this respect a mimic world, and it is perfectly clear that the young lady who must sit still behind her bouquet and be asked has less control of [68] her own destiny than the young man who can try every girl in the room in succession until he finds a partner. But we certainly cannot say that chance entirely controls either sex, in real life, when we consider how many men die unmarried through inability to find or win the woman they want; and when we reflect, on the other hand, that there are probably very few women who do not have first or last an opportunity of marriage, if they were only as easy to satisfy as men sometimes seem. Perhaps nobody will ever frame a philosophical theory of the law that brings together certain men and certain women as lovers. The brilliant author of “Counterparts” tried her hand at it, and while she produced a remarkable novel, she did not establish her theory very firmly after all. But whatever the true philosophy may be, it is pretty certain that the clement of chance is distributed between man and woman, and that a good deal of it exists for both in that formidable practical problem we call marriage.

But why, oh why, if Sir John and his fellow-worldlings are so anxious about a girl's “chances” at all, do they not carry their solicitude far beyond marriage, and make it include the whole life? Up to the wedding-day it is comparatively easy to ward off the storms of fate; indeed, the only serious storm to young people in love consists in the possible [69] putting off of that day of bliss. But it is in later life that perils begin-perils which neither the presence of geometrical knowledge nor its absence, nor even a genteel carriage of the person, can very seriously affect. “Ah, sir!” said a pretty young Irish “second-girl” to me the other day, “my aunt is always at me to be a Sister [of Charity], and not be married at all; and indeed, sir, when I think of the girls that I went to school with, and see some of them married already, and maybe with children, and maybe a husband that drinks, I think that if their example doesn't make a Sister of me, nothing of my aunt's teaching will ever do it.” Here is a glimpse, given with the stern realism of humble life, of the really formidable chances of a woman's career-chances that begin after the orange blossoms are faded, and the handfuls of rice thrown, and the guests gone home. Let us, if possible, Sir John, give to our daughters a training in character and purpose which shall enable them, with or without geometry and gymnastics, to do true women's work in the world, and make their usefulness, and even their happiness, something more than things of chance.

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