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LX. the shy graces.

the question is sometimes asked, and even reformers occasionally ask it of themselves, What is to become, in the years when women are educated at college and emancipated from control, of the shy graces that adorned the savage woman? There is a certain delicate charm that seems historically inseparable from an humble and subordinate condition. We find it in the uncivilized woman everywhere, among the rudest Cossacks or Hottentots. Who that has seen a tribe of Indians untouched by contact with the white man can fail to recall the modest bearing, the downcast eyes, the low and musical voices, of the younger girls? In higher grades of civilization the same type is often visible in girls bred in convents or beneath some kindred religious rule. The whole aim of chaperonage in society is to prolong or counterfeit this tradition; the very name of “bud” implies something modest, half-closed, untouched. Will not the very tradition of that charming sweetness disappear when the young woman goes to a public school, is educated at a college, [307] and fills some subsequent post of duty, as it may happen, before the public eye?

The answer is best to be found, perhaps, in the personal observation of each one. Spenser says of the three Graces of ancient mythology,

These three on men all gracious gifts bestow
Which deck the body or adorn the mind
To make them lovely or well-favored show,

and every one finds these Graces in his own circle of friends or kindred or early acquaintances, as the painter Palma Veccio drew them from his own daughters in his picture at Dresden. No one would be willing to acknowledge that the women he has known and loved the best are inferior to those of other lands or times, or that they need repression or seclusion to make them more satisfactory. Again, the charm of the savage or the repressed type is something that is apt to be temporary; the maiden child in the wild tribe becomes in later years the drudge, the crone, or the virago; the demure and subdued girl of French or Italian society may become the artful wife or the intriguing old woman. If we are to love the shy graces of character, they must be something that is ingrain and permanent, that adorns the young; yet deserts not the old; they must be essential graces of womanhood, not of childhood or girlhood alone. If we substitute a charm [308] that is perishable at any rate, it matters little how it goes; it may better go, indeed, for some good purpose, if at all.

Tried by these tests, we soon discover that all shy graces which go deeply into the nature are confined to no age, and indeed to neither sex taken separately. They lie in refinement of feeling, in true modesty, in sweetness of nature, in gentleness of spirit. These are those “angelic manners and celestial charms” of which Petrarch writes, and of which he says that the very memory saddens while it delights, since it makes all other possessions appear trivial. These graces are not dependent on a repressed or subordinate position, since they are very often associated in our minds with the noblest and most eminent persons we have known. With most of the very distinguished men, of Anglo-Saxon race at least, whom I have chanced to meet, there was associated in some combination the element of personal modesty. It was exceedingly conspicuous in the two thinkers who have between them influenced more American minds than any others in our own age — I mean Darwin and Emerson. It has been noticeable in contemporary poets — Whittier and Longfellow among ourselves, Tennyson and Browning in England.

It may be said that these are instances drawn from persons of studious tastes and retired habits, [309] by whom the shy graces of character are more easily retained than by those who mingle with the world. Yet it would be as easy to cite illustrations from those whose dealing with men was largest. Grant found it easier to command a vast army, and Lincoln to rule a whole nation, than to overcome a certain innate modesty and even shyness of nature, from which the one took refuge in a silence that seemed stolid, and the other in a habit of story-telling that hid his own emotions beneath a veil. Of the three kings of the American lecture platform in our own day, two at least-Phillips and Gough-admitted that they never appeared before an audience without a certain shrinking and self-distrust. It must be owned that this quality is not everywhere connected with conspicuous leadership, especially outside of the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-American race. It is difficult to associate it, for instance, with Victor lingo, with Bismarck, with Garibaldi-although Mazzini must have had it, and it was most visible and lovable in Tourguenieff, as I can personally testify. But enough has been said to show that the Ignore delicate graces of character, so far as they are founded upon modesty and a spirit of self-withdrawal, are consistent with the most eminent and acknowledged greatness before the world. If this is the case even with men, why not with women, in whom the source and spring of humility lies deeper? [310]

If this be true, there is no reason to fear that the more public station of woman — the physician's office, the preacher's pulpit, the service on school committees or in professorships, and all the rest — is destined to mar her nature or destroy her charm. An instinct no more pervasive than this, a charm that goes no deeper, can hardly be worth preserving. Admit that in the intervening period, while she still has to fight for free development, there may sometimes be traces of the combat — there is yet every reason to believe that, when this period is past, a woman may take whatever sphere she can win, and may yet retain all the sweetest and most subtle attributes that constitute her a woman.

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