CHAPTER XIV. NEW YORK.
And here if I seem to say a word against women in America, I beg that it may be understood that I say that word only against a certain class; and even as to that class I admit that they are respectable, intelligent, and, as I believe, industrious. Their manners, however, are to me more odious than those of any other human beings that I ever met elsewhere. Nor can I go on with that which I have to say without carrying my apology further, lest, perchance, I should be misunderstood by some American women whom I would not only exclude from my censure, but would include in the very warmest eulogium which words of mine could express as to those of the female sex whom I love and admire the most. I have known, do know, and mean to continue to know as far as in me may lie, American ladies as bright, as beautiful, as graceful, as sweet, as mortal limits for brightness, beauty, grace, and sweetness will permit. They belong to the aristocracy of the land, by whatever means they may have become aristocrats. In America one does not inquire as to their birth, their training, or their old names. The fact of their aristocratic power comes out in every word and look. It is not only so with those who have traveled or with those who are rich. I have found female aristocrats with families and slender means, who have as yet made no grand tour across the ocean. These women are charming beyond expression. It is not only their beauty. Had he been speaking of such, Wendell Phillips would have been right in saying that they have brains all over them. So much for those who are bright and beautiful, who are graceful and sweet! And now a word as to those who to me are neither bright nor beautiful, and who can be to none either graceful or sweet.
It is a hard task, that of speaking ill of any woman; but it seems to me that he who takes upon himself to praise incurs the duty of dispraising also where dispraise is, or to him seems to be, deserved. The trade of a novelist is very much that of describing the softness, sweetness, and loving dispositions of women; and this he does, copying as best he can from nature. But if he only sings of that which is sweet, whereas that which is not sweet too frequently presents itself, his song will in the end be untrue and ridiculous. Women are entitled to much observance from men, but they are entitled to no observance which is incompatible with truth. Women, by the conventional laws of society, are allowed to exact much from men, but they are allowed to exact nothing for which they should not make some adequate return. It is well that a man should kneel in spirit before the grace and weakness of a woman, but it is not well that he should kneel either in spirit or body if there be neither grace nor weakness. A man should yield everything to a woman for a word, for a smile - to one look of entreaty. But if there be no look of entreaty, no word, no smile, I do not see that he is called upon to yield much.
The happy privileges with which women are at present blessed have come to them from the spirit of chivalry. That spirit has taught man to endure in order that women may be at their ease; and has generally taught women to accept the ease bestowed on them with grace and thankfulness. But in America the spirit of chivalry has sunk deeper among men than it has among women. It must be borne in mind that in that country material well-being and education are more extended than with us; and that, therefore, men there have learned to be chivalrous who with us have hardly progressed so far. The conduct of men to women throughout the States is always gracious. They have learned the lesson. But it seems to me that the women have not advanced as far as the men have done. They have acquired a sufficient perception of the privileges which chivalry gives them, but no perception of that return which chivalry demands from them. Women of the class to which I allude are always talking of their rights, but seem to have a most indifferent idea of their duties. They have no scruple at demanding from men everything that a man can be called on to relinquish in a woman's behalf, but they do so without any of that grace which turns the demand made into a favor conferred.