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THE PRINCESS-THE WOMAN'S QUESTION
WHEN, in Locksley Hall, Tennyson makes his hero, in his anger, cry
Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman's pleasure, woman's pain—
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:
Woman is the lesser man,
it appears as if the woman's question had already occupied his mind. It continued to dwell with him, for in Edwin Morris, a poem published four years after The Princess, the curate, Edward Bull, who was fatter than his cure, answers his friend, a poet, to whom his sweetheart's
least remark was worth The experience of the wise,
that this idealising of the woman
"I take it," said he,
was all non
"God made the woman for the man,
Seem but the theme of writers, and indeed
I say, God made the woman for the man,
And for the good and increase of the world."
This is a more Philistine opinion concerning the object of a woman's life than even those held by the kings in The Princess.
Tennyson did not agree
with that view being exhaustive:
Parson," said I, "you pitch the pipe too low!"
At what note he wished the pipe pitched, we hear in The Princess; and I write throughout of the poem as it was finished in editions subsequent to that published in 1847.
The subject is introduced in the Prologue. A story is read of a feudal heroine of Sir Walter's house (in whose grounds the company are met who make the poem), who rather than yield to the wild will of a king, took arms and conquered him. "Where lives," asks one, "such a now?" And Lilia, Sir Walter's daughter, replies:
"There are thousands now
Such women, but convention beats them down;
You men have done it: how I hate you all.
That I were some great princess, I would build
And I would teach them all that men are taught;
But I would make it death
For any male thing but to peep at us."
The whole question (as Tennyson told it from
the woman's side) is there laid down; and out of Lilia's wish grows the tale. Her view is the same as that of Ida, the Princess. When Ida, however, was young, she dreamt that the man was equal to the woman, but that each was the half of the other, that each fulfilled defect in each, and that together they became the perfect being. This is the view of the Prince at the end of the book, and Ida says the dream was once hers. But when we find her at the beginning of the poem, this is not her view. Women have been made either toys or slaves by men! Their will, their faculties, their very characters, have been lost in those of men; their weakness taken advantage of, their ignorance encouraged that they may be kept in subjection. "Women have been great," she cries with indignation, "great in war, great in government, great in science, great in the work of the world. Why should they not always be as great? I will make it so. They shall be
living wills, and sphered
Whole in themselves, and owed to none."
She sees thus both types of womanhood, the enslaved and the free; but she sees only one type of men in their relation to women-those who treat them "either as vassals to be beaten or pretty babes to be dandled." It was not wise for the sake of her cause to be thus one-sighted. began the battle by taking up a position on half a truth. She did wrong to set aside as unworthy, or to be angry with, the opinions of those men who either idealised women, or said that they were the equals of men, but in dissimilar qualities. It was
part of her theory of isolation to despise all the views of men on her sex, good and bad alike; and this foolish contempt is even now one of the reasons for the failure or the slow advance of the cause of woman.
She makes two more mistakes. What do women need, she asks, to level them with man? They want nothing but knowledge. Equality of knowledge will equalise them with men. And that they may gain this knowledge, even be free to gain it, there is only one way-isolation from man. The thing needed and the way to win it are thus both laid down, and both are mistakes, then and now.
So the college is established. Here, she says, the women shall be moulded to the fuller day; and then, when the girls are trained at all points as men are trained; then, when the secular emancipation of half the world will have been wrought, why then, afterwards, let women marry-and everywhere shall be
Two heads in council, two beside the hearth,
Two in the liberal offices of life,
Two plummets dropt from one to sound the abyss
Musician, painter, sculptor, critic, more;
And everywhere the broad and bounteous earth
Shall bear a double growth of those rare souls,
Poets, whose thoughts enrich the blood of the world.
But at present, till the work be done, death to the man who enters the college gates. there be no love yet between man and maid. For there lies our weakness-in our leaning to tenderness, in our personal cry for love. I, for one, will never wed." What," says the Prince," have neither
love, children, happiness, what every woman counts her due?" "Love?" she answers, "I have left its feeble fancy behind me. Children? Would that they grew like flowers-and yet, in our love of them, we lose the higher things. They kill us with pity, break us with ourselves!" She feels in that phrase her great difficulty-that Nature is against her feels it, but does not realise it. She dreads her own womanhood. Yet, she sees no other way of action! isolation from man is necessary to re-establish the just equality of women. This is her position, and it includes a denial of natural love which smacks of Lady Blanche, the grim, disappointed woman whom Tennyson creates in order to motive Ida's exclusion of natural affection from her plan. We excuse then what was foolish in Ida's effort; it is not wholly her fault-but at the same time we lose some of our respect for her intelligence. For to deliberately knock her head against the certainties, to believe that they are not certainties and can be dodged, is the greatest of follies. To ignore love between the sexes is one of the little games some women play in the battle for their rights. On the contrary, one of the axioms they ought to lay down in the planning of their struggle is that this kind of love is certain to arise.
This union made by love is not the only union which ought to exist between man and woman. All the work of the world ought to be done by both of the sexes in harmonious and equal co-operation, each sex taking what fits best its hand. Without this union the world's work is only half done. And with regard to the woman's cause itself, it can make no progress as long as the law that in all