“Woman is the practical sex,” said George Meredith, almost with over-emphasis, and certainly the saying was true of Florence Nightingale. In far the best appreciation of her that has appeared—an appreciation written by Harriet Martineau, who herself died about forty years ago—that distinguished woman says: “She effected two great things—a mighty reform in the cure of the sick, and an opening for her sex into the region of serious business.” The reform of hospital life and sick nursing, whether military or civil, is near fulfilment now, and it is hard to imagine such a scene as those Scutari wards where, in William Russell’s words, the sick were tended by the sick and the dying by the dying, while rats fed upon the corpses and the filth could not be described. But though her other and much greater service is, owing to its very magnitude, still far from fulfilment, it is perhaps even harder for us to imagine the network of custom, prejudice, and sentiment through which she forced the opening of which Harriet Martineau speaks.
THE PENALTY OF VIRTUE
His crime was that he actually married the girl. It had always been the fashion for an Austrian Archduke to keep an opera-dancer, whether he liked it or not, just as he always kept a racehorse, even though he cared nothing about racing. For any scion of the Imperial House she was a necessary part of the surroundings, an item in the entourage of Court. He maintained her just as our Royal Family pay subscriptions to charities, or lay the foundation-stone of a church. It was expected of him. Noblesse oblige. Descent from the House of Hapsburg involves its duties as well as its rights. The opera-dancer was as essential to Archducal existence as the seventy-seventh quartering on the Hapsburg arms. She was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Imperialness. She justified the title of “Transparency.” She was the mark of true heredity, like the Hapsburg lip. As the advertisements say, no Archduke should be without one.