“If, then, there be an incontestable fact, it is the influence of women: an influence extended, with various modifications, through the whole of life. Such being the case, the question arises, by what inconceivable negligence a power of universal operation has been overlooked by moralists, who, in their various plans for the amelioration of mankind, have scarcely deigned to mention this potent agent. Yet evidence, historical and parallel, proves that such negligence has lost to mankind the most influential of all agencies. The fact of its existence cannot be disputed; it is, therefore, of the greatest importance that its nature should be rightly understood, and that it be directed to right objects."
It would not be uninteresting to trace the action and reaction by which women have degraded and been degraded—alternately the source and the victims of mistaken social principles; but it would be foreign to the design and compass of this work to do so. The subject, indeed, would afford matter for a philosophical treatise of deep interest, rather than for a chapter of a small work. A rapid historical sketch, and a few deductions which seem to bear upon the main point, are all that can be here attempted.
The gospel announced on this, as on every other subject, a grand comprehensive principle, which it was to be the work of ages (perhaps of eternity) to develop. The rescue of this degraded half of the human race was henceforth the ascertained will of the Almighty. But a long series of years were to elapse before this will worked out its issues. Its decrees, with the noble doctrines of which it formed a part, lay buried beneath the ruins of human intellect. But they were only buried, not destroyed; and rose, like wildflowers on a ruined edifice, to adorn the irregularity which they could not conceal. The fantastic institutions of chivalry which it is now the fashion to deride (how unjustly!) were among the first scions of this plant of heavenly origin. They bore the impress of heaven, faint and distorted indeed, but not to be mistaken! Devotion to an ideal good,—self-sacrifice,—subjugation of selfish and sensual feelings; wherever these principles are found, disguised, disfigured though they be, they are not of the earth,—earthly. They, like the fabled amaranth, are plants which are not indigenous here below! The seeds must come from above, from the source of all that is pure, of all that is good! Of these principles the gospel was the remote source: women were the disseminators. “Shut up in their castellated towers, they civilized the warriors who despised their weakness, and rendered less barbarous the passions and prejudices which themselves shared." It was they who directed the savage passions and brute force of men to an unselfish aim, the defence of the weak, and added to courage the only virtue then recognised—humanity. “Thus chivalry prepared the way for law, and civilization had its source in gallantry."