- Atque Deos atque Astra vocat crudelia Mater.1
From my own Apartment, August 28.
As I was passing by a Neighbour's House this Morning, I overheard the Wife of the Family speak Things to her Husband which gave me much Disturbance, and put me in mind of a Character which I wonder I have so long omitted, and that is, an outragious Species of the Fair Sex which is distinguished pg 136by the Term Scolds. The Generality of Women are by Nature loquacious: Therefore meer Volubility of Speech is not to be imputed to them, but should be considered with Pleasure when it is used to express such Passions as tend to sweeten or adorn Conversation: But when, thro' Rage, Females are vehement in their Eloquence, nothing in the World has so ill an Effect upon the Features; for by the Force of it, I have seen the most Amiable become the most Deformed; and she that appeared one of the Graces, immediately turned into one of the Furies. I humbly conceive, the great Cause of this Evil may proceed from a false Notion the Ladies have of what we call a Modest Woman. They have too narrow a Conception of this lovely Character, and believe they have not at all forfeited their Pretensions to it, provided they have no Imputations on their Chastity; But alas! the young Fellows know they pick out better Women in the Side-Boxes, than many of those who pass upon the World and themselves for modest.
Modesty never rages, never murmurs, never pouts: When it is ill treated, it pines, it beseeches, it languishes. The Neighbour I mention is one of your common modest Women, that is to say, those as are ordinarily reckoned such. Her Husband knows every Pain in Life with her but Jealousy. Now because she is clear in this Particular, the Man can't say his Soul's his own,2 but she cries, No modest Woman is respected now a Days. What adds to the Comedy in this Case is, that it is very ordinary with this Sort of Women to talk in the Language of Distress: They will complain of the forlorn Wretchedness of their Condition, and then the poor helpless Creatures shall throw the next Thing they can lay their Hands on at the Person who offends them. Our Neighbour was only saying to his Wife, She went a little too fine, when she immediately pulled his Periwig off, and stamping it under her Feet, wrung her Hands, and said, Never meldest Woman was so used! These Ladies of irresistible Modesty are those who make Virtue unamiable; not that they can be said to be virtuous, but as they live without Scandal; and being under the common Denomination of being such, Men fear to meet their Faults in those who are as agreeable as they are innocent.
pg 137I take the Bully among Men, and the Scold among Women, to draw the Foundation of their Actions from the same Defect in the Mind. A Bully thinks Honour consists wholly in being brave, and therefore has Regard to no one Rule of Life, if he preserves himself from the Accusation of Cowardize. The froward Woman knows Chastity to be the first Merit in a Woman; and therefore, since no one can call her one ugly Name, she calls all Mankind all the rest.
These Ladies, where their Companions are so imprudent as to take their Speeches for any other than Exercises of their own Lungs, and their Husbands Patience, gain by the Force of being resisted, and flame with open Fury, which is no Way to be opposed but by being neglected: Tho' at the same Time Human Frailty makes it very hard to relish the Philosophy of contemning even frivolous Reproach. There is a very pretty Instance of this Infirmity in the Man of the best Sense that ever was, no less a Person than Adam himself. According to Milton's Description of the First Couple, as soon as they had fallen, and the turbulent Passions of Anger, Hatred, and Jealousy, first enter'd their Breasts, Adam grew moody, and talked to his Wife, as you may find it in the 359th Page, and 9th Book, of Paradise Lost, in the Octavo Edition,3 which, out of Heroicks, and put into Domestick Stile, would run thus:
'Madam, If my Advice had been of any Authority with you when that strange Desire of Gadding possessed you this Morning, we had still been happy: But your cursed Vanity and Opinion of your own Conduct, which is certainly very wavering when it seeks Occasions of being proved, has ruined both your self, and me who trusted you.'
Eve had no Fan in her Hand to ruffle, or Tucker to pull down, but with a reproachful Air she answered,
'Sir, Do you impute that to my Desire of Gadding, which might have happened to your self with all your Wisdom and Gravity? The Serpent spoke so excellently, and with so good a Grace, that—Besides, What Harm had I ever done him, that he should design me any? Was I to have been always at your Side, I might as well have continued there, and been but your Rib still: But if I was so weak a Creature as you thought me, pg 138Why did you not interpose your sage Authority more absolutely? You denied me going as faintly, as you say I resisted the Serpent. Had not you been too easie, neither you or I had now transgressed.'
Adam replied, 'Why, Eve, hast thou the Impudence to upbraid me as the Cause of thy Transgression for my Indulgence to thee? Thus it will ever be with him who trusts too much to Woman: At the same Time that she refuses to be governed, if she suffers by her Obstinacy, she will accuse the Man that shall leave her to her self.'
- Thus they in mutual Accusation spent
- The fruitless Hours, but neither self condemning:
- And of their vain Contest appear'd no End.4
This to the Modern will appear but a very faint Piece of Conjugal Enmity; but you are to consider, that they were but just begun to be angry, and they wanted new Words for expressing their new Passions. But her accusing him of letting her go, and telling him how good a Speaker, and how fine a Gentleman the Devil was, we must reckon, allowing for the Improvements of Time, that she gave him the same Provocation as if she had called him Cuckold. The passionate and familiar Terms with which the same Case, repeated daily for so many Thousand Years, has furnished the present Generation, were not then in Use; but the Foundation of Debate has ever been the same, a Contention about their Merit and Wisdom. Our general Mother was a Beauty, and hearing there was another now in the World, could not forbear (as Adam tells her) showing her self, though to the Devil, by whom the same Vanity made her liable to be betrayed.
I cannot, with all the Help of Science and Astrology, find any other Remedy for this Evil, but what was the Medicine in this first Quarrel; which was, as appeared in the next Book, that they were convinced of their being both weak, but one weaker than the other.
If it were possible that the Beauteous could but rage a little pg 139before a Glass, and see their pretty Countenances grow wild, it is not to be doubted but it would have a very good Effect; but that would require Temper: For Lady Firebrand, upon observing her Features swell when her Maid vexed her the other Day, stamped her Dressing-Glass under her Feet. In this Case, when one of this Temper is moved, she is like a Witch in an Operation, and makes all Things turn round with her. The very Fabrick is in a Vertigo when she begins to charm. In an Instant, whatever was the Occasion that moved her Blood, she has such intolerable Servants, Betty is so aukward, Tom can't carry a Message, and her Husband has so little Respect for her, that she, poor Woman, is weary of this Life, and was born to be unhappy.5
The Season now coming on in which the Town will begin to fill, Mr. Bickerstaff gives Notice, That from the First of October next, he will be much wittier than he has hitherto been.6