Page images
PDF
EPUB

Such luxuries were shared by both sexes in common. In some instances the artists represent the ladies as indulging too freely in the pleasures of the table, being entirely overcome with wine, and "unable to carry their liquor discreetly.” In their fondness for dress and ornaments, they were not peculiar, for in this respect, the wife of the Indian hunter and the European princes are alike. They both love to adorn their persons. Egyptian ladies are frequently represented as comparing their ornaments and discussing the value, beauty, and fashion of their various articles of dress, with great apparent eagerness and rivalship.

The occupations of females were generally such as are deemed appropriate to women of the same rank, in modern times. Needlework and embroidery, probably, occupied much of the time of the more wealthy and elevated class. We have positive evidence, from the sculptures, that females were employed in weaving, and the use of the distaff. They also ground corn, and prepared food for the household, as among the Jews. Although polygamy was tolerated by law, it was probably confined to kings and nobles. Herodotus* says, expressly : “ Like the Greeks, they confine themselves to one wife.” That odious custom, which has long cursed the Eastern world, could not, therefore, have been extensively injurious in Egypt. The influence of caste was perhaps the most effectual barrier to general improvement.

The “wisdom of the Egyptians," mentioned in the Bible, must have been principally the inheritance of the priesthood and nobility. Isaiaht in his denunciation of divine wrath against Egypt, mentions the learned men as a separate and distinct class. The great mass of the people must have been comparatively degraded and ignorant. Although woman's sphere of observation was greatly enlarged, and her means of improvement greatly multiplied, by the unrestrained intercourse of Egyptian society, still her general intelligence must have been very limited, and far below the station she occupied. With all these disadvantages, Egypt was far superior to Greece in the habits of social life. Though inferior in literature, in arts, and in arms, she excelled in those domestic virtues which give value to civilization, dignity to life, and permanency to government.

* Herodotus 2 : 92.

f Isaiah 19: 11.

When we reflect that the Egyptians were of Asiatic origin, that their architecture, philosophy, and religion, are very similar to, if not identical with those of India, their social usages, and their just appreciation of the family relations appear truly astonishing. Among the Oriental nations, the rights of woman have never been acknowledged, her social and political existence has never been recognized, and she has rarely risen above the condition of a mere animal, or what is worse --that of a slave. The systematic degradation of one-half the population of those Eastern nations, accounts for their uniform corruption and profligacy. All true greatness must draw its nutriment from the domestic virtues. Where these are wanting, patriotism, philanthropy and benevolence, are but the disguises of intriguing selfishness. Neither domestic virtues nor domestic happiness can co-exist with polygamy. No nation, practising polygamy, has ever advanced beyond the iron barriers of despotism. Political freedom is inconsistent with domestic tyranny. "A plurality of wives,” says Heeren, “as it diminishes conjugal tenderness, saps the foundations of parental attachment; and thereby impairs the interest which every member of the state should feel, in its preservation and prosperity. Attachment to the family produces devotion to the state.” The ideas of home and country are always united in the mind of the true patriot. Among the Asiatics they are always separated, therefore we look to them in vain for examples of heroic daring, noble enterprise, and disinterested patriotism. Where polygamy prevails, society wears the aspect of moral death. There is no change, no progress. Human affections are degraded to animal instincts; human bones and muscles are converted into mechanical powers, and the human will is made a mere link in the iron chain of custom. Thousands of

years

make no alteration in the usages of society, or the processes of

The Chinaman of to-day is but the petrified Mongul of the age of Confucius. The modern Persian differs in nothing but his religion from the soldier of Xerxes. The courts of Susa and Persepolis, two thousand five hundred years ago, presented the same scenes of royal pomp and magnificence without, and of jealousy and intrigue within, as the courts of Ispahan and Constantinople of the present age.

We know but little of the private life of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, but from incidental notices, which

was

occur in ancient historians, of the condition of females, we infer that it was very similar to that of the women of the present day in the East.

The ancient Babylonians are represented as exceedingly corrupt and licentious. The principal cause of this profligacy of manners was wealth and luxury, consequent upon extended commerce and conquest.

This total degeneracy of morals,” says Heeren, above all conspicuous in the other sex, among whom were no traces of that reserve which usually prevails in an eastern harem. The prophet,* therefore, when he denounces the fall of Babylon, describes it under the image of a luxurious and lascivious woman, who is cast headlong into slavery, from the seat where she sits so effeminately.” The shameless profligacy of the Babylonian women, their extravagance in dress, and their attendance at public festivals † lead us to suppose, that they were more influential, (especially for evil,) and less secluded, than is common among Asiatics. The state of morals in the community, would render the existence of genuine affection and domestic happiness impossible. The common mode of contracting marriage among them, proves that women were regarded as mere slaves. Herodotust informs us, that their marriageable virgins were yearly exposed to sale, in the several districts. The most beautiful were sold first. The purchase money paid for these by the wealthy, furnished a dowry for the most ugly and deformed. These were delivered to the poor citizens who would take them for the least sum. By superior personal charms, or by force of native ingenuity and strength of intellect, women frequently succeeded in gaining a powerful influence over their husbands. A favorite wife would thus control the affairs of the nation, or even assume the sole direction of the government. Such were Semiramis and Nitocris, mentioned by Herodotus, in the history of Assyria and Babylon. In ancient Persia, women were more strictly secluded, and of course, more reserved in their manners. The book of Esther gives us an accurate view of the Persian seraglio, while the account of the court intrigue, in the reign of Xerxes, recorded by Herodotus § throws additional light upon their history. The hatred and jealousy of rival queens grew more intense and

* Isaiah 13. † Dan. 5: 3. Herod. 1: 196. $ Herod. 9; 110.

violent, as their sphere of action was more limited. The victorious competitor for royal favor set no bounds to her vengeance. The Eastern harem has ever been the abode of the most malignant passions, and consequently of misery and crime.

The history of a despotic court in one age will apply with little alteration to despotic courts in all ages. There is no variety, only in degrees of guilt and misery. Chardin has painted in lively colors the horrors of the royal harem of modern Persia. "The seraglio of the king,” says he, “is most commonly a perpetual prison, from whence scarce one female in six or seven, ever has the good luck to escape ; for women who have once become mothers of living children, are provided with a small establishment within the walls, and are never suffered to leave them. But privation of liberty is by no means the worst evil that exists in these melancholy abodes. Except to that wife who is so fortunate as to produce the first-born son, lo become a mother is the most dreaded event that can happen to the wretched favorites of the king. When this occurs, not only do the mothers see the last chance of liberty and marriage cut off from them, but they live in the dreadful anticipation of seeing their children deprived of life, or of sight, when ihe death of their lord shall call a new tyrant, in the person of his son, the brother of their offspring, to the throne. Even new-born innocents are murdered, either by actual violence, or the denial of that nourishment which it is the mother's duty, and should be her delight, 10 give.” Such are the consequences of this iniquitous violation of the laws of nature; and the number of tragedies is increased by the reluctance with which the royal favor is received. Abbas II., ordered a beautiful girl to be burnt alive, by having her tied in the chimney and lighting a fire of wood beneath, while he looked deliberately on, because he had detected her in an artifice to avoid his attentions.

The court usually gives tone to the manners and morals of a nation. Where such examples are set in high life, it cannot be expected that any just views of the dignity of woman, and of the family relations, will prevail in society at large. Nothing but the restraints of poverty prevents every petty tyrant from converting his house into a prison, and inflicting the torments of hell upon those whom we ought to love and honor. Chinese civilization (if a system which admits of

such unnatural cruelty deserves the name,) has always been characterized by the same contempt and oppression of woman. From their fantastic cosmogony, they adduce proofs of her inferior nature. " As the Yang, which composes the highest heaven, is masculine, while the Yin, of which the earth chiefly consists, is feminine, they infer that man is as much above woman as the heaven is above the earth.”

This contempt for females is not of recent origin. It is certainly as old as Confucius; for he speaks of women and slaves as on a level, and complains of a similar difficulty in managing both. This sentiment originates from their religion, and is confirmed by inveterate custom. Even the celebrated female writer" in China, (for such an anomaly in their history once occurred,) inculcates on her sex their own inferiority, observing, “that they hold the lowest rank in the human species, and that the least exalted functions ought to be and are in fact assigned to them." Females, from their birth, are treated with less attention than males. They are also selected for infanticide. Dr. Morrison has translated a passage from a native writer, which reveals the treatment of the two sexes :

“When a son is born,
He sleeps on a bed,
He is clothed in robes,
He plays with gems,
His cry is princely loud-
But when a daughter is born,
She sleeps on the ground,
She is clothed with a wrapper,
She plays with a tile,
She is incapable either of evil or good ;
It is her's only to think of preparing wine and food,
And not giving any occasion of grief to her parents."

Females are so completely secluded, that the parties to a marriage contract never see each other, till the day that unites them. After marriage the bondage of the wife is increased. She is obliged not only to be subject to the tyranny of her husband, but to the insolent abuse of her mother-in-law, who is her legal mistress. She not only labors like the meanest slave, but like a beast of burden, being frequently yoked to the plough, which is steered by her surly sponse. Beauty and talent, in females, so highly prized in Christian communities, are regarded with peculiar dread by the Chinese

« PreviousContinue »