Chivalry and Its Results by Harriet Bowker Bradbury

Louise, Robert Demachy, French, Pictorial, photographer,
“Louise” 1908 by Robert Demachy (1859-1936 French Pictorial photographer)

Civilisation and Womanhood by Harriet Bowker Bradbury


Chivalry and Its Results

Content: Significance of Chivalry — The Maria Cult — Marriage a Sacrament — Monastic Life — Roswitha — The Renaissance — The Reformation — The Love Ideal of Chivalry — Religious Ecstasy — Round Table Legends — Famous Love Stories — Rights of the Weak — Minnesang — The Era of Desolation — Puritanism — Classicism — Romanticism — Influence on Modern Life — The Woman Question in America.

Chivalry was a flower. It has fallen as all flowers must fall, and the fruit to which it gave birth is not yet ripe. Little did the mediaeval knight imagine that the whole feudal system was but a glittering fallacy—a temporary expedient not having in its nature enough of brotherhood and equality to make it a fit vehicle for the larger political ideas of the future. He expected to right all wrongs by martial prowess and honour Christ and his lady with a loyal homage quite different from the superior attitude which he held towards those of whom Christ said that whatever we should do “to the least of these,” was as if we had done it to himself.

Tournament, Chivalry, Nicolaus Solis, Wedding, Bavarian Elector,
Tournament of Chivalry at the Wedding of the Bavarian Elector to Renata of Lorraine by Nicolaus Solis. Munich 1568.

But Chivalry accomplished great things. It served as a bridge on which Europe could make the transition from barbarism to civilisation. It evolved a thought of woman hinted at by the best minds of ancient Greece, and started humanity in the pursuit of a love-ideal that is still for most people but a fantastic dream. The mediaeval thought was itself sometimes fantastic enough, but among the immortal names of the Renaissance we find some whose great fame was due to the inspiration which they found in the smiles or in the memory of some fair lady worshiped at a distance, the whole force of the lover’s passion being thrown into the work that he hoped would honour his beloved or win him praise from her.

The worship of the Virgin was the apotheosis of womanhood. How this worship originated it is impossible now to trace with certainty, but it began very early and by the seventh or eighth century was well established. But even before this the idealism suggested by the Greek philosophers and expressed in the Germanic religion, had been seized upon by the Church and tactfully used to elevate man’s thought of woman.

Marriage came to be treated as a sacrament. Its legality was not dependent upon the sanction of the Church until the fourteenth or fifteenth century, but as early as the Carolingian time it was required that a “confession of marriage in the Church” be made and a priestly blessing received.

Fischer-Schnéevoigt, Photographer, actress,
Study of a Head 1908. By Siri Fischer-Schnéevoigt (1870–1946; Photographer and actress active in Denmark)

The monastic life had by this time attracted large numbers of the most zealous followers of the Christian faith. The corruptions of the time were so excessive and the opportunities for usefulness offered by the monasteries so many and so great that these institutions grew and flourished, and became, notwithstanding many evils that crept into them from time to time, the great repositories of culture and the headquarters for missionary and charitable work. Naturally the monastic ideal of life began to be exalted above a life “in the world.” Thus we find the contradiction of two ideals of life. Marriage was a sacrament, yet to vow never to marry was holier.

Of course many votaries fell away and broke their vows, and suffered excommunication in consequence. The worship of the “Mother of God,” being a deification of womanhood, especially of virginity, had an immeasurable influence in elevating and refining man’s ideal of womanly perfection. Chastity in woman came to be valued for its own sake, rather than simply as faithfulness due from a slave to her lord and master. Nuns were greatly reverenced, both for the purity of their lives and for their zeal in all good works. All these influences created an unnatural, if reverential, attitude towards woman, an exaltation of her through superhuman standards of excellence, beginning with the thought that combined virginity and motherhood.

Yet on the whole the effect was to refine the coarse and brutal in man’s nature by presenting to his mind the thought of the other sex with the halo of divinity about it to check all rude or vulgar impulses.

Thus the Church took up the sexual instinct and alternately stimulated and repressed it, teaching it finer and more spiritual meanings and preparing the way for the woman-worship that was the soul of Chivalry. And there was greater need of such an influence than we can well realise today. Monogamy was not yet fully recognised as a necessary rule in marriage, and the strong power of the Church was able only slowly, aided by the independent spirit of the women themselves, to establish this principle. One fair woman induced a royal suitor to put away ten wives and twenty concubines for her sake, declaring that no man in the world was desirable enough to induce her “to sacrifice her virginity for the thirtieth part of his love.”

The laxity in morals everywhere was very great during the reign of Charlemagne, and stories of magic were invented to excuse the lapses of the illustrious king himself, who outwardly upheld the Christian standards, but in his private life was anything but exemplary. After his death the civilisation which he founded was almost destroyed, yet out of the ashes we see the moral ideal rising phenix-like to life again.

It had been prophesied that the end of the world would come in the year 1000. The conditions both social and political, did not seem to discourage this anticipation. The Church thundered her anathemas *) in vain against immorality in both public and private relations, although the evil against which she struggled was already corrupting her own life.

*) The term anathema (ancient Greek ἀνάθημα or ἀνάθεμα “the consecrated, cursing”), also anathema, banishment, church ban or – in connection with a curse – ban curse, refers to a condemnation by a church that is accompanied by exclusion from the ecclesiastical community and is equivalent to excommunication under canon law.

Religious thought became more and more gloomy. The savage passions of men were reflected in their thought of God, and they did not hesitate to anticipate the tortures of the next world in their treatment of the enemies of the Church, or any whose convictions ran counter to her teachings. Yet there were many influential lives of signal virtue, both of rulers and of cloistered saints, whose lustre relieves the sombre picture of these troubled times.

Sisters, Frank Eugene, autochrome, Photography, American, photographer, Photo-Secession,
The Sisters 1908. By Frank Eugene (autochrome) . American photographer (1865-1936)

The nun Roswitha *) is perhaps the most famous woman of this period. She is regarded as the first German poetess, although she wrote in Latin. She was learned in the classics and wrote in a style imitating the Latin poets. Her purpose was moral and ascetic, although her dramatic sketches reflect the barbarous intensity of the passions of the people, showing life as it was with a realism worthy of Balzac, if not so keenly analytical. Her conclusions are always a triumph for virtue, however, and though her works were intended primarily for the edification of her own cloister, her fame spread far and wide. She was called “the German Muse.”

*) Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, also known as Hrotswith, Hrosvith, Hroswitha, Roswith, Latin Hrotsvitha Gandeshemensis, modernised Roswitha of Gandersheim ( around 935 – after 973), was a canoness of Gandersheim Abbey, from which the present-day town of Bad Gandersheim in Lower Saxony emerged. The sanctimonious and author of the early Middle Ages is considered the first German female poet; she wrote spiritual writings, historical poems and the first dramas since antiquity. She expressed her admiration for Emperor Otto I in the Gesta Ottonis (Gesta Oddonis; ‘The Deeds of Otto’), a work written in Latin hexameters about the family history and political activities of Otto the Great.

Celibacy was not enforced among the clergy until the year 1074, when Gregory VII made it an offence punishable by excommunication for a married priest to administer the sacrament or for anyone to receive it from his hands. There was great opposition to this edict, but the gain in power which it brought the papacy made Gregory inflexible. It established much more firmly the supremacy of the Holy See.

Nevertheless, the inevitable abuses arising in this connection were one of the principal causes of the storm which ended in the establishment of Protestantism.

The great period of Chivalry covered less than 200 years. After that its decay set in with the overthrow of feudalism and the natural waning of the spiritual impulse which had produced it. During its ascendency the great monastic orders had been founded, magnificent cathedrals had been built and adorned with paintings illustrating the dogmatic teachings of the Church,—for to the mass of the people the pictures in the cathedrals were the only books,—the Crusades had come and passed, and tragic as was their history and fanatical as was their zeal, had in the end widened the narrow horizon of Western thought by travel and by contact with the older civilizations of southeastern Europe.

Then set in the period of decadence, known as the Era of Desolation, when the Church, corrupted with the most abominable iniquities and abuses of its power, helped to degrade the people whom it had formerly elevated out of barbarism. As in Rome at the dawn of Christianity, an unimaginably low level of public morality had been reached, when a great reaction set in.

The Renaissance presented to men’s minds the stimulating vision of an ancient culture, and following in its wake, partly as a result of this intellectual quickening and partly as a natural reaction after a time of intolerable priestly corruption and oppression, the Reformation aroused men’s consciences and set new forces in motion for the regeneration of society.

The long, dark period of demoralisation we shall pass over, while we study somewhat carefully the constructive thought movements of the mediaeval time, which form so important a link between the past and present, a positive, upward step in the evolution of man.

The love ideal of Chivalry varied all the way from a pure spiritual and intellectual attachment to a passionate desire for sense gratification. It began on the heights, but degenerated at last to the merest sensuality, fully justifying the denunciations heaped upon it by the Church. Yet the Church in her “Maria Cult” had fostered if she had not originated, the first impulse towards woman worship.

Our Lady and “my lady” seemed often strangely confused in the thought of a knightly lover, and many a young monk, no doubt, appeased his longing for a pure woman’s love, by his adoration of the Blessed Virgin. Then came the mystics, a later group of emotionalists, of whom Eckhard is the best known leader, teaching that the union with Christ should be the consummation of the soul’s desire.

They drew the sensuous emotions into the domain of religion and imagination. Women especially responded to this teaching, and through the imagination experienced all the emotions of union with a divine bridegroom.

The movement spread like an epidemic through the convents. Ladies left the allurements of earthly lovers to bask in the smiles and enjoy the embraces of a vividly imagined ideal.

Broken Pitcher, Gertrude Käsebier, Portrait, American, photographer,
The Broken Pitcher 1908. By Gertrude Käsebier (née Stanton 1852 – 1934; American photographer.)

That this consciousness of oneness with divinity was rather an ecstatic auto¬ hypnosis than a real sense of unity with all life or with the Source of life, we can scarcely doubt. Its extravagant unreality may have helped to hasten the decadence that was already under way.

With probably some notable exceptions, these experiences must be regarded as a thoroughly abnormal development of emotionalism. All ecstasies must be judged by their fruits. There is no healthy rapture possible to man except that which is the natural accompaniment of the exercise of a normal life function. Rapture should be either the joy of creating or the joy of apprehending or demonstrating truth.

Accordingly, unless we find unusual powers for good resulting from unusual religious emotions, we are forced to place them in the category of pathological manifestations. In the case of the mediaeval ecstatics the emotion seems to have been regarded as an end in itself, exactly as the yogi regards the bliss of his introverted consciousness as the supreme end of life. Such artificially induced ecstasies are a corollary, so to speak, of asceticism, and do not appear in connection with natural, wholesome standards of conduct.

But to return to the first and loftiest ideal of Chivalry. This ideal was a spiritual companionship, a true soul love, between man and woman. That the persons experiencing it were very apt to be already married, placed the whole experience in a questionable light and made necessary very careful distinctions in the matter of emotions.

Fannie E. Coburn, Flower Woman, Photography,
A Flower Woman. By Fannie E. Coburn (1848-1928).

Yet Chivalry triumphed. It came to be regarded as an honorable distinction for a married woman to have a knight vowed to her service, and to men it seemed that such a relationship educated and ennobled them.

The knight was expected to defend his lady’s honour on the battlefield and in every possible way, and not to endanger that honour in any way by his own conduct. It need not be said that this ideal was too high to be understood, much less acted upon by many. Probably the greater part of these attachments were either an ungratified passion that made the lover a slave to his lady’s slightest whim until he tired of such fruitless service, or else a relation not above reproach from a moral point of view. Yet the mere effort at self-restraint gave a more spiritual quality to love.

The difficulty of making a man whose whole range of thought is animal understand ideal love, is amusingly shown in a sonnet by Cecco Angliolieri, *) one of Dante’s friends. It begins:
“Dante Alighieri in Becchina’s praise,
Won’t have me sing, and bears him like my lord. He’s but a pinchbeck florin, on my word” (Translation by D. G. Rossetti).

Another humorous poet, justly defined by Rossetti as the scamp of the Dante circle, is Cecco Angioleri, who is irreverent enough to call Dante himself a pinchbeck florin, and whose favourite theme is his quarrels with his parents:
“My mother don’t do much because she can’t,
But I may count it just as good as done,
Knowing the way and not the will’s her want.
To-day I tried a kiss with her—just one—
To see if I could make her sulks avaunt;
She said, ‘The devil rip you up my son!'”
—Rossetti. (Source: A History of Italian Literature (1901) by Richard Garnett. Chapter II. The Early Italian Lyric.)

Meaning that Dante was only a counterfeit or a fraud, since he was unwilling that another should sing of love, while singing continually in a lady’s praise himself. But Cecco’s song was of mere sense love, and Becchina was undoubtedly, like Beatrice, a married woman. Whence Dante’s indignant remonstrances with his friend.

While in England Chivalry never reached the high development which it attained on the Continent, there seems to have been a more natural manner of life there and more freedom among young people in choosing their life partners. In Sir Thomas Mallory’s account of the doings of the Knights of the Round Table, the point of view is that of the time of the writer, although the stories purport to be records of the lives of heroes long dead.

The aim of a knight in these tales is usually to win the woman whom he worships for a wife. The love of Lancelot and Guinevere, ending as it did in the violation of her marriage vow, is treated as the cause of the kingdom’s ruin, and the love of Tristram and Isolt, picturesque and pathetic as it is, is represented as a tragedy, both being murdered in each other’s arms by the angry husband.

Tennyson, though he has tinged these legends with a nineteenth century coloring, does no violence to Sir Thomas’s account when he makes King Arthur say:
“I made them lay their hands in mine and swear
To reverence the king as though he were
Their conscience, and their conscience as their
To break the heathen and uphold the Christ,
To ride abroad redressing human wrongs,
To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,
To lead sweet lives in purest chastity,
To love one maiden only, cleave to her
And worship her by years of noble deeds
Until they won her.”

But the knights of Arthur’s court are quite as much occupied with war as with love. There was in English life at the period when Chivalry had reached its blossoming time in Europe, a sturdy, independent naturalness, albeit strongly tinged with primitive sensuality, which kept it from the danger of becoming effeminate through overrefinement of the emotions. The Troubadours of Provence also sang in warlike strains, glorifying patriotic devotion as well as the love of woman.

Gertrude Käsebier, Portrait, American, photographer,
Portrait. By Gertrude Käsebier. (née Stanton 1852 – 1934; American photographer.)

In Italy, Dante was the first to employ the vernacular tongue in literary composition, and his immortal poem, especially the last cantos of the Purgatorio, show how inextricably religious emotion was blended with the love of woman in its highest aspects. When he first meets Beatrice in the spirit world, he fixes his eyes upon her so intently, “to rid them of their ten years’ thirst,” that the angels turn his face away with the words, “Too fixed a gaze!” Yet though she must still be so far removed, though he may never come nearer to her than to walk beside her, listening to her instructions, and at last to behold her glory, enthroned beside the Holy Mother, she nevertheless upbraids him for his faithlessness to her, inasmuch as after her death he married Gemma Donata.

Surely she seems to have exacted a large price for a small favour. But doubtless in Dante’s mind she stood for ideal truth and beauty, and as a matter of fact, he was not very happy in his married life. He was so afraid of suggesting any unspiritual longing where Beatrice was concerned, that he seems to fall short of any satisfactory climax in his vision of heaven.

Yet his sonnets written to her during her life, betray an emotion so overwhelming that it borders on the sickly. One feels almost ashamed, however, of such a criticism, when one considers that his love survived her by ten years, and then raised to her memory so great a monument as the immortal Divina Commedia.

Other immortal names beside Dante’s are linked with those of virtuous women whom their love has raised to a place beside them on the roll of fame. Michael Angelo, who never had a wife, adored the saintly Vittoria Colonna, both before and after her husband’s death. But she gave him only a sisterly return, and never remarried after she was left a widow. He seems to have been satisfied, however, and to have found in her calm sympathy the comfort which his morose and ungentle temper needed.

Petrarch found inspiration in Laura, and her unyielding reserve could not drive him from her, although his passion was of an ardent sort,—a dangerous sort to any but the strongest woman. Leonora, a princess, was removed by difference in birth from Tasso, yet the attachment between them was a strong congeniality of gifted intellects, which made the occasional hours passed in her society a great stimulus to her lover,—if indeed he could be called a lover.

Gertrude Käsebier, Portrait, American, photographer,
Josephine Brown, 1900. By Gertrude Käsebier.

And in the convents do we find none of these lofty, helpful friendships? Caritas Pirkheimer, abbess of St. Clare’s, *) a woman of great ability and unimpeachable character, enjoyed the friendship of many famous men, notable among them being Albrecht Dürer, between whom and the abbess there existed an especially strong attachment. But if we are looking for romance, the friendship between St. Francis and Santa Clara seems most nearly to border upon love.

*) Caritas Pirckheimer, before 1483 Barbara Pirckheimer ( 21 March 1467 in Eichstätt – 19 August 1532 in Nuremberg) was abbess of the Poor Clares convent in Nuremberg and famous for her humanist education. She opposed the city council’s attempts to dissolve the convent against the will of the nuns. She received support from Philipp Melanchthon. Their spirituality was influenced by the Franciscan theologians Heinrich Vigilis and Stephan Fridolin, as well as their dialogue with Sixtus Tucher and their reading of the Church Fathers, especially Jerome. Caritas and her sister Clara were also inspired by the writings of Erasmus of Rotterdam; they particularly enjoyed the new translation of the New Testament.

Clara listened to his preaching, and then, falling on her knees before him, begged to be allowed to take the vows which all must take who joined the order which he had founded, but to which no woman had yet been admitted. After due consideration her request was granted, and she entered upon the work of organising women into an order of nuns, similar to that of the Franciscan friars. She showed herself a woman of ability and intense zeal, and her friendship with St. Francis was founded upon a common faith, common ideals and a common work, to which both were devoted, heart and soul.

The attachment between them is said to have been almost unearthly in its spiritual beauty and tenderness, yet it was only a realisation of an ideal then very common in the minds of men. Nevertheless, it was recognised that such friendships could not safely be encouraged among members of the Order, so regulations were provided circumscribing the liberty of the inmates of the convents, that such intimacies might not grow up.

How ill they succeeded the history of conventual life shows, for restraints and restrictions are of little avail when the standards of morality are lowered, and at the time of the decadence, before the Reformation, convent life came into very bad odor among the people, low as their own standards of conduct were.

The only security against immorality is in the hearts of the people, but with a high ethical standard in this respect, the modern freedom of association of men and women gives immense opportunity for the quickening of the intellectual life through congenial companionship.

Many of these are to be found today, some of them greatening the lives of great men or bringing out the talents of gifted women. We would not exchange our modern freedom for the veiled seclusion of either the harem or the convent.

We must accept the dangers with the advantages of our freedom, and work for higher standards of honour and loyalty as the best safeguards of public morals. Times of great idealism come now and then, followed by a receding wave when the upward impulse seems to fail, but again the oncoming tide pours in and a higher level than the last is reached. So it has always been; so it will be again.

Chivalry has nothing to contribute to modern political ideals except the virtue of loyalty in service. Its only meaning today is in the matter of private morality,—in the relation of the sexes and the obligation owed by the strong to the weak. That weakness constituted an actual moral claim upon strength, was never recognised until the days of Chivalry. The mutual interdependence of the different classes in the feudal order, made protection of the inferior or the weak, the duty of the superior.

“Noblesse oblige” is a principle of inestimable value, especially when commercialism and commercial standards tend to make all of life dependent on barter and sale. The right of the strong over the weak was regarded by Confucius as an inalienable right.

But Chivalry has reversed this judgment, and claims for the weak a positive right to the protection of the strong. It is a Christian principle, adopted by modern civilisation as an ideal, and actually forming the basis of many laws. In this respect Chivalry compassed the meaning of brotherhood, for this duty of the strong to the weak is acknowledged in the family relation. And the greater the weakness and helplessness, the stronger, in a Christian home, is the claim upon those who are strong.

All modern literature shows the effect of Chivalry upon the minds of men. The novel is a modern product, and what is it usually but an analysis of a love more or less ideal? Without a love interest few novels can sustain themselves to the end.

And love is always idealistically treated, at least in novels ranked as good and wholesome. Robert Louis Stevenson *) never ventured on a love plot. He said that this was because he did not know how to treat the matter ideally, and so he had the good sense to refrain from treating it at all.

*) Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson ( 13 November 1850 in Edinburgh; – 3 December 1894 in Vailima near Apia, Samoa) was a Scottish writer of the Victorian era. Although he was ill with tuberculosis and only lived to the age of 44, he left behind an extensive oeuvre of travel stories, adventure literature and historical novels, as well as poetry and essays. His best-known works include the classic children’s book Treasure Island and the chilling novella The Curious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which deals with the phenomenon of split personalities and can be read as a psychological horror novel. Some of the novels are still popular today and have served as the basis for numerous film adaptations.

However much their lives may belie their theories, men want love served up in ideal form in novels. The heart’s real hunger is for that which is spiritual. No one takes the sensual except as a second best, a temporary excitant or consolation, or when unbelief has robbed him of faith in the spiritual. There may be joy in a drinking song, but there is no joy in Shelley’s laments over “love’s sad satiety” or the ephemeral nature of the only love he knew.

Instead, such unbelief in the spiritual in love creates an intense melancholy, a perplexed wonder and doubt as to the meaning of life, that tends to morbidity and immorality of every kind. I think that every careful student of human nature will acknowledge this.

Dr. Schoenfeld says: “Minnesong represented at first and during its growth, purity in love and profound respect for noble womanhood. Goethe’s word, ‘Wilt thou in life know what is seemly, inquire it of noblewomen,’is fully realised.

We like to dwell on this phase of our theme, for soon we shall have to descend to the very depths of corruption and impurity. If we had not the chronological records of history, it would be hard to believe that a nation could be swept by a century of religious wars from the ideals set forth in minnesang to the degeneracy that characterised the Era of Desolation. But in the early days of minnesang, modesty, chastity and ‘measure’ or moderation, are concomitants of the ideal of womanhood. Love is then the extinction of self. Walter von der Vogelweide says, ‘True minne never entered false hearts.’”

Lady, Red, Alvin Langdon Coburn, autochrome, portrait, photographer,
The Lady in Red. By Alvin Langdon Coburn 1882 – 1966 (autochrome)

Antiquity knew nothing of the love song as developed by the minnesingers. The glorification of the senses in amorous verse was not uncommon among them, but there was a total lack of that reverence, that religious quality that characterised the mediaeval singers, and made it possible to class sex love among the loftiest and most devout emotions—indeed, made it impossible to class this aspect of it otherwise. Even Sappho’s love songs suggest mere physical attraction.

The Teutonic women also seem to have felt this passion with a primitive intensity, the joy of being possessed, soul and body, by a strong man. The delicate shadings and tender subtleties,—the reverence, the self-restraint, the whole religious quality of minnesang was something utterly unknown to them.

I cannot better illustrate this subject of the minnesang than with a song by Master Hadlaub,*) the last of the line of true minnesingers, at the end of the thirteenth century, quoted among many others by Dr. Schoenfeld, from whose exhaustive work I have so liberally drawn.

*) Johannes Hadlaub (also: Johannes Hadeloube; 2nd half of the 13th century – beginning of the 14th century in Zurich) was a Middle High German, Swiss minnesinger.

“I saw von infant in her arms carest,
And as I gazed on her my pulse beat high.
Gently she clasped him to her snowy breast,
While I, in rapture lost, stood musing by.
Then her white hands around his neck she flung,
And prest him to her lips, and tenderly
Kissed his fair cheek as o’er the babe she hung.

“Straight she was gone; and then that lovely child
Ran joyfully to meet my warm embrace.
Then fancy with fond thoughts my soul beguiled;
It was herself! O dream of love and grace!
I clasped him where her gentle hands had prest,
I kissed each spot that bore her lips sweet trace,
And joy the while went bounding through my breast.”

The evils of the Era of Decadence were those of extreme license rather than those of slavery. The Reformation, seeking to remedy these abuses, developed a harsh and unworthy thought of woman, and the Jesuits, whose order was founded at that time, were particularly contemptuous in their attitude towards her. The new ideal had not really been assimilated, and when liberty became license it was only natural that the purest minds should carry their indignation to the greatest extremes, although their repressive measures could only retard progress.

The brutalising influence of the Thirty Years’ war had much to do with the increase of sexual immorality during that dark period. For nearly 100 years Germany was torn with strife. The moral degradation brought about by this condition of things was extreme.

In France the state of public morals was scarcely better. The court of the Louis infected all France and even the rest of Europe, with its evil contagion. Things were not quite so bad in England, but a succession of sovereigns of alternating faiths, each intolerant of everything to which he could not himself subscribe, developed ungentle and bigoted ways among the people.

The struggle between luxurious vice and stern Puritanism was on in England; in fact, all Christendom was in a moral turmoil. The harshness and prudery of Puritanism, as well as the formality of Classicism, brought on the reaction known as Romanticism, and so the moral forces of this transition time played back and forth, each going to extravagant lengths and each counteracting the opposite extravagances of the others.

Out of this tumultuous interplay of thought and feeling has arisen our modern life. There is as yet not enough intellectual culture in America to make possible such social circles as we read of in the time of the Empire in France. Our men are still too much occupied in developing the material resources of a new country and building up great fortunes, to care much for literature or philosophy.

Here it is the women who lead the movement for higher culture, except in the case of men who are specialists in some department of intellectual activity. The men’s clubs are almost exclusively for recreation or rest. It is the women who organise little circles for study, and men and women together in these activities we seldom find. This is not because custom or public opinion puts any barriers in the way of the social mingling of the sexes, but simply that they have not developed a common interest in the things of the mind.

That this state of things does not make for the best interests of either sex, does not need to be pointed out. They do not now, as Frederick Schlegel said of married people in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, “live on, side by side, in mutual contempt.” There is much mutual toleration, but unquestionably there is also much mutual dissatisfaction.

The most hopeful sign at the present time is the disposition of club women to engage in active work for civic and ethical betterment, in which work they find hearty co-operation in those leaders among men who are trying to improve social and political conditions.

The extent of this movement among women makes their influence a tremendous force, and this is the one direction in which the best men and the best women are finding extensive common ground mentally. To this is due the sudden movement among men advocating the extension of the franchise to women. The full significance of this movement as an expression of respect for and confidence in women can hardly be overestimated.

It may be, as some have suggested, that the intellectual specialty of women should come to be general culture, since that is needed in every home, while the men, having the world’s work on their hands, must necessarily specialise, at the cost of breadth of education. Yet as women are needed in politics that corruption may be lessened and reforms advanced, so men are needed for the advancement of general culture, lest it be too far feminized; and moreover, they need this culture themselves, lest they become mere business or professional machines.

In studying the various civilisations and religious systems of the world we have seen how diverse have been the solutions attempted for the problem of sex relationships, how inadequate most of them have been for developing the finest phases of life, yet how, nevertheless, love has evolved and shown its higher possibilities and its fundamental importance for the spiritual advancement of the race.

Sex susceptibility is universal and irresistible. To fail to recognise its spiritual side is to put the strongest force in human nature at the service of the baser instincts. To condemn it as evil, or as having only a physical purpose, is to despise woman and throw the primary relationships of life out of joint. On the other hand, to exalt without spiritualising it, brings licentiousness and degeneracy.

This is the great danger at the present time, and this danger will not be averted by urging home-keeping and motherhood and humility upon women. When woman tends away from the home she must be wooed, not driven back. Her revolt is a reaction which is not without due cause, and which must be met with wisdom, not with unthinking denunciation. On the way this problem is met depends to a great extent the success of the civilisation of the future.


  • Civilisation and womanhood by Harriet Bowker Bradbury (1863-1945). Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1916.
  • Colour photography: and other recent developments of the art of the camera by Charles Holme (1848-1923); Dixon Scott (1881-1915). London; Paris; New York: Offices of “The Studio” 1908.

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