Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1905
Source: New Age, p. 218, 6 April 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Once more the enemies of women’s emancipation are able to rejoice over “a victory scored on Friday night in the House of Commons, when. Dr. Shipman’s Bill for enabling women to be elected by popular vote to County and Borough Councils, after passing its second reading by a majority of 150, was, on the motion of Sir W.E.M. Tomlinson, of Preston, prevented from being referred to a Committee. The method by which this result was obtained is described by the Morning Leader as “a discreditable manoeuvre,” and by the Daily News as “a fiasco.” As onlookers, we women note that it is only one among the many “discreditable manoeuvres” and “fiascos” which day by day disgrace and bring into contempt our much-vaunted Parliamentary forms of procedure. How to leave undone the things they should do, and how to do the things they should not do, seems to be the ideal for which the present House of representatives of male Britons stands. If millions of money (much of which, be it remembered, is wrung from unrepresented taxpayers) is to be voted away in an afternoon, the interest in the matter, according to the account in the Standard, is lukewarm; “at one time there was present not one member for each million of money wanted.” But when it is a question of replacing women, the value of whose administrative services has been overwhelmingly proved and acknowledged, on Borough and. County Councils, there are, always contemptible mischief-makers to be found, who, by use of the mechanism of legislation, can block, impede, and stultify a useful measure designed and brought forward in the interests of the weaker part of the community, who stand in need of the mother-spirit in administration.
There is more than ever reason, since the passing of the new Education Act, for the presence of women on Borough and County Councils, as it is in that way only they can be elected by popular vote on bodies of educational control. It is further highly essential that there should be women members of these two Councils for the inspection of County Lunatic Asylums, otherwise female lunatics have no official visitors and inspectors of their own sex. For these two reasons more especially there is urgent necessity for Dr. Shipman’s Bill to become law at as early a date as possible. There is no reason but intriguing prejudice for keeping women off administrative bodies, where their presence, according to testimony both in and out of the House, is so much needed. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the men and women of Preston, and of many towns in the neighbourhood, where there are sturdy workers and voters, will remember Sir W.E.M. Tomlinson’s name at election time with a double black cross against it; and will do their best to keep out of the next Parliament at least one of the mischief-making incapables, who can at one moment fling away millions of the nation’s money, and, at another moment can block a useful measure for enabling those who are willing to serve the people in administrative work.
The Weekly Scotsman has lately opened a column on this subject, and has invited unsigned confessions from a number of women. I have been much struck with the profound note sounded in many of the confessions – a note which, for the most part, rings free of dogma or denominational influence, and sounds deep down in the intimate recesses of the soul. “An average woman” writes: “How many women are there that open their souls to men? Very few – none almost. Here and there one, perhaps, may do so in a very limited degree, when she encounters one of the extremely exceptional men of keen sympathy and insight, a man who is content to listen and discuss, a man who will treat her as an equal – and who does not attempt to dictate and patronise... Because women do not talk loudly and wrangle and brawl, and write long, solemn screeds, and puff out pompous cheeks, and scowl with portentous brows, because they are merry and kindly, and loving, because they only live their religion, therefore, O, man, thou sayest they have no religious convictions! Look around – look at the patience, the fortitude, the cheerfulness, with which, women bear weak health, poverty, unkindness, monotonous work, day after day.” Another woman, signing “Pack,” writes: “The daily round gives plenty of scope for trying to realise in one’s own life the divine ideal. Even women who are denied their natural sphere, wifehood and motherhood, seek to express their highest aspirations in a life of dedication to the service of humanity. That there is ‘mysticism’ in such religious convictions there can be no doubt, for no amount of argument will bring us any nearer to the mystery of spiritual insight and spiritual experience; but mysticism is not ‘emotionalism,’ and no such evanescent principle as that could carry a woman cheerfully and joyously through long years of lonely, unacknowledged self-sacrifice as many have endured.” It is this religious spirit as opposed to the dogmatic spirit, which the average man fails to appreciate in women. An intellectual man, like the late M. Guyau, understands and expresses it in his work L'Irreligion de l'Avenir, in which he foreshadows an ethic freed from compulsion or sanction. He realises that, given equality of opportunity, the average woman is the intellectual equal of the average man; and that, as a consequence, when education is freed from the fictions of ecclesiasticism, and when religion is taught as “the relation of the finite to the infinite,” and freethought is inculcated as “the necessary partial knowledge of this one true religion,” women will continue to weave their spirituality into their intellectuality, and will breathe into the tender souls of their children not religious dogmatism, which is all the past has had to offer them, but religious freethought, which beckons to them in the near future.
It is but a truism to say that the present is a time of transitional stress and that the freeing of ethic from dogma is the rock of offence on which men, quite as much as women, find shipwreck. The most hideous example is, perhaps, to be found in the “non-moral man” of Nietzsche’s Superman, as reflected in his self-conscious disciples. Women, it would seem, may be trusted not to go to such mock-heroic extremes; – such “puffing out of pompous cheeks, and scowling, with portentous brows” at the teaching that humanity, even in its weaknesses and meaner manifestations, is deserving of pity and of help. It is men, not women, who are striving to belittle the science and the philosophy of such teachers as Herbert Spencer and Haeckel. In a recently-published book, Root Principles in Rational and Spiritual Things, Mr. Thomas Child attempts to prove that Herbert Spencer found no final consolation in his heroic search for Truth, and only Truth, but surely there are passages in Spencer’s works which prove he possessed precisely the same “mystic,” as opposed to emotional, consolation of which “Pack” writes in the passage I have already quoted. “True-Science,” Herbert Spencer wrote, “and true Religion are twin sisters, and the separation of either from the other is sure to prove the death of both. Science prospers exactly in proportion as it is religious, and Religion flourishes in exact proportion to the scientific depth and firmness of its basis. The great deeds of philosophers have been less the fruit of their intellect than of the direction of that intellect by an eminently religious tone of mind. Truth has yielded herself rather to their patience, their love, their single-heartedness and their self-denial, than to their logical acumen.” What could better describe the attitude of the majority of women towards the inner inspiration which has to serve them during the long and infinitely painful life-struggle?..A few chosen spirits amongst men understand and appreciate it; a poet like Shelley can voice it in the lines:
And women, too, beautiful and kind
As the free heaven, which rains fresh light and dew
On the wide earth, passed; gentle radiant forms
From custom’s evil taint exempt and pure;
Speaking the wisdom once they could not think;
Lookings emotions once they feared to feel,
And changed to all which once they dared not be;
Yet, being new, made earth like heaven.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.