Dora B. Montefiore, New Age July 1905
Source: New Age, p. 427-428, 6 July 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
This has been a great week for the assembling together of the graduates and undergraduates from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales at University College, where delegates from the Unions of the various Universities have been busy discussing during the day inter-University affairs, and meeting in the afternoons and evenings in most pleasant social intercourse. At the Union debates, women speakers – notably Miss Kelly and Miss Butler – distinguished themselves; the former moving in an excellent speech the granting of State aid to Universities. Some of the Scotch delegates deprecated the demand for State aid on the score that it would entail State control. That is a legitimate plea where the State is a capriciously irresponsible body fashioned on the lines of a “Providence”; but where, as is the case in our Australian Colonies, the State is the people themselves – and its functions are less and less of a governing nature, and more and more of an administrative nature – then State aid can be more freely accepted, and State interference and control less dreaded. At the various social gatherings in connection with the meetings of the Inter-university Unions, academic dress being de rigueur, the girl graduates in their gowns and many coloured hoods added much to the picturesqueness of the scene. The reception at University College on Wednesday evening, when Lord Reay, Lord Monkswell, and Professor Cormack received the guests, was both brilliant and interesting – the only matter of regret being that there was so much of intense interest to be seen and examined, and so little time, comparatively, in which to see it. Fortunately Professor Flinders Petrie’s exhibition of antiquities from Egypt and Sinai will remain on view at the College, for some time longer; and they well merit more than one visit.
Writing of the impression created by the finished speaking of the women delegates at the Inter-university Union meetings reminds me of the speaking of the women at the Women Writers’ annual dinner on June 26th. These dinners are always looked forward to as being cheery gatherings of cultured women, linked together in the comradeship that springs from work in the fields of literature and journalism; and at times the after-dinner speaking is well up to, or above, the average. But this year the Women Writers drew a blank, as far as speakers were concerned. Mrs. Meynell, that accomplished stylist and writer of sonnets, presided, and read a paper on Fanny Burney, Mrs. Thrale, and Charlotte Brontė. The substance of the paper would, no doubt, have been delightful if confided to a literary magazine, but as it was inaudible by reason of the style of its delivery, and guests, who were enjoying their coffee and cigarettes, could only regret that it had not been laid in printed form on their plates. Mrs. Tynan Hinkson, again, whose daintily witty writings charm us all, is quite incapable of making her voice heard beyond the radius of a couple of yards, and Mrs. Archibald Little – who generously came forward to fill up a gap, as Mrs. Craigie felt unable to speak – did not attempt to touch on any subject of interest of the day, or of a professional nature, but told us something about the binding of the feet of Chinese women – a something which we had already become acquainted with in her delightful book Intimate China.
That there was much to be desired in after-dinner speeches that evening is a certainty and one was all the more sorry to have to acknowledge the fact when one recognised amongst the guests such finished speakers as Lady Charles McLaren and Lady Grove. Fanny Burney, Charlotte Brontė, and the somewhat musty platonics of Johnson and Mrs. Thrale seem rather unreal in a twentieth century after-dinner speech, unless handled with the lightest touch and the swiftest allusion. The feet of Chinese women have their place, no doubt – naturally a very small place – but we would rather have heard, had it been possible, of the vivid experiences of Mrs. McKerlie, the young Hindoo girl (who was among the guests) who has lived in London the life of the flower and coster girl, and who for months was the intimate of “Liza of Lambeth” and her kind.
The last act of Miss Alma Tadema’s play, which, under this title, was given last week by the Stage Society, has for its theme the same thought as inspires Mrs. Browning’s Aurora Leigh – the thought that the unmarried mother can be spiritually redeemed through the love of her child. Miss St. John played admirably the part of the warm-hearted music-hall artiste, who, some years previously had been betrayed and deserted by Cyprian de Steyn. Since the birth of her child, she had lived only in and for it; and was as proud and happy a mother as are those who possess wedding-rings and marriage lines. She expresses, half pathetically, half slangily, but at times wholly vitally, the truths that motherhood and mother love alone can teach; the truths that made Marion Earle turn and rend Aurora Leigh, who in the first moments of non-comprehension of motherhood’s mission, sought to convict the erring sister, and to chastise her through her child:-
“Mine, mine,” she said, “I have as sure a right
As any glad, proud mother in the world,
Who sits her darling down to cut his teeth
Upon her church-ring. If she talks of law
I talk of law! I claim my mother-dues
By law – the law which now is paramount –
The common law, by which the poor and weak
Are trodden underfoot by vicious men,
And loathed for ever after by the good!”
Miss Alma Tadema has much to learn about play-writing and characterisation, but there were possibilities about the last act of her play which in abler hands might have been worked up into a really strong situation.
Mrs. Bramwell Booth is reported as having said at the recent Mansion House meeting that “a free nation must be well born.” Did she mean, I wonder, that a free nation must be born of free mothers? Or, to put it another way, does the fact that women are classed politically with “lunatics, criminals, and infants” make for good conditions of birth? She is reported as having said further that “women must be taught to be good mothers.” It is surely rather a sorry commentary on our civilisation that women have to be taught motherhood. Who teaches the savage or half-civilised mother her natural duties? Yet the child of the savage is better developed physically than is the child of the English proletariat. Surely the truth is that real motherhood is impossible under the conditions that the rich at the present time force on the poor. That until a fairer share of good houses, good wages, good food, and good air are the common property of all, instead of the few, motherhood must be stultified and degraded, and the race must suffer?
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.