On the Fair Sex Having No Souls; and On Old Women
A SPANISH author has affirmed, that brutes have no souls; a French writer supports the same opinion; but an Italian, more bold, has ventured to maintain that the fair-sex have likewise no souls, and are of another species of animal to man. This the author shews by various proofs drawn from the Scriptures; which he explains according to his own fancy. While this book was published in Latin, the Inquisition remained silent; but, when it was translated into the vulgar tongue, they censured and prohibited it. The Italian ladies were divided, on this occasion, into two, opposite parties: the one was greatly enraged to be made so inferior to the other sex; and the other, considering themselves only as machines, were content to amuse themselves in playing off the springs in the manner most agreeable to themselves.
The Author of the Commentary, on the Epistles of St. Paul, falsely ascribed to St. Ambrose, says, on the eleventh chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, that women are not made according to the image of the Creator.
The Mahometans are known to hold the same opinions concerning the souls of the female sex. Very ungallantly, each Jew, among his morning benedictions, includes one to thank God he has not made him a Woman.
Besides this indignity offered to the fair-sex, Howel tells us, that as “it was an opinion of the Jews that WOMAN is of an inferior creation to MAN, being made only for multiplication and pleasure, therefore hath she no admittance into the body of the synagogue.”
When Rousseau published his Letters from the Mountains, his enemies, who were but too numerous, spread a report amongst the females in the village of Motiers, where he resided, and about its environs, that he had asserted that Women had no Souls: a circumstance that really put the poor philosopher in danger of sharing the fate of Orpheus. It was fortunate for him that the season confined him to his house, as he would have been put in the last peril (as the French express it) from these furious Bacchants, whose termagant spirits were irritated to the highest pitch in behalf of their suspected souls.
Butler says in his Cervantic poem—
“Yes, ’tis in vain to think to guess
At Women by appearances;
That paint and patch their imperfections
Of intellectual complections;
And daub their tempers o’er with washes
As artificial as their faces.
If some have been found to suspect the fair-sex are deprived of souls, most seem to treat OLD WOMEN as if they indeed had none. We do not feel for them all that esteem, which the recollection of their amiable youth might inspire.
“An old woman” has become a term of reproach; yet I do not see why it should be more so than “an old man,” which, however, is frequently alledged as a reason for our paying an extraordinary deference to the person whose age is supposed to have claims on our veneration. Certainly senility does not always indicate wisdom: it may, with the ladies, be graced by the remains of a beautiful face, and sometimes of engaging manners. Ninon de L’Enclos concealed love amidst her wrinkles.
In rude nations the fate of old women is singularly unfortunate. They are totally despised, and sometimes suffer death. Mr. Muller informs us, that an Ostiac never approaches his wife after her fortieth year. He is, however, so kind as to keep her to regulate his domestic affairs, and to serve the young woman whom he has selected to occupy her former place.
Old women, in various parts of Africa, are subjected to a most rigorous chastity; and their slightest freedoms serve for a pretence to punish them by the sword, and even by fire!
In Negroland they sell them as soon as their beauty is on the decline; and, with the produce of this matrimonial commerce, they purchase young girls more frolicksome and handsome.
Bayle has smartly said of the age of ladies—that it is the only thing they can keep in profound secresy.