The Woman Who Did by Grant Allen
And yet our Herminia was a woman after all. Some three years later, when Harvey Kynaston came to visit her one day, and told her he was really going to be married,--what sudden thrill was this that passed through and through her. Her heart stood still. She was aware that she regretted the comparative loss of a very near and dear acquaintance.
She knew she was quite wrong. It was the leaven of slavery. But these monopolist instincts, which have wrought more harm in the world we live in than fire or sword or pestilence or tempest, hardly die at all as yet in a few good men, and die, fighting hard for life, even in the noblest women.
She reasoned with herself against so hateful a feeling. Though she knew the truth, she found it hard to follow. No man indeed is truly civilized till he can say in all sincerity to every woman of all the women he loves, to every woman of all the women who love him, "Give me what you can of your love and of yourself; but never strive for my sake to deny any love, to strangle any impulse that pants for breath within you. Give me what you can, while you can, without grudging, but the moment you feel you love me no more, don't pollute your own body by yielding it up to a man you have ceased to desire; don't do injustice to your own prospective children by giving them a father whom you no longer respect, or admire, or yearn for. Guard your chastity well. Be mine as much as you will, as long as you will, to such extent as you will, but before all things be your own; embrace and follow every instinct of pure love that nature, our mother, has imparted within you." No woman, in turn, is truly civilized till she can say to every man of all the men she loves, of all the men who love her, "Give me what you can of your love, and of yourself; but don't think I am so vile, and so selfish, and so poor as to desire to monopolize you. Respect me enough never to give me your body without giving me your heart; never to make me the mother of children whom you desire not and love not." When men and women can say that alike, the world will be civilized. Until they can say it truly, the world will be as now a jarring battlefield for the monopolist instincts.
Those jealous and odious instincts have been the bane of humanity. They have given us the stiletto, the Morgue, the bowie-knife. Our race must inevitably in the end outlive them. The test of man's plane in the scale of being is how far he has outlived them. They are surviving relics of the ape and tiger. But we must let the ape and tiger die. We must cease to be Calibans. We must begin to be human.
Patriotism is the one of these lowest vices which most often masquerades in false garb as a virtue. But what after all is patriotism? "My country, right or wrong, and just because it is my country!" This is clearly nothing more than collective selfishness. Often enough, indeed, it is not even collective. It means merely, "My business-interests against the business-interests of other people, and let the taxes of my fellow-citizens pay to support them." At other times it means pure pride of race, and pure lust of conquest; "My country against other countries; my army and navy against other fighters; my right to annex unoccupied territory against the equal right of all other peoples; my power to oppress all weaker nationalities, all inferior races." It never means or can mean anything good or true. For if a cause be just, like Ireland's, or once Italy's, then 'tis a good man's duty to espouse it with warmth, be it his own or another's. And if a cause be bad, then 'tis a good man's duty to oppose it, tooth and nail, irrespective of your patriotism. True, a good man will feel more sensitively anxious that strict justice should be done by the particular community of which chance has made him a component member than by any others; but then, people who feel acutely this joint responsibility of all the citizens to uphold the moral right are not praised as patriots but reviled as unpatriotic. To urge that our own country should strive with all its might to be better, higher, purer, nobler, more generous than other countries,--the only kind of patriotism worth a moment's thought in a righteous man's eyes, is accounted by most men both wicked and foolish.
Then comes the monopolist instinct of property. That, on the face of it, is a baser and more sordid one. For patriotism at least can lay claim to some sort of delusive expansiveness beyond mere individual interest; whereas property stops short at the narrowest limits of personality. It is no longer "Us against the world!" but "Me against my fellow-citizens!" It is the last word of the intercivic war in its most hideous avatar. Look how it scars the fair face of our common country with its antisocial notice-boards, "Trespassers will be prosecuted." It says in effect, "This is my land. As I believe, God made it; but I have acquired it, and tabooed it to myself, for my own enjoyment. The grass on the wold grows green; but only for me. The mountains rise glorious in the morning sun; no foot of man, save mine and my gillies' shall tread them. The waterfalls leap white from the ledge in the glen; avaunt there, non-possessors; your eye shall never see them. For you the muddy street; for me, miles of upland. All this is my own. And I choose to monopolize it."
Or is it the capitalist? "I will add field to field," he cries aloud, despite his own Scripture; "I will join railway to railway. I will juggle into my own hands all the instruments for the production of wealth that my cunning can lay hold of; and I will use them for my own purposes against producer and consumer alike with impartial egoism. Corn and coal shall lie in the hollow of my hand. I will enrich myself by making dear by craft the necessaries of life; the poor shall lack, that I may roll down fair streets in needless luxury. Let them starve, and feed me!" That temper, too, humanity must outlive. And those who are incapable of outliving it of themselves must be taught by stern lessons, as in the splendid uprising of the spirit of man in France, that their race has outstripped them.
Next comes the monopoly of human life, the hideous wrong of slavery. That, thank goodness, is now gone. 'Twas the vilest of them all--the nakedest assertion of the monopolist platform:--"You live, not for yourself, but wholly and solely for me. I disregard your claims to your own body and soul, and use you as my chattel." That worst form has died. It withered away before the moral indignation even of existing humanity. We have the satisfaction of seeing one dragon slain, of knowing that one monopolist instinct at least is now fairly bred out of us.
Last, and hardest of all to eradicate in our midst, comes the monopoly of the human heart, which is known as marriage. Based upon the primitive habit of felling the woman with a blow, stunning her by repeated strokes of the club or spear, and dragging her off by the hair of her head as a slave to her captor's hut or rock-shelter, this ugly and barbaric form of serfdom has come in our own time by some strange caprice to be regarded as of positively divine origin. The Man says now to himself, "This woman is mine. Law and the Church have bestowed her on me. Mine for better, for worse; mine, drunk or sober. If she ventures to have a heart or a will of her own, woe betide her! I have tabooed her for life: let any other man touch her, let her so much as cast eyes on any other man to admire or desire him--and, knife, dagger, or law-court, they shall both of them answer for it." There you have in all its native deformity another monopolist instinct--the deepest-seated of all, the grimmest, the most vindictive. "She is not yours," says the moral philosopher of the new dispensation; "she is her own; release her! The Turk hales his offending slave, sews her up in a sack, and casts her quick into the eddying Bosphorus. The Christian Englishman, with more lingering torture, sets spies on her life, drags what he thinks her shame before a prying court, and divorces her with contumely. All this is monopoly, and essentially slavery. Mankind must outlive it on its way up to civilization."
And then the Woman, thus taught by her lords, has begun to retort in these latter days by endeavoring to enslave the Man in return. Unable to conceive the bare idea of freedom for both sexes alike, she seeks equality in an equal slavery. That she will never achieve. The future is to the free. We have transcended serfdom. Women shall henceforth be the equals of men, not by levelling down, but by levelling up; not by fettering the man, but by elevating, emancipating, unshackling the woman.
All this Herminia knew well. All these things she turned over in her mind by herself on the evening of the day when Harvey Kynaston came to tell her of his approaching marriage. Why, then, did she feel it to some extent a disappointment? Why so flat at his happiness? Partly, she said to herself, because it is difficult to live down in a single generation the jealousies and distrusts engendered in our hearts by so many ages of harem life. But more still, she honestly believed, because it is hard to be a free soul in an enslaved community. No unit can wholly sever itself from the social organism of which it is a corpuscle. If all the world were like herself, her lot would have been different. Affection would have been free; her yearnings for sympathy would have been filled to the full by Harvey Kynaston or some other. As it was, she had but that one little fraction of a man friend to solace her; to resign him altogether to another woman, leaving herself bankrupt of love, was indeed a bitter trial to her.
Yet for her principles' sake and Dolly's, she never let Harvey Kynaston or his wife suspect it; as long as she lived, she was a true and earnest friend at all times to both of them.