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THE LAW OF MARRIAGE. 289
I might expand these observations to an infinite length, were I to permit myself to follow the ramifications of injustice which accompany the nullity of a married woman in the eye of the law. For example, cases frequently occur in which original trustees dying, no new ones are appointed, and the husband continues to receive the rents accruing on his wife's estate. I remember one, wherein wife having died many years prior to husband, and trustees having died before her, leaving no cognoscible heirs, the husband actually forgot all about the settlement, and bequeathed her property by his will as a portion of his own estate It happened that his executors became aware of the existence of the
settlement, but not until they had distributed the
property as directed, and the family were only saved from the calamity of a Chancery suit by a fortunate harmony prevailing among the co-heirs. I could adduce numerous instances in which trustees have either acted negligently or fraudulently; but never have I heard of a trustee paying the wife's annual income to herself during her husband's lifetime. Her money is never at her disposal, whether she behave well or ill, is made happy or miserable.
As to expecting an alteration in the law, so as to assure equality of rights to both sexes in regard to property, this must depend on the spread of equitable sentiments in the public mind. “Women's rights” is nothing but a phrase. They have none, except such as men choose to invest them with ; let women lay this well to heart. But if I were asked from what sources a beneficial change may be expected to proceed, I should specify two, and these are:—
1. The augmenting impatience of women under their disabilities; leading them to employ various methods of proclaiming it, and of appealing to what may be termed the conscience of society; setting forth the painful inequality in which the law places married women, in cases where property is in question, and also in those where unworthy treatment by husbands is endured without a chance of relief.
2. The sensible increase of the humane, benevolent tendencies in modern communities. Every attentive observer must have taken account of this fact; we are become more sensitive, more accessible to uneasy im. pressions when the sufferings or misfortunes, nay, even the discomfort of others, are brought under Our notice. Most persons feel an impulse to buy of a disagreeable emotion, be it engendered by a mendi. cant, by a tale of woe, by a casual blow of misfortune befalling either individuals or classes, by sympathy with some victim of crime, or even by humane Considerations as towards the brute creation. This is an age of subscriptions, of testimonials, of endow. ments, of institutions, of efforts, in short, for the miti. gation of every variety of human ills.
Now, since we are grown so tender-hearted, it is nowise surprising to find that the swelling gale of sighs and complaints, proceeding from the weaker portion of the community, has found its way to the public ear. The “wrongs of women” have at last awakened a certain number of the stronger sex to a sense of their own want of generosity, and it may be regarded as a feature in the present stage of civilization in England, that the condition of women should lately have taken rank among the topics which engage the serious atten: tion of thinking persons of both sexes. The debate which took place in the Senate of the London University, in May, 1862, as to the admission of women to the test of examination for certificates in some of the departments of learning and science, afforded a proof that the claim is not repudiated by that eminent body as unbecoming the sex. The Senate divided on the question, and ten members voted on each side. It was not so much because the women were likely to reach any distinction that they sought this privilege, but because it was calculated to pave the way for individual women of energy and talent to earn their living in the educational career. And ten members of the Senate were of opinion that women ought to be allowed to share in the advantages conferred by a certificate. It is not unusual for men to object to the endeavours making by women to enlarge the area of their industry, “because,” say they, “we do not wish to see them mingling in the race of competition with men. They are far more attractive and interesting when they confine themselves to occupations recognised as suitable to their sex, and do not invade the domain of intellectual labour.” In reply to such objections, I would simply observe, that we have reached a stage of society in which considerations of taste would seem to be overborne by the difficulty of finding the means of subsistence. Not to speak of the numerical excess of females over males, which is a well known element in the case, I would ask whether the so-called “feminine employments” are not filled to repletion by our women? and whether the fair candidates for emigra
tion, with all its drawbacks, do not exceed the limit of the funds available for sending them over the seas? The objection made above must therefore yield to the pressure of circumstances, for, even at the heavy cost of losing their attraction in male eyes, women cannot be expected to forego the means of existence, nor, supposing some amongst us to be sufficiently active and enterprising to attack science, and to become professors or physicians, ought they to be denied “a fair field and no favour.” If they fail, in consequence, to obtain husbands, that is their affair. Men will, naturally, marry according to their fancy. Leave to women the choice of adapting themselves to the taste of men; it is not a matter for society to regulate. But I have done with this (to me) disheartening subject, for the present, after adding the remark once made by a distinguished foreign nobleman, to myself, in reference to the leading idea of this essay. “There is no country in Europe,” said my friend, “in which women are treated with so much injustice as in England, in what regards property.”
Volumes might be written—nay, are written– about the difficulties and grievances of married life; but I maintain, and shall maintain to the end, that the first of all remedial measures to be sought for by women, and for which they should clamour, beg, and agitate, is “equality of rights over property with the other sex.” Although it is not likely that unhappiness will ever disappear from conjugal, any more than from single life, yet, viewed as a measure dictated by justice, and sanctioned by the practice of European nations, I believe that equal rights over