Monday, February 16, 2015

Joseph Addison explains men & women

Monday, February 16, 2015
Rowlandson, Elegant Company Dancing
Loretta reports:

Magazines of the 1800s, like those of today, devoted a lot of ink to explaining men and women, what makes them tick, and how they ought to behave. Some of the works are stunningly misogynistic.  This excerpt, originally printed in the Spectator in the early 1700s, is gentler and more balanced—and proved very popular.  It was excerpted repeatedly in publications throughout the 1800s (I found an excerpt in a ladies magazine of 1833), and probably into the 1900s.  How well do you think it applies today?
Women in their nature are much more gay and joyous than men; whether it be that their blood is more refined, their fibres more delicate, and their animal spirits more light and volatile; or whether, as some have imagined, there may not be a kind of sex in the very soul, I shall not pretend to determine. As vivacity is the gift of women, gravity is that of men. They should each of them, therefore, keep a watch upon the particular bias which nature has fixed in their minds, that it may not draw too much, and lead them out of the paths of reason. This will certainly happen, if the one in every word and action affects the character of being rigid and severe, and the other of being brisk and airy. Men should beware of being captivated by a kind of savage philosophy, women by a thoughtless gallantry. Where these precautions are not observed, the man often degenerates into a cynic, the woman into a coquette ; the man grows sullen and morose, the woman impertinent and fantastical.

By what I have said we may conclude, men and women were made as counterparts to one another, that the pains and anxieties of the husband might be relieved by the sprightliness and good humour of the wife. When these are rightly tempered, care and cheerfulness go hand in hand ; and the family, like a ship that is duly trimmed, wants neither sail nor ballast.
But whatever was the reason than man and woman were made with this variety of temper, if we observe the conduct of the fair sex, we find that they chuse rather to associate themselves with a person who resembles them in that light and volatile humour which is natural to them, than to such as are qualified to moderate and counterbalance it ... When we see a fellow loud and talkative, full of insipid life and laughter, we may venture to pronounce him a female favourite : noise and flutter are such accomplishments as they cannot withstand. To be short, the passion of an ordinary woman for a man, is nothing else but self-love diverted upon another object; she would have the lover a woman in every thing but the sex.

The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Volume 3, Ed. Richard Hurd, (1811)

Image: Thomas Rowlandson, Elegant Company Dancing, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.Clicking on the image will enlarge it. 

Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Yve said...

He's unwittingly talking about the GBF phenomenon in that last paragraph I feel ;o)

Karen Field said...

I thought he made some general sense until he made those last comments about women choosing out of self-centered love their man. I can see that we must
think the best choice for ourselves would be someone like us but to only call women self-loving seemed quite harsh to me.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket