Item of the Day: Sketches of the History of Man (1774)

Full Title: Sketches of the History of Man by Lord Kames Home.
Edinburgh: W. Creech:
London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1774.


Book I.

Progress of Men as Individuals

SKETCH VI.

Progress of the Female Sex.

The history of the female sex, a capital branch of the history of man, comprehends great variety of matter, curious and interesting. But sketches are my province, not complete histories; and I propose in the present sketch to trace the gradual progress of women, from their low state in savage tribes, to their elevated state in civilized nations.

With regard to the outlines, whether of internal disposition, or of external figure, men and women are precisely the same. Nature, however, intending them for mates, has given them characters different, but concordant, so as to produce together delicious harmony. The man, naturally more robust, is fitted for severe labour and for field-exercises: the woman for sedentary occupations; and particularly for nursing children. To that difference the mind also contributes. A boy is always running about; delights in a top or a ball; and rides upon a stick for want of a horse. A girl has less inclination to move: her first amusement is a baby; which she delights to dress and undress. The man, bold and vigorous, is qualified for being a protector: the woman, delicate and timid, requires protection. The man, as a protector, is directed by nature to govern: the woman, conscious of inferiority, is disposed to obedience. Their intellectual powers correspond to the destination of nature: men have penetration and solid judgement to fit them for governing: women have sufficient understanding to make a decent figure under good government; a greater proportion would excite dangerous rivalship. Add another capital difference of character: the gentle and insinuating manners of the female sex tend to soften the roughness of the other sex; and where-ever women are indulged with any freedom, they polish sooner than men.

These are not the only particulars that distinguish the sexes. With respect to matrimony, it is the privilege of the male, as superior and protector, to make a choice: the female preferred has no privilege but barely to consent or to refuse. Nature fits them for these different parts: the male is bold, the female bashful. Hence among all nations it is the practice for men to court, and for women to be courted: which holds also among many other animals, probably among all that pair.

Another distinction is equally visible: The Master of a family is immediately connected with his country: his wife, his children, his servants, are immediately connected with him, and with their country through him only. Women accordingly have less patriotism than men; and less bitterness against the enemies of their country.

The peculiar modesty of the female sex is also a distinguishing circumstance. Nature hath provided them with it as their chief defence against the artful solicitations of the other sex before marriage, and also as the chief support of conjugal fidelity. It is held to be their capital virtue; and a woman who surrenders her chastity is universally despised; tho’ in a man chastity is scarce held to be a virtue, except in the married state. But of that more fully afterwards.

A fundamental article in the present sketch is matrimony; and it has been much controverted, whether it be an appointment of nature, or only of municipal law. Many writers have exercised their talents in that controversy, but without giving any satisfaction to a judicious enquirer. If I mistake not, it may be determined upon solid principles; and as it is of importance in the history of man, the reader, I am hopeful, will not be disgusted at the length of the argument.

. . .

What I have no opened suggests the following question, Whether, according to the animal economy above display’d, are we to presume, or not, that man is directed by nature to matrimony? If analogy can be rely’d on, the affirmative must be held, as there is no other creature in the known world to which pairing is so necessary. Man is a long-lived animal, and is proportionally slow in growing to maturity: he is a helpless being before the age of fifteen or sixteen, and there may be in a family ten or twelve children of different births before the eldest can shift for itself. Now in the original state of hunting and fishing, which are laborious occupations, and not always successful, a woman, suckling her infants is not able to provide food even for herself, far less for ten or twelve voracious children. Matrimony therefore, or pairing, is so necessary to the human race, that it must be natural and instinctive. When such ample means are provided for continuing every other animal race, is it supposable that the chief race would be neglected? Providential care descends even to vegetable life: every plant bears a profusion of seed; and in order to cover the earth with vegetables, some seeds have sings, some are scattered by means of a spring, and some are so light as to be carried about by the wind. Brute animals which do not pair, have grass and other food in plenty, enabling the female to feed her young without needing any help from the male. But where the young require the nursing care of both parents, pairing is a law of nature. When other races are so amply provided for, can it be seriously thought, that
Providence is less attentive to the human race? If men and women were not impelled by nature to matrimony, they would be less fitted for continuing their species than even the humblest plant. Have we not reason fairly to conclude, that matrimony in the human race is an appointment of nature? Can that conclusion be resisted by any one who believes in
Providence, and in final causes?

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Filed under 1770's, Family, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Women

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