Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Honorable Womanhood

( Originally Published 1912 )



Preached the Sunday following the death of the Queen.

Many daughters have done virtuously.

Hebrew Proverb.

The passing years furnish many lessons for all diligent students. Schools and books instruct, but for every mortal, time is the greatest teacher. Only our early years are passed in the common school-rooms and colleges. A period comes when their tasks are completed. We are in possession of all the know-ledge they can give us. The same is true of books. Sooner or later each general reader finds that he has become familiar with all the facts and sentiments contained in literature. Having ranged over the great field of philosophy from Plato to Kant, the field of science from Thales to Darwin, the field of history from Herodotus to Bancroft, the field of poetry from Homer to Tennyson, and the field of morals from Seneca to Emerson, he is no longer surprised by any-thing he reads. He has learned all his teachers know.

This is not so in the school of time. Books are at best, only records of thoughts and events. But time places events themselves directly before our eyes. They come in rapid succession through all the course of our lives. Each sunrise sets a new lesson for us to learn.

These sentences form themselves in the mind while meditating over the death of England's noble Queen.

The intention is not to preach a funeral sermon. Other lips are more fitted to pronounce a eulogy appropriate to the occasion. Massillon and Bossuet gained much of their pulpit fame by preaching funeral sermons over the royal dead of France. Speaking in memory of a Queen it was said of one of these funeral orators that he "gathered up the immense audience in his arms and moistened the faces of strong men with tears as he showed the nothingness of mortal glory and the beauty of eternal life as compared with the most splendid but ephemeral life of earth."

Thus, some eloquent churchman of England, we trust, will be able to utter words that shall do justice to the virtue of this queen during the many years of her private and public career and fittingly express the world's sorrow at her death. Whoever does this will make himself famous. The words able to contain what all the civilized world now thinks and feels over this event would themselves become immortal.

But while our service is not to be a funeral eulogy it may well become a reflection over the event that has so challenged public attention. A few pages of life's great volume have been printed in Italics and we cannot pass over them hurriedly and carelessly. We must study the lesson the week has set for us.

Here we do not place a high estimate upon merely official royalty. More than a hundred years ago our ancestors, first despised and then rebelled against the official sovereignty of one of Victoria's ancestors. Those who came to South Carolina from France came to escape the abuse of royal authority. The history of our country is, indeed, not all glorious, but it has been so far successful as to demonstrate that a nation can live without hereditary royalty. A king is an accident and not an essential of national existence. Thus, while some may have no reverence for the memory of Victoria, as Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India, no one can fail to reverence her as a woman. Her official royalty was an accident of birth; her real nobility was an essential product of more hidden and spiritual forces.

William IV died at two o'clock on the morning of June 20th, 1837. At five o'clock the same morning the Archbishop of Canterbury and others arrived at Kensington palace and having awakened the young Alexandrina Victoria from sleep, told her of her uncle's death and that she was Queen of England. At eleven o'clock the Lord Chancellor administered the oath and she, in turn, received the sworn allegiance of the officers of the realm. Told in detail, the story is full of romantic interest. But seen in the light of after history the mind goes back of that early morning scene and discovers that she was queen before she was proclaimed as such by those who had ridden through the night from Windsor castle to Kensington palace. Nature had anticipated the official act. E'er mind had been stored with knowledge; her heart had been stored with generous sentiments; and her mother had carefully guarded her from the corrupting influences of the court, too many of which still survived from the reign of the Georges. The next year occurred the coronation festival. It was one of great splendor. The chronicles of the period describe the magnificent robes and jewels. But more than three score years of sovereignty show that, on that coronation day, the most magnificent thing was the young woman her-self. Prince Esterhazy was covered with diamonds from head to foot. They were the sensation of the day and found a place in the light literature of the time. Now, compared with the character of her who was crowned, their luster fades. The proverb maker uttered a truth for all time when he declared that the price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies.

The main value of the Queen's life to us and all the world is, that, in her long reign, the woman was equal to the sovereign. Nature and King-craft placed the crown on the same forehead. She was as loyal to righteousness as she was to the realm. She was a good queen because she was a good woman. The dutiful and diligent daughter, the faithful wife, the affectionate and wise mother, and the devout Christian were not hidden by the office of sovereign. For our century she is the standing illustration of the saying of Marcus Aurelius, that a life may be well lived even in a palace.

The world has had many great queens from Semiramis onward to Elizabeth and Catharine of Russia. Not all of them have been bad. There are, in-deed, a few names among them worthy of honor. But it is safe to say that, in all noble qualities, no woman or man who ever ruled a realm surpassed this queen whose death the world now mourns. For sixty-four years sitting under

"That fierce light that beats upon the throne," her life shows no moral stain.

That which makes her noble character so valuable is the fact that she lived her long life and, at last, ended it in sight of the whole world. Jesus said a city set on a hill cannot be hid; neither does a man light a candle and put it under a bushel, but in a candlestick that it may give light to every one in the house. It was thus with this light. It was placed where all the world might see it. Be-cause of her obscurity of birth, or her lack of official eminence, or her own modest and retiring disposition, many a noble woman is visible only to her own household or a small circle of personal friends. It was not so here. In the play the young woman says:

"How far that little candle throws his beams;
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

Thus this life was placed where it could be readily seen. It was a torch whose beams penetrated everywhere. The throne of England did for honorable womanhood what a mountain does for autumn foliage. It lifted it up where its glory became more visible. The throne did not add anything to noble womanhood; it only made it more conspicuous.

It need not be assumed that she stood alone in her fine womanly qualities. To do her full honor it is not necessary to claim that in everything she surpassed all the great sisterhood of womankind. Indeed, strict justice compels the confession that, in some things, she only equalled and, in other things, fell below many other women of England and America. She was less intellectual than George Eliot; less poetical than Mrs. Browning; less learned than Mrs. Ward. She was no more sympathetic than Florence Nightingale; no more a friend of peace than was Lucretia Mott; she had no more executive ability than Mrs. Livermore or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She had some intellectual power, some poetic sensibility, some learning, some sympathy, some love of peace, some executive ability, but these gifts and acquirements were not her special possessions. There are thousands of women who have them in greater or less quantity. Having had access to the same fountains of learning and poetry and benevolence and sympathy and wife-hood and motherhood they have drunken in all these virtues. The only thing peculiar to her was her royalty. England and America had millions of noble women in the nineteenth century, but only one of them was queen.

It in no way detracts from her true worth to say that she was a product of her age. She ought to have been a better queen than Mary Tudor or Elizabeth or Mary Stuart because she lived in a better age. The circumstances were more favorable to virtue. Religious persecution all lay in the centuries preceding her reign. Catholic and Protestant had ceased to kill each other in the name of Christ. The disputes concerning succession were settled. It was not necessary for her to be cruel, like Mary, for the sake of her religion, nor battle with a rival for the sake of the throne, like Elizabeth. No one questioning her right to the crown she did not, like Queen Anne, need to become involved in political intrigue. Great literature, indeed, came to England in former reigns; but that which came in such profusion during the reign of Victoria had a purity far surpassing that of the Elizabethan era or that of the last queen of the House of Stuart. The world had reached a stage when books were written which could be read without shame by women. Five years before she became queen the Reform Bill had passed into a law. Human rights were extended, and the common people rose into new importance and new liberty. Thus many favorable conditions surrounded the queen. Her marriage was a beautiful love episode in her young life. It was an affair arranged by two generous and ardent young hearts rather than by diplomacy and statecraft. In all high qualities of learning and sensibility the husband and wife were equals and their twenty-one years of married life present a picture of mutual helpfulness and happiness rarely surpassed in any palace or cottage of the world. Thus, in her noble character as woman and as queen, she is a product of a noble age.

We may all be glad that such a woman was queen because it placed her where modern society was, not only permitted, but almost compelled to see her. There are some rich young men in this country who like to imitate the manners and morals of the English nobility. Their clothing, their pronunciation, their sports, their food and drinks are all copied. We may all be glad that the women of England and America have for many years been able to see at the head of England's nobility one who might be copied with profit. It is to be feared that this is not always so. To imitate some English nobility our young men would have to copy, not only foolish, but vicious qualities. Social standing, to some minds, seems to be a sufficient apology for folly and wickedness. It is well for all to recall that England's Queen has done nothing to sanction vice of any kind. As woman and sovereign she has been a friend and an example of virtue.

But the same age that made her has made millions like her. She was not in advance of her times; she is only a conspicuous illustration of her times. The many powerful and beneficent forces that played around her youth and middle life and old age have been in equal activity in the life of woman-hood at large. No earnest and educated woman has been left untouched by them. The church, the school, science, literature, philanthropy, love of peace, common sense, industry, liberty, and the home have combined to create a high order of womanhood of which this royal person was only a truthful and exalted example. It does not offer any disrespect to her character or memory to say that she was a good illustration of average womanhood. When the average is so high, to thus characterize her, becomes a form of eulogy. In a garden full of roses it is no disrespect to say that each one resembles all its beautiful companions. In praising all, we praise each one; and, in praising each one, we praise all. Thus we may be glad that the surroundings of our age have been such as are able to so exalt the average of womanhood that, in the great brilliant company we cannot distinguish between a queen and millions of her sisters.

The well known story has come down to us from classic times that a tribe, about to make war with Rome, sent a spy into the city to discover what kind of people they would meet in battle. He returned and reported to his chief that he had seen a nation of kings. Thus, could some one come from a barbarous land or from the half barbarous past when woman was a toy or a drudge and see the position she now occupies; see her as an educated and refined and sympathetic being; as daughter and wife and mother; as teacher in ten thousand schools; as engaged in many honorable professions; as foremost in many reforms; as the main working force in organized benevolence; forming by far the larger part of the multitude worshipping at the altars of religion; ministering to the suffering in hospitals; moving over man's awful battle-fields like an angel of mercy trying to undo the misery that has been done; see her doing all the duties growing out of the manifold relations of our complex civilization; how great would be his surprise! He might go back and report: "I have seen a nation of queens." Among all the many wonders of our age we must not neglect to note this uprising of common womanhood to such heights that, apart from her hereditary title, a queen cannot be distinguished from a multitude of women. Victoria did not bring the throne down to the old level of womanhood; our age has lifted the average woman-hood up to the level of the throne.

A just estimate of Victoria would deny that she possessed brilliancy of intellect. Her attempt at book-making was not a great success. Doubtless her diary was published, not because it contained any literary value, but because its author was Queen of England. Sometimes a book may add sudden, but temporary fame to an author. In this case it was the position of the author lent sudden, but quickly vanishing fame to the book. Her letters to Tennyson and others show no signs of genius. They are expressions of common sense suffused with kindness.

This is not written in detraction, but in the attempt to state a fact. In this also she is a type, not only of average womanhood, but of average man-hood as well. Not many persons are brilliant of intellect. Genius is valuable; but it is very rare. But the presence of brilliancy and genius is not essential to nobility of character. The great bulk of' the world's work is done by those who are in the ranks of common humanity. The poet whom the Queen loved and honored wrote:

"Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood."

This is true; but it is also true that kindness of heart, faith in man and God, singleness and purity of aim, a conscience for right, and fidelity to duty are more valuable than any aristocracy of the intellect.

Those who possess these simpler, less ostentatious, but, precious qualities, some times do more for the world's real prosperity and happiness than do those whom Genius has crowned. It may be granted that average womanhood is not broad and exact in scholar-ship, but it is rich in good sense, in kindness, in depth and delicacy of sentiment and impassioned love for human happiness. Our world needs scholars, but it also needs Saviors. John, with his love, is as valuable as Paul with his logic. The philosophy of Hypatia is equalled in value by the piety of Jeanne Guyon and the philanthropy of Dorothea Dix. To be of use in the world and to live a high and honor-able life one does not need to acquire all knowledge. The important thing is that whatever knowledge may be gained shall be converted into life. Learning is only valuable when it reaches the heart and fills it with tender and noble sentiments. Victoria and a great company of women like her are not greatly learned, but the learning they do possess has reached their hearts and become a noble life motive. They are thus powerful influences in the world's progress towards well-being.

Considering how great is the power of honorable-womanhood for good, it would seem to be very desirable to remove everything which might hinder any noble woman in the exercise of her power. Her political rights should be made equal to those possessed by man. The old argument that participation in public affairs would be fatal to womanly qualities ought not to be heard again. Being queen did not unsex Victoria. It destroyed no womanly trait.

Her fourscore years of daughterhood, wifehood, motherhood when combined with her three score years of queenhood should impose silence upon all those in this country who have objected to giving full political rights to American women because it would mar their womanly qualities. From girlhood to old age the sovereign of earth's greatest empire was also a noble and gracious woman.

For a few years it has been the fashion for some to exploit war as a great factor of civilization. Of course this will go out of fashion. When the desire for conquest has been satisfied, when the cannons have ceased to roar, and the grass has crept over and concealed the graves where the soldiers lie, back will come the confession that science and art, that church and home, that love and sympathy, that all the sweet, gentle influences of human life are the true factors of civilization. It must be written to the lasting praise of England's Queen that, at all times, she was ready to make this confession. The Crimean war, now seen to have been perfectly useless, came and made her sorrowful in the earlier years of her reign. It is thought by some that, but for her love of peace aided by the wisdom of Lincoln, the "Trent affair" would have led to war between England and the United States. It is almost certain that she has more than once preserved the peace of Europe. For this she is worthy of reverence on earth and happiness in heaven. It is rumored that still more years might have been added to her long reign could England have avoided war in South Africa. However this may be, having all her life loved and planned for peace, it is sad to think that her last years were years of battle; her last sunset stained with too deep a crimson. We trust that her disappointment has not followed her whither she has gone, but that she has already received the consolation her religion gives to all who, weeping over earth's calamities, give their lives to avert them.

Over the pale form of Henrietta Maria, Bossuet pronounced these impressive sentences:

"The Queen has passed away like the flower of the field. In the morning she bloomed in beauty; in the evening we saw her wither away. But what matters it? That which comes to an end can never be long. Today let us begin to despise the favors and the glory of the world. Every time we enter those august precincts or traverse those superb palaces on which the Queen bestowed a splendor which our eyes still see; whenever, beholding that great station which she filled so well, we mourn her absence, let us remember that the glory we admired was her chief peril in this life and that, in the other world, there is nothing capable of consoling her but the holy humiliation of repentance and her sincere resignation to the will of God."

These words contain the eloquence of truth, not only for royalty, but for every mortal. Human life is a flower, that in the morning blooms, in the evening fades away. Titles all perish at death. All fame and wealth and material splendor halt at the grave. The dust of a queen cannot be distinguished from the dust of the humblest daughter of earth.

There is, therefore, one lesson for all the women of England and the world: It is not fashion nor wealth nor social position nor beauty of face and form that imports. Only truth and love and faith and duty and passion for spiritual ideals possess any lasting value. All who, in palace or cottage, live for these things belong to earth's nobility. Queens, crowned of God, their reign is not limited by three score years, but reaches over all the future. Their empire is not bounded by India and the far off islands of the south-ern seas; it includes the sunrise and sunset and the splendid stars.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com