Correspondence with Emily Shirred 183
THE COLLEGE, HITCHIN. March 16th '70
DEAR SIR, I have been thinking very much about the opinion I expressed to you concerning the disinclination to marriage among women of a certain stamp in England and America, and wishing very much that I could give you evidence of what to me is certainly a fact, but which has grown into that through a multitude of channels, minute observation, scattered opinion in books and some aspects of opinion upon social questions. As regards America I know I gathered much from Mr H. Dikon's two works, also I remember some papers of Mr F. Newman which left me the same impression. Generally, the tone of what some call the most advanced (and which appear to me the most exaggerated) views of the 'woman question' treats marriage and the home position of the wife and mother with a sort of half contempt which indicates the feeling I speak of. Mr Mill has expressed what women have been feeling more and more for years past concerning the injustice of the irresponsible despotism under which they live; it may be and often is a benevolent despotism, but absolute governments are not in fashion and the reaction of liberal politics has doubtless affected the views of home life. Women have little hope of any change that law can make in their destiny,-better therefore they say to be independent of men. All that foolish talk about equality (foolish because it never can be proved one way or the other and has very little bearing upon the practical question) has stirred up feelings of antagonism and these are most unfavourable to marriage. I believe men do not realise to what a miserable extent women have married for position or independence, and degrading as the system has been it must be owned that to the larger number there. was no other resource,-they had no openings for employment and their families did not provide for them. Now therefore that there is so much stir about occupation for women and that they see for the first time a vision of independence to be earned by their own work, it is, perhaps, a necessary-at any rate a natural-result that they should look with some dislike to what seems the refuge for weaker minds. I believe that the feeble influence of passion over women-educated women at any rate-as compared with affection aids this state of things. If they do not meet with the individual who calls forth the strong affection, and for whom any sacrifice is light, a single life has nothing from which they shrink. If they can live without hardship they feel that they have much in the sense of freedom to compensate for any advantages marriage might have given. In France they will not bear the social discredit of old maidism, but the same struggle for independence is going on and is more easy to carry on within the limits of married life than in England. I think that the frequency with which we see women of property remain single is a corroboration of what I have said. But I feel that all I have written is most vague and can only show you the nature and direction of the evidence that has produced this conviction on my mind-one to which I give no welcome-for with all its ignorant shortcomings in practice, I am sure the old theory of life is that which is true to Nature, and that the existence of man or woman is abortive without the other. I say this only to let you know that my belief is not born of my own prepossession. Should I come across any facts or views I think might be interesting to you on this point, I shall have great pleasure in sending them to you. Yours truly, EMILY SHIRREFF.
I do not think Galton fully heard this knocking of the younger generation on the door. He had assumed that the abler men could have the abler women for the asking, but what if the social evolution were to be such that the latter tended to stand aloof from marriage altogether? The writer of these letters may have put the matter vaguely in 1870-she was only at the beginning of the great movement of the last fifty years, and must fail to foresee all its phases. Yet she grasped a danger to the race, that the author of Hereditary Genius had not hinted at-the danger that the abler woman, when she has once realised her powers, may * prefer to remain unmarried'. You may press upon her the religious duty of race-betterment,
' I think this `fear' of the 'seventies has largely materialised into a statistically demonstrable fact in the last thirty years. The abler men, either by choice or necessity, do not mate with the abler women, and the latter either by choice or necessity remain to a very large extent unmarried.