Слике страница
PDF
ePub

PREFACE.

The due appreciation of feminine influence in forming the character, is never denied to be a prominent feature of true statesmanship, nor that the decay of that influence, and the depreciation of woman, are unfailing signs of national fall or individual worthlessness. The time has past when, in the darkness of barbarism, female sensibility or excellence was held in light estimation, and it is left only to meager or perverted intellects to satirize with Voltaire the sex which he held to possess neither of the masculine attributes, ideas nor beards. Happily education now seconds the endowments of mind; the world concedes a tacit acquiescence to the claims of woman for

preëminence in many other powers besides that of simple endurance, and we leave to the Hottentots the singular custom of first proving their arrival at manhood, by beating their mothers. Indeed, the high standard to which, history shows, womanly excellence may attain, and we may add in candor, the fearful power our sex can exercise, render the duty of its biogra

88%X

[ocr errors]

pher doubly difficult, in keeping the mean between the two extremes of passion and principle, so as to

"Nothing extenuate Nor set down aught in malice.”

Admitting therefore the generally-allowed influence of woman, but restricting our observations to the one particular object of this work, Heroism, we remark that the latter, partaking largely of Fortitude, has ever been considered peculiarly a feminine quality, and that though biography, like a vast picture made up of a myriad varied faces, pleases one taste by some features, and another by those wholly opposite, yet the element of encouragement or reproof is in each; indeed, even where no sympathy appears, discrimination may discover beauties which, by the affections, convince the reason. Hence, too, it is the most profitable kind of history, because it presents the individual as influenced by and controlling circumstances, rather than exhibits these last in their dry detail; and the knowledge derived from it is therefore of the greatest importance to the young, who copy character readily, and are often blinded to imperfection by the false luster of ambition and glory.

Moreover, though the qualifications requisite for the historian who writes for youth, implying identity with its feelings of enthusiasm, even while moderating their effects, enhance the difficulties of the present work, arising from materials at once too much and

too little known; since also condensation, and the tendency to sacrifice reality to attractiveness—sometimes the most profitable characters being the least engaging—further augment it, yet a pleasant task is that of consecrating to posterity the sex's annals. The historian wanders through the garden of the Past, culls from each fairest plant the brightest tints, the richest odors, to stimulate the ambition or support the endurance of the young mothers of the future generation. Lastly, each truth is immortal; the blossom that has faded in the tomb, leaves in the wreath of history the germ of imperishable reproduction, either to adorn the humble porch of domestic life, or crown with amaranth the noble-perchance the regal-brow. To instruct by attraction has been my

chief design in the following pages, but if I have failed in rendering all the subjects entertaining, it must be recollected that Heroism, in its very nature, infers circumstances of pain or difficulty; like the gorgeous blossom, which, refusing to unfold itself to meridian glory, reserves for the cold hour of night the display of its unique loveliness. Yet the shade enhances the outline: in ocean depths lies the delicate, the beauteous shell, which the waves in their passion cast at our feet; and thus though feminine Heroism appear superficially hardened, by the warring contact with alternate elevation and depression, yet it has sheltered in the spiral caverns of its love, life which would otherwise have perished, interests which its fragile walls

have yet borne triumphant through the elemental strife. Nor, while we take warning by that misguided energy which, notwithstanding its vastness, appears

“ An awful chaos_light and darkness-
And wind and dust—and passions and pure thoughts,
Mix'd, and contending without end or order;
All dormant or destructive :"

should yet the lowliest despair of imitating the courage, generosity, or fortitude developed in most of the “Heroines of History.” It is true that individuality is never restored; yet, “whatever man has done, man may do;" by the use of identical muscles we “either climb or crawl,” and the same wings that we employ to bear us lightly through the grove may, if properly exercised, carry us aloft into regions above the swallow's flight, or the most dizzily-hung eyrie of the eagle!

E. 0. BURSTOW RECTORY,

January, 1854.

[blocks in formation]
« ПретходнаНастави »