How far have we come?

While lunching at the golf club today on the last day of the season with dear friends from nearby Smiths Falls there were invoked during our leisurely conversation at table two themes of consequence which at the time I had not conflated but which now upon reflection I do. One involved sexuality in general; the other, women in particular.  The threads were not especially flattering.

I am quick to add that neither observation was upon hearing them consumed by me with any clarity or specificity, partly because I am increasingly going deaf and partly because the club house was more alive with activity on this cold and rainy, dreary day than we had anticipated.

Nonetheless the crux of the one matter of general application regarding sexuality was what appears to have sprung from a succinct note on a Govenment of Canada web site as follows.

From government of Canada Travel site in Law and Culture section
Website : Travel,gc.ca
2SLGBTQI+ travellers
Some states have enacted laws and policies that may affect 2SLGBTQI+ persons. Check relevant state and local laws.

After having spent six months of the year for the past decade in the United States of America, and having at the very least convinced ourselves of the propriety and desirability of doing so (based upon what we perceived to be the current state of affairs and the good relationships we’ve had there) this intelligence came as a palpable kick. Indeed so jolted was I to overhear it that my first inclination was to dismiss it as overly zealous.

As reported on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news network, “That advice tells travellers to beware of laws that criminalize same-sex activities and relationships, or target people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.” This is clearly a discomfiting threat and one which engages Canadians in an ingredient of politics from which we are predominantly immune on home territory. More significantly, without having to address the complete accuracy or thrust of the announcement, it is one more element which succeeds to loosen the moorings between the two countries. Increasingly as of late we are hearing reports, perhaps apocryphal only, of more and more Canadians who dispair of going to the United States of America.  This bothers me not only for the reasons already mentioned but also because my niece and her husband (both from Canada) live in the United States of America as did my late mother’s sister, brother and great-aunt and as presently do my second cousins (all of whom are naturalized or native-born American citizens). Not to mention our ancestors from before the Declaration of Independence and my late mother’s father (who was from Massachussetts).

Family Abigail CAIN, b. Abt 1754, Hingham, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States d. 5 Apr 1836, Fort Lawrence, Cumberland, Nova Scotia, Canada (Age ~ 82 years) Married 4 Nov 1779 Fort Lawrence, Cumberland, Nova Scotia, Canada

Father Arthur CAIN, d. Date Unknown, , , New England, United States
Mother Lydia TOWNSEND, d. Date Unknown
Married 13 Dec 1749 Hingham, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States

Father William CHAPMAN, c. 12 Oct 1729, Hawnby, Ryedale, North Yorkshire, England d. Bef 1805 …. (Age ~ 75 years)

Mother Mary IBBITSON, b. 26 Jun 1732, Helmsley, Ryedale, North Yorkshire, England d. Bef 1788, Point de Bute, Westmorland, New Brunswick, Canada (Age < 55 years)
Married 21 Jan 1755 Hawnby, Ryedale, North Yorkshire, England

The second cause for subsequent pondering – the treatment of women in particular – arose in a manner I am unable to identify completely though even upon hearing mere scraps of what was being said, I sadly recognized the mercury in what was being related.  I believe the specific conversation had to do with the purchase of an automobile and the story was that the macho character of the male salesman prompted him to disregard the woman of the couple who was actually the purchaser.  Naturally this is scarcely new information.  What however subsequently bothered me especially was that it was only later this evening as I unwittingly read the History of England (published in 1848) that I serendipitously found myself reading the words quoted below. What makes the account compelling – and commensurately upsetting – is that the mother of one of our luncheon guests is the Principal of a school located in our County seat. It makes one question, How modern does one have to be to overcome these anachronisms?

Apologizing for either of these slurs is preposterous.  It is like suggesting by fabricated accommodation one can reverse one’s sexuality or mental capacity.  We had nothing to do with either. And who among us is about to tell another in the context of these native matters what he or she is entitled to do or think? It is a dominion which I am not about to advance to myself by any qualification whatsoever, neither political nor otherwise.

Excerpt From
Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay. “The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 1.”

As to the lady of the manor and her daughters, their literary stores generally consisted of a prayer book and receipt book. But in truth they lost little by living in rural seclusion. For, even in the highest ranks, and in those situations which afforded the greatest facilities for mental improvement, the English women of that generation were decidedly worse educated than they have been at any other time since the revival of learning.

At an early period they had studied the masterpieces of ancient genius. In the present day they seldom bestow much attention on the dead languages; but they are familiar with the tongue of Pascal and Moliere, with the tongue of Dante and Tasso, with the tongue of Goethe and Schiller; nor is there any purer or more graceful English than that which accomplished women now speak and write.

But, during the latter part of the seventeenth century, the culture of the female mind seems to have been almost entirely neglected. If a damsel had the least smattering of literature she was regarded as a prodigy. Ladies highly born, highly bred, and naturally quick witted, were unable to write a line in their mother tongue without solecisms and faults of spelling such as a charity girl would now be ashamed to commit.

The explanation may easily be found. Extravagant licentiousness, the natural effect of extravagant austerity, was now the mode; and licentiousness had produced its ordinary effect, the moral and intellectual degradation of women. To their personal beauty, it was the fashion to pay rude and impudent homage.

But the admiration and desire which they inspired were seldom mingled with respect, with affection, or with any chivalrous sentiment. The qualities which fit them to be companions, advisers, confidential friends, rather repelled than attracted the libertines of Whitehall. In that court a maid of honour, who dressed in such a manner as to do full justice to a white bosom, who ogled significantly, who danced voluptuously, who excelled in pert repartee, who was not ashamed to romp with Lords of the Bedchamber and Captains of the Guards, to sing sly verses with sly expression, or to put on a page’s dress for a frolic, was more likely to be followed and admired, more likely to be honoured with royal attentions, more likely to win a rich and noble husband than Jane Grey or Lucy Hutchinson would have been.

In such circumstances the standard of female attainments was necessarily low; and it was more dangerous to be above that standard than to be beneath it.

By the way, should you care to know, the featured image is that of Georg Sand:

Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin de Francueil 1 July 1804 – 8 June 1876 best known by her pen name George Sand was a French novelist, memoirist and journalist. One of the most popular writers in Europe in her lifetime, being more renowned than either Victor Hugo or Honoré de Balzac in England in the 1830s and 1840s, Sand is recognised as one of the most notable writers of the European Romantic era, with more than 50 volumes of various works to her credit, including tales, plays and political texts, alongside her 70 novels. Like her great-grandmother, Louise Dupin, whom she admired, George Sand stood up for women, advocated passion, castigated marriage and fought against the prejudices of a conservative society.