Everything is Possible to Will
Fiction is crowded with startling incidents; real life is grandly uneventful, and life, ennobled by suffering, is lived at such cost to all that is unlovely in character, as to become sacred history to those who have not lost faith in a late repentance, perceiving how long it takes to work out the meaning of the one word Duty—duty to one's self, to one's neighbor, and, above all, to one's God. To such the present narrative will have a sacredness as deep as sin and sorrow unfeigned can make it. To profit by life's lessons, good and bad, will make the world better, not worse—richer, not poorer. Hence, a husband and wife, erring grievously, though in a different way—the one rushing down to ruin, the other struggling through mental darkness to daybreak, but in such a conventional manner as to make the struggle worthless, except to those who can see the elements of growth in it—seek to make their bitter experience useful to their fellows.
Written especially for working women, by one of themselves, the narrative and its reflexions have been patiently elaborated with the “Line upon line, precept upon precept” simplicity needful to the untaught page iv notwithstanding that conciseness of word and thought appeal more forcibly to the cultivated mind.
Right is might, and for right's sake alone the woman question is brought under consideration, because the women, whose thoughtful disinterestedness makes them strangely wise, as occasion serves them, both in public and in private life, are crippled by their enforced ignorance and degraded social position (as the narrative attempts to prove) in their God-given work to bless mankind. To woman's ignorance—her capabilities having never yet been fairly gauged—and social degradation are mainly due the growing ruffianism of youth lapsing into barbarism; for so long as the chief seats of learning remain closed against woman, as if she were unworthy or incapable (or both) of a liberal education, she will, of course, fail to command the respect of beings treated as her superiors. What is good for man is good for woman; and the fear, expressed in various ways, that given a liberal education woman will forget herself, and assume the masculine position and functions, evidences a lamentable ignorance of and want of faith in woman. The really good are good under all circumstances, and it is well to demand that woman shall be woman in all she says and does; but given an honorable, responsible position (“rights” clearly involve duties and responsibilities), she will become the more, not the less, modest and retiring. Experience proves that her influence, unwisely restricted thus far, is on the side of virtue; woman has realised—as man has failed to do, or legalised infamy were impossible—that vice indulged is death to a condition of individual and national happiness page v and prosperity. Supported, however, by reason and justice a healthy public opinion is omnipotent: and let public opinion pronounce woman free to do the right. Whether her legal freedom be or be not assured is comparatively of small moment.
When man is as wise as nature is wise, he will readily perceive that intelligent goodness—moral sunshine, as opposed to unreasoning impulse and empty professions—is destined by a subtle alchemy, analogous to the decomposition and decay ever going on in the vegetable world in which flowers and fruits thrive, so to live down all wrong as finally to supplant evil by good. It follows, therefore, that unfaithfulness to one's cherished convictions is much more widely corrupting than is the viciousness of the vicious. Character, not money, is wealth; true courage is moral and intelligent. Hence, down to this hour Spartan is the synonym of all that is manly and enduring, and unless the men of to-day begin in earnest to cultivate “hardy nerves,” i.e., the courage to live for something better than gold, the Spartan character will live on when this poor, limp nineteenth-century character of ours has sunk into deserved oblivion.
Rightly appreciated one really good man is stronger than 10,000 bad men; and if good men knew their power they would so combine their forces as to become what they ought to be, but are not, a terror to evildoers. Man does not sin from ignorance; there is no arbitrary power independent of himself compelling him to sin. He knows right from wrong, and—other things being just and reasonable—if he deliberately cho oses the wrong he must bear the consequences. The page vi attempt to screen the guilty has filled the world so full of all kinds of immoralities that the truth is hated by almost whomsoever uttered, Man, however, is human and plastic in woman's hands; he believes that he will not tolerate this, that, and the other form of dictation, simply because no master-mind has as yet arisen to defy all precedent, and utter the truth for the love of it. But such mind will arise.
If reckless dissipation is happiness unalloyed, it is wise to pursue such a life; fortunately, however, no argument is needed to convince even the depraved, who will have the gratification of the passions at all cost, that such a life down to its wretched end disappoints at every step. They must learn, nevertheless, that even their remorseful seasons, sincerely bitter while they last, mean nothing if they end in nothing.
The instant a man wills to be good, God opens the way—nay, the way is ever open. The will is absolute, for good and for evil, as is proved by the present narrative, wherein the disciplined will is seen slowly to work out its own salvation; whereas the perverse will, boldly defiant of God and man, to a degree which a healthy ptiblic opinion would make impossible, is wrecked, but dies not—the man lives again! It is impossible to over-estimate the power of the will. So certain is it that a greater strength of will is required to do wrong than right (“Heaven kindly gave our blood a moral flow”), that it becomes daily more and more imperative to speak of and treat the bad man as wilful, rather than “weak.”
The average woman is better than the average man; anarchy would result from her present social condition page vii if she were not, and to the few, of both sexes, who love the truth it will be welcome in any form. Hence, however much the spirit, purpose, and unrestrained naturalness of the writer may surprise conventional prejudices, the book, if wisely read by woman only, will, by awakening thought, probably mark an epoch in her history, since she will understand what is meant by strength of will. And if the book be “wild” to English taste, the fault will be in the taste to those who love wild flowers!
“As you sow you reap.” Is this true? Look at life! history and experience teach the very opposite. If you give and take haphazard, cultivate lying as one of the fine arts of marketable value, float down stream flattering and flattered by the vanity and conceit of men, you will reap as you sow unquestionably. But if you are better than other men, can afford to be misunderstood, are strong enough to stand alone—if suffering has so whetted the finer sensibilities that the night side of nature has become sufficiently light about your path to make its presence felt by all with whom you come in contact, you must pay the penalty, sow your good things to reap the world's evil things. It ever has been so, and ever will be perhaps. Bad men hate the man who bears no mark.
The one point the writer seeks above aught else to emphasise is, that notwithstanding their flagrant inconsistencies—and they are flagrant, and their sectarian jealousies most childish—the professedly good every-where are on Christ's side, as opposed to the men of the world, the men of unbridled passions, whose sneerng contempt of the professedly good (not unmerited) page viii is becoming daily more pronounced. Once inspire men with an enthusiasm for personal goodness, and sectarianism will fall, and they will unite heart and soul to work with God to frustrate the designs of bad men.
And looking only to the life that is, the writer would say to woman with all the impassioned earnestness of which she is capable: If honor is dear to you, if child is dear to you, if life and country are dear to you, choose ye whom ye will serve—the bad, who will ruthlessly sacrifice your-selves and your children to their lusts, or the good, who, with all their faults, are yet struggling onwards and upwards.
Auckland, New Zealand.