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Harvard Classics Volume 28

Nor yet Variable as the shade


wherever a true wife comes, this home is always round her. The stars only may be over her head; the glow-worm in the night-cold grass may be the only fire at her foot: but home is yet wherever she is; and for a noble woman it stretches far round her, better than ceiled with cedar, or painted with vermilion, shedding its quiet light far, for those who else were homeless.

69. This, then, I believe to be,--will you not admit it to be,--the woman's true place and power? But do not you see that to fulfill this, she must--as far as one can use such terms of a human creature--be incapable of error? So far as she rules, all must be right, or nothing is. She must be enduringly, incorruptibly good; instinctively, infallibly wise--wise, not for self-development, but for self-renunciation: wise, not that she may set herself above her husband, but that she may never fail from his side: wise, not with the narrowness of insolent and loveless pride, but with the passionate gentleness of an infinitely variable, because infinitely applicable, modesty of service--the true changefulness of woman. In that great sense--"La donna e mobile," not "Qual pium' al vento"; no, nor yet "Variable as the shade, by the light quivering aspen made"; but variable as the _light_, manifold in fair and serene division, that it may take the color of all that it falls upon, and exalt it.

70. II.--I have been trying, thus far, to show you what

should be the place, and what the power of woman. Now, secondly, we ask, What kind of education is to fit her for these?

And if you indeed think this is a true conception of her office and dignity, it will not be difficult to trace the course of education which would fit her for the one, and raise her to the other.

The first of our duties to her--no thoughtful persons now doubt this--is to secure for her such physical training and exercise as may confirm her health, and perfect her beauty, the highest refinement of that beauty being unattainable without splendor of activity and of delicate strength. To perfect her beauty, I say, and increase its power; it cannot be too powerful, nor shed its sacred light too far: only remember that all physical freedom is vain to produce beauty without a corresponding freedom of heart. There are two passages of that poet who is distinguished, it seems to me, from all others--not by power, but by exquisite _right_ness--which point you to the source, and describe to you, in a few syllables, the completion of womanly beauty. I will read the introductory stanzas, but the last is the one I wish you specially to notice:--

"Three years she grew in sun and shower, Then Nature said, 'A lovelier flower On earth was never sown. This child I to myself will take; She shall be mine, and I will make A lady of my own.

"'Myself will to my darling be Both law and impulse; and with me The girl, in rock and plain, In earth and heaven, in glade and bower, Shall feel an overseeing power To kindle, or restrain.

"'The floating clouds their state shall lend To her; for her the willow bend; Nor shall she fail to see Even in the motions of the storm Grace that shall mould the maiden's form By silent sympathy.

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