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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Greater Includes Less

Title:     Greater Includes Less
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

I was once at a little musical party in New York, where several accomplished amateur singers were present, and with them the eminent professional, Miss Adelaide Phillipps. The amateurs were first called on. Each chose some difficult operatic passage, and sang her best. When it came to the great opera-singer's turn, instead of exhibiting her ability to eclipse those rivals on her own ground, she simply seated herself at the piano, and sang "Kathleen Mavourneen" with such thrilling sweetness that the young Irish girl who was setting the supper-table in the next room forgot all her plates and teaspoons, threw herself into a chair, put her apron over her face, and sobbed as if her heart would break. All the training of Adelaide Phillipps--her magnificent voice, her stage experience, her skill in effects, her power of expression--went into the performance of that simple song. The greater included the less. And thus all the intellectual and practical training that any woman can have, all her public action and her active career, will make her, if she be a true woman, more admirable as a wife, a mother, and a friend. The greater includes the less for her also.

Of course this is a statement of general facts and tendencies. There must be among women, as among men, an endless variety of individual temperaments. There will always be plenty whose career will illustrate the infirmities of genius, and whom no training can convince that two and two make four. But the general fact is sure. As no sensible man would seriously prefer for a wife a Hindoo or Tahitian woman rather than one bred in England or America, so every further advantage of education or opportunity will only improve, not impair, the true womanly type.

Lucy Stone once said, "Woman's nature was stamped and sealed by the Almighty, and there is no danger of her unsexing herself while his eye watches her." Margaret Fuller said, "One hour of love will teach a woman more of her true relations than all your philosophizing." These were the testimony of women who had studied Greek, and were only the more womanly for the study. They are worth the opinions of a million half-developed beings like the Duchess de Fontanges, who was described as being "as beautiful as an angel and as silly as a goose." The greater includes the less. Your view from the mountain-side may be very pretty, but she who has taken one step higher commands your view and her own also. It was no dreamy recluse, but the accomplished and experienced Stendhal, who wrote, "The joys of the gay world do not count for much with happy women."[1]

If a highly educated man is incapable and unpractical, we do not say that he is educated too well, but not well enough. He ought to know what he knows, and other things also. Never yet did I see a woman too well educated to be a wife and a mother; but I know multitudes who deplore, or have reason to deplore, every day of their lives, the untrained and unfurnished minds that are so ill-prepared for these sacred duties. Every step towards equalizing the opportunities of men and women meets with resistance, of course; but every step, as it is accomplished, leaves men still men, and women still women. And as we who heard Adelaide Phillipps felt that she had never had a better tribute to her musical genius than this young Irish girl's tears, so the true woman will feel that all her college training for instance, if she has it, may have been well invested, even for the sake of the baby on her knee. And it is to be remembered, after all, that each human being lives to unfold his or her own powers, and do his or her own duties first, and that neither woman nor man has the right to accept a merely secondary and subordinate life. A noble woman must be a noble human being; and the most sacred special duties, as of wife or mother, are all included in this, as the greater includes the less.

[Footnote 1: _De l'Amour_, par de Stendhal (Henri Beyle): "Les plaisirs du grand monde n'en sont pas pour les femmes heureuses," p. 189.]

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: Greater Includes Less