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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Two And Two

Title:     Two And Two
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

A young man of very good brains was telling me, the other day, his dreams of his future wife. Rattling on, more in joke than in earnest, he said, "She must be perfectly ignorant, and a bigot: she must know nothing, and believe everything. I should wish to have her from the adjoining room call to me, 'My dear, what do two and two make?'"

It did not seem to me that his demand would be so very hard to fill, since bigotry and ignorance are to be had almost anywhere for the asking; and, as for two and two, I should say that it had always been the habit of women to ask that question of some man, and to rest easily satisfied with the answer. They have generally called, as my friend wished, from some other room, saying, "My dear, what do two and two make?" and the husband or father or brother has answered and said, "My dear, they make four for a man, and three for a woman."

At any given period in the history of woman, she has adopted man's whim as the measure of her rights; has claimed nothing; has sweetly accepted anything; the law of two-and-two itself should be at his discretion. At any given moment, so well was his interpretation received, that it stood for absolute right. In Rome a woman, married or single, could not testify in court; in the middle ages, and down to quite modern times, she could not hold real estate; thirty years ago she could not, in New England, obtain a collegiate education; even now she can only vote for school officers.

The first principles of republican government are so rehearsed and re-rehearsed, that one would think they must become "as plain as that two and two make four." But we find throughout, that, as Emerson said of another class of reasoners, "Their two is not the real two; their four is not the real four." We find different numerals and diverse arithmetical rules for the two sexes; as, in some Oriental countries, men and women speak different dialects of the same language.

In novels the hero often begins by dreaming, like my friend, of an ideal wife, who shall be ignorant of everything, and have only brains enough to be bigoted. Instead of sighing, like Falstaff, "Oh for a fine young thief, of the age of two and twenty or thereabouts!" the hero sighs for a fine young idiot of similar age. When the hero is successful in his search and wooing, the novelist sometimes mercifully removes the young woman early, like David Copperfield's Dora, she bequeathing the bereaved husband, on her deathbed, to a woman of sense. In real life these convenient interruptions do not commonly occur, and the foolish youth regrets through many years that he did not select an Agnes instead.

The acute observer Stendhal says,--

"In Paris, the highest praise for a marriageable girl is to say, 'She has great sweetness of character and the disposition of a lamb.' Nothing produces more impression on fools who are looking out for wives. I think I see the interesting couple, two years after, breakfasting together on a dull day, with three tall lackeys waiting upon them!"

And he adds, still speaking in the interest of men:--

"Most men have a period in their career when they might do something great, a period when nothing seems impossible. The ignorance of women spoils for the human race this magnificent opportunity: and love, at the utmost, in these days, only inspires a young man to learn to ride well, or to make a judicious selection of a tailor."[1]

Society, however, discovers by degrees that there are conveniences in every woman's knowing the four rules of arithmetic for herself. Two and two come to the same amount on a butcher's bill, whether the order be given by a man or a woman; and it is the same in all affairs or investments, financial or moral. We shall one day learn that with laws, customs, and public affairs it is the same. Once get it rooted in a woman's mind, that for her, two and two make three only, and sooner or later the accounts of the whole human race fail to balance.

[Footnote 1: _De L'Amour_, par de Stendhal (Henri Beyle). Paris, 1868 [written in 1822], pp. 182, 198.]

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: Two And Two