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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Need Of Cavalry

Title:     The Need Of Cavalry
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

In the interesting Buddhist book, "The Wheel of the Law," translated by Henry Alabaster, there is an account of a certain priest who used to bless a great king, saying, "May your majesty have the firmness of a crow, the audacity of a woman, the endurance of a vulture, and the strength of an ant." The priest then told anecdotes illustrating all of these qualities. Who has not known occasions wherein some daring woman has been the Joan of Arc of a perfectly hopeless cause, taken it up where men shrank, carried it through where they had failed, and conquered by weapons which men would never have thought of using, and would have lacked faith to employ even if put into their hands? The wit, the resources, the audacity of women, have been the key to history and the staple of novels, ever since that larger novel called history began to be written.

How is it done? Who knows the secret of their success? All that any man can say is that the heart takes a large share in the magic. Rogers asserts in his "Table-Talk," that often, when doubting how to act in matters of importance, he had received more useful advice from women than from men. "Women have the understanding of the heart," he said, "which is better than that of the head." Then this instinct, that begins from the heart, reaches other hearts also, and through that controls the will. "Win hearts," said Lord Burleigh to Queen Elizabeth, "and you have hands and purses;" and the greatest of English sovereigns, in spite of ugliness and rouge, in spite of coarseness and cruelty and bad passions, was adored by the nation that she first made great.

It seems to me that women are a sort of cavalry force in the army of mankind. They are not always to be relied upon for that steady "hammering away," which was Grant's one method; but there is a certain Sheridan quality about them, light-armed, audacious, quick, irresistible. They go before the main army; their swift wits go scouting far in advance; they are the first to scent danger, or to spy out chances of success. Their charge is like that of a Tartar horde, or the wild sweep of the Apaches. They are upon you from some wholly unexpected quarter; and this respectable, systematic, well-drilled masculine force is caught and rolled over and over in the dust, before the man knows what has hit him. Even if repelled and beaten off, this formidable cavalry is unconquered: routed and in confusion to-day, it comes back upon you to-morrow--fresh, alert, with new devices, bringing new dangers. In dealing with it, as the French complained of the Arabs in Algiers, "Peace is not to be purchased by victory." And, even if all seems lost, with what a brilliant final charge it will cover a retreat!

Decidedly, we need cavalry. In older countries, where it has been a merely undisciplined and irregular force, it has often done mischief; and public men, from Demosthenes down, have been lamenting that measures which the statesman has meditated a whole year may be overturned in a day by a woman. Under our American government we have foolishly attempted to leave out this arm of the service altogether; and much of the alleged dulness of our American history has come from this attempt. Those who have been trained in the various reforms where woman has taken an equal part--the anti-slavery reform especially--know well how much of the energy, the dash, the daring, of those movements have come from her. A revolution with a woman in it is stronger than the established order that omits her. It is not that she is superior to man, but she is different from man; and we can no more spare her than we could spare the cavalry from an army.

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: The Need Of Cavalry