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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Celery And Cherubs

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

There was once a real or imaginary old lady who had got the metaphor of Scylla and Charybdis a little confused. Wishing to describe a perplexing situation, this lady said,--

"You see, my dear, she was between Celery on one side and Cherubs on the other! You know about Celery and Cherubs, don't you? They was two rocks somewhere; and if you didn't hit one, you was pretty sure to run smack on the other."

This describes, as a clever writer in the New York "Tribune" declares, the present condition of women who "agitate." Their Celery and Cherubs are tears and temper. It is a good hit, and we may well make a note of it. It is the danger of all reformers, that they will vibrate between discouragement and anger. When things go wrong, what is it one's impulse to do? To be cast down, or to be stirred up; to wring one's hands, or clench one's fists,--in short, tears or temper.

"Mother," said a resolute little girl of my acquaintance, "if the dinner was all spoiled, I wouldn't sit down, and cry! I'd say, 'Hang it!'" This cherub preferred the alternative of temper, on days when the celery turned out badly. Probably her mother was addicted to the other practice, and exhibited the tears.

But as this alternative is found to exist for both sexes, and on all occasions, why charge it especially on the woman-suffrage movement? Men are certainly as much given to ill temper as women; and, if they are less inclined to tears, they make it up in sulks, which are just as bad. Nicholas Nickleby, when the pump was frozen, was advised by Mr. Squeers to "content himself with a' dry polish;" and so there is a kind of dry despair into which men fall, which is quite as forlorn as any tears of women. How many a man has doubtless wished at such times that the pump of his lachrymal glands could only thaw out, and he could give his emotions something more than a "dry polish"! The unspeakable comfort some women feel in sitting for ten minutes with a handkerchief over their eyes! The freshness, the heartiness, the new life visible in them, when the crying is done, and the handkerchief comes down again!

And, indeed, this simple statement brings us to the real truth, which should have been more clearly seen by the writer who tells this story. She is wrong in saying, "It is urged that men and women stand on an equality, are exactly alike." Many of us urge the "equality:" very few of us urge the "exactly alike." An apple and an orange, a potato and a tomato, a rose and a lily, the Episcopal and the Presbyterian churches, Oxford and Cambridge, Yale and Harvard,--we may surely grant equality in each case, without being so exceedingly foolish as to go on and say that they are exactly alike.

And precisely here is the weak point of the whole case, as presented by this writer. Women give way to tears more readily than men? Granted. Is their sex any the weaker for it? Not a bit. It is simply a difference of temperament: that is all. It involves no inferiority. If you think that this habit necessarily means weakness, wait and see! Who has not seen women break down in tears during some domestic calamity, while the "stronger sex" were calm; and who has not seen those same women, that temporary excitement being over, rise up and dry their eyes, and be thenceforth the support and stay of their households, and perhaps bear up the "stronger sex" as a stream bears up a ship? I said once to an experienced physician, watching such a woman, "That woman is really great."--"Of course she is," he answered; "did you ever see a woman who was not great, when the emergency required?"

Now, will women carry this same quality of temperament into their public career? Doubtless: otherwise they would cease to be women. Will it be betraying confidence if I own that I have seen two of the very bravest women of my acquaintance--women who have swayed great audiences--burst into tears, during a committee meeting, at a moment of unexpected adversity for "the cause"? How pitiable! our critical observers would have thought. In five minutes that April shower had passed, and those women were as resolute and unconquerable as Queen Elizabeth: they were again the natural leaders of those around them; and the cool and tearless men who sat beside them were nothing--men were "a lost art," as some one says--compared with the inexhaustible moral vitality of those two women.

No: the dangers of "Celery and Cherubs" are exaggerated. For temper, women are as good as men, and no better. As for tears, long may they flow! They are symbols of that mighty distinction of sex which is as ineffaceable and as essential as the difference between land and sea.

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: Celery And Cherubs