I’m researching scandalous marriages today and came across a lecture entitled “On Woman” delivered by Colonel Willyams at the Cornwall Literary and Philosophical Society in 1819.
The good colonel spends some time extolling the virtues of women, but then turns to their more despicable qualities. Then he says he’s set up some “rules and regulations” for women that he intends to get passed as an act of parliament. For women who break these rules, he suggests a “female court martial” made up of “gentlewomen of tried candour.”
What are the proposed rules, you ask? Well, here they are. I have to chuckle when I relate this to the writing community/blogs/etc. Most of us would be in big trouble!
RULE: All ladies must diligently attend holy services.
PUNISHMENT: If a lady goes to church and behaves improperly, if married, she will be brought before the court martial to be “publicly and severely reprimanded.” If she’s not married, she must forfeit twelve pence.
RULE: Ladies must never speak in a disrespectful manner towards their superiors.
PUNISHMENT: Any lady to use “treacherous or disrespectful” words against her superior in rank or reputation must be rejected by her own society and “put to the bottom of the list.”
RULE: A lady can’t be mean to anyone who’s prettier or more accomplished than her, and she can’t hurt their feelings or dishonor them.
PUNISHMENT: “Any married unmarried or widow lady who shall behave herself contemptuously or spitefully towards her superior in beauty or accomplishment or shall speak words tending to her hurt or dishonour shall be punished accordingto the nature of her offence by the judgment of a female court martial.”
(Yep, I hurt your feelings, so I must PAY!!!!)
RULE: No lady can cause or join in any scandal.
PUNISHMENT: If a lady is found guilty, she must “suffer silence, or such other punishment as by a female court martial shall be awarded.”
(Yeah, “silence” was italicized. What is “silence,” I wonder? She’s not allowed to talk at all?)
RULE: Any lady present at a scandal must immediately “impart the information to her husband, father, brother, or other commanding officer.”
PUNISHMENT: Those who break this rule shall suffer the same punishment as article 4th.
Sometimes, we’ve just got to appreciate the fact that we don’t live in the 19th century!