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From Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine “An Organ and a Reform”: Review of The Pagan Review

“THE Pagan Review” is the alarming title of a new British magazine, which
entered on its career of devastation in September. It is not very much to
look at, and offers for the customary shilling but sixty-four smallish pages, with
no cover to speak of: what engine of reform has not been hampered by mundane
limitations at the start? Its title is the fiercest part of it: the contents are
rather suggestive than directly polemic, and the “Foreward” admits that “the
religion of our forefathers…is still fruitful of vast good”—though these
their children have gone beyond it. The contributors (it is noticeable that there
is as yet no lady among them) are united by a strongly romantic and dramatic
tendency; the renascence whereof they are apostles is poetical and untheo-
logical. The tone is that of lusty and restless youth, which would fain kick
over the traces and disport itself in unhampered freedom. As one of them
says, “We ought to have been born gypsies.” They remind one a little of
newly admitted collegians just released from their mammas, anxious to be men
at once and see Life. Their present object is chivalric; they aim at the
emancipation of Woman, at her elevation. Let her henceforth be as tall, as
athletic, as ratiocinative as the male human animal. Let noxious restraints of
tradition and convention be swept away. Give her her rights and an equal
chance; let all years be leap-years. Let it be no longer true that

                        Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
                        ‘Tis woman’s whole existence.

Since the dominant note of Nature is the sexual, let girls and boys be free
to rush into each other’s arms, and let us who are older give the most of our
time and minds to noting how they do it. The proper study of mankind is
womankind; or, as the Pagan editor puts it, “The supreme interest of
Man is—Woman,” and vice versâ.

    But here two questions obtrude themselves—impolitely, it may be, but
irresistably. Was it worth while to devote a whole new magazine, with much
blowing of horns and waving of banners, especially to the illustration of these
doctrines? And why “pagan”? Are love-stories, not to say Seventh-Com-
mandment novels, necessarily and distinctively anti-Christian? The eminent
Mr. Blank, and the thrilling Miss Whatshername, and the delightful Lady
T’Other, have been at this business for years. We have all read their improving
romances with more or less sympathy and profit. Are we pagans for doing so?
Are they pagans for having written them? They would repel the vile impeach-
ment with indignant scorn; and so say we of all of us—or, at least, the great
majority. We claim to be merely human in our writing and our reading.
Again, why “Pagan”? Why not rather “The Human Review,” or “The
Human Magazine,”—since it is no more of a review than we are, or our
esteemed and highly popular contemporaries in New York?

    Again, is there anything new in this? Scarcely, except as an exaggerated
youthfulness, a going on tiptoe as it were, with looks of proud defiance, and
accompaniment of horns and banners as aforesaid. It is as if, to an assembly
where low-necked dresses were not unknown, should enter one loudly

announcing, “See how very décolletée I am! And in spite of you prudes
and prigs, I mean to maintain this startling innovation, however you may
cry Shame!”

                                             AN ANTI-ETHICAL CRUSADE.

    It may be that the lines of assault on Faith are shifting. The neo-pagan
movement in England (whatever it amounts to) is no more theological than the
neo-Christian movement in France. The “Pagan Review” cares no more for
the arguments of Colonel Ingersoll than for those of Paine or Voltaire. Now
Theology has so long been a house divided against itself that interest in its con-
troversies has greatly dwindled; this generation, rightly or wrongly, cares far
less for abstract theories than for practical results. But the moral teachings of
the Gospel are more revered, more firmly intrenched than ever. In this sense
the civilized world has an Established Religion. Whether they accept them
with the heart or not, decent people are generally agreed to regard these ideas
as essential to human welfare. Hypocrisy is the prudent homage which Vice
pays to Virtue, and those who secretly break the law still profess that the law is
good. Even those of superior pretensions—the “emancipated,” the agnostics—
would subscribe to Paley’s doctrine, that Religion is an excellent auxiliary to
the police. Take away its restraints, and what is ahead? So far as we can
judge, anarchy and chaos, the Parisian commune and the dynamiters.

    Transcendental matters aside, that effect of Christianity which has most
impressed the general imagination is its power of restraining human passions
and indulgences—lust, cruelty, rapine, and the like. It led the Roman em-
perors to give up their harems, and made comparatively chaste men of Valens
and Theodosius—which Gibbon thought was a mistake: he was one of your
pagans, and frank in expressing his opinion. It move a multitude of hermits
to turn their backs on a society which seemed to them hopelessly bad. In later
days it mastered the love of revenge, the thirst for blood, and drove in its ob-
vious lesson of humanity—slowly, but effectually. It has taught some to keep
their hands out of their neighbors’ pockets. At least in some individual cses, it has
checked jealousy, envy, backbiting; the Sewing Society might still talk scandal,
but less malignantly than did the ladies of Alexandria and Antioch two
thousand years ago. Christian ethics, by common consent, have had the chief
hand in making life and property safe, and society decorous and comparatively

    Paganism, old or new, attacks this principle at the root. It says, “Be a
healthy animal. Don’t resist a natural appetite. If you want a thing, reach
out and take it. Let yourself go.”

    We have seen what comes of that. We may see it any day still; and the
result is not usually happy. But why confine the application to a single pas-
sion? Why not say, “Don’t check any impulse, be it greed or hate or what-
ever. If you want your neighbor’s property, or his life, reach out and take it.
Be the free, natural man.”

    They have not come to that yet—unless the anarchists But it would be

    Gentleman Pagans, it will not do. Without self-control, self-restraint, self-
repression, there is no character for yourselves nor the safety of the community.
Constitutional liberty is not unlimited license. In conduct and in art there had
best be restraints, moral limitations.

                                             ARE WOMEN FREE AND EQUAL?

    And yet one is inclined, if not in duty bound, to sympathize more or less
with any movement or argument that looks toward improved conditions or
larger opportunities for the sex. The position of Woman, the estimation in which
she is held, the degree of equality with Man to which she is admitted, are vital
notes of difference between Christendom and Islam, between civilization and
barbarism, between the modern and the ancient world. It may be claimed that
the battle has already been fought and won; but this is only true in part. It is
true that many restrictions have been removed, that most occupations have
been already opened to women, and the barriers which remain are mainly
kept up by themselves—e.g., when most of them wish to vote, they will doubt-
less be allowed to. It is also entirely true among intelligent Anglo-Saxons,
and especially with the well-to-do, women are better off than they ever were
before, or are anywhere else on earth. They have more freedom, more honor,
more power—sometimes more than they are fit for, or know how to make good
use of. Of course this goes further with us than in England. In circles pre-
tending to, or approximating, wealth, fashion, and culture, the American woman
is a queen—if she cares to be and has it in her; the American girl is petted,
flattered, coddled, and indulged to the top of her bent. It is they hat have the
good times, that get the cream of life. Husbands and fathers toil for returns
of cash, that daughters and wives may spend freely and beautify themselves at
ease. Their feminine charm is a unique distinction; in society, sometimes even
in open-minded literature, they receive a deference, a homage, which are not
extended to senators and sages.

    If this be so, what more can they want? What more can the philanthropist
ask on their behalf? Why, say the serious sisters, to be taken seriously; to be
something more than ornaments, elegant playthings, or at best mere house-
keepers and mothers. The surface is not the whole of life, nor Epicureanism its
only philosophy. We want our identity respected; and that is just what you
have not done yet. We claim to be ourselves, and not merely your hangers-on
and decorated servitors. Beneath all your courtesies and pamperings lingers the
notion that we exist not for ourselves, but for you; that we are really your in-
feriors, your thralls, your puppets, and your creatures.

    The serious sisters are quite right in their complaint; and so, at bottom, are
the young Pagan gentlemen who take up their case–though these latter do not
put the case very clearly, nor contemplate it from the most desirable point of
view. Mr. Haggard, in one of his thrilling African romances, makes a native
remark, “We worship our wives, but we have to hot-pot them now and then”—
which meant (if the reader has forgotten his “She”) to “remove” them by
violent means. A belief in this right still lurks, with other remnants of feudal-
ism, in many masculine minds. The nobleman of a few centuries ago, on
occasion of domestic mistrust, would calmly wall up to his suspected spouse in
the mansonry; his successor, who resorts to the simpler method of pistol, knife
or axe, is commonly found a little lower on the social scale. In these Russian
judgements it is not necessary for the victim to have done anything amiss, but
only for jealousy to be roused in the ruling and punishing mind. The
offence may be purely subjective, and is handled much as Mr. Legree’s plan-
tation forty or fifty years ago. Such cases come to light daily: in one of the
latest, milord prepared his serf for cremation, and had applied the match before

    the neighbors came to the rescue. Frequently, the oppressed takes refuge at her
father’s, and rashly declines to return to her lord when he gets out of jail or
over his debauch; then his vengeance is as summary, and his conscience as un-
doubting in its exercise, as if he were an Assyrian monarch and she a revolted
town. The case was put in a nutshell by that intending citizen who complained
indignantly that this was no free country if a man was restricted in the lawful
enjoyment of beating his own wife.

    This theory of marital rights has been curiously extended by the young
men who shoot girls for refusing to marry them. The idea evidently is that the
weaker vessel has no right to a mind or will of her own: what is she, to say No
to any chance comer of the superior sex who honors her by wishing to be her
“master”? Such presumption is treason, sacrilige, and blasphemy, justly open
to condign and capital punishment on the spot.

    It will not do to claim that these illustrations of mediaeval tenets are all
furnished by recent immigrants. That class indeed supplies more than its share
to the work of our criminal courts; but a census of nationalities might leave a
humiliating proportion to the native account. It is more plausible to assign
the wife-beatings, the woman-shootings, the crude domestic tyrannies and
tragedies, to the ranks of “labor” and illiteracy in toto; yet even this may be
too sweeping. True, “gentlemen” usually adjust their difficulties with ladies
iin milder fashion; but the polish which education and society afford does not
always go deep, and your millionaire may be no less an antique conservative
than your mill-hand. A modern rationalist, scratched by the sharp point of
some sudden exigency, may appear inwardly hide-bound by antique conven-
tions. His theology—or lack of it—is brand-new, but his social and conjugal
ethics are those of the sixteenth century. His wife is better than his horse or
dog, and his wife is entitled to high respect; but after all, she is liable
to be bent or broken on the hard angles of his egoism. For men are egoists,
and women generally yielding: under the conditions which prevail every-
where to date, they usually have to be, and their tact teaches them to accept
the inevitable.

    To a fair mind talk about the inferiority of women is distasteful, because,
true or false, it all goes to confirm an ancient prejudice. Miss Seawell’s argu-
ment against the creative faculty in her sex seems to make for no end but this:
fogies read it, or the title of it–which is just as good for their purpose—and
cry, “Ah, you see! One of the most brilliant of the sisterhood admits the
charge.” For one person of either sex who is able and willing to think the
matter out, twenty—or fifty—have their minds made up already. The time has
not come for a judgment, for the evidence is not all in; on the contrary, decades
and generations—to put it most moderately—must pass before we have facts
enough to base a verdict on. You cannot fairly compare one race, or class, or
order, or set of people with another unless the two have had similar oppor-
tunities; and when were women ever on a par with men in position, education,
privileges, and responsibilities? The inequality is beginning to disappear in
some respects, and to be mitigated in others; but this is only the work of our
time, and it is handicapped by the tradition of ages. How are women them-
selves to throw off at once the inherited notion of their essential inferiority,
dominant from time immemorial in their minds as well as those of men?
Such legacies are not only discouraging, they are benumbing. As well (to be

uncomplimentary, and cite a much darker case) expect the African race to rise
to anything notable in a year or a century, after being kept in savagery or
slavery since “Cursed be Caanan.”

    The one point which is positively clear and indisputably settled in the com-
parison of the sexes is that men are generally bigger and stronger than women.
This physical fact went for everything at the start, and long after: it will prob-
ably go for much in the remote future. It made man the head of the house,
the promoter and carrier-on of business public and private: it put him in front,
and there he stayed. As he awoke to the consciousness that he had a soul as
well as a body, he naturally assumed to be also superior in brain and will; and
his wife, being in his power and (so far as we know) of a gentler nature,
did not contest the point. She had her children, her humble cares and yet
humbler virtues, with the occasional caresses and qualified approval of her lord.
As the race progressed toward civilization, she was admitted to be capable of
good looks, good manners, domestic thrift, taste in dress, the more highly prized
ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, and the crowning grace of adoring
obedience. When the arts and sciences were invented, she had no part in them,
with rare exceptions like Sappho and Hypatia, who doubtless were generally
accounted impertinent hussies and no better than they should be. During the
Middle Ages, a woman had no chance to do anything unless she was a queen or
something of the kind. As the free modern spirit came in, a few ventured to
soil their fingers with pen or brush, amid the frowns of their brothers and the
whispers of their feminine friends. If they were wise, they hid behind a male
relative, like Fanny Mendelssohn and Dora Wordsworth, rather than be “un-
sexed.” Others in England, France, and afterwards Germany rashly let their
work be known as theirs. Some of these, as Mme. de Stael, Mrs. Somerville,
George Sand, Mrs. Browning, and George Eliot, were thought to have done very
creditable work—for women—though nothing original, nothing “creative,” of
course; how could they?

    Remembering that men not yet gray have seen the colleges opened to women,
with nearly all the professions beyond those of school-marm, seamstress, and
saleslady, is it not rather too early to determine finally what are their meagre
abilities and large limitations? Give them a chance to get used to their new
and partial enfranchisement, to practise their untried powers awhile, to throw
off the long burden of contempt, disparagement, and repression; and then—
perhaps within a century or two—they will show us what they can or cannot
do. I do not know that they will develop powers of ratiocination, or initiation,
of practicality, of creation (if there be any vouchsafed to mortals),
equal to those of men. Very likely not; but let us wait and see. What is the
use of passing snap-judgment on a work not only unfinished but barely begun?
Why mistake appearances or probabilities for certainties, and pretend to know
what we don’t know?

    Therefore some qualified sympathy may be extended to the alleged cause
of the “Pagan Review,” though cumbered with dubious if not malodorous ad-
juncts. It is harder pulling the boat of social reform in England than here, and
probably the neo-pagans will do as much as may be expected of them if they
can get the terms of punishment extended for bricklayers who jump on their
wives’ heads with heavy hobnailed shoes. It really ought to be more than three
months for murder of this sort, or ten days when the victim is not quite killed.

Frederic M. Bird.

MLA citation:

Bird, Frederic M. “An Organ and a Reform.” Review of The Pagan Review, vol. 1, August 1892, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, February 1893, pp. 249-53. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021.