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Isabellas of Castile do not fairly represent them. Nor do the Joans of Arc or the Saint Theresas represent them either. There are intermediate notabilities, stars of lesser magnitude, tranquil, lovely lives, as worthy of a biographer as those of the famous women just mentioned. But they were not appreciated in their own time, and history has looked upon them with suspicion. To take one example from Imperial Rome. What would we not give for a few particulars concerning the beautiful, virtuous, and learned Polla Argentaria, wife of Lucan, one of the most gifted and unfortunate of Latin poets. During his lifetime she corrected several books of his immortal work, the Pharsalia, and after his death-he was cut off at the age of twenty-six by the tyranny of Nero-she continued to win the admiration of contemporaries by her devotion to his memory.
Coming down to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, how glad we should be to learn something more about the mothers and wives
of the noble Estiennes, the learned and illustrious printers, who devoted their lives to the reproduction of antique writers! These ladies aided the glorious work no less than the men. Night and day the family toiled at their stupendous tasks with the zeal and fervour of crusaders and explorers. They lived in an age of intellectual resurrection. Homer, Plato, and Virgil, had just been resuscitated for the wonder and admiration of future ages; and it was mainly due to the labours of men and women like the Estiennes that the Church did not re-inter them! Their very speech wore a flavour of antiquity. Boys and girls were alike reared to speak in the tongue
of Horace and Nævius. Their minds were full of the poetry and wisdom of antiquity.
To come down to a later period. We have long had a life of Henry Fielding; we know all that we want to know, perhaps, about the author of “Tom Jones.” But he had a sister, a gifted and learned sister—who knows anything about her ? This Sarah Fielding had great powers as a novel writer, and her brother early recognized them. She was also a good Greek scholar, and wrote a clear, beautiful English style; in fact, there is little doubt that she was a remarkable woman. We do not learn what became of her. Most likely she was obliged to leave her novelwriting and Greek translations in order to make shirts, pastry, and gooseberry-wine ! Fortunately one admirable specimen of her scholarship remains, a translation of the Memorabilia of Socrates, by Xenophon, yet to be picked up at bookstalls. It reached several editions during the author's lifetime, and should always be purchased when opportunity offers. Simple, accurate, dignified in style, Xenophon has here found a worthy interpreter. Many other instances might be given of deplorable gaps in the biographical history of women, and of course no favour is shown. Women philanthropists and scholars, social reformers and artists, educationalists and romancers, all fare alike. History has no time for them. Let them make room for their betters! I will now only add that my labours will be amply rewarded if the present volume finds favour with the young. For them, more especially, it has been written, and each may carry away a profitable lesson. Alike the story of Caroline Herschel, of Elizabeth Carter, of Madame Pape, of Matilda Betham, Alexandrine Tinné, and Fernan Caballero, lead us beyond the narrow vision and limited aims of every-day existence. These women had all noble or at least worthy aspirations. They felt that life, unleavened with the leaven of thought and endeavour, is a mere life in death, a parody upon a lofty theme; they recognized the goodness and desirableness of knowledge, not only for themselves but for others, and asked themselves in the words of a great poet of our own day,
moral for themselves. What constituted the happiness of the lives here delineated for their edification ? Not certainly the favours and flatteries of the world, not an unusual share of prosperity so-called, not wealth and social successes and pleasure. These women were happy because they loved and admired what was good and admirable, because they had an intellectual and moral remedy against misfortune, disappointment, ill-health. Littleness was eliminated out of their existences. Their thoughts were fixed on something higher and better than the mere satisfaction of every day, and the fulfilment of common cravings after happiness. Thus in solitude they had ever companionship, in self-sacrifice ever a sweet and durable reward.