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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Womanhood
By John Ruskin (1819–1900)
 
From ‘Sesame and Lilies’

GENERALLY we are under an impression that a man’s duties are public, and a woman’s private. But this is not altogether so. A man has a personal work or duty relating to his own home, and a public work or duty—which is the expansion of the other—relating to the State. So a woman has a personal work and duty relating to her own home, and a public work and duty which is also the expansion of that.  1
  Now, the man’s work for his own home is, as has been said, to secure its maintenance, progress, and defense; the woman’s to secure its order, comfort, and loveliness.  2
  Expand both these functions. The man’s duty as a member of a commonwealth is to assist in the maintenance, in the advance, in the defense of the State. The woman’s duty as a member of the commonwealth is to assist in the ordering, in the comforting, and in the beautiful adornment of the State.  3
  What the man is at his own gate,—defending it if need be against insult and spoil, that also,—not in a less but in a more devoted measure, he is to be at the gate of his country; leaving his home, if need be, even to the spoiler, to do his more incumbent work there.  4
  And in like manner, what the woman is to be within her gates, as the centre of order, the balm of distress, and the mirror of beauty, that she is also to be without her gates, where order is more difficult, distress more imminent, loveliness more rare….  5
  It is now long since the women of England arrogated, universally, a title which once belonged to nobility only; and having once been in the habit of accepting the simple title of gentlewoman, as correspondent to that of gentleman, insisted on the privilege of assuming the title of “Lady,” which properly corresponds only to the title of “Lord.”  6
  I do not blame them for this; but only for their narrow motive in this. I would have them desire and claim the title of Lady, provided they claim not merely the title, but the office and duty signified by it. Lady means “bread-giver” or “loaf-giver,” and Lord means “maintainer of laws”; and both titles have reference not to the law which is maintained in the house, nor to the bread which is given to the household, but to law maintained for the multitude and to bread broken among the multitude. So that a Lord has legal claim only to this title in so far as he is the maintainer of the justice of the Lord of Lords; and a Lady has legal claim to her title only so far as she communicates that help to the poor representatives of her Master, which women once, ministering to him of their substance, were permitted to extend to that Master himself; and when she is known, as he himself once was, in breaking of bread.  7
  And this beneficent and legal dominion, this power of the Dominus, or House-Lord, and of the Domina, or House-Lady, is great and venerable, not in the number of those through whom it has lineally descended, but in the number of those whom it grasps within its sway; it is always regarded with reverent worship wherever its dynasty is founded on its duty, and its ambition co-relative with its beneficence. Your fancy is pleased with the thought of being noble ladies, with a train of vassals. Be it so: you cannot be too noble, and your train cannot be too great; but see to it that your train is of vassals whom you serve and feed, not merely of slaves who serve and feed you; and that the multitude which obeys you is of those whom you have comforted, not oppressed,—whom you have redeemed, not led into captivity.  8
 
 
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