examine the students at Girton and Newnham. Mr Oscar Browning was wont to declare ‘that the impression left on his mind, after looking over any set of examination papers, was that, irrespective of the marks he might give, the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man’. After saying that Mr Browning went back to his rooms — and it is this sequel that endears him and makes him a human figure of some bulk and majesty — he went back to his rooms and found a stable-boy lying on the sofa —’a mere skeleton, his cheeks were cavernous and sallow, his teeth were black, and he did not appear to have the full use of his limbs. That’s Arthur” [said Mr Browning]. “He’s a dear boy really and most high-minded.—-The two pictures always seem to me to complete each other. And happily in this age of biography the two pictures often do complete each other, so that we are able to interpret the opinions of great men not only by what they say, but by what they do. But though this is possible now, such opinions coming from the lips of important people must have been
formidable enough even fifty years ago. Let us suppose that a father from the highest motives did not wish his daughter to leave home and become writer, painter or scholar. ‘See what Mr Oscar Browning says,’ he would say; and there so was not only Mr Oscar Browning; there was the SATURDAY REVIEW; there was Mr Greg — the ‘essentials of a woman’s being’, said Mr Greg emphatically, ‘are that THEY ARE SUPPORTED BY, AND THEY MINISTER TO, MEN’— there was an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected of women intellectually. Even if her father did not read out loud these opinions, any girl could read them for herself; and the reading, even in the nineteenth century, must have lowered her vitality, and told profoundly upon her work. There would always have been that assertion — you cannot do this, you are incapable of doing that — to protest against, to overcome. Probably for a novelist this germ is no longer of much effect; for there have been women novelists of merit. But for painters it must still have some sting in it; and for musicians, I imagine, is even now active and poisonous in the extreme. The woman composer stands where the actress stood in the time of Shakespeare. Nick Greene, I thought, remembering the story I had made about Shakespeare’s sister, said that a woman acting put him in mind of a dog dancing. Johnson repeated the phrase two hundred years later of women preaching. And here, I said, opening a book about music, we have the very words used again in this year of grace, 1928, of women who try to write music. ‘Of Mlle. Germaine Tailleferre one can only repeat Dr Johnson’s dictum concerning, a woman preacher, transposed into terms of music. “Sir, a woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.” 6 So accurately does history repeat itself.
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