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pitied by one, blamed by another, and laughed at by nearly all; for even the pitiers cannot resist a laugh at a dishonoured husband. Lady E is cried up, or rather cried down, as a most vile and vicious woman, though an idea of vice had probably never entered her head; or else she is compassionated as a victim to the carelessness of a husband, who was so wicked as to permit her to be thrice attended in public by Lord D-; and who had himself been seen twice arm-in-arm with that nobleman,an occurrence which is received as a proof of his cognisance of the liaison.
The lady's reputation is gone, the husband's character suspected, the supposed lover is envied by his contemporary beaux ; and the affair furnishes conversation until some other reputation is offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of scandal.
Lady E- is not, however, expelled from society by her supposed guilt. Oh, no! as long as her husband countenances her, she is received as before; her acquaintances, being content with proclaiming her fault, desire not its punishment. If she happens to have a good disposition, her consciousness of innocence disposes her to believe
accused woman equally free from guilt as herself. She, consequently, pities, and associates with some of the most unworthy of her sex; and so puts the seal on her own supposed culpability. If, on the contrary, hers is not an amiable nature, this undeserved bereavement of reputation will make her slight the substance of the virtue of which she has lost the shadow : and she ends by becoming what she was previously only suspected to be. This is the state of London fashionable society, where appearances alone are judged; where not cause, but effect, is denounced; and where not crime, but its exposure, is punished.
Instances not unfrequently occur of women, free from any more serious charges than levity and imprudence, being subjected to the penalty that ought to be awarded to guilt alone. I refer to cases where the reports circulated through coteries and clubs are afterwards inserted in newspapers; one of which, containing the scandalous charges, is sent by some malicious person to the husband.
His amour propre, if not amour for her, is incurably wounded. If he is a weak man, and the majority of fashionable men are weak, he concludes that her conduct must have been
indeed glaringly indecorous, or it never could have obtained such odious publicity; not reflecting, that the statement he has perused is only an exaggerated version of the gossip of society, founded on no more solid basis than the unmeaning attentions he has himself beheld without alarm or censure. He recalls to mind every incident, however trivial, connected with her general demeanour; and none of them are now viewed impartially.
Influenced by his irritated vanity, he has already prejudged and condemned her ; without any proof, save the slander of a newspaper, confirmed, perhaps, by an indelicate and injudicious appeal to his domestics, who have drawn their conclusions from the same source.
These very domestics, who had never attached an idea of culpability to her conduct until they had read the flagrant statements of it, now become spies, curious to satisfy themselves of the existence of the guilt they imagine.
Her looks, words, and actions, are narrowly watched. Every note received, every male visitor admitted, becomes, to their jaundiced optics, presumptive conviction; so that, when questioned on the subject, they report rather what they believe, than what they have seen. Thus, a chain of evidence, based on erroneous conclusions, establishes a legal case: and the victim is expelled from society, seared and branded with dishonour, though perhaps free from crime, who might, if countenanced by her husband, have continued in it, though universally believed to be culpable.
It is not thus in France or Italy, where women, in losing one virtue, are not necessarily exposed to the loss of all. There, our sex are saved from the necessity of hypocrisy; and are not compelled to pull down the reputations of their contemporaries, in order to erect on the ruins a pedestal for the elevation of their own.
So few women in fashionable society here can afford to be merciful to others, that they