"He is a fool who thinks by force or skill
To turn the current of a woman's will."
TUKE, The Adventures of Five Hours.
IT has been humorously remarked--although it must have been prior to the time when the law invested womankind with testamentary powers--"That women must have their wills while they live, because they make none when they die." Butler, in his "Miscellaneous Thoughts," amusingly remarks:--
"The souls of women are so small
That some believe they've none at all;
Or, if they have, like cripples still,
They've but one faculty, the will."
It is generally acknowledged that, however many a woman's deficiencies may be, she is not wanting in a will. Indeed, the strength of a woman's will has been admitted even by her opponents; and the French have a saying that, "What a woman wills, God wills;" with which may be compared the familiar Italian adage, "Whatever a woman will she can," reminding us of the rhyme on a pillar at Canterbury:--
Where is the man who has the power and skill
To stem the torrent of a woman's will?
For if she will, she will, you may depend on't,
And if she won't, she won't, so there's an end on't."
According to another version of the same proverbial rhyme, we are told:--
"The man's a fool who tries by force or skill
To stem the current of a woman's will,
For if she will, she will, you may depend on't,
And if she won't, she won't, and there's an end on't;"
which reminds us of what Terence wrote: "I know what a woman's temper is: When you will, they won't: and when you won't, then they are in a perfect fever the other way."
Hence there is a world-wide saying to the effect that, "Swine, women, and bees are not to be turned." But Schiller, it would seem, was one of those who was bold enough to deny the sovereignty of a woman's will, for he says, "Man is the only being who can will;" whereas, to quote a not very complimentary phrase current in years past, it is said "She-devils are hard to turn." How important it was once considered that a woman's will should be directed aright may be gathered from this adage, "It shall be at the wife's will if the husband thrive," or, according to another version, "He that will thrive must ask leave of his wife," which we find embodied in the following couplet which occurs in "The Tale of the Basyn":--
"Hit is an olde seid saw, I swere be Seynt Tyue,
Hit shall be at the wyve's will if the husbande thryue."
It is further alluded to by Francis Dudley, 4th Lord North, in his "Observations and Advices OEconomical" (1669, p. 4): "It is an ancient English proverb, that if a man will thrive he must ask leave of his wife, and thrift is a matter of no small consideration in oeconomy. If, therefore, choice be made of a wife, let him use as well his ear as his eye, that is, let him trust to his discretion, according to what he hears, than to his affection kindled by sight."
And yet a woman does not always know her own mind; for, as it is said, "Maids say nay and take," or, as it has been observed in a previous chapter, "A woman's mind and winter change oft;" an amusing illustration of the indecision of a woman's will being given by Kelly in the following anecdote, which is from a Latin sermon on widowhood by Jean Raulin, a monk of cluny, of the fifteenth century, a story which has been retold by Rabelais:--
"A widow consulted her parish priest about her entering into a second marriage. She told him she stood in need of a helpmate and protector, and that her journeyman, for whom she had taken a fancy, was industrious and well acquainted with her late husband's trade.
"'Very well,' said the priest, 'you had better marry him.'
"'And yet,' rejoined the widow, 'I am afraid to do it, for who knows but I may find my servant become my master?'
"'Well then,' said the priest, 'don't have him.'
"'But what shall I do,' said the widow; 'the business left me by my poor, dear, departed husband is more than I can manage by myself.'
"'Marry him, then,' said the priest.
"'Ay, but suppose he turns out a scamp,' said the widow; 'he may get hold of my property and run through it all.'
"'Don't have him,' said the priest.
"Thus the dialogue went on, the priest always agreeing in the last opinion expressed by the widow, until at length, seeing that her mind was actually made up to marry the journeyman, he told her to consult the church bells, and they would advise her best what to do.
"Accordingly the bells were rung, and the widow heard them distinctly say, 'Do take your do take your man.'
"She went home and married him forthwith but it was not long before he thrashed her soundly, and made her feel that instead of his mistress she had become his servant.
"Back she went to the priest, cursing the hour when she had been credulous enough to act upon his advice.
"'Good woman,' said he, 'I am afraid you did not rightly understand what the bells said to you.' He rang them again, and then the poor woman heard clearly, but too late, these warning words: 'Do not take him; do not take him.'"
Vacillating, at times, as a woman's will may be, it is proverbially difficult to turn, especially when bent on some special object. Hence Edmund Spenser says:--
"Extremely mad the man, I surely deem,
That weens with watch and hard restraint to stay
A wornan's will, which is disposed to go astray,"
Two women, it is said, never think alike; and, as each wishes to have a will of her own, we can understand the truth of the following folk-rhyme, to which reference has been made elsewhere:--
"Two women in one house,
Two cats and one mouse,
Two dogs and one bone,
Will never accord in one"--
a piece of proverbial wisdom of which there are several versions, one of which occurs in the "Book of St. Albans, " 1486 (reprinted 1881), and, "Although most women," as the adage says, "be long-lived, yet they all die with an ill-will." At any rate, if there be truth in the Scotch proverb, it seems a woman must have her way occasionally, for, "Gie her her will, or she'll burst," quoth the man when his wife knocked his head with the three-legged stool.
Indeed, it has been generally acknowledged that the most difficult thing to manage is a woman's will, for, according to a Hindustani proverb, "The obstinacy of a woman, a child, and a king is not to be overcome with which may be compared the Kashmiri proverb which tells us that, "A contrary woman is like bad grass on the roof," the meaning being that grass which is not adapted for thatching does not set well. And we may compare an old English couplet:--
"To talk well with some women doth as much good
As a sick man to eat up a load of green wood."
Which, says Mr. Halliwell, is the same class of dictum as that which occurs in the "Schole-house of Women," 1541:--
"As holsome for a man is a woman's corse
As a shoulder of mutton for a sick horse."
And once more, according to the Lancashire adage, a woman's will is thus summed up:--
"Many men has many minds,
But women has but two;
Everything is what they'd have,
And nothing would they do."