An Autobiography HTML version

I returned to Australia, when this island continent was in the grip of one of the most
severe and protracted droughts in its history. The war between Prussia and Austria had
begun and ended; the failure of Overend and Gurney and others brought commercial
disaster; and my brother, with other bankers, had anxious days and sleepless nights. Some
rich men became richer; many poor men went down altogether. Our recovery was slow
but sure. In the meantime I found life at home very dull after my interesting experiences
abroad. There was nothing to do for proportional representation except to write an
occasional letter to the press. So I started another novel, which was published serially in
The Observer. Mr. George Bentley, who published it subsequently in book form, changed
its title from "Hugh Lindsay's Guest" to "The Author's Daughter." But my development
as a public speaker was more important than the publication of a fourth novel. Much had
been written on the subject of public speaking by men, but so far nothing concerning the
capacities of women in that direction. And yet I think all teachers will agree that girls in
the aggregate excel boys in their powers of expression, whether in writing, or in speech,
though boys may surpass them in such studies as arithmetic and mathematics. Yet law
and custom have put a bridle on the tongue of women, and of the innumerable proverbs
relating to the sex, the most cynical are those relating to her use of language. Her only
qualification for public speaking in old days was that she could scold, and our ancestors
imposed a salutary cheek on this by the ducking stool in public, and sticks no thicker than
the thumb for marital correction in private. The writer of the Proverbs alludes to the
perpetual dropping of a woman's tongue as an intolerable nuisance, and declares that it is
better to live on the housetop than with a brawling woman in a wide house. A later writer,
describing the virtuous woman, said that on her lips is the law of kindness, and after all
this is the real feminine characteristic. As daughter, sister, wife, and mother--what does
not the world owe to the gracious words, the loving counsel, the ready sympathy which
she expresses? Until recent years, however, these feminine Rifts have been strictly kept
for home consumption. and only exercised for the woman's family and a limited circle of
friends. In 1825, when I first opened my eyes on the world, there were indeed women
who displayed an interest in public affairs. My own mother not only felt the keenest
solicitude regarding the passing of the Reform Bill, but she took up her pen, and with two
letters to the local press, under the signature of "Grizel Plowter," showed the advantages
of the proposed measure. But public speaking was absolutely out of the question for
women, and though I was the most ambitious of girls, my desire was to write a great
book--not at all to sway an audience. When I returned from my first visit to England in
1866, I was asked by the committee of the South Australian Institute to write a lecture on
my impressions of England, different from the article which had appeared in The Cornhill
Magazine under that title, but neither the committee nor myself thought of the possibility
of my delivering it. My good friend, the late Mr. John Howard Clark, Editor of The
Register, kindly offered to read it. I did not go to hear it, but I was told that he had
difficulty in reading my manuscript, and that, though he was a beautiful reader, it was not
very satisfactory. So I mentally resolved that if I was again asked I should offer to read
my own MS. Five years afterwards I was asked for two literary lectures by the same
committee, and I chose as my subjects the works of Elizabeth Browning and those of her
husband, Robert Browning. Now, I consider that the main thing for a lecturer is to be
heard, and a rising young lawyer (now our Chief Justice) kindly offered to take the back
seat, and promised to raise his hand if he could not hear. It was not raised once, so I felt