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The Seventh Commandment
by [?]

If a woman be homely as a bois d’arc hedge she may suppose the world supercharged with St. Anthonys, for she has not been much sought; but if she be beautiful and has mingled much with men she realizes all too well that the story of Joseph is a foolish romance or that Mrs. Potiphar was quite passe. And though she be pure as a vestal virgin of Rome’s best days she secretly despises the man with whom she does not have to stand just a little bit on the defensive. Of course she demands that her male acquaintances shall be gentlemen and treat her with due courtesy and respect; but it nettles her not a little to learn that her charms are altogether ignored. She likes to feel her power, to know that she is good in the eyes of men, something desired–that her virtue is a priceless jewel over which she must ever keep close guard; hence she likes best the male she is compelled to watch, while a man has absolutely no use for wife or mistress upon whose fealty he would not lay his life. The result is that when a woman commits one sexual sin she puts hope behind her, her feet take hold on Hell, she sinks lower and lower until she becomes the shameless associate of bummers and bawds. She is made to feel that she has murdered her womanhood, that the red cross of Cain blazes upon her brow. Realizing that she is a social outcast, a moral pariah, she becomes reckless, defiant, and finally glories in betraying the fool who trusts her. No matter how fair the mountain upon which she has leave to feed, she will batten on the moor. Love was her excuse when first she went astray, and she hugs the delusion to her heart that Cupid can sanctify a crime; but where honor spreads not its wings of snow love perishes in the fierce simoon of lust. The man with whom she enters the primrose path feels that he is as good as his fellows. He may watch with a sigh her descent to the noisome regions of the damned; but comforts himself with the reflection that she would have found her way to hades without his help–that

“Virtue as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage”–

that had he played the prude she would have found another and perhaps a baser paramour. He knows that the stain of lechery is on his soul but draws comfort from the fact that such is the common heritage of his sex, forgets his victim and struggles toward the stars. He is financially honest, generous, and guards the honor of wife and daughters as God’s best gift. His amorous dalliance with others instead of weaning him from his wife, causes him to regard her with greater veneration, to contrast her purity with his own pollution, her virtue with another’s vice. Paradoxical as it may appear, there are no men in this world who so reverence good women as those who are notorious for their illicit amours. I am not, of course, speaking of the consorts of common courtesans, of human hogs; but of the men who people the red-light district with their cast-off mistresses.

Pitiful as it may appear, it hurts a man more to trifle with the Eighth Commandment once than to break the Seventh a thousand times–he is worse demoralized by stealing a mangy mule than by ruining a maid. The male lecher may be in all things else a lord; the thief is considered altogether and irremediably corrupt. Society will tolerate the one if his offense be not too flagrant, but to the other it refuses even the shadow of forgiveness. For three centuries the world has been trying to explain away Shakespeare’s poaching, but has not thought it worth while to even apologize for his sexual perversity. Washington caught his death while keeping an assignation with a neighbor’s wife; but there’s little said about it–he’s still the “father of his country,” including seventy million people of all classes and colors. Had the “slight exposure which brought on a fatal sickness,” been the result of prowling in his neighbor’s barn instead of his boudoir his name would be anathema forevermore. The world forgives him for debauching another man’s wife, but would never have forgiven him had he raided the same man’s henroost. It does not mean by this that a scrawny pullet is of more importance than family honor; it simply means that the man who steals a pullet is a cowardly thief, while the one who ignores the advances of a pretty woman is an incorrigible idiot. Ben Franklin could have mistresses scattered all over the City of Brotherly Love, and Dan Webster consort with all the light women of Washington, and still be men of genius beneath whose imperial feet Columbia was proud to lay her shining hair; but had either been caught sneaking from a neighbor’s woodpile with a two-cent bundle of fagots, the world would have rung with his infamy. The complaint against Demosthenes is not that he was a libertine–a man before whose honeyed eloquence maiden modesty and wifely virtue were as wax; but that he threw away sword and shield and fled like a mule-eared rabbit before the spears of Macedon. I digress long enough to say that I have patiently investigated the story of the great orator’s flight, and am fully convinced that it was a foul political falsehood, just as the current story of Col. Ingersoll’s cowardice and capture is a religious lie.