Genesis & Commentaries

Rachel Speght, from A Muzzle for Melastomus, the Cynical Baiter of and Foul-Mouthed Barker against Eve's Sex

In the course of defending womankind against an attack by pamphleteer Joseph Swetnam, nineteen-year-old Rachel Speght reinterpreted the Eden story in terms that remove the onus that Genesis commentators traditionally attached to Eve, as inferior by nature and as primary human agent in the Fall. Speght's 1617 defense invites comparison with the one that Aemilia Lanyer sets forth in her passion poem Salve Deus (NAEL 8, 1.1314–19) and with Milton's account in Paradise Lost (NAEL 8, 1.1973–2010).

 

Of Woman's Excellency, with the causes of her creation, and of the sympathy which ought to be in man and wife toward other.

The work of Creation being finished, this approbation was given by God himself, that All was very good. If All, then Woman, who, excepting man, is the most excellent creature under the Canopy of heaven. But if it be objected by any:

First: that woman, though created good, yet by giving ear to Satan's temptations, brought death and misery upon all posterity.  * * * To the first of these objections I answer, that Satan first assailed the woman, because where the hedge is lowest, most easy it is to get over, and she being the weaker vessel was with more facility to be seduced: like as a crystal glass sooner receives a crack than a strong stone pot. Yet we shall find the offense of Adam and Eve almost to parallel: for as ambitious desire of being made like to God, was the motive which caused her to eat, so likewise was it his. * * * Woman sinned, it is true, by her infidelity in not believing the word of God, but giving credit to Satan's fair promises, that {she should not die}; but so did the man too.

* * *

It therefore served not his turn a whit, afterwards to say, "The woman which thou gave me, gave me of the tree, and I did eat." For the penalty was inflicted upon him, as well as on the woman, the punishment of her transgression being particular to her own sex, and to none but the female kind: but for the sin of man the whole earth was cursed. And he being better able than the woman to have resisted temptation, because the stronger vessel, was first called to account, to show that to whom much is given, of them much is required; and that he who was the sovereign of all creatures visible, should have yielded greatest obedience to God.

True it is (as is already confessed) that woman first sinned, yet find we no mention of spiritual nakedness till the man had sinned: then it is said, Their eyes were opened, the eyes of their mind and conscience; and then they perceived themselves naked, that is, not only bereft of that integrity, which they had originally had, but felt the rebellion and disobedience of their members in the disordered motions of their now corrupt nature, which made them for shame to cover their nakedness. Then (and not before) it is said that they saw it, as if sin were imperfect, and unable to bring a deprivation of the blessing received, or death on all mankind, till man (in whom lay the active power of generation) had transgressed. The offense therefore of Adam and Eve is by Saint Augustine thus distinguished, the man sinned against God and himself, the woman against God, herself, and her husband: yet in her giving of the fruit to eat, had she no malicious intent towards him, but did therein show a desire to make her husband partaker of that happiness, which she thought by their eating they should both have enjoyed. This her giving Adam of that sauce, wherewith Satan had served her, whose sourness before he had eaten she did not perceive, was that which made her sin to exceed his. Wherefore, that she might not of him, who ought to honor her, be abhorred, the first promise that was made in Paradise, God makes to woman, that by her Seed should the Serpent's head be broken. Whereupon Adam calls her Hevah, life, that as the woman had been an occasion of his sin, so should woman bring forth the Savior from sin, which was in the fullness of time accomplished; by which was manifested, that he is a Savior of believing women, no less than of men.

* * *

The efficient cause of woman's creation was, Jehovah the Eternal; the truth of which is manifest in Moses his narration of the six days works, where he said, God created them male and female. * * * That work then cannot choose but be good, yea very good, which is wrought by so excellent a workman as the Lord: for being a glorious Creator, must needs effect a worthy creature.

* * *

Secondly, the material cause, or matter whereof woman was made, was of a refined mold, if I may so speak. For man was created of the dust of the earth, but woman was made of a part of man, after that he was a living soul: yet was she not produced from Adam's foot, to be his too low inferior; nor from his head to be his superior, but from his side, near his heart, to be his equal; that where he is Lord, she may be Lady. And therefore said God concerning man and woman jointly, Let them rule over the fish of the Sea and over the fowls of the Heaven, and over every beast that moves upon the earth: by which words he makes their authority equal, and all creatures to be in subjection to them both. This being rightly considered, does teach men to make such account of their wives, as Adam did of Eve, This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. As also, that * * * men ought to love their wives as themselves, because he that loves his wife, loves himself. And never man hated his own flesh (which the woman is) unless a monster in nature.

Thirdly, the formal cause, fashion, and proportion of woman was excellent. For she was neither like the beasts of the earth, fouls of the air, fishes of the Sea, or any other inferior creature, but Man was the only object, which she did resemble. For as God gave man a lofty countenance, that he might look upward toward Heaven, so did he likewise give to woman. And as the temperature of man's body is excellent, so is woman's.  * * * And (that more is) in the Image of God were they both created; yea and to be brief, all the parts of their bodies, both external and internal, were correspondent and meet each for other.

Fourthly and lastly, the final cause, for which woman was made, was to glorify God, and to be a collateral companion for man to glorify God, in using her body and all the parts, powers, and faculties thereof, as instruments of his honor. * * * No power external or internal ought woman to keep idle, but to employ it in some service to God, to the glory of her Creator, and comfort of her own soul.

The other end for which woman was made, was to be a Companion and helper for man; and if she must be an helper, and but an helper, then are those husbands to be blamed, which lay the whole burden of domestic affairs and maintenance on the shoulders of their wives. For, as yoke-fellows they are to sustain part of each other's cares, griefs, and calamities. But as if two Oxen be put in one yoke, the one being bigger than the other, the greater bears most weight; so the Husband being the stronger vessel is to bear a greater burden than his wife. * * * Nature has taught senseless creatures to help one another; as the Male Pigeon, when his Hen is weary with sitting on her eggs, and comes off from them, supplies her place, that in her absence they may receive no harm, until such time as she is fully refreshed. Of small Birds the Cock always helps his Hen to build her nest; and while she sits upon her eggs, he flies abroad to get meat for her, who cannot then provide any for her self. * * * [So] I may reason a minore ad maius, >> note 1 that much more should man and woman, which are reasonable creatures, be helpful each to other in all things lawful, they having the Law of God to guide them, his word to be a Lantern to their feet, and a Light unto their paths, by which they are excited to a far more mutual participation of each other's burden, than other creatures.


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