THE PHYSIOLOGY OF MARRIAGE
HONORE DE BALZAC
Notice the words: The man of distinction to whom this book is dedicated. Need I say: "You are that man."—THE AUTHOR.
The woman who may be induced by the title of this book to open it, can save herself the trouble; she has already read the work without knowing it. A man, however malicious he may possibly be, can never say about a woman as much good or as much evil as they themselves think. If, in spite of this notice, a woman will persist in reading the volume, she ought to be prevented by delicacy from despising the author, from the very moment that he, forfeiting the praise which most artists welcome, has in a certain way engraved on the title page of his book the prudent inscription written on the portal of certain establishments: Ladies must not enter.
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF MARRIAGE; OR, THE MUSINGS OF AN ECLECTIC PHILOSOPHER ON THE HAPPINESS AND UNHAPPINESS OF MARRIED LIFE
"Marriage is not an institution of nature. The family in the east is entirely different from the family in the west. Man is the servant of nature, and the institutions of society are grafts, not spontaneous growths of nature. Laws are made to suit manners, and manners vary.
"Marriage must therefore undergo the gradual development towards perfection to which all human affairs submit."
These words, pronounced in the presence of the Conseil d'Etat by Napoleon during the discussion of the civil code, produced a profound impression upon the author of this book; and perhaps unconsciously he received the suggestion of this work, which he now presents to the public. And indeed at the period during which, while still in his youth, he studied French law, the word ADULTERY made a singular impression upon him. Taking, as it did, a prominent place in the code, this word never occurred to his mind without conjuring up its mournful train of consequences. Tears, shame, hatred, terror, secret crime, bloody wars, families without a head, and social misery rose like a sudden line of phantoms before him when he read the solemn word ADULTERY! Later on, when he became acquainted with the most cultivated circles of society, the author perceived that the rigor of marriage laws was very generally modified by adultery. He found that the number of unhappy homes was larger than that of happy marriages. In fact, he was the first to notice that of all human sciences that which relates to marriage was the least progressive. But this was the observation of a young man; and with him, as with so many others, this thought, like a pebble flung into the bosom of a lake, was lost in the abyss of his tumultuous thoughts. Nevertheless, in spite of himself the author was compelled to investigate, and eventually there was gathered within his mind, little by little, a swarm of conclusions, more or less just, on the subject of married life. Works like the present one are formed in the mind of the author with as much mystery as that with which truffles grow on the scented plains of Perigord. Out of the primitive and holy horror which adultery caused him and the investigation which he had thoughtlessly made, there was born one morning a trifling thought in which his ideas were formulated. This thought was really a satire upon marriage. It was as follows: A husband and wife found themselves in love with each other for the first time after twenty-seven years of marriage.
He amused himself with this little axiom and passed a whole week in delight, grouping around this harmless epigram the crowd of ideas which came to him unconsciously and which he was astonished to find that he possessed. His humorous mood yielded at last to the claims of serious investigation. Willing as he was to take a hint, the author returned to his habitual idleness. Nevertheless, this slight germ of science and of joke grew to perfection, unfostered, in the fields of thought. Each phase of the work which had been condemned by others took root and gathered strength, surviving like the slight branch of a tree which, flung upon the sand by a winter's storm, finds itself covered at morning with white and fantastic icicles, produced by the caprices of nightly frosts. So the sketch lived on and became the starting point of myriad branching moralizations. It was like a polypus which multiplies itself by generation. The feelings of youth, the observations which a favorable opportunity led him to make, were verified in the most trifling events of his after life. Soon this mass of ideas became harmonized, took life, seemed, as it were, to become a living individual and moved in the midst of those domains of fancy, where the soul loves to give full rein to its wild creations. Amid all the distractions of the world and of life, the author always heard a voice ringing in his ears and mockingly revealing the secrets of things at the very moment he was watching a woman as she danced, smiled, or talked. Just as Mephistopheles pointed out to Faust in that terrific assemblage at the Brocken, faces full of frightful augury, so the author was conscious in the midst of the ball of a demon who would strike him on the shoulder with a familiar air and say to him: "Do you notice that enchanting smile? It is a grin of hatred." And then the demon would strut about like one of the captains in the old comedies of Hardy. He would twitch the folds of a lace mantle and endeavor to make new the fretted tinsel and spangles of its former glory. And then like Rabelais he would burst into loud and unrestrainable laughter, and would trace on the street-wall a word which might serve as a pendant to the "Drink!" which was the only oracle obtainable from the heavenly bottle. This literary Trilby would often appear seated on piles of books, and with hooked fingers would point out with a grin of malice two yellow volumes whose title dazzled the eyes. Then when he saw he had attracted the author's attention he spelt out, in a voice alluring as the tones of an harmonica, Physiology of Marriage! But, almost always he appeared at night during my dreams, gentle as some fairy guardian; he tried by words of sweetness to subdue the soul which he would appropriate to himself. While he attracted, he also scoffed at me; supple as a woman's mind, cruel as a tiger, his friendliness was more formidable than his hatred, for he never yielded a caress without also inflicting a wound. One night in particular he exhausted the resources of his sorceries, and crowned all by a last effort. He came, he sat on the edge of the bed like a young maiden full of love, who at first keeps silence but whose eyes sparkle, until at last her secret escapes her.
"This," said he, "is a prospectus of a new life-buoy, by means of which one can pass over the Seine dry-footed. This other pamphlet is the report of the Institute on a garment by wearing which we can pass through flames without being burnt. Have you no scheme which can preserve marriage from the miseries of excessive cold and excessive heat? Listen to me! Here we have a book on the Art of preserving foods; on the Art of curing smoky chimneys; on the Art of making good mortar; on the Art of tying a cravat; on the Art of carving meat."
In a moment he had named such a prodigious number of books that the author felt his head go round.
"These myriads of books," says he, "have been devoured by readers; and while everybody does not build a house, and some grow hungry, and others have no cravat, or no fire to warm themselves at, yet everybody to some degree is married. But come look yonder."
He waved his hand, and appeared to bring before me a distant ocean where all the books of the world were tossing up and down like agitated waves. The octodecimos bounded over the surface of the water. The octavos as they were flung on their way uttered a solemn sound, sank to the bottom, and only rose up again with great difficulty, hindered as they were by duodecimos and works of smaller bulk which floated on the top and melted into light foam. The furious billows were crowded with journalists, proof-readers, paper-makers, apprentices, printers' agents, whose hands alone were seen mingled in the confusion among the books. Millions of voices rang in the air, like those of schoolboys bathing. Certain men were seen moving hither and thither in canoes, engaged in fishing out the books, and landing them on the shore in the presence of a tall man, of a disdainful air, dressed in black, and of a cold, unsympathetic expression. The whole scene represented the libraries and the public. The demon pointed out with his finger a skiff freshly decked out with all sails set and instead of a flag bearing a placard. Then with a peal of sardonic laughter, he read with a thundering voice: Physiology of Marriage.
The author fell in love, the devil left him in peace, for he would have undertaken more than he could handle if he had entered an apartment occupied by a woman. Several years passed without bringing other torments than those of love, and the author was inclined to believe that he had been healed of one infirmity by means of another which took its place. But one evening he found himself in a Parisian drawing-room where one of the men among the circle who stood round the fireplace began the conversation by relating in a sepulchral voice the following anecdote:
A peculiar thing took place at Ghent while I was staying there. A lady ten years a widow lay on her bed attacked by mortal sickness. The three heirs of collateral lineage were waiting for her last sigh. They did not leave her side for fear that she would make a will in favor of the convent of Beguins belonging to the town. The sick woman kept silent, she seemed dozing and death appeared to overspread very gradually her mute and livid face. Can't you imagine those three relations seated in silence through that winter midnight beside her bed? An old nurse is with them and she shakes her head, and the doctor sees with anxiety that the sickness has reached its last stage, and holds his hat in one hand and with the other makes a sign to the relations, as if to say to them: "I have no more visits to make here." Amid the solemn silence of the room is heard the dull rustling of a snow-storm which beats upon the shutters. For fear that the eyes of the dying woman might be dazzled by the light, the youngest of the heirs had fitted a shade to the candle which stood near that bed so that the circle of light scarcely reached the pillow of the deathbed, from which the sallow countenance of the sick woman stood out like a figure of Christ imperfectly gilded and fixed upon a cross of tarnished silver. The flickering rays shed by the blue flames of a crackling fire were therefore the sole light of this sombre chamber, where the denouement of a drama was just ending. A log suddenly rolled from the fire onto the floor, as if presaging some catastrophe. At the sound of it the sick woman quickly rose to a sitting posture. She opened two eyes, clear as those of a cat, and all present eyed her in astonishment. She saw the log advance, and before any one could check an unexpected movement which seemed prompted by a kind of delirium, she bounded from her bed, seized the tongs and threw the coal back into the fireplace. The nurse, the doctor, the relations rushed to her assistance; they took the dying woman in their arms. They put her back in bed; she laid her head upon her pillow and after a few minutes died, keeping her eyes fixed even after her death upon that plank in the floor which the burning brand had touched. Scarcely had the Countess Van Ostroem expired when the three co-heirs exchanged looks of suspicion, and thinking no more about their aunt, began to examine the mysterious floor. As they were Belgians their calculations were as rapid as their glances. An agreement was made by three words uttered in a low voice that none of them should leave the chamber. A servant was sent to fetch a carpenter. Their collateral hearts beat excitedly as they gathered round the treasured flooring, and watched their young apprentice giving the first blow with his chisel. The plank was cut through.
"My aunt made a sign," said the youngest of the heirs.
"No; it was merely the quivering light that made it appear so," replied the eldest, who kept one eye on the treasure and the other on the corpse.
The afflicted relations discovered exactly on the spot where the brand had fallen a certain object artistically enveloped in a mass of plaster.
"Proceed," said the eldest of the heirs.
The chisel of the apprentice then brought to light a human head and some odds and ends of clothing, from which they recognized the count whom all the town believed to have died at Java, and whose loss had been bitterly deplored by his wife.
The narrator of this old story was a tall spare man, with light eyes and brown hair, and the author thought he saw in him a vague resemblance to the demon who had before this tormented him; but the stranger did not show the cloven foot. Suddenly the word ADULTERY sounded in the ears of the author; and this word woke up in his imagination the most mournful countenances of that procession which before this had streamed by on the utterance of the magic syllables. From that evening he was haunted and persecuted by dreams of a work which did not yet exist; and at no period of his life was the author assailed with such delusive notions about the fatal subject of this book. But he bravely resisted the fiend, although the latter referred the most unimportant incidents of life to this unknown work, and like a customhouse officer set his stamp of mockery upon every occurrence.
Some days afterwards the author found himself in the company of two ladies. The first of them had been one of the most refined and the most intellectual women of Napoleon's court. In his day she occupied a lofty position, but the sudden appearance of the Restoration caused her downfall; she became a recluse. The second, who was young and beautiful, was at that time living at Paris the life of a fashionable woman. They were friends, because, the one being forty and the other twenty-two years old, they were seldom rivals on the same field. The author was considered quite insignificant by the first of the two ladies, and since the other soon discovered this, they carried on in his presence the conversation which they had begun in a frank discussion of a woman's lot.
"Have you noticed, dear, that women in general bestow their love only upon a fool?"
"What do you mean by that, duchess? And how can you make your remark fit in with the fact that they have an aversion for their husbands?"
"These women are absolute tyrants!" said the author to himself. "Has the devil again turned up in a mob cap?"
"No, dear, I am not joking," replied the duchess, "and I shudder with fear for myself when I coolly consider people whom I have known in other times. Wit always has a sparkle which wounds us, and the man who has much of it makes us fear him perhaps, and if he is a proud man he will be capable of jealousy, and is not therefore to our taste. In fact, we prefer to raise a man to our own height rather than to have to climb up to his. Talent has great successes for us to share in, but the fool affords enjoyment to us; and we would sooner hear said 'that is a very handsome man' than to see our lover elected to the Institute."
"That's enough, duchess! You have absolutely startled me."
And the young coquette began to describe the lovers about whom all the women of her acquaintance raved; there was not a single man of intellect among them.
"But I swear by my virtue," she said, "their husbands are worth more."
"But these are the sort of people they choose for husbands," the duchess answered gravely.
"Tell me," asked the author, "is the disaster which threatens the husband in France quite inevitable?"
"It is," replied the duchess, with a smile; "and the rage which certain women breathe out against those of their sex, whose unfortunate happiness it is to entertain a passion, proves what a burden to them is their chastity. If it were not for fear of the devil, one would be Lais; another owes her virtue to the dryness of her selfish heart; a third to the silly behaviour of her first lover; another still—"
The author checked this outpour of revelation by confiding to the two ladies his design for the work with which he had been haunted; they smiled and promised him their assistance. The youngest, with an air of gaiety suggested one of the first chapters of the undertaking, by saying that she would take upon herself to prove mathematically that women who are entirely virtuous were creatures of reason.
When the author got home he said at once to his demon:
"Come! I am ready; let us sign the compact."
But the demon never returned.
If the author has written here the biography of his book he has not acted on the prompting of fatuity. He relates facts which may furnish material for the history of human thought, and will without doubt explain the work itself. It may perhaps be important to certain anatomists of thought to be told that the soul is feminine. Thus although the author made a resolution not to think about the book which he was forced to write, the book, nevertheless, was completed. One page of it was found on the bed of a sick man, another on the sofa of a boudoir. The glances of women when they turned in the mazes of a waltz flung to him some thoughts; a gesture or a word filled his disdainful brain with others. On the day when he said to himself, "This work, which haunts me, shall be achieved," everything vanished; and like the three Belgians, he drew forth a skeleton from the place over which he had bent to seize a treasure.
A mild, pale countenance took the place of the demon who had tempted me; it wore an engaging expression of kindliness; there were no sharp pointed arrows of criticism in its lineaments. It seemed to deal more with words than with ideas, and shrank from noise and clamor. It was perhaps the household genius of the honorable deputies who sit in the centre of the Chamber.
"Wouldn't it be better," it said, "to let things be as they are? Are things so bad? We ought to believe in marriage as we believe in the immortality of the soul; and you are certainly not making a book to advertise the happiness of marriage. You will surely conclude that among a million of Parisian homes happiness is the exception. You will find perhaps that there are many husbands disposed to abandon their wives to you; but there is not a single son who will abandon his mother. Certain people who are hit by the views which you put forth will suspect your morals and will misrepresent your intentions. In a word, in order to handle social sores, one ought to be a king, or a first consul at least."
Reason, although it appeared under a form most pleasing to the author, was not listened to; for in the distance Folly tossed the coxcomb of Panurge, and the author wished to seize it; but, when he tried to catch it, he found that it was as heavy as the club of Hercules. Moreover, the cure of Meudon adorned it in such fashion that a young man who was less pleased with producing a good work than with wearing fine gloves could not even touch it.
"Is our work completed?" asked the younger of the two feminine assistants of the author.
"Alas! madame," I said, "will you ever requite me for all the hatreds which that work will array against me?"
She waved her hand, and then the author replied to her doubt by a look of indifference.
"What do you mean? Would you hesitate? You must publish it without fear. In the present day we accept a book more because it is in fashion than because it has anything in it."
Although the author does not here represent himself as anything more than the secretary of two ladies, he has in compiling their observations accomplished a double task. With regard to marriage he has here arranged matters which represent what everybody thinks but no one dares to say; but has he not also exposed himself to public displeasure by expressing the mind of the public? Perhaps, however, the eclecticism of the present essay will save it from condemnation. All the while that he indulges in banter the author has attempted to popularize certain ideas which are particularly consoling. He has almost always endeavored to lay bare the hidden springs which move the human soul. While undertaking to defend the most material interests of man, judging them or condemning them, he will perhaps bring to light many sources of intellectual delight. But the author does not foolishly claim always to put forth his pleasantries in the best of taste; he has merely counted upon the diversity of intellectual pursuits in expectation of receiving as much blame as approbation. The subject of his work was so serious that he is constantly launched into anecdote; because at the present day anecdotes are the vehicle of all moral teaching, and the anti-narcotic of every work of literature. In literature, analysis and investigation prevail, and the wearying of the reader increases in proportion with the egotism of the writer. This is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall a book, and the present author has been quite aware of it. He has therefore so arranged the topics of this long essay as to afford resting places for the reader. This method has been successfully adopted by a writer, who produced on the subject of Taste a work somewhat parallel to that which is here put forth on the subject of Marriage. From the former the present writer may be permitted to borrow a few words in order to express a thought which he shares with the author of them. This quotation will serve as an expression of homage to his predecessor, whose success has been so swiftly followed by his death:
"When I write and speak of myself in the singular, this implies a confidential talk with the reader; he can examine the statement, discuss it, doubt and even ridicule it; but when I arm myself with the formidable WE, I become the professor and demand submission."— Brillat-Savarin, Preface to the Physiology of Taste.
DECEMBER 5, 1829.
A GENERAL CONSIDERATION.
We will declaim against stupid laws until they are changed, and in the meantime blindly submit to them.—Diderot, Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville.
Physiology, what must I consider your meaning?
Is not your object to prove that marriage unites for life two beings who do not know each other?
That life consists in passion, and that no passion survives marriage?
That marriage is an institution necessary for the preservation of society, but that it is contrary to the laws of nature?
That divorce, this admirable release from the misfortunes of marriage, should with one voice be reinstated?
That, in spite of all its inconveniences, marriage is the foundation on which property is based?
That it furnishes invaluable pledges for the security of government?
That there is something touching in the association of two human beings for the purpose of supporting the pains of life?
That there is something ridiculous in the wish that one and the same thoughts should control two wills?
That the wife is treated as a slave?
That there has never been a marriage entirely happy?
That marriage is filled with crimes and that the known murders are not the worst?
That fidelity is impossible, at least to the man?
That an investigation if it could be undertaken would prove that in the transmission of patrimonial property there was more risk than security?
That adultery does more harm than marriage does good?
That infidelity in a woman may be traced back to the earliest ages of society, and that marriage still survives this perpetuation of treachery?
That the laws of love so strongly link together two human beings that no human law can put them asunder?
That while there are marriages recorded on the public registers, there are others over which nature herself has presided, and they have been dictated either by the mutual memory of thought, or by an utter difference of mental disposition, or by corporeal affinity in the parties named; that it is thus that heaven and earth are constantly at variance?
That there are many husbands fine in figure and of superior intellect whose wives have lovers exceedingly ugly, insignificant in appearance or stupid in mind?
All these questions furnish material for books; but the books have been written and the questions are constantly reappearing.
Physiology, what must I take you to mean?
Do you reveal new principles? Would you pretend that it is the right thing that woman should be made common? Lycurgus and certain Greek peoples as well as Tartars and savages have tried this.
Can it possibly be right to confine women? The Ottomans once did so, and nowadays they give them their liberty.
Would it be right to marry young women without providing a dowry and yet exclude them from the right of succeeding to property? Some English authors and some moralists have proved that this with the admission of divorce is the surest method of rendering marriage happy.
Should there be a little Hagar in each marriage establishment? There is no need to pass a law for that. The provision of the code which makes an unfaithful wife liable to a penalty in whatever place the crime be committed, and that other article which does not punish the erring husband unless his concubine dwells beneath the conjugal roof, implicitly admits the existence of mistresses in the city.
Sanchez has written a dissertation on the penal cases incident to marriage; he has even argued on the illegitimacy and the opportuneness of each form of indulgence; he has outlined all the duties, moral, religious and corporeal, of the married couple; in short his work would form twelve volumes in octavo if the huge folio entitled De Matrimonio were thus represented.
Clouds of lawyers have flung clouds of treatises over the legal difficulties which are born of marriage. There exist several works on the judicial investigation of impotency.
Legions of doctors have marshaled their legions of books on the subject of marriage in its relation to medicine and surgery.
In the nineteenth century the Physiology of Marriage is either an insignificant compilation or the work of a fool written for other fools; old priests have taken their balances of gold and have weighed the most trifling scruples of the marriage consciences; old lawyers have put on their spectacles and have distinguished between every kind of married transgression; old doctors have seized the scalpel and drawn it over all the wounds of the subject; old judges have mounted to the bench and have decided all the cases of marriage dissolution; whole generations have passed unuttered cries of joy or of grief on the subject, each age has cast its vote into the urn; the Holy Spirit, poets and writers have recounted everything from the days of Eve to the Trojan war, from Helen to Madame de Maintenon, from the mistress of Louis XIV to the woman of their own day.
Physiology, what must I consider your meaning?
Shall I say that you intend to publish pictures more or less skillfully drawn, for the purpose of convincing us that a man marries:
From ambition—that is well known;
From kindness, in order to deliver a girl from the tyranny of her mother;
From rage, in order to disinherit his relations;
From scorn of a faithless mistress;
From weariness of a pleasant bachelor life;
From folly, for each man always commits one;
In consequence of a wager, which was the case with Lord Byron;
From interest, which is almost always the case;
From youthfulness on leaving college, like a blockhead;
From ugliness,—fear of some day failing to secure a wife;
Through Machiavelism, in order to be the heir of some old woman at an early date;
From necessity, in order to secure the standing to our son;
From obligation, the damsel having shown herself weak;
From passion, in order to become more surely cured of it;
On account of a quarrel, in order to put an end to a lawsuit;
From gratitude, by which he gives more than he has received;
From goodness, which is the fate of doctrinaires;
From the condition of a will when a dead uncle attaches his legacy to some girl, marriage with whom is the condition of succession;
From custom, in imitation of his ancestors;
From old age, in order to make an end of life;
From yatidi, that is the hour of going to bed and signifies amongst the Turks all bodily needs;
From religious zeal, like the Duke of Saint-Aignan, who did not wish to commit sin?[*]
[*] The foregoing queries came in (untranslatable) alphabetic order in the original.—Editor
But these incidents of marriage have furnished matter for thirty thousand comedies and a hundred thousand romances.
Physiology, for the third and last time I ask you—What is your meaning?
So far everything is commonplace as the pavement of the street, familiar as a crossway. Marriage is better known than the Barabbas of the Passion. All the ancient ideas which it calls to light permeate literature since the world is the world, and there is not a single opinion which might serve to the advantage of the world, nor a ridiculous project which could not find an author to write it up, a printer to print it, a bookseller to sell it and a reader to read it.
Allow me to say to you like Rabelais, who is in every sense our master:
"Gentlemen, God save and guard you! Where are you? I cannot see you; wait until I put on my spectacles. Ah! I see you now; you, your wives, your children. Are you in good health? I am glad to hear it."
But it is not for you that I am writing. Since you have grown-up children that ends the matter.
Ah! it is you, illustrious tipplers, pampered and gouty, and you, tireless pie-cutters, favorites who come dear; day-long pantagruellists who keep your private birds, gay and gallant, and who go to tierce, to sexts, to nones, and also to vespers and compline and never tire of going.
It is not for you that the Physiology of Marriage is addressed, for you are not married and may you never be married. You herd of bigots, snails, hypocrites, dotards, lechers, booted for pilgrimage to Rome, disguised and marked, as it were, to deceive the world. Go back, you scoundrels, out of my sight! Gallows birds are ye all—now in the devil's name will you not begone? There are none left now but the good souls who love to laugh; not the snivelers who burst into tears in prose or verse, whatever their subject be, who make people sick with their odes, their sonnets, their meditation; none of these dreamers, but certain old-fashioned pantagruellists who don't think twice about it when they are invited to join a banquet or provoked to make a repartee, who can take pleasure in a book like Pease and the Lard with commentary of Rabelais, or in the one entitled The Dignity of Breeches, and who esteem highly the fair books of high degree, a quarry hard to run down and redoubtable to wrestle with.
It no longer does to laugh at a government, my friend, since it has invented means to raise fifteen hundred millions by taxation. High ecclesiastics, monks and nuns are no longer so rich that we can drink with them; but let St. Michael come, he who chased the devil from heaven, and we shall perhaps see the good time come back again! There is only one thing in France at the present moment which remains a laughing matter, and that is marriage. Disciples of Panurge, ye are the only readers I desire. You know how seasonably to take up and lay down a book, how to get the most pleasure out of it, to understand the hint in a half word—how to suck nourishment from a marrow-bone.
The men of the microscope who see nothing but a speck, the census-mongers—have they reviewed the whole matter? Have they pronounced without appeal that it is as impossible to write a book on marriage as to make new again a broken pot?
Yes, master fool. If you begin to squeeze the marriage question you squirt out nothing but fun for the bachelors and weariness for the married men. It is everlasting morality. A million printed pages would have no other matter in them.
In spite of this, here is my first proposition: marriage is a fight to the death, before which the wedded couple ask a blessing from heaven, because it is the rashest of all undertakings to swear eternal love; the fight at once commences and victory, that is to say liberty, remains in the hands of the cleverer of the two.
Undoubtedly. But do you see in this a fresh idea?
Well, I address myself to the married men of yesterday and of to-day; to those who on leaving the Church or the registration office indulge the hope of keeping their wives for themselves alone; to those whom some form or other of egotism or some indefinable sentiment induces to say when they see the marital troubles of another, "This will never happen to me."
I address myself to those sailors who after witnessing the foundering of other ships still put to sea; to those bachelors who after witnessing the shipwreck of virtue in a marriage of another venture upon wedlock. And this is my subject, eternally now, yet eternally old!
A young man, or it may be an old one, in love or not in love, has obtained possession by a contract duly recorded at the registration office in heaven and on the rolls of the nation, of a young girl with long hair, with black liquid eyes, with small feet, with dainty tapering fingers, with red lips, with teeth of ivory, finely formed, trembling with life, tempting and plump, white as a lily, loaded with the most charming wealth of beauty. Her drooping eyelashes seem like the points of the iron crown; her skin, which is as fresh as the calyx of a white camelia, is streaked with the purple of the red camelia; over her virginal complexion one seems to see the bloom of young fruit and the delicate down of a young peach; the azure veins spread a kindling warmth over this transparent surface; she asks for life and she gives it; she is all joy and love, all tenderness and candor; she loves her husband, or at least believes she loves him.
The husband who is in love says in the bottom of his heart: "Those eyes will see no one but me, that mouth will tremble with love for me alone, that gentle hand will lavish the caressing treasures of delight on me alone, that bosom will heave at no voice but mine, that slumbering soul will awake at my will alone; I only will entangle my fingers in those shining tresses; I alone will indulge myself in dreamily caressing that sensitive head. I will make death the guardian of my pillow if only I may ward off from the nuptial couch the stranger who would violate it; that throne of love shall swim in the blood of the rash or of my own. Tranquillity, honor, happiness, the ties of home, the fortune of my children, all are at stake there; I would defend them as a lioness defends her cubs. Woe unto him who shall set foot in my lair!"
Well now, courageous athlete, we applaud your intention. Up to the present moment no geographer has ventured to trace the lines of longitude and latitude in the ocean of marriage. Old husbands have been ashamed to point out the sand banks, the reefs, the shallows, the breakers, the monsoons, the coasts and currents which have wrecked their ships, for their shipwrecks brought them shame. There was no pilot, no compass for those pilgrims of marriage. This work is intended to supply the desideratum.
Without mentioning grocers and drapers, there are so many people occupied in discovering the secret motives of women, that it is really a work of charity to classify for them, by chapter and verse, all the secret situations of marriage; a good table of contents will enable them to put their finger on each movement of their wives' heart, as a table of logarithms tells them the product of a given multiplication.
And now what do you think about that? Is not this a novel undertaking, and one which no philosopher has as yet approached, I mean this attempt to show how a woman may be prevented from deceiving her husband? Is not this the comedy of comedies? Is it not a second speculum vitae humanae. We are not now dealing with the abstract questions which we have done justice to already in this Meditation. At the present day in ethics as in exact science, the world asks for facts for the results of observation. These we shall furnish.
Let us begin then by examining the true condition of things, by analyzing the forces which exist on either side. Before arming our imaginary champion let us reckon up the number of his enemies. Let us count the Cossacks who intend to invade his little domain.
All who wish may embark with us on this voyage, all who can may laugh. Weigh anchor; hoist sail! You know exactly the point from which you start. You have this advantage over a great many books that are written.
As for our fancy of laughing while we weep, and of weeping while we laugh, as the divine Rabelais drank while he ate and ate while he drank; as for our humor, to put Heraclitus and Democritus on the same page and to discard style or premeditated phrase—if any of the crew mutiny, overboard with the doting cranks, the infamous classicists, the dead and buried romanticists, and steer for the blue water!
Everybody perhaps will jeeringly remark that we are like those who say with smiling faces, "I am going to tell you a story that will make you laugh!" But it is the proper thing to joke when speaking of marriage! In short, can you not understand that we consider marriage as a trifling ailment to which all of us are subject and upon which this volume is a monograph?
"But you, your bark or your work starts off like those postilions who crack their whips because their passengers are English. You will not have galloped at full speed for half a league before you dismount to mend a trace or to breathe your horses. What is the good of blowing the trumpet before victory?"
Ah! my dear pantagruellists, nowadays to claim success is to obtain it, and since, after all, great works are only due to the expansion of little ideas, I do not see why I should not pluck the laurels, if only for the purpose of crowning those dirty bacon faces who join us in swallowing a dram. One moment, pilot, let us not start without making one little definition.
Reader, if from time to time you meet in this work the terms virtue or virtuous, let us understand that virtue means a certain labored facility by which a wife keeps her heart for her husband; at any rate, that the word is not used in a general sense, and I leave this distinction to the natural sagacity of all.
The administration has been occupied for nearly twenty years in reckoning how many acres of woodland, meadow, vineyard and fallow are comprised in the area of France. It has not stopped there, but has also tried to learn the number and species of the animals to be found there. Scientific men have gone still further; they have reckoned up the cords of wood, the pounds of beef, the apples and eggs consumed in Paris. But no one has yet undertaken either in the name of marital honor or in the interest of marriageable people, or for the advantage of morality and the progress of human institutions, to investigate the number of honest wives. What! the French government, if inquiry is made of it, is able to say how many men it has under arms, how many spies, how many employees, how many scholars; but, when it is asked how many virtuous women, it can answer nothing! If the King of France took into his head to choose his august partner from among his subjects, the administration could not even tell him the number of white lambs from whom he could make his choice. It would be obliged to resort to some competition which awards the rose of good conduct, and that would be a laughable event.
Were the ancients then our masters in political institutions as in morality? History teaches us that Ahasuerus, when he wished to take a wife from among the damsels of Persia, chose Esther, the most virtuous and the most beautiful. His ministers therefore must necessarily have discovered some method of obtaining the cream of the population. Unfortunately the Bible, which is so clear on all matrimonial questions, has omitted to give us a rule for matrimonial choice.
Let us try to supply this gap in the work of the administration by calculating the sum of the female sex in France. Here we call the attention of all friends to public morality, and we appoint them judges of our method of procedure. We shall attempt to be particularly liberal in our estimations, particularly exact in our reasoning, in order that every one may accept the result of this analysis.
The inhabitants of France are generally reckoned at thirty millions.
Certain naturalists think that the number of women exceeds that of men; but as many statisticians are of the opposite opinion, we will make the most probable calculation by allowing fifteen millions for the women.
We will begin by cutting down this sum by nine millions, which stands for those who seem to have some resemblance to women, but whom we are compelled to reject upon serious considerations.
Let us explain:
Naturalists consider man to be no more than a unique species of the order bimana, established by Dumeril in his Analytic Zoology, page 16; and Bory de Saint Vincent thinks that the ourang-outang ought to be included in the same order if we would make the species complete.
If these zoologists see in us nothing more than a mammal with thirty-two vertebrae possessing the hyoid bone and more folds in the hemispheres of the brain than any other animal; if in their opinion no other differences exist in this order than those produced by the influence of climate, on which are founded the nomenclature of fifteen species whose scientific names it is needless to cite, the physiologists ought also to have the right of making species and sub-species in accordance with definite degrees of intelligence and definite conditions of existence, oral and pecuniary.
Now the nine millions of human creatures which we here refer to present at first sight all the attributes of the human race; they have the hyoid bone, the coracoid process, the acromion, the zygomatic arch. It is therefore permitted for the gentlemen of the Jardin des Plantes to classify them with the bimana; but our Physiology will never admit that women are to be found among them. In our view, and in the view of those for whom this book is intended, a woman is a rare variety of the human race, and her principal characteristics are due to the special care men have bestowed upon its cultivation,—thanks to the power of money and the moral fervor of civilization! She is generally recognized by the whiteness, the fineness and softness of her skin. Her taste inclines to the most spotless cleanliness. Her fingers shrink from encountering anything but objects which are soft, yielding and scented. Like the ermine she sometimes dies for grief on seeing her white tunic soiled. She loves to twine her tresses and to make them exhale the most attractive scents; to brush her rosy nails, to trim them to an almond shape, and frequently to bathe her delicate limbs. She is not satisfied to spend the night excepting on the softest down, and excepting on hair-cushioned lounges, she loves best to take a horizontal position. Her voice is of penetrating sweetness; her movements are full of grace. She speaks with marvelous fluency. She does not apply herself to any hard work; and, nevertheless, in spite of her apparent weakness, there are burdens which she can bear and move with miraculous ease. She avoids the open sunlight and wards it off by ingenious appliances. For her to walk is exhausting. Does she eat? This is a mystery. Has she the needs of other species? It is a problem. Although she is curious to excess she allows herself easily to be caught by any one who can conceal from her the slightest thing, and her intellect leads her to seek incessantly after the unknown. Love is her religion; she thinks how to please the one she loves. To be beloved is the end of all her actions; to excite desire is the motive of every gesture. She dreams of nothing excepting how she may shine, and moves only in a circle filled with grace and elegance. It is for her the Indian girl has spun the soft fleece of Thibet goats, Tarare weaves its airy veils, Brussels sets in motion those shuttles which speed the flaxen thread that is purest and most fine, Bidjapour wrenches from the bowels of the earth its sparkling pebbles, and the Sevres gilds its snow-white clay. Night and day she reflects upon new costumes and spends her life in considering dress and in plaiting her apparel. She moves about exhibiting her brightness and freshness to people she does not know, but whose homage flatters her, while the desire she excites charms her, though she is indifferent to those who feel it. During the hours which she spends in private, in pleasure, and in the care of her person, she amuses herself by caroling the sweetest strains. For her France and Italy ordain delightful concerts and Naples imparts to the strings of the violin an harmonious soul. This species is in fine at once the queen of the world and the slave of passion. She dreads marriage because it ends by spoiling her figure, but she surrenders herself to it because it promises happiness. If she bears children it is by pure chance, and when they are grown up she tries to conceal them.
These characteristics taken at random from among a thousand others are not found amongst those beings whose hands are as black as those of apes and their skin tanned like the ancient parchments of an olim; whose complexion is burnt brown by the sun and whose neck is wrinkled like that of a turkey; who are covered with rags; whose voice is hoarse; whose intelligence is nil; who think of nothing but the bread box, and who are incessantly bowed in toil towards the ground; who dig; who harrow; who make hay, glean, gather in the harvest, knead the bread and strip hemp; who, huddled among domestic beasts, infants and men, dwell in holes and dens scarcely covered with thatch; to whom it is of little importance from what source children rain down into their homes. Their work it is to produce many and to deliver them to misery and toil, and if their love is not like their labor in the fields it is at least as much a work of chance.
Alas! if there are throughout the world multitudes of trades-women who sit all day long between the cradle and the sugar-cask, farmers' wives and daughters who milk the cows, unfortunate women who are employed like beasts of burden in the manufactories, who all day long carry the loaded basket, the hoe and the fish-crate, if unfortunately there exist these common human beings to whom the life of the soul, the benefits of education, the delicious tempests of the heart are an unattainable heaven; and if Nature has decreed that they should have coracoid processes and hyoid bones and thirty-two vertebrae, let them remain for the physiologist classed with the ourang-outang. And here we make no stipulations for the leisure class; for those who have the time and the sense to fall in love; for the rich who have purchased the right of indulging their passions; for the intellectual who have conquered a monopoly of fads. Anathema on all those who do not live by thought. We say Raca and fool to all those who are not ardent, young, beautiful and passionate. This is the public expression of that secret sentiment entertained by philanthropists who have learned to read and can keep their own carriage. Among the nine millions of the proscribed, the tax-gatherer, the magistrate, the law-maker and the priest doubtless see living souls who are to be ruled and made subject to the administration of justice. But the man of sentiment, the philosopher of the boudoir, while he eats his fine bread, made of corn, sown and harvested by these creatures, will reject them and relegate them, as we do, to a place outside the genus Woman. For them, there are no women excepting those who can inspire love; and there is no living being but the creature invested with the priesthood of thought by means of a privileged education, and with whom leisure has developed the power of imagination; in other words that only is a human being whose soul dreams, in love, either of intellectual enjoyments or of physical delights.
We would, however, make the remark that these nine million female pariahs produce here and there a thousand peasant girls who from peculiar circumstances are as fair as Cupids; they come to Paris or to the great cities and end up by attaining the rank of femmes comme il faut; but to set off against these two or three thousand favored creatures, there are one hundred thousand others who remain servants or abandon themselves to frightful irregularities. Nevertheless, we are obliged to count these Pompadours of the village among the feminine population.
Our first calculation is based upon the statistical discovery that in France there are eighteen millions of the poor, ten millions of people in easy circumstances and two millions of the rich.
There exist, therefore, in France only six millions of women in whom men of sentiment are now interested, have been interested, or will be interested.
Let us subject this social elite to a philosophic examination.
We think, without fear of being deceived, that married people who have lived twenty years together may sleep in peace without fear of having their love trespassed upon or of incurring the scandal of a lawsuit for criminal conversation.
From these six millions of individuals we must subtract about two millions of women who are extremely attractive, because for the last forty years they have seen the world; but since they have not the power to make any one fall in love with them, they are on the outside of the discussion now before us. If they are unhappy enough to receive no attention for the sake of amiability, they are soon seized with ennui; they fall back upon religion, upon the cultivation of pets, cats, lap-dogs, and other fancies which are no more offensive than their devoutness.
The calculations made at the Bureau of Longitudes concerning population authorize us again to subtract from the total mentioned two millions of young girls, pretty enough to kill; they are at present in the A B C of life and innocently play with other children, without dreading that these little hobbledehoys, who now make them laugh, will one day make them weep.
Again, of the two millions of the remaining women, what reasonable man would not throw out a hundred thousand poor girls, humpbacked, plain, cross-grained, rickety, sickly, blind, crippled in some way, well educated but penniless, all bound to be spinsters, and by no means tempted to violate the sacred laws of marriage?
Nor must we retain the one hundred thousand other girls who become sisters of St. Camille, Sisters of Charity, monastics, teachers, ladies' companions, etc. And we must put into this blessed company a number of young people difficult to estimate, who are too grown up to play with little boys and yet too young to sport their wreath of orange blossoms.
Finally, of the fifteen million subjects which remain at the bottom of our crucible we must eliminate five hundred thousand other individuals, to be reckoned as daughters of Baal, who subserve the appetites of the base. We must even comprise among those, without fear that they will be corrupted by their company, the kept women, the milliners, the shop girls, saleswomen, actresses, singers, the girls of the opera, the ballet-dancers, upper servants, chambermaids, etc. Most of these creatures excite the passions of many people, but they would consider it immodest to inform a lawyer, a mayor, an ecclesiastic or a laughing world of the day and hour when they surrendered to a lover. Their system, justly blamed by an inquisitive world, has the advantage of laying upon them no obligations towards men in general, towards the mayor or the magistracy. As these women do not violate any oath made in public, they have no connection whatever with a work which treats exclusively of lawful marriage.
Some one will say that the claims made by this essay are very slight, but its limitations make just compensation for those which amateurs consider excessively padded. If any one, through love for a wealthy dowager, wishes to obtain admittance for her into the remaining million, he must classify her under the head of Sisters of Charity, ballet-dancers, or hunchbacks; in fact we have not taken more than five hundred thousand individuals in forming this last class, because it often happens, as we have seen above, that the nine millions of peasant girls make a large accession to it. We have for the same reason omitted the working-girl class and the hucksters; the women of these two sections are the product of efforts made by nine millions of female bimana to rise to the higher civilization. But for its scrupulous exactitude many persons might regard this statistical meditation as a mere joke.
We have felt very much inclined to form a small class of a hundred thousand individuals as a crowning cabinet of the species, to serve as a place of shelter for women who have fallen into a middle estate, like widows, for instance; but we have preferred to estimate in round figures.
It would be easy to prove the fairness of our analysis: let one reflection be sufficient.
The life of a woman is divided into three periods, very distinct from each other: the first begins in the cradle and ends on the attainment of a marriageable age; the second embraces the time during which a woman belongs to marriage; the third opens with the critical period, the ending with which nature closes the passions of life. These three spheres of existence, being almost equal in duration, might be employed for the classification into equal groups of a given number of women. Thus in a mass of six millions, omitting fractions, there are about two million girls between one and eighteen, two millions women between eighteen and forty and two millions of old women. The caprices of society have divided the two millions of marriageable women into three main classes, namely: those who remain spinsters for reasons which we have defined; those whose virtue does not reckon in the obtaining of husbands, and the million of women lawfully married, with whom we have to deal.
You see then, by the exact sifting out of the feminine population, that there exists in France a little flock of barely a million white lambs, a privileged fold into which every wolf is anxious to enter.
Let us put this million of women, already winnowed by our fan, through another examination.
To arrive at the true idea of the degree of confidence which a man ought to have in his wife, let us suppose for a moment that all wives will deceive their husbands.
On this hypothesis, it will be proper to cut out about one-twentieth, viz., young people who are newly married and who will be faithful to their vows for a certain time.
Another twentieth will be in ill-health. This will be to make a very modest allowance for human infirmities.
Certain passions, which we are told destroy the dominion of the man over the heart of his wife, namely, aversion, grief, the bearing of children, will account for another twentieth.
Adultery does not establish itself in the heart of a married woman with the promptness of a pistol-shot. Even when sympathy with another rouses feelings on first sight, a struggle always takes place, whose duration discounts the total sum of conjugal infidelities. It would be an insult to French modesty not to admit the duration of this struggle in a country so naturally combative, without referring to at least a twentieth in the total of married women; but then we will suppose that there are certain sickly women who preserve their lovers while they are using soothing draughts, and that there are certain wives whose confinement makes sarcastic celibates smile. In this way we shall vindicate the modesty of those who enter upon the struggle from motives of virtue. For the same reason we should not venture to believe that a woman forsaken by her lover will find a new one on the spot; but this discount being much more uncertain than the preceding one, we will estimate it at one-fortieth.
These several rebates will reduce our sum total to eight hundred thousand women, when we come to calculate the number of those who are likely to violate married faith. Who would not at the present moment wish to retain the persuasion that wives are virtuous? Are they not the supreme flower of the country? Are they not all blooming creatures, fascinating the world by their beauty, their youth, their life and their love? To believe in their virtue is a sort of social religion, for they are the ornament of the world, and form the chief glory of France.
It is in the midst of this million we are bound to investigate:
The number of honest women;
The number of virtuous women.
The work of investigating this and of arranging the results under two categories requires whole meditations, which may serve as an appendix to the present one.
OF THE HONEST WOMAN.
The preceding meditation has proved that we possess in France a floating population of one million women reveling in the privilege of inspiring those passions which a gallant man avows without shame, or dissembles with delight. It is then among this million of women that we must carry our lantern of Diogenes in order to discover the honest women of the land.
This inquiry suggests certain digressions.
Two young people, well dressed, whose slender figures and rounded arms suggest a paver's tool, and whose boots are elegantly made, meet one morning on the boulevard, at the end of the Passage des Panoramas.
"What, is this you?"
"Yes, dear boy; it looks like me, doesn't it?"
Then they laugh, with more or less intelligence, according to the nature of the joke which opens the conversation.
When they have examined each other with the sly curiosity of a police officer on the lookout for a clew, when they are quite convinced of the newness of each other's gloves, of each other's waistcoat and of the taste with which their cravats are tied; when they are pretty certain that neither of them is down in the world, they link arms and if they start from the Theater des Varietes, they have not reached Frascati's before they have asked each other a roundabout question whose free translation may be this:
"Whom are you living with now?"
As a general rule she is a charming woman.
Who is the infantryman of Paris into whose ear there have not dropped, like bullets in the day of battle, thousands of words uttered by the passer-by, and who has not caught one of those numberless sayings which, according to Rabelais, hang frozen in the air? But the majority of men take their way through Paris in the same manner as they live and eat, that is, without thinking about it. There are very few skillful musicians, very few practiced physiognomists who can recognize the key in which these vagrant notes are set, the passion that prompts these floating words. Ah! to wander over Paris! What an adorable and delightful existence is that! To saunter is a science; it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live. The young and pretty women, long contemplated with ardent eyes, would be much more admissible in claiming a salary than the cook who asks for twenty sous from the Limousin whose nose with inflated nostrils took in the perfumes of beauty. To saunter is to enjoy life; it is to indulge the flight of fancy; it is to enjoy the sublime pictures of misery, of love, of joy, of gracious or grotesque physiognomies; it is to pierce with a glance the abysses of a thousand existences; for the young it is to desire all, and to possess all; for the old it is to live the life of the youthful, and to share their passions. Now how many answers have not the sauntering artists heard to the categorical question which is always with us?
"She is thirty-five years old, but you would not think she was more than twenty!" said an enthusiastic youth with sparkling eyes, who, freshly liberated from college, would, like Cherubin, embrace all.
"Zounds! Mine has dressing-gowns of batiste and diamond rings for the evening!" said a lawyer's clerk.
"But she has a box at the Francais!" said an army officer.
"At any rate," cried another one, an elderly man who spoke as if he were standing on the defence, "she does not cost me a sou! In our case —wouldn't you like to have the same chance, my respected friend?"
And he patted his companion lightly on the shoulder.
"Oh! she loves me!" said another. "It seems too good to be true; but she has the most stupid of husbands! Ah!—Buffon has admirably described the animals, but the biped called husband—"
What a pleasant thing for a married man to hear!
"Oh! what an angel you are, my dear!" is the answer to a request discreetly whispered into the ear.
"Can you tell me her name or point her out to me?"
"Oh! no; she is an honest woman."
When a student is loved by a waitress, he mentions her name with pride and takes his friends to lunch at her house. If a young man loves a woman whose husband is engaged in some trade dealing with articles of necessity, he will answer, blushingly, "She is the wife of a haberdasher, of a stationer, of a hatter, of a linen-draper, of a clerk, etc."
But this confession of love for an inferior which buds and blows in the midst of packages, loaves of sugar, or flannel waistcoats is always accompanied with an exaggerated praise of the lady's fortune. The husband alone is engaged in the business; he is rich; he has fine furniture. The loved one comes to her lover's house; she wears a cashmere shawl; she owns a country house, etc.
In short, a young man is never wanting in excellent arguments to prove that his mistress is very nearly, if not quite, an honest woman. This distinction originates in the refinement of our manners and has become as indefinite as the line which separates bon ton from vulgarity. What then is meant by an honest woman?
On this point the vanity of women, of their lovers, and even that of their husbands, is so sensitive that we had better here settle upon some general rules, which are the result of long observation.
Our one million of privileged women represent a multitude who are eligible for the glorious title of honest women, but by no means all are elected to it. The principles on which these elections are based may be found in the following axioms:
I. An honest woman is necessarily a married woman.
II. An honest woman is under forty years old.
III. A married woman whose favors are to be paid for is not an honest woman.
IV. A married woman who keeps a private carriage is an honest woman.
V. A woman who does her own cooking is not an honest woman.
VI. When a man has made enough to yield an income of twenty thousand francs, his wife is an honest woman, whatever the business in which his fortune was made.
VII. A woman who says "letter of change" for letter of exchange, who says of a man, "He is an elegant gentleman," can never be an honest woman, whatever fortune she possesses.
VIII. An honest woman ought to be in a financial condition such as forbids her lover to think she will ever cost him anything.
IX. A woman who lives on the third story of any street excepting the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue de Castiglione is not an honest woman.
X. The wife of a banker is always an honest woman, but the woman who sits at the cashier's desk cannot be one, unless her husband has a very large business and she does not live over his shop.
XI. The unmarried niece of a bishop when she lives with him can pass for an honest woman, because if she has an intrigue she has to deceive her uncle.
XII. An honest woman is one whom her lover fears to compromise.
XIII. The wife of an artist is always an honest woman.
By the application of these principles even a man from Ardeche can resolve all the difficulties which our subject presents.
In order that a woman may be able to keep a cook, may be finely educated, may possess the sentiment of coquetry, may have the right to pass whole hours in her boudoir lying on a sofa, and may live a life of soul, she must have at least six thousand francs a year if she lives in the country, and twenty thousand if she lives at Paris. These two financial limits will suggest to you how many honest women are to be reckoned on in the million, for they are really a mere product of our statistical calculations.
Now three hundred thousand independent people, with an income of fifteen thousand francs, represent the sum total of those who live on pensions, on annuities and the interest of treasury bonds and mortgages.
Three hundred thousand landed proprietors enjoy an income of three thousand five hundred francs and represent all territorial wealth.
Two hundred thousand payees, at the rate of fifteen hundred francs each, represent the distribution of public funds by the state budget, by the budgets of the cities and departments, less the national debt, church funds and soldier's pay, (i.e. five sous a day with allowances for washing, weapons, victuals, clothes, etc.).
Two hundred thousand fortunes amassed in commerce, reckoning the capital at twenty thousand francs in each case, represent all the commercial establishments possible in France.
Here we have a million husbands represented.
But at what figure shall we count those who have an income of fifty, of a hundred, of two, three, four, five, and six hundred francs only, from consols or some other investment?
How many landed proprietors are there who pay taxes amounting to no more than a hundred sous, twenty francs, one hundred francs, two hundred, or two hundred and eighty?
At what number shall we reckon those of the governmental leeches, who are merely quill-drivers with a salary of six hundred francs a year?
How many merchants who have nothing but a fictitious capital shall we admit? These men are rich in credit and have not a single actual sou, and resemble the sieves through which Pactolus flows. And how many brokers whose real capital does not amount to more than a thousand, two thousand, four thousand, five thousand francs? Business!—my respects to you!
Let us suppose more people to be fortunate than actually are so. Let us divide this million into parts; five hundred thousand domestic establishments will have an income ranging from a hundred to three thousand francs, and five thousand women will fulfill the conditions which entitle them to be called honest women.
After these observations, which close our meditation on statistics, we are entitled to cut out of this number one hundred thousand individuals; consequently we can consider it to be proven mathematically that there exist in France no more than four hundred thousand women who can furnish to men of refinement the exquisite and exalted enjoyments which they look for in love.
And here it is fitting to make a remark to the adepts for whom we write, that love does not consist in a series of eager conversations, of nights of pleasure, of an occasional caress more or less well-timed and a spark of amour-propre baptized by the name of jealousy. Our four hundred thousand women are not of those concerning whom it may be said, "The most beautiful girl in the world can give only what she has." No, they are richly endowed with treasures which appeal to our ardent imaginations, they know how to sell dear that which they do not possess, in order to compensate for the vulgarity of that which they give.
Do we feel more pleasure in kissing the glove of a grisette than in draining the five minutes of pleasure which all women offer to us?
Is it the conversation of a shop-girl which makes you expect boundless delights?
In your intercourse with a woman who is beneath you, the delight of flattered amour-propre is on her side. You are not in the secret of the happiness which you give.
In a case of a woman above you, either in fortune or social position, the ticklings of vanity are not only intense, but are equally shared. A man can never raise his mistress to his own level; but a woman always puts her lover in the position that she herself occupies. "I can make princes and you can make nothing but bastards," is an answer sparkling with truth.
If love is the first of passions, it is because it flatters all the rest of them at the same time. We love with more or less intensity in proportion to the number of chords which are touched by the fingers of a beautiful mistress.
Biren, the jeweler's son, climbing into the bed of the Duchesse de Courlande and helping her to sign an agreement that he should be proclaimed sovereign of the country, as he was already of the young and beautiful queen, is an example of the happiness which ought to be given to their lovers by our four hundred thousand women.
If a man would have the right to make stepping-stones of all the heads which crowd a drawing-room, he must be the lover of some artistic woman of fashion. Now we all love more or less to be at the top.
It is on this brilliant section of the nation that the attack is made by men whose education, talent or wit gives them the right to be considered persons of importance with regard to that success of which people of every country are so proud; and only among this class of women is the wife to be found whose heart has to be defended at all hazard by our husband.
What does it matter whether the considerations which arise from the existence of a feminine aristocracy are or are not equally applicable to other social classes? That which is true of all women exquisite in manners, language and thought, in whom exceptional educational facilities have developed a taste for art and a capacity for feeling, comparing and thinking, who have a high sense of propriety and politeness and who actually set the fashion in French manners, ought to be true also in the case of women whatever their nation and whatever their condition. The man of distinction to whom this book is dedicated must of necessity possess a certain mental vision, which makes him perceive the various degrees of light that fill each class and comprehend the exact point in the scale of civilization to which each of our remarks is severally applicable.
Would it not be then in the highest interests of morality, that we should in the meantime try to find out the number of virtuous women who are to be found among these adorable creatures? Is not this a question of marito-national importance?
OF THE VIRTUOUS WOMAN.
The question, perhaps, is not so much how many virtuous women there are, as what possibility there is of an honest woman remaining virtuous.
In order to throw light upon a point so important, let us cast a rapid glance over the male population.
From among our fifteen millions of men we must cut off, in the first place, the nine millions of bimana of thirty-two vertebrae and exclude from our physiological analysis all but six millions of people. The Marceaus, the Massenas, the Rousseaus, the Diderots and the Rollins often sprout forth suddenly from the social swamp, when it is in a condition of fermentation; but, here we plead guilty of deliberate inaccuracy. These errors in calculation are likely, however, to give all their weight to our conclusion and to corroborate what we are forced to deduce in unveiling the mechanism of passion.
From the six millions of privileged men, we must exclude three millions of old men and children.
It will be affirmed by some one that this subtraction leaves a remainder of four millions in the case of women.
This difference at first sight seems singular, but is easily accounted for.
The average age at which women are married is twenty years and at forty they cease to belong to the world of love.
Now a young bachelor of seventeen is apt to make deep cuts with his penknife in the parchment of contracts, as the chronicles of scandal will tell you.
On the other hand, a man at fifty-two is more formidable than at any other age. It is at this fair epoch of life that he enjoys an experience dearly bought, and probably all the fortune that he will ever require. The passions by which his course is directed being the last under whose scourge he will move, he is unpitying and determined, like the man carried away by a current who snatches at a green and pliant branch of willow, the young nursling of the year.
XIV. Physically a man is a man much longer than a woman is a woman.
With regard to marriage, the difference in duration of the life of love with a man and with a woman is fifteen years. This period is equal to three-fourths of the time during which the infidelities of the woman can bring unhappiness to her husband. Nevertheless, the remainder in our subtraction from the sum of men only differs by a sixth or so from that which results in our subtraction from the sum of women.
Great is the modest caution of our estimates. As to our arguments, they are founded on evidence so widely known, that we have only expounded them for the sake of being exact and in order to anticipate all criticism.
It has, therefore, been proved to the mind of every philosopher, however little disposed he may be to forming numerical estimates, that there exists in France a floating mass of three million men between seventeen and fifty-two, all perfectly alive, well provided with teeth, quite resolved on biting, in fact, biting and asking nothing better than the opportunity of walking strong and upright along the way to Paradise.
The above observations entitle us to separate from this mass of men a million husbands. Suppose for an instant that these, being satisfied and always happy, like our model husband, confine themselves to conjugal love.
Our remainder of two millions do not require five sous to make love.
It is quite sufficient for a man to have a fine foot and a clear eye in order to dismantle the portrait of a husband.
It is not necessary that he should have a handsome face nor even a good figure;
Provided that a man appears to be intellectual and has a distinguished expression of face, women never look where he comes from but where he is going to;
The charms of youth are the unique equipage of love;
A coat made by Brisson, a pair of gloves bought from Boivin, elegant shoes, for whose payment the dealer trembles, a well-tied cravat are sufficient to make a man king of the drawing-room;
And soldiers—although the passion for gold lace and aiguillettes has died away—do not soldiers form of themselves a redoubtable legion of celibates? Not to mention Eginhard—for he was a private secretary —has not a newspaper recently recorded how a German princess bequeathed her fortune to a simple lieutenant of cuirassiers in the imperial guard?
But the notary of the village, who in the wilds of Gascony does not draw more than thirty-six deeds a year, sends his son to study law at Paris; the hatter wishes his son to be a notary, the lawyer destines his to be a judge, the judge wishes to become a minister in order that his sons may be peers. At no epoch in the world's history has there been so eager a thirst for education. To-day it is not intellect but cleverness that promenades the streets. From every crevice in the rocky surface of society brilliant flowers burst forth as the spring brings them on the walls of a ruin; even in the caverns there droop from the vaulted roof faintly colored tufts of green vegetation. The sun of education permeates all. Since this vast development of thought, this even and fruitful diffusion of light, we have scarcely any men of superiority, because every single man represents the whole education of his age. We are surrounded by living encyclopaedias who walk about, think, act and wish to be immortalized. Hence the frightful catastrophes of climbing ambitions and insensate passions. We feel the want of other worlds; there are more hives needed to receive the swarms, and especially are we in need of more pretty women.
But the maladies by which a man is afflicted do not nullify the sum total of human passion. To our shame be it spoken, a woman is never so much attached to us as when we are sick.
With this thought, all the epigrams written against the little sex —for it is antiquated nowadays to say the fair sex—ought to be disarmed of their point and changed into madrigals of eulogy! All men ought to consider that the sole virtue of a woman is to love and that all women are prodigiously virtuous, and at that point to close the book and end their meditation.
Ah! do you not remember that black and gloomy hour when lonely and suffering, making accusations against men and especially against your friends, weak, discouraged, and filled with thoughts of death, your head supported by a fevered pillow and stretched upon a sheet whose white trellis-work of linen was stamped upon your skin, you traced with your eyes the green paper which covered the walls of your silent chamber? Do you recollect, I say, seeing some one noiselessly open your door, exhibiting her fair young face, framed with rolls of gold, and a bonnet which you had never seen before? She seemed like a star in a stormy night, smiling and stealing towards you with an expression in which distress and happiness were blended, and flinging herself into your arms!
"How did you manage it? What did you tell your husband?" you ask.
"Your husband!"—Ah! this brings us back again into the depths of our subject.
XV. Morally the man is more often and longer a man than the woman is a women.
On the other hand we ought to consider that among these two millions of celibates there are many unhappy men, in whom a profound sense of their misery and persistent toil have quenched the instinct of love;
That they have not all passed through college, that there are many artisans among them, many footmen—the Duke of Gevres, an extremely plain and short man, as he walked through the park of Versailles saw several lackeys of fine appearance and said to his friends, "Look how these fellows are made by us, and how they imitate us"—that there are many contractors, many trades people who think of nothing but money; many drudges of the shop;
That there are men more stupid and actually more ugly than God would have made them;
That there are those whose character is like a chestnut without a kernel;
That the clergy are generally chaste;
That there are men so situated in life that they can never enter the brilliant sphere in which honest women move, whether for want of a coat, or from their bashfulness, or from the failure of a mahout to introduce them.
But let us leave to each one the task of adding to the number of these exceptions in accordance with his personal experience—for the object of a book is above all things to make people think—and let us instantly suppress one-half of the sum total and admit only that there are one million of hearts worthy of paying homage to honest women. This number approximately includes those who are superior in all departments. Women love only the intellectual, but justice must be done to virtue.
As for these amiable celibates, each of them relates a string of adventures, all of which seriously compromise honest women. It would be a very moderate and reserved computation to attribute no more than three adventures to each celibate; but if some of them count their adventures by the dozen, there are many more who confine themselves to two or three incidents of passion and some to a single one in their whole life, so that we have in accordance with the statistical method taken the average. Now if the number of celibates be multiplied by the number of their excesses in love the result will be three millions of adventures; to set against this we have only four hundred thousand honest women!
If the God of goodness and indulgence who hovers over the worlds does not make a second washing of the human race, it is doubtless because so little success attended the first.
Here then we have a people, a society which has been sifted, and you see the result!
XVI. Manners are the hypocrisy of nations, and hypocrisy is more or less perfect.
XVII. Virtue, perhaps, is nothing more than politeness of soul.
Physical love is a craving like hunger, excepting that man eats all the time, and in love his appetite is neither so persistent nor so regular as at the table.
A piece of bread and a carafe of water will satisfy the hunger of any man; but our civilization has brought to light the science of gastronomy.
Love has its piece of bread, but it has also its science of loving, that science which we call coquetry, a delightful word which the French alone possess, for that science originated in this country.
Well, after all, isn't it enough to enrage all husbands when they think that man is so endowed with an innate desire to change from one food to another, that in some savage countries, where travelers have landed, they have found alcoholic drinks and ragouts?
Hunger is not so violent as love; but the caprices of the soul are more numerous, more bewitching, more exquisite in their intensity than the caprices of gastronomy; but all that the poets and the experiences of our own life have revealed to us on the subject of love, arms us celibates with a terrible power: we are the lion of the Gospel seeking whom we may devour.
Then, let every one question his conscience on this point, and search his memory if he has ever met a man who confined himself to the love of one woman only!
How, alas! are we to explain, while respecting the honor of all the peoples, the problem which results from the fact that three millions of burning hearts can find no more than four hundred thousand women on which they can feed? Should we apportion four celibates for each woman and remember that the honest women would have already established, instinctively and unconsciously, a sort of understanding between themselves and the celibates, like that which the presidents of royal courts have initiated, in order to make their partisans in each chamber enter successively after a certain number of years?
That would be a mournful way of solving the difficulty!
Should we make the conjecture that certain honest women act in dividing up the celibates, as the lion in the fable did? What! Surely, in that case, half at least of our altars would become whited sepulchres!
Ought one to suggest for the honor of French ladies that in the time of peace all other countries should import into France a certain number of their honest women, and that these countries should mainly consist of England, Germany and Russia? But the European nations would in that case attempt to balance matters by demanding that France should export a certain number of her pretty women.
Morality and religion suffer so much from such calculations as this, that an honest man, in an attempt to prove the innocence of married women, finds some reason to believe that dowagers and young people are half of them involved in this general corruption, and are liars even more truly than are the celibates.
But to what conclusion does our calculation lead us? Think of our husbands, who to the disgrace of morals behave almost all of them like celibates and glory in petto over their secret adventures.
Why, then we believe that every married man, who is at all attached to his wife from honorable motives, can, in the words of the elder Corneille, seek a rope and a nail; foenum habet in cornu.
It is, however, in the bosom of these four hundred thousand honest women that we must, lantern in hand, seek for the number of the virtuous women in France! As a matter of fact, we have by our statistics of marriage so far only set down the number of those creatures with which society has really nothing to do. Is it not true that in France the honest people, the people comme il faut, form a total of scarcely three million individuals, namely, our one million of celibates, five hundred thousand honest women, five hundred thousand husbands, and a million of dowagers, of infants and of young girls?
Are you then astonished at the famous verse of Boileau? This verse proves that the poet had cleverly fathomed the discovery mathematically propounded to you in these tiresome meditations and that his language is by no means hyperbolical.
Nevertheless, virtuous women there certainly are:
Yes, those who have never been tempted and those who die at their first child-birth, assuming that their husbands had married them virgins;
Yes, those who are ugly as the Kaifakatadary of the Arabian Nights;
Yes, those whom Mirabeau calls "fairy cucumbers" and who are composed of atoms exactly like those of strawberry and water-lily roots. Nevertheless, we need not believe that!
Further, we acknowledge that, to the credit of our age, we meet, ever since the revival of morality and religion and during our own times, some women, here and there, so moral, so religious, so devoted to their duties, so upright, so precise, so stiff, so virtuous, so—that the devil himself dare not even look at them; they are guarded on all sides by rosaries, hours of prayer and directors. Pshaw!
We will not attempt to enumerate the women who are virtuous from stupidity, for it is acknowledged that in love all women have intellect.
In conclusion, we may remark that it is not impossible that there exist in some corner of the earth women, young, pretty and virtuous, whom the world does not suspect.
But you must not give the name of virtuous woman to her who, in her struggle against an involuntary passion, has yielded nothing to her lover whom she idolizes. She does injury in the most cruel way in which it can possibly be done to a loving husband. For what remains to him of his wife? A thing without name, a living corpse. In the very midst of delight his wife remains like the guest who has been warned by Borgia that certain meats were poisoned; he felt no hunger, he ate sparingly or pretended to eat. He longed for the meat which he had abandoned for that provided by the terrible cardinal, and sighed for the moment when the feast was over and he could leave the table.
What is the result which these reflections on the feminine virtue lead to? Here they are; but the last two maxims have been given us by an eclectic philosopher of the eighteenth century.
XVIII. A virtuous woman has in her heart one fibre less or one fibre more than other women; she is either stupid or sublime.
XIX. The virtue of women is perhaps a question of temperament.
XX. The most virtuous women have in them something which is never chaste.
XXI. "That a man of intellect has doubts about his mistress is conceivable, but about his wife!—that would be too stupid."
XXII. "Men would be insufferably unhappy if in the presence of women they thought the least bit in the world of that which they know by heart."
The number of those rare women who, like the Virgins of the Parable, have kept their lamps lighted, will always appear very small in the eyes of the defenders of virtue and fine feeling; but we must needs exclude it from the total sum of honest women, and this subtraction, consoling as it is, will increase the danger which threatens husbands, will intensify the scandal of their married life, and involve, more or less, the reputation of all other lawful spouses.
What husband will be able to sleep peacefully beside his young and beautiful wife while he knows that three celibates, at least, are on the watch; that if they have not already encroached upon his little property, they regard the bride as their destined prey, for sooner or later she will fall into their hands, either by stratagem, compulsive conquest or free choice? And it is impossible that they should fail some day or other to obtain victory!
What a startling conclusion!
On this point the purist in morality, the collets montes will accuse us perhaps of presenting here conclusions which are excessively despairing; they will be desirous of putting up a defence, either for the virtuous women or the celibates; but we have in reserve for them a final remark.
Increase the number of honest women and diminish the number of celibates, as much as you choose, you will always find that the result will be a larger number of gallant adventurers than of honest women; you will always find a vast multitude driven through social custom to commit three sorts of crime.
If they remain chaste, their health is injured, while they are the slaves of the most painful torture; they disappoint the sublime ends of nature, and finally die of consumption, drinking milk on the mountains of Switzerland!
If they yield to legitimate temptations, they either compromise the honest women, and on this point we re-enter on the subject of this book, or else they debase themselves by a horrible intercourse with the five hundred thousand women of whom we spoke in the third category of the first Meditation, and in this case, have still considerable chance of visiting Switzerland, drinking milk and dying there!
Have you never been struck, as we have been, by a certain error of organization in our social order, the evidence of which gives a moral certainty to our last calculations?
The average age at which a man marries is thirty years; the average age at which his passions, his most violent desires for genesial delight are developed, is twenty years. Now during the ten fairest years of his life, during the green season in which his beauty, his youth and his wit make him more dangerous to husbands than at any other epoch of his life, his finds himself without any means of satisfying legitimately that irresistible craving for love which burns in his whole nature. During this time, representing the sixth part of human life, we are obliged to admit that the sixth part or less of our total male population and the sixth part which is the most vigorous is placed in a position which is perpetually exhausting for them, and dangerous for society.