HotFreeBooks.com
The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 (of 6) - The Ancient Regime
by Hippolyte A. Taine
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

VII. Theater, Parade And Extravagance.

The principal diversion, elegant comedy.—Parades and extravagance.

To divert oneself is to turn aside from oneself, to break loose and to forget oneself; and to forget oneself fully one must be transported into another, put himself in the place of another, take his mask and play his part. Hence the liveliest of diversions is the comedy in which one is an actor. It is that of children who, as authors, actors and audience, improvise and perform small scenes. It is that of a people whose political regime excludes exacting manly tasks (soucis virile) and who sport with life just like children. At Venice, in the eighteenth century, the carnival lasts six months; in France, under another form, it lasts the entire year. Less familiar and less picturesque, more refined and more elegant, it abandons the public square where it lacks sunshine, to shut itself up in drawing-rooms where chandeliers are the most suitable for it. It has retained of the vast popular masquerade only a fragment, the opera ball, certainly very splendid and frequented by princes, princesses and the queen; but this fragment, brilliant as it is, does not suffice; consequently, in every chateau, in every mansion, at Paris and in the provinces, it sets up travesties on society and domestic comedies.—On welcoming a great personage, on celebrating the birthday of the master or mistress of the house, its guests or invited persons perform in an improvised operetta, in an ingenious, laudatory pastoral, sometimes dressed as gods, as Virtues, as mythological abstractions, as operatic Turks, Laplanders and Poles, similar to the figures then gracing the frontispieces of books, sometimes in the dress of peasants, pedagogues, peddlers, milkmaids and flower-girls like the fanciful villagers with which the current taste then fills the stage. They sing, they dance, and come forward in turn to recite petty verses composed for the occasion consisting of so many well-turned compliments.[2268]—At Chantilly "the young and charming Duchesse de Bourbon, attired as a voluptuous Naiad, guides the Comte du Nord, in a gilded gondola, across the grand canal to the island of Love;" the Prince de Conti, in his part, serves as pilot to the Grand Duchesse; other seigniors and ladies "each in allegorical guise," form the escort,[2269] and on these limpid waters, in this new garden of Alcinous, the smiling and gallant retinue seems a fairy scene in Tasso.—At Vaudreuil, the ladies, advised that they are to be carried off to seraglios, attire themselves as vestals, while the high-priest welcomes them with pretty couplets into his temple in the park; meanwhile over three hundred Turks arrive who force the enclosure to the sound of music, and bear away the ladies in palanquins along the illuminated gardens. At the little Trianon, the park is arranged as a fair, and the ladies of the court are the saleswomen, "the queen keeping a cafe," while, here and there, are processions and theatricals; this festival costs, it is said, 100,000 livres, and a repetition of it is designed at Choisy attended with a larger outlay.

Alongside of these masquerades which stop at costume and require only an hour, there is a more important diversion, the private theatrical performance, which completely transforms the man, and which for six weeks, and even for three months, absorbs him entirely at rehearsals. Towards 1770,[2270] "the rage for it is incredible; there is not an attorney in his cottage who does not wish to have a stage and his company of actors." A Bernardine living in Bresse, in the middle of a wood, writes to Colle that he and his brethren are about to perform "La Partie de Chasse de Henri IV," and that they are having a small theater constructed "without the knowledge of bigots and small minds." Reformers and moralists introduce theatrical art into the education of children; Mme. de Genlis composes comedies for them, considering these excellent for the securing of a good pronunciation, proper self-confidence and the graces of deportment. The theater, indeed, then prepares man for society as society prepares him for the theater; in either case he is on display, composing his attitude and tone of voice, and playing a part; the stage and the drawing room are on an equal footing. Towards the end of the century everybody becomes an actor, everybody having been one before.[2271] "We hear of nothing but little theaters set up in the country around Paris." For a long time those of highest rank set the example. Under Louis XV. the Ducs d'Orleans, de Nivernais, d'Ayen, de Coigny, the Marquises de Courtenvaux, and d'Entraigues, the Comte de Maillebois, the Duchesse de Brancas, the Comtesse d'Estrades form, with Madame de Pompadour, the company of the "small cabinets;" the Due de la Valliere is the director of them; when the piece contains a ballet the Marquis de Courtenvaux, the Duc de Beuvron, the Comtes de Melfort and de Langeron are the titular dancers.[2272] "Those who are accustomed to such spectacles," writes the sedate and pious Duc de Luynes, "agree in the opinion that it would be difficult for professional comedians to play better and more intelligently." The passion reaches at last still higher, even to the royal family. At Trianon, the queen, at first before forty persons and then before a more numerous audience, performs Colette in "Le Devin de Village," Gotte, in "La Gageure imprevue," Rosine in "Le Barbier de Seville," Pierette in "Le Chasseur et la Laitiere,"[2273] while the other comedians consist of the principal men of the court, the Comte d'Artois, the Comtes d'Adhemar and de Vaudreuil, the Comtesse de Guiche, and the Canoness de Polignac. A theater is formed in Monsieur's domicile; there are two in the Comte d'Artois's house, two in that of the Duc d'Orleans, two in the Comte de Clermont's, and one in the Prince de Conde's. The Comte de Clermont performs serious characters; the Duc d'Orleans represents, with completeness and naturalness, peasants and financiers; M. de Miromesnil, keeper of the seals, is the smartest and most finished of Scapins; M. de Vaudreuil seems to rival Mole; the Comte de Pons plays the "Misanthrope" with rare perfection.[2274] "More than ten of our ladies of high rank," writes the Prince de Ligne, "play and sing better than the best of those I have seen in our theaters." By their talent judge of their study, assiduity and zeal. It is evident that for many of them it is the principal occupation. In a certain chateau, that of Saint-Aubin, the lady of the house, to secure a large enough troupe, enrolls her four chambermaids in it, making her little daughter, ten years old, play the part of Zaire, and for over twenty months she has no vacation. After her bankruptcy, and in her exile, the first thing done by the Princess de Guemenee was to send for upholsterers to arrange a theater. In short, as nobody went out in Venice without a mask so here nobody comprehended life without the masqueradings, metamorphoses, representations and triumphs of the player.

The last trait I have to mention, yet more significant, is the afterpiece. Really, in this fashionable circle, life is a carnival as free and almost as rakish as that of Venice. The play commonly terminates with a parade borrowed from La Fontaine's tales or from the farces of the Italian drama, which are not only pointed but more than free, and sometimes so broad that they cant be played only before princes and courtesans;"[2275] a morbid palate, indeed, having no taste for orgeat, instead demanding a dram. The Duc d'Orleans sings on the stage the most spicy songs, playing Bartholin in "Nicaise," and Blaise in "Joconde." "Le Marriage sans Cure," "Leandre grosse," "L'amant poussif," "Leandre Etalon," are the showy titles of the pieces composed by Colle "for the amusement of His Highness and the Court." For one which contains salt there are ten stuffed with strong pepper. At Brunoy, at the residence of Monsieur, so gross are they[2276] the king regrets having attended; "nobody had any idea of such license; two women in the auditorium had to go out, and, what is most extraordinary, they had dared to invite the queen."—Gaiety is a sort of intoxication which draws the cask down to the dregs, and when the wine is gone it draws on the lees. Not only at their little suppers, and with courtesans, but in the best society and with ladies, they commit the follies of a bagnio. Let us use the right word, they are blackguards, and the word is no more offensive to them than the action. "For five or six months," writes a lady in 1782,"[2277] "the suppers are followed by a blind man's buff or by a draw-dance, and they end in general mischievousness, (une polissonnerie generale)." Guests are invited a fortnight in advance. "On this occasion they upset the tables and the furniture; they scattered twenty caraffes of water about the room; I finally got away at half-past one, wearied out, pelted with handkerchiefs, and leaving Madame de Clarence hoarse, with her dress torn to shreds, a scratch on her arm, and a bruise on her forehead, but delighted that she had given such a gay supper and flattered with the idea of its being the talk the next day."—This is the result of a craving for amusement. Under its pressure, as under the sculptor's thumb, the face of the century becomes transformed and insensibly loses its seriousness; the formal expression of the courtier at first becomes the cheerful physiognomy of the worldling, and then, on these smiling lips, their contours changed, we see the bold, unbridled grin of the scamp.[2278]

*****

NOTES:

[Footnote 2201: "LA VIE DE SALON" is Taine's title. In Le Robert & Collins' Dictionary salon is translated as "lounge" (Brit.) sitting room, living room, or (cercle litteraire) salon.]

[Footnote 2202: De Lomenie, "Beaumarchais et son temps," I. 403. Letter of Beaumarchais, (Dec. 24, 1764.)—The travels of Mme. d'Aulnoy and the letters of Mme. de Villars.—As to Italy see Stendhal, "Rome, Naples et Florence."—For Germany see the "Memoires" of the Margrave of Bareith, also of the Chevalier Lang.—For England see my "Histoire de la literature Anglaise," vols. III. IV.]

[Footnote 2203: Volney, "Tableau du climat et du sol des Etats-Unis d'Amerique." The leading trait of the French Colonist when compared with the colonists of other nations, is, according to this writer, the craving for neighbors and conversation]

[Footnote 2204: Mme. de Caylus, "Souvenirs," p. 108.]

[Footnote 2205: St. Simon, 461.]

[Footnote 2206: Duc de Levis, p. 321.]

[Footnote 2207: Mme. de Genlis, "Souvenirs de Felicie," p. 160.—It is important, however, to call attention to the old-fashioned royal attitude under Louis XV and even Louis XVI. "Although I was advised," says Alfieri, "that the king never addressed ordinary strangers, I could not digest the Olympian-Jupiter look with which Louis XV measured the person presented to him, from head to foot, with such an impassible air; if a fly should be introduced to a giant, the giant, after looking at him, would smile, or perhaps remark.—'What a little mite!' In any event, if he said nothing, his face would express it for him." Alfieri, Memoires," I.138, 1768. (Alfieri, Vittorio, born in Asti in 1749— Florence 1803. Italian poet and playwright. (SR.)—See in Mme. d'Oberkirk's "Memoires." (II. 349), the lesson administered by Mme. Royale, aged seven and a half years, to a lady introduced to her.]

[Footnote 2208: Champfort, 26, 55; Bachaumont, I. 136 (Sept 7,1762). One month after the Parliament had passed a law against the Jesuits, little Jesuits in wax appeared, with a snail for a base. "By means of a thread the Jesuit was made to pop in and out from the shell. It is all the rage—here is no house without its Jesuit."]

[Footnote 2209: On the other hand, the song on the battle of Rosbach is charming.]

[Footnote 2210: "Correspondance secrete," by Metra, Imbert, etc., V. 277 (Nov. 17, 1777).—Voltaire, "Princesse de Babylone."]

[Footnote 2211: Baron de Bezenval, "Memoires," II. 206. An anecdote related by the Duke.]

[Footnote 2212: Archives nationales, a report by M. Texier (1780). A report by M. Mesnard de Chousy (01, 738).]

[Footnote 2213: "Marie Antoinette," by d'Arneth and Geffroy, I. 277 (February 29. 1772).]

[Footnote 2214: De Luynes, XVII. 37 (August, 1758).—D'Argenson, February 11, 1753.]

[Footnote 2215: Archives nationales, 01, 738. Various sums of interest are paid: 12,969 francs to the baker, 39,631 francs to the wine merchant, and 173,899 francs to the purveyor.]

[Footnote 2216: Marquis de Mirabeau, "Traite de Population," 60.—"Le Gouvemement de Normandie," by Hippeau, II. 204 (Sept. 30, 1780).]

[Footnote 2217: Mme. de Larochejacquelein, "Memoires," p. 30.—Mme. d'Oberkirk, II. 66.]

[Footnote 2218: D'Argenson, January 26, 1753.]

[Footnote 2219: George Sand, "Histoire de ma vie," I.78.]

[Footnote 2220: "Marie Antoinette," by d'Arneth and Geffroy, I. 61 (March 18, 1777).]

[Footnote 2221: D'Argenson, January 26, 1753.]

[Footnote 2222: "Marie Antoinette," III. 135, November 19, 1777.]

[Footnote 2223: Barbier, IV., 155. The Marshal de Soubise had a hunting lodge to which the king came from time to time to eat an omelet of pheasants' eggs, costing 157 livres, 10 sous. (Mercier, XII 192; according to the statement of the cook who made it.)]

[Footnote 2224: Mme. d'Oberkirk, I. 129, II. 257.]

[Footnote 2225: Mme. de Genlis, "Souvenirs de Felicie," 80; and "Theatre de l'Education," II. 367. A virtuous young woman in ten months runs into debt to the amount of 70,000 francs: "Ten louis for a small table, 15 louis for another, 800 francs for a bureau, 200 francs for a small writing desk, 300 francs for a large one. Hair rings, hair glass, hair chain, hair bracelets, hair clasps, hair necklace, hair box, 9,900 francs," etc.]

[Footnote 2226: Mme. de Genlis, "Adele et Theodore," III. 14.]

[Footnote 2227: Mme. d'Avray, sister of Mme. de Genlis, sets the example, for which she is at first much criticized.]

[Footnote 2228: "When I arrived in France M. de Choiseul's reign was just over. The woman who seemed nice to him, or could only please his sister-in-law the Duchesse de Gramont, was sure of being able to secure the promotion to colonel and lieutenant general of any man they proposed. Women were of consequence even in the eyes of the old and of the clergy; they were thoroughly familiar, to an extraordinary degree, with the march of events; they knew by heart the characters and habits of the king's friends and ministers. One of these, on returning to his chateau from Versailles, informed his wife about every thing with which he had been occupied; at home he says one or two words to her about his water-color sketches, or remains silent and thoughtful, pondering over what he has just heard in Parliament. Our poor ladies are abandoned to the Society of those frivolous men who, for want of intellect, have no ambition, and of course no employment (dandies)." (Stendhal, "Rome, Naples, and Florence," 377. A narrative by Colonel Forsyth).]

[Footnote 2229: De Bezenval, 49, 60.—"Out of twenty seigniors at the court there are fifteen not living with their wives, and keeping mistresses. Nothing is so common at Paris among certain people." (Barbier, IV. 496.)]

[Footnote 2230: Ne soyez point epoux, ne soyez point amant, Soyez l'homme du jour et vous serez charmant.]

[Footnote 2231: Crebillon, fills. "La nuit et le moment," IX, 14.]

[Footnote 2232: Horace Walpole's letters (January 15, 1766).—The Duke de Brissac, at Louveciennes, the lover of Mme. du Barry, and passionately fond of her, always in her society assumed the attitude of a polite stranger. (Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, "Souvenirs," I. 165.)]

[Footnote 2233: De Lauzun, 51.—Champfort, 39.—"The Duc de—whose wife had just been the subject of scandal, complained to his mother-in-law: the latter replied with the greatest coolness, 'Eh, Monsieur, you make a good deal of talk about nothing. Your father was much better company.'" (Mme. d'Oberkirk, II. 135, 241).—"A husband said to his wife, I allow you everything except princes and lackeys.' He had it right since these two extremes brought dishonor on account of the scandal attached to them." (Senac de Meilhan, "Considerations sur les moeurs.)—On a wife being discovered by a husband, he simply exclaims, "Madame, what imprudence! Suppose that I was any other man." (La femme au dix-huitieme siecle," 201.)]

[Footnote 2234: See in this relation the somewhat ancient types, especially in the provinces. "My mother, my sister, and myself, transformed into statues by my father's presence, only recover ourselves after he leaves the room." (Chateaubriand, "Memoires," I. 17, 28, 130).—"Memoires de Mirabeau," I. 53.) The Marquis said of his father Antoine: "I never had the honor of kissing the cheek of that venerable man. . . At the Academy, being two hundred leagues away from him, the mere thought of him made me dread every youthful amusement which could be followed by the least unfavorable results."—Paternal authority seems almost as rigid among the middle and lower classes. ("Beaumarchais et son temps," by De Lomenie, I. 23.—"Vie de mon pere," by Restif de la Bretonne, passim.)]

[Footnote 2235: Sainte-Beuve, "Nouveaux lundis," XII, 13;—Comte de Tilly, "Memoires," I. 12; Duc de Lauzun, 5.—"Beaumarchais," by de Lomenie, II. 299.]

[Footnote 2236: Madame de Genlis, "Memoires," ch 2 and 3.]

[Footnote 2237: Mme. d'Oberkirk. II. 35.—This fashion lasts until 1783.—De Goncourt, "La femme au dix-huitieme siecle, 415,—"Les petits parrains," engraving by Moreau.—Berquin, "L'ami des enfants," passim.—Mme. de Genlis, "Theatre de l'Education," passim.]

[Footnote 2238: Lesage, "Gil Blas de Santillane": the discourse of the dancing-master charged with the education of the son of Count d'Olivares.]

[Footnote 2239: "Correspondance." by Metra, XIV. 212; XVI. 109.—Mme. d'Oberkirk. II, 302.]

[Footnote 2240: De Segur, I. 297:

Ma naissance n'a rien de neuf, J'ai suivi la commune regle, Mais c'est vous qui sortez d'un oeuf, Car vous etes un aigle.

Mme. de Genlis, "Memoires," ch. IV. Mme. de Genlis wrote verses of this kind at twelve years of age.]

[Footnote 2241: Already in the Precieuses of Moliere, the Marquis de Mascarille and the Vicomte de Jodelet.—And the same in Marivaux, "L'epreuve, les jeux de l'amour et du hasard," ete.—Lesage, "Crispin rival de son maitre."—Laclos, "Les liaisons dangereuses," first letter.]

[Footnote 2242: Voltaire, "Princesse de Babylone."]

[Footnote 2243: "Gustave III," by Geffroy, II. 37.—Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, I. 81.]

[Footnote 2244: George Sand, I. 58-60. A narration by her grandmother, who, at thirty years of age, married M. Dupin de Francuiel, aged sixty-two.]

[Footnote 2245: Mme. de Genlis, "Souvenirs de Felicie," 77.—Mme. Campan, III. 74.—Mme. de Genlis, "Dict. des Etiquettes," I. 348.]

[Footnote 2246: See an anecdote concerning this species of royalty in "Adele et Theodore, I. 69" by Mme. de Genlis.—Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, I. 156: "Women ruled then; the Revolution has dethroned them. . . This gallantry I speak of has entirely disappeared."]

[Footnote 2247: "Women in France to some extent dictate whatever is to be said and prescribe whatever is to be done in the fashionable world." ("A comparative view," by John Andrews, 1785.)]

[Footnote 2248: Mme. d'Oberkirk, I. 299.—Mme. de Genlis, "Memoires," ch. XI.]

[Footnote 2249: De Tilly, I. 24.]

[Footnote 2250: Necker, "Oeuvres completes," XV, 259.]

[Footnote 2251: Narrated by M. de Bezenval, a witness of the duel.]

[Footnote 2252: See especially: Saint-Aubin, "Le bal pare," "Le Concert;"—Moreau, "Les Elegants," "La Vie d'un Seigneur a la mode," the vignettes of "La nouvelle Heloise;" Beaudouin, "La Toilette," "Le Coucher de la Mariee;" Lawreince, "Qu'en dit l'abbe?"—Watteau, the first in date and in talent, transposes these customs and depicts them the better by making them more poetic.—Of the rest, reread "Marianne," by Marivaux; "La Verite dans le vin," by Colle; "Le coin du feu," "La nuit et le moment," by Crebillon fils; and two letters in the "Correspondance inedite" of Mme. du Deffant, one by the Abbe Barthelemy and the other by the Chevalier de Boufflers, (I. 258, 341.).]

[Footnote 2253: "Correspondence inedite de Mme. du Deffant," published by M. de Saint-Aulaire, I. 235, 258, 296, 302, 363.]

[Footnote 2254: Mme. de Genlis, "Dict. des Etiquettes," II. 38. "Adele et Theodore, I, 312, II, 350,—George Sand, "Histoire de ma vie," I. 228.—De Goncourt, p. 111.]

[Footnote 2255: George Sand, I. 59.]

[Footnote 2256: "A comparative view," etc., by John Andrews.]

[Footnote 2257: Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, I. 15, 154.]

[Footnote 2258: Chateaubriand, I. 34.—"Memoires de Mirabeau," passim.—George Sand, I. 59, 76.]

[Footnote 2259: Comptes rendus de la societe de Berry (1863-1864).]

[Footnote 2260: "Histoire de Troyes pendant la Revolution," by Albert Babeau, I. 46.]

[Footnote 2261: Foissets, "Le President des Brosses," 65, 69, 70, 346.—"Lettres du President des Brosses," (ed. Coulomb), passim.—Piron being uneasy concerning his "Ode a Priape," President Bouhier, a man of great and fine erudition, and the least starched of learned ones, sent for the young man and said to him, "You are a foolish fellow. If any one presses you to know the author of the offence tell him that I am." (Sainte-Beuve, "Nouveaux Lundis," VII. 414.)]

[Footnote 2262: Foisset, ibid.. 185. Six audiences a week and often two a day besides his labors as antiquarian, historian, linguist, geographer, editor and academician.]

[Footnote 2263: "Souvenirs", by PASQUIER (Etienne-Dennis, duc), chancelier de France. in VI volumes, Librarie Plon, Paris 1893.]

[Footnote 2264: De Valfons, "Souvenirs," 60.]

[Footnote 2265: Montgaillard (an eye-witness). "Histoire de France," II. 246.]

[Footnote 2266: M. de Conzie is surprised at four o'clock in the morning by his rival, an officer in the guards. "Make no noise," he said to him, "a dress like yours will be brought to me and I will have a cock made then we shall be on the same level." A valet brings him his weapons. He descends into the garden of the mansion, fights with the officer and disarms him. ("Correspondance," by Metra, XIV. May 20, 1783.)—"Le Comte de Clermont," by Jules Cousin, passim.—"Journal de Colle," III. 232 (July, 1769).]

[Footnote 2267: De Lomenie, "Beaumarchais et son temps, II. 304.]

[Footnote 2268: De Luynes, XVL 161 (September, 1757). The village festival given to King Stanislas, by Mme. de Mauconseil at Bagatelle.—Bachaumont, III. 247 (September 7, 1767). Festival given by the Prince de Conde.]

[Footnote 2269: "Correspondance," by Metra, XIII. 97 (June 15, 1782), and V. 232 (June 24 and 25, 1777).—Mme. de Genlis "Memoires," chap. XIV.]

[Footnote 2270: Bachaumont, November 17, 1770.—"Journal de Colle," III. 136 (April 29, 1767).—De Montlosier, "Memoires," I. 43. "At the residence of the Commandant (at Clermont) they would have been glad to enlist me in private theatricals."]

[Footnote 2271: "Correspondance." by Metra, II. 245 (Nov. 18. 1775).]

[Footnote 2272: Julien. "Histoire du Theatre de Madame de Pompadour." These representations last seven years and cost during the winter alone of 1749, 300,000 livres.—De Luynes, X. 45.—Mme. de Hausset, 230.]

[Footnote 2273: Mme. Campan, I. 130.—Cf. with caution, the Memoires, are suspect, as they have been greatly modified and arranged by Fleury.— De Goncourt, 114.

[Footnote 2274: Jules Cousin, "Le Comte de Clermont," p.21.—Mme. de Genlis, "Memoires," chap. 3 and 11.—De Goncourt, 114.]

[Footnote 2275: Bachaumont, III. 343 (February 23, 1768) and IV. 174, III. 232.—"Journal d Colle," passim.—Colle, Laujon and Poisinet are the principal purveyors for these displays; the only one of merit is "La Verite dans le Vin." In this piece instead of "Mylord." there was at first the "bishop of Avranches," and the piece was thus performed at Villers-Cotterets in the house of the Duc d'Orleans.]

[Footnote 2276: Mme. d'Oberkirk, II. 82.—On the tone of the best society see "Correspondance" by Metra, I. 50, III. 68, and Bezenval (Ed. Barriere) 387 to 394.]

[Footnote 2277: Mme. de Genlis, "Adele et Theodore," II. 362.]

[Footnote 2278: George Sand, I. 85. "At my grandmother's I have found boxes full of couplets, madrigals and biting satires.... I burned some of them so obscene that I would not dare read them through, and these written by abbes I had known to my infancy and by a marquis of the best blood." Among other examples, toned down, the songs on the Bird and the Shepherdess, may be read in "Correspondance," by Metra.]



CHAPTER III. DISADVANTAGES OF THIS DRAWING ROOM LIFE.



I.

Its Barrenness and Artificiality.—Return to Nature and sentiment.

Mere pleasure, in the long run, ceases to gratify, and however agreeable this drawing room life may be, it ends in a certain hollowness. Something is lacking without any one being able to say precisely what that something is; the soul becomes restless, and slowly, aided by authors and artists, it sets about investigating the cause of its uneasiness and the object of its secret longings. Barrenness and artificiality are the two traits of this society, the more marked because it is more complete, and, in this one, pushed to extreme, because it has attained to supreme refinement. In the first place naturalness is excluded from it; everything is arranged and adjusted,—decoration, dress, attitude, tone of voice, words, ideas and even sentiments. "A genuine sentiment is so rare," said M. de V—, "that, when I leave Versailles, I sometimes stand still in the street to see a dog gnaw a bone."[2301] Man, in abandoning himself wholly to society, had withheld no portion of his personality for himself while decorum, clinging to him like so much ivy, had abstracted from him the substance of his being and subverted every principle of activity.

"There was then," says one who was educated in this style,[2302] "a certain way of walking, of sitting down, of saluting, of picking up a glove, of holding a fork, of tendering any article, in short, a complete set of gestures and facial expressions, which children had to be taught at a very early age in order that habit might become a second nature, and this conventionality formed so important an item in the life of men and women in aristocratic circles that the actors of the present day, with all their study, are scarcely able to give us an idea of it."

Not only was the outward factitious but, again, the inward; there was a certain prescribed mode of feeling and of thinking, of living and of dying. It was impossible to address a man without placing oneself at his orders, or a woman without casting oneself at her feet, Fashion, 'le bon ton,' regulated every important or petty proceeding, the manner of making a declaration to a woman and of breaking an engagement, of entering upon and managing a duel, of treating an equal, an inferior and a superior. If any one failed in the slightest degree to conform to this code of universal custom, he is called "a specimen." A man of heart or of talent, D'Argenson, for example, bore a surname of "simpleton," because his originality transcended the conventional standard. "That has no name, there is nothing like it!" embodies the strongest censure. In conduct as in literature, whatever departs from a certain type is rejected. The quantity of authorized actions is as great as the number of authorized words. The same super-refined taste impoverishes the initiatory act as well as the initiatory expression, people acting as they write, according to acquired formulas and within a circumscribed circle. Under no consideration can the eccentric, the unforeseen, the spontaneous, vivid inspiration be accepted. Among twenty instances I select the least striking since it merely relates to a simple gesture, and is a measure of other things. Mademoiselle de—obtains, through family influence, a pension for Marcel, a famous dancing-master, and runs off, delighted, to his domicile to convey him the patent. Marcel receives it and at once flings it on the floor: "Mademoiselle, did I teach you to offer an object in that manner? Pick up that paper and hand it to me as you ought to." She picks up the patent and presents it to him with all suitable grace. "That's very well, Mademoiselle, I accept it, although your elbow was not quite sufficiently rounded, and I thank you."[2303] So many graces end in becoming tiresome; after having eaten rich food for years, a little milk and dry bread becomes welcome.

Among all these social flavorings one is especially abused; one which, unremittingly employed, communicates to all dishes its frigid and piquant relish, I mean insincerity (badinage). Society does not tolerate passion, and in this it exercises its right. One does not enter company to be either vehement or somber; a strained air or one of concentration would appear inconsistent. The mistress of a house is always right in reminding a man that his emotional constraint brings on silence. "Monsieur Such-a-one, you are not amiable to day." To be always amiable is, accordingly, an obligation, and, through this training, a sensibility that is diffused through innumerable little channels never produces a broad current. "One has a hundred friends, and out of these hundred friends two or three may have some chagrin every day; but one could not award them sympathy for any length of time as, in that event, one would be wanting in consideration for the remaining ninety-seven;"[2304] one might sigh for an instant with some one of the ninety-seven, and that would be all. Madame du Deffant, having lost her oldest friend, the President Henault, that very day goes to sup in a large assemblage: "Alas," she exclaimed, "he died at six o'clock this evening; otherwise you would not see me here." Under this constant regime of distractions and diversions there are no longer any profound sentiments; we have nothing but an epidermic exterior; love itself is reduced to "the exchange of two fantasies."—And, as one always falls on the side to which one inclines, levity becomes deliberate and a matter of elegance.[2305] Indifference of the heart is in fashion; one would be ashamed to show any genuine emotion. One takes pride in playing with love, in treating woman as a mechanical puppet, in touching one inward spring, and then another, to force out, at will, her anger or her pity. Whatever she may do, there is no deviation from the most insulting politeness; the very exaggeration of false respect which is lavished on her is a mockery by which indifference for her is fully manifested.—But they go still further, and in souls naturally unfeeling, gallantry turns into wickedness. Through ennui and the demand for excitement, through vanity, and as a proof of dexterity, delight is found in tormenting, in exciting tears, in dishonoring and in killing women by slow torture. At last, as vanity is a bottomless pit, there is no species of blackness of which these polished executioners are not capable; the personages of Laclos are derived from these originals.[2306]—Monsters of this kind are, undoubtedly, rare; but there is no need of reverting to them to ascertain how much egotism is harbored in the gallantry of society. The women who erected it into an obligation are the first to realize its deceptiveness, and, amidst so much homage without heat, to pine for the communicative warmth of a powerful sentiment.—The character of the century obtains its last trait and "the man of feeling comes on the stage.



II. Return To Nature And Sentiment.

Final trait of the century, an increased sensitivity in the best circles.—Date of its advent.—Its symptoms in art and in literature.—Its dominion in private.—Its affectations.— Its sincerity.—Its delicacy.

It is not that the groundwork of habits becomes different, for these remain equally worldly and dissipated up the last. But fashion authorizes a new affectation, consisting of effusions, reveries, and sensibilities as yet unknown. The point is to return to nature, to admire the country, to delight in the simplicity of rustic manners, to be interested in village people, to be human, to have a heart, to find pleasure in the sweetness and tenderness of natural affections, to be a husband and a father, and still more, to possess a soul, virtues, and religious emotions, to believe in Providence and immortality, to be capable of enthusiasm. One wants to be all this, or at least show an inclination that way. In any event, if the desire does exist it is one the implied condition, that one shall not be too much disturbed in his ordinary pursuits, and that the sensations belonging to the new order of life shall in no respect interfere with the enjoyments of the old one. Accordingly the exaltation which arises is little more than cerebral fermentation, and the idyll is to be almost entirely performed in the drawing-rooms. Behold, then, literature, the drama, painting and all the arts pursuing the same sentimental road to supply heated imaginations with factitious nourishment.[2307] Rousseau, in labored periods, preaches the charms of an uncivilized existence, while other masters, between two madrigals, fancy the delight of sleeping naked in the primeval forest. The lovers in "La Nouvelle Heloise" interchange passages of fine style through four volumes, whereupon a person "not merely methodical but prudent," the Comtesse de Blot, exclaims, at a social gathering at the Duchesse de Chartres', "a woman truly sensitive, unless of extraordinary virtue, could refuse nothing to the passion of Rousseau."[2308] People collect in a dense crowd in the Exhibition around "L'Accordee de Village," "La Cruche Cassee," and the "Retour de nourrice," with other rural and domestic idylls by Greuze; the voluptuous element, the tempting undercurrent of sensuality made perceptible in the fragile simplicity of his artless maidens, is a dainty bit for the libertine tastes which are kept alive beneath moral aspirations.[2309] After these, Ducis, Thomas, Parny, Colardeau, Boucher, Delille, Bernardin de St. Pierre, Marmontel, Florian, the mass of orators, authors and politicians, the misanthrope Champfort, the logician La Harpe, the minister Necker, the versifiers and the imitators of Gessner and Young, the Berquins, the Bitaubes, nicely combed and bedizened, holding embroidered handkerchiefs to wipe away tears, are to marshal forth the universal eclogue down to the acme of the Revolution. Marmontel's "Moral Tales" appear in the columns of the "Mercure" for 1791 and 1792,[2310] while the number following the massacres of September opens with verses "to the manes of my canary-bird."

Consequently, in all the details of private life, sensibility displays its magniloquence. A small temple to Friendship is erected in a park. A little altar to Benevolence is set up in a private closet. Dresses a la Jean-Jacques-Rousseau are worn "analogous to the principles of that author." Head-dresses are selected with "puffs au sentiment" in which one may place the portrait of one's daughter, mother, canary or dog, the whole "garnished with the hair of one's father or intimate friend."[2311] People keep intimate friends for whom "they experience something so warm and so tender that it nearly amounts to a passion" and whom they cannot go three hours a day without seeing. "Every time female companions interchange tender ideas the voice suddenly changes into a pure and languishing tone, each fondly regarding the other with approaching heads and frequently embracing," and suppressing a yawn a quarter of an hour after, with a nap in concert, because they have no more to say. Enthusiasm becomes an obligation. On the revival of "Le pere de famille" there are as many handkerchiefs counted as spectators, and ladies faint away. "It is customary, especially for young women, to be excited, to turn pale, to melt into tears and, generally, to be seriously affected on encountering M. de Voltaire; they rush into his arms, stammer and weep, their agitation resembling that of the most passionate love."[2312]—When a society-author reads his work in a drawing-room, fashion requires that the company should utter exclamations and sob, and that some pretty fainting subject should be unlaced. Mme. de Genlis, who laughs at these affectations, is no less affected than the rest. Suddenly some one in the company is heard to say to the young orphan whom she is exhibiting: "Pamela, show us Heloise," whereupon Pamela, loosening her hair, falls on her knees and turns her eyes up to heaven with an air of inspiration, to the great applause of the assembly.[2313] Sensibility becomes an institution. The same Madame de Genlis founds an order of Perseverance which soon includes "as many as ninety chevaliers in the very best society." To become a member it is necessary to solve some riddle, to answer a moral question and pronounce a discourse on virtue. Every lady or chevalier who discovers and publishes "three well-verified virtuous actions" obtains a gold medal. Each chevalier has his "brother in arms," each lady has her bosom friend and each member has a device, and each device, framed in a little picture, figures in the "Temple of Honor," a sort of tent gallantly decorated, and which M. de Lauzun causes to be erected in the middle of a garden.[2314]—The sentimental parade is complete, a drawing room masquerade being visible even in this revival of chivalry.

The froth of enthusiasm and of fine words nevertheless leaves in the heart a residuum of active benevolence, trustfulness, and even happiness, or, at least, expansiveness and freedom. Wives, for the first time, are seen accompanying their husbands into garrison; mothers desire to nurse their infants, and fathers begin to interest themselves in the education of their children. Simplicity again forms an element of manners. Hair-powder is no longer put on little boys' heads; many of the seigniors abandon laces, embroideries, red heels and the sword, except when in full dress. People appear in the streets "dressed a la Franklin, in coarse cloth, with a knotty cane and thick shoes."[2315] The taste no longer runs on cascades, statues and stiff and pompous decorations; the preference is for the English garden.[2316] The queen arranges a village for herself at the Trianon, where, "dressed in a frock of white cambric muslin and a gauze neck-handkerchief, and with a straw hat," she fishes in the lake and sees her cows milked. Etiquette falls away like the paint scaling off from the skin, disclosing the bright hue of natural emotions. Madame Adelaide takes up a violin and replaces an absent musician to let the peasant girls dance. The Duchesse de Bourbon goes out early in the morning incognito to bestow alms, and "to see the poor in their garrets." The Dauphine jumps out of her carriage to assist a wounded post-boy, a peasant knocked down by a stag. The king and the Comte d'Artois help a carter to extract his cart from the mud. People no longer think about self-constraint, and self-adjustment, and of keeping up their dignity under all circumstances, and of subjecting the weaknesses of human nature to the exigencies of rank. On the death of the first Dauphin,[2317] whilst the people in the room place themselves before the king to prevent him from entering it, the queen falls at his knees, and he says to her, weeping, "Ah, my wife, our dear child is dead, since they do not wish me to see him." And the narrator adds with admiration; "I always seem to see a good farmer and his excellent wife a prey to the deepest despair at the loss of their beloved child." Tears are no longer concealed, as it is a point of honor to be a human being. One becomes human and familiar with one's inferiors. A prince, on a review, says to the soldiers on presenting the princess to them, "My boys, here is my wife." There is a disposition to make people happy and to take great delight in their gratitude. To be kind, to be loved is the object of the head of a government, of a man in place. This goes so far that God is prefigured according to this model. The "harmonies of nature" are construed into the delicate attentions of Providence; on instituting filial affection the Creator "deigned to choose for our best virtue our sweetest pleasure."[2318]—The idyll which is imagined to take place in heaven corresponds with the idyll practiced on earth. From the public up to the princes, and from the princes down to the public, in prose, in verse, in compliments at festivities, in official replies, in the style of royal edicts down to the songs of the market-women, there is a constant interchange of graces and of sympathies. Applause bursts out in the theater at any verse containing an allusion to princes, and, a moment after, at the speech which exalts the merits of the people, the princes return the compliment by applauding in their turn.[2319]—On all sides, just as this society is vanishing, a mutual deference, a spirit of kindliness arises, like a soft and balmy autumnal breeze, to dissipate whatever harshness remains of its aridity and to mingle with the radiance of its last hours the perfume of dying roses. We now encounter acts and words of infinite grace, unique of their kind, like a lovely, exquisite little figure on old Sevres porcelain. One day, on the Comtesse Amelie de Boufflers speaking somewhat flippantly of her husband, her mother-in-law interposes, "You forget that you are speaking of my son."—"True, mamma, I thought I was only speaking of your son-in-law." It is she again who, on playing "the boat," and obliged to decide between this beloved mother-in-law and her own mother, whom she scarcely knew, replies, "I would save my mother and drown with my mother-in-law."[2320] The Duchesse de Choiseul, the Duchesse de Lauzun, and others besides, are equally charming miniatures. When the heart and the mind combine their considerations they produce masterpieces, and these, like the art, the refinements and the society which surrounds them, possess a charm unsurpassed by anything except their own fragility.



III. Personality Defects.

The failings of character thus formed.—Adapted to one situation but not to a contrary situation.—Defects of intelligence.—Defects of disposition.—Such a character is disarmed by good-breeding.

The reason is that, the better people have become adapted to a certain situation the less prepared are they for the opposite situation. The habits and faculties that serve them in the previous condition become prejudicial to them in the new one. In acquiring talents adapted to tranquil times they lose those suited to times of agitation, reaching the extreme of feebleness at the same time with the extreme of urbanity. The more polished an aristocracy becomes the weaker it becomes, and when no longer possessing the power to please it not longer possesses the strength to struggle. And yet, in this world, we must struggle if we would live. In humanity, as in nature, empire belongs to force. Every creature that loses the art and energy of self-defense becomes so much more certainly a prey according as its brilliancy, imprudence and even gentleness deliver it over in advance to the gross appetites roaming around it. Where find resistance in characters formed by the habits we have just described? To defend ourselves we must, first of all, look carefully around us, see and foresee, and provide for danger. How could they do this living as they did? Their circle is too narrow and too carefully enclosed. Confined to their castles and mansions they see only those of their own sphere, they hear only the echo of their own ideas, they imagine that there is nothing beyond the public seems to consist of two hundred persons. Moreover, disagreeable truths are not admitted into a drawing-room, especially when of personal import, an idle fancy there becoming a dogma because it becomes conventional. Here, accordingly, we find those who, already deceived by the limitations of their accustomed horizon, fortify their delusion still more by delusions about their fellow men. They comprehend nothing of the vast world, which envelops their little world; they are incapable of entering into the sentiments of a bourgeois, of a villager; they have no conception of the peasant as he is but as they would like him to be. The idyll is in fashion, and no one dares dispute it; any other supposition would be false because it would be disagreeable, and as the drawing rooms have decided that all will go well, all must go well. Never was a delusion more complete and more voluntary. The Duc d'Orleans offers to wager a hundred louis that the States-General will dissolve without accomplishing anything, not even abolishing the lettre-de-cachet.. After the demolition has begun, and yet again after it is finished, they will form opinions no more accurate. They have no idea of social architecture; they know nothing about its materials, its proportions, or its harmonious balance; they have had no hand in it, they have never worked at it. They are entirely ignorant of the old building[2321] in which they occupy the first story. They are not qualified to calculate either its pressure or its resistance.[2322] They conclude, finally, that it is better to let the thing tumble in, and that the restoration of the edifice in their behalf will follow its own course, and that they will return to their drawing-room, expressly rebuilt for them, and freshly gilded, to begin over again the pleasant conversation which an accident, some tumult in the street, had interrupted.[2323] Clear-sighted in society, they are obtuse in politics. They examine everything by the artificial light of candles; they are disturbed and bewildered in the powerful light of open day. The eyelid has grown stiff through age. The organ so long bent on the petty details of one refined life no longer takes in the popular life of the masses, and, in the new sphere into which it is suddenly plunged, its refinement becomes the source of its blindness.

Nevertheless action is necessary, for danger is seizing them by the throat. But the danger is of an ignoble species, while their education has provided them with no arms suitable for warding it off. They have learned how to fence, but not how to box. They are still the sons of those at Fontenoy, who, instead of being the first to fire, courteously raised their hats and addressed their English antagonists, "No, gentlemen, fire yourselves." Being the slaves of good-breeding they are not free in their movements. Numerous acts, and those the most important, those of a sudden, vigorous and rude stamp, are opposed to the respect a well-bred man entertains for others, or at least to the respect which he owes to himself. They do not consider these allowable among themselves; they do not dream of their being allowed, and, the higher their position the more their rank fetters them. When the royal family sets out for Varennes the accumulated delays by which they are lost are the result of etiquette. Madame de Touzel insists on her place in the carriage to which she is entitled as governess of the Children of France. The king, on arriving, is desirous of conferring the marshal's baton on M. de Bouille, and after running to and fro to obtain a baton he is obliged to borrow that of the Duc de Choiseul. The queen cannot dispense with a traveling dressing-case and one has to be made large enough to contain every imaginable implement from a warming-pan to a silver porridge-dish, with other dishes besides; and, as if there were no shifts to be had in Brussels, there had to be a complete outfit in this line for herself and her children.[2324]—A fervent devotion, even humanness, the frivolity of the small literary spirit, graceful urbanity, profound ignorance,[2325] the lack or rigidity of the comprehension and determination are still greater with the princes than with the nobles.—All are impotent against the wild and roaring outbreak. They have not the physical superiority that can master it, the vulgar charlatanism which can charm it away, the tricks of a Scapin to throw it off the scent, the bull's neck, the mountebank's gestures, the stentor's lungs, in short, the resources of the energetic temperament and of animal cunning, alone capable of diverting the rage of the unchained brute. To find such fighters, they seek three or four men of a different race and education, men having suffered and roamed about, a brutal commoner like the abbe Maury, a colossal and dirty satyr like Mirabeau, a bold and prompt adventurer like that Dumouriez who, at Cherbourg, when, through the feebleness of the Duc de Beuvron, the stores of grain were given up and the riot began, hooted at and nearly cut to pieces, suddenly sees the keys of the storehouse in the hands of a Dutch sailor, and, yelling to the mob that it was betrayed through a foreigner having got hold of the keys, himself jumps down from the railing, seizes the keys and hands them to the officer of the guard, saying to the people, "I am your father, I am the man to be responsible for the storehouse!"[2326] To entrust oneself with porters and brawlers, to be collared by a political club, to improvise on the highways, to bark louder than the barkers, to fight with the fists or a cudgel, as much later with the young and rich gangs, against brutes and lunatics incapable of employing other arguments, and who must be answered in the same vein, to mount guard over the Assembly, to act as volunteer constable, to spare neither one's own hide nor that of others, to be one of the people to face the people, all these are simple and effectual proceedings, but so vulgar as to appear to them disgusting. The idea of resorting to such means never enters their head; they neither know how, nor do they care to make use of their hands in such business.[2327] They are skilled only in the duel and, almost immediately, the brutality of opinion, by means of assaults, stops the way to polite combats. Their arms, the shafts of the drawing-room, epigrams, witticisms, songs, parodies, and other needle thrusts are impotent against the popular bull.[2328] Their personality lacks both roots and resources; through super-refinement it has weakened; their nature, impoverished by culture, is incapable of the transformations by which we are renewed and survive.—An all-powerful education has repressed, mollified, and enfeebled their very instincts. About to die, they experience none of the reactions of blood and rage, the universal and sudden restoration of the forces, the murderous spasm, the blind irresistible need of striking those who strike them. If a gentleman is arrested in his own house by a Jacobin we never find him splitting his head open.[2329] They allow themselves to be taken, going quietly to prison; to make an uproar would be bad taste; it is necessary, above all things, to remain what they are, well-bred people of society. In prison both men and women dress themselves with great care, pay each other visits and keep up a drawing-room; it may be at the end of a corridor, by the light of three or four candles; but here they circulate jests, compose madrigals, sing songs and pride themselves on being as gallant, as gay and as gracious as ever: need people be morose and ill-behaved because accident has consigned them to a poor inn? They preserve their dignity and their smile before their judges and on the cart; the women, especially, mount the scaffold with the ease and serenity characteristic of an evening entertainment. It is the supreme characteristic of good-breeding, erected into an unique duty, and become to this aristocracy a second nature, which is found in its virtues as well as in its vices, in its faculties as well as in its impotencies, in its prosperity as at its fall, and which adorns it even in the death to which it conducts.

*****

NOTES:

[Footnote 2301: Champfort, 110.]

[Footnote 2302: George Sand, V. 59. "I was rebuked for everything; I never made a movement which was not criticized."]

[Footnote 2303: "Paris, Versailles, et les provinces," I. 162.—"The king of Sweden is here; he wears rosettes on his breeches; all is over; he is ridiculous, and a provincial king." ("Le Gouvernement de Normandie," by Hippeau, IV. 237, July 4, 1784.]

[Footnote 2304: Stendhal, "Rome, Naples and Florence," 379. Stated by an English lord.]

[Footnote 2305: Marivaux, "La Petit-Maitre corrige.—Gresset, "Le Mechant." Crebillon fils, "La Nuit et le Moment," (especially the scene between the scene between Citandre and Lucinde).—Colle, "La Verite dans le Vin," (the part of the abbe with the with the presidente).—De Bezenval, 79. (The comte de Frise and Mme. de Blot). "Vie privee du Marechal de Richelieu," (scenes with Mme. Michelin).—De Goncourt, 167 to 174.]

[Footnote 2306: Laclos, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." Mme. de Merteuil was copied after a Marquise de Grenoble.—Remark the difference between Lovelace and Valmont, one being stimulated by pride and the other by vanity.]

[Footnote 2307: The growth of sensibility is indicated by the following dates: Rousseau, "Sur l'influence des lettres et des arts," 1749; "Sur l'inegalite," 1753; "Nouvelle Heloise," 1759. Greuze, "Le Pere de Famille lisant la Bible," 1755; "L'Accordee de Village," 1761. Diderot, "Le fils natural," 1757; "Le Pere de Famille," 1758.]

[Footnote 2308: Mme. de Genlis, "Memoires," chap. XVII.—George Sand, I. 72. The young Mme. de Francueil, on seeing Rousseau for the first time, burst into tears.]

[Footnote 2309: This point has been brought out with as much skill as accuracy by Messieurs de Goncourt in "L'Art au dix-huitieme siecle," I. 433-438.]

[Footnote 2310: The number for August, 1792, contains "Les Rivaux d'eux-memes."—About the same time other pieces are inserted in the "Mercure," such as "The federal union of Hymen and Cupid," "Les Jaloux," "A Pastoral Romance," "Ode Anacreontique a Mlle. S. D. . . . "etc.]

[Footnote 2311: Mme. de Genlis, "Adele et Theodore," I. 312.—De Goncourt, "La Femme an dixhuitieme siecle," 318.—Mme. d'Oberkirk, I. 56.—Description of the puff au sentiment of the Duchesse de Chartres (de Goncourt, 311): "In the background is a woman seated in a chair and holding an infant, which represents the Duc de Valois and his nurse. On the right is a parrot pecking at a cherry, and on the left a little Negro, the duchess's two pets: the whole is intermingled with locks of hair of all the relations of Mme. de Chartres, the hair of her husband, father and father-in-law."]

[Footnote 2312: Mme. de Genlis, "Les Dangers du Monde." I, scene VII; II, scene IV;—"Adele et Theodore," I. 312;—"Souvenirs de Felicie," 199;—Bachaumont, IV, 320.]

[Footnote 2313: Mme. de la Rochejacquelein, "Memoires."]

[Footnote 2314: Mme. de Genlis, "Memoires," chap. XX.—De Lauzun, 270.]

[Footnote 2315: Mme. d'Oberkirk, II. 35 (1783-1784). Mme. Campan, III. 371.—Mercier, "Tableau de Paris," passim.]

[Footnote 2316: "Correspondance" by Metra, XVII. 55, (1784).—Mme. d'Oberkirk, II. 234.—"Marie Antoinette," by d'Arneth and Geffroy, II. 63, 29.]

[Footnote 2317: "Le Gouvernement de Normandie," by Hippeau, IV. 387 (Letters of June 4, 1789, by an eye-witness).]

[Footnote 2318: Florian, "Ruth".]

[Footnote 2319: Hippeau, IV. 86 (June 23, 1773), on the representation of "Le Siege de Calais," at the Comedie Francaise, at the moment when Mlle. Vestris has pronounced these words:

Le Francais dans son prince aime a trouver un frere Qui, ne fils de l'Etat, en devienne le pere.

"Long and universal plaudits greeted the actress who had turned in the direction of the Dauphin." In another place these verses recur:

Quelle lecon pour vous, superbes potentats! Veillez sur vos sujets dans le rang le plus bas, Tel, loin de vos regards, dans la misere expire, Qui quelque jour peut-etre, eut sauve votre empire.

"The Dauphin and the Dauphine in turn applauded the speech. This demonstration of their sensibility was welcomed with new expressions of affection and gratitude."]

[Footnote 2320: Madame de Genlis, "Souvenirs de Felicie," 76, 161.]

[Footnote 2321: M. de Montlosier; in the Constituent Assembly, is about the only person familiar with feudal laws.]

[Footnote 2322: "A competent and impartial man who would estimate the chances of the success of the Revolution would find that there are more against it than against the five winning numbers in a lottery; but this is possible, and unfortunately, this time, they all came out" (Duc de Levis, "Souvenirs," 328.)]

[Footnote 2323: "Corinne," by Madame de Stael, the character of the Comte d'Erfeuil.—Malonet, "Memoires," II. 297 (a memorable instance of political stupidity).]

[Footnote 2324: Mme. Campan, II. 140, 313.—Duc de Choiseul, "Memoires."]

[Footnote 2325: Journal of Dumont d'Urville, commander of the vessel which transported Charles X. into exile in 1830.—See note 4 at the end of the volume.]

[Footnote 2326: Dumouriez, "Memoires," III. chap. III. (July 21, 1789).]

[Footnote 2327: "All these fine ladies and gentlemen who knew so well how to bow and courtesy and walk over a carpet, could not take three steps on God's earth without getting dreadfully fatigued. They could not even open or shut a door; they had not even strength enough to lift a log to put it on the fire; they had to call a servant to draw up a chair for them; they could not come in or go out by themselves. What could they have done with their graces, without their valets to supply the place of hands and feet?" (George Sand, V. 61.)]

[Footnote 2328: When Madame de F—had expressed a clever thing she felt quite proud of it. M—remarked that on uttering something clever about an emetic she was quite surprised that she was not purged. Champfort, 107.]

[Footnote 2329: The following is an example of what armed resistance can accomplish for a man in his own house. "A gentleman of Marseilles, proscribed and living in his country domicile, has provided himself with gun, pistols and saber, and never goes out without this armament, declaring that he will not be taken alive. Nobody dared to execute the order of arrest. (Anne Plumptree, "A Residence of three years in France," (1802-1805), II. 115.]



BOOK THIRD. THE SPIRIT AND THE DOCTRINE.



CHAPTER I. SCIENTIFIC ACQUISITION.

The composition of the revolutionary spirit.—Scientific acquisition its first element.

On seeing a man with a somewhat feeble constitution, but healthy in appearance and of steady habits, greedily swallow some new kind of cordial and then suddenly fall to the ground, foam at the mouth, act deliriously and writhe in convulsions, we at once surmise that this agreeable beverage contained some dangerous substance; but a delicate analysis is necessary to detect and decompose the poison. The philosophy of the eighteenth century contained poison, and of a kind as potent as it was peculiar; for, not only is it a long historic elaboration, the final and condensed essence of the tendency of the thought of the century, but again its two principal ingredients have this peculiarity, that, separate, they are salutary, and in combination they form a venomous compound.



I. Scientific Progress.

The accumulation and progress of discoveries in science and in nature.—They serve as a starting-point for the new philosophers.

The first is scientific discovery, admirable on all sides, and beneficent in its nature; it is made up of masses of facts slowly accumulated and then summarily presented, or in rapid succession. For the first time in history the sciences expand and affirm each other to the extent of providing, not, as formerly, under Galileo and Descartes, constructive fragments, or provisional scaffolding, but a definite and demonstrated system of the universe, that of Newton.[3101] Around this capital fact, almost all the discoveries of the century, either as complementary or as prolongations, range themselves. In pure mathematics we have the Infinitesimal Calculus discovered simultaneously by Leibnitz and Newton, mechanics reduced by d'Alembert to a single theorem, and that superb collection of theories which, elaborated by the Bernouillis, Euler, Clairaut, d'Alembert, Taylor and Maclaurin, is finally completed at the end of the century by Monge, Lagrange, and Laplace.[3102] In astronomy, the series of calculations and observations which, from Newton to Laplace, transforms science into a problem of mechanics, explains and predicts the movements of the planets and of their satellites, indicating the origin and formation of our solar system, and, extending beyond this, through the discoveries of Herschel, affording an insight into the distribution of the stellar archipelagos, and of the grand outlines of celestial architecture. In physics, the decomposition of light and the principles of optics discovered by Newton, the velocity of sound, the form of its undulations, and from Sauveur to Chladni, from Newton to Bernouilli and Lagrange, the experimental laws and leading theorems of Acoustics, the primary laws of the radiation of heat by Newton, Kraft and Lambert, the theory of latent heat by Black, the proportions of caloric by Lavoisier and Laplace, the first true conceptions of the source of fire and heat, the experiments, laws, and means by which Dufay, Nollet, Franklin, and especially Coulomb explain, manipulate and, for the first time, utilize electricity.—In Chemistry, all the foundations of the science: isolated oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, the composition of water, the theory of combustion, chemical nomenclature, quantitative analysis, the indestructibility of matter, in short, the discoveries of Scheele, Priestley, Cavendish and Stahl, crowned with the clear and concise theory of Lavoisier.—In Mineralogy, the goniometer, the constancy of angles and the primary laws of derivation by Rome de Lisle, and next the discovery of types and the mathematical deduction of secondary forms by Hauey.—In Geology, the verification and results of Newton's theory, the exact form of the earth, the depression of the poles, the expansion of the equator,[3103] the cause and the law of the tides, the primitive fluidity of the planet, the constancy of its internal heat, and then, with Buffon, Desmarets, Hutton and Werner, the aqueous or igneous origin of rocks, the stratifications of the earth, the structure of beds of fossils, the prolonged and repeated submersion of continents, the slow growth of animal and vegetable deposits, the vast antiquity of life, the stripping, fracturing and gradual transformation of the terrestrial surface,[3104] and, finally the grand picture in which Buffon describes in approximate manner the entire history of our globe, from the moment it formed a mass of glowing lava down to the time when our species, after so many lost or surviving species, was able to inhabit it.—Upon this science of inorganic matter we see arising at the same time the science of organic matter. Grew, and then Vaillant had just demonstrated the sexual system and described the fecundating of plants; Linnaeus invents botanical nomenclature and the first complete classifications; the Jussieus discover the subordination of characteristics and natural classification. Digestion is explained by Reaumur and Spallanzani, respiration by Lavoisier; Prochaska verifies the mechanism of reflex actions; Haller and Spallanzani experiment on and describe the conditions and phases of generation. Scientists penetrate to the lowest stages of animal life. Reaumur publishes his admirable observations on insects and Lyonnet devotes twenty years to portraying the willow-caterpillar; Spallanzani resuscitates his rotifers, Tremblay dissects his fresh-water polyps, and Needham reveals his infusoria. The experimental conception of life is deduced from these various researches. Buffon already, and especially Lamarck, in their great and incomplete sketches, outline with penetrating divination the leading features of modern physiology and zoology. Organic molecules everywhere diffused or everywhere growing, species of globules constantly in course of decay and restoration, which, through the blind and spontaneous development, transform themselves, multiply and combine, and which, without either foreign direction or any preconceived end, solely through the effect of their structure and surroundings, unite together to form those masterly organisms which we call plants and animals: in the beginning, the simplest forms, and next a slow, gradual, complex and perfected organization; the organ created through habits, necessity and surrounding medium; heredity transmitting acquired modifications,[3105] all denoting in advance, in a state of conjecture and approximation, the cellular theory of later physiologists[3106] and the conclusions of Darwin. In the picture which the human mind draws of nature, the general outline is marked by the science of the eighteenth century, the arrangement of its plan and of the principal masses being so correctly marked, that to day the leading lines remain intact. With the exception of a few partial corrections we have nothing to efface.

This vast supply of positive or probable facts, either demonstrated or anticipated, furnishes food, substance and impulse to the intellect of the eighteenth century. Consider the leaders of public opinion, the promoters of the new philosophy: they are all, in various degrees, versed in the physical and natural sciences. Not only are they familiar with theories and authorities, but again they have a personal knowledge of facts and things. Voltaire[3108] is among the first to explain the optical and astronomical theories of Newton, and again to make calculations, observations and experiments of his own. He writes memoirs for the Academy of Sciences "On the Measure of Motive Forces," and "On the Nature and Diffusion of Heat." He handles Reamur's thermometer, Newton's prism, and Muschenbrock's pyrometer. In his laboratory at Cirey he has all the known apparatus for physics and chemistry. He experiments with his own hand on the reflection of light in space, on the increase of weight in calcified metals, on the renewal of amputated parts of animals, and in the spirit of a true savant, persistently, with constant repetitions, even to the beheading of forty snails and slugs, to verify an assertion made by Spallanzani.—The same curiosity and the same preparation prevails with all imbued with the same spirit. In the other camp, among the Cartesians, about to disappear, Fontenelle is an excellent mathematician, the competent biographer of all eminent men of science, the official secretary and true representative of the Academy of Sciences. In other places, in the Academy of Bordeaux, Montesquieu reads discourses on the mechanism of the echo, and on the use of the renal glands; he dissects frogs, tests the effect of heat and cold on animated tissues, and publishes observations on plants and insects.—Rousseau, the least instructed of all, attends the lectures of the chemist Rouelle, botanizing and appropriating to himself all the elements of human knowledge with which to write his "Emile."—Diderot taught mathematics and devoured every science and art even to the technical processes of all industries. D'Alembert stands in the first rank of mathematicians. Buffon translated Newton's theory of flux, and the Vegetable Statics of Hales; he is in turn a metallurgist, optician, geographer, geologist and, last of all, an anatomist. Condillac, to explain the use of signs and the relation of ideas, writes abridgments of arithmetic, algebra, mechanics and astronomy.[3109] Maupertuis, Condorcet and Lalande are mathematicians, physicists and astronomers; d'Holbach, Lamettrie and Cabanis are chemists, naturalists physiologists and physicians.—Prophets of a superior or inferior kind, masters or pupils, specialists or simple amateurs, all draw directly or indirectly from the living source that has just burst forth. This is their basis when they begin to teach about Man, what he is, from whence he came, where he is going, what he may become and what he should be. A new point of departure leads to new points of view; so that the idea, which was then entertained of the human being will become completely transformed.



II. Science Detached From Theology.

Change of the point of view in the science of man.—It is detached from theology and is united with the natural sciences.

Let us suppose a mind thoroughly imbued with these new truths, to be placed on the orbit of Saturn, and let him observe[3110]. Amidst this vast and overwhelming space and in these boundless solar archipelagoes, how small is our own sphere, and the earth, what a grain of sand! What multitudes of worlds beyond our own, and, if life exists in them, what combinations are possible other than those of which we are the result! What is life, what is organic substance in the monstrous universe but an indifferent mass, a passing accident, the corruption of a few epidermic particles? And if this be life, what is that humanity which is so small a fragment of it?—Such is Man in nature, an atom, and an ephemeral particle; let this not be lost sight of in our theories concerning his origin, his importance, and his destiny.

"A mite that would consider itself as the center of all things would be grotesque, and therefore it is essential that an insect almost infinitely small should not show conceit almost infinitely great."[3111]—

How slow has been the evolution of the globe itself! What myriads of ages between the first cooling of its mass and the beginnings of life![3112] Of what consequence is the turmoil of our ant-hill compared to the geological tragedy in which we have born no part, the strife between fire and water, the thickening of the earth's crust, formation of the universal sea, the construction and separation of continents! Previous to our historical record what a long history of vegetable and animal existence! What a succession of flora and fauna! What generations of marine organisms in forming the strata of sediment! What generations of plans in forming the deposits of coal! What transformations of climate to drive the pachydermata away from the pole!—And now comes Man, the latest of all, he is like the uppermost bud on the top of a tall ancient tree, flourishing there for a while, but, like the tree, destined to perish after a few seasons, when the increasing and foretold congelation allowing the tree to live shall force the tree to die. He is not alone on the branch; beneath him, around him, on a level with him, other buds shoot forth, born of the same sap; but he must not forget, if he would comprehend his own being, that, along with himself, other lives exist in his vicinity, graduated up to him and issuing from the same trunk. If he is unique he is not isolated, being an animal among other animals;[3113] in him and with them, substance, organization and birth, the formation and renewal of the functions, senses and appetites, are similar, while his superior intelligence, like their rudimentary intelligence, has for an indispensable organ a nervous matter whose structure is the same with him as with them.—Thus surrounded, brought forth and borne along by nature, is it to be supposed that in nature he is an empire within an empire? He is there as the part of a whole, by virtue of being a physical body, a chemical composition, an animated organism, a sociable animal, among other bodies, other compositions, other social animals, all analogous to him; and by virtue of these classifications, he is, like them, subject to laws.—For, if the first cause is unknown to us, and we dispute among ourselves to know what it is, whether innate or external, we affirm with certainty the mode of its action, and that it operates only according to fixed and general laws. Every circumstance, whatever it may be, is conditioned, and, its conditions being given, it never fails to conform to them. Of two links forming a chain, the first always draws on the second. There are laws:

* for numbers, forms, and motions,

* for the revolution of the planets and the fall of bodies,

* for the diffusion of light and the radiation of heat,

* for the attractions and repulsion of electricity,

* for chemical combinations, and

* for the birth, equilibrium and dissolution of organic bodies.

They exist for the birth, maintenance, and development of human societies, for the formation, conflict, and direction of ideas, passions and determinations of human individuals.[3114] In all this, Man is bound up with nature; hence, if we would comprehend him, we must observe him in her, after her, and like her, with the same independence, the same precautions, and in the same spirit. Through this remark alone the method of the moral sciences is fixed. In history, in psychology, in morals, in politics, the thinkers of the preceding century, Pascal, Bossuet, Descartes, Fenelon, Malebrance, and La Bruyere, all based their thoughts on dogma; It is plain to every one qualified to read them that their base is predetermined. Religion provided them with a complete theory of the moral order of things; according to this theory, latent or exposed, they described Man and accommodated their observations to the preconceived model. The writers of the eighteenth century rejected this method: they dwell on Man, on the observable Man, and on his surroundings; in their eyes, conclusions about the soul, its origin, and its destiny, must come afterwards and depend wholly, not on that which the Revelation provided, but on that which observation does and will provide. The moral sciences are now divorced from theology and attach themselves, as if a prolongation of them, to the physical sciences.



III. The Transformation Of History.

Voltaire.—Criticism and conceptions of unity.— Montesquieu.—An outline of social laws.

Through the separation from theology and the attachment to natural science the humanities become science. In history, every foundation on which we now build, is laid. Compare Bossuet's "Discours sur l'histoire universelle," with Voltaire's "Essai sur les moeurs," and we at once see how new and profound these foundations were.—The critics of religious dogma here establish their fundamental principle: in view of the fact that the laws of nature are universal and permanent it follows that, in the moral world, as in the physical world, there can be no exception from them, and that no arbitrary or foreign force intervenes to disturb the regular scientific procedures, which will provide a sure means of discerning myth from truth.[3115] Biblical exegesis is born out of this maxim, and not alone that of Voltaire, but also the critical explanatory methods of the future. [3116] Meanwhile they skeptically examine the annals of all people, carelessly cutting away and suppressing; too hastily, extravagantly, especially where the ancients are concerned, because their historical expedition is simply a scouting trip; but nevertheless with such an overall insight that we may still approve almost all the outlines of their summary chart. The (newly discovered) primitive Man was not a superior being, enlightened from above, but a coarse savage, naked and miserable, slow of growth, sluggish in progress, the most destitute and most needy of all animals, and, on this account, sociable, endowed like the bee and the beaver with an instinct for living in groups, and moreover an imitator like the monkey, but more intelligent, capable of passing by degrees from the language of gesticulation to that of articulation, beginning with a monosyllabic idiom which gradually increases in richness, precision and subtlety.[3117] How many centuries are requisite to attain to this primitive language! How many centuries more to the discovery of the most necessary arts, the use of fire, the fabrication of "hatches of silex and jade", the melting and refining of metals, the domestication of animals, the production and modification of edible plants, the formation of early civilized and durable communities, the discovery of writing, figures and astronomical periods.[3118] Only after a dawn of vast and infinite length do we see in Chaldea and in China the commencement of an accurate chronological history. There are five or six of these great independent centers of spontaneous civilization, China, Babylon, ancient Persia, India, Egypt, Phoenicia, and the two American empires. On collecting these fragments together, on reading such of their books as have been preserved, and which travelers bring to us, the five Kings of the Chinese, the Vedas of the Hindus, the Zoroastrians of the ancient Persians, we find that all contain religions, moral theories, philosophies and institutions, as worthy of study as our own. Three of these codes, those of India, China and the Muslims, still at the present time govern countries as vast as our Europe, and nations of equal importance. We must not, like Bossuet, "overlook the universe in a universal history," and subordinate humanity to a small population confined to a desolate region around the Dead Sea.[3119] Human history is a thing of natural growth like the rest; its direction is due to its own elements; no external force guides it, but the inward forces that create it; it is not tending to any prescribed end but developing a result. And the chief result is the progress of the human mind. "Amidst so many ravages and so much destruction, we see a love of order secretly animating the human species, and forestalling its utter ruin. It is one of the springs of nature ever recovering its energy; it is the source of the formation of the codes of nations; it causes the law and the ministers of the law to be respected in Tinquin and in the islands of Formosa as well as in Rome." Man thus possesses, said Voltaire, a "principle of Reason," namely, a "an instinct for engineering" suggesting to him useful implements;[3120] also an instinct of right suggesting to him his moral conceptions. These two instincts form a part of his makeup; he has them from his birth, "as birds have their feathers, and bears their hair. Hence he is perfectible through nature, and merely conforms to nature in improving his mind and in bettering his condition. Extend the idea farther along with Turgot and Condorcet,[3121] and, with all its exaggerations, we see arising, before the end of the century, our modern theory of progress, that which founds all our aspirations on the boundless advance of the sciences, on the increase of comforts which their applied discoveries constantly bring to the human condition, and on the increase of good sense which their discoveries, popularized, slowly deposit in the human brain.

A second principle has to be established to complete the foundations of history. Discovered by Montesquieu it still to-day serves as a constructive support, and, if we resume the work, as if on the substructure of the master's edifice, it is simply owing to accumulated erudition placing at our disposal more substantial and more abundant materials. In human society all parts are interdependent; no modification of one can take place without effecting proportionate changes in the others. Institutions, laws and customs are not mingled together, as in a heap, through chance or caprice, but connected one with the other through convenience or necessity, as in a harmony.[3122] According as authority is in all, in several or in one hand, according as the sovereign admits or rejects laws superior to himself, with intermediary powers below him, everything changes or tends to differ in meaning and in importance:

* public intelligence,

* education,

* the form of judgments,

* the nature and order of penalties,

* the condition of women,

* military organization

* and the nature and the extent of taxation.

A multitude of subordinate wheels depend on the great central wheel. For if the clock runs, it is owing to the harmony of its various parts, from which it follows that, on this harmony ceasing, the clock gets out of order. But, besides the principal spring, there are others which, acting on or in combination with it, give to each clock a special character and a peculiar movement. Such, in the first place, is climate, that is to say, the degree of heat or cold, humidity or dryness, with its infinite effects on man's physical and moral attributes, followed by its influence on political, civil and domestic servitude or freedom. Likewise the soil, according to its fertility, its position and its extent. Likewise the physical regime, according as a people is composed of hunters, shepherds or agriculturists. Likewise the fecundity of the race, and the consequent slow or rapid increase of population, and also the excess in number, now of males and now of females. And finally, likewise, are national character and religion.—All these causes, each added to the other, or each limited by the other, contribute together to form a total result, namely society. Simple or complex, stable or unstable, barbarous or civilized, this society contains within itself its explanations of its being. Strange as a social structure may be, it can be explained; also its institutions, however contradictory. Neither prosperity, nor decline, nor despotism, nor freedom, is the result of a throw of the dice, of luck or an unexpected turn of events caused by rash men. They are conditions we must live with. In any event, it is useful to understand them, either to improve our situation or bear it patiently, sometimes to carry out appropriate reforms, sometimes to renounce impracticable reforms, now to assume the authority necessary for success, and now the prudence making us abstain.



IV. The New Psychology.

The transformation of psychology.—Condillac.—The theory of sensation and of signs.

We now reach the core of moral science; the human being in general. The natural history of the mind must be dealt with, and this must be done as we have done the others, by discarding all prejudice and adhering to facts, taking analogy for our guide, beginning with origins and following, step by step, the development by which the infant, the savage, the uncultivated primitive man, is converted into the rational and cultivated man. Let us consider life at the outset, the animal at the lowest degree on the scale, the human being as soon as it is born. The first thing we find is perception, agreeable or disagreeable, and next a want, propensity or desire, and therefore at last, by means of a physiological mechanism, voluntary or involuntary movements, more or less accurate and more or less appropriate and coordinated. And this elementary fact is not merely primitive; it is, again, constant and universal, since we encounter it at each moment of each life, and in the most complicated as well as in the simplest. Let us accordingly ascertain whether it is not the thread with which all our mental cloth is woven, and whether its spontaneous unfolding, and the knotting of mesh after mesh, is not finally to produce the entire network of our thought and passion.—Condillac (1715-1780)provides us here with an incomparable clarity and precision with the answers to all our questions, which, however the revival of theological prejudice and German metaphysics was to bring into discredit in the beginning of the nineteenth century, but which fresh observation, the establishment of mental pathology, and dissection have now (in 1875) brought back, justified and completed.[3123] Locke had already stated that our ideas all originate in outward or inward experience. Condillac shows further that the actual elements of perception, memory, idea, imagination, judgment, reasoning, knowledge are sensations, properly so called, or revived sensations; our loftiest ideas are derived from no other material, for they can be reduced to signs which are themselves sensations of a certain kind. Sensations accordingly form the substance of human or of animal intelligence; but the former infinitely surpasses the latter in this, that, through the creation of signs, it succeeds in isolating, abstracting and noting fragments of sensations, that is to say, in forming, combining and employing general conceptions.—This being granted, we are able to verify all our ideas, for, through reflection, we can revive and reconstruct the ideas we had formed without any reflection. No abstract definitions exist at the outset; abstraction is ulterior and derivative; foremost in each science must be placed examples, experiences, evident facts; from these we derive our general idea. In the same way we derive from several general ideas of the same degree another general idea, and so on successively, step by step, always proceeding according to the natural order of things, by constant analysis, using expressive signs, as with mathematicians in passing from calculation by the fingers to calculation by numerals, and from this to calculation by letters, and who, calling upon the eyes to aid Reason, depict the inward analogy of quantities by the outward analogy of symbols. In this way science becomes complete by means of a properly organized language.[3124]—Through this reversal of the usual method we summarily dispose of disputes about words, escape the illusions of human speech, simplify study, remodel education, enhance discoveries, subject every assertion to control, and bring all truths within reach of all understandings.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse