"Why don't they get married?" cries a religious woman.
But what father of good sense would wish his son to be married at twenty years of age?
Is not the danger of these precocious unions apparent at all? It would seem as if marriage was a state very much at variance with natural habitude, seeing that it requires a special ripeness of judgment in those who conform to it. All the world knows what Rousseau said: "There must always be a period of libertinage in life either in one state or another. It is an evil leaven which sooner or later ferments."
Now what mother of a family is there who would expose her daughter to the risk of this fermentation when it has not yet taken place?
On the other hand, what need is there to justify a fact under whose domination all societies exist? Are there not in every country, as we have demonstrated, a vast number of men who live as honestly as possible, without being either celibates or married men?
Cannot these men, the religious women will always ask, abide in continence like the priests?
Nevertheless, we venture to observe that the vow of chastity is the most startling exception to the natural condition of man which society makes necessary; but continence is the great point in the priest's profession; he must be chaste, as the doctor must be insensible to physical sufferings, as the notary and the advocate insensible to the misery whose wounds are laid bare to their eyes, as the soldier to the sight of death which he meets on the field of battle. From the fact that the requirements of civilization ossify certain fibres of the heart and render callous certain membranes, we must not necessarily conclude that all men are bound to undergo this partial and exceptional death of the soul. This would be to reduce the human race to a condition of atrocious moral suicide.
But let it be granted that, in the atmosphere of a drawing-room the most Jansenistic in the world, appears a young man of twenty-eight who has scrupulously guarded his robe of innocence and is as truly virginal as the heath-cock which gourmands enjoy. Do you not see that the most austere of virtuous women would merely pay him a sarcastic compliment on his courage; the magistrate, the strictest that ever mounted a bench, would shake his head and smile, and all the ladies would hide themselves, so that he might not hear their laughter? When the heroic and exceptional young victim leaves the drawing-room, what a deluge of jokes bursts upon his innocent head? What a shower of insults! What is held to be more shameful in France than impotence, than coldness, than the absence of all passion, than simplicity?
The only king of France who would not have laughed was perhaps Louis XIII; but as for his roue of a father, he would perhaps have banished the young man, either under the accusation that he was no Frenchman or from a conviction that he was setting a dangerous example.
Strange contradiction! A young man is equally blamed if he passes life in Holy Land, to use an expression of bachelor life. Could it possibly be for the benefit of the honest women that the prefects of police, and mayors of all time have ordained that the passions of the public shall not manifest themselves until nightfall, and shall cease at eleven o'clock in the evening?
Where do you wish that our mass of celibates should sow their wild oats? And who is deceived on this point? as Figaro asks. Is it the governments or the governed? The social order is like the small boys who stop their ears at the theatre, so as not to hear the report of the firearms. Is society afraid to probe its wound or has it recognized the fact that evil is irremediable and things must be allowed to run their course? But there crops up here a question of legislation, for it is impossible to escape the material and social dilemma created by this balance of public virtue in the matter of marriage. It is not our business to solve this difficulty; but suppose for a moment that society in order to save a multitude of families, women and honest girls, found itself compelled to grant to certain licensed hearts the right of satisfying the desire of the celibates; ought not our laws then to raise up a professional body consisting of female Decii who devote themselves for the republic, and make a rampart of their bodies round the honest families? The legislators have been very wrong hitherto in disdaining to regulate the lot of courtesans.
XXIII. The courtesan is an institution if she is a necessity.
This question bristles with so many ifs and buts that we will bequeath it for solution to our descendants; it is right that we shall leave them something to do. Moreover, its discussion is not germane to this work; for in this, more than in any other age, there is a great outburst of sensibility; at no other epoch have there been so many rules of conduct, because never before has it been so completely accepted that pleasure comes from the heart. Now, what man of sentiment is there, what celibate is there, who, in the presence of four hundred thousand young and pretty women arrayed in the splendors of fortune and the graces of wit, rich in treasures of coquetry, and lavish in the dispensing of happiness, would wish to go—? For shame!
Let us put forth for the benefit of our future legislature in clear and brief axioms the result arrived at during the last few years.
XXIV. In the social order, inevitable abuses are laws of nature, in accordance with which mankind should frame their civil and political institutes.
XXV. "Adultery is like a commercial failure, with this difference," says Chamfort, "that it is the innocent party who has been ruined and who bears the disgrace."
In France the laws that relate to adultery and those that relate to bankruptcy require great modifications. Are they too indulgent? Do they sin on the score of bad principles? Caveant consules!
Come now, courageous athlete, who have taken as your task that which is expressed in the little apostrophe which our first Meditation addresses to people who have the charge of a wife, what are you going to say about it? We hope that this rapid review of the question does not make you tremble, that you are not one of those men whose nervous fluid congeals at the sight of a precipice or a boa constrictor! Well! my friend, he who owns soil has war and toil. The men who want your gold are more numerous than those who want your wife.
After all, husbands are free to take these trifles for arithmetical estimates, or arithmetical estimates for trifles. The illusions of life are the best things in life; that which is most respectable in life is our futile credulity. Do there not exist many people whose principles are merely prejudices, and who not having the force of character to form their own ideas of happiness and virtue accept what is ready made for them by the hand of legislators? Nor do we address those Manfreds who having taken off too many garments wish to raise all the curtains, that is, in moments when they are tortured by a sort of moral spleen. By them, however, the question is boldly stated and we know the extent of the evil.
It remains that we should examine the chances and changes which each man is likely to meet in marriage, and which may weaken him in that struggle from which our champion should issue victorious.
OF THE PREDESTINED.
Predestined means destined in advance for happiness or unhappiness. Theology has seized upon this word and employs it in relation to the happy; we give to the term a meaning which is unfortunate to our elect of which one can say in opposition to the Gospel, "Many are called, many are chosen."
Experience has demonstrated that there are certain classes of men more subject than others to certain infirmities; the Gascons are given to exaggeration and Parisians to vanity. As we see that apoplexy attacks people with short necks, or butchers are liable to carbuncle, as gout attacks the rich, health the poor, deafness kings, paralysis administrators, so it has been remarked that certain classes of husbands and their wives are more given to illegitimate passions. Thus they forestall the celibates, they form another sort of aristocracy. If any reader should be enrolled in one of these aristocratic classes he will, we hope, have sufficient presence of mind, he or at least his wife, instantly to call to mind the favorite axiom of Lhomond's Latin Grammar: "No rule without exception." A friend of the house may even recite the verse—
"Present company always excepted."
And then every one will have the right to believe, in petto, that he forms the exception. But our duty, the interest which we take in husbands and the keen desire which we have to preserve young and pretty women from the caprices and catastrophes which a lover brings in his train, force us to give notice to husbands that they ought to be especially on their guard.
In this recapitulation first are to be reckoned the husbands whom business, position or public office calls from their houses and detains for a definite time. It is these who are the standard-bearers of the brotherhood.
Among them, we would reckon magistrates, holding office during pleasure or for life, and obliged to remain at the Palace for the greater portion of the day; other functionaries sometimes find means to leave their office at business hours; but a judge or a public prosecutor, seated on his cushion of lilies, is bound even to die during the progress of the hearing. There is his field of battle.
It is the same with the deputies and peers who discuss the laws, of ministers who share the toils of the king, of secretaries who work with the ministers, of soldiers on campaign, and indeed with the corporal of the police patrol, as the letter of Lafleur, in the Sentimental Journey, plainly shows.
Next to the men who are obliged to be absent from home at certain fixed hours, come the men whom vast and serious undertakings leave not one minute for love-making; their foreheads are always wrinkled with anxiety, their conversation is generally void of merriment.
At the head of these unfortunates we must place the bankers, who toil in the acquisition of millions, whose heads are so full of calculations that the figures burst through their skulls and range themselves in columns of addition on their foreheads.
These millionaires, forgetting most of the time the sacred laws of marriage and the attention due to the tender flower which they have undertaken to cultivate, never think of watering it or of defending it from the heat and cold. They scarcely recognize the fact that the happiness of their spouses is in their keeping; if they ever do remember this, it is at table, when they see seated before them a woman in rich array, or when a coquette, fearing their brutal repulse, comes, gracious as Venus, to ask them for cash— Oh! it is then, that they recall, sometimes very vividly, the rights specified in the two hundred and thirteenth article of the civil code, and their wives are grateful to them; but like the heavy tariff which the law lays upon foreign merchandise, their wives suffer and pay the tribute, in virtue of the axiom which says: "There is no pleasure without pain."
The men of science who spend whole months in gnawing at the bone of an antediluvian monster, in calculating the laws of nature, when there is an opportunity to peer into her secrets, the Grecians and Latinists who dine on a thought of Tacitus, sup on a phrase of Thucydides, spend their life in brushing the dust from library shelves, in keeping guard over a commonplace book, or a papyrus, are all predestined. So great is their abstraction or their ecstasy, that nothing that goes on around them strikes their attention. Their unhappiness is consummated; in full light of noon they scarcely even perceive it. Oh happy men! a thousand times happy! Example: Beauzee, returning home after session at the Academy, surprises his wife with a German. "Did not I tell you, madame, that it was necessary that I shall go," cried the stranger. "My dear sir," interrupted the academician, "you ought to say that I should go!"
Then there come, lyre in hand, certain poets whose whole animal strength has left the ground floor and mounted to the upper story. They know better how to mount Pegasus than the beast of old Peter, they rarely marry, although they are accustomed to lavish the fury of their passions on some wandering or imaginary Chloris.
But the men whose noses are stained with snuff;
But those who, to their misfortune, have a perpetual cold in their head;
But the sailors who smoke or chew;
But those men whose dry and bilious temperament makes them always look as if they had eaten a sour apple;
But the men who in private life have certain cynical habits, ridiculous fads, and who always, in spite of everything, look unwashed;
But the husbands who have obtained the degrading name of "hen-pecked";
Finally the old men who marry young girls.
All these people are par excellence among the predestined.
There is a final class of the predestined whose ill-fortune is almost certain, we mean restless and irritable men, who are inclined to meddle and tyrannize, who have a great idea of domestic domination, who openly express their low ideas of women and who know no more about life than herrings about natural history. When these men marry, their homes have the appearance of a wasp whose head a schoolboy has cut off, and who dances here and there on a window pane. For this sort of predestined the present work is a sealed book. We do not write any more for those imbeciles, walking effigies, who are like the statues of a cathedral, than for those old machines of Marly which are too weak to fling water over the hedges of Versailles without being in danger of sudden collapse.
I rarely make my observations on the conjugal oddities with which the drawing-room is usually full, without recalling vividly a sight which I once enjoyed in early youth:
In 1819 I was living in a thatched cottage situated in the bosom of the delightful valley l'Isle-Adam. My hermitage neighbored on the park of Cassan, the sweetest of retreats, the most fascinating in aspect, the most attractive as a place to ramble in, the most cool and refreshing in summer, of all places created by luxury and art. This verdant country-seat owes its origin to a farmer-general of the good old times, a certain Bergeret, celebrated for his originality; who among other fantastic dandyisms adopted the habit of going to the opera, with his hair powdered in gold; he used to light up his park for his own solitary delectation and on one occasion ordered a sumptuous entertainment there, in which he alone took part. This rustic Sardanapalus returned from Italy so passionately charmed with the scenery of that beautiful country that, by a sudden freak of enthusiasm, he spent four or five millions in order to represent in his park the scenes of which he had pictures in his portfolio. The most charming contrasts of foliage, the rarest trees, long valleys, and prospects the most picturesque that could be brought from abroad, Borromean islands floating on clear eddying streams like so many rays, which concentrate their various lustres on a single point, on an Isola Bella, from which the enchanted eye takes in each detail at its leisure, or on an island in the bosom of which is a little house concealed under the drooping foliage of a century-old ash, an island fringed with irises, rose-bushes, and flowers which appears like an emerald richly set. Ah! one might rove a thousand leagues for such a place! The most sickly, the most soured, the most disgusted of our men of genius in ill health would die of satiety at the end of fifteen days, overwhelmed with the luscious sweetness of fresh life in such a spot.
The man who was quite regardless of the Eden which he thus possessed had neither wife nor children, but was attached to a large ape which he kept. A graceful turret of wood, supported by a sculptured column, served as a dwelling place for this vicious animal, who being kept chained and rarely petted by his eccentric master, oftener at Paris than in his country home, had gained a very bad reputation. I recollect seeing him once in the presence of certain ladies show almost as much insolence as if he had been a man. His master was obliged to kill him, so mischievous did he gradually become.
One morning while I was sitting under a beautiful tulip tree in flower, occupied in doing nothing but inhaling the lovely perfumes which the tall poplars kept confined within the brilliant enclosure, enjoying the silence of the groves, listening to the murmuring waters and the rustling leaves, admiring the blue gaps outlined above my head by clouds of pearly sheen and gold, wandering fancy free in dreams of my future, I heard some lout or other, who had arrived the day before from Paris, playing on a violin with the violence of a man who has nothing else to do. I would not wish for my worst enemy to hear anything so utterly in discord with the sublime harmony of nature. If the distant notes of Roland's Horn had only filled the air with life, perhaps—but a noisy fiddler like this, who undertakes to bring to you the expression of human ideas and the phraseology of music! This Amphion, who was walking up and down the dining-room, finished by taking a seat on the window-sill, exactly in front of the monkey. Perhaps he was looking for an audience. Suddenly I saw the animal quietly descend from his little dungeon, stand upon his hind feet, bow his head forward like a swimmer and fold his arms over his bosom like Spartacus in chains, or Catiline listening to Cicero. The banker, summoned by a sweet voice whose silvery tone recalled a boudoir not unknown to me, laid his violin on the window-sill and made off like a swallow who rejoins his companion by a rapid level swoop. The great monkey, whose chain was sufficiently long, approached the window and gravely took in hand the violin. I don't know whether you have ever had as I have the pleasure of seeing a monkey try to learn music, but at the present moment, when I laugh much less than I did in those careless days, I never think of that monkey without a smile; the semi-man began by grasping the instrument with his fist and by sniffing at it as if he were tasting the flavor of an apple. The snort from his nostrils probably produced a dull harmonious sound in the sonorous wood and then the orang-outang shook his head, turned over the violin, turned it back again, raised it up in the air, lowered it, held it straight out, shook it, put it to his ear, set it down, and picked it up again with a rapidity of movement peculiar to these agile creatures. He seemed to question the dumb wood with faltering sagacity and in his gestures there was something marvelous as well as infantile. At last he undertook with grotesque gestures to place the violin under his chin, while in one hand he held the neck; but like a spoiled child he soon wearied of a study which required skill not to be obtained in a moment and he twitched the strings without being able to draw forth anything but discordant sounds. He seemed annoyed, laid the violin on the window-sill and snatching up the bow he began to push it to and fro with violence, like a mason sawing a block of stone. This effort only succeeded in wearying his fastidious ears, and he took the bow with both hands and snapped it in two on the innocent instrument, source of harmony and delight. It seemed as if I saw before me a schoolboy holding under him a companion lying face downwards, while he pommeled him with a shower of blows from his fist, as if to punish him for some delinquency. The violin being now tried and condemned, the monkey sat down upon the fragments of it and amused himself with stupid joy in mixing up the yellow strings of the broken bow.
Never since that day have I been able to look upon the home of the predestined without comparing the majority of husbands to this orang-outang trying to play the violin.
Love is the most melodious of all harmonies and the sentiment of love is innate. Woman is a delightful instrument of pleasure, but it is necessary to know its trembling strings, to study the position of them, the timid keyboard, the fingering so changeful and capricious which befits it. How many monkeys—men, I mean—marry without knowing what a woman is! How many of the predestined proceed with their wives as the ape of Cassan did with his violin! They have broken the heart which they did not understand, as they might dim and disdain the amulet whose secret was unknown to them. They are children their whole life through, who leave life with empty hands after having talked about love, about pleasure, about licentiousness and virtue as slaves talk about liberty. Almost all of them married with the most profound ignorance of women and of love. They commenced by breaking in the door of a strange house and expected to be welcomed in this drawing-room. But the rudest artist knows that between him and his instrument, of wood, or of ivory, there exists a mysterious sort of friendship. He knows by experience that it takes years to establish this understanding between an inert matter and himself. He did not discover, at the first touch, the resources, the caprices, the deficiencies, the excellencies of his instrument. It did not become a living soul for him, a source of incomparable melody until he had studied for a long time; man and instrument did not come to understand each other like two friends, until both of them had been skillfully questioned and tested by frequent intercourse.
Can a man ever learn woman and know how to decipher this wondrous strain of music, by remaining through life like a seminarian in his cell? Is it possible that a man who makes it his business to think for others, to judge others, to rule others, to steal money from others, to feed, to heal, to wound others—that, in fact, any of our predestined, can spare time to study a woman? They sell their time for money, how can they give it away for happiness? Money is their god. No one can serve two masters at the same time. Is not the world, moreover, full of young women who drag along pale and weak, sickly and suffering? Some of them are the prey of feverish inflammations more or less serious, others lie under the cruel tyranny of nervous attacks more or less violent. All the husbands of these women belong to the class of the ignorant and the predestined. They have caused their own misfortune and expended as much pains in producing it as the husband artist would have bestowed in bringing to flower the late and delightful blooms of pleasure. The time which an ignorant man passes to consummate his own ruin is precisely that which a man of knowledge employs in the education of his happiness.
XXVI. Do not begin marriage by a violation of law.
In the preceding meditations we have indicated the extent of the evil with the reckless audacity of those surgeons, who boldly induce the formation of false tissues under which a shameful wound is concealed. Public virtue, transferred to the table of our amphitheatre, has lost even its carcass under the strokes of the scalpel. Lover or husband, have you smiled, or have you trembled at this evil? Well, it is with malicious delight that we lay this huge social burden on the conscience of the predestined. Harlequin, when he tried to find out whether his horse could be accustomed to go without food, was not more ridiculous than the men who wish to find happiness in their home and yet refuse to cultivate it with all the pains which it demands. The errors of women are so many indictments of egotism, neglect and worthlessness in husbands.
Yet it is yours, reader, it pertains to you, who have often condemned in another the crime which you yourself commit, it is yours to hold the balance. One of the scales is quite loaded, take care what you are going to put in the other. Reckon up the number of predestined ones who may be found among the total number of married people, weigh them, and you will then know where the evil is seated.
Let us try to penetrate more deeply into the causes of this conjugal sickliness.
The word love, when applied to the reproduction of the species, is the most hateful blasphemy which modern manners have taught us to utter. Nature, in raising us above the beasts by the divine gift of thought, had rendered us very sensitive to bodily sensations, emotional sentiment, cravings of appetite and passions. This double nature of ours makes of man both an animal and a lover. This distinction gives the key to the social problem which we are considering.
Marriage may be considered in three ways, politically, as well as from a civil and moral point of view: as a law, as a contract and as an institution. As a law, its object is a reproduction of the species; as a contract, it relates to the transmission of property; as an institution, it is a guarantee which all men give and by which all are bound: they have father and mother, and they will have children. Marriage, therefore, ought to be the object of universal respect. Society can only take into consideration those cardinal points, which, from a social point of view, dominate the conjugal question.
Most men have no other views in marrying, than reproduction, property or children; but neither reproduction nor property nor children constitutes happiness. The command, "Increase and multiply," does not imply love. To ask of a young girl whom we have seen fourteen times in fifteen days, to give you love in the name of law, the king and justice, is an absurdity worthy of the majority of the predestined.
Love is the union between natural craving and sentiment; happiness in marriage results in perfect union of soul between a married pair. Hence it follows that in order to be happy a man must feel himself bound by certain rules of honor and delicacy. After having enjoyed the benefit of the social law which consecrates the natural craving, he must obey also the secret laws of nature by which sentiments unfold themselves. If he stakes his happiness on being himself loved, he must himself love sincerely: nothing can resist a genuine passion.
But to feel this passion is always to feel desire. Can a man always desire his wife?
It is as absurd to deny that it is possible for a man always to love the same woman, as it would be to affirm that some famous musician needed several violins in order to execute a piece of music or compose a charming melody.
Love is the poetry of the senses. It has the destiny of all that which is great in man and of all that which proceeds from his thought. Either it is sublime, or it is not. When once it exists, it exists forever and goes on always increasing. This is the love which the ancients made the child of heaven and earth.
Literature revolves round seven situations; music expresses everything with seven notes; painting employs but seven colors; like these three arts, love perhaps founds itself on seven principles, but we leave this investigation for the next century to carry out.
If poetry, music and painting have found infinite forms of expression, pleasure should be even more diversified. For in the three arts which aid us in seeking, often with little success, truth by means of analogy, the man stands alone with his imagination, while love is the union of two bodies and of two souls. If the three principal methods upon which we rely for the expression of thought require preliminary study in those whom nature has made poets, musicians or painters, is it not obvious that, in order, to be happy, it is necessary to be initiated into the secrets of pleasure? All men experience the craving for reproduction, as all feel hunger and thirst; but all are not called to be lovers and gastronomists. Our present civilization has proved that taste is a science, and it is only certain privileged beings who have learned how to eat and drink. Pleasure considered as an art is still waiting for its physiologists. As for ourselves, we are contented with pointing out that ignorance of the principles upon which happiness is founded, is the sole cause of that misfortune which is the lot of all the predestined.
It is with the greatest timidity that we venture upon the publication of a few aphorisms which may give birth to this new art, as casts have created the science of geology; and we offer them for the meditation of philosophers, of young marrying people and of the predestined.
CATECHISM OF MARRIAGE.
XXVII. Marriage is a science.
XXVIII. A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected at least one woman.
XXIX. The fate of the home depends on the first night.
XXX. A woman deprived of her free will can never have the credit of making a sacrifice.
XXXI. In love, putting aside all consideration of the soul, the heart of a woman is like a lyre which does not reveal its secret, excepting to him who is a skillful player.
XXXII. Independently of any gesture of repulsion, there exists in the soul of all women a sentiment which tends, sooner or later, to proscribe all pleasure devoid of passionate feeling.
XXXIII. The interest of a husband as much as his honor forbids him to indulge a pleasure which he has not had the skill to make his wife desire.
XXXIV. Pleasure being caused by the union of sensation and sentiment, we can say without fear of contradiction that pleasures are a sort of material ideas.
XXXV. As ideas are capable of infinite combination, it ought to be the same with pleasures.
XXXVI. In the life of man there are no two moments of pleasure exactly alike, any more than there are two leaves of identical shape upon the same tree.
XXXVII. If there are differences between one moment of pleasure and another, a man can always be happy with the same woman.
XXXVIII. To seize adroitly upon the varieties of pleasure, to develop them, to impart to them a new style, an original expression, constitutes the genius of a husband.
XXXIX. Between two beings who do not love each other this genius is licentiousness; but the caresses over which love presides are always pure.
XL. The married woman who is the most chaste may be also the most voluptuous.
XLI. The most virtuous woman can be forward without knowing it.
XLII. When two human beings are united by pleasure, all social conventionalities are put aside. This situation conceals a reef on which many vessels are wrecked. A husband is lost, if he once forgets there is a modesty which is quite independent of coverings. Conjugal love ought never either to put on or to take away the bandage of its eyes, excepting at the due season.
XLIII. Power does not consist in striking with force or with frequency, but in striking true.
XLIV. To call a desire into being, to nourish it, to develop it, to bring it to full growth, to excite it, to satisfy it, is a complete poem of itself.
XLV. The progression of pleasures is from the distich to the quatrain, from the quatrain to the sonnet, from the sonnet to the ballad, from the ballad to the ode, from the ode to the cantata, from the cantata to the dithyramb. The husband who commences with dithyramb is a fool.
XLVI. Each night ought to have its menu.
XLVII. Marriage must incessantly contend with a monster which devours everything, that is, familiarity.
XLVIII. If a man cannot distinguish the difference between the pleasures of two consecutive nights, he has married too early.
XLIX. It is easier to be a lover than a husband, for the same reason that it is more difficult to be witty every day, than to say bright things from time to time.
L. A husband ought never to be the first to go to sleep and the last to awaken.
LI. The man who enters his wife's dressing-room is either a philosopher or an imbecile.
LII. The husband who leaves nothing to desire is a lost man.
LIII. The married woman is a slave whom one must know how to set upon a throne.
LIV. A man must not flatter himself that he knows his wife, and is making her happy unless he sees her often at his knees.
It is to the whole ignorant troop of our predestined, of our legions of snivelers, of smokers, of snuff-takers, of old and captious men that Sterne addressed, in Tristram Shandy, the letter written by Walter Shandy to his brother Toby, when this last proposed to marry the widow Wadman.
These celebrated instructions which the most original of English writers has comprised in this letter, suffice with some few exceptions to complete our observations on the manner in which husbands should behave to their wives; and we offer it in its original form to the reflections of the predestined, begging that they will meditate upon it as one of the most solid masterpieces of human wit.
"MY DEAR BROTHER TOBY,
"What I am going to say to thee is upon the nature of women, and of love-making to them; and perhaps it is as well for thee—tho' not so well for me—that thou hast occasion for a letter of instructions upon that head, and that I am able to write it to thee.
"Had it been the good pleasure of Him who disposes of our lots, and thou no sufferer by the knowledge, I had been well content that thou should'st have dipped the pen this moment into the ink instead of myself; but that not being the case—Mrs. Shandy being now close beside me, preparing for bed—I have thrown together without order, and just as they have come into my mind, such hints and documents as I deem may be of use to thee; intending, in this, to give thee a token of my love; not doubting, my dear Toby, of the manner in which it will be accepted.
"In the first place, with regard to all which concerns religion in the affair—though I perceive from a glow in my cheek, that I blush as I begin to speak to thee upon the subject, as well knowing, notwithstanding thy unaffected secrecy, how few of its offices thou neglectest—yet I would remind thee of one (during the continuance of thy courtship) in a particular manner, which I would not have omitted; and that is, never to go forth upon the enterprise, whether it be in the morning or in the afternoon, without first recommending thyself to the protection of Almighty God, that He may defend thee from the evil one.
"Shave the whole top of thy crown clean once at least every four or five days, but oftener if convenient; lest in taking off thy wig before her, thro' absence of mind, she should be able to discover how much has been cut away by Time—how much by Trim.
"'Twere better to keep ideas of baldness out of her fancy.
"Always carry it in thy mind, and act upon it as a sure maxim, Toby—
"'That women are timid.' And 'tis well they are—else there would be no dealing with them.
"Let not thy breeches be too tight, or hang too loose about thy thighs, like the trunk-hose of our ancestors.
"A just medium prevents all conclusions.
"Whatever thou hast to say, be it more or less, forget not to utter it in a low soft tone of voice. Silence, and whatever approaches it, weaves dreams of midnight secrecy into the brain: For this cause, if thou canst help it, never throw down the tongs and poker.
"Avoid all kinds of pleasantry and facetiousness in thy discourse with her, and do whatever lies in thy power at the same time, to keep from her all books and writings which tend there to: there are some devotional tracts, which if thou canst entice her to read over, it will be well: but suffer her not to look into Rabelais, or Scarron, or Don Quixote.
"They are all books which excite laughter; and thou knowest, dear Toby, that there is no passion so serious as lust.
"Stick a pin in the bosom of thy shirt, before thou enterest her parlor.
"And if thou art permitted to sit upon the same sofa with her, and she gives thee occasion to lay thy hand upon hers—beware of taking it—thou canst not lay thy hand upon hers, but she will feel the temper of thine. Leave that and as many other things as thou canst, quite undetermined; by so doing, thou wilt have her curiosity on thy side; and if she is not conquered by that, and thy Asse continues still kicking, which there is great reason to suppose—thou must begin, with first losing a few ounces of blood below the ears, according to the practice of the ancient Scythians, who cured the most intemperate fits of the appetite by that means.
"Avicenna, after this, is for having the part anointed with the syrup of hellebore, using proper evacuations and purges—and I believe rightly. But thou must eat little or no goat's flesh, nor red deer—nor even foal's flesh by any means; and carefully abstain—that is, as much as thou canst,—from peacocks, cranes, coots, didappers and water-hens.
"As for thy drink—I need not tell thee, it must be the infusion of Vervain and the herb Hanea, of which Aelian relates such effects; but if thy stomach palls with it—discontinue it from time to time, taking cucumbers, melons, purslane, water-lilies, woodbine, and lettuce, in the stead of them.
"There is nothing further for thee, which occurs to me at present—
"Unless the breaking out of a fresh war.—So wishing everything, dear Toby, for the best,
"I rest thy affectionate brother,
Under the present circumstances Sterne himself would doubtless have omitted from his letter the passage about the ass; and, far from advising the predestined to be bled he would have changed the regimen of cucumbers and lettuces for one eminently substantial. He recommended the exercise of economy, in order to attain to the power of magic liberality in the moment of war, thus imitating the admirable example of the English government, which in time of peace has two hundred ships in commission, but whose shipwrights can, in time of need, furnish double that quantity when it is desirable to scour the sea and carry off a whole foreign navy.
When a man belongs to the small class of those who by a liberal education have been made masters of the domain of thought, he ought always, before marrying, to examine his physical and moral resources. To contend advantageously with the tempest which so many attractions tend to raise in the heart of his wife, a husband ought to possess, besides the science of pleasure and a fortune which saves him from sinking into any class of the predestined, robust health, exquisite tact, considerable intellect, too much good sense to make his superiority felt, excepting on fit occasions, and finally great acuteness of hearing and sight.
If he has a handsome face, a good figure, a manly air, and yet falls short of all these promises, he will sink into the class of the predestined. On the other hand, a husband who is plain in features but has a face full of expression, will find himself, if his wife once forgets his plainness, in a situation most favorable for his struggle against the genius of evil.
He will study (and this is a detail omitted from the letter of Sterne) to give no occasion for his wife's disgust. Also, he will resort moderately to the use of perfumes, which, however, always expose beauty to injurious suspicions.
He ought as carefully to study how to behave and how to pick out subjects of conversation, as if he were courting the most inconstant of women. It is for him that a philosopher has made the following reflection:
"More than one woman has been rendered unhappy for the rest of her life, has been lost and dishonored by a man whom she has ceased to love, because he took off his coat awkwardly, trimmed one of his nails crookedly, put on a stocking wrong side out, and was clumsy with a button."
One of the most important of his duties will be to conceal from his wife the real state of his fortune, so that he may satisfy her fancies and caprices as generous celibates are wont to do.
Then the most difficult thing of all, a thing to accomplish which superhuman courage is required, is to exercise the most complete control over the ass of which Sterne speaks. This ass ought to be as submissive as a serf of the thirteenth century was to his lord; to obey and be silent, advance and stop, at the slightest word.
Even when equipped with these advantages, a husband enters the lists with scarcely any hope of success. Like all the rest, he still runs the risk of becoming, for his wife, a sort of responsible editor.
"And why!" will exclaim certain good but small-minded people, whose horizon is limited to the tip of their nose, "why is it necessary to take so much pains in order to love, and why is it necessary to go to school beforehand, in order to be happy in your own home? Does the government intend to institute a professional chair of love, just as it has instituted a chair of law?"
This is our answer:
These multiplied rules, so difficult to deduce, these minute observations, these ideas which vary so as to suit different temperaments, are innate, so to speak, in the heart of those who are born for love; just as his feeling of taste and his indescribable felicity in combining ideas are natural to the soul of the poet, the painter or the musician. The men who would experience any fatigue in putting into practice the instructions given in this Meditation are naturally predestined, just as he who cannot perceive the connection which exists between two different ideas is an imbecile. As a matter of fact, love has its great men although they be unrecognized, as war has its Napoleons, poetry its Andre Cheniers and philosophy its Descartes.
This last observation contains the germ of a true answer to the question which men from time immemorial have been asking: Why are happy marriages so very rare?
This phenomenon of the moral world is rarely met with for the reason that people of genius are rarely met with. A passion which lasts is a sublime drama acted by two performers of equal talent, a drama in which sentiments form the catastrophe, where desires are incidents and the lightest thought brings a change of scene. Now how is it possible, in this herd of bimana which we call a nation, to meet, on any but rare occasions, a man and a woman who possess in the same degree the genius of love, when men of talent are so thinly sown and so rare in all other sciences, in the pursuit of which the artist needs only to understand himself, in order to attain success?
Up to the present moment, we have been confronted with making a forecast of the difficulties, to some degree physical, which two married people have to overcome, in order to be happy; but what a task would be ours if it were necessary to unfold the startling array of moral obligations which spring from their differences in character? Let us cry halt! The man who is skillful enough to guide the temperament will certainly show himself master of the soul of another.
We will suppose that our model husband fulfills the primary conditions necessary, in order that he may dispute or maintain possession of his wife, in spite of all assailants. We will admit that he is not to be reckoned in any of the numerous classes of the predestined which we have passed in review. Let us admit that he has become imbued with the spirit of all our maxims; that he has mastered the admirable science, some of whose precepts we have made known; that he has married wisely, that he knows his wife, that he is loved by her; and let us continue the enumeration of all those general causes which might aggravate the critical situation which we shall represent him as occupying for the instruction of the human race.
OF BOARDING SCHOOLS.
If you have married a young lady whose education has been carried on at a boarding school, there are thirty more obstacles to your happiness, added to all those which we have already enumerated, and you are exactly like a man who thrusts his hands into a wasp's nest.
Immediately, therefore, after the nuptial blessing has been pronounced, without allowing yourself to be imposed upon by the innocent ignorance, the frank graces and the modest countenance of your wife, you ought to ponder well and faithfully follow out the axioms and precepts which we shall develop in the second part of this book. You should even put into practice the rigors prescribed in the third part, by maintaining an active surveillance, a paternal solicitude at all hours, for the very day after your marriage, perhaps on the evening of your wedding day, there is danger in the house.
I mean to say that you should call to mind the secret and profound instruction which the pupils have acquired de natura rerum,—of the nature of things. Did Lapeyrouse, Cook or Captain Peary ever show so much ardor in navigating the ocean towards the Poles as the scholars of the Lycee do in approaching forbidden tracts in the ocean of pleasure? Since girls are more cunning, cleverer and more curious than boys, their secret meetings and their conversations, which all the art of their teachers cannot check, are necessarily presided over by a genius a thousand times more informal than that of college boys. What man has ever heard the moral reflections and the corrupting confidences of these young girls? They alone know the sports at which honor is lost in advance, those essays in pleasure, those promptings in voluptuousness, those imitations of bliss, which may be compared to the thefts made by greedy children from a dessert which is locked up. A girl may come forth from her boarding school a virgin, but never chaste. She will have discussed, time and time again at secret meetings, the important question of lovers, and corruption will necessarily have overcome her heart or her spirit.
Nevertheless, we will admit that your wife has not participated in these virginal delights, in these premature deviltries. Is she any better because she has never had any voice in the secret councils of grown-up girls? No! She will, in any case, have contracted a friendship with other young ladies, and our computation will be modest, if we attribute to her no more than two or three intimate friends. Are you certain that after your wife has left boarding school, her young friends have not there been admitted to those confidences, in which an attempt is made to learn in advance, at least by analogy, the pastimes of doves? And then her friends will marry; you will have four women to watch instead of one, four characters to divine, and you will be at the mercy of four husbands and a dozen celibates, of whose life, principles and habits you are quite ignorant, at a time when our meditations have revealed to you certain coming of a day when you will have your hands full with the people whom you married with your wife. Satan alone could have thought of placing a girl's boarding school in the middle of a large town! Madame Campan had at least the wisdom to set up her famous institution at Ecouen. This sensible precaution proved that she was no ordinary woman. There, her young ladies did not gaze upon the picture gallery of the streets, the huge and grotesque figures and the obscene words drawn by some evil-spirited pencil. They had not perpetually before their eyes the spectacle of human infirmities exhibited at every barrier in France, and treacherous book-stalls did not vomit out upon them in secret the poison of books which taught evil and set passion on fire. This wise school-mistress, moreover, could only at Ecouen preserve a young lady for you spotless and pure, if, even there, that were possible. Perhaps you hope to find no difficulty in preventing your wife from seeing her school friends? What folly! She will meet them at the ball, at the theatre, out walking and in the world at large; and how many services two friends can render each other! But we will meditate upon this new subject of alarm in its proper place and order.
Nor is this all; if your mother-in-law sent her daughter to a boarding school, do you believe that this was out of solicitude for her daughter? A girl of twelve or fifteen is a terrible Argus; and if your mother-in-law did not wish to have an Argus in her house I should be inclined to suspect that your mother-in-law belonged undoubtedly to the most shady section of our honest women. She will, therefore, prove for her daughter on every occasion either a deadly example or a dangerous adviser.
Let us stop here!—The mother-in-law requires a whole Meditation for herself.
So that, whichever way you turn, the bed of marriage, in this connection, is equally full of thorns.
Before the Revolution, several aristocratic families used to send their daughters to the convent. This example was followed by a number of people who imagined that in sending their daughters to a school where the daughters of some great noblemen were sent, they would assume the tone and manners of aristocrats. This delusion of pride was, from the first, fatal to domestic happiness; for the convents had all the disadvantages of other boarding schools. The idleness that prevailed there was more terrible. The cloister bars inflame the imagination. Solitude is a condition very favorable to the devil; and one can scarcely imagine what ravages the most ordinary phenomena of life are able to leave in the soul of these young girls, dreamy, ignorant and unoccupied.
Some of them, by reason of their having indulged idle fancies, are led into curious blunders. Others, having indulged in exaggerated ideas of married life, say to themselves, as soon as they have taken a husband, "What! Is this all?" In every way, the imperfect instruction, which is given to girls educated in common, has in it all the danger of ignorance and all the unhappiness of science.
A young girl brought up at home by her mother or by her virtuous, bigoted, amiable or cross-grained old aunt; a young girl, whose steps have never crossed the home threshold without being surrounded by chaperons, whose laborious childhood has been wearied by tasks, albeit they were profitless, to whom in short everything is a mystery, even the Seraphin puppet show, is one of those treasures which are met with, here and there in the world, like woodland flowers surrounded by brambles so thick that mortal eye cannot discern them. The man who owns a flower so sweet and pure as this, and leaves it to be cultivated by others, deserves his unhappiness a thousand times over. He is either a monster or a fool.
And if in the preceding Meditation we have succeeded in proving to you that by far the greater number of men live in the most absolute indifference to their personal honor, in the matter of marriage, is it reasonable to believe that any considerable number of them are sufficiently rich, sufficiently intellectual, sufficiently penetrating to waste, like Burchell in the Vicar of Wakefield, one or two years in studying and watching the girls whom they mean to make their wives, when they pay so little attention to them after conjugal possession during that period of time which the English call the honeymoon, and whose influence we shall shortly discuss?
Since, however, we have spent some time in reflecting upon this important matter, we would observe that there are many methods of choosing more or less successfully, even though the choice be promptly made.
It is, for example, beyond doubt that the probabilities will be in your favor:
I. If you have chosen a young lady whose temperament resembles that of the women of Louisiana or the Carolinas.
To obtain reliable information concerning the temperament of a young person, it is necessary to put into vigorous operation the system which Gil Blas prescribes, in dealing with chambermaids, a system employed by statesmen to discover conspiracies and to learn how the ministers have passed the night.
II. If you choose a young lady who, without being plain, does not belong to the class of pretty women.
We regard it as an infallible principle that great sweetness of disposition united in a woman with plainness that is not repulsive, form two indubitable elements of success in securing the greatest possible happiness to the home.
But would you learn the truth? Open your Rousseau; for there is not a single question of public morals whose trend he has not pointed out in advance. Read:
"Among people of fixed principles the girls are careless, the women severe; the contrary is the case among people of no principle."
To admit the truth enshrined in this profound and truthful remark is to conclude, that there would be fewer unhappy marriages if men wedded their mistresses. The education of girls requires, therefore, important modifications in France. Up to this time French laws and French manners instituted to distinguish between a misdemeanor and a crime, have encouraged crime. In reality the fault committed by a young girl is scarcely ever a misdemeanor, if you compare it with that committed by the married woman. Is there any comparison between the danger of giving liberty to girls and that of allowing it to wives? The idea of taking a young girl on trial makes more serious men think than fools laugh. The manners of Germany, of Switzerland, of England and of the United States give to young ladies such rights as in France would be considered the subversion of all morality; and yet it is certain that in these countries there are fewer unhappy marriages than in France.
LV. "Before a woman gives herself entirely up to her lover, she ought to consider well what his love has to offer her. The gift of her esteem and confidence should necessarily precede that of her heart."
Sparkling with truth as they are, these lines probably filled with light the dungeon, in the depths of which Mirabeau wrote them; and the keen observation which they bear witness to, although prompted by the most stormy of his passions, has none the less influence even now in solving the social problem on which we are engaged. In fact, a marriage sealed under the auspices of the religious scrutiny which assumes the existence of love, and subjected to the atmosphere of that disenchantment which follows on possession, ought naturally to be the most firmly-welded of all human unions.
A woman then ought never to reproach her husband for the legal right, in virtue of which she belongs to him. She ought not to find in this compulsory submission any excuse for yielding to a lover, because some time after her marriage she has discovered in her own heart a traitor whose sophisms seduce her by asking twenty times an hour, "Wherefore, since she has been given against her will to a man whom she does not love, should she not give herself, of her own free-will, to a man whom she does love." A woman is not to be tolerated in her complaints concerning faults inseparable from human nature. She has, in advance, made trial of the tyranny which they exercise, and taken sides with the caprices which they exhibit.
A great many young girls are likely to be disappointed in their hopes of love!—But will it not be an immense advantage to them to have escaped being made the companions of men whom they would have had the right to despise?
Certain alarmists will exclaim that such an alteration in our manners would bring about a public dissoluteness which would be frightful; that the laws, and the customs which prompt the laws, could not after all authorize scandal and immorality; and if certain unavoidable abuses do exist, at least society ought not to sanction them.
It is easy to say, in reply, first of all, that the proposed system tends to prevent those abuses which have been hitherto regarded as incapable of prevention; but, the calculations of our statistics, inexact as they are, have invariably pointed out a widely prevailing social sore, and our moralists may, therefore, be accused of preferring the greater to the lesser evil, the violation of the principle on which society is constituted, to the granting of a certain liberty to girls; and dissoluteness in mothers of families, such as poisons the springs of public education and brings unhappiness upon at least four persons, to dissoluteness in a young girl, which only affects herself or at the most a child besides. Let the virtue of ten virgins be lost rather than forfeit this sanctity of morals, that crown of honor with which the mother of a family should be invested! In the picture presented by a young girl abandoned by her betrayer, there is something imposing, something indescribably sacred; here we see oaths violated, holy confidences betrayed, and on the ruins of a too facile virtue innocence sits in tears, doubting everything, because compelled to doubt the love of a father for his child. The unfortunate girl is still innocent; she may yet become a faithful wife, a tender mother, and, if the past is mantled in clouds, the future is blue as the clear sky. Shall we not find these tender tints in the gloomy pictures of loves which violate the marriage law? In the one, the woman is the victim, in the other, she is a criminal. What hope is there for the unfaithful wife? If God pardons the fault, the most exemplary life cannot efface, here below, its living consequences. If James I was the son of Rizzio, the crime of Mary lasted as long as did her mournful though royal house, and the fall of the Stuarts was the justice of God.
But in good faith, would the emancipation of girls set free such a host of dangers?
It is very easy to accuse a young person for suffering herself to be deceived, in the desire to escape, at any price, from the condition of girlhood; but such an accusation is only just in the present condition of our manners. At the present day, a young person knows nothing about seduction and its snares, she relies altogether upon her weakness, and mingling with this reliance the convenient maxims of the fashionable world, she takes as her guide while under the control of those desires which everything conspires to excite, her own deluding fancies, which prove a guide all the more treacherous, because a young girl rarely ever confides to another the secret thoughts of her first love.
If she were free, an education free from prejudices would arm her against the love of the first comer. She would, like any one else, be very much better able to meet dangers of which she knew, than perils whose extent had been concealed from her. And, moreover, is it necessary for a girl to be any the less under the watchful eye of her mother, because she is mistress of her own actions? Are we to count as nothing the modesty and the fears which nature has made so powerful in the soul of a young girl, for the very purpose of preserving her from the misfortune of submitting to a man who does not love her? Again, what girl is there so thoughtless as not to discern, that the most immoral man wishes his wife to be a woman of principle, as masters desire their servants to be perfect; and that, therefore, her virtue is the richest and the most advantageous of all possessions?
After all, what is the question before us? For what do you think we are stipulating? We are making a claim for five or six hundred thousand maidens, protected by their instinctive timidity, and by the high price at which they rate themselves; they understand how to defend themselves, just as well as they know how to sell themselves. The eighteen millions of human beings, whom we have excepted from this consideration, almost invariably contract marriages in accordance with the system which we are trying to make paramount in our system of manners; and as to the intermediary classes by which we poor bimana are separated from the men of privilege who march at the head of a nation, the number of castaway children which these classes, although in tolerably easy circumstances, consign to misery, goes on increasing since the peace, if we may believe M. Benoiston de Chateauneuf, one of the most courageous of those savants who have devoted themselves to the arid yet useful study of statistics. We may guess how deep-seated is the social hurt, for which we propound a remedy, if we reckon the number of natural children which statistics reveal, and the number of illicit adventures whose evidence in high society we are forced to suspect. But it is difficult here to make quite plain all the advantages which would result from the emancipation of young girls. When we come to observe the circumstances which attend a marriage, such as our present manners approve of, judicious minds must appreciate the value of that system of education and liberty, which we demand for young girls, in the name of reason and nature. The prejudice which we in France entertain in favor of the virginity of brides is the most silly of all those which still survive among us. The Orientals take their brides without distressing themselves about the past and lock them up in order to be more certain about the future; the French put their daughters into a sort of seraglio defended by their mothers, by prejudice, and by religious ideas, and give the most complete liberty to their wives, thus showing themselves much more solicitous about a woman's past than about her future. The point we are aiming at is to bring about a reversal of our system of manners. If we did so we should end, perhaps, by giving to faithful married life all the flavor and the piquancy which women of to-day find in acts of infidelity.
But this discussion would take us far from our subject, if it led us to examine, in all its details, the vast improvement in morals which doubtless will distinguish twentieth century France; for morals are reformed only very gradually! Is it not necessary, in order to produce the slightest change, that the most daring dreams of the past century become the most trite ideas of the present one? We have touched upon this question merely in a trifling mood, for the purposes of showing that we are not blind to its importance, and of bequeathing also to posterity the outline of a work, which they may complete. To speak more accurately there is a third work to be composed; the first concerns courtesans, while the second is the physiology of pleasure!
"When there are ten of us, we cross ourselves."
In the present state of our morals and of our imperfect civilization, a problem crops up which for the moment is insoluble, and which renders superfluous all discussion on the art of choosing a wife; we commend it, as we have done all the others, to the meditation of philosophers.
It has not yet been decided whether a wife is forced into infidelity by the impossibility of obtaining any change, or by the liberty which is allowed her in this connection.
Moreover, as in this work we pitch upon a man at the moment that he is newly married, we declare that if he has found a wife of sanguine temperament, of vivid imagination, of a nervous constitution or of an indolent character, his situation cannot fail to be extremely serious.
A man would find himself in a position of danger even more critical if his wife drank nothing but water [see the Meditation entitled Conjugal Hygiene]; but if she had some talent for singing, or if she were disposed to take cold easily, he should tremble all the time; for it must be remembered that women who sing are at least as passionate as women whose mucous membrane shows extreme delicacy.
Again, this danger would be aggravated still more if your wife were less than seventeen; or if, on the other hand, her general complexion were pale and dull, for this sort of woman is almost always artificial.
But we do not wish to anticipate here any description of the terrors which threaten husbands from the symptoms of unhappiness which they read in the character of their wives. This digression has already taken us too far from the subject of boarding schools, in which so many catastrophes are hatched, and from which issue so many young girls incapable of appreciating the painful sacrifices by which the honest man who does them the honor of marrying them, has obtained opulence; young girls eager for the enjoyments of luxury, ignorant of our laws, ignorant of our manners, claim with avidity the empire which their beauty yields them, and show themselves quite ready to turn away from the genuine utterances of the heart, while they readily listen to the buzzing of flattery.
This Meditation should plant in the memory of all who read it, even those who merely open the book for the sake of glancing at it or distracting their mind, an intense repugnance for young women educated in a boarding school, and if it succeeds in doing so, its services to the public will have already proved considerable.
OF THE HONEYMOON.
If our meditations prove that it is almost impossible for a married woman to remain virtuous in France, our enumeration of the celibates and the predestined, our remarks upon the education of girls, and our rapid survey of the difficulties which attend the choice of a wife will explain up to a certain point this national frailty. Thus, after indicating frankly the aching malady under which the social slate is laboring, we have sought for the causes in the imperfection of the laws, in the irrational condition of our manners, in the incapacity of our minds, and in the contradictions which characterize our habits. A single point still claims our observation, and that is the first onslaught of the evil we are confronting.
We reach this first question on approaching the high problems suggested by the honeymoon; and although we find here the starting point of all the phenomena of married life, it appears to us to be the brilliant link round which are clustered all our observations, our axioms, our problems, which have been scattered deliberately among the wise quips which our loquacious meditations retail. The honeymoon would seem to be, if we may use the expression, the apogee of that analysis to which we must apply ourselves, before engaging in battle our two imaginary champions.
The expression honeymoon is an Anglicism, which has become an idiom in all languages, so gracefully does it depict the nuptial season which is so fugitive, and during which life is nothing but sweetness and rapture; the expression survives as illusions and errors survive, for it contains the most odious of falsehoods. If this season is presented to us as a nymph crowned with fresh flowers, caressing as a siren, it is because in it is unhappiness personified and unhappiness generally comes during the indulgence of folly.
The married couple who intend to love each other during their whole life have no notion of a honeymoon; for them it has no existence, or rather its existence is perennial; they are like the immortals who do not understand death. But the consideration of this happiness is not germane to our book; and for our readers marriage is under the influence of two moons, the honeymoon and the Red-moon. This last terminates its course by a revolution, which changes it to a crescent; and when once it rises upon a home its light there is eternal.
How can the honeymoon rise upon two beings who cannot possibly love each other?
How can it set, when once it has risen?
Have all marriages their honeymoon?
Let us proceed to answer these questions in order.
It is in this connection that the admirable education which we give to girls, and the wise provisions made by the law under which men marry, bear all their fruit. Let us examine the circumstances which precede and attend those marriages which are least disastrous.
The tone of our morals develops in the young girl whom you make your wife a curiosity which is naturally excessive; but as mothers in France pique themselves on exposing their girls every day to the fire which they do not allow to scorch them, this curiosity has no limit.
Her profound ignorance of the mysteries of marriage conceals from this creature, who is as innocent as she is crafty, a clear view of the dangers by which marriage is followed; and as marriage is incessantly described to her as an epoch in which tyranny and liberty equally prevail, and in which enjoyment and supremacy are to be indulged in, her desires are intensified by all her interest in an existence as yet unfulfilled; for her to marry is to be called up from nothingness into life!
If she has a disposition for happiness, for religion, for morality, the voices of the law and of her mother have repeated to her that this happiness can only come to her from you.
Obedience if it is not virtue, is at least a necessary thing with her; for she expects everything from you. In the first place, society sanctions the slavery of a wife, but she does not conceive even the wish to be free, for she feels herself weak, timid and ignorant.
Of course she tries to please you, unless a chance error is committed, or she is seized by a repugnance which it would be unpardonable in you not to divine. She tries to please because she does not know you.
In a word, in order to complete your triumph, you take her at a moment when nature demands, often with some violence, the pleasure of which you are the dispenser. Like St. Peter you hold the keys of Paradise.
I would ask of any reasonable creature, would a demon marshal round the angel whose ruin he had vowed all the elements of disaster with more solicitude than that with which good morals conspire against the happiness of a husband? Are you not a king surrounded by flatterers?
This young girl, with all her ignorance and all her desires, committed to the mercy of a man who, even though he be in love, cannot know her shrinking and secret emotions, will submit to him with a certain sense of shame, and will be obedient and complaisant so long as her young imagination persuades her to expect the pleasure or the happiness of that morrow which never dawns.
In this unnatural situation social laws and the laws of nature are in conflict, but the young girl obediently abandons herself to it, and, from motives of self-interest, suffers in silence. Her obedience is a speculation; her complaisance is a hope; her devotion to you is a sort of vocation, of which you reap the advantage; and her silence is generosity. She will remain the victim of your caprices so long as she does not understand them; she will suffer from the limitations of your character until she has studied it; she will sacrifice herself without love, because she believed in the show of passion you made at the first moment of possession; she will no longer be silent when once she has learned the uselessness of her sacrifices.
And then the morning arrives when the inconsistencies which have prevailed in this union rise up like branches of a tree bent down for a moment under a weight which has been gradually lightened. You have mistaken for love the negative attitude of a young girl who was waiting for happiness, who flew in advance of your desires, in the hope that you would go forward in anticipation of hers, and who did not dare to complain of the secret unhappiness, for which she at first accused herself. What man could fail to be the dupe of a delusion prepared at such long range, and in which a young innocent woman is at once the accomplice and the victim? Unless you were a divine being it would be impossible for you to escape the fascination with which nature and society have surrounded you. Is not a snare set in everything which surrounds you on the outside and influences you within? For in order to be happy, is it not necessary to control the impetuous desires of your senses? Where is the powerful barrier to restrain her, raised by the light hand of a woman whom you wish to please, because you do not possess? Moreover, you have caused your troops to parade and march by, when there was no one at the window; you have discharged your fireworks whose framework alone was left, when your guest arrived to see them. Your wife, before the pledges of marriage, was like a Mohican at the Opera: the teacher becomes listless, when the savage begins to understand.
LVI. In married life, the moment when two hearts come to understand each other is sudden as a flash of lightning, and never returns, when once it is passed.
This first entrance into life of two persons, during which a woman is encouraged by the hope of happiness, by the still fresh sentiment of her married duty, by the wish to please, by the sense of virtue which begins to be so attractive as soon as it shows love to be in harmony with duty, is called the honeymoon. How can it last long between two beings who are united for their whole life, unless they know each other perfectly? If there is one thing which ought to cause astonishment it is this, that the deplorable absurdities which our manners heap up around the nuptial couch give birth to so few hatreds! But that the life of the wise man is a calm current, and that of the prodigal a cataract; that the child, whose thoughtless hands have stripped the leaves from every rose upon his pathway, finds nothing but thorns on his return, that the man who in his wild youth has squandered a million, will never enjoy, during his life, the income of forty thousand francs, which this million would have provided—are trite commonplaces, if one thinks of the moral theory of life; but new discoveries, if we consider the conduct of most men. You may see here a true image of all honeymoons; this is their history, this is the plain fact and not the cause that underlies it.
But that men endowed with a certain power of thought by a privileged education, and accustomed to think deliberately, in order to shine in politics, literature, art, commerce or private life—that these men should all marry with the intention of being happy, of governing a wife, either by love or by force, and should all tumble into the same pitfall and should become foolish, after having enjoyed a certain happiness for a certain time,—this is certainly a problem whose solution is to be found rather in the unknown depths of the human soul, than in the quasi physical truths, on the basis of which we have hitherto attempted to explain some of these phenomena. The risky search for the secret laws, which almost all men are bound to violate without knowing it, under these circumstances, promises abundant glory for any one even though he make shipwreck in the enterprise upon which we now venture to set forth. Let us then make the attempt.
In spite of all that fools have to say about the difficulty they have had in explaining love, there are certain principles relating to it as infallible as those of geometry; but in each character these are modified according to its tendency; hence the caprices of love, which are due to the infinite number of varying temperaments. If we were permitted never to see the various effects of light without also perceiving on what they were based, many minds would refuse to believe in the movement of the sun and in its oneness. Let the blind men cry out as they like; I boast with Socrates, although I am not as wise as he was, that I know of naught save love; and I intend to attempt the formulation of some of its precepts, in order to spare married people the trouble of cudgeling their brains; they would soon reach the limit of their wit.
Now all the preceding observations may be resolved into a single proposition, which may be considered either the first or last term in this secret theory of love, whose statement would end by wearying us, if we did not bring it to a prompt conclusion. This principle is contained in the following formula:
LVII. Between two beings susceptible of love, the duration of passion is in proportion to the original resistance of the woman, or to the obstacles which the accidents of social life put in the way of your happiness.
If you have desired your object only for one day, your love perhaps will not last more than three nights. Where must we seek for the causes of this law? I do not know. If you cast your eyes around you, you will find abundant proof of this rule; in the vegetable world the plants which take the longest time to grow are those which promise to have the longest life; in the moral order of things the works produced yesterday die to-morrow; in the physical world the womb which infringes the laws of gestation bears dead fruit. In everything, a work which is permanent has been brooded over by time for a long period. A long future requires a long past. If love is a child, passion is a man. This general law, which all men obey, to which all beings and all sentiments must submit, is precisely that which every marriage infringes, as we have plainly shown. This principle has given rise to the love tales of the Middle Ages; the Amadises, the Lancelots, the Tristans of ballad literature, whose constancy may justly be called fabulous, are allegories of the national mythology which our imitation of Greek literature nipped in the bud. These fascinating characters, outlined by the imagination of the troubadours, set their seal and sanction upon this truth.
LVIII. We do not attach ourselves permanently to any possessions, excepting in proportion to the trouble, toil and longing which they have cost us.
All our meditations have revealed to us about the basis of the primordial law of love is comprised in the following axiom, which is at the same time the principle and the result of the law.
LIX. In every case we receive only in proportion to what we give.
This last principle is so self-evident that we will not attempt to demonstrate it. We merely add a single observation which appears to us of some importance. The writer who said: "Everything is true, and everything is false," announced a fact which the human intellect, naturally prone to sophism, interprets as it chooses, but it really seems as though human affairs have as many facets as there are minds that contemplate them. This fact may be detailed as follows:
There cannot be found, in all creation, a single law which is not counterbalanced by a law exactly contrary to it; life in everything is maintained by the equilibrium of two opposing forces. So in the present subject, as regards love, if you give too much, you will not receive enough. The mother who shows her children her whole tenderness calls forth their ingratitude, and ingratitude is occasioned, perhaps, by the impossibility of reciprocation. The wife who loves more than she is loved must necessarily be the object of tyranny. Durable love is that which always keeps the forces of two human beings in equilibrium. Now this equilibrium may be maintained permanently; the one who loves the more ought to stop at the point of the one who loves the less. And is it not, after all the sweetest sacrifice that a loving heart can make, that love should so accommodate itself as to adjust the inequality?
What sentiment of admiration must rise in the soul of a philosopher on discovering that there is, perhaps, but one single principle in the world, as there is but one God; and that our ideas and our affections are subject to the same laws which cause the sun to rise, the flowers to bloom, the universe to teem with life!
Perhaps, we ought to seek in the metaphysics of love the reasons for the following proposition, which throws the most vivid light on the question of honeymoons and of Red-moons:
Man goes from aversion to love; but if he has begun by loving, and afterwards comes to feel aversion, he never returns to love.
In certain human organisms the feelings are dwarfed, as the thought may be in certain sterile imaginations. Thus, just as some minds have the faculty of comprehending the connections existing between different things without formal deduction; and as they have the faculty of seizing upon each formula separately, without combining them, or without the power of insight, comparison and expression; so in the same way, different souls may have more or less imperfect ideas of the various sentiments. Talent in love, as in every other art, consists in the power of forming a conception combined with the power of carrying it out. The world is full of people who sing airs, but who omit the ritornello, who have quarters of an idea, as they have quarters of sentiment, but who can no more co-ordinate the movements of their affections than of their thoughts. In a word, they are incomplete. Unite a fine intelligence with a dwarfed intelligence and you precipitate a disaster; for it is necessary that equilibrium be preserved in everything.
We leave to the philosophers of the boudoir or to the sages of the back parlor to investigate the thousand ways in which men of different temperaments, intellects, social positions and fortunes disturb this equilibrium. Meanwhile we will proceed to examine the last cause for the setting of the honeymoon and the rising of the Red-moon.
There is in life one principle more potent than life itself. It is a movement whose celerity springs from an unknown motive power. Man is no more acquainted with the secret of this revolution than the earth is aware of that which causes her rotation. A certain something, which I gladly call the current of life, bears along our choicest thoughts, makes use of most people's will and carries us on in spite of ourselves. Thus, a man of common-sense, who never fails to pay his bills, if he is a merchant, a man who has been able to escape death, or what perhaps is more trying, sickness, by the observation of a certain easy but daily regimen, is completely and duly nailed up between the four planks of his coffin, after having said every evening: "Dear me! to-morrow I will not forget my pills!" How are we to explain this magic spell which rules all the affairs of life? Do men submit to it from a want of energy? Men who have the strongest wills are subject to it. Is it default of memory? People who possess this faculty in the highest degree yield to its fascination.
Every one can recognize the operation of this influence in the case of his neighbor, and it is one of the things which exclude the majority of husbands from the honeymoon. It is thus that the wise man, survivor of all reefs and shoals, such as we have pointed out, sometimes falls into the snares which he himself has set.
I have myself noticed that man deals with marriage and its dangers in very much the same way that he deals with wigs; and perhaps the following phases of thought concerning wigs may furnish a formula for human life in general.
FIRST EPOCH.—Is it possible that I shall ever have white hair?
SECOND EPOCH.—In any case, if I have white hair, I shall never wear a wig. Good Lord! what is more ugly than a wig?
One morning you hear a young voice, which love much oftener makes to vibrate than lulls to silence, exclaiming:
"Well, I declare! You have a white hair!"
THIRD EPOCH.—Why not wear a well-made wig which people would not notice? There is a certain merit in deceiving everybody; besides, a wig keeps you warm, prevents taking cold, etc.
FOURTH EPOCH.—The wig is so skillfully put on that you deceive every one who does not know you.
The wig takes up all your attention, and amour-propre makes you every morning as busy as the most skillful hairdresser.
FIFTH EPOCH.—The neglected wig. "Good heavens! How tedious it is, to have to go with bare head every evening, and to curl one's wig every morning!"
SIXTH EPOCH.—The wig allows certain white hairs to escape; it is put on awry and the observer perceives on the back of your neck a white line, which contrasts with the deep tints pushed back by the collar of your coat.
SEVENTH EPOCH.—Your wig is as scraggy as dog's tooth grass; and —excuse the expression—you are making fun of your wig.
"Sir," said one of the most powerful feminine intelligences which have condescended to enlighten me on some of the most obscure passages in my book, "what do you mean by this wig?"
"Madame," I answered, "when a man falls into a mood of indifference with regard to his wig, he is,—he is—what your husband probably is not."
"But my husband is not—" (she paused and thought for a moment). "He is not amiable; he is not—well, he is not—of an even temper; he is not—"
"Then, madame, he would doubtless be indifferent to his wig!"
We looked at each other, she with a well-assumed air of dignity, I with a suppressed smile.
"I see," said I, "that we must pay special respect to the ears of the little sex, for they are the only chaste things about them."
I assumed the attitude of a man who has something of importance to disclose, and the fair dame lowered her eyes, as if she had some reason to blush.
"Madame, in these days a minister is not hanged, as once upon a time, for saying yes or no; a Chateaubriand would scarcely torture Francoise de Foix, and we wear no longer at our side a long sword ready to avenge an insult. Now in a century when civilization has made such rapid progress, when we can learn a science in twenty-four lessons, everything must follow this race after perfection. We can no longer speak the manly, rude, coarse language of our ancestors. The age in which are fabricated such fine, such brilliant stuffs, such elegant furniture, and when are made such rich porcelains, must needs be the age of periphrase and circumlocution. We must try, therefore, to coin a new word in place of the comic expression which Moliere used; since the language of this great man, as a contemporary author has said, is too free for ladies who find gauze too thick for their garments. But people of the world know, as well as the learned, how the Greeks had an innate taste for mysteries. That poetic nation knew well how to invest with the tints of fable the antique traditions of their history. At the voice of their rhapsodists together with their poets and romancers, kings became gods and their adventures of gallantry were transformed into immortal allegories. According to M. Chompre, licentiate in law, the classic author of the Dictionary of Mythology, the labyrinth was 'an enclosure planted with trees and adorned with buildings arranged in such a way that when a young man once entered, he could no more find his way out.' Here and there flowery thickets were presented to his view, but in the midst of a multitude of alleys, which crossed and recrossed his path and bore the appearance of a uniform passage, among the briars, rocks and thorns, the patient found himself in combat with an animal called the Minotaur.
"Now, madame, if you will allow me the honor of calling to your mind the fact that the Minotaur was of all known beasts that which Mythology distinguishes as the most dangerous; that in order to save themselves from his ravages, the Athenians were bound to deliver to him, every single year, fifty virgins; you will perhaps escape the error of good M. Chompre, who saw in the labyrinth nothing but an English garden; and you will recognize in this ingenious fable a refined allegory, or we may better say a faithful and fearful image of the dangers of marriage. The paintings recently discovered at Herculaneum have served to confirm this opinion. And, as a matter of fact, learned men have for a long time believed, in accordance with the writings of certain authors, that the Minotaur was an animal half-man, half-bull; but the fifth panel of ancient paintings at Herculaneum represents to us this allegorical monster with a body entirely human; and, to take away all vestige of doubt, he lies crushed at the feet of Theseus. Now, my dear madame, why should we not ask Mythology to come and rescue us from that hypocrisy which is gaining ground with us and hinders us from laughing as our fathers laughed? And thus, since in the world a young lady does not very well know how to spread the veil under which an honest woman hides her behavior, in a contingency which our grandfathers would have roughly explained by a single word, you, like a crowd of beautiful but prevaricating ladies, you content yourselves with saying, 'Ah! yes, she is very amiable, but,'—but what?—'but she is often very inconsistent—.' I have for a long time tried to find out the meaning of this last word, and, above all, the figure of rhetoric by which you make it express the opposite of that which it signifies; but all my researches have been in vain. Vert-Vert used the word last, and was unfortunately addressed to the innocent nuns whose infidelities did not in any way infringe the honor of the men. When a woman is inconsistent the husband must be, according to me, minotaurized. If the minotaurized man is a fine fellow, if he enjoys a certain esteem,—and many husbands really deserve to be pitied,—then in speaking of him, you say in a pathetic voice, 'M. A—- is a very estimable man, his wife is exceedingly pretty, but they say he is not happy in his domestic relations.' Thus, madame, the estimable man who is unhappy in his domestic relations, the man who has an inconsistent wife, or the husband who is minotaurized are simply husbands as they appear in Moliere. Well, then, O goddess of modern taste, do not these expressions seem to you characterized by a transparency chaste enough for anybody?"
"Ah! mon Dieu!" she answered, laughing, "if the thing is the same, what does it matter whether it be expressed in two syllables or in a hundred?"
She bade me good-bye, with an ironical nod and disappeared, doubtless to join the countesses of my preface and all the metaphorical creatures, so often employed by romance-writers as agents for the recovery or composition of ancient manuscripts.
As for you, the more numerous and the more real creatures who read my book, if there are any among you who make common cause with my conjugal champion, I give you notice that you will not at once become unhappy in your domestic relations. A man arrives at this conjugal condition not suddenly, but insensibly and by degrees. Many husbands have even remained unfortunate in their domestic relations during their whole life and have never known it. This domestic revolution develops itself in accordance with fixed rules; for the revolutions of the honeymoon are as regular as the phases of the moon in heaven, and are the same in every married house. Have we not proved that moral nature, like physical nature, has its laws?
Your young wife will never take a lover, as we have elsewhere said, without making serious reflections. As soon as the honeymoon wanes, you will find that you have aroused in her a sentiment of pleasure which you have not satisfied; you have opened to her the book of life; and she has derived an excellent idea from the prosaic dullness which distinguishes your complacent love, of the poetry which is the natural result when souls and pleasures are in accord. Like a timid bird, just startled by the report of a gun which has ceased, she puts her head out of her nest, looks round her, and sees the world; and knowing the word of a charade which you have played, she feels instinctively the void which exists in your languishing passion. She divines that it is only with a lover that she can regain the delightful exercise of her free will in love.
You have dried the green wood in preparation for a fire.
In the situation in which both of you find yourselves, there is no woman, even the most virtuous, who would not be found worthy of a grande passion, who has not dreamed of it, and who does not believe that it is easily kindled, for there is always found a certain amour-propre ready to reinforce that conquered enemy—a jaded wife.
"If the role of an honest woman were nothing more than perilous," said an old lady to me, "I would admit that it would serve. But it is tiresome; and I have never met a virtuous woman who did not think about deceiving somebody."
And then, before any lover presents himself, a wife discusses with herself the legality of the act; she enters into a conflict with her duties, with the law, with religion and with the secret desires of a nature which knows no check-rein excepting that which she places upon herself. And then commences for you a condition of affairs totally new; then you receive the first intimation which nature, that good and indulgent mother, always gives to the creatures who are exposed to any danger. Nature has put a bell on the neck of the Minotaur, as on the tail of that frightful snake which is the terror of travelers. And then appear in your wife what we will call the first symptoms, and woe to him who does not know how to contend with them. Those who in reading our book will remember that they saw those symptoms in their own domestic life can pass to the conclusion of this work, where they will find how they may gain consolation.