The situation referred to, in which a married couple bind themselves for a longer or a shorter time, is the point from which our work starts, as it is the end at which our observations stop. A man of intelligence should know how to recognize the mysterious indications, the obscure signs and the involuntary revelation which a wife unwittingly exhibits; for the next Meditation will doubtless indicate the more evident of the manifestations to neophytes in the sublime science of marriage.
OF THE FIRST SYMPTOMS.
When your wife reaches that crisis in which we have left her, you yourself are wrapped in a pleasant and unsuspicious security. You have so often seen the sun that you begin to think it is shining over everybody. You therefore give no longer that attention to the least action of your wife, which was impelled by your first outburst of passion.
This indolence prevents many husbands from perceiving the symptoms which, in their wives, herald the first storm; and this disposition of mind has resulted in the minotaurization of more husbands than have either opportunity, carriages, sofas and apartments in town.
The feeling of indifference in the presence of danger is to some degree justified by the apparent tranquillity which surrounds you. The conspiracy which is formed against you by our million of hungry celibates seems to be unanimous in its advance. Although all are enemies of each other and know each other well, a sort of instinct forces them into co-operation.
Two persons are married. The myrmidons of the Minotaur, young and old, have usually the politeness to leave the bride and bridegroom entirely to themselves at first. They look upon the husband as an artisan, whose business it is to trim, polish, cut into facets and mount the diamond, which is to pass from hand to hand in order to be admired all around. Moreover, the aspect of a young married couple much taken with each other always rejoices the heart of those among the celibates who are known as roues; they take good care not to disturb the excitement by which society is to be profited; they also know that heavy showers to not last long. They therefore keep quiet; they watch, and wait, with incredible vigilance, for the moment when bride and groom begin to weary of the seventh heaven.
The tact with which celibates discover the moment when the breeze begins to rise in a new home can only be compared to the indifference of those husbands for whom the Red-moon rises. There is, even in intrigue, a moment of ripeness which must be waited for. The great man is he who anticipates the outcome of certain circumstances. Men of fifty-two, whom we have represented as being so dangerous, know very well, for example, that any man who offers himself as lover to a woman and is haughtily rejected, will be received with open arms three months afterwards. But it may be truly said that in general married people in betraying their indifference towards each other show the same naivete with which they first betrayed their love. At the time when you are traversing with madame the ravishing fields of the seventh heaven—where according to their temperament, newly married people remain encamped for a longer or shorter time, as the preceding Meditation has proved—you go little or not at all into society. Happy as you are in your home, if you do go abroad, it will be for the purpose of making up a choice party and visiting the theatre, the country, etc. From the moment you the newly wedded make your appearance in the world again, you and your bride together, or separately, and are seen to be attentive to each other at balls, at parties, at all the empty amusements created to escape the void of an unsatisfied heart, the celibates discern that your wife comes there in search of distraction; her home, her husband are therefore wearisome to her.
At this point the celibate knows that half of the journey is accomplished. At this point you are on the eve of being minotaurized, and your wife is likely to become inconsistent; which means that she is on the contrary likely to prove very consistent in her conduct, that she has reasoned it out with astonishing sagacity and that you are likely very soon to smell fire. From that moment she will not in appearance fail in any of her duties, and will put on the colors of that virtue in which she is most lacking. Said Crebillon:
"Alas! Is it right to be heir of the man who we slay?"
Never has she seemed more anxious to please you. She will seek, as much as possible, to allay the secret wounds which she thinks about inflicting upon your married bliss, she will do so by those little attentions which induce you to believe in the eternity of her love; hence the proverb, "Happy as a fool." But in accordance with the character of women, they either despise their own husbands from the very fact that they find no difficulty in deceiving them; or they hate them when they find themselves circumvented by them; or they fall into a condition of indifference towards them, which is a thousand times worse than hatred. In this emergency, the first thing which may be diagnosed in a woman is a decided oddness of behavior. A woman loves to be saved from herself, to escape her conscience, but without the eagerness shown in this connection by wives who are thoroughly unhappy. She dresses herself with especial care, in order, she will tell you, to flatter your amour-propre by drawing all eyes upon her in the midst of parties and public entertainments.
When she returns to the bosom of her stupid home you will see that, at times, she is gloomy and thoughtful, then suddenly laughing and gay as if beside herself; or assuming the serious expression of a German when he advances to the fight. Such varying moods always indicate the terrible doubt and hesitation to which we have already referred. There are women who read romances in order to feast upon the images of love cleverly depicted and always varied, of love crowned yet triumphant; or in order to familiarize themselves in thought with the perils of an intrigue.
She will profess the highest esteem for you, she will tell you that she loves you as a sister; and that such reasonable friendship is the only true, the only durable friendship, the only tie which it is the aim of marriage to establish between man and wife.
She will adroitly distinguish between the duties which are all she has to perform and the rights which she can demand to exercise.
She views with indifference, appreciated by you alone, all the details of married happiness. This sort of happiness, perhaps, has never been very agreeable to her and moreover it is always with her. She knows it well, she has analyzed it; and what slight but terrible evidence comes from these circumstances to prove to an intelligent husband that this frail creature argues and reasons, instead of being carried away on the tempest of passion.
LX. The more a man judges the less he loves.
And now will burst forth from her those pleasantries at which you will be the first to laugh and those reflections which will startle you by their profundity; now you will see sudden changes of mood and the caprices of a mind which hesitates. At times she will exhibit extreme tenderness, as if she repented of her thoughts and her projects; sometimes she will be sullen and at cross-purposes with you; in a word, she will fulfill the varium et mutabile femina which we hitherto have had the folly to attribute to the feminine temperament. Diderot, in his desire to explain the mutations almost atmospheric in the behavior of women, has even gone so far as to make them the offspring of what he calls la bete feroce; but we never see these whims in a woman who is happy.
These symptoms, light as gossamer, resemble the clouds which scarcely break the azure surface of the sky and which they call flowers of the storm. But soon their colors take a deeper intensity.
In the midst of this solemn premeditation, which tends, as Madame de Stael says, to bring more poetry into life, some women, in whom virtuous mothers either from considerations of worldly advantage of duty or sentiment, or through sheer hypocrisy, have inculcated steadfast principles, take the overwhelming fancies by which they are assailed for suggestions of the devil; and you will see them therefore trotting regularly to mass, to midday offices, even to vespers. This false devotion exhibits itself, first of all in the shape of pretty books of devotion in a costly binding, by the aid of which these dear sinners attempt in vain to fulfill the duties imposed by religion, and long neglected for the pleasures of marriage.
Now here we will lay down a principle, and you must engrave it on your memory in letters of fire.
When a young woman suddenly takes up religious practices which she has before abandoned, this new order of life always conceals a motive highly significant, in view of her husband's happiness. In the case of at least seventy-nine women out of a hundred this return to God proves that they have been inconsistent, or that they intend to become so.
But a symptom more significant still and more decisive, and one that every husband should recognize under pain of being considered a fool, is this:
At the time when both of you are immersed in the illusive delights of the honeymoon, your wife, as one devoted to you, would constantly carry out your will. She was happy in the power of showing the ready will, which both of you mistook for love, and she would have liked for you to have asked her to walk on the edge of the roof, and immediately, nimble as a squirrel, she would have run over the tiles. In a word, she found an ineffable delight in sacrificing to you that ego which made her a being distinct from yours. She had identified herself with your nature and was obedient to that vow of the heart, Una caro.
All this delightful promptness of an earlier day gradually faded away. Wounded to find her will counted as nothing, your wife will attempt, nevertheless, to reassert it by means of a system developed gradually, and from day to day, with increased energy.
This system is founded upon what we may call the dignity of the married woman. The first effect of this system is to mingle with your pleasures a certain reserve and a certain lukewarmness, of which you are the sole judge.
According to the greater or lesser violence of your sensual passion, you have perhaps discerned some of those twenty-two pleasures which in other times created in Greece twenty-two kinds of courtesans, devoted especially to these delicate branches of the same art. Ignorant and simple, curious and full of hope, your young wife may have taken some degrees in this science as rare as it is unknown, and which we especially commend to the attention of the future author of Physiology of Pleasure.
Lacking all these different kinds of pleasure, all these caprices of soul, all these arrows of love, you are reduced to the most common of love fashions, of that primitive and innocent wedding gait, the calm homage which the innocent Adam rendered to our common Mother and which doubtless suggested to the Serpent the idea of taking them in. But a symptom so complete is not frequent. Most married couples are too good Christians to follow the usages of pagan Greece, so we have ranged, among the last symptoms, the appearance in the calm nuptial couch of those shameless pleasures which spring generally from lawless passion. In their proper time and place we will treat more fully of this fascinating diagnostic; at this point, things are reduced to a listlessness and conjugal repugnance which you alone are in a condition to appreciate.
At the same time that she is ennobling by her dignity the objects of marriage, your wife will pretend that she ought to have her opinion and you yours. "In marrying," she will say, "a woman does not vow that she will abdicate the throne of reason. Are women then really slaves? Human laws can fetter the body; but the mind!—ah! God has placed it so near Himself that no human hand can touch it."
These ideas necessarily proceed either from the too liberal teachings which you have allowed her to receive, or from some reflections which you have permitted her to make. A whole Meditation has been devoted to Home Instruction.
Then your wife begins to say, "My chamber, my bed, my apartment." To many of your questions she will reply, "But, my dear, this is no business of yours!" Or: "Men have their part in the direction of the house, and women have theirs." Or, laughing at men who meddle in household affairs, she will affirm that "men do not understand some things."
The number of things which you do not understand increases day by day.
One fine morning, you will see in your little church two altars, where before you never worshiped but at one. The altar of your wife and your own altar have become distinct, and this distinction will go on increasing, always in accordance with the system founded upon the dignity of woman.
Then the following ideas will appear, and they will be inculcated in you whether you like it or not, by means of a living force very ancient in origin and little known. Steam-power, horse-power, man-power, and water-power are good inventions, but nature has provided women with a moral power, in comparison with which all other powers are nothing; we may call it rattle-power. This force consists in a continuance of the same sound, in an exact repetition of the same words, in a reversion, over and over again, to the same ideas, and this so unvaried, that from hearing them over and over again you will admit them, in order to be delivered from the discussion. Thus the power of the rattle will prove to you:
That you are very fortunate to have such an excellent wife;
That she has done you too much honor in marrying you;
That women often see clearer than men;
That you ought to take the advice of your wife in everything, and almost always ought to follow it;
That you ought to respect the mother of your children, to honor her and have confidence in her;
That the best way to escape being deceived, is to rely upon a wife's refinement, for according to certain old ideas which we have had the weakness to give credit, it is impossible for a man to prevent his wife from minotaurizing him;
That a lawful wife is a man's best friend;
That a woman is mistress in her own house and queen in her drawing-room, etc.
Those who wish to oppose a firm resistance to a woman's conquest, effected by means of her dignity over man's power, fall into the category of the predestined.
At first, quarrels arise which in the eye of wives give an air of tyranny to husbands. The tyranny of a husband is always a terrible excuse for inconsistency in a wife. Then, in their frivolous discussions they are enabled to prove to their families and to ours, to everybody and to ourselves, that we are in the wrong. If, for the sake of peace, or from love, you acknowledge the pretended rights of women, you yield an advantage to your wife by which she will profit eternally. A husband, like a government, ought never to acknowledge a mistake. In case you do so, your power will be outflanked by the subtle artifices of feminine dignity; then all will be lost; from that moment she will advance from concession to concession until she has driven you from her bed.
The woman being shrewd, intelligent, sarcastic and having leisure to meditate over an ironical phrase, can easily turn you into ridicule during a momentary clash of opinions. The day on which she turns you into ridicule, sees the end of your happiness. Your power has expired. A woman who has laughed at her husband cannot henceforth love him. A man should be, to the woman who is in love with him, a being full of power, of greatness, and always imposing. A family cannot exist without despotism. Think of that, ye nations!
Now the difficult course which a man has to steer in presence of such serious incidents as these, is what we may call the haute politique of marriage, and is the subject of the second and third parts of our book. That breviary of marital Machiavelism will teach you the manner in which you may grow to greatness within that frivolous mind, within that soul of lacework, to use Napoleon's phrase. You may learn how a man may exhibit a soul of steel, may enter upon this little domestic war without ever yielding the empire of his will, and may do so without compromising his happiness. For if you exhibit any tendency to abdication, your wife will despise you, for the sole reason that she has discovered you to be destitute of mental vigor; you are no longer a man to her.
But we have not yet reached the point at which are to be developed those theories and principles, by means of which a man may unite elegance of manners with severity of measures; let it suffice us, for the moment, to point out the importance of impending events and let us pursue our theme.
At this fatal epoch, you will see that she is adroitly setting up a right to go out alone.
You were at one time her god, her idol. She has now reached that height of devotion at which it is permitted to see holes in the garments of the saints.
"Oh, mon Dieu! My dear," said Madame de la Valliere to her husband, "how badly you wear your sword! M. de Richelieu has a way of making it hang straight at his side, which you ought to try to imitate; it is in much better taste."
"My dear, you could not tell me in a more tactful manner that we have been married five months!" replied the Duke, whose repartee made his fortune in the reign of Louis XV.
She will study your character in order to find weapons against you. Such a study, which love would hold in horror, reveals itself in the thousand little traps which she lays purposely to make you scold her; when a woman has no excuse for minotaurizing her husband she sets to work to make one.
She will perhaps begin dinner without waiting for you.
If you drive through the middle of the town, she will point out certain objects which escaped your notice; she will sing before you without feeling afraid; she will interrupt you, sometimes vouchsafe no reply to you, and will prove to you, in a thousand different ways, that she is enjoying at your side the use of all her faculties and exercising her private judgment.
She will try to abolish entirely your influence in the management of the house and to become sole mistress of your fortune. At first this struggle will serve as a distraction for her soul, whether it be empty or in too violent commotion; next, she will find in your opposition a new motive for ridicule. Slang expressions will not fail her, and in France we are so quickly vanquished by the ironical smile of another!
At other times headaches and nervous attacks make their appearance; but these symptoms furnish matter for a whole future Meditation. In the world she will speak of you without blushing, and will gaze at you with assurance. She will begin to blame your least actions because they are at variance with her ideas, or her secret intentions. She will take no care of what pertains to you, she will not even know whether you have all you need. You are no longer her paragon.
In imitation of Louis XIV, who carried to his mistresses the bouquets of orange blossoms which the head gardener of Versailles put on his table every morning, M. de Vivonne used almost every day to give his wife choice flowers during the early period of his marriage. One morning he found the bouquet lying on the side table without having been placed, as usual, in a vase of water.
"Oh! Oh!" said he, "if I am not a cuckold, I shall very soon be one."
You go on a journey for eight days and you receive no letters, or you receive one, three pages of which are blank.—Symptom.
You come home mounted on a valuable horse which you like very much, and between her kisses your wife shows her uneasiness about the horse and his fodder.—Symptom.
To these features of the case, you will be able to add others. We shall endeavor in the present volume always to paint things in bold fresco style and leave the miniatures to you. According to the characters concerned, the indications which we are describing, veiled under the incidents of ordinary life, are of infinite variety. One man may discover a symptom in the way a shawl is put on, while another needs to receive a fillip to his intellect, in order to notice the indifference of his mate.
Some fine spring morning, the day after a ball, or the eve of a country party, this situation reaches its last phase; your wife is listless and the happiness within her reach has no more attractions for her. Her mind, her imagination, perhaps her natural caprices call for a lover. Nevertheless, she dare not yet embark upon an intrigue whose consequences and details fill her with dread. You are still there for some purpose or other; you are a weight in the balance, although a very light one. On the other hand, the lover presents himself arrayed in all the graces of novelty and all the charms of mystery. The conflict which has arisen in the heart of your wife becomes, in presence of the enemy, more real and more full of peril than before. Very soon the more dangers and risks there are to be run, the more she burns to plunge into that delicious gulf of fear, enjoyment, anguish and delight. Her imagination kindles and sparkles, her future life rises before her eyes, colored with romantic and mysterious hues. Her soul discovers that existence has already taken its tone from this struggle which to a woman has so much solemnity in it. All is agitation, all is fire, all is commotion within her. She lives with three times as much intensity as before, and judges the future by the present. The little pleasure which you have lavished upon her bears witness against you; for she is not excited as much by the pleasures which she has received, as by those which she is yet to enjoy; does not imagination show her that her happiness will be keener with this lover, whom the laws deny her, than with you? And then, she finds enjoyment even in her terror and terror in her enjoyment. Then she falls in love with this imminent danger, this sword of Damocles hung over her head by you yourself, thus preferring the delirious agonies of such a passion, to that conjugal inanity which is worse to her than death, to that indifference which is less a sentiment than the absence of all sentiment.
You, who must go to pay your respects to the Minister of Finance, to write memorandums at the bank, to make your reports at the Bourse, or to speak in the Chamber; you, young men, who have repeated with many others in our first Meditation the oath that you will defend your happiness in defending your wife, what can you oppose to these desires of hers which are so natural? For, with these creatures of fire, to live is to feel; the moment they cease to experience emotion they are dead. The law in virtue of which you take your position produces in her this involuntary act of minotaurism. "There is one sequel," said D'Alembert, "to the laws of movement." Well, then, where are your means of defence?— Where, indeed?
Alas! if your wife has not yet kissed the apple of the Serpent, the Serpent stands before her; you sleep, we are awake, and our book begins.
Without inquiring how many husbands, among the five hundred thousand which this book concerns, will be left with the predestined; how many have contracted unfortunate marriages; how many have made a bad beginning with their wives; and without wishing to ask if there be many or few of this numerous band who can satisfy the conditions required for struggling against the danger which is impending, we intend to expound in the second and third part of this work the methods of fighting the Minotaur and keeping intact the virtue of wives. But if fate, the devil, the celibate, opportunity, desire your ruin, in recognizing the progress of all intrigues, in joining in the battles which are fought by every home, you will possibly be able to find some consolation. Many people have such a happy disposition, that on showing to them the condition of things and explaining to them the why and the wherefore, they scratch their foreheads, rub their hands, stamp on the ground, and are satisfied.
Faithful to our promise, this first part has indicated the general causes which bring all marriages to the crises which we are about to describe; and, in tracing the steps of this conjugal preamble, we have also pointed out the way in which the catastrophe is to be avoided, for we have pointed out the errors by which it is brought about.
But these first considerations would be incomplete if, after endeavoring to throw some light upon the inconsistency of our ideas, of our manners and of our laws, with regard to a question which concerns the life of almost all living beings, we did not endeavor to make plain, in a short peroration, the political causes of the infirmity which pervades all modern society. After having exposed the secret vices of marriage, would it not be an inquiry worthy of philosophers to search out the causes which have rendered it so vicious?
The system of law and of manners which so far directs women and controls marriage in France, is the outcome of ancient beliefs and traditions which are no longer in accordance with the eternal principles of reason and of justice, brought to light by the great Revolution of 1789.
Three great disturbances have agitated France; the conquest of the country by the Romans, the establishment of Christianity and the invasion of the Franks. Each of these events has left a deep impress upon the soil, upon the laws, upon the manners and upon the intellect of the nation.
Greece having one foot on Europe and the other on Asia, was influenced by her voluptuous climate in the choice of her marriage institutions; she received them from the East, where her philosophers, her legislators and her poets went to study the abstruse antiquities of Egypt and Chaldea. The absolute seclusion of women which was necessitated under the burning sun of Asia prevailed under the laws of Greece and Ionia. The women remained in confinement within the marbles of the gyneceum. The country was reduced to the condition of a city, to a narrow territory, and the courtesans who were connected with art and religion by so many ties, were sufficient to satisfy the first passions of the young men, who were few in number, since their strength was elsewhere taken up in the violent exercises of that training which was demanded of them by the military system of those heroic times.
At the beginning of her royal career Rome, having sent to Greece to seek such principles of legislation as might suit the sky of Italy, stamped upon the forehead of the married woman the brand of complete servitude. The senate understood the importance of virtue in a republic, hence the severity of manners in the excessive development of the marital and paternal power. The dependence of the woman on her husband is found inscribed on every code. The seclusion prescribed by the East becomes a duty, a moral obligation, a virtue. On these principles were raised temples to modesty and temples consecrated to the sanctity of marriage; hence, sprang the institution of censors, the law of dowries, the sumptuary laws, the respect for matrons and all the characteristics of the Roman law. Moreover, three acts of feminine violation either accomplished or attempted, produced three revolutions! And was it not a grand event, sanctioned by the decrees of the country, that these illustrious women should make their appearances on the political arena! Those noble Roman women, who were obliged to be either brides or mothers, passed their life in retirement engaged in educating the masters of the world. Rome had no courtesans because the youth of the city were engaged in eternal war. If, later on, dissoluteness appeared, it merely resulted from the despotism of emperors; and still the prejudices founded upon ancient manners were so influential that Rome never saw a woman on a stage. These facts are not put forth idly in scanning the history of marriage in France.
After the conquest of Gaul, the Romans imposed their laws upon the conquered; but they were incapable of destroying both the profound respect which our ancestors entertained for women and the ancient superstitions which made women the immediate oracles of God. The Roman laws ended by prevailing, to the exclusion of all others, in this country once known as the "land of written law," or Gallia togata, and their ideas of marriage penetrated more or less into the "land of customs."
But, during the conflict of laws with manners, the Franks invaded the Gauls and gave to the country the dear name of France. These warriors came from the North and brought the system of gallantry which had originated in their western regions, where the mingling of the sexes did not require in those icy climates the jealous precautions of the East. The women of that time elevated the privations of that kind of life by the exaltation of their sentiments. The drowsy minds of the day made necessary those varied forms of delicate solicitation, that versatility of address, the fancied repulse of coquetry, which belong to the system whose principles have been unfolded in our First Part, as admirably suited to the temperate clime of France.
To the East, then, belong the passion and the delirium of passion, the long brown hair, the harem, the amorous divinities, the splendor, the poetry of love and the monuments of love.— To the West, the liberty of wives, the sovereignty of their blond locks, gallantry, the fairy life of love, the secrecy of passion, the profound ecstasy of the soul, the sweet feelings of melancholy and the constancy of love.
These two systems, starting from opposite points of the globe, have come into collision in France; in France, where one part of the country, Languedoc, was attracted by Oriental traditions, while the other, Languedoil, was the native land of a creed which attributes to woman a magical power. In the Languedoil, love necessitates mystery, in the Languedoc, to see is to love.
At the height of this struggle came the triumphant entry of Christianity into France, and there it was preached by women, and there it consecrated the divinity of a woman who in the forests of Brittany, of Vendee and of Ardennes took, under the name of Notre-Dame, the place of more than one idol in the hollow of old Druidic oaks.
If the religion of Christ, which is above all things a code of morality and politics, gave a soul to all living beings, proclaimed that equality of all in the sight of God, and by such principles as these fortified the chivalric sentiments of the North, this advantage was counterbalanced by the fact, that the sovereign pontiff resided at Rome, of which seat he considered himself the lawful heir, through the universality of the Latin tongue, which became that of Europe during the Middle Ages, and through the keen interest taken by monks, writers and lawyers in establishing the ascendency of certain codes, discovered by a soldier in the sack of Amalfi.
These two principles of the servitude and the sovereignty of women retain possession of the ground, each of them defended by fresh arguments.
The Salic law, which was a legal error, was a triumph for the principle of political and civil servitude for women, but it did not diminish the power which French manners accorded them, for the enthusiasm of chivalry which prevailed in Europe supplanted the party of manners against the party of law.
And in this way was created that strange phenomenon which since that time has characterized both our national despotism and our legislation; for ever since those epochs which seemed to presage the Revolution, when the spirit of philosophy rose and reflected upon the history of the past, France has been the prey of many convulsions. Feudalism, the Crusades, the Reformation, the struggle between the monarchy and the aristocracy. Despotism and Priestcraft have so closely held the country within their clutches, that woman still remains the subject of strange counter-opinions, each springing from one of the three great movements to which we have referred. Was it possible that the woman question should be discussed and woman's political education and marriage should be ventilated when feudalism threatened the throne, when reform menaced both king and barons, and the people, between the hierarchy and the empire, were forgotten? According to a saying of Madame Necker, women, amid these great movements, were like the cotton wool put into a case of porcelain. They were counted for nothing, but without them everything would have been broken.
A married woman, then, in France presents the spectacle of a queen out at service, of a slave, at once free and a prisoner; a collision between these two principles which frequently occurred, produced odd situations by the thousand. And then, woman was physically little understood, and what was actually sickness in her, was considered a prodigy, witchcraft or monstrous turpitude. In those days these creatures, treated by the law as reckless children, and put under guardianship, were by the manners of the time deified and adored. Like the freedmen of emperors, they disposed of crowns, they decided battles, they awarded fortunes, they inspired crimes and revolutions, wonderful acts of virtue, by the mere flash of their glances, and yet they possessed nothing and were not even possessors of themselves. They were equally fortunate and unfortunate. Armed with their weakness and strong in instinct, they launched out far beyond the sphere which the law allotted them, showing themselves omnipotent for evil, but impotent for good; without merit in the virtues that were imposed upon them, without excuse in their vices; accused of ignorance and yet denied an education; neither altogether mothers nor altogether wives. Having all the time to conceal their passions, while they fostered them, they submitted to the coquetry of the Franks, while they were obliged like Roman women, to stay within the ramparts of their castles and bring up those who were to be warriors. While no system was definitely decided upon by legislation as to the position of women, their minds were left to follow their inclinations, and there are found among them as many who resemble Marion Delorme as those who resemble Cornelia; there are vices among them, but there are as many virtues. These were creatures as incomplete as the laws which governed them; they were considered by some as a being midway between man and the lower animals, as a malignant beast which the laws could not too closely fetter, and which nature had destined, with so many other things, to serve the pleasure of men; while others held woman to be an angel in exile, a source of happiness and love, the only creature who responded to the highest feelings of man, while her miseries were to be recompensed by the idolatry of every heart. How could the consistency, which was wanting in a political system, be expected in the general manners of the nation?
And so woman became what circumstances and men made her, instead of being what the climate and native institutions should have made her; sold, married against her taste, in accordance with the Patria potestas of the Romans, at the same time that she fell under the marital despotism which desired her seclusion, she found herself tempted to take the only reprisals which were within her power. Then she became a dissolute creature, as soon as men ceased to be intently occupied in intestine war, for the same reason that she was a virtuous woman in the midst of civil disturbances. Every educated man can fill in this outline, for we seek from movements like these the lessons and not the poetic suggestion which they yield.
The Revolution was too entirely occupied in breaking down and building up, had too many enemies, or followed perhaps too closely on the deplorable times witnessed under the regency and under Louis XV, to pay any attention to the position which women should occupy in the social order.
The remarkable men who raised the immortal monument which our codes present were almost all old-fashioned students of law deeply imbued with a spirit of Roman jurisprudence; and moreover they were not the founders of any political institutions. Sons of the Revolution, they believed, in accordance with that movement, that the law of divorce wisely restricted and the bond of dutiful submission were sufficient ameliorations of the previous marriage law. When that former order of things was remembered, the change made by the new legislation seemed immense.
At the present day the question as to which of these two principles shall triumph rests entirely in the hands of our wise legislators. The past has teaching which should bear fruit in the future. Have we lost all sense of the eloquence of fact?
The principles of the East resulted in the existence of eunuchs and seraglios; the spurious social standing of France has brought in the plague of courtesans and the more deadly plague of our marriage system; and thus, to use the language of a contemporary, the East sacrifices to paternity men and the principle of justice; France, women and modesty. Neither the East nor France has attained the goal which their institutions point to; for that is happiness. The man is not more loved by the women of a harem than the husband is sure of being in France, as the father of his children; and marrying is not worth what it costs. It is time to offer no more sacrifice to this institution, and to amass a larger sum of happiness in the social state by making our manners and our institution conformable to our climate.
Constitutional government, a happy mixture of two extreme political systems, despotism and democracy, suggests by the necessity of blending also the two principles of marriage, which so far clash together in France. The liberty which we boldly claim for young people is the only remedy for the host of evils whose source we have pointed out, by exposing the inconsistencies resulting from the bondage in which girls are kept. Let us give back to youth the indulgence of those passions, those coquetries, love and its terrors, love and its delights, and that fascinating company which followed the coming of the Franks. At this vernal season of life no fault is irreparable, and Hymen will come forth from the bosom of experiences, armed with confidence, stripped of hatred, and love in marriage will be justified, because it will have had the privilege of comparison.
In this change of manners the disgraceful plague of public prostitution will perish of itself. It is especially at the time when the man possesses the frankness and timidity of adolescence, that in his pursuit of happiness he is competent to meet and struggle with great and genuine passions of the heart. The soul is happy in making great efforts of whatever kind; provided that it can act, that it can stir and move, it makes little difference, even though it exercise its power against itself. In this observation, the truth of which everybody can see, there may be found one secret of successful legislation, of tranquillity and happiness. And then, the pursuit of learning has now become so highly developed that the most tempestuous of our coming Mirabeaus can consume his energy either in the indulgence of a passion or the study of a science. How many young people have been saved from debauchery by self-chosen labors or the persistent obstacles put in the way of a first love, a love that was pure! And what young girl does not desire to prolong the delightful childhood of sentiment, is not proud to have her nature known, and has not felt the secret tremblings of timidity, the modesty of her secret communings with herself, and wished to oppose them to the young desires of a lover inexperienced as herself! The gallantry of the Franks and the pleasures which attend it should then be the portion of youth, and then would naturally result a union of soul, of mind, of character, of habits, of temperament and of fortune, such as would produce the happy equilibrium necessary for the felicity of the married couple. This system would rest upon foundations wider and freer, if girls were subjected to a carefully calculated system of disinheritance; or if, in order to force men to choose only those who promised happiness by their virtues, their character or their talents, they married as in the United States without dowry.
In that case, the system adopted by the Romans could advantageously be applied to the married women who when they were girls used their liberty. Being exclusively engaged in the early education of their children, which is the most important of all maternal obligations, occupied in creating and maintaining the happiness of the household, so admirably described in the fourth book of Julie, they would be in their houses like the women of ancient Rome, living images of Providence, which reigns over all, and yet is nowhere visible. In this case, the laws covering the infidelity of the wife should be extremely severe. They should make the penalty disgrace, rather than inflict painful or coercive sentences. France has witnessed the spectacle of women riding asses for the pretended crime of magic, and many an innocent woman has died of shame. In this may be found the secret of future marriage legislation. The young girls of Miletus delivered themselves from marriage by voluntary death; the senate condemned the suicides to be dragged naked on a hurdle, and the other virgins condemned themselves for life.
Women and marriage will never be respected until we have that radical change in manners which we are now begging for. This profound thought is the ruling principle in the two finest productions of an immortal genius. Emile and La Nouvelle Heloise are nothing more than two eloquent pleas for the system. The voice there raised will resound through the ages, because it points to the real motives of true legislation, and the manners which will prevail in the future. By placing children at the breast of their mothers, Jean-Jacques rendered an immense service to the cause of virtue; but his age was too deeply gangrened with abuses to understand the lofty lessons unfolded in those two poems; it is right to add also that the philosopher was in these works overmastered by the poet, and in leaving in the heart of Julie after her marriage some vestiges of her first love, he was led astray by the attractiveness of a poetic situation, more touching indeed, but less useful than the truth which he wished to display.
Nevertheless, if marriage in France is an unlimited contract to which men agree with a silent understanding that they may thus give more relish to passion, more curiosity, more mystery to love, more fascination to women; if a woman is rather an ornament to the drawing-room, a fashion-plate, a portmanteau, than a being whose functions in the order politic are an essential part of the country's prosperity and the nation's glory, a creature whose endeavors in life vie in utility with those of men—I admit that all the above theory, all these long considerations sink into nothingness at the prospect of such an important destiny!——
But after having squeezed a pound of actualities in order to obtain one drop of philosophy, having paid sufficient homage to that passion for the historic, which is so dominant in our time, let us turn our glance upon the manners of the present period. Let us take the cap and bells and the coxcomb of which Rabelais once made a sceptre, and let us pursue the course of this inquiry without giving to one joke more seriousness than comports with it, and without giving to serious things the jesting tone which ill befits them.