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