« VorigeDoorgaan »
votion; the more elderly ladies, celebrated in that witty and courtly clique for the quickness of their repartees, and the graces of their conversation; the higher functionaries of the Tuileries; the prelates and peers of France: and it was amid the business of whist and the amorous whisperings of intrigue that these personages discussed the means to bring back the olden monarchy, and to restore the reign of religion.
"There was, more especially among the women, an ardour for change, a passion for the divine rights of legitimacy, which blended naturally with their adulterous tendernesses in favour of a handsome mousquetaire, or a well-grown lieutenant of the garde royale. Then it was, that with their nerves excited by love, they called for proscriptions, for deaths, for the blood of Ney and Labédoyère! What must have been the violence of parties, when a young and beautiful female applauded the massacres of the South, and associated herself in thought with the assassins of Ramel and Lagarde!"
But if the women in France exercise, and sometimes exercise so fatally, a greater influence than, since the time of the Babylonians and the Egyptians, they have been known to exercise elsewhere; no country has yet produced a race of women so remarkable, or one which affords history so many great names and great examples. I might take the reader back to the times of chivalry; but with these times the manners of our own may hardly be said to mingle. Let us look then at the annals of these very days! Who was the enemy most dreaded by the Mountain? Who was the rival that disputed empire with Napoleon? Madame de Roland and Madame de Staël. These two women alone, without fortune, without protection, save that of their own talent, boldly vindicated the power of the mind before its two most terrible adversaries, and have triumphed with posterity even over the guillotine and the sword. There is an energy, a desire for action, a taste, and a capacity for business among the females of France, the more remarkable
from the elegance, the grace, the taste for pleasure and amusement with which this sterner nature is combined.
Observe! from the very moment that women were admitted into society in France, they have claimed their share in public affairs.
From the time of Francis the First, when they established their influence in the court, up to the present moment, when they are disputing the actual possession of the Bar and the Chamber of Deputies, they have never shrunk from a contest with their bearded competitors. Excluded from the throne and sceptre by the laws, they have frequently ruled by a power stronger than all laws, and amid a people vain, frivolous, gallant, chivalric, and fond of pleasure; amid a people among whom the men have in their character something of the woman; the women have taken up their place in life by the side of the men.
More adroit in their conduct, more quick in their perceptions than the slower and less subtle sex, they have ruled absolutely in those times when adroitness of conduct and quickness of perception have been the qualities most essential to pre-eminence; and even during the violent and passionate intervals which have demanded the more manly properties of enterprise and daring, they have not been altogether lost amid the rush of contending parties and jarring opinions.*
Not a page in French history, from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth, but has to speak of some female reputation; nor is there a path to fame which female footsteps have not trod ! Is royalty more historical than the names of De Montespan, De Maintenon, De Pompadour! What chief of the Fronde do we know better than the Duchesse de Longueville? What diplomatist of Louis XIV. better than the Princesse d'Ursins? What clever and able intriguant of the regency better than Mademoiselle de Tencin? And then, who does not remember the ingenious Scu
It was the women marching to Versailles that created one of the most remarkable epochs of the revolution of 1789.
dery-the epicurean Ninon-the dear and agreeable Sévigné-the lettered and voluptuous Marion de Lorme -the virtuous Cheron-the celebrated and learned Dacier—the amiable Staal (Mademoiselle Delaunay)— the unfortunate Duchâtelet-the witty Dudeffand-the graceful Deshouillières? Such are the familiar names of a past generation. Have we not those of D'Abrantes, Gay, Girardin, Tastu, Allart, Dudevant (G. Sand), in
Go to France, and you will find that even costume itself is not considered an insuperable barrier between the sexes. Certes, any good citizen of London would be strangely surprised if he found her Majesty Queen Adelaide amid the most retired recesses of Windsor Park skipping over the daisies and buttercups in a pair of breeches! and yet, so lately, when royalty in France was more essentially a spectacle, and every eye was turned on the unfortunate family again passing into exile, it struck no one with astonishment, no one with disgust, that the mother of Henry V. should appear masqueraded as one of her pages.* More is contained in a fact of this sort than we generally suppose! Besides, there are various examples (the Chevalier d'Eon is one of the most notorious) where French women have not only attired themselves as males, but actually pursued through life a masculine Never have the French armies been engaged in the neighbourhood of France without there being found many of those females, of those delicate and fragile females, whom one sees in the "salons" of Paris, slain on the field of battle, to which they had been led, not so much by a violent passion for their lovers (French women do not love so violently) as by a passion for that action and adventure which they are willing to seek even in a camp.
At the battle of Jemmappes, Dumourier had for his aids-de-camp two of the most beautiful, the most delicate, and accomplished young women in society of the
* See the description of the Duchesse de Berri's dress.
time; equally chaste and warlike, these modern Camillas felt a veneration for the profession of arms; they delighted in the smoke of the cannon and the sound of the trumpet. Often, a general told me, in the most desperate cries of the battle, he has heard their slender but animated voices reproaching flight and urging to the charge; "Où allez-vous, soldats ? ce n'est pas là l'ennemi! En avant! suivez !"-and you might have seen their waving plumes and amazonian garb amid the thickest of the fire.
In the duel of the Marquise de Byou see, in the time of Louvet, and in the romance of Faublas, the manners and the disposition, the reckless and the daring character, of the ladies of the court previous to the Revolution. It happens that a similar event actually occurred to my knowledge not many years ago. Charged with infidelity to her lover by a person who falsely boasted of her favours, a lady challenged the slanderer under an assumed name, and moreover wounded him desperately in the rencounter.
It is to this bold and restless disposition, favoured by past institutions, that you must attribute the independence which French women assert, and the power which they have enjoyed and still maintain; aided, no doubt, by the general character of their nation, which denies many of the more stern and governing qualities of the mind to the men.
But let it not be supposed that if a French woman possess power, she holds it in carelessness or indolence that it costs her no pains to procure its possession, or to secure its continuance.
How is it possible that an Englishwoman, such as we ordinarily find the Englishwomen of London society -how is it possible that such a woman should possess the slightest influence over a man three degrees removed from dandyism and the Guards? What are her objects of interest but the most trumpery and insignificant? What are her topics of conversation but the most ridiculous and insipid? Not only does she lower down her mind to the level of the emptiest-pated of
the male creatures that she meets, but she actually persuades herself, and is actually persuaded, that it is charming and feminine, &c. to do so. She will talk to you about hunting and shooting, that is not unfeminine! oh no! But politics, the higher paths of literature, the stir and action of life, in which all men worth any thing, and from whom she could borrow any real influence, are plunged, of these she knows nothing, thinks nothing; in these she is not interested at all; and only wonders that an intellectual being can have any other ambition than to get what she calls good invitations to the stupidest, and hottest, and dullest of the stupid, hot, and dull drawing-rooms of London. There are of course reasons for all this; and I agree with a late work in asserting one of these reasons to be the practice which all England insists upon as so innocent, so virtuous, so modest, so disinterested, viz. :'bringing out," as it is called, a young woman at sixteen, who is ushered into a vast variety of crowded rooms with this injunction: "There, go; hunt about, and get a good," which means a rich, "husband.”
This command-for miss is greatly bored with papa and mamma, and the country-house, and the country parsonis,-very readily obeyed. Away she startsdances with this man, sighs to that; and as her education has not been neglected, she ventures, perhaps, at the first onset, to give vent to a few of those ideas which her governess, or her reading, or the solitude of her early life have given birth to. Wo upon her! The rich young man who has such a fine property in -shire, and who is really so very good-looking, and so very well dressed, opens his eyes, shrugs up his shoulders, turns pale, turns red, and looks very stupid and very confused, and at the first opportunity glides away, muttering to an acquaintance, "I say, what a d-d blue that girl is." Never mind, my good young lady! In a second season, you will be as simple and as silly as your chaperon can desire. Do but go on
* England and the English.