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-a constant succession of balls and parties, and listless conversations, will soon make you all the most plotting mother can desire—and all I regret is, that when you have at last succeeded in the wearisome aim of your youth, when you have fixed the fate of some wealthy, and perhaps titled booby, a constant habit of dulness will have been generated from the stupidity that was necessary to secure him.
Of late years this misfortune has been increasing : because of late years fortune and rank have been more entirely separated from talent and education ; to such a degree indeed has it increased—that no man, after his reason has burst its leading-strings, ever now exposes himself to the insufferable ennui of general society.
In England, then, the persons who are engaged in those pursuits which give public influence, fly, as from a pestilence, what is called a life of pleasure, and which, instead of being a relaxation to a set of thinking and active human creatures, has become a business to a class of persons who have neither thought nor capability for action.
When a woman comes into the world in France, she comes into the world with no pursuit that distracts her from its general objects. Her own position is fixed. She is married, not sold, as the English people believe-not sold in any degree more than an English young lady is sold—though she has not been seen panting from party to party in quest of a buyer.*
Young women, then, come into society in France with a fixed position there, and are generally interested in the subjects of general interest to the world. The
* A marriage takes place in France under the following circumstances : -The friends of the two parties agree, that if the young people like one another, a very suitable connection might be formed. The young people then meet, and, if they are to each other's taste, the match takes place; and surely this is as sentimental, and as delicate as teaching a young lady every thing that can solicit a declaration of marriage, and which, you may depend upon it, she does not forget afterward, when any declaration she receives must be a decla. ration of love.
persons and the pursuits that they find most distinguished, are the persons and the pursuits that most attract their attention. Educated besides, not with the idea that they are to catch a husband, but that they are to have a husband, as a matter of course, caught for them—a husband whom they are not obliged to seduce by any forced and false expressions of affection --but to take quietly from their friends, as a friend, they occupy themselves at once with this husband's interests, with this husband's occupations, and never imagine that they are to share his confidence, but on the ground that they understand his pursuits-whoever be their lover, their husband is their companion.*
I was talking one evening with the master of the house where I had been dining, on some subject of trade and politics, which I engaged in unwillingly, in the idea that it was not very likely to interest the lady. I was soon rather astonished, I confess, to find her enter into the conversation with a knowledge of detail and a right perception of general principles which I did not expect.
“ How do you think,” said she to me, when I afterward expressed my surprise, “ that I could meet my husband every evening at dinner, if I were not able to talk on the topics on which he has been employed in the morning ?" An English fine lady would have settled the question very differently, by affirming, as an undeniable proposition, that politics and such stuff were great bores, and that a man, to be agreeable, must talk of balls and operas, and dress.
But it is not only in high society and in good society, in the “salon” and in the “ boudoir," that you find the female in France take an important position. . It is the same in the comptoir, in the café, and at the shop. She is there also the great personage, keeps the accounts, keeps the money, regulates and super
* Matrimonial morality is not high in France. I grant it. But this proceeds from a variety of causes with which the system of giving in marriage (a system which prevails all over the Continent, and in countries where the ladies are quite as faithful as our own), has nothing in the world to do.
- intends the business. Go even into a sword-maker's
or a gun-maker's ; it is as likely as not that you will be attended to by a female, who will handle the sword and recommend the gun; and there is a mixture of womanly gentleness and masculine decision in the little creature—so easy, so unembarrassed, so prettily dressed, and so delicately shaped-that you are at a loss to reconcile with all your preconceived notions of effrontery on the one hand and effeminacy on the other.
There is generally some trait in the domestic habits of a country which may seem at a.casual glance unimportant, but which is connected more closely than you imagine with the whole social system that custom, history, and character have established.
If I wanted an illustration of this, I would take the still-prevailing custom that banishes women from the dinner-table in England as soon as a certain state of hilarity, or a certain seriousness of conversation becomes visible. A profound observer sees in this little fact alone a distinction which must affect the laws, the morality, the crimes, and the amusements of a whole population. He sees at once that the one sex is not a free participator in the plans, and the projects, and the pleasures of the other. He sees at once how this fact extends itself over our society and our statutebook, our prisons and our public houses; and many of the differences that he finds between the French and the English--differences sometimes to the advantage of one people, sometimes to the advantage of the other—he is prepared to account for by the different relations that exist in France and in England between the two sexes. Let it be crime, or pleasure, conspiracy, assassination, or debauch—whatever takes place in France, be sure that the influence of woman has been felt upon it, that the passions of woman have been mingled up with it ;* for the same feelings and
* Vidocq's Memoirs abound in proofs of this.
the same energies which make us capable of great things, propel us on to bad; and if we wish to find the most innocent, I fear we must seek for them, as in Paraguay, among the weakest of mankind.
There is a remarkable female phenomenon in France, which contrasts itself with what occurs in almost every other country. In England, it is a melancholy fact, that many of the miserable creatures who at midnight parade the streets, and whose only joy is purchased for a penny at Mr. Thomson's gin-shop, have fallen, perchance, but a few months since, from situations of comfort, honesty, and respectability. In France, the woman who begins with the most disgusting occupation on the Boulevards, usually contrives, year after year, to ascend one step after another into a more creditable position.* The hope and the desire to rise never forsake her; notwithstanding her vanity and her desire for dress, and her passion for pleasure, she husbands her unhappy earnings. There is a kind of virtue and order mingling with the extravagance and vice which form part of her profession. The aged mother, or the little sister, is never forgotten. She has not that first horror of depravity which is found among our chaster females ; but she falls not at once, nor does she ever fall lower than necessity obliges her. Without education, she contrives to pick up a certain train of thought, a finesse, and a justness of ideas-a thorough knowledge of life and of character
* A great many of the furnished hotels in Paris are kept by women of this description; some of these hotels belong to them; for whenever they have money sufficient, they always invest it in property of this description.
The commonest of Madame Leroi's little apprentices has an air, and a manner, and a tone that approach her to good society; a mind of natural distinction, which elevates her at once above the artificial lessons of good breeding, and makes her, grammar and orthography excepted, just what you find the fine lady; you see that the clay of which both are made is of equal fineness, and that it is only by an accident that the one has been moulded into a marquise, the other into a milliner. There is hardly an example of a French woman, suddenly elevated, who has not taken, as it were by instinct, the manners belonging to her new situation. Madame du Barry was as re. markable for her elegance as the Duchesse de Berri. VOL. II.E
—and, what perhaps is most surprising of all, a tact, a delicacy, and elegance of manners, which it is perfectly marvellous that she should have preserved much more that she should have collected from the wretchedness and filth which her life has been dragged through. In the lowest state of infamy and misery, she cherishes and displays feelings you would have thought incompatible with such a state; and as one has wept over the virtues and the frailties of the dear, and the beautiful, and imaginary Marie l’Escaut, so there are real heroines in Vidocq, whom our sympathy and our affection accompany to the galleys.
Such are the women of France! The laws and habits of a constitutional government will in a certain degree affect their character--will in a certain degree diminish their influence; but that character is too long confirmed, that influence is too widely spread, for the legislation which affects them on the one hand, not to be affected by them on the other; and it would take a revolution more terrible than any we have yet seen, to keep the deputy at the Chamber after six o'clock in the evening, and to bring his wife to the conviction that she was not a fit companion for him after dinner. Still, undoubtedly there has been a change, not as much in the habits of domestic, as in the habits of political life; and though the husband and the lover are still under feminine sway, the state is at all events comparatively free from female caprice. Is it on account of the power they possess, or because that power appears rather on the decline, that the more sturdy heroines of the day have raised the old standard of the immortal Jeanne, and with the famous device, “ Notre bannière étant au peril, il faut qu'elle soit à l'honneur,
,** march to what they call the deliverance of female kind ?
I was present in the Rue Taranne at one of the weekly meetings which take place among these highspirited ladies ; and I own that, as I cast my eye round
* Motto of Jeanne d'Arc.