Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

to elevate the modesty of those who considered themselves in an inferior state. Corrupted by the largesses of an expensive and intriguing court, the grand seigneur, after the reign of Louis XIV., became over-civil and servile to those above him. Beneath the star of the French minister beat the present heart of the British mercer: and softly did the great man smile on those from whom he had anything to gain. As whatever was taught at Versailles was learnt in the Rue St. Denis, when the courtier had the air of a solicitor, every one aped the air of the courtier; and the whole nation, with one hand expressing a request, and the other an obligation, might have been taken in the attitude of the graceful old beggar, whose accost made such an impression upon me.

But a new nobility grew up in rivalry to the elder one; and as the positions of society became more complicated and uncertain, a supreme civility to some was seen side by side with a sneering insolence to others—a revolution in manners, which embittered as it hastened the revolution of opinions. Thus the manners of the Freneh in the time of Louis XVI. had one feature of similarity with ours at present. A monied aristocracy was then rising into power in France, as a monied aristocracy is now rising into power in England. This is the aristocracy which demands obsequious servility-which is jealous and fearsul of being treated with disrespect. This is the aristocracy which is baughty, insolent, and susceptible ; which dreams of affronts and gives them. This is the aristocracy which measures with an uncertain eye the height of an acquaintance. This is the aristocracy which culs and sneers. This aristocracy, though the aristocracy of the revolution of July, is now too powerless in France to be more than vulgar in its pretensions. French manners, then, if they are not gracious, are at all events not insolent; while ours, unhappily, testify on one band the insolence, while they do not on the other represent the talent and the grace of that society which presided over the later suppers of the old régime. We have no Monsieur de Fitz-James, who might be rolled in a gutter all his life, as was said by a beautiful woman of his time, "without ever contracting a spot of dirt ?” We have no Monsieur de Narbonne, who stops in the fiercest of a duel to pick up the ruffled rose that had slipped in a careless moment from his lips, during the graceful conflict? You see no longer in France that noble air, that "great manner," as it was called, by which the old nobility strove to keep up the distinction between themselves and their worse-born associates to the last, and which of course those associates most assiduously imitated.

That manner is gone; the French, so far from being a polite people at the present day, want that easiness of behaviour which is the first essential to politeness. Every man you meet is occupied with maintaining his dignity, and talks to you of his position. There is an evident effort and struggle, I will not say to appear better than you are, but to appear all that you are, and to allow no person to think that you consider him better than you. Persons, no longer ranked by classes, take each by themselves an individual place in society. They are so many atoms, not forming a congruous or harmonious whole. They are too apt to strut forward singly, and to say with a great deal of action, and a great deal of emphasis, “ I am nobody.” The French are no longer a polite people, but in the French nation, as in every nation, there is an involuntary and traditionary respect which hallows what is gone by; and among the marvels of modern France is a religion which ranks an agreeable smile and a graceful bow as essential virtues of its creed.

Nor does the Père Enfantin stand alone. There is something touching in the language of the old seigneur, who, placed as it were between two epochs, looking backwards and forwards to the graces of past times and the virtues of new, thus expresses himself:

“Les progrès de la lumière et de la liberté ont certainement fait faire de grands pas à la raison humaine ; mais aussi dans sa route n'a-t-elle rien perdu ? Moi qui ne suis pas un de ces opiniâtres prôneurs de ce bon vieux temps qui n'est plus, je ne puis m'empêcher de regretter ce bon goût, cette grace, cette fleur d'enjouement et d'urbanité qui chassait de la société tout ennui en permettant au bon sens de sourire et à la sagesse

de se parer. Aujourd'hui beaucoup de gens ressemblent à un propriétaire morose, qui ne songeant qu'à l'utile, bannirait de son jardin les fleurs, et ne voudrait y voir que du blé, des foins et des fruits."

GALLANTRY.

"The small piece called “ Pourquoi." -The French are not to expect at the

same time in their wives chastity and good-temper.-What is to be said for England.-In France there is not even a shocking or humiliating idea attached to sexual improprieties.-Mademoiselle de Lenclos' observation.There is nothing of passion in French love.--A poet irresistible on the Banks of the Rhine.-A lord on the Banks of the Thames.-The Italian women, the English women, the French women.-A courtship in France a series of bon-mots.-Fate of unmarried ladies.—Marriages de St. Jacques. -Number of illegitimate births in Paris. More libertinage in France than elsewhere, and leads less, perhaps, than elsewhere to other depravity.—The gallantry and licentiousness of the French not sprung from the revolution.Saying of the mother of the great Condé.—The love which you find in France made for society.--Gallantry national in France.-The French cherish the memory, not only of their great men, but of their great men's mistresses.

THERE is a small piece now acting at one of the minor theatres called “ Pourquoi.” It is very popular; every body goes to see it, and

says,

" it is so true.” What tale lies hid under this mysterious title?

There are two married friends living together. The wife of one is charming, always ready to obey and to oblige; her husband's will is her law. Nothing puts her out of humour. This couple live on the best of terms, and the husband is as happy as husband can desire to be.- Now for the other pair! Here is continual wrangling and dispute. The wife will have her own way, in the merest trifles as on the gravest mattersstorms when contradicted, still tosses her head when humoured. In short, nothing can be so disagreeable as this good lady is to her grumbling but submissive helpmate. Happiness and misery were never to all appearances brought more fairly face to face than in these two domestic establishments. Why” is one wife such a pattern of good nature and submission ?

Why” is the other such a detestable shrew? This is the pourquoi. The

spouse whom you shrink from in such justifiable terror you cling

6

is as faithful as woman can be. The

spouse

whom to as such a pillow of comfort, is an intriguing hussy.

Hear, oh! ye French husbands ! you must not expect your wives to have at the same time chastity and good-temper : the qualities are incompatible. Your eyes must be picked out, or horns on your heads must grow. This is the farce which is * so popular.' This is the picture of manners which people call so true.' Miserable man, if the lips you press to yours are chaste to such endearments! Miserable man, if the wise of your bosom should be so singular as to be faithful! There is this to be said for England—if the poor-houses of the country swarm with children without a father—if the streets of the metropolis are almost turbulently infested with ladies of a most improper character--if Grosvenor Square, and St. James's Square, and Hill Street, and Charles Street, are witnesses to some mysterious and unconjugal indecorums,the crime of unchastity is still spoken of and considered as deadly and damnatory as any to be found on the Newgate Calendar. It was but the other day that a poor woman charged, I think a chimney-sweep, with grossly, ill-treating, i. e. beating her. What says the chimney-sweep? Does he refute the charge? No : but he asks the plaintiff at once whether she is not guilty of a criminal intercourse with a certain cobbler of her acquaintance; and when this unhappy fact is established-turning round triumphantly to the magistrate—“ Now, your honour, vot does your honour say after that?” says the chimneysweeper.

In France there is not even a shocking or humiliating idea attached to these sexual improprieties. The woman, says La Bruyère, who has only one lover says she is not à coquette. The woman who has more than one lover says she is only a coquette. To have a lover is the natural and simple thingnor is it necessary that you should have a violent passion to excuse the frailty. Mademoiselle de Lenclos, whose opinions have descended in all their force and simplicity to the present generation, says, “What attaches you to your lover is not always love—but a conformity of ideas, of tastes, the habit of seeing him, the desire to escape yourself—la nécessité d'avoir quelque galanterie." “Gallantry"—that is the word which, in spite of all our social refinement, we have hardly yet a right understanding of. I remember in some novel of Crébillon a scene in which the lady gently repulses the addresses of a gentleman who is laying what we should call violent hands on her, by the remark, that she did not love him—"Nay,” but says the gentleman, nothing abashed, " if you only give what I ask to love, what do you keep for friendship?” Gallantry is a kind of light, and affectionate, and unplatonic friendship, which just suits the amiable and frivolous nature of the French.

There is nothing of passion in it-never expect a folly! Not one lady in a hundred would quit the husband she deceives for the lover whom (soi-disant) she adores. As to the gentlemen-I remember a case the other day: Madame de hating her husband rather more than it is usual to hate a husband, or liking her lover rather better than it is usual to like a lover, proposed an elopement. The lover, when able to recover from the astonishment into which he was thrown by so startling and singular a proposition--having moreover satisfied himself that his mistress was really in earnest-put on a more serious aspect than usual.

“ Your husband is, as you know, ma chère,” said he,“ my best friend. I will live with you and love you as long as you like, under his roof-that is no breach of friendship; but I cannot do M. de --so cruel and unfriendly a thing as to run away with you.” * In Italy love is fierce, passionate, impregnated with the sun : in England, as in Germany, love is sentimental, ideal. It is not the offspring of the heart, but of the imagination. A poet on the banks of the Rhine is irresistible-a lord on the banks of the Thames is the same. The lord indeed is a kind of poet—a hallowed and mystic being to a people who are always dreaming of lords, and scheming to be ladies. The world of fancy to British dames and damsels is the world of fashion : Almack's and Devonshire House are the “ fata morgana” of the proudest and the highest—but every village has “ its set,” round which is drawn a magic circle; and dear and seductive are the secret and undefinable, and frequently unattainable, charms of those within the circle to those without it. You never heard in England of a clergyman's daughter seduced

This is a fact.

« VorigeDoorgaan »