« VorigeDoorgaan »
by a baker's son—of a baker's daughter seduced by a chimney sweeper's boy.
The gay attorney seduces the baker's daughter; the clergyman's only child runs away with the Honourable Augustus—who is heir, or younger brother to the heir, of the great house where the races are given to the neighbourhood. When the Italian woman takes a lover, she indulges a desperate passion ; when the Englishwoman takes a lover, it is frequently to gratify a restless longing after rank; when a Frenchwoman takes a lover, it is most commonly to get an agreeable and interesting companion. As Italy is the land of turbulent emotion—as England is the land of aristocratic pretension-so France is par excellence, the land of conversation; and an assiduous courtship is very frequently a series of bon-mots. It is very possibly the kind of gentle elegance which pervades these relations, that makes the French so peculiarly indulgent to them; you hear of none of the fatal effects of jealous indignation-of the husband or the lover poignarded in the dim-lit street; you hear of no damages and no elopements; the honour of the marriage-bed is never brought before your eyes in the clear, and comprehensive, and unmistakeable shape of 20,0001. You see a very well-dressed gentleman particularly civil and attentive to a very well dressed lady. If you call of a morning, you find him sitting by her work-table; if she stay at home of · an evening for the migraine, you find him seated by her sofa; if you meet her in the world, you find him talking with her husband; a stranger, or a provincial says, “ Pray, what relation is Monsieur to Madame ?” He is told quietly, “Monsieur -- is Madame --'s lover.” This gallantry, which is nothing more nor less than a great sociability, a great love of company and conversation, pervades every class of persons, and produces consequences, no doubt, which a love of conversation can hardly justify.
In a country where fortunes are small, marriages, though
* These connexions, however, produce more crimes than, judging from appearances, you would conceive. Adultery, as it will be shown, causes many of the poisonings--but it is the wife who kills her husband-not from jealousy, but disgust--not because she loves, but because she wants to get rid of him.
far more frequent than with us, have still their limits, and only take place between persons who can together make up a sufficient income. A vast variety of single ladies, therefore, without fortune, still remain, who are usually guilty of the indiscretion of a lover, even though they have no husband to deceive. Many of these cannot be called s-mp-s in our sense of things, and are honest women in their own. They take unto themselves an affection, to which they remain tolerably faithful, as long as it is understood that the liaison continues. The quiet young banker, the quiet young stockbroker, the quiet young lawyer, live until they, are rich enough to marry in some connexion of this description. Sanctioned by custom, these left-handed marriages are to be found with a certain respectability appertaining to them in all walks of life. The working classes have their somewhat famous mariages de St. Jacques, which among themselves are highly respectable. The working man, and the lady who takes in washing, or who makes linen, find it cheaper and more confortable (for the French have their idea of comfort) to take a room together. They take a room, put in their joint furniture (one bed answers for both); the lady cooks; a common menage and a common purse are established, and the couple's affection usually endures at least as long as their lease. People so living, though the one calls himself Mr. Thomas, and the other Mademoiselle Clare, are married à la St. Jacques, and their union is considered in every way reputable by their friends and neighbours during the time of its continuance.
The proportion of illegitimate to legitiinate children in the department of the Seine, as given by M. Chabrol, would be one to two ;* add to this proportion the children born in marriage and illegitimately begotten ......
The hospitals of the “ Enfans trouvés," which, under their present regulation, are nothing less than a human sacrifice to sensual indulgence, remove the only check that in a country without religion can exist to illicit intercourse. There is, then, far more libertinage in France than in any other civilized country in Europe ; but it leads less than in other countries to further depravity. Not being considered a crime, incontinence does
* Naissances par an.-Département de la Seine.
in marriage, 20,782,
not bring down the mind to the level of crime. It is looked upon, in fact, as merely a matter of taste ; and very few people, in forming their opinion of the character of a woman, would even take her virtue into consideration. Great indeed are the evils of this, but it also has its advantages : in England, where honour, probity, and charity are nothing to the woman in whom chastity is not found, -to her who has committed one error there is no hope, and six months frequently separate the honest girl of respectable parents and good prospects from the abandoned prostitute, associated with thieves, and whipped in Bridewell for her disorders.
But the quasi legitimate domesticity consecrated by the name of St. Jacques, is French gallantry in its sober, modern, and republican form : it dates, probably, from the revolution of '89; while the more light and courtly style of gallantry, which you find not less at the Elysées, Belleville,* and the Chaumière, than in the stately Hotels of the Faubourg St. Germain and the Chaussée D'Antin, mingles with the ancient history of France, and has long taken that root among the manners which might be expected from the character of the nation.
Commencing with François I., it succeeded that chivalrie adoration with which the fair had been hitherto superstitiously adored. The veil which till then had been drawn about the sex was of that
and ethereal nature which suited the barbarism of an age that could not be trusted to see things with the naked eye. On first ceasing to be a divinity, woman became little better than a harlot; and amidst the masked debauchery of the Medici, there was not even the pretence of sentiment to sanctify the passionate caprice. A more gentle refinement breathed over the gallantry of the Fronde, when still in the memory of Buckingham's romantic passion, a sovereign was braved for the smile of a mistress, and the cavalier who has come down to us as a sage, said so gracefully to the queen of his affections
“ Pour mériter vos charmes, pour plaire à vos beaux yeux,
* See the excellent caricature of « Le Diable hors des barrières." + De la Rochefoucault. .
No! Monsieur le Chevalier de St. Louis ! it is not from the destruction of the Bastille that we are to date those soft indecorums you so religiously deplore. I forget the cardinal's name (perhaps you will remember it) whom the conclave ought to have elected in order to suit the tablets of the mother of the great Condé, and of that beautiful Duchesse de Longueville, to whom the graceful couplet I have quoted was addressed. Is it not Madame de Motteville, who says that this great lady, sitting one day with Anne of Austria and the ladies of her court, was informed that the cardinal, whose name I cannot at this moment call to mind, had been unsuccessful in his candidature for the papal chair ?—“ Ah!” said the good princess,
j'en suis fâchée : il ne me manquait qu'un pape pour dire que j'avais eu des amans--pape, roi, ministres, guerriers, et simples gentilshommes.'
The excellent Ninon, whom I have already quoted, and who lived and loved at this time, as she lived and loved long afterwards, has left us, in her farewell letter to Monsieur de Sévigné, a charming description of that French gallantry which existed in her day, and survives in ours. “It is over, Marquis; I must open my heart to you without reserve : sincerity, you know, was always the predominant quality of my character. Here is a new proof of it. When we swore, by all that lovers hold most sacred, that death alone could disunite us—that our passion should endure for ever-our vows, on my side, at all events, were sincere. Admire the strangeness of this heart, and the multitude of contradictions of which, alas! it is capable. I now write in the same sincerity that breathed in my former oaths, to assure you that the love I felt-I feel no longer. Instead of endeavouring to deceive myself, and to deceive you, I have thought it more worthy of both to speak frankly. When the thing is true, why not say, 'I love you no more,' with the same sincerity with which one said, I love you. .?" Nor was this levity in love the lady's peculiar characteristic. A little history in Madame de Sévigné describes a scene in which the gentleman acts perfectly à la Ninon. « The Chevalier de Lorraine called the other day upon the F—-; she wished to play La Désespérée. The chevalier, with that beautiful air which you recollect, endeayoured to do away at once with her embarrassment. What is the matter, Mademoiselle?' said he; why are you out of spirits ? What is there extraordinary in the accident that has happened to us? We loved one another-we love one another no longer. Constancy is not the virtue of our age. We had much better forget the past, and assume the ordinary manners of the world.--What a pretty little dog you have got!' And thus,” says Madame de Sévigné, “ended this belle passion."
How many modern anecdotes do I remember of the same description! It was but the other day that a lady called upon a friend whom she found in despair at the fickleness of men. Surprised at this extraordinary display of affliction : “ Be comforted,” said the lady to her friend; “ be comforted, for heaven's sake; after all, these misfortunes are soon replaced and forgotten. You remember Monsieur C--, he treated me in the same way; for the first week I was disconsolate, it is true—but now—mon Dieu!—I have almost forgotten that he ever existed.” -“ Ah! my dear,” said the lady, who was in the wane of her beauty, and whom these soothing words failed to console, " there is, alas! this great difference between us—Monsieur C-- was your first lover-Monsieur R-- is my last !” Love, that cordial, heart-in-heart kind of love which our English poets have sometimes so beautifully depicted, is not to be found in France. In every step of a French amour you are overpowered by words, you are adored, idolized; but in all the graceful positions into which gallantry throws itself, as amidst all the phrases it pours forth, there wants that quiet and simple air, that deep, and tender, and touching, and thrilling tone which tell you beyond denial, that the heart your own yearns to is really and truly yours. The love which you find in France is the love made for society-not for solitude : it is that love which befits the dazzling salon, the satined boudoir; it is that love which mixes with intrigue, with action, with politics, and affairs; it is that love which pleases, and never absorbs; which builds no fairy palace of its own, but which scatters over the trodden paths of life more flowers than a severer people find there.
With this love the history of France is full. So completely is it national, that the most gallant reigns have never failed to be the most popular. The name of Henri IV. is hardly more historical than that of the fair Gabrielle; nor has it ever been