« VorigeDoorgaan »
have frequently ruled by a power stronger than all laws; and amidst a people vain, frivolous, gallant, chivalric, and fond of pleasure — amidst 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 preeminence; and even during the violent and passionate intervals which have demanded the more manly properties of enterprize and daring, they have not been altogether lost amidst 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
* It was the women marching to Versailles that created one of the most remarkable epochs of the revolution of 1789.
we know better than the Duchesse de Longueville? What diplomatist of Louis XIV. better than the Princesse des Ursins ? What clever and able intriguant of the regency, better than Madame de Tencin ? And then, who does not remember the ingenious Scudéry — the epicurean Ninon — the dear and agreeable Sévigné - the lettered and voluptuous Marion de Lorme
- the virtuous Chéron the celebrated and learned Dacier — the amiable Staal (Mademoiselle Delauny)—the unfortunate Duchâtelet --the witty Dudeffand - the graceful Deshoullières ? Such are the familiar names of a past generation. Have we not others as worthy of fame in our own ?
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 amidst 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 masculine career.
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 Jemmapes, Dumourier had for his aides-de-camp, two of the most beautiful, the most delicate, and accomplished young women in society of the 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 slen
* See the description of the Duchesse de Berri's dress.
der 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 amidst the thickest of the fire.
In the duel of the Marquise de B— you 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 sumed name, and moroever wounded him desperately in the rencontre.
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 English woman, such as we ordinarily find the English women 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 anything, 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