of Marriage Part
2 by Honore de Balzac
A TREATISE ON
THE HYGIENE OF
OF THE CUSTOM
THE CHARTER OF
THE THEORY OF
1. TWIN BEDS.
3. ONE BED FOR
OF THE LOVER.
ESSAY ON POLICE.
3. OF SPIES.
4. THE INDEX.
5. OF THE
THE ART OF
MEANS OF DEFENCE, INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR.
"To be or not to be,
That is the question."
MEDITATION X. A TREATISE ON MARITAL
When a man reaches the position in which the first part of this
book sets him, we suppose that the idea of his wife being possessed by
another makes his heart beat, and rekindles his passion, either by an
appeal to his amour propre, his egotism, or his self-interest,
for unless he is still on his wife's side, he must be one of the
lowest of men and deserves his fate.
In this trying moment it is very difficult for a husband to avoid
making mistakes; for, with regard to most men, the art of ruling a
wife is even less known than that of judiciously choosing one.
However, marital policy consists chiefly in the practical application
of three principles which should be the soul of your conduct. The
first is never to believe what a woman says; the second, always to
look for the spirit without dwelling too much upon the letter of her
actions; and the third, not to forget that a woman is never so
garrulous as when she holds her tongue, and is never working with more
energy than when she keeps quiet.
From the moment that your suspicions are aroused, you ought to be
like a man mounted on a tricky horse, who always watches the ears of
the beast, in fear of being thrown from the saddle.
But art consists not so much in the knowledge of principles, as in
the manner of applying them; to reveal them to ignorant people is to
put a razor in the hand of a monkey. Moreover, the first and most
vital of your duties consists in perpetual dissimulation, an
accomplishment in which most husbands are sadly lacking. In detecting
the symptoms of minotaurism a little too plainly marked in the conduct
of their wives, most men at once indulge in the most insulting
suspicions. Their minds contract a tinge of bitterness which manifests
itself in their conversation, and in their manners; and the alarm
which fills their heart, like the gas flame in a glass globe, lights
up their countenances so plainly, that it accounts for their conduct.
Now a woman, who has twelve hours more than you have each day to
reflect and to study you, reads the suspicion written upon your face
at the very moment that it arises. She will never forget this
gratuitous insult. Nothing can ever remedy that. All is now said and
done, and the very next day, if she has opportunity, she will join the
ranks of inconsistent women.
You ought then to begin under these circumstances to affect towards
your wife the same boundless confidence that you have hitherto had in
her. If you begin to lull her anxieties by honeyed words, you are
lost, she will not believe you; for she has her policy as you have
yours. Now there is as much need for tact as for kindliness in your
behavior, in order to inculcate in her, without her knowing it, a
feeling of security, which will lead her to lay back her ears, and
prevent you from using rein or spur at the wrong moment.
But how can we compare a horse, the frankest of all animals, to a
being, the flashes of whose thought, and the movements of whose
impulses render her at moments more prudent than the Servite Fra-
Paolo, the most terrible adviser that the Ten at Venice ever had; more
deceitful than a king; more adroit than Louis XI; more profound than
Machiavelli; as sophistical as Hobbes; as acute as Voltaire; as pliant
as the fiancee of Mamolin; and distrustful of no one in the whole wide
world but you?
Moreover, to this dissimulation, by means of which the springs that
move your conduct ought to be made as invisible as those that move the
world, must be added absolute self-control. That diplomatic
imperturbability, so boasted of by Talleyrand, must be the least of
your qualities; his exquisite politeness and the grace of his manners
must distinguish your conversation. The professor here expressly
forbids you to use your whip, if you would obtain complete control
over your gentle Andalusian steed.
LXI. If a man strike his mistress it
is a self-inflicted wound; but if he strike his wife it is suicide!
How can we think of a government without police, an action without
force, a power without weapons?—Now this is exactly the problem which
we shall try to solve in our future meditations. But first we must
submit two preliminary observations. They will furnish us with two
other theories concerning the application of all the mechanical means
which we propose you should employ. An instance from life will refresh
these arid and dry dissertations: the hearing of such a story will be
like laying down a book, to work in the field.
In the year 1822, on a fine morning in the month of February, I was
traversing the boulevards of Paris, from the quiet circles of the
Marais to the fashionable quarters of the Chaussee-d'Antin, and I
observed for the first time, not without a certain philosophic joy,
the diversity of physiognomy and the varieties of costume which, from
the Rue du Pas-de-la-Mule even to the Madeleine, made each portion of
the boulevard a world of itself, and this whole zone of Paris, a grand
panorama of manners. Having at that time no idea of what the world
was, and little thinking that one day I should have the audacity to
set myself up as a legislator on marriage, I was going to take lunch
at the house of a college friend, who was perhaps too early in life
afflicted with a wife and two children. My former professor of
mathematics lived at a short distance from the house of my college
friend, and I promised myself the pleasure of a visit to this worthy
mathematician before indulging my appetite for the dainties of
friendship. I accordingly made my way to the heart of a study, where
everything was covered with a dust which bore witness to the lofty
abstraction of the scholar. But a surprise was in store for me there.
I perceived a pretty woman seated on the arm of an easy chair, as if
mounted on an English horse; her face took on the look of conventional
surprise worn by mistresses of the house towards those they do not
know, but she did not disguise the expression of annoyance which, at
my appearance, clouded her countenance with the thought that I was
aware how ill-timed was my presence. My master, doubtless absorbed in
an equation, had not yet raised his head; I therefore waved my right
hand towards the young lady, like a fish moving his fin, and on tiptoe
I retired with a mysterious smile which might be translated "I will
not be the one to prevent him committing an act of infidelity to
Urania." She nodded her head with one of those sudden gestures whose
graceful vivacity is not to be translated into words.
"My good friend, don't go away," cried the geometrician. "This is
I bowed for the second time!—Oh, Coulon! Why wert thou not present
to applaud the only one of thy pupils who understood from that moment
the expression, "anacreontic," as applied to a bow?—The effect must
have been very overwhelming; for Madame the Professoress, as the
Germans say, rose hurriedly as if to go, making me a slight bow which
seemed to say: "Adorable!——" Her husband stopped her, saying:
"Don't go, my child, this is one of my pupils."
The young woman bent her head towards the scholar as a bird perched
on a bough stretches its neck to pick up a seed.
"It is not possible," said the husband, heaving a sigh, "and I am
going to prove it to you by A plus B."
"Let us drop that, sir, I beg you," she answered, pointing with a
wink to me.
If it had been a problem in algebra, my master would have
understood this look, but it was Chinese to him, and so he went on.
"Look here, child, I constitute you judge in the matter; our income
is ten thousand francs."
At these words I retired to the door, as if I were seized with a
wild desire to examine the framed drawings which had attracted my
attention. My discretion was rewarded by an eloquent glance. Alas! she
did not know that in Fortunio I could have played the part of Sharp-
Ears, who heard the truffles growing.
"In accordance with the principles of general economy," said my
master, "no one ought to spend in rent and servant's wages more than
two-tenths of his income; now our apartment and our attendance cost
altogether a hundred louis. I give you twelve hundred francs to dress
with" [in saying this he emphasized every syllable]. "Your food," he
went on, takes up four thousand francs, our children demand at lest
twenty-five louis; I take for myself only eight hundred francs;
washing, fuel and light mount up to about a thousand francs; so that
there does not remain, as you see, more than six hundred francs for
unforeseen expenses. In order to buy the cross of diamonds, we must
draw a thousand crowns from our capital, and if once we take that
course, my little darling, there is no reason why we should not leave
Paris which you love so much, and at once take up our residence in the
country, in order to retrench. Children and household expenses will
increase fast enough! Come, try to be reasonable!"
"I suppose I must," she said, "but you will be the only husband in
Paris who has not given a New Year's gift to his wife."
And she stole away like a school-boy who goes to finish an imposed
duty. My master made a gesture of relief. When he saw the door close
he rubbed his hands, he talked of the war in Spain; and I went my way
to the Rue de Provence, little knowing that I had received the first
installment of a great lesson in marriage, any more than I dreamt of
the conquest of Constantinople by General Diebitsch. I arrived at my
host's house at the very moment they were sitting down to luncheon,
after having waited for me the half hour demanded by usage. It was, I
believe, as she opened a pate de foie gras that my pretty
hostess said to her husband, with a determined air:
"Alexander, if you were really nice you would give me that pair of
ear-rings that we saw at Fossin's."
"You shall have them," cheerfully replied my friend, drawing from
his pocketbook three notes of a thousand francs, the sight of which
made his wife's eyes sparkle. "I can no more resist the pleasure of
offering them to you," he added, "than you can that of accepting them.
This is the anniversary of the day I first saw you, and the diamonds
will perhaps make you remember it!——"
"You bad man!" said she, with a winning smile.
She poked two fingers into her bodice, and pulling out a bouquet of
violets she threw them with childlike contempt into the face of my
friend. Alexander gave her the price of the jewels, crying out:
"I had seen the flowers!"
I shall never forget the lively gesture and the eager joy with
which, like a cat which lays its spotted paw upon a mouse, the little
woman seized the three bank notes; she rolled them up blushing with
pleasure, and put them in the place of the violets which before had
perfumed her bosom. I could not help thinking about my old
mathematical master. I did not then see any difference between him and
his pupil, than that which exists between a frugal man and a prodigal,
little thinking that he of the two who seemed to calculate the better,
actually calculated the worse. The luncheon went off merrily. Very
soon, seated in a little drawing-room newly decorated, before a
cheerful fire which gave warmth and made our hearts expand as in
spring time, I felt compelled to make this loving couple a guest's
compliments on the furnishing of their little bower.
"It is a pity that all this costs so dear," said my friend, "but it
is right that the nest be worthy of the bird; but why the devil do you
compliment me upon curtains which are not paid for?—You make me
remember, just at the time I am digesting lunch, that I still owe two
thousand francs to a Turk of an upholsterer."
At these words the mistress of the house made a mental inventory of
the pretty room with her eyes, and the radiancy of her face changed to
thoughtfulness. Alexander took me by the hand and led me to the recess
of a bay window.
"Do you happen," he said in a low voice, "to have a thousand crowns
to lend me? I have only twelve thousand francs income, and this
"Alexander," cried the dear creature, interrupting her husband,
while, rushing up, she offered him the three banknotes, "I see now
that it is a piece of folly—"
"What do you mean?" answered he, "keep your money."
"But, my love, I am ruining you! I ought to know that you love me
so much, that I ought not to tell you all that I wish for."
"Keep it, my darling, it is your lawful property—nonsense, I shall
gamble this winter and get all that back again!"
"Gamble!" cried she, with an expression of horror. "Alexander, take
back these notes! Come, sir, I wish you to do so."
"No, no," replied my friend, repulsing the white and delicious
little hand. "Are you not going on Thursday to a ball of Madame de
"I will think about what you asked of me," said I to my comrade.
I went away bowing to his wife, but I saw plainly after that scene
that my anacreontic salutation did not produce much effect upon her.
"He must be mad," thought I as I went away, "to talk of a thousand
crowns to a law student."
Five days later I found myself at the house of Madame de B——-,
whose balls were becoming fashionable. In the midst of the quadrilles
I saw the wife of my friend and that of the mathematician. Madame
Alexander wore a charming dress; some flowers and white muslin were
all that composed it. She wore a little cross a la Jeannette,
hanging by a black velvet ribbon which set off the whiteness of her
scented skin; long pears of gold decorated her ears. On the neck of
Madame the Professoress sparkled a superb cross of diamonds.
"How funny that is," said I to a personage who had not yet studied
the world's ledger, nor deciphered the heart of a single woman.
That personage was myself. If I had then the desire to dance with
those fair women, it was simply because I knew a secret which
emboldened my timidity.
"So after all, madame, you have your cross?" I said to her first.
"Well, I fairly won it!" she replied, with a smile hard to
"How is this! no ear-rings?" I remarked to the wife of my friend.
"Ah!" she replied, "I have enjoyed possession of them during a
whole luncheon time, but you see that I have ended by converting
"He allowed himself to be easily convinced?"
She answered with a look of triumph.
Eight years afterwards, this scene suddenly rose to my memory,
though I had long since forgotten it, and in the light of the candles
I distinctly discerned the moral of it. Yes, a woman has a horror of
being convinced of anything; when you try to persuade her she
immediately submits to being led astray and continues to play the role
which nature gave her. In her view, to allow herself to be won over is
to grant a favor, but exact arguments irritate and confound her; in
order to guide her you must employ the power which she herself so
frequently employs and which lies in an appeal to sensibility. It is
therefore in his wife, and not in himself, that a husband can find the
instruments of his despotism; as diamond cuts diamond so must the
woman be made to tyrannize over herself. To know how to offer the ear-
rings in such a way that they will be returned, is a secret whose
application embraces the slightest details of life. And now let us
pass to the second observation.
"He who can manage property of one toman, can manage one of an
hundred thousand," says an Indian proverb; and I, for my part, will
enlarge upon this Asiatic adage and declare, that he who can govern
one woman can govern a nation, and indeed there is very much
similarity between these two governments. Must not the policy of
husbands be very nearly the same as the policy of kings? Do not we see
kings trying to amuse the people in order to deprive them of their
liberty; throwing food at their heads for one day, in order to make
them forget the misery of a whole year; preaching to them not to steal
and at the same time stripping them of everything; and saying to them:
"It seems to me that if I were the people I should be virtuous"? It is
from England that we obtain the precedent which husbands should adopt
in their houses. Those who have eyes ought to see that when the
government is running smoothly the Whigs are rarely in power. A long
Tory ministry has always succeeded an ephemeral Liberal cabinet. The
orators of a national party resemble the rats which wear their teeth
away in gnawing the rotten panel; they close up the hole as soon as
they smell the nuts and the lard locked up in the royal cupboard. The
woman is the Whig of our government. Occupying the situation in which
we have left her she might naturally aspire to the conquest of more
than one privilege. Shut your eyes to the intrigues, allow her to
waste her strength in mounting half the steps of your throne; and when
she is on the point of touching your sceptre, fling her back to the
ground, quite gently and with infinite grace, saying to her: "Bravo!"
and leaving her to expect success in the hereafter. The craftiness of
this manoeuvre will prove a fine support to you in the employment of
any means which it may please you to choose from your arsenal, for the
object of subduing your wife.
Such are the general principles which a husband should put into
practice, if he wishes to escape mistakes in ruling his little
kingdom. Nevertheless, in spite of what was decided by the minority at
the council of Macon (Montesquieu, who had perhaps foreseen the coming
of constitutional government has remarked, I forget in what part of
his writings, that good sense in public assemblies is always found on
the side of the minority), we discern in a woman a soul and a body,
and we commence by investigating the means to gain control of her
moral nature. The exercise of thought, whatever people may say, is
more noble than the exercise of bodily organs, and we give precedence
to science over cookery and to intellectual training over hygiene.
MEDITATION XI. INSTRUCTION IN THE
Whether wives should or should not be put under instruction—such
is the question before us. Of all those which we have discussed this
is the only one which has two extremes and admits of no compromise.
Knowledge and ignorance, such are the two irreconcilable terms of this
problem. Between these two abysses we seem to see Louis XVIII
reckoning up the felicities of the eighteenth century, and the
unhappiness of the nineteenth. Seated in the centre of the seesaw,
which he knew so well how to balance by his own weight, he
contemplates at one end of it the fanatic ignorance of a lay brother,
the apathy of a serf, the shining armor on the horses of a banneret;
he thinks he hears the cry, "France and Montjoie-Saint-Denis!" But he
turns round, he smiles as he sees the haughty look of a manufacturer,
who is captain in the national guard; the elegant carriage of a stock
broker; the simple costume of a peer of France turned journalist and
sending his son to the Polytechnique; then he notices the costly
stuffs, the newspapers, the steam engines; and he drinks his coffee
from a cup of Sevres, at the bottom of which still glitters the "N"
surmounted by a crown.
"Away with civilization! Away with thought!"—That is your cry. You
ought to hold in horror the education of women for the reason so well
realized in Spain, that it is easier to govern a nation of idiots than
a nation of scholars. A nation degraded is happy: if she has not the
sentiment of liberty, neither has she the storms and disturbances
which it begets; she lives as polyps live; she can be cut up into two
or three pieces and each piece is still a nation, complete and living,
and ready to be governed by the first blind man who arms himself with
the pastoral staff.
What is it that produces this wonderful characteristic of humanity?
Ignorance; ignorance is the sole support of despotism, which lives on
darkness and silence. Now happiness in the domestic establishment as
in a political state is a negative happiness. The affection of a
people for a king, in an absolute monarchy, is perhaps less contrary
to nature than the fidelity of a wife towards her husband, when love
between them no longer exists. Now we know that, in your house, love
at this moment has one foot on the window-sill. It is necessary for
you, therefore, to put into practice that salutary rigor by which M.
de Metternich prolongs his statu quo; but we would advise you
to do so with more tact and with still more tenderness; for your wife
is more crafty than all the Germans put together, and as voluptuous as
You should, therefore, try to put off as long as possible the fatal
moment when your wife asks you for a book. This will be easy. You will
first of all pronounce in a tone of disdain the phrase "Blue
stocking;" and, on her request being repeated, you will tell her what
ridicule attaches, among the neighbors, to pedantic women.
You will then repeat to her, very frequently, that the most lovable
and the wittiest women in the world are found at Paris, where women
That women are like people of quality who, according to Mascarillo,
know everything without having learned anything; that a woman while
she is dancing, or while she is playing cards, without even having the
appearance of listening, ought to know how to pick up from the
conversation of talented men the ready-made phrases out of which fools
manufacture their wit at Paris;
That in this country decisive judgments on men and affairs are
passed round from hand to hand; and that the little cutting phrase
with which a woman criticises an author, demolishes a work, or heaps
contempt on a picture, has more power in the world than a court
That women are beautiful mirrors, which naturally reflect the most
That natural wit is everything, and the best education is gained
rather from what we learn in the world than by what we read in books;
That, above all, reading ends in making the eyes dull, etc.
To think of leaving a woman at liberty to read the books which her
character of mind may prompt her to choose! This is to drop a spark in
a powder magazine; it is worse than that, it is to teach your wife to
separate herself from you; to live in an imaginary world, in a
Paradise. For what do women read? Works of passion, the Confessions
of Rousseau, romances, and all those compositions which work most
powerfully on their sensibility. They like neither argument nor the
ripe fruits of knowledge. Now have you ever considered the results
which follow these poetical readings?
Romances, and indeed all works of imagination, paint sentiments and
events with colors of a very different brilliancy from those presented
by nature. The fascination of such works springs less from the desire
which each author feels to show his skill in putting forth choice and
delicate ideas than from the mysterious working of the human
intellect. It is characteristic of man to purify and refine everything
that he lays up in the treasury of his thoughts. What human faces,
what monuments of the dead are not made more beautiful than actual
nature in the artistic representation? The soul of the reader assists
in this conspiracy against the truth, either by means of the profound
silence which it enjoys in reading or by the fire of mental conception
with which it is agitated or by the clearness with which imagery is
reflected in the mirror of the understanding. Who has not seen on
reading the Confessions of Jean-Jacques, that Madame de Warens
is described as much prettier than she ever was in actual life? It
might almost be said that our souls dwell with delight upon the
figures which they had met in a former existence, under fairer skies;
that they accept the creations of another soul only as wings on which
they may soar into space; features the most delicate they bring to
perfection by making them their own; and the most poetic expression
which appears in the imagery of an author brings forth still more
ethereal imagery in the mind of a reader. To read is to join with the
writer in a creative act. The mystery of the transubstantiation of
ideas, originates perhaps in the instinctive consciousness that we
have of a vocation loftier than our present destiny. Or, is it based
on the lost tradition of a former life? What must that life have been,
if this slight residuum of memory offers us such volumes of delight?
Moreover, in reading plays and romances, woman, a creature much
more susceptible than we are to excitement, experiences the most
violent transport. She creates for herself an ideal existence beside
which all reality grows pale; she at once attempts to realize this
voluptuous life, to take to herself the magic which she sees in it.
And, without knowing it, she passes from spirit to letter and from
soul to sense.
And would you be simple enough to believe that the manners, the
sentiments of a man like you, who usually dress and undress before
your wife, can counterbalance the influence of these books and
outshine the glory of their fictitious lovers, in whose garments the
fair reader sees neither hole nor stain?—Poor fool! too late, alas!
for her happiness and for yours, your wife will find out that the heroes of poetry are as rare in real life as the
Very many husbands will find themselves embarrassed in trying to
prevent their wives from reading, yet there are certain people who
allege that reading has this advantage, that men know what their wives
are about when they have a book in hand. In the first place you will
see, in the next Meditation, what a tendency the sedentary life has to
make a woman quarrelsome; but have you never met those beings without
poetry, who succeed in petrifying their unhappy companions by reducing
life to its most mechanical elements? Study great men in their
conversation and learn by heart the admirable arguments by which they
condemn poetry and the pleasures of imagination.
But if, after all your efforts, your wife persists in wishing to
read, put at her disposal at once all possible books from the A B C of
her little boy to Rene, a book more dangerous to you when in
her hands than Therese Philosophe. You might create in her an
utter disgust for reading by giving her tedious books; and plunge her
into utter idiocy with Marie Alacoque, The Brosse de
Penitence, or with the chansons which were so fashionable in the
time of Louis XV; but later on you will find, in the present volume,
the means of so thoroughly employing your wife's time, that any kind
of reading will be quite out of the question.
And first of all, consider the immense resources which the
education of women has prepared for you in your efforts to turn your
wife from her fleeting taste for science. Just see with what admirable
stupidity girls lend themselves to reap the benefit of the education
which is imposed upon them in France; we give them in charge to
nursery maids, to companions, to governesses who teach them twenty
tricks of coquetry and false modesty, for every single noble and true
idea which they impart to them. Girls are brought up as slaves, and
are accustomed to the idea that they are sent into the world to
imitate their grandmothers, to breed canary birds, to make herbals, to
water little Bengal rose-bushes, to fill in worsted work, or to put on
collars. Moreover, if a little girl in her tenth year has more
refinement than a boy of twenty, she is timid and awkward. She is
frightened at a spider, chatters nonsense, thinks of dress, talks
about the fashions and has not the courage to be either a watchful
mother or a chaste wife.
Notice what progress she had made; she has been shown how to paint
roses, and to embroider ties in such a way as to earn eight sous a
day. She has learned the history of France in Ragois and
chronology in the Tables du Citoyen Chantreau, and her young
imagination has been set free in the realm of geography; all without
any aim, excepting that of keeping away all that might be dangerous to
her heart; but at the same time her mother and her teachers repeat
with unwearied voice the lesson, that the whole science of a woman
lies in knowing how to arrange the fig leaf which our Mother Eve wore.
"She does not hear for fifteen years," says Diderot, "anything else
but 'my daughter, your fig leaf is on badly; my daughter, your fig
leaf is on well; my daughter, would it not look better so?'"
Keep your wife then within this fine and noble circle of knowledge.
If by chance your wife wishes to have a library, buy for her Florian,
Malte-Brun, The Cabinet des Fees, The Arabian Nights,
Redoute's Roses, The Customs of China, The Pigeons
, by Madame Knip, the great work on Egypt, etc. Carry out, in short,
the clever suggestion of that princess who, when she was told of a
riot occasioned by the dearness of bread, said, "Why don't they eat
Perhaps, one evening, your wife will reproach you for being sullen
and not speaking to her; perhaps she will say that you are ridiculous,
when you have just made a pun; but this is one of the slight
annoyances incident to our system; and, moreover, what does it matter
to you that the education of women in France is the most pleasant of
absurdities, and that your marital obscurantism has brought a doll to
your arms? As you have not sufficient courage to undertake a fairer
task, would it not be better to lead your wife along the beaten track
of married life in safety, than to run the risk of making her scale
the steep precipices of love? She is likely to be a mother: you must
not exactly expect to have Gracchi for sons, but to be really pater
quem nuptiae demonstrant; now, in order to aid you in reaching
this consummation, we must make this book an arsenal from which each
one, in accordance with his wife's character and his own, may choose
weapons fit to employ against the terrible genius of evil, which is
always ready to rise up in the soul of a wife; and since it may fairly
be considered that the ignorant are the most cruel opponents of
feminine education, this Meditation will serve as a breviary for the
majority of husbands.
If a woman has received a man's education, she possesses in very
truth the most brilliant and most fertile sources of happiness both to
herself and to her husband; but this kind of woman is as rare as
happiness itself; and if you do not possess her for your wife, your
best course is to confine the one you do possess, for the sake of your
common felicity, to the region of ideas she was born in, for you must
not forget that one moment of pride in her might destroy you, by
setting on the throne a slave who would immediately be tempted to
abuse her power.
After all, by following the system prescribed in this Meditation, a
man of superiority will be relieved from the necessity of putting his
thoughts into small change, when he wishes to be understood by his
wife, if indeed this man of superiority has been guilty of the folly
of marrying one of those poor creatures who cannot understand him,
instead of choosing for his wife a young girl whose mind and heart he
has tested and studied for a considerable time.
Our aim in this last matrimonial observation has not been to advise
all men of superiority to seek for women of superiority and we do not
wish each one to expound our principles after the manner of Madame de
Stael, who attempted in the most indelicate manner to effect a union
between herself and Napoleon. These two beings would have been very
unhappy in their domestic life; and Josephine was a wife accomplished
in a very different sense from this virago of the nineteenth century.
And, indeed, when we praise those undiscoverable girls so happily
educated by chance, so well endowed by nature, whose delicate souls
endure so well the rude contact of the great soul of him we call a
man, we mean to speak of those rare and noble creatures of whom
Goethe has given us a model in his Claire of Egmont; we are
thinking of those women who seek no other glory than that of playing
their part well; who adapt themselves with amazing pliancy to the will
and pleasure of those whom nature has given them for masters; soaring
at one time into the boundless sphere of their thought and in turn
stooping to the simple task of amusing them as if they were children;
understanding well the inconsistencies of masculine and violent souls,
understanding also their slightest word, their most puzzling looks;
happy in silence, happy also in the midst of loquacity; and well aware
that the pleasures, the ideas and the moral instincts of a Lord Byron
cannot be those of a bonnet-maker. But we must stop; this fair picture
has led us too far from our subject; we are treating of marriage and
not of love.
MEDITATION XII. THE HYGIENE OF
The aim of this Meditation is to call to your attention a new
method of defence, by which you may reduce the will of your new wife
to a condition of utter and abject submission. This is brought about
by the reaction upon her moral nature of physical changes, and the
wise lowering of her physical condition by a diet skillfully
This great and philosophical question of conjugal medicine will
doubtless be regarded favorably by all who are gouty, are impotent, or
suffer from catarrh; and by that legion of old men whose dullness we
have quickened by our article on the predestined. But it principally
concerns those husbands who have courage enough to enter into those
paths of machiavelism, such as would not have been unworthy of that
great king of France who endeavored to secure the happiness of the
nation at the expense of certain noble heads. Here, the subject is the
same. The amputation or the weakening of certain members is always to
the advantage of the whole body.
Do you think seriously that a celibate who has been subject to a
diet consisting of the herb hanea, of cucumbers, of purslane and the
applications of leeches to his ears, as recommended by Sterne, would
be able to carry by storm the honor of your wife? Suppose that a
diplomat had been clever enough to affix a permanent linen plaster to
the head of Napoleon, or to purge him every morning: Do you think that
Napoleon, Napoleon the Great, would ever have conquered Italy? Was
Napoleon, during his campaign in Russia, a prey to the most horrible
pangs of dysuria, or was he not? That is one of the questions which
has weighed upon the minds of the whole world. Is it not certain that
cooling applications, douches, baths, etc., produce great changes in
more or less acute affections of the brain? In the middle of the heat
of July when each one of your pores slowly filters out and returns to
the devouring atmosphere the glasses of iced lemonade which you have
drunk at a single draught, have you ever felt the flame of courage,
the vigor of thought, the complete energy which rendered existence
light and sweet to you some months before?
No, no; the iron most closely cemented into the hardest stone will
raise and throw apart the most durable monument, by reason of the
secret influence exercised by the slow and invisible variations of
heat and cold, which vex the atmosphere. In the first place, let us be
sure that if atmospheric mediums have an influence over man, there is
still a stronger reason for believing that man, in turn, influences
the imagination of his kind, by the more or less vigor with which he
projects his will and thus produces a veritable atmosphere around him.
It is in this fact that the power of the actor's talent lies, as
well as that of poetry and of fanaticism; for the former is the
eloquence of words, as the latter is the eloquence of actions; and in
this lies the foundation of a science, so far in its infancy.
This will, so potent in one man against another, this nervous and
fluid force, eminently mobile and transmittable, is itself subject to
the changing condition of our organization, and there are many
circumstances which make this frail organism of ours to vary. At this
point, our metaphysical observation shall stop and we will enter into
an analysis of the circumstances which develop the will of man and
impart to it a grater degree of strength or weakness.
Do not believe, however, that it is our aim to induce you to put
cataplasms on the honor of your wife, to lock her up in a sweating
house, or to seal her up like a letter; no. We will not even attempt
to teach you the magnetic theory which would give you the power to
make your will triumph in the soul of your wife; there is not a single
husband who would accept the happiness of an eternal love at the price
of this perpetual strain laid upon his animal forces. But we shall
attempt to expound a powerful system of hygiene, which will enable you
to put out the flame when your chimney takes fire. The elegant women
of Paris and the provinces (and these elegant women form a very
distinguished class among the honest women) have plenty of means of
attaining the object which we propose, without rummaging in the
arsenal of medicine for the four cold specifics, the water-lily and
the thousand inventions worthy only of witches. We will leave to
Aelian his herb hanea and to Sterne the purslane and cucumber which
indicate too plainly his antiphlogistic purpose.
You should let your wife recline all day long on soft armchairs, in
which she sinks into a veritable bath of eiderdown or feathers; you
should encourage in every way that does no violence to your
conscience, the inclination which women have to breathe no other air
but the scented atmosphere of a chamber seldom opened, where daylight
can scarcely enter through the soft, transparent curtains.
You will obtain marvelous results from this system, after having
previously experienced the shock of her excitement; but if you are
strong enough to support this momentary transport of your wife you
will soon see her artificial energy die away. In general, women love
to live fast, but, after their tempest of passion, return to that
condition of tranquillity which insures the happiness of a husband.
Jean-Jacques, through the instrumentality of his enchanting Julie,
must have proved to your wife that it was infinitely becoming to
refrain from affronting her delicate stomach and her refined palate by
making chyle out of coarse lumps of beef, and enormous collops of
mutton. Is there anything purer in the world than those interesting
vegetables, always fresh and scentless, those tinted fruits, that
coffee, that fragrant chocolate, those oranges, the golden apples of
Atalanta, the dates of Arabia and the biscuits of Brussels, a
wholesome and elegant food which produces satisfactory results, at the
same time that it imparts to a woman an air of mysterious originality?
By the regimen which she chooses she becomes quite celebrated in her
immediate circle, just as she would be by a singular toilet, a
benevolent action or a bon mot. Pythagoras must needs have cast
his spell over her, and become as much petted by her as a poodle or an
Never commit the imprudence of certain men who, for the sake of
putting on the appearance of wit, controvert the feminine dictum, that the figure is preserved by meagre diet. Women on such a diet
never grow fat, that is clear and positive; do you stick to that.
Praise the skill with which some women, renowned for their beauty,
have been able to preserve it by bathing themselves in milk, several
times a day, or in water compounded of substances likely to render the
skin softer and to lower the nervous tension.
Advise her above all things to refrain from washing herself in cold
water; because water warm or tepid is the proper thing for all kinds
Let Broussais be your idol. At the least indisposition of your
wife, and on the slightest pretext, order the application of leeches;
do not even shrink from applying from time to time a few dozen on
yourself, in order to establish the system of that celebrated doctor
in your household. You will constantly be called upon from your
position as husband to discover that your wife is too ruddy; try even
sometimes to bring the blood to her head, in order to have the right
to introduce into the house at certain intervals a squad of leeches.
Your wife ought to drink water, lightly tinged with a Burgundy wine
agreeable to her taste, but destitute of any tonic properties; every
other kind of wine would be bad for her. Never allow her to drink
water alone; if you do, you are lost.
"Impetuous fluid! As soon as you press against the floodgates of
the brain, how quickly do they yield to your power! Then Curiosity
comes swimming by, making signs to her companions to follow; they
plunge into the current. Imagination sits dreaming on the bank. She
follows the torrent with her eyes and transforms the fragments of
straw and reed into masts and bowsprit. And scarcely has the
transformation taken place, before Desire, holding in one hand her
skirt drawn up even to her knees, appears, sees the vessel and takes
possession of it. O ye drinkers of water, it is by means of that magic
spring that you have so often turned and turned again the world at
your will, throwing beneath your feet the weak, trampling on his neck,
and sometimes changing even the form and aspect of nature!"
If by this system of inaction, in combination with our system of
diet, you fail to obtain satisfactory results, throw yourself with
might and main into another system, which we will explain to you.
Man has a certain degree of energy given to him. Such and such a
man or woman stands to another as ten is to thirty, as one to five;
and there is a certain degree of energy which no one of us ever
exceeds. The quantity of energy, or willpower, which each of us
possesses diffuses itself like sound; it is sometimes weak, sometimes
strong; it modifies itself according to the octaves to which it
mounts. This force is unique, and although it may be dissipated in
desire, in passion, in toils of intellect or in bodily exertion, it
turns towards the object to which man directs it. A boxer expends it
in blows of the fist, the baker in kneading his bread, the poet in the
enthusiasm which consumes and demands an enormous quantity of it; it
passes to the feet of the dancer; in fact, every one diffuses it at
will, and may I see the Minotaur tranquilly seated this very evening
upon my bed, if you do not know as well as I do how he expends it.
Almost all men spend in necessary toils, or in the anguish of direful
passions, this fine sum of energy and of will, with which nature has
endowed them; but our honest women are all the prey to the caprices
and the struggles of this power which knows not what to do with
itself. If, in the case of your wife, this energy has not been subdued
by the prescribed dietary regimen, subject her to some form of
activity which will constantly increase in violence. Find some means
by which her sum of force which inconveniences you may be carried off,
by some occupation which shall entirely absorb her strength. Without
setting your wife to work the crank of a machine, there are a thousand
ways of tiring her out under the load of constant work.
In leaving it to you to find means for carrying out our design—and
these means vary with circumstances—we would point out that dancing
is one of the very best abysses in which love may bury itself. This
point having been very well treated by a contemporary, we will give
him here an opportunity of speaking his mind:
"The poor victim who is the admiration of an enchanted audience
pays dear for her success. What result can possibly follow on
exertions so ill-proportioned to the resources of the delicate
sex? The muscles of the body, disproportionately wearied, are
forced to their full power of exertion. The nervous forces,
intended to feed the fire of passions, and the labor of the
are diverted from their course. The failure of desire, the wish
for rest, the exclusive craving for substantial food, all point
a nature impoverished, more anxious to recruit than to enjoy.
Moreover, a denizen of the side scenes said to me one day,
'Whoever has lived with dancers has lived with sheep; for in
exhaustion they can think of nothing but strong food.' Believe
then, the love which a ballet girl inspires is very delusive; in
her we find, under an appearance of an artificial springtime, a
soil which is cold as well as greedy, and senses which are
dulled. The Calabrian doctors prescribed the dance as a remedy
the hysteric affections which are common among the women of their
country; and the Arabs use a somewhat similar recipe for the
highbred mares, whose too lively temperament hinders their
fecundity. 'Dull as a dancer' is a familiar proverb at the
theatre. In fact, the best brains of Europe are convinced that
dancing brings with it a result eminently cooling.
"In support of this it may be necessary to add other observations.
The life of shepherds gives birth to irregular loves. The morals
of weavers were horribly decried in Greece. The Italians have
given birth to a proverb concerning the lubricity of lame women.
The Spanish, in whose veins are found many mixtures of African
incontinence, have expressed their sentiments in a maxim which is
familiar with them:
Muger y gallina pierna quebrantada
good that a woman and a hen have one broken leg]. The profound
sagacity of the Orientals in the art of pleasure is altogether
expressed by this ordinance of the caliph Hakim, founder of the
Druses, who forbade, under pain of death, the making in his
kingdom of any shoes for women. It seems that over the whole
globe the tempests of the heart wait only to break out after the
limbs are at rest!"
What an admirable manoeuvre it would be to make a wife dance, and
to feed her on vegetables!
Do not believe that these observations, which are as true as they
are wittily stated, contradict in any way the system which we have
previously prescribed; by the latter, as by the former, we succeed in
producing in a woman that needed listlessness, which is the pledge of
repose and tranquility. By the latter you leave a door open, that the
enemy may flee; by the former, you slay him.
Now at this point it seems to us that we hear timorous people and
those of narrow views rising up against our idea of hygiene in the
name of morality and sentiment.
"Is not woman endowed with a soul? Has she not feelings as we have?
What right has any one, without regard to her pain, her ideas, or her
requirements, to hammer her out, as a cheap metal, out of which a
workman fashions a candlestick or an extinguisher? Is it because the
poor creatures are already so feeble and miserable that a brute claims
the power to torture them, merely at the dictate of his own fancies,
which may be more or less just? And, if by this weakening or heating
system of yours, which draws out, softens, hardens the fibres, you
cause frightful and cruel sickness, if you bring to the tomb a woman
who is dear to you; if, if,—"
This is our answer:
Have you never noticed into how many different shapes harlequin and
columbine change their little white hats? They turn and twist them so
well that they become, one after another, a spinning-top, a boat, a
wine-glass, a half-moon, a cap, a basket, a fish, a whip, a dagger, a
baby, and a man's head.
This is an exact image of the despotism with which you ought to
shape and reshape your wife.
The wife is a piece of property, acquired by contract; she is part
of your furniture, for possession is nine-tenths of the law; in fact,
the woman is not, to speak correctly, anything but an adjunct to the
man; therefore abridge, cut, file this article as you choose; she is
in every sense yours. Take no notice at all of her murmurs, of her
cries, of her sufferings; nature has ordained her for your use, that
she may bear everything—children, griefs, blows and pains from man.
Don't accuse yourself of harshness. In the codes of all the nations
which are called civilized, man has written the laws which govern the
destiny of women in these cruel terms: Vae victis! Woe to the
Finally, think upon this last observation, the most weighty,
perhaps, of all that we have made up to this time: if you, her
husband, do not break under the scourge of your will this weak and
charming reed, there will be a celibate, capricious and despotic,
ready to bring her under a yoke more cruel still; and she will have to
endure two tyrannies instead of one. Under all considerations,
therefore, humanity demands that you should follow the system of our
MEDITATION XIII. OF PERSONAL
Perhaps the preceding Meditations will prove more likely to develop
general principles of conduct, than to repel force by force. They
furnish, however, the pharmacopoeia of medicine and not the practice
of medicine. Now consider the personal means which nature has put into
your hands for self-defence; for Providence has forgotten no one; if
to the sepia (that fish of the Adriatic) has been given the black dye
by which he produces a cloud in which he disappears from his enemy,
you should believe that a husband has not been left without a weapon;
and now the time has come for you to draw yours.
You ought to have stipulated before you married that your wife
should nurse her own children; in this case, as long as she is
occupied in bearing children or in nursing them you will avoid the
danger from one or two quarters. The wife who is engaged in bringing
into the world and nursing a baby has not really the time to bother
with a lover, not to speak of the fact that before and after her
confinement she cannot show herself in the world. In short, how can
the most bold of the distinguished women who are the subject of this
work show herself under these circumstances in public? O Lord Byron,
thou didst not wish to see women even eat!
Six months after her confinement, and when the child is on the eve
of being weaned, a woman just begins to feel that she can enjoy her
restoration and her liberty.
If your wife has not nursed her first child, you have too much
sense not to notice this circumstance, and not to make her desire to
nurse her next one. You will read to her the Emile of
Jean-Jacques; you will fill her imagination with a sense of motherly
duties; you will excite her moral feelings, etc.: in a word, you are
either a fool or a man of sense; and in the first case, even after
reading this book, you will always be minotaurized; while in the
second, you will understand how to take a hint.
This first expedient is in reality your own personal business. It
will give you a great advantage in carrying out all the other methods.
Since Alcibiades cut the ears and the tail of his dog, in order to
do a service to Pericles, who had on his hands a sort of Spanish war,
as well as an Ouvrard contract affair, such as was then attracting the
notice of the Athenians, there is not a single minister who has not
endeavored to cut the ears of some dog or other.
So in medicine, when inflammation takes place at some vital point
of the system, counter-irritation is brought about at some other
point, by means of blisters, scarifications and cupping.
Another method consists in blistering your wife, or giving her,
with a mental needle, a prod whose violence is such as to make a
diversion in your favor.
A man of considerable mental resources had made his honeymoon last
for about four years; the moon began to wane, and he saw appearing the
fatal hollow in its circle. His wife was exactly in that state of mind
which we attributed at the close of our first part to every honest
woman; she had taken a fancy to a worthless fellow who was both
insignificant in appearance and ugly; the only thing in his favor was,
he was not her own husband. At this juncture, her husband meditated
the cutting of some dog's tail, in order to renew, if possible, his
lease of happiness. His wife had conducted herself with such tact,
that it would have been very embarrassing to forbid her lover the
house, for she had discovered some slight tie of relationship between
them. The danger became, day by day, more imminent. The scent of the
Minotaur was all around. One evening the husband felt himself plunged
into a mood of deep vexation so acute as to be apparent to his wife.
His wife had begun to show him more kindness than she had ever
exhibited, even during the honeymoon; and hence question after
question racked his mind. On her part a dead silence reigned. The
anxious questionings of his mind were redoubled; his suspicions burst
forth, and he was seized with forebodings of future calamity! Now, on
this occasion, he deftly applied a Japanese blister, which burned as
fiercely as an auto-da-fe of the year 1600. At first his wife
employed a thousand stratagems to discover whether the annoyance of
her husband was caused by the presence of her lover; it was her first
intrigue and she displayed a thousand artifices in it. Her imagination
was aroused; it was no longer taken up with her lover; had she not
better, first of all, probe her husband's secret?
One evening the husband, moved by the desire to confide in his
loving helpmeet all his troubles, informed her that their whole
fortune was lost. They would have to give up their carriage, their box
at the theatre, balls, parties, even Paris itself; perhaps, by living
on their estate in the country a year or two, they might retrieve all!
Appealing to the imagination of his wife, he told her how he pitied
her for her attachment to a man who was indeed deeply in love with
her, but was now without fortune; he tore his hair, and his wife was
compelled in honor to be deeply moved; then in this first excitement
of their conjugal disturbance he took her off to his estate. Then
followed scarifications, mustard plaster upon mustard plaster, and the
tails of fresh dogs were cut: he caused a Gothic wing to be built to
the chateau; madame altered the park ten time over in order to have
fountains and lakes and variations in the grounds; finally, the
husband in the midst of her labors did not forget his own, which
consisted in providing her with interesting reading, and launching
upon her delicate attentions, etc. Notice, he never informed his wife
of the trick he had played on her; and if his fortune was recuperated,
it was directly after the building of the wing, and the expenditure of
enormous sums in making water-courses; but he assured her that the
lake provided a water-power by which mills might be run, etc.
Now, there was a conjugal blister well conceived, for this husband
neither neglected to rear his family nor to invite to his house
neighbors who were tiresome, stupid or old; and if he spent the winter
in Paris, he flung his wife into the vortex of balls and races, so
that she had not a minute to give to lovers, who are usually the fruit
of a vacant life.
Journeys to Italy, Switzerland or Greece, sudden complaints which
require a visit to the waters, and the most distant waters, are pretty
good blisters. In fact, a man of sense should know how to manufacture
a thousand of them.
Let us continue our examination of such personal methods.
And here we would have you observe that we are reasoning upon a
hypothesis, without which this book will be unintelligible to you;
namely, we suppose that your honeymoon has lasted for a respectable
time and that the lady that you married was not a widow, but a maid;
on the opposite supposition, it is at least in accordance with French
manners to think that your wife married you merely for the purpose of
From the moment when the struggle between virtue and inconsistency
begins in your home, the whole question rests upon the constant and
involuntary comparison which your wife is instituting between you and
And here you may find still another mode of defence, entirely
personal, seldom employed by husbands, but the men of superiority will
not fear to attempt it. It is to belittle the lover without letting
your wife suspect your intention. You ought to be able to bring it
about so that she will say to herself some evening while she is
putting her hair in curl-papers, "My husband is superior to him."
In order to succeed, and you ought to be able to succeed, since you
have the immense advantage over the lover in knowing the character of
your wife, and how she is most easily wounded, you should, with all
the tact of a diplomat, lead this lover to do silly things and cause
him to annoy her, without his being aware of it.
In the first place, this lover, as usual, will seek your
friendship, or you will have friends in common; then, either through
the instrumentality of these friends or by insinuations adroitly but
treacherously made, you will lead him astray on essential points; and,
with a little cleverness, you will succeed in finding your wife ready
to deny herself to her lover when he calls, without either she or he
being able to tell the reason. Thus you will have created in the bosom
of your home a comedy in five acts, in which you play, to your profit,
the brilliant role of Figaro or Almaviva; and for some months you will
amuse yourself so much the more, because your amour-propre,
your vanity, your all, were at stake.
I had the good fortune in my youth to win the confidence of an old
emigre who gave me those rudiments of education which are
generally obtained by young people from women. This friend, whose
memory will always be dear to me, taught me by his example to put into
practice those diplomatic stratagems which require tact as well as
The Comte de Noce had returned from Coblenz at a time when it was
dangerous for the nobility to be found in France. No one had such
courage and such kindness, such craft and such recklessness as this
aristocrat. Although he was sixty years old he had married a woman of
twenty-five, being compelled to this act of folly by soft-heartedness;
for he thus delivered this poor child from the despotism of a
capricious mother. "Would you like to be my widow?" this amiable old
gentleman had said to Mademoiselle de Pontivy, but his heart was too
affectionate not to become more attached to his wife than a sensible
man ought to be. As in his youth he had been under the influence of
several among the cleverest women in the court of Louis XV, he thought
he would have no difficulty in keeping his wife from any entanglement.
What man excepting him have I ever seen, who could put into successful
practice the teachings which I am endeavoring to give to husbands!
What charm could he impart to life by his delightful manners and
fascinating conversation!—His wife never knew until after his death
what she then learned from me, namely, that he had the gout. He had
wisely retired to a home in the hollow of a valley, close to a forest.
God only knows what rambles he used to take with his wife!—His good
star decreed that Mademoiselle de Pontivy should possess an excellent
heart and should manifest in a high degree that exquisite refinement,
that sensitive modesty which renders beautiful the plainest girl in
the world. All of a sudden, one of his nephews, a good-looking
military man, who had escaped from the disasters of Moscow, returned
to his uncle's house, as much for the sake of learning how far he had
to fear his cousins, as heirs, as in the hope of laying siege to his
aunt. His black hair, his moustache, the easy small-talk of the staff
officer, a certain freedom which was elegant as well as trifling, his
bright eyes, contrasted favorably with the faded graces of his uncle.
I arrived at the precise moment when the young countess was teaching
her newly found relation to play backgammon. The proverb says that
"women never learn this game excepting from their lovers, and vice
versa." Now, during a certain game, M. de Noce had surprised his wife
and the viscount in the act of exchanging one of those looks which are
full of mingled innocence, fear, and desire. In the evening he
proposed to us a hunting-party, and we agreed. I never saw him so gay
and so eager as he appeared on the following morning, in spite of the
twinges of gout which heralded an approaching attack. The devil
himself could not have been better able to keep up a conversation on
trifling subjects than he was. He had formerly been a musketeer in the
Grays and had known Sophie Arnoud. This explains all. The conversation
after a time became so exceedingly free among us three, that I hope
God may forgive me for it!
"I would never have believed that my uncle was such a dashing
blade?" said the nephew.
We made a halt, and while we were sitting on the edge of a green
forest clearing, the count led us on to discourse about women just as
Brantome and Aloysia might have done.
"You fellows are very happy under the present government!—the
women of the time are well mannered" (in order to appreciate the
exclamation of the old gentleman, the reader should have heard the
atrocious stories which the captain had been relating). "And this," he
went on, "is one of the advantages resulting from the Revolution. The
present system gives very much more charm and mystery to passion. In
former times women were easy; ah! indeed, you would not believe what
skill it required, what daring, to wake up those worn-out hearts; we
were always on the qui vive. But yet in those days a man became
celebrated for a broad joke, well put, or for a lucky piece of
insolence. That is what women love, and it will always be the best
method of succeeding with them!"
These last words were uttered in a tone of profound contempt; he
stopped, and began to play with the hammer of his gun as if to
disguise his deep feeling.
"But nonsense," he went on, "my day is over! A man ought to have
the body as well as the imagination young. Why did I marry? What is
most treacherous in girls educated by mothers who lived in that
brilliant era of gallantry, is that they put on an air of frankness,
of reserve; they look as if butter would not melt in their mouths, and
those who know them well feel that they would swallow anything!"
He rose, lifted his gun with a gesture of rage, and dashing it to
the ground thrust it far up the butt in the moist sod.
"It would seem as if my dear aunt were fond of a little fun," said
the officer to me in a low voice.
"Or of denouements that do not come off!" I added.
The nephew tightened his cravat, adjusted his collar and gave a
jump like a Calabrian goat. We returned to the chateau at about two in
the afternoon. The count kept me with him until dinner-time, under the
pretext of looking for some medals, of which he had spoken during our
return home. The dinner was dull. The countess treated her nephew with
stiff and cold politeness. When we entered the drawing-room the count
said to his wife:
"Are you going to play backgammon?—We will leave you."
The young countess made no reply. She gazed at the fire, as if she
had not heard. Her husband took some steps towards the door, inviting
me by the wave of his hand to follow him. At the sound of his
footsteps, his wife quickly turned her head.
"Why do you leave us?" said she, "you will have all tomorrow to
show your friend the reverse of the medals."
The count remained. Without paying any attention to the awkwardness
which had succeeded the former military aplomb of his nephew, the
count exercised during the whole evening his full powers as a charming
conversationalist. I had never before seen him so brilliant or so
gracious. We spoke a great deal about women. The witticisms of our
host were marked by the most exquisite refinement. He made me forget
that his hair was white, for he showed the brilliancy which belonged
to a youthful heart, a gaiety which effaces the wrinkles from the
cheek and melts the snow of wintry age.
The next day the nephew went away. Even after the death of M. de
Noce, I tried to profit by the intimacy of those familiar
conversations in which women are sometimes caught off their guard to
sound her, but I could never learn what impertinence the viscount had
exhibited towards his aunt. His insolence must have been excessive,
for since that time Madame de Noce has refused to see her nephew, and
up to the present moment never hears him named without a slight
movement of her eyebrows. I did not at once guess the end at which the
Comte de Noce aimed, in inviting us to go shooting; but I discovered
later that he had played a pretty bold game.
Nevertheless, if you happen at last, like M. de Noce, to carry off
a decisive victory, do not forget to put into practice at once the
system of blisters; and do not for a moment imagine that such tours
de force are to be repeated with safety. If that is the way you
use your talents, you will end by losing caste in your wife's
estimation; for she will demand of you, reasonably enough, double what
you would give her, and the time will come when you declare
bankruptcy. The human soul in its desires follows a sort of
arithmetical progression, the end and origin of which are equally
unknown. Just as the opium- eater must constantly increase his doses
in order to obtain the same result, so our mind, imperious as it is
weak, desires that feeling, ideas and objects should go on ever
increasing in size and in intensity. Hence the necessity of cleverly
distributing the interest in a dramatic work, and of graduating doses
in medicine. Thus you see, if you always resort to the employment of
means like these, that you must accommodate such daring measures to
many circumstances, and success will always depend upon the motives to
which you appeal.
And finally, have you influence, powerful friends, an important
post? The last means I shall suggest cuts to the root of the evil.
Would you have the power to send your wife's lover off by securing his
promotion, or his change of residence by an exchange, if he is a
military man? You cut off by this means all communication between
them; later on we will show you how to do it; for sublata causa
tollitur effectus,—Latin words which may be freely translated
"there is no effect without a cause."
Nevertheless, you feel that your wife may easily choose another
lover; but in addition to these preliminary expedients, you will
always have a blister ready, in order to gain time, and calculate how
you may bring the affair to an end by fresh devices.
Study how to combine the system of blisters with the mimic wiles of
Carlin, the immortal Carlin of the Comedie-Italienne who always
held and amused an audience for whole hours, by uttering the same
words, varied only by the art of pantomime and pronounced with a
thousand inflections of different tone,—"The queen said to the king!"
Imitate Carlin, discover some method of always keeping your wife in
check, so as not to be checkmated yourself. Take a degree among
constitutional ministers, a degree in the art of making promises.
Habituate yourself to show at seasonable times the punchinello which
makes children run after you without knowing the distance they run. We
are all children, and women are all inclined through their curiosity
to spend their time in pursuit of a will-o'-the-wisp. The flame is
brilliant and quickly vanishes, but is not the imagination at hand to
act as your ally? Finally, study the happy art of being near her and
yet not being near her; of seizing the opportunity which will yield
you pre-eminence in her mind without ever crushing her with a sense of
your superiority, or even of her own happiness. If the ignorance in
which you have kept her does not altogether destroy her intellect, you
must remain in such relations with her that each of you will still
desire the company of the other.
MEDITATION XIV. OF APARTMENTS.
The preceding methods and systems are in a way purely moral; they
share the nobility of the soul, there is nothing repulsive in them;
but now we must proceed to consider precautions a la Bartholo.
Do not give way to timidity. There is a marital courage, as there is a
civil and military courage, as there is the courage of the National
What is the first course of a young girl after having purchased a
parrot? Is it not to fasten it up in a pretty cage, from which it
cannot get out without permission?
You may learn your duty from this child.
Everything that pertains to the arrangement of your house and of
your apartments should be planned so as not to give your wife any
advantage, in case she has decided to deliver you to the Minotaur;
half of all actual mischances are brought about by the deplorable
facilities which the apartments furnish.
Before everything else determine to have for your porter a
single man entirely devoted to your person. This is a treasure
easily to be found. What husband is there throughout the world who has
not either a foster-father or some old servant, upon whose knees he
has been dandled! There ought to exist by means of your management, a
hatred like that of Artreus and Thyestes between your wife and this
Nestor— guardian of your gate. This gate is the Alpha and Omega of an
intrigue. May not all intrigues in love be confined in these words—
entering and leaving?
Your house will be of no use to you if it does not stand between a
court and a garden, and so constructed as to be detached from all
other buildings. You must abolish all recesses in your apartments. A
cupboard, if it contain but six pots of preserves, should be walled
in. You are preparing yourself for war, and the first thought of a
general is to cut his enemy off from supplies. Moreover, all the walls
must be smooth, in order to present to the eye lines which may be
taken in at a glance, and permit the immediate recognition of the
least strange object. If you consult the remains of antique monuments
you will see that the beauty of Greek and Roman apartments sprang
principally from the purity of their lines, the clear sweep of their
walls and scantiness of furniture. The Greeks would have smiled in
pity, if they had seen the gaps which our closets make in our drawing-
This magnificent system of defence should above all be put in
active operation in the apartment of your wife; never let her curtain
her bed in such a way that one can walk round it amid a maze of
hangings; be inexorable in the matter of connecting passages, and let
her chamber be at the bottom of your reception-rooms, so as to show at
a glance those who come and go.
The Marriage of Figaro will no doubt have taught you to put
your wife's chamber at a great height from the ground. All celibates
Your means, doubtless, will permit your wife to have a
dressing-room, a bath-room, and a room for her chambermaid. Think then
on Susanne, and never commit the fault of arranging this little room
below that of madame's, but place it always above, and do not shrink
from disfiguring your mansion by hideous divisions in the windows.
If, by ill luck, you see that this dangerous apartment communicates
with that of your wife by a back staircase, earnestly consult your
architect; let his genius exhaust itself in rendering this dangerous
staircase as innocent as the primitive garret ladder; we conjure you
let not this staircase have appended to it any treacherous lurking-
place; its stiff and angular steps must not be arranged with that
tempting curve which Faublas and Justine found so useful when they
waited for the exit of the Marquis de B——-. Architects nowadays make
such staircases as are absolutely preferable to ottomans. Restore
rather the virtuous garret steps of our ancestors.
Concerning the chimneys in the apartment of madame, you must take
care to place in the flue, five feet from the ground, an iron grill,
even though it be necessary to put up a fresh one every time the
chimney is swept. If your wife laughs at this precaution, suggest to
her the number of murders that have been committed by means of
chimneys. Almost all women are afraid of robbers. The bed is one of
those important pieces of furniture whose structure will demand long
consideration. Everything concerning it is of vital importance. The
following is the result of long experience in the construction of
beds. Give to this piece of furniture a form so original that it may
be looked upon without disgust, in the midst of changes of fashion
which succeed so rapidly in rendering antiquated the creations of
former decorators, for it is essential that your wife be unable to
change, at pleasure, this theatre of married happiness. The base
should be plain and massive and admit of no treacherous interval
between it and the floor; and bear in mind always that the Donna Julia
of Byron hid Don Juan under her pillow. But it would be ridiculous to
treat lightly so delicate a subject.
LXII. The bed is the whole of
Moreover, we must not delay to direct your attention to this
wonderful creation of human genius, an invention which claims our
recognition much more than ships, firearms, matches, wheeled
carriages, steam engines of all kinds, more than even barrels and
bottles. In the first place, a little thought will convince us that
this is all true of the bed; but when we begin to think that it is our
second father, that the most tranquil and most agitated half of our
existence is spent under its protecting canopy, words fail in
eulogizing it. (See Meditation XVII, entitled "Theory of the Bed.")
When the war, of which we shall speak in our third part, breaks out
between you and madame, you will always have plenty of ingenious
excuses for rummaging in the drawers and escritoires; for if your wife
is trying to hide from you some statue of her adoration, it is your
interest to know where she has hidden it. A gyneceum, constructed on
the method described, will enable you to calculate at a glance,
whether there is present in it two pounds of silk more than usual.
Should a single closet be constructed there, you are a lost man! Above
all, accustom your wife, during the honeymoon, to bestow especial
pains in the neatness of her apartment; let nothing put off that. If
you do not habituate her to be minutely particular in this respect, if
the same objects are not always found in the same places, she will
allow things to become so untidy, that you will not be able to see
that there are two pounds of silk more or less in her room.
The curtains of your apartments ought to be of a stuff which is
quite transparent, and you ought to contract the habit in the evenings
of walking outside so that madame may see you come right up to the
window just out of absent-mindedness. In a word, with regard to
windows, let the sills be so narrow that even a sack of flour cannot
be set up on them.
If the apartment of your wife can be arranged on these principles,
you will be in perfect safety, even if there are niches enough there
to contain all the saints of Paradise. You will be able, every
evening, with the assistance of your porter, to strike the balance
between the entrances and exits of visitors; and, in order to obtain
accurate results, there is nothing to prevent your teaching him to
keep a book of visitors, in double entry.
If you have a garden, cultivate a taste for dogs, and always keep
at large one of these incorruptible guardians under your windows; you
will thus gain the respect of the Minotaur, especially if you accustom
your four-footed friend to take nothing substantial excepting from the
hand of your porter, so that hard-hearted celibates may not succeed in
But all these precautions must be taken as a natural thing so that
they may not arouse suspicions. If husbands are so imprudent as to
neglect precautions from the moment they are married, they ought at
once to sell their house and buy another one, or, under the pretext of
repairs, alter their present house in the way prescribed.
You will without scruple banish from your apartment all sofas,
ottomans, lounges, sedan chairs and the like. In the first place, this
is the kind of furniture that adorns the homes of grocers, where they
are universally found, as they are in those of barbers; but they are
essentially the furniture of perdition; I can never see them without
alarm. It has always seemed to me that there the devil himself is
lurking with his horns and cloven foot.
After all, nothing is so dangerous as a chair, and it is extremely
unfortunate that women cannot be shut up within the four walls of a
bare room! What husband is there, who on sitting down on a rickety
chair is not always forced to believe that this chair has received
some of the lessons taught by the Sofa of Crebillion junior?
But happily we have arranged your apartment on such a system of
prevention that nothing so fatal can happen, or, at any rate, not
without your contributory negligence.
One fault which you must contract, and which you must never
correct, will consist in a sort of heedless curiosity, which will make
you examine unceasingly all the boxes, and turn upside down the
contents of all dressing-cases and work-baskets. You must proceed to
this domiciliary visit in a humorous mood, and gracefully, so that
each time you will obtain pardon by exciting the amusement of your
You must always manifest a most profound astonishment on noticing
any piece of furniture freshly upholstered in her well-appointed
apartment. You must immediately make her explain to you the advantages
of the change; and then you must ransack your mind to discover whether
there be not some underhand motive in the transaction.
This is by no means all. You have too much sense to forget that
your pretty parrot will remain in her cage only so long as that cage
is beautiful. The least accessory of her apartment ought, therefore,
to breathe elegance and taste. The general appearance should always
present a simple, at the same time a charming picture. You must
constantly renew the hangings and muslin curtains. The freshness of
the decorations is too essential to permit of economy on this point.
It is the fresh chickweed each morning carefully put into the cage of
their birds, that makes their pets believe it is the verdure of the
meadows. An apartment of this character is then the ultima ratio
of husbands; a wife has nothing to say when everything is lavished on
Husbands who are condemned to live in rented apartments find
themselves in the most terrible situation possible. What happy or what
fatal influence cannot the porter exercise upon their lot?
Is not their home flanked on either side by other houses? It is
true that by placing the apartment of their wives on one side of the
house the danger is lessened by one-half; but are they not obliged to
learn by heart and to ponder the age, the condition, the fortune, the
character, the habits of the tenants of the next house and even to
know their friends and relations?
A husband will never take lodgings on the ground floor.
Every man, however, can apply in his apartments the precautionary
methods which we have suggested to the owner of a house, and thus the
tenant will have this advantage over the owner, that the apartment,
which is less spacious than the house, is more easily guarded.
MEDITATION XV. OF THE CUSTOM HOUSE.
"But no, madame, no—"
"Yes, for there is such inconvenience in the arrangement."
"Do you think, madame, that we wish, as at the frontier, to watch
the visits of persons who cross the threshold of your apartments, or
furtively leave them, in order to see whether they bring to you
articles of contraband? That would not be proper; and there is nothing
odious in our proceeding, any more than there is anything of a fiscal
character; do not be alarmed."
The Custom House of the marriage state is, of all the expedients
prescribed in this second part, that which perhaps demands the most
tact and the most skill as well as the most knowledge acquired a
priori, that is to say before marriage. In order to carry it out,
a husband ought to have made a profound study of Lavater's book, and
to be imbued with all his principles; to have accustomed his eye to
judge and to apprehend with the most astonishing promptitude, the
slightest physical expressions by which a man reveals his thoughts.
Lavater's Physiognomy originated a veritable science, which
has won a place in human investigation. If at first some doubts, some
jokes greeted the appearance of this book, since then the celebrated
Doctor Gall is come with his noble theory of the skull and has
completed the system of the Swiss savant, and given stability to his
fine and luminous observations. People of talent, diplomats, women,
all those who are numbered among the choice and fervent disciples of
these two celebrated men, have often had occasion to recognize many
other evident signs, by which the course of human thought is
indicated. The habits of the body, the handwriting, the sound of the
voice, have often betrayed the woman who is in love, the diplomat who
is attempting to deceive, the clever administrator, or the sovereign
who is compelled to distinguish at a glance love, treason or merit
hitherto unknown. The man whose soul operates with energy is like a
poor glowworm, which without knowing it irradiates light from every
pore. He moves in a brilliant sphere where each effort makes a burning
light and outlines his actions with long streamers of fire.
These, then, are all the elements of knowledge which you should
possess, for the conjugal custom house insists simply in being able by
a rapid but searching examination to know the moral and physical
condition of all who enter or leave your house—all, that is, who have
seen or intend to see your wife. A husband is, like a spider, set at
the centre of an invisible net, and receives a shock from the least
fool of a fly who touches it, and from a distance, hears, judges and
sees what is either his prey or his enemy.
Thus you must obtain means to examine the celibate who rings at
your door under two circumstances which are quite distinct, namely,
when he is about to enter and when he is inside.
At the moment of entering how many things does he utter without
even opening his mouth!
It may be by a slight wave of his hand, or by his plunging his
fingers many times into his hair, he sticks up or smoothes down his
Or he hums a French or an Italian air, merry or sad, in a voice
which may be either tenor, contralto, soprano or baritone.
Perhaps he takes care to see that the ends of his necktie are
Or he smoothes down the ruffles or front of his shirt or evening-
Or he tries to find out by a questioning and furtive glance whether
his wig, blonde or brown, curled or plain, is in its natural position.
Perhaps he looks at his nails to see whether they are clean and
Perhaps with a hand which is either white or untidy, well-gloved or
otherwise, he twirls his moustache, or his whiskers, or picks his
teeth with a little tortoise-shell toothpick.
Or by slow and repeated movements he tries to place his chin
exactly over the centre of his necktie.
Or perhaps he crosses one foot over the other, putting his hands in
Or perhaps he gives a twist to his shoe, and looks at it as if he
thought, "Now, there's a foot that is not badly formed."
Or according as he has come on foot or in a carriage, he rubs off
or he does not rub off the slight patches of mud which soil his shoes.
Or perhaps he remains as motionless as a Dutchman smoking his pipe.
Or perhaps he fixes his eyes on the door and looks like a soul
escaped from Purgatory and waiting for Saint Peter with the keys.
Perhaps he hesitates to pull the bell; perhaps he seizes it
negligently, precipitately, familiarly, or like a man who is quite
sure of himself.
Perhaps he pulls it timidly, producing a faint tinkle which is lost
in the silence of the apartments, as the first bell of matins in
winter- time, in a convent of Minims; or perhaps after having rung
with energy, he rings again impatient that the footman has not heard
Perhaps he exhales a delicate scent, as he chews a pastille.
Perhaps with a solemn air he takes a pinch of snuff, brushing off
with care the grains that might mar the whiteness of his linen.
Perhaps he looks around like a man estimating the value of the
staircase lamp, the balustrade, the carpet, as if he were a furniture
dealer or a contractor.
Perhaps this celibate seems a young or an old man, is cold or hot,
arrives slowly, with an expression of sadness or merriment, etc.
You see that here, at the very foot of your staircase, you are met
by an astonishing mass of things to observe.
The light pencil-strokes, with which we have tried to outline this
figure, will suggest to you what is in reality a moral kaleidoscope
with millions of variations. And yet we have not even attempted to
bring any woman on to the threshold which reveals so much; for in that
case our remarks, already considerable in number, would have been
countless and light as the grains of sand on the seashore.
For as a matter of fact, when he stands before the shut door, a man
believes that he is quite alone; and he would have no hesitation in
beginning a silent monologue, a dreamy soliloquy, in which he revealed
his desires, his intentions, his personal qualities, his faults, his
virtues, etc.; for undoubtedly a man on a stoop is exactly like a
young girl of fifteen at confession, the evening before her first
Do you want any proof of this? Notice the sudden change of face and
manner in this celibate from the very moment he steps within the
house. No machinist in the Opera, no change in the temperature in the
clouds or in the sun can more suddenly transform the appearance of a
theatre, the effect of the atmosphere, or the scenery of the heavens.
On reaching the first plank of your antechamber, instead of
betraying with so much innocence the myriad thoughts which were
suggested to you on the steps, the celibate has not a single glance to
which you could attach any significance. The mask of social convention
wraps with its thick veil his whole bearing; but a clever husband must
already have divined at a single look the object of his visit, and he
reads the soul of the new arrival as if it were a printed book.
The manner in which he approaches your wife, in which he addresses
her, looks at her, greets her and retires—there are volumes of
observations, more or less trifling, to be made on these subjects.
The tone of his voice, his bearing, his awkwardness, it may be his
smile, even his gloom, his avoidance of your eye,—all are
significant, all ought to be studied, but without apparent attention.
You ought to conceal the most disagreeable discovery you may make by
an easy manner and remarks such as are ready at hand to a man of
society. As we are unable to detail the minutiae of this subject we
leave them entirely to the sagacity of the reader, who must by this
time have perceived the drift of our investigation, as well as the
extent of this science which begins at the analysis of glances and
ends in the direction of such movements as contempt may inspire in a
great toe hidden under the satin of a lady's slipper or the leather of
a man's boot.
But the exit!—for we must allow for occasions where you have
omitted your rigid scrutiny at the threshold of the doorway, and in
that case the exit becomes of vital importance, and all the more so
because this fresh study of the celibate ought to be made on the same
lines, but from an opposite point of view, from that which we have
In the exit the situation assumes a special gravity; for then is
the moment in which the enemy has crossed all the intrenchments within
which he was subject to our examination and has escaped into the
street! At this point a man of understanding when he sees a visitor
passing under the porte-cochere should be able to divine the
import of the whole visit. The indications are indeed fewer in number,
but how distinct is their character! The denouement has arrived and
the man instantly betrays the importance of it by the frankest
expression of happiness, pain or joy.
These revelations are therefore easy to apprehend; they appear in
the glance cast either at the building or at the windows of the
apartment; in a slow or loitering gait, in the rubbing of hands, on
the part of a fool, in the bounding gait of a coxcomb, or the
involuntary arrest of his footsteps, which marks the man who is deeply
moved; in a word, you see upon the stoop certain questions as clearly
proposed to you as if a provincial academy had offered a hundred
crowns for an essay; but in the exit you behold the solution of these
questions clearly and precisely given to you. Our task would be far
above the power of human intelligence if it consisted in enumerating
the different ways by which men betray their feelings, the discernment
of such things is purely a matter of tact and sentiment.
If strangers are the subject of these principles of observation,
you have a still stronger reason for submitting your wife to the
formal safeguards which we have outlined.
A married man should make a profound study of his wife's
countenance. Such a study is easy, it is even involuntary and
continuous. For him the pretty face of his wife must needs contain no
mysteries, he knows how her feelings are depicted there and with what
expression she shuns the fire of his glance.
The slightest movement of the lips, the faintest contraction of the
nostrils, scarcely perceptible changes in the expression of the eye,
an altered voice, and those indescribable shades of feeling which pass
over her features, or the light which sometimes bursts forth from
them, are intelligible language to you.
The whole woman nature stands before you; all look at her, but none
can interpret her thoughts. But for you, the eye is more or less
dimmed, wide-opened or closed; the lid twitches, the eyebrow moves; a
wrinkle, which vanishes as quickly as a ripple on the ocean, furrows
her brow for one moment; the lip tightens, it is slightly curved or it
is wreathed with animation—for you the woman has spoken.
If in those puzzling moments in which a woman tries dissimulation
in presence of her husband, you have the spirit of a sphinx in seeing
through her, you will plainly observe that your custom-house
restrictions are mere child's play to her.
When she comes home or goes out, when in a word she believes she is
alone, your wife will exhibit all the imprudence of a jackdaw and will
tell her secret aloud to herself; moreover, by her sudden change of
expression the moment she notices you (and despite the rapidity of
this change, you will not fail to have observed the expression she
wore behind your back) you may read her soul as if you were reading a
book of Plain Song. Moreover, your wife will often find herself just
on the point of indulging in soliloquies, and on such occasions her
husband may recognize the secret feelings of his wife.
Is there a man as heedless of love's mysteries as not to have
admired, over and over again, the light, mincing, even bewitching gait
of a woman who flies on her way to keep an assignation? She glides
through the crowd, like a snake through the grass. The costumes and
stuffs of the latest fashion spread out their dazzling attractions in
the shop windows without claiming her attention; on, on she goes like
the faithful animal who follows the invisible tracks of his master;
she is deaf to all compliments, blind to all glances, insensible even
to the light touch of the crowd, which is inevitable amid the
circulation of Parisian humanity. Oh, how deeply she feels the value
of a minute! Her gait, her toilet, the expression of her face, involve
her in a thousand indiscretions, but oh, what a ravishing picture she
presents to the idler, and what an ominous page for the eye of a
husband to read, is the face of this woman when she returns from the
secret place of rendezvous in which her heart ever dwells! Her
happiness is impressed even on the unmistakable disarray of her hair,
the mass of whose wavy tresses has not received from the broken comb
of the celibate that radiant lustre, that elegant and
well-proportioned adjustment which only the practiced hand of her maid
can give. And what charming ease appears in her gait! How is it
possible to describe the emotion which adds such rich tints to her
complexion!—which robs her eyes of all their assurance and gives to
them an expression of mingled melancholy and delight, of shame which
is yet blended with pride!
These observations, stolen from our Meditation,
Of the Last
Symptoms, and which are really suggested by the situation of a
woman who tries to conceal everything, may enable you to divine by
analogy the rich crop of observation which is left for you to harvest
when your wife arrives home, or when, without having committed the
great crime she innocently lets out the secrets of her thoughts. For
our own part we never see a landing without wishing to set up there a
mariner's card and a weather-cock.
As the means to be employed for constructing a sort of domestic
observatory depend altogether on places and circumstances, we must
leave to the address of a jealous husband the execution of the methods
suggested in this Meditation.
MEDITATION XVI. THE CHARTER OF
I acknowledge that I really know of but one house in Paris which is
managed in accordance with the system unfolded in the two preceding
Meditations. But I ought to add, also, that I have built up my system
on the example of that house. The admirable fortress I allude to
belonged to a young councillor of state, who was mad with love and
As soon as he learned that there existed a man who was exclusively
occupied in bringing to perfection the institution of marriage in
France, he had the generosity to open the doors of his mansion to me
and to show me his gyneceum. I admired the profound genius which so
cleverly disguised the precautions of almost oriental jealousy under
the elegance of furniture, beauty of carpets and brightness of painted
decorations. I agreed with him that it was impossible for his wife to
render his home a scene of treachery.
"Sir," said I, to this Othello of the council of state who did not
seem to me peculiarly strong in the haute politique of
marriage, "I have no doubt that the viscountess is delighted to live
in this little Paradise; she ought indeed to take prodigious pleasure
in it, especially if you are here often. But the time will come when
she will have had enough of it; for, my dear sir, we grow tired of
everything, even of the sublime. What will you do then, when madame,
failing to find in all your inventions their primitive charm, shall
open her mouth in a yawn, and perhaps make a request with a view to
the exercise of two rights, both of which are indispensable to her
happiness: individual liberty, that is, the privilege of going and
coming according to the caprice of her will; and the liberty of the
press, that is, the privilege of writing and receiving letters without
fear of your censure?"
Scarcely had I said these words when the Vicomte de V——- grasped
my arm tightly and cried:
"Yes, such is the ingratitude of woman! If there is any thing more
ungrateful than a king, it is a nation; but, sir, woman is more
ungrateful than either of them. A married woman treats us as the
citizens of a constitutional monarchy treat their king; every measure
has been taken to give these citizens a life of prosperity in a
prosperous country; the government has taken all the pains in the
world with its gendarmes, its churches, its ministry and all the
paraphernalia of its military forces, to prevent the people from dying
of hunger, to light the cities by gas at the expense of the citizens,
to give warmth to every one by means of the sun which shines at the
forty-fifth degree of latitude, and to forbid every one, excepting the
tax-gatherers, to ask for money; it has labored hard to give to all
the main roads a more or less substantial pavement—but none of these
advantages of our fair Utopia is appreciated! The citizens want
something else. They are not ashamed to demand the right of traveling
over the roads at their own will, and of being informed where that
money given to the tax-gatherers goes. And, finally, the monarch will
soon be obliged, if we pay any attention to the chatter of certain
scribblers, to give to every individual a share in the throne or to
adopt certain revolutionary ideas, which are mere Punch and Judy shows
for the public, manipulated by a band of self-styled patriots, riff-
raff, always ready to sell their conscience for a million francs, for
an honest woman, or for a ducal coronet."
"But, monsieur," I said, interrupting him, "while I perfectly agree
with you on this last point, the question remains, how will you escape
giving an answer to the just demands of your wife?"
"Sir" he replied, "I shall do—I shall answer as the government
answers, that is, those governments which are not so stupid as the
opposition would make out to their constituents. I shall begin by
solemnly interdicting any arrangement, by virtue of which my wife will
be declared entirely free. I fully recognize her right to go wherever
it seems good to her, to write to whom she chooses, and to receive
letters, the contents of which I do not know. My wife shall have all
the rights that belong to an English Parliament; I shall let her talk
as much as she likes, discuss and propose strong and energetic
measures, but without the power to put them into execution, and then
after that—well, we shall see!"
"By St. Joseph!" said I to myself, "Here is a man who understands
the science of marriage as well as I myself do. And then, you will
see, sir," I answered aloud, in order to obtain from him the fullest
revelation of his experience; "you will see, some fine morning, that
you are as big a fool as the next man."
"Sir," he gravely replied, "allow me to finish what I was saying.
Here is what the great politicians call a theory, but in practice they
can make that theory vanish in smoke; and ministers possess in a
greater degree than even the lawyers of Normandy, the art of making
fact yield to fancy. M. de Metternich and M. de Pilat, men of the
highest authority, have been for a long time asking each other whether
Europe is in its right senses, whether it is dreaming, whether it
knows whither it is going, whether it has ever exercised its reason, a
thing impossible on the part of the masses, of nations and of women.
M. de Metternich and M. de Pilat are terrified to see this age carried
away by a passion for constitutions, as the preceding age was by the
passion for philosophy, as that of Luther was for a reform of abuses
in the Roman religion; for it truly seems as if different generations
of men were like those conspirators whose actions are directed to the
same end, as soon as the watchword has been given them. But their
alarm is a mistake, and it is on this point alone that I condemn them,
for they are right in their wish to enjoy power without permitting the
middle class to come on a fixed day from the depth of each of their
six kingdoms, to torment them. How could men of such remarkable talent
fail to divine that the constitutional comedy has in it a moral of
profound meaning, and to see that it is the very best policy to give
the age a bone to exercise its teeth upon! I think exactly as they do
on the subject of sovereignty. A power is a moral being as much
interested as a man is in self-preservation. This sentiment of self-
preservation is under the control of an essential principle which may
be expressed in three words—to lose nothing. But in order to
lose nothing, a power must grow or remain indefinite, for a power
which remains stationary is nullified. If it retrogrades, it is under
the control of something else, and loses its independent existence. I
am quite as well aware, as are those gentlemen, in what a false
position an unlimited power puts itself by making concessions; it
allows to another power whose essence is to expand a place within its
own sphere of activity. One of them will necessarily nullify the
other, for every existing thing aims at the greatest possible
development of its own forces. A power, therefore, never makes
concessions which it does not afterwards seek to retract. This
struggle between two powers is the basis on which stands the balance
of government, whose elasticity so mistakenly alarmed the patriarch of
Austrian diplomacy, for comparing comedy with comedy the least
perilous and the most advantageous administration is found in the
seesaw system of the English and of the French politics. These two
countries have said to the people, 'You are free;' and the people have
been satisfied; they enter the government like the zeros which give
value to the unit. But if the people wish to take an active part in
the government, immediately they are treated, like Sancho Panza, on
that occasion when the squire, having become sovereign over an island
on terra firma, made an attempt at dinner to eat the viands set before
"Now we ought to parody this admirable scene in the management of
our homes. Thus, my wife has a perfect right to go out, provided she
tell me where she is going, how she is going, what is the business she
is engaged in when she is out and at what hour she will return.
Instead of demanding this information with the brutality of the
police, who will doubtless some day become perfect, I take pains to
speak to her in the most gracious terms. On my lips, in my eyes, in my
whole countenance, an expression plays, which indicates both curiosity
and indifference, seriousness and pleasantry, harshness and
tenderness. These little conjugal scenes are so full of vivacity, of
tact and address that it is a pleasure to take part in them. The very
day on which I took from the head of my wife the wreath of orange
blossoms which she wore, I understood that we were playing at a royal
coronation—the first scene in a comic pantomime!—I have my
gendarmes!—I have my guard royal!—I have my attorney general—that I
do!" he continued enthusiastically. "Do you think that I would allow
madame to go anywhere on foot unaccompanied by a lackey in livery? Is
not that the best style? Not to count the pleasure she takes in saying
to everybody, 'I have my people here.' It has always been a
conservative principle of mine that my times of exercise should
coincide with those of my wife, and for two years I have proved to her
that I take an ever fresh pleasure in giving her my arm. If the
weather is not suitable for walking, I try to teach her how to drive
with success a frisky horse; but I swear to you that I undertake this
in such a manner that she does not learn very quickly!—If either by
chance, or prompted by a deliberate wish, she takes measures to escape
without a passport, that is to say, alone in the carriage, have I not
a driver, a footman, a groom? My wife, therefore, go where she will,
takes with her a complete Santa Hermandad, and I am perfectly
easy in mind—But, my dear sir, there is abundance of means by which
to annul the charter of marriage by our manner of fulfilling it! I
have remarked that the manners of high society induce a habit of
idleness which absorbs half of the life of a woman without permitting
her to feel that she is alive. For my part, I have formed the project
of dexterously leading my wife along, up to her fortieth year, without
letting her think of adultery, just as poor Musson used to amuse
himself in leading some simple fellow from the Rue Saint-Denis to
Pierrefitte without letting him think that he had left the shadows of
St. Lew's tower."
"How is it," I said, interrupting him, "that you have hit upon
those admirable methods of deception which I was intending to describe
in a Meditation entitled The Act of Putting Death into Life!
Alas! I thought I was the first man to discover that science. The
epigrammatic title was suggested to me by an account which a young
doctor gave me of an excellent composition of Crabbe, as yet
unpublished. In this work, the English poet has introduced a fantastic
being called Life in Death. This personage crosses the oceans
of the world in pursuit of a living skeleton called Death in
Life—I recollect at the time very few people, among the guests of a
certain elegant translator of English poetry, understood the mystic
meaning of a fable as true as it was fanciful. Myself alone, perhaps,
as I sat buried in silence, thought of the whole generations which as
they were hurried along by life, passed on their way without living.
Before my eyes rose faces of women by the million, by the myriad, all
dead, all disappointed and shedding tears of despair, as they looked
back upon the lost moments of their ignorant youth. In the distance I
saw a playful Meditation rise to birth, I heard the satanic laughter
which ran through it, and now you doubtless are about to kill it.—But
come, tell me in confidence what means you have discovered by which to
assist a woman to squander the swift moments during which her beauty
is at its full flower and her desires at their full strength.—Perhaps
you have some stratagems, some clever devices, to describe to me—"
The viscount began to laugh at this literary disappointment of
mine, and he said to me, with a self-satisfied air:
"My wife, like all the young people of our happy century, has been
accustomed, for three or four consecutive years, to press her fingers
on the keys of a piano, a long-suffering instrument. She has hammered
out Beethoven, warbled the airs of Rossini and run through the
exercises of Crammer. I had already taken pains to convince her of the
excellence of music; to attain this end, I have applauded her, I have
listened without yawning to the most tiresome sonatas in the world,
and I have at last consented to give her a box at the Bouffons. I have
thus gained three quiet evenings out of the seven which God has
created in the week. I am the mainstay of the music shops. At Paris
there are drawing-rooms which exactly resemble the musical snuff-boxes
of Germany. They are a sort of continuous orchestra to which I
regularly go in search of that surfeit of harmony which my wife calls
a concert. But most part of the time my wife keeps herself buried in
"But, my dear sir, do you not recognize the danger that lies in
cultivating in a woman a taste for singing, and allowing her to yield
to all the excitements of a sedentary life? It is only less dangerous
to make her feed on mutton and drink cold water."
"My wife never eats anything but the white meat of poultry, and I
always take care that a ball shall come after a concert and a
reception after an Opera! I have also succeeded in making her lie down
between one and two in the day. Ah! my dear sir, the benefits of this
nap are incalculable! In the first place each necessary pleasure is
accorded as a favor, and I am considered to be constantly carrying out
my wife's wishes. And then I lead her to imagine, without saying a
single word, that she is being constantly amused every day from six
o'clock in the evening, the time of our dinner and of her toilet,
until eleven o'clock in the morning, the time when we get up."
"Ah! sir, how grateful you ought to be for a life which is so
completely filled up!"
"I have scarcely more than three dangerous hours a day to pass; but
she has, of course, sonatas to practice and airs to go over, and there
are always rides in the Bois de Boulogne, carriages to try, visits to
pay, etc. But this is not all. The fairest ornament of a woman is the
most exquisite cleanliness. A woman cannot be too particular in this
respect, and no pains she takes can be laughed at. Now her toilet has
also suggested to me a method of thus consuming the best hours of the
day in bathing."
"How lucky I am in finding a listener like you!" I cried; "truly,
sir, you could waste for her four hours a day, if only you were
willing to teach her an art quite unknown to the most fastidious of
our modern fine ladies. Why don't you enumerate to the viscountess the
astonishing precautions manifest in the Oriental luxury of the Roman
dames? Give her the names of the slaves merely employed for the bath
in Poppea's palace: the unctores, the fricatores, the alipilarili, the
tracatrices, the swan whiteners, and all
the rest. —Talk to her about this multitude of slaves whose names are
given by Mirabeau in his Erotika Biblion. If she tries to
secure the services of all these people you will have the fine times
of quietness, not to speak of the personal satisfaction which will
redound to you yourself from the introduction into your house of the
system invented by these illustrious Romans, whose hair, artistically
arranged, was deluged with perfumes, whose smallest vein seemed to
have acquired fresh blood from the myrrh, the lint, the perfume, the
douches, the flowers of the bath, all of which were enjoyed to the
strains of voluptuous music."
"Ah! sir," continued the husband, who was warming to his subject,
"can I not find also admirable pretexts in my solicitude for her
heath? Her health, so dear and precious to me, forces me to forbid her
going out in bad weather, and thus I gain a quarter of the year. And I
have also introduced the charming custom of kissing when either of us
goes out, this parting kiss being accompanied with the words, 'My
sweet angel, I am going out.' Finally, I have taken measures for the
future to make my wife as truly a prisoner in the house as the
conscript in his sentry box! For I have inspired her with an
incredible enthusiasm for the sacred duties of maternity."
"You do it by opposing her?" I asked.
"You have guessed it," he answered, laughing. "I have maintained to
her that it is impossible for a woman of the world to discharge her
duties towards society, to manage her household, to devote herself to
fashion, as well as to the wishes of her husband, whom she loves, and,
at the same time, to rear children. She then avers that, after the
example of Cato, who wished to see how the nurse changed the swaddling
bands of the infant Pompey, she would never leave to others the least
of the services required in shaping the susceptible minds and tender
bodies of these little creatures whose education begins in the cradle.
You understand, sir, that my conjugal diplomacy would not be of much
service to me unless, after having put my wife in solitary
confinement, I did not also employ a certain harmless machiavelism,
which consists in begging her to do whatever she likes, and asking her
advice in every circumstance and on every contingency. As this
delusive liberty has entirely deceived a creature so high-minded as
she is, I have taken pains to stop at no sacrifice which would
convince Madame de V——- that she is the freest woman in Paris; and,
in order to attain this end, I take care not to commit those gross
political blunders into which our ministers so often fall."
"I can see you," said I, "when you wish to cheat your wife out of
some right granted her by the charter, I can see you putting on a mild
and deliberate air, hiding your dagger under a bouquet of roses, and
as you plunge it cautiously into her heart, saying to her with a
friendly voice, 'My darling, does it hurt?' and she, like those on
whose toes you tread in a crowd, will probably reply, 'Not in the
He could not restrain a laugh and said:
"Won't my wife be astonished at the Last Judgment?"
"I scarcely know," I replied, "whether you or she will be most
The jealous man frowned, but his face resumed its calmness as I
"I am truly grateful, sir, to the chance which has given me the
pleasure of your acquaintance. Without the assistance of your remarks
I should have been less successful than you have been in developing
certain ideas which we possess in common. I beg of you that you will
give me leave to publish this conversation. Statements which you and I
find pregnant with high political conceptions, others perhaps will
think characterized by more or less cutting irony, and I shall pass
for a clever fellow in the eyes of both parties."
While I thus tried to express my thanks to the viscount (the first
husband after my heart that I had met with), he took me once more
through his apartments, where everything seemed to be beyond
I was about to take leave of him, when opening the door of a little
boudoir he showed me a room with an air which seemed to say, "Is there
any way by which the least irregularity should occur without my seeing
I replied to this silent interrogation by an inclination of the
head, such as guests make to their Amphytrion when they taste some
exceptionally choice dish.
"My whole system," he said to me in a whisper, "was suggested to me
by three words which my father heard Napoleon pronounce at a crowded
council of state, when divorce was the subject of conversation.
'Adultery,' he exclaimed, 'is merely a matter of opportunity!' See,
then, I have changed these accessories of crime, so that they become
spies," added the councillor, pointing out to me a divan covered with
tea-colored cashmere, the cushions of which were slightly pressed.
"Notice that impression,—I learn from it that my wife has had a
headache, and has been reclining there."
We stepped toward the divan, and saw the word FOOL lightly traced
upon the fatal cushion, by four
Things that I know not, plucked by lover's hand
From Cypris' orchard, where the fairy band
Are dancing, once by nobles thought to be
Worthy an order of new chivalry,
A brotherhood, wherein, with script of gold,
More mortal men than gods should be enrolled.
"Nobody in my house has black hair!" said the husband, growing
I hurried away, for I was seized with an irresistible fit of
laughter, which I could not easily overcome.
"That man has met his judgment day!" I said to myself; "all the
barriers by which he has surrounded her have only been instrumental in
adding to the intensity of her pleasures!"
This idea saddened me. The adventure destroyed from summit to
foundation three of my most important Meditations, and the catholic
infallibility of my book was assailed in its most essential point. I
would gladly have paid to establish the fidelity of the Viscountess
V——- a sum as great as very many people would have offered to secure
her surrender. But alas! my money will now be kept by me.
Three days afterwards I met the councillor in the foyer of the
Italiens. As soon as he saw me he rushed up. Impelled by a sort of
modesty I tried to avoid him, but grasping my arm: "Ah! I have just
passed three cruel days," he whispered in my ear. "Fortunately my wife
is as innocent as perhaps a new-born babe—"
"You have already told me that the viscountess was extremely
ingenious," I said, with unfeeling gaiety.
"Oh!" he said, "I gladly take a joke this evening; for this morning
I had irrefragable proofs of my wife's fidelity. I had risen very
early to finish a piece of work for which I had been rushed, and in
looking absently in my garden, I suddenly saw the valet de chambre
of a general, whose house is next to mine, climbing over the wall. My
wife's maid, poking her head from the vestibule, was stroking my dog
and covering the retreat of the gallant. I took my opera glass and
examined the intruder—his hair was jet black!—Ah! never have I seen
a Christian face that gave me more delight! And you may well believe
that during the day all my perplexities vanished. So, my dear sir," he
continued, "if you marry, let your dog loose and put broken bottles
over the top of your walls."
"And did the viscountess perceive your distress during these three
"Do you take me for a child?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I
have never been so merry in all my life as I have been since we met."
"You are a great man unrecognized," I cried, "and you are not—"
He did not permit me to conclude; for he had disappeared on seeing
one of his friends who approached as if to greet the viscountess.
Now what can we add that would not be a tedious paraphrase of the
lessons suggested by this conversation? All is included in it, either
as seed or fruit. Nevertheless, you see, O husband! that your
happiness hangs on a hair.
MEDITATION XVII. THE THEORY OF THE
It was about seven o'clock in the evening. They were seated upon
the academic armchairs, which made a semi-circle round a huge hearth,
on which a coal fire was burning fitfully—symbol of the burning
subject of their important deliberations. It was easy to guess, on
seeing the grave but earnest faces of all the members of this
assembly, that they were called upon to pronounce sentence upon the
life, the fortunes and the happiness of people like themselves. They
had no commission excepting that of their conscience, and they
gathered there as the assessors of an ancient and mysterious tribunal;
but they represented interests much more important than those of kings
or of peoples; they spoke in the name of the passions and on behalf of
the happiness of the numberless generations which should succeed them.
The grandson of the celebrated Boulle was seated before a round
table on which were placed the criminal exhibits which had been
collected with remarkable intelligence. I, the insignificant secretary
of the meeting, occupied a place at this desk, where it was my office
to take down a report of the meeting.
"Gentlemen," said an old man, "the first question upon which we
have to deliberate is found clearly stated in the following passage of
a letter. The letter was written to the Princess of Wales, Caroline of
Anspach, by the widow of the Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV,
mother of the Regent: 'The Queen of Spain has a method of making her
husband say exactly what she wishes. The king is a religious man; he
believes that he will be damned if he touched any woman but his wife,
and still this excellent prince is of a very amorous temperament. Thus
the queen obtains her every wish. She has placed castors on her
husband's bed. If he refuses her anything, she pushes the bed away. If
he grants her request, the beds stand side by side, and she admits him
into hers. And so the king is highly delighted, since he likes ——-'
I will not go any further, gentlemen, for the virtuous frankness of
the German princess might in this assembly be charged with
Should wise husbands adopt these beds on castors? This is the
problem which we have to solve.
The unanimity of the vote left no doubt about the opinion of the
assembly. I was ordered to inscribe in the records, that if two
married people slept on two separate beds in the same room the beds
ought not to be set on castors.
"With this proviso," put in one of the members, "that the present
decision should have no bearing on any subsequent ruling upon the best
arrangement of the beds of married people."
The president passed to me a choicely bound volume, in which was
contained the original edition, published in 1788, of the letters of
Charlotte Elizabeth de Baviere, widow of the Duke of Orleans, the only
brother of Louis XIV, and, while I was transcribing the passage
already quoted, he said:
"But, gentlemen, you must all have received at your houses the
notification in which the second question is stated."
"I rise to make an observation," exclaimed the youngest of the
jealous husbands there assembled.
The president took his seat with a gesture of assent.
"Gentlemen," said the young husband, "are we quite prepared to
deliberate upon so grave a question as that which is presented by the
universally bad arrangement of the beds? Is there not here a much
wider question than that of mere cabinet-making to decide? For my own
part I see in it a question which concerns that of universal human
intellect. The mysteries of conception, gentlemen, are still enveloped
in a darkness which modern science has but partially dissipated. We do
not know how far external circumstances influence the microscopic
beings whose discovery is due to the unwearied patience of Hill,
Baker, Joblot, Eichorn, Gleichen, Spallanzani, and especially of
Muller, and last of all of M. Bory de Saint Vincent. The imperfections
of the bed opens up a musical question of the highest importance, and
for my part I declare I shall write to Italy to obtain clear
information as to the manner in which beds are generally arranged. We
do not know whether there are in the Italian bed numerous curtain
rods, screws and castors, or whether the construction of beds is in
this country more faulty than everywhere else, or whether the dryness
of timber in Italy, due to the influence of the sun, does not ab ovo
produce the harmony, the sense of which is to so large an extent
innate in Italians. For these reasons I move that we adjourn."
"What!" cried a gentleman from the West, impatiently rising to his
feet, "are we here to dilate upon the advancement of music? What we
have to consider first of all is manners, and the moral question is
paramount in this discussion."
"Nevertheless," remarked one of the most influential members of the
council, "the suggestion of the former speaker is not in my opinion to
be passed by. In the last century, gentlemen, Sterne, one of the
writers most philosophically delightful and most delightfully
philosophic, complained of the carelessness with which human beings
were procreated; 'Shame!' he cried 'that he who copies the divine
physiognomy of man receives crowns and applause, but he who achieves
the masterpiece, the prototype of mimic art, feels that like virtue he
must be his own reward.'
"Ought we not to feel more interest in the improvement of the human
race than in that of horses? Gentlemen, I passed through a little town
of Orleanais where the whole population consisted of hunchbacks, of
glum and gloomy people, veritable children of sorrow, and the remark
of the former speaker caused me to recollect that all the beds were in
a very bad condition and the bedchambers presented nothing to the eyes
of the married couple but what was hideous and revolting. Ah!
gentlemen, how is it possible that our minds should be in an ideal
state, when instead of the music of angels flying here and there in
the bosom of that heaven to which we have attained, our ears are
assailed by the most detestable, the most angry, the most piercing of
human cries and lamentations? We are perhaps indebted for the fine
geniuses who have honored humanity to beds which are solidly
constructed; and the turbulent population which caused the French
Revolution were conceived perhaps upon a multitude of tottering
couches, with twisted and unstable legs; while the Orientals, who are
such a beautiful race, have a unique method of making their beds. I
vote for the adjournment."
And the gentleman sat down.
A man belonging to the sect of Methodists arose. "Why should we
change the subject of debate? We are not dealing here with the
improvement of the race nor with the perfecting of the work. We must
not lose sight of the interests of the jealous husband and the
principles on which moral soundness is based. Don't you know that the
noise of which you complain seems more terrible to the wife uncertain
of her crime, than the trumpet of the Last Judgment? Can you forget
that a suit for infidelity could never be won by a husband excepting
through this conjugal noise? I will undertake, gentlemen, to refer to
the divorces of Lord Abergavenny, of Viscount Bolingbroke, of the late
Queen Caroline, of Eliza Draper, of Madame Harris, in fact, of all
those who are mentioned in the twenty volumes published by—." (The
secretary did not distinctly hear the name of the English publisher.)
The motion to adjourn was carried. The youngest member proposed to
make up a purse for the author producing the best dissertation
addressed to the society upon a subject which Sterne considered of
such importance; but at the end of the séance eighteen shillings was
the total sum found in the hat of the president.
The above debate of the society, which had recently been formed in
London for the improvement of manners and of marriage and which Lord
Byron scoffed at, was transmitted to us by the kindness of W. Hawkins,
Esq., cousin-german of the famous Captain Clutterbuck. The extract may
serve to solve any difficulties which may occur in the theory of bed
But the author of the book considers that the English society has
given too much importance to this preliminary question. There exists
in fact quite as many reasons for being a Rossinist as for
being a Solidist in the matter of beds, and the author
acknowledges that it is either beneath or above him to solve this
difficulty. He thinks with Laurence Sterne that it is a disgrace to
European civilization that there exist so few physiological
observations on callipedy, and he refuses to state the results of his
Meditations on this subject, because it would be difficult to
formulate them in terms of prudery, and they would be but little
understood, and misinterpreted. Such reserve produces an hiatus in
this part of the book; but the author has the pleasant satisfaction of
leaving a fourth work to be accomplished by the next century, to which
he bequeaths the legacy of all that he has not accomplished, a
negative munificence which may well be followed by all those who may
be troubled by an overplus of ideas.
The theory of the bed presents questions much more important than
those put forth by our neighbors with regard to castors and the
murmurs of criminal conversation.
We know only three ways in which a bed (in the general sense of
this term) may be arranged among civilized nations, and particularly
among the privileged classes to whom this book is addressed. These
three ways are as follows:
1. TWIN BEDS.
2. SEPARATE ROOMS.
3. ONE BED FOR BOTH.
Before applying ourselves to the examination of these three methods
of living together, which must necessarily have different influences
upon the happiness of husbands and wives, we must take a rapid survey
of the practical object served by the bed and the part it plays in the
political economy of human existence.
The most incontrovertible principle which can be laid down in this
matter is, that the bed was made to sleep upon.
It would be easy to prove that the practice of sleeping together
was established between married people but recently, in comparison
with the antiquity of marriage.
By what reasonings has man arrived at that point in which he
brought in vogue a practice so fatal to happiness, to health, even to amour- propre? Here we have a subject which it would be curious to
If you knew one of your rivals who had discovered a method of
placing you in a position of extreme absurdity before the eyes of
those who were dearest to you—for instance, while you had your mouth
crooked like that of a theatrical mask, or while your eloquent lips,
like the copper faucet of a scanty fountain, dripped pure water—you
would probably stab him. This rival is sleep. Is there a man in the
world who knows how he appears to others, and what he does when he is
In sleep we are living corpses, we are the prey of an unknown power
which seizes us in spite of ourselves, and shows itself in the oddest
shapes; some have a sleep which is intellectual, while the sleep of
others is mere stupor.
There are some people who slumber with their mouths open in the
There are others who snore loud enough to make the timbers shake.
Most people look like the impish devils that Michael Angelo
sculptured, putting out their tongues in silent mockery of the
The only person I know of in the world who sleeps with a noble air
is Agamemnon, whom Guerin has represented lying on his bed at the
moment when Clytemnestra, urged by Egisthus, advances to slay him.
Moreover, I have always had an ambition to hold myself on my pillow as
the king of kings Agamemnon holds himself, from the day that I was
seized with dread of being seen during sleep by any other eyes than
those of Providence. In the same way, too, from the day I heard my old
nurse snorting in her sleep "like a whale," to use a slang expression,
I have added a petition to the special litany which I address to
Saint- Honore, my patron saint, to the effect that he would save me
from indulging in this sort of eloquence.
When a man wakes up in the morning, his drowsy face grotesquely
surmounted by the folds of a silk handkerchief which falls over his
left temple like a police cap, he is certainly a laughable object, and
it is difficult to recognize in him the glorious spouse, celebrated in
the strophes of Rousseau; but, nevertheless, there is a certain gleam
of life to illume the stupidity of a countenance half dead—and if you
artists wish to make fine sketches, you should travel on the stage-
coach and, when the postilion wakes up the postmaster, just examine
the physiognomies of the departmental clerks! But, were you a hundred
times as pleasant to look upon as are these bureaucratic
physiognomies, at least, while you have your mouth shut, your eyes are
open, and you have some expression in your countenance. Do you know
how you looked an hour before you awoke, or during the first hour of
your sleep, when you were neither a man nor an animal, but merely a
thing, subject to the dominion of those dreams which issue from the
gate of horn? But this is a secret between your wife and God.
Is it for the purpose of insinuating the imbecility of slumber that
the Romans decorated the heads of their beds with the head of an ass?
We leave to the gentlemen who form the academy of inscriptions the
elucidation of this point.
Assuredly, the first man who took it into his head, at the
inspiration of the devil, not to leave his wife, even while she was
asleep, should know how to sleep in the very best style; but do not
forget to reckon among the sciences necessary to a man on setting up
an establishment, the art of sleeping with elegance. Moreover, we will
place here as a corollary to Axiom XXV of our Marriage Catechism the
two following aphorisms:
A husband should sleep as lightly as a watch-dog, so as never to
be caught with his eyes shut.
A man should accustom himself from childhood to go to bed
Certain poets discern in modesty, in the alleged mysteries of love,
some reason why the married couple should share the same bed; but the
fact must be recognized that if primitive men sought the shade of
caverns, the mossy couch of deep ravines, the flinty roof of grottoes
to protect his pleasure, it was because the delight of love left him
without defence against his enemies. No, it is not more natural to lay
two heads upon the same pillow, than it is reasonable to tie a strip
of muslin round the neck. Civilization is come. It has shut up a
million of men within an area of four square leagues; it has stalled
them in streets, houses, apartments, rooms, and chambers eight feet
square; after a time it will make them shut up one upon another like
the tubes of a telescope.
From this cause and from many others, such as thrift, fear, and
ill- concealed jealousy, has sprung the custom of the sleeping
together of the married couple; and this custom has given rise to
punctuality and simultaneity in rising and retiring.
And here you find the most capricious thing in the world, the
feeling most pre-eminently fickle, the thing which is worthless
without its own spontaneous inspiration, which takes all its charm
from the suddenness of its desires, which owes its attractions to the
genuineness of its outbursts—this thing we call love, subjugated to a
monastic rule, to that law of geometry which belongs to the Board of
If I were a father I should hate the child, who, punctual as the
clock, had every morning and evening an explosion of tenderness and
wished me good-day and good-evening, because he was ordered to do so.
It is in this way that all that is generous and spontaneous in human
sentiment becomes strangled at its birth. You may judge from this what
love means when it is bound to a fixed hour!
Only the Author of everything can make the sun rise and set, morn
and eve, with a pomp invariably brilliant and always new, and no one
here below, if we may be permitted to use the hyperbole of
Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, can play the role of the sun.
From these preliminary observations, we conclude that it is not
natural for two to lie under the canopy in the same bed;
That a man is almost always ridiculous when he is asleep;
And that this constant living together threatens the husband with
We are going to try, therefore, to find out a method which will
bring our customs in harmony with the laws of nature, and to combine
custom and nature in a way that will enable a husband to find in the
mahogany of his bed a useful ally, and an aid in defending himself.
1. TWIN BEDS.
If the most brilliant, the best-looking, the cleverest of husbands
wishes to find himself minotaurized just as the first year of his
married life ends, he will infallibly attain that end if he is unwise
enough to place two beds side by side, under the voluptuous dome of
the same alcove.
The argument in support of this may be briefly stated. The
following are its main lines:
The first husband who invented the twin beds was doubtless an
obstetrician, who feared that in the involuntary struggles of some
dream he might kick the child borne by his wife.
But no, he was rather some predestined one who distrusted his power
of checking a snore.
Perhaps it was some young man who, fearing the excess of his own
tenderness, found himself always lying at the edge of the bed and in
danger of tumbling off, or so near to a charming wife that he
disturbed her slumber.
But may it not have been some Maintenon who received the suggestion
from her confessor, or, more probably, some ambitious woman who wished
to rule her husband? Or, more undoubtedly, some pretty little
Pompadour overcome by that Parisian infirmity so pleasantly described
by M. de Maurepas in that quatrain which cost him his protracted
disgrace and certainly contributed to the disasters of Louis XVI's
"Iris, we love those features sweet,
Your graces all are fresh and free;
And flowerets spring beneath your feet,
Where naught, alas! but flowers are seen."
But why should it not have been a philosopher who dreaded the
disenchantment which a woman would experience at the sight of a man
asleep? And such a one would always roll himself up in a coverlet and
keep his head bare.
Unknown author of this Jesuitical method, whoever thou art, in the
devil's name, we hail thee as a brother! Thou hast been the cause of
many disasters. Thy work has the character of all half measures; it is
satisfactory in no respect, and shares the bad points of the two other
methods without yielding the advantages of either. How can the man of
the nineteenth century, how can this creature so supremely
intelligent, who has displayed a power well-nigh supernatural, who has
employed the resources of his genius in concealing the machinery of
his life, in deifying his necessary cravings in order that he might
not despise them, going so far as to wrest from Chinese leaves, from
Egyptian beans, from seeds of Mexico, their perfume, their treasure,
their soul; going so far as to chisel the diamond, chase the silver,
melt the gold ore, paint the clay and woo every art that may serve to
decorate and to dignify the bowl from which he feeds!—how can this
king, after having hidden under folds of muslin covered with diamonds,
studded with rubies, and buried under linen, under folds of cotton,
under the rich hues of silk, under the fairy patterns of lace, the
partner of his wretchedness, how can he induce her to make shipwreck
in the midst of all this luxury on the decks of two beds. What
advantage is it that we have made the whole universe subserve our
existence, our delusions, the poesy of our life? What good is it to
have instituted law, morals and religion, if the invention of an
upholsterer [for probably it was an upholsterer who invented the twin
beds] robs our love of all its illusions, strips it bare of the
majestic company of its delights and gives it in their stead nothing
but what is ugliest and most odious? For this is the whole history of
the two bed system.
LXIII. That it shall appear either
sublime or grotesque are the alternatives to which we have reduced a
If it be shared, our love is sublime; but should you sleep in twin
beds, your love will always be grotesque. The absurdities which this
half separation occasions may be comprised in either one of two
situations, which will give us occasion to reveal the causes of very
many marital misfortunes.
Midnight is approaching as a young woman is putting on her curl
papers and yawning as she did so. I do not know whether her melancholy
proceeded from a headache, seated in the right or left lobe of her
brain, or whether she was passing through one of those seasons of
weariness during which all things appear black to us; but to see her
negligently putting up her hair for the night, to see her languidly
raising her leg to take off her garter, it seemed to me that she would
prefer to be drowned rather than to be denied the relief of plunging
her draggled life into the slumber that might restore it. At this
instant, I know not to what degree from the North Pole she stands,
whether at Spitzberg or in Greenland. Cold and indifferent she goes to
bed thinking, as Mistress Walter Shandy might have thought, that the
morrow would be a day of sickness, that her husband is coming home
very late, that the beaten eggs which she has just eaten were not
sufficiently sweetened, that she owes more than five hundred francs to
her dressmaker; in fine, thinking about everything which you may
suppose would occupy the mind of a tired woman. In the meanwhile
arrives her great lout of a husband, who, after some business meeting,
has drunk punch, with a consequent elation. He takes off his boots,
leaves his stockings on a lounge, his bootjack lies before the
fireplace; and wrapping his head up in a red silk handkerchief,
without giving himself the trouble to tuck in the corners, he fires
off at his wife certain interjectory phrases, those little marital
endearments, which form almost the whole conversation at those
twilight hours, where drowsy reason is no longer shining in this
mechanism of ours. "What, in bed already! It was devilish cold this
evening! Why don't you speak, my pet? You've already rolled yourself
up in bed, then! Ah! you are in the dumps and pretend to be asleep!"
These exclamations are mingled with yawns; and after numberless little
incidents which according to the usage of each home vary this preface
of the night, our friend flings himself into his own bed with a heavy
Alas! before a woman who is cold, how mad a man must appear when
desire renders him alternately angry and tender, insolent and abject,
biting as an epigram and soothing as a madrigal; when he enacts with
more or less sprightliness the scene where, in Venice Preserved
, the genius of Orway has represented the senator Antonio, repeating a
hundred times over at the feet of Aquilina: "Aquilina, Quilina, Lina,
Aqui, Nacki!" without winning from her aught save the stroke of her
whip, inasmuch as he has undertaken to fawn upon her like a dog. In
the eyes of every woman, even of a lawful wife, the more a man shows
eager passion under these circumstances, the more silly he appears. He
is odious when he commands, he is minotaurized if he abuses his power.
On this point I would remind you of certain aphorisms in the marriage
catechism from which you will see that you are violating its most
sacred precepts. Whether a woman yields, or does not yield, this
institution of twin beds gives to marriage such an element of
roughness and nakedness that the most chaste wife and the most
intelligent husband are led to immodesty.
This scene, which is enacted in a thousand ways and which may
originate in a thousand different incidents, has a sequel in that
other situation which, while it is less pleasant, is far more
One evening when I was talking about these serious matters with the
late Comte de Noce, of whom I have already had occasion to speak, a
tall white-haired old man, his intimate friend, whose name I will not
give, because he is still alive, looked at us with a somewhat
melancholy air. We guessed that he was about to relate some tale of
scandal, and we accordingly watched him, somewhat as the stenographer
of the Moniteur might watch, as he mounted the tribune, a
minister whose speech had already been written out for the reporter.
The story- teller on this occasion was an old marquis, whose fortune,
together with his wife and children, had perished in the disasters of
the Revolution. The marchioness had been one of the most inconsistent
women of the past generation; the marquis accordingly was not wanting
in observations on feminine human nature. Having reached an age in
which he saw nothing before him but the gulf of the grave, he spoke
about himself as if the subject of his talk were Mark Antony or
"My young friend"—he did me the honor to address me, for it was I
who made the last remark in this discussion—"your reflections make me
think of a certain evening, in the course of which one of my friends
conducted himself in such a manner as to lose forever the respect of
his wife. Now, in those days a woman could take vengeance with
marvelous facility—for it was always a word and a blow. The married
couple I speak of were particular in sleeping on separate beds, with
their head under the arch of the same alcove. They came home one night
from a brilliant ball given by the Comte de Mercy, ambassador of the
emperor. The husband had lost a considerable sum at play, so he was
completely absorbed in thought. He had to pay a debt, the next day, of
six thousand crowns!—and you will recollect, Noce, that a hundred
crowns couldn't be made up from scraping together the resources of ten
such musketeers. The young woman, as generally happens under such
circumstances, was in a gale of high spirits. 'Give to the marquis,'
she said to a valet de chambre, 'all that he requires for his
toilet.' In those days people dressed for the night. These
extraordinary words did not rouse the husband from his mood of
abstraction, and then madame, assisted by her maid, began to indulge
in a thousand coquetries. 'Was my appearance to your taste this
evening?' 'You are always to my taste,' answered the marquis,
continuing to stride up and down the room. 'You are very gloomy! Come
and talk to me, you frowning lover,' said she, placing herself before
him in the most seductive negligee. But you can have no idea of the
enchantments of the marchioness unless you had known her. Ah! you have
seen her, Noce!" he said with a mocking smile. "Finally, in spite of
all her allurements and beauty, the marchioness was lost sight of amid
thoughts of the six thousand crowns which this fool of a husband could
not get out of his head, and she went to bed all alone. But women
always have one resource left; so that the moment that the good
husband made as though he would get into his bed, the marchioness
cried, 'Oh, how cold I am!' 'So am I,' he replied. 'How is it that the
servants have not warmed our beds?'—And then I rang."
The Comte de Noce could not help laughing, and the old marquis,
quite put out of countenance, stopped short.
Not to divine the desire of a wife, to snore while she lies awake,
to be in Siberia when she is in the tropics, these are the slighter
disadvantages of twin beds. What risks will not a passionate woman run
when she becomes aware that her husband is a heavy sleeper?
I am indebted to Beyle for an Italian anecdote, to which his dry
and sarcastic manner lent an infinite charm, as he told me this tale
of feminine hardihood.
Ludovico had his palace at one end of the town of Milan; at the
other was that of the Countess of Pernetti. At midnight, on a certain
occasion, Ludovico resolved, at the peril of his life, to make a rash
expedition for the sake of gazing for one second on the face he
adored, and accordingly appeared as if by magic in the palace of his
well-beloved. He reached the nuptial chamber. Elisa Pernetti, whose
heart most probably shared the desire of her lover, heard the sound of
his footsteps and divined his intention. She saw through the walls of
her chamber a countenance glowing with love. She rose from her
marriage bed, light as a shadow she glided to the threshold of her
door, with a look she embraced him, she seized his hand, she made a
sign to him, she drew him in.
"But he will kill you!" said he.
But all this amounts to nothing. Let us grant that most husbands
sleep lightly. Let us grant that they sleep without snoring, and that
they always discern the degree of latitude at which their wives are to
be found. Moreover, all the reasons which we have given why twin beds
should be condemned, let us consider but dust in the balance. But,
after all, a final consideration would make us also proscribe the use
of beds ranged within the limits of the same alcove.
To a man placed in the position of a husband, there are
circumstances which have led us to consider the nuptial couch as an
actual means of defence. For it is only in bed that a man can tell
whether his wife's love is increasing or decreasing. It is the
conjugal barometer. Now to sleep in twin beds is to wish for
ignorance. You will understand, when we come to treat of civil war
(See Part Third) of what extreme usefulness a bed is and how many
secrets a wife reveals in bed, without knowing it.
Do not therefore allow yourself to be led astray by the specious
good nature of such an institution as that of twin beds.
It is the silliest, the most treacherous, the most dangerous in the
world. Shame and anathema to him who conceived it!
But in proportion as this method is pernicious in the case of young
married people, it is salutary and advantageous for those who have
reached the twentieth year of married life. Husband and wife can then
most conveniently indulge their duets of snoring. It will, moreover,
be more convenient for their various maladies, whether rheumatism,
obstinate gout, or even the taking of a pinch of snuff; and the cough
or the snore will not in any respect prove a greater hindrance than it
is found to be in any other arrangement.
We have not thought it necessary to mention the exceptional cases
which authorize a husband to resort to twin beds. However, the opinion
of Bonaparte was that when once there had taken place an interchange
of life and breath (such are his words), nothing, not even sickness,
should separate married people. This point is so delicate that it is
not possible here to treat it methodically.
Certain narrow minds will object that there are certain patriarchal
families whose legislation of love is inflexible in the matter of two
beds and an alcove, and that, by this arrangement, they have been
happy from generation to generation. But, the only answer that the
author vouchsafes to this is that he knows a great many respectable
people who pass their lives in watching games of billiards.
2. SEPARATE ROOMS.
There cannot be found in Europe a hundred husbands of each nation
sufficiently versed in the science of marriage, or if you like, of
life, to be able to dwell in an apartment separate from that of their
The power of putting this system into practice shows the highest
degree of intellectual and masculine force.
The married couple who dwell in separate apartments have become
either divorced, or have attained to the discovery of happiness. They
either abominate or adore each other. We will not undertake to detail
here the admirable precepts which may be deduced from this theory
whose end is to make constancy and fidelity easy and delightful. It
may be sufficient to declare that by this system alone two married
people can realize the dream of many noble souls. This will be
understood by all the faithful.
As for the profane, their curious questionings will be sufficiently
answered by the remark that the object of this institution is to give
happiness to one woman. Which among them will be willing to deprive
general society of any share in the talents with which they think
themselves endowed, to the advantage of one woman? Nevertheless, the
rendering of his mistress happy gives any one the fairest title to
glory which can be earned in this valley of Jehosaphat, since,
according to Genesis, Eve was not satisfied even with a terrestrial
Paradise. She desired to taste the forbidden fruit, the eternal emblem
But there is an insurmountable reason why we should refrain from
developing this brilliant theory. It would cause a digression from the
main theme of our work. In the situation which we have supposed to be
that of a married establishment, a man who is sufficiently unwise to
sleep apart from his wife deserves no pity for the disaster which he
Let us then resume our subject. Every man is not strong enough to
undertake to occupy an apartment separate from that of his wife;
although any man might derive as much good as evil from the
difficulties which exist in using but one bed.
We now proceed to solve the difficulties which superficial minds
may detect in this method, for which our predilection is manifest.
But this paragraph, which is in some sort a silent one, inasmuch as
we leave it to the commentaries which will be made in more than one
home, may serve as a pedestal for the imposing figure of Lycurgus,
that ancient legislator, to whom the Greeks are indebted for their
profoundest thoughts on the subject of marriage. May his system be
understood by future generations! And if modern manners are too much
given to softness to adopt his system in its entirety, they may at
least be imbued with the robust spirit of this admirable code.
3. ONE BED FOR BOTH.
On a night in December, Frederick the Great looked up at the sky,
whose stars were twinkling with that clear and living light which
presages heavy frost, and he exclaimed, "This weather will result in a
great many soldiers to Prussia."
The king expressed here, by a single phrase, the principal
disadvantage which results from the constant living together of
married people. Although it may be permitted to Napoleon and to
Frederick to estimate the value of a woman more or less according to
the number of her children, yet a husband of talent ought, according
to the maxims of the thirteenth Meditation, to consider child-
begetting merely as a means of defence, and it is for him to know to
what extent it may take place.
The observation leads into mysteries from which the physiological
Muse recoils. She has been quite willing to enter the nuptial chambers
while they are occupied, but she is a virgin and a prude, and there
are occasions on which she retires. For, since it is at this passage
in my book that the Muse is inclined to put her white hands before her
eyes so as to see nothing, like the young girl looking through the
interstices of her tapering fingers, she will take advantage of this
attack of modesty, to administer a reprimand to our manners. In
England the nuptial chamber is a sacred place. The married couple
alone have the privilege of entering it, and more than one lady, we
are told, makes her bed herself. Of all the crazes which reign beyond
the sea, why should the only one which we despise be precisely that,
whose grace and mystery ought undoubtedly to meet the approval of all
tender souls on this continent? Refined women condemn the immodesty
with which strangers are introduced into the sanctuary of marriage. As
for us, who have energetically anathematized women who walk abroad at
the time when they expect soon to be confined, our opinion cannot be
doubted. If we wish the celibate to respect marriage, married people
ought to have some regard for the inflammability of bachelors.
To sleep every night with one's wife may seem, we confess, an act
of the most insolent folly.
Many husbands are inclined to ask how a man, who desires to bring
marriage to perfection, dare prescribe to a husband a rule of conduct
which would be fatal in a lover.
Nevertheless, such is the decision of a doctor of arts and sciences
In the first place, without making a resolution never to sleep by
himself, this is the only course left to a husband, since we have
demonstrated the dangers of the preceding systems. We must now try to
prove that this last method yields more advantage and less
disadvantage than the two preceding methods, that is, so far as
relates to the critical position in which a conjugal establishment
Our observations on the twin beds ought to have taught husbands
that they should always be strung into the same degree of fervor as
that which prevails in the harmonious organization of their wives. Now
it seems to us that this perfect equality in feelings would naturally
be created under the white Aegis, which spreads over both of them its
protecting sheet; this at the outset is an immense advantage, and
really nothing is easier to verify at any moment than the degree of
love and expansion which a woman reaches when the same pillow receives
the heads of both spouses.
Man [we speak now of the species] walks about with a memorandum
always totalized, which shows distinctly and without error the amount
of passion which he carries within him. This mysterious gynometer is
traced in the hollow of the hand, for the hand is really that one of
our members which bears the impress most plainly of our characters.
Chirology is a fifth work which I bequeath to my successors, for I am
contented here to make known but the elements of this interesting
The hand is the essential organ of touch. Touch is the sense which
very nearly takes the place of all the others, and which alone is
indispensable. Since the hand alone can carry out all that a man
desires, it is to an extent action itself. The sum total of our
vitality passes through it; and men of powerful intellects are usually
remarkable for their shapely hands, perfection in that respect being a
distinguishing trait of their high calling.
Jesus Christ performed all His miracles by the imposition of hands.
The hand is the channel through which life passes. It reveals to the
physician all the mysteries of our organism. It exhales more than any
other part of our bodies the nervous fluid, or that unknown substance,
which for want of another term we style will. The eye can
discover the mood of our soul but the hand betrays at the same time
the secrets of the body and those of the soul. We can acquire the
faculty of imposing silence on our eyes, on our lips, on our brows,
and on our forehead; but the hand never dissembles and nothing in our
features can be compared to the richness of its expression. The heat
and cold which it feels in such delicate degrees often escape the
notice of other senses in thoughtless people; but a man knows how to
distinguish them, however little time he may have bestowed in studying
the anatomy of sentiments and the affairs of human life. Thus the hand
has a thousand ways of becoming dry, moist, hot, cold, soft, rough,
unctuous. The hand palpitates, becomes supple, grows hard and again is
softened. In fine it presents a phenomenon which is inexplicable so
that one is tempted to call it the incarnation of thought. It causes
the despair of the sculptor and the painter when they wish to express
the changing labyrinth of its mysterious lineaments. To stretch out
your hand to a man is to save him, it serves as a ratification of the
sentiments we express. The sorcerers of every age have tried to read
our future destines in those lines which have nothing fanciful in
them, but absolutely correspond with the principles of each one's life
and character. When she charges a man with want of tact, which is
merely touch, a woman condemns him without hope. We use the
expressions, the "Hand of Justice," the "Hand of God;" and a
de main means a bold undertaking.
To understand and recognize the hidden feelings by the atmospheric
variations of the hand, which a woman almost always yields without
distrust, is a study less unfruitful and surer than that of
In this way you will be able, if you acquire this science, to wield
vast power, and to find a clue which will guide you through the
labyrinth of the most impenetrable heart. This will render your living
together free from very many mistakes, and, at the same time, rich in
the acquisition of many a treasure.
Buffon and certain physiologists affirm that our members are more
completely exhausted by desire than by the most keen enjoyments. And
really, does not desire constitute of itself a sort of intuitive
possession? Does it not stand in the same relation to visible action,
as those incidents in our mental life, in which we take part in a
dream, stand to the incidents of our actual life? This energetic
apprehension of things, does it not call into being an internal
emotion more powerful than that of the external action? If our
gestures are only the accomplishment of things already enacted by our
thought, you may easily calculate how desire frequently entertained
must necessarily consume the vital fluids. But the passions which are
no more than the aggregation of desires, do they not furrow with the
wrinkle of their lightning the faces of the ambitious, of gamblers,
for instance, and do they not wear out their bodies with marvelous
These observations, therefore, necessarily contain the germs of a
mysterious system equally favored by Plato and by Epicurus; we will
leave it for you to meditate upon, enveloped as it is in the veil
which enshrouds Egyptian statues.
But the greatest mistake that a man commits is to believe that love
can belong only to those fugitive moments which, according to the
magnificent expression of Bossuet, are like to the nails scattered
over a wall: to the eye they appear numerous; but when they are
collected they make but a handful.
Love consists almost always in conversation. There are few things
inexhaustible in a lover: goodness, gracefulness and delicacy. To feel
everything, to divine everything, to anticipate everything; to
reproach without bringing affliction upon a tender heart; to make a
present without pride; to double the value of a certain action by the
way in which it is done; to flatter rather by actions than by words;
to make oneself understood rather than to produce a vivid impression;
to touch without striking; to make a look and the sound of the voice
produce the effect of a caress; never to produce embarrassment; to
amuse without offending good taste; always to touch the heart; to
speak to the soul—this is all that women ask. They will abandon all
the delights of all the nights of Messalina, if only they may live
with a being who will yield them those caresses of the soul, for which
they are so eager, and which cost nothing to men if only they have a
This outline comprises a great portion of such secrets as belong to
the nuptial couch. There are perhaps some witty people who may take
this long definition of politeness for a description of love, while in
any case it is no more than a recommendation to treat your wife as you
would treat the minister on whose good-will depends your promotion to
the post you covet.
I hear numberless voices crying out that this book is a special
advocate for women and neglects the cause of men;
That the majority of women are unworthy of these delicate
attentions and would abuse them;
That there are women given to licentiousness who would not lend
themselves to very much of what they would call mystification;
That women are nothing but vanity and think of nothing but dress;
That they have notions which are truly unreasonable;
That they are very often annoyed by an attention;
That they are fools, they understand nothing, are worth nothing,
In answer to all these clamors we will write here the following
phrases, which, placed between two spaces, will perhaps have the air
of a thought, to quote an expression of Beaumarchais.
LXIV. A wife is to her husband just
what her husband has made her.
The reasons why the single bed must triumph over the other two
methods of organizing the nuptial couch are as follows: In the single
couch we have a faithful interpreter to translate with profound
truthfulness the sentiments of a woman, to render her a spy over
herself, to keep her at the height of her amorous temperature, never
to leave her, to have the power of hearing her breathe in slumber, and
thus to avoid all the nonsense which is the ruin of so many marriages.
As it is impossible to receive benefits without paying for them,
you are bound to learn how to sleep gracefully, to preserve your
dignity under the silk handkerchief that wraps your head, to be
polite, to see that your slumber is light, not to cough too much, and
to imitate those modern authors who write more prefaces than books.
MEDITATION XVIII. OF MARITAL
The time always comes in which nations and women even the most
stupid perceive that their innocence is being abused. The cleverest
policy may for a long time proceed in a course of deceit; but it would
be very happy for men if they could carry on their deceit to an
infinite period; a vast amount of bloodshed would then be avoided,
both in nations and in families.
Nevertheless, we hope that the means of defence put forth in the
preceding Meditations will be sufficient to deliver a certain number
of husbands from the clutches of the Minotaur! You must agree with the
doctor that many a love blindly entered upon perishes under the
treatment of hygiene or dies away, thanks to marital policy. Yes [what
a consoling mistake!] many a lover will be driven away by personal
efforts, many a husband will learn how to conceal under an
impenetrable veil the machinery of his machiavelism, and many a man
will have better success than the old philosopher who cried: Nolo
But we are here compelled to acknowledge a mournful truth.
Despotism has its moments of secure tranquillity. Her reign seems like
the hour which precedes the tempest, and whose silence enables the
traveler, stretched upon the faded grass, to hear at a mile's
distance, the song of the cicada. Some fine morning an honest woman,
who will be imitated by a great portion of our own women, discerns
with an eagle eye the clever manoeuvres which have rendered her the
victim of an infernal policy. She is at first quite furious at having
for so long a time preserved her virtue. At what age, in what day,
does this terrible revolution occur? This question of chronology
depends entirely upon the genius of each husband; for it is not the
vocation of all to put in practice with the same talent the precepts
of our conjugal gospel.
"A man must have very little love," the mystified wife will
exclaim, "to enter upon such calculations as these! What! From the
first day I have been to him perpetually an object of suspicion! It is
monstrous, even a woman would be incapable of such artful and cruel
This is the question. Each husband will be able to understand the
variations of this complaint which will be made in accordance with the
character of the young Fury, of whom he has made a companion.
A woman by no means loses her head under these circumstances; she
holds her tongue and dissembles. Her vengeance will be concealed. Only
you will have some symptoms of hesitation to contend with on the
arrival of the crisis, which we presume you to have reached on the
expiration of the honeymoon; but you will also have to contend against
a resolution. She has determined to revenge herself. From that day, so
far as regards you, her mask, like her heart, has turned to bronze.
Formerly you were an object of indifference to her; you are becoming
by degrees absolutely insupportable. The Civil War commences only at
the moment in which, like the drop of water which makes the full glass
overflow, some incident, whose more or less importance we find
difficulty in determining, has rendered you odious. The lapse of time
which intervenes between this last hour, the limit of your good
understanding, and the day when your wife becomes cognizant of your
artifices, is nevertheless quite sufficient to permit you to institute
a series of defensive operations, which we will now explain.
Up to this time you have protected your honor solely by the
exertion of a power entirely occult. Hereafter the wheels of your
conjugal machinery must be set going in sight of every one. In this
case, if you would prevent a crime you must strike a blow. You have
begun by negotiating, you must end by mounting your horse, sabre in
hand, like a Parisian gendarme. You must make your horse prance, you
must brandish your sabre, you must shout strenuously, and you must
endeavor to calm the revolt without wounding anybody.
Just as the author has found a means of passing from occult methods
to methods that are patent, so it is necessary for the husband to
justify the sudden change in his tactics; for in marriage, as in
literature, art consists entirely in the gracefulness of the
transitions. This is of the highest importance for you. What a
frightful position you will occupy if your wife has reason to complain
of your conduct at the moment, which is, perhaps, the most critical of
your whole married life!
You must therefore find some means or other to justify the secret
tyranny of your initial policy; some means which still prepare the
mind of your wife for the severe measures which you are about to take;
some means which so far from forfeiting her esteem will conciliate
her; some means which will gain her pardon, which will restore some
little of that charm of yours, by which you won her love before your
"But what policy is it that demands this course of action? Is there
such a policy?"
Certainly there is.
But what address, what tact, what histrionic art must a husband
possess in order to display the mimic wealth of that treasure which we
are about to reveal to him! In order to counterfeit the passion whose
fire is to make you a new man in the presence of your wife, you will
require all the cunning of Talma.
This passion is JEALOUSY.
"My husband is jealous. He has been so from the beginning of our
marriage. He has concealed this feeling from me by his usual refined
delicacy. Does he love me still? I am going to do as I like with him!"
Such are the discoveries which a woman is bound to make, one after
another, in accordance with the charming scenes of the comedy which
you are enacting for your amusement; and a man of the world must be an
actual fool, if he fails in making a woman believe that which flatters
With what perfection of hypocrisy must you arrange, step by step,
your hypocritical behavior so as to rouse the curiosity of your wife,
to engage her in a new study, and to lead her astray among the
labyrinths of your thought!
Ye sublime actors! Do ye divine the diplomatic reticence, the
gestures of artifice, the veiled words, the looks of doubtful meaning
which some evening may induce your wife to attempt the capture of your
Ah! to laugh in your sleeve while you are exhibiting the fierceness
of a tiger; neither to lie nor to tell the truth; to comprehend the
capricious mood of a woman, and yet to make her believe that she
controls you, while you intend to bind her with a collar of iron! O
comedy that has no audience, which yet is played by one heart before
another heart and where both of you applaud because both of you think
that you have obtained success!
She it is who will tell you that you are jealous, who will point
out to you that she knows you better than you know yourself, who will
prove to you the uselessness of your artifices and who perhaps will
defy you. She triumphs in the excited consciousness of the superiority
which she thinks she possesses over you; you of course are ennobled in
her eyes; for she finds your conduct quite natural. The only thing she
feels is that your want of confidence was useless; if she wished to
betray, who could hinder her?
Then, some evening, you will burst into a passion, and, as some
trifle affords you a pretext, you will make a scene, in the course of
which your anger will make you divulge the secret of your distress.
And here comes in the promulgation of our new code.
Have no fear that a woman is going to trouble herself about this.
She needs your jealousy, she rather likes your severity. This comes
from the fact that in the first place she finds there a justification
for her own conduct; and then she finds immense satisfaction in
playing before other people the part of a victim. What delightful
expressions of sympathy will she receive! Afterwards she will use this
as a weapon against you, in the expectation thereby of leading you
into a pitfall.
She sees in your conduct the source of a thousand more pleasures in
her future treachery, and her imagination smiles at all the barricades
with which you surround her, for will she not have the delight of
surmounting them all?
Women understand better than we do the art of analyzing the two
human feelings, which alternately form their weapons of attack, or the
weapons of which they are victims. They have the instinct of love,
because it is their whole life, and of jealousy, because it is almost
the only means by which they can control us. Within them jealousy is a
genuine sentiment and springs from the instinct of self-preservation;
it is vital to their life or death. But with men this feeling is
absolutely absurd when it does not subserve some further end.
To entertain feelings of jealousy towards the woman you love, is to
start from a position founded on vicious reasoning. We are loved, or
we are not loved; if a man entertains jealousy under either of these
circumstances, it is a feeling absolutely unprofitable to him;
jealousy may be explained as fear, fear in love. But to doubt one's
wife is to doubt one's self.
To be jealous is to exhibit, at once, the height of egotism, the
error of amour-propre, the vexation of morbid vanity. Women
rather encourage this ridiculous feeling, because by means of it they
can obtain cashmere shawls, silver toilet sets, diamonds, which for
them mark the high thermometer mark of their power. Moreover, unless
you appear blinded by jealousy, your wife will not keep on her guard;
for there is no pitfall which she does not distrust, excepting that
which she makes for herself.
Thus the wife becomes the easy dupe of a husband who is clever
enough to give to the inevitable revolution, which comes sooner or
later, the advantageous results we have indicated.
You must import into your establishment that remarkable phenomenon
whose existence is demonstrated in the asymptotes of geometry. Your
wife will always try to minotaurize you without being successful. Like
those knots which are never so tight as when one tries to loosen them,
she will struggle to the advantage of your power over her, while she
believes that she is struggling for her independence.
The highest degree of good play on the part of a prince lies in
persuading his people that he goes to war for them, while all the time
he is causing them to be killed for his throne.
But many husbands will find a preliminary difficulty in executing
this plan of campaign. If your wife is a woman of profound
dissimulation, the question is, what signs will indicate to her the
motives of your long mystification?
It will be seen that our Meditation on the Custom House, as well as
that on the Bed, has already revealed certain means of discerning the
thought of a woman; but we make no pretence in this book of
exhaustively stating the resources of human wit, which are
immeasurable. Now here is a proof of this. On the day of the
Saturnalia the Romans discovered more features in the character of
their slaves, in ten minutes, than they would have found out during
the rest of the year! You ought therefore to ordain Saturnalia in your
establishment, and to imitate Gessler, who, when he saw William Tell
shoot the apple off his son's head, was forced to remark, "Here is a
man whom I must get rid of, for he could not miss his aim if he wished
to kill me."
You understand, then, that if your wife wishes to drink Roussillon
wine, to eat mutton chops, to go out at all hours and to read the
encyclopaedia, you are bound to take her very seriously. In the first
place, she will begin to distrust you against her own wish, on seeing
that your behaviour towards her is quite contrary to your previous
proceedings. She will suppose that you have some ulterior motive in
this change of policy, and therefore all the liberty that you give her
will make her so anxious that she cannot enjoy it. As regards the
misfortunes that this change may bring, the future will provide for
them. In a revolution the primary principle is to exercise a control
over the evil which cannot be prevented and to attract the lightning
by rods which shall lead it to the earth.
And now the last act of the comedy is in preparation.
The lover who, from the day when the feeblest of all first symptoms
shows itself in your wife until the moment when the marital revolution
takes place, has jumped upon the stage, either as a material creature
or as a being of the imagination—the LOVER, summoned by a sign from
her, now declares: "Here I am!"
MEDITATION XIX. OF THE LOVER.
We offer the following maxims for your consideration:
We should despair of the human race if these maxims had been made
before 1830; but they set forth in so clear a manner the agreements
and difficulties which distinguish you, your wife and a lover; they so
brilliantly describe what your policy should be, and demonstrate to
you so accurately the strength of the enemy, that the teacher has put
his amour-propre aside, and if by chance you find here a single
new thought, send it to the devil, who suggested this work.
To speak of love is to make love.
In a lover the coarsest desire always shows itself as a burst of
A lover has all the good points and all the bad points which are
lacking in a husband.
A lover not only gives life to everything, he makes one forget
the husband does not give life to anything.
LXIX. All the affected airs of sensibility
which a woman puts on invariably deceive a lover; and on occasions
when a husband shrugs his shoulders,
a lover is in ecstasies.
LXX. A lover betrays by his manner alone the
degree of intimacy in which he
stands to a married woman.
A woman does not always know why she is in love. It is rarely
man falls in love without some selfish purpose. A husband should
discover this secret motive of egotism, for it will be to him the
lever of Archimedes.
A clever husband never betrays his supposition that his wife has
The lover submits to all the caprices of a woman; and as a man
is never vile while he lies in the arms of his mistress, he will take
means to please her that a husband would recoil from.
A lover teaches a wife all that her husband has concealed from
All the sensations which a woman yields to her lover, she gives
exchange; they return to her always intensified; they are as rich
what they give as in what they receive. This is the kind of
in which almost all husbands end by being bankrupt.
LXXVI. A lover speaks of nothing to a woman
but that which exalts her; while
a husband, although he may be a loving one, can never refrain
giving advice which always has the appearance of reprimand.
LXXVII. A lover always starts from his
mistress to himself; with a husband the
contrary is the case.
A lover always has a desire to appear amiable. There is in this
sentiment an element of exaggeration which leads to ridicule;
how to take advantage of this.
When a crime has been committed the magistrate who investigates
case knows [excepting in the case of a released convict who
murder in jail] that there are not more than five persons to whom
can attribute the act. He starts from this premise a series of
conjectures. The husband should reason like the judge; there are only
three people in society whom he can suspect when seeking the lover of
A lover is never in the wrong.
The lover of a married woman says to her: "Madame, you have need
of rest. You have to give an example of virtue to your children. You
have sworn to make your husband happy, and although he has some
has fewer than I have—he is worthy of your esteem. Nevertheless
have sacrificed everything for me. Do not let a single murmur
you; for regret is an offence which I think worthy of a severer
penalty than the law decrees against infidelity. As a reward for these
sacrifices, I will bring you as much pleasure as pain." And the
incredible part about it is, that the lover triumphs. The form
his speech takes carries it. He says but one phrase: "I love
lover is a herald who proclaims either the merit, the beauty, or
wit of a woman. What does a husband proclaim?
To sum up all, the love which a married woman inspires, or that
which she gives back, is the least creditable sentiment in the world;
in her it is boundless vanity; in her lover it is selfish egotism. The
lover of a married woman contracts so many obligations, that scarcely
three men in a century are met with who are capable of discharging
them. He ought to dedicate his whole life to his mistress, but he
always ends by deserting her; both parties are aware of this, and,
from the beginning of social life, the one has always been sublime in
self- sacrifice, the other an ingrate. The infatuation of love always
rouses the pity of the judges who pass sentence on it. But where do
you find such love genuine and constant? What power must a husband
possess to struggle successfully against a man who casts over a woman
a spell strong enough to make her submit to such misfortunes!
We think, then, as a general rule, a husband, if he knows how to
use the means of defence which we have outlined, can lead his wife up
to her twenty-seventh year, not without her having chosen a lover, but
without her having committed the great crime. Here and there we meet
with men endowed with deep marital genius, who can keep their wives,
body and soul to themselves alone up to their thirtieth or thirty-
fifth year; but these exceptions cause a sort of scandal and alarm.
The phenomenon scarcely ever is met with excepting in the country,
where life is transparent and people live in glass houses and the
husband wields immense power. The miraculous assistance which men and
things thus give to a husband always vanishes in the midst of a city
whose population reaches to two hundred and fifty thousand.
It would therefore almost appear to be demonstrated that thirty is
the age of virtue. At that critical period, a woman becomes so
difficult to guard, that in order successfully to enchain her within
the conjugal Paradise, resort must be had to those last means of
defence which remain to be described, and which we will reveal in the Essay on Police, the
Art of Returning Home, and
MEDITATION XX. ESSAY ON POLICE.
The police of marriage consist of all those means which are given
you by law, manners, force, and stratagem for preventing your wife in
her attempt to accomplish those three acts which in some sort make up
the life of love: writing, seeing and speaking.
The police combine in greater or less proportion the means of
defence put forth in the preceding Meditations. Instinct alone can
teach in what proportions and on what occasions these compounded
elements are to be employed. The whole system is elastic; a clever
husband will easily discern how it must be bent, stretched or
retrenched. By the aid of the police a man can guide his wife to her
fortieth year pure from any fault.
We will divide this treatise on Police into five captions:
1. OF MOUSE-TRAPS.
2. OF CORRESPONDENCE.
3. OF SPIES.
4. THE INDEX.
5. OF THE BUDGET.
1. OF MOUSE-TRAPS.
In spite of the grave crisis which the husband has reached, we do
not suppose that the lover has completely acquired the freedom of the
city in the marital establishment. Many husbands often suspect that
their wives have a lover, and yet they do not know upon which of the
five or six chosen ones of whom we have spoken their suspicions ought
to fall. This hesitation doubtless springs from some moral infirmity,
to whose assistance the professor must come.
Fouche had in Paris three or four houses resorted to by people of
the highest distinction; the mistresses of these dwellings were
devoted to him. This devotion cost a great deal of money to the state.
The minister used to call these gatherings, of which nobody at the
time had any suspicion, his mouse-traps. More than one arrest
was made at the end of the ball at which the most brilliant people of
Paris had been made accomplices of this oratorian.
The act of offering some fragments of roasted nuts, in order to see
your wife put her white hand in the trap, is certainly exceedingly
delicate, for a woman is certain to be on her guard; nevertheless, we
reckon upon at least three kinds of mouse-traps: The Irresistible
, The Fallacious, and that which is Touch and Go.
Suppose two husbands, we will call them A and B, wish to discover
who are the lovers of their wives. We will put the husband A at the
centre of a table loaded with the finest pyramids of fruit, of
crystals, of candies and of liqueurs, and the husband B shall be at
whatever point of this brilliant circle you may please to suppose. The
champagne has gone round, every eye is sparkling and every tongue is
HUSBAND A. (peeling a chestnut)—Well, as for me, I admire
literary people, but from a distance. I find them intolerable; in
conversation they are despotic; I do not know what displeases me more,
their faults or their good qualities. In short (he swallows his
chestnut), people of genius are like tonics—you like, but you must
use them temperately.
WIFE B. (who has listened attentively)—But, M. A., you are
very exacting (with an arch smile); it seems to me that dull people
have as many faults as people of talent, with this difference perhaps,
that the former have nothing to atone for them!
HUSBAND A. (irritably)—You will agree at least, madame,
that they are not very amiable to you.
WIFE B. (with vivacity)—Who told you so?
HUSBAND A. (smiling)—Don't they overwhelm you all the time
with their superiority? Vanity so dominates their souls that between
you and them the effort is reciprocal—
THE MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE. (aside to Wife A)—You well deserved it,
my dear. (Wife A shrugs her shoulders.)
HUSBAND A. (still continuing)—Then the habit they have of
combining ideas which reveal to them the mechanism of feeling! For
them love is purely physical and every one knows that they do not
WIFE B. (biting her lips, interrupting him)—It seems to me,
sir, that we are the sole judges in this matter. I can well understand
why men of the world do not like men of letters! But it is easier to
criticise than to imitate them.
HUSBAND A. (disdainfully)—Oh, madame, men of the world can
assail the authors of the present time without being accused of envy.
There is many a gentleman of the drawing-room, who if he undertook to
WIFE B. (with warmth)—Unfortunately for you, sir, certain
friends of yours in the Chamber have written romances; have you been
able to read them?—But really, in these days, in order to attain the
least originality, you must undertake historic research, you must—
HUSBAND B. (making no answer to the lady next him and
speaking aside) —Oh! Oh! Can it be that it is M. de L——-, author of
the Dreams of a Young Girl, whom my wife is in love with?—That
is singular; I thought that it was Doctor M——-. But stay! (Aloud.)
Do you know, my dear, that you are right in what you say? (All laugh.)
Really, I should prefer to have always artists and men of letters in
my drawing- room—(aside) when we begin to receive!—rather than to
see there other professional men. In any case artists speak of things
about which every one is enthusiastic, for who is there who does not
believe in good taste? But judges, lawyers, and, above all,
doctors—Heavens! I confess that to hear them constantly speaking
about lawsuits and diseases, those two human ills—
WIFE A. (sitting next to Husband B, speaking at the same
time)—What is that you are saying, my friend? You are quite mistaken.
In these days nobody wishes to wear a professional manner; doctors,
since you have mentioned doctors, try to avoid speaking of
professional matters. They talk politics, discuss the fashions and the
theatres, they tell anecdotes, they write books better than
professional authors do; there is a vast difference between the
doctors of to-day and those of Moliere—
HUSBAND A. (aside)—Whew! Is it possible my wife is in love
with Dr. M——-? That would be odd. (Aloud.) That is quite possible,
my dear, but I would not give a sick dog in charge of a physician who
WIFE A. (interrupting her husband)—I know people who have five or
six offices, yet the government has the greatest confidence in them;
anyway, it is odd that you should speak in this way, you who were one
of Dr. M——-'s great cases—
HUSBAND A. (aside)—There can be no doubt of it!
A HUSBAND. (as he reaches home)—My dear, we are invited by
Madame de Fischtaminel to a concert which she is giving next Tuesday.
I reckoned on going there, as I wanted to speak with a young cousin of
the minister who was among the singers; but he is gone to Frouville to
see his aunt. What do you propose doing?
HIS WIFE.—These concerts tire me to death!—You have to sit
nailed to your chair whole hours without saying a word.—Besides, you
know quite well that we dine with my mother on that day, and it is
impossible to miss paying her a visit.
HER HUSBAND. (carelessly)—Ah! that is true.
(Three days afterwards.)
THE HUSBAND. (as he goes to bed)—What do you think, my
darling? To-morrow I will leave you at your mother's, for the count
has returned from Frouville and will be at Madame de Fischtaminel's
HIS WIFE. (vivaciously)—But why should you go alone? You
know how I adore music!
The Touch and Go Mouse-Trap.
THE WIFE.—Why did you go away so early this evening?
THE HUSBAND. (mysteriously)—Ah! It is a sad business, and
all the more so because I don't know how I can settle it.
THE WIFE.—What is it all about, Adolph? You are a wretch if
you do not tell me what you are going to do!
THE HUSBAND.—My dear, that ass of a Prosper Magnan is
fighting a duel with M. de Fontanges, on account of an Opera
singer.—But what is the matter with you?
THE WIFE.—Nothing.—It is very warm in this room and I
don't know what ails me, for the whole day I have been suffering from
sudden flushing of the face.
THE HUSBAND. (aside)—She is in love with M. de Fontanges.
(Aloud.) Celestine! (He shouts out still louder.) Celestine! Come
quick, madame is ill!
You will understand that a clever husband will discover a thousand
ways of setting these three kinds of traps.
2. OF CORRESPONDENCE.
To write a letter, and to have it posted; to get an answer, to read
it and burn it; there we have correspondence stated in the simplest
Yet consider what immense resources are given by civilization, by
our manners and by our love to the women who wish to conceal these
material actions from the scrutiny of a husband.
The inexorable box which keeps its mouth open to all comers
receives its epistolary provender from all hands.
There is also the fatal invention of the General Delivery. A lover
finds in the world a hundred charitable persons, male and female, who,
for a slight consideration, will slip the billets-doux into the
amorous and intelligent hand of his fair mistress.
A correspondence is a variable as Proteus. There are sympathetic
inks. A young celibate has told us in confidence that he has written a
letter on the fly-leaf of a new book, which, when the husband asked
for it of the bookseller, reached the hands of his mistress, who had
been prepared the evening before for this charming article.
A woman in love, who fears her husband's jealousy, will write and
read billets-doux during the time consecrated to those mysterious
occupations during which the most tyrannical husband must leave her
Moreover, all lovers have the art of arranging a special code of
signals, whose arbitrary import it is difficult to understand. At a
ball, a flower placed in some odd way in the hair; at the theatre, a
pocket handkerchief unfolded on the front of the box; rubbing the
nose, wearing a belt of a particular color, putting the hat on one
side, wearing one dress oftener than another, singing a certain song
in a concert or touching certain notes on the piano; fixing the eyes
on a point agreed; everything, in fact, from the hurdy-gurdy which
passes your windows and goes away if you open the shutter, to the
newspaper announcement of a horse for sale—all may be reckoned as
How many times, in short, will a wife craftily ask her husband to
do such and such commission for her, to go to such and such a shop or
house, having previously informed her lover that your presence at such
or such a place means yes or no?
On this point the professor acknowledges with shame that there is
no possible means of preventing correspondence between lovers. But a
little machiavelism on the part of the husband will be much more
likely to remedy the difficulty than any coercive measures.
An agreement, which should be kept sacred between married people,
is their solemn oath that they will respect each other's sealed
letters. Clever is the husband who makes this pledge on his
wedding-day and is able to keep it conscientiously.
In giving your wife unrestrained liberty to write and to receive
letters, you will be enabled to discern the moment she begins to
correspond with a lover.
But suppose your wife distrusts you and covers with impenetrable
clouds the means she takes to conceal from you her correspondence. Is
it not then time to display that intellectual power with which we
armed you in our Meditation entitled Of the Custom House? The
man who does not see when his wife writes to her lover, and when she
receives an answer, is a failure as a husband.
The proposed study which you ought to bestow upon the movements,
the actions, the gestures, the looks of your wife, will be perhaps
troublesome and wearying, but it will not last long; the only point is
to discover when your wife and her lover correspond and in what way.
We cannot believe that a husband, even of moderate intelligence,
will fail to see through this feminine manoeuvre, when once he
suspects its existence.
Meanwhile, you can judge from a single incident what means of
police and of restraint remain to you in the event of such a
A young lawyer, whose ardent passion exemplified certain of the
principles dwelt upon in this important part of our work, had married
a young person whose love for him was but slight; yet this
circumstance he looked upon as an exceedingly happy one; but at the
end of his first year of marriage he perceived that his dear Anna [for
Anna was her name] had fallen in love with the head clerk of a stock-
Adolph was a young man of about twenty-five, handsome in face and
as fond of amusement as any other celibate. He was frugal, discreet,
possessed of an excellent heart, rode well, talked well, had fine
black hair always curled, and dressed with taste. In short, he would
have done honor and credit to a duchess. The advocate was ugly, short,
stumpy, square-shouldered, mean-looking, and, moreover, a husband.
Anna, tall and pretty, had almond eyes, white skin and refined
features. She was all love; and passion lighted up her glance with a
bewitching expression. While her family was poor, Maitre Lebrun had an
income of twelve thousand francs. That explains all.
One evening Lebrun got home looking extremely chop-fallen. He went
into his study to work; but he soon came back shivering to his wife,
for he had caught a fever and hurriedly went to bed. There he lay
groaning and lamenting for his clients and especially for a poor widow
whose fortune he was to save the very next day by effecting a
compromise. An appointment had been made with certain business men and
he was quite incapable of keeping it. After having slept for a quarter
of an hour, he begged his wife in a feeble voice to write to one of
his intimate friends, asking him to take his (Lebrun's) place next day
at the conference. He dictated a long letter and followed with his eye
the space taken up on the paper by his phrases. When he came to begin
the second page of the last sheet, the advocate set out to describe to
his confrere the joy which his client would feel on the signing of the
compromise, and the fatal page began with these words:
"My good friend, go for Heaven's sake to Madame Vernon's at once;
you are expected with impatience there; she lives at No. 7 Rue de
Sentier. Pardon my brevity; but I count on your admirable good
sense to guess what I am unable to explain.
"Tout a vous,"
"Give me the letter," said the lawyer, "that I may see whether it
is correct before signing it."
The unfortunate wife, who had been taken off her guard by this
letter, which bristled with the most barbarous terms of legal science,
gave up the letter. As soon as Lebrun got possession of the wily
script he began to complain, to twist himself about, as if in pain,
and to demand one little attention after another of his wife. Madame
left the room for two minutes during which the advocate leaped from
his bed, folded a piece of paper in the form of a letter and hid the
missive written by his wife. When Anna returned, the clever husband
seized the blank paper, made her address it to the friend of his, to
whom the letter which he had taken out was written, and the poor
creature handed the blank letter to his servant. Lebrun seemed to grow
gradually calmer; he slept or pretended to do so, and the next morning
he still affected to feel strange pains. Two days afterwards he tore
off the first leaf of the letter and put an "e" to the word tout
in the phrase "tout a vous."[*] He folded mysteriously the paper
which contained the innocent forgery, sealed it, left his bedroom and
called the maid, saying to her:
[*] Thus giving a feminine ending to the signature, and lending the
impression that the note emanated from the wife
"Madame begs that you will take this to the house of M. Adolph;
now, be quick about it."
He saw the chambermaid leave the house and soon afterwards he, on a
plea of business, went out, hurried to Rue de Sentier, to the address
indicated, and awaited the arrival of his rival at the house of a
friend who was in the secret of his stratagem. The lover, intoxicated
with happiness, rushed to the place and inquired for Madame de Vernon;
he was admitted and found himself face to face with Maitre Lebrun, who
showed a countenance pale but chill, and gazed at him with tranquil
but implacable glance.
"Sir," he said in a tone of emotion to the young clerk, whose heart
palpitated with terror, "you are in love with my wife, and you are
trying to please her; I scarcely know how to treat you in return for
this, because in your place and at your age I should have done exactly
the same. But Anna is in despair; you have disturbed her happiness,
and her heart is filled with the torments of hell. Moreover, she has
told me all, a quarrel soon followed by a reconciliation forced her to
write the letter which you have received, and she has sent me here in
her place. I will not tell you, sir, that by persisting in your plan
of seduction you will cause the misery of her you love, that you will
forfeit her my esteem, and eventually your own; that your crime will
be stamped on the future by causing perhaps sorrow to my children. I
will not even speak to you of the bitterness you will infuse into my
life;—unfortunately these are commonplaces! But I declare to you,
sir, that the first step you take in this direction will be the signal
for a crime; for I will not trust the risk of a duel in order to stab
you to the heart!"
And the eyes of the lawyer flashed ominously.
"Now, sir," he went on in a gentler voice, "you are young, you have
a generous heart. Make a sacrifice for the future happiness of her you
love; leave her and never see her again. And if you must needs be a
member of my family, I have a young aunt who is yet unsettled in life;
she is charming, clever and rich. Make her acquaintance, and leave a
virtuous woman undisturbed."
This mixture of raillery and intimidation, together with the
unwavering glance and deep voice of the husband, produced a remarkable
impression on the lover. He remained for a moment utterly confused,
like people overcome with passion and deprived of all presence of mind
by a sudden shock. If Anna has since then had any lovers [which is a
pure hypothesis] Adolph certainly is not one of them.
This occurrence may help you to understand that correspondence is a
double-edged weapon which is of as much advantage for the defence of
the husband as for the inconsistency of the wife. You should therefore
encourage correspondence for the same reason that the prefect of
police takes special care that the street lamps of Paris are kept
3. OF SPIES.
To come so low as to beg servants to reveal secrets to you, and to
fall lower still by paying for a revelation, is not a crime; it is
perhaps not even a dastardly act, but it is certainly a piece of
folly; for nothing will ever guarantee to you the honesty of a servant
who betrays her mistress, and you can never feel certain whether she
is operating in your interest or in that of your wife. This point
therefore may be looked upon as beyond controversy.
Nature, that good and tender parent, has set round about the mother
of a family the most reliable and the most sagacious of spies, the
most truthful and at the same time the most discreet in the world.
They are silent and yet they speak, they see everything and appear to
One day I met a friend of mine on the boulevard. He invited me to
dinner, and we went to his house. Dinner had been already served, and
the mistress of the house was helping her two daughters to plates of
"I see here my first symptoms," I said to myself.
We sat down. The first word of the husband, who spoke without
thinking, and for the sake of talking, was the question:
"Has any one been here to-day?"
"Not a soul," replied his wife, without lifting her eyes.
I shall never forget the quickness with which the two daughters
looked up to their mother. The elder girl, aged eight, had something
especially peculiar in her glance. There was at the same time
revelation and mystery, curiosity and silence, astonishment and apathy
in that look. If there was anything that could be compared to the
speed with which the light of candor flashed from their eyes, it was
the prudent reserve with which both of them closed down, like
shutters, the folds of their white eyelids.
Ye sweet and charming creatures, who from the age of nine even to
the age of marriage too often are the torment of a mother even when
she is not a coquette, is it by the privilege of your years or the
instinct of your nature that your young ears catch the faint sound of
a man's voice through walls and doors, that your eyes are awake to
everything, and that your young spirit busies itself in divining all,
even the meaning of a word spoken in the air, even the meaning of your
mother's slightest gesture?
There is something of gratitude, something in fact instinctive, in
the predilection of fathers for their daughters and mothers for their
But the act of setting spies which are in some way inanimate is
mere dotage, and nothing is easier than to find a better plan than
that of the beadle, who took it into his head to put egg-shells in his
bed, and who obtained no other sympathy from his confederate than the
words, "You are not very successful in breaking them."
The Marshal de Saxe did not give much consolation to his
Popeliniere when they discovered in company that famous revolving
chimney, invented by the Duc de Richelieu.
"That is the finest piece of horn work that I have ever seen!"
cried the victor of Fontenoy.
Let us hope that your espionage will not give you so troublesome a
lesson. Such misfortunes are the fruits of the civil war and we do not
live in that age.
4. THE INDEX.
The Pope puts books only on the Index; you will mark with a stigma
of reprobation men and things.
It is forbidden to madame to go into a bath except in her own
It is forbidden to madame to receive into her house him whom you
suspect of being her lover, and all those who are the accomplices of
It is forbidden to madame to take a walk without you.
But the peculiarities which in each household originate from the
diversity of characters, the numberless incidents of passion, and the
habits of the married people give to this black book so many
variations, the lines in it are multiplied or erased with such
rapidity that a friend of the author has called this Index The
History of Changes in the Marital Church.
There are only two things which can be controlled or prescribed in
accordance with definite rules; the first is the country, the second
is the promenade.
A husband ought never to take his wife to the country nor permit
her to go there. Have a country home if you like, live there,
entertain there nobody excepting ladies or old men, but never leave
your wife alone there. But to take her, for even half a day, to the
house of another man is to show yourself as stupid as an ostrich.
To keep guard over a wife in the country is a task most difficult
of accomplishment. Do you think that you will be able to be in the
thickets, to climb the trees, to follow the tracks of a lover over the
grass trodden down at night, but straightened by the dew in the
morning and refreshed by the rays of the sun? Can you keep your eye on
every opening in the fence of the park? Oh! the country and the
Spring! These are the two right arms of the celibate.
When a woman reaches the crisis at which we suppose her to be, a
husband ought to remain in town till the declaration of war, or to
resolve on devoting himself to all the delights of a cruel espionage.
With regard to the promenade: Does madame wish to go to parties, to
the theatre, to the Bois de Boulogne, to purchase her dresses, to find
out what is the fashion? Madame shall go, shall see everything in the
respectable company of her lord and master.
If she take advantage of the moment when a business appointment,
which you cannot fail to keep, detains you, in order to obtain your
tacit permission to some meditated expedition; if in order to obtain
that permission she displays all the witcheries of those cajoleries in
which women excel and whose powerful influence you ought already to
have known, well, well, the professor implores you to allow her to win
you over, while at the same time you sell dear the boon she asks; and
above all convince this creature, whose soul is at once as changeable
as water and as firm as steel, that it is impossible for you from the
importance of your work to leave your study.
But as soon as your wife has set foot upon the street, if she goes
on foot, don't give her time to make fifty steps; follow and track her
in such a way that you will not be noticed.
It is possible that there exist certain Werthers whose refined and
delicate souls recoil from this inquisition. But this is not more
blamable than that of a landed proprietor who rises at night and looks
through the windows for the purpose of keeping watch over the peaches
on his espaliers. You will probably by this course of action
obtain, before the crime is committed, exact information with regard
to the apartments which so many lovers rent in the city under
fictitious names. If it happens [which God forbid!] that your wife
enters a house suspected by you, try to find out if the place has
Should your wife take a hack, what have you to fear? Is there not a
prefect of police, to whom all husbands ought to decree a crown of
solid gold, and has he not set up a little shed or bench where there
is a register, an incorruptible guardian of public morality? And does
he not know all the comings and goings of these Parisian gondolas?
One of the vital principles of our police will consist in always
following your wife to the furnishers of your house, if she is
accustomed to visit them. You will carefully find out whether there is
any intimacy between her and her draper, her dressmaker or her
milliner, etc. In this case you will apply the rules of the conjugal
Custom House, and draw your own conclusions.
If in your absence your wife, having gone out against your will,
tells you that she had been to such a place, to such a shop, go there
yourself the next day and try to find out whether she has spoken the
But passion will dictate to you, even better than the Meditation,
the various resources of conjugal tyranny, and we will here cut short
these tiresome instructions.
5. OF THE BUDGET.
In outlining the portrait of a sane and sound husband (See
Meditation on the Predestined), we urgently advise that he should
conceal from his wife the real amount of his income.
In relying upon this as the foundation stone of our financial
system we hope to do something towards discounting the opinion, so
very generally held, that a man ought not to give the handling of his
income to his wife. This principle is one of the many popular errors
and is one of the chief causes of misunderstanding in the domestic
But let us, in the first place, deal with the question of heart,
before we proceed to that of money.
To draw up a little civil list for your wife and for the
requirements of the house and to pay her money as if it were a
contribution, in twelve equal portions month by month, has something
in it that is a little mean and close, and cannot be agreeable to any
but sordid and mistrustful souls. By acting in this way you prepare
for yourself innumerable annoyances.
I could wish that during the first year of your mellifluous union,
scenes more or less delightful, pleasantries uttered in good taste,
pretty purses and caresses might accompany and might decorate the
handing over of this monthly gift; but the time will come when the
self-will of your wife or some unforeseen expenditure will compel her
to ask a loan of the Chamber; I presume that you will always grant her
the bill of indemnity, as our unfaithful deputies never fail to do.
They pay, but they grumble; you must pay and at the same time
compliment her. I hope it will be so.
But in the crisis which we have reached, the provisions of the
annual budget can never prove sufficient. There must be an increase of
fichus, of bonnets, of frocks; there is an expense which cannot be
calculated beforehand demanded by the meetings, by the diplomatic
messengers, by the ways and means of love, even while the receipts
remain the same as usual. Then must commence in your establishment a
course of education the most odious, and the most dreadful which a
woman can undergo. I know but few noble and generous souls who value,
more than millions, purity of heart, frankness of soul, and who would
a thousand times more readily pardon a passion than a lie, whose
instinctive delicacy has divined the existence of this plague of the
soul, the lowest step in human degradation.
Under these circumstances there occur in the domestic establishment
the most delightful scenes of love. It is then that a woman becomes
utterly pliant and like to the most brilliant of all the strings of a
harp, when thrown before the fire; she rolls round you, she clasps
you, she holds you tight; she defers to all your caprices; never was
her conversation so full of tenderness; she lavishes her endearments
upon you, or rather she sells them to you; she at last becomes lower
than a chorus girl, for she prostitutes herself to her husband. In her
sweetest kisses there is money; in all her words there is money. In
playing this part her heart becomes like lead towards you. The most
polished, the most treacherous usurer never weighs so completely with
a single glance the future value in bullion of a son of a family who
may sign a note to him, than your wife appraises one of your desires
as she leaps from branch to branch like an escaping squirrel, in order
to increase the sum of money she may demand by increasing the appetite
which she rouses in you. You must not expect to get scot-free from
such seductions. Nature has given boundless gifts of coquetry to a
woman, the usages of society have increased them tenfold by its
fashions, its dresses, its embroideries and its tippets.
"If I ever marry," one of the most honorable generals of our
ancient army used to say, "I won't put a sou among the wedding
"What will you put there then, general?" asked a young girl.
"The key of my safe."
The young girl made a curtsey of approbation. She moved her little
head with a quiver like that of the magnetic needle; raised her chin
slightly as if she would have said:
"I would gladly marry the general in spite of his forty-five
But with regard to money, what interest can you expect your wife to
take in a machine in which she is looked upon as a mere bookkeeper?
Now look at the other system.
In surrendering to your wife, with an avowal of absolute confidence
in her, two-thirds of your fortune and letting her as mistress control
the conjugal administration, you win from her an esteem which nothing
can destroy, for confidence and high-mindedness find powerful echoes
in the heart of a woman. Madame will be loaded with a responsibility
which will often raise a barrier against extravagances, all the
stronger because it is she herself who has created it in her heart.
You yourself have made a portion of the work, and you may be sure that
from henceforth your wife will never perhaps dishonor herself.
Moreover, by seeking in this way a method of defence, consider what
admirable aids are offered to you by this plan of finances.
You will have in your house an exact estimate of the morality of
your wife, just as the quotations of the Bourse give you a just
estimate of the degree of confidence possessed by the government.
And doubtless, during the first years of your married life, your
wife will take pride in giving you every luxury and satisfaction which
your money can afford.
She will keep a good table, she will renew the furniture, and the
carriages; she will always keep in her drawer a sum of money sacred to
her well-beloved and ready for his needs. But of course, in the actual
circumstances of life, the drawer will be very often empty and
monsieur will spend a great deal too much. The economies ordered by
the Chamber never weigh heavily upon the clerks whose income is twelve
hundred francs; and you will be the clerk at twelve hundred francs in
your own house. You will laugh in your sleeve, because you will have
saved, capitalized, invested one-third of your income during a long
time, like Louis XV, who kept for himself a little separate treasury,
"against a rainy day," he used to say.
Thus, if your wife speaks of economy, her discourse will be equal
to the varying quotations of the money-market. You will be able to
divine the whole progress of the lover by these financial
fluctuations, and you will have avoided all difficulties. E sempre
If your wife fails to appreciate the excessive confidence, and
dissipates in one day a large proportion of your fortune, in the first
place it is not probable that this prodigality will amount to one-
third of the revenue which you have been saving for ten years;
moreover you will learn, from the Meditation on Catastrophes,
that in the very crisis produced by the follies of your wife, you will
have brilliant opportunities of slaying the Minotaur.
But the secret of the treasure which has been amassed by your
thoughtfulness need never be known till after your death; and if you
have found it necessary to draw upon it, in order to assist your wife,
you must always let it be thought that you have won at play, or made a
loan from a friend.
These are the true principles which should govern the conjugal
The police of marriage has its martyrology. We will cite but one
instance which will make plain how necessary it is for husbands who
resort to severe measures to keep watch over themselves as well as
over their wives.
An old miser who lived at T——-, a pleasure resort if there ever
was one, had married a young and pretty woman, and he was so wrapped
up in her and so jealous that love triumphed over avarice; he actually
gave up trade in order to guard his wife more closely, but his only
real change was that his covetousness took another form. I acknowledge
that I owe the greater portion of the observations contained in this
essay, which still is doubtless incomplete, to the person who made a
study of this remarkable marital phenomenon, to portray which, one
single detail will be amply sufficient. When he used to go to the
country, this husband never went to bed without secretly raking over
the pathways of his park, and he had a special rake for the sand of
his terraces. He had made a close study of the footprints made by the
different members of his household; and early in the morning he used
to go and identify the tracks that had been made there.
"All this is old forest land," he used to say to the person I have
referred to, as he showed him over the park; "for nothing can be seen
through the brushwood."
His wife fell in love with one of the most charming young men of
the town. This passion had continued for nine years bright and fresh
in the hearts of the two lovers, whose sole avowal had been a look
exchanged in a crowded ball-room; and while they danced together their
trembling hands revealed through the scented gloves the depth of their
love. From that day they had both of them taken great delight on those
trifles which happy lovers never disdain. One day the young man led
his only confidant, with a mysterious air, into a chamber where he
kept under glass globes upon his table, with more care than he would
have bestowed upon the finest jewels in the world, the flowers that,
in the excitement of the dance, had fallen from the hair of his
mistress, and the finery which had been caught in the trees which she
had brushed through in the park. He also preserved there the narrow
footprint left upon the clay soil by the lady's step.
"I could hear," said this confidant to me afterwards, "the violent
and repressed palpitations of his heart sounding in the silence which
we preserved before the treasures of this museum of love. I raised my
eyes to the ceiling, as if to breathe to heaven the sentiment which I
dared not utter. 'Poor humanity!' I thought. 'Madame de ——- told me
that one evening at a ball you had been found nearly fainting in her
card-room?' I remarked to him.
"'I can well believe it,' said he casting down his flashing glance,
'I had kissed her arm!—But,' he added as he pressed my hand and shot
at me a glance that pierced my heart, 'her husband at that time had
the gout which threatened to attack his stomach.'"
Some time afterwards, the old man recovered and seemed to take a
new lease of life; but in the midst of his convalescence he took to
his bed one morning and died suddenly. There were such evident
symptoms of poisoning in the condition of the dead man that the
officers of justice were appealed to, and the two lovers were
arrested. Then was enacted at the court of assizes the most
heartrending scene that ever stirred the emotions of the jury. At the
preliminary examination, each of the two lovers without hesitation
confessed to the crime, and with one thought each of them was solely
bent on saving, the one her lover, the other his mistress. There were
two found guilty, where justice was looking for but a single culprit.
The trial was entirely taken up with the flat contradictions which
each of them, carried away by the fury of devoted love, gave to the
admissions of the other. There they were united for the first time,
but on the criminals' bench with a gendarme seated between them. They
were found guilty by the unanimous verdict of a weeping jury. No one
among those who had the barbarous courage to witness their conveyance
to the scaffold can mention them to-day without a shudder. Religion
had won for them a repentance for their crime, but could not induce
them to abjure their love. The scaffold was their nuptial bed, and
there they slept together in the long night of death.
MEDITATION XXI. THE ART OF
Finding himself incapable of controlling the boiling transports of
his anxiety, many a husband makes the mistake of coming home and
rushing into the presence of his wife, with the object of triumphing
over her weakness, like those bulls of Spain, which, stung by the red banderillo, disembowel with furious horns horses, matadors,
picadors, toreadors and their attendants.
But oh! to enter with a tender gentle mien, like Mascarillo, who
expects a beating and becomes merry as a lark when he finds his master
in a good humor! Well—that is the mark of a wise man!—
"Yes, my darling, I know that in my absence you could have behaved
badly! Another in your place would have turned the house topsy-turvy,
but you have only broken a pane of glass! God bless you for your
considerateness. Go on in the same way and you will earn my eternal
Such are the ideas which ought to be expressed by your face and
bearing, but perhaps all the while you say to yourself:
"Probably he has been here!"
Always to bring home a pleasant face, is a rule which admits of no
But the art of never leaving your house without returning when the
police have revealed to you a conspiracy—to know how to return at the
right time—this is the lesson which is hard to learn. In this matter
everything depends upon tact and penetration. The actual events of
life always transcend anything that is imaginable.
The manner of coming home is to be regulated in accordance with a
number of circumstances. For example:
Lord Catesby was a man of remarkable strength. It happened one day
that he was returning from a fox hunt, to which he had doubtless
promised to go, with some ulterior view, for he rode towards the fence
of his park at a point where, he said, he saw an extremely fine horse.
As he had a passion for horses, he drew near to examine this one close
at hand, There he caught sight of Lady Catesby, to whose rescue it was
certainly time to go, if he were in the slightest degree jealous for
his own honor. He rushed upon the gentleman he saw there, and seizing
him by the belt he hurled him over the fence on to the road side.
"Remember, sir," he said calmly, "it rests with me to decide
whether it well be necessary to address you hereafter and ask for
satisfaction on this spot."
"Very well, my lord; but would you have the goodness to throw over
my horse also?"
But the phlegmatic nobleman had already taken the arm of his wife
as he gravely said:
"I blame you very much, my dear creature, for not having told me
that I was to love you for two. Hereafter every other day I shall love
you for the gentleman yonder, and all other days for myself."
This adventure is regarded in England as one of the best returns
home that were ever known. It is true it consisted in uniting, with
singular felicity, eloquence of deed to that of word.
But the art of re-entering your home, principles of which are
nothing else but natural deductions from the system of politeness and
dissimulation which have been commended in preceding Meditations, is
after all merely to be studied in preparation for the conjugal
catastrophes which we will now consider.
MEDITATION XXII. OF CATASTROPHES.
The word Catastrophe is a term of literature which signifies
the final climax of a play.
To bring about a catastrophe in the drama which you are playing is
a method of defence which is as easy to undertake as it is certain to
succeed. In advising to employ it, we would not conceal from you its
The conjugal catastrophe may be compared to one of those high
fevers which either carry off a predisposed subject or completely
restore his health. Thus, when the catastrophe succeeds, it keeps a
woman for years in the prudent realms of virtue.
Moreover, this method is the last of all those which science has
been able to discover up to this present moment.
The massacre of St. Bartholomew, the Sicilian Vespers, the death of
Lucretia, the two embarkations of Napoleon at Frejus are examples of
political catastrophe. It will not be in your power to act on such a
large scale; nevertheless, within their own area, your dramatic
climaxes in conjugal life will not be less effective than these.
But since the art of creating a situation and of transforming it,
by the introduction of natural incidents, constitutes genius; since
the return to virtue of a woman, whose foot has already left some
tracks upon the sweet and gilded sand which mark the pathway of vice,
is the most difficult to bring about of all denouements, and since
genius neither knows it nor teaches it, the practitioner in conjugal
laws feels compelled to confess at the outset that he is incapable of
reducing to definite principles a science which is as changeable as
circumstances, as delusive as opportunity, and as indefinable as
If we may use an expression which neither Diderot, d'Alembert nor
Voltaire, in spite of every effort, have been able to engraft on our
language, a conjugal catastrophe se subodore is scented from
afar; so that our only course will be to sketch out imperfectly
certain conjugal situations of an analogous kind, thus imitating the
philosopher of ancient time who, seeking in vain to explain motion,
walked forward in his attempt to comprehend laws which were
A husband, in accordance with the principles comprised in our
Meditation on Police, will expressly forbid his wife to receive
the visits of a celibate whom he suspects of being her lover, and whom
she has promised never again to see. Some minor scenes of the domestic
interior we leave for matrimonial imaginations to conjure up; a
husband can delineate them much better than we can; he will betake
himself in thought back to those days when delightful longings invited
sincere confidences and when the workings of his policy put into
motion certain adroitly handled machinery.
Let us suppose, in order to make more interesting the natural scene
to which I refer, that you who read are a husband, whose carefully
organized police has made the discovery that your wife, profiting by
the hours devoted by you to a ministerial banquet, to which she
probably procured you an invitation, received at your house M. A——z.
Here we find all the conditions necessary to bring about the finest
possible of conjugal catastrophes.
You return home just in time to find your arrival has coincided
with that of M. A——z, for we would not advise you to have the
interval between acts too long. But in what mood should you enter?
Certainly not in accordance with the rules of the previous Meditation.
In a rage then? Still less should you do that. You should come in with
good- natured carelessness, like an absent-minded man who has
forgotten his purse, the statement which he has drawn up for the
minister, his pocket-handkerchief or his snuff-box.
In that case you will either catch two lovers together, or your
wife, forewarned by the maid, will have hidden the celibate.
Now let us consider these two unique situations.
But first of all we will observe that husbands ought always to be
in a position to strike terror in their homes and ought long before to
make preparations for the matrimonial second of September.
Thus a husband, from the moment that his wife has caused him to
perceive certain first symptoms, should never fail to give,
time after time, his personal opinion on the course of conduct to be
pursued by a husband in a great matrimonial crisis.
"As for me," you should say, "I should have no hesitation in
killing the man I caught at my wife's feet."
With regard to the discussion that you will thus give rise to, you
will be led on to aver that the law ought to have given to the
husband, as it did in ancient Rome, the right of life and death over
his children, so that he could slay those who were spurious.
These ferocious opinions, which really do not bind you to anything,
will impress your wife with salutary terror; you will enumerate them
lightly, even laughingly—and say to her, "Certainly, my dear, I would
kill you right gladly. Would you like to be murdered by me?"
A woman cannot help fearing that this pleasantry may some day
become a very serious matter, for in these crimes of impulse there is
a certain proof of love; and then women who know better than any one
else how to say true things laughingly at times suspect their husbands
of this feminine trick.
When a husband surprises his wife engaged in even innocent
conversation with her lover, his face still calm, should produce the
effect mythologically attributed to the celebrated Gorgon.
In order to produce a favorable catastrophe at this juncture, you
must act in accordance with the character of your wife, either play a
pathetic scene a la Diderot, or resort to irony like Cicero, or rush
to your pistols loaded with a blank charge, or even fire them off, if
you think that a serious row is indispensable.
A skillful husband may often gain a great advantage from a scene of
unexaggerated sentimentality. He enters, he sees the lover and
transfixes him with a glance. As soon as the celibate retires, he
falls at the feet of his wife, he declaims a long speech, in which
among other phrases there occurs this:
"Why, my dear Caroline, I have never been able to love you as I
He weeps, and she weeps, and this tearful catastrophe leaves
nothing to be desired.
We would explain, apropos of the second method by which the
catastrophe may be brought about, what should be the motives which
lead a husband to vary this scene, in accordance with the greater or
less degree of strength which his wife's character possesses.
Let us pursue this subject.
If by good luck it happens that your wife has put her lover in a
place of concealment, the catastrophe will be very much more
Even if the apartment is not arranged according to the principles
prescribed in the Meditation, you will easily discern the place into
which the celibate has vanished, although he be not, like Lord Byron's
Don Juan, bundled up under the cushion of a divan. If by chance your
apartment is in disorder, you ought to have sufficient discernment to
know that there is only one place in which a man could bestow himself.
Finally, if by some devilish inspiration he has made himself so small
that he has squeezed into some unimaginable lurking-place (for we may
expect anything from a celibate), well, either your wife cannot help
casting a glance towards this mysterious spot, or she will pretend to
look in an exactly opposite direction, and then nothing is easier for
a husband than to set a mouse-trap for his wife.
The hiding-place being discovered, you must walk straight up to the
lover. You must meet him face to face!
And now you must endeavor to produce a fine effect. With your face
turned three-quarters towards him, you must raise your head with an
air of superiority. This attitude will enhance immensely the effect
which you aim at producing.
The most essential thing to do at this moment, is to overwhelm the
celibate by some crushing phrase which you have been manufacturing all
the time; when you have thus floored him, you will coldly show him the
door. You will be very polite, but as relentless as the executioner's
axe, and as impassive as the law. This freezing contempt will already
probably have produced a revolution in the mind of your wife. There
must be no shouts, no gesticulations, no excitement. "Men of high
social rank," says a young English author, "never behave like their
inferiors, who cannot lose a fork without sounding the alarm
throughout the whole neighborhood."
When the celibate has gone, you will find yourself alone with your
wife, and then is the time when you must subjugate her forever.
You should therefore stand before her, putting on an air whose
affected calmness betrays the profoundest emotion; then you must
choose from among the following topics, which we have rhetorically
amplified, and which are most congenial to your feelings: "Madame,"
you must say, "I will speak to you neither of your vows, nor of my
love; for you have too much sense and I have too much pride to make it
possible that I should overwhelm you with those execrations, which all
husbands have a right to utter under these circumstances; for the
least of the mistakes that I should make, if I did so, is that I would
be fully justified. I will not now, even if I could, indulge either in
wrath or resentment. It is not I who have been outraged; for I have
too much heart to be frightened by that public opinion which almost
always treats with ridicule and condemnation a husband whose wife has
misbehaved. When I examine my life, I see nothing there that makes
this treachery deserved by me, as it is deserved by many others. I
still love you. I have never been false, I will not say to my duty,
for I have found nothing onerous in adoring you, but not even to those
welcome obligations which sincere feeling imposes upon us both. You
have had all my confidence and you have also had the administration of
my fortune. I have refused you nothing. And now this is the first time
that I have turned to you a face, I will not say stern, but which is
yet reproachful. But let us drop this subject, for it is of no use for
me to defend myself at a moment when you have proved to me with such
energy that there is something lacking in me, and that I am not
intended by nature to accomplish the difficult task of rendering you
happy. But I would ask you, as a friend speaking to a friend, how
could you have the heart to imperil at the same time the lives of
three human creatures: that of the mother of my children, who will
always be sacred to me; that of the head of the family; and finally of
him—who loves—[she perhaps at these words will throw herself at your
feet; you must not permit her to do so; she is unworthy of kneeling
there]. For you no longer love me, Eliza. Well, my poor child [you
must not call her my poor child excepting when the crime has
not been committed]—why deceive ourselves? Why do you not answer me?
If love is extinguished between a married couple, cannot friendship
and confidence still survive? Are we not two companions united in
making the same journey? Can it be said that during the journey the
one must never hold out his hand to the other to raise up a comrade or
to prevent a comrade's fall? But I have perhaps said too much and I am
wounding your pride—Eliza! Eliza!"
Now what the deuce would you expect a woman to answer? Why a
catastrophe naturally follows, without a single word.
In a hundred women there may be found at least a good half dozen of
feeble creatures who under this violent shock return to their husbands
never perhaps again to leave them, like scorched cats that dread the
fire. But this scene is a veritable alexipharmaca, the doses of which
should be measured out by prudent hands.
For certain women of delicate nerves, whose souls are soft and
timid, it would be sufficient to point out the lurking-place where the
lover lies, and say: "M. A——z is there!" [at this point shrug your
shoulders]. "How can you thus run the risk of causing the death of two
worthy people? I am going out; let him escape and do not let this
But there are women whose hearts, too violently strained in these
terrible catastrophes, fail them and they die; others whose blood
undergoes a change, and they fall a prey to serious maladies; others
actually go out of their minds. These are examples of women who take
poison or die suddenly—and we do not suppose that you wish the death
of the sinner.
Nevertheless, the most beautiful and impressionable of all the
queens of France, the charming and unfortunate Mary Stuart, after
having seen Rizzio murdered almost in her arms, fell in love,
nevertheless, with the Earl of Bothwell; but she was a queen and
queens are abnormal in disposition.
We will suppose, then, that the woman whose portrait adorns our
first Meditation is a little Mary Stuart, and we will hasten to raise
the curtain for the fifth act in this grand drama entitled Marriage
A conjugal catastrophe may burst out anywhere, and a thousand
incidents which we cannot describe may give it birth. Sometimes it is
a handkerchief, as in Othello; or a pair of slippers, as in Don Juan; sometimes it is the mistake of your wife, who cries
out—"Dear Alphonse!" instead of "Dear Adolph!" Sometimes a husband,
finding out that his wife is in debt, will go and call on her chief
creditor, and will take her some morning to his house, as if by
chance, in order to bring about a catastrophe. "Monsieur Josse, you
are a jeweler and you sell your jewels with a readiness which is not
equaled by the readiness of your debtors to pay for them. The countess
owes you thirty thousand francs. If you wish to be paid to-morrow
[tradesmen should always be visited at the end of the month] come to
her at noon; her husband will be in the chamber. Do not attend to any
sign which she may make to impose silence upon you—speak out boldly.
I will pay all."
So that the catastrophe in the science of marriage is what figures
are in arithmetic.
All the principles of higher conjugal philosophy, on which are
based the means of defence outlined in this second part of our book,
are derived from the nature of human sentiments, and we have found
them in different places in the great book of the world. Just as
persons of intellect instinctively apply the laws of taste whose
principles they would find difficulty in formulating, so we have seen
numberless people of deep feeling employing with singular felicity the
precepts which we are about to unfold, yet none of them consciously
acted on a definite system. The sentiments which this situation
inspired only revealed to them incomplete fragments of a vast system;
just as the scientific men of the sixteenth century found that their
imperfect microscopes did not enable them to see all the living
organisms, whose existence had yet been proved to them by the logic of
their patient genius.
We hope that the observations already made in this book, and in
those which follow, will be of a nature to destroy the opinion which
frivolous men maintain, namely that marriage is a sinecure. According
to our view, a husband who gives way to ennui is a heretic, and more
than that, he is a man who lives quite out of sympathy with the
marriage state, of whose importance he has no conception. In this
connection, these Meditations perhaps will reveal to very many
ignorant men the mysteries of a world before which they stand with
open eyes, yet without seeing it.
We hope, moreover, that these principles when well applied will
produce many conversions, and that among the pages that separate this
second part from that entitled Civil War many tears will be
shed and many vows of repentance breathed.
Yes, among the four hundred thousand honest women whom we have so
carefully sifted out from all the European nations, we indulge the
belief that there are a certain number, say three hundred thousand,
who will be sufficiently self-willed, charming, adorable, and
bellicose to raise the standard of Civil War.
To arms then, to arms!