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- The Physiology of Marriage - 6/23 -
one day make them weep.
Again, of the two millions of the remaining women, what reasonable man would not throw out a hundred thousand poor girls, humpbacked, plain, cross-grained, rickety, sickly, blind, crippled in some way, well educated but penniless, all bound to be spinsters, and by no means tempted to violate the sacred laws of marriage?
Nor must we retain the one hundred thousand other girls who become sisters of St. Camille, Sisters of Charity, monastics, teachers, ladies' companions, etc. And we must put into this blessed company a number of young people difficult to estimate, who are too grown up to play with little boys and yet too young to sport their wreath of orange blossoms.
Finally, of the fifteen million subjects which remain at the bottom of our crucible we must eliminate five hundred thousand other individuals, to be reckoned as daughters of Baal, who subserve the appetites of the base. We must even comprise among those, without fear that they will be corrupted by their company, the kept women, the milliners, the shop girls, saleswomen, actresses, singers, the girls of the opera, the ballet-dancers, upper servants, chambermaids, etc. Most of these creatures excite the passions of many people, but they would consider it immodest to inform a lawyer, a mayor, an ecclesiastic or a laughing world of the day and hour when they surrendered to a lover. Their system, justly blamed by an inquisitive world, has the advantage of laying upon them no obligations towards men in general, towards the mayor or the magistracy. As these women do not violate any oath made in public, they have no connection whatever with a work which treats exclusively of lawful marriage.
Some one will say that the claims made by this essay are very slight, but its limitations make just compensation for those which amateurs consider excessively padded. If any one, through love for a wealthy dowager, wishes to obtain admittance for her into the remaining million, he must classify her under the head of Sisters of Charity, ballet-dancers, or hunchbacks; in fact we have not taken more than five hundred thousand individuals in forming this last class, because it often happens, as we have seen above, that the nine millions of peasant girls make a large accession to it. We have for the same reason omitted the working-girl class and the hucksters; the women of these two sections are the product of efforts made by nine millions of female bimana to rise to the higher civilization. But for its scrupulous exactitude many persons might regard this statistical meditation as a mere joke.
We have felt very much inclined to form a small class of a hundred thousand individuals as a crowning cabinet of the species, to serve as a place of shelter for women who have fallen into a middle estate, like widows, for instance; but we have preferred to estimate in round figures.
It would be easy to prove the fairness of our analysis: let one reflection be sufficient.
The life of a woman is divided into three periods, very distinct from each other: the first begins in the cradle and ends on the attainment of a marriageable age; the second embraces the time during which a woman belongs to marriage; the third opens with the critical period, the ending with which nature closes the passions of life. These three spheres of existence, being almost equal in duration, might be employed for the classification into equal groups of a given number of women. Thus in a mass of six millions, omitting fractions, there are about two million girls between one and eighteen, two millions women between eighteen and forty and two millions of old women. The caprices of society have divided the two millions of marriageable women into three main classes, namely: those who remain spinsters for reasons which we have defined; those whose virtue does not reckon in the obtaining of husbands, and the million of women lawfully married, with whom we have to deal.
You see then, by the exact sifting out of the feminine population, that there exists in France a little flock of barely a million white lambs, a privileged fold into which every wolf is anxious to enter.
Let us put this million of women, already winnowed by our fan, through another examination.
To arrive at the true idea of the degree of confidence which a man ought to have in his wife, let us suppose for a moment that all wives will deceive their husbands.
On this hypothesis, it will be proper to cut out about one-twentieth, viz., young people who are newly married and who will be faithful to their vows for a certain time.
Another twentieth will be in ill-health. This will be to make a very modest allowance for human infirmities.
Certain passions, which we are told destroy the dominion of the man over the heart of his wife, namely, aversion, grief, the bearing of children, will account for another twentieth.
Adultery does not establish itself in the heart of a married woman with the promptness of a pistol-shot. Even when sympathy with another rouses feelings on first sight, a struggle always takes place, whose duration discounts the total sum of conjugal infidelities. It would be an insult to French modesty not to admit the duration of this struggle in a country so naturally combative, without referring to at least a twentieth in the total of married women; but then we will suppose that there are certain sickly women who preserve their lovers while they are using soothing draughts, and that there are certain wives whose confinement makes sarcastic celibates smile. In this way we shall vindicate the modesty of those who enter upon the struggle from motives of virtue. For the same reason we should not venture to believe that a woman forsaken by her lover will find a new one on the spot; but this discount being much more uncertain than the preceding one, we will estimate it at one-fortieth.
These several rebates will reduce our sum total to eight hundred thousand women, when we come to calculate the number of those who are likely to violate married faith. Who would not at the present moment wish to retain the persuasion that wives are virtuous? Are they not the supreme flower of the country? Are they not all blooming creatures, fascinating the world by their beauty, their youth, their life and their love? To believe in their virtue is a sort of social religion, for they are the ornament of the world, and form the chief glory of France.
It is in the midst of this million we are bound to investigate:
The number of honest women;
The number of virtuous women.
The work of investigating this and of arranging the results under two categories requires whole meditations, which may serve as an appendix to the present one.
OF THE HONEST WOMAN.
The preceding meditation has proved that we possess in France a floating population of one million women reveling in the privilege of inspiring those passions which a gallant man avows without shame, or dissembles with delight. It is then among this million of women that we must carry our lantern of Diogenes in order to discover the honest women of the land.
This inquiry suggests certain digressions.
Two young people, well dressed, whose slender figures and rounded arms suggest a paver's tool, and whose boots are elegantly made, meet one morning on the boulevard, at the end of the Passage des Panoramas.
"What, is this you?"
"Yes, dear boy; it looks like me, doesn't it?"
Then they laugh, with more or less intelligence, according to the nature of the joke which opens the conversation.
When they have examined each other with the sly curiosity of a police officer on the lookout for a clew, when they are quite convinced of the newness of each other's gloves, of each other's waistcoat and of the taste with which their cravats are tied; when they are pretty certain that neither of them is down in the world, they link arms and if they start from the Theater des Varietes, they have not reached Frascati's before they have asked each other a roundabout question whose free translation may be this:
"Whom are you living with now?"
As a general rule she is a charming woman.
Who is the infantryman of Paris into whose ear there have not dropped, like bullets in the day of battle, thousands of words uttered by the passer-by, and who has not caught one of those numberless sayings which, according to Rabelais, hang frozen in the air? But the majority of men take their way through Paris in the same manner as they live and eat, that is, without thinking about it. There are very few skillful musicians, very few practiced physiognomists who can recognize the key in which these vagrant notes are set, the passion that prompts these floating words. Ah! to wander over Paris! What an adorable and delightful existence is that! To saunter is a science; it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live. The young and pretty women, long contemplated with ardent eyes, would be much more admissible in claiming a salary than the cook who asks for twenty sous from the Limousin whose nose with inflated nostrils took in the perfumes of beauty. To saunter is to enjoy life; it is to indulge the flight of fancy; it is to enjoy the sublime pictures of misery, of love, of joy, of gracious or grotesque physiognomies; it is to pierce with a glance the abysses of a thousand existences; for the young it is to desire all, and to possess all; for the old it is to live the life of the youthful, and to share their passions. Now how many answers have not the sauntering artists heard to the categorical question which is always with us?
"She is thirty-five years old, but you would not think she was more than twenty!" said an enthusiastic youth with sparkling eyes, who, freshly liberated from college, would, like Cherubin, embrace all.
"Zounds! Mine has dressing-gowns of batiste and diamond rings for the evening!" said a lawyer's clerk.
"But she has a box at the Francais!" said an army officer.
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