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- The Physiology of Marriage Part 3 - 15/19 -


From the pinnacle of his own greatness he makes a piquant repartee. Madame retorts, the conversation becomes as lively as it is interesting, and this husband, a very superior man, is quite astonished to discover the wit of his wife, in other respects, an accomplished woman; the right word occurs to her with wonderful readiness; her tact and keenness enable her to meet an innuendo with charming originality. She is no longer the same woman. She notices the effect she produces upon her husband, and both to avenge herself for his neglect and to win his admiration for the lover from whom she has received, so to speak, the treasures of her intellect, she exerts herself, and becomes actually dazzling. The husband, better able than any one else to appreciate a species of compensation which may have some influence on his future, is led to think that the passions of women are really necessary to their mental culture.

But how shall we treat those compensations which are most pleasing to husbands?

Between the moment when the last symptoms appear, and the epoch of conjugal peace, which we will not stop to discuss, almost a dozen years have elapsed. During this interval and before the married couple sign the treaty which, by means of a sincere reconciliation of the feminine subject with her lawful lord, consecrates their little matrimonial restoration, in order to close in, as Louis XVIII said, the gulf of revolutions, it is seldom that the honest woman has but one lover. Anarchy has its inevitable phases. The stormy domination of tribunes is supplanted by that of the sword and the pen, for few loves are met with whose constancy outlives ten years. Therefore, since our calculations prove that an honest woman has merely paid strictly her physiological or diabolical dues by rendering but three men happy, it is probable that she has set foot in more than one region of love. Sometimes it may happen that in an interregnum of love too long protracted, the wife, whether from whim, temptation or the desire of novelty, undertakes to seduce her own husband.

Imagine charming Mme. de T-----, the heroine of our Meditation of /Strategy/, saying with a fascinating smile:

"I never before found you so agreeable!"

By flattery after flattery, she tempts, she rouses curiosity, she soothes, she rouses in you the faintest spark of desire, she carries you away with her, and makes you proud of yourself. Then the right of indemnifications for her husband comes. On this occasion the wife confounds the imagination of her husband. Like cosmopolitan travelers she tells tales of all the countries which she had traversed. She intersperses her conversation with words borrowed from several languages. The passionate imagery of the Orient, the unique emphasis of Spanish phraseology, all meet and jostle one another. She opens out the treasures of her notebook with all the mysteries of coquetry, she is delightful, you never saw her thus before! With that remarkable art which women alone possess of making their own everything that has been told them, she blends all shades and variations of character so as to create a manner peculiarly her own. You received from the hands of Hymen only one woman, awkward and innocent; the celibate returns you a dozen of them. A joyful and rapturous husband sees his bed invaded by the giddy and wanton courtesans, of whom we spoke in the Meditation on /The First Symptoms/. These goddesses come in groups, they smile and sport under the graceful muslin curtains of the nuptial bed. The Phoenician girl flings to you her garlands, gently sways herself to and fro; the Chalcidian woman overcomes you by the witchery of her fine and snowy feet; the Unelmane comes and speaking the dialect of fair Ionia reveals the treasures of happiness unknown before, and in the study of which she makes you experience but a single sensation.

Filled with regret at having disdained so many charms, and frequently tired of finding too often as much perfidiousness in priestesses of Venus as in honest women, the husband sometimes hurries on by his gallantry the hour of reconciliation desired of worthy people. The aftermath of bliss is gathered even with greater pleasure, perhaps, than the first crop. The Minotaur took your gold, he makes restoration in diamonds. And really now seems the time to state a fact of the utmost importance. A man may have a wife without possessing her. Like most husbands you had hitherto received nothing from yours, and the powerful intervention of the celibate was needed to make your union complete. How shall we give a name to this miracle, perhaps the only one wrought upon a patient during his absence? Alas, my brothers, we did not make Nature!

But how many other compensations, not less precious, are there, by which the noble and generous soul of the young celibate may many a time purchase his pardon! I recollect witnessing one of the most magnificent acts of reparation which a lover should perform toward the husband he is minotaurizing.

One warm evening in the summer of 1817, I saw entering one of the rooms of Tortoni one of the two hundred young men whom we confidently style our friends; he was in the full bloom of his modesty. A lovely woman, dressed in perfect taste, and who had consented to enter one of the cool parlors devoted to people of fashion, had stepped from an elegant carriage which had stopped on the boulevard, and was approaching on foot along the sidewalk. My young friend, the celibate, then appeared and offered his arm to his queen, while the husband followed holding by the hand two little boys, beautiful as cupids. The two lovers, more nimble than the father of the family, reached in advance of him one of the small rooms pointed out by the attendant. In crossing the vestibule the husband knocked up against some dandy, who claimed that he had been jostled. Then arose a quarrel, whose seriousness was betrayed by the sharp tones of the altercation. The moment the dandy was about to make a gesture unworthy of a self- respecting man, the celibate intervened, seized the dandy by the arm, caught him off his guard, overcame and threw him to the ground; it was magnificent. He had done the very thing the aggressor was meditating, as he exclaimed:


This "Monsieur" was one of the finest things I have ever heard. It was as if the young celibate had said: "This father of a family belongs to me; as I have carried off his honor, it is mine to defend him. I know my duty, I am his substitute and will fight for him." The young woman behaved superbly! Pale, and bewildered, she took the arm of her husband, who continued his objurgations; without a word she led him away to the carriage, together with her children. She was one of those women of the aristocracy, who also know how to retain their dignity and self-control in the midst of violent emotions.

"O Monsieur Adolphe!" cried the young lady as she saw her friend with an air of gayety take his seat in the carriage.

"It is nothing, madame, he is one of my friends; we have shaken hands."

Nevertheless, the next morning, the courageous celibate received a sword thrust which nearly proved fatal, and confined him six months to his bed. The attentions of the married couple were lavished upon him. What numerous compensations do we see here! Some years afterwards, an old uncle of the husband, whose opinions did not fit in with those of the young friend of the house, and who nursed a grudge against him on account of some political discussion, undertook to have him driven from the house. The old fellow went so far as to tell his nephew to choose between being his heir and sending away the presumptuous celibate. It was then that the worthy stockbroker said to his uncle:

"Ah, you must never think, uncle, that you will succeed in making me ungrateful! But if I tell him to do so this young man will let himself be killed for you. He has saved my credit, he would go through fire and water for me, he has relieved me of my wife, he has brought me clients, he has procured for me almost all the business in the Villele loans--I owe my life to him, he is the father of my children; I can never forget all this."

In this case the compensations may be looked upon as complete; but unfortunately there are compensations of all kinds. There are those which must be considered negative, deluding, and those which are both in one.

I knew a husband of advanced years who was possessed by the demon of gambling. Almost every evening his wife's lover came and played with him. The celibate gave him a liberal share of the pleasures which come from games of hazard, and knew how to lose to him a certain number of francs every month; but madame used to give them to him, and the compensation was a deluding one.

You are a peer of France, and you have no offspring but daughters. Your wife is brought to bed of a boy! The compensation is negative.

The child who is to save your name from oblivion is like his mother. The duchess persuades you that the child is yours. The negative compensation becomes deluding.

Here is one of the most charming compensations known. One morning the Prince de Ligne meets his wife's lover and rushes up to him, laughing wildly:

"My friend," he says to him, "I cuckolded you, last night!"

If some husbands attain to conjugal peace by quiet methods, and carry so gracefully the imaginary ensigns of matrimonial pre-eminence, their philosophy is doubtless based on the /comfortabilisme/ of accepting certain compensations, a /comfortabilisme/ which indifferent men cannot imagine. As years roll by the married couple reach the last stage in that artificial existence to which their union has condemned them.



My imagination has followed marriage through all the phases of its fantastic life in so fraternal a spirit, that I seem to have grown old with the house I made my home so early in life at the commencement of this work.

After experiencing in thought the ardor of man's first passion; and outlining, in however imperfect a way, the principal incidents of married life; after struggling against so many wives that did not belong to me, exhausting myself in conflict with so many personages called up from nothingness, and joining so many battles, I feel an intellectual lassitude, which makes me see everything in life hang, as it were, in mournful crape. I seem to have a catarrh, to look at everything through green spectacles, I feel as if my hands trembled, as if I must needs employ the second half of my existence and of my book in apologizing for the follies of the first half.

I see myself surrounded by tall children of whom I am not the father,

The Physiology of Marriage Part 3 - 15/19

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