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- The Physiology of Marriage (Part 2) - 2/23 -


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 year--"

"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 B-----?"

"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 describe.

"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 Alexander."

"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 HOME.

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


The Physiology of Marriage (Part 2) - 2/23

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