The Physiology of Marriage/Part 1/Med 6

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Meditation VI: Of Boarding Schools[edit]

If you have married a young lady whose education has been carried on at a boarding school, there are thirty more obstacles to your happiness, added to all those which we have already enumerated, and you are exactly like a man who thrusts his hands into a wasp's nest.

Immediately, therefore, after the nuptial blessing has been pronounced, without allowing yourself to be imposed upon by the innocent ignorance, the frank graces and the modest countenance of your wife, you ought to ponder well and faithfully follow out the axioms and precepts which we shall develop in the second part of this book. You should even put into practice the rigors prescribed in the third part, by maintaining an active surveillance, a paternal solicitude at all hours, for the very day after your marriage, perhaps on the evening of your wedding day, there is danger in the house.

I mean to say that you should call to mind the secret and profound instruction which the pupils have acquired de natura rerum,—of the nature of things. Did Lapeyrouse, Cook or Captain Peary ever show so much ardor in navigating the ocean towards the Poles as the scholars of the Lycee do in approaching forbidden tracts in the ocean of pleasure? Since girls are more cunning, cleverer and more curious than boys, their secret meetings and their conversations, which all the art of their teachers cannot check, are necessarily presided over by a genius a thousand times more informal than that of college boys. What man has ever heard the moral reflections and the corrupting confidences of these young girls? They alone know the sports at which honor is lost in advance, those essays in pleasure, those promptings in voluptuousness, those imitations of bliss, which may be compared to the thefts made by greedy children from a dessert which is locked up. A girl may come forth from her boarding school a virgin, but never chaste. She will have discussed, time and time again at secret meetings, the important question of lovers, and corruption will necessarily have overcome her heart or her spirit.

Nevertheless, we will admit that your wife has not participated in these virginal delights, in these premature deviltries. Is she any better because she has never had any voice in the secret councils of grown-up girls? No! She will, in any case, have contracted a friendship with other young ladies, and our computation will be modest, if we attribute to her no more than two or three intimate friends. Are you certain that after your wife has left boarding school, her young friends have not there been admitted to those confidences, in which an attempt is made to learn in advance, at least by analogy, the pastimes of doves? And then her friends will marry; you will have four women to watch instead of one, four characters to divine, and you will be at the mercy of four husbands and a dozen celibates, of whose life, principles and habits you are quite ignorant, at a time when our meditations have revealed to you certain coming of a day when you will have your hands full with the people whom you married with your wife. Satan alone could have thought of placing a girl's boarding school in the middle of a large town! Madame Campan had at least the wisdom to set up her famous institution at Ecouen. This sensible precaution proved that she was no ordinary woman. There, her young ladies did not gaze upon the picture gallery of the streets, the huge and grotesque figures and the obscene words drawn by some evil-spirited pencil. They had not perpetually before their eyes the spectacle of human infirmities exhibited at every barrier in France, and treacherous book-stalls did not vomit out upon them in secret the poison of books which taught evil and set passion on fire. This wise school-mistress, moreover, could only at Ecouen preserve a young lady for you spotless and pure, if, even there, that were possible. Perhaps you hope to find no difficulty in preventing your wife from seeing her school friends? What folly! She will meet them at the ball, at the theatre, out walking and in the world at large; and how many services two friends can render each other! But we will meditate upon this new subject of alarm in its proper place and order.

Nor is this all; if your mother-in-law sent her daughter to a boarding school, do you believe that this was out of solicitude for her daughter? A girl of twelve or fifteen is a terrible Argus; and if your mother-in-law did not wish to have an Argus in her house I should be inclined to suspect that your mother-in-law belonged undoubtedly to the most shady section of our honest women. She will, therefore, prove for her daughter on every occasion either a deadly example or a dangerous adviser.

Let us stop here!—The mother-in-law requires a whole Meditation for herself.

So that, whichever way you turn, the bed of marriage, in this connection, is equally full of thorns.

Before the Revolution, several aristocratic families used to send their daughters to the convent. This example was followed by a number of people who imagined that in sending their daughters to a school where the daughters of some great noblemen were sent, they would assume the tone and manners of aristocrats. This delusion of pride was, from the first, fatal to domestic happiness; for the convents had all the disadvantages of other boarding schools. The idleness that prevailed there was more terrible. The cloister bars inflame the imagination. Solitude is a condition very favorable to the devil; and one can scarcely imagine what ravages the most ordinary phenomena of life are able to leave in the soul of these young girls, dreamy, ignorant and unoccupied.

Some of them, by reason of their having indulged idle fancies, are led into curious blunders. Others, having indulged in exaggerated ideas of married life, say to themselves, as soon as they have taken a husband, "What! Is this all?" In every way, the imperfect instruction, which is given to girls educated in common, has in it all the danger of ignorance and all the unhappiness of science.

A young girl brought up at home by her mother or by her virtuous, bigoted, amiable or cross-grained old aunt; a young girl, whose steps have never crossed the home threshold without being surrounded by chaperons, whose laborious childhood has been wearied by tasks, albeit they were profitless, to whom in short everything is a mystery, even the Seraphin puppet show, is one of those treasures which are met with, here and there in the world, like woodland flowers surrounded by brambles so thick that mortal eye cannot discern them. The man who owns a flower so sweet and pure as this, and leaves it to be cultivated by others, deserves his unhappiness a thousand times over. He is either a monster or a fool.

And if in the preceding Meditation we have succeeded in proving to you that by far the greater number of men live in the most absolute indifference to their personal honor, in the matter of marriage, is it reasonable to believe that any considerable number of them are sufficiently rich, sufficiently intellectual, sufficiently penetrating to waste, like Burchell in the Vicar of Wakefield, one or two years in studying and watching the girls whom they mean to make their wives, when they pay so little attention to them after conjugal possession during that period of time which the English call the honeymoon, and whose influence we shall shortly discuss?

Since, however, we have spent some time in reflecting upon this important matter, we would observe that there are many methods of choosing more or less successfully, even though the choice be promptly made.

It is, for example, beyond doubt that the probabilities will be in your favor:

I. If you have chosen a young lady whose temperament resembles that of the women of Louisiana or the Carolinas.

To obtain reliable information concerning the temperament of a young person, it is necessary to put into vigorous operation the system which Gil Blas prescribes, in dealing with chambermaids, a system employed by statesmen to discover conspiracies and to learn how the ministers have passed the night.

II. If you choose a young lady who, without being plain, does not belong to the class of pretty women.

We regard it as an infallible principle that great sweetness of disposition united in a woman with plainness that is not repulsive, form two indubitable elements of success in securing the greatest possible happiness to the home.

But would you learn the truth? Open your Rousseau; for there is not a single question of public morals whose trend he has not pointed out in advance. Read:

"Among people of fixed principles the girls are careless, the women severe; the contrary is the case among people of no principle."

To admit the truth enshrined in this profound and truthful remark is to conclude, that there would be fewer unhappy marriages if men wedded their mistresses. The education of girls requires, therefore, important modifications in France. Up to this time French laws and French manners instituted to distinguish between a misdemeanor and a crime, have encouraged crime. In reality the fault committed by a young girl is scarcely ever a misdemeanor, if you compare it with that committed by the married woman. Is there any comparison between the danger of giving liberty to girls and that of allowing it to wives? The idea of taking a young girl on trial makes more serious men think than fools laugh. The manners of Germany, of Switzerland, of England and of the United States give to young ladies such rights as in France would be considered the subversion of all morality; and yet it is certain that in these countries there are fewer unhappy marriages than in France.

LV. "Before a woman gives herself entirely up to her lover, she ought to consider well what his love has to offer her. The gift of her esteem and confidence should necessarily precede that of her heart."

Sparkling with truth as they are, these lines probably filled with light the dungeon, in the depths of which Mirabeau wrote them; and the keen observation which they bear witness to, although prompted by the most stormy of his passions, has none the less influence even now in solving the social problem on which we are engaged. In fact, a marriage sealed under the auspices of the religious scrutiny which assumes the existence of love, and subjected to the atmosphere of that disenchantment which follows on possession, ought naturally to be the most firmly-welded of all human unions.

A woman then ought never to reproach her husband for the legal right, in virtue of which she belongs to him. She ought not to find in this compulsory submission any excuse for yielding to a lover, because some time after her marriage she has discovered in her own heart a traitor whose sophisms seduce her by asking twenty times an hour, "Wherefore, since she has been given against her will to a man whom she does not love, should she not give herself, of her own free-will, to a man whom she does love." A woman is not to be tolerated in her complaints concerning faults inseparable from human nature. She has, in advance, made trial of the tyranny which they exercise, and taken sides with the caprices which they exhibit.

A great many young girls are likely to be disappointed in their hopes of love!—But will it not be an immense advantage to them to have escaped being made the companions of men whom they would have had the right to despise?

Certain alarmists will exclaim that such an alteration in our manners would bring about a public dissoluteness which would be frightful; that the laws, and the customs which prompt the laws, could not after all authorize scandal and immorality; and if certain unavoidable abuses do exist, at least society ought not to sanction them.

It is easy to say, in reply, first of all, that the proposed system tends to prevent those abuses which have been hitherto regarded as incapable of prevention; but, the calculations of our statistics, inexact as they are, have invariably pointed out a widely prevailing social sore, and our moralists may, therefore, be accused of preferring the greater to the lesser evil, the violation of the principle on which society is constituted, to the granting of a certain liberty to girls; and dissoluteness in mothers of families, such as poisons the springs of public education and brings unhappiness upon at least four persons, to dissoluteness in a young girl, which only affects herself or at the most a child besides. Let the virtue of ten virgins be lost rather than forfeit this sanctity of morals, that crown of honor with which the mother of a family should be invested! In the picture presented by a young girl abandoned by her betrayer, there is something imposing, something indescribably sacred; here we see oaths violated, holy confidences betrayed, and on the ruins of a too facile virtue innocence sits in tears, doubting everything, because compelled to doubt the love of a father for his child. The unfortunate girl is still innocent; she may yet become a faithful wife, a tender mother, and, if the past is mantled in clouds, the future is blue as the clear sky. Shall we not find these tender tints in the gloomy pictures of loves which violate the marriage law? In the one, the woman is the victim, in the other, she is a criminal. What hope is there for the unfaithful wife? If God pardons the fault, the most exemplary life cannot efface, here below, its living consequences. If James I was the son of Rizzio, the crime of Mary lasted as long as did her mournful though royal house, and the fall of the Stuarts was the justice of God.

But in good faith, would the emancipation of girls set free such a host of dangers?

It is very easy to accuse a young person for suffering herself to be deceived, in the desire to escape, at any price, from the condition of girlhood; but such an accusation is only just in the present condition of our manners. At the present day, a young person knows nothing about seduction and its snares, she relies altogether upon her weakness, and mingling with this reliance the convenient maxims of the fashionable world, she takes as her guide while under the control of those desires which everything conspires to excite, her own deluding fancies, which prove a guide all the more treacherous, because a young girl rarely ever confides to another the secret thoughts of her first love.

If she were free, an education free from prejudices would arm her against the love of the first comer. She would, like any one else, be very much better able to meet dangers of which she knew, than perils whose extent had been concealed from her. And, moreover, is it necessary for a girl to be any the less under the watchful eye of her mother, because she is mistress of her own actions? Are we to count as nothing the modesty and the fears which nature has made so powerful in the soul of a young girl, for the very purpose of preserving her from the misfortune of submitting to a man who does not love her? Again, what girl is there so thoughtless as not to discern, that the most immoral man wishes his wife to be a woman of principle, as masters desire their servants to be perfect; and that, therefore, her virtue is the richest and the most advantageous of all possessions?

After all, what is the question before us? For what do you think we are stipulating? We are making a claim for five or six hundred thousand maidens, protected by their instinctive timidity, and by the high price at which they rate themselves; they understand how to defend themselves, just as well as they know how to sell themselves. The eighteen millions of human beings, whom we have excepted from this consideration, almost invariably contract marriages in accordance with the system which we are trying to make paramount in our system of manners; and as to the intermediary classes by which we poor bimana are separated from the men of privilege who march at the head of a nation, the number of castaway children which these classes, although in tolerably easy circumstances, consign to misery, goes on increasing since the peace, if we may believe M. Benoiston de Chateauneuf, one of the most courageous of those savants who have devoted themselves to the arid yet useful study of statistics. We may guess how deep-seated is the social hurt, for which we propound a remedy, if we reckon the number of natural children which statistics reveal, and the number of illicit adventures whose evidence in high society we are forced to suspect. But it is difficult here to make quite plain all the advantages which would result from the emancipation of young girls. When we come to observe the circumstances which attend a marriage, such as our present manners approve of, judicious minds must appreciate the value of that system of education and liberty, which we demand for young girls, in the name of reason and nature. The prejudice which we in France entertain in favor of the virginity of brides is the most silly of all those which still survive among us. The Orientals take their brides without distressing themselves about the past and lock them up in order to be more certain about the future; the French put their daughters into a sort of seraglio defended by their mothers, by prejudice, and by religious ideas, and give the most complete liberty to their wives, thus showing themselves much more solicitous about a woman's past than about her future. The point we are aiming at is to bring about a reversal of our system of manners. If we did so we should end, perhaps, by giving to faithful married life all the flavor and the piquancy which women of to-day find in acts of infidelity.

But this discussion would take us far from our subject, if it led us to examine, in all its details, the vast improvement in morals which doubtless will distinguish twentieth century France; for morals are reformed only very gradually! Is it not necessary, in order to produce the slightest change, that the most daring dreams of the past century become the most trite ideas of the present one? We have touched upon this question merely in a trifling mood, for the purposes of showing that we are not blind to its importance, and of bequeathing also to posterity the outline of a work, which they may complete. To speak more accurately there is a third work to be composed; the first concerns courtesans, while the second is the physiology of pleasure!

"When there are ten of us, we cross ourselves."

In the present state of our morals and of our imperfect civilization, a problem crops up which for the moment is insoluble, and which renders superfluous all discussion on the art of choosing a wife; we commend it, as we have done all the others, to the meditation of philosophers.


It has not yet been decided whether a wife is forced into infidelity by the impossibility of obtaining any change, or by the liberty which is allowed her in this connection.

Moreover, as in this work we pitch upon a man at the moment that he is newly married, we declare that if he has found a wife of sanguine temperament, of vivid imagination, of a nervous constitution or of an indolent character, his situation cannot fail to be extremely serious.

A man would find himself in a position of danger even more critical if his wife drank nothing but water [see the Meditation entitled Conjugal Hygiene]; but if she had some talent for singing, or if she were disposed to take cold easily, he should tremble all the time; for it must be remembered that women who sing are at least as passionate as women whose mucous membrane shows extreme delicacy.

Again, this danger would be aggravated still more if your wife were less than seventeen; or if, on the other hand, her general complexion were pale and dull, for this sort of woman is almost always artificial.

But we do not wish to anticipate here any description of the terrors which threaten husbands from the symptoms of unhappiness which they read in the character of their wives. This digression has already taken us too far from the subject of boarding schools, in which so many catastrophes are hatched, and from which issue so many young girls incapable of appreciating the painful sacrifices by which the honest man who does them the honor of marrying them, has obtained opulence; young girls eager for the enjoyments of luxury, ignorant of our laws, ignorant of our manners, claim with avidity the empire which their beauty yields them, and show themselves quite ready to turn away from the genuine utterances of the heart, while they readily listen to the buzzing of flattery.

This Meditation should plant in the memory of all who read it, even those who merely open the book for the sake of glancing at it or distracting their mind, an intense repugnance for young women educated in a boarding school, and if it succeeds in doing so, its services to the public will have already proved considerable.