The Physiology of Marriage/Part 1/Med 7

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Meditation VII: Of the Honeymoon[edit]

If our meditations prove that it is almost impossible for a married woman to remain virtuous in France, our enumeration of the celibates and the predestined, our remarks upon the education of girls, and our rapid survey of the difficulties which attend the choice of a wife will explain up to a certain point this national frailty. Thus, after indicating frankly the aching malady under which the social slate is laboring, we have sought for the causes in the imperfection of the laws, in the irrational condition of our manners, in the incapacity of our minds, and in the contradictions which characterize our habits. A single point still claims our observation, and that is the first onslaught of the evil we are confronting.

We reach this first question on approaching the high problems suggested by the honeymoon; and although we find here the starting point of all the phenomena of married life, it appears to us to be the brilliant link round which are clustered all our observations, our axioms, our problems, which have been scattered deliberately among the wise quips which our loquacious meditations retail. The honeymoon would seem to be, if we may use the expression, the apogee of that analysis to which we must apply ourselves, before engaging in battle our two imaginary champions.

The expression honeymoon is an Anglicism, which has become an idiom in all languages, so gracefully does it depict the nuptial season which is so fugitive, and during which life is nothing but sweetness and rapture; the expression survives as illusions and errors survive, for it contains the most odious of falsehoods. If this season is presented to us as a nymph crowned with fresh flowers, caressing as a siren, it is because in it is unhappiness personified and unhappiness generally comes during the indulgence of folly.

The married couple who intend to love each other during their whole life have no notion of a honeymoon; for them it has no existence, or rather its existence is perennial; they are like the immortals who do not understand death. But the consideration of this happiness is not germane to our book; and for our readers marriage is under the influence of two moons, the honeymoon and the Red-moon. This last terminates its course by a revolution, which changes it to a crescent; and when once it rises upon a home its light there is eternal.

How can the honeymoon rise upon two beings who cannot possibly love each other?

How can it set, when once it has risen?

Have all marriages their honeymoon?

Let us proceed to answer these questions in order.

It is in this connection that the admirable education which we give to girls, and the wise provisions made by the law under which men marry, bear all their fruit. Let us examine the circumstances which precede and attend those marriages which are least disastrous.

The tone of our morals develops in the young girl whom you make your wife a curiosity which is naturally excessive; but as mothers in France pique themselves on exposing their girls every day to the fire which they do not allow to scorch them, this curiosity has no limit.

Her profound ignorance of the mysteries of marriage conceals from this creature, who is as innocent as she is crafty, a clear view of the dangers by which marriage is followed; and as marriage is incessantly described to her as an epoch in which tyranny and liberty equally prevail, and in which enjoyment and supremacy are to be indulged in, her desires are intensified by all her interest in an existence as yet unfulfilled; for her to marry is to be called up from nothingness into life!

If she has a disposition for happiness, for religion, for morality, the voices of the law and of her mother have repeated to her that this happiness can only come to her from you.

Obedience if it is not virtue, is at least a necessary thing with her; for she expects everything from you. In the first place, society sanctions the slavery of a wife, but she does not conceive even the wish to be free, for she feels herself weak, timid and ignorant.

Of course she tries to please you, unless a chance error is committed, or she is seized by a repugnance which it would be unpardonable in you not to divine. She tries to please because she does not know you.

In a word, in order to complete your triumph, you take her at a moment when nature demands, often with some violence, the pleasure of which you are the dispenser. Like St. Peter you hold the keys of Paradise.

I would ask of any reasonable creature, would a demon marshal round the angel whose ruin he had vowed all the elements of disaster with more solicitude than that with which good morals conspire against the happiness of a husband? Are you not a king surrounded by flatterers?

This young girl, with all her ignorance and all her desires, committed to the mercy of a man who, even though he be in love, cannot know her shrinking and secret emotions, will submit to him with a certain sense of shame, and will be obedient and complaisant so long as her young imagination persuades her to expect the pleasure or the happiness of that morrow which never dawns.

In this unnatural situation social laws and the laws of nature are in conflict, but the young girl obediently abandons herself to it, and, from motives of self-interest, suffers in silence. Her obedience is a speculation; her complaisance is a hope; her devotion to you is a sort of vocation, of which you reap the advantage; and her silence is generosity. She will remain the victim of your caprices so long as she does not understand them; she will suffer from the limitations of your character until she has studied it; she will sacrifice herself without love, because she believed in the show of passion you made at the first moment of possession; she will no longer be silent when once she has learned the uselessness of her sacrifices.

And then the morning arrives when the inconsistencies which have prevailed in this union rise up like branches of a tree bent down for a moment under a weight which has been gradually lightened. You have mistaken for love the negative attitude of a young girl who was waiting for happiness, who flew in advance of your desires, in the hope that you would go forward in anticipation of hers, and who did not dare to complain of the secret unhappiness, for which she at first accused herself. What man could fail to be the dupe of a delusion prepared at such long range, and in which a young innocent woman is at once the accomplice and the victim? Unless you were a divine being it would be impossible for you to escape the fascination with which nature and society have surrounded you. Is not a snare set in everything which surrounds you on the outside and influences you within? For in order to be happy, is it not necessary to control the impetuous desires of your senses? Where is the powerful barrier to restrain her, raised by the light hand of a woman whom you wish to please, because you do not possess? Moreover, you have caused your troops to parade and march by, when there was no one at the window; you have discharged your fireworks whose framework alone was left, when your guest arrived to see them. Your wife, before the pledges of marriage, was like a Mohican at the Opera: the teacher becomes listless, when the savage begins to understand.

LVI. In married life, the moment when two hearts come to understand each other is sudden as a flash of lightning, and never returns, when once it is passed.

This first entrance into life of two persons, during which a woman is encouraged by the hope of happiness, by the still fresh sentiment of her married duty, by the wish to please, by the sense of virtue which begins to be so attractive as soon as it shows love to be in harmony with duty, is called the honeymoon. How can it last long between two beings who are united for their whole life, unless they know each other perfectly? If there is one thing which ought to cause astonishment it is this, that the deplorable absurdities which our manners heap up around the nuptial couch give birth to so few hatreds! But that the life of the wise man is a calm current, and that of the prodigal a cataract; that the child, whose thoughtless hands have stripped the leaves from every rose upon his pathway, finds nothing but thorns on his return, that the man who in his wild youth has squandered a million, will never enjoy, during his life, the income of forty thousand francs, which this million would have provided—are trite commonplaces, if one thinks of the moral theory of life; but new discoveries, if we consider the conduct of most men. You may see here a true image of all honeymoons; this is their history, this is the plain fact and not the cause that underlies it.

But that men endowed with a certain power of thought by a privileged education, and accustomed to think deliberately, in order to shine in politics, literature, art, commerce or private life—that these men should all marry with the intention of being happy, of governing a wife, either by love or by force, and should all tumble into the same pitfall and should become foolish, after having enjoyed a certain happiness for a certain time,—this is certainly a problem whose solution is to be found rather in the unknown depths of the human soul, than in the quasi physical truths, on the basis of which we have hitherto attempted to explain some of these phenomena. The risky search for the secret laws, which almost all men are bound to violate without knowing it, under these circumstances, promises abundant glory for any one even though he make shipwreck in the enterprise upon which we now venture to set forth. Let us then make the attempt.

In spite of all that fools have to say about the difficulty they have had in explaining love, there are certain principles relating to it as infallible as those of geometry; but in each character these are modified according to its tendency; hence the caprices of love, which are due to the infinite number of varying temperaments. If we were permitted never to see the various effects of light without also perceiving on what they were based, many minds would refuse to believe in the movement of the sun and in its oneness. Let the blind men cry out as they like; I boast with Socrates, although I am not as wise as he was, that I know of naught save love; and I intend to attempt the formulation of some of its precepts, in order to spare married people the trouble of cudgeling their brains; they would soon reach the limit of their wit.

Now all the preceding observations may be resolved into a single proposition, which may be considered either the first or last term in this secret theory of love, whose statement would end by wearying us, if we did not bring it to a prompt conclusion. This principle is contained in the following formula:

LVII. Between two beings susceptible of love, the duration of passion is in proportion to the original resistance of the woman, or to the obstacles which the accidents of social life put in the way of your happiness.

If you have desired your object only for one day, your love perhaps will not last more than three nights. Where must we seek for the causes of this law? I do not know. If you cast your eyes around you, you will find abundant proof of this rule; in the vegetable world the plants which take the longest time to grow are those which promise to have the longest life; in the moral order of things the works produced yesterday die to-morrow; in the physical world the womb which infringes the laws of gestation bears dead fruit. In everything, a work which is permanent has been brooded over by time for a long period. A long future requires a long past. If love is a child, passion is a man. This general law, which all men obey, to which all beings and all sentiments must submit, is precisely that which every marriage infringes, as we have plainly shown. This principle has given rise to the love tales of the Middle Ages; the Amadises, the Lancelots, the Tristans of ballad literature, whose constancy may justly be called fabulous, are allegories of the national mythology which our imitation of Greek literature nipped in the bud. These fascinating characters, outlined by the imagination of the troubadours, set their seal and sanction upon this truth.

LVIII. We do not attach ourselves permanently to any possessions, excepting in proportion to the trouble, toil and longing which they have cost us.

All our meditations have revealed to us about the basis of the primordial law of love is comprised in the following axiom, which is at the same time the principle and the result of the law.

LIX. In every case we receive only in proportion to what we give.

This last principle is so self-evident that we will not attempt to demonstrate it. We merely add a single observation which appears to us of some importance. The writer who said: "Everything is true, and everything is false," announced a fact which the human intellect, naturally prone to sophism, interprets as it chooses, but it really seems as though human affairs have as many facets as there are minds that contemplate them. This fact may be detailed as follows:

There cannot be found, in all creation, a single law which is not counterbalanced by a law exactly contrary to it; life in everything is maintained by the equilibrium of two opposing forces. So in the present subject, as regards love, if you give too much, you will not receive enough. The mother who shows her children her whole tenderness calls forth their ingratitude, and ingratitude is occasioned, perhaps, by the impossibility of reciprocation. The wife who loves more than she is loved must necessarily be the object of tyranny. Durable love is that which always keeps the forces of two human beings in equilibrium. Now this equilibrium may be maintained permanently; the one who loves the more ought to stop at the point of the one who loves the less. And is it not, after all the sweetest sacrifice that a loving heart can make, that love should so accommodate itself as to adjust the inequality?

What sentiment of admiration must rise in the soul of a philosopher on discovering that there is, perhaps, but one single principle in the world, as there is but one God; and that our ideas and our affections are subject to the same laws which cause the sun to rise, the flowers to bloom, the universe to teem with life!

Perhaps, we ought to seek in the metaphysics of love the reasons for the following proposition, which throws the most vivid light on the question of honeymoons and of Red-moons:


Man goes from aversion to love; but if he has begun by loving, and afterwards comes to feel aversion, he never returns to love.

In certain human organisms the feelings are dwarfed, as the thought may be in certain sterile imaginations. Thus, just as some minds have the faculty of comprehending the connections existing between different things without formal deduction; and as they have the faculty of seizing upon each formula separately, without combining them, or without the power of insight, comparison and expression; so in the same way, different souls may have more or less imperfect ideas of the various sentiments. Talent in love, as in every other art, consists in the power of forming a conception combined with the power of carrying it out. The world is full of people who sing airs, but who omit the ritornello, who have quarters of an idea, as they have quarters of sentiment, but who can no more co-ordinate the movements of their affections than of their thoughts. In a word, they are incomplete. Unite a fine intelligence with a dwarfed intelligence and you precipitate a disaster; for it is necessary that equilibrium be preserved in everything.

We leave to the philosophers of the boudoir or to the sages of the back parlor to investigate the thousand ways in which men of different temperaments, intellects, social positions and fortunes disturb this equilibrium. Meanwhile we will proceed to examine the last cause for the setting of the honeymoon and the rising of the Red-moon.

There is in life one principle more potent than life itself. It is a movement whose celerity springs from an unknown motive power. Man is no more acquainted with the secret of this revolution than the earth is aware of that which causes her rotation. A certain something, which I gladly call the current of life, bears along our choicest thoughts, makes use of most people's will and carries us on in spite of ourselves. Thus, a man of common-sense, who never fails to pay his bills, if he is a merchant, a man who has been able to escape death, or what perhaps is more trying, sickness, by the observation of a certain easy but daily regimen, is completely and duly nailed up between the four planks of his coffin, after having said every evening: "Dear me! to-morrow I will not forget my pills!" How are we to explain this magic spell which rules all the affairs of life? Do men submit to it from a want of energy? Men who have the strongest wills are subject to it. Is it default of memory? People who possess this faculty in the highest degree yield to its fascination.

Every one can recognize the operation of this influence in the case of his neighbor, and it is one of the things which exclude the majority of husbands from the honeymoon. It is thus that the wise man, survivor of all reefs and shoals, such as we have pointed out, sometimes falls into the snares which he himself has set.

I have myself noticed that man deals with marriage and its dangers in very much the same way that he deals with wigs; and perhaps the following phases of thought concerning wigs may furnish a formula for human life in general.

FIRST EPOCH.—Is it possible that I shall ever have white hair?

SECOND EPOCH.—In any case, if I have white hair, I shall never wear a wig. Good Lord! what is more ugly than a wig?

One morning you hear a young voice, which love much oftener makes to vibrate than lulls to silence, exclaiming:

"Well, I declare! You have a white hair!"

THIRD EPOCH.—Why not wear a well-made wig which people would not notice? There is a certain merit in deceiving everybody; besides, a wig keeps you warm, prevents taking cold, etc.

FOURTH EPOCH.—The wig is so skillfully put on that you deceive every one who does not know you.

The wig takes up all your attention, and amour-propre makes you every morning as busy as the most skillful hairdresser.

FIFTH EPOCH.—The neglected wig. "Good heavens! How tedious it is, to have to go with bare head every evening, and to curl one's wig every morning!"

SIXTH EPOCH.—The wig allows certain white hairs to escape; it is put on awry and the observer perceives on the back of your neck a white line, which contrasts with the deep tints pushed back by the collar of your coat.

SEVENTH EPOCH.—Your wig is as scraggy as dog's tooth grass; and —excuse the expression—you are making fun of your wig.

"Sir," said one of the most powerful feminine intelligences which have condescended to enlighten me on some of the most obscure passages in my book, "what do you mean by this wig?"

"Madame," I answered, "when a man falls into a mood of indifference with regard to his wig, he is,—he is—what your husband probably is not."

"But my husband is not—" (she paused and thought for a moment). "He is not amiable; he is not—well, he is not—of an even temper; he is not—"

"Then, madame, he would doubtless be indifferent to his wig!"

We looked at each other, she with a well-assumed air of dignity, I with a suppressed smile.

"I see," said I, "that we must pay special respect to the ears of the little sex, for they are the only chaste things about them."

I assumed the attitude of a man who has something of importance to disclose, and the fair dame lowered her eyes, as if she had some reason to blush.

"Madame, in these days a minister is not hanged, as once upon a time, for saying yes or no; a Chateaubriand would scarcely torture Francoise de Foix, and we wear no longer at our side a long sword ready to avenge an insult. Now in a century when civilization has made such rapid progress, when we can learn a science in twenty-four lessons, everything must follow this race after perfection. We can no longer speak the manly, rude, coarse language of our ancestors. The age in which are fabricated such fine, such brilliant stuffs, such elegant furniture, and when are made such rich porcelains, must needs be the age of periphrase and circumlocution. We must try, therefore, to coin a new word in place of the comic expression which Moliere used; since the language of this great man, as a contemporary author has said, is too free for ladies who find gauze too thick for their garments. But people of the world know, as well as the learned, how the Greeks had an innate taste for mysteries. That poetic nation knew well how to invest with the tints of fable the antique traditions of their history. At the voice of their rhapsodists together with their poets and romancers, kings became gods and their adventures of gallantry were transformed into immortal allegories. According to M. Chompre, licentiate in law, the classic author of the Dictionary of Mythology, the labyrinth was 'an enclosure planted with trees and adorned with buildings arranged in such a way that when a young man once entered, he could no more find his way out.' Here and there flowery thickets were presented to his view, but in the midst of a multitude of alleys, which crossed and recrossed his path and bore the appearance of a uniform passage, among the briars, rocks and thorns, the patient found himself in combat with an animal called the Minotaur.

"Now, madame, if you will allow me the honor of calling to your mind the fact that the Minotaur was of all known beasts that which Mythology distinguishes as the most dangerous; that in order to save themselves from his ravages, the Athenians were bound to deliver to him, every single year, fifty virgins; you will perhaps escape the error of good M. Chompre, who saw in the labyrinth nothing but an English garden; and you will recognize in this ingenious fable a refined allegory, or we may better say a faithful and fearful image of the dangers of marriage. The paintings recently discovered at Herculaneum have served to confirm this opinion. And, as a matter of fact, learned men have for a long time believed, in accordance with the writings of certain authors, that the Minotaur was an animal half-man, half-bull; but the fifth panel of ancient paintings at Herculaneum represents to us this allegorical monster with a body entirely human; and, to take away all vestige of doubt, he lies crushed at the feet of Theseus. Now, my dear madame, why should we not ask Mythology to come and rescue us from that hypocrisy which is gaining ground with us and hinders us from laughing as our fathers laughed? And thus, since in the world a young lady does not very well know how to spread the veil under which an honest woman hides her behavior, in a contingency which our grandfathers would have roughly explained by a single word, you, like a crowd of beautiful but prevaricating ladies, you content yourselves with saying, 'Ah! yes, she is very amiable, but,'—but what?—'but she is often very inconsistent—.' I have for a long time tried to find out the meaning of this last word, and, above all, the figure of rhetoric by which you make it express the opposite of that which it signifies; but all my researches have been in vain. Vert-Vert used the word last, and was unfortunately addressed to the innocent nuns whose infidelities did not in any way infringe the honor of the men. When a woman is inconsistent the husband must be, according to me, minotaurized. If the minotaurized man is a fine fellow, if he enjoys a certain esteem,--and many husbands really deserve to be pitied,—then in speaking of him, you say in a pathetic voice, 'M. A—— is a very estimable man, his wife is exceedingly pretty, but they say he is not happy in his domestic relations.' Thus, madame, the estimable man who is unhappy in his domestic relations, the man who has an inconsistent wife, or the husband who is minotaurized are simply husbands as they appear in Moliere. Well, then, O goddess of modern taste, do not these expressions seem to you characterized by a transparency chaste enough for anybody?"

"Ah! mon Dieu!" she answered, laughing, "if the thing is the same, what does it matter whether it be expressed in two syllables or in a hundred?"

She bade me good-bye, with an ironical nod and disappeared, doubtless to join the countesses of my preface and all the metaphorical creatures, so often employed by romance-writers as agents for the recovery or composition of ancient manuscripts.

As for you, the more numerous and the more real creatures who read my book, if there are any among you who make common cause with my conjugal champion, I give you notice that you will not at once become unhappy in your domestic relations. A man arrives at this conjugal condition not suddenly, but insensibly and by degrees. Many husbands have even remained unfortunate in their domestic relations during their whole life and have never known it. This domestic revolution develops itself in accordance with fixed rules; for the revolutions of the honeymoon are as regular as the phases of the moon in heaven, and are the same in every married house. Have we not proved that moral nature, like physical nature, has its laws?

Your young wife will never take a lover, as we have elsewhere said, without making serious reflections. As soon as the honeymoon wanes, you will find that you have aroused in her a sentiment of pleasure which you have not satisfied; you have opened to her the book of life; and she has derived an excellent idea from the prosaic dullness which distinguishes your complacent love, of the poetry which is the natural result when souls and pleasures are in accord. Like a timid bird, just startled by the report of a gun which has ceased, she puts her head out of her nest, looks round her, and sees the world; and knowing the word of a charade which you have played, she feels instinctively the void which exists in your languishing passion. She divines that it is only with a lover that she can regain the delightful exercise of her free will in love.

You have dried the green wood in preparation for a fire.

In the situation in which both of you find yourselves, there is no woman, even the most virtuous, who would not be found worthy of a grande passion, who has not dreamed of it, and who does not believe that it is easily kindled, for there is always found a certain amour-propre ready to reinforce that conquered enemy—a jaded wife.

"If the role of an honest woman were nothing more than perilous," said an old lady to me, "I would admit that it would serve. But it is tiresome; and I have never met a virtuous woman who did not think about deceiving somebody."

And then, before any lover presents himself, a wife discusses with herself the legality of the act; she enters into a conflict with her duties, with the law, with religion and with the secret desires of a nature which knows no check-rein excepting that which she places upon herself. And then commences for you a condition of affairs totally new; then you receive the first intimation which nature, that good and indulgent mother, always gives to the creatures who are exposed to any danger. Nature has put a bell on the neck of the Minotaur, as on the tail of that frightful snake which is the terror of travelers. And then appear in your wife what we will call the first symptoms, and woe to him who does not know how to contend with them. Those who in reading our book will remember that they saw those symptoms in their own domestic life can pass to the conclusion of this work, where they will find how they may gain consolation.

The situation referred to, in which a married couple bind themselves for a longer or a shorter time, is the point from which our work starts, as it is the end at which our observations stop. A man of intelligence should know how to recognize the mysterious indications, the obscure signs and the involuntary revelation which a wife unwittingly exhibits; for the next Meditation will doubtless indicate the more evident of the manifestations to neophytes in the sublime science of marriage.