« PreviousContinue »
for the defeat of England in some future war, to disbelieve their Bible, or else to think salvation impossible to the friends, the relations of their youth, without a sentiment of deep regret; and most bitterly do we think those parents to be blamed who, for their own gratification, or for the purpose of teaching a daughter to dance at a little less expense, expose her to such temptation. Generally indeed those who yield to it are not the most to be regretted of our females, but still they might have been preserved.
In making these observations we would be understood not to give them a careless breadth of application. We do not mean to say that there is no female chastity in France, no female profligacy in England. We mean to say that the proportions in each country are such as to authorize the conclusions we have drawn, and to make these not universal, but general. We are ready also to make some other concessions ;-we are quite willing to allow that the dissoluteness of one country diminishes much of the blame, and some of the degradation, attached to the individual;--that a French woman may err with less contamination to herself than an English woman that she who has been educated in English principles, who is allowed to make her own choice of a husband, who has so many domestic joys, who is called away from them by so few seductions, who has eternally before her eyes the respect paid to those of her sex that perform their duty, and the contempt and misery which awaits those who do not—who must practise so much dissimulation, or brave so much fame is more to be blamed and pitied when she'swerves from virtue's rule.' La Rochefoucault has said, that the smallest fault of a woman of gallantry is her gallantry. If this be true generally, it is particularly true here.
Over such a state of morals as the earlier volumes. of these Memoirs exhibit in such glaring light, a revolution swept with all its blasting virulence. The portion of virtue which it had to destroy, did not consume much of its strength; the refinements of vice soon yielded before its open profligacy. Its new laws permitted a promiscuous intercourse, and marriages were dissolved on demand. Many of the beasts who roam wild in the woods are bound to their females by more lasting ties than those which the legislature of regenerated France made necessary among the human creatures which it governed; and this system predominated, in various degrees, for more than twenty years. It was not till after the restoration of the Bourbons that it can be said to have ceased; and even then the marriage bond was, in every catholic opinion at least, left incomplete. The law which made wedlock a mere civil contract was maintained ; the parties were allowed to perform or not, as they pleased, the ceremonies of their respective churches; and the catholic rite, VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVIII.
which held it as a sacrament before, was thus shaken in one of its seven fundamental points. During many years, the ceremony before the municipality alone was practised; and when the churches were re-opened, and religion restored, as was the language of the day, by Buonaparte, a few couples proceeded to the altar—and but a few indeed. We have seen extracts from parish registers between 1800 and 1814, in which the average of these was only one in seven. Now indeed the clergy of France exhort their flock to have recourse to the church, after the municipality, and, if they never did worse than this, we should applaud them. A small portion of public opinion too helps them a little ; but, in all the concerns of religion in France, those who will have any thing will have too much; those who will not have too much will have nothing. Sooner or later the people will demand a reformed creed: And they will obtain it, but the waters of their baptism will be blood.
To anoul the marriage contract-and its vow-was, however, at every step toward returning order, made a little less easy: and in 18!4 and 1815, the two first years of the restoration, it had become very difficult indeed! for, in the city of Paris, in a population then much under 700,000 souls, there were in each of those years, only thirty-two divorces; that is to say, one divorce in about 20,000 persons; or, according to an official statement of the number of marriages at the same time, one divorce to 184 marriages.
Now in England, as we have been told, not two divorces and a half are the annual average; which being pronounced in a population of-to be within bounds-fifteen millions, makes one divorce in six inillions of persons, or only go of the proportion of French divorces at the time when they were the most difficult to be obtained. If it be said that we allow but one ground for divorcing, we grant it, and rejoice in the morality of our legislation. If again it be objected that we have many legal separations, &c., we answer, no number that, even were they divorces, could raise our ratio to any thing like one in 184 or even 1840 marriages. The French are convinced that the sale of a wife in the public market, with a halter round her neck, is with us a legal dissolution of marriage, and quite in our habits—and let them think so..
The system of society was so torn during the revolution, that it would require a separate dissertation to give a just idea of that immense chasm; and it creates no small surprize to see that so much bas been already brought back to its former order. Nevertheless many essential differences still strike the observer. The feelings and opinions upon female virtue, upon chastity, are indeed, we greatly fear, the same as formerly in all classes; neither atheism nor bigotry could improve them much. But the style of present
intercourse, the habits of the times, cáres, anxieties, the loss of fortune, the dependence upon royal or ministerial bounties, the trade of arms no longer exclusive to the nobility, no longer the domain of gallantry, with numberless other influences great and small, have produced some changes in the relations between men and women, which, without correcting the principles, have considerably modified the practice of morality. One of the most prominent features of actual manners, is the diminution of that politeness so remarkable formerly; and which, though it consisted entirely in forms and behaviour, though a very large portion of it could be taught by the dancing-master, though it was utterly independent of the heart, very much facilitated the circulation of society, and was unquestionably the great, the boasted charm of France. Now, without this, there is not gallantry; and, without gallantry, love intrigues, of the sort described in Madame de Genlis's earlier tomes, cannot be so generally and so systematically pursued, as when both men and women were the pampered fondlings of luxury. A chapter in one of her later volumes will afford a sad contrast, in this respect, to the suppers of the old régime; and show the dismal ebb of that elegance and refinement which had studied gracefulness 'even in their offendings, and a show of good breeding even in their impertinences. Mad. de Genlis dined at her son-in-law's, Gen. Valence, with four French peers--two of whom were dukes four marshals, and three generals. At dipner she was placed between two peers, who opened not their mouths to her, but talked politics across the table during the whole time. After dinner they returned to the drawing-room where she seated herself; but suddenly all the dukes, peers, marshals, and generals, made a rush, carrying off their seats, and established themselves in a ring, outside of which sat the deserted proprietress of the most charming petit nez retroussé' in the world. Her first surmise was, that these grave personages had formed their impenetrable circle for the purpose of playing small games, which she thought an innocent and not unlaudable pastime; but what was her surprize when she heard them discuss the most difficult questions of state; declaim, scream, dispute, roar, as if they were in the chamber of deputies! • They had no president, (says she,) and I had a mind to take upon myself the office and call them to order ; but I had no bell, and I feared that my voice would be extinguished by their vociferations.' They continued thus during an hour and a half, after which time she left them hoarse and perspiring, without having advanced a step in argument, and still arguing. Oh le bon tems (exclaims the reminiscent) que celui où, lors qu'on se
rassembloit dans un salon, on ne songeoit qu'à plaire et s'amuser : où l'on n'auroit pu, sans une excessive pédanterie, avoir la prétention de montrer de grandes vues sur l'administration ! où l'on avoit de la grace, de la gaieté et toute la frivolité qui rend aimable, et qui repose le soir du poids de la journée, et de la fatigue des affaires. Aujourdhui-on se croit profond parce qu'on est lourd, et raisonnable parce qu'on est grave; et lorsqu'on est constamment ennuyeux, comme on s'estime! comme on se trouve sage!' In a drawing-room, she continues, 'où tout le monde entassé, pressé, se tient debout, on vante l'esprit de la maîtresse de la maison ; mais à quoi lui sert-il ? Elle ne peut ni parler ni entendre. Un mannequin placé dans un fauteuil feroit aussi bien qu'elle les honneurs d'une belle soirée. C'est là une assemblée à l'Angloise ! Il faut convenir que les soirées à la Française passées jadis à, &c. valcient bien mieux que cela. Mais nous retrouverons sans doute les graces Françaises dans les soirées particulières : point du tout ; vous n'entendrez là que des dissertations, des déclamations, et des disputes.'
The picture is correct, and much more might be said to heighten it. Let any person, after reading the works which give an account of French society in former times, go to a ministerial reception of the present day, and then to the best private circles, numerous or small; and he will not credit that what he read and what he sees relate to the same people. Before, male and female were chequered through society, like the houses on a chess board, in such a way that every man was surrounded by women, and every woman by men; but now, on a formal line of chairs are seated the fair, while, at the opposite extremity, stand the others; and in the waste between them, silence—silence-reigns. The ladies indeed maintain a tolerable countenance in their melancholy solitude; the topic of the toilette extricates them from every embarrassment. But the exhibition of the men is disastrous beyond description. Gallantry rejects them, politics have not yet received them; and between the two they make the most amphibious appearance. Where gravity is not natural it becomes grotesque; and Liston would be as irresistible in Cato Uticensis as in Tony Lumkin.
It may be admitted, then, that in the upper circles, regular affairs of gallantry and systematic intrigues are less frequent today than formerly: but it remains doubtful, to say the least, whether it is so because the feelings upon this head are chastened, or because female virtue is held in higher estimation now than it used to be. The reason, many acute observers naintain, is to be sought for in circumstances of another class—in the diminution of intercourse attendant on a different system of society, a greater separation between the sexes, and the ambition of the men directed in another channel. Tlie present condition of the women, say
these, is to the full as equivocal as that of the men; for if they are not treated, as formerly, like idols, neither is the sex respected as in England. Their state is something between that of a useful and of an ornamental thing; not enough of the former to gratify the mind, or of the latter to make them as rapturous as their grandmothers used to be. Their posture certainly is awkward enough, and the present generation of men is not inclined to help them out of it; to pull them over towards reason, or to lure them towards pleasure. And this desertion is the more unpardonable in the descendants of so many knights errant, as the evident propensity of the ladies is to become again their bauble.
Whether the present state of society in France will be lasting or not we cannot say. Whether it will make the distance between men and women habitual, and thus really improve the feeling of morality, is equally doubtful. Did we see religion and virtue increase, and probity and justice upon some most important points becoming healthy and vigorous throughout the nation, we should not hesitate to answer this question affirmatively. But there are many bad symptoms to be got over; and the fact which we have admitted is, we much fear, a mere accident in the system.
It may be necessary to say something in defence of ourselves for thus avowing the suspicion that female virtue is not held in much higher estimation in France now than formerly. There is a law, humane enough, which declares that the only son of a widow shall be exempted from drawing for the conscription. About five years ago an unmarried woman presented a petitiou to the chamber of deputies, praying that her natural son might be put upon the same footing as the only sons of all widows. The commission of petitions unblushingly read this demand at the tribune, and the honourable assembly heard it unmoved. Certainly so public a mark of indifference to female virtue never was given by any constituted, by any legislative authority, in the old regime. Yet the French are very fastidious upon some parts of female concerns. When the Duchess d'Angoulême, after an exile. of a quarter of a century, returned to Paris, the principal thing which struck all ranks in this daughter of the Casars, the child of a murdered king and queen, the female heir to the throne, was the smallness of her hat and the English tournure.
Formerly--to speak plainly-adultery was the vice of the fashionable; it belonged too much to high life to be permitted to inferiors; and the French peasantry were pretty generally supposed to be the fathers of their own childreni, But, when the blastof equality levelled the mighty, this lordly privilege was invaded; and the sins of the nobility, torn with their titles from their loins, descended