Nonfiction > Jean de La Bruyère > Characters
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Jean de La Bruyère (1645–1696).  Characters.  1885.
 
III.
Of Women
 
(1.)  “THE MALE and female sex seldom agree about the merits of a woman, as their interests vary too much. Women do not like those same charms in one another which render them agreeable to men: many ways and means which kindle in the latter the greatest passions, raise among them aversion and antipathy.  1
 
(2.)  There exists among some women an artificial grandeur depending on a certain way of moving their eyes, tossing their heads, and on their manner of walking, which does not go farther; it is like a dazzling wit which is deceptive, and is only admired because it is superficial. In a few others is to be found an ingenuous, natural greatness, not beholden to gestures and motion, which springs from the heart, and is, as it were, the result of their noble birth; their merit, as unruffled as it is efficient, is accompanied by a thousand virtues, which, in spite of all their modesty, break out and display themselves to all who can discern them.  2
 
(3.)  I have heard some people say they should like to be a girl, and a handsome girl, too, from thirteen to two-and-twenty, and after that age again to become a man.  3
 
(4.)  Some young ladies are not sensible of the advantages of a happy disposition, and how beneficial it would be to them to give themselves up to it; they enfeeble these rare and fragile gifts which Heaven has given them by affectation and by bad imitation; their very voice and gait are affected; they fashion their looks, adorn themselves, consult their looking-glasses to see whether they have sufficiently changed their own natural appearance, and take some trouble to make themselves less agreeable.  4
 
(5.)  For a woman to paint herself red or white is, I admit, a smaller crime than to say one thing and think another; it is also something less innocent than to disguise herself or to go masquerading, if she does not pretend to pass for what she seems to be, but only thinks of concealing her personality and of remaining unknown; it is an endeavour to deceive the eyes, to wish to appear outwardly what she is not; it is a kind of “white lie.”  5
  We should judge of a woman without taking into account her shoes and head-dress, and, almost as we measure a fish, from head to tail.  6
 
(6.)  If it be the ambition of women only to appear handsome in their own eyes and to please themselves, they are, no doubt, right in following their own tastes and fancies as to how they should beautify themselves, as well as in choosing their dress and ornaments; but if they desire to please men, if it is for them they paint and besmear themselves, I can tell them that all men, or nearly all, have agreed that white and red paint makes them look hideous and frightful; that red paint alone ages and disguises them, and that these men hate as much to see white lead on their countenances as to see false teeth in their mouths or balls of wax to plump out their cheeks; that they solemnly protest against all artifices women employ to make themselves look ugly; that they are not responsible for it to Heaven, but, on the contrary, that it seems the last and infallible means to reclaim men from loving them.  7
  If women were by nature what they make themselves by art; if they were to lose suddenly all the freshness of their complexion, and their faces to become as fiery and as leaden as they make them with the red and the paint they besmear themselves with, they would consider themselves the most wretched creatures on earth.  8
 
(7.)  A coquette is a woman who never yields to the passion she has for pleasing, nor to the good opinion she entertains of her own beauty; she regards time and years only as things that wrinkle and disfigure other women, and forgets that age is written on her face. The same dress, which formerly enhanced her beauty when she was young, now disfigures her, and shows the more the defects of old age; winning manners and affectation cling to her even in sorrow and sickness; she dies dressed in her best, and adorned with gay-coloured ribbons.  9
 
(8.)  Lise hears that people make fun of some coquette for pretending to be young and for wearing dresses which no longer suit a woman of forty. Lise is as old as that, but years for her have less than twelve months; nor do they add to her age; she thinks so, and whilst she looks in the glass, lays the red on her face and sticks on the patches, confesses there is a time of life when it is not decent to affect a youthful appearance, and, indeed, that Clarissa with her paint and patches is ridiculous.  10
 
(9.)  Women make preparations to receive their lovers, but if they are surprised by them, they forget in what sort of dress they are, and no longer think of themselves. They are in no such confusion with people for whom they do not care; they perceive that they are not well dressed, bedizen themselves in their presence, or else disappear for a moment and return beautifully arrayed.  11
 
(10.)  A handsome face is the finest of all sights, and the sweetest music is the sound of the voice of the woman we love.  12
 
(11.)  Fascination is despotic; beauty is something more tangible and independent of opinion.  13
 
(12.)  A man can feel his heart touched by certain women of such perfect beauty and such transcendent merit that he is satisfied with only seeing them and conversing with them.  14
 
(13.)  A handsome woman, who possesses also the qualities of a man of culture, is the most agreeable acquaintance a man can have, for she unites the merits of both sexes.  15
 
(14.)  A young lady accidentally says many little things which are clearly convincing, and greatly flatter those to whom they are addressed. Men say almost nothing accidentally; their endearments are premeditated; they speak, act, and are eager to please, but convince less.  16
 
(15.)  Handsome women are more or less whimsical; those whims serve as an antidote, so that their beauty may do less harm to men, who, without such a remedy, would never be cured of their love.  17
 
(16.)  Women become attached to men through the favours they grant them, but men are cured of their love through those same favours.  18
 
(17.)  When a woman no longer loves a man, she forgets the very favours she has granted him.  19
 
(18.)  A woman with one gallant thinks she is no coquette; she who has several thinks herself but a coquette.  20
  A woman avoids being a coquette if she steadfastly loves a certain person, but she is not thought sane if she persists in a bad choice.  21
 
(19.)  A former gallant is of so little consideration that he must give way to a new husband; and the latter lasts so short a time that a fresh gallant turns him out.  22
  A former gallant either fears or despises a new rival, according to the character of the lady to whom he pays his addresses.  23
  Often a former gallant wants nothing but the name to be the husband of the woman he loves; if it was not for this circumstance he would have been dismissed a thousand times.  24
 
(20.)  Gallantry in a woman seems to add to coquetry. A male coquette, on the contrary, is something worse than a gallant. A male coquette and a woman of gallantry are pretty much on a level.  25
 
(21.)  Few intrigues are secret; many women are not better known by their husbands’ names than they are by the names of their gallants.  26
 
(22.)  A woman of gallantry strongly desires to be loved: it is enough for a coquette to be thought amiable and to be considered handsome. This one seeks to form an engagement; that one is satisfied with pleasing. The first passes successively from one engagement to another; the second has at one and the same time a great many amusements on her hands. Passion and pleasure are predominant in the first; vanity and levity in the second. Gallantry is a weakness of the heart, or perhaps a constitutional defect; coquetry is an irregularity of the mind. A woman of gallantry is feared; a coquette is hated. From two such characters might be formed a third worse than any.  27
 
(23.)  A weak woman is one who is blamed for a fault for which she blames herself; whose feelings are struggling with reason, and who should like to be cured of her folly, but is never cured, or not till very late in life.  28
 
(24.)  An inconstant woman is one who is no longer in love; a giddy woman is one who is already in love with another person; a flighty woman neither knows if she loves or whom she loves; and an indifferent woman is one who loves nobody.  29
 
(25.)  Treachery, if I may say so, is a falsehood told by the whole body; in a woman it is the art of arranging words or actions for the purpose of deceiving us, and sometimes of making use of vows and promises which it costs her no more to break than it did to make.  30
  A faithless woman, if known to be such by the person concerned, is but faithless; if she is believed faithful, she is treacherous.  31
  The benefit we obtain from the perfidy of women is that it cures us of jealousy.  32
 
(26.)  Some women in their lifetime have a double engagement to keep, which it is as difficult to violate as to conceal; in the one nothing is wanting but a legal consecration, and in the other nothing but the heart.  33
 
(27.)  If we were to judge of a certain woman by her beauty, her youth, her pride, and her haughtiness, we could almost assert that none but a hero would one day win her. She has chosen to fall in love with a little monster deficient in intelligence.  34
 
(28.)  There are some women past their prime, who, on account of their constitution or bad disposition, are naturally the resource of young men not possessing sufficient wealth. I do not know who is more to be pitied, either a woman in years who needs a young man, or a young man who needs an old woman.  35
 
(29.)  A man who is looked upon with contempt at court, is received amongst fashionable people in the city, where he triumphs over a magistrate in all his finery, as well as over a citizen wearing a sword; he beats them all out of the field and becomes master of the situation; he is treated with consideration and is beloved; there is no resisting for long a man wearing a gold-embroidered scarf and white plumes; a man who talks to the king and visits the ministers. He kindles jealousy amongst men as well as amongst women; he is admired and envied; but in Versailles, four leagues from Paris, he is despised.  36
 
(30.)  A citizen is to a woman who has never left her native province what a courtier is to a woman born and bred in town.  37
 
(31.)  A man who is vain, indiscreet, a great talker and a mischievous wag, who speaks arrogantly of himself and contemptuously of others, who is boisterous, haughty, forward, without morality, honesty, or commonsense, and who draws for facts on his imagination, wants nothing else, to be adored by many women, but handsome features and a good shape.  38
 
(32.)  Is it for the sake of secrecy, or from some eccentricity, that a certain lady loves her footman and Dorinna her physician?  39
 
(33.)  Roscius treads the stage with admirable grace: yes, Lelia, so he does; and I will allow you, too, that his limbs are well shaped, that he acts well, and very long parts, and that to recite perfectly he wants nothing else, as they say, but to open his mouth. But is he the only actor who is charming in everything he does? or is his profession the noblest and most honourable in the world? Moreover, Roscius cannot be yours; he is another’s, or, if he were not, he is pre-engaged. Claudia waits for him till he is satiated with Messalina. Take Bathyllus, then, Lelia. Where will you find, I do not say among the knights you despise, but among the very players, one to compare with him in rising so high whilst dancing or in cutting capers? Or what do you think of Cobus, the tumbler, who, throwing his feet forward, whirls himself quite round in the air before he lights on the ground? But, perhaps, you know that he is no longer young? As for Bathyllus, you will say, the crowd round him is still too great, and he refuses more ladies than he gratifies. Well, you can have Draco, the flute-player; none of all his profession swells his cheeks with so much decency as he does whilst playing on the hautboy or the flageolet; for he can play on a great number of instruments; and he is so comical that he makes even children and young women laugh. Who eats or drinks more at a meal than Draco? He makes the whole company intoxicated, and is the last to remain comparatively sober. You sigh, Lelia. Is it because Draco has already made his choice, or because, unfortunately, you have been forestalled? Is he at last engaged to Cesonia, who has so long pursued him, and who has sacrificed for him such a large number of lovers, I might even say, the entire flower of Rome? to Cesonia, herself belonging to a patrician family, so young, so handsome, and of so noble a mien? I pity you, Lelia, if you have been infected with this new fancy which possesses so many Roman ladies for what are called public men, whose calling exposes them to the public gaze. What course will you pursue, then, since the best of their kind are already engaged? However, Brontes, the executioner, is still left; everybody speaks of his strength and his skill; he is young, broad-shouldered and brawny, and, moreover, a negro, a black man.  40
 
(34.)  A woman of fashion looks on a gardener as a gardener, and on a mason as a mason; but other women, who live more secluded, look upon a mason and a gardener as men. Anything is a temptation to those who dread it.  41
 
(35.)  Some ladies are liberal to the Church as well as to their lovers; and being both gallant and charitable, are provided with seats and oratories within the rails of the altar, where they can read their love-letters, and where no one can see whether they are saying their prayers or not.  42
 
(36.)  What kind of a woman is one who is “spiritually directed”? Is she more obliging to her husband, kinder to her servants, more careful of her family and her household, more zealous and sincere for her friends? is she less swayed by whims, less governed by interest, and less fond of her ease? I do not ask if she makes presents to her children who already are opulent, but if, having wealth enough and to spare, she provides them with the necessaries of life, and, at least, gives them what is their due? Is she more exempt from egotism, does she dislike others less, and has she fewer worldly affections: “No,” say you, “none of all those things.” I repeat my question again: “What kind of a woman is one who is ‘spiritually directed’?” “Oh! I understand you now; she is a woman who has a spiritual director.”  43
 
(37.)  If a father-confessor and a spiritual director cannot agree about their line of conduct, what third person shall a woman take to be arbitrator?  44
 
(38.)  It is not essential that a woman should provide herself with a spiritual director, but she should lead such a regular life as not to need one.  45
 
(39.)  If a woman should tell her father-confessor, among her other weaknesses, those which she has for her director, and the times she wastes in his company, perhaps she might be enjoined as a penance to leave him.  46
 
(40.)  Would I had the liberty of shouting, as loud as I could, to those holy men who formerly suffered by women: “Flee from women; do not become their spiritual directors, but let others take care of their salvation!”  47
 
(41.)  It is too much for a husband to have a wife who is a coquette and sanctimonious as well; she should select only one of those qualities.  48
 
(42.)  I have deferred it for a long time, but after all I have suffered it must come out at last; and I hope my frankness may be of some service to those ladies who, not deeming one confessor sufficient to guide them, show no discrimination in the choice of their directors. I cannot help admiring and being amazed on beholding some people who shall be nameless; I open my eyes wide when I see them; I gaze on them; they speak and I listen; then I inquire, and am told certain things, which I do not forget. I cannot understand how people, who appear to me the very reverse of intelligent, sensible, or experienced, and without any knowledge of mankind, or any study of religion and morality, can presume that Heaven, at the present time, should renew the marvels of an apostolate, and perform a miracle on them, in rendering such simple and little minds fit for the ministry of souls, the most difficult and most sublime of all vocations. It is to me still more incomprehensible if, on the contrary, they fancy themselves predestined to fill a function so noble and so difficult, and for which but few people are qualified, and persuade themselves that in undertaking it they do but exercise their natural talents and follow an ordinary vocation.  49
  I perceive that an inclination of being intrusted with family secrets, of being useful in bringing about reconciliations, of obtaining various appointments, or of procuring places to people, of finding all doors of noblemen’s houses open, of eating frequently at good tables, of driving about the town in private carriages, of making pleasant excursions to charming country-seats, of seeing several persons of rank and quality concern themselves about our life and health, and of employing for others and ourselves every worldly interest,—I perceive, I say so again, that for the sake of those things solely has been invented the specious and inoffensive pretence of the care of souls, and an inexhaustible nursery of spiritual directors planted in this world.  50
 
(43.)  Devotion with some people, but especially with women, is either a passion, or an infirmity of age, or a fashion which must be followed. Formerly such women divided the week in days for gambling, for going to a theatre, a concert, a fancy-dress ball, or a nice sermon. On Mondays they went and lost their money at Ismena’s; on Tuesdays their time at Climène’s, and on Wednesday their reputation at Célimène’s; they knew overnight what amusements were going on the next day, and the day after that; they thus enjoyed the present, and knew what pleasures were in store for them; they wished it were possible to unite them all in one day, for this was then the sole cause of their uneasiness and all they had to think about; and if they sometimes went to the Opera, they regretted they had not gone to any other theatre. But with other times came other manners; now, they exaggerate their austerity and their solitude; they no longer open their eyes, which were given them to see; they do not make any use of their senses, and what is almost incredible, but little of their tongues; and yet they think, and that pretty well of themselves and ill enough of others; they compete with each other in virtue and reformation in a jealous kind of way; they do not dislike being first in their new course of life, as they were in the career they lately abandoned out of policy or disgust. They used gaily to damn themselves through their intrigues, their luxury and sloth, and now their presumption and envy will damn them, though not so merrily.  51
 
(44.)  Hermas, were I to marry a stingy woman, she will be sure not to ruin me; if a woman fond of gambling, she may enrich me; if a woman fond of learning, she may teach me; or if prim and precise, she will not fly into a rage; if a passionate one, she will exercise my patience; if a coquette, she will endeavour to please me; if a woman of gallantry, she will perhaps be so gallant as to love me; but tell me, Hermas, what can I expect if I were to marry a devout woman who would deceive Heaven, and who really deceives herself?  52
 
(45.)  A woman is easily managed if a man will only give himself the trouble. One man often manages a great many; he cultivates their understanding and their memory, settles and determines their religious feelings, and undertakes even to regulate their very affections. They neither approve nor disapprove, commend or condemn, till they have consulted his looks and his countenance. He is the confidant of their joys and of their sorrows, of their desires, jealousies, hatred, and love; he makes them break with their gallants, embroils and reconciles them with their husbands, and is useful during the intervals. He looks after their business, solicits for them when they have lawsuits, and goes and sees the judges; he recommends them his physician, his tradesmen, his workmen; he tries to find them a residence, to furnish it, and he orders also their carriages. He is seen with them when they drive about in the streets, and during their walks, as well as in their pew at church and their box at the theatre; he goes the same round of visits as they do, and attends on them when they go to the baths, to watering-places, and on their travels; he has the most comfortable apartment at their country-seat. He grows old, but his authority does not decline; a small amount of intelligence and the spending of a good deal of leisure time suffice to preserve it; the children, the heirs, the daughter-in-law, the niece, and the servants, are all dependent on him. He began by making himself esteemed, and ends by making himself feared. This old and necessary friend dies at last without being regretted, and about half a score of women he tyrannised over recover their liberty at his death.  53
 
(46.)  Some women have endeavoured to conceal their conduct under a modest exterior; but the most any one of them has obtained by the closest and most constant dissimulation has been to have it said, “One would have taken her for a Vestal virgin.”  54
 
(47.)  It is a proof positive that a woman has an unstained and established reputation if it is not even bullied by the familiar intercourse with some ladies who are unlike her, and if, with all the inclination people have to make slanderous observations, they ascribe a totally different reason to this intimacy than similarity of morals.  55
 
(48.)  An actor overdoes his part when on the stage; a poet amplifies his descriptions; an artist who draws from life heightens and exaggerates passions, contrasts, and attitudes; and he who copies him, unless he measures with a pair of compasses the dimensions and the proportions, will make his figures too big, and all parts of the composition of his picture by far larger than they were in the original. Thus an imitation of sagacity becomes pretentious affectation.  56
  There is a pretended modesty which is vanity, a pretended glory which is levity, a pretended grandeur which is meanness, a pretended virtue which is hypocrisy, and a pretended wisdom which is affectation.  57
  An affected and pretentious woman is all deportment and words; a sensible woman shows her sense by her behaviour. This one follows her inclination and disposition, that one her reason and her affections; the one is formal and austere, the other is on all occasions exactly what she ought to be. The first hides her weaknesses underneath a plausible outside; the second conceals a rich store of virtue underneath a free and natural air. Affectation and pretension shackle the mind, yet do not veil age or ugliness, but often imply them; common-sense, on the contrary, palliates the imperfections of the body, ennobles the mind, gives fresh charms to youth, and makes beauty more dangerous.  58
 
(49.)  Why should men be blamed because women are not learned? What laws, edicts, or regulations prohibit them from opening their eyes, from reading and remembering what they have read, and from introducing this in their conversation and in their writings? Is their ignorance, on the contrary, not owing to a custom introduced by themselves; or to the weakness of their constitution, or to the indolence of their mind, or the care of their beauty, or to a certain flightiness which will not allow them to prosecute any continuous studies, or to a talent and aptitude they only have for needlework, or to an inattention caused by domestic avocations, or to a natural aversion for all serious and difficult things, or to a curiosity quite distinct from that which gratifies the mind, or to a wholly different pleasure from that of exercising the memory? But to whatever cause men may ascribe this ignorance of women, they may consider themselves happy that women, who rule them in so many things, are inferior to them in this respect.  59
  We look on a learned woman as we do on a fine piece of armour, artistically chiselled, admirably polished, and of exquisite workmanship, which is only fit to be shown to connoisseurs, of no use whatever, and no more apt to be used for war or hunting than a horse out of a riding-school is, though it may be trained to perfection.  60
  Whenever I find learning and sagacity united in one and the same person, I do not care what the sex may be, I admire; and if you tell me that a sensible woman hardly thinks of becoming learned, or that a learned woman is hardly ever a sensible woman, you have already forgotten what you have just read, namely, that women are prevented from studying science by certain imperfections. Now you can draw your own conclusions, namely, that those who have the fewest imperfections are most likely to have the greatest amount of common-sense, and that thus a sensible woman bids fairest to become learned; and that a learned woman could never be such without having overcome a great many imperfections, and this is the very best proof of her sense.  61
 
(50.)  It is very difficult to remain neutral when two women, who are both our friends, fall out through some cause or other in which we are not at all concerned; we must often side with one or lose both.  62
 
(51.)  There are certain women who love their money better than their friends, and their lovers better than their money.  63
 
(52.)  We are amazed to observe in some women stronger and more violent passions than their love for men, I mean ambition and gambling. Such women render men chaste, and have nothing of their own sex but the dress.  64
 
(53.)  Women run to extremes; they are either better or worse than men.  65
 
(54.)  Most women have hardly any principles; they are led by their passions, and form their morals and manners after those whom they love.  66
 
(55.)  Women exceed the generality of men in love; but men are their superiors in friendship. Men are the cause that women do not love one another.  67
 
(56.)  There is some danger in making fun of people. Lise, who is more or less in years, in trying to render a young woman ridiculous, has changed so much as to become frightful. She made so many grimaces and contortions in imitating her, and now has grown so ugly, that the person she mimicked cannot have a better foil.  68
 
(57.)  In the city many male and female nincompoops have the reputation of being intelligent; at court many men who are very intelligent are considered dolts; and a beautiful woman who has some intelligence will hardly escape being called “foolish” by other women.  69
 
(58.)  A man keeps another person’s secret better than his own; a woman, on the contrary, keeps her own secrets better than any other person’s.  70
 
(59.)  There is no love, however violent, raging in the heart of a young woman, but there is still some room left for interest and ambition.  71
 
(60.)  There comes a time when the wealthiest women ought to marry; they seldom let slip the first opportunity without repenting it for many a day; it seems that the reputation of their wealth diminishes in the same proportion as their beauty does. On the contrary, everything is favourable to young girls, even men’s opinions, for they attribute to them every accomplishment, to render them still more desirable.  72
 
(61.)  To how many girls has a great beauty been of no other use but to make them expect a large fortune!  73
 
(62.)  Handsome girls are apt to gratify the revenge of the lovers they have ill-treated, by giving their hand to ugly, old, or unworthy husbands.  74
 
(63.)  Most women judge of the merits and good looks of a man by the impression he makes on them, and very rarely allow either of those qualities to a person who is indifferent to them.  75
 
(64.)  A man who is anxious to know whether hts appearance is changed, and if he begins to grow old, needs only to consult the eyes of any fair one he addresses, and the tone of her voice as she converses with him, and he will then learn what he dreads to know. But it will be a severe lesson to him!  76
 
(65.)  A woman who always stares at one and the same person, or who is for ever avoiding to look at him, makes us conclude but one and the same thing of her.  77
 
(66.)  Women are at little trouble to express what they do not feel; but men are still at less to express what they do feel.  78
 
(67.)  It sometimes happens that a woman conceals from a man the love she feels for him, while he only feigns a passion he does not feel.  79
 
(68.)  Suppose a man indifferent, but intending to declare to a woman a passion he does not feel, it may be doubted whether it would not be easier for him to deceive a woman who loves him than one to whom he is indifferent.  80
 
(69.)  A man may deceive a woman by a pretended inclination, but then he must not have a real one elsewhere.  81
 
(70.)  A man storms and rails at a woman who no longer cares for him, but he finds consolation; a woman is not so vociferous when she is forsaken, but she remains unconsolable for a longer time.  82
 
(71.)  Sloth in women is cured either by vanity or love; though, in vivacious women, it is an omen of love.  83
 
(72.)  It is certain that a woman who writes letters full of passion is agitated, though it is not so sure that she is in love. A deep and tender passion is more likely to become dejected and silent; and the greatest and most stirring interest a woman can feel whose heart is no longer free, is less to convince her lover of her own affection than to be assured of his love for her.  84
 
(73.)  Glycera does not love her own sex; she hates their conversation and their visits; she gives orders to be denied to them, and often to her male friends, who are not many, whom she treats very abruptly, keeps within limits, and whom she never allows to transgress the bounds of friendship. She is absent-minded when they are present, answers them in monosyllables, and seems to seek every opportunity of getting rid of them; she dwells alone, and leads a very retired life in her own house; her gates are better guarded and her rooms are more inaccessible than those of Montauron or d’Esmery. Only Corinna is expected and admitted at all hours, embraced several times, caressed, and addressed with bated breath, though they are alone in a small room; whatever she says is attentively listened to; complaints are poured into Corinna’s ears about another person; everything is told her, though nothing is new to her, for she possesses the confidence of that other person as well. Glycera is seen with another lady and two gentlemen at a ball, in the theatre, in the public gardens, on the road to Venouse, where people eat fruit early in the season; sometimes alone in a sedan-chair on the way to the grand suburb, where she has a splendid fruit-garden, or else at Canidia’s door, who possesses so many rare secrets, promises second husbands to young wives, and tells them also when and under what circumstances they will obtain them. Glycera appears commonly in a low and unpretentious head-dress, in a plain morning gown, without any stays, and in slippers; she is charming in this dress, and wants nothing but a little colour. People remark, nevertheless, that she wears a splendid brooch, which she takes special care to conceal from her husband’s eyes. She cajoles and caresses him, and every day invents some new pretty names for him; the “dear husband” and his wife have but one bedroom, and would not sleep in any other room. The morning she spends at her toilet and in writing some urgent letters; a servant enters, and speaks to her in private; it is Parmenion, her favourite, whom she upholds against his master’s dislike and his fellow-servants’ jealousy. Who, indeed, delivers a message or brings back an answer better than Parmenion? who speaks less of what should not be mentioned? who opens a private door with less noise? who is a more skilful guide up the back-stairs? or more cleverly leads a person out again the same way?  85
 
(74.)  I cannot understand how a husband who gives way to his freaks and his temper, who, far from concealing his bad qualities, shows, on the contrary, only his worst, who is covetous, slovenly in his dress, abrupt in his answers, impolite, dull and taciturn, can expect to defend successfully the heart of a young wife against the attacks of a gallant who makes the most of dress, magnificence, complaisance, politeness, assiduity, presents, and flattery.  86
 
(75.)  A husband seldom has a rival who is not of his own making, and whom he has not introduced himself to his wife at one time or other; he is always praising him before her for his fine teeth and his handsome countenance; he encourages his civilities and allows him to visit at his house; and next to the produce of his own estate, he relishes nothing better than the game and the truffles his friend sends him. He gives a supper, and says to his guests: “Let me recommend this to you; it is sent by Leander and costs me nothing but thanks.”  87
 
(76.)  A certain wife seems to have annihilated or buried her husband, for he is not so much as mentioned in this world; it is doubted whether such a man be alive or dead. In his family his only use is to be a pattern of timid silence and of implicit submission. He has nothing to do with jointure or settlement; if it were not for that, and his not lying-in, one would almost take him for the wife and her for the husband. They are for months in the house together without any danger of meeting one another; in reality they are only neighbours. The master of the house pays the cook and his assistants, but the supper is always served in my lady’s apartment. Often they have nothing in common, neither bed, board, nor even the same name; they live in the Greek or Roman fashion; she keeps her name, and he has his; and it is only after some time, and when a man has been initiated in the tittle-tattle of the town, that at last he comes to know that Mr. B… and Madam L… have been man and wife these twenty years.  88
 
(77.)  Another wife, who does not give her husband any uneasiness on account of her disorderly behaviour, repays herself for it by worrying him about her high birth, her connections, the dowry she has brought him, her enchanting beauty, her merits, and by what some people call “her virtue.”  89
 
(78.)  There are few wives so perfect as not to give their husbands at least once a day good reason to repent of ever having married, or at least of envying those who are unmarried.  90
 
(79.)  Dumb and stupefied grief is out of fashion; women weep, are garrulous, and so concerned about their husbands’ death that they do not forget to harp on every one of the details.  91
 
(80.)  Is it impossible for a husband to discover the art of making his wife love him?  92
 
(81.)  An insensible woman is one who has not yet met the person whom she is to love. In Smyrna there lived a very handsome young lady, named Emira, yet better known throughout the town for her strict conduct than for her beauty, and above all, for the indifference she showed for all men, whom, as she said, she beheld without any danger, and without any greater emotions than when in the company of her female friends and her brothers. She could not believe a thousandth part of all the follies ascribed to love at all times; and those which she saw herself, seemed to her unaccountable. Friendship was the only feeling she knew, and her first experience of it was through a youthful and charming maiden, who pleased her so much that she only thought how to continue it, never imagining that any other inclination could ever abate that feeling of esteem and confidence in which she now exulted. All her conversation was about Euphrosyne, for this was the name of her faithful friend, and the whole town talked about nothing else but about her and Euphrosyne; their friendship became a proverb. Emira had two brothers, both young, and so handsome that all the ladies of the city were in love with them, whilst she herself loved them as a true sister. One of the priests of Jupiter, who visited at her father’s house, fell in love with her, and dared to declare his passion, but was repelled with scorn. A man of a certain age, who, relying on his noble birth and large estates, had the same assurance, met with the same repulse. She boasted of this, however; and even when in the company of her brothers, the priest, and the old noble, declared she was insensible to love. It seemed that Heaven reserved severer trials for her; yet these had no other effect but to render her more vain and to enhance her reputation as a maiden superior to love. Of three lovers smitten by her charms in succession, and whose affections she did not dread, the first, in a fit of passion, stabbed himself at her feet; the second, despairing of ever succeeding in his suit, went to seek his death in the wars of Crete; and the third ended his days in languor and passed his nights without sleep. The man who was to avenge them had not yet made his appearance. The aged noble, who had not been fortunate in his suit, was cured of his love by reflecting on his age and on the character of the young lady to whom he paid his addresses; however, he wished to visit her sometimes, and received her permission so to do. One day he introduced to her his youthful son, who united to a charming countenance manners full of dignity. Emira beheld him with some interest; but as he remained silent in the presence of his father, she thought he was wanting in intelligence, and could have wished him more. He saw her afterwards alone, and conversed long enough and intelligently; but as he did not look at her much, and talked still less about her and her beauty, she was surprised and somewhat indignant that such a nice-looking and clever young man should be so void of gallantry. She spoke of him to her friend, who expressed a desire to see him. He, then, only looked at Euphrosyne, and praised her beauty. At this the unfeeling Emira became jealous; she perceived that Ctesiphon spoke what he really felt, and that he was not only capable of gallantry, but even of tenderness. From that time she cooled towards her friend; yet she wished to see the couple together once more, to make quite sure that her suspicions were well-founded. The second interview showed her more than she dreaded to see, and changed her suspicions into certainty. She now avoided Euphrosyne; she no longer perceived in her that merit which charmed her before; she lost all pleasure in her conversation; she loved her no longer; and this alteration made her aware that love had driven friendship from her heart. Ctesiphon and Euphrosyne saw each other every day, loved one another, agreed to marry, and, finally, were married. The news spread through the town, and was talked about the more as it is not often that two persons who love one another are married. Emira heard of it, and became desperate; she now felt all the power of love; she again visited Euphrosyne only for the pleasure of anew beholding Ctesiphon; but that young husband still remained a lover, and in his new wife found all the charms of a mistress; he looked on Emira but as a friend of her who was dear to him. This unfortunate girl could no longer rest, and refused to take any nourishment; she got weaker and weaker, and at last her mind became affected; she mistook her brother for Ctesiphon, and spoke to him as a lover; she recollected herself, and blushed for her error, yet soon relapsed into greater errors, for which she did not blush, for she was no longer aware of them. Now she dreads men, but it is too late; that is the cause of her madness. She has lucid intervals, but these are the most painful to her. The youth of Smyrna, who saw her formerly so proud and so void of feeling, now think that the gods have punished her too severely.  93
 
 
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors