Front Page Titles (by Subject) SOPHY, OR WOMAN - Emile, or Education
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
SOPHY, OR WOMAN - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or Education 
Emile, or Education. Translated by Barbara Foxley, M.A. (London & Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1921; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
SOPHY, OR WOMAN
Sophy should be as truly a woman as Emile is a man, i.e., she must possess all those characters of her sex which are required to enable her to play her part in the physical and moral order. Let us inquire to begin with in what respects her sex differs from our own.
But for her sex, a woman is a man; she has the same organs, the same needs, the same faculties. The machine is the same in its construction; its parts, its working, and its appearance are similar. Regard it as you will the difference is only in degree.
Yet where sex is concerned man and woman are unlike; each is the complement of the other; the difficulty in comparing them lies in our inability to decide, in either case, what is a matter of sex, and what is not. General differences present themselves to the comparative anatomist and even to the superficial observer; they seem not to be a matter of sex; yet they are really sex differences, though the connection eludes our observation. How far such differences may extend we cannot tell; all we know for certain is that where man and woman are alike we have to do with the characteristics of the species; where they are unlike, we have to do with the characteristics of sex. Considered from these two standpoints, we find so many instances of likeness and unlikeness that it is perhaps one of the greatest of marvels how nature has contrived to make two beings so like and yet so different.
These resemblances and differences must have an influence on the moral nature; this inference is obvious, and it is confirmed by experience; it shows the vanity of the disputes as to the superiority or the equality of the sexes; as if each sex, pursuing the path marked out for it by nature, were not more perfect in that very divergence than if it more closely resembled the other. A perfect man and a perfect woman should no more be alike in mind than in face, and perfection admits of neither less nor more.
In the union of the sexes each alike contributes to the common end, but in different ways. From this diversity springs the first difference which may be observed between man and woman in their moral relations. The man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive; the one must have both the power and the will; it is enough that the other should offer little resistance.
When this principle is admitted, it follows that woman is specially made for man’s delight. If man in his turn ought to be pleasing in her eyes, the necessity is less urgent, his virtue is in his strength, he pleases because he is strong. I grant you this is not the law of love, but it is the law of nature, which is older than love itself.
If woman is made to please and to be in subjection to man, she ought to make herself pleasing in his eyes and not provoke him to anger; her strength is in her charms, by their means she should compel him to discover and use his strength. The surest way of arousing this strength is to make it necessary by resistance. Thus pride comes to the help of desire and each exults in the other’s victory. This is the origin of attack and defence, of the boldness of one sex and the timidity of the other, and even of the shame and modesty with which nature has armed the weak for the conquest of the strong.
Who can possibly suppose that nature has prescribed the same advances to the one sex as to the other, or that the first to feel desire should be the first to show it? What strange depravity of judgment! The consequences of the act being so different for the two sexes, is it natural that they should enter upon it with equal boldness? How can any one fail to see that when the share of each is so unequal, if the one were not controlled by modesty as the other is controlled by nature, the result would be the destruction of both, and the human race would perish through the very means ordained for its continuance?
Women so easily stir a man’s senses and fan the ashes of a dying passion, that if philosophy ever succeeded in introducing this custom into any unlucky country, especially if it were a warm country where more women are born than men, the men, tyrannised over by the women, would at last become their victims, and would be dragged to their death without the least chance of escape.
Female animals are without this sense of shame, but what of that? Are their desires as boundless as those of women, which are curbed by this shame? The desires of the animals are the result of necessity, and when the need is satisfied, the desire ceases; they no longer make a feint of repulsing the male, they do it in earnest. Their seasons of complaisance are short and soon over. Impulse and restraint are alike the work of nature. But what would take the place of this negative instinct in women if you rob them of their modesty?
The Most High has deigned to do honour to mankind; he has endowed man with boundless passions, together with a law to guide them, so that man may be alike free and self-controlled; though swayed by these passions man is endowed with reason by which to control them. Woman is also endowed with boundless passions; God has given her modesty to restrain them. Moreover, he has given to both a present reward for the right use of their powers, in the delight which springs from that right use of them, i.e., the taste for right conduct established as the law of our behaviour. To my mind this is far higher than the instinct of the beasts.
Whether the woman shares the man’s passion or not, whether she is willing or unwilling to satisfy it, she always repulses him and defends herself, though not always with the same vigour, and therefore not always with the same success. If the siege is to be successful, the besieged must permit or direct the attack. How skilfully can she stimulate the efforts of the aggressor. The freest and most delightful of activities does not permit of any real violence; reason and nature are alike against it; nature, in that she has given the weaker party strength enough to resist if she chooses; reason, in that actual violence is not only most brutal in itself, but it defeats its own ends, not only because the man thus declares war against his companion and thus gives her a right to defend her person and her liberty even at the cost of the enemy’s life, but also because the woman alone is the judge of her condition, and a child would have no father if any man might usurp a father’s rights.
Thus the different constitution of the two sexes leads us to a third conclusion, that the stronger party seems to be master, but is as a matter of fact dependent on the weaker, and that, not by any foolish custom of gallantry, nor yet by the magnanimity of the protector, but by an inexorable law of nature. For nature has endowed woman with a power of stimulating man’s passions in excess of man’s power of satisfying those passions, and has thus made him dependent on her goodwill, and compelled him in his turn to endeavour to please her, so that she may be willing to yield to his superior strength. Is it weakness which yields to force, or is it voluntary self-surrender? This uncertainty constitutes the chief charm of the man’s victory, and the woman is usually cunning enough to leave him in doubt. In this respect the woman’s mind exactly resembles her body; far from being ashamed of her weakness, she is proud of it; her soft muscles offer no resistance, she professes that she cannot lift the lightest weight; she would be ashamed to be strong. And why? Not only to gain an appearance of refinement; she is too clever for that; she is providing herself beforehand with excuses, with the right to be weak if she chooses.
The experience we have gained through our vices has considerably modified the views held in older times; we rarely hear of violence for which there is so little occasion that it would hardly be credited. Yet such stories are common enough among the Jews and ancient Greeks; for such views belong to the simplicity of nature, and have only been uprooted by our profligacy. If fewer deeds of violence are quoted in our days, it is not that men are more temperate, but because they are less credulous, and a complaint which would have been believed among a simple people would only excite laughter among ourselves; therefore silence is the better course. There is a law in Deuteronomy, under which the outraged maiden was punished, along with her assailant, if the crime were committed in a town; but if in the country or in a lonely place, the latter alone was punished. “For,” says the law, “the maiden cried for help, and there was none to hear.” From this merciful interpretation of the law, girls learnt not to let themselves be surprised in lonely places.
This change in public opinion has had a perceptible effect on our morals. It has produced our modern gallantry. Men have found that their pleasures depend, more than they expected, on the goodwill of the fair sex, and have secured this goodwill by attentions which have had their reward.
See how we find ourselves led unconsciously from the physical to the moral constitution, how from the grosser union of the sexes spring the sweet laws of love. Woman reigns, not by the will of man, but by the decrees of nature herself; she had the power long before she showed it. That same Hercules who proposed to violate all the fifty daughters of Thespis was compelled to spin at the feet of Omphale, and Samson, the strong man, was less strong than Delilah. This power cannot be taken from woman; it is hers by right; she would have lost it long ago, were it possible.
The consequences of sex are wholly unlike for man and woman. The male is only a male now and again, the female is always a female, or at least all her youth; everything reminds her of her sex; the performance of her functions requires a special constitution. She needs care during pregnancy and freedom from work when her child is born; she must have a quiet, easy life while she nurses her children; their education calls for patience and gentleness, for a zeal and love which nothing can dismay; she forms a bond between father and child, she alone can win the father’s love for his children and convince him that they are indeed his own. What loving care is required to preserve a united family! And there should be no question of virtue in all this, it must be a labour of love, without which the human race would be doomed to extinction.
The mutual duties of the two sexes are not, and cannot be, equally binding on both. Women do wrong to complain of the inequality of man-made laws; this inequality is not of man’s making, or at any rate it is not the result of mere prejudice, but of reason. She to whom nature has entrusted the care of the children must hold herself responsible for them to their father. No doubt every breach of faith is wrong, and every faithless husband, who robs his wife of the sole reward of the stern duties of her sex, is cruel and unjust; but the faithless wife is worse; she destroys the family and breaks the bonds of nature; when she gives her husband children who are not his own, she is false both to him and them, her crime is not infidelity but treason. To my mind, it is the source of dissension and of crime of every kind. Can any position be more wretched than that of the unhappy father who, when he clasps his child to his breast, is haunted by the suspicion that this is the child of another, the badge of his own dishonour, a thief who is robbing his own children of their inheritance. Under such circumstances the family is little more than a group of secret enemies, armed against each other by a guilty woman, who compels them to pretend to love one another.
Thus it is not enough that a wife should be faithful; her husband, along with his friends and neighbours, must believe in her fidelity; she must be modest, devoted, retiring; she should have the witness not only of a good conscience, but of a good reputation. In a word, if a father must love his children, he must be able to respect their mother. For these reasons it is not enough that the woman should be chaste, she must preserve her reputation and her good name. From these principles there arises not only a moral difference between the sexes, but also a fresh motive for duty and propriety, which prescribes to women in particular the most scrupulous attention to their conduct, their manners, their behaviour. Vague assertions as to the equality of the sexes and the similarity of their duties are only empty words; they are no answer to my argument.
It is a poor sort of logic to quote isolated exceptions against laws so firmly established. Women, you say, are not always bearing children. Granted; yet that is their proper business. Because there are a hundred or so of large towns in the world where women live licentiously and have few children, will you maintain that it is their business to have few children? And what would become of your towns if the remote country districts, with their simpler and purer women, did not make up for the barrenness of your fine ladies? There are plenty of country places where women with only four or five children are reckoned unfruitful. In conclusion, although here and there a woman may have few children,1 what difference does it make? Is it any the less a woman’s business to be a mother? And do not the general laws of nature and morality make provision for this state of things?
Even if there were these long intervals, which you assume, between the periods of pregnancy, can a woman suddenly change her way of life without danger? Can she be a nursing mother to-day and a soldier to-morrow? Will she change her tastes and her feelings as a chameleon changes his colour? Will she pass at once from the privacy of household duties and indoor occupations to the buffeting of the winds, the toils, the labours, the perils of war? Will she be now timid,1 now brave, now fragile, now robust? If the young men of Paris find a soldier’s life too hard for them, how would a woman put up with it, a woman who has hardly ventured out of doors without a parasol and who has scarcely put a foot to the ground? Will she make a good soldier at an age when even men are retiring from this arduous business?
There are countries, I grant you, where women bear and rear children with little or no difficulty, but in those lands the men go half-naked in all weathers, they strike down the wild beasts, they carry a canoe as easily as a knapsack, they pursue the chase for 700 or 800 leagues, they sleep in the open on the bare ground, they bear incredible fatigues and go many days without food. When women become strong, men become still stronger; when men become soft, women become softer; change both the terms and the ratio remains unaltered.
I am quite aware that Plato, in the Republic, assigns the same gymnastics to women and men. Having got rid of the family there is no place for women in his system of government, so he is forced to turn them into men. That great genius has worked out his plans in detail and has provided for every contingency; he has even provided against a difficulty which in all likelihood no one would ever have raised; but he has not succeeded in meeting the real difficulty. I am not speaking of the alleged community of wives which has often been laid to his charge; this assertion only shows that his detractors have never read his works. I refer to that political promiscuity under which the same occupations are assigned to both sexes alike, a scheme which could only lead to intolerable evils; I refer to that subversion of all the tenderest of our natural feelings, which he sacrificed to an artificial sentiment which can only exist by their aid. Will the bonds of convention hold firm without some foundation in nature? Can devotion to the state exist apart from the love of those near and dear to us? Can patriotism thrive except in the soil of that miniature fatherland, the home? Is it not the good son, the good husband, the good father, who makes the good citizen?
When once it is proved that men and women are and ought to be unlike in constitution and in temperament, it follows that their education must be different. Nature teaches us that they should work together, but that each has its own share of the work; the end is the same, but the means are different, as are also the feelings which direct them. We have attempted to paint a natural man, let us try to paint a helpmeet for him.
You must follow nature’s guidance if you would walk aright. The native characters of sex should be respected as nature’s handiwork. You are always saying, “Women have such and such faults, from which we are free.” You are misled by your vanity; what would be faults in you are virtues in them; and things would go worse, if they were without these so-called faults. Take care that they do not degenerate into evil, but beware of destroying them.
On the other hand, women are always exclaiming that we educate them for nothing but vanity and coquetry, that we keep them amused with trifles that we may be their masters; we are responsible, so they say, for the faults we attribute to them. How silly! What have men to do with the education of girls? What is there to hinder their mothers educating them as they please? There are no colleges for girls; so much the better for them! Would God there were none for the boys, their education would be more sensible and more wholesome. Who is it that compels a girl to waste her time on foolish trifles? Are they forced, against their will, to spend half their time over their toilet, following the example set them by you? Who prevents you teaching them, or having them taught, whatever seems good in your eyes? Is it our fault that we are charmed by their beauty and delighted by their airs and graces, if we are attracted and flattered by the arts they learn from you, if we love to see them prettily dressed, if we let them display at leisure the weapons by which we are subjugated? Well then, educate them like men. The more women are like men, the less influence they will have over men, and then men will be masters indeed.
All the faculties common to both sexes are not equally shared between them, but taken as a whole they are fairly divided. Woman is worth more as a woman and less as a man; when she makes a good use of her own rights, she has the best of it; when she tries to usurp our rights, she is our inferior. It is impossible to controvert this, except by quoting exceptions after the usual fashion of the partisans of the fair sex.
To cultivate the masculine virtues in women and to neglect their own is evidently to do them an injury. Women are too clearsighted to be thus deceived; when they try to usurp our privileges they do not abandon their own; with this result: they are unable to make use of two incompatible things, so they fall below their own level as women, instead of rising to the level of men. If you are a sensible mother you will take my advice. Do not try to make your daughter a good man in defiance of nature. Make her a good woman, and be sure it will be better both for her and us.
Does this mean that she must be brought up in ignorance and kept to housework only? Is she to be man’s handmaid or his helpmeet? Will he dispense with her greatest charm, her companionship? To keep her a slave will he prevent her knowing and feeling? Will he make an automaton of her? No, indeed, that is not the teaching of nature, who has given women such a pleasant easy wit. On the contrary, nature means them to think, to will, to love, to cultivate their minds as well as their persons; she puts these weapons in their hands to make up for their lack of strength and to enable them to direct the strength of men. They should learn many things, but only such things as are suitable.
When I consider the special purpose of woman, when I observe her inclinations or reckon up her duties, everything combines to indicate the mode of education she requires. Men and women are made for each other, but their mutual dependence differs in degree; man is dependent on woman through his desires; woman is dependent on man through her desires and also through her needs; he could do without her better than she can do without him. She cannot fulfil her purpose in life without his aid, without his goodwill, without his respect; she is dependent on our feelings, on the price we put upon her virtue, and the opinion we have of her charms and her deserts. Nature herself has decreed that woman, both for herself and her children, should be at the mercy of man’s judgment.
Worth alone will not suffice, a woman must be thought worthy; nor beauty, she must be admired; nor virtue, she must be respected. A woman’s honour does not depend on her conduct alone, but on her reputation, and no woman who permits herself to be considered vile is really virtuous. A man has no one but himself to consider, and so long as he does right he may defy public opinion; but when a woman does right her task is only half finished, and what people think of her matters as much as what she really is. Hence her education must, in this respect, be different from man’s education. “What will people think” is the grave of a man’s virtue and the throne of a woman’s.
The children’s health depends in the first place on the mother’s, and the early education of man is also in a woman’s hands; his morals, his passions, his tastes, his pleasures, his happiness itself, depend on her. A woman’s education must therefore be planned in relation to man. To be pleasing in his sight, to win his respect and love, to train him in childhood, to tend him in manhood, to counsel and console, to make his life pleasant and happy, these are the duties of woman for all time, and this is what she should be taught while she is young. The further we depart from this principle, the further we shall be from our goal, and all our precepts will fail to secure her happiness or our own.
Every woman desires to be pleasing in men’s eyes, and this is right; but there is a great difference between wishing to please a man of worth, a really lovable man, and seeking to please those foppish manikins who are a disgrace to their own sex and to the sex which they imitate. Neither nature nor reason can induce a woman to love an effeminate person, nor will she win love by imitating such a person.
If a woman discards the quiet modest bearing of her sex, and adopts the airs of such foolish creatures, she is not following her vocation, she is forsaking it; she is robbing herself of the rights to which she lays claim. “If we were different,” she says, “the men would not like us.” She is mistaken. Only a fool likes folly; to wish to attract such men only shows her own foolishness. If there were no frivolous men, women would soon make them, and women are more responsible for men’s follies than men are for theirs. The woman who loves true manhood and seeks to find favour in its sight will adopt means adapted to her ends. Woman is a coquette by profession, but her coquetry varies with her aims; let these aims be in accordance with those of nature, and a woman will receive a fitting education.
Even the tiniest little girls love finery; they are not content to be pretty, they must be admired; their little airs and graces show that their heads are full of this idea, and as soon as they can understand they are controlled by “What will people think of you?” If you are foolish enough to try this way with little boys, it will not have the same effect; give them their freedom and their sports, and they care very little what people think; it is a work of time to bring them under the control of this law.
However acquired, this early education of little girls is an excellent thing in itself. As the birth of the body must precede the birth of the mind, so the training of the body must precede the cultivation of the mind. This is true of both sexes; but the aim of physical training for boys and girls is not the same; in the one case it is the development of strength, in the other of grace; not that these qualities should be peculiar to either sex, but that their relative values should be different. Women should be strong enough to do anything gracefully; men should be skilful enough to do anything easily.
The exaggeration of feminine delicacy leads to effeminacy in men. Women should not be strong like men but for them, so that their sons may be strong. Convents and boarding-schools, with their plain food and ample opportunities for amusements, races, and games in the open air and in the garden, are better in this respect than the home, where the little girl is fed on delicacies, continually encouraged or reproved, where she is kept sitting in a stuffy room, always under her mother’s eye, afraid to stand or walk or speak or breathe, without a moment’s freedom to play or jump or run or shout, or to be her natural, lively, little self; there is either harmful indulgence or misguided severity, and no trace of reason. In this fashion heart and body are alike destroyed.
In Sparta the girls used to take part in military sports just like the boys, not that they might go to war, but that they might bear sons who could endure hardship. That is not what I desire. To provide the state with soldiers it is not necessary that the mother should carry a musket and master the Prussian drill. Yet, on the whole, I think the Greeks were very wise in this matter of physical training. Young girls frequently appeared in public, not with the boys, but in groups apart. There was scarcely a festival, a sacrifice, or a procession without its bands of maidens, the daughters of the chief citizens. Crowned with flowers, chanting hymns, forming the chorus of the dance, bearing baskets, vases, offerings, they presented a charming spectacle to the depraved senses of the Greeks, a spectacle well fitted to efface the evil effects of their unseemly gymnastics. Whatever this custom may have done for the Greek men, it was well fitted to develop in the Greek women a sound constitution by means of pleasant, moderate, and healthy exercise; while the desire to please would develop a keen and cultivated taste without risk to character.
When the Greek women married, they disappeared from public life; within the four walls of their home they devoted themselves to the care of their household and family. This is the mode of life prescribed for women alike by nature and reason. These women gave birth to the healthiest, strongest, and best proportioned men who ever lived, and except in certain islands of ill repute, no women in the whole world, not even the Roman matrons, were ever at once so wise and so charming, so beautiful and so virtuous, as the women of ancient Greece.
It is admitted that their flowing garments, which did not cramp the figure, preserved in men and women alike the fine proportions which are seen in their statues. These are still the models of art, although nature is so disfigured that they are no longer to be found among us. The Gothic trammels, the innumerable bands which confine our limbs as in a press, were quite unknown. The Greek women were wholly unacquainted with those frames of whalebone in which our women distort rather than display their figures. It seems to me that this abuse, which is carried to an incredible degree of folly in England, must sooner or later lead to the production of a degenerate race. Moreover, I maintain that the charm which these corsets are supposed to produce is in the worst possible taste; it is not a pleasant thing to see a woman cut in two like a wasp—it offends both the eye and the imagination. A slender waist has its limits, like everything else, in proportion and suitability, and beyond these limits it becomes a defect. This defect would be a glaring one in the nude; why should it be beautiful under the costume?
I will not venture upon the reasons which induce women to incase themselves in these coats of mail. A clumsy figure, a large waist, are no doubt very ugly at twenty, but at thirty they cease to offend the eye, and as we are bound to be what nature has made us at any given age, and as there is no deceiving the eye of man, such defects are less offensive at any age than the foolish affectations of a young thing of forty.
Everything which cramps and confines nature is in bad taste; this is as true of the adornments of the person as of the ornaments of the mind. Life, health, common-sense, and comfort must come first; there is no grace in discomfort, languor is not refinement, there is no charm in ill-health; suffering may excite pity, but pleasure and delight demand the freshness of health.
Boys and girls have many games in common, and this is as it should be; do they not play together when they are grown up? They have also special tastes of their own. Boys want movement and noise, drums, tops, toy-carts; girls prefer things which appeal to the eye, and can be used for dressing-up—mirrors, jewellery, finery, and specially dolls. The doll is the girl’s special plaything; this shows her instinctive bent towards her life’s work. The art of pleasing finds its physical basis in personal adornment, and this physical side of the art is the only one which the child can cultivate.
Here is a little girl busy all day with her doll; she is always changing its clothes, dressing and undressing it, trying new combinations of trimmings well or ill matched; her fingers are clumsy, her taste is crude, but there is no mistaking her bent; in this endless occupation time flies unheeded, the hours slip away unnoticed, even meals are forgotten. She is more eager for adornment than for food. “But she is dressing her doll, not herself,” you will say. Just so; she sees her doll, she cannot see herself; she cannot do anything for herself, she has neither the training, nor the talent, nor the strength; as yet she herself is nothing, she is engrossed in her doll and all her coquetry is devoted to it. This will not always be so; in due time she will be her own doll.
We have here a very early and clearly-marked bent; you have only to follow it and train it. What the little girl most clearly desires is to dress her doll, to make its bows, its tippets, its sashes, and its tuckers; she is dependent on other people’s kindness in all this, and it would be much pleasanter to be able to do it herself. Here is a motive for her earliest lessons, they are not tasks prescribed, but favours bestowed. Little girls always dislike learning to read and write, but they are always ready to learn to sew. They think they are grown up, and in imagination they are using their knowledge for their own adornment.
The way is open and it is easy to follow it; cutting out, embroidery, lace-making follow naturally. Tapestry is not popular; furniture is too remote from the child’s interests, it has nothing to do with the person, it depends on conventional tastes. Tapestry is a woman’s amusement; young girls never care for it.
This voluntary course is easily extended to include drawing, an art which is closely connected with taste in dress; but I would not have them taught landscape and still less figure painting. Leaves, fruit, flowers, draperies, anything that will make an elegant trimming for the accessories of the toilet, and enable the girl to design her own embroidery if she cannot find a pattern to her taste; that will be quite enough. Speaking generally, if it is desirable to restrict a man’s studies to what is useful, this is even more necessary for women, whose life, though less laborious, should be even more industrious and more uniformly employed in a variety of duties, so that one talent should not be encouraged at the expense of others.
Whatever may be said by the scornful, good sense belongs to both sexes alike. Girls are usually more docile than boys, and they should be subjected to more authority, as I shall show later on, but that is no reason why they should be required to do things in which they can see neither rhyme nor reason. The mother’s art consists in showing the use of everything they are set to do, and this is all the easier as the girl’s intelligence is more precocious than the boy’s. This principle banishes, both for boys and girls, not only those pursuits which never lead to any appreciable results, not even increasing the charms of those who have pursued them, but also those studies whose utility is beyond the scholar’s present age and can only be appreciated in later years. If I object to little boys being made to learn to read, still more do I object to it for little girls until they are able to see the use of reading; we generally think more of our own ideas than theirs in our attempts to convince them of the utility of this art. After all, why should a little girl know how to read and write? Has she a house to manage? Most of them make a bad use of this fatal knowledge, and girls are so full of curiosity that few of them will fail to learn without compulsion. Possibly cyphering should come first; there is nothing so obviously useful, nothing which needs so much practice or gives so much opportunity for error as reckoning. If the little girl does not get the cherries for her lunch without an arithmetical exercise, she will soon learn to count.
I once knew a little girl who learnt to write before she could read, and she began to write with her needle. To begin with, she would write nothing but O’s; she was always making O’s, large and small, of all kinds and one within another, but always drawn backwards. Unluckily one day she caught a glimpse of herself in the glass while she was at this useful work, and thinking that the cramped attitude was not pretty, like another Minerva she flung away her pen and declined to make any more O’s. Her brother was no fonder of writing, but what he disliked was the constraint, not the look of the thing. She was induced to go on with her writing in this way. The child was fastidious and vain; she could not bear her sisters to wear her clothes. Her things had been marked, they declined to mark them any more, she must learn to mark them herself; there is no need to continue the story.
Show the sense of the tasks you set your little girls, but keep them busy. Idleness and insubordination are two very dangerous faults, and very hard to cure when once established. Girls should be attentive and industrious, but this is not enough by itself; they should early be accustomed to restraint. This misfortune, if such it be, is inherent in their sex, and they will never escape from it, unless to endure more cruel sufferings. All their life long, they will have to submit to the strictest and most enduring restraints, those of propriety. They must be trained to bear the yoke from the first, so that they may not feel it, to master their own caprices and to submit themselves to the will of others. If they were always eager to be at work, they should sometimes be compelled to do nothing. Their childish faults, unchecked and unheeded, may easily lead to dissipation, frivolity, and inconstancy. To guard against this, teach them above all things self-control. Under our senseless conditions, the life of a good woman is a perpetual struggle against self; it is only fair that woman should bear her share of the ills she has brought upon man.
Beware lest your girls become weary of their tasks and infatuated with their amusements; this often happens under our ordinary methods of education, where, as Fénelon says, all the tedium is on one side and all the pleasure on the other. If the rules already laid down are followed, the first of these dangers will be avoided, unless the child dislikes those about her. A little girl who is fond of her mother or her friend will work by her side all day without getting tired; the chatter alone will make up for any loss of liberty. But if her companion is distasteful to her, everything done under her direction will be distasteful too. Children who take no delight in their mother’s company are not likely to turn out well; but to judge of their real feelings you must watch them and not trust to their words alone, for they are flatterers and deceitful and soon learn to conceal their thoughts. Neither should they be told that they ought to love their mother. Affection is not the result of duty, and in this respect constraint is out of place. Continual intercourse, constant care, habit itself, all these will lead a child to love her mother, if the mother does nothing to deserve the child’s ill-will. The very control she exercises over the child, if well directed, will increase rather than diminish the affection, for women being made for dependence, girls feel themselves made to obey.
Just because they have, or ought to have, little freedom, they are apt to indulge themselves too fully with regard to such freedom as they have; they carry everything to extremes, and they devote themselves to their games with an enthusiasm even greater than that of boys. This is the second difficulty to which I referred. This enthusiasm must be kept in check, for it is the source of several vices commonly found among women, caprice and that extravagant admiration which leads a woman to regard a thing with rapture to-day and to be quite indifferent to it to-morrow. This fickleness of taste is as dangerous as exaggeration; and both spring from the same cause. Do not deprive them of mirth, laughter, noise, and romping games, but do not let them tire of one game and go off to another; do not leave them for a moment without restraint. Train them to break off their games and return to their other occupations without a murmur. Habit is all that is needed, as you have nature on your side.
This habitual restraint produces a docility which woman requires all her life long, for she will always be in subjection to a man, or to man’s judgment, and she will never be free to set her own opinion above his. What is most wanted in a woman is gentleness; formed to obey a creature so imperfect as man, a creature often vicious and always faulty, she should early learn to submit to injustice and to suffer the wrongs inflicted on her by her husband without complaint; she must be gentle for her own sake, not his. Bitterness and obstinacy only multiply the sufferings of the wife and the misdeeds of the husband; the man feels that these are not the weapons to be used against him. Heaven did not make women attractive and persuasive that they might degenerate into bitterness, or meek that they should desire the mastery; their soft voice was not meant for hard words, nor their delicate features for the frowns of anger. When they lose their temper they forget themselves; often enough they have just cause of complaint; but when they scold they always put themselves in the wrong. We should each adopt the tone which befits our sex; a soft-hearted husband may make an overbearing wife, but a man, unless he is a perfect monster, will sooner or later yield to his wife’s gentleness, and the victory will be hers.
Daughters must always be obedient, but mothers need not always be harsh. To make a girl docile you need not make her miserable; to make her modest you need not terrify her; on the contrary, I should not be sorry to see her allowed occasionally to exercise a little ingenuity, not to escape punishment for her disobedience, but to evade the necessity for obedience. Her dependence need not be made unpleasant, it is enough that she should realise that she is dependent. Cunning is a natural gift of woman, and so convinced am I that all our natural inclinations are right, that I would cultivate this among others, only guarding against its abuse.
For the truth of this I appeal to every honest observer. I do not ask you to question women themselves, our cramping institutions may compel them to sharpen their wits; I would have you examine girls, little girls, newly-born so to speak; compare them with boys of the same age, and I am greatly mistaken if you do not find the little boys heavy, silly, and foolish, in comparison. Let me give one illustration in all its childish simplicity.
Children are commonly forbidden to ask for anything at table, for people think they can do nothing better in the way of education than to burden them with useless precepts; as if a little bit of this or that were not readily given or refused without leaving a poor child dying of greediness intensified by hope. Every one knows how cunningly a little boy brought up in this way asked for salt when he had been overlooked at table. I do not suppose any one will blame him for asking directly for salt and indirectly for meat; the neglect was so cruel that I hardly think he would have been punished had he broken the rule and said plainly that he was hungry. But this is what I saw done by a little girl of six; the circumstances were much more difficult, for not only was she strictly forbidden to ask for anything directly or indirectly, but disobedience would have been unpardonable, for she had eaten of every dish; one only had been overlooked, and on this she had set her heart. This is what she did to repair the omission without laying herself open to the charge of disobedience; she pointed to every dish in turn, saying, “I’ve had some of this; I’ve had some of this;” however she omitted the one dish so markedly that some one noticed it and said, “Have not you had some of this?” “Oh, no,” replied the greedy little girl with soft voice and downcast eyes. These instances are typical of the cunning of the little boy and girl.
What is, is good, and no general law can be bad. This special skill with which the female sex is endowed is a fair equivalent for its lack of strength; without it woman would be man’s slave, not his helpmeet. By her superiority in this respect she maintains her equality with man, and rules in obedience. She has everything against her, our faults and her own weakness and timidity; her beauty and her wiles are all that she has. Should she not cultivate both? Yet beauty is not universal; it may be destroyed by all sorts of accidents, it will disappear with years, and habit will destroy its influence. A woman’s real resource is her wit; not that foolish wit which is so greatly admired in society, a wit which does nothing to make life happier; but that wit which is adapted to her condition, the art of taking advantage of our position and controlling us through our own strength. Words cannot tell how beneficial this is to man, what a charm it gives to the society of men and women, how it checks the petulant child and restrains the brutal husband; without it the home would be a scene of strife; with it, it is the abode of happiness. I know that this power is abused by the sly and the spiteful; but what is there that is not liable to abuse? Do not destroy the means of happiness because the wicked use them to our hurt.
The toilet may attract notice, but it is the person that wins our hearts. Our finery is not us; its very artificiality often offends, and that which is least noticeable in itself often wins the most attention. The education of our girls is, in this respect, absolutely topsy-turvy. Ornaments are promised them as rewards, and they are taught to delight in elaborate finery. “How lovely she is!” people say when she is most dressed up. On the contrary, they should be taught that so much finery is only required to hide their defects, and that beauty’s real triumph is to shine alone. The love of fashion is contrary to good taste, for faces do not change with the fashion, and while the person remains unchanged, what suits it at one time will suit it always.
If I saw a young girl decked out like a little peacock, I should show myself anxious about her figure so disguised, and anxious what people would think of her; I should say, “She is over-dressed with all those ornaments; what a pity! Do you think she could do with something simpler? Is she pretty enough to do without this or that?” Possibly she herself would be the first to ask that her finery might be taken off and that we should see how she looked without it. In that case her beauty should receive such praise as it deserves. I should never praise her unless simply dressed. If she only regards fine clothes as an aid to personal beauty, and as a tacit confession that she needs their aid, she will not be proud of her finery, she will be humbled by it; and if she hears some one say, “How pretty she is,” when she is smarter than usual, she will blush for shame.
Moreover, though there are figures that require adornment there are none that require expensive clothes. Extravagance in dress is the folly of the class rather than the individual, it is merely conventional. Genuine coquetry is sometimes carefully thought out, but never sumptuous, and Juno dressed herself more magnificently than Venus. “As you cannot make her beautiful you are making her fine,” said Apelles to an unskilful artist who was painting Helen loaded with jewellery. I have also noticed that the smartest clothes proclaim the plainest women; no folly could be more misguided. If a young girl has good taste and a contempt for fashion, give her a few yards of ribbon, muslin, and gauze, and a handful of flowers, without any diamonds, fringes, or lace, and she will make herself a dress a hundredfold more becoming than all the smart clothes of La Duchapt.
Good is always good, and as you should always look your best, the women who know what they are about select a good style and keep to it, and as they are not always changing their style they think less about dress than those who can never settle to any one style. A genuine desire to dress becomingly does not require an elaborate toilet. Young girls rarely give much time to dress; needlework and lessons are the business of the day; yet, except for the rouge, they are generally as carefully dressed as older women and often in better taste. Contrary to the usual opinion, the real cause of the abuse of the toilet is not vanity but lack of occupation. The woman who devotes six hours to her toilet is well aware that she is no better dressed than the woman who took half an hour, but she has got rid of so many of the tedious hours and it is better to amuse oneself with one’s clothes than to be sick of everything. Without the toilet how would she spend the time between dinner and supper. With a crowd of women about her, she can at least cause them annoyance, which is amusement of a kind; better still she avoids a tête-à-tête with the husband whom she never sees at any other time; then there are the tradespeople, the dealers in bric-à-brac, the fine gentlemen, the minor poets with their songs, their verses, and their pamphlets; how could you get them together but for the toilet. Its only real advantage is the chance of a little more display than is permitted by full dress, and perhaps this is less than it seems and a woman gains less than she thinks. Do not be afraid to educate your women as women; teach them a woman’s business, that they be modest, that they may know how to manage their house and look after their family; the grand toilet will soon disappear, and they will be more tastefully dressed.
Growing girls perceive at once that all this outside adornment is not enough unless they have charms of their own. They cannot make themselves beautiful, they are too young for coquetry, but they are not too young to acquire graceful gestures, a pleasing voice, a self-possessed manner, a light step, a graceful bearing, to choose whatever advantages are within their reach. The voice extends its range, it grows stronger and more resonant, the arms become plumper, the bearing more assured, and they perceive that it is easy to attract attention however dressed. Needlework and industry suffice no longer, fresh gifts are developing and their usefulness is already recognised.
I know that stern teachers would have us refuse to teach little girls to sing or dance, or to acquire any of the pleasing arts. This strikes me as absurd. Who should learn these arts—our boys? Are these to be the favourite accomplishments of men or women? Of neither, say they; profane songs are simply so many crimes, dancing is an invention of the Evil One; her tasks and her prayers are all the amusement a young girl should have. What strange amusements for a child of ten! I fear that these little saints who have been forced to spend their childhood in prayers to God will pass their youth in another fashion; when they are married they will try to make up for lost time. I think we must consider age as well as sex; a young girl should not live like her grandmother; she should be lively, merry, and eager; she should sing and dance to her heart’s content, and enjoy all the innocent pleasures of youth; the time will come, all too soon, when she must settle down and adopt a more serious tone.
But is this change in itself really necessary? Is it not merely another result of our own prejudices? By making good women the slaves of dismal duties, we have deprived marriage of its charm for men. Can we wonder that the gloomy silence they find at home drives them elsewhere, or inspires little desire to enter a state which offers so few attractions? Christianity, by exaggerating every duty, has made our duties impracticable and useless; by forbidding singing, dancing, and amusements of every kind, it renders women sulky, fault-finding, and intolerable at home. There is no religion which imposes such strict duties upon married life, and none in which such a sacred engagement is so often profaned. Such pains has been taken to prevent wives being amiable, that their husbands have become indifferent to them. This should not be, I grant you, but it will be, since husbands are but men. I would have an English maiden cultivate the talents which will delight her husband as zealously as the Circassian cultivates the accomplishments of an Eastern harem. Husbands, you say, care little for such accomplishments. So I should suppose, when they are employed, not for the husband, but to attract the young rakes who dishonour the home. But imagine a virtuous and charming wife, adorned with such accomplishments and devoting them to her husband’s amusement; will she not add to his happiness? When he leaves his office worn out with the day’s work, will she not prevent him seeking recreation elsewhere? Have we not all beheld happy families gathered together, each contributing to the general amusement? Are not the confidence and familiarity thus established, the innocence and the charm of the pleasures thus enjoyed, more than enough to make up for the more riotous pleasures of public entertainments?
Pleasant accomplishments have been made too formal an affair of rules and precepts, so that young people find them very tedious instead of a mere amusement or a merry game as they ought to be. Nothing can be more absurd than an elderly singing or dancing master frowning upon young people, whose one desire is to laugh, and adopting a more pedantic and magisterial manner in teaching his frivolous art than if he were teaching the catechism. Take the case of singing; does this art depend on reading music; cannot the voice be made true and flexible, can we not learn to sing with taste and even to play an accompaniment without knowing a note? Does the same kind of singing suit all voices alike? Is the same method adapted to every mind? You will never persuade me that the same attitudes, the same steps, the same movements, the same gestures, the same dances will suit a lively little brunette and a tall fair maiden with languishing eyes. So when I find a master giving the same lessons to all his pupils I say, “He has his own routine, but he knows nothing of his art!”
Should young girls have masters or mistresses? I cannot say; I wish they could dispense with both; I wish they could learn of their own accord what they are already so willing to learn. I wish there were fewer of these dressed-up old ballet masters promenading our streets. I fear our young people will get more harm from intercourse with such people than profit from their instruction, and that their jargon, their tone, their airs and graces, will instil a precocious taste for the frivolities which the teacher thinks so important, and to which the scholars are only too likely to devote themselves.
Where pleasure is the only end in view, any one may serve as teacher—father, mother, brother, sister, friend, governess, the girl’s mirror, and above all her own taste. Do not offer to teach, let her ask; do not make a task of what should be a reward, and in these studies above all remember that the wish to succeed is the first step. If formal instruction is required I leave it to you to choose between a master and a mistress. How can I tell whether a dancing master should take a young pupil by her soft white hand, make her lift her skirt and raise her eyes, open her arms and advance her throbbing bosom? but this I know, nothing on earth would induce me to be that master.
Taste is formed partly by industry and partly by talent, and by its means the mind is unconsciously opened to the idea of beauty of every kind, till at length it attains to those moral ideas which are so closely related to beauty. Perhaps this is one reason why ideas of propriety and modesty are acquired earlier by girls than by boys, for to suppose that this early feeling is due to the teaching of the governesses would show little knowledge of their style of teaching and of the natural development of the human mind. The art of speaking stands first among the pleasing arts; it alone can add fresh charms to those which have been blunted by habit. It is the mind which not only gives life to the body, but renews, so to speak, its youth; the flow of feelings and ideas give life and variety to the countenance, and the conversation to which it gives rise arouses and sustains attention, and fixes it continuously on one object. I suppose this is why little girls so soon learn to prattle prettily, and why men enjoy listening to them even before the child can understand them; they are watching for the first gleam of intelligence and sentiment.
Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man’s object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth.
You should not check a girl’s prattle like a boy’s by the harsh question, “What is the use of that?” but by another question at least as difficult to answer, “What effect will that have?” At this early age when they know neither good nor evil, and are incapable of judging others, they should make this their rule and never say anything which is unpleasant to those about them; this rule is all the more difficult to apply because it must always be subordinated to our first rule, “Never tell a lie.”
I can see many other difficulties, but they belong to a later stage. For the present it is enough for your little girls to speak the truth without grossness, and as they are naturally averse to what is gross, education easily teaches them to avoid it. In social intercourse I observe that a man’s politeness is usually more helpful and a woman’s more caressing. This distinction is natural, not artificial. A man seeks to serve, a woman seeks to please. Hence a woman’s politeness is less insincere than ours, whatever we may think of her character; for she is only acting upon a fundamental instinct; but when a man professes to put my interests before his own, I detect the falsehood, however disguised. Hence it is easy for women to be polite, and easy to teach little girls politeness. The first lessons come by nature; art only supplements them and determines the conventional form which politeness shall take. The courtesy of woman to woman is another matter; their manner is so constrained, their attentions so chilly, they find each other so wearisome, that they take little pains to conceal the fact, and seem sincere even in their falsehood, since they take so little pains to conceal it. Still young girls do sometimes become sincerely attached to one another. At their age good spirits take the place of a good disposition, and they are so pleased with themselves that they are pleased with every one else. Moreover, it is certain that they kiss each other more affectionately and caress each other more gracefully in the presence of men, for they are proud to be able to arouse their envy without danger to themselves by the sight of favours which they know will arouse that envy.
If young boys must not be allowed to ask unsuitable questions, much more must they be forbidden to little girls; if their curiosity is satisfied or unskilfully evaded it is a much more serious matter, for they are so keen to guess the mysteries concealed from them and so skilful to discover them. But while I would not permit them to ask questions, I would have them questioned frequently, and pains should be taken to make them talk; let them be teased to make them speak freely, to make them answer readily, to loosen mind and tongue while it can be done without danger. Such conversation always leading to merriment, yet skilfully controlled and directed, would form a delightful amusement at this age and might instil into these youthful hearts the first and perhaps the most helpful lessons in morals which they will ever receive, by teaching them in the guise of pleasure and fun what qualities are esteemed by men and what is the true glory and happiness of a good woman.
If boys are incapable of forming any true idea of religion, much more is it beyond the grasp of girls; and for this reason I would speak of it all the sooner to little girls, for if we wait till they are ready for a serious discussion of these deep subjects we should be in danger of never speaking of religion at all. A woman’s reason is practical, and therefore she soon arrives at a given conclusion, but she fails to discover it for herself. The social relation of the sexes is a wonderful thing. This relation produces a moral person of which woman is the eye and man the hand, but the two are so dependent on one another that the man teaches the woman what to see, while she teaches him what to do. If women could discover principles and if men had as good heads for detail, they would be mutually independent, they would live in perpetual strife, and there would be an end to all society. But in their mutual harmony each contributes to a common purpose; each follows the other’s lead, each commands and each obeys.
As a woman’s conduct is controlled by public opinion, so is her religion ruled by authority. The daughter should follow her mother’s religion, the wife her husband’s. Were that religion false, the docility which leads mother and daughter to submit to nature’s laws would blot out the sin of error in the sight of God. Unable to judge for themselves they should accept the judgment of father and husband as that of the church.
While women unaided cannot deduce the rules of their faith, neither can they assign limits to that faith by the evidence of reason; they allow themselves to be driven hither and thither by all sorts of external influences, they are ever above or below the truth. Extreme in everything, they are either altogether reckless or altogether pious; you never find them able to combine virtue and piety. Their natural exaggeration is not wholly to blame; the ill-regulated control exercised over them by men is partly responsible. Loose morals bring religion into contempt; the terrors of remorse make it a tyrant; this is why women have always too much or too little religion.
As a woman’s religion is controlled by authority it is more important to show her plainly what to believe than to explain the reasons for belief; for faith attached to ideas half-understood is the main source of fanaticism, and faith demanded on behalf of what is absurd leads to madness or unbelief. Whether our catechisms tend to produce impiety rather than fanaticism I cannot say, but I do know that they lead to one or other.
In the first place, when you teach religion to little girls never make it gloomy or tiresome, never make it a task or a duty, and therefore never give them anything to learn by heart, not even their prayers. Be content to say your own prayers regularly in their presence, but do not compel them to join you. Let their prayers be short, as Christ himself has taught us. Let them always be said with becoming reverence and respect; remember that if we ask the Almighty to give heed to our words, we should at least give heed to what we mean to say.
It does not much matter that a girl should learn her religion young, but it does matter that she should learn it thoroughly, and still more that she should learn to love it. If you make religion a burden to her, if you always speak of God’s anger, if in the name of religion you impose all sorts of disagreeable duties, duties which she never sees you perform, what can she suppose but that to learn one’s catechism and to say one’s prayers is only the duty of a little girl, and she will long to be grown-up to escape, like you, from these duties. Example! Example! Without it you will never succeed in teaching children anything.
When you explain the Articles of Faith let it be by direct teaching, not by question and answer. Children should only answer what they think, not what has been drilled into them. All the answers in the catechism are the wrong way about; it is the scholar who instructs the teacher; in the child’s mouth they are a downright lie, since they explain what he does not understand, and affirm what he cannot believe. Find me, if you can, an intelligent man who could honestly say his catechism. The first question I find in our catechism is as follows: “Who created you and brought you into the world?” To which the girl, who thinks it was her mother, replies without hesitation, “It was God.” All she knows is that she is asked a question which she only half understands and she gives an answer she does not understand at all.
I wish some one who really understands the development of children’s minds would write a catechism for them. It might be the most useful book ever written, and, in my opinion, it would do its author no little honour. This at least is certain—if it were a good book it would be very unlike our catechisms.
Such a catechism will not be satisfactory unless the child can answer the questions of its own accord without having to learn the answers; indeed the child will often ask the questions itself. An example is required to make my meaning plain and I feel how ill equipped I am to furnish such an example. I will try to give some sort of outline of my meaning.
To get to the first question in our catechism I suppose we must begin somewhat after the following fashion.
Do you remember when your mother was a little girl?
Why not, when you have such a good memory?
I was not alive.
Then you were not always alive!
Will you live for ever?
Are you young or old?
I am young.
Is your grandmamma old or young?
She is old.
Was she ever young?
Why is she not young now?
She has grown old.
Will you grow old too?
I don’t know.
Where are your last year’s frocks?
They have been unpicked.
Because they were too small for me.
Why were they too small?
I have grown bigger.
Will you grow any more?
And what becomes of big girls?
They grow into women.
And what becomes of women?
They are mothers.
And what becomes of mothers?
They grow old.
Will you grow old?
When I am a mother.
And what becomes of old people?
I don’t know.
What became of your grandfather?
Why did he die?
Because he was so old.
What becomes of old people?
And when you are old—?
Oh, nurse! I don’t want to die!
My dear, no one wants to die, and everybody dies.
Why, will mamma die too?
Yes, like everybody else. Women grow old as well as men, and old age ends in death.
What must I do to grow old very, very slowly?
Be good while you are little.
I will always be good, nurse.
So much the better. But do you suppose you will live for ever?
When I am very, very old—
When we are so very old you say we must die?
You must die some day.
Oh dear! I suppose I must.
Who lived before you?
My father and mother.
And before them?
Their father and mother.
Who will live after you?
Who will live after them?
In this way, by concrete examples, you will find a beginning and end for the human race like everything else—that is to say, a father and mother who never had a father and mother, and children who will never have children of their own.
It is only after a long course of similar questions that we are ready for the first question in the catechism; then alone can we put the question and the child may be able to understand it. But what a gap there is between the first and the second question which is concerned with the definitions of the divine nature. When will this chasm be bridged? “God is a spirit.” “And what is a spirit?” Shall I start the child upon this difficult question of metaphysics which grown men find so hard to understand? These are no questions for a little girl to answer; if she asks them, it is as much or more than we can expect. In that case I should tell her quite simply, “You ask me what God is; it is not easy to say; we can neither hear nor see nor handle God; we can only know Him by His works. To learn what He is, you must wait till you know what He has done.”
If our dogmas are all equally true, they are not equally important. It makes little difference to the glory of God that we should perceive it everywhere, but it does make a difference to human society, and to every member of that society, that a man should know and do the duties which are laid upon him by the law of God, his duty to his neighbour and to himself. This is what we should always be teaching one another, and it is this which fathers and mothers are specially bound to teach their little ones. Whether a virgin became the mother of her Creator, whether she gave birth to God, or merely to a man into whom God has entered, whether the Father and the Son are of the same substance or of like substance only, whether the Spirit proceeded from one or both of these who are but one, or from both together, however important these questions may seem, I cannot see that it is any more necessary for the human race to come to a decision with regard to them than to know what day to keep Easter, or whether we should tell our beads, fast, and refuse to eat meat, speak Latin or French in church, adorn the walls with statues, hear or say mass, and have no wife of our own. Let each think as he pleases; I cannot see that it matters to any one but himself; for my own part it is no concern of mine. But what does concern my fellow-creatures and myself alike is to know that there is indeed a judge of human fate, that we are all His children, that He bids us all be just, He bids us love one another, He bids us be kindly and merciful, He bids us keep our word with all men, even with our own enemies and His; we must know that the apparent happiness of this world is naught; that there is another life to come, in which this Supreme Being will be the rewarder of the just and the judge of the unjust. Children need to be taught these doctrines and others like them and all citizens require to be persuaded of their truth. Whoever sets his face against these doctrines is indeed guilty; he is the disturber of the peace, the enemy of society. Whoever goes beyond these doctrines and seeks to make us the slaves of his private opinions, reaches the same goal by another way; to establish his own kind of order he disturbs the peace; in his rash pride he makes himself the interpreter of the Divine, and in His name demands the homage and the reverence of mankind; so far as may be, he sets himself in God’s place; he should receive the punishment of sacrilege if he is not punished for his intolerance.
Give no heed, therefore, to all those mysterious doctrines which are words without ideas for us, all those strange teachings, the study of which is too often offered as a substitute for virtue, a study which more often makes men mad rather than good. Keep your children ever within the little circle of dogmas which are related to morality. Convince them that the only useful learning is that which teaches us to act rightly. Do not make your daughters theologians and casuists; only teach them such things of heaven as conduce to human goodness; train them to feel that they are always in the presence of God, who sees their thoughts and deeds, their virtue and their pleasures; teach them to do good without ostentation and because they love it, to suffer evil without a murmur, because God will reward them; in a word to be all their life long what they will be glad to have been when they appear in His presence. This is true religion; this alone is incapable of abuse, impiety, or fanaticism. Let those who will, teach a religion more sublime, but this is the only religion I know.
Moreover, it is as well to observe that, until the age when the reason becomes enlightened, when growing emotion gives a voice to conscience, what is wrong for young people is what those about have decided to be wrong. What they are told to do is good; what they are forbidden to do is bad; that is all they ought to know: this shows how important it is for girls, even more than for boys, that the right people should be chosen to be with them and to have authority over them. At last there comes a time when they begin to judge things for themselves, and that is the time to change your method of education.
Perhaps I have said too much already. To what shall we reduce the education of our women if we give them no law but that of conventional prejudice? Let us not degrade so far the sex which rules over us, and which does us honour when we have not made it vile. For all mankind there is a law anterior to that of public opinion. All other laws should bend before the inflexible control of this law; it is the judge of public opinion, and only in so far as the esteem of men is in accordance with this law has it any claim on our obedience.
This law is our individual conscience. I will not repeat what has been said already; it is enough to point out that if these two laws clash, the education of women will always be imperfect. Right feeling without respect for public opinion will not give them that delicacy of soul which lends to right conduct the charm of social approval; while respect for public opinion without right feeling will only make false and wicked women who put appearances in the place of virtue.
It is, therefore, important to cultivate a faculty which serves as judge between the two guides, which does not permit conscience to go astray and corrects the errors of prejudice. That faculty is reason. But what a crowd of questions arise at this word. Are women capable of solid reason; should they cultivate it, can they cultivate it successfully? Is this culture useful in relation to the functions laid upon them? Is it compatible with becoming simplicity?
The different ways of envisaging and answering these questions lead to two extremes; some would have us keep women indoors sewing and spinning with their maids; thus they make them nothing more than the chief servant of their master. Others, not content to secure their rights, lead them to usurp ours; for to make woman our superior in all the qualities proper to her sex, and to make her our equal in all the rest, what is this but to transfer to the woman the superiority which nature has given to her husband?
The reason which teaches a man his duties is not very complex; the reason which teaches a woman hers is even simpler. The obedience and fidelity which she owes to her husband, the tenderness and care due to her children, are such natural and self-evident consequences of her position that she cannot honestly refuse her consent to the inner voice which is her guide, nor fail to discern her duty in her natural inclination.
I would not altogether blame those who would restrict a woman to the labours of her sex and would leave her in profound ignorance of everything else; but that would require a standard of morality at once very simple and very healthy, or a life withdrawn from the world. In great towns, among immoral men, such a woman would be too easily led astray; her virtue would too often be at the mercy of circumstances; in this age of philosophy, virtue must be able to resist temptation; she must know beforehand what she may hear and what she should think of it.
Moreover, in submission to man’s judgment she should deserve his esteem; above all she should obtain the esteem of her husband; she should not only make him love her person, she should make him approve her conduct; she should justify his choice before the world, and do honour to her husband through the honour given to the wife. But how can she set about this task if she is ignorant of our institutions, our customs, our notions of propriety, if she knows nothing of the source of man’s judgment, nor the passions by which it is swayed? Since she depends both on her own conscience and on public opinion, she must learn to know and reconcile these two laws, and to put her own conscience first only when the two are opposed to each other. She becomes the judge of her own judges, she decides when she should obey and when she should refuse her obedience. She weighs their prejudices before she accepts or rejects them; she learns to trace them to their source, to foresee what they will be, and to turn them in her own favour; she is careful never to give cause for blame if duty allows her to avoid it. This cannot be properly done without cultivating her mind and reason.
I always come back to my first principle and it supplies the solution of all my difficulties. I study what is, I seek its cause, and I discover in the end that what is, is good. I go to houses where the master and mistress do the honours together. They are equally well educated, equally polite, equally well equipped with wit and good taste, both of them are inspired with the same desire to give their guests a good reception and to send every one away satisfied. The husband omits no pains to be attentive to every one; he comes and goes and sees to every one and takes all sorts of trouble; he is attention itself. The wife remains in her place; a little circle gathers round her and apparently conceals the rest of the company from her; yet she sees everything that goes on, no one goes without a word with her; she has omitted nothing which might interest anybody, she has said nothing unpleasant to any one, and without any fuss the least is no more overlooked than the greatest. Dinner is announced, they take their places; the man knowing the assembled guests will place them according to his knowledge; the wife, without previous acquaintance, never makes a mistake; their looks and bearing have already shown her what is wanted and every one will find himself where he wishes to be. I do not assert that the servants forget no one. The master of the house may have omitted no one, but the mistress perceives what you like and sees that you get it; while she is talking to her neighbour she has one eye on the other end of the table; she sees who is not eating because he is not hungry and who is afraid to help himself because he is clumsy and timid. When the guests leave the table every one thinks she has had no thought but for him, everybody thinks she has had no time to eat anything, but she has really eaten more than anybody.
When the guests are gone, husband and wife talk over the events of the evening. He relates what was said to him, what was said and done by those with whom he conversed. If the lady is not always quite exact in this respect, yet on the other hand she perceived what was whispered at the other end of the room; she knows what so-and-so thought, and what was the meaning of this speech or that gesture; there is scarcely a change of expression for which she has not an explanation in readiness, and she is almost always right.
The same turn of mind which makes a woman of the world such an excellent hostess, enables a flirt to excel in the art of amusing a number of suitors. Coquetry, cleverly carried out, demands an even finer discernment than courtesy; provided a polite lady is civil to everybody, she has done fairly well in any case; but the flirt would soon lose her hold by such clumsy uniformity; if she tries to be pleasant to all her lovers alike, she will disgust them all. In ordinary social intercourse the manners adopted towards everybody are good enough for all; no question is asked as to private likes or dislikes provided all are alike well received. But in love, a favour shared with others is an insult. A man of feeling would rather be singled out for ill-treatment than be caressed with the crowd, and the worst that can befall him is to be treated like every one else. So a woman who wants to keep several lovers at her feet must persuade every one of them that she prefers him, and she must contrive to do this in the sight of all the rest, each of whom is equally convinced that he is her favourite.
If you want to see a man in a quandary, place him between two women with each of whom he has a secret understanding, and see what a fool he looks. But put a woman in similar circumstances between two men, and the results will be even more remarkable; you will be astonished at the skill with which she cheats them both, and makes them laugh at each other. Now if that woman were to show the same confidence in both, if she were to be equally familiar with both, how could they be deceived for a moment? If she treated them alike, would she not show that they both had the same claims upon her? Oh, she is far too clever for that; so far from treating them just alike, she makes a marked difference between them, and she does it so skilfully that the man she flatters thinks it is affection, and the man she ill uses think it is spite. So that each of them believes she is thinking of him, when she is thinking of no one but herself.
A general desire to please suggests similar measures; people would be disgusted with a woman’s whims if they were not skilfully managed, and when they are artistically distributed her servants are more than ever enslaved.
What is the secret of this art? Is it not the result of a delicate and continuous observation which shows her what is taking place in a man’s heart, so that she is able to encourage or to check every hidden impulse? Can this art be acquired? No; it is born with women; it is common to them all, and men never show it to the same degree. It is one of the distinctive characters of the sex. Self-possession, penetration, delicate observation, this is a woman’s science; the skill to make use of it is her chief accomplishment.
This is what is, and we have seen why it is so. It is said that women are false. They become false. They are really endowed with skill not duplicity; in the genuine inclinations of their sex they are not false even when they tell a lie. Why do you consult their words when it is not their mouths that speak? Consult their eyes, their colour, their breathing, their timid manner, their slight resistance, that is the language nature gave them for your answer. The lips always say “No,” and rightly so; but the tone is not always the same, and that cannot lie. Has not a woman the same needs as a man, but without the same right to make them known? Her fate would be too cruel if she had no language in which to express her legitimate desires except the words which she dare not utter. Must her modesty condemn her to misery? Does she not require a means of indicating her inclinations without open expression? What skill is needed to hide from her lover what she would fain reveal! Is it not of vital importance that she should learn to touch his heart without showing that she cares for him? It is a pretty story that tale of Galatea with her apple and her clumsy flight. What more is needed? Will she tell the shepherd who pursues her among the willows that she only flees that he may follow? If she did, it would be a lie; for she would no longer attract him. The more modest a woman is, the more art she needs, even with her husband. Yes, I maintain that coquetry, kept within bounds, becomes modest and true, and out of it springs a law of right conduct.
One of my opponents has very truly asserted that virtue is one; you cannot disintegrate it and choose this and reject the other. If you love virtue, you love it in its entirety, and you close your heart when you can, and you always close your lips to the feelings which you ought not to allow. Moral truth is not only what is, but what is good; what is bad ought not to be, and ought not to be confessed, especially when that confession produces results which might have been avoided. If I were tempted to steal, and in confessing it I tempted another to become my accomplice, the very confession of my temptation would amount to a yielding to that temptation. Why do you say that modesty makes women false? Are those who lose their modesty more sincere than the rest? Not so, they are a thousandfold more deceitful. This degree of depravity is due to many vices, none of which is rejected, vices which owe their power to intrigue and falsehood.1
On the other hand, those who are not utterly shameless, who take no pride in their faults, who are able to conceal their desires even from those who inspire them, those who confess their passion most reluctantly, these are the truest and most sincere, these are they on whose fidelity you may generally rely.
The only example I know which might be quoted as a recognised exception to these remarks is Mlle. de L’Enclos; and she was considered a prodigy. In her scorn for the virtues of women, she practised, so they say, the virtues of a man. She is praised for her frankness and uprightness; she was a trustworthy acquaintance and a faithful friend. To complete the picture of her glory it is said that she became a man. That may be, but in spite of her high reputation I should no more desire that man as my friend than as my mistress.
This is not so irrelevant as it seems. I am aware of the tendencies of our modern philosophy which make a jest of female modesty and its so-called insincerity; I also perceive that the most certain result of this philosophy will be to deprive the women of this century of such shreds of honour as they still possess.
On these grounds I think we may decide in general terms what sort of education is suited to the female mind, and the objects to which we should turn its attention in early youth.
As I have already said, the duties of their sex are more easily recognised than performed. They must learn in the first place to love those duties by considering the advantages to be derived from them—that is the only way to make duty easy. Every age and condition has its own duties. We are quick to see our duty if we love it. Honour your position as a woman, and in whatever station of life to which it shall please heaven to call you, you will be well off. The essential thing is to be what nature has made you; women are only too ready to be what men would have them.
The search for abstract and speculative truths, for principles and axioms in science, for all that tends to wide generalisation, is beyond a woman’s grasp; their studies should be thoroughly practical. It is their business to apply the principles discovered by men, it is their place to make the observations which lead men to discover those principles. A woman’s thoughts, beyond the range of her immediate duties, should be directed to the study of men, or the acquirement of that agreeable learning whose sole end is the formation of taste; for the works of genius are beyond her reach, and she has neither the accuracy nor the attention for success in the exact sciences; as for the physical sciences, to decide the relations between living creatures and the laws of nature is the task of that sex which is more active and enterprising, which sees more things, that sex which is possessed of greater strength and is more accustomed to the exercise of that strength. Woman, weak as she is and limited in her range of observation, perceives and judges the forces at her disposal to supplement her weakness, and those forces are the passions of man. Her own mechanism is more powerful than ours; she has many levers which may set the human heart in motion. She must find a way to make us desire what she cannot achieve unaided, and what she considers necessary or pleasing; therefore she must have a thorough knowledge of man’s mind; not an abstract knowledge of the mind of man in general, but the mind of those men who are about her, the mind of those men who have authority over her, either by law or custom. She must learn to divine their feelings from speech and action, look and gesture. By her own speech and action, look and gesture, she must be able to inspire them with the feelings she desires, without seeming to have any such purpose. The men will have a better philosophy of the human heart, but she will read more accurately in the heart of men. Woman should discover, so to speak, an experimental morality, man should reduce it to a system. Woman has more wit, man more genius; woman observes, man reasons; together they provide the clearest light and the profoundest knowledge which is possible to the unaided human mind; in a word, the surest knowledge of self and of others of which the human race is capable. In this way art may constantly tend to the perfection of the instrument which nature has given us.
The world is woman’s book; if she reads it ill, it is either her own fault or she is blinded by passion. Yet the genuine mother of a family is no woman of the world, she is almost as much of a recluse as the nun in her convent. Those who have marriageable daughters should do what is or ought to be done for those who are entering the cloisters: they should show them the pleasures they forsake before they are allowed to renounce them, lest the deceitful picture of unknown pleasures should creep in to disturb the happiness of their retreat. In France it is the girls who live in convents and the wives who flaunt in society. Among the ancients it was quite otherwise; girls enjoyed, as I have said already, many games and public festivals; the married women lived in retirement. This was a more reasonable custom and more conducive to morality. A girl may be allowed a certain amount of coquetry, and she may be mainly occupied at amusement. A wife has other responsibilities at home, and she is no longer on the look-out for a husband; but women would not appreciate the change, and unluckily it is they who set the fashion. Mothers, let your daughters be your companions. Give them good sense and an honest heart, and then conceal from them nothing that a pure eye may behold. Balls, assemblies, sports, the theatre itself; everything which viewed amiss delights imprudent youth may be safely displayed to a healthy mind. The more they know of these noisy pleasures, the sooner they will cease to desire them.
I can fancy the outcry with which this will be received. What girl will resist such an example? Their heads are turned by the first glimpse of the world; not one of them is ready to give it up. That may be; but before you showed them this deceitful prospect, did you prepare them to behold it without emotion? Did you tell them plainly what it was they would see? Did you show it in its true light? Did you arm them against the illusions of vanity? Did you inspire their young hearts with a taste for the true pleasures which are not to be met with in this tumult? What precautions, what steps, did you take to preserve them from the false taste which leads them astray? Not only have you done nothing to preserve their minds from the tyranny of prejudice, you have fostered that prejudice; you have taught them to desire every foolish amusement they can get. Your own example is their teacher. Young people on their entrance into society have no guide but their mother, who is often just as silly as they are themselves, and quite unable to show them things except as she sees them herself. Her example is stronger than reason; it justifies them in their own eyes, and the mother’s authority is an unanswerable excuse for the daughter. If I ask a mother to bring her daughter into society, I assume that she will show it in its true light.
The evil begins still earlier; the convents are regular schools of coquetry; not that honest coquetry which I have described, but a coquetry the source of every kind of misconduct, a coquetry which turns out girls who are the most ridiculous little madams. When they leave the convent to take their place in smart society, young women find themselves quite at home. They have been educated for such a life; is it strange that they like it? I am afraid what I am going to say may be based on prejudice rather than observation, but so far as I can see, one finds more family affection, more good wives and loving mothers in Protestant than in Catholic countries; if that is so, we cannot fail to suspect that the difference is partly due to the convent schools.
The charms of a peaceful family life must be known to be enjoyed; their delights should be tasted in childhood. It is only in our father’s home that we learn to love our own, and a woman whose mother did not educate her herself will not be willing to educate her own children. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as home education in our large towns. Society is so general and so mixed there is no place left for retirement, and even in the home we live in public. We live in company till we have no family, and we scarcely know our own relations, we see them as strangers; and the simplicity of home life disappears together with the sweet familiarity which was its charm. In this wise do we draw with our mother’s milk a taste for the pleasures of the age and the maxims by which it is controlled.
Girls are compelled to assume an air of propriety so that men may be deceived into marrying them by their appearance. But watch these young people for a moment; under a pretence of coyness they barely conceal the passion which devours them, and already you may read in their eager eyes their desire to imitate their mothers. It is not a husband they want, but the licence of a married woman. What need of a husband when there are so many other resources; but a husband there must be to act as a screen.1 There is modesty on the brow, but vice in the heart; this sham modesty is one of its outward signs; they affect it that they may be rid of it once for all. Women of Paris and London, forgive me! There may be miracles everywhere, but I am not aware of them; and if there is even one among you who is really pure in heart, I know nothing of our institutions.
All these different methods of education lead alike to a taste for the pleasures of the great world, and to the passions which this taste so soon kindles. In our great towns depravity begins at birth; in the smaller towns it begins with reason. Young women brought up in the country are soon taught to despise the happy simplicity of their lives, and hasten to Paris to share the corruption of ours. Vices, cloaked under the fair name of accomplishments, are the sole object of their journey; ashamed to find themselves so much behind the noble licence of the Parisian ladies, they hasten to become worthy of the name of Parisian. Which is responsible for the evil—the place where it begins, or the place where it is accomplished?
I would not have a sensible mother bring her girl to Paris to show her these sights so harmful to others; but I assert that if she did so, either the girl has been badly brought up, or such sights have little danger for her. With good taste, good sense, and a love of what is right, these things are less attractive than to those who abandon themselves to their charm. In Paris you may see giddy young things hastening to adopt the tone and fashions of the town for some six months, so that they may spend the rest of their life in disgrace; but who gives any heed to those who, disgusted with the rout, return to their distant home and are contented with their lot when they have compared it with that which others desire. How many young wives have I seen whose good-natured husbands have taken them to Paris where they might live if they pleased; but they have shrunk from it and returned home more willingly than they went, saying tenderly, “Ah, let us go back to our cottage, life is happier there than in these palaces.” We do not know how many there are who have not bowed the knee to Baal, who scorn his senseless worship. Fools make a stir; good women pass unnoticed.
If so many women preserve a judgment which is proof against temptation, in spite of universal prejudice, in spite of the bad education of girls, what would their judgment have been, had it been strengthened by suitable instruction, or rather left unaffected by evil teaching, for to preserve or restore the natural feelings is our main business? You can do this without preaching endless sermons to your daughters, without crediting them with your harsh morality. The only effect of such teaching is to inspire a dislike for the teacher and the lessons. In talking to a young girl you need not make her afraid of her duties, nor need you increase the burden laid upon her by nature. When you explain her duties speak plainly and pleasantly; do not let her suppose that the performance of these duties is a dismal thing—away with every affectation of disgust or pride. Every thought which we desire to arouse should find its expression in our pupils, their catechism of conduct should be as brief and plain as their catechism of religion, but it need not be so serious. Show them that these same duties are the source of their pleasures and the basis of their rights. Is it so hard to win love by love, happiness by an amiable disposition, obedience by worth, and honour by self-respect? How fair are these woman’s rights, how worthy of reverence, how dear to the heart of man when a woman is able to show their worth! These rights are no privilege of years; a woman’s empire begins with her virtues; her charms are only in the bud, yet she reigns already by the gentleness of her character and the dignity of her modesty. Is there any man so hard-hearted and uncivilised that he does not abate his pride and take heed to his manners with a sweet and virtuous girl of sixteen, who listens but says little; her bearing is modest, her conversation honest, her beauty does not lead her to forget her sex and her youth, her very timidity arouses interest, while she wins for herself the respect which she shows to others?
These external signs are not devoid of meaning; they do not rest entirely upon the charms of sense; they arise from that conviction that we all feel that women are the natural judges of a man’s worth. Who would be scorned by women? not even he who has ceased to desire their love. And do you suppose that I, who tell them such harsh truths, am indifferent to their verdict? Reader, I care more for their approval than for yours; you are often more effeminate than they. While I scorn their morals, I will revere their justice; I care not though they hate me, if I can compel their esteem.
What great things might be accomplished by their influence if only we could bring it to bear! Alas for the age whose women lose their ascendancy, and fail to make men respect their judgment! This is the last stage of degradation. Every virtuous nation has shown respect to women. Consider Sparta, Germany, and Rome; Rome the throne of glory and virtue, if ever they were enthroned on earth. The Roman women awarded honour to the deeds of great generals, they mourned in public for the fathers of the country, their awards and their tears were alike held sacred as the most solemn utterance of the Republic. Every great revolution began with the women. Through a woman Rome gained her liberty, through a woman the plebeians won the consulate, through a woman the tyranny of the decemvirs was overthrown; it was the women who saved Rome when besieged by Coriolanus. What would you have said at the sight of this procession, you Frenchmen who pride yourselves on your gallantry, would you not have followed it with shouts of laughter? You and I see things with such different eyes, and perhaps we are both right. Such a procession formed of the fairest beauties of France would be an indecent spectacle; but let it consist of Roman ladies, you will all gaze with the eyes of the Volscians and feel with the heart of Coriolanus.
I will go further and maintain that virtue is no less favourable to love than to other rights of nature, and that it adds as much to the power of the beloved as to that of the wife or mother. There is no real love without enthusiasm, and no enthusiasm without an object of perfection real or supposed, but always present in the imagination. What is there to kindle the hearts of lovers for whom this perfection is nothing, for whom the loved one is merely the means to sensual pleasure? Nay, not thus is the heart kindled, not thus does it abandon itself to those sublime transports which form the rapture of lovers and the charm of love. Love is an illusion, I grant you, but its reality consists in the feelings it awakes, in the love of true beauty which it inspires. That beauty is not to be found in the object of our affections, it is the creation of our illusions. What matter! do we not still sacrifice all those baser feelings to the imaginary model? and we still feed our hearts on the virtues we attribute to the beloved, we still withdraw ourselves from the baseness of human nature. What lover is there who would not give his life for his mistress? What gross and sensual passion is there in a man who is willing to die? We scoff at the knights of old; they knew the meaning of love; we know nothing but debauchery. When the teachings of romance began to seem ridiculous, it was not so much the work of reason as of immorality.
Natural relations remain the same throughout the centuries, their good or evil effects are unchanged; prejudices, masquerading as reason, can but change their outward seeming; self-mastery, even at the behest of fantastic opinions, will not cease to be great and good. And the true motives of honour will not fail to appeal to the heart of every woman who is able to seek happiness in life in her woman’s duties. To a high-souled woman chastity above all must be a delightful virtue. She sees all the kingdoms of the world before her and she triumphs over herself and them; she sits enthroned in her own soul and all men do her homage; a few passing struggles are crowned with perpetual glory; she secures the affection, or it may be the envy, she secures in any case the esteem of both sexes and the universal respect of her own. The loss is fleeting, the gain is permanent. What a joy for a noble heart—the pride of virtue combined with beauty. Let her be a heroine of romance; she will taste delights more exquisite than those of Lais and Cleopatra; and when her beauty is fled, her glory and her joys remain; she alone can enjoy the past.
The harder and more important the duties, the stronger and clearer must be the reasons on which they are based. There is a sort of pious talk about the most serious subjects which is dinned in vain into the ears of young people. This talk, quite unsuited to their ideas and the small importance they attach to it in secret, inclines them to yield readily to their inclinations, for lack of any reasons for resistance drawn from the facts themselves. No doubt a girl brought up to goodness and piety has strong weapons against temptation; but one whose heart, or rather her ears, are merely filled with the jargon of piety, will certainly fall a prey to the first skilful seducer who attacks her. A young and beautiful girl will never despise her body, she will never really deplore sins which her beauty leads men to commit, she will never lament earnestly in the sight of God that she is an object of desire, she will never be convinced that the tenderest feeling is an invention of the Evil One. Give her other and more pertinent reasons for her own sake, for these will have no effect. It will be worse to instil, as is often done, ideas which contradict each other, and after having humbled and degraded her person and her charms as the stain of sin, to bid her reverence that same vile body as the temple of Jesus Christ. Ideas too sublime and too humble are equally ineffective and they cannot both be true. A reason adapted to her age and sex is what is needed. Considerations of duty are of no effect unless they are combined with some motive for the performance of our duty.
“Quæ quia non liceat non facit, illa facit.”
Ovid,Amor. I. iii. cleg. iv.
One would not suspect Ovid of such a harsh judgment.
If you would inspire young people with a love of good conduct avoid saying, “Be good;” make it their interest to be good; make them feel the value of goodness and they will love it. It is not enough to show this effect in the distant future, show it now, in the relations of the present, in the character of their lovers. Describe a good man, a man of worth, teach them to recognise him when they see him, to love him for their own sake; convince them that such a man alone can make them happy as friend, wife, or mistress. Let reason lead the way to virtue; make them feel that the empire of their sex and all the advantages derived from it depend not merely on the right conduct, the morality, of women, but also on that of men; that they have little hold over the vile and base, and that the lover is incapable of serving his mistress unless he can do homage to virtue. You may then be sure that when you describe the manners of our age you will inspire them with a genuine disgust; when you show them men of fashion they will despise them; you will give them a distaste for their maxims, an aversion to their sentiments, and a scorn for their empty gallantry; you will arouse a nobler ambition, to reign over great and strong souls, the ambition of the Spartan women to rule over men. A bold, shameless, intriguing woman, who can only attract her lovers by coquetry and retain them by her favours, wins a servile obedience in common things; in weighty and important matters she has no influence over them. But the woman who is both virtuous, wise, and charming, she who, in a word, combines love and esteem, can send them at her bidding to the end of the world, to war, to glory, and to death at her behest. This is a fine kingdom and worth the winning.
This is the spirit in which Sophy has been educated, she has been trained carefully rather than strictly, and her taste has been followed rather than thwarted. Let us say just a word about her person, according to the description I have given to Emile and the picture he himself has formed of the wife in whom he hopes to find happiness.
I cannot repeat too often that I am not dealing with prodigies. Emile is no prodigy, neither is Sophy. He is a man and she is a woman; this is all they have to boast of. In the present confusion between the sexes it is almost a miracle to belong to one’s own sex.
Sophy is well born and she has a good disposition; she is very warm-hearted, and this warmth of heart sometimes makes her imagination run away with her. Her mind is keen rather than accurate, her temper is pleasant but variable, her person pleasing though nothing out of the common, her countenance bespeaks a soul and it speaks true; you may meet her with indifference, but you will not leave her without emotion. Others possess good qualities which she lacks; others possess her good qualities in a higher degree, but in no one are these qualities better blended to form a happy disposition. She knows how to make the best of her very faults, and if she were more perfect she would be less pleasing.
Sophy is not beautiful; but in her presence men forget the fairer women, and the latter are dissatisfied with themselves. At first sight she is hardly pretty; but the more we see her the prettier she is; she wins where so many lose, and what she wins she keeps. Her eyes might be finer, her mouth more beautiful, her stature more imposing; but no one could have a more graceful figure, a finer complexion, a whiter hand, a daintier foot, a sweeter look, and a more expressive countenance. She does not dazzle; she arouses interest; she delights us, we know not why.
Sophy is fond of dress, and she knows how to dress; her mother has no other maid; she has taste enough to dress herself well; but she hates rich clothes; her own are always simple but elegant. She does not like showy but becoming things. She does not know what colours are fashionable, but she makes no mistake about those that suit her. No girl seems more simply dressed, but no one could take more pains over her toilet; no article is selected at random, and yet there is no trace of artificiality. Her dress is very modest in appearance and very coquettish in reality; she does not display her charms, she conceals them, but in such a way as to enhance them. When you see her you say, “That is a good modest girl,” but while you are with her, you cannot take your eyes or your thoughts off her, and one might say that this very simple adornment is only put on to be removed bit by bit by the imagination.
Sophy has natural gifts; she is aware of them, and they have not been neglected; but never having had a chance of much training she is content to use her pretty voice to sing tastefully and truly; her little feet step lightly, easily, and gracefully, she can always make an easy graceful courtesy. She has had no singing master but her father, no dancing mistress but her mother; a neighbouring organist has given her a few lessons in playing accompaniments on the spinet, and she has improved herself by practice. At first she only wished to show off her hand on the dark keys; then she discovered that the thin clear tone of the spinet made her voice sound sweeter; little by little she recognised the charms of harmony; as she grew older she at last began to enjoy the charms of expression, to love music for its own sake. But she has taste rather than talent; she cannot read a simple air from notes.
Needlework is what Sophy likes best; and the feminine arts have been taught her most carefully, even those you would not expect, such as cutting out and dressmaking. There is nothing she cannot do with her needle, and nothing that she does not take a delight in doing; but lace-making is her favourite occupation, because there is nothing which requires such a pleasing attitude, nothing which calls for such grace and dexterity of finger. She has also studied all the details of housekeeping; she understands cooking and cleaning; she knows the prices of food, and also how to choose it; she can keep accounts accurately, she is her mother’s housekeeper. Some day she will be the mother of a family; by managing her father’s house she is preparing to manage her own; she can take the place of any of the servants and she is always ready to do so. You cannot give orders unless you can do the work yourself; that is why her mother sets her to do it. Sophy does not think of that; her first duty is to be a good daughter, and that is all she thinks about for the present. Her one idea is to help her mother and relieve her of some of her anxieties. However, she does not like them all equally well. For instance, she likes dainty food, but she does not like cooking; the details of cookery offend her, and things are never clean enough for her. She is extremely sensitive in this respect and carries her sensitiveness to a fault; she would let the whole dinner boil over into the fire rather than soil her cuffs. She has always disliked inspecting the kitchen-garden for the same reason. The soil is dirty, and as soon as she sees the manure heap she fancies there is a disagreeable smell.
This defect is the result of her mother’s teaching. According to her, cleanliness is one of the most necessary of a woman’s duties, a special duty, of the highest importance and a duty imposed by nature. Nothing could be more revolting than a dirty woman, and a husband who tires of her is not to blame. She insisted so strongly on this duty when Sophy was little, she required such absolute cleanliness in her person, clothing, room, work, and toilet, that use has become habit, till it absorbs one half of her time and controls the other; so that she thinks less of how to do a thing than of how to do it without getting dirty.
Yet this has not degenerated into mere affectation and softness; there is none of the over refinement of luxury. Nothing but clean water enters her room; she knows no perfumes but the scent of flowers, and her husband will never find anything sweeter than her breath. In conclusion, the attention she pays to the outside does not blind her to the fact that time and strength are meant for greater tasks; either she does not know or she despises that exaggerated cleanliness of body which degrades the soul. Sophy is more than clean, she is pure.
I said that Sophy was fond of good things. She was so by nature; but she became temperate by habit and now she is temperate by virtue. Little girls are not to be controlled, as little boys are, to some extent, through their greediness. This tendency may have ill effects on women and it is too dangerous to be left unchecked. When Sophy was little, she did not always return empty handed if she was sent to her mother’s cupboard, and she was not quite to be trusted with sweets and sugar-almonds. Her mother caught her, took them from her, punished her, and made her go without her dinner. At last she managed to persuade her that sweets were bad for the teeth, and that over-eating spoiled the figure. Thus Sophy overcame her faults; and when she grew older other tastes distracted her from this low kind of self-indulgence. With awakening feeling greediness ceases to be the ruling passion, both with men and women. Sophy has preserved her feminine tastes; she likes milk and sweets; she likes pastry and made-dishes, but not much meat. She has never tasted wine or spirits; moreover, she eats sparingly; women, who do not work so hard as men, have less waste to repair. In all things she likes what is good, and knows how to appreciate it; but she can also put up with what is not so good, or can go without it.
Sophy’s mind is pleasing but not brilliant, and thorough but not deep; it is the sort of mind which calls for no remark, as she never seems cleverer or stupider than oneself. When people talk to her they always find what she says attractive, though it may not be highly ornamental according to modern ideas of an educated woman; her mind has been formed not only by reading, but by conversation with her father and mother, by her own reflections, and by her own observations in the little world in which she has lived. Sophy is naturally merry; as a child she was even giddy; but her mother cured her of her silly ways, little by little, lest too sudden a change should make her self-conscious. Thus she became modest and retiring while still a child, and now that she is a child no longer, she finds it easier to continue this conduct than it would have been to acquire it without knowing why. It is amusing to see her occasionally return to her old ways and indulge in childish mirth and then suddenly check herself, with silent lips, downcast eyes, and rosy blushes; neither child nor woman, she may well partake of both.
Sophy is too sensitive to be always good humoured, but too gentle to let this be really disagreeable to other people; it is only herself who suffers. If you say anything that hurts her she does not sulk, but her heart swells; she tries to run away and cry. In the midst of her tears, at a word from her father or mother she returns at once laughing and playing, secretly wiping her eyes and trying to stifle her sobs.
Yet she has her whims; if her temper is too much indulged it degenerates into rebellion, and then she forgets herself. But give her time to come round and her way of making you forget her wrongdoing is almost a virtue. If you punish her she is gentle and submissive, and you see that she is more ashamed of the fault than the punishment. If you say nothing, she never fails to make amends, and she does it so frankly and so readily that you cannot be angry with her. She would kiss the ground before the lowest servant and would make no fuss about it; and as soon as she is forgiven, you can see by her delight and her caresses that a load is taken off her heart. In a word, she endures patiently the wrong-doing of others, and she is eager to atone for her own. This amiability is natural to her sex when unspoiled. Woman is made to submit to man and to endure even injustice at his hands. You will never bring young lads to this; their feelings rise in revolt against injustice; nature has not fitted them to put up with it.
Sophy’s religion is reasonable and simple, with few doctrines and fewer observances; or rather as she knows no course of conduct but the right her whole life is devoted to the service of God and to doing good. In all her parents’ teaching of religion she has been trained to a reverent submission; they have often said, “My little girl, this is too hard for you; your husband will teach you when you are grown up.” Instead of long sermons about piety, they have been content to preach by their example, and this example is engraved on her heart.
Sophy loves virtue; this love has come to be her ruling passion; she loves virtue because there is nothing fairer in itself, she loves it because it is a woman’s glory and because a virtuous woman is little lower than the angels; she loves virtue as the only road to real happiness, because she sees nothing but poverty, neglect, unhappiness, shame, and disgrace in the life of a bad woman; she loves virtue because it is dear to her revered father and to her tender and worthy mother; they are not content to be happy in their own virtue, they desire hers; and she finds her chief happiness in the hope of making them happy. All these feelings inspire an enthusiasm which stirs her heart and keeps all its budding passions in subjection to this noble enthusiasm. Sophy will be chaste and good till her dying day; she has vowed it in her secret heart, and not before she knew how hard it would be to keep her vow; she made this vow at a time when she would have revoked it had she been the slave of her senses.
Sophy is not so fortunate as to be a charming French woman, cold-hearted and vain, who would rather attract attention than give pleasure, who seeks amusement rather than delight. She suffers from a consuming desire for love; it even disturbs and troubles her heart in the midst of festivities; she has lost her former liveliness, and her taste for merry games; far from being afraid of the tedium of solitude she desires it. Her thoughts go out to him who will make solitude sweet to her. She finds strangers tedious, she wants a lover, not a circle of admirers. She would rather give pleasure to one good man than be a general favourite, or with that applause of society which lasts but a day and to-morrow is turned to scorn.
A woman’s judgment develops sooner than a man’s; being on the defensive from her childhood up, and intrusted with a treasure so hard to keep, she is earlier acquainted with good and evil. Sophy is precocious by temperament in everything, and her judgment is more formed than that of most girls of her age. There is nothing strange in that, maturity is not always reached at the same age.
Sophy has been taught the duties and rights of her own sex and of ours. She knows men’s faults and women’s vices; she also knows their corresponding good qualities and virtues, and has them by heart. No one can have a higher ideal of a virtuous woman, but she would rather think of a virtuous man, a man of true worth; she knows that she is made for such a man, that she is worthy of him, that she can make him as happy as he will make her; she is sure she will know him when she sees him; the difficulty is to find him.
Women are by nature judges of a man’s worth, as he is of theirs; this right is reciprocal, and it is recognised as such both by men and women. Sophy recognises this right and exercises it, but with the modesty becoming her youth, her inexperience, and her position; she confines her judgment to what she knows, and she only forms an opinion when it may help to illustrate some useful precept. She is extremely careful what she says about those who are absent, particularly if they are women. She thinks that talking about each other makes women spiteful and satirical; so long as they only talk about men they are merely just. So Sophy stops there. As to women she never says anything at all about them, except to tell the good she knows; she thinks this is only fair to her sex; and if she knows no good of any woman, she says nothing, and that is enough.
Sophy has little knowledge of society, but she is observant and obliging, and all that she does is full of grace. A happy disposition does more for her than much art. She has a certain courtesy of her own, which is not dependent on fashion, and does not change with its changes; it is not a matter of custom, but it arises from a feminine desire to please. She is unacquainted with the language of empty compliment, nor does she invent more elaborate compliments of her own; she does not say that she is greatly obliged, that you do her too much honour, that you should not take so much trouble, etc. Still less does she try to make phrases of her own. She responds to an attention or a customary piece of politeness by a courtesy or a mere “Thank you;” but this phrase in her mouth is quite enough. If you do her a real service, she lets her heart speak, and its words are no empty compliment. She has never allowed French manners to make her a slave to appearances; when she goes from one room to another she does not take the arm of an old gentleman, whom she would much rather help. When a scented fop offers her this empty attention, she leaves him on the staircase and rushes into the room saying that she is not lame. Indeed, she will never wear high heels though she is not tall; her feet are small enough to dispense with them.
Not only does she adopt a silent and respectful attitude towards women, but also towards married men, or those who are much older than herself; she will never take her place above them, unless compelled to do so; and she will return to her own lower place as soon as she can; for she knows that the rights of age take precedence of those of sex, as age is presumably wiser than youth, and wisdom should be held in the greatest honour.
With young folks of her own age it is another matter; she requires a different manner to gain their respect, and she knows how to adopt it without dropping the modest ways which become her. If they themselves are shy and modest, she will gladly preserve the friendly familiarity of youth; their innocent conversation will be merry but suitable; if they become serious they must say something useful; if they become silly, she soon puts a stop to it, for she has an utter contempt for the jargon of gallantry, which she considers an insult to her sex. She feels sure that the man she seeks does not speak that jargon, and she will never permit in another what would be displeasing to her in him whose character is engraved on her heart. Her high opinion of the rights of women, her pride in the purity of her feelings, that active virtue which is the basis of her self-respect, make her indignant at the sentimental speeches intended for her amusement. She does not receive them with open anger, but with a disconcerting irony or an unexpected iciness. If a fair Apollo displays his charms, and makes use of his wit in the praise of her wit, her beauty, and her grace; at the risk of offending him she is quite capable of saying politely, “Sir, I am afraid I know that better than you; if we have nothing more interesting to talk about, I think we may put an end to this conversation.” To say this with a deep courtesy, and then to withdraw to a considerable distance, is the work of a moment. Ask your lady-killers if it is easy to continue to babble to such an unsympathetic ear.
It is not that she is not fond of praise if it is really sincere, and if she thinks you believe what you say. You must show that you appreciate her merit if you would have her believe you. Her proud spirit may take pleasure in homage which is based upon esteem, but empty compliments are always rejected; Sophy was not meant to practise the small arts of the dancing-girl.
With a judgment so mature, and a mind like that of a woman of twenty, Sophy, at fifteen, is no longer treated as a child by her parents. No sooner do they perceive the first signs of youthful disquiet than they hasten to anticipate its development, their conversations with her are wise and tender. These wise and tender conversations are in keeping with her age and disposition. If her disposition is what I fancy why should not her father speak to her somewhat after this fashion?
“You are a big girl now, Sophy, you will soon be a woman. We want you to be happy, for our own sakes as well as yours, for our happiness depends on yours. A good girl finds her own happiness in the happiness of a good man, so we must consider your marriage; we must think of it in good time, for marriage makes or mars our whole life, and we cannot have too much time to consider it.
“There is nothing so hard to choose as a good husband, unless it is a good wife. You will be that rare creature, Sophy, you will be the crown of our life and the blessing of our declining years; but however worthy you are, there are worthier people upon earth. There is no one who would not do himself honour by marriage with you; there are many who would do you even greater honour than themselves. Among these we must try to find one who suits you, we must get to know him and introduce you to him.
“The greatest possible happiness in marriage depends on so many points of agreement that it is folly to expect to secure them all. We must first consider the more important matters; if others are to be found along with them, so much the better; if not we must do without them. Perfect happiness is not to be found in this world, but we can, at least, avoid the worst form of unhappiness, that for which ourselves are to blame.
“There is a natural suitability, there is a suitability of established usage, and a suitability which is merely conventional. Parents should decide as to the two latters, and the children themselves should decide as to the former. Marriages arranged by parents only depend on a suitability of custom and convention; it is not two people who are united, but two positions and two properties; but these things may change, the people remain, they are always there; and in spite of fortune it is the personal relation that makes a happy or an unhappy marriage.
“Your mother had rank, I had wealth; this was all that our parents considered in arranging our marriage. I lost my money, she lost her position; forgotten by her family, what good did it do her to be a lady born? In the midst of our misfortunes, the union of our hearts has outweighed them all; the similarity of our tastes led us to choose this retreat; we live happily in our poverty, we are all in all to each other. Sophy is a treasure we hold in common, and we thank Heaven which has bestowed this treasure and deprived us of all others. You see, my child, whither we have been led by Providence; the conventional motives which brought about our marriage no longer exist, our happiness consists in that natural suitability which was held of no account.
“Husband and wife should choose each other. A mutual liking should be the first bond between them. They should follow the guidance of their own eyes and hearts; when they are married their first duty will be to love one another, and as love and hatred do not depend on ourselves, this duty brings another with it, and they must begin to love each other before marriage. That is the law of nature, and no power can abrogate it; those who have fettered it by so many legal restrictions have given heed rather to the outward show of order than to the happiness of marriage or the morals of the citizen. You see, my dear Sophy, we do not preach a harsh morality. It tends to make you your own mistress and to make us leave the choice of your husband to yourself.
“When we have told you our reasons for giving you full liberty, it is only fair to speak of your reasons for making a wise use of that liberty. My child, you are good and sensible, upright and pious, you have the accomplishments of a good woman and you are not altogether without charms; but you are poor; you have the gifts most worthy of esteem, but not those which are most esteemed. Do not seek what is beyond your reach, and let your ambition be controlled, not by your ideas or ours, but by the opinion of others. If it were merely a question of equal merits, I know not what limits to impose on your hopes; but do not let your ambitions outrun your fortune, and remember it is very small. Although a man worthy of you would not consider this inequality an obstacle, you must do what he would not do; Sophy must follow her mother’s example and only enter a family which counts it an honour to receive her. You never saw our wealth, you were born in our poverty; you make it sweet for us, and you share it without hardship. Believe me, Sophy, do not seek those good things we indeed thank heaven for having taken from us; we did not know what happiness was till we lost our money.
“You are so amiable that you will win affection, and you are not so poor as to be a burden. You will be sought in marriage, it may be by those who are unworthy of you. If they showed themselves in their true colours, you would rate them at their real value; all their outward show would not long deceive you; but though your judgment is good and you know what merit is when you see it, you are inexperienced and you do not know how people can conceal their real selves. A skilful knave might study your tastes in order to seduce you, and make a pretence of those virtues which he does not possess. You would be ruined, Sophy, before you knew what you were doing, and you would only perceive your error when you had cause to lament it. The most dangerous snare, the only snare which reason cannot avoid, is that of the senses; if ever you have the misfortune to fall into its toils, you will perceive nothing but fancies and illusions; your eyes will be fascinated, your judgment troubled, your will corrupted, your very error will be dear to you, and even if you were able to perceive it you would not be willing to escape from it. My child, I trust you to Sophy’s own reason; I do not trust you to the fancies of your own heart. Judge for yourself so long as your heart is untouched, but when you love betake yourself to your mother’s care.
I propose a treaty between us which shows our esteem for you, and restores the order of nature between us. Parents choose a husband for their daughter and she is only consulted as a matter of form; that is the custom. We shall do just the opposite; you will choose, and we shall be consulted. Use your right, Sophy, use it freely and wisely. The husband suitable for you should be chosen by you not us. But it is for us to judge whether he is really suitable, or whether, without knowing it, you are only following your own wishes. Birth, wealth, position, conventional opinions will count for nothing with us. Choose a good man whose person and character suit you; whatever he may be in other respects, we will accept him as our son-in-law. He will be rich enough if he has bodily strength, a good character, and family affection. His position will be good enough if it is ennobled by virtue. If everybody blames us, we do not care. We do not seek the approbation of men, but your happiness.”
I cannot tell my readers what effect such words would have upon girls brought up in their fashion. As for Sophy, she will have no words to reply; shame and emotion will not permit her to express herself easily; but I am sure that what was said will remain engraved upon her heart as long as she lives, and that if any human resolution may be trusted, we may rely on her determination to deserve her parent’s esteem.
At worst let us suppose her endowed with an ardent disposition which will make her impatient of long delays; I maintain that her judgment, her knowledge, her taste, her refinement, and, above all, the sentiments in which she has been brought up from childhood, will outweigh the impetuosity of the senses, and enable her to offer a prolonged resistance, if not to overcome them altogether. She would rather die a virgin martyr than distress her parents by marrying a worthless man and exposing herself to the unhappiness of an ill-assorted marriage. Ardent as an Italian and sentimental as an Englishwoman, she has a curb upon heart and sense in the pride of a Spaniard, who even when she seeks a lover does not easily discover one worthy of her.
Not every one can realise the motive power to be found in a love of what is right, nor the inner strength which results from a genuine love of virtue. There are men who think that all greatness is a figment of the brain, men who with their vile and degraded reason will never recognise the power over human passions which is wielded by the very madness of virtue. You can only teach such men by examples; if they persist in denying their existence, so much the worse for them. If I told them that Sophy is no imaginary person, that her name alone is my invention, that her education, her conduct, her character, her very features, really existed, and that her loss is still mourned by a very worthy family, they would, no doubt, refuse to believe me; but indeed why should I not venture to relate word for word the story of a girl so like Sophy that this story might be hers without surprising any one. Believe it or no, it is all the same to me; call my history fiction if you will; in any case I have explained my method and furthered my purpose.
This young girl with the temperament which I have attributed to Sophy was so like her in other respects that she was worthy of the name, and so we will continue to use it. After the conversation related above, her father and mother thought that suitable husbands would not be likely to offer themselves in the hamlet where they lived; so they decided to send her to spend the winter in town, under the care of an aunt who was privately acquainted with the object of the journey; for Sophy’s heart throbbed with noble pride at the thought of her self-control; and however much she might want to marry, she would rather have died a maid than have brought herself to go in search of a husband.
In response to her parents’ wishes her aunt introduced her to her friends, took her into company, both private and public, showed her society, or rather showed her in society, for Sophy paid little heed to its bustle. Yet it was plain that she did not shrink from young men of pleasing appearance and modest seemly behaviour. Her very shyness had a charm of its own, which was very much like coquetry; but after talking to them once or twice she repulsed them. She soon exchanged that air of authority which seems to accept men’s homage for a humbler bearing and a still more chilling politeness. Always watchful over her conduct, she gave them no chance of doing her the least service; it was perfectly plain that she was determined not to accept any one of them.
Never did sensitive heart take pleasure in noisy amusements, the empty and barren delights of those who have no feelings, those who think that a merry life is a happy life. Sophy did not find what she sought, and she felt sure she never would, so she got tired of the town. She loved her parents dearly and nothing made up for their absence, nothing could make her forget them; she went home long before the time fixed for the end of her visit.
Scarcely had she resumed her home duties when they perceived that her temper had changed though her conduct was unaltered, she was forgetful, impatient, sad, and dreamy; she wept in secret. At first they thought she was in love and was ashamed to own it; they spoke to her, but she repudiated the idea. She protested she had seen no one who could touch her heart, and Sophy always spoke the truth.
Yet her languor steadily increased, and her health began to give way. Her mother was anxious about her, and determined to know the reason for this change. She took her aside, and with the winning speech and the irresistible caresses which only a mother can employ, she said, “My child, whom I have borne beneath my heart, whom I bear ever in my affection, confide your secret to your mother’s bosom. What secrets are these which a mother may not know? Who pities your sufferings, who shares them, who would gladly relieve them, if not your father and myself? Ah, my child! would you have me die of grief for your sorrow without letting me share it?”
Far from hiding her griefs from her mother, the young girl asked nothing better than to have her as friend and comforter; but she could not speak for shame, her modesty could find no words to describe a condition so unworthy of her, as the emotion which disturbed her senses in spite of all her efforts. At length her very shame gave her mother a clue to her difficulty, and she drew from her the humiliating confession. Far from distressing her with reproaches or unjust blame, she consoled her, pitied her, wept over her; she was too wise to make a crime of an evil which virtue alone made so cruel. But why put up with such an evil when there was no necessity to do so, when the remedy was so easy and so legitimate? Why did she not use the freedom they had granted her? Why did she not take a husband? Why did she not make her choice? Did she not know that she was perfectly independent in this matter, that whatever her choice, it would be approved, for it was sure to be good? They had sent her to town, but she would not stay; many suitors had offered themselves, but she would have none of them. What did she expect? What did she want? What an inexplicable contradiction?
The reply was simple. If it were only a question of the partner of her youth, her choice would soon be made; but a master for life is not so easily chosen; and since the two cannot be separated, people must often wait and sacrifice their youth before they find the man with whom they could spend their life. Such was Sophy’s case; she wanted a lover, but this lover must be her husband; and to discover a heart such as she required, a lover and husband were equally difficult to find. All these dashing young men were only her equals in age, in everything else they were found lacking; their empty wit, their vanity, their affectations of speech, their ill-regulated conduct, their frivolous imitations alike disgusted her. She sought a man and she found monkeys; she sought a soul and there was none to be found.
“How unhappy I am!” said she to her mother; “I am compelled to love and yet I am dissatisfied with every one. My heart rejects every one who appeals to my senses. Every one of them stirs my passions and all alike revolt them; a liking unaccompanied by respect cannot last. That is not the sort of man for your Sophy; the delightful image of her ideal is too deeply graven in her heart. She can love no other; she can make no one happy but him, and she cannot be happy without him. She would rather consume herself in ceaseless conflicts, she would rather die free and wretched, than driven desperate by the company of a man she did not love, a man she would make as unhappy as herself; she would rather die than live to suffer.”
Amazed at these strange ideas, her mother found them so peculiar that she could not fail to suspect some mystery. Sophy was neither affected nor absurd. How could such exaggerated delicacy exist in one who had been so carefully taught from her childhood to adapt herself to those with whom she must live, and to make a virtue of necessity? This ideal of the delightful man with which she was so enchanted, who appeared so often in her conversation, made her mother suspect that there was some foundation for her caprices which was still unknown to her, and that Sophy had not told her all. The unhappy girl, overwhelmed with her secret grief, was only too eager to confide it to another. Her mother urged her to speak; she hesitated, she yielded, and leaving the room without a word, she presently returned with a book in her hand. “Have pity on your unhappy daughter, there is no remedy for her grief, her tears cannot be dried. You would know the cause: well, here it is,” said she, flinging the book on the table. Her mother took the book and opened it; it was The Adventures of Telemachus. At first she could make nothing of this riddle; by dint of questions and vague replies, she discovered to her great surprise that her daughter was the rival of Eucharis.
Sophy was in love with Telemachus, and loved him with a passion which nothing could cure. When her father and mother became aware of her infatuation, they laughed at it and tried to cure her by reasoning with her. They were mistaken, reason was not altogether on their side; Sophy had her own reason and knew how to use it. Many a time did she reduce them to silence by turning their own arguments against them, by showing them that it was all their own fault for not having trained her to suit the men of that century; that she would be compelled to adopt her husband’s way of thinking or he must adopt hers, that they had made the former course impossible by the way she had been brought up, and that the latter was just what she wanted. “Give me,” said she, “a man who holds the same opinions as I do, or one who will be willing to learn them from me, and I will marry him; but until then, why do you scold me? Pity me; I am miserable, but not mad. Is the heart controlled by the will? Did my father not ask that very question? Is it my fault if I love what has no existence? I am no visionary; I desire no prince, I seek no Telemachus, I know he is only an imaginary person; I seek some one like him. And why should there be no such person, since there is such a person as I, I who feel that my heart is like his? No, let us not wrong humanity so greatly, let us not think that an amiable and virtuous man is a figment of the imagination. He exists, he lives, perhaps he is seeking me; he is seeking a soul which is capable of love for him. But who is he, where is he? I know not; he is not among those I have seen; and no doubt I shall never see him. Oh! mother, why did you make virtue too attractive? If I can love nothing less, you are more to blame than I.”
Must I continue this sad story to its close? Must I describe the long struggles which preceded it? Must I show an impatient mother exchanging her former caresses for severity? Must I paint an angry father forgetting his former promises, and treating the most virtuous of daughters as a mad woman? Must I portray the unhappy girl, more than ever devoted to her imaginary hero, because of the persecution brought upon her by that devotion, drawing nearer step by step to her death, and descending into the grave when they were about to force her to the altar? No; I will not dwell upon these gloomy scenes; I have no need to go so far to show, by what I consider a sufficiently striking example, that in spite of the prejudices arising from the manners of our age, the enthusiasm for the good and the beautiful is no more foreign to women than to men, and that there is nothing which, under nature’s guidance, cannot be obtained from them as well as from us.
You stop me here to inquire whether it is nature which teaches us to take such pains to repress our immoderate desires. No, I reply, but neither is it nature who gives us these immoderate desires. Now, all that is not from nature is contrary to nature, as I have proved again and again.
Let us give Emile his Sophy; let us restore this sweet girl to life and provide her with a less vivid imagination and a happier fate. I desired to paint an ordinary woman, but by endowing her with a great soul, I have disturbed her reason. I have gone astray. Let us retrace our steps. Sophy has only a good disposition and an ordinary heart; her education is responsible for everything in which she excels other women.
In this book I intended to describe all that might be done and to leave every one free to choose what he could out of all the good things I described. I meant to train a helpmeet for Emile, from the very first, and to educate them for each other and with each other. But on consideration I thought all these premature arrangements undesirable, for it was absurd to plan the marriage of two children before I could tell whether this union was in accordance with nature and whether they were really suited to each other. We must not confuse what is suitable in a state of savagery with what is suitable in civilised life. In the former, any woman will suit any man, for both are still in their primitive and undifferentiated condition; in the latter, all their characteristics have been developed by social institutions, and each mind, having taken its own settled form, not from education alone, but by the co-operation, more or less well-regulated, of natural disposition and education, we can only make a match by introducing them to each other to see if they suit each other in every respect, or at least we can let them make that choice which gives the most promise of mutual suitability.
The difficulty is this: while social life develops character it differentiates classes, and these two classifications do not correspond, so that the greater the social distinctions, the greater the difficulty of finding the corresponding character. Hence we have ill-assorted marriages and all their accompanying evils; and we find that it follows logically that the further we get from equality, the greater the change in our natural feelings; the wider the distance between great and small, the looser the marriage tie; the deeper the gulf between rich and poor the fewer husbands and fathers. Neither master nor slave belongs to a family, but only to a class.
If you would guard against these abuses, and secure happy marriages, you must stifle your prejudices, forget human institutions, and consult nature. Do not join together those who are only alike in one given condition, those who will not suit one another if that condition is changed; but those who are adapted to one another in every situation, in every country, and in every rank in which they may be placed. I do not say that conventional considerations are of no importance in marriage, but I do say that the influence of natural relations is so much more important, that our fate in life is decided by them alone, and that there is such an agreement of taste, temper, feeling, and disposition as should induce a wise father, though he were a prince, to marry his son, without a moment’s hesitation, to the woman so adapted to him, were she born in a bad home, were she even the hangman’s daughter. I maintain indeed that every possible misfortune may overtake husband and wife if they are thus united, yet they will enjoy more real happiness while they mingle their tears, than if they possessed all the riches of the world, poisoned by divided hearts.
Instead of providing a wife for Emile in childhood, I have waited till I knew what would suit him. It is not for me to decide, but for nature; my task is to discover the choice she has made. My business, mine I repeat, not his father’s; for when he entrusted his son to my care, he gave up his place to me. He gave me his rights; it is I who am really Emile’s father; it is I who have made a man of him. I would have refused to educate him if I were not free to marry him according to his own choice, which is mine. Nothing but the pleasure of bestowing happiness on a man can repay me for the cost of making him capable of happiness.
Do not suppose, however, that I have delayed to find a wife for Emile till I sent him in search of her. This search is only a pretext for acquainting him with women, so that he may perceive the value of a suitable wife. Sophy was discovered long since; Emile may even have seen her already, but he will not recognise her till the time is come.
Although equality of rank is not essential in marriage, yet this equality along with other kinds of suitability increases their value; it is not to be weighed against any one of them, but, other things being equal, it turns the scale.
A man, unless he is a king, cannot seek a wife in any and every class; if he himself is free from prejudices, he will find them in others; and this girl or that might perhaps suit him and yet she would be beyond his reach. A wise father will therefore restrict his inquiries within the bounds of prudence. He should not wish to marry his pupil into a family above his own, for that is not within his power. If he could do so he ought not desire it; for what difference does rank make to a young man, at least to my pupil? Yet, if he rises he is exposed to all sorts of real evils which he will feel all his life long. I even say that he should not try to adjust the balance between different gifts, such as rank and money; for each of these adds less to the value of the other than the amount deducted from its own value in the process of adjustment; moreover, we can never agree as to a common denominator; and finally the preference, which each feels for his own surroundings, paves the way for discord between the two families and often to difficulties between husband and wife.
It makes a considerable difference as to the suitability of a marriage whether a man marries above or beneath him. The former case is quite contrary to reason, the latter is more in conformity with reason. As the family is only connected with society through its head, it is the rank of that head which decides that of the family as a whole. When he marries into a lower rank, a man does not lower himself, he raises his wife; if, on the other hand, he marries above his position, he lowers his wife and does not raise himself. Thus there is in the first case good unmixed with evil, in the other evil unmixed with good. Moreover, the law of nature bids the woman obey the man. If he takes a wife from a lower class, natural and civil law are in accordance and all goes well. When he marries a woman of higher rank it is just the opposite case; the man must choose between diminished rights or imperfect gratitude; he must be ungrateful or despised. Then the wife, laying claim to authority, makes herself a tyrant over her lawful head; and the master, who has become a slave, is the most ridiculous and miserable of creatures. Such are the unhappy favourites whom the sovereigns of Asia honour and torment with their alliance; people tell us that if they desire to sleep with their wife they must enter by the foot of the bed.
I expect that many of my readers will remember that I think women have a natural gift for managing men, and will accuse me of contradicting myself; yet they are mistaken. There is a vast difference between claiming the right to command, and managing him who commands. Woman’s reign is a reign of gentleness, tact, and kindness; her commands are caresses, her threats are tears. She should reign in the home as a minister reigns in the state, by contriving to be ordered to do what she wants. In this sense, I grant you, that the best managed homes are those where the wife has most power. But when she despises the voice of her head, when she desires to usurp his rights and take the command upon herself, this inversion of the proper order of things leads only to misery, scandal, and dishonour.
There remains the choice between our equals and our inferiors; and I think we ought also to make certain restrictions with regard to the latter; for it is hard to find in the lowest stratum of society a woman who is able to make a good man happy; not that the lower classes are more vicious than the higher, but because they have so little idea of what is good and beautiful, and because the injustice of other classes makes its very vices seem right in the eyes of this class.
By nature man thinks but seldom. He learns to think as he acquires the other arts, but with even greater difficulty. In both sexes alike I am only aware of two really distinct classes, those who think and those who do not; and this difference is almost entirely one of education. A man who thinks should not ally himself with a woman who does not think, for he loses the chief delight of social life if he has a wife who cannot share his thoughts. People who spend their whole life in working for a living have no ideas beyond their work and their own interests, and their mind seems to reside in their arms. This ignorance is not necessarily unfavourable either to their honesty or their morals; it is often favourable; we often content ourselves with thinking about our duties, and in the end we substitute words for things. Conscience is the most enlightened philosopher; to be an honest man we need not read Cicero’s De Officiis, and the most virtuous woman in the world is probably she who knows least about virtue. But it is none the less true that a cultivated mind alone makes intercourse pleasant, and it is a sad thing for a father of a family, who delights in his home, to be forced to shut himself up in himself and to be unable to make himself understood.
Moreover, if a woman is quite unaccustomed to think, how can she bring up her children? How will she know what is good for them? How can she incline them to virtues of which she is ignorant, to merit of which she has no conception? She can only flatter or threaten, she can only make them insolent or timid; she will make them performing monkeys or noisy little rascals; she will never make them intelligent or pleasing children.
Therefore it is not fitting that a man of education should choose a wife who has none, or take her from a class where she cannot be expected to have any education. But I would a thousand times rather have a homely girl, simply brought up, than a learned lady and a wit who would make a literary circle of my house and instal herself as its president. A female wit is a scourge to her husband, her children, her friends, her servants, to everybody. From the lofty height of her genius she scorns every womanly duty, and she is always trying to make a man of herself after the fashion of Mlle. de L’Enclos. Outside her home she always makes herself ridiculous and she is very rightly a butt for criticism, as we always are when we try to escape from our own position into one for which we are unfitted. These highly talented women only get a hold over fools. We can always tell what artist or friend holds the pen or pencil when they are at work; we know what discreet man of letters dictates their oracles in private. This trickery is unworthy of a decent woman. If she really had talents, her pretentiousness would degrade them. Her honour is to be unknown; her glory is the respect of her husband; her joys the happiness of her family. I appeal to my readers to give me an honest answer; when you enter a woman’s room what makes you think more highly of her, what makes you address her with more respect—to see her busy with feminine occupations, with her household duties, with her children’s clothes about her, or to find her writing verses at her toilet table surrounded with pamphlets of every kind and with notes on tinted paper? If there were none but wise men upon earth such a woman would die an old maid.
“Quæris cur nolim te ducere, galla? diserta es.”
Martial xi. 20.
Looks must next be considered; they are the first thing that strikes us and they ought to be the last, still they should not count for nothing. I think that great beauty is rather to be shunned than sought after in marriage. Possession soon exhausts our appreciation of beauty; in six weeks’ time we think no more about it, but its dangers endure as long as life itself. Unless a beautiful woman is an angel, her husband is the most miserable of men; and even if she were an angel he would still be the centre of a hostile crowd and she could not prevent it. If extreme ugliness were not repulsive I should prefer it to extreme beauty; for before very long the husband would cease to notice either, but beauty would still have its disadvantages and ugliness its advantages. But ugliness which is actually repulsive is the worst misfortune; repulsion increases rather than diminishes, and it turns to hatred. Such a union is a hell upon earth; better death than such a marriage.
Desire mediocrity in all things, even in beauty. A pleasant attractive countenance, which inspires kindly feelings rather than love, is what we should prefer; the husband runs no risk, and the advantages are common to husband and wife; charm is less perishable than beauty; it is a living thing, which constantly renews itself, and after thirty years of married life, the charms of a good woman delight her husband even as they did on the wedding-day.
Such are the considerations which decided my choice of Sophy. Brought up, like Emile, by Nature, she is better suited to him than any other; she will be his true mate. She is his equal in birth and character, his inferior in fortune. She makes no great impression at first sight, but day by day reveals fresh charms. Her chief influence only takes effect gradually, it is only discovered in friendly intercourse; and her husband will feel it more than any one. Her education is neither showy nor neglected; she has taste without deep study, talent without art, judgment without learning. Her mind knows little, but it is trained to learn; it is well-tilled soil ready for the sower. She has read no book but Barème, and Telemachus which happened to fall into her hands; but no girl who can feel so passionately towards Telemachus can have a heart without feeling or a mind without discernment. What charming ignorance! Happy is he who is destined to be her tutor. She will not be her husband’s teacher but his scholar; far from seeking to control his tastes, she will share them. She will suit him far better than a blue-stocking and he will have the pleasure of teaching her everything. It is time they made acquaintance; let us try to plan a meeting.
When we left Paris we were sorrowful and wrapped in thought. This Babel is not our home. Emile casts a scornful glance towards the great city, saying angrily, “What a time we have wasted; the bride of my heart is not there. My friend, you knew it, but you think nothing of my time, and you pay no heed to my sufferings.” With steady look and firm voice I reply, “Emile, do you mean what you say?” At once he flings his arms round my neck and clasps me to his breast without speaking. That is his answer when he knows he is in the wrong.
And now we are wandering through the country like true knights-errant; yet we are not seeking adventures when we leave Paris; we are escaping from them; now fast now slow, we wander through the country like knights-errants. By following my usual practice the taste for it has become established; and I do not suppose any of my readers are such slaves of custom as to picture us dozing in a post-chaise with closed windows, travelling, yet seeing nothing, observing nothing, making the time between our start and our arrival a more blank, and losing in the speed of our journey, the time we meant to save.
Men say life is short, and I see them doing their best to shorten it. As they do not know how to spend their time they lament the swiftness of its flight, and I perceive that for them it goes only too slowly. Intent merely on the object of their pursuit, they behold unwillingly the space between them and it; one desires to-morrow, another looks a month ahead, another ten years beyond that. No one wants to live to-day, no one contents himself with the present hour, all complain that it passes slowly. When they complain that time flies, they lie; they would gladly purchase the power to hasten it; they would gladly spend their fortune to get rid of their whole life; and there is probably not a single one who would not have reduced his life to a few hours if he had been free to get rid of those hours he found tedious, and those which separated him from the desired moment. A man spends his whole life rushing from Paris to Versailles, from Versailles to Paris, from town to country, from country to town, from one district of the town to another; but he would not know what to do with his time if he had not discovered this way of wasting it, by leaving his business on purpose to find something to do in coming back to it; he thinks he is saving the time he spends, which would otherwise be unoccupied; or maybe he rushes for the sake of rushing, and travels post in order to return in the same fashion. When will mankind cease to slander nature? Why do you complain that life is short when it is never short enough for you? If there were but one of you, able to moderate his desires, so that he did not desire the flight of time, he would never find life too short; for him life and the joy of life would be one and the same; should he die young, he would still die full of days.
If this were the only advantage of my way of travelling it would be enough. I have brought Emile up neither to desire nor to wait, but to enjoy; and when his desires are bent upon the future, their ardour is not so great as to make time seem tedious. He will not only enjoy the delights of longing, but the delights of approaching the object of his desires; and his passions are under such restraint that he lives to a great extent in the present.
So we do not travel like couriers but like explorers. We do not merely consider the beginning and the end, but the space between. The journey itself is a delight. We do not travel sitting, dismally imprisoned, so to speak, in a tightly closed cage. We do not travel with the ease and comfort of ladies. We do not deprive ourselves of the fresh air, nor the sight of the things about us, nor the opportunity of examining them at our pleasure. Emile will never enter a post-chaise, nor will he ride post unless in a great hurry. But what cause has Emile for haste? None but the joy of life. Shall I add to this the desire to do good when he can? No, for that is itself one of the joys of life.
I can only think of one way of travelling pleasanter than travelling on horseback, and that is to travel on foot. You start at your own time, you stop when you will, you do as much or as little as you choose. You see the country, you turn off to the right or left; you examine anything which interests you, you stop to admire every view. Do I see a stream, I wander by its banks; a leafy wood, I seek its shade; a cave, I enter it; a quarry, I study its geology. If I like a place, I stop there. As soon as I am weary of it, I go on. I am independent of horses and postillions; I need not stick to regular routes or good roads; I go anywhere where a man can go; I see all that a man can see; and as I am quite independent of everybody, I enjoy all the freedom man can enjoy. If I am stopped by bad weather and I find myself getting bored, then I take horses. If I am tired—but Emile is hardly ever tired; he is strong; why should he get tired? There is no hurry? If he stops, why should he be bored? He always finds some amusement. He works at a trade; he uses his arms to rest his feet.
To travel on foot is to travel in the fashion of Thales, Plato, and Pythagoras. I find it hard to understand how a philosopher can bring himself to travel in any other way; how he can tear himself from the study of the wealth which lies before his eyes and beneath his feet. Is there any one with an interest in agriculture, who does not want to know the special products of the district through which he is passing, and their method of cultivation? Is there any one with a taste for natural history, who can pass a piece of ground without examining it, a rock without breaking off a piece of it, hills without looking for plants, and stones without seeking for fossils?
Your town-bred scientists study natural history in cabinets; they have small specimens; they know their names but nothing of their nature. Emile’s museum is richer than that of kings; it is the whole world. Everything is in its right place; the Naturalist who is its curator has taken care to arrange it in the fairest order; Dauberton could do no better.
What varied pleasures we enjoy in this delightful way of travelling, not to speak of increasing health and a cheerful spirit. I notice that those who ride in nice, well-padded carriages are always wrapped in thought, gloomy, fault-finding, or sick; while those who go on foot are always merry, light-hearted, and delighted with everything. How cheerful we are when we get near our lodging for the night! How savoury is the coarse food! How we linger at table enjoying our rest! How soundly we sleep on a hard bed! If you only want to get to a place you may ride in a post-chaise; if you want to travel you must go on foot.
If Sophy is not forgotten before we have gone fifty leagues in the way I propose, either I am a bungler or Emile lacks curiosity; for with an elementary knowledge of so many things, it is hardly to be supposed that he will not be tempted to extend his knowledge. It is knowledge that makes us curious; and Emile knows just enough to want to know more.
One thing leads on to another, and we make our way forward. If I chose a distant object for the end of our first journey, it is not difficult to find an excuse for it; when we leave Paris we must seek a wife at a distance.
A few days later we had wandered further than usual among hills and valleys where no road was to be seen and we lost our way completely. No matter, all roads are alike if they bring you to your journey’s end, but if you are hungry they must lead somewhere. Luckily we came across a peasant who took us to his cottage; we enjoyed his poor dinner with a hearty appetite. When he saw how hungry and tired we were he said, “If the Lord had led you to the other side of the hill you would have had a better welcome, you would have found a good resting place, such good, kindly people! They could not wish to do more for you than I, but they are richer, though folks say they used to be much better off. Still they are not reduced to poverty, and the whole country-side is the better for what they have.”
When Emile heard of these good people his heart warmed to them. “My friend,” said he, looking at me, “let us visit this house, whose owners are a blessing to the district; I shall be very glad to see them; perhaps they will be pleased to see us too; I am sure we shall be welcome; we shall just suit each other.”
Our host told us how to find our way to the house and we set off, but lost our way in the woods. We were caught in a heavy rainstorm, which delayed us further. At last we found the right path and in the evening we reached the house, which had been described to us. It was the only house among the cottages of the little hamlet, and though plain it had an air of dignity. We went up to the door and asked for hospitality. We were taken to the owner of the house, who questioned us courteously; without telling him the object of our journey, we told him why we had left our path. His former wealth enabled him to judge a man’s position by his manners; those who have lived in society are rarely mistaken; with this passport we were admitted.
The room we were shown into was very small, but clean and comfortable; a fire was lighted, and we found linen, clothes, and everything we needed. “Why,” said Emile, in astonishment, “one would think they were expecting us. The peasant was quite right; how kind and attentive, how considerate, and for strangers too! I shall think I am living in the times of Homer.” “I am glad you feel this,” said I, “but you need not be surprised; where strangers are scarce, they are welcome; nothing makes people more hospitable than the fact that calls upon their hospitality are rare; when guests are frequent there is an end to hospitality. In Homer’s time, people rarely travelled, and travellers were everywhere welcome. Very likely we are the only people who have passed this way this year.” “Never mind,” said he, “to know how to do without guests and yet to give them a kind welcome, is its own praise.”
Having dried ourselves and changed our clothes, we rejoined the master of the house, who introduced us to his wife; she received us not merely with courtesy but with kindness. Her glance rested on Emile. A mother, in her position, rarely receives a young man into her house without some anxiety or some curiosity at least.
Supper was hurried forward on our account. When we went into the dining-room there were five places laid; we took our seats and the fifth chair remained empty. Presently a young girl entered, made a deep courtesy, and modestly took her place without a word. Emile was busy with his supper or considering how to reply to what was said to him; he bowed to her and continued talking and eating. The main object of his journey was as far from his thoughts as he believed himself to be from the end of his journey. The conversation turned upon our losing our way. “Sir,” said the master of the house to Emile, “you seem to be a pleasant well-behaved young gentleman, and that reminds me that your tutor and you arrived wet and weary like Telemachus and Mentor in the island of Calypso.” “Indeed,” said Emile, “we have found the hospitality of Calypso.” His Mentor added, “And the charms of Eucharis.” But Emile knew the Odyssey and he had not read Telemachus, so he knew nothing of Eucharis. As for the young girl, I saw she blushed up to her eyebrows, fixed her eyes on her plate, and hardly dared to breathe. Her mother, noticing her confusion, made a sign to her father to turn the conversation. When he talked of his lonely life, he unconsciously began to relate the circumstances which brought him into it; his misfortunes, his wife’s fidelity, the consolations they found in their marriage, their quiet, peaceful life in their retirement, and all this without a word of the young girl; it is a pleasing and a touching story, which cannot fail to interest. Emile, interested and sympathetic, leaves off eating and listens. When finally this best of men discourses with delight of the affection of the best of women, the young traveller, carried away by his feelings, stretches one hand to the husband, and taking the wife’s hand with the other, he kisses it rapturously and bathes it with his tears. Everybody is charmed with the simple enthusiasm of the young man; but the daughter, more deeply touched than the rest by this evidence of his kindly heart, is reminded of Telemachus weeping for the woes of Philoctetus. She looks at him shyly, the better to study his countenance; there is nothing in it to give the lie to her comparison.
His easy bearing shows freedom without pride; his manners are lively but not boisterous; sympathy makes his glance softer and his expression more pleasing; the young girl, seeing him weep, is ready to mingle her tears with his. With so good an excuse for tears, she is restrained by a secret shame; she blames herself already for the tears which tremble on her eyelids, as though it were wrong to weep for one’s family.
Her mother, who has been watching her ever since she sat down to supper, sees her distress, and to relieve it she sends her on some errand. The daughter returns directly, but so little recovered that her distress is apparent to all. Her mother says gently, “Sophy, control yourself; will you never cease to weep for the misfortunes of your parents? Why should you, who are their chief comfort, be more sensitive than they are themselves?”
At the name of Sophy you would have seen Emile give a start. His attention is arrested by this dear name, and he awakes all at once and looks eagerly at one who dares to bear it. Sophy! Are you the Sophy whom my heart is seeking? Is it you that I love? He looks at her; he watches her with a sort of fear and self-distrust. The face is not quite what he pictured; he cannot tell whether he likes it more or less. He studies every feature, he watches every movement, every gesture; he has a hundred fleeting interpretations for them all; he would give half his life if she would but speak. He looks at me anxiously and uneasily; his eyes are full of questions and reproaches. His every glance seems to say, “Guide me while there is yet time; if my heart yields itself and is deceived, I shall never get over it.”
There is no one in the world less able to conceal his feelings than Emile. How should he conceal them, in the midst of the greatest disturbance he has ever experienced, and under the eyes of four spectators who are all watching him, while she who seems to heed him least is really most occupied with him. His uneasiness does not escape the keen eyes of Sophy; his own eyes tell her that she is its cause; she sees that this uneasiness is not yet love; what matter? He is thinking of her, and that is enough; she will be very unlucky if he thinks of her with impunity.
Mothers, like daughters, have eyes; and they have experience too. Sophy’s mother smiles at the success of our schemes. She reads the hearts of the young people; she sees that the time has come to secure the heart of this new Telemachus; she makes her daughter speak. Her daughter, with her native sweetness, replies in a timid tone which makes all the more impression. At the first sound of her voice, Emile surrenders; it is Sophy herself; there can be no doubt about it. If it were not so, it would be too late to deny it.
The charms of this maiden enchantress rush like torrents through his heart, and he begins to drain the draughts of poison with which he is intoxicated. He says nothing; questions pass unheeded; he sees only Sophy, he hears only Sophy; if she says a word, he opens his mouth; if her eyes are cast down, so are his; if he sees her sigh, he sighs too; it is Sophy’s heart which seems to speak in his. What a change have these few moments wrought in her heart! It is no longer her turn to tremble, it is Emile’s. Farewell liberty, simplicity, frankness. Confused, embarrassed, fearful, he dare not look about him for fear he should see that we are watching him. Ashamed that we should read his secret, he would fain become invisible to every one, that he might feed in secret on the sight of Sophy. Sophy, on the other hand, regains her confidence at the sight of Emile’s fear; she sees her triumph and rejoices in it.
“No’l mostra già, ben che in suo cor ne rida.”
Tasso,Jerus. Del., c. iv. v. 33.
Her expression remains unchanged; but in spite of her modest look and downcast eyes, her tender heart is throbbing with joy, and it tells her that she has found Telemachus.
If I relate the plain and simple tale of their innocent affections you will accuse me of frivolity, but you will be mistaken. Sufficient attention is not given to the effect which the first connection between man and woman is bound to produce on the future life of both. People do not see that a first impression so vivid as that of love, or the liking which takes the place of love, produces lasting effects whose influence continues till death. Works on education are crammed with wordy and unnecessary accounts of the imaginary duties of children; but there is not a word about the most important and most difficult part of their education, the crisis which forms the bridge between the child and the man. If any part of this work is really useful, it will be because I have dwelt at great length on this matter, so essential in itself and so neglected by other authors, and because I have not allowed myself to be discouraged either by false delicacy or by the difficulties of expression. The story of human nature is a fair romance. Am I to blame if it is not found elsewhere? I am trying to write the history of mankind. If my book is a romance, the fault lies with those who deprave mankind.
This is supported by another reason; we are not dealing with a youth given over from childhood to fear, greed, envy, pride, and all those passions which are the common tools of the schoolmaster; we have to do with a youth who is not only in love for the first time, but with one who is also experiencing his first passion of any kind; very likely it will be the only strong passion he will ever know, and upon it depends the final formation of his character. His mode of thought, his feelings, his tastes, determined by a lasting passion, are about to become so fixed that they will be incapable of further change.
You will easily understand that Emile and I do not spend the whole of the night which follows after such an evening in sleep. Why! Do you mean to tell me that a wise man should be so much affected by a mere coincidence of name! Is there only one Sophy in the world? Are they all alike in heart and in name? Is every Sophy he meets his Sophy? Is he mad to fall in love with a person of whom he knows so little, with whom he has scarcely exchanged a couple of words? Wait, young man; examine, observe. You do not even know who our hosts may be, and to hear you talk one would think the house was your own.
This is no time for teaching, and what I say will receive scant attention. It only serves to stimulate Emile to further interest in Sophy, through his desire to find reasons for his fancy. The unexpected coincidence in the name, the meeting which, so far as he knows, was quite accidental, my very caution itself, only serve as fuel to the fire. He is so convinced already of Sophy’s excellence, that he feels sure he can make me fond of her.
Next morning I have no doubt Emile will make himself as smart as his old travelling suit permits. I am not mistaken; but I am amused to see how eager he is to wear the clean linen put out for us. I know his thoughts, and I am delighted to see that he is trying to establish a means of intercourse, through the return and exchange of the linen; so that he may have a right to return it and so pay another visit to the house.
I expected to find Sophy rather more carefully dressed too; but I was mistaken. Such common coquetry is all very well for those who merely desire to please. The coquetry of true love is a more delicate matter; it has quite another end in view. Sophy is dressed, if possible, more simply than last night, though as usual her frock is exquisitely clean. The only sign of coquetry is her self-consciousness. She knows that an elaborate toilet is a sign of love, but she does not know that a careless toilet is another of its signs; it shows a desire to be liked not merely for one’s clothes but for oneself. What does a lover care for her clothes if he knows she is thinking of him? Sophy is already sure of her power over Emile, and she is not content to delight his eyes if his heart is not hers also; he must not only perceive her charms, he must divine them; has he not seen enough to guess the rest?
We may take it for granted that while Emile and I were talking last night, Sophy and her mother were not silent; a confession was made and instructions given. The morning’s meeting is not unprepared. Twelve hours ago our young people had never met; they have never said a word to each other; but it is clear that there is already an understanding between them. Their greeting is formal, confused, timid; they say nothing, their downcast eyes seem to avoid each other, but that is in itself a sign that they understand, they avoid each other with one consent; they already feel the need of concealment, though not a word has been uttered. When we depart we ask leave to come again to return the borrowed clothes in person, Emile’s words are addressed to the father and mother, but his eyes seek Sophy’s, and his looks are more eloquent than his words. Sophy says nothing by word or gesture; she seems deaf and blind, but she blushes, and that blush is an answer even plainer than that of her parents.
We receive permission to come again, though we are not invited to stay. This is only fitting; you offer shelter to benighted travellers, but a lover does not sleep in the house of his mistress.
We have hardly left the beloved abode before Emile is thinking of taking rooms in the neighbourhood; the nearest cottage seems too far; he would like to sleep in the next ditch. “You young fool!” I said in a tone of pity, “are you already blinded by passion? Have you no regard for manners or for reason? Wretched youth, you call yourself a lover and you would bring disgrace upon her you love! What would people say of her if they knew that a young man who has been staying at her house was sleeping close by? You say you love her! Would you ruin her reputation? Is that the price you offer for her parents’ hospitality? Would you bring disgrace on her who will one day make you the happiest of men?” “Why should we trouble ourselves about the empty words and unjust suspicions of other people?” said he eagerly. “Have you not taught me yourself to make light of them? Who knows better than I how greatly I honour Sophy, what respect I desire to show her? My attachment will not cause her shame, it will be her glory, it shall be worthy of her. If my heart and my actions continually give her the homage she deserves, what harm can I do her?” “Dear Emile,” I said, as I clasped him to my heart, “you are thinking of yourself alone; learn to think for her too. Do not compare the honour of one sex with that of the other, they rest on different foundations. These foundations are equally firm and right, because they are both laid by nature, and that same virtue which makes you scorn what men say about yourself, binds you to respect what they say of her you love. Your honour is in your own keeping, her honour depends on others. To neglect it is to wound your own honour, and you fail in what is due to yourself if you do not give her the respect she deserves.
Then while I explain the reasons for this difference, I make him realise how wrong it would be to pay no attention to it. Who can say if he will really be Sophy’s husband? He does not know how she feels towards him; her own heart or her parents’ will may already have formed other engagements; he knows nothing of her, perhaps there are none of those grounds of suitability which make a happy marriage. Is he not aware that the least breath of scandal with regard to a young girl is an indelible stain, which not even marriage with him who has caused the scandal can efface? What man of feeling would ruin the woman he loves? What man of honour would desire that a miserable woman should for ever lament the misfortune of having found favour in his eyes?
Always prone to extremes, the youth takes alarm at the consequences which I have compelled him to consider, and now he thinks that he cannot be too far from Sophy’s home; he hastens his steps to get further from it; he glances round to make sure that no one is listening; he would sacrifice his own happiness a thousand times to the honour of her whom he loves; he would rather never see her again than cause her the least unpleasantness. This is the first result of the pains I have taken ever since he was a child to make him capable of affection.
We must therefore seek a lodging at a distance, but not too far. We look about us, we make inquiries; we find that there is a town at least two leagues away. We try and find lodgings in this town, rather than in the nearer villages, where our presence might give rise to suspicion. It is there that the new lover takes up his abode, full of love, hope, joy, above all full of right feeling. In this way, I guide his rising passion towards all that is honourable and good, so that his inclinations unconsciously follow the same bent.
My course is drawing to a close; the end is in view. All the chief difficulties are vanquished, the chief obstacles overcome; the hardest thing left to do is to refrain from spoiling my work by undue haste to complete it. Amid the uncertainty of human life, let us shun that false prudence which seeks to sacrifice the present to the future; what is, is too often sacrificed to what will never be. Let us make man happy at every age lest in spite of our care he should die without knowing the meaning of happiness. Now if there is a time to enjoy life, it is undoubtedly the close of adolescence, when the powers of mind and body have reached their greatest strength, and when man in the midst of his course is furthest from those two extremes which tell him “Life is short.” If the imprudence of youth deceives itself it is not in its desire for enjoyment, but because it seeks enjoyment where it is not to be found, and lays up misery for the future, while unable to enjoy the present.
Consider my Emile over twenty years of age, well formed, well developed in mind and body, strong, healthy, active, skilful, robust, full of sense, reason, kindness, humanity, possessed of good morals and good taste, loving what is beautful, doing what is good, free from the sway of fierce passions, released from the tyranny of popular prejudices, but subject to the law of wisdom, and easily guided by the voice of a friend; gifted with so many useful and pleasant accomplishments, caring little for wealth, able to earn a living with his own hands, and not afraid of want, whatever may come. Behold him in the intoxication of a growing passion; his heart opens to the first beams of love; its pleasant fancies reveal to him a whole world of new delights and enjoyments; he loves a sweet woman, whose character is even more delightful than her person; he hopes, he expects the reward which he deserves.
Their first attachment took its rise in mutual affection, in community of honourable feelings; therefore this affection is lasting. It abandons itself, with confidence, with reason, to the most delightful madness, without fear, regret, remorse, or any other disturbing thought, but that which is inseparable from all happiness. What lacks there yet? Behold, inquire, imagine what still is lacking, that can be combined with present joys. Every happiness which can exist in combination is already present; nothing could be added without taking away from what there is; he is as happy as man can be. Shall I choose this time to cut short so sweet a period? Shall I disturb such pure enjoyment? The happiness he enjoys is my life’s reward. What could I give that could outweigh what I should take away? Even if I set the crown to his happiness I should destroy its greatest charm. That supreme joy is a hundredfold greater in anticipation than in possession; its savour is greater while we wait for it than when it is ours. O worthy Emile! love and be loved! prolong your enjoyment before it is yours; rejoice in your love and in your innocence, find your paradise upon earth, while you await your heaven. I shall not cut short this happy period of life. I will draw out its enchantments, I will prolong them as far as possible. Alas! it must come to an end and that soon; but it shall at least linger in your memory, and you will never repent of its joys.
Emile has not forgotten that we have something to return. As soon as the things are ready, we take horse and set off at a great pace, for on this occasion he is anxious to get there. When the heart opens the door to passion, it becomes conscious of the slow flight of time. If my time has not been wasted he will not spend his life like this.
Unluckily the road is intricate and the country difficult. We lose our way; he is the first to notice it, and without losing his temper, and without grumbling, he devotes his whole attention to discovering the path; he wanders for a long time before he knows where he is and always with the same self-control. You think nothing of that; but I think it a matter of great importance, for I know how eager he is; I see the results of the care I have taken from his infancy to harden him to endure the blows of necessity.
We are there at last! Our reception is much simpler and more friendly than on the previous occasion; we are already old acquaintances. Emile and Sophy bow shyly and say nothing; what can they say in our presence? What they wish to say requires no spectators. We walk in the garden; a well-kept kitchen-garden takes the place of flower-beds, the park is an orchard full of fine tall fruit trees of every kind, divided by pretty streams and borders full of flowers. “What a lovely place!” exclaims Emile, still thinking of his Homer, and still full of enthusiasm, “I could fancy myself in the garden of Alcinous.” The daughter wishes she knew who Alcinous was; her mother asks. “Alcinous,” I tell them, “was a king of Corcyra. Homer describes his garden and the critics think it too simple and unadorned.1 This Alcinous had a charming daughter who dreamed the night before her father received a stranger at his board that she would soon have a husband.” Sophy, taken unawares, blushed, hung her head, and bit her lips; no one could be more confused. Her father, who was enjoying her confusion, added that the young princess bent herself to wash the linen in the river. “Do you think,” said he, “she would have scorned to touch the dirty clothes, saying, that they smelt of grease?” Sophy, touched to the quick, forgot her natural timidity and defended herself eagerly. Her papa knew very well all the smaller things would have had no other laundress if she had been allowed to wash them, and she would gladly have done more had she been set to do it.2 Meanwhile she watched me secretly with such anxiety that I could not suppress a smile, while I read the terrors of her simple heart which urged her to speak. Her father was cruel enough to continue this foolish sport, by asking her, in jest, why she spoke on her own behalf and what had she in common with the daughter of Alcinous. Trembling and ashamed she dared hardly breathe or look at us. Charming girl! This is no time for feigning, you have shown your true feelings in spite of yourself.
To all appearance this little scene is soon forgotten; luckily for Sophy, Emile, at least, is unaware of it. We continue our walk, the young people at first keeping close beside us; but they find it hard to adapt themselves to our slower pace, and presently they are a little in front of us, they are walking side by side, they begin to talk, and before long they are a good way ahead. Sophy seems to be listening quietly, Emile is talking and gesticulating vigorously; they seem to find their conversation interesting. When we turn homewards a full hour later, we call them to us and they return slowly enough now, and we can see they are making good use of their time. Their conversation ceases suddenly before they come within earshot, and they hurry up to us. Emile meets us with a frank affectionate expression; his eyes are sparkling with joy; yet he looks anxiously at Sophy’s mother to see how she takes it. Sophy is not nearly so much at her ease; as she approaches us she seems covered with confusion at finding herself tête-à-tête with a young man, though she has met so many other young men frankly enough, and without being found fault with for it. She runs up to her mother, somewhat out of breath, and makes some trivial remark, as if to pretend she had been with her for some time.
From the happy expression of these dear children we see that this conversation has taken a load off their hearts. They are no less reticent in their intercourse, but their reticence is less embarrassing, it is only due to Emile’s reverence and Sophy’s modesty, to the goodness of both. Emile ventures to say a few words to her, she ventures to reply, but she always looks at her mother before she dares to answer. The most remarkable change is in her attitude towards me. She shows me the greatest respect, she watches me with interest, she takes pains to please me; I see that I am honoured with her esteem, and that she is not indifferent to mine. I understand that Emile has been talking to her about me; you might say they have been scheming to win me over to their side; yet it is not so, and Sophy herself is not so easily won. Perhaps Emile will have more need of my influence with her than of hers with me. What a charming pair! When I consider that the tender love of my young friend has brought my name so prominently into his first conversation with his lady-love, I enjoy the reward of all my trouble; his affection is a sufficient recompense.
Our visit is repeated. There are frequent conversations between the young people. Emile is madly in love and thinks that his happiness is within his grasp. Yet he does not succeed in winning any formal avowal from Sophy; she listens to what he says and answers nothing. Emile knows how modest she is, and is not surprised at her reticence; he feels sure that she likes him; he knows that parents decide whom their daughters shall marry; he supposes that Sophy is awaiting her parents’ commands; he asks her permission to speak to them, and she makes no objection. He talks to me and I speak on his behalf and in his presence. He is immensely surprised to hear that Sophy is her own mistress, that his happiness depends on her alone. He begins to be puzzled by her conduct. He is less self-confident, he takes alarm, he sees that he has not made so much progress as he expected, and then it is that his love appeals to her in the tenderest and most moving language.
Emile is not the sort of man to guess what is the matter; if no one told him he would never discover it as long as he lived, and Sophy is too proud to tell him. What she considers obstacles, others would call advantages. She has not forgotten her parents’ teaching. She is poor; Emile is rich; so much she knows. He must win her esteem; his deserts must be great indeed to remove this inequality. But how should he perceive these obstacles? Is Emile aware that he is rich? Has he ever condescended to inquire? Thank heaven, he has no need of riches, he can do good without their aid. The good he does comes from his heart, not his purse. He gives the wretched his time, his care, his affection, himself; and when he reckons up what he has done, he hardly dares to mention the money spent on the poor.
As he does not know what to make of his disgrace, he thinks it is his own fault; for who would venture to accuse the adored one of caprice. The shame of humiliation adds to the pangs of disappointed love. He no longer approaches Sophy with that pleasant confidence of his own worth; he is shy and timid in her presence. He no longer hopes to win her affections, but to gain her pity. Sometimes he loses patience and is almost angry with her. Sophy seems to guess his angry feelings and she looks at him. Her glance is enough to disarm and terrify him; he is more submissive than he used to be.
Disturbed by this stubborn resistance, this invincible silence, he pours out his heart to his friend. He shares with him the pangs of a heart devoured by sorrow; he implores his help and counsel. “How mysterious it is, how hard to understand! She takes an interest in me, that I am sure; far from avoiding me she is pleased to see me; when I come she shows signs of pleasure, when I go she shows regret; she receives my attentions kindly, my services seem to give her pleasure, she condescends to give me her advice and even her commands. Yet she rejects my requests and my prayers. When I venture to speak of marriage, she bids me be silent; if I say a word, she leaves me at once. Why on earth should she wish me to be hers but refuse to be mine? She respects and loves you, and she will not dare to refuse to listen to you. Speak to her, make her answer. Come to your friend’s help, and put the coping stone to all you have done for him; do not let him fall a victim to your care! If you fail to secure his happiness, your own teaching will have been the cause of his misery.”
I speak to Sophy, and have no difficulty in getting her to confide her secret to me, a secret which was known to me already. It is not so easy to get permission to tell Emile; but at last she gives me leave and I tell him what is the matter. He cannot get over his surprise at this explanation. He cannot understand this delicacy; he cannot see how a few pounds more or less can affect his character or his deserts. When I get him to see their effect on people’s prejudices he begins to laugh; he is so wild with delight that he wants to be off at once to tear up his title deeds and renounce his money, so as to have the honour of being as poor as Sophy, and to return worthy to be her husband.
“Why,” said I, trying to check him, and laughing in my turn at his impetuosity, “will this young head never grow any older? Having dabbled all your life in philosophy, will you never learn to reason? Do not you see that your wild scheme would only make things worse, and Sophy more obstinate? It is a small superiority to be rather richer than she, but to give up all for her would be a very great superiority; if her pride cannot bear to be under the small obligation, how will she make up her mind to the greater? If she cannot bear to think that her husband might taunt her with the fact that he has enriched her, would she permit him to blame her for having brought him to poverty? Wretched boy, beware lest she suspects you of such a plan! On the contrary, be careful and economical for her sake, lest she should accuse you of trying to gain her by cunning, by sacrificing of your own free will what you are really wasting through carelessness.
“Do you really think that she is afraid of wealth, and that she is opposed to great possessions in themselves? No, dear Emile; there are more serious and substantial grounds for her opinion, in the effect produced by wealth on its possessor. She knows that those who are possessed of fortune’s gifts are apt to place them first. The rich always put wealth before merit. When services are reckoned against silver, the latter always outweighs the former, and those who have spent their life in their master’s service are considered his debtors for the very bread they eat. What must you do, Emile, to calm her fears? Let her get to know you better; that is not done in a day. Show her the treasures of your heart, to counterbalance the wealth which is unfortunately yours. Time and constancy will overcome her resistance; let your great and noble feelings make her forget your wealth. Love her, serve her, serve her worthy parents. Convince her that these attentions are not the result of a foolish fleeting passion, but of settled principles engraved upon your heart. Show them the honour deserved by worth when exposed to the buffets of Fortune; that is the only way to reconcile it with that worth which basks in her smiles.”
The transports of joy experienced by the young man at these words may easily be imagined; they restore confidence and hope, his good heart rejoices to do something to please Sophy, which he would have done if there had been no such person, or if he had not been in love with her. However little his character has been understood, anybody can see how he would behave under such circumstances.
Here am I, the confidant of these two young people and the mediator of their affection. What a fine task for a tutor! So fine that never in all my life have I stood so high in my own eyes, nor felt so pleased with myself. Moreover, this duty is not without its charms. I am not unwelcome in the home; it is my business to see that the lovers behave themselves; Emile, ever afraid of offending me, was never so docile. The little lady herself overwhelms me with a kindness which does not deceive me, and of which I only take my proper share. This is her way of making up for her severity towards Emile. For his sake she bestows on me a hundred tender caresses, though she would die rather than bestow them on him; and he, knowing that I would never stand in his way, is delighted that I should get on so well with her. If she refuses his arm when we are out walking, he consoles himself with the thought that she has taken mine. He makes way for me without a murmur, he clasps my hand, and voice and look alike whisper, “My friend, plead for me!” and his eyes follow us with interest; he tries to read our feelings in our faces, and to interpret our conversation by our gestures; he knows that everything we are saying concerns him. Dear Sophy, how frank and easy you are when you can talk to Mentor without being overheard by Telemachus. How freely and delightfully you permit him to read what is passing in your tender little heart! How delighted you are to show him how you esteem his pupil! How cunningly and appealingly you allow him to divine still tenderer sentiments. With what a pretence of anger you dismiss Emile when his impatience leads him to interrupt you? With what pretty vexation you reproach his indiscretion when he comes and prevents you saying something to his credit, or listening to what I say about him, or finding in my words some new excuse to love him!
Having got so far as to be tolerated as an acknowledged lover, Emile takes full advantage of his position; he speaks, he urges, he implores, he demands. Hard words or ill treatment make no difference, provided he gets a hearing. At length Sophy is persuaded, though with some difficulty, to assume the authority of a betrothed, to decide what he shall do, to command instead of to ask, to accept instead of to thank, to control the frequency and the hours of his visits, to forbid him to come till such a day or to stay beyond such an hour. This is not done in play, but in earnest, and if it was hard to induce her to accept these rights, she uses them so sternly that Emile is often ready to regret that he gave them to her. But whatever her commands, they are obeyed without question, and often when at her bidding he is about to leave her, he glances at me his eyes full of delight, as if to say, “You see she has taken possession of me.” Yet unknown to him, Sophy, with all her pride, is observing him closely, and she is smiling to herself at the pride of her slave.
Oh that I had the brush of an Alban or a Raphael to paint their bliss, or the pen of the divine Milton to describe the pleasures of love and innocence! Not so; let such hollow arts shrink back before the sacred truth of nature. In tenderness and pureness of heart let your imagination freely trace the raptures of these young lovers, who under the eyes of parents and tutor, abandon themselves to their blissful illusions; in the intoxication of passion they are advancing step by step to its consummation; with flowers and garlands they are weaving the bonds which are to bind them till death do part. I am carried away by this succession of pictures, I am so happy that I cannot group them in any sort of order or scheme; any one with a heart in his breast can paint the charming picture for himself and realise the different experiences of father, mother, daughter, tutor, and pupil, and the part played by each and all in the union of the most delightful couple whom love and virtue have ever led to happiness.
Now that he is really eager to please, Emile begins to feel the value of the accomplishments he has acquired. Sophy is fond of singing, he sings with her; he does more, he teaches her music. She is lively and light of foot, she loves skipping; he dances with her, he perfects and develops her untrained movements into the steps of the dance. These lessons, enlivened by the gayest mirth, are quite delightful, they melt the timid respect of love; a lover may enjoy teaching his betrothed—he has a right to be her teacher.
There is an old spinet quite out of order. Emile mends and tunes it; he is a maker and mender of musical instruments as well as a carpenter; it has always been his rule to learn to do everything he can for himself. The house is picturesquely situated and he makes several sketches of it, in some of which Sophy does her share, and she hangs them in her father’s study. The frames are not gilded, nor do they require gilding. When she sees Emile drawing, she draws too, and improves her own drawing; she cultivates all her talents, and her grace gives a charm to all she does. Her father and mother recall the days of their wealth, when they find themselves surrounded by the works of art which alone gave value to wealth; the whole house is adorned by love; love alone has enthroned among them, without cost or effort, the very same pleasures which were gathered together in former days by dint of toil and money.
As the idolater gives what he loves best to the shrine of the object of his worship, so the lover is not content to see perfection in his mistress; he must be ever trying to add to her adornment. She does not need it for his pleasure, it is he who needs the pleasure of giving, it is a fresh homage to be rendered to her, a fresh pleasure in the joy of beholding her. Everything of beauty seems to find its place only as an accessory to the supreme beauty. It is both touching and amusing to see Emile eager to teach Sophy everything he knows, without asking whether she wants to learn it or whether it is suitable for her. He talks about all sorts of things and explains them to her with boyish eagerness; he thinks he has only to speak and she will understand; he looks forward to arguing, and discussing philosophy with her; everything he cannot display before her is so much useless learning; he is quite ashamed of knowing more than she.
So he gives her lessons in philosophy, physics, mathematics, history, and everything else. Sophy is delighted to share his enthusiasm and to try and profit by it. How pleased Emile is when he can get leave to give these lessons on his knees before her! He thinks the heavens are open. Yet this position, more trying to pupil than to teacher, is hardly favourable to study. It is not easy to know where to look, to avoid meeting the eyes which follow our own, and if they meet so much the worse for the lesson.
Women are no strangers to the art of thinking, but they should only skim the surface of logic and metaphysics. Sophy understands readily, but she soon forgets. She makes most progress in the moral sciences and æsthetics; as to physical science she retains some vague idea of the general laws and order of this world. Sometimes in the course of their walks, the spectacle of the wonders of nature bids them not fear to raise their pure and innocent hearts to nature’s God; they are not afraid of His presence, and they pour out their hearts before him.
What! Two young lovers spending their time together talking of religion! Have they nothing better to do than to say their catechism! What profit is there in the attempt to degrade what is noble? Yes, no doubt they are saying their catechism in their delightful land of romance; they are perfect in each other’s eyes; they love one another, they talk eagerly of all that makes virtue worth having. Their sacrifices to virtue make her all the dearer to them. Their struggles after self-control draw from them tears purer than the dew of heaven, and these sweet tears are the joy of life; no human heart has ever experienced a sweeter intoxication. Their very renunciation adds to their happiness, and their sacrifices increase their self-respect. Sensual men, bodies without souls, some day they will know your pleasures, and all their life long they will recall with regret the happy days when they refused the cup of pleasure.
In spite of this good understanding, differences and even quarrels occur from time to time; the lady has her whims, the lover has a hot temper; but these passing showers are soon over and only serve to strengthen their union. Emile learns by experience not to attach too much importance to them, he always gains more by the reconciliation than he lost by the quarrel. The results of the first difference made him expect a like result from all; he was mistaken, but even if he does not make any appreciable step forward, he has always the satisfaction of finding Sophy’s genuine concern for his affection more firmly established. “What advantage is this to him?” you would ask. I will gladly tell you; all the more gladly because it will give me an opportunity to establish clearly a very important principle, and to combat a very deadly one.
Emile is in love, but he is not presuming; and you will easily understand that the dignified Sophy is not the sort of girl to allow any kind of familiarity. Yet virtue has its bounds like everything else, and she is rather to be blamed for her severity than for indulgence; even her father himself is sometimes afraid lest her lofty pride should degenerate into a haughty spirit. When most alone, Emile dare not ask for the slightest favour, he must not even seem to desire it; and if she is gracious enough to take his arm when they are out walking, a favour which she will never permit him to claim as a right, it is only occasionally that he dare venture with a sigh to press her hand to his heart. However, after a long period of self-restraint, he ventured secretly to kiss the hem of her dress, and several times he was lucky enough to find her willing at least to pretend she was not aware of it. One day he attempts to take the same privilege rather more openly, and Sophy takes it into her head to be greatly offended. He persists, she gets angry and speaks sharply to him; Emile will not put up with this without reply; the rest of the day is given over to sulks, and they part in a very ill temper.
Sophy is ill at ease; her mother is her confidant in all things, how can she keep this from her? It is their first misunderstanding, and the misunderstanding of an hour is such a serious business. She is sorry for what she has done, she has her mother’s permission and her father’s commands to make reparation.
The next day Emile returns somewhat earlier than usual and in a state of some anxiety. Sophy is in her mother’s dressing-room and her father is also present. Emile enters respectfully but gloomily. Scarcely have her parents greeted him than Sophy turns round and holding out her hand asks him in an affectionate tone how he is. That pretty hand is clearly held out to be kissed; he takes it but does not kiss it. Sophy, rather ashamed of herself, withdraws her hand as best she may. Emile, who is not used to a woman’s whims, and does not know how far caprice may be carried, does not forget so easily or make friends again all at once. Sophy’s father, seeing her confusion, completes her discomfiture by his jokes. The poor girl, confused and ashamed, does not know what to do with herself and would gladly have a good cry. The more she tries to control herself the worse she feels; at last a tear escapes in spite of all she can do to prevent it. Emile, seeing this tear, rushes towards her, falls on his knees, takes her hand and kisses it again and again with the greatest devotion. “My word, you are too kind to her,” says her father, laughing; “if I were you, I should deal more severely with these follies, I should punish the mouth that wronged me.” Emboldened by these words, Emile turns a suppliant eye towards her mother, and thinking she is not unwilling, he tremblingly approaches Sophy’s face; she turns away her head, and to save her mouth she exposes a blushing cheek. The daring young man is not content with this; there is no great resistance. What a kiss, if it were not taken under her mother’s eyes. Have a care, Sophy, in your severity; he will be ready enough to try to kiss your dress if only you will sometimes say “No.”
After this exemplary punishment, Sophy’s father goes about his business, and her mother makes some excuse for sending her out of the room; then she speaks to Emile very seriously. “Sir.” she says, “I think a young man so well born and well bred as yourself, a man of feeling and character, would never reward with dishonour the confidence reposed in him by the friendship of this family. I am neither prudish nor over strict; I know how to make excuses for youthful folly, and what I have permitted in my own presence is sufficient proof of this. Consult your friend as to your own duty, he will tell you there is all the difference in the world between the playful kisses sanctioned by the presence of father and mother, and the same freedom taken in their absence and in betrayal of their confidence, a freedom which makes a snare of the very favours which in the parents’ presence were wholly innocent. He will tell you, sir, that my daughter is only to blame for not having perceived from the first what she ought never to have permitted; he will tell you that every favour, taken as such, is a favour, and that it is unworthy of a man of honour to take advantage of a young girl’s innocence, to usurp in private the same freedom which she may permit in the presence of others. For good manners teach us what is permitted in public; but we do not know what a man will permit to himself in private, if he makes himself the sole judge of his conduct.”
After this well-deserved rebuke, addressed rather to me than to my pupil, the good mother leaves us, and I am amazed by her rare prudence, in thinking it a little thing that Emile should kiss her daughter’s lips in her presence, while fearing lest he should venture to kiss her dress when they are alone. When I consider the folly of worldly maxims, whereby real purity is continually sacrificed to a show of propriety, I understand why speech becomes more refined while the heart becomes more corrupt, and why etiquette is stricter while those who conform to it are most immoral.
While I am trying to convince Emile’s heart with regard to these duties which I ought to have instilled into him sooner, a new idea occurs to me, an idea which perhaps does Sophy all the more credit, though I shall take care not to tell her lover; this so-called pride, for which she has been censured, is clearly only a very wise precaution to protect her from herself. Being aware that, unfortunately, her own temperament is inflammable, she dreads the least spark, and keeps out of reach so far as she can. Her sternness is due not to pride but to humility. She assumes a control over Emile because she doubts her control of herself; she turns the one against the other. If she had more confidence in herself she would be much less haughty. With this exception is there anywhere on earth a gentler, sweeter girl? Is there any who endures an affront with greater patience, any who is more afraid of annoying others? Is there any with less pretension, except in the matter of virtue? Moreover, she is not proud of her virtue, she is only proud in order to preserve her virtue, and if she can follow the guidance of her heart without danger, she caresses her lover himself. But her wise mother does not confide all this even to her father; men should not hear everything.
Far from seeming proud of her conquest, Sophy has grown more friendly and less exacting towards everybody, except perhaps the one person who has wrought this change. Her noble heart no longer swells with the feeling of independence. She triumphs modestly over a victory gained at the price of her freedom. Her bearing is more restrained, her speech more timid, since she has begun to blush at the word “lover”; but contentment may be seen beneath her outward confusion and this very shame is not painful. This change is most noticeable in her behaviour towards the young men she meets. Now that she has ceased to be afraid of them, much of her extreme reserve has disappeared. Now that her choice is made, she does not hesitate to be gracious to those to whom she is quite indifferent; taking no more interest in them, she is less difficult to please, and she always finds them pleasant enough for people who are of no importance to her.
If true love were capable of coquetry, I should fancy I saw traces of it in the way Sophy behaves towards other young men in her lover’s presence. One would say that not content with the ardent passion she inspires by a mixture of shyness and caresses, she is not sorry to rouse this passion by a little anxiety; one would say that when she is purposely amusing her young guests she means to torment Emile by the charms of a freedom she will not allow herself with him; but Sophy is too considerate, too kindly, too wise to really torment him. Love and honour take the place of prudence and control the use of this dangerous weapon. She can alarm and reassure him just as he needs it; and if she sometimes makes him uneasy she never really gives him pain. The anxiety she causes to her beloved may be forgiven because of her fear that he is not sufficiently her own.
But what effect will this little performance have upon Emile? Will he be jealous or not? That is what we must discover; for such digressions form part of the purpose of my book, and they do not lead me far from my main subject.
I have already shown how this passion of jealousy in matters of convention finds its way into the heart of man. In love it is another matter; then jealousy is so near akin to nature, that it is hard to believe that it is not her work; and the example of the very beasts, many of whom are madly jealous, seems to prove this point beyond reply. Is it man’s influence that has taught cocks to tear each other to pieces or bulls to fight to the death?
No one can deny that the aversion to everything which may disturb or interfere with our pleasures is a natural impulse. Up to a certain point the desire for the exclusive possession of that which ministers to our pleasure is in the same case. But when this desire has become a passion, when it is transformed into madness, or into a bitter and suspicious fancy known as jealousy, that is quite another matter; such a passion may be natural or it may not; we must distinguish between these different cases.
I have already analysed the example of the animal world in my Discourse on Inequality, and on further consideration I think I may refer my readers to that analysis as sufficiently thorough. I will only add this further point to those already made in that work, that the jealousy which springs from nature depends greatly on sexual power, and that when sexual power is or appears to be boundless, that jealousy is at its height; for then the male, measuring his rights by his needs, can never see another male except as an unwelcome rival. In such species the females always submit to the first comer, they only belong to the male by right of conquest, and they are the cause of unending strife.
Among the monogamous species, where intercourse seems to give rise to some sort of moral bond, a kind of marriage, the female who belongs by choice to the male on whom she has bestowed herself usually denies herself to all others; and the male, having this preference of affection as a pledge of her fidelity, is less uneasy at the sight of other males and lives more peaceably with them. Among these species the male shares the care of the little ones; and by one of those touching laws of nature it seems as if the female rewards the father for his love for his children.
Now consider the human species in its primitive simplicity; it is easy to see, from the limited powers of the male, and the moderation of his desires, that nature meant him to be content with one female; this is confirmed by the numerical equality of the two sexes, at any rate in our part of the world; an equality which does not exist in anything like the same degree among those species in which several females are collected around one male. Though a man does not brood like a pigeon, and though he has no milk to suckle the young, and must in this respect be classed with the quadrupeds, his children are feeble and helpless for so long a time, that mother and children could ill dispense with the father’s affection, and the care which results from it.
All these observations combine to prove that the jealous fury of the males of certain animals proves nothing with regard to man; and the exceptional case of those southern regions were polygamy is the established custom, only confirms the rule, since it is the plurality of wives that gives rise to the tyrannical precautions of the husband, and the consciousness of his own weakness makes the man resort to constraint to evade the laws of nature.
Among ourselves, where these same laws are less frequently evaded in this respect, but are more frequently evaded in another and even more detestable manner, jealousy finds its motives in the passions of society rather than in those of primitive instinct. In most irregular connections the hatred of the lover for his rivals far exceeds his love for his mistress; if he fears a rival in her affections it is the effect of that self-love whose origin I have already traced out, and he is moved by vanity rather than affection. Moreover, our clumsy systems of education have made women so deceitful,1 and have so over-stimulated their appetites, that you cannot rely even on the most clearly proved affection; they can no longer display a preference which secures you against the fear of a rival.
True love is another matter. I have shown, in the work already referred to, that this sentiment is not so natural as men think, and that there is a great difference between the gentle habit which binds a man with cords of love to his helpmeet, and the unbridled passion which is intoxicated by the fancied charms of an object which he no longer sees in its true light. This passion which is full of exclusions and preferences, only differs from vanity in this respect, that vanity demands all and gives nothing, so that it is always harmful, while love, bestowing as much as it demands, is in itself a sentiment full of equity. Moreover, the more exacting it is, the more credulous; that very illusion which gave rise to it, makes it easy to persuade. If love is suspicious, esteem is trustful; and love will never exist in an honest heart without esteem, for every one loves in another the qualities which he himself holds in honour.
When once this is clearly understood, we can predict with confidence the kind of jealousy which Emile will be capable of experiencing; as there is only the smallest germ of this passion in the human heart, the form it takes must depend solely upon education: Emile, full of love and jealousy, will not be angry, sullen, suspicious, but delicate, sensitive, and timid; he will be more alarmed than vexed; he will think more of securing his lady-love than of threatening his rival; he will treat him as an obstacle to be removed if possible from his path, rather than as a rival to be hated; if he hates him, it is not because he presumes to compete with him for Sophy’s affection, but because Emile feels that there is a real danger of losing that affection; he will not be so unjust and foolish as to take offence at the rivalry itself; he understands that the law of preference rests upon merit only, and that honour depends upon success; he will redouble his efforts to make himself acceptable, and he will probably succeed. His generous Sophy, though she has given alarm to his love, is well able to allay that fear, to atone for it; and the rivals who were only suffered to put him to the proof are speedily dismissed.
But whither am I going? O Emile! what art thou now? Is this my pupil? How art thou fallen! Where is that young man so sternly fashioned, who braved all weathers, who devoted his body to the hardest tasks and his soul to the laws of wisdom; untouched by prejudice or passion, a lover of truth, swayed by reason only, unheeding all that was not hers? Living in softness and idleness he now lets himself be ruled by women; their amusements are the business of his life, their wishes are his laws; a young girl is the arbiter of his fate, he cringes and grovels before her; the earnest Emile is the plaything of a child.
So shift the scenes of life; each age is swayed by its own motives, but the man is the same. At ten his mind was set upon cakes, at twenty it is set upon his mistress; at thirty it will be set upon pleasure; at forty on ambition, at fifty on avarice; when will he seek after wisdom only? Happy is he who is compelled to follow her against his will! What matter who is the guide, if the end is attained. Heroes and sages have themselves paid tribute to this human weakness; and those who handled the distaff with clumsy fingers were none the less great men.
If you would prolong the influence of a good education through life itself, the good habits acquired in childhood must be carried forward into adolescence, and when your pupil is what he ought to be you must manage to keep him what he ought to be. This is the coping-stone of your work. This is why it is of the first importance that the tutor should remain with young men; otherwise there is little doubt they will learn to make love without him. The great mistake of tutors and still more of fathers is to think that one way of living makes another impossible, and that as soon as the child is grown up, you must abandon everything you used to do when he was little. If that were so, why should we take such pains in childhood, since the good or bad use we make of it will vanish with childhood itself; if another way of life were necessarily accompanied by other ways of thinking?
The stream of memory is only interrupted by great illnesses, and the stream of conduct, by great passions. Our tastes and inclinations may change, but this change, though it may be sudden enough, is rendered less abrupt by our habits. The skilful artist, in a good colour scheme, contrives so to mingle and blend his tints that the transitions are imperceptible; and certain colour washes are spread over the whole picture so that there may be no sudden breaks. So should it be with our likings. Unbalanced characters are always changing their affections, their tastes, their sentiments; the only constant factor is the habit of change; but the man of settled character always returns to his former habits and preserves to old age the tastes and the pleasures of his childhood.
If you contrive that young people passing from one stage of life to another do not despise what has gone before, that when they form new habits, they do not forsake the old, and that they always love to do what is right, in things new and old; then only are the fruits of your toil secure, and you are sure of your scholars as long as they live; for the revolution most to be dreaded is that of the age over which you are now watching. As men always look back to this period with regret so the tastes carried forward into it from childhood are not easily destroyed; but if once interrupted they are never resumed.
Most of the habits you think you have instilled into children and young people are not really habits at all; they have only been acquired under compulsion, and being followed reluctantly they will be cast off at the first opportunity. However long you remain in prison you never get a taste for prison life; so aversion is increased rather than diminished by habit. Not so with Emile; as a child he only did what he could do willingly and with pleasure, and as a man he will do the same, and the force of habit will only lend its help to the joys of freedom. An active life, bodily labour, exercise, movement, have become so essential to him that he could not relinquish them without suffering. Reduce him all at once to a soft and sedentary life and you condemn him to chains and imprisonment, you keep him in a condition of thraldom and constraint; he would suffer, no doubt, both in health and temper. He can scarcely breathe in a stuffy room, he requires open air, movement, fatigue. Even at Sophy’s feet he cannot help casting a glance at the country and longing to explore it in her company. Yet he remains if he must; but he is anxious and ill at ease; he seems to be struggling with himself; he remains because he is a captive. “Yes,” you will say, “these are necessities to which you have subjected him, a yoke which you have laid upon him.” You speak truly, I have subjected him to the yoke of manhood.
Emile loves Sophy; but what were the charms by which he was first attracted? Sensibility, virtue, and love for things pure and honest. When he loves this love in Sophy, will he cease to feel it himself? And what price did she put upon herself? She required all her lover’s natural feelings—esteem of what is really good, frugality, simplicity, generous unselfishness, a scorn of pomp and riches. These virtues were Emile’s before love claimed them of him. Is he really changed? He has all the more reason to be himself; that is the only difference. The careful reader will not suppose that all the circumstances in which he is placed are the work of chance. There were many charming girls in the town; is it chance that his choice is discovered in a distant retreat? Is their meeting the work of chance? Is it chance that makes them so suited to each other? Is it chance that they cannot live in the same place, that he is compelled to find a lodging so far from her? Is it chance that he can see her so seldom and must purchase the pleasure of seeing her at the price of such fatigue? You say he is becoming effeminate. Not so, he is growing stronger; he must be fairly robust to stand the fatigue he endures on Sophy’s account.
He lives more than two leagues away. That distance serves to temper the shafts of love. If they lived next door to each other, or if he could drive to see her in a comfortable carriage, he would love at his ease in the Paris fashion. Would Leander have braved death for the sake of Hero if the sea had not lain between them? Need I say more; if my reader is able to take my meaning, he will be able to follow out my principles in detail.
The first time we went to see Sophy, we went on horseback, so as to get there more quickly. We continue this convenient plan until our fifth visit. We were expected; and more than half a league from the house we see people on the road. Emile watches them, his pulse quickens as he gets nearer, he recognises Sophy and dismounts quickly; he hastens to join the charming family. Emile is fond of good horses; his horse is fresh, he feels he is free, and gallops off across the fields; I follow and with some difficulty I succeed in catching him and bringing him back. Unluckily Sophy is afraid of horses, and I dare not approach her. Emile has not seen what happened, but Sophy whispers to him that he is giving his friend a great deal of trouble. He hurries up quite ashamed of himself, takes the horses, and follows after the party. It is only fair that each should take his turn and he rides on to get rid of our mounts. He has to leave Sophy behind him, and he no longer thinks riding a convenient mode of travelling. He returns out of breath and meets us half-way.
The next time, Emile will not hear of horses. “Why,” say I, “we need only take a servant to look after them.” “Shall we put our worthy friends to such expense?” he replies. “You see they would insist on feeding man and horse.” “That is true,” I reply; “theirs is the generous hospitality of the poor. The rich man in his niggardly pride only welcomes his friends, but the poor find room for their friends’ horses.” “Let us go on foot,” says he; “won’t you venture on the walk, when you are always so ready to share the toilsome pleasures of your child?” “I will gladly go with you,” I reply at once, “and it seems to me that love does not desire so much show.”
As we draw near, we meet the mother and daughter even further from home than on the last occasion. We have come at a great pace. Emile is very warm; his beloved condescends to pass her handkerchief over his cheeks. It would take a good many horses to make us ride there after this.
But it is rather hard never to be able to spend an evening together. Midsummer is long past and the days are growing shorter. Whatever we say, we are not allowed to return home in the dark, and unless we make a very early start, we have to go back almost as soon as we get there. The mother is sorry for us and uneasy on our account, and it occurs to her that, though it would not be proper for us to stay in the house, beds might be found for us in the village, if we liked to stay there occasionally. Emile claps his hands at this idea and trembles with joy; Sophy, unwittingly, kisses her mother rather oftener than usual on the day this idea occurs to her.
Little by little the charm of friendship and the familiarity of innocence take root and grow among us. I generally accompany my young friend on the days appointed by Sophy or her mother, but sometimes I let him go alone. The heart thrives in the sunshine of confidence, and a man must not be treated as a child; and what have I accomplished so far, if my pupil is unworthy of my esteem? Now and then I go without him; he is sorry, but he does not complain; what use would it be? And then he knows I shall not interfere with his interests. However, whether we go together or separately you will understand that we are not stopped by the weather; we are only too proud to arrive in a condition which calls for pity. Unluckily Sophy deprives us of this honour and forbids us to come in bad weather. This is the only occasion on which she rebels against the rules which I laid down for her in private.
One day Emile had gone alone and I did not expect him back till the following day, but he returned the same evening. “My dear Emile,” said I, “have you come back to your old friend already?” But instead of responding to my caresses he replied with some show of temper, “You need not suppose I came back so soon of my own accord; she insisted on it it; is for her sake not yours that I am here.” Touched by his frankness I renewed my caresses, saying, “Truthful heart and faithful friend, do not conceal from me anything I ought to know. If you came back for her sake, you told me so for my own; your return is her doing, your frankness is mine. Continue to preserve the noble candour of great souls; strangers may think what they will, but it is a crime to let our friends think us better than we are.”
I take care not to let him underrate the cost of his confession by assuming that there is more love than generosity in it, and by telling him that he would rather deprive himself of the honour of this return, than give it to Sophy. But this is how he revealed to me, all unconsciously, what were his real feelings; if he had returned slowly and comfortably, dreaming of his sweetheart, I should know he was merely her lover; when he hurried back, even if he was a little out of temper, he was the friend of his Mentor.
You see that the young man is very far from spending his days with Sophy, and seeing as much of her as he wants. One or two visits a week are all that is permitted, and these visits are often only for the afternoon and are rarely extended to the next day. He spends much more of his time in longing to see her, or in rejoicing that he has seen her, than he actually spends in her presence. Even when he goes to see her, more time is spent in going and returning than by her side. His pleasures, genuine, pure, delicious, but more imaginary than real, serve to kindle his love but not to make him effeminate.
On the days when he does not see Sophy he is not sitting idle at home. He is Emile himself and quite unchanged. He usually scours the country round in pursuit of its natural history; he observes and studies the soil, its products, and their mode of cultivation; he compares the methods he sees with those with which he is already familiar; he tries to find the reasons for any differences; if he thinks other methods better than those of the locality, he introduces them to the farmers’ notice; if he suggests a better kind of plough, he has one made from his own drawings; if he finds a lime pit he teaches them how to use the lime on the land, a process new to them; he often lends a hand himself; they are surprised to find him handling all manner of tools more easily than they can themselves; his furrows are deeper and straighter than theirs, he is a more skilful sower, and his beds for early produce are more cleverly planned. They do not scoff at him as a fine talker, they see he knows what he is talking about. In a word, his zeal and attention are bestowed on everything that is really useful to everybody; nor does he stop there. He visits the peasants in their homes; inquires into their circumstances, their families, the number of their children, the extent of their holdings, the nature of their produce, their markets, their rights, their burdens, their debts, etc. He gives away very little money, for he knows it is usually ill spent; but he himself directs the use of his money, and makes it helpful to them without distributing it among them. He supplies them with labourers, and often pays them for work done by themselves, on tasks for their own benefit. For one he has the falling thatch repaired or renewed; for another he clears a piece of land which had gone out of cultivation for lack of means; to another he gives a cow, a horse, or stock of any kind to replace a loss; two neighbours are ready to go to law, he wins them over, and makes them friends again; a peasant falls ill, he has him cared for, he looks after him himself;1 another is harassed by a rich and powerful neighbour, he protects him and speaks on his behalf; young people are fond of one another, he helps forward their marriage; a good woman has lost her beloved child, he goes to see her, he speaks words of comfort and sits a while with her; he does not despise the poor, he is in no hurry to avoid the unfortunate; he often takes his dinner with some peasant he is helping, and he will even accept a meal from those who have no need of his help; though he is the benefactor of some and the friend of all, he is none the less their equal. In conclusion, he always does as much good by his personal efforts as by his money.
Sometimes his steps are turned in the direction of the happy abode; he may hope to see Sophy without her knowing, to see her out walking without being seen. But Emile is always quite open in everything he does; he neither can nor would deceive. His delicacy is of that pleasing type in which pride rests on the foundation of a good conscience. He keeps strictly within bounds, and never comes near enough to gain from chance what he only desires to win from Sophy herself. On the other hand, he delights to roam about the neighbourhood, looking for the trace of Sophy’s steps, feeling what pains she has taken and what a distance she has walked to please him.
The day before his visit, he will go to some neighbouring farm and order a little feast for the morrow. We shall take our walk in that direction without any special object, we shall turn in apparently by chance; fruit, cakes, and cream are waiting for us. Sophy likes sweets, so is not insensible to these attentions, and she is quite ready to do honour to what we have provided; for I always have my share of the credit even if I have had no part in the trouble; it is a girl’s way of returning thanks more easily. Her father and I have cakes and wine; Emile keeps the ladies company and is always on the look-out to secure a dish of cream in which Sophy has dipped her spoon.
The cakes lead me to talk of the races Emile used to run. Every one wants to hear about them; I explain amid much laughter; they ask him if he can run as well as ever. “Better,” says he; “I should be sorry to forget how to run.” One member of the company is dying to see him run, but she dare not say so; some one else undertakes to suggest it; he agrees and we send for two or three young men of the neighbourhood; a prize is offered, and in imitation of our earlier games a cake is placed on the goal. Every one is ready, Sophy’s father gives the signal by clapping his hands. The nimble Emile flies like lightning and reaches the goal almost before the others have started. He receives his prize at Sophy’s hands, and no less generous than Æneas, he gives gifts to all the vanquished.
In the midst of his triumph, Sophy dares to challenge the victor, and to assert that she can run as fast as he. He does not refuse to enter the lists with her, and while she is getting ready to start, while she is tucking up her skirt at each side, more eager to show Emile a pretty ankle than to vanquish him in the race, while she is seeing if her petticoats are short enough, he whispers a word to her mother who smiles and nods approval. Then he takes his place by his competitor; no sooner is the signal given than she is off like a bird.
Women were not meant to run; they flee that they may be overtaken. Running is not the only thing they do ill, but it is the only thing they do awkwardly; their elbows glued to their sides and pointed backwards look ridiculous, and the high heels on which they are perched make them look like so many grasshoppers trying to run instead of to jump.
Emile, supposing that Sophy runs no better than other women, does not deign to stir from his place and watches her start with a smile of mockery. But Sophy is light of foot and she wears low heels; she needs no pretence to make her foot look smaller; she runs so quickly that he has only just time to overtake this new Atalanta when he sees her so far ahead. Then he starts like an eagle dashing upon its prey; he pursues her, clutches her, grasps her at last quite out of breath, and gently placing his left arm about her, he lifts her like a feather, and pressing his sweet burden to his heart, he finishes the race, makes her touch the goal first, and then exclaiming, “Sophy wins!” he sinks on one knee before her and owns himself beaten.
Along with such occupations there is also the trade we learnt. One day a week at least, and every day when the weather is too bad for country pursuits, Emile and I go to work under a master-joiner. We do not work for show, like people above our trade; we work in earnest like regular workmen. Once when Sophy’s father came to see us, he found us at work, and did not fail to report his wonder to his wife and daughter. “Go and see that young man in the workshop,” said he, “and you will soon see if he despises the condition of the poor.” You may fancy how pleased Sophy was at this! They talk it over, and they decide to surprise him at his work. They question me, apparently without any special object, and having made sure of the time, mother and daughter take a little carriage and come to town on that very day.
On her arrival, Sophy sees, at the other end of the shop, a young man in his shirt sleeves, with his hair all untidy, so hard at work that he does not see her; she makes a sign to her mother. Emile, a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other, is just finishing a mortise; then he saws a piece of wood and places it in the vice in order to polish it. The sight of this does not set Sophy laughing; it affects her greatly; it wins her respect. Woman, honour your master; he it is who works for you, he it is who gives you bread to eat; this is he!
While they are busy watching him, I perceive them and pull Emile by the sleeve; he turns round, drops his tools, and hastens to them with an exclamation of delight. After he has given way to his first raptures, he makes them take a seat and he goes back to his work. But Sophy cannot keep quiet; she gets up hastily, runs about the workshop, looks at the tools, feels the polish of the boards, picks up shavings, looks at our hands, and says she likes this trade, it is so clean. The merry girl tries to copy Emile. With her delicate white hand she passes a plane over a bit of wood; the plane slips and makes no impression. It seems to me that Love himself is hovering over us and beating his wings; I think I can hear his joyous cries, “Hercules is avenged.”
Yet Sophy’s mother questions the master. “Sir, how much do you pay these two men a day?” “I give them each tenpence a day and their food; but if that young fellow wanted he could earn much more, for he is the best workman in the country.” “Tenpence a day and their food,” said she looking at us tenderly. “That is so, madam,” replied the master. At these words she hurries up to Emile, kisses him, and clasps him to her breast with tears; unable to say more she repeats again and again, “My son, my son!”
When they had spent some time chatting with us, but without interrupting our work, “We must be going now,” said the mother to her daughter, “it is getting late and we must not keep your father waiting.” Then approaching Emile she tapped him playfully on the cheek, saying, “Well, my good workman, won’t you come with us?” He replied sadly, “I am at work, ask the master.” The master is asked if he can spare us. He replies that he cannot. “I have work on hand,” said he, “which is wanted the day after to-morrow, so there is not much time. Counting on these gentlemen I refused other workmen who came; if they fail me I don’t know how to replace them and I shall not be able to send the work home at the time promised.” The mother said nothing, she was waiting to hear what Emile would say. Emile hung his head in silence. “Sir,” she said, somewhat surprised at this, “have you nothing to say to that?” Emile looked tenderly at her daughter and merely said, “You see I am bound to stay.” Then the ladies left us. Emile went with them to the door, gazed after them as long as they were in sight, and returned to his work without a word.
On the way home, the mother, somewhat vexed at his conduct, spoke to her daughter of the strange way in which he had behaved. “Why,” said she, “was it so difficult to arrange matters with the master without being obliged to stay. The young man is generous enough and ready to spend money when there is no need for it, could not he spend a little on such a fitting occasion?” “Oh, mamma,” replied Sophy, “I trust Emile will never rely so much on money as to use it to break an engagement, to fail to keep his own word, and to make another break his! I know he could easily give the master a trifle to make up for the slight inconvenience caused by his absence; but his soul would become the slave of riches, he would become accustomed to place wealth before duty, and he would think that any duty might be neglected provided he was ready to pay. That is not Emile’s way of thinking, and I hope he will never change on my account. Do you think it cost him nothing to stay? You are quite wrong, mamma; it was for my sake that he stayed; I saw it in his eyes.”
It is not that Sophy is indifferent to genuine proofs of love; on the contrary she is imperious and exacting; she would rather not be loved at all than be loved half-heartedly. Hers is the noble pride of worth, conscious of its own value, self-respecting and claiming a like honour from others. She would scorn a heart that did not recognise the full worth of her own; that did not love her for her virtues as much and more than for her charms; a heart which did not put duty first, and prefer it to everything. She did not desire a lover who knew no will but hers. She wished to reign over a man whom she had not spoilt. Thus Circe, having changed into swine the comrades of Ulysses, bestowed herself on him over whom she had no power.
Except for this sacred and inviolable right, Sophy is very jealous of her own rights; she observes how carefully Emile respects them, how zealously he does her will; how cleverly he guesses her wishes, how exactly he arrives at the appointed time; she will have him neither late nor early; he must arrive to the moment. To come early is to think more of himself than of her; to come late is to neglect her. To neglect Sophy, that could not happen twice. An unfounded suspicion on her part nearly ruined everything, but Sophy is really just and knows how to atone for her faults.
They were expecting us one evening; Emile had received his orders. They came to meet us, but we were not there. What has become of us? What accident have we met with? No message from us! The evening is spent in expectation of our arrival. Sophy thinks we are dead; she is miserable and in an agony of distress; she cries all the night through. In the course of the evening a messenger was despatched to inquire after us and bring back news in the morning. The messenger returns together with another messenger sent by us, who makes our excuses verbally and says we are quite well. Then the scene is changed; Sophy dries her tears, or if she still weeps it is for anger. It is small consolation to her proud spirit to know that we are alive; Emile lives and he has kept her waiting.
When we arrive she tries to escape to her own room; her parents desire her to remain, so she is obliged to do so; but deciding at once what course she will take she assumes a calm and contented expression which would deceive most people. Her father comes forward to receive us saying, “You have made your friends very uneasy; there are people here who will not forgive you very readily.” “Who are they, papa,” said Sophy with the most gracious smile she could assume. “What business is that of yours,” said her father, “if it is not you?” Sophy bent over her work without reply. Her mother received us coldly and formally. Emile was so confused he dared not speak to Sophy. She spoke first, inquired how he was, asked him to take a chair, and pretended so cleverly that the poor young fellow, who as yet knew nothing of the language of angry passions, was quite deceived by her apparent indifference, and ready to take offence on his own account.
To undeceive him I was going to take Sophy’s hand and raise it to my lips as I sometimes did; she drew it back so hastily, with the word, “Sir,” uttered in such a strange manner that Emile’s eyes were opened at once by this involuntary movement.
Sophy herself, seeing that she had betrayed herself, exercised less control over herself. Her apparent indifference was succeeded by scornful irony. She replied to everything he said in monosyllables uttered slowly and hesitatingly as if she were afraid her anger should show itself too plainly. Emile half dead with terror stared at her full of sorrow, and tried to get her to look at him so that his eyes might read in hers her real feelings. Sophy, still more angry at his boldness, gave him one look which removed all wish for another. Luckily for himself, Emile, trembling and dumbfounded, dared neither look at her nor speak to her again; for had he not been guilty, had he been able to endure her wrath, she would never have forgiven him.
Seeing that it was my turn now, and that the time was ripe for explanation, I returned to Sophy. I took her hand and this time she did not snatch it away; she was ready to faint. I said gently, “Dear Sophy, we are the victims of misfortune; but you are just and reasonable; you will not judge us unheard; listen to what we have to say.” She said nothing and I proceeded—
“We set out yesterday at four o’clock; we were told to be here at seven, and we always allow ourselves rather more time than we need, so as to rest a little before we get here. We were more than half way here when we heard lamentable groans, which came from a little valley in the hillside, some distance off. We hurried towards the place and found an unlucky peasant who had taken rather more wine than was good for him; on his way home he had fallen heavily from his horse and broken his leg. We shouted and called for help; there was no answer; we tried to lift the injured man on his horse, but without success; the least movement caused intense agony. We decided to tie up the horse in a quiet part of the wood; then we made a chair of our crossed arms and carried the man as gently as possible, following his directions till we got him home. The way was long, and we were constantly obliged to stop and rest. At last we got there, but thoroughly exhausted. We were surprised and sorry to find that it was a house we knew already and that the wretched creature we had carried with such difficulty was the very man who received us so kindly when first we came. We had all been so upset that until that moment we had not recognised each other.
“There were only two little children. His wife was about to present him with another, and she was so overwhelmed at the sight of him brought home in such a condition, that she was taken ill and a few hours later gave birth to another little one. What was to be done under such circumstances in a lonely cottage far from any help? Emile decided to fetch the horse we had left in the wood, to ride as fast as he could into the town and fetch a surgeon. He let the surgeon have the horse, and not succeeding in finding a nurse all at once, he returned on foot with a servant, after having sent a messenger to you; meanwhile I hardly knew what to do between a man with a broken leg and a woman in travail, but I got ready as well as I could such things in the house as I thought would be needed for the relief of both.
“I will pass over the rest of the details; they are not to the point. It was two o’clock in the morning before we got a moment’s rest. At last we returned before daybreak to our lodging close at hand, where we waited till you were up to let you know what had happened to us.”
That was all I said. But before any one could speak Emile, approaching Sophy, raised his voice and said with greater firmness than I expected, “Sophy, my fate is in your hands, as you very well know. You may condemn me to die of grief; but do not hope to make me forget the rights of humanity; they are even more sacred in my eyes than your own rights; I will never renounce them for you.”
For all answer, Sophy rose, put her arm round his neck, and kissed him on the cheek; then offering him her hand with inimitable grace she said to him, “Emile, take this hand; it is yours. When you will, you shall be my husband and my master; I will try to be worthy of that honour.”
Scarcely had she kissed him, when her delighted father clapped his hands calling, “Encore, encore,” and Sophy without further ado, kissed him twice on the other cheek; but afraid of what she had done she took refuge at once in her mother’s arms and hid her blushing face on the maternal bosom.
I will not describe our happiness; everybody will feel with us. After dinner Sophy asked if it were too far to go and see the poor invalids. It was her wish and it was a work of mercy. When we got there we found them both in bed—Emile had sent for a second bedstead; there were people there to look after them—Emile had seen to it. But in spite of this everything was so untidy that they suffered almost as much from discomfort as from their condition. Sophy asked for one of the good wife’s aprons and set to work to make her more comfortable in her bed; then she did as much for the man; her soft and gentle hand seemed to find out what was hurting them and how to settle them into less painful positions. Her very presence seemed to make them more comfortable; she seemed to guess what was the matter. This fastidious girl was not disgusted by the dirt or smells, and she managed to get rid of both without disturbing the sick people. She who had always appeared so modest and sometimes so disdainful, she who would not for all the world have touched a man’s bed with her little finger, lifted the sick man and changed his linen without any fuss, and placed him to rest in a more comfortable position. The zeal of charity is of more value than modesty. What she did was done so skilfully and with such a light touch that he felt better almost without knowing she had touched him. Husband and wife mingled their blessings upon the kindly girl who tended, pitied, and consoled them. She was an angel from heaven come to visit them; she was an angel in face and manner, in gentleness and goodness. Emile was greatly touched by all this and he watched her without speaking. O man, love thy helpmeet. God gave her to relieve thy sufferings, to comfort thee in thy troubles. This is she!
The new-born baby was baptised. The two lovers were its god-parents, and as they held it at the font they were longing, at the bottom of their hearts, for the time when they should have a child of their own to be baptised. They longed for their wedding day; they thought it was close at hand; all Sophy’s scruples had vanished, but mine remained. They had not got so far as they expected; every one must have his turn.
One morning when they had not seen each other for two whole days, I entered Emile’s room with a letter in my hands, and looking fixedly at him I said to him, “What would you do if some one told you Sophy were dead?” He uttered a loud cry, got up and struck his hands together, and without saying a single word, he looked at me with eyes of desperation. “Answer me,” I continued with the same calmness. Vexed at my composure, he then approached me with eyes blazing with anger; and checking himself in an almost threatenning attitude, “What would I do? I know not; but this I do know, I would never set eyes again upon the person who brought me such news.” “Comfort yourself,” said I, smiling, “she lives, she is well, and they are expecting us this evening. But let us go for a short walk and we can talk things over.”
The passion which engrosses him will no longer permit him to devote himself as in former days to discussions of pure reason; this very passion must be called to our aid if his attention is to be given to my teaching. That is why I made use of this terrible preface; I am quite sure he will listen to me now.
“We must be happy, dear Emile; it is the end of every feeling creature; it is the first desire taught us by nature, and the only one which never leaves us. But where is happiness? Who knows? Every one seeks it, and no one finds it. We spend our lives in the search and we die before the end is attained. My young friend, when I took you, a new-born infant, in my arms, and called God himself to witness to the vow I dared to make that I would devote my life to the happiness of your life, did I know myself what I was undertaking? No; I only knew that in making you happy, I was sure of my own happiness. By making this useful inquiry on your account, I made it for us both.
“So long as we do not know what to do, wisdom consists in doing nothing. Of all rules there is none so greatly needed by man, and none which he is less able to obey. In seeking happiness when we know not where it is, we are perhaps getting further and further from it, we are running as many risks as there are roads to choose from. But it is not every one that can keep still. Our passion for our own well-being makes us so uneasy, that we would rather deceive ourselves in the search for happiness than sit still and do nothing; and when once we have left the place where we might have known happiness, we can never return.
“In ignorance like this I tried to avoid a similar fault. When I took charge of you I decided to take no useless steps and to prevent you from doing so too. I kept to the path of nature, until she should show me the path of happiness. And lo! their paths were the same, and without knowing it this was the path I trod.
“Be at once my witness and my judge; I will never refuse to accept your decision. Your early years have not been sacrificed to those that were to follow, you have enjoyed all the good gifts which nature bestowed upon you. Of the ills to which you were by nature subject, and from which I could shelter you, you have only experienced such as would harden you to bear others. You have never suffered any evil, except to escape a greater. You have known neither hatred nor servitude. Free and happy, you have remained just and kindly; for suffering and vice are inseparable, and no man ever became bad until he was unhappy. May the memory of your childhood remain with you to old age! I am not afraid that your kind heart will ever recall the hand that trained it without a blessing upon it.
“When you reached the age of reason, I secured you from the influence of human prejudice; when your heart awoke I preserved you from the sway of passion. Had I been able to prolong this inner tranquillity till your life’s end, my work would have been secure, and you would have been as happy as man can be; but, my dear Emile, in vain did I dip you in the waters of Styx, I could not make you everywhere invulnerable; a fresh enemy has appeared, whom you have not yet learnt to conquer, and from whom I cannot save you. That enemy is yourself. Nature and fortune had left you free. You could face poverty, you could bear bodily pain; the sufferings of the heart were unknown to you; you were then dependent on nothing but your position as a human being; now you depend on all the ties you have formed for yourself; you have learnt to desire, and you are now the slave of your desires. Without any change in yourself, without any insult, any injury to yourself, what sorrows may attack your soul, what pains may you suffer without sickness, how many deaths may you die and yet live! A lie, an error, a suspicion, may plunge you in despair.
“At the theatre you used to see heroes, abandoned to depths of woe, making the stage re-echo with their wild cries, lamenting like women, weeping like children, and thus securing the applause of the audience. Do you remember how shocked you were by those lamentations, cries, and groans, in men from whom one would only expect deeds of constancy and heroism. ‘Why,’ said you, ‘are those the patterns we are to follow, the models set for our imitation! Are they afraid man will not be small enough, unhappy enough, weak enough, if his weakness is not enshrined under a false show of virtue.’ My young friend, henceforward you must be more merciful to the stage; you have become one of those heroes.
“You know how to suffer and to die; you know how to bear the heavy yoke of necessity in ills of the body, but you have not yet learnt to give a law to the desires of your heart; and the difficulties of life arise rather from our affections than from our needs. Our desires are vast, our strength is little better than nothing. In his wishes man is dependent on many things; in himself he is dependent on nothing, not even on his own life; the more his connections are multiplied, the greater his sufferings. Everything upon earth has an end; sooner or later all that we love escapes from our fingers, and we behave as if it would last for ever. What was your terror at the mere suspicion of Sophy’s death? Do you suppose she will live for ever? Do not young people of her age die? She must die, my son, and perhaps before you. Who knows if she is alive at this moment? Nature meant you to die but once; you have prepared a second death for yourself.
“A slave to your unbridled passions, how greatly are you to be pitied! Ever privations, losses, alarms; you will not even enjoy what is left. You will possess nothing because of the fear of losing it; you will never be able to satisfy your passions, because you desired to follow them continually. You will ever be seeking that which will fly before you; you will be miserable and you will become wicked. How can you be otherwise, having no care but your unbridled passions? If you cannot put up with involuntary privations how will you voluntarily deprive yourself? How can you sacrifice desire to duty, and resist your heart in order to listen to your reason? You would never see that man again who dared to bring you word of the death of your mistress; how would you behold him who would deprive you of her living self, him who would dare to tell you, ‘She is dead to you, virtue puts a gulf between you’? If you must live with her whatever happens, whether Sophy is married or single, whether you are free or not, whether she loves or hates you, whether she is given or refused to you, no matter, it is your will and you must have her at any price. Tell me then what crime will stop a man who has no law but his heart’s desires, who knows not how to resist his own passions.
“My son, there is no happiness without courage, nor virtue without a struggle. The word virtue is derived from a word signifying strength, and strength is the foundation of all virtue. Virtue is the heritage of a creature weak by nature but strong by will; that is the whole merit of the righteous man; and though we call God good we do not call Him virtuous, because He does good without effort. I waited to explain the meaning of this word, so often profaned, until you were ready to understand me. As long as virtue is quite easy to practise, there is little need to know it. This need arises with the awakening of the passions; your time has come.
“When I brought you up in all the simplicity of nature, instead of preaching disagreeable duties, I secured for you immunity from the vices which make such duties disagreeable; I made lying not so much hateful as unnecessary in your sight; I taught you not so much to give others their due, as to care little about your own rights; I made you kindly rather than virtuous. But the kindly man is only kind so long as he finds it pleasant; kindness falls to pieces at the shock of human passions; the kindly man is only kind to himself.
“What is meant by a virtuous man? He who can conquer his affections; for then he follows his reason, his conscience; he does his duty; he is his own master and nothing can turn him from the right way. So far you have had only the semblance of liberty, the precarious liberty of the slave who has not received his orders. Now is the time for real freedom; learn to be your own master; control your heart, my Emile, and you will be virtuous.
“There is another apprenticeship before you, an apprenticeship more difficult than the former; for nature delivers us from the evils she lays upon us, or else she teaches us to submit to them; but she has no message for us with regard to our self-imposed evils; she leaves us to ourselves; she leaves us, victims of our own passions, to succumb to our vain sorrows, to pride ourselves on the tears of which we should be ashamed.
“This is your first passion. Perhaps it is the only passion worthy of you. If you can control it like a man, it will be the last; you will be master of all the rest, and you will obey nothing but the passion for virtue.
“There is nothing criminal in this passion; I know it; it is as pure as the hearts which experience it. It was born of honour and nursed by innocence. Happy lovers! for you the charms of virtue do but add to those of love; and the blessed union to which you are looking forward is less the reward of your goodness than of your affection. But tell me, O truthful man, though this passion is pure, is it any the less your master? Are you the less its slave? And if to-morrow it should cease to be innocent, would you strangle it on the spot? Now is the time to try your strength; there is no time for that in hours of danger. These perilous efforts should be made when danger is still afar. We do not practise the use of our weapons when we are face to face with the enemy, we do that before the war; we come to the battle-field ready prepared.
“It is a mistake to classify the passions as lawful and unlawful, so as to yield to the one and refuse the other. All alike are good if we are their masters; all alike are bad if we abandon ourselves to them. Nature forbids us to extend our relations beyond the limits of our strength; reason forbids us to want what we cannot get, conscience forbids us, not to be tempted, but to yield to temptation. To feel or not to feel a passion is beyond our control, but we can control ourselves. Every sentiment under our own control is lawful; those which control us are criminal. A man is not guilty if he loves his neighbour’s wife, provided he keeps this unhappy passion under the control of the law of duty; he is guilty if he loves his own wife so greatly as to sacrifice everything to that love.
“Do not expect me to supply you with lengthy precepts of morality, I have only one rule to give you which sums up all the rest. Be a man; restrain your heart within the limits of your manhood. Study and know these limits; however narrow they may be, we are not unhappy within them; it is only when we wish to go beyond them that we are unhappy, only when, in our mad passions, we try to attain the impossible; we are unhappy when we forget our manhood to make an imaginary world for ourselves, from which we are always slipping back into our own. The only good things, whose loss really affects us, are those which we claim as our rights. If it is clear that we cannot obtain what we want, our mind turns away from it; wishes without hope cease to torture us. A beggar is not tormented by a desire to be a king; a king only wishes to be a god when he thinks himself more than man.
“The illusions of pride are the source of our greatest ills; but the contemplation of human suffering keeps the wise humble. He keeps to his proper place and makes no attempt to depart from it; he does not waste his strength in getting what he cannot keep; and his whole strength being devoted to the right employment of what he has, he is in reality richer and more powerful in proportion as he desires less than we. A man, subject to death and change, shall I forge for myself lasting chains upon this earth, where everything changes and disappears, whence I myself shall shortly vanish! Oh, Emile! my son! if I were to lose you, what would be left of myself? And yet I must learn to lose you, for who knows when you may be taken from me?
“Would you live in wisdom and happiness, fix your heart on the beauty that is eternal; let your desires be limited by your position, let your duties take precedence of your wishes; extend the law of necessity into the region of morals; learn to lose what may be taken from you; learn to forsake all things at the command of virtue, to set yourself above the chances of life, to detach your heart before it is torn in pieces, to be brave in adversity so that you may never be wretched, to be steadfast in duty that you may never be guilty of a crime. Then you will be happy in spite of fortune, and good in spite of your passions. You will find a pleasure that cannot be destroyed, even in the possession of the most fragile things; you will possess them, they will not possess you, and you will realise that the man who loses everything, only enjoys what he knows how to resign. It is true you will not enjoy the illusions of imaginary pleasures, neither will you feel the sufferings which are their result. You will profit greatly by this exchange, for the sufferings are real and frequent, the pleasures are rare and empty. Victor over so many deceitful ideas, you will also vanquish the idea that attaches such an excessive value to life. You will spend your life in peace, and you will leave it without terror; you will detach yourself from life as from other things. Let others, horror-struck, believe that when this life is ended they cease to be; conscious of the nothingness of life, you will think that you are but entering upon the true life. To the wicked, death is the close of life; to the just it is its dawn.”
Emile heard me with attention not unmixed with anxiety. After such a startling preface he feared some gloomy conclusion. He foresaw that when I showed him how necessary it is to practise the strength of the soul, I desired to subject him to this stern discipline; he was like a wounded man who shrinks from the surgeon, and fancies he already feels the painful but healing touch which will cure the deadly wound.
Uncertain, anxious, eager to know what I am driving at, he does not answer, he questions me but timidly. “What must I do?” says he almost trembling, not daring to raise his eyes. “What must you do?” I reply firmly. “You must leave Sophy.” “What are you saying?” he exclaimed angrily. “Leave Sophy, leave Sophy, deceive her, become a traitor, a villain, a perjurer!” “Why!” I continue, interrupting him; “does Emile suppose I shall teach him to deserve such titles?” “No,” he continued with the same vigour. “Neither you nor any one else; I am capable of preserving your work; I shall not deserve such reproaches.”
I was prepared for this first outburst; I let it pass unheeded. If I had not the moderation I preach it would not be much use preaching it! Emile knows me too well to believe me capable of demanding any wrong action from him, and he knows that it would be wrong to leave Sophy, in the sense he attaches to the phrase. So he waits for an explanation. Then I resume my speech.
“My dear Emile, do you think any man whatsoever can be happier than you have been for the last three months? If you think so, undeceive yourself. Before tasting the pleasures of life you have plumbed the depths of its happiness. There is nothing more than you have already experienced. The joys of sense are soon over; habit invariably destroys them. You have tasted greater joys through hope than you will ever enjoy in reality. The imagination which adorns what we long for, deserts its possession. With the exception of the one self-existing Being, there is nothing beautiful except that which is not. If that state could have lasted for ever, you would have found perfect happiness. But all that is related to man shares his decline; all is finite, all is fleeting in human life, and even if the conditions which make us happy could be prolonged for ever, habit would deprive us of all taste for that happiness. If external circumstances remain unchanged, the heart changes; either happiness forsakes us, or we forsake her.
“During your infatuation time has passed unheeded. Summer is over, winter is at hand. Even if our expeditions were possible, at such a time of year they would not be permitted. Whether we wish it or no, we shall have to change our way of life; it cannot continue. I read in your eager eyes that this does not disturb you greatly; Sophy’s confession and your own wishes suggest a simple plan for avoiding the snow and escaping the journey. The plan has its advantages, no doubt; but when spring returns, the snow will melt and the marriage will remain; you must reckon for all seasons.
“You wish to marry Sophy and you have only known her five months! You wish to marry her, not because she is a fit wife for you, but because she pleases you; as if love were never mistaken as to fitness, as if those, who begin with love, never ended with hatred! I know she is virtuous; but is that enough? Is fitness merely a matter of honour? It is not her virtue I misdoubt, it is her disposition. Does a woman show her real character in a day? Do you know how often you must have seen her and under what varying conditions to really know her temper? Is four months of liking a sufficient pledge for the rest of your life? A couple of months hence you may have forgotten her; as soon as you are gone another may efface your image in her heart; on your return you may find her as indifferent as you have hitherto found her affectionate. Sentiments are not a matter of principle; she may be perfectly virtuous and yet cease to love you. I am inclined to think she will be faithful and true; but who will answer for her, and who will answer for you if you are not put to the proof? Will you postpone this trial till it is too late, will you wait to know your true selves till parting is no longer possible?
“Sophy is not eighteen, and you are barely twenty-two; this is the age for love, but not for marriage. What a father and mother for a family! If you want to know how to bring up children, you should at least wait till you yourselves are children no longer. Do you not know that too early motherhood has weakened the constitution, destroyed the health, and shortened the life of many young women? Do you not know that many children have always been weak and sickly because their mother was little more than a child herself? When mother and child are both growing, the strength required for their growth is divided, and neither gets all that nature intended; are not both sure to suffer? Either I know very little of Emile, or he would rather wait and have a healthy wife and children, than satisfy his impatience at the price of their life and health.
“Let us speak of yourself. You hope to be a husband and a father; have you seriously considered your duties? When you become the head of a family you will become a citizen of your country. And what is a citizen of the state? What do you know about it? You have studied your duties as a man, but what do you know of the duties of a citizen? Do you know the meaning of such terms as government, laws, country? Do you know the price you must pay for life, and for what you must be prepared to die? You think you know everything, when you really know nothing at all. Before you take your place in the civil order, learn to perceive and know what is your proper place.
“Emile, you must leave Sophy; I do not bid you forsake her; if you were capable of such conduct, she would be only too happy not to have married you; you must leave her in order to return worthy of her. Do not be vain enough to think yourself already worthy. How much remains to be done! Come and fulfil this splendid task; come and learn to submit to absence; come and earn the prize of fidelity, so that when you return you may indeed deserve some honour, and may ask her hand not as a favour but as a reward.”
Unaccustomed to struggle with himself, untrained to desire one thing and to will another, the young man will not give way; he resists, he argues. Why should he refuse the happiness which awaits him? Would he not despise the hand which is offered him if he hesitated to accept it? Why need he leave her to learn what he ought to know? And if it were necessary to leave her why not leave her as his wife with a certain pledge of his return? Let him be her husband, and he is ready to follow me; let them be married and he will leave her without fear. “Marry her in order to leave her, dear Emile! what a contradiction! A lover who can leave his mistress shows himself capable of great things; a husband should never leave his wife unless through necessity. To cure your scruples, I see the delay must be involuntary on your part; you must be able to tell Sophy you leave her against your will. Very well, be content, and since you will not follow the commands of reason, you must submit to another master. You have not forgotten your promise. Emile, you must leave Sophy; I will have it.”
For a moment or two he was downcast, silent, and thoughtful, then looking me full in the face he said, “When do we start?” “In a week’s time,” I replied; “Sophy must be prepared for our going. Women are weaker than we are, and we must show consideration for them; and this parting is not a duty for her as it is for you, so she may be allowed to bear it less bravely.”
The temptation to continue the daily history of their love up to the time of their separation is very great; but I have already presumed too much upon the good nature of my readers; let us abridge the story so as to bring it to an end. Will Emile face the situation as bravely at his mistress’ feet as he has done in conversation with his friend? I think he will; his confidence is rooted in the sincerity of his love. He would be more at a loss with her, if it cost him less to leave her; he would leave her feeling himself to blame, and that is a difficult part for a man of honour to play; but the greater the sacrifice, the more credit he demands for it in the sight of her who makes it so difficult. He has no fear that she will misunderstand his motives. Every look seems to say, “Oh, Sophy, read my heart and be faithful to me; your lover is not without virtue.”
Sophy tries to bear the unforeseen blow with her usual pride and dignity. She tries to seem as if she did not care, but as the honours of war are not hers, but Emile’s, her strength is less equal to the task. She weeps, she sighs against her will, and the fear of being forgotten embitters the pain of parting. She does not weep in her lover’s sight, she does not let him see her terror; she would die rather than utter a sigh in his presence. I am the recipient of her lamentations, I behold her tears, it is I who am supposed to be her confidant. Women are very clever and know how to conceal their cleverness; the more she frets in private, the more pains she takes to please me; she feels that her fate is in my hands.
I console and comfort her; I make myself answerable for her lover, or rather for her husband; let her be as true to him as he to her and I promise they shall be married in two years’ time. She respects me enough to believe that I do not want to deceive her. I am guarantor to each for the other. Their hearts, their virtue, my honesty, the confidence of their parents, all combine to reassure them. But what can reason avail against weakness? They part as if they were never to meet again.
Then it is that Sophy recalls the regrets of Eucharis, and fancies herself in her place. Do not let us revive that fantastic affection during his absence. “Sophy,” say I one day, “exchange books with Emile; let him have your Telemachus that he may learn to be like him, and let him give you his Spectator which you enjoy reading. Study the duties of good wives in it, and remember that in two years’ time you will undertake those duties.” The exchange gave pleasure to both and inspired them with confidence. At last the sad day arrived and they must part.
Sophy’s worthy father, with whom I had arranged the whole business, took affectionate leave of me, and taking me aside, he spoke seriously and somewhat emphatically, saying, “I have done everything to please you; I knew I had to do with a man of honour; I have only one word to say. Remember your pupil has signed his contract of marriage on my daughter’s lips.”
What a difference in the behaviour of the two lovers! Emile, impetuous, eager, excited, almost beside himself, cries aloud and sheds torrents of tears upon the hands of father, mother, and daughter; with sobs he embraces every one in the house and repeats the same thing over and over again in a way that would be ludicrous at any other time. Sophy, pale, sorrowful, doleful, and heavy-eyed, remains quiet without a word or a tear, she sees no one, not even Emile. In vain he takes her hand, and clasps her in his arms; she remains motionless, unheeding his tears, his caresses, and everything he does; so far as she is concerned, he is gone already. A sight more moving than the prolonged lamentations and noisy regrets of her lover! He sees, he feels, he is heartbroken. I drag him reluctantly away; if I left him another minute, he would never go. I am delighted that he should carry this touching picture with him. If he should ever be tempted to forget what is due to Sophy, his heart must have strayed very far indeed if I cannot bring it back to her by recalling her as he saw her last.
[1 ] Without this the race would necessarily diminish; all things considered, for its preservation each woman ought to have about four children, for about half the children born die before they can become parents, and two must survive to replace the father and mother. See whether the towns will supply them?
[1 ] Women’s timidity is yet another instinct of nature against the double risk she runs during pregnancy.
[1 ] The child will say this because she has heard it said; but you must make sure she knows what death is, for the idea is not so simple and within the child’s grasp as people think. In that little poem “Abel” you will find an example of the way to teach them. This charming work breathes a delightful simplicity with which one should feed one’s own mind so as to talk with children.
[1 ] I know that women who have openly decided on a certain course of conduct profess that their lack of concealment is a virtue in itself, and swear that, with one exception, they are possessed of all the virtues; but I am sure they never persuaded any but fools to believe them. When the natural curb is removed from their sex, what is there left to restrain them? What honour will they prize when they have rejected the honour of their sex? Having once given the rein to passion they have no longer any reason for self-control. “Nec femina, amissa pudicitia, alia abnuerit.” No author ever understood more thoroughly the heart of both sexes than Tacitus when he wrote those words.
[1 ] The way of a man in his youth was one of the four things that the sage could not understand; the fifth was the shamelessness of an adulteress. “Quæ comedit, et tergens os suum dicit; non sum operata malum.” Prov. xxx. 20.
[1 ] “ ‘When you leave the palace you enter a vast garden, four acres in extent, walled in on every side, planted with tall trees in blossom, and yielding pears, pomegranates, and other goodly fruits, fig-trees with their luscious burden and green olives. All the year round these fair trees are heavy with fruit; summer and winter the soft breath of the west wind sways the trees and ripens the fruit. Pears and apples wither on the branches, the fig on the fig-tree, and the clusters of grapes on the vine. The inexhaustible stock bears fresh grapes, some are baked, some are spread out on the threshing floor to dry, others are made into wine, while flowers, sour grapes, and those which are beginning to wither are left upon the tree. At either end is a square garden filled with flowers which bloom throughout the year; these gardens are adorned by two fountains, one of these streams waters the garden, the other passes through the palace and is then taken to a lofty tower in the town to provide drinking water for its citizens.’ Such is the description of the royal garden of Alcinous in the 7th book of the Odyssey; a garden in which, to the lasting disgrace of that old dreamer Homer and the princes of his day, there were neither trellises, statues, cascades, nor bowling-greens.”
[2 ] I own I feel grateful to Sophy’s mother for not letting her spoil such pretty hands with soap, hands which Emile will kiss so often.
[1 ] The kind of deceit referred to here is just the opposite of that deceit becoming in a woman, and taught her by nature; the latter consists in concealing her real feelings, the former in feigning what she does not feel. Every society lady spends her life in boasting of her supposed sensibility, when in reality she cares for no one but herself.
[1 ] To look after a sick peasant is not merely to give him a pill, or medicine, or to send a surgeon to him. That is not what these poor folk require in sickness; what they want is more and better food. When you have fever, you will do well to fast, but when your peasants have it, give them meat and wine; illness, in their case, is nearly always due to poverty and exhaustion; your cellar will supply the best draught, your butchers will be the best apothecary.