The art of taking a wife
And she is really a phenomenon,an idol to put on altars amidst theincense of our adoration; she is awoman who thinks as much as a man,has the learning of a professor, writesbooks that are read, or paints picturesand makes statues to which areawarded prizes; an idol to be admiredif beauty be added to thisvirtue and if grace accompany it;a half goddess or a goddess if thetalent does not go arm in arm withpride, and if genius is surrounded by[Pg 159]a fragrant and flowering womanliness.But who finds these phenomena, andwho, having found them, marriesthem? Then if the literary womanis ugly, and impolite, if her body andvoice proclaim the certificate of herbaptism, which makes her more manthan woman, oh! then we are allagreed in not wishing to have herfor a wife. It is a new species, apsycho-physico hermaphrodite, whosebooks, pictures, and statues we admire,but whom we have no desire toshare a room with.
In sexual union the harmonies ofrelation ought to show themselves, inthought as well as act, in order thatthere may be happiness. Therefore[Pg 160]it is that man was made by naturemore intelligent than woman. Perfectharmony is only to be found with aman who thinks vigorously, does whathe wishes with energy; who rulesand guides the woman in the pathsof life and the glories of conquest.The inversion of these relationsmeans to be out of tune and in discord;it is an humiliation on the partof the man, and (let us admit it) on thepart of the woman also, who in ninety-ninecases out of the hundred wishesto be loved, caressed, and also adored,but who likes to feel herself ruled.
Woe to those women of intellectsuperior to the husband, whom theymust pity, correct when in error,and too often pardon for his follyand absurdities!
Love is a chemical affinity; andits composition is proportionatelystronger the more widely differentare the elements in the combination.The ideal of perfect marriage isthe combination of a man thoroughlya man, exceedingly so, and a womanthoroughly a woman, exceedingly so.Whenever a man acquires a femininetendency of character and a womana virile one the chemical affinitydiminishes in intensity, the combinationalters at the least touch or firstcontact of a third body which comesnear and has a greater affinity forone or the other of the twoelements.
A very intelligent woman and aman of less than mediocre intellectare combinations of bodies which can[Pg 162]only have an exceedingly weak affinitybetween them. The first has amode of thought which is virile,and the second has a feminine one.And only too often the thirdelement comes to correct the electiveaffinity, and the literary womantakes a man of genius, who rulesher, for a lover, or a robust man,who calms her; and the husband ofsmall intellect comforts himself inmaking love to an illiterate peasantwoman, or a maid without grammar,with whom he can show his intellectualpre-eminence and revenge himselfon the superiority of his wife.
I ask pardon (on my knees ifnecessary, for I know that my sin[Pg 163]is great) for treating of a more anda less in the measure of thought.
This is really an infantile or Australasianpsychology; but the muchor the little are always the firstapproximations to the solution ofevery problem, and the how muchalways goes before the when andthe how.
I admit, then, that in the harmonyof thought between the man andwoman the amount must always begreater on the man’s side. Theculture of the man is always progressing,and with it inevitably thatof the woman also, but this oughtalways to remain a step below ours,not because we do not wish to losethe pre-eminence of potency, but becausethe labour of the brain is more[Pg 164]difficult and perilous in the woman’scase than in the man’s, and her energynaturally less.
Look around without leaving Italyand tell me how many normal women,how many healthy and perfect women,there are in our literary circle. Iwill not continue on this theme lestI draw upon myself a shower ofpoisoned darts. Several are myvenerated and admired friends, and Iwish to keep their friendship untilmy last breath. But if I should saythat many of them are sterile, andmany very nervous, ought they tofeel themselves offended? I esteemthem too much to believe it! Manis so accustomed to consider himselfsuperior to the woman inthe world of thought that if he[Pg 165]finds an error in the orthographyof a lady’s letter he is as pleasedas if he had found a diamond inthe sand of a river. That littleerror, which was made in the hystericalhaste of a moment of love’sexpansion, is really a diamond, becauseit confirms and assures us ofour intellectual superiority, and showsus all at once the feminine and seductivegrace of the being we love.An error of orthography or even ofgrammar in a feminine handwritingis a wayward little foot, which peepsout from under the skirt of thedress, and hints to us the gloriesof the sex, the inexhaustible delightsof voluptuousness. It is a coquettishcurve which in spite of the thickclothing whispers in the ear palpitating[Pg 166]with desire: Eve lies underneath,Eve who is awaiting Adam—anddesires him.
Harmony of thought between thesexes ought to spring from theagreement of the unlike, and insuch a way that no pride should beoffended, and each one be satisfiedto make a sum instead of a subtraction.
A scientific man and a female artistcan form a delightful harmony upontwo notes; a naturalist also and awoman who adores music; a psychologist,an inexorable analyst, and awoman who sees the comic side ofthings at once; and thus there area hundred other combinations of[Pg 167]different intellectual values, which,summed up, leave each one contentedwith his own. Besides special fitness,there is a sexual characterwhich impresses itself upon thethought of the man and woman.Man discovers, finds, creates; womandivines, distinguishes, analyses. Manreaps, woman gleans. Man with toogreat haste, often with too greatpride, grasps too much and lets itfall from its hands; woman walksbehind and gathers up what he haslost.
Man has less tact in judging hissurroundings, and often gives a cuffwhen he means a caress; woman,on the contrary, like a delicate galvanometer,feels the slightest electricor magnetic oscillation in the air[Pg 168]which surrounds her, and for thisreason she is a most valuable instrumentto a politician, a writer, oran artist who attempts new roads tobeauty, and must conquer the resistanceof the majority. Unhappy theman who before printing a book,exhibiting a picture, or making aspeech in parliament has no lovedwoman from whom to draw life andwarmth. If a sailor never leavesport without consulting the barometer,so man never ought to preparehimself for any undertaking withouthaving first consulted that barometerof all barometers, the woman wholoves him. How many ships havebeen wrecked from want of thisprecaution, neglecting to take it,through pride or inattention!
You may be the greatest man ofgenius and your work the fruit oflong and profound meditation; andyet you may rest assured that in thegreat polyhedron of truth someplane has escaped your sight whichwill be seen by the woman who lovesyou, because she is a woman, andsees many little things a man doesnot see; and because she loves youshe has a magnifying lens beforethe eyes of her heart which makesall that may injure or benefit youappear gigantic.
It is very rare when a woman hasconquered our moral and physicalsympathies that we love her less forsome discord of thought; but if we[Pg 170]want ideal perfection we must marrybodies, hearts, and intellects. In thiscase we must seek in our companiona discreet culture, an exquisite tastefor the beautiful, a delicate spirit ofobservation, a divination of humancharacter. If you find all this in onewoman, and if she is beautiful andgood, you may deem yourself themost fortunate man in the world,and may declare to the whole earththat you have not one but threewives, having married intellect, heart,and thought.
THE FINANCIAL QUESTION IN MARRIAGE.
Before breeding time birds buildtheir nests to receive their futureyoung and to protect them from theweather. Many men, more improvidentthan the birds, marry withoutknowing where and how they canhouse the children of their love. Air,earth, and forest afford food to birdsgratuitously; to man only the butcher,the baker, and eating-house keepergive food, and they have the weaknessto ask payment for their services.Economic improvidence inmarriage is the bane of all social[Pg 172]decadence, and it is precisely amongstworkmen and the unemployed, oramongst those who are always strugglingand succumbing, that one findsit most, for they have become thoughtlessfatalists, to whom the day issufficient. Fatalism has many forms,but it is always a cowardly emasculationof self, or an even more cruelmutilation, for it undermines thestrength of the will and leads us torenounce all that is best in us. Inindividuals it is emasculation ormutilation, in nations it is suicide;the Ottoman Empire will soon showus whither Turkish fatalism leads.
I am compassionate, and believethat I pay my debts of charity towardthose who have wrecked their life;but when a starving fellow begs alms[Pg 173]of me, or pleads his large family ormany children as an excuse for hismoral and physical demoralisation,anger gets the better of me and Iexclaim: Why, then, did you have somany?
And this exclamation is not an insultto misery nor a curse; it is thevoice of reason, which if it could beheard in the homes of the poor wouldsuffice to solve the social problem. Iam a Malthusian impenitent, and aslong as I live I shall always say tothose struggling with poverty:
Love, but do not beget children.
In vain priests and rugged moralistsof Providence combat Malthusianism,which has now become a socialinstitution, and without the need ofwritten codes governs the economy of[Pg 174]the family in France, Italy, Germany,and even in chaste and fecund Albion.
In vain my Elementi d’Igiene wereput ad indice, for from year to yearthe Malthusian apostolate has madenew disciples, and will continue todo so.
Neither do I side with those whobelieve, with too great a faith or fanaticism,that a restriction in the numberof births is sufficient to resolve thesocial problem. No, certainly not; itis not enough; but it clears the groundof the most thorny brambles amongwhich human felicity gets entangled;and a comparison between the proletariatin the populous cities ofEurope and that of the desertregions of South America is sufficientto convince us that prolific improvidence[Pg 175]is also the prolific mother ofhunger, disease, and death.
If, then, you are not a Malthusian,nor desire to be converted to the newdoctrine, if you have no straw to buildyour nest, do not take a wife, but increasethe glorious number of the animalsof rapine and cuckoos.
I know very well that the most hatefuland disagreeable problem of matrimonyis the economic, but we cannotavoid nor solve it by shutting our eyesand disregarding it.
To love and be loved, to feel thatour life is doubled and the horizons ofthe future enlarged, to drink from theeyes of a woman who is a perfectfountain of delight, to feel the doors of[Pg 176]paradise opened to us by her lips;and then all at once to be obliged tospeak of income and dowry amidst suchintoxicating pleasures; then to rememberbetween one kiss and anotherthat to harbour all this paradise we donot possess, I cannot say a house, butnot even the most modest of rooms!It is hard, cruel, abominable, but it isnecessary!
The quart d’heure de Rabelais inthe affairs of love, and the exclamationof the Trappists who at table say totheir brethren: Remember we mustall die, are the waiters who, enteringthe guest chamber, present the bill tothe gay and thoughtless merry-makers.But in matrimony the accounts mustbe made out before, and drawn upseriously, calmly, and inexorably.
There is only one man in whosecase I could overlook a want of thisprudence, and it is he who feels thathe has the strength to fight for andthe energy to gain a position, and tothe man who strikes his forehead andexclaims, Numen adest. What