The art of taking a wife
Love, too, has so many and suchdifferent forms, and is composed ofso many different elements, that itcan vibrate and burn even in thegray-headed.
The last love of Goethe speaks ofall these; and the many warm andenduring passions awakened inyoung women by men eminent inpolitics, arts, letters, and science joinin the chorus.
If in these loves the ardour of thesenses fails—and it must fail—we[Pg 80]find much veneration, tenderness, andoften a sweet compassion, a sentimentthat always predominates in thefemale breast.
Young men are often bad husbandsbecause they assume too much; theypretend that love should be laid attheir feet, as a tribute due to theirbeauty and transcendent vigour.They claim that they have the rightto be loved for themselves, evenwhen they on their side fulfil noneof their duties.
The old man, on the contrary, feelshis own weakness and implores loveas a favour, and responds to it witha warm and inexhaustible gratitudeevery hour and every minute. Heknows that little is due to him, andcontents himself with a smile, a kiss,[Pg 81]or a caress, which he doubles andcentriples with his unfailing gratitude.He guards his love as a treasure,which may be taken from himfrom one moment to another; hedefends it with all his strength, enclosesit in a tabernacle, and adoresit as a god. His companion, therefore,has always the peaceful suretythat she will not be betrayed byother women.
That these unions may be blessedby happiness, the husband and wife,above all things, must be gentle-people;that is persons of honour,who frankly accept the compactsworn to, without reticence or subterfuge.
Before the old man utters the tremendousyes he ought to presenthis account, even increasing thecredit and diminishing the debit;explain himself clearly and dotevery i. Therefore I entreat youwhen you make your fiancée acquaintedwith your financial position,be careful that each i has its dot,aye, even two.
Such marriages as we are studyingare far more frequent than weshould at first suppose, and thefortunate cases are also less rarethan the theory would lead us tobelieve; because women are fargreater idealists in love than weare, and whilst we chiefly seek[Pg 83]beauty and carnal gratification, theyseek other things of a superiororder, which they appease with theheart of the artist, and the phantasyof the poet. The love of a manfor an illustrious but ugly womanis a phenomenon rarer than a whitefly. The love of a young womanfor a great, but gray-headed manis tolerably common, and is sufficientto do honour to the female sex.
But a man of mature age hasother things besides to offer a youngwoman: riches, a high social position,many ambitions he can satisfy; andhe has a whole world of high, good,and pleasant things to lay at thefoot of the woman, and can say toher: All this for a little love!
I, of course, understand that these[Pg 84]are international exchanges, which arefar removed from love, and approachmore nearly to commerce; but thesacred books have often used thewords carnal commerce without blushing,and why can there not be alittle commerce in matrimony? Providedthe balance does not inclinetoo much to one side, and there isno deceit—in a word provided theone who weighs be a gentleman—suchmarriages may be happy, too.
When a man marries a womanvery much younger than himself,people smile maliciously and pointtheir fingers as if to ward off theevil eye, and to show the daringindividual that the Minotaur awaits[Pg 85]him. In this case the populace cutsnot one, but a hundred gordianknots with a brutal and bestialsword.
Adultery is a plant that grows inevery clime, but more especiallywhere a woman fails in esteem forher companion, and the clever sowerand cultivator of these plants isalways the husband.
I am so convinced of this truth,that if statistics of adultery werepossible, I am certain I should findthe greatest number amongst theunions of young people: for theyalso make contracts of buying andselling, of exchange of titles anddollars, in their marriages.
If you, with your white hairs,have the courage to marry a young[Pg 86]woman, study her character most ofall. If she be a thorough lady ineducation she will be less likely tobetray you than if you were young;for she is proud of herself andwould not willingly commit a sintoward which the world would beso indulgent; for women also likedifficult things, heroic undertakings;because they like to say in theirown hearts or throw in the face oftheir seducer the sublime motto:noblesse oblige.
Then in conclusion:
If, with your white hairs, you havethe courage to bind your life toblond or brown tresses fragrant withyouthfulness, place yourself naked[Pg 87]before the mirror in your chamberand look at yourself for some time.Then for a longer time put yourselfbefore that other mirror of consciencewhich reflects us so inexorably;and, having balanced the accounts ofyour physical I and your moral andintellectual me, see if you are stilla possible man, a handsome andstrong man; and if you find yourselfa young woman who is more an angelthan a woman, more woman thanfemale, offer her your hand withouttoo many scruples or false reticences,and who knows but that when youdie, you may then be able to say:“The last years of my life havebeen my happiest. In my youth Iknew a hundred women, in my oldage I have only known one; and[Pg 88]she alone was worth the other hundred.Woman is the benediction oflife.”
A young man and old woman:
Amongst the discordances of agebetween husband and wife, noneastonish us so much, or I ought tosay disgust us more, than when anold woman marries a young man.
There is the kernel of a greattruth at the root of this scorn, whichsprings from the very heart ofnature.
A man may be a man even ateighty years of age; and I cannotresist smiling when I remember alady who complained of the exactionsof her companion, a man over[Pg 89]seventy. We all remember Fontenelleand the Duke of Richelieu, inwhom virility was only extinguishedwith life: in the first case the lifelasting for a century, in the secondfor more than eighty years.
A woman, on the contrary, afterforty-five, or at the most after fiftyyears of age, is no longer a woman,and the reproductive faculty isentirely destroyed. Hence the marriageof a young man and old womanis more contrary to the laws ofnature than that of an old man anda young woman. The one may befruitful, the other never. Add tothe æsthetic exigencies of the manthe rapid decadence of the womanafter the change of life, and you willunderstand that the union we are[Pg 90]discussing is one of the most repugnantand repulsive. The motiveswhich bring such a man and such awoman together are nearly alwaysthe most abject, and amongst thosethat offend the moral sense themost. On one side carnal gratification;on the other the thirst forgold; hence, prostitution on the partof the man, the most filthy and disgustingin the commerce of love.The man sells his youth, his virility,in exchange for money; and thewoman who no longer has a rightto love, buys it as a merchandise,and is satisfied with the voluptuousnessgiven her by one whom sheought to be the first to despise! Amarket of lasciviousness and vileness,gold gathered from the mud—a mud,[Pg 91]however, which cannot be washed off,and which soils hand, conscience,everything it touches.
However, for the honour of humanity,such unions are exceedinglyrare: those who buy and sell and aresatisfied with a clandestine concubinage,hide the sin in the deep foldsof our modern hypocrisy.
Maintained, yes; a husband, no!
A woman, on the contrary, alwaysdesires marriage, because she has thepride of proclaiming to all the world,that, notwithstanding her many yearsand innumerable wrinkles, the wreckof her form which assails her on allsides, she has known how to find acompanion at bed and board, whomakes her happy.
Man, on the contrary, hides himself[Pg 92]on account of the modesty which isnever wanting, even in the vilest delinquents;and hiding his shame in thedarkness of a clandestine concubinage,hopes to preserve the esteem of men,and the gold he has gained withthat reddened face of his. I will persistno longer on this theme because Ihope that no young husbands of oldwomen will ever read my book—theywould soil it too much with theirfilthy hands—and because I have agreat hope that they are all illiterate.
However, before leaving this luridargument, I ought to say, for the loveof truth, that ancient and modern historyregister some exceedingly rarecases of union between old women and[Pg 93]young men, in which neither the desiresof the flesh nor the thirst forgold entered at all; they treat of intellectualunions in which the concordof souls, the sympathy of hearts andthoughts, the harmony of taste, theaffinity of humane propositions, mostcharmingly unite two persons whomthe difference in age would generallydivide.
Love is the greatest and most powerfulworker of miracles, it is the thaumaturgusof thaumaturgists, and I inthe small circle of my experiencesknow a young man, who has neverbeen able to desire or love a youngwoman, but adores old women; and ifhe does not marry any of his venerablefriends, it is from fear of ridicule. Itis true that in this case we treat of an[Pg 94]aberration of sexual instinct to beclassed with sodomy and incest; butthis pathological nomad is seated inan otherwise normal and perfectbrain.
Intellectual unions on the otherhand are physiological facts whichoffend no rights of nature, and oughtto be respected and studied, as rare,but most noble phenomena of thehuman heart.
With regard to the health of thosedesiring to take a wife, and the healthof our companion, I will recommendto them my Elementi d’igiene, andmore especially Igiene d’amore, whereI have fully treated this vital side ofthe great problem.
PHYSICAL SYMPATHIES.—RACE ANDNATIONALITY.
Love is the strongest, the mostirresistible, the most fatal of chemicalaffinities, and if potassium can extractoxygen from water, unite with it,light it, and make it burn with abright flame and conflagration, considerthe case of a man who firstsees a woman and feels that she isprecisely the atom with whom it ishis irresistible destiny to unite, inorder to kindle the flame of life.
It is no longer a simple electro-negativemolecule which seeks, absorbs,[Pg 96]and consumes the oppositeelectro-positive molecule, but it is anorganism, an entire microcosm, whichattracts another microcosm on itsown vortex, so as to live united inthe heaven of life, as two stars abovelive united in a mysterious and eternalmarriage.
There are all the cellules of theepidermis, and all the pores of theskin, which seek the cellules andpores of the other organism; thereare the inward parts which palpitate,the nerves which vibrate, the feelingswhich weep and sob, the thoughtsthat are crowded with all the soul’sexpression, and seek those innerparts, nerves, affections, and thoughts,which nature has made kin.
Not unjustly was the moment given[Pg 97]that applicable French name, Coupde foudre.
Lightning it is—that gigantic forcewhich draws man and woman togetherand makes of them one being.In its minor grades we call the forcesympathy; a little later, when stronger,we call it love.
I detest pedantic preachers of prudence,who make it consist of anemasculation of all virility of bodyand thought; but I also appreciatethe need of repeating to you:
Distrust the flashes of lightning!
Perhaps you will say to me: “Thatis the same as preaching the doctrine:do not believe in hunger, thirst, orsleep.”
Flashes of lightning are apparentlyall alike, but they are substantiallydifferent, one from the other. Someare harmless—give a great light,deafen one with the rumbling ofthunder, and there they end. Theyare momentary eruptions of thesenses, and nothing more. But thereare others that burn, and cleaveasunder all that they find in theirway. From these no lightning conductorcan save us. Either one isdead or is struck by lightning, whichis the same as saying, electrified fromhead to foot by that force, which hasemanated from another body whichperhaps needs ours, and which