A FEW years ago
the lycée or public school was drastically arraigned by that popular
novelist M. Jean Aicard. Again and again through the
picturesque and moving pages of "L'Ame d'un Enfant," we come upon
Sully Prudhomme's line—
"Oh, mètes, coupables absentes!"
"Oh, mothers, guilty absentees!" he writes, "fain would I
have these lines engraved on the portal of every lycée. For
why play with words? The lycée is a prison, substantially a
prison, the horrors of which are aggravated by the innocence and
helplessness of the prisoners. Children are therein subjected
to penal servitude, a system based, not upon love, but upon
compulsion and routine."
If M. Jean Aicard indicts the feminine rather than the
paternal head of a house, we must remember that in the home a
Frenchwoman's rule is autocratic. A child's education is
entirely in the hands of its mother, and—so writes our author—as
soon as little Pierre or Paul begin to be noisy, to damage
furniture, and need the discipline their fathers have not been
permitted to exercise at home, off they are bundled to a lycée. Of
the seven or eight hundred boarders in any one of these barrack-like
buildings, many, he asserts, belong to families living in the same
Throwing what reads like personal experiences into narrative form,
our author describes the life of a little boarder. Oliver Twist
seems hardly more to be pitied than this nine-year-old victim of
militarism in education, but no mere autobiography is here, a
child's soul is laid bare. From beginning to end the book is a
condemnation of scholastic methods in France.
In his little read but deeply interesting memoirs, Philarète Chasles
tells us of George Sand's dismay when visiting her son in a lycée. The bare yard doing duty as a recreation ground, the prison-like
uniformity of the class-rooms, the military discipline shocked the
novelist, and, adds the narrator, "I am entirely at one with George
Sand, Montaigne, and H. Fröbel, I protest against those dismal jails
Montaigne's great predecessor in Gargantua sketched an ideal plan of
education. Rabelais would have a collegiate life "so easy and
delectable as rather to resemble royal pastime than scholastic
But Rabelais and Montaigne were voices preaching in the wilderness.
That arch centralizer Napoleon worsened instead of bettering
matters. Under his régime the lycée became half monastery, half
barracks, an apprenticeship to military life. Professors,
principals, and managers were bachelors; a semi-military uniform was
obligatory even in the case of nine-year-old boys, like soldiers,
pupils were summoned to meals, lessons, and exercise by the drum.
The Restoration only altered matters extrinsically. The name of
collège royal supplemented that of lycée, bells replaced the
perpetual drumming so offensive to George Sand, and the Napoleonic
three-cornered hat was exchanged for one of less military kind.
Some valuable reforms and many important changes were introduced
under the second Empire by M. Duruy the historian, then minister of
public instruction. Lycées were henceforth divided into two
categories, those intended for the learnèd professions, and those
about to devote themselves to commerce and agriculture. The first
followed the usual curriculum; the second studied modern languages,
technical science, agriculture, chemistry, and the like. Certain lycées were set apart for the new course of study called
The third Republic not only revolutionized primary education
throughout France, carrying out the magnificent scheme of the
Convention and founding state schools for girls, but introduced a
new spirit into the lycée generally. The Ferry laws of 1881
considerably reduced the time hitherto devoted to dead languages;
German, English, and elementary science were now taught in the lower
classes. The so-called enseignment spécial was also modified.
How far were such changes from satisfying public opinion the
Government commission of inquiry of 1899 makes clear. Five enormous
volumes contained the reports of savants, professors, delegates of
agricultural and industrial associations, and others.
Here is an extract from that of M. Lavisse, the historian—
"The uniformity of school routine is ludicrous. How inconsistent,
for instance, that the hours of recreation should be timed in
different climates at precisely the same time! From one to two
o'clock in the south of France, the heat of summer quite prevents
pupils from taking exercise, but
the same rules are in force for Marseilles and Dunkirk."
One result of the five enormous volumes has been the introduction of
athletic sports into the lycée. Cricket, football, and other games
are fast supplanting the "walk and talk" of former days.
"How do you amuse yourselves during recreation hours?" I once asked
the inmate of a large lycée.
"We walk up and down and talk," was the reply.
Whilst approving a certain amount of physical development, the
President of the Commission, M. Ribot, deprecated the wholesale
adoption of English methods.
"We do not want," he wrote, "to turn our lads into English boys. Rough sports do not suit our race, more refined in its elegant
vigour (vigueur élégance) than that of the Anglo-Saxon."
Hygienic conditions have also improved. We even hear that the
much-hated pion, or superintendent of tasks and recreation yard, is
to be suppressed. The herding together of enormous numbers, the
complete absence of any approach to home life and of feminine
influence, the deadening military routine, are time-honoured abuses
not easily combated. I must, however, say that my first visit to one
of these great colleges gave me a very pleasant impression.
It was on a beautiful Thursday in September that I drove with
friends from the heart of Paris to the lycée of Vanves, half a dozen
As we passed through the porter's gate into the magnificent park,
now an animated scene, I said to myself, "How happy must young
Parisians be with such a playground, acres upon acres of undulating
woodland, almost another Bois de Boulogne, at their service in play
I was soon undeceived. When I congratulated my young friend Edmund
upon such a privilege, he smiled at my naïvete.
"We are never allowed here except once a month, when our parents and
friends come to see us," he replied. "Our recreation ground is the
yard (cour) yonder."
The said cour was, however, invisible, being on the other side of
the lycée, formerly a seigneurial château.
To-day the beautiful grounds presented the appearance of a vast
picnic. Fond mothers and fathers had brought baskets of cakes,
fruit, and sweets, and everywhere bivouacked happy groups.
Little wonder that these boys clung so tenaciously to mothers,
sisters, any feminine relation. The lycée as absolutely excludes
womankind as the monastery and the barracks. Except on the Thursday
half-holiday, a lycéen never sees a woman's face or hears a woman's
voice. Tiny boys of nine and upwards are straightway committed to
masculine governance and care.
The following illustration of a little lycéen's life is from M.
"One half-holiday, I had brought back a rose, and wishing to keep it
as long as possible, I put it in a glass of water inside my desk.
"I could not help from time to time looking at my treasure—a crime,
I admit. For roses speak, but not in Latin; they say all sorts of
forbidden things, they invite little boys to run about in country
lanes, they incite to rebellion. You never see a lyceen censeur
(overseer or supervisor of studies) sniff a flower. Flowers do not
bloom on the schoolmaster's ruler. Well, I harboured my rose, just
as an anarchist harbours his bomb. When I opened my desk to give
the poor flower air, a ray of sunshine bathed it, seemed to kiss
it;—a dark shadow suddenly blotted out the beam. A big hand seized
my splendid rose, in another second it lay in the courtyard below.
Justice was satisfied!"
A state system of education is not easily changed, but outside the
French University and its dependencies, voluntaryism is actively at
Our good friend, M. Demolins, author of "La Supériorité des
Anglo-Saxons," does not share M. Ribot's misgivings. He is not
aghast at the notion of French boys losing their vigueur élégante—in
other words, becoming too English.
Aided by a valiant band of co-operators, this indefatigable
Anglophile has boldly seized the bull by the horns. From the École
des Roches, Verneuil (Eure), every vestige of the lycée is banished. Here are no enormous dormitories with spy-holes in the doors, no
prison-like routine, no walks and talks up and down bare yards. Outdoor sports, occupations, and excursions in summer, social
evenings in winter, vary the scholastic year, whilst an element of
family life enters both into upper and preparatory schools. Little
wonder that when the boys separated after the first term, i.e.
Christmas 1899, they gave three cheers for M. Demolins, and
exclaimed how delighted they should all be to return.
Whilst the primary object of this great educational reformer and his
colleagues is a sound physical, moral, and mental training, equally
important is their secondary aim, namely, to make each pupil not
only a good citizen, but a citizen of the world—in the best sense of
the word, to de-nationalize him. M. Demolins' scheme and
organization tend to nothing more surly than the uprooting of
national prejudice. One feature of his school is the six months'
stagure, or residence abroad. The youths are sent into English or
German families, or to schools, not only for linguistic
opportunities, but in order to familiarize them with modes of life
among other nations. Here indeed the originator of the École
Nouvelle shows an insight and political prescience that entitle him
to universal gratitude. English and German professors are also
engaged in contradistinction to the lycéen system. After the
Franco-German war, a regulation was made totally excluding
foreigners from the public teaching staff. Hence lycéens could only
learn foreign languages at second hand, an immense disadvantage. In
the Jesuit colleges, on the contrary, M. Demolins' arrangement has
been generally followed. On the subject of language Michelet wrote
eloquently, "How many unhappy beings lost their lives during the
Hundred Years' War simply because they could not cry 'Mercy' in the
tongue of the foe! In later times, how many European conflicts,
especially between near neighbours, might have been averted but for
common prejudices and ill-founded antipathies!"
A first step to destroy these is the internationalization of school
life, and M. Demolins' experiment so far has proved strikingly
successful. Take, by way of example, the following extracts from
French boys in England: "Chère Madame," writes a thirteen-year-old
to the founder's wife, "I write to thank you and M. D― for having
sent me to Dulwich, for every one is most kind to me, and I am not at
all sad." Another boy aged twelve writes, "My brother and I are
quite well. We are four in one bedroom; one boy is an Australian, who
is very nice (très gentil), the other English and very amusing." A
third aged eleven, who had evidently crossed the Manche in fear and
trembling, wrote, "The English boys here are not at all what I
expected to find them, noisy and rough; one of them especially I am
very fond of."
And so on and so throughout the collection included in the
half-yearly report ending October, 1900.
"Only think," M. Demolins observed to me when lunching at Verneuil,
"my boy has become so English that he did not want to come home at
all, and actually relishes porridge for breakfast!"
Delightful indeed is a day spent amid such surroundings, on every
side evidence of Utopian dreams put into practice.
"My master whipt me very well," quoth Dr. Johnson to his friend
Langton; "without that, sir, I should have done nothing." Wiser far
is the Rabelaisian theory of a scholastic training dour, légier et
délectable, a theory carried out in particular at Les Roches.
M. Demolins has, of course, driven a very thin edge of the wedge
only into the colossal educational machinery put together by the
Jesuits and elaborated by Napoleon.
Expenses are necessarily higher. A hundred or two boys located after
English fashion with married professors cost more per head than four
or five times as many herded together in barracks.
Again, there is the prejudice against innovation to combat, the
mistrust of novelty and of foreign methods. Doubtless many parents
do not share M. Demolins' enthusiasm for the cold bath; some with M.
Ribot would fear lest football overmuch might rob their sons of
native vigueur élégante; others, again, would consider the
Be this as it may, the École nouvelle alike as a theory and a fact
flourishes amazingly. Since my visit to Verneuil just six years ago,
a congeries of handsome buildings has sprung up around the original
schoolhouse, many acres of recreation ground have been added to the
former area, and every year pupils are refused for want of
In my account of the Lycée Fénelon for girls, I animadvert on the
absence of foreign teachers for their respective languages. This
protective system is happily doomed. The papers recently announced
that our Board of Education has been approached by the French
Government on the subject of voting English schoolmasters who would
give two hours' daily conversation in return for board and lodging
in the lycées or other institutions receiving them. Doubtless the
same innovation will ere long be introduced into the lycée for
I will now say something about the French schoolboy as I have found
him. One marked characteristic distinguishes him from his English
compeer. The French boy is a conversationalist, the other is not.
A facile tongue is encouraged in France from the cradle upwards. The
one child or the only son, invariably present at the family board,
will naturally have more opportunities of expressing his opinions
than one of six or seven. At an age when our own boys and girls are
set down to nursery or schoolroom meals with nurse or governess,
French children join their parents in the dining-room. Thus social
habits are prematurely formed; the walks and talks of the lycée
further develop conversational powers. At the age of eighteen, often
earlier, a well-educated French youth can intelligently discuss
widely divergent subjects; he has become a more sociable being, more
generally companionable, than an English stripling, is more addicted
to books and indoor life, above all, to reflection.
National systems of education have contributed to this result. By
the time Etonians go to Oxford or Cambridge many young Frenchmen are
already bachelors of art, science, or letters. Minors before the
law, from an intellectual point of view they have attained their
majority. Excellent company are often these youthful students, love
of conversation, relish of society and domesticities, accentuated by
the barrack-like lycée and the hated barrack life in earnest to
Serviceableness and a desire to oblige I should set down as
characteristics of the French boy.
I well remember several instances in point.
Upon one occasion I was staying with Burgundian friends at the
pretty little inland spa of St. Honoré les Bains. Among my casual
acquaintances was a family belonging to the humbler middle classes,
consisting of parents and three children, a girl and two boys, whose
ages ranged from eleven to fourteen or thereabouts. We often took
walks together, and one day I asked my friend Paul, the elder boy,
to tell us a story. Without hesitation, and in clear,
well-put-together sentences, he epitomized Hector Malot's popular
novel, "Sans Famille."
Upon another occasion I spent the best part of a very wet week with
friends near Is-sur-Tille, in the Côte d'Or. My hosts were not
reading people, but the eighteen-year-old son of the house had
lately brought some new novels from Dijon, and very good naturedly
volunteered to read them aloud. From morning till night the rain
poured down. It was quite impossible for his grandmother and myself
to stir abroad, but never for a moment did he relax his efforts on
our behalf. And when the stories were got through, he took me
upstairs, where I found an excellent library of French classics, not
a volume of which apparently had been touched for years. As the rain
continued the reading went on, Gresset's inimitable "Vert-Vert,"
among other favourite pieces, being given with the same untiring
Such incidents may appear trifling, but they are none the less
indicative of character. The French boy has his faults as well as
any other. His virtues are eminently social, the fostering of
inherited inclinations and aptitudes. And his mentalité—to use here
a French word hardly translatable—his intellectual attitude, is what
we should naturally expect; that is to say, eclectic, critical,
analytic, addicted, perhaps overmuch, to logic and reasoning.
"My boy" (the child in question was between ten and eleven) "must
always reason about everything," I once heard a French mother say. "Whatever he has to do must first be reasoned about."
A habit, of course, checked at the lycée and in the barracks, but
which, nevertheless, remains a habit through life.
SOME time since I
was leaving a country house near Troyes, in Champagne, when my
hostess observed, "I should have insisted on keeping you longer, but
for the next twenty- eight days we shall be without coachman and
butler, both having to serve in the manoeuvres." With a smile
she added, "The pair travel to Dijon by the same train as yourself,
and a substitute will drive us to the station, a man formerly in our
employ. I was much amused just now by his request that he
might retain his moustaches; he should not like, he said, to have to
take them off. Naturally, I humoured him."
It may seem odd that sumptuary laws should exist in a
republic. So it is, and, as I shall show elsewhere, in many
respects our neighbours are far more aristocratic than ourselves.
I was awaited by a friend at Dijon, so, finding that they
could be of no use to me, the two middle-aged conscripts took leave,
looking anything but elate. Both were married men, fathers of
families, and occupying places of trust. This recurring
interference with daily life, the indescribable fatigues and
discomforts of manœuvres under a burning August sun, the physical
and mental risks daily involved, might well sober their usually
cheerful countenances. How many a man in his prime and in
splendid health sets off for his vingt-huit jours never to
return alive! Sunstroke, dysentery, accidents, excessive
fatigue, exact an annual toll. From his majority until the
attainment of his forty-fifth year, a is Frenchman is subject to
this quadrennial ordeal.
No one, indeed, who has not lived in France and among French
people can have the faintest idea of what conscription really means
alike to the individual, the family, and the home. Nor do we
here fully realize the import of that fell term "armed peace."
It may not be generally known that the high-stepper of the rich and
the carthorse of the poor in France are only up to a certain point
the property of their owners. Every year possessors of horses
have to furnish the Ministry of War with a list of their animals,
one and all being liable to requisition in case of war.
Indemnification would be made, but what payment could compensate for
the loss of much-prized favourites? Chevaline conscription was
regulated by laws of July, 1873, and of August, 1874. Mules
and vehicles are also in this sense subject to the State.
As I shall show further on, even under the modified military
code of the Third Republic, the blood-tax falls heaviest on those
least able to bear it—namely, on the artisan, the peasant farmer,
and the labouring man. Young men able to pass certain
examinations are let off with one year's service, the result being
that a very small proportion indeed of the better-off ranks spend
three years in barracks. But what twelve months of compulsory
soldiering is like, in many cases hardships being mitigated by easy
circumstances, the following pages will make clear.
From the day of enrolment to that of his discharge the
conscript finds himself a prisoner, the conviction being first
brought home to him by the matter of clothes. The enormous
army stores, thousands—nay, tens, hundreds, thousands of thousands
of képis, tunics, trousers, boots, warehoused in every
garrison town are resorted to with due parsimony. In every
department of military administration the rule is one of strictest,
the most rigid thrift. Thus on entering the barracks a
conscript is not rigged out with a new uniform. He is often
obliged to take a predecessor's leavings, pantaloons not being so
much as relined for the next wearer. Hence the excessive
supervision of dress, the punishments inflicted for grease-stains, a
rent, or the loss of a button!
Next to the discomfort of ill-fitting, unsuitable, possibly
left-off clothes, is that of sleeping accommodation. Imagine
the first night in barracks of a youth not luxuriously but
comfortably, or we will say decently, brought up. He shares a
huge bare dormitory with fifty or more conscripts severally
belonging to the lowest as well as the most favoured ranks of
society. The pallet next his own may be occupied by one of the
unclassed, some rowdy or vagabond, on the other side he may have a
hard-working but coarse-mannered countryman. Absolute
cleanliness is next to impossible in these military caravansaries;
in winter the men suffer from cold, in summer from heat, flies,
fleas, and worse nuisances. Intense fatigue will at times fail
to induce sleep under such circumstances.
Next comes the question of diet. Such minute attention
is paid to cookery by all classes in France that here, perhaps, the
artisan and the peasant suffer hardly less than the dandy. "A
soldier can eat anything," once observed a gentleman-conscript to
me. What he meant to say was, not that he could always relish
barrack fare, but that he could satisfy his hunger with the first
dish put in his way. The gamelle, or mess partaken of
after the manner of the loving-cup, was abolished some years since;
each man now has a plate or bowl to himself. It is the
monotony that tries the healthiest appetite, a perpetual round of
stewed meat and vegetables, no wine being allowed except during the
But the crowning privation is that of liberty. Unseemly
clothes, crowded, malodorous, noisy sleeping-quarters, ragoût
washed down with water from January to December, are bagatelles
compared to the sense of moral degradation, the fact of being
reduced to an automaton. Let me here give a conscript's own
views on the subject, the speaker, as I shall show later, having
enjoyed many alleviations."
"Well," I began, "my dear Émile"—I had known my informant
from a boy—"now that your garrison experiences are over, tell me
what you think of conscription. And what I should much like to
know is this: was the probation harder or more bearable than you had
been led to expect?"
"Harder, much harder," was the unhesitating reply. "No
one except those who have gone through it have the remotest idea of
what conscription is like. As I had passed certain
examinations entitling me to a remission of two of the three years'
obligatory service, and as I had money at my disposal, I consider
myself exceptionally favoured. For all that, barrack life to a
civilian is a hideous nightmare. There is no other name for
it. You feel as if you were shut up in prison to the end of
your days. Many young men cannot stand the confinement and run
away. This is a desperate step. If they succeed in
crossing the frontier, they remain outlaws till they have passed
their forty-fifth year. If they are caught or return
voluntarily, they are most probably drafted into what is called the
regiment of intractables, and despatched to Algeria. The
treatment they are there subjected to is very severe. You see,
commanding officers are apt to become hard and unsympathetic in
spite of their better nature. In the German army matters are
much worse; here they are bad enough, goodness knows."
"Then your experience is that conscription does not tend to
make young men more patriotic, nor to imbue them with the military
"Patriotic, indeed!" he replied; "instead, conscription turns
them into Socialists and Anarchists. The German army, as you
know, reeks with Socialism, and there is plenty of it in our own.
As to enforced military service inclining men to soldiering, on the
contrary it makes them loathe it. I, for one, am all for
disarmament and arbitration. Nothing on earth, for instance,
would ever induce me to witness a review. Outsiders have no
notion of the sufferings thereby entailed on the men."
"Anyhow, Émile, you must have learned a good deal during the
past twelve months?" I asked.
My young friend's answer was of the briefest. I should
here explain that he was no sybarite or victim of too soft
bringing-up. An accomplished horseman, an excellent shot, a
skilled fencer, accustomed to the life of a country gentleman, in
his case the elementary training of a soldier would be child's play,
and physical hardships would be borne philosophically. Yet it
seemed strange that these experiences should have begun and ended
with repugnance only, nothing being left to recall with
satisfaction. What he had really found intolerable was the
loss of individuality, the derogation of manhood, the extinguisher
put upon all that makes life inspiriting and elevating. And
again Émile reverted to the deterioration of character brought about
"Of course we are not cuffed, buffeted, and kicked as in
Germany—no French officer is allowed to touch a man; nevertheless,
conscription as a system both is brutalizing and demoralizing."
Then, he added, as we strolled along the Champs Elysées on the day
following his discharge, "Am I really free? Have I shaken off
the fell dream? I do not yet feel quite sure."
On the subject of promiscuity my young friend spoke with less
"Poor fellows!" he said, alluding to the impecunious of his
brothers-in-arms. "How grateful they were when able to earn a
few francs by brushing my clothes or rendering any other little
service! And one night in winter when I had a bad fit of
coughing, my nearest neighbour, a Breton peasant lad, took the warm
rug from his own bed, and without a word put it on my own.
These things one never forgets."
Not all conscripts regard their probation in the same light.
Young men of refined tastes naturally resent many things that would
not shock a herdsman or carter. The cavalry regiment has often
a fascination for city-bred youths, whose only experience of
horsemanship has, perhaps, been a turn on the merry-go-round.
And many a stripling comes out of the ordeal sturdier, more of a
man, than when he first shouldered a gun. But of all the
conscripts I have known, and several I have known very intimately
indeed, not one ever expressed any enthusiasm for the system, or
regarded barrack life as a school of patriotism.
Here a few words on the existing laws relating to
conscription will not be inopportune. Irrespective of
financial and material considerations, a modification is
imperatively called for by conscientious reasons. Two years'
service obligatory on one and all will remove a grave injustice.
As I have pointed out, under existing rules, whilst the artisan, the
peasant, and the day labourer give three best years of their lives
to their country, the wealthy and professional classes get off with
one, certain commercial and literary examinations procuring the
deduction. With the rural and trading-classes such a privilege
is unattainable; hence, whilst young men compelled to work for a
livelihood, and ofttimes the mainstay of a family, lose three
years, those who could best afford such an interference with their
avocations sacrifice one only. Never by any chance do you hear
of a young gentleman serving the entire term. A more equable,
more democratic measure is necessary to the very existence of the
"Examinations have been made easier," writes M. Demolins (A-t-on
intêrêt à s'emparer du pouvoir), "in order that a greater number
of students may obtain the two years' remission." Examiners
have sons, and the paternal prevails over the military school.
In appearance the military regulations of 1889 were framed on
strictly democratic principles. As a friend wrote to me in
1890, himself being an officer retired on half-pay, "To sum up, the
new law is as democratic as possible; the principle of equality has
been guaranteed." Had this good friend lived a few years
longer he would have seen but too good reason to change his opinion.
Until 1872 the organization of the French army was in
accordance with that of 1832. Lots were drawn yearly, the
highest number entitling the drawer to total exemption, the lowest
to seven years' service. Certain exceptions were made in the
case of only sons of widows, seminarists, professors, and teachers
pledged to ten years' public service, and others. In all
cases, total exemption could be purchased, the agents transacting
such substitutions being called marchands d'hommes ("dealers
in men"). After the reverses of 1870-71 military organization
in France was reconstructed upon the Prussian system. Every
Frenchman, with very few exceptions, then became a soldier, his
obligation being that of five years' service and liability to being
called up during fifteen years further in case of war.
Exemption was still accorded in times of peace to elder or only sons
of widows, seminarists, and Protestant theological students.
Young men having passed certain examinations could purchase a four
years' remission on payment of two thousand five hundred francs.
These so-called volontaires d'un an formed a special
class; they might, indeed, be called the spoiled children of the
army. They were subject to a modified treatment in barracks,
which provoked jealousy and the necessity for further reforms.
The law of 1889 introduced, if not absolute, what at that
time seemed the nearest approach possible to absolute equality.
Every French citizen was now nominally liable to three years'
service, and to be called up for exercise or during war until his
forty-fifth year. No payment under any circumstances whatever
can secure a substitute, the exceptions being as follows—young men
under an engagement to serve ten years in educational or
philanthropic institutions either in France or the colonies,
students who have passed the higher examinations in art, science, or
letters, who have received diplomas in national schools of
agriculture and in technical schools, or who are preparing for the
Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish ministry; lastly, a certain number
of artisans selected by a jury of their respective departments,
engravers, modellers, decorators, etc. In all these cases the
three years' service is reduced to one.
Thus it will be seen that the new law—namely, an obligation
of two years service on all citizens of age indiscriminately, is not
only a matter of financial economy, it is a rectification of very
There are also other and very grave reasons for a change.
It is found that the long term of three years' withdrawal from rural
life and sojourn in towns is a great factor in the depopulation of
agricultural regions. Young countrymen, whether peasants or
belonging to the middle classes, once this term of service is
expired, have no desire to return to village life, hence the
excessive competition for the humblest administrative posts and the
dearth of hands for farm labour. A recent writer in the
Revue des deux Mondes (December, 1904) puts this point very
BRIDES AND BRIDEGROOMS
"THE truth is, I
have no time to get married," was the reply of a hard-worked French
officer to an English friend rallying him on the subject of his
The retort was no mere pleasantry. In England, alike
from the humblest to the highest, the business of getting married
may be reduced to a minimum of time, deliberation, and expense.
In the case of the wealthy, a few pencilled instructions to the
family lawyer as to marriage settlements and a special licence are
all the formularies absolutely necessary; in the case of the middle
classes, the brief church service and an equally brief reception of
friends and relatives afterwards entail comparatively little outlay,
mental or material, on either side.
In France wedlock is no mere individual, but a family matter,
a kind of joint-stock affair. An Englishman marries a wife.
A Frenchman takes not only his bride for better, for worse, for
richer, for poorer, but her entire kith and kin, fortunately a far
less numerous contingent than with us. A British matron, when
informing acquaintances of her daughter's marriage, says, "We have
lost our daughter." A French mother, in similar case, frames
her piece of news thus, "We have gained a son." The former
writes or speaks of "our daughter and her husband," or "our son and
his wife," the latter in either case of "our children." A
son-in-law addresses his wife's mother as "my mother," or more
A still more striking instance of what may be called clanship
in France is afforded by the black-bordered faire part, or
announcement of decease. This notification is made not only in
the name of next of kin on both sides, but of every member of both
families down to babies in arms. With ourselves such a list
would often fill a column of a newspaper. French families are
small, and one side of a page of letter-paper more than suffices.
The Roman gens was not a more compact and tightly knit body
of society than the allied group in France, the bond having, like
most things, an advantageous and a reverse side. It is often
taken for granted here that youths and maidens are paired for life
on the other side of the Manche as unceremoniously as for a waltz or
quadrille. Nothing can be a greater mistake, and here, as in
most intricacies of domestic life among our neighbours we must take
the Code Civil into account. Paternal authority is far from
being a dead letter after majority, as with ourselves. Since
June, 1896, marriage laws have been modified with a considerable
diminution of such authority. At the present time sons and
daughters aged respectively twenty-five and twenty-one, in case of
parental refusal, need only make one what is called sommation
respectueuse, or extra-judicial remonstrance instead of three as
was formerly the case. Should the parents prove obdurate,
young people having obtained their majority and complied with this
formality, are at liberty to marry whom they please.
These modifications have had in view the facilitating of
marriage generally. The same may be said of the laws relating
to natural children, noticed elsewhere.
This power being placed in the hands of doting fathers and
mothers, they are hardly likely to use it amiss. Instead of
marrying their children against their will, they contrive to prevent
them from marrying against their own; so, at least, I should put it.
Match-making in France is a very delicate process of elimination.
Undesirable social elements are shut out. The young girl
emerging from her almost cloistered seclusion, the stripling having
passed his baccalauréat and his military service, will be
thrown in the way of desirable partners, and of desirable partners
only. Balzac, that encyclopaedic delineator of French life,
has hit off this subject in a sentence. "Love never entered
into her calculations," he writes of a fond mother arranging her
only son's marriage in "Béatrix." But as at such susceptible
age falling in love, or what takes the place of it, is excessively
easy, betrothals ofttimes appear quite voluntary, an arrangement
brought about, as in England, by the young people themselves.
Nothing like the free-and-easy intercourse of boys and girls,
young men and maidens, enjoyed by Anglo-Saxons, is permissible in
France, in this respect the most eclectic, least democratic country
But dances in the winter, croquet and garden-parties, both of
English introduction, in summer, afford opportunities of
acquaintance. The seaside or inland resort, too, is a fruitful
field for maternal match-making. Two mothers who have taken
their first communion in company, often a lifelong tie with
Frenchwomen, will arrange to spend the summer holidays by the
seaside in order that their sons and daughters may be thrown
together. And when they return home the usual printed notice
will be sent out on both sides: "Monsieur and Madame A— have the
honour to inform Monsieur and Madame B— of the betrothal of their
daughter Berthe with Monsieur Marcel C—," and so on.
In cases where prior acquaintance has afforded no guarantee
of a young man's character and habits, advances on his part will not
be accepted till inquiry, or rather the most scrupulous
investigation has proved satisfactory. Bachelor emancipated
from parental authority are often married through the friendly
mediation of acquaintances. I was one day at a picnic
consisting of a dozen families near Besançon, the said families
numbering husband, wife, and one child.
"Do you see that young lady in pink, beside her wet nurse and
baby?" my companion said to me. "Her marriage to Professor T—
was arranged by friends of mine. After the first introduction
he declared that no, nothing on earth would induce him to marry a
girl with such a nose; she has a very long nose, certainly.
But on further knowledge he found her agreeable and accomplished,
and now they are as happy as possible."
This is a typical story. But, of course, drawbacks more
formidable than a nose à la Cyrano de Bergerac will sometimes
confront a would-be suitor.
The wisest and fondest parental foresight cannot prevent
discord arising from unsuitability of temperament and character; by
these precautions misunderstandings arising from pecuniary
disillusions and disappointments can entirely be avoided. Here
every particular is minutely gone into before the trousseau and
wedding day are so much as mooted.
The word "courtship" has no equivalent in the French tongue,
because the thing itself does not exist. Stolen
têtê-à-têtês, even furtive kisses, may, of course, be indulged
in, but only under a modified chaperonage, the half-shut eye of
parents or guardians. No young French lay would be permitted,
for instance, to undertake a cycling expedition with her future
husband. Still less could she take train with him for the
purpose of visiting relations in the country, were the journey of
half an hour's duration only. Love-making begins with the
The financial inquisition just alluded to is necessitated by
the marriage contract. For centuries, alike in the humblest as
well as the highest ranks, matrimonial settlements have kept family
possessions together in France—and enriched village notaries!
No sooner was serfdom abolished than the peasants followed
bourgeois example, dowering their daughters and securing the
interests of their sons by law. In provincial archives exist
many of these documents, the rustic bride's portion consisting of
furniture, clothes, money, and sometimes cattle or a bit of land.
The archives of the Aube contain the marriage contract of a skilled
day labourer (manouvrier) and a widow whose property was
double that of his own. The deed secured him joint enjoyment
and ownership. I cannot here, of course, enter into the
intricacies of the French marriage laws. There is the
régime dotal, which safeguards the dowry of the wife; there is
the régime de la communauté, which makes wedlock strictly a
partnership as far as income and earnings are concerned. And
there are minute regulations as to the provision for children and
widows. The latter are always sacrificed to the former.
Twenty-five years ago an officer was not only obliged to
secure a small dowry with his wife, about a thousand pounds rigidly
tied down to her and her children; he was also under the necessity
of furnishing the Minister of War with two authoritative
attestations of the bride's respectability and, up to a certain
point, social standing. The moderate pay of French officers,
and the Draconian edicts against the incurrence of debt in the
French Army, quite prevent military men from taking portionless
brides. And, indeed, outside Bohemia, slumland, or the world
of the déclassé, portionless brides in France are an anomaly.
No matter what her rank or condition, a girl brings her husband
something, in modest hard-working circles often a little dowry of
her own earning. The notary is as indispensable an agent of
matrimony as the mayor or even the priest. Preliminaries of
this kind comfortably settled, a bridegroom is in duty bound to make
the acquaintance of his new family, and as the French character is
eminently affectionate and sociable, this is frequently regarded as
the pleasantest task possible. Especially will a sisterless,
brotherless bachelor find it delightful to be able to boast of newly
acquired relations—ma belle-sœur, ma cousine, and so on.
But a round of formal visits necessitates leisure, hence one reason
for my friend's plaint, "I have no time to get married." The
etiquette of betrothals is exceedingly strict, and upon every
occasion love-making has to be sacrificed to conventionalities.
Thus, whenever an accepted suitor accompanies his future
mother-in-law and fiancée on visits of ceremony, he must
offer his arm to the former; on no occasion must he allow
inclination to stand before punctilio.
Trousseau and marriage ceremony quickly follow betrothals. An
engagement protracted throughout months and years, as is often the
case in England, is unknown over the water. When a young man is in
a position to marry he seeks a wife, not before. The fortune-hunters
so scathingly dealt with in the brothers Margueritte's novel,
"Femmes Nouvelles," I leave out of the question. What I am here
attempting to describe is the normal, the average, the standard, not
exceptional phases of French society. No self-respecting parents
would have anything to do with the suitors described in the popular
novel just named.
A word or two about trousseaux before entering upon the
long-drawn-out marriage ceremonial.
A French friend never gives, always offers a gift:
note the verbal nicety. Our own rough and ready way of making
wedding presents shocks our neighbours no little. True that
grandparents, uncles, and cousins may present a bride with an
elegant purse containing money or notes; outsiders must never send
cheques, as is so often done here.
The corbeille formerly offered by the bridegroom consisted of
rich velvets and silks, furs, old lace, family and modern jewels, a
fan, and a missal, all packed in an elegant basket or straw box
lined with satin. Among more modest ranks these objects were
replaced by dress pieces of less expensive material and trinkets. Some years since the fashion was introduced of replacing the
corbeille by a considerable sum of money enclosed in an
envelope. The custom, however, is not universal, and most often
rings and jewellery, as in England, form a bridegroom's gifts.
Bridal gifts of friends are selected with great care, no amount of
thought or time being grudged upon the selection. These
preliminaries being satisfactorily arranged, the wedding day, or
rather wedding days, quickly follow marriage contracts and the
preparation of trousseaux. I use the plural noun, for in the land
pre-eminently of method, precision, and formulary, a single day does
not suffice for the most important ceremonial in human life. A
Frenchman may not be twice wedded, but most often he is privileged
with two wedding days: the civil, that is to say, the only legal
marriage, preceding by twenty-four hours what is aptly called the
nuptial benediction in church.
The civil marriage is gratuitous. On the arrival of the mayor,
announced by officials, the wedding party rise. The mayor then reads
the articles of the Code Civil relating to conjugal duties. The
declaration of the fiancés and the permission of their
parents being given, the pair are declared man and wife, and the
register is handed to the lady for signature. Having affixed her
name, she offers the pen to her husband, who replies, "Merci, madame,"
the coveted title now heard by her for the first time.
How, it may be asked, can municipal authorities find time to get
through the work imposed by this obligation? The answer is simple.
The mayor can always be represented by his deputy, or adjoint. In small communes one of these suffices; in large cities several are
necessary. Thus, at Lyons the mayor is supported by no less than
twelve adjoints, himself officiating only at the marriage of
noteworthy personages. Fashionable folks are beginning to simplify
wedding festivities after English example, but the two days'
programme still finds general favour, déjeuner, dinner, and
ceremonies keeping bridegroom and best man, or garçon d'honneur,
in their dress-coats from morning till night.
If French girls were not trained to habits of self-possession from
childhood upwards, the double ordeal would be trying indeed. A
mayor, especially if he happens to know the bride, will anticipate
by a friendly little speech the solemn harangue of the priest to
follow. Thus, when some years ago an Orleanist princess married into
the Danish royal family, the mayor of the arrondissement
wished her well, adding a few touching words about such
leave-takings of kinsfolk and country.
Church ceremonials are very expensive affairs in France, weddings,
like funerals, being charged for according to style. Those of the
first and second class entitle the procession to entry by the front
door of cathedral or church, to more or less music of the full
orchestra, and to carpets laid down from porch to altar. Wedding
parties of the third division go in by a side entrance, and without
music or carpet traverse the aisle, the charges even so diminished
I must say that were I a French bride-elect I should bargain for a
wedding of the first class at any sacrifice. To have the portal of a
cathedral thrown wide at the thrice repeated knock of the beadle's
staff, to hear the wedding march from "Lohengrin" pealed from the
great organ, to reach the altar preceded by that gorgeous figure in
cocked hat, red sash, plush tights, pink silk stockings, and
silver-buckled shoes, all the congregation a-titter with
admiration—surely the intoxication of such a moment were unrivalled! The strictest etiquette regulates every part of the proceedings.
Accommodated with velvet armchairs the bride's parents and relations
are placed, according to degrees of consanguinity, immediately
behind her prie-dieu; the bridegroom's family, arranged with
similar punctiliousness, having seats on the other side of the nave.
well remember, at the first-class wedding of an acquaintance in
Nantes Cathedral, how a little girl belonging to the bride's party
had somehow got seated between relations of the bridegroom. Before
the ceremony began the child was put in her proper place. Such a
breach of etiquette could not on any account be permitted.
Churches in France are not always decorated with palms and flowers
as with ourselves. Any additional expense would indeed be the last
straw breaking the camel's back, rendering weddings a veritable
corvée. But the high altar blazes with tapers, and floral gifts,
natural and in paper or wax, adorn the chapels of the Virgin or
One feature of the long-drawn-out ceremonial is the charge before
alluded to made respectively to bride and bridegroom, a tremendous
ordeal, one would think. Fortunately, French girls are equal to the
occasion. The theme of priestly admonition, the cynosure of all
eyes, a young bride will listen downcast and demure, but not in the
least discomposed or in need of smelling-salts. Long training has
fortified her against sentimentality or unbecoming show of emotion.
"You, mademoiselle," I once heard a village curé address a
parishioner, a young woman belonging to the middle ranks, "you have
before you the example of a mother fulfilling in every respect the
duties now before yourself, wifely, maternal, and Christian," and so
on, and so on, the bride listening calmly to personalities,
admonitions, and forecasts that seemed in the highest degree
The wedding-rings, obligatory on both sides, received on a gold
salver, blessed and adjusted, the plate is again proffered, this
time for alms. Bank-notes, and gold or silver pieces are given,
naturally the two former when marriage's fall under the category of
first and second class.
But by far the most distinctive and pictorial function of a French
wedding is la quête, or collection for the poor. Next in
interest to the bride herself is the demoiselle d'honneur, or
bridesmaid, upon whom falls this conspicuous and graceful duty. A
bride, distractingly pretty although she may be, has no part to
play. All that is required of her is automatic collectedness and
dignity. But the demoiselle d'honneur is under the necessity
of acting a rôle, and, as a rule, most beautifully is it acted. The
ceremony come to an end, the organist plays a prelude, and two
figures detach themselves from the wedding party, both selected for
personal charm, sprightliness, and savoir-faire—I am
compelled to use a word for which we have no equivalent—both, also,
perfectly dressed. The garçon-d'honneur, or best man, wears
dress-coat, white tie, waistcoat and gloves, his companion the
newest, most elegant toilette de ville, or carriage costume. She
gives her left hand to her cavalier, in her right holding a velvet
bag; then the pair step airily forth, the most engaging smile, the
most finished bow soliciting and acknowledging donations. It is the
prettiest sight imaginable; and no wonder that the velvet bag
rapidly fills, as, having made their way down the nave, lady and
cavalier make the round of the church. And the name of the charming
quêteuse invariably figures in the society column of the
Figaro or local paper, a testimony to spirit, grace, and beauty.
A wedding gift in the form of a cheque shocks French
susceptibilities. But at bridal receptions English taste is equally
offended by the exhibition of the entire trousseau. In one of her
essentially Parisian novels that delightful writer, Madame Bentzon,
describes this feature, or rather animadverts upon such a display. The author of "Tchevelek," however, has consorted so much with the
Anglo-Saxon world that, although Parisian to the tips of her
fingers, she sees certain things through English and Transatlantic
spectacles. The spreading before everybody's eyes of slips and
stockings, no matter how elaborate, evoked delicate irony from her
It must not be supposed that, to use a homely simile, bride and
bridegroom are yet out of the wood. A ball often follows breakfast
or reception, the newly married pair stealing away in the small
hours of the night, like hunted hares compelled to covert flight. This remark especially holds good with the middle and humbler ranks,
and with provincial life. Society, following English initiative in
everything, as I have said, has everything, English simplifications.
In one respect all unions resemble each other, and up to a certain
point differ from our own. Family life in France is a wheel within a
wheel, a piece of closely implicated machinery, a
well-welded-together agglomeration of social and material interests. Marriage is not wholly a dual affair. Willy-nilly, brides and
bridegrooms enter a clan, become members of a patriarchal tribe.
Hence the parental inquisition on both sides, that minute
investigation of character, circumstances, and family history so
foreign to insular notions. Hence the widespread, I am tempted to
say incalculable, effects of worldly ruin, loss of reputation, or
other misfortune. A blow falls crushingly not only upon the
immediate victim or culprit, but upon every one of their blood or
bearing their name.
A French writer who knew England well once remarked that "César Birotteau" could not have been written of English commercial life. In that country a bankrupt ruins himself, not his entire family.
And some years ago, when walking with an old friend in Dijon, he
said to me―
"Did you observe that nice-looking girl I saluted just now? Poor
thing! she can never marry her uncle having failed dishonourably in
An untarnished record, a roof-tree at which none can point a finger;
last, but far from least, an accession rather than a diminution of
wellbeing—such is the ideal of a French Cœlebs in search of a wife.
"Find me an English wife," a bachelor friend once said to me in all
seriousness. "Your recommendation will suffice. Provided you
consider the lady a suitable partner for me, I shall be entirely
satisfied. I place my fortune in your hands."
A highly characteristic incident.
WIVES AND MOTHERS
IN most French
households women reign with unchallenged sway; they wield "all the
rule, one empire." Let not such feminine headship be summarily
attributed to uxoriousness on the one side or to a masterful spirit
on the other. The condition has been brought about by a
combination of circumstances, moral and material, social and
economic. To begin with, the Frenchwoman possesses in a wholly
unsurpassed degree the various aptitudes that shine in domestic and
business management. She is never at a loss, never
muddle-headed, always more than able to hold her own. The
secret of this unrivalled capacity is concentration. A
Frenchwoman's mental and physical powers are not frittered away upon
multifarious objects. She is not at one and the same time a
devotee of society, a member of a political association, an active
crusader in some philanthropic cause, a champion golfer, tennis, or
hockey player, or what is called a "Church worker." Thus it
comes about that the French feminine mind is freer than that of her
Anglo-Saxon sister, her bodily powers are subject to much less wear
and tear. And, perhaps, owing to the fact of idolized,
over-indulged childhood, the Frenchwoman's will is stronger.
She is less yielding, less given to compromise, and more
authoritative. Nor do weaknesses, sentimentalities, or vapours
impair such strengthful character.
Certainly here and there you may find a Frenchwoman who
screams at a mouse or a spider, such whimsical timidity not in the
least incapacitating her from the command of an army.
Authority is her native element; the faculty of organization is here
an intuitive gift. Hardly necessary is it to dilate upon
personal magnetism, the beauty, as Michelet wrote, "made up of
little nothings," the conversation ofttimes describable in similar
terms—the acquired graces that strike us as natural endowments,
Nature's partial liberality. No wonder, therefore, that for
good or for evil the Salic law has ever been set at naught in French
society, that alike château and cottage bow to one-sided law—to
feminine ukase. And who can say—the great democracy of the
Western world owes its name, perhaps its very existence, to a woman?
A quiet little bourgeoise, wife of an obscure journalist
named Robert, we now learn, was the first to breathe the word
"Republic" in conjunction with the name of France. In her
modest salon about the year 1790 first took form and cohesion the
project of a democratic government on the American model.
Before her time one woman had saved France, and more than one had
well-nigh wrought her downfall. Jeanne d'Arc, Madame de
Maintenon, the Pompadour, not to mention another nearer our own
time, are instances of "all the rule, one empire" exercised—alas!
not always for the public weal—by Frenchwomen.
Financial conditions add immense weight to natural
advantages. Except among the Micawber class, represented in
greater or less degree all the world over, a French wife is
propertied; she brings an equal share to the setting up of a
household and the founding of a family. "With all my worldly
goods I thee endow " is a formula applicable to bride as well as
bridegroom, although in neither case is the endowment a free,
unconditional gift. Respective interests are strictly
safeguarded by the notary, a personage no less necessary to the
middle and working classes than to the rich. No matter how
inconsiderable a young woman's dowry, it is tied down to herself and
her children with every legal formality. Some years since I
attended the wedding of a village schoolmaster and a gamekeeper's
daughter in Champagne. Each possessed money or land equivalent
to about two hundred pounds, the two small fortunes, down to the
minutest particular, being mentioned in the marriage contract.
A wedding without settlements, as I have said, is an anomaly in
In one respect at least there is no sexual inequality among
our neighbours. My face is my fortune, was not the burden of
peasant maidens even under the ancien régime. Whilst
this feminine supremacy, I should perhaps say suzerainty, has been
an evolutionary process in accordance with the fitness of things, it
will occasionally wear an inconsistent or autocratic look. I
well remember one instance in point, scenes that reminded me of
Balzac. Many and many a time have I sat down to the Friday
table of my kind old friend Madame G— near Dijon (long since, alas!
gone to her rest), the family party consisting of her son, a man of
fifty, a widower, his boy, a stripling of eighteen, and her
son-in-law, a widower also, and well past sixty. The season
being September, as soon as the early second déjeuner was
over these men, with uncles and cousins living close by, would set
off for a seven or eight hours' tramp in search of wild boars in the
forest or quails on the plain.
Eggs and potatoes at half-past ten or eleven o'clock, eggs
and potatoes at the half-past six o'clock dinner reminded me of Mrs.
Micawber's "heel of Dutch cheese, an unsuitable nutriment for a
young family." Madame G—'s bill of fare did not certainly seem
adequate in the case of famished sportsmen footing it for seven or
eight hours on a brisk September day. The three men might
covetly eye my own tiny slice of cold meat, the priestly ordinance
not applying to Protestants, but they said nothing. My
hostess, indeed, could very well have passed for the mistress of a
pension bourgeoise, son, son-in-law, and grandson being
poorly paying or indebted boarders. Once, indeed, rebellion
broke out, taking a humorous turn. A tempting dish of cold
pasty, nicely sliced, on its way to myself, came within reach of my
neighbour's fork. The opportunity was not to be resisted.
"Ma foi! for once I'll be a Protestant too!" ejaculated madame's
elderly son-in-law, as he spoke prodding a goodly morsel. His
companions chuckled, the maid tittered, and, seeing that her
mistress did not take the joke amiss, after having served me she
plumped down the dish before the three wistful men.
Benignant, even-tempered, in other respects far from
egotistical, my dear old friend regarded motherhood as a patent
conferring undivided and ever-enduring authority. When
conferring son or son-in-law attempted to discuss any subject that
menaced such authority, she would cut them short with the remark, "I
am your mother, and must know best." And so kindly and
affectionate was the dear soul that the yoke was complacently borne.
Here I anticipate an objection. How, it may be asked,
is the foregoing statement reconciled with the stability of the
Third Republic? Has it not been said, and indeed proved again
and again, that the vast majority of Frenchmen have shaken off
sacerdtotalism, whilst their wives and mothers for the most part
remain wedded to priestly ordinance? Where, then, some will
ask, is the feminine influence you speak of, since it is evidently
neutral in political affairs?
My answer to these observations is short. There is one
point, and one only, on which a Frenchman, no matter how easy going,
is unyielding, and that is his vote. And the natural good
sense of Frenchwomen stands them here in good stead. No matter
the force of their own convictions, they accept a compromise based
on expediency. Setting aside fireside relations and the
principle of give and take, there is the question of family
interest, the stability of the Republic from a domestic aspect.
How largely middle-class fortunes are bound up with the Government,
the prevailing system of bureaucracy tells us. Here is an
instance in point. The other day I received what is called a
faire part, or printed notice of a friend's death, giving,
according to fashion, the name and occupation of her male relations.
Of the ten specified two only belonged to professions, one was in
the army, two were priests, the remaining five held Government
appointments. Roughly speaking, I should say this is typical,
that in most bourgeois families the proportion of Government
officials would be as five to five. No wonder, then, that
wives and mothers discreetly keep silent when elections come round.
The great minister Sully used to say that tillage and pasturage were
the fountains of French wealth. To a large section of society,
it is the Government that now usurps these functions, playing the
part of a Providence. And, as I have shown elsewhere,
bureaucracy, that is to say, an income moderate maybe but sure,
suits French character, which is the very antipodes of American
go-ahead wear and tear. It is rare indeed in France that you
find Gambetta's counterpart, "an old man of forty." But when
are Americans young?
I should not call the average Frenchwoman cosmopolitan. Parental
adulation, exclusive surroundings, often conventual bringing-tip,
unfit the average Frenchwoman for international or social give and
take. Small indeed is the number who could say with Montaigne, " I
am not guilty of the common error of judging another by myself; I
easily believe what in another's humour is contrary to my own." The
lady president of a philanthropic association confided to me the
other day that this uncompromisingness greatly handicapped such
movements. " Every woman here interested in works of benevolence or
social progress," she said, " has her own scheme and will not fall
in with the plans of others." Anything like the Primrose League or
Women's Liberal Associations is out of the question in France. Hence
it comes about that when an Englishman succumbs to French charms,
for him the die is doubly cast. He must thenceforward forswear
English speech, native land, and a career among his own people for
his wife's sake. It is a case of love being lord of all with a
vengeance. Many English wives of Frenchmen, especially among the
Protestant community, spend their lives happily enough in France.
French mistresses of English homes are rare indeed. When Madame de
Staël pronounced exile to be worse than death, she voiced the
convictions of her countrywomen.
I was lately lunching with an old friend in Paris, a country
gentleman from the Indre much interested in the question of French
colonization. "One great obstacle," he observed, "is the loathing of
my countrywomen for any place out of France. The other day a young
friend, a settler in one of your Australian countries, was here on a
visit, and wrote back to his partner that he was looking about for a
wife. 'For heaven's sake wait till you return, and marry an English
girl,' wrote the other; 'Frenchwomen in a foreign colony are
But la Française east avant tout mère, "the Frenchwoman is
first and foremost a mother," our sisters over the water tell us.
Filial, wifely, civic duty, each must give way to the maternal. Thus
words are hardly strong enough in which to express a Frenchwoman's
disapproval of Anglo-Indian wives who remain at their husbands'
sides, sending home their young children to be educated. The secret
of English colonization lies not so much in national energy as in
the tremendous strength of the marriage tie. A celibate bureaucracy,
however numerous or efficient, cannot compete with the family life
characterizing Greater Britain societies, no matter under what sky,
offering the conditions of home. This matter is now occupying
politicians and philanthropists. A society has been lately formed
for the purpose of forwarding the emigration of women, and the lady
president, with whom I lately had a long conversation, spoke
hopefully of its future. The Protestant pastor and missionary, she
told me, are of the very greatest value in the movement, as, being
fathers of families, they can offer temporary homes to young women
awaiting situations; most of these, of course, eventually marry.
The Frenchwoman does not exaggerate. She is par excellence
the mother. Why the first maternal duty should always be relegated
to a wet nurse I have never been able to discover. In every other
respect her devotion knows nobounds. Indeed, were I asked to state
the ambition of Frenchwomen generally, I should say that it is
neither to shine in art, literature, science, nor philanthropy, but
to become a grandmother; the adored, over-fondled son or daughter
revived in a second generation evokes devotion amounting to
idolatry—an idolatry shared by the other sex. As we all know, one of
the best Presidents of the Third Republic—that staunch Republican,
splendid advocate, and true patriot, Jules Grévy —here found his
pitfall. Poor President Grévy! Not that lie loved France less, but
that he loved his little granddaughters more. With Victor Hugo,
l'art d'être grandpère had become infatuation.
Nothing is ever done by halves in France. Of late years the
disastrous effects of over-indulged childhood has become a public
question. Could parents be prevented from spoiling their one boy or
girl by law, there is little doubt that a Bill to that effect would
be laid before the Chamber to-morrow. Other means of arousing
general attention have been tried. In Paris just now the stage has
usurped the functions of the pulpit. By turns, wet-nursing,
alcoholism, and other social evils are treated dramatically, the
success of 1902 being "La Course au Flambeau." This piece turns
entirely upon the exaggerated and mischievous self-sacrifice of
parents on behalf of their children. The heroine, a rôle
superbly played by Madame Réjane, is a middle-aged lady belonging
middle-age the upper middle class who has an only daughter, and who
for this incarnation of selfishness, inanition, and
lackadaisicalness, sacrifices not only her husband's and her own
well-being, but her conscience. In fact, she becomes virtually the
murderess of her aged mother. It was interesting to note the
behaviour of the vast audience. No love-story, no intrigue, no
humorous episode relieved the fireside tragedy. A piece of domestic
realism, an everyday story, held every one spellbound. When you ask
French folks if this or any other crying evil is likely to be
lessened by sermonizing on the stage, however, they shake their
heads. It happened that my companion at the theatre was a young
French lady, earning her livelihood as secretary in a business
house. The piece naturally interested her greatly, and here are her
"It is the greatest possible unkindness of parents to wrap their
children up in cotton-wool. Look at my own case. I was brought tip
in the belief that life was to be one prolonged fairy tale; that I
need only hold out my hand, and everything I wanted would drop into
it. I well remember one birthday. Throughout the day my parents told
me I should do as I liked; I might ask for anything and everything
in their power to bestow. After déjeuner we went to the
Jardin d'Acclimatation, where I rode in a goat-chaise, on the
elephant's back, had ices, cakes, sweetmeats, and heaven knows what.
Do you suppose I was satisfied? Not in the least. The day ended in
tears and sulkiness. And at eighteen, in consequence of family
losses, instead of being dowered and married, having fine toilettes,
servants, and every luxury, I found myself compelled to turn out
into the world to earn my bread." Which she had done, however, with
the best grace imaginable.
One word in conclusion. If maternal devotion at times proves a
snare, how often in France does it cast a halo around homely brows!
The honoured President of the Third Republic does not here stand
alone. Were the history of illustrious Frenchmen scanned from this
point of view, we should find many a one, like M. Loubet, owing the
opportunities of success to a peasant-born mother. And the
well-known acknowledgment of the newly elected President, the
halting on his triumphal entry into Montélimar in order to embrace
that venerable mother, was an incident moistening every French eye,
warming every French heart. M. Loubet's popularity was straightway
THE SINGLE LADY
suddenly plunged into French society and quitting it without any
chance of modifying first impressions would affirm that there were
no single women in France—that the spinster, the old maid, did not
Certainly there is no equivalent over the water to a considerable
element in English social life. We might vainly search the
eighty-six departments and the Territoire de Belfort for a Bath or a
Clifton, towns or suburbs largely peopled by rich maiden ladies. Nor
in the provinces is to be found a counterpart of the unmarried
gentlewoman, with her handsome establishment, her grooms, gardeners,
and equipages, all under first-rate management, all betokening the
most complete independence and a wide outlook upon life, in many
cases single life being a pure matter of choice. Spinsterhood must
be looked for elsewhere in France. The feminine world of fashion
generally hides grey hairs and lost illusions in the convent
boarding-house. Here and there devotion and philanthropy outside
such walls are resorted to, rarely social distractions or active
life. In the upper ranks celibate womanhood effaces itself.
Before turning to the army of lady doctors, dentists, professors,
artists, and authors, let us consider their ill-advised sisters, the
tens of thousands who virtually retire from the world simply because
they happen to be unmarried. Much is to be said for their own view
of the case. I can, indeed, conceive no more mortify-position than
that of a French girl growing elderly under her mother's 's wing.
wing Take the matter of money, for instance. So long as her mother
lives, an unmarried daughter, no matter her age, is treated like a
child. Immediately an English girl leaves school she has her
allowance for dress and personal expenses. In France it is the
parent who pays for everything, New Year's gifts or étrennes
taking the place of pocket-money. I well remember the astonishment
of a French lady at seeing an English girl of twenty-five write out
a cheque in her own name. Such a thing, she informed me, she had
never heard of.
Such pecuniary dependence is not only galling; it stultifies and
renders the individual unfit for future conduct of practical
affairs. How much, moreover, may daily happiness often depend upon
what look like trifles, among these the possession of a little
money, and upon the unfettered use of that little! But French " old
maids of thirty " or even more must have no innocent little secrets,
no private generosities, no harmless mysteries. The demoiselle in
the eyes of her family remains a perpetual minor. In a society
hemmed round with ordinance and traditional etiquette, a young or
even middle-aged woman of rank and position could not possibly set
up housekeeping on her own account. She would be at once set down as
eccentric, a kind of Bohemian, and be tabooed by society. And
bringing tip has totally unfitted her for an independent life. Never
accustomed to walk out or travel alone, always chaperoned when
paying visits, her reading, amusements, friends chosen for her, her
notions of etiquette in harmony with such restrictions, no wonder
that she regards her life as a failure, that the convent or convent
pension are regarded as harbours of refuge. Caprice,
disappointments, a spirit of self-sacrifice, the belief in a
vocation, will induce many a girl to take the veil before crossing
the rubicon, the twenty-fifth birthday dubbing her as a spinster.
And to the old maid of thirty or thirty-five whose dowry or personal
attractions have not secured a partner, the convent offers the
cheapest possible provision for life. Ten thousand francs, four
hundred pounds paid down, and the recluse is housed, fed, clothed,
and cared for till the end of her days. Seclusion, moreover, is a
salvo to her own dignity. A nun is no longer regarded in the light
of une vieille fillet her calling has not only sanctity about
it, but good repute. The step is invariably approved of.
More especially is a recluse praised who buries herself alive from
family considerations, giving up home, friends, individuality, for
the sake perhaps of a younger sister, perhaps of a younger brother.
We must bear in mind the fact that in the tipper ranks, in what is
called la société, no girl has any chances whatever of
marrying without a sufficient dowry. And let us not on this account
set down all Frenchmen of this class as money-hunters. Official and
professional incomes are a third lower than with us, the cost of
living as certainly a third higher. Thus it comes about that
officers of rank and men holding official positions cannot possibly
set up housekeeping without additional means. From the money point
of view wedlock must be essentially a partnership.
Realizing the absolute necessity of a dowry, then, an elder sister
will sometimes betake herself to a convent in order that a younger
may make a brilliant or suitable marriage. Quite possibly, also, she
may act thus on a brother's behalf, enabling him by the same means
to add to family wealth and prestige. No sacrifice is considered too
great for la famille in France.
Four hundred pounds is the minimum sum accepted by religious houses
as a dowry, which may, of course, reach any figure. The convent
pension or boarding-house is also regarded as an unexceptionable
retreat for single ladies of means and gentility. Expenses in such
establishments are moderate, but vary according to style and
Here and there devotional exercises and works of charity are made a
career of by rich single women preferring to remain in the world.
Except at charity bazaars and similar functions, these ladies—a
small minority—are seldom met with. You may, indeed, go into French
society for years and never encounter a single lady—that is to say,
one who has grown, or is growing, old—without the wedding ring. To
find out what becomes of the French demoiselle we must refer to
statistics. In 1900 no less than sixty-four thousand women were
immured for life within convent walls!
A very different train of thought is called up by a glance at the
middle class and work-a-day world. The doctor's gown has long been
worn by Frenchwomen. Not longsince a second Portia achieved a
notable triumph at the assizes at Marseilles. Lady solicitors
practise in Paris. In country towns, as well as in the capital, you
may see the inscription on the door-plate, Mademoiselle So-and-so,
chirurgien-dentiste ("surgeon-dentist"). In a little town I
know, Balzac's favourite Nemours scene of "Ursule Mirouët," a young
lady dentist and her sister have a flour-fishing practice. French
peasants and working folks seldom indulge in the luxury of false
teeth, but an aching tooth is soon got rid of, and for the modest
fee of two francs mademoiselle adroitly manipulates the forceps.
Lady occulists may now also be consulted. In the arena of education,
primary and advanced, Frenchwomen run almost a neck and neck race
with the other sex. Forty-three thousand women in 1900 occupied
positions in State schools, numbering only twenty thousand less than
male professors and teachers. By far the larger number of these
women teachers are, of course, unmarried, and if such careers are
neither brilliant nor a fulfilment of youthful dreams, they are
dignified, useful, and doubtless often contented and even happy.
A recent novel by a new writer that I can warmly commend to all
readers, "L'Un vers I'Autre," gives interesting glimpses of a girls'
lycée, or high school, and a group of lady professors. In Madame Th.
Bentzon's new story, "Au dessus de I'abîme," the same subject is
treated from a different point of view. Both volumes are highly
instructive. Unfortunately, few French novelists depict middle-class
life as it is in reality. Were such a task taken in hand by
competent writers, our neighbours, their ways and modes of thought,
would not be so often grotesquely misconceived.
The youngish unmarried lady doctor, occulist, dentist, advocate, or
professor naturally enjoys an amount of freedom vainly sighed for by
her sisters in fashionable society. She reads what books she
pleases, her theatre-going is not restricted to the Comédie
Française and the Odeon, acquaintances of the other sex may pay
their respects to her when she is at home to friends. But the
freedom from restraint enjoyed by English and American spinsterhood
wouldlook subversive, anarchical, Nihilistic in French eyes.
Some years since I was staying with friends at Nantes who often
invited the lady principal of a technical school for girls to
dinner. Upon one occasion another habitué of the house was
present, a man upwards of sixty. On mademoiselle rising to say good
night, Monsieur T― begged that he might escort her home, the house
being a few minutes off. Drawing herself up haughtily, the lady
replied (she was thirty-five at least), "I am greatly your debtor,
monsieur, but my maid awaits me in the corridor." Imagine a
middle-aged lady not being able to accept the arm of a fellow-guest
for a few hundred yards! Another anecdote forcibly brings out the
French mode of regarding these matters. An American lady journalist
living in Paris told me that one day she received a visit from a
French acquaintance, rather friend, of the other sex, a busy man,
who had most kindly found time to help her in some literary
transactions. The pair were both middle- aged, the lady being
slightly older than her visitor. By the time the slightly in hand
had been discussed dinner was ready, Miss S― keeping her own
bonne, and occupying a pretty little flat.
"Why not stay and partake?" she asked, surely a very natural
invitation under the circumstances!
For a moment the other hesitated, the invitation evidently tempted;
then in a semi-paternal tone he asked her if she had ever
entertained friends of the other sex before. On her reply in the
negative, he shook her hand in the friendliest fashion, saying, "
Then be advised by me and do not begin."
This gentleman had doubtless in his mind the ever-prying eye and
ofttimes too ready tongue of the concierge or portress of
Parisian blocks, an encroacher upon privacy fortunately unknown
among ourselves. The janitrix of French doorways is not a popular
personage, and youngish ladies living alone are especially subject
to inquisitorial observation. As a rule the French single lady never
does live alone. She boards with some other member of her family or
with friends, the strictest etiquette guiding every action.
The Portias, Æsculapias, and lady graduates in letters and science
naturally do not make the cloister their retreat in advancing years.
For single women of very small means, the rentière or
annuitant of a thousand or two francs, in certain country towns we
find what is called Une Maison de Retraite, or associated
home. One of these I visited some time since at Reims. This
establishment, which is under municipal patronage, offers rooms,
board, attendance, laundress, and even a small plot of garden, for
sums varying from sixteen to twenty-four pounds per inmate, the
second sum, of course, ensuring better rooms and more liberal fare.
Special arrangements are made for unmarried ladies. Whether they
like it or no, they are expected to take their meals in a separate
dining-room. The advantages of such a system in France are very
great, single women of small means being thus afforded protection
and immunity from household cares. Except that the lodge gates are
closed at ten o'clock p.m., personal liberty is notinterfered with.
Needless to say that no breath of scandal must reach these
precincts. Only immaculate respectability impression an Open Sesame.
My impression was one of prevailing cheerfulness and content. But
the plan would never answer in England. The insular character rebels
against restrictions, however well-intentioned, and where could be
found scores and scores of petites rentières, professional
women and governesses, whose earnings and economy have ensured them
an income in old age? Further, Englishwomen can live alone,
Frenchwomen cannot do so. A series of delightful old maids have been
rendered immortal by later English novelists. Our confrères
of the other sex over the water, from Balzac downward, often seem to
regard spinsterhood as a veritable crime.
It remains for some new writer to rehabilitate this section of the
beau sexe, to portray those types of womanhood described by
the late Lord Shaftesbury as " adorable old maids."
THE DOMESTIC HELP
have adopted the word "comfortable" without, at least in an insular
sense, acclimatizing the thing. And here it may be as well to
mention that whilst Gallicizing this adjective they were but
borrowing what belonged to them. Confortable, naturalized by
the French Academy in 1878, is a derivative of the English
"comfortable," but "comfortable" in its turn is a derivative of the
old French verb conforter—to comfort spiritually or morally,
to impart courage. Thus Corneille wrote, "Dieu conforta cette âme
desolée," "God comforted that desolate soul."
Le confortable, now so frequent on French lips, is used
strictly in a material sense, implying the conveniences of life and
the enjoyment of wellbeing generally. How widely standards of
material comfort differ in the two countries is forcibly brought
home to us b y the condition of the domestic help. In France both
sexes betake themselves to household work much more readily than
with us. The valet de chambre, or chamberman, is wholly
unknown on this side of the water. That domestic service is popular,
the enormous number of young Frenchwomen who seek situations here as
nursemaids and ladies' maids abundantly proves. Expatriation is not
only distasteful to the French mind, it is positively loathsome; yet
the supply of French domestic servants must be considerably in
excess of the demand. And it is by no means English comfort that
attracts. Provided these reluctant strangers within our gates get
good wages and good food, they are utterly indifferent to what are
looked upon as absolute necessaries by their English fellows.
Paradoxically enough, servants' comfort is the last thing thought of
in democratic France. The cosy, curtained, carpeted sitting-room of
our own cooks and housemaids, the sofa on which they can stretch
weary limbs, the bedrooms furnished every whit as comfortably as
their employers', the bathrooms at their disposal—all these are
non-existent; and so ineradicable is force of habit that I doubt
very much if the introduction of any would be much appreciated.
In private hotels and the more spacious flats of Paris servants
sleep under the master's roof; they have also a room for meals
called l'office, but in nowise answering to our servants'
hall or sitting-room. The office is a bare, uncarpeted,
uncurtained apartment, containing long table and upright chairs,
against the walls being huge linen presses and cupboards containing
china and cutlery. But the bonne, or maid-of-all-work, in
even a fair-sized and expensive flat, lives tinder conditions that
Miss Slowboy would have found intolerable. I speak with the
authority of oft-renewed experience, having v staed in many
boarding-houses and private flats in the eighth and seventeenth
arrondissements, both handsome, modern, and récherché
quarters. The kitchens could only be called mere slips; to dignify
them by any other name were a misnomer. just room had been allowed
for two chairs, on which the one Or two servants could sit down to
meals, no more. But if comfort was out of the question downstairs,
equally absent was it from the attic where they slept in the roof,
stiflingly hot in summer, bitterly cold during winter, and, worse of
all, tiny compartment of a thickly populated beehive. Not only are
domestic servants, thus housed, but shop assistants and others, with
what dire results we may imagine.
"Terrible indeed is the condition of country girls who come to Paris
as maids-of-all-work," a Parisian friend observed to me the other
day. "Drudging from morning till night, half a day's holiday once a
month, no morning other holidays throughout the year; most often
shut out of their employer's flat at night. This class is much to be
pitied. But come to Paris these girls will, tempted by better
And the daughter of this lady, being shown, on her visit to England,
the comfortable bedroom and cosy, carpeted, curtained kitchen, with
easy-chair of an English " general," could hardly believe her eyes.
I have said elsewhere our neighbours of all classes are very
indifferent to what in England is called comfort. Details regarded
as strict necessaries here, over the water are luxuries,
indulgences, often fads.
On the other band, domestic servants in France enjoy a laisser
aller unknown with ourselves. Take the matter of uniform, for
instance. The scrupulously neat black dress with speckless white
apron and coquettish cap of our parlourmaids, the neat prints of our
housemaids, the white dresses of our nursemaids, could never be
attained by French housewives. If their domestic staff, according to
insular notions, has a good deal to complain of as far as comfort
goes, this comparative ease and unceremoniousness is doubtless an
adequate compensation. A femme de chambre who helps the manservant
in thehousework, and at the same time acts as ladies' maid, dresses
precisely as she pleases. She may be very particular or the reverse;
no notice is taken of her personal appearance. The scrupulosity
exacted of our neat-handed Phyllises would drive Jeanne or Marie
mad. Nor is nonchalance confined to dress and outward nicety.
Accustomed as they are to make themselves at home, French servants
must find the atmosphere of an English home somewhat chilling. The
free and easy existence on the other side of the Channel ismuch
dearer to them than the com- forts with which they are surrounded
here. "Liberty, equality, fraternity" is a watchword that applies to
the tongue as well as to laws and liberties in France. The privilege
of making as much noise as one pleases is much more valued than that
of spacious dining-rooms, easy-chairs, and comfortable sleeping
In country houses I should say matters remain much as they were when
Arthur Young made his wonderful tour of France a hundred and fifteen
years ago. The woman servant's bed- room is often a mere niche in
the kitchen. Dear old Justine of Burgundian memory! Many a time have
I seen you perform your simple toilette for mass undisturbed by the
passing to and fro of mistress, master, young master, and guest.
Justine's bedroom was a little chamber in the kitchen wall, rather
an alcove a trifle wider than the recess of recumbent statue in
church or cathedral. Now, the kitchen led to the back door, and the
back door opened on to the highroad a stone's throw from church and
village. It was, indeed, the most frequented portion of the house.
Here the gentlemen prepared for their day's chase in the forest, and
here the household assembled on Sunday morning before starting in a
body for church.
The midday meal would be left to cook itself, so, having carefully
deposited her potatoes in the wood embers, and her potée or
savoury mess of meat and vegetables on the hob, Justine would step
on to her bed, and unceremoniously don her black stuff gown, clean
mob cap and kerchief, exchange carpet slippers for well-blacked
shoon, and even sometimes replace one pair of coarse white stockings
by another. No one paid any attention whatever to the dear
blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, childishly simple old thing close upon
seventy, whose life from childhood upwards had been spent in the
family. For many years Justine's wages had been £6 yearly; this sum
gradually increased to £10, I dare say New Year's gifts making up £5
more. But at £10 the wages stopped, and so well had Justine
husbanded her resources that regularly as her employers she received
her dividend in State rentes.
It would have been interesting to learn the sum-total of Justine's
earnings during her long service. A few years ago the faithful old
servant went to her rest, dying under her master's roof, her
hard-earned savings going to a somewhat unsatis- factory
daughter--alas! a much too common story in France. The mere fact of
hoarding is often the only enjoyment of the hoarder. Justine
belonged to a type fast disappearing. It may be said, indeed, that
the faithful old servants Balzac delighted to portray—the Nanons,
Gasselins, and Mariottes—are already obsolete. Even in Justine's
days bonnets were fast superseding the traditionary coiffe,
and in France, as in England, cooks and housemaids began to be agog
for change. I do not know if such is still the case, but twenty-five
years ago, in spacious flats of large provincial cities, the
servant's bedroom was often the kitchen. Soon after theFranco-Prussian
war I wintered at Nantes with the widow of a late préfet.
Besides very large dining and drawing rooms, there were four or five
good bedchambers in my hostess's handsome flat; yet our nice
Bretonne, the cook, slept and performed her toilet in a recess of
what was both cook-room and scullery.
As all travellers in France know, the peasants have often
four-posters in their kit chens—these of enormous proportions, and
placed in alcoves, two sometimes facing each other. The habit has
doubtless arisen partly from the excessive cold of French winters,
partly, in former days, from fear of marauders. But in the more
progressive districts the custom is fast dying out. No rich peasant
builds himself a house at the present time without adding good airy
bedrooms. More particularly is pride taken in a sightly staircase, a
feature of domestic architecture formerly represented by the outside
ladder leading to hayloft or harness-room.
A good-natured indifference to what is called comfort in English
eyes characterizes French country life generally. Folks so far from
being fastidious about themselves are not likely to pamper their
households. A stockman boarded by wealthy landowners I know, shares
the sleeping accommodation of his beeves, having for bedstead a
wooden shelf adjoining the neat-house: for bed, plenty of straw.
Alike men and women servants kept in large farmhouses perform their
ablutions at the pump—hardly, perhaps, with the thoroughness and
gusto of Trooper George!
Once more, to recall the immortal picture-gallery, I may mention
that even France the country above all others "rich in all-saving
common sense" has its Mrs. Jellabys. One philanthropic lady I knew
made over her considerable fortune to the town she inhabited,
constituting herself a muncipal annuitant. The property was to be
ultimately laid out in a training farm and dairy school for
Protestant and Catholic orphan girls. It happened that a newly
engaged lady companion and housekeeper suggested the desirability of
water-jugs and hand-basins for the indoor servants—cook, housemaid,
and man-of-all-work, who waited at table, drove the brougham, and
made himself generally useful. The benevolent chatelaine at first
laughed the notion to scorn. "Toilette services for domestics!
Whoever heard of such a thing I" she cried, finally allowing herself
to be inveigled into the startling innovation. This happened twenty
years ago, but I have no doubt that in out-of-the-way country places
the primitiveness of Madame G—'s arrangements might still be
One side of this general laisser aller in France would be
much appreciated by many housewives here. There is no punctilious
differentiation of labour among French servants—at least, none to be
compared with that prevailing in England. The scrupulosity of our
ladylike Ethels and Mabels in black dresses and white streamers is
wanting; but, on the other hand, Louise and Pauline are much less
fussy, stand less upon their dignity, and in emergencies prove more
useful, being generally able to turn their hands to anything. Again,
Louise and Pauline are less ambitious, exacting, and flighty. They
do not require fixed hours for pianoforte or mandoline lessons,
cycling, or walks with young men. Indeed, etiquette is as strict
among well-conducted women servants as among ladies moving in
society. A respectable French girl occupying a good place would
never dream????? of going to a music-hall or any other place of
entertainment with her betrothed only; some member of her family or
friend must accompanythem. And the lover of a well-conducted
maidservant in France is invariably her betrothed—no mere hanger-on,
changed on the slightest provocation. Sober of dress and behaviour,
by no means wedded to routine, usually excessively obliging, the
French bonne or femme de chambre often possesses
qualities that compensate for English fastidiousness and attention
to detail. But it is in the essential, the palmary characteristic of
the nation that domestic servants shine. Not for pleasure's sake,
not in order to dress according to the very latest fashion, not that
the eyes of sonic amorous swain may be dazzled, does a Louise or a
Pauline put tip with what is ofttimes excessively laborious service.
One object, and one only, is ever before their eyes, those of a
marksman no more intently fixed upon the target. These deft-handed,
brisk French girls, fortunately for themselves, are utterly without
sentimentality or false pride. Their dream is eminently practical,
their life's aim, not the stockingful of their ancestors, but
instead a respectable account with that universal banker of French
folks—the State. Very likely, as in Justine's case, saving for
saving's sake may be the only reward of lifelong drudgery. Between
virtues and foibles the partition as often as not is a mere Japanese
wall --a sheet of thread-paper. Frugality degenerates into avarice;
the inestimable quality of thrift becomes sordidness.
Here is a telling instance in point. A few years ago the chatelaine
of a fine chateau in northern France took me for a day or two to her
winter residence in the provincial capital. A former woman servant,
now elderly, acted as caretaker of the spacious hotel vacating it
when the family returned in November. "You know France so well that
you will easily believe what I am going to tell you," observed my
hostess. "Yonder good woman has property bringing in two hundred
pounds a year, yet for the sake of earning a little more to add to
it she takes charge of our house throughout the winter, living
absolutely alone and doing what work is necessary."
In England a superannuated cook or housekeeper so situated would, of
course, settle down in a tiny semi-detached villa, keep a neat maid,
and sit down to afternoon tea in a black silk gown. Other countries,
other ideals! Although the Balzacian types have all but disappeared
good servants here and there grow grey in good places. A stay of
ten, fifteen, or even twenty years under the same roof is not
unknown. And the criterion of a good place is the facility it
affords for putting by; comfort, leisure, holidays count for very
little. Wages, New Year's gifts, and perquisites stand before every
other consideration. The lightening of M. Thiers' herculean task in
paying off the Prussian war indemnity is generally attributed to the
peasant. But the amount of money invested by domestic servants must
be colossal. I should accredit cooks and housemaids, footmen and
valets de chambre, with a large share of that astounding
settlement. Many a Tilly Slowboy, even a Marchioness, doubtless had
a hand in the patriotic scoring-off. Let us, then, not too harshly
judge a weakness that English people, alas! are guileless of—namely,
care over-much for the morrow.
MESSIEURS LES DEPUTES
THE tricolour scarf of the French
député confers privileges that may well make their brother
legislators here green with envy. His services are remunerated
almost as liberally as those of a general or a bishop; he travels
first class free of charge on French railways; whenever a review is
given in honour of imperial or royal guests, with senators and
diplomats he enjoys the privilege of a special train, stand, and
refreshment booth, his wife and daughter being included in the
invitation. State functions, metropolitan and provincial
celebrations, the entrée of the Elysée, are enjoyed by him,
to say nothing of prestige and authority; last, but not
least, the much-coveted advantage of une existence assurée,
in other words, a fixed income. Is it any wonder that the Quai
d'Orsay exercises magnetic influence, attracting recruits alike from
learned, commercial, and rural ranks, and that Politics should
indeed be regarded in the light of a profession?
"Have you professional politicians in England?" a Frenchman once
asked me. I replied in the negative. Certainly we have no
professional politicians as the terms are understood over the water.
A deputy's pay is nine thousand francs, just £360. The sum of ten
francs (8s.) is deducted monthly, and in return he receives what is
called une carte de circulation, by virtue of which he is franked on
every railway line throughout France, the sums deducted being made
over to the railway companies. This concession dates from 1882 only.
The payment of members was regulated by Articles 96 and 97 of the
Constitution, March, 1849, and confirmed in February, 1872.
A seat in the Chamber, therefore, secures the average income of a
professional man or civil servant in France.
Politics do not involve any sacrifice of material interests, rather
the reverse. Hence it comes about that active careers are frequently
exchanged for the rôle of legislator, and that many don the
tricolour scarf as the soldier his uniform and the advocate his
gown. The former must work hard and wait long before attaining the
grade that entitles him to similar emoluments, and the latter must
take countless turns in the Salle des Pas Perdus before he is
equally fortunate. Doctors, too, in country places, most of them
begin to turn grey ere earning deputy's pay.
The heterogeneous composition of the French Chamber thus becomes
explicable. We need no longer wonder at the fact that hardly a
calling but is here represented.
In the sum-total of five hundred and ninety-one actual members we
find soldiers, sailors, civil engineers, medical men, veterinary
surgeons and chemists, priests, philosophers, mathematicians,
professors and librarians, architects. archæologists, painters,
etchers and engravers, academicians, historians, political
economists, dramatists, men of letters and journalists, bankers,
distillers, manufacturers, ironmasters, agriculturists and
wine-growers, It sportsmen " thus categorized, explorers and
merchant captains, shoemakers, village schoolmasters, stonemasons,
potters, compositors, miners, mechanics, and lastly, cabaretiers,
Nor is the variety of political groups hardly less noteworthy than
that of rank or calling. Here are the different parties represented
in the present Chamber: Republican, qualified by the following
terms—radical, revolutionary, revisionist, nationalist,
anti-ministerial, plebiscitaire, antisemite, moderate,
socialist, progressive, liberal, independant, Catholic,
conservative, radical-socialist, socialist-collectivist,
Christian-revisionist, Blanquists, patriote-revolutionary,
independent, parliamentary, and a further group under the head of
Among the miscellaneous labels we find adherents of the Union
démocratique and of the Appel au Peuple, royalist,
Liberal Right Conservative, Conservative rallié,
Nationalist plébiscitaire, anti-semite, and members of
the Réforme ParUmentaire. Thus composed, it might seem matter for
wonder, not that the Chamber of Deputies is so often a scene of
wildly diverged opinion, rather that concord should ever reign
within its walls. We must bear in mind Thiers' famous axiom. The
Republic is the form of government that divides Frenchmen the least.
The French temperament is naturally far too critical to be satisfied
with anything. The critical faculty dominates every other.
It strikes an English observer oddly to discern tonsured heads and
priestly robes on the legislator's bench at the Quai d'Orsay. In
England our ecclesiastic must become to all intents and purposes a
civilian before entering the House of Commons.
Not so in France. From the assemblage of the Tiers Rtat until our.
own day ministers of religion have been elected as parliamentary
representatives. In 1789 some of the leading spirits of the National
Assembly were Protestant pastors. A priest, the celebrated Abbe
Gregoire, voted for extension of civil rights to Jews and the
abolition of slavery throughout the French dominions.
Ministers of the Reformed faith no longer seek election as
parliamentary representatives; but Catholic priests have not as yet
followed their example. The priest does not unfrock himself when he
dons the tricolour badge; he retains his ecclesiastical character,
but forfeits the stipend of abbé or vicaire.
Candidates for the legislature are generally what is called
prêtres libres, that is to say, men who have held no sacerdotal
office paid for by the State.
Two priests sit in the present Chamber; the first of these, the Abbe
Gayraud, who describes himself as a Rêpublicain Catholique, [p.136]
represents a constituency of Brest, was formerly professor of
theology and scholastic philosophy at the Catholic University of
Toulouse. The second, the Abbe Lemrie, represents an electoral
division of Hazebrouch (Nord), and was also formerly a professor in
the Institution St. François d'Assise of that town. A
Christian Socialist, the abbe has written many works on the subject.
When it is considered that the fee of a country doctor is two
francs, we need hardly wonder that, irrespective of other
considerations, the practice of medicine is frequently exchanged for
politics. No less than fifty-three doctors sit in the actual
Chamber, many of these being former mayors of their town or commune,
many also authors of medical works. One eccentric figure of the
Chamber in 1897 was a certain Dr. Granier, member for Pontarlier.
This gentleman had been converted to Mohammedanism in Algeria, and
before entering the Palais, by performing the ablutions prescribed
by ritual in the Seine. The doctor was somewhat ruthlessly unseated
for preaching teetotalism. As an orthodox follower of Islam,
probably also as an enlightened philanthropist, he began a veritable
crusade against alcoholism. As the electorate of his
arrondissement consisted largely of absinthe distillers and
their work-people, the result might have been foreseen.
Chemists to the number of eight keep science in countenance;
journalism is represented by forty-one members; the army by
forty-two retired officers; and no less than a hundred and
seventy-three avocats, avoués, and notaires represent
the law. Surely in no other parliament are so many le gists got
If medicine and the law are occasionally renounced in favour of
politics as a profession, it would seem that legal and medical
parliamentarians are generally men of local distinction or
prominence. Most often a long string of dignities and titles follows
their name; they are, or have been, préfets, mayors,
counseillers généraux, presidents of commerical associations and
Societies, political, artistic, and philanthropic; many are also
The same may be said of the numerous landed Proprietors sitting in
the Chamber—one and all seem busiest of the busy, to have earned
their seats by the performance of unremitting local services.
The Reformed Church, as I have said, is no longer represented in the
Palais Bourbon. As in the little handbook before named denominations
are 'lot given, I have no means of apportioning the sum-total under
the heads of Catholic, Protestant, or Jew.
It may be asked, "Do French people uphold the payment of members?"
My reply is, "Not all." On this subject a friend over the water
lately expressed himself to me in somewhat strong terms. Politics,
he averred, should not be regarded in the light of a profession, a
livelihood. It may not be generally known that the senators are in
receipt of deputy's pay, that is to say three hundred and sixty
pounds a year.
In one respect certainly they manage these things better in France.
A sitting of the Chamber can be as much enjoyed by ladies as by the
other sex. Stuffiness on hot days within its walls reminds one of
the House of Commons, but in this respect onlookers are no worse off
than legislators. The accommodation for visitors, especially lady
visitors, is generous in the extreme.
The interior of the Palais Bourbon is an amphitheatre, galleries for
visitors and members' pens or boxes facing the orators' tribunes,
President's chair and table above. The two galleries, running to
right and left, are divided into loges, or boxes, each
holding about a dozen people, and the two first rows are gallantly
reserved for ladies. Seated at our ease we undoubtedly are, but as
on especially interesting occasions gentlemen are freely admitted to
standing room behind these loges, the atmosphere becomes stifling.
But the discomfort is amply rewarded even on uneventful days. On the
occasion of my own visit in 1900 it was M. Paul Deschanel, le
beau Deschanel, as he was called, whose office it was to occupy
the Presidential chair, constantly ring his big silver bell, and,
failing that expedient, to hammer on the table with a ruler and
shout, " Le silence, le silence, s'il vows plait."
Nothing of great interest or importance was going on, but the heat
was torrid. Members very likely wanted to have their say and rush
off to the Exhibition; anyhow, M. Paul Deschanel's silver bell and
his ruler were perpetually in request. Below the Presidential table
and the orator's tribune were grouped the ushers, tall, gentlemanly
looking individuals in blue dress-coats, wearing silver chains of
office and swords.
Votes are taken by members first holding up their hands
affirmatively, next negatively, the voting-urns being only used when
important measures are proposed. These urns are then handed round to
the deputies by the ushers as they sit in their places, the results
being afterwards made known by the President.
The handsome Palais Bourbon was begun by Girardini, an Italian, in
1722, for the Duchess of Bourbon, and completed and enlarged by
French architects a century later. The interior is well worth
visiting in detail.
The present Chamber, eighth legislative body of the Third Republic,
was elected in April, 1902 and on June 1 was composed the so-called
bureau d'âge, the President being the oldest deputy present.
If Frenchwomen ever obtain seats in the Palais Bourbon, this dignity
will certainly be abolished. The actual President of the bureau
d'âge is eighty-two.
It may be here mentioned that under no previous form of government
has suffrage been both universal and direct. During the various
parliamentary régimes of the Revolution, as M. Rambaud points
out, manhood suffrage existed, but with certain restrictions. Under
the Consulate and the first Empire freedom of vote ceased to exist,
the so-called representatives of the people being mere nominees of
The Restoration and July monarchy allowed a restricted parliamentary
franchise only, whilst the system of official candidatures under the
second Empire nullified what was nominally manhood suffrage. I add
that in 187o electoral rights were granted to the Jews of Algeria.
As is seen in another chapter, the legislation of the last twenty
years has been eminently progressive, especially with regard to
education. There is, indeed, henceforth to be an educational fete
held yearly in Paris, a second anniversary certainly no less worthy
of commemoration than July 14.
On June 19, 1872, was presented to the assemdy, then sitting at
Versailles, a petition signed by over a million citizens, for free,
universal, and non-sectarian education. Ten years later the great
Ferry laws carried out this programme in its entirety. The former
date was lately celebrated in the Trocadéro with great éclat,
the President of the Republic and the Minister of Public Instruction
being present at the inauguration.
Thus Lex henceforth is to have a deservedly foremost place in the