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THE WOMEN AND THE SALONS OF FRANCE,
UNDER THE EMPIRE, THE RESTORATION, AND THE MONARCHY OF JULY.
CARDINAL MAZARIN said to Don Louis de Haro, at the time of the peace of the Pyrenees: "How lucky you are in Spain: there, women are satisfied with being coquettish or devout; they obey their lover or their confessor, and interfere with nothing else. But here, they wish to govern the State. We have three such: the Duchess of Chevreuse, the Princess Palatine, and the Duchess of Longueville, women who would overthrow empires by their intrigues."
The Chancellor Maupeon used to say that women could not understand politics more than geese. A Duke of Wurtemberg held the intelligence of the fair sex in equally low estimation. His wife having ventured an observation upon the war which he had to sustain against Swabia, Madame," he said, " we took you to give us a successor, and not to
give us advice."
Jean V. of Brittany averred that a woman knew all that was wanted of her "quand elle savoit mettre différence entre la chemise et le pourpoinct de son mary." Molière has dramatised this historical saying, related by Montaigne, in his "Femmes Savantes :"
Nos pères, sur ce point, étaient gens bien sensés,
A connaître un pourpoint d'avec un haut-de-chausse.
In a letter of the 6th of November, 1806, the Emperor Napoleon I. wrote to Josephine: "You appear to be annoyed at the bad things I say of women. It is true I hate intriguing women above all things. I am accustomed to women who are good, mild, and conciliating; those are the women I like."
Always ready to enter the lists with the conqueror of Italy, Madame de Staël asked him one day, in a large circle of society, who in his estimation was the first woman in the world, dead or alive?
"Celle qui a fait le plus d'enfants," answered Napoleon, smiling. Notwithstanding these records of ungallant attacks made by authority upon the fair sex, Dr. Véron justly remarks, that in France women have always exercised a certain empire upon society as it existed in their time; they have known how to change their parts, their attitudes, and their seductions under different régimes; and, at many epochs of French history, they have even pretended to govern the State.*
The empire of women was of brief duration at the breaking out of the revolution of 1789: the salons, at that epoch so numerous, so brilliant, and a few nights previously so powerful, were speedily dispersed by brutal and threatening influences-those of the clubs and the street; influences which put to the rout all assemblages which required a certain quietude for their effective development.
Madame de Staël, at that time in her première jeunesse, made an attempt, during the administration of M. de Narbonne and of the Legislative Assembly, to exercise a certain influence upon that assembly in her salon, and to rally and to direct its principal members, as at a
* Mémoires d'un Bourgeois de Paris. Par Le Docteur Véron. Tome Sixième.
later period was done, in the midst of the animated but regular movements of a constitutional monarchy. These precocious political reunions were overthrown by the same impetuous torrent which carried away the throne of the 10th of August.
The vast influence of Madame Roland's salon is now a matter of history. This remarkable woman, clever and ambitious, ruled over the men of her party as if she had been their chief. She was the first who endeavoured to organise the bourgeoisie of France of '89. She was in the possession of more graces and amiability than is generally supposed, but her projects for the future, perchance reasonable, but certainly premature, were quickly upset by catastrophes. There were no more salons when the scaffold became permanent !
Women, however, began to regain power the moment the days of Terror had gone by. The beauties of the epoch, among whom Madame Tallien occupies historically the first rank, assured their empire by the pity and humanity shown to the victims. The goodness of their hearts, the cynical ex-Director of the Opera would make us believe, sympathising with all forms of suffering, les entraînait même à de faciles tendresses !
Under the Directory, Madame de Staël saw, on her return from Switzerland, the leaders of all shades of the old party reassembled in her salons. Her doors were only closed to the Jacobins. The author of "Corinne" was indebted for this great influence to the remarkable qualities of her heart and intellect, to an indefatigable activity, and to a certain prodigality of herself and of her sentiments. Those even whom she pleased least capitulated in the long run. She succeeded in bringing within the sphere of her attractions every person of distinction or renown. But these reunions, where Madame de Staël pretended to reign and govern, were deemed to be incompatible with the new order of things. Exiled to Switzerland, she regretted there for a long time her salon in Paris, or, as she used to call it, her rivulet of the Rue du Bac.
The Consulat saw several salons of more or less importance open their doors, and allowed them to exist. Madame de Montesson, widow of a Duke of Orleans, whose wife she had been, as Madame de Maintenon had been the wife of Louis XIV., assembled at her soirées persons attached to different parties, and sought to effect a fusion between different régimes. Madame de Montesson, friend of the Beauharnais, showed herself devoted to the Bonapartes, and she made converts among the emigrants, and even among the great names of the old nobility, to the new order of things.
At this epoch, the graces, the charms, and the intelligence of Madame Récamier, attracted within her circle a polished and amiable society, but more of a literary than of a political cast.
Under the Empire, the women whose society was most courted, who took the first places at the imperial court, and who graced the brilliant assemblies of the staff on days of festivals, revelled in that great and rich beauty, which inspires neither elegies, nor madrigals, nor sonnets, but which moves the senses before either heart or intellect know anything about it.
Madame la Duchesse de Bassano, Madame la Comtesse Duchâtel, Madame Regnault de Saint-Jean-d'Angely, Madame la Duchesse de Vicence, Madame Visconti; and, in second rank, many a préfet's wife, give us an idea of that beauty which is compatible with elegance and grace, but
which, în order to conquer, disdains to borrow anything from the imagination, from the refinements of mind, or from all those subtle and studied coquetries which are requisite to impart passion in calmer and more tranquil epochs.
The numerous varieties, and different shades of beauty, are in all times represented among women; but the diverse régimes that govern society only place in the foremost rank those whose beauty, so to say, shows itself to be in perfect accordance with the spirit, with the ideas, it might almost be said with the philosophy, of the time. Thus, under the Empire, an upright, imposing bearing, a Greek outline, a look full of fire, a power of attraction which would no more admit of being questioned than the bravery of French warriors, some sense and intelligence, but an intelligence unclouded by chimeras or vain misgivings, keeping within the circle marked out for it, appreciating only positive things, and preferring in love a sustained heroism to a languishing sentimentality,—such were, in the first years of the "entury, the principal moral and physical features of the women who were celebrated by their triumphs in salons, as also perhaps by the glory of those who loved them.
The women of the Empire entertained the most tender enthusiasm, the most sympathising weakness for living illustrations of the field of battle; for those brilliant officers whose persons revealed force, vigour, and courage. The Lauzuns of that epoch were so many heroes.
Nevertheless, towards the end of the imperial régime, a new group of women gathered round Queen Hortense, and, taking after her, came under the influence of more refined graces, and more chaste and delicate sensibilities.
A new reign of women was inaugurated with the Restoration. Clever women, with some pretensions to beauty, aristocratic manners, and a simplicity which took uncommonly, shone with great lustre in the salons, where they were surrounded with homages and distinguished by a discreet and reputable celebrity. Lamartine came, and the political, the poetic and literary woman, once more took the lead. It would be necessary to resuscitate the different classes, the different opinions of societies, as at that time constituted, to do justice to all the women that were then met with, distinguished in their own circles and their own little worlds, and who rivalled with one another in charms, in wit, and in emulation.
After the renowned salons of Madame de Montcalm, Madame de Duras, and a few others, which M. de Villemain has lately described, with expressions of deep regret for times now gone by, a whole youthful world might be quoted, who, bursting into bloom under the Restoration, heralded its chief features by a poetic physionomy, a graceful melancholy, and a Christian philosophy.
Who has not seen a young woman with light hair at the balls of Madame the Duchess of Berry, gliding lightly by, scarcely touching the ground, every movement impressed with so much elegance that one was struck with her gracefulness before knowing she was a beauty? Who then recognised the young Marchioness of Castries, and cannot now embody the idea of that youthful, charming, aërial beauty, which was applauded and honoured in the salons of the Restoration ? The society of the time, which had been carried away by the sentimental Elvira of the "Méditations," was less terrestrial and less pagan in its tastes than it had been in the time of the Empire. Nevertheless, the grandiose and
imposing style of beauty was still worthily upheld, with the aid of a certain elegance derived from blood and descent, by the Duchess of Guiche, since Duchess of Grammont. A young girl was also at the same epoch much sought after in all the aristocratic salons, where she was not less admired for her rare and splendid beauty than she was for that poetic talent which made of her "la Muse de la Patrie."
Political men were at that time entertained, if not presided over, in the salons of Madame de Saint Aulaire and of the young Duchess of Broglio. There was in these two distinguished ladies a delightful harmony of intelligence and thought, and of elevated and religious sentiments not incompatible with worldly and political pursuits.
The somewhat despotic power of handsome swordsmen was put down in the boudoirs and salons. There were other things to talk about besides duels, bulletins of the grande armée, and cavalry charges. Celebrated preachers, bishops of a rather worldly turn, people of talent and of irreproachable character, and political men of a certain importance, were now the chief persons who obtained favour in these eloquent and aristocratic assemblies.
Fashionable ladies even attended the more interesting debates of the Chamber of Deputies. Each orator filled the galleries with his friends upon the days when he was to address the house. The secret of a feminine protection could be detected even in the highest political destinies of the time; every minister had his Egeria. Princess Bagration, whose beauty, graces, and wit, admired at more than one congress, have become a matter of history, encouraged and fostered, by her attendance at the tribune, the easy yet spirited eloquence of M. de Martignac.
A new era commenced with the Monarchy of July. The salons of the preceding régime continued open, but they were filled with regrets, spite, and bad humour against the government which had just been installed. Then a new and distinct race of women sprang into existence, took the impression of the day, and soon imparted a tone to all around. These young women, of a beauty which held a middle place between the beauty of the Empire and that of the Restoration, making their entrance into the world after the government of July was established and consolidated, knew only it, troubled themselves very little with the pretensions of those who had preceded them, and who were now in no small degree faded, and launched forth in a career of their own, full of charms and delights. Paris had experienced the reign of the Faubourg Saint Germain, and afterwards that of the Faubourg Saint Honoré; it was now the turn of the Place Saint Georges. Every quarter of Paris has, in reality, its distinctive manners, the contrast between which can neither be calculated nor appreciated by distance. Young women made their appearance at this moment, and aspired to the frivolous and evanescent celebrity of fashion, who were possessed of charms, and always dressed in a style alike rich and recherché, who were intellectual but inclined to the positive, and no longer carried away by the imagination, and who were possessed of a determination of will, which was sustained without an effort in the midst of the most varied and most brilliant dissipation. In the world of that time, fortune held as great a place as ever, and even greater than heretofore. People took a pleasure in displaying their riches, either by costly dress, by the splendour of their equipages, or by their luxurious furniture, extending itself to the fine arts and objects of vertu. These
distinctive features of fashionable ladies, some of whom attracted even the attention of the young heir to the throne under the Monarchy of July, are well known. It would be sufficient to quote a few names, but discretion forbids.
Without the circle of the court of King Louis Philippe it is impossible to seize upon and describe the numerous forms which vanity assumed in the ever-renewing confusion and agitation of the day. It was the great era for dressing for effect and for coquetry without disguise.
In 1831, the wealthy bourgeoisie made the Opera their home; they took the place there of the great families and the great names of the Restoration.
More than one young woman established her reputation as a lady of fashion in a box of the Royal Academy of Music. There are some beauties with whom the brilliancy of the lights and the staring of the crowd impart additional animation to their countenances and enhance their attractions.
Who has not had the indiscretion to allow his lorgnette to rest upon a charming lady full of smiles, with black eyes and eyebrows, whose neck and shoulders presented the most exquisite outlines and the most graceful movements? Her expressive physiognomy depicted almost instantaneously the lively emotions which she received from the theatre, and the pleasure which the homage by which she was surrounded gave to her. The most wealthy and distinguished young men, as well as many old men, proverbial for their gallantry, rivalled with one another in the vigour of their assaults upon her youth and heart, in despite of the foot-lights and a husband. Nor was she wanting in spirit to repel these assiduities. "Take care," she said to a septuagenary one day, who was harassing her with his attentions, "je vais vous céder."
This young lady, whose name was in every one's mouth, and whose position placed her alongside of the court, was to be seen at the most fashionable balls as well as in the most prominent and recherché seat at the race-course. Her absence from any one of these rendezvous of opulence, luxury, and frivolity, would have been felt by all. She eclipsed all competitors wherever she showed herself, and according to the Latin historian, "eo magis præfulgebat quod non videbatur."
During this régime of eighteen years' duration, the romances of Madame Sand and of Balzac, and the poetry of Alfred de Musset, imparted a peculiar character to young women. Boldness of conception, cavalierlike manners, a sensibility susceptible of deep emotions, but only for positive things, or where their interests were concerned, constituted the distinctive features of the more or less political and more or less fashionable women of the time of Louis Philippe.
Some, of good birth, charming manners, and high spirits, indulged in eccentricities of conduct not altogether feminine. One of these, who was indefatigable in field sports, a first-rate rider, ready to engage any Madame Patin who should cross her path with sword or pistol, who smoked egregiously, and never cared to control the fantasies of either her heart or her head, had still the power to attract round her, whether at the theatre, at the steeple-chase, or in the salons, serious and important personages, as well as "the fine flower of our golden youth." Free-thinker, if you so will it, untameable in character, taking life boldly,