Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Joshua Hutchinson, Tonya Allen and PG Distributed
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
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VOL. III--FEBRUARY, 1859.--NO. XVI.
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OUGHT WOMEN TO LEARN THE ALPHABET?
Paris smiled, for an hour or two, in the year 1801, when, amidst
Napoleon's mighty projects for remodelling the religion and government
of his empire, the ironical satirist, Sylvain Marechal, thrust in his
"Plan for a Law prohibiting the Alphabet to Women." Daring, keen,
sarcastic, learned, the little tract retains to-day so much of its
pungency, that we can hardly wonder at the honest simplicity of the
author's friend and biographer, Madame Gaeon Dufour, who declared that
he must be partially insane, and proceeded to prove herself so by
replying to him. His proposed statute consists of eighty-two clauses,
and is fortified by a "whereas" of a hundred and thirteen weighty
reasons. He exhausts the range of history to show the frightful results
which have followed this taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge;
quotes, the Encyclopedie, to prove that the woman who knows the alphabet
has already lost a portion of her innocence; cites the opinion of
Moliere, that any female who has unhappily learned anything in this line
should affect ignorance, when possible; asserts that knowledge rarely
makes men attractive, and females never; opines that women have no
occasion to peruse Ovid's "Art of Love," since they know it all in
advance; remarks that three-quarters of female authors are no better
than they should be; maintains that Madame Guion would have been far
more useful, had she been merely pretty and an ignoramus, such as Nature
made her,--that Ruth and Naomi could not read, and Boaz probably
would never have married into the family, had they possessed that
accomplishment,--that the Spartan women did not know the alphabet, nor
the Amazons, nor Penelope, nor Andromache, nor Lucretia, nor Joan of
Arc, nor Petrarch's Laura, nor the daughters of Charlemagne, nor the
three hundred and sixty-five wives of Mohammed;--but that Sappho and
Madame de Maintenon could read altogether too well, while the case of
Saint Brigitta, who brought forth twelve children and twelve books, was
clearly exceptional, and afforded no safe precedent.
We take it, that the brilliant Frenchman has touched the root of the
matter. Ought women to learn the alphabet? There the whole question
lies. Concede this little fulcrum, and Archimedea will move the world
before she has done with it; it becomes merely a question of time.
Resistance must be made here or nowhere. _Obsta principiis_. Woman must
be a subject or an equal; there is no middle ground. What if the Chinese
proverb should turn out to be, after all, the summit of wisdom,--"For
men, to cultivate virtue is knowledge; for women, to renounce knowledge
No doubt, the progress of events is slow, like the working of the laws
of gravitation generally. Certainly, there has been but little change in
the legal position of woman since China was in its prime, until within
the last dozen years. Lawyers admit that the fundamental theory of
English and Oriental law is the same on this point: Man and wife are
one, and that one is the husband. It is the oldest of legal traditions.
When Blackstone declares that "the very being and existence of the woman
is suspended during the marriage," and American Kent echoes that "her
legal existence and authority are in a manner lost,"--when Petersdorff
asserts that "the husband has the right of imposing such corporeal
restraints as he may deem necessary," and Bacon that "the husband hath,
by law, power and dominion over his wife, and may keep her by force
within the bounds of duty, and may beat her, but not in a violent or
cruel manner,"[A]--when Mr. Justice Coleridge rules that the husband,
in certain cases, "has a right to confine his wife in his own
dwelling-house and restrain her from liberty for an indefinite time,"
and Baron Alderson sums it all up tersely, "The wife is only the
_servant_ of her husband,"--these high authorities simply reaffirm the
dogma of the Gentoo code, four thousand years old and more:--"A man,
both day and night, must keep his wife so much in subjection that she by
no means be mistress of her own actions. If the wife have her own free
will, notwithstanding she be of a superior caste, she will behave
[Footnote A: It may be well to fortify this point by a racy extract from
that rare and amusing old book, the pioneer of its class, entitled "The
Lawes Resolutions of Women's Rights, or the Lawes Provision for Woman.
A Methodicall Collection of such Statutes and Customes, with the Cases,
Opinions, Arguments, and Points of Learning in the Law as doe properly
concern Women." London: A.D. 1632. pp. 404. 4to. The pithy sentences
lose immeasurably, however, by being removed from their original
"_Lib. III Sect. VII, The Baron may beate his Wife_.
"The rest followeth, Justice Brooke 12. H. 8. fo. 1. affirmeth plainly,
that if a man beat an out-law, a traitor, a Pagan, his villein, or his
wife, it is dispunishable, because by the Law Common these persons can
haue no action: God send Gentle women better sport, or better companie.
"But it seemeth to be very true, that there is some kind of castigation
which Law permits a Husband to vse; for if a woman be threatned by her
husband to bee beaten, mischieued, or slaine, Fitzherbert sets donne a
Writ which she may sve out of Chancery to compell him to finde surety of
honest behauiour toward her, and that he shall neither doe nor procure
to be done to her (marke I pray you) any bodily damage, otherwise then
appertaines to the office of a Husband for lawfull and reasonable
correction. See for this the new Nat. bre. fo. 80 f. & fo. 23S f.
"How farre that extendeth I cannot tell, but herein the sexe feminine is
at no very great disaduantage: for first for the lawfulnesse; If it be
in no other regard lawfull to beat a man's wife, then because the poore
wench can sve no other action for it, I pray why may not the Wife beat
the Husband againe, what action can he haue if she doe: where two
tenants in Common be on a, horse, and one them will trauell and vse this
horse, hee may keepe it from his Companion a yeare two or three and so
be euen with him; so the actionlesse woman beaten by her Husband, hath
retaliation left to beate him againe, if she dare. If he come to the
Chancery or Justices in the Country of the peace against her, because
her recognizance alone will hardly bee taken, he were best be bound for
her, and then if he be beaten the second time, let him know the price of
it on God's name."]
Yet behind these unchanging institutions, a pressure has been for
centuries becoming concentrated, which, now that it has begun to act, is
threatening to overthrow them all. It has not yet operated very visibly
in the Old World, where (even in England) the majority of women have
not yet mastered the alphabet, and can not sign their own names in the
marriage-register. But in this country, the vast changes of the last
twelve years are already a matter of history. No trumpet has been
sounded, no earthquake felt, while State after State has ushered into
legal existence one half of the population within its borders. Every
Free State in the American Union, except perhaps Illinois and New
Jersey, has conceded to married women, in some form, the separate
control of property. Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and
Pennsylvania have gone farther, and given them the control of their own
earnings,--given it wholly and directly, that is,--while New York
and other States have given it partially or indirectly. Legislative
committees in Ohio and Wisconsin have recommended, in printed reports,
the extension of the right of suffrage to women; Kentucky (like Canada)
has actually extended it, in certain educational matters, and a
Massachusetts legislative committee has suggested the same thing; while
the Kansas Constitutional Convention came within a dozen votes of
extending it without reserve, and expunging the word _male_ from the
Constitution. Surely, here and now, might poor M. Marechal exclaim. The
bitter fruits of the original seed appear, and the sad question recurs,
whether women ought ever to have tasted of the alphabet.
Mr. Everett, perhaps without due caution, advocated, last summer, the
affirmative of this question. With his accustomed eloquence, he urged on
the attention of Suleiman Bey the fact of the equal participation of the
sexes in the public-school system of Boston, while omitting to explain
to him that the equality is of very recent standing. No doubt, the
eminent Oriental would have been pleased to hear that this public
administration of the alphabet to females, on any terms, is an
institution but little more than a half-century old in the city of
Boston. It is well established by the early deeds and documents that a
large proportion of Puritan women could not write their own names; and
in Boston especially, for a hundred and fifty years, the public schools
included boys only. In the year 1789, however, the notable discovery was
made, that the average attendance of pupils from April to October was
only one half of that reported for the remainder of the year. This was
an obvious waste of money and accommodations, and it was therefore
proposed that female pupils should be annually introduced during this
intermediate period. Accordingly, school-girls, like other flowers,
blossomed in summer only; and this state of things lasted, with
but slight modification, for some forty years, according to the
School-Superintendent's Third Report. It was not till 1828 that all
distinctions were abolished in the Boston Common Schools; in the High
Schools lingering far later, sole vestige of the "good old times,"
before a mistaken economy overthrew the wholesome doctrine of M. Sylvain
Marechal, and let loose the alphabet among women.
It is true that Eve ruined us all, according to theology, without
knowing her letters. Still, there is something to be said in defence
of that venerable ancestress. The Veronese lady, Isotta Nogarola, five
hundred and thirty-six of whose learned letters were preserved by De
Thou, composed a dialogue on the question, Whether Adam or Eve had
committed the greater sin? But Ludovico Domenichi, in his "Dialogue on
the Nobleness of Women," maintains that Eve did not sin at all, because
she was not even created when Adam was told not to eat the apple. It is
"in Adam all died," he shrewdly says; nobody died in Eve;--which
looks plausible. Be that as it may, Eve's daughters are in danger of
swallowing a whole harvest of forbidden fruit, in these revolutionary
days, unless something be done to cut off the supply.
It has been seriously asserted that during the last half-century more
books have been written by women and about women than during all the
previous uncounted ages. It may be true; although, when we think of the
innumerable volumes of _Memoires_ by Frenchwomen of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries,--each one justifying the existence of her own ten
volumes by the remark, that all her contemporaries were writing as
many,--we have our doubts. As to the increased multitude of general
treatises on the female sex, however,--its education, life, health,
diseases, charms, dress, deeds, sphere, rights, wrongs, work, wages,
encroachments, and idiosyncrasies generally,--there can be no doubt
whatever; and the poorest of these books recognizes a condition of
public sentiment which no other age ever dreamed of. Still, literary
history preserves the names of some reformers before the Reformation, in
this matter. There was Signora Moderata Fonte, the Venetian, who left a
book to be published after her death, in 1592, "Dei Meriti delle Donne."
There was her townswoman, Lucrezia Marinella, who followed ten years
after, with her essay, "La Nobilita e la Eccelenza delle Donne, con
Difetti e Mancamenti degli Domini,"--a comprehensive theme, truly! Then
followed the all-accomplished Anna Maria Schurman, in 1645, with her
"Dissertatio de Ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam et meliores Literas
Aptitudine," with a few miscellaneous letters appended, in Greek and
Hebrew. At last came boldly Jacquette Guillaume, in 1665, and threw down
the gauntlet in her title-page, "Les Dames Illustres; ou par bonnes et
fortes Raisons il se prouve que le Sexe Feminin surpasse en toute Sorte
de Genre le Sexe Masculin"; and with her came Margaret Boufflet and a
host of others; and finally, in England, Mary Wollstonecraft, whose
famous book, formidable in its day, would seem rather conservative
now,--and in America, that pious and worthy dame, Mrs. H. Mather
Crocker, Cotton Mather's grandchild, who, in 1818, published the first
book on the "Rights of Woman" ever written on this side the Atlantic.
Meanwhile there have never been wanting men, and strong men, to echo
these appeals. From Cornelius Agrippa and his essay (1509) on the
excellence of woman and her preeminence over man, down to the first
youthful thesis of Agassiz, "Mens Feminae Viri Animo superior," there
has been a succession of voices crying in the wilderness. In England,
Anthony Gibson wrote a book, in 1599, called "A Woman's Woorth, defended
against all the Men in the World, proouing them to be more Perfect,
Excellent, and Absolute in all Vertuous Actions than any Man of what
Qualitie soever, _Interlarded with Poetry." Per contra,_ the learned
Acidalius published a book in Latin and afterwards in French, to prove
that women are not reasonable creatures. Modern theologians are at worst
merely sub-acid, and do not always say so, if they think so. Meanwhile
most persons have been content to leave the world to go on its old
course, in this matter as in others, and have thus acquiesced in that
stern judicial decree, with which Timon of Athens sums up all his curses
upon womankind,--"If there sit twelve women at the table, let a dozen of
them be--as they are."
Ancient or modern, nothing in any of these discussions is so valuable as
the fact of the discussion itself. There is no discussion where there is
no wrong. Nothing so indicates wrong as this morbid self-inspection. The
complaints are a perpetual protest, the defences a perpetual confession.
It is too late to ignore the question, and once opened, it can be
settled only on absolute and permanent principles. There is a wrong; but
where? Does woman already know too much, or too little? Was she created
for man's subject, or his equal? Shall she have the alphabet, or not?
Ancient mythology, which undertook to explain everything, easily
accounted for the social and political disabilities of woman. Goguet
quotes the story from St. Augustine, who got it from Varro. Cecrops,
building Athens, saw starting from the earth an olive-plant and a
fountain, side by side. The Delphic oracle said, that this indicated a
strife between Minerva and Neptune for the honor of giving a name to the
city, and that the people must decide between them. Cecrops thereupon
assembled the men, and the women also, who then had a right to vote; and
the result was that Minerva carried the election by a glorious majority
of one. Then Attica was overflowed and laid waste; of course the
citizens attributed the calamity to Neptune, and resolved to punish the
women. It was therefore determined that in future they should not vote,
nor should any child bear the name of its mother.
Thus easily did mythology explain all troublesome inconsistencies. But
it is much that it should even have recognized them, at so early an
epoch, as needing explanation. When we ask for a less symbolical
elucidation, it lies within our reach. At least, it is not hard to take
the first steps into the mystery. There are, to be sure, some flowers of
rhetoric in the way. The obstacle to the participation of woman in the
alphabet, or in any other privilege, has been thought by some to be the
fear of impairing her delicacy, or of destroying her domesticity, or of
confounding the distinction between the sexes. We think otherwise. These
have been plausible excuses; they have even been genuine, though minor,
anxieties. But the whole thing, we take it, had always one simple,
intelligible basis,--sheer contempt for the supposed intellectual
inferiority of woman. She was not to be taught, because she was not
worth teaching. The learned Acidalius, aforesaid, was in the majority.
According to Aristotle and the Peripatetics, woman was _animal
occasionatum_, as if a sort of monster and accidental production.
Mediaeval councils, charitably asserting her claims to the rank of
humanity, still pronounced her unfit for instruction. In the Hindoo
dramas, she did not even speak the same language with her master, but
used the dialect of slaves. When, in the sixteenth century, Francoise de
Saintonges wished to establish girls' schools in France, she was hooted
in the streets, and her father called together four doctors, learned in
the law, to decide whether she was not possessed by demons, to think of
educating women,--_pour s'assurer qu'instraire des femmes n'etait pas un
oeuvre du demon_.
It was the same with political rights. The foundation of the Salic
Law was not any sentimental anxiety to guard female delicacy and
domesticity; it was, as stated by Froissart, a blunt, hearty contempt:
"The kingdom of France being too noble to be ruled by a woman." And
the same principle was reaffirmed for our own institutions, in rather
softened language, by Theophilus Parsons, in his famous defence of the
rights of Massachusetts _men_ (the "Essex Result," in 1778): "Women,
what age soever they are of, are not considered as having a sufficient
acquired discretion [to exercise the franchise]."
In harmony with this are the various maxims and _bon mots_ of eminent
men, in respect to women. Niebuhr thought he should not have educated a
girl well,--he should have made her know too much. Lessing said, "The
woman who thinks is like the man who puts on rouge, ridiculous."
Voltaire said, "Ideas are like beards; women and young men have none."
And witty Dr. Maginn carries to its extreme the atrocity: "We like to
hear a few words of sense from a woman, as we do from a parrot, because
they are so unexpected." Yet how can we wonder at these opinions, when
the saints have been severer than the sages? since the pious Fenelon
taught that true virgin delicacy was almost as incompatible with
learning as with vice,--and Dr. Channing complained, in his "Essay on
Exclusion and Denunciation," of "women forgetting the tenderness of
their sex" and arguing on theology.
Now this impression of feminine inferiority may be right or wrong, but
it obviously does a good deal towards explaining the facts it takes for
granted. If contempt does not originally cause failure, it perpetuates
it. Systematically discourage any individual or class, from birth to
death, and they learn, in nine cases out of ten, to acquiesce in their
degradation, if not to claim it as a crown of glory. If the Abbe Choisi
praised the Duchesse de Fontanges for being "beautiful as an angel and
silly as a goose," it was natural that all the young ladies of the court
should resolve to make up in folly what they wanted in charms. All
generations of women having been bred under the shadow of intellectual
contempt, they have of course done much to justify it. They have often
used only for frivolous purposes even the poor opportunities allowed
them. They have employed the alphabet, as Moliere said, chiefly in
spelling the verb _Amo_. Their use of science has been like that of
Mlle. de Launay, who computed the decline in her lover's affection by
his abbreviation of their evening walk in the public square, preferring
to cross it rather than take the circuit,--"From which I inferred," she
says, "that his passion had diminished in the ratio between the diagonal
of a rectangular parallelogram and the sum of two adjacent sides."
And their conception, even of Art, has been too often on the scale
of Properzia de Rossi, who carved sixty-five heads on a walnut, the
smallest of all recorded symbols of woman's sphere.
All this might perhaps be overcome, if the social prejudice which
discourages woman would only reward proportionately those who surmount
the discouragement. The more obstacles the more glory, if society would
only pay in proportion to the labor; but it does not. Women, being
denied not merely the antecedent training which prepares for great
deeds, but the subsequent praise and compensation which follow them,
have been weakened in both directions. The career of eminent men
ordinarily begins with colleges and the memories of Miltiades, and ends
with fortune and fame; woman begins under discouragement, and ends
beneath the same. Single, she works with half-preparation and half-pay;
married, she puts name and wages into the keeping of her husband,
shrinks into John Smith's "lady" during life, and John Smith's "relict"
on her tombstone; and still the world wonders that her deeds, like her
opportunities, are inferior.
Evidently, then, the advocates of woman's claims--those who hold
that "the virtues of the man and the woman are the same," with
Antisthenes,--or that "the talent of the man and the woman is the same,"
with Socrates in Xenophon's "Banquet"--must be cautious lest they
attempt to prove too much. Of course, if women know as much as men
without schools and colleges, there is no need of admitting them to
these institutions. If they work as well on half-pay, it diminishes the
inducement to give them the other half. The safer position is, to claim
that they have done just enough to show what they might have done under
circumstances less discouraging. Take, for instance, the common remark,
that women have invented nothing. It is a valid answer, that the only
tools habitually needed by woman have been the needle, the spindle, and
the basket, and tradition reports that she herself invented all three.
In the same way it may be shown that the departments in which women have
equalled men have been the departments in which they have had equal
training, equal encouragement, and equal compensation,--as, for
instance, the theatre. Madame Lagrange, the _prima donna_, after years
of costly musical instruction, wins the zenith of professional success;
she receives, the newspapers affirm, sixty thousand dollars a year,
travelling-expenses for ten persons, country-houses, stables, and
liveries, besides an uncounted revenue of bracelets, bouquets, and
_billet-doux_. Of course, every young _debutante_ fancies the same thing
within her own reach, with only a brief stage-vista between. On the
stage there is no deduction for sex, and therefore woman has shown in
that sphere an equal genius. But every female common-school teacher in
the United States finds the enjoyment of her two hundred dollars a
year to be secretly embittered by the knowledge that the young
college-stripling in the next school-room is paid a thousand dollars for
work no harder or more responsible than her own,--and that, too, after
the whole pathway of education has been obstructed for her and smoothed
for him. These may be gross and carnal considerations; but Faith asks
her daily bread, and Fancy must be _fed_. We deny woman her fair share
of training, of encouragement, of remuneration, and then talk fine
nonsense about her instincts and her intuitions,--say sentimentally,
with the Oriental proverbialist, "Every book of knowledge is implanted
by nature in the heart of woman," and make the compliment a substitute
for the alphabet.
Nothing can be more absurd than to impose entirely distinct standards,
in this respect, on the two sexes, or to expect that woman, any more
than man, will accomplish anything great without due preparation and
adequate stimulus. Mrs. Patten, who navigated her husband's ship from
Cape Horn to California, would have failed in the effort, for all her
heroism, if she had not, unlike most of her sex, been taught to use her
Bowditch. Florence Nightingale, when she heard of the distresses in the
Crimea, did not, as most people imagine, rise up and say, "I am a woman,
ignorant, but intuitive, with very little sense or information, but
exceedingly sublime aspirations; my strength lies in my weakness; I can
do all things without knowing anything about them." Not at all.
During ten years she had been in hard training for precisely such
services,--had visited all the hospitals in London, Edinburgh, Dublin,
Paris, Lyons, Rome, Brussels, and Berlin.--had studied under the Sisters
of Charity, and been twice a nurse in the Protestant Institution at
Kaiserswerth. Therefore she did not merely carry to the Crimea a
woman's heart, as her stock in trade, but she knew the alphabet of
her profession better than the men around her. Of course, genius and
enthusiasm are, for both sexes, elements unforeseen and incalculable;
but, as a general rule, great achievements imply great preparations and
To disregard this truth is unreasonable in the abstract and cruel in its
consequences. If an extraordinary male gymnast can clear a height of ten
feet with the aid of a spring-board, it would be considered slightly
absurd to ask a woman to leap eleven feet without one; yet this is
precisely what society and the critics have always done. Training and
wages and social approbation are very elastic spring-boards, and the
whole course of history has seen these offered bounteously to one sex
and as sedulously withheld from the other. Let woman consent to be a
doll, and there was no finery so gorgeous, no baby-house so costly, but
she might aspire to share its lavish delights;--let her ask simply for
an equal chance to learn, to labor, and to live, and it was as if that
same doll should open its lips, and propound Euclid's forty-seventh
proposition. While we have all deplored the helpless position of
indigent women, and lamented that they had no alternative beyond the
needle, the wash-tub, the school-room, and the street, we have yet
resisted their admission into every new occupation, denied them
training, and cut their compensation down. Like Charles Lamb, who atoned
for coming late to the office in the morning by going away early in the
afternoon, we have, first, half educated women, and then, to restore
the balance, only half paid them. What innumerable obstacles have
been placed in the way of female physicians! what a complication of
difficulties has been encountered by female printers, engravers, and
designers! In London, Mr. Bennett was recently mobbed for lecturing to
women on watchmaking. In this country, we have known grave professors
to refuse to address lyceums which thought fit to employ an occasional
female lecturer. Mr. Comer states that it was "in the face of ridicule
and sneers" that he began to educate women as book-keepers, eight years
ago; and it is a little contemptible in the authoress of "A Woman's
Thoughts on Women" to revive the same satire now, when she must know
that in one half the retail shops in Paris her own sex rules the ledger,
and Mammon knows no Salic law.
We find, on investigation, what these considerations would lead us to
expect, that eminent women have commonly been more exceptional in their
training and position than even in their genius. They have excelled the
average of their own sex because they have had more of the ordinary
advantages of the other sex. Take any department of learning or skill;
take, for instance, the knowledge of languages, the universal alphabet,
philology.--On the great stairway, at Padua, stands the statue of Elena
Cornaro, professor of six languages in that once renowned university.
But Elena Cornaro was educated like a boy, by her father. On the great
door of the University of Bologna is inscribed the epitaph of Clotilda
Tambroni, the honored correspondent of Person, and the first Greek
scholar of Southern Europe in her day. But Clotilda Tambroni was
educated like a boy, by Emanuele Aponte.--How fine are those prefatory
words, "by a Right Reverend Prelate," to that pioneer book in
Anglo-Saxon lore, Elizabeth Elstob's grammar: "Our earthly possessions
are indeed our patrimony, as derived to us by the industry of our
fathers; but the language in which we speak is our mother-tongue, and
who so proper to play the critic in this as the females?" But this
particular female obtained the rudiments of her rare education from her
mother, before she was eight years old, in spite of much opposition from
her right reverend guardians.--Adelung, the highest authority, declares
that all modern philology is founded on the translation of a Russian
vocabulary into two hundred different dialects by Catherine II. But
Catherine shared, in childhood, the instructors of her brother, Prince
Frederick, and was subject to some reproach for learning, though a
girl, so much more rapidly than he did.--Christina of Sweden ironically
reproved Madame Dacier for her translation of Callimachus: "Such a
pretty girl as you are, are you not ashamed to be so learned?" But
Madame Dacier acquired Greek by contriving to do her embroidery in the
room where her father was teaching her stupid brother; and her queenly
critic had learned to read Thucydides, harder Greek than Callimachus,
before she was fourteen.--And so down to our own day, who knows how
many mute, inglorious Minervas may have perished unenlightened, while
Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were being educated "like
This expression simply means that they had the most solid training which
the times afforded. Most persons would instantly take alarm at the very
words; that is, they have so little faith in the distinctions which
Nature has established, that they think, if you teach the alphabet, or
anything else, indiscriminately to both sexes, you annul all difference
between them. The common reasoning is thus: "Boys and girls are
acknowledged to be distinct beings. Now boys study Greek and algebra,
medicine and book-keeping. Therefore girls should not." As if one
should say: "Boys and girls are distinct beings. Now boys eat beef and
potatoes. Therefore, obviously, girls should not."
The analogy between physical and spiritual food is precisely in point.
The simple truth is, that, amid the vast range of human powers and
properties, the fact of sex is but one item. Vital and momentous in
itself, it does not constitute the whole organism, but only a small part
of it. The distinction of male and female is special, aimed at a certain
end; and apart from that end, it is, throughout all the kingdoms
of Nature, of minor importance. With but trifling exceptions, from
infusorial up to man, the female animal moves, breathes, looks, listens,
runs, flies, swims, pursues its food, eats it, digests it, in precisely
the same manner as the male; all instincts, all characteristics, are the
same, except as to the one solitary fact of parentage. Mr. Ten Broeck's
race-horses, Pryor and Prioress, were foaled alike, fed alike, trained
alike, and finally ran side by side, competing for the same prize. The
eagle is not checked in soaring by any consciousness of sex, nor askes
the sex of the timid hare, its quarry. Nature, for high purposes,
creates and guards the sexual distinction, but keeps it humbly
subordinate to still more important ones.
Now all this bears directly upon the alphabet. What sort of philosophy
is that which says, "John is a fool; Jane is a genius; nevertheless,
John, being a man, should learn, lead, make laws, make money; Jane,
being a woman, shall be ignorant, dependent, disfranchised, underpaid."
Of course, the time is past when one would state this so frankly, though
Comte comes quite near it, to say nothing of the Mormons; but this
formula really lies at the bottom of the reasoning one hears every day.
The answer is: Soul before sex. Give an equal chance, and let genius and
industry to the rest. _La carriere ouverte aux talens_. Every man for
himself, every woman for herself, and the alphabet for us all.
Thus far, our whole course of argument has been defensive and
explanatory. We have shown that woman's inferiority in special
achievements, so far as it exists, is a fact of small importance,
because it is merely a corollary from her historic position of
degradation. She has not excelled, because she has had no fair chance to
excel. Man, placing his foot upon her shoulder, has taunted her with not
rising. But the ulterior question remains behind,--How came she into
this attitude, originally? Explain the explanation, the logician fairly
demands. Granted that woman is weak because she has been systematically
degraded; but why was she degraded? This is a far deeper question,--one
to be met only by a profounder philosophy and a positive solution. We
are coming on ground almost wholly untrod, and must do the best we can.
We venture to assert, then, that woman's social inferiority, in
the past, has been, to a great extent, a legitimate thing. To all
appearance, history would have been impossible without it, just as it
would have been impossible without an epoch of war and slavery. It
is simply a matter of social progress, a part of the succession of
civilizations. The past has been, and inevitably, a period of ignorance,
of engrossing physical necessities, and of brute force,--not of
freedom, of philanthropy, and of culture. During that lower epoch, woman
was necessarily an inferior,--degraded by abject labor, even in time
of peace,--degraded uniformly by war, chivalry to the contrary
notwithstanding. Behind all the courtesies of Amadis and the Cid lay the
stern fact,--woman a child or a toy. The flattering troubadours chanted
her into a poet's paradise; but, alas! that kingdom of heaven suffered
violence, and the violent took it by force. The truth simply was, that
her time had not come. Physical strength must rule for a time, and she
was the weaker. She was very properly refused a feudal grant, because,
say "Les Coustumes de Normandie," she is not trained to war or policy:
_C'est l'homme ki se bast et ki conseille_. Other authorities put it
still more plainly: "A woman cannot serve the emperor or feudal lord in
war, on account of the decorum of her sex; nor assist him with advice,
because of her limited intellect; nor keep his counsel, owing to the
infirmity of her disposition." All which was, no doubt, in the majority
of cases, true, and the degradation of woman was simply a part of
a system, which has indeed had its day, but has bequeathed its
From this reign of force woman never freed herself by force. She could
not fight, or would not. Bohemian annals, indeed, record the legend of
a literal war between the sexes, in which the women's army, was led by
Libussa and Wlasla, and which finally ended with the capture, by the
army of men, of Castle Dziewin, Maiden's Tower, whose ruins are still
visible near Prague. The armor of Libussa is still shown at Vienna, and
the guide calls attention to the long-peaked toes of steel, with which,
he avers, the tender Princess was wont to pierce the hearts of her
opponents, while careering through the battle. And there are abundant
instances in which women have fought side by side with men, and on equal
terms. The ancient British women mingled in the wars of their husbands,
and their princesses were trained to the use of arms in the Maiden's
Castle at Edinburgh and in the Isle of Skye. The Moorish wives and
maidens fought in defence of their European peninsula; and the
Portuguese women fought, on the same soil, against the armies of Philip
II. The king of Siam has at present a bodyguard of four hundred women;
they are armed with lance and rifle, are admirably disciplined, and
their commander (appointed after saving the king's life at a tiger-hunt)
ranks as one of the royal family and has ten elephants at her service.
When the all-conquering Dahomian army marched upon Abbeokuta, in 1851,
they numbered ten thousand men and six thousand women; the women were,
as usual, placed foremost in the assault, as being most reliable; and
of the eighteen hundred bodies left dead before the walls, the vast
majority were of women. The Hospital of the Invalides, in Paris, has
sheltered, for half a century, a fine specimen of a female soldier,
"Lieutenant Madame Bulan," now eighty-three years old, decorated by
Napoleon's own hand with the cross of the Legion of Honor, and credited
on the hospital books with "seven years' service,--seven campaigns,--
three wounds,--several times distinguished, especially in Corsica,
in defending a fort against the English." But these cases, though
interesting to the historian, are still exceptional, and the instinctive
repugnance they inspire is condemnatory, not of women, but of war.
The reason, then, for the long subjection of woman has been simply that
humanity was passing through its first epoch, and her full career was to
be reserved for the second. As the different races of man have appeared
successively upon the stage of history, so there has been an order
of succession of the sexes. Woman's appointed era, like that of the
Scandinavian tribes, was delayed, but not omitted. It is not merely
true that the empire of the past has belonged to man, but that it has
properly belonged to him; for it was an empire of the muscles, enlisting
at best but the lower powers of the understanding. There can be no
question that the present epoch is initiating an empire of the higher
reason, of arts, affections, aspirations; and for that epoch the genius
of woman has been reserved. The spirit of the age has always kept pace
with the facts, and outstripped the statutes. Till the fulness of time
came, woman was necessarily kept a slave to the spinning-wheel and the
needle; now higher work is ready, peace has brought invention to her
aid, and the mechanical means for her emancipation are ready also. No
use in releasing her, till man, with his strong arm, had worked out his
preliminary share in civilization. "Earth waits for her queen" was a
favorite motto of Margaret Fuller's; but it would be more correct to say
that the queen has waited for her earth, till it could be smoothed and
prepared for her occupancy. Now Cinderella may begin to think of putting
on her royal robes.
Everybody sees that the times are altering the whole material position
of woman; but most persons do not appear to see the inevitable social
and moral changes which are also involved. As has been already said, the
woman of ancient history was a slave to physical necessities, both in
war and peace. In war she could do too little, in peace she did too
much, under the material compulsions which controlled the world. How
could the Jews, for instance, elevate woman? They could not spare her
from the wool and the flax and the candle that goeth not out by night.
In Rome, when the bride first stepped across her threshold, they did
not ask her, Do you know the alphabet? they asked simply, Can you spin?
There was no higher epitaph than Queen Amalasontha's,--_Domum servavit,
lanam fecit_. In Boeotia, brides were conducted home in vehicles whose
wheels were burned at the door, in token that they were never to leave
the house again. Pythagoras instituted at Crotona an annual festival
for the distaff; Confucius, in China, did the same for the spindle; and
these celebrated not the freedom, but the serfdom, of woman.
And even into modern days this same tyrannical necessity has lingered.
"Go spin, you jades! go spin!" was the only answer vouchsafed by the
Earl of Pembroke to the twice-banished nuns of Wilton. And even now,
travellers agree that throughout civilized Europe, with the partial
exception of England and France, the profound absorption of the mass of
women in household labors renders their general elevation impossible.
But with us Americans, and in this age, when all these vast labors
are being more and more transferred to arms of brass and iron,--when
Rochester grinds the flour, and Lowell weaves the cloth, and the fire on
the hearth has gone into black retirement and mourning,--when the wiser
a virgin is, the less she has to do with oil in her lamp,--when the
needle has made its last dying speech and confession in the "Song of
the Shirt," and the sewing-machine has changed those doleful marches to
delightful measures,--how is it possible for the blindest to help seeing
that a new era is begun, and that the time has come for woman to learn
Nobody asks for any abolition of domestic labor for women, any more than
of outdoor labor for men. Of course, most women will still continue to
be mainly occupied with the indoor care of their families, and most men
with their external support. All that is desirable for either sex is
such an economy of labor, in this respect, as shall leave some spare
time, to be appropriated in other directions. The argument against each
new emancipation of woman is precisely that always made against the
liberation of serfs and the enfranchisement of plebeians,--that the new
position will take them from their legitimate business. "How can he [or
she] get wisdom that holdeth the plough, [or the broom,]--whose talk
is of bullocks [or of babies]?" Yet the American farmer has already
emancipated himself from these fancied incompatibilities, and so will
the farmer's wife. In a nation where there is no leisure-class and no
peasantry, this whole theory of exclusion is an absurdity. We all have a
little leisure, and we must all make the most of it. If we will confine
large interests and duties to those who have nothing else to do, we must
go back to monarchy at once; if otherwise, then the alphabet, and its
consequences, must be open to woman as to man. Jean Paul says nobly, in
his "Levana," that, "before and after being a mother, a woman is a human
being, and neither maternal nor conjugal relation can supersede the
human responsibility, but must become its means and instrument." And it
is good to read the manly speech, on this subject, of John Quincy Adams,
quoted at length by his recent venerable biographer,--in which, after
fully defending the political petitions of the women of Plymouth,
he declares that "the correct principle is, that women are not only
justified, but exhibit the most exalted virtue, when they do depart from
the domestic circle, and enter on the concerns of their country, of
humanity, and of their God."
There are duties devolving on every human being,--duties not small or
few, but vast and varied,--which spring from home and private life, and
all their sweet relations. The support or care of the humblest household
is a function worthy of men, women, and angels, so far as it goes. From
these duties none must shrink, neither man nor woman; the loftiest
genius cannot ignore them; the sublimest charity must begin with them.
They are their own exceeding great reward, their self-sacrifice is
infinite joy, and the selfishness which discards them receives in return
loneliness and a desolate old age. Yet these, though the most tender and
intimate portion of human life, do not form its whole. It is given
to noble souls to crave other interests also, added spheres, not
necessarily alien from these,--larger knowledge, larger action
also,--duties, responsibilities, anxieties, dangers, all the aliment
that history has given to its heroes. Not home less, but humanity more.
When the high-born English lady in the Crimean hospital, ordered to a
post of almost certain death, only raised her hands to heaven and said,
"Thank God!" she did not renounce her true position as woman, she
claimed it. When the queen of James I. of Scotland, already immortalized
by him in stately verse, won a higher immortality by welcoming to her
fair bosom the daggers aimed at his,--when the Countess of Buchan hung
confined in her iron cage, outside Berwick Castle, in penalty for
crowning Robert the Bruce,--when the stainless soul of Joan of Arc met
God, like Moses, in a burning flame,--these things were as they should
be. Man must not monopolize these privileges of peril, birthright of
great souls. Serenades and compliments must not replace the nobler
hospitality which shares with woman the opportunity of martyrdom. Great
administrative duties also, cares of state, for which one should be born
gray-headed, how nobly do these sit upon a female brow! Each year adds
to the storied renown of Elizabeth of England, greatest sovereign of
the greatest of historic nations. Christina of Sweden, alone among the
crowned heads of Europe, (so says Voltaire,) sustained the dignity of
the throne against Richelieu and Mazarin. And they most assuredly
did not sacrifice their womanhood in the process; for her Britannic
Majesty's wardrobe included four thousand gowns,--and Mlle. de
Montpensier declares, that, when Christina had put on a wig of the
latest fashion, "she really looked extremely pretty." Should this
evidence of feminine attributes appear to some sterner intellects
frivolous and insufficient, it is, nevertheless, adapted to the level of
the style of argument it answers.
_Les races se feminisent_, said Buffon,--"The world is growing more
feminine." It is a compliment, whether the naturalist intended it or
not. Time has brought peace; peace, invention; and the poorest woman of
to-day is born to an inheritance such as her ancestors never dreamed of.
Previous attempts to confer on women social and political equality,--as
when Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, made them magistrates, or when the
Hungarian revolutionists made them voters, or when our own New Jersey
tried the same experiment, in a guarded fashion, in early times, and
then revoked the privilege, because (as in the ancient fable) the women
voted the wrong way,--these things were premature, and valuable only as
concessions to a supposed principle. But in view of the rapid changes
now going on, he is a rash man who asserts the "Woman Question" to be
anything but a mere question of time. The fulcrum has been already
given, in the alphabet, and we must simply watch and see whether the
earth does not move.
In this present treatment of the subject, we have been more anxious to
assert broad principles than to work them out into the details of their
application. We only point out the plain fact: woman must be either
a subject or an equal; there is no other permanent ground. Every
concession to a supposed principle only involves the necessity of the
next concession for which that principle calls. Once yield the alphabet,
and we abandon the whole long theory of subjection and coverture; the
past is set aside, and we have nothing but abstractions to fall back
upon. Reasoning abstractly, it must be admitted that the argument has
been, thus far, entirely on the women's side, inasmuch as no man has yet
seriously tried to meet them with argument. It is an alarming feature of
this discussion, that it has reversed, very generally, the traditional
positions of the sexes: the women have had all the logic; and the most
intelligent men, when they have attempted the other side, have limited
themselves to satire and gossip. What rational woman, we ask, can be
convinced by the nonsense which is talked in ordinary society around
her,--as, that it is right to admit girls to common schools, and equally
right to exclude them from colleges,--that it is proper for a woman
to sing in public, but indelicate for her to speak in public,--that a
post-office box is an unexceptionable place to drop a bit of paper into,
but a ballot-box terribly dangerous? No cause in the world can keep
above water, sustained by such contradictions as these, too feeble and
slight to be dignified by the name of fallacies. Some persons profess to
think it impossible to reason with a woman, and they certainly show no
disposition to try the experiment.
But we must remember that all our American institutions are based on
consistency, or on nothing; all claim to be founded on the principles of
natural right, and when they quit those, they are lost. In all European
monarchies, it is the theory, that the mass of the people are children,
to be governed, not mature beings, to govern themselves. This is clearly
stated, and consistently applied. In the free states of this Union, we
have formally abandoned this theory for one half of the human race,
while for the other half it still flourishes in full force. The moment
the claims of woman are broached, the democrat becomes a monarchist.
What Americans commonly criticize in English statesmen, namely, that
they habitually evade all arguments based on natural right, and defend
every legal wrong on the ground that it works well in practice, is the
precise characteristic of our habitual view of woman. The perplexity
must be resolved somehow. We seldom meet a legislator who pretends to
deny that strict adherence to our own principles would place both sexes
in precisely equal positions before law and constitution, as well as in
school and society. But each has his special quibble to apply, showing
that in this case we must abandon all the general maxims to which we
have pledged ourselves, and hold only by precedent. Nay, he construes
even precedent with the most ingenious rigor; since the exclusion of
women from all direct contact with affairs can be made far more perfect
in a republic than is possible in a monarchy, where even sex is merged
in rank, and the female patrician may have far more power than the male
plebeian. But, as matters now stand among us, there is no aristocracy
but of sex: all men are born patrician, all women are legally plebeian;
all men are equal in having political power, and all women in having
none. This is a paradox so evident, and such an anomaly in human
progress, that it cannot last forever, without new discoveries in logic,
or else a deliberate return to M. Marechal's theory concerning the
Meanwhile, as the newspapers say, we anxiously await further
developments. According to present appearances, the final adjustment
lies mainly in the hands of women themselves. Men can hardly be expected
to concede either rights or privileges more rapidly than they are
claimed, or to be truer to women than women are to each other. True, the
worst effect of a condition of inferiority is the weakness it leaves
behind it; even when we say, "Hands off!" the sufferer does not rise.
In such a case, there is but one counsel worth giving. More depends on
determination than even on ability. Will, not talent, governs the world.
From what pathway of eminence were women more traditionally excluded
than from the art of sculpture, in spite of _Non me Praxiteles fecit,
sed Anna Damer?_--yet Harriet Hosmer, in eight years, has trod its full
ascent. Who believed that a poetess could ever be more than an Annot
Lyle of the harp, to soothe with sweet melodies the leisure of her lord,
until in Elizabeth Barrett's hands the thing became a trumpet? Where
are gone the sneers with which army surgeons and parliamentary orators
opposed Mr. Sidney Herbert's first proposition to send Florence
Nightingale to the Crimea? In how many towns has the current of popular
prejuduce against female orators been reversed by one winning speech
from Lucy Stone! Where no logic can prevail, success silences. First
give woman, if you dare, the alphabet, then summon her to her career;
and though men, ignorant and prejudiced, may oppose its beginnings,
there is no danger but they will at last fling around her conquering
footsteps more lavish praises than ever greeted the opera's idol,--more
perfumed flowers than ever wooed, with intoxicating fragrance, the
fairest butterfly of the ball-room.
THE MORNING STREET.
I walk alone the Morning Street,
Filled with the silence strange and sweet:
All seems as lone, as still, as dead,
As if unnumbered years had fled,
Letting the noisy Babel be
Without a breath, a memory.
The light wind walks with me, alone,
Where the hot day like flame was blown;
Where the wheels roared and dust was beat,
The dew is in the Morning Street.
Where are the restless throngs that pour
Along this mighty corridor
While the noon flames? the hurrying crowd
Whose footsteps make the city loud?
The myriad faces? hearts that beat
No more in the deserted street?--
Those footsteps, in their dream-land maze,
Cross thresholds of forgotten days;
Those faces brighten from the years
In morning suns long set in tears;
Those hearts--far in the Past they beat--
Are singing in _their_ Morning Street.
A city 'gainst the world's gray Prime,
Lost in some desert, far from Time,
Where noiseless Ages, gliding through,
Have only sifted sands and dew,
Were not more lone to one who first
Upon its giant silence burst,
Than this strange quiet, where the tide
Of life, upheaved on either side,
Hangs trembling, ready soon to beat
With human waves the Morning Street.
Ay, soon the glowing morning flood
Pours through this charmed solitude;
All silent now, this Memnon-stone
Will murmur to the rising sun;
The busy life this vein shall beat,--
The rush of wheels, the swarm of feet;
The Arachne-threads of Purpose stream
Unseen within the morning gleam;
The Life will move, the Death be plain;
The bridal throng, the funeral train,
Together in the crowd will meet,
And pass along the Morning Street.
* * * * *
IN A CELLAR
It was the day of Madame de St. Cyr's dinner, an event I never missed;
for, the mistress of a mansion in the Faubourg St. Germain, there still
lingered about her the exquisite grace and good-breeding peculiar to the
old _regime_, that insensibly communicates itself to the guests till
they move in an atmosphere of ease that constitutes the charm of home.
One was always sure of meeting desirable and well-assorted people here,
and a _contre-temps_ was impossible. Moreover, the house was not at the
command of all; and Madame de St. Cyr, with the daring strength which,
when found in a woman at all, should, to be endurable, be combined with
a sweet but firm restraint, rode rough-shod over the _parvenus_ of the
Empire, and was resolute enough to insulate herself even among the old
_noblesse_, who, as all the world knows, insulate themselves from the
rest of France. There were rare qualities in this woman, and were I to
have selected one who with an even hand should carry a snuffy candle
through a magazine of powder, my choice would have devolved upon her;
and she would have done it.
I often looked, and not unsuccessfully, to discern what heritage her
daughter had in these little affairs. Indeed, to one like myself
Delphine presented the worthier study. She wanted the airy charm of
manner, the suavity and tenderness of her mother,--a deficiency easily
to be pardoned in one of such delicate and extraordinary beauty. And
perhaps her face was the truest index of her mind; not that it ever
transparently displayed a genuine emotion,--Delphine was too well-bred
for that,--but the outline of her features had a keen, regular
precision, as if cut in a gem. Her exquisite color seldom varied, her
eyes were like blue steel, she was statue-like and stony. But had one
paused there, pronouncing her hard and impassive, he had committed an
error. She had no great capability for passion, but she was not to be
deceived; one metallic flash of her eye would cut like a sword through
the whole mesh of entanglements with which you had surrounded her; and
frequently, when alone with her, you perceived cool recesses in her
nature, sparkling and pleasant, which jealously guarded themselves from
a nearer approach. She was infinitely _spirituelle_; compared to her,
Madame herself was heavy.
At the first I had seen that Delphine must be the wife of a diplomate.
What diplomate? For a time asking myself the question seriously, I
decided in the negative, which did not, however, prevent Delphine from
fulfilling her destiny, since there were others. She was, after all,
like a draught of rich old wine, all fire and sweetness. These things
were not generally seen in her; I was more favored than many; and I
looked at her with pitiless perspicacious eyes. Nevertheless, I had not
the least advantage; it was, in fact, between us, diamond cut diamond,
--which, oddly enough, brings me back to my story.
Some years previously, I had been sent on a special mission to the
government at Paris, and having finally executed it, I resigned the
post, and resolved to make my residence there, since it is the only
place on earth where one can live. Every morning I half expect to see
the country, beyond the city, white with an encampment of the nations,
who, having peacefully flocked there over night, wait till the Rue St.
Honore shall run out and greet them. It surprises me, sometimes, that
those pretending to civilization are content to remain at a distance.
What experience have they of life,--not to mention gayety and pleasure,
but of the great purpose of life,--society? Man evidently is gregarious;
Fourier's fables are founded on fact; we are nothing without our
opposites, our fellows, our lights and shadows, colors, relations,
combinations, our _point d'appui_, and our angle of sight. An isolated
man is immensurable; he is also unpicturesque, unnatural, untrue. He is
no longer the lord of Nature, animal and vegetable,--but Nature is the
lord of him; the trees, skies, flowers, predominate, and he is in as bad
taste as green and blue, or as an oyster in a vase of roses. The race
swings naturally to clusters. It being admitted, then, that society is
our normal state, where is it to be obtained in such perfection as at
Paris? Show me the urbanity, the generosity in trifles, better than
sacrifice, the incuriousness and freedom, the grace, and wit, and honor,
that will equal such as I find here. Morality,--we were not speaking
of it,--the intrusion is unnecessary; must that word with Anglo-Saxon
pertinacity dog us round the world? A hollow mask, which Vice now and
then lifts for a breath of air, I grant you this state may be called;
but since I find the vice elsewhere, countenance my preference for the
accompanying mask. But even this is vanishing; such drawing-rooms as
Mme. de St. Cyr's are less and less frequent. Yet, though the delightful
spell of the last century daily dissipates itself, and we are not now
what we were twenty years ago, still Paris is, and will be till the end
of time, for a cosmopolitan, the pivot on which the world revolves.
It was, then, as I have said, the day of Mme. de St. Cyr's dinner.
Punctually at the hour, I presented myself,--for I have always esteemed
it the least courtesy which a guest can render, that he should not cool
his hostess's dinner.
The usual choice company waited. There was the Marquis of G., the
ambassador from home, Col. Leigh, an attache of that embassy, the
Spanish and Belgian ministers,--all of whom, with myself, completed a
diplomatic circle. There were also wits and artists, but no ladies whose
beauty exceeded that of the St. Cyrs. With nearly all of this assemblage
I held certain relations, so that I was immediately at ease--G. was the
only one whom, perhaps, I would rather not have met, although we were
the best of friends. They awaited but one, the Baron Stahl. Meanwhile
Delphine stood coolly taking the measurement of the Marquis of G., while
her mother entertained one and another guest with a low-toned flattery,
gentle interest, or lively narration, as the case might demand.
In a country where a _coup d'etat_ was as easily given as a box on the
ear, we all attentively watched for the arrival of one who had been sent
from a neighboring empire to negotiate a loan for the tottering throne
of this. Nor was expectation kept long on guard. In a moment, "His
Excellency, the Baron Stahl!" was announced.
The exaggeration of his low bow to Mme. de St. Cyr, the gleam askance of
his black eye, the absurd simplicity of his dress, did not particularly
please me. A low forehead, straight black brows, a beardless cheek with
a fine color which gave him a fictitiously youthful appearance, were the
most striking traits of his face; his person was not to be found fault
with; but he boldly evinced his admiration for Delphine, and with a
As we were introduced, he assured me, in pure English, that he had
pleasure in making the acquaintance of a gentleman whose services were
I, in turn, assured him of my pleasure in meeting a gentleman who
I had arrived at the house of Mme. de St. Cyr with a load on my mind,
which for four weeks had weighed there; but before I thus spoke, it
was lifted and gone. I had seen the Baron Stahl before, although not
previously aware of it; and now, as he bowed, talked my native tongue so
smoothly, drew a glove over the handsome hand upon whose first finger
shone the only incongruity of his attire, a broad gold ring, holding a
gaudy red stone,--as he stood smiling and expectant before me, a sudden
chain of events flashed through my mind, an instantaneous heat, like
lightning, welded them into logic. A great problem was resolved. For a
second, the breath seemed snatched from my lips; the next, a lighter,
freer man never trod in diplomatic shoes.
I really beg your pardon,--but perhaps from long usage, it has become
impossible for me to tell a straight story. It is absolutely necessary
to inform you of events already transpired.
In the first place, then, I, at this time, possessed a valet, the pink
of valets, an Englishman,--and not the less valuable to me in a foreign
capital, that, notwithstanding his long residence, he was utterly
unable to speak one word of French intelligibly. Reading and writing
it readily, his thick tongue could master scarcely a syllable. The
adroitness and perfection with which he performed the duties of his
place were unsurpassable. To a certain extent I was obliged to admit him
into my confidence; I was not at all in his. In dexterity and dispatch
he equalled the advertisements. He never condescended to don my cast-off
apparel, but, disposing of it, always arrayed himself in plain
but gentlemanly garments. These do not complete the list of Hay's
capabilities. He speculated. Respectable tenements in London called
him landlord; in the funds certain sums lay subject to his order; to a
profitable farm in Hants he contemplated future retirement; and passing
upon the Bourse, I have received a grave bow, and have left him in
conversation with an eminent capitalist respecting consols, drafts,
exchange, and other erudite mysteries, where I yet find myself in the
A B C. Thus not only was my valet a free-born Briton, but a landed
proprietor. If the Rothschilds blacked your boots or shaved your chin,
your emotions might be akin to mine. When this man, who had an interest
in the India traders, brought the hot water into my dressing-room, of a
morning, the Antipodes were tributary to me; to what extent might any
little irascibility of mine drive a depression in the market! and I
knew, as he brushed my hat, whether stocks rose or fell. In one respect,
I was essentially like our Saxon ancestors,--my servant was a villain.
If I had been merely a civilian, in any purely private capacity, having
leisure to attend to personal concerns in the midst of the delicate
specialties intrusted to me from the cabinet at home, the possession of
so inestimable a valet might have bullied me beyond endurance. As it
was, I found it rather agreeable than otherwise. He was tacitly my
secretary of finance.
Several years ago, a diamond of wonderful size and beauty, having
wandered from the East, fell into certain imperial coffers among
our Continental neighbors; and at the same time some extraordinary
intelligence, essential to the existence, so to speak, of that
government, reached a person there who fixed as its price this diamond.
After a while he obtained it, but, judging that prudence lay in
departure, took it to England, where it was purchased for an enormous
sum by the Duke of ----, as he will remain an unknown quantity, let
us say X. There are probably not a dozen such diamonds in the
world,--certainly not three in England. It rejoiced in such flowery
appellatives as the Sea of Splendor, the Moon of Milk; and, of course,
those who had been scarcely better than jewed out of it were determined
to obtain it again at all hazards;--they were never famous for
scrupulosity. The Duke of X. was aware of this, and, for a time, the gem
had lain idle, its glory muffled in a casket; but finally, on some grand
occasion, a few months prior to the period of which I have spoken above,
it was determined to set it in the Duchess's coronet. Accordingly, one
day, it was given by her son, the Marquis of G., into the hands of their
solicitor, who should deliver it to her Grace's jeweller. It lay in a
small shagreen case, and, before the Marquis left, the solicitor placed
the case in a flat leathern box, where lay a chain of most singular
workmanship, the clasp of which was deranged. This chain was very broad,
of a style known as the brick-work, but every brick was a tiny gem, set
in a delicate filigree linked with the next, and the whole rainbowed
lustrousness moving at your will, like the scales of some gorgeous
Egyptian serpent:--the solicitor was to take this also to the jeweller.
Having laid the box in his private desk, Ulster, his confidential clerk,
locked it, while he bowed the Marquis down. Returning immediately, the
solicitor took the flat box and drove to the jeweller's. He found the
latter so crowded with customers, it being the fashionable hour, as to
be unable to attend to him; he, however, took the solicitor into his
inner room, a dark fire-proof place, and there quickly deposited the box
within a safe, which stood inside another, like a Japanese puzzle, and
the solicitor, seeing the doors double-locked and secured, departed; the
other promising to attend to the matter on the morrow.
Early the next morning, the jeweller entered his dark room, and
proceeded to unlock the safe. This being concluded, and the inner one
also thrown open, he found the box in a last and entirely, as he had
always believed, secret compartment. Anxious to see this wonder, this
Eye of Morning, and Heart of Day, he eagerly loosened the band and
unclosed the box. It was empty. There was no chain there; the diamond
was missing. The sweat streamed from his forehead, his clothes were
saturated, he believed himself the victim of a delusion. Calling an
assistant, every article and nook in the dark room was examined. At
last, in an extremity of despair, he sent for the solicitor, who arrived
in a breath. The jeweller's alarm hardly equalled that of the other.
In his sudden dismay, he at first forgot the circumstances and dates
relating to the affair; afterward was doubtful. The Marquis of G. was
summoned, the police called in, the jeweller given into custody. Every
breath the solicitor continued to draw only built up his ruin. He
swallowed laudanum, but, by making it an overdose, frustrated his own
design. He was assured, on his recovery, that no suspicion attached to
him. The jeweller now asseverated that the diamond had never been
given to him; but though this was strictly true, the jeweller had,
nevertheless, committed perjury. Of course, whoever had the stone would
not attempt to dispose of it at present, and, though communications were
opened with the general European police, there was very little to work
upon. But by means of this last step the former possessors became aware
of its loss, and I make no doubt had their agents abroad immediately.
Meanwhile, the case hung here, complicated and tantalizing, when one
morning I woke in London. No sooner had G. heard of my arrival than he
called, and, relating the affair, requested my assistance. I confess
myself to have been interested,--foolishly so, I thought afterward; but
we all have our weaknesses, and diamonds were mine. In company with the
Marquis, I waited upon the solicitor, who entered into the few details
minutely, calling frequently upon Ulster, a young fresh-looking man, for
corroboration. We then drove to the jeweller's new quarters, took
him, under charge of the officers, to his place of business, where he
nervously showed me every point that could bear upon the subject, and
ended by exclaiming, that he was ruined, and all for a stone he had
never seen. I sat quietly for a few moments. It stood, then, thus:--G.
had given the thing to the solicitor, seen it put into the box, seen the
box put into the desk; but while the confidential clerk, Ulster, locked
the desk, the solicitor saw the Marquis to the door,--returning, took
the box, without opening it again, to the jeweller, who, in the hurry,
shut it up in his safe, also without opening it. The case was perfectly
clear. These mysterious things are always so simple! You know now, as
well as I, who took the diamond.
I did not choose to volunteer, but assented, on being desired. The
police and I were old friends; they had so often assisted me, that I was
not afraid to pay them in kind, and accordingly agreed to take charge of
the case, still retaining their aid, should I require it. The jeweller
was now restored to his occupation, although still subjected to a rigid
surveillance, and I instituted inquiries into the recent movements of
the young man Ulster. The case seemed to me to have been very blindly
conducted. But, though all that was brought to light concerning him in
London was perfectly fair and aboveboard, it was discovered that not
long since he had visited Paris,--on the solicitor's business, of
course, but gaining thereby an opportunity to transact any little
affairs of his own. This was fortunate; for if any one could do anything
in Paris, it was myself.
It is not often that I act as a detective. But one homogeneous to every
situation could hardly play a pleasanter part for once. I have thought
that our great masters in theory and practice, Machiavel and Talleyrand,
were hardly more, on a large scale.
I was about to return to Paris, but resolved to call previously on the
solicitor again. He welcomed me warmly, although my suspicions had not
been imparted to him, and, with a more cheerful heart than had lately
been habitual to him, entered into an animated conversation respecting
the great case of Biter _v._ Bit, then absorbing so much of the public
attention, frequently addressing Ulster, whose remarks were always
pertinent, brief, and clear. As I sat actively discussing the topic,
feeling no more interest in it than in the end of that cigar I just cut
off, and noting exactly every look and motion of the unfortunate youth,
I recollect the curious sentiment that filled me regarding him. What
injury had he done me, that I should pursue him with punishment? Me? I
am, and every individual is, integral with the commonwealth. It was
the commonwealth he had injured. Yet, even then, why was I the one to
administer justice? Why not continue with my coffee in the morning, my
kings and cabinets and national chess at noon, my opera at night, and
let the poor devil go? Why, but that justice is brought home to every
member of society,--that naked duty requires no shirking of such
responsibility,--that, had I failed here, the crime might, with reason,
lie at my door and multiply, the criminal increase himself?
Very possibly you will not unite with me; but these little catechisms
are, once in a while, indispensable, to vindicate one's course to
This Ulster was a handsome youth;--the rogues have generally all
the good looks. There was nothing else remarkable about him but his
quickness; he was perpetually on the alert; by constant activity, the
rust was never allowed to collect on his faculties; his sharpness was
distressing,--he appeared subject to a tense strain. Now his quill
scratched over the paper unconcernedly, while he could join as easily in
his master's conversation; nothing seemed to preoccupy him, or he held
a mind open at every point. It is pitiful to remember him that morning,
sitting quiet, unconscious, and free, utterly in the hands of that
mighty Inquisition, the Metropolitan Police, with its countless arms,
its cells and myrmidons in the remotest corners of the Continent, at the
mercy of so merciless a monster, and momently closer involved, like some
poor prey round which a spider spins its bewildering web. It was also
curious to observe the sudden suspicion that darkened his face at some
innocent remark,--the quick shrinking and intrenched retirement, the
manifest sting and rancor, as I touched his wound with a swift flash
of my slender weapon and sheathed it again, and, after the thrust,
the espionage, and the relief at believing it accidental. He had many
threads to gather up and hold;--little electric warnings along them must
have been constantly shocking him. He did that part well enough; it was
a mistake, to begin with; he needed prudence. At that time I owed this
Ulster nothing; now, however, I owe him a grudge, for some of the most
harassing hours of my life were occasioned me by him. But I shall not
cherish enmity on that account. With so promising a beginning, he will
graduate and take his degree from the loftiest altitude in his line.
Hemp is a narcotic; let it bring me forgetfulness.
In Paris I found it not difficult to trace such a person, since he was
both foreign and unaccustomed. It was ascertained that he had posted
several letters. A person of his description had been seen to drop a
letter, the superscription of which had been read by the one who picked
it up for him. This superscription was the address of the very person
who was likely to be the agent of the former possessors of the diamond,
and had attracted attention. After all,--you know the Secret Force,--it
was not so impossible to imagine what this letter contained, despite
of its cipher. Such a person also had been met among the Jews, and at
certain shops whose reputation was not of the clearest. He had called
once or twice on Mme. de St. Cyr, on business relative to a vineyard
adjoining her chateau in the Gironde, which she had sold to a
wine-merchant of England. I found a zest in the affair, as I pursued it.
We were now fairly at sea, but before long I found we were likely to
remain there; in fact, nothing of consequence eventuated. I began to
regret having taken the affair from the hands in which I had found it,
and one day, it being a gala or some insatiable saint's day, I was
riding, perplexed with that and other matters, and paying small
attention to the passing crowd. I was vexed and mortified, and had fully
decided to throw up the whole,--on such hairs do things hang,--when,
suddenly turning a corner, my bridle-reins became entangled in the
snaffle of another rider. I loosened them abstractedly, and not till it
was necessary to bow to my strange antagonist, on parting, did I glance
up. The person before me was evidently not accustomed to play the dandy;
he wore his clothes ill, sat his horse worse, and was uneasy in the
saddle. The unmistakable air of the _gamin_ was apparent beneath the
superficies of the gentleman. Conspicuous on his costume, and wound like
an order of merit upon his breast, glittered a chain, _the_ chain,--each
tiny brick-like gem spiked with a hundred sparks, and building a fabric
of sturdy probabilities with the celerity of the genii in constructing
Aladdin's palace. There, a cable to haul up the treasure, was the
chain;--where was the diamond? I need not tell you how I followed this
young friend, with what assiduity I kept him in sight, up and down, all
day long, till, weary at last of his fine sport, as I certainly was of
mine, he left his steed in stall and fared on his way a-foot. Still
pursuing, now I threaded quay and square, street and alley, till he
disappeared in a small shop, in one of those dark crowded lanes leading
eastward from the Pont Neuf, in the city. It was the sign of a _marchand
des armures_, and, having provided myself with those persuasive
arguments, a _sergent-de-ville_ and a _gendarme_, I entered.
A place more characteristic it would be impossible to find. Here were
piled bows of every material, ash, and horn, and tougher fibres, with
slackened strings, and among them peered a rusty clarion and battle-axe,
while the quivers that should have accompanied lay in a distant corner,
their arrows serving to pin long, dusty, torn banners to the wall.
Opposite the entrance, an archer in bronze hung on tiptoe, and levelled
a steel bow, whose piercing _fleche_ seemed sparkling with impatience to
spring from his finger and flesh itself in the heart of the intruder.
The hauberk and halberd, lance and casque, arquebuse and sword, were
suspended in friendly congeries; and fragments of costly stuff swept
from ceiling to floor, crushed and soiled by the heaps of rusty
firelocks, cutlasses, and gauntlets thrown upon them. In one place, a
little antique bust was half hid in the folds of some pennon, still
dyed with battle-stains; in another, scattered treasures of Dresden
and Sevres brought the drawing-room into the campaign; and all around
bivouacked rifles, whose polished barrels glittered full of death,--
pistols, variously mounted, for an insurgent at the barricades, or for
a lost millionnaire at the gaming-table,--foils, with buttoned
bluntness,--and rapiers, whose even edges were viewless, as if filed
into air. Destruction lay everywhere, at the command of the owner of
this place, and, had he possessed a particle of vivacity, it would have
been hazardous to bow beneath his doorway. It did not, I must say, look
like a place where I should find a diamond. As the owner came forward, I
determined on my plan of action.
"You have, Sir," I said, handing him a bit of paper, on which were
scrawled some numbers, "a diamond in your possession, of such and so
many carats, size, and value, belonging to the Duke of X., and left with
you by an Englishman, Mr. Arthur Ulster. You will deliver it to me, if
"Monsieur!" exclaimed the man, lifting his hands, and surveying me with
the widest eyes I ever saw. "A diamond! In my possession! So immense a
thing! It is impossible. I have not even seen one of the kind. It is a
mistake. Jacques Noailles, the vender of jewels _en gros_, second door
below, must be the man. One should perceive that my business is with
arms, not diamonds. I have it not; it would ruin me."
Here he paused for a reply, but, meeting none, resumed. "M. Arthur
Ulster!--I have heard of no such person. I never spoke with an
Englishman. Bah! I detest them! I have no dealings with them. I repeat,
I have not your jewel. Do you wish anything more of me?"
His vehemence only convinced me of the truth of my suspicions.
"These heroics are out of place," I answered. "I demand the article in
"Monsieur doubts me?" he asked, with a rueful face,--"questions my
word, which is incontrovertible?" Here he clapped his hand upon a
_couteau-de-chasse_ lying near, but, appearing to think better of it,
drew himself up, and, with a shower of nods flung at me, added, "I deny
your accusation!" I had not accused him.
"You are at too much pains to convict yourself. I charge you with
nothing," I said. "But this diamond must be surrendered."
"Monsieur is mad!" he exclaimed, "mad! he dreams! Do I look like one who
possesses such a trophy? Does my shop resemble a mine? Look about!
See! All that is here would not bring a hundredth part of its price. I
beseech Monsieur to believe me; he has mistaken the number, or has been
"We waste words. I know this diamond is here, as well as a costly
"On my soul, on my life, on my honor," he cried, clasping his hands and
turning up his eyes, "there is here nothing of the kind. I do not deal
in gems. A little silk, a few weapons, a curiosity, a nicknack, comprise
my stock. I have not the diamond. I do not know the thing. I am poor. I
am honest. Suspicion destroys me!"
"As you will find, should I be longer troubled by your denials."
He was inflexible, and, having exhausted every artifice of innocence,
wiped the tears from his eyes,--oh, these French! life is their
theatre,--and remained quiet. It was getting dark. There was no gas in
the place; but in the pause a distant street-lamp swung its light dimly
"Unless one desires to purchase, allow me to say that it is my hour for
closing," he remarked, blandly, rubbing his black-bearded chin.
"My time is valuable," I returned. "It is late and dark. When your
shop-boy lights up"----
"Pardon,--we do not light."
"Permit me, then, to perform that office for you. In this blaze you may
perceive my companions, whom you have not appeared to recognize."
So saying, I scratched a match upon the floor, and, as the
_sergent-de-ville_ and the _gendarme_ advanced, threw the light of the
blue spirt of sulphurous flame upon them. In a moment more the match
went out, and we remained in the demi-twilight of the distant lantern.
The _marchand des armures_ stood petrified and aghast. Had he seen the
imps of Satan in that instant, it could have had no greater effect.
"You have seen them?" I asked. "I regret to inconvenience you; but
unless this diamond is produced at once, my friends will put their seal
on your goods, your property will be confiscated, yourself in a dungeon.
In other words, I allow you five minutes; at the close of that time you
will have chosen between restitution and ruin."
He remained apparently lost in thought. He was a big, stout man, and
with one blow of his powerful fist could easily have settled me. It was
the last thing in his mind. At length he lifted his head,--"Rosalie!"
At the word, a light foot pattered along a stone floor within, and in a
moment a little woman stood in an arch raised by two steps from our own
level. Carrying a candle, she descended and tripped toward him. She was
not pretty, but sprightly and keen, as the perpetual attrition of life
must needs make her, and wore the everlasting grisette costume, which
displays the neatest of ankles, and whose cap is more becoming than
wreaths of garden millinery. I am too minute, I see, but it is second
nature. The two commenced a vigorous whispering amid sundry gestures and
glances. Suddenly the woman turned, and, laying the prettiest of little
hands on my sleeve, said, with a winning smile,--
"Is it a crime of _lese-majeste_?"
This was a new idea, but might be useful.
"Not yet," I said; "two minutes more, and I will not answer for the
Other whispers ensued.
"Monsieur," said the man, leaning on one arm over the counter, and
looking up in my face, with the most engaging frankness,--"it is true
that I have such a diamond; but it is not mine. It is left with me to be
delivered to the Baron Stahl, who comes as an agent from his court for
"He was to have paid me half a million francs,--not half its worth,--in
trust for the person who left it, who is not M. Arthur Ulster, but Mme.
de St. Cyr."
Madame de St. Cyr! How under the sun----No,--it could not be possible.
The case stood as it stood before. The rogue was in deeper water than I
had thought; he had merely employed Mme. de St. Cyr. I ran this over in
my mind, while I said, "Yes."
"Now, Sir," I continued, "you will state the terms of this transaction."
"With pleasure. For my trouble I was myself to receive patronage and
five thousand francs. The Baron is to be here directly, on other and
public business. _Reine du ciel_, Monsieur! how shall I meet him?"
"He is powerless in Paris; your fear is idle."
"True. There were no other terms."
"The lady thought it safest to be without them. She took merely my
receipt, which the Baron Stahl will bring to me from her before
"I will trouble you for it now."
He bowed and shuffled away. At a glance from me, the _gendarme_ slipped
to the rear of the building, where three others were stationed at the
two exits in that direction, to caution them of the critical moment, and
returned. Ten minutes passed,--the merchant did not appear. If, after
all, he had made off with it! There had been the click of a bolt, the
half-stifled rattle of arms, as if a door had been opened and rapidly
closed again, but nothing more.
"I will see what detains my friend," said Mademoiselle, the little
We suffered her to withdraw. In a moment more a quick expostulation was
to be heard.
"They are there, the _gendarmes_, my little one! I should have run,
but they caught me, the villains! and replaced me in the house. _Oh,
sacre!_"--and rolling this word between his teeth, he came down and laid
a little box on the counter. I opened it. There was within a large,
glittering, curiously-cut piece of glass. I threw it aside.
"The diamond!" I exclaimed.
"Monsieur had it," he replied, stooping to pick up the glass with every
appearance of surprise and care.
"Do you mean to say you endeavored to escape with that bawble? Produce
the diamond instantly, or you shall hang as high as Haman!" I roared.
Whether he knew the individual in question or not, the threat was
efficient; he trembled and hesitated, and finally drew the identical
shagreen case from his bosom.
"I but jested," he said. "Monsieur will witness that I relinquish it
"I will witness that you receive stolen goods!" I cried, in wrath.
He placed it in my hands.
"Oh!" he groaned, from the bottom of his heart, hanging his head, and
laying both hands on the counter before him,--"it pains, it grieves me
to part with it!"
"And the chain," I said.
"Monsieur did not demand that!"
"I demand it now."
In a moment, the chain also was given me.
"And now will Monsieur do me a favor? Will he inform me by what means he
ascertained these facts?"
I glanced at the _garcon_, who had probably supplied himself with
his master's finery illicitly;--he was the means;--we have some
generosity;--I thought I should prefer doing him the favor, and
I unclasped the shagreen case; the _sergent-de-ville_ and the _gendarme_
stole up and looked over my shoulder; the _garcon_ drew near with round
eyes; the little woman peeped across; the merchant, with tears streaming
over his face, gazed as if it had been a loadstone; finally, I looked
myself. There it lay, the glowing, resplendent thing! flashing in
affluence of splendor, throbbing and palpitant with life, drawing all
the light from the little woman's candle, from the sparkling armor
around, from the steel barbs, and the distant lantern, into its bosom.
It was scarcely so large as I had expected to see it, but more brilliant
than anything I could conceive of. I do not believe there is another
such in the world. One saw clearly that the Oriental superstition of the
sex of stones was no fable; this was essentially the female of diamonds,
the queen herself, the principle of life, the rejoicing creative force.
It was not radiant, as the term literally taken implies; it seemed
rather to retain its wealth,--instead of emitting its glorious rays,
to curl them back like the fringe of a madrepore, and lie there with
redoubled quivering scintillations, a mass of white magnificence, not
prismatic, but a vast milky lustre. I closed the case; on reopening it,
I could scarcely believe that the beautiful sleepless eye would again
flash upon me. I did not comprehend how it could afford such perpetual
richness, such sheets of lustre.
At last we compelled ourselves to be satisfied. I left the shop,
dismissed my attendants, and, fresh from the contemplation of this
miracle, again trod the dirty, reeking streets, crossed the bridge, with
its lights, its warehouses midway, its living torrents who poured on
unconscious of the beauty within their reach. The thought of their
ignorance of the treasure, not a dozen yards distant, has often made
me question if we all are not equally unaware of other and greater
processes of life, of more perfect, sublimed, and, as it were, spiritual
crystallizations going on invisibly about us. But had these been told of
the thing clutched in the hand of a passer, how many of them would have
known where to turn? and we,--are we any better?
For a few days I carried the diamond about my person, and did not
mention its recovery even to my valet, who knew that I sought it, but
communicated only with the Marquis of G., who replied, that he would be
in Paris on a certain day, when I could safely deliver it to him.
It was now generally rumored that the neighboring government was about
to send us the Baron Stahl, ambassador concerning arrangements for a
loan to maintain the sinking monarchy in supremacy at Paris, the usual
synecdoche for France.
The weather being fine, I proceeded to call on Mme. de St. Cyr. She
received me in her boudoir, and on my way thither I could not but
observe the perfect quiet and cloistered seclusion that pervaded the
whole house,--the house itself seeming only an adjunct of the still
and sunny garden, of which one caught a glimpse through the long open
hall-windows beyond. This boudoir did not differ from others to which I
have been admitted: the same delicate shades; all the dainty appliances
of Art for beauty; the lavish profusion of _bijouterie_; and the usual
statuettes of innocence, to indicate, perhaps, the presence of that
commodity which might not be guessed at otherwise; and burning in a
silver cup, a rich perfume loaded the air with voluptuous sweetness.
Through a half-open door an inner boudoir was to be seen, which must
have been Delphine's; it looked like her; the prevailing hue was a soft
purple, or gray; a _prie-dieu_, a book-shelf, and desk, of a dark West
Indian wood, were just visible. There was but one picture,--a sad-eyed,
beautiful Fate. It was the type of her nation. I think she worshipped
it--And how apt is misfortune! to degenerate into Fate!--not that the
girl had ever experienced the former, but, dissatisfied with life, and
seeing no outlet, she accepted it stoically and waited till it should be
over. She needed to be aroused;--the station of an _ambassadrice_, which
I desired for her, might kindle the spark. There were no flowers, no
perfumes, no busts, in this ascetic place. Delphine herself, in some
faint rosy gauze, her fair hair streaming round her, as she lay on a
white-draped couch, half-risen on one arm, while she read the morning's
_feuilleton_, was the most perfect statuary of which a room could
boast,--illumined, as I saw her, by the gay beams that entered at the
loftily-arched window, broken only by the flickering of the vine-leaves
that clustered the curiously-latticed panes without. She resembled in
kind a Nymph or Aphrodite just bursting from the sea. Madame de St. Cyr
received me with _empressement_, and, so doing, closed the door of this
shrine. We spoke of various things,--of the court, the theatre, the
weather, the world,--skating lightly round the slender edges of her
secret, till finally she invited me to lunch with her in the garden.
Here, on a rustic table, stood wine and a few delicacies,--while, by
extending a hand, we could grasp the hanging pears and nectarines, still
warm to the lip and luscious with sunshine, as we disputed possession
with the envious wasp who had established a priority of claim.
"It is to be hoped," I said, sipping the _Haut-Brion_, whose fine and
brittle smack contrasted rarely with the delicious juiciness of the
fruit, "that you have laid in a supply of this treasure that neither
moth nor rust doth corrupt, before parting with that little gem in the
"Ah? You know, then, that I have sold it?"
"Yes," I replied. "I have the pleasure of Mr. Ulster's acquaintance."
"He arranged the terms for me," she said, with restraint,--adding, "I
could almost wish now that it had not been."
This was probably true; for the sum which she hoped to receive from
Ulster for standing sponsor to his jewel was possibly equal to the price
of her vineyard.
"It was indispensable at the time, this sale; I thought best to hazard
it on one more season.--If, after such advantages, Delphine will not
marry, why--it remains to retire into the country and end our days with
the barbarians!" she continued, shrugging her shoulders; "I have a house
"But you will not be obliged to throw us all into despair by such a step
now," I replied.
She looked quickly, as if to see how nearly I had approached her
citadel,--then, finding in my face no expression but a complimentary
one, "No," she said, "I hope that my affairs have brightened a little.
One never knows what is in store."
Before long I had assured myself that Mme. de St. Cyr was not a party
to the theft, but had merely been hired by Ulster, who, discovering the
state of her affairs, had not, therefore, revealed his own,--and
this without in the least implying any knowledge on my part of the
transaction. Ulster must have seen the necessity of leaving the business
in the hands of a competent person, and Mme. de St. Cyr's financial
talent was patent. There were few ladies in Paris who would have
rejected the opportunity. Of these things I felt a tolerable certainty.
"We throng with foreigners," said Madame, archly, as I reached this
point. "Diplomates, too. The Baron Stahl arrives in a day."
"I have heard," I responded. "You are acquainted?"
"Alas! no," she said. "I knew his father well, though he himself is not
young. Indeed, the families thought once of intermarriage. But nothing
has been said on the subject for many years. His Excellency, I hear,
will strengthen himself at home by an alliance with the young Countess,
the natural daughter of the Emperor."
"He surely will never be so imprudent as to rivet his chain by such a
"It is impossible to compute the dice in those despotic countries," she
rejoined,--which was pretty well, considering the freedom enjoyed by
France at that period.
"It may be," I suggested, "that the Baron hopes to open this delicate
subject with you himself, Madame."
"It is unlikely," she said, sighing. "And for Delphine, should I tell
her his Excellency preferred scarlet, she would infallibly wear blue.
Imagine her, Monsieur, in fine scarlet, with a scarf of gold gauze, and
rustling grasses in that unruly gold hair of hers! She would be divine!"
The maternal instinct as we have it here at Paris confounds me. I do
not comprehend it. Here was a mother who did not particularly love her
child, who would not be inconsolable at her loss, would not ruin her own
complexion by care of her during illness, would send her through fire
and water and every torture to secure or maintain a desirable rank, who
yet would entangle herself deeply in intrigue, would not hesitate to
tarnish her own reputation, and would, in fact, raise heaven and earth
to--endow this child with a brilliant match. And Mme. de St. Cyr seemed
to regard Delphine, still further, as a cool matter of Art.
These little confidences, moreover, are provoking. They put you yourself
so entirely out of the question.
"Mlle. de St. Cyr's beauty is peerless," I said, slightly chagrined, and
at a loss. "If hearts were trumps, instead of diamonds!"
"We are poor," resumed Madame, pathetically. "Delphine is not an
heiress. Delphine is proud. She will not stoop to charm. Her coquetry is
that of an Amazon. Her kisses are arrows. She is Medusa!" And Madame,
her mother, shivered.
Here, with her hair knotted up and secured by a tiny dagger, her gauzy
drapery gathered in her arm, Delphine floated down the green alley
toward us, as if in a rosy cloud. But this soft aspect never could have
been more widely contradicted than by the stony repose and cutting calm
of her beautiful face.
"The Marquis of G.," said her mother, "he also arrives ambassador. Has
he talent? Is he brilliant? Wealthy, of course,--but _gauche_?"
Therewith I sketched for them the Marquis and his surroundings.
"It is charming," said Madame. "Delphine, do you attend?"
"And why?" asked Delphine, half concealing a yawn with her dazzling
hand. "It is wearisome; it matters not to me."
"But he will not go to marry himself in France," said her mother. "Oh,
these English." she added, with a laugh, "yourself, Monsieur, being
proof of it, will not mingle blood, lest the Channel should still flow
between the little red globules! You will go? but to return shortly?
You will dine with me soon? _Au revoir!_" and she gave me her hand
graciously, while Delphine bowed as if I were already gone, threw
herself into a garden-chair, and commenced pouring the wine on a stone
for a little tame snake which came out and lapped it.
Such women as Mme. de St. Cyr have a species of magnetism about them.
It is difficult to retain one's self-respect before them,--for no
other reason than that one is, at the moment, absorbed into their
individuality, and thinks and acts with them. Delphine must have had
a strong will, and perpetual antagonism did not weaken it. As for me,
Madame had, doubtless, reasons of her own for tearing aside these
customary bands of reserve,--reasons which, if you do not perceive, I
shall not enumerate.
"Have you met with anything further in your search, Sir?" asked my
valet, next morning.
"Oh, yes, Hay," I returned, in a very good humor,--"with great success.
You have assisted me so much, that I am sure I owe it to you to say that
I have found the diamond."
"Indeed, Sir, you are very kind. I have been interested, but my
assistance is not worth mentioning. I thought likely it might be, you
appeared so quiet."--The cunning dog!--"How did you find it, Sir, may I
I briefly related the leading facts, since he had been aware of the
progress of the case to that point,--without, however, mentioning Mme.
de St. Cyr's name.
"And Monsieur did not inform me!" a French valet would have cried.
"You were prudent not to mention it, Sir," said Hay. "These walls must
have better ears than ordinary; for a family has moved in on the first
floor recently, whose actions are extremely suspicious. But is this
precious affair to be seen?"
I took it from an inner pocket and displayed it, having discarded the
shagreen case as inconvenient.
"His Excellency must return as he came," said I.
Hay's eyes sparkled.
"And do you carry it there, Sir?" he asked, with surprised, as I
restored it to my waistcoat-pocket.
"I shall take it to the bank," I said. "I do not like the
"It is very unsafe," was the warning of this cautious fellow. "Why, Sir!
any of these swells, these pickpockets, might meet you, run against
you,--so!" said Hay, suiting the action to the word, "and, with the
little sharp knife concealed in just such a ring as this I wear, give a
light tap, and there's a slit in your vest, Sir, but no diamond!"--and
instantly resuming his former respectful deportment, Hay handed me my
gloves and stick, and smoothed my hat.
"Nonsense!" I replied, drawing on the gloves, "I should like to see the
man who could be too quick for me. Any news from India, Hay?"
"None of consequence, Sir. The indigo crop is said to have failed, which
advances the figure of that on hand, so that one or two fortunes will be
made to-day. Your hat, Sir?--your lunettes? Here they are, Sir."
"Good morning, Hay."
"Good morning, Sir."
I descended the stairs, buttoning my gloves, paused a moment at the door
to look about, and proceeded down the street, which was not more than
usually thronged. At the bank I paused to assure myself that the diamond
was safe. My fingers caught in a singular slit. I started. As Hay had
prophesied, there was a fine longitudinal cut in my waistcoat, but the
pocket was empty. My God! the thing was gone. I never can forget the
blank nihility of all existence that dreadful moment when I stood
fumbling for what was not. Calm as I sit here and tell of it, I vow to
you a shiver courses through me at the very thought. I had circumvented
Stahl only to destroy myself. The diamond was lost again. My mind flew
like lightning over every chance, and a thousand started up like steel
spikes to snatch the bolt. For a moment I was stunned, but, never being
very subject to despair, on my recovery, which was almost at once, took
every measure that could be devised. Who had touched me? Whom had I met?
Through what streets had I come? In ten minutes the Prefect had the
matter in hand. My injunctions were strict privacy. I sincerely hoped
the mishap would not reach England; and if the diamond were not
recovered before the Marquis of G. arrived,--why, there was the Seine.
It is all very well to talk,--yet suicide is so French an affair, that
an Englishman does not take to it naturally, and, except in November,
the Seine is too cold and damp for comfort, but during that month I
suppose it does not greatly differ in these respects from our own
A preternatural activity now possessed me. I slept none, ate little,
worked immoderately. I spared no efforts, for everything was at stake.
In the midst of all G. arrived. Hay also exerted himself to the utmost;
I promised him a hundred pounds, if I found it. He never told me that
he said how it would be, never intruded the state of the market, never
resented my irritating conduct, but watched me with narrow yet kind
solicitude, and frequently offered valuable suggestions, which, however,
as everything else did, led to nothing. I did not call on G., but in
a week or so his card was brought up one morning to me. "Deny me," I
groaned. It yet wanted a week of the day on which I had promised to
deliver him the diamond. Meanwhile the Baron Stahl had reached Paris,
but he still remained in private,--few had seen him.
The police were forever on the wrong track. To-day they stopped the old
Comptesse du Quesne and her jewels, at the Barriere; to-morrow, with
their long needles, they riddled a package of lace destined for the
Duchess of X. herself; the Secret Service was doubled; and to crown
all, a splendid new star of the testy Prince de Ligne was examined and
proclaimed to be paste,--the Prince swearing vengeance, if he could
discover the cause,--while half Paris must have been under arrest. My
own hotel was ransacked thoroughly,--Hay begging that his traps might be
included,--but nothing resulted, and I expected nothing, for, of course,
I could swear that the stone was in my pocket when I stepped into the
street. I confess I never was nearer madness,--every word and gesture
stung me like asps,--I walked on burning coals. Enduring all this
torment, I must yet meet my daily comrades, eat ices at Tortoni's,
stroll on the Boulevards, call on my acquaintance, with the same
equanimity as before. I believe I was equal to it. Only by contrast with
that blessed time when Ulster and diamonds were unknown, could I imagine
my past happiness, my present wretchedness. Rather than suffer it again,
I would be stretched on the rack till every bone in my skin was broken.
I cursed Mr. Arthur Ulster every hour in the day; myself, as well; and
even now the word diamond sends a cold blast to my heart. I often met my
friend the _marchand des armures_. It was his turn to triumph; I fancied
there must be a hang-dog kind of air about me, as about every sharp man
who has been outwitted. It wanted finally but two days of that on which
I was to deliver the diamond.
One midnight, armed with a dark lantern and a cloak, I was traversing
the streets alone,--unsuccessful, as usual, just now solitary, and
almost in despair. As I turned a corner, two men were but scarcely
visible a step before me. It was a badly-lighted part of the town.
Unseen and noiseless I followed. They spoke in low tones,--almost
whispers; or rather, one spoke,--the other seemed to nod assent.
"On the day but one after to-morrow," I heard spoken in English. Great
Heavens! was it possible? had I arrived at a clue? That was the day of
days for me. "You have given it, you say, in this billet,--I wish to be
exact, you see," continued the voice,--"to prevent detection, you
gave it, ten minutes after it came into your hands, to the butler of
Madame----," (here the speaker stumbled on the rough pavement, and I
lost the name,) "who," he continued, "will put it in the----" (a second
stumble acted like a hiccough) "cellar."
"Wine-cellar," I thought; "and what then?"
"In the----." A third stumble was followed by a round German oath. How
easy it is for me now to fill up the little blanks which that unhappy
"You share your receipts with this butler. On the day I obtain it," he
added, and I now perceived his foreign accent, "I hand you one hundred
thousand francs; afterward, monthly payments till you have received the
stipulated sum. But how will this butler know me, in season to prevent a
mistake? Hem!--he might give it to the other!"
My hearing had been trained to such a degree that I would have promised
to overhear any given dialogue of the spirits themselves, but the
whisper that answered him eluded me. I caught nothing but a faint
sibillation. "Your ring?" was the rejoinder. "He shall be instructed to
recognize it? Very well. It is too large,--no, that will do, it fits the
first finger. There is nothing more. I am under infinite obligations,
Sir; they shall be remembered. Adieu!"
The two parted; which should I pursue? In desperation I turned my
lantern upon one, and illumined a face fresh with color, whose black
eyes sparkled askance after the retreating figure, under straight black
brows. In a moment more he was lost in a false _cul-de-sac_, and I found
it impossible to trace the other.
I was scarcely better off than before; but it seemed to me that I had
obtained something, and that now it was wisest to work this vein. "The
butler of Madame----." There were hundreds of thousands of Madames in
town. I might call on all, and be as old as the Wandering Jew at the
last call. The cellar. Wine-cellar, of course,--that came by a natural
connection with butler,--but whose? There was one under my own abode;
certainly I would explore it. Meanwhile, let us see the entertainments
for Wednesday. The Prefect had a list of these. For some I found I had
cards; I determined to allot a fraction of time to as many as possible;
my friends in the Secret Service would divide the labor. Among others,
Madame de St. Cyr gave a dinner, and, as she had been in the affair,
I determined not to neglect her on this occasion, although having no
definite idea of what had been, or plan of what should be done. I
decided not to speak of this occurrence to Hay, since it might only
bring him off some trail that he had struck.
Having been provided with keys, early on the following evening I entered
the wine-cellar, and, concealed in an empty cask that would have held a
dozen of me, waited for something to turn up. Really, when I think of
myself, a diplomate, a courtier, a man-about-town, curled in a dusty,
musty wine-barrel, I am moved with vexation and laughter. Nothing,
however, turned up,--and at length I retired, baffled. The next night
came,--no news, no identification of my black-browed man, no success;
but I felt certain that something must transpire in that cellar. I don't
know why I had pitched upon that one in particular, but, at an earlier
hour than on the previous night, I again donned the cask. A long time
must have elapsed; dead silence filled the spacious vaults, except where
now and then some Sillery cracked the air with a quick explosion, or
some newer wine bubbled round the bung of its barrel with a faint
effervescence. I had no intention of leaving this place till morning,
but it suddenly appeared like the most woful waste of time. The master
of this tremendous affair should be abroad and active; who knew what his
keen eyes might detect, what loss his absence might occasion in this
nick of time? And here he was, shut up and locked in a wine-cellar!
I began to be very nervous; I had already, with aid, searched every
crevice of the cellar; and now I thought it would be some consolation
to discover the thief, if I never regained the diamond. A distant clock
tolled midnight. There was a faint noise,--a mouse?--no, it was too
prolonged;--nor did it sound like the fiz of Champagne;--a great iron
door was turning on its hinges; a man with a lantern was entering;
another followed, and another. They seated themselves. In a few moments,
appearing one by one and at intervals, some thirty people were in the
cellar. Were they all to share in the proceeds of the diamond? With what
jaundiced eyes we behold things! I myself saw all that was only through
the lens of this diamond, of which not one of these men had ever heard.
As the lantern threw its feeble glimmer on this group, and I surveyed
them through my loophole, I thought I had never seen so wild and savage
a picture, such enormous shadows, such bold outline, such a startling
flash on the face of their leader, such light retreating up the
threatening arches. More resolute brows, more determined words, more
unshrinking hearts, I had not met. In fact, I found myself in the centre
of a conspiracy, a society as vindictive as the Jacobins, as unknown and
terrible as the Marianne of to-day. I was thunderstruck, too, at the
countenances on which the light fell,--men the loyalest in estimation,
ministers and senators, millionnaires who had no reason for discontent,
dandies whose reason was supposed to be devoted to their tailors, poets
and artists of generous aspiration and suspected tendencies, and
one woman,--Delphine de St. Cyr. Their plans were brave, their
determination lofty, their conclave serious and fine; yet as slowly they
shut up their hopes and fears in the black masks, one man bent toward
the lantern to adjust his. When he lifted his face before concealing it,
I recognized him also. I had met him frequently at the Bureau of Police;
he was, I believe, Secretary of the Secret Service.
I had no sympathy with these people. I had liberty enough myself, I was
well enough satisfied with the world, I did not care to revolutionize
France; but my heart rebelled at the mockery, as this traitor and
spy, this creature of a system by which I gained my fame, showed his
revolting face and veiled it again. And Delphine, what had she to do
with them? One by one, as they entered, they withdrew, and I was left
alone again. But all this was not my diamond.
Another hour elapsed. Again the door opened, and remained ajar. Some one
entered, whom I could not see. There was a pause,--then a rustle,--the
door creaked ever so little. "Art thou there?" lisped a shrill
whisper,--a woman, as I could guess.
"My angel, it is I," was returned, a semitone lower. She approached, he
advanced, and the consequence was a salute resonant as the smack with
which a Dutch burgomaster may be supposed to set down his mug. I was
prepared for anything. Ye gods! if it should be Delphine! But the base
suspicion was birth-strangled as they spoke again. The conversation
which now ensued between these lovers under difficulties was tender and
affecting beyond expression. I had felt guilty enough when an unwilling
auditor of the conspirators,--since, though one employs spies, one
does not therefore act that part one's-self, but on emergencies,--an
unwillingness which would not, however, prevent my turning to advantage
the information gained; but here, to listen to this rehearsal of woes
and blisses, this _ah mon Fernand_, this aria in an area, growing
momently more fervent, was too much. I overturned the cask, scrambled
upon my feet, and fled from the cellar, leaving the astounded lovers to
follow, while, agreeably to my instincts, and regardless of the diamond,
I escaped the embarrassing predicament.
At length it grew to be noon of the appointed day. Nothing had
transpired; all our labor was idle. I felt, nevertheless, more buoyant
than usual,--whether because I was now to put my fate to the test, or
that today was the one of which my black-browed man had spoken, and I
therefore entertained a presentiment of good-fortune, I cannot say. But
when, in unexceptionable toilet, I stood on Mme. de St. Cyr's steps,
my heart sunk. G. was doubtless already within, and I thought of the
_marchand des armures'_ exclamation, "Queen of Heaven, Monsieur! how
shall I meet him!" I was plunged at once into the profoundest gloom.
Why had I undertaken the business at all? This interference, this
good-humor, this readiness to oblige,--it would ruin me yet! I forswore
it, as Falstaff forswore honor. Why needed I to meddle in the _melee?_
Why--But I was no catechumen. Questions were useless now. My emotions
are not chronicled on my face, I flatter myself; and with my usual
repose I saluted our hostess. Greeting G. without any allusion to
the diamond, the absence of which allusion he received as a point of
etiquette, I was conversing with Mrs. Leigh, when the Baron Stahl was
announced. I turned to look at his Excellency. A glance electrified me.
There was my dark-browed man of the midnight streets. It must, then,
have been concerning the diamond that I had heard him speak. His
countenance, his eager, glittering eye, told that today was as eventful
to him as to me. If he were here, I could well afford to be. As he
addressed me in English, my certainty was confirmed; and the instant
in which I observed the ring, gaudy and coarse, upon his finger, made
confirmation doubly sure. I own I was surprised that anything could
induce the Baron to wear such an ornament. Here he was actually risking
his reputation as a man of taste, as an exquisite, a leader of _haut
ton_, a gentleman, by the detestable vulgarity of this ring. But why do
I speak so of the trinket? Do I not owe it a thrill of as fine joy as I
ever knew? Faith! it was not unfamiliar to me. It had been a daily sight
for years. In meeting the Baron Stahl I had found the diamond.
The Baron Stahl was, then, the thief? Not at all. My valet, as of course
you have been all along aware, was the thief.
The Marquis of G. took down Mme. de St. Cyr; Stahl preceded me, with
Delphine. As we sat at table, G. was at the right, I at the left of our
hostess. Next G. sat Delphine; below her, the Baron; so that we were
nearly _vis-a-vis_. I was now as fully convinced that Mme. de St. Cyr's
cellar was the one, as the day before I had been that the other was;
I longed to reach it. Hay had given the stone to a butler--doubtless
this--the moment of its theft; but, not being aware of Mme. de St.
Cyr's previous share in the adventure, had probably not afforded her
another. And thus I concluded her to be ignorant of the game we were
about to play; and I imagined, with the interest that one carries into a
romance, the little preliminary scene between the Baron and Madame that
must have already taken place, being charmed by the cheerfulness with
which she endured the loss of the promised reward.
As the Baron entered the dining-room. I saw him withdraw his glove, and
move the jewelled hand across his hair while passing the solemn butler,
who gave it a quick recognition;--the next moment we were seated. It was
a dinner _a la Russe_; that is, only wines were on the table, clustered
around a central ornament,--a bunch of tall silver rushes and
flag-leaves, on whose airy tip danced _fleurs-de-lis_ of frosted silver,
a design of Delphine's,--the dishes being on side-tables, from which
the guests were served as they signified their choice of the variety on
their cards. Our number not being large, and the custom so informal,
rendered it pleasant.
I had just finished my oysters and was pouring out a glass of Chablis,
when another plate was set before the Baron.
"His Excellency has no salt," murmured the butler,--at the same time
placing one beside him. A glance, at entrance, had taught me that most
of the service was uniform; this dainty little _saliere_ I had noticed
on the buffet, solitary, and unlike the others. What a fool had I been!
Those gaps in the Baron's remarks caused by the paving-stones, how
easily were they to be supplied!
Madame de St. Cyr.