Read MEDITATION III - THE HYGIENE OF MARRIAGE. of The Physiology of Marriage‚ Part II., free online book, by Honore de Balzac, on

The aim of this Meditation is to call to your attention a new method of defence, by which you may reduce the will of your new wife to a condition of utter and abject submission.  This is brought about by the reaction upon her moral nature of physical changes, and the wise lowering of her physical condition by a diet skillfully controlled.

This great and philosophical question of conjugal medicine will doubtless be regarded favorably by all who are gouty, are impotent, or suffer from catarrh; and by that legion of old men whose dullness we have quickened by our article on the predestined.  But it principally concerns those husbands who have courage enough to enter into those paths of machiavelism, such as would not have been unworthy of that great king of France who endeavored to secure the happiness of the nation at the expense of certain noble heads.  Here, the subject is the same.  The amputation or the weakening of certain members is always to the advantage of the whole body.

Do you think seriously that a celibate who has been subject to a diet consisting of the herb hanea, of cucumbers, of purslane and the applications of leeches to his ears, as recommended by Sterne, would be able to carry by storm the honor of your wife?  Suppose that a diplomat had been clever enough to affix a permanent linen plaster to the head of Napoleon, or to purge him every morning:  Do you think that Napoleon, Napoleon the Great, would ever have conquered Italy?  Was Napoleon, during his campaign in Russia, a prey to the most horrible pangs of dysuria, or was he not?  That is one of the questions which has weighed upon the minds of the whole world.  Is it not certain that cooling applications, douches, baths, etc., produce great changes in more or less acute affections of the brain?  In the middle of the heat of July when each one of your pores slowly filters out and returns to the devouring atmosphere the glasses of iced lemonade which you have drunk at a single draught, have you ever felt the flame of courage, the vigor of thought, the complete energy which rendered existence light and sweet to you some months before?

No, no; the iron most closely cemented into the hardest stone will raise and throw apart the most durable monument, by reason of the secret influence exercised by the slow and invisible variations of heat and cold, which vex the atmosphere.  In the first place, let us be sure that if atmospheric mediums have an influence over man, there is still a stronger reason for believing that man, in turn, influences the imagination of his kind, by the more or less vigor with which he projects his will and thus produces a veritable atmosphere around him.

It is in this fact that the power of the actor’s talent lies, as well as that of poetry and of fanaticism; for the former is the eloquence of words, as the latter is the eloquence of actions; and in this lies the foundation of a science, so far in its infancy.

This will, so potent in one man against another, this nervous and fluid force, eminently mobile and transmittable, is itself subject to the changing condition of our organization, and there are many circumstances which make this frail organism of ours to vary.  At this point, our metaphysical observation shall stop and we will enter into an analysis of the circumstances which develop the will of man and impart to it a grater degree of strength or weakness.

Do not believe, however, that it is our aim to induce you to put cataplasms on the honor of your wife, to lock her up in a sweating house, or to seal her up like a letter; no.  We will not even attempt to teach you the magnetic theory which would give you the power to make your will triumph in the soul of your wife; there is not a single husband who would accept the happiness of an eternal love at the price of this perpetual strain laid upon his animal forces.  But we shall attempt to expound a powerful system of hygiene, which will enable you to put out the flame when your chimney takes fire.  The elegant women of Paris and the provinces (and these elegant women form a very distinguished class among the honest women) have plenty of means of attaining the object which we propose, without rummaging in the arsenal of medicine for the four cold specifics, the water-lily and the thousand inventions worthy only of witches.  We will leave to Aelian his herb hanea and to Sterne the purslane and cucumber which indicate too plainly his antiphlogistic purpose.

You should let your wife recline all day long on soft armchairs, in which she sinks into a veritable bath of eiderdown or feathers; you should encourage in every way that does no violence to your conscience, the inclination which women have to breathe no other air but the scented atmosphere of a chamber seldom opened, where daylight can scarcely enter through the soft, transparent curtains.

You will obtain marvelous results from this system, after having previously experienced the shock of her excitement; but if you are strong enough to support this momentary transport of your wife you will soon see her artificial energy die away.  In general, women love to live fast, but, after their tempest of passion, return to that condition of tranquillity which insures the happiness of a husband.

Jean-Jacques, through the instrumentality of his enchanting Julie, must have proved to your wife that it was infinitely becoming to refrain from affronting her delicate stomach and her refined palate by making chyle out of coarse lumps of beef, and enormous collops of mutton.  Is there anything purer in the world than those interesting vegetables, always fresh and scentless, those tinted fruits, that coffee, that fragrant chocolate, those oranges, the golden apples of Atalanta, the dates of Arabia and the biscuits of Brussels, a wholesome and elegant food which produces satisfactory results, at the same time that it imparts to a woman an air of mysterious originality?  By the regimen which she chooses she becomes quite celebrated in her immediate circle, just as she would be by a singular toilet, a benevolent action or a bon mot.  Pythagoras must needs have cast his spell over her, and become as much petted by her as a poodle or an ape.

Never commit the imprudence of certain men who, for the sake of putting on the appearance of wit, controvert the feminine dictum, that the figure is preserved by meagre diet.  Women on such a diet never grow fat, that is clear and positive; do you stick to that.

Praise the skill with which some women, renowned for their beauty, have been able to preserve it by bathing themselves in milk, several times a day, or in water compounded of substances likely to render the skin softer and to lower the nervous tension.

Advise her above all things to refrain from washing herself in cold water; because water warm or tepid is the proper thing for all kinds of ablutions.

Let Broussais be your idol.  At the least indisposition of your wife, and on the slightest pretext, order the application of leeches; do not even shrink from applying from time to time a few dozen on yourself, in order to establish the system of that celebrated doctor in your household.  You will constantly be called upon from your position as husband to discover that your wife is too ruddy; try even sometimes to bring the blood to her head, in order to have the right to introduce into the house at certain intervals a squad of leeches.

Your wife ought to drink water, lightly tinged with a Burgundy wine agreeable to her taste, but destitute of any tonic properties; every other kind of wine would be bad for her.  Never allow her to drink water alone; if you do, you are lost.

“Impetuous fluid!  As soon as you press against the floodgates of the brain, how quickly do they yield to your power!  Then Curiosity comes swimming by, making signs to her companions to follow; they plunge into the current.  Imagination sits dreaming on the bank.  She follows the torrent with her eyes and transforms the fragments of straw and reed into masts and bowsprit.  And scarcely has the transformation taken place, before Desire, holding in one hand her skirt drawn up even to her knees, appears, sees the vessel and takes possession of it.  O ye drinkers of water, it is by means of that magic spring that you have so often turned and turned again the world at your will, throwing beneath your feet the weak, trampling on his neck, and sometimes changing even the form and aspect of nature!”

If by this system of inaction, in combination with our system of diet, you fail to obtain satisfactory results, throw yourself with might and main into another system, which we will explain to you.

Man has a certain degree of energy given to him.  Such and such a man or woman stands to another as ten is to thirty, as one to five; and there is a certain degree of energy which no one of us ever exceeds.  The quantity of energy, or willpower, which each of us possesses diffuses itself like sound; it is sometimes weak, sometimes strong; it modifies itself according to the octaves to which it mounts.  This force is unique, and although it may be dissipated in desire, in passion, in toils of intellect or in bodily exertion, it turns towards the object to which man directs it.  A boxer expends it in blows of the fist, the baker in kneading his bread, the poet in the enthusiasm which consumes and demands an enormous quantity of it; it passes to the feet of the dancer; in fact, every one diffuses it at will, and may I see the Minotaur tranquilly seated this very evening upon my bed, if you do not know as well as I do how he expends it.  Almost all men spend in necessary toils, or in the anguish of direful passions, this fine sum of energy and of will, with which nature has endowed them; but our honest women are all the prey to the caprices and the struggles of this power which knows not what to do with itself.  If, in the case of your wife, this energy has not been subdued by the prescribed dietary regimen, subject her to some form of activity which will constantly increase in violence.  Find some means by which her sum of force which inconveniences you may be carried off, by some occupation which shall entirely absorb her strength.  Without setting your wife to work the crank of a machine, there are a thousand ways of tiring her out under the load of constant work.

In leaving it to you to find means for carrying out our design ­and these means vary with circumstances ­we would point out that dancing is one of the very best abysses in which love may bury itself.  This point having been very well treated by a contemporary, we will give him here an opportunity of speaking his mind: 

“The poor victim who is the admiration of an enchanted audience pays dear for her success.  What result can possibly follow on exertions so ill-proportioned to the resources of the delicate sex?  The muscles of the body, disproportionately wearied, are forced to their full power of exertion.  The nervous forces, intended to feed the fire of passions, and the labor of the brain, are diverted from their course.  The failure of desire, the wish for rest, the exclusive craving for substantial food, all point to a nature impoverished, more anxious to recruit than to enjoy.  Moreover, a denizen of the side scenes said to me one day, ’Whoever has lived with dancers has lived with sheep; for in their exhaustion they can think of nothing but strong food.’  Believe me, then, the love which a ballet girl inspires is very delusive; in her we find, under an appearance of an artificial springtime, a soil which is cold as well as greedy, and senses which are utterly dulled.  The Calabrian doctors prescribed the dance as a remedy for the hysteric affections which are common among the women of their country; and the Arabs use a somewhat similar recipe for the highbred mares, whose too lively temperament hinders their fecundity.  ‘Dull as a dancer’ is a familiar proverb at the theatre.  In fact, the best brains of Europe are convinced that dancing brings with it a result eminently cooling.

“In support of this it may be necessary to add other observations.  The life of shepherds gives birth to irregular loves.  The morals of weavers were horribly decried in Greece.  The Italians have given birth to a proverb concerning the lubricity of lame women.  The Spanish, in whose veins are found many mixtures of African incontinence, have expressed their sentiments in a maxim which is familiar with them:  Muger y gallina pierna quebrantada [it is good that a woman and a hen have one broken leg].  The profound sagacity of the Orientals in the art of pleasure is altogether expressed by this ordinance of the caliph Hakim, founder of the Druses, who forbade, under pain of death, the making in his kingdom of any shoes for women.  It seems that over the whole globe the tempests of the heart wait only to break out after the limbs are at rest!”

What an admirable manoeuvre it would be to make a wife dance, and to feed her on vegetables!

Do not believe that these observations, which are as true as they are wittily stated, contradict in any way the system which we have previously prescribed; by the latter, as by the former, we succeed in producing in a woman that needed listlessness, which is the pledge of repose and tranquility.  By the latter you leave a door open, that the enemy may flee; by the former, you slay him.

Now at this point it seems to us that we hear timorous people and those of narrow views rising up against our idea of hygiene in the name of morality and sentiment.

“Is not woman endowed with a soul?  Has she not feelings as we have?  What right has any one, without regard to her pain, her ideas, or her requirements, to hammer her out, as a cheap metal, out of which a workman fashions a candlestick or an extinguisher?  Is it because the poor creatures are already so feeble and miserable that a brute claims the power to torture them, merely at the dictate of his own fancies, which may be more or less just?  And, if by this weakening or heating system of yours, which draws out, softens, hardens the fibres, you cause frightful and cruel sickness, if you bring to the tomb a woman who is dear to you; if, if, ­”

This is our answer: 

Have you never noticed into how many different shapes harlequin and columbine change their little white hats?  They turn and twist them so well that they become, one after another, a spinning-top, a boat, a wine-glass, a half-moon, a cap, a basket, a fish, a whip, a dagger, a baby, and a man’s head.

This is an exact image of the despotism with which you ought to shape and reshape your wife.

The wife is a piece of property, acquired by contract; she is part of your furniture, for possession is nine-tenths of the law; in fact, the woman is not, to speak correctly, anything but an adjunct to the man; therefore abridge, cut, file this article as you choose; she is in every sense yours.  Take no notice at all of her murmurs, of her cries, of her sufferings; nature has ordained her for your use, that she may bear everything ­children, griefs, blows and pains from man.

Don’t accuse yourself of harshness.  In the codes of all the nations which are called civilized, man has written the laws which govern the destiny of women in these cruel terms:  Vae victis! Woe to the conquered!

Finally, think upon this last observation, the most weighty, perhaps, of all that we have made up to this time:  if you, her husband, do not break under the scourge of your will this weak and charming reed, there will be a celibate, capricious and despotic, ready to bring her under a yoke more cruel still; and she will have to endure two tyrannies instead of one.  Under all considerations, therefore, humanity demands that you should follow the system of our hygiene.