Read MEDITATION V - OF APARTMENTS. of The Physiology of Marriage‚ Part II., free online book, by Honore de Balzac, on

The preceding methods and systems are in a way purely moral; they share the nobility of the soul, there is nothing repulsive in them; but now we must proceed to consider precautions a la Bartholo.  Do not give way to timidity.  There is a marital courage, as there is a civil and military courage, as there is the courage of the National Guard.

What is the first course of a young girl after having purchased a parrot?  Is it not to fasten it up in a pretty cage, from which it cannot get out without permission?

You may learn your duty from this child.

Everything that pertains to the arrangement of your house and of your apartments should be planned so as not to give your wife any advantage, in case she has decided to deliver you to the Minotaur; half of all actual mischances are brought about by the deplorable facilities which the apartments furnish.

Before everything else determine to have for your porter a single man entirely devoted to your person.  This is a treasure easily to be found.  What husband is there throughout the world who has not either a foster-father or some old servant, upon whose knees he has been dandled!  There ought to exist by means of your management, a hatred like that of Artreus and Thyestes between your wife and this Nestor ­guardian of your gate.  This gate is the Alpha and Omega of an intrigue.  May not all intrigues in love be confined in these words ­entering and leaving?

Your house will be of no use to you if it does not stand between a court and a garden, and so constructed as to be detached from all other buildings.  You must abolish all recesses in your apartments.  A cupboard, if it contain but six pots of preserves, should be walled in.  You are preparing yourself for war, and the first thought of a general is to cut his enemy off from supplies.  Moreover, all the walls must be smooth, in order to present to the eye lines which may be taken in at a glance, and permit the immediate recognition of the least strange object.  If you consult the remains of antique monuments you will see that the beauty of Greek and Roman apartments sprang principally from the purity of their lines, the clear sweep of their walls and scantiness of furniture.  The Greeks would have smiled in pity, if they had seen the gaps which our closets make in our drawing-rooms.

This magnificent system of defence should above all be put in active operation in the apartment of your wife; never let her curtain her bed in such a way that one can walk round it amid a maze of hangings; be inexorable in the matter of connecting passages, and let her chamber be at the bottom of your reception-rooms, so as to show at a glance those who come and go.

The Marriage of Figaro will no doubt have taught you to put your wife’s chamber at a great height from the ground.  All celibates are Chérubins.

Your means, doubtless, will permit your wife to have a dressing-room, a bath-room, and a room for her chambermaid.  Think then on Susanne, and never commit the fault of arranging this little room below that of madame’s, but place it always above, and do not shrink from disfiguring your mansion by hideous divisions in the windows.

If, by ill luck, you see that this dangerous apartment communicates with that of your wife by a back staircase, earnestly consult your architect; let his genius exhaust itself in rendering this dangerous staircase as innocent as the primitive garret ladder; we conjure you let not this staircase have appended to it any treacherous lurking-place; its stiff and angular steps must not be arranged with that tempting curve which Faublas and Justine found so useful when they waited for the exit of the Marquis de B-----.  Architects nowadays make such staircases as are absolutely preferable to ottomans.  Restore rather the virtuous garret steps of our ancestors.

Concerning the chimneys in the apartment of madame, you must take care to place in the flue, five feet from the ground, an iron grill, even though it be necessary to put up a fresh one every time the chimney is swept.  If your wife laughs at this precaution, suggest to her the number of murders that have been committed by means of chimneys.  Almost all women are afraid of robbers.  The bed is one of those important pieces of furniture whose structure will demand long consideration.  Everything concerning it is of vital importance.  The following is the result of long experience in the construction of beds.  Give to this piece of furniture a form so original that it may be looked upon without disgust, in the midst of changes of fashion which succeed so rapidly in rendering antiquated the creations of former decorators, for it is essential that your wife be unable to change, at pleasure, this theatre of married happiness.  The base should be plain and massive and admit of no treacherous interval between it and the floor; and bear in mind always that the Donna Julia of Byron hid Don Juan under her pillow.  But it would be ridiculous to treat lightly so delicate a subject.

The bed is the whole of marriage.

Moreover, we must not delay to direct your attention to this wonderful creation of human genius, an invention which claims our recognition much more than ships, firearms, matches, wheeled carriages, steam engines of all kinds, more than even barrels and bottles.  In the first place, a little thought will convince us that this is all true of the bed; but when we begin to think that it is our second father, that the most tranquil and most agitated half of our existence is spent under its protecting canopy, words fail in eulogizing it. (See Meditation XVII, entitled “Theory of the Bed.”)

When the war, of which we shall speak in our third part, breaks out between you and madame, you will always have plenty of ingenious excuses for rummaging in the drawers and escritoires; for if your wife is trying to hide from you some statue of her adoration, it is your interest to know where she has hidden it.  A gyneceum, constructed on the method described, will enable you to calculate at a glance, whether there is present in it two pounds of silk more than usual.  Should a single closet be constructed there, you are a lost man!  Above all, accustom your wife, during the honeymoon, to bestow especial pains in the neatness of her apartment; let nothing put off that.  If you do not habituate her to be minutely particular in this respect, if the same objects are not always found in the same places, she will allow things to become so untidy, that you will not be able to see that there are two pounds of silk more or less in her room.

The curtains of your apartments ought to be of a stuff which is quite transparent, and you ought to contract the habit in the evenings of walking outside so that madame may see you come right up to the window just out of absent-mindedness.  In a word, with regard to windows, let the sills be so narrow that even a sack of flour cannot be set up on them.

If the apartment of your wife can be arranged on these principles, you will be in perfect safety, even if there are niches enough there to contain all the saints of Paradise.  You will be able, every evening, with the assistance of your porter, to strike the balance between the entrances and exits of visitors; and, in order to obtain accurate results, there is nothing to prevent your teaching him to keep a book of visitors, in double entry.

If you have a garden, cultivate a taste for dogs, and always keep at large one of these incorruptible guardians under your windows; you will thus gain the respect of the Minotaur, especially if you accustom your four-footed friend to take nothing substantial excepting from the hand of your porter, so that hard-hearted celibates may not succeed in poisoning him.

But all these precautions must be taken as a natural thing so that they may not arouse suspicions.  If husbands are so imprudent as to neglect precautions from the moment they are married, they ought at once to sell their house and buy another one, or, under the pretext of repairs, alter their present house in the way prescribed.

You will without scruple banish from your apartment all sofas, ottomans, lounges, sedan chairs and the like.  In the first place, this is the kind of furniture that adorns the homes of grocers, where they are universally found, as they are in those of barbers; but they are essentially the furniture of perdition; I can never see them without alarm.  It has always seemed to me that there the devil himself is lurking with his horns and cloven foot.

After all, nothing is so dangerous as a chair, and it is extremely unfortunate that women cannot be shut up within the four walls of a bare room!  What husband is there, who on sitting down on a rickety chair is not always forced to believe that this chair has received some of the lessons taught by the Sofa of Crebillion junior?  But happily we have arranged your apartment on such a system of prevention that nothing so fatal can happen, or, at any rate, not without your contributory negligence.

One fault which you must contract, and which you must never correct, will consist in a sort of heedless curiosity, which will make you examine unceasingly all the boxes, and turn upside down the contents of all dressing-cases and work-baskets.  You must proceed to this domiciliary visit in a humorous mood, and gracefully, so that each time you will obtain pardon by exciting the amusement of your wife.

You must always manifest a most profound astonishment on noticing any piece of furniture freshly upholstered in her well-appointed apartment.  You must immediately make her explain to you the advantages of the change; and then you must ransack your mind to discover whether there be not some underhand motive in the transaction.

This is by no means all.  You have too much sense to forget that your pretty parrot will remain in her cage only so long as that cage is beautiful.  The least accessory of her apartment ought, therefore, to breathe elegance and taste.  The general appearance should always present a simple, at the same time a charming picture.  You must constantly renew the hangings and muslin curtains.  The freshness of the decorations is too essential to permit of economy on this point.  It is the fresh chickweed each morning carefully put into the cage of their birds, that makes their pets believe it is the verdure of the meadows.  An apartment of this character is then the ultima ratio of husbands; a wife has nothing to say when everything is lavished on her.

Husbands who are condemned to live in rented apartments find themselves in the most terrible situation possible.  What happy or what fatal influence cannot the porter exercise upon their lot?

Is not their home flanked on either side by other houses?  It is true that by placing the apartment of their wives on one side of the house the danger is lessened by one-half; but are they not obliged to learn by heart and to ponder the age, the condition, the fortune, the character, the habits of the tenants of the next house and even to know their friends and relations?

A husband will never take lodgings on the ground floor.

Every man, however, can apply in his apartments the precautionary methods which we have suggested to the owner of a house, and thus the tenant will have this advantage over the owner, that the apartment, which is less spacious than the house, is more easily guarded.