Read MEDITATION VIII - THE THEORY OF THE BED. of The Physiology of Marriage‚ Part II., free online book, by Honore de Balzac, on

It was about seven o’clock in the evening.  They were seated upon the academic armchairs, which made a semi-circle round a huge hearth, on which a coal fire was burning fitfully ­symbol of the burning subject of their important deliberations.  It was easy to guess, on seeing the grave but earnest faces of all the members of this assembly, that they were called upon to pronounce sentence upon the life, the fortunes and the happiness of people like themselves.  They had no commission excepting that of their conscience, and they gathered there as the assessors of an ancient and mysterious tribunal; but they represented interests much more important than those of kings or of peoples; they spoke in the name of the passions and on behalf of the happiness of the numberless generations which should succeed them.

The grandson of the celebrated Boulle was seated before a round table on which were placed the criminal exhibits which had been collected with remarkable intelligence.  I, the insignificant secretary of the meeting, occupied a place at this desk, where it was my office to take down a report of the meeting.

“Gentlemen,” said an old man, “the first question upon which we have to deliberate is found clearly stated in the following passage of a letter.  The letter was written to the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Anspach, by the widow of the Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV, mother of the Regent:  ’The Queen of Spain has a method of making her husband say exactly what she wishes.  The king is a religious man; he believes that he will be damned if he touched any woman but his wife, and still this excellent prince is of a very amorous temperament.  Thus the queen obtains her every wish.  She has placed castors on her husband’s bed.  If he refuses her anything, she pushes the bed away.  If he grants her request, the beds stand side by side, and she admits him into hers.  And so the king is highly delighted, since he likes -----’ I will not go any further, gentlemen, for the virtuous frankness of the German princess might in this assembly be charged with immorality.”

Should wise husbands adopt these beds on castors?  This is the problem which we have to solve.

The unanimity of the vote left no doubt about the opinion of the assembly.  I was ordered to inscribe in the records, that if two married people slept on two separate beds in the same room the beds ought not to be set on castors.

“With this proviso,” put in one of the members, “that the present decision should have no bearing on any subsequent ruling upon the best arrangement of the beds of married people.”

The president passed to me a choicely bound volume, in which was contained the original edition, published in 1788, of the letters of Charlotte Elizabeth de Bavière, widow of the Duke of Orleans, the only brother of Louis XIV, and, while I was transcribing the passage already quoted, he said: 

“But, gentlemen, you must all have received at your houses the notification in which the second question is stated.”

“I rise to make an observation,” exclaimed the youngest of the jealous husbands there assembled.

The president took his seat with a gesture of assent.

“Gentlemen,” said the young husband, “are we quite prepared to deliberate upon so grave a question as that which is presented by the universally bad arrangement of the beds?  Is there not here a much wider question than that of mere cabinet-making to decide?  For my own part I see in it a question which concerns that of universal human intellect.  The mysteries of conception, gentlemen, are still enveloped in a darkness which modern science has but partially dissipated.  We do not know how far external circumstances influence the microscopic beings whose discovery is due to the unwearied patience of Hill, Baker, Joblot, Eichorn, Gleichen, Spallanzani, and especially of Muller, and last of all of M. Bory de Saint Vincent.  The imperfections of the bed opens up a musical question of the highest importance, and for my part I declare I shall write to Italy to obtain clear information as to the manner in which beds are generally arranged.  We do not know whether there are in the Italian bed numerous curtain rods, screws and castors, or whether the construction of beds is in this country more faulty than everywhere else, or whether the dryness of timber in Italy, due to the influence of the sun, does not ab ovo produce the harmony, the sense of which is to so large an extent innate in Italians.  For these reasons I move that we adjourn.”

“What!” cried a gentleman from the West, impatiently rising to his feet, “are we here to dilate upon the advancement of music?  What we have to consider first of all is manners, and the moral question is paramount in this discussion.”

“Nevertheless,” remarked one of the most influential members of the council, “the suggestion of the former speaker is not in my opinion to be passed by.  In the last century, gentlemen, Sterne, one of the writers most philosophically delightful and most delightfully philosophic, complained of the carelessness with which human beings were procreated; ‘Shame!’ he cried ’that he who copies the divine physiognomy of man receives crowns and applause, but he who achieves the masterpiece, the prototype of mimic art, feels that like virtue he must be his own reward.’

“Ought we not to feel more interest in the improvement of the human race than in that of horses?  Gentlemen, I passed through a little town of Orleanais where the whole population consisted of hunchbacks, of glum and gloomy people, veritable children of sorrow, and the remark of the former speaker caused me to recollect that all the beds were in a very bad condition and the bedchambers presented nothing to the eyes of the married couple but what was hideous and revolting.  Ah! gentlemen, how is it possible that our minds should be in an ideal state, when instead of the music of angels flying here and there in the bosom of that heaven to which we have attained, our ears are assailed by the most detestable, the most angry, the most piercing of human cries and lamentations?  We are perhaps indebted for the fine geniuses who have honored humanity to beds which are solidly constructed; and the turbulent population which caused the French Revolution were conceived perhaps upon a multitude of tottering couches, with twisted and unstable legs; while the Orientals, who are such a beautiful race, have a unique method of making their beds.  I vote for the adjournment.”

And the gentleman sat down.

A man belonging to the sect of Methodists arose.  “Why should we change the subject of debate?  We are not dealing here with the improvement of the race nor with the perfecting of the work.  We must not lose sight of the interests of the jealous husband and the principles on which moral soundness is based.  Don’t you know that the noise of which you complain seems more terrible to the wife uncertain of her crime, than the trumpet of the Last Judgment?  Can you forget that a suit for infidelity could never be won by a husband excepting through this conjugal noise?  I will undertake, gentlemen, to refer to the divorces of Lord Abergavenny, of Viscount Bolingbroke, of the late Queen Caroline, of Eliza Draper, of Madame Harris, in fact, of all those who are mentioned in the twenty volumes published by .” (The secretary did not distinctly hear the name of the English publisher.)

The motion to adjourn was carried.  The youngest member proposed to make up a purse for the author producing the best dissertation addressed to the society upon a subject which Sterne considered of such importance; but at the end of the séance eighteen shillings was the total sum found in the hat of the president.

The above debate of the society, which had recently been formed in London for the improvement of manners and of marriage and which Lord Byron scoffed at, was transmitted to us by the kindness of W. Hawkins, Esq., cousin-german of the famous Captain Clutterbuck.  The extract may serve to solve any difficulties which may occur in the theory of bed construction.

But the author of the book considers that the English society has given too much importance to this preliminary question.  There exists in fact quite as many reasons for being a Rossinist as for being a Solidist in the matter of beds, and the author acknowledges that it is either beneath or above him to solve this difficulty.  He thinks with Laurence Sterne that it is a disgrace to European civilization that there exist so few physiological observations on callipedy, and he refuses to state the results of his Meditations on this subject, because it would be difficult to formulate them in terms of prudery, and they would be but little understood, and misinterpreted.  Such reserve produces an hiatus in this part of the book; but the author has the pleasant satisfaction of leaving a fourth work to be accomplished by the next century, to which he bequeaths the legacy of all that he has not accomplished, a negative munificence which may well be followed by all those who may be troubled by an overplus of ideas.

The theory of the bed presents questions much more important than those put forth by our neighbors with regard to castors and the murmurs of criminal conversation.

We know only three ways in which a bed (in the general sense of this term) may be arranged among civilized nations, and particularly among the privileged classes to whom this book is addressed.  These three ways are as follows: 

  1.  TWIN BEDS.

Before applying ourselves to the examination of these three methods of living together, which must necessarily have different influences upon the happiness of husbands and wives, we must take a rapid survey of the practical object served by the bed and the part it plays in the political economy of human existence.

The most incontrovertible principle which can be laid down in this matter is, that the bed was made to sleep upon.

It would be easy to prove that the practice of sleeping together was established between married people but recently, in comparison with the antiquity of marriage.

By what reasonings has man arrived at that point in which he brought in vogue a practice so fatal to happiness, to health, even to amour-propre?  Here we have a subject which it would be curious to investigate.

If you knew one of your rivals who had discovered a method of placing you in a position of extreme absurdity before the eyes of those who were dearest to you ­for instance, while you had your mouth crooked like that of a theatrical mask, or while your eloquent lips, like the copper faucet of a scanty fountain, dripped pure water ­you would probably stab him.  This rival is sleep.  Is there a man in the world who knows how he appears to others, and what he does when he is asleep?

In sleep we are living corpses, we are the prey of an unknown power which seizes us in spite of ourselves, and shows itself in the oddest shapes; some have a sleep which is intellectual, while the sleep of others is mere stupor.

There are some people who slumber with their mouths open in the silliest fashion.

There are others who snore loud enough to make the timbers shake.

Most people look like the impish devils that Michael Angelo sculptured, putting out their tongues in silent mockery of the passers-by.

The only person I know of in the world who sleeps with a noble air is Agamemnon, whom Guerin has represented lying on his bed at the moment when Clytemnestra, urged by Egisthus, advances to slay him.  Moreover, I have always had an ambition to hold myself on my pillow as the king of kings Agamemnon holds himself, from the day that I was seized with dread of being seen during sleep by any other eyes than those of Providence.  In the same way, too, from the day I heard my old nurse snorting in her sleep “like a whale,” to use a slang expression, I have added a petition to the special litany which I address to Saint-Honore, my patron saint, to the effect that he would save me from indulging in this sort of eloquence.

When a man wakes up in the morning, his drowsy face grotesquely surmounted by the folds of a silk handkerchief which falls over his left temple like a police cap, he is certainly a laughable object, and it is difficult to recognize in him the glorious spouse, celebrated in the strophes of Rousseau; but, nevertheless, there is a certain gleam of life to illume the stupidity of a countenance half dead ­and if you artists wish to make fine sketches, you should travel on the stage-coach and, when the postilion wakes up the postmaster, just examine the physiognomies of the departmental clerks!  But, were you a hundred times as pleasant to look upon as are these bureaucratic physiognomies, at least, while you have your mouth shut, your eyes are open, and you have some expression in your countenance.  Do you know how you looked an hour before you awoke, or during the first hour of your sleep, when you were neither a man nor an animal, but merely a thing, subject to the dominion of those dreams which issue from the gate of horn?  But this is a secret between your wife and God.

Is it for the purpose of insinuating the imbecility of slumber that the Romans decorated the heads of their beds with the head of an ass?  We leave to the gentlemen who form the academy of inscriptions the elucidation of this point.

Assuredly, the first man who took it into his head, at the inspiration of the devil, not to leave his wife, even while she was asleep, should know how to sleep in the very best style; but do not forget to reckon among the sciences necessary to a man on setting up an establishment, the art of sleeping with elegance.  Moreover, we will place here as a corollary to Axiom XXV of our Marriage Catechism the two following aphorisms: 

  A husband should sleep as lightly as a watch-dog, so as never to
  be caught with his eyes shut.

  A man should accustom himself from childhood to go to bed

Certain poets discern in modesty, in the alleged mysteries of love, some reason why the married couple should share the same bed; but the fact must be recognized that if primitive men sought the shade of caverns, the mossy couch of deep ravines, the flinty roof of grottoes to protect his pleasure, it was because the delight of love left him without defence against his enemies.  No, it is not more natural to lay two heads upon the same pillow, than it is reasonable to tie a strip of muslin round the neck.  Civilization is come.  It has shut up a million of men within an area of four square leagues; it has stalled them in streets, houses, apartments, rooms, and chambers eight feet square; after a time it will make them shut up one upon another like the tubes of a telescope.

From this cause and from many others, such as thrift, fear, and ill-concealed jealousy, has sprung the custom of the sleeping together of the married couple; and this custom has given rise to punctuality and simultaneity in rising and retiring.

And here you find the most capricious thing in the world, the feeling most pre-eminently fickle, the thing which is worthless without its own spontaneous inspiration, which takes all its charm from the suddenness of its desires, which owes its attractions to the genuineness of its outbursts ­this thing we call love, subjugated to a monastic rule, to that law of geometry which belongs to the Board of Longitude!

If I were a father I should hate the child, who, punctual as the clock, had every morning and evening an explosion of tenderness and wished me good-day and good-evening, because he was ordered to do so.  It is in this way that all that is generous and spontaneous in human sentiment becomes strangled at its birth.  You may judge from this what love means when it is bound to a fixed hour!

Only the Author of everything can make the sun rise and set, morn and eve, with a pomp invariably brilliant and always new, and no one here below, if we may be permitted to use the hyperbole of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, can play the rôle of the sun.

From these preliminary observations, we conclude that it is not natural for two to lie under the canopy in the same bed;

That a man is almost always ridiculous when he is asleep;

And that this constant living together threatens the husband with inevitable dangers.

We are going to try, therefore, to find out a method which will bring our customs in harmony with the laws of nature, and to combine custom and nature in a way that will enable a husband to find in the mahogany of his bed a useful ally, and an aid in defending himself.


If the most brilliant, the best-looking, the cleverest of husbands wishes to find himself minotaurized just as the first year of his married life ends, he will infallibly attain that end if he is unwise enough to place two beds side by side, under the voluptuous dome of the same alcove.

The argument in support of this may be briefly stated.  The following are its main lines: 

The first husband who invented the twin beds was doubtless an obstetrician, who feared that in the involuntary struggles of some dream he might kick the child borne by his wife.

But no, he was rather some predestined one who distrusted his power of checking a snore.

Perhaps it was some young man who, fearing the excess of his own tenderness, found himself always lying at the edge of the bed and in danger of tumbling off, or so near to a charming wife that he disturbed her slumber.

But may it not have been some Maintenon who received the suggestion from her confessor, or, more probably, some ambitious woman who wished to rule her husband?  Or, more undoubtedly, some pretty little Pompadour overcome by that Parisian infirmity so pleasantly described by M. de Maurepas in that quatrain which cost him his protracted disgrace and certainly contributed to the disasters of Louis XVI’s reign: 

 “Iris, we love those features sweet,
  Your graces all are fresh and free;
  And flowerets spring beneath your feet,
  Where naught, alas! but flowers are seen.”

But why should it not have been a philosopher who dreaded the disenchantment which a woman would experience at the sight of a man asleep?  And such a one would always roll himself up in a coverlet and keep his head bare.

Unknown author of this Jesuitical method, whoever thou art, in the devil’s name, we hail thee as a brother!  Thou hast been the cause of many disasters.  Thy work has the character of all half measures; it is satisfactory in no respect, and shares the bad points of the two other methods without yielding the advantages of either.  How can the man of the nineteenth century, how can this creature so supremely intelligent, who has displayed a power well-nigh supernatural, who has employed the resources of his genius in concealing the machinery of his life, in deifying his necessary cravings in order that he might not despise them, going so far as to wrest from Chinese leaves, from Egyptian beans, from seeds of Mexico, their perfume, their treasure, their soul; going so far as to chisel the diamond, chase the silver, melt the gold ore, paint the clay and woo every art that may serve to decorate and to dignify the bowl from which he feeds! ­how can this king, after having hidden under folds of muslin covered with diamonds, studded with rubies, and buried under linen, under folds of cotton, under the rich hues of silk, under the fairy patterns of lace, the partner of his wretchedness, how can he induce her to make shipwreck in the midst of all this luxury on the decks of two beds.  What advantage is it that we have made the whole universe subserve our existence, our delusions, the poesy of our life?  What good is it to have instituted law, morals and religion, if the invention of an upholsterer [for probably it was an upholsterer who invented the twin beds] robs our love of all its illusions, strips it bare of the majestic company of its delights and gives it in their stead nothing but what is ugliest and most odious?  For this is the whole history of the two bed system.

That it shall appear either sublime or grotesque are the alternatives
to which we have reduced a desire.

If it be shared, our love is sublime; but should you sleep in twin beds, your love will always be grotesque.  The absurdities which this half separation occasions may be comprised in either one of two situations, which will give us occasion to reveal the causes of very many marital misfortunes.

Midnight is approaching as a young woman is putting on her curl papers and yawning as she did so.  I do not know whether her melancholy proceeded from a headache, seated in the right or left lobe of her brain, or whether she was passing through one of those seasons of weariness during which all things appear black to us; but to see her negligently putting up her hair for the night, to see her languidly raising her leg to take off her garter, it seemed to me that she would prefer to be drowned rather than to be denied the relief of plunging her draggled life into the slumber that might restore it.  At this instant, I know not to what degree from the North Pole she stands, whether at Spitzberg or in Greenland.  Cold and indifferent she goes to bed thinking, as Mistress Walter Shandy might have thought, that the morrow would be a day of sickness, that her husband is coming home very late, that the beaten eggs which she has just eaten were not sufficiently sweetened, that she owes more than five hundred francs to her dressmaker; in fine, thinking about everything which you may suppose would occupy the mind of a tired woman.  In the meanwhile arrives her great lout of a husband, who, after some business meeting, has drunk punch, with a consequent elation.  He takes off his boots, leaves his stockings on a lounge, his bootjack lies before the fireplace; and wrapping his head up in a red silk handkerchief, without giving himself the trouble to tuck in the corners, he fires off at his wife certain interjectory phrases, those little marital endearments, which form almost the whole conversation at those twilight hours, where drowsy reason is no longer shining in this mechanism of ours.  “What, in bed already!  It was devilish cold this evening!  Why don’t you speak, my pet?  You’ve already rolled yourself up in bed, then!  Ah! you are in the dumps and pretend to be asleep!” These exclamations are mingled with yawns; and after numberless little incidents which according to the usage of each home vary this preface of the night, our friend flings himself into his own bed with a heavy thud.

Alas! before a woman who is cold, how mad a man must appear when desire renders him alternately angry and tender, insolent and abject, biting as an epigram and soothing as a madrigal; when he enacts with more or less sprightliness the scene where, in Venice Preserved, the genius of Orway has represented the senator Antonio, repeating a hundred times over at the feet of Aquilina:  “Aquilina, Quilina, Lina, Aquí, Nacki!” without winning from her aught save the stroke of her whip, inasmuch as he has undertaken to fawn upon her like a dog.  In the eyes of every woman, even of a lawful wife, the more a man shows eager passion under these circumstances, the more silly he appears.  He is odious when he commands, he is minotaurized if he abuses his power.  On this point I would remind you of certain aphorisms in the marriage catechism from which you will see that you are violating its most sacred precepts.  Whether a woman yields, or does not yield, this institution of twin beds gives to marriage such an element of roughness and nakedness that the most chaste wife and the most intelligent husband are led to immodesty.

This scene, which is enacted in a thousand ways and which may originate in a thousand different incidents, has a sequel in that other situation which, while it is less pleasant, is far more terrible.

One evening when I was talking about these serious matters with the late Comte de Noce, of whom I have already had occasion to speak, a tall white-haired old man, his intimate friend, whose name I will not give, because he is still alive, looked at us with a somewhat melancholy air.  We guessed that he was about to relate some tale of scandal, and we accordingly watched him, somewhat as the stenographer of the Moniteur might watch, as he mounted the tribune, a minister whose speech had already been written out for the reporter.  The story-teller on this occasion was an old marquis, whose fortune, together with his wife and children, had perished in the disasters of the Revolution.  The marchioness had been one of the most inconsistent women of the past generation; the marquis accordingly was not wanting in observations on feminine human nature.  Having reached an age in which he saw nothing before him but the gulf of the grave, he spoke about himself as if the subject of his talk were Mark Antony or Cleopatra.

“My young friend” ­he did me the honor to address me, for it was I who made the last remark in this discussion ­“your reflections make me think of a certain evening, in the course of which one of my friends conducted himself in such a manner as to lose forever the respect of his wife.  Now, in those days a woman could take vengeance with marvelous facility ­for it was always a word and a blow.  The married couple I speak of were particular in sleeping on separate beds, with their head under the arch of the same alcove.  They came home one night from a brilliant ball given by the Comte de Mercy, ambassador of the emperor.  The husband had lost a considerable sum at play, so he was completely absorbed in thought.  He had to pay a debt, the next day, of six thousand crowns! ­and you will recollect, Noce, that a hundred crowns couldn’t be made up from scraping together the resources of ten such musketeers.  The young woman, as generally happens under such circumstances, was in a gale of high spirits.  ‘Give to the marquis,’ she said to a valet de chambre, ’all that he requires for his toilet.’  In those days people dressed for the night.  These extraordinary words did not rouse the husband from his mood of abstraction, and then madame, assisted by her maid, began to indulge in a thousand coquetries.  ’Was my appearance to your taste this evening?’ ‘You are always to my taste,’ answered the marquis, continuing to stride up and down the room.  ’You are very gloomy!  Come and talk to me, you frowning lover,’ said she, placing herself before him in the most seductive negligee.  But you can have no idea of the enchantments of the marchioness unless you had known her.  Ah! you have seen her, Noce!” he said with a mocking smile.  “Finally, in spite of all her allurements and beauty, the marchioness was lost sight of amid thoughts of the six thousand crowns which this fool of a husband could not get out of his head, and she went to bed all alone.  But women always have one resource left; so that the moment that the good husband made as though he would get into his bed, the marchioness cried, ‘Oh, how cold I am!’ ‘So am I,’ he replied.  ’How is it that the servants have not warmed our beds?’ ­And then I rang.”

The Comte de Noce could not help laughing, and the old marquis, quite put out of countenance, stopped short.

Not to divine the desire of a wife, to snore while she lies awake, to be in Siberia when she is in the tropics, these are the slighter disadvantages of twin beds.  What risks will not a passionate woman run when she becomes aware that her husband is a heavy sleeper?

I am indebted to Beyle for an Italian anecdote, to which his dry and sarcastic manner lent an infinite charm, as he told me this tale of feminine hardihood.

Ludovico had his palace at one end of the town of Milan; at the other was that of the Countess of Pernetti.  At midnight, on a certain occasion, Ludovico resolved, at the peril of his life, to make a rash expedition for the sake of gazing for one second on the face he adored, and accordingly appeared as if by magic in the palace of his well-beloved.  He reached the nuptial chamber.  Elisa Pernetti, whose heart most probably shared the desire of her lover, heard the sound of his footsteps and divined his intention.  She saw through the walls of her chamber a countenance glowing with love.  She rose from her marriage bed, light as a shadow she glided to the threshold of her door, with a look she embraced him, she seized his hand, she made a sign to him, she drew him in.

“But he will kill you!” said he.

“Perhaps so.”

But all this amounts to nothing.  Let us grant that most husbands sleep lightly.  Let us grant that they sleep without snoring, and that they always discern the degree of latitude at which their wives are to be found.  Moreover, all the reasons which we have given why twin beds should be condemned, let us consider but dust in the balance.  But, after all, a final consideration would make us also proscribe the use of beds ranged within the limits of the same alcove.

To a man placed in the position of a husband, there are circumstances which have led us to consider the nuptial couch as an actual means of defence.  For it is only in bed that a man can tell whether his wife’s love is increasing or decreasing.  It is the conjugal barometer.  Now to sleep in twin beds is to wish for ignorance.  You will understand, when we come to treat of civil war (See Part Third) of what extreme usefulness a bed is and how many secrets a wife reveals in bed, without knowing it.

Do not therefore allow yourself to be led astray by the specious good nature of such an institution as that of twin beds.

It is the silliest, the most treacherous, the most dangerous in the world.  Shame and anathema to him who conceived it!

But in proportion as this method is pernicious in the case of young married people, it is salutary and advantageous for those who have reached the twentieth year of married life.  Husband and wife can then most conveniently indulge their duets of snoring.  It will, moreover, be more convenient for their various maladies, whether rheumatism, obstinate gout, or even the taking of a pinch of snuff; and the cough or the snore will not in any respect prove a greater hindrance than it is found to be in any other arrangement.

We have not thought it necessary to mention the exceptional cases which authorize a husband to resort to twin beds.  However, the opinion of Bonaparte was that when once there had taken place an interchange of life and breath (such are his words), nothing, not even sickness, should separate married people.  This point is so delicate that it is not possible here to treat it methodically.

Certain narrow minds will object that there are certain patriarchal families whose legislation of love is inflexible in the matter of two beds and an alcove, and that, by this arrangement, they have been happy from generation to generation.  But, the only answer that the author vouchsafes to this is that he knows a great many respectable people who pass their lives in watching games of billiards.


There cannot be found in Europe a hundred husbands of each nation sufficiently versed in the science of marriage, or if you like, of life, to be able to dwell in an apartment separate from that of their wives.

The power of putting this system into practice shows the highest degree of intellectual and masculine force.

The married couple who dwell in separate apartments have become either divorced, or have attained to the discovery of happiness.  They either abominate or adore each other.  We will not undertake to detail here the admirable precepts which may be deduced from this theory whose end is to make constancy and fidelity easy and delightful.  It may be sufficient to declare that by this system alone two married people can realize the dream of many noble souls.  This will be understood by all the faithful.

As for the profane, their curious questionings will be sufficiently answered by the remark that the object of this institution is to give happiness to one woman.  Which among them will be willing to deprive general society of any share in the talents with which they think themselves endowed, to the advantage of one woman?  Nevertheless, the rendering of his mistress happy gives any one the fairest title to glory which can be earned in this valley of Jehosaphat, since, according to Genesis, Eve was not satisfied even with a terrestrial Paradise.  She desired to taste the forbidden fruit, the eternal emblem of adultery.

But there is an insurmountable reason why we should refrain from developing this brilliant theory.  It would cause a digression from the main theme of our work.  In the situation which we have supposed to be that of a married establishment, a man who is sufficiently unwise to sleep apart from his wife deserves no pity for the disaster which he himself invites.

Let us then resume our subject.  Every man is not strong enough to undertake to occupy an apartment separate from that of his wife; although any man might derive as much good as evil from the difficulties which exist in using but one bed.

We now proceed to solve the difficulties which superficial minds may detect in this method, for which our predilection is manifest.

But this paragraph, which is in some sort a silent one, inasmuch as we leave it to the commentaries which will be made in more than one home, may serve as a pedestal for the imposing figure of Lycurgus, that ancient legislator, to whom the Greeks are indebted for their profoundest thoughts on the subject of marriage.  May his system be understood by future generations!  And if modern manners are too much given to softness to adopt his system in its entirety, they may at least be imbued with the robust spirit of this admirable code.


On a night in December, Frederick the Great looked up at the sky, whose stars were twinkling with that clear and living light which presages heavy frost, and he exclaimed, “This weather will result in a great many soldiers to Prussia.”

The king expressed here, by a single phrase, the principal disadvantage which results from the constant living together of married people.  Although it may be permitted to Napoleon and to Frederick to estimate the value of a woman more or less according to the number of her children, yet a husband of talent ought, according to the maxims of the thirteenth Meditation, to consider child-begetting merely as a means of defence, and it is for him to know to what extent it may take place.

The observation leads into mysteries from which the physiological Muse recoils.  She has been quite willing to enter the nuptial chambers while they are occupied, but she is a virgin and a prude, and there are occasions on which she retires.  For, since it is at this passage in my book that the Muse is inclined to put her white hands before her eyes so as to see nothing, like the young girl looking through the interstices of her tapering fingers, she will take advantage of this attack of modesty, to administer a reprimand to our manners.  In England the nuptial chamber is a sacred place.  The married couple alone have the privilege of entering it, and more than one lady, we are told, makes her bed herself.  Of all the crazes which reign beyond the sea, why should the only one which we despise be precisely that, whose grace and mystery ought undoubtedly to meet the approval of all tender souls on this continent?  Refined women condemn the immodesty with which strangers are introduced into the sanctuary of marriage.  As for us, who have energetically anathematized women who walk abroad at the time when they expect soon to be confined, our opinion cannot be doubted.  If we wish the celibate to respect marriage, married people ought to have some regard for the inflammability of bachelors.

To sleep every night with one’s wife may seem, we confess, an act of the most insolent folly.

Many husbands are inclined to ask how a man, who desires to bring marriage to perfection, dare prescribe to a husband a rule of conduct which would be fatal in a lover.

Nevertheless, such is the decision of a doctor of arts and sciences conjugal.

In the first place, without making a resolution never to sleep by himself, this is the only course left to a husband, since we have demonstrated the dangers of the preceding systems.  We must now try to prove that this last method yields more advantage and less disadvantage than the two preceding methods, that is, so far as relates to the critical position in which a conjugal establishment stands.

Our observations on the twin beds ought to have taught husbands that they should always be strung into the same degree of fervor as that which prevails in the harmonious organization of their wives.  Now it seems to us that this perfect equality in feelings would naturally be created under the white Aegis, which spreads over both of them its protecting sheet; this at the outset is an immense advantage, and really nothing is easier to verify at any moment than the degree of love and expansion which a woman reaches when the same pillow receives the heads of both spouses.

Man [we speak now of the species] walks about with a memorandum always totalized, which shows distinctly and without error the amount of passion which he carries within him.  This mysterious gynometer is traced in the hollow of the hand, for the hand is really that one of our members which bears the impress most plainly of our characters.  Chirology is a fifth work which I bequeath to my successors, for I am contented here to make known but the elements of this interesting science.

The hand is the essential organ of touch.  Touch is the sense which very nearly takes the place of all the others, and which alone is indispensable.  Since the hand alone can carry out all that a man desires, it is to an extent action itself.  The sum total of our vitality passes through it; and men of powerful intellects are usually remarkable for their shapely hands, perfection in that respect being a distinguishing trait of their high calling.

Jesus Christ performed all His miracles by the imposition of hands.  The hand is the channel through which life passes.  It reveals to the physician all the mysteries of our organism.  It exhales more than any other part of our bodies the nervous fluid, or that unknown substance, which for want of another term we style will.  The eye can discover the mood of our soul but the hand betrays at the same time the secrets of the body and those of the soul.  We can acquire the faculty of imposing silence on our eyes, on our lips, on our brows, and on our forehead; but the hand never dissembles and nothing in our features can be compared to the richness of its expression.  The heat and cold which it feels in such delicate degrees often escape the notice of other senses in thoughtless people; but a man knows how to distinguish them, however little time he may have bestowed in studying the anatomy of sentiments and the affairs of human life.  Thus the hand has a thousand ways of becoming dry, moist, hot, cold, soft, rough, unctuous.  The hand palpitates, becomes supple, grows hard and again is softened.  In fine it presents a phenomenon which is inexplicable so that one is tempted to call it the incarnation of thought.  It causes the despair of the sculptor and the painter when they wish to express the changing labyrinth of its mysterious linéaments.  To stretch out your hand to a man is to save him, it serves as a ratification of the sentiments we express.  The sorcerers of every age have tried to read our future destines in those lines which have nothing fanciful in them, but absolutely correspond with the principles of each one’s life and character.  When she charges a man with want of tact, which is merely touch, a woman condemns him without hope.  We use the expressions, the “Hand of Justice,” the “Hand of God;” and a coup de main means a bold undertaking.

To understand and recognize the hidden feelings by the atmospheric variations of the hand, which a woman almost always yields without distrust, is a study less unfruitful and surer than that of physiognomy.

In this way you will be able, if you acquire this science, to wield vast power, and to find a clue which will guide you through the labyrinth of the most impenetrable heart.  This will render your living together free from very many mistakes, and, at the same time, rich in the acquisition of many a treasure.

Buffon and certain physiologists affirm that our members are more completely exhausted by desire than by the most keen enjoyments.  And really, does not desire constitute of itself a sort of intuitive possession?  Does it not stand in the same relation to visible action, as those incidents in our mental life, in which we take part in a dream, stand to the incidents of our actual life?  This energetic apprehension of things, does it not call into being an internal emotion more powerful than that of the external action?  If our gestures are only the accomplishment of things already enacted by our thought, you may easily calculate how desire frequently entertained must necessarily consume the vital fluids.  But the passions which are no more than the aggregation of desires, do they not furrow with the wrinkle of their lightning the faces of the ambitious, of gamblers, for instance, and do they not wear out their bodies with marvelous swiftness?

These observations, therefore, necessarily contain the germs of a mysterious system equally favored by Plato and by Epicurus; we will leave it for you to meditate upon, enveloped as it is in the veil which enshrouds Egyptian statues.

But the greatest mistake that a man commits is to believe that love can belong only to those fugitive moments which, according to the magnificent expression of Bossuet, are like to the nails scattered over a wall:  to the eye they appear numerous; but when they are collected they make but a handful.

Love consists almost always in conversation.  There are few things inexhaustible in a lover:  goodness, gracefulness and delicacy.  To feel everything, to divine everything, to anticipate everything; to reproach without bringing affliction upon a tender heart; to make a present without pride; to double the value of a certain action by the way in which it is done; to flatter rather by actions than by words; to make oneself understood rather than to produce a vivid impression; to touch without striking; to make a look and the sound of the voice produce the effect of a caress; never to produce embarrassment; to amuse without offending good taste; always to touch the heart; to speak to the soul ­this is all that women ask.  They will abandon all the delights of all the nights of Messalina, if only they may live with a being who will yield them those caresses of the soul, for which they are so eager, and which cost nothing to men if only they have a little consideration.

This outline comprises a great portion of such secrets as belong to the nuptial couch.  There are perhaps some witty people who may take this long definition of politeness for a description of love, while in any case it is no more than a recommendation to treat your wife as you would treat the minister on whose good-will depends your promotion to the post you covet.

I hear numberless voices crying out that this book is a special advocate for women and neglects the cause of men;

That the majority of women are unworthy of these delicate attentions and would abuse them;

That there are women given to licentiousness who would not lend themselves to very much of what they would call mystification;

That women are nothing but vanity and think of nothing but dress;

That they have notions which are truly unreasonable;

That they are very often annoyed by an attention;

That they are fools, they understand nothing, are worth nothing, etc.

In answer to all these clamors we will write here the following phrases, which, placed between two spaces, will perhaps have the air of a thought, to quote an expression of Beaumarchais.

     A wife is to her husband just what her husband has made her.

The reasons why the single bed must triumph over the other two methods of organizing the nuptial couch are as follows:  In the single couch we have a faithful interpreter to translate with profound truthfulness the sentiments of a woman, to render her a spy over herself, to keep her at the height of her amorous temperature, never to leave her, to have the power of hearing her breathe in slumber, and thus to avoid all the nonsense which is the ruin of so many marriages.

As it is impossible to receive benefits without paying for them, you are bound to learn how to sleep gracefully, to preserve your dignity under the silk handkerchief that wraps your head, to be polite, to see that your slumber is light, not to cough too much, and to imitate those modern authors who write more prefaces than books.