Read CHAPTER XII of Her Royal Highness Woman, free online book, by Max O'Rell, on ReadCentral.com.

COURTING IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND

Kneeling and sitting-The piquancy of French courting-The use of
the second person singular-The sealing kiss.

The art of courtship as practised in France and England leaves the amorous Gaul sometimes at a decided disadvantage, and sometimes at a marked advantage, by comparison with the Briton. On the whole, I think honours are easy. Take the declaration of love. In France the foolish animal has to go on his knees at the feet of the adored one, who through her modestly drooping eyelashes can make an inventory of the suitor’s least defects-of the bald spot on his crown, his languishing eyes, with their white turned up in the ardour of passion, maybe of the little wart which will obtrude itself for observation, especially at such a moment. The poor Frenchman is obliged to run the risk of making himself very ridiculous.

But now turn to England. There, if you would a-wooing go, you sit down comfortably, very much at your ease, with the beloved object of your dreams at your side, or sitting on a cushion at your feet. Thus situated, you can murmur your soft whispers of love into her ears without any risk of dislocating your spinal column. The ladies will possibly think that the business is more nicely arranged in France, but they will hardly get the other sex to agree with them.

In America I never was able to make any observations on the subject. Those provoking Yankees invariably waited until I had left their houses to proceed to business.

What adds, however, to the charm of the French system of making love is that French girls do not enjoy the same freedom as English ones, and that the declarations of love are made in the sweet moments stolen from the watchfulness of their parents.

What, for instance, would an English girl, or for that matter an American one, think of the young lady in M. Victorien Sardou’s comedy of ‘Old Bachelors,’ who, finding herself alone with her lover-a lover to whom she is engaged to be married-reproaches him with having ventured into her presence when he knew that there was no one with her?

‘N’est-ce pas que c’est bon d’etre ensemble?’ pleads the young man.

Je n’ai pas dit que ce ne fût pas bon,’ replies the young lady in good epigrammatic style; ‘j’ai dit que ce n’etait pas bien.’

To the Anglo-Saxon people who have not familiarized themselves with French customs and modes of thought, it seems simply inconceivable that a girl who intends to entrust to a particular man the happiness of her life should think there could be danger, indiscretion, impropriety of any, even the slightest kind, in talking to him for a few moments without the presence of witnesses.

I have always pitied the English-speaking people for using the second person singular only when addressing the Almighty.

I am not speaking of poetry, of course, but of everyday conversational prose. This second person singular seems to me indispensable for the due expression of love. Where is the Frenchwoman who does not remember with a thrill of pleasure the never-to-be-forgotten moment when her lover, after many times saying to her ‘Je vous aime,’ got emboldened enough, by her return of his deep affection, to change that ’Je vous aime’ into ‘Je t’aime’?

She knows that this change of person sealed her fate, that from the very moment that second person singular was used she became his. ’Je vous aime’ will, of course, always appeal to the woman who loves the man who utters these words; but when ‘Je t’aime’ is whispered into her ears, she will close her eyes in ecstasy and be transported to heaven as if for eternal bliss.

This use of the second person singular in love affairs is not the only superiority that the French have over the Anglo-Saxons in the expression of the tender feelings. In England, and I believe also in America, a woman is kissed on the lips by her father, mother, brothers and lady and girl friends. Of course her lover will do the same, with more ardour, more expression, more ‘impressions;’ but in France this is very seldom the case. Girls are kissed on the forehead by their father, and on the cheeks by all their other relatives and friends. Even a tiny little girl, on being asked for a kiss, will offer her cheeks, never her mouth. The lips are entirely reserved for Cupid.

A French philosopher has said that when a woman has surrendered her lips she has surrendered everything; but he is right only as far as his countrywomen are concerned. Even after saying ‘Je vous aime,’ the Frenchman will not dare kiss his sweetheart on the lips. It is only after risking the sacred second person singular, ‘Je t’aime,’ that he will venture to do so, and thus stamp her his.

Well, after all is said and done, I have no doubt that Britons and Americans find that the second person plural, for want of the second person singular, answers the purpose well enough. And for ever and ever men and women will love without attempting to discover new methods or adopt foreign ones. The old story will ever be told; the old method will ever do.