The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 652 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.

[78].  George Sand, I. 85.  “At my grandmother’s I have found boxes full of couplets, madrigals and biting satires....  I burned some of them so obscene that I would not dare read them through, and these written by abbés I had known to my infancy and by a marquis of the best blood.”  Among other examples, toned down, the songs on the Bird and the Shepherdess, may be read in “Correspondance,” by Métra.



Its Barrenness and Artificiality. — Return to Nature and sentiment.

Mere pleasure, in the long run, ceases to gratify, and however agreeable this drawing room life may be, it ends in a certain hollowness.  Something is lacking without any one being able to say precisely what that something is; the soul becomes restless, and slowly, aided by authors and artists, it sets about investigating the cause of its uneasiness and the object of its secret longings.  Barrenness and artificiality are the two traits of this society, the more marked because it is more complete, and, in this one, pushed to extreme, because it has attained to supreme refinement.  In the first place naturalness is excluded from it; everything is arranged and adjusted, — decoration, dress, attitude, tone of voice, words, ideas and even sentiments.  “A genuine sentiment is so rare,” said M. de V—­ , “that, when I leave Versailles, I sometimes stand still in the street to see a dog gnaw a bone."[1] Man, in abandoning himself wholly to society, had withheld no portion of his personality for himself while decorum, clinging to him like so much ivy, had abstracted from him the substance of his being and subverted every principle of activity.

“There was then,” says one who was educated in this style,[2] “a certain way of walking, of sitting down, of saluting, of picking up a glove, of holding a fork, of tendering any article, in short, a complete set of gestures and facial expressions, which children had to be taught at a very early age in order that habit might become a second nature, and this conventionality formed so important an item in the life of men and women in aristocratic circles that the actors of the present day, with all their study, are scarcely able to give us an idea of it.”

Not only was the outward factitious but, again, the inward; there was a certain prescribed mode of feeling and of thinking, of living and of dying.  It was impossible to address a man without placing oneself at his orders, or a woman without casting oneself at her feet, Fashion, ‘le bon ton,’ regulated every important or petty proceeding, the manner of making a declaration to a woman and of breaking an engagement, of entering upon and managing a duel, of treating an equal, an inferior and a superior.  If any one failed in the slightest degree to conform to this code of universal custom, he is called “a

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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