The Courrier laughs, though with features somewant too disturbed for a graceful laugh, at a notice published a few days since in The Tribune of one of its jests which scandalized the American editor. It does not content itself with a slight notice, but puts forth a manifesto in formidably large type in reply.
With regard to the jest itself, we must remark that ‘Mr. Greeley’ saw this only in a translation, where it had lost whatever of light and graceful in its manner excused a piece of raillery very coarse in its substance. We will admit that, had he seen it as it originally stood, connected with other items in the playful chronicle of Pierre Durand, it would have impressed him differently.
But the cause of irritation in the Courrier and of the sharp repartees of its manifesto is, probably, what was said of the influence among us of ‘French literature and French morals,’ to which the organ of the French-American population felt called on to make a spirited reply, and has done so with less of wit or courtesy than could have been expected from the organ of people who, whatever may be their faults, are at least acknowledged in wit and courtesy preeminent. We hope that the French who come to us will not become, in these respects, Americanized, and substitute the easy sneer and use of such terms as ridiculous, virtuous misanthropy, &c. for the graceful and poignant raillery of their native land, which tickles even where it wounds.
We may say, in reply to the Courrier, that if Fourierism recoils towards a state of nature, it was, in some respects because its author lived in a country where the natural relations are, if not more cruelly, at least more lightly, violated than in any other of the civilized world. The marriage of convention has done its natural office in sapping the morals of France, till breach of the marriage vow has become one of the chief topics of its daily wit, one of the acknowledged traits of its manners, and a favorite, in these modern times we might say, the favorite, subject of its works of fiction. From the time of Moliere, himself an agonized sufferer behind his comic mask from the infidelities of a wife he was not able to cease to love, through memoirs, novels, dramas, and the volleyed squibs of the press, one fact stares us in the face as one of so common occurrence that men, if they have not ceased to suffer in heart and morals from its poisonous action, have yet learned to bear with a shrug and a careless laugh that marks its frequency. Understand! we do not say that the French are the most deeply stained with vice of all nations. We do not think there so:—There are others where there is as much; but there is none where it is so openly acknowledged in literature, and therefore there is none whose literature alone is so likely to deprave inexperienced minds, by familiarizing them with wickedness before they have known the lure and the shock of passion. And we believe that this is the very worst way for youth to be misled, since the miasma thus pervades the whole man, and he is corrupted in head and heart at once, without one strengthening effort at resistance.
Were it necessary, we might substantiate what we say by quoting from the Courrier within the last fortnight jokes and stories such as are not to be found so frequent in the prints of any other nation. There is the story of the girl, Adelaide, which, at another time, we mean to quote for its terrible pathos. There is a man on trial for the murder of his wife of whom the witnesses say He was so fond of her, you would never have known she was his wife.—Here is one only yesterday where a man kills a woman to whom he was married by his relatives at eighteen, she being much older and disagreeable to him, but their properties matching.—After twelve years’ marriage, he can no longer support the yoke, and kills both her and her father, and his only regret is that he cannot kill all who had any thing to do with the match. Either infidelity or such crimes are the natural result of marriages made as they are in France, by agreement between the friends without choice of the parties. It is this horrible system, and not a native incapacity for pure and permanent relations, that leads to such results.
We must observe, en passant, that this man was the father of five children by this hated woman—a wickedness not peculiar to France or any nation, and which cannot fail to do its work of filling the world with sickly, weak or depraved beings who have reason to curse their brutal father that he does not murder them as well as their wretched mother, the more unhappy than the victim of seduction, is made the slave of sense in the name of religion and of law.
The last steamer brings us the news of the disgrace of Victor Hugo, one of the most celebrated of the literary men of France, and but lately created one of her Peers. The affair, however, is to be publically ‘hushed up.’
But we need not cite many instances to prove what is known to the whole world, that these wrongs are, if not more frequent, more lightly treated by the French, in literature and in discourse, than by any nation of Europe. This being the case, can an American, anxious that his Country should receive, as her only safeguard from endless temptations, good moral instruction and mental food, be other than grieved at the promiscuous introduction among us of their writings? We know that there are in France good men, pure books, pure wit. But there is an immensity that is bad, and more hurtful to our farmers, clerks and country milliners, than those to whose tastes it was originally addressed—as the small pox is most fatal among the wild men of the woods; and this, from the unprincipled cupidity of publishers, is broad-cast recklessly all over the land we had hoped would become a healthy asylum for the crippled and tainted before by hereditary selves. This cannot be prevented; we can only make head against it, and show that there is really another way of thinking and living—ay! and another voice for it in the world. We are naturally on the alert, and, if we sometimes start too quick, that is better than to play Le Noir Faineant, (the Black Sluggard.)
We are displeased at the unfeeling manner in which the Courrier speaks of those whom he calls our models. He did not misunderstand us, and some things he says on this subject deserve and suggest a retort that would be bitter. But we forbear, because it would injure the innocent with the guilty. The Courrier ranks the Editor of The Tribune among the men who have undertaken an ineffectual struggle against the perversities of this larger world. By ineffectual, we presume he means that it has never succeeded in exiling evil from this lower world. We are proud to be ranked among the band of those who at least, in the ever-memorable words of the Apostle, have done what they could for this purpose. To this band belong all good men of all countries, and France has contributed no small contingent of those whose purpose was noble, whose lives were healthy, and whose minds, even in their lightest moods, pure. We are better pleased to rank as suttler or pursuivant in this band, whose strife the Courrier thinks so impuissante, than to reap the rewards of efficiency on the other side. There is not too much of this salt in proportion to the whole mass that needs to be salted, nor are occasional accesses of virtuous misanthropy the worst of maladies in a world that affords such abundant occasion for them.
In fine: we disclaim all prejudice against the French nation. We feel assured that all or almost all impartial minds will acquiesce in what we say as to the tone of lax morality in reference to marriage, so common in their literature. We do not like it in joke or in earnest; neither are we of those to whom vice ‘loses most of its deformity by losing all its grossness.’ If there be a deep and ulcerated wound, we think the more the richly embroidered veil is torn away the better. Such a deep social wound exists in France; we wish its cure, as we wish the health of all nations and of all men—so far, indeed, would we recoil towards a state of nature. We believe that nature wills marriage and parentage to be kept sacred. The fact of their not being so, is to us not a pleasant subject of jest, and we should really pity the first lady of England for injury here, though she be a Queen; while the ladies of the French court or of Parisian society, if they willingly lend themselves to be the subject of this style of jest, or find it agreeable when made, must be to us the cause both of pity and disgust. We are not unaware of the great and beautiful qualities native to the French,—of their chivalry, their sweetness of temper, their rapid, brilliant and abundant genius. We would wish to see these qualities restored to their native lustre, and not receive the base alloy which has long stained the virginity of the gold.
The above article has been crowded out by Foreign News and other matters which would not wait, until it seems hardly a reply to the Courier. We trust, however, its interest has not entirely evaporated in the delay.
“Courrier des Estats Unis.” New-York Daily Tribune, 4 August 1845, p. 1.