The elder sister, in the family referred to at the end of the previous article on this subject, had the unusual happiness of marrying a man she had known from childhood, one of her brother's friends. He was very much richer than she was, and at first his father refused to hear of it. He could give his son a great fortune and it seemed, wrong that for the sake of a temporary infatuation he should allow him to decide on a girl, however charming, with only £12,000 as her "dot." The son was not in the least violent or indignant, as an English son would have been. He said: "Of course, mon pere, I cannot marry B. without your good will, but I will not marry any other young girl," and though charming damsels were paraded before his father, he declined to look at any of them. At the end of twelve months the father gave in, "made the demand" with the best grace in the world, and the young people were most happily married.
Had the objection to B., however, been on the score of some disgrace or crime in her family connection, it would never have been waived by her lover's parents. A scandal in a family is recognised as blasting hopelessly the matrimonial prospects of all the daughters, however beautiful and blameless they may be, and even of cousins and nieces. If they marry, it will have to be with someone who has an equivalent tache (stain) or some very inferior parti, perhaps an old man. French people have a far greater dislike to disparity of age in marriage than we have.
That favourite theme for English novels - the heroine with a bad father or rascally brother, who, in spite of her relations and the shady atmosphere in which she lives, is wooed and won by an immaculate hero of superior social position - simply could not happen in France. The noble hero, supposing he met the girl, which is not probable, might die single for her sake - such cases have been known - or might commit suicide, but he would be a fallen hero indeed if he proposed to introduce into his family circle a lady whose scutcheon bore a stain.
The Parents' Consent Imperative
Even if he were weak, the beauteous heroine would certainly be strong for both; a really nice French girl would as soon think of running off with a married man as of marrying a man against his parents' wish.
Post-matrimonial surprises, too, such as marrying a girl you believe has a nice little fortune, and discovering she hasn't a sou, which does sometimes happen in romantic England, do not occur in France. French people can hardly believe that English parents often sanction an engagement without any strict inquiry into the young peoples' circumstances, or hesitate to ask searching questions of their people. When the ne'er-do-well son of some French friends of mine, who was paid to keep away from France, married a Scotch minister's daughter, and presently repudiated the marriage on the quite legal ground that he had not obtained his parents' consent - he was over thirty - Monsieur and
Madame X------- could not be brought to believe that the girl was deserving of any pity. "What sort of a girl can she be, what can her parents be like, if they allowed her to marry a man of whom they knew nothing, who showed them no papers, etc.? An adventuress, simply! "
No Eugenist professor, concerned with the future of the race, could be more particular to ask for respectable ancestry than a French parent, though they are not always so careful about health as a Eugenist would wish.
On the other hand, they are occasionally too careful; their desire to do the best by their children leads them to absurdity, as when a girl took quite a fancy to a parti with whom she danced at a bal blanc. He was tall, distinguished-looking, very agreeable, but had only one eye. His glass eye looked lifelike, however, and Celestine did not mind it. I fancy he had lost it in a duel, which naturally was romantic. But her father put his foot down. "And suppose he loses now the other eye? "he demanded. "Wilt thou take a blind husband to lead by the hand?"
All this caution presses hardly on individuals at times, but it is certainly more to the advantage of the many than our English system, which falls between two stools.
Disadvantages of the English System
We have neither the complete freedom for pre-engagement acquaintanceship and inspection on the part of the young people that English peasants and Americans of every class enjoy, nor do we have the careful parental selection of the French. Add to this that the cost of living is going up, the salary lists are going down, and you have a simple and sufficient, and unsatisfactory, explanation of the rising marriage age and declining marriage rate of the English middle classes.
Only our peers and paupers still marry in the flower of their youth, as even seventy years ago the bulk of Englishmen were wont to do.