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The physiology of marriage 1

He amused himself with this little axiom and passed a whole week in
delight, grouping around this harmless epigram the crowd of ideas
which came to him unconsciously and which he was astonished to find
that he possessed. His humorous mood yielded at last to the claims of
serious investigation. Willing as he was to take a hint, the author
returned to his habitual idleness. Nevertheless, this slight germ of
science and of joke grew to perfection, unfostered, in the fields of
thought. Each phase of the work which had been condemned by others
took root and gathered strength, surviving like the slight branch of a
tree which, flung upon the sand by a winter's storm, finds itself
covered at morning with white and fantastic icicles, produced by the
caprices of nightly frosts. So the sketch lived on and became the
starting point of myriad branching moralizations. It was like a
polypus which multiplies itself by generation. The feelings of youth,
the observations which a favorable opportunity led him to make, were
verified in the most trifling events of his after life. Soon this mass
of ideas became harmonized, took life, seemed, as it were, to become a
living individual and moved in the midst of those domains of fancy,
where the soul loves to give full rein to its wild creations. Amid all
the distractions of the world and of life, the author always heard a
voice ringing in his ears and mockingly revealing the secrets of
things at the very moment he was watching a woman as she danced,
smiled, or talked. Just as Mephistopheles pointed out to Faust in that
terrific assemblage at the Brocken, faces full of frightful augury, so
the author was conscious in the midst of the ball of a demon who would
strike him on the shoulder with a familiar air and say to him: "Do you
notice that enchanting smile? It is a grin of hatred." And then the
demon would strut about like one of the captains in the old comedies
of Hardy. He would twitch the folds of a lace mantle and endeavor to
make new the fretted tinsel and spangles of its former glory. And then
like Rabelais he would burst into loud and unrestrainable laughter,
and would trace on the street-wall a word which might serve as a
pendant to the "Drink!" which was the only oracle obtainable from the
heavenly bottle. This literary Trilby would often appear seated on
piles of books, and with hooked fingers would point out with a grin of
malice two yellow volumes whose title dazzled the eyes. Then when he
saw he had attracted the author's attention he spelt out, in a voice
alluring as the tones of an harmonica, _Physiology of Marriage_! But,
almost always he appeared at night during my dreams, gentle as some
fairy guardian; he tried by words of sweetness to subdue the soul
which he would appropriate to himself. While he attracted, he also
scoffed at me; supple as a woman's mind, cruel as a tiger, his
friendliness was more formidable than his hatred, for he never yielded
a caress without also inflicting a wound. One night in particular he
exhausted the resources of his sorceries, and crowned all by a last
effort. He came, he sat on the edge of the bed like a young maiden
full of love, who at first keeps silence but whose eyes sparkle, until
at last her secret escapes her.
"This," said he, "is a prospectus of a new life-buoy, by means of
which one can pass over the Seine dry-footed. This other pamphlet is
the report of the Institute on a garment by wearing which we can pass
through flames without being burnt. Have you no scheme which can
preserve marriage from the miseries of excessive cold and excessive
heat? Listen to me! Here we have a book on the _Art_ of preserving
foods; on the _Art_ of curing smoky chimneys; on the _Art_ of making
good mortar; on the _Art_ of tying a cravat; on the _Art_ of carving
meat."
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