The Professor HTML version

Chapter 12
DAILY, as I continued my attendance at the seminary of Mdlle. Reuter, did I find
fresh occasions to compare the ideal with the real. What had I known of female
character previously to my arrival at Brussels? Precious little. And what was my
notion of it? Something vague, slight, gauzy, glittering; now when I came in
contact with it I found it to be a palpable substance enough; very hard too
sometimes, and often heavy; there was metal in it, both lead and iron.
Let the idealists, the dreamers about earthly angel and human flowers, just look
here while I open my portfolio and show them a sketch or two, pencilled after
nature. I took these sketches in the second-class schoolroom of Mdlle. Reuter's
establishment, where about a hundred specimens of the genus "jeune fille"
collected together, offered a fertile variety of subject. A miscellaneous assortment
they were, differing both in caste and country; as I sat on my estrade and
glanced over the long range of desks, I had under my eye French, English,
Belgians, Austrians, and Prussians. The majority belonged to the class
bourgeois; but there were many countesses, there were the daughters of two
generals and of several colonels, captains, and government employes; these
ladies sat side by side with young females destined to be demoiselles de
magasins, and with some Flamandes, genuine aborigines of the country. In dress
all were nearly similar, and in manners there was small difference; exceptions
there were to the general rule, but the majority gave the tone to the
establishment, and that tone was rough, boisterous, masked by a point-blank
disregard of all forbearance towards each other or their teachers; an eager
pursuit by each individual of her own interest and convenience; and a coarse
indifference to the interest and convenience of every one else. Most of them
could lie with audacity when it appeared advantageous to do so. All understood
the art of speaking fair when a point was to be gained, and could with
consummate skill and at a moment's notice turn the cold shoulder the instant
civility ceased to be profitable. Very little open quarrelling ever took place
amongst them; but backbiting and talebearing were universal. Close friendships
were forbidden by the rules of the school, and no one girl seemed to cultivate
more regard for another than was just necessary to secure a companion when
solitude would have been irksome. They were each and all supposed to have
been reared in utter unconsciousness of vice. The precautions used to keep
them ignorant, if not innocent, were innumerable. How was it, then, that scarcely
one of those girls having attained the age of fourteen could look a man in the
face with modesty and propriety? An air of bold, impudent flirtation, or a loose,
silly leer, was sure to answer the most ordinary glance from a masculine eye. I
know nothing of the arcana of the Roman Catholic religion, and I am not a bigot
in matters of theology, but I suspect the root of this precocious impurity, so
obvious, so general in Popish countries, is to be found in the discipline, if not the
doctrines of the Church of Rome. I record what I have seen: these girls belonged
to what are called the respectable ranks of society; they had all been carefully