"Oh! it is not that," answered the modest-looking Agnes, "I think I am in the family-way."
On receiving this unexpected reply from a girl I had taken for a maiden, I said to her,
"I should never have supposed that you were married, madam."
She looked at me with evident surprise for a moment, then she turned towards her friend, and both began to laugh immoderately. Ashamed, but for them more than myself, I left the house with a firm resolution never again to take virtue for granted in a class of women amongst whom it is so scarce. To look for, even to suppose, modesty, amongst the nymphs of the green room, is, indeed, to be very foolish; they pride themselves upon having none, and laugh at those who are simple enough to suppose them better than they are.
Thanks to my friend Patu, I made the acquaintance of all the women who enjoyed some reputation in Paris. He was fond of the fair sex, but unfortunately for him he had not a constitution like mine, and his love of pleasure killed him very early. If he had lived, he would have gone down to posterity in the wake of Voltaire, but he paid the debt of nature at the age of thirty.
I learned from him the secret which several young French literati employ in order to make certain of the perfection of their prose, when they want to write anything requiring as perfect a style as they can obtain, such as panegyrics, funeral orations, eulogies, dedications, etc. It was by surprise that I wrested that secret from Patu.
Being at his house one morning, I observed on his table several sheets of paper covered with dode-casyllabic blank verse.
I read a dozen of them, and I told him that, although the verses were very fine, the reading caused me more pain than pleasure.
"They express the same ideas as the panegyric of the Marechal de Saxe, but I confess that your prose pleases me a great deal more."
"My prose would not have pleased you so much, if it had not been at first composed in blank verse."
"Then you take very great trouble for nothing."
"No trouble at all, for I have not the slightest difficulty in writing that sort of poetry. I write it as easily as prose."
"Do you think that your prose is better when you compose it from your own poetry?"
"No doubt of it, it is much better, and I also secure the advantage that my prose is not full of half verses which flow from the pen of the writer without his being aware of it."
"Is that a fault?"
"A great one and not to be forgiven. Prose intermixed with occasional verses is worse than prosaic poetry."
"Is it true that the verses which, like parasites, steal into a funeral oration, must be sadly out of place?"
"Certainly. Take the example of Tacitus, who begins his history of Rome by these words: 'Urbem Roman a principio reges habuere'. They form a very poor Latin hexameter, which the great historian certainly never made on purpose, and which he never remarked when he revised his work, for there is no doubt that, if he had observed it, he would have altered that sentence. Are not such verses considered a blemish in Italian prose?"
"Decidedly. But I must say that a great many poor writers have purposely inserted such verses into their prose, believing that they would make it more euphonious. Hence the tawdriness which is justly alleged against much Italian literature. But I suppose you are the only writer who takes so much pains."
"The only one? Certainly not. All the authors who can compose blank verses very easily, as I can, employ them when they intend to make a fair copy of their prose. Ask Crebillon, the Abby de Voisenon, La Harpe, anyone you like, and they will all tell you the same thing. Voltaire was the first to have recourse to that art in the small pieces in which his prose is truly charming. For instance, the epistle to Madame du Chatelet, which is magnificent. Read it, and if you find a single hemistich in it I will confess myself in the wrong."
I felt some curiosity about the matter, and I asked Crebillon about it. He told me that Fatu was right, but he added that he had never practised that art himself.
Patu wished very much to take me to the opera in order to witness the effect produced upon me by the performance, which must truly astonish an Italian. 'Les Fetes Venitiennes' was the title of the opera which was in vogue just then--a title full of interest for me. We went for our forty sous to the pit, in which, although the audience was standing, the company was excellent, for the opera was the favourite amusement of the Parisians.
After a symphony, very fine in its way and executed by an excellent orchestra, the curtain rises, and I see a beautiful scene representing the small St. Mark's Square in Venice, taken from the Island of St. George, but I am shocked to see the ducal palace on my left, and the tall steeple on my right, that is to say the very reverse of reality. I laugh at this ridiculous mistake, and Patu, to whom I say why I am laughing, cannot help joining me. The music, very fine although in the ancient style, at first amused me on account of its novelty, but it soon wearied me. The melopaeia fatigued me by its constant and tedious monotony, and by the shrieks given out of season. That melopaeia, of the French replaces--at least they think so--the Greek melapaeia and our recitative which they dislike, but which they would admire if they understood Italian.