IV.

 

IF I had not cut short my mild retrospect by these possibly milder generalizations, I should have touched lightly upon some of the social phenomena of which the little beach at Etretal was the scene. I shall have narrated that the French, at the seaside, are not "sociable" as Americans affect to be in a similar situation, and I should subjoin that at Etretal it was very well on the whole that they were not. The immeasurably greater simplicity of composition of American society makes sociability with us a comparatively untaxed virtue; but anything like an equal exercise of it in France would be attended with alarming perils and inconveniences. Sociability (in the American sense of the word) in any aristocratic country would indeed be very much like an attempt to establish visiting relations between birds and fishes. At Etretal no making of acquaintance was observable; people went about in compact, cohesive groups, of natural formation, governed doubtless, internally, by humane regulation, but presenting to the world an impenetrable defensive front. These groups usually formed a solid phalanx about two or three young girls, compressed into the centre, the preservation of whose innocence was their chief solicitude. Here, doubtless, the groups were acting wisely, for with half a dozen cocottes, in scarlet petticoats, scattered over the sunny, harmless looking beach, what were mammas and duennas to do? In order that there should be a greater number of approachable-irreproachable young girls in France there must first be a smaller number of cocottes. It is not impossible, indeed, that if the approachable-irreproachable young ladies were more numerous, the cocottes would be less numerous. If by some ingenious sumptuary enactment the latter class could be sequestrated or relegated to the background for a certain period - -say ten years - -the latter might increase and multiply, and quite, in vulgar parlance, get the start of it.