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.

And yet after all this is a rather superficial reflection, for the excellent reason that the very narrow peep at life allowed to young French girls is not regarded, either by the young girls themselves or by those who have their felicity most at heart, as a grave privation. The case is not nearly so hard as it would be with us, for there is this immense difference between the lot of the jeune fille and her American sister, that the former may as a general thing be said to be certain to marry. "Ay, to marry ill," the Anglo-Saxon objector may reply. But the objection is precipitate; for if French marriages are almost always arranged, it must be added that they are in the majority of cases arranged well. Therefore, if a jeune fille is for three or four years tied with a very short rope and compelled to browse exclusively upon the meagre herbage which sprouts in the maternal shadow, she has at least the comfort of reflecting that according to the native phrase, on s'occupe de la marier - -that measures are being carefully taken to promote her to a condition of unbounded liberty. Whatever, to her imagination, marriage may fail to mean, it at least means freedom and consideration. It does not mean, as it so often means in America, being socially shelved - -and it is not too much to say, in certain circles, degraded; it means being socially launched and consecrated. It means becoming that exalted personage, a mère de famille. To be a mère de famille is to occupy not simply (as is rather the case with us) a sentimental, but a really official position. The consideration, the authority, the domestic pomp and circumstance allotted to a French mamma are in striking contrast with the amiable tolerance which in our own social order is so often the most liberal measure that the female parent may venture to expect at her children's hands, and which, on the part of the young lady of eighteen who represents the family in society, is not infrequently tempered by a conscientious severity. All this is worth waiting for, especially if you have not to wait very long. Mademoiselle is married certainly, and married early, and she is sufficiently well informed to know, and to be sustained by the knowledge, that the sentimental expansion which may not take place at present will have an open field after her marriage. That it should precede her marriage seems to her as unnatural as that she should put on her shoes before her stockings. And besides all this, to browse in the maternal shadow is not considered in the least a hardship. A young French girl who is bien élevée - -an expression which means so much - -will be sure to consider her mother's company the most delightful in the world, and to think that the herbage which sprouts about this lady's petticoats is peculiarly tender and succulent. It may be fanciful, but it often seems to me that the tone with which such a young girl says Ma mère has a peculiar intensity of meaning. I am at least not wrong in affirming that in the accent with which the mamma - -especially if she be of the well-rounded order alluded to above - -speaks of Ma fille there is a kind of sacerdotal dignity.