|• Main||• Contacts|
in many forgotten novels written by the women of that time--ideas
were beginning to emerge in the feminine sphere. She was the
first, and doubtless, from one point of view, the most extreme
representative of a small and distinguished group of French women
among whom Georges Sand is the finest personality.
Thus it is idle to attempt to adorn the history of prostitution
with the name of Ninon de Lenclos. A debauched old prostitute
would never, like Ninon towards the end of her long life, have
been able to retain or to conquer the affection and the esteem
of many of the best men and women of her time; even to the
austere Saint-Simon it seemed that there reigned in her little
court a decorum which the greatest princesses cannot achieve. She
was not a prostitute, but a woman of unique personality with a
little streak of genius in it. That she was inimitable we need
not perhaps greatly regret. In her old age, in 1699, her old
friend and former lover, Saint-Evremond, wrote to her, with only
a little exaggeration, that there were few princesses and few
saints who would not leave their courts and their cloisters to
change places with her. "If I had known beforehand what my life
would be I would have hanged myself," was her oft-quoted answer.
It is, indeed, a solitary phrase that slips in, perhaps as the
expression of a momentary mood; one may make too much of it. More
truly characteristic is the fine saying in which her Epicurean
philosophy seems to stretch out towards Nietzsche: "La joie de
l'esprit en marque la force."
The frank acceptance of prostitution by the spiritual or even the temporal
power has since the Renaissance become more and more exceptional. The
opposite extreme of attempting to uproot prostitution has also in practice
been altogether abandoned. Sporadic attempts have indeed been made, here
and there, to put down prostitution with a strong hand even in quite
modern times. It is now, however, realized that in such a case the remedy
is worse than the disease.
In 1860 a Mayor of Portsmouth felt it his duty to attempt to
suppress prostitution. "In the early part of his mayoralty,"
according to a witness before the Select Committee on the
Contagious Diseases Acts (p. 393), "there was an order passed
that every beerhouse-keeper and licensed victualer in the borough
known to harbor these women would be dealt with, and probably
lose his license. On a given day about three hundred or four
hundred of these forlorn outcasts were bundled wholesale into the
streets, and they formed up in a large body, many of them with
only a shift and a petticoat on, and with a lot of drunken men
and boys with a fife and fiddle they paraded the streets for
several days. They marched in a body to the workhouse, but for
many reasons they were refused admittance.... These women
wandered about for two or three days shelterless, and it was felt
that the remedy was very much worse than the disease, and the
women were allowed to go back to their former places."
Similar experiments have been made even more recently in America.
"In Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1891, the houses of prostitutes
were closed, the inmates turned out upon the streets, and were
refused lodging and even food by the citizens of that place. A
wave of popular remonstrance, all over the country, at the
outrage on humanity, created a reaction which resulted in a last
condition by no means better than the first." In the same year
Page 2 from 6: Back 1  3 4 5 6 Forward