Revisiting old bits of research and writing may give some satisfaction. "Fathers and Sons..." dates from the late 1970's. It began as a talk, then became more written out, though still chatty. In 1979 I sent it to a very distinguished editor, who gave it a fair, engaging, and professional critique. I never took the time to try to rewrite the piece in the light of this criticism. (See his letter, below, which precedes the paper. )
When read by the members of the Davis Center, Burr Litchfield dismissed "Fathers and Sons..." as a product of middle-class anxiety in Baltimore. Our son, Marcus, was 15 or 16 when I started to work on this piece. I accept the point Litchfield made, but not that I refracted middle-class anxiety. The role of the novel in human development intrigued me, thus, as my critic noted, it is the parallel that Caron père made between Richardson's Grandisson and his son, Beaumarchais, that should have been stressed, about social aspirations. Once I had got to literature, I felt "home free," but not so my critic. The social aspirations in the Caron family become evident when one reads the short summary of Grandisson given in the Oxford Comparison to English Literature (Oxford, 1932, a 1955 reprint) p. 726:
"The coach is fortunately stopped by that of Sir Charles Grandisson, a gentleman of high character and fine appearance."
Grandisson was a major literary exemplum of the ethically upright male which would be refined and worked out by novelists in England to Austen, Eyre (and beyond? ).
Professor Orest Ranum
Department of History
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD 21218
Dear Professor Ranum:
Thank you for sending your interesting article. I like many aspects of it a great deal, but I do not think it ready for publication. I hope it can be made so -- I do assure you of my warm interest -- but I don't feel able to pledge acceptance of revisions before seeing them. Nor do I feel totally confident of knowing what to recommend, as will emerge. But I do hope I will not discourage you from attempting an overhaul, which I promise to handle expeditiously.
The style needs some attention. I loath copyeditors but found myself playing that role, as you will see from the ms. There is sloppiness in run-on sentences, some repeated organizational miscues in non-sequitur within paragraphs. This is rather easily handled.
The introduction, basically valid, rambles. Your point about community never comes through precisely, because of course as it turns out community is not involved with the two cases that you have. I should think you could make many of the same points but more simply. Presumably most Fathers merged with community in seeing their sons as literal replicas of themselves, and simply training them as replacements. Having said this, your interest is on the frankly less typical cases, for your period, in which fathers could not/did not want to do this, and in the Racine case at least sought to use sons not literally to replicate, but to continue a process they thought they had begun. The question of generational transmission (aspirations and levers; the distinction is good) is of crucial importance for this minority (perhaps as you suggest, larger than community traditions would themselves indicate) and also for an understanding of modern relationships, in which the transmission issue becomes much more generally acute.
(I find it quite ok not to use too much psychology here -- you're operating at largely a different level, though the "lever" aspect overlaps; but you might explain this a bit more.)
Some of your speculations on change over time are interesting; they might however be saved until the end, as a more suitable conclusion. Your current apologetic tone is fine to a point, but may be overdone. I think social historians, many of them, are already quite open to mentality study (awful phrase, sorry). As to how to go beyond your efforts, your conclusion is sensibly pessimistic but in your covering letter you also had a phrase about reading father-son correspondence in a different way, that is more positive and could be added. Also, have you considered Greven's work, more psychological I fully admit, in its relationship to your interests, again as part of a more positive fuller conclusion?
Some emphases could be increased: the primacy of the Father-son tie is an important contrast to the emotional framework of more modern times.
The material on Racine is interesting, but it needs some pruning and more pointed organization. Some of it is petty or repetitious. I would try to focus more on your own main points. Issues of power relationship, as on p. 17, seem repetitious -- perhaps you need a more explicit rubric, for I grant they prove crucial in the actual result, where the maternal influence proved so strong.
2. Up to this point, the changes, though needing some work, seem manageable and well worthwhile. Where I began to break down was on Beaumarchais. I have to wonder whether the material is sufficiently comparable to Racine to merit the same sort of assessment. Certainly, the comparison should be more explicit where possible. What were the father's aspirations? It turns out that he was tolerant, but in lifestage comparable to Racine père we actually know nothing; his one letter proves not terribly revealing, since you end up saying he expected only a year of obedience anyway. The later letters are interesting, though again some pruning desirable (as on the sisters), but they show a relationship in a much different stage. If this material, pruned, can be handled in terms of aspirations and levers, great. If not, what to do??? (As to levers, I wonder at your exclusion of Caron emotional manipulation -- I read p. 28 to suggest he loved the son and was quite happy to use this, albeit not clearly toward aspirations. At my most pessimistic I fear that Caron is there because letters are available and because Beaumarchais was in fact mobile -- I just don't know, again, where the aspirations are.
These are, then, my reactions. Not as constructive as I would like. You may feel that it's not worth revising, at least for the JSH. But I would, again, be interested in the effort; for your sense of the importance of the topic is fully justified.
I look forward to your reactions. Please let me know if I can be of any help, or if there are questions. Excuse the informal typing -- my secretary is on short time for awhile. And thanks, sincerely, for letting me consider your work.
And the paper:
Social history has been the study of status, income, class boundaries, career-line analysis, and group-family solidarities and conflicts. It has largely neglected the study of what, if anything, individuals and groups were consciously aspiring for in the rush to establish precisely what they achieved. The reasons for neglecting the history of social aspirations are obvious; no method has been developed that gives historians the assurance that aspirations are anything more than a small part of collective mentalities. The boundary between the history of thought and the history of society has been traced but not firmly established because of lack of assurance that the old dangers of vagueness and of falling into a kind of ideengeschichte of society may really be avoided. Social history is precise and, if possible, based on quantitative evidence; the history of mentalities, in this instance of aspirations, seems vague and inapplicable to social history.
How to go about the precise study of how individuals and social groups perceived their own futures? This is the first question to be answered. Let us recall Yves Castan's Honnêteté et relations sociales en Languedoc au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1974), which offers a model of the publicly expressed history of hopes and aspirations of an eighteenth-century provincial society. Castan stresses the disparities between personally expressed social aspirations and the almost overwhelmingly heavy sense of status quo public opinion, or, to be more precise, of community opinion, constraining the actions of individuals in the countryside. In a peasant society, those whose wealth was increasing were careful not to display the fact; the indebted had to go without appearing to be hardworking. The real aspirations of individuals and families remained concealed behind a facade of appearances. And Castan suggests that this tension, or possible tension, between personal aspirations and community opinion extended up and down the social hierarchy of traditional society. Dare we trust the evidence from collective mentalities about social aspirations? Castan thinks not.
Our first clue to understanding the definitions and effects of conscious social aspirations may be to measure or to discern somehow the degree of an individual's or family's autonomy from the community at large. If public opinion in a village or small town situates individuals as "not very rich" or not very "capable," the first zone of action in the relationships between individual behavior and aspirations lies in determining the degree to which a family or individual really accepts the opinions of others about their worth. In the eighteenth century the opinions of communities and the constraints that they produced were breaking down, according to Castan, and it is precisely from those families and individuals who ignored old value systems about honnêteté that the ambitious and adventurous, and perhaps even revolutionary, individuals emanated.
In The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641, (Oxford, 1965) Chapter XI, Laurence Stone has insisted upon the doctrine of filial obedience being the most critical, in arranging the major financial and marital affairs that preserve and/or enhance status from generation to generation. His emphasis has been on elite families, hence we thus far lack the evidence for the transmission of social aspirations in modest families also occurred primarily through the father's instruction of his son. Here we must recognize that what we are after is certainly more easy to discern through studying elite families than those of peasants or artisans, but let us not state blindly that social aspirations are the preserve of the rich alone. Castan's work serves as a reminder that the family autonomy of a small landholder (and the father-and-son relationship), which jealously fosters and plans the acquisition of small plots of land or vineyards from generation to generation, may not differ all that much structurally from that of fathers and sons transmitting huge estates.
There is little room here for us to explore this avenue of research, because it is so vast. Instead, I propose to try to build upon Stone's observations by examining two father-son relationships within families that were immense leaps in social status and increasing their wealth. The two fathers and sons whom we will examine here have as little in common with the Devonshire dukes and the Saulx-Tavannes, as they do with the peasants; they emanate from solid bourgeois backgrounds and rise to enjoy favor at the French court, titles, honors, lauded wealth, and offices. That one Racine happened to be a poet and the other a devout man, and that one Caron happened to be a playwright and financier while the other was but a watchmaker is only of peripheral interest to us. What will intrigue us is the investigation of the father-son relationship and the search for the boundaries between social aspirations and the psychological makeup of the four men.
Social aspirations are one thing; the instruments or psychological levers used by fathers for transmitting them from generation to generation are something quite different. Yet they appear together. A desire to have the elder son marry a daughter of the Colbert, Le Tellier, or Phélippeaux families is social aspiration for a Racine. The repeated evocation of fears of death and failure on the part of the father in writing to a son as he exhorts him to work harder, are quite another. Thus, while the aspirations and levers appear together, they may be looked at by us quite separately. I am suggesting that by studying the father-son relationship it might be possible first to reconstruct the whole complex fabric of social aspirations in traditional society; and second, it might also be possible to reconstruct the modes of socialization prevailing in the Ancien Régime by relating which psychological levers were used by fathers emanating from various social groups.
The evidence about marriage patterns among artisan groups, and to some extent from the professions of medicine and the law, suggests that the first threshold of social aspiration is to have the son grow up to assume the same métier and status of his father.(1) The frequency of marriage within some artisanal and professional groups was as high as 70%. This sense of aspiration, of course, is essentially just another way of describing the collective community norms for maintaining everyone in his place discerned in rural society by Castan. It is aspiration in a fundamental sense. Financial constraints, lack of contacts with social superiors, and the presence of two grandfathers of the same social status. if not the same métier or profession, aided or channeled the maturing of sons to become like their fathers. Psychological levers such as approval, love, and monetary rewards not only by fathers but the family and the community at large could almost suffice to explain how men grew up to be like their fathers. But what of those cases where fathers had higher, or even much higher aspirations for their sons?
What a father writes to his son about service, careers, money, marriage, gambling, religion, and sex reveals the general pattern of social aspirations and the failures and pitfalls experienced by one generation as it attempts to form the next. These letters about practical affairs reveal not only the social and psychological dynamics of a family in general, but also, perhaps, something of the autonomy from the community or social group that sustains or impedes its advancement. But before turning to the study of these relationships through the letters, some general remarks about the character of such sources must be made. Letters of advice from a father to his son, or to his children, are almost a sub-genre in Western European literature. We can all think of examples -- those of Chesterfield admirably represent this genre in the eighteenth century. Now, I shall not deal with all of these letters to sons, but their success as literature may at least have partly depended on a family structure in pre-modern society that made the father-son relationship the critical one.(2)
Some letters of mothers to sons have been published, but the only example with which I am familiar suggests that the important matters of social aspirations, marriage and family finances were left to fathers, since the mother's letters deal solely with religion, what to eat, what to wear, and how to face death. As we shall see, fathers also wrote to their sons about these subjects, which were, however, clearly not of the first order of importance in maintaining or increasing status and well being.
The critical element in determining the value of any correspondence to a study of social aspirations is, of course, whether the letters really are letters, that is, whether they are true correspondence rather than mere desk exercises in the genre. Raleigh's letters to his son, Chesterfield's to his, Racine's to his, and Caron's to his (Beaumarchais) were written as a result of a physical separation. Since Etienne Pasquier's to his son, like Bussy-Rabutin's to his children, were written as the older generation faced death, preoccupations with the state of the soul tended to displace those about status and wealth. Castan has pointed out how, in the still essentially oral culture of the eighteenth century, the critical family arrangements were often made orally, since a man's "word" testified to his honor and masculinity. Letters from fathers to sons, and from sons to fathers, lie in a zone between oral and written culture; they served in lieu of conversation, yet they could not convey all the nuances of inflection and gesture that are part of oral culture.
Nevertheless, even without these additional qualities, letters from fathers to sons are remarkable for their intimacy and high emotion. Fathers may attempt to employ every psychological lever of which they are capable in these letters to reproach, instruct, support, encourage, and coerce their sons into specific courses of action. Mere instructions to behave in a certain way are not enough; there must be explanations for why it is desirable to behave in that manner. Nor are mere threats and withdrawal of affection sufficient; there must be rewards, both material and emotional, and these too require explaining.
The early-modern fathers with whom we are dealing wielded enormous power within their nuclear families. Only with their eldest sons do they seem to have taken the trouble to appear consultative and conciliatory. Their wives were informed, loved, listened to, and, above all, obedient. Not once in Racine's correspondence do we sense sharing of responsibilities in instructing their son in the ways of the world, though the poet admits that his spouse provides moral and spiritual support for all members of the family. But, in analyzing the relationships between the oldest son and his brothers and sisters, as we find it in the father-son correspondence, the dominance of this relationship in the entire family becomes apparent.
Before looking at these relationships in more detail, we must, however, recall the rather special social statuses and careers of the Racine and Caron-Beaumarchais families. Certainly they were not typical of the society at large. The Racine family had sullied its hands in royal tax collecting.(3) This placed them in a rather special category of seventeenth-century French families, for in that century moral and religious teachings (community) still held that such activities might be sinful; and when large segments of the populace inveighed against tax collectors in popular revolts and in the Fronde, anyone playing that role may have had to develop certain ideas about himself, and especially fidelity to the king, to avoid feeling insecure.
Caron was a master watchmaker, one of the top men in the trade in Paris. His clients included kings, queens, the great nobility, Spanish grandees, and the very, very rich who could afford those magnificent time pieces produced in the late eighteenth century and which are now the jewels of the museums of the world. An honest trade. But, despite familiarity with the great in the shop, Caron remained an artisan in the hierarchy of place and fortune.(4) His aspirations were to have his son become a watch maker and to have him succeed in or surpass his own high aspirations for work in a luxury trade.
Other special qualities of these two families include their religious backgrounds. Racine had been educated at Port Royal, his whole life and thought were tinged with Jansenism. Caron had been raised a Huguenot, and only in 1721, at the age of twenty-three, did he abjure his heresy. One year later he applied for the patent of master watchmaker. One of the stipulations for acceptance in the company of watchmakers was membership in the Catholic Church, Roman and Universal. The Jansenist and Protestant communities, though very different in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were nevertheless persecuted minorities ostracized by law. Though different, they served as centers of support, the first sphere of "protection" to these families. Perhaps more important than the connections that each provided was a relative freedom from the more general social values and inhibitions of French society. Both families were exceedingly ambitious within two sub-communities that seemed to be a veritable hatchery of socially aspiring-adventurous-ambitious individuals.
Equally important, perhaps, was the fact that the Racine and Caron
families produced individuals endowed with more than average amounts of
physical beauty, charm and wit. In an age when manners counted for so
much, a great deal could be acquired through exemplary education; but
still more could only be the result of gifts from Nature: that natural
grace, familiarity, and capacity to produce the right phrase or gesture
at the right time. These qualities, not money alone, were the great
instruments of advancement at court, and the Racine and Caron families
both staked their futures on being well received and favored at court.
Social climbers in the extreme, and without all that much money behind
them. Racine and Caron had to socialize their sons in certain precise
ways in order to consolidate the gains that had been made and to assure
If the families have similarities, their times and values were different. The social and political structure in which Racine had succeeded, and in which he hoped his son might flourish, seems more rigid and infested with codes of behavior that were so overtly revealing of the system of clientage and patronage that made it operate. Caron and Beaumarchais appear to flourish in a more fluid social structure; the patronage-client systems were still the engines of decline or advancement, but an adventurer with intelligence and charm could make greater progress in the late eighteenth century than his counterpart under the Sun King. At Versailles the Maintenon mood of great piety prevailed and gave the social patterns of advancement a religious tone that seems stultifying. For Beaumarchais, there was excitement produced by a young monarch and some frankness about social climbing without the moral overtones of earlier generations. Yet, these differences of mood must not be over-emphasized. Racine's genuine religious devotion was an indispensable asset for some of his ties at court; Caron's religious beliefs already seem to have been separated from social norms, and the state of his soul seems not to have worried him, although he had been obliged to adapt to a world full of sin. God made certain gifts; not to use them was a sin.
The Jansenists and Protestants who actively participated in the world reconciled their beliefs with their social actions in different ways. Caron seems more like the great financier, Samuel Bernard, who never mixed his beliefs with social inhibitions about advancement and money-making, whereas Racine felt obliged to synthesize or to relate these logically to the state of his soul. Thus, in writing to his son, Caron could be, and was, much more confident of his own worth; Racine was proud of the advancement that he had brought about for his family, but he was fearful of God's punishments especially if they came through the failings of a son. But, before going farther, let us summarize rapidly the salient features of the two family histories.
The poet was fifty-two when the correspondence with his oldest son began.(5) Probably at the peak of his career in holding favor, offices and income, Racine had still greater ambition for his family. His father had held an office in the grenier à sel, and he himself had written the royal herald at arms to request that the ignominious rat be struck from the plain coat of arms probably invented by an uncle. Anyone fabricating arms and coming up with a rat and a swan --"rat" -- "cygne" -- must have had modest mercantile origins. The great Parisian bourgeois families already had arms for several generations, while the Racines had made no claim to bear heraldic arms until the generation of the poet's father. After 1677, the year Racine "retired" from the theatre, the prestige and status of the Racine family increased rapidly; living quarters at Versailles, invitations to the coveted fêtes at Marly, and access to the king were all surface signs of a rapid accumulation of offices and income. He became a secrétaire du roi and, thus ennobled, a gentilhomme ordinaire du roi, academician, historiographe du roi, and member of the petite académie. Racine's very modest fortune was augmented by a respectable bourgois marriage, but certainly the favor he earned as a poet and courtier far exceeded anything that his inheritance could have brought. This is the key to the first general theme of the father-son correspondence; unlike so many other ambitious families possessed of much larger fortunes, the status of the Racine family depended entirely upon continued success in serving and pleasing the great.
From the assumptions incorporated into the correspondence of 1691-98, it is clear that in the Racine family these were years of execution rather than planning. The major decisions had long since been made; children had been raised to assume roles pre-determined by fortune and status. Careers, marriage plans, and inheritances had all been worked out, but the precariousness of life itself in the seventeenth century, the fate of Port Royal, and the shifting and settling favor of the Colberts, Racine's "protectors" at court, kept the court historiographer continually at work revising his plans. A father of seven children born at two year intervals (except the last, who was born four years after his sister), Racine destined his oldest daughter for marriage; the four others would either become nuns or care for their parents. Racine writes of his great reluctance to accept the withdrawal of his daughters from the world, but elsewhere he admits his pride in their religious commitment and his recognition that the family lacked the resources to marry all four of them properly.
In the byzantine atmosphere of Versailles, Racine learned to be dependent and to render service in just the right way. When his first son was born in 1678, the god-father was, of course, the Great Colbert, patron par excellence of men of letters under Louis XIV. This son was christened Jean-Baptiste. The clienteles at Versailles are revealed by just such institutional and personal links between ministers and their creatures. Racine preformed well, staying under the wing of the Colberts and extending that family's power without alienating the rival ministers and their clients. The career of young Jean-Baptiste Racine reveals the Colbert "protection," for the young man was granted the survivance of his father's office of gentilhomme ordinaire. Then he became attached to Colbert's powerful grandson, Torcy -- whose full name was, of course, Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Torcy -- himself barely twenty six when the young Racine, at thirteen, was sent off on a diplomatic mission. Ever since the sixteenth century, the favorite breeding ground for political influence and high office had been the circles of commis who surrounded the secretaries of state. The Colbert, Le Tellier, Brulart, Phélippeaux, Arnaud de Pomponne, Bouthillier, and the other great dynasties of ministers pressed their own sons, nephews, and sons of clients into the writing and recopying of diplomatic dispatches. Torcy looked after the young Racine because of the fidélité that the Racines had shown the Colberts. And so, when Bonrepaux, still another client of Colbert, was sent to the Hague as ambassador in 1691, the young Racine was invited to accompany him. Only thirteen, his understanding of his father's aspirations was not complete; his father still had much to teach him. The distance between them required that this instruction be done by correspondence. The son's future did not entirely depend upon Bonrepaux's opinion of his conduct while in the Hague, but if the boy made a good impression and pleased both Bonrepaux and Torcy, his rise would be certain.
The son had liabilities. Although he had been scrupulously careful never to meddle in Jansenist affairs at court and his reputation as a devout Christian was so well established that Mme de Maintenon thought well of him, Jean Racine nevertheless had a Jansenist heritage that could rebound negatively on young Jean-Baptiste. The warnings against saying anything about religion were repeated, but Racine knew that this Jansenist heritage might be used effectively against his son even though the youth had had no part of Port Royal. The other great liability was the family's lack of generation upon generation of friends, clients and wealth. The Racine's had done few favors for few people at court, few owed anything to the poet, the role of the Colbert's as "protectors" was therefore all the more crucial. The son's name had come up. The Maréchal de Noailles proposed him for the young Duke of Burgundy's household, but someone else was chosen. Still, the father saw this as a very encouraging sign and wrote: "You see that you have protectors here that do not forget you, and you must continue to work to give yourself a good reputation. You no longer mention the German that you began to study. You must be willing to have me point out to you how you eagerly start good projects but sometimes you tire of them."(6) Racine also warned that gaining too much pleasure from literature will result in making the other studies seem boring. Indeed, the father had a penchant for fearing that his son would repeat his own weaknesses, including an excessive interest in belles lettres. However, the key phrases about favor stress the art of service to the great, and notably to the ambassador. No detail was too small to be omitted: Be on time for meals, do not become known as a talker, dress in a way that will please the Ambassador, in short, "learn to do the things that do not please you."(7) Above all do not waste time. Racine knows about what he calls the "inconstance de jeunes gens," but he, the father, is paying good money to further the son's education and it is a waste of money if the boy does not apply himself. The incessant bits of advice about "little" things mesh with the father's more grand scheme of socialization and training to be a courtier.
The warning against reading the Gazette de Hollande makes one think immediately that the instruction has an ideological component as well, but such is not the case. Ideological affinities, that is, firm support for the Sun King, go unquestioned. The dangers of the Gazette lie in their threat to Jean-Baptiste's French grammar, not his political beliefs, for that publication had invented a verb, recruter, instead of faire des recrues, and the son must not use such words in his dispatches.
We find numerous warnings against spending too much money, for Racine knows that his son is with young people who have much more money than he has. Be economical, it will earn respect and, moreover, it is absolutely essential since the Racine family fortune is modest. "Recall that your ambition is very limited as regards wealth."(8) A trusted servant who has accompanied Jean-Baptiste asks for an increase in wages, "because the price of wine is very high in the Netherlands." This reason would scarcely appeal to the devout Racine, who instructs his son on how to refuse the request with firmness and tact. Had the servant asked for an increase because he had a dying, and poverty-stricken mother, the increase might have been granted.
All these little elements of upbringing, or, as it used to be called, good breeding, sustain the more general images and lessons that the father wishes to convey to his son. What must Jean-Baptiste aspire to? And, equally important, what psychological levers does the father pull in an attempt to constrain his son to pursue the aims set by the father? Did those psychological levers differ greatly in traditional society from what we might suppose them to be in industrialized and secular society? In an age with less explicit, or less scientifically founded, notions of childhood and adolescence, and uninhibited paternal desires to form sons almost exactly after their own image, were these levers -- affection, withdrawal, approval, evocation of fears, punishment, and guilt -- very different from those operating in the family of post-Enlightenment, industrialized society? We can already observe that the history of social aspirations and the psycho-history of their transmission must be studied separately because they may derive from very different time zones in Western Civilization. That social aspirations vary according to rank, nation, and social group over a relatively short period of time is apparent, while the psychological levers used by fathers to transmit to their sons may be of a longue durée.
Life's aim is to be a parfait honnête homme,(9) that is, to bear within oneself for all to see those moral, intellectual, and physical qualities esteemed by all men. The parfait honnête homme is not specifically defined by Racine, but the tenor of the correspondence reveals that aspiration must be based upon the good opinion of others and not upon self esteem. The good opinion of others is worldly, though Racine puts his son on guard to remember "to render unto God what he owes Him,"(10) and continues, "There is nothing so pleasant in the world as that tranquility of conscience and the view of God as a father who will not fail us in a time of need." Racine describes the relationship with God in contractual terms what is owed Him and what may be expected of Him in difficult times. Racine waits for his son to take up all his affaires so that he may devote himself entirely to preparing to be saved. Any backsliding on the son's part retards the father's ability to prepare himself for death.(11) Racine states explicitly that after his concern with his own salvation he is most preoccupied with his son's success. The key words are, in French, ambition, vous avancer, succès, envie de bien faire; the fact that the son possesses a desire to do well consoles Racine (and his wife, for the pronoun is nous), as he worries about the future. The line between personal worries and public ones is virtually non-existent, and the son is intimately entangled in the father's fear of failure.:
You recall what I said about attending the operas and comedies that are being played at Marly. It is very important for you and for me that you not be seen attending them...The king and the entire court are aware of my scruples about attending and would have a very nasty opinion of you if, at your age, you are shown to have so little opinion of me and my views. I must, above all, recommend that you think of your salvation.... (12)
For Racine, the greatest displeasure would be learning from someone that his son had been lax about religious matters. The point is, of course, that Racine as a dévot would be dishonored publicly if his son were otherwise.
The psychological levers, then, are religious and public opinion, (not community) in both the emphasis is upon the father's sharing of fears with the son. Death is often discussed, Champmeslé's death had been very edifying in a Christian way, and Racine wrote his son about it.(13) Did the son know that Champmeslé was one of his father's former mistresses? But whatever gossip the son might pick up about his father's past, the father had stressed the edifying Christian death of this woman. The slightest fault committed by the son would pierce his father's heart -- impede his efforts to be saved himself from Hell. Racine's private fears about his son's success were already powerful, the poet's greatest possible fear was that Torcy personally would tell him something negative about young Jean-Baptiste:
I am always afraid of appearing before M. de Torcy, out of fear that he make jokes about the slowness you have shown in your errand [to Brussels], but I am resolved to suffer them and to encourage him to hope for more diligence another time.(14)
The father's fear of being publicly ashamed by his son's actions were designed to have a powerful disciplinary influence on the son, it also reveals how insecure the father still felt about his own position at court.
The ambitious poet poured out to his son his concerns about the precariousness of success and his fears of death and falling from favor. Jean-Baptiste was little more than a stand-in for the father, and Racine employed symbolic devices to reinforce this surrogate position. For example, he wrote his son to say that it was unnecessary to sign his letters, since he, as a father, could recognize them by the handwriting. Racine scolds and scolds, then feels guilty about it and attempts to restore the air of sympathy and shared feelings that he tries to maintain:
You can well imagine that I am not trying to make you unhappy and that my sole aim is to help strengthen your mind and enable you not to do me a dishonor when you go out into society. I assure you that, next to my salvation, it is the thing that most concerns me.(15)
The son's autonomy is practically nil; the father has the lad submit
his prose exercises for correction to his best friend, Boileau, whom the
son is encouraged to believe is one of the great men of letters of his
age. The father continually reports Boileau's impressions of the youth's
prose, no inventiveness is encouraged. The son used the word ici a bit
too often in a recent exercise.
And, as for the future, the father wrote: "I thought of arranging your marriage without your knowing about it." The description of the girl is very brief; the description of her income is detailed. Racine finally abandoned the project owing to the possibility that in the long run some of that income might escape through a second marriage of one of the girl's parents. Little mention is made of her social status, a very great deal about her wealth. After admitting what he had almost done, Racine then adds that he would have asked for the ambassador's and the son's approval. The two are put on par, the protector's views being as crucial as the son's Racine adds: "It is just that your taste also be consulted."(16) Taste seems to have had little influence in the decision-making; Madame Racine had also not liked the fact that the girl was a redhead, but the lack of immediate income from her inheritance had been the crucial factor in the decision.
Similarly, in all the discussions about his sisters' withdrawal into convents, the son is never consulted, only informed so that he will be able to know exactly why his father had decided upon certain long-range family policies. Racine's wife is mentioned only on those occasions involving money from land that formed part of her dowry, or negotiations with fermiers for the income from that land. Otherwise the son seems to have little right to appeal to his mother against paternal decisions, nor did anyone other than Racine himself make these decisions. Jean-Baptiste's mother, Racine reports, is pleased by the news that her son is wearing very simple clothing, presumably a Jansenist such as she would see ostentation in dress as a sin. But the father adds that it is really up to the son to wear what he wishes "in the gout de Monsieur l'Ambassadeur."(17)
Even on matters of dress, where a mother might presumably be expected to dominate the choices, in this instance any Jansenist or bourgeois connotations of simple or unaffected dress may or ought to be sacrificed in order to please the protector. The aunt at Port Royal clearly influenced Racine regarding the futures of the daughters Racine had raised for Port Royal; but now that the establishment had been extinguished as a religious community, other convents had to be found. Here again the nephew does not seem to have communicated directly with his aunt about the lives of his sisters. He appears to have been reduced to a cordial and respectful relationship -- and only that -- with all relatives save his father.
Before we break away from the Racine correspondence we must try to put the father-son relationship in some perspective. Let us begin by asking whether psychological levers for transmitting social aspirations to adolescents did in fact exist, and whether this particular father used them. Extremely preoccupied by financial worries and exceedingly ambitious yet ambivalent about participation in the world, Jean Racine communicated to Jean-Baptiste his most fundamental, even primordial fears about death, hell, and public humiliation. As instruments of socialization these would not seem to be entirely out of the ordinary; but the intimacy of the father-son relationship, and the exaggerated use of these instruments, produced effects that would have aroused great ambivalence in the ever-ambivalent father. Upon Racine's death the king very graciously granted separate pensions to widow and son, and all the family's protectors seemed enthusiastic about furthering the son's career. But, certainly contrary to the dead man's plans, his widow -- perhaps with Jean-Batiste's approval, we do not know -- arranged to sell the son's offices, thus ending all chances for his advancement at court and a career in the civil service. Terribly devout herself, had she resented her husband's efforts to force their son to climb in the world? She also may have disapproved of the plan to favor the oldest over the other children. Had she never really accepted the plan that once Jean-Baptiste was established he would then turn to help his brothers and sisters? The sale of her son's offices permitted her to amass a huge sum in cash (for her social status) and no one seems to know what she did with the money. The rest of her life was spent withdrawn from the world, and in extreme parsimony. Had she been raised for a convent by a family like the Racines who did not think they would have the money to procure a "good" marriage for her, and then the odd thing happened, Racine came along?
As for the son, his life eventually became even more withdrawn from the world than his mother's. He spent the rest of his life, 48 years, in devotion, study of Jansenism, confessing, and attending mass. Dying in 1746, a solitaire, 66,988 livres, 12 sols were found in a strong box in his room. His life had been spent celibate and in extreme parsimony.(18)
A dialectic between withdrawal from the world into devotions, and ambition, which could only be fulfilled in the world, had deeply influenced the poet's life. After Racine's death this dialectic became ever more forceful and led to extreme actions on the part of his exceedingly devout widow and son. She had refuted ambition through devotions and withdrawal from the world; she insisted that her older son also withdraw, and she was able to make him do so because her husband had hinged his son's relationship with the world almost entirely upon his own ambivalent presence in the world. The primordial instruments of socialization, combined with a fear of death and public humiliation, must have led Jean-Baptiste to feel a terrible guilt and a need to withdraw from the world as a result of his father's death. Though we lack a basis for comparison as we stand back and observe this Jansenist milieu, we see a blend of ambition and parsimony, combined with a need to render to God what is due Him and a sense that self-preservation in a sinful world required withdrawal. It is tempting to assert that this blend was synthesized in the Racine family in such a way that each of these qualities became intensified and exaggerated because they were coupled together with high social aspirations and sustained by such fundamental psychological mechanisms as fear of death. And community bonds that tended to inhibit social climbing had long since been cast aside with the result that there was nothing to impede the dialectical shifts from climbing to withdrawal.
The Beaumarchais father-son relationship reveals a different system of aspirations supported by quite different psychological levers. As we discern them, we must also be sensitive to the changes of milieu and climate of opinion from the early to the late eighteenth century.
André-Charles Caron, the father of the man known to us as Beaumarchias, was born near Meaux, in Brie, in 1698. His parents were Huguenots who had produced fourteen children right on through the years of Catholic repression. Brie was one of those obstinate protestant islands that, as Loménie put it, would yield neither to Bossuet's sermons nor to the dragonnades. The Carons were watchmakers in Brie; as a teenager, André-Charles joined a regiment of dragoons for a few years and assumed the name of Caron d'Ailly.(19)
In 1721 he went up to Paris, abjured his protestant faith (attested to by the Cardinal de Noailles), and a year later applied for and received a brevet as a master watchmaker in the Parisian guild of watchmakers. Religious orthodoxy had been a prerequisite for admission to such a guild since the 1660s, if not before, and when Caron received his brevet it probably signified outward conformity to the Catholic religion, a high degree of social respectability as a master in a complex and hierarchical social structure of artisans, and certainly high proficiency as a watchmaker. Four months later he married Louise Pichon, whose father was qualified as a "bourgeois de Paris," settled down to gain a very illustrious clientele, and had four children before the death of his first wife. Watchmaking in the eighteenth century represented one of the most highly skilled of trades, and the watches produced kept very good time by comparison with their predecessors in the seventeenth century.
Caron was about fifty when the earliest surviving correspondence
reveals his relationship with his son, who left home at about sixteen
after a terrible conflict broke out between them. The conflict lasted
for several months. Relatives intervened. The boy was not completely
helpless in this conflict, but it marked profound differences of opinion
and conduct between the two Carons. The surviving letter comes from a
period of negotiations very near the end of the struggle. In it the
father opens his reply to his son by saying that what the latter now
writes is certainly to his taste, but:
Your great misfortune consists in having so completely lost my confidence that these letters and a hundred others that are even stronger [presumably in apologies] would not persuade me that you have changed.(20)
Caron, Sr. recognizes that the son has employed the "art" of involving his father's best friends in his cause, and that "your mother" is also on his side. Since all these people have pressured the father to take back his son, he sets forth the conditions for a return, stating that he does not believe the son capable of meeting them. We learn of the transgressions in great detail. They deserve summary here because they provide the visible and gestural relief of the hundreds of fundamental and very powerful little devices used to discipline someone who eventually became one of the most engaging and ingratiating individuals of the eighteenth century. The father insists upon being shown respect at all times, marked by "words, actions, and countenance. The same art of pleasing used to win over my friends ought to be used to please me. Not only do I wish to be obeyed and respected, but I also wish to be prejudiced in your favor by everything you imagine might please me." (21) And: "Regarding your mother, who has jumped into the breach twenty times to defend you in the past two weeks, I still take up what you owe her in life and deference in a special conversation."
After this opening, a contract follows, specifying the conditions for the son's return. For one year, the duration of the contract, young Caron:
a. Must not sell any watches, repair any, or do anything in the shop on his own account. If there is any breach of this, whatever the hour, he must leave.
b. Must rise at six, at seven in winter, work until supper without repugnance. "I mean that you will employ the talents that God has given you in order to become famous in your profession.
Remember that it is shameful and dishonorable for you to grovel, and if you do not become the first [in your profession] you merit no consideration whatever....."
c. Eat no more suppers in town. "You may dine with your friends Sundays and feast days on the condition that I know where you are going, and you must return by nine o'clock. Never ask me to change or to modify this article."
d. Must completely abandon his "malheureuse musique" and the frequenting of young people. "Both these are ruining you Because of your weakness, however, I am permitting you to play the viola and the flute, only after supper, never during the day, never interrupting the rest of the neighbors, nor mine."
e. Get along on eighteen livres a month plus meals. "This will help you to pay up your debts." He will be given one-quarter of the profits of any work that comes exclusively through him.
The letter ends with the statement that, if he accepts these conditions, he is to sign and return the letter. Young Caron did just that and promised that, with the "Lord's help" he would try to execute them.
I have taken the time to discuss this exchange in detail because it reveals so much of the Caron father-son relationship. Note the harsh emphasis upon deference within the family, an emphasis that Castan has illuminated for eighteenth century French society as a whole. Anger, indecent words, lack of respect, even differential eye-contact -- the contenance -- marked the first and foremost frontier of socialization from generation to generation. The rest, almost all the rest, is a contract. One could imagine Caron agreeing to take on a new apprentice and offering similar conditions. The definition of the métier reveals the identity of the individual who exercises it, the demand that his son become the foremost watchmaker reveals the father's pride in his art and the requirement that the son possess this pride as well. Then too, note the allusion to employing the talents that the Lord gave him. The father cannot assure the son's career as a watchmaker, that can only be achieved through diligence and the employment of his divinely bestowed talents. All of this has a protestant ring. One might say that it could also be catholic, but here the words chosen to identify the god-head may be significant. The Carons, father and son, generally used the word Seigneur, not Dieu! Dieu was Racine's term and that of his catholic co-religionists.
The son refers to his acceptance of these conditions as a merited humiliation. Within five years he would go on to invent a new clock escapement -- an invention that was, however, contested in the courts by another watchmaker. Caron won the lawsuit and, at twenty one, was finally recognized by the Academy of Sciences as one of the first watchmakers in the realm. This was but the first of a long and dramatic series of lawsuits, most of which he won. Never once did Caron fils appear to question the power of institutions to judge what was right and hence to judge in his favor.
Throughout his life he demonstrated both a formidable talent
for negotiations and contractual relationships, and an ability to argue
about their contents both privately and publicly.
The contract is, unfortunately, virtually our only source of information about the father-son relationship during this early period. The fact that they lived and worked together eliminated the need for correspondence between 1748 and 1761, by which time, thanks to his talents as watchmaker, harp-perfector, and charmer -- and thanks also to his malheureuse musique -- young Caron was enjoying the company of Louis XV's daughters and the Dauphin. Watchmaking had got him to court, an early marriage to a widow possessed of money and a minor fief named Beaumarchais carried him on and saw him added to the pension list of the royal household.
In 1761 he wrote a letter addressed to "Monsieur and Very Honored Father." Its tone contradicts what it says. Beaumarchais opens by saying that he had hoped to get away from Versailles in order to see his parent, but could not, then, noting that it is time for étrennes -- gift-exchanging for the new year -- he admits that the gift that would please him the most would be his father's abandonment of watchmaking. The son wanted to buy a brevet of secretary of the king, which would give him the legal right to the name Beaumarchais. His argument is: "There is no other way open for the advancement I desire for our common happiness and that of my entire family." (22)
Within eleven months his father had conformed to his son's wishes. Then, with the great financier, Pâris-Duvernay's help, Beaumarchais legally became a noble. His view of nobility, hereditary offices, rank, and status seems to have been very straightforward. He behaves as if personal influence and money were sufficient to bring about anything as superficial as status. This partly explains why he became involved in duels with dukes. His sense of honor was personal; his own self-confidence seems not to have depended upon the opinions of anyone but himself, his sisters, and his father -- and perhaps his intimate and now isolated friend, Pâris-Duvernay. His very autobiographical and cynical remark to his father -- "When one has nothing, one wants money; as soon as one is rich, one scrambles for honors. Thus goes the world."(23) -- reveals an amazingly materialistic view of advancement. It expresses a lack of a sincere belief in the ideal of noble behavior. A man of honor who was not noble but who tells his father that he must buy nobility for their mutual advancement is revealing the degree to which ethical considerations and uprightness had been uncoupled from the social ideals. Advancement meant money, power, and honors; but these seemed to have been separated from the kinds of behavior that men of Racine's generation still had wanted to believe was radiated to their inferiors by such men of rank as ambassadors.
In closing his letter Beaumarchais described himself as "Your humble and very obedient servant." The deference once demanded of an adolescent would be expressed throughout life, even as the independence-dependence balance shifted to the father's dependence upon the son. In 1763 the father obliquely apologizes for a fit of bad humor that he says had been provoked by an illness. He never offers any warnings about worldly dangers, or about his son's possible over-dependence upon such protectors as Pâris-Duvernay. The father remarks that the Comtesse de La Croix deserves some attention, but the advice is given more as a reminder to a busy person than as a stricture to guide behavior.24 Indeed, the father knows his place in the partnership, and though the son occasionally relies on the father to work out some financial agreement, each man respects the other's talents in dealing with the world, although the son's talents finally supercede the father's. Indeed, when the son summarizes his financial operations and goals, as he often does, it is to gain his father's general approval -- a nice pat on the head. He never leaves the dialogue sufficiently open to permit his father to advise him about a course of action.(25)
At sixty-six, Caron admits to having fallen madly in love with a widow named Madame Henry and somewhat gingerly consults his son -- still retaining the forms of autonomous authority -- about whether or not he should marry her. Beaumarchais answers by encouraging his father to marry the widow.(26) Later, when the affair fails to develop, Beaumarchais regrets that no marriage had taken place, though he refers to the widow as "une belle planche après le naufrage de la jeunesse et de la santé.(27) Then he adds, "May heaven illuminate her, and us as well," hardly a very convincing expression of devotion.
In these letters, exchanged while Beaumarchais was in Spain, the son's maturity and cynicism about mankind and the world are fully revealed to his father. Writing in 1765, while buoyed up by the possibility that he will land contracts for furnishing all material for the Spanish army, Beaumarchais writes home:
To be on good terms with oneself, it is necessary to have done nothing about which one can reproach oneself; to be on good terms with others, one must succeed. Success alone determines the opinion of men about the work of those who speculate.(28)
Then Beaumarchais advises strict secrecy, because if he fails he "could only hope for the bitter smile of those who would have acclaimed me had I established my fortune." The subsequent boasting about the colossal sums with which he is dealing, and the huge profits he may make, assume a melodramatic tone:
I will soon be thirty-three years old. I was between four glass panes at twenty-four. I want to be absolutely sure that after the next twenty years of hard work I will have the sweet tranquility that is the recompense of years of youthful trouble.(29)
Beaumarchias ends his letters with accounts of his proficiency in rhyming songs and verses at the soupers délicieux of Madrid. Then he apologizes for having crossed out or changed so many words in his letters, which he hopes will keep his father from reading them to others or from having them copied.
Indeed, as the Madrid correspondence progresses, it has all the characteristics of a work of literary art, yet there is no loss of intimacy. Watchmaker though he was, the father has great vivacity of style and is certainly capable of continuing to inspire his son to write with gaiety, intimacy, and even flamboyance.
After reporting on the characters of prospective sons-in-law and measuring their capacities in terms of Beaumarchais' accomplishments, Caron warns that he will not tell his son how much one of the suitors has lost in gambling. Beaumarchais was both perceptive and devastatingly frank about the weaknesses and strengths of these men; but the point here is that father and son share a common analytical perspective about these suitors. At one point Beaumarchais writes: "Love me a little, I beg you, and tell my sisters to count on me."(30) The father's reply is effusive:
You suggest modestly that I love you a little, that is not possible, my dear friend, a son such as thou [Caron only rarely uses the familiar form, tu] is not made for being just a little loved by his father. The tears of tenderness that fall from my eyes onto this paper are certainly the proof, the qualities of thy excellent heart, the strength and greatness of thy soul infuse me with the most tender love. The honor of my grey hair, my son, my dear son, in what way could I have merited from my God the graces that fulfill me in my dear son? It is, in my opinion, the greatest favor that He may grant an honest and sensitive father, that is, to have a son such as thou.(31)
Such were the sensitively and warmth of emotion passing between a protestant and his ambitious son in 1764. The impact of the literary world outside the relationship is apparent and admitted. In his last illness the father had been reading Richardson's Grandisson and writes to Beaumarchais:
How many times I found a just and noble comparison between Grandisson and my son. Father to his sisters, friend and benefactor to his father. If England, I said to myself, has her Grandissons, France has her Beaumarchais, with the difference that the English Grandisson is only fiction ... and that the French Beaumarchais really exists to console my days.(32)
As long as the father lived, the bonds of intimacy between the two Carons drew tighter. Beaumarchais wrote: "When I am gay, my letters reflect it, and I love above all to point this out to you."33 There could be teasing too, including the evocation of a love affair between the father and a woman other than Beaumarchais' mother, before the marriage that produced Beaumarchais.(34) How did the son know about this, except from the father? The father accepts the teasing with good nature.
Before trying to delineate the psychological levers and bonds between the two men, we must say a word about the role played by the sisters. They adored their brother and gave him unlimited amounts of affectionate support. One senses that their relationship remained so intimate that, although Beaumarchais worked to advance his brothers-in-law, he also appeared and acted as a kind of rival and father to these men. Having obtained a post for one brother-in-law, Beaumarchais wrote him: "Work ceaselessly, be on guard, and pray in order that temptation or boredom not overcome you."(35) What a brother-in-law! In fact, he fulfills the ideal that Racine delineated for his eldest son -- the procurer of marriages and incomes for siblings.
When his sister's son died, Beaumarchais consoled her with the
assurance that her husband was going to be a financial success, thanks
to his, Beaumarchais', help.36 He did this without evincing the need to
be thanked, though their dependence upon him gave him a kind of paternal
pleasure. The grinding on toward ever greater heights and wealth,
combined with his alertness to the real feelings of others, reveals no
sense of guilt over success and certainly no inhibiting fears,
Still later, writing to his beloved second wife, widow of a fournisseur aux Menus Plaisirs, Beaumarchais exclaims that he is going to bed "...without you, however, and that seems hard for me sometimes. And my son [who was six months old; the father was thirty-seven], my son, how is he? I laugh when I think that I am working for him."(37) Would Beaumarchais' own father have admitted as much? On one level the answer is clearly in the affirmative; but as we recall that early correspondence-as-contract, we hesitate to conclude that Caron père was working for his son. Caron had left home to join the army and had set up shop in Paris away from his own parents, who no doubt had taught him his trade. I surmise that he did not expect his own son, the son who would one day be Beaumarchais, to stay around the shop much beyond the one year of the contract he offered. There does not seem to have been a mutual belief that the son must succeed his father in the family trade.
Instead, Caron had insisted that his son use his God-given talents to become the foremost watchmaker; Beaumarchais attained this specific aim between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-four, when he invented the escarpment that the great clockmaker, Lepaute, tried to steal from him. Beaumarchais kept his part of the contract; the father either could try to restrain him to stay in watchmaking or else approve and support his flight to favor at court and in the world of high finances. He chose the latter course of action and even seems to have enjoyed writing to his son under the name of Beaumarchais. Basking in and identifying with the increased favor and status of the son seems to have been a source of pleasure in the older years of this man who, with no right at all, had called himself "Caron d'Ailly" while in the army.
What psychological levers moved social aspirations in the Caron family? The first thing that is apparent is a preoccupation with the surface of actions and behavior, never a discussion of emotions or motives. The contractual relationship and the autonomy that it fostered in the son centered entirely on what was done and not done; there is not a word about evil or some devilish quality in the son. One is tempted to assert that the father did not care what his son thought of him and vice versa, as long as their outward behavior was correct. We find so little effort to manipulate emotions, and when it does occur it rarely is in an attempt to gain approval. Note also how Caron père deferred to his friends' and wife's opinions about the son. Even when the father was very ill, he did not allude to preparations for death or attempt to use other heavy emotional levers to influence his son's behavior. Never once is their a sharing of fears. Beaumarchais is anxious about financial matters, even about the future of his sisters, but he seems to feel that he has done his best and that the matter was out of his hands. A certain dependence, maybe, among the Carons but much more significant is the autonomy that each enjoyed. In the Racine household, the contractual aspects of the father-son relationship had included a Jansenist God as the senior partner; (in the Caron the contract) had been between father and son alone, with only the talent of watchmaking being a gift from God that it would be a sin to waste.
It is also interesting to observe some of the differences in the value system surrounding the court. Beaumarchais' birth and protestantism had not impeded him in gaining intimacy with Louis XV's daughters. The atmosphere at court seems less stultifying than during the 1690's, a period when everyone seems to have been waiting for someone else to make a false step so that he himself could take advantage of it. Beaumarchais established very firm, intimate relationships with some great nobles; there seems to have been little fear that some false move might jeopardize those relationships. And obviously, the pretensions about the meaning of nobility and social rank in general have been peeled away even more.
In leaving the Racines and Carons, the question of typicality comes immediately to mind. Our reaction as reader and writer is the same; we throw up our hands and state categorically that social history is about groups, classes and entire societies, not individuals. It is also social scientific -- the field where counting and sampling have yielded important results. Until now the questions asked by family historians rarely touch either on social aspirations or the transmissions of values from generation to generation. This paper must be a monster, we say. And yet there are clues in it to what are obviously significant aspects of social history and family history. Fernand Braudel has only recently insisted again on the critical role of generations and generations of capital accumulation among merchant families as a key factor in the process of industrialization in the Western World. The ministerial families of the Ancien Régime produced generation after generation of talented administrators -- sons who were not always as brilliant as their fathers. There is Pitt, and Pitt the Younger. A count of the number of composers and painters in the eighteenth century who had fathers in the same arts suggests along with the examples of political families mentioned above, that social aspirations, like watchmaking, were part of a larger framework of raising sons to fulfill the aims of fathers. Legal and medical families where the sons assumed not only the professional but social and political aims of their fathers provided along with the merchants the elite structure of early-modern states.
What is to be done? An answer from social historians is, I suppose, to call for precisely defined prosopographic studies. Social Aspirations of Bristol Merchants, 1680-1790, or Social Aspirations of Antwerp Artisans in the sixteenth century, and so on. A careful search might yield enough father-son correspondence to develop reasonably sound statistical samples. The qualitative richness of such documentation would be sacrificed by the need to simplify the data for content analysis.
An alternative might be to do research on single families whose archives are particularly rich. Robert Forster has brilliantly perfected a method of using the history of single families as prisms to shed light on virtually all the questions of social history.(38)
The alternatives for studying social aspirations are less promising.
The counting of editions of courtesy books, estimating resistance to
social aspirations by studying guild regulations, and so forth, would
lead to elusive results. Collective mentalities may certainly be said to
include aspirations, but the ways of linking Horatio Alger to John D.
Rockefeller have yet to be found. Or the study of the abandonment of
dress codes by artisans in favor of single, hitherto bourgeois dress, or
the number of bourgeois who abandon their sober serges for court dress
may be signs of aspirations fulfilled, if not the realization of changed
social status. Perhaps the study of the psychological levers of
socialization would yield more interesting and definite results if
separated from research on the concern of social aspirations. Our
conclusion can only be that the study of social aspirations is a "soft"
subject in a nexus of "soft" social sciences, history and psychology.
Its only certain virtue may be entertainment for scholars seeking to
provide foundations to the study of the family.
1. See the classic study by A. Daumard and F. Furet, Structures
et relations sociales à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1961); R.
Mousnier, La stratification sociale au XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles
(Paris, 1976), and for the earlier centuries, J. Lafon, Régimes
matrimoniaux et mutations sociales, les époux Bordelais, 1450-1550
2. There were 12 editions of Chesterfield's letters to his son in the two years after their publication, 1774-1776. A French edition appeared in 1774, and there were subsequent editions, and a German edition 1774-1776. The major editions as listed in the BM catalogue have subsequently been 1872, 1901, 1902, 1917, 1926, and 1929. A more significant test for popularity of a work is, of course, whether or not portions of it were included in anthologies and magazines. The analysis of popular English language anthologies by author and topic is still to be undertaken for the nineteenth century.
3. The standard work on Racine and his family is R. Picard, La Carrière de Racine (Paris, 1961).
4. The history of the Caron family has not been as well researched as that of Racine. See B. Morton's Introduction to Beaumarchais, Correspondence (Paris, 1969) I - II
5. The most convenient place to find Racine's correspondence now is R. Picard, ed., Oeuvres complètes; prose (Paris; 1966), of the Pléiade collection.
6. Oeuvres complètes, prose, II, p. 612.
7. Ibid., p. 557. See also the scolding Jean-Baptiste receives for wasting time while his parents are paying dearly for tutors to give him an education.
8. Ibid., II, p. 593
9. Ibid., II, p. 619.
10. Ibid., II, p. 619.
11. Ibid., II, p. 609.
12. Ibid., II, p. 557
13. Ibid., II, p. 622.
14. Ibid., II, p. 585.
15. Ibid., II, p. 552
16. Ibid., II, p. 630f
17. Ibid., II, p. 618.
18. Picard, La Carrière..., p. 553ff.
19. Morton, B., ed. cit., Introduction
20. Ibid., p. 3f.
21. Ibid., p. 32.
22. Ibid., p. 79.
23. Ibid., p. 78.
24. Ibid., p. 117f.
25. Ibid., p. 113.
26. Ibid., p. 137.
27. Ibid., p. 143.
28. Ibid., p. 145.
29. Ibid., p. 119.
30. Ibid., p. 121.
31. Ibid., p. 123.
32. Ibid., p. 132.
33. Ibid., p. 135.
34. Ibid., p. 164
35. Ibid., p. 155.
36. Ibid., p. 215.
37. Afterthoughts on Material Life and Capitalism, trans. by Patricia M. Ranum (Baltimore, 1977) passim.
38. The House of Saulx-Tavannes (Baltimore, 1971) passim.