Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Society of Women
By Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754)
From the ‘Epistles’: Translation of William Morton Payne

YOU express surprise that I, who am advanced in years, and have always been devoted to study, should take more satisfaction in the society of women than of men. But you will be still more surprised when I say that it is precisely on account of my studies that I seek such society. To make sense out of this paradox, you must know that when at home I am usually occupied with some sort of work that racks my brains, and go out only for the purpose of giving my head a necessary rest. Such rest may be comfortably enjoyed in the drawing-rooms of women, where there is heard as a rule only commonplace talk that calls for no meditation. And that is the reason why, when I have given myself a headache with study, I would rather go to see Madame N. N. than anybody else; for she will tell me nothing except what she has eaten during the day, or how many eggs her hens have laid that week, or other things of that sort, which neither rack the brains nor strain the sinews of the head.  1
  In men’s company, on the other hand, there are discourses that make the head swim. There is usually talk of judicial proceedings and affairs of State, which are useful enough matters, and even agreeable at the proper time, but not when one seeks society for the sole purpose of recreating the mind and giving the brain a rest. People begin, as soon as the first greetings are over, by explaining to me some matter that has that day been decided in court or council chamber, in order to get my opinion of it; or they entangle my wits in affairs of State, for which any new regulation or bit of fresh news affords a pretext; which is like proposing a game of chess to a man just out of his library, thus setting him to the work of study again.  2
  This is the reason why Englishmen, among other matters that give evidence of their discernment, do not like games that require meditation. Their Back Game [sic], for example, is not nearly so tedious as our forkering. The same can be said of their sports in the shape of cocks’ and bull-dogs’ fights, and others of the sort. Le jeu déchec, the French say, n’est pas assez jeu; that is, chess and other games of that sort are not amusement but study. Hence they are good for people who have nothing serious to do, and whose brains are in danger of rusting from idleness; but not for busy folks, who seek for recreation in games and society. We find in consequence that people of affairs set apart certain hours of the day in which they wish to hear nothing but innocent gossip; and it is related that for this reason Richelieu spent one hour of each day in such company, for he could not find his account in taking up metaphysical discussions when he had just left his cabinet all tired out. It was also for this reason that Socrates played with his children now and then. Another reason why I prefer to seek the society of women is this: when I come into men’s society, I am offered either a glass of wine or a pipe of tobacco, which is by no means to my taste. In women’s society, on the other hand, I get tea, coffee, and nonsensical chatter, which best suits my idle hours. Here you have the reasons for my conduct in this matter.
I remain, etc.    

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