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HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945
- Middle Classes
The nineteenth century in Europe is, in many ways, synonymous with the rise of the bourgeoisie. It is misleading, however, to consider this newly dominant middle class as a homogenous group; rather, the century may be more accurately described in terms of the rise of plural middle classes. While the classes comprising this group were united by their search for power based on property rights rather than hereditary privilege, they were otherwise strikingly diverse. Contemporary stereotypes of the bourgeois as a grasping philistine ought to therefore be nuanced. Along with the real, undeniable cruelty of many capitalists with respect to their workers, the middle classes also pioneered the first philanthropic voluntary associations, broadened the reach of public education, and inspired the development of effective birth control.
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European Civilization, 1648-1945
HIST 202 - Lecture 9 - Middle Classes
Chapter 1. The Nineteenth Century, the Bourgeois Century [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: You know why I am dressed up? When I do this course and when I do the first half of the French course I do a lecture on the bourgeoisie, the middle classes. Middle class was a form of self-identity that was constructed in the way being a worker was constructed, or being a noble. One day I was about to go out among you all and talk about Daumier, and show you some Daumier slides about the bourgeoisie, and my wife said to me, “You can’t go talk about the bourgeoisie looking like you usually do. You’ve got to look like you mean it, like you have a vague sense of knowing it.”
So, as a result, look at this. I wear this about once a year. Unfortunately, I wear it to funerals. The last time I wore it was something Bill Clinton had, some mutual friends. I only have one tie that I share with my son. We had to find him another tie underneath his soccer shoes. Then we got into New York and went to this party, and we’re all dolled up and all that. Then we went out to a restaurant and I lost my one tie. The last time I bought a tie, ties cost fifteen dollars. In Ann Arbor I bought a tie. This is a seventy-five dollar tie. This is my only tie. That’s a long way of answering your question about why I look like this today. But I hope to make some sense of that in the lecture. So, thank you very much. I didn’t set that question up, did I? I didn’t ask you, “Please ask that question.”
When you’re looking at me dressed, it’s not Halloween. That’s the first thing I thought. When you look at me dressed like this, please try to think, knowing me a little bit as you do, why it was that it meant a lot to dress like this in the nineteenth century. The middle classes started dressing like this in the nineteenth century, dark with a little bit of color. When you see Daumier or you see Delacroix’s famous, which I forgot the slide, Liberty Leading the People, and you see the bourgeois, there with his top hat, he’s dressed in a bourgeois uniform like this. That emerges out of the bourgeois century.
While last time we talked about the construction of class identity for ordinary people, for working people, the bourgeoisie had as strong a sense of self-identity as any social class you could imagine. It was, as I’ll make the point in a minute, difficult to get into that class if you weren’t born into it. The fear of falling out of it was something that helps motivate lots of political things in the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century, in terms of being the bourgeois century — one of the things you see in countries, particularly in western Europe and Great Britain, in France and in Germany, and in Italy, is you see the middle classes wanting the political power commensurate with their economic status.
If, in the eighteenth century — this is one of those truisms that happens to be true and can be exaggerated — the aristocracy, you were born into the aristocracy. If you hit the big time and you get lucky, you can buy your way in, thanks to the broke French monarchy. But the ideal aristocrat, and this is how an aristocrat would have talked about him or herself, was born into the aristocracy through blood, through family. It was an ascribed status. In the nineteenth century one of the things that happens with the French Revolution and with Napoleon is that the middle-class person and middle-class values seem to be something to be emulated.
Once we’ve got an increase in the wealth of the middle classes and the diversity and complexity that I’ll talk about in a minute, then you wanted the political power. You wanted the right to vote. You wanted access to information through the press and print culture. All of these things are closely tied to the middle classes. That’s what I’m going to talk about today. Most of it is about bourgeois culture. That’s why I’m dressed like this. I assure you that the minute this lecture is over, I will go back and like — I could never compare myself to Clark Kent — but I will find my phone booth and change back into normal duds. Let’s talk a little bit about the middle class in the bourgeois century.
The middle classes or the bourgeoisie are terms that we conveniently use. Marx talked about the bourgeoisie as being this extremely homogenous class. In fact, the word “bourgeois” has really more cultural connotations, maybe, than objective or social categorization, living in a bourgeois manner. We’ll see some aspects of that in terms of access to private space, middle-class concepts of childhood, and that sort of thing. Middle classes is probably a better term. Bourgeois is equivalent of burgher, but middle classes is probably, for our point of view, a better term. It seems rather odd to be talking about the English bourgeoisie of Leeds, about which there is an excellent book, because bourgeois, after all, started out as a French word.
Chapter 2. The Middle Class Work Ethic [00:06:04]
In using and indeed insisting on the term “middle classes,” what I’m suggesting is the enormous complexity of the middle class. There wasn’t just one middle class. Yet the middle classes shared some cultural values and symbols in common and when challenged by ordinary people could snap back in an extremely cohesive class-based manner. Marx had some of that quite correctly. In a Parisian newspaper called the Journal des Débats in 1847, someone actually did a pretty damn good job of describing the bourgeoisie. “The bourgeoisie is not a class,” the person argued. “It is a position. One acquires that position and one loses it. Work, thrift, and ability confer it,” he argued, referring to himself, of course. “Vice dissipation and idleness mean that it can be lost.”
And, so, that old kind of aristocratic ethos of not working, of being idle, although it can be exaggerated, as we’ve seen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nonetheless there was something to it. An eighteenth century noble let his fingernails grow long, sort of just hung out showing his good taste by living in an idle, aristocratic manner. The bourgeoisie did anything but that. Work was part of how they believed to get ahead, and getting ahead is what they wanted to do. The French Revolution, and here’s an important point, I guess, opened the way by removing legal blocks in very many places to the career open to talents.
Napoleon used to say tediously that in each soldier’s backpack there was a marshal’s baton, or staff that you could get promoted with good work, hard work, if you didn’t get your head blown off in one of these battles. But certainly one of the things that comes out of his insistence on service to the state is creating a whole series of rewards that recompensed virtuous action and hard work. That’s what the Légion d’honneur, the Legion of Honor was all about. Making money was part of it. Of course, it was always in the nineteenth century sort of classic to poke fun at bourgeois culture, and in some cases the lack of it, and to ascribe to the middle classes philistine habits in which making money was really the only thing that counted.
Certainly, Friedrich Engels, Marx’s socialist partner — obsessed, as well he should have been, with the slums of the satanic mills of Manchester — he once wrote the following. He says, “One day I walked with one of these middle class gentlemen into Manchester. I spoke to him about the disgraceful, unhealthy slums and drew his attention to the disgusting condition of that part of town in which the factory workers lived. I declared that I’d never seen so badly built a town in my life. He listened patiently and at the end of the corner of a street at which we parted, he remarked, ‘And yet, there is a good deal of money to be made here. Good morning, sir. And he walked away.”
One employer wrote in the 1830s that, relative to his workers — is that the worker, I couldn’t invent this, “should be constantly harassed by need, for then he will not set his children a bad example and his poverty will be the guarantee of good behavior.” Of course, this is a caricature of middle class self-absorption, of narcissism, of this inveterate cruelty to the classes below them. On the other hand, the more we study the middle classes — and in the 1960s people really didn’t study the middle classes because they didn’t like them very much. They studied workers. But there’s been an awful lot of good work done on the middle classes. Among them my dear friend Peter Gay, his five volumes of the Bourgeois Century, take on the idea that the middle class lived without passion, and were philistines, and that sort of thing.
Chapter 3. Voluntary Organizations of the Middle Classes: Charity and Religion [00:10:57]
The more we look at the middle class now, we see certainly that no matter where you look one of the things the middle class people did was form voluntary associations. Aristocrats didn’t form voluntary associations. They didn’t need to. The middle class formed voluntary associations, and many of these were for extremely charitable purposes, particularly in Britain. Again, the study that I referred to by somebody called Morris — I think it’s Morris — on Leeds shows the kind of richness and depth to these voluntary associations in which people try to do an awful lot for ordinary people. It has a sense of moralizing. There’s always this sort of top-down look about moralizing them, and trying to get the workers to drink less, trying to get them to go to church, trying to get them, when it was possible, for their children to become educated and stay in school.
There’s always this tension between families who needed children’s income, however small that was. Across the nineteenth century, over a very long period, laws finally by the end of the century in most places made at least primary education obligatory, and in most cases free. Here’s a ridiculous example. It’s not a ridiculous example if you love animals. I’m a cat person, as I already said. The Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, these sorts of organizations really are one of the classic examples of bourgeois voluntary associations doing good things. They also get together to hang out with each other and sort of try to gauge who has more money than the other, and they get together for social reasons in the coffeehouses of England, and in the clubs, circles you call them in France, and their equivalents in Germany, and Italy, and Spain.
One of the more ludicrous kind of mottos, we call it a devise, a motto, of the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals was in one of the organizations in France, which said, “One must love animals, but not fraternize with animals.” I don’t know what that means, but the main thing is that they wanted to save animals from being beaten, almost beaten to death in many cases of horses. You can see how, in places in which bullfighting over the long run in the nineteenth and twentieth century, such as the very south of France and in Spain — there were always movements to try to protect the bulls, which seems like a reasonable thing to do.
For all the bad press that the middle class has had, and you can read some of this bad press in what you’re reading, there is also this good side that should be evoked as well. That’s a period. Certainly, in terms of organized religion, the middle class goes to church more than ordinary people, than workers, for sure. In the case of peasants it depends on where. As I said before, in many parts of France, the example that’s well studied, you still had this de-Christianization. But certainly religion was a fundamental part of the British middle class’s view of itself. The percentage of people who went to church could be exaggerated.
There was a study in all of England. I don’t think it was in Wales and Scotland, but at least it was in England, maybe in Wales, too, probably in Wales as well. I think it was in 1851 where they decided to look at every single church in England and Wales, let’s say, and to see how many people went to church. They found to their horror that it was less than they thought. They also discovered that if everybody who had wanted to go to church had gone to various churches, Methodist for more ordinary people, Anglican, Catholic for the Irish and for a certain minority of British citizens, or Jews going to synagogue in the east end of London, that they couldn’t have accommodated all these people. So there’s a massive kind of church building campaign that has its counterpart in almost every country as well. Certainly in France after the Paris Commune of 1871 they start building churches in the working class districts perched on the edge of cities. More about that in another lecture. One could go on and on about this.
Religion for the middle classes has a greater role in their lives than in working class cities. In the case of the peasants, there weren’t any peasants left in England. I’ll talk about that and it will be fun to talk about in one of these lectures. Anyway, there we go.
Chapter 4. Demographics of the Middle Class [00:15:49]
How many people would have considered themselves middle-class? Again, self-identity, how people thought of themselves is one of those aspects that we want to discuss. How do we know? How would you know who is middle-class? When they first started doing censuses — and censuses are really a nineteenth-century phenomenon, and subsequent centuries, as I said before. The first census was in Copenhagen, I think, in the eighteenth century.
The first real censuses do not come until the nineteenth century almost everywhere. They didn’t ask people — they asked you your name and where you lived. In some cases they asked you your profession. But they did not say, “Are you middle class?” or “Are you not middle class?” There was a whole lot of work done in the 1970s on what they used to call the new urban history, which is counting people up and deciding who might well have considered themselves middle-class. There are a lot of dissertations written on that kind of thing. There was one in the case of Paris. Inevitably I have to talk some about Paris because the work is so rich there.
A woman called Adeline Daumard wrote a dissertation that was subsequently published called Les Bourgeois de Paris, or The Bourgeois of Paris in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. What she did is she looked at wills. The middle-class people had enough money to leave wills, therefore, their inventories after death. That’s what you call them. That’s one of the reasons we know about the explosion of print culture, because they inventoried the books that people read. I mentioned this in the context of Enlightenment, too, because you do have that, too. Taking the kinds of ways that she looked at social class, she determined that somewhere between seventeen and nineteen percent of the Parisian population in the first half of the nineteenth century would have been considered bourgeois, and would have considered themselves bourgeois, that is, in the middle classes. In Britain the percentage is higher. It probably approaches twenty-five percent. I can’t remember the exact figures. That percent will continue to increase in the nineteenth century.
You can already very well anticipate, from what you already know, where other parts of Europe that have large important middle classes. The old Hanseatic port cities of German, the German free cities that would become part of unified Germany in 1871 — northern German cities in general, like Bremen, and Lübeck, and Hamburg above all. Hamburg’s a huge port city. It’s got a very enormous bourgeoisie. If you went to Madrid, you’d find a sizeable middle class, but it would be nothing that you would have if you compared Madrid to Barcelona. Barcelona is a really natural economy based upon important economic relations between its hinterland and Barcelona, and between Barcelona and the world, because it’s a major port. So, you’ve got this big teaming middle class there as well.
In the case of France, obviously places that have lots of industry and small businesses have middle-class people in large numbers, though not as large numbers as workers. Lyon would be a good example. Lyon has the most tightly closed middle class that you can imagine and still is. Lyon is very Lyon. What can one say? Again, northern Italy you find a huge vibrant middle class, but not in southern Italy. Naples is one of the biggest cities in Europe right through the early-modern period. You’ve got a large middle class, but most of Italy is extremely rural and what you had in Rome is you had clergy. It’s a city, so you’ve got an important middle class.
The further east you get, the smaller the middle class gets. In Russia, the estimates are about two percent of the population were middle class. Two percent, which isn’t very much at all. And, of course, they are clustered in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, and in Kiev, now Ukraine, always Ukraine but then part of Russia, in the large cities. In Poland, Warsaw had a large — I was just at a history museum, a fascinating one at Warsaw Museum a couple months ago. Warsaw, as Krakow, had a big middle class. Gdańsk, obviously, because it’s a port city — but much of Poland was rural and wouldn’t have that kind of middle class. Belgrade would have been the only city in the Balkans, outside of Istanbul, but Istanbul isn’t in the Balkans, but with an important middle class. This is all perfectly obvious.
Chapter 5. Variations within the Bourgeoisie: From Financiers to Schoolteachers [00:20:39]
Anyway, who are these folks and what do they want? They’re not all — how am I going to do this? I’m going to do it like this. You have to imagine the middle class like this, that it’s a pyramid. It’s a pyramid with a small top and a big bottom. I’ll show you a lithograph that really represents, two of these, in very interesting ways, I think compelling ways at the beginning. At the very top — think of Zurich. Think of any city you want. Zurich has a big middle class. So does Geneva for obvious reasons. But at the very top there are the great bourgeoisie, the big bourgeoisie. These are people who are big financiers. The nineteenth century bankers will become much more important for perfectly obvious reasons. These are big wholesale merchants who are making bundles shipping things from here to there. You won’t yet find lawyers and people like that.
What also makes them the high bourgeoisie or the big bourgeoisie, a small percentage, it doesn’t really matter where this line goes, is that they have access to political power. Even if they’re in Prussia, a place that’s dominated by the nobles who are called the Junkers, as most of you know, they will still have access by virtue of their wealth to political power, which is exactly the way they want it. There’s a revolution in France in 1830, yet another one that you can read about. Arguably — Marx says this and in a way it’s sort of true — what it does is it brings to power in France the big bourgeoisie, and they have the ear of the king, Louis-Philippe, who calls himself the Citizen King. He would rule from 1830 to 1848.
In the portraits of him, the paintings that he had done to represent who he was are very different than those of the Bourbon kings. The Bourbon kings are all looking like, even the pathetic successors of Louis XIV, they’re looking like big people in chateaus who are kings of all that they see, which of course was more or less the case. Louis-Philippe’s view of himself was that he was the Citizen King. That’s what he calls himself. He’s still the king. He was noble. He was not any bourgeois. But in the official paintings of him you see people dressed like me who are coming into the throne room. They’re dressed like me in dark suits. They have power. He wants them in the painting with him. That’s terribly revealing. It’s terribly interesting.
So, these are people, these are big bankers, high financiers at the top. Then you’ve got other layers of bourgeoisie. You can kind of fill in the gap. Here we have smaller bankers, not in size but in money, industrialists, merchants, these kinds of people, and Daumier’s, the great caricaturist’s, least favorite people — lawyers. Lawyers rise up rapidly in popular esteem and usefulness. The middle class likes to see themselves as useful. You find lawyers reaching in there and, slowly, doctors. Remember doctors had very low social status. They were sort of a cut above the bad pun I make in what you read, ordinary field surgeons during Napoleonic battles, some of whom were butchers or people that knew how to wield a knife.
Doctors increase a self-identity and become more important in the nineteenth century. You also find notaries no matter what country you’re in. Notaries have a much bigger role in Europe than they do here. Notaries know where all the goodies are. When you buy property in France, by the way, if you have a mortgage you pay twelve percent right off the top goes to the notary just for holding in his office your deed. If you don’t have a mortgage, you pay seven percent right off the top. So, notaries know all of the secrets of people with money. Notaries are important in all these countries, et cetera, et cetera. You can kind of fill in the occupation, but they share things together.
Then at the bottom you have the petty bourgeoisie, and everybody’s making fun of the petty bourgeoisie, but they too had a self-identity. I found one day in the stacks of the library at the University of Michigan a pamphlet that was actually the report on what surely must have been the last, but in any case was the first World Congress of the Petty Bourgeoisie. They met, appropriately enough, in Brussels. Can you imagine going to a professional history conference where they all had their little nametags? All they do is they start up your body and look at your nametags, and see if it’s worth looking at your face. It’s really pathetic.
Can you imagine going to a conference like the World Congress of the Petty Bourgeoisie? “Hi, my name is Albert.” But they had a self-identity. Who are in the petty bourgeoisie? Lots of these classically new nineteenth-century professions — schoolteachers. Schoolteachers were a way of social mobility for peasant families, whether they were in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, no matter where they were. Out of the working class or out of the peasantry female schoolteachers become increasingly more important. They always were in Catholic schools because they were nuns with the big hats and all that, and doing a very good job, even though often they were undereducated and it was kind of hard for them to do that. But schoolteachers you’d find here, and also café or tavern owners, weinstube owners. I’m just giving you a couple examples. These are the petty bourgeoisie.
Also, very importantly, what do you do with artisans and craftsmen? Master artisans own the tools that their journeymen work with. They rent or own their shops. When things are going pretty well they do pretty well themselves. But when things aren’t going well, they don’t do well. That’s why they’re on the barricades all these times, as you know, in the French Revolution — the French revolutions, and in the revolutions of 1848, as you shall discover in Vienna and Berlin, and other places. They’re always there. These folks are here, too. This is your basic petty bourgeoisie. People are always dumping all over them needlessly. I will give you some example. If you’ve ever read the great French novelist — he was paid by the word, as you can see when he has descriptions of single sofas that go on for about two pages, but Balzac.
Balzac is really the novelist of the bourgeoisie. When he describes Paris and the seventeen to nineteen percent of the population who are increasingly living in the western part of Paris, more about that another time, he describes it as a jungle. You count your money in the morning and then you count your money when you come home. By the way, your wife, who would in the census be listed as not working. If you were a shopkeeper, your wife was the one who kept care of the accounts. Your wife was the one who stood behind the counter when you were working, when you were an artisan. He describes this as a jungle. In order to really give an image of what it was like, I’ve got to find this thing someplace, but he’s got this one magnificent print called the “Street of the Four Winds.”
That’s a street in Paris, rue des quatre vents, near the Odéon. It doesn’t matter. But here’s a guy dressed like me. There’s a theme in this. He’s dressed like me and he’s wearing his bourgeois hat. I don’t have one of those. My only hat has an M for Michigan on it. His one suit isn’t going to blow off his body. But the wind is taking his hat, which is a symbol of who he is. The wind is carrying it away from his hand. In several hundred brushstrokes, Daumier captures the look of panic on his face because he’s going to go home without his hat, and his wife’s going to say, “Where’s your hat?” He’ll say, “The wind blew it away,” and he’s got to buy one, and they’ve got to put the money together so he is not going to fall off the ladder in this jungle.
Then you have to imagine this as a ladder, like this. Social mobility is the goal. You want to have enough money to leave to your 2.2 children. Then to really make this go you’d have to have vines up here like the jungle. Then you’d have to grease this pole through bad economic times. Let’s say in Europe 1816-17 — don’t write this down, if you do, you’re compulsive — I’m compulsive — but 1826-27, 1840-41, really bad one, 1846-47, 1855, those are the really bad years. At that point, if you don’t get credit, that’s what’s going on now, here. If you can’t get credit because people withdraw the credit, same thing, then here you go. Look out below. You slide down this pole. What happens down below here? Holy cow! That’s the big sea.
I saw this wretched movie called the Poseidon Adventure once. It had an image where the water is kind of coming up below and it’s going to finally get to the top and there’s no more room to breathe. This is how the people on the bottom part of this ladder viewed the demands of the working class. They want to vote, too. What if they vote and somebody wants to raise your taxes or something like that? Boy, that’s scary. But what’s down here? This is ordinary people. This is the other, what would it be in the case of Paris, eighty-three percent of the population. You’re going to fall into the ranks of the proletariat if you’re on the bottom rungs here. This is your jungle and you’re trying to make it up there to the big time. The chances are that in these bad years you’re going to fall down. But yet lots of people get up and the ranks of the middle class increases everywhere in the nineteenth century, in Russia, too, everywhere. That’s simply the case.
Now, if I could just bring this down and show you how this works, and talk about some accoutrements of middle class culture that you will recognize, many of you. This is the guy at the top. This is Daumier. Daumier is the greatest caricaturist in the nineteenth century and arguably ever, to make an extreme assertion, but it really is pretty true. This is what he captures, the prevailing mood in much of Europe in that money, more than blood if you were going to exclude places like Hungary, Poland, Spain, and Prussia, money talks more than blood. What is the man doing? He’s counting his money. Remember I said that you counted your money in the morning and then you came home at night, and counted your money again to see how you’ve done. This is great.
Remember I said the variations within the bourgeoisie? You can see this. Some of these images, this is really not very interesting art, but that’s not the point. Look what this shows. The guy at the left here is a clerk. That’s a very nineteenth-century profession, as it is for every subject. By the way, this is before the 1860s, because that’s when real fountain pens are invented. He’s got your basic quill pen there. Now look at the coats. They both have coats like mine, but there’s a huge difference in them. This guy, if you have extraordinary eyes and can read upside down, you will be able to see that he is reading a newspaper on the price of colonial goods, imports. He is a wholesale merchant. He’s one of these people that’s at the very top of my triangle there. Look, this guy’s got his coat, too.
This is early in the century. You can tell. This is either the son-in-law or the would-be son-in-law. The bourgeoisie didn’t kiss and hug a lot. But he’s got his hand draped rather daintily on the old guy’s arm here. He’s not about to embrace him and give him a big kiss on each cheek. One day all of this stuff will be his, if he plays his cards right. They still had arranged marriages. Love could count for something, but marriages were still essentially, less so for the middle classes than for ordinary people, but economic relationships. That’s what they were. They were economic relationships, wrangling over the dowry and that kind of thing. Look at our guy on the left. He’s working very hard there. This pole that is put up there has a real sense of dividing these. It’s like the barriers on my quite arbitrary, and not terribly well designed, triangle there.
Do these people have something in common? Yes, they will in 1830 and they will in 1848, but the rest of the time they don’t. He’s dreaming about being this guy. He’ll work very hard and he’s educated. He had probably not secondary education. Most people didn’t go to high school, secondary, lycée in France or gymnasium in Germany, et cetera, et cetera. It represents this world. By the way, we also know that this takes place in the center of Paris, right behind a big department store, subsequently the Hotel de Ville, but right near the town hall. Anyway, there we go. I’ve got to get my watch so I can keep track of things here. This is very common. You see this in the book you’re reading, I think. These things can be represented spatially very easily.
Chapter 6. The Homes of the Bourgeoisie: Common Cultural Accoutrements [00:35:18]
One of the themes of the long run is the emergence of increased development of prosperous western Paris, prosperous western London, prosperous center Vienna and other places, and increasingly impoverished east and the periphery. That’s another theme. Still, through much of the period, and to a lesser extent still today, where you live in a building reflected how much money you had. The ground floor, in French the rez-de-chaussée — this is the concierge there. The concierge will be somebody of very modest means. You’d probably place them in the petty bourgeoisie there. Then the big apartment on the first floor, high ceilings, big party, lots of people dressed like me there, a piano, more about pianos in a minute.
So, this is my triangle upside down, isn’t it? The more you go up there, you’re still within the middle class. The guy above has these little Napoleonic beds there. I hope he’s not closing his ears against his own baby there — but no, obviously this is a different house. He’s a musician. This is all rather banal but nonetheless telling. You’ve got an artist up here with not much money, but he still has a little bit of furniture, not much, his nosey neighbor looking at his painting. Then on the top you’ve got the poorest of them all, besides the cat who’s on the roof up there, you’ve got a seamstress. Anyone looking at this very popular lithograph would immediately see that she has some dignity left. Why? Because she has not yet pawned her mattress. In Zola’s great novel, L’Assommoir, Gervaise dies like a dog on a bed of straw, because there was no more mattress. She must be at the very top.
Now these rooms then became in the twentieth century student rooms and then were transformed into enormously expensive lofts. But this is a way of visualizing the special concomitance of what I’m talking about. People were aware of what these symbols meant. This is your classic Hamburg financier’s apartment. We don’t need to go on and on about the kind of material culture of wealth, but there it is. Let’s go on and on about it in another one that’s easier to pick up for your eyes there. Here again, we know we’re on one of the lower floors. Why? Because you see the trees outside the window. You’ve got a domesticated animal. Ordinary people didn’t have as many domesticated — dogs had a real purpose. They bring the sheep down the mountain. My wife just came down the mountain two weeks ago bringing the sheep down from friends of ours in the village. All these dogs are useful things to keep the sheep in line and all of that.
This is all obvious stuff. You’ve got slippers. Ordinary people did not wear slippers. You’ve got a domestic servant. Domestic servants cost almost nothing. It was considered to be a way of moving up the ladder to say that you had four domestic servants instead of three. You’ve got brass or copper here on the heater. That’s a good sign. You’ve got very fancy chairs. Look, these are very good chairs, sort of Louis-Philippe chairs. You’ve got print culture, a big old porcelain plate above there, and you’ve got that bourgeois accoutrement, the piano. The piano replaces the harpsichord.
Leon Plantinga, who is in J.E. College, who’s a retired professor of music, has got great stuff on this, the role of the piano and the emergence, along with William Weber, who taught at Long Beach, the emergence of the public concert, as opposed to the chateau concert or the church concert, the public concert. Along with that comes the piano. Pianos were expensive, but the middle class has pianos. Working people don’t have pianos. Middle-class people have pianos. You also see something else that’s important here. There’s more than one room. You’ll see in a minute there’s even more than two rooms. There are lots of rooms.
What the middle class wants, all those people in that triangle, they want privacy. They want privacy. They want their own rooms. She’s playing the piano. It’s all obvious stuff. There’s the kitchen. This is not the wife. This is the domestic with her children, who are part of the team who has been hired to help run this household. There again you see the trees. We’re in the same apartment there. You have real, real copper pots. Back before the Bush dollar, people would buy, bring back from Paris and from Europe these enormously heavy copper pots. I’ve carried so many of them back. It’s just incredible. Ordinary people did not cook with things like that. There we go. These are the kinds of symbols of all of this.
The middle class wants privacy and they also developed something else. This is almost trite to say, because so many people have said it and it can be exaggerated, but the middle class arguably helps create the notion of childhood. In many early-modern paintings children are portrayed as sort of little squished up adults and that sort of thing. Children come into their own in the nineteenth century. Ordinary peasants’ children, everybody slept with the animals often along with the adults. Most ordinary people — and some of the worst tenements in Europe were in Edinburgh, and in Glasgow, and in Lille in France, but also in Berlin and lots of places. There were no secrets. Everybody slept in the same room. There were no secrets at all. What the middle class wants, besides social mobility and access to political power, is they want space.
The notion of childhood, childhood didn’t exist for ordinary people. You started working, helping out when you were five or six years old. You started tending the animals in the little courtyard as they would call it, taking care of chickens and rabbits, and things like that. Working people, their children went to work right away, as soon as they could make anything. If they were poor and didn’t have jobs, then they were sent out to beg. Childhood became a middle class phenomenon. To be sure, nobles had children, but it was a different way of bringing up your children. Nobles did not send their children to public schools or even to private schools. They were educated, to some extent at least, by private tutors.
Even the notion of the children’s hour, the children’s room, the idea of a children’s room, of having your own room or a room shared with a sibling, was something that was just inconceivable for the majority of Europeans, the vast, vast majority of Europeans. The children’s hour — I can even remember the horror show of being summoned for the children’s hour, when you’re supposed to come out when there were guests and run through your extraordinarily modest bag of tricks for the guests. Then you would be sent sort of packing. Since I couldn’t play a note on the piano, I had been expelled from piano after two weeks and sent back to the playing fields by a nun in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t have many tricks to show. But the children’s hour, all of this stuff comes out of the middle class.
How about birth control? How about not having ten or eleven children? We have friends, one of whom unfortunately just died, very older friends who were born in the early 1930s in the south of France. One had thirteen brothers and sisters, and the other eleven. They grew up in absolute misery. They were a very, very Catholic family in the center of France. The middle class, particularly the French middle class, start reducing their number of children. France is a particular case because they get rid of — you could get around it by primogeniture. The plot of land has to be divided up into two, or three, or four, or five, or twelve. What if you own no land? Not so good. So, they begin having 2.2 children or something like that.
Birth control — in some parts of Europe people think that birth control really started with peasants and then moves up to the upper classes, but basically, particularly in the case of France where it’s been, like most things, studied to death, birth control really begins with the middle classes. They are limiting their children so that their children can be the son of, and inherit the business and hopefully be left with enough money to make it go. A print culture. That was just an example. The whole salon, the idea of going to see art shows. It really starts in the eighteenth century. The middle class wants to be seen rather like the Dutch middle class that we talked about in the seventeenth century. They want to be seen having paintings. They wait in line to go to theatres.
This is all Daumier. This is the morceau, the piece that you’re obliged to swallow after dinner. Here’s the little girl being trotted out to play a few notes for the quite bored people who are sitting there and waiting. Even the idea of “It’s your birthday, papa.” You didn’t take time out to celebrate a birthday if you were an ordinary person having to get to the fields at 4:00 in the morning in the summer, or going to work during the day. The culture of childhood is really all there. Also, there’s a whole notion, and here again this would probably fit rather awkwardly into the birth control description, but there’s this whole sense of being prepared that emerges with the middle class. One of those sort of accoutrements — I once, when I gave the equivalent of this lecture, I had an old battered umbrella. I was trying to explain how people on the top rung were trying to beat down people at the bottom. I ended up smashing this umbrella, sort of the imaginary of somebody smashing their guitar onstage.
But the point is that the umbrellas come with the middle class. They are black umbrellas. They’re not these big colored things you have now. It was the idea of protecting that one suit. I’m from Oregon. We didn’t carry umbrellas, because it rained all the time anyway and I’d just lose it. Umbrellas are middle-class accoutrements along with the piano and along with the children’s room, and along with the children’s hour, and along with the idea of not having too many children, and along with the top hat, and with the idea of wanting access to information through the newspapers, wanting the right to vote, probably not wanting those people down below you on the ladder to vote, but demanding that you have the right to vote. They all shared these things in common.
Lastly — gazing at his watch — in the last one minute thirty-five seconds that remains to me, the bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and this is particularly true of Germany and France, and of England, too, and of other places — they want the right to bear arms. They want to be in the national guard. The national guard might hypothetically be there in case there was an invasion of France or Germany by, I don’t know, some distant place, the Fins or something most unlikely. But the main reason they wanted to join the national guard — and you had to own property to be in the national guard. You had to be defined as a property-owning citizen to have the right to vote. In all of these countries the right to vote was defined, until you have universal male suffrage, by how much taxes you paid and how much property you own.
You can measure where you are on this ladder by how much taxes you paid. They didn’t want to pay a lot of taxes, but property reflects one’s belief in one’s own social worth. That’s the way they looked at it. No longer was it the worth of blood. So, they formed these national guards, particularly after revolutions and after 1848, or after 1830. For a while they go march around. But these are mainly there to protect them against the workers. Should one day all of these people try to rise up, climb up this ladder, you’ll be down there to stomp on their fingers or to shoot them down. It doesn’t last very long. Pretty soon, this guy’s tired.
This isn’t Daumier. I don’t know who it is. It doesn’t matter. It’s not very good. He’s had it. He’s freezing. His wife is kind of looking at him like, “I don’t know why you’re doing this stuff, marching around in the middle of the night. No one’s going to rise up anyway.” This won’t last. His old blunderbuss there on the let will be put back in the closet, or taken out to slay deer, or some damn thing. That will be the end of it and they’ll turn it over to more professional repressive forces such as armies. Daumier’s light lines, and this is the last one, disappear in this painting, which is called the Rue Transnonain, April 15, 1934-don’t write it down, in Paris. It’s a street that no longer exists.
It disappeared when Haussmann built the boulevards in the 1850s and 1860s. It was selected to disappear because it recalled an event in the early 1830s when these bourgeois panicked and start going into a house full of very ordinary people and simply shooting them all. The light lines disappear with Daumier. He did another one of these after a massacre in 1848 in Rouen and it’s been lost. We don’t have it. Rue Transnonain. H.D. Daumier at the bottom left. The middle classes, for all of their insistence that they have access to information, at least in the case of France they cheered on a press law in 1835 that kept Daumier from touching political scenes such as this which were deemed too sensitive. The rue Transnonain, where this happened in the center of Paris, simply disappeared. It didn’t quite disappear from the collective memory of people thinking about Parisian things.
In conclusion, the middle classes extremely vary. They share much. They have a common material culture. They share a belief in achieved status, as measured by the amount of property that you had. They want to vote. They want a collective voice in decisions. For all the variety within the middle classes, so beautifully depicted by Daumier and other people, they still, when push came to shove, shared an awful lot in the bourgeois century, that of the nineteenth century. Have a good weekend. See you on Monday.
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