French and English: Fifth Paper



EUROPEAN travelers in the more benighted parts of Asia, such, for example, as the interior of Arabia, have sometimes had to contend with a peculiar difficulty in making their nationality clear. The ignorant Orientals class all Europeans together as one nation. Mr. Palgrave found, in his Eastern travels, that the people imagine all Europeans to be citizens of one town. “ Europe they know to be Christian, but they conceive it to be one town, neither more nor less, within whose mural circuit its seven kings — for that is the precise number, count them how you please — are shut up in a species of royal cage, to deliberate on mutual peace or war, alliance or treaty, though always by permission and under the orders of the Sultan of Constantinople.” These ideas, it may be supposed, could exist only in the most unenlightened regions of central Arabia, where the European traveler hardly ever penetrates. Not so. Mr. Palgrave tells us that this admirable geographical and political lesson was inculcated to him “not once, but twenty times or more, at Homs, Bagdad, Mosool, and even Damascus.” In central Arabia ignorance about foreigners went a little further, as might be expected from the isolation of that part of the world. There he was often asked, with the utmost seriousness, “ whether any Christians or other infidels yet existed in the world.”

This is an extreme case, but we find in the writings of other travelers the statement of a natural difficulty in distinguishing English from French, for example. English and French are men of the same nation; they have the same character, the same habits, the same faults, and when one of the two peoples has committed some injustice, the other is held responsible for it.

In England and France a sharper distinction is established. In both these countries it is clearly understood that the English are people of one nationality, and the French of another. Differences of character are also recognized: for instance, in England it is well known that the English are serious, moral, religious, and humane, whereas the French are frivolous, licentious, tyrannical, quarrelsome, and cruel. In France it is equally well known that “ les Français sont sympathiques, francs, droits, et désintéressés, tandisque les Anglais sont tortueuse, déloyaux, froids, orgueilleux, et égosïtes.” In this accumulation of adjectives we possess undoubtedly the means of establishing a plain distinction between the two nations ; but if this were insufficient, we might remember that “ la France est le pays du bon sens comme l’Angleterre est celui de l’excentricité.”

“When, however, we pass from the nations considered as simply two distinct masses, and try to find what each knows of the other in detail, we find the prevailing opinion to be that there is no variety in the human species as it exists on the opposite side of the Channel. Each nation is well aware that there is an infinite variety of character within its own borders, but it fails to imagine that a like variety can exist in a foreign country. Not only is this inability common amongst those who have traveled little and read little ; it may also be found in writers of eminence, who frequently fall into the error of describing the inhabitants of a foreign country as if they were all alike, especially when the description is intended to be unfavorable.

Yet before coming to the differences between individuals, which are almost as numerous as the individuals themselves, it will be easy to show that in countries so great and populous as England and France there are provincial differences which are complicated with differences of race. In the single island of Great Britain we have, first, three distinct nations, which have preserved national feelings and traditions. All Britons know that there are differences of character between Englishmen and Scotchmen ; so that if an inhabitant of one of these two nations were extremely like an inhabitant of the other, there would still remain certain ineluctable contrasts of nationality. There is scarcely any feeling of hostility between the better classes of English people and the same classes beyond the border,1 but they look upon each other as friendly foreigners, united by political ties, sitting in the same parliament, owning allegiance to the same crown, and yet, in spite of the union, still not of the same nation. A distinguished Scotchman defined the case to me neatly in this way. He said : “ With regard to all Continental people, I am quite willing to be looked upon as an Englishman, and believe that as far as they are concerned I have all the feelings of an Englishman. So a Frenchman may call me un Anglais, if he likes, and will not make a mistake of any importance in doing so. But with regard to all English people I am thoroughly and uncompromisingly Scotch.” The national feeling of the Welsh is less known, because their literature is less known than that of Lowland Scotland; but national Welsh feelings are not extinct, and they are beginning to make themselves felt with quite unexpected strength, now that there is some chance that the feelings of dependent nations will be listened to.

It is unnecessary for my present purpose to attempt a definition of the differences that mark the three nationalities in Great Britain. They are to be felt rather than described. If an author cared more for effect than for truth, he might easily, from the Englishman’s point of view, draw a striking picture of the more obvious Scottish inferiorities; and a Scottish writer, with the consciousness of belonging to the smaller and weaker nation, might have his revenge in another way by exposing the almost incredible ignorance of everything peculiarly Caledonian that is prevalent south of the Tweed. If I attempted the comparison, it would be by the slow and perhaps tiresome process here adopted with reference to the French, and there is not room for two such comparisons in one work.

All that needs to be said here is that the same error of supposing all the people in a nation to be alike has betrayed itself notably with regard to Scotland in the inability to make the necessary degree of distinction between Highlanders and Lowlanders. They are spoken of equally as Scotch, yet the difference is not less marked, in reality, than if they were separate nations. The Highlanders still retain (or did retain when I knew them) many of the characteristics of a social state from which the Lowlanders have long since emerged. They were noble rather than industrial in their tastes and instincts, disposed for field sports more than for the improvement of their condition by labor. Dr. Macculloch’s description of their inertia at the beginning of the century was still applicable. The people did not move, of themselves, towards a better condition ; they had not the spirit of improvement. They were surrounded, it is true, by natural circumstances of some difficulty, especially those caused by the severity of the climate, but they were far from making the most of such opportunities as they possessed. For example, in gardening, they did not grow, and they could not be induced to grow, the vegetables which the climate allows, even although the want of them brought on scurvy. Their habitations were wanting in every comfort, being almost in the lowest stage of cottage-building, irregular walls of rude stone, with a small hole (glazed, however) for a window and a low thatch, the fire very commonly on the floor, and the peat-reek escaping through an opening in the roof. There was no spirit of enterprise to improve the ground about the habitations, or to make communication easier when the public road (due to English military energy) did not happen to be close at hand. In a word, there was nothing of that fruitful discontent which leads the advancing races to incessant improvements. Without the neighborhood of the Lowland Scotch and the visits of the English, the Highlanders would certainly have remained in a very early stage of civilization. That early stage has its qualities and merits. The Highlanders have good manners. Poor or rich, they are naturally gentlemen, and they show a fine endurance of hardship winch, from the stoic and heroic side, is evidently superior to the love of luxury that develops itself so wonderfully in the south.

On the other hand, it is not the Highlanders, but the Lowland Scotch, who have made the name of Scotland great. It is they who have made the land famous as a leader in literature, with a certain distinction in the fine arts, a considerable eminence in science, and a very great and notable eminence in all industrial pursuits. The Lowlanders have written the famous books, and built the great fleets of ocean-going steamers. It is they who have made Edinburgh a capital of intelligence, and Glasgow a capital of industry. The Highland race had nothing but its valor and a few legendary poems ; no architecture beyond the building of a few rude small castles, no arts beyond the design of a brooch or the arrangement of the crossing stripes in a plaid.

The natural civilization of the Highlander, that is, the civilization to which he naturally attains and there stops, may be truly described as an early, but not as a low, state of civilization. It is not low nor despicable, because it includes good feeling, gentle manners, a religious ideal, and even an aptitude for learning; but it certainly is, in all material things, exceedingly simple and primitive. The Lowlanders, on the contrary, have an aptitude and a genius for a kind of civilization not less complex and advanced than that we find in England ; and at the same time, because their minds are of the industrial rather than the noble type, they have not the gentle manners of the Highlanders. Good manners are not inbred in them, though they are acquired in the superior classes as a part of culture. In the lower classes there is a sluggish indisposition to be polite, a sort of repugnance to polish of manner, as if it were an unmanly dandyism, a feeling that answers to a plain man’s dislike to jewelry and fine clothes. Even in religion the difference is discernible. It is true that the Highlanders are not Roman Catholics, like the Irish, but they have little of the Protestant Pharisaism which is common in the Lowlands. For example, if a map of Scotland were shaded in proportion to the malignity of Sabbatarianism, the darkest places would not be far north of the Clyde, nor west of the Kyles of Bute.

Now, although we have admitted that there is a difference between England and Scotland generally, there are differences between some parts of each country and other parts of the same which are deeper than those between the two nations. For example, there is a far greater difference, in the essentials of civilization, between the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland than there is between the Lowlands and the county of Lancaster. Lancashire has so strong a character of its own that it may almost be considered a nation within a nation. The accident by which it is a royal duchy, as Wales is a principality, may be an additional excuse for considering Lancashire, for the present, as a little nation within its own frontiers. It is fairly comparable, in wealth and population, not only to the Lowlands, but to the entire kingdom of Scotland. The population of Lancashire in 1881 was to that of Scotland as thirty-four to thirtyseven, and to that of Switzerland as thirty-four to twenty-eight, in round numbers.

Now, if we look to essentials, and not to names, is it not evident that the Lancashire people are much nearer to the southern Scotch than the Highlanders are to either ? All the characteristics that mark southern Scotchmen reappear in Lancashire, whilst those characteristics that belong especially to the Highlands are absent from Lancashire. The Lancastrians, like the Lowland Scotch, are a most energetic race, that would never rest contented with a low degree of material civilization, — a race with a remarkable genius for industry and trade, having a great love of comfort, and yet at the same time a remarkable willingness to sacrifice personal ease for the attainment of greater wealth.2 Again, although Lancashire has not produced authors and artists of such fame as the greatest that have illustrated Scotland, it has given warm encouragement to literature and the fine arts, especially to modern painting. If you pass to the comparison of religion and manners, you find manners independent and often rude, as amongst the Lowlanders, and religion inclining to the severer forms of Protestantism, with a marked Sabbatarian tendency. I visited London once with a friend from Lancashire, who was truly representative of the county, which he had hardly ever quitted, and I well remember that he was quite as much put out by the London Sunday as a Scottish Lowlander could have been.

Some light may be thrown on these similarities by the recollection that the western Lowlands of Scotland and Lancashire are parts of old Strathclyde, so that the inhabitants may have an ethnological affinity, like the descendants of the true ancient Scots, who equally inhabited the west Highlands and the north of Ireland. Again, the Roman occupation of Britain included the north of England and the Lowlands of Scotland up to the firths of Clyde and Forth, so that the men of Lancashire and the Lowlands had the benefit of the same Roman example, whilst the Highlanders were left to develop a social state of their own. In later times, Lancashire and the south of Scotland were equally open to the influences of European civilization, whilst the Highlands remained completely outside of it, like the interior of Arabia to-day.

If Lancashire has many of the characteristics of an independent nation, is there no other part of England which in recent times has developed a strong character ? Yes, there is the great nation of London, more populous than Scotland, Holland, or Switzerland, and destined to surpass Belgium in population before the end of the century. In London the English character has certainly undergone a great modification. A provincial, coming to London, is still geographically in England, but otherwise he hardly knows where he is. At first he does not belong to the place at all; after some experience of it he finds out whether he belongs to London naturally or not. — that is to say, whether there is that in him which may develop into harmony with the larger intellectual atmosphere of the place. Physically, London may be as big as Loch Lomond ; socially and intellectually, it is larger than Russia, and may well form a sort of state within the state. The English character in London has become more open, more tolerant, better able to understand variety of opinion, and much more ready to appreciate talent and welcome thought of all kinds. The nation of London is essentially modern and democratic, not caring who your grandmother may have been, if only you yourself were to its taste ; but at the same time it does not desire to be a coarse and uneducated democracy ; it values culture and taste far too highly to sacrifice them to a low equality. In a word, London clings to its own standard of civilization. If you come up to that standard, if you have refinement and just money enough for housekeeping of unpretending elegance, you may be an infidel and a radical, and London will not disown you, London will not cast you out into the cold.

Although London happens by chance to be situated on an island, it is not more insular than Paris. The nation of London is of all nations the most cosmopolitan, the most alive to what is passing everywhere upon the earth. It seems there as if one were not living so much the life of one nation as the world’s life. You speak of some outlandish place at a London dinner-table, and are never surprised if somebody present quietly gives a description of it from personal knowledge. The thoughts and actions of all mankind settle themselves into more just proportions in London than anywhere else. In Paris, with all its brightness and intelligence, you are constantly compelled to recollect that you are in France, as in Edinburgh that you are in Scotland. In Paris you are uncomfortably near to the German colossus, and it seems almost as if the cannon at Metz could send bomb-shells to Notre Dame. In London one has more the feeling that the ocean telegraphs converge there, and that steamers are arriving daily from all parts of the world.

The reasons for this peculiar feeling that one has in London are partly the magnitude of the British Empire and the vast distances that separate the parts of it; partly, the vastness of London itself, and the astonishing number of persons it contains who belong in some way either to the colonies or foreign countries, or are very closely connected with them. One has not the same feeling in any other English town. In Manchester we cannot escape from the knowledge that we are in the capital of a particular trade.

Provincial France is so little known that the great variety of it is hardly suspected by foreigners, but it may be easily shown that it is almost as various as Great Britain. Provence is quite as different from Picardy as Kent is from Mid-Lothian. Brittany is not more like Burgundy than Wales is like the eastern counties. The common people at Marseilles hardly consider themselves French ; they are Marseillais, and they speak of les français as the Belgians or the Swiss might speak of them.

We can never trust the description that people of one province give us of those belonging to another, because there is always the inevitable human antagonism. Draw a line between two multitudes, even if it is nothing in nature but a political boundary on a map, and each multitude will look unfavorably to the other side of the line, each will judge the other uncharitably, each will exercise its powers of wit and sarcasm at the expense of the other.

Amongst the better classes in France the old provincial hatreds are now remembered only to point a pleasantry with a barb from the ancient armory. The immense success of Daudet’s humorous sketches of Provençal character, especially of his Tartarin de Tarascon, was due to the foreign feeling that the French have towards the Provençaux, — a feeling that is no longer an unkind antagonism, but a sense of difference giving occasion for telling contrasts and effective, if harmless, pleasantries. Daudet, however, to conciliate his victims a little, after making Europe laugh at their expense, made the candid confession that every Frenchman " est un peu de Tarascon.”

The Provençaux have all that is requisite to constitute a separate nation: a language of their own, manners and customs of their own, and a peculiar national public opinion that nobody can understand who has not lived amongst them. The French attribute to them various defects which curiously resemble those that the English attribute to the French, especially light-headedness, the faculty of self-delusion, greater facility in making promises than fidelity in keeping them, inability to tell the simple truth, and a low condition of sexual morality. I have read somewhere that when the Allies wanted to make France less troublesome to Europe, in 1814, the ingenious idea occurred to them of dividing the country into two, not by annexing half of it to another power, but simply by erecting a southern kingdom. The notion was practical, as it was founded on a real antagonism in the populations, which might have kept them separate afterwards; but it is said to have been abandoned, because the intended kingdom would have turned into a republic, and the Allies were not very favorable to republics in those days.

It would be difficult to imagine two modern nations more different from each other, both in country and people, than are Brittany and Provence. Brittany has a rainy, temperate climate, with seabreezes ; Provence, a fierce dry heat, with almost perpetual sunshine and continental winds. Brittany is the land of the apple-tree, Provence the land of the olive. The shores of Brittany are washed by the tides of the Atlantic, those of Provence by the waves of the tideless Mediterranean. It is like comparing Wales with Italy and the Welsh with the Italians. The Bretons have their ancient language still, and even preserve their costumes. Their ways of living, their temper, their ideas, are all different from those of Provence.

The great distance between northwestern and southeastern France may lead us to expect great differences. The variety that exists in great nations is still more striking when we observe the trenchant differences that often divide populations which, geographically, are near neighbors. The Morvan is a district about fifty miles from north to south by thirty from east to west. It is not marked on the maps of France any more than the kingdom of Poland on those of Europe, but the reader will understand its situation when I tell him that it embraces portions of four departments : the Yonne to the north, the Côte d’Or to the east, the Nièvre to the west, and Saône-et-Loire to the south. In shape it resembles the Isle of Man, but it includes about five times as much territory. Autun is just outside of it to the southeast, and Avallon just inside it to the north. This district, or region, is marked by a peculiar physical character. It is a land of hills (not mountains), woods, and running streams, and the inhabitants, until their country was opened by good roads, were scarcely less a people apart than the Bretons. They have a language of their own, which although akin to French is not French, and the people are now for the most part able to speak French or Morvandeau at will, just as in the Highlands of Scotland they speak English or Gaelic.

Now, if you compare the people of the Morvan with those of the plain of the Saône, which is quite near, you find the most striking differences. First, there is a difference of race, but besides this there is a great disparity in material civilization. The art of cookery has been accounted one of the most effectual tests of human advancement; when the people are clever cooks, they are usually, it is said, clever in other arts besides, and they set a value on a civilized life generally, and will be at great pains to maintain it. Such an art as cookery may have nothing to do with the intellectual side of life, and the Muse may be cultivated on a little oatmeal ; but a cooking people will appreciate all the alimentary gifts of nature and master the arts that procure them, whilst the noncooking races are negligent and careless providers. The French are reputed to be a cooking race, but now observe a distinction ! The peasants of the Morvan understand cookery scarcely better than the Scotch Highlanders, whereas in the plain of the Saône and the Burgundy wine district, a little to the southeast of the Morvan, a masterly skill in cooking is a very common accomplishment. All the Saône bargemen are said to be clever cooks. Again, the Morvan people are not gardeners. Rich men have gardens as a matter of luxury, but the peasants do not cultivate vegetables and fruit-trees. Near the Saône the people are a gardening as well as a cooking race.

The French are often reproached with a love of good living. It is difficult to have a quality without the defect that belongs to it. Wherever there is the kind of intelligence that excels in the providing and the preparation of food, there is a sort of culture or high criticism which produces the gourmet, who is the art-critic of the world of cooks. He would, however, find little to interest him in the Morvan. There the peasants live with extreme self-denial, chiefly on potatoes and thin soup flavored with a morsel of bacon. Their drink is often a poor kind of perry or cider ; they indulge in wine on market days, and sometimes sparingly at home, but then it is of a meagre quality. I often employ a Morvan peasant, who is a very favorable specimen of his class. He works for me on board wages, and brings his food, which is so poor that it is a marvel how it can sustain him, and he always eats it cold. This is a habit he has acquired from working in the woods. I allow him wine, which is a great delight to him ; but if he had not this allowance, he would invariably drink water. He is fond of smoking, but never buys tobacco, and blames the extravagance of the young men who smoke bought tobacco every day. He finds an occasional pipe all the sweeter when it is given to him. His health has certainly not suffered from his sobriety. He is seventy years old, and looks about fifty-six. By dint of sheer thrift he has saved about three thousand dollars, and lives in a house of his own. There is nothing about him, either in character or appearance, that answers in the least to the ordinary English conception of a Frenchman. He is slow, taciturn, steady, and absolutely without fuss or pretension of any kind. He might pass easily on the Yorkshire hills for a native of that county, so long as he did not open his lips.

The French departments are merely an administrative division of the country, very useful and necessary, but artificial, and indicating nothing about the character of the inhabitants. The old provinces are better guides in this respect, but districts are the best of all. Their origin may be different in different cases, and only local antiquaries could enlighten us about their obscure history; but one thing is always noticeable about them, which is that the characteristics of the soil for each district are of a special nature. For example, the Morvan is a land of hills, woods, and streams ; the Sologne is a woody plain, perfectly flat and interspersed with sandy pools and marshes; Les Dombes are an insalubrious region, full of fish-ponds ; and Rouergue (in Guienne) is a land of hills and streams, like the Morvan, but with greater altitudes and wilder scenery. The population of each of these districts takes a certain character from the nature of its surroundings. In the first place, they affect health, and therefore make the disposition dull or lively. I have noticed, in traveling from a region where health is low to a more favored region, that there was a remarkable difference in vivacity, quite sufficiently accounted for by this reason alone.3 Again, with reference to material well-being and its consequences, it is commonly supposed that France is a very rich, productive country, with a climate highly favorable to the growth of all kinds of food, so that the people must all be very well off. Such a description is true, no doubt, of many parts of France, but there are regions not more productive than the north of Scotland. “ The French climate ” is believed in by many English people as being a delightful climate, but, for my part, I have not yet met with the French climate except in a purely ideal condition, inside Frenchmen’s heads. The reality is more than half a dozen climates, each of which has its own qualities and drawbacks, its own kinds of mildness and severity. Even within a distance of fifteen or twenty miles you discover, from the meteorological registers kept by the road surveyors, that twice as much rain falls in one village as in another. You have the wet and woody regions, the arid, hot, rocky regions, the lands of pasture and meadow, the vine lands, the country of extinct volcanoes, the peat morasses, the unprofitable sand countries by the sea, where only the maritime pine can resist the invasion of sterility.

The common error of imagining all things to be alike in a foreign land is never more striking than in the definite, homogeneous character given to the physical geography of a country by its neighbors. People appear to be so constituted that they must perforce attach one idea to one country, and no more, as a chemist labels bottles in his laboratory. The untraveled French believe all England to have the same climate, the same character.4 It is a dull, uninteresting, foggy country, covered with “ usines ” and long chimneys, the mills of Manchester with the scenery of Peterborough, and there is nothing artistic to be seen in it. The idea of such differences of climate and scenery as that between the Lake District, in the northwest, and the English Holland, on the eastern side of the island, does not occur to a Frenchman till he has seen these different regions with his own eyes. Scotland, for him, is all mountainous, and he has an exaggerated idea of the Scotch mountains, fancying that they are in some way comparable to the French ones. In England the prevalent idea of France is that of a lowland country, with monotonous scenery and very few trees, — a country to be passed through as rapidly as possible on the road to Switzerland or Italy. The only great mountain in the French Alps that has any reputation in England is Mont Blanc, and this is supposed to be in Switzerland, the country where all the Alps are kept for the public like pyramids in Egypt.

The difference between one town and another that may happen to be near it, and possibly even in the same department, can hardly be imagined by any one who does not know them intimately. Each place has a spirit of its own, derived from its historical past and from its occupations in the present. One town may be a clerical and aristocratic little place, where a republican (even under the Republic) has not the faintest chance of getting into society ; a place where all public functionaries under the government are socially boycotted; a place where all modern ideas are quietly ignored or despised, where reputations have no currency, and nothing is valued but conformity to a narrow local standard of the comme il faut. Thirty miles away there is perhaps a busy commercial town, where all ideas are centred upon money, and people are esteemed exactly in proportion to their capital, without regard to other considerations, — a town where all the fortunes are recent, and all have been acquired in trade.

Another variety, very little understood out of France, is that of extremes meeting in the same town. This is sometimes especially striking in the southern towns, and it may be of very long standing, like the conflict between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism at Nîmes, a town that cannot be correctly described as either Protestant or Catholic ; and yet there is more of each religion in it than there probably would be if the rival faith were completely extirpated. But the best example in France of a town combining the most opposite characteristics is Lyons. It is at the same time most republican and most clerical. “ There is one town above all,” wrote Michelet, “where the antagonism of two ages, of the spirit of old times and the new spirit, strikes even the eyes in all its grandeur. . . . That town is Lyons. . . . I leaned on the parapet on the steep of Fourvières, and said to myself, as I looked upon the opposite hill, gloomy, black below, under the cypresses of the Jardin des Plantes, colossal above in its piles of work-people’s houses, ten or fifteen stories high,—I said, These are not two hills ; they are two religions. The two towns of Lyons, that of the convents, and that of the workshops, are the goals of pilgrimage for the poor.

Some of them come to the Lyons of miracles and seek charity ; these come to Fourvières.5 But thou, good workman, wilt come to the hill of labor, the serious Croix Rousse. The part in the banquet which thou desirest is bread won by thine own hands.” I was reminded of these words of Michelet when, at Lyons, I said to a mechanic who was working on Sunday, “ This task prevents you from going to mass.” The man paused an instant in his labor, looked up at me seriously, and answered, " It is not my custom to go to mass. He who works prays.” He then resumed his prayer with hearty strokes of a hammer.

As in England London is a kind of nation in itself, so in France we have the nation of Paris. The word is so little of an exaggeration that Paris has often, on the most momentous occasions, acted quite independently of the country, and did actually proclaim its right to autonomy under the Commune, whilst the constant effort of the municipal council ever since has been to erect itself into a parliament at the Hotel de Ville, and have its own way in spite of the assemblies at the Palais Bourbon or the Luxembourg.

The Parisian nation has not the same characteristics as the nation of Londoners. The distinguishing character of London is not to be local, but world-wide; the character of Paris is to be as local as ancient Athens, and as contemptuous of all that lies outside. It is commonly believed that Paris is France, but how can it be France when it is so utterly unlike the provinces ? This error comes from the foreigners’ habit of staying in Paris only, so that Paris is very really and truly all France to them, being the only France they know. Yet the character of the French capital, so far from being representative, is all its own. Here, for example, is a striking and permanent peculiarity. France is not, generally speaking, an artistic country. In the provinces few care for art or know anything about it, whereas Paris is the most artistic city in Europe; and that not simply as the place where pictures and statues are produced in the greatest numbers, and architects find most employment, but as the place where the art-sentiment is most generally developed, so that it runs over into a thousand minor channels, till the life of the capital is saturated with it. In the provinces the whole estimate of human worth is different. There the recognized superiorities are either aristocracy (true or false), or else simply money, reputation being nearly, if not entirely, valueless; but in Paris reputation has a greater relative value than anywhere else, — greater even than in London. In the provinces there is a dull contentment with ignorance; in Paris always a desire to know, or a pretension to know, though the desire may not be realized or the pretension justified. In the country the disposition is not, usually, very open or hospitable; in Paris it is remarkably frank, easy, and cordial, and as hospitable as the narrow lodgings permit. In rural France, as a general rule, people neither understand nor practice the kind of intercourse that is lightly agreeable without involving much beyond the passing hour; in Paris this kind of intercourse is habitual. The Parisians establish this distinction between themselves and others, that they are intelligent and all provincials stupid; the provincials usually believe themselves to be more moral and more serious than the inhabitants of Paris. Sometimes they have self-respect enough to repudiate the idea that in order to be intelligent it is necessary to live within the circle of the fortifications, but more frequently they admit that provincial life is dull without making any effort to enliven it, and they speak of Paris as the Paradise from which all intelligent French people, living out of it, are exiles. Notwithstanding their apparent levity, I am told by all who are competent to form an opinion that the Parisians study better than the provincials. The ordinary level attained in all studies is much higher in Paris than in the provincial cities. The Parisians are the most laborious and best disciplined art-students in Europe. In the French University the best professors are reserved for Paris, or promoted to the capital in course of time, and they all say that the boys work better there than in the provinces.

I have mentioned elsewhere the curious but general French superstition that Paris is the light, not only of France, but of the world, and that all literary and artistic reputations are nothing till they have received the sanction of Parisian approval. Only imagine Paris judging between poets whose languages it is unable to pronounce !

Philip Gilbert Hamerton.

  1. Very likely the old feeling of international dislike may still survive in the lower classes. It was certainly far from being extinct in those classes when I lived in Scotland and the north of England. English and Scotch servants in the same house had at that time always strong feelings of mutual disapproval.
  2. I suppose there are more rich men in Lancashire with resolution enough to get up at five o’clock on a winter’s morning than in all the rest of England put together.
  3. The power of surroundings on health, and of health on character, is strikingly manifest in Switzerland.
  4. French people all know that Italy is well worth a visit. As to England, it is a place for commercial travelers, but there is nothing to be seen there.
  5. The place on the steep on the right bank of the Saône, behind the cathedral. Since Michelet wrote, a gorgeous new church has been built there for the miracle-working Virgin.