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Might not one have fancied oneself in that island at the time when one saw Monsieur de Chateaubriand (sixty years old) desperately in love with a duchesse (of the same age), while Madame Récamier, (no younger)—flying France in jealousy of Mr. de Châteaubriand—completed the misery of her old lover, Benjamin Constant, who was at once tormented by the reproaches of his aged wife, and the disdain of his aged mistress. It is marvellous when a people have a predominant passion, how it insinuates itself into all their affairs: we have seen the influence of French vanity in the government, the history, the society of France, we may find it in a remarkable manner even in the commerce. It has established this principle, a very agreeable one, no doubt, viz.—that the way to make money is to spend it. If you ask the editor of a certain newspaper why he has race horses, he tells you that a race horse is an advertisement.' His carriage is an advertisement;' his dinners are advertisements;' his mistress is an advertisement,' and the more expensive, and the more faithless she is, the better * advertisement' of course she becomes. This is a system: and as an Englishman toils for wealth in order to increase bis comforts, so a Frenchman displays his extravagance in order to make his fortune. Well, then, you find this vanity the predominating genius of the camp, the court, the counter, -it reigas no less at the Bourse, the Morgue, or the prison. The Frenchman wishes to live with ostentation ;* if he cannot do this, he does not care whether he lives or not: like most passions, this vanity is good and bad, little and great ; now sublime, now ridiculous; but upon the whole, perhaps, it appears in France as more good than bad, more great than little, even more sublime than ridiculous. Absurd in the drawing-room; fatal in darker scenes; it has made the French army the most renowned in the world, and the French nation the most united. But it has also made of the French-a people eminently volatile: eager for changes that promise much : disgusted with utility that cannot boast show, and impatient of plans that run in a slow and quiet course to their perfection.
In 1810 a notaire's clerk killed himself, leaving a piece of paper behind him, on which he declared that having duly calculated and considered, he did not think it possible for him to be so great a man as Napoleon--therefore he put an end to his existence.
Saying of M. (de Talleyrand.--How many events in France a bon mot has
prepared.-Vanity is the principal passion, wit is the principal talent and supplies the chief amusements of the French.—They laugh at all things. Their ridicule only lowers you when it lowers themselves in their estimation.-Definition of Champfort of the old régime.--Power of wit against a government.-Discours d'un roi citoyen, 1830.-M. Philippon and the pear.– Béranger, “ Nain jaune,” &c.-Dramatic caricatures.--Bons mots or good sayings found among all classes and all ages.-Connexion between the French language, and the French wit, and French manners-How far it exists at present in literature and society.
“C'est bien, c'est très-bien; et tout ce qu'il faut maintenant, ce sont les feux d'artifice et un bon mot pour le peuple.” Thiş is the saying with which M. de Talleyrand is reported to have closed one of those revolutions which his talent and his times have given him the opportunity of deciding—un bon mot pour le peuple !-saying well worthy of Pericles, when he captivated that polished and clever people of Greece, -to whom it is impossible to deny, that the gay, the inconstant, the frivolous, and witty people around me, bear a marked resemblance.
How many events in this country has a bon mot prepared! How many has a bon mot completed! A series of bons mots, (begun by Voltaire, augmented by Diderot, collected and systematized by Helvetius)—a series of bons mots destroyed the ancient religion, sapped the foundations of the throne, and travailed the destinies of the monarchy, which Louis XIV. imagined he had fixed for centuries, under the weight of his solemn and imposing genius. “ Ce ne sont pas les dépenses générales, ce sont les états-généraux qu'il nous faut,"—said M. Despremesnil—and a bon mot put that immense machine in motion which rolled heavily over the gay and graceful court of France. " Je ne veux pas être un cochon à l'engrais dans le château royal de Versailles,"—said the first consul, with the coarse energy of his character; and the laugh being excited in his
favour, he kicked over the speculative pyramid of Abbé Sieyes
" Il n'y a qu'un Français de plus”-is put into the mouth of the Comte d'Artois ;* and as he rides into Paris, all the world are enchanted at the restoration. Even the last revolution did not pass without its saying: It is “an old garde national,' going to visit his ancient general,” said Louis-Philippe, as he rode up to the Hôtel-de-Ville : while they who put into Lafayette's mouth the unhappy phrase "the monarchy of July is the best of republics”-founded on a new bon mot, a new dynasty. You cannot pass twice round the Palais-Royal, or go once to the Variétés, without being sensible, that, as vanity is the predominant passion, so wit is the predominant talent, and supplies the principal amusements of the French. They must have wit: not the great world alone—not only your beaux esprits and your men of letters, but the people, the working classes, the mechanics, the watch-makers, the carpenters, the stone-masons, the people of the "trades' unions," these must have wit-must be delighted by wit in some shape or other: a joke is their opium—it has the effect of quieting and inspiring them, and sending them home to a good night and pleasant dreams. There is nothing which for the sake of a laugh the
* The following is the account given of the composition of this famous phrase by a late writer who had the opportunity of knowing the truth of what he says :-"Le gouvernement provisoire reçut le Comte d'Artois à la barrière, et M. de Talleyrand l'accueillit par ces paroles : Monseigneur, le bonheur que nous éprouvons sera à son comble, si Monseigneur reçoit avec la bonté divine, qui distingue son auguste maison, l'hommage de notre tendresse religieuse." Le Comte d'Artois répondit quelques phrases vagues; mais son esprit d'àpropos lui manqua. Le soir les membres du gouvernement provisoire et les conseillers intimes de son Altesse Royale, sentant la nécessité de faire quelques-uns de ces mots populaires qui pussent réussir dans l'opinion, et calmer les méfiances, se réunirent en conseil. Chacun d'eux composa de son mieux une de ces phrases d'apparat, une de ces réponses qui pussent se répandre dans Paris et la France. Les uns voulaient que son Altesse Royale parlat comme Lieutenant-Général du royaume, et promit des institutions; les autres, qu'elle se renfermat dans ces mots vagues et alors à la mode : · Drapeau sans tache,' 'panache. blanc ' . fils de saint Louis,” &c. Mais enfin une rédaction commune à MM. Beugnot et Talleyrand fut adoptée : on l'envoya à son Altesse Royale, qui l'approuva, et elle fut consignée au Moniteur du lendemain dans les termes suivans : “Messieurs les membres du gouvernement provisoire, je vous remercie de tout le bien que vous avez fait pour notre pays; plus de division ! la paix et la France ! Je la revois-cette France-et rien n'est changé, excepté qu'il y a un Français de plus.” This reply gave universal satisfaction.
French will not contrive to render ridiculous: but there is this to observe in respect to their ridicule—it never lowers you in their estimation, except when by lowering you, it lowers themselves.
If a general be ridiculous, if a government be ridiculous, if a king be ridiculous, wo unto them !--For a general that is ridiculous makes the French army ridiculous, for a government or a king that is ridiculous makes the French nation ridiculous, and that is an unpardonable offence—but it does not signify two straws to an individual how ridiculous he may be made no one will think the worse of him for it. Nobody then cares at being laughed at, except a king, or a public man. To either of these, the joke to others is no joke. Never was there a government in France that did not tremble at an epigram, and turn pale at a caricature, or a song. Lemercier says in his address to the Academy—“L'histoire de France est écrite par ses chansonniers !" and Champfort wittily designates the old régime as “ an absolute monarchy tempered-by good sayings." The present king and the present government have not been spared.
DISCOURS D'UN ROI CITOYEN L'AN 1830.
Vous souvenez-vous de Jemmapes ?
Et quoique je fisse à Jemmapes,
It is not only the pen, the pencil has been put into requisition; and a pretended resemblance between a pear and his majesty's head, has thrown the court into great agitation! This is a serious matter; and not very long ago the government prosecuted a hatmaker for insulting the king's person by vending casquettes that had some resemblance to the treasonable fruit. Mr. Philippon, the author of this diabolical comparison, has become in consequence the Béranger of the revolution ; and his two newspapers, the Charivari and the Caricature, are a little more to fear than the two chambers. *
The sole merit of many of the drawings which adorn these papers, is, that they all introduce in things apparently the least susceptible of it, the odious shape. Through every variety of hat, bonnet, cap, wig, the faithful pencil pourtrays the not to be forgotten pear !-Some of the prints, however, have a higher merit than this : among the musicians de la Chapelle, that is, " the deputies of the Chambers,” many of the caricatures are good likenesses, and a few little jeux d'esprit, as satirical sketches of men and manners, account for Mr. Philippon's reputation and the success of his journals.
But besides Mr. Philippon's, there are a number of small
* I remember a story of Louis XVII. who, I think adopted the wiser policy. A person was arrested for having called him a gros cochon. “And has not the man been deprived of his place,” said the monarch,“ who could for a moment suppose that a Frenchman could mean to call his king-a gros cochon."