« VorigeDoorgaan »
the operation of the toilette—now a story of · Monsieur son Capitaine'-now an anecdote, equally interesting, of 'Monsieur son Colonel now a tale of 'Monsieur son Roi,' “ that excellent man, on whom he was going to mount guard that very evening." My unhappy friend's face still bore the most awful aspect of dismay, as he told his story. “ By G-d, there's a country for you!” said he; “ can property be safe for a moment in such a country? There can be no religion, no morality, with such manners-I shall order post-horses immediately.”
I did not wonder at my friend-at his horror for so fearful a familiarity. What are our parents always, and no doubt wisely, repeating to us ?_“ You should learn, my dear, to keep a certain kind of persons at their proper distance."
In no circumstance are we to forget this important lesson.
If the clouds hurled their thunders upon our heads, if the world tumbled topsy turvy about our ears,
" Si fractus illabatur orbis,' it is to find the well-bred Englishman as it would have found the just Roman—and, above all things, it is not to derange the imperturbable disdain with which he is enfeoffed to his in
feriors.-Lady D. was going to Scotland: a violent storm arose. Her ladyship was calmly dressing her hair, when the steward knocked at the cabin door. “My lady,” said the man, “ I think it right to tell you there is every chance of our being drowned.”
66 Do not talk to me, you impertinent fellow, about drowning,” said her aristocratical ladyship perfectly unmoved" that's the captain's business, and not mine."
Our great idea of civility, is, that the person who is poor should be exceedingly civil to the person who is wealthy : and this is the difference between the neighbouring nations. Your Frenchman admits no one to be quite his equalyour Englishman worships every one richer than himself as undeniably his superior. Judge us from our servants and our shopkeepers, it is true we are the politest people in the world. The servants, who are paid well—and the shopkeepers, who sell high-scrape, and cringe, and smile. There is no country where those who have wealth are treated so politely by those to whom it goes ; but at the same time there is no country where those who are well off live on such cold, and suspicious, and ill-natured, and uncivil terms among themselves.
The rich man who travels in France murmurs at every inn and at every shop; not only is he
treated no better for being a rich man-he is treated worse in many places, from the idea, that because he is rich he is likely to give himself airs. But, if the lower classes are more rude to the higher classes than with us, the higher classes in France are far less rude to one another. The dandy who did not look at an old acquaintance, or who looked impertinently at a stranger, would have his nose pulled, and his body run through with a small sword-or damaged by a pistol bullet-- before the evening were well over. Where every man wishes to be higher than he is, there you find people insolent to their fellows, and exacting obsequiousness from their inferiors—where men will allow no one to be superior to themselves, there them neither civil to those above them, nor impertinent to those beneath them, nor yet very courteous to those in the same station. The manners checquered in one country by softness and insolence, are not sufficiently courteous and gentle in the other. T'ime was in France, (it existed in England to a later date,) when politeness was thought to consist in placing every one at his ease. A quiet sense of their own dignity rendered persons insensible to the fear of its being momentarily forgotten. Upon these days rested the shadow of a by-gone chi
valry, which accounted courtesy as one of the virtues. The civility of that epoch, as contrasted with the civility of ours, was not the civility of the domestic or the tradesman, meant to pamper the pride of their employer; but the civility of the noble and the gentleman, meant to elevate the modesty of those who considered themselves in an inferior state. Corrupted by the largesses of an expensive and intriguing court, the grand seigneur,' after the reign of Louis XIV. became over-civil and servile to those above him-beneath the star of the French minister beat the present heart of the British mercer: and softly did the great man smile on those from whom he had anything to gain. As whatever was taught at Versailles was learnt in the Rue St. Denis, when the courtier had the air of a solicitor, every one aped the air of the courtier; and the whole nation with one hand expressing a request, and the other an obligation, might have been taken in the attitude o. the graceful old beggar, whose accost made such an impression upon me.
But a new nobility grew up in rivalry to the elder one; and as the positions of society became more complicated and uncertain, a supreme civility to some was seen side by side with a sneering insolence to others-a revolu
tion in manners, which embittered as it hastened the revolution of opinions. Thus the manners of the French in the time of Louis XVI. had one feature of similarity with ours at present. A monied aristocracy was then rising into power in France, as a monied aristocracy is now rising into power in England. This is the aristocracy which demands obsequious servility-which is jealous and fearful of being treated with disrespect : this is the aristocracy which is haughty, insolent, and susceptible; which dreams of affronts and gives them; this is the aristocracy which measures with an uncertain eye the height of an acquaintance; this is the aristocracy which cuts and sneers--this aristocracy, though the aristocracy of the revolution of July, is now too powerless in France to be more than vulgar in its pretensions.
French manners then, if they are not gracious, are at all events not insolent; while ours, unhappily, testify on one hand the insolence, while they do not on the other represent the talent and the grace of that society which presided over the later suppers of the old “régime. We have no Monsieur de Fitz-James, who might be rolled in a gutter all his life, as was said by a beautiful woman of his time, or without ever contracting a spot of dirt.” We have no Mon