Page images

judgment respecting it, till his mind has got wedded to the poison, and too weak, by its long use, to digest the antidote. No; first fortify his intellect by reason, and you may then please his fancy by fiction. Do not excite his imagination with love and glory, till you can instruct his judgment as to what love and glory are. Teach him, in short, to reflect, before you permit him full indulgence to imagine." Here there was a pause. Monsieur D'A looked very ill-pleased, and poor Monsieur de Gthought that somehow or other his romance writing was called into question. In order to soothe them, I introduced some subject which permitted a little national flattery; the conversation then turned insensibly on the character of the French people.

"Never," said Vincent, "has there been a character more often described -never one less understood. You have been termed superficial. I think, of all people, that you least deserve the accusation. With regard to the few, your philosophers, your mathematicians, your men of science, are consulted by those of other nations, as some of their profoundest authorities. With regard to the many, the charge is still more unfounded. Compare your mob, whether of gentlemen or plebeians, to those of Germany, Italy even England-and I own, in spite of my national prepossessions, that the comparison is infinitely in your favour. The country gentleman, the lawyer, the petit maître of England, are proverbially inane and ill-informed. With you, the classes of society that answer to those respective grades, have much information in literature, and often not a little in science. In like manner, your tradesmen, and your servants, are of better cultivated, and less prejudiced minds than those ranks in England. The fact is, that all with you pretend to be savans, and this is the chief reason why you have been

censured as shallow. We see your fine gentleman, or your petit bourgeois, give himself the airs of a critic or a philosopher; and because he is neither a Scaliger nor a Newton, we forget that he is only the bourgeois or the petit maître, and brand all your philosophers and critics with the censure of superficiality, which this shallow individual of a shallow order may justly have deserved. We, the English, it is true, do not expose ourselves thus: our dandies, our tradesmen, do not vent second-rate philosophy on the human mind, nor on les beaux arts: but why is this? Not because they are better informed than their correspondent ciphers in France, but because they are much worse informed; not because they can say a great deal more on the subject, but because they can say nothing at all."

"You do us more than justice," said Mons. D'A- "in this instance : are you disposed to do us justice in another? It is a favourite propensity of your countrymen to accuse us of heartlessness and want of feeling. Think you that this accusation is deserved ?"

[ocr errors]

By no means," replied Vincent. "The same cause that brought on you the erroneous censure we have before mentioned, appears to me also to have created this; viz., a sort of Palais Royal vanity, common to all your nation, which induces you to make as much display at the shop window as possible. You show great cordiality, and even enthusiasm, to strangers: you turn your back on them-you forget them. 'How heartless!' cry we. Not at all! The English show no cordiality, no enthusiasm to strangers, it is true: but they equally turn their backs on them, and equally forget them! The only respect, therefore, in which they differ from you, is the previous kindness: now if we are to receive strangers, I can really see no reason why we are

not to be as civil to them as possible; and so far from imputing the desire to please them to a bad heart, I think it a thousand times more amiable and benevolent than telling them à l'Anglaise, by your morosity and reserve, that you do not care a pin what becomes of them. If I am only to walk a mile with a man, why should I not make that mile as pleasant to him as I can or why, above all, if I choose to be sulky, and tell him to go and be d-d, am I to swell out my chest, colour with conscious virtue, and cry, see what a good heart I have?* Ah, Monsieur d'A- since benevolence is inseparable from all morality, it must be clear that there is a benevolence in little things as well as in great, and that he who strives to make his fellow-creatures happy, though only for an instant, is a much better man than he who is indifferent to, or (what is worse) despises it. Nor do I, to say truth, see that kindness to an acquaintance is at all destructive to sincerity to a friend; on the contrary, I have yet to learn, that you are (according to the customs of your country) worse friends,

[ocr errors]

* Mr. Pelham, it will be remembered, has prevised the reader, that Lord Vincent was

somewhat addicted to paradox. His opinions

on the French character are to be taken with

a certain reserve.-Author.

worse husbands, or worse fathers than we are!"

"What!" cried I, "you forget yourself, Vincent. How can the private virtues be cultivated without a coal fire? Is not domestic affection a synonymous term with domestic hearth? and where do you find either, except in honest old England?"

"True," replied Vincent; "and it is certainly impossible for a father and his family to be as fond of each other on a bright day in the Tuileries, or at Versailles, with music and dancing, and fresh air, as they would be in a back parlour, by a smoky hearth, occupied entirely by le bon père, et la bonne mère; while the poor little children sit at the other end of the table, whispering and shivering, debarred the vent of all natural spirits, for fear of making a noise: and strangely uniting the idea of the domestic hearth with that of a hobgoblin, and the association of dear papa with that of a birch rod."

We all laughed at this reply, and Monsieur d'A—, rising to depart, said, "Well, well, milord, your countrymen are great generalisers in philosophy; they reduce human actions to two grand touchstones. All hilarity, they consider the sign of a shallow mind; and all kindness, the token of a false heart."


Quis sapiens bono

Confidat fragili?*-SENECA.

Grammatici certant, et adhuc sub judice lis est.t-HOR.

[ocr errors]

WHEN I first went to Paris, I took a French master to perfect me in the Parisian pronunciation. This " Haberdasher of pronouns was a person of the name of Margot. He was a tall, solemn man, with a face of the most imperturbable gravity. He would have been inestimable as an undertaker. His hair was of a pale yellow; you would have thought it had caught a bilious complaint from his complexion; the latter was, indeed, of so sombre a saffron, that it looked as if ten livers had been forced into a jaundice, in order to supply its colour. His forehead was high, bald, and very narrow. His cheekbones were extremely prominent, and his cheeks so thin, that they seemed happier than Pyramus and Thisbe, and kissed each other inside without any separation or division. His face was as sharp and almost as long as an inverted pyramid, and was garnished on either side by a miserable half-starved whisker, which seemed scarcely able to maintain itself amidst the general symptoms of atrophy and decay. This charming countenance was supported by a figure so long, so straight, so shadowy, that you might have taken it for the monument in a consumption!

But the chief characteristic of the man was the utter and wonderful gravity I have before spoken of. You

* What wise man confides in the fragile?


[blocks in formation]

could no more have coaxed a smile out of his countenance than you could out of the poker; and yet Monsieur Margot was by no means a melancholy man. He loved his joke, and his wine, and his dinner, just as much as if he had been of a fatter frame; and it was a fine specimen of the practical antithesis, to hear a good story, or a jovial expression, leap friskily out of that long, curved mouth; it was at once a paradox and a bathos-it was the mouse coming out of its hole in Ely Cathedral.

I said that this gravity was M. Margot's most especial characteristic. I forgot ;-he had two others equally remarkable; the one was an ardent admiration for the chivalrous, the other an ardent admiration for himself. Both of these are traits common enough in a Frenchman, but in Monsieur Margot their excesses rendered them uncommon. He was a most ultra specimen of le chevalier amoureux-a mixture of Don Quixote and the Duc de Lauzun. Whenever he spoke of the present tense, even en professeur, he always gave a sigh to the preterite, and an anecdote of Bayard; whenever he conjugated a verb, he paused to tell me that the favourite one of his female pupils was je t'aime.

In short, he had tales of his own good fortune, and of other people's brave exploits, which, without much exaggeration, were almost as long, and had perhaps as little substance,

as himself; but the former was his favourite topic: to hear him, one would have imagined that his face, in borrowing the sharpness of the needle, had borrowed also its attraction;and then the prettiness of Monsieur Margot's modesty!

"It is very extraordinary," said he, "very extraordinary, for I have no time to give myself up to those affairs: it is not, Monsieur, as if I had your leisure to employ all the little preliminary arts of creating la belle passion. Non, Monsieur, I go to church, to the play, to the Tuileries, for a brief relaxation-and me voilà partout accablé with my good fortune. I am not handsome, Monsieur, at least, not very; it is true, that I have expression, a certain air noble, (my first cousin, Monsieur, is the Chevalier de Margot,) and above all, soul in my physiognomy; the women love soul, Monsieur-something intellectual and spiritual always attracts them; yet my success certainly is singular."

"Bah! Monsieur," replied I: "with dignity, expression, and soul, how could the heart of any French woman resist you? No, you do yourself injustice. It was said of Cæsar, that he was great without an effort; much more, then, may Monsieur Margot be happy without an exertion."

"Ah, Monsieur!" rejoined the Frenchman, still looking

"As weak, as earnest, and as gravely out As sober Lanesbro' dancing with the gout."

[merged small][ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

"Most certainly," replied I; "but who is the person we are to honour?" "A Madame Laurent," replied Vincent; "one of those ladies only found at Paris, who live upon anything rather than their income. She keeps a tolerable table, haunted with Poles, Russians, Austrians, and idle Frenchmen, peregrinæ gentis amænum hospitium. As yet she has not the happiness to be acquainted with any Englishmen, (though she boards one of our countrywomen) and (as she is desirous of making her fortune as soon as possible) she is very anxious of having that honour. She has heard vast reports of our wealth and wisdom, and flatters herself that we are so many ambulatory Indies: in good truth, a Frenchwoman thinks she is never in want of a fortune as long as there a rich fool in the world. Stultitiam patiuntur opes,'

is her hope and

'Ut tu fortunam, sic nos te, Celse, feremus," is her motto."

"Madame Laurent!" repeated I, "why, surely that is the name of Mons. Margot's landlady."

"I hope not," cried Vincent, "for the sake of our dinner; he reflects no credit on her good cheer

Who eats fat dinners, should himself be fat.""

"At all events," said I, 66 we can try the good lady for once. I am very anxious to see a countrywoman of

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

"He tells me," said I gravely, "that he is quite accablé with his bonnes fortunes-possibly he flatters himself that even you are not perfectly inaccessible to his addresses." "Tell me, Mr. Pelham," said the fair Mrs. Green, 66 can you pass by this street about half-past twelve to-night?" "I will make a point of doing so," replied I, not a little surprised by the question.

"Do," said she, "and now let us talk of old England."

When we went away I told Vincent of my appointment.

"What!" said he, "eclipse M n

At the hour of half-past five we repaired to our engagement. Madame | sieur Margot! Impossible!" Laurent received us with the most "You are right," replied I, "nor is evident satisfaction, and introduced it my hope; there is some trick afloat us forthwith to our countrywoman. to which we may as well be specShe was a pretty, fair, shrewd-looking tators." person, with an eye and lip which, unless it greatly belied her, showed her much more inclined to be merry and wise, than honest and true.

Presently Monsieur Margot made his appearance. Though very much surprised at seeing me, he did not appear the least jealous of my attentions to his inamorata. Indeed, the good gentleman was far too much pleased with himself to be susceptible to the suspicions common to less fortunate lovers. At dinner I sat next to the pretty Englishwoman, whose name was Green.

"Monsieur Margot," said I, "has often spoken to me of you before I had the happiness of being personally convinced how true and unexaggerated were his sentiments."

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Green, with an arch laugh, "you are acquainted with Monsieur Margot, then ?"

"I have that honour," said I. "I receive from him every morning lessons both in love and languages. He is perfect master of both."

"With all my heart!" answered Vincent; "let us go till then to the Duchesse de G." I assented, and we drove to the Rue de

"The Duchesse de G

was a fine relic of the ancien régime-tall and stately, with her own grey hair crêpé, and surmounted by a high cap of the most dazzling blonde. She had been one of the earliest emigrants, and had stayed for many months with my mother, whom she professed to rank amongst her dearest friends. The Duchesse possessed to perfection that singular mélange of ostentation and ignorance which was so peculiar to the ante-revolutionists. She would talk of the last tragedy with the emphatic tone of a connoisseur, in the same breath that she would ask, with Marie Antoinette, why the poor people were so clamorous for bread, when they might buy such nice cakes for twopence a-piece? "To give you an idea of the Irish," said she one day to an inquisitive marquess, "know that they prefer potatoes to mutton!"

« PreviousContinue »