Puslapio vaizdai

from London to Moscow it is a common ure ; what the French, indeed (who are place that every stage-manager and every strangers to our lyceum, for which they dramatic author looks constantly toward substitute a considerable higher educaParis, where each has learned his trade tion), call a conférence. This is the sense and whence most have borrowed their in which it is discussed by Dr. Holmes, substance. And in the art of conversa than whom no one has touched the subtion, which plays in private life the part ject with a lighter charm. Dr. Holmes's of colloquy on the stage, the nation is view of conversation is extremely autoequally unrivalled. All the French ac- cratic, and would be intolerable to a demtivities are called into exercise, and ocratic people like the French. In his all French qualities are illustrated in opinion the cardinal offence is interrupthe conversational crackle and sparkle tion; the literal and unimaginative inof daily intercourse, in which constant terrupter is the individual he denounces, practice and ceaseless pleasure lead to a but it is plain that it is the fact of the marvellous artistic proficiency. At the interruption not the interruption of fact, table, in the drawing-room, in the cafés, as he might say, that really exasperates in the open-air public rendezvous which him. French conversation is in great abound everywhere and vary in impor- part made up of interruptions. Its estance but hardly in character from the sence consists in “give and take.” The Champs Elysées or the potinière of the most brilliant conversationalist is he, Avenue du Bois de Boulogne to the lit- or she (for in France women practise tle place or boulevard extérieur of a vil- this art as well as men) who succeeds lage en province, at every leisure moment best in donner la réplique. Hence epiin the day—and overflowing into the gram and repartee abound. With us hours of industry, which themselves, in- the analogous triumph is to state some deed, are never, even in their most secret truth, sentiment, fact most felicitously recesses, sheltered from its spray—the and to draw from it some apposite constream of conversation ripples cease- clusion. Hence the little preachments, lessly on and on. All Frenchmen breathe anecdotes, sermonettes which season the atmosphere thus affected and, how- our dinners. As for post-prandial eloever great their differences, are thus sub- quence, in which our prandial conversaject in common to a potent unifying in- tion so often culminates


the slightfuence ; so that each individual, even est excuse, to which it is merely the supposing him to have no natural bent modest prelude, and toward which it therefor, no Gallic alertness and lingual tends with increasing momentum from felicity, becomes an educated artist in the soup on, it is nearly unknown in the great French art. To be convinced of France. Imagine Mr. Evarts at a French this, one does not need to remind himself dinner. On such an occasion his of the Hotel Rambouillet, of the salons “speech” (for which the French language which since Richelieu's time have flour- has no word) would, we may be sure, be ished on every hand, of the society of qualified with an epithet for which the the grand siècle ; one has only to enter English tongue has no equivalent; it a café or even a cabaret, or chat with an would be pronounced assommant. And omnibus-driver, or one's next neighbor after the formal speaking at a Delmonico in black coat or blouse on a seat in a dinner, say, is over, and the toasts (anpublic square.

other word which illustrates the poverty About this conversation there are two of the French vocabulary) have all been striking peculiarities : It is in the first drunk, and what we understand by genplace literally conversation, and in the eral conversation again sets in, consecond it is, like any other fine-art, prac- ducted by General Horace Porter, that tised for its own sake. It need hardly prince of anecdotists, the Frenchman be said that in each of these respects would certainly find himself at fault. In French conversation differs from our an analogous position at home he would own. What in general passes for good be sure to interrupt. The French raconversation with us is really monologue conteur is, it is true, a well-known type, -sometimes, in fact, so circumscribed but he is oftener than not, perhaps, a as to constitute a sort of informal lect- bore, owing in great measure to the per


fection to which he has carried his style, other, an error which French clearness which tempts him to apply it to the dec- avoids. Hence French conversation is orative presentment of wholly trivial far freer than ours. It not only comsubstance. And in France when a man promises no personality, and essays no is a bore the fact is discovered with elec- ulterior result, but its scope and style tric promptitude. And in any event, are in consequence very extensive and bore or not, the raconteur never enjoys very varied. It has terms summing up the esteem of our good-story-teller phases of social life to characterize which who frequently possesses not merely a we should need long phrases, and emlocal but a national reputation, as it is ploys them as counters, as bankers do called. The introduction of the person- checks and drafts instead of excharging al note is distinctly disagreeable. The coin. It tends naturally out of its abunforce of our“ good-story-teller” though dance to include topics with which we always personal is often histrionic, and easily dispense, in mixed company at all the French have, it is true, a talent and events. It is very outspoken without a passion for acting. But even in acting being brutal. It makes, indeed, such a they care most for the ensemble. On specialty of suggestion for the sake of the stage an actor who should force his the art itself as sometimes to lose all part into the foreground would displease, sense of the substance suggested ; otherhowever admirable in itself his perform- wise at least some allusions are unacance might be. And in actual life the countable. And this freedom, which ocsocial comes to the aid of the artistic in- casionally no doubt fringes license-but stinct in protecting an entire company probably less often than with us offends from resolving itself into a lyceum audi- the proprieties conventionally deterence and an amateur lecturer.

mined-helps to confer the great charm French conversation thus is social and of naturalness upon French intercourse. artistic first of all-never personal and One's impulses find themselves less reutilitarian. Communication being its strained in being more explicitly diend, it is moreover always admirably rected. The manner is as artificial as clear. Precision is as eminent a char- you choose, the matter is apt to be genacteristic of spoken as of written French. uine and to lack the quality which conEach nuance, and nuances abound, is un- stitutes pose. On a high level and in a mistakable. More even than by its grace rarefied atmosphere there is far more and its vivacity it contrasts with our naturalness because there is a far greater own more serious conversation in abso- sense of freedom than in the lower relute exactness. The exactness is in ex- gions, amid denser air, in which the sense pression merely ; it never becomes literal of freedom is really the lack of energy and exacting. When a trivial mistake and to issue out of which demands disis made, a sophism uttered, a person or cipline and attention. thing unfairly ridiculed or ridiculously “But are they sincere ? " is the unipraised, the Frenchman does not expe- versal Anglo-Saxon demand in reply to rience the temptation, so irresistible with all that one can say in characterization us, to set wrong right at any expense to of French manners and of their articuthe conversation. The conversation it- late manifestation in the exquisite art self is the object of his solicitude. Be- of French conversation. On this point sides, he realizes that out of the pulpit we are, apparently, all agreed. Charmpersiflage is as potent as preaching. His ing, intelligent, graceful, everything else expertness in treating serious subjects you will that is admirable, at that vague with the light touch that avoids flip- quality known to us as sincerity we draw pancy has its moral side as, imitating the line. A recent clever book makes a Carlyle's obtuseness about Voltaire, we character say that “French sincerity is are slow to perceive. With us it is the a subject he never cares to enter upon. essential levity of the subject discussed He likes too many French people.” rather than a deft and lively treatment That is the utmost concession I at least of it that causes the superficial sparkle. have ever seen made. Yet an intelligent We associate the two things so closely observer familiar with the French must, as to infer one from the presence of the I think, whether he like them or not,

feel disposed to plead weariness when- so." Ladies contended for the honor of ever the time-honored question of French being taken down to dinner by the brillsincerity is mooted anew. One sympa- iant French journalist. The London thizes with Hawthorne's exasperation at press commenting on this engouement, the public curiosity concerning the ears and on its striking contrast with the of his Donatello. In this instance also lack of consideration manifested for

delightful and delicate thing is being English journalists of equal parts, called brutally treated. The stupidity is car- attention anew to the important rôle ried so far as to awaken that sense of which the esteem of his compatriots helpless resentment which one feels in permits the French journalist personally the presence of wilful wrong-headedness to play in his own country ;-to which on a large scale among intelligent peo- the Frenchman naturally replied by a ple. The truth is the French are as compliment. “Un Français,” said he, sincere as any other people, only they “a rarement une passion réelle pour le manifest the virtue in their own way. véritable pouvoir ou pour la fortune. French manners include a great deal of Son ambition vise surtout à la réputacompliment, and compliment is taken tion, à l'éloge, à l'espoir de donner une literally only by the savage. To argue haute idée de lui à ses concitoyens, ou individual insincerity from the perfec- même à un cercle étroit de familiers ; tion which compliment has reached il se console aisément de bien des déamong the French is like arguing that boires s'il peut croire que ceux qui every American who pays his bills in l'entourent le considèrent comme supésilver dollars is personally corrupt. rieur à sa fortune. . Il donne le Compliment is merely the current coin premier rang aux plaisirs de l'esprit ; of the French social realm. Nor in “A Frenchman rarely has a sincere pasnine cases out of ten is it actually sion for real power or for fortune. His debased. Very slight familiarity with ambition is above all else to achieve a French compliment is sufficient to en- reputation, to win eulogiums, to succeed able one to see that the French sense of in giving a high idea of himself to his intellectual self-respect almost invari- fellow-citizens, or even to a narrow circle ably prevents them from trusting solely of intimate friends. He is easily conto the intelligence of the complimented soled for many mortifications if he can for a complete understanding of the fact convince himself that those who surthat the accuracy of compliment is not round him consider him superior to his that of algebra. Somewhere in most fortune. He gives the first place to the French compliments you are sure to find pleasures of the mind." Fancy the audithe intellectual corrective of their sen ence to which that compliment was adsuous charm. Your unfamiliarity with dressed speculating as to its sincerity! this circumstance and your failure to The truth is that the matter of pernotice it may lead you to blush at the sonal genuineness is not at all in quesmoment of receiving a genuine French tion. So far as sincerity in compliment compliment yourself, but subsequent re- is concerned it depends upon the speflection is apt to make you blush at hav- cific truth or falsity of the words eming blushed; there was really, you will ployed and their impersonal suggestion. infallibly perceive, less cause for con Of course the French do intrude the fusion than you imagined. Take, for personal equation into this sphere; example, a typical compliment by a they do occasionally endeavor to make characteristically courteous and sincere one believe they mean what they say in Frenchman. During a visit to England a special and intense sense; the phein 1868 the late Prevost-Paradol was re nomenon is not absolutely unknown. ceived avec ces empressements flat- But it is far less common than with us; teurs," says a French writer, “ que and it invariably denotes in the pracciété anglaise sait si bien prodiguer pour titioner a lower grade of person. The peu que l'envie lui en prenne ' with large part played by the emotions in those flattering attentions which Eng- our activities of this kind causes us to lish society knows so well how to lavish regard the passage from compliment to when it happens to take a notion to do flattery as venial whenever the heart is

la so

in the right place. The circumstance they do everything has nothing of illthat compliment is in France a fine-art regulated emotion in it; nor, on the makes the same error there far more other hand, is it often characterized by grave, and consequently far less fre- that sensuous magic inseparable from quent. It becomes a sign of grossièreté Italian native grace. It is in nowise senti—which is the French unpardonable mental; it is simply expressive. It may sin.

be more or less ornate, now structural, Furthermore the French compliment now decorative, as individuals differ. never means more than it says. The But what is to be noted is that it is innational turn for intelligence serves as variably the “air” which the individual a great safeguard for sincerity here, deems appropriate, and that fitness is whereas if we examine closely our own his sole criterion. The reason for our way of allowing the heart to dictate to failure to perceive this is that in every the judgment we cannot fail to see how serious matter we rely on the impresinexact our sincerity often becomes. sion produced by personal character to The Frenchman if he wishes to compli- convey its importance to the listener or ment you will select some point about spectator. The more weighty the subyou that will bear it.

His language stance the more condensed the stateregarding this may at first (and, as I ment, the more poetic the theme the have indicated, only at first) seem exag- balder or at least the briefer its expresgerated, but the basis of it will be sion. In fine our idea of expression is sound. With us in sincere instances repression. We appeal to the imaginathe process is this : a genuine esteem tion, not to the sense or the reason. precedes the desire to please ; the de- We find the French "air" theatrical insire to please takes the form of an ex stead of logically and aptly dramatic bepression of this general feeling of es cause our ideal is to have no “air" at teem ; this form itself has nothing more all. We are egoists, not artists; it is to do with the facts it states than had not what we say or do that we wish to the compliant admissions of Polonius to count, but ourselves. Hamlet, very like a whale,” “it is Hence manifestly the paradox of which backed like a weasel ” — which furnish we are guilty in accusing the French of a not bad illustration indeed of our or- affectation at the same time that we dinary form of compliment, all question speak of them as naturally theatrical of Polonius’s sincerity, of course, aside. But they are no more affected than they

The foreigner’s notion that the French are theatrical. By our exaltation of “ do everything with an air” is perfect- character over manners, by our adjustly sound. The author of “Living Par- ing of manners to personal expression, is," who is an unusually liberal observer, by our sentimental and inartistic subadds that “they do it all the same.” This stitution of a thoroughly contained and is quite true. If there was ever a prac- intense air for the natural and spontatical and positive people under the sun neous one which fits the thought, we are it is the French. But it answers only in far graver peril from this subtle foe an elementary vulgar error. A more than is the Frenchman, whose manner plausible yet equally erroneous notion is alone, at any rate, is attacked and whose that this « air is affected and theatri- character escapes. Tell over scrupulouscal. Theatrical it may sometimes be- ly the list of your friends, American or come in that excess which is uncongenial English. How many of them are there to the French character and therefore who do not affect some character or oth

But the noticeable thing about it er, some moral rôle foreign to their nais that it is not theatrical. Such poses, tive disposition, with which their effort tones, and gesture as are common to to harmonize their demeanor is quite as our stage and occasionally overflow into obvious as it is successful? In one's so opposite a place as our pulpit would own case this may be aspiration, but in excite amazement at a théâtre de banlieue. that of others it is invariably affectation. Dramatic is the true epithet for that And the attempt to impose it results in systematization of expression noticeable a kind of pervasive and general hypocin the French. The "air ” with which risy beside which the explicit and defi


nite cafardise of the French has the trousers pockets nor his knees cross one merit of being a frank foe. In France another. Consciousness and self-cona man's valuation of himself is much sciousness are not identical terms to more nearly that which his friends set him. Nor does the artificiality of the upon him. Even in the French manner drawing-room atmosphere oppress him what we mistake for affectation is mere- and entice him into mistaking buffoonly intention. To bring all one's physi- ery for the talismanic touch of thawing cal activities into the sphere of culture nature, into spasmodic laughter, into and reason, to suit the gesture to the long stories, into that amusement of the word and the word to the thought, to ensemble, which involves neglect of the stand and walk and sit decorously, to members of the company. Of course enter a room, to bow to a lady, to carry perfect breeding is perfect breeding the on a tête-à-tête, or share a general con world over. But the perfectly bred versation, to avoid controversy, to attain man is born, not bred, if the paradox repose to do all this respectably re- may be permitted. The mass of manquires intention.

So far as communi- kind have no more genius for manners ties are concerned fine natural manners than for tight-rope dancing, but it is are a myth, but this probably does not easy to see that the mass of Frenchmen prevent the Sioux and Apaches from have a talent for them in adding a talent considering our manners artificial, or us for tenue to the social and the artistic from finding affectation in those of the instincts. French, owing to the distinctness which It would be difficult to find in any unfamiliarity gives to intention in either bourgeois interior the entire absence of instance, and to the failure in each case form characteristic of many of our own to appreciate the importance of inten- average homes. Not that in momentstion in everything of importance. or hours—of mutual ennui and common

In fine the vulgar mistrust of French délassement, the average bourgeois intesincerity is based on nothing more nor rior does not, from the point of view of less than the fact that French manners pure form, leave something to be deare studied, artificial, conventional, which sired. But, in seasons of entire sanidoes not of course mean that they are of ty, the respective shapes expansiveness necessity inelastic or excessive or super- takes in a French home and in one of ficial, but that the French put the same our own differ prodigiously.

Take a intention into manners that all civilized large French family reunion. Few sopeoples do into language, and have sys- cial pictures are prettier. There is very tematized them with the same care for likely an entire absence of that hearty correctness on the one hand and pliabil- familiarity which characterizes ity on the other. We have no exactly Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings. equivalent word for what the French The children do not romp, the grown call tenue, and if we have exactly the people do not appear as if at last the thing it is infinitely less developed and moment had come when all outward reless nearly universal than in France, straint and formality could be thrown where it is as characteristic of manners aside with a clear conscience. The visas are the impersonal and artistic spirit. itors do not "make themselves perfectly Tenue means restraint, order, measure, at home,” the hosts do not invite them style, consciousness, intention in de- to do so, or treat them as if such were meanor and bearing. Owing to his nat- the case. There is everywhere perfectly ural turn for these qualities the French- apparent the French veneer of artificial man is rarely tempted to permit himself courtesy. Children are treated with poindiscretions. He is not solicited by liteness and not hugged; babies are whimsical impulses. He has no desire banished—are generally, in fact, in a for relaxation, and does not chafe under state of chronic exile ; if at times everyrestraint. It is not difficult for him to one is talking at once it is evidently befeel at ease in an erect posture ; he sup cause of the social desire to contribute ports the greater muscular tension in- to the conversation, rather than because volved with less evident fatigue ; his of the unsocial disposition to neglect hands do not automatically seek his one's neighbor's appreciations-an abys

VOL. IV.-66


« AnkstesnisTęsti »