ON a certain day
during the Carnot Presidency, the aspect of French streets changed
as if by magic. Squads of raw recruits in their economical, ofttimes
ill-fitting uniforms still met the eye, but the highly decorative
and becoming kepi, [p.141]
tunic, and red pantaloons were gone. A stroke of the pen at the War
Office had suddenly robbed outdoor scenes of a traditionally
national and picturesque element. No more than in England were we
now perpetually reminded of armed peace. If the new regulation
allowing officers to wear civilian dress when off duty somewhat
eclipsed the gaiety of nations, we may be sure it was warmly
welcomed by the army. How agreeable, for instance, in hot weather to
don a light grey English-made suit and straw hat! What a relief,
that freedom from constantly recurring salute and the necessary
acknowledgment! The French officer of to-day, moreover, is as little
like insular conception of him as can well be. Is he not pictured as
a light-hearted, inconsequent, dashing fellow, a something of the D'Artagnan, a something of the Charles O'Malley about him,
professional duties sitting lightly upon his shoulders, domestic
cares quite shaken off? True to life were a directly opposite
portrait—that of an indefatigable worker, one to whom fireside joys
and intellectual pleasures are especially dear, and to whom
self-abnegation in the loftiest as well as the domestic sense
becomes a second nature.
I should say that in no class of French society more
pre-eminently shine the virtues of forethought and
disinterestedness. The first-mentioned quality—namely,
thrift—if not inherent, is implanted by his position.
Indebtedness is impossible to a French officer. From pecuniary
embarrassments and involvements with moneylenders he is guarded by a
code almost Draconian in its severity. Even before the
reorganization of the army in 1872 an officer could not contract
debts. A first infringement of this law entails a reprimand.
Should the debts remain unpaid, the offender is suspended by the
Minister of War for three years. At the end of that period he
is summoned before a commission of five members, one of whom holds
the same rank as himself. This commission, after the strictest
investigation, has power to decide whether or no reinstatement is
permissible. It will, of course, sometimes happen that the
verdict means disgrace and a ruined career. But the
uncompromising, unassailable solvency of the French army is without
doubt a tremendous element of its moral strength.
The D'Artagnan phase of military life is usually short-lived.
After a few years more or less gaily and perhaps boisterously spent
in Algeria, Tonquin, or Senegal, an officer returns to France and
takes a wife. Wedded to domestic life and tenacious of the
dignity implied in the designation pére de famille are
members of the French army. In no class are these privileges
often more dearly purchased. Take the case, for instance, of a
captain without any private means whatever, and whose bride brings
him a small dowry; their two incomes put together perhaps bring in
something under three hundred pounds a year. Seeing the
dearness of living in France, the necessity of keeping up
appearances, and the liability to frequent removal from place to
place, it is easy to understand the obligation of strict economy.
Until recent years an officer could not wed a portionless bride,
much less into a family with irreproachable antecedents. The
young lady must not only have possessed capital bringing in an
income of about fifty pounds yearly; her parents or guardians must
furnish the military authorities with strict guarantees of
respectability and decorum. Such regulations formed no part of
the Code Civil, but emanated from the War Office, and although they
are now rescinded, an officer must still obtain the sanction of the
Minister before contracting matrimony. The army as a
profession being held in high esteem, officers of rank can always
make brilliant marriages, but as a rule they only know one ambition,
that the noblest of all, namely, how best to serve their country.
They may not feel particularly enthusiastic about the powers that
be. Drastically critical they are necessarily, being
Frenchmen. No matter individual predilections or antipathies,
the honour of France is ever before their eyes, patriotism, in the
august sense of the word, with them is a veritable religion.
In the new volume of his monumental work, "La France
contemporaine," M. Hanotaux strikingly brings out this
characteristic. Marshal MacMahon was a Legitimist at heart,
democratic institutions were uncongenial, perhaps even hateful to
him, but when President of the French Republic, he was begged by the
Comte de Chambord to visit him secretly, the soi-disant Roi
being then in hiding at Versailles, his reply was an unhesitating
"My life is at the Comte de Chambord's service, but not my honour."
But indeed for the fine old soldier's attitude upon that
occasion, events might have turned out very differently, and France
would have been again plunged in the horrors of civil war. As
M. Hanotaux remarked, the country hitherto has little known what she
Bluff, simple-minded, monosyllabic commanders after the
marshal's pattern, rough, unscrupulous, swashbucklers of
Pellissier's type belonged to their epoch. The French officer
of to-day is pre-eminently intellectual, to be best characterized by
If a brilliant young captain works harder than any other
professional man anxious to rise to the top, the same may be averred
of those in exalted positions. Many superior officers never
dream of taking, or rather demanding, a holiday, and with the
constantly widening area of military science more arduous become
their duties and more absorbing their pursuits.
The strain on physique equals that on brains. An
artillery captain is as much tied to daily routine as his comrade in
I well remember a month spent at Clermont-Ferrand. I
had gone thither to be near a friend, the accomplished young wife of
an artillery captain. During my stay the heat was tropical in
Auvergne; but, all the same, regiments were drafted off for
artillery practice on the plain below the Puy-de-Dôme in the hottest
part of the day. Only those men who have been hardened by an
African sun can stand such an ordeal with impunity. The French
soldier laughs, sings, and makes merry; but often a hard lot is his!
One day my hostess and myself were driven with other ladies to
witness the firing, resting under the shadow of a rock. When
it was all over, my friend's husband galloped up, hot, tired, and
dusty, but gay, neat, and composed. He conducted us to the
temporary quarters erected for himself and his brother-officers;
and, whilst we sipped sirop water, he restored his spent forces by
two large glasses of vermuth, taken neat. This powerful
restorative had the desired effect. He declared himself none
the worse for his many hours' exposure to the blazing sun. A
sojourn in Senegal had rendered him sunproof, he added.
I have said that officers in command get little in the way of
holiday. One kind of change, often a very undesirable one, is
entailed upon them by their profession. French officers are
hardly more of a fixture in times of peace than of war.
Agreeably settled in some pleasant town and mild climate one year, a
captain or commandant may be shifted to a frigid zone the next, the
transport of wife and children, goods and chattels being the least
inconvenience. A brilliant officer I knew well thus fell a
victim to patriotic duty as completely as any hero killed on the
battlefield. Removed from a station of south-west France to
the arctic region of Upper Savoy, there amid perpetual snows to
supervise military works, he contracted acute sciatica. He
might, of course, have begged for an exchange on the plea of
impaired health; but no! Il faut vaincre ou mourir,
"conquer or die," is the motto of such men. Winter after
winter he kept his post, struggling against disease; finally,
obliged to retire upon half-pay, he dragged out a painful year or
two, dying in the prime of life. Such instances are numerous,
true heroism therein shining more conspicuously than in the
chronicles of so-called glorious campaigns.
Hard-worked as he is, the French officer always finds time to
serve his friends. No matter his circumstances, he is lavishly
hospitable. With what grace and cordiality will he do the
honours of a station however remote! How charmingly will
drawbacks be got over! I recollect an incident illustrating
the latter remark. Many years ago I was travelling with four
friends in Algeria. When we arrived at Teniet-el-Haad, a
captain to whom we had a letter of introduction carried us off to a
hastily improvised dinner, his young wife gracefully doing the
honours, and several fellow-officers and their ladies being invited
to meet us. We were seated at table, and the Kabyle servant
had just entered with the soup, when, by an unlucky jerk, he tipped
it over, every one jumping up to avoid the steaming hot cascade.
"Il faut se passer nous de notre potage alors," "We must do
without our soup, then," was all our host said, smiling as he spoke;
and with equal coolness and good-nature Hamet took his discomfiture.
Many other illustrations I could cite in point did space
permit. "Where there's a will there's a way," is a motto an
officer holds to, taking no account of trouble, fatigue, or expense,
in his person royally representing the noble French army, doing the
honours of France.
Geniality, serviceableness, simplicity, an immense capacity
for enjoyment, that is to say, reciprocated enjoyment, these are
among the lighter graces of national temperament. We must go
deeper if we would appraise a body of men less generally known in
England than perhaps any other of their country people. French
statesmen, scientists, representatives of art, industry, and
commerce now happily find themselves at home among us. Is it
too much to hope that at no distant period the entente cordiale
may bring French soldiers into intimate contact with their English
THE COUNTRY DOCTOR
doctors of France, I doubt not, are familiar to most folks.
Who has not read Balzac's moving apotheosis of a humble
practitioner, the story of the good Monsieur Benassis, "our father,"
as the villagers called him?
And who has not read Flaubert's roman nécessaire, the
necessary novel some critic has misnamed it, a picture of life
equalling in ugliness the beauty of the other? Charles Bovary,
the heavy, plodding, matter-of-fact country doctor, interests us
from a single point of view; the misfortunes brought upon him by his
union with a middle-class Messalina. Balzac's hero is perhaps
a rare type in any country; Charbovari, so in youth Flaubert's
doctor called himself, must be set down as an uncommon specimen in
France. Frenchmen, like ourselves, may dazzle us with their
shining qualities, or put humanity to the blush by their vices;
stupidity is not a Gallic foible.
Another thing we may also take for granted: whether a
Benassis or a Charbovari, no man works harder than the French
provincial doctor. When Balzac put the colophon to "Le Médecin
de Campagne" in 1833, and, twenty-seven years later, Flaubert
brought out "Madame Bovary," country doctors in France were few and
far between. The rural practitioner was most often the nun.
Even where qualified medical skill was available, the peasants
preferred to go to the bonnes sœurs. I well remember,
when staying with friends in Anjou many years ago, a visit we paid
to a village convent. One of the sisters, a rough and ready
but capable-looking woman, began speaking of her medical rounds.
"Good heavens, how busy I am!" she said. "Just now every soul
in the place wants putting to rights." [p.148]
And she evidently put them to rights with a vengeance. There
were drugs enough in her little parlour to stock an apothecary's
shop; and as many of the nuns are excellent herbalists, for ordinary
ailments I have no doubt they prove efficient.
If at any time you visit village folks, the first thing they
do is to introduce you to the bonnes sœurs. When
staying at the charming little village of Nant in the Aveyron, the
mistress of our comfortable inn immediately carried me off on a
visit of ceremony to the convent. The mother-superior was
evidently a medical authority in the place, and in order to supply
her pharmacopœia, had yearly collections made of all the medicinal
plants growing round about. Here on the floor of a chamber
exposed to sun and air were stores of wild lavender for sweetening
the linen-presses, mallows, gentian, elder-flowers, poppies, leaves
of the red vine and limes, with vast heaps of the Veronica
officinalis, or thé des Alpes, as it is called in France,
and many others. That excellent little work, Dr. Saffray's "Remèdes
des Champs," had apparently been got by heart.
But it was not only the peasants who resorted, and still
resort, to the convent instead of the surgery, as the following
story will show. A few years ago I was visiting rich
vignerons in Burgundy, when their cook was severely bitten by a
sporting dog. Several of these dogs were allowed to run loose
in a yard adjoining the kitchen; and one day, thinking that they
wanted no more of the food set down for them, poor old Justine
imprudently lifted a half-emptied bowl. In a second the animal
in question, a very handsome and powerful creature, had pinned her
to the ground. The housemaid, hearing her fellow-servant's
cries, rushed out with a broomstick and beat off the assailant, not
before he had fearfully lacerated the woman's arm. Was a
doctor sent for? Not a bit of it. The nuns took my old
friend Justine in hand, and, being sound in body and mind, she was
soon at work again, no whit worse for the misadventure. It did
seem to me astonishing that the matter should not have been taken
more seriously, all the more so as M. Pasteur's name just then was
in everybody's mouth. What I quite expected was that Justine,
under the care of a nun, would have been despatched to Paris, there
to undergo Pasteurian treatment. Very likely she fared better
at home. And as things fell out in Goldsmith's poem, "the dog
it was that died." Poor Figaro showed no signs of madness; but
it was deemed unwise to keep so fierce-tempered a creature about the
place, and he was shot.
When more than a quarter of a century ago I spent a year in
Brittany and Anjou, I constantly heard it asserted that the nuns
starved out the country doctors. Where the choice lay between
nun and doctor, the peasants, alike the well-to-do would the needy
would prefer to go to the former, as often the handier and always
the cheaper. Provided with a bishop's lettre d'obédience,
the bonnes sœurs were much in the position of our own
bone-setters, barber-surgeons, and unqualified medical assistants
long since prohibited by law. Legislation in France and
progressive ideas have now changed all this, and made the profession
of country doctor fairly remunerative. But not till July,
1893, was a law passed assuring gratuitous medical services to the
indigent poor, the doctor being paid respectively by the State, the
department, and the communes. The term "indigent poor" must be
understood as an equivalent to our own poor in receipt of
poor-relief. Medicines are not supplied gratuitously.
Oddly enough, doctors' fees in provincial France are no
higher than they were thirty years ago. So far back as 1875,
whilst passing through Brest, the maritime capital of Brittany, I
needed treatment for passing indisposition. To my amazement,
the doctor's fee was two francs only. On my mentioning the
matter to the French friend who was with me, she replied that two
francs a visit was the usual charge in provincial towns and in the
country. And quite enough, too, she said. And a year or
two ago I was taken ill at a little town of Champagne. Here,
as at Brest, the usual medical fee was two francs a visit, not a
centime higher than it had been more than a quarter of a century
before. Yet the price of living has greatly risen throughout
France since the Franco-Prussian war. How, then, do country
doctors contrive to make ends meet? "Oh," retorted my hostess,
"we have three doctors here; they have as much as they can do, and
are all rich."
There are two explanations of this speech. In the first
place, the town contains three thousand inhabitants, thus allotting
a thousand to each practitioner; [p.150]
in the second place, the word "rich" is susceptible of divers
interpretations. The French lady, who always travelled first
class because she was rich, was rich because most likely she never
spent more than a hundred and fifty of two hundred; and the same
explanation, I dare say, applies to the three medical men in this
little country town. They were rich, in all probability, on
three or four hundred a year—rich just because they made double that
In order to comprehend French life and character we must bear
one fact in mind. Appearance is not a fetich in France as in
England; outside show is not sacrificed to; Mrs. Grundy is no
twentieth-century Baal. On the other hand, good repute is
sedulously nursed; personal dignity and family honour are hedged
round with respect. We must not take the so-called realistic
novelist's standard to be the true one. Frenchmen, I should
say, as a rule spend a third less upon dress than Englishmen.
It does not follow that the individual is held in slight esteem,
personality thereby discounted. These provincial and country
doctors do not outwardly resemble their spic-and-span English
colleagues, nor do they affect what is called style in their
equipages—in most cases the conveyance is a bicycle—and manner of
living. How can they do so upon an income derived from
one-and-eight-penny fees? But many are doubtless rich in the
logical sense of the word—that is, they live considerably below
their income, and save money. Unostentatious as is their
manner of living, the status of country doctor is greatly changed
since Flaubert wrote his roman nécessaire.
There is one highly suggestive scene in "Madame Bovary."
Husband and wife have arrived at the marquis's château for the ball,
and whilst the ambitious Emma puts on her barège dress, Charles
remarks that the straps of his trousers will be in the way whilst
dancing. "Dancing?" exclaims Emma. "Yes." "You
must be crazy," retorts the little bourgeoise; everybody will
make fun of you. Keep your place. Besides," she added,
"it is more becoming in a doctor not to dance."
Now, in the first place, you would not nowadays find among
the eleven thousand and odd medical men in France a lourdaud,
or heavy loutish fellow after the pattern of poor Charles Bovary.
Higher attainments, increased facilities of social intercourse, and
progress generally in France as elsewhere have rendered certain
types obsolete. In the second place, every Frenchman at the
present time can dance well, and I should have said it was so when
Flaubert wrote. And, thirdly, a country doctor and his wife
would not in these days lose their heads at being invited to a
marquis's château. Thirty-five years of democratic
institutions have lent the social colouring of this novel historic
There is one whimsical trait in the French country doctor.
He does not relish being paid for his services. The difficulty
in dealing with him is the matter of remuneration, by what
roundabout contrivance to transfer his two-franc fees from your
pocket to his own. It is my firm belief that French doctors,
if it were practicable, would infinitely prefer to attend rich
patients as they do the poor, for nothing. Take the case of my
last-mentioned medical attendant, for instance. On arriving at
the little Champenois town I unfortunately fell ill, and Dr. B. was
in close attendance upon me for many days. "Ne vous tourmentez
pas" ("Do not be uneasy"), Dr. B. reiterated when, as my departure
drew near, I ventured to ask for his bill. A second attempt to
settle the little matter only evoked the same, "Ne vous tourmentez
pas;" and when the morning for setting out came, it really seemed as
if I must leave my debt behind me. At the last moment,
however, just as I was about to start for the station, up came the
doctor's maid-of-all-work, or rather working-housekeeper, breathless
and flustered, with the anxiously expected account. On my
hostess handing her the sum, just a pound, the good woman turned it
over in her palm, exclaiming, "My! How these doctors make
money, to be sure!" Upon another occasion the same reluctance
was even more divertingly manifested. I was staying with
French friends in Germanized France, and had called in a young
French doctor. My hostesses begged me on no account whatever
to proffer money; he would be much hurt by such a proceeding, they
said. So before I left one of the ladies wrote a note at my
request, enclosing the customary fee, and making a quite apologetic
demand for his acceptance of the same.
Half a dozen provincial doctors I have known in France, and
if not guardian angels of humanity, veritable apostles of the
healing art like Balzac's hero, one and all might serve as worthy
types. Small is the number lifted by chance or ambition into
more exalted spheres, laborious the round of duty, modest the
guerdon. Yet no class does more honour to France. The
country doctor, moreover, forms a link between peasant and
bourgeois, an intermediary bridging over social distinctions,
linking two classes not always sympathetic. A distinctive
feature of French rural life, it is a pity that the médecin de
campagne is so persistently ignored by contemporary novelists
over the water.
MY FRIEND MONSIEUR LE CURE
IT is curious how
insignificant a part the parish priest plays in French fiction.
One novel ofttimes proves the germ of another, and Balzac's little
masterpiece, "Le Curé de Tours," as we now know, suggested what is
not only the masterpiece of another writer, but the only great
French romance having a priest for hero. "L'Abbé Tigrane," by
the late Ferdinand Fabre, belongs to a series of powerful
ecclesiastical studies which stand absolutely alone. All
readers who wish to realize clerical life in France from the topmost
rung to the bottom of the ladder must acquaint themselves with this
not too numerous collection. Such general neglect is all the
more difficult to understand, since the priest constitutes an
integral portion of family life in France; the confessor is indeed
in some sort a member of the household. Be his part exalted or
lowly, whether he occupies a lofty position alike in the Church and
in the world, or in a remote village is counted rich on forty pounds
a year, the relation between priest and parishioner is the same, one
of constant intercourse and closest intimacy, with, of course,
exceptions. Here and there are Socialist and anti-clerical
circles from which any representative of sacerdotalism is excluded.
These, however, are uncommon cases.
On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that there is no
analogy whatever between the status of a French curé and a clergyman
of the Church of England.
Strictly speaking, there is no State Church in France.
It was during the reign of Louis Philippe that the words religion
de l'État were struck out of the charter by the Chamber of
Deputies, la religion de la majorité des Français being
placed in their stead. The French Government acknowledges and
subsidizes in equal proportion four religions—namely, the Roman
Catholic, the Protestant, the Jewish, and in Algeria the Mohammedan;
though it must be remembered that there are about thirty Catholics
to one Protestant, and there are only about fifty synagogues in all
France. The Protestant pastor, indeed, receives higher pay
than the Catholic priest; being the father of a family, he is
understood to want a better income. Whenever a Protestant
temple, Jewish synagogue, or in Algeria a new mosque is built, the
State makes a grant precisely as in the case of a Catholic church.
No peasant-born, illiterate, boorish wearer of the soutane
was my friend Monsieur le curé. Formerly professor at a
seminary, learned, genial, versed in the usages of society, how came
such a man to be planted in an out-of-the-way commune of eastern
France, numbering a few hundred souls only, and these, with the
exception of the juge de paix all belonging to the peasant
The mystery was afterwards cleared up. The highly
cultivated and influential residents of the château situated at some
distance from the village were on good terms with the bishop of the
diocese. As it was their custom to spend five months of the
year in the country, they depended somewhat upon the curé for
society, and Monseigneur had obligingly made an exchange. A
somewhat heavy, uneducated priest was sent elsewhere, and hither
came Monsieur le curé in his place. Agreeable intercourse,
unlimited hospitality, and sympathetic parochial co-operation during
five months of the year doubtless went far to compensate for
isolation during the remaining seven. Yet, taking these
advantages into consideration, how modest such a sphere of action,
how apparently inadequate its remuneration!
M. le cure's yearly stipend was just sixty pounds, in
addition to which he received a good house, garden, and paddock,
about half an acre in all, and the usual ecclesiastical fees, called
le casuel, the latter perhaps bringing his receipts to a
hundred pounds a year. As the patrimony of both rich and poor
is rigidly divided amongst sons and daughters in France, it may be
that this village priest enjoyed a small private income. In
any case, only devotion to his calling could render the position
When I made his acquaintance, M. le curé was in the prime of
life, too florid, too portly perhaps, for health, but possessing a
striking and benignant presence. Extremely fastidious as he
was in personal matters, his soutane was ever well brushed,
his muslin lappets spotless, the silver buckles of his shoes highly
polished. Nor less was he careful in clothing his thoughts,
always expressing himself choicely and with perfect intonation.
During my repeated visits to the hospital château I renewed an
acquaintance which finally ripened into friendship. At the
dinner-table the conversation would, of course, be general; but
whenever he called in the afternoon we invariably had a long
theological discussion, never losing temper on either side, and, I
need hardly say, never changing each other's way of looking at
things by so much as a hair-breadth. Upon other occasions
everyday topics would come up, M. le curé showing the liveliest
interest in matters lying wholly outside his especial field of
thought and action.
It will happen that such cosmopolitan tastes are sometimes
hampered even in these days by episcopal authority. A village
priest has not much money to spare upon books or newspapers, and the
châtelaine used to send frequent supplies of these to the
presbytery. One evening, as he was leaving after dinner, she
gave him a bundle of the Figaro, a newspaper without which no
reading Frenchman or Frenchwoman can support existence, and which
costs twopence daily. As he tied up the parcel he turned to
his hostess, saying with a smile―
"I shall take great care, madame, not to let my bishop catch
sight of these numbers of the Figaro."
It seemed odd that a middle-aged priest could not choose his
own newspaper; but was not the immortal Mrs. Proudie capable of
rating a curate for a less offence than smuggling a forbidden
With the benevolent intention of bettering his circumstances,
the châtelaine advised her friend to take an English pupil or
two. In order that I might be able to furnish any information
required of an outsider, M. le curé showed me over his house.
A well-built, commodious house it was, and the large fruit and
vegetable garden bespoke excellent husbandry.
"You occasionally amuse yourself here, I suppose, M. le curé?"
I asked, knowing that many parish priests are very good gardeners.
"No, indeed," was the reply. "My servant keeps it in
order. Ah! she is a good girl" (une bonne fille).
This good girl was a stout, homely spinster between fifty and
sixty; but, no matter her age, a spinster is always une fille
in the French language. Cook, laundry-maid, seamstress,
housekeeper, gardener, M. le curé's bonne fille must have
well earned her wages, whatever they might be.
My friend had enjoyed unusual opportunities of travel for a
village priest. He had visited, perhaps in an official
capacity, Ober-Ammergau, witnessing the Passion Play, with which he
was delighted; Lourdes, in the miracles of which he firmly believed;
and, lastly, Rome.
The most charitably disposed man in the world, M. le curé
dilated with positive acerbity on the slovenliness and uncared-for
appearance of his Italian brethren. "I assure you," he said to
me, "I have seen a priest's soutane so greasy that boiled
down it would have made a thick soup!"
But is not the French curé rich by comparison with an Italian
prêtre, and might not such well-worn robes be thought a
matter of necessity rather than inclination?
M. le curé's thoughts were now bent upon London. There
was only one point on which he had misgivings. Could he
without inconvenience retain his priestly garb? French priests
never quit the soutane, and on the settlement of this doubt
depended his decision.
"Nothing would induce me to don civilian dress," he
said—"nothing in the world."
I assured him that, although in England ecclesiastical
habiliments had long gone out of fashion, English folks were
peaceful, and he was not likely to be molested on that account.
To London a little later accordingly he went. Indefatigably
piloted by English friends, he contrived during his three days' stay
to see what generally goes by the name of everything—the Tower, St.
Paul's, the Abbey, the museums, parks, and civic monuments, winding
up with an evening at the House of Commons. And the wearing of
the soutane occasioned no inconvenience.
I must here explain that by virtue of his age M. le curé had
escaped military service, now in France, as in Germany, an
obligation alike of seminarists, students preparing for the
Protestant ordination, or the Jewish priesthood. In case of
war French seminarists would be employed in the ambulance, hospital,
and commissariat departments, and not obliged to use arms.
That journey was M. le curé's last holiday. A few
months later I was grieved, although not greatly surprised, to hear
of his death from apoplexy. He had never looked like a man in
good health, and one part of his duty had ever tried him greatly.
We used after mass to say "How d'ye do?" to him in the
sacristy, and upon one occasion I observed his look of fatigue, even
"It is not the long standing and use of the voice that I
feel, but protracted long fasts," he replied, with a sigh.
With many other parish priests I have made passing
acquaintance, most of these being peasant-born and having little
interest in the outer world. Whenever any kind of
entertainment is given by country residents, or any unusual delicacy
is about to be served, the curé is invited to partake. The
naïveté of these worthy men is often diverting enough. When I
was staying in a country house near Dijon some years since, my
hostess had prepared a local rarity in the shape of a game pâté,
or open pie, a vast dish lined with pastry and filled with every
variety of game in season—partridge, quail, pheasant, hare, venison,
and, I believe, even slices of wild boar. This savoury mess
naturally called for the exercise of hospitality. The curé and
his nephew were invited, and after dinner I had a little chat with
"Who will succeed the Queen on the throne of England?" he
I should have thought that not a man or woman in France,
however unlettered, would have been ignorant of the Prince of
Wales's existence and his position.
Many village priests, as I have mentioned, are excellent
gardeners. One afternoon some French friends in the
Seine-et-Marne, wanting some dessert and preserving fruit, took me
with them to the presbytery of a neighbouring village. Very
inviting looked the place with its vine-covered walls and wealth of
flowers. The curé, who told us that he had been at work in his
garden from four to six o'clock in the morning, received us in quite
a business-like way, yet very courteously, and at once conducted us
to his fruit and vegetable gardens at some little distance from the
house. There we found the greatest profusion and evidence of
labour and unremitting skill. The fruit-trees were laden;
Alpine strawberries, currants, melons, apricots, were in abundance;
of vegetables, also, there was a splendid show. Nor were
flowers wanting for the bees—for M. le curé was also a
bee-keeper—double sunflowers, mallows, gladioli; a score of hives
completing the picture, which the owner contemplated with pardonable
"You have only just given your orders in time, ladies," he
said. "All my greengages are to be gathered at once for the
London market. Ah, those English! those English! they take the
best of everything."
Whereupon I ventured upon the rejoinder that if we robbed our
neighbours of their best produce, at least our money found its way
into their pockets. I need hardly say that, whether lettered
or unlettered, the parish priest in France is generally
anti-Republican and out of sympathy with existing institutions.
Most friendly I have ever found him, and from one good curé near
Nancy I have a standing invitation to make his presbytère my
pied à terre when next that way.
THE PROTESTANT PASTOR
UNDER the roof of
more than one French parsonage during the summer holiday I have
found, as Bunyan wrote, "harbour and good company." On one
sojourn of this kind do I look back with especial pleasure, that of
September days in a Pyrenean hamlet. So near lies this little
Protestant centre to the Spanish frontier that a bridle-path leads
over the mountains into Aragon, the ride occupying three or four
hours. I had journeyed with a friend from Pau, quitting the
railway at Oloron (Basses Pyrenees), to enjoy a sixteen-mile drive,
one of the loveliest of the countless lovely drives I have taken in
As we climbed the mountain road leading to our destination in
the beautiful Vallée d'Aspe every turn revealed new features, a
garve, or mountain stream, after the manner of Pyrenean streams,
making noisy cascades, waterfalls, and little whirlpools by the way.
On either side of the broadening velvety green valley, with its
foamy, turbulent river, rose an array of stately peaks, here and
there a glittering white thread breaking the dark surface of the
rock, some mountain torrent falling from a height of many hundred or
even thousand feet. After winding slowly upwards for three
hours, the mountains closed round us abruptly, shutting in a wide
verdant valley with white-walled, grey-roofed hamlets scattered here
and there, all singularly alike. Half an hour more on the
level, and we found ourselves not only in a pleasant, cheerful
house, but at home, as if we had suddenly dropped upon old friends.
The parsonage-house, of somewhat greater pretensions than its
neighbours, with church and school house, might almost be said to
form one building, each of the three structures communicating with
the other. On one side of the dwelling lay a little garden, or
rather orchard, with seats under the trees. Three-storeyed,
airy, roomy, the house suggested that palladium of the Reformed
Church, family life, and at the same time attested the impartiality
of the French State. As I have elsewhere particularized, there
is no State or privileged church in France. Alike Protestant
pastor, Jewish Rabbi, and in Algeria, Mohammedan Imam, receive
stipends and accommodation, as well as the Catholic clergy.
When, after tea and a rest in our comfortable bedrooms, we
joined the family board at dinner, we found a goodly assemblage,
upwards of a dozen covers being laid. The presence of two
other boarders accounted for the ample fare, excellent service, and
an air of pervading comfort. But, as I have just said, we at
once felt at home. Protestantism has ever been a kind of
freemasonry, an anticipatory entente cordiale between French
and English. Anglo-French marriages are chiefly, I am tempted
to say exclusively, found among Protestant circles in France.
Of eight pastors I have known, four were wedded to English wives.
Partly owing to other circumstance, a parsonage, unlike the
majority of French homes, is not hedged round by a Chinese wall.
When young people from England or Scandinavia want to perfect
themselves in French and see something of French family life, the
only doors open to them are those of the presbytère.
Judicial as is the French Government in dealing with
ministers of religion, a pastor's pay cannot support a family.
The pupil, the boarder, swell the domestic budget, cover servants'
wages, and defray educational expenses.
Here the domestic atmosphere was one of wellbeing. A
very genial and animated party we were, the family group numbering
four boys and a girl, with the host's brother, like himself a
minister. In addition to these were two young men pursuing
their studies during the long vacation. One was a French
law-student, the other a Spanish ex-seminarist, who had renounced
Rome and was preparing for Protestant ministry.
In the forenoon Monsieur C― would be busy with his pupils,
madame and her sixteen-year-old daughter, wearing little mob-caps
and aprons, would occupy themselves in household matters, their
visitors could read or write abroad, having ever before them a
grandiose panorama, on either side "the everlasting hills," ramparts
of brilliant green, their slopes dotted with herdsmen's châlet
and shepherd's hut. The mention of these recalls to memory a
moving and highly suggestive incident.
One day, on taking my place at the breakfast or rather
luncheon table, I missed our host and his eldest son, a lad of
Madame C―, when we found ourselves alone, took the
opportunity of explaining this absence. "My husband, with
Ernest, set off at five o'clock this morning for the mountain
yonder," she said, pointing to the highest points of the range over
against us. "The lad has an ardent desire to enter the
ministry, and wanted some quiet talk with his father on the subject.
My husband, for his part, as you can well conceive, was anxious to
assure himself that the desire is no passing fancy, but a really
devout aspiration. So the pair are going to have two days'
communion together, sharing at night the hospitality of a friendly
herdsman. I expect them back to-morrow evening."
It seemed to me a beautiful incident, this setting out of
father and son for the mountain, on that awful height, amid those
vast solitudes, as it were under the very eye of Heaven, taking
counsel together, coming to the most momentous decision of a young
life. If I remember rightly, the pastorate was decided upon.
Another incident, this time of an amusing kind, I must mention.
In this pastoral region, sixteen miles from a railway, we
certainly expected to find no country-people except under the
pastor's roof. But the ubiquitous British, where are they not?
Here at the other end of the village, a retired Anglo-Indian
with his wife and family had settled down, as the way of English
folks is, surrounding themselves with as many comforts as could be
got, bringing, indeed, an atmosphere of home. The one
bourgeois dwelling of the place wore quite a familiar aspect
when in the evening we all trooped thither, tea, chat, and table
games being shared by young and old. It is amazing how the
English teapot young brings out the genial side, the human side of
My host was especially happy in his church and in his people;
mes enfants he affectionately called these good dalesfolk,
all with few exceptions forming his congregation. For the
first time, indeed, I found my co-religionists in a majority, but
the Vallée d'Aspe formed part of the ancient Béarn, and during
centuries the Reformed faith has been stoutly upheld in these
fastnesses. A tablet in the neat little church of Osse recalls
how the original place of Protestant worship was levelled to the
ground by royal edict in 1685, and only rebuilt in 1800-5.
With a refinement of cruelty, it was the Protestants themselves who,
on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, were compelled to demolish
their beloved temple. Deprived of church, pastor, and
Bibles, constrained to bury their dead in field or garden, the
Aspois yet clung tenaciously to the faith of their fathers.
One concession, and one only, they made. Peasant property from
time immemorial has existed in the Pyrenees, and in order to
legitimize their children and enjoy testamentary privileges, the
Protestants of the Vallée d'Aspe submitted to marriages according to
Romish rites. Old family Bibles are very rarely to be found
among the descendants of these ancient Huguenot families. The
explanation is simple. No matter the precautions taken to hide
such heirlooms and prime sources of consolation, sooner or later
inkling was got of them by the maréchaussée, or royal police,
and the sacred books were ruthlessly burnt.
Here I will mention that, although the Catholic and
Protestant population live harmoniously side by side inter-marriages
are rare, and the rival churches neither gain nor lose adherents to
any appreciable extent. Between Protestant pastor and Catholic
priest in any part of France there is no kind of intercourse
whatever. They stand aloof from one another as French and
Germans in the annexed provinces.
On Sunday mornings the little church would be full, the men
dressed in black, cloth trousers, alpaca blouses, and neckties, set
off by spotless shirt-fronts, the older women wearing the black hood
and long black coat of the traditional Huguenot matron, the younger
of the children dark stuff gowns and coloured kerchiefs tied under
the chin. The service was of the simplest, my host's young
daughter presiding at the harmonium, her mother leading the choir of
school children, and all the congregation, as in English churches,
joining in the hymns. The communion service was especially
touching in its simplicity and the subdued fervour of the partakers.
All stood in a semicircle before the table, the pastor, as he handed
symbolic draught and bread to each, uttering some scriptural phrase
appropriate to recipient and occasion.
One's thoughts went back to the ancestors of these sturdy
mountaineers, their pastors condemned to death or the galleys, their
assemblage for purposes of worship liable to similar punishments,
their very Bibles burnt by the common hangman. Like the
Pilgrim Fathers, the French Huguenots have been tried in the fire,
and rarely found wanting.
Sunday was observed as a day of unbroken repose. My
host would, in the afternoon, take me for a round of calls; and
highly instructive were these chats with peasant farmers, some
possessing an acre or two only, and living in frugalest fashion,
others owning well-stocked farms of twenty or thirty acres, and
commodious well-furnished houses. In one, indeed, we found a
piano, pictures, and a Japanese cabinet! The region is
entirely pastoral, hardly a bourgeois element entering into
this community of six hundred souls. The village street
consists of farmhouses, and where shops are needed folks betake
themselves to Bedous, on the other side of the gave.
Shopping, however, is here reduced to the minimum. The women
still spin linen from home-grown flax, wheat and maize are grown for
household use, pigs and poultry reared for domestic consumption, and
milk is the chief drink of old and young. Doubtless, although
this point I did not inquire into, every matron had her provision of
home-made simples, a family medicine chest, conferring independence
of the pharmacy.
With no little regret my friend and myself turned our backs
upon this mountain-hemmed parsonage. Life is short, and the
French map is enormous. Having set myself the task of
traversing France from end to end, I could not hope to revisit
scenes so full of natural beauty and pleasurable association.
A drive of sixteen miles to and from a railway station is a serious
obstacle to those who do not appreciate the motor-car. I felt
that the Vallée d'Aspe, alas! must remain a memory, a charming but
closed chapter of French experiences.
It must not be inferred that every pastor's lot is cast in
such pleasant places. From a pecuniary and social point of
view, many pastorates may appear more desirable; but how delightful
the peace of this Pyrenean retreat, how grateful the sense of
reciprocated amity and esteem! To some the isolation would
prove irksome, especially during the winter season. The
climate, however, is comparatively mild, and whilst the mountains
are tipped with snow, the valley is very rarely so whitened.
In other French parsonages have I spent many weeks. One
of these represented the humbler, a second the more cosmopolitan,
type. Perhaps the stipend of the first incumbent reached two
thousand francs, just £80 a year, in addition to good house and
large garden. My hosts had two children, and at that time no
private means. As, moreover, they lived in a remote country
town, and were without English connections, boarders could not be
counted upon. So the narrow resources were eked out with rigid
economy. A servant was, of course, wholly out of the question.
The pastor taught his boy and girl, and his wife, with occasional
help from outside, did the housework. The daily fare was soup,
followed by the meat and vegetables from which it had been made, a
cutlet or some other extra being put before the visitor.
Madame, although neatness itself, never wore a gown except on
Sundays, or when paying a visit, her usual costume being a well-worn
but quite clean and tidy morning wrap. The solitary black silk
dress had to be most carefully used, so little prospect seemed there
of ever replacing it. By the strangest caprice of fortune,
some years after my visit this lady's husband inherited a handsome
fortune. Rare, indeed, are such windfalls in the French
parsonage, perhaps rarer still the sequel of this story.
For when I lately asked of a common friend what had become of
the pastor and his heritage, she replied―
"He stays where he was, and does nothing but good with his
My host of former days had neither quitted the little
parsonage of that country town nor relinquished his calling.
There, amid old friends and associations, he will most likely
end his days. We see in his case the result of early bringing
up, the influence of Huguenot ancestry.
In large cities possessing a numerous Protestant community
the stipend is higher, and the parsonage is replaced by a commodious
flat. The attractions of society and resources of a town
enable pastors to receive young men of good family, English or
otherwise, who appreciably contribute to the family budget.
Belonging to this category is the third pastoral roof under which I
spent a pleasant summer holiday, and concerning which there is not
much to say. Existence under such conditions becomes
cosmopolitan. However agreeable may be our sojourn, it has no
The Protestant pastor has not found favour with the French
novelists. Few and far between are the stories in which the
Protestant element is introduced at all. "Constance," by Th.
Bentzon, is an exception; "L'un vers l'autre," an engaging story by
a new writer, is another. The late Alphonse Daudet brutally
travestied Protestanism in "L'Évangeliste;" and another writer of
European reputation, M. Jules Lemaitre, stooped so low as to turn
the Reformed faith into buffoonery for the stage. For the most
part French writers seem to share Louis Blanc's opinion—in France
Protestantism has ceased to exist.
I add that the Reformed Church (Calvinistic) in 1893 numbered
883 pastors, as against 90 of the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran),
and that 800 French towns and communes possess Protestant churches,
these figures being exclusive of English places of worship.
The number of churches and schools is added to every year.
THE PROFESSOR OF AGRICULTURE
is a French characteristic. Our neighbours never tire of
stultifying themselves as a nation of functionaries, a social body
made up of small placemen. Some writers, in this predilection
for administrative routine, even discern a canker-worm preying upon
national vitality. They hold that officialism is eating away
the germs of enterprise and independence. The manhood of
France, assert such critics, is thereby losing qualities more than
ever needed if their country is to maintain her position among
May not the bureaucratic system be justified by national
character—be, in fact, a natural evolution of temperament and
aptitudes? Just as an insular people is impelled to hazard and
adventure, may not a continental nation be predisposed to repose and
For my own part, I have long regarded the small French
official from an admiring and sympathetic point of view.
Bureaucracy seems to me a factor in the body politic no less
admirable than that of peasant proprietorship itself. At the
present time, too, how refreshing is the contemplation of these
dignified, unpretentious, laborious lives! Elsewhere we find
frenzied speculation, inordinate craving after wealth, and lavish
expenditure. Untouched by such sinister influences, the French
civil servant "keeps the noiseless tenor of his way," a modest
competence crowning his honourable and most useful career.
To no class have I been more indebted in the course of my
usual surveys than to the departmental professor of agriculture. Locus
est et pluribus umbris, "plenty of room for uninvited guests,"
wrote the Roman poet to his friend; and the Third Republic, when
creating these State professorships, was evidently of Horace's
opinion. Multifarious as were already Government bureaux, a
few more might advantageously be added. Paradoxical as it may
sound, the departmental professor was nominated in order to teach
the peasant farming! But if, as Arthur Young wrote a hundred
and odd years ago, you give a man secure possession of a black rock
and he will turn it into a garden, peasant ownership is not always
progressive. The departmental professor must coax small
farmers out of their groove—in fine, teach them that there are more
things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy.
Recruited from the State agricultural schools of Rennes, Grignau,
Montpellier, and others, these gentlemen have gone through a
complete practical and scientific training, and exercise a real
influence in rural districts. Their gratuitous classes in
winter evenings, no matter how apparently mystifying may be the
subject treated, are always well attended by young and old.
But it is the Sunday afternoon conférence, or lecture held
out-of-doors, that proves most attractive and illuminating to the
hard-headed peasant. These lectures take the form of an
object-lesson. New machinery and chemical manures, seeds,
plants, and roots are exhibited, inquiries being invited and
Very characteristic is the behaviour of the middle-aged,
often white-haired pupils gathered around the demonstrator's table.
Most deliberative, most leisurely of national temperaments, the
French mind works slowly.
"It will often happen," says my friend Monsieur R―,
departmental professor in Western France, "that a peasant farmer
will return again and again to a piece of machinery or sample of
chemical manure before making up his mind to buy either. Like
a bird suspecting a gin, he hovers round the tempting bait at a
distance, at last venturing upon nearer inspection and a few
inquiries, perhaps weeks later deciding upon the perilous leap; in
other words, to throw aside his antiquated drilling machine for
Ransome's latest improvement, or to lay out a few francs upon
approved seeds or roots." No more cautious, I should perhaps
say suspicious, being inhabits the globe than Jacques Bonhomme.
Not only does farming proper, that is to say, the cultivation of the
soil and the breeding of stock, fall within the professor's
province, but kindred subjects, the name of which in France is
legion. Especially must his attention be given to the ofttimes
multifarious products and industries of his own province, such as
mule-rearing, cyder and liqueur making, the culture of medicinal
herbs, silkworm breeding, vine-dressing, and the fabrication of
wine. In matters agricultural he must indeed be encyclopædic,
resembling Fadladeen, the great Vizier, "who was a judge of
everything, from the pencilling of a Circassian's eyelids to the
deepest questions of science and literature, from a conserve of
rose-leaves to an epic poem."
Like the immortal Mr. Turveydrop, also, he must perpetually
show himself. And if not in the flesh, at least vicariously,
he must survey mankind from China to Peru. Not only is his
presence indispensable at local and muncipal meetings of
agricultural societies, at agricultural shows and congresses, at
sittings of the Departmental Council General, at markets and fairs,
but beyond the frontier, across the channel and the Gulf of Lyons,
he wends his way. Now he visits the Shire horse show at
Islington, now an agricultural congress in Rome, or an exposition
vinicole (exhibition of wines) in Algeria.
Again, the amount of writing that has to be got through by
the departmental professor is enormous. Reports for the
Minister of Agriculture are periodically drawn up, pamphlets and
flying sheets for general distribution are expected of him, besides
contributions to the local journals of agriculture. Whenever I
receive a printed communication from my friend M. R―, I am moved to
confraternal commiseration, my own aching fingers ache doubly out of
The devastation wrought by the phylloxera, as we all know,
cost France a sum equal to that of the Franco-Prussian war
indemnity, namely, two hundred millions sterling. In the midst
of that panic-stricken period a prize of a million francs (£40,000)
was offered by the Government for the discovery of a remedy.
No one obtained this splendid gratuity, but several professors of
agriculture, amongst others M. R―, have serviceably co-operated in
the reconstitution of vineyards by American stocks, and other works
The Third Republic has ennobled agriculture as well as
accorded it a professorial chair. As behoved a régime
whose watchword is peace, the French Government some years since
instituted a second Legion of Honour. Warriors wear the red
ribbon, academic dignities confer the purple; the yellow rosette now
chiefly encountered at agricultural shows and markets denotes the
newly created ordre du mérite agricole, or order of
agricultural merit. Not only do we see this badge on the
frock-coat of the professor, but occasionally it adorns the
peasant's blue blouse. And if the former is gratified by such
recognition of his services, how much more must the humble farmer or
dairyman glory in his tiny orange rosette! For a bit of
coloured ribbon may seem a small thing, but its symbolism may be
immense. By what laborious hours and painful effort has not
the husbandman's insignia been gained!
To appraise French character we should see our neighbours,
not only in their own homes, but amid English surroundings. A
former cicerone in Normandy, M. R― twice afforded me the opportunity
of returning the compliment on native soil. What struck me
about my friend was the change that comes over a Frenchman as soon
as he quits his own country, an attitude the exact reverse of an
Englishman's mental condition abroad. In France a Frenchman's
mood is invariably critical, that of a carper. Away from home
he looks about for something to appreciate and admire. With
ourselves, too often a fleeting glance or supercilious expression
seem to be thought appropriate to everything foreign.
And wherever he is a Frenchman's eyes are open. I well
remember one instance of this when strolling with M. R― on the
parade at Hastings. It was in February, for my friend had
crossed the channel in order to visit the horse show at Islington.
As we now walked briskly along, I saw him look at the line of
fly-horses, each well protected from the cold by a stout
"How admirably your cab-horses are cared for here!" he
observed; adding, "I shall make a note of this for one of my
And as the French peasant's want of consideration for his
animals often arises from thoughtless, who knows M. R― may prove a
benefactor to cart-horses as well as those of the hackney carriage?
In the year of Queen Victoria's final jubilee, I had the pleasure of
accompanying my friend to Rothamstead, spending a delightfully
instructive day with the late Sir John Lawes and his charming
granddaughters; also of introducing him to the Natural History
Museum at South Kensington. We had projected a visit to the
agricultural school of Hollesley Bay, Suffolk, but the departmental
professor of agriculture is the commis voyageur, the
commercial traveller of the State, not always a very indulgent firm.
M. R―'s report was called for, and to our mutually-shared regret the
expedition had to be given up.
When I first knew my friend, he had just exchanged the modest
post of répétiteur, or junior master in a State agricultural
school, for that of departmental professor. I do not suppose
any man living is more contented with his present lot—a proud and
happy père de famille, a wife of equally happy temperament,
and two little sons making up his home circle, the combined incomes
of husband and wife sufficing for daily needs, the education of
their children, and the usual putting by. Truly to these civil
servants of France may be applied the Roman poet's apostrophe, it is
"Who make the golden mean their guide,
Shun miser's cabin foul and dark,
Shun gilded roofs, where pomp and pride
Are envy's mark."
THE JUGE DE PAIX
IT is now
twenty-five years since I made the acquaintance of M. D―, juge de
paix of a canton in the Jura. We came to know each other
in this way. I had hired a carriage for the three hours' drive
from the superbly situated little town of Morez on the Bienne to the
still more superbly situated little bishopric of St. Claude.
As I never travel alone when agreeable company is to be had, I asked
my friends to find me travelling companions, which they did.
The elderly gentleman and his wife, bound like myself to St. Claude,
immediately on arrival introduced me to their newly married daughter
and her husband, lately named juge de paix of the district.
With characteristic French amiability, Monsieur and Madame D— set
themselves the task not only of showing me the ancient little city
and its surroundings, but its curious and time-honoured industries,
the turnery and wood-carving done at home, each craftsman working
under his own roof.
The pleasant and profitable intercourse of those few days
ripened into friendship. A few years later I visited my
friends in another romantic corner of the same department, Monsieur
D― having been nominated to a less remote canton.
The juge de paix, it is hardly necessary to say is a
creation of the Revolution. In his person represented one of
the most sweeping reforms ever effected by pen and ink. The
administration of justice was summarily transferred from privileged
and venal class to responsible servants of the State.
And here a word as to the title. This modestly paid
interpreter of the law was thus named because his mission in a great
measure was to conciliate, to prevent lawsuits by advice and
impartial intervention. This cheap, simple, and paternal
jurisdiction was instituted in the special interests of the peasant
and the workman, formerly often ruined by the multiplicity of
tribunals and rapacity of notaries and lawyers.
It must be remembered that from time immemorial the rural
population in France has been a propertied class, hence the
perpetual recurrence to litigation. Under the ancien régime,
as to-day, Jacques Bonhomme and his neighbours would be at daggers
drawn about limitations of newly acquired field, damages done by
stray cattle, or some such matter. And the cheapness of going
to law in these days may perhaps have fostered a litigious
propensity. Certainly these rural magistrates have plenty to
do. The juge de paix is appointed by the State, he
receives a yearly stipend of three or four thousand francs, with a
small retiring pension at sixty. As he must be thoroughly
versed in the Code Civil, his services do not appear to be
adequately remunerated, especially when we compare his office and
its emoluments to those of the percepteur, or tax collector,
the subject of my next sketch. On this point a French friend
writes to me: "Percepteurs, even of the first and second
grades (i.e. lower), are certainly better paid than the
juge de paix. But the former is only a fiscal agent,
whilst the latter is a magistrate charged with very varied and
delicate duties. He must have a thorough knowledge of law; the
percepteur, on the contrary, need only be a man of ordinary
education, for this reason I do not hesitate to place him below the
other, although his services are much better remunerated."
The responsibilities of the juge de paix are strictly
limited. He can sentence to short terms of imprisonment and to
fines not exceeding two hundred francs, the next stage in
administration being that of the Tribunal correctionnel de
l'arrondissement. The arrondissement is that
division of a department presided over by a sous-préfet.
In cases of burglary, accident, murder, suicide, arson, the juge
de paix is immediately sent for. It is his business to
seal the papers of defunct persons, and to represent the law at
those conseils de famine, or family councils, I describe
The especial function of the justice de paix regarded
as a system is intermediary and preventive rather than judiciary.
Disputes are always settled by friendly arbitration when possible.
Country folks, as I have said, have a marked proclivity for the
procés verbal, in other words, going to law. Were, indeed,
a rural judge paid according to his cases, he would die a
As we might expect, small unenclosed properties are a
fruitful source of discord; as we should certainly not expect among
so easy-going a people, that unruly member the tongue is another.
Diffamation, or the calling each other names, is constantly
bringing neighbours into court, some of the scenes enacted being
ludicrous in the extreme.
Indeed, my friend assured me that the maintenance of gravity
was often the most arduous and trying part of his sittings.
But, he added, echoing the sentiment of the immortal Bagnet,
discipline must be maintained."
The minimum fine for a case of backbiting and slandering is
two francs, a large sum in Jacques Bonhomme's eyes. The mulct,
however, does prevent his womankind from calling each other "base
and degrading Tildas" at the next opportunity.
With my friend's young wife I attended a séance, or
sitting, of the justice de paix, an experience not to be
omitted by those who would study the French peasant. In the
centre of the plain, airy court sat the judge, wearing his robes of
office, high-crowned hat with silver band, advocate's black gown and
white lappets. On his right sits his greffier, or
clerk, also wearing judicial hat and gown; on his left, his
suppléant, or coadjutor, representing the public prosecutor.
This last is an unpaid official. By the judge lies a copy of
the Code Civil. This volume is not used in swearing witnesses,
the only formula exacted being the words, "Par Dieu, les hommes,
et la vérité" ("by God, man, and the truth"). Above the
chair of office was suspended crucifix. On the occasion of my
visit several typical cases came before the judge. One of
these concerned boundary marks. The disputants were both
peasants—the first, a grave, taciturn middle-aged man; the other, a
voluble young fellow, whose eloquence on his own behalf M. D— had
great difficulty in repressing. The affair was promptly
disposed of. On that day fortnight, at eight o'clock in the
morning, the litigants were bidden to appear on the contested
borderland, when the rival claims would be adjusted by the judge in
I also heard an old farmer in blue blouse plead his own cause
with the shrewdness and pertinence of a counsel. The bone of
contention was a contact, the other party, according to his showing,
not having fulfilled his obligations. Property handed down
from father to son proves an education in many senses, not only
sharpening the wits, but rendering glib the tongue.
It was interesting to note that no matter how noisy or
self-asserting might be the litigants, the majesty of the law was
ever readily acknowledged. The simple "You can retire" of the
magistrate sufficed. Very rarely, I was informed, is it
necessary to appeal to a gendarme.
A juge de paix is sometimes confronted with problems
only to be solved after the rough-and-ready methods of King Solomon
or the equally subtle lawgiver of Barataria. From the
strictest impartiality he must never deviate, hence the almost
affectionate respect hemming him round. One perpetual surprise
in France is the prevailing intellectuality, the general atmosphere
of culture. These small officials— M. D— is one of several
rural magistrates I have known—are not only skilled in law and
jurisprudence, but often possess considerable literary and artistic
tastes. Cut off from the stimulus of great centres, travel,
and congenial society, they do not allow themselves to vegetate,
maintaining on the contrary an alert interest in matters lying
wholly outside their own immediate venue.
All fairly well educated Frenchmen have a good knowledge of
the national literature, due to early training. The love of
the beautiful, so universally found throughout France, may, I think,
be traced to the local museum. Hardly any town of a few
thousand souls is without its art collection and the influence of
such object-lessons within easy reach is incalculable.
One juge de paix I know had visited England, and
amongst other experiences had seen Irving in some of his most famous
rôles. This gentleman could have passed, I dare say, an
examination in Walter Scott and Dickens, darling topics on which
alas! he could only discourse during the long vacation. From
August to September he had a cover laid for him at the château
whenever English guests were staying there, which was pretty often,
the owners being good friends of England.
Another rural magistrate of my acquaintance has long been a
warm advocate of arbitration and of the entente cordiale.
Two years ago he joined a local branch of the French Arbitration
"The bicycle, the bicycle!" he said to me. "Ah! there
we have an admirable engine of propaganda. Miles and miles are
members of the arbitration societies thereby enabled to cover,
reaching out-of-the-way spots, and getting at the peasants as it is
impossible to do by means of lectures and public meetings. A
friendly chat over a glass of wine, a talk in the fields, that is
the best means of obtaining the countryman's confidence."
The speaker in question had private means, and with his young
wife took holiday trips in the long vacation; the pair kept a
servant, and enjoyed comparative luxury. Of the many juges
de paix I have known only one or two lived on such a scale.
And the fact must never be lost sight of, prestige in France does
not depend upon material circumstances.
Absence of pretence characterizes official life. A
rural magistrate is not looked down upon because his wife happens to
be her own cook, housemaid, and nurse. No word in the French
lexicon precisely answers to our own "gentility" or its unspoken
meaning. We do not in these days speak of living genteelly,
but of doing as other people do, which amounts to the same thing.
The French phrase comme il faut indicates something
wholly different. To dress, behave, keep house comme il
faut has reference only to the befitting, the adhesion to strict
propriety. Appearance is not bent knee to, and if thrift is
apt to degenerate into parsimony, and much that we regard as
absolutely essential to comfort and well-being is sacrificed to the
habit, we must yet whole heartedly admire the simple, unambitious,
dignified life of the small French official.
THE TAX COLLECTOR
IN a certain
sense an Englishman's home is a caravanserai, whilst a Frenchman's
is a closely fortified castle, tradition here being completely at
This reflection has often crossed my mind when spending week
after week in French country houses. Under an English roof the
visitor would be one of an uninterrupted succession, not only every
spare bedchamber being occupied during the holiday season, but daily
luncheons, garden parties, picnics, and other social entertainments
making time and money fly!
Partly because our neighbours object to unnecessary outlay,
partly because they object still more to anything in the way of
household disorganization or interference with routine, an average
country house over the water is a veritable fortress, drawbridge and
portcullis only yielding to the "open sesame" of blood relationship.
By virtue of propinquity, however, two or three individuals
are permitted within the charmed circle; the first is the village
priest, the second is the juge de paix, the third is the
Percepteur, or collector of revenue, or, as we should say, the
Before sketching my old acquaintance, M. le Percepteur R―,
let me say a few words about his office.
The collector of revenue thus called was created by Napoleon
when first consul. Fiscal resources had not been successfully
administered during the successive régimes of the two
assemblies, the Convention and the Directoire. So thoroughly
had the legislators of the Revolution reformed abuses that, as
Mignet tells us, the national resources quadrupled within a few
years. But what with European and civil wars, internal
administration suffered neglect. In many regions taxes had
remained in arrears for considerable periods. The municipal
authorities superseding the hated Intendants of the ancien
régime, charged also with the levying of troops, were unable
satisfactorily to carry out both duties. Herein, in a great
measure, writes M. Rambaud ("Civilization Française"), is to be
discerned the genesis of the Terror. The law as it stood could
not legally punish negligent or hostile functionaries. The
représentants en mission, or legislative emissaries, named by
the Convention in order to remedy such a state of things, were
veritable dictators, sending recalcitrants to the guillotine with
short shrift. That charming story-teller Charles Nodier, in
his "Souvenirs de la Revolution," describes from personal
recollection an emissary of this kind, the terrible St. Just.
Napoleon's scheme was somewhat modified, and the existing
arrangement is as follows: to each canton or group of communes a
Percepteur is named by the Minister of Finance, the nominee
being obliged to produce a certain sum of money as guarantee.
The Percepteur collects what are called contributions
directes, the assessing of such taxes being in the hands of
contrôleurs, or inspectors, by whom assessments are lodged with
the local mayors, the mayors in their turn passing them on to the
Percepteurs each January. All moneys are paid to the
Receveur, or paymaster of the arrondissement, an
administrative division; the Receveur again hands on the
amount to the Tresorier, or treasurer of the department.
Finally, the year's revenue finds its way into the State coffers.
Contributions directes, i.e. direct taxation, comprise land
tax and house duty, taxes on property and on patentes, or
licences. Contributions indirectes, i.e.
indirect taxation, comprise stamp duties, excise, duties on tobacco,
matches, traffic, etc. Octroi, or duties on produce, are
levied by municipalities.
The poor-law is non-existent in France. Ratepayers are
not mulcted a sou for the maintenance of the sick and agèd poor, or
the indigent generally.
The first-named charges, or contributions directes,
fall upon all rents above £20 in Paris and £8 in the provinces.
Windows are still taxed, but in 1831 the rate was lowered in order
that workmen at home and in factories should not suffer from want of
light and air.
The relative proportion of State and municipal taxation is
gathered from the following figures supplied by a friend. Of
119 francs paid in all, 64 and a fraction go to the budget, and 54
and a fraction to the town. Up till the year 1877 a much-hated
official called garnissaire, or bailiff, could install
himself in the house of a defaulting taxpayer and there claim bed
and board till all arrears were forthcoming. With the general
increase of well-being and instruction, the function became a
sinecure. Nowadays taxes are rapidly and easily collected from
one end of France to the other.
As the Percepteur's emoluments depend upon his venue,
the post is often extremely lucrative, in large centres representing
a thousand a year. The tax gatherer of a canton, on the other
hand, will perhaps receive no more than £80 annually. It
certainly seems somewhat inconsistent that the dispensation of
justice should be less remunerated than the collection of revenue,
the juge de paix, as I have before shown, never enjoying but
the most modest stipend.
Farm-houses and rural dwellings often lie wide apart.
The Percepteur's domicile cannot lie within easy reach of all
his creditors; like Mahomet, he will be obliged to go to the
mountain. In other words, the tax gatherer, as was the case
with his hated predecessor of the ancien régime, from time to
time makes a round, and is apparently ever welcome as the flowers in
I always knew when M. le Percepteur R― was expected by
Burgundian friends with whom I formerly used to spend autumn
holidays. Bustle is never a word suited to French methods.
Among our sensible neighbours it is never a question of "The devil
catch the hindmost." Folks daily rest on their oars. But
if "a man of wealth is dubbed a man of worth," may not be a dictum
universally accepted, the handling of national money-bags ever
imparts unusual dignity. The worthy Percepteur was
fêted as if, like Sully, he was followed by wheelbarrows piled
high with gold.
All day long my hostess and her old cook would be up to their
ears in business. Forest, field, and stream were laid under
contribution in his honour. Oysters and other delicacies were
ordered from the neighbouring town. Choicest wines and
liqueurs were brought from the cellar. And, of course, the
incomparable, ineffable dish before mentioned―
"Beast of chase or fowl or game
In pasty built,"
crowned the feast.
Portly, jovial, middle-aged and a bachelor, M. le Percepteur
was excellent company. In French phrase, he bore the cost of
conversation. Fiscalities and rural affairs formed the staple
of talk, subjects of never-waning interest to the winegrowers and
notaries present, and not without instruction for outsiders.
Montaigne, who ever wrote like a nonagenarian, somewhere
dwells in his delightfully jog-trot, ambling way on the profit to be
gained from men no matter their calling, if you listen to them on
that calling. And if during the past twenty-five years I have
attained some knowledge of French life and character, it is not from
books at all, but from following Montaigne's rule, from listening to
Frenchmen and Frenchwomen on their own avocations.
M. le Percepteur, after the manner of bachelors, coddled
himself a bit, and before his departure begged a favour of me.
He was in the habit of taking tea for the furtherance of digestion,
and good tea in country places was unattainable. Would I be so
amiable as to procure him some really first-rate Souchong?
Of course I was only too delighted to fulfil the commission,
a poor return for indebtedness of other kind.
THE YOUNG BUSINESS LADY
"A PERFECT woman
nobly planned" for practical life, the young business lady offers a
study complex as that of the fastidiously-reared demoiselle
belonging to fashionable society, whose dowry of itself ensures her
a brilliant marriage.
The exact counterpart of the French young lady of business, I
should say, is nowhere to be found, certainly not in England.
Aptitudes, ideals, physical and mental equation are essentially and
ancestrally Gallic and conservative. The wave of féminisme,
or the woman's rights' movement, has not reached the sphere in which
she moves; if not a radiant figure, she is, at all times, a
dignified and edifying one, by her Milton's precept having been
early taken to heart―
That which before us lies in daily life
Is the prime wisdom."
It may here be mentioned that, no matter her rank, a French girl is
regarded as an old maid at the age of twenty-five. If neither
married nor betrothed by the time she reaches that venerable period,
by general consent, single blessedness awaits her. The spinster
of fashion and society has two avenues from which to choose—conventual
seclusion or devotion to good works outside its walls. The business
young lady pursues her avocations without mortification or repining
at unpropitious fate.
In leisured and wealthy classes the thought of approaching
spinsterhood is a veritable nightmare. The hiding of mortified
vanity or misplaced sentiment in a convent, or the assumption of a
pietistic role amid old surroundings, involve bitter disillusion. What an end to the dazzling dreams and airy hopes of a few years
before! What a contrast to existence as pictured by the youthful
communicant in anticipatory bridal dress! The Rubicon of twenty-five
passed, a lady clerk or manageress contemplates the future
Old maids of twenty-five, whether portioned or no, may, of course,
occasionally marry, especially in the work-a-day world; and here it
is curious to note the rigidity of etiquette obligatory on both.
I have mentioned elsewhere that brides and bridegrooms elect, moving
in good society, are invariably chaperoned. Alike indoors and out, a
third person, not necessarily listening or looking on, must keep
them company. But seeing that girls, who earn their own living,
attain habits of independence at an early age, we should expect to
find such rules relaxed in their case. No such thing! The young lady
forewoman or bookkeeper, whether under or over twenty-five, cannot
go to the theatre with her fiancé unaccompanied by a
relation; still less can she take train with him, in order to visit
friends ten miles off, whilst tête-à-tête strolls or visits
to public places of entertainment are wholly out of the question. Even a well-conducted femme de chambre is here as scrupulous
as her eighteen-year-old mistress.
The reputation of the young business lady, like that of Cæsar's
wife, must be beyond reproach. Dress, speech, deportment, must defy
criticism. Advancement, increase of pay, her very bread, depend upon
circumspection, a standard of conduct never deviated from in the
least little particular.
Flirtation is no more permissible in the business world than in good
society. The thing not existing in France, no equivalent for the
word can be found in French dictionaries. A girl may have the
maternal eye upon her or find herself thrown upon the world. Etiquette and bringing up forbid flirtation. Moreover, in young
Frenchwomen of all ranks, outside Bohemia, is found what, for want
of a precise term, I will call instinctive decorum (l'instinct de
bienséance), and sentimentality is not a French failing. No
young business lady sighs for the kind of distraction so necessary
to her English and American sisters. If marriage comes in her way,
before arriving at a decision, she will carefully go over the
pros and cons, wisely taking material as well as social
matters into consideration. If the spinsterhood traditionally
entered upon at twenty-five takes the shape of destiny, with even
mind she will pursue her calling, to that devoting undivided
energies, endeavouring every year to make herself more valuable to
employers. Attracted as a needle by the magnet, step by step she
will approach the goal of French workers, a small independence, the
dignity of living upon one's means, of being able to inscribe one's
self in the census rentier or rentière.
The pre-eminence of the French business woman I set down, firstly,
to consummate ability; secondly, to doggèd, unremitting absorption
in her duties. There is here no waste of mental force, no frittering
away of talents. Capacities and acquirements are focussed to a
One of my acquaintances in the French workaday world is a girl of
twenty-six, already at the head of a large establishment in Paris,
having two clerks of the other sex, and older than herself, at her
orders, and enjoying confidence so complete that her books are never
so much as glanced at by the proprietors.
This young lady once observed to me―
"I possess what, of course, is necessary to one in my position—an
excellent memory. Nobody is infallible, but I may say this much for
myself, I rarely, if ever, forget anything. And the way to cultivate
memory is to trust to it. 'Never write down what you are bound to
remember,' I say to my young clerks when I see them bring out a
I have somewhere read that Thomas Brassey, the great railway
contractor, was of the same opinion, using his memory only as
Business hours over, the desk closed, office doors shut upon her,
fast as omnibus, tramway, or metropolitan can carry her, the young
business lady hurries home. The home, the family circle, added to
these, perhaps, some friend of school days, exercise magnetic
attraction. If the weather admits, not a moment will be spent
indoors; shopping and visits, in company of mother, sister, or
friend, during the winter; lounges in the public gardens, drives in
the Bois, or excursions by penny steamer during the summer, make
leisure moments fly. On half-holidays Chantilly, St. Germain-en-Lave,
Meudon, even Fontainebleau are visited, whilst all the year round
the drama forms a staple recreation. These young business women are
often uncommonly good dramatic critics. If by virtue of twenty-five
years, assumed spinsterhood, and position, they can patronize
theatres inaccessible to girls of a different rank, they can fully
appreciate the opera and the Français. It was in the company of a
lady clerk that I witnessed La Course au Flambeau, at the
Renaissance, a piece from beginning to end serious as a sermon, its
vital interest depending, not upon lovers' intrigues, but upon
humdrum fireside realities, the tragedy of everyday family life. No
more intelligent or appreciative companion at a play could be wished
for than my young friend. Here, I would observe, that just as the
interest of French travel is doubled by the fact of French
companionship, so should theatre-going be enjoyed in French society.
Novel-reading is not much indulged in by these busy girls. The
French notion of enjoyment and relaxation is to be abroad, sunshine
and fresh air, taken with beloved home-folk. Beyond such quiet
pleasures and occasional excitements of wedding celebrations, always
long drawn out in bourgeois circles, a visit to the opera,
and in summer a brief holiday by the sea, life flows evenly. We are
accustomed to regard the French as a volatile, pleasure-seeking,
even frivolous race. Nothing can be farther from the truth. In very
truth our neighbours are the most persistently serious folk on the
face of the earth.
If French employers are exacting, they are at the same time
generous. A capable and trustworthy manageress, head clerk, or
superintendent is sure to be handsomely remembered on New Year's
Day, to have her salary raised from time to time, and growing
confidence will be testified in many ways.
The subject of Frenchwomen's position in the industrial world would
fill a volume. Skilfully treated, the dry bones of statistics may be
made to live; but such a work is quite beyond my own powers, and
would have little interest for the general reader. I leave figures
and generalizations to others, contenting myself with describing
business women I have known, and adding a few details as to salary,
leisure, and accommodation. Naturally the non-resident clerk, giving
a certain number of hours daily, is in a very different position to
the directrice, or the manageress, who lives on the premises
and can call no time her own, except precisely limited periods, sure
to be spent by her at home. Board, lodging, and laundress being very
expensive in Paris, quite a third higher than in any English town,
the directrice is well rewarded for the sacrifice of time,
the domestic fireside, and independence. I know at the present time
a young lady employed in a public office whose salary is £8 a month
for seven hours' daily attendance, with occasional Sunday duty. As
she lives with her parents, such a sum enables her to contribute to
the family budget, and at the same time lay by a little for old age
or a dowry! Many young business women achieve a modest portion with
which to enter upon the partnership of wedlock. The resident
manageress, on the other hand, not only economizes the triple outlay
of above mentioned, but obtains at least a higher salary. She is,
however, expected to dress well, and dress in France, like
everything else, from a postage stamp upwards, is much dearer than
in England. The toilette of a business young lady makes a large hole
in her earnings. Again, likely as not, she has family claims upon
her, perhaps the partial support of a widowed mother, maybe the
education of a young sister or brother. In spite of these and other
drains upon her purse, you may be sure that she makes yearly or
half-yearly investments. The young business woman, no less than the
peasant, rendered M. Thiers' colossal task feasible. It was the
indomitable thrift of the workaday world that enabled him to pay off
the Prussian war indemnity of two hundred million sterling before
the allotted term.
The French nation is not like our own, an egregiously holiday-making
one. Sunday closing, or partial closing, on the increase both in
town and country, but statutory holidays are unknown.
A fortnight or three weeks during the year, an afternoon every other
Sunday two hours or so every alternate day—with such breaks in the
round of duty, a young business lady feels no call for
dissatisfaction. And although serenely contemplating spinsterhood at
twenty-five, marriage, with its mutually-shared cares and benisons,
may come in her way; if not, advancing years, loneliness, and other
drawbacks of a celibate existence will be cheered and dignified by
an honestly earned independence, the affectionately-hungered for
position of rentière, or a lady living upon her dividends.
I have mentioned a young business lady's keen appreciation of high
dramatic art. But taste is so generally cultivated in France that
the trait is by no means exceptional. It may, indeed, be said that
up to a certain point every French mar, or woman is an artist.
A GREAT LADY MERCHANT
MY friend Madame
Veuve M— belongs to what is called in France "le haut commerce." In
other words, she is a merchant, head of a wholesale house, as
important as any of its kind in Paris.
In the provinces lady merchants often have their dwellings close to
the business premises. At Croix, near Lille, for instance, I once
visited the mistress of a large linen manufactory, living in
princely style within sound of mill-wheel and workmen's bell. Her
vast brand-new mansion stood in charmingly laid-out grounds. As I
made my way to the chief entrance I caught sight of the coach-house
containing landau, brake, and brougham. On arriving, myself and
friend were ushered by a major domo in superb livery through a suite
of reception rooms all fitted up in the most luxurious style and
adorned with palms and exotics. In the last salon we were received
by a fashionably dressed lady, whose small white hands glittered
with diamond rings. But my friend's warehouse which I have just
visited is situated in the heart of commercial Paris, amidst that
congeries of offices and wholesale houses around the Bourse, in some
degree answering to our own city. Here of course an agreeable
residential flat is out of the question, so every afternoon she
journeys to her pretty country house, a quarter of an hour from the
capital by rail. There she turns her back upon the work-a-day world,
finding oblivion in flowers, pets, and the exercise of hospitality. Were it not, indeed, for these daily breaks in her arduous routine,
she would never be able to support the perpetual mental strain
entailed upon her. For this great business woman is not only the
sole manager of a large concern, exporting her wares to all parts of
the world, she is also an inventor, and her task of inventing is
continuous; no sooner is one creation off her hands than she must
set to work upon another. From the 1st of January until the 31st of
December, a brief interval excepted, the distracting process goes
on; the very thought makes one's brain whirl.
Madame M—, then, is the head of a large lingerie, or
fine-linen warehouse, one of those establishments from which issue
trousseaux and the latest fashions in slips and morning gowns. For
times have changed since the days of Mrs. Glegg and Mrs. Tulliver. We all remember how those worthy ladies had their under-linen always
made of the same pattern. Nowadays dainty fabrications in silk,
lawn, and lace must have as much novelty about them as dresses and
bonnets, and when I add that my friend is her own exclusive
designer, enough will have been said to indicate alike her
responsibilities and her gifts.
The demand for originality in lingerie is insatiable. Alike
the cheapest and costliest model of one month must essentially
differ from that of the last, and of course all madame's productions
are models. Dispatched to the provinces, London, Cairo, the
Transvaal, Ceylon, these patterns are copied by the hundred
Think of such a task, the obligation of daily inventing a new
petticoat or morning wrap! A novelist's duty of devising new
incidents and unhackneyed imbroglios is surely light by comparison. No elegantly dressed lady like her countrywoman just named is Madame
M―; whilst her customers, lady shopkeepers, from the country drive
up in the latest and richest toilettes, the mistress of this great
establishment is as plainly and unpretendingly dressed as a
woman-farmer or country innkeeper. You soon find out, however, that
you are conversing with a person of very uncommon
endowments—endowments that would be very uncommon out of France. For there is no gainsaying the fact—the French business woman forms
a type apart, and the Parisian ouvrière no less so.
Madame M—'s burdens are lightened by the competence of her
superintendent fitters and workmen. On this subject she was
"The Parisian ouvrière," she said to me, "stands absolutely
alone. In quickness, taste, and general ability she has no equal. The hand-sewn garments you admire so much are got through with
Three hundred needlewomen are employed, who do the work, which is
cut out for them, in their own homes, and earn from £1 a week
upwards. One of these brought home a bundle of peignoirs
during my visit—an alert-looking, bright-eyed girl, bareheaded after
Parisian fashion, and evidently fully alive to the value of time.
Depositing her pile, with a mere "Bon jour" to mistress and
subordinates, away she went quickly as she had come. In the
warehouse four demoiselles are employed, a superintendent, a
cutter-out, a fitter, and a baster, i.e. one whose business it is to
tack the respective parts of a model together. Highly instructive it
was to watch the four severally occupied. A new morning gown was
being tried on a dummy, the fitter and the baster putting their
heads together and adding a dozen little improving touches. The
forewoman was attending to a buyer, and seemed to know without being
told exactly the kind of article she wanted. What struck me about
all four was the evident pleasure taken by each in the exercise of
their intelligence and the interest shown in their work. Evidently
they considered themselves, not mere wage-earners, but working
partners in a great concern, the credit of the mistress's house
being their affair as much as her own. Doubtless all four would in
time themselves become business women, owners or managers of shops
A great concern indeed is such a lingerie. So tremendous is
the demand for new patterns that I was assured it is impossible to
keep up the supply.
"Everything you see here is sold," said my hostess to me, glancing
at the closely packed shelves around her with almost a sigh. From
floor to ceiling the place was packed with gossamer-like garments,
not a vacant spot to be seen anywhere. The warehouse reminded me of
a military store I had once seen in France, a vast emporium of
soldiers' clothes kept in reserve, boots, kepis, pantaloons, and
great-coats by the hundred thousand. Whilst these were all of a
pattern, make and material not differing in the slightest
particular, quite otherwise is it with Madame M—'s elaborate
productions. Here some difference either of shape or trimming
stamped every article, from the hand-made peignoir trimmed
with Valenciennes lace destined for rich trousseaux to the cheap but
pretty slip within reach of the neat little ouvrière. Such
divergence is a sine quâ non, a kind of hall-mark. And in the
hands of a Frenchwoman how often will the merest touch bring this
result about? An extra inch or two of lace, a clip of the scissors
here, a stitch or two there, and the garment of yesterday has become
Just as dolls are made in Germany, and return thither after being
dressed in France, so Manchester nainsook and Nottingham lace are
sent to Paris, returning to England in the shape of exquisite
garments. Only Calais competes with Nottingham in the production of
cheap pretty lace, and as the fashion in lingerie is now as
capricious as that of millinery and dressmaking, Valenciennes and
Maltese are generally superseded by the machine-made imitation. The
consumption of Nottingham lace is enormous.
The conclusion must not be jumped at that the necessity of daily
inventing a new morning wrap or skirt, and closest attention to a
large wholesale business, implies narrowness or want of sympathy. And here I would mention that even Balzac and Zola have occasionally
rendered justice to the French business woman and bourgeoise
generally. What a charming portrait is that of Constance Birotteau,
and how exquisitely has Zola outlined the village bakeress in
"Travail"! A novelist of less rank, but of almost equal popularity,
has made a mistress-baker heroine of a story. But Ohnet's
portraiture in "Serge Panine" is spoiled by its melodramatic climax. It is a thousand pities that so few French novelists are realistic
in the proper sense of the word, and that they so seldom represent
life and character as they are in reality.
How beautiful is friendship, for instance, and what a large part
does friendship play in French lives! Madame M― delights in the
exercise of unaffected hospitality, and at parting bade me remember
that in her cottage ornée there was ever a bedroom at my
service. So in September of the present year (1904) I accepted the
My friend's cottage ornée, or villa, lies within a quarter of
an hour of Paris on the western railway, and was built by herself—is
indeed as much her own creation as the elegancies in lace and muslin
turned out under her direction day after day. Her example was
evidently being followed by others in search of quiet and rusticity. On either side of the road builders were busy, substantial dwellings
in stone rising amid garden-ground to be, newly acquired plots as
yet mere waste. And small wonder that commercial Paris thus bit by
bit appropriates the verdant zone outside Thiers' fortifications,
gradually becoming a kind of semi-suburban gentry, a landowning
class having distinctive features.
The village selected by Madame M― for her country retreat is not
picturesque, but happy in its surroundings, gentle slopes and
woodland forming a plain entirely given up to market-gardening. Not
wholly unpoetic and certainly grateful to the eye is the vast
chess-board, patches of sea-green alternating with purple; the rich
yellow of the melon and the reddish ochre of the gourd conspicuous
as Chinese lanterns amid twilight foliage.
With natural pride madame opened the gate of a handsome house built
of stone, and square like its neighbours, with prettily laid out
flower-garden front and back, and receding from the latter a couple
of acres of kitchen garden and orchard, the whole testifying to rich
soil and admirable cultivation. Flowers, fruit, and vegetables were
here in the utmost luxuriance, with choice roses, although the
season was advanced. What, however, most struck me was the populousness of the widow's domain. As we entered the roomy,
elegantly fitted up dwelling, a ten-year-old girl ran up to its
mistress for a kiss.
"My forewoman's little sister," madame informed me. "They have no
friends living in the country who can receive them during the long
vacation, so I have had both and a friend to stay with me. And,
indeed, I am never alone," she added.
Pet dogs, a cat, and pigeons must of course be caressed; then I was
introduced to the gardener and his wife, who acted the part of cook,
my hostess being evidently on friendliest terms with her people here
as in her business house. Delightful it was to witness this
fellow-feeling, and to realize the family life of the villa, a
domestic circle though not composed of kith and kin. It is less any
place than its spirit that takes hold of the imagination. Amid these
evidences of laboriously acquired wealth and open-handed
dispensation and vicarious enjoyment, I could well understand a fact
hitherto puzzling, namely, that the greatest woman-philanthropist of
contemporary and indeed of historic France made her millions by
The position of business women, won by sheer capacity and
assiduousness, has been immensely strengthened by Republican
legislation. The Code Civil, as is shown elsewhere, bears hardly
upon the sex. Step by step such injustice is being repaired. Thus by
the law of 1897, for the first time women were entitled to act as
witnesses in all civil transactions. Twenty years before an equally
important measure had been passed, and women heads of business
houses became electors of candidates for the tribunaux de
commerce, or what may be called commercial parliaments. The
members forming this tribunal are called prud'-homines, [p.202]
and are chosen alike from the ranks of employers and employed. Their
business is to settle all matters in discussion or dispute, a share
in the representation is, therefore, vital to feminine interests. Commercial tribunals in the interest of the productive classes are a
creation of the Revolution, the first being opened by the
Constituent Assembly. It was not till 1806 that Conseils de
prud'hommes were organized in twenty-six industrial towns. The
composition of those bodies was at first far from democratic,
consisting half of masters, half of foremen and small employers. By
a still more reactionary measure, in 1810 any council could imprison
refractory workmen for three days. Doubtless ere long we shall find
lady merchants and others, not only voting for the prud'hommes,
but fulfilling their functions.
AN ASPIRANT TO THE COMÉDIE FRANÇAISE
I LOVE Paris
Parisien, the Paris not of cosmopolitan pleasure-seekers and
idlers, but of the work-a-day world, Belleville and the Buttes
Chaumont, the quays of the Canal St. Martin, the faubourg St.
Antoine, above all, the Place de la Nation, with its monuments,
sparkling basin fountains and shaded swards, Tuileries gardens of
And how the work-a-day adores its Paris! As I drove
lately towards Montmartre, with a young business lady, whose home
was in the eighteenth arrondissement, her face glowed with
"These quarters are so animated, so bustling," she said, as
she revelled in the sights of the living stream around. It
seems paradoxical to say that an urban population lives abroad, but
certainly Parisians, alike the rich and the poor, spend as little
time as possible within four walls. When we compare the
advantages gratuitously enjoyed out of doors with the minimum of
air, light, and sunshine obtainable by modest purses within, we can
understand why it is so.
What a contrast was presented to-day by the wide, sunny
umbrageous boulevard Poissonière and our destination, a small
interior on the third floor of a side street. "Space anyhow is
dear in Paris," rejoined M. Bergeret's sister upon the philosopher
observing that time and space existed in imagination only.
Light and sunshine are higher priced still.
The-householder of narrow means must, above all, forego a cheerful
look-out; and all windows, whether looking north or south, east or
west, are taxed. How comes it about, readers may ask, that a
tax presumably so unpopular should remain on the statute book?
Doors and windows were first assessed under the Directoire,
twenty centimes only being charged per window in communes of less
than five thousand souls, sixty in those of the two first storeys in
communes of a hundred thousand. The new duty aroused a storm
of opposition. "What! " cried a member of the Cinq Cents.
"If I wish to put a window looking east in my house in order that I
may adore nature at sun-rising, I must pay duty? If, in order
to warm the chilly frame of my agèd father, I want a southern
outlet, I must pay duty? And if, in order to avoid the burning
heat of Thermidor, I wish for an opening north, I must pay duty?
Surely it is possible to chose an imposition less objectionable and
The levy was made, and, being increased later on, brought in
sixteen million of francs. In 1900 the door and window tax
produced thirty millions.
By a law of 1832 some modifications were made in favour of
factories and workmen's dwellings, as I have said, but it certainly
seems strange that some substitute for this source of revenue should
not be devised. And a Parisian window is often no window in
the proper sense of the term. Coloured glass is now much used,
and when I asked a friend living at Passy the reason why, she
replied, that it was to prevent neighbours from overlooking each
The tiny flat to which I was now introduced consisted of
small parlour, a mere slip of a kitchen, and two bedrooms, all
looking upon side walls, a craning of the neck being necessary in
order to get even a peep at the sky. But the little salon,
with its pianette, pictures and pretty carpet, wore a cheerful,
home-like look, and gaily enough we sat down to tea, the party
consisting of my young companion, our hostess and her son, a pupil
of the Conservatoire, and an aspirant to the Comédie Française.
Sunless, cribbed, cabined, and confined, this little Montmartre home
might appear to outsiders, but it was irradiated with golden dreams,
elated with airy hopes. Who could say? This youth, now
giving his days to the conning of French plays and poetry, might
attain an aspirant's crowning ambition, make his histrionic début
in the house of Molière?
"You are working very hard?" I asked.
"All day long," was the reply.
"But," I said, "you must surely require an occasional break?"
"No," the youth rejoined. "I find, on the contrary,
that if I go into the country for a single day's holiday I have lost
ground. The memory must be constantly exercised."
"I presume that poetry is much easier to commit to memory
"Infinitely, although both differ immensely in this respect,
some writers being so much more difficult to remember than others."
"Molière for instance, I should say?"
"You are right, Molière is one of the most difficult poets to
get by heart; but practice is everything."
After discussing his methods of study and the system pursued
at the Conservatoire, we passed on to contemporary drama. I
mentioned a play I had just witnessed at the Française, whereupon he
exclaimed, "Then you have seen my master," naming the leading actor,
from whom he received lessons in declamation.
The drama in France is indeed as essentially a profession as
that of medicine, the law, or civil and military engineering; it is
furthermore, and in contradistinction to these, of absolutely
gratuitous attainment. Native talent is thus developed and
fostered to the utmost. The greatest actors give students the
benefit of their gifts and experience, day after day unwearily
presiding at rehearsals.
Some readers doubtless may remember the delightful acting of
Got—acting, I should say, that reached the high watermark. At
the height of his fame and in the zenith of his powers, this
consummate artist would take a daily class at the Conservatoire.
The masterpieces of dramatic literature are rehearsed again and
again, with the most minute attention to accent, expression, and
gesture. It is at the Française indeed—the ambition of every
student—that the French tongue is heard in its purity. In
their indispensable dictionary Messrs. Hatzfeld and Darmsteter
inform us that they have adhered to the pronunciation of the best
Parisian society, which is generally adopted by the Comédie
Française. No greater treat than a matinée in Molière's house
can be enjoyed by a lover of French and French classic drama.
The Conservatoire or school of music and declamation was
founded by the Convention, and inaugurated in 1793, when no less
than six hundred pupils entered their names as students under Méhul,
Grétry, and other masters. Already in 1784 musical and
dramatic classes had been opened at Versailles under the direction
of the Baron de Breteuil, the object in view being to provide the
Trianon and royal theatre of Versailles with singers and players.
In 1789 the Assembly took up the notion, the nucleus of a musical
and dramatic school was transferred to Paris, and that same year it
furnished no less than seventy-eight performers for the band of the
National Guards. The Revolution, as has been remarked, was
from first to last the most musical period of French history, and no
doubt music was a great power in moving spirits and aiding the
revolutionary cause. The example of Paris was followed by
Lille, Toulon, Dijon, Metz, Marseilles, Nantes, and other large
towns, their musical schools being called pépinières, or
nurseries. The "Chant du Depart" and the "Marseillaise"
expressed the military side of the Revolution, the sentimental side
was voiced in countless light airs recently unearthed by members of
the Sociéte de l'histoire de la Révolution. Had I not
been familiar with French life, my young friend's general culture
would have come as a surprise. Here was a youth of eighteen,
who on leaving school had entered a commercial house, intelligently,
nay discriminately, discussing literature and the drama, at that
early age exemplifying what I regard as the quintessential
characteristic of our neighbours, namely, the critical faculty.
Already he was thinking out theories for himself, by no means
content to take other folk's opinions at haphazard as if playing at
cross and pile. Family feeling is an adamantine chain in
"I have given up the larger bedroom to Henri, as you see,"
madame had said, when showing me over her tiny flat. "He
spends so much time indoors that it is necessary he should have all
the space and air possible."
And I could easily guess that the choice of such a career
implied sacrifices of a more serious nature. By this time the
student of the Conservatoire might have been bringing grist to the
mill, earning as junior clerk perhaps two thousand francs a year.
But the aspirant had fired his mother and sister with his own
enthusiasm. Both utterly believed in the brilliant future
foretold by youthful ambition. Moreover, the stage is held,
and deservedly held, in high honour by our neighbours.
Contemporary drama has usurped the functions of the pulpit without
forfeiting its high claims as a school of classicism and culture;
the stage, alike by tragedy and comedy, brings human nature face to
face with social vices and follies. Exemplifying this
assertion, I need only mention one or two of the plays so
successfully produced in leading theatres of late years, Les
Remplaçantes, La course du Flambeau, Divorce, these among many
others. By turns immorality, drunkenness, the wrongs caused by
vicarious motherhood or wet nursing, and other phases of modern life
are held up to reprobation and ridicule. Oftener, indeed, to
weep rather than laugh, Parisians now fill the leading theatres.