Home Life in France V.

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CHAPTER XXXI.

CHARACTERISTICS


ON this subject, the nicest and thorniest a foreigner can handle, I will confine myself to personal experience, speaking of our neighbours as I have found them.

    A contemporary French philosopher, M. Fouillée, has analyzed his country-people in a series of psychological and physiological studies, all profoundly interesting, but not appealing to the general reader.  National traits and idiosyncrasy as evidenced in daily life are more readily grasped than scientific generalizations, and more profitably illustrate national character for those obliged to content themselves with vicarious acquaintance.

    I smile whenever my eyes light upon such stereotyped expressions as "our volatile neighbours," "the light-minded Gaul," "the pleasure-loving French," and so on.  The French nation is, on the contrary, the most serious in the world, and Candide's query, "Est il vrai qu'on rit toujours à Paris?" ("Is Paris always laughing?") might be answered thus, "When she does not weep," which is often.

    How little the great democracy at our doors is understood existing prejudices testify; two or three generations ago every lettered and travelled Englishman could write of French people in language on a par with that of Roche-fort and Drumont when harrying the Jews or Protestants.  Let the reader, for instance, turn to the eleventh chapter of Thomas Love Peacock's brilliant novelette, "Nightmare Abbey," published in 1818, for a verification of this statement.  Doubtless, after relieving his feelings by this outburst of truly disgusting invective, the author felt that he had acquitted himself of a patriotic duty, and, if he did not implicitly believe his appraisement of French character regarded it as a felicitous guess.  It was left for our great poets of that epoch, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley, to champion the France of Revolution; from their days to our own, English writers on French people and French affairs have mostly been blind leaders of the blind, intensifying rather than eradicating insular prejudice.  It must be confessed that our neighbours have only themselves to blame for much of this misconception.  Frenchmen are often whimsically, even libellously self-depreciative.  They love to wear a fictitious heart upon their sleeve, to dandle a manikin in the eyes of naïve beholders. Here Anglo-Saxon and Gaul conspicuously differ.

    An Englishman is apt to follow Hamlet's counsel and affect a virtue though he has it not.  A Frenchman vaunts of foibles quite foreign to his nature.

    The following story is apposite.

    One day in my presence, a matron, wife of a Dijon notary, was praising her friend's son.

    "Your Jules is charming," she said—"so amiable, so diligent, and so steady!"

    "Humph!" replied the stripling's mamma; "he would not be pleased to hear himself called steady," the countrybred youth in question, whom I knew well, being as little likely to become a gay Lothario as was the younger Diafoirus.

    Novelists have here sinned greatly, but on that point I dwell further on.

    Another strongly marked quality is reserve, reminding one of a Japanese toy in the shape of a box.  Remove the lid and you find a second, the second contains a third, the third a fourth, and so on.  It is a very long time before you get at the kernel.  Nor is such reserve exercised towards foreigners only.  Some time since a French friend was dining with me at a Paris hotel chiefly frequented by rich Chicagans.  After dinner the company adjourned into the hall, and there over tea or coffee broke up into little groups.  Quite evidently most of these tourists were chance-made acquaintances, encountered, perhaps, on their liner or in these Parisian quarters.  All were now fraternizing with the utmost cordiality.  "How pleasant is this experience!" observed my companion, himself in former days a considerable traveller; "and how unlike the behaviour of my own country people when thrown together on foreign soil!"

    It is only among the much travelled and cosmopolitan that letters introductory lead to any but the most formal hospitality or superficial acquaintance in France.  The late Mr. Hamerton, who married a French wife, and spent thirty-five years in his adopted country, was astounded at the prevailing unsociableness in country places.  The home so agreeably described in "Round my house" was situated within a walk of Autun, in Burgundy.  Mr. Hamerton had plenty of neighbours, that is to say, families living, as is the case here, a few miles off, all being in easy circumstances and possessing vehicles.  Folks, he told me, saw next to nothing of each other.  Intercourse began and ended with ceremonious calls made at lengthy intervals.  In England, under such circumstances, every one would know every one.  The social ball would be kept rolling, money would circulate at a brisk pace, from the end of July till November.

    This observation brings me to the hallmark of French descent, the indubitable proof of Gallic ancestry.  Such stay-at-home, circumscribed ways arise partly from habits of inveterate, inrooted economy.  "The Anglo-Saxon," writes M. E. Demolins, "is the most perfect organism that exists alike for the purpose of gaining and spending money.  In France," he adds, "there is less inclination to gain money, and for the most part no inclination whatever to spend it."  Such parsimony, whilst it accounts for the absence of perpetual and salutary social intercourse, give and take familiar to ourselves, has its origin in the purest and loftiest springs of human action.  Thrift degenerates into avarice, yet what was thrift in the beginning but forethought, the long, long look towards years to come; not only care for one's self, but for one's offspring—in other words, for humanity?  "Every Frenchman," writes M. Hanotaux, in the new volume of his monumental work, "works for the future, accumulates for posterity, restricting his wants and his enjoyment in the interests of after generations." [p.286]  As I have already shown, even the peasants of the ancien régime, despite corvée and gabelle, despite fiscal and seigneurial oppression, contrived to lay the foundation of family fortunes.

    Another hallmark of French character is delicacy, the horror of wounding the susceptibilities, of being deemed obtuse, unamiable, or impolite.

    Here is an illustration.

    Some years ago, when staying at Lons-le-Saulnier (Jura), my host accompanied me to lunch with friends living an hour and a half off by road and rail, their carriage meeting us at the little country station.  We were to leave at four o'clock, no other train being available till late in the evening.

    The moment for departure drew near, but my friend, deep in a political discussion, had apparently become unmindful of the arrangement; our hostess, I noticed, did just glance at the clock once or twice, that was all.  At the eleventh hour I ventured to take the initiative; the carriage was brought round, the horse put to a trot, and we caught the train by half a minute.  As I knew that the later hour would have inconvenienced both hosts and guests, and as I had noticed madame's furtive glances at the timepiece, I asked my companion why we had not been dispatched without haste and flurry.  He looked at me with no little surprise.  "Tell a visitor it is time for him to go?  The thing is impossible!"

    Certainly the English plan of speeding the parting guest has much to recommend it, but the story is highly suggestive.  It helps us to understand how Voltaire allowed himself, as he put it, to become the "innkeeper of Europe."  Mr. Hamerton preferred John Bull's blunt outspokenness.  His home near Autun becoming too much intruded upon by English and American visitors, he affixed the following notice to his front door: "Visitors at the Pré Charmoy who have not received an invitation for the night are requested to leave at six o'clock."  Imagine the shocked surprise of French callers able to decipher the inscription!

    The horror of appearing uncourteous is evinced in many ways.

    Thus, no matter how visible or grotesque may be English blunders in French, our neighbours never permit themselves so much as a smile in your presence; instead they will quietly and even apologetically put the speaker right.  There are natures of finer or coarser calibre in France as elsewhere, but a dominant note of national character is this delicacy.  Many formulas of current speech, indeed, bring out the idiosyncrasy.  Harsh terms and disagreeable expletives are avoided, ill-sounding forms of expression toned down.  When the great statesman Thiers had breathed his last, the tidings were thus conveyed to the widow: "Madame, votre illustre mari a vecu" ("Your illustrious husband once lived").  To have blurted out, "Your husband is dead," would seem in French ears an aggravation of the shock.

    Again, how charming and characteristic is that oxymoron, une jolie laide ("a plain beauty"), in other words, a woman whose vivacity and expressiveness atone for Nature's unkindness in other respects.

    Another euphemism is the expression, "il laisse à désirer" ("it leaves something to be desired").

    A tutor, for instance, reporting progress of an unsatisfactory pupil, will not distress his parents by saying, "Your son's conduct is bad," or "Your son is not doing well."  He qualifies the unpleasant information by writing word that both behaviour and application to studies leave something, or maybe much, to be desired.

    These things are not wholly bagatelles, but it is also in grave matters that this national trait is conspicuous.

    Leisureliness is another inrooted French attribute.  The prevailing dislike of hurry, the margin of time allowed alike for trivial as well as weighty transactions, are refreshingly opposed to American standards.

    The proverb "Time is money" has not as yet found acceptance in the most intellectual and highly polished country of Europe.  France, like Hamlet, has still her breathing hour of the day; compared to the Republic across the Atlantic, is still "a pleasing land of drowsyhead."  In a charming volume, Madame Bentzon recounts how an American acquaintance once visited her in the Seine and Marne, and his astoundment at the spectacle before him.  The antiquated farming methods still in vogue, oxen drawing old-fashioned wooden ploughs, husbandmen cutting their tiny patches of corn, housewives minding their cows afield, transported him to Biblical scenes.  He could hardly realize that he was in Europe, and in such a quarter of Europe.

    It is not only country folks who must ever have a liberal allowance of time.  Equally somnolent must appear the commercial world in Chicagan eyes.

    "At Bradford men never walk, they are always running," said a French youth to me after some months' sojourn in a business house of that city.

    A Luton straw-hat manufacturer of my acquaintance thus commented on the same characteristic—

    "The French are excellent customers, but are very slow in making up their minds.  The French buyer will turn over a hat or a bonnet a dozen times, go away without giving an order, will look in next day, very likely the day after that, before coming to a decision.  But French commercial honour stands at high-water mark; thus, dilatory as are French buyers, none receive a warmer welcome."

    English travellers are sometimes exasperated by this leisureliness in other quarters.  In September of last year I left Paris for Dover by the excellent 9.45 forenoon express.  The weather had just broken up in Switzerland, and late arrivers at the Gare du Nord found the greatest difficulty in procuring a seat.  A young Englishman in this plight who addressed himself to an official received the following reply: "You should be here an hour before the train starts"!  Regarded from a wholly opposite point of view, indeed deliberate, unhasting temperament is indeed enviable.  How much may not the excellence of French manufactures, handicrafts, and produce be thereby accounted for?

    Nor is Goethe's maxim, "Ohne Hast, ohne Rast" ("without haste, without rest"), nonexistent in other fields.  Art, literature, legislation, have been similarly influenced, whilst leisureliness, an instinctive repugnance to hurry and bustle, a philosophic love of repose, constitute a paramount charm of French home life.  Under our neighbours' roof we are not too rudely reminded that "Time and tide wait for no man," much less that "Time is money."  No wonder that the prematurely old men of whom Mr. Foster Fraser speaks in his American sketches, white-haired, care-lined veterans of thirty, are unknown in France.  There at least folks allow time to overtake them; they do not advance post haste to meet it.

    The least sentimental people on the face of the earth, our neighbours have a matchless genius for friendship.  "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother," might have been written by Montaigne rather than by Jesus, the son of Sirach.  We often hear on elderly lips the endearing "thee" and "thou" of the Quaker, old lycéens, grandmothers whose acquaintance dated from the first communion, maintaining brotherly, sisterly relations throughout life.  The bachelor, the functionary, the military man compelled to dine at a restaurant, must ever have a commensal, or table companion; in this respect they resemble Kant.  The great philosopher's means in later life permitting such hospitality, he ever had three or four covers laid for daily "Tischgenossen."  Little wonder that the sociable Gaul abhors a solitary meal.

    It was Montesquieu's opinion that when an Englishman wanted thoroughly to enjoy his newspaper, he climbed on to a housetop for the sake of privacy!  True it is that whilst we have the verb "to enjoy one's self," the French have another and more amiable reflective, jouir de quelqu'n [p.291] ("to enjoy another's society").  "Je vais jouir de vows" ("I come to enjoy you"), said a charming lady to me one evening in a country house near Nancy.

    The most reserved, yet the most sociable being in the world, the most accomplished in the art of friendship, neither in friendship nor in love is a Frenchman in the least given to sentimentality.  The only subjects on which he ever sentimentalizes are patrie, drapeau, République—motherland, tricolour, Republic.  Personalities evoke the most profound, unalterable attachments, the most fervid admiration, never gushing outbursts.  No wonder that modern German novels are so little appreciated in France.  Dickens, for whom our neighbours have a positive veneration, is often a sentimentalist, but in his case the single defect is counterbalanced by a thousand virtues.  I will now turn to a French trait that equally puzzles insular observers.

    Why, in a pre-eminently intellectual and fastidious people, do we find an undisguised, immoderate addiction to le gros rire, an insatiable appetite for the grotesquely laughable?  How little sort Parisian comic papers, popular Parisian plays, and M. Rochefort's scurrilous pasquinades with the loftier side of French character!

    In the first place, we must remember that no wave of Puritanism has at any time swept over the land of Rabelais.  The joyousness which Rabelais inculcated as a duty, the rollicking spirits in his own case masking stern philosophic truths, have never received similar check.  Le gros rire, the hearty laugh, still remains the national refuge from care and ennui; as in former days, it ofttimes diverted the mind from impending tortures and violent death.  Alike martyrs and criminals have made merry in awful moments.  The Marquise de Brinvilliers jested over the preparations for her long-drawn-out torments, the gallant young de la Barre uttered a sally on the eve of a doom no less horrible, Danton improvised puns as he was jolted towards the guillotine.

    Every Frenchman has a touch of Rabelais, of Voltaire, in his composition.

    I once asked an old friend of eclectic tastes and high culture how it was that the buffooneries and scurrilities of the Intransigeant could possibly interest him.  "Ma foi, je ne sail pas, mais ça me fait rire" ("On my word I don't know, but the paper makes me laugh"), was his reply.

    Laughter—the copious exercise of the risible faculties—is a constitutional, a physical need of the Gallic temperament.  Hence the enormous popularity enjoyed two generations ago by Paul de Kock.  Search the little library of this writer's fiction through and you will find no scintilla of wit, hardly a bon-mot.  But in one respect he was a true literary descendant of Rabelais.  His Gauloiseries, broad drolleries, could ever raise a laugh.  Few people read poor Paul de Kock nowadays.  Le rire in Anatole France has found a subtler, more piquant, more philosophic exponent, but anything and everything is forgiven that author, actor, musician, or artist who can evoke spontaneous mirth.

    How came it about that "L'Allegro" was written by an Anglo-Saxon and a Puritan, and not by a Frenchman?  The matter must remain an eternal mystery.

    On this subject there remains one point to be dealt with.  An English friend, who had been shocked by some coarse illustrated papers purchased at a Paris kiosque, lately put the following question to me: How were such publications compatible with the purity of French home life?  My answer was simple—boys and girls in France do not enjoy the liberty, or rather the licence, permitted among ourselves.  When journeying from Hastings to Folkestone by train some years since with a French friend, two boys of ten to twelve sitting opposite had their heads deep in newspapers.  The French mother was greatly shocked.  Children of that age, she said, were never permitted in France to purchase or read newspapers.  And I can speak from experience, that where young people are present, the Rabelaisian joke, or double entendre, is banished from the family board.

    If the critical faculty is sometimes at fault where the risible is concerned, it is nevertheless an equally striking characteristic.  French literary criticism has ever stood at high-water mark, and to criticize, with our neighbours, takes the place of to enjoy.

    Listen to the work-a-day world at the Louvre or the Luxembourg on a Sunday afternoon.  Instead of the interjectional "How pretty!" "How beautiful!" "How life-like!" of a similar audience at the Royal Academy or National Gallery on Bank Holiday, you will overhear cautious, painstaking, deliberately uttered criticism—the views of men and women who are there not merely for irreflective enjoyment, the whiling away of an idle hour, but for the exercise of the critical faculty, the ripening of artistic taste, the comparing achievements with a preconceived ideal.

    Still more marked is, of course, this habit of mind among the highly cultivated.  A French friend, for instance, accompanies you to a museum, picture-gallery, or play.  You soon discover that you have at hand, not a cicerone, but a lynx-eyed critic, disputable or unobvious points being raised every moment, the reasoning, questioning instinct perpetually alert.  To less subtle minds such a mood will appear hypercritical, but herein without doubt lies the secret of French supremacy in art and letters, and that better word I will call the finish of manufactures and handicrafts.  And what is the perfect dress of a Frenchwoman but an evolution of the critical spirit, and to place herself above criticism in this respect is often immensely difficult.  Thus the wife of an officer in garrison or of a lycéen professor, no matter the narrowness of resources, must on no account make calls except in an irreproachable toilette and in style up to date.  The young wife of an artillery captain with whom I once spent some time at Clermont-Ferrand, used to keep one complete costume for visits of ceremony, immediately on her return doffing not only bonnet and gown, but slip, shoes, and even fancy stockings!  Every article must retain its comparative freshness and fashionableness till replaced.  Critical herself, a Frenchwoman naturally guards against criticism in others.

    The French mind is pre-eminently logical.  "We reason more than we imagine," writes M. Fouillée, "and what we imagine the best is not the exterior world, but the inner world of sentiments and thoughts."  Further on this psychologist adds, "The passion for reasoning often leads to forgetfulness of observation" ("Psychologie du people Français").  This love of system, this tendency to generalize at the expense of experience, is strikingly evidenced in M. Boutmy's recent work on the English people.  Nothing is more characteristic of the two nations than the methods respectively pursued by the above-named writer and the late Mr. Hamerton.  In his admirably judicial work, "French and English," our countryman jots down the experiences of thirty-five years' residence in France, illustrating each proposition by telling anecdotes and traits of character that have come immediately under his own observation.  M. Boutmy enters upon his task as a mathematician working out a problem.  From a few principles, with great lucidity, he traces the evolution of the English mind as shown in matters intellectual, social, and material.  Mr. Hamerton spoke of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen as he found them, and is consequently never at fault.  M. Boutmy cannot for a moment relinquish his theories; but theories, however sound, will not always accommodate themselves to actualities.

    Here is an instance. M. Boutmy describes the English people as inaccessible to pity.  But what are the facts?  To the honour of England, be it said, here was promulgated the first law rendering punishable inhumanity to animals. [p.295]  Tardily enough, the French Government so far followed our initiative as to pass the Loi Gramont, an Act, unfortunately, too often a dead letter.

    The entire work shows the same subordination of experience to system, observation to theory.

    M. Boutmy and M. G. Amédée Thierry, who also speaks of the English as a people inaccessible to pity (Le complot des Libelles), should note the impressions of the French medical men recently visiting our shores.  To the immense astonishment of these gentlemen, they discovered that all our magnificent hospitals are entirely supported by private contributions, and that outdoor patients are not only examined gratuitously, but supplied with medicaments free of charge.

    And as I write these lines I see in a morning paper the following testimony to "a people inaccessible to pity."  The correspondent describes a meeting held in Paris on behalf of the Sunday rest movement, and he adds, "It is pleasant to note how strongly and sympathetically this social reform is advocated by the French press, and how the example of England is admired and recommended."

    Such appreciation is not common.  If our neighbours have hitherto habitually been misrepresented here, still more have English folks been misjudged on the other side of La Manche.

    The French intellect is above all things scientific.  It must never be forgotten that the very first great scientific expeditions set on foot in the world were due to French initiative.  "When the question of the figure of the earth came to be debated," wrote our late Astronomer-Royal, Sir George Bidden Airy, "two celebrated expeditions were made under the auspices of the French Government.  I believe that in matters of science, as stated by Guizot, France has been the great pioneer."  And this eminent authority adds further on, "There is also one measure of the dimensions of the earth which is worth mentioning, on account of the extraordinary times in which it was affected.  It was the great measure extending from Dunkirk in France to Barcelona in Spain, and afterwards continued to Formentara, a small island near Minorca.  It is worth mentioning, because it was done in the hottest times of the French Revolution.  We are accustomed to consider that time as one purely of anarchy and bloodshed; but the energetic Government of France (the Convention), though labouring under the greatest difficulties, could find opportunities for sending out an expedition for these scientific purposes, and thus did actually, during the hottest times of the Revolution complete a work to which nothing equal had been attempted in England."

    Equally characteristic is the practical spirit, the utilitarian side, the persistent looking to results.  Vagueness, shilly-shally, indefinite, happy-go-lucky methods are not common over the water.  Here, as in most respects, Gaul and Anglo-Saxon are the antipodes of each other.

    What romance runs through English life is strictly confined to courtship and marriage, to the domestic circle, the individual sphere; not a vestige of the poetic or ideal informing the atmosphere of politics.

    The French fireside, on the contrary, is strictly prosaic, wedlock being a partnership primarily arranged with deference to worldly circumstances.  But remote from daily surroundings, in the arena of public life, when called upon to deal with ideas rather than with facts, a Frenchman can be the most generously romantic, the most magnanimously chivalrous utopian imaginable.

    A Frenchman will think fifty, nay, five hundred times, before marrying for love, when marrying for love would involve impoverished circumstances, loss of position, the future of his children hazarded; without so much as a second thought, like the misguided hero of the Commune, he will rush to the barricade and confront ignominy and death on behalf of the disinherited, of some new Atlantis in which he entirely believes. [p.298]

    If I were asked to crystallize the foregoing conclusions to focus in a sentence my experience of French character, I should say that, intellectually and socially, here civilization has reached its highest expression.  I will end these pages with a simile.

    As I have already insisted upon, "the fickle Gaul," "the light-minded Frenchman," "our volatile neighbours," possess a genius for friendship.  Serviceable, sincere, perennial, French friendship reminds me of that beautiful element recently discovered by two native scientists.  Proof against time, vicissitude, and extraneous influences, what French friendship has once been it remains throughout life, like radium, immutable among mutable things, shining with undiminished ray till the end.


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CHAPTER XXXII.

FICTION AND FIRESIDES


"DO Frenchmen ever work?" once a clever English friend asked me.  "According to novels, the only occupation of men over the water is to run after other men's wives!"

    French writers of fiction stand as culprits at the bar.  So gravely have they sinned against truth and the fitness of things that the average novel must be accepted as a travesty, no more resembling French domestic life than the traditional caricature of John Bull by our neighbours resembles the typical Englishman.  Were middle-class homes, indeed, of a piece with certain portraitures, the words "family" and "fireside" were mere figures of speech and simulacra over the water.

    The misconceptions created by so-called realistic novels are almost ineradicable.  In an enthusiastic work on French expansion by a naturalized Frenchman, the writer implores his literary brethren to weigh their responsibilities.  "Frenchmen," he writes, "ought to set their faces uncompromisingly against turpitudes so antagonistic to national influence" ("L'Expansion Française," par M. Novikoff: Paris).

    On this subject, a writer I have before quoted observed thirty years ago, "Without doubt the world described by M. Flaubert (in 'Madame Bovary') exists, but is it the whole world?  And if a novelist confines himself to holes and corners of society, as a delineator of society, can he be called truthful?"  Elsewhere he wrote of Paul Féval's once famous "Fanny," "This aversion to the truth among my friends and associates alarms and afflicts me."

    What would Philarète Chasles have thought of "L'Héritier" by Guy de Maupassant, Flaubert's most celebrated disciple?  In so far as style, composition, and, up to a certain point, characterization go, the story is a masterpiece.  It would be difficult to find more exquisite pictures of suburban Paris, or more finely turned impressions of atmosphere.  The writer's skill is to be deplored, since the incident on which the plot turns is not only nauseous in the extreme, but grotesque in its exaggeration of complacent immorality.

    And what would the same critic have said to Daudet's "L'Immortel"?  Here we find ourselves in a very different social sphere to those described in "Madame Bovary" and "L'Héritier."  The immorality is here of still deeper dye.

    Madame Astier is the wife of an Immortel, i.e. a member of the French Academy, the highest honour to which a literary man can aspire.  We are asked to believe that this woman could stint the family board of necessaries, lie, plot, and deceive her husband, even stoop to vice, for the sake of a dissolute son.

    In novels of later date we find a disregard, not only of morality, but of seemliness that is positively appalling.

    Take, by way of example, two stories that appeared two or three years ago—"Ame obscure" and "Le journal d'une femme de chambre."  Well may stay-at-home readers ask themselves the question, Does the word "home," as we understand it, really exist in France?  Yet both these loathsome works have found admiring critics.  It was on the strength of a review in a Paris newspaper that I ordered the first, and the second was lauded to the skies in an English review.

    There is also another point to be considered.  No wave of Puritanism has ever swept over French life and literature.  As a contemporary philosopher writes, "France missed her Reformation, and the consequences are felt to this day " (M. Coste, "Sociologic Objective ").  Clarifying, refining influences must come from other sources.

    It is hardly necessary to say that such works are not found upon drawing-room tables on the other side of the channel.  In the case of young daughters, maternal censorship is rigid, the Russian blacking-out system not more so.  Objectionable fiction finds its public among "young men about town," rich ne'er-do-wells, idlers generally, and among old and pious ladies, who, having led immaculate and somewhat prosy existences, are anxious to know disreputable folks and their ways from hearsay.  The native patronage of such novels would not, however, suffice to keep their authors going.  As M. Novikoff explains in the volume before mentioned, French fiction of this kind sells much more largely beyond the frontier than on French soil.  Russia is by far the best customer of the so-called realistic novelist, Germany and England following suit.  Any one who has lived among our neighbours must have come to this conclusion unaided by statistics.  Thrifty folks will think twice before spending three francs and a half on a book to be thrown away when read.  If occasionally middle-class Darbies and Joans do purchase a volume only mentionable among their contemporaries, they will thus indulge themselves out of sheer curiosity, and enjoy a new sensation.

    Vice and crime have, of course, their thickly populated walks in France as elsewhere.  The sanctity of home is guarded jealously as the gates of Paradise by flaming brand.  Not wider apart the fragrant valley of Roenabed and the ebon halls of Eblis in Beckford's wonderful tale, than French family life and Bohemia, whether gilded or tatterdemalion.

    It is characteristic of the French mind to seek vicarious emotion, and enjoy what is called les sublimes horreurs ("sublime horrors").  Here we have an explanation of other proclivities, among these the enthusiasm for Sarah Bernhardt's most harrowing rôles.

    I well remember, when in Algeria many years ago, visiting with a friend an old lady just upon ninety.  As she sunned herself in the garden, she had on her lap perhaps the "creepiest" book—as boys would say—ever written, "Les derniers jours d'un Condamné."

    "Not very lively reading that," observed my companion; the other replying—

    "Mais quel récit saissisant!" ("But what an enthralling narrative!").

    But the existence of such novels as "Une Arne obscure," and "Le journal d'une femme de chambre " requires further elucidation.  Why should capable, above all reputed, writers fix upon themes alike in subject and treatment so grotesquely untrue to life and so repellent?

    The plain truth of the matter is, that average existence, especially middle-class existence, in France is too uneventful, too eminently respectable, for sensational or dramatic handling.  In support of this theory let me instance two contemporary writers, both to the fore in literary ranks.

    M. Hanotaux lately published a delightful volume of sketches not quite felicitously titled "L'énergie Française."  In one exquisitely worded chapter he sketches daily routine in an ancient cathedral city.  Monotonous as was the domestic round of "Cranford" and "Our village," it must be set down as "a giddy round of vain delights" compared with that of Laon.

    All who have lived in French country towns and villages realize the veracity of the picture.  So slowly the clock often moves, so unbroken is the sameness of week after week, that a catastrophe, the unforeseen, seems positively banished from French soil.  Take another picture of everyday life from the pen of that usually incisive writer, Édouard Rod.

    Minded to produce a story after the English model, that is to say, one that should be irreproachable, M. Rod gives us "Mademoiselle Annette," which can no more be compared in interest and vivacity to the "Small House at Allington," or "The Chronicles of Carlingford," than Daudet's "Jack" can be compared to the "David Copperfield" of his great forerunner and model.

    Prosiest of prosy stories, in truth, is "Mademoiselle Annette," not a touch of romance, humour, or moving pathos enlivening its pages.  Only the genius of a Balzac could have made such dry bones to live.  The theme of "Eugenie Grandet" is hardly more exciting, yet that story is one of undying interest.  Balzac stands absolutely alone as an exponent of bourgeois life, and vile although are many types, others are of singular beauty and elevation—the village priest in the "Curé du Village," the charming wife of César Birotteau, Docteur Benassis, and many others.

    Society is so constituted in France that the novelist is thus forced back upon the exceptional and far-fetched, the annals of vice and crime.  Nowadays readers require a different sensationalism in literature to that furnished by their predecessors Eugene, Sue, and Dumas.  And as French firesides are the reverse of sensational, popular writers look for inspiration elsewhere.

    Whilst being in no sense an apology for the bad novel, such a fact may be accepted as, at least, partly explanative.  We must remember that there are no romantic marriages in France, very little that falls under the head of love-making, and nothing whatever that answers to German schwärmerei, an intensive expression of our own sentimentality.  To be fantasque, that is to say, to have romantic, unconventional notions, is a term of severe reproach; woe be to that Frenchwoman who incurs it.  Tradition, bringing up, material interests, are all opposed to the freedom which renders English girlhood a prolific theme for the novelist.  No well-bred French girl ever enjoys an innocent flirtation, much more a harmless escapade.  Nor must she relish them on paper till she has entered into the partnership of marriage.

    Again, the domestic circle in France is essentially that, and very rarely anything more.  The vast majority of middle-class folks spend their entire lives within such circumscribed limits, in no wise affected by extraneous influences.  The same may be said of vast numbers with us; but English people, no matter their rank or condition, move about more freely than our neighbours, and even those of moderate means at some time or other travel abroad.  Very few English families are without Indian or colonial branches, an element considerably adding to the movement and interest of daily life.

    The material of fiction in the two countries is, however, chiefly affected by social usages and ideals.  The French domestic story must perforce become a roman pour jeunes filles, a story for girls.  Goody-goody such tales never are; they are often well written, and deserve the name of literature.  The tragedy of life, the profound springs of action, are never therein touched upon.

    When I look back upon twenty-five years' experience of French domestic life, I can only recall two incidents which a novelist could have turned to good account.  The first was an affair involving family honour and good repute, several households being brought low by the malversations of one member.  The second was a case of mistaken identity that very nearly proved as tragic.  A young man, the son of friends, was charged with robbery and murder, and although the accusation was disproved a few hours later, the shock almost killed his father.

    Both circumstances lent themselves admirably to dramatic treatment; and more than once have I said to myself, if only a novelist had the slightest chance of being true to foreign life, here were abundant materials for my pen.  Quieter themes have also tempted me from time to time.  But no matter how well we may know our neighbours, English stories of French life are doomed to failure!

    One novelette coming under this category affords a striking instance in point.  An English writer had set himself the somewhat difficult task of describing a clerical interior, the home of a village priest.  Two egregious incongruities marked the attempt.

    Here was a country curé listening in the evening to Beethoven's Sonatas played by a young niece!

    Now, in the first place, you might search France through without finding a piano in a rustic presbytère; in the second, you would as vainly seek a village priest appreciative of German classic music; and, thirdly, the notion of a young girl keeping house for a bachelor uncle, above all, an ecclesiastic, is in the highest degree preposterous.

    French writers, when dealing with English contemporary life, are at a still greater disadvantage, so little hitherto have our neighbours cared to live amongst us.  Picturesque effects, happy approximations, may be achieved on both sides.  But the inmost heart of a people, inherited characteristics, national temperament, how unreachable must these ever be by an outsider!

    In one class of the modern French novel a certain licence is admissible, even obligatory.  I allude to the latest development of fiction in France, the novel with a purpose.

    In his famous Rougon-Macquart series, Zola, from the reader's point of view, set a somewhat disconcerting example.  Didactic novels are no longer entities, but part of a cycle.  Thus a story called "Bonnes Mères" (ironical for "over-fond mothers") was announced as the second of nine volumes, all having a distinct moral and intellectual affinity!  The story brings out in scenes alternately diverting and sordid, the exaggerated views of certain French parents concerning the marriage of their children, and the theories still upheld by clauses of the Code Civil.  In "Bonnes Mères," all our sympathy is with the hero and heroine, commonplace, amiable young people, as anxious as possible to fall in love with each other after being duly married by their respective mothers, aided by two marieuses, or matchmakers.  The two latter, mercenary old ladies, are represented as having the run of fashionable society, and receiving handsome sums for their matchmaking services.  The unfortunate young couple soon discover that, far from escaping maternal control, wedlock has placed them under tutelage more galling.  The author pleads for a revision of the Code Civil, and more individuality in the home.

    "La Source Fatale" ("The fatal source"), by A. Couvreur, is the third of a series devoted to social questions.  The author's purpose is set forth in his preface, namely, to expose "the alcoholic scourge that crowds our prisons, hospitals, and lunatic asylums, that demoralizes the race, physically, morally, and mentally."

    We have here the powerful picture of a promising and happy life wrecked by absinthe-drinking.  M. Couvreur sets to work scientifically and philosophically.  His hero's downhill career is followed stage by stage with unsparing detail and accurate diagnosis.  The once healthful, wholesome-minded, self-controlled gentleman gradually sinks into sensual excess, sottishness and mania, his last frenzied act being to fire the distillery of which he was formerly secretary.

    But novels with a purpose in France, as with ourselves, deal with the abnormal, and are no reflex of average character and careers.

    As I have already averred, French home life is unsuitable for romance.  Domestic existence flows evenly as the streams beautifying native landscape, all kinds of sweet and pleasant objects reflected in their waves, but one mile very much resembling another, from source to outflow little in the way of diversity or surprise.


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CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE CODE CIVIL AND FAMILY LIFE


BALZAC'S familiarity with the Code Civil is conspicuous in many of his works.  Since the great psychologist wrote, however, domestic legislation in France has been considerably modified.

    "Eugénie Grandet" affords an excellent example of the first statement.  In that "great little novel," an epithet applied by Balzac to another of his chefs d'œuvre, we find the miser of Saumur in despair, not because he has lost his wife, but because he thereby had forfeited control of her property.  By dint of cajoleries and mean artifices, he induces the love-lorn Eugénie to renounce her heirship in his favour.

    When Balzac made cette grande petite histoire out of the merest nothings, and until a few years ago, husbands and wives were in no sense inheritors of each other's fortune.  A man dying intestate, his widow, whether dowered or portionless, whether the mother of children or childless, was not by law entitled to a penny or so much as a stick of furniture.  The very body of the defunct could not be buried in accordance with her wishes. [p.308]  In fact, from the moment that the breath was out of his nostrils, she became a stranger in her husband's house.  Only in the case of non-existent blood relation, no matter how remote the kinship, could a widow claim her late husband's substance, second and even third cousins being enriched to her entire exclusion.  The same rule applied to a widower.  Hence the père Grandet's dilemma.  With dismay approaching to frenzy, he saw the usufruct of his wife's portion passing into other hands, those of their own daughter!  It was not until 1891 that a new law entitled the survivor of an intestate partner to the fourth or half, according to circumstances, of his or her income, such life-interest being annulled by re-marriage, and not holding good in the case of divorced persons or of those judicially separated.  In some measure the legal one-sidedness of former days could be remedied by the marriage contract.  Thus, a man about to marry a portionless bride, a most unusual occurrence in France, might, in accordance with the régime called la communaute de bien, or participation of means, endow his wife with a part of his property, that part accruing to her at his death.  But it was not by virtue of heirship that she obtained such a share.  She merely became full possessor of property which had always been her own, and of which her husband had been the usufructuary.

    I once stayed in Brittany with a lady who had not long before lost her husband, a doctor of some note; from time outstanding bills were paid, the half going to his children by a former marriage, the other half, down to a centime, accruing to my hostess.  Both systems of contract were in full force before the Revolution, and rural archives contain many such marriage deeds, particulars of property on either side being minuted with what appears to us whimsical exactness.

    "Eugénie Grandet" illustrates other articles of the Code, these, strange to say, still in force.

    Although a propertied woman, Madame Grandet is described as never having a penny to call her own.  Miserly instinct and habits of petty tyranny were here backed up by the law.  The usurer was strictly within his right, and to-day, as when Balzac wrote three-quarters of a century ago, French husbands enjoy the control of their wives' income.  If Frenchwomen in the spirit exercise "all the rule, one empire," in the letter they remain under marital tutelage, the Roman patria potestas.

    "A married Frenchwoman never enjoys her fortune till she dies," once observed an old French lady to me—"that is to say, she cannot touch a fraction without her husband's consent; but if childless, unfortunately my own case, she can will it as she pleases."

    "We cannot buy a silk dress with our own money till we first get our husband's leave," another friend said to me only the other day.  Of course, in most cases the defects of such legislation are remedied by character and the fitness of things.

    Frenchwomen are naturally very authoritative, Frenchmen are naturally very amiable, and in the highest degree amenable to feminine influence.  When the household purse is too tightly gripped, it is most often in the interests of children, and not from motives of sheer avarice.  And we must ever bear in mind one fact.  The ancient Gaul feared only the fall of the heavens: the modern Frenchman trembles only before an empty purse!  On the legal aspect of this subject a friend writes to me:—


    "You will ask how comes it about that our code has proclaimed (édicté) what is called the incapacity of married women?  Here are the reasons furnished by commentators of the Code.

    "Legislators consider that in wedlock, as in every other well-organized association, an undivided seat of authority can alone prevent confusion and discord.  Such undivided authority the law has naturally placed in the hands of the husband.  At the same time, abuse of authority in financial matters has been carefully guarded against.  Thus, a propertied wife with cause to complain of her husband's stewardship can obtain judicial separation."


    A few years ago a bill was laid before the Chamber in purport answering to the Married Woman's Property Act of Victorian legislation—that is to say, an Act securing to married women the absolute control of their own earnings.  The project has not yet become law, and is thus commented upon by the correspondent just cited—In my own opinion, the bill you mention, referred to by M. Rambaud in his 'History of French Civilization,' has slender chance of being voted.  Should it take effect, an unscrupulous wife would be at liberty to appropriate her entire earnings, spending upon herself what ought to be contributed to the family budget," (la communauté).

    There is a good deal to be said for this view of the case.  I suppose few instances occur in England of a married couple entering domestic service, their child or children being put out to nurse.  In France the custom is universal.  Not only is the household work of Parisian and provincial hotels very generally shared by man and wife, but in private families a husband will often be employed as butler, coachman, or valet de chambre, his wife acting as cook or madame's maid.  Both naturally look forward to setting up a home sooner or later; both should naturally economize for the purpose.  But up to a certain point the Code Civil compels economy, and forces parents to make sacrifices on behalf of their children.

    Here let me explain that interesting law called la dette alimentaire, or material obligation, to which we have no equivalent in England.  Specified by Articles 205, 206, and 207 of the Code Civil, the dette alimentaire not only renders parents responsible for the shelter, food, and clothing of their children, but proclaims the charge reciprocal.  And as sons and daughters entering another family on marriage are considered members of that family, they are similarly answerable.  Sons and daughters-in-law must pay the dette alimentaire either in money or kind to a widowed mother-in-law, her second marriage relieving them of the burden.  A burden without doubt it is sometimes felt, and in one of Guy de Maupassant's most revolting stories he brings out this aspect.  On the other hand, there is no doubt that the mutual obligation immensely strengthens family ties, and at the same time adds to the dignity of humble life.  What Frenchman capable of earning wages would willingly see his parents dependent upon charity?

    Again, the dette alimentaire is equally binding on parents of illegitimate children.  Alike father and mother are compelled by law to feed, clothe, and shelter their offspring.

    The dette d'éducation concerns itself with parental duties only.  The State provides the best possible education for every child born upon French soil, but on parents is laid the charge of profiting by such opportunities, and of adding moral and physical training.

    Recent emendations of the Code have considerably modified those sections dealing with women.  Thus, a law passed in 1895 enables a married woman to open a separate savings-bank account, and to withdraw any sums so put by, provided the husband offers no opposition, such opposition being rendered all but ineffective by clauses that follow.

    By virtue of an anterior law (1886), a wife can ensure a small annuity for old age, the instalments placed from time to time requiring no marital authorization.  It will be seen that a marked tendency of recent legislation has been its favourableness towards the sex.  I have elsewhere mentioned the important right recently conferred upon tradesmen, that of electing delegates to the Chambers of Commerce.

    Classified by the Code with minors and idiots, it was not till 1897 that a French woman could witness a deed.  To-day she enjoys privileges for which her English sisters sigh in vain.

    By an Act of 1900, women in France were admitted to the bar.

    Another and equally recent law may perhaps have been suggested by English precedent.  By an Act of December, 1900, heads of business houses employing female assistants were compelled to supply precisely as many seats as the number of the employed.  Formerly, as here, young women were on their feet all day long, to the deterioration of health and physique.

    I will now say a few words upon the enforced division of property.  I do not suppose that many readers will agree with an old friend of mine, a Burgundian of the old school.  Some years ago we had been warmly discussing the contrasted systems, English freedom of testacy and the restrictive measures of France.

    "No," he said, shaking his head; "nothing you say will ever convince me that it is right to will away property from one's flesh and blood.  And," he added, with an air of entire conviction, "one thing I am sure of—the knowledge that young people must inherit their parents' fortune, and probably that of uncles and aunts also, makes them more affectionate."

    Certainly a great opposite impression is gained from Balzac's great series; nor do Maupassant and later writers force such an opinion upon the mind.  Most French folks, I fancy, would agree with my nepotious gentilhomme.  Anyhow, they would probably endorse the obligation of enriching not only sons and daughters to the exclusion of every other claim, but also nephews and nieces.

    I well remember an instance in point.  An acquaintance of many years' standing, for whom I entertained great respect, the manager of a large Paris hotel, was seized with mortal sickness, a slow but fatal malady rendering him quite unfit for the bodily and mental wear and tear of such a position.

    "Why do you not give up and rest, dear Monsieur R—?" I ventured to say one day.  "You have no wife or children depending on you, cher monsieur.  Why work so hard when ill and unfit for anything?"

    "I have nephews and nieces," was the reply.

    There, then, was a rich man battling with pain and lassitude in order that young men and women, well able to earn their own living, should be enriched.

    A few words about enforced testamentation will not here be inappropriate.

    Like the daughters of Zelophehad, French girls inherit the paternal patrimony.  If the Code Civil treats the sex as irresponsible beings, the strictest justice is dealt out to them with regard to material exigencies.  Share and share alike is the excellent rule laid down by French legists.  But parents are by no means prohibited from befriending philanthropic or other causes.  A certain testamentary latitude is allowed to both father and mother.

    Thus, whilst the father of an only child, whether son or daughter, cannot deprive that child of the half of his fortune, the other half he can bequeath as he will.  If there are two children, each is entitled to a third of the paternal estate, the remainder being at the testator's disposal.  The same rules apply to a propertied mother.

    To children, French law has ever shown tenderness.  Thus, children born out of wedlock are naturalized by the subsequent marriage of parents, and recent legislation (March, 1896) has favoured them in the matter of property.  Anteriorally, provided that an illegitimate child had been legally acknowledged by either parent, the law awarded him a third of what would have been his portion but for the bar sinister.  By a recent law this share is now the half of what would accrue to a legitimate son or daughter, two-thirds if no brothers or sisters exist born in wedlock, and the entire parental fortune falls to him in case of no direct descendants remaining.

    A wonderful study is that Gallo-Roman Codex!

    Like the world-encircling serpent of Scandinavian mythology, the Code Civil, with bands of triple brass, with a drastic noli me tangere, binds family life into a compact, indissoluble whole, renders unassailable, impregnable, that sacred ark, that palladium of national strength, healthfulness, and vitality, the ancestral, the patriarchal home!


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CHAPTER XXXIV.

NEW YEAR'S ETIQUETTE


OUTSIDE royal and official circles, etiquette sits lightly on English shoulders.  Christmas boxes to children, servants, and postmen are certainly regarded in the light of an obligation.  Here what may be called domestic subjection to the calendar begins and ends.  We may notice or pass over the New Year as we will.  In France, it is otherwise.  New Year's etiquette is surely the heaviest untaxed burden ever laid upon the shoulders of a civilized people.  From the Elysée down to the mansarde, from the President of the Republic down to the dustman, every successive First of January is memorialized with almost religious ceremonial.  The Protocol is not more rigidly followed, the Code Civil itself is not more precise, than French etiquette of the New Year.  It is then that the bureaucratic and military world respectfully salute their chiefs; it is then that family bonds are re-knit in closest union; it is then that our neighbours bring out their visiting lists and balance the debit and credit of social intercourse.  With ourselves the dropping of an acquaintance is a ticklish and disagreeable business.  They manage these things better over the water.  Not to receive a New Year's call, or, if distance prevents, a visiting card, is the indisputable, the recognized indication that sender and addressee are henceforth to be strangers.

    French etiquette of the New Year may be divided under three heads, that of étrennes, or gifts; secondly, visits; thirdly, cards.  The first is obligatory in the case of friends and acquaintances as well as relations and subordinates and requires considerable thought.  Custom has pretty well settled the question of gifts in money to concierge, or portress, postmen, telegraph-boy, tradesmen's assistants, and domestic servants.  Thus the modest householder occupying a tiny flat and eking out an income of three or four thousand francs (£120 to £160) yearly, must reckon upon a minimum outlay of a hundred francs (£4) on New Year's Day, larger incomes being proportionately mulcted.  Heads of business houses pay away large sums in gifts of money.  A young lady, the experienced manageress of a large establishment, lately told me that the New Year's gifts from her employer had often been several hundred francs.  As for her part, she was in the habit of giving twenty francs to one relation, ten to another, and so on, besides making presents to friends and liberally tipping underlings; she could hardly have been richer for the largesse.  We are in the habit of considering our neighbours as a thrifty, even parsimonious people.  On the contrary, New Year's expenditure proves them to be the most lavish in the world.

    The settling of accounts with house porters, telegraph messengers, and one's household is easy.  Precedent and means regulate the scale of liberality.  Much more onerous is the selection of purchases, especially those to be offered outside the family circle.  Here etiquette is rigorously explicit, the rules for receiving being as strictly laid down as those for giving.  To persons occupying a decidedly superior rank, nothing must arrive on the occasion of the New Year, but game, flowers, or fruit are permissible later on.  A man in the habit of dining at a friend's house may offer his hostess flowers and her children bonbons, the classic tribute.  Only relations and intimate friends are privileged to present folks with anything useful; trinkets, plate, furniture, or even millinery.  Thus, one lady may say to another, "Do help me out of a dilemma.  I wish to send you a souvenir, but have not the least idea of what it should be.  Mention something that you would find really useful."  This rule is admirably practical, and might very well be carried out here.

    When a New Year's gift is presented by the donor in person, it is the height of bad taste to lay aside the packet unopened.  The offering must be looked at, admired, and, whether acceptable or no, rapturously acknowledged, so at least says a leading authority on the subject.  And, adds the writer, the giver of a modest present should receive warmer thanks than those who have sent us something really magnificent.  The former may be ashamed of his offering, the latter is well aware that he has given liberal money's worth.

    We next come to visits, and here if possible etiquette is more stringent, more complicated than with regard to étrennes.

    In observing French manners and customs, we must ever bear in mind that family feeling, like the mainspring of a clock, regulates every movement of the social body.  When our great brother poets wrote—


"The name of Friend is more than family
 Or all the world beside,"


they uttered a sentiment that might be applicable in classic Rhodes, but could have no appropriateness on the New Year's Day to France.  Here is a nice indication of this supremacy, the predominance of family feeling over every other.  New Year's visits to parents and grandparents are paid on the last day of the old year.  By such anticipation filial respect and affection are emphasized.  Le jour de l'an indeed belongs to the home circle.  Outside the official world ceremonial visits are relegated to a later day of the week or even month.  "A visit on New Year's Day," writes another authority, "is only admissible officially among those persons nearly related to each other, or who are on terms of closest intimacy—in a word, who can exchange heartfelt effusions, conventional commonplaces being inappropriate."

    The family New Year's dinner is a custom still very generally kept up, one or two intimate friends being also invited.  Even during periods of mourning, when every other social reunion is out of the question, these dinners will take place, under such circumstances being melancholy enough.  Unlike our own Christmas dinners, there is no statutory bill of fare.  It is quite otherwise with the midnight supper of the Réveillon, or Watch Night, when a turkey stuffed with truffles or chestnuts, black pudding, fritters, and champagne are always forthcoming, and with Twelfth Day and its cake.  The children's festival may be celebrated any day before February, whilst private persons may also pay their New Year's visits, so-called, throughout January, the official world is bound to strictest etiquette.  From the highest functionary of the State to the lowest, alike civilians and soldiers must personally visit superiors on New Year's Day.  Then, with many a secret objurgation, we may be sure, hard-worked, over-tired officers have to don full military dress, order a carriage and drive to the Elysée and the Ministry of War.  I say with many secret objurgations, because French officers, as a rule, do not care to wear a uniform except when absolutely obliged, the ordinary attire of a gentleman being so much more comfortable.  Then the modestly paid village schoolmaster screws out money for a pair of light kid gloves, and spick and span presents himself at Préfecture or Mairie.  And then lady principals of lycées for girls have to sit in solemn state whilst parents and guardians pay grateful homage.  Those poor lady principals!  I well remember a New Year's afternoon spent with my friend, Mlle. B—, directrice of a public girls' school at Nantes.  For hours they streamed in, grandparents, fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, all gracefully going through the arduous duty, a duty by no means to be shirked on either side.  But habit is everything.  Neither Mlle. B — nor her sisters, we may be sure, resented the obligation.  From end to end of France the same kind of ceremonial was taking place, every member of the administrative body, like mediaeval feudatories doing homage to his chief, in the official as in the domestic circle, bonds being thus tightened, fresh seals set upon mutual interdependence.  As a stone thrown into water sends out wider and wider ripples, so the Presidential reception is the signal for similar manifestations throughout French dominions, New Year's Day and its observance symbolizing and strengthening patriotism and devotion to the Republic.

    We now come to visiting cards, a most important subject.  The etiquette of the visiting card, indeed, demands a paper to itself.  We will, however, strictly confine ourselves to its use on New Year's Day, or, more properly speaking, during the first two or three weeks of the year.

    The exchange of these missives is at this time imperative, not only among official ranks, but also among friends and acquaintances prevented by distance from making a personal call.  Equally stringent are the rules concerning dispatch.  Thus, as in the case of family visits, precedence indicates respect, whilst the merely social obligation may be fulfilled throughout the month of January, no such margin is allowed in the official world.  Functionaries and administrative subordinates must on no account defer posting cards until December is out.  Such marks of attention should be posted so as to reach their destination too soon rather than too late.  And no matter how humble the position of the sender, his compliment is scrupulously returned.  Omission of this duty would not only betoken ill-breeding, but want of considerateness, and in certain cases would even constitute an affront.

    Remembrances in the shape of New Year's cards often take touching form.  For instance, some years since I made the acquaintance of a weaver's family in a little Champagne town, and before leaving added a trifle to the tire-lire or money-box of the youngest child, a boy at school.  He is now doing his three years' military service, and regularly sends me a New Year's card dated from the barracks; often, indeed, those who can ill afford it indulge in printing visiting cards expressly for this use.  Heterogeneous is the collection deposited in my own letter-box during the month of January, and from remotest corners they come, each bearing the legalized greeting.  The French post-office is the most amiable in the world, and relaxes its rules so that folks may greet each other at small expense.  Ordinarily a visiting card having writing on it, instead of passing with a halfpenny stamp, would be charged as a letter.  What are called mots impersonnels ("impersonal words"), five in number are allowed on the occasion of the New Year.  Here are one or two examples copied from last January's budget: Vœux bien respectueux, bons souhaits, meileurs souhaits et amitiés, souvenirs confraternels et bons vœux. ("Very respectful wishes, Good wishes, Best wishes and remembrances, Fraternal remembrances and good wishes.")

    The visiting card transmitted by halfpenny post may to some appear an insignificant and inadequate testimony alike of respect, consideration and affection.  But it is not so.  Michelet described the beauty of Frenchwomen as made up of little nothings.  So the charm and stability of French life, considered from the social aspect, may be described as a sum total of small, almost infinitesimal, gracious things.


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CHAPTER XXXV.

THE ENTENTE CORDIALE


I TAKE it that the entente cordiale will resemble a prosy, middle-aged French marriage, not a scintilla of romance existing on either side, material interests being guaranteed, no loophole left for nagging, much less litigation.  Stolid bridegroom and beautiful partner will jog on comfortably enough, perhaps discovering some day, after the manner of M. Jourdain, that they have been the best possible friends all their lives without knowing it!

    It is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and which the Anglo-French Convention has surely brought within the range of possibility.  Like naughty, ill-bred little boy and girl making faces and nasardes at each other across the road, for years John Bull and Madame la Republique seemed bent on coming to fisticuffs.  By great good luck the road was not easy to cross, and now grown older and wiser, the pair at least blow kisses to each other and pass on.

    So great has occasionally been the tension between England and France that even cool heads predicted a catastrophe.  In a letter addressed to myself in February, 1885, and written from his home near Autun, Mr. Hamerton wrote, "I have been vexed for some time by the tendency to jealous hostility between France and England.  I have thought sometimes of trying to found an Anglo-French society, the members of which should simply engage themselves to do their best on all occasions to soften the harsh feeling between the two nations.  I dare say some literary people would join such a league, Swinburne and Tennyson, for instance, and some influential politicians, like Bright, might be counted upon.  Peace and war hang on such trifles, that a society such as I am imagining might possibly on some occasions have influence enough to prevent war."

    And in his work, "French and English," Mr. Hamerton touched a prevailingly pessimistic note.  Anything like cordial friendship between the two nations he regarded as pure chimera; we must be more than satisfied, he seemed to think, with civility and politeness.  But are not civility and politeness ancillary to friendship?  Might not much of the bitterness formerly characterizing Anglo-French relations be imputed to absence of these qualities?  If the respective Governments have here been at fault, the same may be said of the people.  Alike historians, novelists, journalists, and writers generally, on both sides of the Channel, have been guilty of flagrant indiscretion.  Whenever a stage villain was wanted by one of our own story-tellers, France must supply the type.  Dickens fell into the absurd habit, and, as one of his French admirers lately observed to me, the entire suppression of M. Blandois from "Little Dorrit" would in no wise injure the story, rather the reverse; whilst the picture of Mademoiselle Hortense revenging an affront by walking barefoot through a mile or two of wet grass is the one artistic blot on "Bleak House," the incident being grossly farcical, and faulty as characterization.

    French novelists have followed the same course.  The villain of "The Three Musketeers" must, of course, be an Englishwoman.  Balzac piled up a Pelion on Ossa of Britannic vices when portraying "Miladi Dudley."  Even an elegant writer like Victor Cherbuliez, when in want of an odious termagant for a story, gave her an English name.  "Gyp" has made many novels the vehicle of virulent anti-English feeling.

    Other writers in both countries have taken the same tone.  In a work entitled "Le Colosse aux pieds d'argile," published five years since, a certain M. Jean de la Poullaine described England as a country wholly decadent, a civilization fast falling into rottenness and decay.  For years, as editress of the Nouvelle Revue, Madame Adam preached war to the knife with England.  The superfine and disguisedly sensual writer known as Pierre Loti shows his disapproval of perfide Albion by ignoring her very existence in a work upon India.

    Counter strokes have not been wanting on this side of the Channel.  A few years back appeared, from an eminent publishing firm, an abominable book entitled "France and her Republic," by a writer named Hurlbert.  And most inauspiciously, it is to be hoped, for the work itself, has just appeared a posthumous medley of abuse and vituperation by the late Mr. Vandam.  Of journalism it is surely unnecessary to speak.  On both sides of the Channel journalistic influence has been for the most part the reverse of conciliatory.  This is all the more to be regretted, as many folks, English as well as French, read their newspapers and little else.

    Historians have done much more than novelists and miscellaneous writers to keep alive international prejudices.  In a passage of profound wisdom our great philosopher Locke insisted on the power, indeed, one might almost say ineradicableness, of early associations.  "I notice the present argument (on the association of ideas)," he said, "that those who have children, or the charge of their education, would think it worth their while diligently to watch and carefully prevent the undue connection of ideas in the minds of young people."  How many well-intentioned English folks have imbibed anti-French feeling from the pages of Mrs. Markham!  Until quite recently, baneful tradition has been sedulously nursed on French soil as well.  In their valuable histories Michelet and Henri Martin seem of set purpose to accentuate French grievances against England alike in the past and in modern times.

    It has been left to living writers in some measure to correct these impressions.  M. Rambaud, ex-minister of public instruction, has here rendered immense service.  Among other things, he tells his country-people ("Histoire de la Civilization Française") of the following home-truths: "During the so-called English wars the worst evils were wrought by Frenchmen.  It was Robert d'Artois and Geoffroi d'Harcourt who provoked the first invasion of Edward III.  It was with an army partly made up of Gascons that the Black Prince won the battle of Poitiers; a Duke of Burgundy threw open the gates of Paris to the English, a Norman bishop and Norman judges brought about the burning of Jeanne d'Arc."  And in an excellent little manual for the young, this writer, aided by the first living authority on the Revolution, M. Aulard, has rewritten history in the same rigidly impartial spirit.

    Here, too, judicial accounts of the Revolution are gradually supplanting the highly coloured travesties of former days.  In no sense contemplated as historic retribution, the inevitable outcome of political and social corruption, the French Revolution was treated by English writers from one point of view only, that of sympathy with three or four victims.  The fate of Marie Antoinette and her hapless son, regarded simply and solely as resulting from popular hatred, has served to blind generations of English readers to the other side of that great tragedy—the sufferings and wrongs, not of a handful of high-born ladies and gentlemen, but of millions, of an entire people.

    Carlyle's long-drawn-out rhapsody struck a new note.  Of late years the revolutionary epoch and its leaders, the makers of modern France, have been dealt with in a wholly different spirit.  I need only refer to such works as Mr. A. Beesly's life of Danton and Mr. Morse Stephens' studies in the same field.  Two French writers of two generations ago wrote with knowledge and sympathy of English life and character, Philarète Chasles, who describes early years spent in England (Mémoires, 1874, etc.), and Prosper Merimée, who, in a recently published volume of correspondence, rebuts the notion that Merrie England is a thing of the past and tradition.  And the works of M. Max Leclerc, on English collegiate life, of M. Demolins on our systems of education generally, and of MM. Chevrillon and Fion, have been incalculably useful in modifying French views.

    Philosophy, as might be expected, has generally treated England and the English people from a judicial stand-point.  The works of M. Coste and other philosophic writers should be read by all interested in this subject.  M. Coste ("Sociologic Objective," 1897), divides social evolution into five stages, the fifth embodying the highest as yet realized, perhaps as yet conceivable.  England, and England alone, has reached this fifth stage, some other States, notably France and Germany, following in the same direction.

    According to this writer, English civilization is characterized by individualism and a total absence of caste.  The last-mentioned and dominant feature of primitive societies has vanished from England, whilst in France the reverse is the case.  "It is impossible to deny," writes our author (1899), "that caste (l'esprit de classe) is a survival in France; at any rate, it exists in a latent condition, ready to be called forth by any outburst of popular passion.  A hundred years after the great Revolution, instead of individualizing, we classify; we are constantly arraigning bodies of men instead of regarding them as entities.  The Panama and Dreyfus agitation are instances in point.  Incrimination has been collective.  Whilst this survival remains, we cannot say that we have reached the highest stage of civilization."

    At a time when anti-Protestant feeling in France had almost attained the proportion of anti-Semitism, M. Coste did not hesitate to pen these words, before quoted by me: "France missed her reformation three hundred years ago, and is the sufferer thereby to this day."  And M. Fouillée, his distinguished contemporary, following the same train of thought, writes, "We must admit that to Roman Catholicism with much good we owe great evils," adding, after some profound remarks on the attitude of the Romish Church towards certain moral questions, "It has been justly remarked that the temperance cause makes much more progress in Protestant countries, where it is essentially allied to religion ("Psychologie du peuple Français," 1899).

    The truth of the matter is, that up to the present time English and French have as little understood each other as if they dwelt on different planets.

    It has often happened to me to be the first English person French country folks had ever seen.

    "Do you Protestants believe in God?" once asked of me a young woman, caretaker of an Auvergnat chateau, the historic ruins of Polignac.

    "There is a law in your country strictly prohibiting the purchase of land by the peasants, is there not?" I was once asked by a Frenchman.

    And when, chatting one day with a travelling acquaintance in Burgundy, I contrasted the number of English tourists in France with the paucity of French tourists in England, she observed sharply—

    "The reason is simple enough.  France is a beautiful country, and England a hideous one."

    Whereupon I put the question, had madame ever crossed the Channel; to which she answered somewhat contemptuously, No.  England was evidently not worth seeing.

    My late friend, the genial but quizzical Max O'Rell, once told me that an old Breton lady, in all seriousness, put the following question to him:

    "Tell me, M. Blouët, you who know England so well, are there any railways in that country?"  It is strange that, whilst so little understanding us as a nation, our French neighbours should have paid us the perpetual compliment of imitation.

    Anglomania, indeed, so far back as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was a force mightier than the will of the greatest autocrat the world has ever seen—the Sun King himself.  For years Louis XIV. had thundered in vain against coiffures à la Fontanges, the pyramidal headdress seen in the portraits of Madame de Maintenon.  In 1714, an English lady wearing her hair dressed low was introduced at Versailles.  Straightway, as if by magic, the cumbersome and disfiguring superstructures fell, the king being enraged that "an English hussy" had more influence in such matters than himself.

    It was more especially after the Restoration that Anglicisms, the word as well as the thing, were naturalized in France—bifteck, rosbif, turf, grog, jockey, and many others, the numbers increasing from time to time.  Many of these words have been admitted by the Academy into the French vocabulary.  Thus, flanelle from flannel, macadam, cottage, drain, square, meeting inter alia received Academic sanction in 1878.  The best contemporary writers often use English words not as yet naturalized, without italics or inverted commas.  Thus Cherbuliez wrote of the hall instead of le vestibule in one of his novels; M. Brieux makes a lady conjugate the verb luncher in his play Les Ramplaçantes; flirt, croquet, garden party, five o'clock, and a variety of similar expressions are employed as if belonging to the French tongue.  English names and pet names have an especial attraction for French ears.  The hero of "Deux Vies," a recent novel by the brothers Margueritte, is "Charlie," instead of Charles.  Jack is another diminutive in high favour, whilst Jane is persistently substituted for the far prettier Jeanne.  Neither political pin-pricks nor social snubs on either side have in the very least affected this amiable weakness for all things English.  For years past the word déjeuner has gone out of fashion.  No one in society would dream of calling the midday meal by that hour; and Society now takes its afternoon tea as regularly as ourselves.  I even learn that certain aristocratic ladies have inaugurated a family breakfast after English fashion, the first meal of the day being taken in company, instead of in bed or in one's bedroom, the hostess dressed as with ourselves for lunch—in fact, for the day.

    It was the English family breakfast-table that most charmed Rousseau when a guest here.  And I should not be surprised if ere long papa, mamma, and their little family of one or two will sit down to matutinal coffee, perhaps adopting the inevitable eggs and bacon!

    On both sides of the Channel, reasoning and reasonable folks have long desired the cordial Anglo-French relations now happily established by the initiative of King Edward.

    So far back as 1885 a retired notary and landed proprietor of Bordeaux wrote to me, "We do not at all know your country people—a misfortune for two nations assuredly differing in natural gifts and qualities, but each worthy of each other's esteem.  Placed as both are in the vanguard of progress by their free institutions, their literature, science, arts, and economic conditions, any conflict between France and England would not only prove the greatest misfortune to the two nations, but would retard the progress of civilization for centuries.  I am far from apprehending such a catastrophe, but we should at all costs avoid petty and ignoble misunderstandings; above all, we should encourage to the utmost intercourse by means of associations, syndicates, international festivals, and the like.  The better we learn to know each other, the greater will become mutual esteem; and from esteem to friendship is but a step."  The writer had never visited our country, and his acquaintance with English people was limited.  His views, I am convinced, have long been shared by vast numbers of Frenchmen in all ranks and of all conditions.

    Politeness and civility!  If by the exercise of such habits peace can be secured in the domestic sphere, how incalculable is their influence upon international affairs!  Just as a book is misjudged if read with passion or pre-conceived antipathy, so much more imperative is the judicial mood in appraising the many-faceted, subtle, French character.

    It is my belief that the fruits of the entente cordiale will be a desire for mutual sympathy and a gradually developed mood of forbearance, with the result that French and English will recognize the best in each other, their eyes not often, as hitherto, being persistently fixed on the worst.  I will precede the colophon with a citation from M. Coste, a writer already cited.


    "We come into the world citizens of a State we have not ourselves chosen.  Family ties, education, language, tradition, customs, and early association implant in our hearts a love of country and create a passionate desire to defend and serve our fatherland.  But as by degrees civilization advances and international relations become more general, an adopted country will usually be added to that of birth; the language, literature, and arts of that land will become familiar; ties, alike commercial and social, will be contracted.  Surplus capital not needed at home will there be spent or invested.  Such an adopted land should be no matter of chance, but based upon mature social considerations.  Only thus can a social ideal become in a measure, reality."


    To how many of us has France already become a home of adoption—choice not perhaps based upon philosophic grounds!  But whether respectively attracted to French or English shores by business or pleasure, in quest of health or new ideas, every traveller, no matter how humble, let us hope may henceforth be regarded as a dove from the ark, waver aloft of thrice-welcome olive branch.  Anticipatory of pontifical, aerial or subterrene means of transport, in another and higher sense, may these annual hosts indissolubly link the two great democracies of the West; bridge the Channel for ever and a day!


――――♦――――

 

FOOTNOTES.

p.27

"A-t-on intérêt à s'emparer du pouvoir?" Paris: Firmin-Didot.

p.32

In M. Bourget's new novel with a purpose ("Un Divorce"), in describing the life of a poor lady studying medicine in Paris he sets down the cost of her food at cheap restaurants at something like £1 per week.

p.48

These figures, of course, hold good with regard to communes only.  In towns folks live mostly in flats, several families occupying a block.

p.136

See "Nos Députés," Paris, 1904.

p.141

Oddly enough, this word is of German origin, from the old German Kieppi, diminutive of Kappe "a cap."  Kepi was accepted by the Académé in 1878.

p.148 Her words were these: "Mon Dieu, quo je suis affairée!  Dans ce moment-ci tout le monde a besoin d'être purgé."

p.150

In M. de Foville's "La France Économique" (1900), he gives 11,643 as the number of medical men in France, the population being over thirty-eight millions.

p.202

Prud'homme, Old French preu d'homme, or preux d'homme, from the dog Latin prodem (Darmsteter and Hatzfeld).

p.218-1

See the works of A. Babeau: "La vie Rurale daps I'Ancienne France," "L'École de Village," etc. etc.

p.218-2

Trans. "The poor labourer is perpetually harassed, paying salt tax and king's tax, always having at his door bailiff and sergeant, who never leave off crying, 'Money, money!'" Garnison was the putting in possession till taxes were paid. See "The Tax Collector."

p.218-3

The arpent was a variable measure containing a hundred perches more or less.

p.219-1

Panier à mouche, "a beehive."  Bees are still called mouches in some provinces.

p.219-2

The livre, formerly from twenty to twenty-five sous in value.

p.220

Chancère, dowry in land.

p.221

M. Octave Uzanne, in the Independent Review for April.

p.259-1

"Maison Paternelle," Compte-rendu Triennal, 1898: Tours. Ibid., Rapport Triennal, 1901: Tours.

p.259-2

"Nous raisonnons plus que nous n'imaginons, et ce que nous imaginons le mieux, ce n'est pas le monde extérieur c'est le monde interne des sentimens, et surtout des pensées" ("Psychologie du Peuple Français," par A. Fouillée).

p.262

"Mettray: La Maison Paternelle," par H. Alis. Tours: Imprimerie Mame.

p.276-1

M. J.-L. Jay, "Conseils de Famille."

p.276-2

When the last surviving parent has failed to appoint trustees and guardians, the duty devolves upon paternal or maternal grandfathers; grandmothers are ineligible.  This is the Tutelle légale, the Tutelle dative being that appointed by the family council.

p.286

"La France contemporaine," vol. ii.

p.291

"Jouir de quelqu'n, avoir le temps, la liberté de conférer aver lui, d'en tirer quelque service, quelque plaisir" (Littré).

p.295

"The English," writes Mr. Rambaud, "had the honour of preceding every other nation in humane treatment of the insane. Whilst in Paris (until the Revolution) insane people were herded with criminals, loaded with chains, cruelly beaten and shut up in frightful cells, England founded so far back as 1547 the asylum of Bedlam, and in 1751 St. Luke's, for the mentally afflicted" ("Histoire de la civilization Française," vol. iii.: 1900).

p.298

See in "La Commune," by the brothers Margueritte, Rossel's noble words on the eve of his execution.

p.308

The Michelet law-suit, that made a great stir some years ago, is an illustration in point.

 


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