L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
And sold by C. S. RANN, OXFORD;
Messr. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Messrs. PEARSON
And POLLASON, BIRMINGHAM; Mr. W. MEYLER, Grove,
BATH; AND Messrs. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, April 4, 1789.
Tros, Tyriusue mihi nullo discrimine agetur.
FEW difficulties have more perplexed the learned to account for, than the striking difference which everyone must have observed, between the national character of the French and English. That two nations, descended from ancestors whose manners were not very dissimilar, living under the same climate, and separated by one of the narrowest seas that ever divided two rival powers, who were once partially governed by the same sovereigns, and who have at present a continual intercourse with each other, should still remain so totally unlike in manners and opinions, in their modes of thinking, and their modes of acting, is a paradox, which all must wonder at, but none can solve.
Many ingenious men, indeed, have endeavoured to trace these effects back to their causes, and various reasons have been brought, real or imaginary, to account for this extraordinary fact.
Both physical and moral causes have been assigned for this purpose. Some have imagined difference of atmosphere, and other difference of political government, capable of producing these effects; nor are there wanting those who affirm, that the long, and almost continual wars carried on between the two nations, from the invasion of the Norman Conqueror to the present day, have had some share in fixing the opinions of the French and English at such very distant points; and have at least widened the breach, by inflaming the prejudices of each Party. Might the authors of this essay hazard a conjecture, they would give it as their opinion, that though all these causes may have separately some effect, and united a considerable influence, yet all their force would be insufficient for the purpose, unless there had been a constitutional difference implanted in them by nature, or at least acquired from time immemorial, and transmitted in regular succession from father to son; and this opinion will appear more probable, when we recollect, that the difference alluded to does not shew itself in political opinions only, or is confined to a small circle, but extends itself to the minutest articles of private life, and pervades the whole nation.
It is true, indeed, that education and refinement have done much among the higher ranks towards abating their mutual animosity, by softening the pride of the one, and checking the vanity of the other; for which reason, the difference is less easily distinguished amongst them, than their inferiors. An acute observer may, however, discover continual traces even here, which, like a flame smothered, rather than extinguished, will for ever blaze out on either side whenever any new quarrel, either political or personal, shall have supplied it with fresh fuel. But amongst the middling and lower orders, which comprehends three-fourths of both nations, it rages to this moment with as much violence as ever; and two Indian Chieftains, whose ancestors have for ages past alternately; feasted on each other's blood, scarce hate more cordially and more mutually, than an English Countryman and a French peasant: both of whom are greatly averse to allowing their adversary one virtue, and exceedingly ingenious in the accusations they bring against each other, in order to justify their mutual dislike. Thus a Frenchman entertains an opinion, that an Englishman is a rough, ferocious, and uncivilized animal, just one degree above an Ouran Outang, and is most deplorably ignorant of the agre-ments of society, as he can neither fiddle, dance, or laugh, and consequently, qui ne vaut rien aupres des Dames . While, on the other side, a British subject will tell you, that the Mounseers are all poor, half-starved, lousy devils; that they wear wooden shoes, and ruffles without shirts; and that they have nothing to eat but soup meagre, and fricasseed frogs; of the truth of which heavy accusation he is in his own mind fully convinced, and to which he adds the charge of weakness and effeminacy; it being, he avers, a well-known fact, that one Englishman can at any time lick three French .
Was this mutual animosity displayed only in the above-mentioned terms of reproach, and would they be satisfied, with giving vent to their virulence by a war of words , the matter would be of no great importance to the community; and though it might sometimes draw down a smile from the gay, would remain for ever safe from the attacks of the satyrist. But, unfortunately, the contrary is so notoriously the fact, that the vulgar of each nation seem to consider every advantage, that can be taken against their adversaries, as perfectly fair and honourable; and in the pride of obtaining a mean triumph over an unprotected stranger, forget at once the laws of hospitality, good-nature, and truth. Thus should an ill-fated Frenchman ask his way from one street to another in London, he is first of all laughed at for not speaking with fluency and correctness, the most difficult of all the European Languages, and being ignorant of his way in a place where he never was before. He then receives a careless, perhaps a wrong direction; and if after this he has the insolence to complain, he is surrounded by the mob, who first tell him, that he is not now in an absolute government among Slaves with wooden shoes; and then commonly cut off his ruffles and queue, and if he escapes a ducking, he may think himself very well off.
And here I am reluctantly obliged to confess that the English much oftener offend in this point, than their neighbours, who (to do them justice) are very careful to do every thing comme il faut , and never forget to cheat us with the highest good breeding.
It is true indeed that Milord Anglois is pillaged all the way from Calais to Bourdeaux; but then on the other hand, he receives so many flattering eulogiums on his national generosity, from the Garcons d' Ecurie , and so many smiles from the Filles de Chambre , that I know not whether it can be fairly said, that he has a bad bargain.
That many Frenchmen who have been in England, and every Englishman who has been in France, have often found themselves in the above-mentioned predicaments, none, I believe, will deny: nor ought it, perhaps, to be thought extraordinary, that as the common French often cheat, and the common English often thresh one another, they should give so little quarter to the purses or persons of their enemies: but I cannot help expressing my surprise, when I hear this unfeeling conduct, and unsocial temper, recommended rather than excused, by those whom a more liberal education, and more enlightened minds, might have taught to set the highest value on those endearing acts of kindness, which increase the happiness of human society, and add to the honour of human nature. And though I can forgive the compiler of a ballad, those common place invectives, which irritate each nation against the other; I cannot but lament that the author of one of the best histories which this age has produced, should have been so far transported by national prejudice, as to insert the following passage in a work otherwise unexceptionable –
"Let philosophers blame this prejudice, as inconsistent with the liberality of the human mind, let moralists mourn its severity, and weak politicians lament its destructive rage - You, my dear Philip, as a lover of your country will ever, I hope, revere a passion, which has so often given victory to the arms of England, and humbled her haughty rival; which has preserved, and continues to preserve the independency of Britain."How far the above-mentioned prejudice has contributed to the increase of our national glory, or protected our independency, may perhaps admit of a doubt; and I cannot but think it a bad compliment to the generous courage of our countrymen, to suppose it can receive any additional force from so mean a principle, as the indulgence of private revenge, or gratification of personal vanity. And though little of the moralist, and less of the philosopher, I must lament the prevalence, and would diminish the force of a passion, which interrupts the harmony of nations, and damps the warmth of private friendship, which robs peace of its dearest blessings, and adds new horrors to the frowns of war.
The French and English have, indeed, long maintained a superiority both in arts and arms, over the rest of Europe, and are alike conspicuous for the lustre of conquest, the cultivation of sciences, and the progress of refinement. They have both many virtues and many faults, and would they mutually endeavour to imitate the accomplishments, instead of espying the defects of their neighbours, both parties would surely find their account in it. For this purpose I would wish a commercial treaty to be formed, in which mental qualifications, rather than personal conveniences, should be the objects of exchange; and I am inclined to think that this species of traffic would be equally beneficial to us both, since we each abound in many commodities in which the other is woefully deficient. Thus, for example - a quantity of British keenness, and British perseverance, might be articles at least as acceptable to the French as our cutlery and hardware: and I think our society would be improved, could we import along with their Champagne and Burgundy, the liveliness of their conversation, and the softness of their manners. Nor would the advantages of this mental commerce be confined to our sex; for however partial I may be to my fair countrywomen, candour must allow, that the Naivete of manner, and the air enjoue of the French, would be as desirable an addition to them as their gauzes and cambrics. And, on the other hand, Les Belles Parisiennes would not find themselves less engaging, could they attain a little of that attractive innocence, and that decent reserve, which has so long, and I trust, ever will distinguish the ladies of this island.
Thus by a reciprocal interchange of our good qualities, each side would soon get rid of their bad ones; and the characters of the two nations would be so completely blended, as to prevent in either those narrow prejudices, which are an equal disgrace to both. We should no longer hear of English dullness, and French frivolity; nor could the charge of solemn taciturnity, or flippant pertness, be decently objected to the one or the other. For the English would be convinced, that a man may be at once merry and wise; and the French acknowledge, that talking without any thing to say is tiresome, and laughter without wit is insipid. In one word, the English might grow gay, the French grave; the English might learn to talk, the French to hold their tongues.
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