English Pharisees French Crocodiles, and Other Anglo-French Typical Characters
You have been kind enough to receive favorably two volumes of unpretentious impressions of your great and most hospitable country, published in 1889 and 1891.
You are a dear friend and a delightful fellow. You are on the road that will safely lead you to the discovery of everything that can insure the prosperity of the land of which you are so justly proud.
Yet the Old World can teach you something; not how to work, but how to live.
I have drawn a few sketches for you. Perhaps they will show you that people can be happy without rolling in wealth, or living in a furnace.
Take up this little book and, lighting a cigar, lie down quietly on the grass and read it under the shade of a tree.
People very often speak ill of their neighbors, not out of wickedness, but merely out of laziness; it is so much easier to do so than to study their qualities and all the circumstances that might oblige you to change your opinion.
For instance, some fifty years ago, a great English wit, Sydney Smith, said that it required a surgical operation to make a Scotchman understand a joke.
Well, an English joke, he probably meant.
However, the satire was neatly expressed. When the English get hold of a good joke, and see it, it lasts them a long time.
The Scotch are a hundred times more witty and humorous than the English; but John Bull still goes on affirming that "it requires a surgical operation to make a Scotchman understand a joke."
If such misunderstanding can exist between the English and the Scotch, just imagine what feelings the natives of a land can inspire in foreigners.
Oh! that word foreigner!
In some ears it sounds like bastards. In some people's minds, it is the synonym of bad. The English greengrocer, for instance, divides his asparagus into large and small heads. The fine large ones he binds together and sells at high prices under the name of English asparagus. The bundles of threads at one shilling figure in his shop window as foreign.
In England, the adjective English is synonymous with excellent. In France, we have an adjective that signifies excellent, too, and that is the adjective French. Do but make an observation to a French shopkeeper upon the price of his goods, and he will promptly answer: "I keep a cheaper article, but it is naturally of greatly inferior quality. Would Monsieur like to see my English stock?" In French commerce, English is synonymous with worthless.
Now, what is a foreigner?
No man was born a foreigner.
Once an American said to me, on board a steamer, sailing from Liverpool to New York: "You are a foreigner, I guess."
"Well," I replied, "not yet. I shall be, when I get to your country."
What is a foreigner?
As a rule, a foreigner is a good fellow, brought up by worthy parents, and belonging to a country quite as good as yours.
Nations may be well or badly governed. They may possess hot or cold climates, indifferent or beautiful scenery. The manners and customs of their inhabitants may be utterly different. But the most stupid statement that can possibly be made is that some nations are better or worse than others.
We French people ought not to be a closed letter to the foreigner, for Heaven knows we make no attempt to hide our defects, and I might even add that if we did study to hide them, instead of boasting of them, we might cut quite as good and moral a figure as the most proper inhabitant of the British Isles or of the State of Maine.
We offer ourselves to criticism so unreservedly, owning our shortcomings with such frankness, such abandon, that it ill becomes our neighbors to find fault with us. Indeed, we are a nation that confesses with a gay candor that should disarm unkind criticism.
Yes, the foreigner ought to be able to read, as in an open book, that good, warm-hearted, France that he hardly looks at. For him, France is Paris; Paris that supplies him with pleasures for a fortnight, and that he despises when he is satiated. The real France, peaceful and laborious, he knows nothing about beyond what he has seen of it from the windows of a railroad car.
On arriving at home again, he writes to his friends:
"I have just returned from France. What a country it is! Ah! I have seen pretty sights, I can assure you! I will tell you all about it in private, when we meet. All I can say now is, that I thank God that I was born an Englishman."
Here is a good fellow who has undoubtedly visited the wrong places.
The Frenchman is no better. He comes to London for a week on business. (I say "on business," because nobody would think of coming to London on pleasure), and profits by his visit to go and see Madame Tussaud's Exhibition. Then he returns home, and exclaims, parodying Victor Hugo's celebrated lines: "How proud a man is to call himself a Frenchman when he has looked at England."
He has looked at England, it is true, but he has not seen it.
To look is an action of the body. To see is an action of the mind.
When people travel in foreign lands, they often make two kinds of mistakes.
Firstly, they are liable to visit the wrong places, like the Englishman who returned home "thanking God he was born an Englishman."
Secondly, they draw conclusions too quickly.
Let us illustrate this.
When English people alight at a French hotel and find no soap on the washstand, do you believe they conclude from this that the French carry their own soap in their trunks when they travel? Not they. They conclude that the French do not wash, or that, if they do, their ablutions are performed by means of a corner of a handkerchief dipped in water.
Mark Twain, the prince of American humorists, exclaims upon entering the bedroom of a French hotel: "What, waiter, no soap! Don't you know that soap is indispensable to an Englishman or an American; and that only a Frenchman can do without it?"
It is true that you find soap on the washstands in English or American hotels; but the English and their American cousins may perhaps be astonished to hear that a true-born Frenchman would have as much repugnance to using hotel soap, as they would to using a toothbrush that they might find on a lodging-house washstand. Some people like second-hand soap; some do not. We will even make bold to inform them that a great many French ladies are so particular as to carry about a supply of bedroom towels with them when they travel.
JOHN BULL UP TO DATE
Would you know what an Englishman is – let him be a duke's son, officer in Her Majesty's service, student, schoolboy, clerk, shopboy, gentleman, or street rough?
Well, an Englishman is a lusty fellow, fearless, hardy, and strong-knit, iron-muscled, and mule-headed, who, rather than let go a ball that he holds firmly in his arms, will perform feats of valor; who, to pass this ball between two goals, will grovel in the dust, reckless of lacerated shoulders, a broken rib or jawbone, and will die on a bed of suffering with a smile upon his lips if he can only hear, before closing his eyes, that his side has won the game.
Multiply this Englishman by the number of the stars in the firmament, and you will arrive at a pretty correct idea of England's martial, if not military, force.
The Englishman does nothing by halves. His favorite adjective is thorough. The more difficulties he has to surmount the more he is in his element; he is a curious mixture of lion, mule, and octopus. Outdoing Milo of Crotona, he would manage to withdraw his wrist from the cleft of the oak.
Mr. Gladstone said one day (many years ago): "When I work,