Provincial life in France is narrow, limited in the highest degree, I must admit; but what wealth of love and happiness those little coquettish-looking white houses hold! They are so many nests!
The greatest charm about our provincials, who are constantly made the butt for Parisian witticisms, is that they do not change.
When you live that feverish Parisian life, that consumes you by overtaxing your intellectual powers, what a treat it is to go and see the old folks, in the old house that is standing there just as you remember it in your childhood! Every room, every piece of furniture, is linked in your memory with some event of bygone days. How you revive in that old place!
In the thickest darkness you could find everything. Your dear old mother is there in her chair by the window, in her favorite place, which has not altered so much as an inch. The old servant, who danced you on her knee, watches at the door for the first glimpse of the carriage that brings you. And the cries of joy, and the clapping of hands! What welcome awaits you! Everyone speaks at the same time, you are taken by storm, nobody thinks of checking his delight (in France, joy is allowed free outlet). You go up to the room that used to be yours to shake off the dust of your journey. Nothing is altered, everything is there, just where it always was in the old days; you feel as if you had grown twenty years younger. You go down, and in the dining room you see the large fireplace that has undergone no stupid modernizing. Will you ever forget the bloodcurdling ghost stories that you listened to so breathlessly in the twilight, as you roasted chestnuts in the embers? What shivers of horror would run through you as you nestled close up in that chimney corner! And so all the past revives again: the April walks in quest of dewy primroses, the scamper over the daisy-strewn fields in the glorious summer sunshine; the clandestine raids on the pear trees, and the scoldings from mother, who was sure to read the history of the afternoon in the meek faces and torn raiment.
The Frenchman of the provinces wraps himself up in his family, almost to the exclusion of the outer world. In the streets he salutes his acquaintances with a profound bow; on New Year's Day he pays them a visit of ceremony, offers the ladies a packet of marrons glacés, or a couple of oranges; but his hospitable table is only open to his children, who, as long as he lives, are at home in the house. One or two intimate friends at most are allowed to penetrate freely into the little circle; the time is killed, even killed by inches, A garden, chickens, ducks, the Saturday pot-au-feu, such is the extent of his ambition. All this luxury can be obtained for about a hundred dollars a month. When his three per cent. rentes secure him this sum, he retires from business, and gives his younger fellow-creatures a chance.
His family being generally small, he has all his dear ones around him, under his roof.
He idolizes children, and makes the most charming father in the world.
To give a good education to his sons, and a good dot to his daughters, to see them happily married, and keep them near him after their marriage, to bring up his grandchildren, guide their first tottering steps, make companions of them, launch them in life, and see them all assembled around his death-bed, such is the life of the good Joseph Prudhomme.
To an impartial observer, who goes on his way philosophizing, and keeping his eyes open to what passes on either side of the English Channel, it is really a very amusing sight to see how the two countries seem to make it their aim, each to do the contrary of what the other does.
Will you have a few rather diverting illustrations, taken right and left?
When we are in difficulties, we take our watch to our aunt; the English take theirs to their uncle.
In France, the curé has a certain number of vicaires under his orders; in England, it is the curate who is the vicar's subaltern. On this point, there is no doubt about our being in the right, since a curate is a priest, ordained to take charge of a cure (the responsible care of souls), whereas a vicar (vicarius) is a priest who takes the place of another.
So, you see, that is one to us!
In France, coachmen keep to the right; in England, they keep to the left. The drivers of hansom cabs are seated far from their horses, and are obliged to use very long whips; but, as they keep to the left, the action of the whip takes place in the middle of the road, and thus peaceful promenaders of the pavement are spared many a disagreeable cut.
Well done, John, one to you this time!
The French language possesses the two words éditer and publier; the English language has to edit and to publish. But it must be well understood that it is to publish which means éditer, and to edit which means publier. These Chinese puzzles, so constantly met with, are not useless, however; they are the delight of French examiners in England, and, of course, the despair of candidates, which is easy to understand, if one considers how much easier it is to be examiner than examined.
In England, you "get wet to the skin," in France, we "get wet to the bones," and you know that, when the English go as far as the backbone, the French, not to be outdone, go as far as the marrow of the bone.
In England, people are witty "to their fingers' end"; in France, "to the end of their finger-nails."
The index is placed at the beginning of English books, but at the end of French ones.
Both the French and English languages have aspirate h's, but, whereas in English it is vulgar to drop them, in French it is vulgar to sound them.
In France, it is considered very bad form to call people by their names directly after being introduced to them. We simply address them as Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle. In England, only shopmen address ladies as Madam, or Miss. When you have been introduced, you must add a person's surname to the title, to Mr., Mrs., or Miss, in speaking to them.
In England, they "take French leave"; but in France we "take English leave," and we are quits.
The pound sterling contains twenty shillings, the shilling twelve pence, the penny four farthings; and if you want to find out, for instance, how much the sum of 356 pounds, 18 shillings, and 9 pence 3 farthings, has brought in, at compound interest, in four years, five months, and eight days, at the rate of 37/19 per cent., I would advise you to procure a ream of foolscap paper and set to work. When you have waded through the sum, you will wonder how it is that the English, practical as they are, have not adopted the decimal system. But then, you see, they have adopted it in France.
Even down to the manner of holding a fork or an umbrella, the two nations seem to be saying to each other: "You do it that way? very well, then, I shall do it this way."
In making an inventory of the contrasts in the two nations, it would be difficult to say which is oftener in the right. The balance is probably pretty even.
The last I will mention is the difference in the manner of keeping Good Friday, and in this, I think, the good mark ought to be for us.
Good Friday, being the anniversary of the death of our Savior, the French keep it in fasting and prayer. On the following Sunday, the day of His Resurrection, they rejoice. Easter day, being Sunday, finds the English people plunged in solemn silence; but, on Good Friday, they take their holiday, and the lower orders celebrate their Redeemer's death by knocking down cocoanuts.
FRENCH IMPULSIVENESS AND BRITISH SANGFROID ILLUSTRATED BY TWO REMINISCENCES
Two incidents that took place lately, in Paris and London respectively, may serve to illustrate French impulsiveness and English sangfroid.
The other evening