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Title: French Ways and Their Meaning
Author: Wharton, Edith
Language: English
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FRENCH WAYS AND THEIR MEANING

by

EDITH WHARTON

Author of "The Reef," "Summer," "The Marne" and
"The House of Mirth"


[Illustration: PPpublisher's logo]



D. Appleton and Company
New York      London
1919

Copyright, 1919, by
D. Appleton and Company

Copyright, 1918, 1919, by
International Magazine Company

Printed in the United States Of America



PREFACE


This book is essentially a desultory book, the result of intermittent
observation, and often, no doubt, of rash assumption. Having been
written in Paris, at odd moments, during the last two years of the war,
it could hardly be more than a series of disjointed notes; and the
excuse for its publication lies in the fact that the very conditions
which made more consecutive work impossible also gave unprecedented
opportunities for quick notation.

The world since 1914 has been like a house on fire. All the lodgers are
on the stairs, in dishabille. Their doors are swinging wide, and one
gets glimpses of their furniture, revelations of their habits, and
whiffs of their cooking, that a life-time of ordinary intercourse would
not offer. Superficial differences vanish, and so (how much oftener) do
superficial resemblances; while deep unsuspected similarities and
disagreements, deep common attractions and repulsions, declare
themselves. It is of these fundamental substances that the new link
between France and America is made, and some reasons for the strength of
the link ought to be discoverable in the suddenly bared depths of the
French heart.

There are two ways of judging a foreign people: at first sight,
impressionistically, in the manner of the passing traveller; or after
residence among them, "soberly, advisedly," and with all the vain
precautions enjoined in another grave contingency.

Of the two ways, the first is, even in ordinary times, often the most
fruitful. The observer, if he has eyes and an imagination, will be
struck first by the superficial dissemblances, and they will give his
picture the sharp suggestiveness of a good caricature. If he settles
down among the objects of his study he will gradually become blunted to
these dissemblances, or, if he probes below the surface, he will find
them sprung from the same stem as many different-seeming characteristics
of his own people. A period of confusion must follow, in which he will
waver between contradictions, and his sharp outlines will become blurred
with what the painters call "repentances."

From this twilight it is hardly possible for any foreigner's judgment to
emerge again into full illumination. Race-differences strike so deep
that when one has triumphantly pulled up a specimen for examination one
finds only the crown in one's hand, and the tough root still clenched in
some crevice of prehistory. And as to race-resemblances, they are so
often most misleading when they seem most instructive that any attempt
to catch the likeness of another people by painting ourselves is never
quite successful. Indeed, once the observer has gone beyond the happy
stage when surface-differences have all their edge, his only chance of
getting anywhere near the truth is to try to keep to the traveller's
way, and still see his subject in the light of contrasts.

It is absurd for an Anglo-Saxon to say: "The Latin is this or that"
unless he makes the mental reservation, "or at least seems so to me";
but if this mental reservation is always implied, if it serves always as
the background of the picture, the features portrayed may escape
caricature and yet bear some resemblance to the original.

Lastly, the use of the labels "Anglo-Saxon" and "Latin," for purposes of
easy antithesis, must be defended and apologised for.

Such use of the two terms is open to the easy derision of the scholar.
Yet they are too convenient as symbols to be abandoned, and are safe
enough if, for instance, they are used simply as a loose way of drawing
a line between the peoples who drink spirits and those who drink wine,
between those whose social polity dates from the Forum, and those who
still feel and legislate in terms of the primæval forest.

This use of the terms is the more justifiable because one may safely
say that most things in a man's view of life depend on how many thousand
years ago his land was deforested. And when, as befell our forbears, men
whose blood is still full of murmurs of the Saxon Urwald and the forests
of Britain are plunged afresh into the wilderness of a new continent, it
is natural that in many respects they should be still farther removed
from those whose habits and opinions are threaded through and through
with Mediterranean culture and the civic discipline of Rome.

One can imagine the first Frenchman born into the world looking about
him confidently, and saying: "Here I am; and now, how am I to make the
most of it?"

The double sense of the fugacity of life, and of the many and durable
things that may be put into it, is manifest in every motion of the
French intelligence. Sooner than any other race the French have got rid
of bogies, have "cleared the mind of shams," and gone up to the Medusa
and the Sphinx with a cool eye and a penetrating question.

It is an immense advantage to have the primæval forest as far behind one
as these clear-headed children of the Roman forum and the Greek
amphitheatre; and even if they have lost something of the sensation
"felt in the blood and felt along the heart" with which our obscurer
past enriches us, it is assuredly more useful for them to note the
deficiency than for us to criticise it.

The French are the most human of the human race, the most completely
detached from the lingering spell of the ancient shadowy world in which
trees and animals talked to each other, and began the education of the
fumbling beast that was to deviate into Man. They have used their longer
experience and their keener senses for the joy and enlightenment of the
races still agrope for self-expression. The faults of France are the
faults inherent in an old and excessively self-contained civilisation;
her qualities are its qualities; and the most profitable way of trying
to interpret French ways and their meaning is to see how this long
inheritance may benefit a people which is still, intellectually and
artistically, in search of itself.

HYÈRES, FEBRUARY, 1919.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                      PAGE
     PREFACE                    v

  I. FIRST IMPRESSIONS          3

 II. REVERENCE                 20

III. TASTE                     39

 IV. INTELLECTUAL HONESTY      57

  V. CONTINUITY                76

 VI. THE NEW FRENCHWOMAN       98

VII. IN CONCLUSION            122


     NOTE.--In the last two chapters of this book I have incorporated,
     in a modified form, the principal passages of two articles
     published by me respectively in _Scribner's Magazine_ and in the
     _Ladies' Home Journal_, the former entitled "The French as seen by
     an American" (now called "In Conclusion"), the other "The New
     Frenchwoman."



FRENCH WAYS AND THEIR MEANING



I

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


I

Hasty generalisations are always tempting to travellers, and now and
then they strike out vivid truths that the observer loses sight of after
closer scrutiny. But nine times out of ten they hit wild.

Some years before the war, a French journalist produced a "thoughtful
book" on the United States. Of course he laid great stress on our
universal hustle for the dollar. To do that is to follow the line of
least resistance in writing about America: you have only to copy what
all the other travellers have said.

This particular author had the French gift of consecutive reasoning, and
had been trained in the school of Taine, which requires the historian to
illustrate each of his general conclusions by an impressive array of
specific instances. Therefore, when he had laid down the principle that
every American's ruling passion is money-making, he cast about for an
instance, and found a striking one.

"So dominant," he suggested, "is this passion, that in cultivated and
intellectual Boston--the Athens of America--which possesses a beautiful
cemetery in its peaceful parklike suburbs, the millionaire money-makers,
unwilling to abandon the quarter in which their most active hours have
been spent, have created for themselves a burying-ground in the centre
of the business district, on which they can look down from their lofty
office windows till they are laid there to rest in the familiar noise
and bustle that they love."

This literal example of the ruling passion strong in death seems to
establish once for all the good old truth that the American cares only
for money-making; and it was clever of the critic to find his instance
in Boston instead of Pittsburg or Chicago. But unfortunately the
cemetery for which the Boston millionaire is supposed to have abandoned
the green glades of Mount Auburn is the old pre-revolutionary grave-yard
of King's Chapel, in which no one has been buried since modern Boston
began to exist, and about which a new business district has grown up as
it has about similar carefully-guarded relics in all our expanding
cities, and in many European ones as well.

It is probable that not a day passes in which the observant American new
to France does not reach conclusions as tempting, but as wide of the
mark. Even in peace times it was inevitable that such easy inferences
should be drawn; and now that every branch of civilian life in France is
more or less topsy-turvy, the temptation to generalise wrongly is one
that no intelligent observer can resist.

It is indeed unfortunate that, at the very moment when it is most
needful for France and America to understand each other (on small
points, that is--we know they agree as to the big ones)--it is
unfortunate that at this moment France should be, in so many
superficial ways, unlike the normal peace-time France, and that those
who are seeing her for the first time in the hour of her trial and her
great glory are seeing her also in an hour of inevitable material
weakness and disorganisation.

Even four years of victorious warfare would dislocate the machinery of
any great nation's life; and four years of desperate resistance to a foe
in possession of almost a tenth of the national territory, and that
tenth industrially the richest in the country, four such years represent
a strain so severe that one wonders to see the fields of France tilled,
the markets provided, and life in general going on as before.

The fact that France is able to resist such a strain, and keep up such a
measure of normal activity, is one of the many reasons for admiring her;
but it must not make newcomers forget that even this brave appearance of
"business as usual" does not represent anything resembling the
peace-time France, with her magnificent faculties applied to the whole
varied business of living, instead of being centred on the job of
holding the long line from the Yser to Switzerland.

In 1913 it would have been almost impossible to ask Americans to picture
our situation if Germany had invaded the United States, and had held a
tenth part of our most important territory for four years. In 1918 such
a suggestion seems thinkable enough, and one may even venture to point
out that an unmilitary nation like America, after four years under the
invader, might perhaps present a less prosperous appearance than France.
It is always a good thing to look at foreign affairs from the home
angle; and in such a case we certainly should not want the allied
peoples who might come to our aid to judge us by what they saw if
Germany held our Atlantic sea-board, with all its great cities, together
with, say, Pittsburg and Buffalo, and all our best manhood were in a
fighting line centred along the Ohio River.

One of the cruellest things about a "people's war" is that it needs,
and takes, the best men from every trade, even those remotest from
fighting, because to do anything well brains are necessary, and a good
poet and a good plumber may conceivably make better fighters than
inferior representatives of arts less remote from war. Therefore, to
judge France fairly to-day, the newcomer must perpetually remind himself
that almost all that is best in France is in the trenches, and not in
the hotels, cafés and "movie-shows" he is likely to frequent. I have no
fear of what the American will think of the Frenchman after the two have
fraternized at the front.


II

One hears a good deal in these days about "What America can teach
France;" though it is worth noting that the phrase recurs less often now
than it did a year ago.

In any case, it would seem more useful to leave the French to discover
(as they are doing every day, with the frankest appreciation) what they
can learn from us, while we Americans apply ourselves to finding out
what they have to teach us. It is obvious that any two intelligent races
are bound to have a lot to learn from each other; and there could hardly
be a better opportunity for such an exchange of experience than now that
a great cause has drawn the hearts of our countries together while a
terrible emergency has broken down most of the surface barriers between
us.

No doubt many American soldiers now in France felt this before they left
home. When a man who leaves his job and his family at the first call to
fight for an unknown people, because that people is defending the
principle of liberty in which all the great democratic nations believe,
he likes to think that the country he is fighting for comes up in every
respect to the ideal he has formed of it. And perhaps some of our men
were a little disappointed, and even discouraged, when they first came
in contact with the people whose sublime spirit they had been admiring
from a distance for three years. Some of them may even, in their first
moment of reaction, have said to themselves: "Well, after all, the
Germans we knew at home were easier people to get on with."

The answer is not far to seek. For one thing, the critics in question
knew the Germans at home, _in our home_, where they had to talk our
language or not get on, where they had to be what we wanted them to
be--or get out. And, as we all know in America, no people on earth, when
they settle in a new country, are more eager than the Germans to adopt
its ways, and to be taken for native-born citizens.

The Germans in Germany are very different; though, even there, they were
at great pains, before the war, not to let Americans find it out. The
French have never taken the trouble to disguise their Frenchness from
foreigners; but the Germans used to be very clever about dressing up
their statues of Bismarck as "Liberty Enlightening the World" when
democratic visitors were expected. An amusing instance of this kind of
camouflage, which was a regular function of their government, came
within my own experience in 1913.

For the first time in many years I was in Germany that summer, and on
arriving in Berlin I was much struck by the wonderful look of municipal
order and prosperity which partly makes up for the horrors of its
architecture and sculpture. But what struck me still more was the
extraordinary politeness of all the people who are often rude in other
countries: post-office and railway officials, customs officers,
policemen, telephone-girls, and the other natural enemies of mankind.
And I was the more surprised because, in former days, I had so often
suffered from the senseless bullying of the old-fashioned German
employé, and because I had heard from Germans that state paternalism had
become greatly aggravated, and that, wherever one went, petty
regulations were enforced by inexorable officials.

As it turned out, I found myself as free as air, and as obsequiously
treated as royalty, and I might have gone home thinking that the German
government was cruelly maligned by its subjects if I had not happened to
go one evening to the Opera.

It was in summer, but there had been a cold rain-storm all day, and as
the Opera House was excessively chilly, and it was not a full-dress
occasion, but merely an out-of-season performance, with everybody
wearing ordinary street clothes, I decided to keep on the light silk
cloak I was wearing. But as I started for my seat I felt a tap on my
shoulder, and one of the polite officials requested me to take off my
cloak.

"Thank you: but I prefer to keep it on."

"You can't; it's forbidden. _Es ist verboten._"

"Forbidden? Why, what do you mean?"

"His Majesty the Emperor forbids any lady in the audience of the Royal
and Imperial Opera House to keep on her cloak."

"But I've a cold, and the house is so chilly----"

The polite official had grown suddenly stern and bullying. "Take off
your cloak," he ordered.

"I won't," I said.

We looked at each other hard for a minute--and I went in with my cloak
on.

When I got back to the hotel, highly indignant, I met a German Princess,
a Serene Highness, one of the greatest ladies in Germany, a cousin of
his Imperial Majesty.

I told her what had happened, and waited for an echo of my indignation.

But none came. "Yes--I nearly always have an attack of neuralgia when I
go to the Opera," she said resignedly.

"But do they make you take your cloak off?"

"Of course. It's the Emperor's order."

"Well--I kept mine on," I said.

Her Serene Highness looked at me incredulously. Then she thought it
over and said: "Ah, well--you're an American, and American travellers
bring us so much money that the Emperor's orders are never to bully
them."

What had puzzled me, by the way, when I looked about the crowded Opera
House, was that the Emperor should ever order the ladies of Berlin to
take their cloaks off at the Opera; but that is an affair between them
and their dressmaker. The interesting thing was that the German Princess
did not in the least resent being bullied herself, or having neuralgia
in consequence--but quite recognised that it was good business for her
country not to bully Americans.

That little incident gave me a glimpse of what life in Germany must be
like if you are a German; and also of the essential difference between
the Germans and ourselves.

The difference is this: The German does not care to be free as long as
he is well fed, well amused and making money. The Frenchman, like the
American, wants to be free first of all, and free anyhow--free even when
he might be better off, materially, if he lived under a benevolent
autocracy. The Frenchman and the American want to have a voice in
governing their country, and the German prefers to be governed by
professionals, as long as they make him comfortable and give him what he
wants.

From the purely practical point of view this is not a bad plan, but it
breaks down as soon as a moral issue is involved. They say corporations
have no souls; neither have governments that are not answerable to a
free people for their actions.


III

This anecdote may have seemed to take us a long way from France and
French ways; but it will help to show that, whereas the differences
between ourselves and the French are mostly on the surface, and our
feeling about the most important things is always the same, the
Germans, who seem less strange to many of us because we have been used
to them at home, differ from us totally in all of the important things.

Unfortunately surface differences--as the word implies--are the ones
that strike the eye first. If beauty is only skin deep, so too are some
of the greatest obstacles between peoples who were made to understand
each other. French habits and manners have their roots in a civilisation
so profoundly unlike ours--so much older, richer, more elaborate and
firmly crystallised--that French customs necessarily differ from ours
more than do those of more primitive races; and we must dig down to the
deep faiths and principles from which every race draws its enduring life
to find how like in fundamental things are the two people whose
destinies have been so widely different.

To help the American fresh from his own land to overcome these initial
difficulties, and to arrive at a quick comprehension of French
character, is one of the greatest services that Americans familiar with
France can render at this moment. The French cannot explain themselves
fully to foreigners, because they take for granted so many things that
are as unintelligible to us as, for instance, our eating corned-beef
hash for breakfast, or liking mustard with mutton, is to them. It takes
an outsider familiar with both races to explain away what may be called
the corned-beef-hash differences, and bring out the underlying
resemblances; and while actual contact in the trenches will in the long
run do this more surely than any amount of writing, it may nevertheless
be an advantage to the newcomer to arrive with a few first-aid hints in
his knapsack.

The most interesting and profitable way of studying the characteristics
of a different race is to pick out, among them, those in which our own
national character is most lacking. It is sometimes agreeable, but
seldom useful, to do the reverse; that is, to single out the weak
points of the other race, and brag of our own advantages. This game,
moreover, besides being unprofitable, is also sometimes dangerous.
Before calling a certain trait a weakness, and our own opposite trait a
superiority, we must be sure, as critics say, that we "know the
context"; we must be sure that what appears a defect in the character of
another race will not prove to be a strength when better understood.

Anyhow, it is safer as well as more interesting to choose the obviously
admirable characteristics first, and especially those which happen to be
more or less lacking in our own national make-up.

This is what I propose to attempt in these articles; and I have singled
out, as typically "French" in the best sense of that many-sided term,
the qualities of _taste_, _reverence_, _continuity_, and _intellectual
honesty_. We are a new people, a pioneer people, a people destined by
fate to break up new continents and experiment in new social
conditions; and therefore it may be useful to see what part is played in
the life of a nation by some of the very qualities we have had the least
time to acquire.



II

REVERENCE


I

"Take care! Don't eat blackberries! Don't you know they'll give you the
fever?"

Any American soldier who stops to fill his cap with the plump
blackberries loading the hedgerows of France is sure to receive this
warning from a passing peasant.

Throughout the length and breadth of France, the most fruit-loving and
fruit-cultivating of countries, the same queer conviction prevails, and
year after year the great natural crop of blackberries, nowhere better
and more abundant, is abandoned to birds and insects because in some
remote and perhaps prehistoric past an ancient Gaul once decreed that
"blackberries give the fever."

An hour away, across the Channel, fresh blackberries and blackberry-jam
form one of the staples of a great ally's diet; but the French have not
yet found out that millions of Englishmen have eaten blackberries for
generations without having "the fever."

Even if they did find it out they would probably say: "The English are
different. Blackberries have always given _us_ the fever." Or the more
enlightened might ascribe it to the climate: "The air may be different
in England. Blackberries may not be unwholesome there, but here they are
poison."

There is not the least foundation for the statement, and the few
enterprising French people who have boldly risked catching "the fever"
consume blackberries in France with as much enjoyment, and as little
harm, as their English neighbours. But one could no more buy a
blackberry in a French market than one could buy the fruit of the
nightshade; the one is considered hardly less deleterious than the
other.

The prejudice is all the queerer because the thrifty, food-loving
French peasant has discovered the innocuousness of so many
dangerous-looking funguses that frighten the Anglo-Saxon by their close
resemblance to the poisonous members of the family. It takes a practised
eye to distinguish cèpes and morilles from the deadly toadstool; whereas
the blackberry resembles nothing in the world but its own luscious and
innocent self. Yet the blackberry has been condemned untried because of
some ancient taboo that the French peasant dares not disregard.

Taboos of this sort are as frequent in France as the blackberries in the
hedges, and some of them interfere with the deepest instincts of the
race.

Take, for instance, the question of dinner-giving. Dining is a solemn
rite to the French, because it offers the double opportunity of good
eating and good talk, the two forms of æsthetic enjoyment most generally
appreciated. Everything connected with dinner-giving has an almost
sacramental importance in France. The quality of the cooking comes
first; but, once this is assured, the hostess' chief concern is that the
quality of the talk shall match it. To attain this, the guests are as
carefully chosen as boxers for a championship, their number is strictly
limited, and care is taken not to invite two champions likely to talk
each other down.

The French, being unable to live without good talk, are respectful of
all the small observances that facilitate it. Interruption is considered
the height of discourtesy; but so is any attempt, even on the part of
the best talkers, to hold the floor and prevent others from making
themselves heard. Share and share alike is the first rule of
conversational politeness, and if a talker is allowed to absorb the
general attention for more than a few minutes it is because his
conversation is known to be so good that the other guests have been
invited to listen to him. Even so, he must give them a chance now and
then, and it is they who must abstain from taking it, and must
repeatedly let him see that for once they are content to act as
audience. Moreover, even the privileged talker is not allowed to dwell
long on any one topic, however stimulating. The old lady who said to her
granddaughter: "My dear, you will soon learn that an hour is enough of
anything" would have had to reduce her time-limit to five minutes if she
had been formulating the rules of French conversation.

In circles where interesting and entertaining men are habitually present
the women are not expected to talk much. They are not, of course, to sit
stupidly silent, responsiveness is their _rôle_, and they must know how
to guide the conversation by putting the right question or making the
right comment. But above all they are not to air their views in the
presence of men worth listening to. The French care passionately for
ideas, but they do not expect women to have them, and since they never
mistake erudition for intelligence (as we uneducated Anglo-Saxons
sometimes do) no woman can force her way into the talk by mere weight of
book-learning. She has no place there unless her ideas, and her way of
expressing them, put her on an equality with the men; and this seldom
happens. Women (if they only knew it!) are generally far more
intelligent listeners than talkers; and the rare quality of the
Frenchwoman's listening contributes not a little to the flashing play of
French talk.

Here, then, is an almost religious ritual, planned with the sole purpose
of getting the best talk from the best talkers; but there are two
malicious little taboos that delight in upsetting all these
preparations.

One of them seems incredibly childish. It is a rule of French society
that host and hostess shall sit exactly opposite each other. If the
number at table is uneven, then, instead of the guests being equally
spaced, they will be packed like sardines about one half the board, and
left on the other with echoing straits between them thrown.

If the number is such that, normally seated, with men and women
alternating, a lady should find herself opposite the hostess, that
unthinkable sacrilege must also be avoided, and three women be placed
together on one side of the table, and three men on the other. This
means death to general conversation, for intelligent women will never
talk together when they can talk to men, or even listen to them; so that
the party, thus disarranged, resembles that depressing dish, a pudding
in which all the plums have run into one corner.

The plums do not like it either. The scattered affinities grope for each
other and vainly seek to reconstitute a normal pudding. The attempt is
always a failure, and the French hostess knows it; yet many delightful
dinners are wrecked on the unrelenting taboo that obliges host and
hostess to sit exactly opposite each other.

"Precedence" is another obstacle to the realisation of the perfect
dinner. Precedence in a republic--! It is acknowledged to be an absurd
anomaly except where official rank is concerned; and though its
defenders argue that it is a short-cut through many problems of vanity
and _amour-propre_ it might certainly be disregarded to the general
advantage whenever a few intelligent people have been brought together,
not to compare their titles but to forget them.

But there it is. The French believe themselves to be the most democratic
people in the world--and they have some of the democratic instincts,
though not as many as they think. But an Academician must sit on his
hostess' right, unless there is a Duke or an Ambassador or a Bishop
present; and these rules, comic enough where peer meets prelate, become
more humorous (and also grow more strict) when applied to the
imperceptible differences between the lower degrees of the immense
professional and governmental hierarchy.

But again--there it is. A hostess whose papa helped to blow up the
Tuileries or pull down the Vendôme column weighs the relative claims of
two Academicians (always a bad stumbling block) as carefully as a
duchess of the old régime, brought up to believe in the divine right of
Kings, scrutinises the genealogy of her guests before seating them. And
this strict observance of rules is not due to snobbishness; the French
are not a snobbish people. It is part of _les bienséances_, of the
always-have-beens; and there is a big bullying taboo in the way of
changing it.

In England, where precedence has, at any rate, the support of a court,
where it is, so to speak, still a "going concern," and works
automatically, the hostess, if she is a woman of the world, casts it to
the winds on informal occasions; but in France there is no democratic
dinner-table over which it does not permanently hang its pall.


II

It may seem curious to have chosen the instance of the blackberry as the
text of a homily on "Reverence." Why not have substituted as a title
"Prejudice"--or simply "Stupidity"?

Well--"Prejudice" and "Reverence," oftener than one thinks, are
overlapping terms, and it seems fairer to choose the one of the two that
is not what the French call "péjorative." As for "Stupidity"--it must be
remembered that the French peasant thinks it incredibly stupid of us not
instantly to distinguish a mushroom from a toadstool, or any of the
intermediate forms of edible funguses from their death-dealing cousins!
Remember that we Americans deprive ourselves of many delicious dishes,
and occasionally hurry whole harmless families to the grave, through not
taking the trouble to examine and compare the small number of mushrooms
at our disposal; while the French avoid blackberries from a deep and
awesome conviction handed down from the night of history.

There is the key to my apologue. The French fear of the blackberry is
not due to any lack of curiosity about its qualities, but to respect for
some ancient sanction which prevents those qualities from being
investigated.

There is a reflex of negation, of rejection, at the very root of the
French character: an instinctive recoil from the new, the untasted, the
untested, like the retracting of an insect's feelers at contact with an
unfamiliar object; and no one can hope to understand the French without
bearing in mind that this unquestioning respect for rules of which the
meaning is forgotten acts as a perpetual necessary check to the
idol-breaking instinct of the freest minds in the world.

It may sound like a poor paradox to say that the French are traditional
about small things because they are so free about big ones. But the
history of human societies seems to show that if they are to endure they
must unconsciously secrete the corrective of their own highest
qualities.

"Reverence" may be the wasteful fear of an old taboo; but it is also
the sense of the preciousness of long accumulations of experience. The
quintessential is precious because whatever survives the close filtering
of time is likely to answer to some deep racial need, moral or æsthetic.
It is stupid to deprive one's self of blackberries for a reason one has
forgotten; but what should we say of a people who had torn down their
cathedrals when they ceased to feel the beauty of Gothic architecture,
as the French had ceased to feel it in the seventeenth century?

The instinct to preserve that which has been slow and difficult in the
making, that into which the long associations of the past are woven, is
a more constant element of progress than the Huguenot's idol-breaking
hammer.

Reverence and irreverence are both needed to help the world along, and
each is most needed where the other most naturally abounds.

In this respect France and America are in the same case. America,
because of her origin, tends to irreverence, impatience, to all sorts of
rash and contemptuous short-cuts; France, for the same reason, to
routine, precedent, tradition, the beaten path. Therefore it ought to
help each nation to apply to herself the corrective of the other's
example; and America can profit more by seeking to find out why France
is reverent, and what she reveres, than by trying to inoculate her with
a flippant disregard of her own past.

The first thing to do is to try to find out why a people, so free and
active of thought as the French, are so subject to traditions that have
lost their meaning.

The fundamental cause is probably geographical. We Americans have
hitherto been geographically self-contained, and until this war did away
with distances we were free to try any social and political experiments
we pleased, without, at any rate, weakening ourselves in relation to our
neighbours. To keep _them_ off we did not even have to have an army!

France, on the contrary, has had to fight for her existence ever since
she has had any. Of her, more than of any other great modern nation, it
may be said that from the start she has had, as Goethe puts it, to
"reconquer each day the liberty won the day before."

Again and again, in the past, she has seen her territory invaded, her
monuments destroyed, her institutions shattered; the ground on which the
future of the world is now being fought for is literally the same as
that Catalaunian plain (the "Camp de Châlons") on which Attila tried to
strangle France over fourteen hundred years ago. "In the year 450 all
Gaul was filled with terror; for the dreaded Attila, with a host of
strange figures, Huns, Tartars, Teutons, head of an empire of true
barbarians, drew near her borders. Barbarism ... now threatened the
world. It had levied a shameful tribute on Constantinople; it now
threatened the farthest West. If Gaul fell, Spain would fall, and
Italy, and Rome; and Attila would reign supreme, with an empire of
desolation, over the whole world."[A]

"The whole world" is a bigger place nowadays, and "farthest West" is at
the Golden Gate and not at the Pillars of Hercules; but otherwise might
we not be reading a leader in yesterday's paper?

Try to picture life under such continual menace of death, and see how in
an industrious, intelligent and beauty-loving race it must inevitably
produce two strong passions:

Pious love of every yard of the soil and every stone of the houses.

Intense dread lest any internal innovations should weaken the social
structure and open a door to the enemy.

There is nothing like a Revolution for making people conservative; that
is one of the reasons why, for instance, our Constitution, the child of
Revolution, is the most conservative in history. But, in other
respects, why should we Americans be conservative? To begin with, there
is not much as yet for us to "conserve" except a few root-principles of
conduct, social and political; and see how they spring up and dominate
every other interest in each national crisis!

In France it is different. The French have nearly two thousand years of
history and art and industry and social and political life to
"conserve"; that is another of the reasons why their intense
intellectual curiosity, their perpetual desire for the new thing, is
counteracted by a clinging to rules and precedents that have often
become meaningless.


III

Reverence is the life-belt of those whose home is on a raft, and
Americans have not pored over the map of France for the last four years
without discovering that she may fairly be called a raft. But
geographical necessity is far from being the only justification of
reverence. It is not chiefly because the new methods of warfare lay
America open to the same menace as continental Europe that it is good
for us to consider the meaning of this ancient principle of civilised
societies.

We are growing up at last; and it is only in maturity that a man glances
back along the past, and sees the use of the constraints that irritated
his impatient youth. So with races and nations; and America has reached
the very moment in her development when she may best understand what has
kept older races and riper civilisations sound.

Reverence is one of these preserving elements, and it is worth while to
study it in its action in French life. If geographical necessity is the
fundamental cause, another, almost as deep-seated, is to be found in the
instinct of every people to value and preserve what they have themselves
created and made beautiful.

In Selden's "Table-talk" there is told the story of a certain carver of
idols. Being a pious man he had always worshipped his own idols till he
was suddenly called upon to make one in great haste, and, no other wood
being available, had to cut down the plum-tree in his own garden and
make the image out of that.

He could not worship the plum-tree idol, because he knew too much about
the plum-tree. That, at least, is Selden's version; but how little
insight it shows into human processes! Of course, after a time, the
carver came to worship the plum-tree idol, and to worship it just
because he had grown the tree and carved the image, and it was therefore
doubly of his making. That is the very key to the secret of reverence;
the tenderness we feel for our own effort extending to respect for all
fine human effort.

America is already showing this instinct in her eagerness to beautify
her towns, and to preserve her few pre-Revolutionary buildings--that
small fragment of her mighty European heritage.

But there are whole stretches of this heritage that have been too long
allowed to run to waste: our language, our literature, and many other
things pertaining to the great undefinable domain of Taste.

A man who owns a vast field does not care for that field half as much
when it is a waste as after he has sweated over its furrows and seen the
seeds spring. And when he has turned a bit of it into a useless bright
flower-garden he cares for that useless bit best of all.

The deeper civilisation of a country may to a great extent be measured
by the care she gives to her flower-garden--the corner of her life where
the supposedly "useless" arts and graces flourish. In the cultivating of
that garden France has surpassed all modern nations; and one of the
greatest of America's present opportunities is to find out why.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] Kitchin: "History of France," vol. I.



III

TASTE


I

French taste? Why, of course--everybody knows all about that! It's the
way the women put on their hats, and the upholsterers drape their
curtains.

Certainly--why not?

The artistic integrity of the French has led them to feel from the
beginning that there is no difference in kind between the curve of a
woman's hat-brim and the curve of a Rodin marble, or between the droop
of an upholsterer's curtain and that of the branches along a great
avenue laid out by Le Nôtre.

It was the Puritan races--every one of them non-creative in the plastic
arts--who decided that "Art" (that is, plastic art) was something apart
from life, as dangerous to it as Plato thought Poets in a Republic, and
to be tolerated only when it was so lofty, unapproachable and remote
from any appeal to average humanity that it bored people to death, and
they locked it up in Museums to get rid of it.

But this article is headed "Taste," and taste, whatever it may be, is
not, after all, the same thing as art. No; it is not art--but it is the
atmosphere in which art lives, and outside of which it cannot live. It
is the regulating principle of all art, of the art of dress and of
manners, and of living in general, as well as of sculpture or music. It
is because the French have always been so innately sure of this, that,
without burdening themselves with formulas, they have instinctively
applied to living the same rules that they applied to artistic creation.


II

I remember being told when I was a young girl: "If you want to interest
the person you are talking to, pitch your voice so that only that one
person will hear you."

That small axiom, apart from its obvious application, contains nearly
all there is to say about Taste.

That a thing should be in scale--should be proportioned to its
purpose--is one of the first requirements of beauty, in whatever order.
No shouting where an undertone will do; and no gigantic Statue of
Liberty in butter for a World's Fair, when the little Wingless Victory,
tying on her sandal on the Acropolis, holds the whole horizon in the
curve of her slim arm.

The essence of taste is suitability. Divest the word of its prim and
priggish implications, and see how it expresses the mysterious demand of
eye and mind for symmetry, harmony and order.

Suitability--fitness--is, and always has been, the very foundation of
French standards. Fitness is only a contraction of fittingness; and if
any of our American soldiers in France should pause to look up at the
narrow niches in the portal of a French cathedral, or at the group of
holy figures in the triangle or half-circle above, they are likely to be
struck first of all by the way in which the attitude of each figure or
group is adapted to the space it fills.

If the figure is cramped and uncomfortable--if the saint or angel seems
to be in a straitjacket or a padded cell--then the sculptor has failed,
and taste is offended. It is essential that there should be perfect
harmony between the natural attitude of the figure and the space it
lives in--that a square saint should not be put in a round hole. Range
through plastic art, from Chaldæa to France, and you will see how this
principle of adaptation has always ruled composition.


III

It is the sense of its universal applicability that makes taste so
living an influence in France. French people "have taste" as naturally
as they breathe: it is not regarded as an accomplishment, like playing
the flute.

The universal existence of taste, and of the standard it creates--it
insists on--explains many of the things that strike Americans on first
arriving in France.

It is the reason, for instance, why the French have beautiful stone
quays along the great rivers on which their cities are built, and why
noble monuments of architecture, and gardens and terraces, have been
built along these quays. The French have always felt and reverenced the
beauty of their rivers, and known the value, artistic and hygienic, of a
beautiful and well-kept river-front in the heart of a crowded city.

When industrialism began its work of disfigurement in the great cities
of the world, long reaches of the Thames were seized upon by the
factory-builder, and London has only by a recent effort saved a short
stretch of her river front; even so, from the Embankment, whether at
Westminster or Chelsea, one looks across at ugliness, untidiness and
squalor.

When industrialism came to the wise old Latin cities--Paris, Lyons,
Bordeaux, Florence--their river banks were already firmly and
beautifully built up, and the factory chimneys had to find a footing in
the outskirts. Any American with eyes to see, who compares the
architectural use to which Paris has put the Seine with the wasteful
degradation of the unrivalled twin river-fronts of New York, may draw
his own conclusions as to the sheer material advantage of taste in the
creation of a great city.

Perhaps the most curious instance of taste-blindness in dealing with
such an opportunity is to be found in Boston, where Beacon Street calmly
turned its wealthy back to the bay, and fringed with clothes-lines the
shores that might have made of Boston one of the most beautifully
situated cities in the world. In this case, industry did not encroach or
slums degrade. The Boston aristocracy appropriated the shore of the bay
for its own residential uses, but apparently failed to notice that the
bay was there.

Taste, also--the recognition of a standard--explains the existence of
such really national institutions as the French Academy, and the French
national theatre, the Théâtre Français. The history of the former, in
particular, throws a light on much that is most distinctively French in
the French character.

It would be difficult for any one walking along the Quai Malaquais, and
not totally blind to architectural beauty, not to be charmed by the
harmony of proportion and beauty of composition of a certain building
with curved wings and a small central dome that looks across the Seine
at the gardens of the Louvre and the spires of Saint Germain
l'Auxerrois.

That building, all elegance, measure and balance, from its graceful
cupola to the stately stone vases surmounting the lateral
colonnades--that building is the old "Collège des Quatre Nations," the
Institute of France, and the home of the French Academy.

In 1635, at a time when France was still struggling with the heavy
inheritance of feudalism, a bad man and great statesman, the mighty
Cardinal Richelieu, paused in his long fight with the rebellious vassals
of the crown to create a standard of French speech: "To establish the
rules of the language, and make French not only elegant, but capable of
dealing with the arts and sciences."

Think of the significance of such an act at such a moment! France was a
welter of political and religious dissension; everything in the
monarchy, and the monarchy itself, was in a state of instability.
Austria and Spain menaced it from without, the great vassals tore it
asunder from within. During the Great Assizes of Auvergne some of the
most powerful of these nobles were tried, punished and stripped of their
monstrous privileges; and the record of their misdeeds reads like a
tale of Sicilian brigandage and Corsican vendetta.

Gradually the iron hand of Richelieu drew order--a grim pitiless
order--out of this uninhabitable chaos. But it was in the very thick of
the conflict that he seemed to feel the need of creating, then and
there, some fixed principle of civilised life, some kind of ark in which
thought and taste and "civility" could take shelter. It was as if, in
the general upheaval, he wished to give stability to the things which
humanise and unite society. And he chose "taste"--taste in speech, in
culture, in manners,--as the fusing principle of his new Academy.

The traditional point of view of its founder has been faithfully
observed for nearly three hundred years by the so-called "Forty
Immortals," the Academicians who throne under the famous cupola. The
Academy has never shrunk into a mere retreat for lettered pedantry: as
M. Saillens says in his admirable little book, "Facts about France":
"The great object of Richelieu was national unity," and "The Forty do
not believe that they can keep the language under discipline by merely
publishing a Dictionary now and then (the first edition came out in
1694). They believe that a standard must be set, and that it is for them
to set it. Therefore the Academy does not simply call to its ranks
famous or careful writers, but soldiers as well, bishops, scientists,
men of the world, men of social rank, so as to maintain from generation
to generation a national conservatory of good manners and good speech."

For this reason, though Frenchmen have always laughed at their Academy,
they have always respected it, and aspired to the distinction of
membership. Even the rebellious spirits who satirise it in their youth
usually become, in maturity, almost too eager for its recognition; and,
though the fact of being an Academician gives social importance, it
would be absurd to pretend that such men as Pasteur, Henri Poincaré,
Marshal Joffre, sought the distinction for that reason, or that France
would have thought it worthy of their seeking if the institution had not
preserved its original significance.

That significance was simply the safeguarding of what the French call
_les choses de l'esprit_; which cannot quite be translated "things of
the spirit," and yet means more nearly that than anything else. And
Richelieu and the original members of the Academy had recognised from
the first day that language was the chosen vessel in which the finer
life of a nation must be preserved.

It is not uncommon nowadays, especially in America, to sneer at any
deliberate attempts to stabilise language. To test such criticisms it is
useful to reduce them to their last consequence--which is almost always
absurdity. It is not difficult to discover what becomes of a language
left to itself, without accepted standards or restrictions; instances
may be found among any savage tribes without fixed standards of speech.
Their language speedily ceases to be one, and deteriorates into a
muddle of unstable dialects. Or, if an instance nearer home is needed,
the lover of English need only note what that rich language has shrunk
to on the lips, and in the literature, of the heterogeneous hundred
millions of American citizens who, without uniformity of tradition or
recognised guidance, are being suffered to work their many wills upon
it.

But at this point it may be objected that, after all, England herself
has never had an Academy, nor could ever conceivably have had one, and
that whatever the English of America has become, the English of England
is still the language of her great tradition, with perfectly defined
standards of taste and propriety.

England is England, as France is France: the one feels the need of
defining what the other finds it simpler to take for granted. England
has never had a written Constitution; yet her constitutional government
has long been the model of free nations. England's standards are all
implicit. She does not feel the French need of formulating and
tabulating. Her Academy is not built with hands, but it is just as
powerful, and just as visible to those who have eyes to see; and the
name of the English Academy is Usage.


IV

I said just now: "If any of our American soldiers look up at the niches
in the portal of a French cathedral they are likely to be struck first
of all by" such and such things.

In our new Army all the arts and professions are represented, and if the
soldier in question happens to be a sculptor, an architect, or an art
critic, he will certainly note what I have pointed out; but if he is not
a trained observer, the chances are that he will not even look up.

The difference is that in France almost every one has the seeing eye,
just as almost every one has the hearing ear. It is not a platitude,
though it may be a truism, to say that the French are a race of
artists: it is the key that unlocks every door of their complex
psychology, and consequently the key that must be oftenest in the
explorer's hand.

The gift of the seeing eye is, obviously, a first requisite where taste
is to prevail. And the question is, how is the seeing eye to be
obtained? What is the operation for taste-blindness? Or is there any;
and are not some races--the artistically non-creative--born as
irremediably blind as Kentucky cave-fishes?

The answer might be _yes_, in the case of the wholly non-creative races.
But the men of English blood are creative artists too: theirs is the
incomparable gift of poetic expression. And any race gifted with one
form of artistic originality is always acutely appreciative of other
cognate forms of expression. There has never been a race more capable
than the English of appreciating the great plastic creators, Greece,
Italy and France. This gift of the critical sense in those arts wherein
the race does not excel in original expression seems an inevitable
by-product of its own special endowment. In such races taste-blindness
is purely accidental, and the operation that cures it is the long slow
old-fashioned one of education. There is no other.

The artist races are naturally less dependent on education: to a certain
degree their instinct takes the place of acquired discrimination. But
they set a greater store on it than any other races because they
appreciate more than the others all that, even to themselves, education
reveals and develops.

It is just because the French are naturally endowed with taste that they
attach such importance to cultivation, and that French standards of
education are so infinitely higher and more severe than those existing
in Anglo-Saxon countries. We are too much inclined to think that we have
disposed of the matter when we say that, in our conception of life,
education should be formative and not instructive. The point is, the
French might return, what are we to be formed for? And, in any case,
they would not recognise the antithesis, since they believe that, to
form, one must instruct: instruct the eye, the ear, the brain, every one
of those marvellous organs of sense so often left dormant by our
Anglo-Saxon training.

It used to be thought that if savages appeared unimpressed by the
wonders of occidental art or industry it was because their natural
_hauteur_ would not let them betray surprise to the intruder. That
romantic illusion has been dispelled by modern investigation, and the
traveller now knows that the savage is unimpressed because _he does not
see_ the new things presented to him. It takes the most complex
assemblage of associations, visual and mental, to enable us to discover
what a picture represents: the savage placed before such familiar
examples of the graphic art as "The Infant Samuel" or "His Master's
Voice" would not _see_ the infant or the fox-terrier, much less guess
what they were supposed to be doing.

As long as America believes in short-cuts to knowledge, in any
possibility of buying taste in tabloids, she will never come into her
real inheritance of English culture. A gentleman travelling in the
Middle West met a charming girl who was a "college graduate." He asked
her what line of study she had selected, and she replied that she had
learnt music one year, and languages the next, and that last year she
had "learnt art."

It is the pernicious habit of regarding the arts as something that can
be bottled, pickled and absorbed in twelve months (thanks to "courses,"
summaries and abridgments) that prevents the development of a real
artistic sensibility in our eager and richly endowed race. Patience,
deliberateness, reverence: these are the fundamental elements of taste.
The French have always cultivated them, and it is as much to them as to
the eagle-flights of genius that France owes her long artistic
supremacy.

From the Middle Ages to the Revolution all the French trade-guilds had
their travelling members, the "Compagnons du Tour de France." Not for
greed of gold, but simply from the ambition to excel in their own craft,
these "companions," their trade once learned, took their staves in hand,
and wandered on foot over France, going from one to another of the
cities where the best teachers of their special trades were to be found,
and serving an apprenticeship in each till they learned enough to
surpass their masters. The "tour de France" was France's old way of
acquiring "Efficiency"; and even now she does not believe it can be
found in newspaper nostrums.



IV

INTELLECTUAL HONESTY


I

Most people, in their infancy, have made bogeys out of sofa-pillows and
overcoats, and the imaginative child always comes to believe in the
reality of the bogey he has manufactured, and toward twilight grows
actually afraid of it.

When I was a little girl the name of Horace Greeley was potent in
American politics, and some irreverent tradesman had manufactured a pink
cardboard fan (on the "palmetto" model) which represented the
countenance of the venerable demagogue, and was surrounded with a white
silk fringe in imitation of his hoary hair and "chin-beard." A Horace
Greeley fan had long been knocking about our country-house, and was a
familiar object to me and to my little cousins, when one day it
occurred to us to make a bogey with my father's overcoat, put Mr.
Greeley's head on top, and seat him on the verandah near the front door.

When we were tired of playing we started to go in; but there on the
threshold in the dusk sat Mr. Greeley, suddenly transformed into an
animate and unknown creature, and dumb terror rooted us to the spot. Not
one of us had the courage to demolish that supernatural and malevolent
old man, or to dash past him into the house--and oh, the relief it was
when a big brother came along and reduced him into his constituent
parts!

Such inhibitions take the imagination far back to the childhood of the
human race, when terrors and taboos lurked in every bush; and wherever
the fear of the thing it has created survives in the mind of any
society, that society is still in its childhood. Intellectual honesty,
the courage to look at things as they are, is the first test of mental
maturity. Till a society ceases to be afraid of the truth in the domain
of ideas it is in leading-strings, morally and mentally.

The singular superiority of the French has always lain in their
intellectual courage. Other races and nations have been equally
distinguished for moral courage, but too often it has been placed at the
service of ideas they were afraid to analyse. The French always want to
find out first just what the conceptions they are fighting for are
worth. They will not be downed by their own bogeys, much less by anybody
else's. The young Oedipus of Ingres, calmly questioning the Sphinx, is
the very symbol of the French intelligence; and it is because of her
dauntless curiosity that France is of all countries the most _grown up_.

To persons unfamiliar with the real French character, this dauntless
curiosity is supposed to apply itself chiefly to spying out and
discussing acts and emotions which the Anglo-Saxon veils from publicity.
The French view of what are euphemistically called "the facts of life"
(as the Greeks called the Furies the "Amiable Ones") is often spoken of
as though it were inconsistent with those necessary elements of any
ordered society that we call purity and morality. Because the French
talk and write freely about subjects and situations that Anglo-Saxons,
for the last hundred years (not before), have agreed not to mention, it
is assumed that the French gloat over such subjects and situations. As a
matter of fact, they simply take them for granted, as part of the great
parti-coloured business of life, and no more gloat over them (in the
morbid introspective sense) than they do over their morning coffee.

To be sure, they do "gloat" over their coffee in a sense unknown to
consumers of liquid chicory and health-beverages: they "gloat," in fact,
over everything that tastes good, looks beautiful, or appeals to any one
of their acute and highly-trained five senses. But they do this with no
sense of greediness or shame or immodesty, and consequently without
morbidness or waste of time. They take the normal pleasures, physical
and æsthetic, "in their stride," so to speak, as wholesome, nourishing,
and necessary for the background of a laborious life of business or
study, and not as subjects for nasty prying or morbid self-examination.

It is necessary for any one who would judge France fairly to get this
fundamental difference fixed in his mind before forming an opinion of
the illustrated "funny papers," of the fiction, the theatres, the whole
trend of French humour, irony and sentiment. Well-meaning people waste
much time in seeking to prove that Gallic and Anglo-Saxon minds take the
same view of such matters, and that the _Vie Parisienne_, the "little
theatres" and the light fiction of France do not represent the average
French temperament, but are a vile attempt (by foreign agents) to cater
to foreign pornography.

The French have always been a gay and free and Rabelaisian people. They
attach a great deal of importance to love-making, but they consider it
more simply and less solemnly than we. They are cool, resourceful and
merry, crack jokes about the relations between the sexes, and are used
to the frank discussion of what some one tactfully called "the
operations of Nature." They are puzzled by our queer fear of our own
bodies, and accustomed to relate openly and unapologetically the
anecdotes that Anglo-Saxons snicker over privately and with apologies.
They define pornography as a taste for the nasty, and not as an interest
in the natural. But nothing would be more mistaken than to take this as
proving that family feeling is less deep and tender in France than
elsewhere, or the conception of the social virtues different. It means
merely that the French are not frightened by the names of things; that
they dislike what we call coarseness much less than what they call
pruriency; and that they have too great a faith in the fundamental
life-forces, and too much tenderness for the young mother suckling her
baby, for Daphnis and Chloe in the orchard at dawn, and Philemon and
Baucis on their threshold at sunset, not to wonder at our being ashamed
of any of the processes of nature.

It is convenient to put the relations between the sexes first on the
list of subjects about which the French and Anglo-Saxon races think and
behave differently, because it is the difference which strikes the
superficial observer first, and which has been most used in the attempt
to prove the superior purity of Anglo-Saxon morals. But French
outspokenness would not be interesting if it applied only to
sex-questions, for savages are outspoken about those, too. The French
attitude in that respect is interesting only as typical of the general
intellectual fearlessness of France. She is not afraid of anything that
concerns mankind, neither of pleasure and mirth nor of exultations and
agonies.

The French are intrinsically a tough race: they are careless of pain,
unafraid of risks, contemptuous of precautions. They have no idea that
life can be evaded, and if it could be they would not try to evade it.
They regard it as a gift so magnificent that they are ready to take the
bad weather with the fine rather than miss a day of the golden year.

It is this innate intellectual honesty, the specific distinction of the
race, which has made it the torch-bearer of the world. Bishop Butler's
celebrated: "Things are as they are and will be as they will be" might
have been the motto of the French intellect. It is an axiom that makes
dull minds droop, but exalts the brain imaginative enough to be amazed
before the marvel of things as they are.


II

Mr. Howells, I feel sure, will forgive me if I quote here a comment I
once heard him make on theatrical taste in America. We had been talking
of that strange exigency of the American public which compels the
dramatist (if he wishes to be played) to wind up his play, whatever its
point of departure, with the "happy-ever-after" of the fairy-tales; and
I had remarked that this did not imply a preference for comedy, but
that, on the contrary, our audiences want to be harrowed (and even
slightly shocked) from eight till ten-thirty, and then consoled and
reassured before eleven.

"Yes," said Mr. Howells; "what the American public wants is _a tragedy
with a happy ending_."

What Mr. Howells said of the American theatre is true of the whole
American attitude toward life.

"A tragedy with a happy ending" is exactly what the child wants before
he goes to sleep: the reassurance that "all's well with the world" as he
lies in his cosy nursery. It is a good thing that the child should
receive this reassurance; but as long as he needs it he remains a child,
and the world he lives in is a nursery-world. Things are not always and
everywhere well with the world, and each man has to find it out as he
grows up. It is the finding out that makes him grow, and until he has
faced the fact and digested the lesson he is not grown up--he is still
in the nursery.

The same thing is true of countries and peoples. The "sheltered life,"
whether of the individual or of the nation, must either have a violent
and tragic awakening--or never wake up at all. The keen French
intelligence perceived this centuries ago, and has always preferred to
be awake and alive, at whatever cost. The cost has been heavy, but the
results have been worth it, for France leads the world intellectually
just because she is the most grown up of the nations.

In each of the great nations there is a small minority which is at about
the same level of intellectual culture; but it is not between these
minorities (though even here the level is perhaps higher in France) that
comparisons may profitably be made. A cross-section of average life must
be taken, and compared with the same average in a country like ours, to
understand why France leads in the world of ideas.

The theatre has an importance in France which was matched only in the
most glorious days of Greece. The dramatic sense of the French, their
faculty of perceiving and enjoying the vivid contrasts and ironies of
daily life, and their ability to express emotion where Anglo-Saxons can
only choke with it, this innate dramatic gift, which is a part of their
general artistic endowment, leads them to attach an importance to the
theatre incomprehensible to our blunter races.

Americans new to France, and seeing it first in war-time, will be
continually led to overlook the differences and see the resemblances
between the two countries. They will notice, for instance, that the same
kind of people who pack the music-halls and "movie-shows" at home also
pack them in France. But if they will take a seat at the one of the
French national theatres (the _Théâtre Français_ or the _Odéon_) they
will see people of the same level of education as those of the
cinema-halls enjoying with keen discrimination a tragedy by Racine or a
drama of Victor Hugo's. In America the "movie" and music-hall audiences
require no higher form of nourishment. In France they do, and the
Thursday matinées in theatres which give the classic drama are as packed
as the house where "The Mysteries of New York" are unrolled, while on
the occasion of the free performances given on national holidays in
these theatres a line composed of working-people, poor students and all
kinds of modest wage-earners forms at the door hours before the
performance begins.

The people who assist at these great tragic performances have a strong
enough sense of reality to understand the part that grief and calamity
play in life and in art: they feel instinctively that no real art can be
based on a humbugging attitude toward life, and it is their intellectual
honesty which makes them exact and enjoy its fearless representation.

It is also their higher average of education, of "culture" it would be
truer to say, if the word, with us, had not come to stand for the
pretence rather than the reality. Education in its elementary sense is
much more general in America than in France. There are more people who
can read in the United States; but what do they read? The whole point,
as far as any real standard goes, is there. If the ability to read
carries the average man no higher than the gossip of his neighbours, if
he asks nothing more nourishing out of books and the theatre than he
gets in hanging about the store, the bar and the street-corner, then
culture is bound to be dragged down to him instead of his being lifted
up by culture.


III

The very significance--the note of ridicule and slight contempt--which
attaches to the word "culture" in America, would be quite unintelligible
to the French of any class. It is inconceivable to them that any one
should consider it superfluous, and even slightly comic, to know a great
deal, to know the best in every line, to know, in fact, as much as
possible.

There are ignorant and vulgar-minded people in France, as in other
countries; but instead of dragging the popular standard of culture down
to their own level, and ridiculing knowledge as the affectation of a
self-conscious clique, they are obliged to esteem it, to pretend to have
it, and to try and talk its language--which is not a bad way of
beginning to acquire it.

The odd Anglo-Saxon view that a love of beauty and an interest in ideas
imply effeminacy is quite unintelligible to the French; as
unintelligible as, for instance, the other notion that athletics make
men manly.

The French would say that athletics make men muscular, that education
makes them efficient, and that what makes them manly is their general
view of life, or, in other words, the completeness of their intellectual
honesty. And the conduct of Frenchmen during the last four and a half
years looks as though there were something to be said in favour of this
opinion.

The French are persuaded that the enjoyment of beauty and the exercise
of the critical intelligence are two of the things best worth living
for; and the notion that art and knowledge could ever, in a civilised
state, be regarded as negligible, or subordinated to merely material
interests, would never occur to them. It does not follow that everything
they create is beautiful, or that their ideas are always valuable or
interesting; what matters is the esteem in which _the whole race_ holds
ideas and their noble expression.

Theoretically, America holds art and ideas in esteem also; but she does
not, as a people, seek or desire them. This indifference is partly due
to awe: America has not lived long at her ease with beauty, like the old
European races whose art reaches back through an unbroken inheritance of
thousands of years of luxury and culture.

It would have been unreasonable to expect a new country, plunged in the
struggle with material necessities, to create an art of her own, or to
have acquired familiarity enough with the great arts of the past to feel
the need of them as promoters of enjoyment, or to understand their value
as refining and civilising influences. But America is now ripe to take
her share in the long inheritance of the races she descends from; and it
is a pity that just at this time the inclination of the immense majority
of Americans is setting away from all real education and real culture.

Intellectual honesty was never so little in respect in the United
States as in the years before the war. Every sham and substitute for
education and literature and art had steadily crowded out the real
thing. "Get-rich-quick" is a much less dangerous device than
"get-educated-quick," but the popularity of the first has led to the
attempt to realise the second. It is possible to get rich quickly in a
country full of money-earning chances; but there is no short-cut to
education.

Perhaps it has been an advantage to the French to have had none of our
chances of sudden enrichment. Perhaps the need of accumulating money
slowly leads people to be content with less, and consequently gives them
more leisure to care for other things. There could be no greater
error--as all Americans know--than to think that America's ability to
make money quickly has made her heedless of other values; but it has set
the pace for the pursuit of those other values, a pursuit that leads to
their being trampled underfoot in the general rush for them.

The French, at any rate, living more slowly, have learned the advantage
of living more deeply. In science, in art, in technical and industrial
training, they know the need of taking time, and the wastefulness of
superficiality. French university education is a long and stern process,
but it produces minds capable of more sustained effort and a larger
range of thought than our quick doses of learning. And this
strengthening discipline of the mind has preserved the passion for
intellectual honesty. No race is so little addicted to fads, for fads
are generally untested propositions. The French tendency is to test
every new theory, religious, artistic or scientific, in the light of
wide knowledge and experience, and to adopt it only if it stands this
scrutiny. It is for this reason that France has so few religions, so few
philosophies, and so few quick cures for mental or physical woes. And it
is for this reason also that there are so few advertisements in French
newspapers.

Nine-tenths of English and American advertising is based on the hope
that some one has found a way of doing something, or curing some
disease, or overcoming some infirmity, more quickly than by the accepted
methods. The French are too incredulous of short-cuts and nostrums to
turn to such promises with much hope. Their unshakeable intellectual
honesty and their sound intellectual training lead them to distrust any
way but the strait and narrow one when a difficulty is to be mastered
or an art acquired. They are above all democratic in their steady
conviction that there is no "royal road" to the worth-while things, and
that every yard of the Way to Wisdom has to be travelled on foot, and
not spun over in a joy-ride.



V

CONTINUITY


I

Have you ever watched the attempt of any one who does not know how to
draw to put down on paper the roughest kind of representation of a house
or a horse or a human being?

The difficulty and perplexity (to any one not born with the drawing
instinct) caused by the effort of reproducing an object one can walk
around are extraordinary and unexpected. The thing is there, facing the
draughtsman, the familiar everyday thing--and a few strokes on paper
ought to give at least a recognisable suggestion of it.

But what kind of strokes? And what curves or angles ought they to
follow? Try and see for yourself, if you have never been taught to
draw, and if no instinct tells you how. Evidently there is some trick
about it which must be learned.

It takes a great deal of training and observation to learn the trick and
represent recognisably the simplest three-dimensional thing, much less
an animal or a human being in movement. And it takes a tradition too: it
presupposes the existence of some one capable of handing on the trick,
which has already been handed on to him.

Thirty thousand years ago--or perhaps more--there were men in France so
advanced in observation and training of eye and hand that they could
represent fishes swimming in a river, stags grazing or fighting, bison
charging with lowered heads or lying down and licking their own
shoulders--could even represent women dancing in a round, and long lines
of reindeer in perspective, with horns gradually diminishing in size.

It is only twenty years ago that the first cavern decorated with
prehistoric paintings was discovered at Altamira, in north-western
Spain. Its discoverer was regarded with suspicion and contempt by the
archæologists of the period: they let him see that they thought him an
impostor and he died without having been able to convince the learned
world that he had not had a hand in decorating the roof of the cave of
Altamira with its wonderful troops of inter-glacial animals. But ten or
twelve years later the discovery of similar painted caves in all
directions north and south of the Pyrenees at last vindicated Señor
Sautola's sincerity, and set the students of civilisation hastily
revising their chronologies; and since then proofs of the consummate
skill of these men of the dawn have been found on the walls of caves and
grottoes all over central and southern France, throughout the very
region where our American soldiers have been camping, and where our
convalescents are now basking in the warm Mediterranean sun.

The study of prehistoric art is just beginning, but already it has been
found that drawing, painting and even sculpture of a highly developed
kind were practised in France long before Babylon rose in its glory, or
the foundations of the undermost Troy were laid. In fact, all that is
known of the earliest historic civilisations is recent in date compared
with the wonderful fore-shortened drawings and clay statues of the
French Stone Age.

The traces of a very ancient culture discovered in the United States and
in Central America prove the far-off existence of an artistic and civic
development unknown to the races found by the first European explorers.
But the origin and date of these vanished societies are as yet unguessed
at, and even were it otherwise they would not count in our artistic and
social inheritance, since the English and Dutch colonists found only a
wilderness peopled by savages, who had kept no link of memory with those
vanished societies. There had been a complete break of continuity.


II

In France it was otherwise.

Any one who really wants to understand France must bear in mind that
French culture is the most homogeneous and uninterrupted culture the
world has known. It is true that waves of invasion, just guessed at on
the verge of the historic period, must have swept away the astounding
race who adorned the caves of central and south-western France with
drawings matching those of the Japanese in suppleness and audacity; for
after that far-off flowering time the prehistorian comes on a period of
retrogression when sculptor and draughtsman fumbled clumsily with their
implements. The golden age of prehistory was over. Waves of cold,
invasions of savage hordes, all the violent convulsions of a world in
the making, swept over the earliest France and almost swept her away:
almost, but not quite. Soon, Phoenicia and Greece were to reach her from
the south, soon after that Rome was to stamp her once for all with the
stamp of Roman citizenship; and in the intervals between these events
the old, almost vanished culture doubtless lingered in the caves and
river-beds, handed on something of its great tradition, kept alive, in
the hidden nooks which cold and savages spared, little hearths of
artistic vitality.

It would appear that all the while people went on obscurely modelling
clay, carving horn and scratching drawings on the walls of just such
river-cliff houses as the peasants of Burgundy live in to this day, thus
nursing the faint embers of tradition that were to leap into beauty at
the touch of Greece and Rome. And even if it seems fanciful to believe
that the actual descendants of the cave-painters survived there can be
little doubt that their art, or its memory, was transmitted. If even
this link with the past seems too slight to be worth counting, the
straight descent of French civilisation from the ancient Mediterranean
culture which penetrated her by the Rhone and Spain and the Alps would
explain the ripeness and the continuity of her social life. By her
geographic position she seemed destined to centralise and cherish the
scattered fires of these old societies.

What is true of plastic art must of course be true of the general
culture it implies. The people of France went on living in France,
surviving cataclysms, perpetuating traditions, handing down and down and
down certain ways of ploughing and sowing and vine-dressing and dyeing
and tanning and working and hoarding, in the same valleys and on the
same river-banks as their immemorially remote predecessors.

Could anything be in greater contrast to the sudden uprooting of our
American ancestors and their violent cutting off from all their past,
when they set out to create a new state in a new hemisphere, in a new
climate, and out of new materials?

How little the old peasant-tradition of rural England lingered among the
uprooted colonists, who had to change so abruptly all their
agricultural and domestic habits, is shown in the prompt disappearance
from our impoverished American vocabulary of nearly all the old English
words relating to fields and woods. What has become, in America, of the
copse, the spinney, the hedgerow, the dale, the vale, the weald? We have
reduced all timber to "woods," and, even that plural appearing
excessive, one hears Americans who ought to know better speak of "_a_
woods," as though the familiar word has lost part of its meaning to
them.

This instance from our own past--to which might be added so many more
illustrating the deplorable loss of shades of difference in our blunted
speech--will help to show the contrast between a race that has had a
long continuance and a race that has had a recent beginning.

The English and Dutch settlers of North America no doubt carried many
things with them, such vital but imponderable things as prejudices,
principles, laws and beliefs. But even these were strangely transformed
when at length the colonists emerged again from the backwoods and the
bloody Indian warfare. The stern experience of the pioneer, the
necessity of rapid adaptation and of constantly improvised expedients,
formed a far different preparation from that dogged resistance to
invasion, that clinging to the same valley and the same river-cliff,
that have made the French, literally as well as figuratively, the most
conservative of western races. They also had passionate convictions and
fierce wants, like other peoples trying to organise themselves; but the
idea of leaving France in order to safeguard their convictions and
satisfy their wants would never have occurred to the French Huguenots if
the religious wars of the sixteenth century and the Revocation of the
Edict of Nantes had not made France literally uninhabitable. The English
Puritans left England only to gain greater liberty for the independent
development of their peculiar political and religious ideas; they were
not driven out with fire and sword as the Huguenots were driven from
France.

Why, then, one wonders, did the French people cling to France with such
tenacity--since none are more passionate in their convictions and
prejudices where anything short of emigration is concerned? They clung
to France because they loved it, and for such sentimental fidelity some
old underlying economic reason usually exists. The map of France, and
the climate of France, show what the reason was. France, as her
historians have long delighted to point out, is a country singularly
privileged in her formation, and in the latitude she occupies. She is
magnificently fed with great rivers, which flow where it is useful for
commerce and agriculture that they should flow. The lines of her
mountain-ranges formed natural ramparts in the past, and in the south
and south-west, serve as great wind-screens and sun-reflectors, creating
almost tropic corners under a temperate latitude. Her indented coast
opens into many capacious and sheltered harbours, and the course of the
Gulf Stream bends in to soften the rainy climate of her great western
peninsula, making Brittany almost as warm as the sunnier south.

Above all, the rich soil of France, so precious for wheat and
corn-growing, is the best soil in the world for the vine; and a people
can possess few more civilising assets than the ability to produce good
wine at home. It is the best safeguard against alcoholism, the best
incentive to temperance in the manly and grown-up sense of the word,
which means voluntary sobriety and not legally enforced abstinence.

All these gifts France had and the French intelligently cherished.
Between the Swiss snows and the icy winter fogs of Germany on the one
side, and the mists and rain and perpetual dampness of England on the
other, her cool mild sky shot with veiled sunlight overhung a land of
temperate beauty and temperate wealth. Farther north, man might grow
austere or gross, farther south idle and improvident: France offered the
happy mean which the poets are forever celebrating, and the French were
early aware that the poets were right.


III

Satisfaction with a happy mean implies the power to choose, the courage
to renounce.

The French had chosen: they chose France. They had to renounce; and they
renounced Adventure.

Staying in France was not likely to make any man inordinately rich in
his life-time; forsaking France to acquire sudden wealth was
unthinkable. The Frenchman did not desire inordinate wealth for himself,
but he wanted, and was bound to have, material security for his
children. Therefore the price to be paid for staying at home, and
keeping one's children with one (an absolute necessity to the
passionately tender French parent), was perpetual, sleepless, relentless
thrift. The money necessary to security had to be accumulated slowly
and painfully, so the Frenchman learned to be industrious, and to train
his children to industry; and that money had to be kept fast hold of,
since any profitable investment meant Risk.

Risk and Adventure were the two dreaded enemies that might, at a stroke,
deprive one of the bliss of living in France, or of the modicum of
well-being necessary to live there in comfort, as the unluxurious French
understand it. Against Risk and Adventure, therefore, it is the French
parent's duty to warn and protect his children. Brought up in this
atmosphere of timidity and distrust of the unknown, generation after
generation of young Frenchmen became saturated with the same fears; and
those among them who tried to break through the strong network of
tradition, and venture their inheritance or their lives in quest of new
things, were restrained by the fierce conservatism of the women and the
insinuating tyranny of French family life.

It is useless to deny that, to Anglo-Saxon eyes, the niggardliness of
the French is their most incomprehensible trait. The reluctance to give,
the general lack of spontaneous and impulsive generosity, even in times
of such tragic appeal as the war has created, have too often astonished
and pained those who most admire the French character to be passed over
in any frank attempt to understand it.

During the most cataclysmic moments of the war, when it seemed that a
few days or weeks might bring the world crashing down in ruins, and
sweep away all that made life tolerable and material ease a thing worth
considering--even then (though one could of course cite individual cases
of the noblest generosity), the sense of the imprudence of uncalculated
generosity still prevailed, and in France money never poured forth for
the relief of suffering as it did in England.

The same clinging to tradition and fear of risk which make prudence
almost a vice in the French are not applied only to money-saving. The
French too often economise manners as they do francs. The discovery is
disillusionising until one goes back to its cause, and learns to
understand that, in a society based on caution, and built about an old
and ineradicable bureaucracy, obsequiousness on the one side is sure to
breed discourtesy on the other.

No one knows more than the French about good manners: manners are
codified in France, and there is the possibility of an insult in the
least deviation from established procedure, such as using the wrong turn
in signing a note, as, for example, putting "Agréez, Monsieur" where
"Veuillez agréer, Monsieur" is in order, or substituting "sentiments
distingués" for "haute considération." Unfortunately, in the process,
the forms of courtesy have turned into the sharp-edged metallic counters
of a game, instead of being a spontaneous emission of human kindliness.

The French are kind in the sense of not being cruel, but they are not
kindly, in the sense of diffused benevolence which the word implies to
Anglo-Saxons. They are passionate and yet calculating, and simple
uncalculated kindliness--the vague effusion of good-will toward unknown
fellow-beings--does not enter into a plan of life which is as settled,
ruled off and barricaded as their carefully-measured and bounded acres.
It savours too much of Adventure, and might lead one into the outer
darknesses of Risk.

If one makes such a criticism to a French friend, in any candid
discussion of race-differences, the answer is always: "Of course you
Anglo-Saxons are more generous, because you are so much richer."

But this explanation, though doubtless sincere, is not exact. We are
more generous not because we are richer, but because we are so much less
afraid of being poor; and if we are less afraid of being poor it is due
to the fact that our ancestors found it much easier to make money, not
only because they were more willing to take risks, but because more
opportunities came in their way.

Once these arguments are balanced, it becomes easier to allow for French
caution, and to overlook it in favour of those other qualities which
their way of life has enabled the French to develop.


IV

First among these qualities is the power of sustained effort, and the
sense of its need in any worth-while achievement.

The French, it has already been pointed out, have no faith in
short-cuts, nostrums or dodges of any sort to get around a difficulty.
This makes them appear backward in the practical administration of their
affairs; but they make no claim to teach the world practical efficiency.
What they have to teach is something infinitely higher, more valuable,
more civilising: that in the world of ideas, as in the world of art,
steady and disinterested effort alone can accomplish great things.

It may seem, from what has been said in an earlier part of this
chapter, as though the French were of all people the most interested,
since questions of money so constantly preoccupy them. But their
thoughts are not occupied with money-making in itself, as an end worth
living for, but only with the idea of having money enough to be sure of
not losing their situation in life, for themselves or their children;
since, little as they care to rise in the world, they have an
unspeakable terror of falling, based partly, no doubt, on the pitiful
fate, in France, of those who _do_ fall. This point assured, they want
only enough leisure and freedom from material anxiety to enjoy what life
and the arts of life offer. This absence of financial ambition should
never be lost sight of: it is not only the best clue to the French
character, but the most useful lesson our own people can learn from
contact with France.

The requirements of the average Frenchman in any class are surprisingly
few, and the ambition to "better" himself socially plays a very small
part in his plans. What he wants is leisure to enjoy the fleeting good
things of life, from which no one knows better how to extract a
temperate delight, and full liberty of mind to discuss general ideas
while pursuing whatever trade or art he is engaged in. It may seem an
exaggeration to ascribe such aspirations to the average man of any race;
but compared with other peoples the distinguishing mark of the Frenchman
of all classes is the determination to defend his own leisure, the taste
for the free play of ideas, and the power to express and exchange views
on questions of general interest.

Great shrewdness and maturity of judgment result from this tendency to
formulate ideas: it is unusual to hear a French peasant or working man
express an opinion on life that is not sagacious. Human nature is a
subject of absorbing interest to the French, and they have, to use their
own phrase, "made the tour of it," and amply allowed for it in all
their appreciations of life. The artless astonishment of the northern
races in the face of the oldest of human phenomena is quite
incomprehensible to them.

This serenity and maturity of view is the result of an immensely old
inheritance of culture; and the first lesson it teaches is that Rome was
not built in a day.

Only children think that one can make a garden with flowers broken from
the plant; only inexperience imagines that novelty is always synonymous
with improvement. To go on behaving as if one believed these things, and
to foster their belief in others, is to encourage the intellectual
laziness which rapid material prosperity is too apt to develop. It is to
imprison one's self in a perpetual immaturity. The French express,
perhaps unconsciously, their sense of the weight of their own long moral
experience by their universal comment on the American fellows-in-arms
whose fine qualities they so fully recognise. "_Ce sont des
enfants_--they are mere children!" is what they always say of the young
Americans: say it tenderly, almost anxiously, like people passionately
attached to youth and to the young, but also with a little surprise at
the narrow surface of perception which most of these young minds offer
to the varied spectacle of the universe.

A new race, working out its own destiny in new conditions, cannot hope
for the moral and intellectual maturity of a race seated at the
cross-roads of the old civilisations. But America has, in part at least,
a claim on the great general inheritance of Western culture. She
inherits France through England, and Rome and the Mediterranean culture,
through France. These are indirect and remote sources of enrichment; but
she has directly, in her possession and in her keeping, the magnificent,
the matchless inheritance of English speech and English letters.

Had she had a more mature sense of the value of tradition and the
strength of continuity she would have kept a more reverent hold upon
this treasure, and the culture won from it would have been an
hundredfold greater. She would have preserved the language instead of
debasing and impoverishing it; she would have learned the historic
meaning of its words instead of wasting her time inventing short-cuts in
spelling them; she would jealously have upheld the standards of its
literature instead of lowering them to meet an increased "circulation."

In all this, France has a lesson to teach and a warning to give. It was
our English forbears who taught us to flout tradition and break away
from their own great inheritance; France may teach us that, side by side
with the qualities of enterprise and innovation that English blood has
put in us, we should cultivate the sense of continuity, that "sense of
the past" which enriches the present and binds us up with the world's
great stabilising traditions of art and poetry and knowledge.



VI

THE NEW FRENCHWOMAN


There is no new Frenchwoman; but the real Frenchwoman is new to America,
and it may be of interest to American women to learn something of what
she is really like.

In saying that the real Frenchwoman is new to America I do not intend to
draw the old familiar contrast between the so-called "real Frenchwoman"
and the Frenchwoman of fiction and the stage. Americans have been told a
good many thousand times in the last four years that the real
Frenchwoman is totally different from the person depicted under that
name by French novelists and dramatists; but in truth every literature,
in its main lines, reflects the chief characteristics of the people for
whom, and about whom, it is written--and none more so than French
literature, the freest and frankest of all.

The statement that the real Frenchwoman is new to America simply means
that America has never before taken the trouble to look at her and try
to understand her. She has always been there, waiting to be understood,
and a little tired, perhaps, of being either caricatured or idealised.
It would be easy enough to palm her off as a "new" Frenchwoman because
the war has caused her to live a new life and do unfamiliar jobs; but
one need only look at the illustrated papers to see what she looks like
as a tram-conductor, a taxi-driver or a munition-maker. It is certain,
even now, that all these new experiences are going to modify her
character, and to enlarge her view of life; but that is not the point
with which these papers are concerned. The first thing for the American
woman to do is to learn to know _the Frenchwoman_ as she has always
been; to try to find out what she is, and why she is what she is. After
that it will be easy to see why the war has developed in her certain
qualities rather than others, and what its after-effects on her are
likely to be.

First of all, she is, in nearly all respects, as different as possible
from the average American woman. That proposition is fairly evident,
though not always easy to explain. Is it because she dresses better, or
knows more about cooking, or is more "coquettish," or more "feminine,"
or more excitable, or more emotional, or more immoral? All these reasons
have been often suggested, but none of them seems to furnish a complete
answer. Millions of American women are, to the best of their ability
(which is not small), coquettish, feminine, emotional, and all the rest
of it; a good many dress as well as Frenchwomen; some even know a little
about cooking--and the real reason is quite different, and not nearly as
flattering to our national vanity. It is simply that, like the men of
her race, the Frenchwoman is _grown up_.

Compared with the women of France the average American woman is still
in the kindergarten. The world she lives in is exactly like the most
improved and advanced and scientifically equipped Montessori-method
baby-school. At first sight it may seem preposterous to compare the
American woman's independent and resonant activities--her "boards" and
clubs and sororities, her public investigation of everything under the
heavens from "the social evil" to baking-powder, and from "physical
culture" to the newest esoteric religion--to compare such free and busy
and seemingly influential lives with the artless exercises of an infant
class. But what is the fundamental principle of the Montessori system?
It is the development of the child's individuality, unrestricted by the
traditional nursery discipline: a Montessori school is a baby world
where, shut up together in the most improved hygienic surroundings, a
number of infants noisily develop their individuality.

The reason why American women are not really "grown up" in comparison
with the women of the most highly civilised countries--such as
France--is that all their semblance of freedom, activity and authority
bears not much more likeness to real living than the exercises of the
Montessori infant. Real living, in any but the most elementary sense of
the word, is a deep and complex and slowly-developed thing, the outcome
of an old and rich social experience. It cannot be "got up" like
gymnastics, or a proficiency in foreign languages; it has its roots in
the fundamental things, and above all in close and constant and
interesting and important relations between men and women.

It is because American women are each other's only audience, and to a
great extent each other's only companions, that they seem, compared to
women who play an intellectual and social part in the lives of men, like
children in a baby-school. They are "developing their individuality,"
but developing it in the void, without the checks, the stimulus, and the
discipline that comes of contact with the stronger masculine
individuality. And it is not only because the man is the stronger and
the closer to reality that his influence is necessary to develop woman
to real womanhood; it is because the two sexes complete each other
mentally as well as physiologically that no modern civilisation has been
really rich or deep, or stimulating to other civilisations, which has
not been based on the recognised interaction of influences between men
and women.

There are several ways in which the Frenchwoman's relations with men may
be called more important than those of her American sister. In the first
place, in the commercial class, the Frenchwoman is always her husband's
business partner. The lives of the French bourgeois couple are based on
the primary necessity of getting enough money to live on, and of giving
their children educational and material advantages. In small businesses
the woman is always her husband's book-keeper or clerk, or both; above
all, she is his business adviser. France, as you know, is held up to
all other countries as a model of thrift, of wise and prudent saving and
spending. No other country in the world has such immense financial
vitality, such powers of recuperation from national calamity. After the
Franco-Prussian war of 1870, when France, beaten to earth, her armies
lost, half her territory occupied, and with all Europe holding aloof,
and not a single ally to defend her interests--when France was called on
by her conquerors to pay an indemnity of five thousand million francs in
order to free her territory of the enemy, she raised the sum, and paid
it off, _eighteen months sooner than the date agreed upon_: to the rage
and disappointment of Germany, and the amazement and admiration of the
rest of the world.

Every economist knows that if France was able to make that incredible
effort it was because, all over the country, millions of Frenchwomen,
labourers' wives, farmers' wives, small shopkeepers' wives, wives of big
manufacturers and commission-merchants and bankers, were to all intents
and purposes their husbands' business-partners, and had had a direct
interest in saving and investing the millions and millions piled up to
pay France's ransom in her day of need. At every stage in French
history, in war, in politics, in literature, in art and in religion,
women have played a splendid and a decisive part; but none more splendid
or more decisive than the obscure part played by the millions of wives
and mothers whose thrift and prudence silently built up her salvation in
1872.

When it is said that the Frenchwoman of the middle class is her
husband's business partner the statement must not be taken in too
literal a sense. The French wife has less legal independence than the
American or English wife, and is subject to a good many legal
disqualifications from which women have freed themselves in other
countries. That is the technical situation; but what is the practical
fact? That the Frenchwoman has gone straight through these theoretical
restrictions to the heart of reality, and become her husband's
associate, because, for her children's sake if not for her own, her
heart is in his job, and because he has long since learned that the best
business partner a man can have is one who has the same interests at
stake as himself.

It is not only because she saves him a salesman's salary, or a
book-keeper' salary, or both, that the French tradesman associates his
wife with his business; it is because he has the sense to see that no
hired assistant will have so keen a perception of his interests, that
none will receive his customers so pleasantly, and that none will so
patiently and willingly work over hours when it is necessary to do so.
There is no drudgery in this kind of partnership, because it is
voluntary, and because each partner is stimulated by exactly the same
aspirations. And it is this practical, personal and daily participation
in her husband's job that makes the Frenchwoman more grown up than
others. She has a more interesting and more living life, and therefore
she develops more quickly.

It may be objected that money-making is not the most interesting thing
in life, and that the "higher ideals" seem to have little place in this
conception of feminine efficiency. The answer to such a criticism is to
be found by considering once more the difference between the French and
the American views as to the main object of money-making--a point to
which any study of the two races inevitably leads one back.

Americans are too prone to consider money-making as interesting in
itself: they regard the fact that a man has made money as something
intrinsically meritorious. But money-making is interesting only in
proportion as its object is interesting. If a man piles up millions in
order to pile them up, having already all he needs to live humanly and
decently, his occupation is neither interesting in itself, nor conducive
to any sort of real social development in the money-maker or in those
about him. No life is more sterile than one into which nothing enters
to balance such an output of energy. To see how different is the French
view of the object of money-making one must put one's self in the place
of the average French household. For the immense majority of the French
it is a far more modest ambition, and consists simply in the effort to
earn one's living and put by enough for sickness, old age, and a good
start in life for the children.

This conception of "business" may seem a tame one to Americans; but its
advantages are worth considering. In the first place, it has the immense
superiority of leaving time for living, time for men and women both. The
average French business man at the end of his life may not have made as
much money as the American; but meanwhile he has had, every day,
something the American has not had: Time. Time, in the middle of the
day, to sit down to an excellent luncheon, to eat it quietly with his
family, and to read his paper afterward; time to go off on Sundays and
holidays on long pleasant country rambles; time, almost any day, to feel
fresh and free enough for an evening at the theatre, after a dinner as
good and leisurely as his luncheon. And there is one thing certain: the
great mass of men and women grow up and reach real maturity only through
their contact with the material realities of living, with business, with
industry, with all the great bread-winning activities; but the growth
and the maturing take place _in the intervals between these activities_:
and in lives where there are no such intervals there will be no real
growth.

That is why the "slow" French business methods so irritating to the
American business man produce, in the long run, results which he is
often the first to marvel at and admire. Every intelligent American who
has seen something of France and French life has had a first moment of
bewilderment on trying to explain the seeming contradiction between the
slow, fumbling, timid French business methods and the rounded
completeness of French civilisation. How is it that a country which
seems to have almost everything to learn in the way of "up-to-date"
business has almost everything to teach, not only in the way of art and
literature, and all the graces of life, but also in the way of municipal
order, state administration, agriculture, forestry, engineering, and the
whole harmonious running of the vast national machine? The answer is the
last the American business man is likely to think of until he has had
time to study France somewhat closely: it is that France is what she is
because every Frenchman and every Frenchwoman takes time to live, and
has an extraordinarily clear and sound sense of what constitutes _real
living_.

We are too ready to estimate business successes by their individual
results: a point of view revealed in our national awe of large fortunes.
That is an immature and even childish way of estimating success. In
terms of civilisation it is the total and ultimate result of a nation's
business effort that matters, not the fact of Mr. Smith's being able to
build a marble villa in place of his wooden cottage. If the collective
life which results from our individual money-making is not richer, more
interesting and more stimulating than that of countries where the
individual effort is less intense, then it looks as if there were
something wrong about our method.

This parenthesis may seem to have wandered rather far from the
Frenchwoman who heads the chapter; but in reality she is at its very
heart. For if Frenchmen care too much about other things to care as much
as we do about making money, the chief reason is largely because their
relations with women are more interesting. The Frenchwoman rules French
life, and she rules it under a triple crown, as a business woman, as a
mother, and above all as an artist. To explain the sense in which the
last word is used it is necessary to go back to the contention that the
greatness of France lies in her sense of the beauty and importance of
living. As life is an art in France, so woman is an artist. She does not
teach man, but she inspires him. As the Frenchwoman of the bread-winning
class influences her husband, and inspires in him a respect for her
judgment and her wishes, so the Frenchwoman of the rich and educated
class is admired and held in regard for other qualities. But in this
class of society her influence naturally extends much farther. The more
civilised a society is, the wider is the range of each woman's influence
over men, and of each man's influence over women. Intelligent and
cultivated people of either sex will never limit themselves to communing
with their own households. Men and women equally, when they have the
range of interests that real cultivation gives, need the stimulus of
different points of view, the refreshment of new ideas as well as of new
faces. The long hypocrisy which Puritan England handed on to America
concerning the danger of frank and free social relations between men and
women has done more than anything else to retard real civilisation in
America.

Real civilisation means an education that extends to the whole of life,
in contradistinction to that of school or college: it means an education
that forms speech, forms manners, forms taste, forms ideals, and above
all forms judgment. This is the kind of civilisation of which France has
always been the foremost model: it is because she possesses its secret
that she has led the world so long not only in art and taste and
elegance, but in ideas and in ideals. For it must never be forgotten
that if the fashion of our note-paper and the cut of our dresses come
from France, so do the conceptions of liberty and justice on which our
republican institutions are based. No nation can have grown-up ideas
till it has a ruling caste of grown-up men and women; and it is possible
to have a ruling caste of grown-up men and women only in a civilisation
where the power of each sex is balanced by that of the other.

It may seem strange to draw precisely this comparison between France,
the country of all the old sex-conventions, and America, which is
supposedly the country of the greatest sex-freedom; and the American
reader may ask: "But where is there so much freedom of intercourse
between men and women as in America?" The misconception arises from the
confusion between two words, and two states of being that are
fundamentally different. In America there is complete freedom of
intercourse between boys and girls, but not between men and women; and
there is a general notion that, in essentials, a girl and a woman are
the same thing. It is true, in essentials, that a boy and a man are very
much the same thing; but a girl and a woman--a married woman--are
totally different beings. Marriage, union with a man, completes and
transforms a woman's character, her point of view, her sense of the
relative importance of things, far more thoroughly than a boy's nature
is changed by the same experience. A girl is only a sketch; a married
woman is the finished picture. And it is only the married woman who
counts as a social factor.

Now it is precisely at the moment when her experience is rounded by
marriage, motherhood, and the responsibilities, cares and interests of
her own household, that the average American woman is, so to speak,
"withdrawn from circulation." It is true that this does not apply to the
small minority of wealthy and fashionable women who lead an artificial
cosmopolitan life, and therefore represent no particular national
tendency. It is not to them that the country looks for the development
of its social civilisation, but to the average woman who is sufficiently
free from bread-winning cares to act as an incentive to other women and
as an influence upon men. In America this woman, in the immense majority
of cases, has roamed through life in absolute freedom of communion with
young men until the day when the rounding-out of her own experience by
marriage puts her in a position to become a social influence; and from
that day she is cut off from men's society in all but the most formal
and intermittent ways. On her wedding-day she ceases, in any open, frank
and recognised manner, to be an influence in the lives of the men of the
community to which she belongs.

In France, the case is just the contrary. France, hitherto, has kept
young girls under restrictions at which Americans have often smiled, and
which have certainly, in some respects, been a bar to their growth. The
doing away of these restrictions will be one of the few benefits of the
war: the French young girl, even in the most exclusive and most
tradition-loving society, will never again be the prisoner she has been
in the past. But this is relatively unimportant, for the French have
always recognised that, as a social factor, a woman does not count till
she is married; and in the well-to-do classes girls marry extremely
young, and the married woman has always had extraordinary social
freedom. The famous French "Salon," the best school of talk and of
ideas that the modern world has known, was based on the belief that the
most stimulating conversation in the world is that between intelligent
men and women who see each other often enough to be on terms of frank
and easy friendship. The great wave of intellectual and social
liberation that preceded the French revolution and prepared the way, not
for its horrors but for its benefits, originated in the drawing-rooms of
French wives and mothers, who received every day the most thoughtful and
the most brilliant men of the time, who shared their talk, and often
directed it. Think what an asset to the mental life of any country such
a group of women forms! And in France they were not then, and they are
not now, limited to the small class of the wealthy and fashionable. In
France, as soon as a woman has a personality, social circumstances
permit her to make it felt. What does it matter if she had spent her
girlhood in seclusion, provided she is free to emerge from it at the
moment when she is fitted to become a real factor in social life?

It may, of course, be asked at this point, how the French freedom of
intercourse between married men and women affects domestic life, and the
happiness of a woman's husband and children. It is hard to say what kind
of census could be devised to ascertain the relative percentage of happy
marriages in the countries where different social systems prevail. Until
such a census can be taken, it is, at any rate, rash to assert that the
French system is less favourable to domestic happiness than the
Anglo-Saxon. At any rate, it acts as a greater incentive to the husband,
since it rests with him to keep his wife's admiration and affection by
making himself so agreeable to her, and by taking so much trouble to
appear at an advantage in the presence of her men friends, that no rival
shall supplant him. It would not occur to any Frenchman of the
cultivated class to object to his wife's friendship with other men, and
the mere fact that he has the influence of other men to compete with is
likely to conduce to considerate treatment of his wife, and courteous
relations in the household.

It must also be remembered that a man who comes home to a wife who has
been talking with intelligent men will probably find her companionship
more stimulating than if she has spent all her time with other women. No
matter how intelligent women are individually, they tend, collectively,
to narrow down their interests, and take a feminine, or even a female,
rather than a broadly human view of things. The woman whose mind is
attuned to men's minds has a much larger view of the world, and attaches
much less importance to trifles, because men, being usually brought by
circumstances into closer contact with reality, insensibly communicate
their breadth of view to women. A "man's woman" is never fussy and
seldom spiteful, because she breathes too free an air, and is having too
good a time.

If, then, being "grown up" consists in having a larger and more liberal
experience of life, in being less concerned with trifles, and less
afraid of strong feelings, passions and risks, then the French woman is
distinctly more grown up than her American sister; and she is so because
she plays a much larger and more interesting part in men's lives.

It may, of course, also be asked whether the fact of playing this
part--which implies all the dangers implied by taking the open seas
instead of staying in port--whether such a fact is conducive to the
eventual welfare of woman and of society. Well--the answer to-day is:
_France!_ Look at her as she has stood before the world for the last
four years and a half, uncomplaining, undiscouraged, undaunted, holding
up the banner of liberty: liberty of speech, liberty of thought, liberty
of conscience, all the liberties that we of the western world have been
taught to revere as the only things worth living for--look at her, as
the world has beheld her since August, 1914, fearless, tearless,
indestructible, in face of the most ruthless and formidable enemy the
world has ever known, determined to fight on to the end for the
principles she has always lived for. Such she is to-day; such are the
millions of men who have spent their best years in her trenches, and the
millions of brave, uncomplaining, self-denying mothers and wives and
sisters who sent them forth smiling, who waited for them patiently and
courageously, or who are mourning them silently and unflinchingly, and
not one of whom, at the end of the most awful struggle in history, is
ever heard to say that the cost has been too great or the trial too
bitter to be borne.

No one who has seen Frenchwomen since the war can doubt that their great
influence on French life, French thought, French imagination and French
sensibility, is one of the strongest elements in the attitude that
France holds before the world to-day.



VII

IN CONCLUSION


I

One of the best ways of finding out why a race is what it is, is to pick
out the words that preponderate in its speech and its literature, and
then try to define the special meaning it gives them.

The French people are one of the most ascetic and the most laborious in
Europe; yet the four words that preponderate in French speech and
literature are: Glory, love, voluptuousness, and pleasure. Before the
Puritan reflex causes the reader to fling aside the page polluted by
this statement, it will be worth his while to translate these four words
into _la gloire_, _l'amour_, _la volupté_, _le plaisir_, and then (if he
knows French and the French well enough) consider what they mean in the
language of Corneille and Pascal. For it must be understood that they
have no equivalents in the English consciousness, and that, if it were
sought to explain the fundamental difference between the exiles of the
_Mayflower_ and the conquerors of Valmy and Jéna, it would probably best
be illustrated by the totally different significance of "love and glory"
and "amour et gloire."

To begin with "la gloire": we must resign ourselves to the fact that we
do not _really know_ what the French mean when they say it--what, for
instance, Montesquieu had in mind when he wrote of Sparta: "The only
object of the Lacedæmonians was liberty, the only advantage it gave them
was glory." At best, if we are intelligent and sympathetic enough to
have entered a little way into the French psychology, we know that they
mean something infinitely larger, deeper and subtler than we mean by
"glory." The proof is that the Anglo-Saxon is taught _not_ to do great
deeds for "glory," while the French, unsurpassed in great deeds, have
always avowedly done them for "la gloire."

It is obvious that the sense of duty has a large part in the French
conception of glory: perhaps one might risk defining it as duty with a
_panache_. But that only brings one to another untranslatable word. To
put a _panache_--a plume, an ornament--on a prosaic deed is an act so
eminently French that one seeks in vain for its English equivalent; it
would verge on the grotesque to define "la gloire" as duty wearing an
aigrette! The whole conception of "la gloire" is linked with the
profoundly French conviction that the lily _should_ be gilded; that,
however lofty and beautiful a man's act or his purpose, it gains by
being performed with what the French (in a word which for them has no
implication of effeminacy) call "elegance." Indeed, the higher, the more
beautiful, the gesture or the act, the more it seems to them to call for
adornment, the more it gains by being given relief. And thus, by the
very appositeness of the word _relief_, one is led to perceive that "la
gloire" as an incentive to high action is essentially the conception of
a people in whom the plastic sense has always prevailed. The idea of
"dying in beauty" certainly originated with the Latin race, though a
Scandinavian playwright was left, incongruously enough, to find a phrase
for it.

The case is the same with "love" and "amour"; but here the difference is
more visible, and the meaning of "amour" easier to arrive at. Again, as
with "gloire," the content is greater than that of our "love." "Amour,"
to the French, means the undivided total of the complex sensations and
emotions that a man and a woman may inspire in each other; whereas
"love," since the days of the Elizabethans, has never, to Anglo-Saxons,
been more than two halves of a word--one half all purity and poetry, the
other all pruriency and prose. And gradually the latter half has been
discarded, as too unworthy of association with the loftier meanings of
the word, and "love" remains--at least in the press and in the
household--a relation as innocuous, and as undisturbing to social
conventions and business routine, as the tamest ties of consanguinity.

Is it not possible that the determination to keep these two halves apart
has diminished the one and degraded the other, to the loss of human
nature in the round? The Anglo-Saxon answer is, of course, that love is
not license; but what meaning is left to "love" in a society where it is
supposed to determine marriage, and yet to ignore the transiency of
sexual attraction? At best, it seems to designate a boy-and-girl fancy
not much more mature than a taste for dolls or marbles. In the light of
that definition, has not license kept the better part?

It may be argued that human nature is everywhere fundamentally the same,
and that, though one race lies about its deepest impulses, while another
speaks the truth about them, the result in conduct is not very
different. Is either of these affirmations exact? If human nature, at
bottom, is everywhere the same, such deep layers of different habits,
prejudices, and beliefs have been formed above its foundation that it is
rather misleading to test resemblances by what one digs up at the roots.
Secondary motives of conduct are widely divergent in different
countries, and they are the motives that control civilised societies
except when some catastrophe throws them back to the state of naked man.

To understand the difference between the Latin and the Anglo-Saxon idea
of love one must first of all understand the difference between the
Latin and Anglo-Saxon conceptions of marriage. In a society where
marriage is supposed to be determined solely by reciprocal inclination,
and to bind the contracting parties not only to a social but to a
physical lifelong loyalty, love, which never has accepted, and never
will accept, such bonds, immediately becomes a pariah and a sinner. This
is the Anglo-Saxon point of view. How many critics of the French
conception of love have taken the trouble to consider first their idea
of marriage?

Marriage, in France, is regarded as founded for the family and not for
the husband and wife. It is designed not to make two people individually
happy for a longer or shorter time, but to secure their permanent
well-being as associates in the foundation of a home and the procreation
of a family. Such an arrangement must needs be based on what is most
permanent in human states of feeling, and least dependent on the
accidents of beauty, youth, and novelty. Community of tradition, of
education, and, above all, of the parental feeling, are judged to be the
sentiments most likely to form a lasting tie between the average man and
woman; and the French marriage is built on parenthood, not on passion.

An illustration of the radical contradiction between such a view of
marriage and that of the English races is found in the following
extract from a notice of a play lately produced (with success) in
London:

"After two months of marriage a young girl discovers that her husband
married her because he wanted a son. _That is enough. She will have no
more to do with him._ So he goes off to fulfil a mining engagement in
Peru, and she hides herself in the country...."

It would be impossible to exaggerate the bewilderment and disgust with
which any wife or husband in France, whether young or middle-aged, would
read the cryptic sentences I have italicised. "What," they would ask,
"did the girl suppose he had married her for? And what did she _want_ to
be married for? And what is marriage for, if not for that?"

The French bride is no longer taken from a convent at sixteen to be
flung into the arms of an unknown bridegroom. As emancipation has
progressed, the young girl has been allowed a voice in choosing her
husband; but what is the result? That in ninety-nine cases out of a
hundred her choice is governed by the same considerations. The notion
of marriage as a kind of superior business association, based on
community of class, of political and religious opinion, and on a fair
exchange of advantages (where one, for instance, brings money and the
other position), is so ingrained in the French social organisation that
the modern girl accepts it intelligently, just as her puppet grandmother
bowed to it passively.

From this important act of life the notion of love is tacitly excluded;
not because love is thought unimportant, but on account of its very
importance, and of the fact that it is not conceivably to be fitted into
any stable association between man and woman. It is because the French
have refused to cut love in two that they have not attempted to
subordinate it to the organisation of the family. They have left it out
because there was no room for it, and also because it moves to a
different rhythm, and keeps different seasons. It is because they refuse
to regard it either as merely an exchange of ethereal vows or as a
sensual gratification; because, on the contrary, they believe, with
Coleridge, that


     "All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
     Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
     All are but ministers of Love,
     And feed his sacred flame,"


that they frankly recognise its right to its own place in life.

What, then, is the place they give to the disturbing element? They treat
it--the answer might be--as the poetry of life. For the French, simply
because they are the most realistic people in the world, are also the
most romantic. They have judged that the family and the state cannot be
built up on poetry, but they have not felt that for that reason poetry
was to be banished from their republic. They have decided that love is
too grave a matter for boys and girls, and not grave enough to form the
basis of marriage; but in the relations between grown people, apart from
their permanent ties (and in the deepest consciousness of the French,
marriage still remains indissoluble), they allow it, frankly and amply,
the part it furtively and shabbily, but no less ubiquitously, plays in
Puritan societies.

It is not intended here to weigh the relative advantages of this view of
life and the other; what has been sought is to state fairly the reasons
why marriage, being taken more seriously and less vaguely by the French,
there remains an allotted place for love in their more precisely ordered
social economy. Nevertheless, it is fairly obvious that, except in a
world where the claims of the body social are very perfectly balanced
against those of the body individual, to give such a place to passion is
to risk being submerged by it. A society which puts love beyond the law,
and then pays it such heavy toll, subjects itself to the most terrible
of Camorras.


II

The French are one of the most ascetic races in the world; and that is
perhaps the reason why the meaning they give to the word "volupté" is
free from the vulgarity of our "voluptuousness." The latter suggests to
most people a cross-legged sultan in a fat seraglio; "volupté" means the
intangible charm that imagination extracts from things tangible.
"Volupté" means the "Ode to the Nightingale" and the "Ode to a Grecian
Urn;" it means Romeo and Juliet as well as Antony and Cleopatra. But if
we have the thing, one may ask, what does the word matter? Every
language is always losing word-values, even where the sense of the word
survives.

The answer is that the French sense of "volupté" is found only
exceptionally in the Anglo-Saxon imagination, whereas it is part of the
imaginative make-up of the whole French race. One turns to Shakespeare
or Keats to find it formulated in our speech; in France it underlies the
whole view of life. And this brings one, of course, to the inevitable
conclusion that the French are a race of creative artists, and that
artistic creativeness requires first a free play of the mind on all the
facts of life, and secondly the sensuous sensibility that sees beyond
tangible beauty to the aura surrounding it.

The French possess the quality and have always claimed the privilege.
And from their freedom of view combined with their sensuous sensibility
they have extracted the sensation they call "le plaisir," which is
something so much more definite and more evocative than what we mean
when we speak of pleasure. "Le plaisir" stands for the frankly
permitted, the freely taken, delight of the senses, the direct enjoyment
of the fruit of the tree called golden. No suggestions of furtive vice
degrade or coarsen it, because it has, like love, its open place in
speech and practice. It has found its expression in English also, but
only on the lips of genius: for instance, in the "bursting of joy's
grape" in the "Ode to Melancholy" (it is always in Keats that one seeks
such utterances); whereas to the French it is part of the general
fearless and joyful contact with life. And that is why it has kept its
finer meaning, instead of being debased by incomprehension.


III

The French are passionate and pleasure-loving; but they are above all
ascetic and laborious. And it is only out of a union of these supposedly
contradictory qualities that so fine a thing as the French temperament
could have come.

The industry of the French is universally celebrated; but many--even
among their own race--might ask what justifies the statement that they
are ascetic. The fact is, the word, which in reality indicates merely a
natural indifference to material well-being, has come, in modern speech,
to have a narrower and a penitential meaning. It is supposed to imply a
moral judgment, whereas it refers only to the attitude taken toward the
creature comforts. A man, or a nation, may wear homespun and live on
locusts, and yet be immoderately addicted to the lusts of the eye and
of the flesh. Asceticism means the serene ability to get on without
_comfort_, and comfort is an Anglo-Saxon invention which the Latins have
never really understood or felt the want of. What they need (and there
is no relation between the needs) is splendour on occasion, and beauty
and fulness of experience always. They do not care for the raw material
of sensation: food must be exquisitely cooked, emotion eloquently
expressed, desire emotionally heightened, every experience must be
transmuted into terms of beauty before it touches their imagination.

This fastidiousness, this tendency always to select and eliminate, and
refine their sensations, is united to that stoic indifference to dirt,
discomfort, bad air, damp, cold, and whatever Anglo-Saxons describe as
"inconvenience" in the general organisation of life, from the bathroom
to the banking system, which gives the French leisure of spirit for
enjoyment, and strength of heart for war. It enables, and has always
enabled, a people addicted to pleasure and unused to the discipline of
sport, to turn at a moment's notice into the greatest fighters that
history has known. All the French need to effect this transformation is
a "great argument;" once the spring of imagination touched, the body
obeys it with a dash and an endurance that no discipline, whether
Spartan or Prussian, ever succeeded in outdoing.

This fearless and joyful people, so ardently individual and so frankly
realistic, have another safeguard against excess in their almost Chinese
reverence for the ritual of manners. It is fortunate that they have
preserved, through every political revolution, this sense of the
importance of ceremony, for they are without the compensating respect
for the rights of others which eases intercourse in Anglo-Saxon
countries. Any view of the French that considers them as possessing the
instinct of liberty is misleading; what they have always understood is
equality--a different matter--and even that, as one of the most acute
among their recent political writers has said, "on condition that each
man commands." Their past history, and above all the geographical
situation which has conditioned it, must be kept in view to understand
the French indifference to the rights of others, and the corrective for
that indifference which their exquisite sense of sociability provides.

For over a thousand years France has had to maintain herself in the
teeth of an aggressive Europe, and to do so she has required a strong
central government and a sense of social discipline. Her great kings
were forever strengthening her by their resistance to the scattered
feudal opposition. Richelieu and Louis XIV finally broke this
opposition, and left France united against Europe, but deprived of the
sense of individual freedom, and needing to feel the pressure of an
"administration" on her neck. Imagination, intellectual energy, and
every form of artistic activity, found their outlet in social
intercourse, and France created polite society--one more work of art in
the long list of her creations.

The French conception of society is hierarchical and administrative, as
her government (under whatever name) has so long been. Every social
situation has its appropriate gestures and its almost fixed vocabulary,
and nothing, for example, is more puzzling to the French than the fact
that the English, a race whose civilisation they regard as in some
respects superior to their own, have only two or three ways of beginning
and ending their letters.

This ritual view of politeness makes it difficult of application in
undetermined cases, and therefore it often gets left out in emergencies.
The complaint of Anglo-Saxons that, in travelling in France, they see
little of the much-vaunted French courtesy, is not unjustified. The
French are not courteous from any vague sense of good-will toward
mankind; they regard politeness as a coin with which certain things are
obtainable, and being notably thrifty they are cautious about spending
it on strangers. But the disillusion of the traveller often arises in
part from his own ignorance of the most elementary French forms: of the
"Bon jour, Madame," on entering and leaving a shop, of the fact that a
visitor should always, on taking leave, be conducted to the outer door,
and a gentleman (of the old school) bidden not to remain uncovered when
he stops to speak to a lady in the street; of the "Merci" that should
follow every service, however slight, the "Après vous" which makes way,
with ceremonious insistence, for the person who happens to be entering a
door with one. In these respects, Anglo-Saxons, by their lack of "form"
(and their lack of perception), are perpetually giving unintentional
offence. But small social fashions are oddly different in different
countries and vary absurdly in succeeding generations. The French
gentleman does not uncover in a lift or in a museum, because he
considers these places as public as the street; he does not, after the
manner of the newest-of-all American, jump up like a Jack-in-the-box
(and remain standing at attention) every time the woman he is calling on
rises from her seat, because he considers such gymnastics fatal to
social ease; but he is shocked by the way in which Americans loll and
sprawl when they are seated, and equally bewildered by their excess of
ceremony on some occasions, and their startling familiarity on others.

Such misunderstandings are inevitable between people of different speech
and traditions. If French and Americans are both (as their newspapers
assure us) "democratic," it gives a notion of how much the term covers!
At any rate, in the older race there is a tradition of trained and
cultivated politeness that flowers, at its best, into a simplicity
democratic in the finest sense. Compared to it, our politeness is apt to
be rather stagy, as our ease is at times a little boorish.


IV

It will be remembered that Paolo and Francesca are met by Dante just
beyond the fatal gateway, in what might be called the temperate zone of
the infernal regions. In the society of dangerously agreeable
fellow-sinners they "go forever on the accursed air," telling their
beautiful tale to sympathising visitors from above; and as, unlike the
majority of mortal lovers, they seem not to dread an eternity together,
and as they feel no exaggerated remorse for their sin, their punishment
is the mildest in the poet's list of expiations. There is all the width
of hell between the "Divine Comedy" and the "Scarlet Letter"!

Far different is the lot of the dishonest man of business and of the
traitor to the state. For these two offenders against the political and
social order the ultimate horrors of the pit are reserved. The
difference between their fate and that of the lovers is like that
between the lot of an aviator in an eternally invulnerable aeroplane
and of a stoker in the burning hold of an eternally torpedoed ship. On
this distinction between the two classes of offences--the antilegal and
the antisocial--the whole fabric of Latin morality is based.

The moralists and theologians of the Middle Ages, agitated as no other
age has been by the problem of death and the life after death, worked
out the great scheme of moral retribution on which the "Divine Comedy"
is based. This system of punishment is the result of a purely Latin and
social conception of order. In it individualism has no place. It is
based on the interests of the family, and of that larger family formed
by the commune or the state; and it distinguishes, implicitly if not
outspokenly, between the wrong that has far-reaching social consequences
and that which injures only one or two persons, or perhaps only the
moral sense of the offender.

The French have continued to accept this classification of offences.
They continue to think the sin against the public conscience far graver
than that against any private person. If in France there is a
distinction between private and business morality it is exactly the
reverse of that prevailing in America, and the French conscience rejects
with abhorrence the business complaisances which the rigidly virtuous
American too often regards as not immoral because not indictable.
"Business" tends everywhere to subdue its victims to what they work in,
and it is not meant to suggest that every French financier is
irreproachable, or that France has not had more than her share of
glaring financial scandals, but that among the real French,
uncontaminated by cosmopolitan influences, and especially in the class
of small shopkeepers and in the upper bourgeoisie, business probity is
higher, and above all _more sensitive_, than in America. It is not only,
or always, through indolence that France has remained backward in
certain forms of efficiency.

It would be misleading to conclude that this sensitiveness is based on
a respect for the rights of others. The French, it must be repeated, are
as a race indifferent to the rights of others. In the people and the
lower middle class (and how much higher up!) the traditional attitude
is: "Why should I do my neighbour a good turn when he may be getting the
better of me in some way I haven't found out?" The French are not
generous, and they are not trustful. They do not willingly credit their
neighbours with sentiments as disinterested as their own. But deep in
their very bones is something that was called "the point of honour" when
there was an aristocracy to lay exclusive claim to it, but that has, in
reality, always permeated the whole fabric of the race. It is just as
untranslatable as the "panache" into which it has flowered on so many
immortal battle-fields; and it regulates the conscience of one of the
most avaricious and least compassionate of peoples in their business
relations, as it regulated the conduct in the field of the knights of
chivalry and of the _parvenu_ heroes of Napoleon.

It all comes back, perhaps, to the extraordinarily true French sense of
values. As a people, the French have moral taste, and an ear for the
"still small voice"; they know what is worth while, and they despise
most of the benefits that accrue from a clever disregard of their own
standards. It has been the fashion among certain of their own critics to
inveigh against French "taste" and French "measure," and to celebrate
the supposed lack of these qualities in the Anglo-Saxon races as giving
a freer play to genius and a larger scope to all kinds of audacious
enterprise. It is evident that if a new continent is to be made
habitable, or a new prosody to be created, the business "point of
honour" in the one case, and the French Academy in the other, may
seriously hamper the task; but in the minor transactions of commerce and
culture perhaps such restrictive influences are worth more to
civilisation than a mediocre license.


V

Many years ago, during a voyage in the Mediterranean, the yacht on which
I was cruising was driven by bad weather to take shelter in a small
harbour on the Mainote coast. The country, at the time, was not
considered particularly safe, and before landing we consulted the
guide-book to see what reception we were likely to meet with.

This is the answer we found: "The inhabitants are brave, hospitable, and
generous, but fierce, treacherous, vindictive, and given to acts of
piracy, robbery, and wreckage."

Perhaps the foregoing attempt to define some attributes of the French
character may seem as incoherent as this summary. At any rate, the
endeavour to strike a balance between seemingly contradictory traits
disposes one to indulgence toward the anonymous student of the Mainotes.

No civilised race has gone as unerringly as the French toward the
natural sources of enjoyment; none has been so unashamed of instinct.
Yet none has been more enslaved by social conventions, small complicated
observances based on long-past conditions of life. No race has shown
more collective magnanimity on great occasions, more pettiness and
hardness in small dealings between individuals. Of no great people would
it be truer to say that, like the Mainote tribesmen, they are generous
and brave, yet fierce and vindictive. No people are more capable of
improvising greatness, yet more afraid of the least initiative in
ordinary matters. No people are more sceptical and more religious, more
realistic and more romantic, more irritable and nervous, yet more
capable of a long patience and a dauntless calm.

Such are the deductions which the foreign observer has made. It would
probably take kinship of blood to resolve them into a harmonious
interpretation of the French character.

All that the looker-on may venture is to say: Some of the
characteristics I have noted seem unamiable, others dangerously
disintegrating, others provokingly unprogressive. But when you have
summed up the whole you will be forced to conclude that as long as
enriching life is more than preserving it, as long as culture is
superior to business efficiency, as long as poetry and imagination and
reverence are higher and more precious elements of civilisation than
telephones or plumbing, as long as truth is more bracing than hypocrisy,
and wit more wholesome than dulness, so long will France remain greater
than any nation that has not her ideals.

Once again it must be repeated that the best answer to every criticism
of French weakness or French shortcomings is the conclusive one: _Look
at the results!_ Read her history, study her art, follow up the current
of her ideas; then look about you, and you will see that the whole world
is full of her spilt glory.





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