Obrazy na stronie

as well as diminish the scope, whereby the reflective man becomes the practical citizen? And if the regime under which our education was initiated, had for its great principles, skill, knowledge, and aptitude for specialties, would not the natural fruit of such culture be a fragmentary excellence? Herein, at least, some of the causes may be found of that extraordinary union of genius and childhood in the French nation; the ability to declaim like philosophers about freedom, while an immense standing army-the most available resource of tyranny — is recognized as the basis of civil power; an unrivalled taste in the ornamental, and a savage ignorance of the comfortable; a most profound and reliable insight in diagnosis, with a pitiable incapacity for remedial applications; a prompt adaptation to the moment, almost infantile, with a hackneyed insensibility to experience; vivid aspirations, with little sense of what really constitutes glory; making fine arts of cookery, talk, and dress, while a battle-field and a caricature are their most popular limning; deifying their military heroes, and, at the same time, giving vent to their own enthusiasm in the lively figures of a new dance. The social economy of Paris is based on a combination of narrow means, with bright conceptions; we see it in the graceful but frail upholstery, the exquisite fit of a plain muslin robe, the bewitching trim of a cheap bonnet, the variety of a two-franc dinner, the bon-mot which atones for inability to read, the absorption over a game of dominoes, the philosophic air with which a cigarette is smoked, and the artistic ruffle of a chemisette; the prolific fun educed from an anecdote, and the slight impression made by a revolution; the incurious notice of what is comprehensive, and the intense desire to make capital of the frivolous. To cultivate illusions is apparently the science of Parisian life; vanity must have its pabulum and fancy her triumph, though pride is sacrificed and sense violated thereby; hence a coïncidence of thrift and wit, shrewdness and sentimentality, love of excitement and patient endurance, superficial enjoyment and essential deprivation-in the mind, the life, and the development of France, wonderful to behold and perplexing to consider.

The names given to bridge and temple, fount and promenade, arc and avenue, recal saints of the middle ages, kings whose reigns embody memorable eras, brave soldiers, great victories, authors and savans - all reflecting glory on the nation. The guide at the Concierge tells you: 'Le cachot où fût deténu Marie Antoinette a eté converti en chapelle.' If roaming in the Luxembourg, you think of poor Ney's last words, on the spot where he perished, 'I need no priest to teach me how to die'-the honors paid to his memory are cited to atone for the sacrifice; if you descant on the murder of the King in 1793, you are told that the mass, so long discontinued, is now celebrated on the anniversary of his death. All that meets the eye and car either protests against what in the past of France is disgraceful, or celebrates what is glorious. Whoever rules, the lamp of national fame is thus kept burning. The very cafés and restaurants possess an historical interest. The Frères Provinceaux was frequented by General Bonaparte; the Café Foy was the rendezvous of Italian liberals, the Zemblin that of the officers of the Empire, and the Caveau of the Garde Imperiale; the Regence has witnessed games af chess either shared or overlooked by Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, Marmontel, and Saint Pierre. At

the Place de la Bastille, the column erected to the memory of those who fell when Charles the Tenth was 'hurled from his forfeit throne,' links that recent event to the site of a prison tragically identified with the Reign of Terror. The gates of St. Denis and St. Martin attest the rendezvous of more than one emeute; and from the Champs Elysées to the arch of triumph de l'Etoile, is the scene where some of the most pregnant dramas of modern history were enacted.

The routine of a banker's life would seem antagonistic to romance and dramatic incident; yet the celebrated financiers of France occupy the fore-ground in her civic history: Ouvrard's interview with Napoleon at a memorable crisis; the details of Law's career, including the wonderful vicissitudes to which the famous Mississippi scheme gave birth; and the charlatan adventurer's intrigues with the Duke of Orleans and escape from the Paris mob, are like the most exciting chapters of a modern novel. Lafitte stood at the side of Louis Philippe when the new Constitution was proclaimed, and staid the waves of insurrection at the obsequies of Manuel. If, in the social phenomena elsewhere, we find hints for romance and incongruities the more piquant, here they are more patent. Hospitality is not a national characteristic, as in cities less amply provided with external resources, and the effect is to secure for social aspirants, who have the means and the tact to entertain, advantages they could never realize in other capitals. A wealthy man, with decent manners and average intelligence, ambitious of fame as a host, or the delights of gifted intercourse, puts himself in communication with diplomats, savans and men of letters, who never object to a good dinner, or women endowed with the graces which lend a charm to the soirée, and his salon is nightly filled with people of fashion and celebrity. The dramatic star, the popular author, the famous militaire, the brilliant cantatrice will attract those who are insensible to the zest of pâtés and champagne. 'Do you know that man?' asks some aristocrat of the illustrious guest when they encounter the parvenu-Amphytrion. 'He dines me occasionally,' is the cool reply. Foreigners of either sex, even with a damaged reputation, find no obstacles to such partial successes. Let the frail one have preserved somewhat of her youthful vivacity and the bulk of her fortune, and she has only to hunt up a poor Marchesa or Countess of the Faubourg San Germain, and install her as a friend of the house, in a costly hotel, and coronated paste-board will soon fill her vase in the ante-chamber, and wits and beauties, official and distinguished strangers surround her fauteuil. That there is little meaning in these arrangements; that they merely serve as a pastime, like an opera or vaudeville we pay to witness, is true; but, on the other hand, facilities thus easily obtained by cash and policy, afford scope and yield opportunities for the display of character and the drama of social life, which more exclusive circles never know. The art tenir un salon is one peculiar to the French, and there are ladies of that nation, whose fame is as traditionally and even historically established as that of great generals, statesmen, and poets; their rivalry equals the competition of the other sex in war and politics; and, strange as it may appear to an American, the social prestige thus acquired and transmitted is as often based upon sin as sanctity; an equivocal character

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1861, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New-York.

JOHN A. GRAY, Printer, Stereotyper, and Binder, 16 & 18 Jacob Street, New-York.

« PoprzedniaDalej »