« PoprzedniaDalej »
VICTIMS OF SOCIETY.
MISS MONTRESSOR TO LA MARQUISE DE VILLEROI.
You ask me, chère Delphine, to give you an apperçu of the leading peculiarities that distinguish our islanders from your volatile compatriots; an:) of the great influence exercised on society here by that undefined, yet despotic power, fashion. I therefore send you a crude sketch, as a sort of equivalent and repayment for your very interesting story; and you must accept the promptitude with which I comply with your request more as a proof of my desire to gratify you, than of my power of performing the task.
LONDON FASHIONABLE SOCIETY.
Among the numerous peculiarities of the English, is an extreme susceptibility with regard to any criticism on their habits, manners, and customs; and an inveterate indignation against the individuals who are so hardy as to attempt it. If any foreigner, not très répandu dans la sociéié here, writes his sentiments on the country, he is proclaimed to be un ignorant, full of presumption, whose opinions are unworthy of notice; but if he has been très répandu, all the vials of wrath are emptied on his luckless head. To describe what he has seen, is pronounced to be a most indelicate breach of propriety and hospitality. To say that the heavy magnificence of aristocratic dinners sometimes imposes a constraint on the guests, is, for a man who has dined with Lords A, B, and C, an in-. decent violation of les bienséances ; and to note down that soirées of three, four, and five hundred persons, in rooms comparatively small, are not agreeable, is an outrage of all les convenances in the favoured person who has been seen jammed in the doorways, or scrambling on the stairs, at the houses of any of the ladies of fashion to which an entrée is considered a distinction.
When personalities are introduced, which I admit to be always objectionable, every one is up in arms. The praised think themselves not sufficiently so; the unnoticed consider themselves aggrieved; and the censured, however slightly the serule may be applied, are outrage
It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that the books hitherto published, descriptive of English manners, have been defective. The penalty certain to follow a successful portraiture of them will always be likely to deter the attempt; except by some amateur like myself, who exhibits les ridicules de la société pour s'amuser, or to amuse a friend.
To describe all that I see here, il faut être Anglais; for no foreigner can penetrate the mysteries of the coteries and cliqucs into which society is divided, without having lived some years in the country, and been initiated into its artificial systems. Your compatriots, who come here for a few weeks, form the most erroneous opinions of mine. Beholding only the surface, they describe, and not always correctly, that of which they had opportuni
ties of judging only superficially, as if they had penetrated all the most secret intricacies of the great machine. Hence, their pictures are never true to the life ; but resemble portraits painted from the reflected image of the originals in mirrors-shadows of a shade.
The English are so pre-eminently egotistical, that they regard all foreigners as intruders in their society. Persons who are not au courant of the subjects of the day ; who know nothing of the loves and hatreds of each clique, the brouilleries, scandalous stories, and ridicule, of the individuals who compose them; and who comprehend not the insinuations and the demi-mots of those around them, cannot be considered otherwise than a bore by a real fashionable of the exclusive circle.
It is true the stranger may be a man of genius, of versatile and brilliant powers of conversation, who has seen much, and reflected more: but what care those with whom he now finds himself? They think only of themselves and their own narrow circle ; and all who are not au fait of its mysteries are voied de trop. To be sure, they sometimes extend their favour to strangers who come in the unquestionable shape of a prince, a diplomate renommé, or a littérateur of acknowledged reputation. These are received as lions in the great menagerie of fashion; they are sed and stared at, and serve to lengthen the list of guests published in the Morning Post every day, with a due attention to styles and titles. If they remain only a short time in London, they depart in the belief that ils polished inhabitants are the most hospitable people in the world, and that its circles present one continued and brilliant fête. Litile do they imagine that their reputation, and not their merit, pro. cured this flattering attention ! Are they drawn out in conversation on the subjects in which they have acquired distinction ? Does any one betray the least interest or curiosity relative to them, their pursuits--past, present, or to come-or the impressions they have received in the, to them, novel scenes around ? No. When their names have been blazoned forth in all the papers as having dined at L-llouse, dejeûned at D- House, and supped at S- House, the usual number of times, and their faces have been sufficiently seen in the heterogeneous crowd styled the fashionable world, people who stared at them at írst, from the curiosity excited by the published programme of their claims to distinction, get accustomed 10 “the odd-looking man with the brown wig, and the star;" or the “ill-dressed one with a decoration in his button-hole ;” or “the man with spectacles and a bald head, who looks so stupid," and think no more of them.
If, however, some Curtius of society magnanimously sacrifices himself for half an hour by throwing himself into the gulf of conversation with any of these exotic worthies, he takes a malicious pleasure in mystifying them; by nodding assent to the expression of their erroneous opinions, and dissenting, by a well-bred shrug or deprecating shake of the head, from those they had with more justice adopted, but which happen not to be in harmony either with his prejudices or his love of mischief.
The enlightened stranger now discovers, that the orator whose eloquence had excited admiration abroad is little esteemed at home, because he is viewed through the false prism of opposite politics : that the author whose works have been as enthusiastically commended as universally read in other countries, is undervalued in his own, because his hair curls ; or because he dresses too much or too little in the fashion (either of which crimes furnishes a sufficient cause for decrying him,) or wears yellow gloves, or commits some other equally ofsensive error. In short, the reputations that, on the Continent, have been stamped by the approval of all the men of genius, which France, Germany, and Italy can boast, are depreciated in the land that gave birth to their possessors; and the truth of the old proverb, that no