An Englishwoman, more concentrated in her feelings as well as in her pursuits, seldom devotes the time given by Frenchwomen to the superficial acquisition of a versatility of knowledge, which, though it enables them to converse fluently on various subjects, she would dread entering on, unless well versed in. My fair compatriots have consequently fewer topics, even if they had equal talent, to converse on; so that the esprit styled, par excellence, l’esprit eminemment francais, is precisely that to which we can urge the fewest pretensions.
This does not, however, dispose me to depreciate a talent, or art, for art it may be called, that renders society in France not only so brilliant but so agreeable, and which is attended with the salutary effect of banishing the ill-natured observations and personal remarks which too often supply the place of more harmless topics with us.
Much as I deplore some of the consequences of the Revolution in France, and the atrocities by which it was stained, it is impossible not to admit the great and salutary change effected in the habits and feelings of the people since that event. Who can live on terms of intimacy with the French, without being struck by the difference between those of our time, and those of whom we read previously to that epoch? The system of education is totally different. The habits of domestic life are wholly changed. The relations between husband and wife, and parents and children, have assumed another character, by which the bonds of affection and mutual dependances are drawn more closely together; and home, sweet home, the focus of domestic love, said to have been once an unknown blessing, at least among the haute noblesse, is now endeared by the discharge of reciprocal duties and warm sympathies.
It is impossible to doubt but that the Revolution of 1789, and the terrible scenes in the reign of terror which followed it, operated in producing the change to which I have referred. It found the greater portion of the noblesse luxuriating in pleasure, and thinking only of selfish, if not of criminal indulgence, in pursuits equally marked by puerility and vice.
The corruption of the regency planted the seeds of vice in French morals, and they yielded a plentiful harvest. How well has St.-Evremond described that epoch in his playful, but sarcastic verses!—
De notre nature innocente,
Favorisait tous les desirs;
Tout gout paraissait legitime,
La douce erreur ne s’appelait point crime,
Les vices delicats se nommalent des plaisirs.”