It made me sad to contemplate this wreck; but most of those around him appeared unconscious of there being any thing remarkable in his demeanour. They had not known him in his better days.
I am often amused, and sometimes half-vexed by witnessing the prejudices that still exist in France with regard to the English. These prejudices prevail in all ranks, and are, I am disposed to think, incurable.
They extend to trivial, as well as to more grave matters, and influence the opinions pronounced on all subjects. An example of this prejudice occurred a few weeks ago, when one of our most admired belles from London having arrived at Paris, her personal appearance was much canvassed. One person found her too tall, another discovered that she had too much embonpoint, and a third said her feet were much too large. A Frenchman, when appealed to for his opinion, declared “Elle est tres-bien pour une Anglaise.” I ought to add, that there was no English person present when he made this ungallant speech, which was repeated to me by a French lady, who laughed heartily at his notion.
If an Englishwoman enters a glover’s, or shoemaker’s shop, these worthies will only shew her the largest gloves or shoes they have in their magasins, so persuaded are they that she cannot have a small hand or foot; and when they find their wares too large, and are compelled to search for the smallest size, they seem discomposed as well as surprised, and inform the lady that they had no notion “une dame anglaise could want small gloves or shoes.”
That an Englishwoman can be witty, or brilliant in conversation, the French either doubt or profess to doubt; but if convinced against their will they exclaim, “C’est drole, mais madame a l’esprit eminemment francais.” Now this no Englishwoman has, or, in my opinion, can have; for it is peculiar, half-natural and half-acquired.
Conversation, in France, is an art successfully studied; to excel in which, not only much natural talent is required, but great fluency and a happy choice of words are indispensable. No one in Parisian society speaks ill, and many possess a readiness of wit, and a facility of turning it to account, that I have never seen exemplified in women of other countries.
A Frenchwoman talks well on every subject, from those of the most grave political importance, to the derniere mode. Her talent in this art is daily exercised, and consequently becomes perfected; while an Englishwoman, with more various and solid attainments, rarely if ever, arrives at the ease and self-confidence which would enable her to bring the treasures with which her mind is stored into play. So generally is the art of conversation cultivated in France, that even those with abilities that rise not beyond mediocrity can take their parts in it, not only without exposing the poverty of their intellects, but with even a show of talent that often imposes on strangers.