It seems to me that the French are more gifted by nature than the English. The English mind is more sluggish, but in all that is practical, it gains the goal of success, while the French mind often fails of it. In theory, the French have always had the most delightful of republics—in fact, a wretched despotism. So, too, they have had an idea of liberty, such as is seldom understood even in America, but real liberty has existed rarely in France.
The laboring men of Paris perhaps never saw the inside of a school-room, but they are educated. They know how to read, and through the newspapers, the library, the popular lecture and exhibition, they have gained what many who spend most of their earlier years in school never gain. From an experience which justifies it, I believe the soberest part of Paris is its class of artisans. They may possess many wrong and foolish opinions, but they are a noble class of men. They are a majority of them republicans, and though they consent to the inevitable necessity—obedience to the monarch and endurance of a monarchy—yet they indulge in hopes of a brilliant future for France. They know very well how their rights are trampled upon, and feel keenly what a disgraceful condition Paris and all France occupies at the present time, but are by no means satisfied with it. They well know that there is no real liberty in Paris to-day; that no journal dares to speak the whole truth for fear of losing its existence; and that the noblest men of the republic are in exile. The trouble is, that the lower classes of the provinces are grossly ignorant, and do not desire a republic, nor care for liberty. Thus, those who are intelligent and have aspirations after freedom, are borne down by the ignorant.
One of the characteristics of the people of Paris, for which they are known the world over, is their politeness. I noticed this in all circles and in all places. In England John Bull stares at your dress if it differs from his own, and hunts you to the wall. Or if anything in your speech or manners pleases him, he laughs in your face. But in Paris, the Frenchman never is guilty of so ill-bred an action as to laugh at anybody in his presence, however provoking the occasion. If you are lost and inquire the way, he will run half a mile to show you, and will not even hear of thanks, I remember once in Liverpool asking in a barber’s-shop the way to the Waterloo hotel. A person present, who was so well-dressed that I supposed him a gentleman, said that he was going that way and would show me. I replied that I could find the spot, the street having been pointed out by the barber. The “gentleman” persisted in accompanying me. When we reached the hotel I thanked him, but he was not to be shaken off. He raised his hat and said, “I hope I may have the happiness of drinking wine with you!” I was angry at such meanness, and I gave him a decided negative. “But,” he persisted, “you will drink ale with me?” I replied, “I never drink ale.” “But,” said he, “you will give me a glass?” This persistence was so disgusting that I told the man I would give him in charge of the police as an impostor if he did not leave, which he did at this hint, instantly.