The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.

CHAPTER II.  DRAWING ROOM LIFE.[1]

I.

Perfect only in France. — Reasons for this derived from the French character. — Reasons derived from the tone of the court. — This life becomes more and more agreeable and absorbing.

Similar circumstances have led other aristocracies in Europe to nearly similar ways and habits.  There also the monarchy has given birth to the court and the court to a refined society.  But the development of this rare plant has been only partial.  The soil was unfavorable and the seed was not of the right sort.  In Spain, the king stands shrouded in etiquette like a mummy in its wrappings, while a too rigid pride, incapable of yielding to the amenities of the worldly order of things, ends in a sentiment of morbidity and in insane display.[2] In Italy, under petty despotic sovereigns, and most of them strangers, the constant state of danger and of hereditary distrust, after having tied all tongues, turns all hearts towards the secret delights of love and towards the mute gratification of the fine arts.  In Germany and in England, a cold temperament, dull and rebellious to culture, keeps man, up to the close of the last century, within the Germanic habits of solitude, inebriety and brutality.  In France, on the contrary, all things combine to make the social sentiment flourish; in this the national genius harmonizes with the political regime, the plant appearing to be selected for the soil beforehand.

The Frenchman loves company through instinct, and the reason is that he does well and easily whatever society calls upon him to do.  He has not the false shame which renders his northern neighbors awkward, nor the powerful passions which absorb his neighbors of the south.  Talking is no effort to him, having none of the natural timidity which begets constraint, and with no constant preoccupation to overcome.  He accordingly converses at his ease, ever on the alert, and conversation affords him extreme pleasure.  For the happiness which he requires is of a peculiar kind:  delicate, light, rapid, incessantly renewed and varied, in which his intellect, his vanity, all his emotional and sympathetic faculties find nourishment; and this quality of happiness is provided for him only in society and in conversation.  Sensitive as he is, personal attention, consideration, cordiality, delicate flattery, constitute his natal atmosphere, outside which he breathes with difficulty.  He would suffer almost as much in being impolite as in encountering impoliteness in others.  For his instincts of kindliness and vanity there is an exquisite charm in the habit of being amiable, and this is all the greater because it proves contagious.  When we afford pleasure to others there is a desire to please us, and what we bestow in deference is returned in attentions.  In company of this kind one can talk, for to talk is to amuse another in being oneself

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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