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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.
of sudden relief, an unexpected deliverance, experiencing a sense of our recovered superiority, of our revenge being gratified and of an act of justice having been performed.  But it depends on the mode in which the mask is struck off whether the laugh shall be in turn light or loud, suppressed or unbridled, now amiable and cheerful, or now bitter and sardonic.  Humor (la plaisanterie) comports with all aspects, from buffoonery to indignation; no literary seasoning affords such a variety, or so many mixtures, nor one that so well enters into combination with that above-mentioned.  The two together, from the middle ages down, form the principal ingredients employed by the French cuisine in the composition of its most agreeable dainties, — fables, tales, witticisms, jovial songs and waggeries, the eternal heritage of a good-humored, mocking people, preserved by La Fontaine athwart the pomp and sobriety of the seventeenth century, and, in the eighteenth, reappearing everywhere at the philosophic banquet.  Its charm is great to the brilliant company at this table, so amply provided, whose principal occupation is pleasure and amusement.  It is all the greater because, on this occasion, the passing disposition is in harmony with hereditary instinct, and because the taste of the epoch is fortified by the national taste.  Add to all this the exquisite art of the cooks, their talent in commingling, in apportioning and in concealing the condiments, in varying and arranging the dishes, the certainty of their hand, the finesse of their palate, their experience in processes, in the traditions and practices which, already for a hundred years, form of French prose the most delicate nourishment of the intellect.  It is not strange to find them skilled in regulating human speech, in extracting from it its quintessence and in distilling its full delight.

IV.  THE MASTERS.

The art and processes of the masters. — Montesquieu. — Voltaire. - Diderot. — Rousseau. — “The Marriage of Figaro.”

In this respect four among them are superior, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau.  It seems sufficient to mention their names.  Modern Europe has no greater writers.  And yet their talent must be closely examined to properly comprehend their power.- In tone and style Montesquieu is the first.  No writer is more master of himself, more outwardly calm, more sure of his meaning.  His voice is never boisterous; he expresses the most powerful thoughts with moderation.  There is no gesticulation; exclamations, the abandonment of impulse, all that is irreconcilable with decorum is repugnant to his tact, his reserve, his dignity.  He seems to be always addressing a select circle of people with acute minds, and in such a way as to render them at every moment conscious of their acuteness.  No flattery could be more delicate; we feel grateful to him for making us satisfied with our intelligence.  We

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