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