FROM whatever cause it may arise, the French character and temperament are full of mental exhilaration and vivacity. The French people think rapidly, if not methodically, and act swiftly. They seize their premises with lightning rapidity, and rush to their conclusions with bewildering speed, never allowing time for other than the foregone conclusion. No side issues dissuade them from the most speedy attainment of the end in view. Mental elation seems idiosyncratic with the Frenchman, and Paris is the focal point to which all his mental electrical wires converge.
This universal vivaciousness is contagious, and no one can enter the atmosphere prevailing here without being sensibly affected by its peculiar magnetic quality. Americans are more impressive to its influence, perhaps, than others, because they are no strangers to that intensity of thought and action, in their own business affairs, which here prevails in every sphere of life. With us this has largely arisen from the conditions under which the nation has been developed, our population having been gathered from all countries of the world and welded in-to a homogeneous mass, and the efforts necessary to overcome the difficulties encountered, and to conquer the situation, tend towards the formation of one energetic, ever-ready, self-reliant, thriving nation.
The French people are homogeneous, to begin with. They, too, are energetic and thriving, but the magnetic qualitythe enthusiasm of feelingseems to be so generally diffused as to affect their whole character. Their social and political life are moulded and controlled by it, and every department of their lives conforms to its subtle stimulus or energy.
With this quality is combined an exceedingly practical element. The Frenchman cannot conceive that any superhuman dominating power can operate upon human affairs in a direct way. Everything outside of human reason or his own cognition seems fantastic to him. He scarcely has any higher object of worship than human intelligence. Hence the almost general prevalence in France of that scepticism which is so shocking to the large class known as “believers” in such countries as Great Britain and the United States. It is this implicit belief in intelligence, and his blind confidence in its efficacy, which makes the Frenchman so effective in formulating his ideas, so successful in propagating them, and so earnest in imposing them upon others.
It is, doubtless, this combination of the elements of self-assertion in the French mind which has given their literature such a wide-spread circulation ; that has caused French books so greatly to outnumber all others upon the shelves of the book-sellers in all European countries except perhaps Great Britain.
From the same cause, also, arises the fact that French is now the diplomatic language of Europe.
For a Frenchman to become convinced of a truth is to precipitate himself upon it, to embody it himself, to carry it to others, and compel its acceptance with the vehemence which distinguishes his character, and by which he accomplishes his ends.
The Frenchman has his one set of civilized ideas, and is fond of contrasting them with the more methodic and realistic ideas of the English. These ideas are at once elastic and supple yet firm as steel and as tenacious.
Frenchmen are easily moved to external demonstration through the enthusiasm which amounts to national egotism. This accounts for their frequent political outbursts, their mobs, their revolutions. It is the basis of the Commune, of the Republic, of the Monarchy, of the Empire.
In their personal traits and domestic characteristics the French are most peculiar, and differ widely from the people of England and America. They find little amusement in boating and swimming, in horse racing and hunting, and the vigorous sports in which the people of those countries indulge with such enjoyment. Indeed, these boisterous sports are rather repulsive to them. They delight in fencing and boxing because these constitute the school in which they learn to defend their honor and their irrepressible egoism.
Their education serves to promote narrowness, conceit and pride rather than cosmopolitan and truly liberal ideas. Hence France (and especially Paris) is the whole world to them, or at least the centre of the world. They are scarcely behind the Chinese in their bigotry, in this respect. Other nations may have their good points, but the French are, in their own conception, the most cultured, the wittiest and the most intelligent of the human race. They are only sorry for the people of other countries that they are not Frenchmen.
They have a high appreciation of liberty, and no nation understands it better in theory, but they lack that sober and serious persistence necessary to crystallize it into permanent institutions.
The Frenchman has, in very small degree, those qualities which would constitute him a the fight is earnest and intense, it is apt to be spasmodic and brief, especially if the opposing forces are strong and sustained. His disinclination to encounter unpleasant conditions, and his desire to subserve his own comfort and pleasure, are stronger in the long run than his love of principle.
” Liberty, Equality, Fraternity ” is emblazoned upon the public buildings and monuments of Paris, having but recently supplanted the mottos and insignia of royalty and the Empire.
There is no lack of proof of the Frenchman’s love of freedom, and there are evidences on all hands going to show that the national rallying cry and signet-” LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND FRATERNITY ! ” embodies his true political creed, and he has shown no lack of élan and courage in sustaining it. But all past experience prompts the question, Has he the requisite persistence and stability of character to maintain his aspirations, to breast the opposition, and suppress the tremendous efforts that are never lacking to rob him of liberty, to deny his equality and to render fraternity a mockery ?
Has he? A near future will decide !