Prejudices of the
French by Albany Poyntz
The prevailing weakness of the French, collectively and individually, is
to esteem themselves the type and model of perfection; the standard by
which the universe ought to be regulated. An Italian author once asserted
that the face of man was not made after that of God; but that the face of
the Creator was to be imagined after that of man. The French consider all
that resembles them, right: all that differs from them, wrong. This
prejudice entitles foreigners to laugh at them, whether justly or not. The
word “fat” appears to have been exclusively invented for the nation.
Vain, presumptuous, haughty, disdainful men are to be found in all
countries; but fatuité is the peculiar attribute of Frenchmen; nor does
any other language possess an equivalent term.
The French, unhesitatingly, pronounce themselves the most polished nation
of the universe; and Paris, the capital of the civilized world,—the city
of arts, sciences, elegance of manners, and refinement. In Paris only,
does genius receive due homage,—merit, encouragement,—or the mind its
full development. But the temple they have erected to their national
vanity, has begun to totter upon its flimsy foundation.
Notwithstanding their assumed pre-eminence, no nation is more prone to
imitate the customs, usages, fashions, and forms of government of others.
Just as the Romans placed the Gods of their defeated enemies in their
Pantheon, the French, under Napoleon, brought back the customs of foreign
For twelve centuries, the French possessed a system of government of their
own; but they decided, at length, to adopt that of the English. A
Revolution having occurred in England, and a King been beheaded in London,
an analogous event appeared indispensable; and a King of France,
consequently, ended his reign on the scaffold. In early times, one
legislative chamber was considered sufficient; but as there existed two in
England, their national vanity could not rest till gratified by a similar
number. In all this, there is little to support the vaunted superiority of
Till the close of the last century, the French wore what is still termed,
on the continent, the French costume, or habit Français, with bags and
swords, which in England we call a court-dress. But the English having
laid aside these inconvenient appendages in favour of hunting and riding
coats, the latter were quickly adopted by the Parisians under the name of
The Lord Cadogan of Marlborough’s time, having found it convenient to
double up his queue, and bind it with a bow of black ribbon, the whole
French army adopted the fashion; and his Lordship’s name became
immortalized in France by “les perruques à la Cadogan.”
The strong horses of Normandy required an easy but somewhat solid kind of
saddle, the form of which had prevailed from the time of Louis XIV. But
the English using a lighter and smaller kind, it was adopted in
preference; and certain moral philosophers who proceeded to England to
study the laws, manners, and system of government, having remarked in
addition that the English treated their horses as Alcibiades did his dog,
the horses on the other side the channel were forthwith anglicised by the
abbreviation of their tails.
On the arrival of the Bourbons and the English in France, in 1814, the
long waists and cottage-bonnets of the ladies were made the ground-work of
innumerable caricatures. Yet a few years afterwards, generally they were
adopted! This Anglomania has been as much a matter of reproach to the
French for centuries past; as, in England, the preference of the English
ladies for French goods and manufactures. A serious source of discussion
between Napoleon and Josephine was her rage for English fashions.
In the early part of the Revolution, the Duke of Orleans made frequent
excursions to England; in one of which he purchased a sword hilt of steel,
the execution of which was admirable. On his return to Paris, he exhibited
it to a celebrated steel worker, challenging him to produce its equal; on
which, taking up the hilt, the man pointed out his own name to the Prince,
as the manufacturer of the article, which had been exported to London.
During the brilliant campaigns of Field-Marshal Suwarow, the form of his
hat and boots was copied by the military men of France; and when Bolivar
and Murillo were ascertained to wear hats of different dimensions, the
French partizans of the two chiefs assumed on one part, broad-brimmed
Spanish hats, on the other, a narrower shape.
When the Russians came to Paris at the Restoration, another change took
place. Instead of the boots worn to protect the legs from the mud, the
wide trowsers of the Russians made to cover their boots, in consideration
of the bitterness of their climate, were instantly adopted by the nation
which pronounces itself the arbiter of Europe in matters of taste. The
padded chests of the Russian uniforms, also worn as a defence against the
weather, were imitated in defiance of climate and common sense.
Previous to the arrival of the Russians in Paris, smoking was limited to
the operative classes, and soldiers who had fought in the German campaign.
But from the moment the Russians began to smoke in the open street, the
capital so famed for elegance, became polluted with the smell of tobacco.
A modern man of fashion can no more dispense with his cigar-case than
Bayard with his sword; and in imitation of the Spanish women, the
fashionable Parisian ladies, known by the name of lionnes, have taken to
In order to mark their estimation of the Swedes, when they elected to be
their Prince, Bernadotte, who is a Frenchman, they thought to do them the
highest honour by calling them the French of the north. Two noblemen, the
one an aide-de-camp of Napoleon, the other of the Emperor Alexander,
having made acquaintance at Tilsit, the former observed, with the
intention of paying a compliment: “You might really be taken for a
Frenchman!” to which the Russian, indignant at his rudeness, replied:
“Depend upon it you could never pass for a Russian!”
It is a favourite vaunt of the braggarts of France, that their children
are born soldiers. “Stamp upon the soil of France, and myriads of warriors
will start up!” says one of their popular writers.
In answer to this boast, observe the results of the drawing for the
conscription, when the most trifling bodily defects are put forth to
secure exemption from military service!—Nothing can exceed the despair of
those who draw what is called “a bad number;” though a military career
presents nearly the same advantages to a working man as any other to which
he may devote himself.
The self-sufficiency of the nation stands perpetually self-convicted; and
it is now proverbial in Europe to “be as great a boaster as a Frenchman.”