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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume V, Number 29, March, 1860 a Magazine of Literature, Art, And Politics

By Various

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Book Id: WPLBN0000619481
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Title: The Atlantic Monthly, Volume V, Number 29, March, 1860 a Magazine of Literature, Art, And Politics  
Author: Various
Language: English
Subject: Literature & thought, Literature and history, Literature & philosophy
Collections: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center
Publication Date:
Publisher: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center


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Various,. (n.d.). The Atlantic Monthly, Volume V, Number 29, March, 1860 a Magazine of Literature, Art, And Politics. Retrieved from

The American character is now generally acknowledged to be the most cosmopolitan of modern times; and a native of this country, all things being equal, is likely to form a less prescriptive idea of other nations than the inhabitants of countries whose neighborhood and history unite to bequeathe and perpetuate certain fixed notions. Before the frequent intercourse now existing between Europe and the United States, we derived our impressions of the French people, as well as of Italian skies, from English literature. The probability was that our earliest association with the Gallic race partook largely of the ridiculous. All the extravagant anecdotes of morbid self-love, miserly epicurism, strained courtesy, and frivolous absurdity current used to boast a Frenchman as their hero. It was so in novels, plays, and after-dinner stories. Our first personal acquaintance often confirmed this prejudice; for the chance was that the one specimen of the Grand Nation familiar to our childhood proved a poor emigre who gained a precarious livelihood as a dancing-master, cook, teacher, or barber, who was profuse of smiles, shrugs, bows, and compliments, prided himself on la belle France, played the fiddle, and took snuff. A more dignified view succeeded, when we read ?Telemaque,? so long an initiatory text-book in the study of the language, blended as its crystal style was in our imaginations with the pure and noble character of Fenelon. Perhaps the next link in the chain of our estimate was supplied by the bust of Voltaire, whose withered, sneering physiognomy embodies the wit and indifference, the soulless vagabondage that forms the worst side of the national mind. As patriotic sentiment awakened, the disinterested enthusiasm of Lafayette, woven, as it is, into the record of the struggle which gave birth to our republic, yielded another and more attractive element to the fancy portrait. Then, as our reading expanded, came the tragic chronicle of the first French Revolution and the brilliant and dazzling melodrama of Napoleon, the traditions so pathetic and sublime of gifted women, the tableaux so exciting to a youthful temper of military glory. And thus, by degrees, we found ourselves bewildered by the most vivid contrasts and apparently irreconcilable traits, until the original idea of a Frenchman expanded to the widest range of associations, from the ingenious devices of a mysterious cuisine to the brilliant manoeuvres of the battle-field; infinite female tact, rare philosophic hardihood, inimitable bon-mots, exquisite millinery, consummate generalship, holy fortitude, refined profligacy, and intoxicating sentiment, Ude, Napoleon, Madame Recamier, Pascal, Ninon de I?Enclos, and Rousseau. Casual associations and desultory reading thus predispose us to recognize something half comical and half enchanting in French life; and it depends on accident, when we first visit Paris, which view is confirmed. The society of one of those benign savans who attract the sympathy and win the admiration of young students may yield a delightful and noble association to our future reminiscences; or an unmodified experience of cynical hearts joined to scenical manners may leave us nothing to regret, upon our departure, save the material advantages there enjoyed. But whoever knows life in Paris, unrelieved by some consistent and individual purpose, will find it a succession of excitements, temporary, yet varied, full of the agreeable, yet barren of consecutive interest and satisfactory results, admirable as a recreative hygiene, deplorable as a permanent resource; their inevitable consequence being a faith in the external, a dependence on the immediate, and a habit of vagrant pleasure-seeking, which must at last cloy and harden the manly soul. For this very reason, however, the scenes, characters, and society there exhibited are prolific of suggestion to the philosophic mind.


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