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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Then arose in France a caricature


has not yet been noticed. Paul de Kock was certainly not the author,[44] but he must have been one of the first, and he as certainly was one of the most effective and continuous, promoters of that curious caricature of Englishmen which everybody knows from French draughtsmen, and some from French writers, of the first half of the nineteenth century. It is only fair to say that we had long preceded it by caricaturing Frenchmen. But they had been slow in retaliating, at least in anything like the same fashion. For a long time (as is again doubtless known to many people) French literature had mostly ignored foreigners. During the late seventeenth and earlier eighteenth centuries few, except the aristocracy, of either country knew much of the other, and there was comparatively little (of course there was always some) difference between the manners and customs of the upper classes of both. Prevost and Crebillon, if not Marivaux,[45] knew something about England. Then arose in France a caricature, no doubt, but almost a reverential one, due to the _philosophes_, in the drawing whereof the Englishman is indeed represented as eccentric and splenetic, but himself philosophical and by no means ridiculous. Even in the severe period of national struggle which preceded the Revolutionary war, and for some time after the beginning of that war itself, the scarecrow-comic _Anglais_ was slow to make his appearance. Pigault-Lebrun himself, as was noted in the last volume, indulges in him little if at all. But things soon changed.

In the book of which we have been speaking, Gustave and a scapegrace friend of his determine to give a dinner to two young persons of the other sex, but find themselves penniless, and a fresh edition of one of the famous old _Repues Franches_ (which date in French literature back to Villon and no doubt earlier) follows. With this, as such, we need not trouble ourselves. But Olivier, the friend, takes upon him the duty of providing the wine, and does so by persuading a luckless vintner that he is a "Milord."

In order to dress the part, he puts on a cravat well folded, a very long coat, and a very short waistcoat. He combs down his hair till it is quite straight, rouges the tip of his nose, takes a whip, puts on gaiters and a little pointed hat, and studies himself in the glass in order to give himself a stupid and insolent air, the result of the make-up being entirely successful. It may be difficult for the most unbiassed Englishman of to-day to recognise himself in this portrait or to find it half-way somewhere about 1860, or even, going back to actual "_temp._ of tale," to discover anything much like it in physiognomies so different as those of Castlereagh and Wellington, of Southey and Lockhart, nay, even of Tom and Jerry.[46] But that it is the Englishman of Daumier and Gavarni, _artistement complet_ already, nobody can deny.

Later in the novel (before he comes to his very problematical "settling down" with Suzon and the ready-made child) Gustave is allowed a rather superfluous scattering of probably not final wild oats in Italy and Germany, in Poland and in England. But the English meesses are too _sentimentales_ (note the change from _sensibles_); he does not like the courses of horses, the combats of cocks, the bets and the punches and the plum-puddings. He is angry because people look at him when he pours his tea into the saucer. But what annoys him most of all is the custom of the ladies leaving the table after dinner, and that of preferring cemeteries for the purpose of taking the air and refreshing oneself after business. It may perhaps diminish surprise, but should increase interest, when one remembers that, after Frenchmen had got tired of Locke, and before they took to Shakespeare, their idea of our literature was largely derived from "Les Nuits de Young" and Hervey's _Meditations among the Tombs_.


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