Christmas stocking stuffer

I don’t know if it was true in your family, but in my childhood the final items to be opened on Christmas morning were the stockings, hung by the chimney with care. I never understood why such care was taken, since it was usually filled with disappointing little items: an apple or orange, maybe candy, and usually some kind of cheap little flashlight or something. It was, in other words, never Boba Fett’s Slave I spaceship.

So consider this selection on the French national character from an English newspaper your 2015 stocking stuffer:

The following Letter has been sent by an English Officer, a Prisoner in France, to his Friend in England; dated Jan. 20. N.S. [1709]

Sir,

Pray let me know how the World rubs on your side, and I here pay you before hand, and give you an Account of Rounds and Squares on this side, and how we fadge [i.e. fare]. Know, then, my Friend, that the Weather is extremely nipping and cold: a mighty hard Frost and deep Snow; which is so severe, that several Poor, both Aged and Children, are daily found dead, as well without as within doors; And what’s yet more remarkable, three Post-Horses are lately arriv’d at their usual Stages, with their Mails, and each has brought with him a frozen Gallican Mummy as cold as Bethel’s Charity, and as dead as Poor Jo. Hains. In one of the Hospitals for Natural Children, there were found dead, this Morning, Nine of ’em, which perish’d by the excessive Cold. There is here also great variety of devouring Beasts, and particularly the four legg’d Wolves I shall here mention, whose ravenous Nature has been very often shewn, since this hard Weather, griping Want having made ’em break thro’ all Bounds of Fear or Respect; for they make no manner of distinction between their two or four-legg’d Brethren, but without any Ceremony, seize on ’em, as they tumble in the Road: Within these four days, they have devour’d three or four of their Brethren, ally’d by Principle, tho’ not by Shape or Number of Feet. In short, Thro’ the miserable Estate of the heavy-burden’d and deplorable Inhabitants, and the Keenness of the Times, we are furnish’d, every Moment, with some wretched Accident or other, that’s capable of moving Pity in any one that has a Heart harder than themselves, if such a one were, possibly, to be found. This is but a very slight Touch of their Sufferings, nor dare I tell you more. but be pleas’d to take along with you the Temper, Manners, and Nature, of the Beasts. They are begot dancing, come dancing into the World, continue the same during their Abode here, and many (tho’ all ought) go dancing out; Gallantry is here in Perfection; for the Husband makes the Wife’s Spark his Friend; and she chuses his Miss for her Confident. Their Children are taught to sing, before they can speak, and to dance before they can walk; and as they grow up, the Boys are educated in the Arts of Gasconading, Blustering, Lying, Cheating, Infidelity, Inconstancy, Levity, Fickleness, Gaming, Swearing, Whoring, Bullying, cum multis aliis, &c.

These are reckon’d Accomplishments and Nice Breeding, among the Generality of them. Honour, Honesty, Truth, Justice, and Sincerity, have been, long since, banish’d this Realm; and they have plac’d in their stead, Baseness, Dishonesty, Falseness, Treachery, and Ingratitude. They have made it Death, without Benefit of Clergy, to any that shall be found with the Five former Principles, in any other Manner or Shape whatsoever, excepting the Name of ’em, and the bare use of them, for a Mask to hide their Villany, as a poor Whore makes use of one, to hide her Ugliness. Their Courage may be justly compared to Snow falling in August, which the warm Sun soon dissolves; or, like a brisk Spark flying out of a Wood-fire, which gives two or three little Bounces, and disappears immediately. Even so does their Courage, at the first Flash in the Pan; it sinks and thaws into their Poster[ior]s. I cannot, however, but highly commend the Wisdom of their State, in forbidding Duelling. ‘Tis a wonderful Piece of Policy, to hide Cowardice, and, at the same time, save their Credit; this takes effect at Home: But, when in the Field, I’ll leave the World to judge, who have often seen their mighty Mountains dwindle into a Mouse T[ur]d. They are all Noise and Emptiness, the just Emblem of a Drum; very Credulous, full of Compliments, Flattery and Lies. The Commonality are very Bigots in Religion, the Gentry have none at all. They all have a might Opinion of their Nation and People, and think none in the World comes near ’em, in any thing whatsoeer; and, if any commendable thing is found in any other Nation, as to Arts and Sciences, &c. ’tis all owing to them; for they esteem all other Nations and People, that arenot educated in, or by theirs, Brutes and Monsters, and hate ’em, tho’ they profess the same Religion, and are principl’d as hopefully as themselves. They all extol and value themselves above the rest of Mankind. They are all Shew and Vapour, and will have a lac’d Coat, tho’ all the rest of the Moveables are not worth a Sous Marque; and a good Shirt on one of their Backs, is as great a Sight, and as hard to be met with, as an honest Man in the City. They make no manner of Allowance in their Apparel, as to Age; for they are as gaudy at 80, as they were at 10 Years of Age. The Girls are exquisitley well instruct in the Arts of Coqueting, Jilting and Gaming. They are taught to knit, but not skill’d in Housewifery; and all naturally throw themselves on their Backs, like a Cat in a Skirmish, and labour hard, Hip and Thigh, to nourish and subsist the rest of the Parts. In fine, From the Duchess to the meanest Peasant, all are Mercenary, and for Cash, will prostrate themselves &c. For there’s a certain wicked Itch or Gaming, that runs thro’ the whole Nation, and makes ’em as mad as a proud Bitch. They all pretend to have a Value for Strangers, and prefer them before their own Folks; But ’tis all Sham, and Cant, and Policy, in order to cull ’em of their Pence.

Ah Traitress! Ah Ingrate! Ah Faithless Mind!

Ah Sex invented first to damn Mankind!

Perhaps, you may guess, by these two borrow’d Lines, that my Mistress is unkind; but I assure you, you must guess again. I need not tell you of their small Faults; as that they are Lyars, Inconstant, Fickle, Frail, Lewd, False, Dissembling, &c. for these are the Grace the Generality of the Sex are endow’d withal. They all pretend to Wit and Criticism; and any one that speaks much, and laughs and sings, they will allow him to have a great deal of Wit; and if he dances and plays at Cards, he’s an accomplish’d Gentleman. Their Dress is Airy and Taudry, and as Frippery and Gugaw [gegaw i.e. trifles] in their old Age as ’twas in their Youth. They are nasty about their Feet and Legs, their Linnen very coarse, and commonly dirty, for in Summer they wear a Shift 4 or 5 Weeks and in Winter 6 or 7. They are extream sluttish in their Houses, as well in their Bed-Chamber as Kitchin. In each Story there’s a Privy, and for the most part at the Entrance, in order to confound the rest of the more odious Stinks; so in short from the Cellar to the Garret, Including Madam, you have a continued House of Office. In brief, they are all Tongue, all Devotes, all Hypocrites, and all Whores, and not a thousandth Part so fair, as they are false, and were my Letter as large as a Book called Theophrastus, it wou’d scare contain the Faults and Vices of the Nation. As for Perfections, know of none they have, except in all I have tax’d ’em with. If I could find but one honest Man in the Kindgom, I’d alter my Tune. What I’ve here inserted, is not by Hear-say, but by woful Experience.”

And then, a week later, a rebuttal to an unidentified objector:

London, Feb. 4

“Having inserted in our Paper of Monday last, a Letter that came lately from France, wherein a Gentleman of our Nation, drove thither by evil Fate, had a mind to divert himself and his Friend with a Character of the French People; it was no Matter of Surprize to us, to see, since, in a certain Paper scarce Publick, and unworthy Mention, the weak Efforts of some Paltry, French Scribbler, to wash the Blackamore white, and vindicate his Nation from a Character due to the Generality of ’em.

The Writer of the Supplement hopes he may be, therefore, excus’d, if, to keep himself out of Idleness, he bestow Two or Three cursory Remarks on the Trifling Reflexions of a Person, whom, out of Love to all true Britains, he can’t suppose to be any better than a Frenchman.

For, Who else, in the Name of Wonder, ever esteem’d it an Honour, to have liv’d, some time, in France? I know, ’tis no-wise injurious to a Gentleman’s Reputation, to say, he has travel’d in, or thro’, France, (nor more, that he has gone thro’ Wales or Yorkshire;) But it could never, certainly, enter into the Heart of a Native of Great Britain, to account it any Honour to have liv’d in France, where wooden Shoes are so great a Fashion!

But yet it might, too since the French King could find out no other Expedient to restrain the Warmth of his Fighting People, than the Law against Duelling. They are so Fighting, it seems, that Foreigners must think it an Honour, that they can live among ’em in whole Skins! – Why truly, I am afraid our Gentleman’s Mirth rows’d your Passion, Monsieur; and that, while your Blood was yet boiling hot, you took upon you to prove the French a Brave People. For, certainly, no Man, at least, no Englishman, that has the Use of his Reason, would ever pretend to do it, at this time of Day!

I must confess, ‘twou’d vex me, to be told, that my Countrymen are effeminate, and less than Women; But more so, to consider that they really are so. I would not be thought to reflect on particular Persons: There are, no doubt, some Brave Men, even among the French; For there’s no General Rule without Exception; But when I call to mind, how the Women at Villingen, in the Black Forest, kept out a little Army of the French, a few Years ago, by throwing Stones at ’em, I am apt to esteem ’em, in my poor Judgment, less than Women. What of the Conquests gain’d by your invincible Monarch, as you call him, in his younger Reign? ‘Tis notorious, that they were owing either to the Power of his Gold, or encroaching Treaties; and not won by Dint of Sword. When was ever the French Courage try’d, and not foil’d? Is it an Argument of the Bravery of the French Nation, That many Ages ago, the English beat ’em in open Field, tho’ the French were almost Three to One, took their King Prisoner [Crécy 1356], and conquer’d the whole Kingdom of France? And, where have they not had the Superiority of late? They were not so often beat, in the last War, I own; But, perhaps it was because they did not so often come to close Battles. And ’tis rather a Tryal of Superiority of Number, than of Courage, for Armies to stand at a Distance, and fire upon one another. It is, therefore, to the immortal Honour of the Duke of Marlborough, that, according to all our Accounts, his Grace has introduced a new Way of Fighting the French; His Soldiers stand the Enemy’s first Charge, but, allowing ’em no Time for a second, fall upon ’em Sword-in-hand: And, whenever the Confederate Troops come at ’em, in this Manner, the French surely run away. Witness the Battles of Blenheim, Turin, Ramelies, Audenard, and Wynendale; In all which they had the Superiority of Numbers, and Advantage of Ground. I am as far from lessening the D. of Marlborough’s Conduct and Abilities, as any Man; And I hope it will not be thought I do so, when I argue, That the French, in general, are not so form’d for Heroes, as that impertinent Writer would persuade People. His Grace has, more than once, seen the Finger of God, in defeating them in Battle; and as we all know the Superior Conduct of our Consummate General, so his Grace never fails to give all his Troops their Share of Superior Courage. To have done, therefore, with the Subject of French Cowardice, I declare That as often as I shall think of their late Defence of the Scheld, after so many Months Pains to fortify themselves on its Banks, I shall conclude, the Gentleman that wrote our Letter, did ’em no Injustice as to that Particular.

As for Monsieur’s Instance of their Courage in the Defence of Lisle; I look upon it to be of no manner of Service to him: For their Courage cannot be fairly try’d, when they are cover’d with Walls, and Parapets, and I know not what. The French King attributed the long Defence of that Place to the Bravery of the Mareschal de Boufflers, and Two or Three more General Officers, and not to that of his Troops, who call the Confederate Soldiers Devils, for Fighting; and his Most Christian Majesty himself lately declar’d, That (for the general) he did not know what to make either of his Generals or Troops. Such is their Martial Ardour!

Nobody will dispute with my Frenchman, but his Country may have bred fine Gentlemen, as well as other Nations: But I am a little in the dark, as to the Improvements the greatest Men in England owe to that Kingdom. No more do I understand, what he means by the Exercises and other numerous Accomplishments learnt by our Nobility and Gentry there. Mean time, I remember to have read somewhere, That ’tis a wrong Notion in our English Gentry, to begin their Travels in Holland, and end ’em in France; and the Reason alleg’d was, because it was the Misfortune of too many,

To bring French Vices and Diseases home.

To charge the French with Levity, would not have been unpardounable, it seems; But our Gentleman has affronted Monsieur, by reflecting on the Fair Sex! I confess, I never was in France, but have the Honour personally to know several French Ladies in England; and, I profess, if I had never thought of such an Epithet as Fair, for that (generally speaking) black Sex.

Thus far I have gone out of my way, to oblige you, Monsieur; for I am persuaded, you took pains enough to wipe off the true Character of your Nation, to expect me to do this Justice to myself, as well as to the absent Gentleman, who design’d you no Affront. For the rest, be assur’d, That hereafter I shall take no Notice of your Impertinence, but leave the Actions of your Nation to justify their Character inserted in the Supplement.”

Too many humorous bits to point out, but if you need more details on policy, cowardice, arrogance, dinting swords, skulking behind walls, and fickle dancing, you might just want to go buy yourself my latest publication.

 

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One response to “Christmas stocking stuffer”

  1. Gene Hughson says :

    Poor thing. It must have been so galling to have been made a prisoner by such a cowardly, degenerate lot so utterly lacking in martial virtue. 🙂

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