By Mark Twain
[Crowded out of "A Tramp Abroad" to make room for more vital statistics.--M. T.]
The Parisian travels but little, he knows no language but his own, reads no literature but his own, and consequently he is pretty narrow and pretty self-sufficient. However, let us not be too sweeping; there are Frenchmen who know languages not their own: these are the waiters. Among the rest, they know English; that is, they know it on the European plan--which is to say, they can speak it, but can't understand it. They easily make themselves understood, but it is next to impossible to word an English sentence in such away as to enable them to comprehend it. They think they comprehend it; they pretend they do; but they don't. Here is a conversation which I had with one of these beings; I wrote it down at the time, in order to have it exactly correct.
I. These are fine oranges. Where are they grown?
He. More? Yes, I will bring them.
I. No, do not bring any more; I only want to know where they are from where they are raised.
He. Yes? (with imperturbable mien and rising inflection.)
I. Yes. Can you tell me what country they are from?
He. Yes? (blandly, with rising inflection.)
I. (disheartened). They are very nice.
He. Good night. (Bows, and retires, quite satisfied with himself.)
That young man could have become a good English scholar by taking the right sort of pains, but he was French, and wouldn't do that. How different is the case with our people; they utilize every means that offers. There are some alleged French Protestants in Paris, and they built a nice little church on one of the great avenues that lead away from the Arch of Triumph, and proposed to listen to the correct thing, preached in the correct way, there, in their precious French tongue, and be happy. But their little game does not succeed. Our people are always there ahead of them Sundays, and take up all the room. When the minister gets up to preach, he finds his house full of devout foreigners, each ready and waiting, with his little book in his hand--a morocco-bound Testament, apparently. But only apparently; it is Mr. Bellows's admirable and exhaustive little French-English dictionary, which in look and binding and size is just like a Testament and those people are there to study French. The building has been nicknamed "The Church of the Gratis French Lesson."
These students probably acquire more language than general information, for I am told that a French sermon is like a French speech--it never names a historical event, but only the date of it; if you are not up in dates, you get left. A French speech is something like this:
Comrades, citizens, brothers, noble parts of the only sublime and perfect nation, let us not forget that the 21st January cast off our chains; that the 10th August relieved us of the shameful presence of foreign spies; that the 5th September was its own justification before heaven and humanity; that the 18th Brumaire contained the seeds of its own punishment; that the 14th July was the mighty voice of liberty proclaiming the resurrection, the new day, and inviting the oppressed peoples of the earth to look upon the divine face of France and live; and let us here record our everlasting curse against the man of the 2d December, and declare in thunder tones, the native tones of France, that but for him there had been no 17th March in history, no 12th October, no 19th January, no 22d April, no 16th November, no 30th September, no 2d July, no 14th February, no 29th June, no 15th August, no 31st May--that but for him, France the pure, the grand, the peerless, had had a serene and vacant almanac today!
I have heard of one French sermon which closed in this odd yet eloquent way:
My hearers, we have sad cause to remember the man of the 13th January. The results of the vast crime of the 13th January have been in just proportion to the magnitude of the set itself. But for it there had been no 30 November--sorrowful spectacle! The grisly deed of the 16th June had not been done but for it, nor had the man of the 16th June known existence; to it alone the 3d September was due, also the fatal 12th October. Shall we, then, be grateful for the 13th January, with its freight of death for you and me and all that breathe? Yes, my friends, for it gave us also that which had never come but for it, and it atone--the blessed 25th December.
It may be well enough to explain, though in the case of many of my readers this will hardly be necessary. The man of the 13th January is Adam; the crime of that date was the eating of the apple; the sorrowful spectacle of the 30th November was the expulsion from Eden; the grisly deed of the 16th June was the murder of Abel; the act of the 3d September was the beginning of the journey to the land of Nod; the 12th day of October, the last mountain-tops disappeared under the flood. When you go to church in France, you want to take your almanac with you--annotated.