France can teach us--but enough of that part of the question. And what else can France teach us? She can teach us all the fine arts--and does. She throws open her hospitable art academies, and says to us, "Come"--and we come, troops and troops of our young and gifted; and she sets over us the ablest masters in the world and bearing the greatest names; and she, teaches us all that we are capable of learning, and persuades us and encourages us with prizes and honors, much as if we were somehow children of her own; and when this noble education is finished and we are ready to carry it home and spread its gracious ministries abroad over our nation, and we come with homage and gratitude and ask France for the bill--there is nothing to pay. And in return for this imperial generosity, what does America do? She charges a duty on French works of art!
I wish I had your end of this dispute; I should have something worth talking about. If you would only furnish me something to argue, something to refute--but you persistently won't. You leave good chances unutilized and spend your strength in proving and establishing unimportant things. For instance, you have proven and established these eight facts here following--a good score as to number, but not worth while:
Mark Twain is--
2. (Sarcastically speaking) "This refined humor, 1st."
3. Prefers the manure-pile to the violets.
4. Has uttered "an ill-natured sneer."
5. Is "nasty."
6. Needs a "lesson in politeness and good manners."
7. Has published a "nasty article."
8. Has made remarks "unworthy of a gentleman."--["It is more funny than his" (Mark Twain's) "anecdote, and would have been less insulting."
A quoted remark of mine "is a gross insult to a nation friendly to America."
"He has read La Terre, this refined humorist."
"When Mark Twain visits a garden . . . he goes in the far-away comer where the soil is prepared."
"Mark Twain's ill-natured sneer cannot so much as stain them" (the Frenchwomen).
"When he" (Mark Twain) "takes his revenge he is unkind, unfair, bitter, nasty."
"But not even your nasty article on my country, Mark," etc.
"Mark might certainly have derived from it "(M. Bourget's book)" a lesson in politeness and good manners."
A quoted remark of mine is "unworthy of a gentleman."]--
These are all true, but really they are not valuable; no one cares much for such finds. In our American magazines we recognize this and suppress them. We avoid naming them. American writers never allow themselves to name them. It would look as if they were in a temper, and we hold that exhibitions of temper in public are not good form except in the very young and inexperienced. And even if we had the disposition to name them, in order to fill up a gap when we were short of ideas and arguments, our magazines would not allow us to do it, because they think that such words sully their pages. This present magazine is particularly strenuous about it. Its note to me announcing the forwarding of your proof-sheets to France closed thus--for your protection:
"It is needless to ask you to avoid anything that he might consider as personal."
It was well enough, as a measure of precaution, but really it was not needed. You can trust me implicitly, M. Bourget; I shall never call you any names in print which I should be ashamed to call you with your unoffending and dearest ones present.
Indeed, we are reserved, and particular in America to a degree which you would consider exaggerated. For instance, we should not write notes like that one of yours to a lady for a small fault--or a large one.--[When M. Paul Bourget indulges in a little chaffing at the expense of the Americans, "who can always get away with a few years' trying to find out who their grandfathers were,"] he merely makes an allusion to an American foible; but, forsooth, what a kind man, what a humorist Mark Twain is when he retorts by calling France a nation of bastards! How the Americans of culture and refinement will admire him for thus speaking in their name!