You eat too fast, and I understand why your antidyspeptic pill-makers cover your walls, your forests even, with their advertisements.
July 7, 2012 9:36 AM   Subscribe

In 1891 author and lecturer ”Max O’Rell” (being the pen name of one Léon Paul Blouet) published an amusing account of his travels through the States and Eastern Canada - "A Frenchman In America" - that, along with the charming illustrations, reflect on then popular national stereotypes and character and is presented on Project Gutenberg in its entirely. (via)
posted by The Whelk (16 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
'XIV.—Marcus Aurelius in America—Chairmen I Have Had—American, English, and Scotch Chairmen—One who had Been to Boulogne—Talkative and Silent Chairmen—A Trying Occasion—The Lord is Asked to Allow the Audience to See my Points, 124

XV.—Reflections on the Typical American...."

-from Index.

"The Teutonic is behaving beautifully"

Not by the look of that drawing.

It seems one of those books were the index is more surreal then the content.

cool stuff.
posted by clavdivs at 9:50 AM on July 7, 2012

I enjoy the pages long rant on how awful fans of Wagner are.
posted by The Whelk at 9:51 AM on July 7, 2012

I like this:

This morning, before leaving the hotel in Pittsburg, I was approached by a young man who, after giving me his card, thanked me most earnestly for my lecture of last night. In fact, he nearly embraced me.

“I never enjoyed myself so much in my life,” he said.

I grasped his hand.

“I am glad,” I replied, “that my humble effort pleased you so much. Nothing is more gratifying to a lecturer than to know he has afforded pleasure to his audience.”

“Yes,” he said, “it gave me immense pleasure. You see, I am engaged to be married to a girl in town. All her family went to your show, and I had the girl at home all to myself. Oh! I had such a good time! Thank you so much! Do lecture here again soon.”
posted by octothorpe at 9:54 AM on July 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

This gem is buried in an otherwise uninteresting segment about Detroit.

The worst type of Anglo-Saxon parvenu is probably the “unco guid,” or religious parvenu.

The Anglo-Saxon “unco guid” is seldom to be found among Roman Catholics; that is, among the followers of the most ancient Christian religion. He is to be found among the followers of the newest forms of “Christianity.” This is quite natural. He has to try to eclipse his fellow-Christians by his piety, in order to show that the new religion to which he belongs was a necessary invention.

The Anglo-Saxon “unco guid” is easily recognized. He is dark (all bigots and fanatics are). He is dressed in black, shiny broadcloth raiment. A wide-brimmed felt hat covers his head. He walks with light, short, jaunty steps, his head a little inclined on one side. He never carries a stick, which might give a rather fast appearance to his turn-out. He invariably carries an umbrella, even in the brightest weather, as being more respectable—and this umbrella he never rolls, for he would avoid looking in the distance as if he had a stick. He casts right and left little grimaces that are so many forced smiles of self-satisfaction. “Try to be as good as I am,” he seems to say to all who happen to look at him, “and you will be as happy.” And he “smiles, and smiles, and smiles.”

He has a small soul, a small heart, and a small brain.

As a rule, he is a well-to-do person. It pays better to have a narrow mind than to have broad sympathies.

He drinks tea, but prefers cocoa, as being a more virtuous beverage.

He is perfectly destitute of humor, and is the most inartistic creature in the world. Everything suggests to him either profanity or indecency. The “Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character,” by Dean Ramsay, would strike him as profane, and if placed in the Musée du Louvre, before the Venus of Milo, he would see nothing but a woman who has next to no clothes on.

posted by The Whelk at 10:02 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

...and then it gets kind of anti-Semitic cause hey, 1891.
posted by The Whelk at 10:03 AM on July 7, 2012

and some things never change

I am suffering from the monotony of life. My greatest objection to America (indeed I do not believe I have any other) is the sameness of everything. I understand the Americans who run away to Europe every year to see an old church, a wall covered with moss and ivy, some good old-fashioned peasantry not dressed like the rest of the world.
posted by The Whelk at 10:08 AM on July 7, 2012

That's really fun. I'll need to read it carefully for tips on public speaking. It's an encapsulation not just of a man, a time, and a place, and also of the process of encapsulation by that kind of man in that time and place.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:10 AM on July 7, 2012

E. W. Kemble also illustrated Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, among many other things.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2012

I won’t go to Texas. I should strongly object to being shot anywhere, but especially in Texas, where the event would attract so little public attention.

posted by The Whelk at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Interesting. But I did a double-take when I found this odd line in discussing the "negro question" towards the end of the book, in regards to miscegenation:

I can perfectly well understand that Jonathan should not care to associate too closely with the colored people, for, although they do not inspire me with repulsion, still I cannot imagine—well, I cannot understand for one thing how the mulatto can exist.

Okay then. So, our sophisticated French author can't get his head around why people of two different races would actually want to have sex? It's not like this was completely unknown in France (as seen previously). "Well, you see Mr. O'Rell, when a mommy and daddy love each other very much..."
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2012

In Russia and the northern parts of the United States, the people say: “It’s too cold to go out.” In Canada, they say: “It’s very cold, let’s all go out.

This, in a nutshell, captures the deepest truth in every Canadian heart. Even if some don't act on it.
posted by salishsea at 10:45 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh the racism. Plenty of it in this book. Would that so many contemporary writers of cheap amusements for the masses were this honest about their true feelings towards difference.

On second thoughts, imagine this guy as the French Glen Beck mixed with the haughtiness of a William F. Buckley and you are in for an afternoon of delightful Pontificating punctuated by the odd prescient observation.

Gosh...his florid style has got to me.
posted by salishsea at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2012

Racism was pretty much the norm at that time, I would be more surprised if he wasn't.
posted by octothorpe at 12:34 PM on July 7, 2012

It wasn't so much about the racism, but that the sentiment was so stupidly and unfelicitously expressed.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:55 PM on July 7, 2012

From the chapter on American women: "Pardon me, Miss, I’m a married man, there is something wrong there behind, just under your waist belt."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:41 PM on July 7, 2012

I liked the part were he moaned about Americans wasting food.
posted by The Whelk at 8:51 PM on July 7, 2012

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