Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Typical English Men and Women
By Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828–1893)
From ‘Notes on England’: Translation of William Fraser Rae

AT bottom the essential thing in a country is man. Since my arrival I have made a collection of types, and I class them with those I had collected last year…. Arranged in groups, the following are those which have struck me most:—  1
  First, the robust individual, largely and solidly built, the fine colossus, at times six feet high and broad in proportion. This is very common among soldiers, notably among the Life Guards, a select body of men. Their countenance is fresh and blooming, their flesh magnificent; it might be supposed they had been chosen for an exhibition of human products, like picked prize beets and cauliflowers. They have a fund of good-humor, sometimes of good-nature, generally of awkwardness…. In point of mass they are monuments; but there may be too much of a good thing, and movement is so essential to matter! Other monuments, rather less tall, but even fresher and more varnished, are the servants of a great house. They wear white cravats with large faultless bows, scarlet or canary-colored knee-breeches; they are magnificent in shape and amplitude—their calves especially are enormous…. The coachmen are prodigiously broad-shouldered and well developed: how many yards of cloth must be required to clothe such figures? These are the favorites of creation, the best fed, the most easy-going, all chosen and picked in order to act as specimens of the nation’s physique….  2
  There is the same athletic and full-fleshed type among the gentlemen; I know four or five specimens among my acquaintances. Sometimes the excess of feeding adds a variety. This was true of a certain gentleman in my railway carriage on the Derby day: large ruddy features, with flabby and pendent cheeks, large red whiskers, blue eyes without expression, an enormous trunk in a short light jacket, noisy respiration; his blood gave a tinge of pink to his hands, his neck, his temple, and even underneath his hair: when he compressed his eyelids, his physiognomy was as disquieting and heavy as that seen in the portraits of Henry VIII.; when in repose, in presence of this mass of flesh, one thought of a beast for the butcher, and quietly computed twenty stone of meat. Toward fifty, owing to the effect of the same diet seasoned with port wine, the figure and the face are spoiled, the teeth protrude, the physiognomy is distorted, and they turn to horrible and tragical caricature.  3
  The last variety is seen among the common people, where spirits take the place of port, among other places in the low streets which border the Thames: several apoplectic and swollen faces, whereof the scarlet hue turns almost to black; worn-out, blood-shot eyes like raw lobsters; the brute brutalized. Lessen the quantity of blood and fat, while retaining the same bone and structure, and increasing the countrified look; large and wild beard and mustache, tangled hair, rolling eyes, truculent muzzle, big knotted hands—this is the primitive Teuton issuing from his woods: after the portly animal, after the overfed animal, comes the fierce animal, the English bull.  4
  All this is rare enough; these are the extremes of type. Much more common is the laboring animal: the great bony body, full of protuberances and projections, not well set up, ungainly, clumsy, slightly automatic, but of strong build, and as capable of resistance as of effort. It is not less common among gentlemen, clergymen, the liberal professions, than among the people….  5
  Place in this powerful frame of bones and muscles the lucid, calm, active intelligence developed by special education, or by complete education, and you will have the fine variety of the same type: the serious, capable man, worthy of commanding, in whom during the hour of need one may and one ought to place confidence, who will accomplish difficult tasks. In spick-span new clothes, in too light a dress, the disparity between the habit and its wearer is not far from being grotesque. But fancy him on the bridge of a vessel, in battle,—or simply in a countinghouse at the head of twenty clerks, on the bench and pronouncing decisions, governing fortunes or lives,—he will be beautiful, morally beautiful. This body can contain the soul without succumbing.  6
  Many of the women have the same power of growth and structure, more frequently indeed than in France; out of every ten young girls one is admirable, and upon five or six a naturalist painter would look with pleasure. On horseback especially, and in full gallop, they are amazons; not only by their skill and the firmness of their seat, but on account of their figure and their health. In their presence one thinks of the natural form of life, Grecian and gymnastic. Yesterday one of them in a drawing-room, tall, with well-developed bust and shoulders, blooming cheeks, active, and without too much expression, seemed to me to be made to live in the avenues of a park, or in the great hall of a castle, like her sister the antique statue, in the free air of the mountains, or under the portico of a temple upon the seashore; neither the one nor the other could breathe in our small Parisian dwellings. The mauve silk of the dress follows the form from the neck to the hips, descends and spreads forth like a lustrous wave: in order to depict her as a goddess it would require the palette of Rubens, his rosy red spread over a tint of milk, his large masses of flesh fixed by one dash of the brush; only here the contour is more severe, and the head is nobler. Yet, even when the physiognomy and the form are commonplace the whole satisfies the mind: a solid bony structure, and upon it healthy flesh, constitute what is essential in a living creature….  7
  There are two probable causes: the one, which is of a special character,—the hereditary conformation of the race; the other, which is the custom of open-air living and bodily exercise. A review spoke recently about the rude, unfeeling health which slightly startles delicate foreign ladies, and attributes it to riding on horseback and the long walks which English ladies take in the country. To these advantages are joined several inconveniences: the fair complexion is easily and quickly spoilt; in the case of many young ladies, the nose reddens early; they have too many children, and this deteriorates them. You marry a blonde, slender, and clear-complexioned woman: ten years afterwards you will perhaps have at your side a housekeeper, a nurse, a sitting hen. I have in my mind two or three of these matrons, broad, stiff, and destitute of ideas; red face, eyes the color of blue china, huge white teeth—forming the tricolor flag. In other cases the type becomes exaggerated: one sees extraordinary asparagus-sticks planted in spreading dresses. Moreover, two out of every three have their feet shod with stout masculine boots; and as to the long projecting teeth, it is impossible to train oneself to endure them. Is this a cause, or an effect, of the carnivorous régime? The too ornate and badly adjusted dress completes these disparities. It consists of violet or dark-crimson silks, of grass-green flowered gowns, blue sashes, jewelry—the whole employed sometimes to caparison gigantic jades who recall discharged heavy-cavalry horses, sometimes vast well-hooped butts which burst in spite of their hoops. Of this cast was a lady in Hyde Park one of these days, on horseback, followed by her groom. She was fifty-five, had several chins, the rest in proportion, an imperious and haughty mien; the whole shook at the slightest trot, and it was hard not to laugh.  8

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.