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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

24. Of National Characters

Texte intégral

1François-Ignace d’Espiard de La Borde (1707–1777) was the son of an eminent lawyer at the Parlement de Franche-Comté. He took holy orders. His only known work is his Essai sur le génie et le caractère des nations (Essay on the Genius and Character of Nations), published in Brussels in 1743. A second edition came out in 1752 under the title The Spirit of the Nations. He considers the influence of physical factors, connected to geography, on national character and stresses that ‘for a nation, climate is the fundamental cause of genius, to which must be added similar subordinate ones like the quality of the blood, the nature of the diet, the quality of the water and the vegetation’. He examines particular applications of his theory by taking into account women and love.

2All the several people inhabiting the earth, we divide into three parts. The first comprehends the thirty degrees northward from the Equator, which we shall assign to the southern and scorched regions; the thirty successive degrees till the sixtieth northwards, comprehend the middle and temperate countries; and the thirty from thence to the Pole shall be the degrees of the northern people, and the regions of excessive cold.

3The same divisions are also to be observed from the Equator to the Antarctic Pole. […]

  • i The north-west of Asia Minor.
  • ii Romania.

4In a more happy position, betwixt 40 and 50, are situated the hithermost parts of Spain, France, Italy, Lower Germany as far as the Main, Hungary, Illyria, both Mysias,i the country of the Dacians,ii Moldavia, Turkey in Europe, a great part of Lesser Asia, Sogdania bordering southwards on Bactriana, together with Armenia and the province of the Parthians. […]

5The Americans and Europeans are warlike people, who yet never shut up their women. The Savages, Scythians, Goths, etc. in all their Barbarity, so far from entertaining a thought of depriving them of their Liberty, admitted them in private concerns even to a kind of equality with Man.

6Their happiness began in Europe, with the settlements of those people, that is, as soon as it could begin: The further North, the more female authority, and the less jealousy. The indifference of the German laws on this head would scarce be credited; yet these same Visigoths, afterwards penetrating into Spain, adapted the jealous laws of the Nation, and which in those climates are a matter of necessity, if the conduct of Women, who are indulged some freedom at Cuzco, Lima, Goa, and in the Indies, be not misrepresented by Travellers.

7I leave the particulars of the French spirit of society, of manners and gallantry to the expatiations of the writers of these surprising adventures and ingenious novels: A philosophic view only agrees with our design, and this will exhibit a general idea of the mind and heart of different Nations in this article.

8Beauty inspires either passion, sensual desires, gaiety, or admiration. The pensive and melancholy Spaniard tends more directly to the natural object of the passion, which is beauty, preferring it to wit and hilarity. The Italian already prevaricates: It is not the object of the passion, beauty, to which he directly tends, but to his scope, which is pleasure: He prefers a timorous beauty. The Spaniard’s passion is all nature: That of the Italian has in it something of imagination and wit.

9The Frenchman, more superficial in his sentiments, is not so vehemently carried towards beauty; the woman of wit and gaiety takes more with him. The German is of another cast; in him beauty excites admiration and respect, which, however are not its essential effects; nor has all the beauty of the German women been able to disperse the phlegm of that Nation, or communicate to the style and arts that spirit and fire, in which Italy and France have so happily imitated Antiquity.

10The mode of love, particular to each Nation, answers to its principle. The Spaniard is a madman; he threatens universal destruction, if he fails of his point; yet upon miscarrying, betakes himself to macerations, and all those amorous penances, which are so facetiously described in their romances. Fifty years ago there was, and may be still, at the court of Spain, a particular sect of these amorists, distinguished by the style of Embevecidos or drunk with Love; they are allowed their transports in public; their dress and behaviour, how extravagant soever [sic], are taken no notice of; love, by which they are entirely possessed, being an excuse for their madness.

11The Italian makes his advances, under the images of a polite voluptuousness, and the most refined impudence: The terms and genius of his poetry tend to seducement [sic], and his passion breaks forth in music and concerts: No Nation comes up to him in poetical fecundity, he never gives over till he is a conqueror, or even revenged on his rival.

12The Frenchman is volatile, sparkling and giddy. His gay passion makes use only of songs or railleries, ludicrous flights, balls, and collations; but he no sooner comes to be loved, than he immediately grows out of conceit with the object about which he took so much pains. If his mistress is insensible, he vents his spite in menaces and slander; but it is his happiness, that no storm is of any long continuance with him.

13The wary, cold meditative German is not easily moved; but when once smitten, he pours in his presents; his gallantry understands nothing further; he is also timorous and confused, and scrupulously nice against the least breach of decency. If it be his happiness to be beloved, he presently cools; if he is slighted, he continues in love.

14[…] These are the only four manners in which this passion operates; all the love systems of other Nations being reducible to these, either jointly or separately.

15François-Ignace d’Espiard de La Borde, The Spirit of Nations (1752).

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i The north-west of Asia Minor.

ii Romania.


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