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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

36. The Importance of Trade

Texte intégral

1Like the Abbé de Saint Pierre or Montesquieu, Louis-Antoine Caraccioli, in his book on Paris as ‘the model of foreign nations’, underlines the importance of trade to further understanding between nations. In the second part of the eighteenth century, increased exchanges led to a transcultural Europe under France’s aegis.

On Commerce

2As commerce links Nations, it is hardly surprising it has done much to make Europe French. The Dutch and the English have without a doubt given it more consistency and scope than any other people, but the French have made it more active—it is well known that they have always liked movement.

3I can see them on all the seas, sometimes quarrelling with destinies, sometimes with the elements, in order to amass goods, not so much, it must be said, to gain wealth as to shine. Their insinuating speech, their elegant air serve as their passport to reach the heart of those they wish to win over. It takes less time for them to subjugate a foreigner than for an Englishman to speak. Women, in particular, cannot deny them friendship, and that is why they so often marry in foreign lands and are never uncomfortable there.

4Their manners are felt to be easy and marine trade, which generally renders customs harsh, makes them neither rude nor uncouth: perhaps because of the temperature of the air, perhaps because of the Nation’s character, one who was born and brought up in France is rarely brutal. You encounter petulant men there, but never fierce ones.

5It was thus through trade that the French tamed Europe. Good at insinuating themselves, they make proselytes even when apparently only dealing with trading questions.

6[…] I am only referring here to the second class of tradesmen, as there are traders in all the major cities, like Nantes, Rouen, Lyons, Marseille, Bordeaux and of course Paris, who have sharp analyses, extensive knowledge, a love of the Muses—and indeed would be secretaries to them if their correspondence was as remunerative as that of Plutus.

7Nothing sends man out into all the regions of the world like commerce. In his study, the tradesman converses with all the peoples in the world, ordering his letters to go out to Asia or else to America, to express his wishes; like the Sibyl’s leaves of which Virgil speaks, I imagine them spreading all over and following the impetuous winds and waters.

8It is through the tradesman that gold circulates, that pleasure and utility can march hand in hand, and that France displayed its fashion, its courtesies and its industry in all countries.

9It is striking how much manufacturers have contributed to the fortunate change of which this book speaks. They attracted foreigners’ attention thanks to the beauty of their work. There is not a court in Europe in which French fabrics are not fashionable. They flatter the vanity of the powerful, the frivolity of women; they shine on feast days. A dress which has not been made in Lyons, a diamond which has not been set in Paris, a fan which was not born there, are insipid objects for the foreigner. He only thrives when he spies some sample of French genius.

  • 1 The Germains were a dynasty of goldsmiths. Lempereur and the Dulacs—as their names are more usuall (...)

10So, ingenious people of Lyons and elegant Parisians, work on! All you do will be praised as a masterpiece, such is the trust in your talent. It must be said that the smallest bagatelle which your hands produce bears the hallmark of delicacy and taste. That is why your name flies beyond the Alps and the Pyrenees and L’Empereur, and Germain, and du Lac1 etc. etc. are known even in the depths of Russia.

11Louis-Antoine Caraccioli,
Paris, the Model of Foreign Nations, or French Europe (1777).

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1 The Germains were a dynasty of goldsmiths. Lempereur and the Dulacs—as their names are more usually spelled—sold luxury goods in Paris.