Right now, I’m in France — the perfect time to share with you some 18th century stereotypes about different European nationalities!

Excerpted from THE ROAD TO KNOWLEDGE: Or, Young Man & Woman’s Best Friend, by George Stapleton, published in London in 1797.


With respect to the PEOPLE of France, they are very lively and active, with a great share of wit, and a natural disposition and aptitude for all bodily exercises: they are, however, of a most restless disposition, and appear more fond of war than any other people.

As to treaties, covenants, &c. they pay very little regard to them. They violate a treaty, however solemn, with as little ceremony as they sit down to dinner.

Politeness is a characteristic with them; but this is often overdone; and that wit and sprightliness, otherwise so engaging, seems to be not purely natural.

In the mean time, amidst their excessive fondness for wit, the understanding is neglected, as of little or not consequence; the effect of which is, that they often mistake the shadow for the substance, and seek merit in external appearances, and things of no affinity with it.

As they vainly imagine no nation can come in competition with them for wit, so they arrogate to themselves the like superiority in qualities really praiseworthy, and especially military courage. Their natural levity subjects them in their own deportment, and particularly in their cloathing, to the tyranny of fashion, which is ever varying, and yet is submitted to by almost every European nation except the Spaniards.


The native of Switzerland are very industrious, and no part of the world produces better soldiers.


The inhabitants [of Rome] possess many good qualities, and many bad ones: they are polite, prudent, industrious, and ingenious; but they are luxurious, effeminate, and addicted too much to pleasure.

And remember — the first Tuesday of the month is the Jane Austen Movie Club! (Next week’s movie: the 1995 version of PERSUASION. Please join us!)

Cara King, luxurious, effeminate, and full of levity

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Diane Gaston
15 years ago

Talk about damning with faint praise!

Hope you are experiencing much of that French wit—and lots of good French cuisine!

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

eHope you’re having a fabulous time, Cara! These quotes are fun to read. Ironically, last night I was thinking about characters who’ve come to England recently after years on the Continent (one British, the other not) and how England would seem an alien land with its own arcane rules and customs.

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

So, what do they say about the Swiss?? šŸ™‚

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

What a great resource! I love this kind of stuff. Hope you’re having a wonderful trip!!!!!!!!!

Cara King
15 years ago

I’m having a great trip, thanks! And eating huge amounts of French food… and other food. Nice is sort of a crossroads, so there’s lots of foreign food here too. My favorite meal so far was in an Afghan restaurant — so delicious! Also had a great Vietnamese meal, and a lovely Lebanese dinner.

Plus pizza, pasta (very near Italy!), weird ice cream (more on that later!), lots of bread and cheese…

Off to visit a Rothschild villa today… (Though from the early 20th century, so just for fun, not research!)


15 years ago

Hem hem. Seems like this tells us more about the English than the Continentals!

15 years ago

From various things I’ve read, I’ve gotten the impression that the English–and Europeans in general in the 18th and 19th centuries–subscribed to a weird kind of “climatic determinism.” That is, they believed that people from warm, southerly areas tended to be lively, excitable, emotional, and erratic, while people from the north tended to be stolid and steady. Of course, there was presumably some room for variations from country to country. The English regarded themselves as basically northern, but with some of the more positive “southern” traits. šŸ™‚

How they squared all this with the achievements of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans–all southerly countries–is not clear to me.


15 years ago

Amanda wrote:

So, what do they say about the Swiss??

“What a bloody country! Even the cheese has got holes in it!”


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