500 AP English Language Questions to know by test day

CHAPTER 5. Journalists and Science and Nature Writers

 

Passage 5b: H. L. Mencken, Europe After 8:15

 

For the American professional seeker after the night romance of Paris, the French have a phrase which, be it soever inelegant, retains still a brilliant verity. The phrase is “une belle poire.” And its Yankee equivalent is “sucker.”

The French, as the world knows, are a kindly, forgiving people; and though they cast the epithet, they do so in manner tolerant and with light arpeggio—of Yankee sneer and bitterness containing not a trace. They cast it as one casts a coin into the hand of some maundering beggar, with commingled oh-wells and philosophical pity. For in the Frenchman of the Paris of to-day, though there run not the blood of Lafayette, and though he detest Americans as he detests the Germans, he yet, detesting, sorrows for them, sees them as mere misled yokels, uncosmopolite, obstreperous, of comical posturing in ostensible un-Latin lech, vainglorious and spying—children into whose hands has fallen Zola, children adream, somnambulistic, groping rashly for those things out of life that, groped for, are lost—that may come only as life comes, naturally, calmly, inevitably.

But the Frenchman, he never laughs at us; that would his culture forbid. And, if he smile, his mouth goes placid before the siege. His attitude is the attitude of one beholding a Comstock come to the hill of Horselberg in Thuringia, there to sniff and snicker in Venus’s crimson court. His attitude is the attitude of one beholding a Tristan en voyage for a garden of love and roses he can never reach. His attitude, the attitude of an old and understanding professor, shaking his head musingly as his tender pupils, unmellowed yet in the autumnal fragrances of life, giggle covertly over the pages of Balzac and Flaubert, over the nudes of Manet, over even the innocent yearnings of the bachelor Chopin.

The American, loosed in the streets of Paris by night, however sees in himself another and a worldlier image. Into the crevices of his flat house in his now faraway New York have penetrated from time to time vague whisperings of the laxative deviltries, the bold saucinesses of the city by the Seine. And hither has he come, as comes a jack tar to West Street after protracted cruise upon the celibate seas, to smell out, as a very devil of a fellow, quotation-marked life and its attributes. What is romance to such a soul—even were romance, the romance of this Paris, 30 uncurtained to him? Which, forsooth, the romance seldom is; for though it may go athwart his path, he sees it not, he feels it not, he knows it not, can know it not, for what it is.