Joseph Joubert (17541824). Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts. 1899.
Of Customs and Habits, both Public and Private, and the Character of Nations
 THERE are some manners and customs which belong to human nature, and will always be found everywhere. It is said of this or that custom that it is Greek, Roman, or barbarous; for my part, I say that it is human, and that men contrive and invent it wherever the need for it arises.
 If we would know everything that is worthy of imitation, we must devote some of our study and observation to legends. What is marvellous in the lives of the Saints is not their miracles, but their manner of life. Disbelieve their miracles, if you like, but at least believe in their lives, for nothing is better attested.
 The multitude are capable of virtue, but not of wisdom. More infallible in a question of value than in a question of preference, they can recognise, but they cannot choose. There is more meaning than one would think in the joke against a butcher who, having need of a lawyer, went into the law-courts, and there chose the stoutest.
 I think as my land thinks, said a landowner: a saying full of meaning, that we may apply every day. Some, in fact, think like their land, others like their shops, others like their hammers, and others like their empty purses that long to be filled.
 In the uneducated classes, the women are superior to the men; in the upper classes, on the contrary, we find the men superior to the women. This is because men are more often rich in acquired virtues, and women in natural virtues.
 When a people that has not much originality wishes to be distinguished in letters, its natural tendency is to throw itself into learning; this is the only way to its end. Nature gives greater patience to the minds that she has made less penetrating.
 There is a kind of quarrelsomeness in the nature of men and nations. When this spirit of dispute and contention spends itself on trifles, why lament? Those are the happy times. The evil to fear is that which attacks and disturbs what is fundamental in social order.
 Newspapers and books are more dangerous in France than elsewhere, because every one there insists on being clever; and those who have no cleverness themselves, always suppose a great deal in the author they are reading, and at once try to think and speak like him.
 Frenchmen are more capable than any one else in the world of going mad without losing their heads. They hardly ever make mistakes except on a system, so little are they made for system. Their reason goes more quickly and surely to the point than their reasoning.
 The Spaniards have the same inflation in their feelings that one finds in their books; an inflation all the more deplorable because it covers a real force and grandeur of character. They made themselves odious and criminal by a senseless love of display, and are still suffering to-day from the horror inspired in us by the conquerors of the Indies. Their example should teach other nations to be more careful of the honour of their name, and to keep it spotless; for, in spite of oneself, one applies to individuals, even in the relations of private life, the judgment which one has formed on the manners and general character of their nation.
 This is how one might apportion the commerce of nations according to their character. The Spaniardjeweller, goldsmith, stone-cutter; the Englishmanmanufacturer; the Germanpaper-merchant; the Dutchmanprovision-merchant; and the Frenchmanfashion-monger. In navigation, the first is brave, the second clever, the third scientific, the fourth industrious, and the fifth adventurous. It would be well to give a ship a Spanish captain, an English pilot, a German boatswain, and Dutch sailors; the Frenchman sails on his own account.
You must hold out a conquest to the first, an enterprise to the second, research to the third, gain to the fourth, and coup de main to the fifth. The first likes long voyages, the second important, the third useful, the fourth lucrative, and the fifth rapid voyages. The first embarks to go, the second to act, the third to see, the fourth to make a profit, and the fifth to arrive. The sea, in fact, is to the Spaniard a road, to the Englishman a dwelling-place, to the German a study, to the Dutchman a means of transport, to the Frenchman a postchaise.