Never in any country in the world has the worship of mere talent been carried to such an extent as in France. And the word “talent” is not here intended to imply capacity, but rather a kind of aptitude enabling its owner to shine. It is the kind of superiority in which is involved so much address and readiness of wit that it quickly degenerates into savoir faire, whereas genuine “capacity” leads its possessor to varied excellence, whence force of character and steadfastness of will can never be quite absent, or the capacity is an inferior one. But among the curiosities of French civilisation too superficially studied by foreigners is the habit of identifying every sort of superiority with the superiorities recognised by “society” and the “Court”—those of birth, position, and fashion.
A very remarkable proof of this lies in the attribution of honesty itself only to a certain class. The word “les honnêtes gens” was distinctive of those only who had the necessary qualifications for moving in the highest spheres—anything lower than that was not in the magic circle; and, besides the assumption of “honesty,” and of certain qualities constituting the British notion of a “gentleman,” talent was also instinctively ranked as belonging properly to those of a distinguished social standing.