Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain

also have found, I am sure, that she was not new, that she exists in

other lands in the same forms, and with the same frivolous heart and the

same ways and impulses. I think this because I have seen our coquette;

I have seen her in life; better still, I have seen her in our novels,

and seen her twin in foreign novels. I wish M. Bourget had seen ours.

He thought he saw her. And so he applied his System to her. She was a

Species. So he gathered a number of samples of what seemed to be her,

and put them under his glass, and divided them into groups which he calls

“types,” and labeled them in his usual scientific way with “formulas”–

brief sharp descriptive flashes that make a person blink, sometimes, they

are so sudden and vivid. As a rule they are pretty far-fetched, but that

is not an important matter; they surprise, they compel admiration, and I

notice by some of the comments which his efforts have called forth that

they deceive the unwary. Here are a few of the coquette variants which

he has grouped and labeled:






If he had stopped with describing these characters we should have been

obliged to believe that they exist; that they exist, and that he has seen

them and spoken with them. But he did not stop there; he went further

and furnished to us light-throwing samples of their behavior, and also

light-throwing samples of their speeches. He entered those things in his

note-book without suspicion, he takes them out and delivers them to the

world with a candor and simplicity which show that he believed them

genuine. They throw altogether too much light. They reveal to the

native the origin of his find. I suppose he knows how he came to make

that novel and captivating discovery, by this time. If he does not, any

American can tell him–any American to whom he will show his anecdotes.

It was “put up” on him, as we say. It was a jest–to be plain, it was a

series of frauds. To my mind it was a poor sort of jest, witless and

contemptible. The players of it have their reward, such as it is; they

have exhibited the fact that whatever they may be they are not ladies.

M. Bourget did not discover a type of coquette; he merely discovered a

type of practical joker. One may say the type of practical joker, for

these people are exactly alike all over the world. Their equipment is

always the same: a vulgar mind, a puerile wit, a cruel disposition as a

rule, and always the spirit of treachery.

In his Chapter IV. M. Bourget has two or three columns gravely devoted

to the collating and examining and psychologizing of these sorry little

frauds. One is not moved to laugh. There is nothing funny in the

situation; it is only pathetic. The stranger gave those people his

confidence, and they dishonorably treated him in return.

But one must be allowed to suspect that M. Bourget was a little to blame

himself. Even a practical joker has some little judgment. He has to

exercise some degree of sagacity in selecting his prey if he would save

himself from getting into trouble. In my time I have seldom seen such

daring things marketed at any price as these conscienceless folk have

worked off at par on this confiding observer. It compels the conviction

that there was something about him that bred in those speculators a quite

unusual sense of safety, and encouraged them to strain their powers in

his behalf. They seem to have satisfied themselves that all he wanted

was “significant” facts, and that he was not accustomed to examine the

source whence they proceeded. It is plain that there was a sort of

conspiracy against him almost from the start–a conspiracy to freight him

up with all the strange extravagances those people’s decayed brains could


The lengths to which they went are next to incredible. They told him

things which surely would have excited any one else’s suspicion, but they

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Categories: Twain, Mark