Characters of Nations: Stereotypes in 1794

As Halloween is a day for mastering stereotypes and flaunting them before the world, I thought it appropriate to share some from the late 18th century.  These come from a letter to The Lady’s Magazine from Volume XXV 1794, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, appropriated solely to their use and amusement.  Do take them as such.

Stereotypes of the French, German, Italian, Spanish and English Characters

In Their Manners

  • The Frenchman is more than civil; he is courtly
  • The German benevolent
  • The Italian civil
  • The Spaniard disdainful and thinks too little of others
  • The Englishman haughty and thinks too much of himself

With Respect to Stature

  • The Frenchman is of a good size
  • The German tall
  • The Italian middling
  • The Spaniard short
  • The Englishman portly

In Apparel

  • The Frenchman is an innovator
  • The German an imitator
  • The Italian stingy
  • The Spaniard thrifty
  • The Englishman sumptuous

In Their Feasts

  • The Frenchman is delicate
  • The German a drunkard
  • The Italian sober
  • The Spaniard penurious
  • The Englishman prodigal
Germans Eating Sour Krout – James Gillray (1803)

In Their Tempers

  • The Frenchman is a sneerer
  • The German affable
  • The Italian complaisant
  • The Spaniard grave
  • The Englishman changeable

With Regard to Beauty

  • The Frenchman is handsome
  • The German not inferior to him
  • The Italian neither handsome nor ugly
  • The Spaniard rather ugly than handsome
  • The Englishman resembling angels

In Council

  • The Frenchman is not slow
  • The German more slow
  • The Italian subtle
  • The Spaniard cautious
  • The Englishman resolute
French Liberty, British Slavery – James Gillray (1792)

In Their Writings

  • The Frenchman speaks well, writes better
  • The German writes much
  • The Italian with solidity
  • The Spaniard little and well
  • The Englishman learnedly

In Their Knowledge

  • The Frenchman knows something of every thing
  • The German is a pedant
  • The Italian is learned
  • The Spaniard is profound
  • The Englishman is a philosopher

In Religion

  • The Frenchman is zealous
  • The German religious
  • The Italian fond of ceremonies
  • The Spaniard tainted with superstition
  • The Englishman with bigotry

In Their Undertakings

  • The Frenchman is like an eagle
  • The German like a bear
  • The Italian like a fox
  • The Spaniard like an elephant
  • The Englishman like a lion
The Times – James Gillray (1783)
Dutch: “Der Donder, take you monsieur.  I think I have paid the Piper.”                                           Spanish:  “See Gibralter!  See Don Langara! by St. Anthony you have made me the Laughing Stock of Europe.”

In the Office of Friendship

  • The Frenchman is faithful
  • The German good company
  • The Italian respectful
  • The Spaniard submissive
  • The Englishman a slave

In Marriage

  • The Frenchman is free
  • The German a patron
  • The Italian a gaoler
  • The Spaniard a tyrant
  • The Englishman a servant and a drudge

Their Women

  • In France they are full of quality and pride
  • In Germany economists and cold
  • In Italy prisoners and wicked
  • In Spain slaves and amorous
  • In England queens and libertines

Their Languages

  • Charles V said that he would speak French to his friend
  • High Dutch to his horse
  • Italian to his mistress
  • Spanish to God
  • English to birds
An Italian Family – Samuel Alken after Thomas Rowlandson (1785) 

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8 thoughts on “Characters of Nations: Stereotypes in 1794

    1. I think it’s safe to say that I’m delighted that some have not! The German fares rather well in this estimate, and I have attested to many of these traits in person. I cannot surmise that many German males would taken offense to imitator in apparel; they might look at it as cohesion. Drunkard? Well, one must have their drinking songs, after all. How else would males bond? Pedant, perhaps, is offensive, but they did come up with the word backpfeifengesicht all on their own and seem original at least in this sphere, the Irish notwithstanding. It is something to be boastful of.

  1. @Adam Stevenson, LOL. I too aim to better my German self to the highest extent possible given my limited intellectual and social skills, though it would appear I am “good company” and an asset in a physical altercation. A really great post by Susan.

  2. Amusement or not, it’s amazing how this list snaps the reader into an immediate comparison to personal experiences!

    However, my favorite is the last one – what an erudite yet down-to-earth snapshot of the 16th Century from a regal mind, if I read it right. Every observation is a universe of complexities! (A Spanish king who reigned over the Low Countries where he was born – horses must be pretty highly valued! And he viewed God as Spanish!? While contending against France for most of his reign, he viewed it’s language as companionable – highly politic, indeed! And the language for a mistress? Well, some things never change… )

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