NICE, January 3, 1764.
MADAM, - In your favour which I received by Mr. M - l, you remind me of my promise, to communicate the remarks I have still to make on the French nation; and at the same time you signify your opinion, that I am too severe in my former observations. You even hint a suspicion, that this severity is owing to some personal cause of resentment; but, I protest, I have no particular cause of animosity against any individual of that country. I have neither obligation to, nor quarrel with, any subject of France; and when I meet with a Frenchman worthy of my esteem, I can receive him into my friendship with as much cordiality, as I could feel for any fellow-citizen of the same merit. I even respect the nation, for the number of great men it has produced in all arts and sciences. I respect the French officers, in particular, for their gallantry and valour; and especially for that generous humanity which they exercise towards their enemies, even amidst the horrors of war. This liberal spirit is the only circumstance of antient chivalry, which I think was worth preserving. It had formerly flourished in England, but was almost extinguished in a succession of civil wars, which are always productive of cruelty and rancour. It was Henry IV. of France, (a real knight errant) who revived it in Europe. He possessed that greatness of mind, which can forgive injuries of the deepest dye: and as he had also the faculty of distinguishing characters, he found his account, in favouring with his friendship and confidence, some of those who had opposed him in the field with the most inveterate perseverance. I know not whether he did more service to mankind in general, by reviving the practice of treating his prisoners with generosity, than he prejudiced his own country by patronizing the absurd and pernicious custom of duelling, and establishing a punto, founded in diametrical opposition to common sense and humanity.
I have often heard it observed, that a French officer is generally an agreeable companion when he is turned of fifty. Without all doubt, by that time, the fire of his vivacity, which makes him so troublesome in his youth, will be considerably abated, and in other respects, he must be improved by his experience. But there is a fundamental error in the first principles of his education, which time rather confirms than removes. Early prejudices are for the most part converted into habits of thinking; and accordingly you will find the old officers in the French service more bigotted than their juniors, to the punctilios of false honour.