Personal Intercourse.—Parisian Society and Hospitality.—Influence of
Money.—Fiacres.—M. de Lameth.—Strife of Courtesy.—Standard of
Delicacy.—French Dinners.—Mode of Visiting.—The Chancellor of
France.—The Marquis de Marbois.—Political Côteries.—Paris Lodgings.
—A French Party.—An English Party.—A splendid Ball.—Effects of good
Breeding.—Characteristic Traits.—Influence of a Court.
To MRS. POMEROY, COOPERSTOWN.
I have said very little, in my previous letters, on the subject of our personal intercourse with the society of Paris. It is not always easy for one to be particular in these matters, and maintain the reserve that is due to others. Violating the confidence he may have received through his hospitality, is but an indifferent return from the guest to the host. Still there are men, if I may so express it, so public in their very essence, certainly in their lives, that propriety is less concerned with a repetition of their sentiments, and with delineations of their characters, than in ordinary cases; for the practice of the world has put them so much on their guard against the representations of travellers, that there is more danger of rendering a false account, by becoming their dupes, than of betraying them in their unguarded moments. I have scarcely ever been admitted to the presence of a real notoriety, that I did not find the man, or woman—sex making little difference—an actor; and this, too, much beyond the everyday and perhaps justifiable little practices of conventional life. Inherent simplicity of character is one of the rarest, as, tempered by the tone imparted by refinement, it is the loveliest of all our traits, though it is quite common to meet with those who affect it, with an address that is very apt to deceive the ordinary, and most especially the flattered, observer.
Opportunity, rather than talents, is the great requisite for circulating gossip; a very moderate degree of ability sufficing for the observation which shall render private anecdotes, more especially when they relate to persons of celebrity, of interest to the general reader. But there is another objection to being merely the medium of information of this low quality, that I should think would have great influence with every one who has the common self-respect of a gentleman. There is a tacit admission of inferiority in the occupation, that ought to prove too humiliating to a man accustomed to those associations, which imply equality. It is permitted to touch upon the habits and appearance of a truly great man; but to dwell upon the peculiarities of a duke, merely because he is a duke, is as much as to say he is your superior; a concession, I do not feel disposed to make in favour of any mere duke in Christendom.
I shall not, however, be wholly silent on the general impressions left by the little I have seen of the society of Paris; and, occasionally, when it is characteristic, an anecdote may be introduced, for such things sometimes give distinctness, as well as piquancy, to a description.
During our first winter in Paris, our circle, never very large, was principally confined to foreign families intermingled with a few French; but since our return to town, from St. Ouen, we have seen more of the people of the country. I should greatly mislead you, however, were I to leave the impression that our currency in the French capital has been at all general, for it certainly has not. Neither my health, leisure, fortune, nor opportunities, have permitted this. I believe few, perhaps no Americans, have very general access to the best society of any large European town; at all events, I have met with no one who I have had any reason to think was much better off than myself in this respect; and, I repeat, my own familiarity with the circles of the capital is nothing to boast of. It is in Paris, as it is everywhere else, as respects those who are easy of access. In all large towns there is to be found a troublesome and pushing set, who, requiring notoriety, obtrude themselves on strangers, sometimes with sounding names, and always with offensive pretensions of some sort or other; but the truly respectable and estimable class, in every country, except in cases that cannot properly be included in the rule, are to be sought. Now, one must feel that he has peculiar claims, or be better furnished with letters than happened to be my case, to get a ready admission into this set, or, having obtained it, to feel that his position enabled him to maintain the intercourse, with the ease and freedom that could alone render it agreeable. To be shown about as a lion, when circumstances offer the means; to be stuck up at a dinner-table, as a piece of luxury, like strawberries in February, or peaches in April,—can hardly be called association: the terms being much on a par with that which forms the liaisons, between him who gives the entertainment, and the hired plate with which his table is garnished. With this explanation, then, you are welcome to an outline of the little I know on the subject.
One of the errors respecting the French, which has been imported into America, through England, is the impression that they are not hospitable. Since my residence here, I have often been at a loss to imagine how such a notion could have arisen, for I am acquainted with no town, in which it has struck me there is more true hospitality than in Paris. Not only are dinners, balls, and all the minor entertainments frequent, but there is scarcely a man, or a woman, of any note in society, who does not cause his or her doors to be opened, once a fortnight at least, and, in half the cases, once a week. At these soirées invitations are sometimes given, it is true, but then they are general, and for the whole season; and it is not unusual, even, to consider them free to all who are on visiting terms with the family. The utmost simplicity and good taste prevail at these places, the refreshments being light and appropriate, and the forms exacting no more than what belongs to good breeding. You will, at once, conceive the great advantages that a stranger possesses in having access to such social resources. One, with a tolerable visiting list, may choose his circle for any particular evening, and if, by chance, the company should not happen to be to his mind, he has still before him the alternative of several other houses, which are certain to be open. It is not easy to say what can be more truly hospitable than this.
The petits soupers, once so celebrated, are entirely superseded by the new distribution of time, which is probably the most rational that can be devised for a town life. The dinner is at six, an hour that is too early to interfere with the engagements of the evening, it being usually over at eight, and too late to render food again necessary that night; an arrangement that greatly facilitates the evening intercourse, releasing it at once from all trouble and parade.
It has often been said in favour of French society, that once within the doors of a salon, all are equal. This is not literally so, it being impossible that such a state of things can exist; nor is it desirable that it should, since it is confounding all sentiment and feeling, overlooking the claims of age, services, merit of every sort, and setting at nought the whole construction of society. It is not absolutely true that even rank is entirely forgotten in French society, though I think it sufficiently so to prevent any deference to it from being offensive. The social pretensions of a French peer are exceedingly well regulated, nor do I remember to have seen an instance in which a very young man has been particularly noticed on account of his having claims of this sort. Distinguished men are so very numerous in Paris, that they excite no great feeling, and the even course of society is little disturbed on their account.
Although all within the doors of a French salon are not perfectly equal, none are made unpleasantly to feel the indifference. I dare say there are circles in Paris, in which the mere possession of money may be a source of evident distinction, but it must be in a very inferior set. The French, while they are singularly alive to the advantages of money, and extremely liable to yield to its influence in all important matters, rarely permit any manifestations of its power to escape them in their ordinary intercourse. As a people, they appear to me to be ready to yield everything to money but its external homage. On these points they are the very converse of the Americans, who are hard to be bought, while they consider money the very base of all distinction. The origin of these peculiarities may be found in the respective conditions of the two countries.
In America, fortunes are easily and rapidly acquired; pressure reduces few to want; he who serves is, if anything, more in demand than he who is to be served; and the want of temptation produces exemption from the liability to corruption. Men will, and do, daily corrupt themselves in the rapacious pursuit of gain, but comparatively few are in the market to be bought and sold by others. Notwithstanding this, money being every man's goal, there is a secret, profound, and general deference for it, while money will do less than in almost any other country in Christendom. Here, few young men look forward to gaining distinction by making money; they search for it as a means, whereas with us it is the end. We have little need of arms in America, and the profession is in less request than that of law or merchandize. Of the arts and letters the country possesses none, or next to none; and there is no true sympathy with either. The only career that is felt as likely to lead, and which can lead, to distinction independently of money, is that of politics, and, as a whole, this is so much occupied by sheer adventurers, with little or no pretentions to the name of statesmen, that it is scarcely reputable to belong to it. Although money has no influence in politics, or as little as well may be, even the successful politician is but a secondary man in ordinary society in comparison with the millionnaire. Now all this is very much reversed in Paris: money does much, while it seems to do but little. The writer of a successful comedy would be a much more important personage in the côteries of Paris than M. Rothschild; and the inventor of a new bonnet would enjoy much more éclat than the inventor of a clever speculation. I question if there be a community on earth in which gambling risks in the funds, for instance, are more general than in this, and yet the subject appears to be entirely lost sight of out of the Bourse.
The little social notoriety that is attached to military distinction here has greatly surprised me. It really seems as if France has had so much military renown as to be satiated with it. One is elbowed constantly by generals, who have gained this or that victory, and yet no one seems to care anything about them. I do not mean that the nation is indifferent to military glory, but society appears to care little or nothing about it. I have seen a good deal of fuss made with the writer of a few clever verses, but I have never seen any made with a hero. Perhaps it was because the verses were new, and the victories old.
The perfect good taste and indifference which the French manifest concerning the private affairs, and concerning the mode of living, of one who is admitted to the salons, has justly extorted admiration, even from the English, the people of all others who most submit to a contrary feeling. A hackney-coach is not always admitted into a court-yard, but both men and women make their visits in them, without any apparent hesitation. No one seems ashamed of confessing poverty. I do not say that women of quality often use fiacres to make their visits, but men do, and I have seen women in them openly whom I have met in some of the best houses in Paris. It is better to go in a private carriage, or in a remise, if one can, but few hesitate, when their means are limited, about using the former. In order to appreciate this self-denial, or simplicity, or good sense, it is necessary to remember that a Paris fiacre is not to be confounded with any other vehicle on earth. I witnessed, a short time since, a ludicrous instance of the different degrees of feeling that exist on this point among different people. A—— and myself went to the house of an English woman our acquaintance who is not very choice in her French. A Mrs. ——, the wife of a colonel in the English army, sat next A——, as a French lady begged that her carriage might be ordered. Our hostess told her servant to order the fiacre of Madame ——. Now Madame —— kept her chariot, to my certain knowledge, but she disregarded the mistake. A—— soon after desired that our carriage might come next. The good woman of the house, who loved to be busy, again called for the fiacre of Madame ——. I saw the foot of A—— in motion, but catching my eye, she smiled, and the thing passed off. The "voiture de Madame ——," or our own carriage, was announced just as Mrs. —— was trying to make a servant understand she wished for hers. "Le fiacre de Madame ——," again put in the bustling hostess. This was too much for a colonel's lady, and, with a very pretty air of distress, she took care to explain, in a way that all might hear her, that it was a remise.
I dare say, vulgar prejudices influence vulgar minds, here, as elsewhere, and yet I must say, that I never knew any one hesitate about giving an address on account of the humility of the lodgings. It is to be presumed that the manner in which families that are historical, and of long-established rank, were broken down by the revolution, has had an influence in effecting this healthful state of feeling.
The great tact and careful training of the women, serve to add very much to the grace of French society. They effectually prevent all embarrassments from the question of precedency, by their own decisions. Indeed, it appears to be admitted, that when there is any doubt on these points, the mistress of the house shall settle it in her own way. I found myself lately, at a small dinner, the only stranger, and the especially invited guest, standing near Madame la Marquise at the moment the service was announced. A bishop made one of the trio. I could not precede a man of his years and profession, and he was too polite to precede a stranger. It was a nice point. Had it been a question between a duke and myself, as a stranger, and under the circumstances of the invitation, I should have had the pas, but even the lady hesitated about discrediting a father of the church. She delayed but an instant, and, smiling, she begged us to follow her to the table, avoiding the decision altogether. In America such a thing could not have happened, for no woman, by a fiction of society, is supposed to know how to walk in company without support; but, here, a woman will not spoil her curtsey, on entering a room, by leaning on an arm, if she can well help it. The practice of tucking up a brace of females (liver and gizzard, as the English coarsely, but not inaptly, term it), under one's arms, in order to enter a small room that is crowded in a way to render the movements of even one person difficult, does not prevail here, it being rightly judged that a proper tenue, a good walk, and a graceful movement, are all impaired by it. This habit also singularly contributes to the comfort of your sex, by rendering them more independent of ours. No one thinks, except in very particular cases, of going to the door to see a lady into her carriage, a custom too provincial to prevail in a capital, anywhere. Still, there is an amusing assiduity among the men, on certain points of etiquette, that has sometimes made me laugh; though, in truth, every concession to politeness being a tribute to benevolence, is respectable, unless spoiled in the manner. As we are gossiping about trifles, I will mention a usage or two, that to you will at least be novel.
I was honoured with a letter from le Chevalier Alexandre de Lameth, accompanied by an offering of a book, and I took an early opportunity to pay my respects to him. I found this gentleman, who once played so conspicuous a part in the politics of France, and who is now a liberal deputy, at breakfast, in a small cabinet, at the end of a suite of four rooms. He received me politely, conversed a good deal of America, in which country he had served as a colonel, under Rochambeau, and I took my leave. That M. de Lameth should rise, and even see me into the next room, was what every one would expect, and there I again took my leave of him. But he followed me to each door, in succession, and when, with a little gentle violence, I succeeded in shutting him in the ante-chamber, he seemed to yield to my entreaties not to give himself any further trouble. I was on the landing, on my way down, when, hearing the door of M. de Lameth's apartment open, I turned and saw its master standing before it, to give and receive the last bow. Although this extreme attention to the feelings of others, and delicacy of demeanour, rather marks the Frenchman of the old school, perhaps, it is by no means uncommon here. General Lafayette, while he permits me to see him with very little ceremony, scarcely ever suffers me to leave him without going with me as far as two or three doors. This, in my case, he does more from habit than anything else, for he frequently does not even rise when I enter; and, sometimes, when I laughingly venture to say so much ceremony is scarcely necessary between us, he will take me at my word, and go back to his writing, with perfect simplicity.
[Footnote 24: Since dead.]
The reception between the women, I see plainly, is graduated with an unpretending but nice regard to their respective claims. They rise, even to men, a much more becoming and graceful habit than that of America, except in evening circles, or in receiving intimates. I never saw a French woman offer her hand to a male visitor, unless a relative, though it is quite common for females to kiss each other, when the réunion is not an affair of ceremony. The practice of kissing among men still exists, though it is not very common at Paris. It appears, to be gradually going out with the earrings. I have never had an offer from a Frenchman, of my own age, to kiss me, but it has frequently occurred with my seniors. General Lafayette practises it still, with all his intimates.
I was seated, the other evening, in quiet conversation, with Madame la Princesse de ——. Several people had come and gone in the course of an hour, and all had been received in the usual manner. At length the huissier, walking fast through the ante-chamber, announced the wife of an ambassador. The Princesse, at the moment, was seated on a divan, with her feet raised so as not to touch the floor. I was startled with the suddenness and vehemence of her movements. She sprang to her feet, and rather ran than walked across the vast salon to the door, where she was met by her visitor, who, observing the empressement of her hostess, through the vista of rooms, had rushed forward as fast as decorum would at all allow, in order to anticipate her at the door. It was my impression, at first, that they were bosom friends, about to be restored to each other, after a long absence, and that the impetuosity of their feelings had gotten the better of their ordinary self-command. No such thing; it was merely a strife of courtesy, for the meeting was followed by an extreme attention to all the forms of society, profound curtsies, and the elaborated demeanour which marks ceremony rather than friendship.
Much has been said about the latitude of speech among the women of France, and comparisons have been made between them and our own females, to the disadvantage of the former. If the American usages are to be taken as the standard of delicacy in such matters, I know of no other people who come up to it. As to our mere feelings, habit can render anything proper, or anything improper, and it is not an easy matter to say where the line, in conformity with good sense and good taste, should be actually drawn. I confess a leaning to the American school, but how far I am influenced by education it would not be easy for me to say myself. Foreigners affirm that we are squeamish, and that we wound delicacy oftener by the awkward attempts to protect it, than if we had more simplicity. There may be some truth in this, for though cherishing the notions of my youth, I never belonged to the ultra school at home, which, I believe you will agree with me, rather proves low breeding than good breeding. One sees instances of this truth, not only every day, but every hour of the day. Yesterday, in crossing the Tuileries, I was witness of a ludicrous scene that sufficiently illustrates what I mean. The statues of the garden have little or no drapery. A countryman, and two women of the same class, in passing one, were struck with this circumstance, and their bursts of laughter, running and hiding their faces, and loud giggling, left no one in ignorance of the cause of their extreme bashfulness. Thousands of both sexes pass daily beneath the same statue, without a thought of its nudity, and it is looked upon as a noble piece of sculpture.
In dismissing this subject, which is every way delicate, I shall merely say that usage tolerates a license of speech, of which you probably have no idea, but that I think one hears very rarely from a French woman of condition little that would not be uttered by an American female under similar circumstances. So far as my experience goes, there is a marked difference in this particular between the women of a middle station and those of a higher rank; by rank, however, I mean hereditary rank, for The revolution has made a pêle mêle in the salons of Paris.
Although the petits soupers have disappeared, the dinners are very sufficient substitutes: they are given at a better hour; and the service of a French entertainment, so quiet, so entirely free from effort, or chatter about food, is admirably adapted to rendering them agreeable. I am clearly of opinion that no one ought to give any entertainment that has not the means of making it pass off as a matter-of-course thing, and without effort. I have certainly seen a few fussy dinners here, but they are surprisingly rare. At home, we have plenty of people who know that a party that has a laboured air is inherently vulgar, but how few are there that know how to treat a brilliant entertainment as a mere matter of course! Paris is full of those desirable houses in which the thing is understood.
The forms of the table vary a little, according to the set one is in. In truly French houses, until quite lately, I believe, it was not the custom to change the knife,—the duty of which, by the way, is not great, the cookery requiring little more than the fork. In families that mingle more with strangers, both are changed, as with us. A great dinner is served very much as at home, so far as the mere courses are concerned, though I have seen the melons follow the soup. This I believe to be in good taste, though it is not common; and it struck me at first as being as much out of season as the old New England custom of eating the pudding before the meat. But the French give small dinners (small in name, though certainly very great in execution), in which the dishes are served singly or nearly so, the entertainment resembling those given by the Turks, and being liable to the same objection; for when there is but a single dish before one, and it is not known whether there is to be any more, it is an awkward thing to decline eating. Such dinners are generally of the best quality, but I think they should never be given, except where there is sufficient intimacy to embolden the guest to say jam satis.
The old devotion to the sex is not so exclusively the occupation of a French salon as it was probably half a century since. I have been in several, where the men were grouped in a corner talking politics, while the women amused each other as best they could, in cold, formal lines, looking like so many figures placed there to show off the latest modes of the toilette. I do not say this is absolutely common, but it is less rare than you might be apt to suppose.
I can tell you little of the habit of reading manuscripts in society. Such things are certainly done, for I have been invited to be present on one or two occasions; but having a horror of such exhibitions, I make it a point to be indisposed, the choice lying between the megrims before or after them. Once, and once only, I have heard a poet recite his verses in a well-filled drawing-room; and though I have every reason to think him clever, my ear was so little accustomed to the language, that, in the mouthing of French recitation, I lost nearly all of it.
I have had an odd pleasure in driving from one house to another, on particular evenings, in order to produce as strong contrasts as my limited visiting-list will procure. Having a fair opportunity a few nights since, in consequence of two or three invitations coming in for the evening on which several houses where I occasionally called were opened, I determined to make a night of it, in order to note the effect. As A—— did not know several of the people, I went alone, and you may possibly be amused with an account of my adventures: they shall be told.
In the first place, I had to dress, in order to go to dinner at a house that I had never entered, and with a family of which I had never seen a soul. These are incidents which frequently come over a stranger, and at first were not a little awkward; but use hardens us to much greater misfortunes. At six, then, I stepped punctually into my coupé, and gave Charles the necessary number and street. I ought to tell you that the invitation had come a few days before, and in a fit of curiosity I had accepted it, and sent a card, without having the least idea who my host and hostess were, beyond their names. There was something piquant in this ignorance, and I had almost made up my mind to go in the same mysterious manner, leaving all to events, when happening, in an idle moment, to ask a lady of my acquaintance, and for whom I have a great respect, if she knew a Madame de ——, to my surprise, her answer was, "Most certainly; she is my cousin, and you are to dine there to-morrow." I said no more, though this satisfied me that my hosts were people of some standing. While driving to their hotel, it struck me, under all the circumstances, it might be well to know more of them, and I stopped at the gate of a female friend, who knows everybody, and who, I was certain, would receive me even at that unseasonable hour. I was admitted, explained my errand, and inquired if she knew a M. de ——. "Quelle question!" she exclaimed—"M. de —— est Chancelier de France!" Absurd and even awkward as it might have proved, but for this lucky thought, I should have dined with the French Lord High Chancellor, without having the smallest suspicion of who he was!
The hotel was a fine one, though the apartment was merely good, and the reception, service, and general style of the house were so simple that neither would have awakened the least suspicion of the importance of my hosts. The party was small and the dinner modest. I found the chancelier a grave dignified man, a little curious on the subject of America, and his wife apparently a woman of great good sense, and I should think, of a good deal of attainment. Everything went off in the quietest manner possible, and I was sorry when it was time to go.
From this dinner, I drove to the hotel of the Marquis de Marbois, to pay a visit of digestion. M. de Marbois retires so early, on account of his great age, that one is obliged to be punctual, or he will find the gate locked at nine. The company had got back into the drawing-room, and as the last week's guests were mostly there, as well as those who had just left the table, there might have been thirty people present, all of whom were men but two. One of the ladies was Madame de Souza, known in French literature as the writer of several clever novels of society. In the drawing-room were grouped, in clusters, the Grand Referendary, M. Cuvier, M. Daru, M. Villemain, M. de Plaisance, Mr. Brown, and many others of note. There seemed to be something in the wind, as the conversation was in low confidential whispers, attended by divers ominous shrugs. This could only be politics, and watching an opportunity, I questioned an acquaintance. The fact was really so. The appointed hour had come and the ministry of M. de Villèle was in the agony. The elections had not been favourable, and it was expedient to make an attempt to reach the old end, by what is called a new combination. It is necessary to understand the general influence of political intrigues on certain côteries of Paris, to appreciate the effect of this intelligence, on a drawing-room filled, like this, with men who had been actors in the principal events of France for forty years. The name of M. Cuvier was even mentioned as one of the new ministers. Comte Roy was also named as likely to be the new premier. I was told that this gentleman was one of the greatest landed proprietors of France, his estates being valued at four millions of dollars. The fact is curious, as showing, not on vulgar rumour, but from a respectable source, what is deemed a first-rate landed property in this country. It is certainly no merit, nor do I believe it is any very great advantage; but I think we might materially beat this, even in America. The company soon separated, and I retired.
From the Place de la Madeleine, I drove to a house near the Carrousel, where I had been invited to step in, in the course of the evening. All the buildings that remain within the intended parallelogram, which will some day make this spot one of the finest squares in the world, have been bought by the government, or nearly so, with the intent to have them pulled down, at a proper time; and the court bestows lodgings, ad interim, among them, on its favourites. Madame de —— was one of these favoured persons, and she occupies a small apartment in the third story of one of these houses. The rooms were neat and well-arranged, but small. Probably the largest does not exceed fifteen feet square. The approach to a Paris lodging is usually either very good, or very bad. In the new buildings may be found some of the mediocrity of the new order of things; but in all those which were erected previously to the revolution, there is nothing but extremes in this, as in most other things: great luxury and elegance, or great meanness and discomfort. The house of Madame de —— happens to be of the latter class, and although all the disagreeables have disappeared from her own rooms, one is compelled to climb up to them, through a dark well of a staircase, by flights of steps not much better than those we use in our stables. You have no notion of such staircases as those I had just descended in the hotels of the chancelier and the président premier; nor have we any just idea, as connected with respectable dwellings, of these I had now to clamber up. M. de —— is a man of talents and great respectability, and his wife is exceedingly clever, but they are not rich. He is a professor, and she is an artist. After having passed so much of my youth on top-gallant yards, and in becketting royals, you are not to suppose, however, I had any great difficulty in getting up these stairs, narrow, steep, and winding as they were.
[Footnote 25: M. de Marbois was the first president of the Court of
We are now at the door, and I have rung. On whom do you imagine the curtain will rise? On a réunion of philosophers come to discuss questions in botany, with M. de ——, or on artists, assembled to talk over the troubles of their profession, with his wife? The door opens, and I enter.
The little drawing-room is crowded; chiefly with men. Two card-tables are set, and at one I recognize a party, in which are three dukes of the vieille cour, with M. de Duras at their head! The rest of the company was a little more mixed, but, on the whole, it savoured strongly of Coblentz and the émigration. This was more truly French than anything I had yet stumbled on. One or two of the grandees looked at me as if, better informed than Scott, they knew that General Lafayette had not gone to America to live. Some of these gentlemen certainly do not love us; but I had cut out too much work for the night to stay and return the big looks of even dukes, and, watching an opportunity, when the eyes of Madame de —— were another way, I stole out of the room.
Charles now took his orders, and we drove down into the heart of the town somewhere near the general post-office, or into those mazes of streets that near two years of practice have not yet taught me to thread. We entered the court of a large hotel, that was brilliantly lighted, and I ascended, by a noble flight of steps, to the first floor. Ante-chambers communicated with a magnificent saloon, which appeared to be near forty feet square. The ceilings were lofty, and the walls were ornamented with military trophies, beautifully designed, and which had the air of being embossed and gilded. I had got into the hotel of one of Napoleon's marshals, you will say, or at least into one of a marshal of the old régime. The latter conjecture may be true, but the house is now inhabited by a great woollen manufacturer, whom the events of the day has thrown into the presence of all these military emblems. I found the worthy industriel surrounded by a group, composed of men of his own stamp, eagerly discussing the recent changes in the government. The women, of whom there might have been a dozen, were ranged, like a neglected parterre, along the opposite side of the room. I paid my compliments, staid a few minutes, and stole away to the next engagement.
We had now to go to a little retired house on the Champs Elysées. There were only three or four carriages before the door, and on ascending to a small but very near apartment, I found some twenty people collected. The mistress of the house was an English lady, single, of a certain age, and a daughter of the Earl of ——, who was once governor of New York. Here was a very different set. One or two ladies of the old court, women of elegant manners, and seemingly of good information,—several English women, pretty, quiet, and clever, besides a dozen men of different nations. This was one of those little réunions that are so common in Paris, among the foreigners, in which a small infusion of French serves to leaven a considerable batch of human beings from other parts of the world. As it is always a relief to me to speak my own language, after being a good while among foreigners, I staid an hour at this house. In the course of the evening an Irishman of great wit and of exquisite humour, one of the paragons of the age in his way, came in. In the course of conversation, this gentleman, who is the proprietor of an Irish estate, and a Catholic, told me of an atrocity in the laws of his country, of which until then I was ignorant. It seems that any younger brother, next heir, might claim the estate by turning Protestant, or drive the incumbent to the same act. I was rejoiced to hear that there was hardly an instance of such profligacy known. To what baseness will not the struggle for political ascendency urge us!
[Footnote 26: I believe this infamous law, however, has been repealed.]
In the course of the evening, Mr. ——, the Irish gentleman, gravely introduced me to a Sir James ——, adding, with perfect gravity, "a gentleman whose father humbugged the Pope—humbugged infallibility." One could not but be amused with such an introduction, urged in a way so infinitely droll, and I ventured, at a proper moment, to ask an explanation, which, unless I was also humbugged, was as follows:—
Among the détenus in 1804, was Sir William ——, the father of Sir James ——, the person in question. Taking advantage of the presence of the Pope at Paris, he is said to have called on the good-hearted Pius, with great concern of manner, to state his case. He had left his sons in England, and through his absence they had fallen under the care of two Presbyterian aunts; as a father he was naturally anxious to rescue them from this perilous situation. "Now Pius," continued my merry informant, "quite naturally supposed that all this solicitude was in behalf of two orthodox Catholic souls, and he got permission from Napoleon for the return of so good a father to his own country, never dreaming that the conversion of the boys, if it ever took place, would only be from the Protestant Episcopal Church of England, to that of Calvin; or a rescue from one of the devil's furnaces, to pop them into another." I laughed at this story, I suppose with a little incredulity, but my Irish friend insisted on its truth, ending the conversation with a significant nod, Catholic as he was, and saying—"humbugged infallibility!"
By this time it was eleven o'clock, and as I am obliged to keep reasonable hours, it was time to go to the party of the evening. Count ——, of the —— Legation, gave a great ball. My carriage entered the line at the distance of near a quarter of a mile from the hotel; gendarmes being actively employed in keeping us all in our places. It was half an hour before I was set down, and the quadrilles were in full motion when I entered. It was a brilliant affair, much the most so I have ever yet witnessed in a private house. Some said there were fifteen hundred people present. The number seems incredible, and yet, when one comes to calculate, it may be so. As I got into my carriage to go away, Charles informed me that the people at the gates affirmed that more than six hundred carriages had entered the court that evening. By allowing an average of little more than two to each vehicle, we get the number mentioned.
I do not know exactly how many rooms were opened on this occasion, but I should think there were fully a dozen. Two or three were very large salons, and the one in the centre, which was almost at fever-heat, had crimson hangings, by way of cooling one. I have never witnessed dancing at all comparable to that of the quadrilles of this evening. Usually there is either too much or too little of the dancing-master, but on this occasion every one seemed inspired with a love of the art. It was a beautiful sight to see a hundred charming young women, of the first families of Europe, for they were there of all nations, dressed with the simple elegance that is so becoming to the young of the sex, and which is never departed from here until after marriage, moving in perfect time to delightful music, as if animated by a common soul. The men, too, did better than usual, being less lugubrious and mournful than our sex is apt to be in dancing. I do not know how it is in private, but in the world, at Paris, every young woman seems to have a good mother; or, at least, one capable of giving her both a good tone and good taste.
At this party I met the ——, an intimate friend of the ambassador, and one who also honours me with a portion of her friendship. In talking over the appearance of things, she told me that some hundreds of applications for invitations to this ball had been made. "Applications! I cannot conceive of such meanness. In what manner?" "Directly; by note, by personal intercession—almost by tears. Be certain of it, many hundreds have been refused." In America we hear of refusals to go to balls, but we have not yet reached the pass of sending refusals to invite! "Do you see Mademoiselle ——, dancing in the set before you?" She pointed to a beautiful French girl, whom I had often seen at her house, but whose family was in a much lower station in society than herself, "Certainly—pray how came she here?" "I brought her. Her mother was dying to come, too, and she begged me to get an invitation for her and her daughter; but it would not do to bring the mother to such a place, and I was obliged to say no more tickets could be issued. I wished, however, to bring the daughter, she is so pretty, and we compromised the affair in that way." "And to this the mother assented!" "Assented! How can you doubt it—what funny American notions you have brought with you to France!"
I got some droll anecdotes from my companion, concerning the ingredients of the company on this occasion, for she could be as sarcastic as she was elegant. A young woman near us attracted attention by a loud and vulgar manner of laughing. "Do you know that lady?" demanded my neighbour. "I have seen her before, but scarcely know her name." "She is the daughter of your acquaintance, the Marquise de ——." "Then she is, or was, a Mademoiselle de ——." "She is not, nor properly ever was, a Mademoiselle de ——. In the revolution the Marquis was imprisoned by you wicked republicans, and the Marquise fled to England, whence she returned, after an absence of three years, bringing with her this young lady, then an infant a few months old." "And Monsieur le Marquis?" "He never saw his daughter, having been beheaded in Paris, about a year before her birth." "Quelle contretems!" "N'est-ce pas?"
It is a melancholy admission, but it is no less true, that good breeding is sometimes quite as active a virtue as good principles. How many more of the company present were born about a year after their fathers were beheaded, I have no means of knowing; but had it been the case with all of them, the company would have been of as elegant demeanour, and of much more retenue of deportment, than we are accustomed to see, I will not say in good, but certainly in general society at home. One of the consequences of good breeding is also a disinclination, positively a distaste, to pry into the private affairs of others. The little specimen to the contrary just named was rather an exception, owing to the character of the individual, and to the indiscretion of the young lady in laughing too loud, and then the affair of a birth so very posthumous was rather too patent to escape all criticism.
My friend was in a gossiping mood this evening, and as she was well turned of fifty, I ventured to continue the conversation. As some of the liaisons which exist here must be novel to you, I shall mention one or two more.
A Madame de J—— passed us, leaning on the arm of M. de C——. I knew the former, who was a widow; had frequently visited her, and had been surprised at the intimacy which existed between her and M. de C——, who always appeared quite at home in her house. I ventured to ask my neighbour if the gentleman were the brother of the lady. "Her brother! It is to be hoped not, as he is her husband." "Why does she not bear his name, if that be the case?" "Because her first husband is of a more illustrious family than her second; and then there are some difficulties on the score of fortune. No, no. These people are bona fide married. Tenez—do you see that gentleman who is standing so assiduously near the chair of Madame de S——? He who is all attention and smiles to the lady?" "Certainly—his politeness is even affectionate." "Well it ought to be, for it is M. de S——_, her husband." "They are a happy couple, then." "_Hors de doute—he meets her at soirées and balls; is the pink of politeness; puts on her shawl; sees her safe into her carriage, and—" "Then they drive home together, as loving as Darby and Joan." "And then he jumps into his cabriolet, and drives to the lodgings of ——. Bon soir, Monsieur;—you are making me fall into the vulgar crime of scandal."
Now, as much as all this may sound like invention, it is quite true, that I repeat no more to you than was said to me, and no more than what I believe to be exact. As respects the latter couple, I have been elsewhere told that they literally never see each other, except in public, where they constantly meet, as the best friends in the world.
I was lately in some English society, when Lady G—— bet a pair of gloves with Lord R—— that he had not seen Lady R—— in a fortnight. The bet was won by the gentleman, who proved satisfactorily that he had met his wife at a dinner-party, only ten days before.
After all I have told you, and all that you may have heard from others, I am nevertheless inclined to believe, that the high society of Paris is quite as exemplary as that of any other large European town. If we are any better ourselves, is it not more owing to the absence of temptation, than to any other cause? Put large garrisons into our towns, fill the streets with idlers, who have nothing to do but to render themselves agreeable, and with women with whom dress and pleasure are the principal occupations, and then let us see what protestantism and liberty will avail us, in this particular. The intelligent French say that their society is improving in morals. I can believe this, of which I think there is sufficient proof by comparing the present with the past, as the latter has been described to us. By the past, I do not mean the period of the revolution, when vulgarity assisted to render vice still more odious—a happy union, perhaps, for those who were to follow—but the days of the old régime. Chance has thrown me in the way of three or four old dowagers of that period, women of high rank, and still in the first circles, who, amid all their finesse of breeding, and ease of manner, have had a most desperate roué air about them. Their very laugh, at times, has seemed replete with a bold levity, that was as disgusting as it was unfeminine. I have never, in any other part of the world, seen loose sentiments affichés with more effrontery. These women are the complete antipodes of the quiet, elegant Princesse de ——, who was at Lady —— ——'s, this evening; though some of them write Princesses on their cards, too.
The influence of a court must be great on the morals of those who live in its purlieus. Conversing with the Duc de ——, a man who has had general currency in the best society of Europe, on this subject, he said, —"England has long decried our manners. Previously to the revolution, I admit they were bad; perhaps worst than her own; but I know nothing in our history as bad as what I lately witnessed in England. You know I was there quite recently. The king invited me to dine at Windsor. I found every one in the drawing-room, but His Majesty and Lady ——. She entered but a minute before him, like a queen. Her reception was that of a queen; young, unmarried females kissed her hand. Now, all this might happen in France, even now: but Louis XV. the most dissolute of our monarchs, went no farther. At Windsor, I saw the husband, sons, and daughters of the favourite, in the circle! Le parc des Cerfs was not as bad as this."
"And yet, M. de ——, since we are conversing frankly, listen to what I witnessed, but the other day, in France. You know the situation of things at St. Ouen, and the rumours that are so rife. We had the Fête Dieu, during my residence there. You, who are a Catholic, need not be told that your sect believe in the doctrine of the 'real presence.' There was a reposoir erected in the garden of the chateau, and God, in person, was carried, with religious pomp, to rest in the bowers of the ex-favourite. It is true, the husband was not present: he was only in the provinces!"
"The influence of a throne makes sad parasites and hypocrites," said M. de ——, shrugging his shoulders.
"And the influence of the people, too, though in a different way. A courtier is merely a well-dressed demagogue."
"It follows, then, that man is just a poor devil."
But I am gossiping away with you, when my Asmodean career is ended, and it is time I went to bed. Good night!