Letters of Introduction.—European Etiquette.—Diplomatic Entertainments.
—Ladies in Coffee-houses.—French Hospitality.—Mr. Canning at Paris.
—Parisian Hotels.—French Lady at Washington.—Receptions in Paris
and in New York.—Mode of Announcement.—Republican Affectation.
—Hotel Monaco.—Dinner given to Mr. Canning.—Diplomatic Etiquette.
—European Ambassadors.—Prime Minister of France.—Mr. Canning.
—Count Pozzo di Borgo.—Precedency at Dinner.—American Etiquette.
—A French Dinner.—Servants.—Catholic Fasting.—Conversation with
Canning.—English Prejudice against Americans.
To MRS. POMEROY, COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK.
I quitted America with some twenty letters of introduction, that had been pressed upon me by different friends, but which were carefully locked up in a secretary, where they still remain, and are likely to remain for ever, or until they are destroyed. As this may appear a singular resolution for one who left his own country to be absent for years, I shall endeavour to explain it. In the first place, I have a strong repugnance to pushing myself on the acquaintance of any man: this feeling may, in fact, proceed from pride, but I have a disposition to believe that it proceeds, in part, also from a better motive. These letters of introduction, like verbal introductions, are so much abused in America, that the latter feeling, perhaps I might say both feelings, are increased by the fact. Of all the people in the world we are the most prodigal of these favours, when self-respect and propriety would teach us we ought to be among the most reserved, simply because the character of the nation is so low, that the European, more than half the time, fancies he is condescending when he bestows attentions on our people at all. Other travellers may give you a different account of the matter, but let every one be responsible for his own opinions and facts. Then a friend who, just as we left home, returned from Europe after an absence of five years, assured me that he found his letters of but little use; that nearly every agreeable acquaintance he made was the result of accident, and that the Europeans in general were much more cautious in giving and receiving letters of this nature than ourselves.
The usages of all Europe, those of the English excepted, differ from our own on the subject of visits. There the stranger, or the latest arrival, is expected to make the first visit, and an inquiry for your address is always taken for an intimation that your acquaintance would be acceptable. Many, perhaps most Americans, lose a great deal through their provincial breeding, in this respect, in waiting for attentions that it is their duty to invite, by putting themselves in the way of receiving them. The European usage is not only the most rational, but it is the most delicate. It is the most rational, as there is a manifest absurdity in supposing, for instance, that the inhabitant of a town is to know whenever a visitor from the country arrives; and it is the most delicate, as it leaves the newcomer, who is supposed to know his own wishes best, to decide for himself whether he wishes to make acquaintances or not. In short, our own practices are provincial and rustic, and cannot exist when the society of the country shall have taken the usual phases of an advanced civilization. Even in England, in the higher classes, the cases of distinguished men excepted, it is usual for the stranger to seek the introduction.
Under such circumstances, coupled with the utter insignificance of an ordinary individual in a town like Paris, you will easily understand that we had the first months of our residence entirely to ourselves. As a matter of course, we called on our own minister and his wife; and, as a matter of course, we have been included in the dinners and parties that they are accustomed to give at this season of the year. This, however, has merely brought us in contact with a chance-medley of our own countrymen, these diplomatic entertainments being quite obviously a matter of accident, so far as the set is concerned. The dinners of your banker, however, are still worse, since with them the visiting-list is usually a mere extract from the ledger.
Our privacy has not been without its advantages. It has enabled us to visit all the visible objects without the incumbrance of engagements, and given me leisure to note and to comment on things that might otherwise have been overlooked. For several months we have had nothing to do but to see sights, get familiarized with a situation that, at first, we found singularly novel, and to brush up our French.
I never had sufficient faith in the popular accounts of the usages of other countries, to believe one-half of what I have heard. I distrusted from the first the fact of ladies—I mean real, bona fide ladies, women of sentiment, delicacy, taste, and condition—frequenting public eating-houses, and habitually living, without the retirement and reserve that is so necessary to all women, not to say men, of the caste. I found it difficult, therefore, to imagine I should meet with many females of condition in restaurans and cafés. Such a thing might happen on an emergency, but it was assailing too much all those feelings and tastes which become inherent in refinement, to suppose that the tables of even the best house of the sort in Paris could be honoured by the presence of such persons, except under particular circumstances. My own observation corroborated this opinion, and, in order to make sure of the fact, I have put the question to nearly every Frenchwoman of rank it has since been my good fortune to become sufficiently acquainted with to take the liberty. The answer has been uniform. Such things are sometimes done, but rarely; and even then it is usual to have the service in a private room. One old lady, a woman perfectly competent to decide on such a point, told me frankly:—"We never do it, except by way of a frolic, or when in a humour which induces people to do many other silly and unbecoming things. Why should we go to the restaurateurs to eat? We have our own houses and servants as well as the English, or even you Americans"—it may be supposed I laughed—"and certainly the French are not so devoid of good taste as not to understand that the mixed society of a public-house is not the best possible company for a woman."
It is, moreover, a great mistake to imagine that the French are not hospitable, and that they do not entertain as freely, and as often, as any other people. The only difference between them and the English, in this respect, or between them and ourselves, is in the better taste and ease which regulate their intercourse of this nature. While there is a great deal of true elegance, there is no fuss, at a French entertainment; and all that you have heard of the superiority of the kitchen in this country, is certainly true. Society is divided into castes in Paris, as it is everywhere else; and the degrees of elegance and refinement increase as one ascends as a matter of course; but there is less of effort, in every class, than is usual with us. One of the best-bred Englishmen of my acquaintance, and one, too, who had long been in the world, has frankly admitted to me, that the highest tone of English society is merely an imitation of that which existed in Paris previously to the revolution, and of which, though modified as to usages and forms, a good deal still remains. By the highest tone, however, you are not to suppose I mean that laboured, frigid, heartless manner that so many, in England especially, mistake for high breeding, merely because they do not know how to unite with the finish which constant intercourse with the world creates, the graceful semblance of living less for one's self than for others, and to express, as it were, their feelings and wishes, rather than to permit one's own to escape him—a habit that, like the reflection of a mirror, produces the truest and most pleasing images, when thrown back from surfaces the most highly polished. But I am anticipating rather than giving you a history of what I have seen.
In consequence of our not having brought any letters, as has just been mentioned, and of not having sought society, no one gave themselves any trouble on our account for the first three or four months of our residence in Paris. At the end of that period, however, I made my début at, probably, as brilliant an entertainment as one usually sees here in the course of a whole winter. Mr. Canning, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, came to Paris on a visit, and, as is usual on such occasions, diplomacy was a good deal mixed up with eating and drinking. Report says, that the etiquette of the court was a good deal deranged by this visit, the Bourbons not having adopted the hale-fellow hospitality of the English kings. M. de Villèle or M. de Damas would be invited to dine at Windsor almost as a matter of course; but the descendant of Hugh Capet hesitated about breaking bread with an English commoner. The matter is understood to have been gotten over, by giving the entertainment at St. Cloud, where, it would seem, the royal person has fewer immunities than at the Tuileries. But, among other attentions that were bestowed on the English statesman, Mr. Brown determined to give him a great diplomatic dinner; and our own legations having a great poverty of subordinates, except in the way of travelling attachés, I was invited to occupy one end of the table, while the regular secretary took his seat at the other. Before I attempt a short description of this entertainment, it may help to enliven the solitude of your mountain residence, and serve to give you more distinct ideas of the matter than can be obtained from novels, if I commence with a summary of the appliances and modes of polite intercourse in this part of the world, as they are to be distinguished from our own.
In the first place, you are to discard from your mind all images of two rooms and folding-doors, with a passage six feet wide, a narrow carpeted flight of steps, and a bed-room prepared for the ladies to uncloak in, and another in which the men can brush their hair and hide their hats. Some such snuggeries very possibly exist in England, among the middling classes; but I believe all over the continent of Europe style is never attempted without more suitable means to carry out the intention.
In Paris, every one who mingles with the world lives in an hotel, or a house that has a court and an outer gate. Usually the building surrounds three sides of this court, and sometimes the whole four; though small hotels are to be found, in which the court is encircled on two, or even on three of its sides, merely by high walls. The gate is always in the keeping of a regular porter, who is an important personage about the establishment, taking in letters, tickets, etc., ejecting blackguards and all other suspicious persons, carrying messages, besides levying contributions on all the inmates of the house, in the way of wood and coal. In short, he is in some measure, held to be responsible for the exits and entrances, being a sort of domestic gendarme. In the larger hotels there are two courts, the great and la basse cour, the latter being connected with the offices and stables.
Of course, these hotels vary in size and magnificence. Some are not larger than our own largest town dwellings, while others, again, are palaces. As these buildings were originally constructed to lodge a single establishment, they have their principal and their inferior apartments; some have their summer and their winter apartments. As is, and always must be the case, where everything like state and magnificence are affected, the reception-rooms are en suite; the mode of building which prevails in America, being derived from the secondary class of English houses. It is true, that in London, many men of rank, perhaps of the nobility, do not live in houses any larger, or much better, than the best of our own; though I think, that one oftener sees rooms of a good size and proper elevation, even in these dwellings, than it is usual to see in America. But the great houses of London, such as Burlington-house, Northumberland-house, Devonshire-house, Lansdown-house, Sutherland-house (the most magnificent of all) etc. are, more or less, on the continental plan, though not generally built around courts. This plan eschews passages of all descriptions, except among the private parts of the dwelling. In this respect, an American house is the very opposite of a European house. We are nothing without passages, it being indispensable that every room should open on one; whereas, here the great point is to have as little to do with them as possible. Thus you quit the great staircase by a principal door, and find yourself in an ante-chamber; this communicates with one or two more rooms of the same character, gradually improving in ornaments and fixtures, until you enter a salon. Then comes a succession of apartments, of greater or less magnificence, according to circumstances until you are led entirely round the edifice, quitting it by a door on the great staircase again, opposite to the one by which you entered. In those cases in which there are courts, the principal rooms are ranged in this manner, en suite, on the exterior range, usually looking out on the gardens, while those within them, which look into the court, contain the bed-rooms, boudoir, eating-rooms, and perhaps the library. So tenacious are those, who lay any claim to gentility here, of the use of the ante-chambers, that I scarcely recollect a lodging of any sort, beyond the solitary chamber of some student, without, at least, one. They seem indispensable, and I think rightly, to all ideas of style, or even of comfort. I remember to have seen an amusing instance of the strength of this feeling in the case of the wife of a former French minister, at Washington. The building she inhabited was one of the ordinary American double houses, as they are called, with a passage through the centre, the stairs in the passage, and a short corridor, to communicate with the bed-rooms above. Off the end of this upper corridor, if, indeed, so short a transverse passage deserves the name, was partitioned a room of some eight feet by ten, as a bed-room. A room adjoining this, was converted into a boudoir and bed-room, for Madame de ——, by means of a silk screen. The usual door of the latter opened, of course, on the passage. In a morning call one day, I was received in the boudoir. Surprised to be carried up stairs on such an occasion, I was still more so to find myself taken through a small room, before I was admitted to the larger. The amount of it all was; that Madame de ——, accustomed to have many rooms, and to think it vulgar to receive in her great drawing-room of a morning, believing au premier, or up one pair of stairs, more genteel than the rez de chaussée, or the ground floor, and feeling the necessity of an ante-chamber as there was an abruptness in being at once admitted into the presence of a lady from a staircase, a sort of local brusquerie, that would suit her cook better than the wife of an envoy extraordinary, had contrived to introduce her guests through the little bed-room, at the end of the upstairs entry!
From all this you will be prepared to understand some of the essential differences between a reception in Paris and one at New York, or even at Washington. The footman, or footmen, if there are two, ascend to the inner ante-chamber, with their masters and mistresses, where they receive the cloaks, shawls, over-coats, or whatever else has been used for the sake of mere warmth, and withdraw. If they are sent home, as is usually the case at dinners and evening parties, they return with the things at the hour ordered; but if the call be merely a passing one, or the guest means to go early to some other house, they either wait in the ante-chamber, or in a room provided for that purpose. The French are kind to their servants; much kinder than either the English, or their humble imitators, ourselves; and it is quite common to see, not only a good warm room, but refreshments, provided for the servants at a French party. In England, they either crowd the narrow passages and the door-way, or throng the street, as with us. In both countries, the poor coachmen sit for hours on their carriage-boxes, like so many ducks, in the drizzle and rain.
The footman gives the names of his party to the maître d'hôtel, or the groom of the chambers, who, as he throws open the door of the first drawing-room, announces them in a loud voice. Announcing by means of a line of servants, is rarely, if ever, practised in France, though it is still done in England, at large parties, and in the great houses. Every one has heard the story of the attempt at Philadelphia, some forty years ago, to introduce the latter custom, when, by the awkwardness of a servant, a party was announced as "Master and Mistress, and the young ladies;" but you will smile when I tell you that the latter part of this style is precisely that which is most in vogue at Paris. A young lady here may be admired, she may be danced with, and she may even look and be looked at; but in society she talks little, is never loud or belleish, is always neat and simple in her attire, using very little jewelry, and has scarcely any other name than Mademoiselle. The usual mode of announcing is, "Monsieur le Comte et Madame la Comtesse d'une telle, avec leurs demoiselles;" or, in plain English, "The Count and Countess Such-a-one, with their daughters" This you will perceive is not so far, after all, from "Master and Mistress, and the young ladies." The English, more simple in some respects, and less so in others, usually give every name, though, in the use of titles, the utmost good taste is observed. Thus every nobleman below a duke is almost uniformly addressed and styled Lord A——, Lord B——, etc. and their wives, Ladies A——, and B——. Thus the Marquess of Lansdowne would, I think, always be addressed and spoken of, and even announced, merely as Lord Lansdowne. This, you will observe, is using the simplest possible style, and it appears to me that there is rather an affectation of simplicity in their ordinary intercourse, the term "My Lord" being hardly ever used, except by the tradesmen and domestics. The safest rule for an American, and certainly the one that good taste would dictate, is to be very sparing in his use of everything of this sort, since he cannot be always certain of the proper usages of the different countries he visits, and, so long as he avoids unnecessary affectations of republicanisms, and, if a gentleman, this he will do without any effort, simplicity is his cue. When I say avoids the affectations of republicanisms, I do not mean the points connected with principles, but those vulgar and underbred pretensions of ultra equality and liberalism, which, while they mark neither manliness nor a real appreciation of equal rights almost uniformly betray a want of proper training and great ignorance of the world. Whenever, however, any attempt is made to identify equality of rights and democratical institutions with vulgarity and truculency, as is sometimes attempted here, in the presence of Americans, and even in good company, it is the part of every gentleman of our country to improve the opportunity that is thus afforded him, to show it is a source of pride with him to belong to a nation in which a hundred men are not depressed politically, in order that one may be great; and also to show how much advantage, after all, he who is right in substance has over him who is substantially wrong, even in the forms of society, and in that true politeness which depends on natural justice. Such a principle, acted on systematically would soon place the gentlemen of America where they ought to be, and the gentlemen of other countries where, sooner or later, they must be content to descend, or to change their systems. That these things are not so, must be ascribed to our provincial habits, our remote situation, comparative insignificance, and chiefly to the circumstance that men's minds, trained under a different state of things, cannot keep even pace with the wonderful progress of the facts of the country.
But all this time I have only got you into the outer salon of a French hotel. In order that we may proceed more regularly, we will return to the dinner given by our minister to Mr. Canning. Mr. Brown has an apartment in the Hotel Monaco, one of the best houses in Paris. The Prince of Monaco is the sovereign of a little territory of the same name, on the Gulf of Nice, at the foot of the maritime Alps. His states may be some six or eight miles square, and the population some six or eight thousand. The ancient name of the family is Grimaldi; but by some intermarriage or other, the Duke of Valentinois, a Frenchman, has become the prince. This little state is still independent, though under the especial protection of the King of Sardinia, and without foreign relations. It was formerly a common thing for the petty princes of Europe to own hotels at Paris. Thus the present Hotel of the Legion of Honour was built by a Prince of Salms; and the Princes of Monaco had two, one of which is occupied by the Austrian ambassador, and, in the other, our own minister, just at this moment, has an apartment. As I had been pressed especially to be early, I went a little before six, and finding no one in the drawing-room, I strolled into the bureau, where I found Mr. Shelden, the secretary of legation, who lived in the family, dressed for dinner. We chatted a little, and, on my admiring the magnificence of the rooms, he gave me the history of the hotel, as you have just heard it, with an additional anecdote, that may be worth relating.
"This hotel," said the secretary, "was once owned by M. de Talleyrand, and this bureau was probably the receptacle of state secrets of far greater importance than any that are connected with our own simple and unsupported claims for justice." He then went on to say, that the citizens of Hamburg, understanding it was the intention of Napoleon to incorporate their town with the empire, had recourse to a …ceur, in order to prevent an act that, by destroying their neutrality, would annihilate their commerce. Four millions of francs were administered on this occasion, and of these, a large proportion, it is said, went to pay for the Hotel Monaco, which was a recent purchase of M. de Talleyrand. To the horror of the Hambourgeois, the money was scarcely paid, when the deprecated decree appeared, and every man of them was converted into a Frenchman by the stroke of a pen. The worthy burghers were accustomed to receive a quid pro quo for every florin they bestowed, failing of which, on the present occasion, they sent a deputation forthwith, to Napoleon, to reveal the facts, and to make their complaints. That great man little liked that any one but himself should peculate in his dominions, and, in the end, M. de Talleyrand was obliged to quit the Hotel Monaco. By some means with which I am unacquainted, most probably by purchase, however, the house is now the property of Madame Adelaide of Orleans.
[Footnote 5: the first three letters of the word cannot be correctly read on the original book]
The rolling of a coach into the court was a signal for us to be at our posts, and we abandoned the bureau so lately occupied by the great father of diplomacy, for the drawing-room. I have already told you that this dinner was in honour of Mr. Canning, and, although diplomatic in one sense, it was not so strictly confined to the corps as to prevent a selection. This selection, in honour of the principal guest, had been made from the representatives of the great powers, Spain being the least important nation represented on the occasion, the republic of Switzerland excepted. I do not know whether the presence of the Swiss chargé-d'affaires was so intended or not, but it struck me as pointed and in good taste, for all the other foreign agents were ambassadors, with the exception of the Prussian, who was an Envoy Extraordinary. Diplomacy has its honorary gradations as well as a military corps; and, as you can know but little of such matters, I will explain them en passant. First in rank comes the Ambassador. This functionary is supposed to represent the personal dignity of the state that sends him. If a king, there is a room in his house that has a throne, and it is usual to see the chair reversed, in respect for its sanctity; and it appears to be etiquette to suspend the portrait of the sovereign beneath the canopy. The Envoy Extraordinary comes next, and then the Minister Plenipotentiary. Ordinarily, these two functions are united in the same individual. Such is the rank of Mr. Brown. The Minister Resident is a lower grade, and the Chargé-d'affaires the lowest of all. Inter se, these personages take rank according to this scale. Previously to the peace of 1814, the representative of one monarch laid claim to precede the representative of another, always admitting, however, of the validity of the foregoing rule. This pretension gave rise to a good deal of heartburning and contention. Nothing can, in itself, be of greater indifference whether A. or B. walk into the reception-room or to the dinner-table first; but when the idea of general superiority is associated with the act, the aspect of the thing is entirely changed. Under the old system, the ambassador of the Emperor, claimed precedence over all other ambassadors, and, I believe, the representatives of the kings of France had high pretensions also. Now there are great mutations in states. Spain, once the most important kingdom of Europe, has much less influence to-day than Prussia, a power of yesterday. Then the minister of the most insignificant prince claimed precedency over the representative of the most potent republic. This might have passed while republics were insignificant and dependent; but no one can believe that a minister of America, for instance, representing a state of fifty millions, as will be the case before long, would submit to such an extravagant pretension on the part of a minister of Wurtemburg, or Sardinia, or Portugal. He would not submit to such a pretension on the part of the minister of any power on earth.
I do not believe that the Congress of Vienna had sufficient foresight, or sufficient knowledge of the actual condition of the United States, to foresee this difficulty; but there were embarrassing points to be settled among the European states themselves, and the whole affair was disposed of on a very discreet and equitable principle. It was decided that priority of standing at a particular court should regulate the rank between the different classes of agents at that particular court. Thus the ambassador longest at Paris precedes all the other ambassadors at Paris; and the same rule prevails with the ministers and chargés, according to their respective gradations of rank. A provision, however, was made in favour of the representative of the Pope, who, if of the rank of a nuncio, precedes all ambassadors. The concession has been made in honour of the church, which, as you must know, or ought to be told, is an interest much protected in all monarchies, statesmen being notoriously of tender consciences.
The constant habit of meeting drills the diplomatic corps so well, that they go through the evolutions of etiquette as dexterously as a corps of regular troops perform their wheelings and countermarches. The first great point with them is punctuality; for, to people who sacrifice so much of it to forms, time gets to be precious. The roll of wheels was incessant in the court of the Hotel Monaco, from the time the first carriage entered until the last had set down its company. I know, as every man who reflects must know, that it is inherently ill-bred to be late anywhere; but I never before felt how completely it was high breeding to be as punctual as possible. The maître d'hôtel had as much as he could do to announce the company, who entered as closely after each other as decorum and dignity would permit. I presume one party waited a little for the others in the outer drawing-room, the reception being altogether in the inner room.
The Americans very properly came first. We were Mr. Gallatin, who was absent from London on leave, his wife and daughter, and a clergyman and his wife, and myself; Mrs. —— having declined the invitation on account of ill health. The announcing and the entrance of most of the company, especially as everybody was in high dinner-dress, the women in jewels and the men wearing all their orders, had something of the air of a scenic display. The effect was heightened by the magnificence of the hotel, the drawing-room in which we were collected being almost regal.
The first person who appeared was a handsome, compact, well-built, gentleman-like little man, who was announced as the Duke of Villa Hermosa, the Spanish ambassador. He was dressed with great simplicity and beauty, having, however, the breast of his coat covered with stars, among which I recognized, with historical reverence, that of the Golden Fleece. He came alone, his wife pleading indisposition for her absence. The Prussian minister and his wife came next. Then followed Lord and Lady Granville, the representatives of England. He was a large, well-looking man, but wanted the perfect command of movement and manner that so much distinguish his brethren in diplomacy: as for mere physical stuff, he and our own minister, who stands six feet four in his stockings, would make material enough for all the rest of the corps. He wore the star of the Bath. The Austrian ambassador and ambassadress followed, a couple of singularly high air, and a good tone of manner. He is a Hungarian, and very handsome; she a Veronese, I believe, and certainly a woman admirably adapted for her station. They had hardly made their salutations before M. le Comte et Mad. la Comtesse de Villèle were announced. Here, then, we had the French prime minister. As the women precede the men into a drawing-room here, knowing how to walk and to curtsey alone, I did not, at first, perceive the great man, who followed so close to his wife's skirts as to be nearly hid. But he was soon flying about the room at large, and betrayed himself immediately to be a fidget. Instead of remaining stationary, or nearly so as became his high quality, he took the initiative in compliments, and had nearly every diplomatic man walking apart in the adjoining room, in a political aside, in less than twenty minutes. He had a countenance of shrewdness, and I make little doubt is a better man in a bureau than in a drawing-room. His colleague, the foreign minister, M. de Damas, and his wife, came next. He was a large, heavy-looking personage, that I suspect throws no small part of the diplomacy on the shoulders of the premier; though he had more the manner of good society than his colleague. He has already exchanged his office for that of governor of the heir presumptive, as I have already stated. There was a pause, when a quiet, even-paced, classical-looking man, in the attire of an ecclesiastic, appeared in the door, and was announced as "My Lord the Nuncio." He was then an archbishop, and wore the usual dress of his rank; but I have since met him at an evening party with a red hat; under his arm, the Pope having recalled him, and raised him to that dignity. He is now Cardinal Macchi. He was a priestly and an intellectual-looking personage, and, externals considered, well suited to his station. He wore a decoration or two, as well as most of the others.
"My Lord Clanricarde and Mr. Canning" came next, and the great man, followed by his son-in-law, made his appearance. He walked into the room with the quiet aplomb of a man accustomed to being lionised; and certainly, without being of striking, he was of very pleasing appearance. His size was ordinary, but his frame was compact and well built, neither too heavy nor too light for his years, but of just the proportions to give one the idea of a perfect management of the machine. His face was agreeable, and his eye steady and searching. He and M. de Villèle were the very opposites in demeanour, though, after all, it was easy to see that the Englishman had the most latent force about him. One was fidgety, and the other humorous; for, with all his command of limb and gesture, nothing could be more natural than the expression of Mr. Canning, I may have imagined that I detected some of his wit, from a knowledge of the character of his mind. He left the impression, however, of a man whose natural powers were checked by a trained and factitious deference to the rank of those with whom he associated. Lord Granville, I thought, treated him with a sort of affectionate deference; and, right or wrong, I jumped to the conclusion, that the English ambassador was a straight-forward, good fellow at the bottom, and one very likely to badger the fidgetty premier, by his steady determination to do what was right. I thought M. de Damas, too, looked like an honest man. God forgive me, if I do injustice to any of these gentlemen!
All this time, I have forgotten Count Pozzo di Borgo, the Russian ambassador. Being a bachelor, he came alone. It might have been fancy, but I thought he appeared more at his ease under the American roof than any of his colleagues. The perfect good understanding between our own government and that of Russia extends to their representatives, and, policy or not, we are better treated by them than by any other foreign ministers. This fact should be known and appreciated, for as one citizen of the republic, however insignificant, I have no notion of being blackguarded and vituperated half a century, and then cajoled into forgetfulness, at the suggestions of fear and expediency, as circumstances render our good-will of importance. Let us at least show that we are not mannikins to be pulled about for the convenience and humours of others, but that we know what honest words are, understand the difference between civility and abuse, and have pride enough to resent contumely, when, at least, we feel it to be unmerited. M. Pozzo is a handsome man, of good size and a fine dark eye, and has a greater reputation for talents than any other member of the diplomatic corps now at Paris. He is by birth a Corsican, and, I have heard it said, distantly related to Bonaparte. This may be true, Corsica being so small a country; just as some of us are related to everybody in West Jersey. Our party now consisted of the prime minister, the secretary of foreign affairs, the Austrian and English ambassadors, and the Prussian minister, with their wives,—the Nuncio, the Russian and Spanish ambassadors, the Swiss chargé-d'affaires, Mr. Canning, Lord Clanricarde, —Mr. Mrs. and Miss Gallatin, and the other Americans already mentioned, or twenty-five in all.
If I had been struck with the rapid and business-like manner in which the company entered, I was amused with the readiness with which they paired off when dinner was announced. It was like a coup de théâtre, every man and woman knowing his or her exact rank and precedency, and the time when to move. This business of getting out of a drawing-room to a dinner-table is often one of difficulty, though less frequently in France than in most other European countries, on account of the admirable tact of the women, who seldom suffer a knotty point to get the ascendancy, but, by choosing the gentlemen for themselves, settle the affair off hand. From their decision, of course, there is no appeal. In order that in your simplicity you may not mistake the importance of this moment, I will relate an anecdote of what lately occurred at a dinner given by an English functionary in Holland.
When William invaded England, in 1688, he took with him many Dutch nobles, some of whom remained, and became English peers. Among others, he created one of his followers an Irish earl; but choosing to return to Holland, this person was afterwards known as the Count de ——, although his Irish rank was always acknowledged. It happened that the wife of the descendant of this person was present at the entertainment in question. When dinner was announced, the company remarked that the master of the house was in a dilemma. There was much consultation, and a delay of near half an hour before the matter was decided. The debated point was, whether Madame de —— was to be considered as a Dutch or an Irish countess. If the latter, there were English ladies present who were entitled to precede her; if the former, as a stranger, she might get that advantage herself. Luckily for the rights of hospitality, the Dutch lady got the best of it.
These things sound absurd, and sometimes they are so; but this social drilling, unless carried to extremes, is not without its use. In America, I have always understood that, on such occasions, silent laws of etiquette exist in all good company, which are founded on propriety and tact. The young give way to the old, the undistinguished to the distinguished, and he who is at home to the stranger. These rules are certainly the most rational, and in the best taste, when they can be observed, and, on the whole, they lead perhaps to the fewest embarrassments; always so, if there happen to be none but the well-bred present, since seats become of little consideration where no importance is attached to them. I confess to some manoeuvring in my time, to get near, or away from a fire, out of a draught, or next some agreeable woman; but the idea whether I was at the head or the foot of the table never crossed my mind: and yet here, where they do mean the salt to come into the account, I begin to take care that they do not "bite their thumbs" at me. Two or three little things have occurred in my presence, which show that all our people do not even understand the ways of their own good society. A very young man lately, under the impression that gallantry required it, led one of the most distinguished women in the room to the table, merely because he happened to be next her, at the moment dinner was announced. This was certainly a failure even in American etiquette, every woman being more disposed to appreciate the delicacy and respect which should have induced such a person to give place to one of higher claims, than to prize the head-over-heels assiduity that caused the boy to forget himself. Sentiment should be the guide on such occasions, and no man is a gentleman until his habits are brought completely in subjection to its dictates, in all matters of this sort.
There was very little sentiment, however, in marshalling the company at the dinner given to Mr. Canning. I will not undertake to say that all the guests were invited to meet this gentleman, and that he had been asked to name a day, as is usual when it is intended to pay an especial compliment; but I was asked to meet him, and I understood that the dinner was in his honour. Diplomatic etiquette made short work of the matter, notwithstanding, for the doors were hardly thrown open, before all the privileged vanished, with a quickness that was surprising. The minister took Madame de Villèle; M. de Villèle, Mrs. Brown; M. de Damas, the wife of the oldest ambassador; and the Nuncio, Madame de Damas: after which, the ambassadors and ministers took each other's wives in due order, and with a promptitude that denoted great practice. Even the charge disappeared, leaving the rest of us to settle matters among ourselves as well as we could. Mr. Canning, Mr. Gallatin, Lord Clanricarde, the divine, the secretary, and myself, were left with only the wife of the clergyman and Miss Gallatin. As a matter of course, the Americans, feeling themselves at home, made signs for the two Englishmen to precede them, and Mr. Canning offered his arm to Mrs. ——, and Lord Clanricarde, his to Miss Gallatin. Here occurred a touch of character that is worthy to be mentioned, as showing of how very little account an American, male or female, is in the estimation of a European, and how very arbitrary are the laws of etiquette among our English cousins. Mr. Canning actually gave way to his son-in-law, leaving the oldest of the two ladies to come after the youngest, because, as a marquis, his son-in-law took precedence of a commoner! This was out of place in America, at least, where the parties were, by a fiction in law, if not in politeness, and it greatly scandalized all our Yankee notions of propriety. Mrs. —— afterwards told me that he apologized for the circumstance, giving Lord Clanricarde's rank as the reason. "Sempereadem," or "worse and worse," as my old friend O——n used to translate it. What became of the precedency of the married lady all this time? you will be ready to ask. Alas! she was an American, and had no precedency. The twelve millions may not settle this matter as it should be; but, take my word for it, the "fifty millions" will. Insignificant as all this is, or rather ought to be, your grandchildren and mine will live to see the mistake rectified. How much better would it be for those who cannot stop the progress of events, by vain wishes and idle regrets, to concede the point gracefully, and on just principles, than to have their cherished prejudices broken down by dint of sheer numbers and power!
The dinner itself was, like every dinner that is given at Paris, beautiful in decoration, admirable in its order, and excellent in viands, or rather, in its dishes; for it is the cookery and not the staple articles that form the boast of the French kitchen. As you are notable in your own region for understanding these matters, I must say a word touching the gastric science as it is understood here. A general error exists in America on the subject of French cookery, which is not highly seasoned, but whose merit consists in blending flavours and in arranging compounds, in such a manner as to produce, at the same time, the lightest and most agreeable food. A lady who, from her public situation, receives once a week, for the entire year, and whose table has a reputation, assured me lately, that all the spices consumed annually in her kitchen did not cost her a franc. The effect of a French dinner is its principal charm. One of reasonably moderate habits, rises from the table with a sense of enjoyment, that, to a stranger, at least, is sometimes startling. I have, on several occasions, been afraid I was relaxing into the vices of a gourmet, if, indeed, vices they can be called. The gourmand is a beast, and there is nothing to be said in his favour; but, after all, I incline to the opinion that no one is the worse for a knowledge of what is agreeable to the palate. Perhaps no one of either sex is thoroughly trained, or properly bred, without being tant soit peu de gourmet. The difference between sheer eating, and eating with tact and intelligence, is so apparent as to need no explanation. A dinner here does not oppress one. The wine neither intoxicates nor heats, and the frame of mind and body in which one is left, is precisely that best suited to intellectual and social pleasures. I make no doubt, that one of the chief causes of the French being so agreeable as companions, is, in a considerable degree, owing to the admirable qualities of their table. A national character may emanate from a kitchen. Roast beef, bacon, pudding, and beer, and port, will make a different man, in time, from Chateau Margau, côtelettes, consommés, and soufflés. The very name of vol au vent is enough to make one walk on air!
Seriously, these things have more influence than may be, at a glance, imagined. The first great change I could wish to make in America, would be to see a juster appreciation of the substance, and less importance attached to outward forms, in moral things. The second would be, to create a standard of greatness and distinction that should be independent, or nearly independent, of money. The next, a more reasoning and original tone of thought as respects our own distinctive principles and distinctive situation, with a total indifference to the theories that have been broached to sustain an alien and an antagonist system, in England; and the last (the climax), a total reform in the kitchen! If I were to reverse the order of these improvements, I am not certain the three last might not follow as a consequence of the first. After our people have been taught to cook a dinner, they ought also to be taught how to eat it.
Our entertainment lasted the usual hour and a half; and, as one is all this time eating, and there are limits to the capacity of a stomach, a part of the lightness and gaiety with which one rises from a French dinner ought to be attributed to the time that is consumed at the table. The different ingredients have opportunity to dispose of themselves in their new abode, and are not crowded together pell-mell, or like papers and books in —— library, as I think they must be after a transatlantic meal. As for the point of a mere consumption of food, I take it the palm must be given to your Frenchman. I had some amusement to-day in watching the different countries. The Americans were nearly all through their dinner by the time the first course was removed. All that was eaten afterwards was literally, with them, pure makeweight, though they kept a hungry look to the last. The English seemed fed even before the dinner was begun; and, although the continental powers in general had the art of picking till they got to the finger-bowls, none really kept up the ball but the Frenchmen. It happened to be Friday, and I was a little curious to discover whether the Nuncio came to these places with a dispensation in his pocket. He sat next to Madame de Damas, as good a Catholic as himself, and I observed them helping themselves to several suspicious-looking dishes during the first course. I ought to have told you before, that one rarely, almost never, helps his neighbour, at a French entertainment. The dishes are usually put on the table, removed by the servants to be carved in succession, and handed to the guests to help themselves. When the service is perfect, every dish is handed to each guest. In the great houses, servants out of livery help to the different plats, servants in livery holding the dishes, sauces, etc., and changing the plates. I believe it is strictly haut ton for the servants in livery to do nothing but assist those out of livery. In America it is thought stylish to give liveries; in Europe those who keep most servants out of livery are in the highest mode, since these are always a superior class of menials. The habits of this quarter of the world give servants a very different estimation from that which they hold with us. Nobles of high rank are employed about the persons of princes; and, although, in this age, they perform no strictly menial offices, or only on great occasions, they are, in theory, the servitors of the body. Nobles have been even employed by nobles; and it is still considered an honour for the child of a physician, or a clergyman, or a shopkeeper, in some parts of Europe, to fill a high place in the household of a great noble. The body servant, or the gentleman, as he is sometimes called even in England, of a man of rank, looks down upon a mechanic as his inferior. Contrary to all our notions as all this is, it is strictly reasonable, when the relative conditions, information, habits, and characters of the people are considered. But servants here are divided into many classes; for some are scullions, and some are entrusted with the keys. It follows that those who maintain most of the higher class, who are never in livery, maintain the highest style. To say, he keeps a servant out of livery, means, that he keeps a better sort of domestic. Mere footmen always wear it; the maître d'hôtel, or groom of the chambers, and the valet, never.
But to return to the dispensation, I made it a point to taste every dish that had been partaken of by the Nuncio and his neighbour; and I found that they were all fish; but fish so treated, that they could hardly know what to think of themselves. You may remember, however, that an Archbishop of Paris was sufficiently complaisant to declare a particular duck, of which one of Louis the Sixteenth's aunts was fond, to be fish, and, of course, fit to be eaten on fast-days.
The fasting of these people would strike you as singular; for I verily believe they eat more of a fast-day than on any other. We engaged a governess for the girls not long after our arrival, and she proved to be a bigoted Catholic, a furious royalist, and as ignorant as a calf. She had been but a few weeks in the house, when I detected her teaching her élèves to think Washington an unpardonable rebel, La Fayette a monster, Louis XVI. a martyr, and all heretics in the high road to damnation. There remained no alternative but to give her a quarter's salary, and to get rid of her. By the way, this woman was of a noble family, and as such received a small pension from the court. But I kept her fully a month longer than I think I otherwise should, to see her eat on fast-days. Your aunt had the consideration invariably to order fish for her, and she made as much havoc among them as a pike. She always commenced the Friday with an extra allowance of fruit, which she was eating all the morning; and at dinner she contrived to eat half the vegetables and all the fish. One day, by mistake, the soup happened to be gras instead of maigre, and, after she had swallowed a large plateful, I was malicious enough to express my regrets at the mistake. I really thought the poor woman was about to disgorge on the spot; but by dint of consolation she managed to spare us this scene. So good an occasion offering, I ventured to ask her why she fasted at all, as I did not see it made any great difference in the sum total of her bodily nutriment. She assured me that I did not understand the matter. The fruit was merely a "rafraîchissant" and so counted for nothing; and as for the fish and vegetables, I might possibly think them very good eating, and, for that matter, so did she, on Thursdays and Saturdays; but no sooner did Friday come than she longed for meat. The merit of the thing consisted, therefore, more in denying her appetite than in going without food. I tried hard to persuade her to take a côtelette with me; but the proposition made her shudder, though she admitted that she envied me every mouthful I swallowed. The knowledge of this craving did not take away my appetite.
Lest you should suppose that I am indulging in the vulgar English slang against French governesses, I will add, that our own was the very worst, in every respect, I ever saw, in or out of France; and that I have met with ladies in this situation every way qualified, by principles, attainments, manners, and antecedents, to be received with pleasure in the best company of Europe.
Our connives in the Hotel Monaco soon disappeared after the chasse-café, leaving none but the Americans behind them. Men and women retired as they came; the latter, however, taking leave, as is always required by the punctilios of your sex, except at very large and crowded parties, and even then properly; and the former, if alone, getting away as quietly as possible. The whole affair was over before nine o'clock, at which hour the diplomatic corps was scattered all through Paris.
Previously to this dispersion, however, Mr. Gallatin did me the favour to present me to Mr. Canning. The conversation was short, and was chiefly on America. There was a sore part in his feelings in consequence of a recent negotiation, and he betrayed it. He clearly does not love us; but what Englishman does? You will be amused to hear that, unimportant in other respects as this little conversation was, it has been the means of affecting the happiness of two individuals of high station in Great Britain. It would be improper for me to say more; but of the fact I can entertain no manner of doubt, and I mention it here merely as a curious instance of the manner in which "tall oaks from little acorns grow."
I ought to have said that two, instead of one event, followed this dinner. The second was our own introduction into European society. The how and wherefore it is unnecessary to explain, but some of the cleverest and best-bred people of this well-bred and clever capital took us by the hand, all "unlettered" as we were, and from that moment, taking into consideration our tastes and my health, the question has been, not how to get into, but how to keep out of, the great world. You know enough of these matters, to understand that, the ice once broken, any one can float in the current of society.
This little footing has not been obtained without some contretems, and I have learned early to understand that wherever there is an Englishman in the question, it behoves an American to be reserved, punctilious, and sometimes stubborn. There is a strange mixture of kind feeling, prejudice, and ill-nature, as respects us, wrought into the national character of that people, that will not admit of much mystification. That they should not like us, may be natural enough; but if they seek the intercourse, they ought, on all occasions, to be made to conduct it equally, without annoyance and condescension and on terms of perfect equality; conditions, by the way, that are scarcely agreeable to their present notions of superiority.
[Footnote 6: The change in this respect during the last ten years is patent. No European nation has, probably, just at this moment as much real respect for America as the English, though it is still mixed with great ignorance, and a very sincere dislike. Still, the enterprise, activity, and growing power of the country are forcing themselves on the attention of our kinsmen; and if the government understood its foreign relations as well as it does its domestic, and made a proper exhibition of maritime preparation and of maritime force, this people would hold the balance in many of the grave questions that are now only in abeyance in European politics. Hitherto we have been influenced by every vacillation in English interests, and it is quite time to think of turning the tables, and of placing, as far as practicable, American interests above the vicissitudes of those of other people. The thing is more easily done than is commonly imagined, but a party politician is rarely a statesman, the subordinate management necessary to the one being death to the comprehensive views that belong to the other. The peculiar nature of the American institutions, and the peculiar geographical situation of the country, moreover, render higher qualities necessary, perhaps, to make a statesman here than elsewhere.]
In order to understand why I mention any other than the French, in the capital of France, you will remember that there are many thousands of foreigners established here, for longer or shorter periods, who, by means of their money (a necessary that, relatively, is less abundant with the French), materially affect society, contriving to penetrate it in all directions, in some way or other.