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The Potiphar Papers by George William Curtis

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The Ambassador laughed a good deal to himself and then answered,

"But they are not visiting ladies."

"What do you mean," said she.

"Ask Mr. Firkin," replied he.

So when we saw them next, Mrs P. said,

"Mr. Firkin, I remember you used to tell me of the pleasant circles in
which you visited in Paris, and how much superior French society is to

"Infinitely superior," replied Mr. Firkin.

"Much more _spirituel_," said Mr. Boosey.

"Well," said Mrs. Potiphar, "we are going to stay only a short time to
be sure, but we should like very much to see a little good society."

"Ah!" said Mr. Firkin.

"Oh! yes, certainly," said Mr. Boosey; and the corners of his eyelids

"Perhaps you might suggest that you have some friends staying in
town," said Mrs. P. "You know we're all intimate enough for that."

"Yes--oh yes," said Mr. Firkin, slowly; "but the truth is, it's a
little awkward. These ladies are kind enough to receive us; but to ask
favors of them, is, you see, different."

"Oh! yes," interrupted Mr. Boosey; "to ask favors of them is a very
different thing," and his eyes really glistened.

"These are ladies, you see, dear Mrs. Potiphar," said Kurz Pacha, "who
don't grant favors."

"But still," continued Mr. Firkin, "if you only wanted to see them,
you know, and be able to say at home that you knew Madame la Marquise
So-and-so, and Madame la Comtesse So-and-so, and describe their
dresses, why, we can manage it well enough; for we are engaged to a
little party at the opera this evening with the Countess de Papillon
and Madame Casta Diva, two of the best known ladies in Paris. But they
never visit."

"How superbly exclusive!" said Mrs. Potiphar; "I wonder how that would
do at home! However, I should be glad to see the general air and the
toilette, you know. If we were going to pass the whole winter I would
know them of course. But things are different where you stay so short
a time. Eh, Kurz Pacha?"

"Very different, Madame. But you are quite right. Make hay while the
sun shines; use your eyes if you can't use your tongue. Eyes are great
auxiliaries, you can use the tongue afterward. You've no idea how
well you can talk about French society if you only go to the opera
with a friend who knows people, and to your banker's soirées. If you
chose to read a little of Balzac, beside, your knowledge will be

So we agreed to go to the opera. We passed the days shopping, and
driving in the _Bois de Boulogne_. Sometimes the young men went
with us, and D'Orsay Firkin confided to me one of his adventures,
which was very romantic. You know how handsome he is, and how
excessively gentlemanly, and how the girls were all in love with him
last winter at home. Now you needn't say that I was, for you know
better. I liked him as a friend. But he told me that he had often
seen a girl in one of the shops on the Boulevards watching him very
closely. He never passed by, but she always saw him, and looked so
earnestly at him, that at length he thought he would saunter
carelessly into the shop, and ask for some trifle. The moment he
entered she fixed her eyes full upon him, and he says they were large
and lustrous, and a little mournful in expression. But he scarcely
looked at her, and asked at the opposite counter for a pair of
gloves. He tried them on, and in the mirror behind the counter he saw
the girl still watching him. After lingering for some time, and
looking at everything but the girl, he sauntered slowly out again
while her eyes, he said, grew evidently more mournful as she saw him
leave without looking at her. Daily, for a week afterwards, he walked
by the door, and she was always watching and looking after him with
the most eager interest. Mr. Firkin did not say he was sorry for the
little French girl, but I know that he really felt so. These men, that
every woman falls in love with, are generous, I have always found. And
I am sure he would never have confided this little affair to me,
except for the very intimate terms upon which we are; for I have heard
him say (speaking of other men) that nothing was meaner than for a man
to tell of his conquests.

Well, the affair went on, he says, for some days longer. He was, at
the time, constantly in attendance upon the Countess de Papillon, but
often from the window of her carriage he has remarked the young girl
pensively watching him, as she stretched gloves, or tied cravats
around the necks of customers. At length he determined to follow the
matter up, as he called it, and so marched into the shop one day, and
going straight toward the mournful eyes, he asked for a pair of
gloves. Mr. Firkin says the French women are so perfectly trained to
conceal their emotions, that she did not betray, by any trembling, or
turning pale, or stammering, the profound interest she felt for him,
but quietly looked in his eyes, and in what Mr. Firkin called "a
strain of Siren sweetness," asked what number he wore. He replied
with his French _esprit_, as Kurz Pacha calls it, that he thought
the size of her hand was about right for him; upon which she smiled in
the most bewitching manner, and bringing out a large box of gloves,
selected a pair of an exquisite _nuance_, as the French say, you
know, and asking him to put out his hand, she proceeded to fit the
glove to it, herself. Mr. Firkin remarked, that as she did so, she
would raise her eyes to his whenever she found it necessary to press
his fingers harder than usual, and when he thought the glove was
fairly on, she kept pulling it down, and smoothing it; and finally
taking his hand between both of hers, she brought the glove together,
buttoned it, and said, "Monsieur has such a delicate hand," and smiled
sweetly. Mr. Firkin said he bought an astonishing number of gloves
that morning, and suddenly remembered that he wanted cravats.
Fortunately the new styles had just come in, Marie said (for he had
discovered her name), and she opened a dazzling array of silks and
satins, and asking him to remove his neckcloth, she wound her hand
in a beautiful silk, and throwing her arms, for a little moment, quite
around his neck, she tied it in front; her little hands sometimes
hitting his chin. Then taking him by the hand she led him to a mirror,
in which he might survey the effect, while she stood behind him
looking into the mirror over his shoulder, her head really quite close
to his, and, in her enthusiasm about the set of the cravat, having
forgotten to take her hand out of his. He stood a great while before
that mirror, trying to discover if it really was a becoming tie. He
said he never found so much difficulty in deciding. But Marie decided
everything for him, and laid aside piles of cravats, and gloves, and
fancy buttons, and charms, until he was quite dizzy, and found that he
hadn't money enough in his pocket to pay.

"It is nothing," said the trustful Marie, "Monsieur will call again."
Touched by her confidence he has called several times since, and never
escapes without paying fifty francs or so. Marie says the _Messieurs
Americains_ are princes. They never have smaller change than a
Napoleon, and they are not only the most regal of customers but the
most polite of gentlemen. Mr. Firkin says he has often seen Frenchmen
watching him, as he stood in the shop, with the most quizzical
expression, and once or twice he has thought he heard suppressed
laughter from a group of the other girls and the French gentlemen.
But it was a mistake, for when he turned, the Frenchmen had the
politest expression, and the girls were very busy with the goods. Poor
French gentlemen! how they must be annoyed to see foreigners carrying
off not only all the gloves, but all the smiles, of the beautiful
Maries. It is really pleasant to see Gauche Boosey and D'Orsay Firkin
promenade on the Boulevards. They are more superbly dressed than
anybody else. They have such coats, and trowsers, and waistcoats, and
boots,--"always looking," says Kurz Pacha, "as if they came into a
large fortune last evening, and were anxious to advertise the fact
this morning." Even the boys in the streets turn to look at them.

Mr. Boosey always buys the pattern shirts, and woollen morning
dresses, and fancy coats, that hang in the shop windows. "Then," he
says, "I am sure of being at the height of the fashion." Mr. Firkin
is more quiet. The true gentleman, he says, is known by the absence of
everything _prononcé_. "He is a very true gentleman, then," even
Kurz Pacha says, "for I have never found anything _prononcé_ in
Mr. D'Orsay Firkin." The Pacha tells a good story of them. "The week
after their arrival Mr. B. appeared in a suit of great splendor. It
was a very remarkable coat, and waistcoat, covered with gilt sprigs,
and an embroidered shirt-bosom, altogether a fine coronation suit for
the king of the Cannibal Islands. Mr. Firkin, as usual, was rigorously
gentlemanly, in the quiet way. They walked together up the Boulevards,
Mr. B. flashing in the sun, and Mr. F. sombre as a shadow. The whole
world turned to remark the extreme gorgeousness of Mr. Boosey's
attire, which was peculiar even in Paris. At first that ornament of
society rather enjoyed it, but such universal attention became a
little wearisome, and at length annoying. Finally Mr. Boosey could
endure it no longer, and turning round he stopped Mr. Firkin and
looking at him from top to toe, remarked, 'Really I see nothing so
peculiar in your dress that the whole town should stop to stare at
you' Mr. Boosey is a man of great discrimination," concluded the

He went with us to the opera, where we were to see the Countess de
Papillon and Madame Casta Diva. The house was full, and the young
gentlemen had told us where to look for their box. Mrs. Potiphar had
made Mr. P. as presentable as possible, and begged the Sennaar
Minister to see that Mr. P. did not talk too loud, nor go to sleep,
nor offend the proprieties in any way; especially to cut off all his
attempts at speaking French. She had hired the most expensive box.

"People respect money, my dear," said Mrs. Potiphar to me.

"But not always its owners, my dear," whispered Kurz Pacha in my other

When we entered the box all the glasses in the house were levelled at
us. Mrs. Potiphar gayly seated herself in the best seat, nodding and
chatting with the Ambassador; her diamonds glittering, her brocade
glistening, her fan waving, while I slipped into the seat opposite,
and Mr. Potiphar stood behind me in a dazzling expanse of white
waistcoat, and his glass in his eye, as Mrs. P. had taught him.

"A very successful entree" whispered the Pacha to Mrs. P. "I shall
give out to my friends that it is the heiress presumptive of the

"No, really; what is the Comanchees?" said Polly levelling her glass
all round the house, and laughing, and talking, and rustling, as if
she were very, very happy.

Suddenly there was a fresh volley of glasses towards our box, and, to
our perfect dismay, we turned and saw that Mr. Potiphar had advanced
to the front, and having put down his eye-glass, had taken out his
old, round, silver-barred spectacles, and was deliberately wiping them
with that great sheet of a hideous red bandanna, "prepartory to an
exhaustive survey of the house," whispered Kurz Pacha to me.

Mrs. P. wouldn't betray any emotion, but still smiling, she hissed to
him, under her breath:

"Mr. P., get back this minute. Don't make a fool of yourself. _Mais,
monsieur, c'est vraiment charmant._"

The latter sentence was addressed with smiles to the Ambassador, as
she saw that the neighbor in the next box was listening.

"It's uncommonly warm," said Mr. Potiphar in a loud tone, as he wiped
his forehead with the bandanna.

"Yes, I observe that Mrs. Potiphar betrays the heat in her face," said
the Pacha, "which however, is merely a becoming carnation, Madame,"
concluded he, sinking his voice, and rubbing his hands.

At that moment in the box opposite, I saw our friends, Mr. Boosey and
Mr. Firkin. By their sides sat two such handsome women! They wore a
great quantity of jewelry, and had the easiest, most smiling faces you
ever saw. They entered making a great noise, and I could see that the
modesty of our friends kept them in the rear. For they seemed almost
afraid of being seen.

"I like that," said Kurz Pacha; "it shows that such stern republicans
don't intend ever to appear delighted with the smiles of nobility."

"The largest one is Madame la Marquise Casta Diva," said
Mrs. Potiphar, scanning them carefully, "I know her by her patrician
air. What a splendid thing blood is, to be sure!"

She gave herself several minutes to study the toilette of the lady,
while I looked at the younger lady, Countess de Papillon, who had all
kinds of little fluttering ends of ribbons, and laces, and scallops,
and ruffles, and was altogether so stylish!

"I see now where Mr. Firkin gets his elegant manners," said
Mrs. Potiphar; "it is a great privilege for young Americans to be
admitted familiarly into such society. I now understand better the
tone of their conversation when they refer to the French Salons."

"Yes, my dear Madame," answered the Pacha, "this is indeed making the
best of one's opportunities. This is well worth coming to Europe for.
It is, in fact, for this that Europe is chiefly valuable to an
American, as the experience of an observer shows. Paris is,
notoriously, the great centre of historical and romantic interest. To
be sure, Italy, Rome, Switzerland, and Germany,--yes, and even
England,--have some few objects of interest and attention. But the
really great things of Europe, the superior interests, are all in
Paris. Why, just reflect. Here is the _Café de Paris_, the
_Trois Frères_, and the _Maison Dorée_. I don't think you
can get such dinners elsewhere. Then, there is the Grand Opera, the
Comic Opera, and now and then the Italian--I rather think that is good
music. Are there any such theatres as the _Vaudeville,_ the
_Varietés,_ and the _Montansier,_ where there is the most
dexterous balancing on the edge of decency that ever you saw; and when
the balance is lost, as it always is, at least a dozen times every
evening, the applause is tremendous, showing that the audience have
such a subtile sense of propriety that they can detect the slightest
deviation from the right line. Is there not the _Louvre_, where,
if there is not the best picture of a single great artist, there are
good specimens of all? Will you please to show me such a promenade as
the Boulevards, such fetês as those of the _Champ Elysées_, such
shops as those of the _Passages_, and the _Palais Royal_. Above all,
will you indicate to such students of mankind as Mr. Boosey, Mr.
Firkin, and I, a city more abounding in piquant little women, with
eyes, and coiffures and toilettes, and _je ne sais quoi_, enough
to make Diogenes a dandy, to obtain their favor? I think, dear
Madame, you would be troubled to do it. And while these things are
Paris, while we are sure of an illimitable allowance of all this in
the gay capital, we do right to remain here. Let who will, sadden
in mouldy old Rome, or luxuriate in the orange-groves of Sorento
and the south, or wander among the ruins of the most marvellous of
empires, and the monuments of art of the highest human genius, or
float about the canals of Venice, or woo the Venus and the Apollo;
and learn from the silent lips of those teachers a lore sweeter
than the French novelists impart;--let who will, climb the tremendous
Alps, and feel the sublimity of Switzerland as he rises from the
summer of Italian lakes and vineyards to the winter of the glaciers,
or makes the tour of all climates in a day by descending those
mountains towards the south;--let those who care for it, explore in
Germany the sources of modern history, and the remote beginnings of
the American spirit;--ours be the Boulevards, the demoiselles, the
operas, and the unequalled dinners. Decency requires that we should
see Rome, and climb an Alps. We will devote a summer week to the one,
and a winter month to the other. They will restore us renewed and
refreshed for the manly, generous, noble, and useful life we lead in

"Admirably said," returned Mrs. Potiphar, who had been studying the
ladies opposite while the Pacha was speaking, "but a little bit
prosy," she whispered to me.

It would charm you to hear how intelligently Mrs. P. speaks about
French society, since that evening at the opera. When we return, you
will find how accomplished she is. We have been here only a few weeks,
and we already know all the fashionable shops, and a little more
French, and we go to the confectioners, and eat _savarins_ every
morning at 12, and we drive in the _Bois de Boulogne_ in the
afternoon, and we dine splendidly, and in the evening we go to the
opera or a theatre. To be sure, we don't have much society beside our
own party. But then the shop-girls point out the distinguished women
to Mrs. Potiphar, so that she can point them out when we drive; and
our banker calls and keeps us up in gossip; and Mrs. Potiphar's maid,
Adèle, is inestimable in furnishing information; and Mr. Potiphar
gets a great deal out of his commissionaire, and goes about studying
his Galignani's Guide, and frequents the English Heading Room, where I
am told, he makes himself a little conspicuous when he finds that
Englishmen won't talk, by saying, "Oh! dear me!" and wiping his face
with a bandanna. He usually opens his advances by making sure of an
Englishman, and saying, "_Bon matin,_--but, perhaps, sir, you
don't speak French."

"You evidently do not, sir," replied one gentleman.

"No, sir; you're right there," answered Mr. P. But he couldn't get
another word from his companion.

In this delightful round the weeks glide by.

"You must be enjoying yourself immensely," says the Pacha. "You
understand life, my dear Mrs. Potiphar. Here you are, speaking very
little French, in a city where the language is an atmosphere, and
where you are in no sense acclimated until you can speak it
fluently--with all French life shut out from you--living in a
hotel--cheated by butcher, baker, and candlestick-maker--going to hear
plays that you imperfectly understand--to an opera where you know
nobody, and where your box is filled with your own countrymen, who are
delightful, indeed, but whom you didn't come to Paris to
see--constantly buying a hundred things because they are pretty, and
because you are in Paris--entirely ignorant, and quite as careless, of
the historical interests of the city, of the pictures, of the statues,
and buildings--surrounded by celebrities of all kinds, of whom you
never heard, and therefore lose the opportunity of seeing them--in
fact, paying the most extravagant price for everything, and purchasing
only the consciousness of being in Paris--why, you ought to be happy,
and considered to be having a fine time of it, if you are not? How
naturally you will sigh for all this when you return and recur to
Paris as the culmination of human bliss! Here's my honored Potiphar,
who has this morning been taken to a darkened room in a grand old
house, in a lonely, aristocratic street; and there a picture-agent has
shown him a splendid Nicolas Poussin, painted in his prime for the
family, whose heir in reduced circumstances must now part with it at a
tearful sacrifice. Honored P.'s friend, the commissionaire, interprets
this story, while the agent stands sadly meditating the sacrifice with
which his duty acquaints him. He informs the good P., through the
friendly commissionaire, that he has been induced to offer him the
picture, not only because all Americans have so fine a taste (as his
experience has proved to him) in paintings, nor because they are so
much more truly munificent than the nobility of other nations, but
because the heir in reduced circumstances wishes to think of the
picture as entirely removed from the possibility of being seen in
France. Family pride, which is almost crushed in disposing of so great
and valued a work, would be entirely quenched, if the sale were to be
known, and the picture recognized elsewhere in the country. Monsieur
is a gentleman, and he will understand the feelings of a gentleman
under such circumstances. The commissionaire and the picture-agent
therefore preserve a profound silence, and my honored friend feels for
his red bandanna, and is not comfortable in the lonely old house,
with the picture and the people. The agent says that it is not unusual
for the owner to visit the picture about that very hour, to hear what
chance there is for its sale. If this knock should be he, it would not
be very remarkable. The heir enters. He has a very heavy moustache,
dark hair, and a slightly Hebrew cast of countenance.

"Mr. Potiphar is introduced. The heir contemplates the picture sadly,
and he and the agent point out its beauties to each other. In fine, my
honored Potiphar buys the work of art. To any one else, of course, in
France, for instance, the price should be eleven thousand francs. But
the French and the Americans have fraternized; a thousand francs shall
be deducted.

"You see clearly it's quite worth while coming to Paris to do this,
because I suppose, there are not more than ten or twenty artists at
home who could paint ten or twenty times as good a picture for a
quarter of the price. But you, dearest Mrs. P., who know all about
pictures, naturally don't want American pictures in your house, any
more than you want anything else American there.

"My young friends and allies, Messrs. Boosey, Firkin, and Croesus, say
that they come to Paris to see the world. They get the words wrong,
you know. They come that the world (that is, _their_ world at
home) may not see them. To accompany Mesdames de Papillon and Casta
Diva to the opera, then to return to beautifully furnished apartments
to sup, and to prolong the entertainment until morning, is what those
charming youths mean when they say 'see the world.' To attend at that
_réunion_ of the _Haut Ton_, Monsieur Celarius' dancing
academy, is to see good society in Paris, after the manner of those
dashing men of the world. It's amusing enough, and it's innocent
enough in its way. They won't go very far. They'll spend a good deal
of money for nothing. They'll be plucked at gaming-houses. They'll be
quietly laughed at by Mesdames de Papillon and Casta Diva, and the
male friends of those ladies who enjoy the benefit of the lavish
bounty of our young Croesus and Firkins. They'll swagger a good deal,
and take airs, and come home and indulge in foreign habits now grown
indispensable. They will pronounce upon the female toilette, and upon
the _gantier le plus comme il faut_, in Paris. They will beg your
pardon for expressing a little phrase in French--to which, really the
English is inadequate. They will have, necessarily, the foreign
air. Some of them will settle away into business men, and be very
exemplary. Others will return to Paris, as moths to the light,
asserting that the only place for a gentleman to live agreeably, to
indulge his tastes, and get the most for his money, is Paris--which is
strictly true of such gentlemen as they. A view of life that starts
from the dinner-table, inevitably selects Paris for its career. For,
obviously, if you live to dine well you must live where there is good

"You women are rather worse off than the young men, Mrs. P.; because
you are necessarily so much more confined to the house. Unless,
indeed, you imitate Mrs. Vite, who goes wherever the gentlemen go, and
who is famous as _L'Américaine_. If you like that sort of thing,
you can do as much of it as you please. It will always surround you
with a certain kind of man,--and withdraw from your society a certain
kind of woman, and a certain kind of respect."


"To conclude my sermon, ladies, Europe is a charmed name to Americans,
because in Europe are the fountains of all our education and training.
History is the story of that hemisphere; the ruins of empires, arts,
and civilizations, are here. Now, if there is any use in living at
all, which I am far from asserting, is it worth while to get nothing
out of Europe but a prolonged supper with Madame Casta Diva, or a
wardrobe of all the charming dresses in Paris, and a facility of
scandal which has all the wickedness and none of the wit of the finest
French-woman? I beg a thousand pardons for preaching, but the text was
altogether too pregnant."

And so Kurz Pacha whirled out of the room, humming a waltz of
Strauss. He has heard of his recall to Sennaar since he has been
here--and we shall hear nothing more of him. We, too, leave Paris in a
few days for home, and you will not hear from us again. Mrs. Potiphar
has been as busy as possible getting up the greatest variety of
dresses. You will see that she has not been to Paris for nothing. Kurz
Pacha asked us if we had been to the Louvre, where the great pictures
are. But when I inquired if there were any of Mr. Düsseldorf's there,
and he said no, why, of course, as he is my favorite, and I know more
of his works than I do of any others, I didn't go. There are some very
pretty things there, Mr. Boosey says. But ladies have no time for
such matters. Do you know, the other evening we went to the ball at
the Tuileries, and oh! it was splendid. There were one duke and three
marquesses, and a great many counts, presented to me. They all said,
"It's charming, this evening," and I said, "very charming, indeed."
Wasn't it nice?

But you should have seen Mrs. Potiphar when the Emperor Napoleon
III. spoke to her. You know what a great man he is, and what a
benefactor to his country, and how pure, and noble, and upright his
private character and career have been; and how, as Kurz Pacha said,
he is radiant with royalty, and honors everybody to whom he
speaks. Well, Mrs. P. was presented, and sank almost to the ground in
her reverence. But she actually trembled with delight when the Emperor

"Madame, I remember with the greatest pleasure the beautiful city of
New York."

I am sure the Emgress Eugenie would have been jealous, could she have
heard the tone in which it was said. Wasn't it affable in such a great
monarch towards a mere republican? I wonder how people can slander him
so, and tell such stories about him. I never saw a nicer man; only he
looks sleepy. I suppose the cares of state oppress him, poor man! But
one thing you may be sure of, dear Mrs. Downe, if people at home laugh
at the Emperor and condemn him, just find out _if they have ever
been invited to the Tuileries_. If not, you will understand the
reason of their hatred. Mrs. Potiphar says to the Americans here that
she can't hear the Emperor spoken against, for they are on the best of

"Of course the French dislike him" says Mr. Firkin, who has a turn
for politics, "for they want a republic before they are ready for it."

How you would enjoy all this, dear, and how sorry I am you are not
here. I think Mr. Potiphar is rather disconsolate. He whistles and
looks out of the window down into the garden of the Tuileries, where
the children play under the trees; and as he looks he stops whistling,
and gazes sometimes for half an hour; and whenever he goes out
afterward, he is sure to buy something for Freddy. When the shopkeeper
asks where it shall be sent, Mr. P. says, in a loud, slow
voice--"Hotel Mureece, Kattery-vang-sank-o-trorsyaim."

It is astonishing, as Kurz Pacha said that we are not more respected
abroad. "Foreigners will never know what you really are," said he to
Mr. P., "until they come to you. Your going to them has failed."

Good bye, dearest Mrs. Downe. We are so sorry to come home! You won't
hear from us again.

Your ever affectionate







I hear and obey. You said to me, Go, and I went. You now say, come,
and I am coming, with the readiness that befits a slave, and the
cheerfulness that marks the philosopher.

Accustomed from my youth to breathe the scented air of Sennaar
saloons, and to lounge in listless idleness with young Sennaar, I am
weary of the simple purity of manners that distinguishes this people,
and long for the pleasing, if pointless frivolities of your court.

Coming, as you commanded, to observe and report the social state of
the metropolis of a people who, in the presence of the world, have
renounced the feudal organization of society, I have found them, as
you anticipated, totally free from the petty ambitions, the bitter
resolves, and the hollow pretences, that characterize the society of
older states.

The people of the first fashion unite the greatest simplicity of
character with the utmost variety of intelligence, and the most
graceful elegance of manner. Knowing that for an American the only
nobility is that of feeling; the only grace, generosity; and the only
elegance, simplicity; they have achieved a society which is a blithe
Arcadia, illustrating to the world the principles they profess, and
making the friend of man rejoice.

We, who are reputed savages, might well be astonished and fascinated
with the results of civilization, as they are here displayed. The
universal courtesy and consideration--the gentle charity, which does
not consider the appearance but the substance--the republican
independence, which teaches foreign lords and ladies the worthlessness
of mere rank, by obviously respecting the character and not the
title--the eagerness with which foreign habits are subdued, by the
positive nature of American manners--the readiness to assist--the
total want of coarse social emulation--the absence of ignorance,
prejudice and vulgarity, in the selecter circles--the broad, sweet,
catholic welcome to all that is essentially national and
characteristic, which sends the young American abroad only that he may
return eschewing European habits, and with a confidence in man and his
country, chastened by experience--these have most interested and
charmed me in the observation of this pleasing people.

It is here the pride of every man to bear his part in the universal
labor. The young men, instead of sighing for other institutions, and
the immunities of rank, prefer to deserve, by earning, their own
patents of Nobility. They are industrious, temperate, and frugal, as
becomes the youth to whom the destinies of so great a nation, and the
hopes of the world, are committed. They are proud to have raised
themselves from poverty, and they are never ashamed to confess that
they are poor. They acknowledge the equal dignity of all kinds of
labor, and do not presume upon any social differences between their
baker and themselves. Knowing that luxury enervates a nation, they aim
to show in their lives, as in their persons, that simplicity is the
finest ornament of dress, as health best decorates the body. They are
cheerfully obedient to those who command them, and gentle to those
they command. Full of charity, and knowing that if every man has some
sore weakness, he has also a human soul latent in him, they trust each
man as if that soul might, at any moment, look out of his eyes, and
acknowledge with tears, the sympathy that unites them.

They show in all this social independence and originality, the shrewd
common-sense which we have so often heard ascribed to them. For if, by
some fatal error, they should undertake a social rivalry, in kind,
with the old world and all its splendid accessories of antiquity,
wealth and hereditary refinement, the observer would see, what now is
never beheld, foolish parvenus frenzied in the pursuit of an elegance
which, in its nature, is inaccessible to them. We should see lavish
and unmeaning displays. We should see a gaudy ostentation,--serving
only as a magnificent frame to the vanity of the subject. We should
see the grave and thoughtful, the witty and accomplished, the men and
women whose genius fitted them for society, withdrawing from its
saloons, and preferring privacy to a vulgar and profuse publicity. We
should see society become a dancing school, and men and women
degenerated into dull and dandified boys and girls, content with
(pardon me, sable sir, but it would be the truth) "style." We should
see, as if in an effete civilization, marriages of convenience. We
should hear the heirs, or the holders, of great fortunes, called
"gentlemanly," if they were dull, and "a little wild" if they were
debauched. We should see parents panting to "marry off" their dear
daughters to the richest youths, and the richest youths affecting a
"jolly" and "stunning" life,--reputed to know the world because they
are licentious, and to have seen life because they have tasted foreign
dissipation. We should hear insipidity praised as good-humor, and
nonchalance as ease. We should have boorishness accounted manliness,
and impudence wit. We should gradually lose faith in man as we
associated with men, and soon perceive that the only safety for the
city was in its constant recruiting from the simplicity and strength
of the country.

The sharp common-sense of this people prevents so melancholy a
spectacle. In fact, you have only to consider that this society does
not remind you of the best characteristics of any other, to judge how
unique it is.

But, for myself, as milk disagrees with my constitution, and my mind
tires of this pastoral sweetness, I am too glad to obey your
summons. In my younger days when I loved to press the stops of oaten
pipes, and--a plaintive swain--fancied every woman what she seemed,
and every man my friend,--I should have hailed the prospect of a life
in an Arcadia like this. How gladly I should have climbed its
Pisgah-peaks of hope, and have looked off into the Future, flowing
with milk and honey. I would grieve (if I could) that my sated
appetite refuses more,--that I must lay down my crook and play the
shepherd no longer. Yet I know well enough that in the perfumed
atmosphere of the circle to which I return, I shall recur often, with
more than regret, to the humane, polished, intelligent, and simple
society I leave behind me,--shall wonder if Miss Minerva Tattle still
prattles kindly among the birds and flowers,--if Mrs. Potiphar still
leads, by her innate nobility, and not by the accident of wealth, the
swarm of gay, and graceful, and brilliant men and women that surround

I humbly trust, sable son of midnight, my lord and master, that my
present report and summary will be found worthy of that implicit
confidence immemorially accorded to diplomatic communications. I
could ask for it no other reception.

Your slave,







I am very anxious that you should allow me to receive your son
Frederic as a pupil, at my parsonage, here in the country. I have not
lived in the city without knowing something about it, despite my
cloth, and I am concerned at the peril to which every young man is
there exposed. There is a proud philosophy in vogue that everything
that _can_ be injured had better be destroyed as rapidly as
possible, and put out of the way at once. But I recall a deeper and
tenderer wisdom which declared, "A bruised reed will he not break."
The world is not made for the prosperous alone, nor for the strong.
We may wince at the truth, but we must at length believe it,--that the
poor in spirit, and the poor in will, and the poor in success, are
appointed as pensioners upon our care.

In my house your son will miss the luxuries of his home, but he will,
perhaps, find as cordial a sympathy in his little interests, and as
careful a consultation of his desires and aims. He will have pure air,
a tranquil landscape, a pleasant society; my books, variously
selected, my direction and aid in his studies, and a neighborhood to
town that will place its resources within his reach. A city, it seems
to me, is mainly valuable as a gallery of opportunities. But a man
should not live exclusively in his library, nor among his
pictures. Letters and art may well decorate his life. But if they are
not subsidiary to the man, and his character, then he is a sadder
spectacle than a vain book or a poor picture. The eager whirl of a
city tends either to beget a thirst that can only be sated by strong,
yet dangerous excitement, or to deafen a man's ear, and harden his
heart, to the really noble attractions around him.

It is well to know men. But men are not learned at the billiard table,
nor in the barroom, nor by meeting them in an endless round of
debauch, nor does a man know the world because he has been to Paris.
It is a sad thing for a young man to seek applause by surpassing his
companions in that which makes them contemptible. The best men of our
own time have little leisure, and the best of other days have
committed their better part to books, wherein we may know and love

There is nothing more admirable than good society, as there is nothing
so fine as a noble man, nor so lovely as a beautiful woman. And to the
perfect enjoyment of such society an ease and grace are necessary,
which are hardly to be acquired, but are rather, like beauty and
talent, the gift of Nature. That ease and grace will certainly run
great risk of disappearing, in the embrace of a fashion unchastened by
common sense; and it is observable that the sensitive _gaucherie_
of a countryman is more agreeable than the pert composure of a

I do not deny that your son must lose something, if you accede to my
request, but I assuredly believe that he will gain more than he will
lose. My profession makes me more dogmatic, probably, than is strictly
courteous. But I have observed, in my recent visits to town, that
Courtesy, also, is getting puny and unmanly, and that a counterfeit,
called Compliment, is often mistaken for it. You will smile, probably
at my old-fashioned whims, and regret that I am behind my time. But
really, it strikes me, that the ineffectual imitation of an exploded
social organization is, at least, two centuries behind my time. The
youth who, socially speaking, are termed Young America, represent, in
character and conduct, anything but their own time and their own

I will not deny that the secret of my interest in your son, is an
earlier interest in yourself--a wild dream we dreamed together, so
long ago that it seems not to be a part of my life. The companion of
those other days I do not recognize in the glittering lady I sometimes
see. But in her child I trace the likeness of the girl I knew, and it
is to the memory of that girl--whose lovely traits I will still
believe are not destroyed, but are somewhere latent in the woman--that
I consecrate the task I wish to undertake. I am married, and I am
happy. But sometimes through the sweet tranquillity of my life streams
the pensive splendor of that long-vanished summer, and I cannot deny
the heart that will dream of what might have been.

Madame, I can wish you nothing more sincerely than that as your lot is
with the rich in this world, it may be with the poor in the world to

Your obedient servant,


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