George Hooker Colton.

The American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume v.8) online

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on a race-course or at a county-meeting, when-
ever they address any of their acquaintance to
whose name is attached the slightest indication
of rank, the title is sure to be well mouthed
out by them, particularly if an associate of
their less prosperous days be standing by to
bear testimony to the exalted state at which
they have arrived. And yet their sycophancy
is very fitly rewarded by bare toleration, there
being no sympathy between them and those
among whom they are permitted to dwell.
Tiieir coldness of demeanor passes for insensi-
bility, and their bluntness of speech for rude-
ness, wliile they themselves are regarded as
aliens, and would be treated accordingly, were
it not that among the great Feiv, as among the
insignificant Many, gilded, if not golden opin-
ions are always to be had for a valuable con-
sideration. Floating upon the surface of a
society to which they do not rightfully belong,
they make unceasing efforts to keep up with
the current of it, catering to the tastes, and
pampering the appetites of thousands who are
ignorant sometimes even of their persons, and
indifferent to their merits.

" Now all this, attracting my notice in indi-
viduals of another nation than my own, though
it excited a passing feeling of pity and contempt,
did not fail in a certain degree to amuse me ;
but when I perceived that undisguised rank-
worship had its besotted votaries among Amer-
icans to quite as great an extent as among
Englishmen, a sense of shame completely
mastered every other emotion." * * *

" But Mr. liivermore was by no means the
only American tlrat laid his daily sacrifice of
time, and gold, and self-respect before tiie gild-
ed calf of high French fashion. Following
successfully his example, closely upon his lieels,
and in advance of all others, there was a Mrs.
Chase, with her hnsbaiid, originally very decent
penj)le of obscure origin, whose acquaintance I
had made some years before on board my own
VP-'pel goino- to the West Indies.

^ * * * *

" Before meeting him, however, inthe French
capital, but not before the fame of the extrava-
gant dinners which prefaced his great first ball
had reached my ears, I chanced one evening to
encounter Mrs. Chase in {\k foyer of the opera
house on the way to her box. She so evidently
recognized me that I should have impulsively
I addressed her as an old acquaintance, had I
I not fortunately discovered, in good time, that a



1848.]



Ediuard Vernon.



319



merchant sea-captain was not a personage of
sufficient consideration in her esteem to be fle-
servingf of notice. I passed out. therefore, with
a smile to myself, in quest of other companions
less exclusive in their humors than my fair
country-woman, and was, an hour or two later,
standing not far from the entrance of a saloon
on tlie aristocratic side of the Seine, when who
should present herself but the very lady that
had just shown such a convenient loss of mem-
ory respecting my identity.

" She had certainly pained some tact since
her residence abroad, or, at least, had not left
uncultivated that Vi'hich Nature gave her, for,
without betraying the slightest embarrassment
at our second meeting, she greeted me most
cordially, exclaiming, ' Why, Captain Vernon !
is it you ? 1 am so delighted to see you !'

" ' Call me Mister Vernon, if you please,
madam,' said I, in a playful under-tone, not
nnwillincf to renew our former intimacy of
ship-board birth, although quite aware that I
owed the lady's new-born favor to the quality
of the company in which she found me. ' Call
me plain Mister, or I shall lose myself among
so many titled gentry. But, seriously speak-
ing,' I continued, ' as I have no right to dub
myself captain, I cannot consent to render the
name of American more ridiculous than it is
already made by the show of borrowed or stolen
plumes.'

" ' How absurd you are,' she replied, ' not to
avail yourself of that which belongs to you quite
as much as do their titles to half of the people
one meets on leaving our faubourg ! Why, do
you know that not a few of this would-be no-
bility have no more right to the rank they
assume, than I have to the little aristocratic cle
I put before my name, to distinguish me from
the common herd of Americans which abound
in Paris ? Do you know that there are men
and women moving with impunity in good
society, who have attained to a marquisate of
their own creation, or even something better,
by dint of sheer effrontery ?'

" ' 1 was not aware of these facts,' I answered.
' But the herd of Americans, as you call it, is it
then so great ? and those composing it, are tliey
also aspiring ?'

" ' I should call their name legion, were it
not that the English of the same stamp far out-
number them,' was her reply. ' They come
and go like locusts, and sometimes leave as
disagreeable traces behind them ; and as to
their aspirations, it is really amusing to see
how fond Republicans are of anybody higher
in rank than a commoner. If by chance, as is
the case with several I know, they can claim
the slightest relationship to any French family
of note, one is wearied with their eternal self-
glorification. Then there is no end to their
indignation if they are not entertained at the
Tuiiieries, dined at their embassy, and caressed
by American residents, whether known to



them or not. Their ignorance, too, of the forms
of society, and their pretensions to polite accom-
plishments, are miraculously a.stounding. One,
for example, leaves a card on his majesty, and
another, equally erudite in the lore of courts,
compliments the queen on the good looks of
her husband. No offence, of course, is intend-
ed, nor is any taken, that 1 am aware of; but
what folly it is, througli stolid indifference or
wilful ignorance, to violate conventional rules
to which we have voluntarily subjected our-
selves. I, however, am fortunate in knowing
only a few of the savages, or my house would
be overrun by them.'

" ' Are they, then, so fond of society?' I in-
quired.

" ' Actually ravenous for it,' she answered ;
' and they fearlessly thrust themselves into any
they can enter, although tlieir knowledge of the
French language hardly suffices to provide them
with the common necessaries of life. But to
my set, thank Heaven, they can never gain
admittance ; for, even with my three hundred
thousand francs a year, the difficulties 1 met
with in getting into it were inconceivable, and
it was only through a fortunate acquaintance
which I made at a watering-place that I suc-
ceeded at last. To the Tuiiieries, however, I
am told, they rush in crowds, though of this I
know nothing, as I never visit those head-quar-
ters of vulgarity.'

" ' Perhaps they go there merely as strangers
to a raree-show,' I remarked.

" ' I could easily believe it,' she replied, ' if a
first, or even a second exhibition contented
them ; but the truth is, they never let slip an
opportunity of basking in the smiles of royalty
and rubbing against nobility. Then the dresses
they assume on such occasions, notwithstanding
a very modest costume has been prescribed to
them by custom, are sometimes fantastically ab-
surd, and often the cause of ludicrous, if not
painful consequences. It was only last year that
a reverend father of holy Church, who had be-
decked his time-worn person in the uniform of
a general officer, was completely dumbfounded
on being asked at the palace what rank he held
at the termination of the last war with Great
Britain. He was followed on one side by a
respectable physician, enacting the character
of a colonel of dragoons, and on the other by
an eminent lawyer, personating a major of in-
fantry, neither of whom, even if addressed in
his vernacular, could have uttered a single sen-
tence understandingly in reply to the simplest
question on military tactics.

" ' But the man that most excited my in-
formant's admiration, and whom he recognized
as a celebrated hair-dresser of New- York, sur-
passed everybody else in producing a scenic
effect. Through pure ignorance and love of
finery, he had tricked out his really handsome
person in a magnificently-embroidered green
suit, so much resembling the livery of a chas-



320



Edward Vernon.



[Sept.,



seur, as is called an ambassador's footman, that
it was the subject of universal wonder how he
could ever have been permitted to enter where lie
was. By calling himself, however, the captain
of a state rifle corps, he was allowed to pass
the doors ; and, as fur as mere personal appear-
ance went, he was certainly the most presenta-
ble among all the Americans.'

" ' Granting, madam,' said I, ' that there is no
exaggeration in what you have repeated to me
on the authority of your friend, still it all seems
very harmless, provided that neither in this nor
in anyway do our countrymen amuse them-
selves at the expense of others.'

" ' But, unfortunately, they do,' she quickly
rejoined ; ' for, not content with making fools
of themselves, the envy and censoriousness
which they indulged in at Jiorae, instead of
being thrown aside, have become a matter of
notoriety in a foreign country, where a culti-
vated taste teaches better things.

" ' I will not attempt to conceal from you
that my husband was formerly a tradesman,
for you know all about it ; but where was the
use of proclaiming to all my French acquaint-
ances that he was once a cabinet-maker ? It
certainly mortitied me, and I should have trem-
bled for the consequences, had I not felt assured
that few would believe the story, and that all
preferred good dinners to inquiring into the
truth of it.'

" ' Yours,' said I, thinking of her recent tem-
porary blindness in the opera passage, ' was,
perhaps, a peculiar case. May be you had hurt
the feelings or wounded the vanity of your de-
famers.'

" ' Not at all,' was her answer ; ' I could give
you many instances of the like, and, among
others, that of a young gentleman whom you
will, I trust, meet at my house. Though the
owner of a large fortune, which he spends lib-
erally, he is of the most unpretending nature,
and the refined simplicity of his manner, I have
heard good judges say, would be pronounced
positive elegance in a person of gentle blood.
And yet, because he once worked at a hand-
craft, he is slightingly spoken of by many of
Ins countrymen, who never neglect an oppor-
tunity of referring to his humble birth.

" ' Their delight seems to be in backbiting
each other, in searching out and retailing pri-
vate histories, and that, too often, with little
regard to truth. Witiiin a month, I have twice
heard, on American authority, much to the sur-
prise of Mr. Chase and myself, that we were
under the necessity of returning home to es-
cape the consequences of our extravagance ;
and an intimate friend of ours, whose large
property is daily increasing in value, has been
several times reduced to poverty by slanderous
stories of kindred tongues, without being poorer
by a single sixpence.

" ' Now all this, you will admit, is vulgar as
well as vexatious, and calculated to lower us



in the esteem of foreigners, who naturally re-
ceive their impressions respecting us from por-
traits drawn by ourselves ; and yet, only sug-
gest to an American the idea that his is not the
greatest nation on the face of the earth, or that
the Americans are not the most accomplished
people under the sun, and he instantly fires up
to the explosive point and is ready to burst, as
it were, with a sickly and monstrous vanity,
which casts even that of a Frenchman into the
shade. And this he calls patriotism !

" ' But I am keeping you too long from our
amiable hostess, whom I see approaching. So
adieu for the present, but call on me to-mor-
row, and remember that every Sunday evening
I am at home.' So saying, the elegant Ma-
dame de Chase moved off, exchanging compli-
ments right liand and left with every other per-
son she met.

" All, or very nearly all, the strictures I had
been listening to, proved on inquiry to be
richly merited by not a few of those against
whom they were directed ; and it might have
been added, that the ivanion impertinence and
recklessness loitli lohich letters of introduction are
sent to Europe, at the expense of those there who
have, more hospitably than loisely, entertained
the writers of them, ought to be held up to uni-
versal reprobation.^''



The italics in the last paragraph are the
author's. We have no doubt of the truth
of what they emphasize. Yet the evil is
one which is beginning to remedy itself.
Our diplomatic and other well known
gentlemen who have resided abroad, are
becoming more scrupulous in giving letters
of introduction to those who may possibly
disgrace them ; Avhile at the same time
such letters are not looked upon as they
used to be by the recipients. Formerly our
public agents were besieged by the family
of every student going to Paris ; and in
not a few instances probably letters have
been given, which, if attended to, would
place individuals on a footing abroad to
which they could have no claim at home,
simply to buy influence. But if we are
not misinformed, a better understanding
now subsists on both sides of the water,
and there is a greater reciprocity of good
faith.

One other extract we must be excused
for quoting, at the same time taking the
opportunity to thank the author for the
account it gives of what must have been an
actual interview with one of whom the least
particulars are to us, and we hope, to our
readers, never uninteresting : —



1848.]



Edward Vernon.



321



" After the crier had made his usual procla-
mation, the judcre entered with liis suite, and in
it, unremarked for aught I saw, came, slowly
halting. Sir Walter Scott ! ! He appeared to
be very lame, but, as I afterwards discovered,
he walked without pain, and had, he told me,
travelled with ease twenty and thirty miles a
day on foot. The stick on which he leaned
seemed to be a stout Malacca joint, with a
crutch head, and the dress he wore was a black
silk gown over a suit of the same color. He
seated himself at a table, and, after looking un-
concernedly around, went quietly to work
signing papers, which a subordinate attendant
handed to him in quick succession. I gazed at
him, as may well be supposed, with feelings of
no ordinary nature, and could hardly realize
that the hand I now saw engaged in the drudge-
ry of a quarter session was the same that had
created the dashing but affectionate Diana Ver-
non, the gentle Alice Bridgnorth, old Edie
Ochiltree, Caleb Balderstone, and Meg Merri-
lies, with an endless host of warm and animate
beings, who live in our fancy, almost our be-
lief, as life-like and far more vividly than tne
real characters of history itself.

" The court adjourned early, and I, curious to
know w"hat attention its clerk attracted in the
street, as well as to ascertain the place of his
residence, followed him at a respectful distance.
Few, however, of those he met, took any no-
tice of him, although he had to walk a con-
siderable way. The indifference of its neigh-
bors to the Falls of Niagara, came across my
mind. An hour or two later, when I thought
he would be at leisure, for I knew that the
morning was his busy time, I rang at the door
where I had seen him enter, and, on being told
by the servant that his master was at home, de-
sired him to carry in my card and Mr. Kin-
naird's letter. While waiting in the ante-
chamber, my eyes chanced to fall on a well-
worn hat of no ordinary dimensions, with the
name of Scott rudely scrawled upon the lining,
and I remember regarding it much more curi-
ously than I have since the famous chapeau of
Napoleon, which his faithful valet Marchand
exhibited to me smong other relics of his idol-
ized master. I was ushered into the study of
the greatest man alive. He had just finished
sealing a large packet — the manuscript, per-
haps, 1 thought, of one of tho.se immortal works
which the reading world was at that time al-
ways anxiously expecting. He rose as I en-
tered, advanced, and, cordially taking my
hand, said, ' I am very much obliged to my
friend Kinnaird for the pleasure his note has
procured me.'

'• ' It is also to a mutual friend of his and
mine that I owe the honor I enjoy,' was my
answer ; ' for I assure you, sir, I should never
myself have ventured to ask it, knowing, as I
do, wliat value the world sets upon your time.'

" ' Oh, never mind all the stories which the



world would have you believe,' he gaily re
plied, 'for after twelve o'clock it is a holiday
with me. You have arrived, I am glad to say,
at a happy moment, as the pleasant weather
has at length set in, though I have no right to
complain of our variable climate, since it has
not kept me within doors a single day for a
long time.'

" ' Your health, then, is good ?' I asked.

" ' Yes, very good, and I am quite hearty
now ; but I came witiiin an ace of bidding the
world good-night a while ago.'

'• ' The world ought to be verj'' grateful to
you for deferring your bidding,' said I, smil-
ing.

" ' Oh, the world and T are not quits yet,'
he laughingly replied. Then, catching at the
word pioneers, which I happened to use in an-
swer to an observation of his respecting the
influence of fore.->t clearing on climate, he con-
tinued. 'That reminds me of a work which
pleased me, by a countryman of yours, Mr.
Cooper, who has thrown a great deal of light
on American subjects.'

"Having heard that a slight misunderstand-
ing had occurred between the gentleman spoken
of and Sir Walter, I merely observed that we
were all proud of our distinguished novelist,
but that it had never been my good fortune to
meet him.

" ' I will tell 5'ou, then,' said my knightly
interlocutor, ' that besides his merit as an au-
thor, he is a very good-natured man, and that I
have heard of many kind things of his doing.
His advantages when a youth, it is true, were
not as great as they might have been, but he
always bad the genuine germ within him. He
told me, for example, that, when a boy, he left
his home without leave, and went to sea with
only a few dollars in his pocket, which he ex-
pended, on reaching London, at the Tower and
other places worth seeing, instead of buying a
new jacket and breeches, which his companions
gibingly said he stood in need of. In that, the
boy showed what the man would be. He pre-
farred filling his head to covering his back.'

'■ ' It has sometimes seemed to me,' I remark-
ed, ' that his fame would have been greater if
he had deferred writing some ten years longer.'

" ' That is a hard penance to undergo,' replied
Sir Walter, laughing ; ' for when a man has
ten fingers,' at the same time illustrating his
words by extending his own well-formed, but
by no means Byronic digits, ' and feels it in him,
it is no easy matter to keep it from coming out.'
Then, looking for a moment as if he thought he
had pictured his own case rather too pointedly,
he instantly added, ' There is another Ameri-
can whom I like very much — Washington
Irving. I knew him before he began to write,
and always admired him as a man, as I now do
since he has become an author.'

" The above remarks, made by Sir Walter
Scott respecting Mr. Cooper, and they were



322



Edward Vernon.



[Sept.,



lansolicited on my part, I have extracted from
my journal, to show how entirely mistaken was
Mr. Lockhart in what he once said about the
relations subsisting between these two distin-
guished persons, and how far from the truth he
was when he intimated that the great Scotch
novelist had any narrow prejudices against
Americans or American authors. But even if
some slight dislike had been entertained by a
man who°knevv the value of time as well as he,
against a set of idle, sight-seeing Yankees,
habitually striving, as I have sometimes lieard
it acknowledged by themselves, to gain access,
without good warrant, to tlie presence of re-
markable or eminent individuals, there is nothing
in it that should excite our surprise.

" I rose to depart, fearful of remaining too
long, as it was yet early in the day, and I
thought his labors might not be terminated. He
rose too, and again taking my hand, said,
' Come and dine with me to-morrow ; and if,
during your stay in Edinburgh, I can be of any
service to you, it will make me most happy.
In the neighborhood of it, 1 can give you the
" open sesame " everywhere.'

" His manner toward me, during my short
visit to the Scotch capital, increased in kind-
ness, if possible, every day ; and he seemed
never to weary of conversation, whether we
were by ourselves, or in the company of others.
But I have space for only a few of the many
interesting observations he made, and the curi-
ous anecdotes he told, all of which I jotted
down at the time.

" Speaking one day of his powers of perform-
ance, notwithstanding his lameness, which, by
the by, appeared to give him no concern on the
score of vanity, as a similar misfortune did an-
other fellow-poet of immortal renown, he said
he had often traversed the Highlands on a pony
and afoot, at some risk and much trouble, long-
before coaches or any wheel vehicles were
known there.

" The fear of death happening to be the sub-
ject of conversation, he remarked that men very
easily made up their minds to meet the event
when once convinced that they must die. ' I
remember,' he continued, ' a client of mine,
when I was at the bar, who had been condemned
to death for burglary for the thiid or foiirth
time, and had broken every jail in the country.
lie sent for me at a time when 1 supposed I had
done with him, to give me, in return for my
services, which he declared his anxiety to repay,
two pieces of advice, which were, never to trust
for protection in a country house to a large dog
out of doors, as he could always be got rid of
by poison ; bat to a little one within doors,
whose barking at the slightest noise could not
be stopped ; and always to have a heavy, strong
lock, with a stiff" spring, instead of a small,
well-oiled, patent one, because no skeleton key
could turn it. " I do not care a baubee," he
added, " for these iron fetters and stone walls ;



but do you see those sentinels ? They are, one
or another of them, always awake." It struck
me,' concluded Sir Walter, with his usual
shrewd twinkle of the eye, ' that there was no
small tincture of vanity in the fellow's commu-
nication, although he was in such a sad ex-
tremity ; and to death he appeared perfectly
resigned.'

"The case of a person was mentioned that
had acquired a fortune in much the same way
as did a gentleman once in Boston, who, by the
advice of a professed hoaxer, shipped a large
cprantity of warming-pans to the VVest Indies,
and gained two or three hundred per cent, on
them by their being turned into sugar-dippers,
which happened to be scarce there at the mo-
ment. ' And I dare say,' remarked my host,
whose keenness and vivacity seemed never to
sleep, ' that he was as proud of his wealth, as
if it had been made by his own desert.'

" He had taught, he told me with animated
delight. Mademoiselle Sontag how to wear the
tartan on the stage, and, criticising her voice,
siipplied, notwithstanding his son-in-law's as-
sertion that he could never turn a tune, an ex-
pression which I had often felt the want of
while listening to her in Paris. ' It lacked,'
he said, ' the poetry of music'

" I remember asking him which he would
prefer as followers in any hazardous and uncer-
tain enterprise : six men of tried moral tirmness
and constancy, or twelve of mere animal but
undoubted courage.

" ' Oh, the former, by all means,' was his re-
ply ; ' because they would not fail me, how-
ever unexpected the peril ; while the latter, in
some new and unthought-of danger, might be
panic-struck.'

" A Neapolitan gentleman chancing to observe
that his countrymen of the lower orders could
not be induced to labor by any offer, however
great, when once they had earned enough
money to support them through the day. Sir
Walter, as if charmed at the idea, burst into a
hearty laugh, excla.iming, ' They are what I
should call true practical philosophers.'

'• When the time for my departure had arrived,
resolved that my kind entertainer should know
that it was something better than idle curiosity
which had brought me to Edinburgh, I told
him how grateful I felt to him for the happiness
his writings had given me, both in sickness and
health, wiiile there was not a house within the
American borders in which they were unknown.



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume v.8) → online text (page 61 of 124)