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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,



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 10 of 29)